The Earth Trembled by Edward Payson Roe
Chapter XLVIII. Good Brought Out of Evil
There were brave spirits and Heaven-sustained souls in the little camp which falls under our immediate observation; and outward calm was soon restored, yet it was long before any one could sleep again. Although she had trembled like a leaf, Mara had not left her watch by Mrs. Hunter, nor had Aun' Sheba till some moments after the shock. Then Mrs. Bodine joined the girl with soothing and reassuring words. She did not tell Mara, however, of Clancy's illness, feeling that no additional burden should be imposed until it was necessary. Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby sat together by the fire; so also did Ella, with her head upon her father's breast, as she told of the great joy which robbed the night of so much of its terror. Old Tobe, with Sam and Jube, crouched on the opposite side of the low, flickering blaze, which lighted up in odd effect the white wool and wrinkled visage of the aged negro. In some respects he and Mr. Houghton were alike. The scenes they were passing through toned down their fiery domineering spirits into resignation and fortitude.
George was restless, strong and inspired rather than awed by the recent events. He knew that Ella's eyes followed him as he came and went from his father's bedside, waited on Clancy, and made himself useful in other ways. A man would be craven indeed who could not be brave under such circumstances.
Beyond his camp, scenes impossible to describe were taking place. White clergymen were going from group to group, and from shelter to shelter, speaking words of cheer and hope. Physicians were busy among those who needed physical aid; husbands soothing wives, and parents their sobbing children.
On the edge of the square near the street the groans and cries of a woman began to draw the restless people who always run to any point of disturbance.
"George," shouted Dr. Devoe. The young man responded promptly. "Keep this crowd away--the vulgar wretches!"
A woman of refinement and wealth, who with her husband had clung to their adjacent home until the last shock occurred, was in the throes of childbirth.
No one could stand a moment before the young man's words and aspect, and in a few moments he secured all the privacy possible.
Eventually he bore the almost swooning mother to the inner room under the awning, where a bed had been made for her, while Mrs. Bodine and Mrs. Willoughby cared for the child. The husband was so prostrated by anxiety for his wife as to be almost helpless himself.
Among a certain class of the negroes, to religious excitement was added the wild terror of the earthquake, and they were simply becoming frantic in their actions and expressions. George, Dr. Devoe, Mr. Willoughby and some others went to the large group of which old Hannah and two great burly exhorters were the inspiration. They commanded and implored them to be more quiet, but received only insolent replies.
"We'se savin' de city which de wickedness ob you white folks is 'stroyin'," one of the shepherds shouted; "an' we'se gwine to cry loud and mighty till mawnin'."
At this moment, George espied Uncle Sheba, who certainly appeared, in the general craze, to have a sense of his besetting sin; for he was yelling at the top of his lungs, "I'se gwine ter wuck in de mawnin'."
Suddenly there burst through the crowd an apparition before which he quailed; his jaw dropped and his howl degenerated into a groan. Aun' Sheba had heard and recognized his voice, and she went through the throng like a puffing tug through driftwood. "Mister Buggone," she said, with the sternness of fate, "ef yer doan stop yer noise you'se 'lowance stop heah and now. Yer'll hab ter wuck shuah or starbe, fer if yer doan come wid me now yer neber come agin."
Uncle Sheba went away with her, meek as a lamb.
The others were too frenzied even to notice this little scene. George, Mr. Willoughby, and some others were with difficulty restrained by the cooler Dr. Devoe. "Go with me to the station-house," he said. "In behalf of my patients I will demand that this nuisance be abated."
The officer on duty returned with them, backed by a resolute body of men. The two exhorters were told to take their choice between silence and the station-house. There is usually a good deal of selfish method in such leaders' madness, and they sullenly retired. Poor, demented Hannah was bundled away, and comparative quiet restored through the square.
The weary hours dragged on; the uneasy earth caused no further alarms that night. At last the dawn was again greeted with thankfulness beyond words.
