The Earth Trembled by Edward Payson Roe
Chapter XLVI. "On Jordan's Banks We Stand"
Aunt Sheba had succeeded fairly well with the dinner, considering the materials and the appliances available. Not one, however, was disposed to epicurean fastidiousness. The situation was gravely discussed, and the experiences of friends related. Dr. Devoe gave cheering assurances that injury to life and limb had been far less than might have been expected. "The first shock could scarcely have come at a better time," he said. "If it had happened when the streets were full of people, one shudders to think of the number that would have been killed or maimed. The fact is, the great majority of casualties appear to have occurred as people were leaving their houses."
Mrs. Hunter received much attention from him, and she continued so ill that Mara did not leave her. Bodine became convinced that a chance to speak with Mara in private might not be obtained very speedily, and therefore, with kindly consideration for her feelings, resolved to write that afternoon. He had nothing at hand better than pencil and note-book. He wrote:
"MY DEAR MARA--You have so many sorrows and anxieties now that I cannot wait longer in my effort to relieve you of one of them. You should have been more frank with me; yet, so far from reproaching you, I only remember that you are the daughter of my dearest friend, and that you need me as protector and father rather than as lover. I appreciate your motive to sacrifice yourself for my sake. Perhaps you will remember that I have warned you against this noble impulse of self-sacrifice--a tendency, however, which may be carried much too far. You utterly misjudge me if you think I would consciously accept any such sacrifice on your part. As far as I am concerned you are free from any obligation whatever, except that of trusting me, and coming to me as Ella does, as nearly as you can. You need a stanch and faithful protector against yourself, and such will be HUGH BODINE."
Ella carried this missive into the little tent set apart for Mrs. Hunter. When Mara read the note she hid it in her bosom, and buried her face in her hands. Ella tried to soothe her, assuring her that she knew how it had all come about, and that it would make no difference in her love.
"Oh, Ella!" Mara sobbed, "my pride needed humbling, and I am overwhelmed in very truth. I thought I was superior to you, and that my course was so heroic. The result is I have wronged and made unhappy your father, the man I honor most in all the world. Oh, I feel now that it would have been better if I had been buried under the ruins."
"Mara," said Ella firmly, "this is a time when we must make the best of everything--when we should not waste our strength in grieving over what cannot be helped. Papa has explained everything to me, and you will only wound him further if you do not comply with his wishes. He is very resolute; and, in a matter of this kind, you could not move him a hair's-breadth. Please do just what he asks now, and let time make future duty clearer."
Bodine was not astray in thinking that his note would relieve Mara's mind. Sad and humiliated as she was, his words had taken her from a false position, and would enable her to give him the filial love and homage with which her heart overflowed. Even if Clancy escaped from his entanglement, which she much doubted, she felt that both should pay the penalty of their errors in long probation.
As the afternoon wore away Mrs. Willoughby and Mrs. Bodine took some much-needed rest. Clancy went down town to look after his own affairs. Mr. Houghton had a consultation with his confidential man of business, at which George was present. Then the young fellow busied himself in perfecting the camp appointments and securing more provisions.
Kern Watson and his family, Aun' Sheba and her husband, with old Tobe and a few friends and neighbors, knelt around the remains of little Vilet as Mr. Birdsall offered a prayer. Bodine, Ella, and George, with his two servants, were also present. Then the minister and a few others helped the stricken father to bury his child. After the brief service the captain told Ella that she must go and rest till he called her.
George ventured to walk back with the tearful girl and to say, "Miss Bodine, you seem to have a hand to help and a heart to feel with every one."
"I should be callous indeed," she replied, "if I did not grieve at the death of that little girl. She aided in my effort to earn a livelihood. I saw her daily, and no one could help becoming fond of her, she was so good, and gentle, and quiet. Her poor father--how I pity him! The mute anguish in his face was overpowering. He is the most quiet, but he grieves the most, and will never get over it."
"I think you are right, Miss Bodine. I don't believe your intuitions would often lead you astray."
"I am very matter-of-fact," Ella replied.
"If I admit that, I must also add that one would have to do his level best to furnish the kind of facts you would approve of."
"And I must also add, Mr. Houghton, that you are furnishing them in plenty. I can never try to thank you, for I shouldn't know where to begin, or when to leave off."
