Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

Northern Georgia Sketches online

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band stood like rugged, white-capped posts.

Then it was proved that Sid Wombley, the wag of the valley, had more
courage of his convictions than had ever been accredited to him. It
sounded strange to hear him speak without joking. His seriousness struck
a sort of terror to the hearts of some of the most backward. There was a
suspicion of a whimper in the tone he manfully tried to straighten as he

“Looky’ heer, Jim,” he said, and he stepped forward and tore off his
mask, I’ve got a sorter feelin’ that I want you to see my face an’ know
who I am. Sence I heard yore proposal, blame me ef I hain’t got more
downright respect fer you than fer any man in this cove, an’ I want to
kick myself. You’ve got the sort o’ meat in you that ain’t in me, I’m
afeered, an’ I take off my hat to it. I’m a member o’ this gang, an’
have agreed to abide by the vote of the majority, but they ‘ll have to
git a mighty move on theirselves an’ reverse the’r decision in yore
case, ur I ‘ll be a deserter. I’d every bit as soon whip my mammy as a
body feelin’ like you do.”

“That’s the talk.” It was the voice of Alf Carden. All at once he
remembered that Jim Trundle, after all that had been said against him,
did not owe him a cent, while nearly every other man present had to be
dunned systematically once a week. “Boys, let ‘im go,” he said; “I’m
a-thinkin’ we hain’t fully understood Jim Trundle.”

“I hain’t the one that got up this movement,” said Wade Sims, in a tone
of defense. Where sentiment was concerned he was out of his element. “Ef
you was to let ‘im off with a word of advice, it wouldn’t be the fust
time we conceded a p’int.”

That settled it. With vague mutterings of various sheepish kinds the
crowd began to filter away. Some went down the road, and others took
paths that led from it.

Sid Wombley lingered with Jim a moment. Not being able to turn the
matter into a jest, and yet being a thorough man, he felt very awkward.

“Go on home, Jim,” he said, gently, his hand on Trundle’s arm. “Your
wife ‘ll never know a thing about it; they ‘ll all keep it quiet, an’ the
boys ‘ll never bother you ag’in. I - I ‘ll see to that.”

They shook hands. Trundle started to speak, but simply choked and
coughed. Sid turned away. An idea for a joke flitted through his mind,
but he discarded it as unworthy of the occasion.

Jim went slowly up the hill to his cabin. The moon was now higher up,
and as he neared the gate he saw his wife walking about in the entry.
She was not alone. A woman sat on the step. It was old Mrs. Samuel, the
aunt of Wade Sims, a neighbor, who sometimes dropped in to spend the
evening. Was it an exclamation of glad surprise that he heard as
he opened the gate, and did his wife stand still and stare at him
excitedly, or was the sound the voice of one of the children turning
in its sleep? Was her cast of countenance a trick of the moonlight and

The eyes of both women fell as he approached them.

“Good evenin’, Jim,” was Mrs. Samuel’s greeting.

He nodded and sat down on the steps, his back to his wife. They were all
silent. Mrs. Trundle stepped to the water-shelf at one side, and peered
at his profile through the shadows, her face full of vague misgivings.
Then she sat down in a chair behind him, and studied his back, his neck,
the way his shirt lay, her hands clinched on her knees, the fury of a
tiger in her eyes.

Ten minutes passed. Then Trundle roused himself with a start. He must
not be so absent-minded; they must suspect nothing.

“Whar’s the children?” he asked, not looking toward his wife.

“In bed a hour ago.”

Her tone struck him dumb with apprehension. He stared over his shoulder
at her. Her face was hidden in her hands. He glanced at the visitor, and
saw her avert her eyes. Could she have heard of the plan to whip him,
and revealed it to his wife? He felt sure of it; Wade Sims could not
keep a secret. His wife thought he had been punished. No matter; it was
the same thing. His heart was ice.

Mrs. Trundle bent nearer him. She was trying surreptitiously to see if
there were any marks on his neck above his shirt-collar.

Presently her pent-up emotions seemed to overwhelm her. She began to sob
and rock back and forth. Then she glared at Mrs. Samuel.

“I’d think you’d have the decency to go home,” she said, fiercely,
“an’ not set thar an’ - an’ gloat over me an’ him like a crow. It’s our

“Why, Martha, what’s the - ” Trundle stood up in bewilderment.

“I was jest gettin’ ready to go,” stammered the visitor, humbly, and she
hastened away. Trundle sank back on his seat. What was to be done now?
He had never seen his wife that way, but he loved her more than ever
in his life before. She watched Mrs. Samuel’s form vanish in the hazy
moonlight; then she sat down on the step beside her husband.

