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Ailsa Paige by Robert W. Chambers

Part 8 out of 9

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"Did you know I was here?"

"I saw you arrive last night--from the infirmary window. . . . I
hope your wound is healed," she added in a strained voice.

"Ailsa! What has happened?"

She shuddered slightly, looked at, him without a shadow of
expression.

"Let us understand one another now. I haven't the slightest atom
of--regard--left for you. I have no desire to see you, to hear of
you again while I am alive. That is final."

"Will you tell me why?"

She had turned to go; now she hesitated, silent, irresolute.

"Will you tell me, Ailsa?"

She said, wearily: "If you insist, I can make it plainer, some
time. But this is not the time. . . And you had better not ask me
at all, Philip."

"I do ask you."

"I warn you to accept your dismissal without seeking an
explanation. It would spare--us both."

"I will spare neither of us. What has changed you?"

"I shall choose my own convenience to answer you," she replied
haughtily.

"Choose it, then, and tell me when to expect your explanation."

"When I send for you; not before."

"Are you going to let me go away with that for my answer?"

"Perhaps."

He hooked his thumbs in his girdle and looked down, considering;
then, quietly raising his head:

"I don't know what you have found out--what has been told you. I
have done plenty of things in my life unworthy of you, but I
thought you knew that."

"I know it now."

"You knew it before. I never attempted to conceal anything."

A sudden blue glimmer made her eyes brilliant. "That is a
falsehood!" she said deliberately. The colour faded from his
cheeks, then he said with ashy composure:

"I lie much less than the average man, Ailsa. It is nothing to
boast of, but it happens to be true. I don't lie."

"You keep silent and act a lie!"

He reflected for a moment; then:

"Hadn't you better tell me?"

"No."

Then his colour returned, surging, making the scar on his face
hideous; he turned, walked to the window, and stood looking into
the darkness while the departing glimmer of her candle faded on the
wall behind him.

Presently, scraping, ducking, chuckling, the old darky appeared
with his boots and uniform, everything dry and fairly clean; and he
dressed by lantern light, buckled his belt, drew on his gloves,
settled his forage cap, and followed the old man out into the
graying dawn.

They gave him some fresh light bread and a basin of coffee; he
finished and waited, teeth biting the stem of his empty pipe for
which he had no tobacco.

Surgeons, assistant surgeons, contract physicians, ward-masters,
nurses, passed and re-passed; stretchers filed into the dead house;
coffins were being unloaded and piled under a shed; a constant
stream of people entered and left the apothecary's office; the
Division Medical Director's premises were besieged. Ambulances
continually drove up or departed; files of sick and wounded, able
to move without assistance, stood in line, patient, uncomplaining
men, bloody, ragged, coughing, burning with fever, weakened for
lack of nourishment; many crusted with filth and sometimes with
vermin, humbly awaiting the disposition of their battered,
half-dead bodies. . . .

The incipient stages of many diseases were plainly apparent among
them. Man after man was placed on a stretcher, and hurried off to
the contagious wards; some were turned away and directed to other
hospitals, and they went without protest, dragging their gaunt
legs, even attempting some feeble jest as they passed their
wretched comrades whose turns had not yet come.

Presently a hospital servant came and took Berkley away to another
building. The wards were where the schoolrooms had been.
Blackboards still decorated the wall; a half-erased exercise in
Latin remained plainly visible over the rows of cots.

Ailsa and the apothecary stood together in low-voiced conversation
by a window. She merely raised her eyes when Berkley entered;
then, without giving him a second glance, continued her
conversation.

In the heavy, ether-laden atmosphere flies swarmed horribly, and
men detailed as nurses from regimental companies were fanning them
from helpless patients. A civilian physician, coming down the
aisle, exchanged a few words with the ward-master and then turned
to Berkley.

"You are trooper Ormond, orderly to Colonel Arran?"

"Yes."

"Colonel Arran desires you to remain here at his orders for the
present."

"Is Colonel Arran likely to recover, doctor?"

"He is in no immediate danger."

"May I see him?"

"Certainly. He sent for you. Step this way."

They entered another and much smaller ward in which there were very
few cots, and from which many of the flies had been driven.

Colonel Arran lay very white and still on his cot; only his eyes
turned as Berkley came up and stood at salute.

"Sit down," he said feebly. And, after a long silence:

"Berkley, the world seems to be coming right. I am grateful that
I--lie here--with you beside me."

Berkley's throat closed; he could not speak; nor did he know what
he might have said could he have spoken, for within him all had
seemed to crash softly into chaos, and he had no mind, no will, no
vigour, only a confused understanding of emotion and pain, and a
fierce longing.

Colonel Arran's sunken eyes never left his, watching, wistful,
patient. And at last the boy bent forward and rested his elbows on
his knees and dropped his face in both hands. Time ebbed away in
silence; there was no sound in the ward save the blue flies' buzz
or the slight movement of some wounded man easing his tortured body.

"Philip!"

The boy lifted his face from his hands.

"Can you forgive me?"

"Yes, I have. . . . There was only one thing to forgive. I don't
count--myself."

"I count it--bitterly."

"You need not. . . . It was only--my mother----"

"I know, my boy. The blade of justice is double-edged. No mortal
can wield it safely; only He who forged it. . . . I have never
ceased to love--your mother."

Berkley's face became ashen.

Colonel Arran said: "Is there punishment more terrible than that
for any man?"

Presently Berkley drew his chair closer.

"I wish you to know how mother died," he said simply. "It is your
right to know. . . . Because, there will come a time when she
and--you will be together again . . . if you believe such things."

"I believe."

For a while the murmur of Berkley's voice alone broke the silence.
Colonel Arran lay with eyes closed, a slight flush on his sunken
cheeks; and, before long, Berkley's hand lay over his and remained
there.

The brilliant, ominous flies whirled overhead or drove headlong
against the window-panes, falling on their backs to kick and buzz
and scramble over the sill; slippered attendants moved softly along
the aisle with medicines; once the ward-master came and looked down
at Colonel Arran, touched the skin of his face, his pulse, and
walked noiselessly away. Berkley's story had already ended.

After a while he said: "If you will get well--whatever I am--we two
men have in common a memory that can never die. If there were
nothing else--God knows whether there is--that memory is enough, to
make us live at peace with one another. . . . I do not entirely
understand how it is with me, but I know that some things have been
washed out of my heart--leaving little of the bitterness--nothing
now of anger. It has all been too sad for such things--a tragedy
too deep for the lesser passions to meddle with. . . . Let us
forgive each other. . . . She will know it, somehow."

Their hands slowly closed together and remained.

"Philip!"

"Sir?"

"Ailsa is here."

"Yes, sir."

"Will you say to her that I would like to see her?"

For a moment Berkley hesitated, then rose quietly and walked into
the adjoining ward.

Ailsa was bending over a sick man, fanning away the flies that
clustered around the edge of the bowl from which he was drinking.
And Berkley waited until the patient had finished the broth.

"Ailsa, may I speak to you a moment?"

She had been aware of his entrance, and was not startled. She
handed the bowl and fan to an attendant, turned leisurely, and came
out into the aisle.

"What is it?"

"Colonel Arran wishes to see you. Can you come?"

"Certainly."

She led the way; and as she walked he noticed that all the lithe
grace, all the youth and spring to her step had vanished. She
moved wearily; her body under the gray garb was thin; blue veins
showed faintly in temple and wrist; only her superb hair and eyes
had suffered no change.

Colonel Arran's eyes opened as she stooped at his bedside and laid
her lips lightly on his forehead.

"Is there another chair?" he asked wearily.

Ailsa's glance just rested on Berkley, measuring him in
expressionless disdain. Then, as he brought another chair, she
seated herself.

"You, too, Philip," murmured the wounded man.

Ailsa's violet eyes opened in surprise at the implied intimacy
between these men whom she had vaguely understood were anything but
friends. But she remained coldly aloof, controlling even a shiver
of astonishment when Colonel Arran's hand, which held hers, groped
also for Berkley's, and found it.

Then with an effort he turned his head and looked at them.

"I have long known that you loved each other," he whispered. "It
is a happiness that God sends me as well as you. If it be His will
that I--do not recover, this makes it easy for me. If He wills it
that I live, then, in His infinite mercy, He also gives me the
reason for living."

Icy cold, Ailsa's hand lay there, limply touching Berkley's; the
sick man's eyes were upon them.

"Philip!"

"Sir?"

"My watch is hanging from a nail on the wall. There is a chamois
bag hanging with it. Give--it--to me."

And when it lay in his hand he picked at the string, forced it
open, drew out a key, and laid it in Berkley's hand with a faint
smile.

"You remember, Philip?"

"Yes, sir."

The wounded man looked at Ailsa wistfully.

"It is the key to my house, dear. One day, please God, you and
Philip will live there." . . . He closed his eyes, groping for
both their hands, and retaining them, lay silent as though asleep.

Berkley's palm burned against hers; she never stirred, never moved
a muscle, sitting there as though turned to stone. But when the
wounded man's frail grasp relaxed, cautiously, silently, she freed
her fingers, rose, looked down, listening to his breathing, then,
without a glance at Berkley, moved quietly toward the door.

