"You are glad?" he asked, looking at her curiously, for her manner puzzled him.
"Yes, very glad for Willie," she replied, keeping her face bent down so he could not see its expression.
Then when her task was done, she seemed to nerve herself for some powerful task, and sitting down upon the hay, out of reach of his arms, she said:
"Tell me now all that has happened since I left Terrace Hill; but first of Willie. You say Anna has him?"
"Yes, Anna—Mrs. Millbrook," he replied, and was about to say more, when Adah interrupted him with:
"It may spare you some pain if I tell you first what I know of the tragedy at Spring Bank. I know that 'Lina is dead, and that the fact of my existence prevented the marriage. So much I heard Mr. Stanley tell his sister. I had just come to her then. She was prouder toward me than she is now, and with a look silenced him from talking in my presence, so that was all I ever knew, as I dared not question her lest I should be suspected. Go on, you spoke of my parents, my brother. Who are they?"
Her manner perplexed him greatly, but he controlled himself, while he repeated rapidly the story known already to our readers, the story which made Adah reel where she sat, and turn so white that he attempted to reach her, and so keep her from falling. But just the touch of his hand had power to arouse her, and drawing back she laid her face in the hay, and moaned:
"That gentle woman, my mother; that noble Hugh, my brother! it's more than I ever hoped. Oh, Heavenly Father, accept my thanks for this great happiness. A mother and a brother found."
"And husband, too," chimed in the doctor, eagerly, "thank Him for me, Adah. You are glad to find me?"
There was pleading in his tone—earnest pleading, for the terrible conviction was fastening itself upon him, that not as they once parted had he and Adah met. For full five minutes Adah lay upon the hay, her whole soul going out in a prayer of thankfulness for her great joy, and for strength to bear the bitterness mingling with her joy. Her face was very white when she lifted it up at last, but her manner was composed, and she questioned the doctor calmly of Spring Bank, of Alice, of Hugh, of Anna, but could not trust herself to say much to him of Willie, lest her calmness should give way, and a feeling spring up in her heart of something like affection for Willie's father. Alas, for the miserable man. He had found his wife, his Adah, but there was between them a gulf which his own act had built, and which he never more might pass. He began to suspect it, and ere she had finished the story of her wanderings, which at his request she told, he knew there was no pulsation of her heart which beat for him. He asked her where she had been since she fled from Terrace Hill, and how she came to be in Mrs. Ellsworth's family.
There was a moment's hesitancy, as if she were deciding how much to tell him of the past, and then resolving to keep nothing back which he might know, she told him how, with a stunned heart and giddy brain, she had gone to Albany, and mingling with the crowd had mechanically followed them down to a boat just starting for New York. That, by some means, she never knew how, she found herself in the saloon, and seated next to a feeble, deformed little girl, who lay upon the sofa, and whose sweet, childish voice said to her pityingly:
"Does your head ache, lady, or what makes you so white?"
She had responded to that appeal, talking kindly to the little girl, between whom and herself the friendliest of relations were established and whose name she learned was Jenny Ellsworth. The mother she did not then see, as, during the journey down the river she was suffering from a nervous headache, and kept her room. From the child and child's nurse, however, she heard that Mrs. Ellsworth was going ere long to Europe, and was anxious to secure some young and competent person to act in the capacity of Jenny's governess. Instantly Adah's decision was made. Once in New York she would by letter apply for the situation, for nothing then could so well suit her state of mind as a tour to Europe, where she would be far away from all she had ever known. Very adroitly she ascertained Mrs. Ellsworth's address, wrote to her a note the day following her arrival in New York, and the day following that, found her in Mrs. Ellsworth's parlor at the Brevoort House, where for a few days she was stopping. She had been greatly troubled to know what name to give, but finally resolved to take her own, the one by which she was known ere George Hastings crossed her path. Adah Maria Gordon was, as she supposed, her real name, so in her note to Mrs. Ellsworth she signed herself "Maria Gordon," omitting the Adah, which might lead to her being recognized. From her little girl Mrs. Ellsworth had heard much of the sweet young lady, who was so kind to her on the boat, and was thus already prepossessed in her favor.
Adah did not tell Dr. Richards, and perhaps she did not herself know how surprised and delighted Mrs. Ellsworth was with the fair, girlish creature, announced to her as Miss Gordon, and who won her heart before five minutes were gone, making her think it of no consequence to inquire concerning her at Madam ——'s school, where she said she had been a pupil.
"My sister must have been there at the same time," Mrs. Ellsworth had said. "Perhaps you remember her, Augusta Stanley?"
Yes, Miss Gordon remembered her well, but added modestly:
"She may have forgotten me, as I was only a day scholar, and—not—not quite her circle. I was poor."
Charmed with her frankness, Mrs. Ellsworth decided in her own mind to take her, but, for form's sake, she would write to her sister Augusta, recently married, and living in Milwaukee.
"Your first name is Maria," she said, taking out her pencil to write it down.
Adah could not tell a lie, and she replied unhesitatingly:
"No, ma'am; my name is Adah Maria, but I prefer being called Maria."
Mrs. Ellsworth nodded, wrote down "Adah Maria Gordon," but in the letter sent that day to Augusta, merely spoke of her governess in prospect as a Miss Gordon, who had been at the same school with Augusta, asking if she remembered her.
Yes, Augusta remembered Miss Gordon, well, a brown-eyed, sweet-faced, conscientious little creature whom she liked so much, and whose services her sister had better secure.
Mrs. Ellsworth hesitated no longer, and ten days after the receipt of this letter, Adah was duly installed as governess to the delighted little Jennie, who learned to love her gentle teacher with a love almost amounting to idolatry.
"You were in Europe then, and that is the reason why we could not find you," Dr. Richards said, adding, after a moment: "And Irving Stanley went with you—was your companion all the while?"
"Yes, all the while," and Adah's cold fingers worked nervously at the wisp of hay she was twisting in her hand. "I had seen him before—he was in the cars when Willie and I were on our way to Terrace Hill. Willie had the earache, and he was so kind to us both."
Adah looked fixedly now at the craven doctor, who could not meet her glance, for well he remembered the dastardly part he had played in that scene, where his own child was screaming with pain, and he sat selfishly idle.
"She don't know I was there, though," he thought, and that gave him some comfort.
But Adah did know, and she meant he should know she did. Keeping her calm brown eyes still fixed upon him, she continued:
"I heard Mr. Stanley talking of you once to his sister, and among other things he spoke of your dislike for children, and referred to an occasion in the cars, when a little boy, for whom his heart ached, was suffering acutely, and for whom you evinced no interest, except to call him a brat, and wonder why his mother did not stay at home. I never knew till then that you were so near to me."
