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Ailsa Paige by Robert W. Chambers

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I ever saw there ever came into Dr. Benton's office.
The idea of that often frightens me. But nobody has
come. And I sometimes do go out with Dr. Benton.
He is instructing a class of ladies in the principles of
hospital nursing, and lately I have gone with him to hold
things for him while he demonstrates. And once, when
he was called away suddenly, I remained with the class
alone, and I was not very nervous, and I answered all
their questions for them and showed them how things
ought to be done. They were _so_ kind to me; and one
very lovely girl came to me afterward and thanked me
and said that she, too, had worked a little as a nurse for
charity, and asked me to call on her.

"I was so silly--do you know I couldn't see her for
the tears, and I couldn't speak--and I couldn't let go
of her hands. I wanted to kiss them, but I was ashamed.

"Some day do you think I might see you again? I
am what you have asked me to be. I never wanted to be
anything else. They will not believe that at home because
they had warned me, and I was such a fool--and perhaps
you won't believe me--but I _didn't_ know what I
was doing; I didn't want to be what I became--This is
really true, Mr. Berkley. Sometime may I see you
again?
Yours sincerely,
"LETITIA A. LYNDEN."

He had replied that he would see her some day, meaning not to do
so. And there it had rested; and there, stretched on his sofa, he
rested, the sneer still edging his lips, not for her but for
himself.

"She'd have made some respectable man a good--mistress," he said.
"Here is a most excellent mistress, spoiled, to make a common-place
nurse! . . . _Gaude! Maria Virgo; gaudent proenomine molles
auriculoe. . . . Gratis poenitet esse probum_. Burgess!"

"Sir?"

"What the devil are you scratching for outside my door?"

"A letter, sir."

"Shove it under, and let me alone."

The letter appeared, cautiously inserted under the door, and lay
there very white on the floor. He eyed it, scowling, without
curiosity, turned over, and presently became absorbed in the book
he had been reading:

"Zarathustra asked Ahura-Mazda: 'Heavenly, Holiest, Pure, when a
pure man dies where does his soul dwell during that night?'

"Then answered Ahura-Mazda: 'Near his head it sits itself down. On
this night his soul sees as much joy as the living world possesses.'

"And Zarathustra asked: 'Where dwells the soul throughout the
second night after the body's death?'

"Then answered Ahura-Mazda: 'Near to his head it sits itself down.'

"Zarathustra spake: 'Where stays the soul of a pure roan throughout
the third night, O Heavenly, Holiest, Pure?'

"And thus answered Ahura-Mazda, Purest, Heavenly: 'When the Third
Night turns Itself to Light, the soul arises and goes forward; and
a wind blows to meet it; a sweet-scented one, more sweet-scented
than other winds.'

"And in that wind there cometh to meet him His Own Law in the body
of a maid, one beautiful, shining, with shining arms; one powerful,
well-grown, slender, with praiseworthy body; one noble, with
brilliant face, as fair in body as the loveliest.

"And to her speaks the soul of the pure man, questioning her who
she might truly be. And thus replies to him His Own Law, shining,
dove-eyed, loveliest: 'I am thy thoughts and works; I am thine own
Law of thine own Self. Thou art like me, and I am like thee in
goodness, in beauty, in all that I appear to thee. Beloved, come!'

"And the soul of the pure man takes one step and is in the First
Paradise, Humata; and takes a second step, and is in the Second
Paradise, Hukhta; and takes a third step, and is in the Third
Paradise, Hvarsta.

"And takes one last step into the Eternal Lights for ever."

His haggard eyes were still fixed vacantly on the printed page, but
he saw nothing now. Something in the still air of the room had
arrested his attention--something faintly fresh--an evanescent hint
of perfume.

Suddenly the blood surged up in his face; he half rose, turned
where he lay and looked back at the letter on the floor. "Damn
it," he said. And rising heavily, he went to it, picked it up, and
broke the scented seal.

"Will you misunderstand me, Mr. Berkley? They say that the pages
of friendship are covered with records of misunderstandings.

"We _were_ friends. Can it not be so again? I have thought so
long and so steadily about it that I no longer exactly know whether
I may venture to write to you or whether the only thing decently
left me is silence, which for the second time I am breaking now,
because I cannot believe that I offered my friendship to such a man
as you have said you are. It is not in any woman to do it.
Perhaps it is self-respect that protests, repudiates, denies what
you have said to me of yourself; and perhaps it is a sentiment less
austere. I can no longer judge.

"And now that I have the courage--or effrontery--to write you once
more, will you misconstrue my letter--and my motive? If I cannot
be reconciled to what I hear of you--if what I hear pains,
frightens me out of a justifiable silence which perhaps you might
respect, will you respect my motive for breaking it the less? I do
not know. But the silence is now broken, and I must endure the
consequences.

"Deep unhappiness I have never known; but I recognise it in others
when I see it, and would aid always if I could. Try to understand
me.

"But despair terrifies me--I who never have known it--and I do not
understand how to meet it, how to cope with it in others, what to
say or do. Yet I would help if help is possible. Is it?

"I think you have always thought me immature, young in experience,
negligible as to wisdom, of an intellectual capacity
inconsequential.

"These are the facts: I was married when I was very young, and I
have known little of such happiness; but I have met sorrow and have
conquered it, and I have seen bitter hours, and have overcome them,
and I have been tempted, and have prevailed. Have you done these
things?

"As for wisdom, if it comes only with years, then I have everything
yet to learn. Yet it seems to me that in the charity wards of
hospitals, in the city prisons, in the infirmary, the asylum--even
the too brief time spent there has taught me something of human
frailty and human sorrow. And if I am right or wrong, I do not
know, but to me sin has always seemed mostly a sickness of the
mind. And it is a shame to endure it or to harshly punish it if
there be a cure. And if this is so, what you may have done, and
what others may have done to you, cannot be final.

"My letter is longer than I meant it, but I had a great need to
speak to you. If you still think well of me, answer me. Answer in
the way it pleases you best. But answer--if you still think well
of me.

"AILSA PAIGE."

A touch of rose still tinted the sky overhead, but already the lamp
lighters were illuminating the street lamps as he came to London
Terrace--that quaint stretch of old-time houses set back from the
street, solemnly windowed, roofed, and pilastered; decorously
screened behind green trees and flowering bushes ringed by little
lawns of emerald.

For a moment, after entering the iron gateway and mounting the
steps, he stood looking up at her abode. Overhead the silken folds
of the flag hung motionless in the calm evening air; and all the
place about him was sweet with the scent of bridal-wreath and early
iris.

Then, at his tardy summons, the door of her house opened to him.
He went in and stood in the faded drawing-room, where the damask
curtain folds were drawn against the primrose dusk and a single
light glimmered like a star high among the pendant prisms of the
chandelier.

Later a servant came and gave the room more light. Then he waited
for a long while. And at last she entered.

Her hands were cold--he noticed it as the fingers touched his,
briefly, and were withdrawn. She had scarcely glanced at him, and
she had not yet uttered a word when they were seated. It lay with
him, entirely, so far.

"What a lazy hound I have been," he said, smiling; "I have no
excuses to save my hide--no dogs ever have. Are you well, Ailsa?"

She made the effort: "Yes, perfectly. I fear--" Her eyes rested on
his marred and haggard face; she said no more because she could not.

He made, leisurely, all proper and formal inquiries concerning the
Craigs and those he had met there, mentioned pleasantly his changed
fortunes; spoke of impending and passing events, of the war, of the
movement of troops, of the chances for a battle, which the papers
declared was imminent.

Old Jonas shuffled in with the Madeira and a decanter of brandy, it
being now nearly eight o'clock.

Later, while Berkley was still carelessly bearing the burden of
conversation, the clock struck nine times; and in another
incredibly brief interval, it struck ten.

He started to rise, and encountered her swiftly lifted eyes. And a
flush grew and deepened on his face, and he resumed his place in
silence. When again he was seated she drew, unconsciously, a long,
deep breath, and inclined her head to listen. But Berkley had no
more to say to her--and much that he must not say to her. And she
waited a long while, eyes bent steadily on the velvet carpet at her
feet.

The silence endured too long; she knew it, but could not yet break
it, or the spell which cradled her tired heart, or the blessed
surcease from the weariness of waiting.

Yet the silence was lasting too long, and must be broken quickly.

She looked up, startled, as he rose to take his leave. It was the
only way, now, and she knew it. And, oh, the time had sped too
fast for her, and her heart failed her for all the things that
remained unsaid--all the kindness she had meant to give him, all
the counsel, the courage, the deep sympathy, the deeper friendship.

But her hand lay limply, coldly in his; her lips were mute,
tremulously curving; her eyes asked nothing more.

"Good night, Ailsa."

"Good night."

There was colour, still, in his marred young face, grace, still, in
his body, in the slightly lowered head as he looked down at her.

"I must not come again, Ailsa."

Then her pulses died. "Why?"

"Because--I am afraid to love you."

It did not seem that she even breathed, so deathly still she stood.

"Is that---your reason?"

"Yes. I have no right to love you."

She could scarcely speak. "Is--friendship not enough, Mr. Berkley?"

"It is too late for friendship. You know it."

"That cannot be."

"Why, Ailsa?"

"Because it is friendship--mistaken friendship that moves you now
in every word you say." She raised her candid gaze. "Is there no
end to your self-murder? Do you still wish to slay yourself before
my very eyes?"

