Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Ailsa Paige by Robert W. Chambers

Part 6 out of 9

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.9 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"Wrong!"

"I say so in the light of the past, Berkley. Once I also believed
that a stern, uncompromising attitude toward error was what God
required of an upright heart."

"Error! D-do you admit that?" stammered Berkley. "Are you awake
at last to the deviltry that stirred you--the damnable, misguided,
distorted conscience that twisted you into a murderer of souls? By
God, _are_ you alive to what you did to--_her_?"

Colonel Arran, upright in his saddle and white as death, rode
straight on in front of him.. Beside him, knee to knee, rode
Berkley, his features like marble, his eyes ablaze.

"I am not speaking for myself," he said between his teeth, "I am
not reproaching you, cursing you, for what you have done to me--for
the ruin you have made of life for me, excommunicating me from
every hope, outlawing me, branding me! I am thinking, now, only of
my mother. God!--to think--to _think_ of it--of her----"

Arran turned on him a face so ghastly that the boy was silenced.
Then the older man said:

"Do you not know that the hell men make for others is what they are
destined to burn in sooner or later? Do you think you can tell me
anything of eternal punishment?" He laughed a harsh, mirthless
laugh. "Do you not think I have learned by this time that
vengeance is God's--and that He never takes it? It is man alone
who takes it, and suffers it. Humanity calls it justice. But I
have learned that what the laws of men give you is never yours to
take; that the warrant handed you by men is not for you to execute.
I--have--learned--many things in the solitary years, Berkley. . . .
But this--what I am now saying to you, here under the stars--is the
first time I have ever, even to myself, found courage to confess
Christ."

Very far away to the south a rocket rose--a slender thread of fire.
Then, to the northward, a tiny spark grew brighter, flickered,
swung in an arc to right, to left, dipped, soared, hung motionless,
dipped again to right, to left, tracing faint crimson semicircles
against the sky.

Two more rockets answered, towering, curving, fading, leaving blue
stars floating in the zenith.

And very, very far away there was a dull vibration of thunder, or
of cannon.

CHAPTER XIV

The tremendous exodus continued; regiment after regiment packed
knapsacks, struck tents, loaded their waggons and marched back
through the mud toward Alexandria, where transports were waiting in
hundreds.

The 3rd Zouaves were scheduled to leave early. Celia had only a
few hours now and then in camp with husband and son. Once or twice
they came to the hospital in the bright spring weather where new
blossoms on azalea and jasmine perfumed the fields and flowering
peach orchards turned all the hills and valleys pink.

Walking with her husband and son that last lovely evening before
the regiment left, a hand of each clasped in her own, she strove
very hard to keep up the gaiety of appearances, tried with all her
might to keep back the starting tears, steady the lip that
quivered, the hands that trembled locked in theirs.

They were walking together in a secluded lane that led from behind
the Farm Hospital barns to a little patch of woodland through which
a clear stream sparkled, a silent, intimate, leafy oasis amid an
army-ridden desert, where there was only a cow to stare at them,
knee deep in young mint, only a shy cardinal bird to interrupt them
with its exquisite litany.

Their talk had been of Paige and Marye, of Paigecourt and the
advisability of selling all stock, dismissing the negroes, and
closing the place with the exception of the overseer's house. And
Celia had made arrangements to attend to it.

"I certainly do despise travelling," she said, "but while I'm so
near, I reckon I'd better use my pass and papers and try to go
through to Paigecourt. It's just as well to prepare for the
impossible, I suppose."

Colonel Craig polished his eye-glasses, adjusted them, and examined
the official papers that permitted his wife to go to her estate,
pack up certain family papers, discharge the servants, close the
house, and return through the Union lines carrying only personal
baggage.

He said without enthusiasm: "It's inside their lines. To go there
isn't so difficult, but how about coming back? I don't want you to
go, Celia."

She explained in detail that there would be no difficulty--a little
proudly, too, when she spoke of her personal safety among her own
people.

"I understand all that," he said patiently, "but nobody except the
commander-in-chief knows where this army is going. I don't want
you to be caught in the zone of operations."

She flushed up with a defiant little laugh. "The war isn't going
to Paigecourt, anyway," she said.

He smiled with an effort. "I am not sure, dearest. All I am sure
of is that we march in the morning, and go aboard ship at
Alexandria. I _don't_ know where we are expected to land, or where
we are going to march after we do land." . . . He smiled again,
mischievously. "Even if you believe that a Yankee army is not
likely to get very far into Virginia, Paigecourt is too near
Richmond for me to feel entirely sure that you may not have another
visit from Stephen and me before you start North."

"Listen to the Yankee!" she cried, laughing gaily to hide the
sudden dimness in her blue eyes. "My darling Yankee husband is
ve'y absurd, and he doesn't suspect it! Why! don't you perfec'ly
ridiculous Zouaves know that you'll both be back in New York befo'
I am--and all tired out keeping up with the pace yo' general sets
you?"

But when it was time to say good-bye once more, her limbs grew weak
and she leaned heavily on husband and son, her nerveless feet
dragging across the spring turf.

"Oh, Curt, Curt," she faltered, her soft cheeks pressed against the
stiff bullion on his sleeve and collar, "if only I had the wretched
consolation of sending you away to fight fo' the Right--fo' God and
country--There, darling! Fo'give me--fo'give me. I am yo' wife
first of all--first of all, Curt. And that even comes befo'
country and--God!--Yes, it does! it _does_, dear. You are all
three to me--I know no holier trinity than husband, God, and native
land. . . . _Must_ you go so soon? So soon? . . . Where is my
boy--I'm crying so I can't see either of you--Stephen! Mother's
own little boy--mother's little, little boy--oh, it is ve'y
hard--ve'y hard----"

[Illustration: "_Must_ you go so soon? So soon?"]

"Steve--I think you'd better kiss your mother now"--his voice
choked and he turned his back and stood, the sun glittering on the
gold and scarlet of his uniform.

Mother and son clung, parted, clung; then Colonel Craig's
glittering sleeve was flung about them both.

"I'll try to bring him through all right, Celia. You must believe
that we are coming back."

So they parted.

And at three in the morning, Celia, lying in her bed, started to a
sitting posture. Very far away in the night reveille was sounding
for some regiment outward bound; and then the bugles blew for
another regiment and another, and another, until everywhere the
darkened world grew gaily musical with the bugle's warning.

She crept to the window; it was too dusky to see. But in obscurity
she felt that not far away husband and son were passing through
darkness toward the mystery of the great unknown; and there, in her
night-dress, she knelt by the sill, hour after hour, straining her
eyes and listening until dawn whitened the east and the rivers
began to marshal their ghostly hosts. Then the sun rose,
annihilating the phantoms of the mist and shining on columns of
marching men, endless lines of waggons, horse-batteries, foot
artillery, cavalry, engineers with gabions and pontoons, and entire
divisions of blue infantry, all pouring steadily toward Alexandria
and the river, where lay the vast transport fleet at anchor,
destined to carry them whither their Maker and commanding general
willed that they should go.

To Celia's wet eyes there seemed to be little variation in the dull
blue columns with the glitter of steel flickering about them; yet,
here and there a brilliant note appeared--pennons fluttering above
lances, scarfs and facings of some nearer foot battery, and, far
away toward Alexandria, vivid squares of scarlet in a green field,
dimmed very little by the distance. Those were zouaves--her own,
or perhaps the 5th, or the 9th from Roanoke, or perhaps the 14th
Brooklyn--she could not know, but she never took her eyes from the
distant blocks and oblongs of red against the green until the woods
engulfed them.

Ailsa still lay heavily asleep. Celia opened the door and called
her to the window.

"Honey-bud, darling," she whispered tearfully, "did you know the
Lancers are leaving?"

Ailsa's eyes flew wide open:

"Not _his_ regiment!"

"Are there two?"

"Yes," said Ailsa, frightened. "That must be the 6th
Pennsylvania. . . . Because I think--somebody would have told
me--Colonel Arran----"

She stared through eyes from which the mist of slumber had entirely
cleared away. Then she sprang from her bed to the window:

"Oh--_oh_!" she said half to herself, "he wouldn't go away without
saying something to me! He couldn't! . . . And--oh, dear--oh
dear, their pennons _are_ swallow-tailed and scarlet! It looks
like his regiment--it does--it does! . . . But he wouldn't go
without speaking to me----"

Celia turned and looked at her.

"Do you mean Colonel Arran?" And saw that she did not.

For a while they stood there silently together, the soft spring
wind blowing over their bare necks and arms, stirring the frail,
sheer fabric of their night-robes.

Suddenly the stirring music of cavalry trumpets along the road
below startled them; they turned swiftly to look out upon a torrent
of scarlet pennons and glancing lance points--troop after troop of
dancing horses and blue-clad riders, their flat forage caps set
rakishly, bit and spur and sabre hilt glistening, the morning sun
flashing golden on the lifted trumpets.

On they came, on, on, horses' heads tossing, the ground shaking
with the mellow sound of four thousand separate hoofs,--and passed,
troop on troop, a lengthening, tossing wave of scarlet across the
verdure.

Then, far away in the column, a red lance pennon swung in a circle,
a blue sleeve shot up in salute and adieu. And Ailsa knew that
Berkley had seen her, and that the brightness of the young world
was leaving her, centred there in the spark of fire that tipped his
lance.

Now she saw her lover turn in his saddle and, sitting so, ride on
and on, his tall lance slanting from stirrup boot to arm loop, the
morning sun bright across his face, and touching each metal button
with fire from throat to belt.

So her lancer rode away into the unknown; and she sat on the edge
of her bed, crying, until it was time to go on duty and sit beside
the dying in the sick wards.

They brought her his last letter that evening.

"You wicked little thing," it ran, "if you hadn't taught me
self-respect I'd have tried to run the guard to-night, and would
probably have been caught and drummed out or shot. We're in a
bustle; orders, totally unexpected, attach us to Porter's Corps,
Sykes's division of regulars. Warren's brigade, which includes, I
believe, the 5th Zouaves, the 10th Zouaves, 6th Pennsylvania
Lancers, and 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery.

"We've scarcely time to get off; our baggage will never be ready,
and how we're going to get to Alexandria and aboard ship is more
than I know.

