Part 4 out of 5
what Mr. Churm told us of his chivalric deeds elsewhere, and how he
tamed and reformed Dunderbunk. He is crystal grit, as crystalline and
gritty as he can be."
"Grit seems to be your symbol of the highest qualities. It certainly is
a better thing in man than in ice-cream. But, Peter, suppose this should
be a true love and should not run smooth?"
"What consequence is the smooth running, so long as there is strong
running and a final getting in neck and neck at the winning-post?"
"But," still pleaded the anxious soul,--having no anxieties of her
own, she was always suffering for others,--"he seems to be such a fine
fellow! and she is so hard to win!"
"Am I a fine fellow?"
"The truth,--or I let you tumble."
"Well, upon compulsion, I admit that you are."
"Then being a fine fellow does not diminish the said fellow's chances of
being blessed with a wife quite superfine."
"If I thought you were personal, Peter, I should object to the
mercantile adjective. 'Superfine,' indeed!"
"I am personal. I withdraw the obnoxious phrase, and substitute
transcendent. No, Fanny dear, I read Wade's experience in my own. I do
not feel very much concerned about him. He is big enough to take care of
himself. A man who is sincere, self-possessed, and steady does not get
into miseries with beautiful Amazons like our friend. He knows too much
to try to make his love run up hill; but let it once get started, rough
running gives it _vim_. Wade will love like a deluge, when he sees that
he may, and I'd advise obstacles to stand off."
"It was pretty, Peter, to see cold Mary Damer so gentle and almost
"I always have loved to see the first beginnings of what looks like
love, since I saw ours."
"Ours," she said,--"it seems like yesterday."
And then together they recalled that fair picture against its dark
ground of sorrow, and so went on refreshing the emotions of that time
until Fanny smiling said,--
"There must be something magical in skates, for here we are talking
sentimentally like a pair of young lovers."
"Health and love are cause and effect," says Peter, sententiously.
Meanwhile Wade had been fast skating into the good graces of his
companion. Perhaps the rap on his head had deranged him. He certainly
tossed himself about in a reckless and insane way. Still he justified
his conduct by never tumbling again, and by inventing new devices with
This pair were not at all sentimental. Indeed, their talk was quite
technical: all about rings and edges, and heel and toe,--what skates are
best, and who best use them. There is an immense amount of sympathy to
be exchanged on such topics, and it was somewhat significant that they
avoided other themes where they might not sympathize so thoroughly. The
negative part of a conversation is often as important as its positive.
So the four entertained themselves finely, sometimes as a quartette,
sometimes as two duos with proper changes of partners, until the clear
west began to grow golden and the clear east pink with sunset.
"It is a pity to go," said Peter Skerrett. "Everything here is
perfection and Fine Art; but we must not be unfaithful to dinner. Dinner
would have a right to punish us, if we did not encourage its efforts to
be Fine Art also."
"Now, Mr. Wade," Fanny commanded, "your most heroic series of exploits,
to close this heroic day."
He nimbly dashed through his list. The ice was traced with a labyrinth
of involuted convolutions.
Wade's last turn brought him to the very spot of his tumble.
"Ah!" said he. "Here is the oar that tripped me, with 'Wade, his
mark,' gashed into it. If I had not this"--he touched Miss Damer's
handkerchief--"for a souvenir, I think I would dig up the oar and carry
"Let it melt out and float away in the spring," Mary said. "It may be a
perch for a sea-gull or a buoy for a drowning man."
Here, if this were a long story instead of a short one, might be given a
description of Peter Skerrett's house and the _menu_ of Mrs. Skerrett's
dinner. Peter and his wife had both been to great pillory dinners, _ad
nauseam_, and learnt what to avoid. How not to be bored is the object of
all civilization, and the Skerretts had discovered the methods. I must
dismiss the dinner and the evening, stamped with the general epithet,
"You will join us again to-morrow on the river," said Mrs. Skerrett, as
Wade rose to go.
"To-morrow I go to town to report to my Directors."
"Then next day."
"Next day, with pleasure."
Wade departed and marked this halcyon day with white chalk, as the
whitest, brightest, sweetest of his life.
Jubilation! Jubilation now, instead of Consternation, in the office of
Mr. Benjamin Brummage in Wall Street.
President Brummage had convoked his Directors to hear the First
Semi-Annual Report of the new Superintendent and Dictator of Dunderbunk.
And there they sat around the green table, no longer forlorn and
dreading a, failure, but all chuckling with satisfaction over their
They were a happy and hilarious family now,--so hilarious that
the President was obliged to be always rapping to Order with his
Every one of these gentlemen was proud of himself as a Director of so
successful a Company. The Dunderbunk advertisement might now consider
itself as permanent in the newspapers, and the Treasurer had very
unnecessarily inserted the notice of a dividend, which everybody knew of
When Mr. Churm was not by, they all claimed the honor of having
discovered Wade, or at least of having been the first to appreciate him.
They all invited him to dinner,--the others at their houses, Sam Gwelp
at his club.
They had not yet begun to wax fat and kick. They still remembered
the panic of last summer. They passed a unanimous vote of the most
complimentary confidence in Wade, approved of his system, forced upon
him an increase of salary, and began to talk of "launching out" and
doubling their capital. In short, they behaved as Directors do when all
Churm and Wade had a hearty laugh over the absurdities of the Board and
all their vague propositions.
"Dunderbunk," said Churm, "was a company started on a sentimental basis,
as many others are."
"Mr. Brummage fell in love with pig-iron?"
"Precisely. He had been a dry-goods jobber, risen from a retailer
somewhere in the country. He felt a certain lack of dignity in his work.
He wanted to deal in something more masculine than lace and ribbons. He
read a sentimental article on Iron in the 'Journal of Commerce': how
Iron held the world together; how it was nerve and sinew; how it was
ductile and malleable and other things that sounded big; how without
Iron civilization would stop, and New Zealanders hunt rats among the
ruins of London; how anybody who would make two tons of Iron grow
where one grew before was a benefactor to the human race greater than
Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon; and so on,--you know the eloquent style.
Brummage's soul was fired. He determined to be greater than the three
heroes named. He was oozing with unoccupied capital. He went about among
the other rich jobbers, with the newspaper article in his hand, and
fired their souls. They determined to be great Iron-Kings,--magnificent
thought! They wanted to read in the newspapers, 'If all the iron rails
made at the Dunderbunk Works in the last six months were put together in
a straight line, they would reach twice round our terraqueous globe and
seventy-three miles two rails over.' So on that poetic foundation they
started the concern."
Wade laughed. "But how did you happen to be with them?"
"Oh! my friend Damer sold them the land for the shop and took stock in
payment. I came into the Board as his executor. Did I never tell you so
"Well, then, be informed that it was in Miss Damer's behalf that you
knocked down Friend Tarbox, and so got your skates for saving her
property. It's quite a romance already, Richard, my boy! and I suppose
you feel immensely bored that you had to come down and meet us old
chaps, instead of tumbling at her feet on the ice again to-day."
"A tumble in this wet day would be a cold bath to romance."
The Gulf Stream had sent up a warm spoil-sport rain that morning. It did
not stop, but poured furiously the whole day.
From Cohoes to Spuyten Duyvil, on both sides of the river, all the
skaters swore at the weather, as profane persons no doubt did when the
windows of heaven were opened in Noah's time. The skateresses did not
swear, but savagely said, "It is too bad,"--and so it was.
Wade, loaded with the blessings of his Directors, took the train next
morning for Dunderbunk.
The weather was still mild and drizzly, but promised to clear. As the
train rattled along by the river, Wade could see that the thin ice
was breaking up everywhere. In mid-stream a procession of blocks was
steadily drifting along. Unless Zero came sliding down again pretty soon
from Boreal regions, the sheets that filled the coves and clung to the
shores would also sail away southward, and the whole Hudson be left
clear as in midsummer.
At Yonkers a down train ranged by the side of Wade's train, and, looking
out, he saw Mr. and Mrs. Skerrett alighting.
He jumped down, rather surprised, to speak to them.
"We have just been telegraphed here," said Peter, gravely. "The son of a
widow, a friend of ours, was drowned this morning in the soft ice of the
river. He was a pet of mine, poor fellow! and the mother depends upon me
for advice. We have come down to say a kind word. Why won't you report
us to the ladies at my house, and say we shall not be at home until the
evening train? They do not know the cause of our journey, except that it
is a sad one."
"Perhaps Mr. Wade will carve their turkey for them at dinner, Peter,"
"Do, Wade! and keep their spirits up. Dinner's at six."
Here the engine whistled. Wade promised to "shine substitute" at his
friend's board, and took his place again. The train galloped away.
Peter and his wife exchanged a bright look over the fortunate incident
of this meeting, and went on their kind way to carry sympathy and such
consolation as might be to the widow.
The train galloped northward. Until now, the beat of its wheels, like
the click of an enormous metronome, had kept time to jubilant measures
singing in Wade's brain. He was hurrying back, exhilarated with success,
to the presence of a woman whose smile was finer exhilaration than any
number of votes of confidence, passed unanimously by any number of
conclaves of overjoyed Directors, and signed by Brummage after Brummage,
with the signature of a capitalist in a flurry of delight at a ten per
But into this joyous mood of Wade's the thought of death suddenly
intruded. He could not keep a picture of death and drowning out of his
mind. As the train sprang along and opened gloomy breadth after breadth
of the leaden river, clogged with slow-drifting files of ice-blocks, he
found himself staring across the dreary waste and forever fancying some
one sinking there, helpless and alone.
He seemed to see a brave, bright-eyed, ruddy boy, venturing out
carelessly along the edges of the weakened ice. Suddenly the ice gives
way, the little figure sinks, rises, clutches desperately at a fragment,
struggles a moment, is borne along in the relentless flow of the chilly
water, stares in vain shoreward, and so sinks again with a look of
agony, and is gone.
But whenever this inevitable picture grew before Wade's eyes, as the
drowning figure of his fancy vanished, it suddenly changed features, and
presented the face of Mary Damer, perishing beyond succor.
Of course he knew that this was but a morbid vision. Yet that it came at
all, and that it so agonized him, proved the force of his new feeling.
He had not analyzed it before. This thought of death became its
Men like Wade, strong, healthy, earnest, concentrated, straightforward,
isolated, judge men and women as friends or foes at once and once for
all. He had recognized in Mary Damer from the first a heart as true,
whole, noble, and healthy as his own. A fine instinct had told him that
she was waiting for her hero, as he was for his heroine.
So he suddenly loved her. And yet not suddenly; for all his life, and
all his lesser forgotten or discarded passions, had been training him
for this master one.
