Read CHAPTER XVI of Cudjo's Cave , free online book, by J. T. Trowbridge, on ReadCentral.com.

IN THE CAVE AND ON THE MOUNTAIN.

That afternoon, as Penn was alone, the mystery of his removal from Mr. Villars’s house was suddenly revealed to him.

“I remember it very distinctly now,” he said to Pomp, who presently came in and sat by his bed. “Ropes and his crew had been to the house for me. Sick and delirious as I was, I knew the danger to my friends, and it seemed to me that I must leave the house. So I watched my opportunity, and when Toby left me for a minute, I darted through his room over the kitchen, climbed down from the window to the roof of the shed, and from there descended by an apple tree to the ground. This is the dream I have been trying to recall. It is all clear to me now. But I do not remember any thing more. The delirium must have given me preternatural strength, if I walked all the distance to the spot where you found me.”

“That you did walk it, your bruised and bleeding feet were a sufficient evidence,” said the negro. “You had just such delirious attacks afterwards, when it was as much as Cudjo and I wanted to do to hold you.”

“And the blanket it is Toby’s blanket, which I caught up as I fled,” added Penn.

He now became extremely anxious to communicate with his friends, to explain his conduct to them, and let them know of his safety. Besides, he was now getting sufficiently strong to sit up a little, and other clothing was necessary than the old minister’s nightgown and Toby’s blanket.

“I have been thinking it all over,” said Pomp, “and have concluded to pay your friends a visit.”

“No, no, my dear sir!” exclaimed Penn, with gratitude. “I can’t let you incur any such danger on my account. I can never repay you for half you have done for me already!” And he pressed the negro’s hand as no white man had ever pressed it since the death of his good master, Dr. Bythewood.

Pomp was deeply affected. His great chest heaved, and his powerful features were charged with emotion.

“The risk will not be great,” said he. “I will take Cudjo with me, and between us we will manage to bring off your clothes.”

At night the two blacks departed, leaving Penn alone in the fire-lit cave, waiting for their return, picturing to himself all the difficulties of their adventure, and thinking with warm gratitude and admiration of Pomp, whose noble nature not even slavery could corrupt, whose benevolent heart not even wrong could embitter.

It was late in the evening when the two messengers arrived at Mr. Villars’s house. All was dark and still about the premises. But one light was visible, and that was in the room over the kitchen.

“That is Toby’s room,” said Pomp. “Stay here, Cudjo, while I give him a call.”

“Stay yuself,” said Cudjo, “and lef dis chil’ go. Me know Toby; you don’t.”

So Pomp remained on the watch while Cudjo climbed the tree by which Penn had descended, scrambled up over the shed-roof, reached the window, opened it, and thrust in his head.

Toby, who was just going to bed, heard the movement, saw the frightful apparition, and with a shriek dove under the bed-clothes, where he lay in an agony of fear, completely hidden from sight, while Cudjo, grinning maliciously, climbed into the room.

“See hyar, ye fool! none ob dat! none ob your playin’ possum wid me!” said the visitor, rolling Toby over, while Toby held the clothes tighter and tighter, as if to show a lock of wool or the tip of an ear would have been fatal. “Me’s Cudjo! don’t ye know Cudjo? Me come for de gemman’s clo’es!”

“Hey? dat you, Cudjo?” said Toby, venturing at length to peep out. “Wha wha what de debil you want hyar?”

“De gemman sent me. Dis yer letter’s for your massy.”

“De gemman?” cried Toby, jumping up. “Not Mass’ Penn? not Mass’ Hapgood?”

Immense was his astonishment on being assured that Penn was alive, recovering, and in need of garments. Carl, who had been awakened in the next room by the noise, now came in to see what was the matter. He recognized Penn’s handwriting on the note, and immediately hastened with it to Virginia’s room. A minute after she was reading it to her father at his bedside. It was written with a pencil on a leaf torn from a little blank book in which Pomp kept a sort of diary; but never had gilt-edged or perfumed billet afforded the blind old minister and his daughter such unalloyed delight.

It was long past midnight when Pomp and Cudjo returned to the cave, bringing with them not only Penn’s garments, but a goodly stock of provisions, which Cudjo had hinted to Toby would be acceptable, and, more precious still, a letter from Mr. Villars, written by his daughter’s own hand.

Penn now began to sit up a little every day. Gloomy as the cave was, it was not an unwholesome abode even for an invalid. The atmosphere was pure, cool, and bracing; the temperature uniform. Nor did Penn suffer inconvenience from dampness; though often, in the deep stillness of the night, he could hear the far-off, faint, and melancholy murmur of dropping water in the hollow recesses of the cavern beyond.

