"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.
"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."
"Discuss the relationship of fraud to an otherwise valid contract, Mr. Knight."
"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."
"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."
"Not to mention near financial ruin," Artimous Reed intoned. More laughter followed.
Amos Hawkins of Wilson County and Artimous Reed of Biloxi, Mississippi were law students at the university. Amos was of medium height and build with a head of sandy blond hair that was in perpetual disarray. His boyish good looks made him appear younger than his twenty-one years. Amos' father had sent him to Cumberland hoping the school would exert a calming influence upon his goodnatured but rambunctious son. It had not. Amos remained a bundle of undirected energy, but he was doing well enough in school to avoid being thrown out. Just.
Artimous was roughly the same size and build as Amos, but there the similarity ended. Artimous sported a thin mustache and possessed a more mature, but no less handsome, appearance. Twenty-three years old and the product of wealthy parents, he had flirted with becoming a dilettante, had been too intelligent to be satisfied with such a meaningless existence, then had turned to the study of law. It had taken a failed love affair to drive him out of Mississippi, but he was now quite at home in Lebanon. He reflected a quiet competence much at odds with his friend Amos.
Looking up from his seat at the table, Artimous smiled."Tom, it's gonna' be a long pull teaching this rascal to play poker. Believe it or not, he just folded three aces against nothing better than a pair of jacks showing. We may never make a poker player out of him, but, by damn, as long as his money holds out we'll keep trying, won't we, boys?"
The others around the table greeted the last statement with enthusiastic approval. Tom just smiled and shook his head. There were some things that defied man's best efforts, and teaching Amos the finer points of poker seemed to be one of them. The bright red "lucky" bandanna he always wore when playing didn't seem to help a bit, but Amos swore by it.
Tom wasn't much better at poker than Amos, but at least he had sense enough to realize it. Cards had never really interested him and, perhaps as a consequence, he had never been very good with them. He played, usually avoiding meaningful loss, but it was a social function only. Amos, on the other hand, seemed completely absorbed with the game and had gotten into the habit of playing on an almost daily basis.
Adopting a posture of contrived formality, Artimous stood up and proclaimed, "Mr. Thomas J. Holloway, I have the honor to present Mr. Harrison Reed of Mississippi, my cousin once removed.He's the son of my grandfather's brother on father's side and, I might add, one hell of a poker player. As Amos has been finding out."
Again there was laughter as Harrison Reed rose, awkwardly Tom noticed, and extended his hand. "Mr. Reed, it's a pleasure."
Harrison replied in a very pronounced Deep South accent, "Sir, the pleasure is mine. Cousin Artimous has told me much about you." Harrison Reed strongly favored Artimous in height and build, but possessed coarser features that tended, in some indefinable way, to rob him of his cousin's handsome appearance. Nonetheless, he exuded what Tom had come to consider, for lack of a better word, the "Reed presence".
"Well, Mr. Reed, you can't always believe everything Artimous says. When did you arrive in town?"
Sitting heavily back into his chair, Harrison replied, "Friday evenin', sir. Came up the Mississippi by packet and stayed over a few days in Nashville before coming on to Lebanon by stage. I wish I could say I found the temper of the people as satisfactory as the town itself."
Noticing Tom's blank expression, Artimous broke in, "Better explain yourself, Harrison. I think you've lost Tom."
Showing slight irritation, Harrison went on, "As I was about to say, Mr. Holloway, the lack of secession sympathy is most surprisin'. Folks in Mississippi seem to have a greater concern for Southern rights and Southern honor than I've seen up here."
That last comment brought sharp looks from all in the room, including Harrison's cousin Artimous. Tom spoke first, looking Harrison directly in the eye and saying in a quiet, flat tone of voice, "Perhaps you have mistaken caution for something else, Mr. Reed."
