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Dance With The Devil by James Dressler (American Civil War)

Dance With The Devil by James Dressler (American Civil War)
 
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War! Tom Holloway and his Southern friends are excited about the prospects. But what do they know of war? Only what they read about in the newspapers. They envision the whole thing as an adventure, something to prove their manhood, to make them into men. A quick, few-month diversion from their sometimes boring school regimen. A chance to be part of a winning team.

But words from a grizzled war veteran sets Tom to thinking. And he remembers those words as he marches off with his friends to do battle against the Yankees. The foursome soon find out that war is indeed hell as they watch friends and comrades die in a volley of gun and cannon fire on blood-soaked ground. Hunger, cold, fatigue, fear and resignation are soon the only comrades they have left.

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1 Most useful customer reviews (see all reviews):
JennaKay Francis, Author and Editor (http://www.jennakayfrancis.com)
Rating: 5 Stars
This is an interesting book, especially since I'm a Yankee. I knew how it would end, but reading about the optimism of the Rebels was very interesting. I had a great deal of empathy for this foursome who entered the war expecting glory and learned only about death and the end of life as they knew it.

I think that Mr Dressler did an outstanding job of characterization of these four men. I fell in love with each of them for individual reasons. They were at once proud soldiers, young men, wizened men and children whom I could laugh with and at. Well done, Mr. Dressler.
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Sample Chapter

PART I

"Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath."
James I. 19

Saturday, March 30, 1861

Torchlight washed stark across the faces of angry men before casting dancing shadows against the buildings bordering the Lebanon, Tennessee, town square. Fueled by whiskey, and seething with an anger that had been building all evening, the crowd finally became an unreasoning mob that surged out West Main Street toward the Hatton residence. The trouble had begun to build following a speech delivered from the courthouse steps by Congressman Robert Hatton of the 5th Congressional District earlier that same day.

According to an ebullient Hatton, the Thirty-sixth Congress had made considerable progress toward a resolution of the slavery issue that had plagued the nation for so long. All in spite of what he described as concerted efforts by disunionists to prevent a compromise. Unfortunately, the congressman had badly misjudged the sentiments of his listeners. The few Union men in attendance took heart from what was said, but they were a minority that was growing smaller daily. Now, upon less than sober reflection, Mr. Hatton's constituents were determined to tell him so in a manner he would tend to remember.

Leading the mob were students from the Deep-South cotton states who attended nearby Cumberland University. The young men shouted encouragement to one another as they marched along beating furiously on an assortment of pots and pans. Every dog in the community seemed inspired to add its own contribution to the melee, and the ensuing barking and howling formed a fitting accompaniment to the steadily growing commotion in the street. The racket thus generated was heard throughout the usually placid town.

Up and down West Main Street, windows and doors were thrown open as residents looked out upon the scene with curiosity and growing concern. Not a few went anxiously scurrying in search of the sheriff as cries of, "Git some tar an' feathers," "Hang that nigger lover," and "Burn 'im out," reverberated through the cold night air.

The Hatton residence was only a couple of blocks off the town square and was quickly reached by the men, who then commenced to mill around uncertainly in the street. Before any would-be leader could assert himself, Mr. Hatton appeared upon his second floor balcony dressed in a nightshirt. His wife and small son could be seen fearfully peering from a second floor window as the obviously nervous congressman asked, "Just what is this all about gentlemen?"

"It's about you bein' a godamned nigger lover that's what," came a loud but anonymous voice from the milling throng.

"Gentlemen, I...," began Hatton.

"An' sidin' with Yankees against yer own," interrupted another.

"Gentlemen, please, I...," Hatton attempted to begin again.

"We've already heard all from you we wanta hear," interrupted a young man from the front ranks of the mob. "Now we're gonna do th' talkin' and you'd better damn well do some listenin'."

"That's if you know what's good for you," yelled another with unmistakable menace.

Taken off guard and confused as he was, the congressman was no coward and bristled, "Gentlemen, I'll not be threatened," as nervousness began to give way to anger. "Reasonable disagreement is one thing but..."

