The regular cavalry of the Provost Guard had turned the tide of stragglers now, letting through only the wounded and the teams. But across the open fields wreckage from the battle was streaming in every direction; and so stupid and bewildered with fear were some of the fugitives that McDunn's battery had to cease its fire for a time, while the officers ran forward through the smoke, shouting and gesticulating to warn the mass of skulkers out of the way.
And now a fearful uproar of artillery arose immediately to the west, shells began to rain in the river woods, then shrapnel, then, in long clattering cadence, volley succeeded volley, faster, faster, till the outcrash became one solid, rippling roar.
Far to the west across the country the Lancers saw regiments passing forward through the trees at a quick-step; saw batteries galloping hither and thither, aides-de-camp and staff-officers racing to and fro at full speed.
The 3rd Zouaves rose from the clover, shouldered muskets, and moved forward on a run; a staff-officer wheeled out of the road, jumped his horse over the culvert, and galloped up to Colonel Arran. And the next moment the Lancers were in the saddle and moving at a trot out toward the left of McDunn's battery.
They stood facing the woods, lances poised, for about ten minutes, when a general officer with dragoon escort came galloping down the road and through the meadow toward McDunn's battery. It was Claymore, their general of brigade.
"Retire by prolonge!" he shouted to the battery commander, pulling in his sweating horse. "We've got to get out of this!" And to Colonel Arran, who had ridden up, flushed and astonished: "We've got to leave this place," he repeated shortly. "They're driving the Zouaves in on us."
All along the edge of the woods the red breeches of the Zouaves were reappearing, slowly retreating in excellent order before something as yet unseen. The men turned every few paces to fire by companies, only to wheel again, jog-trot toward the rear, halt, load, swing to deliver their fire, then resume their jogging retreat.
Back they fell, farther, farther, while McDunn's battery continued to fire and retire by prolonge, and the Lancers, long weapons disengaged, accompanied them, ready to support the guns in an emergency.
The emergency seemed very near. Farther to the left a blue regiment appeared enveloped in spouting smoke, fairly hurled bodily from the woods; Egerton's 20th Dragoons came out of a concealed valley on a trot, looking behind them, their rear squadron firing from the saddle in orderly retreat; the Zouaves, powder soiled, drenched in sweat, bloody, dishevelled, passed to the left of the battery and lay down.
Then, from far along the stretch of woods, arose a sound, incessant, high-pitched—a sustained treble cadence, nearer, nearer, louder, shriller, like the excited cry of a hunting pack, bursting into a paroxysm of hysterical chorus as a long line of gray men leaped from the wood's edge and swept headlong toward the guns.
Berkley felt every nerve in his body leap as his lance fell to a level with eight hundred other lances; he saw the battery bury itself in smoke as gun after gun drove its cannister into obscurity or ripped the smoke with sheets of grape; he saw the Zouaves rise from the grass, deliver their fire, sink back, rise again while their front spouted smoke and flame.
The awful roar of the firing to the right deafened him; he caught a glimpse of squadrons of regular cavalry in the road, slinging carbines and drawing sabres; a muffled blast of bugles reached his ears; and the nest moment he was trotting out into the smoke.
After that it was a gallop at full speed; and he remembered nothing very distinctly, saw nothing clearly, except that, everywhere among his squadron ran yelling men on foot, shooting, lunging with bayonets, striking with clubbed rifles. Twice he felt the shocking impact of his lance point; once he drove the ferruled counterpoise at a man who went down under his horse's feet. One moment there was a perfect whirlwind of scarlet pennons flapping around him, another and he was galloping alone across the grass, lance crossed from right to left, tugging at his bridle. Then he set the reeking ferrule in his stirrup boot, slung the shaft from the braided arm loop, and drew his revolver—the new weapon lately issued, with its curious fixed ammunition and its cap imbedded.
There were groups of gray infantry in the field, walking, running, or standing still and firing; groups of lancers and dragoons trotting here and there, wheeling, galloping furiously at the men on foot. A number of foot soldiers were crowding around a mixed company of dragoons and Lancers, striking at them, shooting into them. He saw the Lieutenant-colonel of his own regiment tumble out of his saddle; saw Major Lent put his horse to a dead run and ride over a squad of infantry; saw Colonel Arran disengage his horse from the crush, wheel, and begin to use his heavy sabre in the mass around him.
Bugles sounded persistently; he set spurs to his tired horse and rode toward the buglers, and found himself beside Colonel Arran, who, crimson in the face, was whipping his way out with dripping sabre.
Across a rivulet on the edge of the woods he could see the regimental colours and the bulk of his regiment re-forming; and he spurred forward to join them, skirting the edge of a tangle of infantry, dragoons, and lancers who were having a limited but bloody affair of their own in a cornfield where a flag tossed wildly—a very beautiful, square red flag, its folds emblazoned with a blue cross set with stars,
Out of the melee a score of dishevelled lancers came plunging through the corn, striking right and left at the infantry that clung to them with the fury of panthers; the square battle flag, flung hither and thither, was coming close to him; he emptied his revolver at the man who carried it, caught at the staff, missed, was almost blinded by the flashing blast from a rifle, set spurs to his horse, leaned wide from his saddle, seized the silk, jerked it from its rings, and, swaying, deluged with blood from a sword-thrust in the face, let his frantic horse carry him whither it listed, away, away, over the swimming green that his sickened eyes could see no longer.
On every highway, across every wood trail, footpath, and meadow streamed the wreckage of seven battle-fields. Through mud and rain crowded heavy artillery, waggons, herds of bellowing cattle, infantry, light batteries, exhausted men, wounded men, dead men on stretchers, men in straw-filled carts, some alive, some dying. Cannoneers cut traces and urged their jaded horses through the crush, cursed and screamed at by those on foot, menaced by bayonets and sabres. The infantry, drenched, starving, plastered with mud to the waists, toiled doggedly on through the darkness; batteries in deplorable condition struggled from mud hole to mud hole; the reserve cavalry division, cut out and forced east, limped wearily ahead, its rear-guard firing at every step.
To the north, immense quantities of stores—clothing, provisions, material of every description were on fire, darkening the sky with rolling, inky clouds; an entire army corps with heavy artillery and baggage crossed the river enveloped in the pitchy, cinder-laden smoke from two bridges on fire. The forests, which had been felled from the Golden Farm to Fair Oaks to form an army's vast abattis, were burning in sections, sending roaring tornadoes of flame into rifle pits, redoubts, and abandoned fortifications. Cannon thundered at Ellison's Mills; shells rained hard on Gaines's Farm; a thousand simultaneous volleys of musketry mingled with the awful uproar of the cannon; uninterrupted sheets of light from the shells brightened the smoke pall like the continuous flare of electricity against a thundercloud. The Confederacy, victorious, was advancing wrapped in flame and smoke.
At Savage's Station the long railroad bridge was now on fire; trains and locomotives burned fiercely; millions of boxes of hard bread, barrels of flour, rice, sugar, coffee, salt pork, cases of shoes, underclothing, shirts, uniforms, tin-ware, blankets, ponchos, harness, medical stores, were in flames; magazines of ammunition, flat cars and box cars loaded with powder, shells, and cartridges blazed and exploded, hurling jets and spouting fountains of fire to the very zenith.
And through the White Oak Swamp rode the Commander-in-chief of an army in full retreat, followed by his enormous staff and escort, abandoning the siege of Richmond, and leaving to their fate the wretched mass of sick and wounded in the dreadful hospitals at Liberty Hall. And the red battle flags of the Southland fluttered on every hill.
Claymore's mixed brigade, still holding together, closed the rear of Porter's powder-scorched corps d'armee.
The Zouaves of the 3rd Regiment—what was left of them—marched as flankers; McDunn's battery, still intact, was forced to unlimber every few rods; and the pouring rain turned to a driving golden fire in the red glare of the guns, which lighted up the halted squadrons of the Lancers ranged always in support.
Every rod in retreat was a running combat. In the darkness the discharge of the Zouaves' rifles ran from the guns' muzzles like streams of molten metal spilling out on the grass. McDunn's guns spirted great lumps of incandescence; the fuses of the shells in the sky showered the darkness with swarming sparks.
Toward ten o'clock the harried column halted on a hill and bivouacked without fires, food, or shelter. The Zouaves slept on their arms in the drenched herbage; the Lancers, not daring to unsaddle, lay down on the grass under their patient horses, bridle tied to wrist. An awful anxiety clutched officers and men. Few slept; the ceaseless and agonised shrieking from an emergency hospital somewhere near them in the darkness almost unnerved them.
At dawn shells began to plunge downward among the Dragoons. McDunn's battery roused itself to reply, but muddy staff-officers arrived at full speed with orders for Claymore to make haste; and the starving command staggered off stiffly through the mud, their ears sickened by the piteous appeals of the wounded begging not to be abandoned.
Berkley, his face a mass of bloody rags, gazed from his wet saddle with feverish eyes at the brave contract surgeons standing silent amid their wounded under the cedar trees.
Cripples hobbled along the lines, beseeching, imploring, catching at stirrups, plucking feebly, blindly at the horses' manes for support.
"Oh, my God!" sobbed a wounded artilleryman, lifting himself from the blood-stained grass, "is this what I enlisted for? Are you boys going to leave us behind to rot in rebel prisons?"
"Damn you!" shrieked another, "you ain't licked! What'n hell are you runnin' away for? Gimme a gun an' a hoss an' I'll go back with you to the river!"
And another pointed a mangled and shaking hand at the passing horsemen.
"Oh, hell!" he sneered, "we don't expect anything of the cavalry, but why are them Zouaves skedaddlin'? They fit like wild cats at the river. Halt! you red-legged devils. You're goin' the wrong way!"
A Sister of Charity, her snowy, wide-winged headdress limp in the rain, came out of a shed and stood at the roadside, slender hands joined imploringly.
"You mustn't leave your own wounded," she kept repeating. "You wouldn't do that, gentlemen, would you? They've behaved so well; they've done all that they could. Won't somebody tell General McClellan how brave they were? If he knew, he would never leave them here."
The Lancers looked down at her miserably as they rode; Colonel Arran passed her, saluting, but with heavy, flushed face averted; Berkley, burning with fever, leaned from his saddle, cap in hand.
"We can't help it, Sister. The same thing may happen to us in an hour. But we'll surely come back; you never must doubt that!"
Farther on they came on a broken-down ambulance, the mules gone, several dead men half buried in the wet straw, and two Sisters of Charity standing near by in pallid despair.
