The Burial of the Guns
Thomas Nelson Page
Part 2 out of 3
I applied to him as they suggested. He said, "Come down to court
to-morrow morning." I did so. "No. 4" was present, pale and trembling.
As he stood there he made a better defence than any one else could have made
for him. He admitted his guilt, and said he had nothing to say in extenuation
except that it was the "old story", he "had not intended it; he deserved
it all, but would like to get off that day; had a special reason for it,
and would, if necessary, go back to jail that evening and stay there a year,
or all his life." As he stood awaiting sentence, he looked like
a damned soul. His coat was unbuttoned, and his old, faded gray jacket
showed under it. The justice, to his honor, let him off: let all offenders
off that day. "No. 4" shook hands with him, unable to speak, and turned away.
Then he had a strange turn. We had hard work to get him to go
into the procession. He positively refused; said he was not fit to go,
or to live; began to cry, and took off his jacket. He would go back to jail,
he said. We finally got him straight; accepted from him a solemn promise
not to touch a drop till the celebration was over, so help him God,
and sent him off to join his old command at the tobacco-warehouse on the slip
where the cavalry rendezvoused. I had some apprehension that he would not
turn up in the procession; but I was mistaken. He was there with the old
cavalry veterans, as sober as a judge, and looking every inch a soldier.
It was a strange scene, and an impressive one even to those whose hearts
were not in sympathy with it in any respect. Many who had been
the hardest fighters against the South were in sympathy with much of it,
if not with all. But to those who were of the South, it was sublime.
It passed beyond mere enthusiasm, however exalted, and rested in
the profoundest and most sacred deeps of their being. There were many cheers,
but more tears; not tears of regret or mortification, but tears of sympathy
and hallowed memory. The gayly decorated streets, in all the bravery
of fluttering ensigns and bunting; the martial music of many bands;
the constant tramp of marching troops; the thronged sidewalks,
verandas, and roofs; the gleam of polished arms and glittering uniforms;
the flutter of gay garments, and the smiles of beautiful women
sweet with sympathy; the long line of old soldiers, faded and broken and gray,
yet each self-sustained, and inspired by the life of the South
that flowed in their veins, marching under the old Confederate battle-flags
that they had borne so often in victory and in defeat -- all contributed
to make the outward pageant a scene never to be forgotten. But this was
merely the outward image; the real fact was the spirit. It was the South.
It was the spirit of the South; not of the new South, nor yet merely
of the old South, but the spirit of the great South. When the young troops
from every Southern State marched by in their fresh uniforms,
with well-drilled battalions, there were huzzas, much applause and enthusiasm;
when the old soldiers came there was a tempest: wild cheers
choking with sobs and tears, the well-known, once-heard-never-forgotten cry
of the battling South, known in history as "the rebel yell". Men and women
and children joined in it. It began at the first sight of the regular column,
swelled up the crowded streets, rose to the thronged housetops,
ran along them for squares like a conflagration, and then came rolling back
in volume only to rise and swell again greater than before. Men wept;
children shrilled; women sobbed aloud. What was it! Only a thousand or two
of old or aging men riding or tramping along through the dust of the street,
under some old flags, dirty and ragged and stained. But they represented
the spirit of the South; they represented the spirit which when honor
was in question never counted the cost; the spirit that had stood up
for the South against overwhelming odds for four years, and until the South
had crumbled and perished under the forces of war; the spirit that is
the strongest guaranty to us to-day that the Union is and is to be;
the spirit that, glorious in victory, had displayed a fortitude
yet greater in defeat. They saw in every stain on those tattered standards
the blood of their noblest, bravest, and best; in every rent
a proof of their glorious courage and sacrifice. They saw in those
gray and careworn faces, in those old clothes interspersed now and then
with a faded gray uniform, the men who in the ardor of their youth had,
for the South, faced death undaunted on a hundred fields, and had never
even thought it great; men who had looked immortality in the eyes,
yet had been thrown down and trampled underfoot, and who were greater
in their overthrow than when glory poured her light upon their upturned faces.
Not one of them all but was self-sustaining, sustained by the South,
or had ever even for one moment thought in his direst extremity
that he would have what was, undone.
The crowd was immense; the people on the fashionable street
up which the procession passed were fortunate; they had the advantage
of their yards and porticos, and they threw them open to the public.
Still the throng on the sidewalks was tremendous, and just before
the old veterans came along the crush increased. As it resettled itself
I became conscious that a little old woman in a rusty black dress
whom I had seen patiently standing alone in the front line
on the street corner for an hour had lost her position, and had been
pushed back against the railing, and had an anxious, disappointed look
on her face. She had a little, faded knot of Confederate colors
fastened in her old dress, and, almost hidden by the crowd, she was looking
up and down in some distress to see if she could not again get a place from
which she could see. Finally she seemed to give it up, and stood quite still,
tiptoeing now and then to try to catch a glimpse. I saw someone
about to help her when, from a gay and crowded portico above her,
a young and beautiful girl in a white dress, whom I had been observing
for some time as the life of a gay party, as she sat in her loveliness,
a queen on her throne with her courtiers around her, suddenly arose
and ran down into the street. There was a short colloquy.
The young beauty was offering something which the old lady was declining;
but it ended in the young girl leading the older woman gently up
on to her veranda and giving her the chair of state. She was hardly seated
when the old soldiers began to pass.
As the last mounted veterans came by, I remembered that I had
not seen "No. 4"; but as I looked up, he was just coming along.
In his hand, with staff resting on his toe, he carried an old standard
so torn and tattered and stained that it was scarcely recognizable as a flag.
I did not for a moment take in that it was he, for he was not in
the gray jacket which I had expected to see. He was busy looking down
at the throng on the sidewalk, apparently searching for some one
whom he expected to find there. He was in some perplexity,
and pulled in his horse, which began to rear. Suddenly the applause
from the portico above arrested his attention, and he looked toward it
and bowed. As he did so his eye caught that of the old lady seated there.
His face lighted up, and, wheeling his prancing horse half around,
he dipped the tattered standard, and gave the royal salute
as though saluting a queen. The old lady pressed her wrinkled hand
over the knot of faded ribbon on her breast, and made a gesture to him,
and he rode on. He had suddenly grown handsome. I looked at her again;
her eyes were closed, her hands were clasped, and her lips were moving.
I saw the likeness: she was his mother. As he passed me I caught his eye.
He saw my perplexity about the jacket, glanced up at the torn colors,
and pointed to a figure just beyond him dressed in a short, faded jacket.
"No. 4" had been selected, as the highest honor, to carry the old colors
which he had once saved; and not to bear off all the honors from his friend,
he had with true comradeship made Binford Terrell wear his cherished jacket.
He made a brave figure as he rode away, and my cheer died on my lips
as I thought of the sad, old mother in her faded knot, and of the dashing
young soldier who had saved the colors in that unnamed fight.
After that we got him a place, and he did well for several months.
He seemed to be cured. New life and strength appeared to come back to him.
But his mother died, and one night shortly afterward he disappeared,
and remained lost for several days. When we found him he had been brought
to jail, and I was sent for to see about him. He was worse than I had
ever known him. He was half-naked and little better than a madman.
I went to a doctor about him, an old army surgeon, who saw him, and shook
his head. "`Mania a potu'. Very bad; only a question of time," he said.
This was true. "No. 4" was beyond hope. Body and brain were both gone.
It got to be only a question of days, if not of hours.
Some of his other friends and I determined that he should not die in jail;
so we took him out and carried him to a cool, pleasant room
looking out on an old garden with trees in it. There in the dreadful terror
of raving delirium he passed that night. I with several others
sat up with him. I could not have stood many more like it.
All night long he raved and tore. His oaths were blood-curdling.
He covered every past portion of his life. His army life was mainly
in his mind. He fought the whole war over. Sometimes he prayed fervently;
prayed against his infirmity; prayed that his chains might be broken.
Then he would grow calm for awhile. One thing recurred constantly: he had
sold his honor, betrayed his cause. This was the order again and again,
and each time the paroxysm of frightful fury came on, and it took all of us
to hold him. He was covered with snakes: they were chains on his wrists
and around his body. He tried to pull them from around him. At last,
toward morning, came one of those fearful spells, worse than any
that had gone before. It passed, and he suddenly seemed to collapse.
He sank, and the stimulant administered failed to revive him.
"He is going," said the doctor, quietly, across the bed. Whether his dull ear
caught the word or not, I cannot say; but he suddenly roused up,
tossed one arm, and said:
"Binford, take the horses. I'm going to old Joe," and sank back.
"He's gone," said the doctor, opening his shirt and placing his ear
over his heart. As he rose up I saw two curious scars on "No. 4"'s
emaciated breast. They looked almost like small crosses,
about the size of the decorations the European veterans wear.
The old doctor bent over and examined them.
"Hello! Bayonet-wounds," he said briefly.
A little later I went out to get a breath of fresh morning air
to quiet my nerves, which were somewhat unstrung. As I passed by a little
second-hand clothing-store of the meanest kind, in a poor, back street,
I saw hanging up outside an old gray jacket. I stopped to examine it.
It was stained behind with mud, and in front with a darker color.
An old patch hid a part of the front; but a close examination showed
two holes over the breast. It was "No. 4"'s lost jacket.
I asked the shopman about it. He had bought it, he said, of a pawnbroker
who had got it from some drunkard, who had probably stolen it last year
from some old soldier. He readily sold it, and I took it back with me;
and the others being gone, an old woman and I cut the patch off it
and put "No. 4"'s stiffening arms into the sleeves. Word was sent to us
during the day to say that the city would bury him in the poorhouse grounds.
But we told them that arrangements had been made; that he would have
a soldier's burial. And he had it.
Miss Dangerlie's Roses
Henry Floyd was a crank, at least so many people said; a few thought
he was a wonderful person: these were mostly children, old women,
and people not in the directory, and persons not in the directory
do not count for much. He was in fact a singular fellow.
It was all natural enough to him; he was just like what he believed
his father had been, his father of whom his mother used to tell him,
and whom he remembered so vaguely except when he had suddenly loomed up
in his uniform at the head of his company, when they went away on that march
from which he had never returned. He meant to be like him, if he was not,
and he remembered all that his mother had told him of his gentleness,
his high courtesy, his faithfulness, his devotion to duty, his unselfishness.
So it was all natural enough to Floyd to be as he was. But a man can
no more tell whether or not he is a crank than he can tell how old he looks.
He was, however, without doubt, different in certain ways from most people.
This his friends admitted. Some said he was old-fashioned;
some that he was "old-timey"; some that he was unpractical,
the shades of criticism ranging up to those saying he was a fool.
This did not mean intellectually, for none denied his intellect. He drove
a virile pen, and had an epigrammatic tongue. He had had a hard time.
He had borne the yoke in his youth. This, we have strong authority
for saying, is good for a man; but it leaves its mark upon him. He had been
desperately poor. He had not minded that except for his mother, and he had
approved of her giving up every cent to meet the old security debts.
