The Baby's Fortune
THE BABY'S FORTUNE
By Joel Chandler Harris
THE random shells flung into Atlanta during the siege by your Uncle Tecumseh's gunners were sometimes very freakish. The history of that period, written, of course, by those who have small knowledge of the facts, proceeds on the supposition that the town was in a state of terror, and that every time the population heard a shell zooning through the air it scuttled off to its cellars and bomb-proofs, or to whatever holes it had to hide in. This doubtless occurred during the first day or two of the siege, but human nature has the knack of getting on friendly terms with danger. As the Rev. Sam Jones would remark, those who hourly defy the wrath of heaven are not likely for long at a time to remain in awe of random shells.
Yet the freaks of these random shells were very queer. One of the missiles (to mention one instance out of many) went tumbling down Alabama Street, turned into Whitehall, following the grade, and rolled through the iron lamp-post that stands in front of the old James's Bank building. It was moving along so leisurely that a negro lounging near the corner tried to stop it with his foot. He was earned off with a broken leg. The lamp-post stands there to this day, having been thoughtfully preserved as a relic that might be of interest, and if you give it a careful glance as you pass, you'll see the jagged hole grinning at you with open-mouthed familiarity.
A family living on Forsyth Street, near where that thoroughfare crosses Mitchell, saw a weary-looking Confederate sauntering by and thoughtfully invited him in to share a pot of genuine vegetable soup—a very rare delicacy in those days. It chanced that the soldier was Private Chadwick, and he was prompt to accept the proffered hospitality. Moreover, he was politer about it than any other private would have been.
Private Chadwick, being the guest, was served first, but, just as the plate of soup was placed before him, a shell came tearing through the dining-room, entering at one end and going out at the other, grazing the ceiling in its passage and bringing down a shower of plastering, dust, and trash. Chadwick was almost as quick as the shell. He snatched his hat from his knee, and when his hosts had recovered from their momentary alarm they saw him sitting bolt upright in his chair using his head covering as an umbrella to shield his soup from the shower that fell from the shattered ceiling.
"Howdy and good-by," he said. "You might 'a' sp'iled my dinner, but you ranged too high to sp'ile my appetite."
"I can see why you are holding your hat over your plate, and I'm sorry I didn't have something of the kind to hold over mine," remarked the lady who had invited him in; "but I can't imagine why you are sitting so straight in your chair."
"Well, ma'am," replied Private Chadwick, "seein' as how you've been so kind, I'll tell you the honest truth. I was afeared if I humped too much over my plate that the next shell'd take me to be the twin of Danny Lemmons."
Naturally this aroused the curiosity of the ladies—there were three of them—and nothing would do but Chadwick must tell that tragic story. When it was concluded, one of the ladies inquired if Danny Lemmons had a twin brother.
"No'm, not that I know of," said Chadwick, laughing at the agility with which the feminine mind can leave tragedy and fly back to inconsequential trifles; "but a shell ain't got time to choose betwixt folks that favor."
You've heard the story of Danny Lemmons and Cassy Tatum, and so it is unnecessary to repeat the details. They are all true enough, but so antique is the war that they strike the modern ear as lightly as if they had been filched from a manuscript found in the pocket of a stranded play-actor. It is enough to say here that Danny Lemmons was a hunchback—a mountaineer—who married Cassy Tatum, and who, when Cassy left him, followed her to Atlanta, making his way through the Federal and Confederate lines. He had stolen Cassy's baby—if a man can be said to steal his own child—and was on his way back to the Federal lines, pursued by his wife, by Private Chadwick, and one or two other soldiers, when he was killed by the explosion of a shell.
That story was not as old when Private Chadwick told it over his soup as it is now. Indeed, it was as new as any event that happened the day before yesterday can be. Private Chadwick told the story as it happened, and he was sure he was telling all of it, but if he could have joined the ladies at their table a week later he would have been able to add some facts that would have caused his small audience to wonder at the mysterious ways of Providence, as, indeed, all of us must wonder when we pause and take the time and the trouble to think about the matter, even in regard to the most trivial and ordinary events.
When Cassy Tatum (she declared over and over again that she never did, and never could have the stomach to call herself Mrs. Lemmons) left her husband and went to Atlanta, she took up her abode with an old couple, who lived in a small ramshackle house that sat on a hill overlooking Peters Street. This hill was called Castleberry's Hill a few years ago, whatever it may be called now, and, before it was graded down to suit the convenience of contractors who were greedy for jobs, was the most elevated spot in Atlanta, and the most picturesque, too, for that matter, for a fine growth of timber crowned the summit.
