Newton Enigma.  A novel by Linton Herbert

Chapter 9 a


Randleman, October 28, 9 AM


It was a clear autumn morning as the little party made their way along a street in Randleman.  Hapgood had been pensive that morning.  Finally he spoke.


“You know, there’s something troubling here.  After listening to you yesterday, there does seem to be a pattern.  The Cossacks spend centuries looking for some way to survive on a shelterless continent dominated by enormous totalitarian powers.  Then they are betrayed and massacred.  Then a few decades later they are taking the place over.  The Jews endure centuries of persecution; then they are subjected to the holocaust.  Not many generations later they are flourishing.  Seminoles are banished to the swamps of Florida where the Creeks expect nobody can survive.  Now they are still strong and independent while the Creek nation has been shattered as an independent power. 


“There are plenty of other cases.  Cambodia, for instance, suffered insane degrees of repression and wholesale slaughter under the Khmer Rouge, but they have rebounded.  Africa has had a terrible toll both by the tampering of colonial powers and from diseases and famine.  Yet they are one of the few areas where the population is still able to grow at a normal rate.”


“It sounds sort of like there is a natural balance, doesn’t it,” said Ivan.  “Those who are persecuted get the chance to come back and take over.”


“Persecuted, or at least socially isolated,” said Hapgood.  “It does seem to be the pattern.”


“It’s just the natural resilience of people,” said Jon.  “People are strong.  If you don’t kill them, they come back fighting.  It’s the human spirit.”


“That’s what’s bothering me,” said Hapgood.  “The pattern we seem to be tracing is that the great empires, the lofty civilizations, drop dead in their tracks after a period of time.  It’s hard to believe that they have no spirit.  The whole of civilization is designed to encourage that spirit, to give people the security and the opportunity to develop great things.  But it seems to be the persecuted who are in it for the long haul.”


James said, “So the oppressed wind up taking over the oppressors.”


“It seems that way,” said Jon.


“Wouldn’t you know it?  The African Americans are oppressed for centuries, and then when it’s just about time for us to take over they stop oppressing us.” 


Everyone laughed. 


Randleman is a smaller town about midway between the ancient industrial city of Charlotte and the capital at Raleigh, a little closer to the Research Triangle made up of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.   Jon was not surprised to learn that, as in Jerusalem and Cuthbert, there was a stream to the north, Deep River. 


This was the edge of the Piedmont south.  It was the Fall Line that had caused the textile industry to grow in Charlotte. 


To the east of the Fall Line, the water courses are not rivers but estuaries, flowing back and forth with the tides.  The tidewater south, the Deep South of popular culture, is the area in which these tides are effective.  It is a land of ancient wealth, of lush beauty and of profound local pride.  The low terrain is rich soil, well watered by rain and river, accessible to easy transport either by boat up the deep estuaries or by roads that do not have to contend with hills, much less mountains.  Vast swamps, hung with Spanish moss like Florida swamps and dark with hardwoods, render much of the land unfit for agriculture, although in different times and places those swamps would have been drained to make the most fertile land of all.


The climate is mild, mellow with damp heat in the summer but crisp in the winter.  Winter frosts kill many insects and reptiles, making the tidewater swamps far less terrifying than the Florida swamps.  And the estuaries, meandering and inconstant of flow as they are, are still far more welcoming than Florida streams, which would just as soon drop into the earth – to the consternation of the lost traveler working his way downstream looking for human habitation – as proceed cheerily and ambitiously to the sea. 


The Deep South is tied in the mind with the growth of cotton; hence again the textile mills of the Fall Line.  The extent and fertility of the land could feed and clothe the earth, although at terrible cost to its abiding charm. 


The history of the Deep South is stained with the memory of a custom Jon had once tried to explain to some English friends.  He had said, “In the old days, they didn’t pay a man who worked for them.  They paid the man he used to work for.”  In response to the utter bafflement this caused he went on.  “Well it was a peculiar custom.  And people had rude names for it like ‘chattel slavery.’”


Slavery was a mild word for it and not quite accurate.  Slavery had been a custom in the ancient world of Greece, Rome and even ancient Israel.  But in those times, there was always a term to the servitude.  Even if the term was life, it was still finite.  In the United States, and slavery was not always limited to the South, the condition was perpetual.  Those born of slaves were born into slavery.  The unfairness of this was always beyond question.