It had cut him off from his college education; but he had worked
till he was a better scholar than he might have been had he gone to college.
He had kept his mother comfortable as long as she lived, and then had put up
a monument over her in the old churchyard, as he had done before
to his father's memory. This, everyone said, was foolish, and perhaps it was,
for it took him at least two years to pay for them, and he might have
laid up the money and got a start, or, as some charitable persons said,
it might have been given to the poor. However, the monuments were put up,
and on them were epitaphs which recorded at length the virtues
of those to whom they were erected, with their descent, and declared
that they were Christians and Gentlepeople. Some one said to Floyd
that he might have shortened the epitaphs, and have saved something.
"I did not want them shortened," said he.
He had borne the yoke otherwise also. One of the first things he had done
after starting in life was to fall in love with a beautiful woman. She was
very beautiful and a great belle. Every one said it was sheer nonsense
for Henry Floyd to expect her to marry him, as poor as he was,
which was natural enough. The only thing was that she led Floyd to believe
she was going to marry him when she did not intend to do it, and it cost him
a great deal of unhappiness. He never said one word against her,
not even when she married a man much older than himself,
simply, as everyone said, because he was very rich. If Floyd ever thought
that she treated him badly, no one ever knew it, and when finally
she left her husband, no one ever ventured to discuss it before Floyd.
Henry Floyd, however, had suffered, -- that everyone could see who had eyes;
but only he knew how much. Generally grave and dreamy;
when quiet as calm as a dove, as fierce as a hawk when aroused;
moving always in an eccentric orbit, which few understood;
flashing out now and then gleams which some said were sparks of genius
but which most people said were mere eccentricity, he had sunk into a recluse.
He was in this state when he met HER. He always afterward referred to her so.
He was at a reception when he came upon her on a stairway.
A casual word about his life, a smile flashed from her large, dark,
luminous eyes, lighting up her face, and Henry Floyd awoke.
She had called him from the dead. It was a case of love at first sight.
From that time he never had a thought for anyone else,
least of all for himself. He lived in her and for her.
He blossomed under her sympathy as a tree comes out under the sunshine
and soft breath of spring. He grew, he broadened. She was his sun,
his breath of life; he worshipped her. Then one day she died -- suddenly --
sank down and died as a butterfly might die, chilled by a blast.
With her Henry Floyd buried his youth. For a time people were sympathetic;
but they began immediately to speculate about him, then to gossip about him.
It made no difference to him or in him. He was like a man that is dead,
who felt no more. One thing about a great sorrow is that it destroys
all lesser ones. A man with a crushed body does not feel pinpricks.
Henry Floyd went on his way calmly, doggedly, mechanically. He drifted on
and was talked about continually. Gossip would not let him alone,
so she did him the honor to connect his name with that of every woman he met.
In fact, there was as much reason to mention all as one.
He was fond of women, and enjoyed them. Women liked him too.
There was a certain gentleness mingled with firmness,
a kind of protecting air about him which women admired,
and a mystery of impenetrable sadness which women liked.
Every woman who knew him trusted him, and had a right to trust him.
To none was he indifferent, but in none was he interested.
He was simply cut off. A physician who saw him said,
"That man is dying of loneliness." This went on for some years.
At last his friends determined to get him back into society.
They made plans for him and carried them out to a certain length;
there the plans failed. Floyd might be led up to the water,
but none could make him drink; there he took the bit in his teeth
and went his own way. He would be invited to meet a girl at a dinner
got up for his benefit, that he might meet her, and would spend the evening
hanging over a little unheard-of country cousin with a low voice
and soft eyes, entertaining her with stories of his country days
or of his wanderings; or he would be put by some belle,
and after five minutes' homage spend the time talking to some old lady
about her grandchildren. "You must marry," they said to him.
"When one rises from the dead," he replied. At length,
his friends grew tired of helping him and gave him up, and he dropped out
and settled down. Commiseration is one of the bitter things of life.
But Floyd had what is harder to bear than that. It did not affect his work.
It was only his health and his life that suffered. He was like a man
who has lost the senses of touch and taste and sight. If he minded it,
he did not show it. One can get used to being bedridden.
One thing about him was that he always appeared poor. He began to be known
as an inventor and writer. It was known that he received high prices for
what he did; but he appeared to be no better off than when he made nothing.
Some persons supposed that he gambled; others whispered that he spent it
in other dissipation. In fact, one lady gave a circumstantial account
of the way he squandered his money, and declared herself very glad
that he had never visited her daughters. When this was repeated to Floyd,
he said he fortunately did not have to account to her for the way
he spent his money. He felt that the woman out under the marble cross
knew how his money went, and so did the little cousin who was named after her,
and who was at school. He had a letter from her in his pocket at that moment.
So he drifted on.
At length one evening he was at a reception in a strange city whither
his business had taken him. The rooms were filled with light and beauty.
Floyd was standing chatting with a child of ten years, whom he found
standing in a corner, gazing out with wide questioning eyes on the throng.
They were friends instantly, and he was telling her who the guests were,
as they came sailing in, giving them fictitious names and titles.
"They are all queens," he told her, at which she laughed.
She pointed out a tall and stately woman with a solemn face,
and with a gleaming bodice on like a cuirass, and her hair up on her head
like a casque. "Who is that?"
"And who is that?" It was a stout lady with a tiara of diamonds, a red face,
and three feathers.
"Queen Victoria, of course."
"And who am I?" She placed her little hand on her breast
with a pretty gesture.
"The Queen of Hearts," said Floyd, quickly, at which she laughed outright.
"Oh! I must not laugh," she said, checking herself and glancing around her
with a shocked look. "I forgot."
"You shall. If you don't, you sha'n't know who another queen is."
"No, mamma told me I must not make a bit of noise; it is not style, you know,
but you mustn't be so funny."
"Good heavens!" said Floyd.
"Oh! who is this coming?" A lady richly dressed was making her way
toward them. "The Queen of Sheba -- coming to see Solomon," said Floyd,
as she came up to him. "Let me introduce you to a beautiful girl,
Sarah Dangerlie," she said, and drew him through the throng toward a door,
where he was presented to a tall and strikingly handsome girl
and made his bow and a civil speech, to which the young lady responded
with one equally polite and important. Other men were pressing around her,
to all of whom she made apt and cordial speeches, and Floyd fell back
and rejoined his little girl, whose face lit up at his return.
"Oh! I was so afraid you were going away with her."
"And leave you? Never, I'm not so easily disposed of."
"Everyone goes with her. They call her the Queen."
"Do you like her?"
"You don't," she said, looking at him keenly.
"Yes, she is beautiful."
"Everyone says so."
"She isn't as beautiful as someone else I know," said Floyd, pleasantly.
"Isn't she? As whom?"
Floyd took hold of the child's hand and said, "Let's go and get some supper."
"I don't like her," said the little girl, positively.
"Don't you?" said Floyd. He stopped and glanced across the room
toward where the girl had stood. He saw only the gleam of her fine shoulders
as she disappeared in the crowd surrounded by her admirers.
A little later Floyd met the young lady on the stairway.
He had not recognized her, and was passing on, when she spoke to him.
"I saw you talking to a little friend of mine," she began, then --
"Over in the corner," she explained.
"Oh! yes. She is sweet. They interest me. I always feel when I have talked
with a child as if I had got as near to the angels as one can get on earth."
"Do you know I was very anxious to meet you," she said.
"Were you? Thank you. Why?"
"Because of a line of yours I once read."
"I am pleased to have written only one line that attracted your attention,"
said Floyd, bowing.
"No, no -- it was this --
"The whitest soul of man or saint is black beside a girl's."
"Beside a child's," said Floyd, correcting her.
"Oh! yes, so it is -- `beside a child's.'"
Her voice was low and musical. Floyd glanced up and caught her look,
and the color deepened in her cheek as the young man suddenly leant
a little towards her and gazed earnestly into her eyes, which she dropped,
but instantly raised again.
"Yes -- good-night," she held out her hand, with a taking gesture and smile.
"Good-night," said Floyd, and passed on up the stairs to the dressing-room.
He got his coat and hat and came down the stairway. A group seized him.
"Come to the club," they said. He declined.
"Roast oysters and beer," they said.
"No, I'm going home."
"Are you ill?" asked a friend.
"No, not at all. Why?"
"You look like a man who has seen a spirit."
"Do I? I'm tired, I suppose. Good-night, -- good-night, gentlemen,"
and he passed out.
"Perhaps I have," he said as he went down the cold steps
into the frozen street.
Floyd went home and tossed about all night. His life was breaking up,
he was all at sea. Why had he met her? He was losing the anchor
that had held him. "They call her the queen," the little girl had said.
She must be. He had seen her soul through her eyes.
Floyd sent her the poem which contained the line which she had quoted;
and she wrote him a note thanking him. It pleased him. It was sympathetic.
She invited him to call. He went to see her. She was fine in grain
and in look. A closely fitting dark gown ornamented by a single
glorious red rose which might have grown where it lay, and her soft hair
coiled on her small head, as she entered tall and straight and calm,
made Floyd involuntarily say to himself, "Yes" --
"She was right," he said, half to himself, half aloud, as he stood
gazing at her with inquiring eyes after she had greeted him cordially.
"What was right?" she asked.
"Something a little girl said about you."
"What was it?"
"I will tell you some day, when I know you better."
"Was it a compliment?"
"Tell me now."
He came to know her better; to know her very well. He did not see her
very often, but he thought of her a great deal. He seemed to find in her
a sympathy which he needed. It reminded him of the past.
He awoke from his lethargy; began to work once more in the old way;
mixed among men again; grew brighter. "Henry Floyd is growing younger,
instead of older," someone said of him. "His health has been bad,"
said a doctor. "He is improving. I thought at one time he was going to die."
"He is getting rich," said a broker, who had been a schoolmate of his.
"I see he has just invented a new something or other to relieve children
with hip or ankle-joint disease."
"Yes, and it is a capital thing, too; it is being taken up by the profession.
I use it. It is a curious thing that he should have hit on that
when he is not a surgeon. He had studied anatomy as a sort of fad,
as he does everything. One of Haile Tabb's boys was bedridden,
and he was a great friend of his, and that set him at it."
"I don't think he's so much of a crank as he used to be," said someone.
The broker who had been his schoolmate met Floyd next day.
"I see you have been having a great stroke of luck," he said.
"Yes. I see in the papers, that your discovery, or invention,
or whatever it was, has been taken up."
"Oh! yes -- that? It has."
"I congratulate you."
"I would not mind looking into that."
"Yes, it is interesting."
"I might take an interest in it."
"Yes, I should think so."
"How much do you ask for it?"
"`Ask for it?' Ask for what?"
"For an interest in it, either a part or the whole?"
"You ought to make a good thing out of it -- out of your patent."
"My patent! I haven't any patent."
"What! No patent?"
"No. It's for the good of people generally."
