Part 4 out of 5
"Aaron Goldschmidt," he whispered, as we descended into a dry, tangled
swamp. In the depths of this wild, beside a roofed pen of logs stored
with half a dozen bales of cotton, we were presently in the company of a
very small man who tossed a hand in token of great amusement.
"Hello, Ned!" he whispered in antic irony; "what an accident is dat,
meeding so! Whoever is expecting someding like dis!"
"Well, I hope nobody, Isidore; I hardly expected it myself, your father
set those candles so close the one behind the other."
Isidore doubled with mirth and as suddenly straightened. "Your horse is
here since yesterday. _She_ left him--by my father. She didn't t'ink t'e
Yankees is going to push away out here to-night. But he is a pusher,
t'at Grierson! You want him to-night, t'at horse? He is here by me, but
I t'ink you best not take him, hmm? To cross t'e creek and go round t'e
ot'er way take you more as all night; and to go back t'is same way you
come, even if I wrap him up in piece paper you haven't got a lawch
insite pocket you can carry him?" He laughed silently and the next
instant was more in earnest than ever.
"_She_ is in a tight place! She hires my mother's pony to ride in to
headquarters." He called them hatekvartuss, but we need not. "I t'ink
she is not a prisoner--_unless_--she wants to come back." He doubled
again. "Anyhow, I wish you can see her to-night; she got another
doll-baby for t'e gildren, and she give you waluable informations by de
hatfull.... Find her? I tell you how you find her in finfty-nine
minutes--vedder permitting, t'at is."
The last phrase was fitted to a listening pose, and the first mutter of
the pending thunder-storm came out of the northwest. Then Isidore
hastened through the practical details of his proposition. Ferry drew a
breath of enthusiasm. "Can I have my horse, bridled and saddled, in
"I pring um in two!" said Isidore, and vanished. Ferry turned with an
overmastering joy in every note of his whispered utterance. "After all!"
he said, and I could have thrown my arms around him in pure delight to
hear duty and heart's desire striking twelve together.
"Smith," he asked, "can you start back without me? Then go at once; I
shall overtake you on my horse."
I stole through the cornfield safely; the frequent lightnings were still
so well below the zenith as to hide me in a broad confusion of monstrous
shadows. But when I came to cross the road no crouching or gliding would
do. I must go erect and only at the speed of some ordinary official
errand. So I did, at a point between two opposite fence-gaps, closely
after an electric gleam, and I was rejoicing in the thick darkness that
followed, when all at once the whole landscape shone like day and I
stood in the middle of the road, in point-blank view of a small squad, a
"visiting patrol". They were trotting toward me in the highway, hardly a
hundred yards off. As the darkness came again and the thunder crashed
like falling timbers, I started into the cotton-field at an easy
double-quick. The hoofs of one horse quickened to a gallop. A strong
wind swept over, big rain-drops tapped me on the shoulder and pattered
on the cotton-plants, the sound of the horse's galloping ceased as he
turned after me in the soft field, and presently came the quiet call
"Halt, there, you on foot." I went faster. I knew by my pursuer's
coming alone that he did not take me for a Confederate, and that the
worst I should get, to begin with, would be the flat of his sabre.
Shrewdly loading my tongue with that hard northern _r_ which I hated
more than all unrighteousness, I called back "Oh, I'm under orders! go
halt some fool who's got time to halt!"
I obliqued as if bound for the headquarters fire where we had seen the
singers, the lightning branched over the black sky like tree-roots, the
thunder crashed and pounded again, the wind stopped in mid-career, and
the rain came straight down in sheets. "Halt!" yelled the horseman. He
lifted his blade, but I darted aside and doubled, and as he whirled
around after me, another rider, meeting him and reining in at such close
quarters that the mud flew over all three of us, lifted his hand
"He is right, sergeant, he is carrying out my orders." Ferry's black
silk handkerchief about his neck covered his Confederate bars of rank,
and the Federal may or may not have noted the absence of
shoulder-straps; our arms remained undrawn; and so the sergeant,
catching a breath or two of disconcertion, caught nothing else. While
Ferry spoke on for another instant I showed my heels; then he left the
dripping Yankee mouthing an angry question and loped after me, and over
the low fence went the two of us almost together.
Kendall was not there, the Federal camp-makers had tardily repaired
their blunder by posting guards; but these were not looking for their
enemies from the side of their own camp, and as we cleared the fence in
the full blaze of a lightning flash, only two or three wild shots sang
after us. In the black downpour Ferry reached me an invisible hand. I
leapt astride his horse's croup, and trusting the good beast to pick his
way among the trees himself, we sped away. Soon we came upon our three
men waiting with the horses, and no great while afterward the five of us
rejoined our command. The storm lulled to mild glimmerings and a gentle
shower, and the whole company, in one long single file, began to sweep
hurriedly, stealthily, and on a wide circuit of obscurest byways, deeper
than ever into the enemy's lines.
CHARLOTTE IN THE TENTS OF THE FOE
From certain rank signs of bad management in the Federal camp one could
easily guess that our circuit was designed to bring us around to its
rear. That a colonel's tent--the one where the singers were--was not
where the colonel's tent belonged was a trifle, but the slovenliness
with which the forest borders of the camp were guarded was a graver
matter. Evidently those troops were at least momentarily in unworthy
hands, and I was so remarking to Kendall when a murmured command came
back from Ferry, to tell Dick Smith to stop that whispering. I was
sorry, for I wanted to add that I knew we were not going to attack the
camp itself. That was on Wednesday night. Charlotte and Gholson had
made their ride of fifty miles on Monday. The friends with whom she
stopped at nightfall contrived to cram him into their crowded soldiers'
room, and he had given the whole company of his room-mates, as they sat
up in their beds, a full account of the fight at Sessions's, Charlotte's
care of the sick and dying, and the singing, by her and the blue-coats,
of their battle-song. Next morning Charlotte, without Gholson--who
turned off to camp--rode on to Goldschmidt's store, just beyond which
there was then still a Confederate picket. Here she hired Mrs.
Goldschmidt's pony, rode to the picket, and presented the Coralie
"Miss Coralie Rothvelt; yes, all right," said the officer, "the men that
rode with you this morning told me all about you." He went with her as
far as his videttes, and thence she rode alone to a picket of the
Federal army and by her request was conducted under guard to the
headquarters of a corps commander. To him and his chief-of-staff she
told the fate of Jewett's scouts and delivered the messages of their
dying leader; and then she tendered the hero's sword.
The staff-officer cut away its cornhusk wrapping and read aloud the
owner's name on the hilt. The General laid the mighty weapon across his
palm and sternly shut his lips. "How did you get through the enemy's
pickets with this?"
"I had a Confederate general's pass."
"Ah! Is the Confederate general as nameless as yourself?"
"I am not nameless; I only ask leave to withhold my name until I have
told one or two other things."
"But you don't mind confessing you're an out-and-out rebel sympathizer?"
Under the broad-brimmed hat her smile grew to a sparkle. "No, I enjoy
The chief-of-staff smiled, but the General darkened and pressed his
questions. At length he summed up. "So, then, you wish me to believe
that you did all you did, and now have come into our lines at a most
extraordinary and exhausting speed and running the ugliest kinds of
risks, in mere human sympathy for a dying stranger, he being a Union
officer and you a secessionist of"--a courtly bow--"the very elect;
that's your meaning, is it not?"
"No, General; in the first place, I am not one of any elect."
A flattering glimmer of amusement came into the two men's faces, but
some change in Charlotte's manner arrested it and brought an enhanced
"In the second place, I am not here merely on this errand."
"No, General. And in the last place, my motive in this errand is no mere
sympathy for any one person; I am here from a sense of public duty--"
The speaker seemed suddenly overtaken by emotions, dropped her words
with pained evenness, and fingered the lace handkerchief in her lap.
"Pardon," interrupted the General, "the sunlight annoys you. Major, will
you drop that curtain?" "Thank you. One thing I am here for, General,
is to tell you something, and I have to begin by asking that neither of
you will ever say how you learned it."
The two men bowed.
"Thank you. Please understand, also, I have never uttered this but to
one friend, a lady. There was no need; I have not wanted aid or counsel,
even from friends. But I feel duty bound to tell it to you, now,
because, for one thing, the brave soldier who wore that sword--" Her
eyes rose to the weapon and fell again; she bit her lip.
"Yes--well--what of him?"
"He was lured to disaster and death by a man whose supreme purpose was,
and is to-day, revenge upon me. That man drew him to his ruin purely in
search of my life." Charlotte sat with her strange in-looking,
out-looking gaze holding the gaze of her questioner until for relief
"Why, young lady, it's hard to doubt anything you say, but really that
sounds rather fanciful. Why should you think it?"
"I do not think it, I know it. He sends me his own assurance of it by
his own father, so that his revenge may be fuller by my knowing daily
and hourly that he is on my trail."
"And you appeal to me for protection?"
She smiled. "No. I am not seeking to divert his fury from myself, but to
confine it to myself. Fancy yourself a human-hearted woman, General, and
murder being done day by day because you are alive." "Oh, this is
incredible! What is its occasion, its origin? How are you in any way
"Why, largely I am not. Yet in degree I am, General, because of
shortcomings of mine--faults--errors--that--oh--that have their bearing
in the case, don't you see?"
"No, I don't; pray don't ask me to draw inferences; I might infer too
"Yes, you might, easily," said Charlotte; "for I only mean shortcomings
of the kind we readily excuse in others though we never can or should
pardon them in ourselves."
The General turned an arch smile of perplexity upon his chief-of-staff.
"I don't think we're quite up to that line of perpetual snow,
Walter, are we?"
The chief-of-staff "guessed they were not."
Charlotte resumed. "I have come to you in the common interest, to warn
you against that man. I believe he is on his way here to offer his
services as a guide. He is fearless, untiring, and knows all this region
"Union man, I take it, is he not?"
"No, he's Federal, Confederate or guerilla as it may suit his bloody
"And you want me not to make use of him."
"Oh, more than that; I want him stopped!--stopped from killing and
burning on his and my private account. But I want much more than that,
too. I know how you commonly stop such men."
"We hang them to the first tree."
"Yes, our side does the same. If I wanted such a fate to overtake him I
should only have to let him alone. At risks too hideous to name I have
saved him from it twice. I am here to-day chiefly to circumvent his
purposes; but if I may do so in the way I wish to propose to you, I
shall also save him once more. I am willing to save him--in that
way--although by so doing I shall lose--fearfully." She dropped her
glance and turned aside.
"How do you propose to circumvent and yet save him?"
"By getting you to send him so far to your own army's rear that he
cannot get back; to compel him to leave the country; to go into your
country, where law and order reign as they cannot here between
"And you consider that a reasonable request?"
"Oh, sir, I must make it! I can ask no less!"
"But you say if this scheme works you lose by it. What will you lose?"
"I may lose track of him! If I lose track of him I may have to go
through a long life not knowing whether he is dead or alive."
"And suppose--why,--young lady, I thought you were unmarried. I--oh,
what do you mean; is he--?"
Charlotte's head drooped and her hands trembled. "Yes, by law and church
decree he is my husband."
"Good Heaven!" murmured the General, drew a breath, and folded his arms.
"But, madam! if a man _abandons_ his wife--"
"I abandoned him."
"Good for you!" "It was vital for me. But I did it on evidence which
our laws ignore, the testimony of slaves. Oh, General, don't try to
untangle me; only stop him!"
"Ah! madam, I'll do the little I can. How am I to know him?"
"By a pistol-wound in his right hand, got last week. He would have got
it in his brain but for my pleading. His name is Oliver."
"Oliver; hmm! any relation to Charlotte Oliver, your so called newspaper
correspondent? I'd like to stop her.--How?--I don't quite hear you."
"I am Charlotte Oliver."
The two officers glanced sharply at each other. When the General turned
again he flushed resentfully. "Have you never resumed your maiden name?"
"Then, madam, tell me this! With a whole world of other people's names
to choose from, why _have_ you borrowed Charlotte Oliver's? Have you
come here determined to be sent to prison, Miss Coralie Rothvelt?"
STAY TILL TO-MORROW
Charlotte did not move an eyelash. Gradually a happy confidence lighted
her face. "Freedom or prison is to me a secondary question. I came here
determined to use only the truth. No wild creature loves to be free more
than I do. I want to go back into our lines, and to go at once; but--I
am Charlotte Oliver."
"Young lady, listen to me. I know your story is nearly all true. I know
some good things about you which you have modestly left out; one of the
rebels who stopped where you did last night and rode with you this
morning was brought to me a prisoner half an hour ago. But he said your
name was Rothvelt. How's that?"
"Unfortunately, General, my name is Charlotte Oliver. Two or three times
I have had use for so much concealment as there was in the childish
prank of turning my name wrong side out." The speaker made a sign to the
chief-of-staff: "Write the two names side by side and see if they
are not one."
He was already doing so, and nodded laughingly to his superior.
Charlotte spoke on. "I tell you the truth only, gentlemen, though I tell
you no more of it than I must. I have run many a risk to get the truth,
and to get it early. If it is your suspicion that by so doing, or in any
other way, I have forfeited a lady's liberty, let me hear and answer.
"Oh, I'll have to send you to the provost-martial at Baton Rouge and let
you settle that with him."
"Ah, no, General! By the name of the lady you love best, I beg you to
see my need and let me go. I promise you never henceforth to offend your
cause except in that mere woman's sympathy with what you call rebellion,
for which women are not so much as banished by you--or if they are, then
banish me! Treat me no better, and no worse, than a 'registered enemy'!"
The General shook his head. "Your registration has been in the open
field of military action; sometimes, I fear, between the lines. At least
it has been with your pen."
"General, I have laid down the pen."
"Indeed! to take up what?"
"The spoon!" said Charlotte, with that smile which no man ever wholly
resisted. "I leave the sword and its questions to my brother man, in the
blue and in the gray--God save it!--and have pledged myself to the gray,
to work from now on only under the yellow flag of mercy and healing."
"Yes, of course; mercy--and comfort--and every sort of unarmed aid--to
"To the men you call so, yes. Yet I pledge you, General, to deal as
tenderly with every man in blue who comes within range of my care as I
did with Captain Jewett."
"Oh, I know you did even better than you've told me, but I'd be a fool
to send you back on the instant, so. Stay till to-morrow or next day."
The captor smiled. "Major, I think we owe the lady that much
The Major thought so, and that she must need a day's rest, more than she
realized. She could be made in every way comfortable--under guard at
"Mr. Gilmer's." The Gilmers were Unionists, whose fine character had
been their only protection through two years of ostracism, yet he
believed they would treat her well. "Oh! not there, please," said
Charlotte; "I hear they are to give some of your officers a dance
to-morrow evening!" and there followed a parley that called forth all
her playfullest tact. "Oh, no," she said, at one critical point, "I'm
not so narrow or sour but I could dance with a blue uniform; but
suppose--why, suppose one's friends in gray should catch one dancing
with one's enemies in blue. Such things have happened, you know."
"It sha'n't happen to-morrow night," laughed the General.
She offered to nurse the Federal sick, instead, in the command's
field-hospital, but no, the General rose to end the interview. "My dear
young lady, the saintliest thing we can let you do is to dance at that
She rose. "As a prisoner under guard, General, I can nurse the sick, but
I will not dance."
The General smiled. "I'll take your parole."
"Oh! exact a parole from a woman?"
"Good gracious, why shouldn't I! As for you,--ha!--I'd as soon turn a
commissioned rebel officer loose in my camp unparoled as you."
"Then take my parole! I give it! you have it! I'll take the chances."
"And the dances?" asked the Major.
"Very good," said the General, "you are now on parole. See the lady
conducted to Squire Gilmer's, Major. And now, Miss--eh,--day after
to-morrow morning I shall either pass you beyond my lines or else send
you to Baton Rouge. Good-day." When Charlotte found herself alone in a
room of the Gilmer house she lay down upon the bed staring and sighing
with dismay; she was bound by a parole! If within its limit of time
Oliver should appear, "It will mean Baton Rouge for me!" she cried under
her breath, starting up and falling back again; "Baton Rouge, New
Orleans, Ship Island!" She was in as feminine a fright as though she had
never braved a danger. Suddenly a new distress overwhelmed her:
if--if--someone to deliver her should come--"Oh Heaven! I am
paroled!--bound hand and foot by my insane parole!"
Softly she sprang from the bed, paced the floor, went to the window,
seemed to look out upon the landscape; but in truth she was looking in
upon herself. There she saw a most unaccountable tendency for her
judgment--after some long overstrain--momentarily, but all at once, to
swoon, collapse, turn upside down like a boy's kite and dart to earth;
an impulse--while fancying she was playing the supremely courageous or
generous or clever part--suddenly to surrender the key of the situation,
the vital point in whatever she might be striving for. "Ah me, ah me!
why did I give my parole?"
At the close of the next day--"Walter," said the General as the
chief-of-staff entered his tent glittering in blue and gold,--"oh, thud
devil!--you going to that dance?"
THE DANCE AT GILMER'S
All the while that I recount these scenes there come to me soft
orchestrations of the old tunes that belonged with them. I am thinking
of one just now; a mere potsherd of plantation-fiddler's folk-music
which I heard first--and last--in the dance at Gilmer's. Indeed no other
so widely recalls to me those whole years of disaster and chaos; the
daily shock of their news, crashing in upon the brain like a shell into
a roof; wail and huzza, camp-fire, litter and grave; battlefield stench;
fiddle and flame; and ever in the midst these impromptu merrymakings to
keep us from going stark mad, one and all,--as so many literally did.
The Gilmer daughters were fair, but they were only three, and the
Gilmers were the sole Unionists in their neighborhood. "Still, a few
girls will come," said Charlotte, sparkling first blue and then black at
a sparkling captain who said that, after all, the chief-of-staff had
decided he couldn't attend. I know she sparkled first blue and then
black, for she always did so when she told of it in later days.
"They say," responded the captain, "that in this handy little world
there are always a few to whom policy is the best honesty; is that the
few who will come?"
"You are cynical," said Charlotte, "this is only their unarmed way of
saving house and home for the brothers to come back to when you are
purged out of the land."
When the time came there were partners for eight gallants, and the
gallants numbered sixteen. They counted off by twos; the evens waited
while the odds danced the half of each set, and then the odds waited and
cooled, tried to cool, out on the veranda. But when a reel was called
the whole twenty-four danced together, while the fiddler (from the
contraband camp) improvised exultant words to his electrifying tunes.
"O _ladies_ ramble in,
Whilst de _beaux_ ramble out,
For to guile dat golden _cha--ain._
My _Lawdy!_ it's a sin
Fo' a _fiddleh_ not to shout!
Miss _Charlotte's_ a-comin' down de _la--ane_!"
[Footnote 1: Coil.]
Now the dance is off, but now it is on again, and again. The fiddler
toils to finer and finer heights of enthusiasm; slippers twinkle,
top-boots flash, the evens come in (to the waltz) and the odds, out on
the veranda, tell one another confidentially how damp they are. Was ever
an evening so smotheringly hot! Through the house-grove, where the
darkness grows blacker and blacker and the tepid air more and more
breathless, they peer toward the hitching-rail crowded with their
horses. Shall they take their saddles in, or shall they let them get wet
for fear the rebels may come with the shower, as toads do? [Laughter.]
One or two, who grope out to the animals, report only a lovely picture:
the glowing windows; the waltzers circling by them; in the dining-room,
and across the yard in the kitchen, the house-servants darting to and
fro as busy as cannoneers; on their elbows at every windowsill, and on
their haunches at every door, the squalid field-hands making grotesque
silhouettes against the yellow glow that streamed out into the trees.
Now the lightning seems nearer. Hark, that was thunder; soft, but real.
At last the air moves; there is a breeze, and the girls come out on the
gallants' arms to drink it in. As they lift their brows and sigh their
comfort the lightning grows brighter, the thunder comes more promptly
and louder, and the maidens flinch and half scream, yet linger for one
more draft of the blessed coolness. Suddenly an inverted tree of
blinding light branches down the sky, and the thunder crashes in one's
very ears; the couples recoil into a group at the door, the lightning
again fills heaven and earth, it shows the bending trees far afield, and
the thunders peal at each other as if here were all Vicksburg and Port
Hudson, with Porter and Farragut going by. So for a space; then the wind
drops to a zephyr, and though the sky still blazes and crashes, and
flames and roars, the house purrs with content under the sweet strokings
of the rain.
Let it pour! the dining-room is the centre of all things; the ladies sip
the custards and nibble the cake the gallants cram the cake and gulp the
punch. The fiddler-improvisator disappears, reappears, and with crumbs
on his breast and pan-gravy and punch on his breath remounts his seat;
and the couples are again on the floor. The departing thunders grumble
as they go, the rain falls more and more sparingly, and now it is a
waltz, and now a quadrille, and now it's a reel again, with Miss Sallie
or Louise or Laura or Lucille or Miss Flora "a-comin' down de lane!"
So come the stars again, one by one. In a pause between dances Charlotte
and the staff captain go to the veranda's far end and stand against the
rail. The night is still very dark, the air motionless. Charlotte is
remarking how far they can hear the dripping of the grove, when she
gives a start and the captain an amused grunt; a soft, heart-broken,
ear-searching quaver comes from just over yonder by the horses. "One of
those pesky little screech-owls," he says. "Don't know as I ever heard
one before under just these condi'--humph! there's another, around on
"I think I will go in," says Charlotte, with a pretence of languor. As
they do so the same note sounds a third time; her pace quickens, and in
passing a bright window, with a woman's protecting impulse she changes
from his left arm to his right so as to be on the side next the owls. A
moment later she is alone in the middle of her room, a lighted candle in
one hand, a regally dressed doll in the other, and in her heart the cry,
"Oh, Edgard, Edgard, my parole, my parole!"
Once more she is downstairs, in the lane which the dancers are making
for their last reel. Two of the gallants have gone out to see the
horses, and something keeps them, but there is no need to wait. The
fiddle rings a chord! the merry double line straightens down the hall
from front door to rear, bang! says the fiddler's foot--"hands
round!"--and hands round it is! In the first of the evening they had
been obliged to tell the fiddler the names of the dancers, but now he
knows them all and throws off his flattering personalities and his
overworked rhymes with an impartial rotation and unflagging ardor. Once
in a while some one privately gives him a new nickname for the next man
"a-comin' down de lane," and as he yawps it out the whole dance gathers
new mirth and speed.
