Summary (Masterplots, Definitive Revised Edition)
In 1861, Penn Hapgood, a young Quaker, was the schoolmaster in the small Tennessee town of Curryville. Because he made no effort to conceal his antislavery convictions, he was unpopular among the hotheaded Secessionists of the community. The Unionists, on the other hand, had offered him a commission in the militia unit that they were secretly organizing. Penn refused the commission offered him on the grounds of his religious faith.
His unpopularity grew after he aided Dan Pepperill, a poor white, flogged and ridden on a rail because he had befriended a whipped slave. Penn’s friend, a kindly young German named Carl, offered him a pistol to use in self-defense if he were attacked, but the schoolmaster saw no need to arm himself. A short time later, a party of ruffians seized Penn and tarred and feathered him. Carl, unable to save his friend, searched for some Union sympathizers to defend Penn, but by the time the rescue party arrived at the schoolhouse, the young teacher was not to be found. It was learned, however, that he had gone to his boardinghouse, where his landlady, Mrs. Sprowl, had refused to let him in. She had acted on the orders of Silas Ropes, the leader of the mob.
Penn had found shelter in the home of a blind clergyman, Mr. Villars. The minister’s household was made up of his two daughters, Virginia and Salina, old Toby, a freed slave, and Carl, the young German. Old Toby and Farmer Stackridge, a staunch Unionist, tended to Penn and put him to bed in the clergyman’s home. While he was still resting, Augustus Blythewood, a planter in love with Virginia, appeared at the house. Although she was little attracted to her suitor, Virginia entertained him graciously in order to conceal the fact that the fugitive was hidden nearby. Another caller was Lysander Sprowl, the son of Penn’s landlady. Salina, the older sister, and young Sprowl were married, but they had separated some time before.
Sprowl, having learned Penn’s whereabouts, promised to lead the villagers to the schoolmaster’s hiding place. The aroused townspeople accused Mr. Villars of hiding an Abolitionist. While they were threatening the old man, Penn disappeared from the house under mysterious circumstances.
A mob, aroused by Blythewood, seized old Toby and prepared to flog him in an effort to learn Penn’s whereabouts. Carl managed to cut Toby’s bonds before the mob could carry out its threat. Toby, escaping, ran into Blythewood and recognized him. The planter then called off the mob and went to the minister’s house, where he pretended great indignation at what had happened.
Penn, meanwhile, was safe in Cudjo’s Cave, a hideout known only to runaway slaves. Having heard the angry townspeople threatening Mr. Villars, he had in his half-delirious condition fled into an adjoining field before he fainted. When he came to, he found himself beside a fire in a cavern, with Cudjo and Pomp, two escaped slaves, ministering to his wants. They had befriended Penn because of the help he had given Pepperill several weeks before. Pomp, in particular, was a magnificent old fellow, almost heroic in his dignity and spirit. Both slaves had suffered at the hands of Blythewood and Ropes, the town bully. Through the two, Penn sent word to Mr. Villars that he was safe. The clergyman sent Penn’s clothes and food to the hiders.
When he was able to travel, Penn decided to set out for the North. Near Curryville, he fell into the hands of a small detachment of Confederate soldiers. Convicted at a drumhead trial, he was sentenced to be hanged...
(The entire section is 1460 words.)
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