"Ailsa! What has happened?"
She shuddered slightly, looked at, him without a shadow of expression.
"Let us understand one another now. I haven't the slightest atom of—regard—left for you. I have no desire to see you, to hear of you again while I am alive. That is final."
"Will you tell me why?"
She had turned to go; now she hesitated, silent, irresolute.
"Will you tell me, Ailsa?"
She said, wearily: "If you insist, I can make it plainer, some time. But this is not the time. . . And you had better not ask me at all, Philip."
"I do ask you."
"I warn you to accept your dismissal without seeking an explanation. It would spare—us both."
"I will spare neither of us. What has changed you?"
"I shall choose my own convenience to answer you," she replied haughtily.
"Choose it, then, and tell me when to expect your explanation."
"When I send for you; not before."
"Are you going to let me go away with that for my answer?"
He hooked his thumbs in his girdle and looked down, considering; then, quietly raising his head:
"I don't know what you have found out—what has been told you. I have done plenty of things in my life unworthy of you, but I thought you knew that."
"I know it now."
"You knew it before. I never attempted to conceal anything."
A sudden blue glimmer made her eyes brilliant. "That is a falsehood!" she said deliberately. The colour faded from his cheeks, then he said with ashy composure:
"I lie much less than the average man, Ailsa. It is nothing to boast of, but it happens to be true. I don't lie."
"You keep silent and act a lie!"
He reflected for a moment; then:
"Hadn't you better tell me?"
Then his colour returned, surging, making the scar on his face hideous; he turned, walked to the window, and stood looking into the darkness while the departing glimmer of her candle faded on the wall behind him.
Presently, scraping, ducking, chuckling, the old darky appeared with his boots and uniform, everything dry and fairly clean; and he dressed by lantern light, buckled his belt, drew on his gloves, settled his forage cap, and followed the old man out into the graying dawn.
They gave him some fresh light bread and a basin of coffee; he finished and waited, teeth biting the stem of his empty pipe for which he had no tobacco.
Surgeons, assistant surgeons, contract physicians, ward-masters, nurses, passed and re-passed; stretchers filed into the dead house; coffins were being unloaded and piled under a shed; a constant stream of people entered and left the apothecary's office; the Division Medical Director's premises were besieged. Ambulances continually drove up or departed; files of sick and wounded, able to move without assistance, stood in line, patient, uncomplaining men, bloody, ragged, coughing, burning with fever, weakened for lack of nourishment; many crusted with filth and sometimes with vermin, humbly awaiting the disposition of their battered, half-dead bodies. . . .
The incipient stages of many diseases were plainly apparent among them. Man after man was placed on a stretcher, and hurried off to the contagious wards; some were turned away and directed to other hospitals, and they went without protest, dragging their gaunt legs, even attempting some feeble jest as they passed their wretched comrades whose turns had not yet come.
Presently a hospital servant came and took Berkley away to another building. The wards were where the schoolrooms had been. Blackboards still decorated the wall; a half-erased exercise in Latin remained plainly visible over the rows of cots.
Ailsa and the apothecary stood together in low-voiced conversation by a window. She merely raised her eyes when Berkley entered; then, without giving him a second glance, continued her conversation.
In the heavy, ether-laden atmosphere flies swarmed horribly, and men detailed as nurses from regimental companies were fanning them from helpless patients. A civilian physician, coming down the aisle, exchanged a few words with the ward-master and then turned to Berkley.
"You are trooper Ormond, orderly to Colonel Arran?"
"Colonel Arran desires you to remain here at his orders for the present."
"Is Colonel Arran likely to recover, doctor?"
"He is in no immediate danger."
"May I see him?"
"Certainly. He sent for you. Step this way."
They entered another and much smaller ward in which there were very few cots, and from which many of the flies had been driven.
Colonel Arran lay very white and still on his cot; only his eyes turned as Berkley came up and stood at salute.
"Sit down," he said feebly. And, after a long silence:
"Berkley, the world seems to be coming right. I am grateful that I—lie here—with you beside me."
Berkley's throat closed; he could not speak; nor did he know what he might have said could he have spoken, for within him all had seemed to crash softly into chaos, and he had no mind, no will, no vigour, only a confused understanding of emotion and pain, and a fierce longing.
Colonel Arran's sunken eyes never left his, watching, wistful, patient. And at last the boy bent forward and rested his elbows on his knees and dropped his face in both hands. Time ebbed away in silence; there was no sound in the ward save the blue flies' buzz or the slight movement of some wounded man easing his tortured body.
The boy lifted his face from his hands.
"Can you forgive me?"
"Yes, I have. . . . There was only one thing to forgive. I don't count—myself."
"I count it—bitterly."
"You need not. . . . It was only—my mother——"
"I know, my boy. The blade of justice is double-edged. No mortal can wield it safely; only He who forged it. . . . I have never ceased to love—your mother."
Berkley's face became ashen.
Colonel Arran said: "Is there punishment more terrible than that for any man?"
Presently Berkley drew his chair closer.
"I wish you to know how mother died," he said simply. "It is your right to know. . . . Because, there will come a time when she and—you will be together again . . . if you believe such things."
For a while the murmur of Berkley's voice alone broke the silence. Colonel Arran lay with eyes closed, a slight flush on his sunken cheeks; and, before long, Berkley's hand lay over his and remained there.
The brilliant, ominous flies whirled overhead or drove headlong against the window-panes, falling on their backs to kick and buzz and scramble over the sill; slippered attendants moved softly along the aisle with medicines; once the ward-master came and looked down at Colonel Arran, touched the skin of his face, his pulse, and walked noiselessly away. Berkley's story had already ended.
After a while he said: "If you will get well—whatever I am—we two men have in common a memory that can never die. If there were nothing else—God knows whether there is—that memory is enough, to make us live at peace with one another. . . . I do not entirely understand how it is with me, but I know that some things have been washed out of my heart—leaving little of the bitterness—nothing now of anger. It has all been too sad for such things—a tragedy too deep for the lesser passions to meddle with. . . . Let us forgive each other. . . . She will know it, somehow."
Their hands slowly closed together and remained.
"Ailsa is here."
"Will you say to her that I would like to see her?"
For a moment Berkley hesitated, then rose quietly and walked into the adjoining ward.
Ailsa was bending over a sick man, fanning away the flies that clustered around the edge of the bowl from which he was drinking. And Berkley waited until the patient had finished the broth.
"Ailsa, may I speak to you a moment?"
She had been aware of his entrance, and was not startled. She handed the bowl and fan to an attendant, turned leisurely, and came out into the aisle.
"What is it?"
"Colonel Arran wishes to see you. Can you come?"
She led the way; and as she walked he noticed that all the lithe grace, all the youth and spring to her step had vanished. She moved wearily; her body under the gray garb was thin; blue veins showed faintly in temple and wrist; only her superb hair and eyes had suffered no change.
Colonel Arran's eyes opened as she stooped at his bedside and laid her lips lightly on his forehead.
"Is there another chair?" he asked wearily.
Ailsa's glance just rested on Berkley, measuring him in expressionless disdain. Then, as he brought another chair, she seated herself.
"You, too, Philip," murmured the wounded man.
Ailsa's violet eyes opened in surprise at the implied intimacy between these men whom she had vaguely understood were anything but friends. But she remained coldly aloof, controlling even a shiver of astonishment when Colonel Arran's hand, which held hers, groped also for Berkley's, and found it.
Then with an effort he turned his head and looked at them.
"I have long known that you loved each other," he whispered. "It is a happiness that God sends me as well as you. If it be His will that I—do not recover, this makes it easy for me. If He wills it that I live, then, in His infinite mercy, He also gives me the reason for living."
Icy cold, Ailsa's hand lay there, limply touching Berkley's; the sick man's eyes were upon them.
"My watch is hanging from a nail on the wall. There is a chamois bag hanging with it. Give—it—to me."
And when it lay in his hand he picked at the string, forced it open, drew out a key, and laid it in Berkley's hand with a faint smile.
"You remember, Philip?"
The wounded man looked at Ailsa wistfully.
"It is the key to my house, dear. One day, please God, you and Philip will live there." . . . He closed his eyes, groping for both their hands, and retaining them, lay silent as though asleep.
Berkley's palm burned against hers; she never stirred, never moved a muscle, sitting there as though turned to stone. But when the wounded man's frail grasp relaxed, cautiously, silently, she freed her fingers, rose, looked down, listening to his breathing, then, without a glance at Berkley, moved quietly toward the door.
He was behind her a second later, and she turned to confront him in the corridor lighted by a single window.
"Will you tell me what has changed you?" he said.
"Something which that ghastly farce cannot influence!" she said, hot faced, eyes brilliant with anger. "I loved Colonel Arran enough to endure it—endure your touch—which shames—defiles—which—which outrages every instinct in me!"
Breathless, scornful, she drew back, still facing him.
"The part you have played in my life!" she said bitterly—"think it over. Remember what you have been toward me from the first—a living insult! And when you remember—all—remember that in spite of all I—I loved you—stood before you in the rags of my pride—all that you had left me to clothe myself!—stood upright, unashamed, and acknowledged that I loved you!"
She made a hopeless gesture.
"Oh, you had all there was of my heart! I gave it; I laid it beside my pride, under your feet. God knows what madness was upon me—and you had flung my innocence into my face! And you had held me in your embrace, and looked me in the eyes, and said you would not marry me. And I still loved you!"
Her hands flew to her breast, higher, clasped against the full, white throat.
"Now, have I not dragged my very soul naked under your eyes? Have I not confessed enough. What more do you want of me before you consent to keep your distance and trouble me no more?"
"I want to know what has angered you against me," he said quietly.
She set her teeth and stared at him, with beautiful resolute eyes.
"Before I answer that," she said, "I demand to know why you refused to marry me."
"I cannot tell you, Ailsa."
