MoboReader > Literature > The Long Roll

   Chapter 2 THE HILLTOP

The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 26860

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

On the court house portico sat the prominent men of the county, lawyers and planters, men of name and place, moulders of thought and leaders in action. Out of these came the speakers. One by one, they stepped into the clear space between the pillars. Such a man was cool and weighty, such a man was impassioned and persuasive. Now the tense crowd listened, hardly breathing, now it broke into wild applause. The speakers dealt with an approaching tempest, and with a gesture they checked off the storm clouds. "Protection for the manufacturing North at the expense of the agricultural South-an old storm centre! Territorial Rights-once a speck in the west, not so large as a man's hand, and now beneath it, the wrangling and darkened land! The Bondage of the African Race-a heavy cloud! Our English fathers raised it; our northern brethren dwelled with it; the currents of the air fixed it in the South. At no far day we will pass from under it. In the mean time we would not have it burst. In that case underneath it would lie ruined fields and wrecked homes, and out of its elements would come a fearful pestilence! The Triumph of the Republican Party-no slight darkening of the air is that, no drifting mist of the morning! It is the triumph of that party which proclaims the Constitution a covenant with death and an agreement with hell!-of that party which tolled the bells, and fired the minute guns, and draped its churches with black, and all-hailed as saint and martyr the instigator of a bloody and servile insurrection in a sister State, the felon and murderer, John Brown! The Radical, the Black Republican, faction, sectional rule, fanaticism, violation of the Constitution, aggression, tyranny, and wrong-all these are in the bosom of that cloud!-The Sovereignty of the State. Where is the tempest which threatens here? Not here, Virginians! but in the pleasing assertion of the North, 'There is no sovereignty of the State!' 'A State is merely to the Union what a county is to a State.' O shades of John Randolph of Roanoke, of Patrick Henry, of Mason and Madison, of Washington and Jefferson! O shade of John Marshall even, whom we used to think too Federal! The Union! We thought of the Union as a golden thread-at the most we thought of it as a strong servant we had made between us, we thirteen artificers-a beautiful Talus to walk our coasts and cry 'All's well!' We thought so-by the gods, we think so yet! That is our Union-the golden thread, the faithful servant; not the monster that Frankenstein made, not this Minotaur swallowing States! The Sovereignty of the State! Virginia fought seven years for the sovereignty of Virginia, wrung it, eighty years ago, from Great Britain, and has not since resigned it! Being different in most things, possibly the North is different also in this. It may be that those States have renounced the liberty they fought for. Possibly Massachusetts-the years 1803, 1811, and 1844 to the contrary-does regard herself as a county. Possibly Connecticut-for all that there was a Hartford Convention!-sees herself in the same light. Possibly. 'Brutus saith 't is so, and Brutus is an honourable man!' But Virginia has not renounced! Eighty years ago she wrote a certain motto on her shield. To-day the letters burn bright! Unterrified then she entered this league from which we hoped so much. Unterrified to-morrow, should a slurring hand be laid upon that shield, will she leave it!"

Allan Gold, from the schoolhouse on Thunder Run, listened with a swelling heart, then, amid the applause which followed the last speaker, edged his way along the crowded old brick pavement to where, not far from the portico, he made out the broad shoulders, the waving dark hair, and the slouch hat of a young man with whom he was used to discuss these questions. Hairston Breckinridge glanced down at the pressure upon his arm, recognized the hand, and pursued, half aloud, the current of his thought. "I don't believe I'll go back to the university. I don't believe any of us will go back to the university.-Hello, Allan!"

"I'm for the preservation of the Union," said Allan. "I can't help it. We made it, and we've loved it."

"I'm for it, too," answered the other, "in reason. I'm not for it out of reason. In these affairs out of reason is out of honour. There's nothing sacred in the word Union that men should bow down and worship it! It's the thing behind the word that counts-and whoever says that Massachusetts and Virginia, and Illinois and Texas are united just now is a fool or a liar!-Who's this Colonel Anderson is bringing forward? Ah, we'll have the Union now!"

"Who is it?"

"Albemarle man, staying at Lauderdale.-Major in the army, home on furlough.-Old-line Whig. I've been at his brother's place, near Charlottesville-"

From the portico came a voice. "I am sure that few in Botetourt need an introduction here. We, no more than others, are free from vanity, and we think we know a hero by intuition. Men of Botetourt, we have the honour to listen to Major Fauquier Cary, who carried the flag up Chapultepec!"

