I WAS very busy in my land matters, here and there over Brown County, for some weeks after Mr. Robinson had told me of the disaster to Mose Evans from the unconscious hands — I should rather say eyes — of Miss Agnes Throop. I cannot recall how long it was after said conversation that I heard, as I rode into Brownstown one foggy day, of the disaster, in a more terrible sense, to the mother of Mose Evans. It was Dr. Alexis Jones who told me of it, nearly running me down as I floundered along through the mud, his “ bright bay ” in a foam under him, a portentous case of surgical instruments upon the pommel of his saddle. He told me the news without drawing rein, and Dick Frazier informed me afterwards that the doctor was only withheld by a good deal of profanity and physical force on the part of Frazier himself and others, from fleshing his maiden steel upon the dead woman by carving her to fragments in the interests of medical science!
“ Mrs. Evans is dead! — yes, sir, — as a hammer! ” Dr. Alexis Jones said it, as he joined me, with the keen satisfaction which we all have in telling news, bad as well as good; and as if, in some way, his personal importance was augmented thereby. “ Broke a blood-vessel in a dispute with Odd Archer! ” he explained. “ It was about those cattle of hers he insisted were only strayed, and she knew had been run off by Dob Butler, that rascally client of his. What business had he to be on her place talking about it? The court room was the only place for any talk about that, with judge and sheriff to keep the peace. Primed himself, you bet, with some of Dick Frazier’s strychnine whisky before he went. You see, her son, Mose Evans, has gone down to the ‘ Port ’ with a load of cotton. Odd Archer knew that, before he went to the house. But you must excuse me; post mortem, you see; glad of the chance!” And, with a cut of his whip, Dr. Jones added as he galloped off, “ Nobody will ever know the facts. The coroner examined Archer, of course. Mere form; they did n’t pretend to believe the man even under oath. A gentlemanly fellow; but who would? ”
From all I could learn, in the excitement that followed the painful event, Mrs. Evans flew into a violent passion during her conversation with Archer about the cattle, burst a blood-vessel in the torrent of her wrath, fell at his feet, the blood gushing from her lips upon the well-scrubbed floor, and died! The lawyer rushed for his horse, sending into the house an old negro man who was chopping at the woodpile, no woman being about the place, and put spurs for his — rifle! Not a moment of peace until he has that in his grasp, armed with two revolvers as he already was. Because, having caused the death of the mother, it is of the most pressing importance that he should kill, and at the earliest moment possible, the son also. The entire question, To be or not to be, was with him, To shoot or to be shot. Brown County would very cheerfully have cast an unanimous vote for the last alternative in this case. Odd Archer himself preferred the other, strange as it seemed for even the owner thereof to care for so miserable a life!
With the whole population, Archer included, my interest was henceforth in Mose Evans! Under the circumstances it was impossible to put off the funeral until the arrival of the son, and, Mr. Parkinson officiating, in those indefinite statements to which clergymen are compelled in many a like case, the burial service was duly performed. It was almost enough to cause Mrs. Evans to rise in wrath from her coffin, — the confusion throughout her house, the very abode, during her life, of neatness and housewifely care. All the region round about, male and female, children and grown persons, flocked in to the funeral, bringing upon their feet specimens of all the varieties of mud throughout the county. They pressed to the coffin as if to the side of a panther, if I may so express the actual fact,
— a panther long famous but killed at last. And this was the long secluded and dread mother of Mose Evans, he as universally liked as she was feared ! No trace, however, of the wild animal— universal disappointment in that—in the face of the dead! A sudden return in the calm visage to something, even, of the girlish beauty, I suppose, which had won the heart of her husband from his books so many years before. Under the reading of the Scriptures and the generalities of Mr. Parkinson, there fell strange calm upon the crowd. Old New Hampshire led the singing with wonderful success, in virtue of the voices of the many negroes crowding porch and front yard.
We escorted the hearse, an ambulance of Dick Frazier’s, stolen, we all knew, from Confederate supplies, to the cemetery in the outskirts of Brownstown; and, with the benediction over the heaped grave, the mind of every person of the crowd dispersing homeward ran into the same demand, “ Mose Evans? ” The men present would have consented to the hunting up and lynching of Odd Archer, Esq., with the greatest pleasure, if merely for the excitement’s sake. Put something more than the unpopularity of the deceased prevented that. Somehow, there was a unanimous conviction that the absent son would be anything but. gratified thereby. The absent son! I doubt if a person at the grave failed, as he stood there, to say to himself, “ Just room between her grave and that live-oak for Mose.” I knew the man had to be shot as well as any there! I had been quartermaster, compulsory, in the Confederate service during the war, in a certain city and, while there, had learned a lesson in human nature worth interrupting my narrative for a moment to repeat. A lady in said city was, or imagined herself to be, insulted by a Mr. Jackson. As soon as her letter detailing the fact arrived, and her husband could get leave of absence from building torpedoes at Savannah, he hurried home and shot his foe. Hastening rapidly across the city to the office of the dead man’s only son, who had never even heard of the insult, he shot him also. It is true one of the flying bullets passed through the head, by accident, of a youth of fourteen, the only support of a widowed mother, who happened to be passing. “ But then one has to be in a hurry at times,” Mr. Archer, to whom I narrated the circumstance one day, explained. “ When you and the other gentleman are both armed,” he continued, “ if you have a little difficulty, you are compelled to shoot at the earliest moment, because you know if you don’t, he may; best to anticipate him, you observe; procrastination is the thief of time, and something over, in such a case! If you kill your man, of course you must kill his next relative; if you do not, you run the same risk from him; a fool could see that! We may kill a man or so, occasionally,” Mr. Archer added, “but, thank Heaven, we do not lie and cheat and steal and poison people as is done elsewhere! ” an emphasis upon the last word making his meaning sufficiently clear.
Mr. Archer would have admitted, however, that I had shown Yankee energy, at least, in my conduct following upon the death of Mrs. Evans. Leaving Brown County in going home from the funeral, I had ridden fifty miles down the river by daybreak of the morning after, to meet and warn Mose Evans on his way home. The truth is, I had come by this time to take an interest in the man, certainly far greater than in any other person native to that region. It was not merely our being thrown together upon matters concerning General Throop’s new home, as well as land affairs generally. There was a something in him I find it impossible fully to express by the phrases sincerity, frankness, genuine manliness.
I had been used all my life before to people who felt themselves very thoroughly informed in regard to all things in heaven and earth, people who had read books, heard lectures, seen sights; people who, young and old, male and female, were like so many venerable Solomons, aged queens of Sheba, knowing everything, and impervious to surprise. I suppose it was the zest of this ignorant man for information, the freshness of his pleasure in all I told him of the outside world, as new to him, almost, and as wonderful, as if I was on a visit to him from the sun. But you can find inquisitive ignorance in Africa; it was the original ore of the race in Evans, something of the virgin gold of human nature in eye and tone and smile! I do not know wherein it lay, but General Throop, in his heavier way, was as much interested in him as myself.
