It was difficult to restrict the diet of this old hero. After eating an enormous meal of soup, meat, vegetables, pudding, and bread, his appetite would not be in the least satisfied; he would very coolly remark that he had had a very nice dinner; there was only one trouble about it, there was not enough. On being told that we would gladly give him more, were it considered safe, he would persist in saying that he felt "right peart," and begged me to remember that it was twenty-one months since he had had any dinners. As he gained strength enough to walk about, he became acquainted with the system of the hospital and made a discovery one day; namely, that he was on low diet, and that there was such a thing as full diet for the well men. "If my present fare is low, what may not the full be?" he reasoned, as visions of illimitable bounty floated through his insatiable mind. So he asked the doctor one morning to transfer his name to the full-diet list; and when the bugle sounded, he joined the procession as it moved to the dining-hall. Salt-fish, bread, and molasses chanced to be all that presented themselves to the famished, disappointed old man; his countenance was forlorn indeed, as he came to the window of the low-diet serving-room to ask for something to eat. "I shall get the doctor to put my name back on to this list, for I like this cook-shop the best, if it is called low diet."
Father Darling, as he used to be called, soon became a favorite all over the hospital. He delighted to perform any act of kindness for his fellow-sufferers. On Sunday mornings he might be seen wandering through the grounds, carrying books and newspapers into the wards, with a bright smile and cheery word for each man. His eloquence reached its highest pitch, when, talking of the Southern Confederacy, he declared that he did not believe in showing mercy to traitors, but that God intended them to be "clean exterminated" from the face of the earth, like the heathen nations the Israelites were commanded to destroy ages ago. He had but too good reason for wishing justice to be done. After he returned to his home in Tennessee, he wrote: "There is but one tale in the whole country: every comfort of life is purloined, clothes all in rags, a great many men and boys murdered, and, worst of all, Christianity seems to have gone up from the earth, and plunder and rapine to have filled its place. Surely war was instituted by Beelzebub. The guerillas are yet prowling about, seeking what they may devour. In these troublous times, all who can lift a hoe or cut a weed are trying to make support, but unless we get help from the North many must suffer extremely. The Rebs have not left my family anything. They went so far as to smash up the furniture, take my horse, all my cattle, and carry off and destroy my library. They smashed up the clock and cut up the bedsteads; and, in fact, ruin stares us in the face, and doleful complaint stuns the ear. Even sick ladies have been dragged out of bed by the hair of the head, so that the fiends of Davis could search for hid treasure. All who have labored for the government are destitute. Since the winter broke, I have been fighting the thieving, murdering Rebels, and now their number is diminished from two hundred to nine, and I can ride boldly forth where for the last three years it would have been certain death. O, how are the mighty fallen!"
On New Year's evening the ladies held a reception. Huge logs burned brightly in the large old-fashioned fireplace of their dining-room, and a "Happy New Year to all," in evergreen letters, stood out from the whitewashed wall. Surgeons and stewards, officers, extra-duty men, and patients, mingled in groups to exchange friendly good-wishes. Conversation and singing, with a simple repast of apples, cake, and lemonade, proved allurements to a long stay. Those who had gained admission were reluctant to depart to make room for the hundreds awaiting entrance outside. For days afterwards this evening was talked over with delight by the men: it was the only party they had attended since the war began, and it formed the greatest gayety of hospital experience.
Some of the vessels of the Russian fleet, then cruising in our waters, wintered at Annapolis. A severe sickness breaking out among the sailors, their accommodations on shipboard were not found adequate, and, by invitation of our government, they were received into the hospital. Their inability to speak one word of English made their sojourn rather a melancholy affair. Their symptoms were often more successfully guessed from signs and gestures, than from their attempts to express some particular wish in words. They all returned to their floating homes in a little while quite recovered, except one, who met with an accidental death, and was buried from our chapel with the full ceremonies of the Greek Church. With his face uncovered, he was carried by his comrades to the cemetery, and laid by the side of our soldiers. A Greek cross of black iron, among the white slabs, designates this stranger's grave.
The Vanderkeift Literary Association held a meeting every Tuesday evening in the chapel, which was always crowded. Some of the citizens of Annapolis, with their families, did not disdain a constant attendance. An animated discussion of some popular topic was held by the debating club; and the intelligence often shown did credit to the attainments of the men who filled the ranks of our army. Ballads were sung by the Kelsey Minstrels,—so named from their leader, a clerk at head-quarters. "The Knapsack," a paper edited by the ladies, was read. Into it was gathered whatever of local interest or amusement there was going on at the time. Contributions in prose or verse, stories, and conundrums filled the little sheet.
The short Southern winter wore quickly away, with little of unusual excitement in the constantly changing scenes of war. Our prisoners pined in dreary captivity, and the clash of arms was stilled for a season.
So many strange ideas are entertained about a woman's life in hospital service that I am tempted to transcribe a page from my own experience, in order that a glimpse may be had of its reality. Imagine me, then, in a small attic room, carpeted with a government blanket, and furnished with bed, bureau, table, two chairs, and, best of all, a little stove, for the morning is cold, and the lustrous stars still keep their quiet watch in the blue heavens. A glow of warmth and comfort spreads from gas-light and fire,—an encouraging roar in the chimney having crowned with success the third attempt at putting paper, wood, and coal together in exact proportions. After all, the difficulty has been chiefly in the want of a sufficient amount of air, for there could be no draught through the dead embers, and these could be disturbed only noiselessly, for the lady in the next room has the small-pox, and it will not do to awake her from her morning slumbers.
A glance at the wonderful beauty in which day is breaking is sufficient compensation for such early rising, as with hurried step I go to the wards, about seven rods off. The kind-hearted steward stands at the door: "Talbot died at two o'clock; he was just the same till the last." I am not surprised, for when I left him I knew that his feeble frame could not much longer endure the violence of delirium. He was by no means among the most hopeless of the last prisoners who came, but an unaccountable change had passed suddenly over him within the last few days. And now tidings of his death must carry a sad revulsion to hearts at home, made happy, but a short time since, by news of his safety.
The patients rouse themselves from the drowsiness of a sleepless night, expecting a morning greeting as I pass through the wards, giving to each his early stimulant of whiskey or cherry-brandy. The men in the ward where poor Talbot died seem in especial need of it; for, as they glance at the vacant corner, they say, "He screamed so badly, we didn't get much sleep."
At the call of the bugle a general stampede takes place for breakfast, and I must repair to the serving-room to oversee the last preparations for low and special diet; for on his return each of the male nurses will appear at the window with a large tray to be filled for his hungry men. Beef essence, jellies, and puddings for the day's requirement claim a little personal attention. Such things are not always left to servants at home; and how could our "boys in blue" be expected to handle the spoon with the same dexterity as the musket? They are not, however, deficient in culinary skill, as the savory hash, well-turned beefsteaks, nicely dropped eggs, and good coffee will testify.
After the procession of heavily laden breakfast-bearers has moved off, supplies from the commissary need a little arranging; and one must plan how they may be made the most of, and what additions for the next three meals are to be furnished from private resources. The result of which consideration is usually the despatch of Henry, the chief cook, into the city to purchase chickens, oysters, and milk in as great quantity as can be bought.
At eight o'clock the ladies meet for their morning meal. Good cold water, bread and molasses, with the occasional luxury of a salt-fish cake, suffice to keep soul and body together. The coffee is said to be good by those in the habit of taking it, and some, too, enjoy the butter.
The preparation of lemonade in large quantities, and drinks of various degrees of sweetness and acidity, is next to be superintended. As rapidly as possible the little pitchers are filled, and I follow them to the wards.
Wondering what can be the matter, and cooling his parched lips and bathing his burning brow, I stand over Allen as the doctor enters. Doubt is soon dispelled, for he pronounces it a violent case of small-pox. It is becoming very prevalent, but this is my first introduction to it. The doctor orders the immediate removal of the patient to Horn Point, the small-pox quarters, about two miles across the bay. It is too bleak for the open-boat conveyance, and so he must be jolted six miles round in an ambulance. On his bed, buried in blankets and stupefied with fever, he starts for his new abode, not without a plentiful supply of oranges, lemons, and bay-water.
The plaintive, whining tones of William Cutlep, a boy of sixteen, who is a picture of utter woe, with mind enough only left to know that he is in "awful pain," detain me too long; and when I must leave him, it is with the promise of coming up soon again, for he says he always did like to see "women folks around." His home is in Southern Virginia, whence he escaped to join the Union army; and he will never hear from his home again, for thirty-six ounces of brandy daily will not keep him alive much longer. He has already taken a ring from his finger, to be sent home with a dying message after the war is over.