He was behind her a second later, and she turned to confront him in
the corridor lighted by a single window.

"Will you tell me what has changed you?" he said.

"Something which that ghastly farce cannot influence!" she said,
hot faced, eyes brilliant with anger. "I loved Colonel Arran
enough to endure it--endure your touch--which
shames--defiles--which--which outrages every instinct in me!"

Breathless, scornful, she drew back, still facing him.

"The part you have played in my life!" she said bitterly--"think it
over. Remember what you have been toward me from the first--a
living insult! And when you remember--all--remember that in spite
of _all_ I--I loved you--stood before you in the rags of my
pride--all that you had left me to clothe myself!--stood upright,
unashamed, and acknowledged that I loved you!"

She made a hopeless gesture.

"Oh, you had all there was of my heart! I gave it; I laid it
beside my pride, under your feet. God knows what madness was upon
me--and you had flung my innocence into my face! And you had held
me in your embrace, and looked me in the eyes, and said you would
not marry me. And I still loved you!"

Her hands flew to her breast, higher, clasped against the full,
white throat.

"Now, have I not dragged my very soul naked under your eyes? Have
I not confessed enough. What more do you want of me before you
consent to keep your distance and trouble me no more?"

"I want to know what has angered you against me," he said quietly.

She set her teeth and stared at him, with beautiful resolute eyes.

"Before I answer that," she said, "I demand to know why you refused
to marry me."

"I cannot tell you, Ailsa."

In a white rage she whispered:

"No, you dare not tell me!--you coward! I had to learn the
degrading reason from others!"

He grew deathly white, caught her arms in a grasp of steel, held
her twisting wrists imprisoned.

"Do you know what you are saying?" he stammered.

"Yes, I know! Your cruelty--your shame----"

"Be silent!" he said between his teeth. "My shame is my pride! Do
you understand!"

Outraged, quivering all over, she twisted out of his grasp.

"Then go to her!" she whispered. "Why don't you go to her?"

And, as his angry eyes became blank:

"Don't you understand? She is there--just across the road!" She
flung open the window and pointed with shaking anger.

"Didn't anybody tell you she is there? Then I'll tell you. Now go
to her! You are--worthy--of one another!"

"Of whom are you speaking--in God's name!" he breathed.

Panting, flushed, flat against the wall, she looked back out of
eyes that had become dark and wide, fumbling in the bosom of her
gray garb. And, just where the scarlet heart was stitched across
her breast, she drew out a letter, and, her fascinated gaze still
fixed on him, extended her arm.

He took the crumpled sheets from her in a dazed sort of way, but
did not look at them.

"_Who_ is there--across the road?" he repeated stupidly.

"Ask--Miss--Lynden."

"Letty!"

But she suddenly turned and slipped swiftly past him, leaving him
there in the corridor by the open window, holding the letter in his
hand.

For a while he remained there, leaning against the wall. Sounds
from the other ward came indistinctly--a stifled cry, a deep groan,
the hurried tread of feet, the opening or closing of windows. Once
a dreadful scream rang out from a neighbouring ward, where a man
had suddenly gone insane; and he could hear the sounds of the
struggle, the startled orders, the shrieks, the crash of a cot;
then the dreadful uproar grew fainter, receding. He roused
himself, passed an unsteady hand across his eyes, looked blindly at
the letter, saw only a white blurr, and, crushing it in his
clenched fist, he went down the kitchen stairs and out across the
road.

A hospital guard stopped him, but on learning who he was and that
he had business with Miss Lynden, directed him toward a low,
one-storied, stone structure, where, under the trees, a figure
wrapped in a shawl lay asleep in a chair.

"She's been on duty all night," observed the guard. "If you've got
to speak to her, go ahead."

"Yes," said Berkley in a dull voice, "I've got to speak to her."
And he walked toward her across the dead brown grass.

Letty's head lay on a rough pine table; her slim body, supported by
a broken chair, was covered by a faded shawl; and, as he looked
down at her, somehow into his memory came the recollection of the
first time he ever saw her so--asleep in Casson's rooms, her
childish face on the table, the room reeking with tobacco smoke and
the stale odour of wine and dying flowers.

He stood for a long while beside her, looking down at the thin,
pale face. Then, in pity, he turned away; and at the same moment
she stirred, sat up, confused, and saw him.

"Letty, dear," he said, coming back, both hands held out to her, "I
did not mean to rob you of your sleep."

"Oh--it doesn't matter! I am so glad--" She sat up suddenly,
staring at him. The next moment the tears rushed to her eyes.

"O--h," she whispered, "I wished so to see you. I am so thankful
you are here. There is--there has been such--a terrible
change--something has happened----"

She rose unsteadily; laid her trembling hand on his arm.

"I don't know what it is," she said piteously, "but
Ailsa--something dreadful has angered her against me----"

"Against _you_!"

"Oh, yes. I _don't_ know all of it; I know--partly."

Sleep and fatigue still confused her mind; she pressed both frail
hands to her eyes, her forehead:

"It was the day I returned from seeing you at Paigecourt. . . . I
was deadly tired when the ambulance drove into Azalea; and when it
arrived here I had fallen asleep. . . . I woke up when it stopped.
Ailsa was sitting here--in this same chair, I think--and I remember
as I sat up in the ambulance that an officer was just leaving
her--Captain Hallam."

She looked piteously at Berkley.

"He was one of the men I have avoided. Do you understand?"

"No. . . . Was he----"

"Yes, he often came to the--Canterbury. He had never spoken to me
there, but Ione Carew knew him; and I was certain he would
recognise me. . . . I thought I had succeeded in avoiding him, but
he must have seen me when I was not conscious of his presence--he
must have recognised me."

She looked down at her worn shoes; the tears fell silently; she
smoothed her gray gown for lack of employment for her restless
hands.

"Dear," he said, "do you believe he went to Ailsa with his story
about you?"

"Oh, yes, yes, I am sure. What else could it be that has angered
her--that drives me away from her--that burns me with the dreadful
gaze she turns on me--chills me with her more dreadful
silence? . . . Why did he do it? I don't know--oh, I don't
know. . . . Because I had never even spoken to him--in those days
that I have tried so hard--so hard to forget----"

He said slowly: "He is a coward. I have known that for a long
time. But most men are. The disgrace lies in acting like one. . .
And I--that is why I didn't run in battle. . . . Because, that
first day, when they fired on our waggons, _I saw him riding in the
road behind us_. Nobody else suspected him to be within miles. I
saw him. And--_he galloped the wrong way_. And that is why
I--did what I did! He shocked me into doing it. . . . But I never
before have told a soul. I would not tell even you--but the man,
yesterday, put himself beyond the pale. And it can make no
difference now, for he carries the mark into his grave."

He shuddered slightly. "God forbid I hold him up to scorn. I
might, this very moment, be what he is now. No man may know--no
man can foretell how he will bear himself in time of stress. I
have a sorry record of my own. Battle is not the only conflict
that makes men or cowards."

He stood silent, gazing into space. Letty's tears dried as she
watched him.

"Have you seen--her?" she asked tremulously.

"Yes."

The girl sighed and looked down.

"I am so sorry about Colonel Arran . . . . I believe, somehow, he
will get well."

"Do you really believe it, Letty?"

"Yes. The wound is clean. I have seen many recover who were far
more dangerously hurt. . . . His age is against him, but I do
truly believe he will get well."

He thought a moment. "Have you heard about Stephen Craig?"

"They have telegraphed to his affianced--a Miss Lent. You probably
know her. Her brother was killed a day or two ago. Poor little
thing! I believe that Miss Lent is coming. Mrs. Craig wishes to
take her boy North as soon as he can be moved. And, unless the
wound becomes infected, I don't believe he is going to die."

"Where is he?"

"At Paigecourt. Many transports are waiting at the landing. . . .
They say that there was another severe engagement near there
yesterday, and that our army is victorious. I have heard, also,
that we were driven in, and that your regiment lost a great many
men and horses . . . I don't know which is true," she added,
listlessly picking at her frayed gown; "only, as we haven't heard
the guns to-day, it seems to me that if we had lost the battle we'd
have Confederate cannon thundering all around us."

"That seems reasonable," he admitted absently. . . . "Is Dr.
Benton here still?"

"No," she said softly.

"Where is he?"

"At Paigecourt. I asked him to go because he is the best doctor I
ever knew. He came down here to see me; he is not detailed for
duty under contract. I asked him to go and see Stephen Craig. He
grumbled--and went."

She looked up shyly at Berkley, smiled for the first time, then her
pale young face grew beautiful and solemn.

"You dear girl," he said impulsively, taking both her hands and
kissing them. "I am so glad for you--and for him. I knew it would
come true."

"Yes. But I had to tell him--I started to tell him--and--oh, would
you believe how splendid he is! He _knew_ already! He stopped me
short--and I never can forget the look in his face. And he said:
'Child--child! You can tell me nothing I am not already aware of.
And I am aware of nothing except your goodness.'"

"I _thought_ I knew Phineas Benton," said Berkley, warmly. "He was
too upright a character for me to enjoy with any comfort--a few
years back. . . . I'm trying harder than you ever had to, Letty.
You always desired to be decent; I didn't." He shook both her
hands heartily.