“Jim,” she faltered, “I want you to lay yore head in my lap.” She had
put her thin, quivering arm round his neck, and her voice had never
before held such tender, motherly cadences.

“What do you want me to do that fer?’

“Jest becase I do. I hain’t never in all my life loved you like I do
at this minute. I’d fight fer you with my last breath; I’d die fer you.
Jim, poor, dear Jim! you needn’t try to hide it from me. Mis’ Samuel
had jest told me what the Regulators was goin’ to do when you turned
the corner. I know you went down to the spring to meet ‘em so me an’ the
childern wouldn’t know it. Many a man would ‘a’ gone away an’ left his
family ruther than suffer such disgrace. Oh, Jim, I’d a million times
ruther they’d whipped me! I ‘ll never git over it. I ‘ll feel that lash
on my back every minute as long as I live. They hain’t none of ‘em got
sense enough to see what a good, lovin’ man you are at the bottom. I’d
ruther have you jest like you are than like any one o’ that layout. We
must move away somewhars an’ begin all over. I don’t want the childern
to grow up under sech disgrace.”

Her hand passed gently round to the front of his shirt. She unfastened
it, and began to sob as she turned the garment down at the neck. “Oh,
Jim, did they hurt you? Does it - ”

“They didn’t tetch me, Martha,” he said, finally recovering his voice.
“Sid Wombley kinder tuk pity on me an’ stood up fer me, an’ they all
concluded to give me another trial. I hain’t lived right, Martha, I kin
see it now, an’ to-morrow I’m a-goin’ to begin different. These fellows
have got good hearts in ‘em, an’ after the way they talked an’ acted
to-night I hain’t a-goin’ to harbor no ill-will ag’in’ ‘em.”

Mrs. Trundle leaned toward him. She began to cry softly, and he drew
her head over on his shoulder and stroked her thin hair with his coarse
hands. Then they kissed each other, went into the cabin, and went to bed
in the dark, so as not to wake the children.


|In straggling, despondent lines the men in soiled gray leaned on their
muskets and peered through the misty darkness at the enemy crawling
across the field in front of them like a monster reptile. The colonel
of the regiment nearest the coppice of pines strode restlessly back and
forth in front of his men, on tenter-hooks of anxiety, the spasmodic
glow of his cigar showing features grim and tortured.

“I feel like we ‘re in fer it to-night,” whispered Private Ericson to a
battle-stained comrade.

“Right you are,” was the guarded reply; “an’ we-uns ain’t a handful
beside the army out thar. I tell you the blasted fellers have had
reinforcements sence the sun went down. I know it, an’ our colonel is
beginnin’ to suspicion it. Ef he had his way he’d order a retreat while
thar’s a chance.”

Silence, punctuated by the clanking of the colonel’s sword and the
snoring of a private asleep standing, intervened. Then Private Huckaby

“So this is raily yore old stompin’-ground, Ericson. I reckon you uster
haul pine-knots out ‘n them woods, and split rails on that mountain-side.”

“I know every inch of it like a book,” sighed Ericson.

“An’ I reckon that sweetheart o’ yor ‘n don’t live fur off, ef she didn’t

“Her folks wuz Union,” returned Ericson, sententiously. “Her ‘n tuk one
side, an’ me an’ mine t’other. The cabin she used to live in is jest
beyond them woods at the foot o’ the fust mountain, ‘Old Crow.’ She’s
thar yit. A feller that seed ‘er a week ago told me. She ‘lowed ef I
jined the Confederacy I needn’t ever look her way any more. Her father
an’ only brother went to the Union side, an’ she blamed me fer wantin’
to go with my folks. She is as proud as Lucifer. I wisht we’d parted
friendlier. I hain’t been in a single fight without wantin’ that one
thing off my mind.”

Ericson leaned on the muzzle of his gun, and Huckaby saw his broad
shoulders rise and quiver convulsively. He stared at the begrimed face
under the slouched hat, beginning to think that what he had seen of his
young mate had been only the surface - the froth - of a deeper nature. An
excited grunt came from the mist which almost enveloped the colonel, and
he was seen to dart to the end of the regiment and throw down his cigar.

“To arms!” he cried.