The congressman was interrupted yet again by a university student waving his fist in the air and jeering, "You, sir, are a villainous scoundrel and a disgrace to your state and all true southern men of honor."

"Who are you to talk of honor, sir, coming here as a drunken hoodlum in the dark of night," Hatton immediately shot back.

Several others moved to stand next to the young man in obvious support as the congressman tried to continue, "Gentlemen I repeat, I will not be threatened. This is not an appropriate time or forum for rational discussion and I strongly suggest you all disperse before the law arrives."

Some of his more sober listeners murmured agreement, and some even began to drift away when a drunk yelled from the front of the crowd, "We'll show 'im boys. Burn the damn nigger lover out!"

As the gate to the fence surrounding the yard was swung open by a man carrying a torch, the congressman abruptly produced a pistol from the folds of his nightshirt and leveled it menacingly.

"That's far enough, sir, for I swear by all that's holy I'll shoot dead the first man who moves to fire this house."

Instead of backing down, several men in the crowd suddenly produced pistols of their own.

"Oh, sweet Jesus," said Artimous Reed before turning to grab the arms of both his cousin Harrison Reed and his close friend Amos Hawkins. "Let's get away from here, there's going to be real trouble," he continued.

"I'm with you," responded a wide-eyed Amos in a voice that clearly signaled his own sense of urgency.

"Well, I'm not," replied Harrison belligerently. "I'm not runnin' from th' likes of that nigger lovin' traitorous, sonofa...."

The sudden crack of a gunshot split the night air, stopping Harrison in mid-word. It was quickly followed by several others. Artimous spun back around just in time to see fire from the muzzle of Hatton's pistol stab the darkness. There were more flashes from the street and the sudden smell of burnt powder drifted bitter on the night air.

"Run!" yelled Artimous to his companions, as the scene in the street immediately turned to chaos. Cutting through the gunfire, the yelling, the cursing, and the barking of dogs came a woman's piercing scream. Whoever she was, she was on her own tonight, came Artimous' unchivalrous thought as he ran wildly down the street. Most of the torches were now mere pools of light in the road where they had been dropped when the shooting started. Nevertheless, Artimous had no trouble distinguishing Sheriff Nathan McCullough calmly walking up the center of the street with a lantern in one hand and a double barrel shotgun in the other. The look on McCullough's face suggested he was not in a mood to be trifled with. Artimous stopped and called out for his friends.

"This way!" Amos called back from down a side street. "And, for God's sake, be quiet," responded Amos from down a side street.

"That's sheriff...," began Artimous, breathless as he joined his friends.

"We know, we know," interrupted Amos anxiously.

Grabbing the first part of Artimous' anatomy to come within reach, Amos pulled him close saying, "We'll go down a block and then cut back to your hotel on the square. There's gonna be hell to pay for tonight."

"I fear you're right my friend," responded Artimous as he shoved his companions ahead of him with a nervous glance over his shoulder. The sheriff continued walking up the street and only when Harrison stumbled and gave out with a groan, did Artimous realize something was terribly wrong.

Monday, April 1

"Tom! Thomas Holloway! You forgot your dinner."

Jane Holloway stood on the porch and yelled at her oldest boy who was headed out the front gate.

"Young man, you may be in a hurry to get to the university, but you've still got to eat. Bessie, fetch me that sack off the kitchen table."

In a few seconds, Bessie, the family's negro cook, appeared with a muslin sack containing the dinner. Handing the sack to Jane, Bessie looked across the yard at Tom, smiled, and said, "You better do like yo' mama say an' eat dis, Mista' Tom, else she goin' get you sho'."

Laughing and shaking her head, the cook returned to the kitchen as Jane moved across the yard toward her son.

Tom mounted Belle, his Chestnut mare. Catching a swirl of skirt out of the side of her eye, Belle shied and jerked sideways just as Tom hit the saddle. Both horse and rider were left to regain their composure as Jane whisked through the gate.

"Thomas, get control of that horse; I really fear she's got more spirit than sense. Anyway, here's some cornbread, sausage, and the last of the dried apples. What time can we expect you home? Your father and the nigras can probably use your help on that rock fence they're building up on the hill if you get away from town early enough and...."

