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Ailsa Paige by Robert W. Chambers

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Her heart was beating too rapidly for her to speak; she tried to
straighten her shoulders, lift her head. Both sank, and she looked
down blindly through the throbbing silence.

Berkley spoke first; but she could not answer him. Then he said,
again, lightly:

"A woman's contempt is a bitter thing; but they say we thrive best
on bitter medicine. Do you wish me to go, Ailsa? If so, where?
I'll obey with alacrity."

She raised her dazed eyes.

"W-was that _you_, with Captain Hallam's horse--there in the
starlight--when I spoke?"

"Yes. Didn't you know me?"

"No. Did you know _me_?"

"Of course. I nearly fell out of my saddle."

She strove hard to collect herself.

"How did you know it was I?"

"How?" He laughed a short, mirthless laugh. "I knew your voice.
Why shouldn't I know it?"

"Did--had anybody told you I was here?"

"No. Who is there to tell me anything?"

"Nobody wrote you?--or telegraphed?"

He laughed again. "Nobody has my address."

"And you never--received--receive--letters?"

"Who would write to me? No, I never receive letters. Why do you
ask?"

She was silent.

He waited a moment, then said coolly: "If you actually have any
interest in what I'm doing--" and broke off with a shrug. At which
she raised her eyes, waiting for him to go on.

"I went into an unattached company--The Westchester Horse--and some
fool promised us incorporation with the 1st Cavalry and quick
service. But the 1st filled up without us and went off. And a
week ago we were sent off from White Plains Camp as K Company
to"--he bit his lip and stared at her--"to--your friend Colonel
Arran's regiment of lancers. We took the oath. Our captain,
Hallam, selected me for his escort to-night. That is the simple
solution of my being here. I didn't sneak down here to annoy you.
I didn't know you were here."

After a moment she raised her pallid face.

"Have you seen Colonel Arran?"

"No," he said shortly.

"I--it would give me--pleasure--to recommend you to his--attention.
May I write----"

"Thank you, no."

There was another painful interval of silence. Then:

"May I speak to Captain Hallam about you?"

"No, thank you!" he said contemptuously, "I am currying no favours."

Hurt, she shrank away, and the blood mounted to her temples.

"You see," he said, "I'm just a plain brute, and there's no use
being kind to me." He added in a lower voice, but deliberately:
"You once found out that."

She quivered and straightened up.

"Yes," she said, "I found that out. I have paid very dearly for
my--my--" But she could not continue.

Watching her, cap hanging in his gauntleted hand, he saw the colour
deepen and deepen in neck and cheek, saw her eyes falter, and turn
from him.

"Is there any forgiveness for me?" he said. "I didn't ask it
before--because I've still some sense of the ludicrous left in
me--or did have. It's probably gone now, since I've asked if it is
in you to pardon--" He shrugged again, deeming it useless; and she
made no sign of comprehension.

For a while he stood, looking down at his cap, turning it over and
over, thoughtfully.

"Well, then, Ailsa, you are very kind to offer what you did offer.
But--I don't like Colonel Arran," he added with a sneer, "and I
haven't any overwhelming admiration for Captain Hallam. And there
you are, with your kindness and gentleness and--everything--utterly
wasted on a dull, sordid brute who had already insulted you
once. . . . Shall I leave your kitchen?"

"No," she said faintly. "I am going."

He offered to open the door for her, but she opened it herself,
stood motionless, turned, considered him, head high and eyes steady;

"You have killed in me, this night--this Christmas night--something
that can never again l-live in me. Remember that in the years to
come."

"I'm sorry," he said. "That's the second murder I've attempted.
The other was your soul."

Her eyes flashed.

"Even murderers show some remorse--some regret----"

"I do regret," he said deliberately, "that I didn't kill it. . . .
You would have loved me then."

She turned white as death, then, walking slowly up in front of him:

"You lie!" she said in even tones.

Confronted, never stirring, their eyes met; and in the cold,
concentrated fury which possessed her she set her small teeth and
stared at him, rigid, menacing, terrible in her outraged pride.

After a while he stirred; a quiver twitched his set features.

"Nevertheless--" he said, partly to himself. Then, drawing a long
breath, he turned, unhooked his sabre from a nail where it hung,
buckled his belt, picked up the lance which stood slanting across a
chair, shook out the scarlet, swallow-tailed pennon, and walked
slowly toward the door--and met Letty coming in.

"Mrs. Paige," she said, "we couldn't imagine what had become of
you--" and glancing inquiringly at Berkley, started, and uttered a
curious little cry:

"You!"

"Yes," he said, smiling through his own astonishment.

"Oh!" she cried with a happy catch in her voice, and held out both
hands to him; and he laid aside his lance and took them, laughing
down into the velvet eyes. And he saw the gray garb of Sainte
Ursula that she wore, saw the scarlet heart on her breast, and
laughed again--a kindly, generous, warm-hearted laugh; but there
was a little harmless malice glimmering in his eyes.

"Wonderful--wonderful, Miss Lynden"--he had never before called her
Miss Lynden--"I am humbly overcome in the presence of Holy Sainte
Ursula embodied in you. How on earth did old Benton ever permit
you to escape? He wrote me most enthusiastically about you before
I--ahem--left town."

"Why didn't you let me know where you were going?" asked Letty with
a reproachful simplicity that concentrated Ailsa's amazed attention
on her, for she had been looking scornfully at Berkley.

"Why--you are very kind, Miss Lynden, but I, myself, didn't know
where I was going."

"I--I wanted to write you," began Letty; and suddenly remembered
Ailsa's presence and turned, shyly:

"Mrs. Paige," she said, "this private soldier is Mr. Berkley--a
gentleman. May I be permitted to present him to you?"

And there, while the tragic and comic masks grinned side by side,
and the sky and earth seemed unsteadily grinning above and under
her feet, Ailsa Paige suffered the mockery of the presentation;
felt the terrible irony of it piercing her; felt body and senses
swaying there in the candle-light; heard Letty's happy voice and
Berkley's undisturbed replies; found courage to speak, to take her
leave; made her way back through a dreadful thickening darkness to
her room, to her bed, and lay there silent, because she could not
weep.

CHAPTER XII

In February the birds sang between flurries of snow; but the end of
the month was warm and lovely, and robins, bluebirds, and cardinals
burst into a torrent of song. The maples' dainty fire illumined
every swamp; the green thorn turned greener; and the live-oaks
sprouted new leaves amid their olive-tinted winter foliage, ever
green.

Magnolia and laurel grew richer and glossier; azaleas were budding;
dog-wood twigs swelled; and somewhere, in some sheltered hollow, a
spray of jasmine must have been in bloom, because the faint and
exquisite scent haunted all the woodlands.

On the 17th the entire army was paraded by regiments to cheer for
the fall of Fort Donnelson.

About mid-February the Allotment Commission began its splendid work
in camp; and it seemed to Ailsa that the mental relief it brought
to her patients was better than any other medicine--that is, better
for the Union patients; for now there were, also, in the wards, a
number of Confederate wounded, taken at various times during the
skirmishing around Fairfax--quiet, silent, dignified Virginians,
and a few fiery Louisianians, who at first, not knowing what to
expect, scarcely responded to the brusque kindness of the hospital
attendants.

The first Confederate prisoner that Ailsa ever saw was brought in
on a stretcher, a quiet, elderly man in bloody gray uniform,
wearing the stripes of a sergeant.

Prisoners came more often after that. Ailsa, in her letters to
Celia Craig, had mentioned the presence of Confederate wounded at
the Farm Hospital; and, to her delight and amazement, one day late
in February a Commission ambulance drove up, and out stepped Celia
Craig; and the next instant they were locked tightly in each
other's arms,

"Darling--darling!" sobbed Ailsa, clinging desperately to Celia,
"it is heavenly of you to come. I was so lonely, so tired and
discouraged. You won't go away soon, will you? I couldn't bear
it--I want you so--I need you----"

"Hush, Honey-bud! I reckon I'll stay a while. I've been a week
with Curt's regiment at Fortress Monroe. I had my husband to
myse'f fo' days, befo' they sent him to Acquia Creek. And I've had
my boy a whole week all to myse'f! Then his regiment went away.
They wouldn't tell me where.' But God is kinder. . . . You are
certainly ve'y pale, Honey-bee!"

"I'm well, dearest--really I am, I'll stay well now. Is Curt all
right? And Stephen? And Paige and Marye?--and Camilla?"

"Everybody is well, dear. Curt is ve'y brown and thin--the dear
fellow! And Steve is right handsome. I'm just afraid some pretty
minx--" She laughed and added: "But I won't care if she's a rebel
minx."

"Celia! . . . And I--I didn't think you liked that word."