"You deserve every atom of your happiness, you dear, sweet girl! I
only wish you were safely out of here and back in the North!"

Letty began to cry softly:

"Forgive me, please; I'm not naturally as tearful as this. I am
just tired. I've done too much--seen too much--and it hasn't
hardened me; it has made me like a silly child, ready to sniffle at
anything."

Berkley laughed gently.

"Why are you crying now, Letty?"

"B-because they have offered me a furlough. I didn't apply. But
Dr. Benton has made me take it. And it almost kills me to go North
and leave Ailsa--alone--and so strangely changed toward me----"

She straightened her shoulders resolutely; brushed the tears from
her lashes; strove to smile at him.

"Shall we walk a little? I am not on duty, you know; and I've had
enough sleep. There's such a pretty lane along the creek behind
the chapel. . . . What are you doing here, anyway? I suppose you
are acting orderly to poor Colonel Arran? How splendidly the
Lancers have behaved! . . . And those darling Zouaves!--oh, we are
just bursting with pride over our Zou-zous----"

They had turned away together, walking slowly through the grove
toward a little cart road deep in golden seeded grass which wound
down a hollow all moist with ferns and brambles and young trees in
heavy leaf.

Her hand, unconsciously, had sought his nestling into it with a
confidence that touched him; her pale, happy face turned
continually to meet his as she chatted innocently of the things
which went to make up the days of life for her, never conscious of
herself, or that the artless chatter disclosed anything admirable
in her own character. She prattled on at random, sometimes naive,
sometimes wistful, sometimes faintly humourous--a brave, clean
spirit that was content to take the consequence of duty done--a
tender, gentle soul, undeformed amid the sordid horrors that
hardened or crippled souls less innocent.

Calm, resourceful, patient, undismayed amid conditions that
sickened mature experience to the verge of despair, she went about
her business day after day, meeting all requisitions upon her
slender endurance without faltering, without even supposing there
was anything unusual or praiseworthy in what she did.

She was only one of many women who did full duty through the
darkest days the nation ever knew--saints in homespun, martyrs
uncanonised save in the hearts of the stricken.

There was a small wooden foot-bridge spanning the brook, with a
rough seat nailed against the rail.

"One of my convalescents made it for me," she said proudly. "He
could use only one arm, and he had such a hard time sawing and
hammering! and the foolish boy wouldn't let anybody help him."

She seated herself in the cool shade of a water oak, retaining his
hand in hers and making room for him beside her.

"I wonder," she said, "if you know how good you have been to me.
You changed all my life. Do you realise it?"

"You changed it yourself, Letty."

She sighed, leaned back, dreamy eyed, watching the sun spots glow
and wane on the weather-beaten footbridge.

"In war time--here in the wards--men seem gentler to
women--kinder--than in times of peace. I have stood beside many
thousands; not one has been unkind--lacking in deference. . . ." A
slight smile grew on her lips; she coloured a little, looked up at
Berkley, humorously.

"It would surprise you to know how many have asked me to marry
them. . . . Such funny boys. . . . I scolded some of them and
made them write immediately to their sweethearts. . . . The older
men were more difficult to manage--men from the West--such fine,
simple-natured fellows--just sick and lonely enough to fall in love
with any woman who fanned them and brought them lemonade. . . . I
loved them all dearly. They have been very sweet to me. . . . Men
_are_ good. . . . If a woman desires it. . . . The world is so
full of people who don't mean to do wrong."

She bent her head, considering, lost in the retrospection of her
naive philosophy.

Berkley, secretly amused, was aware of several cadaverous
convalescents haunting the bushes above, dodging the eyes of this
pretty nurse whom one and all adored, and whom they now beheld,
with jealous misgivings, in intimate and unwarrantable tete-a-tete
with a common and disgustingly healthy cavalryman.

Then his weather-tanned features grew serious.

The sunny moments slipped away as the sunlit waters slipped under
the bridge; a bird or two, shy and songless in their moulting
fever, came to the stream to drink, looking up, bright eyed, at the
two who sat there in the mid-day silence. One, a cardinal, ruffled
his crimson crest, startled, as Berkley moved slightly.

"The Red Birds," he said, half aloud. "To me they are the sweetest
singers of all. I remember them as a child, Letty."

After a while Letty rose; her thin hand lingered, on his shoulder
as she stood beside him, and he got to his feet and adjusted belt
and sabre.

"I love to be with you," she said wistfully. "It's only because I
do need a little more sleep that I am going back."

"Of course," he nodded. And they retraced their steps together.

He left her at the door of the quaint, one-storied stone building
where, she explained, she had a cot.

"You _will_ come to see me again before you go back to your
regiment, won't you?" she pleaded, keeping one hand in both of hers.

"Of course I will. Try to get some sleep, Letty. You're
tremendously pretty when you've had plenty of sleep."

They both laughed; then she went indoors and he turned away across
the road, under the windows of the ward where Ailsa was on duty,
and so around to his store-room dwelling-place, where he sat down
on the cot amid the piles of boxes and drew from his pocket the
crumpled sheets of the letter that Ailsa had given him.

The handwriting seemed vaguely familiar to him; he glanced
curiously down the page; his eyes became riveted; he reddened to
the roots of his hair; then he deliberately began at the beginning,
reading very carefully.

The letter had been written several weeks ago; it was dated, and
signed with Hallam's name:

"MY DEAR MRS. PAIGE:

"Only my solemn sense of duty to all pure womanhood enables me to
indite these lines to you; and, by so doing, to invite, nay, to
encourage a cruel misunderstanding of my sincerest motives.

"But my letter is not dictated by malice or inspired by the natural
chagrin which animates a man of spirit when he reflects upon the
undeserved humiliation which he has endured from her who was once
dearer to him than life itself. Mine is a nature susceptible and
sensitive, yet, I natter myself, incapable of harbouring sentiments
unworthy of a gentleman and a soldier.

"To forgive, to condone, is always commendable in man; but, madam,
there is a higher duty men owe to womanhood--to chaste and trusting
womanhood, incapable of defending itself from the wiles and schemes
which ever are waiting to ensnare it.

"It is for this reason, and for this reason alone, that, my
suspicions fully aroused, I have been at some pains to verify them.
A heart conscious of its moral rectitude does not flinch from the
duty before it or from the pain which, unfortunately, the execution
of that duty so often inflicts upon the innocent.

"Believe me, dear Mrs. Paige, it is a sad task that lies before me.
Woman is frail and weak by nature. Man's noblest aspiration can
attain no loftier consummation than in the protection of a pure
woman against contamination.

"Mine becomes the unhappy mission of unmasking two unworthy people
whom you, in your innocence and trust, have cherished close to your
heart. I speak of the trooper Ormond--whose name I believe you
know is Philip Berkley--and, if you now hear it for the first time,
it is proof additional of his deceit and perfidy.

"The other is Miss Lynden, known, in a certain immoral resort
called the Canterbury, as Letty Lynden, or 'Daisy' Lynden.

"She was a dancer in the Canterbury Music Hall. I enclose
photographs of her in costume, also receipts from her landlady,
washing lists, her contract with the Canterbury, all in her own
handwriting, and all gathered for me at my request by a New York
detective, and forwarded to me here. Among these papers you will
find several notes written to her in the spring and summer of 1861
by the trooper Berkley and discovered in her room by her landlady
after her departure. A perusal of them is sufficient to leave no
doubt concerning the character of this young woman--who,
apparently, neglected by the fellow, Berkley, pleaded piteously
with him for an interview, and was, as you see, cynically rebuffed.

"I enclose, also, an affidavit made by Miss Lynden's landlady that
she, Letty, or 'Daisy' Lynden, was commonly understood to be the
mistress of Berkley; that he took her from the Canterbury and from
her lodgings, paid her board bills, and installed her in rooms at
the enclosed address, where she remained until she found employment
with a Doctor Benton.

"What her relations were with him I do not pretend to know. It is
evident, however, that they continue, as he writes to her. It will
also be apparent to you that she has not scrupled to continue her
relations with the man Berkley.

"I will now further prove to you the truth of my assertion
concerning this degrading and demoralising condition of affairs.

"It came to my knowledge that a certain Arthur Wye, serving in the
volunteer artillery, and a certain subaltern in a zouave regiment,
were not only intimates of the trooper Berkley, but had also been
on dubious terms with the Lynden girl.

"Therefore, in company with an agent of the United States Secret
Service detailed for the duty by Surgeon-General Hammond at my
request, I held a private examination of these two men, and, with
some adroitness, succeeded in making them identify the photographs
of the Lynden girl, and later, unobserved by her, attempted to make
them identify her as she was sitting outside the field hospital.
But this they refused to do.

"However, that evidence was not necessary. Among her effects,
scraps of letters in the waste-basket, etc., which she had
imprudently left at her lodgings, were discovered fragments which,
when pasted together, showed conclusively that she was on speaking
terms at least with the artilleryman, Wye.

