Copyright
Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

Northern Georgia Sketches online

. (page 11 of 13)
Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenNorthern Georgia Sketches → online text (page 11 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


last nigh fer the shootin’, an’ the truth is, he is as nigh dead as kin
be. I wisht you would let ‘im rest.” The officer perused the furlough
through his eyeglasses.

“That’s all right,” he said, handing it back. “But you see I have to
obey orders.”

There was a pause. The maiden felt the captain’s eyes resting on her
admiringly. She could hear the hobnailed soles of her grandparent’s
shoes grinding on the puncheon floor, and knew that the old man was
still engaged in dressing or undressing the fugitive.

“That’s so,” she said, in a tone which plainly intimated that the
question was not positively settled. “But it looks like a shame, for
brother is powerful low, an’ any noise mought do ‘im lots o’ harm.”

“I ‘ll leave my men here, and go in myself,” compromised the officer.
“I ‘ll walk very lightly.”

The heart of the girl sank. She could still hear the crunching of her
grandfather’s shoes in the cabin.

“I ‘ll be much obleeged ef you will be careful,” she said. And as he
started to the cabin she joined him. “Please go in here first,” pointing
to the room across the entry from the one containing the two men, “an’
I ‘ll run in an’ see ef brother is fit to be seen.”

He complied, with a bow, and went into the room indicated. Reappearing
in a moment, he found her crouching down on the grass, a look of pain on
her face.

“What’s the matter?” he asked, with concern.

“Nothin’,” she winced. “I set my foot on that rock an’ it kinder twisted
my ankle.”

He gave her his hand and aided her to rise.

“Please wait jest one minute,” she said, putting her foot down
tentatively. “I was in sech a hurry jest now that I almost broke my
ankle-bone.”

He bowed assent. His eyes lit with admiration for her physical charms,
and she limped around to the rear of the cabin and went in. Just as she
did so the noise of her grandfather’s shoes on the floor ceased. The
old man, thinking she was accompanied by the soldiers, was enacting his
part. He had flung himself into a chair, and sat nodding as if asleep.
On the bed of straw lay Ericson, still unconscious, completely clothed
in blue uniform. The discarded gray suit lay in a bundle in a corner.

“Quick, that will never do!” she cried, causing the old man to look up
with a start. Taking a case from a pillow on the bed, she filled it with
the gray uniform and crushed it into the bottom of the old man’s chair.

“Set on it,” she said. “An’ don’t git up, whatever you do.” Then she
wrung her hands despairfully as she surveyed the room. A twitching of
Ericson’s yellow face warned her that he was returning to consciousness,
and a new terror pierced her heart.

“Ef he comes to,” she thought, “he ‘ll deny being a Union soldier, an’
then they ‘ll take ‘im - my God, have pity on the pore boy!”

She turned from the door and limped smilingly toward the waiting
officer.

“Ef brother wakes,” she said, “I hope you won’t git mad at nothin’ he
says. Fer the last two days he has been clean out ‘n his head. Once he
declared to us that he was actu’ly President Jeff Davis. Thar’s no
tellin’ what idea may strike ‘im next.”

“I ‘ll try not to wake him,” said the captain. “I ‘ll merely step inside
very carefully. I wouldn’t do that if - if my men were not watching. You
see they’d wonder - ”

“Come on, then.” The rigidity of a crisis held her features. She entered
first, and pushed the great cumbersome door open before her. The old man
regarded them with sleepy looks and began to nod again.

The officer stood over the form in blue a moment, then peered under the
bed, and even up the funnel-shaped chimney.

“It’s all right,” he whispered to Sally.

Ericson opened his eyes and smiled faintly.

The girl comprehended his frame of mind; he had not noticed that his
clothes had been changed.

“You’ve run me in a hole,” he said to the captain. “I’m ready to go, but
I don’t want you to think that these folks are a-harborin’ of me. I come
heer uninvited. The truth is, that young lady ordered me off, an’ I’d
‘a’ gone, but I keeled over in the door.”

