Kentucky Belle

By Constance Fentmore Woolson

Summer of ’63, sir, and Conrad was gone away —
Gone to the country town, sir, to sell our first load of hay.
We lived in the log house yonder, poor as ever you’ve seen;
Roschen, there, was a baby, and I was only 19.

Conrad, he took the oxen, but he left Kentucky Belle;
How much he thought of Kentuck I couldn’t begin to tell —
Came from the blue grass country; my father gave her to me
When I rode with Conrad, away from the Tennessee.

Conrad lived in Ohio – a German, he is, you know.
The house stood in broad cornfields, stretching on row after row,
The old folks made me welcome; they were kind as kind could be;
But I kept longing, longing for the hills of the Tennessee.

O, for a sight of water, the shadowy slope of a hill;
Clouds that hang on the summit, a wind that never is still;
But, the level land went stretching away to meet the sky –
Never a rise from north to south to rest the weary eye!

From east to west no river to shine out under the moon,
Nothing to make a shadow in the yellow afternoon;
Only the breathless sunshine, as I looked out, all forlorn:
Only the “rustle” as I walked among the corn.

When I fell sick with pining we didn’t wait any more,
But moved away from the cornlands out to this river shore,
The Tuscornwas it’s called, sir – off there’s a hill, you see –
And now I’ve grown to like it next best to the Tennessee.

I was at work that morning, some one came riding like mad
Over the bridge and up the road – Farmer Rouf’s little lad,
Bareback he rode; he had hat; he hardly stopper to say,
Morgan’s men are coming, Frau; they’re galloping on this way.

“I’m sent to warn the neighbors, he isn’t a mile behind;
He sweeps up all the horses – all horses that he can find.
Morgan, Morgan, the Raider, and Morgan’s terrible men,
With bowie knife and pistols, are galloping up the glen.

The lad rode down the valley, and I stood still at the door;
The baby laughed and prattled, playing with spools on the floor.
Kentuck was out in the pasture; Conrad, my man was gone,
Nearer, nearer, Morgan’s men were galloping, galloping on!

Suddenly I picked up baby and ran to the pasture bar.
“Kentuck!” I called ; “Kentuck!” she knew me ever so far,
I led her down to the fully that turns off there to the right;
I tied her to the bushes; her head was just out of sight.

As I ran back to the log house, at once there came a sound –
The ring of hoofs, galloping hoofs, trembling over the ground,
Coming into the turnpike, out from the White Woman glen –
Morgan, Morgan, the Raider, and Morgan’s terrible men.

As near they drew and nearer, my heart beat fast in alarm;
But still I stood in the doorway, with baby on my arm.
They came; they passed; with spur and whip in haste they sped along –
Morgan, Morgan, the Raider, and the band six hundred strong.

Weary they looked and jaded, riding through night and day,
Pushing on east to the river, many long miles away,
To the border strip where Virginia runs up into the west,
And ford the Upper Ohio, before they could stop to rest.

On like the wind they hurried, and Morgan rode in advance;
Bright were his eyes, like live coals, as he gave me a sideways glance;
And I was just breathing freely, after my choking pain,
When the last one of the troopers suddenly drew his rein,
As he asked for a drink of water and glanced around the place,
I gave him a cup and he smiled – ‘twas only a boy you see-
Faint and worn, with dim blue eyes; and he’d sailed on the Tennessee.

Only 16 he was, sir – a fond mother’s only son-
Off and away with Morgan, before his life had begun!
The damp drops stood on his temples; drawn was the boyish mouth;
And I thought me of the mother waiting sown in the South;

O, pluck was he to the backbone, and clear grit through and through;
Boasted and bragged like a trooper; but the big words wouldn’t do.
The boy was dying, sir, dying, as plain as plain could be,
Worn out by his ride with Morgan, up from the Tennessee.

But when I told the laddie that I, too, was from the South,
Water came to this dim eyes and quivers round the mouth,
“Do you know the Blue Grass Country?” he wistfully began to say,
Then swayed like a willow sapling and fainted dead away.

I got him into the log house and worked and brought him to;
I fed and coaxed him, as I thought his mother’d do;
And when the lad bot better and the noise in his head was gone,
Morgan’s men were miles away, galloping, galloping on.

“O, I must go!” he muttered. “I must be up and away!
Morgan, Morgan is waiting for me! O, what will Morgan say?”
But I heard the sound of tramping and kept him back from the door;
The ringing sound of horses’ hoofs, that I had heard before.

And on, on came the soldiers – the Michigan cavalry –
And fast they rode, and back they looked, galloping rapidly,
They had followed on Morgan’s track; they had followed day and night;
But of Morgan and Morgan’s raiders they had never caught a sight.

And rich Ohio sat startled through all those Summer days.
For strange, wild men were galloping over her broad highways;
Now here, now there, now seen, now gone, now north, now east, now west,
Through river, valley and cornland farms, sweeping away her best.

A bold ride and a long ride! But they were taken at last;
They almost reached the river by riding hard and fast;
But the boys in blue were upon them ere ever they gained the ford;
And Morgan, Morgan, the Raider, laid down his terrible sword.

Well, I kept the boy till evening – kept him against his will –
But he was too weak to follow, and sat there pale and still,
When it was cool and dusky – you’ll wonder to hear me tell –
But I stole down to that fully and brought up Kentucky Belle.

I kissed the star on her forehead – my pretty, gentle lass –
But, I knew that she’d be happy, back in the old blue grass.
A suit of clothes of Conrad’s, with all the money I had,
And Kentuck, pretty Kentuck, I gave to the worn-out lad.

I guided him to the southward as well as I knew how;
The boy rode off with many thanks and many a backward bow;
And then the glow it faded and my heart began to swell!
As down the glen away she went, my lost Kentucky Belle.

When Conrad came in the evening, the mood was shining high;
Baby and I were both crying – I couldn’t tell him why –
But a battered suit of clothing was hanging on the wall.
And a thin old horse with drooping head stood in Kentucky’s stall.

Well, he was kind and never once said a hard word to me;
He knew I couldn’t help it – it was all for Tennessee,
But, after the war was over – just think what came to pass –
A letter, sir, and the two were safe, back in the old blue grass.

The lad had got across the border, riding Kentucky Belle,
And Kentuck, she was thriving and far and hearty and well.
He cared for her and kept her, nor touched her with whip or spur,
Ah! we’ve had many horses, but never a horse like her.


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