Now the third couple clasp hands, arch arms, and let the whole
countermarching train sweep through; and a beautiful arch they make, for
they are the aforesaid captain and Charlotte Oliver. "Hands
round!"--hurrah for the whirling ellipse; and now it's "right and left"
and two ellipses glide opposite ways, "to quile dat golden chain." In
the midst of the whirl, when every hand is in some other and men and
girls are tossing their heads to get their locks out of their eyes, at
the windows come unnoticed changes and two men loiter in by the front
hall door, close to the fiddler. One has his sword on, and each his
pistols, and their boots and mud-splashed uniforms of dubious blue are
wet and steamy. The one without the sword gives the fiddler a fresh name
to sing out when the spinning ring shall straighten into its two gay
ranks again, and bids him--commandingly--to yell it; and with never a
suspicion of what it stands for, the stamping and scraping fiddler
shouts the name of a man who "loves a good story with a
"Come _a-left_, come a-right,
Come yo' _lily_-white hand,
Fo' to _quile_ dat _golden cha--ain_.
O _ladies_ caper light--
Sweetest _ladies_ in de land--
NED FERRY's a-comin' down de la--ane!"
[Illustration: Musical Notation]
HE'S DEAD.--IS SHE ALIVE?
Cries of masculine anger and feminine affright filled the hall, but one
ringing order for silence hushed all, and the dance stood still with Ned
Ferry in its centre. In his right hand, shoulder high, he held not his
sword, but Charlotte's fingers lightly poised for the turn in the
arrested dance. "Stand, gentlemen, every man is covered by two; look at
the doors; look at the windows." The staff captain daringly sprang for
the front door, but Ferry's quick boot caught his instep and he struck
the floor full length. Like lightning Ferry's sword was out, but he only
gave it a deferential sweep. "Sir! better luck next time!--Lieutenant
Quinn, put the Captain in your front rank."
Quinn hustled the captives "down a lane," as the fiddler might have
said, of Ferry's scouts, mounted them on their own horses at the door,
and hurried them away. Charlotte had vanished but was back again in hat
and riding-skirt. Ferry caught her hand and they ran to the front
veranda steps just as the prisoners and guard rode swiftly from them.
Kendall and I had the stirrup ready for her; the saddle was a man's, but
she made a horn of its pommel, and in a flash the four of us were
mounted. Nevertheless before we could move the grove resounded with
shots, and Ferry, bidding us ride on after the fleeing guard, wheeled
and galloped to where half our troop were holding back their assailants
in the dark. But then, to our distraction, Charlotte would not fly.
"Richard, I'm paroled!"--"Charlotte Oliver, you're my prisoner!" I
reached for her bridle, but she avoided me and with a cry of
recollection wheeled and was on her way back. "I forgot something! I can
get it, I left the room lighted!"
I remember vividly yet the high purpose and girlish propitiation that
rang together in her voice. Kendall dashed after her while I went
against a wet bough that all but threw me; but before he could reach her
she flew up the steps, crying "Hold my horse!"
"Mine, too!" I cried, springing up after her. How queerly the inner
house stood alight and silent, its guests and inmates hidden, while
outside pistols and carbines flashed and cracked. I came upon Charlotte,
just recrossing her chamber to leave it, with her doll in her arms.
"Come!" I cried, "our line is falling back behind the house!" Her head
flinched aside, a bit of her hat flew from it, and a pistol-ball buried
itself in the ceiling straight over my head. We ran downstairs together,
pulling, pushing and imploring each other in the name of honor, duty and
heaven to let him--let her--go out first through the bright hall door.
Kendall was not in sight, but in a dim half-light a few yards off we saw
Oliver. He was afoot, bending low, and gliding toward us with his
revolver in his left hand. He fired as I did; her clutch spoiled my aim;
with eager eyes she straightened to her finest height, cried "Richard!
tell Lieutenant Ferry he--" and with a long sigh sank into my arms. A
rush of hoofs sounded behind Oliver, he glanced up, and Ferry's blade
fell across his brow and launched him face upward to the ground. I saw
a bunch of horses, with mine, at the foot of the steps, and a bunch of
men at the top; Ferry snatched Charlotte's limp form from me and said
over his shoulder as he went down the steps, "Go get him and bring him
along, dead or alive!"
I called a man to my aid and was unlucky in not getting the cool-headed
Kendall, for my own wits were gone. The next moment all had left us and
I was down on the ground toiling frantically, with no help but one hand
of my mounted companion, to heave the stalwart frame of Oliver up to
"Why, he's dead!" cried the lad, letting him slide half-way down when we
had all but got him up; "don't you see he's dead? His head's laid wide
open! He's as dead as a mackerel! I'll _swear_ we ain't got any right to
get captured trying to save a dead Yankee."
I was in despair; our horses had caught our frenzy and were plunging to
be after their fellows, and a fresh body of the enemy were hurtling into
the grove. Dropping my burden I vaulted up, and we scurried away, saved
only by the enemy's healthy fear of an ambush. The first man we came up
with was Quinn, with the rear-guard. "Is he dead?" he growled.
"Dead as Adam!" said I, and my comrade put in "Head laid wide open!"
"Drop back into the ranks," said Quinn to him. "Smith, ride on to
Lieutenant Ferry. Corporal,"--to a man near him--"you know the way so
well, go with him."
The two of us sprang forward. How long or what way we went I have now
no clear idea, but at length we neared again the grapevine ferry. The
stream was swollen, we swam our horses, and on the farther side we found
Kendall waiting. To the corporal's inquiry he replied that Ferry had
just passed on. "You know Roy's; two miles off the Plank Road by the
first right? He expects to stop there."
"Is she alive, Kendall?" I interrupted. "Is she alive?"
"No," said he, to some further question of the corporal; "I'm to wait
here for the command."
"Is she alive, Kendall?" I asked again.
"Hello, Smith." He scanned my dripping horse. "Your saddle's slipped,
Smith. Yes, she's alive."
IN THE HOLLOW OF HIS RIGHT ARM
"There they are!" said the corporal and I at the same moment, when we
had been but a few minutes on the Plank-road. Two men were ahead of us
riding abreast, and a few rods in front of them was a third horseman,
apparently alone. Two others had pushed on, one to the house, the other
for surgical aid. The two in the rear knew us and let us come up
unchallenged; the corporal stayed with them, and I rode on to my
Charlotte lay in his double clasp balanced so lightly on the horse's
crest as hardly to feel the jar of his motion, though her head lay as
nearly level with it as Ferry's bending shoulders and the hollow of his
lowered right arm would allow; from under his other arm her relaxed
figure, in its long riding-skirt, trailed down over his knee and
stirrup; her broad limp hat, as if it had been so placed in sport, hung
at his back with its tie-ribbons round his throat, while the black
masses of her hair spread in ravishing desolation over and under his
supporting arm. Her face was fearfully pale, the brows glistened with
the damp of nervous shock, and every few moments she feebly brought a
handkerchief to her lips to wipe away the blood that rose to them with
every sigh. Steadfastly, except when her eyes closed now and then in
deathly exhaustion, her gaze melted into his like a suffering babe's
into its mother's. From time to time a brief word passed between them,
and with joy I noticed that it was always in French; I hoped with my
whole heart and soul that they had already said things, and were saying
things yet, which no one else ought to hear. I waited some time for his
notice, and when he gave it it was only by saying to her in a full voice
and in English "Dick Smith is here, alongside of us."
Her response was a question, which he repeated: "Is he hurt? no, Richard
never gets hurt. Shall he tell us whatever he knows?"
He bent low for the faint reply, and when it came he sparkled with
pride. "'It matters little,' she says, 'to either of us, now.' Give your
report; but _I_ tell you"--there came a tiger look in his eyes--"there
is now no turning back; we shall go on." I answered with soft elation:
"My news needn't turn you back: Oliver is dead."
He drew a long breath, murmured "My God!" and then suddenly asked "You
found him so, or--?"
"We found him so; had to leave him so; head laid wide open; we were
about to be captured--thought the news would be better than nothing--"
"Certainly, yes, certainly. Now I want you to ride to the brigade camp
and telegraph Miss Harper this: 'She needs you. Come instantly.
Durand.'"--I repeated it to him.--"Right," he said. "Send that first;
and after that--here is a military secret for you to tell to General
Austin; I think you like that kind, eh? Tell him I would not send it
verbally if I had my hands free. You know that regiment at whose
headquarters we saw them singing; well, tell him they are to make a move
to-day, a bad mistake, and I think if he will stay right there where he
is till they make it, we can catch the whole lot of them. As soon as
they move I shall report to him."
Two gasping words from Charlotte brought his ear down, and with a
worshipping light in his eyes he said to her "Yes,--yes!" and then to
me, "Yes, I shall report to him _in person_. Now, Smith, the top of
Reveillé was sounding as I entered the camp. In the middle of my story
to the General--"Saddle my horse," he said to an attendant, "and send
Mr. Gholson to me. Yes, Smith, well, what then?"--I resumed, but in a
minute--"Mr. Gholson, good-morning. My compliments to Major Harper, Mr.
Gholson, and ask him if he wouldn't like to take a ride with me; and
let me have about four couriers; and send word to Colonel Dismukes that
I shall call at his headquarters to see him a moment, on my way out of
camp. Now, Smith, you've given me the gist of the matter, haven't you?
Oh, I think you have; good-morning."
Gholson had helped me get the despatch off to Miss Harper, whose coming
no one could be more eager to hasten. Before leaving camp I saw him
again. He was strangely reticent; my news seemed to benumb and sicken
him. But as I remounted he began without connection--"You see, she'll be
absolutely alone until Miss Harper gets there; not a friend within call!
_He_ won't be there, she won't let him stay; she dislikes him too much;
I _know_ that, Smith. Why, Smith, she wouldn't ever 'a' let him carry
her off the field if she'd been conscious; she'd sooner 'a' gone to Ship
Island, or to death!" He looked as though he would rather she had. His
tongue, now it had started, could not stop. "Ned Ferry can't stay by
her; he mustn't! he hadn't ought to use around anywheres near her."
I gave a sort of assent--attended with nausea--and turned to my saddle,
but he clung. "Why, how can he hang around that way, Smith, and he a
suitor who's just killed her husband? Of course, now, he'd ought to know
he can't ever be one henceforth. I'm sorry for him, but--"
"Good-morning," I interrupted, quite in the General's manner, and made a
spirited exit, but it proved a false one; one thing had to be said, and
I returned. "Gholson, if she should be worse hurt than--" "Ah! you're
thinking of the chaplain; I've already sent him. Yonder he goes, now;
you can show him the way."
"Understand," I said as I wheeled, "I fully expect her to recover."
"Yes, oh, yes!" replied my co-religionist, with feverish zest; "we must
have faith--for her sake! But o--oh! Smith, what a chastening judgment
this is against dancing!"
I moved away, looking back at him, and seeing by his starved look how he
was racking his jaded brain for some excuse to go with me, I honestly
believe I was sorry for him. The chaplain was a thick-set, clean-shaven,
politic little fellow whose "Good-mawning, brothah?" had the heavy
sweetness of perfumed lard. We conversed fluently on spiritual matters
and also on Ned Ferry. He asked me if the Lieutenant was "a believer."
