The Battle Ground
Part 6 out of 8
garden. The growing of the crops became an unending interest to her and she
watched them, day by day, until she learned to know each separate plant and
to look for its unfolding. When the drought came she carried water from the
hydrant, and assisted by Mammy Riah sprinkled the young tomatoes until they
shot up like weeds. "It is so much better than war," she would say to Jack
when he rode through the city. "Why will men kill one another when they
might make things live instead?"
Beside the piazza, there was a high magnolia tree, and under this she made
a little rustic bench and a bed of flowers. When the hollyhocks and the
sunflowers bloomed it would look like Uplands, she said, laughing.
Under the magnolia there was quiet, but from her front window, while she
sat at work, she could see the whole overcrowded city passing through sun
and shadow. Sometimes distinguished strangers would go by, men from the far
South in black broadcloth and slouch hats; then the President, slim and
erect and very grave, riding his favourite horse to one of the encampments
near the city; and then a noted beauty from another state, her chin lifted
above the ribbons of her bonnet, a smile tucked in the red corners of her
lips. Following there would surge by the same eager, staring throng--men
too old to fight who had lost their work; women whose husbands fought in
the trenches for the money that would hardly buy a sack of flour; soldiers
from one of the many camps; noisy little boys with tin whistles; silent
little girls waving Confederate flags. Back and forth they passed on the
bright May afternoons, filling the street with a ceaseless murmur and the
blur of many colours.
And again the crowd would part suddenly to make way for a battalion
marching to the front, or for a single soldier riding, with muffled drums,
to his grave in Hollywood. The quick step or the slow gait of the riderless
horse; the wild cheers or the silence on the pavement; the "Bonnie Blue
Flag" or the funeral dirge before the coffin; the eager faces of men
walking to where death was or the fallen ones of those who came back with
the dead; the bold flags taking the wind like sails or the banners furled
with crepe as they drooped forward--there was not a day when these things
did not go by near together. To Virginia, sitting at her window, it was as
if life and death walked on within each other's shadow.
Then came the terrible days when the city saw McClellan sweeping toward it
from the Chickahominy, when senators and clergymen gathered with the slaves
to raise the breastworks, and men turned blankly to ask one another "Where
is the army?" With the girl the question meant only mystification; she felt
none of the white terror that showed in the faces round her. There was in
her heart an unquestioning, childlike trust in the God of battles--sooner
or later he would declare for the Confederacy and until then--well, there
was always General Lee to stand between. Her chief regret was that the
lines had closed and her mother could not come to her as she had promised.
In the intense heat that hung above the town she sat at her southern
window, where the river breeze blew across the garden, and watched placidly
the palm-leaf fan which Mammy Riah waved before her face. The magnolia tree
had flowered in great white blossoms, and the heavy perfume mingled in
Virginia's thoughts with the yellow sunshine, the fretful clamour, and the
hot dust of the city. When at the end of May a rain storm burst overhead
and sent the wide white petals to the earth, it was almost a relief to see
them go. But by the morrow new ones had opened, and the perfume she had
sickened of still floated from the garden.
That afternoon the sound of the guns rolled up the Williamsburg road, and
in the streets men shouted hoarsely of an engagement with the enemy at
Seven Pines. With the noise Virginia thrilled to her first feeling of
danger, starting from a repose which, in its unconsciousness, had been as
profound as sleep. The horror of war rushed in upon her at the moment, and
with a cry she leaned out into the street, and listened for the next roll
of the cannon.
A woman, with a scared face, looked up, saw her, and spoke hysterically.
"There's not a man left in the city," she cried. "They've taken my father
to defend the breastworks and he's near seventy. If you can sew or wash or
cook, there'll be work enough for you, God knows, to-morrow!"
She hurried on and Virginia, turning from the window, buried herself in the
pillows upon the bed, trying in vain to shut out the noise of the
cannonading and the perfume of the magnolia blossoms which came in on the
southern breeze. With night the guns grew silent and the streets empty, but
still the girl lay sleepless, watching with frightened eyes the shadow of
Mammy Riah's palm-leaf fan.
At dawn the restless murmur began again, and Virginia, looking out in the
hot sunrise, saw the crowd hastening back to the hospitals lower down. They
were all there, all as they had been the day before--old men limping out
for news or returning beside the wounded; women with trembling lips and
arms filled with linen; ambulances passing the corner at a walk, surrounded
by men who had staggered after them because there was no room left inside;
and following always the same curious, pallid throng, fresh upon the scent
of some new tragedy. Presently the ambulances gave out, and yet the wounded
came--some walking, and moaning as they walked, some borne on litters by
devoted servants, some drawn in market wagons pressed into use. The great
warehouses and the churches were thrown open to give them shelter, but
still they came and still the cry went up, "Room, more room!"
Virginia watched it all, leaning out to follow the wagons as they passed
the corner. The sight sickened her, but something that was half a ghastly
fascination, and half the terror of missing a face she knew, kept her hour
after hour motionless upon her knees. At each roll of the guns she gave a
nervous shiver and grew still as stone.
Then, as she knelt there, a man, in clerical dress, came down the pavement
and stopped before her window. "I hope your husband's wound was not
serious, Mrs. Morson," he said sympathetically. "If I can be of any
assistance, please don't hesitate to call on me."
"Jack wounded!--oh, he is not wounded," replied Virginia. She rose and
stood wildly looking down upon him.
He saw his mistake and promptly retracted what he could.
"If you don't know of it, it can't be true," he urged kindly. "So many
rumours are afloat that half of them are without foundation. However, I
will make inquiries if you wish," and he passed on with a promise to return
For a time Virginia stood blankly gazing after him; then she turned
steadily and took down her bonnet from the wardrobe. She even went to the
bureau and carefully tied the pink ribbon strings beneath her chin.
"I am going out, Mammy Riah," she said when she had finished. "No, don't
tell me I mustn't--I am going out, I say."
She stamped her foot impatiently, but Mammy Riah made no protest.
"Des let's go den," she returned, smoothing her head handkerchief as she
prepared to follow.
The sun was already high above, and the breeze, which had blown for three
days from the river, had dropped suddenly since dawn. Down the brick
pavement the relentless glare flashed back into the sky which hung hot blue
overhead. To Virginia, coming from the shade of her rooms, the city seemed
a furnace and the steady murmur a great discord in which every note was one
Other women looking for their wounded hurried by her--one stopped to ask if
she had been into the unused tobacco warehouse and if she had seen there a
boy she knew by name? Another, with lint bandages in her hand, begged her
to come into a church hard by and assist in ravelling linen for the
surgeons. Then she looked down, saw the girl's figure, and grew nervous.
"You are not fit, my dear, go home," she urged, but Virginia shook her head
"I am looking for my husband," she answered in a cold voice and passed on.
Mammy Riah caught up with her, but she broke away. "Go home if you want
to--oh, go back," she cried irritably. "I am looking for Jack, you know."
Into the rude hospitals, one after one, she went without shuddering,
passing up and down between the ghastly rows lying half clothed upon the
bare plank floors. Her eyes were strained and eager, and more than one
dying man turned to look after her as she went by, and carried the memory
of her face with him to death. Once she stopped and folded a blanket under
the head of a boy who moaned aloud, and then gave him water from a pitcher
close at hand. "You're so cool--so cool," he sobbed, clutching at her
dress, but she smiled like one asleep and passed on rapidly.
When the long day had worn out at last, she came from an open store filled
with stretchers, and started homeward over the burning pavement. Her search
was useless, and the reaction from her terrible fear left her with a sudden
tremor in her heart. As she walked she leaned heavily upon Mammy Riah, and
her colour came and went in quick flashes. The heat had entered into her
brain and with it the memory of open wounds and the red hands of surgeons.
Reaching the house at last, she flung herself all dressed upon the bed and
fell into a sleep that was filled with changing dreams.
At midnight she cried out in agony, believing herself to be still in the
street. When Mammy Riah bent over her she did not know her, but held out
shaking hands and asked for her mother, calling the name aloud in the
silent house, deserted for the sake of the hospitals lower down. She was
walking again on and on over the hot bricks, and the deep wounds were
opening before her eyes while the surgeons went by with dripping hands.
Once she started up and cried out that the terrible blue sky was crushing
her down to the pavement which burned her feet. Then the odour of the
magnolia filled her nostrils, and she talked of the scorching dust, of the
noise that would not stop, and of the feeble breeze that blew toward her
from the river. All night she wandered back and forth in the broad glare of
the noon, and all night Mammy Riah passed from the clinging hands to the
window where she looked for help in the empty street. And then, as the gray
dawn broke, Virginia put her simple services by, and spoke in a clear
"Oh, how lovely," she said, as if well pleased. A moment more and she lay
smiling like a child, her chin pressed deep in her open palm.
* * * * *
In the full sunrise a physician, who had run in at the old woman's cry,
came from the house and stopped bareheaded in the breathless heat. For a
moment he stared over the moving city and then up into the cloudless blue
of the sky.
"God damn war!" he said suddenly, and went back to his knife.
THE MONTJOY BLOOD AGAIN
A month later Dan heard of Virginia's death when, at the end of the Seven
Days, he was brought wounded into Richmond. As he lay upon church cushions
on the floor of an old warehouse on Main Street, with Big Abel shaking a
tattered palm-leaf fan at his side, a cavalryman came up to him and held
out a hand that trembled slightly from fatigue.
"I heard you were here. Can I do anything for you, Beau?" he asked.
For an instant Dan hesitated; then the other smiled, and he recognized Jack
"My God! You've been ill!" he exclaimed in horror. Jack laughed and let his
hand fall. The boyish colour was gone from his face, and he wore an
untrimmed beard which made him look twice his age.
"Never better in my life," he answered shortly. "Some men are made of
india-rubber, Montjoy, and I'm one of them. I've managed to get into most
of these blessed fights about Richmond, and yet I haven't so much as a pin
prick to show for it. But what's wrong with you? Not much, I hope. I've
just seen Bland, and he told me he thought you were left at Malvern Hill
during that hard rain on Tuesday night. How did you get knocked over,
"A rifle ball went through my leg," replied Dan impatiently. "I say, Big
Abel, can't you flirt that fan a little faster? These confounded flies
stick like molasses." Then he held up his left hand and looked at it with a
grim smile. "A nasty fragment of a shell took off a couple of my fingers,"
he added. "At first I thought they had begun throwing hornets' nests from
their guns--it felt just like it. Yes, that's the worst with me so far;
I've still got a bone to my leg, and I'll be on the field again before
long, thank God."
"Well, the worst thing about getting wounded is being stuffed into a hole
like this," returned Jack, glancing about contemptuously. "Whoever has had
the charge of our hospital arrangements may congratulate himself that he
has made a ghastly mess of them. Why, I found a man over there in the
corner whose leg had mortified from sheer neglect, and he told me that the
supplies for the sick had given out, and they'd offered him cornbread and
bacon for breakfast."
Dan began to toss restlessly, grumbling beneath his breath. "If you ever
see a ball making in your direction," he advised, "dodge it clean or take
it square in the mouth; don't go in for any compromises with a gun, they
aren't worth it." He lay silent for a moment, and then spoke proudly. "Big
Abel hauled me off the field after I went down. How he found me, God only
knows, but find me he did, and under fire, too."
