Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Virginia Paque and PG Distributed Proofreaders
[Transcriber’s Note: The spelling inconsistencies of the original have been retained in this etext.]
The Iron Game
A TALE OF THE WAR
HENRY F. KEENAN
“Heavy and solemn the cloudy column Over the green fields marching came,
Measureless spread like a table bread For the cold grim dice of the iron game.”
BERNARD JOHN McGRANN
WHOSE LIFE AND CONDUCT EMBODY AND ILLUSTRATE
THE MANLINESS, MODESTY, AND WORTH
THAT FANCY DELIGHTS TO EMBALM IN FICTION
THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED
BY ONE AMONG THE MANY WITNESSES OF HIS NOBLE CAREER
HENRY F. KEENAN
NEW YORK, _25th March, 1891_.
I.–THE BOY IN BLUE
II.–FLAG AND FAITH
III.–MALBROOK S’EN VA-T-EN GUERRE IV.–GUELPH AND GHIBELLINE
V.–A NAPOLEONIC EPIGRAM
VI.–ON THE POTOMAC
VII.–THE STEP THAT COSTS
VIII.–AN ARMY WITH BANNERS
IX.–“THE ASSYRIAN CAME DOWN LIKE THE WOLF ON THE FOLD” X.–BLOOD AND IRON
XI.–THE LEGIONS OF VARUS
XIII.–A COMEDY OF TERRORS
XIV.–UNDER TWO FLAGS
XVI.–A MASQUE IN ARCADY
XVII.–TREASON AND STRATAGEMS
XVIII.–A CAMPAIGN OF PLOTS
XIX.–“HE EITHER FEARS HIS FATE TOO MUCH” XX.–A CATASTROPHE
XXI.–THE STORY OF THE NIGHT
XXIII.–ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE AND WAR
XXIV.–BETWEEN THE LINES
XXVI.–IN THE UNION LINES
XXVII.–“THE ABSENT ARE ALWAYS IN THE WRONG” XXVIII.–THE WORLD WENT VERY ILL THEN
XXIX.–A WOMAN’S REASON
XXX.–A GAME OF CHANCE
XXXI.–TWO BLADES OF THE SAME STEEL XXXII.–THE LOST CARIBEES
XXXIII.–FATHER ABRAHAM’S JOKE
THE BOY IN BLUE.
When expulsion from college, in his junior years, was visited upon Jack Sprague, he straightway became the hero of Acredale. And, though the grave faculty had felt constrained to vindicate college authority, it was well known that they sympathized with the infraction of decorum that obliged them to put this mark of disgrace upon one of the most promising of their students.
All his young life Jack had dreamed of West Point and the years of training that were to fit him for the glories of war. He knew the battles of the Revolution as other boys knew the child-lore of the nursery. He had the campaigns of Marlborough, the strategy of Turenne, the inspirations of the great Frederick, and the prodigies of Napoleon, as readily on the end of his tongue as his comrades had the struggles of the Giant Killer or the tactics of Robinson Crusoe. When, inspired by the promise of West Point, he had mastered the repugnant rubrics of the village academy, the statesman of his district conferred the promised nomination upon his school rival, Wesley Boone, Jack passionately refused to pursue the arid paths of learning, and declared his purpose of becoming a pirate, a scout, or some other equally fascinating child of nature delightful to the boyish mind.
When Jack Sprague entered Warchester College, he carried with him the light baggage of learning picked up at the Acredale Academy. At his entrance to the sequestered quadrangles of Dessau Hall, Jack’s frame of mind was very much like the passionate discontent of the younger son of a feudal lord whose discrepant birthright doomed him to the gown instead of the sword.
Long before the senior year he had allured a chosen band about him who shared his eager aspiration for war, and when the other fellows dawdled in society or wrangled in debate, these young Alexanders set their tents in the college campus and fought the campaigns of Frederick or Napoleon over again. Jack did not give much heed to the menacing signs of civil war that came day by day from the tempestuous spirits North and South. A Democrat, as his fathers had been before him, he saw no probability of the pomp and circumstance of glorious war in the noisy wrangling of politicians. The defeat of Douglas, the Navarre of the young Democracy of the North, amazed him: but all thought of Lincoln asserting the national authority, and reviving the splendor of Jackson and Madison, was looked upon as the step between the sublime and the ridiculous that reasoning men refuse to consider.
When, however, the stupefying news came that a national garrison had been fired upon by the South Carolinians, in Charleston Harbor, the college boys took sides strongly. There were many in the classes from Maryland and Virginia. These were as ardent in admiration of their Southern compatriots as the Northern boys were for the insulted Union. Months passed, and, although the forces of war were arraying themselves behind the thin veil of compromise and negotiation, the public mind only languidly convinced itself that actual war would come.
The college was divided into hostile camps. The “Secessionists,” led by Vincent Atterbury, Jack’s old-time chief crony, went so far as to hoist the flag of the Montgomery (Jeff Davis’s) government on the campus pole, one morning in April. A fierce fight followed, in which Jack’s ardent partisans made painful havoc with the limbs of the enemy–Atterbury, their leader, being carted from the campus, under the horrified eyes of the faculty, dying, as it was thought. Then followed expulsion. When the solemn words were spoken in chapel, the culprit bore up with great serenity. But when he announced that he had enlisted in the army, then such an uproar, such an outburst, that the session was at an end. Even the grave president looked sympathetic. The like of it was never seen in a sober college since Antony with Cleopatra invaded the Academy at Alexandria. The boys flung themselves upon the abashed Jack. They hugged him, raised him on their shoulders, carried him out on the campus, and, forming a ring round him, swore, in the classic form dear to collegians, that they would follow him; that they would be his soldiers, and fight for the _patria_ in danger.
“I have nothing to offer you, boys. I’m only sergeant; but if you will join now, I’m authorized to swear you in provisionally,” Jack said, shrewdly, seizing the flood at high tide.
So soon as the names could be written the whole senior class (forty-three) were enrolled. Jack refused the prayerful urgings of the juniors, who pleaded tearfully to join him. But the president coming out confirmed Jack’s decision until the juniors could get the written consent of their parents.
The recitations were sadly disjointed that day, and the excited professors were glad when rest came. The humanities had received disjointed exposition during that session. Jack had been summoned to the president’s sanctuary, where he had been received with a parental tenderness that brought the tears to his big brown eyes.
“Ah, ha! soldiers mustn’t know tears. You must be made of sterner stuff now, sergeant,” the doctor cried, cheerily, as the culprit stood confusedly before him. “O Jack, Jack, why did you put this hard task upon me? Why make me drive from Dessau the brightest fellow in the classes? What will your mother say? I would as soon have lost my own child as be forced to put this mark on you? But you know I am bound by the laws of the college. You know I have time and again overlooked your wild pranks. We have already suffered a good deal from the press for winking at the sympathy the college has shown in this political quarrel.”
“Yes, professor, I haven’t a word to say. You did your duty. Now I want you to bear witness how I do mine. I do not complain that I am condemned rather through the form than the fact. I was carried out of my senses by the sight of that rebel flag.”
The Warchester press, known for many years as the most sprightly and enterprising of the country, was too much taken up with the direful news from Baltimore to even make a note of Jack Sprague’s expulsion, and the soldier boy was spared that mortification. Nor did he meet the tearful lament and heart-broken remonstrance at home, to which he had looked forward with lively dread. His friends in the village of Acredale were so astonished by his blue regimentals that he reached the homestead door unquestioned. His mother, at the dining-room window, caught sight of the uniform, and did not recognize her son until she was almost smothered in his hearty embrace.
“Why, John! What does this mean? What–what have you on?”
“Mother, I am twenty-two years old. A man who won’t fight for his country isn’t a good son. He has no right to stay in a country that he isn’t willing to fight for!” and with this specious dictum he drew himself up and met the astonished eyes of his sister Olympia, who had been apprised of his coming. But the maternal fears clouded patriotic conceptions where her darling was involved, and his mother sobbed:
“O Jack, Jack! what shall we do? How can we live without you! And oh, my son, you are too young to go to the war. You will break down. You can’t manage a–a musket, and the–the heavy load the soldiers carry. My son, don’t break your mother’s heart. Don’t go–don’t, Jack, Jack! What shall I do?–O Polly, what shall we do?”
“What shall we do? Why, we’ll just show Jack that all of war isn’t in soldiering; that the women who stay at home help the heroes, though they may not take part in the battle. As to you and me, mamma, we shall be the proudest women in Acredale, for our Jack’s the first–” she was going to say “boy,” but, catching the coming protest in the warrior’s glowing eye, substituted “man” with timely magnanimity–“the first man that volunteered from Acredale. And how shamed you would have been–we would have been–if Jack hadn’t kept up the tradition of the family! He comes naturally by his sense of duty. Your father’s father was the first to join Gates at Saratoga. My father’s father was the right hand of Warren, at Bunker Hill! If ever blood ran like water in our Jack’s veins, I should put on–trousers and go to the war myself. I’m not sure that I sha’n’t as it is,” and, affecting Spartan fortitude, Olympia pretended to be deeply absorbed in adjusting a disarranged furbelow in her attire to conceal the quavering in her voice and the dewy something in her dark eyes. The mother, disconcerted by this defection where she had counted on the blindest adhesion, sank back in the cane rocker, helpless, speechless.
“Yes, mother, Polly is right. How could you ever lift up your head if it were said that son of John Sprague’s–Governor, Senator, minister abroad–was the last to fly to his country’s call? Why, Jackson would turn in his grave if a son of John Sprague were not the first to take up arms when the Union that he loved, as he loved his life, was in peril!”
Mrs. Sprague listened with woe-begone perplexity to these sounding periods, conscious only that her darling, her adored scapegrace, had suddenly turned serious, and was using the weapons she had so often employed to justify his conduct. For it was using one of the standing arms in the maternal arsenal, to remind the wild and headstrong lad that his father had been Jackson’s confidant, that he had been Governor of Imperia, that he had enforced the demands of the United States upon European statesmen, that after a life spent in the public service he had died, reverenced by his party and by his neighbors. Jack, as an infant, had been fondled by Webster, by Clay, and, one never-to-be-forgotten day, Jackson, the Scipio of the republic, had placed his brawny hand upon the infant’s head and declared that he would be “worthy of Jack Sprague, who was man enough to make two Kentuckians.”
“But you–you, ought to be a colonel. Your father was a major-general in the Mexican War at twenty-five. A Sprague can’t be a private soldier!” she cried, seizing on this as the only tenable ground where she could begin the contest against the two children confederated against her.
“I don’t want to owe everything to my father. This is a republic, mamma, and a man is, or ought to be, what he makes himself. I saw in a paper, the other day, that the Government has more brigadiers and colonels and–and–officers than it knows what to do with. I saw it stated that a stone thrown from Willard’s Hotel in Washington hit a dozen brigadiers. I want to earn a commission before I assume it. I’ll be an officer soon enough, no fear. I could have had a lieutenant’s commission if I had gone in Blandon’s regiment. But I hate Blandon. He is one of those canting sneaks father detested, and I won’t serve under such cattle.”