"It's true, it's true," the doctor cried, tears rolling down his soiled face; "but I never guessed it was you. Lily, I supposed it some ordinary woman."
"So did Irving Stanley," was Adah's quiet, cutting answer; "but his heart was open to sympathy, even for an ordinary woman."
The doctor could only moan, with his face still hidden in his hands, until a sudden thought like a revelation flashed upon him, and forgetting his wounded foot, he sprang like a tiger to the spot where Adah sat, and winding his arm firmly around her, whispered hoarsely:
"Adah, Lily, tell me you love this Irving Stanley. My wife loves another than her husband."
Adah did not struggle to release herself from his close grasp. It was punishment she ought to bear, she thought, but her whole soul loathed that close embrace, and the loathing expressed itself in the tone of her voice, as she replied:
"Until within an hour I did not suppose you were my husband. You said you were not in that letter; I have it yet; the one in which you told me it was a mock marriage, as, by your own confession, it seems you meant it should be."
"Oh, darling, you kill me, yet I deserve it all; but, Adah, I have suffered enough to atone for the dreadful past; and I tried so hard to find you. Forgive me, Lily, forgive," and falling again on his knees, the wretched man poured forth a torrent of entreaties for her forgiveness, her love, without which he should die.
Holding fast her cold hands, he pleaded with all his eloquence, until, maddened by her silence, he even taunted her with loving another, while her own husband was living.
Then Adah started, and pushing him away, sprang to her feet, while the hot blood stained her face and neck, and a resentful fire gleamed from her brown eyes.
"It is not well for you to reproach me with faithlessness," she said, "you, who have dealt so treacherously by me; you, who deliberately planned my ruin, and would have effected it but for the deeper-laid scheme of one you say is my father. No thanks to you that I am a lawful wife. You did not make me so of your own free will. You did to me the greatest wrong a man can do a woman, then cruelly deserted me, and now you would chide me for respecting another more than I do you."
"Not respecting him, Adah, no, not for respecting him. You should do that. He's worthier than I; but, oh, Adah, Lily, wife, mother of my boy, do you love Irving Stanley?"
He was sobbing bitterly, and the words came between the sobs, while he tried to clutch her dress. Staggering backward against the wooden beam, Adah leaned there for support, while she replied:
"You would not understand if I should tell you the terrible struggle it was for me to be thrown each day in the society of one as noble, as good as Irving Stanley, and not come at last to feel for him as a poor governess ought never to feel for the handsome, gifted brother of her employer. Oh, George, I prayed against it so much, prayed to be kept from the sin, if it were a sin, to have Irving Stanley mingled with every thought. But the more I prayed, the more the temptation seemed thrust upon me. The kinder, gentler, more attentive, grew his manners toward me. He never treated me as a mere governess. It was more like an equal at first, and then like a younger sister, so that few strangers took me for a subordinate, so kind were both Mrs. Ellsworth and her brother."
"And he," the doctor gasped, looking wistfully in her face, "does he—do you think he loves you?"
Adah colored crimson, but answered frankly:
"He never told me so; never said to me a word which a husband should not hear; but—sometimes I've fancied, I've feared, I've left him abruptly lest he should speak, for that I know would bring the crisis I so dreaded. I must tell him the whole then, and by my dread of doing this, I knew he was more than a friend to me. I was fearful at first that he might recognise me, but I was much thinner than when I saw him in the cars, while my hair, purposely worn short, and curling in my neck, changed my looks materially, so that he only wondered whom I was so much like, but never suspected the truth."
There was silence, a moment, and then the doctor asked: "How is all this to end?"
The question brought into Adah's eyes a fearful look of anguish, but she did not answer, and the doctor spoke again.
"Have I found Lily only to lose her?"
Still there was no reply, and the doctor continued: "You are my wife, Adah. No power can undo that, save death, and you are my child's mother. For Willie's sake, oh, Adah, for Willie's sake, forgive."
When he appealed to her as his wife, Adah seemed turning into stone; but the mention of Willie touched the mother within that girlish woman, and the iceberg melted at once.
"For Willie, my boy," she gasped, "I could do almost anything; I could die so willingly but—but—oh, George, that ever we should come to this. You a deserter, a traitor to your country—lamed, disabled, wholly in my power, and begging of me, your outcast wife, for the love which surely is dead—dead. No, George, I do forgive, but never, never more can I be to you a wife."
There was a rising resentment now in the doctor's manner, as he answered reproachfully: "Then surrender me at once to the lover hunting for me. Let him take me back where I can be shot and that will leave you free."
Adah raised her hand deprecatingly, and when he had finished, rejoined: "You mistake Major Stanley, if you think he would marry me, knowing what I should tell him. It's not for him that I refuse. It's for myself. I could not bear it. I—"
"Stay, Adah, Lily, don't say you should hate me;" and the doctor's voice was so full of anguish that Adah involuntarily advanced toward him, standing quite near, while he begged of her to say if the past could not be forgotten. His family were ready, were anxious to receive her. Sweet Anna Millbrook already loved her as a sister, while he, her husband, words could not tell his love for her. He would do whatever she required; go back to the Federal army if she said so; seek for the pardon he was sure to gain; fight for his country like a hero, periling life and limb, if she would only give him the shadow of a hope.
"I must have time to think. I cannot decide alone," Adah answered, while the doctor clutched her dress, half shrieking with terror:
"You surely will not consult him, Major Stanley?"
"No," and Adah spoke reverently, "there's a mightier friend than he. One who has never failed me in my need. He will tell me what to do."
The doctor knew now what she meant, and with a moan he laid his head again upon the hay, wishing, oh, so much, that the lessons taught him when in that little attic chamber, years ago, he knelt by Adah's side, and said with her, "Our Father," had not been all forgotten. When he lifted up his face again, Adah was gone, but he knew she would return, and waited patiently while just outside the door, with her fair face buried in the sweet Virginia grass, and the warm summer sunshine falling softly upon her, poor half-crazed Adah fought and won the fiercest battle she had ever known, coming off conqueror over self, and feeling sure that God had heard her earnest cry for help, and told her what to do. There was no wavering now; her step was firm; her voice steady, as she went back to the doctor's side, and bending over him, said:
"I will nurse you, my husband, till you are well; then you must go back whence you came, confess your fault, rejoin your regiment, and by your faithfulness wipe out the stain of desertion. Then, when the war is over, or you are honorably discharged, I will—be your wife. I may not love you at first as once I did, but I shall try, and He, who counsels me to tell you this, will help me, I am sure."
It was almost pitiful now to see the doctor, as, spaniel-like, he crouched at Adah's feet, kissing her hands and blessing her 'mid his tears. "He would be worthy of her, and they should yet be so happy."