As his mother jumped from one subject to the next with barely a pause between, Tom just smiled and nodded his head. Listening to her soft voice, he occasionally threw in a few "yes, ma'ams".

Watching her standing there in a light blue cotton dress with auburn hair framing a face that belied her years, and brown eyes sparkling, Tom couldn't help noticing what a handsome woman his mother was. Farming and childbearing seemed to somehow suck the very life out of women, leaving them used up before their time. How his mother had escaped such a fate was a mystery. In fact, there were a few lines in her face now that hadn't always been there, and a few grey hairs as well, but Tom still agreed with his father's frequent observation that Mama was a "right handsome woman".

With a mischievous grin on his face, Tom said, "Belle's all right, mother, she just doesn't like other females. Views em' as competition for my affections."

Interrupted by her son's comment, Jane cut her eyes up at him and replied, "My guess is that horse has had quite a bit of competition lately, young man, but we won't go into that now. Just try and get back from town as early as you can."

"Mama, where's your sense of romance? Don't you know it takes more than good food to keep a man happy?"

Shaking her finger in the air, Jane said, "Watch your mouth, Thomas. If you're suggesting what I think you are..."

The sly smile breaking across Tom's face gave him away, and his mother's look of rebuke was quickly replaced by the throaty laugh with which he was so familiar. "Well, just be sure you don't start something you can't finish, young man, and I'd better not be finding any outraged father on my doorstep with a shotgun either. Anyway, that dinner is a serious matter. You can't afford to eat every day at Baird's hotel with your Cumberland friends, and I don't want you doing without."

Tom knew she had a point. It wasn't that either he or his family were hard up. His father, Ezekiel, often described the family's economic condition as "a long way from being rich, but about an equal distance from being poor". In effect, they were moderately well-to-do, at least by local standards. Nevertheless, money came too hard to a Tennessee farmer to be wasted, and Ezekiel Holloway had taught his children the value of a dollar.

Ezekiel had confidently expected Tom to make a farmer. It was a good life and he could help the boy get a start. Unfortunately, Tom just had no interest in farming. He felt there had to be something more to life than crop yields and livestock prices, and he was determined to find it. Those conflicting attitudes produced several confrontations between the two, and harsh words had been exchanged on a number of those occasions. For a time, a distance had grown between father and son, but that was now in the past.

It had been his mother who encouraged Tom's desire to further his education and then helped persuade his father. Jane seemed to recognize early that he was never going to make a farmer, and a law degree seemed a more than adequate substitute. It had taken Ezekiel considerably longer to reach the same conclusion, and Tom still sometimes felt he harbored serious doubts about the value of a university education, especially when there was a farm to run. Out of gratitude though, Tom continued to help on the family farm whenever possible.

Belle snorted and jerked head, obviously impatient to be underway. Tom leaned down from the saddle to kiss his mother on the cheek and thank her for the dinner. Then, giving assurances that he would be back by early afternoon, he clucked softly to the horse, and pulled the reins in the direction of the dirt road fronting the house. A short ride down that road would bring him to the macadamized Cumberland & Stones River turnpike leading into Lebanon.

The cool morning air had a freshness that was invigorating, and the warming rays of the morning sun from a clear sky combined to promise a fine day. It was only about a four-mile ride into town and Belle slipped naturally into an easy, distance-eating gait. Tom looked forward to these early morning rides because they gave him time to enjoy his horse and plan his day. The horse and saddle were presents from his parents on his twenty-first birthday, and he was extremely proud of both. This morning, however, he simply gave the horse her head, paying little attention to his riding, while losing himself in deep thought.

There was certainly enough to think about these days. Secession! South Carolina had left the Union, and the matter of secession was no longer an untested theory. A number of other southern states had quickly followed suit and, meeting in Montgomery, Alabama, had proceeded to form a new nation, The Confederate States of America. Tom wasn't sure how he felt about it all and, like his parents, had been somewhat relieved when fellow Tennesseans had voted not to join the stampede out of the Union. That vote had resulted in vetoing a call for a secession convention back in February. Governor Harris and many others were still not reconciled to staying in the Union though and constantly reminded the people of Tennessee how hostile they felt the Lincoln administration was to southern interests.