Mrs. Sprague, like millions of mothers in those days, was cruelly divided in mind. When the neighbors felicitated her on the valor and patriotism of Mr. Jack she was elated and fitfully reconciled. When, in the long watches of the night, she reflected on the hardships, temptations, the dreadful companions her darling must be thrown with, country, lineage, everything faded into the dreadful reality that her darling was in peril, body and soul. He was so like his father–gay, impressionable, easily influenced–he would be saint or sinner, just as his surroundings incited him. This was the woe that ate the mother’s heart; this was the sorrow that clouded millions of homes when mothers saw their boys pranked out in the trappings of war.
Our jaunty Jack enjoyed the worship that came to him. He was the first boy in blue that appeared in the sandy streets of Acredale. Never had the rascal been so petted, so feted, so adored. He might have been a pasha, had he been a Turk. The promising down on his upper lip–the object of his own secret solicitude and Olympia’s gibes during the junior year–was quite worn away by the kissing he underwent among the impulsive Jeannettes of the village, who had a vague notion that soldiers, like sailors, were indurated for battle by adosculation. Jack may have believed this himself, for he took no pains to disabuse the maidens as to the inefficacy of the rite, and bore with galliard fortitude the wear and tear of the nascent mustache, without which, to his mind, a soldier would figure very much as a monk without a shaven crown or a mandarin without a queue. And though presently big Tom Tooker, chief of the rival faction in Acredale, gave his name to the recruiting officer in Warchester, and a score more of Jack’s rivals and cronies, he was the soldier of the village. For hadn’t he given up the glory of graduation and the delights of “commencement” to take up his musket for the Union? And then the fife was heard in the village street–delicious airs from Arcady–and a great flag was flung out from the post-office, and Master Jack was installed recruiting sergeant for Colonel Ulrich Oswald’s regiment, that was to be raised in Warchester County. For Colonel Oswald, having failed in a third nomination for Congress, had gallantly proffered his services to the Governor of the State, and, in consideration of his influence with his German compatriots, had been granted a commission, though with reluctance, as he had supported the Democratic party and was not yet trusted in the Republican councils.
FLAG AND FAITH.
If Acredale had not been for a century the ancestral seat of the Spragues, and in its widest sense typical of the suburban Northern town, there would be merely an objective and extrinsic interest in portraying its sequestered life, its monotonous activities. But Acredale was not only a very complete reflex of Northern local sentiment; its war epoch represented the normal conduct of every hamlet in the land during the conflict with the South. Now that the war is becoming a memory, even to those who were actors in it, the facts distorted and the incidents warped to serve partisan ends or personal pique, the photograph of the time may have its value.
Made up of thriving farmers and semi-retired city men, Acredale mingled the simple conditions of a country village and the easy refinement of city life. The houses were large, the grounds ornate and ample, the society decorously convivial. People could be fine–at least they were thought very fine–without going to the British isles to recast their home manners or take hints for the fashioning of their grounds and mansions. There was what would be called to-day the English air about the place and some of the people; but it was an inheritance, not an imitation. Save in the bustling business segment, abutting the four corners, where the old United States road bore off westward to Bucephalo and the lakes, the few score houses were set far back from the highway in a wilderness of shrubbery, secluded by hedges and shaded by an almost primeval growth of elms or maples. The whole hamlet might be mistaken for a lordly park or an old-fashioned German Spa. Family marketing was mostly done in Warchester; hence the village shops were like Arabian bazaars, few but all-supplying. The most pregnant evidence of the approach of modern ways that tinged the primitive color of the village life, was the then new railway skirting furtively through the meadows on the northern limits, as if decently ashamed of intruding upon such idyllic tranquillity. The little Gothic station, cunningly hidden behind a clustering grove of oaks at a respectful distance from the Corners, like the lodge of a great estate, reconciled those who had at first fought the iron mischief-maker.
The public edifices of the town–the Episcopal church, the free academy, the bank, the young ladies’ seminary–were very unlike such institutions in the bustling, treeless towns of to-day. Corinthian columns and Greek friezes adorned these architectural evidences of Acredale’s affluence and taste. The village had grown up on private grounds, conceded to the public year by year as the children and dependents of the founders increased. The Spragues were the founders, and they had never been anxious to alienate their patrimony. Acredale is not now the sylvan sanctuary of rural simplicity it was thirty years ago–before the war. The febrile tentacles of Warchester had not yet reached out to make its vernal recesses the court quarter for the “new rich.” In Jack Sprague’s young warrior days the village was three miles from the most suburban limits of the city. There was not even a horse-car, or, as fashionable Warchesterians have it, a “tram,” to remind the tranquil villagers that life had any need more pressing than a jaunt to the post twice a day. Some “city folks” did hold villas on the outskirts, but they used them only for short seasons in the late summer, when the air at the lake began to grow too sharp for outdoor pleasures.
Society in the place was patriarchal as an English shire town. The large Sprague mansion, about which the village clustered at a respectful distance, was the “Castle” of local phrase. Much of the glory of early days had departed, however, when the Senator–Jack’s papa–died. The widow found herself unable to maintain the affluent state her lord had loved. His legal practice, rather than the wide acres of his domain, had supported a hospitality famous from Bucephalo to Washington. But with prudent management the family had abundance, and, as Jack often said, he was a fortune in himself. When the time came he would revive the splendors his father loved to associate with the home of his ancestors.
“But where are we to get this splendor now, Jack?” Olympia inquired, as the youth was dilating to his mother on the wonders to come. “Private soldiers get just thirteen dollars a month; and if you continue smoking–as I am informed all men do in the army–I expect to have to stint my pin-money expenses to eke out your tobacco bills.”
“Oh, I’ll bring home glory. Napoleon said that every soldier carried a marshal’s _baton_ in his knapsack.”
“I’m afraid you won’t have room for it if you carry all the things that I know of intended for you in this and other families.”
“Yes; but, Polly, you know, or perhaps you don’t know, a _baton_ is like a college love–no matter how full your heart is, you can always find room for another!”
“John,” Mistress Sprague reproves mildly; “how can you? I don’t like to hear my son talk like that even in jest. Don’t get the idea that it is soldierly to treat sacred things with levity. Love is a very sacred thing; it ought to be part of a man’s religion; it was of your father’s.”
“Then Jack must be a high priest, for there are a dozen girls here and in the city who believe themselves enshrined in that elastic heart.”
“Olympia, you are a baleful influence on your brother. If anything could reconcile me to his going it is the thought that he will escape the extraordinary speech and manners you have brought back from New York. Do the Misses Pomfret graduate all their young ladies with such a tone and laxity of speech as you have lately shown? Strangers would naturally think that you had no training at home.”
“Don’t fear, mamma; strangers are not favored with my lighter vein; I assume that for you and Jack, to keep your minds from graver things. I preserve the senatorial suavity of speech and the Sprague austerity of manner ‘before folks,’ as Aunt Merry would say. Which reminds me, Jack, Kitty Moore declares that you are responsible for Barney’s enlisting. The family look to you to bring him home safe–a colonel at least.”
“Well, by George, I like that! Why, the beggar was bent on going long ago. He was the first to ask me to run away and enlist. The other day he wanted me to have him sworn in, and I told him to wait until–until I got a commission.” Jack was going to say until he was older, but he suddenly recollected that Barney was his own age, and that, in view of his mother’s argument, struck him as unfortunate. He saw Olympia smiling mischievously and turned the subject abruptly. “I suppose you know, Polly, that Vincent is going home to join the rebels?”
“Is he?” She had turned swiftly to gather a ball of worsted, and when it was secured began to rummage in her work-basket for something that seemed from her intentness to be vitally necessary to her at the moment.
“Yes, he wrote to President Grandison that he should go as soon as his passports and remittances came. He’s promised a captain’s commission. I’m very, very sorry. Vint is the noblest of fellows. I hate to think of him in the rebel army.”
“That’s the reason you half killed him the other day, I suppose,” Olympia said, sweetly, still investigating the contents of the basket.
“What, John, you’ve not been in a broil–fighting?” and Mistress Sprague could not, even in imagination, go further in such an odious direction, and let her eyes finish the interrogatory.
Jack, a good deal subdued by what Olympia had left unsaid, rather than what she had said, blurted out: “It was a campus shindy: Vint led the rebel side and they got licked, that’s all.”
“Oh, was that all?” Olympia had ended her search in the basket and fastened a glance of satiric good humor upon the culprit, which did not tend to relieve the awkwardness of the moment. Jack blushed under the glance and began to hum an air from Figaro, as if the conversation had ebbed into an impass from which it could only be rescued by a lively air.
Mrs. Sprague looked at the uneasy warrior, then at her daughter, darting the crochet-needles placidly through the wool.
“Well,” she said, “never mind what’s past; we must have Vincent out here for a visit before he goes. I must send Mrs. Atterbury a number of things. I hope she won’t think that we intend to let the war make any difference in our feeling toward the family.”
Jack was very glad to set out at once for his quondam foe, and in ten minutes was driving down the road to Warchester. Vincent’s bruises were nearly healed, and he saluted Jack as a “chum” rather than as the agent of his late discomfiture.
“I’m mighty glad you’ve come to day. I didn’t know whether you meant to break off or not. I don’t cherish any rancor. I don’t see any use in carrying the war into friendships. We made the best fight we could. We did better than your side. You had the most men and the biggest fellows. We showed good pluck, if we did get licked. If you hadn’t come to-day I should have been gone without seeing you, for I began to think that you were as narrow as these prating abolitionists. My commission is ready for me now at Richmond, and I’m just aching to get my regimentals on. I’m to be with Johnston in the Shenandoah, you know, and–“
“You mustn’t tell me your army plans, Vint. I’m a soldier,” and Jack drew himself up with martial pomposity, “and–and–perhaps I ought to arrest you now as an enemy, you know. I will look in the articles of war and find out my duty in such cases.” Jack waved his arm reassuringly, as if to bid the rebel take heart for the moment–he would not hurry in the matter. Vincent eyed his comrade with such a woe-begone mingling of alarm and comic indignation that Jack forgot his possible part as agent of his country’s laws, and said, soothingly: “Never mind, Vint, I’m not really a full soldier in the technical sense until the regiment is mustered in at Washington. After that, of course, you know very well it would he treason to give aid or comfort to the country’s enemies.”
Vincent didn’t leave next day, nor for a good many days. He seemed to get a good deal of “aid and comfort” from those who should have been his enemies. Mistress Sprague found that he was not in a fit state to travel; that he needed nursing to prepare him for his journey, and that no place was so fit as the great guest-chamber in the baronial Sprague mansion, near his friend Jack. Strange to say, Vincent’s eagerness to get to Richmond and his shoulder-straps were forgotten in the agreeable pastimes of the big house, where he spent hours enlightening Olympia on the wonders the Southern soldiers were to perform and the glory that he (Vincent) was to win. He went of a morning to the post-office, where Jack was installed recruiting-agent for Acredale township, and made very merry over the homespun stuff enrolled in defense of the Union.
“Our strapping cavaliers will make short work of your gawky bumpkins;” he remarked to Jack as the recruits loitered about the wide, shaded streets, waiting to be forwarded to the rendezvous.