Harrison, alerted to the implications of what he had just said, both by Tom's tone of voice and the looks of the others, quickly replied to the group in general, "Meanin' no disrespect, gentlemen!I merely wished to convey my dismay over what seems a lack of concern by many Tennesseans for the most momentous event in modern history. A new nation now lies to the south and it needs the support of all loyal Southerners."
Artimous interupted, "There you go again, Harrison, running your mouth when you ought to be listening. The matter has nothing to do with the loyalty or honor of Tennesseans, and you had better come to understand that. One of the most basic concepts of the Confederacy is the right of each state to choose its own destiny. I'm personally confident that Tennesseans will ultimately realize their interests are best served by making common cause with us, but a belligerent attitude will not produce the results you seek."
Murmurs of assent around the room kept Harrison from making any further comment for the moment.
Jonas Siler, yet another Cumberland law student, changed the subject. "Tom, help yourself to some dinner and sit in for a few hands of cards."
Jonas was a twenty-two-year-old, heavyset young man from Nashville who stood five-ten and weighed about two-hundred and twenty-five pounds, all of it muscle. He looked more like a manual laborer than a law student. The initial impression of a rather slowwitted, graceless country boy was further enhanced by the generally unkempt look Jonas cultivated, as well as by an awkwardness of speech. In fact, Jonas had a brilliant mind and proved it by effortlessly progressing through law school with honors. Far from being graceless, he had the reflexes of a cat. The awkward speech was the result of having a mind that generated ideas much faster than they could be verbalized. He was continually frustrated in trying to express himself.People made a habit of underestimating Jonas Siler.
Glancing at a sideboard shoved next to the wall, Tom saw the food: a sliced cold roast, fresh made bread, a large tureen of hot bean soup, and a crock of buttermilk alongside a bottle of whiskey, the latter obviously intended for the more adventurous.
"Thanks, Jonas, but I've already eaten."
He sat down in a comfortable highback chair off to the side of the cardtable, struck a patent match off the sole of his boot, and fired up a long, thin cigar. He spoke through a cloud of blue smoke. "Gentlemen, I regret I can't stay long and don't really have time for a hand of cards. Just stopped by to say hello and catch up on the news. I saw Arlo Baker before class this morning and he told me about the shootin' Saturday night. What happened?"
The sheepish look on everyone's face confirmed Tom's worst fears. Exhaling a long stream of blue smoke, he continued softly, "I should have known.Well, let's hear about it."
Abruptly, the shuffling of cards, which had formed a background noise ever since Tom had been in the room, ceased and Jonas dropped the deck on the table with a pronounced smack. He looked at his fellow players, up at Tom, then again at the others.After a long pause, he asked, "Well, dammit, who's going to tell him?"
Amos finally broke the silence. "Well, Tom, we...that is Artimous, his cousin here, and myself, we went to the courthouse to hear Hatton speak Saturday about th' doin's up in Washington. Well, anyway, we were just curious, but some of the other students and townfolks, they got pretty upset about what Hatton was sayin' and…."
"And were absolutely justified, by God!" interrupted Harrison. "Just how many more insults does this Hatton fellow think loyal Southerners should tolerate before doing something about it?"
"Quiet, Harrison," injected Artimous."Let Amos finish telling Tom what happened."
Harrison restrained himself, Tom noted, but with obvious difficulty. Amos went on with the story.
"Anyway, as I was sayin', we heard Hatton speak.Then, later that afternoon, there was drinkin' and more drinkin' that night. Well, some of the boys finally decided to go to Hatton's place out on West Main Street and confront him, and we, well, we went along, too."
At Tom's look of obvious dismay Amos hurriedly explained, "But Tom... Tom, we just went to watch, not to say anything."
"Tell him the rest, Amos," demanded Jonas.
"Well, Tom, the paper said nobody got hit during th' shootin', but that wasn't exactly right."
Slowly, Harrison pushed back from the table and without a word, lifted a bandaged foot.After Tom had stared for a few moments, their eyes met and Harrison said, "Hurts like a proper son of a bitch, too. We told folks a horse stepped on it, but I'm not sure we're foolin' anyone. Truth be known, I'm not sure I care whether we're foolin' anyone or not."
