MoboReader > Literature > The Long Roll

   Chapter 5 THUNDER RUN

The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 34046

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Allan Gold, teaching the school on Thunder Run, lodged at the tollgate halfway down the mountain. His parents were dead, his brothers moved away. The mountain girls were pretty and fain, and matches were early made. Allan made none; he taught with conscientiousness thirty tow-headed youngsters, read what books he could get, and worked in the tollgate keeper's small, bright garden. He had a passion for flowers. He loved, too, to sit with his pipe upon the rude porch of the toll-house, fanned by the marvellous mountain air, and look down over ridges of chestnut and oak to the mighty valley below, and across to the far blue wall of the Alleghenies.

The one-roomed, log-built schoolhouse stood a mile from the road across the mountains, upon a higher level, in a fairy meadow below the mountain clearings. A walnut tree shaded it, Thunder Run leaped by in cascades, on either side the footpath Allan had planted larkspur and marigolds. Here, on a May morning, he rang the bell, then waited patiently until the last free-born imp elected to leave the delights of a minnow-filled pool, a newly discovered redbird's nest, and a blockhouse in process of construction against imaginary Indians. At last all were seated upon the rude benches in the dusky room,-small tow-headed Jacks and Jills, heirs to a field of wheat or oats, a diminutive tobacco patch, a log cabin, a piece of uncleared forest, or perhaps the blacksmith's forge, a small mountain store, or the sawmill down the stream. Allan read aloud the Parable of the Sower, and they all said the Lord's Prayer; then he called the Blue Back Speller class. The spelling done, they read from the same book about the Martyr and his Family. Geography followed, with an account of the Yang-tse-Kiang and an illustration of a pagoda, after which the ten-year-olds took the front bench and read of little Hugh and old Mr. Toil. This over, the whole school fell to ciphering. They ciphered for half an hour, and then they had a history lesson, which told of one Curtius who leaped into a gulf to save his country. History being followed by the writing lesson, all save the littlest present began laboriously to copy a proverb of Solomon.

Half-past eleven and recess drawing on! The scholars grew restless. Could the bird's nest still be there? Were the minnows gone from the pool? Had the blockhouse fallen down? Would writing go on forever?-The bell rang; the teacher, whom they liked well enough, was speaking. No more school! Recess forever-or until next year, which was the same thing! No more geography, reading, writing, arithmetic, and spelling; no more school! Hurrah! Of course the redbird's nest was swinging on the bough, and the minnows were in the pool, and the blockhouse was standing, and the sun shining with all its might! "All the men about here are going to fight," said Allan. "I am going, too. So we'll have to stop school until the war is over. Try not to forget what I've taught you, children, and try to be good boys and girls. You boys must learn now to be men, for you'll have to look after things and the women. And you girls must help your mothers all you can. It's going to be hard times, little folk! You've played a long time at fighting Indians, and latterly I've noticed you playing at fighting Yankees. Playtime's over now. It's time to work, to think, and to try to help. You can't fight for Virginia with guns and swords, but every woman and child, every young boy and old man in Virginia can make the hearts easier of those who go to fight. You be good boys and girls and do your duty here on Thunder Run, and God will count you as his soldiers just the same as if you were fighting down there in the valley, or before Richmond, or on the Potomac, or wherever we're going to fight. You're going to be good children; I know it!" He closed the book before him. "School's over now. When we take in again we'll finish the Roman History-I've marked the place." He left his rude old desk and the little platform, and stepping down amongst his pupils, gave to each his hand. Then he divided among them the scanty supply of books, patiently answered a scurry of questions, and outside, upon the sunshiny sward, with the wind in the walnut tree and the larkspur beginning to bloom, said good-bye once more. Jack and Jill gave no further thought to the bird's nest, the minnows in the pool, the unfinished blockhouse. Off they rushed, up the side of the mountain, over the wooded hills, along Thunder Run, where it leaped from pool to pool. They must be home with the news! No more school-no more school! And was father going-and were Johnny and Sam and Dave? Where were they going to fight? As far as the big sawmill? as far away as the river? Were the dogs going, too?

Allan Gold, left alone, locked the schoolhouse door, walked slowly along the footpath between the flowers he had planted, and, standing by Thunder Run, looked for awhile at the clear, brown water, then, with a long breath and a straightening of the shoulders, turned away. "Good-bye, little place!" he said, and strode down the ravine to the road and the toll-house.

