Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

Southern life in southern literature; selections of representative prose and poetry online

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set up a machine. The colonel s mind just then was busy with
certain scenes of great power in his own past life, and had
swelled to the old heroic proportions ; wherefore, burning over
the indignity, he seized an ax handle and started out in a
manner that led the young man to drive quickly away.

But what hurt him most was the talk of the newer farming
and the abuse of the old which he was forced to hear ; and he
generally refused to handle the improved implements and
mechanical devices by which labor and waste were to be saved.

Altogether he grew tired of " the thing," and sold out at the
end of the year with a loss of over a thousand dollars, though
he insisted he had done a good business.

As he was then seen much on the streets again and several
times heard to make remarks in regard to the sidewalks,
gutters, and crossings, when they happened to be in bad con
dition, the Daily Press one morning published a card stating
that if Colonel Romulus Fields would consent to make the
race for mayor he would receive the support of many Demo
crats, adding a tribute to his virtues and his influential past. It
touched the colonel, and he walked down town with a rather
commanding figure. But it pained him to see how many of
his acquaintances returned his salutations very coldly ; and just
as he was passing the Northern Bank he met the young oppo
sition candidate, a little red-haired fellow, walking between
two ladies, with a rosebud in his buttonhole, who refused to


speak at all, but made the ladies laugh by some remark he
uttered as the colonel passed. The card had been inserted
humorously, but he took it seriously ; and when his friends
found this out, they rallied round him. The day of election
drew near. They told him he would have to buy votes. He
said he would n t buy a vote to be mayor of the New Jerusalem.
They told him he must "mix" and "treat." He refused.
Foreseeing he had no chance, they besought him to withdraw.
He said he would not. They told him he would n t poll twenty
votes. He replied that one would satisfy him, provided it was
neither begged nor bought. When his defeat was announced
he accepted it as another evidence that he had no part in the
newer day, and regretted it only because there was thus lost to
him another chance of redeeming his idleness.

A sense of this weighed heavily on him at times; but it is
not likely that he realized how pitifully he was undergoing a
moral shrinkage in consequence of mere disuse. Actually, ex
tinction had set in with him long prior to dissolution, and he
was dead years before his heart ceased beating. The very
basic virtues on which had rested his once spacious and
stately character were now but the moldy corner stones of a
crumbling ruin.

It was a subtle evidence of deterioration in manliness that
he had taken to dress. When he had lived in the country, he
had never dressed up unless he came to town. When he had
moved to town, he thought he must remain dressed up all the
time; and this fact first fixed his attention on a matter which
afterwards began to be loved for its own sake. L^sually he
wore a Derby hat, a black diagonal coat, gray trousers, and a
white necktie. But the article of attire in which he took chief
pleasure was hose ; and the better to show the gay colors of
these, he wore low-cut shoes of the finest calfskin, turned up
at the toes. Thus his feet kept pace with the present, however


far his head may have lagged in the past ; and it may be that
this stream of fresh fashions, flowing perennially over his lower
extremities like water about the roots of a tree, kept him from
drying up altogether. Peter always polished his shoes with too
much blacking, perhaps thinking that the more the blacking the
greater the proof of love. He wore his clothes about a season
and a half having several suits and then passed them on
to Peter, who, foreseeing the joy of such an inheritance, bought
no new ones. In the act of transferring them the colonel made
no comment until he came to the hose, from which he seemed
unable to part without a final tribute of esteem, as : " These
are fine, Peter " ; or, " Peter, these are nearly as good as new."
Thus Peter too was dragged through the whims of fashion. To
have seen the colonel walking about his grounds and garden
followed by Peter, just a year and a half behind in dress and a
yard and a half behind in space, one might well have taken the
rear figure for the colonel s double, slightly the worse for wear^
somewhat shrunken, and cast into a heavy shadow. . . .

Peter, meantime, had been finding out that his occupation too
was gone.

Soon after moving to town, he had tendered his pastoral serv
ices to one of the fashionable churches of the city, not be
cause it was fashionable, but because it was made up of his
brethren. In reply he was invited to preach a trial sermon,
which he did with gracious unction. It was a strange scene, as
one calm Sunday morning he stood on the edge of the pulpit,
dressed in a suit of the colonel s old clothes, with one hand in
his trousers pocket, and his lame leg set a little forward at an
angle familiar to those who know the statues of Henry Clay.