And so I went to meet and warn him against Odd Archer, any letter or telegrams being out of the question. It was the noon after the funeral, on Friday, I remember, when I met my friend. He was on his way home from the Port, the money for his cotton in his belt. Just as I arrived he was finishing his dinner on the grass beneath a tree by the road-side, his horse grazing, roped to a swinging vine near by. I had planned, as I floundered along the miry road, what I would say. My well-arranged words were, as is always the case, never once thought of when we met. He rose to meet me, and had the whole story inside of five minutes. As I spoke, he stood listening to me, his full eyes in mine, erect as a statue, passing the palm of his left hand from his lips down his beard continually while I spoke. Singular contrast of my eager narrative to his quiet attention ! I ceased my earnest admonitions as to the need of caution upon his part,— ceased, because they seemed childish before his grave composure. Beyond the first exclamation at meeting, I do not recall his saying a syllable. As I finished, he mechanically drew first one and then the other revolver from its sheath by his side, saw that all the caps were in place, and then put them quietly back, and proceeded to coil in the lariat of his horse, untying it from the vine and hanging the coil by its thong behind the saddle. “ Thank you, Mr. Anderson. If you will please ride on a little I will join you after a while,” was all he said as he mounted. I confess I was almost angry, after all my most fatiguing ride, too! It was noon when we thus parted, and the night was almost upon me, riding slowly along in advance, before he joined me. I wish I knew whether the man had been weeping! I studied his face as closely as the gathering darkness allowed; there was deep sorrow, the simple bearing of a child in grief, but so little to say, beyond thanking me again for coming! He even asked me one or two questions about General Throop and our land matters. I mentioned casually that Mrs. Throop had been prevented from attending the funeral, but that General Throop and his daughter had been present. The fact is, to General Throop Mrs. Evans had always been “ woman.” With myself, as with Brown County, the phrase would have been wild cat, rather! We rode together, now side by side, then one in advance of the other, as the emergencies of the miserable highway allowed, through mud and darkness, and almost unbroken silence at last, until ten o'clock, when, we reached the wretched roadside cabin in which we passed the night.
I remember eating ravenously of the pork and corn bread and “ big hominy,” which, with black coffee, formed our supper that night. In spite of my remonstrance my companion rolled himself up, as soon as supper was ended, in his huge Mexican blanket, and lay down upon the puncheon floor before the wide fireplace, his broad felt hat over his face. I did not hear him make the least motion through the night, and would be glad this hour to know if he really slept during that dismal time. As to myself I was so worn out, that, in spite of pork and coffee, I slept like the dead, —slept, although, by some hurry in the making of the bed, the corn-cobs as well as shucks had been left therein !
“Archer is a gentleman,” I said to Evans as we rode along next day, “ and he will not fire upon you from ambush. If I was you ” — “I think I know exactly what he will do, Mr. Anderson. Excuse my talking so little. I am by myself in the woods so much. I thank you for coming. Heartily. I don’t know, but I hope it has saved the man’s life. We will see now, any moment.”
About four o’clock in the afternoon, our road running beside the very edge of the river, my companion broke the silence as we journeyed along, by drawing up his horse and saying with less excitement than when he had called my duller attention once or twice before to a deer in the woods, —
“ Yes, sir. There he is! ” dismounting as he said so. I was dreadfully excited, yet nothing could be more chivalrous upon the lawyer’s part, for it was the lawyer. He had tied his horse to one side and stood in the centre of the road, rifle in hand. I suppose lie had taken for granted that his adversary, duly warned, would have had a rifle. To my surprise, as soon as the man saw Mose Evans advancing upon him without one, he deliberately stooped to lay his carefully down upon a dry tuft of grass beside the way, and then stepped baek into the open road, a revolver in either hand, a long knife held by its blade in his teeth. As General Philip Sheridan once told me of one of his battles, “ It was beautiful! ”
I caught my friend’s horse by the bridle, thinking, a little nervously, of Helen and of coming bullets. The parties advanced slowly upon each other, during the whole affair neither saying a single word. When within sixty feet of Evans, Archer raised his revolver and began firing. I heartily wish it was more theatrical, but I can only add that it was all over, ignominiously over, in much less than the proverbial fifteen minutes of the battle of San Jacinto. Mose Evans had not touched his own weapons. At the first report of the lawyer’s revolver, he sprang forward! It was as if he was upon his enemy at one bound. Although it ruins what little romance there is in the matter, I believe Evans relied, unconsciously to himself, upon the unsteadiness of Archer’s nerves, owing to his habits, in the aim he would take. In the instant he had seized his puny assailant by arm and leg, and hurled him into the river! I laughed aloud like an hysterical woman,— the man flying through the air, the splash in the water, was an ending so sudden; such bathos!
“ He won’t want to see me. You help him out,” my friend said as he remounted. “ Tell him the thing’s over. He never meant her death, you know. Good afternoon.”
Even then, it flashed upon me as Mose Evans rode leisurely away, and I said to myself, I suppose the self-mastery of this child of nature is what he has been learning his life long. In the woods? In his singular home, rather. From his father’s long endurance. From witnessing, all his life, his mother’s lack of self-control. How Homer would have loved and sung him! Leaving my horse untied, I ran to fish the lawyer out, and a dripping, bewildered, bemuddied wretch he was as he emerged, by my assistance!
I do not understand human nature half as well as I thought I did. I had counted upon his being utterly crestfallen. Not in the slightest! Before he could get water and mire off his face he was laughing and talking as if intoxicated. Possibly he was. Then there was the reaction. Besides, he knew that the circumstances of the case would he known by all Brown County in two days, and that such knowledge would restore him to the good opinion thereof. “Laugh at me?” he asked and answered in a breath; “of course they will! It will get into the papers and be the joke of the State. Do you suppose I care? Not a red! No, sir. Why, sir, the thing will help elect me next time I run for office. Nothing makes people like a candidate better, yes, and vote for him sooner, than having a good joke upon him! ”
“ When I hate a man, he always sickens and dies,” my disreputable companion added in irrelevant but unceasing continuation of previous remarks, as we rode into the outskirts of Brownstown. “ What I mean,” he explained, “ is that I am particularly cared for; like Napoleon, I have a star. We had to enter town in our deplorable plight, and were fortunate in not reaching it until dark ! ”
We certainly would have been a sight to see, bemuddied, as we were, from head to foot, and far beyond the ordinary allowance even of that section. I hated it as the worst part of the adventure, having to pass the night with him; but there was no alternative, and so I dismounted with my associate at the door of the tumble-down house on the edge of the town, which the man called his home, and which he invited me to enter with the well-bred courtesy of a host to his guest, — a courtesy which had, absurd as it may seem, its charm.
I did not see him drink anything worse than black coffee while we were there together. And, after eating supper, such as it was, we sat the night through, drying our clothes without taking them off, at the fire which he had hastily made in the desolate fireplace. I dare say it was merely the animal spirits of the man, the most amazing, I believe, I ever knew in any one, Harry Peters excepted; certainly he kept the same afire with the fuel of alcohol, — inferior to Harry Peters, his conversational rival, in that. Under the stimulus that night, possibly, of nothing stronger than escape from his “ difficulty ” with Mose Evans, his tongue ran like that of one insane. I was glad to sit and listen, if merely to escape getting with him into his one bed.
