North and South
The North and South Trilogy (Book One)
By John Jakes
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA Copyright © 1982 John Jakes
All rights reserved.
"Like some help loading that aboard, young sir?"
The stevedore smiled but there was no friendliness in his eyes, only avarice inspired by the sight of an obvious stranger.
A few moments ago the driver of the Astor House passenger omnibus had thrown the travel-battered trunk down at the head of the pier. Orry had picked it up by the one rope handle still unbroken and had dragged it scarcely three feet before the stevedore stepped between him and the gangway.
It was a brilliant, windless morning in June 1842. Orry was already nervous about the day ahead. The stevedore's fixed smile and hard stare only worsened that state, as did the sight of the stevedore's two associates lounging nearby.
Nerves and cowardice were two different things, though; Orry had no intention of letting the former lead to the latter. He had been warned that New York teemed with all sorts of swindlers, and now it appeared he had finally met one. He took off his tall, stylish beaver hat and mopped his forehead with a linen handkerchief from an inside pocket.
Orry Main was sixteen and stood almost six feet two inches. His slimness accentuated his height and lent him a certain grace when he moved. He had a long, plain face with the good color of someone who spent a lot of time in the sunshine. His nose was narrow and aristocratic, his wavy hair brown. His eyes, brown too, were rather deeply set. Fatigue circles tended to appear under them whenever he slept poorly, as he had last night. The rings of shadow gave his face a melancholy cast. But he was not melancholy by disposition. His smile, which appeared frequently, proved that. He was, however, a deliberate sort. He tended to pause and think before taking any important step.
Impatient, the stevedore put a foot on the trunk. "Lad I asked—"
"I heard you, sir. I can handle the trunk myself."
"Listen to that," one of the other stevedores jeered. "Where you from, country boy?" It was Orry's accent that gave him away; his clothes were far from countrified.
His heart was beating fast now. The three were mature men, muscular and rough. But he refused to be backed down. He reached for the rope handle. The first stevedore grabbed his wrist.
"No you don't. Either we put it on the steamer or you travel up to West Point without it."
Orry was stunned by the threat and equally stunned by the ease with which he and his destination had been identified. He needed time to think, time to put himself in a better position to deal with these louts. He shook his wrist to signal that he wanted the stevedore to release him. After a deliberate delay the man did. Orry straightened and used both hands to put his hat back on his head.
Three female passengers, two pretty girls and an older woman, hurried by. They certainly couldn't help him. Then a small man in a uniform stepped off the gangway, an official of the line, Orry suspected. A sharp wave from one of the stevedores and the official came no farther.
"How much to load it?" Orry asked. Somewhere behind him wagon wheels squealed and hooves rang on the cobbles. He heard merry voices, laughter. Other passengers arriving.
"That's about eight times more than it should be."
The stevedore grinned. "Could be, sojerboy. But that's the price."
"You don't like it," the second stevedore said, "go complain to the mayor. Go complain to Brother Jonathan." All three laughed. Brother Jonathan was the popular symbol for the nation. A rustic, a Yankee.
Orry was perspiring from tension as well as from the heat. He bent at the waist, again reaching for the trunk. "I refuse to pay you a—"
The first stevedore pushed him. "Then the trunk stays here."
A grave look concealed Orry's fear. "Sir, don't put hands on me again." The words provoked the stevedore to do exactly that. He tried to give Orry a clumsy shake. Orry had planned his point of attack and rammed his right fist into the stevedore's stomach.
The official cried, "Stop that," and started forward. Another stevedore flung him back so hard he nearly pitched off the pier into the water.
The first stevedore grabbed Orry's ears and twisted. Then he kneed Orry's groin. Orry reeled away, falling against someone who had come up behind him, someone who darted around him and charged the three stevedores, fists swinging.
A young man not much older than himself, Orry saw as he lunged back to the fray. A shorter, very stocky chap who punched with great ferocity. Orry jumped in, bloodied a nose, and got his cheek raked by fingernails. Frontier-style fighting had reached the New York docks, it seemed.
The first stevedore tried to jab a thumb in Orry's eye. Before he hit his target, a long gold-knobbed cane came slashing in from the right. The knob whacked the stevedore's forehead. He yelled and staggered.
"Blackguards," a man bellowed. "Where are the authorities?"
"William, don't excite yourself," a woman exclaimed.
The stocky young man jumped on Orry's trunk, poised and ready to continue the fight. Now the official by the gangway was joined by two crewmen from the steamer. The stevedores backed off, calculated the rapidly changing odds, and after some oaths that brought gasps from the two ladies who had just arrived, hurried off the pier and disappeared on the street beyond.
Orry drew a deep breath. The other young man jumped down from the trunk. His fine clothes were hardly ruffled.
"I thank you very much for your assistance sir." Orry's politeness helped hide his nervousness in the presence of Yankees—and patently prosperous ones, at that.
The stocky young man grinned. "We almost had 'em whipped."