In a white rage she whispered:
"No, you dare not tell me!—you coward! I had to learn the degrading reason from others!"
He grew deathly white, caught her arms in a grasp of steel, held her twisting wrists imprisoned.
"Do you know what you are saying?" he stammered.
"Yes, I know! Your cruelty—your shame——"
"Be silent!" he said between his teeth. "My shame is my pride! Do you understand!"
Outraged, quivering all over, she twisted out of his grasp.
"Then go to her!" she whispered. "Why don't you go to her?"
And, as his angry eyes became blank:
"Don't you understand? She is there—just across the road!" She flung open the window and pointed with shaking anger.
"Didn't anybody tell you she is there? Then I'll tell you. Now go to her! You are—worthy—of one another!"
"Of whom are you speaking—in God's name!" he breathed.
Panting, flushed, flat against the wall, she looked back out of eyes that had become dark and wide, fumbling in the bosom of her gray garb. And, just where the scarlet heart was stitched across her breast, she drew out a letter, and, her fascinated gaze still fixed on him, extended her arm.
He took the crumpled sheets from her in a dazed sort of way, but did not look at them.
"Who is there—across the road?" he repeated stupidly.
But she suddenly turned and slipped swiftly past him, leaving him there in the corridor by the open window, holding the letter in his hand.
For a while he remained there, leaning against the wall. Sounds from the other ward came indistinctly—a stifled cry, a deep groan, the hurried tread of feet, the opening or closing of windows. Once a dreadful scream rang out from a neighbouring ward, where a man had suddenly gone insane; and he could hear the sounds of the struggle, the startled orders, the shrieks, the crash of a cot; then the dreadful uproar grew fainter, receding. He roused himself, passed an unsteady hand across his eyes, looked blindly at the letter, saw only a white blurr, and, crushing it in his clenched fist, he went down the kitchen stairs and out across the road.
A hospital guard stopped him, but on learning who he was and that he had business with Miss Lynden, directed him toward a low, one-storied, stone structure, where, under the trees, a figure wrapped in a shawl lay asleep in a chair.
"She's been on duty all night," observed the guard. "If you've got to speak to her, go ahead."
"Yes," said Berkley in a dull voice, "I've got to speak to her." And he walked toward her across the dead brown grass.
Letty's head lay on a rough pine table; her slim body, supported by a broken chair, was covered by a faded shawl; and, as he looked down at her, somehow into his memory came the recollection of the first time he ever saw her so—asleep in Casson's rooms, her childish face on the table, the room reeking with tobacco smoke and the stale odour of wine and dying flowers.
He stood for a long while beside her, looking down at the thin, pale face. Then, in pity, he turned away; and at the same moment she stirred, sat up, confused, and saw him.
"Letty, dear," he said, coming back, both hands held out to her, "I did not mean to rob you of your sleep."
"Oh—it doesn't matter! I am so glad—" She sat up suddenly, staring at him. The next moment the tears rushed to her eyes.
"O—h," she whispered, "I wished so to see you. I am so thankful you are here. There is—there has been such—a terrible change—something has happened——"
She rose unsteadily; laid her trembling hand on his arm.
"I don't know what it is," she said piteously, "but Ailsa—something dreadful has angered her against me——"
"Oh, yes. I don't know all of it; I know—partly."
Sleep and fatigue still confused her mind; she pressed both frail hands to her eyes, her forehead:
"It was the day I returned from seeing you at Paigecourt. . . . I was deadly tired when the ambulance drove into Azalea; and when it arrived here I had fallen asleep. . . . I woke up when it stopped. Ailsa was sitting here—in this same chair, I think—and I remember as I sat up in the ambulance that an officer was just leaving her—Captain Hallam."
She looked piteously at Berkley.
"He was one of the men I have avoided. Do you understand?"
"No. . . . Was he——"
"Yes, he often came to the—Canterbury. He had never spoken to me there, but Ione Carew knew him; and I was certain he would recognise me. . . . I thought I had succeeded in avoiding him, but he must have seen me when I was not conscious of his presence—he must have recognised me."
She looked down at her worn shoes; the tears fell silently; she smoothed her gray gown for lack of employment for her restless hands.
"Dear," he said, "do you believe he went to Ailsa with his story about you?"
"Oh, yes, yes, I am sure. What else could it be that has angered her—that drives me away from her—that burns me with the dreadful gaze she turns on me—chills me with her more dreadful silence? . . . Why did he do it? I don't know—oh, I don't know. . . . Because I had never even spoken to him—in those days that I have tried so hard—so hard to forget——"
He said slowly: "He is a coward. I have known that for a long time. But most men are. The disgrace lies in acting like one. . . And I—that is why I didn't run in battle. . . . Because, that first day, when they fired on our waggons, I saw him riding in the road behind us. Nobody else suspected him to be within miles. I saw him. And—he galloped the wrong way. And that is why I—did what I did! He shocked me into doing it. . . . But I never before have told a soul. I would not tell even you—but the man, yesterday, put himself beyond the pale. And it can make no difference now, for he carries the mark into his grave."
He shuddered slightly. "God forbid I hold him up to scorn. I might, this very moment, be what he is now. No man may know—no man can foretell how he will bear himself in time of stress. I have a sorry record of my own. Battle is not the only conflict that makes men or cowards."
He stood silent, gazing into space. Letty's tears dried as she watched him.
"Have you seen—her?" she asked tremulously.
The girl sighed and looked down.
"I am so sorry about Colonel Arran . . . . I believe, somehow, he will get well."
"Do you really believe it, Letty?"
"Yes. The wound is clean. I have seen many recover who were far more dangerously hurt. . . . His age is against him, but I do truly believe he will get well."
He thought a moment. "Have you heard about Stephen Craig?"
"They have telegraphed to his affianced—a Miss Lent. You probably know her. Her brother was killed a day or two ago. Poor little thing! I believe that Miss Lent is coming. Mrs. Craig wishes to take her boy North as soon as he can be moved. And, unless the wound becomes infected, I don't believe he is going to die."
"Where is he?"
"At Paigecourt. Many transports are waiting at the landing. . . . They say that there was another severe engagement near there yesterday, and that our army is victorious. I have heard, also, that we were driven in, and that your regiment lost a great many men and horses . . . I don't know which is true," she added, listlessly picking at her frayed gown; "only, as we haven't heard the guns to-day, it seems to me that if we had lost the battle we'd have Confederate cannon thundering all around us."
"That seems reasonable," he admitted absently. . . . "Is Dr. Benton here still?"
"No," she said softly.
"Where is he?"
"At Paigecourt. I asked him to go because he is the best doctor I ever knew. He came down here to see me; he is not detailed for duty under contract. I asked him to go and see Stephen Craig. He grumbled—and went."
She looked up shyly at Berkley, smiled for the first time, then her pale young face grew beautiful and solemn.
"You dear girl," he said impulsively, taking both her hands and kissing them. "I am so glad for you—and for him. I knew it would come true."
"Yes. But I had to tell him—I started to tell him—and—oh, would you believe how splendid he is! He knew already! He stopped me short—and I never can forget the look in his face. And he said: 'Child—child! You can tell me nothing I am not already aware of. And I am aware of nothing except your goodness.'"
"I thought I knew Phineas Benton," said Berkley, warmly. "He was too upright a character for me to enjoy with any comfort—a few years back. . . . I'm trying harder than you ever had to, Letty. You always desired to be decent; I didn't." He shook both her hands heartily.
"You deserve every atom of your happiness, you dear, sweet girl! I only wish you were safely out of here and back in the North!"
Letty began to cry softly:
"Forgive me, please; I'm not naturally as tearful as this. I am just tired. I've done too much—seen too much—and it hasn't hardened me; it has made me like a silly child, ready to sniffle at anything."
Berkley laughed gently.
"Why are you crying now, Letty?"
"B-because they have offered me a furlough. I didn't apply. But Dr. Benton has made me take it. And it almost kills me to go North and leave Ailsa—alone—and so strangely changed toward me——"
She straightened her shoulders resolutely; brushed the tears from her lashes; strove to smile at him.
"Shall we walk a little? I am not on duty, you know; and I've had enough sleep. There's such a pretty lane along the creek behind the chapel. . . . What are you doing here, anyway? I suppose you are acting orderly to poor Colonel Arran? How splendidly the Lancers have behaved! . . . And those darling Zouaves!—oh, we are just bursting with pride over our Zou-zous——"
They had turned away together, walking slowly through the grove toward a little cart road deep in golden seeded grass which wound down a hollow all moist with ferns and brambles and young trees in heavy leaf.
Her hand, unconsciously, had sought his nestling into it with a confidence that touched him; her pale, happy face turned continually to meet his as she chatted innocently of the things which went to make up the days of life for her, never conscious of herself, or that the artless chatter disclosed anything admirable in her own character. She prattled on at random, sometimes naive, sometimes wistful, sometimes faintly humourous—a brave, clean spirit that was content to take the consequence of duty done—a tender, gentle soul, undeformed amid the sordid horrors that hardened or crippled souls less innocent.
Calm, resourceful, patient, undismayed amid conditions that sickened mature experience to the verge of despair, she went about her business day after day, meeting all requisitions upon her slender endurance without faltering, without even supposing there was anything unusual or praiseworthy in what she did.
She was only one of many women who did full duty through the darkest days the nation ever knew—saints in homespun, martyrs uncanonised save in the hearts of the stricken.
There was a small wooden foot-bridge spanning the brook, with a rough seat nailed against the rail.
"One of my convalescents made it for me," she said proudly. "He could use only one arm, and he had such a hard time sawing and hammering! and the foolish boy wouldn't let anybody help him."
She seated herself in the cool shade of a water oak, retaining his hand in hers and making room for him beside her.
"I wonder," she said, "if you know how good you have been to me. You changed all my life. Do you realise it?"