One day, as soon as he was well enough for the undertaking, Pomp ordered Cudjo to light torches and show them the hidden wonders of his habitation. Cudjo was delighted with the honor. He ran on before, waving the flaring pine knots over his head, and shouting.

Penn’s astonishment was profound. Keen as had been his curiosity as to what was beyond the shadowy walls the fire dimly revealed, he had formed no conception of the extent and sublimity of the various galleries, chambers, glittering vaults, and falling waters, embosomed there in the mountain.

Dis yer all my own house!” Cudjo kept repeating, with fantastic grimaces of satisfaction. “Me found him all my own self. Nobody war eber hyar afore me; Pomp am de next; and you’s de on’y white man eber seen dis yer cave.”

It grew light as they proceeded, Cudjo’s torch paled, and the waters of a subterranean stream they were following caught gleams of the struggling day from another opening beyond. Climbing over fragments of huge tumbled rocks, and up an earthy bank, Penn found himself in the bottom of an immense chasm. It had apparently been formed by the sinking down of the roof of the cave, with a tremendous superincumbent weight of forest trees. There, on an island, so to speak, in the midst of the subterranean darkness, they were growing still, their lofty tops barely reaching the level of the mountain above.

“It was out of this sink I saw the wild beast climbing, that turned out to be Cudjo,” said Pomp.

“Dat ar am de tree,” said Cudjo. “No oder way but dat ar to get up out ob dis yer hole.”

“What a terrible place!” said Penn, little thinking at the time how much more terrible it was soon to become as a scene of deadly human conflict.

Beyond the chasm the stream flowed on into still more remote parts of the cave. But Penn had seen enough for one day, and the torch-bearing Cudjo guided them back to the spot from which they had started.

Penn had now completely won the confidence of the blacks, who no longer placed any restrictions on his movements. It had been their original purpose never to suffer him to leave the cave without being blindfolded. But now, having shown him one opening, they freely permitted him to pass out by the other. This was that by which he had been brought in, and which was used by the blacks themselves on all ordinary occasions. It was a mere fissure in the mountain, hidden from external view by thickets. Above rose steep ledges of rocks, thickly covered with earth and bushes. Below yawned an immense ravine, far down in the cool, dark depths of which a little streamlet flowed.

Pomp piloted his guest through the thickets, and along a narrow shelf, from which the ascent to the barren ledges was easy. Upon these they sat down. It was a beautiful April day. This was Penn’s first visit to the upper world since he was brought to the cave. The scene filled him with rapture; the loveliness of earth and sky intoxicated him. Here he was among the rugged ranges of the Cumberland Mountains, in the heart of Tennessee. On either hand they rolled away in tremendous billows of forest-crowned rocks. The ravines in their sides opened into little valleys, and these spread out into a broad and magnificent intervale, checkered with farms, streaked with roads, and dotted with dwellings. Spring seemed to have come in a night. It was chill March weather when Penn left the world, which was now warm with sweet south winds, and green with April verdure.

“How beautiful, how beautiful!” said he, receiving, with the susceptibility of a convalescent, the exquisite impression made upon the senses by every sight and sound and odor. “O! and to think that all this divine loveliness is marred by the passions of men! Up here, what glory, what peace! Down yonder, what hatred, violence, and sin! No wonder, Pomp, you love the mountains so!”

“It is doubtful if they leave the mountains in peace much longer,” said Pomp. He had heard the night before that fighting had begun at Charleston, and the news had stirred his soul. “The country is all alive with excitement, and the waves of its fury will reach us here before long. Take this glass, sir: you can see soldiers marching through the streets.”

“They are marching past my school-house!” said Penn. He became very thoughtful. He knew that they were soldiers recruited in the cause of rebellion, although Tennessee had not yet seceded, although the people had voted in February against secession: a dishonest governor, and a dishonest legislature, aided by reckless demagogues everywhere, being resolved upon precipitating the state into revolution, by fraud and force, if not with the consent of the people, then without it. “I had hoped the storm would soon blow over, and that it would be safe for me to go peaceably about my business.”

“The storm,” said Pomp, his soul dilating, his features kindling with a wild joy, “is hardly begun yet! The great problem of this age, in this country, is going to be solved in blood! This continent is going to shake with such a convulsion as was never before. It is going to shake till the last chain of the slave is shaken off, and the sin is punished, and God says, ‘It is enough!’”

He spoke with such thrilling earnestness that Penn regarded him in astonishment.

“What makes you think so, Pomp?”

“That I can’t tell. The feeling rises up here,” the negro laid his hand upon his massive chest, “and that is all I know. It is strong as my life it fills and burns me like fire! The day of deliverance for my race is at hand. That is the meaning of those soldiers down there, arming for they know not what.”