Tom looked directly at Harrison, saying in a low formal tone, "Well you probably should care, Mr. Reed. Mr. Hatton has many friends in this community, while you, sir, are an outsider. It might be best, for all concerned, if the true nature of your injury doesn't become public knowledge. But, of course, sir, I'll leave that to your own judgment. By the way, just how badly were you hurt?"
"Not badly, thank you, Mr. Holloway. A flesh wound only. The bullet was almost spent. However, you seem to be taking sides with this Hatton fellow."
"Mr. Reed, if, by taking sides, you're implying that I agree with the desire of Mr. Hatton and others in the area to give the present political situation careful consideration, then you are most correct.I certainly don't think Tennessee should stampede out of the Union. Furthermore, I think that you fell into bad company when you accompanied these two," he indicated Amos and Artimous, "and those other hotheads to harass Mr. Hatton."
It was obvious to all that Harrison was getting progressively more agitated. "Sir, it was, in fact, I who suggested we go with the others to this Hatton's house. I had told him earlier in the day just what I thought about his position on niggers an' secession an' repeated the same sentiments later that evenin'. Secession, sir, is a fact. The Confederacy is a fact. Mr. Hatton seems to think that compromise on th' nigger question at this late date can undo that reality, which is utter nonsense, sir. Much is at stake here, sir.Those Southerners who have joined the Confederacy are determined to bow no longer to Yankee tyranny."
Tom looked accusingly at Amos and said, "Didn't 'say anything', Amos?"
"Well now, Tom, that's not exactly what I said.I said we didn't go intendin' to say anything. Hell, Tom, Mr. Hatton came out on the porch with a pistol!"
Raising his voice, Tom replied, "Amos, don't you find that reasonable considering the man was roused out of his sleep by a bunch of howling drunks in the middle of the night? Damnation, what would you have done, gone out to meet a mob like that with a bouquet of flowers?"
Amos seemed to have no response to the question, but Harrison obviously wasn't through, adding, "Mr. Holloway, you don't seem to appreciate that it was Hatton that threatened us, not the other way around."
With that, Artimous broke in. "Harrison, that sounds pretty lame even to me and I was part of the whole ridiculous thing. Let's just admit it. We all got lickered up, mouthed off way more than we should have, and are mighty lucky nobody got killed."
The look Harrison gave Artimous was pure poison, but Artimous wasn't through. "Harrison, we made complete fools of ourselves! You, me, and Amos. We had no business out at Hatton's and, if you ask me, we're damn lucky things didn't turn out worse than they did. You could just as easily have been shot in the head instead of the foot, or we could all be guests of the sheriff right now. Truth is, we don't even know who shot you, the way bullets were flyin'."
Nodding in vigorous agreement while waving his arms wildly through the air, Amos added, "Thomas! You've never seen anything like it. Shootin', and folks shoutin' an' runnin' around to beat all hell."
Smiles slowly appeared on the faces of everyone but Harrison, as each conjured up an image of the scene Amos was describing. Serious as the incident might be, Amos, as usual, had found its comic side. The laughter broke the tension of the last few minutes and ultimately prevailed over even the sullen defensiveness of Harrison.
"Hell, Tom," said Jonas, "I'm not sure but what I wouldn't 've been with'em if I'd been in town."
"You would have, Jonas, and you know it," interrupted Amos.
"Anyway, I might'a been," continued Jonas. "And furthermore, the whole episode provided some of the best excitement we've had around here in quite a while. Even if the boys missed burnin' him in effigy later in the evening."
Tom looked at Jonas in surprise. "What about burning Hatton in effigy, Jonas? This is the first I've heard about that."
"Well, Tom, near as I understand, that occurred later and didn't involve these good gentlemen, as they were already occupied treating Harrison's foot."