"But you got a patent?"
"Couldn't you get a patent?"
"I don't know."
"Well, I'll be bound I'd have got a patent."
"Oh! no, I don't think so."
"I tell you what, you ought to turn your talents to account," said his friend.
"Yes, I know I ought."
"You could be a rich man."
"But I don't care to be rich."
"What! Oh! nonsense. Everyone does."
"I do not. I want to live."
"But you don't live."
"Well, maybe I shall some day."
"You merely exist."
"Why should I want to be rich?"
"To live -- to buy what you want."
"I want sympathy, love; can one buy that?"
"Yes -- even that."
"No, you cannot. There is only one sort of woman to be bought."
"Well, come and see me sometimes, won't you?"
"Well, no, I'm very much obliged to you; but I don't think I can."
"Why? I have lots of rich men come to my house. You'd find it
to your advantage if you'd come."
"We could make big money together if ----"
He paused. Floyd was looking at him.
"Could we? If -- what?"
"If you would let me use you."
"Thank you," said Floyd. "Perhaps we could."
"Why won't you come?"
"Well, the fact is, I haven't time. I shall have to wait
to get a little richer before I can afford it. Besides I have
a standing engagement."
"Oh! no, we won't squeeze you. I tell you what, come up to dinner to-morrow.
I'm going to have a fellow there, an awfully rich fellow --
want to interest him in some things, and I've invited him down.
He is young Router, the son of the great Router, you know who he is?"
"Well, no, I don't believe I do. Good-by. Sorry I can't come;
but I have an engagement."
"What is it?"
"To play mumble-the-peg with some boys: Haile Tabb's boys."
"Oh! hang the boys! Come up to dinner. It is an opportunity
you may not have again shortly. Router's awfully successful,
and you can interest him. I tell you what I'll do ----"
"No, thank you, I'll keep my engagement. Good-by."
"That fellow's either a fool or he is crazy," said his friend,
gazing after him as he walked away. "And he's got some sense too.
If he'd let me use him I could make money out of him for both of us."
It was not long before Floyd began to be known more widely.
He had schemes for the amelioration of the condition of the poor.
They were pronounced quixotic; but he kept on. He said
he got good out of them if no one else did.
He began to go oftener and oftener down to the City,
where Miss Dangerlie lived. He did not see a great deal of her;
but he wrote to her. He found in her a ready sympathy with his plans.
It was not just as it used to be in his earlier love affair,
where he used to find himself uplifted and borne along by the strong spirit
which had called him from the dead; but if it was not this that he got,
it was what contented him. Whatever he suggested, she accepted.
He found in her tastes a wonderful similarity with his,
and from that he drew strength.
Women in talking of him in connection with her said it was a pity;
men said he was lucky.
One evening, at a reception at her house, he was in
the gentlemen's dressing-room. It was evidently a lady's apartment
which had been devoted for the occasion as a dressing-room.
It was quite full at the time. A man, a large fellow with sleek, short hair,
a fat chin, and a dazzling waistcoat, pulled open a lower drawer in a bureau.
Articles of a lady's apparel were discovered, spotless and neatly arranged.
"Shut that drawer instantly," said Floyd, in a low, imperious tone.
"Suppose I don't, what then?"
"I will pitch you out of that window," said Floyd, quietly,
moving a step nearer to him. The drawer was closed, and the man turned away.
"Do you know who that was?" asked someone of Floyd.
"No, not the slightest idea."
"That was young Router, the son of the great Router."
"Who is the-great-Router?"
"The great pork man. His son is the one who is so attentive
to Miss Dangerlie."
"I am glad he closed the drawer," said Floyd, quietly.
"He is said to be engaged to her," said the gentleman.
"He is not engaged to her," said Floyd.
Later on he was talking to Miss Dangerlie. He had taken her out
of the throng. "Do you know who introduced me to you?" he asked.
"Yes, Mrs. Drivington."
"No, a little girl."
"Who? Why, don't you remember! I am surprised. It was just in the doorway!"
"Oh! yes, I remember well enough. I met a beauty there,
but I did not care for her. I met you first on the stairway,
and a child introduced me."
"Children interest me, they always admire one," she said.
"They interest me, I always admire them," he said. "They are true."
She was silent, then changed the subject.
"A singular little incident befell me this evening," she said.
"As I was coming home from a luncheon-party, a wretched woman stopped me
and asked me to let her look at me."
"You did it, of course," he said.
She looked at him with her eyes wide open with surprise.
"What do you suppose a man said to me upstairs?" he asked her.
"That you were engaged to someone."
"What! That I was engaged! To whom, pray?" She looked incredulous.
"To a fellow I saw up there -- Mr. `Router', I think he said was his name."
"The idea! Engaged to Mr. Router! You did not believe him, did you?"
"No, of course I did not; I trust you entirely."
She buried her face in the roses she held in her hand, and did not speak.
Her other hand rested on the arm of her chair next him.
It was fine and white. He laid his on it firmly, and leaning towards her,
said, "I beg your pardon for mentioning it. I am not surprised
that you are hurt. Forgive me. I could not care for you so much
if I did not believe in you."
"It was so kind in you to send me these roses," she said.
"Aren't they beautiful?"
She turned them round and gazed at them with her face slightly averted.
"Yes, they are, and yet I hate to see them tied that way;
I ordered them sent to you loose. I always like to think of you
as arranging roses."
"Yes, I love to arrange them myself," she said.
"The fact is, as beautiful as those are, I believe I like better the
old-fashioned roses right out of the dew. I suppose it is old association.
But I know an old garden up at an old country-place, where my mother
used to live as a girl. It used to be filled up with roses,
and I always think of the roses there as sweeter than any others
in the world."
"Yes, I like the old-fashioned roses best too," she said,
with that similarity of taste which always pleased him."
"The next time I come to see you I am going to bring you some of those roses,"
he said. "My mother used to tell me of my father going out and getting them
for her, and I would like you to have some of them."
"Oh! thank you. How far is it from your home?"
"Fifteen or twenty miles."
"But you cannot get them there."
"Oh! yes, I can; the fact is, I own the place." She looked interested.
"Oh! it is not worth anything as land," he said, "but I love the association.
My mother was brought up there, and I keep up the garden just as it was.
You shall have the roses. Some day I want to see you among them."
Just then there was a step behind him. She rose.
"Is it ours?" she asked someone over her shoulder.
"Yes, come along."
Floyd glanced around. It was the "son of the great Router".
She turned to Floyd, and said, in an earnest undertone, "I am very sorry;
but I had an engagement. Good-by." She held out her hand.
Floyd took it and pressed it.
"Good-by," he said, tenderly. "That is all right."
She took the-son-of-the-great-Router's arm.
. . . . .
One afternoon, a month after Miss Dangerlie's reception,
Henry Floyd was packing his trunk. He had just looked at his watch,
when there was a ring at the bell. He knew it was the postman,
and a soft look came over his face as he reflected that
even if he got no letter he would see her within a few hours.
A large box of glorious old-fashioned roses was on the floor near him,
and a roll of money and a time-table lay beside it. He had ridden
thirty miles that morning to get and bring the roses himself
for one whom he always thought of in connection with them.
A letter was brought in, and a pleased smile lit up the young man's face
as he saw the handwriting. He laid on the side of the trunk
a coat that he held, and then sat down on the arm of a chair
and opened the letter. His hand stroked it softly as if it were of velvet.
He wore a pleased smile as he began to read. Then the smile died away
and a startled look took its place. The color faded out of his face,
and his mouth closed firmly. When he was through he turned back
and read the letter all over again, slowly. It seemed hard to understand;
for after a pause he read it over a third time. Then he looked
straight before him for a moment, and then slowly tore it up into thin shreds
and crumpled them up in his hand. Ten minutes later he rose from his seat
and dropped the torn pieces into the fireplace. He walked over
and put on his hat and coat, and going out, pulled the door firmly to
behind him. The trunk, partly packed, stood open with the half-folded coat
hanging over its edge and with the roses lying by its side.
Floyd walked into the Club and, returning quietly the salutations
of a group of friends, went over to a rack and drew out a newspaper file,
with which he passed into another room.
"Announcement of Engagement: Router and Dangerlie," was the heading
on which his eye rested. "It is stated," ran the paragraph,
"that they have been engaged some time, but no announcement
has been made until now, on the eve of the wedding, owing to
the young lady's delicacy of feeling."
That night Henry Floyd wrote a letter. This was the close of it:
"Possibly your recollection may hereafter trouble you. I wish to say
that I do not hold you accountable in any way."
That night a wretched creature, half beggar, half worse, was standing
on the street under a lamp. A man came along. She glanced at him timidly.
He was looking at her, but it would not do to speak to him,
he was a gentleman going somewhere. His hands were full of roses.
He posted a letter in the box, then to her astonishment he stopped at her side
and spoke to her.
"Here are some roses for you," he said, "and here is some money.
Go home to-night."
He pushed the roses and money into her hands, and turning,
went back up the dim street.
How the Captain made Christmas
It was just a few days before Christmas, and the men around
the large fireplace at the club had, not unnaturally,
fallen to talking of Christmas. They were all men in the prime of life,
and all or nearly all of them were from other parts of the country;
men who had come to the great city to make their way in life,
and who had, on the whole, made it in one degree or another,
achieving sufficient success in different fields to allow of all
being called successful men. Yet, as the conversation had proceeded,
it had taken a reminiscent turn. When it began, only three persons
were engaged in it, two of whom, McPheeters and Lesponts,
were in lounging-chairs, with their feet stretched out towards the log fire,
while the third, Newton, stood with his back to the great hearth,
and his coat-tails well divided. The other men were scattered about the room,
one or two writing at tables, three or four reading the evening papers,
and the rest talking and sipping whiskey and water, or only talking
or only sipping whiskey and water. As the conversation proceeded
around the fireplace, however, one after another joined the group there,
until the circle included every man in the room.
It had begun by Lesponts, who had been looking intently at Newton
for some moments as he stood before the fire with his legs well apart
and his eyes fastened on the carpet, breaking the silence by asking, suddenly:
"Are you going home?"
"I don't know," said Newton, doubtfully, recalled from somewhere in dreamland,
but so slowly that a part of his thoughts were still lingering there.
"I haven't made up my mind -- I'm not sure that I can go so far as Virginia,
and I have an invitation to a delightful place -- a house-party near here."
"Newton, anybody would know that you were a Virginian," said McPheeters,
"by the way you stand before that fire."
Newton said, "Yes," and then, as the half smile the charge had brought up
died away, he said, slowly, "I was just thinking how good it felt,
and I had gone back and was standing in the old parlor at home the first time
I ever noticed my father doing it; I remember getting up and standing by him,
a little scrap of a fellow, trying to stand just as he did,
and I was feeling the fire, just now, just as I did that night.
That was -- thirty-three years ago," said Newton, slowly,
as if he were doling the years from his memory.
