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Chapter VI
adrift again

my education did not consist solely of his discussions upon books, morality, and religion, but it embraced a countless variety of topics suggested by our travels. By his method of teaching, no passive reception of facts was possible, and the stimulus to intellect was given by being urged to observe, sift, and examine every article of conversation. I absorbed considerable practical knowledge during this period. His level-headedness, which I was prone to regard at that time as the height of worldly wisdom, and his intense realness, aided greatly to clarify my ideas upon many things, and was excellently adapted to form a sound judgement. He could be as genial as a glad boy on his summer holiday, lofty as a preacher, frank as a brother; but righteously austere, hilariously familiar and jocose, yet sublime, according to occasion. The candour and good faith with which he spoke, the expansive benevolence, and the large amount of sympathy he always showed when I sought his advice, or exposed my doubts or fears, were the very qualities which were best calculated to ensure my affection, extract my shy confidences, and cultivate in me a fearless openness. With the exception of those fits of sullen resentment to which I was now and then subject, like other human whelps, my life with him was one unbroken period of pleasantness, and, so far as I required and knew, every condition of a Paradise was present, in the unfretting, fair, and healthful existence which I led.

I sometimes imagine that he must have discerned something attractive in me, though I myself was unconscious of the cause. If I review my appearance at that time, I can find nothing to admire. I was naturally shy, silent, short of figure, poorly clad, uninteresting, and yet he chose me, from the first moment he saw me, to be an object of his charity. I endeavoured to be, as the phrase is, good and grateful; but, [141] as I have reason to remember, I was by no means perfect in my endeavours. I think zeal, good-will, docility, were my only commendable traits; but they strike me now as being insufficient to account for my undeniable good fortune.

I can only remember one noticeable incident, outside of the common, in connection with this period, and that occurred in the middle of 1860. We were passengers on the steamer “Little Rock,” as she was returning, laden with cotton, down the Washita. My father had been paid money due to him for goods by a merchant near Fairview, and, through neglect, or some other reason, had deferred entrusting it to the purser longer than he ought. We were approaching near Sicily Island, when, in the gloom caused by the mountain-pile of cotton bales, I observed a man lingering rather suspiciously near our cabin-door. At first, I took him for one of the stewards; but, on observing him more particularly, his conduct, I thought, suggested some nefarious design. My father had retired, and, according to custom, I ought to have been abed; but the unusual freight of cotton the boat carried had kept me in a state of suppressed excitement. Being light and active, I ensconced myself in a dark gap between two tiers of bales, and waited patiently. After a little time the man put his ear to our door, and presently opened it, and entered our cabin. In a few minutes, I heard my father's voice ask, “Who is there?” and, immediately, sounds of a struggle were heard. Upon this I bounded in, and found the stranger wrestling with my father, and one of the two seemed to be choking. Upon seeing me, the intruder turned rapidly towards me. I saw the flash as of steel, and something struck me between my arm and left breast in my overcoat, and a piece of metal tinkled on the floor. Then, with a deep curse, I was flung aside, and the man fled along the guards. We instantly raised a cry of “Thieves!” which brought crowds of stewards and passengers to us, carrying lights. These revealed an open portmanteau, with rumpled contents, and the half of a carving-knife blade on the floor. On examining my coat it was seen that it had a cut as far as the canvas stiffening. All these evidences tended to prove that a daring attempt at robbery had been made, and, it was suspected, by someone connected with the boat. The chief steward mustered the waiters, but they all answered [142] to their names. He next counted the carving-knives, and, according to him, one was missing. The incident caused quite a commotion for the time, but the culprit was never discovered.

Beyond this incident, we were singularly free from mishaps, and exciting episodes, upon waters that had been the scene of many a calamity; and yet, when I chanced to find myself among a group of passengers, I frequently heard terrible recitals of experiences at boiler-explosions, and shipwrecks, and other events hazardous to life. We had often been fellow-passengers with gamblers, some of whom were wrought into fury by their losses at cards; but, whether it was owing to my good or evil fortune, I never happened to be present when the issue was left to the arbitrament of revolver and bowie-knife, as there were plenty of peace-makers always ready to interfere at the critical moment.

In September of 1860, we met a tall and spruce gentleman, of the name of Major Ingham, on board of a steamer bound to New Orleans. From what I gathered, he was a South Carolinian by birth, but, some few years since, had removed to Saline County, Arkansas, and had established a plantation not far from Warren. My father and he had an abundant amount of small-talk together relating to acquaintances and localities, which occupied their leisure during the voyage. The Major also ingratiated himself with me, and, through his description of the forests of pine and oak, and accounts of the wild animals, such as catamounts, bears, and deer, in his region, I became warmly attached to him. Before reaching New Orleans, we had become so intimate that he extended an invitation to me to spend a month with him on his Arkansas plantation; and, on referring him to father, I found that he was not so averse to the proposal as I feared he would be. The subject was deferred for further consideration in the city.

After about a fortnight's stay at the St. Charles Hotel, my father was made anxious by a letter from Havana from his brother, and he resolved to go and see him. He then disclosed to me that after much mental discussion he had concluded that Major Ingham's invitation had assisted greatly in smoothing matters. For some time he had been debating as to how it would be best to take the first step for establishing [143] my future. He had been much struck with the opportunities for doing a good business in a country store, at some place below Pine Bluff on the Arkansas. There were a large number of planters settled there, and a general supply store such as he had fancied for their convenience could not fail to be a success. Major Ingham's plantation was situated about forty miles back of the Arkansas River, and, at Cypress Bend, there was a friend of his who, upon a letter from him, would take me in to teach me the details of a country merchant's business. Here was an opportunity of approaching his project in a methodical way without loss of time. His brother's illness at Havana had caused some confusion in his affairs, and it was necessary for him to cross the Gulf and set things in order. Meantime, I had a safe escort to within a day's drive of the merchant's store, to which, after being tired of the plantation, I was to go to be grounded in the minutiae of a retail store; and in a few months he would have wound up his commission business, and be able to avail himself of my local knowledge, and proceed to choose the best locality.

