Miss Helen Osborne Eustis of Boston was very much astonished one day in the early fall of 1873 to receive a professional visit from Dr. Ephraim Buxton, who for many years had been her father's family physician. The astonishment was mutual; for Dr. Buxton had expected to find Miss Eustis in bed, or at least in the attitude of a patient, whereas she was seated in an easy chair, before a glowing grate—which the peculiarities of the Boston climate sometimes render necessary, even in the early fall—and appeared to be about as comfortable as a human being could well be. Perhaps the appearance of comfort was heightened by the general air of subdued luxury that pervaded the apartment into which Dr. Buxton had been ushered. The draperies, the arrangement of the little affairs that answer to the name of bric-à-brac, the adjustment of the furniture—everything—conveyed the impression of peace and repose; and the chief element of this perfect harmony was Miss Eustis herself, who rose to greet the doctor as he entered. She regarded the physician with eyes that somehow seemed to be wise and kind, and with a smile that was at once sincere and humorous.
"Why, how is this, Helen?" Dr. Buxton exclaimed, taking off his spectacles, and staring at the young lady. "I fully expected to find you in bed. I hope you are not imprudent."
"Why should I be ill, Dr. Buxton? You know what Mr. Tom Appleton says: 'In Boston, those who are sick do injustice to the air they breathe and to their cooks.' I think that is a patriotic sentiment, and I try to live up to it. My health is no worse than usual, and usually it is very good," said Miss Eustis.
"You certainly seem to be well," said Dr. Buxton, regarding the young lady with a professional frown; "but appearances are sometimes deceitful. I met Harriet yesterday—"
"Ah, my aunt!" exclaimed Helen, in a tone calculated to imply that this explained everything.
"I met Harriet yesterday, and she insisted on my coming to see you at once, certainly not later than to-day."
Miss Eustis shrugged her shoulders, and laughed, but her face showed that she appreciated this manifestation of solicitude.
"Let me see," she said reflectively; "what was my complaint yesterday? We must do justice to Aunt Harriet's discrimination. She would never forgive you if you went away without leaving a prescription. My health is so good that I think you may leave me a mild one."
Unconsciously the young lady made a charming picture as she sat with her head drooping a little to one side in a half-serious, half-smiling effort to recall to mind some of the symptoms that had excited her aunt's alarm. Dr. Buxton, prescription book in hand, gazed at her quizzically over his old-fashioned spectacles; seeing which, Helen laughed heartily. At that moment her aunt entered the room—a pleasant-faced but rather prim old lady, of whom it had been said by some one competent to judge, that her inquisitiveness was so overwhelming and so important that it took the shape of pity in one direction, patriotism in another, and benevolence in another, giving to her life not the semblance but the very essence of usefulness and activity.
"Do you hear that, Dr. Buxton?" cried the pleasant-faced old lady somewhat sharply. "Do you hear her wheeze when she laughs? Do you remember that she was threatened with pneumonia last winter? and now she is wheezing before the winter begins!"
"This is the trouble I was trying to think of," exclaimed Helen, sinking back in her chair with a gesture of mock despair.
"Don't make yourself ridiculous, dear," said the aunt, giving the little clusters of gray curls that hung about her ears an emphatic shake. "Serious matters should be taken seriously." Whereat Helen pressed her cheek gently against the thin white hand that had been laid caressingly on her shoulder.
"Aunt Harriet has probably heard me say that there is still some hope for the country, even though it is governed entirely by men," said Helen, with an air of apology. "The men can not deprive us of the winter climate of Boston, and I enjoy that above all things."
Aunt Harriet smiled reproachfully at her niece, and pulled her ear gently.
"But indeed, Dr. Buxton," Helen went on more seriously, "the winter climate of Boston, fine as it is, is beginning to pinch us harder than it used to do. The air is thinner, and the cold is keener. When I was younger—very much younger—than I am now, I remember that I used to run in and out, and fall and roll in the snow with perfect impunity. But now I try to profit by Aunt Harriet's example. When I go out, I go bundled up to the point of suffocation; and if the wind is from the east, as it usually is, I wear wraps and shawls indoors."
