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March Geraldine Brooks Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and Richard and Judy pick.From the author of the acclaimed ‘Year of Wonders’ and ‘People of the Book’, a historical novel and love story set during a time of catastrophe on the front lines of the American Civil War.Set during the American Civil War, ‘March’ tells the story of John March, known to us as the father away from his family of girls in ‘Little Women’, Louisa May Alcott’s classic American novel. In Brooks’s telling, March emerges as an abolitionist and idealistic chaplain on the front lines of a war that tests his faith in himself and in the Union cause when he learns that his side, too, is capable of barbarism and racism. As he recovers from a near-fatal illness in a Washington hospital, he must reassemble the shards of his shattered mind and body, and find a way to reconnect with a wife and daughters who have no idea of the ordeals he has been through.As Alcott drew on her real-life sisters in shaping the characters of her little women, so Brooks turned to the journals and letters of Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s father, an idealistic educator, animal rights exponent and abolitionist who was a friend and confidante of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The story spans the vibrant intellectual world of Concord and the sensuous antebellum South, through to the first year of the Civil War as the North reels under a series of unexpected defeats.Like her bestselling ‘Year of Wonders’, ‘March’ follows an unconventional love story. It explores the passions between a man and a woman, the tenderness of parent and child, and the life-changing power of an ardently held belief. March Geraldine Brooks Copyright (#ulink_63c2cf21-793f-55d9-955b-ce5802688b9e) Fourth Estate An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) This edition published by Harper Perennial 2006 First published in Great Britain by Fourth Estate 2005 Copyright © Geraldine Brooks 2005 PS Section copyright © Louise Tucker 2006, except ‘Little Facts’ by Geraldine Brooks © Geraldine Brooks 2006 PS™ is a trademark of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. Geraldine Brooks asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins ebooks HarperCollinsPublishers has made every reasonable effort to ensure that any picture content and written content in this ebook has been included or removed in accordance with the contractual and technological constraints in operation at the time of publication Source ISBN: 9780007165872 Ebook Edition © MARCH 2010 ISBN: 9780007369225 Version: 2017-11-01 For Darleen and Cassie—by no means little women. Table of Contents Cover Page (#u05b926f6-b410-5274-b2c2-bd41b8fdcb97) Title Page (#u712bf0ed-53ac-5e83-ba8b-a2ef049eb70f) Copyright (#uc9c2051f-f809-559c-96d4-bf6eac140515) Dedication (#u80edb024-b884-5874-a441-43eb58642d2f) PART ONE (#u2c3642fa-a6d5-5a0f-9463-0854b1cf8d87) CHAPTER ONE Virginia Is a Hard Road (#uaabc6793-c45f-5791-993c-c2dea6830436) CHAPTER TWO A Wooden Nutmeg (#u67f9187f-4852-584a-a173-749b87d51760) CHAPTER THREE Scars (#ud209b3c3-1da0-5e23-be03-dfae8d87e5ad) CHAPTER FOUR A Little Hell (#u752cebc6-59b2-55eb-a07b-1dc4690cbad1) CHAPTER FIVE A Better Pencil (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER SIX Yankee Leavening (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER SEVEN Bread and Shelter (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER EIGHT Learning’s Altar (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER NINE First Blossom (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER TEN Saddleback Fever (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER ELEVEN Tolling Bells (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER TWELVE Red Moon (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER THIRTEEN A Good Kind Man (#litres_trial_promo) PART TWO (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER FOURTEEN Blank Hospital (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER FIFTEEN Reunion (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER SIXTEEN River of Fire (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Reconstruction (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER EIGHTEEN State of Grace (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER NINETEEN Concord (#litres_trial_promo) Afterword (#litres_trial_promo) Keep Reading (#litres_trial_promo) P.S. (#litres_trial_promo) Interview (#litres_trial_promo) About the book (#litres_trial_promo) Read on (#litres_trial_promo) About the Author (#litres_trial_promo) By the Same Author (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) PART ONE (#ulink_df37d0c8-40c2-5f7a-ba12-c270ed8e3e86) Jo said sadly, “We haven’t got father, and shall not have him for a long time.” She didn’t say “perhaps never,” but each silently added it, thinking of father far away, where the fighting was. —Louisa May Alcott, Little Women CHAPTER ONE Virginia Is a Hard Road (#ulink_8a2ee687-7b16-5c06-a192-da633ab3f474) October 21, 1861 This is what I write to her: The clouds tonight embossed the sky. A dipping sun gilded and brazed each raveling edge as if the firmament were threaded through with precious filaments. I pause there to mop my aching eye, which will not stop tearing. The line I have set down is, perhaps, on the florid side of fine, but no matter: she is a gentle critic. My hand, which I note is flecked with traces of dried phlegm, has the tremor of exhaustion. Forgive my unlovely script, for an army on the march provides no tranquil place for reflection and correspondence. (I hope my dear young author is finding time amid all her many good works to make some use of my little den, and that her friendly rats will not grudge a short absence from her accustomed aerie.) And yet to sit here under the shelter of a great tree as the men make their cook fires and banter together provides a measure of peace. I write on the lap desk that you and the girls so thoughtfully provided me, and though I spilled my store of ink you need not trouble to send more, as one of the men has shown me an ingenious receipt for a serviceable substitute made from the season’s last blackberries. So am I able to send “sweet words” to you! Do you recall the marbled endpapers in the Spenser that I used to read to you on crisp fall evenings just such as this? If so, then you, my dearest one, can see the sky as I saw it here tonight, for the colors swirled across the heavens in just such a happy profusion. And the blood that perfused the silted eddies of the boot-stirred river also formed a design that is not unlike those fine endpapers. Or—better—like that spill of carmine ink when the impatient hand of our little artist overturned the well upon our floorboards. But these lines, of course, I do not set down. I promised her that I would write something every day, and I find myself turning to this obligation when my mind is most troubled. For it is as if she were here with me for a moment, her calming hand resting lightly upon my shoulder. Yet I am thankful that she is not here, to see what I must see, to know what I am come to know. And with this thought I exculpate my censorship: I never promised I would write the truth. I compose a few rote words of spousal longing, and follow these with some professions of fatherly tenderness: All and each of you I have in my mind, in parlor, study, chambers, lawn; with book or with pen, or hand in hand with sister dear, or holding talk the while of father, a long way off, and wondering where he is and how he does. Know that I can never leave you quite; for while my body is far away my mind is near and my best comfort is in your affection…Then I plead the press of my duties, closing with a promise soon to send more news. My duties, to be sure, are pressing enough. There are needful men all around me. But I do not immediately close my lap desk. I let it lie across my knees and continue to watch the clouds, their knopped masses blackened now in the almost lightless sky. No wonder simple men have always had their gods dwell in the high places. For as soon as a man lets his eye drop from the heavens to the horizon, he risks setting it on some scene of desolation. Downriver, men of the burial party wade chest deep to retrieve bodies snagged on fallen branches. Contrary to what I have written, there is no banter tonight, and the fires are few and ill tended, so that the stinging smoke troubles my still-weeping eye. There is a turkey vulture staring at me from a limb of sycamore. They have been with us all day, these massive birds. Just this morning, I had thought them stately, in the pearly predawn light, perched still as gargoyles, wings widespread, waiting for the rising sun. They did not move through all the long hours of our Potomac crossing, first to our muster on this island, which sits like a giant barge in the midstream, splicing the wide water into rushing narrows. They watched, motionless still, as we crossed to the farther shore and made our silent ascent up the slippery cow path on the face of the bluff. Later, I noticed them again. They had taken wing at last, inscribing high, graceful arcs over the field. From up there, at least, our predicament must have been plain: the enemy in control of the knoll before us, laying down a withering fire, while through the woods to our left more troops moved in stealthy file to flank us. As chaplain, I had no orders, and so placed myself where I believed I could do most good. I was in the rear, praying with the wounded, when the cry went up: Great God, they are upon us! I called for bearers to carry off the wounded men. One private, running, called to me that any who tried it would be shot full of more bullets than he had fingers and toes. Silas Stone, but lightly injured then, was stumbling on a twisted knee, so I gave him my arm and together we plunged into the woods, joining the chaos of the rout. We were trying to recover the top of the cow path—the only plain way down to the river—when we came upon another turkey vulture, close enough to touch it. It was perched on the chest of a fallen man and turned its head sharply at our intrusion. A length of organ, glossy and brown, dangled from its beak. Stone raised his musket, but he was already so spent that his hands shook violently. I had to remind him that if we didn’t find the river and get across it, we, too, would be vulture food. We thrashed our way out of the thicket atop a promontory many rods short of the cow path. From there, we could see a mass of our men, pushed by advancing fire to the very brow of the bluff. They hesitated there, and then, of a sudden, seemed to move as one, like a herd of beasts stampeded. Men rolled, leaped, stumbled over the edge. The drop is steep: some ninety feet of staggered scarps plunging to the river. There were screams as men, bereft of reason, flung themselves upon the heads and bayonets of their fellows below. I saw the heavy boot of one stout soldier land with sickening force onto the skull of a slight youth, mashing the bone against rock. There was no point now in trying to reach the path, since any footholds it might once have afforded were worn slick by the frenzied descent. I crawled to the edge of the promontory and dangled from my hands before dropping hard onto a narrow ledge, all covered with black walnuts. These sent me skidding. Silas Stone rolled and fell after me. It wasn’t until we reached the water-laved bank that he told me he could not swim. The enemy was firing from the cliff top by then. Some few of our men commenced tying white rags to sticks and climbing back up to surrender. Most flung themselves into the river; many, in their panic, forgetting to shed their cartridge boxes and other gear, the weight of which quickly dragged them under. The only boats were the two mud scows that had ferried us across. For these, men flung themselves until they were clinging as a cluster of bees dangling from a hive, and slipping off in clumps, four or five together. Those that held on were plain targets and did not last long. I dragged off my boots and made Stone do the same, and bade him hurl his musket far out, to the deepest channel, so as to put it from reach of our enemies. Then we plunged into the chill water and struck out toward the island. I thought we could wade most of the way, for crossing at dawn, the poles had seemed to go down no significant depth. But I had not accounted for the strength of the current, nor the cold. “I will get you across,” I had promised him, and I might have done, if the bullet hadn’t found him, and if he hadn’t thrashed so, and if his coat, where I clutched it, hadn’t been shoddily woven. I could hear the rip of thread from thread, even over the tumbling water and the yelling. His right hand was on my throat, his fingers—callused tradesman’s fingers—depressing the soft, small bones around my windpipe. His left hand clutched for my head. I ducked, trying vainly to refuse him a grip, knowing he would push me under in his panic. He managed to snatch a handful of my hair, his thumb, as he did so, jabbing into my left eye. I went under, and the mass of him pushed me down, deep. I jerked my head back, felt a burn in my scalp as a handful of hair ripped free, and my knee came up, hard, into something that gave like marrow. His hand slid from my throat, the jagged nail of his middle finger tearing away a piece of my skin. We broke the surface, spewing red-brown water. I still had a grip on his tearing jacket, and if he had stopped his thrashing, even then, I might have seized a stouter handful of cloth. But the current was too fast there, and it tugged apart the last few straining threads. His eyes changed when he realized. The panic just seemed to drain away, so that his last look was a blank, unfocused thing—the kind of stare a newborn baby gives you. He stopped yelling. His final sound was more of a long sigh, only it came out as a gargle because his throat was filling with water. The current bore him away from me feet first. He was prone on the surface for a moment, his arms stretched out to me. I swam hard, but just as I came within reach a wave, turning back upon a sunken rock, caught his legs and pushed the lower half of his body under, so that it seemed he stood upright in the river for a moment. The current spun him round, a full turn, his arms thrown upward with the abandon of a Gypsy dancer. The firing, high on the bluff, had loosed showers of foliage, so that he swirled in concert with the sunshine-colored leaves. He was face to face with me again when the water sucked him under. A ribbon of scarlet unfurled to mark his going, widening out like a sash as the current carried him, down and away. When I dragged myself ashore, I still had the torn fragment of wet wool clutched in my fist. I have it now: a rough circle of blue cloth, a scant six inches across. Perhaps the sum total of the mortal remains of Silas Stone, wood turner and scholar, twenty years old, who grew up by the Blackstone River and yet never learned to swim. I resolved to send it to his mother. He was her only son. I wonder where he lies. Wedged under a rock, with a thousand small mouths already sucking on his spongy flesh. Or floating still, on and down, on and down, to wider, calmer reaches of the river. I see them gathering: the drowned, the shot. Their hands float out to touch each other, fingertip to fingertip. In a day, two days, they will glide on, a funeral flotilla, past the unfinished white dome rising out of its scaffolds on a muddy hill in Washington, some forty miles from here. Will the citizens recognize them, the brave fallen, and uncover in a gesture of respect? Or will they turn away, disgusted by the bloated mass of human rot? I should go now and find out where upon this island they are tending to the wounded. Naturally, the surgeon has not seen fit to send me word. The surgeon is a Calvinist, and a grim man, impatient with unlabeled brands of inchoate faith. In his view, a man should be a master of his craft, so that a smith should know his forge, a farmer his plow, and a chaplain his creed. He has made plain his disregard for me and my ministry. The first time I preached to the company, he observed that in his view a sermon that did not dwell on