"What word, Honey-bell?" very demurely.

"Rebel!"

"Why, I reckon George Washington wore that title without reproach.
It's a ve'y good title--rebel," she added serenely. "I admire it
enough to wear it myse'f."

Quarters were found for Mrs. Craig. Letty shyly offered to move,
but Celia wouldn't have it.

"My dear child," she said, "I'm just a useless encumbrance 'round
the house; give me a corner where I may sit and look on and--he'p
everybody by not inte'fering."

Her corner was an adjoining section of the garret, boarded up,
wall-papered, and furnished for those who visited the Farm Hospital
on tour of inspection or to see some sick friend or relative, or
escort some haggard convalescent to the Northern home.

Celia had brought a whole trunkful of fresh gingham clothes and
aprons, and Ailsa could not discover exactly why, until, on the day
following her arrival, she found Celia sitting beside the cot of a
wounded Louisiana Tiger, administering lemonade.

"Dearest," whispered Ailsa that night, "it is very sweet of you to
care for your own people here. We make no distinction, however,
between Union and Confederate sick; so, dear, you must be very
careful not to express any--sentiments."

Celia laughed. "I won't express any sentiments, Honey-bee. I
reckon I'd be drummed out of the Yankee army." Then, graver: "If
I'm bitter--I'll keep it to myse'f."

"I know, dear. . . . And--your sympathies would never lead
you--permit you to any--indiscretion."

"You mean in talking--ahem!--treason--to sick Confederates? I
don't have to, dear."

"And. . . you must never mention anything concerning what you see
inside our lines. You understand that, of course, don't you,
darling?"

"I hadn't thought about it," said Celia musingly.

Ailsa added vaguely: "There's always a government detective hanging
around the hospital."

Celia nodded and gazed out of the open window. Very far away the
purple top of a hill peeped above the forest. Ailsa had told her
that a Confederate battery was there. And now she looked at it in
silence, her blue eyes very soft, her lips resting upon one another
in tender, troubled curves.

Somewhere on that hazy hill-top a new flag was flying; soldiers of
a new nation were guarding it, unseen by her. It was the first
outpost of her own people that she had ever seen; and she looked at
it wistfully, proudly, her soul in her eyes. All the pain, all the
solicitude, all the anguish of a Southern woman, and a wife of a
Northern man, who had borne him Northern children deepened in her
gaze, till her eyes dimmed and her lids quivered and closed; and
Ailsa's arms tightened around her.

"It is ve'y hard, Honey-bud," was all she said.

She had Dr. West's permission to read to the sick, mend their
clothing, write letters for them, and perform such little offices
as did not require the judgment of trained nurses.

By preference she devoted herself to the Confederate sick, but she
was very sweet and gentle with all, ready to do anything any sick
man asked; and she prayed in her heart that if her husband and her
son were ever in need of such aid. God would send, in mercy, some
woman to them, and not let them lie helpless in the clumsy hands of
men.

She had only one really disagreeable experience. Early in March a
government detective sent word that he wished to speak to her; and
she went down to Dr. West's office, where a red-faced, burly man
sat smoking a very black cigar. He did not rise as she entered;
and, surprised, she halted at the doorway.

"Are you Mrs. Craig?" he demanded, keeping his seat, his hat, and
the cigar between his teeth.

"Are you a government detective?"

"Yes, I am."

"Then stand up when you speak to me!" she said sharply. "I reckon
a Yankee nigger has mo' manners than you display."

And the astonished detective presently found himself, hat in hand,
cigar discarded, standing while Mrs. Craig, seated, replied
indifferently to his very mild questions.

"Are you a Southerner, Mrs. Craig?"

"I am."

"Your husband is Colonel Estcourt Craig, 3rd New York Zouaves?"

"He is."

"You have a son serving in that regiment?"

"Yes."

"Private soldier?"

"Yes."

"You are not a volunteer nurse?"

"No."

"Your sister-in-law, Mrs. Paige, is?"

"Yes."

"Now, Mrs. Craig"--but he could not succeed in swaggering, with her
calm, contemptuous eyes taking his measure--"now, Mrs. Craig, is
it true that you own, a mansion called Paigecourt near Richmond?"

"I do."

"It was your father's house?"

"It was my father's home befo' he was married."

"Oh. Who owns your father's house--the one he lived in after he
was married?"

"Mrs. Paige."

"She is your sister-in-law? Your brother inherited this house?
And it is called Marye Mead, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"It is not occupied?"

"No."

"Is Paigecourt--your own house--ah--occupied?"

"It is."

"By an overseer?"

"By a housekeeper. The overseer occupies his own quarters."

"I see. So you hold slaves."

"There are negroes on the plantations. Mr. Paige, my father, freed
his slaves befo' I was married."

The man looked surprised and incredulous.

"How did your father come to do that? I never heard of a Southern
slave owner voluntarily freeing his slaves."

"A number of gentlemen have done so, at va'ious times, and fo'
va'ious reasons," said Celia quietly. "Mr. Paige's reason was a
personal matter. . . . Am I obliged to give it to you?"

"I think you had better," said the detective, watching her.

"Ve'y well. Mr. Paige happened to find among family papers a
letter written by General Washington to my grandfather, in which
his Excellency said;

"'I never mean to possess another slave, it being now among my
first wishes to see slavery, in this country, abolished by law.'
That is why my father freed his slaves."

The detective blinked; then, reddening, started toward the door,
until he suddenly remembered his rudiments of manners. So he
halted, bowed jerkily, clapped the hat on his head and the cigar
into his mouth, and hastily disappeared.

When Celia scornfully informed Ailsa what had happened, the latter
looked worried.

"You see," she said, "how easily trouble is created. Somehow the
Government has learned about your coming here."

"Oh, I had to have a pass."

"Of course. And somebody has informed somebody that you own
Paigecourt, and that you hold slaves there, and therefore you might
be a suspicious person. And they told that detective to find out
all about you. You see, dear, for Curt's sake and Stephen's sake
as well as for your own, you will have to be particularly careful.
You see it, don't you?"

"Yes," said Celia, thoughtfully, "I----"

The sudden thunder of a field battery drowned her voice. Ailsa ran
to the door and looked out, and a soldier shouted to her the news
of the _Monitor's_ combat with the _Merrimac_. Battery after
battery saluted; regiment after regiment blackened the hill-tops,
cheering. At dusk gigantic bonfires flamed.

That evening Hallam came unexpectedly.

Now Ailsa had neither worn her ring and locket since her
sister-in-law had arrived at the Farm Hospital, nor had she told
her one word about Hallam.

Since her unhappy encounter with Berkley, outraged pride had aided
to buoy her above the grief over the deep wound he had dealt her.
She never doubted that his insolence and deliberate brutality had
killed in her the last lingering spark of compassion for the memory
of the man who had held her in his arms that night so long--so long
ago.

Never, even, had she spoken to Letty about him, or betrayed any
interest or curiosity concerning Letty's knowing him. . . . Not
that, at moments, the desire to ask, to know had not burned her.

Never had she spoken of Berkley to Hallam. Not that she did not
care to know what this private in Colonel Arran's regiment of
lancers might be about. And often and often the desire to know
left her too restless to endure her bed; and many a night she rose
and dressed and wandered about the place under the yellow stars.

But all fires burn themselves: to extinction; a dull endurance,
which she believed had at last become a God-sent indifference,
settled on her mind. Duties helped her to endure; pride, anger,
helped her toward the final apathy which she so hopefully desired
to attain. And still she had never yet told Celia about Hallam and
his ring; never told her about Berkley and his visit to the Farm
Hospital that Christmas Eve of bitter memory.

So when, unexpectedly, Hallam rode into the court, dismounted, and
sent word that he was awaiting Ailsa in Dr. West's office, she
looked up at Celia in guilty consternation.

They had been seated in Celia's room, mending by candle-light, and
the steward who brought the message was awaiting Ailsa's response,
and Celia's lifted eyes grew curious as she watched her
sister-in-law's flushed face.

"Say to Captain Hallam that I will come down, Flannery."

And when the hospital steward had gone:

"Captain Hallam is a friend of Colonel Arran, Celia."

"Oh," said Celia drily, and resumed her mending.

"Would you care to meet him, dear?"

"I reckon not, Honey-bud."

A soldier had found a spray of white jasmine in the woods that
afternoon and had brought it to Ailsa. She fastened a cluster in
the dull gold masses of her hair, thickly drooping above each ear,
glanced at her hot cheeks in the mirror, and, exasperated, went out
and down the stairs.

And suddenly, there in the star-lit court, she saw Berkley leaning
against one of the horses, and Letty Lynden standing beside him,
her pretty face uplifted to his.

