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The Confessions of Nat Turner Part 18

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And even as I spoke I felt my wrist being impaled upon agonizing pain. At almost the same instant I looked down and began to force open the jaws of Moses, who, driven quite mad by all he had witnessed, had sunk his teeth into the nearest flesh at hand.

One afternoon in my cell in jail just before my trial I remember Mr. Thomas Gray saying to me in that half-distraught, half-choked tone his voice achieved when he was at the highest point of his own disbelief: "But the butchery, Reverend, the senseless slaughter! slaughter! The blood of so many of the The blood of so many of the innocent! innocent! How are you able to justify all that? That's one of the things the people want to know most of all. That's what I'd like to know, by G.o.d! How are you able to justify all that? That's one of the things the people want to know most of all. That's what I'd like to know, by G.o.d! I!" I!"

A bitter November wind had swept through the cell. My ankles were cold and numb from the chains. When I failed to answer him right away, he went on, slapping the folded paper notes to my confessions against his thick haunch. "I mean, G.o.d Almighty, G.o.d Almighty, Reverend, these items defy civilized belief, some of 'em! Lissen here. Reverend, these items defy civilized belief, some of 'em! Lissen here. Item. Item. Taken from your own sworn testimony. After you've left the Travis house, leaving behind four slain, you suddenly recollect the little infant-a less than two-year's-old babe sleepin' Taken from your own sworn testimony. After you've left the Travis house, leaving behind four slain, you suddenly recollect the little infant-a less than two-year's-old babe sleepin'

in his cradle. You tell me you was was goin' to spare the child but suddenly you have a second thought about it. So you say out loud, 'Nits breed lice!'-there's a delicate sentiment, I'll vow, The Confessions of Nat Turner goin' to spare the child but suddenly you have a second thought about it. So you say out loud, 'Nits breed lice!'-there's a delicate sentiment, I'll vow, 311.

Reverend, for a man of the cloth-and you send Henry and Will back to the house an' they take that pore pitiful little babe and dash its brains out agin the wall. That's an item that truly defies civilized belief! Yet it's as true as true can be. Right from your own lips. An' you still persist in sayin' that you feel no guilt over such a ghastly item. You still still can claim that you feel not the slightest pang of remorse." can claim that you feel not the slightest pang of remorse."

After another long hesitation, during which I carefully considered my words, I said: "That's right, Mr. Gray. I fear I would have to plead not guilty to everything, because I don't feel guilty. And try as I might I simply can't feel-as you put it, sir-a pang of remorse."

"Item. Them two boys you all killed at Mr. William Williams's in the fodder field, afternoon of the first day. Them two little boys, both of 'em not yet ten years old. You mean to tell me you can feel no remorse over that?" Them two boys you all killed at Mr. William Williams's in the fodder field, afternoon of the first day. Them two little boys, both of 'em not yet ten years old. You mean to tell me you can feel no remorse over that?"

"No sir," I replied calmly, "no, I feel no remorse."

"Then G.o.ddammit- item! item! Them ten innocent schoolchildren slaughtered at the Wallerses' place, later in the day. Them ten innocent schoolchildren slaughtered at the Wallerses' place, later in the day. Ten Ten little children! You mean to tell me that now, after all these here months, your heart ain't touched by the agony of an event like that? That you don't feel guilt over butchering a helpless and defenseless little group like that?" little children! You mean to tell me that now, after all these here months, your heart ain't touched by the agony of an event like that? That you don't feel guilt over butchering a helpless and defenseless little group like that?"

"No sir," I said, "I don't feel anything. I'd like to add, though, if I may, sir, that those people at the Wallerses' wasn't entirely defenseless. They wasn't all just children. Those white men there put up quite a fight against us. They done a lot of shootin'

back. That's where a couple of my men got their first wounds." I paused, then added: "But even aside from that I don't feel any guilt."

As I spoke I saw that Gray was glaring at me, and I wondered just how much of the truth I was telling him might find its way into those confessions of mine that he would eventually publish. I a.s.sumed not much, but it no longer mattered to me. My weariness was as bitter and as aching as that November wind that swept through the cracks of the cedar wall and froze my bones, chilled the chains that shackled my feet. I pointed out that we had seen one young girl of fourteen or so escape screaming into the woods at the Harris plantation late during the first afternoon, and reminded him that he himself had told me that 312.

this plucky la.s.s, all breathless and hysterical, had come running to warn the people at the Jacob Williams place, two miles to the north. Not only did her flight result in Williams's eluding our retribution (notably that of Nelson, whose slave he was and who longed to settle accounts) but caused Williams himself to ride off early and alert people up-country in big estates like the Blunts'

and Major Ridley's. It was at those places that we met our most fierce resistance. And not long after this there appeared on the scene mounted troops from three counties, cutting off our entry into Jerusalem and our capture of the armory, when we were but a short mile or so from the bridge and the county seat.

Gray said nothing for a while. Then at last he drew a deep breath and the air whistled from his throat in a sigh. "Well, Reverend, I'll have to hand it to you," he said in a gloomy voice, "for what you set out to do, if you wanted slaughter, you done a pretty complete and satisfactory job. Up to a point, that is. I reckon even you didn't know the actual statistics, hiding out until now like you done. But in the three days and nights that your campaign lasted you managed to hasten fifty-five white people into early graves, not counting a score or so more fearfully wounded or disabled- hors de combat, hors de combat, as the Frenchies say, for the rest of their natural lives. And only G.o.d knows how many poor souls will be scarred in their minds by grief and by terrible memories until the day they part this life. No," he went on, breaking off a black wad from a plug of chewing tobacco, "no, I'll have to hand it to you, in many respects you was pretty thorough. By sword and ax and gun you run a swath through this county that will be long remembered. You did, as you say, come d.a.m.n near to taking your army into this town. And in addition, as I think I told you before, you scared the entire South into a condition that may be described as well-nigh as the Frenchies say, for the rest of their natural lives. And only G.o.d knows how many poor souls will be scarred in their minds by grief and by terrible memories until the day they part this life. No," he went on, breaking off a black wad from a plug of chewing tobacco, "no, I'll have to hand it to you, in many respects you was pretty thorough. By sword and ax and gun you run a swath through this county that will be long remembered. You did, as you say, come d.a.m.n near to taking your army into this town. And in addition, as I think I told you before, you scared the entire South into a condition that may be described as well-nigh s.h.i.tless. s.h.i.tless. No n.i.g.g.e.rs ever No n.i.g.g.e.rs ever done done anything like this." anything like this."