He suddenly and strongly loved her; and yet it had only been a beautiful
bewilderment of uncomprehended delight, until this haunting vision of
her fair face sinking amid the hungry ice beset him. Then he perceived
what would be lost to him, if she were lost.
The thought of Death placed itself between him and Love. If the love
had been merely a pretty remembrance of a charming woman, he might have
dismissed his fancied drowning scene with a little emotion of regret.
Now, the fancy was an agony.
He had too much power over himself to entertain it long. But the grisly
thought came uninvited, returned undesired, and no resolute Avaunt, even
backed by that magic wand, a cigar, availed to banish it wholly.
The sky cleared cold at eleven o'clock. A sharp wind drew through the
Highlands. As the train rattled round the curve below the tunnel through
Skerrett's Point, Wade could see his skating course of Christmas-Day
with the ladies. Firm ice, glazed smooth by the sudden chill after the
rain, filled the Cove and stretched beyond the Point into the river.
It was treacherous stuff, beautiful to the eyes of a skater, but sure
to be weak, and likely to break up any moment and join the deliberate
headlong drift of the masses in mid-current.
Wade almost dreaded lest his vision should suddenly realize itself,
and he should see his enthusiastic companion of the other day sailing
gracefully along to certain death.
Nothing living, however, was in sight, except here and there a crow,
skipping about in the floating ice.
The lover was greatly relieved. He could now forewarn the lady against
the peril he had imagined. The train in a moment dropped him at
Dunderbunk. He hurried to the Foundry and wrote a note to Mrs. Damer.
"Mr. Wade presents his compliments to Mrs. Damer, and has the honor to
inform her that Mr. Skerrett has nominated him carver to the ladies
to-day in their host's place.
"Mr. Wade hopes that Miss Damer will excuse him from his engagement to
skate with her this afternoon. The ice is dangerous, and Miss Damer
should on no account venture upon it."
Perry Purtett was the bearer of this billet. He swaggered into Peter
Skerrett's hall, and dreadfully alarmed the fresh-imported Englishman
who answered the bell, by ordering him in a severe tone,--
"Hurry up now, White Cravat, with that answer! I'm wanted down to the
Works. Steam don't bile when I'm off; and the fly-wheel will never buzz
another turn, unless I'm there to motion it to move on."
Mrs. Damer's gracious reply informed Wade "that she should be charmed to
see him at dinner, etc., and would not fail to transmit his kind warning
to Miss Damer, when she returned from her drive to make calls."
But when Miss Damer returned in the afternoon, her mother was taking a
gentle nap over the violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red
stripes of a gorgeous Afghan she was knitting. The daughter heard
nothing of the billet. The house was lonely without Fanny Skerrett. Mr.
Wade did not come at the appointed hour. Mary was not--willing to say to
herself how much she regretted his absence.
Had he forgotten the appointment?
No,--that was a thought not to be tolerated.
"A gentleman does not forget," she thought. And she had a thorough
confidence, besides, that this gentleman was very willing to remember.
She read a little, fitfully, sang fitfully, moved about the house
uneasily; and at last, when it grew late, and she was bored and Wade did
not arrive, she pronounced to herself that he had been detained in town.
This point settled, she took her skates, put on her pretty Amazonian hat
with its alert feather, and went down to waste her beauty and grace on
the ice, unattended and alone.
CAP'S AMBUSTER'S SKIFF.
It was a busy afternoon at the Dunderbunk Foundry.
The Superintendent had come back with his pocket full of orders.
Everybody, from the Czar of Russia to the President of the Guano
Republic, was in the market for machinery. Crisis was gone by.
Prosperity was come. The world was all ready to move, and only waited
for a fresh supply of wheels, cranks, side-levers, walking-beams, and
other such muscular creatures of iron, to push and tug and swing and
revolve and set Progress a-going.
Dunderbunk was to have its full share in supplying the demand. It was
well understood by this time that the iron Wade made was as stanch
as the man who made it. Dunderbunk, therefore, Head and Hands, must
So it was a busy afternoon at the industrious Foundry. The men bestirred
themselves. The furnaces rumbled. The engine thumped. The drums in the
finishing-shop hummed merrily their lively song of labor. The four
trip-hammers--two bull-headed, two calf-headed--champed, like
carnivorous maws, upon red bars of iron, and over their banquet they
roared the big-toned music of the trip-hammer chorus,--
"Now, then! hit hard!
Strike while Iron's hot. Life's short. Art's long."
By this massive refrain, ringing in at intervals above the ceaseless
buzz, murmur, and clang throughout the buildings, every man's work was
mightily nerved and inspired. Everybody liked to hear the sturdy song of
these grim vocalists; and whenever they struck in, each solo or duo or
quatuor of men, playing Anvil Chorus, quickened time, and all the action
and rumor of the busy opera went on more cheerily and lustily. So work
kept astir like play.
An hour before sunset, Bill Tarbox stepped into Wade's office. Even oily
and begrimed, Bill could be recognized as a favored lover. He looked
more a man than ever before.
"I forgot to mention," says the foreman, "that Cap'n Ambuster was in,
this morning, to see you. He says, that, if the river's clear enough for
him to get away from our dock, he'll go down to the City to-morrow, and
offers to take freight cheap. We might put that new walking-beam, we've
just rough-finished for the 'Union,' aboard of him."
"Yes,--if he is sure to go to-morrow. It will not do to delay. The
owners complained to me yesterday that the 'Union' was in a bad way for
want of its new machinery. Tell your brother-in-law to come here, Bill."
Tarbox looked sheepishly pleased, and summoned Perry Purtett.
"Run down, Perry," said Wade, "to the 'Ambuster,' and ask Captain Isaac
to step up here a moment. Tell him I have some freight to send by him."
Perry moved through the Foundry with his usual jaunty step, left his
dignity at the door, and ran off to the dock.
The weather had grown fitful. Heavy clouds whirled over, trailing
snow-flurries. Rarely the sun found a cleft in the black canopy to shoot
a ray through and remind the world that he was still in his place and
ready to shine when he was wanted.
Master Perry had a furlong to go before he reached the dock. He crossed
the stream, kept unfrozen by the warm influences of the Foundry. He ran
through a little dell hedged on each side by dull green cedars. It was
severely cold now, and our young friend condescended to prance and jump
over the ice-skimmed puddles to keep his blood in motion.
The little rusty, pudgy steamboat lay at the down-stream side of the
Foundry wharf. Her name was so long and her paddle-box so short, that
the painter, beginning with ambitious large letters, had been compelled
to abbreviate the last syllable. Her title read thus:--
Certainly a formidable inscription for a steamboat!
When she hove in sight, Perry halted, resumed his stately demeanor, and
em-barked as if he were a Doge entering a Bucentaur to wed a Sea.
There was nobody on deck to witness the arrival and salute the
Perry looked in at the Cap'n's office. He beheld a three-legged stool,
a hacked desk, an inky steel-pen, an inkless inkstand; but no Cap'n
Perry inspected the Cap'n's state-room. There was a cracked
looking-glass, into which he looked; a hair-brush suspended by the
glass, which he used; a lair of blankets in a berth, which he had no
present use for; and a smell of musty boots, which nobody with a nose
could help smelling. Still no Captain Ambuster, nor any of his crew.
Search in the unsavory kitchen revealed no cook, coiled up in a corner,
suffering nightmares for the last greasy dinner he had brewed in his
frying-pan. There were no deck hands bundled into their bunks. Perry
rapped on the chain-box and inquired if anybody was within, and nobody
answering, he had to ventriloquize a negative.
The engine-room, too, was vacant, and quite as unsavory as the other
dens on board. Perry patronized the engine by a pull or two at the
valves, and continued his tour of inspection.
The Ambuster's skiff, lying on her forward deck, seemed to entertain him
"Jolly!" says Perry. And so it was a jolly boat in the literal, not the
"The three wise men of Gotham went to sea in a bowl; and here's the
identical craft," says Perry.
He gave the chubby little machine a push with his foot. It rolled and
wallowed about grotesquely. When it was still again, it looked so comic,
lying contentedly on its fat side like a pudgy baby, that Perry had a
roar of laughter, which, like other laughter to one's self, did not
sound very merry, particularly as the north-wind was howling ominously,
and the broken ice on its downward way was whispering and moaning and
talking on in a most mysterious and inarticulate manner.
"Those sheets of ice would crunch up this skiff, as pigs do a punkin,"
And with this thought in his head he looked out on the river, and
fancied the foolish little vessel cast loose and buffeting helplessly
about in the ice.
He had been so busy until now, in prying about the steamboat and making
up his mind that Captain and men had all gone off for a comfortable
supper on shore, that his eyes had not wandered toward the stream.
Now his glance began to follow the course of the icy current. He
wondered where all this supply of cakes came from, and how many of them
would escape the stems of ferry-boats below and get safe to sea.
All at once, as he looked lazily along the lazy files of ice, his eyes
caught a black object drifting on a fragment in a wide way of open water
opposite Skerrett's Point, a mile distant.
Perry's heart stopped beating. He uttered a little gasping cry. He
sprang ashore, not at all like a Doge quitting a Bucentaur. He tore back
to the Foundry, dashing through the puddles, and, never stopping to pick
up his cap, burst in upon Wade and Bill Tarbos in the office.
The boy was splashed from head to foot with red mud. His light hair,
blown wildly about, made his ashy face seem paler. He stood panting.
His dumb terror brought back to Wade's mind all the bad omens of the
"Speak!" said he, seizing Perry fiercely by the shoulder.
The uproar of the Works seemed to hush for an instant, while the lad
"There's somebody carried off in the ice by Skerrett's Point. It looks
like a woman. And there's nobody to help."
IN THE ICE.
"Help! help!" shouted the four triphammers, bursting in like a magnified
echo of the boy's last word.
"Help! help!" all the humming wheels and drums repeated more
Wade made for the river.
This was the moment all his manhood had been training and saving for.
For this he had kept sound and brave from his youth up.
As he ran, he felt that the only chance of instant help was in that
queer little bowl-shaped skiff of the "Ambuster."
He had never been conscious that he had observed it; but the image
had lain latent in his mind, biding its time. It might be ten, twenty
precious moments before another boat could be found. This one was on the
spot to do its duty at once.
"Somebody carried off,--perhaps a woman," Wade thought. "Not--No, she
would not neglect my warning! Whoever it is, we must save her from this
He sprang on board the little steamboat. She was swaying uneasily at her
moorings, as the ice crowded along and hammered against her stem. Wade
stared from her deck down the river, with all his life at his eyes.