I saw no objection to any of his arrangements, as they rather coincided with my secret ambitions, which had been fostered by many previous allusions to such a scheme as had been now explained. The suddenness of the parting was somewhat of a drawback to the beauty of the project; but, as accident was the cause, and his absence was to be only for a few months, during which we could often correspond, I became inclined, with the sanguineness of my nature, to anticipate much enjoyment from the novelty of the situation. In my highly-coloured fancy, I saw illimitable pine-woods, infested by Indians, and by wild-cats, and other savage felines; and the fact that I was about to prepare myself to be a dealer in merchandise, preliminary to a permanent establishment, appeared such an enchanting prospect that I felt no disposition to peer into sober realities. Could we have foreseen, however, that this parting, so calmly proposed and so trustfully accepted, was to be for ever, both of us would have shrunk from the thought of it; but, unknown to ourselves, we had arrived at the parting of the ways, and though we both sincerely hoped the ways would meet, we were gliding along steep planes which would presently precipitate us into the wide gulf of separation. [144]

From the moment it was agreed to part for a while, my father lost no opportunity to fill me with practical counsel, which, had my memory been a knapsack, I could have extracted at will for consolation and guidance. Unfortunately, for some things my memory was like a sieve: it retained the larger rules, but dropped the lesser ones; it preserved certain principles that had an affinity with my nature, but the multitude of minor ones that he had attempted to graft on my nature fell away, one by one. I was to be industrious, orderly, honourable, and steady, patient, and obliging. But something of these I would naturally have shown under any circumstances; but contact with real life discovers that these virtues are insufficient to keep us serene and immaculate, that the spirit of youth requires its sensibilities to be disciplined in many ways before it endures with sweetness and patience the spurns, and gibes, and mocks, of a rude world. It frequently meets conditions wherein nothing will avail but force, of a most strenuous kind.

When the hour came for my father's departure, Major Ingham and I accompanied him on board the Havana steamer. The last parting occurred in the state-room. At that moment, there was a wild fluttering of the heart; and something like an ugly cloud of presentiments, vague shadows of unknown evils to come, which started strong doubts of the wisdom of parting, came over me all at once. But, as usual, when clear expression was most needed, I was too tongue-tied for much speech, so many ideas thronged for utterance, and I turned away as though stricken dumb. Half an hour later, the steamer was only discernible by its trail of smoke.

After he had gone, the flood-gates were opened, the feelings relieved themselves by torrents of words, and my loss and loneliness pressed hard upon the senses. Much as I had valued him, it needed this time of anguish to reveal fully what he had been to me. Then, pang after pang of poignant contrition pierced me through and through. I was dissatisfied with the sum of my conduct, with his own professions that I had been to him what he had hoped and wished. If he had but returned there and then, with the clear light that fell on my deficiencies now, how I should have striven to satisfy my own exact ideas of what was due to him! This little absence, with [145] its unutterable remorse, had been more efficacious in showing me my own inwardness than all his unselfish generosity.

Nearly five and thirty years have passed since, and I have not experienced such wretchedness as I did that night following his departure. A very little more, and I think it would have exceeded the heart's power to bear. My emotions were much more distressing than anyone could have judged from my appearance. I caught a view of myself in a mirror, and my face struck me as exhibiting an astonishing contrast to the huge disorder beneath it. For the first time, I understood the sharpness of the pang which pierces the soul when a loved one lies with folded hands, icy cold, in the sleep of Death. I vexed myself with asking, Had my conduct been as perfect as I then wished it had been? Had I failed in aught? Had I esteemed him as he deserved? Then a craving wish to hear him speak but one word of consolation, to utter one word of blessing, made me address him as though he might hear; but no answer came, and I experienced a shiver of sadness and wished that I could die.

I have often looked back upon the boy who sat like a stone in his father's chair for hours, revolving with fixed eyes and unmoved face all that this parting seemed to him to mean. Up to a certain point he traced minutely all its details, went over every word and little act, and then a great blank wall met him, into which he strove and strove again to penetrate, and, being baffled, resumed his mental rehearsals.

Before Major Ingham turned his steps homeward, I received a letter from my father duly announcing his arrival at the island of Cuba. After describing the passage across the Gulf, he went on to say that the more he thought of his plans, the more he was inclined to regard the Major's invitation as a happy incident in his programme. He had often pondered over the best means of starting me in a business for which I had a decided bent, and he had been sounding several country merchants with a view of giving me a preliminary training, but he had constantly deferred a decision in the hope of finding something that more nearly suited his ideas. Now, however, it all seemed clear. He had always fancied the Arkansas River, as it had a richer back country than any other, and, by means of the steamers and its superior navigation, was [146] in direct communication with the cities on the Mississippi. There were many professions and trades for which I was fit, but he thought that I was more partial to a mercantile career, and he was glad of it. He went on to say that I had made a wonderful advance during the last year with him, but it was on the next few years that my future depended. For tiding over them successfully, I had only to hold fast to my principles, and be fearless in all manly things; to persevere and win.

The letter seemed to be his very self, full of practical sense. I felt enriched by its possession. It was a novelty to have a letter of my own, sent from such a distance. I read it over and over, and found new meanings and greater solace each time. The signature attracted my attention with its peculiar whip, or flourish, below; and in my reply, which covered many pages, I annexed that whip and ended my first epistle with it; and, ever since, no signature of mine has been complete without it.

Soon after, Major Ingham started on his return home in a stern-wheeler bound for the Washita and Saline Rivers. The Washita, next to the Arkansas, is the most important river which passes through the state of Arkansas--pronounced “Arkansaw.” The Saline is one of its feeders, and has a navigable course of only about one hundred and twenty-five miles. The Washita in its turn empties into the Red River, and the latter into the Mississippi.

On, or about, the seventh day from New Orleans, the steamer entered the Saline, and a few miles above Long View we landed on the right bank, and, mounting into a well-worn buggy, were driven a few miles inland to Ingham's plantation.

I am as unaware of the real status of my host among his neighbours, as I am of the size of his domain. It then appeared in my eyes immense, but was mostly a pine forest, in the midst of which some few score of black men had cleared a large space for planting. The house was of solid pine logs, roughly squared, and but slightly stained by weather, and neatly chinked without with plaster, and lined within with planed boards, new and unpainted — it had an air of domestic comfort.