Tom just shook his head while looking at the other three. "I'd say you were all damned lucky under the circumstances."
"I'd say it's got more to do with the luck of fools than anything else, which might also explain why you and I both weren't with 'em, Tom," remarked Jonas.
Tom knew Jonas had a point. While the whole thing might seem foolish in retrospect, it was just luck he and Jonas hadn't been involved.
Speaking to the room in general, he said, "I'm sorry if I sounded rather self-righteous. I guess the tension of this secession thing has caused has a lot of folks to do and say things they shouldn't. Speaking of tension, what's going to happen over at Sumter?"
Tom's reference to the fate of Ft. Sumter, in the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina, referred to an issue of growing concern to both North and South. Rumors and reports from Charleston made it evident that tension was mounting.President Davis was on record as doubting the Lincoln Administration would give up Sumter without a fight, though the Confederate states had already taken possession of most federal facilities within their respective borders. Ft. Sumter in Charleston and Ft. Pickens in Pensacola were the major holdouts. Confederate commissioners in Washington had made it clear that both facilities must be relinquished, but President Lincoln had not yet determined his position on the matter. In the meantime, Sumter's commander, Major Robert Anderson, was holed up in the fort with a small garrison and few supplies, defying all efforts at his removal.
It was Harrison who replied first to Tom's Ft. Sumter query. "I will tell you, sir, what will happen. Fortress Sumpta' will be surrendered to Confederate authorities or it will be taken!"
With the mention of Sumter, Harrison's earlier agitation returned in full force. Tom was immediately sorry that he had raised the matter for, once aroused, Harrison was not to be ignored.
"The whole Sumpta' issue demonstrates the utter perfidy of the Lincoln Administration, if not the whole damn Yankee race itself," Harrison spat.
"For God's sake, Harrison, quit your ranting," Artimous said. "Exactly what perfidy are you referring to?"
"Referring to, Cousin Artimous? I'll tell y'all exactly what I'm referring to. I'm referring to the agreement reached back in December between South Carolina and the damned Lincoln Administration, sir, that's what, sir. I'm sure y'all must be aware of it. It was in all the papers. South Carolina honorably agreed to take no action against Sumpta' prior to secession and until negotiations for a peaceful transfa' could be undertaken. In return, Lincoln agreed to make no changes in the federal dispositions there. Why, sir, before the ink was dry on th' paper he told that damn Anderson to sneak out in the dead of night like a common criminal and take up a position in the fort. The man has no honor, sir, none at all."
Everyone in the room was aware of the incident and was in general agreement that such action had precipitated the present crisis. If that was the way Lincoln kept his word, there seemed little hope of averting serious trouble. But Lincoln had not yet announced his decision on the Sumter matter, and there was always the possibility he would ultimately be reasonable. He had said he wanted no war and would not attack the South. Perhaps the man was not as bereft of honor as Harrison supposed.Perhaps.
It was becoming increasingly evident that the resolution of the Sumter issue would greatly influence the decision of other southern states regarding secession itself. Should actual fighting break out, nobody really knew what the results would be, but one thing was certain. The Confederacy would grow.
Tiring of the discussion and suddenly aware that he had already stayed longer than he intended, Tom put out his cigar, rose from the chair, and announced he was leaving.
Harrison stood also, extended his hand, and proclaimed, "My apologies for givin' offense, sir. I assure you none was intended. I'm aware that my sympathies, strongly held, are often too strongly expressed."
Tom shook the offered hand. "No offense taken, Mr. Reed.These are tense times for us all.I assure you I have nothing but the highest regard for your new Confederacy. Your nation and the state of Tennessee may yet make common cause, sir."
As Tom said goodbye to the others, Artimous announced he would walk out with him, as he needed a breath of air. They were on the porch of the hotel before either spoke.
Staring into the distance Artimous broke the silence. "Harrison means well; he's just the excitable type. Always had a big mouth and always will."