Tom didn't really know much about either President Lincoln or the Republican Party. Some said Lincoln was the very devil himself, while others said wait and see. He and his father had voted for John Bell on the Constitutional Union Party ticket in the presidential election last November. At the time, Ezekiel had said it was the only hope he could see for staying out of war. The new party consisted mostly of oldline Whigs, and presented a deliberately vague platform calculated to offer the voters a middle ground between the Democrats and Republicans. Most people in Wilson County and Middle Tennessee leaned toward Bell and the Whigs, but secession sentiment was definitely building.

Belle's abrupt turn, off the turnpike and onto the side street of crushed limestone that lead up a hill to the university, interrupted his thoughts and brought him back to the present. Tom realized he had been so lost in thought that if the horse had failed to instinctively make the turn he would have ridden right on by. In any case, he knew he had better have his mind on the law by the time he got to class or Judge Green, his instructor, would be displeased. That was a prospect no Cumberland law student dared take lightly.

Tom took his studies very seriously, always aware that the alternative was the farm, a fate he simply could not abide. He had been away from school for several years while Ezekiel tried to make a farmer out of him and, had it not been for the preparatory school run by Mr. Grannis at the university, he would never have been able to do the kind of work expected of him now. It had been the preparatory work that had added the Latin, Greek, and algebra considered essential for higher education.

Doc Kidder had taught him the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, while he had attended the small school located in the Holloway community. However, Doc was practicing medicine at the same time, and there was a limit to how far he could take his students.

Tom had originally considered enrolling in courses preparatory for the ministry because the University Board of Trustees exempted such candidates from payment of tuition. The more he thought about it though, the less appealing that idea became. He shared his father's basic distaste for preachers and simply could not envision spending his life as one, even if that meant no more education. It had taken real courage to announce his desire to study law and ask his father to fund it. Tom had feared that the tuition costs of fifty dollars per session would bring a flat refusal, but that had not been the case. After taking some time to think it over, Ezekiel had agreed with surprising equanimity. Tom had since come to realize that his father's objections had never been related to money anyway, but rather a desire to see his oldest son carry on with what he had begun on the farm.

Nearing the end of his first year, Tom had studied harder than he had ever believed possible and had the marks to prove it. The prescribed course of study for the present year was The Law of Nations, Constitutional Law, and Municipal Law. Studying the law was the hardest thing he had ever done, but it was a different kind of labor from working on the farm and, most importantly, it was interesting. Whatever else happened, Tom was now sure that he would never make a farmer.

Approaching the top of the hill, he rode through the cedar picket fence surrounding the campus property. Further up the hill sat the main building of the university, easily the most impressive structure in the town. The original building had been completed in 1844 and was added to in 1858 as the institution grew. It was the largest university building in the state, being three stories high, with a colonnade in front, and a cupola. Within were housed three separate libraries, all the academic departments, laboratories, a museum, a chapel, and dormitory facilities for up to one hundred students. Almost five hundred students were in attendance and the university president, Dr. Thomas Anderson, was confident the school could handle up to six hundred.

The campus itself consisted of twenty acres, with a lawn of bluegrass and oak shade trees. The physical presence of the campus had helped breed an academic atmosphere that had elevated the university to the position of being one of the best in the South and that, in turn, had attracted students from throughout the nation.

As the secession crisis deepened, the entire panoply of emotions exhibited by the American people at large was reflected on the Cumberland University campus. The faculty and administration were, for the most part, anti-secessionist Whigs. In spite of the large number of pro-secession students from the Deep South cotton states, there were many other students, from both North and South, equally committed to the Union cause.

Attitudes concerning slavery ran the entire spectrum. All in all, it was a formula for much spirited discussion and no small amount of headknocking. In fact, the latter form of activity was lately taking precedence over the former. University officials were no more successful at maintaining order among the students than the government was with the American people as a whole.

Tom turned away from the main building and rode behind a line of trees toward the back corner of the campus and a small stable. Several free Negroes maintained the stable primarily as a service to boarding students, but it also served those riding in from outlying areas. Tom didn't know what arrangement they had with the university, but, for fifty cents a week, they took good care of Belle. While he attended class, the horse was walked and rubbed down. There was a hay rack and, for an extra nickel, a bag of oats.

