Part 10 out of 10
He also related briefly how he had been driven from his home on the
previous night, and was told that policemen were in charge of the
building. Having received a permit to enter it, he sent his despatch
to Washington, also a quieting telegram to his wife, assuring her
that all danger was past.
Then he went to his abandoned home and looked sadly on the havoc
that had been made. Nearly all light articles of value had been
carried away, and then, in a spirit of revenge, the rioters had
destroyed and defaced nearly everything. His desk had been broken,
but the secret drawer remained undiscovered. Having obtained his
private papers, he left the place, and, as it was a rented house,
resolved that he would not reside there again.
On his return to Merwyn's home, the first one to greet him was
Strahan, his face full of the deepest solicitude.
"I have just arrived," he said. "I first went to your house and was
overwhelmed at seeing its condition; then I drove here and have
only learned enough to make me anxious indeed. O my accursed wound
and fever! They kept the fact of the riot from me until this morning,
and then I learned of it almost by accident, and came instantly in
spite of them."
"Mr. Strahan, I entreat you to be prudent. I am overwhelmed with
trouble and fear for Merwyn, and I and mine must cause no more
mischief. Everything is being done that can be, and all must be
patient and quiet and keep their senses."
"Oh, I'm all right now. As Merwyn's friend, this is my place.
Remember what he did for me."
"Very well. If you are equal to it I shall be glad to have you
take charge here. As soon as I have learned of my daughter's and
Merwyn's welfare I shall engage rooms at the nearest hotel, and, if
the city remains quiet, telegraph for my wife;" and he sent Thomas
to Dr. Henderson with a request to see him.
"No special change, and there cannot be very soon," reported the
"But my daughter--she must not be allowed to go beyond her strength."
"I will look after her as carefully as after my other patient,"
was the reassuring reply.
"It's a strange story, Mr. Strahan," resumed Mr. Vosburgh, when
they were alone. "You are undoubtedly surprised that my daughter
should be one of Merwyn's watchers. He saved my life last night, and
my daughter and home the night before. They are virtually engaged."
"Oh that I had been here!" groaned Strahan.
"Under the circumstances it was well that you were not. It would
probably have cost you your life. Only the strongest and soundest
men could endure the strain. Merwyn came to our assistance from the
first;" and he told the young officer enough of what had occurred
to make it all intelligible to him.
Strahan drew a long breath, then said: "He has won her fairly. I
had suspected his regard for her; but I would rather have had his
opportunity and his wound than be a major-general."
"I appreciate the honor you pay my daughter, but there are some
matters beyond human control," was the kind response.
"I understand all that," said the young man, sadly; "but I can
still be her loyal friend, and that, probably, is all that I ever
could have been."
"I, at least, can assure you of our very highest esteem and respect,
Mr. Strahan;" and after a few more words the gentlemen parted.
The hours dragged on, and at last Dr. Henderson insisted that Marian
should go down to lunch. She first met Strahan in the sitting-room,
and sobbed on his shoulder: "O Arthur! I fear he will die, and if
he does I shall wish to die, too. You must stand by us both like
a loyal brother."
"Marian, I will," he faltered; and he kept his word.
He made her take food, and at last inspired her with something of
his own sanguine spirit.
"Oh, what a comfort it is to have you here!" she said, as she was
returning to her post. "You make despair impossible."
Again the hours dragged slowly on, the stillness of the house
broken only by Merwyn's delirious words. Then, for a time, there
was disquiet in bitter truth.
All through the dreadful night just described, an ocean steamer had
been ploughing its way towards the port of New York. A pilot had
boarded her off Sandy Hook, and strange and startling had been his
tidings to the homeward-bound Americans. The Battle of Gettysburg,
the capture of Vicksburg, and, above all, the riots had been the
burden of his narrations.
Among the passengers were Mrs. Merwyn and her daughters. Dwelling
on the condition of her son's mind, as revealed by his letter, she
had concluded that she must not delay her departure from England an
hour longer than was unavoidable. "It may be," she thought, "that
only my presence can restrain him in his madness; for worse than
madness it is to risk all his future prospects in the South just
when our arms are crowned with victories which will soon fulfil
our hopes. His infatuation with that horrid Miss Vosburgh is the
secret of it all."