The lower ward is not reached too soon, for the manly, gentle Mason is near his end. He faintly presses my hand, begging me not to leave him again, for it will soon be all over. An attack of pneumonia has proved too much for his reduced system to resist, and, meekly submitting to its ravages, he lies at last upon his death-bed. A saintly fortitude sustains him, as in broken accents these sentences come from his lips: "It is a country worth dying for." "Others will enjoy in coming years what I have fought for." "I can trust my Saviour. He is lighting me through the valley of death." "All is well." Low words of prayer commend the departing soul to the God who made it, and the sweet hymn,
"O sing to me of heaven, When I am called to die,"
breaks the stillness of the ward.
"It is growing dark,—I can't see you any more,"—he whispers; and then, as the bugle notes strike his ear, "Before that sound is heard again, I shall be far away." His heavy breathing grows thicker and shorter, until that radiance which comes but once to any mortal face, streaming through the open portal of eternity, tells of the glory upon which his soul is entering, as his eyelids are quietly closed on earth. The men in the beds around mutely gaze upon him, wishing that they may die like him when their last summons comes. The tender-hearted McNally, the faithful nurse, tearfully laments the loss of the first patient who has died since he took charge of the ward, and is sure that he could not have done more for him had he been his own brother. Nor could he.
I go back to the upper wards. Little Cutlep moans deeply in restless sleep. But there are others to be cheered, and many a promise to be fulfilled from the heterogeneous contents of a small basket, a constant and most valuable companion. Comfort-bags, braces, knives, come forth at requirement. Books, too, are always in demand. After they have been read, they are sent to many a distant fireside by mail; some of the boys have several treasured up to take with them when they go home, for such books are rare where they live, and their little brothers and sisters will greatly prize them. One boy still keeps under his pillow, clinging to it until the last, the little book, "Come to Jesus," which he requests shall be sent to his mother after his death, with the message that it has been the saving of his soul.
New wants arise to be remembered, and special desires for additions to the next meal are expressed. On the whole, the men seem comfortable and happy to-day, as they rest on their elbows partly sitting up in bed, playing backgammon, or scanning the last pictorial newspaper, or working over puzzles, for which last they are indebted to Rev. Mr. Ware, who made a visit to our hospital a few weeks since, and on his return sent from Boston a goodly assortment of amusements.
By this time the stimulants are to be given out again, and preparations made for dinner. For it will hardly be welcome, unless the promised mug of milk or ale, fried onions or sour-krout, fruit or jelly, shall come with it. Each tray receives its burden of hearty nourishment, and by one o'clock the ladies may be seen returning to their quarters for rations of beef and bread. It is well that we are blessed with elastic spirits, for "a merry heart doeth good like a medicine." All sadness for the dead must be concealed for the sake of the living. As we cheerfully meet at dinner-time, an occasional letter in the following strain is not without a salutary and amusing effect:—
"DEAR MISS T——:—I set down to tell you that I've arrove hum, an wish I was sum whar else. I've got 3 Bully boys an they are helpin me about gettin the garden sass into the groun; but they haint got no mother, an ive got a hous and a kow an I thort youd be kinder handy to take care of um, if youd stoop so much. I've thort of you ever sense I com from the hospittle, and how kinder jimmy you used to walk up and doun them wards. You had the best gate I ever see, an my 1st wife stepped of jis so, an she pade her way I tell you. I like to work, and the boys likes to work, an I kno you do, so ide like to jine if youv no objecshuns; an now ive maid so bold to rite sich, but I was kinder pussed on by my feelins an so I hope youl excuse it and rite soon. I shant be mad if you say no, but its no hurt to ask an the boys names are Zebalon, Shadrac and peter, they want to see you as does your respectful frend wich oes his present helth to you
A few letters for the men are to be written for the afternoon mail. Twining a wreath of immortelles and laurel, is the last that can be done for brave Tenny, who died yesterday, and will be buried with military honors to-day. The little procession, with reversed arms, winds slowly through the grounds, and at the sound of the bugle four patriots, each wrapped in the flag he has died for, are borne into the chapel. Inspired passages are read, "There is rest for the weary" is sung by the ladies, and prayers are offered for bereaved relatives at a distance. The chaplain precedes the short train to the cemetery, where the final portion of the church burial-service is said, and over the newly made graves resound three sharp volleys of musketry.
There is not much time to-day to read to the group around the fire, but with evident pride and pleasure they listen to "The Blue Coat of the Soldier," and "The Empty Sleeve," a touching poem, inscribed to the noble General Howard. I would gladly tarry longer at the request of the little audience, but the other wards must be looked after. An awkward man stands in the first one I enter, and begins a protest against being put on duty. He says he "'listed to fight," and knows nothing about "nussing." He hands over the materials for a mustard plaster, as he professes profound ignorance on the subject, saying that he fears the men left to his charge will not get very good care. This is the only instance I remember of a man who did not cheerfully try to do his best for his sick comrades. Fortunately, he was soon sent to his regiment.
Preparation of stimulants and supper keep me busily occupied until, in the shadowy twilight, the men from the fifteen wards gather into one, where the patients are not too ill to listen to a few texts from the Holy Book, which come with a diviner meaning of consolation than ever before, in the hush of closing day, with death so familiar a thought to each. Sergeant Murphy leads in prayer with true Methodist fervor, and the hymn,
"Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer, That calls me from a world of care,"
concludes the short service.
After their tea, the ladies meet in the chapel, to teach in the evening school held for an hour four times a week. It serves to interest the men in useful study. A large library in one corner of the chapel furnishes, too, stores of knowledge and amusement in works of history, travel, and fiction.
On going back again to the wards, I am glad to find that Carney's wife has come in the evening train. She was startled by the last news from him. It is well that she is here: if anything can save his life, it will be her presence. The poor woman is worn out by anxiety and a two days' journey. The chaplain must be found to write a permit for her entrance into the "Home" provided by the Sanitary Commission for the accommodation of those coming to see their friends in the hospital. The good-natured orderly, Frank Hall, conducts her out to the comfortable house.
The lurid gas flickers in the chilly breeze, for never are the windows allowed to be closed by day or night, in sunshine or storm. It does sometimes seem as if a circulation of air a little less like a hurricane from an iceberg might conduce more to the health and comfort of the inmates; but then this is one of Dr. Vanderkeift's pet points of practice, and woe betide any one who dares to shut out a breath of the exhilarating element. Most of the men are stilled in merciful slumbers, more or less peaceful or unquiet. One shout from a sleeper of "We'll whip them yet, boys!" tells that Colby is fighting over in a dream his last battle, while from others come groans only audible in hours of unconsciousness. In wakeful uneasiness, others sigh for sleep, and are at length lulled to rest by soothing words or rhymes, not unfrequently by the childish melodies of Mother Goose. And so the day's privilege of duty ends with gratitude, and a healthful weariness that vanishes before the next morning.
DIRGE FOR A SAILOR.
Slow, slow! toll it low, As the sea-waves break and flow; With the same dull, slumberous motion As his ancient mother, Ocean, Rocked him on, through storm and calm, From the iceberg to the palm: So his drowsy ears may deem That the sound which breaks his dream Is the ever-moaning tide Washing on his vessel's side.
Slow, slow! as we go, Swing his coffin to and fro; As of old the lusty billow Swayed him on his heaving pillow: So that he may fancy still, Climbing up the watery hill, Plunging in the watery vale, With her wide-distended sail, His good ship securely stands Onward to the golden lands.
Slow, slow!—heave-a-ho!— Lower him to the mould below; With the well-known sailor ballad, Lest he grow more cold and pallid At the thought that Ocean's child, From his mother's arms beguiled, Must repose for countless years, Reft of all her briny tears, All the rights he owned by birth, In the dusty lap of earth.
UP THE EDISTO.
In reading military history, one finds the main interest to lie, undoubtedly, in the great campaigns, where a man, a regiment, a brigade, is but a pawn in the game. But there is a charm also in the more free and adventurous life of partisan warfare, where, if the total sphere be humbler, yet the individual has more relative importance, and the sense of action is more personal and keen. This is the reason given by the eccentric Revolutionary biographer, Weems, for writing the Life of Washington first, and then that of Marion. And there were, certainly, in the early adventures of the colored troops in the Department of the South, some of the same elements of picturesqueness that belonged to Marion's band, with the added feature that the blacks were fighting for their personal liberties, of which Marion had helped to deprive them.
It is stated by Major-General Gillmore, in his "Siege of Charleston," as one of the three points in his preliminary strategy, that an expedition was sent up the Edisto River to destroy a bridge on the Charleston and Savannah Railway. As one of the early raids of the colored troops, this expedition may deserve narration, though it was, in a strategic point of view, a disappointment. It has already been told, briefly and on the whole with truth, by Greeley and others, but I will venture on a more complete account.