Tom just smiled. "I meant what I said, Artie.I wasn't really offended by Harrison.I might even agree with much of what he said. But, for his own sake, see if you can get him to go easy on Hatton. It may not have been all that apparent the other night, but the man does have friends, a lot of them."
Artimous nodded, then changed the subject. "It's hard to realize we're citizens of different nations now. Somehow it just doesn't seem real. Maybe if I'd been home when it all happened, it would, but right now it doesn't. What the hell's gonna' happen, Tom? Is there gonna be a war, and, if there is, are we gonna be on different sides?"
Looking as serious as Artimous had ever seen him look, Tom replied, "I wish I knew, Artie. I really wish I knew, but I don't think any man alive does. It looks bad, real bad. Harrison's not the only hothead by a long shot, and there seems to be more of'm every day--on both sides from what I can tell. Even if we get through this Sumter thing, there'll be other problems. Sumter's a symptom, not a cause. One thing for sure though, whatever happens, we're gonna be smack in the middle of it.I do think that."
Smiling at each other, Tom and Artimous shook hands. Tom told him he would see him tomorrow, then mounted Belle and rode swiftly toward the turnpike.
Once there, Tom lapsed into thought about Harrison and what had been said. He really didn't know what to think of the man. He was certainly nothing like his cousin Artimous, for whom Tom had the highest regard. Nevertheless, Harrison had made some telling points, and there seemed to be more and more people thinking like him every day. Reflecting further on the matter, Tom thought it strange that Harrison hadn't made more of the slavery issue.
The central issue in Congress and at the Washington Peace Conference, that Hatton had gotten into such trouble attempting to report on, had been the slave problem. After all the tension and hostility, it was almost as if it was of no more concern. Harrison seemed to feel that if the states' rights problem were resolved, slavery would somehow cease to be an issue. If that were the case though, why the hostility toward Hatton? Wasn't that just what he had been attempting? Hatton had said…. But wait.
It suddenly struck Tom that Hatton and the others like him were wrong about the possibility of compromising their way out of the secession crisis. Compromise, of some sort, might have worked in the past, but no longer. Harrison, and probably most other citizens of the Confederacy, were no longer fighting the slavery battle because they considered it already won. The constitution of the new Confederacy guaranteed slavery as a matter of state concern only. Why argue a moot point? Harrison had referred to much being at stake, and now it all seemed to make sense.Intoxicated with the notion of a new nation, making good that nation's claim to existence would become the paramount concern. Thus, all offers of compromise, whatever their nature, were a threat to Confederate interests rather than a practical alternative.
As the full impact of that reality hit Tom, he felt almost physically ill. Most people outside the Confederacy, including many other Southerners, just didn't fully understand. Nothing, literally nothing, was going to bring the seceded states back into the Union short of brute force. Since Lincoln had already indicated he was not going to recognize the secession, that meant force would be resorted to sooner or later. When that happened, the federal government would probably lose what Southern loyalty it still enjoyed. Earlier, Tom had no answer for Artimous when he asked about being on different sides if war came. He had ignored the question. He thought he could answer that question now.
Ezekiel and his three slaves Tag, Ulysses, and Toby had spent the day building a rock fence across the top of a hill on his property. The hill offered a picturesque view of the valley below and of the turnpike as it wound through the Holloway community. It had been named in honor of Levi Holloway, its founder and Ezekiel's father. The community boasted a doctor, a general store, a school, a number of small homes, and a justice of the peace, Ezekiel himself. The Holloway clan was certainly making a name for itself, and Ezekiel was modestly proud of that. If things kept progressing, they could have a regular town here one day.
Ezekiel was a large man and, in his prime, had been regarded as quite handsome by the local belles. It was generally agreed that Jane Shannon had made a good catch in Ezekiel even if he was quite a bit older than she. They had settled on his small farm, built a comfortable, if modest, house, and raised eight children, getting all but one grown. That one, a boy, had died from a fever when about a year old. The doctor said he didn't really know what it was, but it killed the infant in less than a week. Both parents had grieved over the death. But they had been luckier than most, as all the other children were strong and healthy.
As the slaves laughed and talked, it struck Exekiel that he was just not the man he used to be. They had been working since sunup, breaking only to return to the house for the midday meal Jane and Bessie had fixed. Ezekiel was bone tired, while the niggers seemed about as good as when they started. He'd held his own with them though, at least until they had gone back to work following the meal. There had been the day when he could have outworked the lot of them.
It was backbreaking work, moving those rocks.First, they loaded a mule-drawn wagon with rocks from a field back behind the hill, then hauled the rocks to the site of the wall. It was then just a matter of carefully arranging the rocks to form the wall. The large flat slabs of limestone were perfect for the job, and the operation served the dual purpose of clearing a field at the same time. There seemed to be no end to how many the plow could turn up each season, and Ezekiel often wished he owned just a small piece of black dirt bottomland somewhere.Still, the farm was doing better every year, enabled the family to live comfortably, and would make a good inheritance for the boys when he was gone. Ezekiel never considered including the girls in any division of the farm, even though the two oldest, Josie and Eneline, had good husbands who were farmers.No, the land would go to the boys, with the girls getting other considerations.
It still bothered him a little that Tom had shown no interest in farming, but that was the way it was, and Ezekiel was a practical man. Like it or not, his oldest son just didn't have the makings of a farmer. True, that realization had not set well at first, but now he had decided that having a lawyer in the family might not be a bad thing. Tom didn't realize it, but Ezekiel knew about his considering the ministry and suspected the reason.Inquiries the son had made at Cumberland had gotten back to the father, and although he had decided not to interfere, Ezekiel had been convinced Tom was about to make a serious mistake. He had experienced a genuine sense of relief when Tom decided to attend law school instead. A lawyer sure as hell beat a preacher, especially from the standpoint of making a living. Too many preachers lived hand to mouth.
Ezekiel didn't consider himself a religious man, at least not by the standards of most other folks. Oh, he believed in the Good Lord and the hereafter all right, but he couldn't warm to the church itself. Nor did he feel comfortable with the public professions of piety and righteousness he so often heard from others. In fact, his beliefs were quietly held and deeply personal. As for preachers...well, allowing for some notable exceptions, there was a certain air about them that he despised. He put up with them largely for Jane, but it was rare indeed to get a man's handshake from one. Most of the pompous bastards even acted like they were doing you a favor to show up and freeload a meal.
Actually, Ezekiel looked at preachers with the same critical eye he used for everything else. To him it seemed only natural to ask what useful function a preacher performed.They expected their congregations to keep them up and were often underfoot, but did they actually do anything useful? Anything a man couldn't do for himself? If so, Ezekiel had yet to discover what the hell it was. He didn't need a blacksmith to shoe his horse or a preacher to help him talk to his God. It was therefore with considerable relief that he heard of Tom changing from the ministry to law, and the extra cost be damned.
The only nagging fear remaining was that, like so many little jackleg lawyers, Tom might come to view law as a route into politics. If there was one thing on God's green earth Ezekiel had less use for than preachers, it had to be politicians.They might talk of serving the people, but he'd yet to see one put much of anything ahead of serving himself. God help the boy if he went that route.
As for farming, there was still Ezekiel's younger son Andrew, and that one showed real promise of becoming a farmer. Ezekiel had him cleaning out the stalls in the barn right now, spreading the manure on the fields. It was a hot, dirty job, and the ammonia smell generated by compressed and decaying animal droppings made it even worse, but Andrew stayed with it.Before nightfall, he would set him to hunting hen eggs. Why the damned birds couldn't lay in the henhouse where they were supposed to he didn't know. But Andrew had a talent for finding the eggs no matter where the hens hid them.