He put a hand on either side of him, and with a strenuous effort managed
to sit up. Then he noticed his change of uniform, and as he plucked
distastefully at his coat-sleeve, he stared first at the girl and then
at the captain.

“Why, who’s done this heer?” he asked. “I ain’t no Yankee soldier. I’m a
rebel dyed in the wool.”

The girl laid her hand on the officer’s arm.

“Come on, please, sir; he’s gittin’ excited. Ef we dispute with ‘im
he ‘ll git to rantin’ awful.”

Without a word the officer followed her from the cabin and down toward
where his men stood. She walked rapidly, her steps quickened by the
rising tones of Ericson’s voice behind her. She put her handkerchief to
her dry eyes, and said, plaintively:

“I hardly know what to do. We’ve had no end of trouble. First the news
come that pa had fell, an’ then brother come home like he is now.”

“He looks like a very sick man,” said the officer, with a bluntness
peculiar to times of war. “Perhaps I ought to ask our surgeon to run
over and take a look at him.”

She started, her face fell.

“Old Doctor Stone, nigh us, is a-lookin’ after ‘im,” was the hasty
product of her bewildered invention. “He ‘ll do all that can be
done - an’ - an’ I want to keep brother from thinkin’ about army folks as
much as I can. Will you-uns camp nigh us long?”

“We leave inside of an hour.” He raised his cap, saluted his men, gave
an order, and they whirled and tramped away.

She went back into the cabin and sat down by the side of Ericson’s
pallet. There was something in his dumb glance and subdued air that
quenched the warmth of her recent success. As he looked at her steadily
his eyes became moist and his powder-stained lips began to quiver.

“I didn’t ‘low you’d play sech a dog-mean trick on me, Sally,” he
muttered. “I’d ruther a thousand times ‘a’ been shot like a soldier than
to hide in Yankee clothes.” Under her warm rush of love and pity for him
she completely lost the touch of hauteur that had clung to her since
his return. She took his hand in hers and bent her body down till his
fingers lay against her cheek. He could feel that she was deeply moved.

“I couldn’t stand to see ‘em take you off,” she sobbed. “Because you are
all I got on earth to keer fer. It would ‘a’ killed you, an’ me, too.”
Her voice took on the gentle cadences of a mother consoling a sick
child. “Grandpa will take off the mean old blue suit an’ put you up in
the big bed, and I ‘ll make you some good chicken soup with boiled rice
in it.”

He pressed her hand.

“Do you raily want me heer, Sally?”

Her reply was a moment’s hesitation, a convulsive motion of the vocal
cords, a failure of speech, and a final pressure of her lips on his
fingers.

“Beca’se ef I ‘lowed you did, Sally, I wouldn’t keer much which side
beat. I wouldn’t be able to think about any livin’ thing but you.”

“Well, you can, then,” she said; and she rose quickly. “Grandpa, I’m
goin’ in t’other room to fix ‘im some chicken soup. Undress ‘im an’ put
‘im to bed, an’ then go fetch Doctor Stone.”

An hour later the old physician arrived and examined the patient.

“A flesh wound only,” he said. “But he has lost mighty nigh every bit o’
blood in ‘im. Nuss ‘im good, Sally, an’ he ‘ll be able to make plenty o’
corn and taters fer you the rest o’ yore life - that is, if the war ever
ends.’’ Ericson was convalescing when the news of Lee’s surrender came
floating over the devastated land.

“I’m awfully glad it’s all over,” he said. “I’m satisfied. I was shot
by a Yankee ball an’ nussed back to life by a Union gal, so I reckon my
account is even.”