"I tell you that there is nothing good left living in me:

"And if it were true; did you never hear of a resurrection?"

"I--warn you!"

"I hear your warning."

"You dare let me love you?"

Dry-lipped, voices half stifled by their mounting emotion, they
stood closely confronted, paling under the effort of self-mastery.
And his was giving way, threatening hers with every breath.

Suddenly in his altered face she saw what frightened her, and her
hand suddenly closed in his; but he held it imprisoned.

"Answer me, Ailsa!"

"Please--" she said--"if you will let me go--I will answer--you----"

"What?"

"What you--ask."

Her breath was coming faster; her face, now white as a flower, now
flushed, swam before him. Through the surging passion enveloping
him he heard her voice as at a distance:

"If you will--let me go--I can tell you----"

"Tell me now!"

"Not--this way. . . . How can you care for me if----

"I warned you, Ailsa! I told you that I am unfit to love you. No
woman could ever marry _me_! No woman could even love me if she
knew what I am! You understood that. I told you. And now--good
God!--I'm telling you I love you--I can't let you go!--your
hands:--the sweetness of them--the----"

"I--oh, it must not be--this way----"

"It _is_ this way!"

"I know--but please try to help.--I--I am not afraid to--love
you------"

Her slender figure trembled against him; the warmth of her set him
afire. There was a scent of tears in her breath--a fragrance as
her body relaxed, yielded, embraced; her hands, her lids, her:
hair, her mouth, all his now, for the taking, as he took her into
his arms. But he only stared down at what lay there; and,
trembling, breathless, her eyes unclosed and she looked up blindly
into his flushed face.

"Because I--love you," she sighed, "I believe in all that--that I
have--never--seen--in you."

He looked back into her eyes, steadily:

"I am going mad over you, Ailsa. There is only destruction for you
in that madness. . . . Shall I let you go?"

"W-what?"

But the white passion in his face was enough; and, involuntarily
her lids shut it out. But she did not stir.

"I--warned you," he said again.

"I know. . . . Is it in you to--destroy--me?"

"God knows. . . . Yes, it is."

She scarcely breathed; only their hearts battled there in silence.
Then he said harshly:

"What else is there for us? You would not marry me."

"Ask me."

"You would not marry me if I told you----"

"What?"

"I will _not_ tell you!"

"Are you--married?"

"No!"

"Then _tell_ me!"

"G-od! _No_! I can't throw _this_ hour away. I can't throw love
away! I want you anyway--if you have the--courage!"

"Tell me. I promise to marry you anyway. I promise it, whatever
you are! Tell me."

"I--" An ugly red-stained neck and forehead; his embrace suddenly
hurt her so that she cried out faintly, but her hand closed on his.

"Tell me, tell me, _tell_ me!" she pleaded; "I know you are half
crazed by something--some dreadful thing that has been done to
you--" and ceased, appalled at the distorted visage he turned on
her. His arms relaxed and fell away from her.

Released, she stood swaying as though stunned, pressed both hands
to her eyes, then let her arms fall, inert.

For a moment they confronted one another; then he straightened up,
squared his shoulders with a laugh that terrified her.

"No," he said, "I _won't_ tell you! You go on caring for me. I'm
beast enough to let you. Go on caring! Love me--if you're brave
enough. . . . And I warn you now that I love you, and I don't care
a damn how I do it! . . . Now you _are_ frightened! . . . Very
well--I----"

He swayed a little, swung blindly on his heel, and lurched out into
the hall.

Mechanically she followed, halting in the doorway and resting
against it, for it seemed as though her knees were giving way.

"Is that--to be the--end?" she whispered.

He turned and came swiftly back, took her in his arms, crushed her
to him, kissed her lips again and again, fiercely.

"The end will be when you make an end," he said. "Make it now or
never!"

His heart was beating violently against hers; her head had fallen a
little back, lips slightly parted, unresponsive under his kiss, yet
enduring--and at last burning and trembling to the verge of
response----

And suddenly, passion-swept, breathless, she felt her self-control
going, and she opened her eyes, saw hell in his, tore herself from
his arms, and shrank, trembling, against the wall. He turned
stupidly and opened the door, making his way out into the night.
But she did not see him, for her burning face was hidden in her
hands.

Drunk as though drugged, the echoes of passion still stirred his
darker self, and his whirling thoughts pierced his heart like
names, whispering, urging him to go back and complete the
destruction he had begun--take her once more into his arms and keep
her there through life, through death, till the bones of the
blessed and the damned alike stirred in their graves at the last
reveille.

To know that she, too, had been fighting herself--that she, too,
feared passion, stirred every brutal fibre in him to a fiercer
recklessness that halted him in his tracks under the calm stars.
But what held him there was something else, perhaps what he
believed had died in him; for he did not even turn again. And at
last, through the dark and throbbing silence he moved on again at
random, jaws set.

The mental strain was beginning to distort everything. Once or
twice he laughed all to himself, nodding mysteriously, his tense
white face stamped with a ghastly grimace of self-contempt. Then
an infernal, mocking curiosity stirred him:

What kind of a thing _was_ he anyway? A moment since he had loosed
the brute in himself, leaving it to her to re-chain or let it carry
her with him to destruction. And yet he was too fastidious to
marry her under false pretences!

"Gods of Laughter! What in hell--what sort of thing am I?" he
asked aloud, and lurched on, muttering insanely to himself,
laughing, talking under his breath, hearing nothing, seeing nothing
but her wistful eyes, gazing sorrowfully out of the night.

At a dark crossing he ran blindly into a moving horse; was pushed
aside by its cloaked rider with a curse; stood dazed, while his
senses slowly returned--first, hearing--and his ears were filled
with the hollow trample of many horses; then vision, and in the
dark street before him he saw the column of shadowy horsemen riding
slowly in fours, knee to knee, starlight sparkling on spur and bit
and sabre guard.

Officers walked their lean horses beside the column. One among
them drew bridle near him, calling out:

"Have you the right time?"

Berkley looked at his watch.

"Midnight."

"Thank you, friend."

Berkley stepped to the curb-stone: "What regiment is that?"

"Eighth New York."

"Leaving?"

"Going into camp. Yorkville."

Berkley said: "Do you want a damned fool?"

"The companies are full of fools. . . . We can stand a few
first-class men. Come up to camp to-morrow, friend. If you can
pass the surgeons I guess it will be all right."

And he prodded his tired horse forward along the slowly moving
column of fours.

CHAPTER X

Her hatred and horror of him gave her no peace. Angry, incensed,
at moments almost beside herself with grief and shame and
self-contempt, she awaited the letter which he must write--the
humble and hopeless effort for pardon which she never, never would
answer or even in her own soul grant.

Day after day she brooded, intent, obsessed, fiercely pondering his
obliteration.

But no letter came.

No letter came that week, nor Monday, nor at the end of the next
week, nor the beginning of the next.

Wrath, at night, had dried her eyes where she lay crying in her
humiliation; wrath diminished as the days passed; scorn became less
rigid, anger grew tremulous. Then what was lurking near her
pillow lifted a pallid head. Fear!

She waited. Wrath died, scorn died; there was not enough to dry
her tears at night--a deeper, more hopeless humiliation had become
the shame of forgiving him, of loneliness without him, of waiting
for his letter, heart sick--his letter that never came.

Letter after letter to him she destroyed, and fell ill of the
tension, or perhaps of a heavy cold caught in the rain where she
had walked for hours, aimlessly, unable to bear her longing and her
desolation.

Dr. Benton attended her; the pretty volunteer nurse came to sit
with her during convalescence.

The third week in June she was physically well enough to dress and
go about the house. And on that day she came to her shameful
decision.

She wrote him, waited a dreary week for an answer; wrote him again,
waited two weeks; wrote him a third and last letter. No answer
came. And she went dully about the task of forgetting.

About the middle of July she heard from Stephen that Berkley had
enlisted in one of the new unattached cavalry companies, but which
one he did not know. Also she learned that the 3rd Zouaves had
their marching orders and would probably come to the city to
receive their colours. Later she heard from the mayor, the common
council, and from Major Lent; and prepared for the ceremony.

The ceremony was prettily impressive; Ailsa, Mrs. Craig, her
daughters, Paige and Marye, and Camilla Lent wearing a bell button
from Stephen's zouave jacket, stood on the lawn in front of Ailsa's
house, escorted by Colonel Arran who had returned from Washington,
with his commission, by the mayor of the city, and several
red-faced, fat-paunched gentlemen of the common council, and by a
young officer, Captain Hallam, who stood behind Ailsa and seemed
unable to keep his handsome eyes off her.

Twenty-third Street was packed solid with people and all aflutter
with flags under the July sun when the distant strains of military
music and blue lines of police heralded the coming of the 3rd
Zouaves.

Band crashing, raw, gray horses of field and staff-officers
dancing, the regiment came swinging down the wide stony street,--a
torrent of red and gold, a broad shaft of silvery bayonets;--and
halted facing the group of ladies and officials.

Celia Craig looked down at her husband where he sat his great gray
horse. Their last good-bye had already been said; he sat erect,
calm, gazing quietly up at her through his gold-rimmed eye-glasses;
from his blue sleeves' edge to the points of his shoulders
glittered in twisted gold the six-fold arabesques of his rank.