Helen smiled brightly at her aunt and at Dr. Buxton; but her aunt seemed to be distressed, and the physician shook his head dubiously.
"You will have to take great care of yourself," said Dr. Buxton. "You must be prudent. The slightest change in the temperature may send you to bed for the rest of the winter."
"Dr. Buxton is complimenting you, Aunt Harriet," said Helen. "You should drop him a courtesy."
Whereupon the amiable physician, seeing that there was no remedy for the humorous view which Miss Eustis took of her condition, went further, and informed her that there was every reason why she should be serious. He told her, with some degree of bluntness, that her symptoms, while not alarming, were not at all reassuring.
"It is always the way, Dr. Buxton," said Helen, smiling tenderly at her aunt; "I believe you would confess to serious symptoms yourself if Aunt Harriet insisted on it. What an extraordinary politician she would make! My sympathy with the woman-suffrage movement is in the nature of an investment. When we women succeed to the control of affairs, I count on achieving distinction as Aunt Harriet's niece."
Laughing, she seized her aunt's hand. Dr. Buxton, watching her, laughed too, and then proceeded to write out a prescription. He seemed to hesitate a little over this; seeing which, Helen remonstrated:
"Pray, Dr. Buxton, don't humor Aunt Harriet too much in this. Save your physic for those who are strong in body and mind. A dozen of your pellets ought to be a year's supply." The physician wrote out his prescription, and took his leave, laughing heartily at the amiable confusion in which Helen's drollery had left her aunt.
It is not to be supposed, however, that Miss Eustis was simply droll. She was unconventional at all times, and sometimes wilful—inheriting that native strength of mind and mother wit which are generally admitted to be a part of the equipment of the typical American woman. If she was not the ideal young woman, at least she possessed some of the attractive qualities that one tries—sometimes unsuccessfully—to discover in one's dearest friends. From her infancy, until near the close of the war, she had had the advantage of her father's companionship, so that her ideas were womanly rather than merely feminine. She had never been permitted to regard the world from the dormer-windows of a young ladies' seminary, in consequence of which her views of life in general, and of mankind in particular, were orderly and rational. Such indulgence as her father had given her had served to strengthen her individuality rather than to confirm her temper; and, though she had a strong and stubborn will of her own, her tact was such that her wilfulness appeared to be the most natural as well as the most charming thing in the world. Moreover, she possessed in a remarkable degree that buoyancy of mind that is more engaging than mere geniality.
Her father was no less a person than Charles Osborne Eustis, the noted philanthropist and abolitionist, whose death in 1867 was the occasion of quite a controversy in New England—a controversy based on the fact that he had opposed some of the most virulent schemes of his coworkers at a time when abolitionism had not yet gathered its full strength. Mr. Eustis, in his day, was in the habit of boasting that his daughter had a great deal of genuine American spirit—the spirit that one set of circumstances drives to provinciality, another to patriotism, and another to originality.
Helen had spent two long winters in Europe without parting with the fine flavor of her originality. She was exceedingly modest in her designs, too, for she went neither as a missionary nor as a repentant. She found no foreign social shrines that she thought worthy of worshiping at. She admired what was genuine, and tolerated such shams as obtruded themselves on her attention. Her father's connections had enabled her to see something of the real home-life of England; and she was delighted, but not greatly surprised, to find that at its best it was not greatly different from the home life to which she had been accustomed.
The discovery delighted her because it confirmed her own broad views; but she no more thought it necessary to set about aping the social peculiarities to be found in London drawing-rooms than she thought of denying her name or her nativity. She made many interesting studies and comparisons, but she was not disposed to be critical. She admired many things in Europe which she would not have considered admirable in America, and whatever she found displeasing she tolerated as the natural outcome of social or climatic conditions. Certainly the idea never occurred to her that her own country was a barren waste because time had not set the seal of antiquity on its institutions. On the other hand, this admirable young woman was quick to perceive that much information as well as satisfaction was to be obtained by regarding various European peculiarities from a strictly European point of view.