How self-possessed he seemed, yet with what a rush of mem
ories did he pass his eyes slowly over that vast assemblage of
his emancipated people.! With what feelings must he have
contrasted those silk hats, and walking canes, and broadcloths ;


those gloves and satins, laces and feathers, jewelry and fans
that whole many-colored panorama of life with the weary,
sad, and sullen audiences that had often heard him of old under
the forest trees or by the banks of some turbulent stream !

In a voice husky, but heard beyond the flirtation of the utter
most pew r , he took his text : " Consider the lilies of the field,
how they grow ; they toil not, neither do they spin." From
this he tried to preach a new sermon, suited to the newer day.
But several times the thoughts of the past were too much for
him, and he broke down with emotion. The next day a grave
committee waited on him and reported that the sense of the
congregation was to call a colored gentleman from Louisville.
Private objections to Peter were that he had a broken leg, wore
Colonel Fields s second-hand clothes, which were too big for
him, preached in the old-fashioned way, and lacked self-control
and repose of manner.

Peter accepted his rebuff as sweetly as Socrates might have
done. Humming the burden of an old hymn, he took his
righteous coat from a nail in the wall and folded it away in a
little brass-nailed deerskin trunk, laying over it the spelling book
and the Pilgrim s Progress, which he had ceased to read. Thence
forth his relations to his people were never intimate, and even
from the other servants of the coloneFs household he stood apart.
In paying them, the colonel would sometimes say, " Peter, I
reckon I d better begin to pay you a salary ; that s the style
now." But Peter would turn off, saying he did n t " have no
use fur no salary."

Thus both of them dropped more and more out of life, but
as they did so, only drew more and more closely to each other.
The colonel had bought a home on the edge of the town, with
some ten acres of beautiful ground surrounding. A high osage-
orange hedge shut it in, and forest trees, chiefly maples and elms,
gave to the lawn and house abundant shade. Wild-grape vines,


the Virginia creeper, and the climbing oak swung their long
festoons from summit to summit, while honeysuckles, clematis,
and the Mexican vine clambered over arbors and trellises, or
along the chipped stone of the low, old-fashioned house. Just out
side the door of the colonel s bedroom slept an ancient sundial.

The place seemed always in half-shadow, with hedgerows of
box, clumps of dark holly, darker firs half a century old, and
aged, crapelike cedars.

It was in the seclusion of this retreat, which looked almost
like a wild bit of country set down on the edge of the town,
that the colonel and Peter spent more of their time as they fell
farther in the rear of onward events. There were no such
flower gardens in the city, and pretty much the whole town went
thither for its flowers, preferring them to those that were to be
had for a price at the nurseries. There was perhaps a sugges
tion of pathetic humor in the fact that it should have called on
the colonel and Peter, themselves so nearly defunct, to give
the flowers for so many funerals ; but, it is certain, almost
weekly the two old gentlemen received this chastening admo
nition of their all-but-spent mortality. The colonel cultivated
the rarest fruits also, and had under glass varieties that were
not friendly to the climate ; so that by means of the fruits and
flowers there was established a pleasant social bond with many
who otherwise would never have sought them out. But others
came for better reasons. To a few deep-seeing eyes the colonel
and Peter were momentous figures, disappearing types of a once
vast social system, ruined landmarks on a fading historic land
scape, and their devoted friendship was the last steady burning-
down of that pure flame of love which can never a^ain shine
out_jn the future of the two races. Hence a softened charm
invested the drowsy quietude of that shadowy paradise in which
the old master without a slave and the old slave without a
master still kept up a brave pantomime of their obsolete


relations. No one ever saw in their intercourse aught but the
finest courtesy, the most delicate consideration. The very tones
of their voices in addressing each other were as good as sermons
on gentleness, their antiquated playfulness as melodious as the
babble of distant water. To be near them was to be exorcised
of evil passions. The sun of their day had indeed long since set ;
but, like twin clouds lifted high and motionless into some far
quarter of the gray twilight skies, they were still radiant with
the glow of the invisible orb.