“Don’t be too sure of that. These young, boyish-looking fellows are just the sort of men that met the British at Bunker Hill. They laughed too, when they saw them; but they didn’t laugh after they met them, nor will your cavaliers,” Jack cried, loftily.
“But there’s not a full-grown man among all these I’ve seen. How do you suppose they are to endure march and battle? None of them can ride. All our young men ride, and cavalry is the main thing in modern armies.”
In the Sprague parlors conversation of this risky sort was eschewed. Mistress Sprague was anxious that the son of her oldest friend should return to his mother with only the memory of amiable hospitality in his heart to show that, although war raged between the people, families were still friends. Vincent’s mother had been one of Mistress Sprague’s bridesmaids, and it was her wish that the children might grow up in the old kindly ties. So Vincent was made much of. There were companies every night, and drives and boating in the afternoons, and such merry-making as it was thought a lad of his years would enjoy. He was a very entertaining guest; that all Acredale had known in the old vacations when, with his sister, the pretty Rosa, he spent a summer with the Spragues.
But, now that there was to be a separation involving the unknown in its vaguest form, the lad was treated with a tenderness that made the swift days very sweet to the young rebel. It was from Olympia that he met the only distinct formality in the manners of his hosts. He had known and adored her in a boyish way for years, and now, as he contemplated going, he thought that she ought to exhibit something of the old-time warmth. In other days she had ridden, walked, and flirted to his heart’s desire. Now she avoided him when Jack was not at hand, and when she talked it was in a flippant vein that drove him wild with baffled hope. The day before he was to bid the kind house adieu he had his wish. She was riding with him over the shaded roadway that curves in bewildering beauty toward the lake. She seemed in a gentler mood than he had lately seen her. They rode slowly side by side, but Vincent had a dismal awkwardness of speech in whimsical contrast to his habitual fluency.
“There’s only one thing hateful to me in this war,” he said, caressing the arching neck of his horse, “and that is, the better we do our duty as soldiers the more sorrow we must bring upon our own friends.”
“That’s a rather solemn view to take of what Jack regards as the path of glory.”
“Oh, you know what I mean: under the flag there can or ought to be no friendships–the bullet sent from the musket, the sword drawn in light, must be aimed blindly. It might be my fate, for example, to meet Jack, to–to–“
“Yes,” Olympia laughed demurely, ignoring the sentimental aspect of Vincent’s remark. “Yes, that might paralyze the arm of valor; but, then, you and Jack have met before, when duty demanded one thing and affection another: I don’t see that the dilemma softened the blows, or that either of you are any the worse for them.”
Vincent was the real Southerner of his epoch–impulsive, sentimental, ardent in all that he espoused, without the slightest notion of humor, though imaginative as a dreamer; love, war, and his State, Virginia, were passions that he thought it a duty to uphold at any and all times. He colored under the girl’s satiric sally. If she had been a man he would have bid her to battle on the spot. Her sly fun and gentle malice he resented as insulting, coarse, and unwomanly. He flashed a look of piteous, surprised reproach at her as she flecked the flies from the neck of her horse. He rode along moodily–too angry, too wretched to trust himself to speak, for he felt sure he must say something bitter. But, as she gave no sign of resuming the discourse, he was forced to take up the burden again. Venturing nearer her side, he said in a conciliating, argumentative tone, as if he had not heard the foregoing speech:
“Do you know, it seems to me, Olympia, that you of the North do not seem to realize the seriousness of the war, the determination of our side to make the South free? Here you go about the common business of life, parties, balls, dress, and all the follies of peace, as if war could not affect you at all. Your newspapers are full of coarse jokes at the expense of your own soldiers, your own President. There seems no devotion to your own cause, such as we feel in the South. I believe that if put to a vote more than half the North would side with us to-day.”
MALBROOK S’EN VA-T-EN GUERRE.
Olympia had been jogging along, apparently oblivious to everything but the blazing vision of sun and cloud above the lake, purpling shapes of mirage, reflecting the smooth surface of the glowing water. But as the young man’s voice–fallen into a melodious murmur–ceased, she took up the theme with unexpected earnestness.
“That’s the error the South has made from the first. You know my father was a public man. I have been educated more at our dinner-table and in his talks with guests than at school. That is, the things that have taken strongest hold of my mind young girls rarely hear or understand. Now I think I can tell you something that may be of value to you in official places where you are going. The North is not only in earnest–it is religiously in earnest. If you know Puritan history you know what that means. For example: if Jack had hesitated a moment or made delay to get rank in the army, I should have abhorred him. So would our mother, though she seems to be dismayed at his serving as a common soldier. I adore Jack; I think him the finest, the most perfect nature after my father’s–that lives. But I give him up gladly, because to keep him would be to degrade him. We know that he may fall; that he may come back to us a cripple or worse. But, as you see, we make no sign. Not a line of routine has been changed in the house. Jack will march away and never see a tear in my eye or feel my pulse tremble. It is not in our Northern blood to give much expression to sentiment, but we feel none the less deeply–much more deeply, I think, than you exuberant Southerners; you are impulsive, mercurial, and fickle.”
“Oh, don’t say that: I can’t bear to hear you say it; we have deep feelings, we are constant, true as steel, chivalrous–“
“Yes, you are delightful people; but you are always living in the past. Shall I say it? You are womanlike; you can’t reason. What you want at the moment is right, and only that; with us nothing is real until we have tried and proved it. If you count on Northern apathy you will soon see your mistake. When Beauregard fired on Fort Sumter the North was of one mind, and will stay so until all is again as it was.”
“Pray don’t let us talk on this subject. I’m free to own that it does not interest me. Then,” he added adroitly, “you are readier in argument than I, because you were brought up in it. But what I want to say is, that it seems base for me to turn upon the goodness I have met in this house, and–and–“
“But you need not turn. In battle do your duty like a man. If it should fall to you to do a kindness to the wounded, do it in memory of the friends you have here. War is less savage now than it was when your ancestors and mine tortured each other in the name of God and the king.”
“All murder is done for love of one sort or another: war is love of country; revenge is love of some one else–men rarely kill from hate,” Vincent stammered, his heart beating at the nearness of what he was dying to say.
“In that case I hope I shall he hated. I shall shun people who love me,” and with that she struck the horse a lively tap and soon was far ahead of her tongue-tied wooer. Was this a challenge? Vincent asked himself, as he sped after her. When he reached her side the tender words were chilled on his lips, for Olympia had in her laughing eye the, to him, odious expression he saw there when she made the irritating speech about himself and Jack a few minutes before. Fearing a teasing retort, he bridled the tender outburst and rode along pensively, revolving pretexts for another day’s stay in Acredale. But when they reached home he found an imperative mandate to set out at once, as his lingering in the North was subjecting himself and kinsmen to doubt among the zealous partisans of the Davis party. Olympia was alone in the library when he ran down to tell Jack that he must start at once. He took it as an omen, and said, confusedly:
“It is decided; I must go in the morning.”
As this had been the plan all along, she looked up at him in surprise, not knowing, of course, that he had been thinking of putting off the fixed time.
“Yes, everything has been made ready; Jack will take you to Warchester, and we shall drive over to see you _en route_.”
“It is fortunate the letter from my mother came to-night.” He stood quite, over her chair, his eyes glittering strangely, his manner excited.
“Do you know what they think at home? They say that I–I am not true to my cause; that my heart is with the North–that I want to stay here.”
“They won’t think that when they hear you, as we have, breathing fury and wrath against the Lincolnites,” Olympia briskly replied, as if to proffer her services as witness to his misguided loyalty to the South.
“Ah, don’t be so ungenerous, now–at this time. I never talk like that now–here–never before you.” He hesitated, and his voice dropped. “Why will you put a fellow in a ridiculous light? Your sneers almost make me ashamed of my honest pride in my State–my enthusiasm for our sacred cause.”
“Deep feeling isn’t so easily shaken; true love should brave all things–even sneers and blows.”
“If I should tell you that I loved somebody, I am sure you would make me seem ridiculous or ignorant of my own mind.”
“Then pray be wise and don’t tell me. It’s bad enough to be in love, without being photographed in the agony.”
He looked at her in angry perplexity. Could she ever be serious? Was all the tenderness of the past only heedless coquetry? Had she danced with him, drove with him, sailed with him, walked in the moonlight and made much of him in mere wanton mischief? What right had she to be so pretty and so–without heart or sensibility? A Southern girl with the word love on a young man’s lips would have become a Circe of seductive wooing until the tale were told, even though she could not give her heart in return.
“I–I am going to-morrow, you know, and–” Then he almost laughed himself, for the droll inconsequence of this intelligence, after what had passed, touched even his small sense of humor. “O Olympia, I mean that I shall be far away: that I shall not see you after to-morrow. Won’t you say something to encourage me–to give me heart for the future?”
“Let me see,” and she leaned on her elbow musingly, as if construing his words literally, and quite unaware of the tender intent of his prayer. “It ought to be a line to go on your sword–there’s where you have the advantage of poor Jack, he has only a musket. But, no, you being a Southerner, have a coat of arms, and the line must go on that. I used to know plenty of stirring phrases suitable to young men setting out for the wars. Perhaps you know them, too; they are to be found in the copy-books. ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’ wouldn’t do, would it? Pens are only fit for poets and men of peace? We should have something brief and epigrammatic. ‘That hour is regal when the sentinel mounts on guard.’ There is sublimity in that, but you won’t go on guard, being an officer.
‘No blood-stained woes in mankind’s story Should daunt the heart that’s set on glory.’
“That’s too trivial–the sort of doggerel for newspaper poets’ corners rather than a warrior’s shield.
‘Think on the perils that environ
The man that meddles with cold iron!’
“That’s too much like a caution, and a soldier’s motto should urge to daring. So we’ll none of that. What do you say to the distich in honor of your great ancestor, Pocahontas’s husband, John Smith:
‘I never yet knew a warrior but thee, From wine, tobacco, debt, and vice so free.’
“Perhaps, however, that might be regarded as vaunting over your comrades, who, I’ve no doubt, relax the tedium of war in temperate indulgence of some of these vices. ‘Put up thy sword; states may be saved without it,’ would sound out of keeping for a warrior whose States drew the sword when the olive-branch was offered them. You see, I can not select any text quite suitable to your case?”
“O Olympia, I did not believe you could be so heartless! Be serious.”
“Well, Mr. Soldier, if you insist, I know nothing better for a warrior to bear in mind in war than these simple lines:
‘The bravest are the tenderest,
The loving are the daring.'”
“You are right, Olympia–those are noble lines. It gives me courage; the loving are the daring! I love you; I dare to tell you that I love you! Ah, Olympia, I love you so well that I have been traitor to my fatherland! I have loitered here in the hope that you would give me some sign–some word to take with me in the dark path Fate has set for me to follow.”
He came back to her side now, passion and zeal in his shining eyes, ardent, elate, expectant. But she put the hand behind her that he reached out to seize as he fell upon one knee by her chair. Her voice softened and a warm light shone in her eye when she spoke:
“I beg you to get up; we cold-blooded people up here don’t understand that old-fashioned way.” As he started back with something like a groan, she gave him a quick glance that electrified him. He seized her hand before she could snatch it away and pressed it to his lips.