But Miss Eustis's reminiscences of the Old World were sad as well as pleasant. Her journey thither had been undertaken in the hope of restoring her father's failing health, and her stay there had been prolonged for the same purpose. For a time he grew stronger and better, but the improvement was only temporary. He came home to die, and to Helen this result seemed to be the end of all things. She had devoted herself to looking after his comfort with a zeal and an intelligence that left nothing undone. This had been her mission in life. Her mother had died when Helen was a little child, leaving herself and her brother, who was some years older, to the care of the father. Helen remembered her mother only as a pale, beautiful lady in a trailing robe, who fell asleep one day, and was mysteriously carried away—the lady of a dream.
The boy—the brother—rode forth to the war in 1862, and never rode back any more. To the father and sister waiting at home, it seemed as if he had been seized and swept from the earth on the bosom of the storm that broke over the country in that period of dire confusion. Even Rumor, with her thousand tongues, had little to say of the fate of this poor youth. It was known that he led a squad of troopers detailed for special service, and that his command, with small knowledge of the country, fell into an ambush from which not more than two or three extricated themselves. Beyond this all was mystery, for those who survived that desperate skirmish could say nothing of the fate of their companions. The loss of his son gave Mr. Eustis additional interest in his daughter, if that were possible; and the common sorrow of the two so strengthened and sweetened their lives that their affection for each other was in the nature of a perpetual memorial of the pale lady who had passed away, and of the boy who had perished in Virginia.
When Helen's father died, in 1867, her mother's sister, Miss Harriet Tewksbury, a spinster of fifty or thereabouts, who, for the lack of something substantial to interest her, had been halting between woman's rights and Spiritualism, suddenly discovered that Helen's cause was the real woman's cause; whereupon she went to the lonely and grief-stricken girl, and with that fine efficiency which the New England woman acquires from the air, and inherits from history, proceeded to minister to her comfort. Miss Tewksbury was not at all vexed to find her niece capable of taking care of herself. She did not allow that fact to prevent her from assuming a motherly control that was most gracious in its manifestations, and peculiarly gratifying to Helen, who found great consolation in the all but masculine energy of her aunt.
A day or two after Dr. Buxton's visit, the result of which has already been chronicled, Miss Tewksbury's keen eye detected an increase of the symptoms that had given her anxiety, and their development was of such a character that Helen made no objection when her aunt proposed to call in the physician again. Dr. Buxton came, and agreed with Miss Tewksbury as to the gravity of the symptoms; but his prescription was oral.
"You must keep Helen indoors until she is a little stronger," he said to Miss Tewksbury, "and then take her to a milder climate."
"Oh, not to Florida!" exclaimed Helen promptly.
"Not necessarily," said the doctor.
"Please don't twist your language, Dr. Buxton. You should say necessarily not."
"And why not to Florida, young lady?" the doctor inquired.
"Ah, I have seen people that came from there," said Helen: "they were too tired to talk much about the country, but something in their attitude and appearance seemed to suggest that they had seen the sea-serpent. Dear doctor, I have no desire to see the sea-serpent."
"Well, then, my dear child," said Dr. Buxton soothingly, "not to Florida, but to nature's own sanitarium, the pine woods of Georgia. Yes," the doctor went on, smiling as he rubbed the glasses of his spectacles with his silk handkerchief, "nature's own sanitarium. I tested the piny woods of Georgia thoroughly years ago. I drifted there in my young days. I lived there, and taught school there. I grew strong there, and I have always wanted to go back there."
"And now," said Helen, with a charmingly demure glance at the enthusiastic physician, "you want to send Aunt Harriet and poor Me forward as a skirmish-line. There is no antidote in your books for the Ku-Klux."