Adah suffered him to caress her for a moment, and then told him she must go, for Mrs. Ellsworth would wonder at her long absence, and possibly institute a search. Pressing one more kiss upon her hand the doctor crept back to his hiding place, while Adah went slowly to the house where she knew Irving Stanley was anxiously waiting for her. She dared not meet him alone now, for latterly each time they had so met, she knew she had kept at bay the declaration trembling on his lips, and which now must never be listened to. So she stayed away from the pleasant parlor where all the morning he sat chatting with his sister, who guessed how much he loved the beautiful and accomplished girl, whom, by way of his sister Augusta he now knew as the Brownie he had once seen at Madam ——'s school, in New York.
Right-minded and high-principled, Mrs. Ellsworth had conquered any pride she might at first have felt—any reluctance to her brother's marrying her governess, and now like him was anxious to have it settled. But Adah gave him no chance that day, and late in the afternoon he rode back to his regiment, wondering at the change in Miss Gordon, and why her face was so deadly white, and her voice so husky, as she bade him good-by.
Poor Adah! Hers was now a path of suffering, such as she had never known before. But she did her duty to the doctor faithfully, nursing him with the utmost care; but never expressing to him the affection she did not feel. It was impossible to keep his presence there a secret from the two old negroes, and knowing she could trust them, she told them of the wounded Union soldier, enlisting their sympathies for him, and thus procuring for him the care of older and more experienced people than herself.
He was able at length to return, and one pleasant summer night, just three weeks after his arrival at Sunnymead, Adah walked with him to the woods, and kneeling with him by a running stream, whose waters farther away would yet be crimson with the blood of our slaughtered brothers, she commended him to God. Through the leafy branches the moonbeams were shining, and they showed to Adah the expression of the doctor's wasted face as he said to her at parting: "I have kissed you many times, my darling, but you have never returned it. Please do so once, dear Lily, for the sake of the olden time. It will make me a better soldier."
She kissed him once for the sake of the olden time, and when he whispered, "Again for Willie's sake," she kissed him twice, and then she bade him leave her, herself buttoning about him the soldier coat which her own hands had cleaned and mended and made respectable. She was glad afterward that she had done so; glad, too, that she had kissed him and waited by the tree, where, looking backward, he could see the flutter of her white dress until a turn in the forest path hid her from his view.
THE SECOND BATTLE OF BULL RUN
The second disastrous battle at Bull Run was over, and the shadow of a summer night wrapped the field of carnage in darkness. Thickly upon the battlefield lay the dead and dying, the sharp, bitter cries of the latter rising on the night wind, and adding tenfold to the horror of the scene. In the woods, not very far away, more than one brave soldier was weltering in his lifeblood, just where, in his rapid flight, he had fallen, the grass his pillow, and the leafy branches of the forest trees his only covering.
Side by side, and near to a running brook, two wounded men were lying, or rather one was supporting the other and trying to stanch the purple gore, pouring darkly from a fearful bullet wound in the region of the heart. The stronger of the two, he who wore a major's uniform, had come accidentally upon the other, writhing in agony, and muttering at intervals snatches of the prayer with which he once had been familiar, and which seemed to bring Lily back to him again, just as she was when in the attic chamber she made him kneel by her, and say "Our Father." He tried to say it now, and the whispered words caught the ear of Irving Stanley, arresting his steps at once.
"Poor fellow! it's gone hard with you," he said, kneeling by the sufferer, whom he recognized as the deserter, Dr. Richards, who had returned to his allegiance, had craved forgiveness for his sins, and been restored to the ranks, discharging his duties faithfully, and fighting that day with a zeal and energy which did much in reinstating him in the good opinion of those who witnessed his daring bravery.
But the doctor's work was done, and never from his lips would Lily know how well his promise had been kept. Giddy with pain and weak from the loss of blood, he had groped his way through the woods, fighting back the horrid certainty that to-morrow's sun would not rise for him, and sinking at length exhausted upon the grass, whose freshness was now defaced by the blood which poured so freely from his wound.
It was thus that Irving Stanley found him, starting at first as from a hissing shell, and involuntarily clasping his hand over the place where lay a little note, received a few days before, a reply to the earnest declaration of love he had at last written to his sister's governess, Maria Gordon. There was but one alternative, and Adah met it resolutely, though every fiber of her heart throbbed with keen agony as she told to Irving Stanley the story of her life. She was a wife, a mother, the sister of Hugh Worthington, they said, the Adah for whom Dr. Richards had sought so long in vain, and for whom Murdock, the wicked father, was seeking still for aught she knew to the contrary. Even the story of the doctor's secretion in the barn at Sunnymead was confessed. Nothing was withheld except the fact that even as he professed to love her, so she in turn loved him, or had done so before she knew it was a sin. Surprise had, for a few moments, stifled every other emotion, and Irving Stanley had sat like one suddenly bereft of motion, when he read who Maria Gordon was. Then came the bitter thought that he had lost her, mingled with a deep feeling of resentment toward the man who had so cruelly wronged the gentle girl, and who alone stood between him and happiness. For Irving Stanley could overlook all the rest. His great warm heart, so full of kindly sympathy and generous charity for all mankind could take to its embrace the fair, sweet woman he had learned to love so much, and be a father to her little boy, as if it had been his own. But this might not be. There was a mighty obstacle in the way, and feeling that it mattered little now whether he ever came from the field alive, Irving Stanley, with a whispered prayer for strength to bear and do right, had hidden the letter in his bosom, and then, when the hour of conflict came, plunged into the thickest of the fight with a fearlessness born of keen and recent disappointment, which made life less valuable than it had been before.
It is not strange, then, that he should start and stagger backward when he came so suddenly upon the doctor, or that the first impulse of weak human nature was to leave the fallen man, but the second, the Christian impulse, bade him stay, and forgetting his own slight but painful wound, he bent over Adah's husband, and did what he could to alleviate the anguish he saw was so hard to bear. At the sound of his voice, a spasm of pain passed over the doctor's pallid face, and the flash of a sudden fire gleamed for a moment in his eye, as he, too, remembered Adah, and thought of what might be when the grass was growing over his untimely grave.
The doctor knew that he was dying, and yet his first question was:
"Do you think I can live? Did any one ever recover with such a wound as this?"
Eagerly the dim eyes sought the face above them, the kind, good face of one who would not deceive him. Irving shook his head as he felt the pulse, and answered frankly:
"I believe you will die."
There was a bitter moan, as all his misspent life came up before him, followed closely by the dark future, where there shone no ray of hope, and then with the desperate thought, "It's too late now for regrets. I'll meet it like a man," he said:
"It may as well be I as any one, though it's hard even for me to die; harder than you imagine;" then, growing excited as he talked, he raised himself upon his elbow, and continued: "Major Stanley, tell me truly, do you love the woman you know as Maria Gordon?"
