The Battle Ground
Part 5 out of 8
as long as you please about martial glory, but if there's any man who
thinks it's fun merely to get dirty and eat raw food, well, he's welcome to
my share of it, that's all. I haven't had so much as one of the necessities
of life since I settled down in this old field; even my hair has taken to
standing on end. I say, Beau, do you happen to have any pomade about you?
Oh, you needn't jeer, Bland, there's no danger of your getting bald, with
that sheepskin over your scalp; and, besides, I'm willing enough to
sacrifice my life for my country. I object only to giving it my hair
"I believe you'll find a little in my knapsack," gravely replied Dan, to be
assailed on the spot by a chorus of comic demands.
"I say, Beau, have you any rouge on hand? I'm growing pale. Please drop a
little cologne on this handkerchief, my boy. May I borrow your powder puff?
I've been sitting in the sun. Don't you want that gallon of stale
buttermilk to take your tan off, Miss Nancy?"
"Oh, shut up!" cried Dan, sharply; "if you choose to turn pigs simply
because you've come out to do a little fighting, I've nothing to say
against it; but I prefer to remain a gentleman, that's all."
"He prefers to remain a gentleman, that's all," chanted the chorus round
the apple tree.
"And I'll knock your confounded heads off, if you keep this up," pursued
"And he'll knock our confounded heads off, if we keep this up," shouted the
chorus in a jubilant refrain.
"Well, I'll tell you one thing," remarked Jack Powell, feeling his
responsibility in the matter of the pomade. "All I've got to say is, if
this is what you call war, it's a pretty stale business. The next time I
want to be frisky, I'll volunteer to pass the lemonade at a Sunday-school
"And has anybody called it war, Dandy?" inquired Bland, witheringly.
"Well, somebody might, you know," replied Jack, opening his fine white
shirt at the neck, "did I hear you call it war, Kemper?" he asked politely,
as he punched a stout sleeper beside him.
Kemper started up and aimed a blow at vacancy. "Oh, you heard the devil!"
"I beg your pardon; it was mistaken identity," returned Jack suavely.
"Look here, my lad, don't fool with Kemper when he's hot," cautioned Bland,
"He's red enough to fire those bales of straw. I say, Kemper, may I light
my pipe at your face?"
"Shut up, now, or he'll be puffing round here like a steam engine," said a
small dark man named Baker, "let smouldering fires lie on a day like this.
Give me a light, Dandy."
Jack Powell held out his cigar, and then, leaning back against the tree,
blew a cloud of smoke about his head.
"I'll be blessed if I don't think seven hours' drill is too much of a bad
thing," he plaintively remarked; "and I may as well add, by the bye, that
the next time I go to war, I intend to go in the character of a
"Make it Commander-in-chief. Don't be too modest, my boy."
"Well, you may laugh if you like," pursued Jack, "but between you and me,
it was all the fault of those girls at home--they have an idea that
patriotism never trims its sleeves, you know. On my word, I might have been
Captain of the Leicesterburg Guards after Champe Lightfoot joined the
cavalry; but such averted looks were turned from me by the ladies, that I
had to jump into the ranks merely to reinstate myself in their regard. They
made even Governor Ambler volunteer as a private, I believe, but he was
lucky and got made a Colonel instead."
Bland laughed softly.
"That reminds me of our Colonel," he observed. "I overheard him talking to
himself the other day, and he said: 'All I ask is not to be in command of a
volunteer regiment in hell.'"
"Oh, he won't," put in Dan; "all the volunteers will be in heaven--" unless
they're sent down below because they were too big fools to join the
"Then, in heaven's name, why didn't you join the cavalry?" inquired Baker.
Dan looked at him a moment, and then threw the apple core at a water bucket
that stood upside down upon the grass. "Well, I couldn't go on my own
horse, you see," he replied, "and I wouldn't go on the Government's. I
don't ride hacks."
"So you came into the infantry to get court-martialled," remarked Bland.
"The captain said down the valley, you'll remember, that if the war lasted
a month, you'd be court-martialled for disobedience on the thirtieth day."
Dan growled under his breath. "Well, I didn't enter the army to be hectored
by any fool who comes along," he returned. "Look at that fellow Jones, now.
He thinks because he happens to be Lieutenant that he's got a right to
forget that I'm a gentleman and he's not. Why, the day before we came up
here, he got after me at drill about being out of step, or some little
thing like that; and, by George, to hear him roar you'd have thought that
war wasn't anything but monkeying round with a musket. Why, the rascal came
from my part of the country, and his father before him wasn't fit to black
"Did you knock him down?" eagerly inquired Bland.
"I told him to take off his confounded finery and I would," answered Dan.
"So when drill was over, we went off behind a tent, and I smashed his nose.
He's no coward, I'll say that for him, and when the Captain told him he
looked as if he'd been fighting, he laughed and said he had had 'a little
personal encounter with the enemy.'"
"Well, I'm willing enough to do battle for my country," said Jack Powell,
"but I'll be blessed if I'm going to have my elbow jogged by the poor white
trash while I'm doing it."
"He was scolding at us yesterday because when we were detailed to clean out
the camp, we gave the order to the servants," put in Baker. "Clean out the
camp! Does he think my grandmother was a chambermaid?" He suddenly broke
off and helped himself to a drink of water from a dripping bucket that a
tall mountaineer was passing round the group.
"Been to the creek, Pinetop?" he asked good-humouredly.
The mountaineer, who had won his title from his great height, towering as
he did above every man in the company, nodded drowsily as he settled
himself upon the ground. He was lithe and hardy as a young hickory, and his
abundant hair was of the colour of ripe wheat. At the call to arms he had
come, with long strides, down from his bare little cabin in the Blue Ridge,
bringing with him a flintlock musket, a corncob pipe, and a stockingful of
Virginia tobacco. Since the day of his arrival, he had accepted the pointed
jokes of the mess into which he had drifted, with grave lips and a flicker
of his calm blue eyes. They had jeered him unmercifully, and he had
regarded them with serene and wondering attention. "I say, Pinetop, is it
raining up where you are?" a wit had put to him on the first day, and he
had looked down and answered placidly:--
"Naw, it's cl'ar."
As he sat down in the group beside the woodpile, Bland tossed him the
latest paper, but carefully folding it into a square, he laid it aside, and
stretched himself upon the brown grass.
"This here's powerful weather for sweatin'," he pleasantly observed, as he
pulled a mullein leaf from the foot of the apple tree and placed it over
his eyes. Then he turned over and in a moment was sleeping as quietly as a
Dan got down from the logs and stood thoughtfully staring in the direction
of the happy little town lying embosomed in green hills. That little town
gave to him, as he stood there in the noon heat, a memory of deep gardens
filled with fragrance, of open houses set in blue shadows, and of the
bright fluttering of Confederate flags. For a moment he looked toward it
down the hot road; then, with a sigh, he turned away and wandered off to
seek the outside shadow of a tent.
As he flung himself down in the strip of shade, his gaze went longingly to
the dim chain of mountains which showed like faint blue clouds against the
sky, while his thoughts returned, as a sick man's, to the clustered elm
boughs and the smooth lawn at Chericoke, and to Betty blooming like a
flower in a network of sun and shade.
The memory was so vivid that when he closed his eyes it was almost as if he
heard the tapping of the tree-tops against the roof, and felt the pleasant
breeze blowing over the sweet-smelling meadows. He looked, through his
closed eyes, into the dim old house, seeing the rustling grasses in the
great blue jar and their delicate shadow trembling on the pure white wall.
There was the tender hush about it that belongs to the memories of dead
friends or absent places; a hush that was reverent as a Sabbath calm. He
saw the shining swords of the Major and the Major's father; the rear door
with the microphylla roses nodding upon the lintel, and, high above all,
the shadowy bend of the staircase, with Betty standing there in her cool
He opened his eyes with a start, and pillowing his head on his arm, lay
looking off into the burning distance. A bee, straying from a field of
clover across the road, buzzed, for a moment, round his face, and then
knocked, with a flapping noise, against the canvas tent. Far away, beyond
the murmur of the camp, he heard a partridge whistling in a tangled meadow;
and at the same instant his own name called through the sunlight.
"I say, Beau, Beau, where are you?" He sat up, and shouted in response, and
Jack Powell came hurriedly round the tent to fling himself down upon the
"Oh, you don't know what you missed!" he cried, chuckling. "You didn't stay
long enough to hear the joke on Bland."
"I hope it's a fresh one," was Dan's response. "If it's that old thing
about the mule and the darky, I may as well say in the beginning that I
heard it in the ark."
"Oh, it's new, old man. He made the mistake of trying to get some fun out
of Pinetop, and he got more than he bargained for, that's all. He began to
tease him about those blue jean trousers he carries in his knapsack. You've
seen them, I reckon?"
Dan nodded as he chewed idly at a blade of grass. "I tried to get him to
throw them away yesterday," he said, "and he did go so far as to haul them
out and look them over; but after meditating a half hour, he packed them
away again and declared there was 'a sight of wear left in them still.' He
told me if he ever made up his mind to get rid of them, and peace should
come next day, he'd never forgive himself."
"Well, I warned Bland not to meddle with him," pursued Jack, "but he got
bored and set in to make things lively. 'Look here, Pinetop,' he began,
'will you do me the favour to give me the name of the tailor who made your
blue jeans?' and, bless your life, Pinetop just took the mullein leaf from
his eyes, and sang out 'Maw.' That was what Bland wanted, of course, so,
without waiting for the danger signal, he plunged in again. 'Then if you
don't object I should be glad to have the pattern of them,' he went on, as
smooth as butter. 'I want them to wear when I go home again, you know. Why,
they're just the things to take a lady's eye--they have almost the fit of a
flour-sack--and the ladies are fond of flour, aren't they?' The whole crowd
was waiting, ready to howl at Pinetop's answer, and, sure enough, he raised
himself on his elbow, and drawled out in his sing-song tone: 'I say, Sonny,
ain't yo' Maw done put you into breeches yit?'"
"It serves him right," said Dan sternly, "and that's what I like about
Pinetop, Jack, there's no ruffling him." He brushed off the bee that had
fallen on his head, and dodged as it angrily flew back again.
"Some of the boys raised a row when he came into our mess," returned Jack,
"but where every man's fighting for his country, we're all equal, say I.
What makes me dog-tired, though, is the airs some of these fool officers
put on; all this talk about an 'officer's mess' now, as if a man is too
good to eat with me who wouldn't dare to sit down to my table if he had on
civilian's clothes. It's all bosh, that's what it is."
He got up and strolled off with his grievance, and Dan, stretching himself
upon the ground, looked across the hills, to the far mountains where the
THE DAY'S MARCH
In the gray dawn tents were struck, and five days' rations were issued with
the marching orders. As Dan packed his knapsack with trembling hands, he
saw men stalking back and forth like gigantic shadows, and heard the hoarse
shouting of the company officers through the thick fog which had rolled
down from the mountains. There was a persistent buzz in the air, as if a
great swarm of bees had settled over the misty valley. Each man was asking
unanswerable questions of his neighbour.
At a little distance Big Abel, with several of the company "darkies" was
struggling energetically over the property of the mess, storing the cooking
utensils into a stout camp chest, which the strength of several men would
lift, when filled, into the wagon. Bland, who had just tossed his overcoat
across to them, turned abruptly upon Dan, and demanded warmly "what had
become of his case of razors?"