More than a mile away, below the hemlock-crested point, was the dark
object Perry had seen, still stirring along the edges of the floating
ice. A broad avenue of leaden-green water wrinkled by the cold wind
separated the field where this figure was moving from the shore. Dark
object and its footing of gray ice were drifting deliberately farther
and farther away.
For one instant Wade thought that the terrible dread in his heart would
paralyze him. But in that one moment, while his blood stopped flowing
and his nerves failed, Bill Tarbos overtook him and was there by his
"I brought your cap," says Bill, "and our two coats."
Wade put on his cap mechanically. This little action calmed him.
"Bill," said he, "I'm afraid it is a woman,--a dear friend of mine,--a
very dear friend."
Bill, a lover, understood the tone.
"We'll take care of her between us," he said.
The two turned at once to the little tub of a boat.
Oars? Yes,--slung under the thwarts,--a pair of short sculls, worn and
split, but with work in them still. There they hung ready,--and a rusty
"Find the thole-pins, Bill, while I cut a plug for her bottom out of
this broomstick," Wade said.
This was done in a moment. Bill threw in the coats.
They lifted the skiff to the gangway. Wade jumped down on the ice and
received her carefully. They ran her along, as far as they could go, and
launched her in the sludge.
"Take the sculls, Bill. I'll work the boat-hook in the bow."
Nothing more was said. They thrust out with their crazy little craft
into the thick of the ice-flood. Bill, amidships, dug with his sculls
in among the huddled cakes. It was clumsy pulling. Now this oar and now
that would be thrown out. He could never get a full stroke.
Wade in the bow could do better. He jammed the blocks aside with his
boat-hook. He dragged the skiff forward. He steered through the little
open ways of water.
Sometimes they came to a broad sheet of solid ice. Then it was "Out with
her, Bill!" and they were both out and sliding their bowl so quick
over, that they had not time to go through the rotten surface. This was
drowning business; but neither could be spared to drown yet.
In the leads of clear water, the oarsman got brave pulls and sent the
boat on mightily. Then again in the thick porridge of brash ice they
lost headway, or were baffled and stopped among the cakes. Slow work,
slow and painful; and for many minutes they seemed to gain nothing upon
the steady flow of the merciless current.
A frail craft for such a voyage, this queer little half-pumpkin! A frail
and leaky shell. She bent and cracked from stem to stern among the
nipping masses. Water oozed in through her dry seams. Any moment a
rougher touch or a sharper edge might cut her through. But that was a
risk they had accepted. They did not take time to think of it, nor to
listen to the crunching and crackling of the hungry ice around. They
urged straight on, steadily, eagerly, coolly, spending and saving
Not one moment to lose! The shattering of broad sheets of ice around
them was a warning of what might happen to the frail support of their
chase. One thrust of the boat-hook sometimes cleft a cake that to the
eye seemed stout enough to bear a heavier weight than a woman's.
Not one moment to spare! The dark figure, now drifted far below the
hemlocks of the Point, no longer stirred. It seemed to have sunk upon
the ice and to be resting there weary and helpless, on one side a wide
way of lurid water, on the other half a mile of moving desolation.
Far to go, and no time to waste!
"Give way, Bill! Give way!"
Both spoke in low tones, hardly louder than the whisper of the ice
By this time hundreds from the Foundry and the village were swarming
upon the wharf and the steamboat.
"A hunderd tar-barrels wouldn't git up my steam in time to do any good,"
says Cap'n Ambuster. "If them two in my skiff don't overhaul the man,
"You're sure it's a man?" says Smith Wheelwright.
"Take a squint through my glass. I'm dreffully afeard it's a gal; but
suthin's got into my eye, so I can't see."
Suthin' had got into the old fellow's eye,--suthin' saline and
acrid,--namely, a tear.
"It's a woman," says Wheelwright,--and suthin' of the same kind blinded
Almost sunset now. But the air was suddenly filled with perplexing
snow-dust from a heavy squall. A white curtain dropped between the
anxious watchers on the wharf and the boatmen.
The same white curtain hid the dark floating object from its pursuers.
There was nothing in sight to steer by, now.
Wade steered by his last glimpse,--by the current,--by the rush of the
roaring wind,--by instinct.
How merciful that in such a moment a man is spared the agony of thought!
His agony goes into action, intense as life.
It was bitterly cold. A swash of ice-water filled the bottom of the
skiff. She was low enough down without that. They could not stop to
bail, and the miniature icebergs they passed began to look significantly
over the gunwale. Which would come to the point of foundering first, the
boat or the little floe it aimed for?
Bitterly cold! The snow hardly melted upon Tarbox's bare hands. His
fingers stiffened to the oars; but there was life in them still, and
still he did his work, and never turned to see how the steersman was
A flight of crows came sailing with the snow-squall. They alighted all
about on the hummocks, and curiously watched the two men battling to
save life. One black impish bird, more malignant or more sympathetic
than his fellows, ventured to poise on the skiff's stern!
Bill hissed off this third passenger. The crow rose on its toes, let
the boat slide away from under him, and followed croaking dismal good
The last sunbeams were now cutting in everywhere. The thick snow-flurry
was like a luminous cloud. Suddenly it drew aside.
The industrious skiff had steered so well and made such headway, that
there, a hundred yards away, safe still, not gone, thank God! was the
woman they sought.
A dusky mass flung together on a waning rood of ice,--Wade could see
Weary or benumbed, or sick with pure forlornness and despair, she had
drooped down and showed no sign of life.
The great wind shook the river. Her waning rood of ice narrowed, foot
by foot, like an unthrifty man's heritage. Inch by inch its edges wore
away, until the little space that half-sustained the dark heap was no
bigger than a coffin-lid.
Help, now!--now, men, if you are to save! Thrust, Richard Wade, with
your boat-hook! Pull, Bill, till your oars snap! Out with your last
frenzies of vigor! For the little raft of ice, even that has crumbled
beneath its burden, and she sinks,--sinks, with succor close at hand!
Sinks! No,--she rises and floats again.
She clasps something that holds her head just above water. But the
unmannerly ice has buffeted her hat off. The fragments toss it
about,--that pretty Amazonian hat, with its alert feather, all drooping
and draggled. Her fair hair and pure forehead are uncovered for an
astonished sunbeam to alight upon.
"It is my love, my life, Bill! Give way, once more!"
"Way enough! Steady! Sit where you are, Bill, and trim boat, while I
lift her out. We cannot risk capsizing."
He raised her carefully, tenderly, with his strong arms.
A bit of wood had buoyed her up for that last moment. It was a broken
oar with a deep fresh gash in it.
Wade knew his mark,--the cut of his own skate-iron. This busy oar was
still resolved to play its part in the drama.
The round little skiff just bore the third person without sinking.
Wade laid Mary Damer against the thwart. She would not let go her buoy.
He unclasped her stiffened hands. This friendly touch found its way to
her heart. She opened her eyes and knew him.
"The ice shall not carry off her hat to frighten some mother, down
stream," says Bill Tarbox, catching it.
All these proceedings Cap'n Ambuster's spy-glass announced to
"They're h'istin' her up. They've slumped her into the skiff. They're
puttin' for shore. Hooray!"
Pity a spy-glass cannot shoot cheers a mile and a half!
Perry Purtett instantly led a stampede of half Dunderbunk along the
railroad-track to learn who it was and all about it.
All about it was, that Miss Damer was safe and not dangerously
frozen,--and that Wade and Tarbox had carried her up the hill to her
mother at Peter Skerrett's.
Missing the heroes in chief, Dunderbunk made a hero of Cap'n Ambuster's
skiff. It was transported back on the shoulders of the crowd in
triumphal procession. Perry Purtett carried round the hat for a
contribution to new paint it, new rib it, new gunwale it, give it new
sculls and a new boat-hook,--indeed, to make a new vessel of the brave
"I'm afeard," says Cap'n Ambuster, "that, when I git a harnsome new
skiff, I shall want a harnsome new steamboat, and then the boat will go
to cruisin' round for a harnsome new Cap'n."
And now for the end of this story.
Healthy love-stories always end in happy marriages.
So ends this story, begun as to its love portion by the little romance
of a tumble, and continued by the bigger romance of a rescue.
Of course there were incidents enough to fill a volume, obstacles enough
to fill a volume, and development of character enough to fill a tome
thick as "Webster's Unabridged," before the happy end of the beginning
of the Wade-Damer joint history.
But we can safely take for granted that the lover being true and manly,
and the lady true and womanly, and both possessed of the high moral
qualities necessary to artistic skating, they will go on understanding
each other better, until they are as one as two can be.
Masculine reader, attend to the moral of this tale:--
Skate well, be a hero, bravely deserve the fair, prove your deserts by
your deeds, find your "perfect woman nobly planned to warm, to comfort,
and command," catch her when found, and you are Blest.
Reader of the gentler sex, likewise attend:--
All the essential blessings of life accompany a true heart and a good
complexion. Skate vigorously; then your heart will beat true, your
cheeks will bloom, your appointed lover will see your beautiful soul
shining through your beautiful face, he will tell you so, and after
sufficient circumlocution he will Pop, you will accept, and your lives
will glide sweetly as skating on virgin ice to silver music.
* * * * *
The speckled sky is dim with snow,
The light flakes falter and fall slow;
Athwart the hill-top, rapt and pale,
Silently drops a silvery veil;
The far-off mountain's misty form
Is entering now a tent of storm;
And all the valley is shut in
By flickering curtains gray and thin.
But cheerily the chickadee
Singeth to me on fence and tree;
The snow sails round him, as he sings,
White as the down of angels' wings.
I watch the slow flakes, as they fall
On bank and brier and broken wall;
Over the orchard, waste and brown,
All noiselessly they settle down,
Tipping the apple-boughs, and each
Light quivering twig of plum and peach.
On turf and curb and bower-roof
The snow-storm spreads its ivory woof;
It paves with pearl the garden-walk;
And lovingly round tattered stalk
And shivering stem its magic weaves
A mantle fair as lily-leaves.
The hooded beehive, small and low,
Stands like a maiden in the snow;
And the old door-slab is half hid
Under an alabaster lid.
All day it snows: the sheeted post
Gleams in the dimness like a ghost;
All day the blasted oak has stood
A muffled wizard of the wood;
Garland and airy cap adorn
The sumach and the way-side thorn,
And clustering spangles lodge and shine
In the dark tresses of the pine.
The ragged bramble, dwarfed and old,
Shrinks like a beggar in the cold;
In surplice white the cedar stands,
And blesses him with priestly hands.