damnation was scant service to men daily facing death, and that if he wanted to hear a love poem he would apply to his wife. I dragged a hand through my hair, which has dried out in tangled mats, like discarded corn silks at a husking. Even to raise my arm for that slight effort is a misery. Every muscle aches. My aunt was right, perhaps, in her bitter denunciation of my coming here: the cusp of a man’s fortieth year is no season for such an enterprise as this. And yet what manner of man would I be, who has had so much to say in the contest of words, if now I shirked this contest of blood? So I will stand here with those who stand in arms, as long as my legs can support me. But, as a private from Millbury observed to me today, “Virginia is a hard road, reckon.” I stowed the lap desk in my rucksack. We had left the main part of our gear here on the island, but my blanket was sodden from the use of it to dry myself and to blot my soaking clothes. Still, there is some warmth in wool, wet or no. I carried it to a youth who lay, curled and keening, on the riverbank. The boy was dripping wet and shivering. I expect he will be on fire with fever by morning. “Will you not come up the bank with me to some drier ground?” I asked. He made no reply, so I tucked the blanket around him where he lay. We will both sleep cold tonight. And yet not, I think, as cold as Silas Stone. I made my way a few rods through the mud and then, where the bank dipped a little, scrambled with some difficulty into a mown field. In the flicker of firelight I discerned a small band of walking wounded sitting listless in the hollows of a haystack where they would shiver out the night. I inquired from them where the hospital tents had been established. “There ain’t no tents: they’re using some old secesh house,” said a private, nursing a bandaged arm. “Strange place it is, with big white statues all nekked, and rooms filled up with old books. There’s an old secesh lives there, cracked as a clay pot dropped on rock, seemingly, with just one slave doing for him. She’s helping our surgeon, if you’d credit it. She probed out my wound for me and bound it up fine, like you see,” he said, proudly raising his sling, then wincing as he did so. “She tol’ me they was more than a dozen slaves on the place before, and she the only one ain’t ran off.” I don’t think the private knew his left from right, for his directions to the house were less than coherent, and his friend, whose neck was bandaged and who couldn’t speak, kept waving his hands in objection at every turn the other man described. So I blundered on in the dark, finding myself at the riverbank again, uncertain whether the farther shore was Maryland or Virginia. I turned back and found a line of snake-rail fence that led past the ruins of what must have once been a gristmill. I continued following the fence line until it turned in at a gate. Beyond stretched a drive lined with dogwoods, and a gravel of river stone that was hard on my bootless feet. And then I knew I was on the right path, for I smelled it. If only field hospitals did not always have the selfsame reek as latrine trenches. But so it is when metal lays open the bowels of living men and the wastes of digestion spill about. And there is, too, the lesser stink, of fresh-butchered meat, which to me is almost equally rank. I stopped, and turned aside into the bushes, and heaved up bitter fluid. Something about my state just then, bent double and weak, brought to my mind the recollection of my father, caning me, for refusing my share of salt pork. He believed a meatless diet such as mine made me listless at my chores. But what I shirked were the tasks themselves, foul and cruel. No soul should be asked to toil all day with the yellow oxen yoked up, unwilling, their hide worn raw by the harness, their big blank eyes empty of hope. It drains the spirit, to trudge sunup till sundown at the arse-end of beasts, sinking into piles of their steaming ordure. And the pigs! How could anyone eat pork who has heard the screams at slaughter when the black blood spurts? Perhaps it was the darkness, or the different season. Perhaps my biliousness and grief and exhaustion. Perhaps simply that twenty years is a very long time for an active mind to retain any memory, much less one with dark and troubled edges, begging to be forgot. Whatever the case, I was halfway up the wide stone steps before I recognized the house. I had been there before. CHAPTER TWO A Wooden Nutmeg (#ulink_e3e336af-7751-53cb-afca-e812150fc878) I had been there, on a spring morning, when the fog stood so thick on the river that it looked as though the bowl of the sky had spilled all its milky clouds into the valley. I was eighteen years old, and I had walked, in stages, the long way from the port at Norfolk. I was lean and strong, with sun-bleached hair that stuck out near-white from under the brim of my straw hat. There was a little barge-ferry then, that would stop on request, at a jetty on the island’s northern tip. I had alighted there on a whim and walked the mile and a half to the house, whistling the song of the boatman who had poled the crossing. The white dogwoods were in flower all the way up the drive, and the air seemed viscous and honey-fragrant, unlike the mud-scent of a chill May morning on Spindle Hill. I had two heavy trunks tied to the pole across my shoulder, and so I was defenseless when a brace of mastiffs came baying after me, sending the stones flying under their thick, swift paws. It was, you might say, a typical welcome for a Connecticut peddler, our reputation being less than luminous. Too many of us, in the quest for gain, had forsaken honesty for cunning, decency for coarseness. But I knew dogs: at home we’d had a collie that was like an extra pair of arms when you needed the sheep gathered in. And I’d learned a thing or two more on my way north from Norfolk, the most useful being that if a Cerberus comes at you barking and snarling, call him to you with a joyous enthusiasm. Nine dogs in ten will greet fear with aggression, and friendship with fine humor. By the time I reached the big house those two beasts were gamboling beside me, nuzzling their big drooly muzzles against my thighs. A young servant stood atop the steps, looking surprised and perhaps a trifle annoyed by this. She whistled sharply, and the dogs’ ears flattened as they sidled off. “Those two would more likely have a chunk each out of your hams before you’d got a halfway up the drive than be fawning like that.” Her voice was unexpected: refined, and resonant as a bell. She stood with arms akimbo, her long-fingered hands, dark brown on top and pale pink under—which contrast still surprised me—resting on the waistband of a starched skirt striped cream and gray, which she wore with a spotless, high-necked bodice. Around her head was knotted a rigolette, dyed the color of beet, that made a handsome effect against her copper-colored brow. Her appearance was an excellent omen: a household that got its slaves up so neatly was likely to be liberal-handed. As she came down the steps to where I stood, I set down my tin trunks, swept off my hat, and affected what I hoped was my most ingratiating smile. Manners matter in the South; I had met even field hands, half-naked and barefoot, who comported themselves with more grace than the average educated New Englander. I had learned, too, that winning over the upper servants was the first object for a gentleman of the road in pursuit of a sale. It was they, after all, who presented one’s suit for admission to the master—or, of keener interest to me, to the mistress—and they could do that in any number of more or less helpful ways. Since I stand more than six feet in my stockings, being eye to eye with a woman is not something that I have grown much used to. But that day, my pale blue eyes gazed into her dark ones, which were lit with a faint amusement. Even now I remember that I was the first to look away. “Thinking to charm me, as well as the dogs,” she said, in that silvery voice. “Yankee, are you? From Connecticut?” She raised her chin sharply and made a slight clicking sound with her tongue. “The last peddler through here was a Connecticut boy, too. Sold the cook a jar of wooden nutmegs.” “For shame!” I said, and meant it, though I’d seen many a likely fake whittled in the idle campfire hours of my competitors. “I don’t believe the household will be interested to see your notions, but we’d be remiss if we did not offer you a cold draught on a warm morning.” There you are, I thought. A Negro slave, probably not even as old as I, yet with a style of address that would not shame a great peer. No one I knew at home talked like that, not even the minister. Spindle Hill, a thousand feet high and with only one narrow road leading up to it, was a terse place, where people spoke a spare dialect that even the folk in Hartford, not twenty miles distant, could not readily understand. I was, at home, a “loping nimshi,” rather than an idling fool. The plural of “house” in our thinly settled hamlet was “housen” and my father, when he wished to assert something, would end his declaration with the words “I snore.” Not even a century separated me from the great-grandparents who had wrested our fields out of pine and stone and oaken wilderness; our home, built by my father in a clearing made by an Indian deerhunter’s fire circle, was just three rooms of wide, unpainted board already falling into ruin. I hoped to help my father find the funds to build a new house, and I had used to look forward to the day I would return with profits from my peddling in hand. But somewhere along the York or the James, I had ceased to long for that day. Now, to my shame, I would find myself gazing at the planters’ idle, silken wives and blushing at the memory of my work-worn mother, her clay pipe perched on a chin that bristled with errant hairs, her hands engaged in ceaseless toil, from the time they touched the cow’s udder in the dim predawn to the time they set down the shuttle of the flax loom late at night. “I would be most grateful for that kindness,” I replied, thinking that the great thing about being always among people of noble manners was the inevitable elevation of one’s own. The young woman led the way around to the side of the stone-walled house, through a low gate, and into an orderly kitchen garden, where the nobbly purple tips of asparagus stood straight as sentries and low strawberry beds hung heavy with early green fruit. They would be feasting on berries here before the ground at home had thawed. I followed, noting the way she walked: perfectly erect, yet perfectly at ease. Inside the kitchen, wholesome morning smells of toasting hoe cake and good, rich coffee made my stomach contract with longing. “What you drugged in, Grace?” said the cook, a wide-hipped woman with a flattened, sweat-glistening face. My hunger must have been evident, for the cook, without even asking, laid a tin plate piled high with hoe cakes in front of me, even as she hectored me about the wicked ways of my kind, and how she didn’t cotton to those who made a fool of her. I nodded vigorously while spooning the food into my mouth. “No nutmegs of any kind in my kit, ma’am,” I said. “Just a lot of useful and pretty things for the betterment of the body and the mind.” “Is that right?” she said, her broad mouth turned down in an exaggerated attempt at a scowl. “Better show Annie you Yankee notions then, and be quick about it, for I ain’t got no time for dawdlin’.” When I first set out from Norfolk, I had been proud of my beautifully japanned trunks with their interior nooks and shelves and clever fastenings for holding stock in place. The contents I had selected myself, with much thought, and I believed my stock, then, to be very fine. I had invested most heavily in goods likely to appeal to women, since I am easier in their company than among those of my own sex. I had combs of tortoiseshell which the fancy-goods dealer had assured me were the latest fashion; jewelry and amulets and garnets and pearls, reticule-clasps and rouge papers; essences and oils and fine soaps and pomatums; silver thimbles and gold and silver spectacles with shagreen cases; sewing silks and cottons and threads and buttons and needles with silver and gold eyes; pencil cases, pen knives, scissors (of Rogers’ make, at the dealer’s recommendation), playing cards, and wafers; fans and fiddle strings; and many diverting picture bricks and puzzles for children. At the floor of each case I had books. These I had not got from the Norfolk dealer, but traded for on my journey, anywhere I could. I would devour them, mastering all their contents, before I bartered them into new hands. I had, as I said, been proud of these things when I set out so many long months earlier, but I now knew that most of what I had was tawdry. I had learned this slowly, for the planters’ wives had been courteous in their expressions of interest, exclaiming over the jewelry, but buying only utilitarian trifles like the sewing silks or games for the children. It wasn’t their words but my own eyes that had taught me the shortcomings of my wares, for many of the homes in which I had been received were temples of elegance, where even a small item such as a salt dish might be the work of a quattrocento silversmith from Florence or Bruges. And the jewelry! From the luster of the pearls that wrapped slender, unwattled necks and the luminous gems in ancient, heirloom settings, I soon learned to see my bits of paste for what they were. But the books were another matter. Of these, at least, I did not need to be ashamed. I remember what I had with me that day in some detail, as these proved both the means of securing my place in that beautiful home and the cause of my abrupt departure. I had old favorites, such as A Pilgrim’s Progress, but also newer acquisitions such as the poems and prefaces of Wordsworth, Marsh’s edition of Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection, Cowper’s Life and Letters, Lavater’s Physiognomy, Johnson’s Rasselas, Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, and John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. For children, I had Noah Webster’s American Spelling Book and nicely illustrated little books of moral fables such as The Fox and Grapes and the tale of the milkmaid who spilled the milk. When she saw the books the tall slave named Grace straightened and asked if I would like a ewer of warm water for my toilet before she showed me to the master’s room. I had shaved by the river that morning before I’d made my crossing, but I was pleased at the chance for a hot wash. When Grace returned, she said the master bade me to bring the books and leave the rest. She led the way through the narrow hall that joined the kitchen, warming room, and buttery to the cool expanse of the main house. The house was not especially large, nor by any means the grandest I had been in—some of the plantation homes along the James were more like palaces—but it was perfect in proportion and exquisite in appointments. White walls soared to high ceilings plastered with elaborate swags and rosettes. Turkey carpets in jewel colors warmed the dark wood floors. In the center of the house a sinuous staircase with acanthus leaf carving swept up from an oval entry hall. Grace gestured with her long-fingered hand—not hands that appeared much accustomed to heavy chores, I noted—indicating I should sit upon a marble bench that fit the curve of the south wall, directly opposite a faux-grained door flanked by marbles of Apollo and Daphne and Prometheus Bound. “That is the master’s library. He will be with you presently,” Grace said, and swept away to her duties. The home’s massive entrance was to my right, the wide door surrounded by lights of beveled glass, and I sat there, watching the golden morning sunshine fracture into tiny rainbows. Because I had been staring into the bright light, I could not see him well when he at last opened the library door, for he stood in its shadow. There was an impression only; of great height, very erect bearing, and a mellow voice. “Good day to you, sir. Would you kindly come in?” I entered and I stopped and twirled as if I were on a pivot. It was a double-height room, with a narrow gallery at the midpoint. Books lined every inch of it. A very large, plain, and beautiful rosewood desk stood in the center. “Augustus Clement,” he said, holding out his hand. I shifted the weight of the books into the crook of my left arm and shook his hand absently, for I was transfixed by the magnitude of his collection. “I’ve always imagined paradise as something like a library. Now I know what it looks like.” I barely realized I had spoken aloud, but Mr. Clement laughed and clapped me on the shoulder. “We get a few of you men through here, or we used to, before my daughter married. I think the word went out that she was—what do you call it? A mark? A touch? In any regards, she bought a bushel of worthless notions from your colleagues over the years; I think she just liked to talk to young men, actually. But I’ve never come across one of you with an interest in books. Set them down there, would you?” I placed them on the rosewood desk, and he worked briskly through the pile. Now that I had seen the magnitude of his library, I doubted he would find anything of interest to him. But the Lavater Phyisognomy caught his eye. “This is a later edition than the one I have; I am curious to see his revisions. Tell Grace what you require for it and she will see to your payment.” “Sir, I don’t sell the books for cash.” “Oh?” “I trade for them—barter—a book for a book, you know. That way I keep myself in something fresh to read along the journey.” “Do you so! Capital idea!” he said. “Though no way to make a profit.” “I am interested in money, of course sir; it is necessary for a young man in my circumstances to be so. But I trust you will not think me irresponsible if I tell you I am more interested in laying up the riches of the mind.” “Well said, young Mr.