There was nothing to say.

"Well, you was a success, all right. Up to a point. Mind you"-he jabbed a brown-stained finger at me- "up to a point. "up to a point. Because, Reverend, basically speaking and in the profoundest sense of the word you was a flat-a.s.sed Because, Reverend, basically speaking and in the profoundest sense of the word you was a flat-a.s.sed failure failure-a total fiasco from beginning to end insofar as any real accomplishment is concerned. Right? Because, like you told me yesterday, all the big things that you expected to happen out of this just didn't happen. Right? Only the little things happened, and them little things when they was all added up didn't amount to a warm bottle of p.i.s.s. Right?"

313.

I felt myself shivering as I gazed downward between my legs at the plank floor and at the links of cold cast iron sagging like a huge rusting timber chain in the chill dim light. Suddenly I felt the approach of my own death, and with a p.r.i.c.kling at my scalp, considered that death with mingled dread and longing. My hands trembled, my bones ached, and I heard Gray's voice as if from a broad and wintry distance.

"Item," he persisted. "By the U. S. census of last year there were eight thousand n.i.g.g.e.rs in this county, all chattel, not counting around fifteen hundred n.i.g.g.e.rs that were free. Of this grand total of ten thousand plus or minus whatever, you fully expected a good percentage of the male population, at least, to rise up and join you. Anyway, that's what you have said, and that's what the n.i.g.g.e.r Hark and that other n.i.g.g.e.r, Nelson, before we hung him, he persisted. "By the U. S. census of last year there were eight thousand n.i.g.g.e.rs in this county, all chattel, not counting around fifteen hundred n.i.g.g.e.rs that were free. Of this grand total of ten thousand plus or minus whatever, you fully expected a good percentage of the male population, at least, to rise up and join you. Anyway, that's what you have said, and that's what the n.i.g.g.e.r Hark and that other n.i.g.g.e.r, Nelson, before we hung him, said said you said. Let's figure that, oh, maybe a little less than half of the n.i.g.g.e.r population of the county lives along the route you traversed toward Jerusalem. Lives within earshot of your clarion call, so to speak. Counting on the bucks alone, that's one thousand black people who might be expected to follow your banner and live and die for n.i.g.g.e.rdom, and this is only if we figure that a pathetic fifty per cent of the eligible males joined you. Not including pickaninnies and old uncles. One thousand n.i.g.g.e.rs you should have collected, according to your plans. One thousand! And how many actually did join you? Seventy-five at the most! you said. Let's figure that, oh, maybe a little less than half of the n.i.g.g.e.r population of the county lives along the route you traversed toward Jerusalem. Lives within earshot of your clarion call, so to speak. Counting on the bucks alone, that's one thousand black people who might be expected to follow your banner and live and die for n.i.g.g.e.rdom, and this is only if we figure that a pathetic fifty per cent of the eligible males joined you. Not including pickaninnies and old uncles. One thousand n.i.g.g.e.rs you should have collected, according to your plans. One thousand! And how many actually did join you? Seventy-five at the most! Seventy-five! Seventy-five! Reverend, I ask you, what kind of a miser'ble-a.s.sed percentage is that?" Reverend, I ask you, what kind of a miser'ble-a.s.sed percentage is that?"

I made no reply.

"Item," he said again. "The item of drunkenness and general unmilitary conduct among your so-called troops. This you can't deny in spite of the picture I'm sure you'd love to present to the world of a majestic military force in full, ordered, disciplined panoply-elegant soldier boys in bully ranks and files. But we've got too much testimony he said again. "The item of drunkenness and general unmilitary conduct among your so-called troops. This you can't deny in spite of the picture I'm sure you'd love to present to the world of a majestic military force in full, ordered, disciplined panoply-elegant soldier boys in bully ranks and files. But we've got too much testimony au contraire. au contraire. What you had pure and simple was not an army but a draggledy mob of drunken black ruffians who couldn't keep out of them stills and cider presses and thus in true n.i.g.g.e.r fashion contributed further to your downfall. Why, Major Claiborne, who ran the Isle of Wight militia, told me that when he broke you up there at Parker's field fully a third of your troops was staggerin' aroun' drunker'n hoot owls, some of 'em so p.i.s.sy-eyed grogged up that they didn't know the b.u.t.t-end of a gun from the barrel. I ask you, Reverend, is that any way to run a proper revolution?" What you had pure and simple was not an army but a draggledy mob of drunken black ruffians who couldn't keep out of them stills and cider presses and thus in true n.i.g.g.e.r fashion contributed further to your downfall. Why, Major Claiborne, who ran the Isle of Wight militia, told me that when he broke you up there at Parker's field fully a third of your troops was staggerin' aroun' drunker'n hoot owls, some of 'em so p.i.s.sy-eyed grogged up that they didn't know the b.u.t.t-end of a gun from the barrel. I ask you, Reverend, is that any way to run a proper revolution?"

314.

"No," I said, "that was bad, I admit. That was one of the worst things that went wrong. I gave orders about that, but when my troops grew in size-when there was a lot of us instead of just a few-why, I somehow lost control over them. I just couldn't keep an eye on them all at once and I-"But then I fell silent. Why try to explain anything now? Gray was right. Despite a measure of triumph, despite the single short mile that finally separated us from our goal-a nearness to Jerusalem so tantalizing that I could still feel in my flesh the remembered thrill of almost-victory-despite everything we had nearly achieved, in the end we failed beyond all hope or salvage. As he said, I had not been able to govern the boisterous black riffraff, so many of them only half grown, that had rallied behind me; neither I nor Nelson nor Henry nor anyone had been able to prevent those callow harebrained recruits from plundering the liquor cellars, just as we had been hard put to keep them from raiding attics for fancy clothes or ransacking smokehouses for hams or plunging away on horseback in the wrong direction or, more than once, with black fingers unacquainted with guns, almost shooting off their own feet or hands. But, Mr. Gray, But, Mr. Gray, I found myself wanting to say, I found myself wanting to say, what else could you expect from mostly young men deaf, what else could you expect from mostly young men deaf, dumb, blind, crippled, shackled, and hamstrung from the moment dumb, blind, crippled, shackled, and hamstrung from the moment of their first baby-squall on a bare clay floor? It was prodigious of their first baby-squall on a bare clay floor? It was prodigious that we come as far as we did, that we nearly took Jerusalem . . . that we come as far as we did, that we nearly took Jerusalem . . .