"And I'm simply furious; I'd counted on a dramatic situation,
Ailsa--the soldiers farewell, loud sobs, sweetheart faints, lancer
dashes away unmanly tears--'Be strong, be br-r-rave, dah-ling!
Hevving watches over your Alonzo!'

"Not so. A big brawny brute in spurs comes in the dark to stir us
with the toe of his boot. 'Silence,' he hisses, 'if you can't hear
that damn reveille, I'll punch you in the snoot, an' then mebbe
you'll spread them lop-ears o' yourn!'

"Heaven! Your Alonzo is derided by a hireling!

"'Pack up, you swallow-tailed, leather-seated, pig-prodding sons of
galoots!' Thus, our first sergeant, recently of the regulars,
roll-call having ended.

"Coffeeless, soupless, tackless, we leer furtively at the two days'
rations in our haversacks which we dare not sample; lick our chops
reflectively, are cruelly chidden by underlings in uniform, further
insulted by other underlings, are stepped on, crowded, bitten, and
kicked at by our faithful Arab steeds, are coarsely huddled into
line, where officers come to gloat over us and think out further
ingenious indignities to heap upon us while we stand to horse. And
we stand there two hours!

"I can't keep up this artificial flow of low comedy. The plain
fact of the situation is that we're being hustled toward an
amphibious thing with paddle-wheels named _The Skylark_, and I
haven't said good-bye to you.

"Ailsa, it isn't likely that anything is going to knock my head off
or puncture vital sections of me. But in case the ludicrous should
happen, I want you to know that a cleaner man goes before the last
Court Marshal than would have stood trial there before he met you.

"You are every inch my ideal of a woman--every fibre in you is
utterly feminine. I adore your acquired courage, I worship your
heavenly inconsistencies. The mental pleasure I experienced with
you was measured and limited only by my own perversity and morbid
self-absorption; the splendour of the passion I divine in you,
unawakened, awes me, leaves me in wonder. The spiritual tonic,
even against my own sickly will has freshened me by mere contact
with the world you live in; the touch of your lips and hands--ah,
Ailsa--has taught me at last the language that I sneered at.

"Well--we can never marry. How it will be with us, how end, He
who, after all is said and done, _did_ construct us, knows now.
And we will know some day, when life is burned out in us.

"Hours, days of bitter revolt come--the old madness for you, the
old recklessness of desire, the savage impatience with life, assail
me still. Because, Ailsa, I would--I _could_ have made you
a--well, an _interesting_ husband, anyway. You were fashioned to
be the divinest wife and . . . I'm not going on in this strain;
I'll write you when I can. And for God's sake take care of your
life. There's nothing left if you go--_nothing_.

"I've made a will. Trooper Burgess, a comrade--my former
valet--carries a duplicate memorandum. Don't weep; I'll live to
make another. But in this one I have written you that my mother's
letters and pictures are to be yours--when I have a chance I'll
draw it in legal form. And, dear, first be perfectly sure I'm
dead, and then destroy my mother's letters without reading them;
and then look upon her face. And I think you will forgive me when
I tell you that it is for her sake that I can never marry. But you
will not understand why."

Over this letter Ailsa had little time to wonder or to make herself
wretched, for that week orders came to evacuate the Farm Hospital
and send all sick and wounded to the General Hospital at Alexandria.

A telegram arrived, too, from Miss Dix, who was authorised to
detail nurses by the Secretary of War, ordering the two nurses of
Sainte Ursula's Sisterhood to await letters of recommendation and
written assignments to another hospital to be established farther
south. But where that hospital was to be built nobody seemed to
know.

A week later a dozen Protestant women nurses arrived at Alexandria,
where they were made unwelcome. Medical directors, surgeons, ward
masters objected, bluntly declaring that they wouldn't endure a lot
of women interfering and fussing and writing hysterical nonsense to
the home newspapers.

For a while confusion reigned, intensified by the stupendous
mobilisation going on all around.

A medical officer came to the Farm Hospital and angrily informed
Ailsa that the staff had had enough of women in the wards; and from
forty cots forty half-dead, ghastly creatures partly rose and
cursed the medical gentleman till his ears burned crimson,

Ailsa, in her thin gray habit bearing the scarlet heart, stood in
the middle of the ward and defied him with her credentials.

"The medical staff of the army has only to lay its case before the
Secretary of War," she said, looking calmly at him, "and that is
where the Sanitary Commission obtains its authority. Meanwhile our
orders detail us here for duty."

"We'll see about that!" he snapped, backing away.

"So will we," said Ailsa, smiling. But that afternoon she and
Letty took an ambulance and went, in great distress of mind, to see
Mother Angela, Superior of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, who had
arrived from Indiana ready to continue hospital duties on the
Potomac if necessary.

The lovely Superieure, a lady of rare culture and ability, took
Ailsa's hand in hers with a sad smile.

"Men's prejudices are hard to meet. The social structure of the
world is built on them. But men's prejudices vanish when those
same men fall sick. The War Department has regularised our
position; it will authorise yours. You need not be afraid."

She smiled again reminiscently.

"When our Sisters of the Holy Cross first appeared in the wards,
the patients themselves looked at us sullenly and askance. I heard
one say: 'Why can't they take off those white-winged sun-bonnets in
the wards?' And another sneered: 'Sun-bonnets! Huh! They look
like busted white parasols!' But, Mrs. Paige, our white
'sun-bonnets' have already become to them the symbol they love
most, after the flag. Be of good courage. Your silver-gray garb
and white cuffs will mean much to our soldiers before this battle
year is ended."

That evening Ailsa and Letty drove back to the Parm Hospital in
their ambulance, old black Cassius managing his mules with
alternate bursts of abuse and of praise. First he would beat upon
his mules with a flat stick which didn't hurt, but made a loud
racket; then, satisfied, he would loll in his seat singing in
melodious and interminable recitative:

An' I hope to gain de prommis' lan',
Yaas I do,
'Deed I do.
Lor' I hope to gain de prommis' lan',
Dat I do,
An' dar I'll flap ma wings an' take ma stan',
Yaas I will,
'Deed I will,
An' I'll tune ma harp an' jine de Shinin' Ban'
Glory, Glory,
I hope to gain de prommis' lan'!

And over and over the same shouted melody, interrupted only by an
outburst of reproach for his mules.

They drove back through a road which had become for miles only a
great muddy lane running between military encampments, halted at
every bridge and crossroads to exhibit their passes; they passed
never-ending trains of army waggons cither stalled or rumbling
slowly toward Alexandria. Everywhere were soldiers, drilling,
marching, cutting wood, washing clothes, cooking, cleaning arms,
mending, working on camp ditches, drains, or forts, writing letters
at the edge of shelter tents, digging graves,
skylarking--everywhere the earth was covered with them.

They passed the camp for new recruits, where the poor "fresh fish"
awaited orders to join regiments in the field to which they had
been assigned; they passed the camp for stragglers and captured
deserters; the camp for paroled prisoners; the evil-smelling
convalescent camp, which, still under Surgeon General Hammond's
Department, had not yet been inspected by the Sanitary Commission.

An officer, riding their way, talked with them about conditions in
this camp, where, he said, the convalescents slept on the bare
ground, rain or shine; where there were but three surgeons for the
thousands suffering from intestinal and throat and lung troubles,
destitute, squalid, unwarmed by fires, unwashed, wretched, forsaken
by the government that called them to its standard.

It was the first of that sort of thing that Ailsa and Letty had
seen.

After the battles in the West--particularly after the fall of Fort
Donnelson--terrible rumours were current in the Army of the Potomac
and in the hospitals concerning the plight of the wounded--of new
regiments that had been sent into action with not a single medical
officer, or, for that matter, an ounce of medicine, or of lint in
its chests.

They were grisly rumours. In the neat wards of the Farm Hospital,
with its freshly swept and sprinkled floors, its cots in rows, its
detailed soldier nurses and the two nurses from Sainte Ursula's
Sisterhood, its sick-diet department, its medical stores, its two
excellent surgeons, these rumours found little credence.

And now, here in the vicinity, Ailsa's delicate nostrils shrank
from the stench arising from the "Four Camps"; and she saw the
emaciated forms lining the hillside, and she heard the horrible and
continuous coughing.

"Do you know," she said to Letty the next morning, "I am going to
write to Miss Dix and inform her of conditions in that camp."

And she did so, perfectly conscious that she was probably earning
the dislike of the entire medical department. But hundreds of
letters like hers had already been sent to Washington, and already
the Sanitary Commission was preparing to take hold; so, when at
length one morning an acknowledgment of her letter was received, no
notice was taken of her offer to volunteer for service in that
loathsome camp, but the same mail brought orders and credentials
and transportation vouchers for herself and Letty.

Letty was still asleep, but Ailsa went up and waked her when the
hour for her tour of duty approached.

"What do you think!" she said excitedly. "We are to pack up our
valises and go aboard the _Mary Lane_ to-morrow. She sails with
hospital stores. _What_ do you think of that?"

"Where are we going?" asked Letty, bewildered.

"You poor, sleepy little thing," said Ailsa, sitting down on the
bed's shaky edge, "I'm sure I don't know where we're going, dear.
Two Protestant nurses are coming here to superintend the removal of
our sick boys--and Dr. West says they are old and ugly, and that
Miss Dix won't have any more nurses who are not over thirty and who
are not _most_ unattractive to look at."

"I wonder what Miss Dix would do if she saw us," said Letty
naively, and sat up in bed; rubbing her velvety eyes with the backs
of her hands. Then she yawned, looked inquiringly at Ailsa,
smiled, and swung her slender body out of bed.

While she was doing her hair Ailsa heard her singing to herself.
She was very happy; another letter from Dr. Benton had arrived.

Celia, who had gone to Washington three days before, to see Mr.
Stanton, returned that evening with her passes and order for
transportation; and to Ailsa's astonishment and delight she found
that the designated boat was the _Mary Lane_.

But Celia was almost too nervous and too tired to talk over the
prospects.

"My dear," she said wearily, "that drive from the Chain Bridge to
Alexandria has mos'ly killed me. I vow and declare there was never
one moment when one wheel was not in a mud hole. All my bones
ache, Honey-bud, and I'm cross with talking to so many Yankees,
and--do you believe me !--that ve'y horrid Stanton creature gave
orders that I was to take the oath!"

