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John March, Southerner

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"If you'll excuse me," said the mother, and went upstairs.

"Oh! mussy! mussy! yo' foot a-mashing my whole breas' in'! Oh, my Gawd! De Yankees 'll git win' o' dis an' you'll go to jail!"

The lash fell. "O – oh! – o – oh! Oh, Lawd!" Jeff-Jack sat still and once or twice smiled. "Oh, Lawd 'a' mussy! my back! Ow! It bu'us like fiah! – o – oh! oh! – ow!"

"It doesn't hurt as bad as it ought to, Cornelius," and the blows came again.

"Ow! Dey won't git win' of it! 'Deed an 'deedy dey won't, sweet Mahse John Wesley! – oh! – o – oh! – Ow! – Oh, Lawd, come down! Dey des shan't git win' of it! 'fo' Gawd dey shan't! Ow! – oh! – oh! – oh! – a – ah – oo – oo!"

"Now, go!" said Garnet. Cornelius leaped up, ran with his eyes turned back on the whip, and fell again, wallowing like a scalded dog. "Oh, my po' back, my po' back! M – oh! it's a-bu'nin' up – oh!"

The Major advanced with the broken whip uplifted. Cornelius ran backward to the steps and rolled clear to the ground. The whip was tossed after him. With a gnashing curse he snatched it up and hurried off, moaning and writhing, into the darkness, down by the spring-house.

Garnet smiled in scorn, far from guessing that soon, almost as soon as yonder receding clatter of hoofs should pass into silence, the venomous thing from which he had lifted his heel would coil and strike, and that another back, a little one that had never felt the burden of a sin or a task, or aught heavier than the sun's kiss, was to take its turn at writhing and burning like fire.

The memory of that hour, when it was over and home was reached, was burnt into the child's mind forever. It was then late. Mrs. March, "never strong," and, – with a sigh, – "never anxious," had retired. Her two handmaids, freedwomen, were new to the place, but already fond of her son. Cornelius found them waiting uneasily at the garden-fence. He had lingered and toiled with the Judge and his broken wagon, he said, "notwithstanding we done dissolve," until he had got the worst "misery in his back" he had ever suffered. When they received John from him and felt the child's tremblings, he warned them kindly that the less asked about it the better for the reputations of both the boy and his father.

"You can't 'spute the right an' custody of a man to his own son's chastisement, naw yit to 'low to dat son dat ef ever he let his maw git win' of it, he give him double an' thribble."

When the women told him he lied he appealed to John, and the child nodded his head. About midnight Cornelius handed the horse over to Judge March, reassuring him of his son's safety and comfort, and hurried off, much pleased with the length of his own head in that he had not stolen the animal. John fell asleep almost as soon as he touched the pillow. Then the maid who had undressed him beckoned the other in. Candle in hand she led the way to the trundle-bed drawn out from under the Judge's empty four-poster, and sat upon its edge. The child lay chest downward. She lifted his gown, and exposed his back.

"Good Gawd!" whispered the other.



As Major Garnet's step sounded again in the hall, Barbara's crying came faintly down through the closed doors. He found Ravenel sitting by the lamp, turning the spotted leaves of Heber's poems.

"Mrs. Garnet putting Barb to bed?" he asked, and slowly took an easy chair. His arm was aching cruelly.

"Yes." The young guest stretched and smiled.

The host was silent. He was willing to stand by what he had done, but that this young friend with lower moral pretensions wholly approved it made his company an annoyance. What he craved was unjust censure. "I reckon you'd like to go up, too, wouldn't you? It's camp bedtime."

"Yes, got to come back to sleeping indoors – might as well begin."

On the staircase they met Johanna, with a lighted candle. The Major said, as kindly as a father, "I'll take that."

As she gave it her eyes rolled whitely up to his, tears slipped down her black cheeks, he frowned, and she hurried away. At his guest's door he said a pleasant good-night, and then went to his wife's room.

Only moonlight was there. From a small, dim chamber next to it came Barbara's softened moan. The mother sang low a child hymn. The father sat down at a window, and strove to meditate. But his arm ached. The mother sang on, and presently he found himself waiting for the fourth stanza. It did not come; the child was still; but his memory supplied it:

"And soon, too soon, the wintry hour
Of man's maturer age
May shake the soul with sorrow's power,
And stormy passion's rage."