"Please leave off now. Oh, Miss Bodine! I am so grateful for your kindness to my father, and he is just as pleased as I am."
"Ah! I've at last caught you in a bit of selfishness," she said with a piquant smile. "You would keep the privilege of thanking people while denying it to me;" and she vanished before he could reply.
"Oh!" he groaned inwardly, "if any of these Southern fellows carry her off, I'm done for."
Miss Ainsley spent a very wretched afternoon. Clancy was away, Mrs. Willoughby worn out, and she was left chiefly to her own resources, which were meagre indeed under the circumstances. Instead of forgetting self in behalf of those less fortunate, she brooded over what she deemed neglect. Mr. Willoughby talked to her for a time after dinner, and then busied himself in helping others provide shelter against the coming night; loaning here and there some of the articles which he had brought from his home. Throughout the day multitudes had been making preparations to spend the night in the squares, vacant lots, and in spacious yards. Few had been so forehanded as George Houghton, who had the advantage of abundant means, and good, fearless help in his efforts. By this time, however, the square was well covered by almost every variety of hastily improvised shelters, and the rays of the late afternoon sun brought out rainbow hues, strange and picturesque effects, so diverse were the materials employed and the ingenuity in construction which had been exercised.
Clancy had been almost reckless in his disposition to enter buildings, a risk which few others would incur on that day. He returned after four o'clock with a large supply of provisions, which he believed might be difficult to obtain should the shocks continue with greater violence. So far from observing that he was pale from exhaustion, Miss Ainsley was inclined to be reproachful that he had remained away so long. He listened wearily for a time, then answered, "I did not think that I could be especially useful here. Men, like soldiers, must do what must be done. I have taken pains to learn in your behalf that telegraphic and railroad communication will soon be re-established, and I have arranged, as soon as a despatch can be sent, to have one forwarded to your father's last address, assuring him that you are safe."
"My father is not at the place of his last address. If he is alive, he is trying to reach me, and he will not leave me till he has taken me utterly away from all this horror and danger. I hope you are ready to leave Charleston now."
"Leave my native city in its present plight! Why, Miss Ainsley, that would be almost like running away and leaving my mother."
"Are brick and mortar more to you than I am?"
"Bricks and mortar do not make Charleston, but the people with whom I have always lived. I will certainly take you to a place of safety, if your father cannot; but my duty is here. I would not only lose the respect of every one, but also my own self-respect, if I did not cast in my lot with this people until every vestige of ruin has disappeared."
"I'm sure I never wish to see the place again," she replied sullenly.
"It would be unjust for me to expect that you should feel as I do about it; but I am a citizen, and you yourself would eventually despise me were I not faithful to my obligations."
This method of putting the case silenced her for the time. She knew that he had ascribed to her a higher conception of duty than she possessed, and she believed that he was also aware of the fact. Since she had gone so far with him she now wished him to be a blind, unquestioning lover, wholly devoted and ready to fly with her at the first opportunity. The very qualities which they had mutually admired were now seen on their seamy side. Her cosmopolitan spirit which led her to sigh, "Anywhere so it be not Charleston," was now at war with his feeling of almost passionate commiseration for his stricken birthplace; while she in turn found his unyielding nature and keen perceptions which had afforded such pleasure in overcoming and meeting were now not at all to her wishes. She had yielded to him as never before to any one, and was intensely chagrined that he was not wholly subservient to her. If he should not become so she could never think of him without humiliation. He had seen her undisguised in all her weakness. She had thrown herself into his arms and implored his protection almost as unreservedly as Mrs. Willoughby had clung to her husband. She had also left him when he was helpless, and again when he was ill and weak. What she required now, therefore, was a blind idolatry; and so many had offered this that she felt entitled to it, even though there should be no such devotion on her part. If, in any sense, he should be critic as well as lover, he could make her exceedingly uncomfortable; and she had a growing perception that he was comparing her with others, that there was a lack of warmth in his words and manner, which even the circumstances could not extenuate. She resolved, therefore, to teach him that she would tolerate nothing halfway in his conduct. She was sitting on a chair while he reclined at her feet, and she determined that he should be at her feet in a sense which had large meanings to her. So she rose and said coldly, "Mr. Clancy, you seem to have so many obligations that I scarcely know where I come in."