Still cheerily the chickadee
Singeth to me on fence and tree:
But in my inmost ear is heard
The music of a holier bird;
And heavenly thoughts, as soft and white
As snow-flakes, on my soul alight,
Clothing with love my lonely heart,
Healing with peace each bruised part,
Till all my being seems to be
Transfigured by their purity.
* * * * *
EASE IN WORK.
To thoughts and expressions of peculiar force and beauty we give the
epithets "happy" and "felicitous," as if we esteemed them a product
rather of the writer's fortune than of his toil. Thus, Dryden says of
Shakspeare, "All the images of Nature were still present to him, and he
drew from them, not laboriously, but luckily." And, indeed, when one
contemplates a noble creation in art or literature, one seems to receive
from the work itself a certain testimony that it was never wrought out
with wrestling struggle, but was genially and joyfully produced, as the
sun sends forth his beams and the earth her herbage. This appearance
of play and ease is sometimes so notable as to cause a curious
misapprehension. For example, De Quincey permits himself, if my memory
serve me, to say that Plato probably wrote his works not in any
seriousness of spirit, but only as a pastime! A pastime for the
immortals that were.
The reason of this ease may be that perfect performance is ever more the
effluence of a man's nature than the conscious labor of his hands. That
the hands are faithfully busy therein, that every faculty contributes
its purest industry, no one could for a moment doubt; since there could
not be a total action of one's nature without this loyalty of his
special powers. Nevertheless, there are times when the presiding
intelligence descends into expression by a law and necessity of its own,
as clouds descend into rain; and perhaps it is only then that consummate
work is done. He who by his particular powers and gifts serves as a
conduit for this flowing significance may indeed toil as no drudge ever
did or can, yet with such geniality and success, that he shall feel of
his toil only the joy, and that we shall see of it only the prosperity.
A swan labors in swimming, a pigeon in his flight; yet as no part
of this industry is defeated, as it issues momentarily in perfect
achievement, it makes upon us the impression, not of the limitation of
labor, but of the freedom and liberation of an animal genius.
"Long deliberations," says Goethe, "commonly indicate that we have not
the point to be determined clearly in view." So an extreme sense
of striving effort, or, in other words, an extreme sense of inward
hindrance, in the performance of a high task, usually denotes the
presence in us of an element irrelevant to our work, and perhaps
unfriendly to it. If a stream flow roughly, you infer obstructions in
the channel. Often the explanation may be that one is attempting to-day
a task proper to some future time,--to another year, or another
century. It is the green fruit that clings tenaciously to the bough; the
ripe falls of itself.
But as blighted and worm-eaten apples likewise fall of themselves, so in
this ease of execution the falsest work may agree with the best. That
the similarity is purely specious needs not be urged; yet in practically
distinguishing between the two there are not a few that fail. The most
precious work is performed with a noble, though not idle ease, because
it is the sincere, seasonable, and, as it were, inevitable flowering
into expression of one's inward life; and work utterly, glibly insincere
and imitative is often done with ease, because it is so successfully
separated from the inward life as not even to recognize its claim.
Accordingly, pure art and pure artifice, sincere creation and sheer
fabrication, flow; from the mixture of these, or from any mixture of
natural and necessary with factitious expression, comes embarrassment.
In the mastery of life, or of death, there is peace; the intermediate
state, that of sickness, is full of pain and struggle. In Homer and
in Tupper, in Cicero and the leaders of the London "Times," in Jeremy
Taylor and the latest Reverend Mr. Orotund, you find a liberal and
privileged utterance; but honest John Foster, made of powerful, but
ill-composed elements, and replete with an intelligence now gleaming and
now murky, could wring statements from his mind only as testimony in
cruel ages was obtained from unwilling witnesses, namely, by putting
himself to the torture.
But it is of prime importance to observe that the aforementioned mature
fruit, which so falls at the tenderest touch into the hand, is no
sudden, no idle product. It comes, on the contrary, of a depth of
operation more profound, and testifies to a genius and sincerity in
Nature more subtile and religious, than we can understand or imagine.
This apple that in fancy we now pluck, and hardly need to pluck, from
the burdened bough,--think what a pedigree it has, what aeons of
world-making and world-maturing must elapse, all the genius of God
divinely assiduous, ere this could hang in ruddy and golden ripeness
here! Think, too, what a concurrence and consent of elements, of sun and
soil, of ocean-vapors and laden winds, of misty heats in the torrid zone
and condensing blasts from the North, were required before a single
apple could grow, before a single blossom could put forth its promise,
tender and beautiful amidst the gladness of spring!--and besides these
consenting ministries of Nature, how the special genius of the tree must
have wrought, making sacrifice of woody growth, and, by marvellous and
ineffable alchemies, co-working with the earth beneath, and the heaven
above! Ah, not from any indifference, not from any haste or indolence,
in Nature, come the fruits of her seasons and her centuries!
Now he who has any faculty of thinking must see that thoughts are before
things in the order of existence. True it is, that here as elsewhere, as
everywhere, last is first and first is last. That which is innermost,
and consequently primary, is last to appear on the surface; and
accordingly thoughts _per se_ follow things in the order of
manifestation. But how could the thing exist, but for a thought that
preceded and begot it? And now that the thought has passed _through_
the material symbol, has passed forward to a new and more consummate
expression, first in the soul, and afterwards by the voice, we should
be unwise indeed to deny or forget its antiquity. Thoughts are no
_parvenus_ or _novi homines_ in Nature, but came in with that Duke
William who first struck across the unnamed seas into this island of
time and material existence which we inhabit. Accordingly, it is using
extreme understatement, to say that every pure original thought has a
genesis equally ancient, earnest, vital with any product in Nature,--has
present relationships no less broad and cosmical, and an evolution
implying the like industries, veritable and precious beyond all scope of
affirmation. Even if we quite overlook its pre-personal ancestry, still
the roots it has in its immediate author will be of unmeasured depth,
and it will still proceed toward its consummate form by energies and
assiduities that beggar the estimation of all ordinary toil. With the
birth of the man himself was it first born, and to the time of its
perfect growth and birth into speech the burden of it was borne by every
ruddy drop of his heart's blood, by every vigor of his body,--nerve
and artery, eye and ear, and all the admirable servitors of the soul,
steadily bringing to that invisible matrix where it houses their
costly nutriments, their sacred offices; while every part and act of
experience, every gush of jubilance, every stifle of woe, all sweet
pangs of love and pity, all high breathings of faith and resolve,
contribute to the form and bloom it finally wears. Yet the more profound
and necessary product of one's spirit it is, the more likely at last
to fall softly from him,--so softly, perhaps, that he himself shall be
half-unaware when the separation occurs.
And such only are men of genius as accomplish this divine utterance.
The voice itself may be strong or tiny,--that of a seraph, or that of a
song-sparrow; the range and power of combination may be Beethoven's, or
only such as are found in the hum of bees; but in this genuineness, this
depth of ancestry and purity of growth, this unmistakable issue under
the patronage of Nature, there is a test of genius that cannot vary. He
is not inimitable who imitates. He that speaks only what he has learned
speaks what the world will not long or greatly desire to learn from him.
"Shakspeare," said Dryden, not having the fear of Locke before his eyes,
"was naturally learned"; but whoever is quite destitute of natural
learning will never achieve winged words by dint and travail of other
erudition. If his soul have not been to school before coming to his
body, it is late in life for him to qualify himself for a teacher of
mankind. Words that are cups to contain the last essences of a sincere
life bear elixirs of life for as many lips as shall touch their brim;
they refresh all generations, nor by any quaffing of generations are
they to be drained.
To this ease it may be owing that poets and artists are often so ill
judges of their own success. Their happiest performance is too nearly of
the same color with their permanent consciousness to be seen in relief:
work less sincere--that is, more related and bound to some partial state
or particular mood--would stand out more to the eye of the doer. To this
error he will be less exposed who learns--as most assuredly every artist
should--to estimate his work, not as it seems to him _striking_, but as
it echoes to his ear the earliest murmurs of his childhood, and reclaims
for the heart its wandered memories. Perhaps it is common for one's
happiest thoughts, in the moment of their apparition in words, to affect
him with a gentle surprise and sense of newness; but soon afterwards
they may probably come to touch him, on the contrary, with a vague
sense of reminiscence, as if his mother had sung them by his cradle, or
somewhere under the rosy east of life he had heard them from others.
A statement of our own which seems to us _very_ new and striking is
probably partial, is in some degree foreign to our hearts; that which
one, being the soul he is, could not do otherwise than say is probably
what he was created for the purpose of saying, and will be found his
most significant and living word. Yet just in proportion as one's speech
is a pure and simple efflux of his spirit, just in proportion as its
utterance lies in the order and inevitable procedure of his life, he
will be _liable_ to undervalue it. Who feels that the universe is
greatly enriched by his heart-beats?--that it is much that he breathes,
sleeps, walks? But the breaths of supreme genius are thoughts, and the
imaginations that people its day-world are more familiar to it than the
common dreams of sleepers to them, and the travel of its meditations is
daily and customary; insomuch that the very thought of all others which
one was born to utter he may _forget_ to mention, as presuming it to be
no news. Indeed, if a man of fertile soul be misled into the luckless
search after peculiar and surprising thoughts, there are many chances
that be will be betrayed into this oversight of his proper errand. As
Sir Martin Frobisher, according to Fuller, brought home from America a
cargo of precious stones which after examination were thrown out to mend
roads with, so he leaves untouched his divine knowledges, and comes
sailing into port full-freighted with conceits.
May not the above considerations go far to explain that indifference,
otherwise so astonishing, with which Shakspeare cast his work from him?
It was his heart that wrote; but does the heart look with wonder and
admiration on the crimson of its own currents?
* * * * *
AT PORT ROYAL. 1861.
The tent-lights glimmer on the land,
The ship-lights on the sea;
The night-wind smooths with drifting sand
Our track on lone Tybee.
At last our grating keels outslide,
Our good boats forward swing;
And while we ride the land-locked tide,
Our negroes row and sing.
For dear the bondman holds his gifts
Of music and of song:
The gold that kindly Nature sifts
Among his sands of wrong;
The power to make his toiling days
And poor home-comforts please;
The quaint relief of mirth that plays
With sorrow's minor keys.
Another glow than sunset's fire
Has filled the West with light,
Where field and garner, barn and byre
Are blazing through the night.
The land is wild with fear and hate,
The rout runs mad and fast;
From hand to hand, from gate to gate,
The flaming brand is passed.
The lurid glow falls strong across
Dark faces broad with smiles:
Not theirs the terror, hate, and loss
That fire yon blazing piles.