"Why," said I, "as to that, Lieutenant Ferry believes there's something
right about everything that's beautiful, and something wrong about
everything that isn't. Now, of course that's a very dangerous idea, and
yet--" So I went on; ah me! the nightmare of it hangs over me yet,
"religionist" though I am, after a fashion, unto this day. In Ferry's
defence I maintained that only so much of any man's religion as fitted
him, and fitted him not as his saddle or his clothes, but as his nervous
system fitted him, was really his, or was really religion. I said I knew
a man whose ready-made religion, small as it was, bagged all over him
and made him as grotesque as a child in his father's trousers. The
chaplain tittered so approvingly that I straightened to spout again, but
just then we saw three distant figures that I knew at a glance.
"There he is, now!--Excuse me, sir--" I clapped in the spurs, but the
chaplain clattered stoutly after me. The two horsemen moving from us
were the General and Major Harper, and the one meeting them was Ned
Ferry. Between the three and us rose out of a hollow the squad of
couriers. And yonder came the sun.
A CRUEL BOOK AND A FOOL OR TWO
I could see by Ferry's face that there was no worse news. He met me
aside, and privately bade me go to Roy's (where Charlotte was). "Kendall
is there," he said; "I leave you and him in charge. That will rest your
horses. Kendall has your Yankee horse, his own is sick. You and Kendall
get all the sleep you can, you may get none to-night."
"Lieutenant," I began eagerly as he was drawing away, "is--?"
"Yes! oh, yes, yes!" His eyes danced, and a soft laugh came, as happy as
a child's. "The surgeon is yonder, he will tell you."
This person Kendall and I had the luck to meet at the Roy's
breakfast-table. "Yes, left lung," he said. "No, hardly 'perforated,'
but the top deeply grazed." The ball, he said, had passed on and out,
and he went into particulars with me, while I wondered if Kendall knew,
as I did, what parts of the body the pleura, the thorax, the clavicle
and the pyemia were.
We lay down to sleep on some fodder in the Widow Roy's stable, while
around three sides of the place, in a deep wooded hollow, Quinn and the
company, well guarded by hidden videttes, drowsed in secret bivouac. I
dreamed. I had feared I should, and it would have been a sort of bitter
heart's-ease to tell Kendall of my own particular haunting trouble. For
now, peril and darkness, storm, hard riding, the uproar and rage of
man-killing, all past and gone, my special private wretchedness came
back to me bigger than ever, like a neglected wound stiffened and
swollen as it has grown cold. But Kendall would not talk, and when I
dreamed, my dream was not of Camille. It seemed to me there was a hot
fight on at the front, and that I, in a sweat of terror, was at the
rear, hiding among the wagons and telling Gholson pale-faced lies as to
why I was there. All at once Gholson became Oliver, alive,
bloody-handed, glaring on me spectrally, cursing, threatening, and
demanding his wife. His head seemed not "laid wide open," but to have
only a streak of the skull bared by Ferry's glancing left-cut and a
strip of the scalp turned inside out. Cécile drew his head down and
showed it to me, in a transport of reproaches, as though my false report
had wronged no one else so ruinously as her.
I awoke aghast. If Kendall had still been with me I might, in the first
flush of my distress, have told my vision; but in the place where
Kendall had lain lay Harry Helm. Kendall was gone; a long beam of
afternoon sunlight shone across my lair through a chink in the log
stable. I sprang half up with an exclamation, and Harry awoke with a
luxurious yawn and smile. Kendall, he said, had left with the company,
which had marched. Quinn was in command and had told Harry that he was
only going to show the enemy that there was no other hostile force in
their front, and get himself chased away southeastward.
"I don't know whether he was telling me the truth or not," said Helm, as
we led our saddled horses toward the house; "I reckon he didn't want me
alongside of him with this arm in a sling." The hand was bad; lines of
pain were on the aide's face. He had taken the dead Louisianian home,
got back to camp, and ridden down here to get the latest news concerning
Charlotte. Kendall had already given him our story of the night; I had
to answer only one inquiry. "Oh, yes," was my reply, "head laid wide
open!" But to think of my next meeting with Ned Ferry almost made
Harry was delighted. "That lays their way wide open--Ned's and hers!
Smith, some God-forsaken fool brought a chaplain here to talk religion
to her! He hasn't seen her--Doctor wouldn't let him; but he's here yet,
and--George! if I was them I'd put him to a better use than what he came
here for, and I'd do it so quick it would make his head swim!" He went
on into all the arguments for it; the awkwardnesses of Charlotte's new
situation, her lack of means for even a hand-to-mouth daily existence,
and so on. Seeing an ambulance coming in through the front gate, and in
order not to lose the chance for my rejoinder, I interrupted.
"Lieutenant, she will not allow it! She will make him wait a proper time
before he may as much as begin a courtship, and then he will have to
begin at the beginning. She's not going to let Ned Ferry narrow or lower
her life or his--no, neither of them is going to let the other do
it--because a piece of luck has laid the way wide open!" I ended with a
pomp of prophecy, yet I could hear Ned Ferry saying again, with
Charlotte's assenting eyes in his, "There is no turning back."
The driver of the ambulance did not know why he had been ordered to
report here, but when the Widow Roy came to the door she brought
explanation enough. A courier had come to her and gone again, and the
chaplain and the surgeon and every one else of any "army sort" except us
two had "put out," and she was in a sad flurry. "The Lieutenant," she
said, "writes in this-yeh note that this-yeh place won't be safe f'om
the Yankees much longer'n to-day, and fo' us to send the wounded lady in
the avalanch. Which she says, her own self, it'd go rough with her to
fall into they hands again. My married daughter she's a-goin' with her,
and the'd ought to be a Mr. Sm'--oh, my Lawdy! you ain't reg-lahly in
the ahmy, air you?"
With some slave men to help us, Harry and I bore Charlotte out and laid
her in the ambulance, mattress and all, on an under bedding of fodder.
She had begged off from opiates, and was as full of the old starlight as
if the day, still strong, were gone. I helped the married daughter up
beside the driver, Harry and I mounted, and we set forth for the
brigade camp. Mrs. Roy's daughter had with her a new romance, which she
had been reading to Charlotte. Now she was eager to resume it, and
Charlotte consented. It was a work of some merit; I have the volume yet,
inscribed to me on the fly-leaf "from C.O.," as I have once already
stated, in my account of my friend "The Solitary." At the end of a mile
we made a change; Harry rode a few yards ahead with an officer who
happened to overtake us, I took the reins from the ambulance driver, and
he followed on my horse; I thought I could drive more smoothly than he.
And so I began to hear the tale. I was startled by its strong reminder
of Charlotte's own life; but Charlotte answered my anxious glance with a
brow so unfretted that I let the reading go on, and so made a cruel
mistake. At every turning-point in the story its reader would have
paused to talk it over, but Charlotte, with a steadily darkling brow,
murmured each time "Go on," and I was silent, hoping that farther along
there would be a better place to stop for good. Not so; the story's
whirling flood swept us forward to a juncture ever drawing nearer and
clearer, clearer and crueler, where a certain man would have to choose
between the woman he loved and that breadth and fruitfulness of life to
which his splendid gifts imperiously pointed him. Oh, you story-tellers!
Every next page put the question plainer, drove the iron deeper: must a
man, or even may a man, wed his love, when she stands between him and
his truest career, a drawback and drag upon his finest service to his
race and day? And, oh, me! who let my eye quail when Charlotte searched
it, as though her own case had brought that question to me before ever
we had seen this book. And, oh, that impenetrable woman reading! Her
husband was in Lee's army, out of which, she boasted, she would steal
him in a minute if she could. She was with us, now, only because, at
whatever cost to others, she was going where no advancement of the
enemy's lines could shut her off from him; and so stop reading a moment
she must, to declare her choice for Love as against all the careers on
earth, and to put that choice fairly to shame by the unworthiness of her
pleadings in its defence. I intervened; I put her grovelling arguments
aside and thrust better ones in, for the same choice, and then, in the
fear that they were not enough, stumbled into special pleading and
protested that the book itself had put the question unfairly.
"Shut it," said Charlotte, with a sigh like that which had risen when
the lead first struck her. "If I could be moved ever so little,--"
I had the driver tie my horse behind the vehicle and resume the lines.
Then the soldier's wife and I moved Charlotte, and when the reader began
to handle the book again wishfully our patient said, with the kindest
voice, "Read the rest of it to yourself; I know how it will end; it will
end to please you, not as it ought; not as it ought."
For a while we went in silence, and she must have seen that my heart was
in a rage, for with suffering on her brow, amusement on her lips, and a
sweet desperation in her eyes, she murmured my name. "Richard:--what
fun it must have been to live in those old Dark Ages--when all you had
to do--was to turn any one passion into--one splendid virtue--at the
expense--of all the rest."
I could answer pleadingly that it were far better not to talk now. But
she would go on, until in my helplessness I remarked how beautiful the
day had been. Her eyes changed; she looked into mine with her calm
inward-outward ken, and once more with smiling lips and suffering brow
murmured, "Yes." I marvelled she should betray such wealth of meaning to
such as I; yet it was like her splendid bravery to do it.
At the brigade's picket, where I was angry that Ferry did not meet us,
and had resumed the saddle and stretched all the curtains of the
ambulance, who should appear but Scott Gholson. Harry and I were riding
abreast in advance of the ambulance. Gholson and he barely said
good-evening. I asked him where was Lieutenant Ferry, and scarcely noted
his words, so promptly convinced was I by their mere tone that he had
somehow contrived to get Ferry sent on a distant errand. "Is she
better?" he inquired; "has the hemorrhage stopped?"
"It's begun again," growled Harry, who wanted both of us to suffer all
we could. Gholson led us through the camp. A large proportion of the men
were sleeping when as yet it was hardly night.
"Has the brigade got marching orders?" I asked, and he said the three
regiments had, though not the battery. He passed over to me two pint
bottles filled, corked, and dangling from his fingers by a stout double
twine on the neck of each. "Every man has them," he said; "hang one on
each side of your belt in front of your pistol."
I held them up and scowled from them to Harry, and we both laughed, so
transparent was Gholson's purpose to get every one away from our patient
who yearned to be near her. "One in front of each pistol," I said, so
tying them; "but use the pistols first, I suppose."
"Yes," replied Gholson, "pistols first, and then the turpentine."
Whereat Harry and I exchanged glances again, it came so pat that Scott
Gholson should be a dispenser of inflammables. At a house a mile behind
the camp the surgeon stood waiting for us. He frowned at me the instant
he saw Charlotte, and I heard him swear. As we bore her in with Gholson
and me next her head she murmured to him:
"Mr. Gholson, when does the command move?"
"At twelve," he replied, and I bent and softly added "That's why--"
"Yes," she said, with a quick, understanding look, and wiped her lips as
daintily as if it were with wine they were crimsoned.
THE BOTTOM OF THE WHIRLWIND
On my way back through camp with Gholson I saw old Dismukes. He called
me to him, quit his cards, and led me into his tent. There, very
beguilingly, he questioned me at much length, evidently seeking to draw
from the web of my replies the thread of Ferry's and Charlotte's story;
and as I saw that he believed in both of them with all his brutal might,
I let him win a certain success. "Head laid wide open!" he said
gleefully, and boiled over with happy blasphemings.
