Part 3 out of 5
My companion looked at me as if what he must say was too large for his
throat. He made a gesture of lament toward Ferry and broke out, "O--oh
Smith,"--nearly all Gholson's oh's were groans--"why is he here? The
scout is 'the eyes of the army'! a man whose perpetual vigilance at the
very foremost front--"
"Why, what do you mean? You know we're here to rejoin the company as it
comes down from Union Church to camp here to-night. _That's_ what we're
"Yes,--yes,--but, oh, don't you _see_, Smith? For you, yourself, that's
all right; you've got to stay with him, and I'm glad you have. But
he--oh why did he not go on hours ago, to meet them?"
"Why should he? Isn't it good to leave one's lieutenant sometimes in
command; isn't it bad not to?"
Gholson's eyes turned green. "Does Ned Ferry give that as his reason?"
"I haven't asked his reason; I've asked you a question."
"Well, I'll answer it. Do you think Jewett has run back into his own
"Of course I do, and Ned Ferry does; don't you?"
"No! Smith, there ain't a braver man in Grant's army than that one
right now a-straddle of your horse. Why, just the way he got your horse
"Oh, hang him and the horse! you've told me that three times; what of
"Smith, he's out here to make a new record for himself, at whatever
"And do you imagine Ned Ferry hasn't thought of that?"
"Ah-h, there are times when a man hasn't got his thinking powers; you
ought to know that, Smith,--"
"Mr. Gholson, what do you mean by that?"
"Oh! I certainly didn't mean anything against you, Smith. Why is your
manner so strange to me to-day? Oh, Smith, if you knew what--if I could
speak to you in sacred confidence--I--I wouldn't injure Ned Ferry in
your eyes, nor in anybody's; I only tell you what I do tell so you may
help me to help him. But he's staying here, Smith, and keeping you here,
to be near one whose name--without her a-dreaming of it--is already
coupled with--why,--why, what made you start that a-way again, Smith?"
"Nothing; I didn't start. 'Coupled with somebody's name,' you say. With
whose? Go on."
"With his, Smith, and most injuriously. He's here to tempt her to forget
she's not--" He faltered.
"Free?" said I, and he nodded with tragic solemnity.
"You know who I mean, of course?"
"Certainly; you mean Mrs. Sessions."
He shook his head bitterly. "Oh, well, then, of course I know. How am I
to help you to help him; help him to do what?"
"O--oh! to tear himself away from her, Smith. I want you to appeal to
him. He's taken a great shine to you. You can appeal to his feeling for
romance--poetry--whatever he calls his hell-fired--I mean his
unfortunate impiety. You know how, and I don't. And there you reach the
foundations of his character, as far as it's got any; there's his
conscience if it's anywhere!"
I find myself giving but a faint impression of the spirit in which
Gholson spoke; it went away beyond a mere backbiting mood and became a
temper so vindictive and so venomously purposeful that I was startled;
his condition seemed so fearfully like that of the old paralytic when he
whined "That's not our way."
"Smith," my companion went on, "we ought to protect Ned Ferry from
himself!" The words came through his clenched teeth. "And even more we
ought to protect her. Who's to do it if we don't? Smith, I believe
Providence has been a-preparing you to do this, all through these last
three nights and days!"
He looked at me for an answer until I became frightened. Was my late
folly known to this crawling maligner after all? A sweet-scented
preparation I've had, thought I, but aloud I said only, "If Ned Ferry
clears out, I suppose we must clear out, too."
"Why, eh,--I--I don't know that my movements need have anything to do
with his. Yours, of course,--"
"Yes," I interrupted, beginning to boil.
"I know," he said, "that comes hard; you'll have to tear _yourself_
He stared at me and hushed. A panic was surging through me; must I be
brought to book by such as he? "Mr. Gholson," I cried, all scorn
without, all terror within; "Mr. Gholson, I--Mr. Gholson, sir!--" and
set my jaws and heaved for breath.
"Why, Smith,--" He extended a soothing hand.
"No explanation, sir, if you please! I can get away from here without
tearing myself, which is more than you can boast. Any fool can see why
_you_ are here. Stop, I take that back, sir! I don't play tit-for-tat
with my tongue."
Gholson turned red on the brow and ashen about the lips. "I don't call
that tit-for-tat, Mr. Smith. I remind you of an innocent attachment for
a young girl; you accuse me of harboring a guilty passion for--" All at
once he ceased with open lips, and then said as he drew a long breath of
relief, "Smith, I beg your pardon! We've each misunderstood the other; I
see, now, who you meant; you meant Miss Estelle Harper!"
"Whom else could I mean?" Disdain was in my voice, but he ought to have
seen the falsehood in my eye, for I could feel it there.
"_Of_ course!" he said; "of course! But, Smith, my mind was so
full--just for the moment, you know,--of her we were speaking of in
connection with Ned Ferry--Do you know? she's so unprotected and tagged
after and talked about that it seems to me sometimes, in this nervous
condition of mine, that if I could catch the entire gang of her
pursuers in one hole I'd--I'd _end 'em_ like so many rats. That sort of
feeling is mere impulse, of course," he went on, "and only shows how
near I am to that nervous breakdown. Yes, the Harper ladies are mighty
lovely and hard enough to leave, but that's all I meant to you, and I'm
sorry I touched your feelings. I'm _tchagrined_. Anyhow, all this is
between us, you know. I wouldn't ever have confessed such feelings as I
did just now except to a friend who knows as well as you do that if I
ever should do a man a mortal injury I wouldn't do it in a spirit of
resentment. You know that, don't you? No, that's not my way--Why,
Smith, what gives you those starts? That's the third time you've done
that this morning."
I said that entering the cool shade of the Sessions grove after the
blazing heat of that long lane gave any one the right to a little
shudder, and as we turned toward the house Gholson murmured "If you say
you'll speak to Ned as I've asked you, I'll sort o' toll Squire Sessions
off with me so's to give you the chance. It's for his own sake, you
know, and you're the only one can do it."
DIGNITY AND IMPUDENCE
I knew Ned Ferry was having that inner strife with which we ought always
to credit even Gholson's sort, and I had a loving ambition to help him
"take the upper fork." So doing, I might help Charlotte Oliver fulfil
the same principle, win the same victory. When, therefore, Gholson put
the question to me squarely, Would I speak to Ferry? I consented, and as
the four of us, horsemen, left our beasts in the stable munching corn,
Gholson began a surprisingly animated talk with our host, and Ferry,
with a quizzical smile, said to me "Talk with you?--shall be happy to;
we'll just make a slight _détour_ on this side the grove and
He meant the north side, opposite that one by which we had come from
church. Here the landscape was much the same as there; wide fields on
each side the fenced highway that still ran north and south, and woods
for the sky-line everywhere. We chose an easy footpath along the
northern fence of the grove, crossed the highway, and passed on a few
steps alongside the woods-pasture fence. We talked as we went, he giving
the kindest heed to my every word though I could see that, like any good
soldier, he was scanning all the ground for its fighting values, and,
not to be outdone, I, myself, pointed out, a short way up the public
road, a fence-gap on the left, made by our camping soldiers two nights
before. It was at another such gap, in the woods-pasture fence, that we
turned back by a path through it which led into the wood and so again
toward the highway and the house-grove. The evening General Austin sent
me to Wiggins it was at this gap that I saw old Dismukes sitting
cross-legged on the ground, playing poker; and here, now, I summoned the
desperation to speak directly to my point.
I had already tried hard to get something said, but had found myself at
every turn entangled in generalities. Now, stammering and gagging I
remarked that our experiences of the morning, both in church and out,
had in some way combined with an earlier word of his own to me, and
given me a valuable thought. "You remember, when I wanted to shoot that
Yankee off my horse?"
"Yes; and I said--what?"
"You said 'This isn't your private war.' Lieutenant, I hope those words
may last in my memory forever and come to me in every moral situation in
which I may find myself."
"Yes? Well, I think that's good."
"It seems to me, Lieutenant Ferry, that in every problem of moral
conduct we confront we really hold in trust an interest of all mankind.
To solve that problem bravely and faithfully is to make life just so
much easier for everybody; and to fail to do so is to make it just so
much harder to solve by whoever has next to face it." Whurroo! my blood
was up now, let him look to himself!
"Yes?" said Ferry, picking at the underbrush as we sauntered, and for
some time he said no more. Then he asked, "You want me to apply that to
myself, in--in the present case?" and to my tender amazement, while his
eyes seemed to count his slackening steps, he laid his arm across my
An hour of avowal could not have told me more; could not have filled me
half so full of sympathy, admiration and love, as did that one slight
motion. It befitted the day, a day outwardly so quiescent, yet in which
so much was going on. A realization of this quiet activity kept us
silent until we had come through the woods-pasture to its southern
border, and so through the big white field-gate into the public road;
now we turned up toward the grove-gate, and here I spoke again. "Do you
still think we ought to wait here for the command?"
That from a private soldier to his captain! Yet all my leader answered
was "You think there's cause to change our mind?"
"I don't know, Lieutenant; do you think Jewett has run back into his own
"Yes, I think so; and you?"
"Why, eh,--Lieutenant, I don't believe there's a braver man in Grant's
army than that one a-straddle of my horse to-day! Why, just the way he
got him, night before last,--you've heard that, haven't you?"
"Yes, the General told me. And so you think--"
"Lieutenant, I can't help believing he's out here to make a new record
for himself, at whatever cost!"
We went on some steps in silence and entered the gate of the
house-grove; and just as Ferry would have replied we discovered before
us in the mottled shade of the driveway, with her arm on Cécile's
shoulders as his lay on mine, and with _her_ eyes counting _her_
slackening steps, Charlotte Oliver. They must have espied us already out
in the highway, for they also were turned toward the house, and as we
neared them Charlotte faced round with a cheery absence of surprise and
said "Mr. Smith, don't we owe each other a better acquaintance? Suppose
we settle up."
THE RED STAR'S WARNING
It seemed quite as undeniable, as we stood there, that Ned Ferry owed
Cécile a better acquaintance. Every new hour enhanced her graces, and
were I, here, less engrossed with her companion, I could pitch the
praises of Cécile upon almost as high and brilliant a key--there may be
room for that yet. Ferry moved on at her side. Charlotte stayed a moment
to laugh at a squirrel, and then turned to walk, saying with eyes on
"If I tell you something, will you never tell?"
I looked down too. "Suppose I should feel sure it ought to be told."
"If you wait till you do you may tell it; that will suit me well
"I will always suit you the best I can."
"I don't know why you should," she said.
"You risked your life to save mine; and you risked it when I did not
deserve so much as your respect."
