فصل 06

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فصل 06

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  • زمان مطالعه 12 دقیقه
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Chapter six

The Deserter’s Story

One warm afternoon at the start of fall, Ruby and Ada were working in the lower field, which Ruby had planned as the winter garden. Some weeks earlier they had prepared the garden, plowing the earth and then planting tiny black seeds. The crops were growing well and Ada and Ruby were pleased with their progress.

They had been working among the plants for some time when they heard the sound of wheels and horses. A large cart came around the bend of the road and stopped by the fence. The cart was piled so full of things that the people all walked. Ada and Ruby went to the fence and saw a group of three women, half a dozen children, and two slaves. The women told them that they were from Tennessee and were on their way to South Carolina, where one of them had a sister. Their husbands were away fighting and they were escaping from the Federals in Tennessee. They asked if they could sleep in the barn.

While Ada took them to the barn, Ruby prepared a meal, killing three chickens and cooking them with boiled potatoes and beans. When supper was ready, the group came and sat at the dining room table and ate hungrily.

One of the women said, “That was good. For two weeks now we’ve had nothing to eat except dry corn bread.”

“Why are you on the road?” Ada asked.

“The Federals came to our home and robbed even the slaves,” the woman said. “They took every bit of food we had and all the jewelry we had hidden. Then they burned down our house in the rain and rode away. We had nothing, but we stayed for three days. Then we knew we had to leave.”

The travelers went off to bed, and the next morning Ruby cooked nearly all the eggs they had and made a cake for the group. After breakfast, Ada drew a map of the area and sent the women on the next part of their journey.

Around noon, Ruby said she wanted to check the fruit trees, so Ada suggested that they have their lunch there. They made a picnic, and ate it on a blanket spread on the grass.

It was a sunny afternoon. Ruby examined the trees and decided that the apples were doing quite well. Then suddenly, she looked at Ada and said, “Point north.” She smiled at the length of time it took Ada to work out which direction north was in. Such questions were a recent habit Ruby had developed. Ruby seemed to enjoy showing Ada how little she knew about the natural world. As they walked by the stream one day Ruby had asked, “Where does that water come from and where does it go?” Another day she had said, “Name me four plants on that hillside that you could eat.” Ada did not yet have those answers, but she felt that she was learning. Now, as they sat on the blanket, she told Ruby that she envied her knowledge of how the world worked. “How did you learn these things?” Ada asked.

Ruby said she had learned the little she knew in the usual way. A lot of it was grandmother knowledge, learned from wandering around, talking to any old woman who would talk back, watching them work, and asking questions. Partly, though, she said that it was mostly a matter of careful observation.

They sat quietly for a time, and then in the warm, still air of the afternoon Ruby lay down and slept on the blanket. Ada was tired, too, but she fought off sleep like a child at bedtime. She rose and walked beyond the fruit trees to the edge of the wood, where the tall fall flowers grew, yellow and dark blue and gray. Birds flew among the flower heads. Ada stood still, watching the busy movements of insects. On a day like this, despite the war and the hard work the farm needed, she could not see how she could improve her world. It seemed so fine she doubted it could be done.

That evening, after Ruby had gone to bed, Ada remained on the porch looking out past the fields to the mountains and up to the darkening sky. Everything was becoming still. She remembered that she and Monroe had sat together on a night like this just after moving to the cove. Monroe had commented that the mountains were signs of another world, a world beyond our own that we deeply longed for. And Ada had then agreed.

But now, as she looked out at the view, she thought that this was no sign but was all the life there is. It was an opposite position to Monroe’s, but still created its own powerful longing.

Ada left the porch and walked past the barn into the field. The sun was setting fast and the mountains were gray in the dying light. There was a great feeling of loneliness that Ada had felt in the place from the beginning. Monroe had had an explanation. He said that in their hearts people feel that long ago God was everywhere all the time; the sense of loneliness is what fills the emptiness when He leaves us.

It was cold. Ada went to put away Waldo, and as the cow rose to its feet, she felt its heat rise from the flattened grass around her legs. She bent and put her hands under the grass and into the dirt that still felt as warm as a living thing from the heat of the day and the body of the cow.


They had begun walking to the town in the rain, Ada wearing a long coat and Ruby an enormous sweater that she had made. They carried umbrellas, but an hour later the rain had stopped and the weather had turned sunny. It was largely a pleasure trip that the two young women were taking, although they did need to buy a few small things. Mainly, though, after weeks of hard, backbreaking work, Ada longed to go on a trip to town and the morning’s bad weather had not stopped her.

“I’m going to town if I have to get there on my hands and knees,” she had said to Ruby.

In town, Ada and Ruby first walked about the streets, looking at the stores, the carriages, and the women with their shopping baskets. The town was small and ordinary, with eleven stores, a church, and a courthouse-a white building set back from the road. There were deep tracks in the streets from the wheels of carts and carriages.

Ada and Ruby did their shopping, buying bullets, pencils, and a drawing book. For lunch they bought beer, hard cheese, and fresh bread and took it down by the river and sat on rocks to eat. Later, as they walked down the main street on the way out of town, they saw a group of people standing by the courthouse, looking up at a window. Joining the group, they found that a prisoner was talking to the people below.

He talked angrily and fast, claiming that he had fought hard in the war and had killed many Federals. He had been shot in the shoulder at Williamsburg. But he had recently stopped believing in the war, and since he had joined the army out of choice, his only crime was his decision to leave and walk home. Now here he was in prison. And they might hang him, though he had fought like a hero.

The prisoner then told the crowd that the Home Guard had taken him some days previously from his father’s farm in the mountains. He had been hiding there with other outliers. It had been early evening when the outliers and the prisoners father had heard the sound of horses approaching. His father took his gun and went out to the road, while the outliers ran to hide in the barn.

A small group of horsemen came slowly around the bend. There were two great dark men who looked like each other, and a thin white-headed boy wearing farm clothes. The fourth man looked like a traveling preacher in his long black coat and white shirt.

“Stop right there,” the prisoner’s father said to the horsemen when they were some distance away. They did not stop immediately but came closer.

The old man said to the man in the black coat, “I know who you are. You’re Teague. Get over here.”

Teague looked at the old man with dead eyes, and did not move. The other men got off their horses. Suddenly the white-headed boy fell down in the dirt and screamed. The old man turned to look at him, and as he did, one of the black men hit the old man hard on the head and then knocked his gun from his hand. The old man fell on his back, and the black man beat him with his gun until he lay still. Then he took his sword and stuck it into the old man’s stomach.

The boy got up and stood over the man and looked at him. “He’s ready to meet his Maker,” he said.

Laughing, the four approached the house, walking around it three times before bursting through the front and back doors at the same moment. Within minutes they were out again, carrying a cooked chicken and two sacks of potatoes, which they put in their baskets.

Then, without a word, they went toward the barn. As they approached it, the door flew open and the three outliers ran out, holding farm tools as weapons. Teague put his gun to his shoulder and shot the first two men, who fell to the ground. The last man, the prisoner, stopped, dropped his weapon, and raised his hands.

Teague looked at him a minute, then said to the white-headed boy, “Birch, get me something to tie his hands and we’ll lead him back to town on the end of a line.”

The boy went to the horses and came back with some rope, but when they tried to tie the prisoner, he fought and screamed. Finally they managed to throw him to the ground and put his wrists and ankles together.

“He’s a madman,” Birch said.

They brought a chair from the house and tied the man into it.

“I’m thinking we should hang him from the top of the barn,” Teague said.

“It’d look better if we brought someone into town now and then,” Birch said.

The men talked for a while and decided that Birch was right. They tied the chair to the cart that stood in the yard, then fixed the cart to a horse, and set off for town.

By the time the prisoner had stopped talking, the sun had set, and Ruby and Ada turned from the courthouse and started walking home. For a time they were wordless with shock, but later they discussed the prisoner’s story. Ada was not sure it was completely true, but Ruby said that it fitted what she knew of men’s natures.

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