April 19th, 1862.
Another date in Hal’s short history! I see myself walking home with Mr. McG—— just after sundown, meeting Miriam and Dr. Woods at the gate; only that was a Friday instead of a Saturday, as this. From the other side, Mr. Sparks comes up and joins us. We stand talking in the bright moonlight which makes Miriam look white and statue-like. I am holding roses in my hand, in return for which one little pansy has been begged from my garden, and is now figuring as a shirt-stud. I turn to speak to that man of whom I said to Dr. Woods, before I even knew his name, “Who is this man who passes here so constantly? I feel that I shall hate him to my dying day.” He told me his name was Sparks, a good, harmless fellow, etc. And afterwards, when I did know him, [Dr. Woods] would ask every time we met, “Well! do you hate Sparks yet?” I could not really hate any one in my heart, so I always answered, “He is a good-natured fool, but I will hate him yet.” But even now I cannot: my only feeling is intense pity for the man who has dealt us so severe a blow; who made my dear father bow his gray head, and shed such bitter tears.
The moon is rising still higher now, and people are hurrying to the grand Meeting, where the state of the country is to be discussed, and the three young men bow and hurry off, too. Later, at eleven o’clock, Miriam and I are up at Lydia’s waiting (until the boat comes) with Miss Comstock who is going away. As usual, I am teasing and romping by turns. Harry suddenly stands in the parlor door, looking very grave, and very quiet. He is holding father’s stick in his hand, and says he has come to take us over home. I was laughing still, so I said, “Wait,” while I prepared for some last piece of folly, but he smiled for the first time, and throwing his arm around me, said, “Come home, you rogue!” and laughing still, I followed him.
He left us in the hall, saying he must go to Charlie’s a moment, but to leave the door open for him. So we went up, and I ran in his room, and lighted his gas for him, as I did every night when we went up together. In a little while I heard him come in and go to his room. I knew nothing then; but next day, going into mother’s room, I saw him standing before the glass door of her armoir, looking at a black coat he had on. Involuntarily I cried out, “Oh, don’t, Hal!” “Don’t what? Is n’t it a nice coat?” he asked. “Yes; but it is buttoned up to the throat, and I don’t like to see it. It looks —” here I went out as abruptly as I came in; that black coat so tightly buttoned troubled me.
He came to our room after a while and said he was going ten miles out in the country for a few days. I begged him to stay, and reproached him for going away so soon after he had come home. But he said he must, adding, “Perhaps I am tired of you, and want to see something new. I’ll be so glad to get back in a few days.” Father said yes, he must go, so he went without any further explanation.
Walking out to Mr. Davidson’s that evening, Lydia and I sat down on a fallen rail beyond the Catholic graveyard, and there she told me what had happened. The night before, sitting on Dr. Woods’s gallery, with six or eight others who had been singing, Hal called on Mr. Henderson to sing. He complied by singing one that was not nice. Old Mr. Sparks got up to leave, and Hal said, “I hope we are not disturbing you?” No, he said he was tired and would go home. As soon as he was gone, his son, who I have since heard was under the influence of opium, — though Hal always maintained that he was not, — said it was a shame to disturb his poor old father. Hal answered, “You heard what he said. We did not disturb him.” “You are a liar!” the other cried. That is a name that none of our family has either merited or borne with; and quick as thought Hal sprang to his feet and struck him across the face with the walking-stick he held. The blow sent the lower part across the balcony in the street, as the spring was loosened by it, while the upper part, to which was fastened the sword — for it was father’s sword-cane — remained in his hand.
I doubt that he ever before knew the cane could come apart. Certainly he did not perceive it, until the other whined piteously he was taking advantage over an unarmed man; when, cursing him, he (Harry) threw it after the body of the cane, and said, “Now we are equal.” The other’s answer was to draw a knife, and was about to plunge it into Harry, who disdained to flinch, when Mr. Henderson threw himself on Mr. Sparks and dragged him off.
It was a little while after that Harry came for us. The consequence of this was a challenge from Mr. Sparks in the morning, which was accepted by Harry’s friends, who appointed Monday, at Greenwell, to meet. Lydia did not tell me that; she said she thought it had been settled peaceably, so I was not uneasy, and only wanted Harry to come back from Seth David’s soon. The possibility of his fighting never occurred to me.
Sunday evening I was on the front steps with Miriam and Dr. Woods, talking of Harry and wishing he would come. “You want Harry!” the doctor repeated after me; “you had better learn to live without him.” “What an absurdity!” I said and wondered when he would come. Still later, Miriam, father, and I were in the parlor, when there was a tap on the window, just above his head, and I saw a hand, for an instant. Father hurried out, and we heard several voices; and then steps going away. Mother came down and asked who had been there, but we only knew that, whoever it was, father had afterward gone with them. Mother went on: “There is something going on, which is to be kept from me. Every one seems to know it, and to make a secret of it.” I said nothing, for I had promised Lydia not to tell; and even I did not know all.
When father came back, Harry was with him. I saw by his nod, and “ How are you, girls,” how he wished us to take it, so neither moved from our chairs, while he sat down on the sofa and asked what kind of a sermon we had had. And we talked of anything except what we were thinking of, until we went upstairs.
Hal afterwards told me that he had been arrested up there, and father went with him to give bail; and that the sheriff had gone out to Greenwell after Mr. Sparks. He told me all about it next morning, saying he was glad it was all over, but sorry for Mr. Sparks; for he had a blow on his face which nothing would wash out. I said, “Hal, if you had fought, much as I love you, I would rather he had killed you than that you should have killed him. I love you too much to be willing to see blood on your hands.” First he laughed at me, then said, “If I had killed him, I never would have seen you again.”
We thought it was all over; so did he. But Baton Rouge was wild about it. Mr. Sparks was the bully of the town, having nothing else to do, and whenever he got angry or drunk, would knock down anybody he chose. That same night, before Harry met him, he had slapped one man, and had dragged another over the room by the hair; but these coolly went home, and waited for a voluntary apology. So the mothers, sisters, and intimate friends of those who had patiently borne the blows, and being “woolled,” vaunted the example of their heroes, and asked why Dr. Morgan had not acted as they had done, and waited for an apology? Then there was another faction who cried only blood could wash out that blow and make a gentleman of Mr. Sparks again, — as though he ever had been one! So knots assembled at street corners, and discussed it, until father said to us that Monday night, “These people are so excited, and are trying so hard to make this affair worse, that I would not be surprised if they shot each other down in the street,” speaking of Harry and the other.
Hal seemed to think of it no more, though, and Wednesday said he must go to the city and consult Brother as to where he should permanently establish himself. I was sorry; yet glad that he would then get away from all this trouble. I don’t know that I ever saw him in higher spirits than he was that day and evening, the 24th. Lilly and Charlie were here until late, and he laughed and talked so incessantly that we called him crazy. We might have guessed by his extravagant spirits that he was trying to conceal something from us. . . .
He went away before daybreak, and I never saw him again.