Amid applause a man of perhaps forty years, spare, bronzed, and soldierly, entered the clear space between the pillars, threw out his arm with an authoritative gesture, and began to speak in an odd, dry, attractive voice. "You are too good!" he said clearly. "I'm afraid you don't know Fauquier Cary very well, after all. He's no hero-worse luck! He's only a Virginian, trying to do the right as he sees it, out yonder on the plains with the Apaches and the Comanches and the sage brush and the desert-"

There was an interruption. "How about Chapultepec?"-"And the Rio Grande?"-"Didn't we hear something about a fight in Texas?"

The speaker laughed. "A fight in Texas? Folk, folk, if you knew how many fights there are in Texas-and how meritorious it is to keep out of them! No; I'm only a Virginian out there." He regarded the throng with his magnetic smile, his slight and fine air of gaiety in storm. "As you know, I am by no means the only Virginian, and they are heroes, the others, if you like!-real, old-line heroes, brave as the warriors in Homer, and a long sight better men! I am happy to report to his kinsmen here that General Joseph E. Johnston is in health-still loving astronomy, still reading du Guesclin, still studying the Art of War. He's a soldier's soldier, and that, in its way, is as fine a thing as a poet's poet! I see men before me who are of the blood of the Lees. Out there by the Rio Grande is a Colonel Robert E. Lee, of whom Virginia may well be proud! There are few heights in those western deserts, but he carries his height with him. He's marked for greatness. And there are 'Beauty' Stuart, and Dabney Maury, the best of fellows, and Edward Dillon, and Walker and George Thomas, and many another good man and true. First and last, there's a deal of old Virginia following Mars, out yonder! We've got Hardee, too, from Georgia, and Van Dorn from Mississippi, and Albert Sidney Johnston from Kentucky-no better men in Homer, no better men! And there are others as soldierly-McClellan with whom I graduated at West Point, Fitz-John Porter, Hancock, Sedgwick, Sykes, and Averell. McClellan and Hancock are from Pennsylvania, Fitz-John Porter is from New Hampshire, Sedgwick from Connecticut, Sykes from Delaware, and Averell from New York. And away, away out yonder, in the midst of sage brush and Apaches, when any of us chance to meet around a camp-fire, there we sit, while coyotes are yelling off in the dark, there we sit and tell stories of home, of Virginia and Pennsylvania, of Georgia and New Hampshire!"

He paused, drew himself up, looked out over the throng to the mountains, studied for a moment their long, clean line, then dropped his glance and spoke in a changed tone, with a fiery suddenness, a lunge as of a tried rapier, quick and startling.

"Men of Botetourt! I speak for my fellow soldiers of the Army of the United States when I say that, out yonder, we are blithe to fight with marauding Comanches, with wolves and with grizzlies, but that we are not-oh, we are not-ready to fight with each other! Brother against brother-comrade against comrade-friend against friend-to quarrel in the same tongue and to slay the man with whom you've faced a thousand dangers-no, we are not ready for that!

"Virginians! I will not believe that the permanent dissolution of this great Union is come! I will not believe that we stand to-day in danger of internecine war! Men of Botetourt, go slow-go slow! The Right of the State-I grant it! I was bred in that doctrine, as were you all. Albemarle no whit behind Botetourt in that! The Botetourt Resolutions-amen to much, to very much in the Botetourt Resolutions! South Carolina! Let South Carolina go in peace! It is her right! Remembering old comradeship, old battlefields, old defeats, old victories, we shall still be friends. If the Gulf States go, still it is their right, immemorial, incontrovertible!-The right of self-government. We are of one blood and the country is wide. God-speed both to Lot and to Abraham! On some sunny future day may their children draw together and take hands again! So much for the seceding States. But Virginia,-but Virginia made possible the Union,-let her stand fast in it in this day of storm! in this Convention let her voice be heard-as I know it will be heard-for wisdom, for moderation, for patience! So, or soon or late, she will mediate between the States, she will once again make the ring complete, she will be the saviour of this great historic Confederation which our fathers made!"

A minute or two more and he ended his speech. As he moved from between the pillars, there was loud applause. The county was largely Whig, honestly longing-having put on record what it thought of the present mischief and the makers of it-for a peaceful solution of all troubles. As for the army, county and State were proud of the army, and proud of the Virginians within it. It was amid cheering that Fauquier Cary left the portico. At the head of the steps, however, there came a question. "One moment, Major Cary! What if the North declines to evacuate Fort Sumter? What if she attempts to reinforce it? What if she declares for a compulsory Union?"

Cary paused a moment. "She will not, she will not! There are politicians in the North whom I'll not defend! But the people-the people-the people are neither fools nor knaves! They were born North and we were born South and that is the chief difference between us! A Compulsory Union! That is a contradiction in terms. Individuals and States, harmoniously minded, unite for the sweetness of Union and for the furtherance of common interests. When the minds are discordant, and the interests opposed, one may be bound to another by Conquest-not otherwise! What said Hamilton? To coerce a State would be one of the maddest projects ever devised!" He descended the court house steps to the grassy, crowded yard. Here acquaintances claimed him, and here, at last, the surge of the crowd brought him within a yard of Allan Gold and his companion. The latter spoke. "Major Cary, you don't remember me. I'm Hairston Breckinridge, sir, and I've been once or twice to Greenwood with Edward. I was there Christmas before last, when you came home wounded-"

The older man put out a ready hand. "Yes, yes, I do remember! We had a merry Christmas! I am glad to meet you again, Mr. Breckinridge. Is this your brother?"

"No, sir. It's Allan Gold, from Thunder Run."

"I am pleased to meet you, sir," said Allan. "You have been saying what I should like to have been able to say myself."

"I am pleased that you are pleased. Are you, too, from the university?"

"No, sir. I couldn't go. I teach the school on Thunder Run."

"Allan knows more," said Hairston Breckinridge, "than many of us who are at the university. But we mustn't keep you, sir."

In effect they could do so no longer. Major Cary was swept away by acquaintances and connections. The day was declining, the final speaker drawing to an end, the throng beginning to shiver in the deepening cold. The speaker gave his final sentence; the town band crashed in determinedly with "Home, Sweet Home." To its closing strains the county people, afoot, on horseback, in old, roomy, high-swung carriages, took this road and that. The townsfolk, still excited, still discussing, lingered awhile round the court house or on the verandah of the old hotel, but at last these groups dissolved also. The units betook themselves home to fireside and supper, and the sun set behind the Alleghenies.

Allan Gold, striding over the hills toward Thunder Run, caught up with the miller from Mill Creek, and the two walked side by side until their roads diverged. The miller was a slow man, but to-day there was a red in his cheek and a light in his eye. "Just so," he said shortly. "They must keep out of my mill race or they'll get caught in the wheel."

"Mr. Green," said Allan, "how much of all this trouble do you suppose is really about the negro? I was brought up to wish that Virginia had never held a slave."

"So were most of us. You don't hold any."


"No more I don't. No more does Tom Watts. Nor Anderson West. Nor the Taylors. Nor five sixths of the farming folk about here. Nor seven eighths of the townspeople. We don't own a negro, and I don't know that we ever did own one. Not

long ago I asked Colonel Anderson a lot of questions about the matter. He says the census this year gives Virginia one million and fifty thousand white people, and of these the fifty thousand hold slaves and the one million don't. The fifty thousand's mostly in the tide-water counties, too,-mighty little of it on this side the Blue Ridge! Ain't anybody ever accused Virginians of not being good to servants! and it don't take more'n half an eye to see that the servants love their white people. For slavery itself, I ain't quarrelling for it, and neither was Colonel Anderson. He said it was abhorrent in the sight of God and man. He said the old House of Burgesses used to try to stop the bringing in of negroes, and that the Colony was always appealing to the king against the traffic. He said that in 1778, two years after Virginia declared her Independence, she passed the statute prohibiting the slave trade. He said that she was the first country in the civilized world to stop the trade-passed her statute thirty years before England! He said that all our great Revolutionary men hated slavery and worked for the emancipation of the negroes who were here; that men worked openly and hard for it until 1832. Then came the Nat Turner Insurrection, when they killed all those women and children, and then rose the hell-fire-for-all, bitter-'n-gall Abolition people stirring gunpowder with a lighted stick, holding on like grim death and in perfect safety fifteen hundred miles from where the explosion was due! And as they denounce without thinking, so a lot of men have risen with us to advocate without thinking. And underneath all the clamour, there goes on, all the time, quiet and steady, a freeing of negroes by deed and will, a settling them in communities in free States, a belonging to and supporting Colonization Societies. There are now forty thousand free negroes in Virginia, and Heaven knows how many have been freed and established elsewhere! It is our best people who make these wills, freeing their slaves, and in Virginia, at least, everybody, sooner or later, follows the best people. 'Gradual manumission, Mr. Green,' that's what Colonel Anderson said, 'with colonization in Africa if possible. The difficulties are enough to turn a man's hair grey, but,' said he, 'slavery's knell has struck, and we'll put an end to it in Virginia peacefully and with some approach to wisdom-if only they'll stop stirring the gunpowder!'"

The miller raised his large head, with its effect of white powder from the mill, and regarded the landscape. "'We're all mighty blind, poor creatures,' as the preacher says, but I reckon one day we'll find the right way, both for us and for that half million poor, dark-skinned, lovable, never-knew-any-better, pretty-happy-on-the-whole, way-behind-the-world people that King James and King Charles and King George saddled us with, not much to their betterment and to our certain hurt. I reckon we'll find it. But I'm damned if I'm going to take the North's word for it that she has the way! Her old way was to sell her negroes South."

"I've thought and thought," said Allan. "People mean well, and yet there's such a dreadful lot of tragedy in the world!"

"I agree with you there," quoth the miller. "And I certainly don't deny that slavery's responsible for a lot of bitter talk and a lot of red-hot feeling; for some suffering to some negroes, too, and for a deal of harm to almost all whites. And I, for one, will be powerful glad when every negro, man and woman, is free. They can never really grow until they are free-I'll acknowledge that. And if they want to go back to their own country I'd pay my mite to help them along. I think I owe it to them-even though as far as I know I haven't a forbear that ever did them wrong. Trouble is, don't any of them want to go back! You couldn't scare them worse than to tell them you were going to help them back to their fatherland! The Lauderdale negroes, for instance-never see one that he isn't laughing! And Tullius at Three Oaks,-he'd say he couldn't possibly think of going-must stay at Three Oaks and look after Miss Margaret and the children! No, it isn't an easy subject, look at it any way you will. But as between us and the North, it ain't the main subject of quarrel-not by a long shot it ain't! The quarrel's that a man wants to take all the grist, mine as well as his, and grind it in his mill! Well, I won't let him-that's all. And here's your road to Thunder Run."

Allan strode on alone over the frozen hills. Before him sprang the rampart of the mountains, magnificently drawn against the eastern sky. To either hand lay the fallow fields, rolled the brown hills, rose the shadowy bulk of forest trees, showed the green of winter wheat. The evening was cold, but without wind and soundless. The birds had flown south, the cattle were stalled, the sheep folded. There was only the earth, field and hill and mountain, the up and down of a narrow road, and the glimmer of a distant stream. The sunset had been red, and it left a colour that flared to the zenith.

The young man, tall, blond, with grey-blue eyes and short, fair beard, covered with long strides the frozen road. It led him over a lofty hill whose summit commanded a wide prospect. Allan, reaching this height, hesitated a moment, then crossed to a grey zigzag of rail fence, and, leaning his arms upon it, looked forth over hill and vale, forest and stream. The afterglow was upon the land. He looked at the mountains, the great mountains, long and clean of line as the marching rollers of a giant sea, not split or jagged, but even, unbroken, and old, old, the oldest almost in the world. Now the ancient forest clothed them, while they were given, by some constant trick of the light, the distant, dreamy blue from which they took their name. The Blue Ridge-the Blue Ridge-and then the hills and the valleys, and all the rushing creeks, and the grandeur of the trees, and to the east, steel clear between the sycamores and the willows, the river-the upper reaches of the river James.

The glow deepened. From a farmhouse in the valley came the sound of a bell. Allan straightened himself, lifting his arms from the grey old rails. He spoke aloud.

Breathes there the man with soul so dead,-

The bell rang again, the rose suffused the sky to the zenith. The young man drew a long breath, and, turning, began to descend the hill.

Before him, at a turn of the road and overhanging a precipitous hollow, in the spring carpeted with bloodroot, but now thick with dead leaves, lay a giant oak, long ago struck down by lightning. The branches had been cut away, but the blackened trunk remained, and from it as vantage point one received another great view of the rolling mountains and the valleys between. Allan Gold, coming down the hill, became aware, first of a horse fastened to a wayside sapling, then of a man seated upon the fallen oak, his back to the road, his face to the darkening prospect. Below him the winter wind made a rustling in the dead leaves. Evidently another had paused to admire the view, or to collect and mould between the hands of the soul the crowding impressions of a decisive day. It was, apparently, the latter purpose; for as Allan approached the ravine there came to him out of the dusk, in a controlled but vibrant voice, the following statement, repeated three times: "We are going to have war.-We are going to have war.-We are going to have war."

Allan sent his own voice before him. "I trust in God that's not true!-It's Richard Cleave, there, isn't it?"

The figure on the oak, swinging itself around, sat outlined against the violet sky. "Yes, Richard Cleave. It's a night to make one think, Allan-to make one think-to make one think!" Laying his hand on the trunk beside him, he sprang lightly down to the roadside, where he proceeded to brush dead leaf and bark from his clothing with an old gauntlet. When he spoke it was still in the same moved, vibrating voice. "War's my métier. That's a curious thing to be said by a country lawyer in peaceful old Virginia in this year of grace! But like many another curious thing, it's true! I was never on a field of battle, but I know all about a field of battle."

He shook his head, lifted his hand, and flung it out toward the mountains. "I don't want war, mind you, Allan! That is, the great stream at the bottom doesn't want it. War is a word that means agony to many and a set-back to all. Reason tells me that, and my heart wishes the world neither agony nor set-back, and I give my word for peace. Only-only-before this life I must have fought all along the line!"

His eyes lightened. Against the paling sky, in the wintry air, his powerful frame, not tall, but deep-chested, broad-shouldered, looked larger than life. "I don't talk this way often-as you'll grant!" he said, and laughed. "But I suppose to-day loosed all our tongues, lifted every man out of himself!"

"If war came," said Allan, "it couldn't be a long war, could it? After the first battle we'd come to an understanding."

"Would we?" answered the other. "Would we?-God knows! In the past it has been that the more equal the tinge of blood, the fiercer was the war."

As he spoke he moved across to the sapling where was fastened his horse, loosed him, and sprang into the saddle. The horse, a magnificent bay, took the road, and the three began the long descent. It was very cold and still, a crescent moon in the sky, and lights beginning to shine from the farmhouses in the valley.

"Though I teach school," said Allan, "I like the open. I like to do things with my hands, and I like to go in and out of the woods. Perhaps, all the way behind us, I was a hunter, with a taste for books! My grandfather was a scout in the Revolution, and his father was a ranger.... God knows, I don't want war! But if it comes I'll go. We'll all go, I reckon."

"Yes, we'll all go," said Cleave. "We'll need to go."

The one rode, the other walked in silence for a time; then said the first, "I shall ride to Lauderdale after supper and talk to Fauquier Cary."

"You and he are cousins, aren't you?"

"Third cousins. His mother was a Dandridge-Unity Dandridge."

"I like him. It's like old wine and blue steel and a cavalier poet-that type."

"Yes, it is old and fine, in men and in women."

"He does not want war."


"Hairston Breckinridge says that he won't discuss the possibility at all-he'll only say what he said to-day, that every one should work for peace, and that war between brothers is horrible."

"It is. No. He wears a uniform. He cannot talk."

They went on in silence for a time, over the winter road, through the crystal air. Between the branches of the trees the sky showed intense and cold, the crescent moon, above a black mass of mountains, golden and sharp, the lights in the valley near enough to be gathered.

"If there should be war," asked Allan, "what will they do, all the Virginians in the army-Lee and Johnston and Stuart, Maury and Thomas and the rest?"

"They'll come home."

"Resigning their commissions?"

"Resigning their commissions."

Allan sighed. "That would be a hard thing to have to do."

"They'll do it. Wouldn't you?"

The teacher from Thunder Run looked from the dim valley and the household lamps up to the marching stars. "Yes. If my State called, I would do it."

"This is what will happen," said Cleave. "There are times when a man sees clearly, and I see clearly to-day. The North does not intend to evacuate Fort Sumter. Instead, sooner or later, she'll try to reinforce it. That will be the beginning of the end. South Carolina will reduce the fort. The North will preach a holy war. War there will be-whether holy or not remains to be seen. Virginia will be called upon to furnish her quota of troops with which to coerce South Carolina and the Gulf States back into the Union. Well-do you think she will give them?"

Allan gave a short laugh. "No!"

"That is what will happen. And then-and then a greater State than any will be forced into secession! And then the Virginians in the army will come home."

The wood gave way to open country, softly swelling fields, willow copses, and clear running streams. In the crystal air the mountain walls seemed near at hand, above shone Orion, icily brilliant. The lawyer from a dim old house in a grove of oaks and the school-teacher from Thunder Run went on in silence for a time; then the latter spoke.

"Hairston Breckinridge says that Major Cary's niece is with him at Lauderdale."

"Yes. Judith Cary."

"That's the beautiful one, isn't it?"

"They are all said to be beautiful-the three Greenwood Carys. But-Yes, that is the beautiful one."

He began to hum a song, and as he did so he lifted his wide soft hat and rode bareheaded.

"It's strange to me," said Allan presently, "that any one should be gay to-day."

As he spoke he glanced up at the face of the man riding beside him on the great bay. There was yet upon the road a faint after-light-enough light to reveal that there were tears on Cleave's cheek. Involuntarily Allan uttered an exclamation.

The other, breaking off his chant, quite simply put up a gauntleted hand and wiped the moisture away. "Gay!" he repeated. "I'm not gay. What gave you such an idea? I tell you that though I've never been in a war, I know all about war!"

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top