The shock of it made her falter. Dismayed, she shrank back,
closing the door noiselessly. For a moment she stood leaning
against it, breathing fast; then she turned and stole through to
the back entrance, traversed the lower gallery, and came into Dr.
West's office, offering Hallam a lifeless hand.

They talked of everything--every small detail concerning their
personal participation in the stirring preparations which were
going on all around them; gossip of camp, of ambulance; political
rumours, rumours from home and abroad; and always, through her
brain, ran the insistent desire to know what Berkley was doing in
his regiment; how he stood; what was thought of him; whether the
Colonel had yet noticed him. So many, many things which she had
supposed no longer interested her now came back to torment her into
inquiry. . . . And Hallam talked on, his handsome sun-bronzed face
aglow, his eager eyes of a lover fastened on her and speaking to
her a different but silent language in ardent accompaniment to his
gaily garrulous tongue.

"I tell you, Ailsa, I witnessed a magnificent sight yesterday.
Colonel Rush's regiment of lancers, a thousand strong, rode into
the meadow around Meridian Hill, and began to manoeuvre at full
speed, not far away from us. Such a regiment! Every man a
horseman; a thousand lances with scarlet pennons fluttering in the
sunlight! By ginger! it was superb! And those Philadelphians of
the 6th Pennsylvania Lancers can give our 8th Lancers a thousand
keener points than the ends of their lance blades!"

"I thought your regiment was a good one," she said surprised.

"It is--for greenhorns. Every time we ride out past some of these
dirty blue regiments from the West, they shout: 'Oh my! Fresh
fish! Fresh fish!' until our boys are crazy to lay a lance butt
across their ragged blouses."

"After all," said Ailsa, smiling, "what troops have really seen war
yet--except the regiments at Bull Run--and those who have been
fighting in the West?"

"Oh, we _are_ fresh fish," laughed Hallam. "I don't deny it. But
Lord! what an army we _look_ like! It ought to scare the Johnnies
into the Union again, just to look at us; but I don't suppose it
will."

Ailsa scarcely heard him; she had caught the sound of regular and
steady steps moving up and down the wooden walk outside; and she
had caught glimpses, too, of a figure in the starlight, of two
figures, Berkley and Letty, side by side, pacing the walk together.

To and fro, to and fro, they passed, until it seemed as though she
could not endure it. Hallam laughed and talked, telling her about
something or other--she did not know what--but all she listened to
was the steady footsteps passing, repassing.

"Your orderly--" she scarce knew what she was saying--"is the
same--the one you had Christmas Eve?"

"Yes," said Hallam. "How did you know?"

"I re--thought so."

"What wonderfully sharp eyes those violet ones of yours are, Ailsa!
Yes, I did take Ormond with me on Christmas Eve--the surly brute."

"Or--Ormond?"

"That's his rather high-flown name. Curious fellow. I like
him--or try to. I've an odd idea he doesn't like me, though.
Funny, isn't it, how a man goes out of his way to win over a nobody
whom he thinks doesn't like him but ought to? He's an odd crab,"
he added.

"Odd?" Her voice sounded so strange to her that she tried again.
"Why do you think him odd?"

"Well, he is. For one thing, he will have nothing to do with
others of his mess or troop or squadron, except a ruffianly trooper
named Burgess; consequently he isn't very popular. He could be.
Besides, he rides better than anybody except the drill-master at
White Plains; he rides like a gentleman---and looks like one, with
that infernally cool way of his. No, Ormond isn't very popular."

"Because he--looks like a gentleman?"

"Because he has the bad breeding of one. Nobody can find out
anything about him."

"Isn't it bad breeding to try?"

Hallam laughed. "Technically. But a regiment that elects its
officers is a democracy; and if a man is too good to answer
questions he's let alone."

"Perhaps," said Ailsa, "that is what he wants."

"He has what he wants, then. Nobody except the trooper Burgess
ventures to intrude on his sullen privacy. Even his own bunky has
little use for him. . . . Not that Ormond isn't plucky. That's
all that keeps the boys from hating him."

"_Is_ he plucky?"

Hallam said; "We were on picket duty for three days last week. The
Colonel had become sick of their popping at us, and asked for
twelve carbines to the troop. On the way to the outposts the
ammunition waggon was rushed by the Johnnies, and, as our escort
had only their lances, they started to scatter--would have
scattered, I understand, in spite of the sergeant if that man
Ormond hadn't ridden bang into them, cursing and swearing and
waving his pistol in his left hand.

"'By God!' he said, 'it's the first chance you've had to use these
damned lances! Are you going to run away?'

"And the sergeant and the trooper Burgess and this fellow Ormond
got 'em into line and started 'em down the road at a gallop; and
the rebs legged it."

Ailsa's heart beat hard.

"I call that pluck," said Hallam, "a dozen lancers without a
carbine among them running at a company of infantry. I call that a
plucky thing, don't you?"

She nodded.

Hallam shrugged. "He behaved badly to the sergeant, who said
warmly: ''Tis a brave thing ye did, Private Ormond.' And 'Is it?'
said Ormond with a sneer. 'I thought we were paid for doing such
things.' 'Och, ye sour-faced Sassenach!' said Sergeant Mulqueen,
disgusted; and told me about the whole affair."

Ailsa had clasped her hands in her lap. The fingers were
tightening till the delicate nails whitened.

But it was too late to speak of Berkley to Hallam now, too late to
ask indulgence on the score of her friendship for a man who had
mutilated it. Yet, she could scarcely endure the strain, the
overmastering desire to say something in Berkley's behalf--to make
him better understood--to explain to Hallam, and have Hallam
explain to his troop that Berkley was his own most reckless enemy,
that there was good in him, kindness, a capacity for better
things----

Thought halted; was it _that_ which, always latent within her
bruised heart, stirred it eternally from its pain-weary repose--the
belief, still existing, that there was something better in Berkley,
that there did remain in him something nobler than he had ever
displayed to her? For in some women there is no end to the
capacity for mercy--where they love.

Hallam, hungry to touch her, had risen and seated himself on the
flat arm of the chair in which she was sitting. Listlessly she
abandoned her hand to him, listening all the time to the footsteps
outside, hearing Hallam's low murmur; heard him lightly venturing
to hint of future happiness, not heeding him, attentive only to the
footsteps outside.

"Private Berk--Ormond--" she calmly corrected herself--"has had no
supper, has he?"

"Neither have I!" laughed Hallam. And Ailsa rose up, scarlet with
annoyance, and called to a negro who was evidently bound
kitchenward.

And half an hour later some supper was brought to Hallam; and the
negro went out into the star-lit court to summon Berkley to the
kitchen.

Ailsa, leaving Hallam to his supper, and wandering aimlessly
through the rear gallery, encountered Letty coming from the kitchen.

"My trooper," said the girl, pink and happy, "is going to have
_such_ a good supper! You know who I mean, dear--that Mr.
Ormond----"

"I remember him," said Ailsa steadily. "I thought his name was
Berkley."

"It is Ormond," said Letty in a low voice.

"Then I misunderstood. Is he here again?"

"Yes," ventured Letty, smiling; "he is escort to--your Captain."

Ailsa's expression was wintry. Letty, still smiling out of her
velvet eyes, looked up confidently into Ailsa's face.

"Dear," she said, "I wish you could ever know how nice he is. . . .
But--I don't believe I could explain----"

"Nice? Who? Oh, your trooper!"

"You don't mistake me, do you?" asked the girl, flushing up. "I
only call him so to you. I knew him in New York--and--he is so
much of a man--so entirely good----"

She hesitated, seeing no answering sympathy in Ailsa's face,
sighed, half turned with an unconscious glance at the closed door
of the kitchen.

"What were you saying about--him?" asked Ailsa listlessly.

"Nothing--" said Letty timidly--"only, isn't it odd how matters are
arranged in the army. My poor trooper--a gentleman born--is being
fed in the kitchen; your handsome Captain--none the less gently
born--is at supper in Dr. West's office. . . . They might easily
have been friends in New York. . . . War is so strange, isn't it?"

Ailsa forced a smile; but her eyes remained on the door, behind
which was a man who had held her in his arms. . . . And who might
this girl be who came now to her with tales of Berkley's goodness,
kindness--shy stories of the excellence of the man who had killed
in her the joy of living--had nigh killed more than that? What did
this strange, dark-eyed, dark-haired girl know about his
goodness?--a girl of whom she had never even heard until she saw
her in Dr. Benton's office!

And all the while she stood looking at the closed door, thinking,
thinking.