"Newton, is your father living?" asked Lesponts. "No, but my mother is,"
he said; "she still lives at the old home in the country."
From this the talk had gone on, and nearly all had contributed to it,
even the most reticent of them, drawn out by the universal sympathy
which the subject had called forth. The great city,
with all its manifold interests, was forgotten, and the men of the world
went back to their childhood and early life in little villages
or on old plantations, and told incidents of the time when the outer world
was unknown, and all things had those strange and large proportions
which the mind of childhood gives. Old times were ransacked
and Christmas experiences in them were given without stint,
and the season was voted, without dissent, to have been far ahead
of Christmas now. Presently, one of the party said: "Did any of you
ever spend a Christmas on the cars? If you have not, thank Heaven,
and pray to be preserved from it henceforth, for I've done it, and I tell you
it's next to purgatory. I spent one once, stuck in a snow-drift,
or almost stuck, for we were ten hours late, and missed all connections,
and the Christmas I had expected to spend with friends,
I passed in a nasty car with a surly Pullman conductor,
an impudent mulatto porter, and a lot of fools, all of whom could have
murdered each other, not to speak of a crying baby whose murder was perhaps
the only thing all would have united on."
This harsh speech showed that the subject was about exhausted, and someone,
a man who had come in only in time to hear the last speaker,
had just hazarded the remark, in a faint imitation of an English accent,
that the sub-officials in this country were a surly, ill-conditioned lot,
anyhow, and always were as rude as they dared to be, when Lesponts,
who had looked at the speaker lazily, said:
"Yes, I have spent a Christmas on a sleeping-car, and, strange to say,
I have a most delightful recollection of it."
This was surprising enough to have gained him a hearing anyhow,
but the memory of the occasion was evidently sufficiently strong
to carry Lesponts over obstacles, and he went ahead.
"Has any of you ever taken the night train that goes from here South
through the Cumberland and Shenandoah Valleys, or from Washington
to strike that train?"
No one seemed to have done so, and he went on:
"Well, do it, and you can even do it Christmas, if you get
the right conductor. It's well worth doing the first chance you get,
for it's almost the prettiest country in the world that you go through;
there is nothing that I've ever seen lovelier than parts of the Cumberland
and Shenandoah Valleys, and the New River Valley is just as pretty, --
that background of blue beyond those rolling hills, and all, --
you know, McPheeters?" McPheeters nodded, and he proceeded:
"I always go that way now when I go South. Well, I went South one winter
just at Christmas, and I took that train by accident. I was going
to New Orleans to spend Christmas, and had expected to have gotten off
to be there several days beforehand, but an unlooked-for matter had turned up
and prevented my getting away, and I had given up the idea of going, when I
changed my mind: the fact is, I was in a row with a friend of mine there.
I decided, on the spur of the moment, to go, anyhow, and thus got off
on the afternoon train for Washington, intending to run my luck
for getting a sleeper there. This was the day before Christmas-eve
and I was due to arrive in New Orleans Christmas-day, some time. Well,
when I got to Washington there was not a berth to be had for love or money,
and I was in a pickle. I fumed and fussed; abused the railroad companies
and got mad with the ticket agent, who seemed, I thought,
to be very indifferent as to whether I went to New Orleans or not,
and I had just decided to turn around and come back to New York,
when the agent, who was making change for someone else, said:
`I'm not positive, but I think there's a train on such and such a road,
and you may be able to get a berth on that. It leaves about this time,
and if you hurry you may be able to catch it.' He looked at his watch:
`Yes, you've just about time to stand a chance; everything is late to-day,
there are such crowds, and the snow and all.' I thanked him,
feeling like a dog over my ill-temper and rudeness to him, and decided to try.
Anything was better than New York, Christmas-day. So I jumped into a carriage
and told the driver to drive like the -- the wind, and he did.
When we arrived at the station the ticket agent could not tell me
whether I could get a berth or not, the conductor had the diagram out
at the train, but he thought there was not the slightest chance.
I had gotten warmed up, however, by my friend's civility at the other station,
and I meant to go if there was any way to do it, so I grabbed up my bags
and rushed out of the warm depot into the cold air again. I found the car
and the conductor standing outside of it by the steps. The first thing
that struck me was his appearance. Instead of being the dapper young
naval-officerish-looking fellow I was accustomed to, he was a stout,
elderly man, with bushy, gray hair and a heavy, grizzled mustache,
who looked like an old field-marshal. He was surrounded by quite a number
of people all crowding about him and asking him questions at once,
some of whose questions he was answering slowly as he pored over his diagram,
and others of which he seemed to be ignoring. Some were querulous,
some good-natured, and all impatient, but he answered them all
with imperturbable good humor. It was very cold, so I pushed my way
into the crowd. As I did so I heard him say to someone:
`You asked me if the lower berths were all taken, did you not?' `Yes,
five minutes ago!' snapped the fellow, whom I had already heard swearing,
on the edge of the circle. `Well, they are all taken, just as they were
the first time I told you they were,' he said, and opened a despatch
given him by his porter, a tall, black, elderly negro with gray hair.
I pushed my way in and asked him, in my most dulcet tone,
if I could get an upper berth to New Orleans. I called him `Captain',
thinking him a pompous old fellow. He was just beginning to speak
to someone else, but I caught him and he looked across the crowd
and said `New Orleans!' My heart sank at the tone, and he went on
talking to some other man. `I told you that I would give you a lower berth,
sir, I can give you one now, I have just got a message that the person
who had "lower two" will not want it.' `Hold on, then, I'll take that lower,'
called the man who had spoken before, over the crowd, `I spoke for it first.'
`No you won't,' said the Captain, who went on writing.
The man pushed his way in angrily, a big, self-assertive fellow;
he was evidently smarting from his first repulse. `What's that? I did,
I say. I was here before that man got here, and asked you for a lower berth,
and you said they were all taken.' The Captain stopped and looked at him.
`My dear sir, I know you did; but this gentleman has a lady along.'
But the fellow was angry. `I don't care,' he said, `I engaged the berth
and I know my rights; I mean to have that lower berth, or I'll see
which is bigger, you or Mr. Pullman.' Just then a lady, who had come out
on the steps, spoke to the Captain about her seat in the car.
He turned to her: `My dear madam, you are all right, just go in there
and take your seat anywhere; when I come in I will fix everything.
Go straight into that car and don't come out in this cold air any more.'
The lady went back and the old fellow said, `Nick, go in there
and seat that lady, if you have to turn every man out of his seat.'
Then, as the porter went in, he turned back to his irate friend.
`Now, my dear sir, you don't mean that: you'd be the first man to give up
your berth; this gentleman has his sick wife with him and has been ordered
to take her South immediately, and she's going to have a lower berth
if I turn every man in that car out, and if you were Mr. Pullman himself
I'd tell you the same thing.' The man fell back, baffled and humbled,
and we all enjoyed it. Still, I was without a berth, so, with some misgiving,
I began: `Captain?' He turned to me. `Oh! you want to go to New Orleans?'
`Yes, to spend Christmas; any chance for me?' He looked at his watch.
`My dear young sir,' he said, `go into the car and take a seat,
and I'll do the best I can with you.' I went in, not at all sure
that I should get a berth.
"This, of course, was only a part of what went on, but the crowd had gotten
into a good humor and was joking, and I had fallen into the same spirit.
The first person I looked for when I entered the car was, of course,
the sick woman. I soon picked her out: a sweet, frail-looking lady,
with that fatal, transparent hue of skin and fine complexion.
She was all muffled up, although the car was very warm.
Every seat was either occupied or piled high with bags.
Well, the train started, and in a little while the Captain came in,
and the way that old fellow straightened things out was a revelation.
He took charge of the car and ran it as if he had been the Captain of a boat.
At first some of the passengers were inclined to grumble,
but in a little while they gave in. As for me, I had gotten an upper berth
and felt satisfied. When I waked up next morning, however, we were only
a hundred and fifty miles from Washington, and were standing still.
The next day was Christmas, and every passenger on the train,
except the sick lady and her husband, and the Captain,
had an engagement for Christmas dinner somewhere a thousand miles away.
There had been an accident on the road. The train which was coming north
had jumped the track at a trestle and torn a part of it away.
Two or three of the trainmen had been hurt. There was no chance of getting by
for several hours more. It was a blue party that assembled
in the dressing-room, and more than one cursed his luck.
One man was talking of suing the company. I was feeling pretty gloomy myself,
when the Captain came in. `Well, gentlemen, `Christmas-gift';
it's a fine morning, you must go out and taste it,' he said,
in a cheery voice, which made me feel fresher and better at once,
and which brought a response from every man in the dressing-room.
Someone asked promptly how long we should be there. `I can't tell you, sir,
but some little time; several hours.' There was a groan. `You'll have time
to go over the battle-field,' said the Captain, still cheerily.
`We are close to the field of one of the bitterest battles of the war.'
And then he proceeded to tell us about it briefly. He said, in answer to
a question, that he had been in it. `On which side, Captain?' asked someone.
`Sir!' with some surprise in his voice. `On which side?' `On our side, sir,
of course.' We decided to go over the field, and after breakfast we did.
"The Captain walked with us over the ground and showed us
the lines of attack and defence; pointed out where the heaviest fighting
was done, and gave a graphic account of the whole campaign.
It was the only battle-field I had ever been over, and I was
so much interested that when I got home I read up the campaign,
and that set me to reading up on the whole subject of the war.
We walked back over the hills, and I never enjoyed a walk more.
I felt as if I had got new strength from the cold air.
The old fellow stopped at a little house on our way back,
and went in whilst we waited. When he came out he had a little bouquet
of geranium leaves and lemon verbena which he had got. I had noticed them
in the window as we went by, and when I saw the way the sick lady looked
when he gave them to her, I wished I had brought them instead of him.
Some one intent on knowledge asked him how much he paid for them?
"He said, `Paid for them! Nothing.'
"`Did you know them before?' he asked.
"`No, sir.' That was all.
"A little while afterwards I saw him asleep in a seat,
but when the train started he got up.
"The old Captain by this time owned the car. He was not only an official,
he was a host, and he did the honors as if he were in his own house
and we were his guests; all was done so quietly and unobtrusively, too;
he pulled up a blind here, and drew one down there, just a few inches,
`to give you a little more light on your book, sir'; -- `to shut out a little
of the glare, madam -- reading on the cars is a little more trying to the eyes
than one is apt to fancy.' He stopped to lean over and tell you
that if you looked out of your window you would see what he thought
one of the prettiest views in the world; or to mention the fact
that on the right was one of the most celebrated old places in the State,
a plantation which had once belonged to Colonel So-and-So,
`one of the most remarkable men of his day, sir.'