“Pray be serious. You are too young to talk of love.”
“I am twenty-two; my father was married at nineteen.”
“No, dear Vincent, don’t talk of this now. You don’t know your own mind yet. I am sure that when you go home and think over the matter you will see that it would be impossible, but, even if you were sure of yourself, I never could think of it. You are going to take up arms against all I hold dear and sacred. If I were your affianced, with the love for you that you deserve, I would break the pledge when you joined in arms against my family and country.”
“You have known for years, Olympia, that I loved you; that I was only waiting to finish college to tell you of my love. Why didn’t you tell me–“
“Tell you what?”
“I say, Polly,” Jack cried, bursting in, radiant and eager. “I have the last man of the one hundred–” Observing Vincent he stopped. It seemed to him a sort of treason to talk of his regiment before the man who was so soon to be in the ranks against them. “Oh, I can’t tell our secrets before the enemy,” he ended, jocosely. The word went to Vincent’s heart like the prod of sharp steel. He gave Olympia one pathetic glance, and, without a word, hastened from the room. In spite of a great many adroit efforts, Vincent could get no further speech with Olympia alone that night. Early in the morning he was driven, with Mrs. Sprague and Jack to the station. Olympia sent down excuses and adieus, alleging some not incredible ailing of the sort that is always gallantly at the disposal of damsels not minded to do things people expect.
Presently, when the lorn lover had been gone three days, a letter came from Washington to Olympia, and, though it was handed to her by her mother, the maiden made no proffer to confide its contents to the naturally curious parent. But we, who can look over the reader’s shoulder, need not be kept in the dark.
“Dear Olympia” (the letter said), “it was hard to leave without a last word. All the way here I have been thinking of our little talk–if that can be called a talk where one side has lost his senses and the other is trifling or mystifying. I told you that I loved you. I thrill even yet with the joy of that. You are so wayward and capricious, so coy, that I began to fear that I never could get your car long enough to tell you what I felt you must have long known. You didn’t say that you loved me; but, dear Olympia, neither did you say that you did not. The rose has fallen on the hem of your robe. When its fragrance steals into your senses, you will stoop and put the blossom in your bosom. It is the war that divides us, you say. It will soon pass. And who knows what may happen to make you glad that, since there must be strife, I am one of the enemy rather than a stranger? I feel that we shall be brought together in danger, when it may be my happiness to serve you or yours. But, even if I am not so favored, I shall still ask your love. You know our Southern ways. Whom I love my mother loves. But my mother and sister Rosa have loved you long and dearly. They have known you as long as I have, and when you consent to come to us you will take no stranger’s place in the heart and home of the family. Remember the motto you gave me. You are a woman, therefore tender; I am daring, Heaven knows, in aspiring to such a reward as your love. But I dare to love you; if you cast that love from you, love will lose its tenderness, bravery its daring. One of the high mountains of hope whereon I sun my fainting soul is the knowledge that you love no one else. I won’t say that you should in love hold to the ride ‘first come first served,’ but I do say, ‘first dare, first win.’ And when you reflect on what you said about the accident of war separating us, just put Jack in my place. What would you think of a Southern girl who should refuse him because he fought on the side of his family and his State? What is the old line? ‘I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honor more.’ I’m sure I couldn’t ask your love if there were not honor in my own. The war will be over and forgotten in six months, but you and I are young; we have long years before us. The right will win in the contest, and, right or wrong, I am yours, and only yours, while there are life in my body and hope in my soul. VINCENT.”
In a little glow of what was plainly not displeasure, the young woman “filed” this “writ of pre-emption,” as Jack afterward called it, in careful hiding, and resumed meditation of the writer. It could not now be answered, for letters between the lines were subject to censorship, and Olympia perhaps shrank from adding to her lover’s misery by exposing his rejection to the unfeeling eyes of the postal agents. There was pity in the resolve as well as prudence. Had Vincent been able to read the workings of the lady’s mind, he would have donned his rebel gray with more buoyant joy that day in Richmond. Another ally of the absent came in the course of the day. Miss Boone, the daughter of the opulent contractor and chief local magnate, called to plan work for the soldiers. Vincent’s name being mentioned, Miss Boone said, in the apparent effusion of girlish intimacy:
“I like Mr. Atterbury very much. He is a charming fellow. But, for your family’s sake, I am glad he is away from this house.” At Olympia’s surprised start she nodded as if to emphasize this, continuing: “Yes, and for good reasons. You know our house is the high court of abolitionism? Well, papa’s cronies have made Mr. Atterbury’s visit cause of suspicion.”
“Suspicion? What do you mean?”
Miss Boone was paling and blushing painfully. “Dear Olympia, I hate to say it; but you should know it. You will hear it elsewhere. Cruel things like this always come out. You know that feeling has been very bitter here since the dreadful attack on the Massachusetts soldiers in Baltimore? Radicals make no distinction between Democrats and rebels, and–I’m to say it–but Mr. Atterbury is charged with being a spy here–and–and your family, being Democrats, are thought to sympathize with the rebels. Of course, your friends know better. I and many more know that the Atterburys and Spragues have been intimate for thirty years. But in war-time people seem to lose their senses and change their opinions like lake breezes; prejudices grow like gourds, and the people who do least and talk loudest make public sentiment.”
“What an outrageous state of things!” Olympia cried, hotly. “Our family sympathize with traitors indeed! Why, it was my father who, in the Senate, upheld Jackson when he stamped out South Carolina in its rebellion. Oh! it is monstrous, such a calumny. Why, just think of it! The only man in the family is a private soldier, when he might have been high in rank, with such influences as we could bring to bear. O Kate! it almost makes one pray for a defeat to punish such ingrates!”
“Yes; but for Heaven’s sake don’t let any one hear you say such a thing–for your brother’s sake! He is already the victim of the feeling I have spoken about. He was to have had the captaincy of the first one hundred men he raised. But the Governor has been made to change the usual rule, and the colonel is to appoint the officers.”
“And Jack isn’t to have a commission?”
“No, not now; only men of the war party are to be made officers.”
“Good heavens! Nobody could be more eager for the war than Jack. It is his passion. His delight in it shocks my mother, who hates war. What stronger evidence of sympathy for the cause could he show than joining the army before finishing college?”
“But he is a Democrat–and–and–only Republicans are to be trusted at first.” Miss Boone blushed as she stammered this, for it was her own father, in his function as chairman of the war committee, who had insisted upon this discrimination. Worse still, but this Kate did not mention–it was Boone’s own work that kept Jack from his expected epaulets. There had long been a feud between Boone and the late Senator Sprague, and Olympia conjectured most of what the daughter reserved.
“Your brother has done wonders, everybody says; he has the finest fellows in the township, and he ought to be colonel, at least,” Miss Boone said, rising to go.
“Oh, I have no fear that he will not win his way,” Olympia replied, cheerfully. “The brave in battle are captains, no matter what rank they hold.”
The odious partisanship and ready calumny of her own compatriots gave a strange bent to her mind in dealing with another problem. Vincent, too, had suffered from the wretched battle of his family’s enemies. After all, might he not be right? Might the war not be a mere game of havoc played by the base and unscrupulous? Country, right or wrong, had been her family watchword since her ancestor flew to fight the British invaders. It was Jack’s watchword, too, and his conduct in battle should put these wretches to shame. She thought more kindly of the rebel in this vengeful mood, and straightway ran up-stairs, where, sitting by the open window and lulled by the piping of the robins, she took the letter from its pretty covert, read it again with heightened color, and, smiling rosily at the face she saw in the mirror, raised it to her lips and sighed softly.
When a whole people have but one thought in mind that thought becomes mania. Acredale had but this one thought, “Beat rebellion and punish rebels.” “On to Richmond!” was the cry, and forming ranks to go there the business that everybody took in hand. These had been great days to Jack. He began to feel something of the burden that a feudal chief must have borne at the summoning of the clans. So soon as it spread in the country-side that “young Sprague had ‘listed,” all the “ageable” sons of the soil were fired with a burning zeal to take up arms and bear him company. Boys from sixteen to twenty these were for the most part, and there was bitter grumbling when Jack firmly refused to take the names of any under twenty. Some he solaced with a gun, a pistol, or such object as he knew was dear to the country boy’s heart. They returned to the relieved hearthstone loud in Jack’s praise, having his promise to enlist them when they were twenty, if the war lasted so long; and if the wise smiled at this, wasn’t it well known that the great army now gathering was to set out at latest by the 4th of July? And didn’t everybody know that it was going to march direct to Richmond? There were trying scenes too, in the _role_ Jack had assumed so gayly. He began to see that war had ministers of pain and sorrow hardly less cruel than those dealing death and wounds. Tearful parents came to him day by day to beg his help in restoring sons who had fled to the wars. Others came to warn him that if their boys applied to him he must refuse them, as they were under age.
In this list the Perley sisters, Dick’s three maiden aunts, came on a respectful embassy to implore Jack to discourage their nephew, who had quite deserted school and gave all his time to drilling with the “college squad.” Jack pledged himself that he would hand Dick over to the justice of the peace, to be detained at the house of refuge, if he didn’t give up his evil designs. But, when that young aspirant appeared, so soon as his aunts had gone, and reminded Jack of years of intimate companionship in dare-deviltry, the elder saw that his own safety would be in flight, and that night, his company was removed to Warchester. There in the great camp, surrounded by sentinels, his Acredale cronies were shut out, and Jack began in earnest his soldier life.
GUELPH AND GHIBELLINE.
The shifting of Jack’s company to the regimental camp in Warchester left a broad gap in the lines of the social life of Acredale. Jack’s going alone, to say nothing of the others, would have eclipsed the gayety of many home groups besides his own, in which the Sprague primacy in a social sense was acknowledged. Since the influx of the new-made rich, under the stimulus of the war and Acredale’s advantages as a resort, there were a good many who disputed the Sprague leadership–tacitly conceded rather than asserted. Chief of the dissidents was Elisha Boone, who, by virtue of longer tenure, vast wealth, and political precedence, divided not unequally the homage paid the patrician family. Boone was fond of speaking of himself as a “self-made man,” and the satirical were not slow to add that he had no other worship than his “creator.” This was a gibe made rather for the antithesis than its accuracy, for even Boone’s enemies owned that he was a good neighbor, and, where his prejudices were not in question, a man with few distinctly repellent traits. He delighted in showing his affluence–not always in good taste. He filled his fine house with bizarre crowds, and made no stint to his friends who needed his purse or his influence. He had in the early days when he came to Acredale aspired to political leadership in the Democratic party.