Colonel Arran offered them lead-horses, but they were timid and frightened; and Burgess gave his horse to the older one, and Berkley took the other up behind him, where she sat sideways clutching his belt, white coiffe aflutter, feet dangling.
At noon the regiment halted for forage and rations procured from a waggon train which had attempted to cross their line of march. The rain ceased: a hot sun set their drenched clothing and their horses' flanks steaming. At two o'clock they resumed their route; the ragged, rain-blackened pennons on the lance heads dried out scarlet; a hot breeze set in, carrying with it the distant noise of battle.
All that afternoon the heavy sound of the cannonade jarred their ears. And at sunset it had not ceased.
Berkley's Sister of Charity clung to his belt in silence for a while. After a mile or two she began to free her mind in regard to the distressing situation of her companion and herself. She informed Berkley that the negro drivers had become frightened and had cut the traces and galloped off; that she and the other Sister were on their way to the new base at Azalea Court House, where thousands of badly wounded were being gathered from the battles of the last week, and where conditions were said to be deplorable, although the hospital boats had been taking the sick to Alexandria as fast as they could be loaded.
She was a gentle little thing, with ideas of her own concerning the disaster to the army which was abandoning thousands of its wounded to the charity and the prisons of an enemy already too poor to feed and clothe its own.
"Some of our Sisters stayed behind, and many of the medical staff and even the contract surgeons remained. I hope the rebels will be gentle with them. I expected to stay, but Sister Aurelienne and I were ordered to Azalea last night. I almost cried my eyes out when I left our wounded. The shells were coming into the hospital yesterday, and one of them killed two of our wounded in the straw. Oh, it was sad and terrible. I am sure the rebels didn't fire on us on purpose. Do you think so?"
"No, I don't. Were you frightened, Sister."
"Oh, yes," she said naively, "and I wished I could run into the woods and hide."
"But you didn't?"
"Why, no, I couldn't," she said, surprised.
The fever in his wound was making him light-headed. At intervals he imagined that it was Ailsa seated behind him, her arms around his waist, her breath cool and fragrant on his neck; and still he knew she was a phantom born of fever, and dared not speak—became sly, pretending he did not know her lest the spell break and she vanish into thin air again.
What the little sister said was becoming to him only a pretty confusion of soft sounds; at moments he was too deaf to hear her voice at all; then he heard it and still believed it to be Ailsa who was speaking; then, for a, few seconds, reality cleared his clouded senses; he heard the steady thunder of the cannonade, the steady clattering splash of his squadron; felt the hot, dry wind scorching his stiffened cheek and scalp where the wound burned and throbbed under a clotted bandage.
When the regiment halted to fill canteens the little sister washed and re-bandaged his face and head.
It was a ragged slash running from the left ear across the cheek-bone and eyebrow into the hair above the temple—a deep, swollen, angry wound.
"What were you doing when you got this?" she asked in soft consternation, making him as comfortable as possible with the scanty resources of her medical satchel. Later, when the bugles sounded, she came back from somewhere down the line, suffered him to lift her up behind him, settled herself, slipped both arms confidently around his waist, and said:
"So you are the soldier who took the Confederate battle flag? Why didn't you tell me? Ah—I know. The bravest never tell."
"There is nothing to tell," he replied. "They captured a guidon from us. It evens the affair."
She said, after a moment's thought; "It speaks well for a man to have his comrades praise him as yours praise you."
"You mean the trooper Burgess," he said wearily. "He's always chattering."
"All who spoke to me praised you," she observed. "Your colonel said: 'He does not understand what fear is. He is absolutely fearless.'"
"My colonel has been misinformed, Sister. I am intelligent enough to be afraid—philosopher enough to realise that it doesn't help me. So nowadays I just go ahead."
"Trusting in God," she murmured.
He did not answer.
"Is it not true, soldier?"
But the fever was again transfiguring her into the shape of Ailsa Paige, and he remained shyly silent, fearing to disturb the vision—yet knowing vaguely that it was one.
She sighed; later, in silence, she repeated some Credos and Hail Marys, her eyes fixed on space, the heavy cannonade dinning in her ears. All around her rode the Lancers, tall pennoned weapons swinging from stirrup and loop, bridles loose under their clasped hands. The men seemed stupefied with fatigue; yet every now and then they roused themselves to inquire after her comfort or to offer her a place behind them. She timidly asked Berkley if she tired him, but he begged her to stay, alarmed lest the vision of Ailsa depart with her; and she remained, feeling contented and secure in her drowsy fatigue. Colonel Arran dropped back from the head of the column once to ride beside her. He questioned her kindly; spoke to Berkley, also, asking with grave concern about his wound. And Berkley answered in his expressionless way that he did not suffer.
But the little Sister of Charity behind his back laid one finger across her lips and looked significantly at Colonel Arran; and when the colonel again rode to the head of the weary column his face seemed even graver and more careworn.
By late afternoon they were beyond sound of the cannonade, riding through a golden light between fields of stacked wheat. Far behind in the valley they could see the bayonets of the Zouaves glistening; farther still the declining sun glimmered on the guns of the 10th battery. Along a parallel road endless lines of waggons stretched from north to south, escorted by Egerton's Dragoons.
To Berkley the sunset world had become only an infernal pit of scarlet strung with raw nerves. The terrible pain in his face and head almost made him lose consciousnesss. Later he seemed to be drifting into a lurid sea of darkness, where he no longer felt his saddle or the movement of his horse; he scarcely saw the lanterns clustering, scarcely heard the increasing murmur around him, the racket of picket firing, the noise of many bewildered men, the cries of staff-officers directing divisions and brigades to their camping ground, the confused tumult which grew nearer, nearer, mounting like the ominous clamour of the sea as the regiment rode through Azalea under the July stars.
He might have fallen from his saddle; or somebody perhaps lifted him, for all he knew. In the glare of torches he found himself lying on a moving stretcher. After that he felt straw under him; and vaguely wondered why it did not catch fire from his body, which surely now was but a mass of smouldering flame.
For days the fever wasted him—not entirely, for at intervals he heard cannon, and always the interminable picket firing; and he heard bugles, too, and recognised the various summons. But it was no use trying to obey them—no use trying to find his legs. He could not get up without his legs—he laughed weakly at the thought; then, drowsy, indifferent, decided that they had been shot away, but could not remember when; and it bothered him a good deal.
Other things bothered him; he was convinced that his mother was in the room. At intervals he was aware of Hallam's handsome face, cut out like a paper picture from Harper's Weekly and pasted flat on the tent wall. Also there were too many fire zouaves around his bed—if it was a bed, this vague vibrating hammock he occupied. It was much more like a hollow nook inside a gigantic pendulum which swung eternally to and fro until it swung him into senselessness—or aroused him with fierce struggles to escape. But his mother's slender hand sometimes arrested the maddening motion, or—and this was curiously restful—she cleverly transferred him to a cradle, which she rocked, leaning close over him. Only she kept him wrapped up too warmly.
And after a long while there came a day when his face became cooler, and his skin grew wet with sweat; and on that day he partly unclosed his eyes and saw Colonel Arran sitting beside him.
Surprised, he attempted to sit up, but not a muscle of his body obeyed him, and he lay there stupid, inert, hollow eyes fixed meaninglessly on his superior, who spoke cautiously.
"Berkley, do you know me?"
His lips twitched a voiceless affirmative.
Colonel Arran said: "You are going to get well, now. . . . Get well quickly, because—the regiment misses you. . . . What is it you desire to say? Make the effort if you wish."
Berkley's sunken eyes remained focussed on space; he was trying to consider. Then they turned painfully toward Colonel Arran again.
"Ailsa Paige?" he whispered.
The other said quietly: "She is at the base hospital near Azalea. I have seen her. She is well. . . . I did not tell her you were ill. She could not have left anyway. . . . Matters are not going well with the army, Berkley."
"Whipped?" His lips barely formed the question.
Colonel Arran's careworn features flushed.
"The army has been withdrawing from the Peninsula. It is the commander-in-chief who has been defeated—not the Army of the Potomac."
"Yes, certainly we shall go back. This rebellion seems to be taking more time to extinguish than the people and the national authorities supposed it would require. But no man must doubt our ultimate success. I do not doubt it. I never shall. You must not. It will all come right in the end."
"Regiment?" whispered Berkley.
"The regiment is in better shape, Berkley. Our remounts have arrived; our wounded are under shelter, and comfortable. We need rest, and we're getting it here at Azalea, although they shell us every day. We ought to be in good trim in a couple of weeks. You'll be in the saddle long before that. Your squadron has become very proud of you; all the men in the regiment have inquired about you. Private Burgess spends his time off duty under the oak trees out yonder watching your window like a dog. . . . I—ah—may say to you, Berkley, that you—ah—have become a credit to the regiment. Personally—and as your commanding officer—I wish you to understand that I am gratified by your conduct. I have said so in my official reports."
Berkley's sunken eyes had reverted to the man beside him. After a moment his lips moved again in soundless inquiry.
Colonel Arran replied: "The Zouaves were very badly cut up; Major Lent was wounded by a sabre cut. He is nearly well now. Colonel Craig and his son were not hurt. The Zouaves are in cantonment about a mile to the rear. Both Colonel Craig and his son have been here to see you—" he hesitated, rose, stood a moment undecided.
"Mrs. Craig—the wife of Colonel Craig—has been here. Her plantation, Paigecourt, is in this vicinity I believe. She has requested the medical authorities to send you to her house for your convalescence. Do you wish to go?"
The hollow-eyed, heavily bandaged face looked up at him from the straw; and Colonel Arran looked down at it, lips aquiver.
"Berkley—if you go there, I shall not see you again until you return to the regiment. I—" suddenly his gray face began to twitch again—and he set his jaw savagely to control it.
"Good-bye," he said. . . "I wish—some day—you could try to think less harshly of me. I am a—very—lonely man."
Berkley closed his eyes, but whether from weakness or sullen resentment the older man could not know. He stood looking down wistfully at the boy for a moment, then turned and went heavily away with blurred eyes that did not recognise the woman in bonnet and light summer gown who was entering the hospital tent. As he stood aside to let her pass he heard his name pronounced, in a cold, decisive voice; and, passing his gloved hand across his eyes to clear them, recognised Celia Craig.
"Colonel Arran," she said coolly, "is it necessa'y fo' me to request yo' permission befo' I am allowed to move Philip Berkley to my own house?"
"No, madam. The brigade surgeon is in charge. But I think I can secure for you the necessary authority to do so if you wish."