"This evidence I deem it my duty to lay before you. As a sensitive
and chaste woman, gently born, the condition of affairs will
horrify you. But the knowledge of them will also enable you to
take measures for self-protection, and to clearly understand the
measure which I shall now take to rid the Sanitary Service of this
abandoned woman, who, as your friend and intimate associate,
conceals her true character under the garb of Sainte Ursula, and
who continues her intrigues with the trooper Berkley under the very
roof that shelters you.

"I am, madam, with sincere pain and deepest sympathy and respect,

"Obediently your humble servant,
"EUGENE HALLAM,
"Capt. 8th N. Y. Cav."

He laid the letter and the enclosed papers on the bunk beside him,
and sat there thinking.

He knew that the evidence before him had been sufficient to drive
Letty from the Sanitary Service. Why had she not been driven? The
evidence and the letter were weeks old now. What had prevented
their use? And now Hallam was a fugitive--a deserter in the face
of the enemy. It was too late for him to work more mischief if he
would. But why had he held his hand against Letty?

Sunset found him still sitting there, thinking. The old negro came
shuffling in, bringing hot hoe-cake and bacon for his dinner. He
ate obediently; later he submitted to the razor and clothes brush,
absently pondering the problem that obsessed him: "Why had Hallam
spared Letty; how could he convey the truth to Ailsa Paige?"

At dusk he reported to the ward-master; but Colonel Arran was
asleep, and there were no orders for him.

Then, slowly, he went into the adjoining ward. Ailsa was off duty,
lying down in her room. His message asking a moment's interview
was refused.

So he turned away again, head bent, and wandered over to his
store-room quarters, pondering the problem before him.

CHAPTER XIX

A car full of leaf tobacco had been brought in that day, and
Berkley secured a little of it for his pipe.

Seated on the edge of the shaky veranda in the darkness, he filled
and lighted his cob pipe and, smoking tranquilly, listened to the
distant cannonade which had begun about sundown. Thousands of
fire-flies sailed low in the damp swale beyond the store-house, or,
clinging motionless to the long wet grass and vines, sparkled
palely at intervals. There was no wind. Far on the southern
horizon the muttering thunder became heavier and more distinct.
From where he sat he could now watch the passage of the great
mortar shells through the sky, looking like swiftly moving comets
cleaving unfathomable space; then, falling, faster and faster,
dropping out of the heights of night, they seemed to leave behind
them tracks of fire that lingered on the dazzled retina long after
they had disappeared. The explosion of the incendiary shells was
even more spectacular; the burning matter of the chemical charge
fell from them in showers of clear blue and golden stars, dropping
slowly toward the unseen river below.

He could distinguish the majestic thunder of the huge mortars from
the roar of the Parrotts; the irregular volleys of musketry had a
resonant clang of metal in them like thousands of iron balls
dropped on a sheet of tin.

For an hour the distant display of fireworks continued, then the
thunder rolled away, deadened to a dull rumour, and died out; and
the last lingering spark of Greek fire faded in mid-heaven. A
wavering crimson light brightened on the horizon, increasing,
deepening. But what it was that had been set on fire he could not
guess. Paigecourt lay in that direction.

He extended his booted legs, propped his back against a pillar, and
continued smoking carefully and economically to save his fragments
of Virginia leaf, deeply absorbed in retrospection.

For the first time he was now certain of the change which time,
circumstance, and environment had wrought in himself; he was
curiously conscious of the silent growth of a germ which, one day,
must become a dictatorial and arbitrary habit--the habit of right
thinking. The habit of duty, independent of circumstances, had
slowly grown with his military training; mind and body had learned
automatically to obey; mind and body now definitely recognised the
importance of obedience, were learning to desire it, had begun to
take an obscure sort of pride in it. Mind and body were already
subservient to discipline. How was it with his other self.

In the human soul there is seldom any real perplexity. Only the
body reasons; the soul knows. He knew this now. He knew, too,
that there is a greater drill-master than that which was now
disciplining his mind and body--the spiritual will--that there is a
higher sentiment than the awakened instinct of mental and physical
obedience--the occult loyalty of the spirit. And, within him,
something was now awaking out of night, slowly changing him, soul
and body.

As he sat there, tranquil, pondering, there came a shadowy figure,
moving leisurely under the lighted windows of the hospital,
directly toward him--a man swinging a lantern low above the
grass--and halted beside him in a yellow shaft of light,

"Berkley," he said pleasantly; then, to identify himself, lifted
the lantern to a level with his face.

"Dr. Benton!"

"Surely--surely. I come from Paigecourt. I left Mrs. Craig and
Stephen about five o'clock; I have just left Miss Lynden on duty.
May I sit here beside you, Phil? And, in the first place, how are
you, old fellow?"

"Perfectly well, doctor. . . . I am glad to see you. . . . It is
pleasant to see you. . . . I am well; I really am. You are, too;
I can see that. . . . I want to shake hands with you again--to
wish you happiness," he added in a low voice. "Will you accept my
warmest wishes, Dr. Benton?"

They exchanged a hard, brief grip.

"I know what you mean. Thank you, Phil. . . . I am very happy; I
mean that she shall be. Always."

Berkley said: "There are few people I really care for. She is
among the few."

"I have believed so. . . . She cares, deeply, for you. . . . She
is right." . . . He paused and glanced over his shoulder at the
crimson horizon. "What was that shelling about? The gun-boats were
firing, too."

"I haven't any idea. Something is on fire, evidently. I hope it
is not Paigecourt."

"God forbid!"

The doctor looked hard at the fiery sky, but said nothing more.

"How is Stephen?" asked the younger man earnestly.

"Better."

"Is he going to get well?"

Dr. Benton thought a moment.

"He was struck by a conoidal ball, which entered just above the
interclavicular notch of the sternum and lodged near the superior
angle of the scapula. Assistant Surgeon Jenning, U. S. V., removed
the bullet and applied simple dressings. There was a longitudinal
groove on the bullet which may have been caused by contact with the
bone, but there are no symptoms of injury to the osseous tissue. I
hope he will recover entirely. Miss Lent, his affianced, is
expected to-night. Arrangements have been made to convey him
aboard a Sanitary Commission boat this evening. The sooner he
starts North the better. His mother and Miss Lent go with him as
nurses."

Berkley drew a quiet breath of relief. "I am glad," he said
simply. "There is fever in the air here."

"There is worse, Phil. They're fine people, the Craigs. That
mother of his stood the brutal shock of the news wonderfully--not a
tear, not a tremor. She is a fine woman; she obeyed me, not
implicitly, but intelligently. I don't like that kind of obedience
as a rule; but it happened to be all right in her case. She has
voluntarily turned Paigecourt and all the barns, quarters, farms,
and out-buildings into a base hospital for the wounded of either
army. She need not have done it; there were plenty of other
places. But she offered that beautiful old place merely because it
was more comfortable and luxurious. The medical corps have already
ruined the interior of the house; the garden with its handsome box
hedges nearly two centuries old is a wreck. She has given all the
farm horses to the ambulances; all her linen to the medical
director; all cattle, sheep, swine, poultry to the hospital
authorities; all her cellared stores, wines, luxuries to the
wounded. I repeat that she is a fine specimen of American
woman--and the staunchest little rebel I ever met."

Berkley smiled, then his bronzed face grew serious in the nickering
lantern light.

"Colonel Arran is badly hurt. Did you know it?"

"I do," said the doctor quietly. "I saw him just before I came
over here to find you."

"Would you care to tell me what you think of his chances?"

"I--don't--know. He is in considerable pain. The wound continues
healthy. They give him a great deal of morphia."

"Do you--believe----"

"I can't yet form an opinion worth giving you. Dillon, the
assistant surgeon, is an old pupil of mine. He asked me to look in
to-morrow; and I shall do so."

"I'm very glad. I was going to ask you. But--there's a good deal
of professional etiquette in these hospitals----"

"It's everywhere," said the doctor, smiling. Then his pleasant,
alert face changed subtly; he lifted the lantern absently, softly
replaced it on the veranda beside him, and gazed at it. Presently
he said:

"I came here on purpose to talk to you about another matter. . . .
Shall we step inside? Or"--he glanced sharply around, lantern held
above his head--"I guess we're better off out here."

Berkley silently assented. The doctor considered the matter in
mind for a while, nursing his knees, then looking directly at
Berkley:

"Phil, you once told roe a deliberate falsehood."

Berkley's face flushed scarlet, and he stiffened in every muscle.

The doctor said: "I merely wanted you to understand that I knew it
to be a falsehood when you uttered it. I penetrated your motive in
telling it, let it go at that, and kept both eyes open--and waited."

Berkley never moved. The painful colour stained the scar on his
brow to an ugly purple.

"The consequences of which falsehood," continued the doctor,
"culminated in my asking Miss Lynden to marry me. . . . I've been
thinking--wondering--whether that lie was justifiable. And I've
given up the problem. But I respect your motive in telling it.
It's a matter for you to settle privately with yourself and your
Maker. I'm no Jesuit by nature; but--well--you've played a man's
part in the life of a young and friendless girl who has become to
me the embodiment of all I care for in woman. And I thank you for
that. I thank you for giving her the only thing she lacked--a
chance in the world. Perhaps there were other ways of doing it. I
don't know. All I know is that I thank you for giving her the
chance."