With oar-strokes timing to their song,
They weave in simple lays
The pathos of remembered wrong,
The hope of better days,--
The triumph-note that Miriam sung,
The joy of uncaged birds:
Softening with Afric's mellow tongue
Their broken Saxon words.
SONG OF THE NEGRO BOATMEN.
Oh, praise an' tanks! De Lord he come
To set de people free;
An' massa tink it day ob doom,
An' we ob jubilee.
De Lord dat heap de Red Sea waves
He jus' as 'trong as den;
He say de word: we las' night slaves;
To-day, de Lord's freemen.
De yam will grow, de cotton blow,
We'll hab de rice an' corn:
Oh, nebber you fear, if nebber you hear
De driver blow his horn!
Ole massa on he trabbels gone;
He leab de land behind:
De Lord's breff blow him furder on,
Like corn-shuck in de wind.
We own de hoe, we own de plough,
We own de hands dat hold;
We sell de pig, we sell de cow,
But nebber chile be sold.
De yam will grow, de cotton blow,
We'll hab de rice an' corn:
Oh, nebber you fear, if nebber you hear
De driver blow his horn!
We pray de Lord: he gib us signs
Dat some day we be free;
De Norf-wind tell it to de pines,
De wild-duck to de sea;
We tink it when de church-bell ring,
We dream it in de dream;
De rice-bird mean it when he sing,
De eagle when he scream.
De yam will grow, de cotton blow,
We'll hab de rice an' corn:
Oh, nebber you fear, if nebber you hear
De driver blow his horn!
We know de promise nebber fail,
An' nebber lie de word;
So, like de 'postles in de jail,
We waited for de Lord:
An' now he open ebery door,
An' trow away de key;
He tink we lub him so before,
We lub him better free.
De yam will grow, de cotton blow,
He'll gib de rice an' corn:
So nebber you fear, if nebber you hear
De driver blow his horn!
So sing our dusky gondoliers;
And with a secret pain,
And smiles that seem akin to tears,
We hear the wild refrain.
We dare not share the negro's trust,
Nor yet his hope deny;
We only know that God is just,
And every wrong shall die.
Rude seems the song; each swarthy face,
Flame-lighted, ruder still;
We start to think that hapless race
Must shape our good or ill;
That laws of changeless justice bind
Oppressor with oppressed;
And, close as sin and suffering joined,
We march to Fate abreast.
Sing on, poor hearts! your chant shall be
Our sign of blight or bloom,--
The Vala-song of Liberty,
Or death-rune of our doom!
FREMONT'S HUNDRED DAYS IN MISSOURI.
_Camp Haskell, October 24th._ We have marched twelve miles to-day, and
are encamped near the house of a friendly German farmer. Our cortege has
been greatly diminished in number. Some of the staff have returned to
St. Louis; to others have been assigned duties which remove them from
head-quarters; and General Asboth's division being now in the rear, that
soldierly-looking officer no longer rides beside the General, and the
gentlemen of his staff no longer swell our ranks.
As we approach the enemy there is a marked change in the General's
demeanor. Usually reserved, and even retiring,--now that his plans
begin to work out results, that the Osage is behind us, that the
difficulties of deficient transportation have been conquered, there is
an unwonted eagerness in his face, his voice is louder, and there is
more self-assertion in his attitude. He has hitherto proceeded on a
walk, but now he presses on at a trot. His horsemanship is perfect.
Asboth is a daring rider, loving to drive his animal at the top of his
speed. Zagonyi rides with surpassing grace, and selects fiery chargers
which no one else cares to mount. Colonel E. has an easy, business-like
gait. But in lightness and security in the saddle the General excels
them all. He never worries his beast, is sure to get from him all
the work of which he is capable, is himself quite incapable of being
fatigued in this way.
Just after sundown the camp was startled by heavy infantry firing. Going
around the spur of the forest which screens head-quarters from the
prairie, we found the Guard dismounted, drawn up in line, firing their
carbines and revolvers. The circumstance excites curiosity, and we learn
that Zagonyi has been ordered to make a descent upon Springfield, and
capture or disperse the Rebel garrison, three or four hundred strong,
which is said to be there. Major White has already gone forward with his
squadron of "Prairie Scouts" to make a reconnoissance in the direction
of Springfield. Zagonyi will overtake White, assume command of the
whole force, which will number about three hundred men, and turn the
reconnoissance into an attack. The Guard set out at eight o'clock
this evening. A few are left behind to do duty around head-quarters.
Lieutenant Kennedy, of the Kentucky company, was ordered to remain in
command of our Home-Guard. He was greatly grieved, and went to the Major
and with tears in his eyes besought him to permit him to go. Zagonyi
could not refuse the gallant fellow, and all the officers of the Guard
have gone. There is a feeling of sadness in camp to-night. We wonder
which of our gay and generous comrades will come back to us again.
_October 25th_. We moved only seven miles to-day. It is understood that
the General will gather the whole army upon a large prairie a few miles
north of Bolivar, and devote a few days to reviewing the troops, and to
field-manoeuvres. This will have an excellent effect. The men will be
encouraged when they see how large the column is, for the army has never
This morning we received news of the brilliant affair at Fredericktown.
Just before the General left camp to-day, I received orders to report
myself to General Asboth, for duty as Judge-Advocate of a Court-Martial
to be held in his division. General Asboth was several miles behind us,
and I set out to ride back and join him. After a gallop of half an hour
across the prairie, I discovered that I had lost my way. I vainly tried
to find some landmark of yesterday's march, but was at last compelled to
trust to the sagacity of my horse,--the redoubtable Spitfire, so named
by reason of his utter contempt for gunpowder, whether sputtered out of
muskets or belched forth by cannon. I gave him his head. He snuffed the
air for a moment, deliberately swept the horizon with his eyes, and then
turned short around and carried me back to the farm-house from which I
had started. I arrived just in time for dinner. Two officers of Lane's
brigade, which had marched from Kansas, came in while we were at the
table. They seasoned our food with spicy incidents of Kansas life.
After dinner I started with Captain R., of Springfield, to find Asboth.
As we left the house, we were joined by the most extraordinary character
I have seen. He was a man of medium height. His chest was enormous in
length and breadth; his arms long, muscular, and very large; his legs
short. He had the body of a giant upon the legs of a dwarf. This curious
figure was surmounted by a huge head, covered with coarse brown hair,
which grew very nearly down to his eyes, while his beard grew almost up
to his eyes. It seemed as if the hair and beard had had a struggle for
the possession of his face, and were kept apart by the deep chasm
in which his small gray eyes were set. He was armed with a huge
bowie-knife, which he carried slung like a sword. It was at least two
feet long, heavy as a butcher's cleaver, and was thrust into a sheath
of undressed hide. He called this pleasant instrument an Arkansas
toothpick. He bestrode, as well as his diminutive legs would let him, an
Indian pony as shaggy as himself. This person proved to be a bearer of
despatches, and offered to guide us to the main road, along which Asboth
The pony started off at a brisk trot, and in an hour we were upon the
road, which we found crowded with troops and wagons. Pressing through
the underbrush along-side the road, we kept on at a rapid pace. We soon
heard shouts and cheers ahead of us, and in a few moments came in sight
of a farm-house, in front of which was an excited crowd. Men were
swarming in at every door and window. The yard was filled with furniture
which the troops were angrily breaking, and a considerable party was
busy tearing up the roof. I could not learn the cause of the uproar,
except that a Secessionist lived there who had killed some one. I passed
on, and in a little while arrived at Asboth's quarters.
He had established himself in an unpretending, but comfortable
farm-house, formerly owned by a German, named Brown. This house has
lately been the scene of one of those bloody outrages, instigated by
neighborhood hatred, which have been so frequent in Missouri. Old Brown
had lived here more than thirty years. He was industrious, thrifty,
and withal a skilful workman. Under his intelligent husbandry his farm
became the marvel of all that region. He had long outlived his strength,
and when the war broke out he could give to the Union nothing but
his voice and influence: these he gave freely and at all times. The
plain-spoken patriot excited the enmity of the Secessionists, and the
special hatred of one man, his nearest neighbor. All through the summer,
his barns were plundered, his cattle driven away, his fences torn down;
but no one offered violence to the white-headed old man, or to the three
women who composed his family. The approach of our army compelled the
Rebels of the neighborhood to fly, and among the fugitives was the foe I
have mentioned. He was not willing to depart and leave the old German
to welcome the Union troops. Just one week ago, at a late hour in the
evening, he rode up to Brown's door and knocked loudly. The old man
cautiously asked who it was. The wretch replied, "A friend who wants
lodging." As a matter of course,--for in this region every house is a
tavern,--the farmer opened the door, and at the instant was pierced
through the heart by a bullet from the pistol of his cowardly foe. The
blood-stains are upon the threshold still. It was the murderer's house
the soldiers sacked to-day. A German artillery company heard the
story, and began to plunder the premises under the influence of a not
unjustifiable desire for revenge. General Asboth, however, compelled the
men to desist, and to replace the furniture they had taken out.
I found General Sturgis, and Captain Parrot, his Adjutant, at General
Asboth's, on their way to report to General Fremont. Sturgis has brought
his command one hundred and fifty miles in ten days. He says that large
numbers of deserters have come into his lines. Price's followers are
becoming discouraged by his continued retreat.
The business which detained me in the rear was finished at an early
hour, but I waited in order to accompany General Asboth, who, with some
of his staff, was intending to go to head-quarters, five miles farther
south. We set out at nine o'clock. General Asboth likes to ride at the
top of his horse's speed, and at once put his gray into a trot so rapid
that we were compelled to gallop in order to keep up. We dashed over
a rough road, down a steep decline, and suddenly found ourselves
floundering through a stream nearly up to our saddle-girths. My horse
had had a hard day's work. He began to be unsteady on his pins. So I
drew up, preferring the hazards of a night-ride across the prairie to
a fall upon the stony road. The impetuous old soldier, followed by his
companions, rushed into the darkness, and the clatter of their hoofs and
the rattling of their sabres faded from my hearing.
I was once more alone on the prairie. The sky was cloudless, but the
starlight struggling through a thin haze suggested rather than revealed
surrounding objects. I bent over my horse's shoulder to trace the course
of the road; but I could see nothing. There were no trees, no fences.
