Guest Observation: Russell Banks

From “Cloudsplitter” (I’ve been reading this for what seems like months. Beautiful prose, and an amazing story — though it really is the first time that I’ve ever encountered the details of John Brown’s story.):

When we reached the road, without a glance or a thought one way or the other, I turned southwest instead of northeast, and Fred followed. cloudsplitter.png

For a few moments, we walked along in silence. “Where’re we going?” Fred finally asked.

“Well, to Kansas, I guess.”

A quarter of a mile further on, he spoke again. “Father wants us to go to the farm in North Elba. That’s what you told me, Owen.”

“Yes. But we’re needed more in Kansas.”

There was a long silence as he pondered this. Finally, “Why?”

“To fight slavery there.”

More silence. Then, “Doing the Lord’s work?”

“Right.”

“Good. That’s real good.”

“Yep.”

A little further down the road, he said, “But what about Father? He won’t like this, Owen.”

“Maybe not, at least at first. But don’t worry, he’ll come along soon to Kansas himself. He won’t let you and me and the boys do the Lord’s work, while he stays out east … . Anyhow, John says there”s going to be shooting in Kansas before long. That’ll bring the Old Man on. He hates it when he can’t give us the order to fire,” I said, and laughed, and he laughed with me.

So on we went, walking and sometimes hitching rides on wagons, barges, canal boats, moving slowly west and south into the territory of Kansas–a one-armed man and a gelded man, two wounded, penniless, motherless brothers marching off to do the Lord’s work in the war against slavery. In this wide world there was nothing better for us to do, except to stay home and to take care of the place and the women, which neither of us wanted to do and neither could do properly, either. We had to be good for something, though: we were sons of John Brown, and we had learned early in our lives that we did not deserve to live otherwise. So we were going off to Kansas to be good at killing. Our specialty would be killing men who wished to own other men.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Literature

One Response to Guest Observation: Russell Banks

  1. jb

    Beware of the man doing the Lord’s work.
    That is good writing. I’ll have to get this book. Thanks for that.

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