Therefore, her heart overflowing with pride and anger, which
increased with every day of the voyage, she had taken an earlier
steamer, and was determined to hold her son to his oath if he had
a spark of sanity left.
Having become almost a monomaniac in her dream of a Southern empire,
she heard in scornful incredulity the rumor of defeat and disaster
brought to her by her daughters. All the pride and passion of her
strong nature was in arms against the bare thought. But at quarantine
papers were received on board, their parallel columns lurid with
accounts of the riot and aglow with details of Northern victories.
It appeared to her that she had sailed from well-ordered England,
with its congenial, aristocratic circles, to a world of chaos.
When the steamer arrived at the wharf, many of the passengers were
afraid to go ashore, but she, quiet, cold, silent, hiding the anger
that raged in her heart, did not hesitate a moment. She came of a
race that knew not what fear meant. At the earliest possible moment
she and her daughters entered a carriage and were driven up town.
The young girls stared in wonder at the troops and other evidences
of a vast disturbance, and when they saw Madison Square filled with
cavalry-horses they exclaimed aloud, "O mamma, see!"
"Yes," said their mother, sternly, "and mark it well. Even these
Northern people will no longer submit to the Lincoln tyranny.
He may win a few brief triumphs, but the day is near when our own
princely leaders will dictate law and order everywhere. The hour
has air passed when he will have the South only to fight;" and in
her prejudice and ignorance she believed her words to be absolutely
Strahan met them as they entered, and received but a cold greeting
from the lady.
"Where is Willard?" she asked, hastily.
"Mrs. Merwyn, you must prepare yourself for a great shock. Your
Her mind was prepared for but one great disaster, and, her self-control
at last giving way, she almost shrieked, "What! has he taken arms
against the South?"
"Mrs. Merwyn," replied Strahan, "is that the worst that could
A sudden and terrible dread smote the proud woman, and she sunk
into a chair, while young Estelle Merwyn rushed upon Strahan, and,
seizing his hand, faltered in a whisper, "Is--is--" but she could
proceed no further.
"No; but he soon will be unless reason and affection control your
actions and words. Your family physician is here, Mrs. Merwyn, and
I trust you will be guided by his counsel."
"Send him to me," gasped the mother.
Dr. Henderson soon came and explained in part what had occurred.
"Oh, those Vosburghs!" exclaimed Mrs. Merwyn, with a gesture
of unspeakable revolt at the state of affairs. "Well," she added,
with a stern face, "it is my place and not a stranger's to be at
my son's side."
"Pardon me, madam; you cannot go to your son at all in your present
mood. In an emergency like this a physician is autocrat, and your
son's life hangs by a hair."
"Who has a better right--who can do more for a child than a mother?"
"That should be true, but--" and he hesitated in embarrassment, for
a moment, then concluded, firmly: "Your son is not expecting you,
and agitation now might be fatal to him. There are other reasons
which you will soon understand."
"There is one thing I already understand,--a nameless stranger is
with him, and I am kept away."
"Miss Vosburgh is not a nameless stranger," said Strahan; "and she
is affianced to your son."
"O Heaven! I shall go mad!" the lady groaned, a tempest of conflicting
emotions sweeping through her heart.
"Come, Mrs. Merwyn," said Dr. Henderson, kindly, yet firmly, "take
the counsel of an old friend. Distracted as you naturally are with
all these unexpected and terrible events, you must recognize the
truth that you are in no condition to take upon you the care of
your son now. He would not know you, I fear, yet your voice might
agitate him fatally. I do not forbid you to see him, but I do forbid
that you should speak to him now, and I shall not answer for the
consequences if you do."
"Mamma, mamma, you must be patient and do as Dr. Henderson advises,"
cried Estelle. "When you are calm you will see that he is right.
If anything should happen you would never forgive yourself."
The mother's bitter protest was passing into a deadlier fear, but
she only said, coldly, "Very well; since such are your decrees
I shall go to my room and wait till I am summoned;" and she rose
and left the apartment, followed by her elder daughter, a silent,
reticent girl, whose spirit her mother had apparently quenched.
Estelle lingered until they had gone, and then she turned to Strahan,
who said, with an attempt at a smile, "I can scarcely realize that
this is the little girl whom I used to play with and tease."
