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September 23 , 2010

The Earth Trembled


MARY WALLINGFORD At the beginning of the Civil War there was a fine old residence on Meeting Street in Charleston, South Carolina, inhabited by a family almost as old as the State. Its inheritor and owner, Orville Burgoyne, was a widower. He had been much saddened in temperament since the death of the wife, and had withdrawn as far as possible from public affairs. His library and the past had secured a stronger hold upon his interest and his thoughts than anything in the present, with one exception, his idolized and only child, Mary, named for her deceased mOther. Any book would be laid aside when she entered; all gloom banished from his eyes when she coaxed and caressed him. She was in truth one to be loved because so capable of love herself. She conquered and ruled every one not through wilfulness or imperiousness, but by a gentle charm, all her own, which disarmed opposition. At first Mr. Burgoyne had paid little heed to the mutterings which preceded the Civil War, believing them to be but Chinese thunder, produced by ambitious politicians, North and South. He was preoccupied by the study of an old system of philosophy which he fancied possessed more truth than many a more plausible and modern one. Mary, with some fancy work in her hands, often watched his deep abstraction in wondering awe, and occasionally questioned him in regard to his thoughts and studies; but as his explanations were almost unintelligible, she settled down to the complacent belief that her father was one of the most learned men in the world. At last swiftly culminating events aroused Mr. Burgoyne from his abstraction and drove him from his retirement. He accepted what he believed to be duty in profound sorrow and regret. His own early associations and those of his ancestors had been with the old flag and its fortunes; his relations to the political leaders of the South were too slight to produce any share in the alienation and misunderstandings which had been growing between the two great sections of his country, and he certainly had not the slightest sympathy with those who had fomented the ill-will for personal ends. Finally, however, he had found himself face to face with the momentous certainty of a separation of his State from the Union. For a time he was bewildered and disturbed beyond measure; for he was not a prompt man of affairs, living keenly in the present, but one who had been suddenly and rudely summoned from the academic groves of the old philosophers to meet the burning imperative questions of the day—questions put with the passionate earnestness of a people excited beyond measure
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