"'Twuz des like pepper," remarked Big Abel, fanning briskly, "but soon es I
heah dat Marse Dan wuz right flat on de groun', I know dat dar warn' nobody
ter go atter 'im 'cep'n' me. Marse Bland he come crawlin' out er de bresh,
wuckin' 'long on his stomick same es er mole, wid his face like a rabbit
w'en de dawgs are 'mos' upon 'im, en he sez hard es flint, 'Beau he's down
over yonder, en I tried ter pull 'im out, Big Abel, 'fo' de Lawd I did!'
Den he drap right ter de yerth, en I des stop long enough ter put a tin
bucket on my haid 'fo' I began ter crawl atter Marse Dan. Whew! dat ar
bucket hit sutney wuz a he'p, dat 'twuz, case I des hyeard de cawn
a-poppin' all aroun' hit, en dey ain' never come thoo yit.
"Well, suh, w'en I h'ist dat bucket ter git a good look out dar dey wuz
a-fittin' twel dey bus', a-dodgin' in en out er de shucks er wheat dat dey
done pile 'mos' up ter de haids. I ain' teck but one good look, suh, den I
drap de bucket down agin en keep a-crawlin' like Marse Bland tole me twel I
git 'mos' ter de cawn fiel' dat run right spang up de hill whar de big guns
wuz a-spittin' fire en smoke. En sho' 'nough dar wuz Marse Dan lyin' unner
a pine log dat Marse Bland hed roll up ter 'im ter keep de Yankees f'om
hittin' 'im; en w'en he ketch sight er me he des blink his eyes fur a
minute en laugh right peart.
"'Wat dat you got on yo' haid, Big Abel?' he sez."
"Big Abel's a hero, there's no mistake," put in Dan, delighted. "Do you
know he lifted me as if I were a baby and toted me out of that God-forsaken
corn field in the hottest fire I ever felt--and I tipped the scales at a
hundred and fifty pounds before I went to Romney."
"Go way, Marse Dan, you ain' nuttin' but a rail," protested Big Abel, and
continued his story. "Atter I done tote him outer de cawn fiel' en thoo de
bresh, den I begin ter peer roun' fer one er dese yer ambushes, but dere
warn' nairy one un um dat warn' a-bulgin' a'ready. I d'clar dey des bulged
twel dey sides 'mos' split. I seed a hack drive long by wid two gemmen
a-settin' up in hit, en one un em des es well es I is,--but w'en I helt
Marse Dan up right high, he shake his haid en pint ter de udder like he
kinder skeered. 'Dis yer's my young brudder,' he sez, speakin' sof'; 'en
dis yer's my young Marster,' I holler back, but he shake his haid agin en
drive right on. Lawd, Lawd, my time's 'mos' up, I 'low den--yes, suh, I
do--but w'en I tu'n roun' squintin' my eyes caze de sun so hot--de sun he
wuz kinder shinin' thoo his back like he do w'en he hu't yo' eyes en you
cyan' see 'im--dar came a dump cyart a-joltin' up de road wid a speckled
mule hitch ter it. A lot er yuther w'ite folks made a bee line fer dat ar
dump cyart, but dey warn' 'fo' me, caze w'en dey git dar, dar I wuz
a-settin' wid Marse Dan laid out across my knees. Well, dey lemme go--dey
bleeged ter caze I 'uz gwine anyway--en de speckled mule she des laid back
'er years en let fly fer Richmon'. Yes, suh, I ain' never seed sech a mule
es dat. She 'uz des es full er sperit es a colt, en her name wuz Sally."
"The worst of it was after getting here," finished Dan, who had lain
regarding Big Abel with a proud paternal eye, "they kept us trundling round
in that cart for three mortal hours, because they couldn't find a hole to
put us into. An uncovered wagon was just in front of us, filled with poor
fellows who had been half the day in the sweltering heat, and we made the
procession up and down the city, until at last some women rushed up with
their servants and cleared out this warehouse. One was not over sixteen and
as pretty as a picture. 'Don't talk to me about the proper authorities,'
she said, stamping her foot, 'I'll hang the proper authorities when they
turn up--and in the meantime we'll go to work!' By Jove, she was a trump,
that girl! If she didn't save my life, she did still better and saved my
"Well, I'll try to get you moved by to-morrow," said Jack reassuringly.
"Every home in the city is filled with the wounded, they tell me, but I
know a little woman who had two funerals from her house to-day, so she may
be able to find room for you. This heat is something awful, isn't it?"
"Damnable. I hope, by the way, that Virginia is out of it by now."
Jack flinched as if the words struck him between the eyes. For a moment he
stood staring at the straw pallets along the wall; then he spoke in a queer
"Yes, Virginia's out of it by now; Virginia's dead, you know."
"Dead!" cried Dan, and raised himself upon his cushion. The room went black
before him, and he steadied himself by clutching at Big Abel's arm. At the
instant the horrors of the battle-field, where he had seen men fall like
grass before the scythe, became as nothing to the death of this one young
girl. He thought of her living beauty, of the bright glow of her flesh, and
it seemed to him that the earth could not hide a thing so fair.
"I left her in Richmond in the spring," explained Jack, gripping himself
hard. "I was off with Stuart, you know, and I thought her mother would get
to her, but she couldn't pass the lines and then the fight came--the one at
Seven Pines and--well, she died and the child with her."
Dan's eyes grew very tender; a look crept into them which only Betty and
his mother had seen there before.
"I would have died for her if I could, Jack, you know that," he said
Jack walked off a few paces and then came back again. "I remember the
Governor's telling me once," he went on in the same hard voice, "that if a
man only rode boldly enough at death it would always get out of the way. I
didn't believe it at the time, but, by God, it's true. Why, I've gone
straight into the enemy's lines and heard the bullets whistling in my ears,
but I've always come out whole. When I rode with Stuart round McClellan's
army, I was side by side with poor Latane when he fell in the skirmish at
Old Church, and I sat stock still on my horse and waited for a fellow to
club me with his sabre, but he wouldn't; he looked at me as if he thought I
had gone crazy, and actually shook his head. Some men can't die, confound
it, and I'm one of them."
He went out, his spurs striking the stone steps as he passed into the
street, and Dan fell back upon the narrow cushions to toss with fever and
the memory of Virginia--of Virginia in the days when she wore her rose-pink
gown and he believed he loved her.
At the door an ambulance drew up and a stretcher was brought into the
building, and let down in one corner. The man on it was lying very still,
and when he was lifted off and placed upon the blood-soaked top of the long
pine table, he made no sound, either of fear or of pain. The close odours
of the place suddenly sickened Dan and he asked Big Abel to draw him nearer
the open window, where he might catch the least breeze from the river; but
outside the July sunlight lay white and hot upon the bricks, and when he
struggled up the reflected heat struck him down again. On the sidewalk he
saw several prisoners going by amid a hooting crowd, and with his old
instinct to fight upon the weaker side, he hurled an oath at the tormenters
of his enemies.
"Go to the field, you crows, and be damned!" he called.
One of the prisoners, a ruddy-cheeked young fellow in private's clothes,
looked up and touched his cap.
"Thank you, sir, I hope we'll meet at the front," he said, in a rich Irish
brogue. Then he passed on to Libby prison, while Dan turned from the window
and lay watching the surgeon's faces as they probed for bullets.
It was a long unceiled building, filled with bright daylight and the
buzzing of countless flies. Women, who had volunteered for the service,
passed swiftly over the creaking boards, or knelt beside the pallets as
they bathed the shattered limbs with steady fingers. Here and there a child
held a glass of water to a man who could not raise himself, or sat fanning
the flies from a pallid face. None was too old nor too young where there
was work for all.
A stir passed through the group about the long pine table, and one of the
surgeons, wiping the sweat from his brow, came over to where Dan lay, and
stopped to take breath beside the window.
"By Jove, that man died game," he said, shaking his handkerchief at the
flies. "We took both his legs off at the knee, and he just gripped the
table hard and never winked an eyelash. I told him it would kill him, but
he said he'd be hanged if he didn't take his chance--and he took it and
died. Talk to me about nerve, that fellow had the cleanest grit I ever
Dan's pulses fluttered, as they always did at an example of pure pluck.
"What's his regiment?" he asked, watching the two slaves who, followed by
their mistresses, were bringing the body back to the stretcher.
"Oh, he was a scout, I believe, serving with Stuart when he was wounded.
His name is--by the way, his name is Montjoy. Any relative of yours, I
Raising himself upon his elbow, Dan turned to look at the dead man beside
him. A heavy beard covered the mouth and chin, but he knew the sunken black
eyes and the hair that was like his own.
"Yes," he answered after a long pause, "he is a relative of mine, I think;"
and then, while the man lay waiting for his coffin, he propped himself upon
his arm and followed curiously the changes made by death.
At his first recognition there had come only a wave of repulsion--the old
disgust that had always dogged the memory of his father; then, with the
dead face before his eyes, he was aware of an unreasoning pride in the
blood he bore--in the fact that the soldier there had died pure game to the
last. It was as a braggart and a bully that he had always thought of him;
now he knew that at least he was not a craven--that he could take blows as
he dealt them, from the shoulder out. He had hated his father, he told
himself unflinchingly, and he did not love him now. Had the dead man opened
his eyes he could have struck him back again with his mother's memory for a
weapon. There had been war between them to the grave, and yet, despite
himself, he knew that he had lost his old boyish shame of the Montjoy
blood. With the instinct of his race to glorify physical courage, he had
seen the shadow of his boyhood loom from the petty into the gigantic. Jack
Montjoy may have been a scoundrel,--doubtless he was one,--but, with all
his misdeeds on his shoulders, he had lived pure game to the end.
A fresh bleeding of Dan's wound brought on a sudden faintness, and he fell
heavily upon Big Abel's arm. With the pain a groan hovered an instant on
his lips, but, closing his eyes, he bit it back and lay silent. For the
first time in his life there had come to him, like an impulse, the
knowledge that he must not lower his father's name.
THE RETURN OF THE VANQUISHED
THE RAGGED ARMY
The brigade had halted to gather rations in a corn field beside the road,
and Dan, lying with his head in the shadow of a clump of sumach, hungrily
regarded the "roasting ears" which Pinetop had just rolled in the ashes. A
malarial fever, which he had contracted in the swamps of the Chickahominy,
had wasted his vitality until he had begun to look like the mere shadow of
himself; gaunt, unwashed, hollow-eyed, yet wearing his torn gray jacket and
brimless cap as jauntily as he had once worn his embroidered waistcoats.
His hand trembled as he reached out for his share of the green corn, but
weakened as he was by sickness and starvation, the defiant humour shone all
the clearer in his eyes. He had still the heart for a whistle, Bland had
said last night, looking at him a little wistfully.