"Where are we going?" was Dan's response, as he knelt down to roll up his
oilcloth and blanket. "By Jove, it looks as if we'd gobble up Patterson for
"I say, where's my case of razors?" inquired Bland, with irritation. "They
were lying here a moment ago, and now they're gone. Dandy, have you got my
"Look here, Beau, what are you going to leave behind?" asked Kemper over
"Leave behind? Why, dull care," rejoined Dan gayly. "By the way, Pinetop,
why don't you save your appetite for Patterson's dainties?"
Pinetop, who was leisurely eating his breakfast of "hardtack" and bacon,
took a long draught from his tin cup, and replied, as he wiped his mouth on
his shirt sleeve, that he "reckoned thar wouldn't be any trouble about
finding room for them, too." The general gayety was reflected in his face;
he laughed as he bit deeply into his half-cooked bacon.
Dan stood up and nervously strapped on his knapsack; then he swung his
canteen over his shoulder and carefully tightened his belt. His face was
flushed, and when he spoke his voice quivered with emotion. It seemed to
him that the delay of every instant was a reckless waste of time, and he
trembled at the thought that the enemy might be preparing to fall upon them
unawares; that while the camp was swarming like an ant's nest, Patterson
and his men might be making good use of the fleeting moments.
"Why the devil don't we move? We ought to move," he said angrily, as he
glanced round the crowded field where the men were arraying themselves in
all the useless trappings of the Southern volunteer. Kemper was busily
placing his necessary toilet articles in his haversack, having thrown away
half his rations for the purpose; Jack Powell, completely dressed for the
march, was examining his heavy revolver, with the conscious pride a field
officer might have felt in his sword. As he stuck it into his belt, he
straightened himself with a laugh and jauntily set his small cap on his
curling hair; he was clean, comely, and smooth-shaven as if he had just
stepped from a hot bath and the hands of his barber.
"You may roll Dandy in the dust and he'll come out washed," Baker had once
"I say, boys, why don't we start?" persisted Dan impatiently, flicking with
his handkerchief at a grain of sand on his high boots. Then, as Big Abel
brought him a cup of coffee, he drank it standing, casting eager glances
over the rim of his cup. He had an odd feeling that it was all a great fox
hunt they were soon to start upon; that they were waiting only for the
calling of the hounds. The Major's fighting blood had stirred within his
grandson's veins, and generations of dead Lightfoots were scenting the
coming battle from the dust. When Dan thought now of the end to which he
should presently be marching, it suggested to him but a quickened
exhilaration of the pulses and an old engraving of "Waterloo," which hung
on the dining-room wall at Chericoke. That was war; and he remembered
vividly the childish thrill with which he had first looked up at it. He saw
the prancing horses, the dramatic gestures of the generals with flowing
hair, the blur of waving flags and naked swords. It was like a page torn
from the eternal Romance; a page upon which he and his comrades should play
heroic parts; and it was white blood, indeed, that did not glow with the
hope of sharing in that picture; of hanging immortal in an engraving on the
The "fall in" of the sergeant was already sounding from the road, and, with
a last glance about the field, Dan ran down the gentle slope and across the
little stream to take his place in the ranks of the forming column. An
officer on a milk-white horse was making frantic gestures to the line, and
the young man followed him an instant with his eyes. Then, as he stood
there in the warm sunshine, he felt his impatience prick him like a needle.
He wanted to push forward the regiments in front of him, to start in any
direction--only to start. The suppressed excitement of the fox hunt was
upon him, and the hoarse voices of the officers thrilled him as if they
were the baying of the hounds. He heard the musical jingle of moving
cavalry, the hurried tread of feet in the soft dust, the smothered oaths of
men who stumbled over the scattered stones. And, at last, when the sun
stood high above, the long column swung off toward the south, leaving the
enemy and the north behind it.
"By God, we're running away," said Bland in a whisper. With the words the
gayety passed suddenly from the army, and it moved slowly with the
dispirited tread of beaten men. The enemy lay to the north, and it was
marching to the south and home.
As it passed through the fragrant streets of Winchester, women, with
startled eyes, ran from open doors into the deep old gardens, and watched
it over the honeysuckle hedges. Under the fluttering flags, past the long
blue shadows, with the playing of the bands and the clatter of the
canteens--on it went into the white dust and the sunshine. From a wide
piazza, a group of schoolgirls pelted the troops with roses, and as Dan
went by he caught a white bud and stuck it into his cap. He looked back
laughing, to meet the flash of laughing eyes; then the gray line swept out
upon the turnpike and went down the broad road through the smooth green
fields, over which the sunlight lay like melted gold.
Dan, walking between Pinetop and Jack Powell, felt a sudden homesickness
for the abandoned camp, which they were leaving with the gay little town
and the red clay forts, naked to the enemy's guns. He saw the branching
apple tree, the burned-out fires, the silvery fringe of willows by the
stream; and he saw the men in blue already in possession of his woodpile,
broiling their bacon by the logs that Big Abel had cut.
At the end of three miles the brigades abruptly halted, and he listened,
looking at the ground, to an order, which was read by a slim young officer
who pulled nervously at his moustache. Down the column came a single
ringing cheer, and, without waiting for the command, the men pushed eagerly
forward along the road. What was a forced march of thirty miles to an army
that had never seen a battle?
As they went on a boyish merriment tripped lightly down the turnpike; jests
were shouted, a wit began to tease a mounted officer who was trying to
reach the front, and somebody with a tenor voice was singing "Dixie." A
stray countryman, sitting upon the wall of loose stones, was greeted
affectionately by each passing company. He was a big, stupid-looking man,
with a gray fowl hanging, head downward, from his hand, and as he responded
"Howdy," in an expressionless tone, the fowl craned its long neck upward
and pecked at the creeper on the wall.
"Howdy, Jim!" "Howdy, Peter!" "Howdy, Luke!" sang the first line. "How's
your wife?" "How's your wife's mother?" "How's your sister-in-law's uncle?"
inquired the next. The countryman spat into the ditch and stared solemnly
in reply, and the gray fowl, still craning its neck, pecked steadily at the
leaves upon the stones.
Dan looked up into the blue sky, across the open meadows to the far-off low
mountains, and then down the long turnpike where the dust hung in a yellow
cloud. In the bright sunshine he saw the flash of steel and the glitter of
gold braid, and the noise of tramping feet cheered him like music as he
walked on gayly, filled with visions. For was he not marching to his chosen
end--to victory, to Chericoke--to Betty? Or if the worst came to the
worst--well, a man had but one life, after all, and a life was a little
thing to give his country. Then, as always, his patriotism appealed to him
as a romance rather than a religion--the fine Southern ardour which had
sent him, at the first call, into the ranks, had sprung from an inward, not
an outward pressure. The sound of the bugle, the fluttering of the flags,
the flash of hot steel in the sunlight, the high old words that stirred
men's pulses--these things were his by blood and right of heritage. He
could no more have stifled the impulse that prompted him to take a side in
any fight than he could have kept his heart cool beneath the impassioned
voice of a Southern orator. The Major's blood ran warm through many
"I say, Beau, did you put a millstone in my knapsack?" inquired Bland
suddenly. His face was flushed, and there was a streak of wet dust across
his forehead. "If you did, it was a dirty joke," he added irritably. Dan
laughed. "Now that's odd," he replied, "because there's one in mine also,
and, moreover, somebody has stuck penknives in my boots. Was it you,
But the mountaineer shook his head in silence, and then, as they halted to
rest upon the roadside, he flung himself down beneath the shadow of a
sycamore, and raised his canteen to his lips. He had come leisurely at his
long strides, and as Dan looked at him lying upon the short grass by the
wall, he shook his own roughened hair, in impatient envy. "Why, you've
stood it like a Major, Pinetop," he remarked.
Pinetop opened his eyes. "Stood what?" he drawled.
"Why, this heat, this dust, this whole confounded march. I don't believe
you've turned a hair, as Big Abel says."
"Good Lord," said Pinetop. "I don't reckon you've ever ploughed up hill
with a steer team."
Without replying, Dan unstrapped his knapsack and threw it upon the
roadside. "What doesn't go in my haversack, doesn't go, that's all," he
observed. "How about you, Dandy?"
"Oh, I threw mine away a mile after starting," returned Jack Powell, "my
luxuries are with a girl I left behind me. I've sacrificed everything to
the cause except my toothbrush, and, by Jove, if the weight of that goes on
increasing, I shall be forced to dispense with it forever. I got rid of my
rations long ago. Pinetop says a man can't starve in blackberry season, and
I hope he's right. Anyway, the Lord will provide--or he won't, that's
"Is this the reward of faith, I wonder?" said Dan, as he looked at a lame
old negro who wheeled a cider cart and a tray of green apple pies down a
red clay lane that branched off under thick locust trees. "This way, Uncle,
here's your man."
The old negro slowly approached them to be instantly surrounded by the
"Howdy, Marsters? howdy?" he began, pulling his grizzled hair. "Dese yer's
right nice pies, dat dey is, suh."
"Look here, Uncle, weren't they made in the ark, now?" inquired Bland
jestingly, as he bit into a greasy crust.
"De ark? naw, suh; my Mehaley she des done bake 'em in de cabin over
yonder." He lifted his shrivelled hand and pointed, with a tremulous
gesture, to a log hut showing among the distant trees.
"What? are you a free man, Uncle?"
"Free? Go 'way f'om yer! ain' you never hyearn tell er Marse Plunkett?"
"Plunkett?" gravely repeated Bland, filling his canteen with cider. "Look
here, stand back, boys, it's my turn now.--Plunkett--Plunkett--can I have a
long-lost friend named Plunkett? Where is he, Uncle? has he gone to fight?"
"Marse Plunkett? Naw, suh, he ain' fit nobody."
"Well, you tell him from me that he'd better enlist at once," put in Jack
Powell. "This isn't the time for skulkers, Uncle; he's on our side, isn't
he?" The old negro shook his head, looking uneasily at the froth that
dripped from the keg into the dust.
"Naw, suh, Marse Plunkett, he's fur de Un'on, but he's pow'ful feared er de
Yankees," he returned.
Bland broke into a laugh. "Oh, come, that's downright treason," he
protested merrily. "Your Marse Plunkett's a skulker sure enough, and you
may tell him so with my compliments. You're on the Yankee side, too, I
reckon, and there're bullets in these pies, sure as I live."
The old man shuffled nervously on his bare feet.
"Go 'way, Marster, w'at I know 'bout 'sides'?" he replied, tilting his keg
to drain the last few drops into the canteen of a thirsty soldier. "I'se on
de Lawd's side, dat's whar I is."
He fell back startled, for the call of "Column, forward!" was shouted down
the road, and in an instant the men had left the emptied cart, and were
marching on into the sunny distance.
As the afternoon lengthened the heat grew more oppressive. Straight ahead
there was dust and sunshine and the ceaseless tramp, and on either side the
fresh fields were scorched and whitened by a powdering of hot sand. Beyond
the rise and dip of the hills, the mountains burned like blue flames on the
horizon, and overhead the sky was hard as an inverted brazier.
Dan had begun to limp, for his stiff boots galled his feet. His senses were
blunted by the hot sand which filled his eyes and ears and nostrils, and
there was a shimmer over all the broad landscape. When he shook his hair
from his forehead, the dust floated slowly down and settled in a scorching
ring about his neck.
