THE UNIVERSITY OF
THE WILMER COLLECTION
OF CIVIL WAR NOVELS
RICHARD H. WILMER, JR.
Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2010 with funding from
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
BY HAROLD FREDERIC.
IN THE VALLEY.
Illustrated by Howard Pyle . $1.50
THE LAWTON GIRL.
l2mo, paper, 50 cents; cloth $1.25
SETH'S BROTHER'S WIFE.
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
COPYRIGHT, 1893, BY
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS.
I. Abner Beech 1
II. Jeff's Mutiny 17
HI. Absalom 35
IV. Antietam 47
V. "Jee's" Tidings 63
VI. Ni's Talk with Abner 76
VII. The Election 90
VIII. The Election Bonfire 106
IX. Esther's Visit 115
X. The Fire 133
XI. The Conquest of Abner 146
XII. The Unwelcome Guest 158
XIII. The Breakfast 172
XIV. Finis 182
It was on the night of my thirteenth
birthday, I know, that the old farm-house
was burned over our heads. By that reckon-
ing I must have been six or seven when I
went to live with Farmer Beech, because at
the time he testified I had been with him
half my life.
Abner Beech had often been supervisor
for his town, and could have gone to the
Assembly, it was said, had he chosen. He
was a stalwart, thick-shouldered, big man,
with shaggy dark eyebrows shading stern
hazel eyes, and with a long, straight nose,
and a broad, firmly shut mouth. His expan-
sive upper lip was blue from many years of
shaving; all the rest was bushing beard,
mounting high upon the cheeks and rolling
2 THE COPPERHEAD
downward in iron-gray billows over his
breast. That shaven upper lip, which still
may be found among the farmers of the old
blood in our district was, I dare say, a
survival from the time of the Puritan protest
against the mustaches of the Cavaliers. If
Abner Beech, in the latter days, had been
told that this shaving on Wednesday and
Saturday nights was a New England rite, I
feel sure he would never have touched razor
He was a well-to-do man in the earlier
time — a tremendous worker, a " good pro-
vider," a citizen of weight and substance in
the community. In all large matters the
neighborhood looked to him to take the lead.
He was the first farmer roundabout to set a
mowing-machine to work in his meadows,
and to put up lightning-rods on his buildings.
At one period he was, too, the chief pillar in
the church, but that was before the episode
of the lightning-rods. Our little Union
meeting-house was supplied in those days by
an irregular procession of itinerant preachers,
who came when the spirit moved and spoke
with that entire frankness which is induced
by knowledge that the night is to be spent
ABNEB BEECH 3
somewhere else. One of these strolling
ministers regarded all attempts to protect
property from lightning as an insolent defi-
ance of the Divine Will, and said so very
pointedly in the pulpit, and the congregation
sat still and listened and grinned. Farmer
Beech never forgave them.
There came in good time other causes for
ill-feeling. It is beyond the power of my
memory to pick out and arrange in proper
sequence the events which, in the final result,
separated Abner Beech from his fellows.
My own recollections go with distinctness
back to the reception of the news that
Virginia had hanged John Brown ; in a
vaguer way they cover the two or three
preceding years. Very likely Farmer Beech
had begun to fall out of touch with his
neighbors even before that.
The circumstances of my adoption into his
household — an orphan without relations or
other friends — were not of the sort to serve
this narrative. I was taken in to be raised as
a farm-hand, and was no more expected to be
grateful than as if I had been a young steer
purchased to toil in the yoke. No suggestion
was ever made that I had incurred any debt
4 THE COPPERHEAD
of obligation to the Beeches. In a little com-
munity where everyone worked as a matter
of course till there was no more work to do,
and all shared alike the simple food, the tired,
heavy sleep, and the infrequent spells of rec-
reation, no one talked or thought of benefits
conferred or received. My rights in the
house and about the place were neither less
nor more than those of Jeff Beech, the farm-
er's only son.
In the course of time I came, indeed, to be
a more sympathetic unit in the household, so
to speak, than poor Jeff himself. But that
was only because he had been drawn off after
At all times — even when nothing else good
was said of him — Abner Beech was spoken
of by the people of the district as a " great
hand for reading." His pre-eminence in this
matter remained unquestioned to the end. No
other farmer for miles owned half the number
of books which he had on the shelves above
his writing-desk. Still less was there anyone
roundabout who could for a moment stand up
with him in a discussion involving book-
learning in general. This at first secured for
him the respect of the whole country-side, and
ABNER BEECH 5
men were proud to be agreed with by such a
scholar. But when affairs changed, this,
oddly enough, became a formidable popular
grievance against Abner Beech. They said
then that his opinions were worthless because
he got them from printed books, instead of
from his heart.
What these opinions were may in some
measure be guessed from the titles of the
farmer's books. Perhaps there were some
thirty of them behind the glass doors of the
old mahogany bookcase. With one or two
agricultural or veterinary exceptions, they re-
lated exclusively to American history and
politics. There were, I recall, the first two
volumes of Bancroft, and Lossing's " Lives
of the Signers," and " Field-Books " of the
two wars with England ; Thomas H. Benton's
" Thirty Years' View ; " the four green-black
volumes of Hammond's " Political History of
the State of New York ; " campaign lives of
Lewis Cass and Franklin Pierce, and larger
biographies of Jefferson and Jackson, and,
most imposing of all, a whole long row of
big calf-bound volumes of the Congressional
Globe, which carried the rninutise of politics
at Washington back into the forties.
6 THE COPPERHEAD
These books constituted the entire literary
side of my boyish education. I have only
the faintest and haziest recollections of what
happened when I went during the winter
months to the school-house at the Four Cor-
ners. But I can recall the very form of the
type in the farmer's books. Everyone of
those quaint, austere, and beardless faces,
framed in high collars and stocks and waving
hair — the Marcys, Calhouns, De Witt Clin-
tons, and Silas Wrights of the daguerreotype
and Sartain's primitive graver — gives back
to me now the lineaments of an old-time
Whenever I could with decency escape
from playing checkers with Jeff, and had no
harness to grease or other indoor jobs, I spent
the winter evenings in poring over some of
these books — generally with Abner Beech
at the opposite side of the table immersed in
another. On some rare occasion one of the
hired men would take down a volume and
look through it — the farmer watching him
covertly the while to see that he did not wet
his big thumbs to turn over the leaves — but
for the most part we two had the books to
ourselves. The others would sit about till
ABNER BEECH 1
bedtime, amusing themselves as best they
could, the women-folk knitting or mending,
the men cracking butternuts, or dallying with
cider and apples and fried-cakes, as they
talked over the work and gossip of the dis-
trict and tempted the scorching impulses of
the stovehearth with their stockinged feet.
This tacit separation of the farmer and
myself from the rest of the household in the
course of time begat confidences between us.
He grew, from brief and casual beginnings,
into a habit of speaking to me about the
things we read. As it became apparent, year
by year, that young Jeff was never going to
read anything at all, Abner Beech more and
more distinguished me with conversational
favor. It cannot be said that the favoritism
showed itself in other directions. I had to
work as hard as ever, and got no more play-
time than before. The master's eye was
everywhere as keen, alert, and unsparing as
if I had not known even m'y alphabet. But
when there were breathing spells, we talked
together — or rather he talked and I listened
— as if we were folk quite apart from the
Two fixed ideas thus arose in my boyish
8 THE COPPERHEAD
mind, and dominated all my little notions of
the world. One was that Alexander Hamil-
ton and John Marshall were among the most
infamous characters in history. The other
was that every true American ought to hold
himself in daily readiness to fight with Eng-
land. I gave a great deal of thought to both
these matters. I had early convictions, too,
I remember, with regard to Daniel Webster,
who had been very bad, and then all at once
became a very good man. For some obscure
reason I always connected him in my imag-
ination with Zaccheus up a tree, and clung to
the queer association of images long after I
learned that the Marshfield statesman had
been physically a large man.
Gradually the old blood-feud with the Brit-
isher became obscured by fresher antagonisms,
and there sprouted up a crop of new sons of
Belial who deserved to be hated more even
than had Hamilton and Marshall. With me
the two stages of indignation glided into
one another so impreceptibly that I can now
hardly distinguish between them. What I do
recall is that the farmer came in time to neg-
lect the hereditary enemy, England, and to
seem to have quite forgotten our own historic
ABNER BEECH 9
foes to liberty, so enraged was lie over the
modern Abolitionists. He told me about them
as we paced up the seed rows together in the
spring, as we drove homeward on the hay-load
in the cool of the summer evening, as we
shovelled out a path for the women to the
pumps in the farm-yard through December
snows. It took me a long time to even ap-
proximately grasp the wickedness of these
new men, who desired to establish negro
sovereignty in the Republic, and to compel
each white girl to marry a black man.
The fact that I had never seen any negro
" close to," and had indeed only caught pass-
ing glimpses of one or more of the colored
race on the streets of our nearest big town,
added, no doubt, to the mystified alarm with
which I contemplated these monstrous pro-
posals. When finally an old darky on his
travels did stroll our way, and I beheld him,
incredibly ragged, dirty, and light-hearted,
shuffling through " Jump Jim Crow " down
at the Four Corners, for the ribald delectation
of the village loafers, the revelation fairly
made me shudder. I marvelled that the
others could laugh, with this unspeakable
fate hanging over their silly heads.
10 THE COPPERHEAD
At first the Abolitionists were to me a re-
mote and intangible class, who lived and
wrought their evil deeds in distant places —
chiefly New England way. I rarely heard
mention of any names of persons among them.
They seemed to be an impersonal mass, like
a herd of buffaloes or a swarm of hornets.
The first individuality in their ranks which
attracted my attention, I remember, was that
of Theodore Parker. The farmer one day
brought home with him from town a pam-
phlet composed of anti-slavery sermons or
addresses by this person. In the evening he
read it, or as far into it as his temper would
permit, beating the table with his huge fist
from time to time, and snorting with wrath-
ful amazement. At last he sprang to his feet,
marched over to the wood-stove, kicked the
door open with his boot, and thrust the offend-
ing print into the blaze. It is vivid in my
memory still — the way the red flame-light
flared over his big burly front, and sparkled
on his beard, and made his face to shine like
that of Moses.
But soon I learned that there were Aboli-
tionists everywhere — Abolitionists right here
in our own little farmland township of north-
ABNER BEECH 11
ern New York ! The impression which this
discovery made upon me was not unlike that
produced on Robinson Crusoe by the immor-
tal footprint. I could think of nothing else.
Great events, which really covered a space
of years, came and went as in a bunch to-
gether, while I was still pondering upon this.
John Brown was hanged, Lincoln was elected,
Sumter was fired on, the first regiment was
raised and despatched from our rustic end
of Dearborn County — and all the time it
seems now as if my mind was concentrated
upon the amazing fact that some of our
neighbors were Abolitionists.
There was a certain dreamlike tricksiness
of transformation in it all. At first there was
only one Abolitionist, old "Jee" Hagadorn.
Then, somehow, there came to be a num-
ber of them — and then, all at once, lo !
everybody was an Abolitionist — that is to
say, everybody but Abner Beech. The more
general and enthusiastic the conversion of
the others became, the more resolutely and
doggedly he dug his heels into the ground,
and braced his broad shoulders, and pulled in
the opposite direction. The skies darkened,
the wind rose, the storm of angry popular
12 THE COPPERHEAD
feeling burst swooping over the country-side,
but Beech only stiffened his back and never
budged an inch.
At some early stage of this great change,
we ceased going to church at all. The pulpit
of our rustic meeting-house had become a
platform from which the farmer found himself
denounced with hopeless regularity on every
recurring Sabbath, and that, too, without any
chance whatever of talking back. This in it-
self was hardly to be borne. But when others,
mere laymen of the church, took up the theme,
and began in class-meetings and the Sunday-
school to talk about Antichrist and the Beast '
with Ten Horns and Seven Heads, in obvious
connection with Southern sympathizers, it
became frankly insufferable. The farmer
did not give in without a fierce resistance.
He collected all the texts he could find in
the Bible, such as " Servants obey your mas-
ters," " Cursed be Canaan," and the like, and
hurled them vehemently, with strong, deep
voice, and sternly glowing eyes, full at their
heads. But the others had many more texts
— we learned afterwards that old " Jee "
Hagadorn enjoyed the unfair advantage of
a Cruden's Concordance — and their tongues
ABNER BEECH 13
were as forty to one, so we left off going to
Not long after this, I should think, came
the miserable affair of the cheese-factory.
The idea of doing all the dairy work of a
neighborhood under a common roof, which
originated not many miles from us, was now
nearly ten years old. In those days it was
regarded as having in it possibilities of vastly
greater things than mere cheese-making. Its
success among us had stirred up in men's
minds big sanguine notions of co-operation
as the answer to all American farm problems
— as the gateway through which we were
to march into the rural millennium. These
high hopes one recalls now with a smile and
a sigh. Farmers' wives continued to break
down and die under the strain, or to be
drafted off to the lunatic asylums ; the farm-
ers kept on hanging themselves in their
barns, or flying westward before the locust-
like cloud of mortgages ; the boys and girls
turned their steps townward in an ever-in-
creasing host. The millennium never came
But at that time — in the late fifties and
early sixties — the cheese-factory was the
14 THE COPPERHEAD
centre of an impressive constellation of
dreams and roseate promises. Its managers
were the very elect of the district; their
disfavor was more to be dreaded than
any condemnation of a town-meeting; their
chief officers were even more important per-
sonages than the supervisor and assessor.
Abner Beech had literally been the founder
of our cheese-factory. I fancy he gave the
very land on which it was built, and where
you will see it still, under the willows by the
upper-creek bridge. He sent to it in those
days the milk of the biggest herd owned by
any farmer for miles around, reaching at
seasons nearly one hundred cows. His voice,
too, outweighed all others in its co-operative
But when our church-going community
had reached the conclusion that a man
couldn't be a Christian and hold such views
on the slave question as Beech held, it was
only a very short step to the conviction that
such a man would water his milk. In some
parts of the world the theft of a horse is the
most heinous of conceivable crimes ; other
sections exalt to this pinnacle of sacredness
in property a sheep or a pheasant or a woman.
ABNER BEECH 15
Among our dairymen the thing of special
sanctity was milk. A man in our neighbor-
hood might almost better be accused of for-
gery or bigamy outright, than to fall under
the dreadful suspicion of putting water into
Whether it was mere stupid prejudice or
malignant invention I know not — who
started the story was never to be learned —
but of a sudden everybody seemed to have
heard that Abner Beech's milk had been re-
fused at the cheese-factory. This was not
true, any more than it was true that there
could possibly have been warrant for such a
proceeding. But what did happen was that
the cheese-maker took elaborate pains each
morning to test our cans with such primitive
appliances as preceded the lactometer, and
sniffed suspiciously as he entered our figures
in a separate book, and behaved generally so
that our hired man knocked him head over
heels into one of his whey vats. Then the
managers complained to the farmer. He
went down to meet them, boiling over with
rage. There was an evil spirit in the air,
and bitter words were exchanged. The out-
come was that Abner Beech renounced the
16 THE COPPERHEAD
co-operative curds of his earlier manhood, so
to speak, sold part of his cattle at a heavy
loss, and began making butter at home with
the milk of the remainder.
Then we became pariahs in good earnest.
The farmer came in from the fields some-
what earlier than usual on this August after-
noon. He walked, I remember, with a heavy
step and bowed head, and, when he had come
into the shade on the porch and taken off his
hat, looked about him with a wearied air.
The great heat, with its motionless atmos-
phere and sultry closeness, had well-nigh
wilted everybody. But one could see that
Abner was suffering more than the rest, and
from something beyond the enervation of
He sank weightily into the arm-chair by
the desk, and stretched out his legs with a
querulous note in his accustomed grunt of
relief. On the moment Mrs. Beech came in
from the kitchen, with the big china wash-
bowl filled with cold water, and the towel
and clean socks over her arm, and knelt be-
fore her husband. She proceeded to pull off
his big, dust-baked boots and the woollen foot-
18 THE COPPERHEAD
gear, put his feet into the bowl, bathe and
dry them, and draw on the fresh covering, all
without a word.
The ceremony was one I had watched
many hundreds of times. Mrs. Beech was
a tall, dark, silent woman, whom I could
well believe to have been handsome in her
youth. She belonged to one of the old Mo-
hawk-Dutch families, and when some of her
sisters came to visit at the farm I noted that
they too were all dusky as squaws, with jet-
black shiny curls and eyes like the midnight
hawk. I used always to be afraid of them
on this account, but I dare say they were in
reality most kindly women. Mrs. Beech her-
self represented to my boyish eyes the ideal
of a saturnine and masterful queen. She per-
formed great quantities of work with no ap-
parent effort — as if she had merely willed it
to be done. Her household was governed with
a cold impassive exactitude ; there were never
any hitches, or even high words. The hired-
girls, of course, called her "M'rye," as the
rest of us mostly did, but they rarely carried
familiarity further, and as a rule respected
her dislike for much talk. During all the
years I spent under her roof I was never
JEFF'S MUTINY 19
clear in my mind as to whether she liked
me or not. Her own son, even, passed
his boyhood in much the same state of
But to her husband, Abner Beech, she was
always most affectionately docile and humble.
Her snapping black eyes followed him about
and rested on him with an almost canine fidel-
ity of liking. She spoke to him habitually
in a voice quite different from that which
others heard addressed to them. This, in-
deed, was measurably true of us all. By in-
stinct the whole household deferred in tone
and manner to our big, bearded chief, as if
he were an Arab sheik ruling over us in a
tent on the desert. The word " patriarch "
still seems best to describe him, and his atti-
tude toward us and the world in general, as I
recall him sitting there in the half-darkened
living-room, with his wife bending over his
feet in true Oriental submission.
" Do you know where Jeff is ? " the farmer
suddenly asked, without turning his head to
where I sat braiding a whiplash, but indicat-
ing by the volume of voice that his query was
put to me.
" He went off about two o'clock," I replied,
20 THE COPPERHEAD
" with his fish-pole. They say they are bit-
ing like everything down in the creek."
"Well, you keep to work and they won't
bite you," said Abner Beech. This was a
very old joke with him, and usually the op-
portunity of using it once more tended to
lighten his mood. Now, though mere force
of habit led him to repeat the pleasantry, he
had no pleasure in it. He sat with his head
bent, and his huge hairy hands spread list-
lessly on the chair-arms.
Mrs. Beech finished her task, and rose,
lifting the bowl from the floor. She paused,
and looked wistfully into her husband's face.
" You ain't a bit well, Abner ! " she said.
" Well as I'm likely ever to be again," he
made answer, gloomily.
" Has any more of 'em been sayin' or doin'
anything?" the wife asked, with diffident
The farmer spoke with more animation.
" D'ye suppose I care a picayune what they
say or do ? " he demanded. " Not I ! But
when a man's own kith and kin turn agin
him, into the bargain — " he left the sentence
unfinished, and shook his head to indicate the
impossibility of such a situation.
JEFF'S MUTINY 21
" Has Jeff —then — " Mrs. Beech began to
" Yes — Jeff! " thundered the farmer, strik-
ing his fist on the arm of the chair. " Yes —
by the Eternal ! — Jeff! "
When Abner Beech swore by the Eternal
we knew that things were pretty bad. His
wife put the bowl down on a chair, and seated
herself in another. " What's Jeff been doin' ? "
" Why, where d'ye suppose he was last
night, 'n' the night before that ? Where d'ye
suppose he is this minute ? They ain't no
mistake about it, Lee Watkins saw 'em with
his own eyes, and ta'nted me with it. He's
down by the red bridge — that's where he is
— hangin' round that Hagadorn gal ! "
Mrs. Beech looked properly aghast at the
intelligence. Even to me it was apparent
that the unhappy Jeff might better have been
employed in committing any other crime
under the sun. It was only to be expected
that his mother would be horrified.
" I never could abide that Lee Watkins,"
was what she said.
The farmer did not comment on the rele-
vancy of this. " Yes," he went on, " the
22 THE COPPERHEAD
daughter of mine enemy, the child of that
whining, backbiting old scoundrel who's been
eating his way into me like a deer-tick for
years — the whelp that I owe every mean and
miserable thing that's ever happened to me
— yes, of all living human creatures, by the
Eternal ! it's his daughter that that blamed
fool of a Jeff must take a shine to, and hang
around after ! "
" He'll come of age the fourteenth of next
month," remarked the mother, tentatively.
" Yes — and march up and vote the Woolly-
head ticket. I suppose that's what'll come
next ! " said the farmer, bitterly. " It only
needed that ! "
" And it was you who got her the job
of teachin' the school, too, " put in Mrs.
"That's nothing to do with it," Abner
continued. " I ain't blamin' her — that is, on
her own account. She's a good enough gal
so far's I know. But everything and every-
body under that tumble-down Hagadorn roof
ought to be pizen to any son of mine ! That's
what I say ! And I tell you this, mother" —
the farmer rose, and spread his broad chest,
towering over the seated woman as he spoke
JEFF'S MUTINY 23
— "I tell you this ; if he ain't got pride
enough to keep him away from that house —
away from that gal — then he can keep away
from this house — away from me ! "
The wife looked up at him mutely, then
bowed her head in tacit consent.
" He brings it on himself ! " Abner cried,
with clenched fists, beginning to pace up and
down the room. " Who's the one man I've
reason to curse with my dying breath ? Who
began the infernal Abolition cackle here ?
Who drove me out of the church? Who
started that outrageous lie about the milk at
the factory, and chased me out of that, too ?
Who's been a lay in' for years behind every
stump and every bush, waitin' for the chance
to stab me in the back, an' ruin my business,
an' set my neighbors agin me, an' land me an'
mine in the poorhouse or the lockup? You
know as well as I do — ' Jee ' Hagadorn !
If I'd wrung his scrawny little neck for him
the first time I ever laid eyes on him, it
'd 'a' been money in my pocket and years
added onto my life. And then my son — my
son ! must go taggin' around — oh-h ! "
He ended with an inarticulate growl of
impatience and wrath.
24 THE COPPERHEAD
" Mebbe, if you spoke to the boy — " Mrs.
" Yes, I'll speak to him! " the farmer burst
forth, with grim emphasis. " I'll speak to him
so't he'll hear ! " He turned abruptly to me.
" Here, boy," he said, " you go down the
creek-road an' look for Jeff. If he ain't
loafin' round the school-house he'll be in the
neighborhood of Hagadorn's. You tell him
I say for him to get back here as quick as he
can. You needn't tell him what it's about.
Pick up your feet, now ! "
As luck would have it, I had scarcely got
out to the road before I heard the loose-spoked
wheels of the local butcher's wagon rattling
behind me down the hill. Looking round, I
saw through the accompanying puffs of dust
that young " Ni " Hagadorn was driving, and
that he was alone. I stopped and waited
for him to come up, questioning my mind
whether it would be fair to beg a lift from
him, when the purpose of my journey was so
hostile to his family. Even after he had
halted, and I had climbed up to the seat
beside him, this consciousness of treachery
But no one thought long of being serious
JEFF'S MUTINY 25
with " Ni." He was along in the teens some-
where, not large for his years but extremely
wiry and muscular, and the funniest boy
any of us ever knew of. How the son of
such a sad-faced, gloomy, old licensed ex-
horter as " Jee " Hagadorn could be such a
running spring of jokes and odd sayings and
general deviltry as " Ni," passed all our
understandings. His very face made you
laugh, with its wilderness of freckles, its
snub nose, and the comical curl to its mouth.