I left him, found supper, and had been long asleep tinder a tree, when I
grabbed savagely at some one for silently shaking me, and found it was
Ned Ferry. His horse's bridle was in his hand; his face was more filled
with the old pain than I had ever seen it; he spoke low and hurriedly.
"Come, tell me what this means."
In an envelope addressed to him in the handwriting I had first seen at
Lucius Oliver's I found a scripture-text, a heading torn from a tract
which the chaplain may have sent in to Charlotte in the morning. I
turned it to the light of my fire. Under this printed line she had
pencilled her name.
I asked if he had seen her. "Ah, no! the Doctor has drugged her to
sleep; but that woman who came with you was still in the parlor, reading
a book, and she gave me this. What does it mean?"
"Lieutenant," I replied, choking with dismay, "why mind her meanings
now? Ought you not rather to ignore them? She is fevered, dejected,
overwrought. Why, sir, she is the very woman to say and mean things now
which she would never say or mean at any other time!" But my tone must
have shown that I was only groping in desperation after anything
plausible, and he waved my suggestions away.
"The Doctor says that woman has been reading her an exciting story."
"Yes, and that helps to account--"
"Richard, it helps the wrong way; _I know that story_. After hearing
that story she is, yes! the one woman of all women to send me _this_."
I took it again. The signature was extended in full, with the surname
blackly underlined. The first clause of the print, too, was so treated.
"_Keep thy heart_," it read; "_Keep thy heart_ with all diligence; for
out of it are the issues of life.--Charlotte _Oliver_."
"Why, Lieutenant, that is just what you have done--"
"You think so? But I _have done_. I will keep it no longer! Ah, I never
kept it; 'twas she! Without taking it from me she kept it--'with all
diligence'; otherwise I should have lost it--and her, too--and all that
is finest and hardest to keep--long ago. Give me that paper; come;
saddle up; you may go with me if you want, as my courier." No bugle had
sounded, yet the whole camp was softly and diligently astir. We rode
toward the staff tents; the pulse of enterprise enlivened him once more,
though he clung to the same theme. "I have _her_ heart now, Smith, and I
will keep _that_ with all diligence, for out of _that_ are the issues
of _my_ life--if I live. And if I do live I will have her if I have to
steal her even from herself, as last night from the Yankees."
Three hours later the stars still gleamed down through the balmy night
above the long westward-galloping column of our brigade, that for those
three hours had not slackened from the one unmitigated speed. The
Federal regiment of whose plans Charlotte had apprised Ferry had been
camped well to southward of this course, but in the day just past they
had marched to the north, intending a raid around our right and into our
rear. To-night they were resting in a wide natural meadow through the
middle of which ran this road we were on. Around the southern edge of
this inviting camp-ground by a considerable stream of water; the
northern side was on rising ground and skirted by woods, and in these
woods as day began to break stood our brigade, its presence utterly
unsuspected in all that beautiful meadow whitened over with lane upon
lane of the tents of the regiment of Federal cavalry, whose pickets we
had already silently surprised and captured. Now, as warily as quails,
we moved along an unused, woodcutters' road and began to trot up a
gentle slope beyond whose crest the forest sank to the meadow. We were
within a few yards of this crest, when a small mounted patrol came up
from the other side, stood an instant profiled against the sky, bent
low, gazed, wheeled and vanished.
Over the crest we swept after them at a gallop and saw them half-way
down an even incline, going at a mad run and yelling "Saddle up! saddle
up! the rebels are coming! saddle up!" The bugles had begun the
reveillé; it ceased, and the next instant they were sounding the call To
Arms. It was only a call to death; already we were half across the short
decline and coming like a tornado; in the white camp the bluecoats were
running hither and yon deaf to the brave shoutings of their captains;
above the swelling thunder of our hoofs rose the mad yell of the onset;
and now carbines peal and pistols crack, and here are the tents so close
you may touch them, and yonder is one already in a light blaze, and at
every hand and under every horse's foot is the crouching, quailing,
falling foe, the air is one crash of huzzas and groans, screams, shots
and commands, horses with riders and horses without plunge through the
flames and smoke of the burning tents, and again and again I see Ned
Ferry with the flat of his unstained sword strike pistol or carbine from
hands too brave to cast them tamely down, and hear him cry "Throw down
your arms! For God's sake throw down your arms and run to the road! run
to the public road!"
And still every moment men fell, and what could we do but smite while
the foe's bugles still rang out from beside his unfurled standard.
Thitherward sprang a swarm of us and found a brave group massed on foot
around the colors, men and officers shoulder to shoulder in sudden
equality. I saw Ned Ferry make straight for their commander, who alone
had out his sabre; the rest stood with cocked revolvers, and at twenty
yards fired low. Ferry's horse was hit; he reared, but the spur carried
him on; his rider's sword flashed up and then down, the Federal's sabre
turned it, the pistols cracked in our very faces, and down went my
leader and his horse into the bottom of the whirlwind, right under the
standard. I saw the standard-bearer bring down one of our men on top of
Ferry, and as Ferry half regained his feet the Federal aimed point-blank
against his breast. But it was I who fired and the Federal who fell. As
he reeled I stretched out for the standard, and exactly together Ned
Ferry and I seized it--the same standard we had seen the night before.
But instantly, graciously, he thrust it from him. "Tis yours!" he cried
in the midst of a general huzza, smiling up at it and me as I swung the
trophy over my head. Then he turned ghastly pale, his smile faded to an
unmeaning stare, two or three men leaped to his side, and he sank
lifelessly into their arms beside his dying horse.
I was swinging from the saddle to my leader's relief, when a familiar
voice forbade it, and old Dismukes came by at a long trot, pointing
forward with the reddest sabre I ever saw, and bellowing to right and
left with oaths and curses "Fall in, every man, on yon line! Ride to yon
line and fall in, there's more Yankees coming! Ride down yonder and
fa'--_here_, you, Legs, there! follow me, and shoot down every man that
stops to plunder!"
Now I saw the new firing-line, out on our left, and as the rattle of it
quickened, the Colonel galloped, still roaring out his rallying-cries
and wiping his reeking blade across his charger's mane. Throngs gathered
after him; the high-road swarmed with prisoners double-quicking to the
rear under mounted guards; here, thinly stretched across the road at
right-angles, were our horse-holders, steadily, coolly falling back;
farther forward, yet vividly near, was our skirmish-line, crackling and
smoking, and beyond it the enemy's, in the edge of a wood, not yet quite
venturing to fling itself upon us. We passed General Austin standing,
mounted, at the top of the rise, with a number of his staff about him.
Minie balls had begun to sing about them and us, and some officer was
telling me rudely I had no business bringing that standard--when
something struck like a sledge high up on my side, almost in the
arm-pit; I told one of our men I was wounded and gave him the trophy,
our horse-holders suddenly came forward, every man afoot rose into his
saddle, and my horse wheeled and hurried rearward at a speed I strove in
vain to check. Then the old messmate to whom I had said good-bye at this
very hour just a week before, came and held me by the right arm, while I
begged him like a drunk-and-disorderly to let me go and find Ned Ferry.
But he said Lieutenant Ferry was in a captured ambulance ahead of us and
of our hundreds of prisoners, that a full creek and a burning bridge
were between us and the foe, and that the fight was over.
UNDER THE ROOM WHERE CHARLOTTE LAY
The fight was over only in degree. Our brigade was drawing away into the
north and the enemy were pressing revengefully after them. Our hundreds
of prisoners and our few wounded were being taken back eastward over the
road by which we had come in the night, and even after we had turned
into it I saw a Yankee shell kill a wounded man and his horse not thirty
yards from me.
Before we had gone another mile I met Harry Helm. The General had left
him in camp with flat orders to remain, but at daylight he had ridden
out to find us. He was in two tremendous moods at once; lifted to heaven
on the glory of our deeds, yet heart-broken over the fate of Ned Ferry.
"Surgeon's told him he can't live, Dick! And all the effect that's
had--'No opiates, then, Doctor,' s'e, 'till I get off these two or three
despatches.' So there he lies in that ambulance cross-questioning
prisoners and making everybody bring him every scrap of information, as
if he were General Austin and Major Harper rolled into one and they were
wounded instead of him--By George! Dick, he knows you're hit and just
how you're hit, and has sent me to find you!"
I said I thought I could gallop if Harry could, and in a few minutes we
were up with the ambulance. It had stopped. There were several men about
it, including Sergeant Jim and Kendall, which two had come from Quinn,
and having just been in the ambulance, at Ferry's side, were now
remounting, both of them openly in tears. "Hello, Kendall."
"Hello, Smith." He turned sharply from me, horse and all.
"Good-morning, sergeant, is Lieutenant Ferry--worse?"
The sergeant only jabbed in the spurs, and leapt away with Kendall,
bearing despatches to the brigade. Harry, looking back to me from the
ambulance, called softly, "All right again; it was only a bad swoon!"
"Hello, Smith," said some one whom I was too sick and dizzy to
recognize, "one of those prisoners says he saw Oliver dead."
They say two or three men sprang to catch me, but the first thing I knew
was that the ambulance was under way and I in it on my back within
elbow-touch of Ferry, looking up into a surgeon's face. "How's the
Lieutenant?" I asked.
"Oh--getting on, getting on," he replied. Doctors think patients are
In a parlor under the room where Charlotte lay they made a bed for Ferry
and one for me, and here, lapped in luxury and distinction, I promptly
fell asleep, and when I reopened my eyes it was again afternoon. In the
other bed Ferry was slumbering, and quite across the room, beside a
closed door, sat Cécile and Camille. The latter tiptoed to me. Her
whispers were as soft as breathing, and when I answered or questioned,
her ear sank as near as you would put a rose to smell it. "The
Lieutenant, sleeping? yes, this hour past; surgeons surprised and more
hopeful. Miss Estelle? in another room with other wounded. Her aunt?
upstairs with Charlotte, who was--oh--getting on, getting on." That made
"Does Charlotte," I asked, "know--everything?"
Camille allowed herself all the motions of a laugh, and said "No, not
quite everything;" and then with solemn tenderness she added that
Charlotte knew about Ferry. "And she knows about _you,"_ the whisperer
went on; "they all know."
I thought she was alluding to the verses, and had an instant of terror
and rage before I saw what she meant. She glided back to the door and
the two opened it an inch or so to answer some inquirer without. I saw
her no more until bedtime, when she stood at her aunt's elbow to hand
and hold things, while Miss Harper, to my all but screaming
embarrassment, bared the whole upper half of one side of me and washed
and dressed my wound anew. Ferry it was imperative to let alone, but
when I awoke the next morning there was a radiance of joy throughout all
the house; for he had slept and improved. The next morning again he was
ever so much stronger, and Harry Helm rode off in simulated disgust, not
seeing "any fun in hanging round girls who were hanging round
Another day arose. A courier brought passes for our three or four other
wounded to go home as soon as they were fit to travel, and by night they
were all gone. At early bedtime came two surgeons of high rank all the
way from Johnston's army up in Mississippi. General Austin had asked
this favor by telegraph. Harry had been gone thirty-six hours, and Ferry
was just asking if he had not yet got back, when the surgeons came in to
the room. A pleasantry or two consumed a few moments. Then the surgeon
in charge of us told of a symptom or two, to which they responded only
"hmm," and began the examination. Miss Harper sent her three nieces
away. I lay and listened in the busy stillness. Presently one of the
examiners murmured with a certain positiveness to the other, who after a
moment's silence replied with conviction; Miss Harper touched our
surgeon's arm inquiringly and he looked back in a glad way and nodded.