—March, was it? Well, as it happens I have business elsewhere this day, so why don’t you make yourself free of the library. Do us the honor of taking dinner here, and you can tell me then what volume you would consider in barter for the Lavater.” “Sir, I could not impose upon you—” “Mr. March, you would be doing me a great kindness. My household is reduced, at present. My son is away with my manager on business. Solitude is no friend to science. You must know that we in the South suffer from a certain malnourishment of the mind: we value the art of conversation over literary pursuits, so that when we gather together it is all for gallantries and pleasure parties. There is much to be said for our agrarian way of life. But sometimes I envy your bustling Northern cities, where men of genius are thrown together thick as bees, and the honey of intellectual accomplishment is produced. I would like to talk about books with you; do be kind enough to spare me an evening.” “Mr. Clement, sir, it would be my very great pleasure.” “Very good, then. I shall look forward.” He paused at the door, and turned. “Grace mentioned you had some notions for children. Whatever you have in picture puzzles or games for the illiterate, I will take—presents for the slaves’ little ones, you know. Just let Grace know what compensation you think fair.” I realize that lust stands high in the list of deadly sins. And yet lust—the tightening throat, the flushed cheeks, the raging appetite—is the only word accurate to describe the sensation I felt that morning, as the painted door closed and I was left with the liberty of all those books. By afternoon, I could say I was ready to love Mr. Clement. For to know a man’s library is, in some measure, to know his mind. And this mind was noble in its reach, wide in its interests, discerning in its tastes. Grace knocked on the door at some point and brought me a cold collation on a tray, but even had it not been meat I would not have paused to eat it. I did not want to take even a moment from my perusal of the books. About an hour before dinnertime, she came again, clucked at the uneaten food, and offered to show me to my quarters—I was to use the absent estate manager’s cottage. There I attempted to make myself presentable within the very severe limits of my wardrobe. Not for the first time since I set out, I was mortified to have to present myself at a civilized table clad in a suit of linen, harvested from our own flax fields, spun and sewn by my mother. I resolved that I would reserve some part of my profits for a decent suit from a New York tailor when I returned north. Mr. Clement was waiting in the drawing room when I presented myself. He was alone. I had hoped to meet the lady of the house. My face must have registered surprise. “Mrs. Clement bids you welcome and sends her apologies. She is not well, Mr. March: she does not dine down. However, she said she would like very much to make your acquaintance tomorrow, if you would be kind enough to visit her. She would like to hear your impressions of Virginia, as they have been informed by your travels.” I have never been in the habit of consuming alcohol, but out of politeness I took the glass of champagne Mr. Clement held out to me. My mood was elevated enough by the joys of my day, and by the time we sat down in the handsome dining room, the bitter little bubbles seemed to be bearing me aloft. A Negro glided in with a silver salver, upon which stood a slab of sanguinary beef swaddled in a blanket of glistening yellow fat. The drippings from this joint had contaminated the potatoes so as to render them inedible to me. Next, he proffered a dish of greens, and I accepted a liberal serving. But as I brought a forkful to my mouth I caught the stench of pork grease and had to lay it down. Still, I barely noticed my hunger, engrossed as I was in the conversation. I cannot say now all the topics upon which we alighted, only that we moved from the ancient world to the modern, from Rome’s Cato to our revolutionary Catos, from Kant on apperception to Coleridge on Kant, to Coleridge’s unacknowledged debts to Schelling. Clement led the way and I followed, the wine on my empty stomach providing volatile fuel for my flight. I hardly noted the translation from dining room to drawing room and do not know what time it was when Clement finally drew a hand, on which a handsome signet ring gleamed, across a brow which I suddenly noted was gray with fatigue. “You must forgive me, but I am not accustomed to attending to estate matters, as I had to do today. Usually my son and the manager between them handle the business of the farm, deferring to me on only the most consequential issues. Since they are away, I must concern myself, and as a result I find myself weary. But I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a young man’s company so. You have a supple mind, Mr. March. It’s clear that you have read widely for such a youth, whose circumstances, forgive me, could not have made this easy. If your plans allow for it, you are welcome here for as long as you would care to remain.’’ There was a saying among the Connecticut peddlers: beware the hospitality of the planters. Many a young man had been turned from the road and its profits by just such an offer as was now extended to me, and had ended his journey in idle dissipation. And yet I was hungry for knowledge in those days, and the prospect of spending more time exploring the library and the intellect of Mr. Clement was more than I could withstand. The next day, I paid a call upon Mrs. Clement. I found her reclining on a chaise in a sunlit sitting room, a, huge-eyed beauty clad in a froth of white lace and broderie anglaise. Grace sat in a highbacked chair at her side, reading poetry, with a surprising delicacy of expression. “Thank you, Grace, my dear. That was lovely, as usual. Why don’t you take a little break now, while this fine-looking young man is here to amuse me?” Hearing Mrs. Clement speak, I realized that Grace’s voice had been schooled in imitation of her mistress, and yet the slave, having a naturally lower register, had the richer and more resonant timbre. Mrs. Clement held out a hand to greet me. The touch of her skin—hot, dry, papery—was a shock. I did my best to hide my recoil. “My husband said you were a very conversible young man, but he did not mention that you were so handsome. Quite ‘the golden lad’ the poet speaks of, indeed. Why, you must have the belles of Virginia casting themselves at your feet!” She tittered girlishly. I coughed with embarrassment. Grace shot me a cool look as she slipped a silk bookmark into the slim volume and slid from the room. Mrs. Clement saw my eyes following her silent exit. She sighed. “Sometimes, I believe I am more fond of that girl than of my own daughter. Do you think that very wicked of me, Mr. March?” She did not expect an answer, and I gave none. “One’s son is so much in the world, and a daughter marries young and leaves. My daughter was married last year, and only fifteen. Can you imagine? Such a little girl, to be mistress of her own great estate. Though I warned her. Oh yes, I tried. But she stamped her dainty foot and would accept the young gentleman’s proposal, for all her father and I counseled her to wait. The young are willful, Mr. March, as you should know, being so very young yourself. Why, you can’t be much more than a boy…” “I shall be nineteen in November, ma’am.” “You see? A boy, as I said…but a very well-grown boy…” The large, dark eyes appraised me. “What are you? Six feet?” “A little over, ma’am.” “Good for you. And broad-shouldered, too. I do like a tall, broadshouldered man. My husband is six feet, but he will sit all day in his library and I am afraid he has not the manly figure he could have, if he would only ride out more…” She gave another mannered, musical little laugh, and then she frowned as her fluttering thoughts alit once more upon her absent daughter. “I said, ‘Marianne, they might call you “mistress,” but one thing you must know: on most great plantations the mistress is the most complete slave on the place.’” She tittered again. “I tell you, Mr. March, my Grace has a great deal more freedom than my daughter now enjoys. Not freedom to leave me, no; that she will never have. Grace is mine, here with me forever. She was born right here, you know. Mr. Clement gave her to me as a wedding gift. Such a pretty infant. I suppose he thought I could practice my mothering skills upon her until our own children came. Who could guess that one’s first essay would be the most eloquent? I taught her to read, you know. It was no effort, no effort at all. She picked up her letters better than I had as a child, and much better than Marianne. I do not know what I would do now, ill as I am, without my Grace to read to me. My daughter never cared for books. No poetry in the girl at all. I can’t think why that is. Can you, Mr. March? No, how could you have an opinion? You haven’t met her, have you? My mind wanders, forgive me. It’s the illness. My son is a busy man. He never comes to see me. Hasn’t been for days…” “I believe he is away on estate business, ma’am.” “So he is. Mr. Clement did say something about that. It’s the illness, you see? I forget things. When you go down, do send my son to me, would you? A boy should visit his mama, do you not think? I think it is not so very much to ask. My daughter, now, you would think she at least would come. But no, she married, didn’t she? Where was it she went off to? I can’t recall the name of the estate. Brilliant match, I recollect that everyone said so. Most brilliant match of her season. But I can’t recall now who it was she married… Grace will know.” She turned her head. “Grace, who was that gentleman?” She swiveled, looking all about for the absent slave. Her expression became frantic. “Where is Grace?” Her voice scraped like a knife on pewter. “You sent her out, ma’am.” “Fetch her back! Fetch her back! I can’t be alone with a gentleman caller! What would Mr. Clement say? Grace!” The effort of crying out set her coughing, horrible wracking spasms that raised blood onto her lace handkin. Grace, who must have been hovering, slid into the room, carrying a pitcher of minted lemon water, which she poured and offered her mistress. Mrs. Clement took the glass in a trembling hand and drank thirstily. Grace gently lifted a lock of pale hair that had fallen from the lace cap, tucked it away, and stroked the parchment brow. “I think Mrs. Clement is tired now. I am sure she would like you to visit her again, another time, perhaps.” I nodded and withdrew with relief. Later, in the cool of the afternoon, I walked out into the fields. The light slanted on the brightly clad field hands, who sang as they planted out vivid green tobacco seedlings. I breathed the scented air and thought how lovely the scene was, compared to the spare fields of Spindle Hill. I had not been wont to sing at my labors. I had cursed rather, as the stony soil dulled the shares and the refractory beasts stood stubborn in their traces. Turning back toward the house, I came across Grace, picking early roses in the cutting garden. I held her basket for her, so she could reach some blooms high on an arch of braided locust boughs. As she reached up, she looked like a young bough herself, supple and slender. “Mr. Clement did not tell you what to expect of Mrs. Clement’s condition, did he? I thought not. He finds it hard to accept her decline. She has never been entirely well, but two years ago there was an accident. She was riding, coming out of the shadow of the woods into sunlight, and her mare shied and threw her. Since then, she has had no sure sense of balance, and keeps to her couch. The cough and fever seem to grow worse from the lack of exercise and outside air. She is terrified of the world, Mr. March. If she stands her head spins, and she feels that she is falling from the horse all over again. She sleeps a great deal nowadays, which is a blessing.” “It must be; I mean, to give you some respite.” “It is a blessing for her, Mr. March. She is the one who requires respite—from her fears, her confusion.” I felt the force of her rebuke. “She loves you like a mother,” I blurted. She turned and placed the roses carefully in the basket, then regarded me with a steady gaze. I could not read her expression. When she spoke, her voice was low, her words clipped. “Does she so? I wouldn’t know. My mother was sold south by Mr. Clement before I was one year old.” She took the basket from me and walked, erect, swaying, up the path to the house. That evening, Mr. Clement was full of his reading in Lavater, and from there we progressed to Samuel Morton’s book on human crania—a handsome new volume, to which I had been drawn by virtue of its elegant plates. Mr. Clement, in his generosity, had offered it as barter—a most unfavorable one for him. It was inevitable that we should move from there to the science of “Niggerology,” as Mr. Clement called it, and from there, by easy stages, to the matter of slavery. I thought to begin by praising the smooth management of the estate, and the relations of affection and trust I had observed between master and servant. “Trust!” He laughed, dabbing at his chin with a heavy damask napkin. “The only way to keep slaves honest is not to trust them!” He must have seen me wince. “Does that seem to you a harsh assessment, Mr. March? I daresay it is, and yet it is unfortunately too true. Why, I had a neighbor, a capital fellow, lived just west of here, in the Piedmont. Never known to punish his slaves. Boy became insolent one day, and when my friend reluctantly raised the lash to him, why, the boy grabbed a white-oak branch and beat my friend’s head to a pomace.” He grimaced and put down his food-laden fork, signaling to the hovering slave to take the plate away. The man was barely through the door, and hardly out of earshot, when he continued. “Name a vice, Mr. March: laziness, deceit, debauchery, theft. Place your trust in a slave and soon, very soon, you will see how proficient he is in any and all of them.” “But, sir, surely the very condition of enslavement, not the slaves’ inherent nature, must account for such lapses of honor. The heart is a crimson organ, be it within white breast or in black, and surely wickedness may dwell alike in either…” “But I do not speak of wickedness!” Clement said, almost gleefully, bringing his hand down upon the table. “You have touched upon the sinew of the matter! Does one speak of wickedness in a child of four or five, a child who has not reached the age of reason? Not at all. For the child knows not the distinction between