Henceforth the colonel s appearances in public were few and
regular. He went to church on Sundays, where he sat on the
edge of the choir in the center of the building, and sang an
ancient bass of his own improvisation to the older hymns, and
glanced furtively around to see whether anyone noticed that he
could not sing the new ones. At the Sunday-school picnics the
committee of arrangements allowed him to carve the mutton,
and after dinner to swing the smallest children gently beneath
the trees. He was seen on Commencement Day at Morrison
Chapel, where he always gave his bouquet to the valedictorian,
whose address he preferred to any of the others. In the autumn
he might sometimes be noticed sitting high up in the amphi
theater at the fair and looking over into the ring where the
judges were grouped around the music-stand. Once he had
been a judge himself, with a blue ribbon in his buttonhole,
while the band played " Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt," and Gentle
Annie." The ring seemed full of young men now, and no one
thought of offering him the privileges of the grounds. In his
day the great feature of the exhibition had been cattle ; now
everything was turning into a horse show. He was always glad
to get home again to Peter, his true yokefellow. For just as
two old oxen one white and one black that have long toiled
under the same yoke will, when turned out to graze at last in
the widest pasture, come and put themselves horn to horn and.


flank to flank, so the colonel and Peter were never so happy as
when ruminating side by side. . . .

It was in the twilight of a late autumn day in the same year
that nature gave the colonel the first direct intimation to pre
pare for the last summons. They had been passing along the
garden walks, where a few pale flowers were trying to flourish
up to the very winter s edge, and where the dry leaves had
gathered unswept and rustled beneath their feet. All at once
the colonel turned to Peter, who was a yard and a half behind,
as usual, and said : " Give me your arm, Peter " ; and thus the
two, for the first time in all their lifetime walking abreast, passed
slowly on.

" Peter," said the colonel, gravely, a minute or two later, " we
are like two dried-up stalks of fodder. I wonder the Lord lets
us live any longer."

" I reck n He s managin to use us some way, or we would n
be heah," said Peter.

" Well, all I have to say is, that if He s using me, He can t
be in much of a hurry for his work," replied the colonel.

" He uses snails, en I know we am ez slow ez dem" argued
Peter, composedly.

" I don t know. I think a snail must have made more progress
since the war than I have."

The idea of his uselessness seemed to weigh on him, for a
little later he remarked, with a sort of mortified smile : " Do you
think, Peter, that we would pass for what they call representative
men of the New South ? "

" We done had ou day, Marse Rom," replied Peter. " We
got to pass fur what we wuz. Mebbe de Lohd s got mo use
fur us yit n people has," he added, after a pause.

From this time on the colonel s strength gradually failed him ;
but it was not until the following spring that the end came.
A. night or two before his death his mind wandered backward,


after the familiar manner of the dving, and his delirious dreams
showed the shifting, faded pictures that renewed themselves for
the last time on his wasting memory. It must have been that
he was once more amidst the scenes of his active farm life, for
his broken snatches of talk ran thus :

" Come, boys, get your cradles ! Look where the sun is !
You are late getting to work this morning. That is the finest
field of wheat in the county. Be careful about the bundles !
Make them the same size and tie them tight. That swath is too
wide, and you don t hold your cradle right, Tom.

" Sell Peter ! Sell Peter Cotton ! No, sir ! You might buy
me some day and work me in your cotton field : but as long
as he s mine, you can t buy Peter, and you can t buy any of
my negroes.

" Boys ! boys ! If you don t work faster, you won t finish
this field to-day. You d better go in the shade and rest now.
The sun s very hot. Don t drink too much ice water. There s
a jug of whisky in the fence corner. Give them a good dram
around, and tell them to work slow till the sun gets lower."

Once during the night a sweet smile played over his features
as he repeated a few words that were part of an old rustic song
and dance. Arranged, not as they now came broken and
incoherent from his lips, but as he once had sung them, they
were as follows :

" O Sister Phoebe ! How merry were we
When we sat under the juniper-tree.

The juniper-tree, heigho !