He ceased abruptly, folded Ins arms, and gazed musingly into space.
Then:

"Phil, have you ever injured a man named Eugene Hallam, Captain of
your troop in the 8th Lancers?"

Berkley looked up, startled; and the hot colour began to fade.

"What do you know about Captain Hallam?" he asked.

"Where is he?"

"Probably a prisoner. He was taken at the cavalry affair which
they now call Yellow Run."

"You saw him taken by the enemy?"

"No. I saw him--surrender--or rather, ride toward the enemy,
apparently with that design in mind."

"Why don't you say that Hallam played the coward--that he deserted
his men under fire--was even shot at by his own colonel?"

"You seem to know about it," said Berkley in a mortified
voice. . . . "No man is anxious to reflect on his own regiment.
That is why I did not mention it."

"Yes, I knew it. Your servant, the trooper Burgess, came to
Paigecourt in search of you. I heard the detestable details from
him. He was one of the detachment that got penned in; he saw the
entire performance."

"I didn't know Burgess was there," said Berkley. "Is he all right?"

"Wears his left wrist in a sling; Colles's fracture; horse fell.
He's a villainous-looking party; I wouldn't trust that fellow with
a pewter button. But he seems devoted to you."

"I've never been able to make him out," said Berkley, smiling.

The doctor thought a minute.

"I saw two interesting people at Paigecourt. One was Miss Dix, an
old friend of mine; the other chanced to be Surgeon General
Hammond. They were on a tour of inspection. I hope they liked
what they saw."

"Did they?"

"I guess not. . . . Things in the hospitals ought to go better
now. We're learning. . . . By the way, you didn't know that Ailsa
Paige had been to Paigecourt, did you?"

"When?"

"Recently. . . . She's another fine woman. She never had an
illness worse than whooping cough. I know because I've always been
her physician. Normally she's a fine, wholesome woman,
Berkley--but she told a falsehood. . . . You are not the only liar
south of Dixon's damnable Line!"

Berkley straightened up as though shot, and the doctor dropped a
heavy hand on his shoulder.

"The sort of lie you told, Phil, is the kind she told. It doesn't
concern you or me; it's between her conscience and herself; and
it's in a good safe place. . . . And now I'll sketch out for you
what she did. This--this beast, Hallam, wrote to Miss Dix at
Washington and preferred charges against Miss Lynden. . . . I'm
trying to speak calmly and coherently and without passion, damn it!
Don't interrupt me. . . . I say that Hallam sent his written
evidence to Miss Dix; and Ailsa Paige learned of it, and learned
also what the evidence was. . . . And it was a terrible thing for
her to learn, Phil--a damnable thing for a woman to learn."

He tightened his grasp on Berkley's shoulder, and his voice was not
very steady.

"To believe those charges--that evidence--meant the death of her
faith in you. . . . As for the unhappy revelation of what Miss
Lynden had been--the evidence was hopelessly conclusive. Imagine
what she thought! Any other woman would have sat aloof and let
justice brand the woman who had doubly betrayed her. I want you to
consider it; every instinct of loyalty, friendship, trust, modesty
had apparently been outraged and trampled on by the man she had
given her heart to, and by the woman she had made a friend. That
was the position in which Ailsa Paige found herself when she
learned of these charges, saw the evidence, and was informed by
Hallam that he had forwarded his complaint."

His grip almost crushed Berkley's shoulder muscles.

"And now I'll tell you what Ailsa Paige did. She went before Miss
Dix and told her that there was not one atom of truth in the
charges. She accounted for every date specified by saying that
Miss Lynden was with her at those times, that she had known her
intimately for years, known her family--that it was purely a case
of mistaken identity, which, if ever pressed, would bewilder her
friend, who was neither sufficiently experienced to understand what
such charges meant, nor strong enough to endure the horror and
shock if their nature were explained.

"She haughtily affirmed her absolute faith in you, avowed her
engagement to marry you, pointed to your splendid military record;
disdainfully exposed the motive for Hallam's action. . . . And she
_convinced_ Miss Dix, who, in turn, convinced the Surgeon General.
And, in consequence, I can now take my little girl away from here
on furlough, thank God!--and thanks to Ailsa Paige, who lied like a
martyr in her behalf. And that's what I came here to tell you."

He drew a long, shuddering breath, his hand relaxed on Berkley's
shoulder, and fell away.

"I don't know to-day what Ailsa Paige believes; but I know what she
did for the sake of a young girl. . . . If, in any way, her faith
in you has been poisoned, remember what was laid before her, proven
in black and white, apparently; remember, more than that, the
terrible and physically demoralising strain she has been under in
the line of duty. No human mind can remain healthy very long under
such circumstances; no reasoning can be normal. The small daily
vexations, the wear and tear of nerve tissue, the insufficient
sleep and nourishment, the close confinement in the hospital
atmosphere, the sights, sounds, odours, the excitement, the
anxiety--all combine to distort reason and undermine one's natural
equipoise.

"Phil, if Ailsa, in her own heart, doubts you as she now doubts
Letty, you must understand why. What she did shows her courage,
her sweetness, her nobility. What she may believe--or think she
believes--is born only of morbid nerves, overworked body, and a
crippled power of reasoning. Her furlough is on the way; I did
myself the honour to solicit it, and to interest Miss Dix in her
behalf. It is high time; the child cannot stand much more. . . .
After a good rest in the North, if she desires to return, there is
nobody to prevent her . . . unless you are wise enough to marry
her. What do you think?"

Berkley made no answer. They remained silent for a long time.
Then the doctor rose and picked up his lantern; and Berkley stood
up, too, taking the doctor's outstretched hand.

"If I were you, Phil, I'd marry her," said Benton. "Good-night.
I'll see Colonel Arran in the morning. Good-night, my boy."

"Good-night," said Berkley in a dull voice.

Midnight found him pacing the dead sod in front of the veranda,
under the stars. One by one the lights in the hospital had been
extinguished; a lantern glimmered at the guard-house; here and
there an illuminated window cast its oblong of paler light across
the grass. Southward the crimson radiance had died out; softened
echoes of distant gunshots marked the passing of the slow, dark
hours, but the fitful picket firing was now no louder than the
deadened stamp of horses in their stalls.

A faint scent of jasmine hung in the air, making it fresher, though
no breeze stirred.

He stood for a while, face upturned to the stars, then his head
fell. Sabre trailing, he moved slowly out into the open; and, at
random, wandered into the little lane that led darkly down under
green bushes to Letty's bridge.

It was fresher and cooler in the lane; starlight made the planking
of the little foot-bridge visible in the dark, but the stream ran
under it too noiselessly for him to hear the water moving over its
bed of velvet sand.

A startled whippoorwill flashed into shadowy night from the rail as
he laid his hand upon it, and, searching for the seat which Letty's
invalid had built for her, he sank down, burying his head in his
hands.

And, as he sat there, a vague shape, motionless in the starlight,
stirred, moved silently, detaching itself from the depthless wall
of shadow.

There was a light step on the grass, a faint sound from the bridge.
But he heard nothing until she sank down on the flooring at his
feet and dropped her head, face downward, on his knees.

As in a dream his hands fell from his eyes--fell on her shoulders,
lay heavily inert.

"Ailsa?"

Her feverish face quivered, hiding closer; one small hand searched
blindly for his arm, closed on his sleeve, and clung there. He
could feel her slender body tremble at intervals, under his lips,
resting on her hair, her breath grew warm with tears.

She lay there, minute after minute, her hand on his sleeve,
slipping, tightening, while her tired heart throbbed out its heavy
burden on his knees, and her tears fell under the stars.

Fatigued past all endurance, shaken, demoralised, everything in her
was giving way now. She only knew that he had come to her out of
the night's deathly desolation--that she had crept to him for
shelter, was clinging to him. Nothing else mattered in the world.
Her weary hands could touch him, hold fast to him who had been lost
and was found again; her tear-wet face rested against his; the
blessed surcease from fear was benumbing her, quieting her,
soothing, relaxing, reassuring her.

Only to rest this way--to lie for the moment unafraid--to cease
thinking, to yield every sense to heavenly lethargy--to forget--to
forget the dark world's sorrows and her own.

The high planets shed their calm light upon her hair, silvering her
slender neck and the hand holding to his sleeve, and the steel edge
of his sabre hilt, and a gilded button at his throat. And all else
lay in shadow, wrapping them close together in obscurity.

At times he thought she was asleep, and scarcely moving, bent
nearer; but always felt the nervous closing of her fingers on his
sleeve.

And at last sleep came to her, deadening every sense. Cautiously
he took her hand; the slim fingers relaxed; body and limbs were
limp, senses clouded, as he lifted her in his arms and rose.

"Don't--go," she murmured drowsily.

"No, dear."

Through the darkness, moving with infinite care, he bore her under
the stars and stepped noiselessly across the veranda, entered, and
laid her on his cot.

"Philip," she murmured.

But he whispered to her that she must sleep, that he would be near
her, close to her. And she sighed deeply, and her white lids
closed again and rested unstirring on her pallid cheeks.

So she slept till the stars faded, then, awaking, lifted her head,
bewildered, drawing her hand from his; and saw the dawn graying his
face where he sat beside her.