honesty and falsehood, nor does it think of future nor of consequence, but only of the desire of the moment and how to gratify it. So it is with the African. They, too, are children, morally speaking, and it is for us to guide and guard them until their race matures. And I believe it will, Mr. March. Oh yes. I am not one of Morton’s skull-spanning acolytes. I do not think the current order immutable. Don’t judge a book by its cover, March, nor by its plates. You take with you a handsome volume, but you will soon see that Morton’s methods are flawed, very flawed. Why, even the great Aristotle was wrong in this: he held that no race other than the Hellenes could be elevated to civilization.” He placed his glass on the damask cloth and gestured at his finely appointed room, its gleaming crystal and bone china. “And yet here we are, you and I, whose forebears were blue-painted savages gnawing on bones when Aristotle’s city flowered.” He flourished his napkin, dabbing delicately at his lips. The candlelight flared on his signet ring. “Slavery will wither, in time. Not my time. Not my son’s. Yet wither it will, as the African grows morally in each succeeding generation. His mere residence among us has already wrought a great and happy change in his condition. We have raised him out of the night, and into the light, Mr. March. But the work is far from complete. It is our place to act the role of stern father. We should not rush them out of their childhood, as it were. And if sometimes that means a resort to punishment, so be it, as the father must punish the wayward child. But never in anger.” He leaned back in his chair, draining the wine in his glass. His tone, when he continued, was reflective, as if he were speaking to himself, rather than instructing me. “To manage the Negro without an excess of passion, this is the Christian challenge. In this way no one mistakes personal malice for what is mere necessity of good husbandry.” “Forgive me, sir,” I interrupted, “but surely you do not speak of the lash?” “I do not speak of the lash as it appears in the fevered imagination of your would-be Northern philanthropists,” he replied, leaning forward, once again declamatory. “A great deal of whipping is never necessary. But some is. For their good, as well as ours.” He lay down his napkin in a neatly folded triangle and pushed back from the table. I rose with him, and we retired to the drawing room. We let the subject lie as the liveried slave returned to hand a crystal decanter of brandy, which Mr. Clement poured liberally. As the boy withdrew, Mr. Clement picked up his own thread. “You may think that slavery is for the sole benefit of the master, Mr. March, and there are benefits, I grant; the institution frees one from the routine toils which interrupt the unfettered life of the mind. But it is not so simple as that.” Clement swirled the amber liquid in his glass, brought it to his nose, and inhaled deeply. I imitated him. The fumes seared my sinuses and brought tears to my eyes. “As the slave benefits from the moral example of the master, and the glimpse of what a superior human condition is, so the master suffers from the exigencies of providing apt example. I believe that the holding of bondsmen subjects a man’s temper to a true test; it will be either ruined or perfected by the disciplines required.” My limbs had grown warm and heavy. I smiled and nodded, thinking what an apt example he made, how fortunate his slaves. I, too, felt fortunate: flattered by his attention, overcome by his wisdom, and thrilled to be, even briefly, a part of this higher way of life. And so my days passed in the most pleasant combination of study and society. My place in the household remained fluid. Though I took my dinner with Mr. Clement and had the freedom of his library during the day, I did not sleep in the house, but in the staff cottage, and I breakfasted, as on the first day, in the kitchen. In some ways, I came to enjoy this meal as much as my evenings of talk with Mr. Clement. The cook, Annie, proved to have a very thin crust. Underneath it, she was a warm, soft soul, full of earthy humor and motherly affection. Her children she kept as close to her as she could. Her lively daughter of seven years, a merry little soul named Prudence, shined shoes or shelled peas, generally busying herself, treating chores as play. There was also Justice, a fine-looking boy of about ten, whose task it was to haul wood and water, to scrub blackened cooking pans, and occasionally to help serve at table. Annie told me proudly that Justice had been selected for house service, unlike his father, who had been a field hand till he died in a lumbering accident. “I ain’t a-sayin’ he weren’t a good man, no sir, Louis a fine good man all right.” Annie was stirring a batter as she talked, and her spoon slowed down in the mixture as she thought back on her past. A shy half-smile lit up her wide face. “I was a nursery maid when the young marse was born; my mama was the cook here dem days. I recall I was out with the young marse in the yard, and it was summertime and the flowers git be a-blooming and the honeysuckle smelling so sweet. And up come Louis, and makes a big show of talking away to the babe, and making funny faces for him an’ all. And I says, ‘Ain’t he a pretty baby?’ And he says, ‘Surely is, but not as pretty as you is, Annie,’ and out of that kind of foolishness by and by we comes to be asking the marse’s leave for a wedding. For he lets us marry here on dis place, yes sir; he and the mistress say it’s proper so. They doan hold with marrying in blankets. Mistress say to the marse, ‘You kill a beef for the feastin’,’ and the whole day before she kept me shut up in the nursery room, sayin’ a bride ought not be seen. It was a fine wedding we had, for sure, and the good Lord done left me these two fine chillun to remember Louis by. Justice favors his daddy,” she said, looking proudly at her handsome, silent son. What Justice thought, I never learned. Unlike his sister, who chattered away, the boy said little. But sometimes he sang, in a sweet and clear soprano. The children were disposed to like me, as I was the source of the playthings Mr. Clement had purchased for them, and I encouraged their affections by showing them the workings of the puzzles and teaching them some simple games. Sometimes, I read to them from the children’s books I had on hand, though Grace had made it clear that none of these were to be purchased. I noticed that Prudence liked to stand at my shoulder as I read, and one morning it came to me that she was trying to follow the words on the page. I commenced then to trace my way under the text with my forefinger, and before long I noticed that she mouthed the sounds of short words such as to and at. The next day, I saw that she was trying to form letters in the hearth ash with a piece of kindling. I took up a second twig and reformed some for her, showing how a downstroke usually preceded the curve when making letters such as b or d. Annie had her back to us, kneading a trough of dough, when Grace came in to fetch something for Mrs. Clement. When Grace saw what we were about, she sucked her breath in sharply, seized the hearth brush, and commenced sweeping the letters away. Annie turned then from her kneading, scolding. “Now, Grace, what you be soiling your hands for—” but then, seeing the traces of some letters in the ash, she stopped abruptly. The cook’s wide face darkened and she bore down on Prudence, snatching the twig as if the child held a burning brand. She turned on me, thunderous. “What you thinking to do to my chile?” I looked at her, baffled, and spread my hands to signify that I did not understand the question. “How long you done say you been in Virginia?” “Almost a year now…” “Almost a year, and you don’t know it’s a crime to teach a slave her letters?” ‘’But Grace knows how to read.” I turned to Grace, seeking support. “I heard you reading to your mistress. She herself remarked on the pleasure it gives her…” Grace closed her eyes, as if asking for patience. “Yes, I read. Slaves my age, some of us, some lucky few, read. But for almost ten years now it has become a crime to teach us.” Annie had turned back to her trough, pummeling the dough with fierce blows. “You set sunup till sundown reading in them big ol’ books dat could stun a bullock, and yet you ain’t learned nothing. What kind of fool puts a little chile in risk of a whupping?” “A whipping? Prudence? For wanting to learn her ABCs?” “Why doan you ask Marse Clement all ’bout dat?” Annie said, turning the dough with an angry thwack. “But doan you be telling him what you been up to with my chile.” Grace inclined her head toward the door. “Mr. March, perhaps you might help me gather some berries for Mrs. Clement’s tea cake?” I patted Prudence’s head, noting with chagrin that her eyes were brimming, and followed Grace into the garden. She did not stop until we were well clear of the kitchen, hidden from view by a line of espaliered apple trees. Then she turned, her lips compressed. “Mr. March, will you help me to teach the child? She longs to learn so badly. Annie wants the best for her, but she doesn’t see…For her, the future means tomorrow, nothing more. She doesn’t look beyond. The girl might need…that is…it would be better if she had the means…” Grace, so astonishingly eloquent, for the first time seemed tongue-tied. She took a deep breath. “None of us knows the future, Mr. March. But Prudence is an uncommonly quick child; she’d learn in a few weeks what others struggle on for a year or more…” “Why don’t you teach her yourself?” “I’m not permitted to bring any books or writing things from the house, and in any case, there is no private place in the slave cabins, and the risk of discovery elsewhere is too great. But I could fetch Prudence to you—just for an hour, in the evenings, after Annie falls asleep.” Grace had no way of knowing how her request touched me. When I had left Connecticut, it wasn’t with the ambition of peddling. I had yearned to be a teacher. It seemed to me that most schools went about the work of instruction entirely backward, crushing children’s natural curiosity and deafening them to the wisdom of their own internal voice. I did not have sufficient qualifications to do such work up north, where even distant settlements had their pick of fresh-minted graduates from our many universities and seminaries. So I had come south, thinking that this population might be less nice about such matters. But I’d soon discovered that even here, communities well set enough to have a school wanted credentials, or at least maturity in years, neither of which I could claim, while the poor in the remote places didn’t care to have their children schooled at all. “Why don’t I do as Annie suggested and ask Mr. Clement? He is a scholar and loves learning; I am sure he will see that this is a good thing for all the children, not just Prudence…” Grace pulled angrily at an apple bough, stripping the new leaves. “You don’t know him! Perhaps Annie is right, after all; for all your reading you-you…” She did not complete the sentence. Whatever unflattering thing she had been about to say, she evidently thought better of it. But she gave me another of her unnerving stares, this time letting her gaze pass from my head to my toes and back again. Then, as if she’d noted nothing worth looking at, she turned and strode off. I stared at her retreating back, gaping like the loping nimshi my father had so often called me. As it happened, Mr. Clement himself provided the opening by which I was able to sound him on the matter. He sought me out before the dinner hour, apologizing that he would not be dining down that night on account of a most painful headache. “In truth, Mr. March, though my son can vex me at times with his mercantile obsessions, I am ill fixed to do without him. I have been forced to spend the better part of this day in the soul-deadening occupation of calculating gristmill accounts. Of what possible consequence is it if Mrs. Carter’s grain weighed in at six bushels or sixty?” I thought it better to resist the obvious reply: that it was of great consequence to Mrs. Carter. Instead, I asked, rather disingenuously: “Cannot one of your slaves be trained to do such routine factoring?” Mr. Clement shot me a reproachful glare. “And have him forging papers for every passing runaway?” He rubbed his brow. “Are you not familiar with the history of the Tidewater insurrection, Mr. March? The women and children butchered in their beds? The simple farmers, rewarded for their indulgence to their slaves with a pickax through the skull? That butcher, Turner, was a literate man. You should study that tragedy. I must say that we in these parts have not ceased from doing so, though it is now a decade gone. What great moral reasoning dictates that I should risk having my wife slaughtered in consequence of my slave reading some incendiary tract? Your Yankee pamphleteers have much to answer for. I’ll not have anyone on this place reading those foul, intemperate, slanderous rags!” I had never heard him raise his voice before. Now he pressed the tips of his fingers to his forehead and winced. “Forgive me for my own intemperance. I am not myself. I did not mean to offend you.” He made a bow then, wished me a pleasant evening, and withdrew. I went to the kitchen, begged a brace of apples, and retired to a lonely supper, accompanied by my own confusion. By morning, I had made my decision, and so they came that night. Grace waited till she saw my lantern passing across the lawn that divided the house from the manager’s cottage. I had barely splashed some water from the ewer on my face when I heard a scratch on the door. She stood there in the dark, Prudence at her side. The child did not look in the least as if she had just been roused from sleep. She kept shifting her weight from one small foot to the other in a skip of excitement. “You managed it, then? Annie did not notice you rousing the child?” Prudence gave a giggle. “Mama snores too loud to notice nothin’!” “Your mama is up before the birds,” said Grace gently, “making the marse’s cook fires and warming his bathing water. That’s why she falls dead asleep as soon as ever she lays her head down.” I had trimmed and mended a goose quill and ruled up a sheet of foolscap, so we opened the Webster’s and set to work. She was, as Grace had predicted, an apt pupil. Tell her a thing but one time and it stuck like clay to a boot. I believe she would have worked at the letters all night if I had not stifled a yawn and Grace called a halt to the lesson. Prudence turned to her, with a disappointed, “Oh!” “We must not impose too much upon Mr. March’s kindness, and you, my little one, need some sleep, after all.” “You may come again,” I said. “You are a good girl and have done well.” We agreed that if it were possible, and conditions seemed safe, we would meet for an hour every other evening, as long as my stay with the Clements lasted. At the door, Grace turned. She smiled at me, and I realized I had not seen her smile, not fully, since I had arrived there. “Thank you!” she said, and her voice was so warm I wanted to wrap myself up in it, like a quilt. For the next two weeks, I felt my life more complete than during any period I had known until that time. I had my studies by day, enriching conversation in the evening, and at night, a work that I found uplifting. On the nights they did not come, I stayed up in any case, planning how best to instruct the girl at our next lesson. I looked forward to each part of my day with equal pleasure at first, and then, as Prudence progressed more quickly than I could have imagined, I found that it was the secret schoolroom that most inspired me. I had grown to like the rich clarets that Mr. Clement poured, but on the evenings of our lessons I held back at dinner so as to better stay alert. One night, Clement noticed my abstinence, and commented upon it; so I laughed and let him pour liberally for the duration of the dinner. As a result, my judgment was impaired that night, for I let the lesson go longer than usual, and was waxing on some point of no doubt critical pedagogic importance when I noticed that my pupil, for the first time, had dropped off to sleep, her little chin cupped in her hand. I glanced up at Grace, who smiled at the