Thus encouraged and supported, Sandy stumbled on through the dark, up a hillside that seemed never to end, across a bridge, then into a tiny log cabin, where he dropped exhausted.
Off and on during the night he knew that there was a fire in the room, and that strange things were happening to him. But it was all so queer and unnatural that he did not know where the dreams left off and the real began. He was vaguely conscious of his left foot being tied to the right bedpost, of a lock of his hair being cut off and burned on the hearth, and of a low monotonous chant that seemed to rise and fall with the flicker of the flames. And when he cried out with the pain in his sleep, a kindly black face bent over him, and the chant changed into a soothing murmur:
“Nebber you min’, sonny; Aunt Melvy gwine git dem cunjers out. She gwine stay by you. You hol’ on to her han’, an’ go to sleep; she’ll git dem old cunjers out.”
Clayton was an easy-going, prosperous old town which, in the enthusiasm of youth, had started to climb the long hill to the north, but growing indolent with age, had decided instead to go around.
Main street, broad and shady under an unbroken arch of maple boughs, was flanked on each side by “Back street,” the generic term applied to all the parallel streets. The short cross-streets were designated by the most direct method: “the street by the Baptist church,” “the street by Dr. Fenton’s,” “the street going out to Judge Hollis’s,” or “the street where Mr. Moseley used to live.” In the heart of the town was the square, with the gray, weather-beaten court-house, the new and formidable jail, the post-office and church.
For twenty years Dr. Fenton’s old high-seated buggy had jogged over the same daily course. It started at nine o’clock and passed with never-varying regularity up one street and down another. When any one was ill a sentinel was placed at the gate to hail the doctor, who was as sure to pass as the passenger-train. It was a familiar joke in Clayton that the buggy had a regular track, and that the wheels always ran in the same rut. Once, when Carter Nelson had taken too much egg-nog and his aunt thought he had spinal meningitis, the usual route had been reversed, and again when the blacksmith’s triplets were born. But these were especial occasions. It was a matter for investigation when the doctor’s buggy went over the bridge before noon.
“Anybody sick out this way?” asked the miller.
The doctor stopped the buggy to explain.
He was a short, fat man dressed in a suit of Confederate gray. The hand that held the reins was minus two fingers, his willing contribution to the Lost Cause, which was still to him the great catastrophe of all history. His whole personality was a bristling arsenal of prejudices. When he spoke it was in quick, short volleys, in a voice that seemed to come from the depths of a megaphone.