THREE AND ONE ARE ONE
by Ambrose Bierce
In the year 1861 Barr Lassiter, a young man
of twenty-two, lived with his parents and an
elder sister near Carthage, Tennessee. The
family were in somewhat humble circumstances,
subsisting by cultivation of a small and not
very fertile plantation. Owning no slaves,
they were not rated among "the best people"
of their neighborhood; but they were honest
persons of good education, fairly well mannered
and as respectable as any family could be if
uncredentialed by personal dominion over the
sons and daughters of Ham. The elder Lassiter
had that severity of manner that so frequently
affirms an uncompromising devotion to duty,
and conceals a warm and affectionate disposition.
He was of the iron of which martyrs are made,
but in the heart of the matrix had lurked a
nobler metal, fusible at a milder heat, yet
never coloring nor softening the hard exterior.
By both heredity and environment something of
the man's inflexible character had touched the
other members of the family; the Lassiter home,
though not devoid of domestic affection, was
a veritable citadel of duty, and duty--ah,
duty is as cruel as death!
When the war came on it found in the family,
as in so many others in that State, a divided
sentiment; the young man was loyal to the
Union, the others savagely hostile. This
unhappy division begot an insupportable
domestic bitterness, and when the offending
son and brother left home with the avowed
purpose of joining the Federal army not a
hand was laid in his, not a word of farewell
was spoken, not a good wish followed him out
into the world whither he went to meet with
such spirit as he might whatever fate awaited
Making his way to Nashville, already occupied
by the Army of General Buell, he enlisted in
the first organization that he found, a
Kentucky regiment of cavalry, and in due time
passed through all the stages of military
evolution from raw recruit to experienced
trooper. A right good trooper he was, too,
although in his oral narrative from which
this tale is made there was no mention of
that; the fact was learned from his surviving
comrades. For Barr Lassiter has answered
"Here" to the sergeant whose name is Death.
Two years after he had joined it his regiment
passed through the region whence he had come.
The country thereabout had suffered severely
from the ravages of war, having been occupied
alternately (and simultaneously) by the
belligerent forces, and a sanguinary struggle
had occurred in the immediate vicinity of the
Lassiter homestead. But of this the young
trooper was not aware.
Finding himself in camp near his home, he
felt a natural longing to see his parents
and sister, hoping that in them, as in him,
the unnatural animosities of the period had
been softened by time and separation. Obtaining
a leave of absence, he set foot in the late
summer afternoon, and soon after the rising
of the full moon was walking up the gravel
path leading to the dwelling in which he had
Soldiers in war age rapidly, and in youth
two years are a long time. Barr Lassiter
felt himself an old man, and had almost
expected to find the place a ruin and a
desolation. Nothing, apparently, was
changed. At the sight of each dear and
familiar object he was profoundly affected.
His heart beat audibly, his emotion nearly
suffocated him; an ache was in his throat.
Unconsciously he quickened his pace until
he almost ran, his long shadow making
grotesque efforts to keep its place beside
The house was unlighted, the door open. As he
approached and paused to recover control of
himself his father came out and stood
bare-headed in the moonlight.
"Father!" cried the young man, springing
forward with outstretched hand--"Father!"
The elder man looked him sternly in the
face, stood a moment motionless and without
a word withdrew into the house. Bitterly
disappointed, humiliated, inexpressibly
hurt and altogether unnerved, the soldier
dropped upon a rustic seat in deep dejection,
supporting his head upon his trembling
hand. But he would not have it so: he was
too good a soldier to accept repulse as
defeat. He rose and entered the house,
passing directly to the "sitting-room."
It was dimly lighted by an uncurtained east
window. On a low stool by the hearthside,
the only article of furniture in the place,
sat his mother, staring into a fireplace
strewn with blackened embers and cold ashes.
He spoke to her--tenderly, interrogatively,
and with hesitation, but she neither answered,
nor moved, nor seemed in any way surprised.
True, there had been time for her husband
to apprise her of their guilty son's return.
He moved nearer and was about to lay his
hand upon her arm, when his sister entered
from an adjoining room, looked him full in
the face, passed him without a sign of
recognition and left the room by a door
that was partly behind him. He had turned
his head to watch her, but when she was
gone his eyes again sought his mother. She
too had left the place.
Barr Lassiter strode to the door by which he
had entered. The moonlight on the lawn was
tremulous, as if the sward were a rippling
sea. The trees and their black shadows shook
as in a breeze. Blended with its borders,
the gravel walk seemed unsteady and insecure
to step on. This young soldier knew the
optical illusions produced by tears. He
felt them on his cheek, and saw them sparkle
on the breast of his trooper's jacket. He
left the house and made his way back to camp.
The next day, with no very definite intention,
with no dominant feeling that he could rightly
have named, he again sought the spot. Within
a half-mile of it he met Bushrod Albro, a
former playfellow and schoolmate, who greeted
"I am going to visit my home," said the soldier.
The other looked at him rather sharply, but
"I know," continued Lassiter, "that my folks
have not changed, but--"
"There have been changes," Albro interrupted--"everything
changes. I'll go with you if you don't mind. We
can talk as we go."
But Albro did not talk.
Instead of a house they found only fire-blackened
foundations of stone, enclosing an area of compact
ashes pitted by rains.
Lassiter's astonishment was extreme.
"I could not find the right way to tell you,"
said Albro. "In the fight a year ago your house
was burned by a Federal shell."
"And my family--where are they?"
"In Heaven, I hope. All were killed by the
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~