As he halted the horse and dismounted, the head Negro, Jimmy, spotted him and walked over smiling. "Mornin' Mista' Tom," said Jimmy, spreading his arms and flashing a set of teeth most horses would have envied. "It's sho'one'a dem salubrous mornin's, ain't it, suh?"

Tom smiled back and corrected, "The word is 'salubrious', Jimmy. But any way you say it, you're right. It's a fine, salubrious morning."

Helping Jimmy with his vocabulary had become something of a routine with Tom, as well as some of the other students. Jimmy inevitably ended up using some words unexpected from a Negro. It was obvious that "salubrious" was the latest. To some of the students that made Jimmy a prime example of an "uppity nigger", but Tom could see no harm in it. His mother had always said that education made everyone better, including Negroes, slave or free. She practiced what she preached, too, teaching Bessie and the slaves to both read and write.

Handing the reins to Jimmy, Tom reached up and opened his saddlebags, removing one law text after another. Shaking his head and rolling his eyes, Jimmy said, "Lord, Mista' Tom, that's a powerful lota' learnin' you got in yore arms. Don't see how no mortal man learn dat much."

Tom laughed and replied, "Well, Jimmy, you may have a point, because I haven't learned it all yet, and sometimes I think I never will."

Tucking the books under his arm, he walked toward the crushed limestone path that ran to the main building. It was about time for classes to start, and a multitude of other students were moving in the same general direction. Tom hadn't gone far when he spied Arlo Baker, another law student, from Alabama, who boarded out in town. Arlo was on an intercept course with his own and they greeted each other with smiles and a vigorous handshake. Arlo was at least fifty pounds overweight and his rapid walk up the hill left him temporarily out of breath. It was a few moments before he was capable of saying anything intelligible, so he just stood in front of Tom, red-faced, wheezing, and gulping for air. Tom had seen the performance before and it never failed to remind him of a carp out of water.

Tom turned to continue up the path as Arlo fell in beside him, finally finding his voice.

"Tom, I've gotta either lose weight or get rich enough to afford a buggy to take me every where I go. This being on foot is killin' me."

"Losing weight's cheaper, Arlo," replied Tom, "but somehow, I see you as a fat, rich lawyer." Both broke into laughter.

Turning serious, Arlo asked, "You hear about the ruckus Saturday night?"

"No, I didn't. What are you talking about?"

"Well, it's all over the Herald this morning, but I guess you haven't had a chance to see the paper yet." Noting Tom's growing curiosity, Arlo continued, "There was some shootin' out at Hatton's place." Tom's look of shock caused Arlo to quickly add, "But nobody was killed or even hit as far as is known."

"What was it all about, Arlo?" asked Tom with obvious impatience.

"Well, seems some of the fellows went an' hooraw'd Mr. Hatton Saturday night about a speech he had made at the courthouse earlier in the day. There were some shots fired. Nobody seems to know who fired first, but th' sheriff's lookin' into it - an' that's about all I know."

Tom just shook his head sadly, realizing that things were rapidly going from bad to worse, and wondered what would be next. Robert Hatton was a well-respected Lebanon resident who had consistently counseled patience and compromise regarding sectional differences. Tom resolved to get a copy of the Herald as soon as possible and fill in the gaps in Arlo's story. Further thoughts on the matter were interrupted as they reached the steps of the building and were greeted by other students on their way to class.

"Baker, Holloway!" Clyde Mandell, from Lousiana, greeted them as soon as they entered the building. "Need to see both you gentlemen before class if you have a minute."

"Certainly, Clyde," replied Tom as both he and Arlo shook Mandell's offered hand. "What can we do for you?"

"It's that Todd fellow, damn his soul to hell, and some of his friends."

Tom knew he was referring to their fellow law student David Todd from Ohio.

"They're mad as all hell about that Hatton thing the other night. Criticizin' ever'one who was there an' talkin' up the Union worse'n ever. If they keep it up, there's gonna be real trouble. Jus' need to be sure where y'all stand is all."