drooping head. “I will carry her,” she whispered, rising. “Surely she’s too heavy for you…” “No, no. Not at all. I have grown strong from lifting Mrs. Clement. Oftentimes she is too faint to, well, to ease herself unassisted…” She glanced away. I felt the heat in my own cheeks, half embarrassment, half anger at the thought of Grace, as refined as any gentlewoman, required to hold the buttocks of demented Mrs. Clement and to clean her stinking chamber pots. “It’s not right!” I said, forgetting to modulate my voice. Grace smiled then, not one of the rare, sunshine smiles, but a sad smile of resignation. “If you live with your head in the lion’s mouth, it’s best to stroke it some,” she said. It was, perhaps, the beauty of her curved lips. Perhaps it was pity, or admiration for her dignity or her patience. Or perhaps just the extra glasses of claret. I stood, reached out a hand, and touched her cheek. And then I kissed her. I was eighteen and I had never kissed a woman before. The taste of her mouth was like cool spring water. The sweetness of it made me dizzy, and I wondered if I would be able to keep my feet. I felt the softness of her tongue in my mouth for a moment, then she raised her fingers, laid them lightly on my face, and gently pushed me away. “It’s not wise,” she whispered. “Not for either of us.” I was overcome with a rush of confused emotion: delight at the sensation of my first kiss, mortification at my lack of restraint, desire to touch her again, to touch her all over, to lose myself in her. Alarm at the potency of my lust. And guilty awarness that I had an obscene power here. That if lust mastered me, this woman would be in no position to gainsay my desire. “Forgive me!” I said, but my voice came out like a bat squeak, barely audible. She smiled again and scooped up the child as if she weighed nothing. “Don’t be a fool,” she murmured. I opened the door and she slipped out into the night. I lay awake a long time, pondering the nature of desire, and why God would endow man with such unbridled passions. And if, indeed, we are created in his image, what part of the divine Nature is mirrored in this? No answers came, nor any prospect of rest. Finally, when the birds had begun their loud dawn chorus, I gave way to temptation. There was a warm shudder, followed instantly by a hot shame, and then sleep claimed me at last. I awoke to a bright band of sunlight shafting through the opening door. I had overslept. I could tell by the heat of the sun that it was late morning. I scrambled to my feet as a small, sparrowlike man entered the cabin and peered at me through a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles. “March, is it?” said the man, sweeping off a travel-stained hat to reveal an almost bald head. “I’m Harris, Augustus Clement’s manager. He told me you’d been staying here, but I didn’t expect to find you still abed. Be grateful if you’d be good enough to, ah, afford me the use of my rooms. On the road for more than a week now, you know. Tired out, filthy, and a lot to do this day.” I muttered apologies and turned to gather up my things. I saw the quill, the ink, the Webster’s, and the pages of childish writing, scrawled all over with my corrections. I moved, abrupt, awkward, putting my large frame between Harris and the table, hoping to block his view. I began to speak, rapidly, in an effort to distract him. “I do hope your venture was successful? That your road was not too difficult?” Harris, who looked utterly done in, drew a hand through his dusty hair. “Yes, yes. As good as we could have expected…” “What route did you take? I have an interest, you know, in Virginia’s likely byways…” I was holding my clothes in a bundle before me. With an awkward flick of my wrist, I tried to fling my shirt over the pages. “Would love to go over a map with you…” I missed, and the garment fell in a heap by the table. Harris, impatient to get me moving, bent to retrieve it. Seizing that second, I spun around and swept the child’s pages under my jacket. He rose and handed me my shirt. I was edging for the door. As I reached to take the shirt from him, one of the pages slipped from my fingers and fluttered to the floor. It landed facedown. Quickly, I moved to snatch it up. Harris, his attention arrested by my odd behavior, was just as nimble. Our skulls met with a crack. We each had hold of the paper. I tugged, and it tore. Harris turned his fragment of foolscap over, his brow furrowed. “What the devil…” He straightened, his small face pulled into a fretwork of lines. It was clear that he grasped the whole. “This is a fine sight to come home to! And a fine reward to the Clements for their hospitality! Damned interfering Northern poltroon! What are you? Abolitionist? Quaker?” I shook my head. My mouth was filled with cotton from the wine and the lack of sleep, and I felt a wave of bile rise from a sour stomach. “Whose writing is this?” I didn’t reply. “By the light, you’ll answer to Mr. Clement. I think your visit here is over.” Still wearing his muddy travel clothes, Harris strode out, slamming the door behind him. I watched him through the window, strutting like a bantam cock across the lawn to the house. I sank into a chair, uncertain what to do. I wanted to warn Grace, but since she would already be attending on Mrs. Clement, I could think of no way to do so. I don’t think I have ever felt so low as I did that morning, making my way, heavyhearted, to the house. Word had preceded me. Annie, in the kitchen, was slumped over the deal table, her head buried in the crook of one arm, the other wrapped protectively around Prudence, whose little face was wet with tears. Annie looked up at me as I entered, her eyes filled with reproach, hurt, fear. “I’m so sorry!” I said. She glared at me, her mute rebuke more eloquent than the most scathing excoriation. I made my way to the library. Mr. Clement had the fragment of foolscap in his hand. He tossed it onto the rosewood desk. Beside him stood a well-grown youth, his face a windburned version of his father’s. The manager perched between them, his diminutive stature emphasized by the tallness of the Clements. When Clement spoke, I felt as if he were emptying a glass of cold well water down my collar. “Since you have betrayed my hospitality and flagrantly disregarded my express wishes, perhaps you will not think it unreasonable if I inquire which of my property you have contaminated with your instruction.” I had felt guilt until that moment. But his use of the word property in connection with the vivid person of Prudence and the dignity of Grace suddenly swept that sentiment away. “I am sorry I flouted your wishes,” I began, “but you yourself said that providing instruction for the African is part of the duty and burden of your system. Surely…” “How dare you, sir!” barked Clement’s son. He took a step toward me, his face florid. He reminded me of a pup mimicking a grown dog’s menace. His father raised a restraining hand. At that moment, there was a light tap upon the door. Mr. Clement said, “Come!” and Grace glided into the room, her eyes, cast down, avoiding mine. “What is it, girl?” Mr. Clement barked impatiently. She raised her head then and looked him straight in the eye. “Sir, it was my doing entirely,” she said. “I asked Mr. March to instruct Prudence. I urged him to do it, against his own judgment and inclination. Annie knew nothing of this. I acted expressly against her wishes.” “Thank you, Grace. I’m much obliged to you for your candor. You may return to attend Mrs. Clement now.” She nodded and went out. I was unable to catch her eye for even an instant. But my relief at the mildness of Mr. Clement’s reaction was immense. “I expect it will not take you above one half hour to gather your belongings and depart from my property. Forgive me if I do not see you out.” He gave me his back then, and I crept, like a chastised child, toward the door. It was not gone a quarter of an hour when I set off down the long dogwood-lined drive. While I had been Mr. Clement’s guest, May had given way to June and now that month was waning. The dogwood petals had fallen and the trees leafed out, offering some protection from a midday sun that already burned with the heat of full summer. I had gone only a little way toward the gate when I heard Mr. Clement’s voice, calling to me. “A moment, Mr. March, if you wouldn’t mind. There is something you need to see before you leave us, if you would do me the kindness of one last indulgence.” I felt relief at his words. I hoped they signaled that we might part on some terms, after all. I set down my trunks and followed. He turned toward the north path that led to the high-roofed tobacco barn where last year’s cured leaves had recently been hanging. Inside, I was surprised to see that all the slaves, house servants and field hands, had been gathered. Then I saw Grace. They had laid her facedown upon a bench, her arms stretched out above her head, her two thumbs bound together and fastened to a rope that then passed the full length underneath the table and came up to bind her ankles. A wide leather strap passed over the small of her slender back and pressed her flat against the table. Below the strap, the lower part of her body was exposed, in a complete state of nature. “Surely there is no need for this violation?” I said, my voice coming out high and cracked. Clement merely lifted his chin and turned to Mr. Harris. From a burlap sack the man drew out a braided leather whip almost as tall as he was. Then, moving to a spot about six feet from where Grace lay, he made a swift, running skip, raising the lash and bringing it down with a crack. The stroke peeled away a narrow strip of skin, which lifted on the whip, dangled for a moment, and then fell to the leaf-littered floor. A bright band of blood sprung up in its place. Her whole body quivered. “For pity’s sake, man!” I exclaimed. Clement’s face was as cold and immobile as one of his sculptures. It was—though I grudge the sense of fairness which bids me set this down—almost as white. The whip fell, again, with an almost delicate precision, the second strip taken just one inch lower on the buttocks, in perfect parallel to the first. Prudence was howling and had buried her face in Annie’s skirt. Clement raised his hand then, and I felt my body go limp with relief at the end to this terrible proceeding. “Turn the child,” he said. “She must watch the punishment.” The cook untangled her daughter’s fingers from her pinafore, placed a hand on her wet cheek, and turned her face around. “Proceed,” said Clement. Strip by strip the lash carved into Grace’s shuddering flesh. My tears were falling by then, heavy drops, joining in the leaf dust with the blood that had begun to trickle from the table. My limbs were so weak that I could not even raise a hand to wipe the mucus that dripped from my nose. Finally, Clement raised his hand again. A column of sunlight from a missing board in the barn roof glanced off his signet ring. “Thank you, Mr. Harris. That will be all.” The man ran a gray cloth along the whip to clean the blood off it and replaced it in the bag. The women had rushed forward, one unbinding and kneading Grace’s hands as the others brought ewers of water to bathe her wounds. She had been lying with her head faced away from me. She lifted it then, and turned, so that we looked at one another. If an anvil had fallen from the sky at that moment and landed upon me, I could not have felt more crushed. CHAPTER THREE Scars (#ulink_c268312c-141e-5245-93eb-1cfd340073d2) November 1, 1861 My dear, Your very admirable letter and the welcome contents of your parcel came straight to hand. Many thanks to you for the warm wishes of the former and the warm wool of the latter. I rejoice to hear that you and my girls continue well as the cold season creeps onward; tell my dear Jo that she must not despise her knitting, but see her needles as jousting lances, for her fine blue socks are marching now into the fray. I wish there were some better returns for so much, than these lines I send in haste, for word comes that we are to move from this place shortly and there is much to be done in consequence. I for one will not be sorry to venture forth from here, and yet even in such a place as this, there may be found much uplift. If anyone should continue to doubt, my dearest, the Negro’s fitness for emancipation, then let him come and stand by me in the field hospital, established in this house whose aged owner once used to boast of his descent from the Cavaliers. Indeed, “descent” is an apt word, for he is descended now, through a combination of caducity and destitution, to a very low condition. Most of his slaves ran off before the battle for this island, which preceded by a fortnight our ill-fated assault on the Virginia shore. There was but one slave who remained and, having volunteered to help our surgeon, worked tirelessly, with such deftness and dedication as seemed set to put him to the blush. In the days since then I have kept some note of the men she tended and most of them seem to mend better and more rapid than those under his care. The colonel acknowledges as much; he has offered to determine her “contraband of war” and to secure a place for her at a hospital in the capital—a wages-paying position, and this for a woman who has been a chattel slave since birth. But here is the cloth of gold from which her character is spun: she refuses to leave her frail master, stating that he is incapable of surviving without her. And yet I know that this very man once had her whipped for some most trivial transgression of his authority. What an example of Christian forgiveness! Some call them less than human; I call her more than saintly—a model, indeed, for our own little women. Who of course need no pattern more than their dear mother, she who radiates perfection, and to whom I happily proclaim my constant devotion… I knew that I should snuff out my candle, in case its light troubled those injured men with whom I share floor space here, in what used to be Mrs. Clement’s sitting room. But I took a moment, before I did so, and drew out from my blouse pocket the small silk envelope I kept there. Carefully, I drew forth the locks and laid them in the circle of candlelight. One fat curl in gleaming yellow, tied with a bow of pink satin: my little Amy’s glory. A mouse brown wisp from my tranquil Beth. A chestnut swirl from Meg. And last, two thick locks, dark and lustrous. Even though the hair color and texture of mother and daughter were identical, I had no trouble lifting out Jo’s and setting it alongside her sisters’. My wild girl had hacked at her hair, so that the ends were all jagged, and tied it with a practical piece of string. I gazed at the girls’ locks for a long minute, imagining the four beloved heads, sleeping peacefully on their pillows in Concord. I placed them back in their envelope then and blew out the candle. The last lock I kept out. I held it against my cheek as I waited for sleep. But lying on the hard boards amid groans and snores, I found sleep elusive. And so I had time to consider why, among all that I had shared with her, I had never yet confided in my wife the tale of that unhappy Virginia spring. To be sure, those events were several years behind me by the time we met. The guilt I felt, for having let myself be seduced by Clement’s wealth and decieved by his false nobility had eased, in time, from an acute pain to a dull ache. By then, I had little wish to recall the callow peddler who would turn over any dank stone in his quest for knowledge. Certainly, I was reluctant to admit to her—to her, of all people, for I soon saw the hot wrath with which she dealt with like cases—that I had suffered, even fleetingly, from moral blindness on the matter of slavery; that I had averted my young eyes in order to partake in a small share of that system’s tempting fruits. After my eviction from the Clement estate, I went on peddling, though I ceased averting my eyes. From my youth, I have been unorthodox in my faith. I could never reconcile the Calvinists’ stern preachments that we are all of us, even radiant babes, sin-saturated. Nor could I bring myself to believe in a deity whose finger touched every man’s slightest doing. To me, the divine is that immanence which is apparent in the great glories of Nature and in the small