My welcome from Mrs. Ingham left nothing to be desired. The slaves of the house thronged in her train, and curtsied [147] and bobbed, with every token of genuine gladness, to the “Massa,” as they called him, and then were good enough to include me in their bountiful joy. The supper which had been got ready was something of a banquet, for it was to celebrate the return of the planter, and was calculated to prove to him that, though New Orleans hotels might furnish more variety, home, after all, had its attractions in pure, clean, well-cooked viands. When the hearth-logs began to crackle, and the fire-light danced joyfully on the family circle, I began to feel the influence of the charm, and was ready to view my stay in the western woods with interest and content.

But there was one person in the family that caused a doubt in my mind, and that was the overseer. He joined us after supper, and, almost immediately, I contracted a dislike for him. His vulgarity and coarseness revived recollections of levee men. His garb was offensive; the pantaloons stuffed into his boots, the big hat, the slouch of his carriage, his rough boisterousness, were all objectionable, and more than all his accents and the manner of his half-patronising familiarity. I set him down at once as one of those men who haunt liquor-saloons, and are proud to claim acquaintance with bar-tenders. Something in me, perhaps my offishness, may probably have struck him with equal repulsion. Under pretence of weariness I sought my bed, for the circle had lost its charm.

The next day the diet was not so sumptuous. The breakfast at seven, the dinner at noon, and the supper at six, consisted of pretty much the same kind of dishes, except that there was good coffee at the first meal, and plenty of good milk for the last. The rest mainly consisted of boiled, or fried, pork and beans, and corn scones. The pork had an excess of fat over the lean, and was followed by a plate full of mush and molasses. I was never very particular as to my diet, but as day after day followed, the want of variety caused it to pall on the palate. Provided other things had not tended to make me critical, I might have gratefully endured it, but what affected me principally were the encomiums lavished upon this style of cookery by the overseer, who, whether with the view of currying favour with Mrs. Ingham, or to exasperate my suppressed squeamishness, would bawl out, “I guess you can't beat this, howsumdever you crack up New Or-lee-ans. Give [148] me a raal western pot-luck, to your darned fixin's in them ‘ar Mississippi towns.”

With such society and fare, I could not help feeling depressed, but the tall pine forest, with its mysterious lights and shades, had its compensations. As, in process of time, the planter intended to extend his clearing and raise more cotton, every tree felled assisted in widening the cultivable land. On learning this, I asked and obtained permission to cut down as many trees as I liked, and, like a ruthless youth with latent destructive propensities, I found an extraordinary pleasure in laying low with a keen axe the broad pines. I welcomed with a savage delight the apparent agony, the portentous shiver which ran from root to topmost plume, the thunderous fall, and the wild recoil of its neighbours, as it rebounded and quivered before it lay its still length. After about a score of the pine monarchs had been levelled, the negroes at work presented new features of interest. On the outskirts of the clearing they were chopping up timber into portable or rollable logs, some were “toting” logs to the blazing piles, others rolled them hand over hand to the fires, and each gang chanted heartily as it toiled. As they appeared to enjoy it, I became infected with their spirit and assisted at the logrolling, or lent a hand at the toting, and championed my side against the opposite. I waxed so enthusiastic over this manly work, which demanded the exertion of every ounce of muscle, that it is a marvel I did not suffer from the strain; its fierce joy was more to my taste than felling timber by myself. The atmosphere, laden with the scent of burning resin, the roaring fires, the dance of the lively flames, the excitement of the gangs while holding on, with grim resolve and in honour bound, to the bearing-spikes, had a real fascination for me. For a week, I rose with the darkies at the sound of the overseer's horn, greeted the revivifying sunrise with anticipating spirits, sat down to breakfast with a glow which made the Major and his wife cheerier, and then strode off to join in the war against the pines with a springy pace.

How long this toil would have retained its sportive aspect for me I know not, but I owed it to the overseer that I ceased to love it. He was a compound of a Legree1 and Nelson, with an [149] admixture of mannerism peculiarly his own. It was his duty to oversee all the gangs, the hoers, wood-cutters, fire-attendants, log-rollers, and toters. When he approached the gang with which I worked, the men became subdued, and stopped their innocent chaff and play. He had two favourite songs: one was about his “deah Lucindah,” and the other about the “chill winds of December,” which he hummed in a nasal tone when within speaking distance of me, while the cracks of his “black snake” whip kept time. But, as he sauntered away to other parts, I felt he was often restive at my presence, for it imposed a certain restraint on his nature. One day, however, he was in a worse humour than usual. His face was longer, and malice gleamed in his eyes. When he reached us we missed the usual tunes. He cried out his commands with a more imperious note. A young fellow named Jim was the first victim of his ire, and, as he was carrying a heavy log with myself and others, he could not answer him so politely as he expected. He flicked at his naked shoulders with his whip, and the lash, flying unexpectedly near me, caused us both to drop our spikes. Unassisted by us, the weight of the log was too great for the others, and it fell to the ground crushing the foot of one of them. Meantime, furious at the indignity, I had engaged him in a wordy contest: hot words, even threats, were exchanged, and had it not been for the cries of the wounded man who was held fast by the log, we should probably have fought. The end of it was, I retired from the field, burning with indignation, and disgusted with his abominable brutality.

I sought Major Ingham, whom I found reclining his length in an easy-chair on the verandah. Not hearing the righteous condemnation I had hoped he would express, and surprised at his want of feeling, I hotly protested against the cruelty of the overseer in attacking a man while all his strength was needed to preserve others from peril, and declaimed against him for using a whip in proximity to my ears, which made the Major smile compassionately at my inexperience in such matters. This was too much for my patience, and I then and there announced my intention to seek the hospitality of Mr. Waring, his neighbour, as I could not be any longer the guest of a man who received my complaint so unsympathetically. On hearing me say this, Mrs. Ingham came out of the house, [150] and expressed so much concern at this sudden rupture of our relations that I regretted having been so hasty, and the Major tried to explain how planters were compelled to leave field-work in charge of their overseer; but it was too late. Words had been uttered which left a blister in the mind, personal dignity had been grossly wounded, the Major had not the art of salving sores of this kind, and I doggedly clung to my first intentions. In another quarter of an hour I had left the plantation with a small bundle of letters and papers, and was trudging through the woods to Mr. Waring's plantation.