But I said nothing, recalling only that moment in the forenoon of the second day when at some pillaged ruin of a manor house far up-county I watched a young Negro I had never seen before, outlandishly garbed in feathers and the uniform of an army colonel, so drunk that he could barely stand, laughing wildly, p.i.s.sing into the hollow mouth of a dead, gla.s.sy-eyed white-haired old grandmother still clutching a child as they lay sprawled amid a bed of zinnias, and I said not a word to him, merely turned my horse about and thought: It was because of you, old woman, that we did not learn to fight n.o.bly . . .

"Last but not least," Gray said, "item. "item. And a durned important item it is, too, Reverend, also attested to by witnesses both black and white and by widespread evidence so unimpeachable as to make this here matter almost a foregone conclusion. And that is that you not only had a fantastic amount of n.i.g.g.e.rs who did And a durned important item it is, too, Reverend, also attested to by witnesses both black and white and by widespread evidence so unimpeachable as to make this here matter almost a foregone conclusion. And that is that you not only had a fantastic amount of n.i.g.g.e.rs who did not not join up with you but there was a whole countless number of other n.i.g.g.e.rs who was your active join up with you but there was a whole countless number of other n.i.g.g.e.rs who was your active enemies. enemies. What I mean in simple terms, Reverend, is that once the alarm went out, there was n.i.g.g.e.rs What I mean in simple terms, Reverend, is that once the alarm went out, there was n.i.g.g.e.rs everywhere everywhere-who were as determined to protect and save their masters as you were to murder them. They was 315.

simply livin' too well! too well! All the time that you were carryin' around in that fanatical head of your'n the notion that the n.i.g.g.e.rs were going to latch on to your great mission, as you put it, an' go off to some stinkin' swamp, the actual reality was that nine out of ten of your fellow burrheads just wasn't buyin' any such durn fool ideas. All the time that you were carryin' around in that fanatical head of your'n the notion that the n.i.g.g.e.rs were going to latch on to your great mission, as you put it, an' go off to some stinkin' swamp, the actual reality was that nine out of ten of your fellow burrheads just wasn't buyin' any such durn fool ideas.

Reverend, I have no doubt that it was your own race that contributed more to your fiasco than anything else. It just ain't a race made for revolution, that's all. That's another reason that n.i.g.g.e.r slavery's goin' to last for a thousand years."

He rose from his seat across from me. "Well, I got to go, Reverend. I'll see you tomorrow. Meanwhile, I'll put down in my deposition to the court which precedes your confession that the defendant shows no remorse for his acts, and since he feels feels no guilt his plea will be that of 'not guilty.'Now, one last time, are you no guilt his plea will be that of 'not guilty.'Now, one last time, are you sure sure you feel no remorse at all? I mean, would you do it again if you had the chance? There's still time to change your mind. It ain't goin' to save your neck but it'll surer'n h.e.l.l look better for you in court. Speak up, Reverend." you feel no remorse at all? I mean, would you do it again if you had the chance? There's still time to change your mind. It ain't goin' to save your neck but it'll surer'n h.e.l.l look better for you in court. Speak up, Reverend."

When I made no reply to him he left without further word. I heard the cell door slam shut and the bolt thud home in the slot with its slippery chunking sound. It was almost night again. I listened to the sc.r.a.pe and rustle of fallen leaves as the cold air swept them across the ground. I reached down to rub my numb and swollen ankles and I shivered in the wind, thinking: Remorse? Is it true that I really have no remorse or contrition or guilt for anything I've done? Is it maybe because I have no remorse that I can't pray and that I know myself to be so removed from the sight of G.o.d?

As I sat there, recollecting August, I felt remorse impossible to know or touch or find. All I could feel was an entombed, frustrate rage-rage at the white people we had killed and those we had failed to kill, rage at the quick and the dead, rage above all at those Negroes who refused us or fled us or who had become the enemy-those spiritless and spineless wretches who had turned against us. Rage even at our own minuscule force, which was so much smaller than the expected mult.i.tude! For although it ravaged my heart to accept it, I knew that Gray was not wrong: the black men had caused my defeat just as surely as the white.

And so it had been on that last day, that Wednesday afternoon, when after having finally laid waste to twoscore dwellings and our force of fifty had rallied in the woods to storm Major Ridley's place, I had caught sight for the first time of Negroes in great numbers with rifles and muskets at the barricaded veranda, firing back at us with as much pa.s.sion and fury and even skill as their 316.

white owners and overseers who had gathered there to block our pa.s.sage into Jerusalem. (The alarm had gone out at least by the morning of the day before, our schedule was disastrously upset, and we had met resistance everywhere for many hours. The Ridley place, which straddled the road into town, was now an ominous fortress yet it had to be taken-and quickly: it was our last chance-if we were to break through and dash the last mile on horseback, seizing Jerusalem before it became an armed camp.) Far up on the veranda of the old stately brick house now barricaded by wagons and crates and hogsheads I could see twenty-five or thirty Negroes owned by the white gentry near town-coachmen, cooks, some field hands maybe but I could tell from what they wore mostly gardeners and house n.i.g.g.e.r flunkies, even a clutch of bandannaed yellow kitchen girls pa.s.sing ammunition. I heard the voice of Major Ridley above the steady fusillade of gunfire -"That's the spirit, boys!" he cried to the defenders, black and white alike. "That's the spirit! Fire away, lads! Lay on the lead! We'll turn the rascals back!-and the volleys swelled tempestuously down upon us with a noise like the continual crackle of lightning, ripping twigs and leaves from the green summer trees.

Then I recall Hark saying to me as we crouched behind the great stump of a felled oak, shouting above our own rifle fire: Look at Look at dem black f.u.c.kahs shootin' at us! dem black f.u.c.kahs shootin' at us! And I thought, lying to myself: Yes, they're black but they've been forced, dragooned by white men who have threatened them with their very lives. Negroes would not fire back like that of their own free will, at least not in those numbers. And all this I kept thinking desperately even as I signaled and we charged the house (but far within I knew better: had not pitifully less than a hundred joined us? When I had expected hundreds? Had not I with my own eyes seen fifty more Negroes flee at our approach all along the way, scattering to the woods?)-our men now moving on foot and crouched in a ragged skirmish line behind hedged and sun-dappled boxwood and maple trees. Each of us was mercilessly exposed, the force not outnumbered but outpositioned and outgunned in a lopsided uphill a.s.sault, and intimidated nightmarishly less by white men now than by the sight of a horde of housebound and privileged town and up-county Negroes sending coolly aimed gunfire into our black ranks. At last we had to fall back and disperse into the woods. I saw my men streaming off in panic everywhere. And I thought, lying to myself: Yes, they're black but they've been forced, dragooned by white men who have threatened them with their very lives. Negroes would not fire back like that of their own free will, at least not in those numbers. And all this I kept thinking desperately even as I signaled and we charged the house (but far within I knew better: had not pitifully less than a hundred joined us? When I had expected hundreds? Had not I with my own eyes seen fifty more Negroes flee at our approach all along the way, scattering to the woods?)-our men now moving on foot and crouched in a ragged skirmish line behind hedged and sun-dappled boxwood and maple trees. Each of us was mercilessly exposed, the force not outnumbered but outpositioned and outgunned in a lopsided uphill a.s.sault, and intimidated nightmarishly less by white men now than by the sight of a horde of housebound and privileged town and up-county Negroes sending coolly aimed gunfire into our black ranks. At last we had to fall back and disperse into the woods. I saw my men streaming off in panic everywhere.