The project dated back earlier than General Gillmore's siege, and had originally no connection with that movement. It had been formed by Captain Trowbridge and myself in camp, and was based on facts learned from the men. General Saxton and Colonel W. W. H. Davis, the successive post-commanders, had both favored it. It had been also approved by General Hunter, before his sudden removal, though he regarded the bridge as a secondary affair, because there was another railway communication between the two cities. But as my main object was to obtain permission to go, I tried to make the most of all results which might follow, while it was very clear that the raid would harass and confuse the enemy, and be the means of bringing away many of the slaves. General Hunter had, therefore, accepted the project mainly as a stroke for freedom and black recruits; and General Gillmore, because anything that looked toward action found favor in his eyes, and because it would be convenient to him at that time to effect a diversion, if nothing more.
It must be remembered, that, after the first capture of Port Royal, the outlying plantations along the whole Southern coast were abandoned, and the slaves withdrawn into the interior. It was necessary to ascend some river for thirty miles in order to reach the black population at all. This ascent could only be made by night, as it was a slow process, and the smoke of a steamboat could be seen for a great distance. The streams were usually shallow, winding, and muddy, and the difficulties of navigation were such as to require a full moon and a flood tide. It was really no easy matter to bring everything to bear; especially as every projected raid must be kept a secret so far as possible. However, we were now somewhat familiar with such undertakings, half military, half naval, and the thing to be done on the Edisto was precisely what we had proved to be practicable on the St. Mary's and the St. John's,—to drop anchor before the enemy's door some morning at daybreak, without his having dreamed of our approach.
Since a raid made by Colonel Montgomery up the Combahee, two months before, the vigilance of the Rebels had increased. But we had information that upon the South Edisto or Pon-Pon River the rice plantations were still being actively worked by a large number of negroes, in reliance on obstructions placed at the mouth of that narrow stream, where it joins the main river, some twenty miles from the coast. This point was known to be further protected by a battery of unknown strength, at Wiltown Bluff, a commanding and defensible situation. The obstructions consisted of a row of strong wooden piles across the river; but we convinced ourselves that these must now be much decayed, and that Captain Trowbridge, an excellent engineer officer, could remove them by the proper apparatus. Our proposition was to man the "John Adams," an armed ferry-boat, which had before done us much service,—and which has now reverted to the pursuits of peace, it is said, on the East Boston line,—to ascend in this to Wiltown Bluff, silence the battery, and clear a passage through the obstructions. Leaving the "John Adams" to protect this point, we could then ascend the smaller stream with two light-draft boats, and perhaps burn the bridge, which was ten miles higher, before the enemy could bring sufficient force to make our position at Wiltown Bluff untenable.
The expedition was organized essentially upon this plan. The smaller boats were the "Enoch Dean,"—a river steamboat, which carried a ten-pound Parrott gun, and a small howitzer,—and a little mosquito of a tug, the "Governor Milton," upon which, with the greatest difficulty, we found room for two twelve-pound Armstrong guns, with their gunners, forming a section of the First Connecticut Battery, under Lieutenant Clinton, aided by a squad from my own regiment, under Captain James. The "John Adams" carried, if I remember rightly, two Parrott guns (of twenty and ten pounds caliber) and a howitzer or two. The whole force of men did not exceed two hundred and fifty.
We left Beaufort, S. C., on the afternoon of July 9th, 1863. In former narrations I have sufficiently described the charm of a moonlight ascent into a hostile country, upon an unknown stream, the dark and silent banks, the rippling water, the wail of the reed-birds, the anxious watch, the breathless listening, the veiled lights, the whispered orders. To this was now to be added the vexation of an insufficient pilotage, for our negro guide knew only the upper river, and, as it finally proved, not even that, while, to take us over the bar which obstructed the main stream, we must borrow a pilot from Captain Dutch, whose gunboat blockaded that point. This active naval officer, however, whose boat expeditions had penetrated all the lower branches of those rivers, could supply our want, and we borrowed from him not only a pilot, but a surgeon, to replace our own, who had been prevented by an accident from coming with us. Thus accompanied, we steamed over the bar in safety, had a peaceful ascent, passed the island of Jehossee,—the fine estate of Governor Aiken, then left undisturbed by both sides,—and fired our first shell into the camp at Wiltown Bluff at four o'clock in the morning.
The battery—whether fixed or movable we knew not—met us with a promptness that proved very short-lived. After three shots it was silent, but we could not tell why. The bluff was wooded and we could see but little. The only course was to land, under cover of the guns. As the firing ceased and the smoke cleared away, I looked across the rice-fields which lay beneath the bluff. The first sunbeams glowed upon their emerald levels, and on the blossoming hedges along the rectangular dikes. What were those black dots which everywhere appeared? Those moist meadows had become alive with human heads, and along each narrow path came a straggling file of men and women, all on a run for the river-side. I went ashore with a boat-load of troops at once. The landing was difficult and marshy. The astonished negroes tugged us up the bank, and gazed on us as if we had been Cortez and Columbus. They kept arriving by land much faster than we could come by water; every moment increased the crowd, the jostling, the mutual clinging, on that miry foothold. What a scene it was! With the wild faces, eager figures, strange garments, it seemed, as one of the poor things reverently suggested, "like notin' but de judgment day." Presently they began to come from the houses also, with their little bundles on their heads; then with larger bundles. Old women, trotting on the narrow paths, would kneel to pray a little prayer, still balancing the bundle; and then would suddenly spring up, urged by the accumulating procession behind, and would move on till irresistibly compelled by thankfulness to dip down for another invocation. Reaching us, every human being must grasp our hands, amid exclamations of "Bress you, mas'r," and "Bress de Lord," at the rate of four of the latter ascriptions to one of the former. Women brought children on their shoulders; small black boys carried on their backs little brothers equally inky, and, gravely depositing them, shook hands. Never had I seen human beings so clad, or rather so unclad, in such amazing squalidness and destitution of garments. I recall one small urchin without a rag of clothing save the basque waist of a lady's dress, bristling with whalebones, and worn wrong side before, beneath which his smooth ebony legs emerged like those of an ostrich from its plumage. How weak is imagination, how cold is memory, that I ever cease, for a day of my life, to see before me the picture of that astounding scene!
Yet at the time we were perforce a little impatient of all this piety, protestation, and hand-pressing; for the vital thing was to ascertain what force had been stationed at the bluff, and whether it was yet withdrawn. The slaves, on the other hand, were too much absorbed in their prospective freedom to aid us in taking any further steps to secure it. Captain Trowbridge, who had by this time landed at a different point, got quite into despair over the seeming deafness of the people to all questions. "How many soldiers are there on the bluff?" he asked of the first-comer.
"Mas'r," said the man, stuttering terribly, "I c-c-c—"
"Tell me how many soldiers there are!" roared Trowbridge, in his mighty voice, and all but shaking the poor old thing, in his thirst for information.
"O mas'r," recommenced in terror the incapacitated witness, "I c-c-car-penter!" holding up eagerly a little stump of a hatchet, his sole treasure, as if his profession ought to excuse him from all military opinions.
I wish that it were possible to present all this scene from the point of view of the slaves themselves. It can be most nearly done, perhaps, by quoting the description given of a similar scene on the Combahee River, by a very aged man, who had been brought down on the previous raid, already mentioned. I wrote it down in my tent, long after, while the old man recited the tale, with much gesticulation, at the door; and it is by far the best glimpse I have ever had, through a negro's eyes, at these wonderful birthdays of freedom.
"De people was all a hoein', mas'r," said the old man. "Dey was a hoein' in de rice-field, when de gunboats come. Den ebry man drap dem hoe, and leff de rice. De mas'r he stand and call, 'Run to de wood for hide! Yankee come, sell you to Cuba! run for hide!' Ebry man he run, and, my God! run all toder way!
"Mas'r stand in de wood, peep, peep, faid for truss [afraid to trust]. He say, 'Run to de wood!' and ebry man run by him, straight to de boat.
"De brack sojer so presumptious, dey come right ashore, hold up dere head, Fus' ting I know, dere was a barn, ten tousand bushel rough rice, all in a blaze, den mas'r's great house, all cracklin' up de roof. Didn't I keer for see 'em blaze? Lor, mas'r, didn't care notin' at all, I was gwine to de boat."
Dore's Don Quixote could not surpass the sublime absorption in which the gaunt old man, with arm uplifted, described this stage of affairs, till he ended in a shrewd chuckle, worthy of Sancho Panza. Then he resumed.
"De brack sojers so presumptious!" This he repeated three times, slowly shaking his head in an ecstasy of admiration. It flashed upon me that the apparition of a black soldier must amaze those still in bondage, much as a butterfly just from the chrysalis might astound his fellow-grubs. I inwardly vowed that my soldiers, at least, should be as "presumptious" as I could make them. Then he went on.