As he lay there, with the dusty sumach shrub above him, he saw the ragged
army pushing on into the turnpike that led to Maryland. Lean, sun-scorched,
half-clothed, dropping its stragglers like leaves upon the roadside,
marching in borrowed rags, and fighting with the weapons of its enemies,
dirty, fevered, choking with the hot dust of the turnpike--it still pressed
onward, bending like a blade beneath Lee's hand. For this army of the sick,
fighting slow agues, old wounds, and the sharp diseases that follow on
green food, was becoming suddenly an army of invasion. The road led into
Maryland, and the brigades swept into it, jesting like schoolboys on a
Dan, stretched exhausted beside the road, ate his ear of corn, and idly
watched the regiment that was marching by--marching, not with the even
tread of regular troops, but with scattered ranks and broken column, each
man limping in worn-out shoes, at his own pace. They were not fancy
soldiers, these men, he felt as he looked after them. They were not
imposing upon the road, but when their chance came to fight, they would be
very sure to take it. Here and there a man still carried his old squirrel
musket, with a rusted skillet handle stuck into the barrel, but when before
many days the skillet would be withdrawn, the load might be relied upon to
wing straight home a little later. On wet nights those muskets would stand
upright upon their bayonets, with muzzles in the earth, while the rain
dripped off, and on dry days they would carry aloft the full property of
the mess, which had dwindled to a frying pan and an old quart cup; though
seldom cleaned, they were always fit for service--or if they went foul what
was easier than to pick up a less trusty one upon the field. On the other
side hung the blankets, tied at the ends and worn like a sling from the
left shoulder. The haversack was gone and with it the knapsack and the
overcoat. When a man wanted a change of linen he knelt down and washed his
single shirt in the brook, sitting in the sun while it dried upon the bank.
If it was long in drying he put it on, wet as it was, and ran ahead to fall
in with his company. Where the discipline was easy, each infantryman might
become his own commissary.
Dan finished his corn, threw the husks over his head, and sat up, looking
idly at the irregular ranks. He was tired and sick, and after a short rest
it seemed all the harder to get up and take the road again. As he sat there
he began to bandy words with the sergeant of a Maryland regiment that was
"Hello! what brigade?" called the sergeant in friendly tones. He looked fat
and well fed, and Dan felt this to be good ground for resentment.
"General Straggler's brigade, but it's none of your business," he promptly
"General Straggler has a pretty God-forsaken crew," taunted the sergeant,
looking back as he stepped on briskly. "I've seen his regiments lining the
road clear up from Chantilly."
"If you'd kept your fat eyes open at Manassas the other day, you'd have
seen them lining the battle-field as well," pursued Dan pleasantly, chewing
a long green blade of corn. "Old Stonewall saw them, I'll be bound. If
General Straggler didn't win that battle I'd like to know who did."
"Oh, shucks!" responded the sergeant, and was out of hearing.
The regiment passed by and another took its place. "Was that General Lee
you were yelling at down there, boys?" inquired Dan politely, smiling the
smile of a man who sits by the roadside and sees another sweating on the
"Naw, that warn't Marse Robert," replied a private, limping with bare feet
over the border of dried grass. "'Twas a blamed, blank, bottomless well,
that's what 'twas. I let my canteen down on a string and it never came back
Dan lowered his eyes, and critically regarded the tattered banner of the
regiment, covered with the names of the battles over which it had hung
unfurled. "Tennessee, aren't you?" he asked, following the flag.
The private shook his head, and stooped to remove a pebble from between his
"Naw, we ain't from Tennessee," he drawled. "We've had the measles--that's
what's the matter with us."
"You show it, by Jove," said Dan, laughing. "Step quickly, if you
please--this is the cleanest brigade in the army."
"Huh!" exclaimed the private, eying them with contempt. "You look like it,
don't you, sonny? Why, I'd ketch the mumps jest to look at sech a set o'
He went on, still grunting, while Dan rose to his feet and slung his
blanket from his shoulder. "Look here, does anybody know where we're going
anyway?" he asked of the blue sky.
"I seed General Jackson about two miles up," replied a passing countryman,
who had led his horse into the corn field. "Whoopee! he was going at a
God-a'mighty pace, I tell you. If he keeps that up he'll be over the
Potomac before sunset."
"Then we are going into Maryland!" cried Jack Powell, jumping to his feet.
"Hurrah for Maryland! We're going to Maryland, God bless her!"
The shouts passed down the road and the Maryland regiment in front sent
back three rousing cheers.
"By Jove, I hope I'll find some shoes there," said Dan, shaking the sand
from his ragged boots, and twisting the shreds of his stockings about his
feet. "I've had to punch holes in my soles and lace them with shoe strings
to the upper leather, or they'd have dropped off long ago."
"Well, I'll begin by making love to a seamstress when I'm over the
Potomac," remarked Welch, getting upon his feet. "I'm decidedly in need of
a couple of patches."
"You make love! You!" roared Jack Powell. "Why, you're the kind of thing
they set up in Maryland to keep the crows away. Now if it were Beau, there,
I see some sense in it--for, I'll be bound, he's slain more hearts than
Yankees in this campaign. The women always drain out their last drop of
buttermilk when he goes on a forage."
"Oh, I don't set up to be a popinjay," retorted Welch witheringly.
"Popinjay, the devil!" scowled Dan, "who's a popinjay?"
"Wall, I'd like a pair of good stout breeches," peacefully interposed
Pinetop. "I've been backin' up agin the fence when I seed a lady comin' for
the last three weeks, an' whenever I set down, I'm plum feared to git up
agin. What with all the other things,--the Yankees, and the chills, and the
measles,--it's downright hard on a man to have to be a-feared of his own
Dan looked round with sympathy. "That's true; it's a shame," he admitted
smiling. "Look here, boys, has anybody got an extra pair of breeches?"
A howl of derision went up from the regiment as it fell into ranks.
"Has anybody got a few grape-leaves to spare?" it demanded in a high
"Oh, shut up," responded Dan promptly. "Come on, Pinetop, we'll clothe
The brigade formed and swung off rapidly along the road, where the dust lay
like gauze upon the sunshine. At the end of a mile somebody stopped and
cried out excitedly. "Look here, boys, the persimmons on that tree over
thar are gittin' 'mos fit to eat. I can see 'em turnin'," and with the
words the column scattered like chaff across the field. But the first man
to reach the tree came back with a wry face, and fell to swearing at "the
darn fool who could eat persimmons before frost."
"Thar's a tree in my yard that gits ripe about September," remarked
Pinetop, as he returned dejectedly across the waste. "Ma she begins to dry
'em 'fo' the frost sets in."
"Oh, well, we'll get a square meal in the morning," responded Dan, growing
cheerful as he dreamed of hospitable Maryland.
Some hours later, in the warm dusk, they went into bivouac among the trees,
and, in a little while, the campfires made a red glow upon the twilight.
Pinetop, with a wooden bucket on his arm, had plunged off in search of
water, and Dan and Jack Powell were sent, in the interests of the mess, to
forage through the surrounding country.
"There's a fat farmer about ten miles down, I saw him," remarked a lazy
smoker, by way of polite suggestion.
"Ten miles? Well, of all the confounded impudence," retorted Jack, as he
strolled off with Dan into the darkness.
For a time they walked in silence, depressed by hunger and the exhaustion
of the march; then Dan broke into a whistle, and presently they found
themselves walking in step with the merry air.
"Where are your thoughts, Beau?" asked Jack suddenly, turning to look at
him by the faint starlight.
Dan's whistle stopped abruptly.
"On a dish of fried chicken and a pot of coffee," he replied at once.
"What's become of the waffles?" demanded Jack indignantly. "I say, old man,
do you remember the sinful waste on those blessed Christmas Eves at
Chericoke? I've been trying to count the different kinds of meat--roast
beef, roast pig, roast goose, roast turkey--"
"Hold your tongue, won't you?"
"Well, I was just thinking that if I ever reach home alive I'll deliver the
Major a lecture on his extravagance."
"It isn't the Major; it's grandma," groaned Dan.
"Oh, that queen among women!" exclaimed Jack fervently; "but the wines are
the Major's, I reckon,--it seems to me I recall some port of which he was
Dan delivered a blow that sent Jack on his knees in the stubble of an old
"If you want to make me eat you, you're going straight about it," he
"Look out!" cried Jack, struggling to his feet, "there's a light over there
among the trees," and they walked on briskly up a narrow country lane which
led, after several turnings, to a large frame house well hidden from the
In the doorway a woman was standing, with a lamp held above her head, and
when she saw them she gave a little breathless call.
"Is that you, Jim?"
Dan went up the steps and stood, cap in hand, before her. The lamplight was
full upon his ragged clothes and upon his pallid face with its strong
high-bred lines of mouth and chin.
"I thought you were my husband," said the woman, blushing at her mistake.
"If you want food you are welcome to the little that I have--it is very
little." She led the way into the house, and motioned, with a pitiable
gesture, to a table that was spread in the centre of the sitting room.
"Will you sit down?" she asked, and at the words, a child in the corner of
the room set up a frightened cry.
"It's my supper--I want my supper," wailed the child.
"Hush, dear," said the woman, "they are our soldiers."
"Our soldiers," repeated the child, staring, with its thumb in its mouth
and the tear-drops on its cheeks.
For an instant Dan looked at them as they stood there, the woman holding
the child in her arms, and biting her thin lips from which hunger had
drained all the red. There was scant food on the table, and as his gaze
went back to it, it seemed to him that, for the first time, he grasped the
full meaning of a war for the people of the soil. This was the real
thing--not the waving banners, not the bayonets, not the fighting in the
His eyes were on the woman, and she smiled as all women did upon whom he
looked in kindness.
"My dear madam, you have mistaken our purpose--we are not as hungry as we
look," he said, bowing in his ragged jacket. "We were sent merely to ask
you if you were in need of a guard for your smokehouse. My Colonel hopes
that you have not suffered at our hands."
"There is nothing left," replied the woman mystified, yet relieved. "There
is nothing to guard except the children and myself, and we are safe, I
think. Your Colonel is very kind--I thank him;" and as they went out she
lighted them with her lamp from the front steps.
An hour later they returned to camp with aching limbs and empty hands.
"There's nothing above ground," they reported, flinging themselves beside
the fire, though the night was warm. "We've scoured the whole country and
the Federals have licked it as clean as a plate before us. Bless my soul!
what's that I smell? Is this heaven, boys?"
"Licked it clean, have they?" jeered the mess. "Well, they left a sheep
anyhow loose somewhere. Beau's darky hadn't gone a hundred yards before he
"Big Abel? You don't say so?" whistled Dan, in astonishment, regarding the
mutton suspended on ramrods above the coals.
"Well, suh, 'twuz des like dis," explained Big Abel, poking the roast with
a small stick. "I know I ain' got a bit a bus'ness ter shoot dat ar sheep
wid my ole gun, but de sheep she ain' got no better bus'ness strayin' roun'
loose needer. She sutney wuz a dang'ous sheep, dat she wuz. I 'uz des
a-bleeged ter put a bullet in her haid er she'd er hed my blood sho'."
As the shout went up he divided the legs of mutton into shares and went off
to eat his own on the dark edge of the wood.