Yes, all night did we sit there, and you must allow my companion here the same liberty I was compelled to yield him then and there. The fact is, he realized to me much that I had read of Aaron Burr. I wish you could see the man while you hear him. Slight in build, like his father, the eloquent divine; not without a sinewy grace of carriage and motion; with finely cut features and noble forehead, small but wonderful eyes; a fallen angel, worshiped and very heartily despised by all Brown County. One night some weeks before, General Theodore Throop and myself, seated unknown to him in an adjoining room in Dick Frazier’s hotel, listened to his conversation for hours, as, drunk enough for it, he entertained a bar-room of loungers. Wit, wisdom, folly, filth, poetry by the page, deep metaphysics, anecdotes, pathos, bathos—it was wonderful! Suddenly the General and myself entered the room; the instant shame of the man, the intuitive gesture with which he consigned his companions to the mire beneath his heel, was equally amazing. The greasiness of his shabby suit of black pervaded his entire person; a perfect blackguard, a perfect gentleman! What perplexed me most was that a man with such memories could be so steadily and perfectly happy!
He spoke of his late antagonist at last, as we sat drying ourselves at the fire.
“ Mr. Anderson, look here,” ran his torrent of talk; “Mose Evans is certainly a splendid-looking chap, as far as that goes. I do not remember his ever being before the grand jury for stealing, gambling, or anything of the sort; although I do remember his serving both upon grand and petit jury, if only from the fact that he has so invariably Found against me in my cases, and in one or two instances more personal. I always challenge him, sir, when offered. His mother was a violent person. The entire country side had looked for it for years when she broke a blood-vessel in that dispute with me about those strayed cattle. I learned, last night, before the boys took him out and hung him for those horses, that Dob Butler did steal her cattle ns she said; but how was I to know then whether Butler had done as she said? It is verycurious, sir; a client may be the hardest of cases, may know it is impossible for you to defend him, know that his lawyer does not care a drink whether the man did the murder, or whatever it was, or not, and yet that client will make believe to the last, against dead evidence and to his own lawyer, that he is innocent! When it is a woman, I do believe, whatever it is she has done, she persuades herself through and through that she did not do whatever it was! Yes, sir, if it was the killing of her baby, or of her old and helpless father, she thinks she had such good and sufficient cause for it that she could not have done otherwise — is an outraged martyr for being troubled about it! I have been a lawyer for years, where human nature shows itself as it is I tell you, and I have learned this of my female clients, they have the least idea of the rights of other people, the clearest sense of their own, of any persons living. Upon the whole, you might have half the money if you gave me a male client instead, if it was not that the woman’s lawyer always has the jury, yes, sir! ” I am obliged to allow the incoherence and lack of punctuation and purpose upon his part, if tile reader is to hear Mr. Archer as I heard him that night.
“I do not see,” he resumed, “how I have got off the track so. As to Mose Evans? He astonished me as he will the whole county. I half thought, Mr. Anderson, the man an enormous fool. Look here, say, I was one day selecting a pair of boots, on credit, in Yew Hampshire’s store. Miss Throop was shopping at the counter. I had merely bowed to her from the back room, — too much of a gentleman to soil her with shaking hands; what do angels know of what we devils really are! Evans had retreated into that den of a place with me, when she came in, buying powder I remember he was; went away, at last, leaving the package within a yard of a fire, hickory and sparking! The man was dazed, dared no more look full at Miss Throop than at the noonday sun! But I noticed; we lawyers notice! I saw his eyes fasten, like a hawk upon a chicken, on a piece of brown paper she had unwrapped from some gloves and left lying on a bolt of calico upon the counter. Actually stood there, when she was gone, to gather up that paper in his hand, as cautiously as if it was gold and he stealing, and slipped it into his breast pocket!
“ The fool, sir, walked away, leaving that package of powder under the flying sparks! Suppose it had exploded. Why, sir,” — and I noted in the reprobate now, as at all times, the perpetual reference and return he ever made to himself, whatever the topic; as well as the unceasing allusion running, from force of training, through all his thoughts to things supernatural, — “why, sir, the projectile force of that powder! It would have blown some of us there into heaven, and onward in heaven forever and ever; one man there in exactly the reverse direction, and forever too. Heh? Oh, as to Mose Evans, he is—material! I mean for a drama, say. A sort of stuff, deep and strong and very rude, out of which Shakespeare, for instance, could make a hero. Books? I have in Brown County a library of men, and I never weary of reading them instead. Don’t get sleepy, Anderson; what shall we talk about next? How will politics do? ” And with what inexhaustible spirits the fellow proceeded to rattle on upon that theme! I heard little else all the time I was in that section, yet I appeal to the reader if I have not kept it out of these pages!
“ But I would rather hear more in regard to yourself,” I said at last, for I was curious about the man.
“ About myself? ” he replied. “ Oh, as to myself. First. I plead guilty to all you, Anderson, all anybody, says against me. More. I am a great deal worse. ‘Shysters’ I believe lawyers like myself in the great cities are styled. Let us lump it and be done. I, Odd Archer, Esq., Mr. Anderson, stand here up to — down to, rather—anything the lowest lawyers ever do! I want to speak fact about myself as well as about others. I am in that mood to-night. Next. I plead the extenuating circumstance of talent and temperament. From my birth I was regarded as a cherub. I am not, as you agree, Anderson, angelic in other than an infernal sense, now, but there are miniatures on ivory, — let me be rigidly truthful, a miniature on something,—proving my extreme loveliness of eyes, hair, brow, complexion then. If you were to compare child and man you would exclaim, ‘ Such a harvest from such a seed ? It is impossible!’ But, the fact shows it is possible. More. The very nature of the germ, as in all creation, is the cause of the result. Never mind about my physical beauty. That has a terrible deal to do with my after ruin, but, as is always the case, the very things one cannot say, nor people print, are the chief causes of matters! Matters, sir, perfectly explained by such things, but left otherwise wholly unexplained!
“ If any ladies were here to-night,” the man continued, rising to his feet, as if from involuntary respect to the very imagination of such presence, “if I dared venture to say such things to the sex, I would remark to them — no, sir, not even in imagination! But as to all this talk about women becoming lawyers, sitting on the jury and the like, I will say it to you, Anderson; will you tell me how it would do to have them in the box, on the bench, in view of all the ugly matters necessary to be laid before them there? I am told they are going as doctors into dissecting rooms and hospitals, but the loathsomeness of heart and sold laid bare in the court-house is a thousand times worse! Now I am nothing, Mr. Anderson, but a blackguard lawyer, yet I can imagine a pure and beautiful girl, say my sister, or my betrothed. Do you suppose me such a villain as to be able to look her in the soft, innocent eyes, and state and develop and urge the vile facts which make up so many cases in court? If any man, lawyer or otherwise, tried it in the presence of a lady of my acquaintance, I would smash his jaws! I have been forced occasionally, by circumstances, such as the grand jury, judge, and the like, to drop my profession for a time; that would make me drop it forever! Yet stop a moment, sir! As darkness ceases only by presence of pure light, this occurs to me, possibly woman’s purity must come into such close contact with foulest darkness! If the darkness is ever to go! If so, woman’s purity must be intensely pure! I do wonder, Anderson, and I never thought of it before, if woman, in virtue of being distinctively woman, is the reserve remedy for the world! You Yankees, sir, laugh at Southern chivalry. It has gone out, sir, with the Confederacy. Five hundred thousand men were killed in the war. It has thrown up their value too much. Not in the eyes of the other sex alone. We men have come to rate ourselves too high. Now can it be, sir, that with a higher estimate of woman, upon other grounds, a nobler chivalry is to come in? Heh? But, how we have rambled in our talk! Fact is, I ’m not a coward, but I’m glad that thing with Evans is over. I see day is breaking. I must have a drink. I will go to Dick Frazier’s and have him send your trunk, so that you can dress. It doesn’t matter about me. What a storm of curiosity and talk there will be over my fight with Evans! You won’t see him in town for days. I like it! It may elect me to the bench! That Evans, by the bye, has brain enough to go to Congress, if he knew it. For lack of education he is and will be a clodhopper all his life. What a splendid leap he made on me! I ’m glad I did not hit him. I tried my best to do so, I assure you!”