But Senator Sprague was too firmly enshrined in the loyalty of the district to be overcome by the parvenu’s manoeuvres or his money. His ambition in time turned to rancor as he marked the patrician’s disdainful disregard of his (Boone’s) efforts to supplant him. Hatred of the Spragues became something like a passion in Boone. Sarcasms and disparagement leveled at his social and political pretensions he attributed to the Senator and his family. All sorts of slurs and gossip were reported to him by busybodies, until it became a settled purpose with Boone to make the Sprague family feel heavy heart-burnings for the sum of the affronts he had endured. It was to them he attributed the whispered gibes about his illiteracy; his shady business methods; the awful story of his handiwork in the ruin of Richard Perley, the spendthrift brother of the Misses Perley. Once, too, when he had so well manipulated the district delegates that he was sure of nomination in the convention, Senator Sprague had hurried home from Washington and defeated him just as the prize was in his grasp. The Senator made a speech to the delegates, in which he pointedly declared that it was men of honor and brains, not men of money, that should be chosen to make the laws.
“The time will come, Senator, that you’ll be sorry for this hour’s work,” Boone said, joining Sprague at the door as he was leaving the hall.
“How’s that?” the other asked, with just the shade of superciliousness in the tone admired in the Senate for suavity. “I hope I am always sorry when I do wrong, in speech or act; I teach my children to be.”
“Well, if you think it right to run the party for a few lordly idlers too proud to mix with the people–men who think they are better born and better bred than the rest of us–I don’t want to have anything more to do with it. I will go elsewhere.”
“That’s your privilege, sir. The Whigs have plenty of room for self-made men. Though I do think you are taking too personal a view of to-day’s contest, your defeat was purely a matter of duty. Moore, whom we have chosen, was a poor Irish settler here before you came. He was promised the nomination two years ago.” With a lofty bow the Senator turned and stalked in another direction as if he did not care for the other’s further company. Even this small and wholly unintended affront worked in the poor, misjudging victim of morbid self-esteem, as a cinder in the eye will torture and blind the sufferer to all the landscape. Boone mingled no more with the Democrats. He threw himself with the fervor of the convert into the radical wing of the Whigs, and was brought into close relation with some of the most admired of the band of great men who created the young Republican party. If Douglas, Dickinson, Cass, Van Buren, Seymour, or any eminent Democrat passing through Warchester stopped to break bread with their colleague Sprague in his Acredale retreat, straightway the splendid Sumner, the Ciceronian Phillips, or the Walpole-Seward, or some other of the shining galaxy of agitators, whose light so shone before men that the whole land was presently brought out of darkness, met at Boone’s table to maintain the balance in distinction.
It was Boone’s liberal purse that paid the expenses of the memorable campaign in the Warchester district, wherein the Democrats were first shaken in their hold. It was his money that finally secured the seat in Congress for Oswald, who was his tenant and debtor. It was therefore no surprise when Oswald–who had been greatly aided in business affairs by Senator Sprague–passed over the prior claims of his old patron’s son, and gave the cadetship to Wesley Boone, the son of his new liege. It was looked upon as another step in the ladder of gratitude when Wesley carried off the captaincy in the Acredale company, though everybody knew that young Boone was not in any way so well fitted for the “straps” as Jack. When one day an item appeared in the local paper to the effect that President Lincoln had shown the “sagacity for which he was so well known, in honoring our distinguished townsman, Elisha Boone, Esq., with the appointment of ambassador to Russia,” everybody thought the statement only natural. There were many congratulations. But when, having declined this splendid proffer, the authorities pressed the place of “Assistant Secretary of the Treasury” upon their townsman, the whole village awoke to the fact that all its greatness had not gone when Senator Sprague was gathered to his fathers.
The event was potent as the cross Constantine saw, or dreamed he saw, in the sky, in the conversion of party workers to the new Administration. Everybody looked forward to an eminent future for the potent partisan and millionaire, the first of that–now not uncommon–hierarchy that replace the feudal barons in modern social forces. Had he listened to the eager urging of Kate, his daughter and prime minister, Boone would have accepted the foreign mission; but he stubbornly refused to listen to her in this.
Kate Boone was like her father only in strong will, vehement purpose, and a certain humorous independence that made her a great delight among even the anti-Boone partisans in both Acredale and Warchester. Since the death of her mother, Kate had been head of her father’s household–an imperious, capricious, kind-hearted tyrant, who ruled mostly by jokes and persuasions of the gentler sort. It was her father’s one lament that Kate was not “the boy of the family, for she had more of the stuff that makes the man in her little finger than Wes had in his whole body.” She kept him in a perpetual unrest of delight and dismay. She espoused none of his piques or prejudices; she was as apt to bring people he disliked to his dinner-table as those he liked. She was forever making him forgive wrongs, or what he fancied to be wrongs, and causing him seem at fault in all his squabbles, so that he was often heard to say, when things went as he didn’t want them:
“I don’t know whether I am to blame or the other fellow until Kate hears the story.”
His illiteracy and lack of polish were the secret grief of the rich man’s life. Kate was quick in detecting this. Much of it she saw was due to the shyness that unschooled men feel in the presence of college men, or those who have been trained. On returning from her seminary life, the young girl set about remedying the single break in her father’s perfections. She was far too clever to let him know her ambitious purpose. With a patience almost maternal and an exquisite adroitness, she interested him in her own reading, which was comprehensive, if not very well ordered. But she won the main point. During the long winter evenings her father found no pleasure like that Kate had always ready for him in the cheery library. He was soon amazed at his keen interest in the world of mind unrolled to his understanding; more than all, he retained with the receptivity of a boy all that was read to him. Kate made believe that she needed his help in reviewing her own studies, and so carried him through all she had gone over in the seminary classes. Boone began presently to see that education is not the result of mere attendance in schools and the parroting of the classics in a few semesters in college. Without suspecting it, his varied business enterprises and his wide experience of men had grounded him as well in the ordinary forms of knowledge as nine in ten college men attain.
“Education, after all, papa, is like a trade. A man may be able to handle all the tools and not know their names. Now, you are a well-informed man, but, because you didn’t know logic, grammar, scientific terms, and the like, you thought yourself ignorant.”
In the new confidence in himself he was surprised at his own ability in launching a subject in the presence of his eminent friends when especially Kate was on hand to support the conversation. She got him not only to buy fine pictures, as most rich men do, but she made him see wherein their value lay, so that when artists and amateurs came to admire his treasures, he could talk to them without gross solecisms.
“I’m not a liberal education to you, papa, as Steele said of the Duchess of Devonshire. That implies too much, but I am an index. You can find out what you need to know by keeping track of my ignorance.”
Elisha Boone’s domestic circle was a termagancy–as Kate often told his guests–tempered by wit and good-humor. He was prouder of his daughter than of his self-made rank or his revered million. In moments of expansive good-nature he invited business or political associates to “Acre Villa,” as his place was called, to enjoy the surprise Kate’s graces wrought in the guests. But these were not always times of delight to the doting parent. Kate was a shrewd judge of the amenities; and if the personages who came, at the father’s bidding, gave the least sign of a not unnatural surprise to find a girl so well bred and self-contained in the daughter of such a man as Boone, she became very frigid and left the father to do the honors of the evening visit. No entreaty could move her to reappear on the scene. In time, the prodigal papa was careful to submit a list of the names of his proposed guests, as chamberlains give royalty a descriptive list of those to be bidden to court.
Kate was on terms that, if not cordial, were not constrained, with the Spragues. She had gone to the same seminary with Olympia, had danced with Jack, and, in the cadetship affair, had plainly given her opinion that her brother Wesley, having no taste or fitness for military life, Jack, who had, should have the prize. But two motives entered into the father’s determination: one was to annoy and humiliate the Spragues; the other, the sleepless craving of the parvenu to get for his son what had not been his, in spite of all the adulation paid him–the conceded equality of social condition. The army was then, as I believe it is considered now, the surest sign of higher caste in a democracy. Wesley, by the mere right to epaulets, would be of the acknowledged gentility. Nobody could sneer at him; no doors could be opened grudgingly when he called. He would, in virtue of his West Point insignia, be a knighted member of the blood royal of the republic. Some of this mysterious unction would distill itself into the unconsecrated ichor of the rest of the family, and Kate, as well as himself, would be part of the patrician caste. The daughter looked upon all this good-humoredly; she shared none of her father’s morbid delusions on the subject. She rallied the cadet a good deal on his mission. When Wesley, after the June examinations, which he passed by the narrowest squeeze–’twas said by outside influence–came home to display his cadet buttons and his neat gray uniform in Acredale, Kate bantered the complacent young warrior jocosely.
“We shall all have to live up to your shoulder-straps and brass buttons after this, Wesley,” she cried, as the proud young dandy strutted over the arabesques of the library, where the delighted papa marched him, the better to survey the boy’s splendor. “And think of the fate that awaits you if, in the esteem of Acredale, you should turn out less than a Napoleon.”
“Be serious, Kate, and don’t tease the boy. Wesley knows what’s expected of him; he has an opportunity to show what is in his stock. Thank God, men in the North can now come to their own without going down on their knees to the South!”
Wesley grinned. He was no match for his sister in the humorous bouts waged over his head against his father’s prejudices and cherished social schemes. During the vacation she put a heavy penalty of raillery upon his swelling pride and vanity, sarcasm that tried the paternal patience as well as his own. Wesley, however, had a large fund of the philosophy that comes from a high estimate of one’s self. He was well favored in looks and build, though somewhat effeminate, with his small hands and carefully shod feet. He would have been called a “dude” had the word been known in its present significance; as it was, he was regarded as a coxcomb by the derisive group hostile to the father’s social pretensions. He was the first of the golden youth of his set to adopt the then reviving mode of parting the hair on the middle of the head. In the teeth of the village derision, he persisted in this with a tenacity that Kate declared gave promise of a “Wellington.” For many who had at first adopted the foreign freak had been ridiculed out of it, discouraged by the obstinate refusal of the generality to follow the lead. In those sturdily primitive days the rich youth of the land had not so universally gone abroad as they do now, and “the proper thing” among the “well born” was not so distinctly laid down in the code of the _elite_. The accent and manners that now mark “good form” seemed queer, not to say _bouffe_, to even the first circles of home society, and the first disciples of “Anglomania” had a very hard time polishing the raw material. The home life of the Boones was something better and sincerer than the impression made upon their neighbors by the father’s invincible push and high-handed ways. His daughter and son had been born to him in middle age. They had the reverence for the parent marked in the conduct of children who associate gray hairs with the venerable. With all her strong sense and self-assertion, Kate was proud of the fact that she was her father’s daughter. It was a distinction to bear his name. His solidity, his masterful will, his well-defined, if narrow, convictions, were to her the sanctities one is apt to associate with lineage or magistracy. Wesley, though less impressionable than his sister, shared these secret devotions to the parent’s parts, and bowed before his father’s behests, in the filial reverence of the sons of the patriarchs. When Elisha Boone denounced the outbreak of John Brown at Harper’s Ferry as more criminal than Aaron Burr’s treason, his children made his prepossessions their own; when, three years later, the father proudly eulogized the uprising he had so luridly condemned, his children saw no tergiversation in the swift conversion. When to this full measure of lay perfection the complexion of Levite godliness was superadded by election to the deaconate in the Baptist Church, it will readily be seen that two young people, in whom the hard worldliness of wealth and easy conditions had not bred home agnosticism, were material for all the credulities of parent worship. Kate, a year older than Wesley, soon encountered the influences which gave the first shock to her faith and gradually tinctured her sentiments with a clearer insight into her father’s character. Oddly enough, it was through the rival house this came. Olympia, a sort of ablegate in the social hierarchy of the village, had been thrown much with Kate, and was greatly amused with her point of view in many of the snarls arising in a provincial society. The intimacy had been begun in the New York school, where both had been in the same classes, and, though the families saw nothing of each other, the girls did. Kate was soon led to see that the Spragues had none of the patrician pretension her father attributed to them. Jack, too, had made much of her, and seemed to delight in her sharp retorts to the inanities of would-be wits. The episode in Elisha Boone’s life, that all his success, wealth, and after exemplary conduct had not condoned in the village mind, was his handiwork in the ruin of Richard Perley, I set this down with something of the delight Carlyle expresses when in the rubbish of history he found, among the shams called kings and nobles, anything like a man.