The roar of cheers was dying away now; a girlish figure in white
had moved forward to the edge of the lawn, carrying two standards
in her arms, and her voice was very clear and sweet and perfectly
audible to everybody;

"Colonel Craig, officers, and soldiers of the 3rd New York Zouaves;
the ladies of the Church of Sainte Ursula have requested me, in
their name, to present to you this set of colours. God guard them
and you!

"Remember that, although these flags are now yours, they still
remain ours. Your cause is ours. Your vows our vows. Your
loyalty to God and country is part of our loyalty to God, to
country, and to you."

She stood silent, pensive a moment; then stretched out her arms, a
flag in either hand; and the Colonel rode straight up to where she
stood, took the silken colours and handed them to the two
colour-sergeants. Then, while an orderly advanced to the head of
his horse, Colonel Craig dismounted and quietly ascended the steps
beside the little group of ladies and city officials:

"On behalf of the officers and men of the 3rd New York Zouaves," he
said, "I thank you. We are grateful. I think that we all mean to
do our best.

"If we cannot, in the hour of trial, do all that is expected of us,
we will do all that is in us to do.

"It is very easy to dress a thousand men in uniform, and invest
them with the surroundings of military life; but it is not thus
alone that soldiers are made. It is only discipline; regular
steady, rigid discipline--that forms a soldier to be relied upon in
the hour of need.

"At present we are only recruits. So I ask, in justice to the
regiment, that you will not demand too much of us in the beginning.
We desire to learn; we desire most earnestly to deserve your
confidence. I can only say that we will try to prove ourselves not
unworthy guardians of these flags you have given us."

He bowed, turned to go, swung around sharply and looked at his wife.

"Good-bye, my darling," he said under his breath; and the nest
moment he was in the saddle.

All the rest that Ailsa recollected distinctly was the deafening
outcrash of military music, the sustained cheering, the clatter of
hoofs, the moving column of red and gold--and Celia, standing there
under the July sun, her daughters' hands in hers.

So the 3rd Zouaves marched gaily away under their new silk flags to
their transport at Pier No. 3, North River. But the next day
another regiment received its colours and went, and every day or so
more regiments departed with their brand-new colours; and after a
little only friends and relatives remembered the 3rd Zouaves, and
what was their colonel's name.

By the middle of July the transformation of the metropolis from a
city into a vast military carnival was complete. Gaudy uniforms
were no longer the exception; a madness for fantastic brilliancy
seized the people; soldiers in all kinds of colours and all kinds
of dress filled the streets. Hotels, shops, ferry-boats, stages,
cars, swarmed with undisciplined troops of all arms of the service,
clad in every sort of extravagant uniforms. Except for the more
severe state uniform and the rarer uniform of National troops,
eccentric costumes were the rule. It was a carnival of military
absurdity. Regiments were continually entering the city, regiments
were continually leaving it; regiments in transit disembarked
overnight only to resume the southward journey by steamer or train;
regiments in camp and barrack were completing organisation and
being mustered in by United States officers. Gorgeous regiments
paraded for inspection, for drill, for the reception of state and
regimental colours; three-month troops were returning, bands madly
playing; two- and three-year regiments leaving, drums beating
frantically.

The bewildering variety of cut and colour in the uniforms of this
vast army, which was being made to order, had been, in a measure,
rendered comparatively homogeneous by the adoption of the
regulation blue overcoat, but many a regiment wore its own pattern
of overcoat, many a regiment went forward in civilian attire,
without arms and equipment, on the assurance that these details
were to be supplied in Washington.

The dress of almost every foreign army in Europe was represented
among the regiments forming or in transit. The 79th Highlanders,
it is true, discarded kilt and bagpipe on the eve of departure,
marching in blouse and cap and breeks of army blue; but the 14th.
Brooklyn departed in red cap and red breeches, the 1st and 2d Fire
Zouaves discarded the Turkish fez only; the 5th, 9th, 10th Zouaves
marched wearing fez and turban; and bizarre voltigeurs, foot
chasseurs, hussars, lancers, rocket batteries in costume de
fantasie poured southward,--no two regiments equipped and armed
alike.

The city remained in painful suspense concerning its raw,
multicoloured, and undisciplined army. Every few days arose
rumours of a great battle fought on Virginia soil, corroborated by
extras, denied next morning. During the last half of July such
reports had been current daily, tightening the tension, frightening
parents, wives, and sweethearts. Recent armed affrays had been
called battles; the dead zouaves at Big Bethel, a dead trooper at
Alexandria sobered and silenced the street cheering. Yet, what a
real battle might be, nobody really comprehended or even surmised.

To Ailsa Paige June and July passed like fevered dreams; the brief
sweet spring had suddenly turned into summer in a single day--a
strange, stifling, menacing summer full of heavy little
thunder-storms which rolled crackling and banging up the Hudson
amid vivid electric displays, leaving no coolness behind their
trailing wake of rain.

Society was lingering late in town--if the few nebulous,
unorganised, and scattered social groups could be called
society--small coteries drawn temporarily together through accident
of environment, inherited family acquaintance, traditional,
material, or religious interest, and sometimes by haphazard
intellectual compatibility.

In the city, and in Ailsa's little world, the simple social routine
centring in Sainte Ursula's and the Assembly in winter, and in Long
Branch and Saratoga in summer, had been utterly disorganised. Very
few of her friends had yet left for the country; nor had she made
any arrangements for this strange, unreal summer, partly because,
driven to find relief from memory in occupation, she was devoting
herself very seriously to the medical instruction under Dr. Benton;
partly because she did not consider it a fitting time to seek the
coolness and luxury of inland spa or seaside pier.

Colonel Arran had brought back with him from Washington a Captain
Hallam, a handsome youngster who wore his cavalry uniform to
perfection and who had become instantly attentive to Ailsa,--so
attentive that before she realised it he was a regular visitor at
her house, appropriating the same chair that Berkley always
had--Berkley!----

At the memory she closed her eyes instinctively. The wound
throbbed,

"What is the matter, Mrs. Paige?" inquired Captain Hallam
anxiously. "Are you faint?"

She opened her eyes and smiled in pretence of surprise at such a
question; and Hallam muttered: "I thought you seemed rather pale
all of a sudden." Then he brightened up and went gaily on with
what he had been saying:

"We've got nine full companies already, and the 10th, K, is an
independent company which we're taking in to complete our
organisation. Colonel Arran and I stopped in Philadelphia to
inspect Colonel Rush's regiment of lancers--the 6th Pennsylvania
Cavalry--because the French officers on McClellan's staff have put
it into his head that he needs lancers----"

"Is Colonel Arran's regiment to carry lances?" interrupted Ailsa in
surprise.

Hallam nodded, laughing: "We recruited as light cavalry, armed with
sabre and pistol, but General McClellan has ordered that we carry
the lance in addition. The department had none to issue until the
foreign samples arrived. We are ordered to carry a lance of the
Austrian pattern, nine feet long with an eleven-inch, three-edged
blade; the staff of Norway fir about an inch and a quarter through,
with ferrule and counter poise at the heel. Do I make myself
clear, Mrs. Paige?"

Ailsa, thinking of Berkley, flushed slightly and nodded.

"There'll be a scarlet swallow-tailed pennon on the end just below
the blade point. The whole affair will weigh about five pounds,"
concluded Hallam, rising to take his leave; "and I've got to be off
to camp."

"Must you go, Captain Hallam?"

"I really must. That K Company is due in camp this evening, and I
expect our uniforms and equipments will be delivered in the
morning. Are you coming to see us off, Mrs. Paige?"

"When do you go? Colonel Arran said nothing about going."

"Oh, I expect we'll be on our way before very long. We are not in
the best of shape yet; that's not to be expected. But there's a
sad lack of cavalry in Washington, and they may want us to go
whether we're ready or not. They sent off a regiment that had
neither arms nor uniforms and couldn't even keep step, the other
day. I've an idea we are going pretty soon." He took Ailsa's
offered hand, looked at her a little earnestly, smiled in
self-satisfaction, and went his way.

Later in the week he came back for a few moments; and all through
the week he continued to come back for a few moments whenever he
had an hour's leave.

And every time he took his leave his smile became less nervous and
more confident.

She was very unhappy; devotion to Dr. Benton's class helped;
devotion to Celia in her brief visits to Brooklyn helped, too;
devotion to others, to prayer, all helped as long as it was
devotion of some sort.

And now this young, blue-eyed, blonde-haired fellow was on the edge
of offering to devote himself to her. She knew it, wondered
whether this was her refuge from care. And when he did, at last,
she was quietly prepared to answer.

"Captain Hallam," she said slowly, "I _do_ like you. I don't know
whether I could ever learn to love you. I am not very happy; it
might influence my judgment. If you are willing to wait until I
know more about myself----"

Oh, he _would_ wait! Certainly. Meanwhile would she wear his
ring--not exactly an engagement--unless she was willing--but----

She hesitated. Lonelier than she had ever been in all her life, no
longer self-sufficient, wistfully hopeless, needing to devote
herself absolutely to something or somebody, she hesitated. But
that evening when Hallam came with his ring she could not bring
herself to accept what she now seemed to be most deeply in need
of--the warm, eager, complacent affection that he laid at her feet.
She was not yet able--could not; and the desolate memories of
Berkley set the wound aching anew. . . . No, she could promise
nothing to this young fellow--nothing yet. . . . Perhaps, in the
future--as time passed--she might venture to wear his ring, and see
what happened to her. But she would not promise--she would not
talk of marrying him. . . . And cried herself to sleep over the
memory of Berkley, and his vileness, and his heartless wickedness,
and his ignoble love that had left her so ashamed, so humiliated,
so cruelly crushed for ever. And all night long she dreamed of
Berkley and of his blessed nearness; and the sweetness of her dream
troubled her profoundly. She sat up, still asleep, her straining
throat whispering his name, her arms outstretched, blindly
searching the darkness for him, until suddenly awake, she realised
what she was doing, and dropped back among her pillows.

All that day the city was filled with rumours of a great battle
fought in Virginia. The morning's papers hailed it with triumphant
head-lines and columns of praise and thanksgiving for a great
victory won. But at night the stunned city knew that Bull Run had
been fought and lost, and the Confederacy was at the gates of
Washington.

CHAPTER XI

In a city where thousands and thousands of women were now
organising relief work for the troops already in the field, Ailsa
Paige had been among the earliest to respond to the call for a
meeting at the Church of the Puritans. Here she had left her name
for enrolment with Mrs. Gerard Stuyvesant.

Later, with Mrs. Marquand, Mrs. Aspinwall, Mrs. Astor, and Mrs.
Hamilton Fish, and a hundred others, she had signed the call for
the great mass-meeting; had acted on one of the subcommittees
chosen from among the three thousand ladies gathered at the
Institute; had served with Mrs. Schuyler on the board of the
Central Relief Association; had been present at the inception of
the Sanitary Commission and its adjunct, the Allotment Commission;
had contributed to the Christian Commission, six thousand of whose
delegates were destined to double the efficiency of the armies of
the Union.

Then Sainte Ursula's Sisterhood, organised for field as well as
hospital service, demanded all her energies. It was to be an
emergency corps; she had hesitated to answer the call, hesitated to
enroll for this rougher service, and, troubled, had sought counsel
from Mr. Dodge and Mr. Bronson of the Allotment Commission, and
from Dr. Agnew of the Sanitary Commission.

Dr. Agnew wrote to Dr. Benton:

"Mrs. Paige is a very charming and very sweet little lady,
excellently equipped by experience to take the field with Sainte
Ursula's Sisterhood, but self-distrustful and afraid of her own
behaviour on a battle-field where the emergency corps might be
under fire. In _this_ sort of woman I have every confidence."

The next day Ailsa enrolled; arranged her household affairs so that
she could answer any summons at a few hours' notice; and went to
bed dead tired, and slept badly, dreaming of dead men. The morning
sun found her pale and depressed. She had decided to destroy
Berkley's letters. She burned all, except one; then went to her
class work.

Dr. Benton's class was very busy that morning, experimenting on the
doctor's young assistant with bandages, ligatures, lint, and
splints. Letty, wearing only her underclothes, lay on the
operating table, her cheek resting on her bared arm, watching Ailsa
setting a supposed compound fracture of the leg, and, at intervals,
quietly suggesting the proper methods.

Autumn sunshine poured through the windows gilding the soft gray
garb of Sainte Ursula's nursing sisterhood which all now wore on
duty.

The girl on the table lay very still, now and then directing or
gently criticising the well-intended operations on limb and body.
And after the allotted half hour had struck, she sat up, smiling at
Ailsa, and, slipping to the floor, dressed rapidly, talking all the
while in her pretty, gentle way about bandages and bones and
fractures and dislocations.

A few minutes after she had completed dressing and was standing
before the glass, smoothing the dark, silky masses of her hair, Dr.
Benton arrived, absent-eyed, preoccupied at first, then in a
fidgety humour which indicated something was about to happen. It
happened.

"Could any lady get ready in time to take the noon train for
Washington?" he asked abruptly.

There was a startled silence; the call had come at last.

Mrs. Rutherford said quietly: "I will go. But I must see my
husband and children first. I could be ready by to-morrow, if that
will do."

Another--a young girl--said: "I could not leave my mother at an
hour's notice. She is ill. Would tomorrow do, Dr. Benton?"

"I--think I can go to-day," said Ailsa in a low voice.

"Our quota is to be two nurses," said the doctor. But no other
lady could possibly leave before the morrow; and it was, after all,
scarcely fair to expect it of women with families to be provided
for and home responsibilities to be arranged.

"I could go to-day--if I may be permitted," said the doctor's young
assistant, timidly.

He swung around and scowled at her, lips compressed, eyes gleaming
through his spectacles:

"You are not asked to go, Miss Lynden."

"I--thought----"

"Do you want to go?"

"If Mrs. Paige is going--alone----"

Ailsa looked at her, gratefully surprised, but smiled her thanks.

"If Miss Lynden may come, Dr. Benton, I would be very glad. May
she?"

"Miss Lynden is not a member of Sainte Ursula's congregation," he
said drily. "She's my--rather valuable--assistant."

"She has been to church with me several times," said Ailsa. "I
have spoken to her about becoming a communicant of Sainte Ursula's,
and she desired to begin her instruction in October----"

"But, confound it!--I want her with me!" interrupted the doctor
impatiently. "My house and office require the services of Miss
Lynden!" He turned and paced the room rapidly, hands clasped
behind his bent back; then, halting:

"Do you _want_ to go?" he repeated.

The girl coloured. "You are very kind to wish me to remain. . . .
But I feel as though Mrs. Paige should not go alone."

"Oh, all right," said the doctor gruffly. "And you'd better start
at once; that train leaves at mid-day." And, turning to his class:
"Now, ladies, if you will kindly put away those rags and give me
your strict and undivided attention!"--his voice rumbled off into a
growl.

Ailsa was already putting on her hat. Presently Letty Lynden came
out of the inner office, carrying a light scarf over her arm. She
and Ailsa bade a hasty and excited good-bye to the ladies of the
class; thanked Dr. Benton; listened solemnly to instructions;
promised to obey; and gave him tremulous hands in leave taking.

"If those ungrateful dogs of soldiers don't appreciate you two
young ladies, come home on the next train, where you'll be
appreciated," grumbled the doctor. "Anyway, God bless you both.
And don't drink dirty water! And keep your patients clean! Keep
'em clean! clean! clean! I've a notion that cleanness is
nine-tenths of surgery; and it's all there is to nursing--but few
agree with me. Good-bye! Tell Agnew I say that you know your
business!"

Ailsa turned to Letty Lynden.

"It is so sweet of you to want to come. Will you send your trunk
to my house? I will have luncheon ready, and another gray uniform
for you. You'll be a communicant soon, so there is no possible
harm in wearing it."

"I would like to wear Sainte Ursula's garb," said the girl
wistfully. "Do you really think I may, Mrs. Paige?"

"You shall indeed! Will you be ready by eleven?"

"I have very little to take with me--only a small trunk. I will be
at your house at eleven."

Ailsa, nervous and excited, nodded; the suddenness of departure was
beginning to stimulate her. She walked rapidly home, summoned the
servants, interviewed the house-keeper, sat down and drew necessary
checks to cover a month's absence; sent hurried notes to Celia, to
Camilla, to Colonel Arran, to Captain Hallam; dispatched a servant
to find a hack, another to pack for her, another to serve her
something to eat.

The household below stairs was inclined to tears; old Jonas
sniffled and shuffled about, shrunken hands hanging helpless, mild
eyes following his young mistress as she moved decisively from room
to room, gathering up or indicating to servants what she required
for her journey.

Shawls, handbags, umbrellas, cloaks, and trunk were packed and
strapped and carried off below. Letty arrived with her trunk, was
taken to Ailsa's room where luncheon for two was ready on a big
silver tray.

Later Jonas arrived, still sniffling, to announce the hack; and the
two gray-garbed women hurried away amid the hysterical snivel of
servants and the friendly mewing of Missy, who trotted after them
to the front door, tail erect, followed by her latest progeny on
diminutive and wavering legs.

All the way to the ferry Ailsa sat silent in her corner of the
hack, worried, reflecting, trying to recollect what it was that she
had left undone.

_Something_ important she certainly had forgotten; she knew it,
searching her mind, while Letty furtively watched her in silence,
gloved hands clasped in her lap.

And suddenly Ailsa knew, and a flood of colour dyed her face; for
the vague sense of leaving something undone was the instinct to let
Berkley know she was going--the blind, unreasoning need for some
communication with him.

Had it been possible that all this time she had not utterly
uprooted this man from her insulted heart! Had hope, all this
time, unconsciously lived latent in her; was it possible that
somehow, somewhere, there remained a chance for him yet--a chance
for her--a cure--the only cure for all he had done to her--himself!

She reddened painfully again as memory, insolent, imperious,
flashed in her brain, illuminating the unquiet past, sparing her
nothing--no, not one breathless heart beat, not one atom of the
shame and the sweetness of it, not one dishonourable thrill she had
endured for love of him, not one soundless cry at night where she
lay tortured, dumb, hands clenched but arms wide flung as her heart
beat out his name, calling, calling to the man who had ended
himself for ever.

And Letty, silent in her comer, watched her without a word.

At the station, scarcely knowing what she did, Ailsa stopped at the
telegraph office and wrote a despatch to him, addressing it to his
old lodgings:

"I don't know whether this will ever reach you, but I can't go
without trying to let you know that I am leaving for Washington as
volunteer nurse. They have my address at the house.

"AILSA PAIGE."

Then the two gray-garbed women hurried to the train, but found no
seats together until a lank, sad-eyed lieutenant of artillery gave
up his place and doubled in with a sweating, red-necked contractor
from St. Louis, who sat in his shirt sleeves, fanning himself with
his straw hat.

The day was hot; the car dusty, ill-smelling, uncomfortable.

At Philadelphia their train was stalled for hours. Two long
trains, loaded with ammunition and a section of field-artillery,
had right of way; and then another train filled with jeering,
blue-clad infantry blocked them.

The soldiers, bare headed and in their undershirts, lolled and
yelled and hung from the car windows, chewing tobacco, smoking, or
gazing, jaws a-gape, at the crowds in the station.

Another train rolled by, trailing a suffocating stench of cattle
and hogs from its slatted stock-cars; and Ailsa was almost stifled
before her train at last moved heavily southward, saluted by
good-natured witticisms from the soldiers at the windows of the
stalled troop train.

Evening came, finding them somewhere in Delaware; the yellow stars
appeared, the air freshened a little. Letty had fallen asleep; her
dark lashes rested quietly on her cheeks, but the car jolted her
head cruelly, and Ailsa gently drew it to her own shoulder and put
one arm around her.

A major of heavy artillery turned toward her from his seat and said:

"Are you a volunteer nurse, ma'am?"

"Yes," motioned Ailsa with her lips, glancing cautiously at Letty.

"Can I do anything for you at Wilmington?"

She thanked him, smiling. He was disposed to be very friendly.

"You ladies arc the right stuff," he said. "I've seen you aboard
those abominable transports, behaving like angels to the poor
sea-sick devils. I saw you after Big Bethel, scraping the blood
and filth off of the wounded zouaves; I saw you in Washington after
Bull Run, doing acts of mercy that, by God, madam! would have
turned my stomach. . . . _Won't_ you let me do something for you.
You don't need any whisky for your sick boys, do you?"

Ailsa smiled and shook her head, saying they had not yet been
assigned to duty.

"I haven't anything else to offer you except tobacco," said the
Major ruefully, and subsided.

At Wilmington, however, he got out, and presently reappeared with
hard-boiled eggs and sandwiches, a big bottle of cold, sweet milk,
and a basket of fruit. Letty awoke; realised that Ailsa had been
holding her in her arms; looked at her in confusion, then
impulsively bent and laid her lips against Ailsa's hands.

"Why--child--I didn't mind," faltered Ailsa, flushing in response
to Letty's swift emotion. "See what this very kind officer has
brought us for dinner, dear! Isn't it delicious?"

They were as hungry as two school children and ate everything; and
by and by the Major of heavy artillery came back and reversed the
seat he had been occupying, and arranged it so he could sit facing
them. He was fat, red-faced, with a pair of terrific moustaches,
and a closely clipped head showing two scars.

"I've daughters older than you, ma'am," he said, in part
explanation of his friendliness. "One's got a new baby. He's a
devil!"

"W-what?" asked Ailsa.

"The right kind of devil, ma'am. I've been to see him! He wanted
my sword; he tried to chew off my shoulder straps; he almost
impaled himself on my spurs. By heaven, ma'am, _that's_ a boy for
you!"

Ailsa smiled. She knew about babies; implanted in her had always
been a perfect madness to possess one.

She and the red-faced Major talked babies. Letty, knowing nothing
about babies and not deeply interested, lay back in her seat,
watching Ailsa in the dim light of the ceiling lamps. She seemed
never to have enough of Ailsa. It had been so from the first.

In Baltimore dawn was breaking when Ailsa awoke at the summons of
the major; and he remained devoted to the two nurses of Sainte
Ursula, attending to their baggage and transfer across the city,
finding seats in the waiting-room already invaded by the officers
of several regiments in transit, and finally saw them safely aboard
the cars again.

"Good-bye, little ladies," he said cheerily. "If I'm hit, God send
one of you to wash my face for me. My card, ladies--if I may be
permitted the honour. I'm to be at Fortress Monroe as soon as my
command leaves Baltimore."

After he had gone away, Ailsa looked at his card:

A. J. DENISLOW
MAJOR, ART., U. S. A.

"I thought he was a regular," she said, smiling at Letty. "He's a
perfect old dear. Shall we open the parcel and see what he has
left us for breakfast?"

There was more milk, more peaches and pears, more bread and butter,
and a cold roast chicken; and they made very merry over it, doing
the best they could without knife and fork.

They were nearing Washington now. Every little while they passed
bodies of troops marching or encamped along the roads; and once
they saw a line of army waggons, drab coloured, with yellow canvas
tops, moving slowly in clouds of dust.

In the limpid morning light buzzards were already soaring over the
green fields; the fresh odour of wild flowers came blowing in at
the open car window; butterflies fluttered, wind-driven, helpless.

And now they were passing mounds of freshly turned red earth--long
stretches of hillocks banked high and squared at the ends.
Hundreds of negroes were at work sodding them; here and there a
flag fluttered and a bayonet gleamed.

"I believe all these little hills and ditches have something to do
with forts," said Ailsa. "Certainly that great mound must be part
of a fort. Do you see the cannon?"

Letty nodded, wide-eyed. And now they were passing soldiers on
every road, at every bridge, along every creek bank.

Squads of them, muskets shining, marched briskly along beside the
railroad track; sentinels stood at every culvert, every flag house,
every water tank and local station past which they rolled without
stopping. Acres of white tents flashed into view; houses and negro
cabins became thicker; brick houses, too, appeared at intervals,
then half-finished blocks fronting the dusty roads, then rows and
lines of dwellings, and street after street swarming with negroes
and whites. And before they realised it they had arrived.

They descended from the car amid a pandemonium of porters, hackmen,
soldiers, newsboys, distracted fellow-passengers, locomotives
noisily blowing off steam, baggagemen trundling and slamming trunks
about; and stood irresolute and confused.

"Could you direct us to the offices of the Sanitary Commission?"
asked Ailsa of a passing soldier wearing the insignia of the
hospital service on his sleeve.

"You bet I can, ladies! Are you nurses?"

"Yes," said Ailsa, smiling.

"Bully for you," said the boy; "step right this way, Sanitary. One
moment----"

He planted himself before a bawling negro hack driver and began to
apply injurious observations to him, followed by terrible threats
if he didn't take these "Sanitary Ladies" to the headquarters of
the Commission.

"I'm going up that way, too," he ended, "and I'm going to sit on
the box with you, and I'll punch your nose off if you charge my
Sanitary Ladies more than fifty cents!"

And escorted in this amazing manner, cinder-smeared, hot, rumpled,
and very tired, Ailsa Paige and Letty Lynden entered the
unspeakably dirty streets of the Capital of their country and
turned into the magnificent squalor of Pennsylvania Avenue which
lay, flanked by ignoble architecture, straight and wide and hazy
under its drifting golden dust from the great unfinished dome of
the Capitol to the Corinthian colonnade of the Treasury. Their
negro drove slowly; their self-constituted escort, legs crossed,
cap over one impish eye, lolled on the box, enjoying the drive.

Past them sped a company of cavalry in blue and yellow, bouncing
considerably in their saddles, red faces very dusty under their
tightly strapped caps, sabres and canteens jangling like an
unexpected avalanche of tin-ware in a demoralised pantry.

"Go it, young 'uns!" cried their soldier escort from the box,
waving his hand patronisingly. He also saluted an officer in
spectacles as "Bully boy with a glass eye," and later informed
another officer in a broad yellow sash that he was "the cheese."
All of which painfully mortified the two young nurses of Sainte
Ursula, especially when passing the fashionably-dressed throng
gathered in front of the Willard and promenading Lafayette Square.

"Oh, dear," said Ailsa, "I suppose he's only a boy, but I didn't
know soldiers were permitted to be so impudent. What on earth do
all these people think of us?"

Letty, who had been mischievously amused and inclined to enjoy it,
looked very grave as the boy, after a particularly outrageous jibe
at a highly respectable old gentleman, turned and deliberately
winked at his "Sanitary Ladies."

"That's old hoss Cameron," he said. "I made such a mug at the old
terrapin that he'll never be able to recognise my face."

"The--the Secretary of War!" gasped Ailsa.

"You very wicked little boy, don't you dare to make another face at
anybody!--or I'll--I'll report your conduct to--to the Sanitary
Commission!"

"Oh, come!" he said blankly, "don't do that, lady! They'll raise
hell with me, if you do. I want to get hunky with the Sanitary
boss."

"Then behave yourself!" said Ailsa, furious; "and don't you dare to
swear again. Do you hear?"

"Yes, ma'am--I will--I won't, I mean. And if I see that old
mudsill, Simon Cameron, I'll take off my cap to him, b'gosh!"

It was an anxious and subdued soldier who showed them the door of
the Commission's office, and stood at attention, saluting carefully
as the ladies passed him.

"You won't peach, will you?" he whispered loudly, as Ailsa stopped
to pay the driver.

"No, I won't--this time," she said, smiling, "if you promise to be
a very good soldier hereafter."

He promised fervidly. He happened to be on duty at headquarters,
and the fear of the Commission had been driven into him deep. So
she and Letty entered the door with a stream of people who
evidently had business with the officials of the American Sanitary
Commission; and a very amiable young man received them in their
turn, took their papers, examined their credentials, nodded
smilingly, and directed them to a small boarding-house on F Street,
where, he explained, they had better remain until further orders.

There had been some desultory fighting in Virginia, he said, also
there were a great many sick soldiers in the army.

Perhaps, added the young man, they would be sent to one of the city
hospitals, but the chances were that they would be ordered directly
to a field hospital. In that case their transportation would be by
army waggon or ambulance, or the Commission might send one of its
own mule-drawn conveyances. At any rate, they had better rest and
not worry, because as long as the Commission had sent for them, the
Commission certainly needed them, and would see that they arrived
safely at their destination.

Which turned out to be a perfectly true prophecy; for after a
refreshing bath in their boarding-house quarters, and a grateful
change of linen, and an early supper, a big, bony cavalryman came
clanking to their door, saying that a supply train was leaving for
the South, and that an ambulance of the Sanitary Commission was
waiting for them in front of the house.

The night was fearfully hot; scarcely a breath of dir stirred as
their ambulance creaked put toward the river.

The Long Bridge, flanked by its gate houses, loomed up in the dusk;
and:

"Halt! Who goes there?"

"Friends with the countersign."

"Dismount one and advance with the countersign!"

And the Sergeant of cavalry dismounted and moved forward; there was
a low murmur; then: "Pass on, Sanitary!"

A few large and very yellow stars looked down from the blackness
above; under the wheels the rotten planking and worn girders of the
Long Bridge groaned and complained and sagged.

Ailsa, looking out from under the skeleton hood, behind her, saw
other waggons following, loaded heavily with hospital supplies and
baggage, escorted by the cavalrymen, who rode as though exhausted,
yellow trimmed shell jackets unbuttoned exposing sweat-soaked
undershirts, caps pushed back on their perspiring heads.

Letty, lying on a mattress, had fallen asleep. Ailsa, scarcely
able to breathe in the heavy heat, leaned panting against the
framework, watching the darkness.

It seemed to be a little cooler on the Virginia side after they had
passed the General Hospital, and had gone forward through the
deserted city of Alexandria. About a mile beyond a slight
freshness, scarcely a breeze, stirred Ailsa's hair. The driver
said to her, pointing at a shadowy bulk with his whip-stock:

"That's the Marshall House, where Colonel Ellsworth was killed.
God help their 'Tigers' if the Fire Zouaves ever git at 'em."

She looked at the unlighted building in silence. Farther on the
white tents of a Pennsylvania regiment loomed gray under the stars;
beyond them the sentinels were zouaves of an Indiana regiment,
wearing scarlet fezzes.

Along the road, which for a while paralleled the Orange and
Alexandria Railroad, cavalry vedettes sat their horses, carbine on
thigh. No trains passed the embankment; once she saw, on a
weed-grown siding, half a dozen locomotives apparently intact; but
no fire burned in their furnaces, no smoke curled from their huge
drumhead stacks; and on the bell frame of one an owl was sitting.

And now, between a double line of ditches, where a battalion of
engineers lay asleep in their blankets, the road entered the pine
woods.

Ailsa slept fitfully, but the far challenge and the halting of the
waggon usually awoke her in darkness feebly lit by the rays of a
candle-set lantern, swung up inquiringly by the corporal of some
guard. And, "Pass forward, Sanitary!" was the invariable formula;
and the ambulance rolled on again between a double abattis of
fallen trees, flanked on either horizon by tall, quiet pines.

Once she heard singing; a small company of cavalry-men straggled
by, and, seeing their long lances and their Belgian forage caps,
she leaned out and asked what regiment it might be. Somebody
answered: "Escort Squad of Rankin's Lancers, 1st United States.
Our regiment is in Detroit, Miss, and thank God we're going back
there."

And they rode on toward Washington, singing their monotonous "Do
They Miss Me at Home" song, till she lost them against the darkness
of the distant woods, and dropped back to her bed of shawls and
blankets once more.

After midnight she slept, and it was only the noise the driver made
pulling the canvas cover of the frame above her that awakened her,
and she sat up, half frozen, in a fine fog that became a drizzle
soon after the cover was up.

"The sunny South," observed the driver in disgust. "Yesterday the
thermometer stood at 105 in Washington, and now look at this here
weather, lady."

Day broke, bitter cold; it was raining heavily; but soon after
sunrise the rain slackened, the fog grew thinner, and the air
warmer. Slowly the sun appeared, at first only a dazzling blot
through the smother, then brassy, glittering, flooding the chilled
earth with radiance.

Through steaming fields, over thickets, above woods, the vapours
were rising, disclosing a shining and wet world, sweet and fresh in
its early autumn beauty.

The road to Fairfax Court House was deep in red mud, set with
runnels and pools of gold reflecting corners of blue sky. Through
it slopped mules and horses and wheels, sending splashes of spray
and red mud over the roadside bushes. A few birds sang; overhead
sailed and circled hundreds of buzzards, the sun gilding their
upcurled wing tips as they sheered the tree-tops.

And now, everywhere over the landscape soldiers were visible,
squads clothed only in trousers and shirts, marching among the oaks
and magnolias with pick and shovel; squads carrying saws and axes
and chains. A little farther on a wet, laurel-bordered road into
the woods was being corduroyed; here they were bridging the lazy
and discoloured waters of a creek, there erecting log huts. Hammer
strokes rang from half-cleared hillsides, where some regiment,
newly encamped, was busily flooring its tents; the blows of axes
sounded from the oak woods; and Ailsa could see great trees
bending, slowly slanting, then falling with a rippling crash of
smashed branches.

The noises in the forest awoke Letty. Whimpering sleepily, but
warm under the shawls which Ailsa had piled around her, she sat up
rubbing her dark eyes; then, with a little quick-drawn breath of
content, took Ailsa's hand.

The driver said: "It's them gallus lumbermen from some o' the Maine
regiments clearing the ground. They're some with the axe.
Yonder's the new fort the Forty Thieves is building."

"The--what?" asked Ailsa, perplexed.

"Fortieth New York Infantry, ma'am. The army calls 'em the Forty
Thieves, they're that bright at foraging, flag or no flag!
Chickens, pigs, sheep--God knows they're a light-fingered lot; but
their colonel is one of the best officers in the land. Why
shouldn't they be a good fat regiment, with their haversacks full
o' the best, when half the army feeds on tack and sow-belly, and
the other half can't git that!"

The driver, evidently nearing his destination, became
confidentially loquacious.

"Yonder's Fort Elsworth, ladies! It's hid by the forest, but it's
there, you bet! If you ladies could climb up one o' them big
pines, you'd see the line of forts and trenches in a half-moon from
the Chain Bridge at Georgetown to Alexandria, and you'd see the
seminary in its pretty park, and, belike, Gineral McClellan in the
chapel cupola, a-spying through his spy-glass what deviltry them
rebel batteries is hatching on the hill over yonder."

"Are the rebels _there_?"

"Yes'm. Little Mac, he lets 'em stay there till he's good 'n'
ready to gobble 'em."

Ailsa and Letty stared at the bluish hill, the top of which just
showed above the forest.

A young soldier of engineers, carrying a bundle of axes, came along
the road, singing in a delightful tenor voice the hymn, "Arise, My
Soul, Arise!" He glanced admiringly at Ailsa, then at Letty, as
the ambulance drove by, but his song did not falter; and far away
they heard him singing gloriously through the autumn woods.

Presently a brigade medical officer rode up, signalling the driver
to stop, with his gloved hand.

"Where do you come from, ladies--the General Hospital at
Alexandria?"

Ailsa explained.

"That's good," he said emphatically; "the brigade hospitals are
short handed. We need experienced nurses badly." And he pointed
across the fields toward a hillside where a group of farm-houses
and barns stood. A red flag napped darkly against the sky from the
cupola of a barn.

"Is that the hospital?" asked Ailsa, noticing some ambulances
parked near by.

"Yes, madam. You will report to Dr. West." He looked at them for a
second, shook his head thoughtfully, then saluted and wheeled his
horse.

"Pass on, Sanitary!" he added to the driver.

There was a deeply rutted farm road across the fields, guarded by
gates which now hung wide open. Through these the supply waggons
and the Commission ambulance rolled, followed slowly by the
rain-soaked troopers of the escort.

In front of one of the outhouses a tall, bald-headed, jolly-faced
civilian stood in his checked shirt sleeves, washing bloody hands
in a tin basin. To Ailsa's question he answered:

"I'm Dr. Hammond of the Sanitary Commission. Dr. West is in the
wards. Very glad you came, Mrs. Paige; very glad, indeed, Miss
Lynden. Here's an orderly who'll show you your quarters--can't
give you more than one room and one bed. You'll get breakfast in
that house over there, as soon as it's ready. After that come back
here to me. There's plenty to do," he added grimly; "we're just
sending fifty patients to Alexandria, and twenty-five to
Washington. Oh, yes, there's plenty to do--plenty to do in this
God-forsaken land. And, it isn't battles that are keeping us busy."

No, it was not battles that kept the doctors, nurses, and details
for the ambulance corps busy at the front that first autumn and
winter in Virginia. Few patients required the surgeon, few wounded
were received, victims of skirmish or sharpshooting or of their own
comrades' carelessness. But unwounded patients were arriving
faster and faster from the corduroy road squads, from the outposts
in the marshy forests, from the pickets' hovels on the red-mud
banks of the river, from chilly rifle pits and windy hill camps,
from the trenches along Richmond Turnpike, from the stockades at
Fairfax. And there seemed no end of them. Hundreds of regimental
hospital tents, big affairs, sixty feet long by forty wide, were
always full. The hospitals at Alexandria, Kalorama, the Columbia,
and the Stone Mansion, took the overflow, or directed it to
Washington, Philadelphia, and the North.

In one regiment alone, the Saratoga Regiment, the majority of the
men were unfit for duty. In one company only twelve men could be
mustered for evening parade. Typhoid, pneumonia, diphtheria,
spotted fever were doing their work in the raw, unacclimated
regiments. Regimental medical officers were exhausted.

Two steady streams of human beings, flowing in opposite directions,
had set in with the autumn; the sick, going North, the new
regiments arriving from the North to this vast rendezvous, where a
great organizer of men was welding together militia and volunteers,
hammering out of the raw mass something, that was slowly beginning
to resemble an army.

Through the wards of their hospital Ailsa and Letty saw the
unbroken column of the sick pass northward or deathward; from their
shuttered window they beheld endless columns arriving--cavalry,
infantry, artillery, engineers, all seeking their allotted fields
or hillsides, which presently blossomed white with tents and grew
blue and hazy with the smoke of camp fires.

All day long, rain or sun, the landscape swarmed with men and
horses; all day long bugle answered bugle from hill to hill; drums
rattled at dawn and evening; the music from regimental and brigade
bands was almost constant, saluting the nag at sunset, or, with
muffled drums, sounding for the dead, or crashing out smartly at
guard-mount, or, on dress parade, playing the favorite, "Evening
Bells."

Leaning on her window ledge when off duty, deadly tired, Ailsa
would listen dully to the near or distant strains, wondering at the
strangeness of her life; wondering what it all was coming to.

But if life was strange, it was also becoming very real and very
full as autumn quickened into winter, and the fever waxed fiercer
in every regiment.

Life gave her now scant time for brooding--scarce time for thought
at all. There were no other women at the Farm Hospital except the
laundresses. Every regiment in the newly formed division encamped
in the vicinity furnished one man from each company for hospital
work; and from this contingent came their only relief.

But work was what Ailsa needed, and what Letty needed, too. It
left them no chance to think of themselves, no leisure for
self-pity, no inclination for it in the dreadful daily presence of
pestilence and death.

So many, many died; young men, mostly. So many were sent away,
hopelessly broken, and very, very young. And there was so much to
do--so much!--instruments and sponges and lint to hold for
surgeons; bandages, iced compresses, medicines to hand to
physicians; and there were ghastly faces to be washed, and filthy
bodies to be cleansed, and limp hands to be held, and pillows to be
turned, and heads to be lifted. And there were letters to be
written for sick boys and dying boys and dead boys; there was tea
and lemonade and whisky and wine to be measured out and given;
there was broth to be ordered and tasted and watched, delicacies to
be prepared; clothing to be boiled; inventories to be made of
dwindling medical supplies and of fresh stores to be ordered or
unpacked from the pyramids of muddy boxes and barrels in the courts.

There was also the daily need of food and a breath of fresh air;
and there were, sometimes, letters to read, None came to Ailsa from
Berkley. No letters came to Letty at all, except from Dr. Benton,
who wrote, without any preliminary explanation of why he wrote at
all, once every fortnight with absolute regularity.

What he had to say in his letters Ailsa never knew, for Letty, who
had been touched and surprised by the first one and had read it
aloud to Ailsa, read no more of the letters which came to her from
Dr. Benton. And Ailsa asked her nothing.

Part of Colonel Arran's regiment of lancers was now in
Washington--or near it, encamped to the east of Meridian Hill, in a
field beyond Seventh Street--at least these were the careful
directions for posting letters given her by Captain Hallam, who
wrote her cheerfully and incessantly; and in every letter he
declared himself with a patient and cordial persistence that
perhaps merited something more enthusiastic than Ailsa's shy and
brief replies.

Colonel Arran had been to see her twice at her hospital that
winter; he seemed grayer, bigger than ever in his tight blue and
yellow cavalry uniform; and on both occasions he had spoken of
Berkley, and had absently questioned her; and after both visits she
had lain awake, her eyes wide in the darkness, the old pain
stirring dully in her breast. But in the duties of the morning she
forgot sorrow, forgot hope, and found strength and peace in a duty
that led her ever amid the shadows of pain and death.

Once Hallam obtained leave, and made the journey to the Farm
Hospital; but it had been a hard day for her, and she could
scarcely keep awake to talk to him. He was very handsome, very
bronzed, very eager and determined as a wooer; and she did not
understand just how it happened, but suddenly the world's misery
and her own loneliness overwhelmed her, and she broke down for the
first time. And when Captain Hallam went lightly away about his
business, and she lay on her mattress beside Letty, she could feel,
furtively, a new jewel on the third finger of her left hand, and
fell asleep, wondering what she had done, and why--too tired to
really care.

The sick continued to drift North; new regiments continued to
arrive; the steady, tireless welding of the army was going on all
around her, night and day; and the clamour of it filled the sky.

Celia Craig wrote her and sent her boxes for herself; but the
contents of the parcels went to her sick men. Camilla wrote her
and requested information concerning Stephen, who was, it appeared,
very lax in correspondence; but Ailsa had not heard from Colonel
Craig since the 3rd Zouaves left Fortress Monroe, and she had no
information for either Celia or Camilla.

Christmas boxes for the hospital began to arrive early; presents
came to Ailsa from Colonel Arran, from Hallam, from Celia and
Camilla,

Letty had only one gift, a beautiful watch and chain from Dr.
Benton; and Ailsa, going up to undress for a short sleep before
supper, found the girl sitting with the little timepiece in her
hand, crying silently all to herself.

"Why, dear!" she exclaimed, "what in the world is the trouble?" and
put both arms around her. But Letty only laid her head against
Ailsa's breast, and sobbed anew, uncomforted.

"Won't you tell me what is wrong?" urged Ailsa, mystified.

"Yes . . . _I_ am . . . Don't pay attention to what I say, Mrs.
Paige. You--you like me, don't you?"

"I love you, dear,"

"Please--do. I am--very unhappy."

"You are only tired out. Listen; don't the wards look pretty with
all the laurel and evergreens and ribbons! Our poor boys will have
something to remind them of Christmas. . . . I--do you know that
young Langley is dead?"

"Yes--I helped him--die. Yesterday Dr. West seemed to think he
would get well. But Hammond couldn't stop the gangrene, and he cut
him almost to pieces. Oh--I'm very, very miserable--my boys die so
fast--so fast----"

"You mustn't be miserable on Christmas Eve! I won't let you be
silly!"

"I'm gay enough in the wards," said Letty listlessly; "I've got to
be. Can't I cry a little in my own room?"

"No, we haven't time to cry," said Ailsa decisively. "Lie down
beside me and go to sleep. Flannery has promised to wake us in
time for supper."

"I can't get Langley's terrible face out of my mind," whimpered
Letty, cuddling close to Ailsa, as they lay in bed in the wintry
darkness. "It was all drawn up on one side."

"But coma had set in," said Ailsa gently. "You know, he wasn't
suffering when he died. . . . You'll write to his mother, won't
you, dear? Or shall I?"

"I will. . . . She wanted to come, you remember, but she's
bedridden. . . . Her only son. . . . Yes, I'll write . . . I
think Peterson is going to die, next----"

"But Levy is getting well," interrupted Ailsa.

"Stop it, Letty dear! I won't let you become morbid. Think of
your beautiful watch! Think of dear Dr. Benton." "I--I am," gasped
Letty, and fell to crying again until she sobbed herself to sleep
in Ailsa's tired arms.

Supper was spread in Dr. West's private office; Hallam had obtained
leave, and Ailsa expected him; Colonel Arran was in Washington and
could not come, but the company was to be a small one at
best--Ailsa, Letty Lynden, Dr. West, Dr. Hammond, and Hallam were
all who had been expected for Christmas Eve supper.

They waited for Hallam until Dr. West decided to wait no longer,
saying that he was either stuck in the mud somewhere or had been
detailed for duty unexpectedly.

So Ailsa lighted the Christmas candles, and the two young women in
their fresh gray garbs, and the two civilian doctors in clean
clothes, sat down before a rather thin roasted turkey. But the
bird proved tender and juicy, and it was beautifully cooked; and a
glass of wine sent the colour into Letty's pale cheeks, and
straightened Ailsa's drooping neck.

Candles, laurel branches, evergreens, bits of red ribbon, and flags
made the office very gay and attractive. Dr. West rose and
delivered an unexpected speech, complimenting the ladies and
praising their skill and devotion; then dinner began, and Dr.
Hammond told about an intensely interesting operation, which made
the negro waiter turn almost white.

"Christmas comes but once a year!" cried jolly Dr. Hammond, warming
up. "Let's be merry!" And he told about another operation even
more wonderful than the first; and Letty, catching a glimpse of the
negro's wildly rolling eyes, threw back her head and laughed. It
was the first genuine laughter of the evening, and rested everybody.

A few moments later there came a jingle of metal from outside, and
Hallam walked in, his wonderfully handsome face aglow, and plenty
of red mud frozen on his boots.

"I've a green orderly outside. Where can I stow him?" he asked,
shaking hands and exchanging preliminary Christmas greetings all
around.

"I'll attend to him," said Ailsa, flushed and a little shy as she
felt the significant pressure of Hallam's hand and saw him glance
at her ring.

"No," he insisted, "I'll see to him myself, if you'll tell me where
he can put the horses and find some supper."

"Poor fellow," said Ailsa. "Tell him to stable the horses in the
new barn, and go to the kitchen. Wait a moment, Captain Hallam,
I'd rather do it myself!" And she turned lightly and ran out to
the dark porch.

The trooper holding Hallam's horse: sat his own saddle, wrapped to
the eyes in his heavy overcoat, long lance with its drooping pennon
slanting stiffly athwart the wintry wilderness of stars.

"Soldier!" she called gently from the porch. "Stable, blanket, and
feed; then come back to the kitchen, and there will be a good hot
dinner waiting."

The cavalryman slowly turned his head at the sound of her voice.
And, as he made no movement to obey:

"There is the stable over there," she said, pointing across the
frozen field. "Follow that gate path. There's a lantern in the
barn."

An orderly, passing, added:

"Come on, lancer. I'm going to the barn myself;" and very slowly
the trooper turned both tired horses and walked them away into the
darkness.

When she returned to the table there was considerable laughter over
a story chat Hallam had been telling. He jumped up, seated Ailsa,
hovered over her for a second with just a suspicion of proprietary
air which made her blush uncomfortably. Talking had become
general, but everybody noted it, and Letty's eyes grew wide and
velvety, and the blood was making her cheeks and lips very pink.

Dr. West said: "The new regiment on Pine Knob was recruited from
the Bowery. I happened to be with Kemp, their surgeon, when sick
call sounded, and I never saw such a line of impudent, ruffianly
malingerers as filed before Kemp. One, I am convinced, had
deliberately shot off his trigger finger; but it couldn't be
proven, and he'll get his discharge. Another, a big, hulking
brute, all jaw and no forehead, came up and looked insolently at
Kemp.

"Kemp said: 'Well, what's the matter with you?' "'Aw,' said the
soldier, with a leer, 'I've got de lapsy-palls, and I wanter go to
de horspittle, I do.'

"I never saw such a mad man as Kemp was.

"'So you've got the lapsy-palls, have you?'

"'Bet yer boots, I have.'

"'_And_ you want to go to the hospital?'

"Aw--w'ats der matter wit youse, Doc.?'

"And Kemp gave him a bang on the eye with his fist, and another on
the nose, and then began to hit him so quickly that the fellow
reeled, about, yelling for mercy.

"'Sure cure for the lapsy-palls,' said Kemp; and, turning his glare
on the rest of the shivering line: 'Anybody else got 'em?' he asked
briskly.

"At that a dozen big brutes sneaked out of the line and hurriedly
decamped; and I don't think that disease is going to be popular in
that regiment."

A shout of laughter greeted the story. All present had seen too
many instances of malingering not to appreciate Surgeon Kemp's cure
for a disease which never existed.

A plum pudding was brought on and set afire. Ailsa poured the
burning sauce over and over it. Dr. Hammond got up and threw some
more pine logs on the fire. Huge shadows rose up and danced in the
ruddy light, as the candles burned lower. Then Dr. West began
another story, but was checked by the appearance of a hospital
steward:

"Davis, Ward A, No. 3, is very bad, sir."

"Going?"

"Yes, sir."

The doctor bent above the table, took a hasty spoonful of pudding,
nodded to the company, and went out.

"Speaking of malingerers," began Hammond, "I saw the Colonel of the
forty Thieves put down in a most amusing manner the day before Bull
Run. Shall I tell it? It involves some swearing."

Ailsa laughed. "Proceed, Dr. Hammond. Do you think Miss Lynden
and I have been deaf since we arrived at the front?"

"Does anybody in this hospital use bad language?" demanded the
doctor sharply.

"Not to us," said Ailsa, smiling. "But there's an army just
outside the windows. Go on with your story, please."

"Well, then," said the jolly surgeon, "I was talking with Colonel
Riley, when up walks the most honest-looking soldier I think I ever
saw; and he gazed straight into the Colonel's eyes as he saluted.
He wanted a furlough, it appeared, to go to New York and see his
dying wife.

"Riley said: 'Is she very sick?'

"'Yes, Colonel.'

"'You have a letter: saying she is very sick?'

"'Yes, Colonel.'

"'Well, _I_ also have a letter from your wife. I wanted to make
certain about all the applications for furlough you have been
making, so I wrote her.'

"'Yes, Colonel.'

"'And she says that she is perfectly well, and does not want you to
come home!'

"The soldier smiled.

"'Did you write a letter to my wife, Colonel?'

"'I did."

"'Did my wife write to you?'

"'She did. And what do you mean by coming here to me with a lie
about your sick wife! Have you anything to say to that?'

"'Yes, Colonel.'

"'Then say it!'

"'Well, Colonel, all I have to say is that there are two of the
damnedest, biggest liars that ever lived, right here in this
regiment!'

"'What!'

"The soldier grinned.

"'I'm not married at all,' he said, 'and I'm the biggest liar--and
you can ask the boys who the damnedest liar is.'"

When the merriment and laughter had subsided, Hallam told another
story rather successfully; then Hammond told another. Then Dr.
West returned; the tiny Christmas tree, cut in the forest, and
loaded with beribboned cakes and sticks of chocolate and a few
presents tied in tissue-paper, was merrily despoiled.

Ailsa and Letty had worked slippers for the two doctors, greatly
appreciated by them, apparently; Hallam had some embroidered
handkerchiefs from Ailsa, and she received a chain and locket from
him--and refrained from opening the locket, although everybody
already had surmised that their engagement was a fact.

Letty sent an orderly for her guitar, and sang very sweetly an
old-fashioned song:

"When the moonlight
Shines bright
Silvery bright on the sea."

Ailsa sang "Aileen Aroon," and "Oft in the Stilly Night," and
everybody, later, sang "The Poor Old Soldier."

The fire glowed red in the chimney; gigantic shadows wavered on
wall and ceiling; and, through the Christmas candles dimly burning,
the branches of the little evergreen spread, laden with cake and
candy.

"They're to have a tree in every ward to-morrow," said Ailsa,
turning toward Hallam. Her eyes smiled, but her voice was
spiritless. A tinge of sadness had somehow settled over the
festivity; Hammond was staring at the fire, chin in hand; West
sipped his wine reflectively; Letty's idle fingers touched her
guitar at intervals, as her dark eyes rested on Ailsa and Hallam.

Hallam had found in camp a copy of a Southern newspaper; and,
thinking it might amuse the company to read it, produced it.
Ailsa, looking over his shoulder, noticed a poem called
"Christmas," printed on the first page.

"Read it aloud," he said, laughing. "Let's hear what sort of
Christmas poetry the Johnnies produce."

So, after smilingly scanning the first lines, she began, aloud; but
her face had grown very grave, and her low voice thrilled them as
she became conscious of the deeper sadness of the verse.

"How grace this Hallowed Day?
Shall happy bells from yonder ancient spire
Send their glad greetings to each Christmas fire
Round which our children play?

"How shall we grace the Day?
With feast and song and dance and homely sport,
And shout of happy children in the court,
And tales of ghost and fay?

"Is there indeed a door
Where the old pastimes with their joyful noise
And all the merry round of Christmas joys
Can enter as of yore?

"Would not some pallid face
Look in upon the banquet, calling up
Dread shapes of battle in the Christmas cup,
And trouble all the place?

"How can we hear the mirth
While some loved reveller of a year ago
Keeps his mute Christmas now beneath the snow,
In cold Virginia earth--"

Her voice suddenly broke; she laughed, slightly hysterical, the
tears glittering in her eyes.

"I--c-can't--read it, somehow. . . . Forgive me, everybody, I
think I'm--tired----"

"Nerves," said West cheerily. "It'll all come right in a moment,
Mrs. Paige. Go up and sit by Davis for a while. He's going fast."

Curious advice, yet good for her. And Ailsa rose and fled; but a
moment later, seated at the side of the dying man, all thought of
self vanished in the silent tragedy taking place before her.

"Davis?" she whispered.

The man opened his sunken eyes as the sleepy steward rose, gave his
bedside chair to Ailsa, and replaced the ominous screen.

"I am here, Private Davis," she said cheerily, winking away the
last tear drop.

Then the man sighed deeply, rested his thin cheek against her hand,
and lay very, very still.

At midnight he died as he lay. She scarcely realised it at first.
And when at length she did, she disengaged her chilled hand, closed
his eyes, drew the covering over his face, and, stepping from
behind the screen, motioned to the steward on duty.

Descending the stairs, her pale, pensive glance rested on the
locket flashing on its chain over the scarlet heart sewn on her
breast. Somehow, at thought of Hallam waiting for her below, she
halted on the stairway, one finger twisted in the gold chain. And
presently the thought of Hallam reminded her of the trooper and the
hot dinner she had promised the poor fellow. Had the cook been
kind to him?

She hastened downstairs, passed the closed door of the improvised
dining-room, traversed the hall to the porch, and, lifting the
skirts of her gray garb, sped across the frozen yards to the
kitchen.

The cook had gone; fire smouldered in the range; and a single
candle guttered in its tin cup on the table.

Beside it, seated on a stool, elbows planted on both knees, face
buried in his spread fingers, sat the lancer, apparently asleep.

She cast a rapid glance at the table. The remains of the food
satisfied her that he had had his hot dinner. Once more she
glanced at him, and then started to withdraw on tiptoe.

And he raised his head; and she gazed into the face of Berkley.

Neither stirred, although in the shock of discovery she felt that
she would drop where she stood. Then, instinctively, she reached
for the table's edge, rested against it, hand clutching it,
fascinated eyes never leaving his face.

He got up leisurely, walked toward her, made an abrupt turn and
faced her again from the window recess, leaning back against the
closed wooden shutters.

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