We have all our sudden likes and dislikes. The first view of the comfortable homeliness of Mr. Waring's house gave me an impression of family felicity, and when the old man with several smiling members of his family came to the door, it appeared to me as if it revived a picture I had seen some — where in Wales, and all my heart went out to those who were in the house.

Strange to say, in proportion to the period spent at Major Ingham's, I possess a more vivid recollection of the night I passed at Mr. Waring's, and my thoughts have more often reverted to the more ancient house and its snugness and pleasant details, than to the other. As I did not mention anything about the causes of my departure from his neighbour's plantation, it was tacitly understood that I was only resting for the night, previous to resuming my journey next morning, and they did not press me to stay. I begged, however, Mr. Waring to do me the favour to send a buggy for my trunk the next morning. When it arrived, I repacked it; and, leaving it in his charge, I set off on a tramp across country to the Arkansas, rejecting many an offer of aid up to the last minute.

The road wound up and down pine-clothed hills, and, being a sandy loam, was dry and tolerably smooth. In the hollows I generally found a stream where I quenched my thirst, but I remember to have travelled a considerable distance for a young pedestrian without meeting any water, and to have reflected a little upon what the pains of dying from thirst would be like. I rested at a small farm-house that night; and, next morning, at an early hour, was once more footing it bravely, more elated, perhaps, than my condition justified. I regarded myself as being upon a fine adventure, the narration [151] of which would surprise my father. My eyes travelled through far-reaching colonnades of tapering pine and flourishing oak, and for a great part of the time I lost consciousness of my circumstances, while my mind was absorbed in interminable imaginings of impossible discoveries and incidents. I saw myself the hero of many a thrilling surprise, and looked dreamily through the shades, as though in some places like them I would meet the preying beasts whom it would be my fortune to strike dead with my staff. But, invariably, on being brought to a proper sense of the scenes, and my real condition, I recognized how helpless I was against a snarling catamount, or couchant panther; I was devoutly thankful that Arkansas was so civilised that my courage was in no fear of being tested.

Just at dusk I reached the Arkansas River at Cypress Bend, having travelled about forty miles across country, without having met a single adventure.

Mr. Altschul's store, at which I was to devote myself to acquiring the arts and details of a country merchant's business, was situate about fifty miles S. E. of Little Rock, and half-way between Richmond and South Bend. I found no difficulty at all in entering the establishment, for I had no sooner introduced myself than I was accepted by his family with all cordiality. The store was, in reality, a country house of business. It stood isolated in a small clearing in the midst of Cypress Grove, and was removed from the dwelling-house of the family by a quarter of a mile. It was a long one-storied building of solid logs, divided into four apartments, three of which contained all manner of things that ironmongers, gunners, grocers, drapers, stationers, are supposed to sell; the fourth room, at the back, was used as an office during the day, and as a bedroom at night, by the clerks in charge. I commenced my duties in November, 1860, being warmly hailed as a fellow-clerk by Mr. Cronin, the salesman, and Mr. Waldron, the assistant-salesman.

Cronin was an Irishman from New York, about thirty years old; the assistant was the son of a small planter in the vicinity. The first was a character for whom I had a pitying fondness. One-half of him was excellent, all brightness, cleverness, and sociability, the other half, perhaps the worse, [152] was steeped in whiskey. He was my Alphabet of the race of topers. I have never been able to be wrathful with his kind, they are such miracles of absurdity! Here and there one may meet a malignant, but they are mostly too stupid to be hated. Cronin knew his duties thoroughly. He was assiduous, obliging, and artful beyond anything with the ladies. He won their confidences, divined their preferences, and, with the most provoking assurance, laid the identical piece of goods they wanted before them, and made them buy it. It was a treat to observe the cordial, and yet deferent, air with which he listened to their wishes, the deft assistance he gave to their expression, his bland assents, the officious haste and zeal he exhibited in attending on them, and the ruthless way he piled the counters with goods for their inspection. Sometimes I suspected he was maliciously making work for me, for, being the junior, I had to refold the goods, and restore them to their places; but, in justice to him, I must say he nobly assisted in the re-arrangement. Cronin was a born salesman, and I have never met his equal since.

The poorer class of women he dazzled by his eloquent commendations, his elaborate courtesy, and the way he made them conceited with their own superior knowledge of what was genuine and rich. If the woman was a coloured person, he was benevolent and slightly familiar. His small grey eyes twinkled with humour, as he whispered friendly advice as to the quality of the goods, and besieged her with such attentions that the poor thing was compelled to buy.

With the planters, who were of varying moods, Mr. Cronin bore himself with such rare good-humour and tact, that one found a pleasure in watching the stern lips relax, and the benignant look coming to their gloomy eyes. He would go forward to meet them, as they stepped across the threshold, with hearty abandon and joviality, put fervour into his handshakes, sincerity into his greeting, and welcome into his every act. He anxiously enquired after their healths, condoled with them in their fevers, sympathised with them in their troubles about their cotton-crops, and soon found excuse to draw them to the liquor apartment, where he made them taste Mr. Altschul's latest importations.

According to Mr. Cronin, the ‘cobwebs’ were cleared by the [153] preliminary drink, and it enabled both salesman and buyer to take a cheerier view of things, and to banish thoughts that would impede business. Naturally, the planters cared little for cotton-prints or jaconets, though they often carried daintily-pencilled commissions from the ladies at home, which Mr. Cronin satisfactorily executed at once, on the plea that ladies must be served first; but when these were disposed of,--always with reverent regard for the fair sex,--Mr. Cronin flung off his tenderness and became the genial salesman again. Had the gentleman seen the new Californian saddles, or the latest thing in rifles, shot-guns that would kill duck at ninety yards? Those who heard him expatiate upon the merits of fire-arms wondered at the earnestness he threw into his language, and at the minute knowledge he seemed to possess of the properties of each article. Or the subject was saddles. I heard with amazement about the comparative excellencies of the Californian, English, and cavalry article, and thought his remarks ought to be printed. In this way, with regard to rifles, I soon got to know all about the merits of the Ballard, Sharp, Jocelyn rifles, their special mechanisms, trajectory, penetration, and range. If I alluded to the revolvers, his face glowed with a child's rapture as he dilated upon the superiority of the Tranter over the Colt, or the old-fashioned “pepper-box” ; but, when he took up a beautiful Smith and Wesson, he became intoxicated with his own bewildering fluency, and his gestures were those of an oratorical expert. Then some other excuse would be found for adjourning to the liquor room, where he continued to hold forth with his charming persuasiveness, until he succeeded in effecting a sale of something.