The words were drowned in the clatter of muskets as they were snatched
from the ground to horny palms. The sound died like the rustle of dead
leaves in a forest after a gust of wind. A composite eye saw that
the line which had been moving across the field in front had paused,
steadied itself. The next instant it was a billow of flame half a
mile in length, rolling up and dashing itself against the wall of damp
darkness. The colonel, his blue steel blade raised against the sheet of
piercing lead, sprang forward, a black silhouette against the enemy’s
glare. He meant it as an objective command - a prayer - to his men to
stand to their ground, but he tottered, leaned on his sword, and as its
point sank into the earth he fell face downward. Drums, great and small,
boomed and rattled on the Confederate side like a prolonged echo of the
Federal’s salvo.

The ranks of the Confederates wavered - broke; the retreat began. Running
backward, his gun poised, Ericson felt a numb, tingling sensation in his
right side. He turned and started after his comrades, but each step he
put down seemed to meet the ground as it fell from him. Then he felt
dizzy. There was a roaring in his ears, and his legs weakened. As he
fell his gun tripped the feet of Huckaby, and that individual went to
earth, and then on hands and knees, to avoid being shot, crept to his
friend’s side.

“What’s wrong, Eric? Done fer?” he asked, his tone weighty with the
tragedy of the moment.

“I believe so,” said Ericson. “Go on; don’t wait!”

“Good-by, my boy,” Huckaby said. “I’d tote ye, but some ‘n’ is the matter
with the calf o’ my right leg. I’d give out, I know, an’ - an’ I must
remember my wife and the ba - ” He was gone.

Half an hour passed, during which time Ericson had experienced the
delicious sensation of a man freezing to death, then a realization of
his condition permeated his consciousness. He drew himself up on an
elbow and glanced over the field. Black ambulances, like vultures
stalking about with drooping wings, were picking their way among the
dead and dying. Vaguely Ericson’s numb fancy pictured himself being
jostled like a human log of wood to hospital, or perhaps to prison,
and grasping his musket, and transforming it into a crutch, he rose and
hobbled away from the groans and puddles of blood into the edge of the

He had no sooner reached it than he felt the earth acting as if it were
a mad sea again, and he sank headlong into the heather and underbrush.
When he came to it was morning. The oblique rays of the sun were making
diamonds and pearls of the poised dew-drops. The field had been cleared.
Only a shattered gun, a tattered cap, a battered canteen bore evidence
of the recent carnage. Half a mile across the level valley Ericson saw
a village of tents, blue-coated guards pacing to and fro, and the stars
and stripes rippling from a tall staff.

The private rose cautiously to his trembling feet, and aided by his too
weighty crutch he went slowly through the wood toward the cabin where
dwelt Sally Tripp.

“It’s the nighest house,” he said to himself. “Shorely she won’t refuse
to let me in.”

However, when he had passed through the wood and saw the cabin not
fifty yards from him in the open, a screw of blue smoke curling from the
mud-and-stick chimney, misgivings which had depressed him ever since he
had parted with her attacked him anew. He forgot that he had lost nearly
every ounce of his life-blood, and stood almost erect, resting hardly
the weight of his hand on the gun as his eyes drank in the familiar old

Then he heard the massive bar of one of the doors squeak as it was
lifted from its wooden sockets, and in the doorway stood a golden-haired

“Thank God, it’s her!” Ericson muttered; and the sight of her standing
there, looking afar off toward the camp of the Federals, gave him
courage. He dropped his gun, determined not to exhibit weakness, and
walked erectly, if slowly, toward her.

He saw the girl turn pale, stare at him steadily, and stifle a scream
with her hand at her lips.

“Don’t you know me, Sally?” he asked.

She stared mutely, inwardly occupied with her outward appearance,
fearing perhaps that a tithe of her gladness of heart at seeing him
might be detected by his supersensitive, pleading eye.

“Thar ain’t nothin’ to keep me from knowin’ of you,” she said. “As
fur as them clothes on yore back is concerned, they become yore sort
powerful well. A rebel is a rebel anywhar.”

Again the qualms of physical weakness stirred within him. He hung his
head, praying for strength to keep from falling at her feet. She smiled
relentlessly and continued:

“I reckon when the Union men attackted you-uns last night you broke an’
ran like all the rest. I seed that fight, John Ericson. Me an’ grandpa
scrouged down behind the chimney so as not to git struck an’ watched the
trap the bluecoats was a-layin’ fer you-uns. We seed the reinforcements
slide in round ‘Old Crow’, an’ knowed most o’ you-uns would play
mumbly-peg ‘fore mornin’. I mought ‘a’ ‘lowed you’d git off unteched,
knowing them woods as well as you do.”