"The--oath?" asked Ailsa, amazed.

"Certainly. And I took it," she added fiercely, "becose of my
husband! If it had not been fo' Curt I'd have told Mr. Stanton
what I thought of his old oath!"

"What kind of an oath was it, Celia?"

Celia repeated it haughtily:

"'I do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, to
faithfully support the Constitution of the United States, and of
the State of New York. So he'p me God.'"

"It is the oath of fealty," said Ailsa in a hushed voice.

"It was not necessa'y," said Celia coldly. "My husband is
sufficient to keep me--harmless. . . . But I know what I feel in
my heart, Honey-bud; and so does eve'y Southern woman--God help us
all. . . . Is that little Miss Lynden going with us?"

"Letty? Yes, of course."

Celia began to undress. "She's a ve'y sweet little minx. . . .
She is--odd, somehow. . . . So young--such a he'pless, cute little
thing. . . Ailsa, in that child's eyes--or in her features
somewhere, somehow, I see--I feel a--a sadness, somehow--like the
gravity of expe'ience, the _something_ that wisdom brings to the
ve'y young too early. It is odd, isn't it."

"Letty is a strange, gentle little thing. I've often wondered----"

"What, Honey-bee?"

"I--don't know," said Ailsa vaguely. "It is not natural that a
happy woman should be so solemnly affectionate to another. I've
often thought that she must, sometime or other, have known deep
unhappiness."

When Celia was ready to retire, Ailsa bade her good-night and
wandered away down the stairs, Letty was still on duty; she glanced
into the sick-diet kitchen as she passed and saw the girl bending
over a stew-pan.

She did not disturb her. With evening a soft melancholy had begun
to settle over Ailsa. It came in the evening, now, often--a
sensation not entirely sad, not unwelcome, soothing her, composing
her mind for serious thought, for the sweet sadness of memory.

Always she walked, now, companioned by memories of Berkley.
Wherever she moved--in the quiet of the sick wards, in the silence
of the moonlight, seated by smeared windows watching the beating
rain, in the dead house, on duty in the kitchen contriving broths,
or stretched among her pillows, always the memories came in troops
to bear her company.

They were with her now as she paced the veranda to and fro, to and
fro.

She heard Letty singing happily over her stew-pan in the kitchen;
the stir and breathing of the vast army was audible all around her
in the darkness. Presently she looked at her watch in the
moonlight, returned it to her breast.

"I'm ready, dear," she said, going to the kitchen door.

And another night on duty was begun--the last she ever was to spend
under the quiet roof of the Farm Hospital.

That night she sat beside the bed of a middle-aged man, a corporal
in a Minnesota regiment whose eyes had been shot out on picket.
Otherwise he was convalescent from dysentery. But Ailsa had seen
the convalescent camp, and she would not let him go yet.

So she read to him in a low, soothing voice, glancing from time to
time at the bandaged face. And, when she saw he was asleep, she
sat silent, hands nervously clasped above the Bible on her knee.
Then her lids closed for an instant as she recited a prayer for the
man she loved, wherever he might be that moon-lit night.

A zouave, terribly wounded on Roanoke Island, began to fret; she
rose and walked swiftly to him, and the big sunken eyes opened and
he said, humbly:

"I am sorry to inconvenience you, Mrs. Paige. I'll try to keep
quiet."

"You foolish fellow, you don't inconvenience me. What can I do for
you?"

His gaze was wistful, but he said nothing, and she bent down
tenderly, repeating her question.

A slight flush gathered under his gaunt cheek bones. "I guess I'm
just contrary," he muttered. "Don't bother about me, ma'am."

"You are thinking of your wife; talk to me about her, Neil."

It was what he wanted; he could endure the bandages. So, her cool
smooth hand resting lightly over his, where it lay on the sheets,
she listened to the home-sick man until it was time to give another
sufferer his swallow of lemonade.

Later she put on a gingham overgown, sprinkled it and her hands
with camphor, and went into the outer wards where the isolated
patients lay--where hospital gangrene and erysipelas were the
horrors. And, farther on, she entered the outlying wing devoted to
typhus. In spite of the open windows the atmosphere was heavy;
everywhere the air seemed weighted with the odour of decay.

As always, in spite of herself, she hesitated at the door. But the
steward on duty rose; and she took his candle and entered the place
of death.

Toward morning a Rhode Island artilleryman, dying in great pain,
relapsed into coma. Waiting beside him, she wrote to his parents,
enclosing the little keepsakes he had designated when conscious,
while his life flickered with the flickering candle. Her letter
and his life ended together; dawn made the candle-light ghastly; a
few moments later the rumble of the dead waggon sounded in the
court below. The driver came early because there was a good deal
of freight for his waggon that day. A few moments afterward the
detail arrived with the stretchers, and Ailsa stood up, drew aside
the screen, and went down into the gray obscurity of the court-yard.

Grave-diggers were at work on a near hillside; she could hear the
clink clink of spade and pick; reveille was sounding from hill to
hill; the muffled stirring became a dull, sustained clatter, never
ceasing around her for one instant.

A laundress was boiling clothing over a fire near by; Ailsa slipped
off her gingham overdress, unbound the white turban, and tossed
them on the grass near the fire. Then, rolling back her sleeves,
she plunged her arms into a basin of hot water in which a little
powdered camphor was floating.

While busy with her ablutions the two new nurses arrived, seated on
a battery limber; and, hastily drying her hands, she went to them
and welcomed them, gave them tea and breakfast in Dr. West's
office, and left them there while she went away to awake Celia and
Letty, pack her valise for the voyage before her, and write to
Berkley.

But it was not until she saw the sun low in the west from the deck
of the _Mary Lane_, that she at last found a moment to write.

The place, the hour, her loneliness, moved depths in her that she
had never sounded--moved her to a recklessness never dreamed of.
It was an effort for her to restrain the passionate confessions
trembling on her pen's tip; her lips whitened with the cry
struggling for utterance.

"Dear, never before did I so completely know myself, never so
absolutely trust myself to the imperious, almost ungovernable tide
which has taken my destiny from the quiet harbour where it lay, and
which is driving it headlong toward yours.

"You have left me alone, to wonder and to wonder. And while
isolated, I stand trying to comprehend why it was that your words
separated our destinies while your arms around me made them one. I
am perfectly aware that the surge of life has caught me up, tossed
me to its crest, and is driving me blindly out across the waste
spaces of the world toward you--wherever you may be--whatever be
the cost. I will not live without you.

"I am not yet quite sure what has so utterly changed me--what has
so completely changed within me. But I am changed. Perhaps daily
familiarity with death and pain and wretchedness, hourly contact
with the paramount mystery of all, has broadened me, or benumbed
me. I don't know. All I seem to see clearly--to clearly
understand--is the dreadful brevity of life, the awful chances
against living, the miracle of love in such a maelstrom, the
insanity of one who dare not confess it, live for it, love to the
uttermost with heart, soul, and body, while life endures,

"All my instincts, all principles inherent or inculcated; all
knowledge spiritual and intellectual, acquired; all precepts,
maxims, proverbs, axioms incorporated and lately a part of me, seem
trivial, empty, meaningless in sound and in form compared to the
plain truths of Death. For never until now did I understand that
we walk always arm in arm with Death, that he squires us at every
step, coolly joggles our elbow, touches our shoulder now and then,
wakes us at dawn, puts out our night-light, and smooths the sheets
we sleep under.

"I had thought of Death as something hiding very, very far away.
Yet I had already seen him enter my own house. But now I
understand how close he always is; and, somehow, it has
changed--hardened, maybe--much that was vague and unformed in my
character. And, maybe, the knowledge is distorting it; I don't
know. All I know is that, before life ends, if there is a chance
of fulfilment, I will take it. And fulfilment means you--my love
for you, the giving of it, of myself, of all I am, all I desire,
all I care for, all I believe, into your keeping--into your
embrace. That, for me, is fulfilment of life.

"Even in your arms you tell me that there is to be no fulfilment.
I have acquiesced, wondering, bewildered, confused. But, dear, you
can never tell me so again--if we live--if I live to look into your
eyes again--never, never. For I shall not believe it, nor shall I
let you believe it, if only we can win through this deathly battle
nightmare which is rising between us--if ever we can find each
other again, touch each other through this red, unreal glare of war.

"Oh, Philip--Philip--only to have your arms around me! Only to
touch you! You shall not tell me then that our destinies do not
mingle. They shall mingle like two wines; they shall become
utterly confused in one another; I was meant for that; I will not
die, isolated by you, unknown to you, not belonging to you! I will
not die alone this way in the world, with no deeper memory to take
into the unknown than that you said you loved me.

"God alone knows what change misery and sorrow and love and death
have accomplished in me; never have I stood so alone upon this
earth; never have I cared so for life, never have I so desired to
be a deathless part of yours.

"If you love me you will make me part of yours--somehow, some way.
And, Philip, if there is no way, yet there is always one way if we
both live. And I shall not complain--only, I cannot die--let life
go out--so that you could ever forget that my life had been part of
yours.

"Is it dreadful of me to think this? But the mighty domination of
Death has dwarfed everything around me, dear; shrivelled the little
man-made formulas and laws; the living mind and body seem more
vital than the by-laws made to govern them. . . . God knows what
I'm writing, but you have gone into battle leaving life unfulfilled
for us both, and I assented--and my heart and soul are crying out
to you, unreconciled--crying out my need of you across the
smoke. . . .

"There is a battery at Cock-pit Point, firing, and the smoke of the
guns drifts across the low-hanging sun. It must be only a salute,
for our fleet of transports moves on, torrents of black smoke
pouring out of every tall funnel, paddle-wheels churning steadily.

"When the fleet passed Mount Vernon the bells tolled aboard every
boat; and we could see the green trees and a glimmer of white on
shore, and the flag flying.

"What sadness! A people divided who both honour the sacredness of
this spot made holy by a just man's grave--gathering to meet in
battle--brother against brother.