"Ole woman and I go down to de boat; den dey say behind us, 'Rebels comin'! Rebels comin'!' Ole woman say, 'Come ahead, come plenty ahead!' I hab notin' on but my shirt and pantaloon; ole woman one single frock he hab on, and one handkerchief on he head; I leff all-two my blanket and run, for de Rebel come, and den dey didn't come, didn't truss for come.
"Ise eighty-eight year old, mas'r. My ole Mas'r Lowndes keep all de ages in a big book, and when we come to age ob sense we mark em down ebry year, so I know. Too ole for come? Mas'r joking. Neber too ole for leave de land o' bondage. I old, but great good for chil'en, gib tousand tank ebry day. Young people can go through, force [forcibly], mas'r, but de ole folk mus' go slow."
Such emotions as these, no doubt, were inspired by our arrival, but we could only hear their hasty utterance in passing; our duty being, with the small force already landed, to take possession of the bluff. Ascending, with proper precautions, the wooded hill, we soon found ourselves in the deserted camp of a light battery, amid scattered equipments and suggestions of a very unattractive breakfast. As soon as possible, skirmishers were thrown out through the woods to the farther edge of the bluff, while a party searched the houses, finding the usual large supply of furniture and pictures,—brought up for safety from below,—but no soldiers. Captain Trowbridge then got the "John Adams" beside the row of piles, and went to work for their removal.
Again I had the exciting sensation of being within the hostile lines,—the eager explorations, the doubts, the watchfulness, the listening for every sound of coming hoofs. Presently a horse's tread was heard in earnest, but it was a squad of our own men bringing in two captured cavalry soldiers. One of these, a sturdy fellow, submitted quietly to his lot, only begging that, whenever we should evacuate the bluff, a note should be left behind, stating that he was a prisoner. The other, a very young man, and a member of the "Rebel Troop," a sort of Cadet corps among the Charleston youths, came to me in great wrath, complaining that the corporal of our squad had kicked him after he had surrendered. His air of offended pride was very rueful, and it did indeed seem a pathetic reversal of fortunes for the two races. To be sure, the youth was a scion of one of the foremost families of South Carolina, and when I considered the wrongs which the black race had encountered from those of his blood, first and last, it seemed as if the most scrupulous Recording Angel might tolerate one final kick, to square the account. But I reproved the corporal, who respectfully disclaimed the charge, and said the kick was an incident of the scuffle. It certainly was not their habit to show such poor malice: they thought too well of themselves.
I recall with delight my conversation with this captured boy, he was such a naive specimen of the true Southern arrogance. For instance:—
"Colonel," said he, respectfully, "are there any gentlemen on board the steamboat where I am to be placed?"
I told him that such a question sounded strangely from a captured private soldier.
"Perhaps it does," said he wistfully, "and I know my position too well to offend an enemy. I only wished to know"—and here he paused, evidently trying to find some form of expression which could not possibly disturb the keenest sensibilities—"if there is likely to be any one on board with whom I can associate."
This was carrying the joke rather too far. I told him that he would find United States officers on board, and United States soldiers, and that it was to be hoped he would like their society, as he probably would have no other for some time to come. But the characteristic feature of the thing is, that I do not believe he meant to commit any impertinence whatever, but that the youth rather aimed to compliment me by assuming that I appreciated the feelings of a man made of porcelain, and would choose for him only the most choice and fastidious companionship. But I must say that he seemed to me in no way superior, but rather quite inferior, to my own black soldiers, who equalled him in courage and in manners, and far surpassed him in loyalty, modesty, and common sense.
His demeanor seemed less lofty, but rather piteous, when he implored me not to put him on board any vessel which was to ascend the upper stream, and hinted, by awful implications, the danger of such ascent. This meant torpedoes, a peril which we treated, in those days, with rather mistaken contempt. But we found none on the Edisto, and it may be that it was only a foolish attempt to alarm us.
Meanwhile, Trowbridge was toiling away at the row of piles, which proved easier to draw out than to saw asunder, either work being hard enough. It took far longer than we had hoped, and we saw noon approach and the tide rapidly fall, taking with it, inch by inch, our hopes of effecting a surprise at the bridge. During this time, and indeed all day, the detachments on shore, under Captains Whitney and Sampson, were having occasional skirmishes with the enemy, while the colored people were swarming to the shore, or running to and fro like ants, with the poor treasures of their houses. Our busy Quartermaster, Mr. Bingham,—who died afterwards from the overwork of that sultry day,—was transporting the refugees on board the steamer, or hunting up bales of cotton, or directing the burning of rice-houses, in accordance with our orders. No dwelling-houses were destroyed or plundered by our men,—Sherman's "bummers" not having yet arrived,—though I asked no questions as to what the plantation negroes might bring in their great bundles. One piece of property, I must admit, seemed a lawful capture,—a United States dress-sword, of the old pattern, which had belonged to the Rebel general who afterwards gave the order to bury Colonel Shaw "with his niggers." That I have retained, not without some satisfaction, to this day.
A passage having been cleared at last, and the tide having turned by noon, we lost no time in attempting the ascent, leaving the bluff to be held by the "John Adams" and by the small force on shore. We were scarcely above the obstructions, however, when the little tug went aground, and the "Enoch Dean," ascending a mile farther, had an encounter with a battery on the right,—perhaps our old enemy,—and drove it back. Soon after, she also ran aground, a misfortune of which our opponent strangely took no advantage; and, on getting off, I thought it best to drop down to the bluff again, as the tide was still hopelessly low. None can tell, save those who have tried them, the vexations of those muddy Southern streams, navigable only during a few hours of flood-tide.
After waiting an hour, the two small vessels again tried the ascent. The enemy on the right had disappeared; but we could now see, far off on our left, another light battery moving parallel with the river, apparently to meet us at some upper bend. But for the present we were safe, with the low rice-fields on each side of us; and the scene was so peaceful, it seemed as if all danger were done. For the first time, we saw in South Carolina blossoming river-banks and low emerald meadows, that seemed like New England. Everywhere there were the same rectangular fields, smooth canals, and bushy dikes. A few negroes stole out to us in dug-outs, and breathlessly told us how others had been hurried away by the overseers. We glided safely on, mile after mile. The day was unutterably hot, but all else seemed propitious. The men had their combustibles all ready to fire the bridge, and our hopes were unbounded.
But by degrees the channel grew more tortuous and difficult, and while the little "Milton" glided smoothly over everything, the "Enoch Dean," my own boat, repeatedly grounded. On every occasion of especial need, too, something went wrong in her machinery,—her engine being constructed on some wholly new patent, of which, I should hope, this trial would prove entirely sufficient. The black pilot, who was not a soldier, grew more and more bewildered, and declared that it was the channel, not his brain, which had gone wrong; the captain, a little elderly man, sat wringing his hands in the pilot-box; and the engineer appeared to be mingling his groans with those of the diseased engine. Meanwhile I, in equal ignorance of machinery and channel, had to give orders only justified by minute acquaintance with both. So I navigated on general principles, until they grounded us on a mud-bank, just below a wooded point, and some two miles from the bridge of our destination. It was with a pang that I waved to Major Strong, who was on the other side of the channel in a tug, not to risk approaching us, but to steam on and finish the work, if he could.
Short was his triumph. Gliding round the point, he found himself instantly engaged with a light battery of four or six guns, doubtless the same we had seen in the distance. The "Milton" was within two hundred and fifty yards. The Connecticut men fought their guns well, aided by the blacks, and it was exasperating for us to hear the shots, while we could see nothing and do nothing. The scanty ammunition of our bow gun was exhausted, and the gun in the stern was useless, from the position in which we lay. In vain we moved the men from side to side, rocking the vessel, to dislodge it. The heat was terrific that August afternoon; I remember I found myself constantly changing places, on the scorched deck, to keep my feet from being blistered. At last the officer in charge of the gun, a hardy lumberman from Maine, got the stern of the vessel so far round that he obtained the range of the battery through the cabin windows, "but it would be necessary," he coolly added, on reporting to me this fact, "to shoot away the corner of the cabin." I knew that this apartment was newly painted and gilded, and the idol of the poor captain's heart; but it was plain that even the thought of his own upholstery could not make the poor soul more wretched than he was. So I bade Captain Dolly blaze away, and thus we took our hand in the little game, though at a sacrifice.
It was of no use. Down drifted our little consort round the point, her engine disabled and her engineer killed, as we afterwards found, though then we could only look and wonder. Still pluckily firing, she floated by upon the tide, which had now just turned; and when, with a last desperate effort, we got off, our engine had one of its impracticable fits, and we could only follow her. The day was waning, and all its range of possibility had lain within the limits of that one tide.