The day closed gradually, and as they neared the river, the mountains
emerged from obscure outlines into wooded heights upon which the trees
showed soft and gray in the sunset. A cool breath was blown through a strip
of damp woodland, where the pale bodies of the sycamores were festooned in
luxuriant vines, and from the twilight long shadows stretched across the
red clay road. Then, as they went down a rocky slope, a fringe of willows
appeared suddenly from the blur of green, and they saw the Shenandoah
running between falling banks, with the colours of the sunset floating like
pink flowers upon its breast.
With a shout the front line plunged into the stream, holding its heavy
muskets high above the current of the water, and filing upon the opposite
bank, into a rough road which wound amid the ferns.
Midway of the river, near the fording point, there was a little island
which lay like a feathery tree-top upon the tinted water; and as Dan went
by, he felt the brush of willows on his face and heard the soft lapping of
the small waves upon the shore. The keen smell of the sycamores drifted to
him from the bank that he had left, and straight up stream he saw a single
peaked blue hill upon which a white cloud rested. For a moment he lingered,
breathing in the fragrance, then the rear line pressed upon him, and,
crossing rapidly, he stood on the rocky edge, shaking the water from his
clothes. Out of the after-glow came the steady tramp of tired feet, and
with aching limbs, he turned and hastened with the column into the mountain
THE REIGN OF THE BRUTE
The noise of the guns rolled over the green hills into the little valley
where the regiment had halted before a wayside spring, which lay hidden
beneath a clump of rank pokeberry. As each company filled its canteens, it
filed across the sunny road, from which the dust rose like steam, and stood
resting in an open meadow that swept down into a hollow between two gently
rising hills. From the spring a thin stream trickled, bordered by short
grass, and the water, dashed from it by the thirsty men, gathered in
shining puddles in the red clay road. By one of these puddles a man had
knelt to wash his face, and as Dan passed, draining his canteen, he looked
up with a sprinkling of brown drops on his forehead. Near him, unharmed by
the tramping feet, a little purple flower was blooming in the mud.
Dan gazed thoughtfully down upon him and upon the little purple flower in
its dangerous spot. What did mud or dust matter, he questioned grimly, when
in a breathing space they would be in the midst of the smoke that hung
close above the hill-top? The sound of the cannon ceased suddenly, as
abruptly as if the battery had sunk into the ground, and through the sunny
air he heard a long rattle that reminded him of the fall of hail on the
shingled roof at Chericoke. As his canteen struck against his side, it
seemed to him that it met the resistance of a leaden weight. There was a
lump in his throat and his lips felt parched, though the moisture from the
fresh spring water was hardly dried. When he moved he was conscious of
stepping high above the earth, as he had done once at college after an
over-merry night and many wines.
Straight ahead the sunshine lay hot and still over the smooth fields and
the little hollow where a brook ran between marshy banks. High above he saw
it flashing on the gray smoke that hung in tatters from the tree-tops on
An ambulance, drawn by a white and a bay horse, turned gayly from the road
into the meadow, and he saw, with surprise, that one of the surgeons was
trimming his finger nails with a small penknife. The surgeon was a slight
young man, with pointed yellow whiskers, and light blue eyes that squinted
in the sunshine. As he passed he stifled a yawn with an elaborate
affectation of unconcern.
A man on horseback, with a white handkerchief tied above his collar,
galloped up and spoke in a low voice to the Colonel. Then, as his horse
reared, he glanced nervously about, grew embarrassed, and, with a sharp
jerk of the bridle, galloped off again across the field. Presently other
men rode back and forth along the road; there were so many of them that Dan
wondered, bewildered, if anybody was left to make the battle beyond the
The regiment formed into line and started at "double quick" across the
broad meadow powdered white with daisies. As it went into the ravine,
skirting the hillside, a stream of men came toward it and passed slowly to
the rear. Some were on stretchers, some were stumbling in the arms of
slightly wounded comrades, some were merely warm and dirty and very much
afraid. One and all advised the fresh regiment to "go home and finish
ploughing." "The Yankees have got us on the hip," they declared
emphatically. "Whoopee! it's as hot as hell where you're going." Then a
boy, with a blood-stained sleeve, waved his shattered arm in the air and
laughed deliriously. "Don't believe them, friends, it's glorious!" he
cried, in the voice of the far South, and lurched forward upon the grass.
The sight of the soaked shirt and the smell of blood turned Dan faint. He
felt a sudden tremor in his limbs, and his arteries throbbed dully in his
ears. "I didn't know it was like this," he muttered thickly. "Why, they're
no better than mangled rabbits--I didn't know it was like this."
They wound through the little ravine, climbed a hillside planted in thin
corn, and were ordered to "load and lie down" in a strip of woodland. Dan
tore at his cartridge with set teeth; then as he drove his ramrod home, a
shell, thrown from a distant gun, burst in the trees above him, and a red
flame ran, for an instant, along the barrel of his musket. He dodged
quickly, and a rain of young pine needles fell in scattered showers from
the smoked boughs overhead. Somewhere beside him a man was groaning in
terror or in pain. "I'm hit, boys, by God, I'm hit this time." The groans
changed promptly into a laugh. "Bless my soul! the plagued thing went right
into the earth beneath me."
"Damn you, it went into my leg," retorted a hoarse voice that fell suddenly
With a shiver Dan lay down on the carpet of rotted pine-cones and peered,
like a squirrel, through the meshes of the brushwood. At first he saw only
gray smoke and a long sweep of briers and broom-sedge, standing out dimly
from an obscurity that was thick as dusk. Then came a clatter near at hand,
and a battery swept at a long gallop across the thinned edge of the pines.
So close it came that he saw the flashing white eyeballs and the spreading
sorrel manes of the horses, and almost felt their hot breath upon his
cheek. He heard the shouts of the outriders, the crack of the stout whips,
the rattle of the caissons, and, before it passed, he had caught the
excited gestures of the men upon the guns. The battery unlimbered, as he
watched it, shot a few rounds from the summit of the hill, and retreated
rapidly to a new position. When the wind scattered the heavy smoke, he saw
only the broom-sedge and several ridges of poor corn; some of the gaunt
stalks blackened and beaten to the ground, some still flaunting their brave
tassels beneath the whistling bullets. It was all in sunlight, and the gray
smoke swept ceaselessly to and fro over the smiling face of the field.
Then, as he turned a little in his shelter, he saw that there was a single
Confederate battery in position under a slight swell on his left. Beyond it
he knew that the long slope sank gently into a marshy stream and the broad
turnpike, but the brow of the hill went up against the sky, and hidden in
the brushwood he could see only the darkened line of the horizon. Against
it the guns stood there in the sunlight, unsupported, solitary, majestic,
while around them the earth was tossed up in the air as if a loose plough
had run wild across the field. A handful of artillerymen moved back and
forth, like dim outlines, serving the guns in a group of fallen horses that
showed in dark mounds upon the hill. From time to time he saw a rammer
waved excitedly as a shot went home, or heard, in a lull, the hoarse voices
of the gunners when they called for "grape!"
As he lay there, with his eyes on the solitary battery, he forgot, for an
instant, his own part in the coming work. A bullet cut the air above him,
and a branch, clipped as by a razor's stroke, fell upon his head; but his
nerves had grown steady and his thoughts were not of himself; he was
watching, with breathless interest, for another of the gray shadows at the
guns to go down among the fallen horses.
Then, while he watched, he saw other batteries come out upon the hill; saw
the cannon thrown into position and heard the call change from "grape!" to
"canister!" On the edge of the pines a voice was speaking, and beyond the
voice a man on horseback was riding quietly back and forth in the open.
Behind him Jack Powell called out suddenly, "We're ready, Colonel Burwell!"
and his voice was easy, familiar, almost affectionate.
"I know it, boys!" replied the Colonel in the same tone, and Dan felt a
quick sympathy spring up within him. At that instant he knew that he loved
every man in the regiment beside him--loved the affectionate Colonel, with
the sleepy voice, loved Pinetop, loved the lieutenant whose nose he had
broken after drill.
At a word he had leaped, with the others, to his feet, and stood drawn up
for battle against the wood. Then it was that he saw the General of the day
riding beside fluttering colours across the waste land to the crest of the
hill. He was rallying the scattered brigades about the flag--so the fight
had gone against them and gone badly, after all.
Around him the men drifted back, frightened, straggling, defeated, and the
broken ranks closed up slowly. The standards dipped for a moment before a
sharp fire, and then, as the colour bearers shook out the bright folds,
soared like great red birds' wings above the smoke.
It seemed to Dan that he stood for hours motionless there against the
pines. For a time the fight passed away from him, and he remembered a
mountain storm which had caught him as a boy in the woods at Chericoke. He
heard again the cloud burst overhead, the soughing of the pines and the
crackling of dried branches as they came drifting down through interlacing
boughs. The old childish terror returned to him, and he recalled his mad
rush for light and space when he had doubled like a hare in the wooded
twilight among the dim bodies of the trees. Then as now it was not the open
that he feared, but the unseen horror of the shelter.
Again the affectionate voice came from the sunlight and he gripped his
musket as he started forward. He had caught only the last words, and he
repeated them half mechanically, as he stepped out from the brushwood. Once
again, when he stood on the trampled broom-sedge, he said them over with a
nervous jerk, "Wait until they come within fifty yards--and, for God's
sake, boys, shoot at the knees!"
He thought of the jolly Colonel, and laughed hysterically. Why, he had been
at that man's wedding--had kissed his bride--and now he was begging him to
shoot at people's knees!
With a cheer, the regiment broke from cover and swept forward toward the
summit of the hill. Dan's foot caught in a blackberry vine, and he stumbled
blindly. As he regained himself a shell ripped up the ground before him,
flinging the warm clods of earth into his face. A "worm" fence at a little
distance scattered beneath the fire, and as he looked up he saw the long
rails flying across the field. For an instant he hesitated; then something
that was like a nervous spasm shook his heart, and he was no more afraid.
Over the blackberries and the broom-sedge, on he went toward the swirls of
golden dust that swept upward from the bright green slope. If this was a
battle, what was the old engraving? Where were the prancing horses and the
Something whistled in his ears and the air was filled with sharp sounds
that set his teeth on edge. A man went down beside him and clutched at his
boots as he ran past; but the smell of the battle--a smell of oil and
smoke, of blood and sweat--was in his nostrils, and he could have kicked
the stiff hands grasping at his feet. The hot old blood of his fathers had
stirred again and the dead had rallied to the call of their descendant. He
was not afraid, for he had been here long before.
Behind him, and beside him, row after row of gray men leaped from the
shadow--the very hill seemed rising to his support--and it was almost
gayly, as the dead fighters lived again, that he went straight onward over
the sunny field. He saw the golden dust float nearer up the slope, saw the
brave flags unfurling in the breeze--saw, at last, man after man emerge
from the yellow cloud. As he bent to fire, the fury of the game swept over
him and aroused the sleeping brute within him. All the primeval instincts,
throttled by the restraint of centuries--the instincts of bloodguiltiness,
of hot pursuit, of the fierce exhilaration of the chase, of the death
grapple with a resisting foe--these awoke suddenly to life and turned the
battle scarlet to his eyes.
* * * * *
Two hours later, when the heavy clouds were smothering the sunset, he came
slowly back across the field. A gripping nausea had seized upon him--a
nausea such as he had known before after that merry night at college. His
head throbbed, and as he walked he staggered like a drunken man. The
revulsion of his overwrought emotions had thrown him into a state of
sensibility almost hysterical.