However much of an adept I may be in ray jotting down field-notes while riding over our wild lands, and plotting them out accurately afterward for our company, I have no imagination. I dare say it would make me no better as a business man if I had. Any value in what I say lies in simple narration of fact. Take, for instance, a certain rainy day I spent in the store of New Hampshire, my old postmaster, philosopher, and friend. That day forces itself upon my pen; I cannot get past except by recording it. I think it was some three weeks after the funeral of Mrs. Evans and the encounter between Odd Archer, Esq., and her son.
I am making out a map from fieldnotes for our company, in the hack room, but the crowd in the store increases to such an extent, and the fun becomes so uproarious around Harry Peters, that I give it up. It was for men, land was made, and I turn from the lesser to the greater, going in and making myself at home among them upon a soap-box, which affords me also something to whittle at as I sit. My friend the postmaster is the only silent person in the store. I call him my friend, not merely because we are partners in land; somehow, as perfect an understanding exists from the first, between the old gentleman and myself, as between Odd Archer, Esq., and General Throop, our basis being business, theirs mere sentiment. I observe that the postmaster is doing up coffee, the supreme luxury there next to whisky, in pound packages, against a dryer and busier day. While he does this he is evidently deep in the interior counties of New England — deaf to all the conversation and laughter, very often quarrels a score strong at a time, and fast and furious, raging around the coast, so to speak, of his placid exterior.
There is Harry Peters as prime promoter of the laughter. He is only a poor planter, limp, lame, weighing under ninety-five pounds, yet Shakespeare was not more entirely monarch of his adoring friends at a revel than is Harry of his as assembled in the post-office. Odd Archer is present, of course, and as usual, whenever these two are together in a crowd, there is sure to be strong rivalry between them; the lawyer having plenty of talent, stores of knowledge, curve, so to speak, and trick of culture, reinforcement of alcohol, but all in vain against merest nature and genius in his clod-hopping rival. It is, on their lesser scale, Ben Jonson as beaten by Shakespeare.
When I took my soap-box Harry was just finishing some tale of fun. If it was not a recital of the ducking of the lawyer at the hands of Evans, it was something, possibly, more grotesque still, the life of that member of the bar furnishing material ample and ever renewed. The incidents were very ludicrous, whatever they were, and Harry, judging from the effect, could not have told them better to save his life; but, amid all the shouts of laughter, the postmaster steadily puts up his pound packages as if there was not a soul in his store beside the owner thereof. No one addresses himself to my old friend, but I note a peculiar glancing at him, now and then, on the part of all. Something is in hand in reference to him, and I therefore observe more closely, as he is evidently unconscious of everything but coffee. And, now, Odd Archer launches into a narrative. It is of a peculiarly horrid murder which had come under his knowledge, described with wonderful power, and I forgot everything in the terror and wrath aroused in me as in all there by the narration, in which the lawyer evidently does his best. I observe, in the curdled silence which follows, a curious glancing, yet again, at the keeper of the store. Had he actually been in Brazil at the moment, gathering the coffee from the tree, he would not have been more unconscious of things, so far as the least movement of mouth or eyelid is concerned. After a disappointed pause on the part of the crowd, Harry begins the story of the loss of his children, two little girls and their brother, in the “ Bottom.” Of course those present know all about it, for it was, the winter before, the sensation of the county, but they listen with hushed eagerness to the wonderfully perfect narration of the father, as he lives over all the anxiety and agony of the mother and himself during those four days. I find myself with moistened eyes, as well as the rest, actually exclaiming aloud with the others when the starved little ones are found! When we recover ourselves enough to do so, I observe that all eyes are glancing again, although covertly, at the postmaster, so far as outer appearances go as wholly unconscious of them and of all their talk as before. With his little, close-cropped, white head on one side, he is putting up bags of coffee, that and only that!
I understand why Odd Archer had stepped over to Dick Frazier’s for a drink, when he begins again, with renewed energy. It is an assault upon the Bible, cool, argumentative, very able indeed at first, quickening into bitter, blasphemous, ferocious fury as he proceeds. I had heard before that of all men a minister’s son, when wicked, had the greatest power of blasphemy known, an energy of moral effect therein terrifying the weaker among his wicked associates; because the entire belief and meaning derived from previous training is put into the oaths! By this time I have come of myself to understand that, by plan beforehand, regular assault has been made, for the last two or three hours, upon old New Hampshire; heavy bets pending, I afterward learn, upon moving him to do or say something, show in any way some emotion! The frantic violence of the lawyer as lie ceases shows his consciousness of defeat. The old man has paused once or twice from scoop and scales and coffee sack, even looked full in the face of the reprobate while at the white heat of his harangue, but it was exactly as if the lawyer was not there at all; the pause was merely to tap his forefinger over his pursed-up lips, as, with eyes closed now and then, he was calculating profits, I suppose, his head to one side.
Odd Archer ceases, exhausted, and universal laughter and scoffing sets in at the defeat of the two champions. It is “ in full blast,” according to Brown County parlance, but there is instant hush thereof, and all movement, even, arrested, as Agnes Throop suddenly enters the door from the rain, and stands at the counter asking for letters. What heavenly beauty and purity and grace! Nothing but a simply dressed young lady, with shrinking eyes, and cheeks in which the soul comes and goes, yet these men are painfully aware on the instant that they are scoundrels, boobies, louts! Every man, as soon as he recovers himself, manages to slip away. In ten minutes every soul of them is gone, really kicked out of her presence, and by himself! I tarry by her side, heartily ashamed of my previous company, with the usual salutations; but I curiously note that the postmaster is no more moved by the presence of this perfect jewel of her kind than he was by the men who have gone. As I pass out of the door on my way to the hotel, I notice that Miss Agnes has come to town in a buggy which waits for her at the sidewalk. Mary Martha Washington, who has driven her young mistress in, acknowledges my good-day with severe respect, bringing to my mind her confidences to my wife long before in Charleston.