"But Fate shall not longer array you and me against each other! I
will not have it so! Neither my heart nor my soul could endure the
cruelty of it, nor my reason its wickedness and insanity. From the
first instant I met your eyes, Philip, somehow, within me, I knew I
belonged to you. I do more hopelessly to-day than ever--and with
each day, each hour, more and more until I die. You will not let
me go to my end unclaimed, will you?--a poor ghost all alone, lost
in the darkness somewhere among the stars--lacking that tie between
you and it which even death does not know how to sever!

"I leave all to you, loving you, wishing what you wish, content
with what you give--and take--so that you do give and take and keep
and hold for life.

"It is very dusky; the lights, red and white, glimmer on every
transport. We feel the sea-swell a little. Celia left us, going
ashore at Acquia Creek. She takes the cars to Richmond and then to
Paigecourt. Letty sits beside me on deck. There were two cases of
fever aboard and we went down into a dreadfully ill-smelling cabin
to do what we could. Now we are here on deck again. Some officers
are talking very gaily with Letty. I am ending my letter to
you--wherever you are, my darling, under these big, staring stars
that look down at me out of space. I don't want my ghost to be
blown about up there--unless it belongs to you. That is the only
fear of death I ever have or ever had--that I might die before you
had all of me there is to give."

CHAPTER XV

Toward the end of June, as Claymore's new provisional brigade of
Sykes's division, Fitz John Porter's superb corps d'armee, neared
the designated rendezvous, some particularly dirty veteran
regiments, bivouacked along the fields, crowded to the roadside,
fairly writhing in their scorn and derision.

"Fresh fish! Oh--h! Fresh fi--sh!" they shouted. "My God, boys,
just see them pretty red pants! Mother! Come and look. Oh, papa,
what are they? Sa--ay, would you gentlemen kindly tell us poor old
sodgers what kind ov a hell ov a, dressmaker cut out them
pantalettes? I wish I could go out to play with these nice,
perlite little boys? Oh, children! why _didn't_ you bring your
nursemaids with you?"

The 3rd Zouaves marched past the jeering veterans, grinding their
teeth, but making no effort at retort. They knew well enough by
this time that any attempt to retort would be worse than useless.

As the head of the column of the 8th Lancers appeared from the West
at the forks of the other road, the dingy veterans fairly danced in
malicious delight:

"Excuse us," they simpered, kissing their dirty finger-tips to the
horsemen, "_ex_-cuse us, please, but do tell us how you left dear
old Fift' Avenoo. Them rocking hosses need a leetle new paint
where they sit down, me lords. Hey, you ain't got any old red silk
stockings we can use for guidons, have you? Oh, Alonzo darling!
curl my hair an' wet me with expensive cologne!"

Colonel Egerton's 20th Dragoons, being in blue and orange, got off
easier, though the freshness of their uniforms was tremendously
resented; but McDunn's 10th Flying Battery, in brand new uniforms,
ran the full fierce fire of chaff; the indignant cannoneers were
begged to disclose the name of the stage line which had supplied
their battery horses; and Arthur Wye, driving the showy swing team
of No. 6, Left Section, shouted back in his penetrating voice:

"If you want to know who sells broken-down nags to suckers, it's
Simon Cameron!--you Dutch-faced, barrel-bellied, Pennsylvania
scuts!"

A bull-like bellow of laughter burst from the battery; even Captain
McDunn's grin neutralised the scowling visage he turned to conceal
it. And the fury of the Pennsylvanians knew no bounds; for, from
general to drummer boy, the troops of that great State were
horribly sensitive to any comment on the Hon. Mr. Cameron's horse
transactions.

Warren's matchless brigade followed; but the 6th Lancers had seen
service and they were not jeered; nor were the 5th and 10th
Zouaves, the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery and the Rhode Island
Battery.

Berkley, riding with his troop, bridle loose in both gauntleted
hands, lance swinging wide from stirrup and elbow loop, looked to
the left and noticed Warren's regiments swinging out across the
breezy uplands. Half an hour later he saw the 3rd Zouaves enter a
wheat field to the left of the road, form on their colour front,
unsling knapsacks, and stack arms. McDunn's battery found a gap in
the fence and followed, the guns bumping and bouncing out over a
potato field; and presently Egerton's Dragoons turned sharply to
the right and entered a cool road that ran along a bushy hollow.

The 8th Lancers kept straight on for five or six hundred yards,
until they encountered their regimental quartermaster and camping
party. Then they wheeled to the right, passed through a thin belt
of shade trees, across a splendid marl drive and a vast unkempt
lawn. Beyond this they skirted a typical planter's house of the
better class, with its white galleries, green blinds, quarters,
smoke houses, barns, and outhouses innumerable; and halted, each
troop moving to a point a little in the rear of where its horses
were to be secured, and forming one rank. The bugles sounded
"Dismount!" Eight hundred sun-burned riders set foot to sod,
details were made to hold the horses, lances were stacked, picket
ropes fixed, shelter tents erected, sabre and bridle hung on the
twelve weapons of the troop-carbineers, and the standard carried to
Colonel Arran's tent.

Directly to the right was a gentle declivity with a clear, rapid
stream splashing the bottom grasses. Beyond the stream a low green
hill rose, concealing the landscape and the river beyond.

And here, on the breezy meadow slope, Egerton's Dragoons went into
camp and sent out their fatigue parties and grand guards.

Company and squadron streets were laid out, sinks dug, shelter
tents pitched, firewood brought, horses picketed. Twenty paces in
front of each pile of tents the kitchens were established; all the
regimental cavalry waggons came up promptly and were parked in the
rear of the picket line for sick horses; the belated and hated
sutler of the 8th Lancers drove hastily in, deaf to the
blandishments of veterans along the roadside, who eyed him
malevolently and with every desire to work him substantial harm.

Late in the afternoon there was much visiting along the lines and
between distant camps; the day was cloudless and perfect; magnolia
and china-berry scented the winds which furrowed every grassy
hillside; flags fluttered, breezy gusts of bugle music incited the
birds to rivalry. Peace and sunshine lay over all, and there was
nothing sinister to offend save, far along the horizon, the low,
unbroken monotone of cannon, never louder, never lower, steady,
dull, interminable; and on the southern horizon a single tall
cloud, slanting a trifle to the east, like a silver pillar out of
plumb.

Berkley's attention was directed to it by a suspicious comrade;
they both gazed at it curiously, listening to the low mutter of the
cannonade; then Berkley frowned, folded both gauntlets, placed them
in his belt, passed his hand over his freshly shaven chin, and,
pocketing his cob pipe, sauntered forth to visit and gossip with
those he knew in other camps.

"Hello, Burgess," he said humorously; "how are you making out?"

His late valet's arm twitched instinctively toward the salute he
dared not offer; he glanced stealthily right and left before
answering:

"I am doing very well, sir, thank you."

"I told you to cut out the 'sir,' didn't I?"

"Yes, sir--beg pardon----"

Berkley eyed him. "You've got your chance," he said. "Your rank
and mine are equal. Do you take pleasure in continually reminding
yourself of your recent position of servitude?"

"Sir?--beg pardon----"

"Can't you help it? Is it born in you?"

Burgess stood silent, considering, then he lifted his ugly face and
looked hard at Berkley.

"I am not ashamed of having served you. I am more comfortable
under orders. . . . I liked to dress you up . . . I wish to God
it was that way now."

"Don't you want your independence?"

"My independence," repeated Burgess, "I had it--more of it when I
was looking out for you, sir, than I have now in this damn
regiment----"

"Well, what did you enlist for?"

"You've asked me that many times, sir, and I don't know. . . . I'd
rather be around, handy like----"

"You'll get killed some day, don't you know it?"

"No, sir. I guess you'll look out for me. You always did."

"How the devil can I prevent one of those big shells from knocking
you off your horse!"

Burgess, patient, undisturbed, let the, question go with a slight
smile.

"What a jackass you are!" said Berkley irritably; "here's a dollar
to get some pie. And if you can cheat that cursed sutler, do it!"

He himself purchased two big pies from the sutler after an angry
haggle in which he was easily worsted; and he munched away
contentedly as he walked toward the lines of the 3rd Zouaves, his
spurs and sabre jingling, Burgess following respectfully at heel.

"Hello, Steve!" he called out to a sun-burnt young zouave who was
drying his freshly washed turban in the hill breeze. "I always
heard you fellows wore infant's underclothes, but I never believed
it before!"

"That's my turban, you idiot!" retorted Stephen, turning red as
several of McDunn's artillerymen began to laugh. But he came over
and shook hands and accepted a big piece of pie without further
resentment. "Hello, Burgess," he added.

"How do you do, sir."

"That damned Dutch sutler of ours," commented Berkley, "puts clay
in his pie-erust. We'll certainly have to fix him before long.
How are you, Steve, anyway?"

"Both socks full of tallow; otherwise I'm feeling fine," said the
boy. "Did you hear those dirty Bucktail veterans back there poking
fun at us? Well, we never answer 'em nowadays; but the Zouaves are
getting fearfully sick of it; and if we don't go into battle pretty
soon there'll be a private war on--" he winked--"with those
Pennsylvanians, you bet. And I guess the Lancers will be in it,
too."

Berkley cast an evil eye on a pair of Pennsylvania soldiers who had
come to see how the Zou-zous made camp; then he shrugged his
shoulders, watching Burgess, who had started away to roam hungrily
around the sutler's camp again.

"After all," he said, "these veterans have a right to jeer at us.
They've seen war; and now they know whether they'll fight or run
away. It's more than we know, so far."

"Well, I tell you," said Stephen candidly, "there's no chance of my
running away. A fellow can't skedaddle when his father's looking
at him. Besides, Phil, I don't know how it is, but I'm not very
much afraid, not as much as I thought I'd be."

Berkley looked at him curiously. "Have you been much under fire?"

"Only that affair at the Blue Bridge--you know yourself how it was.
After the first shell had made me rather sick at my stomach I was
all right--except that I hated to see father sitting up there on
his horse while we were all lying snug in the wheat. . . . How did
you feel when the big shells came over?"

"Bad," said Berkley briefly.

"Sick?"

"Worse."

"I don't see why you should feel queer, Phil--after that bully
thing you did with the escort----"

"Oh, hell!" cut in Berkley savagely, "I'm sick of hearing about it.
If you all knew that I was too scared to realise what I was doing
you'd let up on that episode."