Ezekiel straightened up with a burning in his back, removed his hat, and wiped his brow with a bandanna taken from a back pocket. He had a good view of the turnpike below and saw his older son riding up the pike on Belle. The boy sat a horse well and Ezekiel felt he could take some credit for that as he had taught all the children to ride almost as soon as they could walk. He had gotten his first horse for his own twenty-first birthday and had done the same for Tom. He intended to see Andrew got one also when the time came.
In spite of the disagreements he and Tom had over the farm, Ezekiel was proud of him. It was obvious his son was trying to make something out of himself, and he was determined to help him all he could. Tom carried himself well, had the manners of a gentlemen, and seemed possessed of a reasonable amount of common sense. Had a stubborn streak in him, but if he finished his schooling and married the right girl, the boy had a future. The only thing Ezekiel truly had no patience with and would not tolerate was laziness, and he had seen no sign of that in any of his brood.
Thinking of Tom's future or, for that matter, the future in general, made Ezekiel frown. He went over to the wagon and dipped some water from a wooden bucket wrapped in wet burlap to keep it cool. When he finished, he looked at the Negroes. "You boys want water? Y'all feel free to help yourselves."
They all looked up as Tag replied, "Thank ya', Mista' 'Zekiel. 'Ats mighty kind, suh." All three then came forward for a drink and Ezekiel handed Tag the dipper. As they gulped the cool liquid, Ezekiel looked out over the turnpike again and watched Tom ride up the lane leading by the house.
Thoughts of the future returned. Ezekiel was very much afraid he could predict what the future would bring if things didn't change. If cool heads couldn't prevail, the country was headed for a goddamned war. If war came, God alone knew what would have to happen before it was over. Those damned fools in South Carolina had really started something.That they had been joined by six other states was bad enough, but now the new Confederacy wanted Tennessee and the rest of the South. Tennesseans had shown enough gumption not to join so far, but that probably wouldn't last.Pressure to secede was building almost daily and that fool governor, Isham Harris, seemed determined to take Tennessee out of the Union. All he needed was an excuse, and, in time, Lincoln was certain to provide one.
Looking at the three slaves, who had gone back to work on the wall, Ezekiel shook his head while thinking to himself that they sure as hell weren't worth any war. He didn't really see how most niggers could make it without some white man to look after them, but if they could, he would as soon hire them as have to care for them. The cotton growers had jumped the price of slaves out of all reason anyway. As if that wasn't enough, it cost a lot to keep them. Some folks treated their niggers little better than animals, either out of desire to cut costs or because they were just plain stupid.Ezekiel compared managing slaves to handling milk cows. To get anything out, a man had to put something in. Any man, black or white, had to eat good and be healthy if he was going to do much work. Folks that were too sorry to take proper care of their niggers usually didn't take care of their livestock either. Took more than owning a few slaves to turn a sorry white man into a responsible one, and some just didn't have it in them.
To make matters worse, Tag, Ulysses, and Toby wanted women, and Bessie had long ago given all three to understand she wasn't avaliable. Women meant families, and families meant the inevitable horde of pickaninnies underfoot. It often occurred to Ezekiel that the white master was as much a captive of the system as the nigger slave. He sure couldn't afford to free them and, for the time being at least, he had to have the help. Anyway, Jane threw a fit whenever he mentioned selling them, saying it would be like selling family.
His original plan had been to use the niggers to help with the farm till the boys were old enough to take over. Considering the steady rise in the price of slaves, a man ought to be able to turn a good profit on them when it came time to sell. If he had to keep them though, he could probably hire them out to the textile mill in town during slack periods on the farm. The way things were looking, he'd probably have to buy some damned women, too.
Jane's father had given her Bessie as a wedding present when they got married. She and Jane had grown up together, and shortly after receiving Bessie, Jane had freed her. All her friends had thought she had taken leave of her senses to give up such valuable property. Nothing seemed to have changed though, as Bessie had remained with the family and was utterly devoted to Jane. Furthermore, she had taken as much part in raising the children as their mother and, as a result, was given almost the same respect and affection. There had once been a man in Bessie's life, a free man of color from town, but something had gone wrong. No one seemed to know just what, but the fellow ceased coming around and there were no more men after that. Ezekiel often wondered what had happened but considered it none of his business and never asked.
