“Ki! you niggah! dat ar hog got mo’ co’age dan you. He know he hab nuffin mo’ ter do wid de spooks dan you hab. De run ain’ far, and when I gits ober dat de spooks on de side dis way cyant cross arter me;” and he hastened toward the spot where he supposed the Federals had been massed the most heavily, crossing an open field and splashing through a shallow place in the river, that their ghost-ships might be reminded of running water.
On the further slope were the same sad evidences of poor mortality, graves here and there and often all too shallow, broken muskets, bullet perforated canteens and torn knapsacks—the debris of a pitched battle. Many trees and shrubs were so lacerated that their foliage hung limp and wilting, while boughs with shrivelled leaves strewed the ground. Nature’s wounds indicated that men had fought here and been mutilated as ruthlessly.
For a time nothing of value rewarded Jeff’s search, and he began to succumb to the grewsome associations of the place. At last he resolved to examine one more thicket that bordered an old rail-fence, and then make a long detour rather than go back by the graveyard road over which he had come. Pushing the bushes aside, he peered among their shadows for some moments, and then uttered an exclamation of surprise and terror as he bounded backward. There was no mistake this time; he had seen the figure of a man with a ray of moonlight filtering through the leaves on a ghastly bullet-hole in his temple. He sat with his back against the fence, and had not moved after receiving the shock. At his feet, dropped evidently from his nerveless hand, lay a metal box. All had flashed almost instantaneously on Jeff’s vision.
For some moments he was in doubt whether to take to his heels homeward or reconnoitre again. The soldier sat in such a lifelike attitude that while Jeff knew the man must be dead, taking the box seemed like robbing the living. Yes, worse than that, for, to the superstitious negro, the dead soldier appeared to be watching his treasure.
Jeff’s cupidity slowly mastered his fears. Cautiously approaching the figure, he again pushed aside the screening boughs, and with chattering teeth and trembling limbs, looked upon the silent guardian of the treasure, half expecting the dead man to raise his head, and warn him off with a threatening gesture. Since the figure remained motionless, Jeff made a headlong plunge, clutched the box, then ran half a mile without thinking to look back.
Not for his life would he cross the battlefield again; so it was late when by wide circuit he approached the dwelling of his mistress. His panic had gradually subsided, and as he noted familiar objects, he felt that he was beyond the proper range of the unjust spirits of the dead.