THE HERESY OF ABNER CALIHAN


|Neil Filmore’s store was at the crossing of the Big Cabin and Rock
Valley roads. Before the advent of Sherman into the South it had been a
grist-mill, to which the hardy mountaineers had regularly brought their
grain to be ground, in wagons, on horseback, or on their shoulders,
according to their conditions. But the Northern soldiers had
appropriated the miller’s little stock of toll, had torn down the long
wooden sluice which had conveyed the water from the race to the mill,
had burnt the great wheel and crude wooden machinery, and rolled the
massive grinding-stones into the deepest part of the creek.

After the war nobody saw any need for a mill at that point, and Neil
Filmore had bought the property from its impoverished owner and turned
the building into a store. It proved to be a fair location, for there
was considerable travel along the two main roads, and as Filmore was
postmaster his store became the general meeting-point for everybody
living within ten miles of the spot. He kept for sale, as he expressed
it, “a little of everything, from shoe-eyes to a sack of guano.” Indeed,
a sight of his rough shelves and unplaned counters, filled with cakes of
tallow, beeswax and butter, bolts of calico, sheeting and ginghams, and
the floor and porch heaped with piles of skins, cases of eggs, coops
of chickens, and cans of lard, was enough to make an orderly housewife
shudder with horror.

But Mrs. Filmore had grown accustomed to this state of affairs in the
front part of the house, for she confined her domestic business, and
whatever neatness and order were possible, to the room in the rear,
where, as she often phrased it, she did the “eatin’ an’ cookin’, an’
never interfeer with pap’s part except to lend ‘im my cheers when thar
is more ‘n common waitin’ fer the mail-carrier.”

And her chairs were often in demand, for Filmore was a deacon in Big
Cabin Church, which stood at the foot of the green-clad mountain a
mile down the road, and it was at the store that his brother deacons
frequently met to transact church business.

One summer afternoon they held an important meeting. Abner Calihan, a
member of the church and a good, industrious citizen, was to be tried
for heresy.

“It has worried me more ‘n anything that has happened sence them two
Dutchmen over at Cove Spring swapped wives an’ couldn’t be convinced
of the’r error,” said long, lean Bill Odell, after he had come in and
borrowed a candle-box to feed his mule in, and had given the animal
eight ears of corn from the pockets of his long-tailed coat, and left
the mule haltered at a hitching-post in front of the store.

“Ur sence the widder Dill swore she was gwine to sue Hank Dobb’s wife
fer witchcraft,” replied Filmore, in a hospitable tone. “Take a cheer;
it must be as hot as a bake-oven out thar in the sun.”

Bill Odell took off his coat and folded it carefully and laid it across
the beam of the scales, and unbuttoned his vest and sat down, and
proceeded to mop his perspiring face with a red bandanna. Toot Bailey
came in next, a quiet little man of about fifty, with a dark face,
straggling gray hair, and small, penetrating eyes. His blue jean
trousers were carelessly stuck into the tops of his clay-stained boots,
and he wore a sack-coat, a “hickory” shirt, and a leather belt. Mrs.
Filmore put her red head and broad, freckled face out of the door of her
apartment to see who had arrived, and the next moment came out dusting a
“split-bottomed” chair with her apron.

“How are ye, Toot?” was her greeting as she placed the chair for him
between a jar of fresh honey and a barrel of sorghum molasses. “How is
the sore eyes over yore way?”

“Toler’ble,” he answered, as he leaned back against the counter and
fanned himself with his slouch hat. “Mine is about through it, but the
Tye childern is a sight. Pizen-oak hain’t a circumstance.”

“What did ye use?”

“Copperas an’ sweet milk. It is the best thing I’ve struck. I don’t want
any o’ that peppery eye-wash ‘bout my place. It’d take the hide off ‘n a
mule’s hind leg.”

“Now yore a-talkin’,” and Bill Odell went to the water-bucket on the end
of the counter. He threw his tobacco-quid away, noisily washed out his
mouth, and took a long drink from the gourd dipper. Then Bart Callaway
and Amos Sanders, who had arrived half an hour before and had walked
down to take a look at Filmore’s fish-pond, came in together. Both were
whittling sticks and looking cool and comfortable.