He must have been a profitable investment to
the butcher who hired him to drive about the
country. The farmers' wives all came out
to laugh and chat with him, and under the
influence of his good spirits they went on
buying the toughest steaks and bull-beef
flanks, at more than city prices, year after
year. But anybody who thought " Ni " was
soft because he was full of fun made a great
"I see you ain't doin' much ditchin' this
year," " Ni " remarked, glancing over our fields
as he started up the horse. "I should think
you'd be tickled to death."
Well, in one sense I was glad. There used
to be no other such back-aching work in all
26 THE COPPERHEAD
the year as that picking up of stones to fill
into the trenches which the hired men began
digging as soon as the hay and grain were
in. But on the other hand, I knew that the
present idleness meant — as everything else
now seemed to mean — that the Beech farm
was going to the dogs.
" No," I made rueful answer. " Our land
don't need draiijin' any more. It's dry as
a powder-horn now."
" Ni " clucked knowingly at the old horse.
" Guess it's Abner that can't stand much more
drainin'," he said. " They say he's looking
all round for a mortgage, and can't raise
" No such thing ! " I replied. " His health's
poorly this summer, that's all. And Jeff —
he dont seem to take hold, somehow, like he
My companion laughed outright. " Mustn't
call him Jeff any more," he remarked with a
grin. " He was telling us down at the house
that he was going to have people call him
Tom after this. He can't stand answerin'
to the same name as Jeff Davis," he says.
" I suppose you folks put him up to that,"
I made bold to comment, indignantly.
JEFF'S MUTINY 27
The suggestion did not annoy " Ni."
" Mebbe so," he said. " You know Dad lots
a good deal on names. He's down-right
mortified that I don't get up and kill people
because my name's Benaiah. ' Why,' he
keeps on saying to me, ' Here you are, Bena-
iah, the son of Jehoiada, as it was in Holy
Writ, and instid of preparin' to make ready
to go out and fall on the enemies of right-
eousness, like your namesake did, all you do
is read dime novels and cut up monkey-shines
generally, for all the world as if you'd been
named Pete or Steve or William Henry.'
That's what he gives me pretty nearly every
I was familiar enough with the quaint
mysticism which the old Abolitionist cooper
wove around the Scriptural names of himself
and his son. We understood that these two
appellations had alternated among his ances-
tors as well, and I had often heard him read
from Samuel and Kings and Chronicles about
them, his stiff red hair standing upright, and
the blue veins swelling on his narrow tem-
ples with proud excitement. But that, of
course, was in the old days, before the
trouble came, and when I still went to
28 THE COPPERHEAD
church. To hear it all now again seemed to
give me a novel impression of wild fanati-
cism in " Jee " Hagadorn.
His son was chuckling on his seat over
something he had just remembered. " Last
time," he began, gurgling with laughter —
"last time he went for me because I wasn't
measurin' up to his idee of what a Benaiah
ought to be like, I up an' said to him, ' Look
a-here now, people who live in glass houses
mustn't heave rocks. If I'm Benaiah, you're
Jehoiada. Well, it says in the Bible that
Jehoiada made a covenant. Do you make
cove-nants ? Not a bit of it ! all you make
is butter firkins, with now an' then an odd
pork barrel.' "
"What did he say to that?" I asked, as
my companion's merriment abated.
" Well, I come away just then ; I seemed
to have business outside," replied " Ni," still
We had reached the Corners now, and my
companion obligingly drew up to let me get
down. He called out some merry quip or
other as he drove off, framed in a haze of
golden dust against the sinking sun, and I
stood looking after him with the pleasantest
JEFF'S MUTINY 29
thoughts my mind had known for days. It
was almost a shock to remember that he was
one of the abhorrent and hated Hagadorns.
And his sister, too. It was not at all easy
to keep one's loathing up to the proper pitch
where so nice a girl as Esther Hagadorn was
its object. She was years and years my
senior — she was even older than " Ni " —
and had been my teacher for the past two
winters. She had never spoken to me save
across that yawning gulf which separates
little barefooted urchins from tall young
women, with long dresses and their hair done
up in a net, and I could hardly be said
to know her at all. Yet now, perversely
enough, I could think of nothing but her
manifest superiority to all the farm girls
round about. She had been to a school in
some remote city, where she had relations.
Her hands were fabulously white, and even
on the hottest of days her dresses rustled
pleasantly with starched primness. People
talked about her singing at church as some-
thing remarkable ; to my mind, the real
music was when she just spoke to you, even
if it was no more than " Good-morning,
Jimmy ! "
30 THE COPPERHEAD
I clambered up on the window-sill of the
school-house, to make sure there was no one
inside, and then set off down the creek-road
toward the red or lower bridge. Milking-
time was about over, and one or two teams
passed me on the way to the cheese-factory,
the handles of the cans rattling as they went,
and the low sun throwing huge shadows of
drivers and horses sprawling eastward over
the stubble-field. I cut across lots to avoid
the cheese-factory itself, with some vague
feeling that it was not a fitting spectacle for
anyone who lived on the Beech farm.
A few moments brought me to the bank of
the wandering stream below the factory, but
so near that I could hear the creaking of the
chain drawing up the cans over the tackle,
or as we called it, the " teekle." The
willows under which I walked stretched
without a break from the clump by the
factory bridge. And now, low and behold !
beneath still other of these willows, farther
down the stream, whom should I see stroll-
ing together but my school-teacher and the
delinquent Jeff !
Young Beech bore still the fish-pole I had
seen him take from our shed some hours
JEFF'S MUTINY 31
earlier, but the line twisted round it was
very white and dry. He was extremely close
to the girl, and kept his head bent down over
her as they sauntered along the meadow-path.
They seemed not to be talking, but just idly
drifting forward like the deep slow water
beside them. I had never realized before
how tall Jeff was. Though the school-ma'am
always seemed to me of an exceeding stature,
here was Jeff rounding his shoulders and
inclining his neck in order to look under her
broad-brimmed Leghorn hat.
There could be no imaginable excuse for
my not overtaking them. Instinct prompted
me to start up a whistling tune as I advanced
— a casual and indolently unobtrusive tune
— at sound of which Jeff straightened him-
self, and gave his companion a little more
room on the path. In a moment or two he
stopped, and looked intently over the bank
into the water, as if he hoped it might turn
out to be a likely place for fish. And the
school-ma'am, too, after a few aimless steps,
halted to help him look.
" Abner wants you to come right straight
home ! " was the form in which my message
delivered itself when I had come close up to
32 THE COPPERHEAD
They both shifted their gaze from the
sluggish stream below to me upon the in-
stant. Then Esther Hagadorn looked away,
but Jeff — good, big, honest Jeff, who had
been like a fond elder brother to me since I
could remember — knitted his brows and re-
garded me with something like a scowl.
"Did pa send you to say that?" he de-
manded, holding my eye with a glance of
such stern inquiry that I could only nod my
head in confusion.
" An' he knew that you'd find me here, did
" He said either at the school-house or
around here somewhere," I admitted, weakly.
"An' there ain't nothin' the matter at the
farm ? He don't want me for nothin'
special?" pursued Jeff, still looking me
through and through.
" He didn't say," I made hesitating answer,
but for the life of me, I could not keep
from throwing a tell-tale look in the direc-
tion of his companion in the blue gingham
A wink could not have told Jeff more.
He gave a little bitter laugh, and stared
above my head at the willow-plumes for a
JEFF'S MUTINY 33
minute's meditation. Then be tossed his
fish-pole over to me and laughed again.
" Keep that for yourself, if you want it,"
he said, in a voice not quite his own, but
robustly enough. " I sha'n't need it any
more. Tell pa I ain't a-comin' ! "
" Oh, Tom ! " Esther broke in, anxiously,
"would you do that?"
He held up his hand with a quiet, master-
ful gesture, as if she were the pupil and he
the teacher, " Tell him," he went on, the tone
falling now strong and true, " tell him and
ma that I'm goin' to Tecumseh to-night to
enlist. If they're willin' to say good-by, they
can let me know there, and I'll manage to
slip back for the day. If they ain't willin' —
why, they — they needn't send word ; that's
Esther had come up to him, and held his
arm now in hers.
" You're wrong to leave them like that ! "
she pleaded, earnestly, but Jeff shook his
" You don't know him ! " was all he said.
In another minute I had shaken hands with
Jeff, and had started on my homeward way,
with his parting " Good-by, youngster ! " be-
34 THE COPPERHEAD
numbing my ears. When, after a while, I
turned to look back, they were still standing
where I had left them, gazing over the bank
into the water.
Then, as I trudged onward once more, I
began to quake at the thought of how
Farmer Beech would take the news.
Once, in the duck-season, as I lay hidden
among the marsh-reeds with an older boy, a
crow passed over us, flying low. Looking up
at him, I realized for the first time how beau-
tiful a creature was this common black thief
of ours — how splendid his strength and the
sheen of his coat, how proudly graceful the
sweep and curves of his great slow wings.
The boy beside me fired, and in a flash what
I had been admiring changed — even as it
stopped headlong in mid-air — into a hideous
thing, an evil confusion of jumbled feathers.
The awful swiftness of that transition from
beauty and power to hateful carrion haunted
me for a long time.
I half expected that Abner Beech would
crumple up in some such distressing way, all
of a sudden, when I told him that his son Jeff
wag in open rebellion, and intended to go off
and enlist. It was incredible to the senses
that any member t)f the household should set
36 THE COPPERHEAD
at defiance the patriarchal will of its head.
But that the offence should come from placid,
slow-witted, good-natured Jeff, and that it
should involve the appearance of a Beech in
a blue uniform — these things staggered the
imagination. It was clear that something
prodigious must happen.
As it turned out, nothing happened at all.
The farmer and his wife sat out on the ve-
randa, as was their wont of a summer evening,
rarely exchanging a word, but getting a rest-
ful sort of satisfaction in together surveying
their barns and haystacks and the yellow-
brown stretch of fields beyond.
" Jeff says he's goin' to-night to Tecumseh,
an' he's goin' to enlist, an' if you want him to
run over to say good-by you're to let him
I leant upon my newly-acquired fish-pole
for support, as I unburdened myself of these
sinister tidings. The old pair looked at me
in calm-eyed silence, as if I had related the
most trivial of village occurrences. Neither
moved a muscle nor uttered a sound, but just
gazed, till it felt as if their eyes were burn-
ing holes into me.
" That's what he said," I* repeated, after a
pause, to mitigate the embarrassment of that
dumb steadfast stare.
The mother it was who spoke at last.
"You'd better go round and get your sup-
per," she said, quietly.
The table was spread, as usual, in the big,
low-ceilinged room which during the winter
was used as a kitchen. What was unusual
was to discover a strange man seated alone in
his shirt-sleeves at this table, eating his sup-
per. As I took my chair, however, I saw that
he was not altogether a stranger. I recog-
nized in him the little old Irishman who had
farmed Ezra Tracy's beaver-meadow the pre-
vious year on shares, and done badly, and had
since been hiring out for odd jobs at hoeing
and haying. He had lately lost his wife, I
recalled now, and lived alone in a tumble-
down old shanty beyond Parker's saw-mill.
He had come to us in the spring, I remem-
bered, when the brindled calf was born, to
beg a pail of what he called " basteings," and
I speculated in my mind whether it was this
repellent mess that had killed his wife.
Above all these thoughts rose the impression
that Abner must have decided to do a heap
of ditching and wall-building, to have hired a
38 THE COPPERHEAD
new hand in this otherwise slack season — and
at this my back began to ache prophetically.
" How are yeh ! " the new-comer remarked,
affably, as I sat down and reached for the
bread. " An' did yeh see the boys march
away? An' had they a drum wid 'em? "
" What boys ? " I asked, in blank ignorance
as to what he was at.
" I'm told there's a baker's dozen of 'em
gone, more or less," he replied. " Well, glory
be to the Lord, 'tis an ill wind blows nobody
good. Here am I aitin' butter on my bread,
an' cheese on top o' that."
I should still have been in the dark, had
not one of the hired girls, Janey Wilcox,
come in from the butter-room, to ask me in
turn much the same thing, and to add the
explanation that a whole lot of the young
men of the neighborhood had privately ar-
ranged among themselves to enlist together
as soon as the harvesting was over, and had
this day gone off in a body. Among them,
I learned now, were our two hired men,
Warner Pitts and Ray Watkins. This, then,
accounted for the presence of the Irishman.
As a matter of fact, there had been no
secrecy about the thing save with the con-
tingent which our household furnished, and
that was only because of the fear which
Abner Beech inspired. His son and his ser-
vants alike preferred to hook it, rather than
explain their patriotic impulses to him. But
naturally enough, our farm-girls took it for
granted that all the others had gone in the
same surreptitious fashion, and this threw an
air of fascinating mystery about the whole
occurrence. They were deeply surprised that
I should have been down past the Corners,
and even beyond the cheese-factory, and seen
nothing of these extraordinary martial prep-
arations ; and I myself was ashamed of it.
Opinions differed, I remember, as to the
behavior of our two hired men. " Till "
Babcock and the Underwood girl defended
them, but Janey took the other side, not
without various unpleasant personal insinua-
tions, and the Irishman and I were outspoken
in their condemnation. But nobody said a
word about Jeff, though it was plain enough
that everyone knew.
Dusk fell while we still talked of these
astounding events — my thoughts meantime
dividing themselves between efforts to realize
these neighbors of ours as soldiers on the
40 THE COPPERHEAD
tented field, and uneasy speculation as to
whether I should at last get a bed to myself
or be expected to sleep with the Irishman.
Janey Wilcox had taken the lamp into the
living-room. She returned now, with an
uplifted hand and a face covered over with
lines of surprise.
" You're to all of you come in," she whis-
pered, impressively. " Abner's got the Bible
down. We're goin' to have fam'ly prayers,
With one accord we looked at the Irish-
man. The question had never before arisen
on our farm, but we all knew about other
cases, in which Catholic hands held aloof
from the household's devotions. There were
even stories of their refusal to eat meat on
some one day of the week, but this we hardly
brought ourselves to credit. Our surprise at
the fact that domestic religious observances
were to be resumed under the Beech roof-
tree — where they had completely lapsed
ever since the trouble at the church — was
as nothing compared with our curiosity to
see what the new-comer would do.
What he did was to get up and come
along with the rest of us, quite as a matter
of course. I felt sure that he could not have
understood what was going on.
We filed into the living-room. The
Beeches had come in and shut the veranda
door, and " M'rye " was seated in her rock-
ing-chair, in the darkness beyond the book-
case. Her husband had the big book open
before him on the table ; the lamp-light threw
the shadow of his long nose down into the
gray of his beard with a strange effect of
fierceness. His lips were tight-set and his
shaggy brows drawn into a commanding
frown, as he bent over the pages.
Abner did not look up till we had taken
our seats. Then he raised his eyes toward
" I don't know, Hurley," he said, in a
grave, deep-booming voice, " whether you
feel it right for you to join us — we bein'
Protestants — "
" Ah, it's all right, sir," replied Hurley,
reassuringly, "I'll take no harm by it."
A minute's silence followed upon this mag-
nanimous declaration. Then Abner, clearing
his throat, began solemnly to read the story
of Absalom's revolt. He had the knack, not
uncommon in those primitive class-meeting
42 THE COPPERHEAD
days, of making his strong, low-pitched voice
quaver and wail in the most tear-compelling
fashion when he read from the Old Testa-
ment. You could hardly listen to him go-
ing through even the genealogical tables
of Chronicles dry-eyed. His Jeremiah and
Ezekiel were equal to the funeral of a well-
This night he read as I had never heard
him read before. The whole grim story of
the son's treason and final misadventure, of
the ferocious battle in the wood of Ephraim,
of Joab's savagery, and of the rival runners,
made the air vibrate about us, and took pos-
session of our minds and kneaded them like
dough, as we sat in the mute circle in the old
living-room. From my chair I could see
Hurley without turning my head, and the
spectacle of excitement he presented — bend-
ing forward with dropped jaw and wild,
glistening gray eyes, a hand behind his ear
to miss no syllable of this strange new tale
— only added to the effect it produced on
Then there came the terrible picture of
the King's despair. I had trembled as we
neared this part, foreseeing what heart-wring-
ing anguish Abner, in his present mood,
would give to that cry of the stricken father
— " O my son Absalom, my son, my son
Absalom ! Would God I had died for thee,
O Absalom, my son, my son ! " To my great
surprise, he made very little of it. The
words came coldly, almost contemptuously,
so that the listener could not but feel that
David's lamentations were out of place, and
might better have been left unuttered.
But now the farmer, leaping over into the
next chapter, brought swart, stalwart, blood-
stained Joab on the scene before us, and in
an instant we saw why the King's outburst
of mourning had fallen so flat upon our ears.
Abner Beech's voice rose and filled the room
with its passionate fervor as he read out
Joab's speech — wherein the King is roundly
told that his son was a worthless fellow, and
was killed not a bit too soon, and that for
the father to thus publicly lament him is to
put to shame all his household and his loyal
friends and servants.
While these sonorous words of protest
against paternal weakness still rang in the
air, Abner abruptly closed the book with a
snap. We looked at him and at one another
44 THE COPPERHEAD
for a bewildered moment, and then " Till "
Babcock stooped as if to kneel by her chair,
but Janey nudged her, and we all rose and
made our way silently out again into the
kitchen. It had been apparent enough that
no spirit of prayer abode in the farmer's
" 'Twas a fine bold sinsible man, that
Job ! " remarked Hurley to me, when the
door was closed behind us, and the women
had gone off to talk the scene over among
themselves in the butter-room. " Would it
be him that had thim lean turkeys ? "
With some difficulty I made out his mean-
ing. " Oh, no ! " I exclaimed, " the man
Abner read about was Jo-ab, not Job. They
were quite different people."
"I thought as much," replied the Irishman.
" 'Twould not be in so grand a man's nature
to let his fowls go hungry. And do we be
hearing such tales every night ? "
" Maybe Abner '11 keep on, now he's started
again," I said. " We ain't had any Bible-
reading before since he had his row down at
the church, and we left off going."
Hurley displayed such a lively interest in
this matter that I went over it pretty fully,
setting forth Aimer's position and the intol-
erable provocations which had been forced
upon him. It took him a long time to grasp
the idea that in Protestant gatherings not
only the pastor spoke, but the class-leaders
and all others who were conscious of a call
might have their word as well, and that in
this way even the lowliest and meanest of
the farmer's neighbors had been able to
affront him in the church itself.
" Too many cooks spoil the broth," was
his comment upon this. " 'Tis far better to
hearken to one man only. If he's right,
you're right. If he's wrong, why, thin,
there ye have him in front of ye for protec-
Bed-time came soon after, and Mrs. Beech
appeared in her nightly round of the house
to see that the doors were all fastened. The
candle she bore threw up a flaring yellow
light upon her chin, but made the face above
it by contrast still darker and more saturnine.
She moved about in erect impassiveness,
trying the bolts and the window catches,
and went away again, having said never a
word. I had planned to ask her if I might
now have a bed to myself, but somehow my
46 THE COPPERHEAD
courage failed me, so stern and majestic was
I took the desired boon without asking,
and dreamed of her as a darkling and relent-
less Joab in petticoats, slaying her own son
Jeff as he hung by his hay-colored hair in
one of the apple-trees of our orchard.
On all the other farms roundabout, this
mid-August was a slack season. The hired
men and boys did a little early fruit-picking,
a little berrying, a little stone-drawing, but
for the most part they could be seen idling
about the woods or along the river down
below Juno Mills, with gun or fish-pole.
Only upon the one farm whose turn it was
that week to be visited by the itinerant
threshing-machine, was any special activity
It was well known, however, that we were
not to get the threshing-machine at all. How
it was managed, I never understood. Per-
haps the other farmers combined in some
way to over-awe or persuade the owners of
the machine into refusing it to Abner Beech.
More likely he scented the chance of a re-
fusal and was too proud to put himself in its
way by asking. At all events, we three —
Abner, Hurley, and I — had to manage the
48 THE COPPERHEAD
threshing ourselves, on the matched wood
floor of the carriage barn. All the fishing
I did that year was in the prolific but unsub-
stantial waters of dreamland.
I did not work much, it is true, with the
flail, but I lived all day in an atmosphere
choked with dust and chaff, my ears deafened
with the ceaseless whack ! whack ! of the
hard wood clubs, bringing on fresh shocks
of grain, and acting as general helper.
By toiling late and early we got this task
out of the way just when the corn was ready
to cut. This great job taxed all the energies
of the two men, the one cutting, the other
stacking, as they went. My own share of
the labor was to dig the potatoes and pick
the eating-apples — a quite portentous enough
undertaking for a lad of twelve. All this
kept me very much to myself. There was
no chance to talk during the day, and at
night I was glad to drag my tired limbs off
to bed before the girls had fairly cleared
the supper things away. A weekly news-
paper — The World — came regularly to the
post-office at the Corners for us, but we were
so over-worked that often it lay there for
weeks at a time, and even when someone
went after it, nobody but Abner cared to
So far as I know, no word ever came from
Jeff. His name was never mentioned among
It was now past the middle of September.
Except for the fall ploughing on fields that
were to be put to grass under the grain in
the spring — which would come much later
— the getting in of the root crops, and the
husking, our season's labors were pretty well
behind us. The women folk had toiled like
slaves as well, taking almost all the chores
about the cattle-barns off our shoulders,
and carrying on the butter-making without
bothering us. Now that a good many cows
were drying up, it was their turn to take
things easy, too. But the girls, instead of
being glad at this, began to borrow unhappi-
ness over the certainty that there would be
no husking-bees on the Beech farm.
One heard no other subject discussed now,
as we sat of a night in the kitchen. Even
when we foregathered in the living-room
instead, the Babcock and the Underwood
girl talked in ostentatiously low tones of the
hardship of missing such opportunities for
50 THE COPPERHEAD
getting beaux, and having fun. They re-
called to each other, with tones of longing,
this and that husking-bee of other years —
now one held of a moonlight night in the
field itself, where the young men pulled the
stacks down and dragged them to where
the girls sat in a ring on big pumpkins,
and merriment, songs, and chorused laughter
chased the happy hours along ; now of a bee
held in the late wintry weather, where the
men went off to the barn by themselves and
husked till they were tired, and then with
warning whoops came back to where the
girls were waiting for them in the warm,
hospitable farm-house, and the frolic began,
with cider and apples and pumpkin-pies,
and old Lem Hornbeck's fiddle to lead the
Alas ! they shook their empty heads and
mourned, there would be no more of these
delightful times ! Nothing definite was ever
said as to the reason for our ostracism from
the sports and social enjoyments of the sea-
son. There was no need for that. We all
knew too well that it was Abner Beech's
politics which made us outcasts, but even
these two complaining girls did not venture
to say so in his hearing. Their talk, how-
ever, grew at last so persistently querulous
that " M'rye " bluntly told them one night
to "shut up about husking-bees," following
them out into the kitchen for that purpose,
and speaking with unaccustomed acerbity.