She thanked him haughtily, and passed on; and he turned and walked out, impassive, silent, a stoop to his massive shoulders which had already become characteristic.
And that evening Berkley lay at Paigecourt in the chintz-hung chamber where, as a girl, his mother had often slept, dreaming the dreams that haunt young hearts when the jasmine fragrance grows heavier in the stillness and the magnolia's snowy chalice is offered to the moon, and the thrush sings in the river thickets, and the fire-fly's lamp drifts through the fairy woods.
Celia told him this on the third day, late in the afternoon—so late that the westering sun was already touching the crests of the oak woods, and all the thickets had turned softly purple like the bloom on a plum; the mounting scent of phlox from the garden was growing sweeter, and the bats fluttered and dipped and soared in the calm evening sky.
She had been talking of his mother when she was Constance Paige and wore a fillet over her dark ringlets and rode to hounds at ten with the hardest riders in all Prince Clarence County.
"And this was her own room, Phil; nothing in it has been moved, nothing changed; this is the same bird and garland chintz, matching the same wall-paper; this is the same old baid with its fo' ca'ved columns and its faded canopy, the same gilt mirror where she looked and saw reflected there the loveliest face in all the valley. . . . A child's face, Phil—even a child's face when she drew aside her bridal veil to look. . . . Ah—God—" She sighed, looking down at her clasped hands, "if youth but knew—if youth but knew!"
He lay silent, the interminable rattle of picket firing in his ears, his face turned toward the window. Through it he could see green grass, a magnolia in bloom, and a long flawless spray of Cherokee roses pendant from the gallery.
Celia sighed, waited for him to speak, sighed again, and picked up the Baltimore newspaper to resume her reading if he desired.
Searching the columns listlessly, she scanned the headings, glanced over the letter press in silence, then turned the crumpled page. Presently she frowned.
"Listen to this, Philip; they say that there is yellow fever among the Yankee troops in Louisiana. It would be like them to bring that horror into the Ca'linas and Virginia——"
He turned his head suddenly, partly rose from where he lay; and she caught her breath and bent swiftly over him, placing one hand on his arm and gently forcing him down upon the-pillow again.
"Fo'give me, dear," she faltered. "I forgot what I was reading——"
He said, thoughtfully: "Did you ever hear exactly how my mother died, Celia? . . . But I know you never did. . . . And I think I had better tell you."
"She died in the fever camp at Silver Bayou, when you were a little lad," whispered Celia.
"Philip! What are you saying?"
"You don't know how my mother died," he said quietly.
"Phil, we had the papers—and the Governor of Louisiana wrote us himse'f——"
"I know what he wrote and what the papers published was not true. I'll tell you how she died. When I was old enough to take care of myself I went to Silver Bayou. . . . Many people in that town had died; some still survived. I found the parish records. I found one of the camp doctors who remembered that accursed year of plague—an old man, withered, indifferent, sleeping his days away on the rotting gallery of his tumble-down house. He knew. . . . And I found some of the militia still surviving; and one among them retained a confused memory of my mother—among the horrors of that poisonous year——"
He lay silent, considering; then: "I was old enough to remember, but not old enough to understand what I understood later. . . . Do you want to know how my mother died?"
Celia's lips moved in amazed assent.
"Then I will tell you. . . . They had guards north, east, and west of us. They had gone mad with fright; the whole land was quarantined against us; musket, flintlock, shotgun, faced us through the smoke of their burning turpentine. I was only a little lad, but the horror of it I have never forgotten, nor my mother's terror—not for herself, for me."
He lay on his side, thin hands clasped, looking not at Celia but beyond her at the dreadful scene his fancy was painting on the wall of his mother's room:
"Often, at night, we heard the shots along the dead line. Once they murdered a man behind our water garden. Our negroes moaned and sobbed all day, all night, helpless, utterly demoralised. Two were shot swimming; one came back dying from snake bite. I saw him dead on the porch.
"I saw men fall down in the street with the black vomit—women, also—and once I saw two little children lying dead against a garden wall in St. Catharine's Alley. I was young, but I remember."
A terrible pallor came into his wan face.
"And I remember my mother," he said; "and her pleading with the men who came to the house to let her send me across the river where there was no fever. I remember her saying that it was murder to imprison children there in Silver Bayou; that I was perfectly well so far. They refused. Soldiers came and went. Their captain died; others died, we heard. Then my mother's maid, Alice, an octoroon, died on the East Gallery. And the quarters went insane that day.
"When night came an old body-servant of my grandfather scratched at mother's door. I heard him. I thought it was Death. I was half dead with terror when mother awoke and whispered to me to dress in the dark and to make no sound.
"I remember it perfectly—remember saying: 'I won't go if you don't, mother. I'd rather be with you.' And I remember her saying: 'You shall not stay here to die when you are perfectly well. Trust mother, darling; Jerry will take you to Sainte Jacqueline in a boat.'
"And after that it is vaguer—the garden, the trench dug under the north wall—and how mother and I, in deadly fear of moccasins, down on all fours, crept after Jerry along the ditch to the water's edge——"
His face whitened again; he lay silent for a while, crushing his wasted hands together.
"Celia, they fired on us from the levee. After that I don't know; I never knew what happened. But that doctor at Silver Bayou said that I was found a mile below in a boat with the first marks of the plague yellowing my skin. Celia, they never found my mother's body. It is not true that she died of fever at Silver Bayou. She fell under the murderous rifles of the levee guard—gave her life trying to save me from that pest-stricken prison. Jerry's body was found stranded in the mud twenty miles below. He had been shot through the body. . . . And now you know how my mother died."
He raised himself on one elbow, watching Celia's shocked white face for a moment or two, then wearily turned toward the window and sank back on his pillows.
In the still twilight, far away through the steady fusillade from the outposts, he heard the dull boom-booming of cannon, and the heavy shocks of the great guns aboard the Union gun-boats. But it sounded very far off; a mocking-bird sang close under his window; the last rosy bar faded from the fleecy cloud bank in the east. Night came abruptly—the swift Southern darkness quickly emblazoned with stars; and the whip-poor-wills began their ghostly calling; and the spectres of the mist crept stealthily inland.
Her soft voice answered from the darkness near him.
He said: "I knew this was her room before you told me. I have seen her several times."
"Good God, Phil!" she faltered, "what are you saying?"
"I don't know. . . . I saw her the night I came here."
After a long silence Celia rose and lighted a candle. Holding it a little above her pallid face she glided to his bedside and looked down at him. After a moment, bending, she touched his face with her palm; then her cool finger-tips brushed the quiet pulse at his wrist.
"Have I any fever?"
"I thought not. . . . I saw mother's face a few moments ago in that mirror behind you."
Celia sank down on the bed's edge, the candle trembling in her hand. Then, slowly, she turned her head and looked over her shoulder, moving cautiously, until her fascinated eyes found the glass behind her. The mirror hung there reflecting the flowered wall opposite; a corner of the bed; nothing else.
He said in an even voice;
"From the first hour that you brought me into this room, she has been here. I knew it instantly. . . . The first day she was behind those curtains—was there a long while. I knew she was there; I watched the curtains, expecting her to step out. I waited all day, not understanding that I—that it was better that I should speak. I fell asleep about dusk. She came out then and sat where you are sitting."
"It was a dream, Phil. It was fever. Try to realise what you are saying!"
"I do. The next evening I lay watching; and I saw a figure reflected in the mirror. It was not yet dusk. Celia, in the sunset light I saw her standing by the curtains. But it was star-light before she came to the bed and looked down at me.
"I said very quietly: 'Mother dear!' Then she spoke to me; and I knew she was speaking, but I could not hear her voice. . . . It was that way while she stood beside me—I could not hear her, Celia. I could not hear what she was saying. It was no spirit I saw—no phantom from the dead there by my bed, no ghost—no restless wraith, grave-driven through the night. I believe she is living. She knows I believe it. . . . As you sat here, a moment ago, reading to me, I saw her reflected for a moment in the mirror behind you, passing into the room beyond. Her hair is perfectly white, Celia—or," he said vaguely to himself, "was it something she wore?—like the bandeaux of the Sisters of Charity——"
The lighted candle fell from Celia's nerveless fingers and rolled over and over across the floor, trailing a smoking wick. Berkley's hand steadied her trembling arm.
"Why are you frightened?" he asked calmly.
"There is nothing dead about what I saw."
"I c-can't he'p myse'f," stammered Celia; "you say such frightful things to me—you tell me that they happen in my own house—in her own room—How can I be calm? How can I believe such things of—of Constance Berkley—of yo' daid mother——"
"I don't know," he said dully.
The star-light sparkled on the silver candle-stick where it lay on the floor in a little pool of wax. Quivering all over, Celia stooped to lift, relight it, and set it on the table. And, over her shoulder, he saw a slim shape enter the doorway.
"Mother dear?" he whispered.
And Celia turned with a cry and stood swaying there in the rays of the candle.
But it was only a Sister of Charity—a slim, childish figure under the wide white head-dress—who had halted, startled at Celia's cry. She was looking for the Division Medical Director, and the sentries had misinformed her—and she was very sorry, very deeply distressed to have frightened anybody—but the case was urgent—a Sister shot near the picket line on Monday; and authority to send her North was, what she had come to seek. Because the Sister had lost her mind completely, had gone insane, and no longer knew them, knew nobody, not even herself, nor the hospital, nor the doctors, nor even that she lay on a battle-field. And she was saying strange and dreadful things about herself and about people nobody had ever heard of. . . . Could anybody tell her where the Division Medical Director could be found?
It was not yet daybreak when Berkley awoke in his bed to find lights in the room and medical officers passing swiftly hither and thither, the red flames from their candles blowing smokily in the breezy doorways.
The picket firing along the river had not ceased. At the same instant he felt the concussion of heavy guns shaking his bed. The lawn outside the drawn curtains resounded with the hurrying clatter of waggons, the noise of pick and spade and crack of hammer and mallet.
He drew himself to a sitting posture. A regimental surgeon passing through the room glanced at him humorously, saying: "You've got a pretty snug berth here, son. How does it feel to sleep in a real bed?" And, extinguishing his candle, he went away through the door without waiting for any answer.
Berkley turned toward the window, striving to reach the drawn curtains. And at length he managed to part them, but it was all dark outside. Yet the grounds were evidently crowded with waggons and men; he recognised sounds which indicated that tents were being erected, drains and sinks dug; the rattle of planks and boards were significant of preparation for the construction of "shebangs."