"Oh!--we must never talk about that again, Richard; you saw me in the
evilest guise I ever wore, and that is saying much."
"But," I responded, "you put it on for a better reason than you could
tell me then or can tell me now, though now I know your story."
"Please don't forget," she murmured, "that you know too much." "No, no!
I don't know half enough; I know only what Miss Camilla
and--and--Gholson could tell me," was my tricky reply, and I tried to
look straight into her eyes, but they took that faint introspective
contraction of which I have spoken, and gazed through me like sunlight
through glass. Then again she bent her glance upon her steps, saying--
"Ah, Richard, you have found out all you could, and I am glad of it,
except of what I, myself, have had to betray to you; for _that_ was more
than one would want to tell her twin brother. But I had to create you
_my_ scout, and I had only two or three hours for my whole work of
"Well, you completed it." We went on some steps, and then she said--
"You tell me I risked my life to save yours; I risked more than life,
and I risked it for more than to save yours. Yet I did not save your
life; you saved it, yourself, and--" here her low tone thrilled like a
harp-string--"you risked it--frightfully--at that bridge--merely to save
the promise you made me that you need not have made at all--oh, you
needn't shake your head; I _know_."
"Ah, how you gild my base metal!"
"No, no, I have the story exactly, and from one who has no mind to
"Gholson! no! I have it from Lucius Oliver, who had it from his son. He
told me carefully, quietly and entirely, in pure spleen, so that I might
know that they know--think they know, that is,--why you and--he in front
of us yonder--would not shoot his son when--"
"When as soldiers it was our simple du'--"
"Yes; and also that I may understand that he--the son--has sworn by that
right hand you mutilated that the 'pair of you' shall die before
"I ought not to have shown him that envelope addressed to you."
"Ah, but if it saved your life!"
"And this is what you don't want me to tell? Ah, I see; for me to know
it is enough; I can put it to him as a theory. I can say Oliver is not a
man to be put upon the defensive, and that he is more than likely to be
hunting 'the pair of us'--" All at once I thought of something.
"What made you give that sudden start?" she asked as we faced about in
the driveway to make our walk a moment longer; "that's a bad habit
you've got; why do you do it?"
I fancied the thrilling freshness of the question I was about to put
would be explanation enough. "Do you believe Jewett has gone back into
his own lines?"
"I don't know; hasn't he?"
"Oh, I don't _know_, either, but--well, I don't believe there's a braver
man in Grant's army than that one a-straddle of my horse to-day! Why,
just the way he got him, night before last,--you've heard that, have
"Yes, I've heard it; he is a very daring man; what of it?"
"Why, I can't help thinking he's out here to make a new record for
himself, at whatever cost!"
A note of distress hung on my hearer's stifled voice; her head went
lower and she laid her fingers pensively to her lips. "It would be like
him," I heard her murmur, and when I asked if she meant Jewett she
shook her head.
"No," I said, "you mean it would be like Oliver to join him," and with
that the sudden start was hers. "He wouldn't have to touch Ned Ferry or
me," I went on, heartlessly, "nor to come near us, to make us rue the
hour we let ourselves forget this wasn't our private war."
She whispered something to herself in horrified dismay; but then she
looked at me with her eyes very blue and said "You'll see him about it,
won't you? You must help unravel this tangle, Richard; and if you do
I'll--I'll dance at your wedding; yours and--somebody's we know!" Her
eyes began forewith.
A light footfall sounded behind us, and Camille gave both her hands to
my companion. "I was in the hall," she said, "telling Cécile she was
like a white star that had come out by day, when I saw you here looking
like a great red one; and you're still more like a red, red rose, and
I've come to get some of your fragrance."
"I'd exchange for yours any day, and thank you, dear," responded
Charlotte; "you're a bunch of sweet-peas. Isn't she, Mr. Smith?"
The bunch beamed an ecstatic bliss. What was the explanation; had her
father arrived, or--or somebody else? The question went through me like
an arrow. Was the cause of this heavenly radiance somebody else?--that
was the barb; or was it I?--that was the soothing feather.
In gratitude for Charlotte's word she sank backward in a long obeisance.
"May it please your ladyship, dinner is served. Oh, Mr. Smith, I've been
listening to Mr. Gholson talking with aunt Martha and Estelle; I don't
wonder you and he are friends; I think his ideas of religion are
At our two-o'clock dinner I found that our company had been reinforced.
On one side of Camille sat I; but on the other side sat "Harry."
A MARTYR'S WRATH
Great news the aide-de-camp brought us; from Lee, from Longstreet, Bragg
and Johnston. Johnston was about to fall upon Grant's rear. Across the
Mississippi Dick Taylor was expected this very day to deal the same
adversary a crippling blow, and it was partly to mask this movement that
we had made our feint upon the Federals near Natchez. Now these had
fallen back, and our force had cunningly slipped away southward. Only
General Austin and his staff had not gone when Lieutenant Helm left the
front, and they were about to go.
Toward the end of the meal Mrs. Sessions, in her amiable plantation
drawl, said she hoped the bearer of so much good tidings had not come to
take away Lieutenant Ferry; and when Harry, flushing, asked what had
given her such a thought, the simple soul replied that Mr. Gholson had
told her he "suspicioned as much."
At once there arose the prettiest clamor all round the board, in which
Charlotte and Cécile joined for the obvious purpose of making confusion.
Gholson turned yellow and spoke things nobody heard, and Ferry tried to
drown Harry's loud declarations that the word he had brought to Ferry
was for him to stay, and that he had found him saddling up to go in
search of his company. "Isn't that so, Ned?--Now,--now,--isn't that so?"
We left the table all laughing but Gholson. He tried to say something to
Harry, which the latter waved away with mock gaiety until on the side
veranda we got beyond view of the ladies, when the aide-de-camp reddened
angrily and turned his back. As the two lieutenants were lighting
cigarettes together, Harry, thinking Gholson had left us, blurted out,
"Oh, that's all very well for you to say, Ned, but, damn him, he's not
the sort of man that has the right to 'suspicion' me of anything;
slang-whanging, backbiting sneak, I know what _he's_ here for."
On that the blood surged to Ferry's brow, but he set his mouth firmly,
locked arms with the speaker and led him down the veranda. Gholson took
on an uglier pallor than before and went back into the house. I followed
him. He moved slowly up the two flights of hall stairs and into a room
close under the roof, called the "soldiers' room". It had three double
beds, one of them ours. Without a fault in the dreary rhythm of his
motions he went to the bedpost where hung his revolver, and turning to
me buckled the weapon at his waist with hands that kept the same
unbroken measure though they trembled and were as pallid as his face. In
the same slow beat he shook his head.
"Smith, I rejoice! O--oh! I rejoice and am glad when I'm reviled and
persecuted by the hounds of hell, and spoken evil against falsely for my
"Now, Gholson, that's nonsense!"
"O--oh! that's what it's for! that's what he meant by 'slang-whanging.'
That's what it's for from first to last, no matter what it's for in
between; and I know what it's for in between, too, and Ned Ferry knows.
Did you see Ned Ferry take him under his protection? O--oh! they're two
of one hell-scorched kind!" My companion stood gripping the bedpost and
fumbling at his holster. I sank to the bed, facing him, expecting his
rage to burn itself out in words, but when he began again his teeth
were clenched. "You heard him tell Ned Ferry he knows why I'm here. It's
true! he does know! he knows I'm here to protect a certain person from
"From whom? from Harry Helm? Oh, Gholson, that's too fantastical!"
"From him and the likes of him! Not that he loves her; that's the
difference between them two cotton-mouth moccasins; Ned Ferry, hell
grind him! does--or thinks he does; that other whelp _don't,_ and knows
he don't; he's only enam'--"
"HUSH!" He ceased. "I swear, Scott Gholson, you must choose your words
better when you allude--Lieutenant Helm is the last man in the brigade
to be under _my_ protection, but--oh, you're crazy, man, and blind
besides. Harry Helm is not in love, but he thinks he is, though with
quite another person!"
"O--oh! whether he loves or not, or whoever he loves, I know who he
hates; he hates me and my religion; our religion, Smith, mine and yours;
because it's put me between him and her. What was that the preacher said
this morning? 'The carnal mind, being enmity against God, is enmity
against them that serve God.' O--oh, I accept his enmity! it proves my
religion isn't vain! I'm glad to get it!"
All this from his oscillating head, through his set teeth, in one malign
monotone. As he quoted the preacher he mechanically drew his revolver.
There was no bravado in this; he might lie, but he did not know how to
sham; did not know, now, that his face was drawn with pain. Holding the
weapon in one hand, under his absent gaze he turned it from side to side
on the palm of the other. I put out my hand for it, but he dropped it
into the holster and tried to return my smile.
"Do you propose to call him out?" I asked. "You can't call out an
officer; you'll be sent to the water-batteries at Mobile."
"I've thought of all that," he droned.
"Then why do you put that thing on?"
"Why do I put it on? Why, I--you know what I told you about that
"Gholson," I exclaimed, for I saw that murder, even double murder, was
hatching in his heart, with Charlotte Oliver for its cause, and looked
hard into his evil eyes until they overmatched mine; whereupon I made as
if suddenly convinced. "You're right!" I turned, whipped on my own belt
with its two "persuaders," and blandly smoothing my ribs, added "Now!
here are two ready, Yankees or no Yankees."
I never saw a face so unconsciously marked with misery as Gholson's was
when we started downstairs. I stopped him on a landing. "Understand, you
and I are friends,--hmm? I think Lieutenant Helm owes you an apology,
and if you'll keep away from him I'll try to bring it to you."
The reply began with a vindictive gleam. "You needn't; I ain't got any
more use for it than for him. I never apologized to a man in my life,
Smith, nor I never accepted an apology from one; that's not my way."
Near the bottom of the second flight we met Charlotte, who, to make bad
worse, would have passed with no more than a smile, but the look of
Gholson startled her and she noticed our arms. With an arresting eye I
offered a sprightly comment on the heat of the day, and while she was
replying with the same gaiety I whispered "Take him with you."
How nimbly her mind moved! "Oh Mr. Gholson!" she said, and laughed to
gain an instant for invention.
"Mr. Gholson, can _you_ tell me the first line of the last hymn we sang
this morning?" Her beam was irresistible, and they went to the large
parlor. I turned into the smaller one, opposite, where Squire Sessions
started from a stolen doze and, having heard of my feeling for books,
thrust into my hands, and left me with, the "Bible Defense of Slavery."