Miss Harper nodded to me; they had located the ball! Now the
conversation turned upon men and events of the day, while one of the
visitors, with his back to the patient, opened a case of glittering
knives. Presently the professional heads came so close together as quite
to hide the patient; they spoke once or twice in a manly soothing tone.
Miss Harper stroked my temples to keep me down, one of the busy ones
spoke again, and lo! the thing was done, there was the ball in the
basin. As the men of blood sped through their kind after-work the news
flew to and fro; Camille wept,--since she could not hurrah,--Cécile told
Charlotte, the heavenly-minded Estelle was confirmed in her faith, Miss
Harper's black eyes, after a brief overflow, were keener and kindlier
than ever, and as the surgeons spoke the word "done," Ferry asked again
if Harry had not got back yet. Pretty soon Harry did arrive, with news
of great feats by our cavalry against our old enemy Grierson, in which
Austin's brigade had covered themselves with glory, and in which he had
had his own share; his hand was swelled as big as his heart. In all the
Confederacy no houseful went to sleep that night in sweeter content. I
sank into perfect bliss planning a double wedding.
SAME BOOK AND LIGHT-HEAD HARRY
The next day found me so robustly happy that I was allowed to dress and
walk out to the front door. Three days later the surgeons were gone, all
three, and at the approach of dew-fall Cécile and Harry, Camille and I,
walked in a field-path, gathered hedge roses, and debated the problem of
Mrs. Roy's daughter's book, which all of us were reading and none
"A woman," I remarked, "who, for very love of a man, can say to him, 'Go
on up the hill without me, I have a ball and chain on my foot and you
shall not carry them and me, you have a race to run,'--a woman so
wonderfully good as to say that--"
"Ah, no!" interrupted Cécile, with her killing Creole accent, "not a
woman so _good_ to say that, only with the so-good _sanse_ to say it."
Harry was openly vexed. "Well, either way! would any true man leave
_that_ woman behind?" and I tried to put in that that was what I had
been leading up to; but it makes me smile yet, to recall how jauntily
she discomfited us both. She triumphed with the airy ease of a king-bird
routing a crow in the upper blue. Camille had more than once told me
that Cécile was wise beyond the hope of her two cousins to emulate her;
which had only increased my admiration for Camille; yet now I began to
see how the sisters came by their belief. In the present discussion she
was easily first among the four of us. At the same time her sensuous
graces also took unquestionable preëminence; city-bred though she was,
she had the guise of belonging to the landscape, or, rather, of the
landscape's belonging, by some fairy prerogative, to her. She seemed
just let loose into the world, yet as ready and swift to make right use
of it as any humming-bird let into a garden; as untimorous as any such,
and as elusive. In this sultry June air she had all the animation both
of mind and of frame that might have been expected of her on a keen,
clear winter day. Her face never bore the same expression at the
beginning and middle, or at either of these and the close, of any of her
speeches, yet every change was lovely, the sign of a happy play of
feeling, and proof of a mercurial intelligence. No report of them by
this untrained pen would fully bear me out, and the best tribute I can
offer is to avoid the task.
It was a sweet mercy in her to change the subject, and tactful to change
it to Charlotte, as if Charlotte were quite an unrelated theme. The
cousins vied with each other ever so prettily in telling how beautiful
the patient was on her couch of enfeeblement and pain, how her former
loveliness had increased, and what new nobility it had taken on. That
any such problem overhung her life as that which we had just been
weighing, seemed never to have entered their thought, and if they had
ever conceived of a passion already conscious between Charlotte and
Ferry, they veiled the fact with charming feminine art.
When we got back to the house Harry detained me on the veranda alone.
Camille told me how long I might tarry. It was heaven to have her bit in
my mouth, and I found it hard to be grum even when Harry beat with his
good hand the rhythm of "Maiden passing fair, turn away thine eyes."
"Dick," he said, suddenly grave as he walked me down the veranda, "her
cousin Cécile! isn't it awful? Now that poor girl's gone back to Ned's
bedside; back to her torture! Why _do_ they let her? My George! it's
merciless! Has her aunt no eyes?"
"But, Lieutenant, you don't know she loves him; there are signs, I
admit; but proofs, no. She's lost color, and her curves are more
slender, but, my goodness! a dozen things might account for that."
"Dick Smith,"--my questioner worked himself up over the rail and sat out
on the shelf that held the bucket of drinking-water and its gourd--"do
you imagine she didn't know, when we were talking about that book, that
she was arguing against the union of Ned Ferry and Charlotte Oliver?
_Didn't_ she do it bravely! Richard, my friend, she couldn't have done
it if she had suspected us of suspecting her. It's a bleeding pity! And
yet you can't side with her, for I just swear Ned's got to have
Charlotte Ol'--what? No, he won't overhear a blank word; here's his
window shut, right here. He's got to have her, I say, and he's got to
have her just as soon as the two of 'em can stand up together to be
sworn in! Don't you say so?"
I replied that I was not aware of any one who did not say so.
"Well, I can name several! I don't call Scott Gholson anybody, but
there's Major Harper--No, I'm not talking too loud, Ned isn't hearing a
word. Major Harper's so hot against this thing that he brought it up,
with me, yesterday on the battlefield."
"Major Harper doesn't really know her," I softly remarked.
Harry swore with military energy. "I told him he didn't, and he fairly
snorted. _We_ don't know her, he says; you nor I nor his sister nor his
niece nor his daughters, oh, we don't know her at all; and neither do we
know Ned; Ned has graceful manners, and she's a born actress, and we're
simply infatuated by their romantic situation. Good Lordy! he got up on
his Charleston pride-of-family like a circus-girl on stilts, and 'Edgard
Ferry-Durand has got a great public career before him,' s's he, 'and no
true friend will let him think of taking a wife who is all history and
no antecedents, a blockade-runner, a spy, and the brand-new widow of a
blackguard and a jayhawker she had run away from practically on her
wedding-night.' Hy Jo'! the way he went on, you'd 'a' thought he was
already Ned's uncle-in-l'--" The speaker's face took a sudden
distress--"Great Caesar!" He pointed up to the second-story front room
and slipped down from the shelf just as Estelle came out to us with her
aunt's message for me to come in.
"How's the fair patient?" I hurried to ask as the three of us went.
"Why, Mr. Smith, she's actually been sitting up--in the twilight--at
the open window--while Aunt Martha and I smoothed up her bed."
"She's still very weak," said Aunt Martha when we came to her; "the
moment her bed was made up she asked to lie down again."
"Yes," softly exclaimed Camille, "but, oh, aunt Martha, with such
courage in those eyes!"
"Smith," privately asked the agonized Harry, "what would you do if you
were in my place; go and cut your throat from ear to ear?"
"No," I said, as black as an executioner, "but I wish you'd done it
"CAPTAIN, THEY'VE GOT US"
More days slipped by. Neighbors pressed sweet favors upon us; calls,
joyful rumors, delicacies, flowers. One day Major Harper paid us a
flying visit, got kisses galore, and had his coat sponged and his
buttons reanimated. In the small town some three miles northwest of us
he was accumulating a great lot of captured stuff. On another day came
General Austin and stayed a whole hour. Ferry took healing delight in
these visits, asking no end of questions about the movements afield,
and about the personal fortunes of everyone he knew. When the General
told him Ferry's scouts were doing better without him than with him--"I
thought he would smile himself into three pieces," said the General at
On a second call from Major Harper, when handed a document to open and
read, he went through it carefully twice, and then dropping it on the
coverlet asked--"and Quinn?"
"Oh, Quinn's turn will come."
"Ah! Major, that is not fair to Quinn!" said Ferry. Yet when he took up
the paper again he gazed on it with a happy gravity; it made him a
captain. "By the by," he said, "that Yankee horse that Dick Smith
captured at Sessions's; I'd like to buy that horse from you, Major."
They made the sale. "And there's that captured ambulance still here,
Major, with its team eating their heads off."
"Yes, I'm going to take that away with me to-day."
This meant that Charlotte's negro man and his daughter, her maid, had
come with her spring-wagon, and Harry and I would have liked the Major
better if he had smiled at this point, as he did not. Yet he was most
lovable; sent so kind a message up to Charlotte that Harry and I
wondered; and received back from her a reply so gracious that--since we
could not wonder--we worshipped. In the evening of that day Ferry and
Charlotte were transferred, she into the room behind her, and he
upstairs into the one out of which she was taken. That night a slave and
his wife, belonging to the place, ran away to the enemy. If they should
tell the Yankees Ned Ferry was here--! "By Jo'!" said Harry Helm, "I'm
glad I didn't cut my throat; I told that darkey, yesterday, Ned's name
Toward the close of that day came tidings of the brigade's splendid work
at a steamboat-landing on the Mississippi River, how they had stolen in
by night between two great bodies of the enemy, burned a vast store of
military supplies, and then brilliantly cut their way out; yet we were
told to be ready to withdraw into Mississippi again as soon as our newly
made captain could safely be moved. Pooh! what of that? Lee was on his
way into Pennsylvania; the war was nearly over, sang the Harper girls,
and we were the winners! They cheerily saw Helm and me, next morning,
ride southward in search of further good news. At a cross-roads I
proposed that we separate, and meet there again near the end of the day.
He turned west; I went an hour's ride farther south and then turned
When we met again I knew that he--while he did not know that I--had been
to Gilmer's plantation. We wanted to see if the Federals had left a
grave there. They had left three, and a young girl who had been one of
the dancers told me she had seen Oliver's body carried off by two blue
troopers who growled and cursed because they had been sent back to bury
it. Neither Harry nor I mentioned the subject when we met at the
cross-roads again, for we came on our horses' necks at a stretched out
run; the Federals were rolling up from the south battalion after
battalion, hoping to find Major Harper's store of supplies feebly
guarded and even up with us for that steamboat-landing raid. Presently
as we hurried northward we began to hear, off ahead of us on our left,
the faint hot give-and-take of two skirmish lines. We came into the
homestead grove at a constrained trot and found the ladies out on the
veranda in liveliest suspense between scepticism and alarm.
"Yes, they're fighting, now, on the edge of town," we said, "but our
boys will keep them there." Our host and hostess moaned their unbelief.
"However," added Harry, "I'll go tell the old man to hitch up the little
"You dawn't need," said Cécile, "'tis done!" and Camille confirmed her
word, while the planter and his wife returned to the kitchen yard, where
the servants were loading the smokehouse meat into a wagon to hide it in
the woods; Miss Harper and Estelle went into the house, summoned by
Charlotte's maid. On Ferry's chamber floor sounded three measured thumps
of his scabbarded sword.
"Dick, you answer that," exclaimed Harry, reining in half wheeled; "but
keep him on his back, if you have to hold him down!" He spurred away to
learn whether we had better stay or fly. I threw my rein to Camille and
flew up the hall stairs.