Put this hat on your head ! Keep your head warm :
Take a sweet kiss ! It will do you no harm.

Do you no harm, I know ! "

After this he sank into a quieter sleep, but soon stirred with
a look of intense pain.


" Helen ! Helen ! " he murmured. " Will you break your
promise ? Have you changed in your feeling towards me ?
I have brought you the pinks. Won t you take the pinks,
Helen ? "

Then he sighed as he added, " It was n t her fault. If she
had only known "

Who was the Helen of that far-away time? Was this the
colonel s love-story ? How much remained untold ?

But during all the night, whithersoever his mind wandered, at
intervals it returned to the burden of a single strain, the
harvesting. Towards daybreak he took it up again for the
last time :

" O boys, boys, boys \ If you don t work faster you won t
finish the field to-day. Look how low the sun is ! I am
going to the house. They can t finish the field to-day. Let them
do what they can, but don t let them work late. I want Peter
to go to the house with me. Tell him to come on."

In the faint gray of the morning Peter, who had been
watching by the bedside all night, stole out of the room, and
going into the garden pulled a handful of pinks a thing he
had never done before and, reentering the colonel s bedroom,
put them in a vase near his sleeping face. Soon afterwards the
colonel opened his eyes and looked around him. At the foot of
the bed stood Peter, and on one side sat the physician and a
friend. The night lamp burned low, and- through the folds of
the curtains came the white light of early day.

" Put out the lamp and open the curtains," he said feebly.
" It s day." When they had drawn the curtains aside, his eyes
fell on the pinks, sweet and fresh with the dew on them. He
stretched out his hand and touched them caressingly, and his
eyes sought Peter s with a look of grateful tenderness.

" I want to be alone with Peter for a while," he said, turning
his face towards the others.


When they were left alone, it was some minutes before they
could speak. Peter, not knowing what he did, had gone to the
window and hid himself behind the curtains, drawing them
tightly around his form as though to shroud himself from the
coming sorrow.

At length the colonel said, " Come here ! "

Peter, almost staggering forward, fell at the foot of the bed,
and, clasping the colonel s feet with one arm, pressed his cheek
against them.

" Come closer ! "

Peter crept on his knees and buried his head on the colonel s

"Come up here, closer" ; and putting one arm around
Peter s neck he laid the other hand softly on his head, and
looked long and tenderly into his eyes.

" Peter," he said with ineffable gentleness, " if I had served
my Master as faithfully as you have served yours, I should not
feel ashamed to stand in his presence."

" If my Marseter is ez mussiful to me ez you have been, he
will save my soul in heaven."

" I have fixed things so that you will be comfortable after I
am gone. When your time comes, I should like you to be laid
close to me. We can take the long sleep together. Are you
willing ? "

" That s whar I want to be laid."

The colonel stretched out his hand to the vase, and, taking
the bunch of pinks, said very calmly : "-Leave these in my hand
when I am dead ; I 11 carry them with me." A moment more,
and he added : "If I should n t wake up any more, good-by,
Peter ! "

" Good-by, Marse Rom ! "

And they shook hands. After this the colonel lay back on
the pillows. His soft, silvery hair contrasted strongly with his


childlike, unspoiled, open face. To the day of his death, as is
apt to be true of those who have lived pure lives but never
married, he had a boyish strain in him, a softness of nature,
showing itself even now in the gentle expression of his mouth.
His brown eyes had in them the same boyish look when, just
as he was falling asleep, he scarcely opened them to say,
" Pray, Peter." *

Peter, on his knees, and looking across the colonel s face
towards the open door, through which the rays of the rising
sun streamed in upon his hoary head, prayed while the colonel
fell asleep, adding a few words for himself now left alone.

Several hours later memory led the colonel back again
through the dim gateway of the past, and out of that gateway
his spirit finally took flight into the future.