I listened for the rustling of the wind over the prairie-grass; but as
soon as Spitfire stopped, I found that not a breath of air was stirring:
his motion had created the breeze. I turned a little to the left, and at
once felt the Mexican stirrup strike against the long, rank grass. Quite
exultant with the thought that I had found a certain test that I was in
the road, I turned back and regained the beaten track. But now a new
difficulty arose. At once the thought suggested itself,--"Perhaps I
turned the wrong way when I came back into the road, and am now going
away from my destination." I drew up and looked around me. There was
nothing to be seen except the veiled stars above, and upon either hand
a vast dark expanse, which might be a lake, the sea, or a desert, for
anything I could discern. I listened: there was no sound except the
deep breathing of my faithful horse, who stood with ears erect, eagerly
snuffing the night-air. I had heard that horses can see better than men.
"Let me try the experiment." I gave Spitfire his head. He moved across
the road, went out upon the prairie a little distance, waded into a
brook which I had not seen, and began to drink. When he had finished, he
returned to the road without the least hesitation.
"The horse can certainly see better than I. Perhaps I am the only one
of this company who is in trouble, and the good beast is all this while
perfectly composed and at ease, and knows quite well where to go."
I loosened the reins. Spitfire went forward slowly, apparently quite
confident, and yet cautious about the stones in his path.
I now began to speculate upon the distance I had come. I thought,--"It
is some time since we started. Head-quarters were only five miles off. I
rode fast at first. It is strange there are no campfires in sight."
Time is measured by sensation, and with me minutes were drawn out into
hours. "Surely, it is midnight. I have been here three hours at the
least. The road must have forked, and I have gone the wrong way. The
most sagacious of horses could not be expected to know which of two
roads to take. There is nothing to be done. I am in for the night, and
had better stay here than go farther in the wrong direction."
I dismount, fill my pipe, and strike a light. I laugh at my
thoughtlessness, and another match is lighted to look at my watch, which
tells me I have been on the road precisely twenty minutes. I mount.
Spitfire seems quite composed, perhaps a little astonished at the
unusual conduct of his rider, but he walks on composedly, carefully
avoiding the rolling stones.
It is not a pleasant situation,--on a prairie alone and at night, not
knowing where you are going or where you ought to go. Zimmermann himself
never imagined a solitude more complete, albeit such a situation is not
so favorable to philosophic meditation as the rapt Zimmermann might
suppose. I employ my thoughts as well as I am able, and pin my faith to
the sagacity of Spitfire. Presently a light gleams in front of me. It
is only a flickering, uncertain ray; perhaps some belated teamster
is urging his reluctant mules to camp and has lighted his lantern.
No,--there are sparks; it is a camp-fire. I hearken for the challenge,
not without solicitude; for it is about as dangerous to approach a
nervous sentinel as to charge a battery. I do not hear the stern
inquiry, "Who comes there?" At last I am abreast of the fire, and myself
"Who is there?"
"We are travellers," is the reply.
What this meant I did not know. What travellers are there through this
distracted, war-worn region? Are they fugitives from Price, or traitors
flying before us? I am not in sufficient force to capture half a dozen
men, and if they are foes, it is not worth while to be too inquisitive;
so I continue on my way, and they and their fire are soon enveloped by
the night. Presently I see another light in the far distance. This must
be a picket, for there are soldiers. I look around for the sentry,
not quite sure whether I am to be challenged or shot; but again I am
permitted to approach unquestioned. I call out,--
"Who is there?"
"Men of Colonel Carr's regiment."
"What are you doing here?"
"We are guarding some of our wagons which were left here. Our regiment
has gone forward at a half-hour's notice to reinforce Zagonyi," said a
sergeant, rising and saluting me.
"But is there no sentry here?" I asked.
"There was one, but he has been withdrawn," replied the sergeant.
"Where are head-quarters?"
"At the first house on your right, about a hundred yards farther up the
road," he said, pointing in the direction I was going.
It was strange that I could ride up to within pistol-shot of
head-quarters without being challenged, I soon reached the house. A
sentry stood at the gate. I tied my horse to the fence, and walked into
the Adjutant's tent. I had passed by night from one division of the army
to another, along the public road, and entered head-quarters without
being questioned. Twenty-five bold men might have carried off the
General. I at once reported these facts to Colonel E.; inquiry was made,
and it was found that some one had blundered.
There is no report from Springfield. Zagonyi sent back for
reinforcements before he reached the town, and Carr's cavalry, with two
light field-pieces, have been sent forward. Captain R., my companion
this afternoon, has also gone to learn what he may. While I am writing
up my journal, a group of officers is around the fire in front of the
tent. They are talking about Zagonyi and the Guard. We are all feverish
_October 26th_. This morning I was awakened by loud cheers from the camp
of the Benton Cadets. My servant came at my call.
"What are those cheers for, Dan?"
"The Body-Guard has won a great victory, Sir! They have beaten the
Rebels, driven them out of Springfield, and killed over a hundred of
them. The news came late last night, and the General has issued an order
which has just been read to the Cadets."
The joyful words had hardly reached my eager ears when shouts were heard
from the sharp-shooters. They have got the news. In an instant the camp
is astir. Half-dressed, the officers rush from their tents,--servants
leave their work, cooks forget breakfast,--they gather together, and
breathless drink in the delicious story. We hear how the brave Guard,
finding the foe three times as strong as had been reported, resolved
to go on, in spite of odds, for their own honor and the honor of our
General,--how Zagonyi led the onset,--how with cheers and shouts of
"Union and Fremont," the noble fellows rushed upon the foe as gayly as
boys at play,--what deeds of daring were done,--that Zagonyi, Foley,
Maythenyi, Newhall, Treikel, Goff, and Kennedy shone heroes in the
fray,--how gallantly the Guards had fought, and how gloriously they had
died. These things we heard, feasting upon every word, and interrupting
the fervid recital with involuntary exclamations of sympathy and joy.
It did not fall to the fortune of the writer to take part with the
Body-Guard in their memorable attack, but, as the Judge-Advocate of
a Court of Inquiry into that affair, which was held at Springfield
immediately after our arrival there, I became familiar with the field
and the incidents of the battle. I trust it will not be regarded as
an inexcusable digression, if I recite the facts connected with the
engagement, which, as respects the odds encountered, the heroism
displayed, and the importance of its results, is still the most
remarkable encounter of the war.
THE BODY-GUARD AT SPRINGFIELD.
It may not be out of place to say a few words as to the character and
organization of the Guard.
Among the foreign officers whom the fame of General Fremont drew around
him was Charles Zagonyi,--an Hungarian refugee, but long a resident of
this country. In his boyhood, Zagonyi had plunged into the passionate,
but unavailing, struggle which Hungary made for her liberty. He at once
attracted the attention of General Bem, and was by him placed in command
of a picked company of cavalry. In one of the desperate engagements of
the war, Zagonyi led a charge upon a large artillery force. More than
half of his men were slain. He was wounded and taken prisoner. Two years
passed before he could exchange an Austrian dungeon for American exile.
General Fremont welcomed Zagonyi cordially, and authorized him to
recruit a company of horse, to act as his bodyguard. Zagonyi was most
scrupulous in his selection; but so ardent was the desire to serve under
the eye and near the person of the General, that in five days after the
lists were opened two full companies were enlisted. Soon after a whole
company, composed of the very flower of the youth of Kentucky, tendered
its services, and requested to be added to the Guard. Zagonyi was still
overwhelmed with applications, and he obtained permission to recruit a
fourth company. The fourth company, however, did not go with us into the
field. The men were clad in blue jackets, trousers, and caps. They were
armed with light German sabres, the best that at that time could be
procured, and revolvers; besides which, the first company carried
carbines. They were mounted upon bay horses, carefully chosen from
the Government stables. Zagonyi had but little time to instruct his
recruits, but in less than a month from the commencement of the
enlistments the Body-Guard was a well-disciplined and most efficient
corps of cavalry. The officers were all Americans except three,--one
Hollander, and two Hungarians, Zagonyi and Lieutenant Maythenyi, who
came to the United States during his boyhood.
Zagonyi left our camp at eight o'clock on the evening of the
twenty-fourth, with about a hundred and sixty men, the remainder of the
Guard being left at headquarters under the command of a non-commissioned
Major White was already on his way to Springfield with his squadron.
This young officer, hardly twenty-one years old, had won great
reputation for energy and zeal while a captain of infantry in a
New-York regiment stationed at Fort Monroe. He there saw much hazardous
scouting-service, and had been in a number of small engagements. In the
West he held a position upon General Fremont's staff, with the rank of
Major. While at Jefferson City, by permission of the General, he had
organized a battalion to act as scouts and rangers, composed of two
companies of the Third Illinois Cavalry, under Captains Fairbanks and
Kehoe, and a company of Irish dragoons, Captain Naughton, which had been
recruited for Mulligan's brigade, but had not joined Mulligan in time to
be at Lexington.
Major White went to Georgetown in advance of the whole army, from there
marched sixty-five miles in one night to Lexington, surprised the
garrison, liberated a number of Federal officers who were there wounded
and prisoners, and captured the steamers which Price had taken from
Mulligan. From Lexington White came by way of Warrensburg to Warsaw.
During this long and hazardous expedition, the Prairie Scouts had been
without tents, and dependent for food upon the supplies they could take
from the enemy.
Major White did not remain at Warsaw to recruit his health, seriously
impaired by hardship and exposure. He asked for further service, and was
directed to report himself to General Sigel, by whom he was ordered to
make a reconnoissance in the direction of Springfield.
After a rapid night-march, Zagonyi overtook White, and assumed command
of the whole force. White was quite ill, and, unable to stay in the
saddle, was obliged to follow in a carriage. In the morning, yielding to
the request of Zagonyi, he remained at a farm-house where the troop had
halted for refreshment,--it being arranged that he should rest an
hour or two, come on in his carriage with a small escort, and overtake
Zagonyi before he reached Springfield. The Prairie Scouts numbered one
hundred and thirty, so that the troop was nearly three hundred strong.
The day was fine, the road good, and the little column pushed on
merrily, hoping to surprise the enemy. When within two hours' march of
the town, they met a Union farmer of the neighborhood, who told Zagonyi
that a large body of Rebels had arrived at Springfield the day before,
on their way to reinforce Price, and that the enemy were now two
thousand strong. Zagonyi would have been justified, if he had turned
back. But the Guard had been made the subject of much malicious remark,
and had brought ridicule upon the General. Should they retire now, a
storm of abuse would burst upon them. Zagonyi therefore took no counsel
of prudence. He could not hope to defeat and capture the foe, but he
might surprise them, dash into their camp, destroy their train, and, as
he expressed it, "disturb their sleep,"--obtaining a victory which, for
its moral effects, would be worth the sacrifices it cost. His daring
resolve found unanimous and ardent assent with his zealous followers.