"His porter, Nicholas, was his admirable second; not a porter at all,
but a body-servant; as different from the ordinary Pullman-car porter
as light from darkness. In fact, it turned out that he had been
an old servant of the Captain's. I happened to speak of him to the Captain,
and he said: `Yes, sir, he's a very good boy; I raised him, or rather,
my father did; he comes of a good stock; plenty of sense and know
their places. When I came on the road they gave me a mulatto fellow
whom I couldn't stand, one of these young, new, "free-issue" some call them,
sir, I believe; I couldn't stand him, I got rid of him.' I asked him
what was the trouble. `Oh! no trouble at all, sir; he just didn't know
his place, and I taught him. He could read and write a little --
a negro is very apt to think, sir, that if he can write he is educated --
he could write, and thought he was educated; he chewed a toothpick
and thought he was a gentleman. I soon taught him better.
He was impertinent, and I put him off the train. After that I told them
that I must have my own servant if I was to remain with them, and I got Nick.
He is an excellent boy (he was about fifty-five). The black is
a capital servant, sir, when he has sense, far better than the mulatto.'
"I became very intimate with the old fellow. You could not help it.
He had a way about him that drew you out. I told him I was going
to New Orleans to pay a visit to friends there. He said,
`Got a sweetheart there?' I was rather taken aback; but I told him, `Yes.'
He said he knew it as soon as I spoke to him on the platform.
He asked me who she was, and I told him her name. He said to me,
`Ah! you lucky dog.' I told him I did not know that I was not most unlucky,
for I had no reason to think she was going to marry me. He said,
`You tell her I say you'll be all right.' I felt better,
especially when the old chap said, `I'll tell her so myself.' He knew her.
She always travelled with him when she came North, he said.
"I did not know at all that I was all right; in fact,
I was rather low down just then about my chances, which was the only reason
I was so anxious to go to New Orleans, and I wanted just that encouragement
and it helped me mightily. I began to think Christmas on the cars
wasn't quite so bad after all. He drew me on, and before I knew it
I had told him all about myself. It was the queerest thing;
I had no idea in the world of talking about my matters.
I had hardly ever spoken of her to a soul; but the old chap had a way
of making you feel that he would be certain to understand you,
and could help you. He told me about his own case, and it wasn't
so different from mine. He lived in Virginia before the war;
came from up near Lynchburg somewhere; belonged to an old family there,
and had been in love with his sweetheart for years, but could never
make any impression on her. She was a beautiful girl, he said,
and the greatest belle in the country round. Her father was one
of the big lawyers there, and had a fine old place, and the stable was always
full of horses of the young fellows who used to be coming to see her,
and `she used to make me sick, I tell you,' he said, `I used to hate 'em all;
I wasn't afraid of 'em; but I used to hate a man to look at her; it seemed
so impudent in him; and I'd have been jealous if she had looked at the sun.
Well, I didn't know what to do. I'd have been ready to fight 'em all for her,
if that would have done any good, but it wouldn't; I didn't have any right
to get mad with 'em for loving her, and if I had got into a row
she'd have sent me off in a jiffy. But just then the war came on,
and it was a Godsend to me. I went in first thing. I made up my mind
to go in and fight like five thousand furies, and I thought maybe that
would win her, and it did; it worked first-rate. I went in as a private,
and I got a bullet through me in about six months, through my right lung,
that laid me off for a year or so; then I went back and the boys made me
a lieutenant, and when the captain was made a major, I was made captain.
I was offered something higher once or twice, but I thought I'd rather stay
with my company; I knew the boys, and they knew me, and we had got
sort of used to each other -- to depending on each other, as it were.
The war fixed me all right, though. When I went home that first time
my wife had come right around, and as soon as I was well enough
we were married. I always said if I could find that Yankee that shot me
I'd like to make him a present. I found out that the great trouble with me
had been that I had not been bold enough; I used to let her go her own way
too much, and seemed to be afraid of her. I WAS afraid of her, too.
I bet that's your trouble, sir: are you afraid of her?'
I told him I thought I was. `Well, sir,' he said, `it will never do;
you mustn't let her think that -- never. You cannot help being afraid of her,
for every man is that; but it is fatal to let her know it. Stand up, sir,
stand up for your rights. If you are bound to get down on your knees --
and every man feels that he is -- don't do it; get up and run out
and roll in the dust outside somewhere where she can't see you. Why, sir,'
he said, `it doesn't do to even let her think she's having her own way;
half the time she's only testing you, and she doesn't really want
what she pretends to want. Of course, I'm speaking of before marriage;
after marriage she always wants it, and she's going to have it, anyway,
and the sooner you find that out and give in, the better.
You must consider this, however, that her way after marriage
is always laid down to her with reference to your good.
She thinks about you a great deal more than you do about her,
and she's always working out something that is for your advantage;
she'll let you do some things as you wish, just to make you believe you are
having your own way, but she's just been pretending to think otherwise,
to make you feel good.'
"This sounded so much like sense that I asked him how much
a man ought to stand from a woman. `Stand, sir?' he said;
`why, everything, everything that does not take away his self-respect.'
I said I believed if he'd let a woman do it she'd wipe her shoes on him.
`Why, of course she will,' he said, `and why shouldn't she?
A man is not good enough for a good woman to wipe her shoes on.
But if she's the right sort of a woman she won't do it in company,
and she won't let others do it at all; she'll keep you for her own wiping.'"
"There's a lot of sense in that, Lesponts," said one of his auditors,
at which there was a universal smile of assent. Lesponts said he had
found it out, and proceeded.
"Well, we got to a little town in Virginia, I forget the name of it,
where we had to stop a short time. The Captain had told me that his home
was not far from there, and his old company was raised around there.
Quite a number of the old fellows lived about there yet, he said,
and he saw some of them nearly every time he passed through,
as they `kept the run of him.' He did not know that he'd `find any of them
out to-day, as it was Christmas, and they would all be at home,' he said.
As the train drew up I went out on the platform, however,
and there was quite a crowd assembled. I was surprised to find it so quiet,
for at other places through which we had passed they had been
having high jinks: firing off crackers and making things lively.
Here the crowd seemed to be quiet and solemn, and I heard the Captain's name.
Just then he came out on the platform, and someone called out:
`There he is, now!' and in a second such a cheer went up as you never heard.
They crowded around the old fellow and shook hands with him and hugged him
as if he had been a girl."
"I suppose you have reference to the time before you were married,"
interrupted someone, but Lesponts did not heed him. He went on:
"It seemed the rumor had got out that morning that it was the Captain's train
that had gone off the track and that the Captain had been killed in the wreck,
and this crowd had assembled to meet the body. `We were going to give you
a big funeral, Captain,' said one old fellow; `they've got you
while you are living, but we claim you when you are dead.
We ain't going to let 'em have you then. We're going to put you to sleep
in old Virginia.'
"The old fellow was much affected, and made them a little speech.
He introduced us to them all. He said: `Gentlemen, these are my boys,
my neighbors and family;' and then, `Boys, these are my friends;
I don't know all their names yet, but they are my friends.'
And we were. He rushed off to send a telegram to his wife in New Orleans,
because, as he said afterwards, she, too, might get hold of the report
that he had been killed; and a Christmas message would set her up, anyhow.
She'd be a little low down at his not getting there, he said,
as he had never missed a Christmas-day at home since '64.
"When dinner-time came he was invited in by pretty nearly everyone in the car,
but he declined; he said he had to attend to a matter.
I was going in with a party, but I thought the old fellow would be lonely,
so I waited and insisted on his dining with me. I found that it had
occurred to him that a bowl of eggnogg would make it seem more like Christmas,
and he had telegraphed ahead to a friend at a little place
to have `the materials' ready. Well, they were on hand when we got there,
and we took them aboard, and the old fellow made one of the finest eggnoggs
you ever tasted in your life. The rest of the passengers had no idea
of what was going on, and when the old chap came in with a big bowl,
wreathed in holly, borne by Nick, and the old Captain marching behind,
there was quite a cheer. It was offered to the ladies first, of course,
and then the men assembled in the smoker and the Captain did the honors.
He did them handsomely, too: made us one of the prettiest little speeches
you ever heard; said that Christmas was not dependent on the fireplace,
however much a roaring fire might contribute to it; that it was in
everyone's heart and might be enjoyed as well in a railway-car as in a hall,
and that in this time of change and movement it behooved us all to try
and keep up what was good and cheerful and bound us together,
and to remember that Christmas was not only a time for merry-making,
but was the time when the Saviour of the world came among men to bring
peace and good-will, and that we should remember all our friends everywhere.
`And, gentlemen,' he said, `there are two toasts I always like to propose
at this time, and which I will ask you to drink. The first is to my wife.'
It was drunk, you may believe. `And the second is, "My friends:
all mankind."' This too, was drunk, and just then someone noticed
that the old fellow had nothing but a little water in his glass.
`Why, Captain,' he said, `you are not drinking! that is not fair.'
`Well, no, sir,' said the old fellow, `I never drink anything on duty;
you see it is one of the regulations and I subscribed them, and, of course,
I could not break my word. Nick, there, will drink my share, however,
when you are through; he isn't held up to quite such high accountability.'
And sure enough, Nick drained off a glass and made a speech
which got him a handful of quarters. Well, of course, the old Captain
owned not only the car, but all in it by this time, and we spent
one of the jolliest evenings you ever saw. The glum fellow
who had insisted on his rights at Washington made a little speech,
and paid the Captain one of the prettiest compliments I ever heard.
He said he had discovered that the Captain had given him his own lower berth
after he had been so rude to him, and that instead of taking his upper berth
as he had supposed he would have done, he had given that to another person
and had sat up himself all night. That was I. The old fellow
had given the grumbler his `lower' in the smoking-room, and had given me
his `upper'. The fellow made him a very handsome apology before us all,
and the Captain had his own berth that night, you may believe.
"Well, we were all on the `qui vive' to see the Captain's wife
when we got to New Orleans. The Captain had told us that she always
came down to the station to meet him; so we were all on the lookout for her.
He told me the first thing that he did was to kiss her, and then he went
and filed his reports, and then they went home together,
`And if you'll come and dine with me,' he said to me, `I'll give you
the best dinner you ever had -- real old Virginia cooking;
Nick's wife is our only servant, and she is an excellent cook.'
I promised him to go one day, though I could not go the first day.
Well, the meeting between the old fellow and his wife was worth the trip
to New Orleans to see. I had formed a picture in my mind
of a queenly looking woman, a Southern matron -- you know how you do?
And when we drew into the station I looked around for her.
As I did not see her, I watched the Captain. He got off,
and I missed him in the crowd. Presently, though, I saw him and I asked him,
`Captain, is she here?' `Yes, sir, she is, she never misses;
that's the sort of a wife to have, sir; come here and let me introduce you.'
He pulled me up and introduced me to a sweet little old lady, in an old,
threadbare dress and wrap, and a little, faded bonnet, whom I had seen
as we came up, watching eagerly for someone, but whom I had not thought of
as being possibly the Captain's grand-dame. The Captain's manner, however,
was beautiful. `My dear, this is my friend, Mr. Lesponts,
and he has promised to come and dine with us,' he said, with the air
of a lord, and then he leaned over and whispered something to her.
