|Beautiful Belmont, Part 50 -- Loss.|
by John Salisbury Cochran.
See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 49 -- Off to St. Clairsville.
Our Dog, Bolivar
The death of our old "war dog" Bolivar was an occasion of great sadness in our family, especially with the younger children. I think there could not have been more genuine sorrow and weeping among the little ones at the loss of one of the family, so completely had he become a part of it. He was the finest specimen of shepherd I have ever seen, and I have never known his equal for quick perception, good judgment, and discriminating executive ability. I have often thought he should have been provided with the power of speech, for he had such surprisingly good sense. He apparently took as deep interest in whatever was being done on the farm as any of us, and was always ready when needed. He had no use for other dogs, always preferring the company of human beings, and appeared greatly lost when this was denied him.
I have seen our mother step up to him and say, "Now, Bolivar, I am ready for the cows, I want them brought in." Without another word from her, he would immediately start for the fields of our large farm, and it would make no difference whether the herd was in sight or out of it, he would ultimately return without the absence of a single cow. The same result would follow when he was directed to bring the horses. Not a horse would be missing. The sheep were his special duty, of course, and this job he performed particularly well. Apart from being a skilled shepherd, he was also a reliable guardian of our livestock; any strange dog that invaded the sacred domain of that farm received a sound trouncing from Bolivar.
Bolivar had been captured by our brother Wilson at Bolivar Heights, Virginia, when his division was on the march past that place early in the Civil War; hence his name. Wilson had stepped from his ranks to ask for a drink of water at a fine-looking dwelling near the road. He was curtly informed by the owner they had no water. While looking in disbelief at the owner, a mother shepherd dog with a number of fine half-grown puppies came trotting around the house. Wilson was always a great fellow for a dog and claimed to be a good judge of them. He blandly remarked to the owner, "Well, sir, if I cannot get any water I will need some meat for supper, and so goodday!" As he said this he caught up one of the puppies, and walking off, took his place in the ranks with the dog under his arm, amid the laughter of his comrades and to the wonderment of the owner, who from that time on was no doubt fully impressed that the "Yankees" really ate dogs.
Bolivar grew to be a favorite pet of the regiment and was known by the whole division. They would have fought for him at any time. He went through the war, was in a number of battles, and was slightly wounded more than once. He apparently took as much interest in soldiering as his companions, always being found with his regiment.
On the evening of its muster out at Columbus, Ohio, and just before disbanding and starting for home, Wilson noticed Bolivar was missing. He knew immediately that Bolivar had been stolen, for the dog was never voluntarily absent. Wilson looked through the tents of his own regiment and found that the dog was not there. He raised an alarm, and immediately the whole regiment was aroused and ready for action. There were a number of other regiments camped nearby from other sections of the army awaiting their turn to be mustered out. Our brother's regiment made a rush for these regiments to hunt for and recapture their dog.
Wilson walked through the camps calling for Bolivar, who finally responded with a whine from inside one of the tents. On going to that tent Wilson found a soldier inside on his knees astride the dog, his back toward the door of the tent, his hands clasped tightly around the mouth of the dog to pevent him from signaling his captivity. Our brother took in the situation at a glance. He was a very active, powerful man, now roused to anger by the theft. He threw all his force and energy into the action and with a run and jump, planted his brawny fist with all his force on the back of the thief's head, sending him sprawling on the other side of the tent. Not satisfied with this, he kicked him in the face in a most merciless manner, and then with the dog rejoined his comrades outside. The affair very nearly ended in a pitched battle, as our brother's regiment started heckling the other regiment, but a line of bayonets soon separated the combatants. Just as the regiment was disbanding, going to their respective homes, possibly never to meet again, they gave Bolivar three rousing cheers as our brother started with him to the train. Bolivar finally lost his life at a ripe old age after swallowing some meat loaded with strychnine, placed to destroy rats.
Paths of Romance
During this time, the most pleasant hours Minerva and I spent together were my short visits home over the three years of my law studies. These were sometimes once, though more often twice a month. When I look back and reflect on the most perfect confidence we had in each other, the cordial, confiding affection between us, the joyful gladness with which we always met on my visits home, and then again remember the tender, sad expressions of the eyes and the fond, warm pressures of the hands when parting to be separated for only a month or less, I wonder how it could be that so short a period could possibly bring such sad, changed conditions to our relationship as later developed.
In all their long associations together from childhood there had never been an unkind word or thought between us. Our lives and love had run on like a summer of sunshine among the roses. No storm had ever broken over our devotion to each other -- it was something we had never thought of. We only thought of each other, and with complete and absolute confidence and affection. The many romantic spots near our homes by the beautiful Ohio River lent a charm to our courtship.
Minerva and I were always cordially welcomed at the home of her sister. This was so in an intellectual as well as a social sense. In fact, it may be truthfully said the neighborhood of Colerain, ever since its early settlement by the Friends, had been classed as a one of refined thought and education. My visits with Minerva to her sister' home in this community were always pleasant and enjoyable. A Saturday afternoon stroll from St. Clairsville to this place, and the evening and following Sunday spent with Minerva, was always a pleasure looked forward to with great anticipation and a great relief from the dry, monotonous studies of the law.
No one but those who have had the experience can imagine what satisfaction it is to someone raised on a farm and who has become a student to have a day's relief in a stroll over the countryside. One's heart fairly leaps with joy as the soul takes in the surrounding beauties of nature; like the sturdy highland chief, a boy like me feels he is again in his element. Few of those who have been raised on a farm and subsequently adopted business, professional, or other callings, lose their tender feelings for their boyhood home, and do not cherish the dream of one day again owning and living on a farm. Such a life has a tinge of that same broad freedom about it that probably binds the heart of the Scotsman to the wild crags of his native highlands. Sadly, many who dream these dreams are doomed to disappointment, destined to die with the panorama of a farm as the last picture in their fading vision, a dream unrealized.