Ferry lay in bed with three pillows behind him and his sheathed sword
across his lap. "Good-evening, Richard," he said, "you are returned just
in time; will you please hand me my two pistol' from yonder?--thank
you." He laid one beside each thigh. "Now please turn the head of my
bed a little bit, to face the door--thank you; and now, good-bye. You
hear those footstep' there in the room behind? she is dressing to go;
the other ladies they are helping her. Richard, I place them in your
charge; have them all ready to get into her wagon at a moment's notice,
with you on your horse--and you better take that Jewett horse, too; he
I hesitated, but a single flash of authority from his eye was enough and
I had passed half-way to the door, when, through the window over the
front veranda, I saw a small body of horsemen trotting up through the
grove. The dusk of the room hid me, but there was no mistaking them.
"Too late, Captain," I said, "they've got us."
"How many do you see?"
"About sixteen. Our two horses will be Yankees again to-morrow."
"Ah! not certainly. Where is your carbine?"
"Just outside this door. They know you're here, Captain, they're
surrounding the house." As I reached toward the door I heard his sword
crawl out, the doorknob clicked without my touching it, the door swung
and closed again, and Charlotte Oliver was with us. The light of the
western window shone full upon her; she was in the same dress, hat and
all, in which I had seen her the night we rode together alone. Though
wasted and pale, she betrayed a flush on either cheek and a smile that
mated with the sweet earnest of her eyes. She tendered me my carbine,
patted my hand caressingly, and glided onward to Ferry's bedside. With
my back to them and my ear to the door I hearkened outward. In the front
doorway below sounded the jingling tread of cavalry-boots and a clank
THE FIGHT IN THE DOORWAY
Charlotte's whisper came to me: "Richard!" Standing by Ferry's pillow
she spoke for him. "If they start upstairs come and stand like me, on
the other side."
I nodded and slyly opened the door enough to pass half-way out. Some man
was parleying with Miss Harper. "Now, madam, you know you haven't locked
up your parlor to maintain an abstract right; you've locked it up
because you've got the man in there that I've come for."
"Whom have you come for, sir?"
"Lieutenant O'Brien, of the rebel army. Shall I order this man to kick
that door in? Answer quickly."
"Sir, there is no Lieutenant O'Brien in there, nor elsewhere in this
house; there never has been."
"Stand aside, madam."
"Stop, sir! I command you! There is no Lieutenant of any name on this
"Oh, yes there is; he goes by various names, but one of them is Ned
Ferry. Sergeant, we'll kick together; now!"--Bang!
I leaned back into the room to say "It's all right! Oh, but that sweet
woman's a 'coon! Let them batter!" As I thrust my head out again Miss
Harper was exclaiming "Oh, sirs, don't do that!"--Bang!--"For the honor
of your calling and your flag--" Bang!
"There's no Lieutenant in there." Bang!
"Corporal, go find an axe or something."
"Oh, you need not, sirs, I'll unlock the door."
"Well, be quick about it, and then stand clear; we don't want any woman
hurt." The key rattled at the keyhole and then dropped to the floor.
"You did that by intention! Give me that key!" He tried the lock. "We've
jammed it, corporal, but another good kick will fetch it;
now!"--Bang!--crash!--open flew the door.
"Well, I will be damned!" said the officer.
"Sir," said Miss Harper, "you give me no occasion to doubt it." She
followed the men upstairs. "Estelle, go back to your sister and cousin;
and if you, my dear,"--to our hostess--"will kindly go also, and stay
I closed the door. It had no key, but there was a small catch to the
knob and I turned it on while the men were looking into the adjacent
rooms. When they reached ours Miss Harper was again at their front.
Inside, the three of us silently noted our strategic advantages: we were
in the darkest part of the room, the bed's covering was a dull red,
Ferry had on his shirt of black silk, the white pillows were hidden at
his back, Charlotte and I were darkly clad, the light from our west
window would be in our assailants' faces as they entered, and they would
be silhouetted against a similar light from the hall's front. We
noiselessly cocked our weapons and Charlotte and I each sank to one
knee. "The door is very thin," murmured Ferry, "we can fire before they
enter; they will get, anyhow, our smoke, and if they fire as they rush
in we can aim under their flash."
It was only then that I observed that Charlotte was armed. But the fact
made her seem only the more a true woman, since I knew that only for her
honor or his life would she ever take deadly aim. Her weapon was the
slender revolver she had carried ever since the day which had made her
Charlotte Oliver, the thing without which she never could have reached
this hour of blissful extremity.
"In here there is a lady, ill," we heard Miss Harper say.
"Is she alone?"
Ferry prompted in a whisper, the three of us cried "Yes!" and he added
"Pass one side from the door, Miss Harper, we are going to shoot
"Hello, in there! Lieutenant Ferry, of Ferry's scouts,"--
"_Captain_ Ferry," retorted Miss Harper, and I echoed the amendment.
"Damn the difference; I give you one half-minute, Captain Ferry, to say
you surrender! If you weren't wounded I wouldn't give you that.
Corporal, go get a log out of that fireplace downstairs."
"Oh, shame!" wailed Miss Harper, half-way down the hall.
"Captain," called Ferry, "I give you one quarter-minute to get away from
that door." He whispered to Charlotte, pointing to a panel of it higher
than any one's head.
"Oh, sirs," we again heard Miss Harper cry, "withhold! Captain Ferry,
they have called in four more men!" We heard the four downstairs coming
at a run. "Oh, sir--"
"Go away, madam!" bellowed the officer as his men thundered into the
upper hall. "Now, Captain Ferry, there are six of us here and three
under each of your windows. Do you--?"
"Oh, sir, the lady! the sick lady!"
"That's his look-out, madam. If the sick lady isn't Charlotte Oli'--"
"And if she is?" called Ferry, depressing Charlotte's weapon to an aim
barely breast high.
"Then throwing away your life won't save hers! Do you surren'--?"
Ferry made a quick gesture for her to shoot low, but she solemnly shook
her head and fired through the top of the uppermost panel, and the
The log burst the door in at a blow, Ferry and I fired, and our foes
sprang in. Certainly they were brave; the doorway let them in only by
twos, and the fire-log, falling under foot, became a stumbling-block;
yet in an instant the room was ringing and roaring with the fray and
benighted with its smoke. Their first ball bit the top of my shoulder
and buried itself in the wall--no, not their first, but the first save
one; for the bureau mirror stood in dim shade, and the Federal leader
made the easy mistake of firing right into it. The error sealed his
fate; Ferry fired under his flash and sent him reeling into the arms of
his followers. They replied hotly but blindly, and in a moment the room
was void of assailants. Ferry started to spring from the bed, but
Charlotte threw her arms about him, and as she pressed her head hard
down on his breast I could not help but hear "No, my treasure, my
heart's whole treasure, no!"
RESCUE AND RETREAT
I sprang for the door, but the fire-log sent me sprawling with my
shoulder on the threshold. As I went down I heard in the same breath the
wounded officer wailing "Go back! go in! there are only four of them!
don't leave one alive!" and Miss Harper all but screaming "Our men! our
men! God be praised, our men are coming, they are here! Fly spoilers,
for your lives, fly!"
And it was true. Their hoofs rumbled, their carbines banged, and their
charge struck three sides of the house at once. Rising only to my
elbows,--and how I did that much, stiffened with my wound, the doctors
will have to explain,--I laid my cheek to my rifle, and the light of two
windows fell upon my gunsights. Every blue-coat in the hall was between
me and its rear window, but one besides the officer was wounded, and
with these two three others were busy; only the one remaining man saw
me. Twice he levelled his revolver, and twice I had almost lined my
sights on him, but twice Miss Harper unaware came between us. A third
time he aimed, fired and missed. I am glad he fired first, for our two
shots almost made one report, and-he plunged forward exactly as I had
done over the fire-log, except that he reached the floor dead.
[Illustration: Ferry fired under his flash and sent him reeling into the
arms of his followers.]
Thereupon came more things at once than can be told: Miss Harper's
outcry of horror and pity; Charlotte's cry from the bedside--"Richard!
Richard!" a rush of feet and shouts of rage in the hall below; and my
leap to the head of the stairs, shouting to half a dozen gray-jackets
"Two men, no more! two men to guard prisoners, no more! go back, all but
you two! go back!"
A sabreless officer with a bandaged hand flew up the stair and into my
face. It was Helm. "The ladies! Smith, good God! Smith, where are
"In the smokehouse," cried Miss Harper from her knees beside the
prostrate Federal officer; "go bring them!--Richard, Charlotte is
I ran to Ferry's door; Charlotte was leaning busily over his bared
chest, while he, still holding a revolver in his right hand, caressed
her arm with his left. "Dick, his wound has opened again, but we must
get him away at once anyhow. Isn't my wagon still here?--oh, thank God!
there it comes now, I hear it in the back yard!"
A Confederate waiting on Miss Harper with basin and towels barely dodged
me as I sprang to the far end of the hall and shouted down into the yard
for Harry. The little mules, true enough, were just rattling round a
half turn at the lower hall's back door, having been in hiding behind
the stables. A score or so of cavalry were boisterously hurrying off
across the yard with a few captured horses and prisoners, and I had to
call the Lieutenant angrily a second time, to make him hear me amid
their din and a happy confusion which he was helping to keep up in a
fairer group. For here were all the missing feminine members of the
household, white and colored, and Harry was clamorous with joy,
compassion and applause, while Camille and Cécile, pink with weeping,
stepped out across the high doorsill of the smokehouse, leading Ned
Ferry's horse and mine.
However, there was not the urgency for instant flight that Charlotte had
thought there was; night fell; a whole regiment of our mounted infantry
came silently up from the rear of the plantation and bivouacked without
lights behind a quarter of a mile of worm-fence; our two wounded and
three unharmed prisoners, or Miss Harper's, I should say, for it was in
response to her entreaties that the latter had thrown down their arms,
were taken away; the dead man was borne out; lights glowed in every
room, the servants returned to their tasks, a maddening fragrance came
from the kitchen, and the three nieces flitted everywhere in their
benign activities, never discovering the hurt on my shoulder until
everything else on earth had been discovered, and then--"Oh, Richard,
Richard!" from Estelle, with "Reach-hard, Reach-hard!" from Cécile, and
"Mr. Smith!" from Camille, as they bathed and bound it. At length a
surgeon arrived, gave a cheering opinion of Ferry and of Charlotte, and
scolded Harry savagely for the really bad condition of his hand. Then
sounds grew few and faint, our lights went out, we lay down fully
dressed, and nearly all of us, for a while, slept.
But about two in the morning Harry awakened me, murmuring "Reach-hard!
Reach-hard! come! our sick-train's moving. Ssh! General Austin's asleep
in the next room!" I asked where Ferry was. "Already started," he
whispered, "--in the General's own ambulance, with Charlotte Oliver in
hers, on a mattress, like Ned, and the four Harpers in theirs." While we
stole downstairs he murmured on "Our brigade's come up and General
Austin will attack at daylight with this house as his headquarters."
As we mounted I asked whither we were bound. "Tangipahoa," he said;
"then by railroad to Brookhaven, and then out to Squire Wall's."