The battle-field stretched grimly round him, and as the sunset was blotted
out, a gray mist crept slowly from the west. Here and there he saw men
looking for the wounded, and he heard one utter an impatient "Pshaw!" as he
lifted a half-cold body and let it fall. Rude stretchers went by him on
either side, and still the field seemed as thickly sown as before; on the
left, where a regiment of Zouaves had been cut down, there was a flash of
white and scarlet, as if the loose grass was strewn with great tropical
flowers. Among them he saw the reproachful eyes of dead and dying horses.
Before him, on the gradual slope of the hill, stood a group of abandoned
guns, and there was something almost human in the pathos of their utter
isolation. Around them the ground was scorched and blackened, and scattered
over the broken trails lay the men who had fallen at their post. He saw
them lying there in the fading daylight, with the sponges and the rammers
still in their hands, and he saw upon each man's face the look with which
he had met and recognized the end. Some were smiling, some staring, and one
lay grinning as if at a ghastly joke. Near him a boy, with the hair still
damp on his forehead, had fallen upon an uprooted blackberry vine, and the
purple stain of the berries was on his mouth. As Dan looked down upon him,
the smell of powder and burned grass came to him with a wave of sickness,
and turning he stumbled on across the field. At the first step his foot
struck upon something hard, and, picking it up, he saw that it was a Minie
ball, which, in passing through a man's spine, had been transformed into a
mass of mingled bone and lead. With a gesture of disgust he dropped it and
went on rapidly. A stretcher moved beside him, and the man on it, shot
through the waist, was saying in a whisper, "It is cold--cold--so cold."
Against his will, Dan found, he had fallen into step with the men who bore
the stretcher, and together they kept time to the words of the wounded
soldier who cried out ceaselessly that it was cold. On their way they
passed a group on horseback and, standing near it, a handsome artilleryman,
who wore a red flannel shirt with one sleeve missing. As Dan went on he
discovered that he was thinking of the handsome man in the red shirt and
wondering how he had lost his missing sleeve. He pondered the question as
if it were a puzzle, and, finally, yielded it up in doubt.
Beyond the base of the hill they came into the small ravine which had been
turned into a rude field hospital. Here the stretcher was put down, and a
tired-looking surgeon, wiping his hands upon a soiled towel, came and knelt
down beside the wounded man.
"Bring a light--I can't see--bring a light!" he exclaimed irritably, as he
cut away the clothes with gentle fingers.
Dan was passing on, when he heard his name called from behind, and turning
quickly found Governor Ambler anxiously regarding him.
"You're not hurt, my boy?" asked the Governor, and from his tone he might
have parted from the younger man only the day before.
"Hurt? Oh, no, I'm not hurt," replied Dan a little bitterly, "but there's a
whole field of them back there, Colonel."
"Well, I suppose so--I suppose so," returned the other absently. "I'm
looking after my men now, poor fellows. A victory doesn't come cheap, you
know, and thank God, it was a glorious victory."
"A glorious victory," repeated Dan, looking at the surgeons who were
working by the light of tallow candles.
The Governor followed his gaze. "It's your first fight," he said, "and you
haven't learned your lesson as I learned mine in Mexico. The best, or the
worst of it, is that after the first fight it comes easy, my boy, it comes
There was hot blood in him also, thought Dan, as he looked at him--and yet
of all the men that he had ever known he would have called the Governor the
"I dare say--I'll get used to it, sir," he answered. "Yes, it was a
He broke away and went off into the twilight over the wide meadow to the
little wayside spring. Across the road there was a field of clover, where a
few campfires twinkled, and he hastened toward it eager to lie down in the
darkness and fall asleep. As his feet sank in the moist earth, he looked
down and saw that the little purple flower was still blooming in the mud.
AFTER THE BATTLE
The field of trampled clover looked as if a windstorm had swept over it,
strewing the contents of a dozen dismantled houses. There were stacks of
arms and piles of cooking utensils, knapsacks, half emptied, lay beside the
charred remains of fires, and loose fence rails showed red and white
glimpses of playing cards, hidden, before the fight, by superstitious
Groups of men were scattered in dark spots over the field, and about them
stragglers drifted slowly back from the road to Centreville. There was no
discipline, no order--regiment was mixed with regiment, and each man was
hopelessly inquiring for his lost company.
As Dan stepped over the fallen fence upon the crushed pink heads of the
clover, he came upon a circle of privates making merry over a lunch basket
they had picked up on the turnpike--a basket brought by one of the
Washington parties who had gayly driven out to watch the battle. A broken
fence rail was ablaze in the centre of the group, and as the red light fell
on each soiled and unshaven face, it stood out grotesquely from the
surrounding gloom. Some were slightly wounded, some had merely scented the
battle from behind the hill--all were drinking rare wine in honour of the
early ending of the war. As Dan looked past them over the darkening meadow,
where the returning soldiers drifted aimlessly across the patches of red
light, he asked himself almost impatiently if this were the pure and
patriotic army that held in its ranks the best born of the South? To him,
standing there, it seemed but a loosened mass, without strength and without
cohesion, a mob of schoolboys come back from a sham battle on the college
green. It was his first fight, and he did not know that what he looked upon
was but the sure result of an easy victory upon the undisciplined ardour of
raw troops--that the sinews of an army are wrought not by a single trial,
but by the strain of prolonged and strenuous endeavour.
"I say, do you reckon they'll lemme go home ter-morrow?" inquired a
slightly wounded man in the group before him. "Thar's my terbaccy needs
lookin' arter or the worms 'ull eat it clean up 'fo' I git thar." He shook
the shaggy hair from his face, and straightened the white cotton bandage
about his chin. On the right side, where the wound was, his thick sandy
beard had been cut away, and the outstanding tuft on his left cheek gave
him a peculiarly ill-proportioned look.
"Lordy! I tell you we gave it ter 'em!" exclaimed another in excited jerks.
"Fight! Wall, that's what I call fightin', leastways it's put. I declar' I
reckon I hit six Yankees plum on the head with the butt of this here
He paused to knock the head off a champagne bottle, and lifting the broken
neck to his lips drained the foaming wine, which spilled in white froth
upon his clothes. His face was red in the firelight, and when he spoke his
words rolled like marbles from his tongue. Dan, looking at him, felt a
curious conviction that the man had not gone near enough to the guns to
smell the powder.
"Wall, it may be so, but I ain't seed you," returned the first speaker,
contemptuously, as he stroked his bandage. "I was thar all day and I ain't
seed you raise no special dust."
"Oh, I ain't claimin' nothin' special," put in the other, discomfited.
"Six is a good many, I reckon," drawled the wounded man, reflectively, "and
I ain't sayin' I settled six on 'em hand to hand--I ain't sayin' that." He
spoke with conscious modesty, as if the smallness of his assertion was
equalled only by the greatness of his achievements. "I ain't sayin' I
settled more'n three on 'em, I reckon."
Dan left the group and went on slowly across the field, now and then
stumbling upon a sleeper who lay prone upon the trodden clover, obscured by
the heavy dusk. The mass of the army was still somewhere on the long
road--only the exhausted, the sickened, or the unambitious drifted back to
fall asleep upon the uncovered ground.
As Dan crossed the meadow he drew near to a knot of men from a Kentucky
regiment, gathered in the light of a small wood fire, and recognizing one
of them, he stopped to inquire for news of his missing friends.
"Oh, you wouldn't know your sweetheart on a night like this," replied the
man he knew--a big handsome fellow, with a peculiar richness of voice.
"Find a hole, Montjoy, and go to sleep in it, that's my advice. Were you
much cut up?"
"I don't know," answered Dan, uneasily. "I'm trying to make sure that we
were not. I lost the others somewhere on the road--a horse knocked me
"Well, if this is to be the last battle, I shouldn't mind a scratch
myself," put in a voice from the darkness, "even if it's nothing more than
a bruise from a horse's hoof. By the bye, Montjoy, did you see the way
Stuart rode down the Zouaves? I declare the slope looked like a field of
poppies in full bloom. Your cousin was in that charge, I believe, and he
came out whole. I saw him afterwards."
"Oh, the cavalry gets the best of everything," said Dan, with a sigh, and
he was passing on, when Jack Powell, coming out of the darkness, stumbled
against him, and broke into a delighted laugh.
"Why, bless my soul, Beau, I thought you'd run after the fleshpots of
Washington!" His face was flushed with excitement and the soft curls upon
his forehead were wet and dark. Around his mouth there was a black stain
from bitten cartridges. "By George, it was a jolly day, wasn't it, old
man?" he added warmly.
"Where are the others?" asked Dan, grasping his arm in an almost frantic
"The others? they're all right--all except poor Welch, who got a ball in
his thigh, you know. Did you see him when he was taken off the field? He
laughed as he passed me and shouted back that he 'was always willing to
spare a leg or two to the cause!'"
"Where are you off to?" inquired Dan, still grasping his arm.
"I? oh, I'm on the scent of water. I haven't learned to sleep dirty yet,
which Bland says is a sign I'm no soldier. By the way, your darky, Big
Abel, has a coffee-boiler over yonder in the fence corner. He's been
tearing his wool out over your absence; you'd better ease his mind." With a
laugh and a wave of his hand, he plunged into the darkness, and Dan made
his way slowly to the campfire, which twinkled from the old rail fence. As
he groped toward it curses sprang up like mustard from the earth beneath.
"Get off my leg, and be damned," growled a voice under his feet. "Oh, this
here ain't no pesky jedgment day," exclaimed another just ahead. Without
answering he stepped over the dark bodies, and, ten minutes later, came
upon Big Abel waiting patiently beside the dying fire.
At sight of him the negro leaped, with a shout, to his feet; then,
recovering himself, hid his joy beneath an accusing mask.
"Dis yer coffee hit's done 'mos' bile away," he remarked gloomily. "En ef'n
it don' tase like hit oughter tase, 'tain' no use ter tu'n up yo' nose,
caze 'tain' de faul' er de coffee, ner de faul' er me nurr."
"How are you, old man?" asked Bland, turning over in the shadow.
"Who's there?" responded Dan, as he peered from the light into the
"All the mess except Welch, poor devil. Baker got his hair singed by our
rear line, and he says he thinks it's safer to mix with the Yankees next
time. Somebody behind him shot his cowlick clean off."
"Cowlick, the mischief!" retorted Baker, witheringly. "Why, my scalp is as
bald as your hand. The fool shaved me like a barber."
"It's a pity he didn't aim at your whiskers," was Dan's rejoinder. "The
chief thing I've got against this war is that when it's over there won't be
a smooth-shaven man in the South."
"Oh, we'll stand them up before our rear line," suggested Baker, moodily.
"You may laugh, Bland, but you wouldn't like it yourself, and if they keep
up their precious marksmanship your turn will come yet. We'll be a regiment
of baldheads before Christmas."
Dan sat down upon the blanket Big Abel had spread and leaned heavily upon
his knapsack, which the negro had picked up on the roadside. A nervous
chill had come over him and he was shaking with icy starts from head to
foot. Big Abel brought a cup of coffee, and as he took it from him, his
hand quivered so that he set the cup upon the ground; then he lifted it and
drank the hot coffee in long draughts.
"I should have lost my very identity but for you, Big Abel," he observed
gratefully, as he glanced round at the property the negro had protected.
Big Abel leaned forward and stirred the ashes with a small stick.