But she heeded not his words. Her large, lustrous eyes were dim with
tears, as she asked, falteringly, "Tell me the truth, Mr. Strahan;
do you think my brother is very ill?"
"Yes," he replied, sadly; "and I hope I may be permitted to remain
as one of his watchers. He took care of me, last winter, in an
almost mortal illness, and I would gladly do him a like service."
"But you are hurt. Your arm is in a sling."
"My wound is healing, and I could sit by your brother's side as
well as elsewhere."
"You shall remain," said the girl, emphatically. "I have some of
mamma's spirit, if not all her prejudices. Is this Miss Vosburgh
such a fright?"
"I regard her as the noblest and most beautiful girl I ever saw."
"Oh, you do?"
"Well, I shall go and talk reason to mamma, for sister Berta yields
to everything without a word. You must stay, and I shall do my
share of watching as soon as the doctor permits."
Mrs. Merwyn thought she would remain in her room as she had said,
but the fountains of the great deep in her soul were breaking
up. She found that the mother in her heart was stronger than the
partisan. She MUST see her son.
At last she sent Thomas for Dr. Henderson again, and obtained
permission to look upon her child. Bitter as the physician knew
the experience would be, it might be salutary. With noiseless tread
she crossed the threshold, and saw Marian's pure, pale profile; she
drew a few steps nearer; the young girl turned and bowed gravely,
then resumed her watch.
For the moment Merwyn was silent, then in a voice all too distinct
he said: "Cruel, unnatural mother, to rob me of my manhood, to
chain me like one of her slaves. Jeff Davis and empire are more to
her than husband or son."
The conscience-stricken woman covered her face with her hands and
glided away. As by a lightning-flash the reason why she had forfeited
her place by the couch of her son was revealed.
THERE is no need of dwelling long on subsequent events. Our story
has already indicated many of them. Mrs. Merwyn's bitter lesson was
emphasized through many weary days. She hovered about her son like
a remorseful spirit, but dared not speak to him. She had learned
too well why her voice might cause fatal agitation. For a time she
tried to ignore Marian, but the girl's gentle dignity and profound
sorrow, her untiring faithfulness, conquered pride at last, and the
mother, with trembling lips, asked forgiveness and besought affection.
Blauvelt arrived in town on the evening of the day just described,
proposing to offer his services to the city authorities, meanwhile
cherishing the secret hope that he might serve Marian. He at last
found Strahan at Merwyn's home. The brother officers talked long
and earnestly, but, while both were reticent concerning their deeper
thoughts, they both knew that a secret dream was over forever.
Marian came down and gave her hand to the artist soldier in warm
pressure as she said, "My friends are loyal in my time of need."
He lingered a day or two in the city, satisfied himself that the
insurrection was over, then went home, bade his old mother good-by,
and joined his regiment. He was soon transferred to the staff of a
general officer, and served with honor and distinction to the end
of the war.
Mrs. Vosburgh joined her husband; and the awful peril through
which he and her daughter had passed awakened in her a deeper sense
of real life. In contemplation of the immeasurable loss which she
might have sustained she learned to value better what she possessed.
By Estelle's tact it was arranged that she could often see Marian
without embarrassment. So far as her nature permitted she shared
in her husband's boundless solicitude for Merwyn.
Warm-hearted Estelle was soon conscious of a sister's affection
for the girl of her brother's choice, and shared her vigils. She
became also a very good friend to Strahan, and entertained a secret
admiration for him, well hidden, however, by a brusque, yet delicate
But Strahan believed that the romance of his life was over, and he
eventually joined his regiment with some reckless hopes of "stopping
a bullet" as he phrased it. Gloomy cynicism, however, was not his
forte; and when, before the year was out, he was again promoted,
he found that life was anything but a burden, although he was so
ready to risk it.
At last the light of reason dawned in Merwyn's eyes. He recognized
Marian, smiled, and fell into a quiet sleep. On awakening, he said
to her: "You kept your word, my darling. You did not leave me.
I should have died if you had. I think I never wholly lost the
consciousness that you were near me."