kindnesses of the human heart. And yet, for a few moments, in a little church on the outskirts of Petersburg, I did feel as if a Power revealed itself to me and made known how I was meant to go on. I had noted a Bible study under way and, with no pressing business, on a whim decided to join it. Why I did so I will never rightly know, as I had long since given up an expectation of gaining any spiritual sustenance in churches, finding within only stale and pompous ritual in the North, and primitive superstition in the South. Nevertheless, I entered the small clapboard building, unremarkable, except that it happened to be set down in that part of the square adjacent to a courtyard where slaves, from time to time, were put up for auction. It happened that just such a sale commenced in the course of the Bible study hour. So as, with one ear, we heard the good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people, with the other we heard the resonant voice of the auctioneer cry out: “Bring up the niggers!” As we contemplated the teachings to be drawn from the greatest life ever lived, the voice without was crying up the lot in hand: two children without the mother, who had been kidnapped therefrom. My thoughts flew to the verse “suffer the little children to come unto me,” and had I then the means, I would have marched out and bought those children their freedom. What was most striking to me was that no one else in the church seemed to mark what was going on without, and when the pastor asked for subscriptions to aid in sending the scriptures into Africa, I could bear this no longer, but stood in my place and asked how it was that the Good News could not be sent more cheaply to the beings on the auction block next door? This was greeted with hisses and tuttings and a cold request that I leave, which I did, speedily and without regret. Outside, the two children had already been sold, and bidding was vigorous for a fit-looking man of about thirty. The auctioneer cried out that the man was a free black, now put up for sale for nonpayment of his city taxes. The man was weeping and I did not wonder at it. How intolerable to have once earned freedom and then to have it snatched away. The next lot was a youth whom I judged to be about fourteen years of age with straight brown hair whose skin was as white as any in the crowd of buyers. A few of the men called out coarse jests alluding to the youth’s parentage, and the boy’s freckled face flushed. The bidding was desultory, and when the auctioneer, citing the youth’s soundness, exhorted the crowd to higher offers, a cry came forth that he “wouldn’t have those goods as a gift.” A man standing by me shook his head, and when our eyes met, I thought that I had a companion in my anguish at the scene. “It’s wrong,” he said. “Shockingly so,” I assented. “White niggers are more trouble than they’re worth.” The boy was knocked down for $250, and as he was handed off, I saw a very young woman penned among the unsold lots, reaching out her arms in the boy’s direction, crying out farewells to the son she would likely never see again. I left the place, being able to stand no more. I could not help but wonder how the scene might have gone if the pastor had led his people of faith out from that little church to stand in that square with their Bibles raised in protest. From that day, I was convinced that the pulpit was the place from which to decry this barbarous system. But how I was to find my way there was, at that time, unclear to me. And so I went on, tramping in summer, the roads dusty and the weather sultry, and likewise through winter, the snowfalls knee-deep and the ways icy. At times, searching for new markets, I pushed through trackless wastes such as the Dismal Swamp. It was there that I lost myself, at night, in the midst of a tempest so terrifying that I believed I was meant to die, running, in the illumination of the lightning flashes, amid falling branches and drenching torrents. But I lived, and at 33 percent on each small sale, my profits accumulated, until I had enough put by for a horse and trap, and could expand both my inventory and my territory. By the second year, as my receipts increased, I took on Connecticut lads just off the sloops to work for me on commission, and when I sold out the concern to the brightest and most industrious among them, it was for a tidy little sum. I traveled home through the city of New York, where I stopped on the Broadway to bespeak the suit of clothes I had promised myself, and returned to Spindle Hill in triumph and a vest of Marseilles. I bought my parents their new house, then chanced a like sum on a silver speculation that paid out handsomely enough to afford me an interest in a half dozen factories on the Naugatuck. Poverty, they say, is the philosopher’s ornament and the worldling’s plague. Yet, though I like to think of myself as a philosopher, this did not deter me from gathering most gratefully what came honestly into my hands. In short, by my early twenties I found myself rich: enough to afford a set of tasteful rooms within easy walking distance of the great libraries of Boston. There I commenced to apply myself to study, reflection, and, by stages, to the quill driving and lecturing that brought me a small measure of notice among those whose good opinion I most valued. Through the intercession of one of them, the estimable Unitarian Reverend Daniel Day, I was approbated to give sermons, and became a preacher of no fixed pulpit. It is to Reverend Day, also, that I am indebted for the introduction to that remarkable person, his sister, who is now my wife. As I lie in the dark, thinking over the words l have just written to her, I recall that I have said I will not be sorry to leave here. Contemplating those words, I realize that they are not altogether true. I will be sorry indeed on one account: that is, to leave Grace, for this a second time, in bondage. Although this time, the choice to stay is hers. I had stood for a very long time, that night after the battle of the bluff, trying to gather the strength to once again enter this house. I cannot say how long it was that I stood with my head pressed against the chipped white pillar. Despite the chill, sweat formed scalding rivulets down my back. I could hear the cries of the wounded men coming from inside, and knew I should be with them. For their pain was real, and present, and mine was just an old memory from a past that no one could change. I straightened, finally, took a last deep breath of outside air, and laid my hand against the great door. There were bits of board nailed up where the beveled lights had been. I supposed they had been shot out or shattered in the battle for possession of the island. Inside, in what had been the elegant oval reception hall, men huddled, wounded and wet. Some lay flat upon the floor, some half-propped against the walls. One man’s head was pillowed on the plinth that held the Bound Prometheus, and his face had the same wracked expression as the carved countenance above him. No one, it seemed, had got across the river with a full kit. Some had pants, but were missing shirts; others were attired the opposite way, having lost the lower half of their costume, but retained a coat. Some were entirely nude. Of these, a few shared Turkey rugs pulled up to cover them. Others, without such comfort, shivered so hard that it seemed likely they would shake the house off its foundations. I gave my own black frock to one of these wretches. Because cries issued from the room that had been Mr. Clement’s library, I expected that the worst cases were within, and that I would find our surgeon there. Dr. McKillop is a short, stocky man with muscled forearms as hairy as a Barbary ape’s. He was turned away from me, working on the wrecked arm of Seth Millbrake, a wheelwright from Cambridge. I noted that even the back of McKillop’s coat was blood-spattered, indicating the work he had accomplished whilst I’d tarried to wallow in my own exhaustion and despair. I resolved to think better of him. At his feet lay a forearm, a foot, and a leg, sheared off at the knee. McKillop lifted his boot from this goreslicked floor and commenced to use its sole as a strop for his scalpel. Seth was pleading with the surgeon, as such men always do, to save his limb. But the missile had shattered the bone near the elbow, splintering it into a score of white needles now sewn all through the shredded muscle. My resolution regarding McKillop was tested within an instant when the surgeon, turning to wipe his knife on a piece of rag, noticed me. “March! About time! Get over here!” he barked, as one might call to an errant dog. “Hold his shoulders,” he instructed, and I did, concentrating on Millbrake’s face so that I would not have to watch McKillop’s ferreting. Millbrake’s eyes were all pupil—black with agony and fear. His tremors shook the table he lay upon. I brought my head close to his ear and whispered the words of the psalm: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress…” Just then, McKillop’s instrument hit a vessel and a spurt of warm liquid flew into my eye. I could not let go my grip on the writhing body to wipe it away, so I went on: “He sent forth his word and healed them…” I tasted iron as the blood trickled down the side of my nose and found my lips. Millbrake went limp under my hands then, and I thought that he had fallen into merciful unconsciousness. But when McKillop lifted his hand from where he had pressed it down upon the spurting vessel, I saw that the fluid flowed without pulse, and realized that the man’s life had ended. McKillop grunted and turned to his next patient, who had taken a ball in the stomach. He plunged a finger into the wound and felt around in a desultory manner for a few moments. Then he withdrew his hand, shrugging. “When balls are lost in the capacity of the belly one need not amuse himself by hunting for them.” Fortunately, the wounded man was unconscious and did not hear the grim sentence the surgeon had just passed. As McKillop moved on to attend to a man whose skull was stove in like a crushed tin mug, I lifted Millbrake’s half-severed limb, which was twisted most unnaturally, and arranged it on his breast, then set the other arm across it. “Philbride, over in the corner there,” McKillop said without raising his eyes from his work. “Shrapnel in his breast. Nothing I can do. He was calling for a chaplain. Better make it quick.” A farm boy would never have mistaken haystacks for tents. But they hadn’t sent a farm boy to scout the Virginia shore. Philbride was a mill-town lad, accustomed to made roads and brick walls and a vista no wider than a street. At night, in thick fog, his fear had filled a harvested field with an enemy company; sentryless, seemingly, set there as if in answer to our general’s desire for an easy victory. Poor Philbride. He knew that his erroneous report was the crumbled footing on which our whole day’s edifice had collapsed. But it was not the only mistake, nor even the gravest. And that was what I whispered to the youth, who could scarce draw a breath and whose sweat, despite the cold night air, pearled on his pale skin. I wish his eyes had grown less desperate, his shallow breathing deeper as I spoke. But I cannot say so. “Will of God,” “bosom of our Saviour,” perhaps these were the words he wanted. Perhaps it was in the hope of such preachments that he had called out for a chaplain. Instead, what I told him was the plain truth: that today’s business was neither God’s work nor his will, but a human shambles, merely. I would have gone on to say that it was no matter, that one botched battle did not make a war, and that the cause we served was worth the price paid, here and in perhaps a hundred other places in the days to come. But all I had done that day had gone ill, and my ministrations to that boy were no different. He sat up suddenly, desperate for breath. His pierced lungs, it seemed, couldn’t draw air for him, so I just held him there, his mouth gaping like a landed fish, while his skin turned slowly to the color of oatmeal. Afterward, I went in search of some container to haul away the litter of amputated limbs, the presence of which, I judged, could only work on the fears of the wounded. That chore accomplished, I looked for water to clean off the blood. Finding the ewers empty, I gathered as many as I could carry and, picking my way through the ruined men, made my way to the well house. Even in candlelight, even after twenty years, even with her back turned, I recognized her. She was bending to fill pitchers from the well bucket, and there was something in the curve of her back, the sway at the waist, and the way she came slowly erect. As I had stood outside on the steps, gathering my courage to enter this place, it had fallen into my mind that Grace might be the slave the private had mentioned. I wanted it to be so. I dreaded it be so. At the moment I recognized her, longing and dread collided with a force that made me clumsy, so that a ewer slipped in my hand and I fumbled to keep hold of it. She, of course, could not have entertained the possibility of seeing me. So that when she turned, all she saw was yet another in the roll of the wounded, a coatless soldier without token of rank, whose blood-spattered visage spoke of some grievous hurt. “Let me take those, soldier,” she said, reaching for the ewers. That silvery voice, so distinctive. “You are kind to try to help, but you shouldn’t be walking about with your wound untended.” “I’m not wounded, Miss Grace. I was helping the surgeon with an amputation.” Her head, tied just as I remembered in an elaborate rigolette, went up like an animal, scenting. She raised the lantern that held her candle and looked at me, hard. “Do I know you, sir?” “You probably wouldn’t remember me—” Even as I said the words I realized how ridiculously they rang. How would she not remember the foolish youth who had been the source of her agony? “My name is March…I was here in forty-one…” “Mr. March! The teacher!” I could not tell, in the dark, if she intended irony by addressing me so, or whether the warmth in her voice was genuine. “Forgive me, I did not expect to see you a soldier.” “I am serving as a chaplain.” She raised her chin in a slight nod, as if that fit her memory of me, and held out her hand. I took it, noting as I did so that it was chapped and calloused. Something must have shown in my face, for when she drew back her hand, she looked down at it self-consciously. “So many things have changed here, Mr. March. Some of them you see for yourself. Others are less evident. Perhaps we will have time to speak of it, if you would care to, but now the wounded men are thirsty…” “Of course,” I said. “We both have much to do.” I let her go and went to my own duty, which was to bring comfort where I could. I was sitting in the oval entrance hall sometime toward dawn, my back propped against the stairwell, when exhaustion finally claimed me. I had taken the hand of a gravely injured man, and I held it still when I awoke. But it was cold by then, and rigid. Grace was standing over me, pouring from a jorum of coffee. I closed the eyes of the dead man and stood stiffly, every fiber of my body complaining. As I steadied myself on the stair rail, I noted that the wood was rough under my hand. Grace ran a finger over the ruined banister. “My doing, I fear: I brought Mr. Clement’s horse in here, during the fighting,” she said. “He chewed the banister, as you see, and then of course the army found him anyway, and took him as contraband…” She looked away then, and I wondered if she was aware that her own status was not unlike that of the horse: she, too, might be considered contraband of war. I accepted the tin mug she held out to me, drank the scalding contents, and passed it back to her so that she could serve another man. In the gray light—for it had rained hard all through the night, adding to the misery of the many men without a shelter even as cheerless as this house—I studied Grace’s features. She had aged in twenty years, certainly; there were fine lines etched around her eyes and mouth, and hard times had robbed her skin of its bloom. But she was handsome, still, and I could see the eyes of the men following her as she moved from one to another. There was much to do that morning. We buried