Unmounted horses burst for the meadows. My mission had become totally shattered, blown apart like gunpowder on the wind. Then the ghastly final mortal mischief. Two of my men had 317.

made it to within twenty yards of the veranda and then were both killed as I watched: one of these was Will, raging to the end with a sublime fury beyond mere valor, beyond even madness; the other was my old great Henry, who, lacking ears to judge the whereabouts of danger, caught a musket ball in the throat. He fell like a dead tree.

Hark too had fallen wounded far behind me as we made our withdrawal down the slope. I got up from where I had stumbled to go back for him but he was too near the veranda; as he struggled from the lawn with a hand clutched to his bloodied shoulder I saw three bare-chested Negroes who were dressed in the pantaloons of coachmen charge from the house under covering fire and kick him back to earth with booted feet. Hark flopped about in desperation but they kicked him again, kicked him with exuberance not caused by any white man's urging or threat or exhortation but with rackety glee, kicked him until I saw droplets of blood spray from his huge and jagged wound. Then they dragged him past one of the barricade wagons and underneath the veranda and two of the Negroes kept aiming booted kicks at his shoulder even as they disappeared from sight. I fled, escaped then. And I remember feeling sick with rage and with the knowledge of defeat, and later that night after my troops dissolved forever (the twenty of us who remained in a final fire-fight with a dozen mounted Isle of Wight County militia along the rim of humid twilit woods, some of my men too weary, some too demoralized or drunk- yes, Gray was right yes, Gray was right-to refrain from slipping away once and for all into the trees, thereupon to steal back home, harboring wild hopes that in the confusion their adventure with me might not have been noticed) and I too lit off alone, hoping against hope that I could find Nelson or Austin or Jack and regroup and swim across the river for a three- or four-man attack by stealth on the armory-but knowing even as night came down over the woods and the voices of white men hallooed in the dark and the drumming of far-off cavalry hooves echoed from the roads that such a hope trembled on lunacy-an accusation kept howling somewhere in the black defeated hollow of my brain: It was the n.i.g.g.e.rs that beat you! You might have It was the n.i.g.g.e.rs that beat you! You might have took Ridley's. You might have made Jerusalem if it wasn't for took Ridley's. You might have made Jerusalem if it wasn't for those bootlickin' black sc.u.m of white men's a.s.s-suckin' n.i.g.g.e.rs! those bootlickin' black sc.u.m of white men's a.s.s-suckin' n.i.g.g.e.rs!

The following morning after I had slept for the first time in days, alone just as sunrise shimmered up cool and hazy over the pinelands, I sneaked out of the woods in search of food and soon happened upon the Vaughans' place where Nelson's 318.

troops had slain four people. Kitchen fires were still smoldering from the day before, the s.p.a.cious white house lay deserted and still. As I crept past the chicken shed and into the barnyard I heard a grunting and a snuffling noise, and saw two razorback wild hogs devouring the body of a man. It must have been the overseer. The corpse was parted from its head and I knew that the last face the man had ever seen had been that of Will. I watched the hogs rooting at the man's intestines for a moment and I was without feeling; the iniquitous mud-smeared beasts may as well have been feeding upon slops or offal. Yet after I had taken some food from the plundered, littered kitchen and had prepared a sack of bacon and meal to help me through the first part of my flight to the woods, I was afflicted by fear and uneasiness. It had been my custom for many years, as I have said before, to spend part of this hour of the day in prayer and meditation, but when I went back to the border of the woods and knelt there to ask G.o.d's guidance in the coming time of solitude-to request that He show me the ways and necessities for my salvation now that my cause in His name was irrevocably lost-I found to my terrible distress that for the first time in my life I was unable even to think. Try as I might, I could not cause a prayer to pa.s.s my lips. The G.o.d I knew was slipping away from me. And I lingered there in the early morning and felt as alone and as forsaken as I had ever felt since I had learned G.o.d's name.

And so while I sat shivering in the November wind I listened to the sounds of late afternoon welling up from the town, and the rage withered within me and died away. Again the emptiness and desolation returned: the same ache of loneliness that had not really left me once since that morning at the edge of the woods and during the long weeks I had hidden out in my little swampland cave-the same inability to pray. And I thought: Maybe in this anguish of mine G.o.d is trying to tell me something.

Maybe in His seeming absence He is asking me to consider something I had not thought of or known before. How can a man be allowed to feel such emptiness and defeat? For surely G.o.d in His wisdom and majesty would not ordain a mission like mine and then when I was vanquished allow my soul to be abandoned, to be cast away into some bottomless pit as if it were a miserable vapor or smoke. Surely by this silence and absence He is giving me a greater sign than any I have ever known . . .

I rose wearily from the cedar plank and hobbled the length of the 319.

chain to the window. I gazed out into the fading light. Faint from the end of the rutted dirt road, by the water's edge, I heard the sound of a mandolin or a guitar and the voice of a young girl singing. Sweet and gentle, from some white, delicate throat I would never see, the song floated up along the river sh.o.r.e on a breath of wind. Bright pinpoints of snow flickered through the dusk and the music mingled in my spirit with a lost fragrance like that of lavender.

"She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps . . ."

Tenderly the voice rose and fell, then faded away, and another girl's voice called out softly-"Oh, Jeanie!"-and the sweet lavender smell persisted in my memory, making me stir with longing and desire. I thrust my head into my hands and leaned against the cold bars, thinking: No, Mr. Gray, I have no remorse for anything. I would do it all again. Yet even a man without remorse, in the face of death, may have to save one hostage for his soul's ransom, so I say yes, I would destroy them all again, all- But for one . . .