"En I done fit fer 'em, suh," he replied. "I des tell you all de fittin'
ain' been over yonder on dat ar hill caze I'se done fit right yer in dis
yer fence conder, en I ain' fit de Yankees nurr. Lawd, Lawd, dese yer folks
es is been a-sniffin' roun' my pile all day, ain' de kinder folks I'se used
ter, caze my folks dey don' steal w'at don' b'long ter 'em, en dese yer
folks dey do. Ole Marster steal? Huh! he 'ouldn't even tech a chicken dat
'uz roos'in in his own yard. But dese yer sodgers!--Why, you cyarn tu'n yo'
eye a splinter off de vittles fo' dey's done got 'em. Dey poke dey han's
right spang in de fire en eat de ashes en all."
He went off grumbling to lie down at a little distance, and Dan sat
thoughtfully looking into the smouldering fire. Bland and Baker, having
heatedly discussed the details of the victory, had at last drifted into
silence; only Pinetop was awake--this he learned from the odour of the
corncob pipe which floated from a sheltered corner.
"Come over, Pinetop," called Dan, cordially, "and let's make ready for the
pursuit to-morrow. Why, to-morrow we may eat a civilized dinner in
Washington--think of that!"
He spoke excitedly, for he was still quivering from the tumult of his
thoughts. There was no sleep possible for him just now; his limbs twitched
restlessly, and he felt the prick of strong emotion in his blood.
"I say, Pinetop, what do you think of the fight?" he asked with an
embarrassed boyish eagerness. In the faint light of the fire his eyes
burned like coals and there was a thick black stain around his mouth. The
hand in which he had held his ramrod was of a dark rust colour, as if the
stain of the battle had seared into the skin. A smell of hot powder still
hung about his clothes.
The mountaineer left the shadow of the fence corner and slowly dragged
himself into the little glow, where he sat puffing at his corncob pipe. He
gave an easy, sociable nod and stared silently at the embers.
"Was it just what you imagined it would be?" went on Dan, curiously.
Pinetop took his pipe from his mouth and nodded again. "Wall, 'twas and
'twan't," he answered pleasantly.
"I must say it made me sick," admitted Dan, leaning his head in his hand.
"I've always been a fool about the smell of blood; and it made me downright
"Wall, I ain't got much of a stomach for a fight myself," returned Pinetop,
reflectively. "You see I ain't never fought anythin' bigger'n a skunk until
to-day; and when I stood out thar with them bullets sizzlin' like fryin'
pans round my head, I kind of says to myself: 'Look here, what's all this
fuss about anyhow? If these here folks have come arter the niggers, let 'em
take 'em off and welcome.' I ain't never owned a nigger in my life, and,
what's more, I ain't never seen one that's worth owning. 'Let 'em take 'em
and welcome,' that's what I said. Bless your life, as I stood out thar I
didn't see how I was goin' to fire my musket, till all of a jiffy a thought
jest jumped into my head and sent me bangin' down that hill. 'Them folks
have set thar feet on ole Virginny,' was what I thought 'They've set thar
feet on ole Virginny, and they've got to take 'em off damn quick!'"
His teeth closed over his pipe as if it were a cartridge; then, after a
silent moment, he opened his mouth and spoke again.
"What I can't make out for the life of me," he said, "is how those boys
from the other states gave thar licks so sharp. If I'd been born across the
line in Tennessee, I wouldn't have fired my musket off to-day. They wan't
a-settin' thar feet on Tennessee. But ole Virginny--wall, I've got a
powerful fancy for ole Virginny, and they ain't goin' to project with her
dust, if I can stand between." He turned away, and, emptying his pipe,
rolled over upon the ground.
Dan lay down upon the blanket, and, with his hand upon his knapsack, gazed
at the small red ember burning amid the ashes. When the last spark faded
into blackness it was as if his thoughts went groping for a light. Sleep
came fitfully in flights and pauses, in broken dreams and brief awakenings.
Losing himself at last it was only to return to the woods at Chericoke and
to see Betty coming to him among the dim blue bodies of the trees. He saw
the faint sunshine falling upon her head and the stir of the young leaves
above her as a light wind passed. Under her feet the grass was studded with
violets, and the bonnet swinging from her arm was filled with purple
blossoms. She came on steadily over the path of grass and violets, but when
he reached out to touch her a great shame fell over him for there was blood
upon his hand.
There was something cold in his face, and he emerged slowly from his sleep
into the consciousness of dawn and a heavy rain. The swollen clouds hung
close above the hills, and the distance was obscured by the gray sheets of
water which fell like a curtain from heaven to earth. Near by a wagon had
drawn up in the night, and he saw that a group of half-drenched privates
had already taken shelter between the wheels. Gathering up his oilcloth, he
hastily formed a tent with the aid of a deep fence corner, and, when he had
drawn his blanket across the opening, sat partly protected from the shower.
As the damp air blew into his face, he became quickly and clearly awake,
and it was with the glimmer of a smile that he looked over the wet meadow
and the sleeping regiments. Then a shudder followed, for he saw in the
lines of gray men stretched beneath the rain some likeness to that other
field beyond the hill where the dead were still lying, row on row. He saw
them stark and cold on the scorched grass beside the guns, or in the thin
ridges of trampled corn, where the gay young tassels were now storm-beaten
upon the ripped-up earth. He saw them as he had seen them the evening
before--not in the glow of battle, but with the acuteness of a brooding
sympathy--saw them frowning, smiling, and with features which death had
twisted into a ghastly grin. They were all there--each man with open eyes
and stiff hands grasping the clothes above his wound.
But to Dan, sitting in the gray dawn in the fence corner, the first horror
faded quickly into an emotion almost triumphant. The great field was
silent, reproachful, filled with accusing eyes--but was it not filled with
glory, too? He was young, and his weakened pulses quickened at the thought.
Since men must die, where was a brighter death than to fall beneath the
flutter of the colours, with the thunder of the cannon in one's ears? He
knew now why his fathers had loved a fight, had loved the glitter of the
bayonets and the savage smell of the discoloured earth.
For a moment the old racial spirit flashed above the peculiar sensitiveness
which had come to him from his childhood and his suffering mother; then the
flame went out and the rows of dead men stared at him through the falling
rain in the deserted field.
THE WOMAN'S PART
At sunrise on the morning of the battle Betty and Virginia, from the
whitewashed porch of a little railway inn near Manassas, watched the
Governor's regiment as it marched down the single street and into the red
clay road. Through the first faint sunshine, growing deeper as the sun rose
gloriously above the hills, there sounded a peculiar freshness in the
martial music as it triumphantly floated back across the fields. To Betty
it almost seemed that the drums were laughing as they went to battle; and
when the gay air at last faded in the distance, the silence closed about
her with a strangeness she had never felt before--as if the absence of
sound was grown melancholy, like the absence of light.
She shut her eyes and brought back the long gray line passing across the
sunbeams: the tanned eager faces, the waving flags, the rapid, almost
impatient tread of the men as they swung onward. A laugh had run along the
column as it went by her and she had smiled in quick sympathy with some
foolish jest. It was all so natural to her, the gayety and the ardour and
the invincible dash of the young army--it was all so like the spirit of Dan
and so dear to her because of the likeness.
Somewhere--not far away, she knew--he also was stepping briskly across the
first sun rays, and her heart followed him even while she smiled down upon
the regiment before her. It was as if her soul were suddenly freed from her
bodily presence, and in a kind of dual consciousness she seemed to be
standing upon the little whitewashed porch and walking onward beside Dan at
the same moment. The wonder of it glowed in her rapt face, and Virginia,
turning to put some trivial question, was startled by the passion of her
"Have--have you seen--some one, Betty?" she whispered.
The charm was snapped and Betty fell back into time and place.
"Oh, yes, I have seen--some one," her voice thrilled as she spoke. "I saw
him as clearly as I see you; he was all in sunshine and there was a flag
close above his head. He looked up and smiled at me. Yes, I saw him! I saw
"It was Dan," said Virginia--not as a question, but in a wondering assent.
"Why, Betty, I thought you had forgotten Dan--papa thought so, too."
"Forgotten!" exclaimed Betty scornfully. She fell away from the crowd and
Virginia followed her. The two stood leaning against the whitewashed wall
in the dust that still rose from the street. "So you thought I had
forgotten him," said Betty again. She raised her hand to her bosom and
crushed the lace upon her dress. "Well, you were wrong," she added quietly.
Virginia looked at her and smiled. "I am almost glad," she answered in her
sweet girlish voice. "I don't like to have Dan forgotten even if--if he
ought to be."
"I didn't love him because he ought to be loved," said Betty. "I loved him
because I couldn't help it--because he was himself and I was myself, I
suppose. I was born to love him, and to stop loving him I should have to be
born again. I don't care what he does--I don't care what he is even--I
would rather love him than--than be a queen." She held her hands tightly
together. "I would be his servant if he would let me," she went on. "I
would work for him like a slave--but he won't let me. And yet he does love
me just the same--just the same."
"He does--he does," admitted Virginia softly. She had never seen Betty like
this before, and she felt that her sister had become suddenly very strange
and very sacred. Her hands were outstretched to comfort, but Betty turned
gently away from her and went up the narrow staircase to the bare little
room where the girls slept together.
Alone within the four white walls she moved breathlessly to and fro like a
woodland creature that has been entrapped. At the moment she was telling
herself that she wanted to keep onward with the army; then her courage
would have fluttered upward like the flags. It was not the sound of the
cannon that she dreaded, nor the sight of blood--these would have nerved
her as they nerved the generations at her back--but the folded hands and
the terrible patience that are the woman's share of a war. The old fighting
blood was in her veins--she was as much the child of her father as a son
could have been--and yet while the great world over there was filled with
noise she was told to go into her room and pray. Pray! Why, a man might
pray with his musket in his hand, that was worth while.
In the adjoining room she saw her mother sitting in a square of sunlight
with her open Bible on her knees.
"Oh, speak, mamma!" she called half angrily. "Move, do anything but sit so
still. I can't bear it!" She caught her breath sharply, for with her words
a low sound like distant thunder filled the room and the little street
outside. As she clung with both hands to the window it seemed to her that a
gray haze had fallen over the sunny valley. "Some one is dead," she said
almost calmly, "that killed how many?"
The room stifled her and she ran hurriedly down into the street, where a
few startled women and old men had rushed at the first roll of the cannon.
As she stood among them, straining her eyes from end to end of the little
village, her heart beat in her throat and she could only quaver out an
appeal for news.
"Where is it? Doesn't any one know anything? What does it mean?"
"It means a battle, Miss, that's one thing," remarked on obliging
by-stander who leaned heavily upon a wooden leg. "Bless you, I kin a'most
taste the powder." He smacked his lips and spat into the dust. "To think
that I went all the way down to Mexico fur a fight," he pursued
regretfully, "when I could have set right here at home and had it all in
old Virginny. Well, well, that comes of hurryin' the Lord afo' he's ready."
He rambled on excitedly, but Betty, frowning with impatience, turned from
him and walked rapidly up and down the single street, where the voices of
the guns growled through the muffling distance. "That killed how many? how
many?" she would say at each long roll, and again, "How many died that
moment, and was one Dan?"