“We are all heer,” said Odell, and he added his hat to his coat and the
pile of weights on the scale-beam, and put his right foot on the rung of
his chair. “I reckon we mought as well proceed.” At these words the men
who had arrived last carefully stowed their hats away under their chairs
and leaned forward expectantly. Mrs. Filmore glided noiselessly to a
corner behind the counter, and with folded arms stood ready to hear all
that was to be said.

“Did anybody inform Ab of the object of this meeting?” asked Odell.

They all looked at Filmore, and he transferred their glances to his
wife. She flushed under their scrutiny and awkwardly twisted her fat
arms together.

“Sister Calihan wuz in here this mornin’,” she deposed in an uneven
tone. “I ‘lowed somebody amongst ‘em ort to know what you-uns wuz up to,
so I up an’ told ‘er.”

“What did she have to say?” asked Odell, bending over the scales to spit
at a crack in the floor, but not removing his eyes from the witness.

“Law, I hardly know what she didn’t say! I never seed a woman take on
so. Ef the last bit o’ kin she had on earth wuz suddenly wiped from the
face o’ creation, she couldn’t ‘a’ tuk it more to heart. Sally wuz with
‘er, an’ went on wuss ‘an her mammy.”

“What ailed Sally?”

Mrs. Filmore smiled irrepressibly. “I reckon you ort to know, Brother
Odell,” she said, under the hand she had raised to hide her smile. “Do
you reckon she hain’t heerd o’ yore declaration that Eph cayn’t marry in
no heretic family while yo ‘re above ground? It wuz goin’ the round
at singin’-school two weeks ago, and thar hain’t been a thing talked
sence.”

“I hain’t got a ioty to retract,” replied Odell, looking down into the
upturned faces for approval. “I’d as soon see a son o’ mine in his box.
Misfortune an’ plague is boun’ to foller them that winks at infidelity
in any disguise ur gyarb.”

“Oh, shucks! don’t fetch the young folks into it, Brother Odell,” gently
protested Bart Callaway. “Them two has been a-settin’ up to each other
ever sence they wuz knee-high to a duck. They hain’t responsible fer the
doin’s o’ the old folks.”

“I hain’t got nothin’ to take back, an’ Eph knows it,” thundered the
tall deacon, and his face flushed angrily. “Ef the membership sees fit
to excommunicate Ab Calihan, none o’ his stock ‘ll ever come into my
family. But this is dilly-dallyin’ over nothin’. You fellers ‘ll set thar
cocked up, an’ chaw an’ spit, an’ look knowin’, an’ let the day pass
‘thout doin’ a single thing. Ab Calihan is either fitten or unfitten,
one ur t’other. Brother Filmore, you’ve seed ‘im the most, now what’s he
let fall that’s undoctrinal?”

Filmore got up and laid his clay pipe on the counter and kicked back his
chair with his foot.

“The fust indications I noticed,” he began, in a raised voice, as if he
were speaking to some one outside, “wuz the day Liz Wambush died. Bud
Thorn come in while I wuz weighing up a side o’ bacon fur Ab, an’ ‘lowed
that Liz couldn’t live through the night. I axed ‘im ef she had made her
peace, and he ‘lowed she had, entirely, that she wuz jest a-lyin’ thar
shoutin’ Glory ever’ breath she drawed, an’ that they all wuz glad to
see her reconciled, fer you know she wuz a hard case speritually. Well,
it wuz right back thar at the fireplace while Ab wuz warmin’ hisse’f
to start home that he ‘lowed that he hadn’t a word to say agin Liz’s
marvelous faith, nur her sudden speritual spurt, but that in his opinion
the doctrine o’ salvation through faith without actual deeds of the
flesh to give it backbone wuz all shucks, an’ a dangerous doctrine
to teach to a risin’ gineration. Them wuz his words as well as I can
remember, an’ he cited a good many cases to demonstrate that the members
o’ Big Cabin wuzn’t any more ready to help a needy neighbor than a equal
number outside the church. He wuz mad kase last summer when his wheat
wuz spilin’ everybody that come to he’p wuz uv some other denomination,
an’ the whole lot o’ Big Cabin folks made some excuse ur other. He
‘lowed that you - ”

Filmore hesitated, and the tall man opposite him changed countenance.