The tollgate keeper, old and crippled, sat on the porch beside a wooden bucket of well-water. The county newspaper lay on his knee, and he was reading the items aloud to his wife, old, too, but active, standing at her ironing-board within the kitchen door. A cat purred in the sunshine, and all the lilac bushes were in bloom. "'Ten companies from this County,'" read the tollgate keeper; "'Ten companies from Old Botetourt,-The Mountain Rifles, the Fincastle Rifles, the Botetourt Dragoons, the Zion Hill Company, the Roaring Run men, the Thunder Run-' Air you listenin', Sairy?"

Sairy brought a fresh iron from the stove. "I am a-listenin', Tom. 'Pears to me I ain't done nothing but listen sence last December! It's got to be sech a habit that I ketch myself waking up at night to listen. But I've got to iron as well as listen, or Allan Gold won't have any shirts fit to fight in! Go on reading, I hear ye."

"It's an editorial," said Tom weightily. "'Three weeks have passed since war was declared. At once Governor Letcher called for troops; at once the call was answered. We have had in Botetourt, as all over Virginia, as through all the Southern States, days of excitement, sleepless nights, fanfare of preparation, drill, camp, orders, counter-orders, music, tears and laughter of high-hearted women-'"

Sairy touched her iron with a wet finger-tip. "This time next year thar'll be more tears, I reckon, and less laughter! I ain't a girl, and I don't hold with war-Well?"

"'Beat of drums and call of fife, heroic ardour and the cult of Mars-'"

"Of-?"

"That's the name of the heathen idol they used to sacrifice men to. 'Parties have vanished from county and State. Whigs and Democrats, Unionists and Secessionists, Bell and Everett men and Breckinridge men-all are gone. There is now but one party-the party of the invaded. A month ago there was division of opinion; it does not exist to-day. It died in the hour when we were called upon to deny our convictions, to sacrifice our principles, to juggle with the Constitution, to play fast and loose, to blow hot and cold, to say one thing and do another, to fling our honour to the winds and to assist in coercing Sovereign States back into a Union which they find intolerable! It died in the moment when we saw, no longer the Confederation of Republics to which we had acceded, but a land whirling toward Empire. It is dead. There are no Union men to-day in Virginia. The ten Botetourt companies hold themselves under arms. At any moment may come the order to the front. The county has not spared her first-born-no, nor the darling of his mother! It is a rank and file different from the Old World's rank and file. The rich man marches, a private soldier, beside the poor man; the lettered beside the unlearned; the planter, the lawyer, the merchant, the divine, the student side by side with the man from the plough, the smith, the carpenter, the hunter, the boatman, the labourer by the day. Ay, rank and file, you are different; and the army that you make will yet stir the blood and warm the heart of the world!'"

The ironer stretched another garment upon the board. "If only we fight half as well as that thar newspaper talks! Is the editor going?"

"Yes, he is," said the old man. "It's fine talking, but it's mighty near God's truth all the same!" He moved restlessly, then took his crutch and beat a measure upon the sunken floor. His faded blue eyes, set in a thousand wrinkles, stared down upon and across the great view of ridge and spur and lovely valleys in between. The air at this height was clear and strong as wine, the noon sunshine bright, not hot, the murmur in the leaves and the sound of Thunder Run rather crisp and gay than slumbrous. "If it had to come," said Tom, "why couldn't it ha' come when I was younger? If 't weren't for that darned fall out o' Nofsinger's hayloft I'd go, anyhow!"

"Then I see," retorted Sairy, "what Brother Dame meant by good comin' out o' evil!-Here's Christianna."

A girl in a homespun gown and a blue sunbonnet came up the road and unlatched the little gate. She had upon her arm a small basket such as the mountain folk weave. "Good-mahnin', Mrs. Cole. Good-mahnin', Mr. Cole. It cert'ny is fine weather the mountain's having."

"Yes, it's fine weather, Christianna," answered the old man. "Come in, come in, and take a cheer!"

