Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
The Fight with the Moonshiners
By John Esten Cooke (1830–1886)
 
[Born in Winchester, Va., 1830. Died near Boyce, Clark Co., Va., 1886. The Virginia Bohemians. 1880.]

THE COLUMN moved on, and entered the gorge extending up to the Hogback. The sun was sinking, and the long red rays pierced the glades like spears, and fell in vivid crimson on the rocks, covered with variegated mosses. From in front came the low sigh of the pines in the depths of the gorge; from the rear no sound was heard but the measured hoof-strokes of the troopers.
  1
  Bohemia was waiting, and expecting something—you could see that.  2
  Bohemia was in all its last and crowning glory.  3
  Not the glory of the fresh spring mornings, when the violets first come and the buttercups star the glades and the fields; nor yet the glory of the summer days, when the clouds drift on the blue sky, and the green foliage of the forest is alive with singing birds; nor the autumn glory of splendid colors and dreamy hours, when the heart dreams of other hours, and sees the faces that have gone many a year into the dust; but the glory of the last moments of the Indian summer—the Nurse of the Halcyon which cradled the Greek fancy—this had come now, and the year was bidding farewell to Bohemia, and expiring in a dream of beauty.  4
  There were few leaves clinging to the trees—the winds had swept them. They lay on the ground, and formed a deep yellow carpet. Here and there a cedar, forming a perfect cone, stood out like a sentinel from a background of rocks, and over rock and cedar, and under the great pines, trailed the autumn creepers with bright crimson berries, glittering like coral beads in the light of the sunset. That sunset light made the glory more glorious. It was dashed on rock and tree, and lit up the gorge with a sombre splendor; the wild pines, the dark depths, the figures of the troopers, and the sky above. You would have said that it had come to salute Bohemia for the last time, and that thereafter her glory would be a dream.  5
  The column was in the gorge, and was advancing over a narrow bridle-path, when the young lieutenant ordered “Halt!”  6
  “I saw the gleam of a gun-barrel on that height yonder,” he said to the marshal. “As we’re about to proceed to business, let us act in a business-like manner.”  7
  He sent forward an advance guard of three men with instructions. These were to keep a keen lookout on the bluffs above, and if fired upon return the fire, and fall back upon the column.  8
  “You won’t have far to fall back,” added the young fellow. “I’ll be close behind you.”  9
  The advance-guard went in front, and disappeared around a bend in the road. The spot was wild beyond expression, and lofty heights extended like walls on either side as the column proceeded. Beyond the tops of the trees could be seen the long blue line of the Blue Ridge on the left; and on the right rose the bristling and threatening crest of the Hogback.  10
  “I begin to think the moonshiners are going to fight, Mr. Lascelles,” said the lieutenant, lighting a fresh cigar. “I saw the man with the gun as plainly as I see you. There are probably some stills in the vicinity here—it is the very place for them; and I think the moonshiners, like good patriots, are going to die by their altars and fires!”  11
  A shot rung out as he spoke, from the direction of the vanguard; and then a rattling volley followed, and the men were seen coming back at a gallop.  12
  “Well,” said the lieutenant, coolly, “what’s up?”  13
  The report was that they had been fired upon—apparently from a barricade in the mouth of a small gorge debouching into the main one.  14
  “I think it probable there’s a barricade, which is not a bad thing to fight behind,” said the lieutenant, smoking and reflecting. “Well, I’m going to charge it, as a matter of course. I’ll have some saddles emptied, I rather suppose, but that’s to be looked for.”  15
  “It is unfortunate,” said Mr. Lascelles; “it would be better to have no bloodshed.”  16
  “Vastly preferable, I allow, but the devil of the thing is to avoid it. I’m not speaking for myself; I’m engaged to a pretty girl, but she’ll have to take her chances for a wedding. This is my business—and after all, too, it’s the business of these good fellows on both sides. So here’s for a charge!”  17
  “A moment,” said Mr. Lascelles; “you ought to summon them to surrender.”  18
  “Useless—but it would be more regular.”  19
  “I’ll take the summons.”  20
  “You!”  21
  “Certainly, with very great pleasure.”  22
  “You’ll be shot!”  23
  “No. They might shoot one of your men in his uniform, but they will not shoot me. I am in citizen’s dress, and will raise my white handkerchief.”  24
  “That is true—but suppose you’re shot. You have nothing to do with this business. I like your face, Mr. Lascelles, though it’s rather mournful. You were cut out for a soldier, but then you are a civilian. Well, do as you choose.”  25
  “I will go, then, and deliver your summons. You will wait?”  26
  “Yes, but be quick. Night is coming.”  27
  “If I am not back in ten minutes it will be because they refuse. Then you can charge.”  28