Stephen laughed. "I hope our boys get scared in the same
way. . . . Hello, here's a friend of yours I believe----"

They turned to encounter Casson, the big dragoon, arm in arm with
the artilleryman, Arthur Wye.

"Give us some pie, you son of a gun!" they suggested
unceremoniously; and when supplied and munching, they all locked
arms and strolled out across the grass toward the hill, where
already, dark against the blinding blue, hundreds of idle soldiers
had gathered to sit on the turf and stare at the tall cloud on the
horizon, or watch the signal officer on the higher hill beyond,
seated at his telescope, while, beside him, a soldier swung dirty
square flags in the wind,

As they arrived on the crest a quick exclamation escaped them; for
there, beyond, mile on mile, lay the armed host of which their
regiments were tiny portions.

"Lord!" said Stephen in a low, surprised voice, "did you fellows
know that the whole army was near here?"

"Not I," said Berkley, gazing spellbound out across the rolling
panorama of river, swamp, woods, and fields. "I don't believe it
occurs very often, either--the chance to see an entire army all at
once, encamped right at your feet. What a lot of people and
animals!"

They sat down, cross-legged, enjoying their pie, eyes wandering
wonderingly over the magic landscape. Here and there a marquee
marked some general's headquarters, but except for these there were
no tents save shelter tents in sight, and not so many of these,
because many divisions had bivouacked, and others were in
cantonments where the white cupola of some house glimmered, or the
thin spire of a church pierced green trees.

Here and there they noted and pointed out to each other roads over
which cavalry moved or long waggon trains crept. Down along the
swamps that edged the river they could see soldiers building
corduroy, repairing bridges, digging ditches, and, in one spot,
erecting a fort.

"Oh, hell," said Casson, whose regiment, dismounted, had served
muddy apprenticeship along the York River, "if they're going to
begin that kind of thing again I'd rather be at home laying gas
pipes on Broadway!"

"What kind of thing?" demanded Stephen.

"That road making, swamp digging--all that fixing up forts for big
guns that nobody has a chance to fire because the Johnnies get out
just when everything's ready to blow 'em into the Union again.
A--h!" he added in disgust, "didn't we have a dose of that at
Yorktown and Williamsburg? Why doesn't Little Mac start us
hell-bent for Richmond and let us catch 'em on the jump?"

For a while, their mouths full of pie, the soldiers, with the
exception of Berkley, criticised their commander-in-chief,
freely--their corps commanders, and every officer down to their
particular corporals. That lasted for ten minutes. Then one and
all began comparing these same maligned officers most favourably
with other officers of other corps; and they ended, as usual, by
endorsing their commander-in-chief with enthusiasm, and by praising
every officer under whom they served.

Then they boasted of their individual regiments--all except
Berkley--extolling their discipline, their marching, their foraging
efficiency, their martyr-like endurance.

"What's your Colonel like, anyway?" inquired Casson, turning to
Berkley.

"He's a good officer," said the latter indifferently.

"Do you like him?"

"He has--merit."

"Jerusalem!" laughed Wye, "if that isn't a kick in the seat of his
pants!"

Berkley reddened. "You're mistaken, Arthur."

"Didn't you tell me at Alexandria that you hated him?"

"I said that--yes. I was disappointed because the Westchester
Horse was not attached to John Casson's regiment. . . . I
don't--dislike Colonel Arran."

Berkley was still red; he lay in the grass on his stomach, watching
the big cloud pile on the horizon.

"You know," said Casson, "that part of our army stretches as far as
that smoke. We're the rear-guard."

"Listen to the guns," said Wye, pretending technical familiarity
even at that distance. "They're big fellows--those Dahlgrens and
Columbiads----"

"Oh, bosh!" snapped Casson, "you can't tell a howitzer from a
rocket!"

Wye sat up, thoroughly offended. "To prove _your_ dense ignorance,
you yellow-bellied dragoon, let me ask you a simple question: When
a shell is fired toward you _can_ you see it coming?"

"Certainly. Didn't we see the big shells at Yorktown----"

"Wait! When a solid shot is fired, can you see it when it is
coming toward you?"

"Certainly----"

"No you can't, you ignoramus! You can see a shell coming or going;
you can see a solid shot going--never coming from the enemy's guns.
Aw! go soak that bull head of yours and wear a lady-like havelock!"

The bickering discussion became general for a moment, then, still
disputing, Casson and Wye walked off toward camp, and Stephen and
Berkley followed.

"Have you heard from your mother?" asked the latter, as they
sauntered along over the grass.

"Yes, twice. Father was worried half to death because she hadn't
yet left Paigecourt. Isn't it strange, Phil, that after all we're
so near mother's old home? And father was all against her going, I
tell you, I'm worried."

"She has probably gone by this time," observed Berkley.

The boy nodded doubtfully; then: "I had a fine letter from Ailsa.
She sent me twenty dollars," he added naively, "but our sutler has
got it all."

"What did Ailsa say?" asked Berkley casually.

"Oh, she enquired about father and me--and you, too, I believe.
Oh, yes; she wanted me to say to you that she was well---and so is
that other girl--what's her name?"

"Letty Lynden?"

"Oh, yes--Letty Lynden. They're in a horrible kind of a temporary
hospital down on the York River along with the Sisters of Charity;
and she said she had just received orders to pack up and start west
with the ambulances."

"West?"

"I believe so."

After a silence Berkley said:

"I heard from her yesterday."

"You did!"

"Yes. Unless your father already knows, it might be well to say to
him that Ailsa's ambulance train is ordered to rendezvous in the
rear of the 5th Provisional Corps head-quarters."

"Our corps!"

"That looks like it, doesn't it? The 5th Provisional Corps is
Porter's." He turned and looked back, out across the country.

"She may be somewhere out yonder, at this very moment, Steve." He
made a vague gesture toward the west, stood looking for a while,
then turned and walked slowly on with head lowered.

"I wish my mother and Ailsa were back in New York," said the boy
fretfully. "I don't see why the whole family should get into hot
water at the same time."

"It wouldn't surprise me very much if Ailsa's ambulance landed
beside your mother's door at Paigecourt," said Berkley. "The
head-quarters of the 5th Corps cannot be very far from Paigecourt."
At the cavalry lines he offered his hand to Stephen in farewell.

"Good-bye," said the boy. "I wish you the luck of the 6th Lancers.
Since Hanover Court-House nobody calls 'em 'fresh fish'--just
because they charged a few Johnnies with the lance and took a few
prisoners and lost thirty horses."

Berkley laughed. "Thanks; and I wish you the luck of the 5th
Zouaves. They're into everything, I hear, particularly hen-coops
and pigpens. Casson says they live high in the 5th Zouaves. . .
Good-bye, old fellow . . . will you remember me to your father?"

"I will when he lets me talk to him," grinned Stephen. "We're a
disciplined regiment--I found that out right away--and there's
nothing soft for me to expect just because my father is colonel and
Josiah Lent happens to be major."

The regimental bands played the next day; the distant cannonade had
ceased; sunshine fell from a cloudless sky, and the army watched a
military balloon, the "Intrepid," high glistening above the river,
its cables trailing in gracious curves earthward.

Porter's 5th Corps now formed the rear-guard of the army; entire
regiments went on picket, even the two regiments of Lancers took
their turn, though not armed for that duty. During the day there
had been some unusually brisk firing along the river, near enough
to cause regiments that had never been under fire to prick up a
thousand pairs of ears and listen. As the day lengthened toward
evening, picket firing became incessant, and the occasional solid
report of a cannon from the shore opposite disclosed the presence
of Confederate batteries, the nearness of which surprised many an
untried soldier.

Toward sundown Berkley saw a business-like cavalry officer ride
into camp with an escort of the 5th Regulars. Men around him said
that the officer was General Philip St. George Cooke, and that the
chances were that the regiments of the reserve were going into
action pretty soon.

About 3 o'clock the next morning boots and saddles sounded from the
head-quarters of the Cavalry Reserve brigade and the 5th and 6th
United States Cavalry, followed by Colonel Rush's Lancers, rode out
of their camp grounds and were presently followed by the 1st United
States and a squadron of Pennsylvania carbineers.

The troopers of the 8th Lancers watched them ride away in the dawn;
but mo orders came to follow them, and, discontented, muttering,
they went sullenly about their duties, wondering why they, also,
had not been called on.

That nobody had caught the great Confederate cavalryman did not
console them; they had to listen to the jeers of the infantry,
blaming them for Stuart's great raid around the entire Union army;
in sickening reiteration came the question: "Who ever saw a dead
cavalryman?" And, besides, one morning in a road near camp, some
of the 8th Lancers heard comments from a group of general officers
which were not at all flattering to their own cavalry.

"You see," said a burly colonel of engineers, "that this army
doesn't know what real cavalry looks like--except when it gets a
glimpse of Jeb Stuart's command."

An infantry colonel coincided with him, profanely:

"That damned rebel cavalry chases ours with a regularity and
persistence that makes me ill. Did the world ever see the like of
it? You send out one of our mounted regiments to look for a
mounted rebel regiment, and the moment it finds what it's lookin'
for the rebs give a pleased sort of yell, and ours turn tail.
Because it's become a habit: that's why our cavalry runs! And then
the fun begins! Lord God Almighty! what's the matter with our
cavalry?"

"You can't make cavalry in a few months," observed a colonel of
heavy artillery, stretching his fat, scarlet-striped legs in his
stirrups. "What do you expect? Every man, woman, and child south
of Mason and Dixon's Line knows how to ride. The Southerners are
born horsemen. We in the North are not. That's the difference.
We've got to learn to be. Take a raw soldier and send him forth
mounted on an animal with which he has only a most formal
acquaintance, and his terrors are increased twofold. When you give
him a sabre, pistol, and carbine, to take care of when he has all
he can do to take care of himself, those terrors increase in
proportion. _Then_ show him the enemy and send him into
battle--and what is the result? Skedaddle!

"Don't make any mistake; we haven't any cavalry yet. Some day we
will, when our men learn to ride faster than a walk."

"God!" muttered a brigadier-general under his white moustache;
"it's been a bitter pill to swallow--this raid around our entire
army by fifteen hundred of Jeb Stuart's riders and two iron guns!"