"We weren't there," began Arlo defensively.

"We don't need any more trouble in class, Clyde, regardless of where we stand," interrupted Tom.

"We're all here to learn law, and I doubt Judge Green will appreciate another sectional argument in his contracts class."

"The Judge bedamned!" spat Mandell.

"If Todd or any of the rest of 'em start that Unionist trash this mornin', there's gonna be those who reply, you can be sure of that." Obviously seeing the look of concern that passed over Tom's face, Mandell continued, "I mean it, Tom. I've had enough an' so have most others."

Further discussion was interrupted as the clock on the wall began to chime eight o'clock. Class was about to begin.

Both he and Arlo left Mandell's question unanswered, but as they took their seats at long tables, Tom saw Todd across the room engaged in a very animated discussion with several students from the Deep-South cotton states. Judge Green's scowl in their direction had no effect as, suddenly, voices were raised.

"I've told you before, sir, and the matter is clear enough for any man of even modest common sense to understand!" The speaker was Christian Knight from South Carolina. He was red-faced and standing nose to nose with David Todd as he continued, "If a state voluntarily joins the Union, it can just as voluntarily get out again. Not only should that be self-evident, sir, but to hold otherwise makes a fiction of states rights, a fiction, sir!"

Todd started to reply, but Knight continued all the while vigorously waving a finger under the other's nose.

"To deny the doctrine of states rights, sir, is to deny the Constitution itself. It's you and your Yankee friends who have broken faith with that sacred compact, sir, not the Southrons of our new Confederacy. If anything, sir, we have restored its original spirit."

"Gentlemen, take your seats," ordered Judge Green.

It was with considerable grumbling that all parties complied.

Judge Green continued, "Mr. Knight, since you're in such fine voice this morning, perhaps you would be so kind as to offer an opening prayer?"

"I would consider that a distinct honor and privilege, sir," replied Knight with a slight bow toward the judge. "If y'all would be so kind as to bow your heads." As heads were lowered, Knight intoned, "Dear Heavenly Father, Bless the members of this our class as we go about the activities of the day. Give each of us the wisdom to pursue our studies diligently and to understand the many problems that beset our lives. Bless even our most unenlightened members, oh Lord, and give them every opportunity to mend their heinous ways. However, Lord, should they persist in their inequities, despite all opportunities to the contrary, then burn 'em in eternal hell fire, Lord, like the blackhearted, benighted, heathen Yankee trash they..."

"Mr. Knight!" warned the Judge.

"Like the misguided gentlemen they are," corrected Knight quickly. "Your will be done! Amen."

Across the room Tom saw Todd's look of surprise turn to anger as he sprang to his feet, facing Knight.

"On behalf of every northern student in attendance, sir, I demand an apology. To use prayer in such a contemptible manner is ungentlemanly and unpardonable. In spite of a pretense toward aristocratic manners, Mr. Knight is..."

"Sit down, Mr. Todd!" ordered Judge Green.

"But, sir..."

"I said, sit down, sir."

Redfaced and with obvious reluctance, Todd complied and Knight started to do likewise, but was stopped by Judge Green.

"Not you, Mr. Knight. You, sir, may remain standing. Furthermore, I wish to state that I am in substantial agreement with Mr. Todd concerning your conduct. I am also awaiting your apology, sir."

Knight seemed to recognize he had gone too far as well, for his shoulders slumped and he succumbed to the Judge's withering stare, mumbling something indistinct.

"What was that again, sir?" asked the Judge sharply.

"I said I apologize, sir," Knight spat.

"That's not much of an apology, Mr. Knight. One would almost suspect you of a lack of sincerity. Perhaps you can do a little better with the subject of contract law."

"Sir?"

"Discuss the relationship of fraud to an otherwise valid contract, Mr. Knight."

"Sir?"

"Is the spoken word failing me this morning, Mr. Knight? Did I fail to make myself clear?"

"Uh, no, sir. It's just that, at this point, I'm sure that everyone understands the basic..."