Then she went toward the awning, intending to withdraw herself from his society until he should become sufficiently humble. He rose in strong irritation, too weary even to be patient. At this instant the shock which occurred at 5.16 passed over the city. In a second all her purposes vanished; her abject terror returned, and she threw herself on his breast, and sobbing, buried her face on his shoulder. Mrs. Willoughby also fled to her husband. As Mrs. Hunter had seemed quieter Aun' Sheba had been watching in the place of Mara, who had sought a little rest beneath the awning. She now came hastily out, but Clancy would not encounter her eyes. Indeed, his false position overwhelmed him with increasing shame and confusion. He resolved in a sort of desperation to meet Miss Ainsley's requirements as far as possible until she was safe in her father's hands, and then to become free. If he had known how Mara's position enabled her to interpret his own he would have been more resigned.
The shock which occurred so late in the day was a sad preparation for the night, to which all looked forward with unspeakable dread. Such little confidence or cheerfulness as had been maintained was dissipated; weariness and deferred relief increased the general dejection; only the bravest could maintain their fortitude.
Mrs. Bodine's courage was due to a faith and a temperament which did not fail her. The veteran remained quiet and steady, with soldier-like endurance, but Ella was becoming exhausted. She had had very little sleep for a long time, and had passed through strong excitement. Indeed, all her powers had been taxed severely. While she had more physical and moral courage than most girls of her age possess, she, like the great majority, suffered much from fear at the recurrence of the shocks. As night came on she yielded to the general depression.
Aun' Sheba also had almost reached the limits of her powers, a fact she could not help showing as she set about preparations for supper. George instantly noted this. He had secured some rest the night before, and possessed great capabilities of endurance combined with an unusually fearless spirit. He also believed that this was his hour and opportunity, and that he could do more to win Ella's favor that night by brave cheerful effort than by any amount of love-making afterward. He little dreamed how completely won she was already. Her plan of receiving his "address" indefinitely had already lost its charms. She now simply longed to lean her weary head upon his shoulder and be petted and comforted a little. Unaware that the citadel could be had at any time for the asking, George began his sapping and mining operations with great vigor. He made Aun' Sheba sit down and give directions for supper, which he and his two colored men carried out. Mrs. Bodine was the only one who would jest with him, and he had a word of banter with her; and a cheery word for every one as occasion permitted.
"Bravo, George!" said Dr. Devoe, as they at last sat down to supper. "We vote you the Mark Tapley of this occasion. I'm so used up that I've only energy enough to drink a cup of coffee."
Ella was about to wait on Mr. Haughton as before, but George intercepted her, saying, "You are too tired."
"I would rather," she urged with downcast eyes. She bore the tray to the invalid, who looked at her very kindly, as he said, "You are worn out, my dear."
"Please don't speak that way," she faltered. "I'm just that silly and tired that I can't stand anything."
"You brave, noble girl! What haven't you stood and endured for the last few hours and weeks! I have a very guilty conscience, Miss Bodine, and you only can absolve me."
"No one must be kind to me to-night, or I shall break down utterly;" and dashing a tear away, she hastily withdrew.
George heaped her plate; but when he saw that she would touch nothing but her coffee, he looked at her with such deep solicitude in his face that she sprang up and fled to the sheltering awning, leaving him perplexed and troubled indeed. All were too well bred to make any remark upon this little side scene. At her post of observation by the fire, and although her eyes were full of tears, tributes to little Vilet, Aun' Sheba shook for a moment with suppressed laughter. Motherly Mrs. Bodine soon followed Ella, and taking her in her arms, said soothingly, "There, now, child, have a good cry, and you'll feel better. I wish to the Lord, though, that all the world had as little to cry about as you, my dear."
"That's what provokes me so, cousin. It's so silly and weak."
"Oh, well, Ella, you're done beat out, as Aun' Sheba says; and that's the only trouble--that and the blindness of yonder great boy, who expects to court you for months before venturing to stammer some incoherent nonsense. Now, a Southern man--"
"Cousin Sophy, I won't listen to such words," said Ella, the hot blood coming into her pale face. "He isn't a great boy; he's the bravest man I ever heard of. Now, when every one is giving out, he is only the braver and stronger. If he is absurd enough to be afraid of me--Well, you are the last one to speak so."
"There, there, child; this is my way of feeling your pulse and giving a little tonic," said Mrs. Bodine, laughing. "You have indications of strong vitality, as the doctor would say. Bless the big Vandal! If I were a girl, I'd set my cap at him myself."
"Oh, Cousin Sophy! Aren't you ashamed to work me up so? Well, that is the last glimmer of spunk that I can show to-night."
"If I could only manage to give him a hint of your weak and defenceless condition--"
"Cousin Sophy, if you do anything of the kind--" and she almost sprang to her feet.
The old lady pulled her back, stopped her mouth with kisses, as she said, "I won't tease you any more to-night." In a few moments she had soothed the girl to sleep.
George and Clancy now took full charge of the camp; for the members of their party, both white and black, were so exhausted and depressed as to be unequal to much exertion. Clancy seemed possessed by a sort of feverish restlessness. If he had been soothed and quieted when he returned in the afternoon, he would have passed the danger point unharmed; but his jaded body and mind had been stung into renewed action, and now he was fast losing the power to rest. Outraged Nature was beginning to take her revenge, but no one except Bodine observed the fact. Again putting self under his feet, he took Clancy aside, and said, "Pardon an old soldier, but experience in the field has taught me when a man must stop. Dr. Devoe is exhausted and asleep, or I would send him to you. So take honest advice from me. If you don't quiet your nerves and sleep, you'll have trouble."
Clancy, in grateful surprise, thanked him warmly, and said he would rest later on. His hope was that Miss Ainsley would retire, for in his present condition he felt that her voluble expressions of fear and general dissatisfaction would be intolerable. At this juncture some one came and said that a friend of his in another part of the square was ill and wished to see him. He explained and excused himself to Miss Ainsley, who replied only by a cold, reproachful glance.
The light of day faded; the stars shone calmly above the strange scene, where lamps and candles flickered dim and pale, like the hopes of those who had lighted them. The murmur of conversation was lost in the loud singing of hymns, prayers and exhortations on the part of the negroes.
Mr. Birdsall had gathered many of his flock about him, and was conducting a religious service in a fairly orderly manner. Both he and his people yielded somewhat to the intense excitement of the occasion, but it was his intention that the religious exercises should cease at a reasonable hour.
Kern, Sissy, and Aun' Sheba were sitting silently near him, and at last the minister said, "Bruder Watson, you an' your wife will feel bettah if you express you'se feelin's, an' sing a while. I reckon, if I say you an' you' wife will sing, they will be mo' quiet."
Kern assented to anything like a call of duty, and Mr. Birdsall resumed, "Fren's, in closin' de meetin' fer dis ebenin', Bruder an' Sista Watson will sing a hymn togeder; an' we, respectin' dere berebement, will listen. Dey have been greatly offlicted, for de Lawd has taken from dem de lam' of dere bosoms. I ask you all now to listen to de expression of dere faith in dis night ob sorrow. Den we mus' remembah dat de sick an' weak are in dis squar, and gib dem a chance to res'."
Kern lifted up his magnificent voice, charged with the pent-up feeling of his heart, and his wife joined him with her rich, powerful contralto.
"On Jordan's banks we stan', An Jordan's stream roll by; No bridge de watahs span, De flood am risin high. Heah it foam an' roar, de dark flood tide, How shel we cross to de oder side? "De riber deep an strong, De wabes am bery cole; We see it rush along, But who can venture bole? Heah it foam an' roar, etc. "A little chile step down; It go in de riber deep. Kin little feet touch groun' Whar mountain billows sweep? Heah dem foam an roar, etc. "Dere comes a flash ob light, Ober de cole dark wabes; Dere come de angels' flight-- See shinin' bans dat sabe, From de watah's foam, de dark flood tide, Fer de Lawd hab seen from de oder side. "Heah music swellin gran'; Yes, songs of welcome ring, White wings de riber span De little chile to bring. Den let ole Jordan roar, de dark flood tide; We'se borne across to de oder side."
The melodious duet rose and fell in great waves of sound, silencing all other voices. Contrary to Mr. Birdsall's expectations, religious fervor was only increased, and hoping to control it he asked Kern and Sissy to lead in several familiar hymns. The negroes throughout the square promptly responded, while not a few white refugees joined their voices to the mighty diapason of sound, which often swelled into grand harmonies.
Kern soon afterward went on duty for the night; Mr. Birdsall confined himself to quiet ministrations to his own people, and the leadership of the religious exercises fell into less judicious hands.