The young girl soon brought about a complete reconciliation between
mother and son, and Merwyn was absolved from his oath. Even as a
devoted husband, which he became at Christmas-tide, she found him
too ready to go to the front. He appeared, however, to have little
ambition for distinction, and was satisfied to enter upon duty in
a very subordinate position; but he did it so well and bravely that
his fine abilities were recognized, and he was advanced. At last,
to his mother's horror, he received a colonel's commission to a
Many of Mrs. Merwyn's lifelong prejudices were never overcome, and
she remained loyal to the South; but she was taught that mother-love
is the mightiest of human forces, and at last admitted that her
son, as a man, had a right to choose and act for himself.
Mr. Vosburgh remained in the city as the trusted agent of the
government until the close of the war, and was then transferred
to Washington. Every year cemented his friendship with Merwyn,
and the two men corresponded so faithfully that Marian declared
she was jealous. Each knew, however, that their mutual regard and
good-comradeship were among her deepest sources of happiness. While
her husband was absent Marian made the country house on the Hudson
her residence, but in many ways she sought opportunity to reduce the
awful sum of anguish entailed by the war. She often lured Estelle
from the city as her companion, even in bleak wintry weather. Here
Strahan found her when on a leave of absence in the last year of
the war, and he soon learned that he had another heart to lose.
Marian was discreetly blind to his direct and soldier-like siege.
Indeed, she proved the best of allies, aware that the young officer's
time was limited.
Estelle was elusive as a mocking spirit of the air, until the last
day of his leave was expiring, and then laughingly admitted that
she had surrendered almost two years before.
Of the humble characters in my story it is sufficient to say that
Zeb barely survived, and was helpless for life. Pensions from Merwyn
and Lane secured for him and his mother every comfort. Barney Ghegan
eventually recovered, and resumed his duties on the police force.
He often said, "Oi'm proud to wear the uniform that Misther Merwyn
I have now only to outline the fortunes of Captain Lane and "Missy
S'wanee," and then to take leave of my reader, supposing that he
has had the patience to accompany me thus far.
Lane's wound, reopened by his exertions in escaping to Washington,
kept him helpless on a bed of suffering during the riots and for
weeks thereafter. Then he was granted a long furlough, which he
spent chiefly with his family at the North. Like Strahan he felt
that Merwyn had won Marian fairly. So far was he from cherishing
any bitterness, that he received the successful rival within the
circle of his nearest friends. By being sincere, true to nature and
conscience, Marian retained, not only the friendship and respect
of her lovers, but also her ennobling influence over them. While
they saw that Merwyn was supreme, they also learned that they would
never be dismissed with indifference from her thoughts,--that she
would follow them through life with an affectionate interest and
good-will scarcely less than she would bestow on brothers cradled
in the same home with herself. Lane, with his steadfast nature,
would maintain this relation more closely than the others, but the
reader has already guessed that he would seek to give and to find
consolation elsewhere. Suwanee Barkdale had awakened his strongest
sympathy and respect, and the haunting thought that she, like himself,
had given her love apparently where it could not be returned, made
her seem akin to himself in the deepest and saddest experience.
Gradually and almost unconsciously he gave his thoughts to her,
and began to wonder when and how they should meet again, if ever.
He wrote to her several times, but obtained no answer, no assurance
that his letters were received. When he was fit for duty again his
regiment was in the West, and it remained there until the close of
the war, he having eventually attained to its command.
As soon as he could control his own movements he resolved
to settle one question before he resumed the quiet pursuit of his
profession,--he would learn the fate of "Missy S'wanee." Securing
a strong, fleet horse, he left Washington, and rode rapidly through
a region that had been trampled almost into a desert by the iron
heel of war. The May sun was low in the west when he turned from the
road into the extended lawn which led up to the Barkdale mansion.
Little beyond unsightly stumps was left of the beautiful groves by
which it had been bordered.
Vividly his memory reproduced the same hour, now years since, when
he had ridden up that lawn at the head of his troopers, his sabre
flashing in the last rays of the sun. It seemed ages ago, so much
had happened; but through all the changes and perils the low sob of
the Southern girl when she opened the way for his escape had been
vibrating in stronger and tenderer chords in the depths of his soul.
It had awakened dreams and imaginings which, if dissipated, would
leave but a busy, practical life as devoid of romance as the law-tomes
to which he would give his thoughts. It was natural, therefore,
that his heart should beat fast as he approached the solution of
a question bearing so vitally on all his future.