There was no paper that morning, for compositors and pressmen could not be induced to work, and at first there was a feeling of great uncertainty and depression.
Mrs. Bodine's spirit was again like a cork on the surface. At breakfast she remarked, "We had an awful time last night, but here we are still alive, and able to take some nourishment. I expect the Northern papers will say that this wicked and rebellious old city is getting its deserts; but we shall soon have help and cheer from our Southern friends."
"I think you will find yourself mistaken, Mrs. Bodine, about the North," said George.
"Oh. you!" cried the old lady, laughing, "you look at the South through a pair of blue eyes. I reckon we shall have to send you and Ella North as missionaries."
George in his pride and happiness could not keep his secret, and had been congratulated with honest heartiness. He therefore responded gayly, "When I take Ella North even earthquakes won't keep young fellows from coming here to see if any more like her are left."
Again Ella remarked, nodding significantly, "Time will cure him, Cousin Sophy."
Nevertheless the illness of Mrs. Hunter and Clancy, and the precarious condition of the young mother, cast a gloom over the little party. Clancy's pulse indicated great exhaustion, and he only recognized people when he was spoken to. Dr. Devoe prohibited any one from going near him except himself and George. Miss Ainsley uttered no protest at this. She truly felt that after the events of the night all was over between them. In a sort of sullen shame she said little and longed only for the hour which would bring her father and escape.
Mr. Ainsley arrived during the morning, and George entertained him hospitably. His daughter clung to him, imploring him to take her away at the first possible moment. He was much distressed at Clancy's condition, and offered to take him North also; but Dr. Devoe said authoritatively, "He is too ill to be moved or even spoken to." Mrs. Willoughby and her husband were determined that Miss Ainsley should not give her father a false impression, and spoke freely of Clancy's great exertions. "Yes," added Dr. Devoe, "I feel guilty myself. He should have been taken in hand yesterday afternoon and compelled to be quiet in mind and body, but I had so many to look after, and he seemed the embodiment of energy and fearlessness. Well, it's too late now, and we must do the best we can for him."
That day Mr. Ainsley and his daughter left the city. She gave vivid descriptions of the catastrophe at the North, but her friends remarked upon her fine reserve and modesty in speaking of her personal experiences. Her faultless veneer was soon restored, and we suppose she is pursuing her career of getting the most and best out of life after a fashion which has too many imitators.
Poor Mara's name was significant of her experience of that day and others which followed. In the morning she learned of Clancy's illness, and it was eventually found that her voice and touch had a soothing effect possessed by no other.
We have followed our characters through the climax of their experiences, and need only to suggest what further happened. They, with others, realized more fully the conditions of their lot and the extent of the disaster.
With an ever-increasing courage and fortitude the people faced the situation, and resolved to build anew the fortunes of their city. Communication with the outside world permitted messages of sympathy and far more. In the Sunday morning issue of the "News and Courier" the following significant editorial appeared: "There is no break in the broad line of brotherly love throughout the United States. All hearts in this mighty country throb in unison. In the North as in the South, in the West as in the East, there is a sincere sorrow at the calamity which has befallen Charleston, and there is shining evidence of a beneficent desire to give the suffering people the assistance of both act and word."
Boston, the former headquarters of the abolitionists, and the veterans of the Grand Army vied with Southern cities and ex-Confederates in a spontaneous outpouring of sympathy and help. The hearts of a proud people were at last subdued, but it was by hands stretched out in fraternal love and not to strike.
In the city squares and other places of refuge there still continued sad and awful experiences, one of which was graphically described by the city editor of the journal already quoted.