“ I was trained, Miss Helen, to believe the Bible is God’s Word. If I know anything, it is that it is clear agen the abolitionists. Two things I never can stand, abolitionists an’ free niggers. I’m too old now, to change! I can’t give up my religion! ”
“ I was taught, Henry, as this old aunty was,” my wife took occasion to explain at the time; " and slavery was no sin at all. But the Bible nowhere commanded us to hold slaves; no necessary connection between the two whatever. ”
“ My dear Helen,” I made reply, “ a century or so ago one of the godliest ministers of New England sent a barrel of rum over to Africa and obtained a slave therefrom in exchange. No argument for the divine life of Revelation more self-evident than the way in which, slow and silent and steady, yes, and omnipotent and irresistible as God who gives it, the gospel purifies itself, age after age, from the merely human elements incrusting but wholly separable from it; elements which are part of the gospel only as my clothing for the nonce is part of me. No more, I should rather say, than as the hindering vapors of our atmosphere are part of the sun. Plenty more of the human to be purged away yet from our skies, but I do not think it will endanger the sun! ”
All this, however, is purely incidental. In the moment of speaking to the colored woman seated in the buggy, I observe Mose Evans standing off by himself near the door of the office through which Miss Throop has entered a few moments before. I turn to shake hands and say a few words about business. To my surprise he takes my hand mechanically, but seems scarcely to recognize me, although his eyes are in mine when he speaks; for that is a peculiarity of Mose Evans, the putting his entire self into his eyes full in yours when he addresses or listens to you. Hence I say to myself as I leave him, I wonder if the man can be drunk? But, looking back after I have gone a little distance, I see that he has walked steadily enough to his horse tied to the rack across the street, and is in the act of mounting. Then all that old Mr. Robinson had told me flashed upon my mind! Agnes Throop! The absurdity, stupidity, insanity of the man! I have to stop once or twice before I reach Dick Frazier’s to think over what Mr. Robinson had said. I had so promptly and utterly rejected it all at the time! “ I thought I understood human nature!” I complain to myself. “ Yes, but this is the very sublimity of — of ” —
I hasten to speak of the next time I saw Mose Evans. I am, in fact, eager to do so. The circumstances were so remarkable.
Some months had rolled by since the day I had seen him hesitating, as if in a dazed condition, at the door of the postoffice. I had gone back to New York and Charleston since then. After settling up certain business there, I was on my way back again to Brown County, accompanied by Helen, my wife, who this time positively refused to be left behind. And thus it happened she was with me that day I reached Bucksnort, a particularly unpleasant town, at the hotel in which our stage stopped on its way to Brownstown. It was in that hotel we found Mose Evans, and in what condition!
I recall perfectly how we came to know of it. Helen and myself had arrived an hour or so before slipper. While seated thereat, the stage arrived from Brownstown, and the hungry passengers poured in upon us, seated at the supper table. I noticed the lawyer, Odd Archer, among the rest, and very drunk. I do not know whether he recognized me, but it would have made no difference. I suppose it was a continuance of what had been going on in the stage before, but I observed that he, in a drunken way, forced the possession of the seat next a modest-looking country girl, one of the passengers, nearly opposite Helen and myself. Even before the touch of Helen’s elbow, I fancied the animal was insulting the shrinking girl, who was too diffident to do more than draw as far away from him as possible. I hesitated to believe that the man could have degenerated so rapidly from what I had known him to be in reference to women, as to be guilty of any disrespect to a female even in his deepest drunken degradation. A fleshy old man who had come with them was seated at my side. As he was whispering to me, “ I would not notice him. He ’s been drunk all along,” I observed a gross insult toward the girl upon the part, of the lawyer. I grasped a tumbler of milk to hurl it, and was grasped in the same moment by my own cooler sense in the person of Helen, my wife, barely in time! IIow very much better! A whisper on my part to the negro handing me the wholly indigestible biscuits, a hasty exit of the same, the hurried appearance of the landlord, himself guilty of worse things every day. Sober during that special half hour, so as to make no mistake in taking the money for supper, the landlord saw the situation at a glance, and was filled with virtuous wrath! One good grasp upon Odd Archer’s collar from behind, and he had dragged him off his seat to the side door, and hurled the limp wretch like a half-filled bag of meal out of the entrance and far into the night! It is often so much better to have certain things done for you by others than to do them yourself! You can remain quiet, and they can do them so much more thoroughly, too! And but for this, I should not have known Mose Evans was in the house; would have gone on to Brownstown, — Mose Evans to another city, too, quite another, neither Brownstown nor yet Charleston! It was from the landlord, after thanking him, supper over, for his conduct, that, in the course of conversation, I learned Mose Evans was upstairs.
“Mighty sick, Colonel Anderson, I tell you!” The colonel being instant brevet for my thanks; and my friend wiped the honest sweat of his late exertion from his exceedingly red face, as he told me this, hearkening, with his bushy head a little on one side, for any groans from the direction in which the ejected man had disappeared through the night, as assurances that he had not been actually killed by his fall from the battlements of light.
Yes, there in the corner of an upper room lay Mose Evans! Wrecked like some huge Spanish galleon, and upon the most dismal and desert of all inhospitable islands! Too short and too narrow, at least for him, the unpainted bedstead creaked and threatened to tumble at every turn of the writhing sufferer; its cords so loose that the thin mattress bulged downward to the floor; no possibility of lying in it unless coiled up like a serpent in a bushel measure. Although the sick man is consuming with fever, no one has thought to lift a window to assuage his burning, by letting in the at least milder fever of midsummer which is upon the world without; has not cared, even, to move the bed out of the corner between two walls without a window. And there lay my poor friend with hair, beard, parched lips, delirious brain, a St. Lawrence upon his gridiron; rather, a soul in hell for the pencil of Doré and the pen of Dante!
But, in God’s mercy, there is ever a Beatrice, too, for sufferer as for poet. I had, of course, told my wife the whole story long before, so that I had but to take her into the room and say, “Helen, dear, Mose Evans! ” for her to understand the entire affair. She had entered the western wilds with me, burning silently for some opportunity to show how heartily she could do and endure toward the making with me there of the immense fortune in lands which I had in view.
I must add that, largely to her clear intuition in business, we have done, by the bye, very well indeed, ours being considerably more than the six feet by two of soil usually assigned by moralists, with the three score and ten of years, to mortals.
Amazing, the despotism of a young and lovely woman, especially if in the interest of the sick! In two hours Helen had revolutionized this “ Bucksnort Travelers’ Rest,” as our hotel was misnamed. Such obedience our landlord, rapidly returning to his condition of normal drunkenness, had never shown to his pale-faced and miserable wife. The two or three pert mulatto women about the hotel sufficiently explained, apart from the drink, the pallor and emaciation of the nominal mistress of the house. Wives have like experiences the world over, but I dare not say a syllable here as to the effect upon a Southern wife of a negro concubine; yet I will record how I loathed that Helen should even superintend the labors of such helpers for the sick man ! But she did not know; and at last we had the sick man bathed, clothed in clean linen, with hair and beard combed, upon the best bed in the coolest corner of the only decent room in the house,— our own; and in consequence, he was soon sweetly asleep. “ He looks like a dying lion, Henry,” my wife whispered, as we rested at last by his bed, “ Say a wounded gladiator,” she continued. “ A woman might envy him those masses of beautiful hair. But, have you not romanced a little about him ? ”
“ Listen to the simple facts,” I said, “and see if it is not nature itself, like Chevy Chace and the Vicar of Wakefield!” and I went over again the story of his parentage, utter seclusion in the woods, amazing ignorance, termagant mother.