She sat up, rigid, on the blanket, the vivid colour staining her
from throat to brow; then memory overwhelmed her. She covered her
eyes with both arms and her head dropped forward under the beauty
of her disordered hair.

Minute succeeded minute; neither spoke nor moved. Then, slowly, in
silence, she looked up at him and met his gaze. It was her
confession of faith.

He could scarcely hear her words, so tremulously low was the voice
that uttered them.

"Dr. Benton told me everything. Take me back. The world is empty
without you. I've been through the depths of it--my heart has
searched it from the ends to the ends of it. . . . And finds no
peace where you are not--no hope--no life. All is desolation
without you. Take me back."

She stretched out her hands to him; he took them, and pressed them
against his lips; and looking across at him, she said:

"Love me--if you will--as you will. I make no terms; I ask none.
Teach me your way; your way is mine--if it leads to you; all other
paths are dark, all other ways are strange. I know, for I have
trodden them, and lost myself. Only the path you follow is lighted
for me. All else is darkness. Love me. I ask no terms."

"Ailsa, I can offer none."

"I know. You have said so. That is enough. Besides, if you love
me, nothing else matters. My life is not my own; it is yours. It
has always been yours--only I did not know how completely. Now I
have learned. . . . Why do you look at me so strangely? Are you
afraid to take me for yourself? Do you think I do not know what I
am saying? Do you not understand what the terror of these days
without you has done to me? The inclination which lacked only
courage lacks it no longer. I know what you have been, what you
are. I ask nothing more of life than you."

"Dear," he said, "do you understand that I can never marry you?"

"Yes," she said steadily. "I am not afraid."

In the silence the wooden shutter outside the window swung to with
a slam in the rising breeze which had become a wind blowing
fitfully under a wet gray sky. From above the roof there came a
sudden tearing sound, which at first he believed to be the wind.
It increased to a loud, confusing, swishing whistle, as though
hundreds of sabres were being whirled in circles overhead.

Berkley rose, looking upward at the ceiling as the noise grew in
volume like a torrent of water flowing over rocks.

Ailsa also had risen, laying one hand on his arm, listening
intently.

"What is it?" she breathed.

"It is the noise made by thousands of bullets streaming through the
air above us. It sounds like that in the rifle-pits. Listen!"

The strange, bewildering sound filled the room. And now, as the
wind shifted, the steady rattle of musketry became suddenly
audible. Another sound, sinister, ominous, broke on their ears,
the clang of the seminary bell.

"Is it an attack on this place?" she asked anxiously. "What can we
do? There are no troops here! I--I must go to my sick boys----"

Her heart stood still as a cannon thundered, followed by the
fearful sound of the shell as it came tearing toward them. As it
neared, the noise grew deafening; the air vibrated with a rushing
sound that rose to a shriek.

Ailsa's hands grasped his arm; her ears seemed bursting with the
abominable sound; pain darted through her temples, flashing into
agony as a heavy jar shook the house, followed by a dazzling light
and roar.

Boom! Boom! came the distant, sullen thunder, followed by the
unmistakable whir of a Parrott shell. Suddenly shrapnel shells
began to come over, screaming, exploding, filling the air with the
rush and clatter of bullets.

"Lie down," he said. "You can't go out in this. It will veer off
in a few moments, when they find out that they're shelling our
hospitals."

"I've got to go," she repeated; "my boys won't understand why I
don't come."

She turned and opened the door; he caught her in his arms, and she
looked up and kissed him.

"Good-bye, dear," she whispered. "You mustn't detain me----"

"You shall not go outside----"

"I've got to. Be reasonable, dear. My sick are under fire."

The bugle was sounding now; his arms fell from her waist; she
smiled at him, stepped outside, and started to run; and found him
keeping pace between her and the west.

"You should not do that!" she panted, striving to pass him, but he
kept his body in line with the incoming missiles. Suddenly he
seized her and dropped flat with her as a shell plunged downward,
exploding in a white cloud laced with flame through which the
humming fragments scattered.

As they rose to their knees in the dust they saw men
gathering--soldiers of all arms, infantry, dismounted cavalrymen,
hospital guards, limping convalescents, officers armed' with
rifles, waggon drivers, negroes.

"They're attacking our works at Cedar Springs," said an officer
wearing one hand in a sling. "This hospital is in a bad place."

Ailsa clapped both hands over her ears as a shell blew up at the
angle of an outhouse and the ground rocked violently; then, pale
but composed, she sprang inside the hospital door and ran for her
ward.

It was full of pungent smoke; a Parrott shell had passed through a
window, carrying everything away in its path, and had burst,
terrifying the sick men lying there, but not injuring anybody.

And now a flare of light and a crash outside marked the descent of
another shell. The confusion and panic among the wounded was
terrible; ward-masters, nurses, surgeons, ran hither and thither,
striving to quiet the excited patients as shell after shell rushed
yelling overhead or exploded with terrific force, raining its
whirring iron fragments over roof and chimney.

Ailsa, calm and collected in the dreadful crisis, stood at the end
of the ward, directing the unnerved stretcher bearers,
superintending the carrying out of cots to the barns, which stood
in the shelter of the rising ground along the course of the little
stream.

Letty appeared from the corridor behind her; and Ailsa smiled and
kissed her lightly on the cheek; and the blood came back to the
girl's face in a passion of gratitude which even the terror of
death could not lessen or check.

"Ailsa--darling--" she whispered; then shuddered in the violence of
an explosion that shattered the window-glass beside her,

"We're taking them to the old barns, Letty," said Ailsa, steadying
her voice. "Will you take charge here while I go to Colonel Arran?"

"They've taken him out," whispered Letty. "That ward is on fire.
Everybody is out. W-what a cruel thing for our boys! Some of them
were getting well! Can you come now?"

"As soon as they carry out young Spencer. He's the last. . . .
Look from the window! They're trying to put out the fire with
water in buckets. O--h!" as a shell struck and the flame flashed
out through a geyser of sand and smoke.

"Come," murmured Letty. "I will stay if there is anything to stay
for----"

"No, dear; we can go. Give me your hand; this smoke is horrible.
Everything is on fire, I think. . . . Hurry, Letty!"

She stumbled, half suffocated, but Letty kept her hand fast and
guided her to the outer air.

A company of cavalry, riding hard, passed in a whirlwind of dust.
After them, clanking, thudding, pounding, tore a battery, horses on
a dead run,

The west wing of the seminary was on fire; billows of sooty smoke
rolled across the roof and blew downward over the ground where the
forms of soldiers could be seen toiling to and fro with buckets.

Infantry now began to arrive, crowding the main road on the double
quick, mounted officers cantering ahead. Long lines of them were
swinging out east and west across the country, where a battery went
into action wrapped in torrents of smoke.

Bullets swarmed, singing above and around in every key, and the
distracting racket of the shrapnel shells became continuous.

Ailsa and Letty ran, stooping, into the lane where the stretchers
were being hurried across the little footbridge. As they crossed
they saw a dead artilleryman lying in the water, a crimson thread
wavering from his head to the surface. It was Arthur Wye; and
Letty knew him, and halted, trembling; but Ailsa called to her in a
frightened voice, for, confused by the smoke, they had come out in
the rear of a battery among the caissons, and the stretchers had
turned to the right, filing down into the hollow where the barns
stood on the edge of a cedar grove.

Already men were hard at work erecting hospital tents; the wounded
lay on their stretchers, bloodless faces turned to the sky, the
wind whipping their blankets and uncovering their naked, emaciated
bodies. The faces of the dead had turned black.

"Good God!" said Dr. Benton as Letty and Ailsa came up, out
of'breath, "we've got to get these sick men under shelter! Can you
two girls keep their blankets from blowing away?"

They hurried from cot to cot, from mattress to mattress, from one
heap of straw to another, from stretcher to stretcher, deftly
replacing sheet and blanket, tucking them gently under, whispering
courage, sometimes a gay jest or smiling admonition to the helpless
men, soothing, petting, reassuring.

The medical director with his corps of aides worked furiously to
get up the big tents. The smoke from the battery blew east and
south, flowing into the hollow in sulphurous streams; the uproar
from the musketry was terrific.

Ailsa, kneeling beside a stretcher to tuck in the blankets, looked
up over her shoulder suddenly at Letty.

"Where did they take Colonel Arran?"

"I don't know, dear."

Ailsa rose from her knees and looked around her through the flying
smoke; then she got wearily to her feet and began to make
inquiries. Nobody seemed to know anything about Colonel Arran.

Anxious, she threaded her way through the stretchers and the
hurrying attendants, past the men who were erecting the tents,
looking everywhere, making inquiries, until, under the trees by the
stream, she saw a heap of straw on which a man was dying.

He died as she came up--a big, pallid, red-headed zouave, whose
blanket, soaked with blood, bore dreadful witness of his end.

A Sister of Charity rose as though dazed.

"I could not stop the hemorrhage," she said in her soft, bewildered
voice.

Together they turned back toward the mass of stretchers, moving
with difficulty in the confusion. Letty, passing, glanced wanly at
the Sister, then said to Ailsa:

"Colonel Arran is in the second barn on the hay. I am afraid he is
dying."

Ailsa turned toward the barns and hurried across the trampled sod.

Through the half light within she peered about her, moving
carefully among the wounded stretched out on the fragrant hay.

Colonel Arran lay alone in the light of a window high under the
eaves.

"Oh, here you are!" she said gaily. "I hear most most splendid
things about you. I--" she stopped short, appalled at the terrible
change that was coming over his face.

"I want to see--Phil--" he whispered.

"Yes--yes, I will find him," she said soothingly; "I will go
immediately and find him."

His head was moving slowly, monotonously, from side to side.

"I want to see my boy," he murmured. "He is my son. I wish you to
know it--my only son."

He lifted his brilliant eyes to Ailsa.

Twice he strove to speak, and could not, and she watched him,
stunned.

He made the supreme effort.

"Philip!" he gasped; "our son! My little son! My little, little
boy! I want him, Ailsa, I want him near me when I die!"

CHAPTER XX

They told her that Berkley had gone up the hill toward the firing
line.

On the windy hill-top, hub deep in dry, dead grass, a section of a
battery was in action, the violent light from the discharges
lashing out through the rushing vapours which the wind flattened
and drove, back into the hollow below so that the cannoneers seemed
to be wading waist deep in fog.

The sick and wounded on their cots and stretchers were coughing and
gasping in the hot mist; the partly erected tents had become full
of it. And now the air in the hollow grew more suffocating as
fragments of burning powder and wadding set the dead grass afire,
and the thick, strangling blue smoke spread over everything.

Surgeons and assistants were working like beavers to house their
patients; every now and then a bullet darted into the vale with an
evil buzz, rewounding, sometimes killing, the crippled. To add to
the complication and confusion, more wounded arrived from the
firing line above and beyond to the westward; horses began to fall
where they stood harnessed to the caissons; a fine, powerful
gun-team galloping back to refill its chests suddenly reared
straight up into annihilation, enveloped in the volcanic horror of
a shell, so near that Ailsa, standing below in a clump of willows,
saw the flash and smoke of the cataclysm and the flying
disintegration of dark objects scattering through the smoke.

Far away on the hillside an artilleryman, making a funnel of his
hands, shouted for stretchers; and Ailsa, repeating the call,
managed to gather together half a dozen overworked bearers and
start with them up through the smoke.

Deafened, blinded, her senses almost reeling under the
nerve-shattering crash of the guns, she toiled on through the dry
grass, pausing at the edge of charred spaces to beat out the low
flames that leaped toward her skirts.

There was a leafy hollow ahead, filled with slender, willow-trees,
many of them broken off, shot, torn, twisted, and splintered. Dead
soldiers lay about under the smoke, their dirty shirts or naked
skin visible between jacket and belt; to the left on a sparsely
wooded elevation, the slope of which was scarred, showing dry red
sand and gravel, a gun stood, firing obliquely across the gully
into the woods. Long, wavering, irregular rings of smoke shot out,
remaining intact and floating like the rings from a smoker's pipe,
until another rush and blast of flame scattered them.

The other gun had been dismounted and lay on its side, one wheel in
the air, helpless, like some monster sprawling with limbs stiffened
in death. Behind it, crouched close, squatted some infantry
soldiers, firing from the cover of the wreckage. Behind every
tree, every stump, every inequality, lay infantry, dead, wounded,
or alive and cautiously firing. Several took advantage of the
fallen battery horses for shelter. Only one horse of that gun-team
remained alive, and the gunners had lashed the prolonge to the
trail of the overturned cannon and to the poor horse's collar, and
were trying to drag the piece away with the hope of righting it.

This manoeuvre dislodged the group of infantry soldiers who had
taken shelter there, and, on all fours, they began crawling and
worming and scuffling about among the dead leaves, seeking another
shelter from the pelting hail of lead.

There was nothing to be seen beyond the willow gully except smoke,
set grotesquely with phantom trees, through which the enemy's
fusillade sparkled and winked like a long level line of fire-flies
in the mist.

The stretcher bearers crept about gathering up the wounded who
called to them out of the smoke. Ailsa, on her knees, made her way
toward a big cavalryman whose right leg was gone at the thigh.

She did what she could, called for a stretcher, then, crouching
close under the bank of raw earth, set her canteen to his blackened
lips and held it for him.

"Don't be discouraged," she said quietly, "they'll bring another
stretcher in a few moments. I'll stay here close beside you until
they come."

The cavalryman was dying; she saw it; he knew it. And his swollen
lips moved.

"Don't waste time with me," he managed to say.

"Then--will you lie very still and not move?"

"Yes; only don't let the horse step on me."

She drew her little note-book and pencil from the pocket of her
gown and gently lowered her head until one ear was close to his
lips.

"What is your name and regiment?"

His voice became suddenly clear.

"John Casson--Egerton's Dragoons. . . . Mrs. Henry Casson, Islip,
Long Island. My mother is a widow; I don't--think
she--can--stand----"

Then he died--went out abruptly into eternity.

Beside him, in the grass, lay a zouave watching everything with
great hollow eyes. His body was only a mass of bloody rags; he had
been shot all to pieces, yet the bleeding heap was breathing, and
the big sunken eyes patiently watched Ailsa's canteen until she
encountered his unwinking gaze. But the first swallow he took
killed him, horribly; and Ailsa, her arms drenched with blood,
shrank back and crouched shuddering under the roots of a shattered
tree, her consciousness almost deserting her in the roaring and
jarring and splintering around her. She saw more stretcher bearers
in the smoke, stooping, edging their way--unarmed heroes of many a
field who fell unnoted, died unrecorded on the rolls of glory.

A lieutenant of artillery, powder-blackened, but jaunty, called
down to her from the bank above:

"Look out, little lady. We're going to try to limber up, and we
don't want to drop six horses and a perfectly good gun on top of
you!"

Somebody seized her arm and dragged her across the leaves; and she
struggled to her knees, to her feet, turned, and started to run.

"This way," said Berkley's voice in her ear; and his hand closed on
hers.

"Phil--help me--I don't know where I am!"

"I do. Run this way, under the crest of the hill. . . . Dr.
Connor told me that you had climbed up here. This isn't your
place! Are you stark mad?"

They ran on westward, panting, sheltered by the grassy crest behind
which soldiers lay firing over the top of the grass--long lines of
them, belly flattened to the slope, dusty blue trousers hitched up
showing naked ankles and big feet pendant. Behind them, swords
drawn, stood or walked their officers, quietly encouraging them or
coolly turning to look at Ailsa and Berkley as they hurried past.

In a vast tobacco field to their left, just beyond a wide cleft in
the hills, a brigade of cavalry was continually changing station to
avoid shell fire. The swallow-tailed national flags, the yellow
guidons with their crossed sabres, the blue State colours, streamed
above their shifting squadrons as they trotted hither and thither
with the leisurely precision of a peaceful field day; but here and
there from the trampled earth some fallen horse raised its head in
agony; here and there the plain was dotted with dark heaps that
never stirred.

The wailing flight of bullets streamed steadily overhead, but, as
they descended, the whistling, rushing sound grew higher and
fainter. They could see, on the plain where the cavalry was
manoeuvring, the shells bursting in fountains of dirt, the ominous
shrapnel cloud floating daintily above.

Far away through the grassy cleft, on wooded hillsides, delicately
blue, they could see the puff of white smoke shoot out from among
the trees where the Confederate batteries were planted, then hear
the noise of the coming shell rushing nearer, quavering, whistling
into a long-drawn howl as it raced through the gray clouds overhead.

While he guided her among the cedars at the base of the hill, one
arm around her body to sustain her, he quietly but seriously
berated her for her excursion to the firing line, telling her there
was no need of it, no occasion for anybody except the bearers
there; that Dr. Connor was furious at her and had said aloud that
she had little common-sense.

Ailsa coloured painfully, but there was little spirit left in her,
and she walked thankfully and humbly along beside him, resting her
cheek, against his shoulder.

"Don't scold me; I really feel half sick, Phil. . . . From where
did you come?" she added timidly.

"From the foot bridge. They wanted a guard set there. I found
half a dozen wounded men who could handle a musket. Lord, but the
rebels came close to us that time! When we heard those bullets
they were charging the entire line of our works. I understand that
we've driven them all along the line. It must be so, judging from
the sound of the firing."

"Did our hospital burn?"

"Only part of one wing. They're beginning to move back the wounded
already. . . . Now, dear, will you please remain with your
superiors and obey orders?" he added as they came out along the
banks of the little stream and saw the endless procession of
stretchers recrossing the foot bridge to the left.

"Yes. . . . I didn't know. I saw part of a battery blown up; and
a soldier stood on the hill and shouted for stretchers. There was
nobody else to start them off, so I did it."

He nodded. "Wait here, dear. I will run over and ask Dr. Connor
whether they have moved Colonel Arran----"

"Colonel Arran! Oh, Philip! I forgot to tell you--" She clutched
his arm in her excitement, and he halted, alarmed.

"Has anything happened to him?" he demanded.

"He asked for you."

"Is he worse?"

"I fear so."

"Dying?"

"Phil--I am afraid so. He--he--thinks that you are his son!"

"W-what are you saying!" he stammered: "What are you trying to tell
me, Ailsa?"