"I would hope they would myself, sir," interrupted the Judge. "However, given your summation of Fauar v. Bridges 22 Tennessee 566 during our last gathering, I now entertain serious doubts concerning yourself. But perhaps I'm mistaken, let's see if you can do better with the expansion of Fauar v. Bridges as found in Franklin v. Ezell 33 Tennessee 497. You may begin at your leisure, sir."

"I'm afraid I don't quite understand, sir," responded Knight.

"He means you made about as much sense with Fauar v. Bridges the other day as ole Todd and his fellow abolitionists do raving over the niggers," drawled fellow South Carolinian Michael Hopkins softly.

"I heard that," said Todd loud enough for the whole class to hear.

The resulting snickers from the class were cut short by Judge Green. "That'll be quite enough, gentlemen." Then, addressing Hopkins the Judge said, "We were discussing Franklin v. Ezell, Mr. Hopkins, and I will expect you to confine further remarks to the subject at hand. Is that clearly understood, sir?"

"Yes, sir," replied a subdued Hopkins.

"Now then --" began Judge Green.

"Excuse me, sir," interrupted Todd.

"Yes, Mr. Todd?" replied the Judge warily.

"Sir, numerous members of this class have challenged both my personal honor and my integrity. I feel it only right that I reply before we continue."

All eyes turned toward Judge Green, who scowled deeply but made no reply other than a vague wave of his hand. Todd interpreted the gesture as permission to continue.

"In spite of what Mr. Knight maintains, it was the clear intent of the founders of our great nation to create a perpetual union. Once a state ratified the Constitution--"

"Nothing of the sort, sir!" exclaimed Knight, simultaneously rising to face Todd. "Even though ratification was achieved, it was non-binding on any state that refused."

"Perhaps," replied Todd, "but none did refuse, and once in, forever in."

"Hogwash, sir, absolute hogwash! Each state was bound only and solely by its own ratification. A state's sovereignty is not a gift of the central government to be ignored when convenient."

To his own considerable surprise, Tom found himself standing. "Gentlemen, enough please. We all keep covering the same ground with these endless arguments and end up getting nowhere. I, for one, am tired of it. Certainly we were all taught to respect the Union of states."

Knight started to interrupt, but Tom held up his hand. "Now just wait a minute, Mr. Knight. We all, Northerners and Southerners alike, were taught about those who struggled to create and protect our nation. Putting that aside takes considerable thought, or should. Personally, I believe in states rights, including the right of secession. However, the law teaches that no right is absolute, and it would seem that is where our disagreement lies. I am not yet ready to regard anyone who disagrees with me on this matter as my enemy, nor should you or Mr. Todd."

As he took his seat Tom heard murmurs of support from numerous others around the room. Knight obviously heard them as well and, instead of directly challenging Tom, responded, "If secession were the only point of contention it would be one thing, sir, but states rights involves much more. Those people," Knight gestured toward Todd and several of his friends, "directly challenge our rights to personal property as well. A man who would take your property is certainly not your friend, Mr. Holloway."

"In fact, I would not suggest any such thing, as Mr. Knight knows full well," stated Todd. "While I find the institution of human bondage personally repugnant, I am not an abolitionist. However, I do oppose its spread."

"In God's name, why then?" responded Knight in what Tom felt was genuine confusion. "You Northerners take every opportunity to vilify the South for slavery, sir, while hypocritically keeping millions of your factory workers in a condition far worse. They're wage slaves, sir, nothing more. Finally, at least some Southerners have chosen to act rather than accept continued degradation."

There were murmurs of agreement throughout the classroom.

"Enough," said Judge Green. "Gentlemen, this class will come to order right now and I will tolerate no further discussion off the subject no matter whose honor may be involved. Anyone who cannot agree to continue on that basis may leave now, is that clear?"

No one replied, but no one rose to leave either, and the class continued under a distinctly tense truce. Tom was gradually coming to realize that many of his fellow students had no interest in discussing limitations or compromise. Alternatives to hostile confrontation were rapidly running out. By twelve o'clock he felt exhausted, and dinner came as a welcome relief.

On the way out of class Knight stopped him.

"Holloway, seems a man never knows what direction you'll jump next. Sooner or later you're gonna have to make a choice as to which side you're on. You know that, don't you?"