It had been as early as that first hour after leaving the Travis house that I began to fear that Will might actually seize control from me and disrupt my entire mission. I was not then so much afraid that he would dominate close followers like Henry or Nelson or Hark; they were safely under my influence and leaders in their own right. But as the night progressed and as we picked up new men at the half-dozen places which lay on our winding route between Travis's and Mrs. Whitehead's, Will's crazy, deafening rivalry for leadership was something I could not dismiss any more than I could fight down my panic over my own inability to kill. Had not Joshua with his own sword slain the King of Makkedah? And with his own bow had not Jehu killed Joram on the field of battle? I felt premonitions of disaster. I knew I could not expect men to rally around me and to fight with bravery if I myself was unable to draw blood.

Yet after my appalling failure to dispatch Travis and Miss Sarah, there were two more separate occasions when in full view of my followers and recruits I had tried to bring death with my sword, two times when I had raised the glittering blade over some ashen white face, only to have it glance away with an impotent thud or miss by such an astonishing s.p.a.ce that I felt that the blow had been deflected by a gigantic, aerial, unseen hand. And each time 320.

it had been Will-shouting taunts at me, jabbering, "Step aside, preacher man!" -who had shouldered me out of the way and with baleful and amorous and remorseless skill, broadax b.l.o.o.d.y and gleaming, performed the execution. Nor was I able to reprimand or control him in any way. His insatiate appet.i.te for blood was in the eyes of others, too, awesome beyond understanding; to dispense with Will even if I was able would be to chop off my right hand. All I could do when he ordered me to step aside would be to do just that, and stepping aside, hope that the others might not notice the sick humiliation in my eyes or see me when (as I did once after watching Will's ax cleave the skull of a young planter named William Reese) I stole off to puke my guts up for minutes in the woods.

Mist the color of pearl hung over the countryside several hours past dawn when a dozen of us stopped to have breakfast of bacon and fruit in the woods near Mrs. Whitehead's. The sun had begun to burn off the haze, cloaking the day in muggy heat.

During the night we had successfully attacked six homesteads and plantations, and seventeen white people lay dead. Of these, Will had accounted for seven; the rest were apportioned among Hark, Henry, Sam, and Jack. No one had escaped our ax and sword, and thus no one had survived to raise the alarm. The surprise we had effected was stunning and complete. Our campaign so far had been perfectly silent, perfectly lethal. I knew that if we were by now blessed by good fortune to negotiate the upper loop of the "S" with as much thoroughness and quiet, murderous precision as we had managed so far, we might not have to risk using gunfire at all until we were very close to Jerusalem. Our present force had grown, as I had expected, to eighteen; nine of these men now had horses-including four magnificent Arabian stallions we had taken from the Reese plantation. We were bountifully supplied with swords, broadaxes, and guns. Two young Negroes who had joined us at the Newsom place were drunk and clearly terrified, but the remainder of the new recruits flexed themselves and strutted about beneath the trees in fighting mettle. Yet I was still restless and troubled. In desperation I wondered if ever a commander had been beset by such a wicked dilemma-his authority, his very being, threatened to its roots by the near-mutinous insolence of a subaltern whom he could not afford to lose, much less send away. Partly in an effort to free myself momentarily from Will's deranging presence, but also because the place was an objective in my plans, I had just before dawn sent Will and four others under the command of Sam to sack the Bryant 321.

estate, which lay three miles or so off to the east. Sam had of course grown up with Will at Nathaniel Francis's, and once or twice they had run off together; I thought that for a while at least, Sam might be able to control him and in the process calm him down. At the Bryant place there were half a dozen people who must be put to death, several recruits to get, and a number of swift, gallant quarter horses that would be invaluable for surprise attacks. Because of the isolation of the estate I told Sam that they could use guns. It should be easy work. We waited in the hushed hot woods for this group to rejoin us before we set out in full strength on the next stage of our attack.

I did not feel at all well; the long siege of vomiting that overcame me at the Reese place had left me sweaty and queasy and weak, with racking recurrent spasms of pain in my stomach. A catbird squawked and chattered close by in the woods. Hush up! Hush up!

my mind cried. It had become fearfully hot-the sun glowering down already through a canopy of haze no longer milky-pure but leaden, oppressive, hostile. Trying to conceal from the rest of the men the tremors that had begun to shake my body, I ate no bacon or peaches but withdrew alone with my map and plans into a clump of trees. I left Nelson and Henry in charge of the troops. A creek ran nearby and as I made brief notations of our progress on the map I heard the men watering the horses with the copper buckets that were part of our plunder. There was an air of excitement and high spirits among the Negroes in the clearing. I could hear their laughter; even though some were drunk, I wished that I might share their swagger and boisterousness, wished I could still the trepidation gnawing at the inside of me, slow the anxious beating of my heart. Finally I offered up a prayer, asking the Lord to strengthen my resolve as he had done with David, and some of the sickness and vertigo went away. When Sam's troops reappeared in the clearing at about half past eight I felt partially revived and I rose and strode out to greet them. Those six had now become ten-several mounted on the Bryants' dashing quarter horses -I could see by the sumptuous new leather boots which Sam wore that their errand had been successful in more ways than one. I had not actively discouraged a certain amount of looting; it was plain that to try and forbid any one of this disinherited and outcast army from grabbing baubles and trophies and plums would be like attempting to prevent a newly uncaged pigeon from seeking the air. At the same time I was determined to enforce limits: we must not not be enc.u.mbered, we must be enc.u.mbered, we must not not be impeded, and when I saw The Confessions of Nat Turner be impeded, and when I saw 322.

that Will had carried off from the Bryant place an enormous gilt-framed wall mirror I knew that it was now or never again-I had to call him down at once.

As I walked toward the group I could tell that Will had made himself both hero and cynosure of the mission. Face and hands streaked with blood as he swung about in the saddle, he wore a blue jacket whose shoulders glittered with the epaulets of an army colonel, and an officer's braided cap rode piratically on his head, bobbing about as he harangued the new field-hand recruits with a triumphant jabber of dis connected words and sounds: "De axes you gotta keep shahp, man!" he crowed.