As I moved to a window which let out upon the side veranda the two
lieutenants came around from the front and stood almost against it,
outside; and as I intended to begin upon Harry as soon as Squire
Sessions was safely upstairs, this suited me well enough. But the moment
they came to the spot I heard Ned Ferry doing precisely what I had
planned to do. At the same time, from across the hall came the sound of
the piano and of Charlotte's voice, now a few bars, then an interval of
lively speech, again a few bars, then more speech, and then a sustained
melody as she lent herself to the kind flattery of Gholson's
"But he is!" I overheard the aide-de-camp say; "he is a backbiting
sneak, and I tell you again he's backbitten nobody more than he
"And I tell you again, Harry, that is my business."
"If he wants to fight me he can; I'll waive my rank."
"No, you will not, you have no right; our poor little rank, it doesn't
belong to us, Harry, 'tis we belong to it. 'If he wants to fight!'--Do
you take him for a rabbit? He is a brave man, you know that, old fellow.
Of course he wants to fight. But he cannot! For the court-martial he
would not care so much; I would not, you would not; 'tis his religion
"O--oh!" groaned Harry in Gholson's exact tone, "'Hark from the tombs'!"
"Ah!" said Ferry, "he does not live up to it? Well, of course! who
does? But we will pass that; the main question is, Will you express the
regret, and so forth, as I have suggested, and do yourself credit,
Harry, as an officer and a gentleman, or--will you fight?"
"But you say his religion, so called, won't let him fight!"
"That's what I think; but if it forbids him, and if consequently he will
not, well,--Harry,--I will."
"You will what!"
"I will have to fight you in his place."
"Why, Ned!--Ned!--you--you astound me! Wha'--what do you mean?"
"That is what I mean, Harry. You know--many times you have heard me
say--I don't believe in that kind of thing; I find that worse than the
religion of Gholson; yet still,--what shall I say?--we are but soldiers
anyhow--this time I make an exception in your favor. And of course this
is confidential, on both sides; but you must make peace with Gholson, or
you must fight with me."
"Oh, good Lord!--Ned!--Good Lord A'mighty! but this is too absurd. Why,
Ned, don't you see that the bottom cause of this trouble isn't--"
"I know what is the bottom cause of this trouble very well, Harry; you
can hear her in yonder, now, singing. Wherever Gholson is he hears her,
too, like-wise. Perchance 'tis to him she is singing. If she can sing to
him, are you too good to apologise?"
"Oh, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, Ned, damned if I don't!
George! I'll apologize! Rather than lose your friendship I'd apologize
to the devil!"
Ferry's thanks came eagerly. "Well, anyhow, old boy," he added, "in such
a case to back down is braver than to fight; but to apologize to the
devil--that is not hard; on the contrary, to keep _from_ apologizing to
the devil--ah! I wish I could always do that!--I wonder where is
I stealthily laid down the "Bible Defense of Slavery" and was going
upstairs three steps at a stride, when I came upon Camille and Estelle.
My aim was to get Harry's revolver to him before he should have the
exasperating surprise of finding Gholson armed, and to contrive a
pretext for so doing; and happily a word from the two sisters gave me my
cue. With the fire-arms of both officers I came downstairs and out upon
the veranda loud-footed, humming--
"'To the lairds o' Convention 'twas Claverhouse spoke,
Ere the sun shall go down there are heads to be--'
"Gentlemen, I hope I'm not too officious; they say we're all going for a
walk in the lily-pond woods, and I reckon you'd rather not leave these
Both thanked me and buckled on their belongings, but Ferry's look was
peculiarly intelligent; "I was in the small parlor, looking for you," he
said; "I thought you would be near the music." And so he had seen
Gholson with his revolver on him, and must have understood it!
"Smith," said Harry, "will you be so kind as to say to Gholson--oh,
Lord! Ned, this is heavy drags on a sandy road! I--"
"That's all right, Harry, I withdraw the request."
"Well, you needn't; I was in the wrong. Smith, will you say to
Gholson--" His voice dropped to a strictly private rumble.
"Yes, Lieutenant, I'll do so with pleasure, and I'm sure what you say
will have the proper--here are the ladies."
TORCH AND SWORD
"Now give me your hand, Miss Camille; now jump!" So twice and once again
the rivulet was passed which ran from the lily-pond, she and I leading
all the others on the return from the woodland afternoon walk. We turned
and faced away from the declining sun and across the clear pool to where
its upper end, dotted with lily-pads, lay in a deep recess of the woods.
There were green and purple garlands of wild passion-flower around her
hat and about the white and blue fabrics at her waist. At the head of
the pond, with Ferry beside her, stood black-haired Cécile canopied by
overhanging boughs, her hat bedecked with the red spikes of the
Indian-shot and wound with orange masses of love-vine. Nearer to us
around the shore was Estelle of the red-brown hair and red-brown eyes
and brows and lashes, whose cheek seemed always to glow with ever rising
but never confessed emotion; and with her walked Gholson. Near the
waterside also, but farthest up the path, came Miss Harper and
Harry was not with us. The settlement of his trouble with Gholson
awaited his return out of the region north of us, whither Ferry had
suggested his riding on an easy reconnaissance. Camille and I were just
turning again, when there came abruptly into our scene the last gallant
show of martial finery any of us ever saw until the war was over and
there was nothing for our side to make itself fine for. On the road from
the house we heard a sound of galloping, and the next moment General
Austin and his entire staff (less only Harry) reined up at the edge of
the pond, ablaze with all the good clothes they could muster and
betraying just enough hard usage to give a stirring show of the war's
heroic reality. The General, on a beautiful cream-colored horse, wore
long yellow gauntlets and a yellow sash; from throat to waist the
sunlight glistened upon the over-abundant gold lace of his new uniform,
his legs were knee-deep in shining boots, and his soft gray hat was
looped up on one side and plumed according to Regulations with one
drooping ostrich feather. Behind halted in pleasing confusion captains
and captains, flashing with braids, bars, buckles, buttons, bands,
sword-knots, swords and brave eyes, and gaily lifting hats and caps,
twice, and twice again, and once more, to the ladies--God bless them!
Major Harper, the oldest, most refined and most soldierly of them all,
was also the handsomest. Old Dismukes was with them; burly, bushy,
dingy, on a huge roan charger. Camille asked me who he was, and I was
about to reply that he was a bloodthirsty brute without a redeeming
trait, when he lifted his shaggy brows at me and smiled, and as I smiled
back I told her he was our senior colonel, rough at times, but the
bravest of the brave. Meantime the General rode forward over a stretch
of shallow water, Ned Ferry ran back along the margin to meet him, and
at the saddlebow they spoke a moment together privately, while at more
distance but openly to us all Major Harper informed his sister that with
one night's camp and another day's dust the brigade would be down in
Louisiana. Camille turned upon me and hurrahed, the Arkansas colonel
smiled upon her approvingly, the ladies all waved, the General lifted
his plumed hat, faced about, passed through his turning cavalcade and
drew it after him at a gallop.
Our promenaders hurried into close order and with quick step and eager
converse we moved toward the house. In raptures scintillant with their
own beauty the three Harper girls inflated each item of the day's news
and the morrow's outlook, and it was almost as pretty to see Miss
Harper's keen black eyes and loving-tolerant smile go back and forth
from Camille to Estelle, from Estelle to Cécile, and round again, as
each maiden added some new extravagance to the glad vaunting of the
last, and looked, for confirmation, to the gallant who toiled to keep
her under her parasol. Suddenly the three girls broke into song with an
adaptation of "Oh, carry me back" which substituted "Louisiana" for
"Virginia," but whose absurd quaverings I will not betray in words to a
generation that never knew the frantic times to which they belonged. I
felt a shamefacedness for them even then, yet when I glanced behind,
Miss Harper was singing with us in the most exalted earnest. We had
nearly reached the field-gate, the big white one on the highway, and
were noting that the dust of the General and his retinue had barely
vanished from the southern stretch of the road, when one feminine voice
said "What's that?" another exclaimed "See yonder!" and Miss Harper
cried "Why, gentlemen, somebody's house is burning!"
Beyond the grove and the fields north of it, and beyond their farther
bound of trees, in the northwest, was rising and unfolding into the
peaceful Sabbath heavens a massive black column of the peculiar heavy
smoke made by the burning of baled and stored cotton. We ran, two and
two, into the road and up toward the grove-gate. "Don't stumble," I
warned Camille as she looked back to see if any one besides me was
holding his partner's hand. Inside the gate we paused, we two, still
hand in hand. Her brown hair had shaken low upon her temples in two
voluptuous masses between which she lifted her eyes to mine, my hand
tightened on hers, and hers gave a little spasm of its own.
"Oh, Dick!" she whispered; but before I could rally from the blissful
shock of it to reply, her face changed distressfully, and pointing
beyond me, she drank a great breath, and cried, "Look!"
Sure enough, out there on the sky-line, in the north-east this time,
another column of smoke was lifting its first billow over the tree-tops.
"Oh, Dick!" she exclaimed, in beautiful alarm, "what does it mean?"
"It means the Yankees,--love," I said, and when she gasped her dismay
without letting on to have heard the last word, I felt that fires were
cheap at any price.
"There are others there besides Yankees," said Gholson to the general
company as they joined us; "Yankees have got more sense than to start
fires ahead of their march." On the same instant with Ned Ferry I sprang
half-way to the top of the grove fence and peered out across road and
fields upon the farthest point in line with the second fire. There we
saw two horsemen reconnoitring, one a very commanding figure, the other
mean enough. Ferry used his glass, but no glass was needed to tell
either of us that Gholson's reckoning was true; those two were
The ladies flew to the house and the rest of us to the stable. In its
door Ferry stopped to look back upon the road while Gholson and I darted
in, but now he, too, sprang to his horse's side. "How many, Lieutenant?"
I cried, as the three of us saddled up.
"About a hundred; same we saw yesterday; captain at the rear; that means
our fellows are close behind them."
For a moment more I could hear the thunder of their speeding column;
then the grove seemed to swallow it up, and the stillness was grim.
"Come on!" cried Ferry, swinging up, and after him we sprang. "They've
dismounted on the far edge of the grove," said Gholson to me as we rode
abreast, with Ferry a length ahead; "they'll form line on each side the
road at right angles to it!" and again he was right. Ferry led
northeastward, but hardly had we made half a dozen leaps when he waved
me to a near corner of the flower-garden palings and I saw Miss Harper
beckoning and Charlotte holding up my carbine and his sword. Miss Harper
was drawn up as straight as a dart, her black eyes flashing and her lips
charged with practical information that began to flow the moment I was
near enough to hear her guarded voice. "They've all put their horses in
the locks of the road fence, just beyond the big white gate--"
"We know," I interrupted, leaning and snatching the weapons from
Charlotte's hands. She kissed them good-bye.
"Ah, yes, yes!" she said, "they know all we can tell them and all we
The only response I could give was the shower of loose earth thrown upon
both women by my horse's heels as I whirled and sped after my leader. He
and Gholson were half a broad field ahead of me, but I followed only at
their speed, designing to hand over the sword so nearly at the moment of
going into action that I might stay by its owner's side unrebuked; and
my plan was not in vain. Up the highway our Louisianians burst into view
in column at full speed; I knew them by their captain, a man noted
throughout the brigade for the showiness of his dress; and the next
instant, away across the fields beyond the highroad, Quinn and his
scouts broke out of the woods, heading for the gap in the woods-pasture
fence. As each friendly column caught sight of the other, long cheers
rang across the narrowing interval between them. Through that other gap
which I had noted in my walk with Ferry he and Gholson reached the road,
sped forward on it to a rise that overlooked the fields, and halted.
Ferry rose on tiptoe in the stirrups, lifted his cap in air, pointed
triumphantly backward to the grove, and was recognized by both columns
at once. Again they cheered; at a full run I reached his side and threw
his sword into his hand. Both columns saw him belt it on and flash it
out, their cheers swelled again, the Louisianians hurtled down upon us,
and we turned and were at the front of the onset.
THE CHARGE IN THE LANE
The instant Ferry wheeled at the flaming captain's side you could see he
was unwelcome. I heard him tell what we knew of the foe and the ground;
I saw him glance back at the blown condition of the speeding column and
then say "You've got them anyhow, Captain; you'll get every man of them
without a scratch, only if you will take your time."
But the Captain answered headily; "No, sir! I've tried that twice
already; this time I'll cut them in two and be in their rear at one
dash! Bring in your company behind mine, if you choose."
Ferry drew back a few ranks but stayed with the column; Quinn had had
the toil of the chase, he should have also the glory of the fight. So
Ferry sent Gholson--whose horsemanship won a cheer from the passing
Louisianians as he cleared the roadside fence--across to Quinn, bidding
the Lieutenant slacken speed and count himself a reserve. And then into
the broad lane between grove and woods-pasture, with the charging yell,
the Louisianians thundered. Ah! but my Creole gentleman was a sight,
with his straight blade lifted in air and his face turned back on us
aglow with the joy of battle! I was huzzaing back at him and we were
passing the front gate of the grove avenue, when down through it came
from the house, with a tremor of echoes, the first shot; a shot and then
a woman's scream, and his blazing eyes said to me, "He is there! That
There was no time for speech. The shot was not a signal, yet on the
instant and in our very teeth, on our right and our left, the cross-fire
of the hidden and waiting foe flashed and pealed, and left and right, a
life for a life, our carbines answered from the saddle. For a moment the
odds against us were awful. In an instant the road was so full of fallen
horses and dismounted men that the jaded column faltered in confusion.
Our cunning enemy, seeing us charge in column, had swung the two
extremes of their line forward and inward. So, crouching and firing upon
us mounted, each half could fire toward the other with impunity, and
what bullets missed their mark buzzed and whined about our ears and
pecked the top rails of either fence like hail on a window. A wounded
horse drove mine back upon his haunches and caused him to plant a hoof
full on the breast of one of our Louisianians stretched dead on his back
as though he had lain there for an hour. Another man, pale, dazed,
unhurt, stood on the ground, unaware that he was under point-blank fire,
holding by the bits his beautiful horse, that pawed the earth
majestically and at every second or third breath blew from his flapping
nostrils a cloud of scarlet spray. They blocked up half the road. As we
swerved round them the horse of the company's first lieutenant slid
forward and downward with knees and nose in the dust, hurling his rider
into a lock of the fence, and the rider rose and rushed to the road
again barely in time to catch a glittering form that dropped rein and
sword and reeled backward from the saddle. It was his captain, shot
through the breast. An instant later our tangled column parted to right
and left, dashed into the locks of the two fences, sprang to the ground,
and began to repay the enemy in the coin of their own issue. Only a
dozen or so did otherwise, and it was my luck to be one of these.
Espying Ned Ferry at the very front, in the road, standing in his
stirrups and shouting back for followers to carry the charge on through,
we spurred toward him and he turned and led. Then what was my next
fortune but to see, astride of my stolen horse, the towering leader of
the foe, Captain Jewett.
He came into the road a few rods ahead of us through a gap his men had
earlier made opposite the big white gate. He answered our fierce halloo,
as he crossed, by a pistol-shot at Ferry, but Ferry only glanced around
at me and pointed after him with his sword. A number of blue-coats afoot
followed him to the gap but at our onset scattered backward, sturdily
returning our fire. Into the gap and into the enemy's left rear went
Ferry and his horsemen, but I turned the other way and spurred through
the woods-pasture gate after the Federal leader, he on my horse and I on
his. Down the highway, on either side, stood his brave men's horses in
the angles of the worm-fence, and two or three horse-holders took a shot
at me as I sped in after the man who was bent on reaching the right of
his divided force before Quinn should strike it, as I was bent on
foiling him. Twice I fired at his shapely back, and twice, while he kept
his speed among the tree-trunks, he looked back at me as coolly as at an
odd passer-by and sent me a ball from his revolver. A few more bounds
carried him near enough to his force to shout his commands, but half a
hundred cheers suddenly resounded in the depth of the woods-pasture, and
Quinn and his men charged upon the foe's right and rear. I joined the
shout and the shouters; in a moment the enemy were throwing down their
arms, and I turned to regain the road to the pond. For I had marked
Jewett burst through Quinn's line and with a score of shots ringing
after him make one last brave dash--for escape. Others, pursuing him,
bent northward, but my instinct was right, his last hope was for his
horse-holders, and at a sharp angle of the by-road, where it reached the
pond, exactly where Camille and I had stood not an hour before, I came
abruptly upon Cricket--riderless. I seized his rein, and as I bent and
snapped the halter of one horse on the snaffle of the other I saw the
missing horseman. Leaping from the saddle I ran to him. He was lying on
his face in the shallow water where General Austin and his staff had so
gaily halted a short while before, and as I caught sight of him he
rolled upon his back and tried to lift his bemired head.
I dropped to my knee in the reddening pool and passed my arm under his
"Thank you," he said, and repeated the word as I wet my handkerchief and
wiped the mire from his face; "thank you;--no, no,"--I was opening his
shirt--"that's useless; get me where you can turn me over; you've hit me
in the back, my lad."
"I?--I hit you? Oh, Captain Jewett, thank God, I didn't hit you at all!"
"What's the difference, boy; you didn't aim to miss, did you? I didn't.
It's not my only hurt; I think I broke something inside when I fell from
the sad'--ah! that's _your_ bugle, isn't it? It's my last fight--oh, the
devil! my good boy, don't begin to cry again; war's war; give me some
water.... Thank you! And now, if you don't want me to bleed to death get
me out of this slop, and--yes,--easy!--that's it--easy--oh, God! oh, let
me down, boy, let me _down, you're killing me!_ Oh!--" he fainted away.
With his unconscious head still on my arm I faced toward the hundred
after-sounds of the fray and hallooed for help. To my surprise it
promptly came. Three blundering boys we were who lifted him into the
saddle and bore him to the house reeling and moaning astride of Cricket,
the poor beast half dead with hard going. The sinking sun was as red as
October when we issued into the highroad and moved up it to the grove
gate through the bloody wreckage of the fray. The Louisianians were
camping in the woods-pasture, Ferry's scouts in the grove, and the
captive Federals were in the road between, shut in by heavy guards. At
our appearance they crowded around us, greeting their undone commander
with proud words of sympathy and love, and he thanked them as proudly
and lovingly, though he could scarcely speak, more than to ask every
moment for water. A number of our Sessions house group crowded out to
meet us at the veranda steps; Camille; Harry Helm with his right hand
bandaged; Cécile, attended by two or three Sessions children; and behind
all Miss Harper exclaiming "Ah, my boy, you're a welcome sight--Oh! is
that Captain Jewett!"
Two or three bystanders helped us bear him upstairs, where, turning from
the bedside, I pressed Camille with eager questions.
"Lieutenant Ferry? he's unhurt--and so is Mr. Gholson! Mr. Gholson's
gone to Franklin for doctors; Lieutenant Ferry sent him; he's been
sending everybody everywhere faster than anybody else could think of
I asked where Ferry was now. Her eyes refilled--they were red from
earlier distresses--and she motioned across the hall: "The captain of
the Louisianians, you know, has sent for him!"
"Yes," I said, "the Captain's hit hard. I saw him when he was struck."
"Oh, Dick! then you were at the very front!"
"Did you think I was at the rear?"
She looked down. "I couldn't help hoping it."
"Then you were thinking of me."
"I prayed for you."
Such news seemed but ill-gotten gains, to come before I had gathered
courage to inquire after Charlotte Oliver. "Wh'--where is--where are
"They're all about the house, tending the wounded; Mrs. Sessions is with
the Squire, of course,--dear, brave old gentleman! we thought he was
killed, but Charlotte found the ball had glanced."
I asked if it was Oliver who shot him, and she nodded. "It was down at
the front door; the Squire said he'd shoot him if he shot Charlotte, and
Charlotte declared she'd shoot him if he shot the Squire, and all at
once he shot at her and struck him."
"Who was it that screamed; was it she?"
My informant's head drooped low and she murmured, "It was I."
"Then _you_ were at the front."
"Did you think I was at the rear?"
I fear I answered evasively. I added that I must go to Lieutenant Ferry,
and started toward the door, but she touched my arm. "Oh, Dick, you
should have heard him praise you to her!--and when he said you had
chased Captain Jewett and was missing, she cried; but now I'll tell her
you're here." She started away but returned. "Oh, Dick, isn't it
wonderful how we're always victorious! why don't those poor Yankees give
up the struggle? they must see that God is on our side!"
As she left me, Ned Ferry came out with a sad face, but smiled gladly on
me and caught me fondly by the arm. On hearing my brief report he
saddened more than ever, and when I said I had promised Jewett he should
hand his sword to none but him, "Oh!"--he smiled tenderly--"I don't want
to refuse it; go in and hang it at the head of his bed as he would do in
his own tent; I'll wait here."
I pointed to the door he had softly closed behind him: "How is it in
"Ah, Richard, in there the war is all over."
"SAYS QUINN, S'E"
Lieutenant Helm came out as I went in, and I paused an instant to ask
him in fierce suspicion if he had bandaged his hand himself. "No," he
whispered, "Miss Camille." It was a lie, but I did not learn that until
months after. "Come downstairs as soon as you can," he added, "there's a
hot supper down there; first come first served." We parted.