His silence, his downcast attitude may have shamed the girl, for
a change came over her. She cast a hurried glance at the far-off
encampment, and a touch of anxiety came into her tone as she added:

“You’d better git back into hidin’, John Ericson. The Union soldiers
have been sendin’ out searchin’ squads all day fer men that got aloose
in the woods. They say they pulled Jake McLain right out ‘n his bed. His
wife had burnt his rebel uniform an’ said he was a Yank a-lyin’ up sick,
but the powder-stains on his face give him away, an’ they tuk him off.”

It was plain to him that she did not suspect he was wounded unto death,
and he forgave her sternness for the sake of his great love. Besides,
she was showing qualities of patriotism to which he granted her the
right, though he could not comprehend what influence had entered
her life to harden it to such an extent. Just then the bent form of
Grandfather Tripp emerged from the other room of the cabin, crossed the
entry, and stared at the soldier.

“Well, I ‘ll be liter’ly bumfuzzled!” he exclaimed. “Ef it ain’t John
Ericson! I knowed yore company was in the fight last night, an’ I
thought o’ you when I heerd the grape-shot a-plinkin’ out thar. But hang
me, ef you don’t look sick ur half starved! Sally, give ‘im some ‘n’ t’
eat. They don’t feed the rebs much. Johnny, she’s been a-pinin’ fer you
ever sence you enlisted, an’ last night durin’ the fight she mighty nigh
went distracted. She - ”

“Grandpa, that’s a lie!” cried the girl, fiercely; but there were pink
spots in her cheeks as she retreated into the cabin and began to slam
the pots and pans on the stone hearth.

The old man caught the arm of the soldier. “Go right in, my boy. She’s
that glad to see you unhurt she don’t know what to do. She ‘ll give you a
mouthful gladder ‘n she ever fed a Yank.”

Mounting the log steps to the cabin door seemed to deprive the soldier
of the last vestige of his strength. As if from a distance he heard the
girl’s complaining voice, and a blur hung before his sight. Blindly he
felt for a chair and sank into it. His head was sinking to his breast,
when the sharp voice of the girl - sharper because of her grandfather’s
meddling - revived him like the lash of a whip on the back of a
succumbing beast of burden.

“Pa’s dead, John Ericson,” she cried. “Shot down, fer all I know, by
you. He’s gone. Now I reckon you see why I don’t like the looks o’ yore
clothes. Then jest see heer.” She flounced into a corner of the room,
jerked a trunk open and brought to him the soiled uniform of a Federal
soldier. “This was what Brother Jasper had on when he died. That hole
in the breast is where the ball went in. He come home a week ago on a
furlough to git over his wound, an’ died a-settin’ thar in that door. Do
you wonder that I never want to lay eyes on a dirty gray coat again?”

Ericson’s slouched hat hid the piteous glare in his eyes. He rested his
two hands on the arms of the chair and tried to draw himself up, but
that effort was the signal for his collapse. The girl laid the uniform
on the table and stared at him, the lines of her face softening and
betraying vague disquietude.

“Look a heer,” she blurted out, suddenly, “are - are you wounded?”

He tried to speak, but his lips seemed paralyzed.

“My God! Grandpa, look!” the girl cried. “He’s wounded! He’s dying, an’
I’ve jest been a-standin’ heer - ”

The old man bent over the soldier, and turned his face upward.

“Say, whar are you hit, Johnny?”

Ericson tried to affect a careless smile, and managed to place his hand
on his wounded side. The old man unbuttoned his coat.

“Well, I should think so!” he muttered. “He’s lost enough of the life
fluid to paint a barn. Quick, Sally, put down a quilt fer ‘im to lie on
in front o’ the fire!”

The girl obeyed as by clock-work, the whiteness of terror and regret
in her face. She brought an armful of straw and some quilts and hastily
patted out a crude bed for the soldier.

“Now,” said the old man, “you must lie down, Johnny.”

Ericson sat up erect.

“I don’t want to - to be helpless heer,” he stammered. “All through the
war I’ve never thought o’ one single thing except Sally, an’ now - ”

The girl cowered down on the hearth in front of him, and hid her face
with her hands.

“I didn’t dream you was wounded,” she said. “Ef I’d ‘a’ knowed that, I’d
never ‘a’ said what I did. Grandpa told the truth jest now, he did. Lie
down, please do!”

He raised his eyes to her with a grateful glance. At this juncture the
small, remote blast of a bugle fell on their ears, and it struck the
tenderness from her great moist eyes. She rose and went to the door.

“It’s a searchin’ squad,” she cried, her voice vibrating with fear.
“They are at Joe French’s house now. They are shore to come heer next.
Ef they take John away he ‘ll die!”