A little later he came back to hang Dan's cap and jacket on the branches of
a young pine tree. When he had arranged them with elaborate care, he raked
a bed of tags together, and covered them with an army blanket stamped in
the centre with the half obliterated letters U. S.
"That's a good boy, Big Abel, go to sleep," said Dan, flinging himself down
upon the pine-tag bed. "Strange how much spirit a sheep can put into a man.
I wouldn't run now if I saw Pope's whole army coming."
Turning over he lay sleepily gazing into the blue dusk illuminated with the
campfires which were slowly dying down. Around him he heard the subdued
murmur of the mess, deep and full, though rising now and then into a
clearer burst of laughter. The men were smoking their brier-root pipes
about the embers, leaning against the dim bodies of the pines, while they
discussed the incidents of the march with a touch of the unconquerable
humour of the Confederate soldier. Somebody had a fresh joke on the
quartermaster, and everybody hoped great things of the campaign into
"I pray it may bring me a pair of shoes," muttered Dan, as he dropped off
The next day, with bands playing "Maryland, My Maryland," and the Southern
Cross taking the September wind, the ragged army waded the Potomac, and
passed into other fields.
A STRAGGLER FROM THE RANKS
In two weeks it swept back, wasted, stubborn, hungrier than ever. On a
sultry September afternoon, Dan, who had gone down with a sharp return of
fever, was brought, with a wagonful of the wounded, and placed on a heap of
straw on the brick pavement of Shepherdstown. For two days he had been
delirious, and Big Abel had held him to his bed during the long nights when
the terrible silence seemed filled with the noise of battle; but, as he was
lifted from the wagon and laid upon the sidewalk, he opened his eyes and
spoke in a natural voice.
"What's all this fuss, Big Abel? Have I been out of my head?"
"You sutney has, suh. You've been a-prayin' en shoutin' so loud dese las'
tree days dat I wunner de Lawd ain' done shet yo' mouf des ter git rid er
"Praying, have I?" said Dan. "Well, I declare. That reminds me of Mr.
Blake, Big Abel. I'd like to know what's become of him."
Big Abel shook his head; he was in no pleasant humour, for the corners of
his mouth were drawn tightly down and there was a rut between his bushy
"I nuver seed no sich place es dis yer town in all my lifetime," he
grumbled. "Dey des let us lie roun' loose on de bricks same es ef we ain'
been fittin' fur 'em twel we ain' nuttin' but skin en bone. Dose two wagon
loads er cut-up sodgers hev done fill de houses so plum full dat dey sticks
spang thoo de cracks er de do's. Don' talk ter me, suh, I ain' got no use
fur dis wah, noways, caze hit's a low-lifeted one, dat's what 'tis; en ef
you'd a min' w'at I tell you, you'd be settin' up at home right dis minute
wid ole Miss a-feedin' you on br'ile chicken. You may fit all you wanter--I
ain' sayin' nuttin' agin yo' fittin ef yo' spleen hit's up--but you could
er foun' somebody ter fit wid back at home widout comin' out hyer ter git
yo'se'f a-jumbled up wid all de po' white trash in de county. Dis yer wah
ain' de kin' I'se use ter, caze hit jumbles de quality en de trash
tergedder des like dey wuz bo'n blood kin."
"What are you muttering about now, Big Abel?" broke in Dan impatiently.
"For heaven's sake stop and find me a bed to lie on. Are they going to
leave me out here in the street on this pile of straw?"
"De Lawd he knows," hopelessly responded Big Abel. "Dey's a-fixin' places,
dey sez, dat's why all dese folks is a-runnin' dis away en dat away like
chickens wid dere haids chopped off. 'Fo' you hed yo' sense back dey wanted
ter stick you over yonder in dat ole blue shanty wid all de skin peelin'
off hit, but I des put my foot right down en 'lowed dey 'ouldn't. W'at you
wan' ketch mo'n you got fur?"
"But I can't stay here," weakly remonstrated Dan, "and I must have
something to eat--I tell you I could eat nails. Bring me anything on God's
earth except green corn."
The street was filled with women, and one of them, passing with a bowl of
gruel in her hand, came back and held it to his lips.
"You poor fellow!" she said impulsively, in a voice that was rich with
sympathy. "Why, I don't believe you've had a bite for a month."
Dan smiled at her from his heap of straw--an unkempt haggard figure.
"Not from so sweet a hand," he responded, his old spirit rising strong
His voice held her, and she regarded him with a pensive face. She had known
men in her day, which had declined long since toward its evening, and with
the unerring instinct of her race she knew that the one before her was well
worth the saving. Gallantry that could afford to jest in rags upon a pile
of straw appealed to her Southern blood as little short of the heroic. She
saw the pinch of hunger about the mouth, and she saw, too, the singular
beauty which lay, obscured to less keen eyes, beneath the fever and the
"The march must have been fearful--I couldn't have stood it," she said,
half to test the man.
Rising to the challenge, he laughed outright. "Well, since you mention it,
it wasn't just the thing for a lady," he answered, true to his salt.
For a moment she looked at him in silence, then turned regretfully to Big
"The houses have filled up already, I believe," she said, "but there is a
nice dry stable up the street which has just been cleaned out for a
hospital. Carry your master up the next square and then into the alley a
few steps where you will find a physician. I am going now for food and
She hurried on, and Big Abel, seizing Dan beneath the arms, dragged him
breathlessly along the street.
"A stable! Huh! Hit's a wunner dey ain' ax us ter step right inter a nice
clean pig pen," he muttered as he walked on rapidly.
"Oh, I don't mind the stable, but this pace will kill me," groaned Dan.
"Not so fast, Big Abel, not so fast."
"Dis yer ain' no time to poke," replied Big Abel, sternly, and lifting the
young man in his arms, he carried him bodily into the stable and laid him
on a clean-smelling bed of straw. The place was large and well lighted, and
Dan, as he turned over, heaved a grateful sigh.
"Let me sleep--only let me sleep," he implored weakly.
And for two days he slept, despite the noise about him. Dressed in clean
clothes, brought by the lady of the morning, and shaved by the skilful hand
of Big Abel, he buried himself in the fresh straw and dreamed of Chericoke
and Betty. The coil of battle swept far from him; he heard none of the fret
and rumour that filled the little street; even the moans of the men beneath
the surgeons' knives did not penetrate to where he lay sunk in the stupor
of perfect contentment. It was not until the morning of the third day, when
the winds that blew over the Potomac brought the sounds of battle, that he
was shocked back into a troubled consciousness of his absence from the
army. Then he heard the voices of the guns calling to him from across the
river, and once or twice he struggled up to answer.
"I must go, Big Abel--they are in need of me," he said. "Listen! don't you
hear them calling?"
"Go way f'om yer, Marse Dan, dey's des a-firin' at one anurr," returned Big
Abel, but Dan still tossed impatiently, his strained eyes searching through
the door into the cloudy light of the alley. It was a sombre day, and the
oppressive atmosphere seemed heavy with the smoke of battle.
"If I only knew how it was going," he murmured, in the anguish of
uncertainty. "Hush! isn't that a cheer, Big Abel?"
"I don' heah nuttin' but de crowin' er a rooster on de fence."
"There it is again!" cried Dan, starting up. "I can swear it is our side.
Listen--go to the door--by God, man, that's our yell! Ah, there comes the
rattle of the muskets--don't you hear it?"
"Lawd, Marse Dan, I'se done hyern dat soun' twel I'm plum sick er it,"
responded Big Abel, carefully measuring out a dose of arsenic, which had
taken the place of quinine in a country where medicine was becoming as
scarce as food. "You des swallow dis yer stuff right down en tu'n over en
go fas' asleep agin."
Taking the glass with trembling hands, Dan drained it eagerly.
"It's the artillery now," he said, quivering with excitement. "The
explosions come so fast I can hardly separate them. I never knew how long
shells could screech before--do you mean to say they are really across the
river? Go into the alley, Big Abel, and tell me if you see the smoke."
Big Abel went out and returned, after a few moments, with the news that the
smoke could be plainly seen, he was told, from the upper stories. There was
such a crowd in the street, he added, that he could barely get
along--nobody knew anything, but the wounded, who were arriving in great
numbers, reported that General Lee could hold his ground "against Lucifer
and all his angels."
"Hold his ground," groaned Dan, with feverish enthusiasm, "why, he could
hold a hencoop, for the matter of that, against the whole of North America!
Oh, but this is worse than fighting. I must get up!"
"You don' wanter git out dar in dat mess er skeered rabbits," returned Big
Abel. "You cyarn see yo' han' befo' you fur de way dey's w'igglin' roun' de
street, en w'at's mo' you cyarn heah yo' own w'uds fur de racket dey's
a-kickin' up. Des lis'en ter 'em now, des lis'en!"
"Oh, I wish I could tell our guns," murmured Dan at each quick explosion.
"Hush! there comes the cheer, now--somebody's charging! It may be our
brigade, Big Abel, and I not in it."
He closed his eyes and fell back from sheer exhaustion, still following, as
he lay there, the battalion that had sprung forward with that charging
yell. Gray, obscured in smoke, curved in the centre, uneven as the
Confederate line of battle always was--he saw it sweep onward over the
September field. At the moment to have had his place in that charge beyond
the river, he would have cheerfully met his death when the day was over.
Through the night he slept fitfully, awaking from time to time to ask
eagerly if it were not almost daybreak; then with the dawn the silence that
had fallen over the Potomac seemed to leave a greater blank to be filled
with the noises along the Virginia shore. The hurrying footsteps in the
street outside kept up ceaselessly until the dark again; mingled with the
cries of the wounded and the prayers of the frightened he heard always that
eager, tireless passing of many feet. So familiar it became, so constant an
accompaniment to his restless thoughts, that when at last the day wore out
and the streets grew empty, he found himself listening for the steps of a
passer-by as intently as he had listened in the morning for the renewed
clamour of the battle on the Maryland fields.
The stir of the retreat did not reach the stable where he lay; all night
the army was recrossing the Potomac, but to Dan, tossing on his bed of
straw, it lighted the victor's watch-fires on the disputed ground. He had
not seen the shattered line of battle as it faced disease, exhaustion, and
an army stronger by double numbers, nor had he seen the gray soldiers lying
row on row where they had kept the "sunken road." Thick as the trampled
corn beneath them, with the dust covering them like powder, and the
scattered fence rails lying across their faces, the dead men of his own
brigade were stretched upon the hillside, but through the long night he lay
wakeful in the stable, watching with fevered eyes the tallow dips that
burned dimly on the wall.
In the morning a nurse, coming with a bowl of soup, brought the news that
Lee's army was again on Virginia soil.
"McClellan has opened a battery," she explained, "that's the meaning of
this fearful noise--did you ever hear such sounds in your life? Yes, the
shells are flying over the town, but they've done no harm as yet."
She hastened off, and a little later a dishevelled straggler, with a cloth
about his forehead, burst in at the open door.
"They're shelling the town," he cried, waving a dirty hand, "an' you'll be
prisoners in an hour if you don't git up and move. The Yankees are comin',
I seed 'em cross the river. Lee's cut up, I tell you, he's left half his
army dead in Maryland. Thar! they're shellin' the town, sho' 'nough!"