I found Miss Harper fanning the wounded giant and bathing his brows,
and my smiles were ample explanation of my act as I hung the sword up.
Then I brought in my leader. "Captain Jewett," he said after a nearly
silent exchange of greetings, "I wish we had you uninjured."
"Ah, no, Lieutenant, this is bad enough. Lieutenant, there is one
"Yes, Captain, what is that?"
"The villain who set those fires--you know who he is, I hope."
"Yes, Captain, I know."
"He didn't begin that until after he left me. I had some private reasons
for not killing him when I might have done it."
"Yes, Captain, I know that, too."
"Yet if I had caught him again I would have strung him up to the first
"I have sent some picked men to catch him if they can," said Ferry, and
the racked sufferer lifted a hand in approval. Camille came to her aunt
and whispered "Mr. Gholson with two doctors." The wounded captive
"Lieutenant," he panted, "I hope you'll--do me the favor--to let my turn
with those gentlemen--come last,--after my boys,--will you?"
"Ah! Captain, even our boys wouldn't allow that; no, here's a doctor,
I went down to the supper-table. Camille was there, dispensing its
promiscuous hospitality to men who ate like pigs. I would as leave have
found her behind a French-market coffee-stand. Harry Helm, nursing his
bandaged hand, was lolling back from the board and quizzing her with
compliments while she cut up his food. A fellow in the chair next mine
said he had seen me with Ferry when we joined the Louisianians' charge.
"Your aide-de-camp friend over yonder's a-gitt'n' lots o' sweetenin'
with his grub; well, he deserves it."
I asked how he deserved it. "Why, we wouldn't 'a' got here in time if he
hadn't 'a' met-up with us. That man Gholson, he's another good one."
The latter remark seemed to me a feeler, and I ignored it, and inquired
how Lieutenant Helm had got that furlough. (Furlough was our slang for a
light wound.) "Oh, he got it mighty fair! Did you see that Yankee
lieutenant with the big sabre-cut on his shoulder? Well, your friend
yonder gave him that--and got the Yankee's pistol-shot in his hand. But
that saved Gholson's life, for that shot was aimed to give Gholson a
furlough to kingdom-come. Are they kinfolks?"
I mumbled that they were not even friends. "Well, now, I suspicioned
that,--when I first see 'em meet at the head of our column! But the
aide-de-camp he took it so good-natured that, thinks I,--"
Another of Ferry's men, seated opposite, swallowed hurriedly, and
covertly put in--"Y' ought to hear what Quinn said to Gholson just now
as they met-up out here in the hall. Quinn thought they were alone. Says
Quinn, as cold as a fish, s's'e 'Mr. Gholson,' s'e, 'you're not a
coward, sir, and that's why I'm curious to ask you a question,' s'e. And
says Gholson, just as cold, s'e 'I'm prepared, Lieutenant Quinn, to
answer it.' And says Quinn, s'e 'Why was it, that when Harry Helm struck
that blow which saved your life, and which you knew was meant to save
it, and you seen his sword shot out of his hand and three or four
Yankees makin' a dead set to kill him, and nothin' else in any
particular danger at all, why was it, Mr. Gholson, that you never turned
a hand nor an eye to save him?'"
"Great Scott! wha'd Gholson say?"
"Gholson, s'e, 'I done as I done, sir, from my highest sense o' duty.
This ain't Lieutenant Helm's own little private war, Lieutenant Quinn,
nor mine, nor yours.'"
"Jo'! that to Quinn! wha'd Quinn answer?"
"Why, with that Quinn popped them big glass eyes o' his'n till the
whites showed clear round the blue, and s'e 'I know it better than you
do; that's just what it suited you to forget. Oh! I'd already seen
through you in one flash, you sneak. It's good for you you're not in my
command; I'd lift you to a higher sense of whose war this is, damn you,
if I had to hang you up by the thumbs.' With that he started right on
by, Gholson a-keepin' his face to him as he passed, when Ned Ferry
and--her--came out o' the parlor, and Ned turned out on the rear gallery
with Quinn while she sort o' smiled at Gholson to come to her and sent
him off on some business or other. George! I never seen her so
Thereupon occurred a brief exchange of comments which seemed to me to
carry by implication as fine a praise as could possibly come from two
rough fellows of the camp. Speaking the names of Ferry and Charlotte in
undertone, of course, but with the unrestraint of soldiers, they said
their say without a shadow of inuendo in word or smile. Her presence,
they agreed, always made them feel as though something out of the common
"was bound to happen pretty quick," while his, they said, assured them
that "whatever did happen would happen right." I turned with a frown as
Harry laughed irrelevantly, and saw Camille and him smiling at me with
childish playfulness. Then suddenly their smile changed and went beyond
me, two or three men softly said "Smith!" and I was out of my chair and
standing when Charlotte Oliver, in a low voice, tenderly accosted me.
"Oh, Richard Thorndyke Smith!--alive and well! Lieutenant Ferry wants
you; he has just gone to his camp-fire."
A HORSE! A HORSE!
Night had fully come. A few bivouac fires burned low in the grove, and
at one of them near the grove gate I found our young commander. On a
bench made of a fence-rail and two forked stakes he sat between Quinn
and the first-lieutenant of the Louisianians. The doctor whom I had seen
before sat humped on his horse, facing the three young men and making
clumsy excuses to Ferry for leaving. The other physician would stay for
some time yet, he said, and he, himself, was leaving his instruments,
such as they were, and would return in the morning. "Fact is, my son's a
surgeon, and he taken all my best instruments with _him._"
"When; where is he?" eagerly asked Quinn, seeing Ferry was not going to
"My son? Oh, he's in Virginia, with General Lee."
"Hell!" grunted Quinn, but the doctor pretended to listen to Ferry.
"Ah, but we move south at day-light; the prisoners and wounded we send
east, to Hazlehurst," said our leader, with a restraining hand on
Quinn's knee. The other lieutenant made some inquiry of him, and the
doctor was ignored, but stayed on, and as I stood waiting to be noticed
I gathered a number of facts. The lightly injured would go in a
plantation wagon; for the few gravely hurt there was the Harpers'
ambulance, which had just arrived to take the ladies back to Squire
Wall's, near Brookhaven, alas! instead of to Louisiana. For the ladies
Charlotte's spring-wagon was to be appropriated, one of them riding
beside it on horseback, and there was to be sent with them, besides
Charlotte's old black driver, "a reliable man well mounted." Whoever
that was to be it was not Harry, for he was to go south with a small
guard, bearing the body of the Louisiana captain to his home between the
hostile lines behind Port Hudson.
"Good-night, gentlemen," said the doctor at last. As he passed into the
darkness Quinn bent a mock frown upon his young superior.
"Lieutenant Ferry, the next time I have to express my disgust please to
keep your hand off my knee, will you?"
Ferry's response was to lay it back again and there ensued a puerile
tussle that put me in a precious pout, that I should be kept waiting by
such things. But presently the three parted to resume their several
cares, and the moment Ferry touched my arm to turn me back toward the
house I was once more his worshipper. "Well!" he began, "you have now
_two_ fine horses, eh?"
"Oh, by Regulations, I suppose, I ought to turn one of them over to
Major Harper. I wish it were to you, Lieutenant; I'd keep my own--he'll
be all right in a day or two--and give you Captain Jewett's."
"Well,--just for a day or two,--do that, while I lend my horse to a
I had already asked myself what was to become of Charlotte Oliver while
the Harpers were preempting her little wagon, and now I took keen alarm.
"Why, Lieutenant, I shall be glad! But why not lend Captain Jewett's
horse and keep yours? Yours is right now the finest and freshest mount
in the command."
"Yes, 'tis for that I lend him."
We went on in silence. Startled and distressed, I pondered. What was her
new purpose, that she should ask, or even accept, such a favor as this
from Ned Ferry; a favor which, within an hour, the whole command would
know he had granted? Was this a trifle, which only the Gholson-like
smallness of my soul made spectral? The first time I had ever seen Ferry
with any of his followers about him, was he not on Charlotte's gray, now,
unluckily, beyond reach, at Wiggins? Ah, yes; but Beauty lending a horse
to speed Valor was one thing; Valor unhorsing himself to speed
Beauty--oh, how different! What was the all-subordinating need?
As we entered the hall I came to a conviction which lightened my heart;
the all-subordinating need was--Oliver. I thought I could see why. The
spring of all his devilish behavior lay in those relations to her for
which I knew she counted herself chargeable through her past mistakes.
Unless I guessed wrong her motives had risen. I believed her aim was
now, at whatever self-hazard, to stop this hideous one-woman's war, and
to speed her unfinished story to the fairest possible outcome for all
God's creatures, however splendidly or miserably the "fool in it" should
win or lose. We stopped and waited for Cécile and the remaining doctor,
she with a lighted candle, to come down the stairs. From two rooms
below, where most of the wounded lay, there came women's voices softly
singing, and Charlotte's was among them. Their song was one listening to
which many a boy in blue, many a lad in gray, has died: "Rock me to
Cécile and the doctor had come from the bedside of the Union captain,
where Miss Harper remained. "I've done all I can," he said to Ferry; "we
old chill-and-fever doctors wa'n't made for war-times; he may get well
and he may not."
"Smith," said Ferry, "go up and stay with him till further orders."
"BEAR A MESSAGE AND A TOKEN"
Late in the night Gholson came to the Union captain's bedside for Miss
Harper. Charlotte had sent him; the doctor had left word what to do if a
certain patient's wound should re-open, and this had happened. The three
had succeeded in stanching it, but Charlotte had prevailed upon Miss
Harper to lie down, and the weary lady had, against all her intentions,
fallen asleep. I was alone with the wounded captain. He did not really
sleep, but under the weight of his narcotics drowsed, muttered, stirred,
moaned, and now and then spoke out.
Sitting in the open window, I marked the few red points of dying
firelight grow fewer in the bivouac under the grove. Out there by the
gate Ned Ferry slept. Fireflies blinked, and beyond the hazy fields rose
the wasted moon, by the regal slowness of whose march I measured the
passage of time as I had done two nights before. My vigil was a sad one,
but, in health, in love, in the last of my teens and in the silent
company of such a moon, my straying thoughts lingered most about the
maiden who had "prayed for me." My hopes grew mightily. Yet with them
grew my sense of need to redouble a lover's diligence. I resolved never
again to leave great gaps in my line of circumvallation about the city
of my siege, as I had done in the past--two days. I should move to the
final assault, now, at the earliest favorable moment, and the next
should see the rose-red flag of surrender rise on her temples; in war it
is white, but in love it is red.