The half dozen lancers, lying on their bellies in the grass on the
bank above the road where this discussion took place remained
crimson, mute, paralysed with mortification. Was _that_ what the
army thought of them?

But they had little time for nursing their mortification that
morning; the firing along the river was breaking out in patches
with a viciousness and volume heretofore unheard; and a six-gun
Confederate field battery had joined in, arousing the entire camp
of Claymore's brigade. Louder and louder grew the uproar along the
river; smoke rose and took silvery-edged shape in the sunshine;
bugles were calling to the colours regiments encamped on the right;
a light battery trotted out across a distant meadow, unlimbered and
went smartly into action.

About noon the bugles summoned the 3rd Zouaves. As they were
forming, the camps of the 8th Lancers and the 10th Light Battery
rang with bugle music. Berkley, standing to horse, saw the Zouaves
leaving the hill at a jog-trot, their red legs twinkling; but half
way down the slope they were halted to dress ranks; and the
Lancers, cantering ahead, turned westward and moved off along the
edge of the river swamp toward the piled-up cloud of smoke down
stream.

After them trotted the 10th New York Flying Battery as though on
parade, their guidons standing straight out behind the
red-and-white guidons of the Lancers.

The Zouaves had now reached wet land, where a staff officer met
Colonel Craig and piloted him through a field of brush and wild
grass, and under the parapets of an emplacement for big guns, on
which men were nonchalantly working, to the beginning of a newly
laid road of logs. The noise of musketry and the smoke had become
prodigious. On the logs of the road lay the first big pool of
blood that many of them had ever seen. What it had come from they
could not determine; there was nothing dead or dying there.

The men glanced askance at the swamp where the black shining water
had risen almost level with the edges of the road; but the Colonel
and his staff, still mounted, rode coolly over it, and the regiment
followed.

The corduroy road through the heavily wooded swamp which the 3rd
Zouaves now followed was the only inlet to the noisy scene of local
action, and the only outlet, too.

Except for watching the shells at Blue Bridge, the regiment had
never been in battle, had never seen or heard a real battle; many
had never even seen a wounded man. They understood that they were
going into battle now; and now the regiment caught sight of its
first wounded men. Stretchers passed close to them on which
soldiers lay naked to the waist, some with breasts glistening red
and wet from unstopped haemorrhage, some with white bodies marked
only by the little round blue hole with its darker centre.
Soldiers passed them, limping, bloody rags dripping from thigh or
knee; others staggered along with faces the colour of clay, leaning
on the arms of comrades, still others were carried out feet first,
sagging, a dead-weight in the arms of those who bore them. One man
with half his fingers gone, the raw stumps spread, hurried out,
screaming, and scattering blood as he ran.

The regiment passed an artilleryman lying in the water whose head,
except for the lower jaw, was entirely missing; and another on his
back in the ooze whose bowels were protruding between his fingers;
and he was trying very feebly to force them back, while two
comrades strove in vain to lift him.

The regiment sickened as it looked; here and there a young zouave
turned deathly pale, reeled out of the ranks, leaned against a
tree, nauseated, only to lurch forward again at the summons of the
provost guard; here and there a soldier disengaged his white turban
from his fez and dropped it to form a sort of Havelock; for the
vertical sun was turning the men dizzy, and the sights they saw
were rapidly unnerving them.

They heard the tremendous thunder and felt the concussion of big
guns; the steady raining rattle of musketry, the bark of howitzers,
the sharp, clean crack of rifled field guns dismayed them.
Sometimes, far away, they could distinguish the full deep cheering
of a Union regiment; and once they caught the distant treble battle
cry of the South. There were moments when a sudden lull in the
noise startled the entire regiment. Even their officers looked up
sharply at such times. But ahead they could still see Colonel
Craig riding calmly forward, his big horse picking its leisurely
way over the endless road of logs; they could see the clipped gray
head of Major Lent under its red forage-cap, steady, immovable, as
he controlled his nervous mount with practised indifference.

It was broiling hot in the swamp; the Zouaves stood bathed in
perspiration as the regiment halted for a few minutes, then they
moved forward again toward a hard ridge of grass which glimmered
green beyond the tangled thicket's edges.

Here the regiment was formed in line of battle, and ordered to lie
down.

Stephen wiped his sweaty hands on his jacket and, lifting his head
from the grass, looked cautiously around. Already there had been
fighting here; a section of a dismantled battery stood in the road
ahead; dead men lay around it; smoke still hung blue in the woods.
The air reeked.

The Zouaves lay in long scarlet rows on the grass; their officers
stood leaning on their naked swords, peering ahead where the
Colonel, Major, and a mounted bugler were intently watching
something--the two officers using field glasses. In a few moments
both officers dismounted, flung their bridles to an orderly, and
came back, walking rather quickly. Major Lent drawing his bright,
heavy sword and tucking up his gold-embroidered sleeves as he came
on.

"Now, boys," said Colonel Craig cheerfully, "we are going in. All
you've got to do can be done quickly and thoroughly with the
bayonet. Don't cock your muskets, don't fire unless you're told
to. Perhaps you won't have to fire at all. All I want of you is
to keep straight on after me--right through those dry woods, there.
Try to keep your intervals and alignment; don't yell until you
sight the enemy, don't lose your heads, trust your officers. Where
they go you are safest."

He dropped his eye-glasses into his slashed pocket, drew out and
put on a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles. The soldiers saw him
smile and say something to Major Lent, saw him bare his handsome
sword, saw the buglers setting the shining bugles to their lips.

"Now, _charge_, you red-legged rascals!" shouted Major Lent; and up
from the grass rose a wave of scarlet and flashing steel.

Charge! Charge! echoed the bugles; a wailing storm, high among the
tree tops, passed over them as they entered the dry woods on a run;
branches crashed earthward, twig's and limbs crackled down in
whirling confusion. But there was nothing in the woods except
smoke--and the streaming storm shrilling overhead, raining down on
them leaves and boughs and splintered sticks.

The belt of woodland was very narrow; already the men could see
sunlight on the farther edge, and catch glimpses of fields; and
still they ran forward, keeping their alignment as best they might
among the trees; and came, very soon, to the wood's edge. Here
they were halted and ordered to lie down again; and they lay there,
close to the ground among the dead leaves, while from above living
leaves rained on them in never-ending showers, and the wild tempest
sped overhead unchecked.

Far out across the fields in the sunshine, looking diminutive as
toys in the distance, four cannon puffed smoke toward them. The
Zouaves could see the guns--see even the limbers and caissons
behind, and the harnessed teams, and the cannoneers very busily at
work in the sunshine. Then a long low wall of white smoke suddenly
appeared along a rail fence in front of the guns, and at the same
time the air thickened with bullets storming in all about them.

The Colonel and the Major had run hastily out into the field. "Get
up! Get up!" shouted the company officers. "Left dress, there!
Forward! Don't cock your rifles; don't fire until you're told to.
Steady there on the left. Forward! Forward!"

"Now yell, you red-legs! Yell!"

As they started running, their regimental colours fell, man and nag
sprawling in the grass; and the entire line halted, bewildered.
The next instant a zouave had lifted the colours, and was running
forward; and: "Get on there! Continue the movement! What in
hell's the matter with you Zouaves!" shouted their
lieutenant-colonel. And the sagging scarlet line bellied out,
straightened as the flanks caught up, and swept out into the
sunshine with a cheer--the peculiar Zouave cheer--not very full
yet, for they had not yet lost the troubled wonder of things.

Stephen, running with shouldered musket, saw close ahead a long
line of blue smoke and flame, but instead of the enemy there was
nothing hidden behind the smoke except a long field-ditch in which
dry brush was burning.

Into the ditch tumbled the regiment, and lay panting, coughing,
kicking out the embers, and hugging the ground closely, because now
the storm that had swept the tree tops was shaving the weeds and
grass around them; and the drone of bullets streaming over the
ditch rose to a loud, fierce whine.

Up in the blue sky little white clouds suddenly unfolded themselves
with light reports, and disappeared, leaving jagged streamers of
vapour afloat here and there; the near jarring discharge of
artillery shook the ground till bits of sod fell in particles,
crumbling from the ditch's edge; the outrageous racket of musketry
never slackened.

Lying there, they heard a sudden burst of cheering, and far to the
left saw another regiment come tumbling into the ditch and crouch,
huddled there in a blue line stretching as far away as they could
see. And again the firing increased to a stunning roar, and there
were more cheers; and, to their right, another regiment came
running and rolling into the ditch.

Officers, recklessly erect, stood here and there along the interior
of the ditch; then from the lair of each regiment flags emerged,
bugles blew clear and impatient; there came an upheaval of
bayonets, and the three regiments scrambled to their feet, over the
ditch's edge, and surged forward into the sunshine.

Across the fields Stephen saw guns being limbered up; and drivers
lashing their horses to a gallop across a bridge. The regiment on
their left was firing by wings as it advanced, the regiment on the
right had broken into a heavy run, yelling: "Hey! We want them
guns! Wait a second, will yer? Where you takin' them guns to?"

There was a new rail fence close in front of the Zouaves, barring
their way to the bridge; and suddenly, from behind it, men arose
with levelled muskets; and the Zouaves dropped flat to the volley
that buried the fence in smoke.

"Now, boys!" cried Colonel Craig, "we've got to have that bridge!
So we'll finish this business right here with the bayonet. Come on
and let's end it _now_!"

Major Lent ran forward and started to climb the smoky fence;
everywhere the Zouaves were swarming along the newly split rails or
driving their bayonets through the smoke at the gray phantoms
clustering behind. Shots rang out, the crack of stock against
stock, the ringing clamour and click of steel filled the air.

The zouave next to Stephen lurched up against him spouting blood
from the neck; on the other side of him another, a sergeant, too,
had gone stark mad, apparently, and was swinging his terrible sabre
bayonet without regard to friend or foe; and still another man of
his squad, swearing horridly, had clutched a ghostly enemy in the
smoke across the fence and was trying to strangle him with his bare
hands.

Stephen, bewildered by a blow which glanced from his head to his
left shoulder, clung to his musket and tried to stagger forward,
but a bayonet seared his right temple, tearing the scalp and
letting down a rush of blood all over his face and eyes. Blinded,
the boy called instinctively: "Father! I'm hurt! Could you help
me!"