At nearly midnight on Friday there had been a cessation in the shocks for about twenty-four hours, and the people were resting quietly. Then came a convulsion second only in severity to the first one which had wrought such widespread ruin. "It had scarcely died away," to quote from the account referred to, "before there rose through the still night air in the direction of the public squares and parks the now familiar but still terrible cries of thousands of wailing voices, united in one vast chorus, expressive only of the utmost human misery. For a while this sound was heard above all other sounds, suggesting vividly to the mind what has been told by survivors of the scene that follows the sinking of a great ship at sea, when its living freight is left struggling with the waves; and this impression was heightened to the distant auditor by the gradual diminution in the volume of the cries, as though voice after voice were being silenced, as life after life were quenched beneath the tossing waves."
Dr. Devoe advised Mr. Houghton to leave the city, but he said, "No, I shall remain with my children; I shall share in the fortunes of the city which is henceforth to be my home."
Mrs. Hunter did not long survive, but she became quiet and rational before her end. To Mara's imploring words she replied calmly, "No, my time is near; and I feel that it is best. I belong to the old order of things, and have lingered too long already. I may have been mistaken in my feelings, and wrong in my enmities, but I had great provocation. Now I forgive as I hope to be forgiven. God grant, dear child, that you may have brighter days."
A sad little company followed her to the cemetery, and as they laid her to rest, they also spread over her memory the mantle of a broad, loving charity.
For a time it seemed as if brighter days could never come to Mara, for Clancy's life flickered like the light of an expiring candle. At last the fever broke and he became rational, the pure, open air conducing to his recovery. He was very weak and his convalescence was slow, measuring the mental and physical strain through which he had passed. Never had a poor mortal more faithful watchers, never was life wooed back from the dark shore by more devoted love. "Live, live," was ever the language of Mara's eyes, and happiness gave him the power to live.
Captain Bodine carried out both the letter and spirit of his note. While he was very gentle, he was also very firm with Mara, expressing only paternal affection and also exerting paternal authority. At proper times he told her to go and rest in tones which she obeyed.
One day when Clancy was able to sit up a little, he took her aside and said, "Mara, you and Mr. Clancy are in one sense comparatively alone in the world, although you have many stanch friends. His health, almost his life, requires the faithful, watchful care which you can best give, and which you are entitled to give. It is his wish and mine, also Cousin Sophy's, that you should be married at once."
Again she gave him that luminous look which he so well remembered--an expression so full of homage, affection and sympathy that for the first time tears came into his eyes. "There, my child," he said, "you have repaid me, you have compensated me for everything. There is no need of words"--and he turned hastily away.
When the sun was near the horizon Mara was married, not in old St. Michael's, as her mother had been, but in the large tent which of late had sheltered her lover. Her pastor employed the old sacred words to which her mother had responded; and Captain Bodine, with the impress of calm, victorious manhood on his brow, gave her away in the presence of the little group of those who knew her best and loved her most. We may well believe from that time forth her gentleness and happiness would change the meaning of her name.
At last all ventured back to their homes. Mr. Houghton was so averse to parting with Ella that he equalled George in his impatience for the marriage. Aun' Sheba, who supervised preparations for the wedding breakfast, declared, "It am jes jolly ter see old Marse Houghton. As fer Missus Bodine, it pears as if she'd go off de han'l."
Then father and son took the blue-eyed bride to the North on a visit, in what George characterized as a "sort of triumphal procession."
The cabins of Aun' Sheba and Kern Watson were restored to a condition better than their former state, but Uncle Sheba discovered that the good old times of his wife's easy tolerance were gone. She put the case plainly, "Mr. Buggone, de Bible says dat dem dat doesn't wuck mus'n't eat, an' I'se gwine ter stick ter de Bible troo tick an' tin. You'se able to wuck as I be, an' you'se 'lowance now 'pends on you'se wuck."
We have already seen that Uncle Sheba was one of those philosophers who always submit to the inevitable.
Late one September night the moonbeams shone under the moss-draped branches of a live oak in a cemetery. They brought out in snowy whiteness a small headstone on which were engraved the words, "Yes, Vilet." Sitting by the grave and leaning his head against the stone was Kern Watson, but his calm, strong face was turned heavenward where his little girl waited for him "shuah."