First favorable moment; ah! but when would that be? Who was to convey
the Harpers to Hazlehurst? Well, thank Heaven! not Harry. Scott Gholson?
Gholson was due at headquarters. Poor Gholson! much rest for racked
nerves had he found here; what with Ferry, and Harry, and the fight, and
Quinn, I wondered he did not lie down and die under the pure suffocation
of his "tchagrin." Even a crocodile, I believed, could suffer from
chagrin, give him as many good causes as Gholson had accumulated. But
no, the heaven of "Charlie Tolliver's" presence and commands--she seemed
to have taken entire possession of him--lifted and sustained him above
the clouds of all unkinder things.
A faint stir at the threshold caught my ear and I discerned in the hall
a young negro woman. The light of an unseen candle made her known at a
glance; she had been here since the previous evening, as I knew, though
it chanced that I had not seen her; Oliver's best wedding-gift, the
slave maid whom I had seen with Charlotte in the curtained wagon at
Gallatin. I stole out to her; she courtesied. "Miss Charlotte say ef you
want he'p you fine me a-sett'n' on de step o' de stairs hafe-ways down."
I inquired if she was leaving us. "She a-gitt'n' ready, suh; Misteh
Goshen done gone to de sta-able to git de hosses." The girl suddenly
seemed pleased with herself. "Mis' Charlotte would 'a' been done gone
when de yethehs went--dem-ah two scouts what was sent ayfteh _him_--ef I
hadn' spoke' up when I did."
"Indeed! how was that?"
"Why, I says, s' I, 'Mis' Charlotte, how we know he ain' gwine fo' to
double on his huntehs? Betteh wait a spell, and den ef no word come back
dat he a-doublin', you kin be sho' he done lit out fo' to jine de
Yankees roun' Pote Hudsom.'"
"Why did you tell her that? You want him caught; so do I; but you know
she doesn't want to catch him, and you don't want her to. Neither do I.
Nor neither do we want Lieutenant Ferry to catch him."
"No, suh, dass so. But same time, while she no notion o' gitt'n' him
cotch, she believe she dess djuty-bound to head-off his devilment. 'Tis
dess like I heah' Mr. Goshen say to Miss Hahpeh, 'Dis ain't ow own
I waved her away and went back into the room; the Captain had called. He
asked the time of night; I said it was well after two; he murmured, was
quiet, and after a moment spoke my name. I answered, and he whispered
"Coralie Rothvelt--she's here; I--recognized her voice--when they were
singing. Did you know I knew her?"
"Daring game that was you fellows let her put up on us night before
last, my boy,--and it hung by a thread. If our officers had only asked
the old man his name--it would have been--a flash of light. If I had
dreamed, when I saw--you and Ned Ferry--yesterday,--that Coralie
Rothvelt was--Charlotte Oliver,--and could have known her then--as
I've--learned to know her--to-day--from her--worst enemy,--you know,--"
"I should--have turned back, my boy." After a silence the hero said more
to himself than to me "Ah, if my brother were here to-night--I
Many days afterward I thought myself dull not to have guessed what that
speech meant, but now I was too distressed by the change I saw coming
over him to do any surmising. He began to say things entirely to
himself. "Home!" he murmured; "sweet, sweet home!--my home! my
country!--My God, my country, my home!--Smith,--you know what that is
you're--wiping off my brow,--don't you?"
"I--I didn't want you to be--taken too unpleasantly by surprise--just at
the--end. You know what's--happening,--don't you?"
"Yes, Captain." As I wiped the brow again I heard the tread of two
horses down in front of the house; they were Gholson's, and Ned Ferry's
for Charlotte. "Captain, may I go and bring her--tell her what you say,
and bring her?"
"Do you think she'd come? She'd have gone to Ship Island if I had caught
"I know she'll come."
"I wish she would; she could 'bear a message and a token,' as the song
She came. I met her outside the door, and for a moment I feared she
would come no farther. "How can I, Richard! Oh, how can I?" she
whispered; "this is my doing!" But presently she stood at the bedside
calm and compassionate, in the dark dress and limp hat of two nights
before. The dying man's eyes were lustrous with gratitude.
"I have one or two things," he said, after a few words of greeting,
"that I'd like to send home--to my mother--and my wife; some
trifles--and a message or two; if I--if--if I--"
"Will you let me take them?" Charlotte asked. I did not see or hear what
they were; Gholson beckoned me into the hall. He did not whisper; there
are some people, you know, who can never exercise enough
self-suppression to whisper; he mumbled. He admitted the dying had some
rights, but--he feared the delay might result unfortunately; wanted me
to tell Charlotte so, and was sure I was ever so wrong to ask to have
Ned Ferry awakened for the common incident of a prisoner's death; he
would let him know the moment he awoke.
When I came back into the room the captive had asked Charlotte to pray.
"Tisn't that I'm--the least bit afraid," he was saying.
"Oh, no," she responded, wiping his brow, "why should you be? Dying
isn't nearly so fearful a thing as living. I'd rather, now, you'd pray
for me; I'm such an unbeliever--in the beliefs, I mean, the beliefs the
church people think we can't get on without. My religion is scarcely
anything but longings and strivings"--she sadly smiled--"longings and
strivings and hopes."
"Yet you wouldn't--"
"Part with it? Oh, not for the world beside!"
"Neither would I--with mine." The soldier folded his hands in
supplication. "Neither would I--though mine, O Lord--is only
the--old-fashioned sort--for whose beliefs our fathers--used to kill one
another; God have mercy--on them--and us."
There was a great stillness. Against the bedside Charlotte had sunk to
her knees, and under the broad brim of her Leghorn hat leaned her brow
upon her folded hands. Thus, presently, she spoke again.
"I know, Captain," she said, "that we can't have longings, strivings, or
hopes, without beliefs; beliefs are what they live on. I believe in
being strong and sweet and true for the pure sake of being so; and yet
more for the world's sake; and as much more again for God's sake as God
is greater than his works. I believe in beauty and in joy. I believe
they are the goal of all goodness and of all God's work and wish. As to
resurrection, punishment, and reward, I can't see what my noblest choice
has to do with them; they seem to me to be God's part of the matter;
mine is to love perfect beauty and perfect joy, both in and infinitely
beyond myself, with the desiring love with which I rejoice to believe
God loves them, and to pity the lack of them with the loving pity with
which God pities it. And above all I believe that no beauty and no joy
can be perfect apart from a love that loves the whole world's joy better
than any separate joy of any separate soul."
"Thank you," was murmured from the pillow. Then, as Charlotte once more
wiped the damp brow, the captive said, with much labor, "After that--war
seems--an awful thing. I suppose it isn't half so much a crime--as it is
a--penalty--for the crimes that bring it on. But anyhow--you
know--being--" The bugle rang out the reveillé.
"Being a soldier," said Charlotte, "you want to die like one?"
"Yes, oh, yes!--the best I can. I'd like to sit half up--and hold my
sword--if there's--no objection. I've loved it so! It would almost be
like holding--the hand that's far away. Of course, it isn't really
necessary, but--it would be more like--dying--for my country."
He would not have it in the scabbard, and when I laid it naked in his
hand he kissed the hilt. Charlotte sent Gholson for Ned Ferry. Glancing
from the window, I noticed that for some better convenience our scouts
had left the grove, and the prisoners had been marched in and huddled
close to the veranda-steps, under their heavy marching-guard of
Louisianians. One of the blue-coats called up to me softly:
"Dying--really?" He turned to his fellows--"Boys, Captain's dying."
Every Northern eye was lifted to the window and I turned away.
"Richard!" gently called Charlotte, and I saw the end was at hand; a new
anguish was on the brow; yet the soldier was asking for a song; "a
soldier's song, will you?"
"Why, Captain," she replied, "you know, we don't sing the same words to
our soldier-songs that you do--except in the hymns. Shall I sing 'Am I a
soldier of the cross?'"
He did not answer promptly; but when he did he said "Yes--sing that."
She sang it. As the second stanza was begun we heard a responsive swell
grow softly to fuller and fuller volume beneath the windows; the
prisoners were singing. I heard an austere voice forbid it, but it rose
straight on from strength to strength:
"Sure I must fight if I would win,
Increase my courage, Lord.
I'll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by thy word."
The dying man lifted a hand and Charlotte ceased. He had not heard the
muffled chorus of his followers below; or it may be that he had, and
that the degree of liberty they seemed to be enjoying prompted him to
seek the new favor he now asked. I did not catch his words, but
Charlotte heard, and answered tenderly, yet with a thrill of pain so
keen she could not conceal it even from him.
"Oh! you wouldn't ask a rebel to sing that," she sighed, "would you?"
He made no rejoinder except that his eyes were insistent. She wiped his
temples. "I hate to refuse you."
His gaze was grateful. She spoke again: "I suppose I oughtn't to mind
Miss Harper came in, and Charlotte, taking her hand without a glance,
told the Captain's hard request under her voice. Miss Harper, too, in
her turn, gave a start of pain, but when the dying eyes and smile turned
pleadingly to her she said, "Why, if you can, Charlotte, dear, but oh!
how can you?"
Charlotte addressed the wounded man: "Just a little bit of it, will that
do?" and as he eagerly assented she added, to Miss Harper, "You know,
dear, in its history it's no more theirs than ours."
"No, not so much," said Miss Harper, with a gleam of pride; and
thereupon it was my amazement to hear Charlotte begin guardedly to sing:
"O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?"
But guardedly as she began, the effect on the huddled crowd below was
instant and electrical. They heard almost the first note; looking down
anxiously, I saw the wonder and enthusiasm pass from man to man. They
heard the first two lines in awed, ecstatic silence; but at the third,
warily, first one, then three, then a dozen, then a score, bereft of
arms, standard, and leader, little counting ever again to see freedom,
flag, or home, they raised their voices, by the dawn's early light, in
their song of songs.
Our main body were out in the highway, just facing into column, and the
effect on them I could not see. The prisoners' guards, though instantly
ablaze with indignation, were so taken by surprise that for two or three
seconds, with carbines at a ready, they--and even their sergeant in
command--only darted fierce looks here and there and up at me. The
prisoners must have been used to singing in ordered chorus, for one of
them strode into their middle, and smiling sturdily at the maddened
guard and me, led the song evenly. "No, sir!" he cried, as I made an
angry sign for them to desist, "one verse through, if every damned fool
of us dies for it--let the Captain hear it boys--sing!