"Shahp as p.i.s.s-ice, das what! If'n de ax ain' shahp shahp de red juice don' run! Das right! Das how come I got de mirrow, so's I can de red juice don' run! Das right! Das how come I got de mirrow, so's I can see see how how shahp shahp is de ax!" The men and boys around him howled with laughter. They were flecked with dry strings of gore on pants and boots and bare black arms. They leaned forward toward him from their saddles or, dismounting, gazed up at him with flashing white teeth, in thrall to his mad and singsong apostrophe. The Bryant Negroes, three of whom I had never seen before, were joyously, seraphically drunk, flourishing half-gallon jugs of brandy. The mixture of bloodshed and freedom had set them afloat upon a cloud of delirium, their laughter and hysteria seemed to soar up and blow like a gust of wind through the very trees. To them Will, not I, was the black avatar of their deliverance. One of those boys, a light-skinned lad of around eighteen with rotted teeth, had so lost control of himself in laughter that he had wet his pants in a flood. is de ax!" The men and boys around him howled with laughter. They were flecked with dry strings of gore on pants and boots and bare black arms. They leaned forward toward him from their saddles or, dismounting, gazed up at him with flashing white teeth, in thrall to his mad and singsong apostrophe. The Bryant Negroes, three of whom I had never seen before, were joyously, seraphically drunk, flourishing half-gallon jugs of brandy. The mixture of bloodshed and freedom had set them afloat upon a cloud of delirium, their laughter and hysteria seemed to soar up and blow like a gust of wind through the very trees. To them Will, not I, was the black avatar of their deliverance. One of those boys, a light-skinned lad of around eighteen with rotted teeth, had so lost control of himself in laughter that he had wet his pants in a flood.

"I'se runnin' de show now!" Will cried. "I'se de one dat make de ax sing 'Zip c.o.o.n.' Will he de gin'ral now!" He spurred his mount, one of the Arabians, and at the same time checked in his reins and the great foaming stallion like Pegasus leaped skyward with a frenzied scream. "Will he de gin'ral now!" he shouted once more, and as the horse's front legs came down to earth the satanic mirror snared the sun blindingly, threw back a shimmering vista of sky, leaves, earth, and a blur of black and brown faces that whirled in a gla.s.sy void, then vanished. "Whoa "Whoa dere, dere, Roscoe!" Roscoe!" Will bellowed at the horse, stopping him. "I'se runnin' de show, hawse, not you! I boss ob de ruction!" Will bellowed at the horse, stopping him. "I'se runnin' de show, hawse, not you! I boss ob de ruction!"

"No, I'se I'se runnin' the show!" I called then. The Negroes fell silent. runnin' the show!" I called then. The Negroes fell silent.

"We get that straight right now. You ain't runnin' no no show. Now drop that mirror on the ground. White people can see that two miles off. I show. Now drop that mirror on the ground. White people can see that two miles off. I mean mean what I says." what I says."

323.

From the saddle he regarded me with haughtiness and disdain.

Against all will or desire I felt my heart pounding, and I knew that my voice had cracked, revealing fear. In vain I tried to keep the tremor from coursing visibly along the length of my arms. For a long moment Will said nothing, casting down upon me his contemptuous gaze. Then he stuck out his tongue, red as a slice of watermelon, and made a long, slow, circular licking journey around the edges of his pink lips-a gesture of droll and lunatic derision. Some of the men behind me began to giggle, scuffling their feet in pleasure. "I doesn' has has to gib you no mirrow," he said in a mincing, surly voice. "An' I isn't to gib you no mirrow," he said in a mincing, surly voice. "An' I isn't gwine gwine gib you no mirrow. So stick dat in yo' a.s.s, preacher man!" gib you no mirrow. So stick dat in yo' a.s.s, preacher man!"

"Drop that there mirror on the ground!" I commanded him again. I watched him tighten his grip on the haft of his broadax-naked threat-and panic swept over me in an icy wave. I saw my whole mission burnt to ashes in the fire of his madman's insensate eyes. "Drop it!" I said.

"Preacher man," he drawled, rolling his eyes comically at the new men, "preacher man, you jes' better step aside an' let, de ax ax man run de show. 'Cause, preacher man, less'n you can handle de ax you cain't handle de army." And he gave a vicious yank upward on the thick blood-drenched haft of the ax and pulled the mirror tightly, possessively against the saddle. "Preacher man"-and his voice became a snarl-"less'n you kin make de man run de show. 'Cause, preacher man, less'n you can handle de ax you cain't handle de army." And he gave a vicious yank upward on the thick blood-drenched haft of the ax and pulled the mirror tightly, possessively against the saddle. "Preacher man"-and his voice became a snarl-"less'n you kin make de ax ax sing a tune you is sing a tune you is all done." all done."

I do not know what might have happened if at that point Nelson had not intervened, bringing to a halt this confrontation which had so nearly broken me. Perhaps my other close followers would have rallied to my aid and we would then have proceeded onward in much the same fashion as we had planned. Perhaps Will might have cut me down on the spot, then in demented command ridden off with the others to chaos; surely they could not have gotten far without my knowledge of a strategic route, and my mission would have been set down as a "localized disturbance" involving "a few disgruntled darkies" rather than the earthquake it truly became. Whatever, Nelson rescued the situation by donning at the critical moment the mantle of authority which-in Will's eyes, at least-I lacked or never had the right to own. I cannot explain his method, his charm's workings. It might have been Nelson's older age and manner-that methodical, muscular, laconic, self-a.s.sured air of experience he carried, his quality of brawny discretion and worldly wisdom: these were fatherly attributes in a way, and 324.

through some alchemy they had gained Will's loony respect if not his fear. Hardly before I was aware that he had come between us, I heard Nelson's voice and saw him reach up and clutch the bridle of Will's horse. "Slow down dere, sweet," he said sharply.

"Nat he do do run de show! Now slow down, sweet, and drap dat mirrow on de ground!" It was the tone one uses in addressing a likable but headstrong child-a voice not so much enraged as vexed, cross, severe, unmistakably meant to be obeyed. It cut through to Will like a hickory stick-"Drap it!" he again commanded, and the mirror slid from Will's fingers and toppled unbroken to earth. run de show! Now slow down, sweet, and drap dat mirrow on de ground!" It was the tone one uses in addressing a likable but headstrong child-a voice not so much enraged as vexed, cross, severe, unmistakably meant to be obeyed. It cut through to Will like a hickory stick-"Drap it!" he again commanded, and the mirror slid from Will's fingers and toppled unbroken to earth.

"Nat he still still de gin'ral," Nelson rasped, bristling as he glared upward. "You better study 'bout dat, sweet, or me an' you's really gwine hab a de gin'ral," Nelson rasped, bristling as he glared upward. "You better study 'bout dat, sweet, or me an' you's really gwine hab a rookus! rookus! Now you jes' Now you jes' cool off yo' cool off yo' black head!" Then he turned and lumbered back to the cooking fire beneath the trees, leaving Will briefly chastened, sulky-looking, and abashed. black head!" Then he turned and lumbered back to the cooking fire beneath the trees, leaving Will briefly chastened, sulky-looking, and abashed.