Farther away on the dark highway he could hear the swift gallop of cavalry and the thudding clank of light batteries, all passing in perfect darkness. Then, leaning closer to the sill, he gazed between the curtains far into the southwest; and saw the tall curve of Confederate shells traced in whirling fire far down the river, the awful glare of light as the enormous guns on the Union warships replied.
Celia, her lovely hair over her shoulders, a scarf covering her night-dress, came in carrying a lighted candle; and instantly a voice from outside the window bade her extinguish the light or draw the curtain.
She looked at Berkley in a startled manner, blew out the flame, and came around between his bed and the window, drawing the curtains entirely aside.
"General Claymore's staff has filled eve'y room in the house except yours and mine," she said in her gentle, bewildered way. "There's a regiment—Curt's Zouaves—encamped befo' the west quarters, and a battery across the drive, and all the garden is full of their horses and caissons."
"Poor little Celia," he said, reaching out to touch her hand, and drawing her to the bed's edge, where she sat down helplessly.
"The Yankee officers are all over the house," she repeated. "They're up in the cupola with night-glasses now. They are ve'y polite. Curt took off his riding boots and went to sleep on my bed—and oh he is so dirty!—my darling Curt' my own husband!—too dirty to touch! I could cry just to look at his uniform, all black and stained and the gold entirely gone from one sleeve! And Stephen!—oh, Phil, some mise'ble barber has shaved the heads of all the Zouaves, and Steve is perfectly disfigured!—the poor, dear boy"—she laughed hysterically—"he had a hot bath and I've been mending the rags that he and Curt call unifo'ms—and I found clean flannels fo' them both in the attic——"
"What does all this mean—all this camping outside?" he interrupted gently.
"Curt doesn't know. The camps and hospitals west of us have been shelled, and all the river roads are packed full of ambulances and stretchers going east."
"Where is my regiment?"
"The Lancers rode away yesterday with General Stoneman—all except haidqua'ters and one squadron—yours, I think—and they are acting escort to General Sykes at the overseers house beyond the oak grove. Your colonel is on his staff, I believe."
He lay silent, watching the burning fuses of the shells as they soared up into the night, whirling like fiery planets on their axes, higher, higher, mounting through majestic altitudes to the pallid stars, then, curving, falling faster, faster, till their swift downward glare split the darkness into broad sheets of light.
"Phil," she whispered, "I think there is a house on fire across the river!"
Far away in the darkness rows of tiny windows in an unseen mansion had suddenly become brilliantly visible.
"It—it must be Mr. Ruffin's house," she said in an awed voice. "Oh, Phil! It is! Look! It's all on fire—it's—oh, see the flames on the roof! This is terrible—terrible—" She caught her breath.
"Phil! There's another house on fire! Do you see—do you see! It's Ailsa's house—Marye-mead! Oh, how could they set it on fire—how could they have the heart to burn that sweet old place!"
"Is that Marye-mead?" he asked.
"It must be. That's where it ought to stand—and—oh! oh! it's all on fire, Phil, all on fire!"
"Shells from the gun-boats," he muttered, watching the entire sky turn crimson as the flames burst into fury, lighting up clumps of trees and outhouses. And, as they looked, the windows of another house began to kindle ominously; little tongues of fire fluttered over a distant cupola, leaped across to a gallery, ran up in vinelike tendrils which flowered into flame, veining everything in a riotous tangle of brilliancy. And through the kindling darkness the sinister boom—boom! of the guns never ceased, and the shells continued to mount, curve, and fall, streaking the night with golden incandescence.
Outside the gates, at the end of the cedar-lined avenue, where the highway passes, the tumult was increasing every moment amid shouts, cracking of whips, the jingle and clash of traces and metallic racket of wheels. The house, too, resounded with the heavy hurried tread of army boots trampling up and down stairs and crossing the floors above in every direction.
In the summer kitchen loud-voiced soldiers were cooking; there came the clatter of plates from the dining-room, the odour of hot bread and frying pork.
"All my negroes except old Peter and a quadroon maid have gone crazy," said Celia hopelessly. "I had them so comfo'tably qua'tered and provided foh!—Cary, the ove'seer, would have looked after them while the war lasts—but the sight of the blue uniforms unbalanced them, and they swa'med to the river, where the contraband boats were taking runaways. . . . Such foolish creatures! They were ve'y happy here and quite safe and well treated. . . . And everyone has deserted, old and young!—toting their bundles and baskets on their silly haids—every negro on Paigecourt plantation, every servant in this house except Peter and Sadie has gone with the contrabands . . . I'm sure I don't know what these soldiers are cooking in the kitchen. I expect they'll end by setting the place afire, and I told Curt so, but he can't he'p it, and I can't. It's ve'y hard to see the house turned out of the windows, and the lawns and gardens cut to pieces by hoofs and wheels, but I'm only too thankful that Curt can find shelter under this roof, and nothing matters any mo' as long as he and Stephen are alive and well."
"Haven't you heard from Ailsa yet?" asked Berkley in a low voice.
"Oh, Phil! I'm certainly worried. She was expecting to go on board some hospital boat at the landing the day befo' your regiment arrived. I haven't set eyes on her since. A gun-boat was to take one of the Commission's steamers to Fortress Monroe, and all that day the fleet kept on firing at our—at the Confederate batteries over the river"—she corrected herself wearily—"and I was so afraid, that Ailsa's steamer would try to get out——"
"I don't know. There are so many, many boats at the landing, and there's been so much firing, and nobody seems to know what is happening or where anybody is. . . . And I don't know where Ailsa is, and I've been ve'y mise'ble because they say some volunteer nurses have been killed——"
"I didn't want to tell you, Phil—until you were better——"
"Tell me what?" he managed to say, though a terrible fear was stiffening his lips and throat.
She said dully: "They get shot sometimes. You remember yo'se'f what that Sister of Charity said last night. I heard Ailsa cautioning Letty—the little nurse, Miss Lynden——"
"Yes, I know. What else?"
Celia's underlip quivered: "Nothing, only Ailsa told me that she was ordered to the field hospital fo' duty befo' she went aboard the commission boat—and she never came back—and there was a battle all that day——"
"Is that all?" he demanded, rising on one elbow. "Is there anything else you are concealing?"
"No, Phil. I'd tell you if there was. Perhaps I'm foolish to be so nervous—but I don't know—that Sister of Charity struck by a bullet—and to think of Ailsa out there under fire—" She closed her eyes and sat shivering in the gray chill of the dawn, the tears silently stealing over her pale cheeks. Berkley stared out of the window at a confused and indistinct mass of waggons and tents and moving men, but the light was still too dim to distinguish uniforms; and presently Celia leaned forward and drew the curtains.
Then she turned and took Berkley's hands in hers.
"Phil, dear," she said softly, "I suspect how it is with you and Ailsa. Am I indiscreet to speak befo' you give me any warrant?"
He said nothing.
"The child certainly is in love with you. A blind woman could divine that," continued Celia wistfully. "I am glad, Phil, because I believe you are as truly devoted to her as she is to you. And when the time comes—if God spares you both——"
"You are mistaken," he said quietly, "there is no future before us."
She coloured in consternation. "Wh—why I certainly supposed—believed——"
"Don't you know I cannot marry?"
"Why not, Philip?"
"Could I marry Ailsa Craig unless I first told her that my father and my mother were never married?" he said steadily.
"Oh, Philip!" she cried, tears starting to her eyes again, "do you think that would weigh with a girl who is so truly and unselfishly in love with you?"
"You don't understand," he said wearily. "I'd take that chance now. But do you think me disloyal enough to confess to any woman on earth what my mother, if she were living, would sacrifice her very life to conceal?"
He bent his head, supporting it in his hands, speaking as though to himself:
"I believe that the brain is the vehicle, not the origin of thought. I believe a brain becomes a mind only when an immortality exterior to ourselves animates it. And this is what is called the soul. . . . Whatever it is, it is what I saw—or what that something, exterior to my body, recognised.
"Perhaps these human eyes of mine did not see her. Something that belongs to me saw the immortal visitor; something, that is the vital part of me, saw, recognised, and was recognised."
For a long while they sat there, silent; the booming guns shook the window; the clatter and uproar of the passing waggon train filled their ears.
Suddenly the house rocked under the stunning crash of a huge gun. Celia sprang to her feet, caught at the curtain as another terrific blast shivered the window-panes and filled the room with acrid dust.
Through the stinging clouds of powdered plaster Colonel Craig entered the room, hastily pulling on his slashed coat as he came.
"There's a fort in the rear of us—don't be frightened, Celia. I think they must be firing at——"
His voice was drowned in the thunder of another gun; Celia made her way to him, hid her face on his breast as the room shook again and the plaster fell from the ceiling, filling the room with blinding dust.
"Oh, Curt," she gasped, "this is dreadful. Philip cannot stay here——"
"Better pull the sheets over his head," said her husband, meeting Berkley's eyes with a ghost of a smile. "It won't last long; and there are no rebel batteries that can reach Paigecourt." He kissed her. "How are you feeling, dear? I'm trying to arrange for you to go North on the first decent transport——"
"I want to stay with you, Curt," she pleaded, tightening her arms around his neck. "Can't I stay as long as my husband and son are here? I don't wish to go——"
"You can't stay," he said gently. "There is no immediate danger here at Paigecourt, but the army is turning this landing into a vast pest hole. It's deadly unhealthy. I wish you to go home just as soon as I can secure transportation——"
"And let them burn Paigecourt? Who is there to look after——"
"We'll have to take such chances, Celia. The main thing is for you to pack up and go home as soon as you possibly can. . . . I've got to go out now. I'll try to come back to-night. The General understands that it's your house, and that you are my wife; and there's a guard placed and a Union flag hung out from the gallery——"
She looked up quickly; a pink flush stained her neck and forehead.
"I would not use that wicked flag to protect myse'f," she said quietly—"nor to save this house, either, Curt. It's only fo' you and Phil that I care what happens to anything now——"
"Then go North, you bad little rebel!" whispered her husband, drawing her into his arms. "Paige and Marye have been deserted long enough; and you've seen sufficient of this war—plenty to last your lifetime——"
"I saw Ailsa's house burn," she said slowly.
"This mo'ning, Curt. Phil thinks it was the shells from the gun-boats. It can't be he'ped now; it's gone. So is Edmund Ruffin's. And I wish I knew where that child, Ailsa, is. I'm that frightened and mise'ble, Curt——"
An orderly suddenly appeared at the door; her husband kissed her and hurried away. The outer door swung wide, letting in a brassy clangour of bugles and a roll of drums, which softened when the door closed with a snap.