those we had recovered from the toll of the battle’s dead, laying them side by side in a shallow grave, each man with his name and unit inscribed on a scrap of paper placed in a bottle and tucked under his blouse, if indeed he still wore one. Before noon, the ambulances arrived on the Maryland side to fetch the wounded to Washington, so I lent my hand as stretcher bearer to move the men down to the boats, over the protests of my aching muscles. It was a labor of many hours, made miserable by the incessant rain and mud. I had no boots, so the viscous stuff tugged at my bare feet with a thirsty suck, and soon the skin was rubbed red raw. Across the river, as the day wore on, the hungry mules pulled in their traces, wrenching the wagons back and forth. The moans told the effect on those lying within. When the train finally set out, we had left with us only the walking wounded and those so gravely injured that McKillop had deemed they wouldn’t last the journey to Washington. By daylight, some things were evident that darkness had concealed. It was clear that the ruined state of the house was not a matter of a few weeks at war. The signs of long decay were everywhere. The tobacco fields were overrun by tare and thistleweed; the plants, which should have been harvested for drying, stood blackened by frost. The pollarded fruit trees that had hedged the kitchen garden were sprouting unpruned; the long-stretching bean rows, once trim as a parade line, were leggy scraggles, while many beds stood unsown. I realized that the ruined gristmill I had passed in the darkness was the selfsame structure that as a going concern had so vexed Mr. Clement. Some calamity, clearly, had overtaken this place. I longed to learn more. But I was pressed hard all that day and into evening, and when I glimpsed Grace, she, too, was about myriad duties so that we had no chance to speak. The next day, our colonel came to make an assessment of our condition, and told us that we were left with no more than 350 effectives in a unit that had numbered more than 600. McKillop proved himself a good judge of the men’s condition, as most of those he had marked for death were indeed gone within those two days. In the afternoons I helped to bury them with what ceremony conditions allowed. I was coming from the corner of the field we had staked out for a burial ground when I saw Grace, walking on the terrace with a frail old man on her arm. I say walking, but in fact the progress the pair made was achieved in an odd gait for which there is no name. Augustus Clement—I cannot say I recognized him, but rather knew that it must be he—no longer had the posture of a man. His head was cocked forward and to one side, like a rooster’s, his ear almost set down upon his collarbone. Grace held his left arm in a firm grip and supported him further with a hand around his waist. His right arm seemed fixed to his side from shoulder to elbow, but the lower arm flapped wildly, his fingers fanning the air. He progressed by raising one knee almost waist high, swaying there for a long moment, then placing the toe tentatively onto the ground before letting the heel follow it, deliberate as a dancer. Because they could make no very rapid progress, I soon came abreast of them and offered a greeting. Mr. Clement could not raise his head, but turned his body sidelong, his cloudy eyes groping to see who it was that spoke to him. There was a blankness to his expression, for it seemed that the muscles of his face were as palsied as the rest of him. Grace leaned down to his ear and spoke soothingly. A strange sound, a kind of donkey bray, issued from his slack lips. A bubble of saliva formed itself into a thread and dribbled down his chin. The flapping of his hand became more violent. Grace drew forth a handkin and wiped his face. “Mr. Clement is very agitated because of all the confusion here,” she said. “Forgive me, Mr. March, but I believe I had best return him to his room.” “Can I help you? He seems so very frail.” “I would be obliged,” she said, and so I took my place on the other side of the trembling body, and together we brought him within. She had made up a bed for him in the breakfast room, for it was long since he could negotiate the stairs. When we got there, after our tortuous progress, and Grace eased him down upon his couch, he gave a ragged sigh of relief. I held the basin as Grace bathed his face, and by the time she was done he seemed to have fallen into a doze. Grace took the cloths and basin and withdrew to what had been a small butler’s pantry. There was a narrow pallet upon the floor, and this, I thought, must be where she now spent her nights. When she was done arranging his toilet things, she straightened and stared out a small casement window. The light was fading on the neglected fields, and the thistleweeds threw long shadows. “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck…” She gave a deep sigh. “Mrs. Clement loved that poem, Mr. March. She had me read it until I had it by heart. I am glad she is not here to see what a wreck we are become.” Grace turned from the window and came back into the breakfast room. “She died, you know, the autumn of the year you were with us. The mourning was very correct, but really, I was the only one for whom her death changed anything.” She sat then, upon a ladder-back chair. I imagine she often sat so, keeping vigil over the old man. Her back was very straight. She gazed at the hands folded in her lap, turning them over, as if their workworn condition still surprised her. It seemed that she wanted to say more, so I sat down also, in an armchair that I assumed was Mr. Clement’s accustomed place. It must have been months since she had had anyone to whom she could speak freely, for once she began on the tale, it poured out, a litany of loss. “It all went on, just as it always had. I know that Mr. Clement’s daughter begged him to give me to her, to work at her plantation on the James. She claimed, quite rightly, that there would now be too few duties for me in this house. But Mr. Clement refused her and she departed here in a great huff. I expected to take up the duties of one of our house servants and have that unfortunate relegated to the fields, but nothing of the kind happened. If Mr. Harris suggested it, Mr. Clement did not heed him. I was left alone, to fill my hours as I wished. So I did what I always had done. I read, Mr. March, but with the difference that I chose volumes according to my own desires rather than Mrs. Clement’s. So it was for more than a year, until the following fall. Mr. Clement had gone ahead to his daughter’s plantation, where a family celebration was to be observed. His son was to follow on the eve of the gathering, and he decided he would bring a brace of wild turkey for the occasion. He went out alone, and did not come back. It was Mr. Harris who found him. Apparently, he had got his boot tangled in some honeysuckle thicket and his fowling piece discharged into his face. Mr. Harris carried the body home here and I tried to tell him that it would be best to get it in its box before the master returned. But he said he wouldn’t do anything until he knew Mr. Clement’s wishes. Well, of course Mr. Clement rode back here in a distraught state and insisted on seeing his boy. I had done my best, but that didn’t amount to much.” She looked at me then, and I could see the condition of the corpse just from the memory of it in her eyes. “He sat up all night by the body. The next morning, I noticed a tremor in his hand. I thought it was exhaustion, merely. But it was the beginning of his long decline. “Mr. Harris did not stay here long after. He got a better offer and he took it. His ties had been to the young master. I think he really loved the boy, in his way. He certainly spent more time with him than Mr. Clement, who made it cruelly plain that his own son bored him. It was Mr. Harris who praised the boy when he mastered some aspect of farm work. I think you know that Mr. Clement never troubled to conceal his contempt for estate matters or those whose minds they occupied. You could not have known how it galled Mr. Harris, that morning of his return, when he came into the kitchen for refreshment and learned from Annie that you had been dining with Mr. Clement every day. He himself had never been invited to do so. Not once, in nine long years of service. So, I suppose you could say that Mr. Clement had no right to the man’s loyalty. “In any case, the place has never been well run since the day he left. The replacement Mr. Clement hired was a swindler: he made off with a year’s profit. The next man was a brute—” She stopped for a moment, dealing with memories that were evidently so bitter she could not give them voice. ‘’Mr. Clement dismissed him after two of our best hands, Mose and Asa, ran off. Until that time the Clements had never had a runaway. By then, the place had a name for mismanagement, and the only person Mr. Clement could find to take it on was a man who spent all night drinking applejack and all day sleeping it off. That was the year Mr. Clement started selling people, to make ends meet. The speculator wanted to sell me: I overheard him say that a “yaller girl” like me would be worth more than any other three hands down in New Orleans. But Mr. Clement wouldn’t hear of it. He sold Justice and Prudence instead. The day the speculator took them, Annie went to the river. Mr. Clement always maintained that she slipped on the rocks, but it wasn’t so. She just walked out into the channel until the water closed over her head.” I felt a hard lump form suddenly in my throat. Grace stood, abruptly, and busied herself lighting the lamp against the gathering dark. Before the wick flared, I dashed the tears from my eyes with the back of my hand. “As soon as we got word that the Union army was camped across the river in Poolesville, half the remaining hands ran off. That left but three of us, and the other two left here a fortnight ago, during the battle for the island. “ “Grace,” I said, standing and taking a step toward her. “Why do you not go, too? The colonel told me he had offered you a place in a hospital in Georgetown…You could begin again there…” In answer, she turned and looked down upon the sunken face of Mr. Clement. She bent over him to adjust his coverlid. He was snoring now; great shuddering sounds like a beast makes. “Just because he refrained from selling you to a bordello hardly means you owe him this kind of loyalty. He has a daughter, after all,” I went on. “Why cannot she have the care of him?” She straightened, and looked at me, that direct gaze I remembered so clearly. “He has two daughters, Mr. March.” For a moment, I did not grasp her meaning. Then, as I did so, I put a hand out to the chair back to steady myself. It was so obvious, after all; her status in the household, the light tone of her skin, the resemblance she bore to Clement in her height and bearing. If I had not been such an innocent when I first came here, I must have seen it at once. She had told me that her mother had been sold at the time of Clement’s marriage. Surely it often went just so. “But do not think I deceive myself. That is not the reason I was kept from the speculator.” She turned, in the dim lamplight, and I perceived that she was untying the lacings of her skirt. “Grace,” I said, but she raised a hand to her lips to hush me. “What is the point of modesty, between you and me?” she said, her silvery voice suddenly hoarse. “You have seen me this way before.” Her gaze was unflinching, even though her eyes brimmed. She pushed the fabric down below her right hip. The scars stood, puckered and pale, against the smooth sheen of the uninjured skin above them. Twenty years, and there it was: the evidence of the great crime I had witnessed. That I had caused to be committed. “The fancy-girl merchants don’t pay for spoiled goods, Mr. March.” I moved toward her and pulled the fabric up to cover the obscene marks. As I did so, my fingertip brushed against the place. The scar was hard as rind. I dropped to my knees then, overcome with grief and pity. “I am so sorry,” I whispered. But as I tried to rise, she laid her hands on my shoulders and gently, firmly held me. Then she drew my head against her. There are many things I have told myself since, in exculpation for what I felt at that moment. I have tried to plead that fatigue had blurred my judgment; that amid so much death the body’s compulsion to reach for life, to the very act of generation, could not be gainsaid. This much is true: at that moment I believed that the most moral act I could perform would be the one that would unite us, completely. I wanted to give the lie to every claim of difference save the God-ordained one of Genesis: man and woman created he them. But this, also, is true: I wanted her. The thought of her—arched, shuddering, abandoned—thrilled me to the core. CHAPTER FOUR A Little Hell (#ulink_d358d2db-6e0f-5f5f-899b-ed2abd882f12) Outside Harper’s Ferry, January 15, 1862 My dear, This morning, at last, everything is quiet along our lines, and so I take the opportunity to thaw my frozen fingers with the exercise of writing these lines. By the time you receive this, whatever festivities the Christmas season may have afforded will be memories. I hope my girls were able, even in these hard times, to find some merriment and some meaning. Knowing you, my dearest, I do not doubt the latter; I imagine you all about some great Good Work. How I long for a letter from your own hand to tell me if I see you aright from this distance; I pray that some account of your doings will yet manage to reach me. While I imagine Meg and Jo have long had recourse to Hannah’s hot morning “muffs” as they make their snowy way to their honorable employment, here the season’s first white cloak descended just this past night, and today’s sun rose in a clear sky to reveal the remarkable natural beauties of these ridges. They are etched out now in a black-and-white clarity such as our Amy could capture, were she here with pen to make a drawing of their loveliness. The ridges, though picturesque, made for hard marching, and we had every kind of precipitation to contend with. The new recruits joined us before we marched, fresh-faced New England boys, and not a few of them fell out with exhaustion attempting to carry packs and equipment weighing more than fifty pounds. Despite the hardships, the newcomers are in good spirits and spoiling for a fight (simply because they have not yet had one), and that in itself cheers the veterans. I find it suits me, this job of chaplain. I am, indeed, a “chapel man,” who carries within himself all that’s needed for worship. At last, it is possible to have a part in faith without carved pulpit or Gothic arch, without lace altar cloth and without robes, save my suit of unornamented black. It is true that some of the men of strict denomination are perplexed by me, and I in my turn by them. I will share with you one tale which has, I think, an amusing ending. A private came daily to my tent over the past week, falling to his knees and crying out upon the heavens over his sins and his corruptions, begging all the saints to intercede for him that he not die so stained and be thrown into the Everlasting Fire. As a rule I would not presume to question a man’s beliefs, but this boy seemed so distraught that I began to lead his thought a little, sharing with him my conviction that since there were neither saints, nor a literal hell, he need not torment himself so over past failures, but simply try to do better in the future. At which point, he got up off his knees, swore, and pulled on his forage cap with a most disgusted expression. I was chastened, and feared I had offended him by casting doubt on his cherished creed. “It ain’t that,” he said. “It’s just I see I been wasting my time here. All I wanted was a furlough and I figured you’d help me git one if I could convince you I been saved!” It seems clear from the disposition of the artillery that we are poised for an attempt on that little river town so sacred to the history of our struggle. Last night, I conducted a service; the lieutenant colonel, a shouting Methodist with a fine pair of bellows, sang a gathering hymn. We could not have a light for it might attract the fire of the enemy, so we prayed in the dark, and