Thereafter we heard no more of their grum-
bling, but in a week or two " Till " Babcock
left for her home over on the Dutch Road,
and began circulating the report that we
prayed every night for the success of Jeff
It was on a day in the latter half of
September, perhaps the 20th or 21st — as
nearly as I am able to make out from the
records now — that Hurley and I started off
with a double team and our big box-wagon,
just after breakfast, on a long day's journey.
We were taking a heavy load of potatoes in
to market at Octavius, twelve miles distant ;
thence we were to drive out an additional
three miles to a cooper-shop and bring back
as many butter-firkins as we could stack up
behind us, not to mention a lot of groceries
of which " M'rye " gave me a list.
It was a warm, sweet aired, hazy autumn
day, with a dusky red sun sauntering idly
52 THE COPPERHEAD
about in the sky, too indolent to cast more
than the dimmest and most casual suggestion
of a shadow for anything or anybody. The
Irishman sat round-backed and contented on
the very high seat overhanging the horses,
his elbows on his knees, and a little black
pipe turned upside down in his mouth. He
would suck satisfiedly at this for hours
after the fire had gone out, until, my patience
exhausted, I begged him to light it again. He
seemed almost never to put any new tobacco
into this pipe, and to this day it remains a
twin-mystery to me why its contents neither
burned themselves to nothing nor fell out.
We talked a good deal, in a desultory
fashion, as the team plodded their slow way
into Octavius. Hurley told me, in answer
to the questions of a curious boy, many inter-
esting and remarkable things about the old
country, as he always called it, and more
particularly about his native part of it, which
was on the sea-shore within sight of Skibbereen.
He professed always to be filled with longing
to go back, but at the same time guarded
his tiny personal expenditure with the great-
est solicitude, in order to save money to help
one of his relations to get away. Once, when
I taxed him with this inconsistency, he ex-
plained that life in Ireland was the most
delicious thing on earth, but you had to get
off at a distance of some thousands of miles
to really appreciate it.
Naturally there was considerable talk
between us, as well, about Abner Beech
and his troubles. I don't know where I
could have heard it, but when Hurley first
came to us I at once took it for granted that
the fact of his nationality made him a sym-
pathizer with the views of our household.
Perhaps I only jumped at this conclusion
from the general ground that the few Irish
who in those days found their way into the
farm-country were held rather at arms-length
by the community, and must in the nature
of things feel drawn to other outcasts. At
all events, I made no mistake. Hurley could
not have well been more vehemently em-
bittered against abolitionism and the war
than Abner was, but he expressed his feel-
ings with much greater vivacity and fluency
of speech. It was surprising to see how
much he knew about the politics and political
institutions of a strange country, and how
excited he grew about them when anyone
54 THE COPPERHEAD
would listen to him. But as he was a small
man, getting on in years, he did not dare air
these views down at the Corners. The
result was that he and Abner were driven
to commune together, and mutually inflamed
each other's passionate prejudices — which
was not at all needful.
When at last, shortly before noon, we
drove into Octavius, I jumped off to fill
one portion of the grocery errands, leaving
Hurley to drive on with the potatoes. We
were to meet at the little village tavern for
He was feeding the horses in the hotel
shed when I rejoined him an hour or so
later. I came in, bursting with the impor-
tance of the news I had picked up —
scattered, incomplete, and even incoherent
news, but of a most exciting sort. The
awful battle of Antietam had happened two
or three days before, and nobody in all
Octavius was talking or thinking of any-
thing else. Both the Dearborn County regi-
ments had been in the thick of the fight,
and I could see from afar, as I stood on the
outskirts of the throng in front of the post-
office, some long strips of paper posted up
beside the door, which men said contained
a list of our local dead and wounded. It
was hopeless, however, to attempt to get
anywhere near this list, and nobody whom
I questioned, knew anything about the names
of those young men who had marched away
from our Four Corners. Someone did call
out, though, that the telegraph had broken
down, or gone wrong, and that not half the
news had come in as yet. But they were all
so deeply stirred up, so fiercely pushing and
hauling to get toward the door, that I could
learn little else.
This was what I began to tell Hurley,
with eager volubility, as soon as I got in
under the shed. He went on with his back
to me, impassively measuring out the oats
from the bag, and clearing aside the stale
hay in the manger, the impatient horses
rubbing at his shoulders with their noses the
while. Then, as I was nearly done, he turned
and came out to me, slapping the fodder-
mess off his hands.
He had a big, fresh cut running trans-
versely across his nose and cheek, and there
were stains of blood in the gray stubble of
beard on his chin. I saw too that his clothes
56 THE COPPERHEAD
looked as if lie bad been rolled on tbe dusty
" Sure, tben, I'm after bearin' the news
myself," was all be said.
He drew out from beneath the wagon seat
a bag of crackers and a hunk of cheese, and,
seating himself on an overturned barrel, began
to eat. By a gesture I was invited to share
this meal, and did so, sitting beside him.
Something had happened, apparently, to pre-
vent our having dinner in the tavern.
I fairly yearned to ask him what this
something was, and what was the matter
with his face, but it did not seem quite the
right thing to do, and presently he began
mumbling, as much to himself as to me, a
long and broken discourse, from which I
j)icked out that he had mingled with a group
of lusty young farmers in the market-place,
asking for the latest intelligence, and that
while they were conversing in a wholly
amiable manner, one of them had suddenly
knocked him down and kicked him, and that
thereafter they had pursued him with curses
and loud threats half-way to the tavern.
This and much more he proclaimed between
mouthfuls, speaking with great rapidity and
in so much more marked a brogue than usual,
that I understood only a fraction of what he
He professed entire innocence of offence
in the affair, and either could not or would
not tell what it was he had said to invite
the blow. I dare say he did in truth richly
provoke the violence he encountered, but at
the time I regarded him as a martyr, and
swelled with indignation every time I looked
at his nose.
I remained angry, indeed, long after he
himself had altogether recovered his equanim-
ity and whimsical good spirits. He waited
outside on the seat while I went in to pay
for the baiting of the horses, and it was as
well that he did, I fancy, because there were
half a dozen brawny farm-hands and villagers
standing about the bar, who were laughing
in a stormy way over the episode of the
" Copperhead Paddy " in the market.
We drove away, however, without incident
of any sort — sagaciously turning off the
main street before we reached the post-office
block, where the congregated crowd seemed
larger than ever. There seemed to be some
fresh tidings, for several scattering outbursts
58 THE COPPERHEAD
of cheering reached our ears after we could
no longer see the throng; but, so far from
stopping to inquire what it was, Hurley put
whip to the horses, and we rattled smartly
along out of the excited village into the
tranquil, scythe-shorn country.
The cooper to whom we now went for our
butter-firkins was a long-nosed, lean, and
taciturn man, whom I think of always as
with his apron tucked up at the corner, and
his spectacles on his forehead, close under
the edge of his square brown-paper cap.
He had had word that we were coming, and
the firkins were ready for us. He helped
us load them in dead silence, and with a
Hurley desired the sound of his own voice.
" Well, then, sir," he said, as our task neared
completion, " 'tis worth coming out of our
way these fifteen miles to lay eyes on such
fine, grand firkins as these same — such an
elegant shape on 'em, an' put together wid
such nateness ! "
" You could git 'em just as good at
Hagadorn's," said the cooper, curtly, " within
a mile of your place."
" Huh ! " cried Hurley, with contempt,
" Haggydorn is it? Faith, we'll not touch
him or his firkins ay ether ! Why, man,
they're not fit to mention the same day wid
yours. Ah, just look at the darlins, will ye,
that nate an' clane a Christian could ate from
The cooper was blarney-proof. "Haga-
dorn's are every smitch as good ! " he re-
The Irishman looked at him perplexedly,
then shook his head as if the problem were
too much for him, and slowly clambered up
to the seat. He had gathered up the lines,
and we were ready to start, before any
suitable words came to his tongue.
" Well, then, sir," he said, " anything to
be agreeable. If I hear a man speaking a
good word for your firkins, I'll dispute him."
" The firkins are well enough," growled
the cooper at us, " an' they're made to sell,
but I ain't so almighty tickled about takin'
Copperhead money for 'em that I want to
clap my wings an' crow over it."
He turned scornfully on his heel at this,
and we drove away. The new revelation
of our friendlessness depressed me, but
Hurley did not seem to mind it at all.
60 THE COPPERHEAD
After a philosophic comparative remark
about the manners of pigs run wild in a bog,
he dismissed the affair from his thoughts
altogether, and hummed cheerful words to
melancholy tunes half the way home, what
time he was not talking to the horses or
tossing stray conversational fragments at me.
My own mind soon enough surrendered
itself to harrowing speculations about the
battle we had heard of. The war had been
going on now, for over a year, but most of
the fighting had been away off in Missouri
and Tennessee, or on the lower Mississippi,
and the reports had not possessed for me any
keen direct interest. The idea of men from
our own district — young men whom I had
seen, perhaps fooled with, in the hayfield
only ten weeks before — being in an actual
storm of shot and shell, produced a faintness
at the pit of my stomach. Both Dearborn
County regiments were in it, the crowd said.
Then of course our men must have been
there — our hired men, and the Phillips boys,
and Byron Truax, and his cousin Alonzo,
and our Jeff ! And if so many others had
been killed, why not they as well ?
"Antietam" still has a power to arrest
my eyes on the printed page, and disturb
my ears in the hearing, possessed by no other
battle name. It seems now as if the very
word itself had a terrible meaning of its own
to me, when I first heard it that September
afternoon — as if I recognized it to be the
label of some awful novelty, before I knew
anything else. It had its fascination for
Hurley, too, for presently I heard him croon-
ing to himself, to one of his queer old Irish
tunes, some doggerel lines which he had
made up to rhyme with it — three lines with
"cheat 'em," "beat 'em," and "Antietam,"
and then his pet refrain, " Says the Shan van
This levity jarred unpleasantly upon the
mood into which I had worked myself, and
I turned to speak of it, but the sight of his
bruised nose and cheek restrained me. He
had suffered too much for the faith that was
in him to be lightly questioned now. So I
returned to my grisly thoughts, which now
all at once resolved themselves into a convic-
tion that Jeff had been killed outright. My
fancy darted to meet this notion, and straight-
way pictured for me a fantastic battle-field
by moonlight, such as was depicted in
62 THE COPPERHEAD
Lossing's books, with overturned cannon-
wheels and dead horses in the foreground,
and in the centre, conspicuous above all else,
the inanimate form of Jeff Beech, with its
face coldly radiant in the moonshine.
"I guess I'll hop off and walk a spell,"
I said, under the sudden impulse of this
It was only when I was on the ground,
trudging along by the side of the wagon,
that I knew why I had got down. We were
within a few rods of the Corners, where one
road turned off to go to the post-office. " Per-
haps it'd be a good idea for me to find out if
they've heard anything more — I mean — any-
thing about Jeff," I suggested. " I'll just
look in and see, and then I can cut home
The Irishman nodded and drove on.
I hung behind, at the Corners, till the
wagon had begun the ascent of the hill, and
the looming bulk of the firkins made it im-
possible that Hurley could see which way I
went. Then, without hesitation, I turned
instead down the other road which led to
" Jee " Hagadorn's.
" JEE'S " TIDINGS
Time was when I had known the Hagadorn
house, from the outside at least, as well as
any other in the whole township. But I had
avoided that road so long now, that when I
came up to the place it seemed quite strange
to my eyes.
For one thing, the flower garden was
much bigger than it had formerly been.
To state it differently, Miss Esther's mari-
golds and columbines, hollyhocks and peonies,
had been allowed to usurp a lot of space where
sweet-corn, potatoes and other table-truck used
to be raised. This not only greatly altered the
aspect of the place, but it lowered my idea of
the practical good-sense of its owners.
What was more striking still, was the gen-
eral air of decrepitude and decay about the
house itself. An eaves-trough had fallen
down ; half the cellar door was off its hinges,
standing up against the wall ; the chimney
was ragged and broken at the top ; the clap-
64 THE COPPERHEAD
boards had never been painted, and now
were almost black with weather-stain and
dry rot. It positively appeared to me as if
the house was tipping sideways, over against
the little cooper-shop adjoining it — but per-
haps that was a trick of the waning evening
light. I said to myself that if we were not
prospering on the Beech farm, at least our
foe " Jee " Hagadorn did not seem to be
doing much better himself.
In truth, Hagadorn had always been among
the poorest members of our community, though
this by no means involves what people in cities
think of as poverty. He had a little place of
nearly two acres, and then he had his cooper-
ing business ; with the two he ought to have
got on comfortably enough. But a certain
contrariness in his nature seemed to be con-
tinually interfering with this.
This strain of conscientious perversity ran
through all we knew of his life before he came
to us, just as it dominated the remainder of
his career. He had been a well-to-do man
some ten years before, in a city in the west-
ern part of the State, with a big cooper-shop,
and a lot of men under him, making the bar-
rels for a large brewery. (It was in these
"JEE'S" TIDINGS 65
days, I fancy, that Esther took on that urban
polish which the younger Benaiah missed.)
Then he got the notion in his head that it
was wrong to make barrels for beer, and
threw the whole thing up. He moved into
our neighborhood with only money enough
to buy the old Andrews place, and build a
It was a good opening for a cooper, and
Hagadorn might have flourished if he had
been able to mind his own business. The
very first thing he did was to offend a num-
ber of our biggest butter-makers by taxing
them with sinfulness in also raising hops,
which went to make beer. For a long time
they would buy no firkins of him. Then,
too, he made an unpleasant impression at
church. As has been said, our meeting-
house was a union affair ; that is to say, no
one denomination being numerous enough to
have an edifice of its own, all the farmers
roundabout — Methodists, Baptists, Presby-
terians, and so on — joined in paying the
expenses. The travelling preachers who came
to us represented these great sects, with lots
of minute shadings off into Hard-shell, Soft-
shell, Freewill, and other subdivided mys-
66 THE COPPERHEAD
teries which I never understood. Hagadorn
had a denomination all to himself, as might
have been expected from the man. What
the name of it was I seem never to have
heard ; perhaps it had no name at all. Peo-
ple used to say, though, that he behaved like
a Shouting Methodist.
This was another way of saying that he
made a nuisance of himself in church. At
prayer meetings, in the slack seasons of the
year, he would pray so long, and with such
tremendous shouting and fury of gestures,
that he had regularly to be asked to stop, so
that those who had taken the trouble to learn
and practise new hymns might have a chance
to be heard. And then he would out-sing all
the others, not knowing the tune in the least,
and cause added confusion by yelling out
shrill " Aniens ! " between the bars. At one
time quite a number of the leading people
ceased attending church at all, on account of
He added heavily to his theological unpop-
ularity, too, by his action in another matter.
There was a wealthy and important farmer
living over on the west side of Agrippa Hill,
who was a Universalist. The expenses of
"JEE'S" TIDINGS 67
our union meeting-house were felt to be a
good deal of a burden, and our elders, con-
ferring together, decided that it would be a
good thing to waive ordinary prejudices, and
let the Universalists come in, and have their
share of the preaching. It would be more
neighborly, they felt, and they would get a
subscription from the Agrippa Hill farmer.
He assented to the project, and came over
four or five Sundays with his family and
hired help, listened unflinchingly to orthodox
sermons full of sulphur and blue flames, and
put money on the plate every time. Then a
Universalist preacher occupied the pulpit one
Sunday, and preached a highly inoffensive
and non-committal sermon, and " Jee " Haga-
dorn stood up in his pew and violently de-
nounced him as an infidel, before he had
descended the pulpit steps. This created a
painful scandal. The Universalist farmer,
of course, never darkened that church door
again. Some of our young men went so far
as to discuss the ducking of the obnoxious
cooper in the duck-pond. But he himself
was neither frightened nor ashamed.
At the beginning, too, I suppose that his
taking up Abolitionism made him enemies.
68 THE COPPERHEAD
Dearborn County gave Franklin Pierce a
big majority in '52, and the bulk of our
farmers, I know, were in that majority. But
I have already dwelt upon the way in which
all this changed in the years just before the
war. Naturally enough, Hagadorn's posi-
tion also changed. The rejected stone be-
came the head of the corner. The tiresome
fanatic of the 'fifties was the inspired prophet
of the 'sixties. People still shrank from
giving him undue credit for their conversion,
but they felt themselves swept along under
his influence none the less.
But just as his unpopularity kept him poor
in the old days, it seemed that now the re-
versed condition was making him still poorer.
The truth was, he was too excited to pay any
attention to his business. He went off to
Octavius three or four days a week to hear
the news, and when he remained at home, he
spent much more time standing out in the
road discussing politics and the conduct of
the war with passers-by, than he did over his
staves and hoops. No wonder his place was
The house was dark and silent, but there
was some sort of a light in the cooper-shop
"JEE'S" TIDINGS 69
beyond. My hope had been to see Esther
rather than her wild old father, but there
was nothing for it but to go over to the shop.
I pushed the loosely fitting door back on its
leathern hinges, and stepped over the thresh-
old. The resinous scent of newly cut wood,
and the rustle of the shavings under my feet,
had the effect, somehow, of filling me with
timidity. It required an effort to not turn
and go out again.
The darkened and crowded interior of the
tiny work-place smelt as well, I noted now, of
smoke. On the floor before me was crouched
a shapeless figure — bending in front of the
little furnace, made of a section of stove-pipe,
which the cooper used, to dry the insides of
newly fashioned barrels. A fire in this, half-
blaze, half-smudge — gave forth the light I
had seen from without, and the smoke which
was making my nostrils tingle. Then I had
to sneeze, and the kneeling figure sprang on
the instant from the floor.
It was Esther who stood before me, cough-
ing a little from the smoke, and peering in-
quiringly at me. " Oh — is that you, Jimmy? "
she asked, after a moment of puzzled inspec-
tion in the dark.
70 THE COPPERHEAD
She went on, before I had time to speak,
in a nervous, half-laughing way : " I've been
trying to roast an ear of corn here, but it's
the worst kind of a failure. I've watched
' Ni ' do it a hundred times, but with me it
always comes out half-scorched and half-
smoked. I guess the corn is too old now,
any way. At all events, it's tougher than
She held out to me, in proof of her words,
a blackened and unseemly roasting-ear. I
took it, and turned it slowly over, looking at
it with the grave scrutiny of an expert.
Several torn and opened sections showed
where she had been testing it with her teeth.
In obedience to her " See if you don't think
it's too old," I took a diffident bite, at a
respectful distance from the marks of her
experiments. It was the worst I had ever
" I came over to see if you'd heard any-
thing — any news," I said, desiring to get
away from the corn subject.
" You mean about Tom ? " she asked,
moving so that she might see me more
I had stupidly forgotten about that trans-
"JEE'S" TIDINGS 71
formation of names. " Our Jeff, I mean,"
I made answer.
" His name is Thomas Jefferson. We call
him Tom," she explained ; " that other name
is too horrid. Did — did his people tell you
to come and ask me ? "
I shook my head. " Oh no ! " I replied
with emphasis, implying by my tone, I dare
say, that they would have had themselves
cut up into sausage-meat first.
The girl walked past me to the door, and
out to the road-side, looking down toward
the bridge with a lingering, anxious gaze.
Then she came back, slowly.
" No, we have no news ! " she said, with
an effort at calmness. " He wasn't an officer,
that's why. All we know is that the brigade
his regiment is in lost 141 killed, 560
wounded, and 38 missing. That's all ! " She
stood in the doorway, her hands clasped
tight, pressed against her bosom. " That's
alir'' she repeated, with a choking voice.
Suddenly she started forward, almost ran
across the few yards of floor, and, throwing
herself down in the darkest corner, where
only dimly one could see an old buffalo-robe
spread over a heap of staves, began sobbing
as if her heart must break.
72 THE COPPERHEAD
Her dress had brushed over the stove-pipe,
and scattered some of the embers beyond the
sheet of tin it stood on. I stamped these
out, and carried the other remnants of the
fire out doors. Then I returned, and stood
about in the smoky little shop, quite help-
lessly listening to the moans and convulsive
sobs which rose from the obscure corner. A
bit of a candle in a bottle stood on the shelf
by the window. I lighted this, but it hardly
seemed to improve the situation. I could
see her now, as well as hear her — huddled
face downward upon the skin, her whole
form shaking with the violence of her grief.
I had never been so unhappy before in my
At last — it may not have been very long,
but it seemed hours — there rose the sound
of voices outside on the road. A wagon had
stopped, and some words were being ex-
changed. One of the voices grew louder —
came nearer ; the other died off, ceased
altogether, and the wagon could be heard
driving away. On the instant the door was
pushed sharply open, and " Jee " Hagadorn
stood on the threshold, surveying the interior
of his cooper-shop with gleaming eyes.
"JEE'S" TIDINGS 73
He looked at me ; he looked at his daugh-
ter lying in the corner ; he looked at the
charred mess on the floor — yet seemed to
see nothing of what he looked at. His face
glowed with a strange excitement — which
in another man I should have set down to
" Glory be to God ! Praise to the Most
High ! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the
coming of the Lord ! " he called out, stretch-
ing forth his hands in a rapturous sort of
gesture I remembered from class-meeting days.
Esther had leaped to her feet with squirrel-
like swiftness at the sound of his voice, and
now stood before him, her hands nervously
clutching at each other, her reddened, tear-
stained face a-fire with eagerness.
" Has word come ? — is he safe ? — have
you heard?" so her excited questions
tumbled over one another, as she grasped
" Jee's " sleeve and shook it in feverish
" The day has come ! The year of Jubilee
is here ! " he cried, brushing her hand aside,
and staring with a fixed, ecstatic, open-
mouthed smile straight ahead of him. " The
words of the Prophet are fulfilled ! "
74 THE COPPERHEAD
"But Tom!— Tom!" pleaded the girl,
piteously. " The list has come ? You know
he is safe ? "
"Tom! Tom!" old "Jee" repeated after
her, but with an emphasis contemptuous, not
solicitous. " Perish a hundred Toms — yea
— ten thousand ! for one such day as this !
' For the Scarlet Woman of Babylon is over-
thrown, and bound with chains and cast into
the lake of fire. Therefore, in one day shall
her plagues come, death, and mourning, and
famine ; and she shall be utterly burned with
fire : for strong is the Lord God which
judged her ! ' "
He declaimed these words in a shrill, high-
pitched voice, his face upturned, and his
eyes half-closed. Esther plucked despair-
ingly at his sleeve once more.
" But have you seen ? — is his name ? —
you must have seen ! " she moaned, incoher-
" Jee " descended for the moment from his
plane of exaltation. " I didn't see ! " he said,
almost peevishly. " Lincoln has signed a
proclamation freeing all the slaves ! What
do you suppose I care for your Toms and
Dicks and Harrys, on such a day as this?
"JEE'S" TIDINGS 75
' Woe ! woe ! the great city Babylon, the
strong city ! For in one hour is thy judg-
ment come ! ' "
The girl tottered back to her corner, and
threw herself limply down upon the buffalo-
robe again, hiding her face in her hands.