It is worth the noting, this trait of Acredale, at a time when riches and success are looked upon as condoning every breach of the decalogue. Just how the intimacy between the two men came about was not known. It, however, was known that when Boone first came to Acredale he had been helped in his affairs by Dick Perley’s lavish means. In a few years Boone was the patron and Perley the client. As Boone grew rich Perley grew poor, until finally all was gone. Then the fairest lands of the Perley inheritance passed to Boone. It was the fireside history of the whole Caribee Valley that the rich contractor had encouraged the ruined gentleman in the excesses that ended the profligate’s career; that the two men had staked large sums at play in Bucephalo, and that inability to meet his losses to Boone had caused Dick Perley’s flight. He had been seen by one of the village people a year or two before the war in Richmond, and had been heard of in California later, but no word had ever reached his family, not even when his wife died, two years after his exile. There were those who said that Boone was in correspondence with his victim, and it was known that drafts, made by Dick Perley, had been paid by Boone at the bank in Warchester. Between Boone and the Perley ladies, whose house was separated from “Acre Villa” by a wide lawn and hedge, there had always been the tacit enmity that wrong on one side and meek unreproach on the other breeds. The rancor that manifested itself in Boone’s treatment of the Misses Perley was not imitated by them. They never alluded to their affluent neighbor, never suffered gossip concerning the Boones in what Olympia humorously called the “Orphic adytum,” the “tabby-shop,” as Wesley named the Perley parlors. Young Dick, however, had none of the scruples that kept his aunts silent. One dreadful day, when he had been nagged to fisticuffs with Wesley, whose dudish dignity exacted a certain restraint with the hot-headed youngster, Elisha Boone, behind the thick hedge, heard on the highway outside his grounds this outrageous anathema:
“You’re no more than a thief, Wes Boone; your father stole all he’s got. Some day I’ll make him give it back, or send him to jail, where he ought to be now.”
Schoolboy though the railer was, Boone staggered against the hedge, the words brought a dreadful flush and then a livid pallor to the miserable parent’s cheek. He dared not trust himself to speak then. Nor was the antipathy the outbreak caused mitigated by the savage thrashing that Wesley, throwing aside his dignity, proceeded to administer to the unbridled accuser. After that, by the father’s sternest command, neither of his children was to return the courteous salutation the Perley ladies had never ceased to bestow in meeting the Boones walking or in company. Now, Dick was the kind of boy that those who know boy nature would call adorable. To the Philistine, without humor or sympathy, I’m afraid he was a very bad boy. He was until late in his teens painfully shy with grown people and strangers; even under the eyes of his aunts and with youths of his own age, diffident to awkwardness. He had the face of a well-fed cherub and the gentle, dreamy, and wistful eye of a girl in love. With his elders he had the halting, confused speech of a new boy in a big school. But in the woods or on the playground he was the merriest, most daring, and winningly obstreperous lad that ever filled three maiden aunts with terror and delight.
A NAPOLEONIC EPIGRAM.
For weeks the regiment expected every day the order to march. The guns had been distributed and all their fascinating secrets mastered. In evolution and manual the men regarded themselves as quite equal to the regulars. The strict orders forbidding absence overnight were hardly needed, as no one ventured far, fearing that the regiment would be whirled away to Washington during the night. Had the men been older or more experienced in war, the weeks of waiting would have been delightful rather than dreary. The regiment was the object of universal interest in the town. Base-ball and the alluring outdoor pastimes that now divert the dawdlers of cities were unknown. Hence the camp-ground of the Caribees was the matinee, ball-match, tennis, boating, all in one of the idle afternoon world of Warchester. At parade and battalion drill the scene was like the race-ground on gala days.
All the fine equipages of the town drew up in the roads and lanes flanking the camp, where with leveled glasses the mothers, sisters, and sweethearts watched the columns as they skirmished, formed squares, or “passed the defile,” quite sure that the rebels would fly in confusion before such surprising manoeuvres. This daily audience stimulated such a fierce rivalry among the companies that the men turned out at all hours of the day to drill and practice in squads, rather than loiter about the camp. One day great news aroused the camp: the Governor was to review the regiment and send it to the front. All Warchester poured out to the Holly Hills, and when at five o’clock the companies filed out on the shining green there was such a cheer that the men felt repaid for the tiresome wait of months. The civic commander-in-chief watched the movements with affable scrutiny, surrounded by a profusely uniformed staff, to whom he expressed the most politic approval. He was heard to remark that no such soldiers had been seen on this continent since Scott had marched to Lundy’s Lane.
There was a throb of passionate joy in the ranks when this eulogium reached the men, for the words were hardly spoken when they were known in every company by that mysterious telegraphy which makes the human body a conductor swift as an electric wire among large masses of men. Nor were the words less relished that the eulogist was as ignorant of military excellence as a Malay of the uses of a patent mower. The men, it was easy to see, were much more efficient in movement than the officers in handling them. Colonel Oswald had wasted weeks in the study of the occult evolutions of the battalion; they were still a maddening mystery to him that fatal day. For six weeks his dreams had been haunted by airy battalions filing over impossible defiles. The commands he gave that day would have thrown the companies into hopeless confusion had the junior officers not boldly substituted the right ones for the colonel’s blunders. This, however, passed unnoted, for the crowds, and even the men, were not the sharp critics they afterward became when mistakes by an incompetent officer were saluted by shouts of ridicule, and the men contemptuously disregarded them. When Colonel Oswald ordered them to “present arms” from a “place rest” there was more perplexity than merriment, and the admiring crowd saw nothing peculiar in one company snatching up bayonets to present while others remained perfectly still.
Jack, to whom the manual was a very sacred thing, broke into fierce ridicule of the commander, declaring that he was better fitted for sutler than colonel. When the savage speech was reported to headquarters that young fellow’s prospects for the straps–never the best–were by no means improved. The review brought bitter disappointment to the regiment. The inspector-general, who was present, informed the colonel that no more than a thousand men could be accepted in one body; that five hundred of the Caribees would have to be divided among other troops in the State. The order aroused wild excitement. Half the men looked upon the edict as a scheme to give the politicians more places for their feudatories. Indeed, though that was not the origin of the order, that was the use made of it. Some of the junior officers, who disliked Oswald and distrusted his capacity to command, drew out very willingly, and of course carried many of their men with them.
But in the end the matter had to be decided by lot. Now this chance threw Wesley Boone out, and there was great rejoicing in the Acredale group, who hoped that this stroke of luck would make place for their favorite, Jack Sprague. But, to everybody’s astonishment, a day or two after the event, Wesley resumed his place in Company K, and gave out that it was by order of the Governor. Jack was urged by the major of the regiment, who had gone with the five hundred, to cast his fortunes with the new body, promising a speedy lieutenancy. But Jack would not desert the Caribees. All of Company K, and many in the others, had enlisted on his word, and he could not in honor leave them. The opposition journals had from the first denounced the division of the Caribees as a trick of the partisans, and, sure enough, the men were given to understand that there would be no move to Washington until after the election, then pending. This was a municipal contest, and the Administration party made good use of the incipient soldiery to obtain a majority in the town.
Promotion was quite openly held out as a reward for those who could influence most votes for the Administration candidates. At night the various companies were sent into the city to take part in the political propaganda; to march in processions or occupy conspicuous places at the party meetings. The private soldiers were almost to a man Democrats, but the chance to escape the long and irksome evenings of the camp and join the frolic and adventure of the street made most of them willing enough to play the part of claque or figurantes. Jack, of course, refused to take part in these scenic rallies, making known his sentiments in vehement disdain. He detested Oswald, who had quit his party, not on a question of principle, but merely for place, and Jack did not spare him in his satirical allusions to the new uses invented for the military.
A still more trying injustice befell the luckless Jack. For a long time he had, as senior, acted as orderly sergeant of Company K. This officer is virtually the executive functionary in the company. It is his place to form the men in rank, make out details, and prepare everything for the captain. The orderly sergeant is to the company what the adjutant is to the regiment. He carries a musket and marches with the ranks, but in responsibility is not inferior to an officer. One evening when it was known that orders had come for the regiment to march, Jack, having formed the company for parade, received a paper from the captain’s orderly to read. He opened it without suspicion, and, among other changes in the corps, read, “Thomas Trask to be first sergeant of Company K, and he will be obeyed and respected accordingly.” Jack read the monstrous wrong without a tremor. The men flung down their arms and broke into a fierce clamor of rage and grief. Many of them were Jack’s classmates. These swarmed about him. One, assuming the part of spokesman, cried out:
“It’s an infamous outrage. They cheated you out of your captaincy; they have put every slight they could upon you. But we have some rights. We won’t stand this. There are thirty of your classmates who will do whatever you say to show these people that they can’t act like this.”
There were mutiny and desperation in the air. It needed but a spark to destroy the usefulness of the company. But, as is often the case with impetuous, hot-headed spirits, Jack cooled as his friends grew hot. He was the more patient that the injustice was his injury alone. He remained in his place at the right of the company, and confronted the rebellious group with amazing self-control. Then loud above the murmuring his voice rang out:
“Company, attention! fall in, fall in! Any man out of the ranks will be sent to the guard-house. Eight dress, steady on the left.”
Many a time afterward these angry mutineers heard that sonorous, clear, boyish treble in stern and determined command; but they never heard it signalize a more heroic temper than at that moment, when, himself deeply wronged, he forced them to go back in the ranks to receive the interloper. They “dressed up” sullenly as Jack called the roll for the last time, and received Trask, the new orderly, at a “present,” which, though not in the tactics, Jack exacted as a penitence for the momentary revolt. Poor Trask looked very unhappy indeed as his displaced rival stepped back to the rear and left the new orderly to march the company out from the narrow way to take its place in the parade. It was easy to see that he would have been very glad to postpone or evade his new honors, on any pretext, for the time. He was so confused that Jack, from the flank, was obliged to repeat the few commands needed to get the company to the field.
Fortunately for the efficiency of the raw army, as this public discontent reached its most acute stage orders came to march the troops to Washington. The Caribees were the first body of soldiers sent from Warchester, and there was a memorable scene when the jaunty ranks filed through the streets to the station. By the time the men reached the train they discovered that they could never make war laden down as they were by knapsacks filled with the preposterous impedimenta feminine foresight had provided.