`Why, she's coming to dine with us to-day,' she said with a very cheery laugh;
and then she turned and gave me a look that swept me from top to toe,
as if she were weighing me to see if I'd do. I seemed to pass,
for she came forward and greeted me with a charming cordiality,
and invited me to dine with them, saying that her husband had told her
I knew Miss So-and-So, and she was coming that day, and if I had
no other engagement they would be very glad if I would come that day, too.
Then she turned to the Captain and said, `I saved Christmas dinner for you;
for when you didn't come I knew the calendar and all the rest of the world
were wrong; so to-day is our Christmas.'
-- "Well, that's all," said Lesponts; "I did not mean to talk so much,
but the old Captain is such a character, I wish you could know him.
You'd better believe I went, and I never had a nicer time.
They were just as poor as they could be, in one way, but in another
they were rich. He had a sweet little home in their three rooms.
I found that my friend always dined with them one day in the Christmas-week,
and I happened to hit that day." He leaned back.
"That was the beginning of my good fortune," he said, slowly,
and then stopped. Most of the party knew Lesponts's charming wife,
so no further explanation was needed. One of them said presently, however,
"Lesponts, why didn't you fellows get him some better place?"
"He was offered a place," said Lesponts. "The fellow who had made the row
about the lower berth turned out to be a great friend of the head
of the Pullman Company, and he got him the offer of a place
at three times the salary he got, but after consideration, he declined it.
He would have had to come North, and he said that he could not do that:
his wife's health was not very robust and he did not know how she could stand
the cold climate; then, she had made her friends, and she was too old
to try to make a new set; and finally, their little girl was buried there,
and they did not want to leave her; so he declined. When she died, he said,
or whichever one of them died first, the other would come back home
to the old place in Virginia, and bring the other two with him,
so they could all be at home together again. Meantime,
they were very comfortable and well satisfied."
There was a pause after Lesponts ended, and then one of the fellows
rang the bell and said, "Let's drink the old Captain's health,"
which was unanimously agreed to. Newton walked over to a table
and wrote a note, and then slipped out of the club; and when next day
I inquired after him of the boy at the door, he said he had left word
to tell anyone who asked for him, that he would not be back
till after Christmas; that he had gone home to Virginia.
Several of the other fellows went off home too, myself among them,
and I was glad I did, for I heard one of the men say he never knew the club
so deserted as it was that Christmas-day.
The County had been settled as a "frontier" in early colonial days,
and when it ceased to be frontier, settlement had taken a jump beyond it,
and in a certain sense over it, to the richer lands of the Piedmont. When,
later on, steam came, the railway simply cut across it at its narrowest part,
and then skirted along just inside its border on the bank of the little river
which bounded it on the north, as if it intentionally left it to one side.
Thus, modern progress had not greatly interfered with it
either for good or bad, and its development was entirely natural.
It was divided into "neighborhoods", a name in itself implying something
both of its age and origin; for the population was old,
and the customs of life and speech were old likewise.
This chronicle, however, is not of the "neighborhoods", for they were known,
or may be known by any who will take the trouble to plunge boldly in
and throw themselves on the hospitality of any of the dwellers therein.
It is rather of the unknown tract, which lay vague and undefined in between
the several neighborhoods of the upper end. The history of the former
is known both in peace and in war: in the pleasant homesteads which lie
on the hills above the little rivers which make down through the county
to join the great river below, and in the long list of those who fell
in battle, and whose names are recorded on the slabs set up by their comrades
on the walls of the old Court House. The history of the latter, however,
is unrecorded. The lands were in the main very poor and grown up in pine,
or else, where the head-waters of a little stream made down
in a number of "branches", were swampy and malarial. Possibly it was
this poverty of the soil or unwholesomeness of their location,
which more than anything else kept the people of this district
somewhat distinct from others around them, however poor they might be.
They dwelt in their little cabins among their pines,
or down on the edges of the swampy district, distinct both from
the gentlemen on their old plantations and from the sturdy farmer-folk
who owned the smaller places. What title they had to their lands originally,
or how they traced it back, or where they had come from, no one knew.
They had been there from time immemorial, as long or longer, if anything,
than the owners of the plantations about them; and insignificant as they were,
they were not the kind to attempt to question, even had anyone been inclined
to do so, which no one was.
They had the names of the old English gentry, and were a clean-limbed,
blond, blue-eyed people.
When they were growing to middle age, their life told on them
and made them weather-beaten, and not infrequently hard-visaged;
but when they were young there were often among them straight,
supple young fellows with clear-cut features, and lithe,
willowy-looking girls, with pink faces and blue, or brown, or hazel eyes,
and a mien which one might have expected to find in a hall
rather than in a cabin.
Darby Stanley and Cove Mills (short for Coverley) were the leaders
of the rival factions of the district. They lived as their fathers had lived
before them, on opposite sides of the little stream, the branches of which
crept through the alder and gum thickets between them, and contributed
to make the district almost as impenetrable to the uninitiated
as a mountain fastness. The long log-cabin of the Cove-Millses,
where room had been added to room in a straight line, until it looked
like the side of a log fort, peeped from its pines across at the clearing
where the hardly more pretentious home of Darby Stanley
was set back amid a little orchard of ragged peach-trees,
and half hidden under a great wistaria vine. But though the two places
lay within rifle shot of each other, they were almost as completely divided
as if the big river below had rolled between them. Since the great fight
between old Darby and Cove Mills over Henry Clay, there had rarely been
an election in which some members of the two families had not had a "clinch".
They had to be thrown together sometimes "at meeting", and their children
now and then met down on the river fishing, or at "the washing hole",
as the deep place in the little stream below where the branches ran together
was called; but they held themselves as much aloof from each other
as their higher neighbors, the Hampdens and the Douwills,
did on their plantations. The children, of course, would "run together",
nor did the parents take steps to prevent them, sure that they would,
as they grew up, take their own sides as naturally as they themselves
had done in their day. Meantime "children were children",
and they need not be worried with things like grown-up folk.
When Aaron Hall died and left his little farm and all his small belongings
to educate free the children of his poor neighbors, the farmers about
availed themselves of his benefaction, and the children for six miles around
used to attend the little school which was started in the large
hewn-log school-house on the roadside known as "Hall's Free School".
Few people knew the plain, homely, hard-working man, or wholly understood him.
Some thought him stingy, some weak-minded, some only queer, and at first
his benefaction was hardly comprehended; but in time quite a little oasis
began about the little fountain, which the poor farmer's bequest had opened
under the big oaks by the wayside, and gradually its borders extended,
until finally it penetrated as far as the district, and Cove Mills's children
appeared one morning at the door of the little school-house,
and, with sheepish faces and timid voices, informed the teacher
that their father had sent them to school.
At first there was some debate over at Darby Stanley's place,
whether they should show their contempt for the new departure of the Millses,
by standing out against them, or should follow their example. It was hard
for a Stanley to have to follow a Mills in anything. So they stood out
for a year. As it seemed, however, that the Millses were getting something
to which the Stanleys were as much entitled as they, one morning
little Darby Stanley walked in at the door, and without taking his hat off,
announced that he had come to go to school. He was about fifteen at the time,
but he must have been nearly six feet (his sobriquet being wholly due
to the fact that Big Darby was older, not taller), and though he was spare,
there was something about his face as he stood in the open door,
or his eye as it rested defiantly on the teacher's face,
which prevented more than a general buzz of surprise.
"Take off your hat," said the teacher, and he took it off slowly.
"I suppose you can read?" was the first question.
A snicker ran round the room, and little Darby's brow clouded.
As he not only could not read, but could not even spell,
and in fact did not know his letters, he was put into the alphabet class,
the class of the smallest children in the school.
Little Darby walked over to the corner indicated with his head up,
his hands in his pockets, and a roll in his gait full of defiance,
and took his seat on the end of the bench and looked straight before him.
He could hear the titter around him, and a lowering look came into
his blue eyes. He glanced sideways down the bench opposite.
It happened that the next seat to his was that of Vashti Mills,
who was at that time just nine. She was not laughing,
but was looking at Darby earnestly, and as he caught her eye
she nodded to him, "Good-mornin'." It was the first greeting
the boy had received, and though he returned it sullenly, it warmed him,
and the cloud passed from his brow and presently he looked at her again.
She handed him a book. He took it and looked at it as if it were something
that might explode.
He was not an apt scholar; perhaps he had begun too late; perhaps there was
some other cause; but though he could swim better, climb better,
and run faster than any boy in the school, or, for that matter, in the county,
and knew the habits of every bird that flitted through the woods
and of every animal that lived in the district, he was not good at his books.
His mind was on other things. When he had spent a week over the alphabet,
he did know a letter as such, but only by the places on the page they were on,
and gave up when "big A" was shown him on another page, only asking
how in the dickens "big A" got over there. He pulled off his coat silently
whenever ordered and took his whippings like a lamb, without a murmur
and almost without flinching, but every boy in the school learned
that it was dangerous to laugh at him; and though he could not learn
to read fluently or to train his fingers to guide a pen, he could climb
the tallest pine in the district to get a young crow for Vashti,
and could fashion all sorts of curious whistles, snares,
and other contrivances with his long fingers.
He did not court popularity, was rather cold and unapproachable,
and Vashti Mills was about the only other scholar with whom
he seemed to be on warm terms. Many a time when the tall boy stood up
before the thin teacher, helpless and dumb over some question
which almost anyone in the school could answer, the little girl,
twisting her fingers in an ecstacy of anxiety, whispered to him the answer
in the face of almost certain detection and of absolutely certain punishment.
In return, he worshipped the ground she walked on, and whichever side
Vashti was on, Darby was sure to be on it too. He climbed the tallest trees
to get her nuts; waded into the miriest swamps to find her
more brilliant nosegays of flowers than the other girls had;
spent hours to gather rarer birds' eggs than they had,
and was everywhere and always her silent worshipper and faithful champion.
They soon learned that the way to secure his help in anything was to get
Vashti Mills to ask it, and the little girl quickly discovered her power
and used it as remorselessly over her tall slave as any other despot ever did.
They were to be seen any day trailing along the plantation paths
which the school-children took from the district, the others in a clump,
and the tall boy and little calico-clad girl, who seemed in summer
mainly sun-bonnet and bare legs, either following or going before the others
at some distance.
The death of Darby -- of old Darby, as he had begun to be called --
cut off Little Darby from his "schoolin'", in the middle of his third year,
and before he had learned more than to read and cipher a little and to write
in a scrawly fashion; for he had been rather irregular in his attendance
at all times. He now stopped altogether, giving the teacher as his reason,
with characteristic brevity: "Got to work."
Perhaps no one at the school mourned the long-legged boy's departure
except his little friend Vashti, now a well-grown girl of twelve,
very straight and slim and with big dark eyes. She gave him when he went away
the little Testament she had gotten as a prize, and which was one of her
most cherished possessions. Other boys found the first honor as climber,
runner, rock-flinger, wrestler, swimmer, and fighter open once more to them,
and were free from the silent and somewhat contemptuous gaze of him who,
however they looked down on him, was a sort of silent power among them.
Vashti alone felt a void and found by its sudden absence how great a force
was the steady backing of one who could always be counted on
to take one's side without question. She had to bear the gibes of the school
as "Miss Darby", and though her two brothers were ready enough
to fight for her if boys pushed her too hardly, they could do nothing
against girls, and the girls were her worst tormentors.
The name was fastened on her, and it clung to her until, as time went on,
she came to almost hate the poor innocent cause of it.
Meantime Darby, beginning to fill out and take on the shoulders and form
of a man, began to fill also the place of the man in his little home.
This among other things meant opposition, if not hostility, to everything on
Cove Mills's side. When old Darby died the Millses all went to the funeral,
of course; but that did not prevent their having the same feeling
toward Little Darby afterward, and the breach continued.
At first he used to go over occasionally to see Vashti
and carry her little presents, as he had done at school; but he soon found
that it was not the same thing. He was always received coolly, and shortly
he was given to understand that he was not wanted there, and in time
Vashti herself showed that she was not the same she had been to him before.
Thus the young fellow was thrown back on himself, and the hostility
between the two cabins was as great as ever.
He spent much of his time in the woods, for the Stanley place
was small at best, only a score or so of acres, and mostly covered with pines,
and Little Darby was but a poor hand at working with a hoe --
their only farm implement. He was, however, an unerring shot,
with an eye like a hawk to find a squirrel flat on top of the grayest limb
of the tallest hickory in the woods, or a hare in her bed
among the brownest broomsedge in the county, and he knew the habits
of fish and bird and animal as if he had created them; and though he could not
or would not handle a hoe, he was the best hand at an axe "in the stump",
in the district, and Mrs. Stanley was kept in game if not in meal.
The Millses dilated on his worthlessness, and Vashti, grown to be
a slender slip of a girl with very bright eyes and a little nose,
was loudest against him in public; though rumor said she had fallen afoul
of her youngest brother and boxed his jaws for seconding something
she had said of him.
The Mills's enmity was well understood, and there were not wanting those
to take Darby's side. He had grown to be the likeliest young man
in the district, tall, and straight as a sapling, and though Vashti
flaunted her hate of him and turned up her little nose more than it was
already turned up at his name, there were many other girls in the pines
who looked at him languishingly from under their long sun-bonnets,
and thought he was worth both the Mills boys and Vashti to boot.
So when at a fish-fry the two Mills boys attacked him and he whipped them
both together, some said it served them right, while others declared
they did just what they ought to have done, and intimated that Darby
was less anxious to meet their father than he was them,
who were nothing more than boys to him. These asked in proof of their view,
why he had declined to fight when Old Cove had abused him so to his face.
This was met by the fact that he "could not have been so mighty afeared,"
for he had jumped in and saved Chris Mills's life ten minutes afterward,
when he got beyond his depth in the pond and had already sunk twice.
But, then, to be sure, it had to be admitted that he was the best swimmer
on the ground, and that any man there would have gone in
to save his worst enemy if he had been drowning. This must have been
the view that Vashti Mills took of the case; for one day not long afterward,
having met Darby at the cross-roads store where she was looking at some
pink calico, and where he had come to get some duck-shot and waterproof caps,
she turned on him publicly, and with flashing eyes and mantling cheeks,
gave him to understand that if she were a man he "would not have had
to fight two boys," and he would not have come off so well either.
If anything, this attack brought Darby friends, for he not only had whipped
the Mills boys fairly, and had fought only when they had pressed him, but had,
as has been said, declined to fight old man Mills under gross provocation;
and besides, though they were younger than he, the Mills boys
were seventeen and eighteen, and "not such babies either;
if they insisted on fighting they had to take what they got
and not send their sister to talk and abuse a man about it afterward."
And the weight of opinion was that, "that Vashti Mills was gettin'
too airified and set up anyways."
All this reached Mrs. Stanley, and was no doubt sweet to her ears.
She related it in her drawling voice to Darby as he sat in the door
one evening, but it did not seem to have much effect on him;
he never stirred or showed by word or sign that he even heard her,
and finally, without speaking, he rose and lounged away into the woods.
The old woman gazed after him silently until he disappeared,
and then gave a look across to where the Mills cabin peeped
from among the pines, which was full of hate.
. . . . .
The fish-fry at which Darby Stanley had first fought the Mills boys
and then pulled one of them out of the river, had been given
by one of the county candidates for election as delegate to a convention
which was to be held at the capital, and possibly the division of sentiment
in the district between the Millses and Little Darby was as much due
to political as to personal feeling; for the sides were growing
more and more tightly drawn, and the Millses, as usual, were on one side
and Little Darby on the other; and both sides had strong adherents.
The question was on one side, Secession, with probable war; and on the other,
the Union as it was. The Millses were for the candidate who advocated
the latter, and Little Darby was for him who wanted secession.
Both candidates were men of position and popularity, the one a young man
and the other older, and both were neighbors.
The older man was elected, and shortly the question became imminent,
and all the talk about the Cross-roads was of war. As time had worn on,
Little Darby, always silent, had become more and more so,
and seemed to be growing morose. He spent more and more of his time
in the woods or about the Cross-roads, the only store and post-office
near the district where the little tides of the quiet life around
used to meet. At length Mrs. Stanley considered it so serious
that she took it upon herself to go over and talk to her neighbor,
Mrs. Douwill, as she generally did on matters too intricate and grave
for the experience of the district. She found Mrs. Douwill,
as always, sympathetic and kind, and though she took back with her
not much enlightenment as to the cause of her son's trouble or its cure,
she went home in a measure comforted with the assurance of the sympathy of one
stronger than she. She had found out that her neighbor, powerful and rich
as she seemed to her to be, had her own troubles and sorrows;
she heard from her of the danger of war breaking out at any time,
and her husband would enlist among the first.
Little Darby did not say much when his mother told of her visit;
but his usually downcast eyes had a new light in them,
and he began to visit the Cross-roads oftener.
At last one day the news that came to the Cross-roads was that
there was to be war. It had been in the air for some time,
but now it was undoubted. It came in the presence of Mr. Douwill himself,
who had come the night before and was commissioned by the Governor
to raise a company. There were a number of people there -- quite a crowd
for the little Cross-roads -- for the stir had been growing day by day,
and excitement and anxiety were on the increase. The papers had been full
of secession, firing on flags, raising troops, and everything;
but that was far off. When Mr. Douwill appeared in person it came nearer,
though still few, if any, quite took it in that it could be actual
and immediate. Among those at the Cross-roads that day were the Millses,
father and sons, who looked a little critically at the speaker
as one who had always been on the other side. Little Darby was also there,
silent as usual, but with a light burning in his blue eyes.
That evening, when Little Darby reached home, which he did somewhat earlier
than usual, he announced to his mother that he had enlisted as a soldier.
The old woman was standing before her big fireplace when he told her,
and she leaned against it quite still for a moment; then she sat down,
stumbling a little on the rough hearth as she made her way
to her little broken chair. Darby got up and found her a better one,
which she took without a word.
Whatever entered into her soul in the little cabin that night,
when Mrs. Stanley went among her neighbors she was a soldier's mother.
She even went over to Cove Mills's on some pretext connected with
Darby's going. Vashti was not at home, but Mrs. Mills was, and she felt
a sudden loss, as if somehow the Millses had fallen below the Stanleys.
She talked of it for several days; she could not make out entirely
what it was. Vashti's black eyes flashed.
The next day Darby went to the Cross-roads to drill; there was,
besides the recruits, who were of every class, quite a little crowd there
to look at the drill. Among them were two women of the poorest class,
one old and faded, rather than gray, the other hardly better dressed,
though a slim figure, straight and trim, gave her a certain distinction,
even had not a few ribbons and a little ornament or two on her pink calico,
with a certain air, showed that she was accustomed to being admired.
The two women found themselves together once during the day,
and their eyes met. It was just as the line of soldiers passed.
Those of the elder lighted with a sudden spark of mingled triumph and hate,
those of the younger flashed back for a moment and then fell beneath
the elder's gaze. There was much enthusiasm about the war,
and among others, both of the Mills boys enlisted before the day was ended,
their sister going in with them to the room where their names were entered
on the roll, and coming out with flashing eyes and mantling cheeks.
She left the place earlier than most of the crowd, but not until
after the drill was over and some of the young soldiers had gone home.
The Mills boys' enlistment was set down in the district to Vashti,
and some said it was because she was jealous of Little Darby
being at the end of the company, with a new gun and such a fine uniform;
for her hatred of Little Darby was well known; anyhow,
their example was followed, and in a short time nearly all the young men
in the district had enlisted.
At last one night a summons came for the company to assemble
at the Cross-roads next day with arms and equipment. Orders had come
for them to report at once at the capital of the State for drill,
before being sent into the field to repel a force which, report said,
was already on the way to invade the State. There was the greatest excitement
and enthusiasm. This was war! And everyone was ready to meet it.
The day was given to taking an inventory of arms and equipment,
and then there was a drill, and then the company was dismissed for the night,
as many of them had families of whom they had not taken leave,
and as they had not come that day prepared to leave, and were ordered
to join the commander next day, prepared to march.
Little Darby escorted his mother home, taciturn as ever. At first there was
quite a company; but as they went their several ways to their home,
at last Little Darby and his mother were left alone in the piney path,
and made the last part of their way alone. Now and then the old woman's eyes
were on him, and often his eyes were on her, but they did not speak;
they just walked on in silence till they reached home.
It was but a poor, little house even when the wistaria vine covered it,
wall and roof, and the bees hummed among its clusters of violet blossoms;
but now the wistaria bush was only a tangle of twisted wires hung upon it,
and the little weather-stained cabin looked bare and poor enough.
As the young fellow stood in the door looking out with the evening light
upon him, his tall, straight figure filled it as if it had been a frame.
He stood perfectly motionless for some minutes, gazing across
the gum thickets before him.
The sun had set only about a half-hour and the light was still lingering
on the under edges of the clouds in the west and made a sort of glow
in the little yard before him, as it did in front of the cabin
on the other hill. His eye first swept the well-known horizon,
taking in the thickets below him and the heavy pines on either side
where it was already dusk, and then rested on the little cabin opposite.
Whether he saw it or not, one could hardly have told,
for his face wore a reminiscent look. Figures moved backward and forward
over there, came out and went in, without his look changing.
Even Vashti, faintly distinguishable in her gay dress,
came out and passed down the hill alone, without his expression changing.
It was, perhaps, fifteen minutes later that he seemed to awake,
and after a look over his shoulder stepped from the door into the yard.
His mother was cooking, and he strolled down the path across
the little clearing and entered the pines. Insensibly his pace quickened --
he strode along the dusky path with as firm a step as if it were
broad daylight. A quarter of a mile below the path crossed the little stream
and joined the path from Cove Mills's place, which he used to take
when he went to school. He crossed at the old log and turned down the path
through the little clearing there. The next moment he stood face to face
with Vashti Mills. Whether he was surprised or not no one could have told,
for he said not a word, and his face was in the shadow,
though Vashti's was toward the clearing and the light from the sky was on it.
Her hat was in her hand. He stood still, but did not stand aside
to let her pass, until she made an imperious little gesture
and stepped as if she would have passed around him. Then he stood aside.
But she did not appear in a hurry to avail herself of the freedom offered,
she simply looked at him. He took off his cap sheepishly enough,
and said, "Good-evenin'."
"Good-evenin'," she said, and then, as the pause became embarrassing,
she said, "Hear you're agoin' away to-morrer?"
"Yes -- to-morrer mornin'."
"When you're acomin' back?" she asked, after a pause
in which she had been twisting the pink string of her hat.
"Don't know -- may be never." Had he been looking at her he might have seen
the change which his words brought to her face; she lifted her eyes
to his face for the first time since the half defiant glance she had given him
when they met, and they had a strange light in them, but at the moment
he was looking at a bow on her dress which had been pulled loose.
He put out his hand and touched it and said:
"You're a-losin' yer bow," and as she found a pin and fastened it again,
he added, "An' I don' know as anybody keers."
An overpowering impulse changed her and forced her to say:
"I don't know as anybody does either; I know as I don't."
The look on his face smote her, and the spark died out of her eyes
as he said, slowly: "No, I knowed you didn'! I don't know as anybody does,
exceptin' my old woman. Maybe she will a little. I jist wanted to tell you
that I wouldn't a' fit them boys if they hadn't a' pushed me so hard,
and I wan't afeared to fight your old man, I jist wouldn't -- that's all."
What answer she might have made to this was prevented by him;
for he suddenly held out his hand with something in it, saying, "Here."
She instinctively reached out to take whatever it was,
and he placed in her hand a book which she recognized as the little Testament
which she had won as a prize at school and had given him when
they went to school together. It was the only book she had ever possessed
as her very own.
"I brought this thinking as how maybe you might 'a'-wanted --
me to keep it," he was going to say; but he checked himself and said:
"might 'a'-wanted it back."
Before she could recover from the surprise of finding the book in her hand
her own, he was gone. The words only came to her clearly
as his retreating footsteps grew fainter and his tall figure faded
in the darkening light. She made a hasty step or two after him,
then checked herself and listened intently to see if he were not returning,
and then, as only the katydids answered, threw herself flat on the ground
and grovelled in the darkness.
There were few houses in the district or in the county where lights did not
burn all that night. The gleam of the fire in Mrs. Stanley's little house
could be seen all night from the door of the Mills cabin,
as the candle by which Mrs. Mills complained while she and Vashti sewed,
could be faintly seen from Little Darby's house. The two Mills boys slept
stretched out on the one bed in the little centre-room.
While the women sewed and talked fitfully by the single tallow candle,
and old Cove dozed in a chair with his long legs stretched out toward the fire
and the two shining barrels of his sons' muskets resting against his knees,
where they had slipped from his hands when he had finished rubbing them.
The younger woman did most of the sewing. Her fingers were suppler
than her mother's, and she scarcely spoke except to answer the latter's
querulous questions. Presently a rooster crowed somewhere in the distance,
and almost immediately another crowed in answer closer at hand.
"Thar's the second rooster-crow, it's gittin' erlong toward the mornin',"
said the elder woman.
The young girl made no answer, but a moment later rose and, laying aside
the thing she was sewing, walked to the low door and stepped out
into the night. When she returned and picked up her sewing again,
her mother said:
"I de-clar, Vashti, you drinks mo' water than anybody I ever see."
To which she made no answer.
"Air they a-stirrin' over at Mis's Stanley's?" asked the mother.
"They ain't a-been to bed," said the girl, quietly; and then,
as if a sudden thought had struck her, she hitched her chair nearer the door
which she had left open, and sat facing it as she sewed on the brown thing
she was working on a small bow which she took from her dress.
"I de-clar, I don't see what old Mis's Stanley is actually a-gwine to do,"
broke out Mrs. Mills, suddenly, and when Vashti did not feel called on
to try to enlighten her she added, "Do you?"
"Same as other folks, I s'pose," said the girl, quietly.
"Other folks has somebody -- somebody to take keer on 'em.
I've got your pappy now; but she ain't got nobody but little Darby --
and when he's gone what will she do?"
For answer Vashti only hitched her chair a little nearer the door
and sewed on almost in darkness. "Not that he was much account to her,
ner to anybody else, except for goin' aroun' a-fightin' and a-fussin'."
"He was account to her," flamed up the girl, suddenly; "he was account to her,
to her and to everybody else. He was the fust soldier that 'listed,
and he's account to everybody."
The old woman had raised her head in astonishment at her daughter's
first outbreak, and was evidently about to reply sharply;
but the girl's flushed face and flashing eyes awed and silenced her.
"Well, well, I ain't sayin' nothin' against him," she said, presently.
"Yes, you air -- you're always sayin' somethin' against him --
and so is everybody else -- and they ain't fitten to tie his shoes.
Why don't they say it to his face! There ain't one of 'em as dares it,
and he's the best soldier in the comp'ny, an' I'm jest as proud of it
as if he was my own."
The old woman was evidently bound to defend herself. She said:
"It don't lay in your mouth to take up for him, Vashti Mills;
for you're the one as has gone up and down and abused him scandalous."
"Yes, and I know I did," said the girl, springing up excitedly
and tossing her arms and tearing at her ribbons. "An' I told him
to his face too, and that's the only good thing about it.
I knowed it was a lie when I told him, and he knowed it was a lie too,
and he knowed I knowed it was a lie -- what's more -- and I'm glad he did --
fo' God I'm glad he did. He could 'a' whipped the whole company
an' he jest wouldn't -- an' that's God's truth -- God's fatal truth."
The next instant she was on her knees hunting for something on the floor,
in an agony of tears; and as her father, aroused by the noise,
rose and asked a question, she sprang up and rushed out of the door.
The sound of an axe was already coming through the darkness
across the gum thickets from Mrs. Stanley's, telling that preparation
was being made for Darby's last breakfast. It might have told more, however,
by its long continuance; for it meant that Little Darby was cutting his mother
a supply of wood to last till his return. Inside, the old woman,
thin and faded, was rubbing his musket.
. . . . .
The sun was just rising above the pines, filling the little bottom
between the cabins with a sort of rosy light, and making
the dewy bushes and weeds sparkle with jewel-strung gossamer webs,
when Little Darby, with his musket in his hand, stepped for the last time
out of the low door. He had been the first soldier in the district to enlist,
he must be on time. He paused just long enough to give one swift glance
around the little clearing, and then set out along the path at his old
swinging pace. At the edge of the pines he turned and glanced back.
His mother was standing in the door, but whether she saw him or not
he could not tell. He waved his hand to her, but she did not wave back,
her eyes were failing somewhat. The next instant he disappeared in the pines.
He had crossed the little stream on the old log and passed the point where
he had met Vashti the evening before, when he thought he heard something fall
a little ahead of him. It could not have been a squirrel,
for it did not move after it fell. His old hunter's instinct
caused him to look keenly down the path as he turned the clump of bushes
which stopped his view; but he saw no squirrel or other moving thing.
The only thing he saw was a little brown something with a curious spot on it
lying in the path some little way ahead. As he came nearer it,
he saw that it was a small parcel not as big as a man's fist.
Someone had evidently dropped it the evening before. He picked it up
and examined it as he strode along. It was a little case or wallet
made of some brown stuff, such as women carry needles and thread in,
and it was tied up with a bit of red, white and blue string,
the Confederate colors, on the end of which was sewed a small bow
of pink ribbon. He untied it. It was what it looked to be:
a roughly made little needle-case such as women use, tolerably well stocked
with sewing materials, and it had something hard and almost square
in a separate pocket. Darby opened this, and his gun almost slipped
from his hand. Inside was the Testament he had given back to Vashti
the evening before. He stopped stock-still, and gazed at it in amazement,
turning it over in his hand. He recognized the bow of pink ribbon
as one like that which she had had on her dress the evening before.
She must have dropped it. Then it came to him that she must have given it
to one of her brothers, and a pang shot through his heart.
But how did it get where he found it? He was too keen a woodsman not to know
that no footstep had gone before his on that path that morning.
It was a mystery too deep for him, and after puzzling over it a while
he tied the parcel up again as nearly like what it had been before
as he could, and determined to give it to one of the Mills boys
when he reached the Cross-roads. He unbuttoned his jacket
and put it into the little inner pocket, and then rebuttoning it carefully,
stepped out again more briskly than before.
It was perhaps an hour later that the Mills boys set out for the Cross-roads.
Their father and mother went with them; but Vashti did not go.
She had "been out to look for the cow," and got in only just before they left,
still clad in her yesterday's finery; but it was wet and bedraggled
with the soaking dew. When they were gone she sat down in the door,
limp and dejected.
More than once during the morning the girl rose and started down the path
as if she would follow them and see the company set out on its march,
but each time she came back and sat down again in the door,
remaining there for a good while as if in thought.
Once she went over almost to Mrs. Stanley's, then turned back
and sat down again.
So the morning passed, and the first thing she knew, her father and mother
had returned. The company had started. They were to march to the bridge
that night. She heard them talking over the appearance that they had made;
the speech of the captain; the cheers that went up as they marched off --
the enthusiasm of the crowd. Her father was in much excitement.
Suddenly she seized her sun-bonnet and slipped out of the house
and across the clearing, and the next instant she was flying down the path
through the pines. She knew the road they had taken, and a path
that would strike it several miles lower down. She ran like a deer,
up hill and down, availing herself of every short cut, until,
about an hour after she started, she came out on the road.
Fortunately for her, the delays incident to getting any body of new troops
on the march had detained the company, and a moment's inspection of the road
showed her that they had not yet passed. Clambering up a bank,
she concealed herself and lay down. In a few moments she heard
the noise they made in the distance, and she was still panting from her haste
when they came along, the soldiers marching in order, as if still on parade,
and a considerable company of friends attending them. Not a man, however,
dreamed that, flat on her face in the bushes, lay a girl peering down at them
with her breath held, but with a heart which beat so loud to her own ears
that she felt they must hear it. Least of all did Darby Stanley,
marching erect and tall in front, for all the sore heart in his bosom,
know that her eyes were on him as long as she could see him.
When Vashti brought up the cow that night it was later than usual.
It perhaps was fortunate for her that the change made by the absence
of the boys prevented any questioning. After all the excitement
her mother was in a fit of despondency. Her father sat in the door
looking straight before him, as silent as the pine on which
his vacant gaze was fixed. Even when the little cooking they had
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