They were off duty that night, but Letty was going back to a New
Hampshire boy who was not destined to live very long, and whose
father was on the way from Plymouth to see his eldest son--his
eldest son who had never fought a battle, had never seen one, had
never even fired his musket, but who lay dying in the nineteenth
year of his age, colour corporal, loved of his guard and regiment.

"Baily asked for me," she said simply. "I can get some sleep
sitting up, I think." She smiled. "I'm happier and--better for
seeing my trooper. . . . I am--a--better--woman," she said
serenely. Then, looking up with a gay, almost childish toss of her
head, like a schoolgirl absolved of misdemeanours unnumbered, she
smiled wisely at Ailsa, and went away to her dying boy from New
Hampshire.

The closed door fascinated Ailsa, distressed, harrowed her, till
she stood there twisting her hands between desire and pallid
indecision.

Leaden her limbs, for she could not stir them to go forward or to
retire; miserably she stood there, swayed by fear and courage
alternately, now rigid in bitter self-contempt, now shivering lest
he fling open the door and find her there, and she see the mockery
darkening his eyes----

And, "Oh-h!" she breathed, "is there nothing on earth but this
shame for me?"

Suddenly she thought of Celia, and became frightened. Suppose
Celia had gone to the kitchen! What would Celia think of her
attitude toward the son of Constance Berkley? She had never told
Celia that she had seen Berkley or that she even knew of his
whereabouts. What would Celia think!

In her sudden consternation she had walked straight to the closed
door. She hesitated an instant; then she opened the door. And
Berkley, seated as he had been seated that Christmas Eve, all alone
by the burning candle, dropped his hands from his face and looked
up. Then he rose and stood gazing at her.

She said, haughtily: "I suppose I am laying myself open to
misconstruction and insult again by coming here to speak to you."

"Did you come to speak to me, Ailsa?"

"Yes. Celia Craig is here--upstairs. I have never told her that
you have even been in this place. She does not know you are here
now. If she finds out----"

"I understand," he said wearily. "Celia shall not be informed of
my disgrace with you--unless you care to tell her."

"I do not care to tell her. Is there any reason to distress her
with--such matters?"

"No," he said. "What do you wish me to do? Go out somewhere--"
He glanced vaguely toward the darkness. "I'll go anywhere you
wish."

"Why did you come--again?" asked Ailsa coldly.

"Orders--" he shrugged--"I did not solicit the detail; I could not
refuse. Soldiers don't refuse in the army."

She stood looking at the floor for a moment. Then: "Why have you
changed your name?"

"It's not a permanent change," he said carelessly.

"Oh. You wish to remain unrecognised in your regiment?"

"While my service lasts."

Her lips formed the question again; and he understood, though she
had not spoken.

"Why? Yes, I'll tell you," he said with a reckless laugh. "I'll
tell you why I wear a new name. It's because I love my old
one--and the mother who bore it--and from whom I received it! And
it's because I won't risk disgracing it. You have asked, and
_that's_ why! Because--_I'm afraid in battle_!--if you want to
know!--afraid of getting hurt--wounded--killed! I don't know what
I might do; I don't _know_! And if the world ever sees Private
Ormond running away, they'll never know it was Constance Berkley's
son. And _that's_ why I changed my name!"

"W-what?" she faltered. Then, revolted. "It is not true! You are
_not_ afraid!"

"I tell you I am," he repeated with a mirthless laugh. "Don't you
suppose I ought to know? I want to get out of bullet range every
time I'm shot at. And--if anybody ever turns coward, I prefer that
it should be trooper Ormond, not trooper Berkley. And that is the
truth, Ailsa."

She was scarcely able to suppress her anger now. She looked at
him, flushed, excited, furious.

"Why do you say such untruthful things to me! Who was it that
fairly kicked his fellow troopers into charging infantry with
nothing but lances against bullets?"

Amazed for a second, he burst into an abrupt laugh that rang
harshly in the room.

"Who told you such cock-and-bull stories, Ailsa?"

"Didn't you do it? _Isn't_ it true?"

"Do what? Do what the Government pays me for doing? Yes, I
happened to come up to the scratch that time. But I was scared,
every inch of me--if you really want the truth."

"But--you _did_ it?"

He laughed again, harshly, but apparently puzzled by her attitude.

She came nearer, paler in her suppressed excitement.

"Private Ormond," she faltered, "the hour that you fail under fire
is the hour when I--shall be able to--forget--you.
Not--until--then."

Neither moved. The slow, deep colour mounted to the roots of his
hair; but she was white as death.

"Ailsa."

"Yes."

And suddenly he had dropped to one knee, and the hem of her gray
garb was against his lips--and it was a thing of another age that
he did, there on one knee at her feet, but it became him as it had
become his ancestors. And she saw it, and, bending, laid her slim
hands on his head.

After a long silence, her hands still resting on his dark hair, she
found voice enough to speak.

"I know you now."

And, as he made no answer:

"It is there, in you--all that I believed. It was to that
I--yielded--once."

She looked intently down at him.

"I think at last you have become--my champion. . . . Not
my--destroyer. Answer me, Philip!"

He would not, or could not.

"I take you--for mine," she said. "Will you deny me?"

"No, Ailsa."

She said, steadily: "The other--the lesser happiness is to
be--forgotten. Answer."

"It--must be."

She bent lower, whispering: "Is there no wedlock of the spirit?"

"That is all there ever was to hope for."

"Then--_will_ you--Philip?"

"Yes. Will _you_, Ailsa?"

"I--will."

He rose; her fingers slipped from his hair to his hands, and they
stood, confronted.

She said in a dull voice: "I am engaged to--be--married to Captain
Hallam."

"I know it."

She spoke again, very white.

"Can you tell me why you will not marry me?"

"No, I cannot tell you."

"I--would love you none the less. Don't you believe me?"

"Yes, I do now. But I--cannot ask that of you."

"Yet--you would have--taken me without--marriage."

He said, quietly:

"Marriage--or love to the full, without it--God knows how right or
wrong that may be. The world outlaws those who love without
it--drives them out, excommunicates, damns. . . . It may be God
does, too; but--_I--don't--believe it_, Ailsa."

She said, whiter still: "Then I must not think of--what cannot be?"

"No," he said dully, "it cannot be."

She laid her hands against his lips in silence.

"Good night. . . . You won't leave me--too much--alone?"

"May I write to you, dear?"

"Please. And come when--when you can."

He laughed in the utter hopelessness of it all.

"Dear, I cannot come to you unless--_he_ comes."

At that the colour came back into her face.

Suddenly she stooped, touched his hands swiftly with her lips--the
very ghost of contact--turned, and was gone.

Hallam's voice was hearty and amiable; also he welcomed her with a
smile; but there seemed to be something hard in his eyes as he said:

"I began to be afraid that you'd gone to sleep, Ailsa. What the
deuce has kept you? A sick man?"

"Y-es; he is--better--I think."

"That's good. I've only a minute or two left, and I wanted to
speak--if you'll let me--about----"

"Can't you come again next week?" she asked.

"Well--of course, I'll do my best. I wanted to speak----"

"Don't say everything now," she protested, forcing a smile,
"otherwise what excuse will you have for coming again?"

"Well--I wished to-- See here, Ailsa, will you let me speak about
the _practical_ part of our future when I come next time?"

For a moment she could, not bring herself to the deception; but the
memory of Berkley rendered her desperate.

"Yes--if you will bring back to Miss Lynden her trooper friend when
you come again. Will you?"

"Who? Oh, Ormond. Yes, of course, if she wishes----"

But she could not endure her own dishonesty any longer.

"Captain Hallam," she said with stiffened lips, "I--I have just
lied to you. It is not for Miss Lynden that I asked; it is for
myself!"

He looked at her in a stunned sort of way. She said, forcing
herself to meet his eyes:

"Trooper Ormond is your escort; don't you understand? I desire to
see him again, because I knew him in New York."

"Oh," said Hallam slowly.

She stood silent, the colour racing through her cheeks. She
_could_ not, in the same breath, ask Hallam to release her. It was
impossible. Nothing on earth could prevent his believing that it
was because she wished to marry Berkley. And she was never to
marry Berkley. She knew it, now.

"Who is this Private Ormond, anyway?" asked Hallam, handsome eyes
bent curiously on her.

And she said, calmly: "I think you did not mean to ask me that,
Captain Hallam."

"Why not?"

"Because the man in question would have told you had he not desired
the privilege of privacy--to which we all are entitled, I think."

"It seems to me," said Hallam, reddening, "that, under the
circumstances, I myself have been invested by you with some
privileges."

"Not yet," she returned quietly. And again her reply implied
deceit; and she saw, too late, whither that reply led--where she
was drifting, helpless to save herself, or Berkley, or this man to
whom she had been betrothed.