“Neil, hain’t you got a bit o’ sense?” put in Mrs. Filmore, sharply.

“What did he say ag’in’ me - the scamp?” asked Odell, firing up.

Filmore turned his back to his scowling wife, and took an egg from a
basket on the counter and looked at it closely, as he rolled it over and
over in his fingers.

“Lots that he ortn’t to, I reckon,” he said, evasively.

“Well, what wuz _some_ of it? I hain’t a-keerin’ what he says about me.”

“He ‘lowed, fer one thing, that yore strict adheerance to doctrine had
hardened you some, wharas religious conviction, ef thar wuz any divine
intention in it, ort, in reason, to have a contrary effect. He ‘lowed
you wuz money-lovin’ an’ uncharitable an’ unfergivin’ an’, a heap o’
times, un-Christian in yore persecution o’ the weak an’ helpless - them
that has no food an’ raiment - when yore crib an’ smokehouse is always
full. Ab is a powerful talker, an’ - ”

“It’s the devil in ‘im a-talkin’,” interrupted Odell, angrily, “an’ it’s
plain enough that he ort to be churched. Brother Sanders, you intimated
that you’d have a word to say; let us have it.”

Sanders, a heavy-set man, bald-headed and red-bearded, rose. He took a
prodigious quid of tobacco from his mouth and dropped it on the floor at
the side of his chair. His remarks were crisp and to the point.

“My opinion is that Ab Calihan hain’t a bit more right in our church
than Bob Inglesel. He’s got plumb crooked.”

“What have you heerd ‘im say? That’s what we want to git at,” said
Odell, his leathery face brightening.

“More ‘n I keered to listen at. He has been readin’ stuff he ortn’t to.
He give up takin’ the _Advocate_, an’ wouldn’t go in Mary Bank’s club
when they’ve been takin’ it in his family fer the last five year, an’
has been subscribin’ fer the _True Light_ sence Christmas. The last time
I met ‘im at Big Cabin, I think it wuz the second Sunday, he couldn’t
talk o’ nothin’ else but what this great man an’ t’other had writ
somewhar up in Yankeedom, an’ that ef we all keep along in our little
rut we ‘ll soon be the laughin’-stock of all the rest of the enlightened
world. Ab is a slippery sort of a feller, an’ it’s mighty hard to ketch
‘im, but I nailed ‘im on one vital p’int.” Sanders paused for a moment,
stroked his beard, and then continued: “He got excited sorter, an’
‘lowed that he had come to the conclusion that hell warn’t no literal,
burnin’ one nohow, that he had too high a regyard fer the Almighty to
believe that He would amuse Hisse’f roastin’ an’ feedin’ melted lead to
His creatures jest to see ‘em squirm.”

“He disputes the Bible, then,” said Odell, conclusively, looking first
into one face and then another. “He sets his puny self up ag’in’
the Almighty. The Book that has softened the pillers o’ thousands;
the Word that has been the consolation o’ millions an’ quintillions o’
mortals of sense an’ judgment in all ages an’ countries is a pack o’
lies from kiver to kiver. I don’t see a bit o’ use goin’ furder with
this investigation.”

Just then Mrs. Filmore stepped out from her corner.

“I hain’t been axed to put in,” she said, warmly; “but ef I wuz you-uns
I’d go slow with Abner Calihan. He’s nobody’s fool. He’s too good a
citizen to be hauled an’ drug about like a dog with a rope round his
neck. He fit on the right side in the war, an’ to my certain knowledge
has done more to ‘ds keepin’ peace an’ harmony in this community than any
other three men in it. He has set up with the sick an’ toted medicine
to ‘em, an’ fed the pore an’ housed the homeless. Here only last week
he got hisse’f stung all over the face an’ neck helpin’ that lazy Joe
Sebastian hive his bees, an’ Joe an’ his triflin’ gang didn’t git a
scratch. You may see the day you ‘ll regret it ef you run dry shod over
that man.”

“We simply intend to do our duty, Sister Filmore,” said Odell, slightly
taken aback; “but you kin see that church rules must be obeyed. I move
we go up thar in a body an’ lay the case squar before ‘im. Ef he is
willin’ to take back his wild assertions an’ go’long quietly without
tryin’ to play smash with the religious order of the whole community, he
may stay in on probation. What do you-uns say?”

“It’s all we kin do now,” said Sanders; and they all rose and reached
for their hats.

“You’d better stay an’ look atter the store,” Filmore called back to his
wife from the outside; “somebody mought happen along.” With a reluctant
nod of her head she acquiesced, and came out on the little porch and
looked after them as they trudged along the hot road toward Abner
Calihan’s farm. When they were out of sight she turned back into the
store. “Well,” she muttered, “Abner Calihan _may_ put up with that
triflin’ layout a-interfeerin’ with ‘im when he is busy a-savin’ his
hay, but ef he don’t set his dogs on ‘em he is a better Christian ‘an
I think he is’ an’ he’s a good un. They are a purty-lookin’ set to be
a-dictatin’ to a man like him.”

A little wagon-way, which was not used enough to kill the stubbly grass
that grew on it, ran from the main road out to Calihan’s house. The
woods through which the little road had been cut were so thick and the
foliage so dense that the overlapping branches often hid the sky.

Calihan’s house was a four-roomed log building which had been
weather-boarded on the outside with upright unpainted planks. On the
right side of the house was an orchard, and beneath some apple-trees
near the door stood an old-fashioned cider-press, a pile of acid-stained
rocks which had been used as weights in the press, and numerous tubs,
barrels, jugs, and jars, and piles of sour-smelling refuse, over which
buzzed a dense swarm of honey-bees, wasps, and yellow-jackets. On the
other side of the house, in a chip-strewn yard, stood cords upon cords
of wood, and several piles of rich pine-knots and charred pine-logs,
which the industrious farmer had on rainy days hauled down from the
mountains for kindling-wood. Behind the house was a great log barn and
a stable-yard, and beyond them lay the cornfields and the lush green
meadow, where a sinuous line of willows and slender cane-brakes marked
the course of a little creek.

The approach of the five visitors was announced to Mrs. Calihan and her
daughter by a yelping rush toward the gate of half a dozen dogs which
had been napping and snapping at flies on the porch. Mrs. Calihan ran
out into the yard and vociferously called the dogs off, and with awed
hospitality invited the men into the little sitting-room.

Those of them who cared to inspect their surroundings saw a rag carpet,
walls of bare, hewn logs, the cracks of which had been filled with
yellow mud, a little table in the center of the room, and a cottage
organ against the wall near the small window. On the mantel stood a new
clock and a glass lamp, the globe of which held a piece of red flannel
and some oil. The flannel was to give the lamp color. Indeed, lamps with
flannel in them were very much in vogue in that part of the country.

“Me an’ Sally wuz sorter expectin’ ye,” said Mrs. Calihan, as she gave
them seats and went around and took their hats from their knees and
laid them on a bed in the next room. “I don’t know what to make of Mr.
Calihan,” she continued, plaintively. “He never wuz this away before.
When we wuz married he could offer up the best prayer of any young man


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13

Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenNorthern Georgia Sketches → online text (page 11 of 13)