He concealed himself and his horse behind some low, shrubby trees
that had been too insignificant for the camp fires, long since
burned out, and scanned the battered dwelling. No sign of life was
visible. He was about to proceed and end his suspense at once, when
a lady, clad in mourning, came out and sat down on the veranda. He
instantly recognized Suwanee.
For a few moments Lane could scarcely summon courage to approach.
The surrounding desolation, her badges of bereavement and sorrow,
gave the young girl the dignity and sacredness of immeasurable
misfortune. She who had once so abounded in joyous, spirited life
now seemed emblematical of her own war-wasted and unhappy land,--one
to whom the past and the dead were more than the future and the
Would she receive him? Would she forgive him, one of the authors
of her people's bleeding wounds? He determined to end his suspense,
and rode slowly towards her, that she might not be startled.
At first she did not recognize the stranger in civilian dress,
who was still more disguised by a heavy beard; but she rose and
approached the veranda steps to meet him. He was about to speak,
when she gave a great start, and a quick flush passed over her
Then, as if by the sternest effort, she resumed her quiet, dignified
bearing, as she said, coldly, "You will scarcely wonder, Captain
Lane, that I did not recognize you before." He had dismounted and
stood uncovered before her, and she added, "I regret that I have
no one to take your horse, and no place to stable him, but for
yourself I can still offer such hospitality as my home affords."
Lane was chilled and embarrassed. He could not speak to her in
like distant and formal manner, and he resolved that he would not.
However it might end, he would be true to his own heart and impulses.
He threw the reins on the horse's neck, caring not what became
of him, and stepping to her side, he said, impetuously, "I never
doubted that I should receive hospitality at your home,--that is
refused to no one,--but I did hope for a different greeting."
Again there was a quick, auroral flush, and then, with increased
pallor and coldness, she asked, "Have I failed in courtesy?"
"What reason had you to expect more?"
"Because, almost from the first hour we met, I had given you esteem
and reverence as a noble woman,--because I promised you honest
friendship and have kept my word."
Still more coldly she replied: "I fear there can be no friendship
between us. My father and brothers lie in nameless graves in your
proud and triumphant North, and my heart and hope are buried with
them. My mother has since died, broken-hearted; Roberta's husband,
the colonel you sent to prison, is a crippled soldier, and both
are so impoverished that they know not how to live. And you,--you
have been so busy in helping those who caused these woes that you
evidently forgot the once light-hearted girl whom you first saw on
this veranda. Why speak of friendship, Captain Lane, when rivers
of blood flow between us,--rivers fed from the veins of my kindred?"
Her words were so stern and sad that Lane sat down on the steps at
her feet and buried his face in his hands. His hope was withering
and his tongue paralyzed in the presence of such grief as hers.
She softened a little as she looked down upon him, and after a
moment or two resumed: "I do not blame you personally. I must try
to be just in my bitter sorrow and despair. You proved long ago
that you were obeying your conscience; but you who conquer cannot
know the hearts of the conquered. Your home does not look like
mine; your kindred are waiting to welcome you with plaudits. You
have everything to live for,--honor, prosperity, and love; for
doubtless, long before this, the cold-hearted Northern girl has
been won by the fame of your achievements. Think of me as a ghost,
doomed to haunt these desolate scenes where once I was happy."
"No," he replied, springing to his feet, "I shall think of you as
the woman I love. Life shall not end so unhappily for us both; for
if you persist in your morbid enmity, my future will be as wretched
as yours. You judge me unheard, and you wrong me cruelly. I have
never forgotten you for an hour. I wrote to you again and again,
and received no answer. The moment I was released from the iron rule
of military duty in the West I sought you before returning to the
mother who bore me. No river of blood flows between us that my love
could not bridge. I admit that I was speechless at first before
the magnitude of your sorrows; but must this accursed war go on
forever, blighting life and hope? What was the wound you did so much
towards healing compared to the one you are giving me now? Many a
blow has been aimed at me, but not one has pierced my heart before."
She tried to listen rigidly and coldly to his impassioned utterance,
but could not, and, as he ceased, she was sobbing in her chair.
He sought with gentle words to soothe her, but by a gesture she
At last she said, brokenly: "For months I have not shed a tear. My
heart and brain seemed bursting, yet I could get no relief. Were
it not for some faith and hope in God, I should have followed my
kindred. You cannot know, you never can know."
"I know one thing, Suwanee. You were once a brave, unselfish woman.
