Crittenden: A Kentucky Story of Love and War
| CRITTENDEN |
A KENTUCKY STORY OF
LOVE AND WAR
JOHN FOX, JR.
F. GRAHAM COOTES
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Copyright, 1900, by
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
THE MASTER OF
|John Fox, Jr. (from a photograph)||Frontispiece|
|"Go on!" said Judith.||77|
|"Nothin', Ole Cap'n—jes doin' nothin'—jes lookin' for you."||132|
Day breaking on the edge of the Bluegrass and birds singing the dawn in.Ten minutes swiftly along the sunrise and the world is changed: fromnervous exaltation of atmosphere to an air of balm and peace; from grimhills to the rolling sweep of green slopes; from a high mist of thinverdure to low wind-shaken banners of young leaves; from giant poplar towhite ash and sugar-tree; from log-cabin to homesteads of brick andstone; from wood-thrush to meadow-lark; rhododendron to bluegrass; frommountain to lowland, Crittenden was passing home.
He had been in the backwoods for more than a month, ostensibly to fishand look at coal lands, but, really, to get away for a while, as hiscustom was, from his worse self to the better self that he was when hewas in the mountains—alone. As usual, he had gone in with bitternessand, as usual, he had set his face homeward[Pg 2] with but half a heart forthe old fight against fate and himself that seemed destined always toend in defeat. At dusk, he heard the word of the outer world from thelips of an old mountaineer at the foot of the Cumberland—the firstheard, except from his mother, for full thirty days—and the wordwas—war. He smiled incredulously at the old fellow, but, unconsciously,he pushed his horse on a little faster up the mountain, pushed him, asthe moon rose, aslant the breast of a mighty hill and, winding at agallop about the last downward turn of the snaky path, went at fullspeed alongside the big gray wall that, above him, rose sheer a thousandfeet and, straight ahead, broke wildly and crumbled into historicCumberland Gap. From a little knoll he saw the railway station in theshadow of the wall, and, on one prong of a switch, his train pantinglazily; and, with a laugh, he pulled his horse down to a walk and thento a dead stop—his face grave again and uplifted. Where his eyes restedand plain in the moonlight was a rocky path winding upward—the oldWilderness Trail that the Kentucky pioneers had worn with moccasinedfeet more than a century before. He had seen it a hundred timesbefore—moved always; but it thrilled him now, and he rode on slowly,looking up at it. His forefathers had[Pg 3] helped blaze that trail. On oneside of that wall they had fought savage and Briton for a home and acountry, and on the other side they had done it again. Later, they hadfought the Mexican and in time they came to fight each other, for andagainst the nation they had done so much to upbuild. It was even truethat a Crittenden had already given his life for the very cause that wasso tardily thrilling the nation now. Thus it had always been with hispeople straight down the bloody national highway from Yorktown toAppomattox, and if there was war, he thought proudly, as he swung fromhis horse—thus it would now be with him.
If there was war? He had lain awake in his berth a long while, lookingout the window and wondering. He had been born among the bleedingmemories of one war. The tales of his nursery had been tales of war. Andthough there had been talk of war through the land for weeks before heleft home, it had no more seemed possible that in his lifetime couldcome another war than that he should live to see any other myth of hischildhood come true.
Now, it was daybreak on the edge of the Bluegrass, and, like a darktruth from a white light, three tall letters leaped from the paper inhis hand—War! There was a token in the very dawn, a sword-like flameflashing upward. The[Pg 4] man in the White House had called for willinghands by the thousands to wield it, and the Kentucky Legion, that hadfought in Mexico, had split in twain to fight for the North and for theSouth, and had come shoulder to shoulder when the breach was closed—theLegion of his own loved State—was the first body of volunteers to reachfor the hilt. Regulars were gathering from the four winds to an oldSouthern battlefield. Already the Legion was on its way to camp in theBluegrass. His town was making ready to welcome it, and among the namesof the speakers who were to voice the welcome, he saw his own—ClayCrittenden.
The train slackened speed and stopped. There was hishorse—Raincrow—and his buggy waiting for him when he stepped from theplatform; and, as he went forward with his fishing tackle, alivery-stable boy sprang out of the buggy and went to the horse's head.
"Bob lef' yo' hoss in town las' night, Mistuh Crittenden," he said."Miss Rachel said yestiddy she jes knowed you was comin' home thismornin'."