Peter lingered a year. The place went to the colonel s sister,
but he was allowed to remain in his quarters. With much think
ing of the past, his mind fell into a lightness and a weakness.
Sometimes he would be heard crooning the burden of old
hymns, or sometimes seen sitting beside the old brass-nailed
trunk, fumbling with the spelling-book and the Pilgrim s Progress.
Often too he walked out to the cemetery on the edge of the
town, and each time could hardly find the colonel s grave amidst
the multitude of the dead. One gusty day in spring, the Scotch
sexton, busy with the blades of blue grass springing from the
animated mold, saw his familiar figure standing motionless be
side the colonel s resting place. He had taken off his hat
one of the colonel s last bequests and laid it on the colonel s
headstone. On his body he wore a strange coat of faded blue,
patched and weather-stained and so moth-eaten that parts of
the curious tails had dropped entirely away. In one hand he
held an open Bible, and on a much-soiled page he was pointing
with his finger to the following words : "I would not have you
ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep."


It would seem that, impelled by love and faith, and guided
by his wandering reason, he had come forth to preach his last
sermon on the immortality of the soul over the dust of his
dead master.

The sexton led him home, and soon afterwards a friend, who
had loved them both, laid him beside the colonel.

It was perhaps fitting that his winding sheet should be the
vestment in which, years agone, he had preached to his fellow
slaves in bondage ; for if it so be that the dead of this planet
shall come forth from their graves clad in the trappings of
mortality, then Peter should arise on the Resurrection Day
wearing his old jeans coat.


[William Sidney Porter, better known by his pen name " O. Henry/
was born in 1862 at Greensboro, North Carolina. His disposition
early led him into a roving life, and he successively lived on a cattle
ranch in Texas, did newspaper work in Houston and Austin, spent
a while in South America, moved to New Orleans, and in 1902
settled in New York, where he was living at the time of his death,
in 1910. He achieved widespread popularity as a writer of short
stories, which in the collected edition of his works fill some nine
or ten volumes.]


In the Gate City of the South the Confederate Veterans
were reuniting ; and I stood to see them march, beneath the
tangled flags of the great conflict, to the hall of their oratory
and commemoration.

While the irregular and halting line was passing I made
onslaught upon it and dragged forth from the ranks my friend

1 Reprinted from " Roads of Destiny " by permission of the holder of the
copyright, Doubleday, Page & Company.


Barnard O Keefe, who had no right to be there. For he was
a Northerner born and bred ; and what should he be doing
hallooing for the Stars and Bars among those gray and mori
bund veterans? And why should he be trudging, with his
shining, martial, humorous, broad face, among those warriors
of a previous and alien generation ?

I say I dragged him forth, and held him till the last hickory
leg and waving goatee had stumbled past. And then I hustled
him out of the crowd into a cool interior ; for the Gate City
was stirring that day, and the hand organs wisely eliminated
" Marching through Georgia " from their repertories.

" Now, what deviltry are you up to ? " I asked of O Keefe
when there were a table and things in glasses between us.

O Keefe wiped his heated face and instigated a commotion
among the floating ice in his glass before he chose to answer.

" I am assisting at the wake," said he, " of the only nation
on earth that ever did me a good turn. As one gentleman to
another, I am ratifying and celebrating the foreign policy of the
late Jefferson Davis, as fine a statesman as ever settled the
financial question of a country. Equal ratio that was his
platform a barrel of money for a barrel of flour a pair of
$20 bills for a pair of boots a hatful of currency for a new
hat say, ain t that simple compared with W. J. B. s little old
oxidized plank ? "

" What talk is this ?" I asked. " Your financial digression is
merely a subterfuge. Why are you marching in the ranks of
the Confederate Veterans?"

" Because, my lad," answered O Keefe, " the Confederate
government in its might and power interposed to protect and
defend Barnard O Keefe against immediate and dangerous
assassination at the hands of a bloodthirsty foreign country,
after the United States of America had overruled his appeal
for protection and had instructed Private Secretary Cortelyou


to reduce his estimate of the Republican majority for 1905
by one vote."

"Come, Barney/ said I, "the Confederate States of America
has been out of existence for nearly forty years. You do not
look older yourself. When was it that the deceased government
exerted its foreign policy in your behalf ? "

" Four months ago," said O Keefe, promptly. " The infa
mous foreign power I alluded to is still staggering from the
official blow dealt it by Mr. Davis s contraband aggregation of

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonSouthern life in southern literature; selections of representative prose and poetry → online text (page 24 of 35)