Up and down the little village, through the heavy sunshine and the white
dust, among the whimpering women and old men, she walked until the day wore
on and the shadows grew longer across the street. Once a man had come with
the news of a sharp repulse, and in the early afternoon a deserter
straggled in with the cry that the enemy was marching upon the village. It
was not until the night had fallen, when the wounded began to arrive on
baggage trains, that the story of the day was told, and a single shout went
up from the waiting groups. The Confederacy was established! Washington was
theirs by right of arms, and tomorrow the young army would dictate terms of
peace to a great nation! The flags waved, women wept, and the wounded
soldiers, as they rolled in on baggage cars, were hailed as the deliverers
of a people. The new Confederacy! An emotion half romantic, half maternal
filled Betty as she bent above an open wound--for it was in her blood to do
battle to the death for a belief, to throw herself into a cause as into the
arms of a lover. She was made of the stuff of soldiers, and come what might
she would always take her stand upon her people's side.
There were cheers and sobs in the little street about her; in the distance
a man was shouting for the flag, and nearer by a woman with a lantern in
her hand was searching among the living for her dead. The joy and the
anguish of it entered into the girl like wine. She felt her pulses leap and
a vigour that was not her own nerved her from head to foot. With that power
of ardent sacrifice which lies beneath all shams in the Southern heart, she
told herself that no endurance was too great, no hope too large with which
to serve the cause.
The exaltation was still with her when, a little later, she went up to her
room and knelt down to thank God. Her people's simple faith was hers also,
and as she prayed with her brow on her clasped hands it was as if she gave
thanks to some great warrior who had drawn his sword in defence of the land
she loved. God was on her side, supreme, beneficent, watchful in little
things, as He has been on the side of all fervent hearts since the
beginning of time.
But after her return to Uplands in midsummer she suffered a peculiar
restlessness from the tranquil August weather. The long white road
irritated her with its aspect of listless patience, and at times she wanted
to push back the crowding hills and leave the horizon open to her view.
When a squadron of cavalry swept along the turnpike her heart would follow
it like a bird while she leaned, with straining eyes, against a great white
column. Then, as the last rider was blotted out into the landscape, she
would clasp her hands and walk rapidly up and down between the lilacs. It
was all waiting--waiting--waiting--nothing else.
"Something must happen, mamma, or I shall go mad," she said one day,
breaking in upon Mrs. Ambler as she sorted a heap of old letters in the
"But what? What?" asked Virginia from the shadow of the window seat.
"Surely you don't want a battle, Betty?"
Mrs. Ambler shuddered.
"Don't tempt Providence, dear," she said seriously, untying a faded ribbon
about a piece of old parchment. "Be grateful for just this calm and go out
for a walk. You might take this pitcher of flaxseed tea to Floretta's
cabin, if you've nothing else to do. Ask how the baby is to-day, and tell
her to keep the red flannel warm on its chest."
Betty went into the hall after her bonnet and came back for the pitcher.
"I'm going to walk across the fields to Chericoke," she said, "and Hosea is
to bring the carriage for me about sunset. We must have some white silk to
make those flags out of, and there isn't a bit in the house."
She went out, stepping slowly in her wide skirts and holding the pitcher
carefully before her.
Floretta's baby was sleeping, and after a few pleasant words the girl kept
on to Chericoke. There she found that the Major had gone to town for news,
leaving Mrs. Lightfoot to her pickle making in the big storeroom, where the
earthenware jars stood in clean brown rows upon the shelves. The air was
sharp with the smell of vinegar and spices, and fragrant moisture dripped
from the old lady's delicate hands. At the moment she had forgotten the war
just beyond her doors, and even the vacant places in her household; her
nervous flutter was caused by finding the plucked corn too large to salt.
"Come in, child, come in," she said, as Betty appeared in the doorway.
"You're too good a housekeeper to mind the smell of brine."
"How the soldiers will enjoy it," laughed Betty in reply. "It's fortunate
that both sides are fond of spices."
The old lady was tying a linen cloth over the mouth of a great brown jar,
and she did not look up as she answered. "I'm not consulting their tastes,
my dear, though, as for that, I'm willing enough to feast our own men so
long as the Yankees keep away. This jar, by the bye, is filled with
'Confederate pickle'--it was as little as I could do to compliment the
Government, I thought, and the green tomato catchup I've named in honour of
Betty smiled; and then, while Mrs. Lightfoot stood sharply regarding
Car'line, who was shucking a tray of young corn, she timidly began upon her
mission. "The flags must be finished, and I can't find the silk," she
pleaded. "Isn't there a scrap in the house I may have? Let me look about
The old lady shook her head. "I haven't allowed anybody to set foot in my
attic for forty years," she replied decisively. "Why, I'd almost as soon
they'd step into my grandfather's vault." Then as Betty's face fell she
added generously. "As for white silk, I haven't any except my wedding
dress, and that's yellow with age; but you may take it if you want it. I'm
sure it couldn't come to a better end; at least it will have been to the
front upon two important occasions."
"Your wedding dress!" exclaimed Betty in surprise, "oh, how could you?"
Mrs. Lightfoot smiled grimly.
"I could give more than a wedding dress if the Confederacy called for it,
my dear," she answered. "Indeed, I'm not perfectly sure that I couldn't
give the Major himself--but go upstairs and wait for me while I send
Car'line for the keys."
She returned to the storeroom, and Betty went upstairs to wander leisurely
through the cool faintly lighted chambers. They were all newly swept and
scented with lavender, and the high tester beds, with their slender fluted
posts, looked as if they had stood spotless and untouched for generations.
In Dan's room, which had been his mother's also, the girl walked slowly up
and down, meeting, as she passed, her own eyes in the darkened mirror. Her
mind fretted with the thought that Dan's image had risen so often in the
glass, and yet had left no hint for her as she looked in now. If it had
only caught and held his reflection, that blank mirror, she could have
found it, she felt sure, though a dozen faces had passed by since. Was
there nothing left of him, she wondered, nothing in the place where he had
lived his life? She turned to the bed and picked up, one by one, the
scattered books upon the little table. Among them there was a copy of the
"Morte d'Arthur," and as it fell open in her hand, she found a bit of her
own blue ribbon between the faded leaves. A tremor ran through her limbs,
and going to the window she placed the book upon the sill and read the
words aloud in the fragrant stillness. Behind her in the dim room Dan
seemed to rise as suddenly as a ghost--and that high-flown chivalry of his,
which delighted in sounding phrases as in heroic virtues, was loosened from
the leaves of the old romance.
"For there was never worshipful man nor worshipful woman but they loved one
better than another, and worship in arms may never be foiled; but first
reserve the honour to God, and secondly the quarrel must come of thy lady;
and such love I call virtuous love."
She leaned her cheek upon the book and looked out dreamily into the green
box mazes of the garden. In the midst of war a great peace had come to her,
and the quiet summer weather no longer troubled her with its unbroken calm.
Her heart had grown suddenly strong again; even the long waiting had become
but a fit service for her love.
There was a step in the hall and Mrs. Lightfoot rustled in with her wedding
"You may take it and welcome, child," she said, as she gave it into Betty's
arms. "I can't help feeling that there was something providential in my
selecting white when my taste always leaned toward a peach-blow brocade.
Well, well, who would have believed that I was buying a flag as well as a
frock? If I'd even hinted such a thing, they would have said I had the
Betty accepted the gift with her pretty effusion of manner, and went
downstairs to where Hosea was waiting for her with the big carriage. As she
drove home in a happy revery, her eyes dwelt contentedly on the sunburnt
August fields, and the thought of war did not enter in to disturb her
Once a line of Confederate cavalrymen rode by at a gallop and saluted her
as her face showed at the window. They were strangers to her, but with the
peculiar feeling of kinship which united the people of the South, she
leaned out to wish them "God speed" as she waved her handkerchief.
When, a little later, she turned into the drive at Uplands, it was to find,
from the prints upon the gravel, that the soldiers had been there before
her. Beyond the Doric columns she caught a glimpse of a gray sleeve, and
for a single instant a wild hope shot up within her heart. Then as the
carriage stopped, and she sprang quickly to the ground, the man in gray
came out upon the portico, and she saw that it was Jack Morson.
"I've come for Virginia, Betty," he began impulsively, as he took her hand,
"and she promises to marry me before the battle."
Betty laughed with trembling lips. "And here is the dress," she said gayly,
holding out the yellowed silk.
ON THE ROAD TO ROMNEY
After a peaceful Christmas, New Year's Day rose bright and mild, and Dan as
he started from Winchester with the column felt that he was escaping to
freedom from the tedious duties of camp life.
"Thank God we're on the war-path again," he remarked to Pinetop, who was
stalking at his side. The two had become close friends during the dull
weeks after their first battle, and Bland, who had brought a taste for the
classics from the lecture-room, had already referred to them in pointless
jokes as "Pylades and Orestes."
"It looks mighty like summer," responded Pinetop cheerfully. He threw a
keen glance up into the blue clouds, and then sniffed suspiciously at the
dust that rose high in the road. "But I ain't one to put much faith in
looks," he added with his usual caution, as he shifted the knapsack upon
Dan laughed easily. "Well, I'm heartily glad I left my overcoat behind me,"
he said, breathing hard as he climbed the mountain road, where the red clay
had stiffened into channels.
The sunshine fell brightly over them, lying in golden drops upon the fallen
leaves. To Dan the march brought back the early winter rides at Chericoke,
and the chain of lights and shadows that ran on clear days over the tavern
road. Joyously throwing back his head, he whistled a love song as he
tramped up the mountain side. The irksome summer, with its slow fevers and
its sharp attacks of measles, its scarcity of pure water and supplies of
half-cooked food, was suddenly blotted from his thoughts, and his first
romantic ardour returned to him in long draughts of wind and sun. After
each depression his elastic temperament had sprung upward; the past months
had but strengthened him in body as in mind.
In the afternoon a gray cloud came up suddenly and the sunshine, after a
feeble struggle, was driven from the mountains. As the wind blew in short
gusts down the steep road, Dan tightened his coat and looked at Pinetop's
knapsack with his unfailing laugh.
"That's beginning to look comfortable. I hope to heaven the wagons aren't
Pinetop turned and glanced back into the valley. "I'll be blessed if I
believe they're anywhere," was his answer.
"Well, if they aren't, I'll be somewhere before morning; why, it feels like
A gust of wind, sharp as a blade, struck from the gray sky, and whirlpools
of dead leaves were swept into the forest. Falling silent, Dan swung his
arms to quicken the current of his blood, and walked on more rapidly. Over
the long column gloom had settled with the clouds, and they were brave lips
that offered a jest in the teeth of the wind. There were no blankets, few
overcoats, and fewer rations, and the supply wagons were crawling somewhere
in the valley.
The day wore on, and still the rough country road climbed upward embedded
in withered leaves. On the high wind came the first flakes of a snowstorm,
followed by a fine rain that enveloped the hills like mist. As Dan stumbled
on, his feet slipped on the wet clay, and he was forced to catch at the
bared saplings for support. The cold had entered his lungs as a knife, and
his breath circled in a little cloud about his mouth. Through the storm he
heard the quick oaths of his companions ring out like distant shots.
When night fell they halted to bivouac by the roadside, and until daybreak
the pine woods were filled with the cheerful glow of the campfires. There
were no rations, and Dan, making a jest of his hunger, had stretched
himself in the full light of the crackling branches. With the defiant
humour which had made him the favourite of the mess, he laughed at the
frozen roads, at the change in the wind, at his own struggles with the wet
kindling wood, at the supply wagons creeping slowly after them. His courage
had all the gayety of his passions--it showed itself in a smile, in a
whistle, in the steady hand with which he played toss and catch with fate.