The men’s backs bulged out with such a pack of supplies that when the regiment halted each man was forced to kneel and let a comrade take off or put on his knapsack. And then the march through the streets–every man known to scores in the throng! The brisk, high-stepping drum corps rat-a-tatting at intervals; then tempests of cheers, flashing banners and patriotic symbols at every window; tears, laughter, humorous cries, jokes, sobbing outbreaks. The whole city was in march as the Caribees reached the thronged main thoroughfare. Ready hands relieved the soldiers of their burden as the line filed in sight of the Governor, who had come to speed the parting braves.
Lads and lasses made merry with the elated warriors. The muskets were turned into bouquet-holders, and the first move toward real war took on the air of a floral _fete_. There were popping corks and sounds of convivial revelry that made the scene anything but warlike. Jack, in a cluster of his town cronies, caught sight of his mother at one of the windows of the Parthenon Hotel. He wafted her a joyous kiss, pretending not to see the tears falling down her cheeks. Olympia was not apparently very deeply affected. She made her way through the crowd to her brother’s side, and with an air of the liveliest interest demanded:
“Jack, what have you in your knapsack? Let me see.”
“O Polly, it’s such a job to close it! What do you want? It is harder to manage than a Saratoga trunk. I can’t really stuff another pin or needle in, so pray keep what you have for my furlough.”
“No, I am not going to put anything in.” She bent over while Barney Moore, one of Jack’s Acredale comrades, gallantly loosed the straps. She searched carefully through the divers articles, taking everything out, Jack looking on ruefully while his companions gathered about in vague curiosity. When she had removed and restored everything she arose, saying: “I feel easier now. I merely looked to see if that marshal’s _baton_ I have heard so much about was there. I shall feel easy in my mind now, because a _baton_ in your baggage would have made you too adventurous.”
There was a great shout of laughter as the fun of the incident flashed upon the listeners, many of whom had heard the ingenuous Jack often in other days sighing for war, and the chance that Napoleon said every man had of finding a marshal’s _baton_ in his knapsack. Jack bore the banter very equably, knowing that Olympia was rather striving to keep his spirits up and divert him from the tears in his mother’s eyes than indulge her own humor. Indeed, most of the gayety at this moment was contributed by those whose hearts were heaviest. The consecrated priesthood of patriotism must see no weakness in those left behind. The only son, now brought face to face with the meaning and consequence of his rashly seized chance for glory, must not be reminded that perhaps a grave lay beyond the thin veil of the near future; must not be reminded that heavy hearts and dim eyes were left behind, feeding day by day, hour by hour, on terror and dread, unsupported by the changing scenes, the wild excitement, and the joyous vicissitudes of the soldier’s life, it was a cruel comedy acted every day between 1861 and 1865. They laughed who were not gay, and they seemed indifferent who were fainting with despair. The courage of battle is mere brutish insensibility compared with the abnegation of the million mothers who gave their boys to the bestial maw of war.
The harrowing ceremonial of parting is ended. The train moves slowly out of the station, and a murmur of sobs and cheers echoes until it is far beyond the easternmost limits of the city. After a journey of two days and a night the train readied Philadelphia. Jack was all eyes and ears for the spectacle the country presented. In every station through which the regiment passed crowds welcomed the blue-coats. Women fed them, or those who seemed in need, thinking, perhaps, of their own distant darlings receiving like tenderness from the stranger.
In Philadelphia, the regiment marched across the city to resume its journey. It was a cold spring night, and the regimental quartermaster and commissary had made no provision for the men. Indeed, as the observant Jack afterward learned, it was part of the plan of the groups that first began to create great fortunes during the war to make the soldiers pay for their rations _en route_ to the seat of war, or depend upon the charity of citizens along the railway lines. The Government paid for the supplies just the same, while the money went into the pockets of contractors and quartermasters. After a weary tramp through what seemed to the soldiers the biggest city in the world, the regiment, with blistered feet, hungry and cross, were halted before a long, low wooden building, through whose rough glass windows cheerful lights could be seen. A rumor spread that they were to have a hot supper, and, sure enough, they were marched in, dividing on each side of four long tables that stretched into spectral distance, in the feeble glimmer of the oil-lamps hanging from the ceiling. Most of the men in Jack’s company, at least, were gently nurtured, but the steaming oysters, cold beef, and generous “chunks” of bread, filled their eyes with a magnificence and their stomachs with a gentle repletion no banquet before or after ever equaled. The feast was set in the same place during four years, by the Sanitary Society, I think, but the memory of that homely board, plenteously spread, is in the mind of many a veteran who faced warward during the conflict.
ON THE POTOMAC.
The next morning, when the men debarked to march through Baltimore, every one was on the _qui vive_ to fasten in his memory the scene of the shameful attack upon the soldiers of Massachusetts on the 19th of April. But, as the line marched proudly down Pratt Street, there were no signs of the hostile spirit that made Baltimore a center of doubt and suspicion in the North for many a day afterward. It was, however, when the train dashed out from among the hills to the northwest of the sheet of water behind the capitol that the Caribees glued their eyes to the panes in awe not unmingled with delight. No American will ever look upon that imperial dome again with the sensations that filled the breasts of those who first saw its rounded outlines in the war epoch. What the ark of the covenant was to the armies that marched in the wilderness, or the cross of St. Peter to the pilgrims approaching Rome, that the great dome, towering cloud ward in the perpetual blue, was to the wondering eye of the soldier as his glance first fell upon it; that it was for months–yes, ever after–on the plains of Arlington and in the deadly exhalations of the Chickahominy. Every one looked anxiously to see signs of war–indeed, since leaving Baltimore, there was a delicious feeling of suspense–as the train shot over embankments or skirted the deep pine woods. Perhaps an adventurous rebel vanguard might attack them. Perhaps they might have the glory of fighting their way to the beleaguered capital. Perhaps Father Abraham might come out and smile benignantly at them for a brave deed well done. Faces flushed and eyes sparkled in the delightful anticipation: and some of the ardent spirits, more eager than the others, loaded their muskets to be ready! But, beyond the Federal picket-post at the stations, no sign of war was soon, nor much sign of hostilities, such as the vivid fancies of the raw young warriors conjured.
But now the train was at rest, and the officers–who had not been seen during the journey–turned out in resplendent plumery. The station–in those days a tumble-down barrack–was already crowded with soldiery. The Caribees were aligned along the track, the officers so bewildered by the confusion that it was by a miracle some of the groups of moving men were not run over by the backing engines. After an interminable delay, the band set up “We’re coming down to Washington to fight for Abraham’s daughter!” and with exuberant joy a thousand pairs of legs kept brisk step and elastic movement to the inspiriting strain. Now the longing eyes see the circumstance and even some of the pomp of war. The regiment debouches into Pennsylvania Avenue, under the very shadow of the Capitol, which looks sadly shabby and disproportioned to the eyes that had an hour or two before opened in such admiration at the first view. But there is no time for architectural criticism. They are moving down the avenue toward the White House, toward the home of that patient, kindly, sorely-tried ruler–the Democritus of his grisly epoch. The Caribees excite none of the sensation here they have been accustomed to. The streets are not crowded, and the few civilians passing hardly turn their heads. Mounted orderlies dash hurriedly, with hideous clatter of sabre and equipments, across the line of march, through the very regiment’s ranks, answering with a disdainful oath or mocking gibe when an outraged shoulder-strap raised a remonstrating voice. At Fourteenth Street the Caribees were halted until the colonel could take his bearings from headquarters, just around the corner. The wide sidewalks were dense with bestarred and epauleted personages in various keys of discussion. Jack and his crony, Barney Moore, studied the scene in wonder. Their company was halted exactly at the corner of Fourteenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, and the two were standing at Willard’s corner.
“I wonder if the President just stands and throws the stars down from that balcony?” Jack said, as the crowd of brigadiers thickened before the hotel door. “What on earth are they all doing here?”
“Oh, they come to make requisition on General Bacchus; he’s the commissary-general of the brigadiers–don’t you know?” Barney said, innocently.
“General Bacchus? Barney, you’re crazy–there’s no such officer in the army–I know all the names–you mean General Banks, don’t you?”
“Oh, no, I’m not mistaken–General Bacchus has been selected to deal out the _esprit de corps!_”
“_L’esprit de corps_? Barney, you’re certainly tipsy. I’m ashamed of you!”
“Yes, the spirit of that corps, as you can tell from the whiffs that come this way, is the whisky-bottle. Bacchus presides over that spirit. One would think you’d never read an eclogue of Virgil–you’re duller than a doctor of divinity’s after-dinner speech! A tutor’s joke is the utmost wit you ought to bear.”
“And so you call that a joke?”
“Well, it isn’t a cough, a song, an oath, or–or anything old Oswald would say, so it must be a joke.”
“Well, in that sense it may pass, like a tipsy soldier without the countersign.”
“Oh, come now, Jack, these stars are really dazzling you!”
“Not but I’ll make you see some that will dazzle you, if you don’t treat your superior more respectfully.”
“Oh, the punch you think of giving me wouldn’t solve this star problem; it requires to be made in the old–the milky way.”
But Barney’s astral jokes were brought to a period by the sharp note of the bugle, as Colonel Oswald, very important under the eye of so many big-wigs, magnificently ordered the march. The regiment passed up the steep hill, out Fourteenth Street–then a red clay thoroughfare of sticky mire with only here and there a negro’s shanty where the palaces of the rich rise to-day. The men learned something of their future enemy, Virginia mud, as they climbed the red gorge and debouched on Meridian Hill, where, presently, an aide-de-camp marked the ground assigned the regiment, and the real life of the soldier began. How tame to tell, but how “imperial the hour” when these one thousand lads first went, on guard! Yes, the fact was now before them. They were no longer segregated atoms, inert, ineffective, eccentric. They were part of that mighty bulwark of blood and iron that stood between law and rebellion, between the nation’s heart and the assassin dagger of disunion.
How proud and glad and manly they felt, these bright-eyed boys–for boys they mostly were; not a hundred in the regiment had seen their five-and-twentieth year. One razor would have been ample for the beards of the whole battalion. And oh, the nameless, the intoxicating sense of solidarity as they swept the vast reach of hillsides, and saw the white tents in brooding immensity on either hand! Yes, yonder, far across the wondrous belt of water, touching loyalty and rebellion in its mighty rush seaward, they could distinguish the cities of canvas on the distant Virginia shore.
“It makes a fellow feel as Godfrey’s hosts felt when they came in sight of the Bosporus, and the hordes of the Saracens on the plains of the Hellespont,” Jack said, exultingly, as Barney stood on a pile of camp equipages above him, surveying the quickening spectacle.
“I don’t know how Godfrey’s fellows felt, Jack, but it _do_ make a man feel kinder able to do something with so many near by to lend a hand. But, stars and garters! what a head it must take to manage all these! Fair and square, now, Jack, you feel the fires of military genius in your big head–do you think that you could disentangle this enormous coil–put each corps, division, and regiment, in its proper place–at a day’s notice?”