Tom had obviously stopped by the house to change into his work clothes before riding up the hill to help with the wall. He reined up next to Ezekiel.
"Hello, Father. I see that you and the boys have made real progress today."
"We have for a fact, son, but I'm glad to see you home to help. We can always use an extra pair of hands."
There was a time when Tom would have interpreted such a remark as implied criticism that he hadn't been there to start with, but Ezekial had made peace with his son, and knew the boy accepted the comment at face value. He watched Tom dismount Belle and walk her under the shade of a nearby tree where he tied the reins to a low-hanging limb.
"Thomas," Ezekial said, "let's sit and talk a spell before startin' on that wall." He took his knife from his pocket and bent to pick up a small piece of cedar wood before sitting down by his son with an audible grunt. "Now tell me the news from town. You're the only one that goes in more than once a week these days." Ezekiel brought forth thin curls of the red cedar with each pass of his knife as he calmly whittled. A smile slowly spread across his face as he listened to Tom describe his talk with the Judge. When Tom was through, he said, "The Judge and I go back quite a few years, son. And I have a great respect for his opinion. When you told me you wanted to study law, I made it a point to drop by and see him before I gave my consent. I might add, it's a hell of an improvement over bein' a preacher. Now, tell me the news from town."
Tom's surprise was evident as he slowly shook his head. "Well, I'll be damned."
"Maybe you will at that, but tell me the news from town anyway."
"Yes, sir. Well, let's see. Feeling is running pretty high at the university. We don't accomplish as much in class as we used to because secession is about all anyone talks about anymore. Some talk against it, but a good many support it and want Tennessee to go out as well. The faculty, from Dr. Anderson on down, are still pretty much against it and that carries a lot of weight with the students. I think it's going to turn on the outcome of the Ft. Sumter thing, but if not on that, then on how Lincoln handles the secession crisis generally.I hate to say it, Father, but I think we're going to have a war. I also think that if war comes, Tennessee will join with the Confederacy."
Ezekiel listened to his son with growing respect. It was obvious Tom had been giving the current situation some careful thought and had come to pretty much the same conclusion as he had.
"Then there is the Hatton thing," Tom said hesitantly.
Ezekiel stopped whittling before asking, "What Hatton thing, son?"
"There was real trouble in town Saturday night, Father."
Tom went on to describe the events of Saturday night
"Dammit all!" Ezekiel shook his head in obvious disgust. After a moment of strained silence, he looked at Tom. "I think you're right about a war coming, Tom. I've feared it was only a matter of time ever since I heard South Carolina and the others left the Union. I don't know much about Lincoln, or Jeff Davis either for that matter, but I heard Sam Houston described Davis as bein' 'cold as a lizard and ambitious as Lucifer'. I know about old Sam, and the kind of man he's describing isn't much on compromise. You can believe that."
"Maybe we're both wrong, Father" Tom replied. "Maybe nothing will come of any of it."
Without looking at his son, Ezekiel replied in a voice barely loud enough for him to hear, "That ain't too damned likely, though, and you got sense enough to know it. As for that other thing…pick your friends careful; th' rest ain't worth commentin' on." With that, he stood up and folded the knife. "May not be anything we can do about the future, but we can build us a wall right now. Let's go."
The slaves discreetly laughed among themselves as the two white men proceeded to work themselves to exhaustion, pushing harder and faster than there seemed any need. Ezekiel stacked while Tom passed him the rocks. Soon both were covered in sweat, but they kept up the pace, not talking until Tom remarked, "The niggers think we're crazy going at it this hard."
"Let'em," was all his father replied.
Both father and son slept the sleep of the dead that night. It was better than lying awake contemplating a future neither could really imagine anyway.