At night the lights of the town twinkled, and Cassy Tatum, sitting on the front steps, after everything had been put to rights, and the old folks had gone to bed, could hear the cracked and noisy laughter of the women who lived in the shanties that were scattered about at the foot of the hill. The place where these shanties were grouped was called Snake Nation, and was proud of the name. Snake Nation slept soundly all day, but at night—well, old Babylon has its echoes and imitations in the newest town that ever had a corporation line run around it at equal distances from the police court.
"What I hear at night makes me sick, and what I see in the daytime makes me sorry," remarked Cassy Tatum to Mrs. Shacklett shortly after she had taken up her abode in the small house that has been described.
"You don't have to hear 'em, and you don't have to see 'em," remarked Mrs. Shacklett, in her squeaky voice. "Don't bother 'em and they'll not bother you; you may depend on that."
"Well, if they don't pester me tell I pester them," said Cassy, "they'll never so much as know that I'm a-livin'."
Mrs. Shacklett was very old, but time, that had played havoc with her youth, had in nowise disturbed the fluency of her tongue. Her voice was cracked and squeaky, but that, she said, was asthma and not age. She wore a white cap, that covered her head and ears, and the edges that framed her face were fluted and ruffled. A narrow band of blue ribbon, tied in a bow on the top of the cap, ran down under the fluting and was tied under her chin. She always wore a cape over her shoulders, but beyond this her frock was prim and plain, and the cape was as prim as the frock.
Mrs. Shacklett was eighty-seven years old, so she said, and this fact gave a sort of historic dignity to her presence, where otherwise dignity would have been sadly lacking, for her head shook as with a tremor when she talked, and the uncertainty of old age had taken charge of all her movements. Her mind was fairly good, but it seemed to hesitate, fluttering and hovering now and then, as if on the point of deserting the weak and worn body that had been its tenement for so long.
And no wonder. Born near the beginning of one epoch-making war, she was on the point of seeing another brought to an end. The republic wanted but twelve years to round out its century. Hers lacked but thirteen to complete it. A historian eager for facts that give warmth and color to history might have gathered from her lips an account of many remarkable events and episodes that time has given over to oblivion. Of recent and passing events her memory took small account, but of matters relating to the past she could talk by the hour, and with a fluency that was out of all proportion to her ability to deal with the events of the hour.
Mr. Shacklett, her husband, was not so old by several years, and he was better preserved physically, but his mind was quite as feeble, and his memory more unstable, if such a thing could be. If he stayed out of bed a quarter of an hour after taking his toddy at night, he betrayed an almost uncontrollable tendency to shed tears over the price of wool hats and the scarcity of tea and coffee. At such times it was pathetic to hear his wife try to soothe and console him.
"Cover up and go to sleep, honey, and you'll soon disremember all about it," she would say. "That's the way I do. The war can't last always, nohow."
"Can't it? How do you know it can't? Hey? It'll outlast me. You mark my words." In half a minute he'd be asleep and snoring as loud as the feeble muscles of his chest would permit him.
It was with this time-worn and childish couple that Cassy Tatum took up her abode, when, with her baby on her arm, she ran away from her husband. She had come into Atlanta on the Western & Atlantic Railroad, and, in wandering about, searching for a lodging, chanced to come upon this house. Though it sat high on Castleberry's Hill, it was too small to be conspicuous, and so she knocked at the door. She afterward declared that Providence sent her there, for when she arrived the old couple were in quite a predicament. A negro woman who had long ministered to their simple wants had just died, and Cassy found them sitting by their cheerless hearth,, unable even to kindle a fire.
She did not hear their feeble response to her knocking, but boldly opened the door and walked in, expecting and hoping to find the house vacant. Her surprise at seeing the old people sitting there was so great that she uttered an exclamation, and this bred in the minds of Mr. and Mrs. Shacklett suspicions that they were long in recovering from.
"I declare! you gi' me sech a turn that a little more an' I'd 'a' drapped the baby."
"You thought we was dead, did you? Hey?" inquired Mr. Shacklett with as near an approach to sarcasm as he could bring voice and face. "You thought we was dead, and you'd come foraging aroun" to see what you could pick up and tote off. You did, did you? Hey? Well, we ain't dead, by grabs, and nowheres nigh it, I hope. You hear that, don't you? Hey?"
The thought that they had been mistaken for dead people, when, as a matter of fact, they were so very much alive, caused such an energetic flame of indignation to burn in Mr. Shacklett's bosom, that he rose from his chair, and, holding by the chimney-jamb, pretended to be hunting for his pipe, which, as a matter of fact, was on the floor beside him. He realized this after a little, but in his agitation he found great difficulty in getting into his seat again, and would have fallen had Cassy not made a step forward and caught him with her free hand.
Mr. Shacklett was not at all mollified by this timely aid, but kept his anger glowing.
"You see we ain't dead, don't you? Hey? 'Tain't all the time that' I'm shaky this way. It's only because our nigger's dead. She was a good nigger—a right good nigger. We raised her from a baby. Shes dead, but we ain't, by grabs! One time a man come in the door there. He was lots bigger'n you are, but we didn't want him about, and I had to get my gun and shoot him. He's dead, but we ain't. No, by grabs. We don't look like we're dead, do we? Hey?"
All this time Cassy Tatum stood with her baby on her arm, staring at the old people with open-mouthed wonder, not knowing what to say or do, and unable to frame any excuse for her intrusion that she thought likely to appeal to their childish understanding. But she caught a humorous twinkle in Mrs. Shacklett's eye, and was on the point of saying something, when the old lady spoke.
"Don't mind him," she said. "He never shot anybody. Why, Marty wouldn't harm a flea."
"Oh, I wouldn't, would I? Hey?" he cried, peevishly. "Who made you so wise? Hey? How do you know but what I shot a man whiles you was asleep and had him drug off? How do you know but what I done it? Hey?" Mr. Shacklett turned half around in his chair and glared at his wife. "Tell me that—hey?"
"Why, honey, I wouldn't 'a' believed it if I'd 'a' seen it—much less when I didn't. You'll make this good woman here believe that a parcel of murderers is harbored in this house, and then she'll go out and set the law on us."
This rather cooled Mr. Shacklett's indignation, but it still smouldered and smoked, so to say.
"Much I care for the law," he said, trying to snap thumb and middle finger, a trick he failed to compass, though he made three trials. "Ain't we got no prop'ty rights? Hey? Must we set down here and be run over and trompled on? Hey? You may if you want to, but not while the breath of life lasts will I set down here and be run over and trompled on."
"Why, honey, who's a-trying to run over and tromple on you?" Mrs. Shacklett inquired.
"Hey? Did you ax me who?" cried Mr. Shacklett. "Scores and scores of folks if they wasn't afeard. But I dar' 'em to so much as try it. I jest dar' 'em to!"
With that he settled himself more comfortably in his chair, and closed his eyes, as if he were willing to give scores and scores of folks all the opportunity they wanted if they had any idea of running over and trampling on him. As Mr. Shacklett said nothing more, Cassy Tatum thought proper to explain her intrusion.
"The Lord knows I'm sorry I come in your door," she said, "an' I'd go right out, but I'd be worried mighty nigh to death ef I went off leavin' you-all believin' that I thess walked in here 'cause you're both ol' an' cripple."
Mr. Shacklett fired up again at this suggestion. "Crippled? Who told you we was crippled? Hey? You may thank your stars if you ain't no more crippled than what I am. You hear that, don't you? Hey?"
Cassy paid no attention to him but addressed herself to Mrs. Shacklett. "I tell you now, I'm new to this town, bran' new. It hain't been two hours sence I landed here, an' this is the first door I've knocked at. I knocked a dozen times, an' I stood thar waitin' to hear somebody say 'Go off' or 'Come in,' an' when I didn't hear nothin', I says to myself, says I, 'I'll thess go in anyhow, an' rest myself, an' fix the baby up, an' maybe thar's a well in the yard whar I kin git a drink of water.' I never no more 'spected to see you-all a-settin' here than I 'spected to fly. Hit took me back so I didn't know what to say. I hain't had sech a turn in I dunno when."
"If you want water," said Mrs. Shacklett, "you'll find a bucket out there on the shelf and a well in the yard. We ain't had nobody to draw us none sence they come after our dead nigger. I tell you I was mighty sorry to lose the gyirl. She was worth twenty thousand dollars if she was worth a cent."
Mr. Shacklett turned half around in his chair. "Hey? Twenty thousand dollars? Not in our money."
"Hush, honey! I said paper-money," remarked his wife, soothingly.
"Hey? not good paper-money."
Seeing no end of such a dispute as this, Cassy deposited her baby unceremoniously on the floor and went out after the water.
The child kicked its pink feet from under its skirts, turned its head toward Mrs. Shacklett, and laughed cutely. The old lady nodded her head pleasantly and chirruped as well as she could.
Mr. Shacklett, hearing a noise he could not understand, called out for information. "Hey? What's thet? What did you say? Hey?" Receiving no answer, he turned his head and saw the baby sprawling on the floor. Instantly he became very much excited. "Run and call her back! What do you mean by setting flat in that cheer and letting her run off and leave that young un here? Hey? Ain't you gwine to jump up and call her back? Hey? Do you want me to go? Tell me that—hey? If I do she'll rue it."
He was making a painful effort to rise from his chair when Cassy re-entered the room smiling and bringing a tin dipperful of fresh water.
"Humph!" he grunted, and sank in his seat again.
"I reckon you think I've been gone a mighty long time, but I had to rench out the bucket an' the gourd too—they was so full er dirt an' dust," Cassy explained. "I allers said I'd never let no nigger fool wi' nothin' I had to put to my mouth, an' I'll say it agin."
"They're not the cleanest in the world," remarked Mrs. Shacklett, taking the dipper in her trembling hand. "Have you drank?"
"No'm," said Cassy. "Atter you is manners." She still held the handle of the dipper gently, but firmly, and guided it to Mrs. Shacklett's lips.
Mr. Shacklett heard this last remark and turned his head and stared at Cassy. And somehow the expression of displeasure and suspicion cleared away from his face. "I'll have some, too, if you please," he said.
"I wouldn't slight you fer the world," replied Cassy, and went after another supply of water.
Mr. Shacklett leaned sidewise as far as was safe for him, and touched his wife on the arm. She looked at him, and he nodded solemnly in the direction Cassy had gone.
"What now?" she asked.
"What's she up to now? Tell me that? Hey?"
"She's gone after some water for you."
"Humph!" grunted Mr. Shacklett. "You'll find out before you're much older."
Once more Cassy came in bringing the water, and Mr. Shacklett drank to his heart's content. Then Cassy gave the baby some water. Of course it had to strangle itself, as babies will do, but instead of crying over it, the child merely laughed and wanted to get on the floor again, where, flat on its back, it promptly gave itself up to the contemplation of the problem that its chubby fingers presented when all ten were held tip to tip close to its wondering eyes.
"That's a right down pretty baby." remarked Mrs, Shacklett.
"I dunner so much about the purty part," replied Cassy, with modest pride, "but he's the best baby that ever was born. Why, he hain't no more trouble than nothin' in the world."
The child, as if understanding that it was the subject of comment, dropped the study of its fingers, caught the eye of its mother, kicked its pink feet in the air, and fairly squealed in its enthusiastic delight at being able to sprawl about on the floor after its long imprisonment in Cassy's arms.
"I thess wish to goodness you'd look at 'im!" exclaimed Cassy. "Hain't he thess too sweet to live!" Then she switched from vigorous mountain English to a lingo that the baby could better understand and appreciate. "Nyassum is mammy's fweetnum pudnum pie—de besses shilluns of all um shilluns. Nyassum is!"
"Hey?" inquired Mr. Shacklett. Receiving no answer, he found one for himself. "Humph!"
At this high praise so beautifully bestowed, the baby kicked and crowed and had a regular frolic. Then it suddenly discovered that it needed more stimulating food than it had found in the tin dipper, and Cassy, seating herself in a chair, promptly satisfied the just demand. And in the midst of it all, the baby went fast to sleep, making a pretty picture as it lay happy in its mother's arms.
Mrs. Shacklett, whose age had not robbed her of the maternal instinct that is so deeply planted in a woman's breast, looked all around the room as if remembering something, and suddenly remarked:
"Lay him on the bed in the next room. Nobody sleeps in there."
"Hey?" said Mr. Shacklett, and then, "Humph!"
"Ef you reely mean it, an' think it won't put you out the least little bit in the world," suggested Cassy. The tone of her voice was serious, and there was a touch of sadness in it which the ear of Mrs. Shacklett did not fail to catch.
"Lay him in there on the bed," she repeated.
"Hey?" inquired Mr. Shacklett. "Humph!"
"Ef you only know'd how mighty much I'm obleeged to you, I'd feel better," replied Cassy, the tears coming to her eyes.
She carried the child into the adjoining room, placed it on the bed, darkened the windows as well as she could, and went back to where the old people were sitting.
"Now, hain't there nothin' I kin do? Hain't there nothin' I kin put to rights?" she inquired.
"Nothing I'd like to ask you to do," replied Mrs. Shacklett, shaking her head. "We ain't got no claim on you."
"Why, hain't you human, an' hain't I human? What more do you want than that?" There was a touch of wonder in Cassy's voice.
But Mrs. Shacklett shook her head, doubtfully. Fortunately for all concerned, Mr. Shacklett roused himself.
"I ain't had a bite of breakfast yet. Now when are you going to have dinner? Tell me that. Hey?"
"We've had nobody to cook for us sence our nigger died," Mrs. Shacklett explained. "I hated mightily to give her up. She was worth two thousand dollars and she did every thing for us."
Cassy opened wide her eyes. "Well, for the Lord's sake! No bre'kfus' an' mighty little prospec' of dinner! No wonder you hain't able to walk. It's a sin an' a shame you didn't tell me about it when I walked in the door. Why, I b'lieve in my soul you two poor ol' creeturs'd set thar an' starve before you'd ax me to whirl in an' warm somethin' for you. I'll not wait to be axed. Thess show me whar the things is an' I'll have you a snack cooked before you can run aroun' the house."