"You will see new scenes and new people," said Dr. Buxton, laughing. "You will get new ideas; above all, you will breathe the fresh air of heaven spiced with the odor of pines. It will be the making of you, my dear child."
Helen made various protests, some of them serious and some droll, but the matter was practically settled when it became evident that Dr. Buxton was not only earnestly but enthusiastically in favor of the journey; and Helen's aunt at once began to make preparations. To some of their friends it seemed a serious undertaking indeed. The newspapers of that day were full of accounts of Ku-Klux outrages, and of equally terrible reports of the social disorganization of the South. It seemed at that time as though the politicians and the editors, both great and small, and of every shade of belief, had determined to fight the war over again—instituting a conflict which, though bloodless enough so far as the disputants were concerned, was not without its unhappy results.
Moreover, Helen's father had been noted among those who had early engaged in the crusade against slavery; and it was freely predicted by her friends that the lawlessness which was supposed to exist in every part of the collapsed Confederacy would be prompt to select the representatives of Charles Osborne Eustis as its victims.
Miss Tewksbury affected to smile at the apprehensions of her friends, but her preparations were not undertaken without a secret dread of the responsibilities she was assuming. Helen, however, was disposed to treat the matter humorously. "Dr. Buxton is a lifelong Democrat," she said; "consequently he must know all about it. Father used to tell him he liked his medicine better than his politics, bitter as some of it was; but in a case of this kind, Dr. Buxton's politics have a distinct value. He will give us the grips, the signs, and the pass-words, dear aunt, and I dare say we shall get along comfortably."
They did get along comfortably. Peace seemed to spread her meshes before them. They journeyed by easy stages, stopping a while in Philadelphia, in Baltimore, and in Washington. They stayed a week in Richmond. From Richmond they were to go to Atlanta, and from Atlanta to Azalia, the little piny woods village which Dr. Buxton had recommended as a sanitarium. At a point south of Richmond, where they stopped for breakfast, Miss Eustis and her aunt witnessed a little scene that seemed to them to be very interesting. A gentleman wrapped in a long linen traveling-coat was pacing restlessly up and down the platform of the little station. He was tall, and his bearing was distinctly military. The neighborhood people who were lounging around the station watched him with interest. After a while a negro boy came running up with a valise which he had evidently brought some distance. He placed it in front of the tall gentleman, crying out in a loud voice: "Here she is, Marse Peyton," then stepped to one side, and began to fan himself vigorously with the fragment of a wool hat. He grinned broadly in response to something the tall gentleman said; but, before he could make a suitable reply, a negro woman, fat and motherly-looking, made her appearance, puffing and blowing and talking.
"I declar' ter gracious, Marse Peyton! seem like I wa'n't never gwine ter git yer. I helt up my head, I did, fer ter keep my eye on de kyars, en it look like I run inter all de gullies en on top er all de stumps 'twix' dis en Marse Tip's. 200 des tuk'n drapt eve'ything, I did, en tole um dey'd batter keep one eye on de dinner-pot, kaze I 'blige ter run en see Marse Peyton off."
The gentleman laughed as the motherly-looking old negro wiped her face with her apron. Her sleeves were rolled up, and her fat arms glistened in the sun.
"I boun' you some er deze yer folks'll go off en say I'm 'stracted," she cried, "but I can't he'p dat; I bleeze ter run down yer ter tell Marse Peyton good-by. Tell um all howdy fer me, Marse Peyton," she cried, "all un um. No diffunce ef I ain't know um all—'tain't gwine ter do no harm fer ter tell um dat ole Jincy say howdy. Hit make me feel right foolish in de head w'en it comes 'cross me dat I use ter tote Miss Hallie 'roun' w'en she wuz a little bit er baby, en now she way down dar out'n de worl' mos'. I wish ter de Lord I uz gwine 'long wid you, Marse Peyton! Yit I 'speck, time I got dar, I'd whirl in en wish myse'f back home."