“Ah, Henry, it is his desperate falling in love with Agnes Throop which interests you so in him, and I don’t blame you!” said my wife. “ I dare say she was to him as the first European woman was to the savages of America when she landed. Ever read, dear, that old story of Inkle and Yarico? The amazement of wonder and love with which the savage girl adored and clung to the god in flesh from Europe ? ”
“ Yes, and, if I am only a land agent, I remember, too, that the god was a dastardly scoundrel, sold the girl” —
“Never mind about the rest,” Helen adds hastily. “ As to Agnes Throop, you are right; the thing is too preposterous even for romance, the man is deranged. Agnes Throop! And such a person as this! Insanity! Besides, you forget there is another lover, ‘ a priory attachment,’ as Mr. Weller said.”
“Yes, Mr. Archibald Clammeigh,” although I doubt if that gentleman would care to be announced to an audience, say, as the next speaker, in exactly the tones in which his name was now mentioned.
And so we sat comparing the two men in silence. I dare say the long and singular suffering of the one lying before us helped our illusion, for such a colossus comes down with a crash when it does fall. The poor fellow was sadly reduced in flesh. Of course it was all imagination on our part that the traces of suffering upon his face were softened by a purity and patience greater still. Romeos and King Lears, Cordelias and Ophelias, never had, you know, any more existence than the Ariels and the Pucks! Or, if they did have, they have gone out forever with Shakespeare and stage-coaches. Or, is it so?
“ But, you observe,” I thought aloud to Helen after a little, “ that is the trouble with this poor fellow. He has never lived in Mobile, or wintered at the Pulaski House in Savannah, to say nothing of the lesser civilization of Fifth Avenue, or Boston. The man,” and I pointed to him as if he were that far off,
“ actually lives in the age of — Elizabeth? Why, Helen, he is a contemporary of Abelard. For anything he ever saw, or knew, I do not see why Mose Evans is not of the age of Achilles, even Abel.”
I frankly confess here that I did garnish my conversation when with my wife more freely from such reading as I have had than I thought expedient generally and elsewhere. She liked such things, you observe, at least I supposed so: one should not be forever and everywhere merely a land agent.
“It is all because you think he is so desperately in love, dear,” she now replied, “ nor, even then, would he seem so much to others. We have n’t been long married, you know! ” She said it, but didn’t mean it, of course, my wife.
“ And Mr. Archibald Clammeigh, we are under no illusion as to him, genial, generous soul of honor that he is!” I say. “What a singular coincidence, the conflict of two such opposites for such a woman,” I add, saddened by the moan of the sleeping man. “ Everything,” I continued, after a pause, “ birth can do for a man has been done for his Grace the Duke of Clammeigh; no birth at all, hardly, in the case of this hap-hazard native of the wilds. Thorough education, and no education. European travel, and never out of a cypress swamp. All that wealth and society can do for the one, and this man as ignorant of civilization even as Hercules!” I lower my voice, under the finger of Helen laid on my mustache, to add, “I may be romantic, being lately married and to a witch, but, think of Agnes Throop, of her Charleston betrothed, and — look at this man!” Because, there was that in Mose Evans which deeply impressed us! As to Mr. Clammeigh, he would have passed out of my mind like the dead, had he not been our company’s Charleston lawyer. But it was his relation to Agnes Throop which brought him, at this singular juncture, so vividly to mind.
At this moment the invalid stirs, moans, murmurs, without opening his eyes.
“ Cologne, if you please.”
“ Can you guess why? ” I whisper to my wife as she bathes with cologne brow, hair, beard; “ the silliest thing in the world!”
“ Agnes? ”
“ And he had never even heard of it before.”
“ How do you know ? ”
“As you know it! The mother in me, I suppose.”
But here the Bucksnort doctor enters the room, bringing, an aroma of whisky and tobacco. He has heard of matters, and is a little awed by the change of things, in the scrupulously dignified stage of intoxication. From him we learn that Mose Evans has been sick three weeks, consumed by fever, would not take the physic, not the least hope now of his recovery.
I could not but be struck, as the doctor spoke, with one thing which I had observed often before; here was a regularly educated physician, and, I dare say, from the East years before, yet he had fallen into the jerky dialect of the region as completely as had Dob Butler, or Odd Archer, Esq. I sometimes fear my long association out there with such people has affected even my manner of speaking. But then, you know, Paris has its peculiarity of speech, so has Edinburgh, possibly Boston.
“ Has he talked much in his delirium?” I ask. The bloated Galen looks at me with curiosity, and replies, “ Not one word! Can you explain it? Old friend, I see. It relieves nature, talking does, like weeping, for instance. Not one word! So much the worse for him! Very remarkable case! The man evidently has some trouble, but has bottled himself up, hermetically sealed himself! I wonder what it is? Killed somebody, I suppose! Humph! He’ll soon be out of the reach of the law, or Judge Lynch ! ”
I assure the doctor, as we converse, after a while, in the hall outside the room, that he is mistaken in his conjectures, as I tell Helen afterward that I will myself make the doctor false in his prophecies! Please Heaven!
“ I said he did not talk, I mean about himself. One queer, very queer insanity he had,” the doctor proceeds to inform me, and the remembrance seems to sober him a little. “He got some of the young fellows hanging round to read his Bible to him when he first lay sick. Grown man, fine-looking man like him, and I suppose can’t read” — great contempt.
Simple truth obliges me to repel this last assertion. Months ago Mose Evans had acquired that useful art, and had been engaged a goodly part of every day, as well as far into the night, in devouring, as the old postmaster told me, all the grammars, geographies, histories New Hampshire could obtain for him from the East by mail. Giving to the work the energies of manhood, as well as an intellect far beyond the average, it was incredible, old New Hampshire told me, the progress he made. The sick man had his visitors read to him for their benefit; even had he been strong enough for the exertion, they would have howled at the suggestion of having the Bible read to them by him, or by any other man.
“ Preachers are scarce articles in this region!” the doctor continued. “It was very kind in the young fellows to read the Bible to him. They got so ashamed of it at last, however, everybody laughed at them so, you know, that they could not stand it, gave it up! And that poor fellow would persist in saying his prayers, sometimes kneeling in his bed when he could not get up, clasping his hands over his beard so, and saying them to himself when he could n’t kneel even in his bed. The room had always been full of men smoking, playing cards, before, to keep him company, you see. Oh, they left; could n’t begin to stand it! ”
“ Was that his insanity? ”
“ Not so much that. This. He made me promise him I would let him know in time before he died. ‘ What for? ’ I asked after I had promised. ‘ You are a hard set about here,’ he said, ‘ I know you won't care for anything I can say now.’ I do believe,” the doctor added, “ the man’s intention was to have in all the people about the place and give them a regular sermon. Singular notion, was n’t it? Actual fact, sir!