I pushed my way past the cooper, and
trudged cross-lots home in the dark, tired,
disturbed, and very hungry, but thinking
most of all that if I had been worth my salt,
I would have hit " Jee " Hagadorn with the
adze that stood up against the door-still.
NT'S TALK WITH ABNER
It must have been a fortnight before we
learned that Jeff Beech and Byron Truax
had been reported missing. I say " we," but
I do not know when Abner Beech came to
hear about it. One of the hired girls had
seen the farmer get up from his chair, with
the newly arrived weekly World in his hand,
walk over to where his wife sat, and direct
her attention to a line of the print with his
finger. Then, still in silence, he had gone
over to the bookc;se, opened the drawer
where he kept his account-books, and locked
the journal up therein.
We took it for granted that thus the
elderly couple had learned the news about
their son. They said so little nowadays,
either to each other or to us, that we
were driven to speculate upon their dumb-
show, and find meanings for ourselves in
their glances and actions. No one of us
could imagine himself or herself ventur-
NTS TALK WITH ABNER 77
ing to mention Jeff's name in their hear-
Down at the Corners, though, and all
about our district, people talked of very
little else. Antietam had given a bloody
welcome to our little group of warriors.
Ray Watkins and Lon Truax had been killed
outright, and Ed Phillips was in the hospital,
with the chances thought to be against him.
Warner Pitts, our other hired man, had been
wounded in the arm, but not seriously, and
thereafter behaved with such conspicuous
valor that it was said he was to be promoted
from being a sergeant to a lieutenancy. All
these things, however, paled in interest after
the first few days before the fascinating
mystery of what had become of Jeff and
Byron. The loungers about the grocery-
store evenings took sides as to the definition
of "missing." Some said it meant being
taken prisoners ; but it was known that at
Antietam the Rebels made next to no cap-
tives. Others held that " missing " soldiers
were those who had been shot, and who
crawled off somewhere in the woods out of
sight to die. A lumberman from Juno Mills,
who was up on a horse-trade, went so far as
78 THE COPPERHEAD
to broach still a third theory, viz., that
" missing " soldiers were those who had run
away under fire, and were ashamed to show
their faces again. But this malicious sug-
gestion could not, of course, be seriously
Meanwhile, what little remained of the
fall farm-work went on as if nothing had
happened. The root-crops were dug, the
fodder got in, and the late apples gathered.
Abner had a cider-mill of his own, but we
sold a much larger share of our winter
apples than usual. Less manure was drawn
out onto the fields than in other autumns,
and it looked as if there was to be little or
no fall ploughing. Abner went about his
tasks in a heavy, spiritless way these days,
doggedly enough, but with none of his old-
time vim. He no longer had pleasure even
in abusing Lincoln and the war with Hurley.
Not Antietam itself could have broken his
nerve, but at least it silenced his tongue.
Warner Pitts came home on a furlough,
with a fine new uniform, shoulder-straps and
sword, and his arm in a sling. I say "home,"
but the only roof he had ever slept under in
these parts, was ours, and now he stayed as
NI'8 TALK WITH ABNEB 79
a guest at Squire Avery's house, and never
came near our farm. He was a tall, brown-
faced, sinewy fellow, with curly hair and a
pushing manner. Although he had been
only a hired man he now cut a great dash
down at the Corners, with his shoulder-straps
and his officer's cape. It was said that he
had declined several invitations to husking-
bees, and that when he left the service, at
the end of his time, he had a place ready for
him in some city as a clerk in a drygoods
store — that is, of course, if he did not get to
be colonel or general. From time to time he
was seen walking out through the dry, rust-
ling leaves with Squire Avery's oldest
This important military genius did not
seem able, however, to throw much light
upon the whereabouts of the two " missing "
boys. From what I myself heard him say
about the battle, and from what others re-
ported of his talk, it seems that in the very
early morning Hooker's line — a part of which
consisted of Dearborn County men — moved
forward through a big cornfield, the stalks of
which were much higher than the soldiers'
heads. When they came out, the rebels
80 THE COPPERHEAD
opened such a hideous fire of cannon and
musketry upon them from the woods close by,
that those who did not fall were glad to run
back again into the corn for shelter. Thus
all became confusion, and the men were so
mixed up that there was no getting them to-
gether again. Some went one way, some an-
other, through the tall corn-rows, and Warner
Pitts could not remember having seen either
Jeff or Byron at all after the march began.
Parts of the regiment formed again out on
the road toward the Dunker church, but other
parts found themselves half a mile away
among the fragments of a Michigan regiment,
and a good many more were left lying in the
fatal cornfield. Our boys had not been traced
among the dead, but that did not prove that
they were alive. And so we were no wiser
Warner Pitts only nodded in a distant way
to me when he saw me first, with a cool
" Hello, youngster ! " I expected that he
would ask after the folks at the farm which
had been so long his home, but he turned to
talk with someone else, and said never a
word. Once, some days afterward, he called
out as I passed him, " How's the old Copper-
Nl'S TALK WITH ABNEB 81
head? " and the Avery! girl who was with him
laughed aloud, but I went on without answer-
ing. He was already down in my black-
books, in company with pretty nearly every
other human being roundabout.
This list of enemies was indeed so full that
there were times when I felt like crying over
my isolation. It may be guessed, then, how
rejoiced I was one afternoon to see Ni Haga-
dorn squeeze his way through our orchard-
bars, and saunter across under the trees to
where I was at work sorting a heap of apples
into barrels. I could have run to meet him,
so grateful was the sight of any friendly, boy-
ish face. The thought that perhaps after all
he had not come to see me in particular, and
that possibly he brought some news about
Jeff, only flashed across my mind after I had
smiled a broad welcome upon him, and he
stood leaning against a barrel munching the
biggest russet he had been able to pick out.
" Abner to home ? " he asked, after a pause
of neighborly silence. He hadn't come to see
me after all.
" He's around the barns somewhere," I re-
plied ; adding, upon reflection, " Have you
heard something fresh?"
82 THE COPPERHEAD
Ni shook his sorrel head, and buried his
teeth deep into the apple. " No, nothin'," he
said, at last, with his mouth full, " only
thought I'd come up an' talk it over with
The calm audacity of the proposition took
my breath away. " He'll boot you off 'm the
place if you try it," I warned him.
But Ni did not scare easily. " Oh, no,"
he said, with light confidence, "me an'
Abner's all right."
As if to put this assurance to the test, the
figure of the farmer was at this moment visi-
ble, coming toward us down the orchard road.
He was in his shirt-sleeves, with the limp,
discolored old broad-brimmed felt hat he al-
ways wore pulled down over his eyes. Though
he no longer held his head so proudly erect
as I could remember it, there were still sug-
gestions of great force and mastership in his
broad shoulders and big beard, and in the
solid, long-gaited manner of his walk. He
carried a pitchfork in his hand.
"Hello, Abner?" said Ni, as the farmer
came up and halted, surveying each of us in
turn with an impassive scrutiny.
" How Y ye ! " returned Abner, with cold
NI'S TALK WITH ABNER 83
civility. I fancied he must be surprised to
see the son of his enemy here, calmly gnawing
his way through one of our apples, and acting
as if the place belonged to him. But he gave
no signs of astonishment, and after some
words of direction to me concerning my
work, started to move on again toward the
Ni was not disposed to be thus cheated out
of his conversation : " Seen Warner Pitts
since he's got back?" he called out, and at
this the farmer stopped and turned round.
" You'd hardly know him now," the butcher's
assistant went on, with cheerful briskness.
" Why you'd think he'd never hoofed it over
ploughed land in all his life. He's got his
boots blacked up every day, an' his hair
greased, an' a whole new suit of broadcloth,
with shoulder-straps an' brass buttons, an' a
sword — he brings it down to the Corners
every evening, so't the boys at the store can
heft it— an' he's — "
" What do I care about all this ? " broke in
Abner. His voice was heavy, with a growling
ground-note, and his eyes threw out an angry
light under the shading hat-brim. " He can
go to the devil, an' take his sword with him,
for all o' me ! "
84 THE COPPERHEAD
Hostile as was his tone, the farmer did not
again turn on his heel. Instead, he seemed to
suspect that Ni had something more impor-
tant to say, and looked him steadfastly in the
" That's what I say, too," replied Ni,
lightly. " What's beat me is how such a
fellow as that got to be an officer right from
the word ' go ! ' — an' him the poorest shote
in the whole lot. Now if it had a' ben
Spencer Phillips I could understand it — or
Bi Truax, or — or your Jeff — "
The farmer raised his fork menacingly,
with a wrathful gesture. " Shet up ! " he
shouted ; " shet up, I say ! or I'll make ye ! "
To my great amazement Ni was not at all
affected by this demonstration. He leaned
smilingly against the barrel, and picked out
another apple — a spitzenberg this time.
" Now look a-here, Abner," he said, argu-
mentatively, " what's the good o' gittin' mad?
When I've had my say out, why, if you don't
like it you needn't, an' nobody's a cent the
wuss off. Of course, if you come down to
hard-pan, it ain't none o' my business — "
" No," interjected Abner, in grim assent,
" it ain't none o' your business ! "
NFS TALK WITH ABNEE 85
"But there is such a thing as being
neighborly," Ni went on, undismayed, "an'
meanin' things kindly, an' takin' 'em as
"Yes, I know them kindly neighbors o'
mine ! " broke in the farmer with acrid irony,
" I've summered 'em an' I've wintered 'em,
an' the Lord deliver me from the whole
caboodle of 'em ! A meaner lot o' cusses
never cumbered this foot-stool ! "
"It takes all sorts o' people to make
up a world," commented this freckled and
sandy-headed young philosopher, testing the
crimson skin of his apple with a tentative
thumb-nail. "Now you ain't got anything
in particular agin me, have you ? "
"Nothin' except your breed," the farmer
admitted. The frown with which he had
been regarding Ni had softened just the least
bit in the world.
" That don't count," said Ni, with easy con-
fidence. " Why, what does breed amount to,
anyway? You ought to be the last man
alive to lug that in — you, who've up an'
soured on your own breed — your own son
Jeff ! "
I looked to see Abner lift his fork again,
86 THE COPPERHEAD
and perhaps go even further in his rage.
Strangely enough, there crept into his sun-
burnt, massive face, at the corners of the eyes
and mouth, something like the beginnings of
a puzzled smile. " You're a cheeky little
cuss, anyway ! " was his final comment. Then
his expression hardened again. "Who put
you up to comin' here, an' talkin' like this to
me?" he demanded, sternly.
" Nobody — hope to die ! " protested Ni.
" It's all my own spec. It riled me to see
you mopin' round up here all alone by your-
self, not knowin' what'd become of Jeff, an'
makin' b'lieve to yourself you didn't care, an'
so givin' yourself away to the whole neigh-
" Damn the neighborhood ! " said Abner,
" Well, they talk about the same of you,"
Ni proceeded with an air of impartial candor.
" But all that don't do you no good, an' don't
do Jeff no good ! "
" He made his own bed, and he must
lay on it," said the farmer, with dogged
" I ain't sayin' he mustn't," remonstrated
the other. " What I'm gittin' at is that you'd
NI'S TALK WITH ABNER 87
feel easier in your mind if you knew where
that bed was — an' so'd M'rye ! "
Abner lifted his head. " His mother feels
jest as I do," he said. " He sneaked off
behind our backs to jine Lincoln's nigger-
worshippers, an' levy war on fellow-country-
men o' his'n who'd done him no harm, an'
whatever happens to him it serves him right.
I ain't much of a hand to lug in Scripter to
back up my argyments — like some folks you
know of — but my feelin' is : ' Whoso taketh
up the sword shall perish by the sword ! '
An' so says his mother too ! "
" Hm-m ! " grunted Ni, with ostentatious
incredulity. He bit into his apple, and there
ensued a momentary silence. Then, as soon
as he was able to speak, this astonishing boy
said : " Guess I'll have a talk with M'rye
about that herself."
The farmer's patience was running emp-
tings. " No ! " he said, severely, " I forbid
ye ! Don't ye dare say a word to her about
it. She don't want to listen to ye — an' I
don't know what's possessed me to stand round
an' gab about my private affairs with you like
this, either. I don't bear ye no ill-will. If
fathers can't help the kind o' sons they bring
88 THE COPPERHEAD
up, why, still less can ye blame sons on ac-
count o' their fathers. But it ain't a thing I
want to talk about any more, either now or
any other time. That's all."
Abner put the fork over his shoulder, as a
sign that he was going, and that the interview
was at an end. But the persistent Ni had a
last word to offer — and he left his barrel
and walked over to the farmer.
" See here," he said, in more urgent tones
than he had used before, " I'm goin' South,
an' I'm goin' to find Jeff if it takes a leg ! I
don't know how much it'll cost — I've got a
little of my own saved up — an' I thought
p'r'aps — p'r'aps you'd like to — "
After a moment's thought the farmer shook
his head. "No," he said, gravely, almost
reluctantly. " It's agin my principles. You
know me — Ni — you know I've never b'en a
near man, let alone a mean man. An' ye
know, too, that if Je — if that boy had be-
haved half-way decent, there ain't anything
under the sun I wouldn't 'a' done for him.
But this thing — I'm obleeged to ye for offrin
— but — No! it's agin my principles. Still,
I'm obleeged to ye. Fill your pockets with
them spitzenbergs, if they taste good to ye."
NI'S TALK WITH ABNEB 89
With this Abner Beech turned and walked
Left alone with me, Ni threw away the
half -eaten apple he had held in his hand. "I
don't want any of his dummed old spitzen-
bergs," he said, pushing his foot into the heap
of fruit on the ground, in a meditative way.
"Then you ain't agoin' South?" I que-
" Yes I am ! " he replied, with decision.
" I can work my way somehow. Only don't
you whisper a word about it to any livin'
soul, d'ye mind ! "
Two or three days after that we heard that
Ni Hagadorn had left for unknown parts.
Some said he had gone to enlist — it seems
that, despite his youth and small stature in
my eyes, he would have been acceptable to
the enlistment standards of the day — but
the major opinion was that much dime-novel
reading had inspired him with the notion of
becoming a trapper in the mystic Far West.
I alone possessed the secret of his disappear-
ance — unless, indeed, his sister knew — and
no one will ever know what struggles I had
to keep from confiding it to Hurley.
Soon the fine weather was at an end. One
day it was soft and warm, with a tender bine
haze over the distant woods and a sun like
a blood-orange in the tranquil sky, and birds
twittering about among the elders and sumac
along the rail fences. And the next day
everything was gray and lifeless and desolate,
with fierce winds sweeping over the bare
fields, and driving the cold rain in sheets
Some people — among them Hurley — said
it was the equinoctial that was upon us. Ab-
ner Beech ridiculed this, and proved by the
dictionary that the equinoctial meant Sep-
tember 22d, whereas it was now well-nigh
the end of October. The Irishman con-
ceded that in books this might be so, but
stuck wilfully to it that in practice the equi-
noctial came just before winter set in. After
so long a period of saddened silence brooding
over our household, it was quite a relief to
THE ELECTION 91
hear the men argue this question of the
Down at the Corners old farmers had
wrangled over the identity of the equinoctial
ever since I could remember. It was pretty
generally agreed that each year along some
time during the fall, there came a storm which
was properly entitled to that name, but at this
point harmony ended. Some insisted that it
came before Indian Summer, some that it fol-
lowed that season, and this was further com-
plicated by the fact that no one was ever
quite sure when it was Indian Summer.
There were all sorts of rules for recognizing
this delectable time of year, rules connected,
I recall, with the opening of the chestnut
burrs, the movement of birds, and various
other incidents in nature's great processional,
but these rules rarely came right in our rough
latitude, and sometimes never came at all —
at least did not bring with them anything re-
motely resembling Indian Summer, but made
our autumn one prolonged and miserable suc-
cession of storms. And then it was an espe-
cially trying trick to pick out the equinoctial
from the lot — and even harder still to prove
to sceptical neighbors that you were right.
92 THE COPPERHEAD
Whatever this particular storm may have
been it came too soon. Being so short-handed
on the farm, we were much behind in the
matter of drawing our produce to market.
And now, after the first day or two of rain,
the roads were things to shudder at. It was
not so bad getting to and from the Corners,
for Agrippa Hill had a gravel formation, but
beyond the Corners, whichever way one went
over the bottom lands of the Nedahma Valley,
it was a matter of lashing the panting teams
through seas of mud punctuated by abyssmal
pitch-holes, into which the wheels slumped
over their hubs, and quite generally stuck till
they were pried out with fence-rails.
Abner Beech was exceptionally tender in
his treatment of live-stock. The only occa-
sion I ever heard of on which he was tempted
into using his big fists upon a fellow-creature,
was once, long before my time, when one of
his hired men struck a refractory cow over its
haunches with a shovel. He knocked this
man clear through the stanchions. Often Jeff
and I used to feel that he carried his solici-
tude for horse-flesh too far — particularly
when we wanted to drive down to the creek
for a summer evening swim, and he thought
the teams were too tired.
THE ELECTION 93
So now he would not let us hitch up and
drive into Octavius with even the lightest
loads, on account of the horses. It would be
better to wait, he said, until there was sled-
ding ; then we could slip in in no time. He
pretended that all the signs this year pointed
to an early winter.
The result was that we were more than
ever shut off from news of the outer world.
The weekly paper which came to us was
full, I remember, of political arguments and
speeches — for a Congress and Governor were
to be elected a few weeks hence — but there
were next to no tidings from the front. The
war, in fact, seemed to have almost stopped
altogether, and this paper spoke of it as a
confessed failure. Farmer Beech and Hur-
ley, of course, took the same view, and their
remarks quite prepared me from day to day
to hear that peace had been concluded.
But down at the Corners a strikingly dif-
ferent spirit reigned. It quite surprised me,
I know, when I went down on occasion for
odds and ends of grocerieswhich the bad roads
prevented us from getting in town, to dis-
cover that the talk there was all in favor of
having a great deal more war than ever.
94 THE COPPERHEAD
This store at the Corners was also the post-
office, and, more important still, it served as
a general rallying place for the men-folks of
the neighborhood after supper. Lee Wat-
kins, who kept it, would rather have missed
a meal of victuals any day than not to have
had the " boys " come in of an evening, and
sit or lounge around discussing the situation.
Many of them were very old boys now, garru-
lous seniors who remembered " Matty " Van
Buren, as they called him, and told weird
stories of the Anti-Masonry days. These had
the well-worn arm-chairs nearest the stove, in
cold weather, and spat tobacco-juice on its
hottest parts with a precision born of long-
time experience. The younger fellows ac-
commodated themselves about the outer cir-
cle, squatting on boxes, or with one leg over
a barrel, sampling the sugar and crackers and
raisins in an absent-minded way each even-
ing, till Mrs. Watkins came out and put the
covers on. She was a stout, peevish woman
in bloomers, and they said that her husband,
Lee, couldn't have run the post-office for
twenty-four hours if it hadn't been for her.
We understood that she was a Woman's
Rights' woman, which some held was much the
THE ELECTION 95
same as believing in Free Love. All that was
certain, however, was that she did not believe
in free lunches out of her husband's barrels
The chief flaw in this village parliament
was the absence of an opposition. Among
all the accustomed assemblage of men who
sat about, their hats well back on their heads,
their mouths full of strong language and to-
bacco, there was none to disagree upon any
essential feature of the situation with the
others. To secure even the merest semblance
of variety, those whose instincts were cross-
grained had to go out of their way to pick up
trifling points of difference, and the argu-
ments over these had to be spun out with the
greatest possible care, to be kept going at all.
I should fancy, however, that this apparent
concord only served to keep before their
minds, with added persistency, the fact that
there was an opposition, nursing its heretical
wrath in solitude up on the Beech farm. At
all events, I seemed never to go into the gro-
cery of a night without hearing bitter re-
marks, or even curses, levelled at our house-
It was from these casual visits — standing
96 THE COPPERHEAD
about on the outskirts of the gathering, be-
yond the feeble ring of light thrown out by
the kerosene lamp on the counter — that I
learned how deeply the Corners were opposed
to peace. It appeared from the talk here
that there was something very like treason at
the front. The victory at Antietam — so
dearly bought with the blood of our own peo-
ple — had been, they said, of worse than no
use at all. The defeated Rebels had been al-
lowed to take their own time in crossing the
Potomac comfortably. They had not been
pursued or molested since, and the Corners
could only account for this on the theory of
treachery at Union headquarters. Some only
hinted guardedly at this. Others declared
openly that the North was being sold out by
its own generals. As for old " Jee " Haga-
dorn, who came in almost every night, and
monopolized the talking all the while he was
present, he made no bones of denouncing Mc-
Clellan and Porter as traitors who must be
He comes before me as I write — his thin
form quivering with excitement, the red stub-
bly hair standing up all round his drawn and
livid face, his knuckles rapping out one fierce
THE ELECTION 97
point after another on the candle-box, as he
filled the hot little room with angry declama-
tion. "Go it Jee!" "Give 'em Hell!"
" Hangin's too good for 'em ! " his auditors
used to exclaim in encouragement, whenever
he paused for breath, and then he would start
off again still more furiously, till he had to
gasp after every word, and screamed " Lin-
coln-ah ! " " Lee-ah ! " " Antietam-ah ! " and
so on, into our perturbed ears. Then I would
go home, recalling how he had formerly
shouted about " Adam-ah ! " and " Eve-ah ! "
in church, and marvelling that he had never
worked himself into a fit, or broken a blood-
So between what Abner and Hurley said
on the farm, and what was proclaimed at the
Corners, it was pretty hard to figure out
whether the war was going to stop, or go on
much worse than ever.
Things were still in this doubtful state,
when election Tuesday came round. I had
not known or thought about it, until, at the
breakfast-table Abner said that he guessed
he and Hurley would go down and vote
before dinner. He had some days before
secured a package of ballots from the organi-
98 THE COPPEBHEAD
zation of his party at Octavius, and these he
now took from one of the bookcase drawers,
and divided between himself and Hurley.
" They won't be much use, I dessay,
peddlin' 'em at the polls," he said, with a
grim momentary smile, " but, by the Eternal,
we'll vote 'em ! "
"As many of 'em as they'll be allowin'
us," added Hurley, in chuckling qualifica-
They were very pretty tickets in those
days, with marbled and plaided backs in
brilliant colors, and spreading eagles in front,
over the printed captions. In other years I
had shared with the urchins of the neighbor-
hood the excitement of scrambling for a
share of these ballots, after they had been
counted, and tossed out of the boxes. The
conditions did not seem to be favorable for a
repetition of that this year, and apparently
this occurred to Abner, for of his own accord
he handed me over some dozen of the little
packets, each tied with a thread, and labelled,
" State," " Congressional," " Judiciary," and
the like. He, moreover, consented — the
morning chores being out of the way — that
I should accompany them to the Corners.
THE ELECTION 99
The ground had frozen stiff overnight, and
the road lay in hard uncompromising ridges
between the tracks of yesterday's wheels.
The two men swung along down the hill
ahead of me, with resolute strides and their
heads proudly thrown back, as if they had
been going into battle. I shuffled on behind
in my new boots, also much excited. The
day was cold and raw.
