Summary (Masterplots, Definitive Revised Edition)
When James Fraser fell in love with Stewart Prevost, he loved her in a hopeless way. He was the son of a poor farmer who lived in the swamps of North Carolina, and Stewart was the daughter of Colonel Prevost, a gentleman planter. Although Colonel Prevost was always courteous and friendly with the Frasers, his friendliness was reserved; James knew that he must keep his place.
James loved his father and mother, both hard-working, God-fearing people who toiled endlessly with meager reward. He felt, however, that he must somehow rise above their station in life, that he must gain an equal footing with the planters and other gentlemen toward whom he was forced to show a servile attitude. On nights when he was filled with despair and confusion, he slipped out of the house and played his fiddle. Into his music, he could pour his dreams without fear of ridicule.
James first saw Stewart when he delivered a load of wood to her father. She said only a few words in greeting, but to James the words were as beautiful as the ringing of bells. During the next weeks, he saw her often; it seemed to him that she was always on the road leading to the plantation as he passed with a load of wood. When he was alone, he cursed himself for a fool; no girl in Stewart’s position would purposely seek out an awkward, uncouth farm boy. He swore to himself that he would avoid her. At last, Stewart began to talk with him about life. When he told her that he would like to go away and work on the railroad, she offered to give him money to start him on his way. He bitterly decided that she only wanted to get rid of him.
For a few days, James avoided the plantation. Then his pride forced him to call at Stewart’s home and ask to see her. Colonel Prevost answered the door and went to call Stewart. He returned to tell James that Stewart was busy—and would be busy in the future. Trying to save his dignity, the boy stumbled blindly down the steps. The next morning, he told his father and mother that he was going away.
James went to Wilmington and took a job on the railroad. His interest in machines and his determination to succeed made him an excellent worker. He lived well and sent money home each week. He made friends, but the vision of Stewart would not leave him, and he was lonely. The men with whom he associated were all concerned over the coming election, for they believed that there would be trouble if Abraham Lincoln were elected. Everywhere he went, abolition and war were the main topics of conversation. Not long after Lincoln had been elected, the Secession began.
In April, after Fort Sumter had been attacked, James went home to join the company being formed by Colonel Prevost. Stewart’s brother Charles was to be the captain, for he had attended Virginia Military Institute. On the night before the company was to leave the plantation, James wrote Stewart a note and asked her to meet him....
(The entire section is 1193 words.)
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