It opened again abruptly, and a thin, gray-garbed figure came in, hesitated, and Celia turned, staring through her tears:
"Miss Lynden!" she exclaimed. "Is Ailsa here?"
Berkley sat up and leaned forward, looking at her intently from the mass of bandages.
"Letty!" he said, "where is Mrs. Paige?"
Celia had caught the girl's hands in hers, and was searching her thin white face with anxious eyes; and Letty shook her head and looked wonderingly at Berkley.
"Nothing has happened to her," she said. "A Sister of Mercy was wounded in the field hospital near Azalea, and they sent for Mrs. Paige to fill her place temporarily. And," looking from Celia to Berkley, "she is well and unhurt. The fighting is farther west now. Mrs. Paige heard yesterday that the 8th Lancers were encamped near Paigecourt and asked me to find Mr. Berkley—and deliver a letter——"
She smiled, drew from her satchel a letter, and, disengaging her other hand from Celia's, went over to the bed and placed it in Berkley's hands.
"She is quite well," repeated Letty reassuringly; and, to Celia: "She sends her love to you and to your husband and son, and wishes to know how they are and where their regiment is stationed."
"You sweet little thing!" said Celia, impulsively taking her into her arms and kissing her pale face. "My husband and my son are safe and well, thank God, and my cousin, Phil Berkley, is convalescent, and you may tell my sister-in-law that we all were worried most to death at not hearing from her. And now I'm going to get you a cup of broth—you poor little white-faced child! How did you ever get here?"
"Our ambulance brought me. We had sick men to send North. Ailsa couldn't leave, so she asked me to come."
She accepted a chair near the bed. Celia went away to prepare some breakfast with the aid of old Peter and Sadie, her maid. And as soon as she left the room Letty sprang to her feet and went straight to Berkley.
"I did not tell the entire truth," she said in a low, excited voice. "I heard your regiment was here; Ailsa learned it from me. I was coming anyway to see you."
"To see me, Letty?" he repeated, surprised and smiling.
"Yes," she said, losing what little colour remained in her cheeks. "I am in—in much—anxiety—to know—what to do."
"Can I help you?"
She looked wistfully at him; the tears rushed into her eyes; she dropped on her knees at his bedside and hid her face on his hands.
"Letty—Letty!" he said in astonishment, "what on earth has happened?"
She looked up, lips quivering, striving to meet his gaze through her tears.
"Dr. Benton is here. . . . He—he has asked me to—marry him."
Berkley lay silent, watching her intently.
"Oh, I know—I know," she sobbed. "I can't, can I? I should have to tell him—and he would never speak to me again—never write to me—never be what he has been all these months!—I know I cannot marry him. I came to tell you—to ask—but it's no use—no use. I knew what you would say——"
"Letty! Wait a moment——"
She rose, controlling herself with a desperate effort.
"Forgive me, Mr. Berkley; I didn't mean to break down; but I'm so tired—and—I wanted you—I needed to hear you tell me what was right. . . . But I knew already. Even if I were—were treacherous enough to marry him—I know he would find me out. . . . I can't get away from it—I can't seem to get away. Yesterday, in camp, the 20th Cavalry halted—and there was John Casson!—And I nearly dropped dead beside Dr. Benton—oh the punishment for what I did!—the awful punishment!—and Casson stared at me and said: 'My Lord, Letty! is that you?'"
She buried her burning cheeks in her hands.
"I did not lie to him. I offered him my hand; and perhaps he saw the agony in my face, for he didn't say anything about the Canterbury, but he took off his forage cap and was pleasant and kind. And he and Dr. Benton spoke to each other until the bugles sounded for the regiment to mount."
She flung her slender arm out in a tragic gesture toward the horizon. "The world is not wide enough to hide in," she said in a heart-breaking voice. "I thought it was—but there is no shelter—no place—no place in all the earth!"
"Letty," he said slowly, "if your Dr. Benton is the man I think he is—and I once knew him well enough to judge—he is the only man on earth fit to hear the confession you have made this day to me."
She looked at him, bewildered.
"I advise you to love him and marry him. Tell him about yourself if you choose; or don't tell him. There is a vast amount of nonsense talked about the moral necessity of turning one's self inside out the moment one comes to marry. Let me tell you, few men can do it; and their fiancees survive the shock. So, few men are asses enough to try it. As for women, few have any confessions to make. A few have. You are one."
"Yes," she whispered.
"But I wouldn't if I were you. If ever any man or woman took the chance of salvation and made the most of it, that person is you! And I'm going to tell you that I wouldn't hesitate to marry you if I loved you."
He laughed. "Not one second! It's a good partnership for any plan. Don't be afraid that you can't meet men on their own level. You're above most of us now; and you're mounting steadily. There, that's my opinion of you—that you're a good woman, and a charming one; and Benton is devilish lucky to get you. . . . Come here, Letty."
She went to him as though dazed; and he took both her hands in his.
"Don't you know," he said, "that I have seen you, day after day, intimately associated with the woman I love? Can you understand now that I am telling the truth when I say, let the past bury its ghosts; and go on living as you have lived from the moment that your chance came to live nobly. I know what you have made of yourself. I know what the chances were against you. You are a better woman to-day than many who will die untempted. And you shall not doubt it, Letty. What a soul is born into is often fine and noble; what a soul makes of itself is beyond all praise.
"Choose your own way; tell him or not; but if you love him, give yourself to him. Whether or not you tell him, he will want you—as I would—as any man would. . . . Now you must smile at me, Letty."
She turned toward him a face, pallid, enraptured, transfigured with an inward radiance that left him silent—graver after that swift glimpse of a soul exalted.
She said slowly: "You and Ailsa have been God's own messengers to me. . . . I shall tell Dr. Benton. . . . If he still wishes it, I will marry him. It will be for him to ask—after he knows all."
Celia entered, carrying the breakfast on a tray.
"Curt's Zouaves have stolen ev'y pig, but I found bacon and po'k in the cellar," she said, smilingly. "Oh, dear! the flo' is in such a mess of plaster! Will you sit on the aidge of the bed, Miss Lynden, and he'p my cousin eat this hot co'n pone?"
So the napkin was spread over the sheets, and pillows tucked behind Berkley; and Celia and Letty fed him, and Letty drank her coffee and thankfully ate her bacon and corn pone, telling them both, between bites, how it had been with her and with Ailsa since the great retreat set in, swamping all hospitals with the sick and wounded of an unbeaten but disheartened army, now doomed to decimation by disease.
"It was dreadful," she said. "We could hear the firing for miles and miles, and nobody knew what was happening. But all the northern papers said it was one great victory after another, and we believed them. All the regimental bands at the Landing played; and everybody was so excited. We all expected to hear that our army was in Richmond."
Celia reddened to the ears, and her lips tightened, but she said nothing; and Letty went on, unconscious of the fiery emotions awaking in Celia's breast:
"Everybody was so cheerful and happy in the hospital—all those poor sick soldiers," she said, "and everybody was beginning to plan to go home, thinking the war had nearly ended. I thought so, too, and I was so glad. And then, somehow, people began to get uneasy; and the first stragglers appeared. . . . Oh, it did seem incredible at first; we wouldn't believe that the siege of Richmond had been abandoned."
She smiled drearily. "I've found out that it is very easy to believe what you want to believe in this world. . . . Will you have some more broth, Mr. Berkley?"
Before he could answer the door opened and a red zouave came in, carrying his rifle and knapsack.
"Mother," he said in an awed voice, "Jimmy Lent is dead!"
He looked stupidly around the room, resting his eyes on Letty and Berkley, then dropped heavily onto a chair.
"Jim's dead," he repeated vacantly. "He only arrived here yesterday—transferred from his militia to McDunn's battery. And now he's dead. Some one had better write to Camilla. I'm afraid to. . . . A shell hit him last night—oh—he's all torn to pieces—and Major Lent doesn't know it, either. . . . Father let me come; we're ordered across the river; good-bye, mother—" He rose and put his arms around her.
"You'll write to Camilla, won't you?" he said. "Tell her I love her. I didn't know it until just a few minutes ago. But I do, mother. I'd like to marry her. Tell her not to cry too much. Jimmy was playing cards, they say, and a big shell fell inside the redoubt. Philip—I think you knew Harry Sayre? Transferred from the 7th to the Zouaves as lieutenant in the 5th company?"
"Yes. Was he killed?"
"Oh, Lord, yes; everybody in the shebang except Arthur Wye was all torn to pieces. Tommy Atherton, too; you knew him, of course—5th Zouaves. He happened in—just visiting Arthur Wye. They were all playing cards in a half finished bomb-proof. . . . Mother, you will write to Camilla, won't you, dear? Good-bye—good-bye, Phil—and Miss Lynden!" He caught his mother in his arms for a last hug, wrenched himself free, and ran back across the hall, bayonet and canteen clanking.
"Oh, why are they sending Curt's regiment across the river?" wailed Celia, following to the window. "Look at them, Phil! Can you see? The road is full of Zouaves—there's a whole regiment of them in blue, too. The batteries are all harnessed up; do you think there's going to be another battle? I don't know why they want to fight any mo'!" she exclaimed in sudden wrath and anguish. "I don't understand why they are not willing to leave the South alone. My husband will be killed, and my only son—like Jimmy Lent—if they don't ever stop this wicked fighting——"
The roar of a heavy gun buried the room in plaster dust. Letty calmly lifted the tray from the bed and set it on a table. Then very sweetly and with absolute composure she took leave of Celia and of Berkley. They saw her climb into an ambulance which was drawn up on the grass.
Then Berkley opened the letter that Letty had brought him:
"This is just a hurried line to ask you a few questions. Do you know a soldier named Arthur Wye? He is serving now as artilleryman in the 10th N. Y. Flying Battery, Captain McDunn. Are you acquainted with a lieutenant in the 5th Zouaves, named Cortlandt? I believe he is known to his intimates as Billy or 'Pop' Cortlandt. Are they trustworthy and reliable men? Where did you meet Miss Lynden and how long have you known her? Please answer immediately.
Wondering, vaguely uneasy, he read and re-read this note, so unlike Ailsa, so brief, so disturbing in its direct coupling of the people in whose company he had first met Letty Lynden. . . . Yet, on reflection, he dismissed apprehension, Ailsa was too fine a character to permit any change in her manner to humiliate Letty even if, by hazard, knowledge of the unhappy past had come to her concerning the pretty, pallid nurse of Sainte Ursula.
As for Arthur Wye and Billy Cortlandt, they were incapable of anything contemptible or malicious.
He asked Celia for a pencil and paper, and, propped on his pillows, he wrote:
"My darling, I don't exactly understand your message, but I guess it's all right. To answer it:
"Billy Cortlandt and Arthur Wye are old New York friends of mine. Their words are better than other people's bonds. Letty Lynden is a sweet, charming girl. I regret that I have not known her years longer than I have. I am sending this in haste to catch Letty's ambulance just departing, though still blocked by artillery passing the main road. Can you come? I love you.
Celia sent her coloured man running after the ambulance. He caught it just as it started on. Berkley, from his window, saw the servant deliver his note to Letty.
He had not answered the two questions concerning Letty. He could not. So he had evaded them.
Preoccupied, still conscious of the lingering sense of uneasiness, he turned on his pillows and looked out of the window.
An enormous cloud of white smoke rose curling from the river, another, another; and boom! boom! boom! came the solid thunder of cannon. The gunboats at the Landing were opening fire; cavalry were leading their horses aboard transports; and far down the road the sun glistened on a long column of scarlet, where the 3rd Zouaves were marching to their boats.
The sharpshooters had already begun to trouble them. Their officers ordered them to lie down while awaiting their turn to embark. After a while many of the men sat up on the ground to stretch and look about them, Stephen among the others. And a moment later a conoidal bullet struck him square in the chest and knocked him flat in the dirt among his comrades.
The smoke and spiteful crackle of the pickets' fusilade had risen to one unbroken crash, solidly accented by the report of field guns.
Ambulances were everywhere driving to the rear at a gallop past the centre and left sections of McDunn's Battery, which, unlimbered, was standing in a cotton field, the guns pointed southward across the smoke rising below.
Claymore's staff, dismounted, stood near. The young general himself, jacket over one arm, was seated astride the trail of the sixth gun talking eagerly to McDunn, when across the rolling ground came a lancer at full speed, plunging and bucketing in his saddle, the scarlet rags of the lance pennon whipping the wind. The trooper reined in his excited horse beside Claymore, saluted, and handed him a message; and the youthful general, glancing at it, got onto his feet in a hurry, and tossed his yellow-edged jacket of a private to an orderly. Then he faced the lancer:
"Tell Colonel Craig to hold his position no matter what it costs!" he exclaimed sharply. "Tell Colonel Arran that I expect him to stand by the right section of the 10th battery until it is safely and properly brought off!" He swung around on Captain McDunn.
"Limber your battery to the rear, sir! Follow headquarters!" he snapped, and threw himself into his saddle, giving his mount rein and heel with a reckless nod to his staff.
McDunn, superbly mounted, scarcely raised his clear, penetrating voice: "Cannoneers mount gun-carriages; caissons follow; drivers, put spur and whip to horses—forward—march!" he said.
"Trot out!" rang the bugles; the horses broke into a swinging lope across the dry ridges of the cotton field, whips whistled, the cannoneers bounced about on the chests, guns, limbers and caissons thumped, leaped, jolted, rose up, all wheels in the air at once, swayed almost to overturning, and thundered on in a tornado of dust, leaders, swing team, wheel team straining into a frantic gallop.
The powerful horses bounded forward into a magnificent stride; general and staff tore on ahead toward the turnpike. Suddenly, right past them came a driving storm of stampeding cavalry, panic-stricken, riding like damned men, tearing off and hurling from them carbines, canteens, belts; and McDunn, white with rage, whipped out his revolver and fired into them as they rushed by in a torrent of red dust. From his distorted mouth vile epithets poured; he cursed and damned their cowardice, and, standing up in his stirrups, riding like a cossack at full speed, attempted to use his sabre on the fugitives from the front. But there was no stopping them, for the poor fellows had been sent into fire ignorant how to use the carbines issued the day before.
Into a sandy field all spouting with exploding shells and bullets the drivers galloped and steered the plunging guns. The driver of the lead team, fifth caisson, was shot clear out of his saddle, all the wheels going over him and grinding him to pulp; piece and limber whirled into a lane on a dead run, and Arthur Wye, driving the swing team, clinging to the harness and crawling out along the traces, gained the saddle of the lead-horse.
"Bully for you!" shouted McDunn. "I hope to God that cowardly monkey cavalry saw you!"
The left section swung on the centre to get its position; limber after limber dashed up, clashing and clanking, to drop its gun; caisson after caisson rounded to under partial cover in the farm lane to the right.
The roar of the conflict along the river had become terrific; to the east a New Jersey battery, obscured in flame-shot clouds, was retiring by its twenty-eight-foot prolonges, using cannister; the remains of a New Hampshire infantry regiment supported the retreat; between the two batteries Claymore in his shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows, heavy revolver swinging in his blackened fist, was giving a tongue lashing to the stream of fugitives from the river woods.
"Where are you going! Hey! Scouting? Well scout to the front, damn you! . . . Where are you going, young man? For ammunition? Go back to the front or I'll shoot you! Get along there you malingerers! or, by God, I'll have a squadron of Arran's pig-stickers ride you down and punch your skins full of holes! Orderly! Ask Colonel Arran if he can spare me a squad of his lancers for a few minutes——"
The orderly saluted, coughed up a stream of blood, fell backward off his horse, scrambled to his feet, terror-stricken, both hands pressed convulsively over his stomach!
"Damn them! They've got me. General!" he gasped—"they've g-got me this time! There's a piece of shell inside me as big——"
He leaned weakly against his mild-eyed horse, nauseated; but it was only a spent ball on his belt plate after all, and a few moments later, swaying and sickly, he forced his horse into a trot across the hill.
A major of Claymore's staff galloped with orders to the Zouaves; but, as he opened his mouth to speak a shell burst behind him, and he pitched forward on his face, his shattered arm doubling under him.
"Drag me behind that tree. Colonel Craig!" he said coolly. "I'll finish my orders in a moment." Major Lent and Colonel Craig got him behind the tree; and the officer's superb will never faltered.
"Your new position must cover that bridge," he whispered faintly. "The left section of McDunn's battery is already ordered to your support. . . . How is it with you, Colonel? Speak louder——"
Colonel Craig, pallid and worn under the powder smears and sweat, wiped the glistening grime from his eye-glasses.
"We are holding on," he said. "It's all right, Major. I'll get word through to the General," and he signalled to some drummer boys lying quietly in the bushes to bring up a stretcher, just as the left section of McDunn's battery burst into view on a dead run, swung into action, and began to pour level sheets of flame into the woods, where, already, the high-pitched rebel yell was beginning again.
A solid shot struck No. 5 gun on the hub, killing Cannoneer No. 2, who was thumbing the vent, and filling No. 1 gunner with splinters of iron, whirling him into eternity amid a fountain of dirt and flying hub-tires. Then a shell blew a gun-team into fragments, plastering the men's faces with bloody shreds of flesh; and the boyish lieutenant, spitting out filth, coolly ordered up the limbers, and brought his section around into the road with a beautiful display of driving and horsemanship that drew raucous cheers from the Zouaves, where they lay, half stifled, firing at the gray line of battle gathering along the edges of the woods.
And now the shrill, startling battle cry swelled to the hysterical pack yell, and, gathering depth and volume, burst out into a frantic treble roar. A long gray line detached itself from the woods; mounted officers, sashed and debonaire, trotted jauntily out in front of it; the beautiful battle flags slanted forward; there came a superb, long, low-swinging gleam of steel; and the Southland was afoot once more, gallant, magnificent, sweeping recklessly on into the red gloom of the Northern guns.
Berkley, his face bandaged, covered with sweat and dust, sat his worn, cowhide saddle in the ranks, long lance couched, watching, expectant. Every trooper who could ride a horse was needed now; hospitals had given up their invalids; convalescents and sick men gathered bridle with shaking fingers; hollow-eyed youngsters tightened the cheek-straps of their forage caps and waited, lance in rest.
In the furious smoke below them they could see the Zouaves running about like red devils in the pit; McDunn's guns continued to pour solid columns of flame across the creek; far away to the west the unseen Union line of battle had buried itself in smoke. Through it the Southern battle flags still advanced, halted, tossed wildly, moved forward in jerks, swung to the fierce cheering, moved on haltingly, went down, up again, wavered, disappeared in the cannon fog.
Colonel Arran, his naked sabre point lowered, sat his saddle, gray and erect. The Major never stirred in his saddle; only the troop captains from time to time turned their heads as some stricken horse lashed out, or the unmistakable sound of a bullet hitting living flesh broke the intense silence of the ranks.
Hallam, at the head of his troop, stroked his handsome moustache continually, and at moments spoke angrily to his restive horse. He was beginning to have a good deal of trouble with his horse, which apparently wished to bolt, and he had just managed to drag the fretting animal back into position, when, without warning, the volunteer infantry posted on the right delivered a ragged volley, sagged back, broke, and began running. Almost on their very heels a dust-covered Confederate flying battery dropped its blackened guns and sent charge after charge ripping through them, while out of the fringing woods trotted the gray infantry, driving in skirmishers, leaping fences, brush piles, and ditches, like lean hounds on the trail.
Instantly a squadron of the Lancers trampled forward, facing to the west; but down on their unprotected flank thundered the Confederate cavalry, and from the beginning it had been too late for a counter-charge.
A whirlwind of lancers and gray riders drove madly down the slope, inextricably mixed, shooting, sabering, stabbing with tip and ferrule.
A sabre stroke severed Berkley's cheek-strap, sheering through visor and button; and he swung his lance and drove it backward into a man's face.
In the terrible confusion and tangle of men and horses he could scarcely use his lance at all, or avoid the twirling lances of his comrades, or understand what his officers were shouting. It was all a nightmare—a horror of snorting horses, panting, sweating riders, the swift downward glitter of sabre strokes, thickening like sheeted rain.
His horse's feet were now entangled in brush heaps; a crowding, cursing mass of cavalrymen floundered into a half demolished snake fence, which fell outward, rolling mounts and riders into a wet gully, where they continued fighting like wild cats in a pit.
Yelling exultantly, the bulk of Confederate riders passed through the Lancers, leaving them to the infantry to finish, and rode at the flying Federal infantry. Everywhere bayonets began to glimmer through the smoke and dust, as the disorganised squadrons rallied and galloped eastward, seeking vainly for shelter to reform.
Down in the hollow an entire troop of Lancers, fairly intact, had become entangled among the brush and young saplings, and the Confederate infantry, springing over the fence, began to bayonet them and pull them from their horses, while the half-stunned cavalrymen scattered through the bushes, riding hither and thither looking vainly for some road to lead them out of the bushy trap. They could not go back; the fence was too solid to ride down, too high to leap; the carbineers faced about, trying to make a stand, firing from their saddles; Colonel Arran, confused but cool, turned his brier-torn horse and rode forward, swinging his heavy sabre, just as Hallam and Berkley galloped up through the bushes, followed by forty or more bewildered troopers, and halted fo'r orders. But there was no way out.
Then Berkley leaned from his saddle, touched the visor of his cap, and, looking Arran straight in the eyes, said quietly:
"With your permission, sir, I think I can tear down enough of that fence to let you and the others through! May I try?"
Colonel Arran said, quietly: "No man can ride to that fence and live. Their infantry hold it."
"Two men may get there." He turned and looked at Hallam. "We're not going to surrender; we'll all die here anyway. Shall we try the fence together?"
For a second the silence resounded with the racket of the Confederate rifles; three men dropped from their saddles; then Hallam turned ghastly white, opened his jaws to speak; but no sound came. Suddenly he swung his horse, and spurred straight toward the open brush in the rear, whipping out his handkerchief and holding it fluttering above his head.
Colonel Arran shouted at him, jerked his revolver free, and fired at him. A carbineer also fired after him from the saddle, but Hallam rode on unscathed in his half-crazed night, leaving his deserted men gazing after him, astounded. In the smoke of another volley, two more cavalrymen pitched out of their saddles.
Then Berkley drove his horse blindly into the powder fog ahead; a dozen brilliant little jets of flame pricked the gloom; his horse reared, and went down in a piteous heap, but Berkley landed on all fours, crawled hurriedly up under the smoke, jerked a board loose, tore another free, rose to his knees and ripped away board after board, shouting to his comrades to come on and cut their way out.
They came, cheering, spurring their jaded horses through the gap, crowding out across the road, striking wildly with their sabres, forcing their way up the bank, into a stubble field, and forward at a stiff trot toward the swirling smoke of a Union battery behind which they could see shattered squadrons reforming.
Berkley ran with them on foot, one hand grasping a friendly stirrup, until the horse he clung to halted abruptly, quivering all over; then sank down by the buttocks with a shuddering scream. And Berkley saw Colonel Arran rising from the ground, saw him glance at his horse, turn and look behind him where the Confederate skirmishers were following on a run, kneeling to fire occasionally, then springing to their feet and trotting forward, rifles glittering in the sun.
A horse with an empty saddle, its off foreleg entangled in its bridle, was hobbling around in circles, stumbling, neighing, tripping, scrambling to its feet again, and trying frantically to go on. Berkley caught the bridle, freed it, and hanging to the terrified animal's head, shouted to Colonel Arran:
"You had better hurry, sir. Their skirmishers are coming up fast!"
Colonel Arran stood quietly gazing at him. Suddenly he reeled and stumbled forward against the horse's flank, catching at the mane.
"Are you badly hurt, sir?"
The Colonel turned his dazed eyes on him, then slid forward along the horse's flank. His hands relaxed their hold on the mane, and he fell flat on his face; and, Berkley, still hanging to the bit, dragged the prostrate man over on his back and stared into his deathly features.
"Where did they hit you, sir?"
"Through the liver," he gasped. "It's all right, Berkley. . . . Don't wait any longer——-"
"I'm not going to leave you."
"You must . . . I'm ended. . . . You haven't a—moment—to lose——"
"Can you put your arms around my neck?"
"There's no time to waste! I tell you to mount and run for it! . . . And—thank you——"
"Put both arms around my neck. . . . Quick! . . . Can you lock your fingers? . . . This damned horse won't stand! Hold fast to me. I'll raise you easily. . . . Get the other leg over the saddle. Lean forward. Now I'll walk him at first—hold tight! . . . Can you hang on, Colonel?"
A wild thrill ran through the boy's veins, stopping breath and pulse for a second. Then the hot blood rushed stinging into his face; he threw one arm around the drooping figure in the saddle, and, controlling the bridle with a grip of steel, started the horse off across the field.
All around them the dry soil was bursting into little dusty fountains where the bullets were striking; ahead, dark smoke hung heavily. Farther on some blue-capped soldiers shouted to them from their shallow rifle pits.
Farther on still they passed an entire battalion of regular infantry, calmly seated on the grass in line of battle; and behind these troops Berkley saw a stretcher on the grass and two men of the hospital corps squatted beside it, chewing grass stems.
They came readily enough when they learned the name and rank of the wounded officer. Berkley, almost exhausted, walked beside the stretcher, leading the horse and looking down at the stricken man who lay with eyes closed and clothing disordered where a hasty search for the wound had disclosed the small round blue hole just over the seat of the liver.
They turned into a road which had been terribly cut up by the wheels of artillery. It was already thronged with the debris of the battle, skulkers, wounded men hobbling, pallid malingerers edging their furtive way out of fire. Then ahead arose a terrible clamour, the wailing of wounded, frightened cries, the angry shouts of cavalrymen, where a Provost Guard of the 20th Dragoons was riding, recklessly into the fugitives, roughly sorting the goats from the sheep, and keeping the way clear for the ambulances now arriving along a cross-road at a gallop.
Berkley heard his name called out, and, looking up, saw Casson, astride a huge horse, signalling him eagerly from his saddle.
"Who in hell have you got there?" he asked, pushing his horse up to the litter. "By God, it's Colonel Arran," he added in a modified voice. "Is he very bad, Berkley?"
"I don't know. Can't you stop one of those ambulances, Jack? I want to get him to the surgeons as soon as possible——"
"You bet!" said Casson, wheeling his horse and displaying the new chevrons of a sergeant. "Hey, you black offspring of a yellow whippet!" he bellowed to a driver, "back out there and be damn quick about it!" And he leaned from his saddle, and seizing the leaders by the head, swung them around with a volley of profanity. Then, grinning amiably at Berkley, he motioned the stretcher bearers forward and sat on his horse, garrulously superintending the transfer of the injured man.
"There's an emergency hospital just beyond that clump of trees," he said. "You'd better take him there. Golly! but he's hard hit. I guess that bullet found its billet. There's not much hope when it's a belly-whopper. Too bad, ain't it? He was a bully old boy of a colonel; we all said so in the dragoons. Only—to hell with those lances of yours, Berkley! What cursed good are they alongside a gun? And I notice your regiment has its carbineers, too—which proves that your lances are no good or you wouldn't have twelve carbines to the troop. Eh? Oh, you bet your boots, sonny. Don't talk lance to me! It's all on account of those Frenchmen on Little Mac's staff——"
"For God's sake shut up!" said Berkley nervously. "I can't stand any more just now."
"Oh!" said Casson, taken aback, "I didn't know you were such cronies with your Colonel. Sorry, my dear fellow; didn't mean to seem indifferent. Poor old gentleman. I guess he will pull through. There are nurses at the front—nice little things. God bless 'em! Say, don't you want to climb up with the driver?"
Berkley hesitated. "Do you know where my regiment is? I ought to go back—if there's anybody to look after Colonel Arran——"
"Is that your horse?"
"No—some staff officer's, I guess."
"Dead," said Berkley briefly. He thought a moment, then tied his horse to the tail-board and climbed up beside the driver.
"Go on," he said; "drive carefully", and he nodded his thanks to Casson as the team swung north.
The Provost Guard, filing along, carbines on thigh, opened to let him through; and he saw them turning in their saddles to peer curiously into the straw as the ambulance passed.
It was slow going, for the road was blocked with artillery and infantry and other ambulances, but the driver found a lane between guns and caissons and through the dusty blue columns plodding forward toward the firing line; and at last a white hospital tent glimmered under the trees, and the slow mule team turned into a leafy lane and halted in the rear of a line of ambulances which were all busily discharging their mangled burdens. The cries of the wounded were terrible.
Operating tables stood under the trees in the open air; assistants sponged the blood from them continually; the overworked surgeons, stripped to their undershirts, smeared with blood, worked coolly and rapidly in the shade of the oak-trees, seldom raising their voices, never impatient. Orderlies brought water in artillery buckets; ward-masters passed swiftly to and fro; a soldier stood by a pile of severed limbs passing out bandages to assistants who swarmed around, scurrying hither and thither under the quiet orders of the medical directors.
A stretcher was brought; Colonel Arran opened his heavy lids as they placed him in it. His eyes summoned Berkley.
"It's all right," he said in the ghost of a voice. "Whichever way it turns put, it's all right. . . I've tried to live lawfully. . . . It is better to live mercifully. I think—she—would forgive. . . . Will you?"
He bent and took the wounded man's hand, in his.
"If I knew—if I knew—" he said, and his burning eyes searched the bloodless face beneath him.
"God?" he whispered—"if it were true——"
A surgeon shouldered him aside, glanced sharply at the patient, motioned the bearers forward.
Berkley sat down by the roadside, bridle in hand, head bowed in his arms. Beside him his horse fed quietly on the weeds. In his ears rang the cries of the wounded; all around him he was conscious of people passing to and fro; and he sat there, face covered, deadly tired, already exhausted to a stolidity that verged on stupor.
He must have slept, too, because when he sat up and opened his eyes again it was nearly sundown, and somebody had stolen his horse.
A zouave with a badly sprained ankle, lying on a blanket near him, offered him bread and meat that stank; and Berkley ate it, striving to collect his deadened thoughts. After he had eaten he filled the zouave's canteen at a little rivulet where hundreds of soldiers were kneeling to drink or dip up the cool, clear water.
"What's your reg'ment, friend?" asked the man.
"Eighth New York Lancers."
"Lord A'mighty! You boys did get cut up some, didn't you?"
"I guess so. Are you Colonel Craig's regiment?"
"Yes. We got it, too. Holy Mother—we got it f'r fair!"
"Is your Colonel all right?"
"Yes. Steve—his son—corporal, 10th Company—was hit."
"Yes, sir. Plumb through the collar-bone. He was one of the first to get it. I was turrible sorry for his father—fine old boy!—and he looked like he'd drop dead hisself—but, by gosh, friend, when the stretcher took Steve to the rear the old man jest sot them clean-cut jaws o' his'n, an' kep' his gold-wired gig-lamps to the front. An' when the time come, he sez in his ca'm, pleasant way: 'Boys,' sez he, 'we're agoin' in. It's a part of the job,' sez he, 'that has got to be done thorough. So,' sez he, 'we'll jest mosey along kind o' quick steppin' now, and we'll do our part like we al'us does do it. For'rd—mar-r-rch!'"
Berkley sat still, hands clasped over his knees, thinking of Stephen, and of Celia, and of the father out yonder somewhere amid the smoke.
"Gawd," said the zouave, "you got a dirty jab on your cocanut, didn't you?"
The bandage had slipped, displaying the black scab of the scarcely healed wound; and Berkley absently replaced it.
"That'll ketch the girls," observed the zouave with conviction. "Damn it, I've only got a sprained ankle to show my girl."
"The war's not over," said Berkley indifferently. Then he got up, painfully, from the grass, exchanged adieux with the zouave, and wandered off toward the hospital to seek for news of Colonel Arran.
It appeared that the surgeons had operated, and had sent the Colonel a mile farther to the rear, where a temporary hospital had been established in a young ladies' seminary. And toward this Berkley set out across the fields, the sound of the battle dinning heavily in his aching cars.
As he walked he kept a sullen eye out for his stolen horse, never expecting to see him, and it was with a savage mixture of surprise and satisfaction that he beheld him, bestridden by two dirty malingerers from a New York infantry regiment who rode on the snaffle with difficulty and objurgations and reproached each other for their mutual discomfort.
How they had escaped the Provost he did not know; how they escaped absolute annihilation they did not comprehend; for Berkley seized the bridle, swung the horse sharply, turning them both out of the saddle; then, delivering a swift kick apiece, as they lay cursing, he mounted and rode forward amid enthusiastic approval from the drivers of passing army waggons.
Long since the towering smoke in the west had veiled the sun; and now the sky had become gray and thick, and already a fine drizzling rain was falling, turning the red dust to grease.
Slipping, floundering, his horse bore him on under darkening skies; rain fell heavily now; he bared his hot head to it; raised his face, masked with grime, and let the drops fall on the dark scar that burned under the shifting bandage.
In the gathering gloom eastward he saw the horizon redden and darken and redden with the cannon flashes; the immense battle rumour filled his ears and brain, throbbing, throbbing.
"Which way, friend?" demanded a patrol, carelessly throwing his horse across Berkley's path.
"Orderly to Colonel Arran, 8th New York Lancers, wounded. Is that the hospital, yonder?"
"Them school buildin's," nodded the patrol. "Say, is your colonel very bad? I'm 20th New York, doin' provost. We seen you fellers at White Oak. Jesus! what a wallop they did give us——"
He broke off grimly, turned his horse, and rode out into a soggy field where some men were dodging behind a row of shaggy hedge bushes. And far behind Berkley heard his loud, bullying voice:
"Git! you duck-legged, egg-suckin', skunk-backed loafers! Go on, there! Aw, don't yer talk back to me 'r I'll let m' horse bite yer pants off! Back yer go! Forrard! Hump! Hump! Scoot!"
Through the heavily falling rain he saw the lighted school buildings looming among the trees; turned into the drive, accounted for himself, gave his horse to a negro with orders to care for it, and followed a ward-master into an open-faced shed where a kettle was boiling over a sheet-iron stove.
The ward-master returned presently, threading his way through a mass of parked ambulances to the shed where Berkley sat on a broken cracker box.
"Colonel Arran is very low. I guess you'd better not bother him to-night."
"Is he—mortally hurt?"
"I've seen worse."
"He may get well?"
"I've seen 'em get well," said the non-committal ward-master. Then, looking Berkley over: "You're pretty dirty, ain't you? Are you—" he raised his eyebrows significantly.
"I'm clean," said Berkley with the indifference habituated to filth.
"All right. They'll fix you up a cot somewhere. If Colonel Arran comes out all right I'll call you. He's full of opium now."
"Did they get the bullet?"
"Oh, yes. I ain't a surgeon, my friend, but I hear a lot of surgeon talk. It's the shock—in a man of his age. The wound's clean, so far—not a thread in it, I hear. Shock—and gangrene—that's what we look out for. . . . What's the news down by the river?"
"I don't know," said Berkley.
"Don't you know if you got licked?"
"I don't think we did. You'd hear the firing out here much plainer."
"You're the 8th Cavalry, ain't you?"
"They say you got cut up."
"And how about the Zouaves?"
"Oh, they're there yet," said Berkley listlessly. Fatigue was overpowering him; he was aware, presently, that a negro, carrying a lantern, was guiding his stumbling steps into a small building where, amid piles of boxes, an army cot stood covered by a blanket. Berkley gave him a crumpled mess of paper money, and he almost expired.
Later the same negro rolled a wooden tub into the room, half filled it with steaming water, and stood in profound admiration of his work, grinning at Berkley.
"Is you-all gwine bresh up, suh?" he inquired.
Berkley straightened his shoulders with an effort, unbuckled his belt, and slowly began to take off his wet uniform.
The negro aided him respectfully; that wet wad of dollars had done its work profoundly.
"Yo' is de adjetant ob dis here Gin'ral ob de Lancers, suh? De po' ole Gin'ral! He done git shot dreffle bad, suh. . . . Jess you lay on de flo', suh, t'will I gits yo' boots off'n yo' laigs! Dar! Now jess set down in de tub, suh. I gwine scrub you wif de saddle-soap—Lor', Gord-a-mighty! Who done bang you on de haid dat-a-way?"—scrubbing vigorously with the saddle-soap all the while. "Spec' you is lame an' so' all over, is you? Now I'se gwine rub you haid, suh; an' now I'se gwine dry you haid." He chuckled and rubbed and manipulated, yet became tender as a woman in drying the clipped hair and the scarred temple. And, before Berkley was aware of what he was about, the negro lifted him and laid him on the cot.
"Now," he chuckled, "I'se gwine shave you." And he fished out a razor from the rear pocket of his striped drill overalls, rubbed the weapon of his race with a proud thumb, spread more soap over Berkley's upturned face, and fell deftly to work, wiping off the accumulated lather on the seat of his own trousers.
Berkley remembered seeing him do it twice; then remembered no more. A blessed sense of rest soothed every bone; in the heavenly stillness and surcease from noise he drifted gently into slumber, into a deep dreamless sleep.
The old negro looked at him, aged face wrinkled in compassion.
"Po' li'l sodger boy," he muttered. "Done gib me fo' dollahs. Lor' Gor' a'mighty! Spec' Mars Linkum's men is all richer'n ole Miss."
He cast another glance at the sleeping man, then picked up the worn, muddy boots, threw the soiled jacket and breeches over his arm, and shuffled off, shaking his grizzled head.
It was still dark when he awoke with a violent start, dreaming of loud trumpets, and found himself sitting upright on his cot, staring into obscurity.
Outside on the veranda a multitude of heavy steps echoed and re-echoed over the creaking boards; spurs clinked, sabres dragged and clanked; a man's harsh, nasal voice sounded irritably at intervals:
"We're not an army—we're not yet an army; that's what's the matter. You can't erect an army by uniforming and drilling a few hundred thousand clerks and farmers. You can't manufacture an army by brigading regiments—by creating divisions and forming army corps. There is only one thing on God's long-enduring earth that can transform this mob of State troops into a National army—discipline!—and that takes time; and we've got to take it and let experience kick us out of one battle into another. And some day we'll wake up to find ourselves a real army, with real departments, really controlled and in actual and practical working order. Now it's every department for itself and God help General McClellan! He has my sympathy! He has a dirty job on his hands half done, and they won't let him finish it!"
And again the same impatient voice broke out contemptuously:
"War? These two years haven't been two years of war! They've been two years of a noisy, gaudy, rough and tumble! Bull Run was opera bouffe! The rest of it has been one fantastic and bloody carnival! Did anybody ever before see such a grandmother's rag bag of uniforms in an American army! What in hell do we want of zouaves in French uniforms, cavalry, armed with Austrian lances, ridiculous rocket-batteries, Polish riders, Hungarian hussars, grenadiers, mounted rifles, militia and volunteers in every garb, carrying every arm ever created by foreign armourers and military tailors! . . . But I rather guess that the fancy-dress-ball era is just about over. I've a notion that we're coming down to the old-fashioned army blue again. And the sooner the better. I want no more red fezzes and breeches in my commands for the enemy to blaze at a mile away! I want no more picturesque lances. I want plain blue pants and Springfield rifles, by God! And I guess I'll get them, if I make noise enough in North America!"
Who this impassioned military critic was, shouting opinions to the sky, Berkley never learned; for presently there was a great jingling and clatter and trample of horses brought around, and the officers, whoever they were, mounted and departed as they had arrived, in darkness, leaving Berkley on his cot in the storehouse to stretch his limbs, and yawn and stretch again, and draw the warm folds of the blanket closer, and lie blinking at the dark, through which, now, a bird had begun to twitter a sweet, fitful salute to the coming dawn.
Across the foot of his couch lay folded an invalid's red hospital wrapper; beside his bed stood the slippers. After a few moments he rose, stepped into the slippers, and, drawing on the woolen robe, belted it in about his thin waist. Then he limped out to the veranda.
In the dusk the bird sang timidly. Berkley could just make out the outlines of the nearer buildings, and of tall trees around. Here and there lights burned behind closed windows; but, except for these, the world was black and still; stiller for the deadened stamping of horses in distant unseen stalls.
An unmistakable taint of the hospital hung in the fresh morning air—a vague hint of anaesthetics, of cooking—the flat odour of sickness and open wounds.
Lanterns passed in the darkness toward the stables; unseen shapes moved hither and thither, their footsteps sharply audible. He listened and peered about him for a while, then went back to the store-room, picked his way among the medical supplies, and sat down on the edge of his bed.
A few moments later he became aware of somebody moving on the veranda, and of a light outside; heard his door open, lifted his dazzled eyes in the candle rays.
"Are you here, Philip?" came a quiet, tired voice. "You must wake, now, and dress. Colonel Arran is conscious and wishes to see you."
"Ailsa! Good God!"
She stood looking at him placidly, the burning candle steady in her hand, her; face very white and thin.
He had risen, standing there motionless in his belted invalid's robe with the stencilled S. C. on the shoulder. And now he would have gone to her, hands outstretched, haggard face joyously illumined; but she stepped back with a swift gesture that halted him; and in her calm, unfriendly gaze he hesitated, bewildered, doubting his senses.
"Ailsa, dear, is anything wrong?"
"I think," she said quietly, "that we had better not let Colonel Arran see how wrong matters have gone between us. He is very badly hurt. I have talked a little with him. I came here because he asked for you and for no other reason."
"Did you know I was here?"
"I saw you arrive last night—from the infirmary window. . . . I hope your wound is healed," she added in a strained voice.