Christianna came up the tiny path and seated herself, not in the split-bottomed chair to which he waved her, but upon the edge of the porch, with her back to the sapling that served for a pillar, and with her small, ill-shod feet just touching a bed of heartsease. She pushed back her sunbonnet. "Dave an' Billy told us good-bye yesterday. Pap is going down the mountain to-day. Dave took the shotgun an' pap has grandpap's flintlock, but Billy didn't have a gun. He said he'd take one from the Yanks."

"Sho!" exclaimed Sairy. "Didn't he have no weapon at all?"

"He had a hunting-knife that was grandpap's. An' the blacksmith made him what he called a spear-head. He took a bit o' rawhide and tied it to an oak staff, an' he went down the mountain so!" Her drawling voice died, then rose again. "I'll miss Billy-I surely will!" It failed again, and the heartsease at her feet ran together into a little sea of purple and gold. She took the cape of her sunbonnet and with it wiped away the unaccustomed tears.

"Sho!" said Sairy. "We'll all miss Billy. I reckon we all that stay at home air going to have our fill o' missing!-What have you got in your basket, honey?"

Christianna lifted a coloured handkerchief and drew from the basket a little bag of flowered chintz, roses and tulips, drawn up with a blue ribbon. "My! that's pretty," exclaimed Sairy. "Whar did you get the stuff?"

The girl regarded the bag with soft pride. "Last summer I toted a bucket o' blackberries down to Three Oaks an' sold them to Mrs. Cleave. An' she was making a valance for her tester bed, an' I thought the stuff was mighty pretty, an' she gave me a big piece! an' I put it away in my picture box with my glass beads. For the ribbon-I'd saved a little o' my berry money, an' I walked to Buchanan an' bought it." She drew a long breath. "My land! 't was fine in the town-High Street just crowded with Volunteers, and the drums were beating." Her eyes shone like stars. "It's right hard on women to stay at home an' have all the excitement go away. There don't seem to be nothin' to make it up to us-"

Sairy put away the ironing-board. "Sho! We've just got the little end, as usual. What's in the bag, child?"

"Thar's thread and needles in a needle-case, an' an emery," said Christianna. "I wanted a little pair of scissors that was at Mr. Moelick's, but I didn't have enough. They'd be right useful, I reckon, to a soldier, but I couldn't get them. I wondered if the bag ought to be smaller-but he'll have room for it, I reckon? I think it's right pretty."

Old Tom Cole leaned over, took the tiny, flowery affair, and balanced it gently upon a horny hand. "Of course he'll have room for it! An' it's jest as pretty as they make them!-An' here he comes now, down the mountain, to thank ye himself!"

Allan Gold thanked Christianna with simplicity. He had never had so pretty a thing, and he would keep it always, and every time he looked at it he would see Thunder Run and hear the bees in the flowers. It was very kind of her to make it for him, and-and he would keep it always. Christianna listened, and then, with her eyes upon the heartsease, began to say good-bye in her soft, drawling voice. "You're going down the mountain to-day, Mrs. Cole says. Well, good-bye. An' pap's goin' too, an' Dave an' Billy have gone. I reckon the birds won't be singin' when you come again-thar'll be ice upon the creeks, I reckon." She drew her shoulders together as though she shivered for all the May sunshine. "Well, good-bye."

"I'll walk a piece of the road with you," said Allan, and the two went out of the gate together.

Sairy, a pan of biscuits for dinner in her hand, looked after them. "There's a deal of things I'd do differently if I was a man! What was the use in sayin' that every time he looked at that thar bag he'd see Thunder Run? Thunder Run ain't a-keerin' if he sees it or if he don't see it! He might ha' said that every time he laid eyes on them roses he'd see Christianna!-Thar's a wagon comin' up the road an' a man on horseback behind. Here, I'll take the toll-"

"No, I'll take it myself," said Tom, reaching for the tobacco box which served as bank. "If I can't 'list, I reckon I can get all the news that's goin'!" He hobbled out to the gate. "Mornin', Jake! Mornin', Mr. Robinson! Yes, 't is fine weather for the crops. What-"

"The Rockbridge companies are ordered off! Craig and Bedford are going, too. They say Botetourt's time will come next. Lord! we used to think forest fires and floods were exciting! Down there in camp the boys can't sleep at night-every time a rooster crows they think it's Johnny Mason's bugle and the order to the front! Ain't Allan Gold going?"