"Phil--my darling!--don't look that way!" she exclaimed, frightened.

"What way?" He laughed as though crazed. "Where is he? Do you
know? I want to see him. You better let me see him."

"I'll go with you, Phil; I'll be close beside you. You mustn't
become so terribly excited; I didn't know what I was saying; I
think he is delirious----"

"Where is he? I can't endure this much longer," he kept repeating
in a vacant way as they forced a path among the litters and
ambulances, and came out through the smoke blowing from a pile of
debris that lay where the east wing of the seminary had once stood.
Charred and battered, every window smashed, and the blackened
rafters of the roof still smouldering, the east wing rose before
them, surrounded by the wounded.

A surgeon told them that Colonel Arran had been carried out of the
barn, but to what place he did not know. Letty with Dr. Benton
passed them by the stables, but they knew only that Colonel Arran,
lying on a litter, had been placed in an ambulance which had
started for Azalea Court House.

This was confirmed by Dr. Connor, who came hurrying by and who
halted to scowl heartily at Ailsa.

"No more of _that_!" he said roughly. "When I want a nurse on the
firing line I'll detail her. I've sent two hundred invalids to the
landing, and I wanted you to go with them and when I looked around
for you I saw you kiting for the line of battle! That's all wrong,
Mrs. Paige! That's all wrong! You look sick anyway. Are you?"

"No. I'll go now, if you'll let me, Dr. Connor."

"How are you going to get there? I haven't another ambulance to
send--not a horse or a mule----"

"I--I'll walk," she said with a sob in her throat. "I am fearfully
sorry--and ashamed----"

"There, there," muttered Dr. Connor, "I didn't mean all I said. It
was a brave thing to do--not that your pluck mitigates the offence!
Be a little more considerate; think a little faster; don't take to
your legs on the first impulse. Some fool told me you'd been
killed--and that made--made me--most damnably angry!" he burst out
with a roar to cover the emotion working at his mouth and eyes.

He seized Ailsa's hand and shook it vigorously.

"Excuse my profanity. I can't avoid it when I think of
_you_--dead! There, there. I'm an old fool and you're a--younger
one. See if you can find somebody to take you to Azalea. I want
that batch of invalids carefully watched. Besides, there's a
furlough there for you. Don't say one word! You're not well, I
tell you. I had to send those invalids back; the place here is
atrociously crowded. Try to find some way of getting to the
landing. And take care of your pretty little self for God's sake!"

She promised, shook hands with him again, disengaged herself from
the crowd around her, turned about to search for Berkley, and
caught sight of him near the stables, saddling his horse. He
buckled the last strap as she came up; turned a blank gaze on her,
and did not appear to comprehend her question for a moment. Then,
nodding in a dazed way, he lifted her to the saddle in front, swung
up behind her, passed one arm around her waist, gathered bridle,
and edged his way carefully through the crowd out into the road.

The 3rd Zouaves in heavy marching order filled the road with their
scarlet column, moving steadily southward; and Ailsa, from her
perch on the saddle, called to Colonel Craig and Major Lent,
stretching out her hot little hand to them as she passed.

Engineers blocked their progress farther on, then Wisconsin
infantry, young giants in blue, swinging forward in their long
loose-limbered stride; then an interminable column of artillery,
jolting slowly along, the grimy gunners swaying drowsily on their
seats, officers nodding half asleep in their saddles.

"Philip," she ventured timidly.

"Yes."

"Is there--anything--you wish to tell me? Anything that
I--perhaps--have a faint shadow of a right to know?"

For a long time they rode in silence, her question unanswered. A
narrow cart road--less of a road than a lane--led east. He turned
his horse into it.

For a moment no sound broke the silence save the monotonous clank
of his sabre and the creak of girth and saddle.

"Ailsa!"

"Yes, Phil."

"Move closer; hold very tight to me; clasp both arms around my
neck. . . . Are you seated firmly?"

"Yes, Phil."

He encircled her slender body with his right arm and, shaking out
the bridle, launched his horse at a gallop down the sandy lane.
Her breath and his mingled as they sped forward; the wind rushed
by, waving the foliage on either hand; a steady storm of sand and
gravel rained rattling through the bushes as the spurred horse
bounded forward, breaking into a grander stride, thundering on
through the gathering dusk.

Swaying, cradled in his embrace, her lips murmured his name, or,
parted breathless, touched his, as the exquisitely confused sense
of headlong speed dimmed her senses to a happy madness.

Trees, bushes, fences flew past and fled away behind in the dusk.
It seemed to her as though she was being tossed through space
locked in his arms; infinite depths of shadow whirled and eddied
around her; limitless reaches, vistas unfathomable stretched toward
outer chaos into which they were hurled, unseeing, her arms around
his neck, her soft face on his breast.

Then a lantern flashed; voices sounded in far-off confusion; more
lanterns twinkled and glimmered; more voices broke in on their
heavenly isolation.

Was the divine flight ended?

Somebody said: "Colonel Arran is here, and is still alive, but his
mind is clouding. He says he is waiting for his son to come."

Dizzy, burning hot, half blinded, she felt herself swung out of
space onto the earth again, through a glare of brightness in which
Celia's face seemed to be framed, edged with infernal light. . . .
And another face, Camilla's, was there in the confusing brilliancy;
and she reeled a little, embraced, held hot and close; and in her
dulled ears drummed Celia's voice, murmuring, pitying, complaining,
adoring:

"Honey-bell--Oh, my little Honey-bud! I have you back in my a'ms,
and I have my boy, and I'm ve'y thankful to my Heavenly Master--I
certainly am, Honey-bee!--fo' His goodness and His mercy which He
is showing eve'y day to me and mine."

And Camilla's pale face was pressed against her hot cheeks and the
girl's black sleeve of crape encircled her neck.

She whispered: "I--I try to think it reconciles me to losing Jimmy.
. . . War gave me Stephen. . . . Yet--oh, I cannot understand why
God's way must sometimes be the way of battle!"

Ailsa saw and heard and understood, yet, all around her fell an
unreal light--a terrible fiery radiance, making voices the voices,
of phantoms, forms the outlines of ghosts.

Through an open door she saw a lamp-lit room where her lover knelt
beside a bed--saw a man's arm reach feebly toward him--and saw no
more. Everything wavered and dazzled and brightened into rainbow
tints around her, then to scarlet; then velvety darkness sprang up,
through which she fell into swift unconsciousness.

One of the doctors, looking at her as she lay on the hospital cot,
dropped his hand gravely on her thin wrist.

"You cannot tell me anything that I don't know about Mrs. Paige,"
he said wearily. "This is a complete breakdown. It's come just
in time, too, that girl has been trying to kill herself. I
understand that her furlough has arrived. You'd better get her
North on the next transport. I guess that our angels are more
popular in our hospitals just now than they would be tuning little
gilt harps aloft. We can't spare 'em, Mrs. Craig, and I guess the
Most High can wait a little longer."

Doctor, ward-master, apothecary, and nurses stood looking down at
the slim, fever-flushed shape moving restlessly on the
cot--babbling soft inconsequences, staring out of brilliant eyes at
nothing.

The doctor whispered to the apothecary, and his gesture dismissed
those who stood around her waiting in silence.

CHAPTER XXI

Early in October the Union Cavalry began their favourite pastime of
"chasing" Stuart. General Pleasanton with a small force and a
horse battery began it, marching seventy-eight miles in twenty-four
hours; but Stuart marched ninety in the same time. He had to.

About ten o'clock in the morning of October tenth, General Buford,
chief of cavalry, set the 6th Pennsylvania Lancers galloping after
Stuart. Part of the 1st Maine Cavalry joined the chase; but Stuart
flourished his heels and cantered gaily into Pennsylvania to the
amazement and horror of that great State, and to the unbounded
mortification of the Union army. He had with him the 1st, 3d, 4th,
5th and 9th Virginia Cavalry; the 7th and 9th North Carolina, and
two Legions; and after him went pelting the handful that McClellan
could mount. A few tired troopers galloped up to Whitens Ford just
as Stuart crossed in safety; and the gain of "chasing" Stuart was
over. Never had the efficiency of the Union Cavalry been at such a
low ebb; but it was low-water mark, indeed, and matters were
destined to mend after a history of nearly two years of neglect,
disorganisation, and misuse.

Bayard took over the cavalry south of Washington; Pleasanton
collected the 6th Regulars, the 3d Indiana, the 8th New York, the
8th Pennsylvania, and the 8th Illinois, and started in to do
mischief with brigade head-quarters in the saddle.

The 8th New York went with him, but the 8th New York Lancers,
reorganising at Orange Hill, were ordered to recruit the depleted
regiment to twelve companies.

In August, Berkley's ragged blue and yellow jacket had been gaily
embellished with brand-new sergeant's chevrons; at the Stone Bridge
where the infantry recoiled his troop passed over at a gallop.

The War Department, much edified, looked at the cavalry and began
to like it. And it was ordered that every cavalry regiment be
increased by two troops, L and M. Which liberality, in combination
with Colonel Arran's early reports concerning Berkley's conduct,
enabled the company tailor to sew a pair of lieutenant's
shoulder-straps on Berkley's soiled jacket.

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