"Hey?" inquired Mr. Shacklett. "Is dinner ready? Hey? Don't I smell meat a-frying somewhere? Hey?"
"Don't be worried, honey," said Mrs. Shacklett. Then she turned to Cassy. "If you'll give me your hand and fetch my chair for me, I'll go in the cook room and show you where everything is, the best I can."
"Didn't I tell you I smell meat a-frying? Hey?" cried Mr. Shacklett as his wife went out, bearing on Cassy's strong arm.
The larder was pretty well stocked, as Cassy discovered, but Mrs. Shacklett found an insuperable obstacle to all their plans.
"There's no wood! " she exclaimed, despairingly.
"Why, I seed plenty in the yard while ago," said Cassy.
"Yes, child, but it's not cut."
Cassy laughed. "Not cut? Well, ef I couldn't cut wood as good as any man, I rather think I'd feel ashamed of myse'f"
So she found the ax, cut and split two sticks of wood, and soon had a fire on the kitchen hearth. The rest was easy. Cassy's cooking would hardly have passed muster at Delmonico's or any of the fashionable hotels, but for the time and the occasion it was just as good as there was any use for. And, wonderful to relate, Mrs. Shacklett, after much hunting and fumbling with keys, drew forth a package of genuine coffee, and grudgingly measured out enough for three cups of the fragrant beverage.
Cassy picked up two or three grains and examined them with an interest that partook of awe. "The land's sake!" she cried; "why, hit's the ginnywine coffee! I hain't seed none in so long tell the sight's good for sore eyes. I min' thess as well as if it 'twas yestiday the day an' hour an' the time an' place whar I last laid eyes on ginnywine coffee." She held the green grains in her hand and put them to her nose, but fire had not yet released their fragrance.
"Can you parch it?" Mrs. Shacklett asked.
"Thess watch me," said Cassy, somewhat boastfully. "You needn't put in more'n three grains fer me," she went on. "Hit's too skace an' too good to be wasted on common folks."
After dinner Mr. Shacklett and his wife were much spryer and in a better humor than they had been on Cassy's arrival. Mr. Shacklett himself felt so much improved in mind and body that he ventured to walk out on the primitive porch, where he stood and gazed abroad in quite a patriarchal way, clearing his throat and pulling down his vest with an attempt at stateliness that would have been comic but for its feebleness.
It was settled in the most natural way in the world that Cassy should remain as long as she found it convenient to make her home there. In fact it was settled by Cassy herself. Before the day was over she had made herself indispensable to the old people. She looked after their bodily comfort with a deftness that they were strangers to, and her thoughtfulness was so forward that it outran and forestalled their desires.
A few days after she had been caring for the old people, she remarked that she had perhaps pestered them long enough.
"What's that?" cried Mr. Shacklett. "Hey?"
"I knew that would be the way of it," said Mrs. Shacklett, and then she fumbled about until she found her handkerchief, and held it to her face, crying softly. This settled the matter so far as Cassy was concerned. She knelt on the floor beside Mrs. Shacklett and petted and consoled her as if she had been a child.
Matters went on smoothly until Cassy's husband, Danny Lemmons, slipped in one day and stole her baby. The result of that performance is too well known in history to be repeated here. Cassy pursued her husband and came back a widow, but she wore no weeds.
There was only one thing that worried the old people. For years they had been saving and hiding all the gold and silver coin they could lay hands on, and according to their account, told to Cassy in confidence, they had accumulated a considerable store. When their negro girl fell ill, the old people, fearing that she had discovered the hiding-place and would reveal the secret to some of her colored friends who came to visit her, removed their hoard to a new place of concealment. The girl lingered for a week and then suddenly died. The event was so unexpected to Mr. and Mrs. Shacklett, and threw them into such a state of doubt and confusion, that they were not able to remember where they had hid the money.
They had many harmless disputes and spats about the matter, and they hunted and hunted, and poked about in the cracks of the chimney, and made Cassy lift up the big flat stones in the hearths, and wandered about in the yard, until it made the young woman uneasy.
"I declare to gracious!" she would exclaim, "you-all gi' me the all-overs ever' minnit in the day wi' your scratchin' in the ashes and pokin' in the cracks. You'll fall over the pots an' kittles some of these days and cripple yourself."
Mrs. Shacklett had often boasted that she was a Sandedge, and she made no concealment of her belief that the Sandedges were higher in the social scale than the Shackletts. Mr. Shacklett could remember this, even if he had forgotten where the money had been hid. Indeed, his mind dwelt upon it.
"You ought to know where we put the money. You was there; you helped to do it. If the Sandedges is so mighty much better than the Shackletts, whyn't you mind where we put the money? Hey? Tell me that. You're a Sandedge, and I ain't nothing but a plain Shacklett. 'Tain't no trouble for me to forget, but how can a Sandedge forget? Hey? Tell me that. When it comes down to hard sense I reckon the Shackletts is just as good as the Sandedges."
But all this did no good. The old people failed to find their precious store. They sat and tried to trace their movements on the day they had carried the money to its new place of concealment, but they never could agree. The death of the negro was the only event they could clearly remember. Each exclaimed, many times a day: "Oh, I know!" as if a flash of memory had revealed to them the place, but it always ended in nothing. Cassy soon became accustomed to the constant talking and hunting for hidden money, and finally came to the conclusion that the old people were the victims of a strange delusion. She compared it in her mind to the game of hide-the-switch which the children play. At the last, she paid no more attention to the matter than if the old couple had been a pair of toddling infants fretting over some imaginary trouble.
Now it happened that while Private Chadwick was enjoying his soup under the gentle auspices of the ladies who had invited him to be their guest, his comrades in the trenches and round-about had received some news that seemed to them to be very bad indeed. It was in the shape of a rumor merely, but among soldiers a rumor is merely the forerunner of facts. The news was to the effect that General Johnston was about to be removed and General Hood put in his place. The news had not yet appeared in the newspapers, and it had reached the soldiers before it came to the ears of their officers. How, nobody knows. The commander of a brigade in Virginia made the rounds of his camp one night. He saw considerable bustle among the troops—fire burning and rations cooking. Inquiring the cause, he was told that the brigade would receive orders to march before sunrise the next morning. The brigadier laughed at this, thinking it was a joke on the men, but when he returned to his head-quarters he found a courier awaiting him with orders for his brigade to move at dawn.
In the same way, General Johnston's removal was well known to the private soldiers before the newspapers had printed the information. The news was not very well received, for, in spite of the fact that they had been retreating from Dalton to Atlanta, they were well enough acquainted with the tactics of war to know that these retreats were masterly, and they felt that their general was gathering all his resources well in hand for a decisive battle at the proper moment.
General Hood, as the successor of General Johnston, knew what was expected of him by the political generals and the military editors. He was a gallant man and a hard fighter, and he lost no time in showing these qualities. But the responsibility that had been thrust upon him was too great for him. He did the best he could; he hurled himself against General Sherman and inaugurated the series of battles around Atlanta that has made the city and the region round about historic ground. Finally, he swung his army loose from the town and went hurrying toward Nashville, followed by General Thomas, while Sherman took possession of the South's supply-centre and prepared for his leisurely and unopposed march across the State to Savannah.
When the city was evacuated Private Chadwick found himself among the last of the straggling Confederates who were leaving. He found himself, indeed, with the little squad of riflemen commanded by Jack Kilpatrick, captain of the sharp-shooters. The line of retreat led along Whitehall and Peters Streets. Chadwick turned into Peters as much by accident as by design, and was of two minds whether to cut across and go into Whitehall, or whether to go on as he had started. But a thought of Cassy Tatum decided him, and so he kept on the way he was going. Jack Kilpatrick accompanied him for old acquaintance's sake, sending some of his dozen men along Whitehall. They talked of old times as they rode along.
"Jack, I allers use to think you was the purtiest boy I ever laid eyes on," remarked Chadwick.
"Is that so?" Kilpatrick asked, dubiously. He was slim and trim, and his features were very delicately moulded.
"Yes," replied Chadwick, "and if you was to shave off what little mustache you've got, blamed if you wouldn't make a right-down good-looking woman. And you've got a hand not much bigger'n a nine-year-old boy. I reckon that's the reason you draw so fine a bead sech a long ways off."
Kilpatrick smiled boyishly, and, as if to show what a nice girl he could be, threw a leg over the pommel of his saddle and rode sidewise. Far before them they could see clouds of dust rising slowly. Behind them and a little to their left they could hear the Federal guns feeling of the town, and occasionally a shell more venomous than the rest flew over their heads, crying as shrilly as if it had life. This was particularly the case when they came to Castleberry's Hill, which was a more conspicuous eminence then than it is now. Occasionally one of the missiles would strike the brow of the hill and fly shrieking off, or bury itself in the red clay with a queer fluttering sound.
As they came to the brow of the hill, Chadwick saw Cassy Tatum standing on the porch of the house where she lived. He waved his hand and asked her if she intended to remain. Mistaking his gesture, or not understanding his words, she came running along the pathway.
"Howdy?" said Chadwick; "why ain't you refugeein' wi' the rest?"
