Three And One Are One
Scary Books: Present At A Hanging
In the year 1861 Barr Lassiter, a young man of twenty-two, lived
with his parents and an elder sister near Carthage, Tennessee. The
family were in somewhat humble circumstances, subsisting by
cultivation of a small and not very fertile plantation. Owning no
slaves, they were not rated among "the best people" of their
neighborhood; but they were honest persons of good education, fairly
well mannered and as respectable
as any family could be if
uncredentialed by personal dominion over the sons and daughters of
Ham. The elder Lassiter had that severity of manner that so
frequently affirms an uncompromising devotion to duty, and conceals
a warm and affectionate disposition. He was of the iron of which
martyrs are made, but in the heart of the matrix had lurked a nobler
metal, fusible at a milder heat, yet never coloring nor softening
the hard exterior. By both heredity and environment something of
the man's inflexible character had touched the other members of the
family; the Lassiter home, though not devoid of domestic affection,
was a veritable citadel of duty, and duty--ah, duty is as cruel as
When the war came on it found in the family, as in so many others in
that State, a divided sentiment; the young man was loyal to the
Union, the others savagely hostile. This unhappy division begot an
insupportable domestic bitterness, and when the offending son and
brother left home with the avowed purpose of joining the Federal
army not a hand was laid in his, not a word of farewell was spoken,
not a good wish followed him out into the world whither he went to
meet with such spirit as he might whatever fate awaited him.
Making his way to Nashville, already occupied by the Army of General
Buell, he enlisted in the first organization that he found, a
Kentucky regiment of cavalry, and in due time passed through all the
stages of military evolution from raw recruit to experienced
trooper. A right good trooper he was, too, although in his oral
narrative from which this tale is made there was no mention of that;
the fact was learned from his surviving comrades. For Barr Lassiter
has answered "Here" to the sergeant whose name is Death.
Two years after he had joined it his regiment passed through the
region whence he had come. The country thereabout had suffered
severely from the ravages of war, having been occupied alternately
(and simultaneously) by the belligerent forces, and a sanguinary
struggle had occurred in the immediate vicinity of the Lassiter
homestead. But of this the young trooper was not aware.
Finding himself in camp near his home, he felt a natural longing to
see his parents and sister, hoping that in them, as in him, the
unnatural animosities of the period had been softened by time and
separation. Obtaining a leave of absence, he set foot in the late
summer afternoon, and soon after the rising of the full moon was
walking up the gravel path leading to the dwelling in which he had
Soldiers in war age rapidly, and in youth two years are a long time.
Barr Lassiter felt himself an old man, and had almost expected to
find the place a ruin and a desolation. Nothing, apparently, was
changed. At the sight of each dear and familiar object he was
profoundly affected. His heart beat audibly, his emotion nearly
suffocated him; an ache was in his throat. Unconsciously he
quickened his pace until he almost ran, his long shadow making
grotesque efforts to keep its place beside him.
The house was unlighted, the door open. As he approached and paused
to recover control of himself his father came out and stood bare-
headed in the moonlight.
"Father!" cried the young man, springing forward with outstretched
The elder man looked him sternly in the face, stood a moment
motionless and without a word withdrew into the house. Bitterly
disappointed, humiliated, inexpressibly hurt and altogether
unnerved, the soldier dropped upon a rustic seat in deep dejection,
supporting his head upon his trembling hand. But he would not have
it so: he was too good a soldier to accept repulse as defeat. He
rose and entered the house, passing directly to the "sitting-room."
It was dimly lighted by an uncurtained east window. On a low stool
by the hearthside, the only article of furniture in the place, sat
his mother, staring into a fireplace strewn with blackened embers
and cold ashes. He spoke to her--tenderly, interrogatively, and
with hesitation, but she neither answered, nor moved, nor seemed in
any way surprised. True, there had been time for her husband to
apprise her of their guilty son's return. He moved nearer and was
about to lay his hand upon her arm, when his sister entered from an
adjoining room, looked him full in the face, passed him without a
sign of recognition and left the room by a door that was partly
behind him. He had turned his head to watch her, but when she was
gone his eyes again sought his mother. She too had left the place.
Barr Lassiter strode to the door by which he had entered. The
moonlight on the lawn was tremulous, as if the sward were a rippling
sea. The trees and their black shadows shook as in a breeze.
Blended with its borders, the gravel walk seemed unsteady and
insecure to step on. This young soldier knew the optical illusions
produced by tears. He felt them on his cheek, and saw them sparkle
on the breast of his trooper's jacket. He left the house and made
his way back to camp.
The next day, with no very definite intention, with no dominant
feeling that he could rightly have named, he again sought the spot.
Within a half-mile of it he met Bushrod Albro, a former playfellow
and schoolmate, who greeted him warmly.
"I am going to visit my home," said the soldier.
The other looked at him rather sharply, but said nothing.
"I know," continued Lassiter, "that my folks have not changed, but--
"There have been changes," Albro interrupted--"everything changes.
I'll go with you if you don't mind. We can talk as we go."
But Albro did not talk.
Instead of a house they found only fire-blackened foundations of
stone, enclosing an area of compact ashes pitted by rains.
Lassiter's astonishment was extreme.
"I could not find the right way to tell you," said Albro. "In the
fight a year ago your house was burned by a Federal shell."
"And my family--where are they?"
"In Heaven, I hope. All were killed by the shell."