Orry smiled too; The newcomer stood just about to his shoulder. Although there was no fat on him, he gave the impression of being very wide of body. His face was shaped like a wide U. He'd lost his hat, and his brown hair, lighter than Orry's, showed several blond streaks bleached by the sun. The young man's pale, ice-colored eyes were saved from severity by a good-humored sparkle. His smile helped, too, although anyone who disliked him no doubt would have called it cocky.
"So we did," Orry replied, perpetuating the lie.
"Nonsense," said a stout, pasty man three or four years older than Orry's benefactor. "Both of you could have been injured or killed."
The stocky lad spoke to Orry. "My brother never does anything more dangerous than trimming his nails."
The woman who had cried out, stout and fortyish, said, "George, don't be saucy to Stanley. He's right. You're far too reckless."
It was a family, then. Orry touched his hat brim. "Whether we won or lost, all of you helped me out of a tight spot. My thanks again."
"I'll give you a hand with that trunk," George said. "You are taking this boat, aren't you?"
"Yes, to the Military Academy."
"Just get your appointment this year?"
Orry nodded. "Two months ago."
"Fancy that," George said, grinning again. "So did I."
He let go of the broken rope handle. Orry's quick jump saved his feet from being crushed by the trunk.
The other young man held out his hand. "Name's George Hazard. I'm from Pennsylvania. A little town you've never heard of—Lehigh Station."
"Orry Main. From Saint George's Parish, South Carolina."
They looked at each other as their hands clasped. Orry had a feeling this pugnacious little Yankee was going to be a friend.
A few steps away George's father was berating the official who had stood by while a fight developed. The official loudly disavowed responsibility for the public pier. The elder Hazard exclaimed, "I've got your name. There'll be an investigation, I promise you that."
Scowling, he returned to his family. His wife soothed him with some murmured words and a pat or two. Then George cleared his throat and, with a mannerly air, made the proper introductions.
William Hazard was a stern, impressive man with a lined face. He looked ten years older than his wife, though in fact he was not. In addition to the parents and their two older sons, there was a sister, Virgilia—oldest of the children, Orry surmised—and a boy of six or seven. His mother called him William; George referred to him as Billy. The boy kept fiddling with his high collar, which brushed the lobes of his ears; all the men, including Orry, wore similar collars. Billy gazed at his brother George with unmistakable admiration.
"Since Stanley's the oldest male, he's going to take over the ironworks," George explained as he and Orry carried the trunk onto the steamer. "There's never been a question of his doing anything else."
"Iron, you said?"
"Yes. Our family's been making it for six generations. The company used to be called Hazard Furnace, but my father changed the name to Hazard Iron."
"My older brother would be fascinated. Anything scientific or mechanical interests him."
"Are you the second son also?" George's father asked, coming aboard with the rest of the family.
"Yes, sir. My brother Cooper refused an Academy appointment, so I took it instead." He said nothing more. There was no point in airing family quarrels; no point in telling strangers how Cooper, whom Orry admired, continually disappointed and angered their father with his independent ways.
"Then you're the fortunate one," Hazard Senior declared, leaning on his gold-knobbed stick. "Some say the Academy is a haven for aristocrats, but that's a canard. The true nature of the Academy is this: it's the source of the best scientific education available in America." He punctuated each sentence with a kind of verbal period; the man spoke in pronouncements, Orry thought.
The sister stepped forward. She was an unsmiling girl of about twenty. Her squarish face was marred by a few pox marks. Her figure was generous, almost too buxom for her puff-shouldered, narrow-waisted dress of embroidered cambric. Gloves and a flower-trimmed poke completed her costume. Miss Virgilia Hazard said, "Would you be kind enough to repeat your first name, Mr. Main?"
He could certainly understand why she wasn't married. "Orry," he said, and spelled it. He explained that his forebears were early settlers of South Carolina and that he was the third member of his family to be called Orry; it was a corruption of Horry, a common Huguenot name pronounced as if the H did not exist.
Virgilia's dark eyes challenged him. "Might I ask the nature of your family's business?" Instantly he felt defensive; he knew what she was after.
"They own a rice plantation, ma'am. Rather large and considered prosperous." He realized his description was gratuitous and braggy; he was indeed on the defensive.
"Then I presume you also own slaves?"
No trace of a smile on his face now. "Yes, ma'am, more than a hundred and fifty. You can't grow rice without them."
"As long as the South perpetuates Negro slavery, Mr. Main, the region will remain backward."
The mother touched her daughter's arm. "Virgilia, this is neither the time nor the place for such a discussion. Your remark was impolite and un-Christian. You hardly know this young man."
The sister blinked; it appeared to be the only apology Orry would get.
"Visitors ashore. Visitors ashore, please!" A bell rang stridently. George bustled around, hugging Billy, his mother, his father. He shook stuffy Stanley's hand and merely said good-bye to Virgilia.
Soon the steamer was backing from its berth. The family waved from the pier. They dropped out of sight as the boat headed upstream. The two travelers stared at each other, realizing they were on their own.