Yet although this crisis had been disposed of, I could not rest easy. I was sure that Will's frightening compet.i.tion for power had not been buried by the stand-off but simply deflected, put aside, and his bitter, contemptuous words-thrown at me, a challenge-had made me all the more panicky over the knowledge that I was unable to kill. Of the others of my force, only Nelson had failed to spill blood, and he not through any reluctance but because he had simply lacked the occasion. And as for the rest-Henry and Sam and Austin and Jack, my closest followers: was it only my imagination that caused me to feel in their manner toward me a coolness, to sense in the way they had spoken to me in the last hours a new-found suspicion and mistrust, a withdrawal, as if by failing to perform, even as ritual, that act which each of them them had done I had somehow begun to lose a sure grip upon my rights and the respect due me as a commander? Certainly in days and weeks past I had never pretended that I would shirk this duty. Had I not told them so many times: had done I had somehow begun to lose a sure grip upon my rights and the respect due me as a commander? Certainly in days and weeks past I had never pretended that I would shirk this duty. Had I not told them so many times: To draw the blood of white men is holy in G.o.d's To draw the blood of white men is holy in G.o.d's eyes eyes? Now in my impotence and irresolution I felt beleaguered not only by Will's obscene jibes and threats but by fear that even those closest to me might abandon faith in my leadership if I persisted in this womanish failure to strike down white flesh.

Heat blazed upon the clearing, still another catbird screeched in the humming woods. Dizzily, I stole off to retch dry spasms in the bushes. I felt mortally sick and the aching self beneath my skin pulsed and burned with fever. But at nine o'clock or thereabouts I 325.

returned to the clearing to a.s.semble the company. And in this condition-shivering, ill, nearly torn apart by frights and apprehensions that I never thought G.o.d would permit-I was by providence hurried toward Margaret Whitehead, and our last meeting . . .

To Richard Whitehead on his path toward the hogpen, standing alone beneath the hot morning sun in a patch of green cotton, our approach likely conjured up that of the hosts of Armageddon.

Twenty Negroes and more in a jagged line-all mounted, light glistening from ax and gun and sword-who burst from the distant woods in a cloud of dust which, obscuring us at the same time that it revealed our relentless purpose and design, must have appeared to him borne from the h.e.l.lish bowels of the earth: the sight was surely a reenactment of all the fears and visions of black devils and heathen hordes that had ever imperiled his Methodist sanct.i.ty. Yet he too, like Travis, like all the others lulled by a history which had never known our kind before, was doubtless touched with disbelief at the same time that a portion of his mind grappled with the horror-and who knows but whether this was not the reason that he stood rooted to the ground like a cotton plant, his bland divine's sun-pink face uptilted to the sky in vague bewilderment as we drew closer, perhaps hoping that this demonic apparition or vision or whatever, the result of undigested bad bacon or troubled sleep or August heat or all three, would go away. But the furor! furor! The The noise noise of pounding hooves and clanking steel and the panting lungs of horses and the hoots and harsh whispers of breath, closer now, from those grinning n.i.g.g.e.r faces! Merciful Lord! Such noise was a part of no apparition; besides, it was becoming almost intolerable! He seemed to raise his hands as if to stop up his ears, rattled a little in the legs, made no other motion, stood immobile and perplexed even as the two outriders, Hark and Henry, enveloped him on either side, and slackening pace only long enough to take aim, struck him dead with two swift hatchet chops to the skull. From the house I heard a woman shriek. of pounding hooves and clanking steel and the panting lungs of horses and the hoots and harsh whispers of breath, closer now, from those grinning n.i.g.g.e.r faces! Merciful Lord! Such noise was a part of no apparition; besides, it was becoming almost intolerable! He seemed to raise his hands as if to stop up his ears, rattled a little in the legs, made no other motion, stood immobile and perplexed even as the two outriders, Hark and Henry, enveloped him on either side, and slackening pace only long enough to take aim, struck him dead with two swift hatchet chops to the skull. From the house I heard a woman shriek.

"First Troop!" I cried. "Secure the woods!" I had just seen the new overseer, a man named Pretlow, and his two young white helpers jump from the steaming still and streak for the woods, the boys running, Pretlow astride a crippled barrelbellied mule.

"Git after them!" I cried to Henry and his men. "They won't git far!" I wheeled and shouted to the others: "Second and Third Troops, take the gun room! On to the house!"

Ah G.o.d! At that moment I was overcome again by such The Confessions of Nat Turner At that moment I was overcome again by such 326.

dizziness that I pulled in my horse and got down instantly and stood there in the hot field, leaning with my head against the saddle. I shut my eyes; needlepoints of red light floated through the dark, my lungs were filled with dust. When the horse stirred, I rocked as if in a rowboat. Across the field screams of terror came from the house; one stricken female cry, prolonged and wavering, ceased with shocking suddenness. I heard a voice nearby, Austin's, and looked up to see him riding bareback one of the stallions, with a Bryant Negro seated behind. I gave the other boy my mount and told them both to join the troop chasing Pretlow and his helpers at the edge of the woods. I stumbled, fell to my knees, rose quickly.

"You's sick, Nat, isn't you?" said Austin, peering down.

"Go on," I replied, "go on!" I They galloped off.

On foot now I skirted Richard Whitehead's corpse lying face down between two rows of cotton. I walked unsteadily, following along the old familiar log fence which I myself had helped build, separating field and barnyard. My men in the house, in the stable, and in the barn, were making a barbaric racket. Still more screams erupted from the house: I remembered that Mrs.

Whitehead's summer-visiting daughters were home. I clambered over the fence, nearly falling. As I grabbed for the post, I glimpsed the gross old house n.i.g.g.e.r Hubbard, at gunpoint, being forced into a wagon by Henry and another: captive eunuch, he would not go with us willingly, but tied up in the cart with other pet collected c.o.o.ns, would surely go. "Lawd, sweet Lawd!" he boohooed to the skies as they shoved him up into the wagon, and he sobbed as if his heart would perish. At that moment I rounded the corner of the oxen barn and looked toward the porch of the house. There deserted of all save those two acting out their final tableau-the tar-black man and the woman, bone-white, bone-rigid with fear beyond telling, pressed urgently together against the door in a simulacrum of shattered oneness and heartsick farewell-the porch seemed washed for an instant in light that flowed from the dawn of my own beginning. Then I saw Will draw back as if from a kiss and with a swift sideways motion nearly decapitate Mrs. Whitehead in a single stroke.