Sairy spoke from the path. "Course he's goin'-he and twenty more from Thunder Run. I reckon Thunder Run ain't goin' to lag behind! Even Steve Dagg's goin'-though I look for him back afore the battle. Jim's goin', too, to see what he can make out of it-'t won't harm no one, I reckon, if he makes six feet o' earth."

"They're the only trash in the lot," put in Tom. "The others are first-rate-though a heap of them are powerfully young."

"Thar's Billy Maydew, for instance," said Sairy. "Sho! Billy is too young to go-"

"All the cadets have gone from Lexington, remarked the man on horseback. They've gone to Richmond to act as drill-masters-every boy of them with his head as high as General Washington's! I was at Lexington and saw them go. Good Lord! most of them just children-that Will Cleave, for instance, that used to beg a ride on my load of hay! Four companies of them marched away at noon, with their muskets shining in the sun. All the town was up and out-the minister blessing them, and the people crying and cheering! Major T. J. Jackson led them."

"The Thunder Run men are going in Richard Cleave's company. He sets a heap o' store by Allan, an' wanted him for second lieutenant, but the men elected Matthew Coffin-"

"Coffin's bright enough," said Tom, "but Allan's more dependable.-Well, good-day, gentlemen, an' thank ye both!"

The wagon lumbered down the springtime road and the man on horseback followed. The tollgate keeper hobbled back to his chair, and Sairy returned to her dinner. Allan was going away, and she was making gingerbread because he liked it. The spicy, warm fragrance permeated the air, homely and pleasant as the curl of blue smoke above the chimney, the little sunny porch, the buzzing of the bees in the lilacs. "Here's Allan now," said Tom. "Hey, Allan! you must have gone a good bit o' the way?"

"I went all the way," answered Allan, lifting the gourd of well-water to his lips. "Poor little thing! she is breaking her heart over Billy's going."

Sairy, cutting the gingerbread into squares, held the knife suspended. "Have ye been talkin' about Billy all this time?"

"Yes," said Allan. "I saw that she was unhappy and I tried to cheer her up. I'll look out for the boy in every way I can." He took the little bag of chintz from the bench where he had laid it when he went with Christianna, and turned to the rude stair that led to his room in the half story. He was not kin to the tollgate keepers, but he had lived long with them and was very fond of both. "I'll be down in a moment, Aunt Sairy," he said. "I wonder when I'll smell or taste your gingerbread again, and I don't see how I am going to tell you and Tom good-bye!" He was gone, humming "Annie Laurie" as he went.

"'T would be just right an' fittin'," remarked Mrs. Cole, "if ha

lf the men in the world went about with a piece of pasteboard round their necks an' written on it, 'Pity the Blind!' Dinner's most ready, Tom,-an' I don't see how I'm goin' to tell him good-bye myself."

An hour later, in his small bare room underneath the mossy roof, with the small square window through which the breezes blew, Allan stood and looked about him. Dinner was over. It had been something of a feast, with unusual dainties, and a bunch of lilacs upon the table. Sairy had on a Sunday apron. The three had not been silent either; they had talked a good deal, but without much thought of what was said. Perhaps it was because of this that the meal had seemed so vague, and that nothing had left a taste in the mouth. It was over, and Allan was making ready to depart.

On the floor, beside the chest of drawers, stood a small hair trunk. A neighbour with a road wagon had offered to take it, and Allan, too, down the mountain at three o'clock. In the spring of 1861, one out of every two Confederate privates had a trunk. One must preserve the decencies of life; one must make a good appearance in the field! Allan's was small and modest enough, God knows! but such as it was it had not occurred to him to doubt the propriety of taking it. It stood there neatly packed, the shirts that Sairy had been ironing laid atop. The young man, kneeling beside it, placed in this or that corner the last few articles of his outfit. All was simple, clean, and new-only the books that he was taking with him were old. They were his Bible, his Shakespeare, a volume of Plutarch's Lives, and a Latin book or two beside. In a place to themselves were other treasures, a daguerreotype of his mother, a capacious huswife that Sairy had made and stocked for him, the little box of paper "to write home on" that had been Tom's present, various trifles that the three had agreed might come in handy. Among these he now placed Christianna's gift. It was soft and full and bright-he had the same pleasure in handling it that he would have felt in touching a damask rose. He shut it in and rose from his knees.