Tom turned away without replying and another, "Don't you?" followed him out the door.

He left the the building and wandered back down the hill, deliberately avoiding the company of other students. He located his saddle astride the wall of Belle's stall, placed his books in the saddlebags, removed his dinner and water bottle, then walked some distance back up the hill, where he sat down on a stone bench under a large oak. Sensing his change of mood, Jimmy had not tried to engage him in conversation.

Tom was absentmindedly chewing his food when he heard footsteps coming up behind him. Turning, he came face to face with Judge Nathan Green. He rose immediately. "Good afternoon, sir. As you can see, I was just eating my dinner. Could I offer you some?"

The Judge, a slim man with a quiet presence, smiled and raised his hand. "No, thank you, sir, and please, keep your seat. I was leaving the building just now and thought it was you sitting down here but couldn't be sure till I got close."

Judge Green was a former state senator and member of the Tennessee Supreme Court. He and another instructor, Judge Abram Caruthers, were two of the foremost jurists in the nation. Many of the students at the university had come there specifically to receive instruction from those two men. Tom was, quite simply, in awe of both.

Still standing, Tom asked, "What can I do for you, sir?"

"Nothing at all, young man. I merely wanted to remark upon your comments in class this morning."

"Sir?"

"Yours was one of the more reasoned positions I heard. You maintained a calm and dispassionate demeanor throughout. Those are essential skills in a good attorney, sir, and I was most impressed. I am afraid that I cannot say the same for several of your fellows."

That was the highest praise Tom had ever received from Judge Green or, for that matter, ever heard anyone else receive. He could think of nothing more eloquent to say than, "Thank you, sir, thank you very much."

"Not at all, sir. With passions running so high these days, people who can keep their wits about them are especially valuable. I predict a real future for you at the bar."

Words now failed Tom and he simply nodded his head.

Judge Green moved to go. "I'll let you get back to your dinner, sir. Good day to you." Then, having taken a few steps, the Judge turned once more and said enigmatically, "Give Zeke my regards and tell him I certainly think he made the right choice."

The Judge's reference to his father was a genuine surprise. Furthermore, no one ever called Tom's father "Zeke" except a few close friends. "I'll convey your message, sir. And thank you, again, sir."

As Judge Green retreated up the hill, Tom sat down once more, his food now forgotten, but his mood of elation in sharp contrast to that of a few minutes earlier. "A future at the bar" Judge Green had said - a future at the bar. One of the greatest legal minds in the country had just given him the highest praise possible under the circumstances. But what did he mean by that last remark about making the right choice? Did the Judge somehow know of the struggle he had gone through with his father? Well, perhaps he would find out later from Ezekiel.

Tom then remembered the shooting incident. No longer hungry, he decided to ride by Baird's Hotel on the way home, find a paper, and see if any of his friends could tell him more about it. No longer hungry, Tom gathered up his food, and hurried to get Belle.

Jimmy had his horse saddled and waiting. "Saw you up de hill talkin' wid' de Jege, Mister Tom. He be a fine man, sho'."

"He's as good at the law as you are at tending to horses, Jimmy," said Tom with a smile. He flicked the reins, sending Belle heading for the town square.

The street down which he rode was lined with neat, whitewashed frame houses scattered among a profusion of oak, elm, and ash trees. A few people waved or shouted greetings as he passed by, and he replied but did not stop to talk. Soon it would be time to return home and he had a lot of questions for the fellows he knew would be gathered at the hotel.

Once there, he tied up his horse, smoothed his clothing, and went inside. Tom recognized no one in the small lobby, but a sudden burst of laughter coming from a room to his left identified the parties he was seeking. He hung his hat on a peg behind the door, and strode anxiously toward the sound of his friends.

As he entered the room, Amos Hawkins suddenly slapped his cards upon the table in front of him. "Well damn! Draw three aces and still can't win a pot." With that, the table broke into laughter once again and Amos reached out, scooping up money, chips, and cards in indiscriminate fashion. He spied Tom, pushed back his chair and rose, spreading his arms. "Tom Holloway, a trued friend, indeed. Doubtless you've come to rescue me from the bad company into which I've fallen."

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