And he had seen me. "Dar she is, preacher man, dey's one left!"

he howled. "An' she all your'n! Right by de cellah do'! Go git her, preacher man!" he taunted me in his wild rage. "If'n you cain't make de red red juice run you cain't run de juice run you cain't run de army!" army!"

327.

Soundless, uttering not a word, Margaret Whitehead rose up and scrambled from her hiding place beyond the sheltering wall of the cellar door and fled me-fled me like the wind. Fleet and light she ran, after the fashion of a child, with bare arms stiffly outstretched, brown hair tied with a bow and tossing this way and that above a blue taffeta dress, pressed to her back in a sweaty oblong of deeper blue. I had not caught sight of her face and realized it was she only when, disappearing around the corner of the house, the silk ribbon which I had seen before fell from her hair and rippled briefly on the air before fluttering to earth.

"Dar! She gone!" Will roared, gesturing with his broadax to the other Negroes, who had begun to straggle across the yard.

"Does you want her, preacher man, or she fo' me?"

Ah, how I want her, I thought, and unsheathed my sword. She had run into the hayfield, and when I too rounded the corner of the house I thought she had slipped away, for there was no one in sight. But she had merely fallen down in the waist-high gra.s.s and as I stood there she rose again-a small and slender figure in the distance-and resumed her flight toward a crooked far-off fence. I ran headlong into the field. The air was alive with gra.s.shoppers: they skimmed and flickered across my path, brushed my skin with brittle momentary sting. I felt the sweat streaming into my eyes. The sword in my right hand hung like the weight of all the earth. Yet I gained on Margaret quickly, for she had tired fast, and I reached her just as she was trying to clamber over the rotted pole fence. She made no sound, uttered no word, did not turn to plead or contend or resist or even wonder. Nor did I speak -our last encounter may have been the quietest that ever was. Beneath her foot one of the poles gave way in crunching powdery collapse and she tripped forward, bare arms still outthrust as if to welcome someone beloved and long-unseen. As she stumbled thus, then recovered, I heard for the first time her hurtful, ragged breathing, and it was with this sound in my ears that I plunged the sword into her side, just below and behind her breast. She screamed then at last. I thought, and unsheathed my sword. She had run into the hayfield, and when I too rounded the corner of the house I thought she had slipped away, for there was no one in sight. But she had merely fallen down in the waist-high gra.s.s and as I stood there she rose again-a small and slender figure in the distance-and resumed her flight toward a crooked far-off fence. I ran headlong into the field. The air was alive with gra.s.shoppers: they skimmed and flickered across my path, brushed my skin with brittle momentary sting. I felt the sweat streaming into my eyes. The sword in my right hand hung like the weight of all the earth. Yet I gained on Margaret quickly, for she had tired fast, and I reached her just as she was trying to clamber over the rotted pole fence. She made no sound, uttered no word, did not turn to plead or contend or resist or even wonder. Nor did I speak -our last encounter may have been the quietest that ever was. Beneath her foot one of the poles gave way in crunching powdery collapse and she tripped forward, bare arms still outthrust as if to welcome someone beloved and long-unseen. As she stumbled thus, then recovered, I heard for the first time her hurtful, ragged breathing, and it was with this sound in my ears that I plunged the sword into her side, just below and behind her breast. She screamed then at last.

Litheness, grace, the body's nimble felicity-all fled her like ghosts. She crumpled to earth, limp, a rag, and as she fell I stabbed her again in the same place, or near it, where pulsing blood already encrimsoned the taffeta's blue. There was no scream this time although the echo of the first sang in my ears like a far angelic cry; when I turned aside from her fallen body I 328.

was troubled by a steady soughing noise like the rise and fall of a summer tempest in a grove of pines and realized that it was the clamor of my own breathing as it welled up in sobs from my chest.

I lurched away from her through the field, calling out to myself like one bereft of mind. Yet hardly had I taken a dozen steps when I heard her voice, weak, frail, almost without breath, not so much voice as memory-faint as if from some distant and half-forgotten lawn of childhood: Oh Nat I hurt so. Please kill me Nat I hurt so.

I stopped and looked back. "Die, G.o.d d.a.m.n your white soul," I wept. "Die!"

Oh Nat please kill me I hurt so.

"Die! Die! Die! Die!"

The sword fell from my hand. I returned to her side and looked down. Her head was cradled against the inside of her arm, as if she had composed herself for sleep, and all the chestnut streaming luxuriance of her hair had fallen in a tangle amid the hayfield's parched and fading green. Gra.s.shoppers st.i.tched and stirred in restless fidget among the weeds, darting about her face.

"I hurt so," I heard her whisper.

"Shut your eyes," I said. I reached down to search with my fingers for a firm length of fence rail and I could sense once more her close girl-smell and the fragrance of lavender, bitter in my nostrils, and sweet. "Shut your eyes," I told her quickly. Then when I raised the rail above her head she gazed at me,as if past the imponderable vista of her anguish, with a grave and drowsy tenderness such as I had never known, spoke some words too soft to hear and, saying no more, closed her eyes upon all madness, illusion, error, dream, and strife. So I brought the timber down and she was swiftly gone, and I hurled the hateful, shattered club far up into the weeds.

For how long I aimlessly circled her body-prowled around the corners of the field in haphazard quest for nothing, like some roaming dog-how long this went on I do not recollect. The sun rose higher, boiling; my own flesh was incandescent, and when at the farm I heard the men call for me their voices were untold distances away. By the edge of the woods I found myself seated 329.

on a log, head in my hands, unaccountably thinking of ancient moments of childhood-warm rain, leaves, a whippoorwill, rushing mill wheels, jew'sharp strumming-centuries before.

Then I arose again and resumed my meaningless and ordained circuit of her body, not near it yet ever within sight as if that crumpled blue were the center of an orbit around whose path I must make a ceaseless pilgrimage. And once in my strange journey I thought I heard again her whispery voice, thought I saw her rise from the blazing field with arms outstretched as if to a legion of invisible onlookers, her brown hair and innocent school gown teased by the wind as she cried: "Oh, I would fain swoon into an eternity of love!" But then she vanished before my eyes-melted instantly like an image carved of air and light-and I turned away at last and went back to join my men.

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The Confessions of Nat Turner Part 18 summary

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