At the first streak of dawn our slow caravan caught the distant notes of
the battle opening behind us. "That's Fisher's battery!" joyously cried
the aide-de-camp as we paused and hearkened back. "Well, thank the Lord,
this time nobody's got to go back for her doll; she's got it with her; I
saw her, just now, combing its hair." We descended into a woody hollow,
the sounds of human strife died away, and field and forest offered us
only beauty, fragrance, peace, and the love-songs of birds.
HÔTEL DES INVALIDES
A shattered crew we were when in the forenoon of the third day we
reached our goal. Harry's hand was giving him less trouble, but both my
small wounds were misbehaving as stoutly as their limitations would
allow; my aches were cruel and incessant, my side was swollen and my
shoulder hot. Miss Harper was "really ill," said the surgeon, but for
whose coming with us we should hardly have brought our whole number
through alive. Both Ferry and Charlotte were in a critical condition.
"Take you in!" said our tearfully smiling Mrs. Wall; "why, we'd take yo'
whole crowd in ef we had to go out and bunk undeh the trees owse'v's!...
Oh, Mr. Smith, you po' _chi--ild!_... Oh, my Lawd! is this Lieutenant
Do-wrong! Good Lawd, good Lawd! I think this waugh's gone on now jess
In the house she gave the younger Harpers a second kiss all round. "You
po' dears, yo're hero-ines, now, and hencefo'th fo'evehmo'!" Harry and I
agreed they were; it was one of the few points on which we thought
alike. We even agreed that Estelle's grasp of earthly realities was not
so feeble as we had thought it.
"Fact is," I said to him, on our first day at the Walls', as he was
leaving the soldiers' room, where I sat under the surgeon's inspection,
"you were totally mistaken about her."
"Yes, I was," he replied; "she's got more sense in a minute than
Camille's got in a week," and shut the door between us.
My blood leaped with rage, yet I sat perfectly calm, while the surgeon
laughed like a hyena. "As soon as you can let me go, Doctor," I frigidly
said, "I shall look up the Lieutenant. I consider that remark
ungentlemanly, and his method of making it as worthy only of a coward."
The surgeon cackled again. "If that man," I dispassionately resumed,
"was not perfectly sure that I am too honorable a gentleman to give Miss
Camille the faintest hint of what he has said, sooner than say it he
would go out and cut his throat from ear to ear."
"Well! you oughtn't to get mad at him for thinking you a gentleman."
"He sha'n't take a low advantage of my being one. You think he's open
and blunt--he's as sly as a mink. He praises the older sister at the
younger's expense, when it's the younger one that he's so everlastingly
stuck on that he can't behave _like_ a gentleman to any man to whom she
shows the slightest preference." We heard a coming step, but I talked
on: "Sense! poor simpleton! he knows he hasn't got"--the door opened and
Harry stepped partly in, but I only raised my voice,--"hasn't got as
much brains in his whole head as there is in one of her tracks."
With something between a sob, a sputter and a shriek he shut himself out
again. Harry was never deep but in a shallow way, and never shallow
without a certain treacherous depth. When Ned Ferry the next day
summoned me to his bedside I went with a choking throat, not doubting I
was to give account of this matter,--until I saw the kindness of his
pallid face. Then my silly heart rose as much too high as it had just
been too low and I thought "Charlotte has surrendered!" All he wanted
was to make me his scribe. But when we were done he softly asked, "That
business of yours we talked about on the Plank-road--it looks
I bit my lip, turned away and shook my head. "Well, anyhow," he said,
"I am told there is nobody in your way."
I faced him sharply--"Who told you that?" and felt sure he would name
the tricky aide-de-camp. But he pointed to the room overhead, which
again, as in the other house, was Charlotte's. I blushed consciously
with gratitude. "Well," I said, "it makes me happy to see you beginning
again to get well."
Within the same hour I met unexpectedly two other persons. First, Harry
Helm; who, before I could speak, was deluging me with words, telling me
for the twentieth time how, on that evening of the indoor fight, coming
with a platoon of Mississippians which he had procured merely as a
guard, he was within a hundred yards of the house before our shots in
the bedroom told him he was riding to a rescue. Then suddenly he began
to assure me that in what he had said about the two sisters he had
sought only to mislead the surgeon, who, he declared, was more utterly
dead-gone on Camille than both of us put together. We parted, and
within the next five minutes I confronted the maiden herself.
She came from upstairs with a mixed armful of papers, books and sewing,
said she had been with Charlotte, and said no more, only made a
mysterious mouth. I inquired how Charlotte was. She shrugged, sank into
a seat on the gallery, let her arm-load into her lap, and replied, "Ah!
she lies up there and smiles and smiles, and calls us pet names, and
says she's perfectly contented, and then cannot drop half asleep without
looking as though she were pressing a knife into her own heart. Oh,
Dick, what is the matter with her?"
"What do you think,--Camille?"
"Oh--I--I'm afraid to say it--even to Estelle, or aunt Martha, or--"
"Say it to me," I murmured.
"Oh, if I could only trust you!" she said, shaking her head sadly and
trying to lift her arm's burden again without taking her eyes from mine.
It went to her feet in a landslide, and out of one of the books
fluttered three stems of sweet-pea each bearing two mated blossoms. I
knew them in an instant, and in the next I had them. She would not let
me pile the fallen freight anywhere but into her arm again, nor recover
her eye before she was fully re-laden. Then she set her lips freezingly
and said "Now give me back my flowers."
I meekly gave them and she turned to go into the house; her head
gradually sank forward as she went, and her unparagoned ear and neck
flushed to a burning red. On the threshold, by some miscalculation, her
burdened arm struck the jamb, and the whole load fell again. I sprang
and began to gather the stuff into a chair, but she walked straight on
as though nothing had occurred, and shut the nearest door behind her.
In those days used to come out to see us Gregory, in his long-skirted
black coat and full civilian dress; of whom I have told a separate
history elsewhere. Very pointed was Camille's neglect of both Harry and
me, to make herself lovely to the dark and diffident new-comer, while
Estelle positively pursued me with compensatory sweetness; and Gregory,
whenever he and I were alone together, labored to reassure me of his
harmlessness by expatiating exclusively upon the charms of Cécile. She
seemed to him like a guardian angel of Ferry and Charlotte, while yet
everything she said or did was wholly free from that quality of
other-worldliness which was beautiful in Estelle, but which would not
have endured repetition in the sister or the cousin. There Harry and I,
also, once more agreed. Cécile never allowed herself to reflect a spirit
of saintliness, or even of sacrifice, but only of maidenly wisdom and
"If it weren't for Charlotte," whispered the Lieutenant, "I could swear
she was created for Ned Ferry!" and when I shook my head he, too,
declared "No, no! if ever a match was made on high Charlotte was made
for him and he for Charlotte; but, oh, Lord, Lord! Reach-hard Thorndyke
Smith, how is this thing going to end?"
That was the problem in the mind of every looker on, and the lookers-on
were legion; the whole wide neighborhood came to see us. Gregory and
others outstayed their furloughs; the surgeon lingered shamelessly. Of
course, there were three girls besides Charlotte, and it was pure
lying--as I told Helm--for some of those fellows to pretend that Captain
Ferry's problem was all they stayed for; and yet it was the one
heart-problem which was everybody's, and we were all in one fever to see
forthwith a conclusion which "a decent respect to the opinions of
mankind" required should not come for months.
"Pooh!" said Harry, "'a decent respect to the opinions of mankind'
requires just the reverse!" and the surgeon avowed that it was required
by a decent respect to her powers of endurance; he was every day afraid
her slow improvement would stop and she would begin to sink. He admitted
the event could wait, but he wished to gracious we could have
I said suppose it should be negative. "Oh, it won't!" exclaimed both he
and Harry. "When it comes to the very point--"
Gregory's approach interrupted us, but I remembered a trait in Charlotte
of which I have spoken, and gave myself the hope that their prediction
might prove well founded.
A YES AND A NO
But now Charlotte's recovery took on new speed. Maybe her new brightness
meant only that her heart was learning to bear its load; but we hoped
that was just what it was unlearning, as she and Ferry sat at chess on
the gallery in the afternoons.
One night the fellows gave a dance in Brookhaven. We went in two wagons
and by the light of mounted torch-bearers, and Charlotte and Ferry stood
at the dooryard gate and sent after us their mirthful warnings and
good-byes. It set some of us a-hoping--to see them there--a dooryard
gate means so much. We fairly prayed he might compel her decision before
she should turn to re-enter the house. But the following morning it was
evident we had prayed in vain.
On the next afternoon but one we heard that a great column of our
soldiers was approaching on the nearest highway, bound up the railroad
to Joe Johnston's army from the region about Port Hudson, and Charlotte
instantly proposed that our ladies deal out food and drink from some
shady spot on the roadside. It was one of those southern summer days
when it verily seems hotter in the shade than in the sun--unless you are
in the sun. The force was wholly artillery and infantry, the last
Confederate infantry that region ever saw in column under arms; poor,
limping, brown-faced, bloody-footed boys! their weapons were the only
clean things, the only whole things, about them except their unbroken
spirit; and when the very foremost command chanced to be one which the
Harpers had seen in New Orleans the day it left there marching in
faultless platoons and spotless equipments through the crowds that
roared acclaim and farewell, our dear ladies, for one weak moment, wept.
"Here come the real heroes, Harry," said my crippled leader; "we are
dandies and toy-soldiers, by the side of those infantry boys, Doctor, we
cavalry fellows;" and we cavalry fellows would have hid if we honorably
could. Yet hardly had he spoken when he and a passing field-officer
cried out in mutual recognition, and from that time until the rear-guard
was clear gone by we received what the newspapers call "a continuous
ovation." A group of brigade officers went back with us to Squire
Wall's, to supper, and you could see by the worship they paid Charlotte
that they knew her story. Her strength was far overtaxed, and the moment
the last fond straggler had gone we came in out of the splendid
"Now, Charlotte, my dear," began Miss Harper, "you are too terribly
tired to--why, where is Charlotte; did she not come in with us from
Ferry, too, was missing. Mrs. Wall made eyes at the inquirer, Estelle
and Cécile began to speak but deferred to each other, and Camille,
putting on a deadly exhaustion, whined as she tottered to her smiling
guardian, "Kiss your sweet baby good-night, auntie dear, and"--with a
hand reached out to Estelle--"make Naughty come, too." She turned to say
good-night to Cécile but spoiled her kiss with an unintended laugh. The
surgeon, Harry and I bowed from the room and stepped out to the
water-bucket and gourd. From there we could see the missing two,
lingering at the dooryard gate, in the bright moonlight. As we finished
drinking, "Gentlemen," murmured Harry, "I fear our position is too
exposed to be tenable."
The surgeon started upstairs. "I'll join you directly, Doctor," Harry
said, and in a lower voice added "Smith and I will just lounge in and
out of the hall here to sort o' show nobody needn't be in any hurry,
don't you see?"
But the other jerked his thumb toward the half-closed parlor, where
Miss Harper and Cécile sat close, to each other absorbed in some matter
of the tenderest privacy. "They'll attend to that," he muttered; "come
on to bed and mind your own business."
Harry huffed absurdly. "You go mind yours," he retorted, and then more
generously added, "we'll be with you in a minute." The surgeon went, and
the aide-de-camp, as we began to pace the hall, fairly took my breath by
remarking without a hint of self-censure, "Damn a frivolous man!" Then
irrelatively he added, "Those two out at that gate--this is a matter of