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   Chapter 18 No.18

Two Little Confederates By Thomas Nelson Page Characters: 6151

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


When the boys reached home it was pitch-dark. They found their mother very anxious about them. They gave an account of the "battle," as they called it, telling all about the charge, in which, by their statement, the General and Hugh did wonderful deeds. Their mother and Cousin Belle sat and listened with tightly folded hands and blanched faces.

Then they told how they found the wounded Yankee soldier on the bank, and about his death. They were startled by seeing their Cousin Belle suddenly fall on her knees and throw herself across their mother's lap in a passion of tears. Their mother put her arms around the young girl, kissed and soothed her.

Early the next morning their mother had an ox-cart (the only vehicle left on the place), sent down to the spot to bring the body of the soldier up to Oakland, so that it might be buried in the grave-yard there. Carpenter William made the coffin, and several men were set to work to dig the grave in the garden.

It was about the middle of the day when the cart came back. A sheet covered the body. The little cortege was a very solemn one, the steers pulling slowly up the hill and a man walking on each side. Then the body was put into the coffin and reverently carried to the grave. The boys' mother read the burial service out of the prayer-book, and afterward Uncle William Slow offered a prayer. Just as they were about to turn away, the boys' mother began to sing, "Abide with me; fast falls the eventide." She and Cousin Belle and the boys sang the hymn together, and then all walked sadly away, leaving the fresh mound in the garden, where birds peeped curiously from the lilac-bushes at the soldier's grave in the warm, light of the afternoon sun.

A small packet of letters and a gold watch and chain, found in the soldier's pocket, were sealed up by the boys' mother and put in her bureau drawer, for they could not then be sent through the lines. There was one letter, however, which they buried with him. It contained two locks of hair, one gray, the other brown and curly.

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The next few months brought no new incidents, but the following year deep gloom fell upon Oakland. It was not only that the times were harder than they had ever been-though the plantation was now utterly destitute; there were no provisions and no crops, for there were no teams. It was not merely that a shadow was settling down on all the land; for the boys did not trouble themselves about these things, though such anxieties were bringing gray hairs to their mother's temples.

The General had been wounded and captured during a cavalry fight. The boys somehow connected their Cousin Belle with the General's capture, and looked on her with some disfavor. She and the General had quarrelled a short time before, and it was known that she had returned his ring. When, therefore, he was shot through the body and taken by the enemy, the boys could not admit that their cousin had any right to stay up-stairs in her own room weeping about it. They felt that it was all her own fault, and they told her so; whereu

pon she simply burst out crying and ran from the room.

The hard times grew harder. The shadow deepened. Hugh was wounded and captured in a charge at Petersburg, and it was not known whether he was badly hurt or not. Then came the news that Richmond had been evacuated. The boys knew that this was a defeat; but even then they did not believe that the Confederates were beaten. Their mother was deeply affected by the news.

That night at least a dozen of the negroes disappeared. The other servants said the missing ones had gone to Richmond "to get their papers."

A week or so later the boys heard the rumor that General Lee had surrendered at a place called Appomattox. When they came home and told their mother what they had heard, she turned as pale as death, arose, and went into her chamber. The news was corroborated next day. During the following two days, every negro on the plantation left, excepting lame old Sukey Brown. Some of them came and said they had to go to Richmond, that "the word had come" for them. Others, including even Uncle Balla and Lucy Ann, slipped away by night.

After that their mother had to cook, and the boys milked and did the heavier work. The cooking was not much trouble, however, for black-eyed pease were about all they had to eat.

One afternoon, the second day after the news of Lee's surrender, the boys, who had gone to drive up the cows to be milked, saw two horsemen, one behind the other, coming slowly down the road on the far hill. The front horse was white, and, as their father rode a white horse, they ran toward the house to carry the news. Their mother and Cousin Belle, however, having seen the horsemen, were waiting on the porch as the men came through the middle gate and rode across the field.

It was their father and his body-servant, Ralph, who had been with him all through the war. They came slowly up the hill; the horses limping and fagged, the riders dusty and drooping.

It seemed like a funeral. The boys were near the steps, and their mother stood on the portico with her forehead resting against a pillar. No word was spoken. Into the yard they rode at a walk, and up to the porch. Then their father, who had not once looked up, put both hands to his face, slipped from his horse, and walked up the steps, tears running down his cheeks, and took their mother into his arms. It was a funeral-the Confederacy was dead.

A little later, their father, who had been in the house, came out on the porch near where Ralph still stood holding the horses.

"Take off the saddles, Ralph, and turn the horses out," he said.

Ralph did so.

"Here,-here's my last dollar. You have been a faithful servant to me. Put the saddles on the porch." It was done. "You are free," he said to the black, and then he walked back into the house.

Ralph stood where he was for some minutes without moving a muscle. His eyes blinked mechanically. Then he looked at the door and at the windows above him. Suddenly he seemed to come to himself. Turning slowly, he walked solemnly out of the yard.

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