The superb silence of Pinetop, plodding evenly along, was as far removed
from him as the lofty grandeur of the mountains. A jest warmed his heart
against the cold; with set lips and grave eyes, he would have fallen before
the next ridge was crossed.
Through the woods other fires were burning, and long reddish shadows crept
among the pine trees over the rotting mould. For warmth Dan had spread a
covering of dried leaves over him, raking them from sheltered corners of
the forest. When he rose from time to time during the night to take his
turn at replenishing the fire the leaves drifted in gravelike mounds about
For three days the march was steadily upward over long ridges coated deep
with ice. In the face of the strong wind, which blew always down the steep
road, the army passed on, complaining, cursing, asking a gigantic question
of its General. Among the raw soldiers there had been desertions by the
dozen, filling the streets of the little town with frost-bitten
malcontents. "It was all a wild goose chase," they declared bitterly, "and
if Old Jack wasn't a March hare--well, he was something madder!"
Dan listened to the curses with his ready smile, and walked on bravely.
Since the first evening he had uttered no complaint, asked no question. He
had undertaken to march, and he meant to march, that was all. In the front
with which he veiled his suffering there was no lessening of his old
careless confidence--if his dash had hardened into endurance it wore still
an expression that was almost debonair.
So as the column straggled weakly upward, he wrung his stiffened fingers
and joked with Jack Powell, who stumbled after him. The cold had brought a
glow to his tanned face, and when he lifted his eyes from the road Pinetop
saw that they were shining brightly. Once he slipped on the frozen mud, and
as his musket dropped from his hand, it went off sharply, the load entering
"Are you hurt?" asked Jack, springing toward him; but Dan looked round
laughing as he clasped his knee.
"Oh, I merely groaned because I might have been," he said lightly, and
limped on, singing a bit of doggerel which had taken possession of his
"Then let the Yanks say what they will,
We'll be gay and happy still;
Gay and happy, gay and happy,
We'll be gay and happy still."
On the third day out they reached a little village in the mountains, but
before the week's end they had pushed on again, and the white roads still
stretched before them. As they went higher the tracks grew steeper, and now
and then a musket shot rang out on the roadside as a man lost his footing
and went down upon the ice. Behind them the wagon train crept inch by inch,
or waited patiently for hours while a wheel was hoisted from the ditch
beside the road. There was blood on the muzzles of the horses and on the
shining ice that stretched beyond them.
To Dan these terrible days were as the anguish of a new birth, in which the
thing to be born suffered the conscious throes of awakening life. He could
never be the same again; something was altered in him forever; this he felt
dimly as he dragged his aching body onward. Days like these would prove the
stuff that had gone into the making of him. When the march to Romney lay
behind him he should know himself to be either a soldier or a coward. A
soldier or a coward! he said the words over again as he struggled to keep
down the pangs of hunger, telling himself that the road led not merely to
Romney, but to a greater victory than his General dreamed of. Romney might
be worthless, after all, the grim march but a mad prank of Jackson's, as
men said; but whether to lay down one's arms or to struggle till the end
was reached, this was the question asked by those stern mountains. Nature
stood ranged against him--he fought it step by step, and day by day.
At times something like delirium seized him, and he went on blindly,
stepping high above the ice. For hours he was tortured by the longing for
raw beef, for the fresh blood that would put heat into his veins. The
kitchen at Chericoke flamed upon the hillside, as he remembered it on
winter evenings when the great chimney was filled with light and the crane
was in its place above the hickory. The smell of newly baked bread floated
in his nostrils, and for a little while he believed himself to be lying
again upon the hearth as he thrilled at Aunt Rhody's stories. Then his
fancies would take other shapes, and warm colours would glow in red and
yellow circles before his eyes. When he thought of Betty now it was no
longer tenderly but with a despairing passion. He was haunted less by her
visible image than by broken dreams of her peculiar womanly beauties--of
her soft hands and the warmth of her girlish bosom.
But from the first day to the last he had no thought of yielding; and each
feeble step had sent him a step farther upon the road. He had often fallen,
but he had always struggled up again and laughed. Once he made a ghastly
joke about his dying in the snow, and Jack Powell turned upon him with an
oath and bade him to be silent.
"For God's sake don't," added the boy weakly, and fell to whimpering like
"Oh, go home to your mother," retorted Dan, with a kind of desperate
Jack sobbed outright.
"I wish I could," he answered, and dropped over upon the roadside.
Dan caught him up, and poured his last spoonful of brandy down his throat,
then he seized his arm and dragged him bodily along.
"Oh, I say don't be an ass," he implored. "Here comes old Stonewall."
The commanding General rode by, glanced quietly over them, and passed on,
his chest bowed, his cadet cap pulled down over his eyes. A moment later
Dan, looking over the hillside, at the winding road, saw him dismount and
put his shoulder to a sunken wheel. The sight suddenly nerved the younger
man, and he went on quickly, dragging Jack up with him.
That night they rested in a burned-out clearing where the pine trees had
been felled for fence rails. The rails went readily to fires, and Pinetop
fried strips of fat bacon in the skillet he had brought upon his musket.
Somebody produced a handful of coffee from his pocket, and a little later
Dan, dozing beside the flames, was awakened by the aroma.
"By George!" he burst out, and sat up speechless.
Pinetop was mixing thin cornmeal paste into the gravy, and he looked up as
he stirred busily with a small stick.
"Wall, I reckon these here slapjacks air about done," he remarked in a
moment, adding with a glance at Dan, "and if your stomach's near as empty
as your eyes, I reckon your turn comes first."
"I reckon it does," said Dan, and filling his tin cup, he drank scalding
coffee in short gulps. When he had finished it, he piled fresh rails upon
the fire and lay down to sleep with his feet against the embers.
With the earliest dawn a long shiver woke him, and as he put out his hand
it touched something wet and cold. The fire had died to a red heart, and a
thick blanket of snow covered him from head to foot. Straight above there
was a pale yellow light where the stars shone dimly after the storm.
He started to his feet, rubbing a handful of snow upon his face. The red
embers, sheltered by the body of a solitary pine, still glowed under the
charred brushwood, and kneeling upon the ground, he fanned them into a
feeble blaze. Then he laid the rails crosswise, protecting them with his
blanket until they caught and flamed up against the blackened pine.
Near by Jack Powell was moaning in his sleep, and Dan leaned over to shake
him into consciousness. "Oh, damn it all, wake up, you fool!" he said
roughly, but Jack rolled over like one drugged and broke into frightened
whimpers such as a child makes in the dark. He was dreaming of home, and as
Dan listened to the half-choked words, his face contracted sharply. "Wake
up, you fool!" he repeated angrily, rolling him back and forth before the
A little later, when Jack had grown warm beneath his touch, he threw a
blanket over him, and turned to lie down in his own place. As he tossed a
last armful on the fire, his eyes roamed over the long mounds of snow that
filled the clearing, and he caught his breath as a man might who had waked
suddenly among the dead. In the beginning of dawn, with the glimmer of
smouldering fires reddening the snow, there was something almost ghastly in
the sloping field filled with white graves and surrounded by white
mountains. Even the wintry sky borrowed, for an hour, the spectral aspect
of the earth, and the familiar shapes of cloud, as of hill, stood out with
all the majesty of uncovered laws--stripped of the mere frivolous effect of
light or shade. It was like the first day--or the last.
Dan, sitting watchful beside the fire, fell into the peculiar mental state
which comes only after an inward struggle that has laid bare the sinews of
one's life. He had fought the good fight to the end, and he knew that from
this day he should go easier with himself because he knew that he had
The old doubt--the old distrust of his own strength--was fallen from him.
At the moment he could have gone to Betty, fearless and full of hope, and
have said, "Come, for I am grown up at last--at last I have grown up to my
love." A great tenderness was in his heart, and the tears, which had not
risen for all the bodily suffering of the past two weeks, came slowly to
his eyes. The purpose of life seemed suddenly clear to him, and the large
patience of the sky passed into his own nature as he sat facing the white
dawn. At rare intervals in the lives of all strenuous souls there comes
this sense of kinship with external things--this passionate recognition of
the appeal of the dumb world. Sky and mountains and the white sweep of the
fields awoke in him the peculiar tenderness he had always felt for animals
or plants. His old childish petulance was gone from him forever; in its
place he was aware of a kindly tolerance which softened even the common
outlines of his daily life. It was as if he had awakened breathlessly to
find himself a man.
And Betty came to him again--not in detached visions, but entire and
womanly. When he remembered her as on that last night at Chericoke it was
with the impulse to fall down and kiss her feet. Reckless and blind with
anger as he had been, she would have come cheerfully with him wherever his
road led; and it was this passionate betrayal of herself that had taught
him the full measure of her love. An attempt to trifle, to waver, to
bargain with the future, he might have looked back upon with tender scorn;
but the gesture with which she had made her choice was as desperate as his
own mood--and it was for this one reckless moment that he loved her best.
The east paled slowly as the day broke in a cloud, and the long shadows
beside the fire lost their reddish glimmer. A little bird, dazed by the
cold and the strange light, flew into the smoke against the stunted pine,
and fell, a wet ball of feathers at Dan's feet. He picked it up, warmed it
in his coat, and fed it from the loose crumbs in his pocket.
When Pinetop awoke he was gently stroking the bird while he sang in a low
"Gay and happy, gay and happy,
We'll be gay and happy still."
"I WAIT MY TIME"
When he returned to Winchester it was to find Virginia already there as
Jack Morson's wife. Since her marriage in late summer she had followed her
husband's regiment from place to place, drifting at last to a big yellow
house on the edge of the fiery little town. Dan, passing along the street
one day, heard his name called in a familiar voice, and turned to find her
looking at him through the network of a tall, wrought-iron gate.
"Virginia! Bless my soul! Where's Betty?" he exclaimed amazed.
Virginia left the gate and gave him her hand over the dried creepers on the
"Why, you look ten years older," was her response.
"Indeed! Well, two years of beggary, to say nothing of eight months of war,
isn't just the thing to insure immortal youth, is it? You see, I'm turning
The pallor of the long march was in his face, giving him a striking though
unnatural beauty. His eyes were heavy and his hair hung dishevelled about
his brow, but the change went deeper still, and the girl saw it. "You're
bigger--that's it," she said, and added impulsively, "Oh, how I wish Betty
could see you now."
Her hand was upon the wall and he gave it a quick, pleased pressure.
"I wish to heaven she could," he echoed heartily.
"But I shall tell her everything when I write--everything. I shall tell her
that you are taller and stronger and that you have been in all the fights
and haven't a scar to show. Betty loves scars, you see, and she doesn't
mind even wounds--real wounds. She wanted to go into the hospitals, but I
came away and mamma wouldn't let her."
"For God's sake, don't let her," said Dan, with a shudder, his Southern
instincts recoiling from the thought of service for the woman he loved.
"There are a plenty of them in the hospitals and it's no place for Betty,
"I'll tell her you think so," returned Virginia, gayly. "I'll tell her
that--and what else?"
He met her eyes smiling.
"Tell her I wait my time," he answered, and began to talk lightly of other
things. Virginia followed his lead with her old shy merriment. Her marriage
had changed her but little, though she had grown a trifle stately, he
thought, and her coquetry had dropped from her like a veil. As she stood
there in her delicate lace cap and soft gray silk, the likeness to her
mother was very marked, and looking into the future, Dan seemed to see her
beauty ripen and expand with her growing womanhood. How many of her race
had there been, he wondered, shaped after the same pure and formal plan.