"You changed it yourself, Letty."
She sighed, leaned back, dreamy eyed, watching the sun spots glow and wane on the weather-beaten footbridge.
"In war time—here in the wards—men seem gentler to women—kinder—than in times of peace. I have stood beside many thousands; not one has been unkind—lacking in deference. . . ." A slight smile grew on her lips; she coloured a little, looked up at Berkley, humorously.
"It would surprise you to know how many have asked me to marry them. . . . Such funny boys. . . . I scolded some of them and made them write immediately to their sweethearts. . . . The older men were more difficult to manage—men from the West—such fine, simple-natured fellows—just sick and lonely enough to fall in love with any woman who fanned them and brought them lemonade. . . . I loved them all dearly. They have been very sweet to me. . . . Men are good. . . . If a woman desires it. . . . The world is so full of people who don't mean to do wrong."
She bent her head, considering, lost in the retrospection of her naive philosophy.
Berkley, secretly amused, was aware of several cadaverous convalescents haunting the bushes above, dodging the eyes of this pretty nurse whom one and all adored, and whom they now beheld, with jealous misgivings, in intimate and unwarrantable tete-a-tete with a common and disgustingly healthy cavalryman.
Then his weather-tanned features grew serious.
The sunny moments slipped away as the sunlit waters slipped under the bridge; a bird or two, shy and songless in their moulting fever, came to the stream to drink, looking up, bright eyed, at the two who sat there in the mid-day silence. One, a cardinal, ruffled his crimson crest, startled, as Berkley moved slightly.
"The Red Birds," he said, half aloud. "To me they are the sweetest singers of all. I remember them as a child, Letty."
After a while Letty rose; her thin hand lingered, on his shoulder as she stood beside him, and he got to his feet and adjusted belt and sabre.
"I love to be with you," she said wistfully. "It's only because I do need a little more sleep that I am going back."
"Of course," he nodded. And they retraced their steps together.
He left her at the door of the quaint, one-storied stone building where, she explained, she had a cot.
"You will come to see me again before you go back to your regiment, won't you?" she pleaded, keeping one hand in both of hers.
"Of course I will. Try to get some sleep, Letty. You're tremendously pretty when you've had plenty of sleep."
They both laughed; then she went indoors and he turned away across the road, under the windows of the ward where Ailsa was on duty, and so around to his store-room dwelling-place, where he sat down on the cot amid the piles of boxes and drew from his pocket the crumpled sheets of the letter that Ailsa had given him.
The handwriting seemed vaguely familiar to him; he glanced curiously down the page; his eyes became riveted; he reddened to the roots of his hair; then he deliberately began at the beginning, reading very carefully.
The letter had been written several weeks ago; it was dated, and signed with Hallam's name:
"MY DEAR MRS. PAIGE:
"Only my solemn sense of duty to all pure womanhood enables me to indite these lines to you; and, by so doing, to invite, nay, to encourage a cruel misunderstanding of my sincerest motives.
"But my letter is not dictated by malice or inspired by the natural chagrin which animates a man of spirit when he reflects upon the undeserved humiliation which he has endured from her who was once dearer to him than life itself. Mine is a nature susceptible and sensitive, yet, I natter myself, incapable of harbouring sentiments unworthy of a gentleman and a soldier.
"To forgive, to condone, is always commendable in man; but, madam, there is a higher duty men owe to womanhood—to chaste and trusting womanhood, incapable of defending itself from the wiles and schemes which ever are waiting to ensnare it.
"It is for this reason, and for this reason alone, that, my suspicions fully aroused, I have been at some pains to verify them. A heart conscious of its moral rectitude does not flinch from the duty before it or from the pain which, unfortunately, the execution of that duty so often inflicts upon the innocent.
"Believe me, dear Mrs. Paige, it is a sad task that lies before me. Woman is frail and weak by nature. Man's noblest aspiration can attain no loftier consummation than in the protection of a pure woman against contamination.
"Mine becomes the unhappy mission of unmasking two unworthy people whom you, in your innocence and trust, have cherished close to your heart. I speak of the trooper Ormond—whose name I believe you know is Philip Berkley—and, if you now hear it for the first time, it is proof additional of his deceit and perfidy.
"The other is Miss Lynden, known, in a certain immoral resort called the Canterbury, as Letty Lynden, or 'Daisy' Lynden.
"She was a dancer in the Canterbury Music Hall. I enclose photographs of her in costume, also receipts from her landlady, washing lists, her contract with the Canterbury, all in her own handwriting, and all gathered for me at my request by a New York detective, and forwarded to me here. Among these papers you will find several notes written to her in the spring and summer of 1861 by the trooper Berkley and discovered in her room by her landlady after her departure. A perusal of them is sufficient to leave no doubt concerning the character of this young woman—who, apparently, neglected by the fellow, Berkley, pleaded piteously with him for an interview, and was, as you see, cynically rebuffed.
"I enclose, also, an affidavit made by Miss Lynden's landlady that she, Letty, or 'Daisy' Lynden, was commonly understood to be the mistress of Berkley; that he took her from the Canterbury and from her lodgings, paid her board bills, and installed her in rooms at the enclosed address, where she remained until she found employment with a Doctor Benton.
"What her relations were with him I do not pretend to know. It is evident, however, that they continue, as he writes to her. It will also be apparent to you that she has not scrupled to continue her relations with the man Berkley.
"I will now further prove to you the truth of my assertion concerning this degrading and demoralising condition of affairs.
"It came to my knowledge that a certain Arthur Wye, serving in the volunteer artillery, and a certain subaltern in a zouave regiment, were not only intimates of the trooper Berkley, but had also been on dubious terms with the Lynden girl.
"Therefore, in company with an agent of the United States Secret Service detailed for the duty by Surgeon-General Hammond at my request, I held a private examination of these two men, and, with some adroitness, succeeded in making them identify the photographs of the Lynden girl, and later, unobserved by her, attempted to make them identify her as she was sitting outside the field hospital. But this they refused to do.
"However, that evidence was not necessary. Among her effects, scraps of letters in the waste-basket, etc., which she had imprudently left at her lodgings, were discovered fragments which, when pasted together, showed conclusively that she was on speaking terms at least with the artilleryman, Wye.
"This evidence I deem it my duty to lay before you. As a sensitive and chaste woman, gently born, the condition of affairs will horrify you. But the knowledge of them will also enable you to take measures for self-protection, and to clearly understand the measure which I shall now take to rid the Sanitary Service of this abandoned woman, who, as your friend and intimate associate, conceals her true character under the garb of Sainte Ursula, and who continues her intrigues with the trooper Berkley under the very roof that shelters you.
"I am, madam, with sincere pain and deepest sympathy and respect,
"Obediently your humble servant, "EUGENE HALLAM, "Capt. 8th N. Y. Cav."
He laid the letter and the enclosed papers on the bunk beside him, and sat there thinking.
He knew that the evidence before him had been sufficient to drive Letty from the Sanitary Service. Why had she not been driven? The evidence and the letter were weeks old now. What had prevented their use? And now Hallam was a fugitive—a deserter in the face of the enemy. It was too late for him to work more mischief if he would. But why had he held his hand against Letty?
Sunset found him still sitting there, thinking. The old negro came shuffling in, bringing hot hoe-cake and bacon for his dinner. He ate obediently; later he submitted to the razor and clothes brush, absently pondering the problem that obsessed him: "Why had Hallam spared Letty; how could he convey the truth to Ailsa Paige?"
At dusk he reported to the ward-master; but Colonel Arran was asleep, and there were no orders for him.
Then, slowly, he went into the adjoining ward. Ailsa was off duty, lying down in her room. His message asking a moment's interview was refused.
So he turned away again, head bent, and wandered over to his store-room quarters, pondering the problem before him.
A car full of leaf tobacco had been brought in that day, and Berkley secured a little of it for his pipe.
Seated on the edge of the shaky veranda in the darkness, he filled and lighted his cob pipe and, smoking tranquilly, listened to the distant cannonade which had begun about sundown. Thousands of fire-flies sailed low in the damp swale beyond the store-house, or, clinging motionless to the long wet grass and vines, sparkled palely at intervals. There was no wind. Far on the southern horizon the muttering thunder became heavier and more distinct. From where he sat he could now watch the passage of the great mortar shells through the sky, looking like swiftly moving comets cleaving unfathomable space; then, falling, faster and faster, dropping out of the heights of night, they seemed to leave behind them tracks of fire that lingered on the dazzled retina long after they had disappeared. The explosion of the incendiary shells was even more spectacular; the burning matter of the chemical charge fell from them in showers of clear blue and golden stars, dropping slowly toward the unseen river below.
He could distinguish the majestic thunder of the huge mortars from the roar of the Parrotts; the irregular volleys of musketry had a resonant clang of metal in them like thousands of iron balls dropped on a sheet of tin.
For an hour the distant display of fireworks continued, then the thunder rolled away, deadened to a dull rumour, and died out; and the last lingering spark of Greek fire faded in mid-heaven. A wavering crimson light brightened on the horizon, increasing, deepening. But what it was that had been set on fire he could not guess. Paigecourt lay in that direction.
He extended his booted legs, propped his back against a pillar, and continued smoking carefully and economically to save his fragments of Virginia leaf, deeply absorbed in retrospection.
For the first time he was now certain of the change which time, circumstance, and environment had wrought in himself; he was curiously conscious of the silent growth of a germ which, one day, must become a dictatorial and arbitrary habit—the habit of right thinking. The habit of duty, independent of circumstances, had slowly grown with his military training; mind and body had learned automatically to obey; mind and body now definitely recognised the importance of obedience, were learning to desire it, had begun to take an obscure sort of pride in it. Mind and body were already subservient to discipline. How was it with his other self.
In the human soul there is seldom any real perplexity. Only the body reasons; the soul knows. He knew this now. He knew, too, that there is a greater drill-master than that which was now disciplining his mind and body—the spiritual will—that there is a higher sentiment than the awakened instinct of mental and physical obedience—the occult loyalty of the spirit. And, within him, something was now awaking out of night, slowly changing him, soul and body.
As he sat there, tranquil, pondering, there came a shadowy figure, moving leisurely under the lighted windows of the hospital, directly toward him—a man swinging a lantern low above the grass—and halted beside him in a yellow shaft of light,
"Berkley," he said pleasantly; then, to identify himself, lifted the lantern to a level with his face.
"Surely—surely. I come from Paigecourt. I left Mrs. Craig and Stephen about five o'clock; I have just left Miss Lynden on duty. May I sit here beside you, Phil? And, in the first place, how are you, old fellow?"
"Perfectly well, doctor. . . . I am glad to see you. . . . It is pleasant to see you. . . . I am well; I really am. You are, too; I can see that. . . . I want to shake hands with you again—to wish you happiness," he added in a low voice. "Will you accept my warmest wishes, Dr. Benton?"
They exchanged a hard, brief grip.
"I know what you mean. Thank you, Phil. . . . I am very happy; I mean that she shall be. Always."
Berkley said: "There are few people I really care for. She is among the few."
"I have believed so. . . . She cares, deeply, for you. . . . She is right." . . . He paused and glanced over his shoulder at the crimson horizon. "What was that shelling about? The gun-boats were firing, too."
"I haven't any idea. Something is on fire, evidently. I hope it is not Paigecourt."
The doctor looked hard at the fiery sky, but said nothing more.
"How is Stephen?" asked the younger man earnestly.
"Is he going to get well?"
Dr. Benton thought a moment.
"He was struck by a conoidal ball, which entered just above the interclavicular notch of the sternum and lodged near the superior angle of the scapula. Assistant Surgeon Jenning, U. S. V., removed the bullet and applied simple dressings. There was a longitudinal groove on the bullet which may have been caused by contact with the bone, but there are no symptoms of injury to the osseous tissue. I hope he will recover entirely. Miss Lent, his affianced, is expected to-night. Arrangements have been made to convey him aboard a Sanitary Commission boat this evening. The sooner he starts North the better. His mother and Miss Lent go with him as nurses."
Berkley drew a quiet breath of relief. "I am glad," he said simply. "There is fever in the air here."
"There is worse, Phil. They're fine people, the Craigs. That mother of his stood the brutal shock of the news wonderfully—not a tear, not a tremor. She is a fine woman; she obeyed me, not implicitly, but intelligently. I don't like that kind of obedience as a rule; but it happened to be all right in her case. She has voluntarily turned Paigecourt and all the barns, quarters, farms, and out-buildings into a base hospital for the wounded of either army. She need not have done it; there were plenty of other places. But she offered that beautiful old place merely because it was more comfortable and luxurious. The medical corps have already ruined the interior of the house; the garden with its handsome box hedges nearly two centuries old is a wreck. She has given all the farm horses to the ambulances; all her linen to the medical director; all cattle, sheep, swine, poultry to the hospital authorities; all her cellared stores, wines, luxuries to the wounded. I repeat that she is a fine specimen of American woman—and the staunchest little rebel I ever met."
Berkley smiled, then his bronzed face grew serious in the nickering lantern light.
"Colonel Arran is badly hurt. Did you know it?"
"I do," said the doctor quietly. "I saw him just before I came over here to find you."
"Would you care to tell me what you think of his chances?"
"I—don't—know. He is in considerable pain. The wound continues healthy. They give him a great deal of morphia."
"I can't yet form an opinion worth giving you. Dillon, the assistant surgeon, is an old pupil of mine. He asked me to look in to-morrow; and I shall do so."
"I'm very glad. I was going to ask you. But—there's a good deal of professional etiquette in these hospitals——"
"It's everywhere," said the doctor, smiling. Then his pleasant, alert face changed subtly; he lifted the lantern absently, softly replaced it on the veranda beside him, and gazed at it. Presently he said:
"I came here on purpose to talk to you about another matter. . . . Shall we step inside? Or"—he glanced sharply around, lantern held above his head—"I guess we're better off out here."
Berkley silently assented. The doctor considered the matter in mind for a while, nursing his knees, then looking directly at Berkley:
"Phil, you once told roe a deliberate falsehood."
Berkley's face flushed scarlet, and he stiffened in every muscle.
The doctor said: "I merely wanted you to understand that I knew it to be a falsehood when you uttered it. I penetrated your motive in telling it, let it go at that, and kept both eyes open—and waited."
Berkley never moved. The painful colour stained the scar on his brow to an ugly purple.
"The consequences of which falsehood," continued the doctor, "culminated in my asking Miss Lynden to marry me. . . . I've been thinking—wondering—whether that lie was justifiable. And I've given up the problem. But I respect your motive in telling it. It's a matter for you to settle privately with yourself and your Maker. I'm no Jesuit by nature; but—well—you've played a man's part in the life of a young and friendless girl who has become to me the embodiment of all I care for in woman. And I thank you for that. I thank you for giving her the only thing she lacked—a chance in the world. Perhaps there were other ways of doing it. I don't know. All I know is that I thank you for giving her the chance."
He ceased abruptly, folded Ins arms, and gazed musingly into space. Then:
"Phil, have you ever injured a man named Eugene Hallam, Captain of your troop in the 8th Lancers?"
Berkley looked up, startled; and the hot colour began to fade.
"What do you know about Captain Hallam?" he asked.
"Where is he?"
"Probably a prisoner. He was taken at the cavalry affair which they now call Yellow Run."
"You saw him taken by the enemy?"
"No. I saw him—surrender—or rather, ride toward the enemy, apparently with that design in mind."
"Why don't you say that Hallam played the coward—that he deserted his men under fire—was even shot at by his own colonel?"
"You seem to know about it," said Berkley in a mortified voice. . . . "No man is anxious to reflect on his own regiment. That is why I did not mention it."
"Yes, I knew it. Your servant, the trooper Burgess, came to Paigecourt in search of you. I heard the detestable details from him. He was one of the detachment that got penned in; he saw the entire performance."
"I didn't know Burgess was there," said Berkley. "Is he all right?"
"Wears his left wrist in a sling; Colles's fracture; horse fell. He's a villainous-looking party; I wouldn't trust that fellow with a pewter button. But he seems devoted to you."
"I've never been able to make him out," said Berkley, smiling.
The doctor thought a minute.
"I saw two interesting people at Paigecourt. One was Miss Dix, an old friend of mine; the other chanced to be Surgeon General Hammond. They were on a tour of inspection. I hope they liked what they saw."
"I guess not. . . . Things in the hospitals ought to go better now. We're learning. . . . By the way, you didn't know that Ailsa Paige had been to Paigecourt, did you?"
"Recently. . . . She's another fine woman. She never had an illness worse than whooping cough. I know because I've always been her physician. Normally she's a fine, wholesome woman, Berkley—but she told a falsehood. . . . You are not the only liar south of Dixon's damnable Line!"
Berkley straightened up as though shot, and the doctor dropped a heavy hand on his shoulder.
"The sort of lie you told, Phil, is the kind she told. It doesn't concern you or me; it's between her conscience and herself; and it's in a good safe place. . . . And now I'll sketch out for you what she did. This—this beast, Hallam, wrote to Miss Dix at Washington and preferred charges against Miss Lynden. . . . I'm trying to speak calmly and coherently and without passion, damn it! Don't interrupt me. . . . I say that Hallam sent his written evidence to Miss Dix; and Ailsa Paige learned of it, and learned also what the evidence was. . . . And it was a terrible thing for her to learn, Phil—a damnable thing for a woman to learn."
He tightened his grasp on Berkley's shoulder, and his voice was not very steady.
"To believe those charges—that evidence—meant the death of her faith in you. . . . As for the unhappy revelation of what Miss Lynden had been—the evidence was hopelessly conclusive. Imagine what she thought! Any other woman would have sat aloof and let justice brand the woman who had doubly betrayed her. I want you to consider it; every instinct of loyalty, friendship, trust, modesty had apparently been outraged and trampled on by the man she had given her heart to, and by the woman she had made a friend. That was the position in which Ailsa Paige found herself when she learned of these charges, saw the evidence, and was informed by Hallam that he had forwarded his complaint."
His grip almost crushed Berkley's shoulder muscles.
"And now I'll tell you what Ailsa Paige did. She went before Miss Dix and told her that there was not one atom of truth in the charges. She accounted for every date specified by saying that Miss Lynden was with her at those times, that she had known her intimately for years, known her family—that it was purely a case of mistaken identity, which, if ever pressed, would bewilder her friend, who was neither sufficiently experienced to understand what such charges meant, nor strong enough to endure the horror and shock if their nature were explained.
"She haughtily affirmed her absolute faith in you, avowed her engagement to marry you, pointed to your splendid military record; disdainfully exposed the motive for Hallam's action. . . . And she convinced Miss Dix, who, in turn, convinced the Surgeon General. And, in consequence, I can now take my little girl away from here on furlough, thank God!—and thanks to Ailsa Paige, who lied like a martyr in her behalf. And that's what I came here to tell you."
He drew a long, shuddering breath, his hand relaxed on Berkley's shoulder, and fell away.
"I don't know to-day what Ailsa Paige believes; but I know what she did for the sake of a young girl. . . . If, in any way, her faith in you has been poisoned, remember what was laid before her, proven in black and white, apparently; remember, more than that, the terrible and physically demoralising strain she has been under in the line of duty. No human mind can remain healthy very long under such circumstances; no reasoning can be normal. The small daily vexations, the wear and tear of nerve tissue, the insufficient sleep and nourishment, the close confinement in the hospital atmosphere, the sights, sounds, odours, the excitement, the anxiety—all combine to distort reason and undermine one's natural equipoise.