The negro boy carried the gentleman's valise into the sleeping-coach, and placed it opposite the seats occupied by Helen and her aunt. Across the end was stenciled in white the name "Peyton Garwood." When the train was ready to start, the gentleman shook hands with the negro woman and with the boy. The woman seemed to be very much affected.
"God A'mighty bless you, Marse Peyton, honey!" she exclaimed as the train moved off; and as long as Helen could see her, she was waving her hands in farewell. Both Helen and her aunt had watched this scene with considerable interest, and now, when the gentleman had been escorted to his seat by the obsequious porter, they regarded him with some curiosity. He appeared to be about thirty-five years old. His face would have been called exceedingly handsome but for a scar on his right cheek; and yet, on closer inspection, the scar seemed somehow to fit the firm outlines of his features. His brown beard emphasized the strength of his chin. His nose was slightly aquiline, his eyebrows were a trifle rugged, and his hair was brushed straight back from a high forehead. His face was that of a man who had seen rough service and enjoyed it keenly—a face full of fire and resolution with some subtle suggestion of tenderness.
"She called him 'Master,' Helen," said Miss Tewksbury after a while, referring to the scene at the station; "did you hear her?" Miss Tewksbury's tone implied wrathfulness that was too sure of its own justification to assert itself noisily.
"I heard her," Helen replied. "She called him Master, and he called her Mammy. It was a very pleasing exchange of compliments."
Such further comment as the ladies may have felt called on to make—for it was a matter in which both were very much interested—was postponed for the time being. A passenger occupying a seat in the farther end of the coach had recognized the gentleman whose valise was labeled "Peyton Garwood," and now pressed forward to greet him. This passenger was a very aggressive-looking person. He was short and stout, but there was no suggestion of jollity or even of good-humor in his rotundity. No one would have made the mistake of alluding to him as a fat man. He would have been characterized as the pudgy man; and even his pudginess was aggressive. He had evidently determined to be dignified at any cost, but his seriousness seemed to be perfectly gratuitous.
"Gener'l Garwood?" he said in an impressive tone, as he leaned over the tall gentleman's seat.
"Ah! Goolsby!" exclaimed the other, extending his hand. "Why, how do you do? Sit down."
Goolsby's pudginess became more apparent and apparently more aggressive than ever when he seated himself near General Garwood.
"Well, sir, I can't say my health's any too good. You look mighty well yourse'f, gener'l. How are things?" said Goolsby, pushing his traveling-cap over his eyes, and frowning as if in pain.
"Oh, affairs seem to be improving," General Garwood replied.
"Well, now, I ain't so up and down certain about that, gener'l," said Goolsby, settling himself back, and frowning until his little eyes disappeared. "Looks like to me that things git wuss and wuss. I ain't no big man, and I'm ruther disj'inted when it comes right down to politics; but blame me if it don't look to me mighty like the whole of creation is driftin' 'round loose."
"Ah, well," said the general soothingly, "a great many things are uncomfortable; there is a good deal of unnecessary irritation growing out of new and unexpected conditions. But we are getting along better than we are willing to admit. We are all fond of grumbling."
"That's so," said Goolsby, with the air of a man who is willing to make any sacrifice for the sake of a discussion; "that's so. But I tell you we're havin' mighty tough times, gener'l—mighty tough times. Yonder's the Yankees on one side, and here's the blamed niggers on t'other, and betwixt and betweenst 'em a white man's got mighty little chance. And then, right on top of the whole caboodle, here comes the panic in the banks, and the epizooty 'mongst the cattle. I tell you, gener'l, it's tough times, and it's in-about as much as an honest man can do to pay hotel bills and have a ticket ready to show up when the conductor comes along."