It does no good to bring forth softening factors.  Southern slaves of African origin lived longer than their white masters on average, being less vulnerable to the malaria that was then epidemic and less afflicted with love of distilled alcohol, which their masters often took immoderately.  Slaves had a higher standard of living than free men working the barren stony earth of New England, ate better and were better housed and clothed.  They often had guns so they could do a bit of hunting to brighten their meals.  Perhaps most importantly, there had always been a bond of great affection between master and servant.  A slave could be sold without dishonor to a friend, but the highest prices were commanded by the auctions in New Orleans.  Being “sold down the river” was still a term for treachery of the most profound and heartless sort. 


No matter.  The arrangement was unfair and had to end.  Unfortunately the masters were in large part Anglo Saxons from the south of England.  They were fierce of temper, jealous of social clout and haughty of disposition although gracious in manner and kind of heart.  The slaves just about produced as much wealth as they consumed, but the important thing was that they made their masters feel important, made them feel like lords in this new society that was otherwise free of such social structures.  In the end, their own arrogance led to their undoing.  The War Between the States was never fought to free the slaves.  That was a strategic move that undercut Southern hopes of foreign assistance.  But the war was arguably fought to put down, once and for all, those insufferable Southern aristocrats. 


West of the Piedmont are the mountains.  They are high but forest clad in the mild climate.  Socially they are the antipode of the tidewater South.  While one has rich soil, the other has earth as grudging as that of the High North.  While one has languorous, sultry weather like honey warmed in the sun, the other is chill and rainy.  While one once took as a matter of course the domination of some people by others, the other is a fragmented and fractious collection of individualists. 


Like the High North, the mountain people have developed the knack of making good whiskey.  But while New England was learning to make rum from cane sugar grown in the West Indies, the mountain men were making bourbon out of locally grown corn.  The difference was that the mountain men had no concept why they should pay taxes on the fruits of their own labor.  If you knew your way around you could still buy the fiery clear moonshine brewed with traditional technique and traditional contempt for the civil authorities.  There would be a market for the liquor in legal commerce, if it were only possible to get the makers to do it legally for a change.  But there is small chance of that. 


The Piedmont itself – the “foot mountain” or foothills – is a broad rolling plateau with an intermediate climate and land of about the same quality as that of the Midwest.  The land was settled by the Scotch Irish, sturdy yeoman stock from the lowlands of Scotland and the north of Ireland.  They were all Presbyterian at one time in history.  As such they were persecuted by the dominant Anglicans, who resented people who would not subordinate themselves to Anglo Saxon hierarchy.  During the days of the colonies, many came to the new world for religious freedom.  Not so the Scotch Irish.  They had learned simply to tolerate being persecuted.  It was just a matter of doing as they thought right whether there were consequences or not.


The early westward expansion was so rapid that the Presbyterian Church could not keep up with it.  Presbyterian ministers had to undergo long study before they could be ordained.  It was simply not possible to keep up with the demand, and the Scotch Irish were unchurched for many years, as are many now who still acknowledge profound religious feelings.  That was changed by the administrative brilliance of a man named John Wesley, who brought the Methodist Church to the new world.  Methodists also required long training, but while the Presbyterian minister was largely bound to his congregation, the Methodist minister was more closely tied to his bishop.  Initially the Methodist minister would be given a circuit of four churches, and he would “ride the circuit,” visiting each congregation for a service once a month.  The largely undocumented explosion of Methodism in America is one of the great religious changes of history.  Even after the days of the circuit riders, the bishop still could and did require Methodist ministers to move at his discretion, usually once every four or eight years. 


But the high degree of centralization of power that the Methodist Church embodied was not exactly to the liking of the independent Scotch Irish.  By degrees they adopted a Baptist heritage, again linking the minister closely with the congregation with a far looser relationship between churches. 


It had been the Scotch Irish who provided the bulk of the fighting men during the Civil War.  And even now they were called the backbone of America. 


Where Piedmont meets Tidewater is the Fall Line.  In the old days it was a line of waterfalls plunging from the plateau to the low plains to the east.  This made it possible to set up mills using water power and later hydroelectric power, and it was this industry that in large measure created the chain of cities that the friends were following northeastward, right along the great circle that Terra Lane had pointed out to them. 


Ivan asked, “By the way, Tracy.  What’s your last name?”


“Just Tracy.”


“Is it that your last name is “Just” or is it that you never had a last name?  Can I call you ‘Just’?”


“You can call me ‘Your Highness” if you like.  But a name like Madeline McGillicuddy is not the best for someone in my kind of work.”


“Very well, your highness.”


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