The Fates of Aunt Tilda and Mose
Some two years of my law studies had passed when I one day received a letter from Minerva telling me of the serious illness of Aunt Tilda, whom she had visited a few days before. The next day I received a letter containing a request from Aunt Tilda for me to come home, as she felt she would live only a few days more. Aunt Tilda had become a great favorite in the family and, indeed, in the whole neighborhood. From the day I, as a mere child, had sidled up to her daughter at the Wheeling auction block and taken hold of her hand, telling her not to cry, Aunt Tilda's affection for me had apparently become deeper.
Aunt Tilda loved to talk about Mose, a pleasure in which Minerva and I, and in fact all of us, always indulged her, and she never for a moment would entertain the idea that she would never again see him before she died. We had frequently told her Mose would come back when the war was over, but two years had already gone by and I felt that, in some of our more recent talks, her words gave evidence of despair. Indeed, deep lines of sadness were apparent on her otherwise cheerful, bright face.
When I saw her on my arrival home, I was astonished at the great change that had taken place in the course of only a month. Before I went to her bedside, others informed me that the doctor had indicated she had only a very few days to live. When I clasped her hand and looked into her kind old face, I knew she was dying of a broken heart. She told me she was glad to see me, and then turned her thoughts quickly to thoughts of Mose and how she wished that she could see him before she died. She was certain it would happen, as God had assured her in a vision that Mose would come. She then told me to eat and rest, and to come see her the next day and to bring Minerva with me.
Lucinda, who had been informed of her mother's sickness and had come to her, assisted me in giving her some medicine, and she slipped into a gentle sleep. The medicine was only given to bring comfort to her in her remaining few days, as death was inevitable. She passed the night comfortably, although once or twice in her fitful dreaming under the influence of the soothing opiates, she softly whispered the name of Mose. When I saw her in the morning she was somewhat refreshed, though it was plain that her strength was rapidly declining. On the third day after my arrival Minerva came, and as we approached her bedside with my arm drawn through Minerva's. Aunt Tilda took a hand of each, and clasping them together between her own, she blessed us and told us she loved us. We had her propped up in her favorite sitting position with her face toward the door leading from the hall.
Aunt Tilda talked long and animatedly, her favorite topic being of her youth, and the short, happy years of her earlier married life on the shores of the beautiful Potomac River in Virgina, before her husband had been taken from her. She told us she had had a vision in which she was reunited with him in Heaven. She then sang to us in a feeble voice -- Minerva, Lucinda, and me -- two verses from a favorite hymn, after which, closing her eyes, remained long in silent prayer, her lips moving perceptibly.
The stillness was very compelling, and I would have given much to have known the sweet words of communion passing between her soul and her God at that moment. Before her eyes opened she repeated slowly and quite audibly, "Yes, Mose is comin! Mose is comin!" I thought her mind wandering possibly in partial delirium, but in a moment she opened them wide, stretched her hands towards the door, and as though gathering all her weakened energies for the occasion, exclaimed in a full voice, such as she had not been able to use for weeks, that she could see him there in the doorway, just as she knew she would. To our amazement, Aunt Tilda then fell forward into the arms of her son. Mose had indeed come.
The scene was very startling and never to be forgotten. With her arms around the neck of her long lost son, her head and face pillowed against his cheek, and his strong arms clasping her body, the giant form of Mose shook with emotion as the strong timbers of a vessel in a mighty storm. Not desiring to disturb the joy of that sacred, last meeting between a dying mother and her son, we let them remain clasped in each other's arms until the stillness became painful. With the assistance of Mose we tenderly laid her back upon the bed, and bending over her in the most sincere affection, he said, "Now, mother, rest awhile and then we will talk together."
Aunt Tilda's soul, however, had taken flight as she lay upon the shoulder of her long expected and only son. When Mose found she was indeed dead, his grief knew no bounds. He bent over her body, pressed her lips long and fervently with his own, breaking into a flood of tears, something he had never done before, while his anguish seemed to tear at his very soul. He arose sad and heartbroken, remarking as he kissed the lips of his sister, "You are all that is left me now!" At the burial of Aunt Tilda many a friend stood around her grave. We buried her on Saturday, and the Sunday following was one of the most sacred and tender I ever spent with Minerva. We visited Aunt Tilda's grave together and, seated near it, talked of her many kindnesses and deep devotion to us.
Mose, after raising two crops for Mr. Copeland and getting him well started under the new contract system, reluctantly said his farewell, indicating that he wanted to find his mother and sister in Ohio. He traveled to Martins Ferry and was directed to our home, where, before entering the room, he had been made aware of her critical condition. In accordance with Aunt Tilda's repeated requests prior to her death, which we communicated to Mose ourselves, he never again returned to the slave states.
One beautiful autumn afternoon years later, at the turn of the century, as I was standing on a street corner in the city of Martins Ferry, I observed an unpretentious funeral procession slowly wending its way up the street toward me. I asked who had died, and was told that it was Mose Taylor. I took off my hat and stood with bowed head and meditative silence as they passed by to lay him beside Aunt Tilda, who had been peacefully resting for forty years. Those who observed me did not understand why I stood so reverently while the body of this poor victim of a brutal slave system, now many years behind us, was being carried to his last resting place. They had no conception of what scenes, both pleasant and sorrowful, were passing through my memory. Some looked strangely at me and passed on. Aunt Tilda and Mose were finally reunited forever.
See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 51 -- Separation.
For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.
This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.
CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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