Mr. Cronin was indeed an artist, but Mr. Altschul did not appreciate him as his genius deserved. The proprietor laid too much stress upon his propensity to drink, which was certainly incurable, and too little upon the profits accruing to him through his agency. He also suspected him of gross familiarities with female slaves, which, in Mr. Altschul's eyes, were unpardonable. Therefore, though he was invaluable to me as a model salesman, poor Cronin was obliged to leave after a while.

Waldron in a short time found counter-work too irksome [154] and frivolous for his nature, and he also left; then two young men, very proud and high-stomached, and not over-genial to customers, were engaged instead.

But by this time I had become sufficiently acquainted with the tone of the planter community to be able to do very well, with a few instructions from Mr. Altschul. I had learned that in the fat cypress lands there was a humanity which was very different from that complaisant kind dwelling in cities. It had been drawn from many States, especially from the South. The Douglasses were from Virginia, the Crawfords from “Old Georgia,” the Joneses and Smiths from Tennessee, the Gorees from Alabama. The poorer sort were from the Carolinas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee, the professional men and white employers from a wider area — which included Europe. Several of the richer men owned domains of from six to ten square miles. They lived like princelings, were owners of hundreds of slaves over whom they were absolute except as to life or limb, and all their environments catered to their egotism. Though genially sociable to each other, to landless people like myself they conducted themselves as though they were under no obligations. Such manners as they exhibited were not so much due to neighbourly good-feeling as to their dislike of consequences which might result from a wanton offishness. When they emerged from their respective territories to the common view, their bearing seemed to say that they yielded to us every privilege belonging to free whites, but reserved to themselves the right to behave as they deemed fitting to their state, and of airing any peculiarity unquestioned, and unremarked by the commonalty. They were as exclusive as the proud county families of Wales.

It may easily be seen, then, what a sight our store presented when about a dozen magnates of this kind, fresh from their cotton principalities, and armed, cap-à--pie, each in his own peculiar dress, assembled in it. In time, of course, I became used to it; and, considering their anxieties, the malarial climate, and the irritating “ague-cake,” they behaved well, on the whole. Their general attitude was, however, stiff and constrained. Each slightly raised his hat as he came in, and their ‘Sirs’ were more formal and punctilious than, as neighbours or fellow-citizens, they ought to have been. [155]

My proud fellow-clerks were disposed to think it was the dread of the pistol which made them so guarded in speech and action, but I thought that it was the fear of compromising the personal dignity by a disgraceful squabble with men untaught in the forms of good society. Arkansas is sometimes known as the Bear State, and many of its people at that time were singularly bearish and rude. The self-estimate of such men was sometimes colossal, and their vanities as sensitive as hair-triggers. None of them could boast of the piety of saints, but nearly all had been influenced by the religion of their mothers — just as much as might enable them to be distinguished from barbarians. It is wonderful what trivial causes were sufficient to irritate them. A little preoccupation in one's own personal affairs, a monosyllabic word, a look of doubt, or a hesitating answer, made them flare up hotly. The true reason for this excessive sensitiveness was that they had lived too much within their own fences, and the taciturnity engendered by exclusiveness had affected their habits. How-ever amiable they might originally have been, their isolation had promoted the growth of egotism and self-importance. This is the essence of “Provincialism,” wherever it is met with, in country or in city life.

Few visited our store who did not bear some sign of the pernicious disease, which afflicted old and young in the bottom-lands of the Arkansas. I had not been a week at the store before I was delirious from the fever which accompanies ague, and, for the first time in my life, was dieted on calomel and quinine. The young physician of our neighbourhood, who boarded with Mr. Altschul, communicated to me many particulars regarding the nature of this plague. In the form termed by him “congestive chills,” he had known many cases to terminate fatally within a few hours. Blacks as well as whites were subject to it. Nothing availed to prevent an attack. The most abstemious, temperate, prudent habits no more prevented it than selfish indulgence or intemperance. So, what with isolation on their wide estates, their life amongst obsequious slaves, indigestion, and inflamed livers, their surroundings were not well adapted to make our wealthy customers very amiable or sociable.

Though I had a bowing acquaintance with scores, only half-a-dozen [156] or so people condescended to hold speech with me. The mention of these reminds me that one day one of my friends, named Newton Story, and myself were weighed in the scales, and while Story, a fine manly fellow, weighed one hundred and eighty-five pounds, I was only ninety-five pounds,--within three pounds of seven stone. The frequency of ague attacks had reduced me to skin and bone. It was a strange disease, preceded by a violent shaking, and a congealed feeling as though the blood was suddenly iced, during which I had to be half-smothered in blankets, and surrounded by hot-water bottles. After a couple of hours' shivering, a hot fit followed, accompanied by delirium, which, about the twelfth hour, was relieved by exhausting perspiration. When, about six hours later, I became cool and sane, my appetite was almost ravenous from quinine and emptiness. For three or four days afterwards, unless the fever was tertian, I went about my duties as before, when, suddenly, a fit of nausea would seize me, and again the violent malady overpowered me. Such was my experience of the agues of the Arkansas swamp-land; and, during the few months I remained at Cypress Bend, I suffered from them three times a month.

The population of the State in that year (1861) was about 440,000; and I find, to my astonishment, that now (1895) it is over a million and a quarter, of whom only about 10,000 are foreign-born. Neither the dreadful ague, which exceeds in virulence the African type, nor the Civil War, has been able to check the population. What a hope for much-scorned Africa there is in these figures!

But this is a digression due to my desire to be just to my bilious fellow-sufferers in the swamp-land. One of our new salesmen was famous as a violinist, and his favourite song and tune was about the “Arkansas traveller,” who, losing his way in one of the sloughy highways through the swamp, disappeared in the mud leaving his hat behind him to indicate the spot. Reflective people will see in this story another obstacle to social intercourse.