All our previous expeditions had been so successful, it now seemed hard to turn back; the river-banks and rice-fields, so beautiful before, seemed only a vexation now. But the swift current bore us on, and after our Parthian shots had died away, a new discharge of artillery opened upon us, from our first antagonist of the morning, which still kept the other side of the stream. It had taken up a strong position on another bluff, almost out of range of the "John Adams," but within easy range of us. The sharpest contest of the day was before us. Happily the engine and engineer were now behaving well, and we were steering in a channel already traversed, and of which the dangerous points were known. But we had a long, straight reach of river before us, heading directly toward the battery, which, having once got our range, had only to keep it, while we could do nothing in return. The Rebels certainly served their guns well. For the first time I discovered that there were certain compensating advantages in a slightly-built craft, as compared with one more substantial: the missiles never lodged in the vessel, but crashed through some thin partition as if it were paper, to explode beyond us, or fall harmless in the water. Splintering, the chief source of wounds and death in wooden ships, was thus entirely avoided; the danger was, that our machinery might be disabled, or that shots might strike below the water-line, and sink us.
This, however, did not happen. Fifteen projectiles, as we afterwards computed, passed through the vessel or cut the rigging. Yet few casualties occurred, and those instantly fatal. As my orderly stood leaning on a comrade's shoulder, the head of the latter was shot off. At last I myself felt a sudden blow in the side, as if from some prize-fighter, doubling me up for a moment, while I sank upon a seat. It proved afterwards to have been produced by the grazing of a ball, which, without tearing a garment, had yet made a large part of my side black and blue, leaving a sensation of paralysis which made it difficult to stand. Supporting myself on Captain Rogers, I tried to comprehend what had happened, and I remember being impressed by an odd feeling that I had now got my share, and should henceforth be a great deal safer than any of the rest. I am told that this often follows one's first experience of a wound.
But this immediate contest, sharp as it was, proved brief; a turn in the river enabled us to use our stern gun, and we soon glided into the comparative shelter of Wiltown Bluff. There, however, we were to encounter the danger of shipwreck, superadded to that of fight. When the passage through the piles was first cleared, it had been marked by stakes, lest the rising tide should cover the remaining piles and make it difficult to run the passage. But when we again reached it, the stakes had somehow been knocked away, the piles were just covered by the swift current, and the little tug-boat was aground upon them. She came off easily, however, with our aid, and, when we in turn essayed the passage, we grounded also, but more firmly. We getting off at last, and making the passage, the tug again became lodged, when nearly past danger, and all our efforts proved powerless to pull her through. I therefore dropped down below, and sent the "John Adams" to her aid, while I superintended the final recall of the pickets, and the embarkation of the remaining refugees.
While thus engaged, I felt little solicitude about the boats above. It was certain that the "John Adams" could safely go close to the piles on the lower side, that she was very strong, and that the other was very light. Still, it was natural to cast some anxious glances up the river, and it was with surprise that I presently saw a canoe descending, which contained Major Strong. Coming on board, he told me with some excitement that the tug could not possibly be got off, and he wished for orders.
It was no time to consider whether it was not his place to have given orders, instead of going half a mile to seek them. I was by this time so far exhausted that everything seemed to pass by me as by one in a dream; but I got into a boat, pushed up stream, met presently the "John Adams" returning, and was informed by the officer in charge of the Connecticut battery that he had abandoned the tug, and—worse news yet—that his guns had been thrown overboard. It seemed to me then, and has always seemed, that this sacrifice was utterly needless, because, although the captain of the "John Adams" had refused to risk his vessel by going near enough to receive the guns, he should have been compelled to do so. Though the thing was done without my knowledge, and beyond my reach, yet, as commander of the expedition, I was technically responsible. It was hard to blame a lieutenant when his senior had shrunk from a decision, and left him alone; nor was it easy to blame Major Strong, whom I knew to be a man of personal courage, though without much decision of character. He was subsequently tried by court-martial and acquitted, after which he resigned, and was lost at sea on his way home.
The tug, being thus abandoned, must of course be burned to prevent her falling into the enemy's hands. Major Strong went with prompt fearlessness to do this, at my order; after which he remained on the "Enoch Dean," and I went on board the "John Adams," being compelled to succumb at last, and transfer all remaining responsibility to Captain Trowbridge. Exhausted as I was, I could still observe, in a vague way, the scene around me. Every available corner of the boat seemed like some vast auction-room of secondhand goods. Great piles of bedding and bundles lay on every side, with black heads emerging and black forms reclining in every stage of squalidness. Some seemed ill, or wounded, or asleep, others were chattering eagerly among themselves, singing, praying, or soliloquizing on joys to come. "Bress de Lord," I heard one woman say, "I spec' I get salt victual now,—notin' but fresh victual dese six months, but Ise get salt victual now,"—thus reversing, under pressure of the salt-embargo, the usual anticipations of voyagers.
Trowbridge told me, long after, that, on seeking a fan for my benefit, he could find but one on board. That was in the hands of a fat old "aunty," who had just embarked, and sat on an enormous bundle of her goods, in everybody's way, fanning herself vehemently, and ejaculating, as her gasping breath would permit, "Oh! Do, Jesus! Oh! Do, Jesus!" When the captain abruptly disarmed her of the fan, and left her continuing her pious exercises.
Thus we glided down the river in the waning light. Once more we encountered a battery, making five in all; I could hear the guns of the assailants, and could not distinguish the explosion of their shells from the answering throb of our own guns. The kind Quartermaster kept bringing me news of what occurred, like Rebecca in Front-de-Boeuf's castle, but discreetly withholding any actual casualties. Then all faded into safety and sleep; and we reached Beaufort in the morning, after thirty-six hours of absence. A kind friend, who acted in South Carolina a nobler part amid tragedies than in any of her early stage triumphs, met us with an ambulance at the wharf, and the prisoners, the wounded, and the dead were duly attended.
The reader will not care for any personal record of convalescence; though, among the general military laudations of whiskey, it is worth while to say that one life was saved, in the opinion of my surgeons, by an habitual abstinence from it, leaving no food for peritoneal inflammation to feed upon. The able-bodied men who had joined us were sent to aid General Gillmore in the trenches, while their families were established in huts and tents on St. Helena Island. A year after, greatly to the delight of the regiment, in taking possession of a battery which they had helped to capture on James Island, they found in their hands the selfsame guns which they had seen thrown overboard from the "Governor Milton." They then felt that their account with the enemy was squared, and could proceed to further operations.
Before the war, how great a thing seemed the rescue of even one man from slavery; and since the war has emancipated all, how little seems the liberation of two hundred! But no one then knew how the contest might end; and when I think of that morning sunlight, those emerald fields, those thronging numbers, the old women with their prayers, and the little boys with their living burdens, it seems to me that the day was worth all it cost, and more.
A STORY IN THREE PARTS.
In country districts, where life is quiet, incidents do duty as events; and accordingly Captain Severn's sudden departure for his regiment became very rapidly known among Gertrude's neighbors. She herself heard it from her coachman, who had heard it in the village, where the Captain had been seen to take the early train. She received the news calmly enough to outward appearance, but a great tumult rose and died in her breast. He had gone without a word of farewell! Perhaps he had not had time to call upon her. But bare civility would have dictated his dropping her a line of writing,—he who must have read in her eyes the feeling which her lips refused to utter, and who had been the object of her tenderest courtesy. It was not often that Gertrude threw back into her friends' teeth their acceptance of the hospitality which it had been placed in her power to offer them; but if she now mutely reproached Captain Severn with ingratitude, it was because he had done more than slight her material gifts: he had slighted that constant moral force with which these gifts were accompanied, and of which they were but the rude and vulgar token. It is but natural to expect that our dearest friends will accredit us with our deepest feelings; and Gertrude had constituted Edmund Severn her dearest friend. She had not, indeed, asked his assent to this arrangement, but she had borne it out by a subtile devotion which she felt that she had a right to exact of him that he should repay,—repay by letting her know that, whether it was lost on his heart or not, it was at least not lost to his senses,—that, if he could not return it, he could at least remember it. She had given him the flower of her womanly tenderness, and, when his moment came, he had turned from her without a look. Gertrude shed no tears. It seemed to her that she had given her friend tears enough, and that to expend her soul in weeping would be to wrong herself. She would think no more of Edmund Severn. He should be as little to her for the future as she was to him.
It was very easy to make this resolution: to keep it, Gertrude found another matter. She could not think of the war, she could not talk with her neighbors of current events, she could not take up a newspaper, without reverting to her absent friend. She found herself constantly harassed with the apprehension that he had not allowed himself time really to recover, and that a fortnight's exposure would send him back to the hospital. At last it occurred to her that civility required that she should make a call upon Mrs. Martin, the Captain's sister; and a vague impression that this lady might be the depositary of some farewell message—perhaps of a letter—which she was awaiting her convenience to present, led her at once to undertake this social duty. The carriage which had been ordered for her projected visit was at the door, when, within a week after Severn's departure, Major Luttrel was announced. Gertrude received him in her bonnet. His first care was to present Captain Severn's adieus, together with his regrets that he had not had time to discharge them in person. As Luttrel made his speech, he watched his companion narrowly, and was considerably reassured by the unflinching composure with which she listened to it. The turn he had given to Severn's message had been the fruit of much mischievous cogitation. It had seemed to him that, for his purposes, the assumption of a hasty, and as it were mechanical, allusion to Miss Whittaker, was more serviceable than the assumption of no allusion at all, which would have left a boundless void for the exercise of Gertrude's fancy. And he had reasoned well; for although he was tempted to infer from her calmness that his shot had fallen short of the mark, yet, in spite of her silent and almost smiling assent to his words, it had made but one bound to her heart. Before many minutes, she felt that those words had done her a world of good. "He had not had time!" Indeed, as she took to herself their full expression of perfect indifference, she felt that her hard, forced smile was broadening into the sign of a lively gratitude to the Major.
Major Luttrel had still another task to perform. He had spent half an hour on the preceding day at Richard's bedside, having ridden over to the farm, in ignorance of his illness, to see how matters stood with him. The reader will already have surmised that the Major was not pre-eminently a man of conscience: he will, therefore, be the less surprised and shocked to hear that the sighs of the poor young man, prostrate, fevered, and delirious, and to all appearance rapidly growing worse, filled him with an emotion the reverse of creditable. In plain terms, he was very glad to find Richard a prisoner in bed. He had been racking his brains for a scheme to keep his young friend out of the way, and now, to his exceeding satisfaction, Nature had relieved him of this troublesome care. If Richard was condemned to typhoid fever, which his symptoms seemed to indicate, he would not, granting his recovery, be able to leave his room within a month. In a month, much might be done; nay, with energy, all might be done. The reader has been all but directly informed that the Major's present purpose was to secure Miss Whittaker's hand. He was poor, and he was ambitious, and he was, moreover, so well advanced in life—being thirty-six years of age—that he had no heart to think of building up his fortune by slow degrees. A man of good breeding, too, he had become sensible, as he approached middle age, of the many advantages of a luxurious home. He had accordingly decided that a wealthy marriage would most easily unlock the gate to prosperity. A girl of a somewhat lighter calibre than Gertrude would have been the woman—we cannot say of his heart; but, as he very generously argued, beggars can't be choosers. Gertrude was a woman with a mind of her own; but, on the whole, he was not afraid of her. He was abundantly prepared to do his duty. He had, of course, as became a man of sense, duly weighed his obstacles against his advantages; but an impartial scrutiny had found the latter heavier in the balance. The only serious difficulty in his path was the possibility that, on hearing of Richard's illness, Gertrude, with her confounded benevolence, would take a fancy to nurse him in person, and that, in the course of her ministrations, his delirious ramblings would force upon her mind the damning story of the deception practised upon Captain Severn. There was nothing for it but bravely to face this risk. As for that other fact, which many men of a feebler spirit would have deemed an invincible obstacle, Luttrel's masterly understanding had immediately converted it into the prime agent of success,—the fact, namely, that Gertrude's heart was preoccupied. Such knowledge as he possessed of the relations between Miss Whittaker and his brother officer he had gained by his unaided observations and his silent deductions. These had been logical; for, on the whole, his knowledge was accurate. It was at least what he might have termed a good working knowledge. He had calculated on a passionate reactionary impulse on Gertrude's part, consequent on Severn's simulated offence. He knew that, in a generous woman, such an impulse, if left to itself, would not go very far. But on this point it was that his policy bore. He would not leave it to itself: he would take it gently into his hands, attenuate it, prolong it, economize it, and mould it into the clew to his own good-fortune. He thus counted much upon his skill and his tact; but he likewise placed a becoming degree of reliance upon his solid personal qualities,—qualities too sober and too solid, perhaps, to be called charms, but thoroughly adapted to inspire confidence. The Major was not handsome in feature; he left that to younger men and to lighter women; but his ugliness was of a masculine, aristocratic, intelligent stamp. His figure, moreover, was good enough to compensate for the absence of a straight nose and a fine mouth; and his general bearing offered a most pleasing combination of the gravity of the man of affairs and the versatility of the man of society.
In her sudden anxiety on Richard's behalf, Gertrude soon forgot her own immaterial woes. The carriage which was to have conveyed her to Mrs. Martin's was used for a more disinterested purpose. The Major, prompted by a strong faith in the salutary force of his own presence, having obtained her permission to accompany her, they set out for the farm, and soon found themselves in Richard's chamber. The young man was wrapped in a heavy sleep, from which it was judged imprudent to arouse him. Gertrude, sighing as she compared his thinly furnished room with her own elaborate apartments, drew up a mental list of essential luxuries which she would immediately send him. Not but that he had received, however, a sufficiency of homely care. The doctor was assiduous, and the old woman who nursed him was full of rough good-sense.
"He asks very often after you, Miss," she said, addressing Gertrude, but with a sly glance at the Major. "But I think you'd better not come too often. I'm afraid you'd excite him more than you'd quiet him."
"I'm afraid you would, Miss Whittaker," said the Major, who could have hugged the goodwife.
"Why should I excite him?" asked Gertrude, "I'm used to sick-rooms. I nursed my father for a year and a half."
"O, it's very well for an old woman like me, but it's no place for a fine young lady like you," said the nurse, looking at Gertrude's muslins and laces.
"I'm not so fine as to desert a friend in distress," said Gertrude. "I shall come again, and if it makes the poor fellow worse to see me, I shall stay away. I am ready to do anything that will help him to get well."
It had already occurred to her that, in his unnatural state, Richard might find her presence a source of irritation, and she was prepared to remain in the background. As she returned to her carriage, she caught herself reflecting with so much pleasure upon Major Luttrel's kindness in expending a couple of hours of his valuable time on so unprofitable an object as poor Richard, that, by way of intimating her satisfaction, she invited him to come home and dine with her.
After a short interval she paid Richard a second visit, in company with Miss Pendexter. He was a great deal worse; he lay emaciated, exhausted, and stupid. The issue was doubtful. Gertrude immediately pushed forward to M——, a larger town than her own, sought out a professional nurse, and arranged with him to relieve the old woman from the farm, who was worn out with her vigilance. For a fortnight, moreover, she received constant tidings from the young man's physician. During this fortnight, Major Luttrel was assiduous, and proportionately successful.
It may be said, to his credit, that he had by no means conducted his suit upon that narrow programme which he had drawn up at the outset. He very soon discovered that Gertrude's resentment—if resentment there was—was a substance utterly impalpable even to his most delicate tact, and he had accordingly set to work to woo her like an honest man, from day to day, from hour to hour, trusting so devoutly for success to momentary inspiration, that he felt his suit dignified by a certain flattering faux air of genuine passion. He occasionally reminded himself, however, that he might really be owing more to the subtle force of accidental contrast than Gertrude's lifelong reserve—for it was certain she would not depart from it—would ever allow him to measure.
It was as an honest man, then, a man of impulse and of action, that Gertrude had begun to like him. She was not slow to perceive whither his operations tended; and she was almost tempted at times to tell him frankly that she would spare him the intermediate steps, and meet him at the goal without further delay. It was not that she was prepared to love him, but she would make him an obedient wife. An immense weariness had somehow come upon her, and a sudden sense of loneliness. A vague suspicion that her money had done her an incurable wrong inspired her with a profound distaste for the care of it. She felt cruelly hedged out from human sympathy by her bristling possessions. "If I had had five hundred dollars a year," she said in a frequent parenthesis, "I might have pleased him." Hating her wealth, accordingly, and chilled by her isolation, the temptation was strong upon her to give herself up to that wise, brave gentleman who seemed to have adopted such a happy medium betwixt loving her for her money and fearing her for it. Would she not always stand between men who would represent the two extremes? She would anticipate security by an alliance with Major Luttrel.
One evening, on presenting himself, Luttrel read these thoughts so clearly in her eyes, that he made up his mind to speak. But his mind was burdened with a couple of facts, of which it was necessary that he should discharge it before it could enjoy the freedom of action which the occasion required. In the first place, then, he had been to see Richard Clare, and had found him suddenly and decidedly better. It was unbecoming, however,—it was impossible,—that he should allow Gertrude to linger over this pleasant announcement.
"I tell the good news first," he said, gravely. "I have some very bad news, too, Miss Whittaker."
Gertrude sent him a rapid glance, "Some one has been killed," she said.