General Garwood smiled sympathetically, and Goolsby went on: "Here I've been runnin' up and down the country tryin' to sell a book, and I ain't sold a hunderd copies sence I started—no, sir, not a hunderd copies. Maybe you'd like to look at it, gener'l," continued Goolsby, stiffening up a little. "If I do say it myself, it's in-about the best book that a man'll git a chance to thumb in many a long day."
"What book is it, Goolsby?" the general inquired.
Goolsby sprang up, waddled rapidly to where he had left his satchel, and returned, bringing a large and substantial-looking volume.
"It's a book that speaks for itself any day in the week," he said, running the pages rapidly between his fingers; "it's a history of our own great conflict—'The Rise and Fall of the Rebellion,' by Schuyler Paddleford. I don't know what the blamed publishers wanted to put in 'Rebellion' for. I told 'em, says I: 'Gentlemen, it'll be up-hill work with this in the Sunny South. Call it "The Conflict,"' says I. But they wouldn't listen, and now I have to work like a blind nigger splittin' rails. But she's a daisy, gener'l, as shore as you're born. She jess reads right straight along from cover to cover without a bobble. Why, sir, I never know'd what war was till I meandered through the sample pages of this book. And they've got your picture in here, gener'l, jest as natural as life—all for five dollars in cloth, eight in liberry style, and ten in morocker."
General Garwood glanced over the specimen pages with some degree of interest, while Goolsby continued to talk.
"Now, betwixt you and me, gener'l," he went on confidentially, "I don't nigh like the style of that book, particular where it rattles up our side. I wa'n't in the war myself, but blame me if it don't rile me when I hear outsiders a-cussin' them that was. I come mighty nigh not takin' holt of it on that account; but 'twouldn't have done no good, not a bit. If sech a book is got to be circulated around here, it better be circulated by some good Southron—a man that's a kind of antidote to the pizen, as it were. If I don't sell it, some blamed Yankee'll jump in and gallop around with it. And I tell you what, gener'l, betwixt you and me and the gate-post, it's done come to that pass where a man can't afford to be too plegged particular; if he stops for to scratch his head and consider whether he's a gentleman, some other feller'll jump in and snatch the rations right out of his mouth. That's why I'm a-paradin' around tryin' to sell this book."
"Well," said General Garwood in an encouraging tone, "I have no doubt it is a very interesting book. I have heard of it before. Fetch me a copy when you come to Azalia again."
Goolsby smiled an unctuous and knowing smile. "Maybe you think I ain't a-comin'," he exclaimed, with the air of a man who has invented a joke that he relishes. "Well, sir, you're getting the wrong measure. I was down in 'Zalia Monday was a week, and I'm a-goin' down week after next. Fact is," continued Goolsby, rather sheepishly, "'Zalia is a mighty nice place. Gener'l, do you happen to know Miss Louisa Hornsby? Of course you do! Well, sir, you might go a week's journey in the wildwood, as the poet says, and not find a handsomer gal then that. She's got style from away back."
"Why, yes!" exclaimed the general in a tone of hearty congratulation, "of course I know Miss Lou. She is a most excellent young lady. And so the wind sits in that quarter? Your blushes, Goolsby, are a happy confirmation of many sweet and piquant rumors."
Goolsby appeared to be very much embarrassed. He moved about uneasily in his seat, searched in all his pockets for something or other that wasn't there, and made a vain effort to protest. He grew violently red in the face, and the color gleamed through his closely cropped hair.
"Oh, come now, gener'l!" he exclaimed. "Oh, pshaw! Why—oh, go 'way!"
His embarrassment was so great, and seemed to border so closely on epilepsy, that the general was induced to offer him a cigar and invite him into the smoking apartment. As General Garwood and Goolsby passed out, Helen Eustis drew a long breath.
"It is worth the trouble of a long journey to behold such a spectacle," she declared. Her aunt regarded her curiously. "Who would have thought it?" she went on—"a Southern secessionist charged with affability, and a book-agent radiant with embarrassment!"