He felt, but put aside, the implication of reproach to himself which lay in the words and his wife's avoidance of them. He still believed that, angry and unpremeditated as his act was, he could not have done otherwise in justice nor yet in mercy. And still, through this right doing, what bitterness had come! His wife's, child's, guest's – his own – sensibilities had been painfully shocked. In the depths of a soldier's sorrow for a cause loved and lost, there had been the one consolation that the unasked freedom so stupidly thrust upon these poor slaves was in certain aspects an emancipation to their masters. Yet here, before his child had learned to fondle his cheek, or his home-coming was six hours old, his first night of peace in beloved Rosemont had been blighted by this vile ingrate forcing upon him the exercise of the only discipline, he fully believed, for which such a race of natural slaves could have a wholesome regard. The mother sang again, murmurously. The soldier grasped his suffering arm, and returned to thought.

The war, his guest had said, had not taken the slaves away. It could only redistribute them, under a new bondage of wages instead of the old bondage of pure force. True. And the best and the wisest servants would now fall to the wisest and kindest masters. Oh, for power to hasten to-morrow's morning, that he might call to him again that menial band down in the yard, speak to them kindly, even of Cornelius's fault, bid them not blame the outcast resentfully, and assure them that never while love remained stronger in them than pride, need they shake the light dust of Rosemont from their poor shambling feet.

He rose, stole to the door of the inner room, pushed it noiselessly, and went in. Barbara, in her crib, was hidden by her mother standing at her side. The wife turned, glanced at her husband's wounded arm, and made a soft gesture for him to keep out of sight. The child was leaning against her mother, saying the last words of her own prayer.

"An' Dod bless ev'ybody, Uncle Leviticus, an' Aunt Jinny, an' Johanna, an' Willis, an' Trudie, an' C'nelius" – a sigh – "an mom-a, an' – that's all – an' – "

"And pop-a?"

No response. The mother prompted again. Still the child was silent. "And pop-a, you know – the best last."

"An' Dod bless the best last," said Barbara, sadly. A pause.

"Don't you know all good little girls ask God to bless their pop-a's?"

"Do they?"


"Dod bless pop-a," she sighed, dreamily; "an' Dod bless me, too, an' – an' keep me f'om bein' a dood little dirl. – Ma'am? – Yes, ma'am. Amen."

She laid her head down, and in a moment was asleep. Husband and wife passed out together. The wounded arm, its pain unconfessed, was cared for, pious prayers were said, and the pair lay down to slumber.

Far in the night the husband awoke. He could think better now, in the almost perfect stillness. There were faint signs of one or two servants being astir, but in the old South that was always so. He pondered again upon the present and the future of the unhappy race upon whom freedom had come as a wild freshet. Thousands must sink, thousands starve, for all were drunk with its cruel delusions. Yea, on this deluge the whole Southern social world, with its two distinct divisions – the shining upper – the dark nether – was reeling and careening, threatening, each moment, to turn once and forever wrong side up, a hope-forsaken wreck. To avert this, to hold society on its keel, must be the first and constant duty of whoever saw, as he did, the fearful peril. So, then, this that he had done – and prayed that he might never have to do again – was, underneath all its outward hideousness, a more than right, a generous, deed. For a man who, taking all the new risks, still taught these poor, base, dangerous creatures to keep the only place they could keep with safety to themselves or their superiors, was to them the only truly merciful man.

He drifted into revery. Thoughts came so out of harmony with this line of reasoning that he could only dismiss them as vagaries. Was sleep returning? No, he laid wide awake, frowning with the pain of his wound. Yet he must have drowsed at last, for when suddenly he saw his wife standing, draped in some dark wrapping, hearkening at one of the open windows, the moon was sinking.

He sat up and heard faintly, far afield, the voices of Leviticus, Virginia, Willis, Trudie, and Johanna, singing one of the wild, absurd, and yet passionately significant hymns of the Negro Christian worship. Distance drowned the words, but an earlier familiarity supplied them to the grossly syncopated measures of the tune which, soft and clear, stole in at the open window:

"Rise in dat mawnin', an' rise in dat mawnin',
Rise in dat mawnin', an' fall upon yo' knees.
Bow low, an' a-bow low, an' a-bow low a little bit longah,
Bow low, an' a-bow low; sich a conquerin' king!"

The eyes of wife and husband met in a long gaze.

"They're coming this way," he faltered.

She slowly shook her head.

"My love – " But she motioned for silence and said, solemnly:

"They're leaving us."

"They're wrong!" he murmured in grieved indignation.

"Oh, who is right?" she sadly asked.

"They shall not treat us so!" exclaimed he. He would have sprung to his feet, but she turned upon him suddenly, uplifting her hand, and with a ring in her voice that made the walls of the chamber ring back, cried,

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