Colonel Craig turned white under his tan, and looked back.

"I can't help you, my boy. Sergeant, will you look after my son?"
And he ran forward into the infernal network of bayonets, calling
out: "Get through there, boys. We might as well clean up this mess
while we're about it. Pull down that fence! Never mind those men
behind it!--rush it! Kick it over! Now come on! I don't ask you
to do anything that I don't do. Major Lent and I will take you
through. Come on and take that bridge!"

A captain, fighting back the bayonets with his sword, suddenly
floundered to the fence top and clung, balanced on his belly,
shouting hysterically:

"Look at the Lancers! Look at 'em coming! Now, Zouaves! Pull
down the fence and give them a chance to charge the bridge!"

Over a low swell of land some horsemen trotted into view; behind
them the horizon was suddenly filled with the swimming scarlet
pennons of the Lancers. A thousand horses' heads shot up against
the sky line, manes tossing; a thousand lance points fell to a
glittering level.

They were cheering shrilly as they came on; the Zouaves heard them,
the gray infantry regiment gave way, turned, filed off, retreating
toward the bridge at a slow trot like some baffled but dangerous
animal; and after it ran the Zouaves, firing, screaming, maddened
to hysteria by their first engagement, until their panting officers
and their bugles together barely managed to halt them short of the
edges of utter annihilation just as a full Confederate brigade rose
grimly from the wood's edge across the stream, ready to end their
hysterical yelling for ever.

Stephen, sitting on the grass among the dead and stricken, tied his
bloody turban, pulled the red fez close over it, smeared the blood
from his eyes, and, clutching his musket, stood up unsteadily.

He could see the charge of the 8th Lancers--see the horsemen wheel
and veer wildly as they received the fire of the Confederate troops
from the woods across the stream, squadron after squadron sheering
off at a gallop and driving past the infantry, pell-mell, a wild
riot of maddened horses, yelling riders, and streaming scarlet
pennons descending in one vivid, headlong torrent to the bridge.
But the structure was already hopelessly afire; and the baffled
carbineers of the advance reined up at the edge of the burning
timbers and sent an angry volley after the gray infantry now
jogging back into the woods beyond. Then, suddenly, the Zouaves
heard the Lancers cheering wildly in the smoke of the burning
structure, but did not know what it meant.

It meant--Berkley.

Fear had squired him that day. When the bugles sounded through the
cannon thunder and his squadron trotted out, Fear, on a paler horse
than Death bestrides, cantered with him, knee to knee. Fear's
startled eyes looked into his through the jetted smoke of musketry,
through the tumult of the horses and the trumpets; Fear made his
voice light and thin, so that he scarcely heard it amid the fierce
cheering of his comrades, the pounding of hoofs, the futile
clattering of equipments.

It was all a swift and terrible nightmare to him--the squadrons
breaking into a gallop, the woods suddenly belted with smoke, the
thud and thwack of bullets pelting leather and living flesh, the
frantic plunging of stricken horses, the lightning down-crash of
riders hurled earthward at full speed, the brief glimpses of
scarlet streaks under foot--of a horse's belly and agonised
iron-shod feet, of a white face battered instantly into
obliteration, of the ruddy smoke flowing with sparks amid which
bugles rang above the clashing halt of maddened squadrons.

Then, through the rolling ocean of smoke, he saw officers and men
trying to hack away and beat out the burning timbers--saw a
reckless carbineer--his own tent-mate--dismount and run out across
the planking which was already afire, saw him stumble and roll over
as a bullet hit him, get to his knees blindly, trip and fall flat
in the smoke. Then Fear bellowed in Berkley's ear; but he had
already clapped spurs to his horse, cantering out across the
burning planking and straight into the smoke pall.

"Where are you, Burgess?" he shouted. The Fear of Death stiffened
his lips as he reined up in the whirling spark-shot obscurity.
"Burgess--damn you--answer me, can't you!" he stammered, half
strangled in the smoke, trying to master his terrified mount with
rein and knee and heel.

Vaguely he heard comrades shouting for him to come back, heard
shells exploding amid the smoke, wheeled his staggering horse, bent
swiftly and grasped at an inanimate form in the smoke, missed,
dismounted and clutched the senseless carbineer--his comrade--and
once his valet.

[Illustration: "He dismounted and clutched the senseless
carbineer."]

Out of the fiery tunnel came tearing his terrified horse,
riderless; out of the billowing, ruddy vapours reeled Berkley,
dragging the carbineer.

It was the regiment cheering him that the Zouaves heard.

The fields were now swimming in bluish smoke; through it the
Zouaves were reforming as they marched. Little heaps of brilliant
colour dotting the meadow were being lifted and carried off the
field by comrades; a few dismounted carbineers ran hither and
thither, shooting hopelessly crippled horses. Here and there a
dead lancer lay flat in the grass, his scarlet pennon a vivid spot
beside him.

The hill road to the burning bridge was now choked with Colonel
Arran's regiment, returning to the crest of the hill; through the
blackish and rolling smoke from the bridge infantry were creeping
swiftly forward toward the river bank, and very soon the
intermittent picket firing began again, running up and down the
creek bank and out across the swamp lands, noisily increasing as it
woke up vicious volleys from the woods on the opposite bank, and
finally aroused the cannon to thunderous anger.

Berkley, standing to horse with his regiment on the sparsely wooded
hill crest, could see the crowding convolutions of smoke rising
from the thickets, as each gun spoke from the Confederate
batteries. But to him their thunder was like the thunder in a
dream.

Hour after hour the regiment stood to horse; hour after hour the
battle roared west and south of them. An irregular cloud, slender
at the base, spreading on top, towered to mid zenith above the
forest. Otherwise, save for the fleecy explosion of shells in the
quivering blue vault above, nothing troubled the sunshine that lay
over hill and valley, wood and river and meadowland.

McDunn's battery was not firing; the Zouaves lay dozing awake in
the young clover, the Lancers, standing to horse, looked out across
the world of trees and saw nothing stirring save a bird or two
winging hastily northward.

Berkley could distinguish a portion of the road that ran down to
the burning bridge, where part of McDunn's battery was in position.
Across the hills to the left a scarlet windrow undulating on either
flank of the battery marked the line of battle where the Zouaves
lay in a clover-field, within supporting distance of the guns.

Except for these, and a glimpse of Lowe's balloon overhead, Berkley
could not see anything whatever even remotely connected with the
uproar which continued steadily in the west and south. Nobody
seemed to know whose troops were engaged, where they came from,
whither they were trying to force a fiery road through a land in
arms against their progress.

At times, to Berkley, it seemed as though every tree, every hill,
every thicket was watching him with sombre intent; as if Nature
herself were hostile, stealthy, sinister, screening terrors yet
unloosed, silently storing up violence in dim woods, aiding and
abetting ambush with all her clustering foliage; and that every
river, every swamp, every sunny vista concealed some hidden path to
death.

He stood rigid at his horse's head, lance in hand, dirty,
smoke-blackened, his ears deafened by the cannonade, his eyes cool
and alert, warily scanning hill and hollow and thicket.

Dead men of his regiment were borne past him; he glanced furtively
at them, not yet certain that the lower form of fear had left him,
not yet quite realising that he had blundered into manhood--that
for the first time in his life he was ready to take his chance with
life.

But, little by little, as the hours passed, there in the trodden
grass he began to understand something of the unformulated decision
that had been slowly growing in him--of the determination, taking
shape, to deal more nobly with himself--with this harmless self
which had accepted unworthiness and all its attributes, and which
riven pride would have flung back at the civilisation which branded
him as base.

It came--this knowledge--like a slowly increasing flare of light;
and at last he said under his breath, to himself:

"Nothing is unworthily born that is born of God's own law. I have
been what I chose. I can be what I will."

A gracious phantom grew under his eyes taking exquisite shape
before him; and dim-eyed, he stared at it till it dwindled, faded,
dissolved into empty air and sunshine.

No; he could never marry without revealing what he was; and that he
would never do because of loyalty to that tender ghost which he
must shield for ever even as he would have shielded her in life.

No living soul had any right to know. No love of his for any woman
could ever justify betrayal of what alone concerned the dead.

The shells, which, short fused, had been bursting high above the
swamp to the right, suddenly began to fall nearer the cavalry, and
after a while a shell exploded among them, killing a horse.

They retired by squadrons, leisurely, and in good order; but the
shells followed them, searching them out and now and then finding
them with a deafening racket and cloud of smoke, out of which
mangled horses reared, staggered, and rolled over screaming; out of
which a rider, here and there was hurled sideways, head first, or
sent spinning and headless among his white-faced comrades.

McDunn's guns had opened now, attempting to extinguish the fire of
the troublesome Confederate battery. Berkley, teeth set, pallid,
kept his place in the ranks, and hung to his horse's head until he
got the animal calmed again. One of his sleeves was covered with
blood from a comrade's horse, blown into fragments beside him.

He could see McDunn's gunners working methodically amid the vapours
steaming back from the battery as it fired by sections; saw the
guns jump, buried in smoke; saw the long flames flicker, flicker,
flicker through the cannon mist; felt the solid air strike him in
the face at each discharge.

Hallam, white as a sheet, stood motionless at the head of his
troop; a shell had just burst, but it was as though he dared not
look back until Colonel Arran rode slowly over to the stricken
company--and saw Berkley still standing at his horse's head, and
gave him a look that the younger man never forgot.

Again, by troops, the Lancers retired; and again the yelling shells
found them, and they retired to the base of a hill. And came upon
a division in full panic.

Over a culvert and down a wooded road troops of all arms were
riotously retreating, cavalry, baggage-waggons, battered fragments
of infantry regiments, ambulances, all mixed and huddled pell-mell
into a headlong retreat that stretched to the rear as far as the
eye could see.

Astonished, the Lancers looked on, not understanding, fearful of
some tremendous disaster. A regiment of regular cavalry of the
Provost Guard was riding through the fugitives, turning, checking,
cutting out, driving, separating the disorganised mob; but it was
hard work, and many got away, and teamsters began to cut traces,
and skulking cavalrymen clapped spurs and rode over screeching
deserters who blocked their path. It was a squalid sight; the
Lancers looked on appalled.

Colonel Arran rode his horse slowly along the front of his
regiment, talking quietly to his men.