He had on his uniform. They had been slow in coming-the uniforms-from Richmond. It was only Cleave's patient insistence that had procured them at last. Some of the companies were not uniformed at all. So enormous was the press of business upon the authorities, so limited was the power of an almost purely agricultural, non-manufacturing world suddenly to clothe alike these thousands of volunteers, suddenly to arm them with something better than a fowling-piece or a Revolutionary flintlock, that the wonder is, not that they did so badly, but that they did so well. Pending the arrival of the uniforms the men had drilled in strange array. With an attempt at similarity and a picturesque taste of their own, most of them wore linsey shirts and big black hats, tucked up on one side with a rosette of green ribbon. One man donned his grandfather's Continental blue and buff-on the breast was a dark stain, won at King's Mountain. Others drilled, and were now ready to march, as they came from the plough, the mill, or the forge. But Cleave's company, by virtue of Cleave himself, was fairly equipped. The uniforms had come, and there was a decent showing of modern arms. Billy Maydew's hunting-knife and spear would be changed on the morrow for a musket, though in Billy's case the musket would certainly be the old smoothbore, calibre sixty-nine.

Allan's own gun, left him by his father, rested against the wall. The young man, for all his quietude, his conscientious ways, his daily work with children, his love of flowers, and his dreams of books, inherited from frontiersmen-whose lives had depended upon watchfulness-quickness of wit, accuracy of eye, and steadiness of aim. He rarely missed his mark, and he read intuitively and easily the language of wood, sky, and road. On the bed lay his slouch hat, his haversack, knapsack, and canteen, cartridge-box and belt, and slung over the back of a chair was his roll of blanket. All was in readiness. Allan went over to the window. Below him were the flowers he had tended, then the great forests in their May freshness, cataracts of green, falling down, down to the valley. Over all hung the sky, divinely blue. A wind went rustling through the forest, joining its voice to the voice of Thunder Run. Allan knelt, touching with his forehead the window-sill. "O Lord God," he said, "O Lord God, keep us all, North and South, and bring us through winding ways to Thy end at last." As he rose he heard the wagon coming down the road. He turned, put the roll of blanket over one shoulder, and beneath the other arm assumed knapsack, haversack, and canteen, dragged the hair trunk out upon the landing, returned, took up his musket, looked once again about the small, familiar room, then left it and went downstairs.

Sairy and Tom were upon the porch, the owner of the wagon with them. "I'll tote down yo' trunk," said the latter, and presently emerged from the house with that article upon his shoulder. "I reckon I'll volunteer myself, just as soon 's harvest's over," he remarked genially. "But, gosh! you-all'll be back by then, telling how you did it!" He went down the path whistling, and tossed the trunk into the wagon.

"I hate good-byes," said Allan. "I wish I had stolen away last night."

"Don't ye get killed!" answered Sairy sharply. "That's what I'm afraid of. I know you'll go riskin' yourself!"

"God bless you," said Tom. "You've been like a son to us these five years. Don't you forget to write."

"I won't," answered Allan. "I'll write you long letters. And I won't get killed, Aunt Sairy. I'll take the best of care." He took the old woman in his arms. "You two have been just as good as a father and mother to me. Thank you for it. I'll never forget. Good-bye."

Toward five o'clock the wagon rolled into the village whence certain of the Botetourt companies were to march away. It was built beside the river-two long, parallel streets, one upon the water level, the other much higher, with intersecting lanes. There were brick and frame houses, modest enough; there were three small, white-spired churches, many locust and ailanthus trees, a covered bridge thrown across the river to a village upon the farther side and, surrounding all, a noble frame of mountains. There was, in those days, no railroad.

Cleave's hundred men, having the town at large for their friend, stood in no lack of quarters. Some had volunteered from this place or its neighbourhood, others had kinsmen and associates, not one was so forlorn as to be without a host. The village was in a high fever of hospitality; had the companies marching from Botetourt been so many brigades, it would still have done its utmost. From the Potomac to the Dan, from the Eastern Shore to the Alleghenies the flame of patriotism burned high and clear. There were skulkers, there were braggarts, there were knaves and fools in Virginia as elsewhere, but by comparison they were not many, and theirs was not the voice that was heard to-day. The mass of the people were very honest, stubbornly convinced, showing to the end a most heroic and devoted ardour. This village was not behindhand. All her young men were going; she had her company, too. She welcomed Cleave's men, gathered for the momentarily expected order to the front, and lavished upon them, as on two other companies within her bounds, every hospitable care.