"I've got to speak now," she began desperately calm. "I must tell
you that I cannot marry you. I do not love you enough. I am
forced to say it. I was a selfish, weak, unhappy fool when I
thought I could care enough for you to marry you. All the fault is
mine; all the blame is on me. I am a despicable woman."

"Are you crazy, Ailsa!"

"Half crazed, I think. If you can, some day, try to forgive me--I
should be very grateful."

"Do you mean to tell me that you--you are--have been--in love with
this--this broken-down adventurer----"

"Yes. From the first second in my life that I ever saw him. Now
you know the truth. And you will now consider me worthy of
this--adventurer----"

"No," he replied. And thought a moment. Then he looked at her.

"I don't intend to give you up," he said.

"Captain Hallam, believe me, I am sorry----"

"I won't give you up," he repeated doggedly.

"You won't--release me?"

"No."

She said, with heightened colour: "I am dreadfully sorry--and
bitterly ashamed. I deserve no mercy, no consideration at your
hands. But--I must return your ring--" She slipped it from her
finger, laid it on the table, placed the chain and locket beside it.

She said, wistfully: "I dare not hope to retain your esteem--I dare
not say to you how much I really desire your forgiveness--your
friendship----"

Suddenly he turned on her a face, red, distorted, with rage.

"Do you know what this means to me? It means ridicule in my
regiment! What kind of figure do you think I shall cut after this?
It's--it's a shame!--it's vile usage. I'll appear
absurd--_absurd_! Do you understand?"

Shocked, she stared into his inflamed visage, which anger and
tortured vanity had marred past all belief.

"Is _that_ why you care?" she asked slowly.

"Ailsa! Good God--I scarcely know what I'm saying----"

"I know."

She stepped back, eyes darkening to deepest violet--retreated,
facing him, step by step to the doorway, through it; and left him
standing there.

CHAPTER XIII

Berkley's first letter to her was written during that week of
lovely weather, the first week in March. The birds never sang more
deliriously, the regimental bands never played more gaily; every
camp was astir in the warm sunshine with companies, regiments,
brigades, or divisions drilling.

At the ceremonies of guard mount and dress parade the country was
thronged with visitors from Washington, ladies in gay gowns and
scarfs, Congressmen in silk hats and chokers, apparently forgetful
of their undignified role in the late affair at Bull Run--even
children with black mammies in scarlet turbans and white wool
dresses came to watch a great army limbering up after a winter of
inaction.

He wrote to her:

"Dearest, it has been utterly impossible for me to obtain leave of
absence and a pass to go as far as the Farm Hospital. I tried to
run the guard twice, but had to give it up. I'm going to try again
as soon as there seems any kind of a chance.

"We have moved our camp. Why, heaven knows. If our general
understood what cavalry is for we would have been out long
ago--miles from here--if to do nothing more than make a few maps
which, it seems, our august leaders entirely lack.

"During the night the order came: 'This division will move at four
o'clock in the morning with two days' rations.' All night long we
were at work with axe and hammer, tearing down quarters, packing
stores, and loading our waggons.

"We have an absurd number of waggons. There is an infantry
regiment camped near us that has a train of one hundred and
thirty-six-mule teams to transport its household goods. It's the
77th New York,

"The next morning the sun rose on our army in motion. You say that
I am a scoffer. I didn't scoff at that spectacle. We were on
Flint Hill; and, as far as we could see around us, the whole world
was fairly crawling with troops. Over them a rainbow hung. Later
it rained, as you know.

"I'm wet, Ailsa. The army for the first time is under shelter
tents. The Sibley wall tents and wedge tents are luxuries of the
past for officers and men alike.

"The army--that is, the bulk of it--camped at five. We--the
cavalry--went on to see what we could see around Centreville; but
the rebels had burned it, so we came back here where we don't
belong--a thousand useless men armed with a thousand useless
weapons. Because, dear, our lances are foolish things, picturesque
but utterly unsuited to warfare in such a country as this.

"You see, I've become the sort of an ass who is storing up
information and solving vast and intricate problems in order to be
kind to my superiors when, struck with panic at their own tardily
discovered incapacity, they rush to me in a body to ask me how to
do it.

"Rush's Lancers are encamped near you now; our regiment is not far
from them. If I can run the guard I'll do it. I'm longing to see
you, dear.

"I've written to Celia, as you know, so she won't be too much
astonished if I sneak into the gallery some night.

"I've seen a lot of Zouaves, the 5th, 9th, 10th, and other
regiments, but not the 3rd. What a mark they make of themselves in
their scarlet and blue. Hawkins' regiment, the 9th, is less
conspicuous, wearing only the red headgear and facings, but
Duryea's regiment is a sight! A magnificent one from the
spectacular stand-point, but the regiments in blue stand a better
chance of being missed by the rebel riflemen. I certainly wish
Colonel Craig's Zouaves weren't attired like tropical butterflies.
But for heaven's sake don't say this to Celia.

"Well, you see, I betray the cloven hoof of fear, even when I write
you. It's a good thing that I know I am naturally a coward;
because I may learn to be so ashamed of my legs that I'll never run
at all, either way.

"Dear, I'm too honest with you to make promises, and far too
intelligent not to know that when people begin shooting at each
other somebody is likely to get hit. It is instinctive in me to
avoid mutilation and extemporary death if I can do it. I realise
what it means when the air is full of singing, buzzing noises; when
twigs and branches begin to fall and rattle on my cap and saddle;
when weeds and dead grass are snipped off short beside me; when
every mud puddle is starred and splashed; when whack! smack! whack!
on the stones come flights of these things you hear about, and
hear, and never see. And--it scares me.

"But I'm trying to figure out that, first, I am safer if I do what
my superiors tell me to do; second, that it's a dog's life anyway;
third, that it's good enough for me, so why run away from it?

"Some day some of these Johnnies will scare me so that I'll start
after them. There's no fury like a man thoroughly frightened.

"Nobody has yet been hurt in any of the lancer regiments except one
of Rush's men, who got tangled up in the woods and wounded himself
with his own lance.

"Oh, these lances! And oh, the cavalry! And, alas! a general who
doesn't know how to use his cavalry.

"No sooner does a cavalry regiment arrive than, bang! it's split up
into troops--a troop to escort General A., another to gallop after
General B., another to sit around headquarters while General C.
dozes after dinner! And, if it's not split up, it's detailed
bodily on some fool's job instead of being packed off under a line
officer to find out what is happening just beyond the end of the
commander's nose.

"The visitors like to see us drill--like to see us charge, red
pennons flying, lances at rest. I like to see Rush's Lancers, too.
But, all the same, sometimes when we go riding gaily down the road,
some of those dingy, sunburnt Western regiments who have been too
busy fighting to black their shoes line up along the road and
repeat, monotonously:

"'Who-ever-saw-a-dead-cavalryman?'

"It isn't what they say, Ailsa, it's the expression of their dirty
faces that turns me red, sometimes, and sometimes incites me to
wild mirth.

"I'm writing this squatted under my 'tente d'abri.' General
McClellan, with a preposterous staff the size of a small brigade,
has just passed at a terrific gallop--a handsome, mild-eyed man who
has made us into an army, and who ornaments headquarters with an
entire squadron of Claymore's 20th Dragoons and one of our own 8th
Lancers. Well, some day he'll come to me and say: 'Ormond, I
understand that there is only one man in the entire army fit to
command it. Accept this cocked hat.'

"That detail would suit me, dear. I could get behind the casemates
of Monroe and issue orders. I was cut out to sit in a good, thick
casemate and bring this cruel war to an end.

"A terribly funny thing happened at Alexandria. A raw infantry
regiment was camped near the seminary, and had managed to flounder
through guard mount. The sentinels on duty kept a sharp lookout
and turned out the guard every time a holiday nigger hove in sight;
and sentinels and guard and officer were getting awfully tired of
their mistakes; and the day was hot, and the sentinels grew sleepy.

"Then one sentry, dozing awake, happened to turn and glance toward
the woods; and out of it, over the soft forest soil, and already
nearly on top of him, came a magnificent cavalcade at full
gallop--the President, and Generals McClellan and Benjamin Butler
leading.

"Horror paralyzed him, then he ran toward the guard house,
shrieking at the top of his lungs:

"'Great God! Turn out the guard! Here comes Old Abe and Little
Mac and Beast Butler!'

"And that's all the camp gossip and personal scandal that I have to
relate to you, dear.

"I'll run the guard if I can, so help me Moses!

"And I am happier than I have ever been in all my life. If I don't
run under fire you have promised not to stop loving me. That is
the bargain, remember.

"Here comes your late lamented. I'm no favorite of his, nor he of
mine. He did me a silly trick the other day--had me up before the
Colonel because he said that it had been reported to him that I had
enlisted under an assumed name.

"I had met the Colonel. He looked at me and said:

"'Is Ormond your name?'

[Illustration: "'Is Ormond your name?'"]

"I said: 'It is, partly.'

"He said: 'Then it is sufficient to fight under.'

"Ailsa, I am going to tell you something. It has to do with me, as
you know me, and it has to do with Colonel Arran.

"I'm afraid I'm going to hurt you; but I'm also afraid it will be
necessary.

"Colonel Arran is your friend. But, Ailsa, I am his implacable
enemy. Had I dreamed for one moment that the Westchester Horse was
to become the 10th troop of Arran's Lancers, I would never have
joined it.

"It was a bitter dose for me to swallow when my company was sworn
into the United States service under this man.

"Since, I have taken the matter philosophically. He has not
annoyed me, except by being alive on earth. He showed a certain
primitive decency in not recognizing me when he might have done it
in a very disagreeable fashion. I think he was absolutely
astonished to see me there; but he never winked an eyelash. I give
the devil his due.

"All this distresses you, dear. But I cannot help it; you would
have to know, sometime, that Colonel Arran and I are enemies. So
let it go at that; only, remembering it, avoid always any
uncomfortable situation which must result in this man and myself
meeting under your roof."

His letter ended in lighter vein--a gay message to Celia, a cordial
one to Letty, and the significant remark that he expected to see
her very soon.

The next night he tried to run the guard, and failed.

She had written to him, begging him not to; urging the observance
of discipline, while deploring their separation--a sweet, confused
letter, breathing in every line her solicitation for him, her new
faith and renewed trust in him.

Concerning what he had told her about his personal relations with
Colonel Arran she had remained silent--was too unhappy and
astonished to reply. Thinking of it later, it recalled to her mind
Celia's studied avoidance of any topic in which Colonel Arran
figured. She did not make any mental connection between Celia's
dislike for the man and Berkley's--the coincidence merely made her
doubly unhappy.

And, one afternoon when Letty was on duty and she and Celia were
busy with their mending in Celia's room, she thought about
Berkley's letter and his enmity, and remembered Celia's silent
aversion at the same moment.

"Celia," she said, looking up, "would you mind telling me what it
is that you dislike about my old and very dear friend, Colonel
Arran?"

Celia continued her needlework for a few moments. Then, without
raising her eyes, she said placidly:

"You have asked me that befo', Honey-bird."

"Yes, dear. . . . You know it is not impertinent curiosity----"

"I know what it is, Honey-bee. But you can not he'p this gentleman
and myse'f to any ground of common understanding."

"I am so sorry," sighed Ailsa, resting her folded hands on her work
and gazing through the open window.

Celia continued to sew without glancing up. Presently she said:

"I reckon I'll have to tell you something about Colonel Arran after
all. I've meant to for some time past. Because--because my
silence condemns him utterly; and that is not altogether just."
She bent lower over her work; her needle travelled more slowly as
she went on speaking:

"In my country, when a gentleman considers himse'f aggrieved, he
asks fo' that satisfaction which is due to a man of his
quality. . . . But Colonel Arran did not ask. And when it was
offered, he refused." Her lips curled. "He cited the _Law_,"
she said with infinite contempt.

"But Colonel Arran is not a Southerner," observed Ailsa quietly.
"You know how all Northerners feel----"

"It happened befo' you were born, Honey-bud. Even the No'th
recognised the code then."

"Is _that_ why you dislike Colonel Arran? Because he refused to
challenge or be challenged when the law of the land forbade private
murder?"

Celia's cheeks flushed deeply; she tightened her lips; then:

"The law is not made fo' those in whom the higher law is inherent,"
she said calmly. "It is made fo' po' whites and negroes."

"Celia!"

"It is true, Honey-bird. When a gentleman breaks the law that
makes him one, it is time fo' him to appeal to the lower law. And
Colonel Arran did so."

"What was his grievance?"

"A deep one, I reckon. He had the right on his side--and his own
law to defend it, and he refused. And the consequences were ve'y
dreadful."

"To--him?"

"To us all. . . . His punishment was certain."

"Was he punished?"

"Yes. Then, in his turn, _he_ punished--terribly. But not as a
gentleman should. Fo' in that code which gove'ns us, no man can
raise his hand against a woman. He must endure all things; he may
not defend himse'f at any woman's expense; he may not demand
justice at the expense of any woman. It is the privilege of his
caste to endure with dignity what cannot be remedied or revenged
except through the destruction of a woman. . . . And Colonel Arran
invoked the lower law; and the justice that was done him
destroyed--a woman."

She looked up steadily into Ailsa's eyes.

"She was only a young girl, Honey-bud--too young to marry anybody,
too inexperienced to know her own heart until it was too late.

"And Colonel Arran came; and he was ve'y splendid, and handsome,
and impressive in his cold, heavy dignity, and ve'y certain that
the child must marry him--so certain that she woke up one day and
found that she had done it. And learned that she did not love him.

"There was a boy cousin. He was reckless, I reckon; and she was
ve'y unhappy; and one night he found her crying in the garden; and
there was a ve'y painful scene, and she let him kiss the hem of her
petticoat on his promise to go away fo' ever. And--Colonel Arran
caught him on his knees, with the lace to his lips--and the child
wife crying. . . . He neither asked nor accepted satisfaction; he
threatened the--_law_! And that settled him with her, I reckon,
and she demanded her freedom, and he refused, and she took it.

"Then she did a ve'y childish thing; she married the boy--or
supposed she did----"

Celia's violet eyes grew dark with wrath:

"And Colonel Arran went into co't with his lawyers and his
witnesses and had the divorce set aside--and publicly made this
silly child her lover's mistress, and their child nameless! That
was the justice that the law rendered Colonel Arran. And now you
know why I hate him--and shall always hate and despise him."

Ailsa's head was all awhirl; lips parted, she stared at Celia in
stunned silence, making as yet no effort to reconcile the memory of
the man she knew with this cold, merciless, passionless portrait.

Nor did the suspicion occur to her that there could be the
slightest connection between her sister-in-law's contempt for
Colonel Arran and Berkley's implacable enmity.

All the while, too, her clearer sense of right and justice cried
out in dumb protest against the injury done to the man who had been
her friend, and her parents' friend--kind, considerate, loyal,
impartially just in all his dealings with her and with the world,
as far as she had ever known.

From Celia's own showing the abstract right and justice of the
matter had been on his side; no sane civilisation could tolerate
the code that Celia cited. The day of private vengeance was over;
the era of duelling was past in the North--was passing in the
South. And, knowing Colonel Arran, she knew also that twenty odd
years ago his refusal to challenge had required a higher form of
courage than to face the fire of a foolish boy's pistol.

And now, collecting her disordered thoughts, she began to
understand what part emotion and impulse had played in the painful
drama--how youthful ignorance and false sentiment had combined to
invest a silly but accidental situation with all the superficial
dignity of tragedy.

What must it have meant to Colonel Arran, to this quiet, slow,
respectable man of the world, to find his girl wife crying in the
moonlight, and a hot-headed boy down on his knees, mumbling the
lace edge of her skirts?

What must it have meant to him--for the chances were that he had
not spoken the first word--to be confronted by an excited,
love-smitten, reckless boy, and have a challenge flung in his face
before he had uttered a word.

No doubt his calm reply was to warn the boy to mind his business
under penalty of law. No doubt the exasperated youth defied
him--insulted him--declared his love--carried the other child off
her feet with the exaggerated emotion and heroics. And, once off
their feet, she saw how the tide had swept them together--swept
them irrevocably beyond reason and recall.

Ailsa rose and stood by the open window, looking out across the
hills; but her thoughts were centred on Colonel Arran's tragedy,
and the tragedy of those two hot-headed children whom his
punishment had out-lawed.

Doubtless his girl wife had told him how the boy had come to be
there, and that she had banished him; but the clash between
maturity and adolescence is always inevitable; the misunderstanding
between ripe experience and Northern logic, and emotional
inexperience and Southern impulse was certain to end in disaster.

Ailsa considered; and she knew that now her brief for Colonel Arran
was finished, for beyond the abstract right she had no sympathy
with the punishment he had dealt out, even though his conscience
and civilisation and the law of the land demanded the punishment of
these erring' ones.

No, the punishment seemed too deeply tainted with vengeance for her
to tolerate.

A deep unhappy sigh escaped her. She turned mechanically, seated
herself, and resumed her sewing.

"I suppose I ought to be asleep," she said. "I am on duty
to-night, and they've brought in so many patients from the new
regiments."

Celia bent and bit off her thread, then passing the needle into the
hem, laid her work aside.

"Honey-bud," she said, "you are ve'y tired. If you'll undress I'll
give you a hot bath and rub you and brush your hair."

"Oh, Celia, will you? I'd feel so much better." She gave a dainty
little shudder and made a wry face, adding:

"I've had so many dirty, sick men to cleanse--oh, incredibly dirty
and horrid!--poor boys--it doesn't seem to be their fault, either;
and they are so ashamed and so utterly miserable when I am obliged
to know about the horror of their condition. . . . Dear, it will
be angelic of you to give me a good, hot scrubbing. I could go to
sleep if you would."

"Of co'se I will," said Celia simply. And, when Ailsa was ready to
call her in she lifted the jugs of water which a negro had
brought--one cold, one boiling hot--entered Ailsa's room, filled
the fiat tin tub; and, when Ailsa stepped into it, proceeded to
scrub her as though she had been two instead of twenty odd.

Then, her glowing body enveloped in a fresh, cool sheet, she lay
back and closed her eyes while Celia brushed the dull gold masses
of her hair.

"Honey-bee, they say that all the soldiers are in love with you,
even my po' Confederate boys in Ward C. Don't you dare corrupt
their loyalty!"

"They are the dearest things--all of them," smiled Ailsa sleepily,
soothed by the skilful brushing. "I have never had one cross word,
one impatient look from Union or Confederate." She added: "They
say in Washington that we women are not needed--that we are in the
way--that the sick don't want us. . . . Some very important
personage from Washington came down to the General Hospital and
announced that the Government was going to get rid of all women
nurses. And such a dreadful row those poor sick soldiers made!
Dr. West told us; he was there at the time. And it seems that the
personage went back to Washington with a very different story to
tell the powers that be. So I suppose they've concluded to let us
alone."

"It doesn't surprise me that a Yankee gove'nment has no use fo'
women," observed Celia.

"Hush, dear. That kind of comment won't do. Besides, some horrid
stories were afloat about some of the nurses not being all they
ought to be."

"That sounds ve'y Yankee, too!"

"Celia! And perhaps it was true that one or two among thousands
might not have been everything they should have been," admitted
Ailsa, loyal to her government in everything. "And perhaps one or
two soldiers were insolent; but neither Letty Lynden nor I have
ever heard one unseemly word from the hundreds and hundreds of
soldiers we have attended, never have had the slightest hint of
disrespect from them."

"They certainly do behave ve'y well," conceded Celia, brushing away
vigorously. "They behave like our Virginians."

Ailsa laughed, then, smiling reflectively, glanced at her hand
which still bore the traces of a healed scar. Celia noticed her
examining the slender, uplifted hand, and said:

"You promised to tell me how you got that scar, Honey-bud."

"I will, now--because the man who caused it has gone North."

"A--man!"

"Yes, poor fellow. When the dressings were changed the agony
crazed him and he sometimes bit me. I used to be so annoyed," she
added mildly, "and I used to shake my forefinger at him and say,
'Now it's got to be done, Jones; will you promise not to bite me.'
And the poor fellow would promise with tears in his eyes--and then
he'd forget--poor boy----"

"I'd have slapped him," said Celia, indignantly. "What a darling
you are, Ailsa! . . . Now bundle into bed," she added, "because
you haven't any too much time to sleep, and poor little Letty
Lynden will be half dead when she comes off duty."

Letty really appeared to be half dead when she arrived, and bent
wearily over the bed where Ailsa now lay in calm-breathing, rosy
slumber.

"Oh, you sweet thing!" she murmured to herself, "you can sleep for
two hours yet, but you don't know it." And, dropping her garments
from her, one by one, she bathed and did up her hair and crept in
beside Ailsa very softly, careful not to arouse her.

But Ailsa, who slept lightly, awoke, turned on her pillow, passed
one arm around Letty's dark curls.

"I'll get up," she said drowsily. "Why didn't Flannery call me?"

"You can sleep for an hour or two yet, darling," cooed Letty,
nestling close to her. "Mrs. Craig has taken old Bill Symonds, and
they'll be on duty for two hours more."

"How generous of Celia--and of old Symonds, too. Everybody seems
to be so good to me here."

"Everybody adores you, dear," whispered Letty, her lips against
Ailsa's flushed cheek. "Don't you know it?"

Ailsa laughed; and the laugh completed her awakening past all hope
of further slumber.

"You quaint little thing," she said, looking at Letty. "You
certainly are the most engaging girl I ever knew."

Letty merely lay and looked her adoration, her soft cheek pillowed
on Ailsa's arm. Presently she said:

"Do you remember the first word you ever spoke to me?"

"Yes, I do."

"And--you asked me to come and see you."

"Who wouldn't ask you--little rosebud?"

But Letty only sighed and closed her eyes; nor did she awaken when
Ailsa cautiously withdrew her arm and slipped out of bed.

She still had an hour and more; she decided to dress and go out for
a breath of fresh, sweet air to fortify her against the heavy
atmosphere of the sick wards.

It was not yet perfectly dark; the thin edge of the new moon traced
a pale curve in the western sky; frogs were trilling; a night-bird
sang in a laurel thicket unceasingly.

The evening was still, but the quiet was only comparative because,
always, all around her, the stirring and murmur of the vast army
never entirely ended.

But the drums and bugles, answering one another from hill to hill,
from valley to valley, had ceased; she saw the reddening embers of
thousands of camp fires through the dusk; every hill was jewelled,
every valley gemmed.

In the darkness she could hear the ground vibrate under the steady
tread of a column of infantry passing, but she could not see
them--could distinguish no motion against the black background of
the woods.

Standing there on the veranda, she listened to them marching by.
From the duration of the sound she judged it to be only one
regiment, probably a new one arriving from the North.

A little while afterward she heard on some neighbouring hillside
the far outbreak of hammering, the distant rattle of waggons, the
clash of stacked muskets. Then, in sudden little groups, scattered
starlike over the darkness, camp fires twinkled into flame. The
new regiment had pitched its tents.

It was a pretty sight; she walked out along the fence to see more
clearly, stepping aside to avoid collision with a man in the dark,
who was in a great hurry--a soldier, who halted to make his
excuses, and, instead, took her into his arms with a breathless
exclamation.

"Philip!" she faltered, trembling all over.

"Darling! I forgot I was not to touch you!" He crushed her hands
swiftly to his lips and let them drop.

"My little Ailsa! My--little--Ailsa!" he repeated under his
breath--and caught her to him again.

"Oh--darling--we mustn't," she protested faintly. "Don't you
remember, Philip? Don't you remember, dear, what we are to be to
one another?"

He stood, face pressed against her burning cheeks; then his arm
encircling her waist fell away.

"You're right, dear," he said with a sigh so naively robust, so
remarkably hearty, that she laughed outright--a very tremulous and
uncertain laugh.

"What a tragically inclined boy! I never before heard a
'thunderous sigh'; but I had read of them in poetry. Philip, tell
me instantly how you came here!"

"Ran the guard," he admitted.

"No! Oh, dear, oh, dear!--and I told you not to. Philip!
_Philip_! Do you want to get shot?"

"Now you know very well I don't," he said, laughing. "I spend
every minute trying not to. . . . And, Ailsa, what do you think?
A little while ago when I was skulking along fences and lurking in
ditches--all for your sake, ungrateful fair
one!--tramp--tramp--tramp comes a column out of the darkness!
'Lord help us,' said I, 'it's the police guard, or some horrible
misfortune, and I'll never see my Ailsa any more!' Then I took a
squint at 'em, and I saw officers riding, with about a thousand
yards of gold lace on their sleeves, and I saw their music trudging
along with that set of silver chimes aloft between two scarlet
yaks' tails; and I saw the tasselled fezzes and the white gaiters
and--'Aha!' said I--'the Zou-Zous! But _which_?'

"And, by golly, I made out the number painted white on their
knapsacks; and, Ailsa, it was the 3d Zouaves, Colonel Craig!--just
arrived! And there--on that hill--are their fires!"

"Oh, Phil!" she exclaimed in rapture, "how heavenly for Celia! I'm
perfectly crazy to see Curt and Steve----"

"Please transfer a little of that sweet madness to me."

"Dear--I can't, can I?"

But she let him have her hands; and, resting beside him on the rail
fence, bent her fair head as he kissed her joined hands, let it
droop lower, lower, till her cheek brushed his. Then, turning very
slowly, their lips encountered, rested, till the faint fragrance of
hers threatened his self-control.

She opened her blue eyes as he raised his head, looking at him
vaguely in the dusk, then very gently shook her head and rested one
cheek on her open palm.

"I don't know," she sighed. "I--don't--know--" and closed her lids
once more.

"Know what, dearest of women?"

"What is going to happen to us, Phil. . . . It seems
incredible--after our vows--after the lofty ideals we----"

"The ideals are there," he said in a low voice. And, in his tone
there was a buoyancy, a hint of something new to her--something
almost decisive, something of protection which began vaguely to
thrill her, as though that guard which she had so long mounted over
herself might be relieved--the strain relaxed---the duty left to
him.

She laid one hand on his arm, looked up, searching his face,
hesitated. A longing to relax the tension of self-discipline came
over her--to let him guard them both--to leave all to him--let him
fight for them both. It was a longing to find security in the
certainty of his self-control, a desire to drift, and let him be
responsible, to let him control the irresponsibility within her,
the unwisdom, the delicate audacity, latent, mischievous, that
needed a reversal of the role of protector and protected to blossom
deliciously into the coquetry that she had never dared.

"Are you to be trusted?" she asked innocently.

"Yes, at last. You know it. Even if I----"

"Yes, dear."

She considered him with a new and burning curiosity. It was the
feminine in her, wondering, not yet certain, whether it might
safely dare.

"I suppose I've made an anchorite out of you," she ventured.

"You can judge," he said, laughing; and had her in his arms again,
and kissed her consenting lips and palms, and looked down into the
sweet eyes; and she smiled back at him, confident, at rest.

"What has wrought this celestial change in you, Phil?" she
whispered, listlessly humourous.

"What change?"

"The spiritual."

"Is there one? I seem to kiss you just as ardently."

"I know. . . . But--for the first time since I ever saw you--I
feel that I am safe in the world. . . . It may annoy me."

He laughed.

"I may grow tired of it," she insisted, watching him. "I may
behave like a naughty, perverse, ungrateful urchin, and kick and
scream and bite. . . . But you won't let me be hurt, will you?"

"No, child." His voice was laughing at her, but his eyes were
curiously grave.

She put both arms up around his neck with a quick catch of her
breath.

"I do love you--I do love you. I know it now, Phil--I know it as I
never dreamed of knowing it. . . . You will never let me be hurt,
will you? Nothing can harm me now, can it?"

"Nothing, Ailsa."

She regarded him dreamily. Sometimes her blue eyes wandered toward
the stars, sometimes toward the camp fires on the hill.

"Perfect--perfect belief in--your goodness--to me," she murmured
vaguely. "Now I shall--repay you--by perversity--misbehaviour--I
don't know what--I don't know--what----"

Her lids closed; she yielded to his embrace; one slim, detaining
hand on his shoulder held her closer, closer.

"You must--never--go away," her lips formed.

But already he was releasing her, pale but coolly master of the
situation. Acquiescent, inert, she lay in his arms, then
straightened and rested against the rail beside her.

Presently she smiled to herself, looked at him, still smiling.

"Shall we go into Dr. West's office and have supper, Phil? I'm on
duty in half an hour and my supper must be ready by this time; and
I'm simply dying to have you make up for the indignity of the
kitchen."

"You ridiculous little thing!"

"No, I'm not. I could weep with rage when I think of _you_ in the
kitchen and--and-- Oh, never mind. Come, will you?" And she held
out her hand.

Her supper was ready, as she had predicted, and she delightedly
made room for him beside her on the bench, and helped him to
freshly baked bread and ancient tinned vegetables, and some
doubtful boiled meat, all of which he ate with an appetite and a
reckless and appreciative abandon that fascinated her.

"Darling!" she whispered in consternation, "don't they give you
_anything_ in camp?"

"Sometimes," he enunciated, chewing vigorously on the bread. "We
don't get much of this, darling. And the onions have all sprouted,
and the potatoes are rotten."

She regarded him for a moment, then laughed hysterically.

"I _beg_ your pardon, Phil, but somehow this reminds me of our cook
feeding her policeman:--just for one tiny second, darling----"

They abandoned any effort to control their laughter. Ailsa had
become transfigured into a deliciously mischievous and bewildering
creature, brilliant of lip and cheek and eye, irresponsible,
provoking, utterly without dignity or discipline.

She taunted him with his appetite, jeered at him for his recent and
marvellous conversion to respectability, dared him to make love to
her, provoked him at last to abandon his plate and rise and start
toward her. And, of course, she fled, crying in consternation:
"Hush, Philip! You _mustn't_ make such a racket or they'll put us
both out!"--keeping the table carefully between them, dodging every
strategy of his, every endeavour to make her prisoner, quick,
graceful, demoralising in her beauty and abandon. They behaved
like a pair of very badly brought up children, until she was in
real terror of discovery.

"Dearest," she pleaded, "if you will sit down and resume your
gnawing on that crust, I'll promise not to torment you. . . . I
will, really. Besides, it's within a few minutes of my tour of
duty----"

She stopped, petrified, as a volley of hoof-beats echoed outside,
the clash of arms and accoutrements rang close by the porch.

"Phil!" she gasped.

And the door opened and Colonel Arran walked in.

There was a dreadful silence. Arran stood face to face with
Berkley, looked him squarely in the eye where he stood at salute.
Then, as though he had never before set eyes on him, Arran lifted
two fingers to his visor mechanically, turned to Ailsa, uncovered,
and held out both his hands.

"I had a few moments, Ailsa," he said quietly. "I hadn't seen you
for so long. Are you well?"

She was almost too frightened to answer; Berkley stood like a
statue, awaiting dismissal, and later the certain consequences of
guard running.

And, aware of her fright, Arran turned quietly to Berkley:

"Private Ormond," he said, "there is a led-horse in my escort, in
charge of Private Burgess. It is the easier and--safer route to
camp. You may retire."

Berkley's expression was undecipherable as he saluted, shot a
glance at Ailsa, turned sharply, and departed.

"Colonel Arran," she said miserably, "it was all my fault. I am
too ashamed to look at you."

"Let me do what worrying is necessary," he said quietly. "I
am--not unaccustomed to it. . . . I suppose he ran the guard."

She did not answer.

The ghost of a smile--a grim one--altered the Colonel's expression
for a second, then faded. He looked at Ailsa curiously. Then:

"Have you anything to tell me that--perhaps I may be entitled to
know about, Ailsa?"

"No."

"I see. I beg your pardon. If you ever are--perplexed--in
doubt--I shall always----"

"Thank you," she said faintly. . . . "And--I am so sorry----"

"So am I. I'm sorrier than you know--about more matters than you
know, Ailsa--" He softly smote his buckskin-gloved hands together,
gazing at vacancy. Then lifted his head and squared his heavy
shoulders.

"I thought I'd come when I could. The chances are that the army
will move if this weather continues. The cavalry will march out
anyway. So I thought I'd come over for a few moments, Ailsa. . . .
Are you sure you are quite well? And not overdoing it? You
certainly look well; you appear to be in perfect health. . . . I
am very much relieved. . . . And--don't worry. Don't cherish
apprehension about--anybody." He added, more to himself than to
her: "Discipline will be maintained--_must_ be maintained. There
are more ways to do it than by military punishments, I know that
now."

He looked up, held out his hand, retained hers, and patted it
gently.

"Don't worry, child," he said, "don't worry." And went out to the
porch thoughtfully, gazing straight ahead of him as his horse was
brought up. Then, gathering curb and snaffle, he set toe to
stirrup and swung up into his saddle.

"Ormond!" he called.

Berkley rode up and saluted.

"Ride with me," said Colonel Arran calmly.

"Sir?"

"Rein up on the left." And, turning in his saddle, he motioned
back his escort twenty paces to the rear. Then he walked his big,
bony roan forward.

"Ormond?"

"Yes, Colonel."

"You ran the guard?"

"Yes, Colonel."

"Why?"

Berkley was silent.

The Colonel turned in his saddle and scrutinised him. The lancer's
visage was imperturbable.

"Ormond," he said in a low voice, "whatever you think of
me--whatever your attitude toward me is, I would like you to
believe that I wish to be your friend."

Berkley's expression remained unchanged.

"It is my desire," said the older man, "my--very earnest--desire."

The young lancer was mute.

Arran's voice fell still lower:

"Some day--if you cared to--if you could talk over some--matters
with me, I would be very glad. Perhaps you don't entirely
understand me. Perhaps I have given you an erroneous impression
concerning--matters--which it is too late to treat differently--in
the light of riper experience--and in a knowledge born of
years--solitary and barren years----"

He bent his gray head thoughtfully, then, erect in his saddle again:

"I would like to be your friend," he said in a voice perceptibly
under control.

"Why?" asked Berkley harshly. "Is there any reason on God's earth
why I could ever forgive you?"

"No; no reason perhaps. Yet, you are wrong."

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