Every new immigrant soon became infected with the proud and sensitive spirit prevailing in Arkansas. The poor American settler, the Irish employee, the German-Jew storekeeper, in a brief time grew as liable to bursts of deadly passion, or fits of [157] cold-blooded malignity, as the Virginian aristocrat. In New Orleans, and other great cities, the social rule was to give and take, to assert an opinion, and hear it contradicted without resort to lethal weapons, but, in Arkansas, to refute a statement was tantamount to giving the lie direct, and was likely to be followed by an instant appeal to the revolver or bowie. Sometimes, an “if you said so, then I said so,” staved off the bloody arbitrament, but such folk were probably late immigrants and not old citizens.

It struck even a youth like me as being ridiculous for a servile German-Jew pedlar to fancy himself insulted by a casual remark from some mean and ill-bred white, and to feel it necessary to face the tube of a backwoodsman, when he might have ignored him and his rudeness altogether. It was hard to understand why he should resent his honour being doubted, except from a mistaken sense of his importance, for the ill-opinion of the planter community he had trebly earned already, by being a trader, a foreigner, and a Jew; and the small portion of regard he aspired to win by an act of daring bluff was not worth a thought, least of all the peril of his life, or the smart of a wound. With regard to his “honour,” it seemed to bear a different meaning on different banks of a river. On the eastern shore of the Mississippi, it meant probity in business; on the western shore, it signified popular esteem for the punishment of a traducer, and he who was most prompt in killing anyone who made a personal reflection obtained most honour, and therefore every pedlar or clerk in Arkansas hastened to prove his mettle.

At South Bend, about nine miles below us, there was a store-keeper who prided himself more upon the “honour” he had won as a duellist than upon commercial integrity. It was the example of his neighbourhood which had fired this abnormal ambition, and, on my arrival at the Arkansas, his clerks had begun to imitate him. The neighbouring merchants, envious of his fame, essayed the perilous venture; and, at last, Mr. Altschul was smitten with the mania. There is no doubt that, had his courage been of a more compact quality, he would have competed with the man of South Bend for “honour.” He selected, however, the choicest of his stock of Smith and Wesson's vest-pocket revolvers, and was lavishly extravagant [158] with the ammunition. At the outset, he could not resist blinking at the flash of his own pea-shooter, but, by dint of practice, he succeeded in plugging a big tree at twenty paces. Then, in an evil moment, his mounting spirit was inspired to turn his pistolette on a motherly old sow which had strayed among his cabbages, and he mortally wounded her. The owner of the animal was cross old Mr. Hubbard, a small planter, who came on an ambling mule, presently, with a double-barrel shot-gun, charged with an awful number of buck-pellets, to interview Mr. Altschul. When he returned home, I inferred, from Hubbard's satisfied smile, that the interview had not been unsatisfactory to him. From that moment we noticed that Mr. Altschul abandoned pistol practice — for, naturally, the pistolette was not a fit weapon to cope with a shot-gun. One of my fellow-clerks remarked that it was a pity Mr. Hubbard had no excuse for calling upon the man at South Bend for damages.

If the craze for shooting had been communicated to such a respectable man as Mr. Altschul, it may be imagined what a fascination pistols had for us youths. We had hip-pockets made in our trousers, and the Smith and Wesson was regarded as an indispensable adjunct to manhood. Our leisure hours were devoted to target-practice, until my proficiency was so great that I could sever a pack-thread at twenty paces. Theoretically, we were already man-slaughterers, for our only object in practice was to be expert in killing some imaginary rowdy, or burglar. In our rude world such a person might present himself at any moment. The rowdy needed only a little liquor to develop himself, and the store, guarded only by a boy at night, offered a tempting inducement to a burglarious individual. Among our hundred and odd customers there were several who were not over-regardful of our susceptibilities; and as my colleagues were of their own kidney, and had an acute sense of their dignity, there was no saying when a crisis might arise. Personally, I was not yet wrought up to this fine susceptiveness, though, probably, I had as quick a spirit as any fire-eater in Arkansas County. What I might do if my patience was abused, or how much bullying would be required to urge me to adopt the style in vogue, was, however, as yet undetermined. Of the code of honour and [159] usage I had heard enough, but whenever I supposed myself to be the object of rude aggression, the dire extreme made me shrink. The contingency was a daily topic, but, when I dwelt on the possibility of being involved, I inwardly held that liquory ebullience ought not to be noticed.

Among our customers was a man named Coleman, a large, loose-jointed young fellow, who owned a plantation and some twenty slaves. At regular intervals he came to make his purchase of cloth for his slaves, provisions, etc., and always departed with a bottle of whiskey in each saddle-bag. One day he and some chance acquaintance had commenced a bottle of Bourbon, and under the influence of the liquor he became objectionable, and hinted to one of the salesmen that it was “rot-gut,” diluted with swamp-water. At the commencement it was taken to be the rough pleasantry of a drunken rustic; but, as Coleman reiterated the charge, the clerk's patience was exhausted, and he retorted that swamp-water was whole — some for drunkards such as he. After this, one savage retort provoked another, and Coleman drew his revolver; but, as he aimed it, I crooked his elbow, and the bullet pierced the roof. Almost immediately after, the clerk had flung himself against his opponent, and we all three came to the floor. Then, while I clung to his thumb, to prevent his raising the hammer, assistance came from the next store-room; and the one who most efficiently interfered was a strong and stalwart planter, named Francis Rush, for he wrenched the weapon from his hand. There followed a disagreeable quarter of an hour: both Coleman and the clerk were wild to get at each other, but in the end we forced a truce. Coleman's saddle-bags were put on his horse, and I held his stirrups while he mounted. He glared fiercely at me awhile, and then, after a warning that I had better avoid meddling with other people's quarrels, he rode away.