The polls were fixed up in a little building
next to the post-office — a one-story frame
structure where Lee Watkins kept his bob-
sleigh and oil barrels, as a rule. These had
been cleared out into the yard, and a table
and some chairs put in in their place. A
pane of glass had been taken out of the
window. Through this aperture the voters,
each in his turn, passed their ballots, to be
placed by the inspectors in the several boxes
ranged along the window-sill inside. A
dozen or more men, mainly in army overcoats,
stood about on the sidewalk or in the road
outside, stamping their feet for warmth, and
slapping their shoulders with their hands,
between the fingers of which they held little
packets of tickets like mine — that is to say,
they were like mine in form and brilliancy of
100 TUE COPPERHEAD
color, but I knew well enough that there the
resemblance ended abruptly. A yard or so
from the window two posts had been driven
into the ground, with a board nailed across
to prevent undue crowding.
Abner and Hurley marched up to the polls
without a word to anyone, or any sign of
recognition from the bystanders. Their
appearance, however, visibly awakened the
interest of the Corners, and several young
fellows who were standing on the grocery
steps sauntered over in their wake to see
what was going on. These, with the ticket-
peddlers, crowded up close to the window
now, behind our two men.
" Abner Beech ! " called the farmer through
the open pane, in a defiant voice. Standing
on tiptoe, I could just see the heads of some
men inside, apparently looking through the
election books. No questions were asked,
and in a minute or so Abner had voted and
stood aside a little, to make room for his
" Timothy Joseph Hurley ! " shouted our
hired man, standing on his toes to make
himself taller, and squaring his weazened
THE ELECTION 101
" Got your naturalization papers ? " came
out a sharp, gruff inquiry through the win-
" That I have ! " said the Irishman, wagging
his head in satisfaction at having foreseen
this trick, and winking blandly into the wall
of stolid, hostile faces encircling him. " That
I have ! "
He drew forth an old and crumpled en-
velope, from his breast-pocket, and extracted
some papers from its ragged folds which he
passed through to the inspector. The latter
just cast his eye over the documents and handed
" Them ain't no good ! " he said, curtly.
" What's that you're saying ? " cried the
Irishman. " Sure I've voted on thim same
papers every year since 1856, an' niver a man
gainsaid me. No good, is it? Huh!"
" Why ain't they no good ? " boomed in
Abner Beech's deep, angry voice. He had
moved back to the window.
" Because they ain't, that's enough ! " re-
turned the inspector. " Don't block up the
window, there ! Others want to vote ! "
" I'll have the law on yez ! " shouted Hurley.
" I'll swear me vote in ! I'll — I'll — "
102 THE COPPERHEAD
" Aw, shut up, you Mick ! " someone called
out close by, and then there rose another voice
farther back in the group : " Don't let him
vote ! One Copperhead's enough in Agrippa ! "
" I'll have the law — " I heard Hurley be-
gin again, at the top of his voice, and Abner
roared out something I could not catch.
Then as in a flash the whole cluster of men
became one confused whirling tangle of arms
and legs, sprawling and wrestling on the
ground, and from it rising the repellant sound
of blows upon flesh, and a discordant chorus
of grunts and curses. Big chunks of icy mud
flew through the air, kicked up by the boots
of the men as they struggled. I saw the two
posts with the board weave under the strain,
then give way, some of the embattled group
tumbling over them as they fell. It was
wholly impossible to guess who was who in
this writhing and tossing mass of fighters.
I danced up and down in a frenzy of excite-
ment, watching this wild spectacle, and, so I
was told years afterward, screaming with all
my might and main.
Then all at once there was a mighty up-
heaval, and a big man half-scrambled, half-
hurled himself to his feet. It was Abner,
THE ELECTION 103
who had wrenched one of the posts bodily
from under the others, and swung it now
high in air. Some one clutched it, and for
the moment stayed its descent, yelling, mean-
while, " Look out ! Look out ! " as though
life itself depended on the volume of his
The ground cleared itself as if by magic.
On the instant there was only Abner standing
there with the post in his hands, and little
Hurley beside him, the lower part of his face
covered with blood, and his coat torn half
from his back. The others had drawn off,
and formed a semicircle just out of reach of
the stake, like farm-dogs round a wounded
bear at bay. Two or three of them had blood
about their heads and necks.
There were cries of " Kill him ! " and it
was said afterward that Roselle Upman drew
a pistol, but if he did others dissuaded him
from using it. Abner stood with his back to
the building, breathing hard, and a good deal
covered with mud, but eyeing the crowd with
a masterful ferocity, and from time to time
shifting his hands to get a new grip on that
tremendous weapon of his. He said not a
104 THE COPPERHEAD
The Irishman, after a moment's hesitation,
wiped some of the blood from his mouth
and jaw, and turned to the window again.
" Timothy Joseph Hurley ! " he shouted in,
This time another inspector came to the
front — the owner of the tanyard over on the
Dutch road, and a man of importance in
the district. Evidently there had been a
" We will take your vote if you want to
swear it in," he said, in a pacific tone, and
though there were some dissenting cries
from the crowd without, he read the oath,
and Hurley mumbled it after him.
Then, with some difficulty, he sorted out
from his pocket some torn and mud-stained
packets of tickets, picked the cleanest out
from each, and voted them — all with a fine
air of unconcern.
Abner Beech marched out behind him now
with a resolute clutch on the stake. The
crowd made reluctant way for them, not
without a good many truculent remarks, but
with no offer of actual violence. Some of
the more boisterous ones, led by Roselle Up-
man, were for following them, and renewing
THE ELECTION 105
the encounter beyond the Corners. But this,
too, came to nothing, and when I at last
ventured to cross the road and join Abner
and Hurley, even the cries of " Copperhead "
had died away.
The sun had come out, and the frosty ruts
had softened to stickiness. The men's heavy
boots picked up whole sections of plastic
earth as they walked in the middle of the
road up the hill.
"What's the matter with your mouth?"
asked Abner at last, casting a sidelong glance
at his companion. "It's be'n a-bleedin'."
Hurley passed an investigating hand care-
fully over the lower part of his face, looked
at his reddened fingers, and laughed aloud.
" I'd a fine grand bite at the ear of one of
them," he said, in explanation. "'Tis no
blood o' mine."
Abner knitted his brows. " That ain't the
way Ave fight in this country," he said, in
tones of displeasure. " Bitin' men's ears
ain't no civilized way of behavin'."
" Twas not much of a day for civilization,"
remarked Hurley, lightly ; and there was no
further conversation on our homeward tramp.
THE ELECTION BONFIRE
The election had been on Tuesday, Novem-
ber 4th. Our paper, containing the news of
the result, was to be expected at the Corners
on Friday morning. But long before that
date we had learned — I think it was Hurley
who found it out — that the Abolitionists
had actually been beaten in our Congressional
district. It was so amazing a thing that
Abner could scarcely credit it, but it was
apparently beyond dispute. For that matter,
one hardly needed further evidence than the
dejected way in which Philo Andrews and
Myron Pierce and other followers of " Jee "
Hagadorn hung their heads as they drove
past our place.
Of course it had all been done by the vote
in the big town of Tecumseh, way at the
other end of the district, and by those towns
surrounding it where the Mohawk Dutch
were still very numerous. But this did not
THE ELECTION BONFIRE 107
at all lessen the exhilaration with which the
discovery that the Radicals of our own Dear-
born County had been snowed under, filled
our breasts. Was it not wonderful to think
of, that these heroes of remote Adams and
Jay Counties should have been at work re-
deeming the district on the very day when
the two votes of our farm marked the almost
despairing low-water mark of the cause in
Abner could hardly keep his feet down on
the ground or floor when he walked, so power-
fully did the tidings of this achievement
thrill his veins. He said the springs of his
knees kept jerking upward, so that he wanted
to kick and dance all the while. Janey Wil-
cox, who, though a meek and silent girl, was
a wildly bitter partisan, was all eagerness to
light a bonfire out on the knoll in front of
the house Thursday night, so that every
mother's son of them down at the Corners
might see it, but Abner thought it would be
better to wait until we had the printed facts
I could hardly wait to finish breakfast Fri-
day morning, so great was my zeal to be off
to the post-office. It was indeed not alto-
108 THE COPPERHEAD
gether daylight when I started at quick step
down the hill. Yet, early as I was, there
were some twenty people inside Lee Watkins's
store when I arrived, all standing clustered
about the high square row of glass-faced pig-
eon-holes reared on the farther end of the
counter, behind which could be seen Lee and
his sour-faced wife sorting over the mail by
lamp-light. " Jee " Hagadorn was in this
group and Squire Avery, and most of the
other prominent citizens of the neighborhood.
All were deeply restless.
Every minute or two some one of them
would shout : " Come, Lee, give us out one
of the papers, anyway ! " But for some
reason Mrs. Watkins was inexorable. Her
pursed-up lips and resolute expression told
us plainly that none would be served till
all were sorted. So the impatient waiters
bided their time under protest, exchanging
splenetic remarks under their breath. We
must have stood there three-quarters of an
At last Mrs. Watkins wiped her hands on
the apron over her bloomers. Everybody
knew the signal, and on the instant a dozen
arms were stretched vehemently toward Lee,
THE ELECTION BONFIRE 109
struggling for precedence. In another mo-
ment wrappers had been ripped off and sheets
flung open. Then the store was alive with
excited voices. " Yes, sir ! It's true ! The
Copperheads have won ! " " Tribune con-
cedes Seymour's election ! " " We're beaten
in the district by less'n a hundred ! " " Good-
by, human liberty ! " " Now we know how
Lazarus felt when he was licked by the
dogs ! " and so on — a stormy warfare of
In my turn I crowded up, and held out my
hand for the paper I saw in the box. Lee
Watkins recognized me, and took the paper
out to deliver to me. But at the same mo-
ment his wife, who had been hastily scanning
the columns of some other journal, looked up
and also saw who I was. With a lightning
gesture she threw out her hand, snatched our
World from her husband's grasp, and threw
it spitefully under the counter.
" There ain't nothing for you! " she snapped
at me. " Pesky Copperhead rag ! " she mut-
tered to herself.
Although I had plainly seen the familiar
wrapper, and understood her action well
enough, it never occurred to me to argue
110 THE COPPERHEAD
the question with Mrs. Watkins. Her bust-
ling, determined demeanor, perhaps also her
bloomers, had always filled me with awe. I
hung about for a time, avoiding her range of
vision, until she went out into her kitchen.
Then I spoke with resolution to Lee:
" If you don't give me. that paper," I said,
" I'll tell Abner, an' he'll make you sweat for
The postmaster stole a cautious glance
kitchenward. Then he made a swift, diving
movement under the counter, and furtively
thrust the paper out at me.
" Scoot ! " he said, briefly, and I obeyed
Abner was simply wild with bewildered
delight over what this paper had to tell him.
Even my narrative about Mrs. Watkins,
which ordinarily would have thrown him
into transports of rage, provoked only a pass-
ing sniff. " They've only got two more
years to hold that post-office," was his only
remark upon it.
Hurley and Janey Wilcox and even the
Underwood girl came in, and listened to
Abner reading out the news. He shirked
nothing, but waded manfully through long
THE ELECTION BON FIB E 111
tables of figures and meaningless catalogues
of counties in other States, the names of
which he scarcely knew how to pronounce :
" ' Five-hundred and thirty-one townships in
Wisconsin give Brown 21,409, Smith 16,329,
Ferguson 802, a Republican loss of 26.' Do
you see that, Hurley? It's everywhere the
same." " ' Kalapoosas County elects Repub-
lican Sheriff for first time in history of party.'
That isn't so good, but its only one out of
ten thousand." " ' Four-hundred-and-six town-
ships in New Hampshire show a net Demo-
cratic loss of — ' pshaw ! there ain't nothing
in that ! Wait till the other towns are heard
from ! "
So Abner read on and on, slapping his
thigh with his free hand whenever anything
specially good turned up. And there was a
great deal that we felt to be good. The
State had been carried. Besides our Con-
gressman, many others had been elected in
unlooked-for places — so much so that the
paper held out the hope that Congress itself
might be ours. Of course Abner at once
talked as if it were already ours. Resting
between paragraphs, he told Hurley and the
others that this settled it. The war must
112 THE COPPERHEAD
now surely be abandoned, and the seceding
States invited to return to the Union on
terms honorable to both sides.
Hurley had assented with acquiescent nods
to everything else. He seemed to have a
reservation on this last point. " An' what if
they won't come ? " he asked.
" Let 'em stay out, then," replied Abner,
dogmatically. "This war — this wicked
war between brothers — must stop. That's
the meaning of Tuesday's votes. What did
you and I go down to the Corners and cast
our ballots for ? — why, for peace ! "
" Well, somebody else got my share of it,
then," remarked Hurley, with a rueful
Abner was too intent upon his theme to
notice. " Yes, peace ! " he repeated, in the
deep vibrating tones of his class-meeting
manner. " Why, just think what's been
a-goin' on ! Great armies raised, hundreds
of thousands of honest men taken from their
work an' set to murderin' each other, whole
deestricks of country torn up by the roots,
homes desolated, the land filled with widows
an' orphans, an' every house a house of
THE ELECTION BONFIBE 113
Mrs. Beech had been sitting, with her
mending-basket on her knee, listening to her
husband like the rest of us. She shot to her
feet now as these last words of his quivered
in the air, paying no heed to the basket or its
scattered contents on the floor, but putting
her apron to her eyes, and making her way
thus past us, half-blindly, into her bedroom.
I thought I heard the sound of a sob as she
closed the door.
That the stately, proud, self-contained
mistress of our household should act like this
before us all was even more surprising than
Seymour's election. We stared at one an-
other in silent astonishment.
" M'rye ain't feelin' over 'n' above well,"
Abner said at last, apologetically. "You
girls ought to spare her all you kin."
One could see, however, that he was as
puzzled as the rest of us. He rose to his feet,
walked over to the stove, rubbed his boot
meditatively against the hearth for a minute
or two, then came back again to the table.
It was with a visible effort that he finally
shook off this mood, and forced a smile to his
" Well, Janey," he said, with an effort at
114 THE COPPERHEAD
briskness, "ye kin go ahead with your bon-
fire, now. I guess I've got some old bar'ls
for ye over 'n' the cow-barn."
But having said this, he turned abruptly
and followed his wife into the little chamber
off the living-room.
ESTHER S VISIT
The next day, Saturday, was my birthday.
I celebrated it by a heavy cold, with a burst-
ing headache and chills chasing each other
down my back. I went out to the cow-barn
with the two men before daylight, as usual,
but felt so bad that I had to come back to
the house before milking was half over.
The moment M'rye saw me, I was ordered
on to the sick-list.
The Beech homestead was a good place to
be sick in. Both M'rye and Janey had a
talent in the way of fixing up tasty little
dishes for invalids, and otherwise ministering
to their comfort, which year after year went
a-begging, simply because all the men-folk
kept so well. Therefore, when the rare
opportunity did arrive, they made the most
of it. I had my feet and legs put into a
bucket of hot water, and wrapped round with
burdock leaves. Janey prepared for my
116 THE COPPERHEAD
breakfast some soft toast — not the insipid
and common milk-toast — but each golden-
brown slice treated separately on a plate,
first moistened with scalding water, then
peppered, salted, and buttered, with a little
cold milk on top of all. I ate this sumptuous
breakfast at my leisure, ensconced in M'rye's
big cushioned rocking-chair, with my feet
and legs, well tucked up in a blanket-shawl,
stretched out on another chair, comfortably
near the stove.
It was taken for granted that I had caught
my cold out around the bonfire the previous
evening — and this conviction threw a sort of
patriotic glamour about my illness, at least
in my own mind.
The bonfire had been a famous success.
Though there was a trifle of rain in the air,
the barrels and mossy discarded old fence-
rails burned like pitch-pine, and when Hur-
ley and I threw on armfuls of brush, the
sparks burst up with a roar into a flaming
column which we felt must be visible all over
our side of Dearborn County. At all events,
there was no doubt about its being seen and
understood down at the Corners, for pres-
ently our enemies there started an answering
ESTHER'S VISIT 117
bonfire, which glowed from time to time with
such a peculiarly concentrated radiance that
Aimer said Lee Watkins must have given
them some of his kerosene-oil barrels. The
thought of such a sacrifice as this on the part
of the postmaster rather disturbed Abner's
mind, raising, as it did, the hideous sugges-
tion that possibly later returns might have
altered the election results. But when
Hurley and I dragged forward and tipped
over into the blaze the whole side of an old
abandoned corn-crib, and heaped dry brush
on top of that, till the very sky seemed afire
above us, and the stubble-fields down the
hill-side were all ruddy in the light, Abner
confessed himself reassured. Our enthu-
siasm was so great that it was nearly ten
o'clock before we went to bed, having first
put the fire pretty well out, lest a rising
wind during the night should scatter sparks
and work mischief.
I had all these splendid things to think of
next day, along with my headache and the
shivering spine, and they tipped the balance
toward satisfaction. Shortly after breakfast
M'rye made a flaxseed poultice and muffled
it flabbily about my neck, and brought me
118 THE COPPERHEAD
also some boueset-tea to drink. There was a
debate in the air as between castor-oil and
senna, fragments of which were borne in to
me when the kitchen door was open. The
Underwood girl alarmed me by steadily in-
sisting that her sister-in-law always broke up
sick-headaches with a mustard-plaster put raw
on the back of the neck. Every once in a
while one of them would come in and ad-
dress to me the stereotyped formula : " Feel
\ny better ? " and I as invariably answered,
' No." In reality, though, I was lazily com-
fortable all the time, with Lossing's " Field-
Book of the War of 1812 " lying open on my
lap, to look at when I felt inclined. This
book was not nearly so interesting as the one
about the Revolution, but a grandfather of
mine had marched as a soldier up to Sack-
ett's Harbor in the later war, though he did
not seem to have had any fighting to do after
he got there, and in my serious moods I
always felt it my duty to read about his war
instead of the other.
So the day passed along, and dusk began
to gather in the living-room. The men were
off outdoors somewhere, and the girls were
churning in the butter-room. M'rye had
ESTHER'S VISIT 119
come in with her mending,, and sat on the
opposite side of the stove, at intervals cast-
ing glances over its flat top to satisfy her-
self that my poultice had not sagged down
from its proper place, and that I was in
other respects doing as well as could be ex-
Conversation between us was hardly to be
thought of, even if I had not been so drowsily
indolent. M'rye was not a talker, and pre-
ferred always to sit in silence, listening to
others, or, better still, going on at her work
with no sounds at all to disturb her thoughts.
These long periods of meditation, and the
sedate gaze of her black, penetrating eyes,
gave me the feeling that she must be much
wiser than other women, who could not keep
still at all, but gabbled everything the mo-
ment it came into their heads.
We had sat thus for a long, long time,
until I began to wonder how she could sew
in the waning light, when all at once, with-
out lifting her eyes from her work, she spoke
" D' you know where Ni Hagadorn's gone
to?" she asked me, in a measured, impres-
120 THE COPPERHEAD
" He — he — told me he was a-goin' away,"
I made answer, with weak evasiveness.
"But where? Down South?" She looked
up, as I hesitated, and flashed that darkling
glance of hers at me. " Out with it ! " she
commanded. " Tell me the truth ! "
Thus adjured, I promptly admitted that Ni
had said he was going South, and could work
his way somehow. " He's gone, you know,"
I added, after a pause, " to try and find —
that is, to hunt around after — "
" Yes, I know," said M'rye, sententiously,
and another long silence ensued.
She rose after a time, and went out into
the kitchen, returning with the lighted lamp.
She set this on the table, putting the shade
down on one side so that the light should
not hurt my eyes, and resumed her mending.
The yellow glow thus falling upon her gave
to her dark, severe, high-featured face a
duskier effect than ever. It occurred to me
that Molly Brant, that mysteriously fascinat-
ing and bloody Mohawk queen who left such
an awful reddened mark upon the history of
her native Valley, must have been like our
M'rye. My mind began sleepily to clothe
the farmer's wife in blankets and chains of
ESTHER'S VISIT 121
wampum, with eagles' feathers in her raven
hair, and then to drift vaguely off over the
threshold of Indian dreamland, when sud-
denly, with a start, I became conscious that
some unexpected person had entered the
room by the veranda-door behind me.
The rush of cold air from without had
awakened me and told me of the entrance.
A glance at M'rye's face revealed the rest.
She was staring at the newcomer with a
dumfounded expression of countenance, her
mouth half-open with sheer surprise. Still
staring, she rose and tilted the lamp-shade in
yet another direction, so that the light was
thrown upon the stranger. At this I turned
in my chair to look.
It was Esther Hagadorn who had come in !
There was a moment's awkward silence,
and then the school-teacher began hurriedly
to speak. " I saw you were alone from the
veranda — I was so nervous, it never occurred
to me to rap — the curtains being up — I — I
walked straight in."
As if in comment upon this statement,
M'rye marched across the room, and pulled
down both curtains over the veranda win-
dows. With her hand still upon the cord
122 THE COPPERHEAD
of the second shade, she turned and again
dumbly surveyed her visitor.
Esther flushed visibly at this reception,
and had to choke down the first words that
came to her lips. Then she went on better :
" I hope you'll excuse my rudeness. I really
did forget to rap. I came upon very special
business. Is Ab — Mr. Beech at home ? "
"Won't you sit down?" said M'rye, with
a glum effort at civility. " I expect him in
The school-ma'am, displaying some diffi-
dence, seated herself in the nearest chair,
and gazed at the wall-paper with intentness.
She had never seemed to notice me at all —
indeed had spoken of seeing M'rye alone
through the window — and I now coughed,
and stirred to readjust my poultice, but she
did not look my way. M'rye had gone back
to her chair by the stove, and taken up her
" You'd better lay off your things. You
won't feel 'em when you go out," she re-
marked, after an embarrassing period of
silence, investing the formal phrases with
Esther made a fumbling motion at the loop
ESTHER'S VISIT 123
of her big mink cape, but did not unfasten it.
"I — I don't know what you think of me,"
she began, at last, and then nervously halted.
" Mebbe it's just as well you don't," said
M'rye, significantly, darning away with long
sweeps of her arm, and bending attentively
over her stocking and ball.
" I can understand your feeling hard,"
Esther went on, still eying the sprawling
blue figures on the wall, and plucking with
her fingers at the furry tails on her cape.
"And — I am to blame, some, I can see now
— but it didn't seem so, then, to either of us."
" It ain't no affair of mine," remarked
M'rye, when the pause came, " but if that's
your business with Abner, you won't make
much by waitin'. Of course it's nothing to
me, one way or t'other."
Not another word was exchanged for a
long time. From where I sat I could see
the girl's lips tremble, as she looked stead-
fastly into the wall. I felt certain that M'rye
was darning the same place over and over
again, so furiously did she keep her needle
All at once she looked up angrily. " Well,"
she said, in loud, bitter tones : " Why not
124 THE COPPERHEAD
out with what you've come to say, V be done
with it ? You've heard something, I know ! "
Esther shook her head. " No, Mrs. Beech,"
she said, with a piteous quaver in her voice,
"I — I haven't heard anything ! "
The sound of her own broken utterances
seemed to affect her deeply. Her eyes filled
with tears, and she hastily got out a handker-
chief from her muff, and began drying them.