George Hazard, seventeen, felt obliged to apologize to the young man from the South. George didn't understand his older sister, though he suspected she was mad at the world because she hadn't been born a man, with a man's rights and opportunities. Her anger made her a misfit socially; she was too brusque to catch a beau.
The young Pennsylvanian didn't understand his sister's opinions, either. He had never thought much about slavery one way or another. It existed, although many said it should not. He was not about to damn this chap because of it.
The paddles churned the sunlit water. New York's piers and buildings disappeared astern. George glanced sidewise at Orry, who in one way reminded him of Stanley. Think carefully first, and don't act until you do. There was, however, a significant difference. Orry had a natural, genuine smile. Stanley's smile was priggish and obviously forced.
George cleared his throat. "My sister was rude to say what she did."
The moment he spoke he saw Orry's shoulders stiffen. But the tone of the statement put the Southerner at ease. Orry asked, "Is she an abolitionist?"
"I don't think so. Not an active one, anyway, although I guess she could be. Hope you don't take her remarks too personally. I expect Virgilia would sass anyone from your part of the country. You're probably the first Southron she's ever run into. We don't see many in Pennsylvania, and I can't say I've ever met one myself."
"You'll meet plenty at the Academy."
"Good. I'm anxious to know what they're really like. I have this picture, you see—"
"What kind of picture?"
"Southerners are people who eat pork and collards, fight with knives, and abuse their niggers."
In spite of the way the description offended him, Orry managed to see the attempt at humor in it. "Each of those things is true about some Southerners, but it's by no means true of all. That's where misunderstandings arise, I reckon." He pondered a moment. "I have a picture of a Yankee, too."
George grinned. "I thought you might. What is it?"
"A Yankee's always ready to invent some new thingamajig or to outwit his neighbor in court. He's a pert sort who wants to sell you jackknives or tinware, but what he likes best is skinning you."
The other burst out laughing. "I've met a couple of Yankees like that."
"My father says Yankees are trying to run the country now."
George couldn't let that pass. "The way Virginia ran it for so many years?"
Orry gripped the varnished rail. "Look here—"
"No, look there." George decided that if they were to be friends the subject should be changed posthaste. He pointed to the stern, where the two young female passengers were giggling under their parasols. The older woman with them had fallen asleep on a bench.
George had made love to two girls back home, thus felt worldly. "Shall we go talk to 'em?"
Orry turned pink and shook his head. "You go if you want. I'm not much for gallanting the belles."
"Don't like to?"
A sheepish admission: "Don't know how."
"Well, you'd better learn or you'll miss half the fun in life." George relaxed against the rail. "Guess I won't talk to them either. I couldn't conduct much of a romance between here and West Point."
He fell silent, giving in at last to the anxiety that had been growing in him ever since he left home. His family would be staying on in the city, his father to transact some business, the others to enjoy the restaurants, museums, and theaters—while he traveled toward an uncertain future. A lonely one, too. Even if he survived the rigorous disciplines of the Academy, it would be two years before he saw Lehigh Station again. Cadets were granted just one leave, between their second and third years.
Of course he had to overcome a lot of obstacles before he became eligible for that little holiday. The academic work was reportedly hard, the deviling of plebes by upperclassmen harder still. The institution was frequently criticized for permitting hazing. The criticism usually came from Democrats who hated the whole concept of the place, as Old Hickory had.
As the steamer moved against the current, the palisades rose on either hand, green with summer leaves. There was no sign of human habitation on the bluffs. The vessel was carrying them into a wilderness. For that reason George welcomed the company of someone else fated to suffer the same uncertainties and, unless he guessed wrong, the same fears of what lay ahead.
THE STEAMER PROCEEDED NORTH into the Hudson Highlands. About one in the afternoon it rounded the point that gave the institution its more common name. Orry strained for a glimpse of the cadet monument to the great engineer, Kosciusko, on the bluff above, but foliage hid it.
As the boat maneuvered into the North Dock, the two young men had a breathtaking view of the Hudson gorge stretching north. Ancient glaciers had carved terraced mountainsides and created the peaks with which Orry had familiarized himself through reading. He pointed them out. Mount Taurus behind them on the east shore, Crow-Nest on the west, and, farther upriver, the Shawangunk range.
"Back there where we passed Constitution Island the Americans strung a chain and boom to hamper navigation during the Revolution. Fort Clinton stood up there on the point. It was named for the British general. The ruins of Fort Putnam are over that way."
"Interested in history, are you?" George asked pointedly.
"Yes. Some of the Mains fought in the Revolution. One rode with Marion, the Swamp Fox."
"Well, I suppose some Hazards fought, too. In Pennsylvania we don't keep very close track of those things." Testiness brought on by the heat and by their isolation had crept into George's voice. He recognized that and tried to joke. "But now I understand why you haven't time for girls. You're always reading." (Continues...)
Excerpted from North and South by John Jakes. Copyright © 1982 John Jakes. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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