I will not, I cannot believe that you have parted with your noble,
generous impulses. You may remain cold to me if I merely plead my
cause for your sake, that I may bring consolation and healing into
your life; but I still have too much faith in your large, warm,
Southern heart to believe that you will blight my life also. If you
can never love me, give me the right to be your loyal and helpful
friend. Giving you all that is best and most sacred in my nature
how can you send me away as if I had no part or lot in your life?
It is not, cannot be true. When I honor you and would give my life
for you, and shall love you all my days, it is absurd to say that
I am nothing to you. Only embodied selfishness and callousness could
say that. You may not be able to give what I do, but you should
give all you can. 'Rivers of blood flowing between us' is morbid
nonsense. Forgive me that I speak strongly,--I feel strongly. My
soul is in my words. I felt towards my cause as you towards yours,
and had I not acted as I have, you would be the first to think me
a craven. But what has all this to do with the sacred instinct,
the pure, unbounded love which compels me to seek you as my wife?"
"You have spoken such words to another," she said, in a low tone.
"No, never such words as I speak to you. I could not have spoken
them, for then I was too young and immature to feel them. I did
love Miss Vosburgh as sincerely as I now respect and esteem her.
She is the happy wife of another man. I speak to you from the depths
of my matured manhood. What is more I speak with the solemnity and
truth which your sorrows should inspire. Should you refuse my hand
it will never be offered to another, and you know me well enough
to be sure I will keep my word."
"Oh, can it be right?" cried the girl, wringing her hands.
"One question will settle all: Can you return my love?"
With that query light came into her mind as if from heaven. She
saw that such love as theirs was the supreme motive, the supreme
She rose and fixed her lovely, tear-gemmed eyes upon him searchingly
as she asked, "Would you wed me, a beggar, dowered only with sorrow
and bitter memories?"
"I will wed you, Suwanee Barkdale, or no one."
"There," she said, with a wan smile, holding out her hand; "the
North has conquered again."
"Suwanee," he said, gravely and gently, as he caressed the head
bowed upon his breast, "let us begin right. For us two there is
no North or South. We are one for time, and I trust for eternity.
But do not think me so narrow and unreasonable as to expect that you
should think as I do on many questions. Still more, never imagine
that I shall chide you, even in my thoughts, for love of your
kindred and people, or the belief that they honestly and heroically
did what seemed to them their duty. When you thought yourself such
a hopeless little sinner, and I discovered you to be a saint, did
I not admit that your patriotic impulses were as sincere as my own?
As it has often been in the past, time will settle all questions
between your people and ours, and time and a better knowledge of
each other will heal our mutual wounds. I wish to remove fear and
distrust of the immediate future from your mind, however. I must take
you to a Northern home, where I can work for you in my profession,
but you can be your own true self there,--just what you were when
you first won my honor and esteem. The memory of your brave father
and brothers shall be sacred to me as well as to you. I shall expect
you to change your feelings and opinions under no other compulsion
than that of your own reason and conscience. Shall you fear to go
with me now? I will do everything that you can ask if you will only
bless me with your love."
"I never dreamed before that it could be so sweet to bless an
enemy," she said, with a gleam of her old mirthfulness, "and I have
dreamed about it. O Fenton, I loved you unsought, and the truth
nearly killed me at first, but I came at last to be a little proud
of it. You were so brave, yet considerate, so fair and generous
towards us, that you banished my prejudices, and you won my heart
by believing there was some good in it after all."
A white shock of wool surmounting a wrinkled, ebon visage appeared
at the door, and the old cook said, "Missy S'wanee, dere's nuffin'
in de house for supper but a little cawn-meal. Oh, bress de Lawd!
if dere ain't Cap'n Lane!"
"Give us a hoe-cake, then," cried Lane, shaking the old woman's hand.
"I'd rather sup with your mistress to-night on corn-meal than sit
down to the grandest banquet you have ever prepared in the past.
In the morning I'll forage for breakfast."
"Bress de Lawd!" said the old woman, as she hobbled away. "Good
times comin' now. If I could jes' hear Missy S'wanee larf once
mo';" and then she passed beyond hearing.
"Yes, Suwanee, if I could only hear your old sweet laugh once more!"
"Not yet, Fenton; not yet,--some day."