"Phil, if Ailsa, in her own heart, doubts you as she now doubts Letty, you must understand why. What she did shows her courage, her sweetness, her nobility. What she may believe—or think she believes—is born only of morbid nerves, overworked body, and a crippled power of reasoning. Her furlough is on the way; I did myself the honour to solicit it, and to interest Miss Dix in her behalf. It is high time; the child cannot stand much more. . . . After a good rest in the North, if she desires to return, there is nobody to prevent her . . . unless you are wise enough to marry her. What do you think?"
Berkley made no answer. They remained silent for a long time. Then the doctor rose and picked up his lantern; and Berkley stood up, too, taking the doctor's outstretched hand.
"If I were you, Phil, I'd marry her," said Benton. "Good-night. I'll see Colonel Arran in the morning. Good-night, my boy."
"Good-night," said Berkley in a dull voice.
Midnight found him pacing the dead sod in front of the veranda, under the stars. One by one the lights in the hospital had been extinguished; a lantern glimmered at the guard-house; here and there an illuminated window cast its oblong of paler light across the grass. Southward the crimson radiance had died out; softened echoes of distant gunshots marked the passing of the slow, dark hours, but the fitful picket firing was now no louder than the deadened stamp of horses in their stalls.
A faint scent of jasmine hung in the air, making it fresher, though no breeze stirred.
He stood for a while, face upturned to the stars, then his head fell. Sabre trailing, he moved slowly out into the open; and, at random, wandered into the little lane that led darkly down under green bushes to Letty's bridge.
It was fresher and cooler in the lane; starlight made the planking of the little foot-bridge visible in the dark, but the stream ran under it too noiselessly for him to hear the water moving over its bed of velvet sand.
A startled whippoorwill flashed into shadowy night from the rail as he laid his hand upon it, and, searching for the seat which Letty's invalid had built for her, he sank down, burying his head in his hands.
And, as he sat there, a vague shape, motionless in the starlight, stirred, moved silently, detaching itself from the depthless wall of shadow.
There was a light step on the grass, a faint sound from the bridge. But he heard nothing until she sank down on the flooring at his feet and dropped her head, face downward, on his knees.
As in a dream his hands fell from his eyes—fell on her shoulders, lay heavily inert.
Her feverish face quivered, hiding closer; one small hand searched blindly for his arm, closed on his sleeve, and clung there. He could feel her slender body tremble at intervals, under his lips, resting on her hair, her breath grew warm with tears.
She lay there, minute after minute, her hand on his sleeve, slipping, tightening, while her tired heart throbbed out its heavy burden on his knees, and her tears fell under the stars.
Fatigued past all endurance, shaken, demoralised, everything in her was giving way now. She only knew that he had come to her out of the night's deathly desolation—that she had crept to him for shelter, was clinging to him. Nothing else mattered in the world. Her weary hands could touch him, hold fast to him who had been lost and was found again; her tear-wet face rested against his; the blessed surcease from fear was benumbing her, quieting her, soothing, relaxing, reassuring her.
Only to rest this way—to lie for the moment unafraid—to cease thinking, to yield every sense to heavenly lethargy—to forget—to forget the dark world's sorrows and her own.
The high planets shed their calm light upon her hair, silvering her slender neck and the hand holding to his sleeve, and the steel edge of his sabre hilt, and a gilded button at his throat. And all else lay in shadow, wrapping them close together in obscurity.
At times he thought she was asleep, and scarcely moving, bent nearer; but always felt the nervous closing of her fingers on his sleeve.
And at last sleep came to her, deadening every sense. Cautiously he took her hand; the slim fingers relaxed; body and limbs were limp, senses clouded, as he lifted her in his arms and rose.
"Don't—go," she murmured drowsily.
Through the darkness, moving with infinite care, he bore her under the stars and stepped noiselessly across the veranda, entered, and laid her on his cot.
"Philip," she murmured.
But he whispered to her that she must sleep, that he would be near her, close to her. And she sighed deeply, and her white lids closed again and rested unstirring on her pallid cheeks.
So she slept till the stars faded, then, awaking, lifted her head, bewildered, drawing her hand from his; and saw the dawn graying his face where he sat beside her.
She sat up, rigid, on the blanket, the vivid colour staining her from throat to brow; then memory overwhelmed her. She covered her eyes with both arms and her head dropped forward under the beauty of her disordered hair.
Minute succeeded minute; neither spoke nor moved. Then, slowly, in silence, she looked up at him and met his gaze. It was her confession of faith.
He could scarcely hear her words, so tremulously low was the voice that uttered them.
"Dr. Benton told me everything. Take me back. The world is empty without you. I've been through the depths of it—my heart has searched it from the ends to the ends of it. . . . And finds no peace where you are not—no hope—no life. All is desolation without you. Take me back."
She stretched out her hands to him; he took them, and pressed them against his lips; and looking across at him, she said:
"Love me—if you will—as you will. I make no terms; I ask none. Teach me your way; your way is mine—if it leads to you; all other paths are dark, all other ways are strange. I know, for I have trodden them, and lost myself. Only the path you follow is lighted for me. All else is darkness. Love me. I ask no terms."
"Ailsa, I can offer none."
"I know. You have said so. That is enough. Besides, if you love me, nothing else matters. My life is not my own; it is yours. It has always been yours—only I did not know how completely. Now I have learned. . . . Why do you look at me so strangely? Are you afraid to take me for yourself? Do you think I do not know what I am saying? Do you not understand what the terror of these days without you has done to me? The inclination which lacked only courage lacks it no longer. I know what you have been, what you are. I ask nothing more of life than you."
"Dear," he said, "do you understand that I can never marry you?"
"Yes," she said steadily. "I am not afraid."
In the silence the wooden shutter outside the window swung to with a slam in the rising breeze which had become a wind blowing fitfully under a wet gray sky. From above the roof there came a sudden tearing sound, which at first he believed to be the wind. It increased to a loud, confusing, swishing whistle, as though hundreds of sabres were being whirled in circles overhead.
Berkley rose, looking upward at the ceiling as the noise grew in volume like a torrent of water flowing over rocks.
Ailsa also had risen, laying one hand on his arm, listening intently.
"What is it?" she breathed.
"It is the noise made by thousands of bullets streaming through the air above us. It sounds like that in the rifle-pits. Listen!"
The strange, bewildering sound filled the room. And now, as the wind shifted, the steady rattle of musketry became suddenly audible. Another sound, sinister, ominous, broke on their ears, the clang of the seminary bell.
"Is it an attack on this place?" she asked anxiously. "What can we do? There are no troops here! I—I must go to my sick boys——"
Her heart stood still as a cannon thundered, followed by the fearful sound of the shell as it came tearing toward them. As it neared, the noise grew deafening; the air vibrated with a rushing sound that rose to a shriek.
Ailsa's hands grasped his arm; her ears seemed bursting with the abominable sound; pain darted through her temples, flashing into agony as a heavy jar shook the house, followed by a dazzling light and roar.
Boom! Boom! came the distant, sullen thunder, followed by the unmistakable whir of a Parrott shell. Suddenly shrapnel shells began to come over, screaming, exploding, filling the air with the rush and clatter of bullets.
"Lie down," he said. "You can't go out in this. It will veer off in a few moments, when they find out that they're shelling our hospitals."
"I've got to go," she repeated; "my boys won't understand why I don't come."
She turned and opened the door; he caught her in his arms, and she looked up and kissed him.
"Good-bye, dear," she whispered. "You mustn't detain me——"
"You shall not go outside——"
"I've got to. Be reasonable, dear. My sick are under fire."
The bugle was sounding now; his arms fell from her waist; she smiled at him, stepped outside, and started to run; and found him keeping pace between her and the west.
"You should not do that!" she panted, striving to pass him, but he kept his body in line with the incoming missiles. Suddenly he seized her and dropped flat with her as a shell plunged downward, exploding in a white cloud laced with flame through which the humming fragments scattered.
As they rose to their knees in the dust they saw men gathering—soldiers of all arms, infantry, dismounted cavalrymen, hospital guards, limping convalescents, officers armed' with rifles, waggon drivers, negroes.
"They're attacking our works at Cedar Springs," said an officer wearing one hand in a sling. "This hospital is in a bad place."
Ailsa clapped both hands over her ears as a shell blew up at the angle of an outhouse and the ground rocked violently; then, pale but composed, she sprang inside the hospital door and ran for her ward.
It was full of pungent smoke; a Parrott shell had passed through a window, carrying everything away in its path, and had burst, terrifying the sick men lying there, but not injuring anybody.
And now a flare of light and a crash outside marked the descent of another shell. The confusion and panic among the wounded was terrible; ward-masters, nurses, surgeons, ran hither and thither, striving to quiet the excited patients as shell after shell rushed yelling overhead or exploded with terrific force, raining its whirring iron fragments over roof and chimney.
Ailsa, calm and collected in the dreadful crisis, stood at the end of the ward, directing the unnerved stretcher bearers, superintending the carrying out of cots to the barns, which stood in the shelter of the rising ground along the course of the little stream.
Letty appeared from the corridor behind her; and Ailsa smiled and kissed her lightly on the cheek; and the blood came back to the girl's face in a passion of gratitude which even the terror of death could not lessen or check.
"Ailsa—darling—" she whispered; then shuddered in the violence of an explosion that shattered the window-glass beside her,
"We're taking them to the old barns, Letty," said Ailsa, steadying her voice. "Will you take charge here while I go to Colonel Arran?"
"They've taken him out," whispered Letty. "That ward is on fire. Everybody is out. W-what a cruel thing for our boys! Some of them were getting well! Can you come now?"
"As soon as they carry out young Spencer. He's the last. . . . Look from the window! They're trying to put out the fire with water in buckets. O—h!" as a shell struck and the flame flashed out through a geyser of sand and smoke.