"'The rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air--'"
Charlotte had ceased, in consternation not for the conditions without
more than for those within. With the first strong swell of the song from
below, the dying leader strove to sit upright and to lift his blade, but
failed and would have slammed back upon the pillows had not she and Miss
Harper saved him. He lay in their arms gasping his last, yet clutching
his sabre with a quivering hand and listening on with rapt face
untroubled by the fiery tumult of cries that broke into and over
"Club that man over the head!" cried the sergeant of the guard, and one
of his men swung a gun; but the Yankee sprang inside of its sweep,
crying, "Sing her through, boys!" grappled his opponent, and hurled him
back. In the same instant the sergeant called steadily, "Guard,
There sounded a clean slap of levelled carbines, yet from the prisoners
came the continued song in its closing couplet:
"The star-spangled banner! O, long may it wave!--"
and out of the midst of its swell the oaths and curses and defiant
laughter of a dozen men crying, with tears in their eyes, "Shoot! shoot!
why don't you shoot?"
But the command to fire did not come; suddenly there was a drumming of
hoofs, then their abrupt stoppage, and the voice of a vigilant commander
With a few words to the sergeant, more brief than harsh, and while the
indomitable singers pressed on to the very close of the stanza without a
sign from him to desist, Ferry bade the subaltern resume his command,
and turned toward me at the window. He lifted his sword and spoke in a
lowered tone, the sullen guard stood to their arms, and every captive
looked up for my reply.
"Shall I come?" he inquired; but I shook my head.
"What!--gone?" he asked again, and I nodded. He turned and trotted
lightly after the departing column. I remember his pensive mien as he
moved down the grove, and how a soft gleam flashed from his sword, above
his head, as with the hand that held it he fingered his slender
mustache, and how another gleam followed it as he reversed the blade and
let it into its sheath. Then my eyes lost him; for Gholson had taken his
place under the window and was beckoning for my attention.
"Is she coming?" he called up, and Charlotte, at my side, spoke
"I shall be with you in a moment."
While he waited the second lieutenant of the Louisianians came, and as
guard and prisoners started away she came out upon the veranda steps.
Across her knee, as she and Gholson galloped off by a road across
fields, lay in a wrapping of corn-husks the huge sabre of the dead
The first hush of the deserted camp-ground was lost in the songs of
returning birds. Captain Jewett, his majestic length blanket-bound from
brow to heel as trimly as a bale, had been laid under ground, and the
Harpers stood in prayer at the grave's head and foot with hats on for
their journey. The burial squad, turned guard of honor to the dead
captain of the Louisianians, were riding away on either side of a light
wagon that bore his mortal part. I, after all, was to be the Harpers'
guardian on their way.
Day widened into its first perfection as we moved down the highroad
toward a near fork whose right was to lead Harry and his solemn cortége
southward, while the left should be our eastward course. Camille and I
rode horseback, side by side, with no one near enough to smile at my
sentimental laudations of the morning's splendors, or at her for
repaying my eloquence with looks so full of tender worship, personal
acceptance and self-bestowal, that to tell of them here would make as
poor a show as to lift a sea-flower out of the sea; they call for
piccolo notes and I am no musician.
The familiar little leather-curtained wagon was just ahead of us,
bearing the other three Harpers, the old negro driver and--to complete
its overloading--his daughter, Charlotte's dark maid. Beside the wheels
ambled and babbled Harry Helm. At the bridge he fell back to us and
found us talking of Charlotte. Camille was telling me how well Charlotte
knew the region south of us, and how her plan was to dine at mid-day
with such a friend and to pass the night with such another; but the
moment Harry came up she began to upbraid him in her mellowest
flute-notes for not telling us that he had got his wound in saving--
"Now, you ladies--" cried the teased aide-de-camp, "I--I didn't save
Gholson's life! I didn't try to save it! I only tried to split a
Yankee's head and didn't even do that! Dick Smith, if you tell anybody
else that I saved--Well, who did, then? Good Lordy! if I'd known that to
save a man's life would make all this fuss I wouldn't 'a' done it! Why,
Quinn and I had to sit and listen to Ned Ferry a solid half-hour last
night, telling us the decent things he'd known Gholson to do, and the
allowances we'd ought to make for a man with Gholson's sort of a
conscience! And then, to cap--to clap--to clap the ki'--to cap--the
_climax_--consound that word, I never did know what it meant--to clap
the climax, Ned sends for Gholson and gets Quinn to speak to him
civilly--aw, haw, haw!--Quinn showing all the time how he hated the job,
like a cat when you make him jump over a stick! And then he led us on,
with just a word here and there, until we all agreed as smooth as glass,
that all Quinn had said was my fault, and all I had done was Gholson's
fault, and all Gholson had said or done or left undone was our fault,
and the rest was partly Ned's fault, but mostly accident."
Camille declared she did not and would not believe there had been any
fault with any one, anywhere, and especially with Mr. Gholson, and I
liked Lieutenant Helm less than ever, noticing anew the unaccountable
freedom with which Camille seemed to think herself entitled to rebuke
him. "Oh, I'm in your power," he cried to her, "and I'll call him a
spotless giraffe if you want me to! that's what he is; I've always
thought so!" The spring-wagon was taking the left fork and he cantered
ahead to begin his good-byes there and save her for the last. When he
made his adieu to her he said, "Won't you let Mr. Smith halt here with
me a few moments? I want to speak of one or two matters that--"
She resigned me almost with scorn; which privately amused me, and, I
felt sure, hoodwinked the aide-de-camp.
"Say, Dick!" he began, as she moved away, "look here, I'm going to tell
you something; Ned Ferry's in love with Charlotte Oliver!"
"You don't mean it!"
"Yes, I do, mean it! Smith, Ned's a grand fellow. I'm glad I came here
"Yes, you've secured a furlough."
"Oh, this thing, yes; don't you wish you had it! No, I'm glad I came,
for what I've learned. I'm glad for what Ned Ferry has taught me a man
can do, and keep from doing, when he's got the upper hold of himself.
And I'm glad for what she--you know who--by George! any man would know
who ever saw her, for she draws every man who comes within her range, as
naturally as a rose draws a bee. I'm glad for what she has taught me a
woman can _be_, and can keep from being, so long as she knows there's
one real man to live up to! just _up to_, mind you, I don't even say to
I stared with surprise. Was this the trivial Harry talking? Fact is, the
pair we were talking about had by some psychical magic rarified the
atmosphere for all of us until half our notes were above our
"Do you mean she loves him; what sign of such a thing did she show
yesterday or last evening?"
"Not a sign of a sign! And yet I'll swear it! Do you know where she's
"To-day? I think I do."
"Well, Lieutenant, if I were she, _I_ should go straight into the Yankee
lines behind Port Hudson. She's got Jewett's messages and his sword, and
the Yank's won't know her as a Confederate any better than they ever
did; for it's only these men whom we've captured who have found out
she's Charlotte Oliver, or that she had any knowing part in General
"If Oliver doesn't tell," said Harry, lifting his bad hand in pain.
"He will not dare! If she can only get her word in first and tell them,
herself, that he's Charlotte Oliver's husband and has just led the
finest company of Federal scouts in the two States to destruction--"
"Hi! that ought to cook his dough!--with her face--and her voice!"
"Yes," I responded, "--and his breath."
"And why do you think she wants to do this?" asked Harry.
"She doesn't want to do it; but she feels she must, knowing that every
blow he strikes from now on is struck on her account. I believe she's
gone to warn the Yankees that his whole animus is personal revenge and
that he will sacrifice anything or anybody, any principle or pledge or
cause, at any moment, to wreak that private vengeance, in whole or
"Dick Smith, yes! But don't you see, besides, what she _does_ want? Why,
she wants to keep Oliver and Ferry apart until somebody else for whom
she doesn't care as she cares for Ned, say you, or I, or--or--"
"Gholson, no! she can't trust Gholson, Gholson's conscience is too
vindictive; that's why she's keeping him with her as long as she can.
No, but until some of us, I say, can give Oliver a thousand times better
than he ought ever to get--except for her sake--"
"Yes, you mean a soldier's clean death; and what you want of me is for
me to say that I, for one, will lose no honest chance to give it to him,
"What I want of you, Smith, is to tell you that _I_ shall lose no such
"Well, neither shall I."
"Bully for you, Dick; bully boy with the glass eye! You see, you're one
of only half a dozen or so that know Oliver when they see him; so Ned
will soon be sending you after him. Ned's got a conscience, too, you
know, as squirmy as Gholson's. Oh, Lord! yes, you don't often _see_ it,
but it's as big and hard as a conscript's ague-cake." The Lieutenant
gathered his rein; "Smith, I want Ned and her to get one another;
I was tempted to say it was me, too, but I forbore and only said it was
"All the same," said Harry, "I'm sorry for the little girl!"
"Oh, come, now, you know!" He leaned to me and whispered, "Miss Cécile!"
"Lieutenant," I replied, with a flush, realizing what I owed to the
family as a prospective member of it, "you're mistaking a little
"Pat who--oh? I tell you, my covey,--and of course, you understand, I
wouldn't breathe it any further--"
"I'd rather you would not."
"Phew-ew! I don't know why in the devil _you'd_ rather I would not,
but--Smith,--she's so dead-gone in love with Ned Ferry, that if she
doesn't get him--I George! it'll e'en a'most kill her!"
I guffawed in derision. "And she didn't even have to tell you so! She
can't even hide its deadly intensity from the casual bystander! haw!
haw! haw! And it's all the outcome of a _three-days acquaintance_! It
beats Doctor Swiftgrow's Mustache Invigor'--aw, haw! haw!" "Oh, you
think so? Pity you couldn't get a few barrels of it--aw, haw! haw!" said
Harry, and my laughter left off where his began. But, some way hurting
his hand, he, too, stopped short. I drew my horse back.
"Is that all you've noticed?" I smilingly inquired. "Isn't anybody else
mortally in love with anybody else? You can't make me believe that's all
"Well, then, I sha'n't try. I do know one thing more; heard it
yesterday. Like to hear it?"
"Like! Why, I'm just that dead-gone with curiosity that if I don't hear
it it'll e'en a'most kill me--aw, haw! haw! haw!"
"Well, I'm tired saving people's lives, but we won't count this one; you
say you want to hear it--I can't give you all of it but it begins:
"'Turn away thine eyes, maiden passing fair!
O maiden passing fair, turn away thine eyes!'--
"Haw! haw! haw! Good-bye, Smith,--aw, haw! haw! haw!--and it's all the
outcome of a three-days acquaintance!--haw! haw! haw!--Oh,
say!--Smith!"--I was leaving him--"that's right, go back and begin
over!--'Return! return!'--aw, haw! haw! haw!"