She could not keep from sobbing aloud a
M'rye deliberately took another stocking
from the heap in the basket, fitted it over
the ball, and began a fresh task — all without
a glance at the weeping girl.
Thus the two women still sat, when Janey
came in to lay the table for supper. She
lifted the lamp off to spread the cloth, and
put it on again; she brought in plates and
knives and spoons, and arranged them in
their accustomed places — all the while fur-
tively regarding Miss Hagadorn with an
incredulous surprise. When she had quite
finished she went over to her mistress and,
bending low, whispered so that we could all
hear quite distinctly : " Is she goin' to stay
to supper ? "
ESTHER'S VISIT 125
M'rye hesitated, but Esther lifted her head
and put down the handkerchief instantly.
" Oh, no ! " she said, eagerly : " don't think
of it! I must hurry home as soon as I've
seen Mr. Beech." Janey went out with an
obvious air of relief.
Presently there was a sound of heavy boots
out in the kitchen being thrown on to the
floor, and then Abner came in. He halted
in the doorway, his massive form seeming to
completely fill it, and devoted a moment or
so to taking in the novel spectacle of a neigh-
bor under his roof. Then he advanced, walk-
ing obliquely till he could see distinctly the
face of the visitor. It stands to reason that
he must have been surprised, but he gave no
sign of it.
"How d' do, Miss," he said, with grave
politeness, coming up and offering her his
Esther rose abruptly, peony-red with pleas-
urable confusion, and took the hand stretched
out to her. "How d' do, Mr. Beech," she
responded with eagerness, "I — I came up
to see you — a — about something that's very
" It's blowing up quite a gale outside," the
126 THE COPPERHEAD
farmer remarked, evidently to gain time the
while he scanned her face in a solemn,
thoughtful way, noting, I doubt not, the
swollen eyelids and stains of tears, and try-
ing to guess her errand. " Shouldn't wonder
if we had a foot o' snow before morning."
The school-teacher seemed in doubt how
best to begin what she had to say, so that
Abner had time, after he lifted his inquiring
gaze from her, to run a master's eye over the
" Have Janey lay another place ! " he said,
with authoritative brevity.
As M'rye rose to obey, Esther broke forth :
" Oh, no, please don't ! Thank you so much,
Mr. Beech — but really I can't stop — truly,
I mustn't think of it."
The farmer merely nodded a confirmation
of his order to M'rye, who hastened out to the
"It'll be there for ye, anyway," he said.
" Now set down again, please."
It was all as if he was the one who had the
news to tell, so naturally did he take com-
mand of the situation. The girl seated her-
self, and the farmer drew up his armchair
and planted himself before her, keeping his
ESTHER'S VISIT 127
stockinged feet under the rungs for politeness'
" Now, Miss," he began, just making it civ-
illy plain that he preferred not to utter her
hated paternal name, " I don't know no more'n
a babe unborn what's brought you here. I'm
sure, from what I know of ye, that you
wouldn't come to this house jest for the sake
of comin', or to argy things that can't be, an'
mustn't be, argied. In one sense, we ain't
friends of yours here, and there's a heap o'
things that you an' me don't want to talk
about, because they'd only lead to bad feelin',
an' so we'll leave 'em all severely alone. But
in another way, I've always had a liking for
you. You're a smart girl, an' a scholar into
the bargain, an' there ain't so many o' that
sort knockin' around in these parts that a man
like myself, who's fond o' books an' learnin',
wants to be unfriendly to them there is. So
now you can figure out pretty well where the
chalk line lays, and we'll walk on it."
Esther nodded her head. " Yes, I under-
stand," she remarked, and seemed not to dis-
like what Abner had said.
"That being so, what is it?" the farmer
asked, with his hands on his knees.
128 THE COPPERHEAD
" Well, Mr. Beech," the school-teacher be-
gan, noting with a swift side-glance that M'rye
had returned, and was herself rearranging the
table. "I don't think you can have heard it,
but some important news has come in during
the day. There seems to be different stories,
but the grist of them is that a number of the
leading Union generals have been discovered
to be traitors, and McClellan has been dis-
missed from his place at the head of the army,
and ordered to return to his home in New
Jersey under arrest, and they say others are
to be treated in the same way, and Fath —
some people think it will be a hanging mat-
ter, and — "
Abner waved all this aside with a motion of
his hand. " It don't amount to a hill o'
beans," he said, placidly. " It's jest spite,
because we licked 'em at the elections. Don't
you worry your head about that ! "
Esther was not reassured. " That isn't all,"
she went on, nervously. " They say there's
been discovered a big conspiracy, with secret
sympathizers all over the North."
" Pooh ! " commented Abner. " We've
heer'n tell o' that before ! "
" All over the North," she continued, " with
ESTHER'S VISIT 129
the intention of bringing- across infected
clothes from Canada, and spreading the small-
pox among us, and — "
The farmer laughed outright ; a laugh
embittered by contempt. " What cock-'n'-bull
story'll be hatched next ! " he said. " You
don't mean to say you — a girl with a head
on her shoulders like you — give ear to such
tomfoolery as that ! Come, now, honest Injin,
do you mean to tell me you believe all this?"
" It don't so much matter, Mr. Beech," the
girl replied, raising her face to his, and speak-
ing more confidently — " it don't matter at all
what I believe. I'm talking of what they be-
lieve down at the Corners."
" The Corners be jiggered ! " exclaimed
Abner, politely, but with emphasis.
Esther rose from the chair. " Mr. Beech,"
she declared, impressively; "they're coming
up here to-night ! That bonfire of yours made
'em mad. It's no matter how I learned it —
it wasn't from father — I don't know that he
knows anything about it, but they're coming
here ! and — and Heaven only knows what
they're going to do when they get here ! "
The farmer rose also, his huge figure
towering above that of the girl, as he looked
130 THE COPPERHEAD
down at her over his beard. He no longer
dissembled his stockinged-feet. After a
moment's pause he said : " So that's what
you came to tell me, eh ? "
The school-ma'am nodded her head. " I
couldn't bear not to," she explained, simply.
" Well, I'm obleeged to ye ! " Abner re-
marked, with gravity. " Whatever comes of
it, I'm obleeged to ye ! "
He turned at this, and walked slowly out
into the kitchen, leaving the door open behind
him. " Pull on your boots again ! " we heard
him say, presumably to Hurley. In a minute
or two he returned, with his own boots on,
and bearing over his arm the old double-
barrelled shot-gun which always hung above
the kitchen mantel-piece. In his hands he
had two shot-flasks, the little tobacco-bag full
of buckshot, and a powder-horn. He laid
these on the open shelf of the bookcase, and,
after fitting fresh caps on the nipples put the
gun beside them.
" I'd be all the more sot on your stayin' to
supper," he remarked, looking again at Esther,
" only if there should be any unpleasantness,
why, I'd hate like sin to have you mixed up
in it. You see how I'm placed."
ESTHER'S VISIT 131
Esther did not hesitate a moment. She
walked over to where M'rye stood by the
table replenishing the butter-plate. " I'd be
very glad indeed to stay, Mr. Beech," she
said, with winning frankness, " if I may."
" There's the place laid for you," com-
mented M'rye, impassively. Then, catching
her husband's eye, she added the perfunctory
assurance " You're entirely welcome."
Hurley and the girls came in now, and all
except me took their seats about the table.
Both Abner and the Irishman had their coats
on, out of compliment to company. M'rye
brought over a thick slice of fresh buttered
bread with brown sugar on it, and a cup of
weak tea, and put them beside me on a chair.
Then the evening meal went forward, the
farmer talking in a fragmentary way about
the crops and the weather. Save for an oc-
casional response from our visitor, the rest
maintained silence. The Underwood girl
could not keep her fearful eyes from the gun
lying on the bookcase, and protested that she
had no appetite, but Hurley ate vigorously,
and had a smile on his wrinkled and swarthy
The wind outside whistled shrilly at the
132 THE COPPERHEAD
windows, rattling the shutters, and trying its
force in explosive blasts which seemed to
rock the house on its stone foundations.
Once or twice it shook the veranda-door with
such violence that the folk at the table in-
stinctively lifted their heads, thinking some-
one was there.
Then, all at once, above the confusion of
the storm's noises, we heard a voice rise, high
and clear, crying :
" Smoke the damned Copperhead out ! "
" That was Roselle Upman that hollered,"
remarked Janey Wilcox, breaking the agi-
tated silence which had fallen upon the sup-
per table. " You can tell it's him because he's
had all his front teeth pulled out."
" I wasn't born in the woods to be skeert by
an owl ! " replied Abner, with a great show
of tranquillity, helping himself to another
slice of bread. " Miss, you ain't half makin'
out a supper ! "
But this bravado could not maintain itself.
In another minute there came a loud chorus
of angry yells, heightened at its finish by two
or three pistol shots. Then Abner pushed
back his chair and rose slowly to his feet, and
the rest sprang up all around the table.
" Hurley," said the farmer, speaking as
deliberately as he knew how, doubtless with
the idea of reassuring the others, "you go
out into the kitchen with the women folks,
134 THE COPPERHEAD
an' bar the woodshed door, an' bring in the
axe with you to stan' guard over the kitchen
door. I'll look out for this part o' the house
" I want to stay in here with you, Abner,"
" No, you go out with the others ! " com-
manded the master with firmness, and so
they all filed out with no hint whatever of
me. The shadow of the lamp-shade had cut
me off altogether from their thoughts.
Perhaps it is not surprising that my recol-
lections of what now ensued should lack
definiteness and sequence. The truth is,
that my terror at my own predicament, sit-
ting there with no covering for my feet and
calves but the burdock leaves and that absurd
shawl, swamped everything else in my mind.
Still, I do remember some of it.
Abner strode across to the bookcase and
took up the gun, his big thumb resting deter-
minedly on the hammers. Then he inarched
to the door, threw it wide open, and planted
himself on the threshold, looking out into
" What's your business here, whoever you
are ? " he called out, in deep defiant tones.
THE FIRE 135
"We've come to take you an' Paddy out
for a little ride on a rail ! " answered the
same shrill, mocking voice we had heard
at first. Then others took up the hostile
chorus. " We've got some pitch a-heatin'
round in the back yard ! " " You won't
catch cold; there's plenty o' feathers!"
" Tell the Irishman here's some more ears
for him to chaw on ! " " Come out an' take
your Copperhead medicine ! "
There were yet other cries which the
howling wind tore up into inarticulate frag-
ments, and then a scattering volley of cheers,
again emphasized by pistol-shots. While
the crack of these still chilled my blood, a
more than usually violent gust swooped
round Abner's burly figure, and blew out the
Terrifying as the first instant of utter
darkness was, the second was recognizable
as a relief. I at once threw myself out of
the chair, and crept along back of the stove
to where my stockings and boots had been
put to dry. These I hastened, with much
trembling awkwardness, to pull on, taking
pains to keep the big square old stove be-
tween me and that open veranda door.
136 THE COPPERHEAD
" Guess we won't take no ride to-night ! "
I heard Abner roar out, after the shouting
had for the moment died away.
" You got to have one ! " came back the
original voice. "It's needful for your com-
plaint ! "
"I've got somethin' here that'll fit your
complaint ! " bellowed the farmer, raising
• his gun. "Take warnin' — -the first cuss
that sets foot on this stoop, I'll bore a four-
inch hole clean through him. I've got squir-
rel shot, an' I've got buck-shot, an' there's
plenty more behind — so take your choice ! "
There were a good many derisive answer-
ing yells and hoots, and someone again fired
a pistol in the air, but nobody offered to
come up on the veranda.
Emboldened by this, I stole across the
room now to one of the windows, and lifting
a corner of the shade, strove to look out. At
first there was nothing whatever to be seen
in the utter blackness. Then I made out
some faint reddish sort of diffused light in
the upper air, which barely sufficed to indi-
cate the presence of some score or more dark
figures out in the direction of the pump.
Evidently they had built a fire around in the
THE FIBE 137
back yard, as they said — probably starting
it there so that its light might not disclose
This looked as if they really meant to
tar-and-feather Abner and Hurley. The ex-
pression was familiar enough to my ears, and,
from pictures in stray illustrated weeklies
that found their way to the Corners, I had
gathered some general notion of the proced-
ure involved. The victim was stripped, I
knew, and daubed over with hot melted
pitch ; then a pillow-case of feathers was
emptied over him, and he was forced astride
a fence-rail, which the rabble hoisted on their
shoulders and ran about with. But my fancy
balked at and refused the task of imagining
Abner Beech in this humiliating posture.
At least it was clear to my mind that a good
many fierce and bloody things would happen
Apparently this had become clear to the
throng outside as well. Whole minutes had
gone by, and still no one mounted the ver-
anda to seek close quarters with the farmer
— who stood braced with his legs wide apart,
bare-headed and erect, the wind blowing his
huge beard sidewise over his shoulder.
138 THE COPPERHEAD
"Well! ain't none o' you a-comin'?" he
called out at last, with impatient sarcasm.
" Thought you was so sot on takin' me out
an' havin' some fun with me ! " After a brief
pause, another taunt occurred to him. " Why,
even the niggers you're so in love with," he
shouted, " they ain't such dod-rotted cowards
as you be ! "
A general movement was discernible among
the shadowy forms outside. I thought for
the instant that it meant a swarming attack
upon the veranda. But no! suddenly it had
grown much lighter, and the mob was mov-
ing away toward the rear of the house. The
men were shouting things to one another,
but the wind for the moment was at such a
turbulent pitch that all their words were
drowned. The reddened light waxed brighter
still — and now there was nobody to be seen
at all from the window.
" Hurry here ! Mr. Beech ! We're all
afire ! " cried a frightened voice in the room
It may be guessed how I turned.
The kitchen door was open, and the figure
of a woman stood on the threshold, indefi-
nitely black against a strange yellowish-drab
THE FIRE 139
half light which framed it. This woman
— one knew from the voice that it was
Esther Hagaclorn — seemed to be wringing
" Hurry ! Hurry ! " she cried again, and I
could see now that the little passage was full
of gray luminous smoke, which was drifting
past her into the living-room. Even as I
looked, it had half obscured her form, and
was rolling in, in waves.
Abner had heard her, and strode across
the room now, gun still in hand, into the
thick of the smoke, pushing Esther before
him and shutting the kitchen door with a
bang as he passed through. I put in a terri-
fied minute or two alone in the dark, amazed
and half-benumbed by the confused sounds
that at first came from the kitchen, and
by the horrible suspense, when a still more
sinister silence ensued. Then there rose a
loud crackling noise, like the incessant pop-
ping of some giant variety of corn. The
door burst open again, and M'rye's tall form
seemed literally flung into the room by the
sweeping volume of dense smoke which
poured in. She pulled the door to behind
her — then gave a snarl of excited emotion
140 THE COPPERHEAD
at seeing me by the dusky reddened radiance
which began forcing its way from outside
through the holland window shades.
• " Light the lamp, you gump ! " she com-
manded, breathlessly, and fell with fierce
concentration upon the task of dragging fur-
niture out from the bed-room. I helped her
in a frantic, bewildered fashion, after I had
lighted the lamp, which flared and smoked
without its shade, as we toiled. M'rye
seemed all at once to have the strength of
a dozen men. She swung the ponderous
chest of drawers out end on end; she fairly
lifted the still bigger bookcase, after I had
hustled the books out on to the table ; she
swept off the bedding, slashed the cords, and
jerked the bed-posts and side-pieces out of
their connecting sockets with furious energy,
till it seemed as if both rooms must have
been dismantled in less time than I have
taken to tell of it.
The crackling overhead had swollen now
to a wrathful roar, rising above the gusty
voices of the wind. The noise, the heat, the
smoke, and terror of it all made me sick and
faint. I grew dizzy, and did foolish things
in an aimless way, fumbling about among
THE FIRE 141
the stuff M'rye was hurling forth. Then all
at once her darkling, smoke-wrapped figure
shot up to an enormous height, the lamp
began to go round, and I felt myself with
nothing but space under my feet, plunging
downward with awful velocity, surrounded
by whirling skies full of stars.
There was a black night-sky overhead
when I came to my senses again, with flecks
of snow in the cold air on my face. The
wind had fallen, everything was as still as
death, and someone was carrying me in his
arms. I tried to lift my head.
" Aisy now ! " came Hurley's admonitory
voice, close to my ear. " We'll be there in a
" No — I'm all right — let me down," I
urged. He set me on my feet, and I looked
amazedly about me.
The red-brown front of our larger hay-barn
loomed in a faint unnatural light, at close
quarters, upon my first inquiring gaze. The
big sliding doors were open, and the slanting
wagon-bridge running down from their thresh-
old was piled high with chairs, bedding,
crockery, milk-pans, clothing — the jumbled
142 THE COPPERHEAD
remnants of our household gods. Turning, I
looked across the yard upon what was left of
the Beech homestead — a glare of cherry light
glowing above a fiery hole in the ground.
Strangely enough this glare seemed to per-
petuate in its outlines the shape and dimen-
sions of the vanished house. It was as if the
house were still there, but transmuted from
joists and clap-boards and shingles, into an
illuminated and impalpable ghost of itself.
There was a weird effect of transparency
about it. Through the spectral bulk of red
light I could see the naked and gnarled ap-
ple-trees in the home-orchard on the further
side ; and I remembered at once that painful
and striking parallel of Scrooge gazing
through the re-edified body of Jacob Marley,
and beholding the buttons at the back of his
coat. It all seemed some monstrous dream.
But no, here the others were. Janey Wil-
cox and the Underwood girl had come out
from the barn, and were carrying in more
things. I perceived now that there was a
candle burning inside, and presently Esther
Hagadorn was to be seen. Hurley had dis-
appeared, and so I went up the sloping plat-
form to join the women — noting with weak
THE FIEE 143
surprise that my knees seemed to have ac-
quired new double joints and behaved as if
they were going in the other direction. I
stumbled clumsity once I was inside the barn,
and sat down with great abruptness on a
milking-stool, leaning my head back against
the hay-mow, and conscious of entire indiffer-
ence as to whether school kept or not.
Again it was like some half-waking vision
— the feeble light of the candle losing itself
upon the broad high walls of new hay; the
huge shadows in the rafters overhead ; the
women-folk silently moving about, fixing up
on the barn floor some pitiful imitation, poor
souls, of the home that had been swept off the
face of the earth, and outside, through the
wide sprawling doors, the dying away efful-
gence of the embers of our roof-tree lingering
in the air of the winter night.
Abner Beech came in presently, with the
gun in one hand, and a blackened and out-
landish-looking object in the other, which
turned out to be the big pink sea-shell that
used to decorate the parlor mantel. He held
it up for M'rye to see, with a grave, tired
smile on his face.
" We got it out, after all — just by the skin
144 THE COPPERHEAD
of our teeth," he said, and Hurley, behind
him, confirmed this by an eloquent grimace.
M'rye's black eyes snapped and sparkled as
she lifted the candle and saw what this some-
thing was. Then she boldly put up her face
and kissed her husband with a resounding
smack. Truly it was a night of surprises.
" That's about the only thing I had to call
my own when I was married," she offered in
explanation of her fervor, speaking to the
company at large. Then she added in a
lower tone, to Esther: u He used to play with
it for hours at a stretch — when he was a
" 'Member how he used to hold it up to his
ear, eh, mother?" asked A bner, softly.
M'rye nodded her head, and then put her
apron up to her eyes for a brief moment.
When she lowered it, we saw an unaccus-
tomed smile mellowing her hard-set, swarthy
The candle light flashed upon a tear on her
cheek that the apron had missed.
" I guess I do remember ! " she said, with
a voice full of tenderness.
Then Esther's hand stole into M'rye's and
the two women stood together before Abner,
THE FIRE 145
erect and with beaming countenances, and he
smiled upon them both.
It seemed that we were all much happier
in our minds, now that our house had been
burned down over our heads.
THE CONQUEST OF ABNER
Some time during the night, I was awak-
ened by the mice frisking through the hay
about my ears. My head was aching again,
and I could not get back into sleep. Besides,
Hurley was snoring mercilessly.
We two had chosen for our resting-place
the little mow of half a load or so, which had
not been stowed away above, but lay ready
for present use over by the side-door opening
on the cow-yard. Temporary beds had been
spread for the women with fresh straw and
blankets at the further end of the central
threshing-floor. Abner himself had taken
one of the rescued ticks and a quilt over to
the other end, and stretched his ponderous
length out across the big doors, with the gun
by his side. No one had, of course, dreamed
Only a few minutes of wakefulness sufficed
to throw me into a desperate state of fidgets.
THE CONQUEST OF ABNEB 147
The hay seemed full of strange creeping
noises. The whole big barn echoed with the
boisterous ticking of the old eight-clay clock
which had been saved from the wreck of the
kitchen, and which M'rye had set going again
on the seat of the democrat wagon. And
then Hurley !
I began to be convinced, now, that I was
coming down with a great spell of sickness
— perhaps even "the fever." Yes, it un-
doubtedly was the fever. I could feel it in
my bones, which now started up queer prickly
sensations on novel lines, quite as if they
were somebody else's bones instead. My
breathing, indeed, left a good deal to be
desired from the true fever standpoint. It
was not nearly so rapid or convulsive as I
understood that the breathing of a genuine
fever victim ought to be. But that, no doubt,
would come soon enough — nay ! was it not
already coming? I thought, upon examina-
tion, that I did breathe more swiftly than
before. And oh ! that Hurley !
As noiselessly as possible I made my way,
half-rolling, half-sliding, off the hay, and got
on my feet on the floor. It was pitch dark,
but I could feel along the old disused stan-
148 THE COPPERHEAD
chion-row to the corner ; thence it was plain
sailing over to where Abner was sleeping by
the big front doors. I would not dream of
rousing him if he was in truth asleep, but it
would be something to be nigh him, in case
the fever should take a fatal turn before
morning. I would just cuddle down on the
floor near to him, and await events.
When I had turned the corner, it surprised
me greatly to see ahead of me, over at the
front of the barn, the reflection of a light.
Creeping along toward it, I came out upon
Abner, seated with his back against one of
the doors, looking over an account-book by
the aid of a lantern perched on a box at his
side. He had stood the frame of an old bob-
sleigh on end close by, and hung a horse-
blanket over it, so that the light might not
disturb the women-folk at the other end of
the barn. The gun lay on the floor beside
He looked up at my approach, and regarded
me with something, I fancied, of disapproba-
tion in his habitually grave expression.
" Well, old seventy-six, what's the matter
with you? " he asked, keeping his voice down
to make as little noise as possible.
THE CONQUEST OF ABNEE 149
I answered in the same cautious tones that
I was feeling bad. Had any encouragement
suggested itself in the farmer's mien, I was
prepared to overwhelm him with a relation
of my symptoms in detail. But he shook his
"You'll have to wait till morning, to be-
sick," he said — " that is, to get 'tended to.
I don't know anything about such things, an'
I wouldn't wake M'rye up now for a whole
baker's dozen o' you chaps." Seeing my face
fall at this sweeping declaration, he proceeded
to modify it in a kindlier tone. " Now you
just lay down again, sonny," he added, " an'
you'll be to sleep in no time, an' in the morn-
ing M'rye '11 fix up something for ye. This
ain't no fit time for white folks to be belly-
" I kind o' thought I'd feel better if I was
sleeping over here near you," I ventured now
to explain, and his nod was my warrant for
tiptoeing across to the heap of disorganized
furniture, and getting out some blankets and
a comforter, which I arranged in the corner
a few yards away and simply rolled myself
up in, with my face turned away from the
light. It was better over here than with
150 THE COPPERHEAD
Hurley, and though that prompt sleep which
the farmer had promised did not come, I at
least was drowsily conscious of an improved
Perhaps I drifted off more than half-way into
dreamland, for it was with a start that all at
once I heard someone close by talking with
" I saw you were up, Mr. Beech " — it was
Esther Hagadorn who spoke — " and I don't
seem able to sleep, and I thought, if you didn't
mind, I'd come over here."
" Why, of course," the farmer responded.
" Just bring up a chair there, an' sit down.
That's it — wrap the shawl around you good.
It's a cold night — snowin' hard outside."
Both had spoken in muffled tones, so as
not to disturb the others. This same domi-
nant notion of keeping still deterred me from
turning over, in order to be able to see them.
I expected to hear them discuss my illness,
but they never referred to it. Instead, there
was what seemed a long silence. Then the
" I can't begin to tell you," she said, " how
glad I am that you and your wife aren't a bit
cast down by the — the calamity."
THE CONQUEST OF ABNER 151
"No," came back Abner's voice, buoyant
even in its half-whisper, "we're all right.
I've be'n sort o' figurin' up here, an' they
ain't much real harm done. I'm insured
pretty well. Of course, this bein' obleeged
to camp out in a hay-barn might be improved
on, but then it's a change — somethin' out o'
the ordinary rut — an' it'll do us good. I'll
have the carpenters over from Juno Mills in
the forenoon, an' if they push things, we can
have a roof over us again before Christmas.
It could be done even sooner, p'raps, only
they ain't any neighbors to help me with a
raisin' bee. They're willin' enough to burn my
house down, though. However, I don't want
them not an atom more'n they want me."
There was no trace of anger in his voice.
He spoke like one contemplating the unalter-
able conditions of life.
" Did they really, do you believe, set it on
fire ? " Esther asked, intently.
" No, I think it caught from that fool-fire
they started around back of the house, to
heat their fool tar by. The wind was blow-
ing a regular gale, you know. Janey Wilcox,
she will have it that that Roselle Upman set
it on purpose. But then, she don't like him
152 THE COPPERHEAD
— an' I can't blame her much, for that matter.
Once Otis Barnum was seem' her home from
singin' school, an' when he was goin' back
alone this Roselle Upman waylaid him in the
dark, an' pitched onto him, an' broke his col-
lar-bone. I always thought it puffed Janey
up some, this bein' fought over like that, but
it made her mad to have Otis hurt on her
account, an' then nothing come of it. I
wouldn't a' minded pepperin' Roselle's legs
a trifle, if I'd had a barrel loaded, say, with
birdshot. He's a nuisance to the whole
neighborhood. He kicks up a fight at every
dance he goes to, all winter long, an' hangs
around the taverns day in an' day out, in-
ducin' young men to drink an' loaf. I
thought a fellow like him 'd be sure to go
off to the war, an' so good riddance ; but
no ! darned if the coward don't go an' get
his front teeth pulled, so 't he can't bite
ca'tridges, an' jest stay around, a worse nui-
sance than ever ! I'd half forgive that mis-
erable war if it — only took off the — the
" Mr. Beech," said Esther, in low fervent
tones, measuring each word as it fell, " you
and I, we must forgive that war together ! "
THE CONQUEST OF ABNER 153
I seemed to feel the farmer shaking his
head. He said nothing in reply.
" I'm beginning to understand how you've
felt about it all along," the girl went on, after
a pause. " I knew the fault must be in my
ignorance, that our opinions of plain right
and plain wrong should be such poles apart.
I got a school-friend of mine, whose father is
your way of thinking, to send me all the
papers that came to their house, and I've
been going through them religiously — when-
ever I could be quite alone. I don't say I
don't think you're wrong, because I do, but
I am getting to understand how you should
believe yourself to be right."
She paused as if expecting a reply, but
Abner only said, " Go on," after some hesita-
tion, and she went on :
" Now take the neighbors all about here — "
"Excuse me!" broke in the farmer. "I
guess if it's all the same to you, I'd rather
not. They're too rich for my blood."
" Take these very neighbors," pursued
Esther, with gentle determination. " Some-
thing must be very wrong indeed when they
behave to you the way they do. Why I
know that even now, right down in their
154 THE COPPERHEAD
hearts, they recognize that you're far and
away the best man in Agrippa. Why, I re-
member, Mr. Beech, when I first applied, and
you were school-commissioner, and you sat
there through the examination — why, you
were the only one whose opinion I gave a rap
for. When you praised me, why, I was
prouder of it than if you had been a Regent
of the University. And I tell you, every-
body all around here feels at bottom just
as I do."
" They take a dummed curious way o'
showin' it, then," commented Abner, roundly.
" It isn't that they're trying to show at
all," said Esther. " They feel that other
things are more important. They're all
wrought up over the war. How could it be
otherwise when almost everyone of them has
got a brother, or a father, or — or — a son —
down there in the South, and every day
brings news that some of these have been
shot dead, and more still wounded and
crippled, and others — others, that God only
knows what has become of them — oh, how
can they help feeling that way? I don't
know that I ought to say it — " the school-
ma'am stopped to catch her breath, and hesi-
THE CONQUEST OF ABNER 155
tated, then went on — " but yes, you'll
understand me now — there was a time here,
not so long ago, Mr. Beech, when I downright
hated you — you and M'rye both!"
This was important enough to turn over
for. I flopped as unostentatiously as possi-
ble, and neither of them gave any sign of
having noted my presence. The farmer sat
with his back against the door, the quilt drawn
up to his waist, his head bent in silent medi-
tation. His whole profile was in deep shadow
from where I lay — darkly massive and power-
ful and solemn . Esther was watching him with
all her eyes, leaning forward from her chair,
the lantern-light full upon her eager face.
" M'rye an' I don't lay ourselves out to be
specially bad folks, as folks go," the farmer
said at last, by way of deprecation. " We've
got our faults, of course, like the rest, but — "
" No," interrupted Esther, with a half-
tearful smile in her eyes. " You only pre-
tend to have faults. You really haven't got
any at all."
The shadowed outline of Abner's face
softened. "Why, that is a fault itself, ain't
it ? " he said, as if pleased with his logical
156 THE COPPERHEAD
The crowing of some foolish rooster, grown
tired of waiting for the belated November
daylight, fell upon the silence from one of
the buildings near by.
Abner Beech rose to his feet with ponder-
ous slowness, pushing the bedclothes aside
with his boot, and stood beside Esther's chair.
He laid his big hand on her shoulder with a
" Come now," he said, gently, " you go
back to bed, like a good girl, an' get some
sleep. It'll be all right."
The girl rose in turn, bearing her shoulder
so that the fatherly hand might still remain
upon it. " Truly ? " she asked, with a new
light upon her pale face.
" Yes — truly ! " Abner replied, gravely
nodding his head.
Esther took the hand from her shoulder,
and shook it in both of hers. " Good-night
again, then," she said, and turned to go.
Suddenly there resounded the loud rap-
ping of a stick on the barn-door, close by my
Abner squared his huge shoulders and
threw a downright glance at the gun on the
THE CONQUEST OF ABNEB 157
"Well? "he called out.
" Is my doHater inside there f "
We all knew that thin, high-pitched, queru-
lous voice. It was old " Jee " Hagadorn who
THE UNWELCOME GUEST
Abner and Esther stood for a bewildered
minute, staring at the rough unpainted boards
through which this astonishing inquiry had
come. I scrambled to my feet and kicked
aside the tick and blankets. Whatever else
happened, it did not seem likely that there
was any more sleeping to be done. Then the
farmer strode forward and dragged one of the
doors back on its squeaking rollers. Some
snow fell in upon his boots from the ridge
that had formed against it over night. Save
for a vaguely faint snow-light in the air, it
was still dark.
" Yes, she's here," said Abner, with his hand
on the open door.
" Then I'd like to know — " the invisible
Jee began excitedly shouting from without.
" Sh-h ! You'll wake everybody up ! " the
farmer interposed. " Come inside, so that
I can shut the door."
THE UNWELCOME GUEST 159
" Never under your roof ! " came back the
shrill hostile voice. " I swore I never would,
and I won't ! "
" You'd have to take a crowbar to get under
my roof," returned Abner, grimly conscious
of a certain humor in the thought. " What's
left of it is layin' over yonder in what used to
be the cellar. So you needn't stand on cere-
mony on that account. I ain't got no house
now, so't your oath ain't bindin'. Besides,
the Bible says, ' Swear not at all ! "
A momentary silence ensued ; then Abner
rattled the door on its wheels. " Well, what
are you goin' to do ? " he asked, impatiently.
" I can't keep this door open all night, freezin'
everybody to death. If you won't come in,
you'll have to stay out ! " and again there was
an ominous creaking of the rollers.
" I want my da'ater ! " insisted Jehoiada,
vehemently. " I stan' on a father's rights."
" A father ain't got no more right to make
a fool of himself than anybody else," replied
Abner, gravely. " What kind of a time o'
night is this, with the snow knee-deep, for a
girl to be out o' doors ? She's all right here,
with my women-folks, an' I'll bring her down
with the cutter in the mornin' — that is, if
160 THE COPPERHEAD
she wants to come. An' now, once for all,
will you step inside or not?"
Esther had taken up the lantern and ad-
vanced with it now to the open door. " Come
in, father," she said, in tones which seemed
to be authoritative. " They've been very kind
to me. Come in ! "
Then, to my surprise, the lean and scrawny
figure of the cooper emerged from the dark-
ness, and stepping high over the snow, entered
the barn, Abner sending the door to behind
him with a mighty sweep of the arm.
Old Hagadorn came in grumbling under his
breath, and stamping the snow from his feet
with sullen kicks. He bore a sledge-stake in
one of his mittened hands. A worsted com-
forter was wrapped around his neck and ears
and partially over his conical-peaked cap.
He rubbed his long thin nose against his mit-
ten and blinked sulkily at the lantern and the
girl who held it.
" So here you be ! " he said at last, in vexed
tones. " An' me traipsin' around in the snow
the best part of the night lookin' for you ! "
" See here, father," said Esther, speaking
in a measured, deliberate way, " we won't
talk about that at all. If a thousand times
THE UNWELCOME GUEST 161
worse things had happened to both of us
than have, it still wouldn't be worth mention-
ing compared with what has befallen these
good people here. They've been attacked by
a mob of rowdies and loafers, and had their
house and home burned down over their heads
and been driven to take refuge here in this
barn of a winter's night. They've shared
their shelter with me and been kindness it-
self, and now that you're here, if you can't
think of anything pleasant to say to them, if
I were you I'd say nothing at all."
This was plain talk, but it seemed to pro-
duce a satisfactory effect upon Jehoiada. He
unwound his comforter enough to liberate
his straggling sandy beard and took off his
mittens. After a moment or two he seated
himself in the chair, with a murmured " I'm
jest about tuckered out," in apology for the
action. He did, in truth, present a woeful
picture of fatigue and physical feebleness,
now that we saw him in repose. The bones
seemed ready to start through the parchment-
like skin on his gaunt cheeks, and his eyes
glowed with an unhealthy fire, as he sat,
breathing hard and staring at the jumbled
heaps of furniture on the floor.
162 TEE COPPEREEAD
Esther had put the lantern again on the
box and drawn forward a chair for Abner, but
the farmer declined it with a wave of the
hand and continued to stand in the back-
ground, looking his ancient enemy over from
head to foot with a meditative gaze. Jehoiada
grew visibly nervous under this inspection;
he fidgeted on his chair and then fell to
coughing — a dry, rasping cough which had
an evil sound, and which he seemed to make
the worse by fumbling aimlessly at the button
that held the overcoat collar round his throat.
At last Abner walked slowly over to the
shadowed masses of piled-up household things
and lifted out one of the drawers that had
been taken from the framework of the bureau
and brought over with their contents. Ap-
parently it was not the right one, for he
dragged aside a good many objects to get at
another, and rummaged about in this for sev-
eral minutes. Then he came out again into
the small segment of the lantern's radiance
with a pair of long thick woolen stockings of
his own in his hand.
"You better pull off them wet boots an'
draw these on," he said, addressing Hagadorn,
but looking fixedly just over his head. " It
THE UNWELCOME GUEST 163
won't do that cough o' yours no good, settin'
around with wet feet."
The cooper looked in a puzzled way at
the huge butternut-yarn stockings held out
under his nose, but he seemed too much
taken aback to speak or to offer to touch
" Yes, father ! " said Esther, with quite an
air of command. " You know what that
cough means," and straightway Hagadorn
lifted one of his feet to his knee and started
tugging at the boot-heel in a desultory way.
He desisted after a few half-hearted attempts,
and began coughing again, this time more
distressingly than ever.
His daughter sprang forward to help him,
but Abner pushed her aside, put the stock-
ings under his arm, and himself undertook
the job. He did not bend his back overmuch,
but hoisted Jee's foot well in the air and
" Brace your foot agi'n mine an' hold on
to the chair ! " he ordered, sharply, for the
first effect of his herculean pull had been to
nearly drag the cooper to the floor. He
went at it more gently now, easing the soaked
leather up and down over the instep until the
164 THE COPPERHEAD
boots were off. He looked furtively at the
bottoms of these before he tossed them aside,
noting, no doubt, as I did, how old and
broken and run down at the heel they were.
Jee himself peeled off the drenched stockings,
and they too were flimsy old things, darned
and mended almost out of their original
These facts served only to deepen my
existing low opinion of Hagadorn, but they
appeared to affect Abner Beech differently.
He stood by and watched the cooper dry his
feet and then draw on the warm dry hose
over his shrunken shanks, with almost a
friendly interest. Then he shoved along one
of the blankets across the floor to Hagradorn's
chair that he might wrap his feet in it.
" That's it," he said, approvingly. " They
ain't no means o' building a fire here right
now, but as luck would have it we'd jest set
up an old kitchen stove in the little cow-barn
to warm up gruel for the ca'aves with, an'
the first thing we'll do'll be to rig it up in
here to cook breakfast by, an' then we'll dry
them boots o' yourn in no time. You go an'
pour some oats into 'em now," Abner added,
turning to me. " And you might as well
THE UNWELCOME GUEST 165
call Hurley. We've got considerable to do,
an' daylight's breakin'."
The Irishman lay on his back where I had
left him, still snoring tempestuously. As a
rule he was a light sleeper, but this time I
had to shake him again and again before he
understood that it was morning. I opened
the side-door, and sure enough, the day had
begun. The clouds had cleared away. The
sky was still ashen gray overhead, but the
light from the horizon, added to the white-
ness of the unaccustomed snow, rendered it
quite easy to see one's way about inside. I
went to. the oat-bin.
Hurley, sitting up and rubbing his eyes,
regarded me and my task with curiosity.
" An' is it a stovepipe for a measure ye
have ? " he asked.
" No ; it's one of Jee Hagadorn's boots," I
replied. " I'm filling 'em so't they'll swell
when they're dryin'."
He slid down off the hay as if someone
had pushed him. "What's that ye say?
Haggydorh? Ould Haggydorn?" he de-
I nodded assent. "Yes, he's inside with
Abner," I explained. " An' he's got on
166 THE COPPERHEAD
Abner's stockin's, an' it looks like he's goin'
to stay to breakfast."
Hurley opened his mouth in sheer surprise
and gazed at me with hanging jaw and round
" 'Tis the fever that's on ye," he said, at
last. " Ye're wandherin' in yer mind ! "
" You just go in and see for yourself," I
replied, and Hurley promptly took me at my
He came back presently, turning the corner
of the stanchions in a depressed and rambling
way, quite at variance with his accustomed
swinging gait. He hung his head, too, and
shook it over and over again perplexedly.
" Abner 'n' me'll be bringin' in the stove,"
he said. " 'Tis not fit for you to go out wid
that sickness on ye."
" Well, anyway," I retorted, " you see I
wasn't wanderin' much in my mind."
Hurley shook his head again. " Well,
then," he began, lapsing into deep brogue
and speaking rapidly, " I've meself seen the
woman wid the head of a horse on her in the
lake forninst the Three Castles, an' me sister's
first man, sure he broke down the ditch
round-about the Danes' fort on Dunkelly, an'
THE UNWELCOME GUEST 167
a foine grand young man, small for his
strength an' wid a red cap on his head, flew
out an' wint up in the sky, an' whin he re-
lated it up comes Father Forrest to him in
the potaties, an' says he, ' I do be suprised
wid you, O'Driscoll, for to be relatin' such
loies.' ' I'll take me Bible oat' on 'em ! '
says he. ' 'Tis your imagination ! ' says the
priest. ' No imagination at all!' says O'Dris-
coll ; ' sure, I saw it wid dese two eyes, as
plain as I'm lookin' at your riverence, an' a
far grander sight it was too ! ' An' me own
mother, faith, manny's the toime I've seen
her makin' up dhrops for the yellow sickliest
wid woodlice, an' sayin' Hail Marys over 'em,
an' thim same 'ud cure annything from sore
teeth to a wooden leg for moiles round. But,
saints help me ! I never seen the loikes o'
this ! Haggydorn is it ? Ould Haggydorn !
Then the Irishman, still with a dejected
air, started off across the yard through the
snow to the cow-barns, mumbling to himself
as he went.
I had heard Abner's heavy tread coming
along the stanchions toward me, but now all
at once it stopped. The farmer's wife had fol-
168 THE COPPERHEAD
lowed him into the passage, and he had halted
to speak with her.
" They ain't no two ways about it, mother,"
he expostulated. " We jest got to put the
best face on it we kin, an' act civil, an' pass
the time o' day as if nothing'd ever happened
atween us. He'll be goin' the first thing
" Oh ! I ain't agoin' to sass him, or say any-
thing uncivil," M'rye broke in, reassuringly.
" What I mean is, I dont want to come into
the for'ard end of the barn at all. They ain't
no need of it. I kin cook the breakfast in
back, and Janey kin fetch it for'ard for yeh,
an' nobody need say anythin', or be any the
" Yes, I know," argued Abner, " but there's
the looks o' the thing. J say, if you're goin'
to do a thing, why, do it right up to the han-
dle, or else don't do it at all. An' then
there's the girl to consider, and her feelin's."
" Dunno't her feelin's are such a pesky
sight more importance than other folkses,"
remarked M'rye, callously.
This unaccustomed recalcitrancy seemed to
take Abner aback. He moved a few steps
forward, so that he became visible from where
THE UNWELCOME GUEST 169
I stood, then halted again and turned, his
shoulders rounded, his hands clasped behind
his back. I could see him regarding M'rye
from under his broad hat-brim with a gaze at
once dubious and severe.
" I ain't much in the habit o' hearin' you
talk this way to me, mother," he said at last,
with grave depth of tones and significant
"Well, I can't help it, Abner!" rejoined
M'rye, bursting forth in vehement utterance,
all the more excited from the necessity she
felt of keeping it out of hearing of the unwel-
come guest. " I don't want to do anything
to aggravate you, or go contrary to your no-
tions, but with even the willin'est pack-horse
there is such a thing as pilin' it on too thick.
I can stan' bein' burnt out o' house 'n' home,
an' seein' pretty nigh every rag an' stick I
had in the world go kitin' up the chimney,
an' campin' out here in a barn — My Glory,
yes ! — an' as much more on top o' that, but,
I tell you flat-footed, I can't stomach Jee
Hagadorn, an' I won't!"
Abner continued to contemplate the re-
volted M'rye with displeased amazement
written all over his face. Once or twice I
170 THE COPPERHEAD
thought he was going to speak, but nothing
came of it. He only looked and looked, as if
he had the greatest difficulty in crediting
what he saw.
Finally, with a deep-chested sigh, he turned
again. " I s'pose this is still more or less of a
free country," he said. "If you're sot on it, I
can't hender you," and he began walking
once more toward me.
M'rye followed him out and put a hand on
his arm. " Don't go off like that, Abner ! "
she adjured him. " You know there ain't
nothin' in this whole wide world I wouldn't
do to please you — if I could ! But this thing
jest goes ag'in' nry grain. It's the way folks
are made. It's your nater to be forgivin' an'
do good to them that despitefully use you."
" No, it ain't ! " declared Abner, vigorously.
" No, sirree ! ' Hold fast ' is my nater. I
stan' out ag'in' my enemies till the last cow
comes home. But when they come wadin' in
through the snow, with their feet soppin' wet,
an' coughin' fit to turn themselves inside out,
an' their daughter is there, an' you've sort o'
made it up with her, an' we're all campin' out
in a barn, don't you see — "
" No, I can't see it," replied M'rye, regretful
THE UNWELCOME GUEST 171
but firm. " They always said we Rams wells
had Injun blood in us somewhere. An' when
I get an Injun streak on me, right down in
the marrow o' my bones, why, you musn't
blame me — or feel hard if — if I — "
"No-o," said Abner, with reluctant convic-
tion, " I s'pose not. I dare say you're actin'
accordin' to your lights. An' besides, he'll
be goin' the first thing after breakfast."
"An' you ain't mad, Abner?" pleaded
M'rye, almost tremulously, as if frightened at
the dimensions of the victory she had won.
" Why, bless your heart, no," answered the
farmer, with a glaring simulation of easy-
mindedness. " No — that's all right, mother ! "
Then with long heavy-footed strides the
farmer marched past me and out into the
If there was ever a more curious meal in
Dearborn County than that first breakfast of
ours in the barn, I never heard of it.
The big table was among the things saved
from the living-room, and Esther spread it
again with the cloth which had been in use
on the previous evening. There was the
stain of the tea which the Underwood girl
had spilled in the exitement of the supper's
rough interruption ; there were other marks
of calamit}^ upon it as well — the smudge of
cinders, for one thing, and a general diffused
effect of smokiness. But it was the only
table-cloth we had. The dishes, too, were a
queer lot, representing two or three sets of
widely differing patterns and value, other
portions of which we should never see again.
When it was announced that breakfast was
ready, Abner took his accustomed arm-chair
at the head of the table. He only half
THE BREAKFAST 173
turned bis head toward Hagadorn and said in
formal tones, over his shoulder, " Won't you
draw up and have some breakfast?"
Jee was still sitting where he had planted
himself two hours or so before. He still wore
his round cap, with the tabs tied down
over his ears. In addition to his overcoat,
someone — probably his daughter — had
wrapped a shawl about his thin shoulders.
The boots had not come in, as yet, from the
stove, and the blanket was drawn up over
his stockinged feet to the knees. From time
to time his lips moved, as if he were reciting
scripture texts to himself, but so far as I
knew, he had said nothing to anyone. His
cough seemed rather worse than better.