The wagon driver deposited Allan Gold and his trunk before the porch of the old, red brick hotel, shook hands with a mighty grip, and rattled on toward the lower end of town. The host came out to greet the young man, two negro boys laid hold of his trunk, a passing volunteer in butternut, with a musket as long as Natty Bumpo's, hailed him, and a cluster of elderly men sitting with tilted chairs in the shade of a locust tree rose and gave him welcome. "It's Allan Gold from Thunder Run, isn't it? Good-day, sir, good-day! Can't have too many from Thunder Run; good giant stuff! Have you somewhere to stay to-night? If not, any one of us will be happy to look after you.-Mr. Harris, let us have juleps all round-"

"Thank you very kindly, sir," said Allan, "but I must go find my captain."

"I saw him," remarked a gray-haired gentleman, "just now down the street. He's seeing to the loading of his wagons, showing Jim Ball and the drivers just how to do it-and he says he isn't going to show them but this once. They seemed right prompt to learn."

"I was thar too," put in an old farmer. "'They're mighty heavy wagons,' I says, says I. 'Three times too heavy,' he says, says he. 'This company's got the largest part of its provisions for the whole war right here and now,' says he. 'Thar's a heap of trunks,' says I. 'More than would be needed for the White Sulphur,' he says, says he. 'This time two years we'll march lighter,' says he-"

There were exclamations. "Two years! Thunderation!-This war'll be over before persimmons are ripe! Why, the boys haven't volunteered but for one year-and even that seemed kind of senseless! Two years! He's daft!"

"I dunno," quoth the other. "If fighting's like farming it's all-fired slow work. Anyhow, that's what he said. 'This time two years we'll march lighter,' he says, says he, and then I came away. He's down by the old warehouse by the bridge, Mr. Gold-and I just met Matthew Coffin and he says thar's going to be a parade presently."

An hour later, in the sunset glow, in a meadow by the river, the three companies paraded. The new uniforms, the bright muskets, the silken colours, the bands playing "Dixie," the quick orders, the more or less practised evolutions, the universal martial mood, the sense of danger over all, as yet thrilling only, not leaden, the known faces, the loved faces, the imminent farewell, the flush of glory, the beckoning of great events-no wonder every woman, girl, and child, every old man and young boy who could reach the meadow were there, watching in the golden light, half wild with enthusiasm!

Wish I was in de land ob cotton,

Old times dar am not forgotten

Look away! look away! Dixie Land.

At one side, beneath a great sugar maple, were clustered a number of women, mothers, wives, sisters, sweethearts, of those who were going forth to war. They swayed forward, absorbed in watching, not the companies as a whole, but one or two, sometimes three or four figures therein. They had not held them back; never in the times of history were there more devotedly patriotic women than they of the Southern States. They lent their plaudits; they were high in the thoughts of the men moving with precision beneath the great flag of Virginia, to the sound of music, in the green meadow by the James. The colours of the several companies had been sewed by women, sitting together in dim old parlours, behind windows framed in roses. One banner had been made from a wedding gown.

Look away! look away!

Look away down South to Dixie!

The throng wept and cheered. The negroes, slave and free, belonging to this village and the surrounding country, were of an excellent type, worthy and respectable men and women, honoured by and honouring their "white people." A number of these were in the meadow by the river, and they, too, clapped and cheered, borne away by music and spectacle, gazing with fond eyes upon some nursling, or playmate, or young, imperious, well-liked master in those gleaming ranks. Isaac, son of Abraham, or Esau and Jacob, sons of Isaac, marching with banners against Canaan or Moab, may have heard some such acclaim from the servants left behind. Several were going with the company. Captain and lieutenants, and more than one sergeant and corporal had their body-servants-these were the proudest of the proud and the envied of their brethren. The latter were voluble. "Des look at Wash,-des look at Washington Mayo! Actin' lak he own er co'te house an' er stage line! O my Lawd! wish I wuz er gwine! An dat dar Tullius from Three Oaks-he gwine march right behin' de captain, an' Marse Hairston Breckinridge's boy he gwine march right behin' him!-Dar de big drum ag'in!"