"It's only one or two of the raw brigades and a few teamsters and
frightened sutlers--that's all. Better that the Provost Guard
should let them through; better to sift out that kind of soldier."
. . . He calmly turned his horse's head and rode back along the
lines of horses and dismounted troopers, commenting reassuringly on
what was taking place around them.

"There is never any safety in running away unless your officers
order you to run. The discipline of a regiment is the only
security for the individual. There is every chance of safety as
long as a regiment holds together; no chance at all if it
disintegrates.

"The regulars understand that; it is what makes them formidable; it
is what preserves them individually, and every man knows it. The
regulars don't run; it happens to be contrary to their traditions;
but those traditions originated less in sentiment than in plain
common-sense."

He turned his horse and walked the animal slowly along the lines.

"I am exceedingly gratified by the conduct of this regiment," he
said. "You have done all that has been asked of you. To do more
than is asked of you is not commendable in a soldier, though it may
display individual courage. . . . The carbineer, Burgess, 10th
troop, Captain Hallam, was foolhardy to attempt the bridge without
orders. . . . The lancer, Ormond, 10th troop, Captain Hallam,
however, did his full duty--admirably--when he faced death to
rescue a wounded comrade from the flames. . . . In England a
Victoria Cross is given for deeds of this kind. The regiment
respects him--and respects itself. . . . I care to believe that
there is not one officer or trooper in my command who is not ready
to lay down his life for a friend. . . . I am happy in the
consciousness that it is not courage which is lacking in this
command; it is only experience. And that will come; it came with
the shells on the slope yonder. There is no more severe test of a
regiment's discipline than to endure the enemy's fire without being
able to retaliate."

The regiment's eyes were fastened on their colonel's tall heavy
figure as he walked his powerful horse slowly to and fro along
their front, talking to them in his calm, passionless manner.
Strained muscles and tense nerves relaxed; breath came more
regularly and naturally; men ventured to look about them more
freely, to loosen the spasmodic grip on curb and snaffle, to speak
to comrades in low tones, inquiring what damage other troops had
sustained.

The regular cavalry of the Provost Guard had turned the tide of
stragglers now, letting through only the wounded and the teams.
But across the open fields wreckage from the battle was streaming
in every direction; and so stupid and bewildered with fear were
some of the fugitives that McDunn's battery had to cease its fire
for a time, while the officers ran forward through the smoke,
shouting and gesticulating to warn the mass of skulkers out of the
way.

And now a fearful uproar of artillery arose immediately to the
west, shells began to rain in the river woods, then shrapnel, then,
in long clattering cadence, volley succeeded volley, faster,
faster, till the outcrash became one solid, rippling roar.

Far to the west across the country the Lancers saw regiments
passing forward through the trees at a quick-step; saw batteries
galloping hither and thither, aides-de-camp and staff-officers
racing to and fro at full speed.

The 3rd Zouaves rose from the clover, shouldered muskets, and moved
forward on a run; a staff-officer wheeled out of the road, jumped
his horse over the culvert, and galloped up to Colonel Arran. And
the next moment the Lancers were in the saddle and moving at a trot
out toward the left of McDunn's battery.

They stood facing the woods, lances poised, for about ten minutes,
when a general officer with dragoon escort came galloping down the
road and through the meadow toward McDunn's battery. It was
Claymore, their general of brigade.

"Retire by prolonge!" he shouted to the battery commander, pulling
in his sweating horse. "We've got to get out of this!" And to
Colonel Arran, who had ridden up, flushed and astonished: "We've
got to leave this place," he repeated shortly. "They're driving
the Zouaves in on us."

All along the edge of the woods the red breeches of the Zouaves
were reappearing, slowly retreating in excellent order before
something as yet unseen. The men turned every few paces to fire by
companies, only to wheel again, jog-trot toward the rear, halt,
load, swing to deliver their fire, then resume their jogging
retreat.

Back they fell, farther, farther, while McDunn's battery continued
to fire and retire by prolonge, and the Lancers, long weapons
disengaged, accompanied them, ready to support the guns in an
emergency.

The emergency seemed very near. Farther to the left a blue
regiment appeared enveloped in spouting smoke, fairly hurled bodily
from the woods; Egerton's 20th Dragoons came out of a concealed
valley on a trot, looking behind them, their rear squadron firing
from the saddle in orderly retreat; the Zouaves, powder soiled,
drenched in sweat, bloody, dishevelled, passed to the left of the
battery and lay down.

Then, from far along the stretch of woods, arose a sound,
incessant, high-pitched--a sustained treble cadence, nearer,
nearer, louder, shriller, like the excited cry of a hunting pack,
bursting into a paroxysm of hysterical chorus as a long line of
gray men leaped from the wood's edge and swept headlong toward the
guns.

Berkley felt every nerve in his body leap as his lance fell to a
level with eight hundred other lances; he saw the battery bury
itself in smoke as gun after gun drove its cannister into obscurity
or ripped the smoke with sheets of grape; he saw the Zouaves rise
from the grass, deliver their fire, sink back, rise again while
their front spouted smoke and flame.

The awful roar of the firing to the right deafened him; he caught a
glimpse of squadrons of regular cavalry in the road, slinging
carbines and drawing sabres; a muffled blast of bugles reached his
ears; and the nest moment he was trotting out into the smoke.

After that it was a gallop at full speed; and he remembered nothing
very distinctly, saw nothing clearly, except that, everywhere among
his squadron ran yelling men on foot, shooting, lunging with
bayonets, striking with clubbed rifles. Twice he felt the shocking
impact of his lance point; once he drove the ferruled counterpoise
at a man who went down under his horse's feet. One moment there
was a perfect whirlwind of scarlet pennons flapping around him,
another and he was galloping alone across the grass, lance crossed
from right to left, tugging at his bridle. Then he set the reeking
ferrule in his stirrup boot, slung the shaft from the braided arm
loop, and drew his revolver--the new weapon lately issued, with its
curious fixed ammunition and its cap imbedded.

There were groups of gray infantry in the field, walking, running,
or standing still and firing; groups of lancers and dragoons
trotting here and there, wheeling, galloping furiously at the men
on foot. A number of foot soldiers were crowding around a mixed
company of dragoons and Lancers, striking at them, shooting into
them. He saw the Lieutenant-colonel of his own regiment tumble out
of his saddle; saw Major Lent put his horse to a dead run and ride
over a squad of infantry; saw Colonel Arran disengage his horse
from the crush, wheel, and begin to use his heavy sabre in the mass
around him.

Bugles sounded persistently; he set spurs to his tired horse and
rode toward the buglers, and found himself beside Colonel Arran,
who, crimson in the face, was whipping his way out with dripping
sabre.

Across a rivulet on the edge of the woods he could see the
regimental colours and the bulk of his regiment re-forming; and he
spurred forward to join them, skirting the edge of a tangle of
infantry, dragoons, and lancers who were having a limited but
bloody affair of their own in a cornfield where a flag tossed
wildly--a very beautiful, square red flag, its folds emblazoned
with a blue cross set with stars,

Out of the melee a score of dishevelled lancers came plunging
through the corn, striking right and left at the infantry that
clung to them with the fury of panthers; the square battle flag,
flung hither and thither, was coming close to him; he emptied his
revolver at the man who carried it, caught at the staff, missed,
was almost blinded by the flashing blast from a rifle, set spurs to
his horse, leaned wide from his saddle, seized the silk, jerked it
from its rings, and, swaying, deluged with blood from a
sword-thrust in the face, let his frantic horse carry him whither
it listed, away, away, over the swimming green that his sickened
eyes could see no longer.

CHAPTER XVI

On every highway, across every wood trail, footpath, and meadow
streamed the wreckage of seven battle-fields. Through mud and rain
crowded heavy artillery, waggons, herds of bellowing cattle,
infantry, light batteries, exhausted men, wounded men, dead men on
stretchers, men in straw-filled carts, some alive, some dying.
Cannoneers cut traces and urged their jaded horses through the
crush, cursed and screamed at by those on foot, menaced by bayonets
and sabres. The infantry, drenched, starving, plastered with mud
to the waists, toiled doggedly on through the darkness; batteries
in deplorable condition struggled from mud hole to mud hole; the
reserve cavalry division, cut out and forced east, limped wearily
ahead, its rear-guard firing at every step.

To the north, immense quantities of stores--clothing, provisions,
material of every description were on fire, darkening the sky with
rolling, inky clouds; an entire army corps with heavy artillery and
baggage crossed the river enveloped in the pitchy, cinder-laden
smoke from two bridges on fire. The forests, which had been felled
from the Golden Farm to Fair Oaks to form an army's vast abattis,
were burning in sections, sending roaring tornadoes of flame into
rifle pits, redoubts, and abandoned fortifications. Cannon
thundered at Ellison's Mills; shells rained hard on Gaines's Farm;
a thousand simultaneous volleys of musketry mingled with the awful
uproar of the cannon; uninterrupted sheets of light from the shells
brightened the smoke pall like the continuous flare of electricity
against a thundercloud. The Confederacy, victorious, was advancing
wrapped in flame and smoke.

At Savage's Station the long railroad bridge was now on fire;
trains and locomotives burned fiercely; millions of boxes of hard
bread, barrels of flour, rice, sugar, coffee, salt pork, cases of
shoes, underclothing, shirts, uniforms, tin-ware, blankets,
ponchos, harness, medical stores, were in flames; magazines of
ammunition, flat cars and box cars loaded with powder, shells, and
cartridges blazed and exploded, hurling jets and spouting fountains
of fire to the very zenith.

And through the White Oak Swamp rode the Commander-in-chief of an
army in full retreat, followed by his enormous staff and escort,
abandoning the siege of Richmond, and leaving to their fate the
wretched mass of sick and wounded in the dreadful hospitals at
Liberty Hall. And the red battle flags of the Southland fluttered
on every hill.

Claymore's mixed brigade, still holding together, closed the rear
of Porter's powder-scorched _corps d'armee_.

The Zouaves of the 3rd Regiment--what was left of them--marched as
flankers; McDunn's battery, still intact, was forced to unlimber
every few rods; and the pouring rain turned to a driving golden
fire in the red glare of the guns, which lighted up the halted

Book of the day: