"You—are not crying, are you, Celia, darling?" she whispered.
Her sister-in-law, lashes wet, rose with decision.
"I think that I have made a goose of myse'f to-night. Marye, will you say to your father that it is after eleven o'clock, and that I am waiting to be well scolded and sent to bed?"
"Father went out a few moments ago," said Paige in an awed voice. "I heard him unbolt the front door."
Ailsa turned and walked swiftly out into the hallway; the front door swung wide; Mr. Craig stood on the steps wearing his hat. He looked around as she touched his arm.
"Oh, is it you, Ailsa?" There was a moment's indecision. Through it, once more, far away in the city The Voices became audible again, distant, vague, incessant.
"I thought—if it is actually an extra—" he began carelessly and hesitated; and she said:
"Let me go with you. Wait. I'll speak to Celia."
"Say to her that I'll be gone only a moment."
When Ailsa returned she slipped her arm through his and they descended the steps and walked toward Fulton Avenue. The Voices were still distant; a few people, passing swiftly through the dusk, preceded them. Far down the vista of the lighted avenue dark figures crossed and recrossed the street, silhouetted against the gas-lights; some were running. A man called out something as they passed him. Suddenly, right ahead in the darkness, they encountered people gathered before the boarded fence of a vacant lot, a silent crowd shouldering, pushing, surging back and forth, swarming far out along the dimly lighted avenue.
"There's a bulletin posted there," whispered Ailsa. "Could you lift me in your arms?"
Her brother-in-law stooped, clasped her knees, and lifted her high up above the sea of heads. Kerosene torches flickered beyond, flanking a poster on which was printed in big black letters:
"WASHINGTON, April 13, 1861, 6 A.M. "At half-past four o'clock this morning fire was opened on Fort Sumter by the rebel batteries in the harbour. Major Anderson is replying with his barbette guns."
"8 A.M. "A private despatch to the N. Y. Herald says that the batteries on Mount Pleasant have opened on Sumter. Major Anderson has brought into action two tiers of guns trained on Fort Moultrie and the Iron Battery."
"3 P.M. "The fire at this hour is very heavy. Nineteen batteries are bombarding Sumter. The fort replies briskly. The excitement in Charleston is intense."
"LATER. "Heavy rain storm. Firing resumed this evening. The mortar batteries throw a shell into the fort every twenty minutes. The fort replies at intervals."
"LATEST. "The fort is still replying. Major Anderson has signalled the fleet outside."
All this she read aloud, one hand resting on Craig's shoulder as he held her aloft above the throng. Men crowding around and striving to see, paused, with up-turned faces, listening to the emotionless young voice. There was no shouting, no sound save the trample and shuffle of feet; scarcely a voice raised, scarcely an exclamation.
As Craig lowered her to the pavement, a man making his way out said to them:
"Well, I guess that ends it."
Somebody replied quietly: "I guess that begins it."
Farther down the avenue toward the City Hall where the new marble court house was being built, a red glare quivered incessantly against the darkness; distant hoarse rumours penetrated the night air, accented every moment by the sharper clamour of voices calling the Herald's extras.
"If he surrenders——"
"It makes no difference what he does now, child."
"I know it. . . . They've dishonoured the flag. This is war, isn't it?"
"Will it be a long war?"
"I think not."
"Who will go?"
"I don't know. . . . Soldiers."
"I didn't suppose we had enough. Where are we going to get more?"
"The people—" he said absently—"everybody, I suppose. How do I know, child?"
"Just ordinary people?"
"Just ordinary people," he responded quietly. A few minutes later as they entered their own street he said:
"I suppose I had better tell my wife about this to-night. I don't know—it will be in the morning papers; but I think I had better break it to her to-night."
"She will have to know—sometime—of course——"
Halting at the foot of the stoop he turned and peered through his glasses at his sister-in-law.
"I don't want Stephen to start any nonsense about going."
"Going where?" she asked innocently.
He hesitated: "I don't want to hear any talk from him about enlisting. That is what I mean. Your influence counts with him more deeply than you know. Remember that."
"Steve—enlist!" she repeated blankly.
She could not yet comprehend what all this had to do with people she personally knew—with her own kin.
"He must not enlist, of course," she said curtly. "There are plenty of soldiers—there will be plenty, of course. I——"
Something silenced her, something within her sealed her lips. She stood in silence while Craig fitted his night-key, then entered the house with him. Gas burned low in the hall globes; when he turned it off a fainter light from above guided them.
"Celia, is that you?" she called gently,
"Hush; go to bed, Honey-bell. Everybody is asleep. How pale you are, Curt—dearest—dearest——"
The rear room was Ailsa's; she walked into it and dropped down on the bed in the darkness. The door between the rooms closed: she sat perfectly still, her eyes were wide open, staring in front of her.
Queer little luminous shapes danced through obscurity like the names from the kerosene torches around the bulletin; her ears still vibrated with the hoarse alarm of the voices; through her brain sounded her brother-in-law's words about Steve, repeated incessantly, stupidly.
Presently she began to undress by sense of touch. The gas in the bathroom was lighted; she completed her ablutions, turned it off, and felt her way back to the bed.
Lying there she became aware of sounds from the front room. Celia was still awake; she distinguished her voice in quick, frightened exclamation; then the low murmur continued for a while, then silence fell.
She raised herself on one elbow; the crack of light under the door was gone; there was no sound, no movement in the house except the measured tick of the hall clock outside, tic-toc!—tic-toc!—tic-toc!
And she had been lying there a long, long while, eyes open, before she realised that the rhythm of the hall clock was but a repetition of a name which did not concern her in any manner:
How it had crept into her consciousness she could not understand; she lay still, listening, but the tic-toc seemed to fit the syllables of his name; and when, annoyed, she made a half disdainful mental attempt to substitute other syllables, it proved too much of an effort, and back into its sober, swinging rhythm slipped the old clock's tic-toe, in wearisome, meaningless repetition:
She was awakened by a rapping at her door and her cousin's imperative voice:
"I want to talk to you; are you in bed?"
She drew the coverlet to her chin and called out:
"Come in, Steve!"
He came, tremendously excited, clutching the Herald in one hand.
"I've had enough of this rebel newspaper!" he said fiercely. "I don't want it in the house again, ever. Father says that the marine news makes it worth taking, but——"
"What on earth are you trying to say, Steve?"
"I'm trying to tell you that we're at war! War, Ailsa! Do you understand? Father and I've had a fight already——"
"They're still firing on Sumter, I tell you, and if the fort doesn't hold out do you think I'm going to sit around the house like a pussy cat? Do you think I'm going to business every day as though nothing was happening to the country I'm living in? I tell you now—you and mother and father—that I'm not built that way——"
Ailsa rose in bed, snatched the paper from his grasp, and leaning on one arm gazed down at the flaring head-lines:
THE WAR BEGUN
Very Exciting News from Charleston
Bombardment of Fort Sumter Commenced
Terrible Fire from the Secessionists' Batteries
Brilliant Defence of Maj. Anderson
Reckless Bravery of the Confederate States Troops.
And, scanning it to the end, cried out:
"He hasn't hauled down his flag! What are you so excited about?"
"I—I'm excited, of course! He can't possibly hold out with only eighty men and nothing to feed them on. Something's got to be done!" he added, walking up and down the room. "I've made fun of the militia—like everybody else—but Jimmy Lent is getting ready, and I'm doing nothing! Do you hear what I'm saying, Ailsa?"
She looked up from the newspaper, sitting there cross-legged under the coverlet.
"I hear you, Steve. I don't know what you mean by 'something's got to be done.' Major Anderson is doing what he can—bless him!"
"That's all right, but the thing isn't going to stop there."
"At Sumter. They'll begin firing on Fortress Monroe and Pensacola—I—how do you know they're not already thinking about bombarding Washington? Virginia is going out of the Union; the entire South is out, or going. Yesterday, I didn't suppose there was any use in trying to get them back again. Father did, but I didn't. I think it's got to be done, now. And the question is, Ailsa, whose going to do it?"
But she was fiercely absorbed again in the news, leaning close over the paper, tumbled dull-gold hair falling around her bare shoulders, breath coming faster and more irregularly as she read the incredible story and strove to comprehend its cataclysmic significance.
"If others are going, I am," repeated her cousin sullenly.
"Going where, Steve?—Oh———"
She dropped the paper and looked up, startled; and he looked back at her, defiant, without a flicker in those characteristic family eyes of his, clear as azure, steady to punishment given or taken—good eyes for a boy to inherit. And he inherited them from his rebel mother.
"Father can't keep me home if other people go," he said.
"Wait until other people go." She reached out and laid a hand on his arm.
"Things are happening too fast, Steve, too fast for everybody to quite understand just yet. Everybody will do what is the thing to do; the family will do what it ought to. . . . Has your mother seen this?"
"Yes. Neither she nor father have dared speak about it before us—" He made a gesture of quick despair, walked to the window and back.
"It's a terrible thing, Ailsa, to have mother feel as she does."
"How could she feel otherwise?"
"I've done my best to explain to her——"
"O Steve! You!—when it's a matter between her soul and God!"
He said, reddening: "It's a matter of common-sense—I don't mean to insult mother—but—good Lord, a nation is a nation, but a state is only a state! I—hang it all—what's the use of trying to explain what is born in one——"
"The contrary was born in your mother, Steve. Don't ever talk to her this way. And—go out, please, I wish to dress."
He went away, saying over his shoulders: "I only wanted to tell you that I'm not inclined to sit sucking my thumb if other men go, and you can say so to father, who has forbidden me to mention the subject to him again until I have his permission."
But he went away to business that morning with his father, as usual; and when evening came the two men returned, anxious, dead tired, having passed most of the day standing in the dense throngs that choked every street around the bulletin boards of the newspaper offices.
Ailsa had not been out during the day, nor had Mrs. Craig, except for an hour's drive in the family coupe around the district where preliminary surveys for the new Prospect Park were being pushed.
They had driven for almost an hour in utter silence. Her sister-in-law's hand lay clasped in hers, but both looked from the carriage windows without speaking, and the return from the drive found them strangely weary and inclined for the quiet of their own rooms. But Celia Craig could not close her eyes even to feign sleep to herself.
When husband and son returned at evening, she asked nothing of the news from them, but her upturned face lingered a second or two longer as her husband kissed her, and she clung a little to Stephen, who was inclined to be brief with her.
Dinner was a miserable failure in that family, which usually had much to compare, much to impart, much badinage and laughter to distribute. But the men were weary and uncommunicative; Estcourt Craig went to his club after dinner; Stephen, now possessing a latch-key, disappeared shortly afterward.
Paige and Marye did embroidery and gossipped together under the big crystal chandelier while their mother read aloud to them from "Great Expectations," which was running serially in Harper's Weekly. Later she read in her prayer-book; later still, fully dressed, she lay across the bed in the alcove staring at the darkness and listening for the sound of her husband's latch-key in the front door,
When it sounded, she sprang up and hastily dried her eyes.
"The children and Ailsa are all abed, Curt. How late you are! It was not very wise of you to go out—being so tired—" She was hovering near him as though to help his weariness with her small offices; she took his hat, stood looking at him, then stepped nearer, laying both hands on his shoulders, and her face against his.
"I am—already tired of the—war," she sighed. "Is it ended yet, Curt?"
"There is no more news from Sumter."
"You will—love me—best—anyway. Curt—won't you?"
"Do you doubt it?"
She only drew a deep, frightened breath. For within her heart she felt the weight of the new apprehension—the clairvoyant premonition of a rival that she must prepare to encounter—a rival that menaced her peace of mind—a shape, shadowy as yet, but terrible, slowly becoming frightfully denned—a Thing that might one day wean this man from her—husband, and son, too—both perhaps——.
"Curt," she faltered, "it will all come right in the end. Say it. I am afraid."
"It will come out all right," he said gently. They kissed, and she turned to the mirror and silently began preparing for the night.
With the calm notes of church bells floating out across the city, and an April breeze blowing her lace curtains, Ailsa awoke. Overhead she heard the trample of Stephen's feet as he moved leisurely about his bedroom. Outside her windows in the backyard, early sunshine slanted across shrub and grass and white-washed fence; the Sunday quiet was absolute, save for the church bells.
She lay there listening and thinking; the church bells ceased; and after a while, lying there, she began to realise that the silence was unnatural—became conscious of something ominous in the intense quiet outside—a far-spread stillness which was more than the hush of Sabbath.
Whether or not the household was still abed she did not know; no sound came from Celia's room; nor were Marye and Paige stirring on the floor above when she rose and stole out barefooted to the landing, holding a thin silk chamber robe around her. She paused, listening; the tic-toc of the hall clock accented the silence; the door that led from Celia's chamber into the hall stood wide open, and there was nobody in sight. Something drew her to the alcove window, which was raised; through the lace curtains she saw the staff of the family flag set in its iron socket at right angles to the facade—saw the silken folds stirring lazily in the sunshine, tiptoed to the window and peered out.
As far as her eyes could see, east and west, the street was one rustling mass of flags.
For a second her heart almost hurt her with its thrilling leap; she caught her breath; the hard tension in her throat was choking her; she dropped to her knees by the sill, drew a corner of the flag to her, and laid her cheek against it.
Her eyes unclosed and she gazed out upon the world of flags; then, upright, she opened her fingers, and the crinkled edges of the flag, released, floated leisurely out once more into the April sunshine.
When she had dressed she found the family in the dining-room—her sister-in-law, serene but pale, seated behind the coffee urn, Mr. Craig and Stephen reading the Sunday newspapers, Paige and Marye whispering together over their oatmeal and cream.
She kissed Celia, dropped the old-fashioned, half-forgotten curtsey to the others, and stood hesitating a moment, one hand resting on Celia's shoulder.
"Is the fort holding out?" she asked.
Stephen looked up angrily, made as though to speak, but a deep flush settled to the roots of his hair and he remained silent.
"Fort Sumter has surrendered," said her brother-in-law quietly.
Celia whispered: "Take your seat now, Honey-bell; your breakfast is getting cold."
At church that Sunday the Northern clergy prayed in a dazed sort of way for the Union and for the President; some addressed the Most High as "The God of Battles." The sun shone brightly; new leaves were startling on every tree in every Northern city; acres of starry banners drooped above thousands of departing congregations, and formed whispering canopies overhead.
Vespers were solemn; April dusk fell over a million roofs and spires; twinkling gas jets were lighted in street lamps; city, town, and hamlet drew their curtains and bowed their heads in darkness. A dreadful silence fell over the North—a stillness that breeds epochs and the makers of them.
But the first gray pallor of the dawn awoke a nation for the first time certain of its entity, roaring its comprehension of it from the Lakes to the Potomac, from sea to sea; and the red sun rose over twenty States in solid battle line thundering their loyalty to a Union undivided,
And on that day rang out the first loud call to arms; and the first battalion of the Northland, seventy-five thousand strong, formed ranks, cheering their insulted flag.
Then, southward, another flag shot up above the horizon. The world already knew it as The Stars and Bars. And, beside it, from its pointed lance, whipped and snapped and fretted another flag—square, red, crossed by a blue saltier edged with white on which glittered thirteen stars.
It was the battle flag of the Confederacy flashing the answer to the Northern cheer.
Berkley sat up in bed and viewed his environment with disgust.
"These new lodgings would make a fair kennel, wouldn't they, Burgess?—if a man isn't too particular about his dog."
The servant entered with a nasty smirk. "Yes, sir; I seen a rat last night."
"He's not the only one, is he, Burgess," yawned Berkley. "Oh, hell! I've got to dress. Did you paint that bathtub? I guess you did, the place reeks like a paint shop. Anyway, it kills less desirable aromas. Where's the water?"
He swung his symmetrical body to the bed's edge, dropped lightly to the carpet, unloosed his night robe, and stretched himself.
"Was I very drunk, Burgess?"
"No, sir; you just went to sleep. You haven't got no headache, have you?"
"No—but it was only corn whisky. I didn't remember what I did with it. Is there any left?"
"Not much, sir."
The servant, ugly to the verge of deformity, and wearing invariably the abominable smirk that disgusted others but amused Berkley, went about his duties.
Berkley blinked at him reflectively, then bathed, dressed, and sat down to a bowl of chocolate and a bit of bread.
"What the devil was all that row this morning, Burgess?"
"War, sir. The President has called for seventy-five thousand men. Here it is, sir." And he laid a morning paper beside the cup of chocolate, which Berkley studied between sips, commenting occasionally aloud:
"Heavens, Burgess, why, we're a race of patriots! Now who on earth could have suspected that. . . . Why, we seem to be heroes, too! What do you think of that, Burgess? You're a hero; I'm a hero; everybody north of Charleston is an embattled citizen or a hero! Isn't it funny that nobody realised all this before?" . . . He turned the paper leisurely sipping his chocolate. . . . "Of course—the 'dear old flag'! That's the cheese, isn't it, Burgess? Been insulted, hasn't it? And we're all going to Charleston to punch that wicked Beauregard in the nose. . . . Burgess, you and I are neglecting our duty as heroes; there's much shouting to be done yet, much yelling in the streets, much arguing to be done, many, many cocktails to be firmly and uncompromisingly swallowed. Are you prepared to face the serious consequences of being a hero?"
"Yes, sir," said Burgess.
"You merit well of the republic! The country needs you. Here's half a dollar. Do your duty unflinchingly—at the nearest bar!"
Burgess took the coin with a smirk.
"Mr. Berkley, the landlady sent word that times is hard."
"Bless her soul! They are hard, Burgess. Inform her of my sentiments," said Berkley cordially. "Now, my hat and cane, if you please. We're a wonderful people, Burgess; we'll beat our walking-sticks into bayonets if Mr. Beauregard insists on saying boo to us too many times in succession. . . . And, Burgess?"
"Now that you have waked up this morning to find yourself a hero, I think you'd better find yourself another and more spectacular master. My heroism, for the future, is to be more or less inconspicuous; in fact, I begin the campaign by inserting my own studs and cleaning my own clothes, and keeping out of gaol; and the sooner I go where that kind of glory calls me the sooner my name will be emblazoned in the bright lexicon of youth where there's no such word as 'jail.'",
"In simpler and more archaic phrase, I can't afford you, Burgess, unless I pilfer for a living."
"I don't eat much, sir."
"No, you don't eat much."
"I could quit drinking, sir."
"That is really touching, Burgess. This alcohol pickled integument of yours covers a trusting heart. But it won't do. Heroics in a hall bedroom cut no coupons, my poor friend. Our paths to glory and the grave part just outside the door-sill yonder."
"She said I could stay, sir."
"The landlady. I'm to fetch coal and run errants and wait on table. But you'll get the best cuts, sir. And after hours I can see to your clothes and linen and boots and hats, and do your errants same like the usual."
"Now this is nearly as pathetic as our best fiction," said Berkley; "ruined master, faithful man—won't leave—starves slowly at his master's feet—tootle music very sneaky—'transformation! Burgess in heaven, blinking, puzzled, stretching one wing, reflectively scratching his halo with right hind foot. Angel chorus. Burgess appears to enjoy it and lights one of my best cigars——"
"Sir?" said Burgess, very red.
Berkley swung around, levelled his walking-stick, and indicated the pit of his servant's stomach:
"Your face is talking now; wait till that begins to yell. It will take more than I'm earning to fill it."
He stood a moment, smiling, curious. Then:
"You've been as faithless a valet as any servant who ever watered wine, lost a gimcrack, or hooked a weed. Studs, neckcloths, bootjacks, silk socks, pins, underwear—all magically and eventually faded from my wardrobe, wafted to those silent bournes of swag that valets wot of. What in hell do you want to stay here for now, you amusing wastrel?"
"Yes, sir. I'd prefer to stay with you."
"But there'll be no more pleasant pickings, my poor and faithless steward! If you should convert anything more to your own bank account I'll be obliged to stroll about naked."
"Yes, sir," muttered Burgess; "I brought back some things last night—them socks, shirt-pins and studs, and the fob. . . . Yes, sir; I fetched 'em back, I did—" A sudden and curious gleam of pride crossed the smirk for an instant;—"I guess my gentleman ain't agoing to look no worse than the next Fifth Avenue swell he meets—even if he ain't et no devilled kidneys for breakfast and he don't dine on no canvas-back at Delmonico's. No, sir."
Berkley sat down on the bed's edge and laughed until he could scarcely see the man, who observed him in patient annoyance. And every time Berkley looked at him he went into another fit of uncontrollable laughter, as he realised the one delightful weakness in this thorough-paced rogue—pride in the lustre cast upon himself by the immaculate appearance of a fashionable master. But after reflection, it did not astonish him too much; the besetting weakness of rogues is vanity in one form or another. This happened to be an unusual form.
"Burgess," he said, "I don't care how you go to hell. Go with me if you like or go it alone."
"Thank you, sir."
"You're welcome," replied Berkley gravely, and, tucking his cane up under one arm, he went out to business, drawing on a pair of lemon-coloured kid gloves.
Later he searched his pockets for the cigar he had denied himself the evening before. It was not there. In fact, at that moment, Burgess, in the boarding-house backyard, was promenading up and down, leering at the Swedish scullion, and enjoying the last expensive cigar that his master was likely to purchase in many a day.
The street, and avenue were seething with people; people stood at their windows looking out at the news-boys who swarmed everywhere, shouting endless extras; people were gathering on corners, in squares, along park railings, under porticos of hotels, and every one of them had a newspaper and was reading.
In front of the St. Nicholas Hotel a lank and shabby man had mounted a cracker box, and was evidently making a speech, but Berkley could distinguish nothing he said because of the wild cheering.
Everywhere, threading the throng, hurried boys and men selling miniature flags, red-white-and-blue rosettes, and tricoloured cockades; and everybody was purchasing the national colours—the passing crowd had already become bright with badges; the Union colours floated in streamers from the throats or sleeves of pretty girls, glinted in the lapels of dignified old gentlemen, decorated the hats of the stage-drivers and the blinders of their horses.
"Certainly," said Berkley, buying a badge and pinning it in his button-hole. "Being a hero, I require the trade-mark. Kindly permit that I offer a suggestion—" a number of people waiting to buy badges; were now listening to him—"those gentlemen gathered there in front of the New York Hotel seem to be without these marks which distinguish heroes from citizens. No doubt they'll be delighted to avail themselves of your offered cockades."
A quick laugh broke out from those around, but there was an undertone of menace in it, because the undecorated gentlemen in front of the New York Hotel were probably Southerners, and Secessionists in principles; that hostelry being the rendezvous in New York of everything Southern.
So, having bestowed his mischievous advice, Berkley strolled on down Broadway, his destination being the offices of Craig and Son, City and Country Real Estate, where he had a desk to himself, a client or two in prospect, and considerable leisure to study the street, gas, and sewer maps of New York City.
Tiring of this distraction, he was always at liberty to twiddle his thumbs, twirl his pencil, yawn, blink, and look out of the window at the City Park across the way, where excited citizens maintained a steady yelling monotone before the neighbouring newspaper offices all day long.
He was also free to reflect upon his own personal shortcomings, a speculation perhaps less damaging than the recent one he had indulged in; and he thought about it sometimes; and sometimes about Ailsa Paige, whom he had not again seen since the unaccountable madness had driven him to trample and destroy the first real inclination he had ever had for a woman.
This inclination he occasionally found leisure to analyse, but, not understanding it, never got very far, except that, superficially, it had been more or less physical. From the moment he saw her he was conscious that she was different; insensibly the exquisitely volatile charm of her enveloped him, and he betrayed it, awaking her, first, to uneasy self-consciousness; then uneasy consciousness of him; then, imperceptibly, through distrust, alarm, and a thousand inexplicable psychological emotions, to a wistful interest that faintly responded to his. Ah! that response!—strange, childish, ignorant, restless—but still a response; and from obscure shallows unsuspected, uncomprehended—shallows that had never before warned her with the echo of an evanescent ripple.
For him to have reflected, reasoned, halted himself, had been useless from the beginning. The sister-in-law of this girl knew who and what he was and had been. There was no hope for him. To let himself drift; to evoke in her, sometimes by hazard, at times with intent, the delicate response—faint echo—pale shadow of the virile emotions she evoked in him, that, too, was useless. He knew it, yet curious to try, intent on developing communication through those exquisite and impalpable lines that threaded the mystery from him to her—from her to him.
And then, when the mystery all about them was aquiver, and her vague eyes met his through the magic, acquiescent under a sorcery for which she had no name—then, when all things occult breathed silence—then he had said too much!
It was perhaps as well that he had said it then as later—as well perhaps that, losing self-control, defeat had moved his tongue to boast, had fixed the empty eye and stamped the smile he wore with a confidence dead in him for ever.
He had said that he would come back. He knew that he would not.
It was the pitiful defiance of a boaster hopelessly hurt.
He no longer desired to see her again. Never again would he risk enduring what she had evoked in him, whatever it was of good or of evil, of the spiritual or the impure—he did not know he was aware only of what his eyes had beheld and his heart had begun to desire.
On his way back from the office that evening he met Camilla Lent and her uncle, the Captain, and would have passed with an amiable salute, but the girl evinced a decided desire to speak. So he turned and joined them.
"How do you do, Camilla? How are you, Captain Lent? This re-conversion of the nation's ploughshares and pruning hooks is a noisy affair, isn't it?"
"April 18th, 1861!" replied the Captain quickly. "What you hear, sir, is the attrition consequent upon the grinding together of certain millstones belonging to the gods."
"I have no doubt of it, Captain Lent; they'll probably make meal of us all. Are you offering your services, sir."
Camilla said quickly, and with gayest confidence: "Uncle has been looking about casually. There are so many regiments forming, so many recruiting stations that we—we haven't decided—have we, uncle?" And she gave Berkley a wistful, harrowing glance that enlightened him.
He said gravely: "I suppose the average age of these volunteers will be about eighteen. And if the militia go, too, it will be comforting for a defenceless city to know she has men of your experience to count on, Captain Lent."
"I am going to the front," observed the Captain.
"There may be much to be done in New York, sir."
"Then let the police do it," said Captain Lent calmly. "The Union must and shall be preserved. If any man attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him upon the spot. Et cetera, sir, et cetera."
"Certainly. But it's a question of niggers, too, I believe."
"No, sir. It is not a question of niggers. It is a question of who's at the wheel, Union or State. I myself never had any doubts any more than I ever doubted the Unitarian faith! So it is no question for me, sir. What bothers me is to pick out the regiment most likely to be sent first."
"We've walked our legs off," said Camilla, aside, "and we've been in all kinds of frightful places where men are drilling and smoking and swearing and yelling; and I was dreadfully afraid a gun would go off or somebody would be impudent to uncle. The dear old thing," she whispered, "he is perfectly sure they want him and that he has only to choose a regiment and offer his sword. Oh, dear! I'm beginning to be terribly unhappy—I'm afraid they won't let him go and I'm deadly afraid they might! And I'm sure that Jim means to go. Oh, dear! Have you seen Ailsa Paige lately?"
"No. . . . I hope she is quite well."
"You are not very enthusiastic."
"I have every reason to be. She is a very winsome girl."
"She's a dear. . . . She has spoken of you several times."
"That is most amiable of her, and of you to say so."
"Oh, very," laughed Camilla, tossing her pretty head, "but it evidently does not interest you very much. In fact—" she glanced sidewise—"it is understood that no woman ever interests you for more than forty-eight consecutive hours."
"Pure slander, Camilla. You do."
"Oh—not in the way I mean."
"Well, but you don't expect me to be interested in Mrs. Paige—in the way you mean do you?"
"Why not?" she asked mischievously.
"Because, to begin properly, Mrs. Paige is not likely ever to become interested in me."
"I am heartily glad of it," retorted Camilla. "You'd forget her in a week,"
"That's more than forty-eight hours," he said, laughing. "You're flattering me now."
"Anyway," said Camilla, "I don't see why everybody that knows her isn't mad about Ailsa Paige. She has such high principles, such ideals, such wonderful aspirations—" She clasped her hands sentimentally: "At times, Phil, she seems too ethereal, scarcely of earth—and yet I breakfasted with her and she ate twice as much as I did. How does she keep that glorious figure!"
Plumpness was the bane and terror of Camilla's life. Her smooth, suave white skin was glossy and tight; distracting curves, entrancing contours characterised her now; but her full red lips fairly trembled as she gazed at her parents' portraits in her bedroom, for they had both been of a florid texture and full habit; and she had now long refused sugar and the comforts of sweetmeats dear to the palate of her age and sex. And mostly was this self-denial practised for the sake of a young and unobservant friend, one Stephen Craig, who had so far evinced no unusual inclination for her, or for anything except cigars and masculine society of his own age and condition.
She managed to get Philip Berkley to talk about Stephen, which ingenuity soothed her. But Philip was becoming bored, and he presently escaped to retrace his steps up Broadway, up Fifth Avenue, and then west to the exceedingly modest lodgings whither fate and misfortune had wafted him.
On the way he passed Colonel Arran's big double house with a sullen and sidelong scowl, and continued onward with a shrug. But he smiled no more to himself.
Burgess was in the room, cross-legged on the floor, ironing out his master's best coat.
"What the devil are you about," said Philip ungraciously. "Get up. I need what floor I've got to stand on."
Burgess obediently laid the board and the coat on a trunk and continued ironing; and Philip scowled at him askance.
"Why don't you enlist?" he said. "Every car-driver, stage-driver, hackman, and racing-tout can become major-generals if they yell loud enough."
Burgess continued ironing, then stole a glance at his master.
"Are you thinking of enlisting, sir?"
"No; I can't pass the examination for lung power. By the way," he added, laughing, "I overlooked the impudence of your question, too. But now is your time, Burgess. If I wanted you I'd have to put up with your insolence, I suppose."
"But you don't want me, sir."
"Which restrains you," said Philip, laughing. "Oh, go on, my friend. Don't say 'sir' to me; it's a badge of servitude pasted onto the vernacular. Say 'Hi!' if you like."
"Hell! I say don't behave like a servant to me."
"I am a servant, sir."
"You're not mine."
"Yes, sir, I am. Will you wear this coat this evening, sir?"
"God knows," said the young fellow, sitting down and gazing about at the melancholy poverty of the place. . . . "Is there any of that corn whisky?"
"Damn it, you said there was this morning!"
"No, sir, I didn't."
The man lied placidly; the master looked at him, then laughed.
"Poor old Burgess," he said aloud as though to himself; "there wasn't a skinful in that bottle. Well, I can't get drunk, I can't lie here and count from six to midnight and keep my sanity, I can't smoke—you rascal, where's my cigar? And I certainly can't go out anywhere because I haven't any money."
"You might take the air on the avenue, sir. Your clothes are in order."
"Poor Burgess! That was your amusement, wasn't it?—to see me go out discreetly perfumed, in fine linen and purple, brave as the best of them in club and hall, in ballroom and supper room, and in every lesser hell from Crystal Palace cinders to Canal.
"Poor Burgess! Even the seventy-five pretty waitresses at the Gaities would turn up their seventy-five retrousse noses at a man with pockets as empty as mine."
"Your clothes are fashionable. So is your figger, sir."
"That settles it?" protested the young fellow, weak with laughter. "Burgess, don't go! Don't ever go! I do need you. Oh I do want you, Burgess. Because there never will be anybody exactly like you, and I've only one life in which to observe you, study you, and mentally digest you. You won't go, will you?"
"No sir," said Burgess with dignity.
There was incipient demoralisation already in the offices of Craig & Son. Young gentlemen perched on high benches still searched city maps and explored high-way and by-way with compass and pencil-point, but their ears were alert to every shout from the streets, and their interest remained centred in the newspaper bulletins across the way, where excited crowds clamoured for details not forthcoming.
All day, just outside the glass doors of the office, Broadway streamed with people; and here, where the human counter currents running north and south encountered amid the racket of omnibuses, carts, carriages, and drays, a vast overflow spread turbulently, eddying out around the recruiting stations and newspaper offices which faced the City Park.
Sidewalks swarmed, the park was packed solid. Overhead flags flew from every flag pole, over every portal, across every alley and street and square—big nags, little flags, flags of silk, of cotton, of linen, of bunting, all waving wide in the spring sunshine, or hanging like great drenched flowers in the winnowing April rain.
And it was very hard for the young gentlemen in the offices of Craig & Son to keep their minds on their business.
Berkley had a small room to himself, a chair, a desk, a city map suspended against the wall, and no clients. Such occasional commissions as Craig & Son were able to give him constituted his sole source of income.
He also had every variety of time on his hands—leisure to walk to the window and walk back again, and then walk all around the room—leisure to go out and solicit business in a city where already business was on the edge of chaos and still sliding—leisure to sit for hours in his chair and reflect upon anything he chose—leisure to be hungry and satisfy the inclination with philosophy. He was perfectly at liberty to choose any subject and think about it. But he spent most of his time in trying to prevent himself from thinking.
However, from his window, the street views now were usually interesting; he was an unconvinced spectator of the mob which started for the Daily News office, hissing, cat-calling, yelling: "Show your colours!" "Run up your colours!" He saw the mob visit the Journal of Commerce, and then turn on the Herald, yelling insult and bellowing threats which promptly inspired that journal to execute a political flip-flap that set the entire city smiling.
Stephen, who had conceived a younger man's furtive admiration for Berkley and his rumoured misdemeanours, often came into his room when opportunity offered. That morning he chanced in for a moment and found Berkley at the window chewing the end of a pencil, perhaps in lieu of the cigar he could no longer afford.
"These are spectacular times," observed the latter, with a gesture toward the street below. "Observe yonder ladylike warrior in brand-new regimentals. Apparently, Stephen, he's a votary of Mars and pants for carnage; but in reality he continues to remain the sartorial artist whose pants are more politely emitted. He emitted these—" patting his trousers with a ruler. "On what goose has this my tailor fed that he hath grown so sightly!"
They stood watching the crowds, once brightened only by the red shirts of firemen or the blue and brass of a policeman, but now varied with weird uniforms, or parts of uniforms, constructed on every known and unknown pattern, military and unmilitary, foreign and domestic. The immortal army at Coventry was not more variegated.
"There's a new poster across the street," said Stephen. He indicated a big advertisement decorated with a flying eagle.
DOWN WITH SECESSION!
The Government Appeals to the New York Fire Department for One Regiment of Zouaves!
Companies will select their own officers. The roll is at Engine House 138, West Broadway.
ELSWORTH, COL: ZOUAVES.
"That's a good, regiment to enlist in, isn't it?" said the boy restlessly.
"Cavalry for me," replied Berkley, unsmiling; "they can run faster."
"I'm serious," said Stephen. "If I had a chance—" He turned on Berkley: "Why don't you, enlist? There's nothing to stop you, is there?"
"Nothing except constitutional timidity."
"Then why don't you?"
Berkley laughed. "Well, for one thing, I'm not sure how I'd behave in battle. I might be intelligent enough to run; I might be ass enough to fight. The enemy would have to take its chances."
The boy laughed, too, turned to the window, and suddenly caught Berkley by the arm:
"Look! There's something going on down by the Astor House!"
"A Massachusetts regiment of embattled farmers arrived in this hamlet last night. I believe they are to pass by here on their way to Washington," remarked Berkley, opening the window and leaning out.
Already dense crowds of people were pushing, fighting, forcing their way past the windows, driven before double lines of police; already distant volleys of cheers sounded; the throb of drums became audible; the cheering sounded shriller, nearer.
Past the windows, through Broadway, hordes of ragged street arabs came running, scattered into night before another heavy escort of police. And now the on-coming drums could be heard more distinctly; and now two dusty officers marched into view, a colonel of Massachusetts infantry attended by a quartermaster of New York militia.
Behind them tramped the regimental band of the 6th Massachusetts, instruments slung; behind these, filling the street from gutter to gutter, surged the sweating drummers, deafening every ear with their racket; then followed the field and staff, then the Yankee regiment, wave on wave of bayonets choking the thoroughfare far as the eye could see, until there seemed no end to their coming, and the cheering had become an unbroken howl.
Stephen turned to Berkley: "A fellow can't see too much of this kind of thing and stand it very long. Those soldiers are no older than I am!"
Berkley's ironical reply was drowned in a renewed uproar as the Massachusetts soldiers wheeled and began to file into the Astor House, and the New York militia of the escort swung past hurrahing for the first Northern troops to leave for the front.
That day Berkley lunched in imagination only, seriously inclined to exchange his present board and lodgings for a dish of glory and a cot in barracks.
That evening, too, after a boarding-house banquet, and after Burgess had done his offices, he took the air instead of other and more expensive distraction; and tired of it thoroughly, and of the solitary silver coin remaining in his pocket.
From his clubs he had already resigned; other and less innocent haunts of his were no longer possible; some desirable people still retained him on their lists, and their houses were probably open to him, but the social instinct was sick; he had no desire to go; no desire even to cross the river for a penny and look again on Ailsa Paige. So he had, as usual, the evening on his hands, nothing in his pockets, and a very weary heart, under a last year's evening coat. And his lodgings were becoming a horror to him; the landlady's cat had already killed two enormous rats In the hallway; also cabbage had been cooked in the kitchen that day. Which left him no other choice than to go out again and take more air.
Before midnight he had no longer any coin in his pockets, and he was not drunk yet. The situation seemed hopeless, and he found a policeman and inquired politely for the nearest recruiting station; but when he got there the station was closed, and his kicks on the door brought nobody but a prowling Bowery b'hoy, sullenly in quest of single combat. So Berkley, being at leisure, accommodated him, picked him up, propped him limply against a doorway, resumed his own hat and coat, and walked thoughtfully and unsteadily homeward, where he slept like an infant in spite of rats, cabbage, and a swollen lip.
Next day, however, matters were less cheerful. He had expected to realise a little money out of his last salable trinket—a diamond he had once taken for a debt. But it seemed that the stone couldn't pass muster, and he bestowed it upon Burgess, breakfasted on coffee and sour bread, and sauntered downtown quite undisturbed in the brilliant April sunshine.
However, the prospect of a small commission from Craig & Son buoyed up his natural cheerfulness. All the way downtown he nourished his cane; he hummed lively tunes in his office as he studied his maps and carefully read the real estate reports in the daily papers; and then he wrote another of the letters which he never mailed, strolled out to Stephen's desk for a little gossip, reported himself to Mr. Craig, and finally sallied forth to execute that gentleman's behest upon an upper Fifth Avenue squatter who had declined to vacate property recently dedicated to blasting, the Irish, and general excavation.
In a few moments he found himself involved in the usual crowd. The 8th Massachusetts regiment was passing in the wake of the 6th, its sister regiment of the day before, and the enthusiasm and noise were tremendous.
However, he extricated himself and went about his business; found the squatter, argued with the squatter, gracefully dodged a brick from the wife of the squatter, laid a laughing complaint before the proper authorities, and then banqueted in imagination. What a luncheon he had! He was becoming a Lucullus at mental feasts.
Later, his business affairs and his luncheon terminated, attempting to enter Broadway at Grand Street, he got into a crowd so rough and ungovernable that he couldn't get out of it—an unreasonable, obstinate, struggling mass of men, women, and children so hysterical that the wild demonstrations of the day previous, and of the morning, seemed as nothing compared to this dense, far-spread riot.
Broadway from Fourth to Cortlandt Streets was one tossing mass of flags overhead; one mad surge of humanity below. Through it battalions of almost exhausted police relieved each other in attempting to keep the roadway clear for the passing of the New York 7th on its way to Washington.
Driven, crushed, hurled back by the played-out police, the crowds had sagged back into the cross streets. But even here the police charged them repeatedly, and the bewildered people turned struggling to escape, stumbled, swayed, became panic-stricken and lost their heads.
A Broadway stage, stranded in Canal Street, was besieged as a refuge. Toward it Berkley had been borne in spite of his efforts to extricate himself, incidentally losing his hat in the confusion. At the same moment he heard a quiet, unterrified voice pronounce his name, caught a glimpse of Ailsa Paige swept past on the human wave, set his shoulders, stemmed the rush from behind, and into the momentary eddy created, Ailsa was tossed, undismayed, laughing, and pinned flat against the forward wheel of the stalled stage.
"Climb up!" he said. "Place your right foot on the hub!—now the left on the tire!—now step on my shoulder!"
There came a brutal rush from behind; he braced his back to it; she set one foot on the hub, the other on the tire, stepped to his shoulder, swung herself aloft, and crept up over the roof of the stage. Here he joined her, offering an arm to steady her as the stage shook under the impact of the reeling masses below.
"How did you get into this mob?" he asked.
"I was caught," she said calmly, steadying herself by the arm he offered and glancing down at the peril below. "Celia and I were shopping in Grand Street at Lord and Taylor's, and I thought I'd step out of the shop for a moment to see if the 7th was coming, and I ventured too far—I simply could not get back. . . . And—thank you for helping me." She had entirely recovered her serenity; she released his arm and now stood cautiously balanced behind the driver's empty seat, looking curiously out over the turbulent sea of people, where already hundreds of newsboys were racing hither and thither shouting an afternoon extra, which seemed to excite everybody within hearing to frenzy.
"Can you hear what they are shouting?" she inquired. "It seems to make people very angry."
"They say that the 6th Massachusetts, which passed through here yesterday, was attacked by a mob in Baltimore."
"Our soldiers!" she said, incredulous. Then, clenching her small hands: "If I were Colonel Lefferts of the 7th I'd march my men through Baltimore to-morrow!"
"I believe they expect to go through," he said, amused. "That is what they are for."
The rising uproar around was affecting her; the vivid colour in her lips and cheeks deepened. Berkley looked at her, at the cockade with its fluttering red-white-and-blue ribbons on her breast, at the clear, fearless eyes now brilliant with excitement and indignation.
"Have you thought of enlisting?" she asked abruptly, without glancing at him.
"Yes," he said, "I've ventured that far. It's perfectly safe to think about it. You have no idea, Mrs. Paige, what warlike sentiments I cautiously entertain in my office chair."
She turned nervously, with a sunny glint of gold hair and fluttering ribbons:
"Are you never perfectly serious, Mr. Berkley? Even at such a moment as this?"
"Always," he insisted. "I was only philosophising upon these scenes of inexpensive patriotism which fill even the most urbane and peaceful among us full of truculence. . . . I recently saw my tailor wearing a sword, attired in the made-to-measure panoply of battle."
"Did that strike you as humorous?"
"No, indeed; it fitted; I am only afraid he may find a soldier's grave before I can settle our sartorial accounts."
There was a levity to his pleasantries which sounded discordant to her amid the solemnly thrilling circumstances impending. For the flower of the city's soldiery was going forth to battle—a thousand gay, thoughtless young fellows summoned from ledger, office, and counting-house; and all about her a million of their neighbours had gathered to see them go.
"Applause makes patriots. Why should I enlist when merely by cheering others I can stand here and create heroes in battalions?"
"I think," she said, "that there was once another scoffer who remained to pray."
As he did not answer, she sent a swift side glance at him, found him tranquilly surveying the crowd below where, at the corner of Canal and Broadway, half a dozen Zouaves, clothed in their characteristic and brilliant uniforms and wearing hairy knapsacks trussed up behind, were being vociferously acclaimed by the people as they passed, bayonets fixed.
"More heroes," he observed, "made immortal while you wait."
And now Ailsa became aware of a steady, sustained sound audible above the tumult around them; a sound like surf washing on a distant reef.
"Do you hear that? It's like the roar of the sea," she said. "I believe they're coming; I think I caught a strain of military music a moment ago!"
They rose on tiptoe, straining their ears; even the skylarking gamins who had occupied the stage top behind them, and the driver, who had reappeared, drunk, and resumed his reins and seat, stood up to listen.
Above the noise of the cheering, rolling steadily toward them over the human ocean, came the deadened throbbing of drums. A far, thin strain of military music rose, was lost, rose again; the double thudding of the drums sounded nearer; the tempest of cheers became terrific. Through it, at intervals, they could catch the clear marching music of the 7th as two platoons of police, sixty strong, arrived, forcing their way into view, followed by a full company of Zouaves.
Then pandemonium broke loose as the matchless regiment swung into sight. The polished instruments of the musicians flashed in the sun; over the slanting drums the drumsticks rose and fell, but in the thundering cheers not a sound could be heard from brass or parchment.
Field and staff passed headed by the colonel; behind jolted two howitzers; behind them glittered the sabre-bayonets of the engineers; then, filling the roadway from sidewalk to sidewalk the perfect ranks of the infantry swept by under burnished bayonets.
They wore their familiar gray and black uniforms, forage caps, and blue overcoats, and carried knapsacks with heavy blankets rolled on top. And New York went mad.
What the Household troops are to England the 7th is to America. In its ranks it carries the best that New York has to offer. The polished metal gorgets of its officers reflect a past unstained; its pedigree stretches to the cannon smoke fringing the Revolution.
To America the 7th was always The Guard; and now, in the lurid obscurity of national disaster, where all things traditional were crashing down, where doubt, distrust, the agony of indecision turned government to ridicule and law to anarchy, there was no doubt, no indecision in The Guard. Above the terrible clamour of political confusion rolled the drums of the 7th steadily beating the assembly; out of the dust of catastrophe emerged its disciplined gray columns. Doubters no longer doubted, uncertainty became conviction; in a situation without a precedent, the precedent was established; the corps d'elite of all state soldiery was answering the national summons; and once more the associated states of North America understood that they were first of all a nation indivisible.
Down from window and balcony and roof, sifting among the bayonets, fluttered an unbroken shower of tokens—gloves, flowers, handkerchiefs, tricoloured bunches of ribbon; and here and there a bracelet or some gem-set chain fell flashing through the sun.
Ailsa Craig, like thousands of her sisters, tore the red-white-and-blue rosette from her breast and flung it down among the bayonets with a tremulous little cheer.
Everywhere the crowd was breaking into the street; citizens marched with their hands on the shoulders of the soldiers; old gentlemen toddled along beside strapping sons; brothers passed arms around brothers; here and there a mother hung to the chevroned sleeve of son or husband who was striving to see ahead through blurring eyes; here and there some fair young girl, badged with the national colours, stretched out her arms from the crowd and laid her hands to the lips of her passing lover.
The last shining files of bayonets had passed; the city swarmed like an ant-hill.
Berkley's voice was in her ears, cool, good-humoured:
"Perhaps we had better try to find Mrs. Craig. I saw Stephen in the crowd, and he saw us, so I do not think your sister-in-law will be worried."
She nodded, suffered him to aid her in the descent to the sidewalk, then drew a deep, unsteady breath and gazed around as though awaking from a dream.
"It certainly was an impressive sight," he said. "The Government may thank me for a number of heroes. I'm really quite hoarse."
She made no comment.
"Even a thousand well-fed brokers in uniform are bound to be impressive," he meditated aloud.
Her face flushed; she walked on ignoring his flippancy, ignoring everything concerning him until, crossing the street, she became aware that he wore no hat.
"Did you lose it?" she asked curtly,
"I don't know what happened to that hysterical hat, Mrs. Paige. Probably it went war mad and followed the soldiers to the ferry. You can never count on hats. They're flighty."
"You will have to buy another," she said, smiling.
"Oh, no," he said carelessly, "what is the use. It will only follow the next regiment out of town. Shall we cross?"
"Mr. Berkley, do you propose to go about town with me, hatless?"
"You have an exceedingly beautiful one. Nobody will look at me."
"Please be sensible!"
"I am. I'll take you to Lord and Taylor's, deliver you to your sister-in-law, and then slink home——"
"But I don't wish to go there with a hatless man! I can't understand——"
"Well, I'll have to tell you if you drive me to it," he said, looking at her very calmly, but a flush mounted to his cheek-bones; "I have no money—with me."
"Why didn't you say so? How absurd not to borrow it from me——"
Something in his face checked her; then he laughed.
"There's no reason why you shouldn't know how poor I am," he said. "It doesn't worry me, so it certainly will not worry you. I can't afford a hat for a few days—and I'll leave you here if you wish. Why do you look so shocked? Oh, well—then we'll stop at Genin's. They know me there."
They stopped at Genin's and he bought a hat and charged it, giving his addresses in a low voice; but she heard it.
"Is it becoming?" he asked airily, examining the effect in a glass. "Am I the bully boy with the eye of glass, Mrs. Paige?"
"You are, indeed," she said, laughing. "Shall we find Celia?"
But they could not find her sister-in-law in the shop, which was now refilling with excited people.
"Celia non est," he observed cheerfully. "The office is closed by this time. May I see you safely to Brooklyn?"
She turned to the ferry stage which was now drawing up at the curb; he assisted her to mount, then entered himself, humming under his breath:
"To Brooklyn! To Brooklyn! So be it. Amen. Clippity, Cloppity, back again!"
On the stony way to the ferry he chatted cheerfully, irresponsibly, but he soon became convinced that the girl beside him was not listening, so he talked at random to amuse himself, amiably accepting her pre-occupation.
"How those broker warriors did step out, in spite of Illinois Central and a sadly sagging list! At the morning board Pacific Mail fell 3 1/2, New York Central 1/4, Hudson River 1/4, Harlem preferred 1/2, Illinois Central 3/4. . . . I don't care. . . . You won't care, but the last quotations were Tennessee 6's, 41, A 41 1/2. . . . There's absolutely nothing doing in money or exchange. The bankers are asking 107 a 1/2 but sell nothing. On call you can borrow money at four and five per cent—" he glanced sideways at her, ironically, satisfied that she paid no heed—"you might, but I can't, Ailsa. I can't borrow anything from anybody at any per cent whatever. I know; I've tried. Meanwhile, few and tottering are my stocks, also they continue downward on their hellward way.
"Margins wiped, out in war, Profits are scattered far, I'll to the nearest bar, Ailsa oroon!"
he hummed to himself, walking-stick under his chin, his new hat not absolutely straight on his well-shaped head.
A ferry-boat lay in the slip; they walked forward and stood in the crowd by the bow chains. The flag new over Castle William; late sunshine turned river and bay to a harbour in fairyland, where, through the golden haze, far away between forests of pennant-dressed masts, a warship lay all aglitter, the sun striking fire from her guns and bright work, and setting every red bar of her flag ablaze.
"The Pocahontas, sloop of war from Charleston bar," said a man in the crowd. "She came in this morning at high water. She got to Sumter too late."
"Yes. Powhatan had already knocked the head off John Smith," observed Berkley thoughtfully. "They did these things better in colonial days."
Several people began to discuss the inaction of the fleet off Charleston bar during the bombardment; the navy was freely denounced and defended, and Berkley, pleased that he had started a row, listened complacently, inserting a word here and there calculated to incite several prominent citizens to fisticuffs. And the ferry-boat started with everybody getting madder.
But when fisticuffs appeared imminent in mid-stream, out of somewhat tardy consideration for Ailsa he set free the dove of peace.
"Perhaps," he remarked pleasantly, "the fleet couldn't cross the bar. I've heard of such things."
And as nobody had thought of that, hostilities were averted.
Paddle-wheels churning, the rotund boat swung into the Brooklyn dock. Her gunwales rubbed and squeaked along the straining piles green with sea slime; deck chains clinked, cog-wheels clattered, the stifling smell of dock water gave place to the fresher odour of the streets.
"I would like to walk uptown," said Ailsa Paige. "I really don't care to sit still in a car for two miles. You need not come any farther—unless you care to."
He said airily: "A country ramble with a pretty girl is always agreeable to me. I'll come if you'll let me."
She looked up at him, perplexed, undecided.
"Are you making fun of Brooklyn, or of me?"
"Of neither. May I come?"
"If you care to," she said.
They walked on together up Fulton Street, following the stream of returning sight-seers and business men, passing recruiting stations where red-legged infantry of the 14th city regiment stood in groups reading the extras just issued by the Eagle and Brooklyn Times concerning the bloody riot in Baltimore and the attack on the 6th Massachusetts. Everywhere, too, soldiers of the 13th, 38th, and 70th regiments of city infantry, in blue state uniforms, were marching about briskly, full of the business of recruiting and of their departure, which was scheduled for the twenty-third of April.
Already the complexion of the Brooklyn civic sidewalk crowds was everywhere brightened by military uniforms; cavalrymen of the troop of dragoons attached to the 8th New York, jaunty lancers from the troop of lancers attached to the 69th New York, riflemen in green epaulettes and facings, zouaves in red, blue, and brown uniforms came hurrying down the stony street to Fulton Ferry on their return from witnessing a parade of the 14th Brooklyn at Fort Greene. And every figure in uniform thrilled the girl with suppressed excitement and pride.
Berkley, eyeing them askance, began blandly:
"Citizens of martial minds, Uniforms of wondrous kinds, Wonderful the sights we see— Ailsa, you'll agree with me."
"Are you utterly without human feeling?" she demanded. "Because, if you are, there isn't the slightest use of my pretending to be civil to you any longer."
"Have you been pretending?"
"I suppose you think me destitute of humour," she said, "but there is nothing humourous about patriotism and self-sacrifice to me, and nothing very admirable about those who mock it."
Her cheeks were deeply flushed; she looked straight ahead of her as she walked beside him.
Yet, even now the swift little flash of anger revealed an inner glimpse to her of her unaltered desire to know this man; of her interest in him—of something about him that attracted her but defied analysis—-or had defied it until, pursuing it too far one day, she had halted suddenly and backed away.
Then, curiously, reflectively, little by little, she retraced her steps. And curiosity urged her to investigate in detail the Four Fears—fear of the known in another, fear of the unknown in another, fear of the known in one's self, fear of the unknown in one's self. That halted her again, for she knew now that it was something within herself that threatened her. But it was his nearness to her that evoked it.
For she saw, now that her real inclination was to be with him, that she had liked him from the first, had found him agreeable—pleasant past belief—and that, although there seemed to be no reason for her liking, no excuse, nothing to explain her half-fearful pleasure in his presence, and her desire for it, she did desire it. And for the first time since her widowhood she felt that she had been living her life out along lines that lay closer to solitude than to the happy freedom of which she had reluctantly dreamed locked in the manacles of a loveless marriage.
For her marriage had been one of romantic pity, born of the ignorance of her immaturity; and she was very young when she became the wife of Warfield Paige—Celia's brother—a gentle, sweet-tempered invalid, dreamy, romantic, and pitifully confident of life, the days of which were already numbered.
Of the spiritual passions she knew a little—of the passion of pity, of consent, of self-sacrifice, of response to spiritual need. But neither in her early immaturity nor in later adolescence had she ever before entertained even the most innocent inclination for a man. Man's attractions, physical and personal, had left only the lightest of surface impressions—until the advent of this man.
To what in him was she responsive? What intellectual charm had he revealed? What latent spiritual excellence did she suspect? What were his lesser qualities—the simpler moral virtues—the admirable attributes which a woman could recognise. Nay, where even were the nobler failings, the forgivable faults, the promise of future things?
Her uplifted, questioning eyes searched and fell. Only the clear-cut beauty of his head answered her, only the body's grace.
She sometimes suspected pity as her one besetting sin. Was it pity for this man—a young man only twenty-four, her own age, so cheerful under the crushing weight of material ruin? Was it his poverty that appealed?
Was it her instinct to protect? If all she heard was true, he sorely needed protection from himself. For tales of him had filtered to her young ears—indefinite rumours of unworthy things—of youth wasted and manhood threatened—of excesses incomprehensible to her, and to those who hinted them to her.
Was it his solitude in the world for which she was sorry? She had no parents, either. But she had their house and their memories concrete in every picture, every curtain, every chair and sofa. Twilight whispered of them through every hallway, every room; dawn was instinct with their unseen spirits, sweetening everything in the quiet old house. . . . And that day she had learned where he lived. And she dared not imagine how.
They turned together into the quiet, tree-shaded street, and, in the mellow sunset light, something about it, and the pleasant vine-hung house, and the sense of restfulness moved her with a wistful impulse that he, too, should share a little of the home welcome that awaited her from her own kin.
"Will you remain and dine with us, Mr. Berkley?"
He looked up, so frankly surprised at her kindness that it hurt her all through.
"I want to be friends with you," she said impulsively. "Didn't you know it?"
They had halted at the foot of the stoop.
"I should think you could see how easy it would he for us to become friends," she said with pretty self-possession. But her heart was beating violently.
His pulses, too, were rapping out a message to his intelligence: "You had better not go in," it ran. "You are not fit to go in. You had better keep away from her. You know what will happen if you don't."
As they entered the house her sister-in-law rose from the piano in the front parlour and came forward.
"Were you worried, dearest?" cried Ailsa gaily. "I really couldn't help it. And Mr. Berkley lost his hat, and I've brought him back to dinner."
To Berkley the times were surcharged with agreeable agitation. A hullabaloo diverted him. He himself was never noisy; but agitated and noisy people always amused him.
Day after day the city's multi-coloured militia regiments passed through its echoing streets; day after day Broadway resounded with the racket of their drums. Rifles, chasseurs, zouaves, foot artillery, pioneers, engineers, rocket batteries, the 79th Highlanders, dismounted lancers of the 69th and dragoons of the 8th—every heard-of and unheard-of unnecessary auxiliary to a respectable regiment of state infantry, mustered for inspection and marched away in polychromatic magnificence. Park, avenue, and square shrilled with their windy fifes; the towering sides of the transports struck back the wild music of their bands; Castle William and Fort Hamilton saluted them from the ferries to the Narrows; and, hoarse with cheering, the people stared through dim eyes till the last stain of smoke off Sandy Hook vanished seaward. All of which immensely diverted Berkley.
The city, too, had become a thoroughfare for New England and Western troops hurrying pell-mell toward the capital and that unknown bourne so vaguely defined as the "seat of war." Also all avenues were now dotted with barracks and recruiting stations, around which crowds clamoured. Fire Zouaves, Imperial Zouaves, National Zouaves, Billy Wilson's Zouaves appropriated without ceremony the streets and squares as drill grounds. All day long they manoeuvred and double-quicked; all day and all night herds of surprised farm horses destined for cavalry, light artillery, and glory, clattered toward the docks; files of brand-new army waggons, gun-carriages, smelling of fresh paint, caissons, forges, ambulances bound South checked the city traffic and added to the city's tumult as they jolted in hundreds and hundreds toward the wharves—materially contributing to Berkley's entertainment.
Beginning with the uproarious war meeting in Union Square, every day saw its crowds listening to the harangue of a somebody or a nobody. Sometimes short, ugly demonstrations were made against an unpopular newspaper office or the residence of an unpopular citizen; the police were rough and excitable, the nerves of the populace on edge, the city was now nearly denuded of its militia, and everybody was very grateful for the temporary presence of volunteer regiments in process of formation.
As yet the tension of popular excitement had not jaded the capacity of the city for pleasure. People were ready for excitement, welcomed it after the dreadful year of lethargy. Stocks fell, but the theatres were the fuller; Joseph Jefferson at Winter Garden, Wallack at his own theatre, "The Seven Sisters" at Laura Keene's, drew unsatisfied crowds, galloping headlong on the heels of pleasure.
Philharmonics, plays, burlesques, concerts, minstrel entertainments, never lacked audiences, especially when the proceeds were destined for the Union Defence Committee; the hotels, Bancroft, St. Nicholas, Metropolitan, New York, Fifth Avenue, were all brilliantly thronged at night; cafes and concert halls like the Gaieties, Canterbury, and American, flourished and flaunted their advertisements; grills, restaurants, saloons, multiplied. There were none too many for Berkley's amusement.
As yet no battle lightning flickered along the Southern horizon to sober folk with premonition; but the nightly illumination of the metropolis was becoming tinged with a more sinister reflection where licence had already begun to lift a dozen hydra-heads from certain lurid resorts hitherto limited in number and in impudence.
It was into the streets of such a city, a meaner, dirtier, uglier, noisier, perhaps more vicious edition of the French metropolis of the Third Empire, thronged with fantastic soldiery and fox-eyed contractors, filled already with new faces—faces of Western born, Yankee born, foreign born; stupid faces, crafty faces, hard faces, bedizened faces—it was into the streets of such a city that Berkley sauntered twice a day to and fro from his office, regretting only that his means did not permit him to go to the devil like a gentleman.
And one day, out of the hurly-burly, and against all laws of probability and finance, an incredible letter was handed to him. And he read it, standing by his window, and calmly realised that he was now no longer penniless.
Some inspired idiot had become a credulous market for his apparently unmarketable securities. Who this person was his brokers did not say; but, whoever it was, had bought every rotten share he held; and there was money for him in the world to help him out of it.
As he stood there, the letter in his hands, drums sounded across the street, and Stephen came in from the outer office.
"Another regiment," he said. "Do you know where they come from?"
Berkley shook his head, and they went to the windows; below them surged the flood of dead wood driven before the oncoming waves—haggard men, ragged men, small boys, darkies, Bowery b'hoys, stray red-shirted firemen, then the police, then solid double ranks of drums battered by flashing, brass-bound drumsticks, then line after line of blue and steel, steadily flowing through the streets and away, away into the unknown.
"How young they are!" muttered Farren, the gray-haired cashier, standing behind Stephen's shoulders. "God bless me, they're children!"
"It's a Vermont regiment," said Berkley; "they're filing out of the Park Barracks. What a lot of hawk-nosed, hatchet-faced, turkey-necked cow milkers!—all heroes, too, Steve. You can tell that because they're in uniform and carry guns."
Stephen watched the lank troops, fascinated by the long, silent, almost gliding stride of officers and men loaded down with knapsack, blanket, and canteen, their caps pushed high on their red and sweating foreheads. There was a halt; big hands, big red knuckles, big feet, and the delicate curve of the hawk's beak outlining every Yankee nose, queer, humourous, restless glances sweeping Gotham streets and windows where Gotham crowded to gaze back at the halted youngsters in blue; then a far tenor cry, nasal commands, thin voices penetrating from out of the crowded distance; a sudden steadying of ranks; the level flash of shouldered steel; a thousand men marking time; and at last the drums' quick outbreak; and the 1st Vermont Infantry passed onward into the unknown.
"I'd rather like to go there—to see what there is there," observed Berkley.
"Where they're going—wherever that may be—and I think I know."
He glanced absently at his letter again.
"I've sold some stock—all I had, and I've made a lot of money," he said listlessly.
Stephen dropped an impulsive hand on his shoulder.
"I'm terribly glad, Berkley! I'm delighted!" he said with a warmth that brought a slight colour into Berkley's face.
"That's nice of you, Stephen. It solves the immediate problem of how to go there."
"Why—where all our bright young men are going, old fellow," said Berkley, laughing. "I can go with a regiment or I can go alone. But I really must be starting."
"You mean to enlist?"
"Yes, it can be done that way, too. Or—other ways. The main thing is to get momentum. . . . I think I'll just step out and say good-bye and many thanks to your father. I shall be quite busy for the rest of my career."
"You are not leaving here?"
"I am. But I'll pay my rent first," said Berkley, laughing.
And go he did that very afternoon; and the office of Craig & Son knew him no more.
A few days later Ailsa Paige returned to New York and reoccupied her own house on London Terrace.
A silk flag drooped between the tall pilasters. Under it, at the front door stood Colonel Arran to welcome her. It had been her father's house; he had planted the great catalpa trees on the grassy terrace in front. Here she had been born; from here she had gone away a bride; from here her parents had been buried, both within that same strange year that left her widowed who had scarcely been a wife. And to this old house she had returned alone in her sombre weeds—utterly alone, in her nineteenth year.
This man had met her then as he met her now; she remembered it, remembered, too, that after any absence, no matter how short, this old friend had always met her at her own door-sill, standing aside with head bent as she crossed the sill.
Now she gave him both hands.
"It is so kind of you, dear Colonel Arran! It would not be a home-coming without you—" And glancing into the hall, nodded radiantly to the assembled servants—her parents' old and privileged and spoiled servants gathered to welcome the young mistress to her own.
"Oh—and there's Missy!" she said, as an inquiring "meow!" sounded close to her skirts. "You irresponsible little thing—I suppose you have more kittens. Has she, Susan?"
"Five m'm," said Susan drily.
"Oh, dear, I suppose it can't be avoided. But we mustn't drown any, you know." And with one hand resting on Colonel Arran's arm she began a tour of the house to inspect the new improvements.
Later they sat together amid the faded splendours of the southern drawing-room, where sunshine regilded cornice and pier glass, turned the lace curtains to nets of gold, and streaked the red damask hangings with slanting bars of fire.
Shiftless old Jonas shuffled in presently with the oval silver tray, ancient decanters, and seedcakes.
And here, over their cakes and Madeira, she told him about her month's visit to the Craigs'; about her life in the quaint and quiet city, the restful, old-fashioned charm of the cultivated circles on Columbia Heights and the Hill; the attractions of a limited society, a little dull, a little prim, pedantic, perhaps provincially simple, but a society caring for the best in art, in music, in literature, instinctively recognising the best although the best was nowhere common in the city.
She spoke of the agreeable people she had met—unobtrusive, gentle-mannered folk whose homes may have lacked such Madeira and silver as this, but lacked nothing in things of the mind.
She spoke of her very modest and temporary duties in church work there, and in charities; told of the advent of the war news and its effect on the sister city.
And at last, casually, but without embarrassment, she mentioned Berkley.
Colonel Arran's large hand lay along the back of the Virginia sofa, fingers restlessly tracing and retracing the carved foliations supporting the horns of plenty. His heavy, highly coloured head was lowered and turned aside a little as though to bring one ear to bear on what she was saying.
"Mr. Berkley seems to be an—unusual man," she ventured. "Do you happen to know him, Colonel Arran?"
"Oh. Did you know his parents?"
"She is not living, I believe."
"Is his father living?"
"You never met him?"
Colonel Arran's forefinger slowly outlined the deeply carved horn of plenty.
"I am not perfectly sure that I ever met Mr. Berkley's father."
She sat, elbows on the table, gazing reflectively into space.
"He is a—curious—man."
"Did you like him?" asked Colonel Arran with an effort.
"Yes," she said, so simply that the Colonel's eyes turned directly toward her, lingered, then became fixed on the sunlit damask folds behind her.
"What did you like about Mr. Berkley, Ailsa?"
"Is he cultivated?"
"Why, yes—I suppose so."
"Is he well bred?"
"Oh, yes; only—" she searched mentally—"he is not—may I say, conventional? formal?"
"It is an age of informality," observed Colonel Arran, carefully tracing out each separate grape in the horn of plenty.
Ailsa assented; spoke casually of something else; but when Colonel Arran brought the conversation around again to Berkley, she in nowise seemed reluctant.
"He is unusually attractive," she said frankly; "his features, at moments, are almost beautiful. I sometimes wonder whether he resembles his mother. Was she beautiful?"
"I thought she must have been. He resembles her, does he not?"
"His father was—is—" She hesitated, looked curiously at Colonel Arran, then smiled.
"There was something I never thought of when I first met Mr. Berkley, but now I understand why his features seemed to me not entirely unfamiliar. I don't know exactly what it is, but there seems to be something about him that recalls you."
Colonel Arran sat absolutely still, his heavy hand gripping the horn of plenty, his face so gray that it was almost colourless.
Ailsa, glancing again at his profile, saw nothing now in it resembling Berkley; and, as he made no response, thought him uninterested. But when again she would have changed the subject, the Colonel stirred, interrupting:
"Does he seem—well?"
"Well?" she repeated. "Oh, yes."
"He—seems well . . . and in good spirits? Contented? Is he that type of young man? Happy?"
"I don't think he is really very happy, though he is cheerful and—and amusing. I don't see how he can be very light-hearted."
She shook her head:
"I believe he—I know he must be in painfully straightened circumstances."
"I have heard so," nodded Colonel Arran.
"Oh, he certainly is!" she said with decision. "He lost everything in the panic, and he lives in a most wretched neighbourhood, and he hasn't any business except a very little now and then. It made me quite unhappy," she added naively.
"And you find him personally agreeable?"
"Yes, I do. I didn't at first—" She checked herself—"I mean I did at the very first—then I didn't—then I did again, then I—didn't—" The delicate colour stole into her cheeks; she lifted her wineglass, looked into it pensively, set it back on the table. "But I understand him better now, I think."
"What, in him, do you understand better now?"
"Is he a better kind of a man than you thought him at first?"
"Y-es. He has it in him to be better, I mean. . . . Yes, he is a better man than I thought him—once."
"And you like him——"
"Yes, I do. Colonel Arran."
She flushed up. "How do you mean?"
"Oh. . . . Yes, he has qualities."
"He is exceedingly intelligent."
"I don't exactly know. He pretends to make fun of so many things. It is not easy to be perfectly sure what he really believes; because he laughs at almost everybody and everything. But I am quite certain that he really has beliefs."
She looked grave. "He does not go to church."
"Does he—does he strike you as being—well, say, irresponsible—perhaps I may even say reckless?"
She did not answer; and Colonel Arran did not ask again. He remained silent so long that she presently drifted off into other subjects, and he made no effort to draw her back.
But later, when he took his leave, he said in his heavy way:
"When you see Mr. Berkley, say to him that Colonel Arran remembers him. . . . Say to him that it would be my—pleasure—to renew our very slight acquaintance."
"He will be glad, I know," she said warmly.
"Why do you think so?"
"Why? Because I like you!" she explained with a gay little laugh. "And whoever I like Mr. Berkley must like if he and I are to remain good friends."
The Colonel's smile was wintry; the sudden animation in his face had subsided.
"I should like to know him—if he will," he said absently. And took his leave of Ailsa Paige.
Next afternoon he came again, and lingered, though neither he nor Ailsa spoke of Berkley. And the next afternoon he reappeared, and sat silent, preoccupied, for a long time, in the peculiar hushed attitude of a man who listens. But the door-bell did not ring and the only sound in tile house was from Ailsa's piano, where she sat idling through the sunny afternoon.
The next afternoon he said:
"Does he never call on you?"
"I—asked him," she replied, flushing faintly.
"He has not come, then?"
"Not yet. I suppose—business——"
The Colonel said, ponderously careless: "I imagine that he is likely to come in the late afternoon—when he does come."
"I don't know. He is in business."
"It doesn't keep him after three o'clock at his office."
She looked up surprised: "Doesn't it?" And her eyes asked instinctively: "How did you know?" But the Colonel sat silent again, his head lowered and partly averted as though to turn his good ear toward her. Clearly his mind already dwelt on other matters, she was thinking; but she was mistaken.
"When he comes," said Colonel Arran slowly, "will you have the kindness to say to him that Colonel Arran will be glad to renew the acquaintance?"
"Yes. . . . Perhaps he has forgotten the street and number. I might write to him—to remind him?" Colonel Arran made no answer.
She wrote that night:
"DEAR MR. BERKLEY:
"I am in my own house now and am very contented—which does not mean that I did not adore being with Celia Craig and Estcourt and the children.
"But home is pleasant, and I am wondering whether you might care to see the home of which I have so often spoken to you when you used to come over to Brooklyn to see me [me erased and us neatly substituted in long, sweeping characters].
"I have been doing very little since I last saw you—it is not sheer idleness, but somehow one cannot go light-heartedly to dinners and concerts and theatres in times like these, when traitors are trampling the nag under foot, and when thousands and thousands of young men are leaving the city every day to go to the defence of our distracted country.
"I saw a friend the other day—a Mrs. Wells—and three of her boys, friends of mine, have gone with the 7th, and she is so nervous and excited that she can scarcely speak about it. So many men I know have gone or are going. Stephen was here yesterday, wild to go with the 8d Zouaves, but I promised his father to use my influence—and he is too young—although it is very fine and chivalrous of him to wish to go.
"I thought I would write you a little note, to remind you that I am at home, and already it has become a letter. Please remember—when you think of it at all—that it would give me pleasure to receive you.
Toward the end of the week she received a heart-broken note from Celia Craig, which caused her to hasten over to Brooklyn. She arrived late; the streets were continually blocked by departing troops, and the omnibus took a circuitous course to the ferry, going by way of Fourth Avenue and the Bowery.
"Honey-bee! O Honey-bell!" whispered her sister-in-law, taking Ailsa into her arms, "I could have behaved myse'f better if Curt were on the side of God and Justice!—But to have to let him go this way—to know the awful danger—to know he is going against my own people, my own home—against God and the Right!—O Honey-bird! Honey-bud! And the Charleston Mercury says that the South is most bitter against the Zouaves——"
"Curt! With the Zouaves!"
"Oh yes, yes, Honey-bee! The Third Regiment. And he—some wicked old men came here yesterday and read a speech—right befo' me—here in this ve'y room—and began to say that they wished him to be colonel of the 3d Zouaves, and that the Governor wished it and—other fools! And I rose straight up f'om my chair and I said, 'Curt!' And he gave me one look. Oh, Honey-bud! His face was changed; there was that same thing in it that I saw the night the news came about Sumter! And he said: 'Gentlemen, my country educated me; now it honours me.' And I tried to speak again and my lips were stiff; and then he said: 'I accept the command you offer——'"
"Yes, he said it, darling! I stood there, frozen—in a corner of my heart I had been afraid—such a long time!—but to have it come real—'this terror!—to have this thing take my husband—come into our own home befo' I knew—befo' I dreamed—and take Curt!—take —my—Curt!"
"Where is he?"
"With—them. They have a camp near Fort Hamilton. He went there this morning."
"When is he coming back?"
"I don't know. Stephen is scaring me most to death; he is wild to go, too. And, oh—do you believe it? Captain Lent has gone with Curt to the camp, and Curt means to recommend him for his major. What a regiment!—all the soldiers are mere boys, they say—wilful, reckless, hair-brained boys who don't know—can't know—where they're going. . . . And Curt is so blind without his glasses, and Captain Lent is certainly a little mad, and I'm most distracted myse'f——"
"Cry? Oh, I could die, Ailsa. Yet, I'm Southern enough to choke back eve'y tear and let them go with a smile if they had to go fo' God and the Right! But to see my Curt go this way—and my only son crazy to join him—Oh, it is ha'd, Honey-bee, ve'y, ve'y ha'd."
"O Honey-bud! Honey-bud!"
And the two women mourned, uncomforted.
Ailsa remained for three unhappy days in Fort Greene Place, then fled to her own house. A light, amusing letter from Berkley awaited her. It was so like him, gay, cynical, epigrammatic, and inconsequent, that it cheered her. Besides, he subscribed himself very obediently hers, but on re-examining the letter she noticed that he had made no mention of coming to pay his respects to her.
So she lived her tranquil life for another week; and Colonel Arran came every day and seemed always to be waiting for something—always listening—gray face buried in his stock. And at the week's end she answered Berkley's letter—although, in it, he had asked no question.
"DEAR MR. BERKLEY:
"Such sad news from the Craigs. Estcourt has accepted the command of one of the new zouave regiments—the 3d, in camp near Fort Hamilton. But, being in his office, I suppose you have heard all about it from Stephen. Poor Celia Craig! It is peculiarly distressing in her case; all her sympathies are with her native state, and to have her husband go under such unusually tragic circumstances seems too dreadful. Celia is convinced that he will never return; she reads some Southern paper which breathes awful threats against the Zouaves in particular. Besides, Stephen is perfectly determined to enlist in his father's regiment, and I can see that they can't restrain him much longer. I have done my best; I have had him here and talked to him and argued with him, but I have made no headway. No appeal moves him; he says that the land will need every man sooner or later, and that the quicker he begins the sooner he will learn how to look out for himself in battle.
"The regiment is almost full; to-day, the first six companies are to be mustered into the United States service for three years or for the war. Captain Barris of the regular army is the mustering officer. And on their departure I am to present a set of colours to the regiment. It is to be quite solemn. I have already bought the lances, and they are beautiful; the spears are silver gilt, the rings gilded, too, and the flags are made of the most beautiful silk with tassels and fringe of gold bullion. There are three flags: the national colours, the state flag, and a purple regimental flag lettered in gold: '3d Regt. N. Y. Zouaves,' and under it their motto: 'Multorum manibus grande levatur onus.' I hope it is good Latin, for it is mine. Is it?
To this letter he made no reply, and, after a week, his silence hurt her.
One afternoon toward the middle of May Stephen was announced; and with a sudden sense of foreboding she hastened down to the drawing-room.
"Oh!" she cried. "You—Stephen!"
But the boy in his zouave uniform was beside himself with excitement and pride, and he embraced her, laughing, and then began to walk up and down the room gesticulating.
"I couldn't stand it any longer, and they let me go. I'm sorry for mother, but look at other men's mothers! They're calling for more and more troops every week! I knew everybody would have to go, and I'm mighty fortunate to get into father's regiment—And O Ailsa! It is a fine regiment! We're drilling every minute, and now that we've got our uniforms it won't be long before our orders come——"
"Stephen—does your mother——"
"Mother knows I can't help it. I do love her; she knows that perfectly well. But men have got to settle this thing——"
"Two hundred thousand are getting ready to settle it! Are there hot enough without you?—your mother's only son——"
"Suppose everybody thought that way, where would our army be?"
"But there are hundreds of regiments forming here—getting ready, drilling, leaving on boats and trains every day——"
"And every regiment is composed of men exactly like me! They go because the Nation's business is everybody's business. And the Nation's business comes first. There's no use talking to me, Ailsa. I've had it but with father. He saw that he couldn't prevent me from doing what he has done. And old Lent is our major! Lord, Ailsa, what a terrible old man for discipline! And father is—well he is acting as though we ought to behave like West Pointers. They're cruelly hard on skylarkers and guard runners, and they're fairly kicking discipline into us. But I'm willing. I'm ready to stand anything as long as we can get away!"
He was talking in a loud, excited voice, pacing restlessly to and fro, pausing at intervals to confront Ailsa where she sat, limp and silent, gazing up at this slender youth in his short blue jacket edged with many bell-buttons, blue body sash, scarlet zouave trousers and leather gaiters.
Presently old Jonas shuffled in with Madeira, cakes, and sandwiches, and Stephen began on them immediately.
"I came over so you could see me in my uniform," he explained; "and I'm going back right away to see mother and Paige and Marye and Camilla." He paused, sandwich suspended, then swallowed what he had been chewing and took another bite, recklessly.
"I'm very fond of Camilla," he said condescendingly. "She's very nice about my going—the only one who hasn't snivelled. I tell you, Ailsa, Camilla is a good deal of a girl. . . . And I've promised to look out for her uncle—keep an eye on old Lent, you know, which seems to comfort her a good deal when she begins crying——
"Oh. . . I thought Camilla didn't cry."
"She cries a little—now and then."
"About her uncle?"
Ailsa looked down at her ringless fingers. Within the week she had laid away both rings, meaning to resume them some day.
"If you and your father go, your office will be closed, I suppose."
"Oh, no. Farren will run it."
"I see. . . . And Mr. Berkley, too, I suppose."
Stephen looked up from his bitten seedcake.
"Berkley? He left long ago."
"Left—where?" she asked, confused.
"Left the office. It couldn't be helped. There was nothing for him to do. I was sorry—I'm sorrier now——"
He checked himself, hesitated, turned his troubled eyes on Ailsa.
"I did like him so much."
"Don't you like him—still?"
"Yes—I do. I don't know what was the matter with that man. He went all to pieces."
"Utterly. Isn't it too bad."
She sat there very silent, very white. Stephen bit into another cake, angrily.
"It's the company he keeps," he said—"a lot of fast men—fast enough to be talked about, fashionable enough to be tolerated—Jack Casson is one of them, and that little ass, Arthur Wye. That's the crowd—a horse-racing, hard-drinking, hard-gambling crew."
"But—he is—Mr. Berkley's circumstances—how can he do such things——"
"Some idiot—even Berkley doesn't know who—took all those dead stocks off his hands. Wasn't it the devil's own luck for Berkley to find a market in times like these?"
"But it ended him. . . . Oh, I was fond of him, I tell you, Ailsa! I hate like thunder to see him this way——"
"Oh, not caring for anybody or anything. He's never sober. I don't mean that I ever saw him otherwise—he doesn't get drunk like an ordinary man: he just turns deathly white and polite. I've met him—and his friends—several times. They're too fast a string of colts for me. But isn't it a shame that a man like Berkley should go to the devil—and for no reason at all?"
"Yes," she said.
When Stephen, swinging his crimson fez by the tassel, stood ready to take his leave, she put her arms around his neck and kissed him.
After he departed Colonel Arran came, and sat, as usual, silent, listening.
Ailsa was very animated; she told him about Stephen's enlistment, asked scores of questions about military life, the chances in battle, the proportion of those who went through war unscathed.
And at length Colonel Arran arose to take his departure; and she had not told what was hammering for utterance in every heart beat; she did not know how to tell, what to ask.
Hat in hand Colonel Arran bent over her hot little hand where it lay in his own.
"I have been offered the colonelcy of a volunteer regiment now forming," he said without apparent interest.
"Cavalry," he explained wearily.
"But—you have not accepted!"
He gave her an absent glance. "Yes, I have accepted. . . . I am going to Washington to-night."
"Oh!" she breathed, "but you are coming back before—before——"
"Yes, child. Cavalry is not made in a hurry. I am to see General Scott—perhaps Mr. Cameron and the President. . . . If, in my absence—" he hesitated, looked down, shook his head. And somehow she seemed to know that what he had not said concerned Berkley.
Neither of them mentioned him. But after Colonel Arran had gone she went slowly to her room, sat down at her desk, sat there a long, long while thinking. But it was after midnight before she wrote to Berkley: