Page images

ever," say the resolute loyal citizens of Jefferson County, who refuse to vote it back again.

As we were taking comfort, reflecting how unexpectedly at last justice had been done in that court-house, the townspeople passed on the sidewalk, “ daughters and sons of beauty," for they were mostly a fine-looking, spirited class; one of whom, at a question which I put to him, stopped quite willingly and talked with us. I have seldom seen a handsomer young face, a steadier eye, or more decided poise and aplomb; neither have I ever seen the outward garment of courtesy so plumply filled out with the spirit of arrogance. His brief replies, spoken with a pleasant countenance, yet with short, sharp, downward inflections, were like pistol-shots. Very evidently the death of John Brown, and the war that came swooping down in the old man's path to avenge him, and to accomplish the work wherein he failed, were not pleasing subjects to this young southern blood. And no wonder. His coat had an empty sleeve. The arm which should have been there had been lost fighting against his country. His almost savage answers did not move me; but all the while I looked with compassion at his fine young face, and that pendent idle sleeve. He had fought against his country ; his country had won; and he was of those who had lost, not arms and legs only, but all they had been madly fighting for, and more, prosperity, prestige, power. His beautiful South was devastated, and her soil drenched with the best blood of her young men. Whether regarded as a crime or a virtue, the folly of making war upon the mighty North was now demonstrated, and the despised Yankees had proved conquerors of the chivalry of the South. “Well may your thoughts be bitter," my heart said, as I thanked him for his information.

To my surprise he appeared mollified, his answers losing their explosive quality and sharp downward inflection. He even seemed inclined to continue the conversation ; and as. we passed on, we left him on the sidewalk looking after us wistfully, as if the spirit working within him had still some word to say different from any he had yet spoken. What his


secret thoughts were, standing there with his dangling sleeve, it would be interesting to know.

Walking on through the town, we came to other barren and open fields on the farther side. Here we engaged a bright young colored girl to guide us to the spot where John Brown's gallows stood. She led us into the wilderness of weeds, waisthigh to her as she tramped on, parting them before her with her hands. The country all around us lay utterly desolate, without enclosures, and without cultivation. We seemed to be striking out into the rolling prairies of the West, except that these fields of ripening and fading weeds had not the summer freshness of the prairie-grass. A few scattering groves skirted them; and here and there a fenceless road drew its winding, dusty line away over the arid hills.

“This is about where it was,” said the girl, after searching some time among the tall weeds. “Nobody knows now just where the gallows stood. There was a tree here, but that has been cut down and carried away, stump and roots and all, by folks that wanted something to remember John Brown by. Every soldier took a piece of it, if 't was only a little chip.” So widely and deeply had the dying old hero impressed his spirit upon his countrymen; affording the last great illustration of the power of Truth to render even the gallows venerable, and to glorify an ignominious death.

I stood long on the spot the girl pointed out to us, amid the gracefully drooping golden-rods, and looked at the same sky old John Brown looked his last upon, and the same groves, and the distant Blue Ridge, the sight of whose cerulean summits, clad in Sabbath tranquillity and softest heavenly light, must have conveyed a sweet assurance to his soul.

Then I turned and looked at the town, out of which flocked the curious crowds to witness his death. Over the heads of the spectators, over the heads of the soldiery surrounding him, his eye ranged until arrested by one strangely prominent object. There it still stands on the outskirts of the town, between it and the fields, - a church, pointing its silent finger to heaven, and recalling to the earnest heart those texts of Scripture from

which John Brown drew his inspiration, and for the truth of which he willingly gave his life.

I had the curiosity to stop at this church on our way back to the town. The hand of ruin had smitten it. Only the brick walls and zinc-covered spire remained uninjured. The belfry had been broken open, the windows demolished. The doors were gone. Within, you saw a hollow thing, symbolical. Two huge naked beams extended from end to end of the empty walls, which were scribbled over with soldiers' names, and with patriotic mottoes interesting for proud Virginians to read. The floors had been torn up and consumed in cooking soldiers' rations; and the foul and trampled interior showed plainly what use it had served. The church, which overlooked John Brown's martyrdom, and under whose roof his executioners assembled afterwards to worship, not the God of the poor and the oppressed, but the God of the slaveholder and the aristocrat, had been converted into a stable.




Late in the evening of the twenty-ninth of August I resiched Washington.

Nearly every reader, I suppose, is familiar with descriptions of the national capital; - its superb situation on the left bank of the Potomac; the broad streets, the still more spacious avenues crossing them diagonally, and the sweeping undulations of the plain on which it is built, giving to the city its “magnificent distances”; and those grand public buildings of which any country might be proud, — the Capitol especially, with its cloudlike whiteness and beauty, which would be as imposing as it is elegant, were it not that its windows are too many and too small.

The manner in which the streets are built up, with here and there a fine residence surrounded by buildings of an inferior character, often with mere huts adjacent, and many an open space, giving to the metropolis an accidental and heterogeneous character, — the dust in summer, the mud in winter, the fetor, the rubbish, the garbage; and the corresponding character of the population, the most heterogeneous to be found in any American city, comprising all classes strangely mixed and fluctuating, the highest beside the lowest, the grandest and broadest human traits jostled by the meanest and foulest, - one half the people preying upon the other half, which preys upon the government;— all this has been too often outlined by others to be dwelt upon by me.

I noticed one novel feature in the city, however. At the hotel where I stopped, at the Attorney-General's office which I had occasion to visit, and again at the White House, where

I went to call on the President's military secretary, I met, repeatedly, throngs of the same or similar strange faces.

It happened to be one of the President's reception days; and the east room, the staircases, the lower and upper halls of the White House, were crowded. The upper hall especially, and the ladies' parlor adjacent to the President's room, were densely thronged. Some were walking to and fro, singly or in pairs ; some were conversing in groups ; others were lounging on chairs, tables, window-seats, or whatever offered a support to limbs weary of long waiting. One was paring his nails; another was fanning himself with his hat; a third was asleep, with his head resting much cramped in a corner of the walls ; a fourth was sitting in a window, spitting tobacco-juice at an urn three yards off. When he took pains, he hit the urn with remarkable precision, showing long and careful practice. But he did not always take pains, for the extreme heat and closeness of the apartments were not favorable to exertion; and, indeed, what was the use of aiming always at the urn, when nearly every man was chewing tobacco as industriously as he, and generally spitting on the floors, — which had already become the most convincing argument against the habit of tobacco-chewing of which it is possible for the nauseated imagination to conceive.

Faces of old men and young men were there, — some weary and anxious, a few persistently jocose, and nearly all betraying the unmistakable Southern type. It was, on the whole, a welldressed crowd, for one so abominably filthy.

“Nineteen out of twenty of all these people,” I was told by the President's secretary, “are pardon-seeking Rebels. The most of them are twenty-thousand-dollar men, anxious to save their estates from confiscation.”

As the President's doors were expected soon to be opened, anıl as I wished to observe his manner of dealing with those men, I remained after finishing my business with the secretary, and mingled with the crowd. The fumes of heated bodies, in the ill-ventilated halls, were far from agreeable; and as the time dragged heavily, and the doors of the Presi

« PreviousContinue »