Mr. Dugald McDugald was ready to start home. He had sold his turpentine, bought his tea and coffee, and laid in his weekly supply of whiskey and tobacco. His rounded-shouldered, sallowy-complexioned son, a sandhill lad of sixteen summers, had mounted the mule.
"G'long Beauregard," said Mr. McDugald, touching the mule's flanks with a hickory switch which he took from a hole in one of the cross-pieces of the cart.
Beauregard started off down the street, but stopped on the corner a few paces away.
"Git up," drawled Archie, sticking his bare heels in the mule's flank.
"G'long, Beauregard," said Mr. McDugald, emphasizing the command by a vigorous application of the 'hick'ry'.
But words and blows were both unavailing. Several of the loafers so common in Southern towns had by this time gathered about the cart. The mule's face wore a dogged expression, which, with the peculiar manner in which his feet were planted, clearly indicated his intention not to move a peg. Several of the bystanders offered suggestions:
"Twist 'is tail," said one.
"You kin do that," replied Mr. McDugald. But the dispenser of gratuitous advice evidently knew something about the peculiar ways of the mule and refrained from operating. Another loafer, with a sudden inspiration, suggested that a fire be built under the mule.
"No, gen'lemen, I hain't a-goin to do nothin' o' the sort. Archie, unhitch the mule and we'll camp over in the bank lot."
Archie unharnessed the mule, that stubborn animal moving readily enough when the shafts were let down. Mr. McDugald and Archie drew the cart over into the bank lot. This had been the site of the Clarendon Bank, of which nothing but the bare walls, with here and there the charred end of a beam or the twisted iron framework of a door remained.
In the evening while Archie remained by the campfire and watched the cart, Mr. McDugald came over to the store. Business was dull, and I occupied a splint-bottomed chair on the sidewalk in front of the store. Mr. McDugald sat down on an empty tobacco box, and after a few observations on the state of the weather and the prospects of the cotton crop, continued in his usual high-pitched drawl:
"You mought wonder, Cholly, why I 'lowed that mule to git the better o' me. But I had a reason for it. I'm under obligations to that mule. I have had him nigh on to ten year now, an' I feel sorter attached to him. But more'n that, he saved my life once, and I ain't likely to forgit it soon.
"It was 'long in sixty-eight. I had had Beauregard pushing' three year then. You mought say, pushin' four year. An' I must say, that I never had a better mule; even his faults are virtues, as my story will prove. I guess his difference from other mules comes from his great experience. He's been in the wah, an' he's branded in two places, 'U.S.A.' and 'C.S.A.,' showin' that he served on both sides. I found him down in the swamp on my place just after Sherman went through, an' I have had him ever sence. I named him Gin'l Beauregard.
"Well, as I was a tellin' you, he saved my life once. You don't mind the big fresh in '68? No; I recall your pappy hadn't moved here then. Wal, it was the biggest fresh we had sence eighteen forty-five. The Cape Fear riz forty feet, an' all the river bottoms from here to Wilmington was flooded an' the crops entirely spiled. It rained every day in June, and the ground was too wet for us to plow even our watermillioms.
"I had some business down to Lumberton on a Wednesday. I think it was the twenty-fifth of June. Yes; I remember now; I was goin' to fetch Archie from his granny's where he had been spending his birthday. He was only six years old, if my memory serves me right. I had to cross Lumber river over the old bridge. You never seen the old bridge, Cholly."
"I seed it," said one of the bystanders, or rather bysitters, for no Southerner will stand when he can find a place to sit, "it was carried away in that very fresh."
"Yes," continued the old man, "as I was a-sayin', I crossed Lumber river on the old bridge, stayed the night at Archie's granny's, and started back in the mornin', me an' Archie. I had this very mule, Beauregard. He hadn't be'n workin' much on account of the rain, an' I had to drive him pretty hard the day before. We started back next mornin', and 'long about nine o'clock we had got mighty nigh to the river. The river had be'n risin' durin' the night and was almost up to the bridge. Howsomedever, I went ahead a piece an' looked at the bridge keerful, an' as I couldn't see no signs of weak'nin' I decided to drive over. I hollered back to Archie, who was with the kyart, to come on. Archie jerked the lines an' tried to start the mule, but he wouldn't go.
"'Why don't you come on?' says I.
"'The durn mule's a-balkin',' says Archie.
"Wal, now, I never knowed Beauregard to balk like that. I went back, tuk hold o' the bridle, patted him on the head, an' tried to coax 'im along. But it didn't do no good. Bimeby I got mad. I stepped off into the woods an' cut a big hick'ry. Jest as I got back a kyart come up to us on the road. The driver stopped and said he'd help us start the mule. So down he got, an' ketchin' the mule by the tail, begins to twist. An' when he gin a twist, the mule gin 'is hind leg a twist an' the next minute my frien' was layin' in the ditch side'n the road. When I had helped him on his kyart, he 'lowed he had business over the river and couldn' stay no longer, so he reckoned he'd git along.
"In about two minutes, 'long come another farmer and sidgested that I build a fire under the mule. I got some sticks and prime-straw, an' lit a fire, and as it got to burning Beauregard lifted his huff and planted it right in the fire, scatterin' it all around. A burnin' stick struck my frien' in the eye, after which he diskivered that he was in a powerful hurry.
"Wall, I was jist a-settin' there a-wond'rin' what to do next. By that time the fust kyart ahead of us which wa'n't loaded an' had be'n goin' pretty fast got over the bridge. The las' kyart was jest about to the middle o' the bridge. The bridge was more'n a quater of a mile long—when I hearn a crashin' and a creakin' an' when I looked I seen the bridge abowin' an' abendin', and in less than two minutes it had broken in two in the middle, an' was floatin' off down the river, the water a-foamin' an' a-bilin' around it. The pore feller with the cinder in the eye was right where the bridge broke, and him an' his hoss was drownded. It was a fine hoss, too; it was a shame to see a critter like that drownded.
"Me an' Archie went back an' stayed at his granny's a day or two till the river went down, an' then we crossed at McMillan's ford, about two miles further up the river.
"The mule seemed to know what had happened and as soon as the bridge fell, went right along without no further trouble.
"Ever since then," continued Mr. McDugald with a sigh, "me nor Archie have never hendered that mule from havin' his own way. He don't often balk but when he does we jest onhitches 'im and waits till he gets ready to go.
"Wal, I reckon I'll lay down," said the old man in conclusion as he sauntered off towards the camp.