With a last wave he disappeared into the alley, and Dan struggled from his
bed and to the door. "Give me your arm, Big Abel," he said, speaking in a
loud voice that he might be heard above the clamour. "I can't stay here. It
isn't being killed I mind, but, by God, they'll never take me prisoner so
long as I'm alive. Come here and give me your arm. You aren't afraid to go
out, are you?"
"Lawd, Marse Dan, I'se mo' feared ter stay hyer," responded Big Abel, with
an ashen face. "Whar we gwine hide, anyhow?"
"We won't hide, we'll run," returned Dan gravely, and with his arm on the
negro's shoulder, he passed through the alley out into the street. There
the noise bewildered him an instant, and his eyes went blind while he
grasped Big Abel's sleeve.
"Wait a minute, I can't see," he said. "Now, that's right, go on. By
George, it's bedlam turned loose, let's get out of it!"
"Dis away, Marse Dan, dis away, step right hyer," urged Big Abel, as he
slipped through the hurrying crowd of fugitives which packed the street.
White and black, men and women, sick and well, they swarmed up and down in
the dim sunshine beneath the flying shells, which skimmed the town to
explode in the open fields beyond. The wounded were there--all who could
stand upon their feet or walk with the aid of crutches--stumbling on in a
mad panic to the meadows where the shells burst or the hot sun poured upon
festering cuts. Streaming in noisy groups, the slaves fled after them,
praying, shrieking, calling out that the day of judgment was upon them, yet
bearing upon their heads whatever they could readily lay hands on--bundles,
baskets, babies, and even clucking fowls tied by the legs. Behind them went
a troop of dogs, piercing the tumult with excited barks.
Dan, fevered, pallid, leaning heavily upon Big Abel, passed unnoticed amid
a throng which was, for the most part, worse off than himself. Men with old
wounds breaking out afresh, or new ones staining red the cloths they wore,
pushed wildly by him, making, as all made, for the country roads that led
from war to peace. It was as if the hospitals of the world had disgorged
themselves in the sunshine on the bright September fields.
Once, as Dan moved slowly on, he came upon a soldier, with a bandage at his
throat sitting motionless upon a rock beside a clump of thistles, and moved
by the expression of supreme terror on the man's face, he stopped and laid
a hand upon his shoulder.
"What's the trouble, friend--given up?" he asked, and then drew back
quickly for the man was dead. After this they went on more rapidly, flying
from the horrors along the road as from the screaming shells and the dread
At the hour of sunset, after many halts upon the way, they found themselves
alone and still facing the open road. Since midday they had stopped for
dinner with a hospitable farmer, and, some hours later, Big Abel had
feasted on wild grapes, which he had found hidden in the shelter of a
little wood. In the same wood a stream had tinkled over silver rocks, and
Dan, lying upon the bank of moss, had bathed his face and hands in the
clear water. Now, while the shadows fell in spires across the road, they
turned into a quiet country lane, and stood watching the sun as it dropped
beyond the gray stone wall. In the grass a small insect broke into a low
humming, and the silence, closing the next instant, struck upon Dan's ears
like a profound and solemn melody. He took off his cap, and still leaning
upon Big Abel, looked with rested eyes on the sloping meadow brushed with
the first gold of autumn. Something that was not unlike shame had fallen
over him--as if the horrors of the morning were a mere vulgar affront which
man had put upon the face of nature. The very anguish of the day obtruded
awkwardly upon his thoughts, and the wild clamour he had left behind him
showed with a savage crudeness against a landscape in which the dignity of
earth--of the fruitful life of seasons and of crops--produced in a solitary
observer a quiet that was not untouched by awe. Where nature was suggestive
of the long repose of ages, the brief passions of a single generation
became as the flicker of a candle or the glow of a firefly in the night.
"Dat's a steep road ahead er us," remarked Big Abel suddenly, as he stared
into the shadows.
Dan came back with a start.
"Where shall we sleep?" he asked. "No, not in that field--the open sky
would keep me awake, I think. Let's bivouac in the woods as usual."
They moved on a little way and entered a young pine forest, where Big Abel
gathered a handful of branches and kindled a light blaze.
"You ain' never eat nigger food, is you, Marse Dan?" he inquired as he did
"Good Lord!" ejaculated Dan, "ask a man who has lived two months on
corn-field peas if he's eaten hog food, and he'll be pretty sure to answer
'yes.' Do you know we must have crawled about six miles to-day." He lay
back on the pine tags and stared straight above where the long green
needles were illuminated on a background of purple space. A few fireflies
made golden points among the tree-tops.
"Well, I'se got a hunk er middlin'," pursued Big Abel thoughtfully, "a
strip er fat en a strip er lean des like hit oughter be--but a nigger
'ooman she gun hit ter me, en I 'low Ole Marster wouldn't tech hit wid a
ten-foot pole." He stuck the meat upon the end of Dan's bayonet and held it
before the flames. "Ole Marster wouldn't tech hit, but den he ain' never
had dese times."
"You're right," replied Dan idly, filling his pipe and lighting it with a
small red ember, "and all things considered, I don't think I'll raise any
racket about that middling, Big Abel."
"Hit ain' all nigger food, no how," added Big Abel reflectively, "caze de
'ooman she done steal it f'om w'ite folks sho's you bo'n."
"I only wish she had been tempted to steal some bread along with it,"
Big Abel's answer was to draw a hoecake wrapped in an old newspaper from
his pocket and place it on a short pine stump. Then he reached for his
jack-knife and carefully slit the hoecake down the centre, after which he
laid the bacon in slices between the crusts.
"Did she steal that, too?" inquired Dan laughing.
"Naw, suh, I stole dis."
"Well, I never! You'll be ashamed to look the Major in the face when the
war is over."
Big Abel nodded gloomily as he passed the sandwich to Dan, who divided it
into two equal portions. "Dar's somebody got ter do de stealin' in dis yer
worl'," he returned with rustic philosophy, "des es dar's somebody got ter
be w'ite folks en somebody got ter be nigger, caze de same pusson cyarn be
ner en ter dat's sho'. Dar ain' 'oom fer all de yerth ter strut roun' wid
dey han's in dey pockets en dey nose tu'nt up des caze dey's hones'. Lawd,
Lawd, ef I'd a-helt my han's back f'om pickin' en stealin' thoo dis yer
wah, whar 'ould you be now--I ax you dat?"
Catching a dried branch the flame shot up suddenly, and he sat relieved
against the glow, like a gigantic statue in black basalt.
"Well, all's fair in love and war," replied Dan, adjusting himself to
changed conditions. "If that wasn't as true as gospel, I should be dead
to-morrow from this fat bacon."
Big Abel started up.
"Lis'en ter dat ole hoot owl," he exclaimed excitedly, "he's a-settin'
right over dar on dat dead limb a-hootin' us plum in de mouf. Ain' dat like
'em, now? Is you ever seed sech airs as dey put on?"
He strode off into the darkness, and Dan, seized with a sudden homesickness
for the army, lay down beside his musket and fell asleep.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
At daybreak they took up the march again, Dan walking slowly, with his
musket striking the ground and his arm on Big Abel's shoulder. Where the
lane curved in the hollow, they came upon a white cottage, with a woman
milking a spotted cow in the barnyard. As she caught sight of them, she
waved wildly with her linsey apron, holding the milk pail carefully between
her feet as the spotted cow turned inquiringly.
"Go 'way, I don't want no stragglers here," she cried, as one having
Leaning upon the fence, Dan placidly regarded her.
"My dear madam, you commit an error of judgment," he replied, pausing to
With the cow's udder in her hand the woman looked up from the streaming
"Well, ain't you stragglers?" she inquired.
Dan shook his head reproachfully.
"What air you, then?"
"I might ha' knowed it!" returned the woman, with a snort. "Well, whatever
you air, you kin jest as eas'ly keep on along that thar road. I ain't got
nothing on this place for you. Some of you broke into my smokehouse night
befo' last an' stole all the spar' ribs I'd been savin'. Was you the ones?"
"Oh, you're all alike," protested the woman, scornfully, "an' a bigger set
o' rascals I never seed."
"Huh! Who's a rascal?" exclaimed Big Abel, angrily.
"This is the reward of doing your duty, Big Abel," remarked Dan, gravely.
"Never do it again, remember. The next time Virginia is invaded we'll sit
by the fire and warm our feet. Good morning, madam."
"Why ain't you with the army?" inquired the woman sharply, slapping the cow
upon the side as she rose from her seat and took up the milk pail. "An
officer rode by this morning an' he told me part of the army was campin'
ten miles across on the other road."
"Did he say whose division?"
"Oh, I reckon you kin fight as well under one general as another, so long
as you've got a mind to fight at all. You jest follow this lane about three
miles and then keep straight along the turnpike. If you do that I reckon
you'll git yo' deserts befo' sundown." She came over to the fence and stood
fixing them with hard, bright eyes. "My! You do look used up," she admitted
after a moment. "You'd better come in an' git a glass of this milk befo'
you move on. Jest go roun' to the gate and I'll meet you at the po'ch. The
dog won't bite you if you don't touch nothin'."
"All right, go ahead and hide the spoons," called Dan, as he swung open the
gate and went up a little path bordered by prince's feathers.
The woman met them at the porch and led them into a clean kitchen, where
Dan sat down at the table and Big Abel stationed himself behind his chair.
"Drink a glass of that milk the first thing," she said, bustling heavily
about the room, and browbeating them into submissive silence, while she
mixed the biscuits and broke the eggs into a frying-pan greased with bacon
gravy. Plump, hearty, with a full double chin and cheeks like winter
apples, she moved briskly from the wooden safe to the slow fire, which she
stirred with determined gestures.
"It's time this war had stopped, anyhow," she remarked as she slapped the
eggs up into the air and back again into the pan. "An' if General Lee ever
rides along this way I mean to tell him that he ought to have one good
battle an' be done with it. Thar's no use piddlin' along like this twil
we're all worn out and thar ain't a corn-field pea left in Virginny. Look
here (to Big Abel), you set right down on that do' step an' I'll give you
something along with yo' marster. It's a good thing I happened to look
under the cow trough yestiddy or thar wouldn't have been an egg left in
this house. That's right, turn right in an' eat hearty--don't mince with
me." Big Abel, cowed by her energetic manner, seated himself upon the door
step, and for a half-hour the woman ceaselessly plied them with hot
biscuits and coffee made from sweet potatoes.
"You mustn't think I mind doing for the soldiers," she said when they took
their leave a little later, "but I've a husban' with General Lee and I
can't bear to see able-bodied men stragglin' about the country. No, don't
give me nothin'--it ain't worth it. Lord, don't I know that you don't git
enough to buy a bag of flour." Then she pointed out the way again and they
set off with a well-filled paper of luncheon.
"Beware of hasty judgments, Big Abel," advised Dan, as they strolled along
the road. "Now that woman there--she's the right sort, though she rather
took my breath away."
"She 'uz downright ficy at fu'st," replied Big Abel, "but I d'clar dose
eggs des melted in my mouf like butter. Whew! don't I wish I had dat ole
speckled hen f'om home. I could hev toted her unner my arm thoo dis wah des
es well es not."