“Oh, I couldn’t perhaps do it just to-day; but give me time!”
“Yes, I’ll give you to the age of Methuselah, and then if you can manage it I shall not lose faith in you.”
“Come, men, the tents must be up before dark. Sergeant Sprague, your squad has five tents for its detail. You’ll find axes and tools at the quartermaster’s wagon on the hill yonder!” It was the captain who spoke, and, an instant later, the plot of ground, perhaps an acre and a half in area, was a scene of rollicking labor. Each company had a street, the tents–calculated to hold four each, but the number varied, going up often as high as six–faced each other, leaving room enough for the company to march in column or in line between the white walls. As the regiment would be presumably some time on the ground, the canvas tents rested on the top of a palisade of logs cut in the neighboring woods. These were five feet or more in length, and when driven into the ground a foot, and banked by the sticky clay, served excellently as walls upon which to rest the A tents. Two berths, sometimes four, were fastened laterally on these walls, frames running up to the center of the A held the guns, while lines stretched across from above served as wardrobes for such garments as could be hung up.
All this manoeuvring for space in such close quarters was great fun for lads accustomed to roomy houses, and careless, almost to slovenliness, in the matter of keeping things in place. Absurd as these details may seem, they were all parts, and very important parts, in the life and training of that mighty host that carried the destiny of the country in its discipline during four years. There was rigid inspection of quarters every Sunday morning, and during the week the non-commissioned officers were expected to see that cleanliness was not intermitted. The company “street” was “policed” every morning after breakfast, swept and garnished, that is, with the care of a Dutch housewife. Order is the first law of the soldier as well as of Heaven, and many a careless lad brought from his four years’ drill method and painstaking that made him of more value to himself and his neighbors.
Personal traits, too, could be divined in these toy-like interiors. The regulations prescribed the arrangement of the “bunks,” blankets folded, knapsacks laid at the head of the bed, accoutrements burnished until, at first sight, the four guns in the rack seemed to be a mirror for the orderly spirit of this thrifty grot. The shining plates, cups, and spoons, would have done no discredit to the most energetic, housewife, as they hung from pegs either above the bunks or along the wall. If running water were not accessible, every tent had a tin basin for the morning ablution, each soldier taking turn good humoredly. The household duties were scrupulously observed, each man assuming his _role_ in the complicated _menage_.
It was fully a week before the Caribees were installed ready for Sunday inspection, as no exigency was permitted to interfere with morning and afternoon drill, guard-mount, and parade. Battalion and brigade drill, too, were new diversions for the Caribees, as now, camped near other troops, these more complicated movements were part of the regiment’s allotted duty. After they were sufficiently trained in this they were to take part in a grand review by the general-in-chief, when the President, the Secretary of War, and all the great folks in Washington rode out to witness the spectacle.
There was no time for dullness. Every hour had its duty, and these soon became second nature to the zealous young warriors. Such rivalry to best master the manual, to hold the most soldierly stature in the ranks, to detect the drill-sergeant when, to test their attention, he gave a false command! And then the coronal joy of a reward of merit for efficiency and alertness on guard! The rapture the bit of paper brought, and the exultation with which the hero thus signalized went off to town for the day, wandered through the waste of streets, stood before Willard’s and admired in awe and wonder the indolent groups from whose shoulders gleamed one and sometimes two stars! One day Jack and Barney, walking in Fifteenth Street, saw a stout man, with no insignia to indicate rank or station, coming out of the headquarters hurriedly. He walked to the edge of the pavement, and, looking up and down, seemed disconcerted. Noticing the two lads, he came to where Jack was standing in a preoccupied way, and the two saluted decorously. He returned the salute and asked:
“Sergeant, are you on duty?”
“No, sir; I’m on leave for the day.”
“Ah, good; my orderly was here a moment ago, but I don’t see him anywhere. Would you mind taking this telegram to the War Department, through the park yonder?”
He gave Jack an envelope and hurried back into the building as the two lads started with alacrity across the street.
“I’ve seen that chap before, somewhere,” Barney said, panting with the rapid pace.
“He’s a staff officer, I suppose, not very high rank, for he only had a blouse on. General officers always wear double-button frocks even if they don’t carry the insignia.”
The War Department was easy of access, an old building not unlike Jack’s own home in Acredale. He asked the sentry at the door where his envelope was to be delivered. The man looked at it, pointed to a closed door, and Jack, receiving no response to his knock, entered. Three men were in the room. One was seated at a vast desk with papers, maps, dispatches, and books piled in disheartening confusion, within reach of his hand. Behind him a young captain in uniform sat writing. But the figure that fixed Jack’s reverential attention was half sprawling, half lying over the heaped-up impediments of the big desk. The young soldier caught sight of the serious, sad face, the wistful humorous eyes, and he knew, with a thrill through all his body and an adoring throb in his breast, that it was the President–hapless heritor of generations of disjointed time. All thought of his errand, all thought of place and person, faded as he realized this presence. How long he would have remained in this mute adoration there is no telling. The restless, keen eyes looked up sharply and a dissonant, imperious, repellent voice jerked out:
“Well, my man, what is it?”
Without a word Jack handed him the envelope, and with a sort of reverence to the tall figure whose face was turned kindly toward him he backed to the door.
“O Barney, I’ve seen the President!”
“Seen the President! No? Oh! Why could not I have gone in with you? It’s always my luck.”
“No: it was my luck. But take heart. He will come out pretty soon, and we’ll loaf about here. Perhaps we can see him as he goes back to the White House yonder.”
But though they waited far into the afternoon, forgetting their dinner in the impulse of homage, they did not catch sight of the well-known figure, for the President’s way to the Secretary’s room was a private one, and when he went away the boys of course could not see him. But Jack’s good fortune was the talk of the regiment for many a day, and for months when the fellows of the Caribee got leave they lingered expectantly about the modest headquarters, hoping that a missing orderly might bring them Jack Sprague’s proud distinction of seeing the President face to face. On the grand review, a few days later, Jack and his crony were reminded of the encounter at headquarters, for the man who had given the envelope to carry to the war office was riding a splendid horse next to the President. Two stars glittered on his shoulder now, and as he answered the cheers that saluted the group, the young men saw that it was General McDowell, the commander of the forces. The President rode along the lines, with a kindly wistfulness in the honest eyes that studied with no superficial glance the long line of shouting soldiery. He was not an imposing figure in the sense of cavalier bravery, but no man that watched as he moved in the glittering group, conspicuous by his somber black and high hat, ever forgot the melancholy, rapt regard he gave the ranks, as at an easy canter he passed the fronts of the squares or sat solemnly at the march past that concluded the review.
THE STEP THAT COSTS.
What between the doings of the camp and the daily visit to Washington, “soldiering” grew into an enchanting existence for the young warriors of the Caribee. Their quarters were on the high plateaus north and west of the city–which were in those days shaded slopes, that made suburban Washington a vale of Tempe. In the streets they saw bedizened officers, from commanders of armies down to presidential orderlies. In the Senate and House they heard the voices of men afterward potent in public councils.
What an exuberant, vagrant life it was! The blood warms and the nerves tingle after the tensions and heats of a quarter of a century as those days of sublime vagabondage come back. The melodious morning calls that waked the sleepy, lusty young bodies; the echoing bugle and the abrupt drum! And then the roll-call, in the misty morning when the sun, blear and very red, rose as if blushing, or apoplectic after the night’s carouse! It was an army of poets–of Homers–that began the never monotonous routine of these memorable days, for the incense of national sympathy came faint but intoxicating to the soldier’s nostrils in the visits of great statesmen, the picnics of civilians, the copious descriptive letters of correspondents and the daily scrawls from far-away valleys, where fond eyes watched the sun rise, noted the stars, to mark the special duties their darlings were doing in the watches of the night. And then the mad music of cheers when the news came that the young McClellan in West Virginia had scattered the adventurous columns of Lee, capturing guns, men, and arms, and forever saving the great Kanawha country to the Union! And in Kentucky the rebels had been outmanoeuvred; while in Missouri the glorious Lyon and the crafty Blair had, one in the Cabinet, the other in the camp, routed the secret, black, and Janus-like rabble of treason and anarchy.
To feel that he was part of all this; that, at rest in the iron ring girdling the capital, he was might in leash; that to-morrow he would be vengeance let loose–this was the sustaining, exulting thought that made the volunteer the best of soldiers. His heart was all in the glorious ardor for action. Night and morning he looked proudly at the sacred ensign waving lightly in the summer breeze, and he remembered that the eyes of Washington had rested on the same standard at Valley Forge; that the sullen battalions of Cornwallis had saluted it at Yorktown.
It was a beautiful ardor that filled the young hosts that waited in leash on the green hills of the Potomac those months of turmoil, when Scott and McDowell were straining the crude machinery of war to get ready for the vital lunge. Jack and his Acredale squad, as the college fellows were called, lived in a perpetual dream, from which the hard realities of drill, now six hours a day, could not waken them. In days of release they scoured the Maryland hills, secretly hoping that an adventurous rebel picket might appear and give them occasion to return to camp decked with preluding laurels. Mile after mile of the charming woodland country they scoured, their hearts beating at the appearance of any animate thing that for a brief, intoxicating moment they could conjure into a rebel advance post. But, beyond wan and reticent yokels, engaged in the primitive husbandry of this slave section, they never encountered any one that could be counted overt enemies of the cause. Money was plenty among these excursive groups, and they were welcomed in Company K with effusive outbreaks by their less restive comrades.
As July wore on, the signs of movement grew. Regiments were moved away mysteriously, and soon the Caribees were almost alone on Meridian Hill. Jack was filled with dire fears that the commanding officer, having discovered the incompetency of Oswald, feared to take the Caribees to the front. Something of the rumor spread through the regiment, and if, as reputed, “Old Sauerkraut” (this was the name he got behind his back) had spies in all the companies, the adage about listeners was abundantly confirmed. In the secrecy of Jack’s tent, however, the subject was freely discussed. Nick Marsh, the poet of the class, as became the mystic tendencies of his tribe, was for poisoning the detested Pomeranian–Oswald was a compatriot of Bismarck, often boasting, as the then slowly emerging statesman became more widely known, that he lived in his near neighborhood. Marsh’s suggestion fell upon fruitful perceptions. Bernard Moore–Barney, for short–was to be a physician, and had already passed an apprenticeship in a pharmacy, coincident with his college term in Jack’s class.
“By the powers of mud and blood, Nick, dear, I have it!”
“Have what, Barney, me b’y?” Nick asked, mimicking Barney’s quaintly displaced vowels.
“Why, the way to get rid of Old Schnapps and Blitzen–more power to me!”
“All the power you want, if you’ll only do that; and your voice will be as sweet as ‘the harp that once in Tara’s halls–‘”
“Never moind the harp–Sassenach–here’s what we can do. Tim Hussey is Oswald’s orderly; he and I are good friends. I know a preparation that will turn the sauerkraut and sausages, that Oswald eats so much of, into degluted fire and brimstone, warranted to keep him on the broad of his back for ten days or a fortnight. Will ye all swear secrecy?”
“We will! We will!”