"Captain Severn has been shot," said the Major,—"shot by a guerilla."
Gertrude was silent. No answer seemed possible to that uncompromising fact. She sat with her head on her hand, and her elbow on the table beside her, looking at the figures on the carpet. She uttered no words of commonplace regret; but she felt as little like giving way to serious grief. She had lost nothing, and, to the best of her knowledge, he had lost nothing. She had an old loss to mourn,—a loss a month old, which she had mourned as she might. To give way to passion would have been but to impugn the solemnity of her past regrets. When she looked up at her companion, she was pale, but she was calm, yet with a calmness upon which a single glance of her eye directed him not inconsiderately to presume. She was aware that this glance betrayed her secret; but in view both of Severn's death and of the Major's attitude, such betrayal mattered less. Luttrel had prepared to act upon her hint, and to avert himself gently from the topic, when Gertrude, who had dropped her eyes again, raised them with a slight shudder. "I'm cold," she said. "Will you shut that window beside you, Major? Or stay, suppose you give me my shawl from the sofa."
Luttrel brought the shawl, placed it on her shoulders, and sat down beside her. "These are cruel times," he said, with studied simplicity. "I'm sure I hardly know what's to come of it all."
"Yes, they are cruel times," said Gertrude. "They make one feel cruel. They make one doubt of all he has learnt from his pastors and masters."
"Yes, but they teach us something new also."
"I'm sure I don't know," said Gertrude, whose heart was so full of bitterness that she felt almost malignant. "They teach us how mean we are. War is an infamy, Major, though it is your trade. It's very well for you, who look at it professionally, and for those who go and fight; but it's a miserable business for those who stay at home, and do the thinking and the sentimentalizing. It's a miserable business for women; it makes us more spiteful than ever."
"Well, a little spite isn't a bad thing, in practice," said the Major. "War is certainly an abomination, both at home and in the field. But as wars go, Miss Whittaker, our own is a very satisfactory one. It involves something. It won't leave us as it found us. We're in the midst of a revolution, and what's a revolution but a turning upside down? It makes sad work with our habits and theories and our traditions and convictions. But, on the other hand," Luttrel pursued, warming to his task, "it leaves something untouched, which is better than these,—I mean our feelings, Miss Whittaker." And the Major paused until he had caught Gertrude's eyes, when, having engaged them with his own, he proceeded. "I think they are the stronger for the downfall of so much else, and, upon my soul, I think it's in them we ought to take refuge. Don't you think so?"
"Yes, if I understand you."
"I mean our serious feelings, you know,—not our tastes nor our passions. I don't advocate fiddling while Rome is burning. In fact it's only poor, unsatisfied devils that are tempted to fiddle. There is one feeling which is respectable and honorable, and even sacred, at all times and in all places, whatever they may be. It doesn't depend upon circumstances, but they upon it; and with its help, I think, we are a match for any circumstances. I don't mean religion, Miss Whittaker," added the Major, with a sober smile.
"If you don't mean religion," said Gertrude, "I suppose you mean love. That's a very different thing."
"Yes, a very different thing; so I've always thought, and so I'm glad to hear you say. Some people, you know, mix them up in the most extraordinary fashion. I don't fancy myself an especially religious man; in fact, I believe I'm rather otherwise. It's my nature. Half mankind are born so, or I suppose the affairs of this world wouldn't move. But I believe I'm a good lover, Miss Whittaker."
"I hope for your own sake you are, Major Luttrel."
"Thank you. Do you think now you could entertain the idea for the sake of any one else?"
Gertrude neither dropped her eyes, nor shrugged her shoulders, nor blushed. If anything, indeed, she turned somewhat paler than before, as she sustained her companion's gaze, and prepared to answer him as directly as she might.
"If I loved you, Major Luttrel," she said, "I should value the idea for my own sake."
The Major, too, blanched a little. "I put my question conditionally," he answered, "and I have got, as I deserved, a conditional reply. I will speak plainly, then, Miss Whittaker. Do you value the fact for your own sake? It would be plainer still to say, Do you love me? but I confess I'm not brave enough for that. I will say, Can you? or I will even content myself with putting it in the conditional again, and asking you if you could; although, after all, I hardly know what the if understood can reasonably refer to. I'm not such a fool as to ask of any woman—least of all of you—to love me contingently. You can only answer for the present, and say yes or no. I shouldn't trouble you to say either, if I didn't conceive that I had given you time to make up your mind. It doesn't take forever to know James Luttrel. I'm not one of the great unfathomable ones. We've seen each other more or less intimately for a good many weeks; and as I'm conscious, Miss Whittaker, of having shown you my best, I take for granted that if you don't fancy me now, you won't a month hence, when you shall have seen my faults. Yes, Miss Whittaker, I can solemnly say," continued the Major, with genuine feeling, "I have shown you my best, as every man is in honor bound to do who approaches a woman with those predispositions with which I have approached you. I have striven hard to please you,"—and he paused. "I can only say, I hope I have succeeded."
"I should be very insensible," said Gertrude, "if all your kindness and your courtesy had been lost upon me."
"In Heaven's name, don't talk about courtesy," cried the Major.
"I am deeply conscious of your devotion, and I am very much obliged to you for urging your claims so respectfully and considerately. I speak seriously, Major Luttrel," pursued Gertrude. "There is a happy medium of expression, and you have taken it. Now it seems to me that there is a happy medium of affection, with which you might be content. Strictly, I don't love you. I question my heart, and it gives me that answer. The feeling that I have is not a feeling to work prodigies."
"May it at least work the prodigy of allowing you to be my wife?"
"I don't think I shall over-estimate its strength, if I say that it may. If you can respect a woman who gives you her hand in cold blood, you are welcome to mine."
Luttrel moved his chair and took her hand. "Beggars can't be choosers," said he, raising it to his mustache.
"O Major Luttrel, don't say that," she answered. "I give you a great deal; but I keep a little,—a little," said Gertrude, hesitating, "which I suppose I shall give to God."
"Well, I shall not be jealous," said Luttrel.
"The rest I give to you, and in return I ask a great deal."
"I shall give you all. You know I told you I'm not religious."
"No, I don't want more than I give," said Gertrude.
"But, pray," asked Luttrel, with a delicate smile, "what am I to do with the difference?"
"You had better keep it for yourself. What I want is your protection, sir, and your advice, and your care. I want you to take me away from this place, even if you have to take me down to the army. I want to see the world under the shelter of your name. I shall give you a great deal of trouble. I'm a mere mass of possessions: what I am, is nothing to what I have. But ever since I began to grow up, what I am has been the slave of what I have. I am weary of my chains, and you must help me to carry them,"—and Gertrude rose to her feet as if to inform the Major that his audience was at an end.
He still held her right hand; she gave him the other. He stood looking down at her, an image of manly humility, while from his silent breast went out a brief thanksgiving to favoring fortune.
At the pressure of his hands, Gertrude felt her bosom heave. She burst into tears. "O, you must be very kind to me!" she cried, as he put his arm about her, and she dropped her head upon his shoulder.
* * * * *
When once Richard's health had taken a turn for the better, it began very rapidly to improve. "Until he is quite well," Gertrude said, one day, to her accepted suitor, "I had rather he heard nothing of our engagement. He was once in love with me himself," she added, very frankly. "Did you ever suspect it? But I hope he will have got better of that sad malady, too. Nevertheless, I shall expect nothing of his good judgment until he is quite strong; and as he may hear of my new intentions from other people, I propose that, for the present, we confide them to no one."
"But if he asks me point-blank," said the Major, "what shall I answer?"
"It's not likely he'll ask you. How should he suspect anything?"
"O," said Luttrel, "Clare is one that suspects everything."
"Tell him we're not engaged, then. A woman in my position may say what she pleases."
It was agreed, however, that certain preparations for the marriage should meanwhile go forward in secret; and that the marriage itself should take place in August, as Luttrel expected to be ordered back into service in the autumn. At about this moment Gertrude was surprised to receive a short note from Richard, so feebly scrawled in pencil as to be barely legible. "Dear Gertrude," it ran, "don't come to see me just yet. I'm not fit. You would hurt me, and vice versa. God bless you! R. CLARE." Miss Whittaker explained his request, by the supposition that a report had come to him of Major Luttrel's late assiduities (which it was impossible should go unobserved); that, leaping at the worst, he had taken her engagement for granted; and that, under this impression, he could not trust himself to see her. She despatched him an answer, telling him that she would await his pleasure, and that, if the doctor would consent to his having letters, she would meanwhile occasionally write to him. "She will give me good advice," thought Richard impatiently; and on this point, accordingly, she received no account of his wishes. Expecting to leave her house and close it on her marriage, she spent many hours in wandering sadly over the meadow-paths and through the woodlands which she had known from her childhood. She had thrown aside the last ensigns of filial regret, and now walked sad and splendid in the uncompromising colors of an affianced bride. It would have seemed to a stranger that, for a woman who had freely chosen a companion for life, she was amazingly spiritless and sombre. As she looked at her pale cheeks and heavy eyes in the mirror, she felt ashamed that she had no fairer countenance to offer to her destined lord. She had lost her single beauty, her smile; and she would make but a ghastly figure at the altar. "I ought to wear a calico dress and an apron," she said to herself, "and not this glaring finery." But she continued to wear her finery, and to lay out her money, and to perform all her old duties to the letter. After the lapse of what she deemed a sufficient interval, she went to see Mrs. Martin, and to listen dumbly to her narration of her brother's death, and to her simple eulogies.