"Come," murmured Letty. "I will stay if there is anything to stay for——"
"No, dear; we can go. Give me your hand; this smoke is horrible. Everything is on fire, I think. . . . Hurry, Letty!"
She stumbled, half suffocated, but Letty kept her hand fast and guided her to the outer air.
A company of cavalry, riding hard, passed in a whirlwind of dust. After them, clanking, thudding, pounding, tore a battery, horses on a dead run,
The west wing of the seminary was on fire; billows of sooty smoke rolled across the roof and blew downward over the ground where the forms of soldiers could be seen toiling to and fro with buckets.
Infantry now began to arrive, crowding the main road on the double quick, mounted officers cantering ahead. Long lines of them were swinging out east and west across the country, where a battery went into action wrapped in torrents of smoke.
Bullets swarmed, singing above and around in every key, and the distracting racket of the shrapnel shells became continuous.
Ailsa and Letty ran, stooping, into the lane where the stretchers were being hurried across the little footbridge. As they crossed they saw a dead artilleryman lying in the water, a crimson thread wavering from his head to the surface. It was Arthur Wye; and Letty knew him, and halted, trembling; but Ailsa called to her in a frightened voice, for, confused by the smoke, they had come out in the rear of a battery among the caissons, and the stretchers had turned to the right, filing down into the hollow where the barns stood on the edge of a cedar grove.
Already men were hard at work erecting hospital tents; the wounded lay on their stretchers, bloodless faces turned to the sky, the wind whipping their blankets and uncovering their naked, emaciated bodies. The faces of the dead had turned black.
"Good God!" said Dr. Benton as Letty and Ailsa came up, out of'breath, "we've got to get these sick men under shelter! Can you two girls keep their blankets from blowing away?"
They hurried from cot to cot, from mattress to mattress, from one heap of straw to another, from stretcher to stretcher, deftly replacing sheet and blanket, tucking them gently under, whispering courage, sometimes a gay jest or smiling admonition to the helpless men, soothing, petting, reassuring.
The medical director with his corps of aides worked furiously to get up the big tents. The smoke from the battery blew east and south, flowing into the hollow in sulphurous streams; the uproar from the musketry was terrific.
Ailsa, kneeling beside a stretcher to tuck in the blankets, looked up over her shoulder suddenly at Letty.
"Where did they take Colonel Arran?"
"I don't know, dear."
Ailsa rose from her knees and looked around her through the flying smoke; then she got wearily to her feet and began to make inquiries. Nobody seemed to know anything about Colonel Arran.
Anxious, she threaded her way through the stretchers and the hurrying attendants, past the men who were erecting the tents, looking everywhere, making inquiries, until, under the trees by the stream, she saw a heap of straw on which a man was dying.
He died as she came up—a big, pallid, red-headed zouave, whose blanket, soaked with blood, bore dreadful witness of his end.
A Sister of Charity rose as though dazed.
"I could not stop the hemorrhage," she said in her soft, bewildered voice.
Together they turned back toward the mass of stretchers, moving with difficulty in the confusion. Letty, passing, glanced wanly at the Sister, then said to Ailsa:
"Colonel Arran is in the second barn on the hay. I am afraid he is dying."
Ailsa turned toward the barns and hurried across the trampled sod.
Through the half light within she peered about her, moving carefully among the wounded stretched out on the fragrant hay.
Colonel Arran lay alone in the light of a window high under the eaves.
"Oh, here you are!" she said gaily. "I hear most most splendid things about you. I—" she stopped short, appalled at the terrible change that was coming over his face.
"I want to see—Phil—" he whispered.
"Yes—yes, I will find him," she said soothingly; "I will go immediately and find him."
His head was moving slowly, monotonously, from side to side.
"I want to see my boy," he murmured. "He is my son. I wish you to know it—my only son."
He lifted his brilliant eyes to Ailsa.
Twice he strove to speak, and could not, and she watched him, stunned.
He made the supreme effort.
"Philip!" he gasped; "our son! My little son! My little, little boy! I want him, Ailsa, I want him near me when I die!"
They told her that Berkley had gone up the hill toward the firing line.
On the windy hill-top, hub deep in dry, dead grass, a section of a battery was in action, the violent light from the discharges lashing out through the rushing vapours which the wind flattened and drove, back into the hollow below so that the cannoneers seemed to be wading waist deep in fog.
The sick and wounded on their cots and stretchers were coughing and gasping in the hot mist; the partly erected tents had become full of it. And now the air in the hollow grew more suffocating as fragments of burning powder and wadding set the dead grass afire, and the thick, strangling blue smoke spread over everything.
Surgeons and assistants were working like beavers to house their patients; every now and then a bullet darted into the vale with an evil buzz, rewounding, sometimes killing, the crippled. To add to the complication and confusion, more wounded arrived from the firing line above and beyond to the westward; horses began to fall where they stood harnessed to the caissons; a fine, powerful gun-team galloping back to refill its chests suddenly reared straight up into annihilation, enveloped in the volcanic horror of a shell, so near that Ailsa, standing below in a clump of willows, saw the flash and smoke of the cataclysm and the flying disintegration of dark objects scattering through the smoke.
Far away on the hillside an artilleryman, making a funnel of his hands, shouted for stretchers; and Ailsa, repeating the call, managed to gather together half a dozen overworked bearers and start with them up through the smoke.
Deafened, blinded, her senses almost reeling under the nerve-shattering crash of the guns, she toiled on through the dry grass, pausing at the edge of charred spaces to beat out the low flames that leaped toward her skirts.
There was a leafy hollow ahead, filled with slender, willow-trees, many of them broken off, shot, torn, twisted, and splintered. Dead soldiers lay about under the smoke, their dirty shirts or naked skin visible between jacket and belt; to the left on a sparsely wooded elevation, the slope of which was scarred, showing dry red sand and gravel, a gun stood, firing obliquely across the gully into the woods. Long, wavering, irregular rings of smoke shot out, remaining intact and floating like the rings from a smoker's pipe, until another rush and blast of flame scattered them.
The other gun had been dismounted and lay on its side, one wheel in the air, helpless, like some monster sprawling with limbs stiffened in death. Behind it, crouched close, squatted some infantry soldiers, firing from the cover of the wreckage. Behind every tree, every stump, every inequality, lay infantry, dead, wounded, or alive and cautiously firing. Several took advantage of the fallen battery horses for shelter. Only one horse of that gun-team remained alive, and the gunners had lashed the prolonge to the trail of the overturned cannon and to the poor horse's collar, and were trying to drag the piece away with the hope of righting it.
This manoeuvre dislodged the group of infantry soldiers who had taken shelter there, and, on all fours, they began crawling and worming and scuffling about among the dead leaves, seeking another shelter from the pelting hail of lead.
There was nothing to be seen beyond the willow gully except smoke, set grotesquely with phantom trees, through which the enemy's fusillade sparkled and winked like a long level line of fire-flies in the mist.
The stretcher bearers crept about gathering up the wounded who called to them out of the smoke. Ailsa, on her knees, made her way toward a big cavalryman whose right leg was gone at the thigh.
She did what she could, called for a stretcher, then, crouching close under the bank of raw earth, set her canteen to his blackened lips and held it for him.
"Don't be discouraged," she said quietly, "they'll bring another stretcher in a few moments. I'll stay here close beside you until they come."
The cavalryman was dying; she saw it; he knew it. And his swollen lips moved.
"Don't waste time with me," he managed to say.
"Then—will you lie very still and not move?"
"Yes; only don't let the horse step on me."
She drew her little note-book and pencil from the pocket of her gown and gently lowered her head until one ear was close to his lips.
"What is your name and regiment?"
His voice became suddenly clear.
"John Casson—Egerton's Dragoons. . . . Mrs. Henry Casson, Islip, Long Island. My mother is a widow; I don't—think she—can—stand——"
Then he died—went out abruptly into eternity.
Beside him, in the grass, lay a zouave watching everything with great hollow eyes. His body was only a mass of bloody rags; he had been shot all to pieces, yet the bleeding heap was breathing, and the big sunken eyes patiently watched Ailsa's canteen until she encountered his unwinking gaze. But the first swallow he took killed him, horribly; and Ailsa, her arms drenched with blood, shrank back and crouched shuddering under the roots of a shattered tree, her consciousness almost deserting her in the roaring and jarring and splintering around her. She saw more stretcher bearers in the smoke, stooping, edging their way—unarmed heroes of many a field who fell unnoted, died unrecorded on the rolls of glory.
A lieutenant of artillery, powder-blackened, but jaunty, called down to her from the bank above:
"Look out, little lady. We're going to try to limber up, and we don't want to drop six horses and a perfectly good gun on top of you!"
Somebody seized her arm and dragged her across the leaves; and she struggled to her knees, to her feet, turned, and started to run.
"This way," said Berkley's voice in her ear; and his hand closed on hers.
"Phil—help me—I don't know where I am!"
"I do. Run this way, under the crest of the hill. . . . Dr. Connor told me that you had climbed up here. This isn't your place! Are you stark mad?"
They ran on westward, panting, sheltered by the grassy crest behind which soldiers lay firing over the top of the grass—long lines of them, belly flattened to the slope, dusty blue trousers hitched up showing naked ankles and big feet pendant. Behind them, swords drawn, stood or walked their officers, quietly encouraging them or coolly turning to look at Ailsa and Berkley as they hurried past.
In a vast tobacco field to their left, just beyond a wide cleft in the hills, a brigade of cavalry was continually changing station to avoid shell fire. The swallow-tailed national flags, the yellow guidons with their crossed sabres, the blue State colours, streamed above their shifting squadrons as they trotted hither and thither with the leisurely precision of a peaceful field day; but here and there from the trampled earth some fallen horse raised its head in agony; here and there the plain was dotted with dark heaps that never stirred.
The wailing flight of bullets streamed steadily overhead, but, as they descended, the whistling, rushing sound grew higher and fainter. They could see, on the plain where the cavalry was manoeuvring, the shells bursting in fountains of dirt, the ominous shrapnel cloud floating daintily above.
Far away through the grassy cleft, on wooded hillsides, delicately blue, they could see the puff of white smoke shoot out from among the trees where the Confederate batteries were planted, then hear the noise of the coming shell rushing nearer, quavering, whistling into a long-drawn howl as it raced through the gray clouds overhead.
While he guided her among the cedars at the base of the hill, one arm around her body to sustain her, he quietly but seriously berated her for her excursion to the firing line, telling her there was no need of it, no occasion for anybody except the bearers there; that Dr. Connor was furious at her and had said aloud that she had little common-sense.
Ailsa coloured painfully, but there was little spirit left in her, and she walked thankfully and humbly along beside him, resting her cheek, against his shoulder.
"Don't scold me; I really feel half sick, Phil. . . . From where did you come?" she added timidly.
"From the foot bridge. They wanted a guard set there. I found half a dozen wounded men who could handle a musket. Lord, but the rebels came close to us that time! When we heard those bullets they were charging the entire line of our works. I understand that we've driven them all along the line. It must be so, judging from the sound of the firing."
"Did our hospital burn?"
"Only part of one wing. They're beginning to move back the wounded already. . . . Now, dear, will you please remain with your superiors and obey orders?" he added as they came out along the banks of the little stream and saw the endless procession of stretchers recrossing the foot bridge to the left.
"Yes. . . . I didn't know. I saw part of a battery blown up; and a soldier stood on the hill and shouted for stretchers. There was nobody else to start them off, so I did it."
He nodded. "Wait here, dear. I will run over and ask Dr. Connor whether they have moved Colonel Arran——"
"Colonel Arran! Oh, Philip! I forgot to tell you—" She clutched his arm in her excitement, and he halted, alarmed.
"Has anything happened to him?" he demanded.
"He asked for you."
"Is he worse?"
"I fear so."
"Phil—I am afraid so. He—he—thinks that you are his son!"
"W-what are you saying!" he stammered: "What are you trying to tell me, Ailsa?"
"Phil—my darling!—don't look that way!" she exclaimed, frightened.
"What way?" He laughed as though crazed. "Where is he? Do you know? I want to see him. You better let me see him."
"I'll go with you, Phil; I'll be close beside you. You mustn't become so terribly excited; I didn't know what I was saying; I think he is delirious——"
"Where is he? I can't endure this much longer," he kept repeating in a vacant way as they forced a path among the litters and ambulances, and came out through the smoke blowing from a pile of debris that lay where the east wing of the seminary had once stood. Charred and battered, every window smashed, and the blackened rafters of the roof still smouldering, the east wing rose before them, surrounded by the wounded.
A surgeon told them that Colonel Arran had been carried out of the barn, but to what place he did not know. Letty with Dr. Benton passed them by the stables, but they knew only that Colonel Arran, lying on a litter, had been placed in an ambulance which had started for Azalea Court House.
This was confirmed by Dr. Connor, who came hurrying by and who halted to scowl heartily at Ailsa.
"No more of that!" he said roughly. "When I want a nurse on the firing line I'll detail her. I've sent two hundred invalids to the landing, and I wanted you to go with them and when I looked around for you I saw you kiting for the line of battle! That's all wrong, Mrs. Paige! That's all wrong! You look sick anyway. Are you?"
"No. I'll go now, if you'll let me, Dr. Connor."
"How are you going to get there? I haven't another ambulance to send—not a horse or a mule——"
"I—I'll walk," she said with a sob in her throat. "I am fearfully sorry—and ashamed——"
"There, there," muttered Dr. Connor, "I didn't mean all I said. It was a brave thing to do—not that your pluck mitigates the offence! Be a little more considerate; think a little faster; don't take to your legs on the first impulse. Some fool told me you'd been killed—and that made—made me—most damnably angry!" he burst out with a roar to cover the emotion working at his mouth and eyes.
He seized Ailsa's hand and shook it vigorously.
"Excuse my profanity. I can't avoid it when I think of you—dead! There, there. I'm an old fool and you're a—younger one. See if you can find somebody to take you to Azalea. I want that batch of invalids carefully watched. Besides, there's a furlough there for you. Don't say one word! You're not well, I tell you. I had to send those invalids back; the place here is atrociously crowded. Try to find some way of getting to the landing. And take care of your pretty little self for God's sake!"
She promised, shook hands with him again, disengaged herself from the crowd around her, turned about to search for Berkley, and caught sight of him near the stables, saddling his horse. He buckled the last strap as she came up; turned a blank gaze on her, and did not appear to comprehend her question for a moment. Then, nodding in a dazed way, he lifted her to the saddle in front, swung up behind her, passed one arm around her waist, gathered bridle, and edged his way carefully through the crowd out into the road.
The 3rd Zouaves in heavy marching order filled the road with their scarlet column, moving steadily southward; and Ailsa, from her perch on the saddle, called to Colonel Craig and Major Lent, stretching out her hot little hand to them as she passed.
Engineers blocked their progress farther on, then Wisconsin infantry, young giants in blue, swinging forward in their long loose-limbered stride; then an interminable column of artillery, jolting slowly along, the grimy gunners swaying drowsily on their seats, officers nodding half asleep in their saddles.
"Philip," she ventured timidly.
"Is there—anything—you wish to tell me? Anything that I—perhaps—have a faint shadow of a right to know?"
For a long time they rode in silence, her question unanswered. A narrow cart road—less of a road than a lane—led east. He turned his horse into it.
For a moment no sound broke the silence save the monotonous clank of his sabre and the creak of girth and saddle.
"Move closer; hold very tight to me; clasp both arms around my neck. . . . Are you seated firmly?"
He encircled her slender body with his right arm and, shaking out the bridle, launched his horse at a gallop down the sandy lane. Her breath and his mingled as they sped forward; the wind rushed by, waving the foliage on either hand; a steady storm of sand and gravel rained rattling through the bushes as the spurred horse bounded forward, breaking into a grander stride, thundering on through the gathering dusk.
Swaying, cradled in his embrace, her lips murmured his name, or, parted breathless, touched his, as the exquisitely confused sense of headlong speed dimmed her senses to a happy madness.
Trees, bushes, fences flew past and fled away behind in the dusk. It seemed to her as though she was being tossed through space locked in his arms; infinite depths of shadow whirled and eddied around her; limitless reaches, vistas unfathomable stretched toward outer chaos into which they were hurled, unseeing, her arms around his neck, her soft face on his breast.
Then a lantern flashed; voices sounded in far-off confusion; more lanterns twinkled and glimmered; more voices broke in on their heavenly isolation.
Was the divine flight ended?
Somebody said: "Colonel Arran is here, and is still alive, but his mind is clouding. He says he is waiting for his son to come."
Dizzy, burning hot, half blinded, she felt herself swung out of space onto the earth again, through a glare of brightness in which Celia's face seemed to be framed, edged with infernal light. . . . And another face, Camilla's, was there in the confusing brilliancy; and she reeled a little, embraced, held hot and close; and in her dulled ears drummed Celia's voice, murmuring, pitying, complaining, adoring:
"Honey-bell—Oh, my little Honey-bud! I have you back in my a'ms, and I have my boy, and I'm ve'y thankful to my Heavenly Master—I certainly am, Honey-bee!—fo' His goodness and His mercy which He is showing eve'y day to me and mine."
And Camilla's pale face was pressed against her hot cheeks and the girl's black sleeve of crape encircled her neck.
She whispered: "I—I try to think it reconciles me to losing Jimmy. . . . War gave me Stephen. . . . Yet—oh, I cannot understand why God's way must sometimes be the way of battle!"
Ailsa saw and heard and understood, yet, all around her fell an unreal light—a terrible fiery radiance, making voices the voices, of phantoms, forms the outlines of ghosts.
Through an open door she saw a lamp-lit room where her lover knelt beside a bed—saw a man's arm reach feebly toward him—and saw no more. Everything wavered and dazzled and brightened into rainbow tints around her, then to scarlet; then velvety darkness sprang up, through which she fell into swift unconsciousness.
One of the doctors, looking at her as she lay on the hospital cot, dropped his hand gravely on her thin wrist.
"You cannot tell me anything that I don't know about Mrs. Paige," he said wearily. "This is a complete breakdown. It's come just in time, too, that girl has been trying to kill herself. I understand that her furlough has arrived. You'd better get her North on the next transport. I guess that our angels are more popular in our hospitals just now than they would be tuning little gilt harps aloft. We can't spare 'em, Mrs. Craig, and I guess the Most High can wait a little longer."
Doctor, ward-master, apothecary, and nurses stood looking down at the slim, fever-flushed shape moving restlessly on the cot—babbling soft inconsequences, staring out of brilliant eyes at nothing.
The doctor whispered to the apothecary, and his gesture dismissed those who stood around her waiting in silence.
Early in October the Union Cavalry began their favourite pastime of "chasing" Stuart. General Pleasanton with a small force and a horse battery began it, marching seventy-eight miles in twenty-four hours; but Stuart marched ninety in the same time. He had to.
About ten o'clock in the morning of October tenth, General Buford, chief of cavalry, set the 6th Pennsylvania Lancers galloping after Stuart. Part of the 1st Maine Cavalry joined the chase; but Stuart flourished his heels and cantered gaily into Pennsylvania to the amazement and horror of that great State, and to the unbounded mortification of the Union army. He had with him the 1st, 3d, 4th, 5th and 9th Virginia Cavalry; the 7th and 9th North Carolina, and two Legions; and after him went pelting the handful that McClellan could mount. A few tired troopers galloped up to Whitens Ford just as Stuart crossed in safety; and the gain of "chasing" Stuart was over. Never had the efficiency of the Union Cavalry been at such a low ebb; but it was low-water mark, indeed, and matters were destined to mend after a history of nearly two years of neglect, disorganisation, and misuse.
Bayard took over the cavalry south of Washington; Pleasanton collected the 6th Regulars, the 3d Indiana, the 8th New York, the 8th Pennsylvania, and the 8th Illinois, and started in to do mischief with brigade head-quarters in the saddle.
The 8th New York went with him, but the 8th New York Lancers, reorganising at Orange Hill, were ordered to recruit the depleted regiment to twelve companies.
In August, Berkley's ragged blue and yellow jacket had been gaily embellished with brand-new sergeant's chevrons; at the Stone Bridge where the infantry recoiled his troop passed over at a gallop.
The War Department, much edified, looked at the cavalry and began to like it. And it was ordered that every cavalry regiment be increased by two troops, L and M. Which liberality, in combination with Colonel Arran's early reports concerning Berkley's conduct, enabled the company tailor to sew a pair of lieutenant's shoulder-straps on Berkley's soiled jacket.
But there was more than that in store for him; it was all very well to authorise two new troops to a regiment, but another matter to recruit them.
Colonel Arran, from his convalescent couch in the North, wrote to Governor Morgan; and Berkley got his troop, and his orders to go to New York and recruit it. And by the same mail came the first letter Ailsa had been well enough to write him since her transfer North on the transport Long Branch.
He read it a great many times; it was his only diversion while awaiting transportation at the old Hygeia Hotel, where, in company with hundreds of furloughed officers, he slept on the floors in his blanket; he read it on deck, as the paddle-wheeled transport weighed anchor, swung churning under the guns of the great Fortress—so close that the artillerymen on the water-battery could have tossed a biscuit aboard—and, heading north-east, passed out between the capes, where, seaward, the towering black sides of a sloop of war rose, bright work aglitter, smoke blowing fitfully from her single funnel.
At Alexandria he telegraphed her: "Your letter received, I am on my way North," and signed it with a thrill of boyish pride: "Philip O. Berkley-Arran, Capt. Cavalry, U. S. V."
To his father he sent a similar telegram from the Willard in Washington; wasted two days at the State, War, and Navy for an audience with Mr. Stanton, and finally found himself, valise in hand, waiting among throngs of officers of all grades, all arms of the service, for a chance to board his train.
And, as he stood there, he felt cotton-gloved fingers fumbling for the handle of his valise, and wheeled sharply, and began to laugh.
"Where the devil did you come from, Burgess? Did they give you a furlough?"
"Well, you got more than I. What's the matter; do you want to carry my bag?"
"You don't have to."
"No, Captain. . . . If you don't object, sir, I'll carry it."
They found seats together; Philip, amused, tried to extract from Burgess something besides the trite and obvious servant's patter—something that might signify some possibility of a latent independence—the germ of aspiration. And extracted nothing. Burgess had not changed, had not developed. His ways were Philip's ways; his loftier flights mounted no higher toward infinity than the fashions prevailing in the year 1862, and their suitability to his master's ultimate requirements.
For his regiment, for its welfare, its hopes, its glory, he apparently cared nothing; nor did he appear to consider the part he had borne in its fluctuating fortunes anything to be proud of.
Penned with the others in the brush field, he had done stolidly what his superiors demanded of him; and it presently came out that the only anxiety that assailed him was when, in the smoke of the tangled thickets, he missed his late master.
"Well, what do you propose to do after the regiment is mustered out?" inquired Philip curiously.
"Wait on you, sir."
"Don't you want to do anything else?"
Philip looked at him, smiling.
"I suppose you like my cigars, and my brandy and my linen?"
The ghost of .a grin touched the man's features.
"Yes, sir," he said with an impudence that captivated Philip.
"All right, my friend; I can stand it as long as you can. . . . And kindly feel in my overcoat for a cigar wrapped in paper. I'll go forward and smoke for a while."
"The cigar—I put it in my overcoat pocket wrapped in a bit of paper. . . . You—you don't mean to tell me that it's not there!"
Burgess searched the pockets with a perfectly grave face.
"It ain't here; no, sir."
Philip flung himself into the corner of his seat, making no effort to control his laughter:
"Burgess," he managed to say, "the dear old days are returning already. I'll stay here and read; you go forward and smoke that cigar. Do you hear?"
Again, just as he had done every day since leaving camp, he reread Ailsa's letter, settling down in his corner by the dirty, rattling window-pane:
"Everybody writes to you except myself. I know they have told you that it is taking a little longer for me to get well than anybody expected. I was terribly tired. Your father has been so sweet; everybody has been good to me—Celia, poor little Camilla, and Stephen. I know that they all write to you; and somehow I have been listlessly contented to let them tell you about home matters, and wait until my strength returned. But you must not doubt where every waking memory of mine has centred; my thoughts have circled always around that central vortex from which, since I first laid eyes on you, they have never strayed.
"Home news is what all good soldiers want; I write for you all I know:
"The city is the same hot, noisy, dirty, dusty, muddy, gridiron, changed in nowise except that everywhere one sees invalid soldiers; and there are far too many officers lounging about, presumably on furlough—too many Captain Dash's, twirling black moustaches in front of fashionable hotels. There are no powder stains on their uniforms, no sun-burn on their cheeks. They throng the city; and it is a sinister phenomenon.
"I think Broadway was never as lively, never quite as licentious. Those vivid cafes, saloons, concert halls, have sprung up everywhere; theatres, museums, gardens are in full blast; shops are crowded, hotels, street cars, stages overflowing with careless, noisy, overdressed people. The city is en fete; and somehow when I think of that Dance of Death thundering ceaselessly just south of us, it appalls me to encounter such gaiety and irresponsibility in the streets.
"Yet, after all, it may be the safety-valve of a brave people. Those whirling daily in the Dance of Death have, at least, the excitement to sustain them. Here the tension is constant and terrible; and the human mind cannot endure too much tragedy.
". . . They say our President fits a witticism to the tragedy of every battle-field; but it may be to preserve his own reason through these infernal years. He has the saddest eyes of any man since the last Martyr died.
"England behaves badly. It was her God-given opportunity to stand by us. She has had chance after chance since the last patriot died from lack of food and air in this sad old city of New York. . . . The Prince Consort is kind; his wife is inclined to be what he is. Napoleon is the sinister shape behind the arras; and the Tory government licks his patent-leather boots. Vile is the attitude of England, vile her threats, her sneers, her wicked contempt of a great people in agony. Her murderous government, bludgeon in hand, stands snarling at us in Mexico; her ministers glare at us from every war port; her press mocks in infamous caricature our unhappy President; only her poor are with us—the poor of England whom our war is starving. Again and again we have forgiven her. But now, standing on our blood-wet battle-fields, can we ever again forgive?
"You have heard from your family and from Celia, so what news I write may be no news. Yet I know how it is with soldiers; they never tire of such repetitions.
"Your father is slowly recovering. But he will never sit his saddle again, dear. Don't expect it; the war is over as far as he is concerned. But never have my eyes beheld such happiness, such gratitude, such adoration as I see in his eyes when your letters come. I think the burden of his conversation is you. I never hear him speak of anything else. Your father walks now; and by the time you are here he will be able to drive on Fifth Avenue and in the new Central Park. But he is not the man who left this city at the head of his regiment. His hair and moustache are white as snow; there are a thousand tiny wrinkles on his hands and features. All that heavy colour is gone; only a slight flush remains on his thin face. He is very handsome, Phil. Once, never dreaming of what was true, I thought he resembled you. Do you recollect my saying so once? Even you would recognise the likeness now. He is absorbed, wrapped up in you. . . . I can see, now, that he always has been. How blind we are! How blind!
"Celia, the darling, has not changed one particle. She is the prettiest thing you ever saw, cheerful, clever, courageous, self-possessed, devoted to Stephen, whose leave has been extended and who plays the role of a pale and interesting invalid hero with placid satisfaction to himself, adored and hovered over by Paige and Marye and all their girl friends. But when poor little Camilla, in her deep mourning, appears at the door, he clears out the others with a tyranny characteristic of young men; and I'm somewhat sorry for his mother and sisters. But it's the inevitable; and Camilla is the sweetest thing.
"Celia hears often from Curt, Poor Major Lent! It seems too hard that Camilla should be left so utterly alone in the world. The Major died as he would have wished to die, Curt writes. It was at that terrible Stone Bridge—where God was merciful to me when your squadron galloped across.
"He was found, seated against a tree, stone dead, one hand stiffened over the Mexican war medal at his throat. Curt says his face was calm, almost smiling. Camilla has his sword and medals.
"Did you know that your friend John Casson was dead? I was with him; I did not know he was a friend of yours. He displayed the same patience, the same desire not to be troublesome that so many badly wounded do.
"Letty asked me to say that a zouave of the 5th Regiment, a Mr. Cortlandt, was also killed. So many, many people I knew or had heard of have been killed or have died of disease since the war began. One sees a great many people wearing mourning in the city—crape is so common, on sword-hilts, on arms, veils, gowns, bonnets.
"Letty made the loveliest bride you or I ever beheld. Usually brides do not look their best, but Letty was the most charming, radiant, bewildering creature—and so absurdly young—as though suddenly she had dropped a few years and was again beginning that girlhood which I sometimes thought she had never had.
"Dr. Benton is a darling. He looks twenty years younger and wears a monocle! They are back from their honeymoon, and are planning to offer their services to the great central hospital at Philadelphia.
"Dear, your letter breaking the news to me that Marye Mead was burned when the cavalry burned Edmund Ruffin's house was no news to me. I saw it on fire. But, Philip, there was a fiercer flame consuming me than ever swept that house. I thank God it Is quenched for ever and that my heart and soul, refreshed, made new, bear no scars now of that infernal conflagration.