" Yes, come, father ! " Esther added to the
farmer's invitation, and drew a chair back for
him two plates away from Abner. Thus ad-
jured he rose and hobbled stiffly over to the
place indicated, bringing his foot-blanket with
him. Esther stooped to arrange this for him
and then seated herself next the host.
" You see, I'm going to sit beside you, Mr.
Beech," she said, with a wan little smile.
" Glad to have you," remarked Abner,
174 THE COPPERHEAD
The Underwood girl brought in a first
plate of buckwheat cakes, set it down in
front of Abner, and took her seat opposite
Hagadorn and next to me. There remained
three vacant places, down at the foot of the
table, and though we all began eating with-
out comment, everybody continually encoun-
tered some other's glance straying significantly
toward these empty seats. Janey Wilcox,
very straight and with an uppish air, came
in with another plate of cakes and marched
out again in tell-tale silence.
" Hurley ! Come along in here an' git
your breakfast ! "
The farmer fairly roared out this command,
then added in a lower, apologetic tone : " I
'spec' the women-folks 've got their hands
full with that broken-down old stove."
We all looked toward the point, half-way
down the central barn-floor, where the demo-
crat wagon, drawn crosswise, served to divide
our improvised living-room and kitchen.
Through the wheels, and under its uplifted
pole, we could vaguely discern two petti-
coated figures at the extreme other end,
moving about the stove, the pipe of which was
carried up and out through a little window
THE BREAKFAST 175
above the door. Then Hurley appeared, duck-
ing his head under the wagon-pole.
"I'm aitin' out here, convanient to the
stove," he shouted from this dividing-line.
" No, come and take your proper place ! "
bawled back the farmer, and Hurley had
nothing to do but obey. He advanced with
obvious reluctance, and halted at the foot of
the table, eying with awkward indecision
the three vacant chairs. One was M'rye's;
the others would place him either next to
the hated cooper or diagonally opposite,
where he must look at him all the while.
"Sure, I'm better out there ! " he ventured
to insist, in a wheedling tone; but Abner
thundered forth an angry "No, sir!" and
the Irishman sank abruptly into the seat
beside Hagadorn. From this place he eyed
the Underwood girl with a glare of con-
temptuous disapproval. I learned afterward
that M'rye and Janey Wilcox regarded her
desertion of them as the meanest episode of
the whole miserable morning, and beguiled
their labors over the stove by recounting to
each other all the low-down qualities illus-
trated by the general history of her " sap-
176 THE COPPERHEAD
Meanwhile conversation languished.
With the third or fourth instalment of
cakes, Janey Wilcox had halted long enough
to deliver herself of a few remarks, sternly
limited to the necessities of the occasion.
" M'rye says," she declaimed, coldly, looking
the while with great fixedness at the hay-
wall, "if the cakes are sour she can't help
it. We saved what was left over of the bat-
ter, but the Graham flour and the sody are
both burnt up," and with that stalked out
Not even politeness could excuse the pre-
tence on anyone's part that the cakes were
not sour, but Abner seized upon the general
subject as an opening for talk.
" 'Member when I was a little shaver," he
remarked, with an effort at amiability, " my
sisters kicked about havin' to bake the cakes,
on account of the hot stove makin' their faces
red an' spoilin' their complexions, an' they
wanted specially to go to some fandango or
other, an' look their pootiest, an' so father
sent us boys out into the kitchen to bake 'em
instid. Old Lorenzo Dow, the Methodist
preacher, was stoppin' over-night at our
house, an' mother was jest beside herself to
THE BREAKFAST 177
have everything go off ship-shape — an' then
them cakes begun comin' in. Fust my
brother William, he baked one the shape of a
horse, an' then Josh, he made one like a jack-
ass with ears as long as the griddle would
allow of lengthwise, and I'd got jest com-
fortably started in on one that I begun as a
pig, an' then was going to alter into a ship
with sails up, when father, he come out with
a hold-back strap, an' — well — mine never
got finished to this day. Mother, she was
mortified most to death, but old Dow, he jest
lay back and laughed — laughed till you'd
thought he'd split himself."
"It was from Lorenzo Dow's lips that I
had my first awakening call unto righteous-
ness," said Jee Hagadorn, speaking with
solemn unction in high, quavering tones.
The fact that he should have spoken at all
was enough to take even the sourness out of
Abner took up the ball with solicitous
promptitude. " A very great man, Lorenzo
Dow was — in his way," he remarked.
"By grace he was spared the shame and
humiliation," said Hagadorn, lifting his voice
as he went on — " the humiliation of living to
178 THE COPPERHEAD
see one whole branch of the Church separate
itself from the rest — withdraw and call it-
self the Methodist Episcopal Church, South,
in defence of human slavery ! "
Esther, red-faced with embarrassment, in-
tervened peremptorily. " How can you,
father ! " she broke in. " For all you know
he might have been red-hot on that side him-
self ! In fact, I dare say he would have been.
How on earth can you know to the contrary,
anyway ? "
Jee was all excitement on the instant, at
the promise of an argument. His eyes
flashed ; he half rose from his seat and opened
his mouth to reply. So much had he to say,
indeed, that the words stumbled over one
another on his tongue, and produced nothing,
but an incoherent stammering sound, which
all at once was supplanted by a violent fit of
coughing. So terrible were the paroxysms
of this seizure that when they had at last
spent their fury the poor man was trembling
like a leaf and toppled in his chair as if about
to swoon. Esther had hovered about over
him from the outset of the fit, and now looked
up appealingly to Abner. The farmer rose,
walked down the table-side, and gathered
THE BREAKFAST 179
Jee's fragile form up under one big engird-
ling arm. Then, as the girl hastily dragged
forth the tick and blankets again and spread
them into the rough semblance of a bed,
Abner half led, half carried the cooper
over and gently laid him down thereon.
Together they fixed up some sort of pillow
for him with hay under the blanket, and
piled him snugly over with quilts and my
"There — you'll be better layin' down,"
said Abner, soothingly. Hagadorn closed
his eyes wearily and made no answer. They
left him after a minute or two and returned
to the table.
The rest of the breakfast was finished al-
most wholly in silence. Every once in a
while Abner and Esther would exchange
looks, his gravely kind, hers gratefully con-
tented, and these seemed really to render
speech needless. For my own part, I foresaw
with some degree of depression that there
would soon be no chance whatever of my
securing attention in the rSle of an invalid,
at least in this part of the barn.
Perhaps, however, they might welcome me
in the kitchen part, as a sort of home-product
180 THE COPPERHEAD
rival to the sick cooper. I rose and walked
languidly out into M'rye's domain. But the
two women were occupied with a furious
scrubbing of rescued pans for the morning's
milk, and they allowed me to sit feebly down
on the wood-box behind the stove without so
much as a glance of sympathy.
By and by we heard one of the great front
doors rolled back on its shrieking wheels and
then shut to again. Someone had entered,
and in a moment there came some strange,
inarticulate sounds of voices which showed
that the arrival had created a commotion.
M'rye lifted her head, and I shall never for-
get the wild, expectant flashing of her black
eyes in that moment of suspense.
" Come in here, mother ! " we heard Abner's
deep voice call out from beyond the democrat
wagon. " Here's somebody wants to see
M'rye swiftly wiped her hands on her
apron and glided rather than walked toward
the forward end of the barn. Janey Wilcox
and I followed close upon her heels, dodging
together under the wagon-pole, and emerging,
breathless and wild with curiosity, on the
fringe of an excited group.
THE BREAKFAST 181
In the centre of this group, standing with
a satisfied smile on his face, his general ap-
pearance considerably the worse for wear,
but in demeanor, to quote M'rye's subse-
quent phrase, "as cool as Cuffy," was Ni
" He's all right ; you can look for him
here right along now, any day; he ivas hurt
a leetle, but he's as peart an' chipper now as
a blue-jay on a hick'ry limb ; yes, he's a-comin'
right smack home ! "
This was the gist of the assurances which
Ni vouchsafed to the first rush of eager ques-
tions — to his sister, and JM'rye, and Janey
Abner had held a little aloof, to give the
weaker sex a chance. Now he reasserted
himself once more : " Stan' back, now, and
give the young man breathin' room. Janey,
hand a chair for'ard — that's it. Now set ye
down, Ni, an' take your own time, an' tell us
all about it. So you reely found him, eh ? "
" Pshaw ! there ain't anything to that,"
expostulated Ni, seating himself with non-
chalance, and tilting back his chair. " That
was easy as rollin' off a log. But what's the
matter here ? That's what knocks me. We
— that is to say, I — come up on a freight
train to a ways beyond Juno Junction, an'
got the conductor to slow up and let me drop
off, an' footed it over the hill. It was jest
about broad daylight when I turned the
divide. Then I began lookin' for your house,
an' I'm lookin' for it still. There's a hole out
there, full o' snow an' smoke, but nary a
house. How'd it happen ? "
" 'Lection bonfire — high wind — wood-
shed must 'a' caught," replied Abner, senten-
tiously. " So you reely got down South, eh ? "
" An' Siss here, too," commented Ni, with
provoking disregard for the farmer's sugges-
tions ; " a reg'lar family party. An', hello ! "
His roving eye had fallen upon the recum-
bent form on the made-up bed, under the
muffling blankets, and he lifted his sandy
wisps of eyebrows in inquiry.
" Sh ! It's father," explained Esther. "He
isn't feeling very well. I think he's asleep."
The boy's freckled, whimsical face melted
upon reflection into a distinct grin. " Why,"
he said, "you've been havin' a reg'lar old
love-feast up here. I guess it was that that
set the house on fire ! An' speakin' o' feasts,
184 THE COPPERHEAD
if you've got a mouthful o' somethin' to eat
handy — "
The women were off like a shot to the
impromptu larder at the far end of the barn.
" Well, thin," put in Hurley, taking advan-
tage of their absence, " an' had ye the luck to
see anny rale fightin' ? "
"Never mind that," said Abner; "when
he gits around to it he'll tell us everything.
But, fust of all — why, he knows what I want
to hear about."
"Why, the last time I talked with you,
Abner — " Ni began, squinting up one of
his eyes and giving a quaint drawl to his
" That's a good while ago," said the farmer,
"Things have took a change, eh?" in-
" That's neither here nor there," replied
Abner, somewhat testily. " You oughtn't to
need so dummed much explainin'. I've told
you what I want specially to hear. An' that's
what we all want to hear."
When the women had returned, and Ni,
with much deliberation, had filled both hands
with selected eatables, the recital at last got
under way. Its progress was blocked from
time to time by sheer force of tantalizing
perversity on the part of the narrator, and it
suffered steadily from the incidental hitches
of mastication ; but such as it was we
listened to it with all our ears, sitting or
standing about, and keeping our eyes intently
upon the freckled young hero.
"It wasn't so much of a job to git down
there as I'd figured on," Ni said, between
mouthfuls. " I got along on freight trains
— once worked my way a while on a hand-
car — as far as Albany, an' on down to
New York on a river-boat, cheap, an' then,
after foolin' round a few days, I hitched up
with the Sanitary Commission folks, an' got
them to let me sail on one o' their boats round
to 'Napolis. I thought I was goin' to die
most o' the voyage, but I didn't, you see, an'
when I struck 'Napolis I hung around Camp
Parole there quite a spell, talkin' with fellers
that'd bin pris'ners down in Richmond an' got
exchanged an' sent North. They said there
was a whole slew of our fellers down there
still that'd been brought in after Antietam.
They didn't know none o' their names, but
they said they'd all be sent North in time, in
186 THE COPPERHEAD
exchange for Johnny Rebs that we'd cap-
tured. An' so I waited round — "
" You might have written ! " interrupted
" What'd bin the good o' writin' ? I
hadn't anything to tell. Besides writin' let-
ters is for girls. Well, one day a man come
up from Libby — that's the prison at Rich-
mond — an' he said there ivas a tall feller
there from York State, a farmer, an' he died.
He thought the name was Birch, but it might
'a' been Beech — or Body-Maple, for that
matter. I s'pose you'd like to had me write
that home ! "
" No — oh, no ! " murmured Esther, speak-
ing the sense of all the company.
" Well, then I waited some more, an' kep'
on waitin', an' then waited ag'in, until bimeby,
one fine day, along comes Mr. Blue-jay him-
self. There he was, stan'in' up on the paddle-
box with a face on him as long as your arm,
an' I sung out, ' Way there, Agrippa Hill ! '
an' he come mighty nigh fallin' head over
heels into the water. So then he come off,
an' we shook han's, an' went up to the com-
missioners to see about his exchange, an' —
an' as soon's that's fixed, an' the papers drawn
up all correct, Avhy, he'll come home. An'
that's all there is to it."
" And even then you never wrote ! " said
" Hold on a minute," put in Abner. " You
say he's comin' home. That wouldn't be
unless he was disabled. They'd keep him to
fight ag'in, till his time was up. Come, now,
tell the truth — he's be'n hurt bad ! "
Ni shook his unkempt red head. "No,
no," he said. " This is how it was. Fust he
was fightin' in a cornfield, an' him an' Bi
Truax, they got chased out, an' lost their
regiment, an' got in with some other fellers,
and then they all waded a creek breast-high,
an' had to run up a long stretch o' slopin'
ploughed ground to capture a battery they
was on top o' the knoll. But they didn't see
a regiment of sharp-shooters layin' hidden
behind a rail fence, an' these fellers riz up
all to once an' give it to 'em straight, an'
they wilted right there, an' laid down, an'
there they was after dusk when the rebs
come out an' started lookin' round for guns
an' blankets an' prisoners. Most of 'em was
dead, or badly hurt, but they was a few who'd
simply lain there in the hollow because it'd
188 THE COPPERHEAD
have bin death to git up. An' Jen was one
o' them.' 1 ''
" You said yourself 't he had been hurt —
some," interposed M'rye, with snapping eyes.
" Jest a scratch on his arm," declared Ni.
"Well, then they marched the well ones
back to the rear of the reb line, an' there
they jest skinned 'em of everything they had
— watch an' jack-knife an' wallet an' every-
thing — an' put 'em to sleep on the bare
ground. Next day they started 'em out on
the march toward Richmond, an' after four
or five days o' that, they got to a railroad,
and there was cattle cars for 'em to ride
the rest o' the way in. An' that's how it
" No," said Abner, sternly ; " you haven't
told us. How badly is he hurt ? "
" Well," replied Ni, " it was only a scratch,
as I said, but it got worse on that march, an'
I s'pose it wasn't tended to anyways de-
cently, an' so — an' so — "
M'rye had sprung to her feet and stood
now drawn up to her full height, with her
sharp nose in air as if upon some strange
scent, and her eyes fairly glowing in eager
excitement. All at once she made a bound
past us and ran to the doors, furiously dig-
ging her fingers in the crevice between them,
then, with a superb sweep of the shoulders,
sending them both rattling back on their
wheels with a bang.
" I knew it ! " she screamed in triumph.
We who looked out beheld M'rye's black
hair and brown calico dress suddenly suffer
a partial eclipse of pale blue, which for the
moment seemed in some way a part of the
bright winter sky beyond. Then we saw
that it was a soldier who had his arm about
M'rye, and his cap bent down tenderly over
the head she had laid on his shoulder.
Our Jeff had come home.
A general instinct rooted us to our places
and kept us silent, the while mother and son
stood there in the broad open doorway.
Then the two advanced toward us, M'rye
breathing hard, and with tears and smiles
struggling together on her face under the
shadow of a wrathful frown. We noted
nothing of Jeff's appearance save that he
had grown a big yellow beard, and seemed
to be smiling. It was the mother's dis-
traught countenance at which we looked
190 THE COPPERHEAD
She halted in front of Abner, and lifted
the blue cape from Jeff's left shoulder, with
an abrupt gesture.
" Look there ! " she said, hoarsely. " See
what they've done to my boy ! "
We saw now that the left sleeve of Jeff's
army-overcoat was empty and hung pinned
against his breast. On the instant we were
all swarming about him, shaking the hand
that remained to him and striving against
one another in a babel of questions, com-
ments, and expressions of sympathy with his
loss, satisfaction at his return. It seemed
the most natural thing in the world that he
should kiss Esther Hagadorn, and that Janey
Wilcox should reach up on tiptoes and kiss
him. When the Underwood girl would have
done the same, however, M'rye brusquely
shouldered her aside.
So beside ourselves with excitement were
we all, each in turn seeking to get in a word
edgewise, that no one noticed the approach
and entrance of a stranger, who paused just
over the threshold of the barn and coughed
in a loud perfunctory way to attract our
attention. I had to nudge Abner twice
before he turned from where he stood at
Jeff's side, with his hand on the luckless
shoulder, and surveyed the new-comer.
The sun was shining so brightly on the
snow outside, that it was not for the moment
easy to make out the identity of this shad-
owed figure. Abner took a forward step or
two before he recognized his visitor. It was
Squire Avery, the rich man of the Corners,
and justice of the peace, who had once even
run for Congress.
"How d' do?" said Abner, shading his
eyes with a massive hand. " Won't you step
The Squire moved forward a little and
held forth his hand, which the farmer took
and shook doubtfully. We others were as
silent now as the grave, feeling this visit to
be even stranger than all that had gone
"I drove up right after breakfast, Mr.
Beech," said the Squire, making his accus-
tomed slow delivery a trifle more pompous
and circumspect than usual, "to express to
you the feeling of such neighbors as I have,
in this limited space of time, being able to
foregather with. I believe, sir, that I may
speak for them all when I say that we regret,
192 THE COPPERHEAD
deplore, and contemplate with indignation
the outrage and injury to which certain
thoughtless elements of the community last
night, sir, subjected you and your house-
"It's right neighborly of you, Square, to
come an' say so," remarked Abner. " Won't
you set down ? You see, my son Jeff's jest
come home from the war, an' the house bein'
burnt, an' so on, we're rather upset for the
The Squire put on his spectacles and
smiled with surprise at seeing Jeff. He
shook hands with him warmly, and spoke
with what we felt to be the right feeling
about that missing arm ; but he could not sit
down, he said. The cutter was waiting for
him, and he must hurry back.
" I am glad, however," he added, " to have
been the first, Mr. Beech, to welcome your
brave son back, and to express to you the
hope, sir, that with this additional link of
sympathy between us, sir, bygones may be
allowed to become bygones."
" I don't bear no ill will," said Abner,
guardedly. " I s'pose in the long run folks
act pooty close to about what they think is
right. I'm willin' to give 'em that credit —
the same as I take to myself. They ain't
been much disposition to give me that credit,
but then, as our school-ma'am here was a
sayin' last night, people 've been a good deal
worked up about the war — havin' them that's
close to 'em right down in the thick of it —
an' I dessay it was natural enough they should
git hot in the collar about it. As I said afore,
I don't bear no ill will — though prob'ly I'm
The Squire shook hands with Abner again.
"Your sentiments, Mr. Beech," he said, in
his stateliest manner, " do credit alike to your
heart and your head. There is a feeling, sir,
that this would be an auspicious occasion for
you to resume sending your milk to the
Abner pondered the suggestion for a
moment. "It would be handier," he said,
slowly ; " but, you know, I ain't goin' to eat
no humble pie. That Rod Bidwell was
downright insultin' to my man, an' me
" It was all, I assure you, sir, an unfortu-
nate misunderstanding," pursued the Squire,
"and is now buried deep in oblivion. And
194 THE COPPERHEAD
it is further suggested, that, when you have
reached that stage of preparation for your
new house, if you will communicate with me,
the neighbors will be glad to come up and
extend their assistance to you in what is com-
monly known as a raising-bee. They will
desire, I believe, to bring with them their
own provisions. And, moreover, Mr. Beech"
— here the Squire dropped his oratorical
voice and stepped close to the farmer — " if
this thing has cramped you any, that is to
say, if you find yourself in need of — of —
any accommodation — "
" No, nothin' o' that sort," said Abner.
He stopped at that, and kept silence for a
little, with his head down and his gaze medi-
tatively fixed on the barn floor. At last he
raised his face and spoke again, his deep voice
shaking a little in spite of itself.
" What you've said, Square, an' your comin'
here, has done me a lot o' good. It's pooty
nigh wuth bein' burnt out for — to have this
sort o' thing come on behind as an after-clap.
Sometimes, I tell you, sir, I've despaired o'
the republic. I admit it, though it's to my
shame. I've said to myself that when Ameri-
can citizens, born an' raised right on the same
hill-side, got to behavin' to each other in such
an all-fired mean an' cantankerous way, why,
the hull blamed thing wasn't worth tryin' to
save. But you see I was wrong — I admit I
was wrong. It was jest a passin' flurry — a
kind o' snow-squall in hayin' time. All the
while, right down't the bottom, their hearts
was sound an' sweet as a butter-nut. It
fetches me — that does — it makes me prouder
than ever I was before in all my born days
to be an American — yes, sir — that's the
way I — I feel about it."
There were actually tears in the big
farmer's eyes, and he got out those finishing
words of his in fragmentary gulps. None of
us had ever seen him so affected before.
After the Squire had shaken hands again
and started off, Abner stood at the open door,
looking after him, then gazing in a comtem-
plative general way upon all out-doors. The
vivid sunlight reflected up from the melting
snow made his face to shine as if from an
inner radiance. He stood still and looked
across the yards with their piles of wet straw
smoking in the forenoon heat, and the black
puddles eating into the snow as the thaw
went on; over the further prospect, made
196 THE COPPERHEAD
weirdly unfamiliar by the disappearance of
the big old farm-house ; down the long broad
sloping hill-side with its winding road, its
checkered irregular patches of yellow stubble
and stacked fodder, of deep umber ploughed
land and warm gray woodland, all pushing
aside their premature mantle of sparkling
white, and the scattered homesteads and red
barns beyond — and there was in his eyes the
far-away look of one who saw still other
He turned at last and came in, walking
over to where Jeff and Esther stood hand in
hand beside the bed on the floor. Old Jee
Hagadorn was sitting up now, and had ex-
changed some words with the couple.
" Well, Brother Hagadorn," said the
farmer, " I hope you're feelin' better."
" Yes, a good deal — B — Brother Beech,
thank'ee," replied the cooper, slowly and
Abner laid a fatherly hand on Esther's
shoulder and another on Jeff's. A smile
began to steal over his big face, broadening
the square which his mouth cut down into
his beard, and deepening the pleasant
wrinkles about his eyes. He called M'rye
over to the group with beckoning nod of the
" It's jest occurred to me, mother," he said,
with the mock gravity of tone we once had
known so well and of late had heard so little
— "I jest be'n thinkin' we might 'a' killed
two birds with one stun while the Square
was up here. He's justice o' the peace, you
know — an' they say them kindo' marriages
turn out better'n all the others."
" Go 'long with yeh ! " said M'rye, viva-
ciously. But she too put a hand on Esther's
The school-teacher nestled against M'rye's
side. " I tell you what," she said, softly,
" if Jeff ever turns out to be half the man his
father is, I'll just be prouder than my skin
J. S. Cushing- & Co. — Berwick & Smith.
Boston, Mass., U.S.A.
THE LIBRARY OF THE