In Dixie land I'll take my stand,

To live and die in Dixie!

Look away! Look away!

Look away down South to Dixie!

The sun set behind the great mountain across the river. Parade was over, ranks broken. The people and their heroes, some restless, others tense, all flushed of cheek and bright of eye, all borne upon a momentous upward wave of emotion, parted this way and that, to supper, to divers preparations, fond talk, and farewells, to an indoor hour. Then, presently, out again in the mild May night, out into High Street and Low Street, in the moonlight, under the odour of the white locust clusters. The churches were lit and open; in each there was brief service, well attended. Later, from the porch of the old hotel, there was speaking. It drew toward eleven o'clock. The moon was high, the women and children all housed, the oldest men, spent with the strain of the day, also gone to their homes, or their friends' homes. The Volunteers and a faithful few were left. They could not sleep; if war was going to be always as exciting as this, how did soldiers ever sleep? There was not among them a man who had ever served in war, so the question remained unanswered. A Thunder Run man volunteered the information that the captain was asleep-he had been to the house where the captain lodged and his mother had come to the door with her finger on her lips, and he had looked past her and seen Captain Cleave lying on a sofa fast asleep. Thunder Run's comrades listened, but they rather doubted the correctness of his report. It surely wasn't very soldier-like to sleep-even upon a sofa-the night before marching away! The lieutenants weren't asleep. Hairston Breckinridge had a map spread out upon a bench before the post office, and was demonstrating to an eager dozen the indubitable fact that the big victory would be either at Harper's Ferry or Alexandria. Young Matthew Coffin was in love, and might be seen through the hotel window writing, candles all around him, at a table, covering one pale blue sheet after another with impassioned farewells. Sergeants and corporals and men were wakeful. Some of these, too, were writing letters, sending messages; others joined in the discussion as to the theatre of war, or made knots of their own, centres of conjectures and prophecy; others roamed the streets, or down by the river bank watched the dark stream. Of these, a few proposed to strip and have a swim-who knew when they'd see the old river again? But the notion was frowned upon. One must be dressed and ready. At that very moment, perhaps, a man might be riding into town with the order. The musicians were not asleep. Young Matthew Coffin, sealing his letter some time after midnight, and coming out into the moonlight and the fragrance of the locust trees, had an inspiration. All was in readiness for the order when it should come, and who, in the meantime, wanted to do so prosaic a thing as rest? "Boys, let us serenade the ladies!"

The silver night wore on. So many of the "boys" had sisters, that there were many pretty ladies staying in the town or at the two or three pleasant old houses upon its outskirts. Two o'clock, three o'clock passed, and there were yet windows to sing beneath. Old love songs floated through the soft and dreamy air; there was a sense of angelic beings in the unlit rooms above, even of the flutter of their wings. Then, at the music's dying fall, flowers were thrown; there seemed to descend a breath, a whisper, "Adieu, heroes-adored, adored heroes!" A scramble for the flowers, then out at the gate and on to the next house, and so da capo.

Dawn, though the stars were yet shining, began to make itself felt. A coldness was in the air, a mist arose from the river, there came a sensation of arrest, of somewhere an icy finger upon the pulse of life.

Maxwelton's braes are bonnie,

Where early fa's the dew,

And 't was there that Annie Laurie

Gie'd me her promise true,-

They were singing now before an old brick house in the lower street. There were syringas in bloom in the yard. A faint light was rising in the east, the stars were fading.

Gie'd me her promise true

Which ne'er forgot shall be-

Suddenly, from High Street, wrapped in mist, a bugle rang out. The order-the order-the order to the front! It called again, sounding the assembly. Fall in, men, fall in!

At sunrise Richard Cleave's company went away. There was a dense crowd in the misty street, weeping, cheering. An old minister, standing beside the captain, lifted his arms-the men uncovered, the prayer was said, the blessing given. Again the bugle blew, the women cried farewell. The band played "Virginia," the flag streamed wide in the morning wind. Good-bye, good-bye, and again good-bye! Attention! Take arms! Shoulder arms! Right face! forward, march!

* * *

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

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares