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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Little Shepherd Of Kingdom Come - Chapter 8. Home With The Major
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The Little Shepherd Of Kingdom Come - Chapter 8. Home With The Major Post by :RX-MEX.COM Category :Long Stories Author :John Fox Date :May 2012 Read :1020

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The Little Shepherd Of Kingdom Come - Chapter 8. Home With The Major

Ahead of them, it was Court Day in Lexington. From the town, as a centre, white turnpikes radiated in every direction like the strands of a spider's web. Along them, on the day before, cattle, sheep, and hogs had made their slow way. Since dawn, that morning, the fine dust had been rising under hoof and wheel on every one of them, for Court Day is yet the great day of every month throughout the Bluegrass. The crowd had gone ahead of the Major and Chad. Only now and then would a laggard buggy or carriage turn into the pike from a pasture-road or locust-bordered avenue. Only men were occupants, for the ladies rarely go to town on court days--and probably none would go on that day. Trouble was expected. An abolitionist, one Brutus Dean--not from the North, but a Kentuckian, a slave-holder and a gentleman--would probably start a paper in Lexington to exploit his views in the heart of the Bluegrass; and his quondam friends would shatter his press and tear his office to pieces. So the Major told Chad, and he pointed out some "hands" at work in a field.

"An', mark my words, some day there's goin' to be the damnedest fight the world ever saw over these very niggers. An' the day ain't so far away."

It was noon before they reached the big cemetery on the edge of Lexington. Through a rift in the trees the Major pointed out the grave of Henry Clay, and told him about the big monument that was to be reared above his remains. The grave of Henry Clay! Chad knew all about him. He had heard Caleb Hazel read the great man's speeches aloud by the hour--had heard him intoning them to himself as he walked the woods to and fro from school. Would wonders never cease.

There seemed to be no end to the houses and streets and people in this big town, and Chad wondered why everybody turned to look at him and smiled, and, later in the day, he came near getting into a fight with another boy who seemed to be making fun of him to his companions. He wondered at that, too, until it suddenly struck him that he saw nobody else carrying a rifle and wearing a coonskin cap--perhaps it was his cap and his gun. The Major was amused and pleased, and he took a certain pride in the boy's calm indifference to the attention he was drawing to himself. And he enjoyed the little mystery which he and his queer little companion seemed to create as they drove through the streets.

On one corner was a great hemp factory.

Through the windows Chad could see negroes, dusty as millers, bustling about, singing as they worked. Before the door were two men--one on horseback. The Major drew up a moment.

"How are you, John? Howdye, Dick?" Both men answered heartily, and both looked at Chad--who looked intently at them--the graceful, powerful man on foot and the slender, wiry man with wonderful dark eyes on horseback.

"Pioneering, Major?" asked John Morgan.

"This is a namesake of mine from the mountains. He's come up to see the settlements."

Richard Hunt turned on his horse. "How do you like 'em?"

"Never seed nothin' like 'em in my life," said Chad, gravely. Morgan laughed and Richard Hunt rode on with them down the street.

"Was that Captin Morgan?" asked Chad.

"Yes," said the Major. "Have you heard of him before?"

"Yes, sir. A feller on the road tol' me, if I was lookin' fer somethin' to do hyeh in Lexington to go to Captin Morgan."

The Major laughed: "That's what everybody does."

At once, the Major took the boy to an old inn and gave him a hearty meal; and while the Major attended to some business, Chad roamed the streets.

"Don't get into trouble, my boy," said the Major, "an' come back here an hour or two by sun."

Naturally, the lad drifted where the crowd was thickest--to Cheapside. Cheapside--at once the market-place and the forum of the Bluegrass from pioneer days to the present hour--the platform that knew Clay, Crittenden, Marshall, Breckenridge, as it knows the lesser men of to-day, who resemble those giants of old as the woodlands of the Bluegrass to-day resemble the primeval forests from which they sprang.

Cheapside was thronged that morning with cattle, sheep, hogs, horses, farmers, aristocrats, negroes, poor whites. The air was a babel of cries from auctioneers--head, shoulders, and waistband above the crowd--and the cries of animals that were changing owners that day--one of which might now and then be a human being. The Major was busy, and Chad wandered where he pleased--keeping a sharp lookout everywhere for the school-master, but though he asked right and left he could find nobody, to his great wonder, who knew even the master's name. In the middle of the afternoon the country people began to leave town and Cheapside was cleared, but, as Chad walked past the old inn, he saw a crowd gathered within and about the wide doors of a livery-stable, and in a circle outside that lapped half the street. The auctioneer was in plain sight above the heads of the crowd, and the horses were led out one by one from the stable. It was evidently a sale of considerable moment, and there were horse-raisers, horse-trainers, jockeys, stable-boys, gentlemen--all eager spectators or bidders. Chad edged his way through the outer rim of the crowd and to the edge of the sidewalk, and, when a spectator stepped down from a dry-goods box from which he had been looking on, Chad stepped up and took his place. Straightway, he began to wish he could buy a horse and ride back to the mountains. What fun that would be, and how he would astonish the folks on Kingdom Come. He had his five dollars still in his pocket, and when the first horse was brought out, the auctioneer raised his hammer and shouted in loud tones:

"How much am I offered for this horse?"

There was no answer, and the silence lasted so long that before he knew it Chad called out in a voice that frightened him:

"Five dollars!" Nobody heard the bid, and nobody paid any attention to him.

"One hundred dollars," said a voice.

"One hundred and twenty-five," said another, and the horse was knocked down for two hundred dollars.

A black stallion with curving neck and red nostrils and two white feet walked proudly in.

"How much am I offered?"

"Five dollars," said Chad, promptly. A man who sat near heard the boy and turned to look at the little fellow, and was hardly able to believe his ears. And so it went on. Each time a horse was put up Chad shouted out:

"Five dollars," and the crowd around him began to smile and laugh and encourage him and wait for his bid. The auctioneer, too, saw him, and entered into the fun himself, addressing himself to Chad at every opening bid.

"Keep it up, little man," said a voice behind him. "You'll get one by and by." Chad looked around. Richard Hunt was smiling to him from his horse on the edge of the crowd.

The last horse was a brown mare--led in by a halter. She was old and a trifle lame, and Chad, still undispirited, called out this time louder than ever:

"Five dollars!"

He shouted out this time loudly enough to be heard by everybody, and a universal laugh rose; then came silence, and, in that silence, an imperious voice shouted back:

"Let him have her!" It was the owner of the horse who spoke--a tall man with a noble face and long iron-gray hair. The crowd caught his mood, and as nobody wanted the old mare very much, and the owner would be the sole loser, nobody bid against him, and Chad's heart thumped when the auctioneer raised his hammer and said:

"Five dollars, five dollars--what am I offered? Five dollars, five dollars, going at five dollars, five dollars--going at five dollars--going--going, last bid, gentlemen!" The hammer came down with a blow that made Chad's heart jump and brought a roar of laughter from the crowd.

"What is the name, please?" said the auctioneer, bending forward with great respect and dignity toward the diminutive purchaser.


The auctioneer put his hand to one ear.

"I beg your pardon--Dan'l Boone did you say?"

"No!" shouted Chad indignantly--he began to feel that fun was going on at his expense. "You heerd me--CHAD."

"Ah, Mr. Chad."

Not a soul knew the boy, but they liked his spirit, and several followed him when he went up and handed his five dollars and took the halter of his new treasure trembling so that he could scarcely stand. The owner of the horse placed his hand on the little fellow's head.

"Wait a minute," he said, and, turning to a negro boy: "Jim, go bring a bridle." The boy brought out a bridle, and the tall man slipped it on the old mare's head, and Chad led her away--the crowd watching him. Just outside he saw the Major, whose eyes opened wide:

"Where'd you get that old horse, Chad?"

"Bought her," said Chad.

"What? What'd you give for her?"

"Five dollars."

The Major looked pained, for he thought the boy was lying, but Richard Hunt called him aside and told the story of the purchase; and then how the Major did laugh--laughed until the tears rolled down his face.

And then and there he got out of his carriage and went into a saddler's shop and bought a brand new saddle with a red blanket, and put it on the old mare and hoisted the boy to his seat. Chad was to have no little honor in his day, but he never knew a prouder moment than when he clutched the reins in his left hand and squeezed his short legs against the fat sides of that old brown mare.

He rode down the street and back again, and then the Major told him he had better put the black boy on the mare, to ride her home ahead of him, and Chad reluctantly got off and saw the little darky on his new saddle and his new horse.

"Take good keer o' that hoss, boy," he said, with a warning shake of his head, and again the Major roared.

First, the Major said, he would go by the old University and leave word with the faculty for the school-master when he should come there to matriculate; and so, at a turnstile that led into a mighty green yard in the middle of which stood a huge gray mass of stone, the carriage stopped, and the Major got out and walked through the campus and up the great flight of stone steps and disappeared. The mighty columns, the stone steps--where had Chad heard of them? And then the truth flashed. This was the college of which the school-master had told him down in the mountains, and, looking, Chad wanted to get closer.

"I wonder if it'll make any difference if I go up thar?" he said to the old driver.

"No," the old man hesitated--"no, suh, co'se not." And Chad climbed out and the old negro followed him with his eyes. He did not wholly approve of his master's picking up an unknown boy on the road. It was all right to let him ride, but to be taking him home--old Tom shook his head.

"Jess wait till Miss Lucy sees that piece o' white trash," he said, shaking his head. Chad was walking slowly with his eyes raised. It must be the college where the school-master had gone to school--for the building was as big as the cliff that he had pointed out down in the mountains, and the porch was as big as the black rock that he pointed out at the same time--the college where Caleb Hazel said Chad, too, must go some day. The Major was coming out when the boy reached the foot of the steps, and with him was a tall, gray man with spectacles and a white tie and very white nails, and the Major said:

"There he is now, Professor." And the Professor looked at Chad curiously, and smiled and smiled again kindly when he saw the boy's grave, unsmiling eyes fastened on him.

Then, out of the town and through the late radiant afternoon they went until the sun sank and the carriage stopped before a gate. While the pickaninny was opening it, another carriage went swiftly behind them, and the Major called out cleanly to the occupants--a quiet, sombre, dignified-looking man and two handsome boys and a little girl. "They're my neighbors, Chad," said the Major.

Not a sound did the wheels make on the thick turf as they drove toward the old-fashioned brick house (it had no pillars), with its windows shining through the firs and cedars that filled the yard. The Major put his hand on the boy's shoulder:

"Well, here we are, little man."

At the yard gate there was a great barking of dogs, and a great shout of welcome from the negroes who came forward to take the horses. To each of them the Major gave a little package, which each darky took with shining teeth and a laugh of delight--all looking with wonder at the curious little stranger with his rifle and coonskin cap, until a scowl from the Major checked the smile that started on each black face. Then the Major led Chad up a flight of steps and into a big hall and on into a big drawing-room, where there was a huge fireplace and a great fire that gave Chad a pang of homesickness at once. Chad was not accustomed to taking off his hat when he entered a house in the mountains, but he saw the Major take off his, and he dropped his own cap quickly. The Major sank into a chair.

"Here we are, little man," he said, kindly.

Chad sat down and looked at the books, and the portraits and prints, and the big mirrors and the carpets on the floor, none of which he had ever seen before, and he wondered at it all and what it all might mean. A few minutes later, a tall lady in black, with a curl down each side of her pale face, came in. Like old Tom, the driver, the Major, too, had been wondering what his sister, Miss Lucy, would think of his bringing so strange a waif home, and now, with sudden humor, he saw himself fortified.

"Sister," he said, solemnly, "here's a little kinsman of yours. He's a great-great-grandson of your great-great-uncle--Chadwick Buford. That's his name. What kin does that make us?"

"Hush, brother," said Miss Lucy, for she saw the boy reddening with embarrassment and she went across and shook hands with him, taking in with a glance his coarse strange clothes and his soiled hands and face and his tangled hair, but pleased at once with his shyness and his dark eyes. She was really never surprised at any caprice of her brother, and she did not show much interest when the Major went on to tell where he had found the lad--for she would have thought it quite possible that he might have taken the boy out of a circus. As for Chad, he was in awe of her at once--which the Major noticed with an inward chuckle, for the boy had shown no awe of him. Chad could hardly eat for shyness at supper and because everything was so strange and beautiful, and he scarcely opened his lips when they sat around the great fire, until Miss Lucy was gone to bed. Then he told the Major all about himself and old Nathan and the Turners and the school-master, and how he hoped to come back to the Bluegrass, and go to that big college himself, and he amazed the Major when, glancing at the books, he spelled out the titles of two of Scott's novels, "The Talisman" and "Ivanhoe," and told how the school-master had read them to him. And the Major, who had a passion for Sir Walter, tested Chad's knowledge, and he could mention hardly a character or a scene in the two books that did not draw an excited response from the boy.

"Wouldn't you like to stay here in the Bluegrass now and go to school?"

Chad's eyes lighted up.

"I reckon I would; but how am I goin' to school, now, I'd like to know? I ain't got no money to buy books, and the school-teacher said you have to pay to go to school, up here."

"Well, we'll see about that," said the Major, and Chad wondered what he meant. Presently the Major got up and went to the sideboard and poured out a drink of whiskey and, raising it to his lips, stopped:

"Will you join me?" he asked, humorously, though it was hard for the Major to omit that formula even with a boy.

"I don't keer if I do," said Chad, gravely. The Major was astounded and amused, and thought that the boy was not in earnest, but he handed him the bottle and Chad poured out a drink that staggered his host, and drank it down without winking. At the fire, the Major pulled out his chewing tobacco. This, too, he offered and Chad accepted, equalling the Major in the accuracy with which he reached the fireplace thereafter with the juice, carrying off his accomplishment, too, with perfect and unconscious gravity. The Major was nigh to splitting with silent laughter for a few minutes, and then he grew grave.

"Does everybody drink and chew down in the mountains?"

"Yes, sir," said Chad. "Everybody makes his own licker where I come from."

"Don't you know it's very bad for little boys to drink and chew?"

"No, sir."

"Did nobody ever tell you it was very bad for little boys to drink and chew?"

"No, sir"--not once had Chad forgotten that.

"Well, it is."

Chad thought for a minute. "Will it keep me from gittin' to be a BIG man?"


Chad quietly threw his quid into the fire.

"Well, I be damned," said the Major under his breath. "Are you goin' to quit?"

"Yes, sir."

Meanwhile, the old driver, whose wife lived on the next farm, was telling the servants over there about the queer little stranger whom his master had picked up on the road that day, and after Chad was gone to bed, the Major got out some old letters from a chest and read them over again. Chadwick Buford was his great-grandfather's twin brother, and not a word had been heard of him since the two had parted that morning on the old Wilderness Road, away back in the earliest pioneer days. So, the Major thought and thought suppose--suppose? And at last he got up and with an uplifted candle, looked a long while at the portrait of his grandfather that hung on the southern wall. Then, with a sudden humor, he carried the light to the room where the boy was in sound sleep, with his head on one sturdy arm, his hair loose on the pillow, and his lips slightly parted and showing his white, even teeth; he looked at the boy a long time and fancied he could see some resemblance to the portrait in the set of the mouth and the nose and the brow, and he went back smiling at his fancies and thinking--for the Major was sensitive to the claim of any drop of the blood in his own veins--no matter how diluted. He was a handsome little chap.

"How strange! How strange!"

And he smiled when he thought of the boy's last question.

"Where's YO' mammy?"

It had stirred the Major.

"I am like you, Chad," he had said. "I've got no mammy--no nothin', except Miss Lucy, and she don't live here. I'm afraid she won't be on this earth long. Nobody lives here but me, Chad."

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Rain fell that night--gentle rain and warm, for the south wind rose at midnight. At four o clock a shower made the shingles over Chad rattle sharply, but without wakening the lad, and then the rain ceased; and when Chad climbed stiffly from his loft--the world was drenched and still, and the dawn was warm, for spring had come that morning, and Chad trudged along the road--unchilled. Every now and then he had to stop to rest his foot. Now and then he would see people getting breakfast ready in the farm-houses that he passed, and, though his little belly was