Major Luttrel performed his part quite as bravely, and much more successfully. He observed neither too many things nor too few; he neither presumed upon his success, nor mistrusted it. Having on his side received no prohibition from Richard, he resumed his visits at the farm, trusting that, with the return of reason, his young friend might feel disposed to renew that anomalous alliance in which, on the hapless evening of Captain Severn's farewell, he had taken refuge against his despair. In the long, languid hours of his early convalescence, Richard had found time to survey his position, to summon back piece by piece the immediate past, and to frame a general scheme for the future. But more vividly than anything else, there had finally disengaged itself from his meditations a profound aversion to James Luttrel.
It was in this humor that the Major found him; and as he looked at the young man's gaunt shoulders, supported by pillows, at his face, so livid and aquiline, at his great dark eyes, luminous with triumphant life, it seemed to him that an invincible spirit had been sent from a better world to breathe confusion upon his hopes. If Richard hated the Major, the reader may guess whether the Major loved Richard. Luttrel was amazed at his first remark.
"I suppose you're engaged by this time," Richard said, calmly enough.
"Not quite," answered the Major. "There's a chance for you yet."
To this Richard made no rejoinder. Then, suddenly, "Have you had any news of Captain Severn?" he asked.
For a moment the Major was perplexed at his question. He had assumed that the news of Severn's death had come to Richard's ears, and he had been half curious, half apprehensive as to its effect. But an instant's reflection now assured him that the young man's estrangement from his neighbors had kept him hitherto and might still keep him in ignorance of the truth. Hastily, therefore, and inconsiderately, the Major determined to confirm this ignorance. "No," said he; "I've had no news. Severn and I are not on such terms as to correspond."
The next time Luttrel came to the farm, he found the master sitting up in a great, cushioned, chintz-covered arm-chair which Gertrude had sent him the day before out of her own dressing-room.
"Are you engaged yet?" asked Richard.
There was a strain as if of defiance in his tone. The Major was irritated. "Yes," said he, "we are engaged now."
The young man's face betrayed no emotion.
"Are you reconciled to it?" asked Luttrel.
"Yes, practically I am."
"What do you mean by practically? Explain yourself."
"A man in my state can't explain himself. I mean that, however I feel about it, I shall accept Gertrude's marriage."
"You're a wise man, my boy," said the Major, kindly.
"I'm growing wise. I feel like Solomon on his throne in this chair. But I confess, sir, I don't see how she could have you."
"Well, there's no accounting for tastes," said the Major, good-humoredly.
"Ah, if it's been a matter of taste with her," said Richard, "I have nothing to say."
They came to no more express understanding than this with regard to the future. Richard continued to grow stronger daily, and to defer the renewal of his intercourse with Gertrude. A month before, he would have resented as a bitter insult the intimation that he would ever be so resigned to lose her as he now found himself. He would not see her for two reasons: first, because he felt that it would be—or that at least in reason it ought to be—a painful experience to look upon his old mistress with a coldly critical eye; and secondly, because, justify to himself as he would his new-born indifference, he could not entirely cast away the suspicion that it was a last remnant of disease, and that, when he stood on his legs again in the presence of those exuberant landscapes with which he had long since established a sort of sensuous communion, he would feel, as with a great tumultuous rush, the return of his impetuous manhood and of his old capacity. When he had smoked a pipe in the outer sunshine, when he had settled himself once more to the long elastic bound of his mare, then he would see Gertrude. The reason of the change which had come upon him was that she had disappointed him,—she whose magnanimity it had once seemed that his fancy was impotent to measure. She had accepted Major Luttrel, a man whom he despised; she had so mutilated her magnificent heart as to match it with his. The validity of his dislike to the Major, Richard did not trouble himself to examine. He accepted it as an unerring instinct; and, indeed, he might have asked himself, had he not sufficient proof? Moreover he labored under the sense of a gratuitous wrong. He had suffered an immense torment of remorse to drive him into brutishness, and thence to the very gate of death, for an offence which he had deemed mortal, and which was after all but a phantasm of his impassioned conscience. What a fool he had been! a fool for his nervous fears, and a fool for his penitence. Marriage with Major Luttrel,—such was the end of Gertrude's fancied anguish. Such, too, we hardly need add, was the end of that idea of reparation which had been so formidable to Luttrel. Richard had been generous; he would now be just.
Far from impeding his recovery, these reflections hastened it. One morning in the beginning of August, Gertrude received notice of Richard's presence. It was a still, sultry day, and Miss Whittaker, her habitual pallor deepened by the oppressive heat, was sitting alone in a white morning-dress, languidly fanning aside at once the droning flies and her equally importunate thoughts. She found Richard standing in the middle of the drawing-room, booted and spurred.
"Well, Richard," she exclaimed, with some feeling, "you're at last willing to see me!"
As his eyes fell upon her, he started and stood almost paralyzed, heeding neither her words nor her extended hand. It was not Gertrude he saw, but her ghost.
"In Heaven's name what has happened to you?" he cried. "Have you been ill?"
Gertrude tried to smile in feigned surprise at his surprise; but her muscles relaxed. Richard's words and looks reflected more vividly than any mirror the dejection of her person; and this, the misery of her soul. She felt herself growing faint. She staggered back to a sofa and sank down.
Then Richard felt as if the room were revolving about him, and as if his throat were choked with imprecations,—as if his old erratic passion had again taken possession of him, like a mingled legion of devils and angels. It was through pity that his love returned. He went forward and dropped on his knees at Gertrude's feet. "Speak to me!" he cried, seizing her hands. "Are you unhappy? Is your heart broken? O Gertrude! what have you come to?"
Gertrude drew her hands from his grasp and rose to her feet. "Get up, Richard," she said. "Don't talk so wildly. I'm not well. I'm very glad to see you. You look well."
"I've got my strength again,—and meanwhile you've been failing. You're unhappy, you're wretched! Don't say you're not, Gertrude: it's as plain as day. You're breaking your heart."
"The same old Richard!" said Gertrude, trying to smile again.
"Would that you were the same old Gertrude! Don't try to smile; you can't!"
"I shall!" said Gertrude, desperately. "I'm going to be married, you know."
"Yes, I know. I don't congratulate you."
"I have not counted upon that honor, Richard. I shall have to do without it."
"You'll have to do without a great many things!" cried Richard, horrified by what seemed to him her blind self-immolation.
"I have all I ask," said Gertrude.
"You haven't all I ask then! You haven't all your friends ask."
"My friends are very kind, but I marry to suit myself."
"You've not suited yourself!" retorted the young man. "You've suited—God knows what!—your pride, your despair, your resentment." As he looked at her, the secret history of her weakness seemed to become plain to him, and he felt a mighty rage against the man who had taken a base advantage of it. "Gertrude!" he cried, "I entreat you to go back. It's not for my sake,—I'll give you up,—I'll go a thousand miles away, and never look at you again. It's for your own. In the name of your happiness, break with that man! Don't fling yourself away. Buy him off, if you consider yourself bound. Give him your money. That's all he wants."
As Gertrude listened, the blood came back to her face, and two flames into her eyes. She looked at Richard from head to foot. "You are not weak," she said, "you are in your senses, you are well and strong; you shall tell me what you mean. You insult the best friend I have. Explain yourself! you insinuate foul things,—speak them out!" Her eyes glanced toward the door, and Richard's followed them. Major Luttrel stood on the threshold.
"Come in, sir!" cried Richard. "Gertrude swears she'll believe no harm of you. Come and tell her that she's wrong! How can you keep on harassing a woman whom you've brought to this state? Think of what she was three months ago, and look at her now!"
Luttrel received this broadside without flinching. He had overheard Richard's voice from the entry, and he had steeled his heart for the encounter. He assumed the air of having been so amazed by the young man's first words as only to have heard his last; and he glanced at Gertrude mechanically as if to comply with them. "What's the matter?" he asked, going over to her, and taking her hand; "are you ill?" Gertrude let him have her hand, but she forbore to meet his eyes.