"I declare I dunno," she replied, with a laugh that was more than half pathetic. "I oughter, I reckon. Some of the Shackletts's kinnery come by in a carryall soon this mornin' an' tuck 'em away, whether or no. I like to 'a' cried, they went on so. They didn't want to go one bit, an' they holler'd an' went on so that it made me feel right down sorry."
"What'll you do? Whyn't you go wi' 'em?" inquired Chadwick.
"Well, I had sev'm good reasons," replied Cassy, trying hard to joke, "an' all sev'm of 'em was that the folks didn' ax me. It looked mighty funny to me that they'd let the poor ol' creeturs live here all this time at the mercy of the world, as you may say, an' then come an' snatch 'em up an' bundle 'em off that-away."
"Did they ever find their money?" Chadwick asked.
"Not a thrip of it," said Cassy. "That's the reason they went on so when the'r folks come atter 'em. Ef they didn't have no money they thought mighty hard they had it."
At that moment a shell came hurtling through the air. The pang of it sounded so near that Cassy dodged, and even the troopers glanced quickly upward. Then there was a crashing sound close at hand. Those who had their eyes turned toward the house—and Cassy was one of them—saw shingles fly from the roof, saw the top of the chimney sink out of sight, and saw a part of the roof itself sway and fall in. Cassy stood for an instant paralyzed, and then flinging her arms wildly, and yet helplessly, above her head, sprang toward the house with a scream of anguish.
"My baby! my baby!" she cried. "Oh, my poor little baby."
Chadwick and Kilpatrick and their comrades sprang after her. As she reached the house one of the walls that had been pushed outward by the falling roof cracked loudly and seemed to be about to fall. Chadwick would have dragged Cassy out of the way, but she shook his hand off furiously, seized the wall by one of the gaping edges, and pulled it down. Then she rushed at the roof itself, seized the ends of two of the rafters, and made as if she would overturn the whole affair.
"Wait!" commanded Kilpatrick. "If the young un's under there you'll fetch the whole roof down on him."
This brought Cassy to her senses, and when a woman is clothed in her right mind she knows by instinct that the best she can do is to cry. Cassy tried to do this now; but her eyes were dry, and all the sound that her parched throat and trembling lips could utter was a low and continuous moan so pitiful that it wrung the hearts of the rough soldiers.
To add to the strain and suspense of the occasion, a smothered, wailing cry was heard somewhere in the midst of the ruins. At this Cassy, instead of making another effort to tear away the roof by main strength, as Chadwick expected her to do, fell flat on the ground with a heart-rending shriek of despair and lay there quivering and moaning. In the midst of all this, Kilpatrick had the forethought to cast his eye occasionally on the portion of the street that lay beyond the railroad. He now saw a small squad of horsemen in blue riding down the incline. He ran to his horse, and his companions, with the exception of Chadwick, did the same. As for the private, he had made up his mind in a flash that he would rather undergo the diet and discipline of Elmira prison than desert Cassy at that moment.
But he had misunderstood Kilpatrick's intentions. Instead of mounting his horse and riding away, the boyish-looking sharp-shooter whipped a field-glass from the case that hung on the saddle, and proceeded to carefully inspect the approaching Federals, who were moving cautiously. The inspection seemed to satisfy him, for he closed the glass, went out into the open ground, and waved his handkerchief so as to attract the attention of the horsemen in blue. They stopped, and their horses huddled together in the road as if they were engaged in consultation. Then one of them, a tall man on a powerful sorrel, detached himself from the group and came riding up the hill at an easy canter, his rifle glittering as it lay across his bridle arm ready for instant service.
"Well, dag-gone your skin, Johnny! What are you doin' here this time er day? Hain't you the same measly chap that tried to duck me in the Chattymahoochee when we stuck up a white flag an' went in washin'? Why'n the world didn't you do what I told you—go home to your mammy an' let grown men fight it out? You're a good shot though, dag-goned ef you ain't!" He spoke with a strong Georgia accent, but was from Indiana.
The two men had faced each other on the vidette line for so many weeks that they had become acquainted. In fact, they were very friendly. Once when the "Chattymahoochee" (as the tall Indianian facetiously called that stream) divided the opposing armies, the advance line of each went in bathing together every day, and they grew so friendly that the Confederate generals issued a prohibitory order.
Briefly, Kilpatrick explained the situation to the Federal sharpshooter, and by this time, his companions were on the ground.
The force was sufficiently large now to lift the roof (which was small, and old, and frail), and turn it over. The scheme was dangerous if the baby happened to be alive, but it was the best that could be done and it was carefully done.
Cassy still lay upon the ground, moaning pitifully and clutching convulsively at the tussocks that came in contact with her fingers.