The old man stared at her rigidly.

“We must hide ‘im,” he said. “Sally, he’s an old friend an’ a neighbor.
We must hide ‘im!”

The wounded soldier stood up, grasped the edge of the mantel-piece and
swayed back and forth. There was a sweet comfort in her startled concern
that rendered him impervious to fear.

“Thar ain’t no place to hide ‘im,” said the girl, with an agonized
glance through the doorway toward French’s house.

Ericson’s knees began to bend, and he sank into his chair again.

“No use,” he muttered. “I ‘lowed I mought git to the woods, but I’d
hobble so slow they’d be shore to see me. When they git heer I ‘ll tell
‘em you wasn’t harborin’ of me.”

The girl turned from the door.

“They are a-comin’,” she said. Then her eyes fell on her brother’s
uniform. She started, clutched it, and held it toward her grandfather,
fired with a sudden hope.

“Dress ‘im in it,” she said. “I ‘ll go out an’ meet ‘em an’ tell ‘em
nobody ain’t heer except you an’ my wounded brother home on a furlough.
The permit is in t’other room. I ‘ll show ‘em that. They ‘ll never dream
he ain’t brother when they read the furlough an’ see ‘im in the blue

A sickly smile worked its way through the grimy surface of the soldier’s
face as he raised his hand to signify opposition to her suggestion.

“I couldn’t do that, Sally,” he said. “Not to save my life, I couldn’t.
Somehow I think the chances o’ my seein’ another sunrise is dead ag’in’
me, an’ I don’t want to die in any other uniform except the one me an’
my comrades has fought in. I’d as soon wear the clothes of a brother
o’ yor ‘n as anybody else alive, but I can’t put on blue even to escape
arrest. I jest can’t! It would be exactly the same as bein’ a spy, an’
the Lord only knows how a fightin’ man hates that sort of a character.”

“But you must,” urged the girl, frantically. “Oh, you must!”

“I simply can’t. That’s all. I’d a sight ruther be tuk as a wounded
soldier unable to stir a single peg than to sneak into another man’s
clothes an’ deny the side I fit on. Huh, you are a woman! War makes
men mighty indifferent to anything except duty.” A picture of baffled
despair, the girl peered through the doorway at the approaching men.

“You once said you’d do anything I asked ef I’d consent to marry you.
John, now will you let grandpa put it on you?”

A warm scarlet wave had passed over her. She had never looked so
beautiful. He hesitated for some time, and then shook his head. “I can’t
put on blue clothes, Sally.”

The air was still as death. Above the beat of her strumming pulse she
could hear the “hep! hep!” of the soldiers as they marched toward the
cabin. Ericson staggered to his feet and stood swaying beside her.

“I mought as well go out an’ meet ‘em,” he said, his face awry with pain
and utter exhaustion. “Ef I don’t they ‘ll think you are harborin’ a reb,
an’ it mought go ag’in’ you-uns.”

Then he threw out his hands and clutched her shoulders, and sank to the

“He has fainted, grandpa,” said the girl.

“Quick! Put the uniform on ‘im. I ‘ll try to detain ‘em out thar till you
are ready.”

“I mought just as well take off his suit an’ kiver ‘im with quilts,”
suggested the old man. “It ‘ll save time.”

“No, the uniform!” cried the girl. “Ef he has that on they won’t ask
no questions - along with the furlough. You know Jake McLain tried that
trick on ‘em an’ failed. Put it on ‘im, for the Lord’s sake. Don’t stand
thar idle!”

The steady tramp of feet was now audible, and the occasional command of
the officer in charge. Darting from the back door the girl crossed the
entry, went into the next room, and emerged with the permit of absence
in her belt. Picking up a pail near the door, she went to the pig-pen in
a corner of the zigzag rail fence, and with no eyes for the approaching
men, slowly poured the food into the animal’s trough.

Stopping the squad a few yards from her, the captain doffed his cap and

“I have come to search your house for possible fugitives from the
Confederate ranks last night,” he said, politely. “A good many have been
found hiding in farmhouses in the vicinity.”

The girl set her pail down at her feet.

“We are Union,” she said, simply.

“I was told so,” the captain answered. “Nevertheless, I have orders to
search your premises. Is there any one within?”

“Nobody but grandpa an’ my wounded brother, a Union soldier home on
a furlough.” She took the paper from her belt and unfolded it very
deliberately. “Thar’s his permit. I fetched it out to show it so’s you
wouldn’t have to wake ‘im up ef you could help it. He couldn’t sleep

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