The Union farmer offered to guide Zagonyi by a circuitous route to the
rear of the Rebel position, and under his guidance he left the main road
about five miles from Springfield.
After an hour of repose, White set out in pursuit of his men, driving
his horses at a gallop. He knew nothing of the change in Zagonyi's
plans, and supposed the attack was to be made upon the front of the
town. He therefore continued upon the main road, expecting every minute
to overtake the column. As he drew near the village, and heard and saw
nothing of Zagonyi, he supposed the enemy had left the place and the
Federals had taken it without opposition. The approach to Springfield
from the north is through a forest, and the village cannot be seen until
its outskirts are reached. A sudden turn in the road brought White into
the very midst of a strong Rebel guard. They surrounded him, seized his
horses, and in an instant he and his companions were prisoners. When
they learned his rank, they danced around him like a pack of savages,
shouting and holding their cocked pieces at his heart. The leader of the
party had a few days before lost a brother in a skirmish with Wyman's
force, and with loud oaths he swore that the Federal Major should die
in expiation of his brother's death. He was about to carry his inhuman
threat into execution, Major White boldly facing him and saying, "If my
men were here, I'd give you all the revenge you want." At this
moment a young officer, Captain Wroton by name,--of whom more
hereafter,--pressed through the throng, and, placing himself in front of
White, declared that he would protect the prisoner with his own life.
The firm bearing of Wroton saved the Major's life, but his captors
robbed him and hurried him to their camp, where he remained during the
fight, exposed to the hottest of the fire, an excited, but helpless
spectator of the stirring events which followed. He promised his
generous protector that he would not attempt to escape, unless his men
should try to rescue him; but Captain Wroton remained by his side,
Making a _detour_ of twelve miles, Zagonyi approached the position of
the enemy. They were encamped half a mile west of Springfield, upon a
hill which sloped to the east. Along the northern side of their camp was
a broad and well-travelled road; along the southern side a narrow lane
ran down to a brook at the foot of the hill: the space between, about
three hundred yards broad, was the field of battle. Along the west side
of the field, separating it from the county fair-ground, was another
lane, connecting the main road and the first-mentioned lane. The side
of the hill was clear, but its summit, which was broad and flat, was
covered with a rank growth of small timber, so dense as to be impervious
The following diagram, drawn from memory, will illustrate sufficiently
well the shape of the ground, and the position of the respective forces.
[Illustration: A, Road leading into the village. B, Lane down which
Zagonyi came. C, Lane where Fairbanks led his men. D, Dense woods
covering the summit of the hill. E, Crest of the hill and clear land. F,
Hill-side up which the Guard charged. G, Brook at the foot of the hill.
H, Place where the Guard entered. I, Small patch of woods in front of
which the enemy's horse were stationed. J, Gate through which the Rebels
fled, Zagonyi pursuing. K, Fair-ground into which some of the enemy
fled. L, Place where Foley took down the fence.]
The foe were advised of the intended attack. When Major White was
brought into their camp, they were preparing to defend their position.
As appears from the confessions of prisoners, they had twenty-two
hundred men, of whom four hundred were cavalry, the rest being infantry,
armed with shot-guns, American rifles, and revolvers. Twelve hundred of
their foot were posted along the edge of the wood upon the crest of the
hill. The cavalry was stationed upon the extreme left, on top of a spur
of the hill and in front of a patch of timber. Sharp-shooters were
concealed behind the trees close to the fence along-side the lane, and
a small number in some underbrush near the foot of the hill. Another
detachment guarded their train, holding possession of the county
fair-ground, which was surrounded by a high board-fence.
This position was unassailable by cavalry from the road, the only point
of attack being down the lane on the right; and the enemy were so
disposed as to command this approach perfectly. The lane was a blind
one, being closed, after passing the brook, by fences and ploughed land:
it was in fact a _cul-de-sac_. If the infantry should stand, nothing
could save the rash assailants. There are horsemen sufficient to sweep
the little band before them, as helplessly as the withered forest-leaves
in the grasp of the autumn winds; there are deadly marksmen lying behind
the trees upon the heights and lurking in the long grass upon the
lowlands; while a long line of foot stand upon the summit of the slope,
who, only stepping a few paces back into the forest, may defy the
boldest riders. Yet, down this narrow lane, leading into the very jaws
of death, came the three hundred.
On the prairie, at the edge of the woodland in which he knew his wily
foe lay hidden, Zagonyi halted his command. He spurred along the line.
With eager glance he scanned each horse and rider. To his officers he
gave the simple order, "Follow me! do as I do!" and then, drawing up in
front of his men, with a voice tremulous and shrill with emotion, he
"Fellow-soldiers, comrades, brothers! This is your first battle. For our
three hundred, the enemy are two thousand. If any of you are sick, or
tired by the long march, or if any think the number is too great, now is
the time to turn back." He paused; no one was sick or tired. "We must
not retreat. Our honor, the honor of our General and our country, tell
us to go on. I will lead you. We have been called holiday soldiers for
the pavements of St. Louis; to-day we will show that we are soldiers for
the battle. Your watchword shall be, '_The Union and Fremont_!' Draw
sabre! By the right flank,--quick trot,--march!"
Bright swords flashed in the sunshine, a passionate shout burst from
every lip, and with one accord, the trot passing into a gallop, the
compact column swept on to its deadly purpose. Most of them were boys. A
few weeks before they had left their homes. Those who were cool enough
to note it say that ruddy cheeks grew pale, and fiery eyes were dimmed
with tears. Who shall tell what thoughts,--what visions of peaceful
cottages nestling among the groves of Kentucky or shining upon the
banks of the Ohio and the Illinois,--what sad recollections of tearful
farewells, of tender, loving faces, filled their minds during those
fearful moments of suspense? No word was spoken. With lips compressed,
firmly clenching their sword-hilts, with quick tramp of hoofs and clang
of steel, honor leading and glory awaiting them, the young soldiers flew
forward, each brave rider and each straining steed members of one huge
creature, enormous, terrible, irresistible.
"'T were worth ten years of peaceful life,
One glance at their array."
They pass the fair-ground. They are at the corner of the lane where the
wood begins. It runs close to the fence on their left for a hundred
yards, and beyond it they see white tents gleaming. They are half-way
past the forest, when, sharp and loud, a volley of musketry bursts upon
the head of the column; horses stagger, riders reel and fall, but the
troop presses forward undismayed. The farther corner of the wood
is reached, and Zagonyi beholds the terrible array. Amazed, he
involuntarily cheeks his horse. The Rebels are not surprised. There to
his left they stand crowning the height, foot and horse ready to ingulf
him, if he shall be rash enough to go on. The road he is following
declines rapidly. There is but one thing to do,--run the gantlet, gain
the cover of the hill, and charge up the steep. These thoughts pass
quicker than they can be told. He waves his sabre over his head, and
shouting, "Forward! follow me! quick trot! gallop!" he dashes headlong
down the stony road. The first company and most of the second follow.
From the left a thousand muzzles belch forth a hissing flood of bullets;
the poor fellows clutch wildly at the air and fall from their saddles,
and maddened horses throw themselves against the fences. Their speed is
not for an instant checked; farther down the hill they fly, like wasps
driven by the leaden storm. Sharp volleys pour out of the underbrush at
the left, clearing wide gaps through their ranks. They leap the brook,
take down the fence, and draw up under the shelter of the hill. Zagonyi
looks around him, and to his horror sees that only a fourth of his
men are with him. He cries, "They do not come,--we are lost!" and
frantically waves his sabre.
He has not long to wait. The delay of the rest of the Guard was not from
hesitation. When Captain Foley reached the lower corner of the wood and
saw the enemy's line, he thought a flank attack might be advantageously
made. He ordered some of his men to dismount and take down the fence.
This was done under a severe fire. Several men fell, and he found the
wood so dense that it could not be penetrated. Looking down the hill, he
saw the flash of Zagonyi's sabre, and at once gave the order, "Forward!"
At the same time, Lieutenant Kennedy, a stalwart Kentuckian, shouted,
"Come on, boys! remember Old Kentucky!" and the third company of the
Guard, fire on every side of them,--from behind trees, from under the
fences,--with thundering strides and loud cheers, poured down the slope
and rushed to the side of Zagonyi. They have lost seventy dead and
wounded men, and the carcasses of horses are strewn along the lane.
Kennedy is wounded in the arm and lies upon the stones, his faithful
charger standing motionless beside him. Lieutenant Goff received a wound
in the thigh; he kept his seat, and cried out, "The devils have hit me,
but I will give it to them yet!"
The remnant of the Guard are now in the field under the hill, and
from the shape of the ground the Rebel fire sweeps with the roar of a
whirlwind over their heads. Here we will leave them for a moment, and
trace the fortunes of the Prairie Scouts.
When Foley brought his troop to a halt, Captain Fairbanks, at the head
of the first company of Scouts, was at the point where the first volley
of musketry had been received. The narrow lane was crowded by a dense
mass of struggling horses, and filled with the tumult of battle. Captain
Fairbanks says, and he is corroborated by several of his men who were
near, that at this moment an officer of the Guard rode up to him and
said, "They are flying; take your men down that lane and cut off their
retreat,"--pointing to the lane at the left. Captain Fairbanks was not
able to identify the person who gave this order. It certainly did not
come from Zagonyi, who was several hundred yards farther on. Captain
Fairbanks executed the order, followed by the second company of Prairie
Scouts, under Captain Kehoe. When this movement was made, Captain
Naughton, with the Third Irish Dragoons, had not reached the corner of
the lane. He came up at a gallop, and was about to follow Fairbanks,
when he saw a Guardsman who pointed in the direction in which Zagonyi
had gone. He took this for an order, and obeyed it. When he reached the
gap in the fence, made by Foley, not seeing anything of the Guard, he
supposed they had passed through at that place, and gallantly attempted
to follow. Thirteen men fell in a few minutes. He was shot in the arm
and dismounted. Lieutenant Connolly spurred into the underbrush and
received two balls through the lungs and one in the left shoulder. The
Dragoons, at the outset not more than fifty strong, were broken, and,
dispirited by the loss of their officers, retired. A sergeant rallied
a few and brought them up to the gap again, and they were again driven
back. Five of the boldest passed down the hill, joined Zagonyi, and were
conspicuous by their valor during the rest of the day.--Fairbanks and
Kehoe, having gained the rear and left of the enemy's position, made two
or three assaults upon detached parties of the foe, but did not join in
the main attack.
I now return to the Guard. It is forming under the shelter of the hill.