"And it is all just the same," he said, his eyes delighting in her beauty.
"There is no change--don't tell me there is any change, for I'll not
believe it. You bring it all back to me,--the lawn and the lilacs and the
white pillars, and Miss Lydia's garden, with the rose leaves in the paths.
Why are there always rose leaves in Miss Lydia's paths, Virginia?"
Virginia shook her head, puzzled by his whimsical tone.
"Because there are so many roses," she answered seriously.
"No, you're wrong, there's another reason, but I shan't tell you."
"My boxes are filled with rose leaves now," said Virginia. "Betty gathered
them for me."
The smile leaped to his eyes. "Oh, but it makes me homesick," he returned
lightly. "If I tell you a secret, don't betray me, Virginia--I am downright
homesick for Betty."
Virginia patted his hand.
"So am I," she confessed, "and so is Mammy Riah--she's with me now, you
know--and she says that I might have been married without Jack, but never
without Betty. Betty made my dress and iced my cake and pinned on my veil."
"Ah, is that so?" exclaimed Dan, absent-mindedly. He was thinking of Betty,
and he could almost see her hands as she pinned on the wedding veil--those
small white hands with the strong fingers that had closed about his own.
"When you get your furlough you must go home, Dan," Virginia was saying;
"the Major is very feeble and--and he quarrels with almost everyone."
"My furlough," repeated Dan, with a laugh. "Why, the war may end to-morrow
and then we'll all go home together and kill the fatted calf among us. Yes,
I'd like to see the old man again before I die."
"I pray every night that the war may end tomorrow," said Virginia, "but it
never does." Then she turned eagerly to the Governor, who was coming toward
them under the leafless trees along the street.
"Here's Dan, papa, do make him come in and be good."
The Governor, holding himself erect in his trim gray uniform, insisted,
with his hand upon Dan's shoulder, that Virginia should be obeyed; and the
younger man, yielding easily, followed him through the iron gate and into
the yellow house.
"I don't see you every day, my boy, sit down, sit down," began the
Governor, as he took his stand upon the hearth-rug. "Daughter, haven't you
learned the way to the pantry yet? Dan looks as if he'd been on starvation
rations since he joined the army. They aren't living high at Romney, eh?"
and then, as Virginia went out, he fell to discussing the questions on all
men's lips--the prospect of peace in the near future; hopes of intervention
from England; the attitude of other foreign powers; and the reasons for the
latest appointments by the President. When the girl came in again they let
such topics go, and talked of home while she poured the coffee and helped
Dan to fried chicken. She belonged to the order of women who delight in
feeding a hungry man, and her eyes did not leave his face as she sat behind
the tray and pressed the food upon him.
"Dan thinks the war will be over before he gets his furlough," she said a
A shadow crossed the Governor's face.
"Then I may hope to get back in time to watch the cradles in the wheat
field," he remarked. "There's little doing on the farm I'm afraid while I'm
"If they hold out six months longer--well, I'll be surprised," exclaimed
Dan, slapping the arm of his chair with a gesture like the Major's.
"They've found out we won't give in so long as there's a musket left; and
that's enough for them."
"Maybe so, maybe so," returned the Governor, for it was a part of his
philosophy to cast his conversational lines in the pleasant places. "Please
God, we'll drink our next Christmas glass at Chericoke."
"In the panelled parlour," added Dan, his eyes lighting.
"With Aunt Emmeline's portrait," finished Virginia, smiling.
For a time they were all silent, each looking happily into the far-off
room, and each seeing a distinct and different vision. To the Governor the
peaceful hearth grew warm again--he saw his wife and children gathered
there, and a few friendly neighbours with their long-lived, genial jokes
upon their lips. To Virginia it was her own bridal over again with the fear
of war gone from her, and the quiet happiness she wanted stretching out
into the future. To Dan there was first his own honour to be won, and then
only Betty and himself--Betty and himself under next year's mistletoe
"Well, well," sighed the Governor, and came back regretfully to the
present. "It's a good place we're thinking of, and I reckon you're sorry
enough you left it before you were obliged to. We all make mistakes, my
boy, and the fortunate ones are those who live long enough to unmake them."
His warm smile shone out suddenly, and without waiting for a reply, he
began to ask for news of Jack Powell and his comrades, all of whom he knew
by name. "I was talking to Colonel Burwell about you the other day," he
added presently, "and he gave you a fighting record that would do honour to
"He's a nice old chap," responded Dan, easily, for in the first years of
the Army of Northern Virginia the question of rank presented itself only
upon the parade ground, and beyond the borders of the camp a private had
been known to condescend to his own Colonel. "A gentleman fights for his
country as he pleases, a plebeian as he must," the Governor would have
explained with a touch of his old oratory. "He's a nice old chap himself,
but, by George, the discipline fits like a straight-jacket," pursued Dan,
as he finished his coffee. "Why, here we are three miles below Winchester
in a few threadbare tents, and they make as much fuss about our coming into
town as if we were the Yankees themselves. Talk about Romney! Why, it's no
colder at Romney than it was here last week, and yet Loring's men are
living in huts like princes."
"Show me a volunteer and I'll show you a grumbler," put in the Governor,
"Oh, I'm not grumbling, I'm merely pointing out the facts," protested Dan;
then he rose and stood holding Virginia's hand as he met her upward glance
with his unflinching admiration. "Come again! Why, I should say so," he
declared. "I'll come as long as I have a collar left, and then--well, then
I'll pass the time of day with you over the hedge. Good-by, Colonel,
remember I'm not a grumbler, I'm merely a man of facts."
The door closed after him and a moment later they heard his clear whistle
in the street.
"The boy is like his father," said the Governor, thoughtfully, "like his
father with the devil broken to harness. The Montjoy blood may be bad
blood, but it makes big men, daughter." He sighed and drew his small figure
to its full height.
Virginia was looking into the fire. "I hope he will come again," she
returned softly, thinking of Betty.
But when he called again a week later Virginia did not see him. It was a
cold starlit night, and the big yellow house, as he drew near it, glowed
like a lamp amid the leafless trees. Beside the porch a number of cavalry
horses were fastened to the pillars, and through the long windows there
came the sound of laughter and of gay "good-bys."
The "fringe of the army," as Dan had once jeeringly called it, was merrily
making ready for a raid.
As he listened he leaned nearer the window and watched, half enviously, the
men he had once known. His old life had been a part of theirs and now,
looking in from the outside, it seemed very far away--the poetry of war
beside which the other was mere dull history in which no names were
written. He thought of Prince Rupert, and of his own joy in the saddle, and
the longing for the raid seized him like a heartache. Oh, to feel again the
edge of the keen wind in his teeth and to hear the silver ring of the hoofs
on the frozen road.
"Jine the cavalry,
Jine the cavalry,
If you want to have a good time jine the cavalry."
The words floated out to him, and he laughed aloud as if he had awakened
from a comic dream.
That was the romance of war, but, after all, he was only the man who bore
THE ALTAR OF THE WAR GOD
With the opening spring Virginia went down to Richmond, where Jack Morson
had taken rooms for her in the house of an invalid widow whose three sons
were at the front. The town was filled to overflowing with refugees from
the North and representatives from the South, and as the girl drove through
the crowded streets, she exclaimed wonderingly at the festive air the
"Why, the doors are all open," she observed. "It looks like one big
"That's about what it is," replied Jack. "The whole South is here and
there's not a room to be had for love or money. Food is getting dear, too,
they say, and the stranger within the gates has the best of everything." He
stopped short and laughed from sheer surprise at Virginia's loveliness.
"Well, I'm glad I'm here, anyway," said the girl, pressing his arm, "and
Mammy Riah's glad, too, though she won't confess it.--Aren't you just
delighted to see Jack again, Mammy?"
The old negress grunted in her corner of the carriage. "I ain' seed no use
in all dis yer fittin'," she responded. "W'at's de use er fittin' ef dar
ain' sumpen' ter fit fer dat you ain' got a'ready?"
"That's it, Mammy," replied Jack, gayly, "we're fighting for freedom, and
we haven't had it yet, you see."
"Is dat ar freedom vittles?" scornfully retorted the old woman. "Is it
close? is it wood ter bu'n?"
"Oh, it will soon be here and you'll find out," said Virginia, cheerfully,
and when a little later she settled herself in her pleasant rooms, she
returned to her assurances.
"Aren't you glad you're here, Mammy, aren't you glad?" she insisted, with
her arm about the old woman's neck.
"I'd des like ter git a good look at ole Miss agin," returned Mammy Riah,
softening, "caze ef you en ole Miss ain' des like two peas in a pod, my
eyes hev done crack wid de sight er you. Dar ain' been nuttin' so pretty es
you sence de day I dressed ole Miss in 'er weddin' veil."
"You're right," exclaimed Jack, heartily. "But look at this, Virginia,
here's a regular corn field at the back. Mrs. Minor tells me that
vegetables have grown so scarce she has been obliged to turn her flower
beds into garden patches." He threw open the window, and they went out upon
the wide piazza which hung above the young corn rows.
During the next few weeks, when Jack was often in the city, an almost
feverish gayety possessed the girl. In the war-time parties, where the
women wore last year's dresses, and the wit served for refreshment, her
gentle beauty became, for a little while, the fashion. The smooth bands of
her hair were copied, the curve of her eyelashes was made the subject of
some verses which _The Examiner_ printed and the English papers quoted
later on. It was a bright and stately society that filled the capital that
year; and on pleasant Sundays when Virginia walked from church, in her
Leghorn bonnet and white ruffles flaring over crinoline as they neared the
ground, men, who had bled on fields of honour for the famous beauties of
the South, would drop their talk to follow her with warming eyes. Cities
might fall and battles might be lost and won, but their joy in a beautiful
woman would endure until a great age.
At last Jack Morson rode away to service, and the girl kept to the quiet
house and worked on the little garments which the child would need in the
summer. She was much alone, but the delicate widow, who had left her couch
to care for the sick and wounded soldiers, would sometimes come and sit
near her while she sewed.
"This is the happiest time--before the child comes," she said one day, and
added, with the observant eye of mothers, "it will be a boy; there is a
pink lining to the basket."
"Yes, it will be a boy," replied Virginia, wistfully.
"I have had six," pursued the woman, "six sons, and yet I am alone now.
Three are dead, and three are in the army. I am always listening for the
summons that means another grave." She clasped her thin hands and smiled
the patient smile that chilled Virginia's blood.
"Couldn't you have kept one back?" asked the girl in a whisper.
The woman shook her head. Much brooding had darkened her mind, but there
was a peculiar fervour in her face--an inward light that shone through her
"Not one--not one," she answered. "When the South called, I sent the first
two, and when they fell, I sent the others--only the youngest I kept back
at first--he is just seventeen. Then another call came and he begged so
hard I let him go. No, I gave them all gladly--I have kept none back."
She lowered her eyes and sat smiling at her folded hands. Weakened in body
and broken by many sorrows as she was, with few years before her and those
filled with inevitable suffering, the fire of the South still burned in her
veins, and she gave herself as ardently as she gave her sons. The pity of
it touched Virginia suddenly, and in the midst of her own enthusiasm she
felt the tears upon her lashes. Was not an army invincible, she asked, into
which the women sent their dearest with a smile?
Through the warm spring weather she sat beside the long window that gave on
the street, or walked slowly up and down among the vegetable rows in the
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