UNIMPORTANT AND CONFIDENTIAL
On the second night after that morning of frantic mortification I was
riding at Ned Ferry's side, in Louisiana. The camp of the brigade was a
few miles behind us. Somewhere in front of us, fireless and close hid,
lay our company of scouts, ahead of whose march he had pushed the day
before to confer with the General, and we were now on our way to rejoin
them. Under our horses' feet was that old Plank-road which every
"buttermilk ranger" must remember--whether dead or not, I am tempted to
say,--who rode under either flag in the Felicianas in '63 and '64.
Late in the evening of the day on which I had conducted the Harpers to
Squire Wall's I had received a despatch ordering me to board the next
morning's train at Brookhaven with my horse. On it I should find a
number of cases of those shoes I had seen at Hazlehurst. At Tangipahoa I
was to transfer them to one or two army-wagons which would by that time
have reached there, and bring them across to Clinton, where a guard
would meet and join me to conduct the wagons to camp. And thus I had
done, bearing with me a sad vision of dear dark Miss Harper fluttering
her handkerchief above her three nieces' heads, one of whom refrained
until the opportunity had all but gone, to wave good-bye to the visibly
wretched author of "Maiden passing fair, turn away thine eyes." My
lucky Cricket had gone three nights and two whole days with no harness
but his halter, and to-night, beside the Yankee's horse, that still bore
Ned Ferry, he was as good as new. My leader and I talked of Charlotte.
In the middle of this day's forenoon Gholson had come into camp
reporting at the General's tent the long ride she had made on Monday; as
good a fifty miles as Ferry's own. We called it, now, Ferry and I, a
most clever achievement for a woman. "Many women," he said, "know how to
ride, but she knows how to march."
"I think you must have taught her," I responded, and he enjoyed his
inability to deny it. So I ventured farther and said she seemed to me
actually to have reached, in the few days since I had first seen her, a
finer spiritual stature.
"She?" he asked; "ah! she is of the kind that must grow or die. Yes, you
may be right; but in that time she has kept me so occupied growing,
myself, that I did not notice she was doing the same. But also, I think,
the eyes with which we look at her have grown."
"She has outgrown this work," I insisted.
"Those letters--to the newspapers?"
"No, this other; this work which she has to do by craft and wiles and
disguises. Lieutenant, I don't believe she can go on doing that now with
her past skill, since life has become to her a nobler story than it
promised to be."
My companion lifted higher in the saddle with delight. Then soberly he
said, "We have got to lose her." I turned inquiringly and he continued:
"She has done me the honor to tell me--Miss Harper and me--that if she
succeeds in what she is now trying to do--you know?--"
"I think I do. It's to prevent Oliver from making himself useful to the
enemy, isn't it?"
"Well--like that; and she says if she comes out all right she will leave
us; yes, for the hospital service."
"Hosp'--Oh--oh! gangrene, typhoid, lock-jaw, itch, small-pox! Isn't she
deep enough in the hospital service already, with her quinine dolls?"
"Ah! but she cannot continue to play dolls that way; she must find
something else. I see you have my temptation; yes, the desire to see her
always doing something splendid. That is not 'real life,' as you call
it. And besides, was not that you said one time to me 'No splendor
shines at last so far as a hidden splendor'?"
"No, sir! I suppose it's true, but I never want to see her splendor
shining through pock-marks." The reply won from him a gesture of
approval, and this gave me a reckless tongue. "Why, if I were you,
Lieutenant, she simply shouldn't go! Good Heaven! isn't she far enough
away at the nearest? How can you tamely--no, I don't mean tamely,
but--how can you _endure_ to let this matter drift--how can you
At the beginning of my question he straightened exactly as I had seen
him do in the middle of the lane when our recoiled column was
staggering; but as my extravagance flamed up he quieted rebukingly, and
with a quieter smile than ever asked "Is that a soldier's question?
Smith, is there not something wrong with you to-night?"
"There always is," I replied.
"No, but to-night I think you are taking that 'lower fork' you talk
sometimes about. Of course, if you don't want to tell--"
"_May_ I tell you?"
"Ah, certainly! Is it that little Harper girl?"
I nodded, all choked up. When I could speak I had to drop the words by
ones and twos, and did not so much as say them as let them bleed from my
lips; and never while I live shall I forget the sweet, grave, perfect
sympathy with which my friend listened and led me on, and listened and
led me on. I said I had never believed in love at first sight until now
when it had come upon me to darken and embitter my life henceforth.
He replied that certainly love sometimes _germinated_ at first sight,
and I interrupted greedily that that was all I claimed--except that love
could also, at times, _grow to maturity_ with amazing speed, a speed I
never could have credited previous to these last four days. And he
admitted as much, but thought time only could prove such love; whereto I
rejoined that that was what she had answered.
He glanced at me suddenly, then smoothed his horse's mane, and said,
gently, "That means you have declared yourself to her?"
I confessed I had, and told him how, on our journey to Squire Wall's,
being stung to desperation by the infantile way in which she had drooled
out to others what my love had sacredly confided to her alone, I had
abruptly confronted her with the fact, and in the ensuing debate,
carried away by the torrent of my emotions, had offered her my love, for
life and all.
"And she--ah, yes. I see; and I see, too, that in all she ever said or
did or seemed, before, she never made herself such a treasure to be
longed for and fought and lived for as in the way in which she--"
"Refused me! Oh, it's so; it's so! Ah! if you could have witnessed her
dignity, her wisdom, her grace, her compassionate immovableness, you'd
never think of her as the little Harper girl again. She said that if the
unpremeditated, headlong way in which I had told my passion were my only
mistake, and if it were only for my sake, she would not, if she could,
answer favorably, and that I, myself, at last, would not have a girl who
would have a man who would offer his love in that way, and that she
would not have a man who would have a girl who would have a man who
should offer his love in that way."
I call it one of the sweetest kindnesses ever done me, that Ned Ferry
heard me to the end of that speech and did not smile. Instead he asked
"Did she say that as if a'--as if--amused?"
"No, Lieutenant, she nearly cried. Oh, I wish we were on some dangerous
errand to-night, instead of just camp and bed!"
"Well, that's all right, Richard; we are."
"CAN I GET THERE BY CANDLE-LIGHT?"
After a few minutes we quitted the public way by an obscure path in the
woods on our right. When we had followed this for two or three miles we
turned to the left again and pressed as softly as we could into a low
tangled ground where the air seemed stagnant and mosquitoes stung
savagely. We wiped away the perspiration in streams. I pushed forward to
Ferry's side and whispered my belief that at last we were to see rain.
"Yes," he said, "and with thunder and lightning; just what we want
I asked why. "Oh, they hate our thunder-storms, those Yankee patrols."
Presently we were in a very dark road, and at a point where it dropped
suddenly between steep sides we halted in black shadow. A gleam of pale
sand, a whisper of deep flowing waters, and a farther glimmer of more
sands beyond them challenged our advance. We had come to a "grapevine
ferry." The scow was on the other side, the water too shoal for the
horses to swim, and the bottom, most likely, quicksand. Out of the
blackness of the opposite shore came a soft, high-pitched, quavering,
long-drawn, smothered moan of woe, the call of that snivelling little
sinner the screech-owl. Ferry murmured to me to answer it and I sent the
same faint horror-stricken tremolo back. Again it came to us, from not
farther than one might toss his cap, and I followed Ferry down to the
water's edge. The grapevine guy swayed at our side, we heard the scow
slide from the sands, and in a few moments, moved by two videttes, it
touched our shore. Soon we were across, the two videttes riding with us,
and beyond a sharp rise, in an old opening made by the swoop of a
hurricane, we entered the silent unlighted bivouac of Ferry's scouts.
Ferry got down and sat on the earth talking with Quinn, while the
sergeants quietly roused the sleepers to horse.
Now we marched, and when we had gone a mile or so Ned Ferry turned
aside, taking with him only Sergeant Jim, Kendall, another private, and
me. We went at an alert walk single-file for the better part of an hour
and stopped at length in a narrow untilled "deadening." Beyond it at our
left a faint redness shone just above the tree-tops. At our right, in
the northwest, a similar glow was ruddier, the heavens being darker
there except when once or twice they paled with silent lightnings.
Sergeant Jim went forward alone and on foot, and presently was back
again, whispering to Ferry and remounting.
Ferry led Kendall and me into the woods, the other two remaining. We
found rising ground, and had ridden but a few minutes when from its
crest we looked upon a startling sight. In front of us was a stretch of
specially well farmed land. Our woods swept round it on both sides,
crossed a highway, and gradually closed in again so as to terminate the
opening about half a mile away. Always the same crops, bottom cause of
the war: from us to the road an admirable planting of cotton, and from
there to the farther woods as goodly a show of thick corn. The whole
acreage swept downward to that terminus, at the same time sinking inward
from the two sides. On the highway shone the lighted rear window of a
roadside "store," and down the two sides of the whole tract stretched
the hundred tent-fires of two brigade camps of the enemy's cavalry.
Their new, white canvases were pitched in long, even alleys following
the borders of the wood, from which the brush had been cut away far
enough for half of them to stand under the trees. The men had quieted
down to sleep, but at one tent very near us a group of regimental
officers sat in the light of a torch-basket, and by them were planted
their colors. A quartet of capital voices were singing, and one who
joined the chorus, standing by the flag, absently yet caressingly spread
it at such breadth that we easily read on it the name of the command.
Let me leave that out.
As they sang, and as we sat in our saddles behind the low fence that ran
quite round the opening, Ferry turned from looking across into the
lighted window on the road and handed me his field-glass. "How many
candles do you see in there?"
I saw two. "Yes," he said, dismounting and motioning me to do the same.
Kendall took our bridles. Leaving him with the animals we went over the
fence, through the cotton, across the road at a point terribly near the
lighted and guarded shop, and on down the field of corn, to and over its
farthest fence; stooping, gliding, halting, crouching, in the
cotton-rows and corn-rows; taking every posture two upright gentlemen
would rather not take; while nevertheless I swelled with pride, to be
alone at the side--or even at the heels--of one who, for all this
apparent skulking and grovelling, and in despite of all the hidden
drawings of his passion for a fair woman at this hour somewhere in
peril, kept his straight course in lion-hearted pursuit of his duty (as
he saw it) to a whole world of loves and lovers, martyrs and fighters,
hosts of whom had as good a right to their heart's desire as I to mine
or he to his; and I remembered Charlotte Oliver saying, on her knees, "I
believe no beauty and no joy can be perfect apart from a love that loves
the whole world's joy better than any separate joy of any
"YES, AND BACK AGAIN"
One matter of surprise to me was that this whole property had escaped
molestation. I wondered who could be so favored by the enemy and yet be
so devoted to our cause as to signal us from his window with their
sentinels at his doors; and as we passed beyond the cornfield's farther
fence I ventured to ask Ferry.