One drizzly autumn morning Solomon Jones brought into my office a man of about twenty, a lean, leathery, wild-looking youth, with a curiously stealthy and springy gait, like that of a panther, whom he introduced to me as John McLean.
“He’s in trouble,” said the patriarch, in his quick, jerky style of speaking. “Some of these rebs have got after him with the law. He’s been a soldier in your army. He’s your brother. See if you can help him.”
My pantherish brother proceeded to state that he had been arrested on a charge of horse-stealing, at the suit of a “reb” neighbor, and that his case was to come off before the District Court then in session.
“You know what the penalty for horse-stealing is, I spose?“ he said, with a wild grimace, at the same time pointing to his left ear in token of hanging.
His discharge from the army was perfectly regular in form, and showed that he had been private in a loyal North Carolina regiment.
“Yes, I run the lines and joined our folks in East Tennessee,” loudly declaimed John, whom I now discovered to be under the influence of liquor. “Then I enlisted with a heap more of our mountain folks; and they put us into the North Carolina regiments. And we did heaps of fighting, Major, I can tell you. We took to it. I say, uncle Sol, can’t the mountain men fight?“
“Yes, they can fight,” returned Jones. “Go on with your story; show the Major your other paper.”
The other paper turned out to be a permit from the chief of some hospital in the West, giving John McLean leave of absence for four days. The date was important; it was very nearly the date of the alleged theft; if genuine, the paper proved an alibi. Documents in hand, I bade John McLean follow me, repaired to the private room of the Solicitor, and stated the case.
“I shall drop the prosecution,” said the Solicitor. “These papers seem to be genuine and to the point. Moreover, the prosecutor has failed to bring his witnesses. John McLean can go home.”
“And how about my witnesses ?“ respectfully whispered John, as two long, lean North Carolinians, his former comrades in arms, presented themselves at the door.
“They can all go,” said the legal official. “I shan’t want them.”
“I want to discourage these suits,” observed the Solicitor to me in private. “They are mostly vindictive results of the war. They tend to keep up had blood, and I am anxious to escape them.” Shortly after my return to my office John McLean appeared, drunker than ever.
“I say, Major, you’ve got to take something for this,” he insisted, loudly. “Come down on me for any thing I’ve got. That’s what I want. Just come down on me.”
When I refused pay, presents, and drinks, he rushed to his wagon, picked out a dozen superb apples, and persisted in leaving them on my table.
During the day I saw him staggering about among numerous other staggerers. There was the usual crowd in attendance on court, and it had drunk its lawful allowance of whisky.
Next morning John was again on hand, sick and sorry by this time, with a bend toward the maudlin. Twisting his face into the pucker of an aggrieved child he let fall a couple of manly, mountain tears, and whimpered, “Major, I wish I had my me—wl.”
“What has become of your mule?”
“Major, a nigger has got him. He says I swapped a horse for him. God Almighty knows I wouldn’t swap away my mewl for sech a horse.”
So I went out anew to investigate the troubles of John McLean. I found that he had swapped his mule for a horse with a white man, who had immediately turned the animal over to a negro by means of another swap.
“Well, John,’ I said in substance, “you made your bed when you were drunk, and you must lie upon it now that you are sober.” Puckering his face up to a maudlin whimper, he sobbed out, “Major, I wish I was in North Carliny.”
“I wish to Heaven you were!” was my impatient answer.
Eventually all the bargaining parties reversed their barters, and John McLean drove off with his mewl to North Carliny.
De Forest, J.W., “Chivalrous and Semi-Chivalrous Southrons” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume 38, Issue 225, February 1869; New York: Harper & Bros.
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