“ The only way I can explain it,” the doctor continues, opening, as he speaks, the door of the room across the hall from which we had rescued Mose Evans, " is that it was in this room, his room till you moved him, that it all took place! ”
“ What took place? ”
“You have n’t heard? Why, this! There had been a wonderful time of it at a camp-meeting out of town, ever so many of the boys up at the altar. Some of the men here said it was time to stop it. So they held a regular sacrament service in this room, singing, praying, preaching, tobacco for the bread, whisky for the wine, just for deviltry! At the close of it, the make-believe parson’s revolver went off by accident, shot the next man through the heart! He was laughing when he fell, and the bother was, they could n’t get the laugh out of his face! A laughing corpse in his coffin! It broke that crowd up quicker than any benediction you ever heard. It was the day your friend got here. I suppose he meant that! Only, he was crazy from fever and his trouble, whatever it is. But won’t you go down town and take a drink? The water about here is limestone, and will be sure to derange your bowels; come! ”
To a degree wholly beyond my control, my experiences were, as you have been pained to observe, chiefly among the lower elements of the Southwest at that day. If you suppose, therefore, that the same are other than the weaker and lesser, as well as worse, portion of the population there, you are greatly mistaken. No more cultivated and thoroughly excellent people in every sense, than are to be found even in the Brown Counties of the Southwest; pure jewels, the brighter for their very setting, in many cases. I have had wide experiences, and must add that, if driven to choose between the log-cabin and the brown stone front for sterling goodness, I regard myself as safest in selecting, like Portia’s lover, the less imposing casket of the array.
Helen agrees with me, when we talk over those days at the Bucksnort Hotel, as we often do, that it was the most remarkable thing we ever knew! You are thoroughly informed in regard to Ignatius Loyola lying wounded to death in his tent, with his volumes of the Lives of the Saints? Well, you know what came to him, and to the world up to date, of that! Joan of Arc among her sheep, Mohammed in his cave, are hut the same story over again. So of the remarkable revolution in this Titan of ours, this prehistoric savage. I abhor mere rhetoric, but I would like to speak, if I could, of the soul of this child of nature, seething and surging in him as fresh and wild and forceful as did the conflicting elements of chaos when God first began to move upon it. The fact is, the awakened nature of the man had so wrought upon his body, even, that the backwoodsman was but a huge infant, exhausted as by crying — for the individual in question is too matter-offact to be at all rhetorical about! I do believe another day, possibly hour, and Helen and myself would have been too late. But we understood him, handled him, saved him as a mother would a child! May I be allowed to remark that we have both had, in consequence, a firmer faith than before, in a providence as special to us as is our care toward and over our little children.
“The boys there at Brownstown used to say old New Hampshire was so mean he’d weaken his well water before he’d give a feller a drink, and it was a lie: well, I’m as weak as that water!” Mose Evans said to us, as his good morning, about ten days after we had taken him in hand. “ Take a patent as a scarecrow, heh? ”
And he was a sight to see! Like all his comrades out West, wont to sleep on the prairie, or upon a blanket spread out on the puncheon floor of the cabin before the fire, Mose Evans used no pillow or bolster — lay perfectly flat upon his back in bed: a cause, by the bye, of his erect carriage and open chest, some of us narrow-breasted men and women would do well to remember. Very prostrate he was, the yellow heard flowing like an inundation over the blanket drawn up, out of respect to Helen, to the chin. Set like a picture in the mass of hair and beard, his emaciated face — eyes large and hollow, brow broad and while—resembled rather some medallion of a former age. “I am alive!” It was gravely announced by him that morning after certain hopeful salutations and suggestions on our part. “ I intend to live! I am going to get well. I am going to live more than I ever did before. You will see.” It was not merely the child-like gravity of the statement. I am far from denying that Mose Evans was grateful to Helen and myself. I do not remember his saying so, we all took it for granted. But there was this as part of the amazing change in the man since I had last seen him. He had been simply an intelligent, kindly disposed Newfoundland dog when General Throop and myself had first met him, long before, at his cabin and elsewhere about Brownstown. You would have had the idea of him then, as of a magnificent ox that would not hook. Once or twice General Throop had rested his rifle, for the General’s hands trembled those days a good deal, upon Mose Evans’ oaken shoulder to shoot, when we were out early of mornings after wild turkeys, and he was nothing on earth but a log, a walking stump, to us and to himself then, at best merely “ noble material for the making of a man,” as the General had often remarked to me. Then! not now!
“ Old New Hampshire often talked to me that way,” Mose Evans continued, the morning of our conversation with him, but without a particle of explanation. “Not when any of the boys were about. No. When I sat on a nail-keg by his counter, Saturday nights, every soul drunk and gone home. He had his little bit of a Bible in an old desk of his in the back room. Boys called that room New England, — fully as big, they said. That Saturday night special! Yes, locked up and had me back there! Never laughed in his life, they say. How that old man’s tears did run down, that night! Hailstorm? Yes, he can pray some. Two good miles, if the wind lies, or is in your direction, they say. The postmaster only whispered. But it sounded to me louder than Hailstorm !”
“ Don't you think you are talking too much? You know you are very weak. You can say all you like another time.” It is Helen’s soothing suggestion. And let me uncover part of this photograph by adding, for what it is worth in the interest of simple truth, Mose Evans had eaten his breakfast just before! Lest that is not understood, I will add that breakfast meant, with Mose Evans, coffee! Coffee, without milk, and more cups than I like to say. As in every cabin in his region, Mose Evans’ old black and battered coffee-pot never was cold day or night, the year around. Vilely inhospitable the meanest there, if they did not offer you a tin cup of coffee before you had been in the cabin or camp twenty minutes. Oriental hospitality in two senses of the word. It strikes me as a question here, whether coffee had anything to do with the death of Mose Evans’ old schoolmaster of a father; with the terrible temper and final bursting of a blood-vessel on the part of his mother? I do not know. Nor do I know whether it affected Mose Evans in his feeling and talk that day. I only mention it as a part of the evidence for the jury, as a lawyer would say. Coffee, too, is one of the implements made by Infinite Love for its uses, as much so as wheat.
“You get converted, Mose, and get New Hampshire’s property,’ the boys said,” our patient continued, paying attention only by resting his hollow eyes upon my wife’s face whenever she spoke; and then, turning them away, he persisted in looking toward the future, and altogether over our heads. “ They were mistaken! What did I want of his money? What did I want to buy ? Land ? It belongs to me now up and down the river so far I never even try to stop people splitting their rails off of it, making their clapboards, and the like; squatting on it, for all I know. Stock? I never get a chance, even with my brand, at half my colts or calves. Nothing I wanted out of his money, that I know of! Then, I mean.
“ Strange how it all came, like muscadine grapes, in a bunch,” our sick man continued after some minutes of thought. “ There is Mr. Parkinson. My father, too, he must have talked to me when I was a child. Pre-haps. And Hailstorm. Only there was too much thunder for the lightning. Then he always cried so at the end, washed you away like, a fellow would run for shelter. Little I could understand of Mr. Parkinson when I first knew him. He was like that fool, Alex Jones, with his doctor’s talk, every word a yard long. Green from their school, both of them. I managed to understand as he got warm, toward the close, moonshine done and day come. When he stopped preaching, began talking to me, I could understand. I do believe that parson went hunting with me, camping out at night on purpose. Never mind about all that!” I had never heard the man talk as much in all our intercourse before. It may have been his physical weakness, the transition state, the desperate emergency of the poor fellow!
“ And, then ” — Mose Evans got so far after a silence, only to stop. You will say I write romance, a thing I detest. Suppose you had seen the color suffusing his face, the light breaking in his eyes and over his entire manner as he lay there, the man so small yet so large!
“Then, she came.” Helen said it for him after a pause. “ Agnes Throop. I have known her for years,” my wife added. “ And, although Agnes is a lovely girl in some respects, I do not believe in her as some people do! ” Quietly and firmly. I suppose Helen said it as a medicine. Sincerely thought it, for no woman is deluded about any other than a man. The Martha of Goethe was no more infatuated about Margaret than was Mephistopheles.
“Yes, ma’am, she came,” Mose Evans said after a long pause. I cannot describe tone or manner. It would have hurt Helen if it had not amused her so, the man’s utter folly, that her eyes filled with tears of pity, respect, affection, for the sick simpleton! In Agnes, Helen felt it was her sex this Scandinavian of thousands of years ago so adored. The woman’s eyes rested a moment on me, saying, Ah, Henry, if you but believed in me like that! But then, I am of this nineteenth century. I have business that drives me like a mule from morning to midnight, — occupies my time so. This Mose Evans had nothing whatever to do, had no more idea of time than people had in earlier ages, than a Bedouin has now. And it was his first love.
“ Yes, she came, ma’am.” A contempt for all my wife could say or know of Agnes Throop, as he repeated the words, which was simply perfect.
If there had not been a sort of grandeur as matter of course as morning in it, I declare I would have been irritated at the way in which this man ignored Helen and myself! Had Helen and myself been but a brace of babies, he, lying upon his bed, could not have had less reference to us in all his words and manner. The man spoke, felt, certainly afterward acted, as from depths in himself with which we had nothing to do. There was a look in his eyes as entirely over our little heads and far away as if we were weeds about his feet!
“It all came together,” he added after a while. " I was, before it all — What was I? I was like a bear asleep all winter in a hollow tree. Worse. Never mind, it all happened together, like spring! Old New Hampshire. Mr. Parkinson. Perhaps my mother’s going; I never thought of that before, I never knew there was a world we are going to live in after this!” turning his eyes upon us, with peculiar emphasis upon the I; “a real, sure enough world after this, and one that’s going to last forever and ever. An actual, sure enough God, a real person, mind, like you and me. Greater, of course, than us, as the sky is greater than a prairie. I never once thought of such a thing! As to what they tell me that God Almighty did, coming into this world on purpose for such a thing, say, as I was, living here, dying here — never mind! That is just the thing I can’t talk about, for one. But, it was the finding myself out, as well as him, I look at! It is the coming all on a sudden to know who I am! What I may be yet, here in this world. And in that other world forever and ever! This man, me ! ” and he lifts his eyes solemnly to us, quietly pressing his hand, already lying there, upon his bosom as he speaks.
“My dear Mr. Evans,” my wife endeavors. “ If you talk so much you will have brain fever again. You are as weak as water; you said so yourself. Do stop and go to sleep a little.”
“Let me tell you, ma’am,” Mose Evans said, slowly, after listening with his large eyes. “ Once, — why that is another of the things that came together. I’d clean forgot it! About a year ago, a tree fell on me. At night. I had cut it down for the bear in the top. It pinned me down in between some rocks, no man with me, nor like to be. I was held down flat, could n’t stir, like I am in this bed. My mind was that much the more quick. I thought more and brighter than for years, all in the six hours before Harry Peters happened along, going to a wedding in the Bottom. I know I am — as weak! But if ever I had horse sense, it is to-day. Oh, well, I won’t talk. But I have laid out on the prairie August nights, a coal or so of fire down in a hole by me, and my coffeepot on that, for fear of drawing Camanches, — laid flat on the grass looking up at the skies, thinking what a tre-mendous creation it is, who made and keeps it going, all he did and is doing for me, who I am and what I may yet be! And then, yes, she came! I had been months studying such matters, never dreamed of anything of the kind before. That Sunday at church, the day Hailstorm preached. I was sitting there! I’d no more idea! She was coming in. I looked up just as a horse would do from his trough. The moment I saw her she — she proved it all! ”
It is a pity, the reader may have said before this, that the Mr. Anderson who tells us this story could not make his fiction more probable. How is it possible, you say, that a man born and living all his life in a swamp, and unable to read, could use the language put in Evans’ mouth? Mr. Parkinson, Helen, and myself have discussed that objection, for the manuscript has been read aloud at my house of evenings, while Mr. Parkinson was East soliciting money for his church in Brownstown. We have altered and corrected our statements in so many ways, to secure even verbal exactness, as to weary me to death, for one, of the whole undertaking. In the very nature of the case we did not take down the exact syllables from the lips of any of the parties of this simple narrative. Yet we have put their meaning, their intent, in words as near those they used as we can remember!
But how little can you, reader, understand of Mose Evans lying there, not seeing his face, hearing his voice. I cannot help if facts seem improbable to you because I am not Dickens in the delineation thereof. As a commonplace man of the world I will say this, however, that I, who personally knew Mose Evans, understand better than before the revolution befalling, say, Luther in his cell. Heaven uses not coffee nor wheat nor the other agencies to which I alluded merely, it uses every one of us for some purpose; why not this Agnes Throop, as a force silent as that of the magnet, if you say so, for the lifting of this inert mass of a man? I do not think that the run of a year’s transaction, of our land company for instance, either embraces or explains the entire universe. Things happen ! The life of Saul of Tarsus before and after proves that something must have taken place during his trip to Damascus, — something out of the common! Poor Sir John Falstaff, to change the illustration exceedingly, learned whether or no Prince Hal’s coming to the crown left said prince as he was before; some change between Gadshill and Agincourt! I did not mean to tire you with all this; surely you have known instances convincing you that a man is capable of a revolution, as well as France.
“ Mr. Evans ” — my wife begins, during the conversation from which I have wandered.
“ Mose Evans,” that invalid corrects her, very respectfully.
“ Mr. Mose Evans, I want you to listen to me,” my Helen proceeded to say with the firm sweetness which will characterize, I suppose, the entire faculty of woman physicians and surgeons coming in.
“ Yes, ma’am.” For the patient is perfectly powerless, big as he is.
“I do not want to pain you,” my wife proceeds, “but my husband here has told me the whole story of your infat— your fool— your mistake. So far, I mean, of course, as Miss Agnes Throop is concerned. A great, strong man like you should be ashamed of yourself! If this goes on it will derange, or kill you. I would not be a baby if I were you! Now I want to cure you. I can cure you of your madness. But you have talked too much to-day. We will speak about it again to-morrow, when you are stronger. Good-by, now. Come, Henry.”
“As you please, ma’am,” our sick man says, we rising to leave, and says it very composedly.
“It is positively provoking! ” Helen remarked to me that afternoon in our own room, when I had come in from a little business I had down street. “That Mose Evans of yours is a perfect fool! Agnes Throop is no more an angel than I am. I’ll cure him! But it provokes me, how set he is in his ignorance. Did you notice how cool he was when we left, as if it did not matter what I could say? ”
William M. Baker.