Coleman never returned to the store again. Some weeks after this event, I was despatched round the neighbourhood to collect debts, and his name was on my list. There was an ominous silence about his house as I rode up, but, on making my way to the negro quarter to make enquiries, I was told in a frightened whisper that their master had disappeared into parts unknown, after killing Francis Rush. [160]

An evening came when the long-expected burglarious adventure occurred. Night had fallen by the time I returned to the store from supper at Mr. Altschul's, but there was a moon-light which made the dead timber in the Cypress Grove appear spectral. Near the main entrance to the store was a candle, which I proceeded to light after entering the building. Then, closing and dropping the strong bar across the door, I walked down the length of the store towards the office and my bedroom. Holding the candle well up, I noticed as I passed the fire-place a pile of soot on the hearth-stone. As it had been swept clean after the day's business, the sight of it instantly suggested a burglar being in the chimney. Without halting, I passed on to the office, cast a quick look at the back door and windows, and, snatching my little revolver from under the pillow, retraced my steps to the fire-place. Pointing the weapon up the chimney, I cried out, “Look out, I am about to fire. After the word “three” I shall shoot. One! two!--” A cloud of soot poured down on my arm, the rumble of a hasty scramble was heard, and I fired into the brick to hasten his departure. I then flew into the office, set my candle upon a chair, opened the back door, and darted out in time to see a negro's head and shoulders above the chimney-top. By means of threats, and a sufficient demonstration with the fire-arm, he was made to descend, and marched to Mr. Altschul's house, where he surrendered to the proprietor. Except that he was severely bound, his treatment was respectful, for he represented over a thousand dollars, and to injure him was to injure Dr. Goree, his owner, and one of our most respected customers.

Mr. Altschul was an Israelite and kept open store on Sunday, for the benefit of the negroes around. The clerks, being Christians, were, of course, exempted from labour that day; but, on one special Sunday, one of our party had volunteered to take Mr. Altschul's place at the counter. In the afternoon, he was attending a clamouring crowd of about thirty negroes, with his counter littered with goods. As I came in, I observed that he was not so alertly watchful as he ought to have been, with such a number of men, and so many exposed articles, I sat down and closely watched, and saw that, each time his back was turned, two men abstracted stockings, thread-spools, [161] and ribands, stuffing them into their capacious pockets. After considering the best method of compelling restoration, I withdrew and called Simon, Mr. Altschul's burly slave, and instructed him how to assist me.

A few seconds after re-entering the store, the two halves of the front door were suddenly flung to, and barred, and a cry of ‘Thieves’ was raised. There was a violent movement towards me, but Simon flourished a big knife above his head, and swore he would use it, if they did not stand still and be searched. Those who were conscious of their innocence sided with us.; and through their help we turned out a pretty assortment of small goods, which the clerk, by referring to his sales-book, found had not been sold.

I went out to shoot turtle-doves one holiday, and aimed at one on a branch about thirty feet above the road, and over-hanging it. Almost immediately after, old Hubbard, the planter, emerged into view from round the corner, in a tearing rage, and presented his shot-gun at me. Seeing no one else near, and assuming that he was under some great mistake, I asked what the matter was, upon which he boldly accused me of shooting at him, and he put his hand to his face to show the wound. As there was not the slightest trace of even a bruise, I laughed at him, as it seemed to me that only an overdose of whiskey could account for such a paroxysm of passion.

Since my arrival at Auburn I had received three letters from my father from Havana, within a period of about nine weeks. Then, month after month of absolute silence followed. The last letter had stated that his brother was convalescent, and that, in about a month, he intended to return to New Orleans, and would then pay me a visit. Until well into March, 1861, I was in daily expectation of hearing from him, or seeing him in person. But we were destined never to meet again. He died suddenly in 1861--I only heard of his death long after. In the mean time, wholly unheeded by me, astounding national events had occurred. Several of the Southern States had openly defied the United States Government. Forts, arsenals, and ships of war had been seized by the revolted States, and, what was of more importance to me, the forts below New Orleans had been taken by the Louisiana troops. [162] These events were known to readers of newspapers in Arkansas, but the only newspaper taken at the Auburn store was a Pine Bluff weekly, which, as I seldom saw it, I never imagined would contain any news of personal interest to me.

It was not until March that I began dimly to comprehend that something was transpiring which would involve every individual. Dr. Goree, our neighbour planter, happened to meet Mr. W. H. Crawford, an ex-Representative of Georgia, at our store, and began discussing politics. Their determine accents and resolute gestures roused my curiosity, and I heard them say that the States of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana others, had already formed a separate government, and one called Jeff Davis had been proclaimed President of a new government; and they wondered why Arkansas was slow to join the Confederates, etc., etc. This was news to me and when they unfolded their respective newspapers and read extracts from them, it dawned upon me that if I wished to post myself upon the grave national affairs, I should have to read those stupid sheets which hitherto I had regarded as being only fit for merchants and bearded men.

Thus stimulated to think that the events of the time affected the people of Arkansas County, even youths like myself, I began to read the Pine Bluff paper, and to be more inquisitive; and it was not long before I had a vague conception that the country was in a terribly disturbed state, and that there would be war. Notwithstanding the information gleaned from persons who gave themselves little trouble to satisfy a strange boy, it was not until young Dan Goree returned from Nashville College that I could assimilate properly all that I had heard. Young Dan was a boy of about my own age, and being the son of such a politician as Dr. Goree, was naturally much more advanced in political matters than I. He it was who, in friendly converse, acted as my Mentor, and gave me the first intelligent exposition of how affairs stood between the two sections of the Union. It was from him I learned that the election of Abe Lincoln, in the November previous, had created a hostile feeling in the South, because this man had declared himself opposed to slavery; and as soon as he became President, in March, he would do all in his power to free all the slaves. Of course, said he, in that event all slave-holders [163] would be ruined. His father owned about one hundred and twenty slaves, worth from $500 to $1200 a head, and to deprive him of property that he had bought with cash was pure robbery. That was the reason that all the people of the South were rising against the Northern people, and they would fight, to the last man. When the State of Arkansas “seceded,” then every man and boy would have to proceed to the war and drive those wretched Abolitionists back to their homes, which would be an easy task, as one Southerner was better than ten of those Northern fellows, many of whom had never seen a gun! Dan thought that the boys of the South, armed with whips, would be quite sufficient to lick the thieving hounds!

I need not pursue the theme, but it was from such a source that I obtained my elementary lessons in American Politics. From the time when, in December, 1857, I had read some leaderette about the Louisiana Legislative Assembly, politics had been repulsively dry to me, and newspapers were only useful for their shipping and trade details.

Specially interesting to me, however, was it to know that Missouri and its metropolis, St. Louis, would assuredly join the South; though I was saddened to learn that Cincinnati and Louisville were enemies. What curious emotions that word ‘enemies’ caused in me! People I knew well, with whom I had worshipped, boys with whom I had contracted delightful friendships at Newport and Covington, to be enemies! Then I wondered how we were to obtain our goods in future. Consignments of arms, medicine, dry-goods, and ironware, had come to us from St. Louis, Cincinnati, and even Chicago. The conditions of trade would be altogether altered!

It was not, however, until I had propounded the question as to how the seizure of the Mississippi forts affected people who were abroad, and wished to return home, that I understood how deeply involved I was by this rupture of relations between the North and South. I was told that all communication was stopped, that ships coming in from sea would be turned back, or else, if they were permitted to come in by the cruisers outside, would certainly not be permitted to leave; that every ship insisting on going to New Orleans would be searched, and, if anything likely to assist the enemy was [164] found, she would be detained, and perhaps confiscated; and that, as no vessel was permitted to enter the river, so none would have the privilege of leaving. Here was something wholly unexpected! My father was shut out, and I was shut in! He could not come to me, nor could I join him. In some mysterious way somebody had built an impassable wall round about us, and the South was like a jail, and its inhabitants had been deprived of the liberty of leaving. From the moment that I fully realised this fact, everything bore a different aspect to what it had before. I was a strange boy in a strange land, in the same condition of friendlessness as when I fled from the “Windermere.” I had prepared myself to convince my father that the valley of the Arkansas was not a fit place to live in. My staring bones and hollow eyes should speak for me, and we would try the Washita Valley, or ascend the Arkansas, towards Little Rock, where the country was healthier, but anywhere rather than in such a pestilential place as the swamp-land of Arkansas. But my intentions had come to naught, my cherished hopes must be abandoned. I was stranded effectually, and I had no option but to remain with Mr. Altschul.

It was an evil hour to meditate any design of a personal nature, for the sentiment of the period was averse from it. The same unperceivable power that had imprisoned me in the fever-and-ague region of Arkansas was rapidly becoming formidable. Man after man unresistingly succumbed to its influence. Even the women and children cried for war. There was no Fiery Cross, but the wire flashed the news into every country-place and town, and, wherever two met, the talk was all about war. Most of the cotton States had already seceded, and as our State was their sister in sentiment, habit, and blood, Arkansas was bound to join her sisters, and hasten with her sons to the battle-field, to conquer or die. Early in May, the State Representatives met at Little Rock, and adopted the ordinance of secession; whereupon the fighting spirit of the people rose in frenzy. Heroic sayings, uttered by ancient Greek and Roman heroes, were mouthed by every stripling. The rich planters forgot their pride and exclusiveness, and went out and orated among the common folk. They flourished their hats and canes, and cried, “Give us Liberty, or give us [165] Death!” The young men joined hands and shouted, “Is there a man with soul so dead, Who never to himself hath said — This is my own, my native land?” “An honourable death is better than a base life,” etc., etc. In the strident tones of passion, they said they would welcome a bloody grave rather than survive to see the proud foe violating their altars and their hearths, and desecrating the sacred soil of the South with their unholy feet. But, inflamed as the men and youths were, the warlike fire that burned within their breasts was as nothing to the intense heat that glowed within the bosoms of the women. No suggestion of compromise was possible in their presence. If every man did not hasten to the battle, they vowed they would themselves rush out and meet the Yankee vandals. In a land where women are worshipped by the men, such language made them war-mad.

Then one day I heard that enlistment was going on. Men were actually enrolling themselves as soldiers! A Captain Smith, owner of a plantation a few miles above Auburn, was raising a Company to be called the “Dixie Greys.” A Mr. Penny Mason, living on a plantation below us, was to be the First-lieutenant, and Mr. Lee, nephew of the great General Lee, was to be Second-lieutenant. The youth of the neighbourhood were flocking to them and registering their names. Our Doctor,--Weston Jones,--Mr. Newton Story, and the brothers Varner, had enlisted. Then the boy Dan Goree prevailed upon his father to permit him to join the gallant braves. Little Rich, of Richmond Store, gave in his name. Henry Parker, the boy nephew of one of the richest planters in the vicinity, volunteered, until it seemed as if Arkansas County was to be emptied of all the youth and men I had known.

About this time, I received a parcel which I half-suspected, as the address was written in a feminine hand, to be a token of some lady's regard; but, on opening it, I discovered it to be a chemise and petticoat, such as a negro lady's-maid might wear. I hastily hid it from view, and retired to the back room, that my burning cheeks might not betray me to some onlooker. In the afternoon, Dr. Goree called, and was excessively cordial and kind. He asked me if I did not intend to join the valiant children of Arkansas to fight? and I answered “Yes.” [166]

At my present age, the whole thing appears to be a very laughable affair altogether; but, at that time, it was far from being a laughing matter. He praised my courage, and my patriotism, and said I should win undying glory, and then he added, in a lower voice, “We shall see what we can do for you when you come back.”

What did he mean? Did he suspect my secret love for that sweet child who sometimes came shopping with her mother? From that confidential promise I believed he did, and was, accordingly, ready to go anywhere for her sake.

About the beginning of July we embarked on the steamer “Frederick Notrebe.” At various landings, as we ascended the river, the volunteers crowded aboard; and the jubilation of so many youths was intoxicating. Near Pine Bluff, while we were making merry, singing, “I wish I was in Dixie,” the steamer struck a snag which pierced her hull, and we sank down until the water was up to the furnace-doors. We remained fixed for several hours, but, fortunately, the ‘Rose Douglas’ came up, and took us and our baggage safely up to Little Rock.

We were marched to the Arsenal, and, in a short time, the Dixie Greys were sworn by Adjutant-General Burgevine into the service of the Confederate States of America for twelve months. We were served with heavy flint-lock muskets, knapsacks, and accoutrements, and were attached to the 6th Arkansas Regiment of Volunteers, Colonel Lyons commanding, and A. T. Hawthorn, Lieutenant-colonel.

General Burgevine was, in later years, Commander of the Mercenaries, in the Imperial Chinese army against the Taipings, and an ally of General (Chinese) Gordon, at one time. Dismissed by the Imperialists, he sought the service of the Taipings. Wearied of his new masters, he conceived a project of dethroning the Emperor, and reigning in his stead; he went so far as to try and tempt Gordon to be his accomplice!

1 The cruel slave-driver, in Uncle Tom's Cabin, comparable with Nelson, bully of the “Windermere.”

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