In front with a gentle inclination rises a grassy slope broken by
occasional tree-stumps. A line of fire upon the summit marks the
position of the Rebel infantry, and nearer and on the top of a lower
eminence to the right stand their horse. Up to this time no Guardsman
has struck a blow, but blue coats and bay horses lie thick along the
bloody lane. Their time has come. Lieutenant Maythenyi with thirty men
is ordered to attack the cavalry. With sabres flashing over their heads,
the little band of heroes spring towards their tremendous foe. Right
upon the centre they charge. The dense mass opens, the blue coats force
their way in, and the whole Rebel squadron scatter in disgraceful flight
through the cornfields in the rear. The bays follow them, sabring the
fugitives. Days after, the enemy's horses lay thick among the uncut
Zagonyi holds his main body until Maythenyi disappears in the cloud
of Rebel cavalry; then his voice rises through the air,--"In open
order,--charge!" The line opens out to give play to their sword-arm.
Steeds respond to the ardor of their riders, and quick as thought, with
thrilling cheers, the noble hearts rush into the leaden torrent which
pours down the incline. With unabated fire the gallant fellows press
through. Their fierce onset is not even checked. The foe do not wait for
them,--they waver, break, and fly. The Guardsmen spur into the midst of
the rout, and their fast-falling swords work a terrible revenge. Some
of the boldest of the Southrons retreat into the woods, and continue a
murderous fire from behind trees and thickets. Seven Guard horses fall
upon a space not more that twenty feet square. As his steed sinks under
him, one of the officers is caught around the shoulders by a grape-vine,
and hangs dangling in the air until he is cut down by his friends.
The Rebel foot are flying in furious haste from the field. Some take
refuge in the fair-ground, some hurry into the cornfield, but the
greater part run along the edge of the wood, swarm over the fence into
the road, and hasten to the village. The Guardsmen follow. Zagonyi leads
them. Over the loudest roar of battle rings his clarion voice,--"Come
on, Old Kentuck! I'm with you!" And the flash of his sword-blade tells
his men where to go. As he approaches a barn, a man steps from behind
the door and lowers his rifle; but before it has reached the level,
Zagonyi's sabre-point descends upon his head, and his life-blood leaps
to the very top of the huge barn-door.
The conflict now rages through the village,--in the public square, and
along the streets. Up and down the Guards ride in squads of three or
four, and wherever they see a group of the enemy charge upon and scatter
them. It is hand to hand. No one but has a share in the fray.
There was at least one soldier in the Southern ranks. A young officer,
superbly mounted, charges alone upon a large body of the Guard. He
passes through the line unscathed, killing one man. He wheels, charges
back, and again breaks through, killing another man. A third time he
rushes upon the Federal line, a score of sabre-points confront him,
a cloud of bullets fly around him, but he pushes on until he reaches
Zagonyi,--he presses his pistol so close to the Major's side that he
feels it and draws convulsively back, the bullet passes through the
front of Zagonyi's coat, who at the instant runs the daring Rebel
through the body, he falls, and the men, thinking their commander hurt,
kill him with half a dozen wounds.
"He was a brave man," said Zagonyi afterwards, "and I did wish to make
Meanwhile it has grown dark. The foe have left the village and the
battle has ceased. The assembly is sounded, and the Guard gathers in the
_Plaza_. Not more than eighty mounted men appear: the rest are killed,
wounded, or unhorsed. At this time one of the most characteristic
incidents of the affair took place.
Just before the charge, Zagonyi directed one of his buglers, a
Frenchman, to sound a signal. The bugler did not seem to pay any
attention to the order, but darted off with Lieutenant Maythenyi. A
few moments afterwards he was observed in another part of the field
vigorously pursuing the flying infantry. His active form was always seen
in the thickest of the fight. When the line was formed in the _Plaza_,
Zagonyi noticed the bugler, and approaching him said, "In the midst of
the battle you disobeyed my order. You are unworthy to be a member of
the Guard. I dismiss you." The bugler showed his bugle to his indignant
commander;--the mouth-piece of the instrument was shot away. He said,
"The mouth was shoot off. I could not bugle viz mon bugle, and so I
bugle viz mon pistol and sabre." It is unnecessary to add, the brave
Frenchman was not dismissed.
I must not forget to mention Sergeant Hunter, of the Kentucky company.
His soldierly figure never failed to attract the eye in the ranks of
the Guard. He had served in the regular cavalry, and the Body-Guard had
profited greatly from his skill as a drill-master. He lost three horses
in the fight. As soon as one was killed, he caught another from the
Rebels: the third horse taken by him in this way he rode into St. Louis.
The Sergeant slew five men. "I won't speak of those I shot," said
he,--"another may have hit them; but those I touched with my sabre I am
sure of, because I _felt_ them."
At the beginning of the charge, he came to the extreme right and took
position next to Zagonyi, whom he followed closely through the battle.
The Major, seeing him, said,--
"Why are you here, Sergeant Hunter? Your place is with your company on
"I kind o' wanted to be in the front," was the answer.
"What could I say to such a man?" exclaimed Zagonyi, speaking of the
There was hardly a horse or rider among the survivors that did not bring
away some mark of the fray. I saw one animal with no less than seven
wounds,--none of them serious. Scabbards were bent, clothes and caps
pierced, pistols injured. I saw one pistol from which the sight had been
cut as neatly as it could have been done by machinery. A piece of board
a few inches long was cut from a fence on the field, in which there were
It was now nine o'clock. The wounded had been carried to the hospital.
The dismounted troopers were placed in charge of them,--in the double
capacity of nurses and guards. Zagonyi expected the foe to return every
minute. It seemed like madness to try and hold the town with his small
force, exhausted by the long march and desperate fight. He therefore
left Springfield, and retired before morning twenty-five miles on the
Captain Fairbanks did not see his commander after leaving the column in
the lane, at the commencement of the engagement. About dusk he repaired
to the prairie, and remained there within a mile of the village until
midnight, when he followed Zagonyi, rejoining him in the morning.
I will now return to Major White. During the conflict upon the hill, he
was in the forest near the front of the Rebel line. Here his horse was
shot under him. Captain Wroton kept careful watch over him. When the
flight began he hurried White away, and, accompanied by a squad of
eleven men, took him ten miles into the country. They stopped at a
farm-house for the night. White discovered that their host was a Union
man. His parole having expired, he took advantage of the momentary
absence of his captor to speak to the farmer, telling him who he was,
and asking him to send for assistance. The countryman mounted his son
upon his swiftest horse, and sent him for succor. The party lay down by
the fire, White being placed in the midst. The Rebels were soon asleep,
but there was no sleep for the Major. He listened anxiously for the
footsteps of his rescuers. After long, weary hours, he heard the tramp
of horses. He arose, and walking on tiptoe, cautiously stepping over his
sleeping guards, he reached the door and silently unfastened it. The
Union men rushed into the room and took the astonished Wroton and his
followers prisoners. At daybreak White rode into Springfield at the head
of his captives and a motley band of Home-Guards. He found the Federals
still in possession of the place. As the officer of highest rank, be
took command. His garrison consisted of twenty-four men. He stationed
twenty-two of them as pickets in the outskirts of the village, and held
the other two as a reserve. At noon the enemy sent in a flag of truce,
and asked permission to bury their dead. Major White received the flag
with proper ceremony, but said that General Sigel was in command and the
request would have to be referred to him. Sigel was then forty miles
away. In a short time a written communication purporting to come from
General Sigel, saying that the Rebels might send a party under certain
restrictions to bury their dead, White drew in some of his pickets,
stationed them about the field, and under their surveillance the
Southern dead were buried.
The loss of the enemy, as reported by some of their working party, was
one hundred and sixteen killed. The number of wounded could not be
ascertained. After the conflict had drifted away from the hill-side,
some of the foe had returned to the field, taken away their wounded,
and robbed our dead. The loss of the Guard was fifty-three out of one
hundred and forty-eight actually engaged, twelve men having been left by
Zagonyi in charge of his train. The Prairie Scouts reported a loss of
thirty-one out of one hundred and thirty: half of these belonged to the
Irish Dragoons. In a neighboring field an Irishman was found stark and
stiff, still clinging to the hilt of his sword, which was thrust through
the body of a Rebel who lay beside him. Within a few feet a second Rebel
lay, shot through the head.
I have given a statement of this affair drawn from the testimony taken
before a Court of Inquiry, from conversations with men who were engaged
upon both sides, and from a careful examination of the locality. It was
the first essay of raw troops, and yet there are few more brilliant
achievements in history.
It is humiliating to be obliged to tell what followed. The heroism of
the Guard was rewarded by such treatment as we blush to record. Upon
their return to St. Louis, rations and forage were denied them, the men
were compelled to wear the clothing soiled and torn in battle, they were
promptly disbanded, and the officers retired from service. The swords
which pricked the clouds and let the joyful sunshine of victory into the
darkness of constant defeat are now idle. But the fame of the Guard is
secure. Out from that fiery baptism they came children of the nation,
and American song and story will carry their heroic triumph down to the
MASON AND SLIDELL: A YANKEE IDYLL.
_To the Editors of the_ ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
Jaalam, 6th Jan., 1862.
GENTLEMEN,--I was highly gratified by the insertion of a portion of my
letter in the last number of your valuable and entertaining Miscellany,
though in a type which rendered its substance inaccessible even to the
beautiful new spectacles presented to me by a Committee of the Parish on
New-Year's Day. I trust that I was able to bear your very considerable
abridgment of my lucubrations with a spirit becoming a Christian. My
third grand-daughter, Rebekah, aged fourteen years, and whom I have
trained to read slowly and with proper emphasis, (a practice too much
neglected in our modern systems of education,) read aloud to me the
excellent essay upon "Old Age," the authour of which I cannot help
suspecting to be a young man who has never yet known what it was to have
snow (_canities morosa_) upon his own roof. _Dissolve frigus, large
super foco ligna reponens_, is a rule for the young, whose wood-pile is
yet abundant for such cheerful lenitives. A good life behind him is the
best thing to keep an old man's shoulders from shivering at every breath
of sorrow or ill-fortune. But methinks it were easier for an old man to
feel the disadvantages of youth than the advantages of age. Of these
latter I reckon one of the chiefest to be this: that we attach a less
inordinate value to our own productions, and, distrusting daily more
and more our own wisdom, (with the conceit whereof at twenty we wrap
ourselves away from knowledge as with a garment,) do reconcile ourselves
with the wisdom of God. I could have wished, indeed, that room might
have been made for the residue of the anecdote relating to Deacon
Tinkham, which would not only have gratified a natural curiosity on the