Crittenden smiled—it was one of his mother's premonitions; she seemedalways to know when he was coming home.
"Come get these things," he said, and went on with his paper.
Things had gone swiftly while he was in the hills. Old ex-Confederateswere answering the call from the Capitol. One of his father's oldcomrades—little Jerry Carter—was to be made a major-general. Among theregulars mobilizing at Chickamauga was the regiment to which Rivers, afriend of his boyhood, belonged. There,[Pg 6] three days later, his State wasgoing to dedicate two monuments to her sons who had fallen on the oldbattlefield, where his father, fighting with one wing of the Legion forthe Lost Cause, and his father's young brother, fighting with the otheragainst it, had fought face to face; where his uncle met death on thefield and his father got the wound that brought death to him years afterthe war. And then he saw something that for a moment quite blotted thewar from his brain and made him close the paper quickly. Judith had comehome—Judith was to unveil those statues—Judith Page.
The town was asleep, except for the rattle of milk-carts, the banging ofshutters, and the hum of a street-car, and Crittenden moved throughempty streets to the broad smooth turnpike on the south, where Raincrowshook his head, settled his haunches, and broke into the swinging trotpeculiar to his breed—for home.
Spring in the Bluegrass! The earth spiritual as it never is except undernew-fallen snow—in the first shy green. The leaves, a floating mist ofgreen, so buoyant that, if loosed, they must, it seemed, have floatedupward—never to know the blight of frost or the droop of age. The air,rich with the smell of new earth and sprouting grass, the long, lowskies newly washed and, through radiant distances, clouds light asthistledown[Pg 7] and white as snow. And the birds! Wrens in the hedges,sparrows by the wayside and on fence-rails, starlings poised overmeadows brilliant with glistening dew, larks in the pastures—allsinging as they sang at the first dawn, and the mood of nature thatperfect blending of earth and heaven that is given her children butrarely to know. It was good to be alive at the breaking of such aday—good to be young and strong, and eager and unafraid, when thenation called for its young men and red Mars was the morning star. Theblood of dead fighters began to leap again in his veins. His nostrilsdilated and his chin was raised proudly—a racial chord touched withinhim that had been dumb a long while. And that was all it was—the bloodof his fathers; for it was honor and not love that bound him to his ownflag. He was his mother's son, and the unspoken bitterness that lurkedin her heart lurked, likewise, on her account, in his.
On the top of a low hill, a wind from the dawn struck him, and the paperin the bottom of the buggy began to snap against the dashboard. Hereached down to keep it from being whisked into the road, and he sawagain that Judith Page had come home. When he sat up again, his face wasquite changed. His head fell a little forward, his shoulders drooped[Pg 8]slightly and, for a moment, his buoyancy was gone. The corners of themouth showed a settled melancholy where before was sunny humour. Theeyes, which were dreamy, kindly, gray, looked backward in a morbid glowof concentration; and over the rather reckless cast of his features, layat once the shadow of suffering and the light of a great tenderness.Slowly, a little hardness came into his eyes and a little bitternessabout his mouth. His upper lip curved in upon his teeth withself-scorn—for he had had little cause to be pleased with himself whileJudith was gone, and his eyes showed now how proud was the scorn—and heshook himself sharply and sat upright. He had forgotten again. That partof his life belonged to the past and, like the past, was gone, and wasnot to come back again. The present had life and hope now, and thepurpose born that day from five blank years was like the sudden birth ofa flower in a desert.
The sun had burst from the horizon now and was shining through the topsof the trees in the lovely woodland into which Crittenden turned, andthrough which a road of brown creek-sand ran to the pasture beyond andthrough that to the long avenue of locusts, up which the noble porticoof his old homestead, Canewood, was visible among cedars and firs andold forest[Pg 9] trees. His mother was not up yet—the shutters of her windowwere still closed—but the servants were astir and busy. He could seemen and plough-horses on their way to the fields; and, that far away, hecould hear the sound of old Ephraim's axe at the woodpile, the noisesaround the barn and cowpens, and old Aunt Keziah singing a hymn in thekitchen, the old wailing cry of the mother-slave.
"Oh I wonder whur my baby's done gone,
An' I git on my knees an' pray."
The song stopped, a negro boy sprang out the kitchen-door and ran forthe stiles—a tall, strong, and very black boy with