"He is a coarse, ridiculous creature," said Miss Tewksbury sharply.
"The affable general, Aunt Harriet?"
"No, child; the other."
"Dear aunt, we are in the enemy's country, and we must ground our prejudices. The book-agent is pert and crude, but he is not coarse. A coarse man may be in love, but he would never blush over it. And as for the affable general—you saw the negro woman cry over him."
"Poor thing!" said Miss Tewksbury, with a sigh. "She sadly needs Instruction."
"Ah, yes! that is a theory we should stand to, but how shall we instruct her to run and cry after us?"
"My dear child, we want no such disgusting exhibitions. It is enough if we do our duty by these unfortunates."
"But I do want just such an exhibition, Aunt Harriet," said Helen seriously. "I should be glad to have some fortunate or unfortunate creature run and cry after me."
"Well," said Miss Tewksbury placidly, "we are about to ignore the most impressive fact, after all."
"What is that, Aunt Harriet?"
"Why, child, these people are from Azalia, and for us Azalia is the centre of the universe."
"Ah, don't pretend that you are not charmed, dear aunt. We shall have the pleasure of meeting the handsome Miss Hornsby, and probably Mr. Goolsby himself—and certainly the distinguished general."
"I only hope Ephraim Buxton has a clear conscience to-day," remarked Miss Tewksbury with unction.
"Did you observe the attitude of the general toward Mr. Goolsby, and that of Mr. Goolsby toward the general?" asked Helen, ignoring the allusion to Dr. Buxton. "The line that the general drew was visible to the naked eye. But Mr. Goolsby drew no line. He is friendly and familiar on principle. I was reminded of the 'Brookline Reporter,' which alluded the other day to the London 'Times' as its esteemed contemporary. The affable general is Mr. Goolsby's esteemed contemporary."
"My dear child," said Miss Tewksbury, somewhat anxiously, "I hope your queer conceits are not the result of your illness."
"No, they are the result of my surroundings. I have been trying to pretend to myself, ever since we left Washington, that we are traveling through a strange country; but it is a mere pretense. I have been trying to verify some previous impressions of barbarism and shiftlessness."
"Well, upon my word, my dear," exclaimed Miss Tewksbury, "I should think you had had ample opportunity."
"I have been trying to take the newspaper view," Helen went on with some degree of earnestness, "but it is impossible. We must correct the newspapers, Aunt Harriet, and make ourselves famous. Everything I have seen that is not to be traced to the result of the war belongs to a state of arrested development."
Miss Tewksbury was uncertain whether her niece was giving a new turn to her drollery, so she merely stared at her; but the young lady seemed to be serious enough.
"Don't interrupt me, Aunt Harriet. Give me the opportunity you would give to Dr. Barlow Blade, the trance medium. Everything I see in this country belongs to a state of arrested development, and it has been arrested at a most interesting point. It is picturesque. It is colonial. I am amazed that this fact has not been dwelt on by people who write about the South."
"The conservatism that prevents progress, or stands in the way of it, is a crime," said Miss Tewksbury, pressing her thin lips together firmly. She had once been on the platform in some of the little country towns of New England, and had made quite a reputation for pith and fluency.
"Ah, dear aunt, that sounds like an extract from a lecture. We can have progress in some things, but not in others. We have progressed in the matter of conveniences, comforts, and luxuries, but in what other directions? Are we any better than the people who lived in the days of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison? Is the standard of morality any higher now than it was in the days of the apostles?"
"Don't talk nonsense, Helen," said Miss Tewksbury. "We have a higher civilization than the apostles witnessed. Morality is progressive."
"Well," said Helen, with a sigh, "it is a pity these people have discarded shoe-buckles and knee-breeches."
"Your queer notions make me thirsty, child," said Miss Tewksbury, producing a silver cup from her satchel. "I must get a drink of water."
"Permit me, madam," said a sonorous voice behind them; and a tall gentleman seized the cup, and bore it away.
"It is the distinguished general!" exclaimed Helen in a tragic whisper, "and he must have heard our speeches."
"I hope he took them down," said Miss Tewksbury snappishly. "He will esteem you as a sympathizer."
"Did I say anything ridiculous, Aunt Harriet?"
"Dear me! you must ask your distinguished general," replied Miss Tewksbury triumphantly.
General Garwood returned with the water, and insisted on fetching more. Helen observed that he held his hat in his hand, and that his attitude was one of unstudied deference.
"The conductor tells me, madam," he said, addressing himself to Miss Tewksbury, "that you have tickets for Azalia. I am going in that direction myself, and I should be glad to be of any service to you. Azalia is a poor little place, but I like it well enough to live there. I suppose that is the reason the conductor told me of your tickets. He knew the information would be interesting."
"Thank you," said Miss Tewksbury with dignity.
"You are very kind," said Miss Eustis with a smile.
General Garwood made himself exceedingly agreeable. He pointed out the interesting places along the road, gave the ladies little bits of local history that were at least entertaining. In Atlanta, where there was a delay of a few hours, he drove them over the battle-fields, and by his graphic descriptions gave them a new idea of the heat and fury of war. In short, he made himself so agreeable in every way that Miss Tewksbury felt at liberty to challenge his opinions on various subjects. They had numberless little controversies about the rights and wrongs of the war, and the perplexing problems that grew out of its results. So far as Miss Tewksbury was concerned, she found General Garwood's large tolerance somewhat irritating, for it left her no excuse for the employment of her most effective arguments.
"Did you surrender your prejudices at Appomattox?" Miss Tewksbury asked him on one occasion.
"Oh, by no means; you remember we were allowed to retain our side-arms and our saddle-horses," he replied, laughing. "I still have my prejudices, but I trust they are more important than those I entertained in my youth. Certainly they are less uncomfortable."
"Well," said Miss Tewksbury, "you are still unrepentant, and that is more serious than any number of prejudices."
"There is nothing to repent of," said the general, smiling, a little sadly as Helen thought. "It has all passed away utterly. The best we can do is that which seems right and just and necessary. My duty was as plain to me in 1861, when I was a boy of twenty, as it is to-day. It seemed to be my duty then to serve my State and section; my duty now seems to be to help good people everywhere to restore the Union, and to heal the wounds of the war."
"I'm very glad to hear you say so," exclaimed Miss Tewksbury in a tone that made Helen shiver. "I was afraid it was quite otherwise. It seems to me, that, if I lived here, I should either hate the people who conquered me, or else the sin of slavery would weigh heavily on my conscience."
"I can appreciate that feeling, I think," said General Garwood, "but the American conscience is a very healthy one—not likely to succumb to influences that are mainly malarial in their nature; and even from your point of view some good can be found in American slavery."
"I have never found it," said Miss Tewksbury.
"You must admit that but for slavery the negroes who are here would be savages in Africa. As it is, they have had the benefit of more than two hundred years' contact with the white race. If they are at all fitted for citizenship, the result is due to the civilizing influence of slavery. It seems to me that they are vastly better off as American citizens, even though they have endured the discipline of slavery, than they would be as savages in Africa."
Miss Tewksbury's eyes snapped. "Did this make slavery right?" she asked.
"Not at all," said the general, smiling at the lady's earnestness. "But, at least, it is something of an excuse for American slavery. It seems to be an evidence that Providence had a hand in the whole unfortunate business."
But in spite of these discussions and controversies, the general made himself so thoroughly agreeable in every way, and was so thoughtful in his attentions, that by the time Helen and her aunt arrived at Azalia they were disposed to believe that he had placed them under many obligations, and they said so; but the general insisted that it was he who had been placed under obligations, and he declared it to be his intention to discharge a few of them as soon as the ladies found themselves comfortably settled in the little town to which Dr. Buxton had banished them.