The sun was well overhead, and across the landscape the heavy dew was
lifted like a veil. Here and there the autumn foliage tinted the woods in
splashes of red and yellow; and beyond the low stone wall an old sheep
pasture was ablaze in goldenrod. From a pointed aspen beside the road a
wild grapevine let down a fringe of purple clusters, but Big Abel, with a
full stomach, passed them by indifferently. A huge buzzard, rising suddenly
from the pasture, sailed slowly across the sky, its heavy shadow skimming
the field beneath. As yet the flames of war had not blown over this quiet
spot; in the early morning dew it lay as fresh as the world in its
At the end of the lane, when they came out upon the turnpike, they met an
old farmer riding a mule home from the market.
"Can you tell me if McClellan has crossed the Potomac?" asked Dan, as he
came up with him. "I was in the hospital at Shepherdstown, and I left it
for fear of capture. No news has reached me, but I am on my way to rejoin
"Naw, suh, you might as well have stayed whar you were," responded the old
man, eying him with the suspicion which always met a soldier out of ranks.
"McClellan didn't do no harm on this side of the river--he jest set up a
battery on Douglas hill and scolded General Lee for leaving Maryland so
soon. You needn't worry no mo' 'bout the Yankees gittin' on this side--thar
ain't none of 'em left to come, they're all dead. Why, General Lee cut 'em
all up into little pieces, that's what he did. Hooray! it was jest like
Bible times come back agin."
Then, as Dan moved on, the farmer raised himself in his stirrups and called
loudly after him. "Keep to the Scriptures, young man, and remember Joshua,
Smite them hip an' thigh, as the Bible says."
All day in the bright sunshine they crept slowly onward, halting at brief
intervals to rest in the short grass by the roadside, and stopping to ask
information of the countrymen or stragglers whom they met. At last in the
red glow of the sunset they entered a strip of thin woodland, and found an
old negro gathering resinous knots from the bodies of fallen pines.
"Bless de Lawd!" he exclaimed as he faced them. "Is you done come fer de
sick sodger at my cabin?"
"A sick soldier? Why, we are all sick soldiers," answered Dan. "Where did
he come from?" The old man shook his head, as he placed his heavy split
basket on the ground at his feet.
"I dunno, marster, he ain' come, he des drapped. 'Twuz yestiddy en I 'uz
out hyer pickin' up dis yer lightwood des like I is doin' dis minute, w'en
I heah 'a-bookerty! bookerty! bookerty!' out dar in de road 'en a w'ite
hoss tu'n right inter de woods wid a sick sodger a-hangin' ter de saddle.
Yes, suh, de hoss he come right in des like he knowed me, en w'en I helt
out my han' he poke his nose spang inter it en w'innied like he moughty
glad ter see me--en he wuz, too, dat's sho'. Well, I ketch holt er his
bridle en lead 'im thoo de woods up ter my do' whar he tu'n right in en
begin ter nibble in de patch er kebbage. All dis time I 'uz 'lowin' dat de
sodger wuz stone dead, but w'en I took 'im down he opened his eyes en axed
fur water. Den I gun 'im a drink outer de goa'd en laid 'im flat on my bed,
en in a little w'ile a nigger come by dat sez he b'longed ter 'im, but
befo' day de nigger gone agin en de hoss he gone, too."
"Well, we'll see about him, uncle, go ahead," said Dan, and as the old
negro went up the path among the trees, he followed closely on his
footsteps. When they had gone a little way the woods opened suddenly and
they came upon a small log cabin, with a yellow dog lying before the door.
The dog barked shrilly as they approached, and a voice from the dim room
beyond called out:--
"Hosea! Are you back so soon, Hosea?"
At the words Dan stopped as if struck by lightning, midway of the vegetable
garden; then breaking from Big Abel, he ran forward and into the little
"Is the hurt bad, Governor?" he asked in a trembling voice.
The Governor smiled and held out a steady hand above the ragged patchwork
quilt. His neat gray coat lay over him and as Dan caught the glitter and
the collar he remembered the promotion after Seven Pines.
"Let me help you, General," he implored. "What is it that we can do?"
"I have come to the end, my boy," replied the Governor, his rich voice
unshaken. "I have seen men struck like this before and I have lived twelve
hours longer than the strongest of them. When I could go no farther I sent
Hosea ahead to make things ready--and now I am keeping alive to hear from
home. Give me water."
Dan held the glass to his lips, and looking up, the Governor thanked him
with his old warm glance that was so like Betty's. "There are some things
that are worth fighting for," said the older man as he fell back, "and the
sight of home is one of them. It was a hard ride, but every stab of pain
carried me nearer to Uplands--and there are poor fellows who endure worse
things and yet die in a strange land among strangers." He was silent a
moment and then spoke slowly, smiling a little sadly.
"My memory has failed me," he said, "and when I lay here last night and
tried to recall the look of the lawn at home, I couldn't remember--I
couldn't remember. Are there elms or maples at the front, Dan?"
"Maples, sir," replied Dan, with the deference of a boy. "The long walk
bordered by lilacs goes up from the road to the portico with the Doric
columns--you remember that?"
"Yes, yes, go on."
"The maples have grown thick upon the lawn and close beside the house there
is the mimosa tree that your father set out on his twenty-first birthday."
"The branches touch the library window. I had them trimmed last year that
the shutters might swing back. What time is it, Dan?"
Dan turned to the door.
"What time is it, Big Abel?" he called to the negro outside.
"Hit's goin' on eight o'clock, suh," replied Big Abel, staring at the west.
"De little star he shoots up moughty near eight, en dar he is a-comin'."
"Hosea is there by now," said the Governor, turning his head on a pillow of
pine needles. "He started this morning, and I told him to change horses
upon the road and eat in the saddle. Yes, he is there by now and Julia is
on the way. Am I growing weaker, do you think? There is a little brandy on
the chair, give me a few drops--we must make it last all night."
After taking the brandy he slept a little, and awaking quietly, looked at
Dan with dazed eyes.
"Who is it?" he asked, stretching out his hand. "Why, I thought Dick Wythe
Dan bent over him, smoothing the hair from his brow with hands that were
gentle as a woman's.
"Surely you haven't forgotten me," he said.
"No--no, I remember, but it is dark, too dark. Why doesn't Shadrach bring
the candles? And we might as well have a blaze in the fireplace to-night.
It has grown chilly; there'll be a white frost before morning."
There was a basket of resinous pine beside the hearth, and Dan kindled a
fire from a handful of rich knots. As the flames shot up, the rough little
cabin grew more cheerful, and the Governor laughed softly lying on his
"Why, I thought you were Dick Wythe, my boy," he said. "The light was so
dim I couldn't see, and, after all, it was no great harm, for there was not
a handsomer man in the state than my friend Dick--the ladies used to call
him 'Apollo Unarmed,' you know. Ah, I was jealous enough of Dick in my day,
though he never knew it. He rather took Julia's fancy when I first began
courting her, and, for a time, he pretended to reform and refused to touch
a drop even at the table. I've seen him sit for hours, too, in Julia's
Bible class of little negroes, with his eyes positively glued on her face
while she read the hymns aloud. Yes, he was over head and ears in love with
her, there's no doubt of that--though she has always denied it--and, I dare
say, he would have been a much better man if she had married him, and I a
much worse one. Somehow, I can't help feeling that it wasn't quite just,
and that I ought to square up things with Dick at Judgment Day. I shouldn't
like to reap any good from his mistakes, poor fellow." He broke off for an
instant, lay gazing at the lightwood blaze, and then took up the thread.
"He had his fall at last, and it's been on my conscience ever since that I
didn't toss that bowl of apple toddy through the window when I saw him
going towards it. We were at Chericoke on Christmas Eve in a big snowstorm,
and Dick couldn't resist his glass--he never could so long as there was a
drop at the bottom of it--the more he drank, the thirstier he got, he used
to say. Well, he took a good deal, more than he could stand, and when the
Major began toasting the ladies and called them the prettiest things God
ever made, Dick flew into a rage and tried to fight him. 'There are two
prettier sights than any woman that ever wore petticoats,' he thundered;
'and (here he ripped out an oath) I'll prove it to you at the sword's point
before sunrise. God made but one thing, sir, prettier than the cobwebs on a
bottle of wine, and that's the bottle of wine without the cobwebs!' Then he
went at the Major, and we had to hold him back and rub snow on his temples.
That night I drove home with Julia, and she accepted me before we passed
the wild cherry tree on the way to Uplands."
As he fell silent the old negro, treading softly, came into the room and
made the preparations for his simple supper, which he carried outside
beneath the trees. In a little bared place amid charred wood, a fire was
started, and Dan watched through the open doorway the stooping figures of
the two negroes as they bent beside the flames. In a little while Big Abel
came into the room and beckoned him, but he shook his head impatiently and
turned away, sickened by the thought of food.
"Go, my boy," said the Governor, as if he had seen it through closed eyes.
"I never saw a private yet that wasn't hungry--one told me last week that
his diet for a year had varied only three times--blackberries, chinquapins,
and persimmons had kept him alive, he said."
Then his mind wandered again, and he talked in a low voice of the wheat
fields at Uplands and of the cradles swinging all day in the sunshine. Dan,
moving to the door, stared, with aching eyes, at the rich twilight which
crept like purple mist among the trees. The very quiet of the scene grated
as a discord upon his mood, and he would have welcomed with a feeling of
relief any violent manifestation of the savagery of nature. A storm, an
earthquake, even the thunder of battle he felt would be less tragic than
just this pleasant evening with the serene moon rising above the hills.
Turning back into the room, he drew a split-bottomed chair beside the
hearth, and began his patient watch until the daybreak. Under the patchwork
quilt the Governor lay motionless, dead from the waist down, only the
desire in his eyes struggling to keep the spirit to the clay. Big Abel and
the old negro made themselves a bed beneath the trees, and as they raked
the dried leaves together the mournful rustling filled the little cabin.
Then they lay down, the yellow dog beside them, and gradually the silence
of the night closed in.
After midnight, Dan, who had dozed in his chair from weariness, was
awakened by the excited tones of the Governor's voice. The desire was
vanquished at last and the dying man had gone back in delirium to the
battle he had fought beyond the river. On the hearth the resinous pine
still blazed and from somewhere among the stones came the short chirp of a
"Oh, it's nothing--a mere scratch. Lay me beneath that tree, and tell
Barnes to support D. H. Hill at the sunken road. Richardson is charging us
across the ploughed ground and we are fighting from behind the stacked
fence rails. Ah, they advance well, those Federals--not a man out of line,
and their fire has cut the corn down as with a sickle. If Richardson keeps
this up, he will sweep us from the wood and beyond the slope. No, don't
take me to the hospital. Please God, I'll die upon the field and hear the
cannon at the end. Look! they are charging again, but we still hold our
ground. What, Longstreet giving way? They are forcing him from the
ridge--the enemy hold it now! Ah, well, there is A. P. Hill to give the
counter stroke. If he falls upon their flank, the day is--"
His voice ceased, and Dan, crossing the room, gave him brandy from the
glass upon the chair. The silence had grown suddenly oppressive, and as the
young man went back to his seat, he saw a little mouse gliding like a
shadow across the floor. Startled by his footsteps, it hesitated an instant
in the centre of the room, and then darted along the wall and disappeared
between the loose logs in the corner. Often during the night it crept out
from its hiding place, and at last Dan grew to look for it with a certain
wistful comfort in its shy companionship.
Gradually the stars went out above the dim woods, and the dawn whitened
along the eastern sky. With the first light Dan went to the open door and
drew a deep breath of the refreshing air. A new day was coming, but he met
it with dulled eyes and a crippled will. The tragedy of life seemed to
overhang the pleasant prospect upon which he looked, and, as he stood
there, he saw in his vision of the future only an endless warfare and a
wasted land. With a start he turned, for the Governor was speaking in a
voice that filled the cabin and rang out into the woods.
"Skirmishers, forward! Second the battalion of direction! Battalions,
He had risen upon his pallet and was pointing straight at the open door,
but when, with a single stride, Dan reached him, he was already dead.
IN THE SILENCE OF THE GUNS
At noon the next day, Dan, sitting beside the fireless hearth, with his
head resting on his clasped hands, saw a shadow fall suddenly upon the
floor, and, looking up, found Mrs. Ambler standing in the doorway.
"I am too late?" she said quietly, and he bowed his head and motioned to
the pallet in the corner.
Without seeing the arm he put out, she crossed the room like one bewildered
by a sudden blow, and went to where the Governor was lying beneath the
patchwork quilt. No sound came to her lips; she only stretched out her hand
with a protecting gesture and drew the dead man to her arms. Then it was
that Dan, turning to leave her alone with her grief, saw that Betty had
followed her mother and was coming toward him from the doorway. For an
instant their eyes met; then the girl went to her dead, and Dan passed out
into the sunlight with a new bitterness at his heart.
A dozen yards from the cabin there was a golden beech spreading in wide
branches against the sky, and seating himself on a fallen log beneath it,
he looked over the soft hills that rose round and deep-bosomed from the dim
blue valley. He was still there an hour later when, hearing a rustle in the
grass, he turned and saw Betty coming to him over the yellowed leaves. His
first glance showed him that she had grown older and very pale; his second
that her kind brown eyes were full of tears.
"Betty, is it this way?" he asked, and opened his arms.
With a cry that was half a sob she ran toward him, her black skirt sweeping
the leaves about her feet. Then, as she reached him, she swayed forward as
if a strong wind blew over her, and as he caught her from the ground, he
kissed her lips. Her tears broke out afresh, but as they stood there in
each other's arms, neither found words to speak nor voice to utter them.
The silence between them had gone deeper than speech, for it had in it all
the dumb longing of the last two years--the unshaken trust, the bitterness
of the long separation, the griefs that had come to them apart, and the
sorrow that had brought them at last together. He held her so closely that
he felt the flutter of her breast with each rising sob, and an anguish that
was but a vibration from her own swept over him like a wave from head to
foot. Since he had put her from him on that last night at Chericoke their
passion had deepened by each throb of pain and broadened by each step that
had led them closer to the common world. Not one generous thought, not one
temptation overcome but had gone to the making of their love to-day--for
what united them now was not the mere prompting of young impulse, but the
strength out of many struggles and the fulness out of experiences that had
ripened the heart of each.
"Let me look at you," said Betty, lifting her wet face. "It has been so
long, and I have wanted you so much--I have hungered sleeping and waking."
"Don't look at me, Betty, I am a skeleton--a crippled skeleton, and I will
not be looked at by my love."
"Your love can see you with shut eyes. Oh, my best and dearest, do you
think you could keep me from seeing you however hard you tried? Why,
there's a lamp in my heart that lets me look at you even in the night."
"Your lamp flatters, I am afraid to face it. Has it shown you this?"
He drew back and held up his maimed hand, his eyes fastened upon her face,
where the old fervour had returned.
With a sob that thrilled through him, she caught his hand to her lips and
then held it to her bosom, crooning over it little broken sounds of love
and pity. Through the spreading beech above a clear gold light filtered
down upon her, and a single yellow leaf was caught in her loosened hair. He
saw her face, impassioned, glorified, amid a flood of sunshine.
"And I did not know," she said breathlessly. "You were wounded and there
was no one to tell me. Whenever there has been a battle I have sat very
still and shut my eyes, and tried to make myself go straight to you. I have
seen the smoke and heard the shots, and yet when it came I did not know it.
I may even have laughed and talked and eaten a stupid dinner while you were
suffering. Now I shall never smile again until I have you safe."
"But if I were dying I should want to see you smiling. Nobody ever smiled
before you, Betty."
"If you are wounded, you will send for me. Promise me; I beg you on my
knees. You will send for me; say it or I shall be always wretched. Do you
want to kill me, Dan? Promise."
"I shall send for you. There, will that do? It would be almost worth dying
to have you come to me. Would you kiss me then, I wonder?"
"Then and now," she answered passionately. "Oh, I sometimes think that wars
are fought to torture women! Hold me in your arms again or my heart will
break. I have missed Virginia so--never a day passes that I do not see her
coming through the rooms and hear her laugh--such a baby laugh, do you
"I remember everything that was near to you, beloved."
"If you could have seen her on her wedding day, when she came down in her
pink crepe shawl and white bonnet that I had trimmed, and looked back,
smiling at us for the last time. I have almost died with wanting her
again--and now papa--papa! They loved life so, and yet both are dead, and
life goes on without them."
"My poor love, poor Betty."
"But not so poor as if I had lost you, too," she answered; "and if you are
wounded even a little remember that you have promised, and I shall come to
you. Prince Rupert and I will pass the lines together. Do you know that I
have Prince Rupert, Dan?"
"Keep him, dear, don't let him get into the army."
"He lives in the woods night and day, and when he comes to pasture I go
after him while Uncle Shadrach watches the turnpike. When the soldiers come
by, blue or gray, we hide him behind the willows in the brook. They may
take the chickens--and they do--but I should kill the man who touched
Prince Rupert's bridle."
"You should have been a soldier, Betty."
She shook her head. "Oh, I couldn't shoot any one in cold blood--as you
do--that's different. I'd have to hate him as much--as much as I love you."
"How much is that?"
"A whole world full and brimming over; is that enough?"
"Only a little world?" he answered. "Is that all?"
"If I told you truly, you would not believe me," she said earnestly. "You
would shake your head and say: 'Poor silly Betty, has she gone moon mad?'"
Catching her in his arms again, he kissed her hair and mouth and hands and
the ruffle at her throat. "Poor silly Betty," he repeated, "where is your
"You have turned it into folly, sad little wisdom that it was."
"Well, I prefer your folly," he said gravely. "It was folly that made you
love me at the first; it was pure folly that brought you out to me that
night at Chericoke--but the greatest folly of all is just this, my dear."
"But it will keep you safe."
"Who knows? I may get shot to-morrow. There, there, I only said it to feel
your arms about me."
Her hands clung to him and the tears, rising to her lashes, fell fast upon
"Oh, don't let me lose you," she begged. "I have lost so much--don't let me
lose you, too."
"Living or dead, I am yours, that I swear."
"But I don't want you dead. I want the feel of you. I want your hands, your
face. I want _you_."
"Betty, Betty," he said softly. "Listen, for there is no word in the world
that means so much as just your name."
"No interruptions, this is martial law. Dear, dearest, darling, are all
empty sounds; but when I say 'Betty,' it is full of life."
"Say it again, then."
"Betty, do you love me?"
"Ask: 'Betty, is the sun shining?'"
"It always shines about you."
"Because my hair is red?"
"Red? It is pure gold. Do you remember when I found that out on the hearth
in free Levi's cabin? The colour went to my head, but when I put out my
hand to touch a curl, you drew away and fastened them up again. Now I have
pulled them all down and you dare not move."
"Shall I tell you why I drew away?"
The tears were still on her lashes, but in the exaltation of a great
passion, life, death, the grave, and things beyond had dwindled like stars
before the rising sun.
"You told me then--because I was 'a pampered poodle dog.' Well, I've
outgrown that objection certainly. Let us hope you have a fancy for lean
She put up her hands in protest.
"I drew away partly because I knew you did not love me," she said, meeting
his eyes with her clear and ardent gaze, "but more because--I knew that I
"You loved me then? Oh, Betty, if I had only known!"
"If you had known!" She covered her face. "Oh, it was terrible enough as it
was. I wanted to beat myself for shame."
"Shame? In loving me, my darling?"
"In loving you like that."
"Nonsense. If you had only said to me: 'My good sir, I love you a little
bit,' I should have come to my senses on the spot. Even pampered poodle
dogs are not all fat, Betty, and, as it was, I did come to the years of
discretion that very night. I didn't sleep a wink."
"I walked the floor till daybreak."
"And I sat by the window."
"I hurled every hard name at myself that I could think of. 'Dolt and idiot'
seemed to stick. By George, I can't get over it. To think that I might have
galloped down that turnpike and swept you off your feet. You wouldn't have
withstood me, Betty, you couldn't."
"Yet I did," she said, smiling sadly.
"Oh, I didn't have a fair chance, you see."
"Perhaps not," she answered, "though sometimes I was afraid you would hear
my heart beating and know it all. Do you remember that morning in the
garden with the roses?--I wouldn't kiss you good-by, but if you had done it
against my will I'd have broken down. After you had gone I kissed the grass
where you had stood."
"My God! I can't leave you, Betty."
She met his passionate gaze with steady eyes.
"If you were not to go I should never have told you," she answered; "but if
you die in battle you must remember it at the last."
"It seems an awful waste of opportunities," he said, "but I'll make it up
on the day that I come back a Major-general. Then I shall say 'forward,
madam,' and you'll marry me on the spot."
"Don't be too sure. I may grow coy again when the war is over."
"When you do I'll find the remedy--for I'll be a Major-general, then, and
you a private. This war must make me, dear. I shan't stay in the ranks much
"I like you there--it is so brave," she said.
"But you'll like me anywhere, and I prefer the top--the very top. Oh, my
love, we'll wring our happiness from the world before we die!"
With a shiver she came back to the earth.
"I had almost forgotten him," she said in keen self-reproach, and went
quickly over the rustling leaves to the cabin door. As Dan followed her the
day seemed to grow suddenly darker to his eyes.
On the threshold he met Mrs. Ambler, composed and tearless, wearing her
grief as a veil that hid her from the outside world. Before her calm gray
eyes he fell back with an emotion not unmixed with awe.
"I did the best I could," he said bluntly, "but it was nothing."
She thanked him quietly, asking a few questions in her grave and gentle
voice. Was he conscious to the end? Did he talk of home? Had he expressed
any wishes of which she was not aware?
"They are bringing him to the wagon now," she finished steadily. "No, do
not go in--you are very weak and your strength must be saved to hold your
musket. Shadrach and Big Abel will carry him, I prefer it to be so. We left
the wagon at the end of the path; it is a long ride home, but we have
arranged to change horses, and we shall reach Uplands, I hope, by sunrise."