I sermonized about grizzled old John Brown and his band of boys, black and white, who came to this very place in an attempt to liberate the slaves, and how our efforts soon might secure the ends that had eluded them. Because it was dark, I could not read the men’s faces, but all listened in respectful silence until the snow brought down a white curtain on our service. When I stepped out of my cloth house this morning and into this sparkling world, my thoughts flew northward, for you will recall that it was on just such a crisp and luminous day that I first saw you… I lifted my head, and she was there before me: seated in the second pew of her brother’s chapel in Connecticut. The Reverend Day had called on me to reinforce his own message; he had grown, he confessed, somewhat dispirited, after toiling for six of his best years in that place with so little visible effect. The village remained a forest of wagging fingers whose citizens were content to condemn, yet unprepared to do anything material against the system that provided their mills with cotton. He had invited me to speak, and I was in full flight, denouncing, as I recollect, the lamentable exclusion of the president’s slave from the state funeral that had taken place earlier in that week. Six men, including our secretary of state, had perished together when the test firing of a heralded new weapon had gone awry. Five of them had been accorded the rites of national mourning. For the sixth, the black man, there had been no public grief. “This man,” I said, “was held equal by the shrapnel that tore his body. He was human enough to die beside them, yet not human enough to be mourned with them. Thus does the minister who led that service turn religion, which should be our pole star, into a beacon of intolerance!” She had been sitting with her head bowed, her face obscured by the brim of her bonnet. She was wearing a simple gown in a shade of palest lemon, so that she seemed to amplify the bright, snowrefracted sunlight that poured down from the chapel’s high transoms. Suddenly, she looked up, directing her gaze right at me. Her hair was glossy black, and her eyes—her intelligent, expressive eyes—were dark and shining as a Spaniard’s. When I met those eyes, my words flew away, as if they had risen up through the window panes and taken wing on the cold air. I faltered, fumbled with my notes, felt the flush begin to rise. As is ever true, the mortification of realizing one is about to blush only made the blood throb harder. I was twenty-two, and vexed at myself that I still colored as easily as a guilty schoolboy. I stood in that maghogany pulpit, and I must have glowed brighter than a jar of pickled beets. Helpless, I offered a silent prayer for self-command, which by grace was answered, so that I was able to go on. But I took care not to glance again in that dangerous direction until I reached the end of my text. When I dared to allow my eyes to seek her, she was looking down again, the radiance safely quenched once more beneath the armor of her hat brim. After the service, her brother presented Miss Margaret Marie Day, whom everyone in the family called by the affectionate childhood name of Marmee. I was invited to dine, of course, and I had to call on a lifetime’s discipline to keep myself from staring fixedly at her face. It was not by any means a face that the conventional world would label beautiful, and certainly the word pretty had no part in it; her skin was olive-gold rather than society’s preferred pallor, the cheekbones were set rather high and wide, the nose rather long, the chin decided rather than delicate. But the effect was such that the word which kept presenting itself to me was noble—she resembled an aristocrat rendered by the brush of some Iberian court painter. During the dinner, she acted the part of hostess, as Mrs. Day was recuperating from a difficult lying in with her second child. Miss Day did not have a large share in the conversation, but neither did she radiate shyness or indifference. She was, rather, an active listener, seeming to drink in the words of her brother and his other guests, including, I was flattered to note, myself. It was a family alive with good feeling, their zeal for reform matched by a zest for life. There was lively discussion of serious subjects, but there was also laughter, and in this Miss Day participated with an unstudied naturalness that filled me with warmth toward her. The meal was unpretentious and hearty—I took bread, cheese, and apples, bountifully served up in a cloth-lined orchard basket. I was invited to spend the night at the parsonage, and I woke the next morning to the most astonishing sound. In fact, even before it wakened me, the music penetrated my dreams, and somewhere between sleep and consiousness, I had a vision of a lark in full-throated song. In my dream, I did not marvel that a bird should have the gift of language, but only that it should be so well schooled in the repertoire of bel canto. When I came to full consciousness, I realized that the sweet soprano must belong to Miss Day. She sang as she went about her morning duties. Lying in my bed, I envied my colleague such a reveille. I pictured the generous lips giving shape to the lyrics, the throat from which the music issued. I imagined my fingers lying lightly there, feeling the glorious vibration. I saw the rise and fall of her breast as she gave breath to each sweet note. The consequences of these thoughts meant that I was a little delayed before I was able to present myself at breakfast. When finally I felt able to come downstairs, I learned that Mr. Day was unexpectedly called out on a pastoral emergency. “The person is not, strictly speaking, a member of his flock,” confided Miss Day, as she pressed a basket of fragrant, steaming muffins upon me, “but a horrid, stiffshirted old Calvinist.” I smiled at her frank expression. “But for my brother, to hear of a hurt is to seek to heal it. He has ever been thus, even as a small boy, bringing in every waif and stray that crossed his path. Once, he even brought home an injured dog whose only thanks for his succour was a series of very savage bites.” She wore a tender expression as she spoke of this much beloved older brother, and for the second time that day, I felt a stab of envy. Miss Day did not retire after the meal with some slight excuse, as other young ladies of that time might have felt obliged to do, on finding themselves alone with a bachelor stranger. Instead, she led me into the parlor and commenced to converse with an open manner and a lack of affectation that I found remarkable and refreshing. We had spoken, the evening before, of her brother’s views of education. While he had enumerated what he saw as the deficencies of the Connecticut common schools, she had said little. But now she expressed herself freely, and fiercely, on the particular deficiencies in female education. “It is bad enough that so few, so pathetically few of us are advanced an education worth the name at all,” she said. “But worse that we, the fortunate ones, whose families seek out the best for us, are subjected to a course of study that is stultifying, oppressive, crippling rather than enhancing to our moral integrity and intellectual growth.” I asked her to enumerate specific areas in which she found flaws, and it was like tapping a wellspring. She jumped up from her chair. She was wearing another unadorned gown, this one the color of rich caramel that looked well against the tones of her skin. It rustled as she paced, her stride as wide as a man’s. “What do they teach us?” She held out a graceful hand and began checking off subjects. “Music, yes, but music of the most banal kind—” She tossed back her head: “Tra-la-la, fa-di-da,” she trilled mockingly. “Little airs and dances for drawing-room entertainment. Nothing that one might have to sweat over.” She touched a second finger. “Drawing—decorative landscapes in quiet pastels. But may we learn to hack life out of stone like a Michelangelo? Or push juicy oil paint around canvas to portray human agony, like a Goya? ‘Oh, draw, by all means, little girl, but please, don’t aspire to be an artist.’ And what else may we learn? Languages? Very good; to gain another language can be to see into another soul, do you not think?” I raised my chin in a little gesture of assent. I did not want to risk her negative opinion in confessing that I had not mastered any other language. But she was launched: she did not need any wind from me to fill her sails. “So, we are drilled in foreign grammars and vocabulary. But in how we apply this knowlege, we are censored. Show me the French class where girls are given to read the passionate poems of a Ronsard. Oh no. This is not for us. We must not corrupt our delicate minds. Neither may we read the essays of the French revolutionaries; we, who are the daughters of revolutionaries! No, there must be no argument, no strong emotion. A little vapid romance perhaps, but not love. Not passion. Not that which beats at the very heart of women’s being!” She was pulled tight as a wire, standing almost on her toes, her hands drawn up now, clenched together under her chin. “Perhaps you yourself should teach young women?” I interjected. “I’m sure your ardor for the subject would suit you to the profession.” She laughed, the tension going suddenly out of her, and shook her head. “Who would hire me to corrupt their daughters’ minds? And even if they did, I have not mastered that which I would wish to teach. I have not scaled the cliffs of knowlege, only meandered in the foothills. If I have reached any heights at all in learning, it is as a sparrow-hawk who encountered a favorable breeze that bore it briefly aloft.” She flopped down onto the chaise in a flutter of skirt, as unself-conscious as a little girl. “You have unmasked me! I am one of those who knows how I wish the world were; I lack the discipline to make it so.” “You are severe upon yourself.” “Quite the opposite, I assure you. If I were more severe I should be more accomplished. But perhaps one day I will be entrusted with daughters of my own, and if so, I swear I will not see their minds molded into society’s simpering ideal of womanhood. Oh, how I would like to raise writers and artists who would make the world acknowlege what women can do!” She gave a light laugh. “Of course, I will first have to find a partner willing to share his life with such an opinionated termagant.” There was an awkward silence. I do not honestly know how I might have filled it, if the Reverend Day had not returned at that exact moment. I should have proposed to her then and there, and spared us both an agony of pointless waiting. But return he did, and the moment passed, and she withdrew to see to the recovering invalid and to be useful in the nursery. Generally, I relished the chance for conversation with Daniel Day: he was a great reader whose quick intelligence and large heart always illuminated every argument. That morning, he wanted to discuss the works of Dr. Channing, whom we both admired. Daniel was expounding at some length on the doctor’s masterly categorization of greatness, which he made to exist in descending ranks, depending on its essential roots in the moral, the intellectual, or the realm of action. I remember arguing that moral greatness had little meaning without action to effect the moral end. It was, I see now, the rehearsal of the great argument that would animate my life; the selfsame argument that has brought me to these wintery ridges, at this grim time. But that morning, as we walked in Daniel Day’s garden, our scarves drawn up to our chins and the frost crunching underfoot, I had difficulty erecting the scaffolding to shore up my views. My eyes drifted often to an upper dormer. Even through the closed window, it was possible to hear snatches of a sweet voice, crooning a lullaby to a fortunate newborn. How often it is that an idea that seems bright bossed and gleaming in its clarity when examined in a church, or argued over with a friend in a frosty garden, becomes clouded and murk-stained when dragged out into the field of actual endeavor. If war can ever be said to be just, then this war is so; it is action for a moral cause, with the most rigorous of intellectual underpinnings. And yet everywhere I turn, I see injustice done in the waging of it. And every day, as I turn to what should be the happy obligation of opening my mind to my wife, I grope in vain for words with which to convey to her even a part of what I have witnessed, what I have felt. As for what I have done, and the consequences of my actions, these I do not even attempt to convey. Many ill things happened in those weeks of waiting, encamped on the outskirts of Harper’s Ferry. Our side made several small harassing actions. Townsfolk loyal to the North crossed the river to come to us, and spies and scouts from our side ventured into the town. When one of ours, a man widely liked, was killed in an exchange of fire, the major ordered a retaliation which, in my view, went too far. He ordered a party to burn down all the town buildings that stood between the armory and the railroad bridge. Most of these were civilians’ homes or businesses, and since their charred ruins made excellent cover for the Confederates’ sharpshooters, I cannot see that any military purpose was served by their destruction. When I expressed that to him, he turned livid and refused thereafter to attend my services, or even exchange a greeting with me. Later, I learned that this very major, Hector Tyndale, had been detailed to escort Mrs. Brown, two years earlier, when she brought her executed husband’s body home from Virginia to New York. Brown had prophesied that Harper’s Ferry would be destroyed, and now much of it had been. A part of me wondered if the Old Man’s spirit hadn’t somehow possessed Hector Tyndale and caused him to act so. Who knew better than I the power of that man to possess? For him, I had been a tool, to be used with no more thought than a blacksmith gives to a pair of tongs when he thrusts it in the fire. It was a source of equal parts pride and mortification that Brown had used me, as he used every man that came to his hand, to rid our land of its abomination. When we finally occupied the town toward the end of February, it was a scene of utmost desolation. Many of the inhabitants had fled. Those who stayed had done so only in the hope of securing their property, a hope that in many cases proved vain. As soon as we took the town, I resolved to make a small pilgrimage to the Engine House where Captain Brown’s attempt to capture the federal armory and incite a slave rebellion had ended in bloody failure. Finding myself at last with an hour’s leisure, I made my way down to that haunted little building. I stood before it, my feelings on a seesaw between repulsion and admiration. Was ever a course of action more reckless and savage? Was ever one so justifiable, so self-sacrificing? My mind was as confounded as it had been the day I heard the news. I had been with Beth and Amy about an afternoon’s chestnut gathering in the autumn woods. Tom Higginson, another who had welcomed Brown as a guest in Concord, came up to us, all grave looks, with the news of Brown’s attempted insurrection, and his capture. He wrung his hands as he described Brown’s saber wounds and the young followers shot dead. I told Higginson then and there that I thought the deed would give impulse to freedom, no matter what became of its instigator and no matter how the states howled over it. But I hurried my youngest ones home, with my heart pounding, and made a fire in my study grate. I fed to it all the papers that documented my dealings with Brown, even though most of them had only to do with land surveys. Some weeks later, on a mild winter’s day, it seemed that all Concord came out to mark the hour of Brown’s execution. There were no bells, no speeches; only readings. Emerson read, as did Thoreau. Sanborn, the schoolmaster, had composed a dirge and the assembled sang it. I read from the Song of Solomon, and a passage from Plato. And now? What would Brown say now, I wondered, of this guilty land Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/geraldine-brooks/march/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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