  He put spurs to his horse, and, without troubling himself to display the white handkerchief, went at a swift gallop forward into the gorge.  29
  The shadows grew deeper as he went, and the overhanging banks more densely wooded. He was penetrating to the most mysterious depths of the gorge.  30
  Suddenly a voice called “Halt!” and he saw the gleam of gun-barrels behind a barricade of felled trees. He paid no attention to the order, and reaching the barricade leaped to the ground.  31
  The Lefthander was standing on the top of the barricade, with a carbine in his hand. It was he who had ordered “halt,” but he did not raise his weapon. He had recognized Mr. Lascelles, and quietly waited.  32
  Behind him were grouped nearly a dozen rough-looking figures armed to the teeth; among these were Daddy Welles, Barney Jones, and Harry Vance. Under low drooping boughs in rear of the barricade was a rude door in the rock. Behind this door, which the pine boughs brushed, was the still.  33
  The barricade itself was constructed of felled trees, and about breast-high. Behind this the moonshiners were obviously going to fight.  34
  Mr. Lascelles threw his bridle over his horse’s neck, and mounted the barricade.  35
  “They are coming,” he said to the Lefthander, “and I have come to summon you to surrender.”  36
  “To surrender? We will not surrender,” said the phlegmatic athlete.  37
  “I knew that, and so that’s done with. They will charge you in ten minutes; but there will be time to say what I came to say to you. I have been to Crow’s Nest.”  38
  He took the Lefthander by the arm and drew him aside. For some moments the group of moonshiners saw the two men engaged in low, earnest talk. Then they saw them grasp hands and come back toward the group.  39
  As they did so the troopers charged the barricade.  40
  A volley met it in the face, and the horses, wild with fright, wheeled and retreated in disorder.  41
  “Halt!” the lieutenant’s voice was heard shouting, as he whirled his light sabre. “Form column in rear!—I’ll soon attend to this.”  42
  The men stopped, and fell into column again just beyond range of the fire of the barricade.  43
  “Dismount and deploy skirmishers! Advance on both flanks and in front! I’ll be in the centre.”  44
  And throwing himself from his horse, he formed the line of skirmishers. Then, at the ringing “Forward” of the game young fellow, the skirmishers closed in steadily, firing as they did so on the barricade.  45
  All at once the quiet scene was turned into the stage of a tragic drama. Nature was pitiless and serene; the red crowns were rising peacefully from the summits of the trees; a crow was winging his way toward the sunset on slow wings; it was a scene to soothe dying eyes, if the light needs must disappear from them.  46
  In ten minutes it had disappeared from more than one on both sides. The moonshiners were evidently determined to fight hard, and only give way when they were forced to do so. The crack of the sharpshooters was answered from behind the barricade, and the gorge was full of smoke and shouts as the assailants closed in.  47
  They did so steadily, like good troops, and at last rushed upon the barricade. There a hand-to-hand fight followed, and it was a weird spectacle in the half gloom. In the shadowy gorge the figures were only half seen as the light faded, and the long thunder of the carbines and shouting rolled through the mountain, awaking lugubrious echoes in the mysterious depths.  48
  The moonshiners fought desperately, but the fight was of no avail. They were outnumbered, and, after losing some of their best men, scattered into the mountain. Among those who thus escaped were Daddy Welles, Barney Jones, and Harry Vance. The parting salutes from their carbines were heard from the heights as they retreated; and the barricade was in possession of the cavalry.  49
  The young lieutenant leaped on the felled trees, and stood there looking around.  50
  “A good work—constructed by soldiers,” he said; “and they were game, too.”  51
  He was tying up his arm with a white handkerchief. A bullet had passed completely through the fleshy part, and it was bleeding.  52
  He leaped down into the barricade. Suddenly he stopped—he had nearly trodden upon something: it was the body of Mr. Lascelles. A bullet had passed through his forehead, and he was quite dead. The shot had been fired from behind a rock by the man whom he had lashed that day in the Wye woods—his bitter enemy.  53
  At three paces from the body of Mr. Lascelles lay the Lefthander—dead. Three other moonshiners were dangerously wounded, and were leaning against the barricade. They closed their eyes, as though to avoid seeing the blue uniforms. They were probably troopers of the old battles of Ashby, and accepted their fate like soldiers, not complaining.  54
  As to the faces of Mr. Lascelles and the Lefthander, they were quite tranquil. They had died, in fact, with little pain, and perhaps willingly. Each had muttered the same name as the light faded, and they went into the darkness. This name was “Mignon.”  55
 
 
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