"I wish to God I could go with you!" he exclaimed.
"Your place is with the army," she answered. "I have no son to send, so you
must go in his stead. He would have it this way if he could choose."
For a moment she was silent, and he looked at her placid face and the
smooth folds of her black silk with a wonder that checked his words.
"Some one said of him once," she added presently, "that he was a man who
always took his duty as if it were a pleasure; and it was true--so true. I
alone saw how hard this was for him, for he hated war as heartily as he
dreaded death. Yet when both came he met them squarely and without looking
"He died as he had lived, the truest gentleman I have ever known," he said.
A pleased smile hovered for an instant on her lips.
"He fought hard against secession until it came," she pursued quietly, "for
he loved the Union, and he had given it the best years of his life--his
strong years, he used to say. I think if he ever felt any bitterness toward
any one, it was for the man or men who brought us into this; and at last he
used to leave the room because he could not speak of them without anger. He
threw all his strength against the tide, yet, when it rushed on in spite of
him, he knew where his duty guided him, and he followed it, as always, like
a pleasure. You thought him sanguine, I suppose, but he never was so--in
his heart, though the rest of us think differently, he always felt that he
was fighting for a hopeless cause, and he loved it the more for very pity
of its weakness. 'It is the spirit and not the bayonet that makes history,'
he used to say."
Heavy steps crossed the cabin floor, and Uncle Shadrach and Big Abel came
out bringing the dead man between them. With her hand on the gray coat,
Mrs. Ambler walked steadily as she leaned on Betty's shoulder. Once or
twice she noticed rocks in the way, and cautioned the negroes to go
carefully down the descending grade. The bright leaves drifted upon them,
and through the thin woods, along the falling path, over the lacework of
lights and shadows, they went slowly out into the road where Hosea was
waiting with the open wagon.
The Governor was laid upon the straw that filled the bottom, Mrs. Ambler
sat down beside him, and as Betty followed, Uncle Shadrach climbed upon the
seat above the wheel.
"Good-by, my boy," said Mrs. Ambler, giving him her hand.
"Good-by, my soldier," said Betty, taking both of his. Then Hosea cracked
the whip and the wagon rolled out into the road, scattering the gray dust
high into the sunlight.
Dan, standing alone against the pines, looked after it with a gnawing
hunger at his heart, seeing first Betty's eyes, next the gleam of her hair,
then the dim figures fading into the straw, and at last the wagon caught up
in a cloud of dust. Down the curving road, round a green knoll, across a
little stream, and into the blue valley it passed as a speck upon the
landscape. Then the distance closed over it, the sand settled in the road,
and the blank purple hills crowded against the sky.
"THE PLACE THEREOF"
In the full beams of the sun the wagon turned into the drive between the
lilacs and drew up before the Doric columns. Mr. Bill and the two old
ladies came out upon the portico, and the Governor was lifted down by Uncle
Shadrach and Hosea and laid upon the high tester bed in the room behind the
As Betty entered the hall, the familiar sights of every day struck her eyes
with the smart of a physical blow. The excitement of the shock had passed
from her; there was no longer need to tighten the nervous strain, and
henceforth she must face her grief where the struggle is always hardest--in
the place where each trivial object is attended by pleasant memories. While
there was something for her hands to do--or the danger of delay in the long
watch upon the road--it had not been so hard to brace her strength against
necessity, but here--what was there left that she must bring herself to
endure? The torturing round of daily things, the quiet house in which to
cherish new regrets, and outside the autumn sunshine on the long white
turnpike. The old waiting grown sadder, was begun again; she must put out
her hands to take up life where it had stopped, go up and down the shining
staircase and through the unchanged rooms, while her ears were always
straining for the sound of the cannon, or the beat of a horse's hoofs upon
The brick wall around the little graveyard was torn down in one corner,
and, while the afternoon sun slanted between the aspens, the Governor was
laid away in the open grave beneath rank periwinkle. There was no minister
to read the service, but as the clods of earth fell on the coffin, Mrs.
Ambler opened her prayer book and Betty, kneeling upon the ground, heard
the low words with her eyes on the distant mountains. Overhead the aspens
stirred beneath a passing breeze, and a few withered leaves drifted slowly
down. Aunt Lydia wept softly, and the servants broke into a subdued
wailing, but Mrs. Ambler's gentle voice did not falter.
"He, cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a
shadow, and never continueth in one stay."
She read on quietly in the midst of the weeping slaves, who had closed
about her. Then, at the last words, her hands dropped to her sides, and she
drew back while Uncle Shadrach shovelled in the clay.
"It is but a span," she repeated, looking out into the sunshine, with a
light that was almost unearthly upon her face.
"Come away, mamma," said Betty, holding out her arms; and when the last
spray of life-everlasting was placed upon the finished mound, they went out
by the hollow in the wall, turning from time to time to look back at the
gray aspens. Down the little hill, through the orchard, and across the
meadows filled with waving golden-rod, the procession of white and black
filed slowly homeward. When the lawn was reached each went to his
accustomed task, and Aunt Lydia to her garden.
An hour later the Major rode over in response to a message which had just
"I was in town all the morning," he explained in a trembling voice, "and I
didn't get the news until a half hour ago. The saddest day of my life,
madam, is the one upon which I learn that I have outlived him."
"He loved you, Major," said Mrs. Ambler, meeting his swimming eyes.
"Loved me!" repeated the old man, quivering in his chair, "I tell you,
madam, I would rather have been Peyton Ambler's friend than President of
the Confederacy! Do you remember the time he gave me his last keg of brandy
and went without for a month?"
She nodded, smiling, and the Major, with red eyes and shaking hands,
wandered into endless reminiscences of the long friendship. To Betty these
trivial anecdotes were only a fresh torture, but Mrs. Ambler followed them
eagerly, comparing her recollections with the Major's, and repeating in a
low voice to herself characteristic stories which she had not heard before.
"I remember that--we had been married six months then," she would say, with
the unearthly light upon her face. "It is almost like living again to hear
"Well, madam, life is a sad affair, but it is the best we've got,"
responded the old gentleman, gravely.
"He loved it," returned Mrs. Ambler, and as the Major rose to go, she
followed him into the hall and inquired if Mrs. Lightfoot had been
successful with her weaving. "She told me that she intended to have her old
looms set up again," she added, "and I think that I shall follow her
example. Between us we might clothe a regiment of soldiers."
"She has had the servants brushing off the cobwebs for a week," replied the
Major, "and to-day I actually found Car'line at a spinning wheel on the
back flagstones. There's not the faintest doubt in my mind that if Molly
had been placed in the Commissary department our soldiers would be living
to-day on the fat of the land. She has knitted thirty pairs of socks since
spring. Good-by, my dear lady, good-by, and may God sustain you in your
He crossed the portico, bowed as he descended the steps, and, mounting in
the drive, rode slowly away upon his dappled mare. When he reached the
turnpike he lifted his hat again and passed on at an amble.
During the next few months it seemed to Betty that she aged a year each
day. The lines closed and opened round them; troops of blue and gray
cavalrymen swept up and down the turnpike; the pastures were invaded by
each army in its turn, and the hen-house became the spoil of a regiment of
stragglers. Uncle Shadrach had buried the silver beneath the floor of his
cabin, and Aunt Floretta set her dough to rise each morning under a loose
pile of kindling wood. Once a deserter penetrated into Betty's chamber, and
the girl drove him out at the point of an old army pistol, which she kept
upon her bureau.
"If you think I am afraid of you come a step nearer," she had said coolly,
and the man had turned to run into the arms of a Federal officer, who was
sweeping up the stragglers. He was a blue-eyed young Northerner, and for
three days after that he had set a guard upon the portico at Uplands. The
memory of the small white-faced girl, with her big army pistol and the
blazing eyes haunted him from that hour until Appomattox, when he heaved a
sigh of relief and dismissed it from his thoughts. "She would have shot the
rascal in another second," he said afterward, "and, by George, I wish she
The Governor's wine cellar was emptied long ago, the rare old wine flowing
from broken casks across the hall.
"What does it matter?" Mrs. Ambler had asked wearily, watching the red
stream drip upon the portico. "What is wine when our soldiers are starving
for bread? And besides, war lives off the soil, as your father used to
Betty lifted her skirts and stepped over the bright puddles, glancing
disdainfully after the Hessian stragglers, who went singing down the drive.
"I hope their officers will get them," she remarked vindictively, "and the
next time they offer us a guard, I shall accept him for good and all, if he
happens to have been born on American soil. I don't mind Yankees so
much--you can usually quiet them with the molasses jug--but these
foreigners are awful. From a Hessian or a renegade Virginian, good Lord
"Some of them have kind hearts," remarked Mrs. Ambler, wonderingly. "I
don't see how they can bear to come down to fight us. The Major met General
McClellan, you know, and he admitted afterwards that he shouldn't have
known from his manner that he was not a Southern gentleman."
"Well, I hope he has left us a shoulder of bacon in the smokehouse,"
replied Betty, laughing. "You haven't eaten a mouthful for two days,
"I don't feel that I have a right to eat, my dear," said Mrs. Ambler. "It
seems a useless extravagance when every little bit helps the army."
"Well, I can't support the army, but I mean to feed you," returned Betty
decisively, and she went out to ask Hosea if he had found a new hiding
place for the cattle. Except upon the rare mornings when Mr. Bill left his
fishing, the direction of the farm had fallen entirely upon Betty's
shoulders. Wilson, the overseer, was in the army, and Hosea had gradually
risen to take his place. "We must keep things up," the girl had insisted,
"don't let us go to rack and ruin--papa would have hated it so," and, with
the negro's aid, she had struggled to keep up the common tenor of the old
Rising at daybreak, she went each morning to overlook the milking of the
cows, hidden in their retreat among the hills; and as the sun rose higher,
she came back to start the field hands to the ploughing and the women to
the looms in one of the detached wings. Then there was the big storehouse
to go into, the rations of the servants to be drawn from their secret
corners, the meal to be measured, and the bacon to be sliced with the care
which fretted her lavish hands. After this there came the shucking of the
corn, a negro frolic even in war years, so long as there was any corn to
shuck, and lastly the counting of the full bags of grain before the heavy
wagon was sent to the little mill beside the river. From sunrise to sunset
the girl's hands were not idle for an instant, and in the long evenings, by
the light of the home-made tallow dips, which served for candles, she would
draw out a gray yarn stocking and knit busily for the army, while she
tried, with an aching heart, to cheer her mother. Her sunny humour had made
play of a man's work as of a woman's anxiety.
Sometimes, on bright mornings, Mr. Bill would stroll over with his rod upon
his shoulder and a string of silver perch in his hand. He had grown old and
very feeble, and his angling had become a passion mightier than an army
with bayonets. He took small interest in the war--at times he seemed almost
unconscious of the suffering around him--but he enjoyed his chats with
Union officers upon the road, who occasionally capped his stories of big
sport with tales of mountain trout which they had drawn from Northern
streams. He would sit for hours motionless under the willows by the river,
and once when his house was fired, during a raid up the valley, he was
heard to remark regretfully that the messenger had "scared away his first
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