The spectacle that the fallen roof had hid caused the men to utter exclamations of wonder. Mistaking the purport of these, Cassy Tatum writhed on the ground in an agony of grief, and refused to answer when Private Chadwick called her.
The sight that met the eyes of the men was enough to carry them away with astonishment. The baby, unhurt, lay on the floor in the midst of hundreds of gold and silver pieces, and was trying to rub the dust out of its eyes.
"Dag-gone my skin!" exclaimed the tall Indianian; "that baby's pyore grit!" Then he added, with a chuckle, "Liter'ly kiver'd with it."
Chadwick went to Cassy, and, stooping over, laid his hand on her shoulder, saying, gently: "Jest come an' look at him, Cassy!"
Mistaking his tone and intention she writhed away from his hand, crying out: "Oh, kill me! kill me before I kill myself. Oh, please make haste! Oh, me! He was all I had in the worl'!"
"What's the matter?" asked the tall Indianian.
"She thinks the baby's dead," replied Chadwick.
"Dag-gone it!" laughed the Indianian; "whyn't she git up an' see?"
The laugh startled Cassy so, that she sat up and looked around, throwing her hair behind her shoulders and making an instinctive effort to tidy up.
"What's the matter?" she moaned. "What's he laughin' at?"
"I reckon it's because you're worse hurt than the baby is," responded Chadwick.
"Where is he?" she cried. "Oh, don't le' me go there ef he's dead er mangled! Please, mister, don't le' me go where he is ef he's mashed!"
"All a-settin', ma'am!" said the Federal sharp-shooter. "Jest walk this way."
At that moment the baby began to cry, and Cassy leaped toward it with a mother-cry that thrilled the soldiers. She snatched the child from the floor and hugged it so closely to her bosom that it had to kick and fight for air and freedom. Then she began to cry, and in a few moments was calm and apparently happy, but there was a haggard and drawn look in her face that no one had ever seen there before. Chadwick, observing this, turned to Kilpatrick and remarked:
"If she ain't lost twenty pound in the last quarter of an hour I'm the biggest liar that ever drawed breath." This was an exaggeration perhaps, and yet it was descriptive too.
"You see what the Yankee shell fetched you, ma'am," said the Federal sharp-shooter.
For the first time Cassy saw the gold and silver pieces that were strewn about. "The land er the livin'!" she exclaimed. "That's them poor ol'creeturs' money."
She looked at it in a dejected, dispirited way. "You-all kin take it," she went on, speaking to the Federals. "Take it an' welcome ef you'll thess le' me alone. My baby's money enough for me."
"It's dag-goned invitin'," replied the Indianian, laughing, "but you'll have to excuse us this time. It might be a pick-up ef we caught a passel er Johnnies with it—but that money there belongs to the baby, if it belongs to anybody. Would you mind loanin' me your apron a minnit?"
Cassy untied her apron, with one hand, and threw it to the Federal sharpshooter, and in a few minutes he and the rest of the men had picked up all the coins they could find and tied them in the apron, which was a stout piece of checked homespun. The general estimate was that the money amounted to two or three thousand dollars.
Then came what seemed to be the most important question of all. Should Cassy go with the Confederates or remain behind with the Federals?
"You'll have to make up your mind in three flirts of a chipmunk's tail," remarked the Indianian. "The cavalry 'll be along in less'n no time."
"I don't see how I kin go?" said Cassy, doubtfully.
"Ride behind me," suggested Kilpatrick.
"But what about my baby?"
"Oh, I'll look after that bundle," said Private Chadwick. Another man could carry the money; and so it was all arranged.
"Don't I look it?" laughed Cassy, when she had mounted behind Kilpatrick.
"Yes'm, you do," bluntly replied the Indianian. "Set square on the hoss ef you can, an' don't squeeze the feller too tight. He's nothin' but a young thing." Whereupon both Cassy and Kilpatrick blushed, and even Chadwick seemed to be somewhat disconcerted.
So they rode away, and when, far out Peters Street, Cassy chanced to glance back to Castleberry's Hill, she saw that it was crowded with a swarm of cavalrymen. But somehow she felt safe. She seemed to know that they would come no farther, for a time at least. She and her escort travelled as rapidly as they could, and Cassy, her baby, and the money were soon safe from pursuit.
Mr. and Mrs. Shacklett were never heard of again by either Chadwick or Cassy Tatum. After the war these two married and settled in Atlanta, and one day Cassy heard that some one had been digging the night before on Castleberry's Hill, for a box of gold that had been buried there during the war. Chadwick laughed over the report, but Mrs. Chadwick saw no joke in it. She was combing her son's hair at the time, and she stooped and kissed him.