"I did love her once, before I knew I must not—but now—I—yes, Dr. Richards, my heart tells me that never was she so dear to me as now when her husband lies dying at my side."
Irving Stanley hardly knew what he was saying, but the doctor—the husband, understood, and almost shrieked out the words:
"You know then that she is Adah, a wife, a mother, and that I am her lawful husband?"
"I know the whole," was the reply, as with his hand Irving dipped water from the brook and laved the feverish brow of the dying man, who went on to speak of Adah as she was when he first knew her, and of the few happy months spent with her in those humble lodgings.
"You don't know my darling," he whispered. "She's an angel, and I might have been so happy with her. Oh, if I could only live, but that can't be now, and it is well. Come close to me, Major Stanley, and listen while I tell you that Adah promised if I would do my duty to my country faithfully, she would live with me again, and all the while she promised, her heart was breaking, for she did not love me. It had all died out for me. It had been given to another; can you guess to whom?"
Irving made no reply, except to chafe the hands which clasped his so tightly, and the doctor continued:
"I am surely dying—I shall never see her more, or my boy, my beautiful boy. I was a brute in the cars; you remember the time. That was Adah, and those little feet resting on my lap were Willie's, baby Willie's, Adah's baby."
The doctor's mind was wandering now, and he kept on disconnectedly:
"She's been to Europe with him. She's changed from the shy girl into a queenly woman. Even the Richards line might be proud of her bearing, and when I'm gone, tell her I said you might have Willie, and—and—it grows very dark; the noise of the battle drowns my voice, but come nearer to me, nearer—tell her—tell Adah, you may have her. She needn't mourn, nor wait; but carry me back to Snowdon. There's no soldier's grave there yet. I never thought mine would be the first. Anna will cry, and mother and Asenath and Eudora; but Adah, oh Lily, darling. She's coming to me now. Don't you hear that rustle in the grass?" and the doctor listened intently to a sound which also caught Irving's ear, a sound of a horse's neigh in the distance, followed by the tramp of feet.
"Hush-sh," he whispered. "It may be the enemy," but his words were not regarded, or understood.
The doctor was in Lily's presence, and in fancy it was her hand, not Irving's which wiped the death-sweat from his brow, and he murmured words of love and fond endearment, as to a living, breathing form. Fainter and fainter grew the pulse, weaker and weaker the trembling voice, until at last Irving could only comprehend that some one was bidden to pray—to say "Our Father."
Reverently, as for a departing brother, he prayed over the dying man, asking that all the past might be forgiven, and that the erring might rest at last in peace.
"Say Amen for me, I'm too weak," the doctor whispered; then, as reason asserted her sway again, he continued: "I see it now; Lily's gone, and I am dying here in the woods, in the dark, in the night, on the ground; cared for by you who will be Lily's husband. You may, you may tell her I said so; tell her kiss my boy; love him, Major Stanley; love him as your own, even though others shall call you father. Tell her—I tried—to pray—"
He never spoke again; and when next the thick, black, clotted blood oozed up from the gaping wound, it brought with it all there was of life; and there in those Virginia woods, in the darkness of the night, Irving Stanley sat alone with the dead. And yet not alone, for away to his right, and where the neigh of a horse had been heard, another wounded soldier lay—his soft, brown locks moist with dew, and his captain's uniform wet with the blood which dripped from the terrible gash in the fleshy part of the neck, where a murderous ball had been. One arm, the right one, was broken, and lay disabled upon the grass; while the hand of the other clutched occasionally at the damp grass, and then lifting itself, stroked caressingly the powerful limbs of the faithful creature standing guard over the prostrate form of his master.
Hugh and Rocket! They had been in many battles, and neither shot nor shell had harmed them until to-day, when Hugh had received the charge which sent him reeling from his horse, breaking his arm in the field, and scarcely conscious that two of his comrades were leading him from the field. How or by what means he afterward reached the woods, he did not know, but reach them he had, and unable to travel farther, he had fallen to the ground, where he lay, until Rocket came galloping near, riderless, frightened, and looking for his master. With a cry of joy the noble brute answered that master's faint whistle, bounding at once to his side, and by many mute but meaning signs, signifying his desire that Hugh should mount as heretofore.
But Hugh was too weak for that, and after several ineffectual efforts to rise, fell back half fainting on the turf; while Rocket took his stand directly over him, a powerful and efficient guard until help from some quarter should arrive. Patiently, faithfully he stood, waiting as quietly as if he knew that aid was coming, not far away, in the form of an old man, whose hair was white as snow, and whose steps were feeble with age, but who had the advantage of knowing every inch of that ground, for he had trodden it many a time, with a homesick heart which pined for "old Kentuck," whence he had been stolen.
Uncle Sam! He it was whose uncertain steps made Rocket prick up his ears and listen, neighing at last a neigh of welcome, by which he, too, was recognized.
"De dear Father be praised if that be'nt Rocket hisself. I've found him, I've found my Massah Hugh. I tole Miss Ellis I should, 'case I knows all de way. Dear Massuh Hugh, I'se Sam, I is," and with a convulsive sob the old negro knelt beside the white-faced man, who but for this timely aid could hardly have survived that fearful night.
HOW SAM CAME THERE
It is more than a year now since last we looked upon the inmates of Spring Bank, and during that time Kentucky had been the scene of violence, murder, and bloodshed. The roar of artillery had been heard upon its hills. Soldiers wearing the Federal uniform had marched up and down its beaten paths, encamping for a brief season in its capital, and then departing to other points where their services were needed more.
Morgan, with his fierce band of guerillas, had carried terror, dismay, and sometimes death, to many a peaceful home; while Harney, too, disdaining open, honorable warfare, had joined himself, it was said, to a horde of savage marauders, gathered, some from Texas, some from Mississippi, and a few from Tennessee; but none, to her credit be it said, none from Kentucky, save their chief, the Rebel Harney, who despised and dreaded almost equally by Unionist and Confederates, kept the country between Louisville and Lexington in a constant state of excitement.
At Spring Bank, well known as the home of stanch Unionists, nothing as yet had been harmed, thanks to Alice's courage and vigilance, and the skill with which she had not only taught herself to handle firearms, but also taught the negroes, who, instead of running away, as the Wendell Phillips men of the North seem to believe all negroes will do, only give them the chance, remained firmly at their post, and nightly took turns in guarding the house against any attack from the guerillas.
Toward Spring Bank Harney had a peculiar spite, and his threats of violence had more than once reached the ears of Alice, who wisely kept them from the nervous, timid Mrs. Worthington. At her instigation, Aunt Eunice had left her home in the cornfield, and come to Spring Bank, so that the little garrison numbered four white women, including crazy Densie, and twelve negro servants.
As the storm grew blacker, it had seemed necessary for Colonel Tiffton openly to avow his sentiments, and not "sneak between two fires, for fear of being burned," as Harney wolfishly told him one day, taunting him with being a "villainous Yankee," and hinting darkly of the punishment preparing for all such.
The colonel was not cowardly, but as was natural he did lean to the Confederacy. "Peaceful separation, if possible," was his creed; and fully believing the South destined to triumph, he took that side at last, greatly to the delight of his high-spirited Nell, who had been a Rebel from the first. The inmates of Spring Bank, however, were not forgotten by the colonel, and regularly each morning he rode over to see if all were safe, sometimes sending there at night one or two of his own field hands as body guard to Alice, whose courage and intrepidity in defending her side of the question he greatly admired.
One night, near the middle of summer, Jake, a burly negro, came earlier than usual, and seeking Alice, thrust into her hand a note from Colonel Tiffton. It read as follows:
"DEAR ALICE: I have a suspicion that the villainous scamps, headed by Harney, mean to steal horses from Spring Bank to-night, hoping by that means to engage you in a bit of a fight. In short, Harney was heard to say, 'I'll have every horse from Spring Bank before to-morrow morning; and if that Yankee miss appears to dispute my claim, as I trust she will, I'll have her, too;' and then the bully laid a wager that 'Major Alice,' as he called you, would be his prisoner in less than forty-eight hours.
"I hope it is not true, but if he does come, please keep quietly in the house, and let him take every mother's son of a horse. I shall be around watching, but hanged if it will do to identify myself with you as I wish to do. They'd shoot me like a dog."
To say that Alice felt no fear would be false. There was a paling of the cheek and a sinking of the heart as she thought of what the fast-falling night might bring. But her trust was not in her own strength, and dismissing Jake from her presence, she bent her face upon the piano lid and prayed most earnestly to be delivered from the approaching peril, to know just what to do, and how to act; then summoning the entire household to the large sitting-room, she explained to them what she had heard, and asked what they must do.
"Shall we lock ourselves inside the house and let them have the horses, or shall we try to keep them?"
It took a few minutes for the negroes to recover from their fright, and when they had done so Claib was the first to speak.
"Please, Miss Ellis, Massa Hugh's last words to me was: 'Mind, boy, you takes good keer of de hosses.' Massa Hugh sot store by dem. He not stay quiet in de chimbly corner and let Sudden 'Federacy stole 'em."
"Dem's my theology, Miss Ellis," chimed in Uncle Sam, rising and standing in the midst of the dark group assembled near the door. "I'se for savin' de horses."
"An' I'se for shootin' Harney," interrupted the little Mug, her eyes flashing, and her nostrils dilating as she continued: "I knows it's wicked, but I hates him, an' I never tole you how I seen him in de woods one day, an' he axes me 'bout my Miss and Mars'r Hugh—did they writ often, an' was they kinder sparkin'? I told him none of his bizness, and cut and run, but he bawl after me and say how't he steal Miss Ellis some night and make her be his wife. I flung a rock at him, big rock, too, and cut again. Ugh!"
Mug's face, expressive as it was, only reflected the feelings of the others and Alice's decision was taken. They would protect Hugh's horses. But how? That was a perplexing question until Mug suggested that they be brought into the kitchen, which adjoined the house, and was much larger than Southern kitchens usually are. It was a novel idea, but seemed the only feasible one, and was acted upon at once. The kitchen, however, would not accommodate the dozen noble animals, Claib's special pride, and so the carpet was taken from the dining-room floor, and before the clock struck ten every horse was stabled in the house, where they stood as quietly as if they, too, felt the awe, the expectancy of something terrible brooding over the household.
It was Alice who managed everything, giving directions where each one of her subordinates was to stay, and what they were to do in case of an attack. Every door and window was barricaded, every possible precaution taken, and then, with an unflinching nerve, Alice stole up the stairs, and unfastening a trapdoor which led out upon the roof, stood there behind a huge chimney top, scanning wistfully the darkness of the woods, waiting, watching for a foe, whose very name was in itself sufficient to blanch a woman's cheek with fear.
"Oh, what would Hugh say, if he could see me now?" she murmured, a tear starting to her eye as she thought of the dear soldier afar in the tented field, and wondered if he had forgotten his love for her, as she sometimes feared, or why, in his many letters, he never breathed a word of aught save brotherly affection.
She was his mother's amanuensis, and as she could not follow her epistles, and see how, ere breaking the seal, Hugh's lips were always pressed to the place where her fingers had traced his name, she did not guess how precious they were to him, or how her words of counsel and sympathy kept him often from temptations, and were molding him so fast into the truly consistent Christian man she so much wished him to be. He had in one letter, expressed his surprise that she did not go to Europe, while she had replied to him: "I never thought of going;" and this was all the allusion either had made to Irving Stanley since the day that Hugh left Spring Bank. Gradually, however, the conviction had crept over Hugh that in his jealousy he acted hastily, that Irving Stanley had sued for Alice's hand in vain, but he would not seek an explanation yet; he would do his duty as a soldier, and when that duty was done, he might, perhaps, be more worthy of Alice's love. He would have had no doubt of it now could he have seen her that summer night, and known her thoughts as she stood patiently at her post, now starting with a sudden flutter of fear, as what she had at first taken for the distant trees seemed to assume a tangible form; and again laughing at her own weakness, as the bristling bayonets subsided into sleeping shadows beneath the forest boughs.
"Miss Ellis, did you hear dat ar?" came in a whisper from the opening of the roof, and with a suppressed scream Alice recognized Muggins, who had followed her young mistress, and for the last half hour had been poising herself, first on one foot and then upon the other, as she stood upon the topmost narrow stairs, with her woolly head protruding just above the roof, and her cat-like ears listening for some sound.
"How came you here?" Alice asked, and Mug replied:
"I thinks dis the best place to fire at Mas'r Harney. Mug's gwine to take aim, fire, bang, so," and the queer child illustrated by holding up a revolver which she had used more than once under Alice's supervision, and with which she had armed herself.
Alice could not forbear a smile, but it froze on her lips, as clutching her dress Mug whispered:
"Dar they comes," pointing at the same time toward the woods where a band of men was distinctly visible, marching directly upon Spring Bank.
"Will I bang 'em now?" Mug asked, but Alice stopped her with a sign, and leaning against the chimney, stood watching the advancing foe, who, led by Harney, made straight for the stables, their suppressed voices reaching her where she stood, as did their oaths and imprecations when they found their booty gone.
There was a moment's consultation and then Harney, dismounting, came into the yard and seemed to be inspecting the dark, silent building, which gave no sign of life.
"We'll try the cabins first. We'll make the negroes tell where the horses are," Alice heard him say, but the cabins were as empty as the stalls, and in some perplexity Harney gave orders for them to see, "if the old rookery were vacant too."
"Mr. Harney, may I ask why you are here?"
The clear, silvery tones rang out on the still night and startled that guerilla band almost as much as would a shell dropped suddenly in their midst. Looking in the direction whence the voice had come they saw the girlish figure clearly defined upon the housetop, and one, a burly, brutal Texan, raised his gun, but Harney struck it down, and involuntarily lifting his cap, replied:
"We are here for horses, Miss Johnson. We know Mr. Worthington keeps the best in the country, and as we need some, we have come to take possession, peaceably if possible, forcibly if need be. Can you tell us where they are?"
"I can," and Alice's voice did not tremble a particle. "They are safely housed in the kitchen and dining-room and the doors are barred."
"The fair Alice will please unbar them," was Harney's sneering reply, to which came back the answer: "The horses are not yours; they are Captain Worthington's, and we will defend them, if need be, with our lives!"
"Gritty, by George! I didn't know as Yankee gals, had such splendid pluck," muttered one of the men, while Harney continued: "You say 'we.' May I ask the number of your forces?"
Ere Alice could speak old Sam's voice was heard parleying with the marauders.
"That's a nigger, shoot him!" growled one, but the white head was withdrawn from view just in time to escape the ball aimed at it.
There was a rush, now for the kitchen door, a horrid sound of fearful oaths, mingled with the cries of the negroes, the furious yells of Rover, whom Lulu had let loose, and the neighing of the frightened steeds. But amid it all Alice retained her self-possession. She had descended from her post on the housetop, and persuading Mrs. Worthington, Aunt Eunice, and Densie to remain quietly in her own room, joined the negroes below, cheering them by her presence, and by her apparent fearlessness keeping up their sinking courage.
"We's better gin dem de hosses, Miss Ellis," Claib said, entreatingly, as blow after blow fell upon the yielding door—"'cause dey's boun' to hab 'em."
"I'll try argument first with their leader," Alice replied, and ere Claib suspected her intention she was undoing the fastenings of a side door, bidding him bolt it after her as soon as she was safely through it."
"Is Miss Ellis crazy?" shrieked Sam. "Dem men has no 'spect for female wimmen," and he was forcibly detaining her, when the sharp ring of a revolver was heard, accompanied by a demoniacal shriek as a tall body leaped high in the air and then fell, weltering in its blood.
A moment more and a little dusky figure came flying down the stairs, and hiding itself behind the astonished Alice, sobbed hysterically: "I'se done it, I has! I'se shooted old Harney!" and Mug, overcome with excitement, rolled upon the floor like an India rubber ball.
It was true, as Mug had said. Secreted by the huge chimney she had watched the proceedings below, keeping her eye fixed on him she knew to be Harney; and, at last, when a favorable opportunity occurred, had sent the ball which carried death to him and dismay to his adherents, who crowded around their fallen leader, forgetful now of the prey for which they had come, and anxious only for flight. Possibly, too, their desire to be off was augmented by the fact that from the woods came the sound of voices and the tramp of horses' feet—Colonel Tiffton, who, with a few of his neighbors, was coming to the rescue of Spring Bank. But their services were not needed to drive away the foe, for ere they reached the gate, the yard was free from the invaders, who, bearing their wounded leader, Harney, in their midst, disappeared behind the hill, one of them, the brutal Texan, who had raised his gun at Alice, lingering behind the rest, and looking back to see the result of his infernal deed. Secretly, when no one knew it, he had kindled a fire at the rear of the wooden building, which being old and dry caught readily, and burned like tinder.
Alice was the first to discover it, and "Fire! fire!" was echoed frantically from one to the other, while all did their best to subdue it. But their efforts were in vain; nothing could stay its progress, and when the next morning's sun arose it shone on the blackened, smoking ruins of Spring Bank, and on the tearful group standing near to what had been their happy home. The furniture mostly had been saved, and was scattered about the yard just where it had been deposited. There had been some parley between the negroes as to which should be left to burn, the old secretary at the end of the upper hall, or a bureau which stood in an adjoining and otherwise empty room.
"Massah done keep his papers here. We'll take dis," Claib had said, and so, assisted by other negroes and Mug, he had carried the old worm-eaten thing down the stairs, and bearing it across the yard, had dropped it rather suddenly, for it was wondrously heavy, and the sweat stood in great drops on the faces of the blacks, as they deposited the load and turned away so quickly as not to see the rotten bottom splintering to pieces, or the yellow coin dropping upon the grass.
Making the circuit of the yard in company with Colonel Tiffton, Alice's eye was caught by the flashing of something beneath the bookcase, and stooping down she uttered a cry of surprise as she picked up and held to view a golden guinea. Another, and another, and another—they were thick as berries on the hills, and in utter amazement she turned to the equally astonished colonel for an explanation. It cams to him after a little. That bookcase, with its false bottom and secret drawers, had been the hiding place of the miserly John Stanley's gold. In his will, he had spoken of that particularly, bidding Hugh be careful of it, as it had come to him from his grandfather, and this was the result. What had been a mystery to the colonel was explained. He knew what John Stanley had done with all his money, and that Hugh Worthington's poverty was now a thing of the past.
"I'm glad of it—the boy deserves this streak of luck, if ever a fellow did," he said, as he made his rapid explanations to Alice, who listened like one bewildered, while all the time she was gathering up the golden coin, which kept dropping from the sides and chinks of the bookcase.
There was quite a little fortune, and Alice suggested that it should be kept a secret for the present from all save Mrs. Worthington, a plan to which the colonel assented, helping Alice to recover and secrete her treasure, and then going with her to Mrs. Worthington, who sat weeping silently over the ruins of her home.
"Poor Hugh, we are beggars now," she moaned, refusing at first to listen to Alice's attempts at consolation.
They told her at last what they had found, proving their words by occular demonstration, and proposing to her that the story should go no further until Hugh had been consulted.
"You'll go home with me, of course," the colonel said, "and then we'll see what must be done."
This seemed the only feasible arrangement, and the family carriage was brought around to take the ladies to Mosside—the negroes, whose cabins had not been burned, staying at Spring-Bank to watch the fire, and see that it spread no farther. But Alice could not remain in quietness at Mosside, and early the next morning she rode down to Spring Bank, where the negroes greeted her with loud cries of welcome, asking her numberless questions as to what they were to do, and who would go after "Massah Hugh."
It seemed to be the prevailing opinion that he must come home, and Alice thought so, too.
"What do you think, Uncle Sam?" she asked, turning to the old man, who replied:
"I thinks a heap of things, and if Miss Ellis comes dis way where so many can't be listen in', I tella her my mind."
Alice followed him to a respectable distance from the others, and sitting down upon a chair standing there, waited for Sam to begin.
Twirling his old straw hat awkwardly for a moment, he stammered out:
"What for did Massah Hugh jine de army?"
"Because he thought it his duty," was Alice's reply, and Sam continued:
"Yes, but dar is anodder reason. 'Scuse me, miss, but I can't keep still an' see it all agwine wrong. 'Seuse me 'gin, miss, but is you ever gwine to hev that chap what comed here oncet a sparkin'—Massah Irving, I means?"
Alice's blue eyes turned inquiringly upon him, as she replied: "Never, Uncle Sam. I never intended to marry him. Why do you ask?"
"'Cause, miss, when a young gal lets her head lay spang on a fellow's buzzum, and he a kissin' her, it looks mighty like somethin'. Yes, berry like;" and in his own way Sam confessed what he had seen more than a year ago, and told, too, how Hugh had overheard the words of love breathed by Irving Stanley, imitating, as far as possible, his master's manner as he turned away, and walked hurriedly down the piazza.
Then he confessed what, in the evening, he had repeated to Hugh, telling Alice how "poor massah groan, wid face in his hands, and how next day he went off, never to come back again."
In mute silence, Alice listened to a story which explained much that had been strange to her before, and as she listened, her resolve was made.
"Sam," she said, when he had finished, "I wish I had known this before. It might have saved your master much anxiety. I am going North—going to Snowdon first, and then to Washington, in hopes of finding him."
In a moment Sam was on his knees, begging to go with her.
"Don't leave me, Miss Ellis. Take me 'long. Please take me to Massah Hugh. I'se quite peart now, and kin look after Miss Ellis a heap."
Alice could not promise till she had talked with Mrs. Worthington, whose anxiety to go North was even greater than her own. They would be nearer to Hugh, and by going to Washington would probably see him, she said, while it seemed that she should by some means be brought near to her daughter, of whom no tidings had been received as yet. So it was arranged that Mrs. Worthington, Alice and Densie, together with Lulu and Sam, should start at once for Snowdon, where Alice would leave a part of her charge, herself and Mrs. Worthington going on to Washington in hopes of meeting or hearing directly from Hugh. Aunt Eunice and Mug were to remain with Colonel Tiffton, who promised to look after the Spring Bank negroes.
Accordingly, one week after the fire, Alice found herself at the same station in Lexington where once Hugh Worthington, to her unknown, had waited for her coming. The morning papers were just out, and securing one for herself, she entered the car and read the following announcement:
"DIED, at his country residence, from the effect of a shot received while dastardly attacking a house belonging to Unionists, Robert Harney, Esq., aged thirty-three."
With a shudder Alice pointed out the paragraph to Mrs. Worthington, and laying her head upon her hand prayed silently that there might come a speedy end to the horrors entailed by the cruel war.
Sweet Anna Millbrook's eyes were dim with tears, and her heart was sore with pain when told that Alice Johnson, was waiting for her in the parlor below. Only the day before had she heard of her brother's disgrace, feeling as she heard it, how much rather she would that he had died ere there were so many stains upon his name. But Alice would comfort her, and she hastened to meet her. Sitting down beside her, she talked with her long of all that had transpired since last they met; talked, too, of Adah, and then of Willie, who was sent for, and at Alice's request taken by her to the hotel, where Mrs. Worthington was stopping. He had grown to be a most beautiful and engaging child, and Mrs. Worthington justly felt a thrill of pride as she clasped him to her bosom, weeping over him passionately. She could scarcely bear to lose him from her sight, and when later in the day Anna came down for him, she begged hard for him to stay. But Willie was rather shy of his new grandmother, and preferred returning with Mrs. Millbrook, who promised that he should come every day so long as Mrs. Worthington remained at the hotel.
As soon as Mrs. Richards learned that Mrs. Worthington and Alice were in town, she insisted upon their coming to Terrace Hill. There was room enough, she said, and her friends were welcome there for as long a time as they chose to stay. There were the pleasant chambers fitted up for 'Lina, they had never been occupied, and Mrs. Worthington could have them as well as not; or better yet—could take Anna's old chamber, with the little room adjoining, where Adah used to sleep. Mrs. Worthington preferred the latter, and removed with Alice at Terrace Hill, while at Anna's request Densie went to the Riverside Cottage, where she used to live, and where she was much happier than she would have been with strangers.
Not long could Mrs. Worthington stay contentedly at Snowdon, and after a time Alice started with her and Lulu for Washington, taking Sam also, partly because he begged so hard to go, and partly because she did not care to trouble her friends with the old man, who seemed a perfect child in his delight at the prospect of seeing "Massah Hugh." But to see him was not so easy a matter. Indeed, he seemed farther off at Washington than he had done at Spring Bank, and Alice sometimes questioned the propriety of having left Kentucky at all. They were not very comfortable at Washington, and as Mrs. Worthington pined for the pure country air, Alice managed at last to procure board for herself, Mrs. Worthington, Lulu and Sam, at the house of a friend whose acquaintance she had made at the time of her visit to Virginia. It was some distance from Washington, and so near to Bull Run that when at last the second disastrous battle was fought in that vicinity, the roar of the artillery was distinctly heard, and they who listened to the noise of that bloody conflict knew just when the battle ceased, and thought with tearful anguish of the poor, maimed, suffering wretches left to bleed and die alone. They knew Hugh must have been in the battle, and Mrs. Washington's anxiety amounted almost to insanity, while Alice, with blanched cheek and compressed lip, could only pray silently that he might be spared, and might yet come back to them. Only Sam thought of acting.
"Now is the time," he said to Alice, as they stood talking together of Hugh, and wondering if he were safe. "Something tell me Massah Hugh is hurted somewhar, and I'se gwine to find him. I knows all de way, an' every tree around dat place. I can hide from de 'Federacy. Dem Rebels let ole white-har'd nigger look for young massah, and I'se gwine. P'raps I not find him, but I does somebody some good. I helps somebody's Massah Hugh."
It seemed a crazy project, letting that old man start off on so strange an errand, but Sam was determined.
He had a "'sentiment," as he said, that Hugh was wounded, and he must go to him.
In his presentiment Alice had no faith; but she did not oppose him, and at parting she said to him, hesitatingly:
"Sam, if you do find your master wounded, and you think him dying, you may tell him—tell him—that I said—I loved him; and had he ever come back, I would have been his wife."
"I tells him, and that raises Massah Hugh from de very jaws of death," was Sam's reply, as he departed on his errand of mercy, which proved not to be a fruitless one, for he did find his master, and falling on his knees beside him, uttered the joyful words we have before repeated.
To the faint, half-dying Hugh, it seemed more like a dream than a reality—that familiar voice from home, and that dusky form bending over him so pityingly. He could not comprehend how Sam came there, or what he was saying to him. Something he heard of burning houses, and ole miss and Snowdon, and Washington; but nothing was real until he caught the name of Alice, and thought Sam said she was there.
"Where, Sam—where?" he asked, trying to raise himself upon his elbow. "Is Alice here, did you say?"
"No, massah; not 'zactly here—but on de road. If massah could ride, Sam hold him on, like massah oncet held on ole Sam, and we'll get to her directly. They's kind o' Secesh folks whar she is, but mighty good to her. She knowed 'em 'fore, 'case way down here is whar Sam was sold dat time Miss Ellis comed and show him de road to Can'an. Miss Ellis tell me somethin' nice for Massah Hugh, ef he's dyin'—suffin make him so glad. Is you dyin', massah?"
"I hardly think I am as bad as that. Can't you tell unless I am near to death?" Hugh said; and Sam replied:
"No, massah; dem's my orders. 'Ef he's dyin', Sam, tell him I'—dat's what she say. Maybe you is dyin', massah. Feel and see!"
"It's possible," and something like his old mischievous smile played around Hugh's white lips as he asked how a chap felt when he was dying.
"I'se got mizzable mem'ry, and I don't justly 'member," was Sam's answer; "but I reckons he feel berry queer and choky—berry."
"That's exactly my case, so you may venture to tell," Hugh said; and getting his face close to that of the young man, Sam whispered: "She say, 'Tell Massah Hugh—I—I—' You's sure you's dyin'?"
"I'm sure I feel as you said I must," Hugh, continued, and Sam went on: "'Tell him I loves him; and ef he lives I'll be his wife.' Dem's her very words, nigh as I can 'member—but what is massah goin' to do?" he continued in some surprise, as Hugh attempted to rise.
"Do? I'm going to Alice," was Hugh's reply, as with a moan he sank back again, too weak to rise alone.
"Then you be'nt dyin', after all," was Sam's rueful comment, as he suggested: "Ef massah only clamber onto Rocket."
This was easier proposed than done, but after several trials Hugh succeeded; and, with Sam steadying him, while he half lay on Rocket's neck, Hugh proceeded slowly and safely through the woods, meeting at last with some Unionists, who gave him what aid they could, and did not leave him until they saw him safely deposited in an ambulance, which, in spite of his entreaties, took him direct to Georgetown. It was a bitter disappointment to Hugh, so bitter, indeed, that he scarcely felt the pain when his broken arm was set; and when, at last, he was left alone in his narrow hospital bed, he turned his face to the wall and cried, just as many a poor, homesick soldier had done before him, and will do again.
Twenty-four hours had passed, and in Hugh's room it was growing dark again. All the day he had watched anxiously the door through which visitors would enter, asking repeatedly if no one had called for him; but just as the sun was going down he fell away to sleep, dreaming at last that Golden Hair was there—that her soft, white hands were on his brow, her sweet lips pressed to his, while her dear voice murmured softly: "Darling Hugh!"
There was a cry of pain from a distant corner, and Hugh awoke to consciousness—awoke to know it was no dream—the soft hands on his brow, the kiss upon his lips—for Golden Hair was there; and by the tears she dropped upon his face, and the mute caresses she gave him, he knew that Sam had told him truly. For several minutes there was silence between them, while the eyes looked into each other with a deeper meaning than words could have expressed; then, smoothing back his damp brown hair, and letting her fingers still rest upon his forehead, Alice whispered to him: "Why did you distrust me, Hugh? But for that we need not have been separated so long."
Winding his well arm around her neck, and drawing her nearer to him, Hugh answered:
"It was best just as it is. Had I been sure of your love, I should have found it harder to leave home. My country needed me. I am glad I have done what I could to defend it. Glad that I joined the army, for Alice, darling, Golden Hair, in my lonely tent reading that little Bible you gave me so long ago, the Savior found me, and now, whether I live or not, it is well, for if I die, I am sure you will be mine in heaven; and if I live—"
Alice finished the sentence for him.
"If you live, God willing, I shall be your wife. Dear Hugh, I bless the Good Father, first for bringing you to Himself, and then restoring you to me, darling Hugh."
The Village hearse was waiting at Snowdon depot, and close beside it stood the carriage from Terrace Hill; the one sent there for Adah, the other for her husband, whose lifeblood, so freely shed, had wiped away all stains upon his memory, and enshrined him in the hearts of Snowdon's people as a martyr. He was the first dead soldier returned to them, his the first soldier's grave in their churchyard; and so a goodly throng were there, with plaintive fife and muffled drum, to do him honor. His major was coming with him, it was said—Major Stanley, who had himself been found, in a half-fainting condition watching by the dead—Major Stanley, who had seen that the body was embalmed, had written to the wife, and had attended to everything, even to coming on himself by way of showing his respect. Death is a great softener of errors; and the village people, who could not remember a time when they had not disliked John Richards, forgot his faults now that he was dead.
It seemed a long-time-waiting for the train, but it came at last, and the crowd involuntarily made a movement forward, and then drew back as a tall figure appeared upon the platform, his stylish uniform betokening an officer of rank, and his manner showing plainly that he was master of ceremonies.
"Major Stanley," ran in a whisper through the crowd, whose wonder increased when another, and, if possible, a finer-looking man, emerged into view, his right arm in a sling, and his face pale and worn, from the effects of recent illness. He had not been expected, and many curious glances were cast at him as, slowly descending the steps, he gave his well hand to the lady following close behind, Mrs. Worthington; they knew her, and recognized also the two young ladies, Alice and Adah, as they sprang from the car. Poor Adah! how she shrank from the public gaze, shuddering as on her way to the carriage she passed the long box the men were handling so carefully.
Summoned by Irving Stanley, she had come on to Washington to meet, not a living husband, but a husband dead, and while there had learned that Mrs. Worthington, Hugh, and Alice were all in Georgetown, whither she hastened at once, eager to meet the mother whom she had never yet met as such. Immediately after the discovery of her parentage, she had written to Kentucky, but the letter had not reached its destination, consequently no one but Hugh knew how near she was; and he had only learned it a few days before the battle, when he had, by accident, a few moments' conversation with Dr. Richards, whom he had purposely avoided. He was talking of Adah, and the practicability of sending for her, when she arrived at the private boarding house to which he had been removed.
The particulars of that interview between the mother and her daughter we cannot describe, as no one witnessed it save God; but Adah's face was radiant with happiness, and her soft, brown eyes beaming with joy when it was ended, and she went next to where Hugh was waiting for her.
"Oh, Hugh, my noble brother!" was all she could say, as she wound her arms around his neck and pressed her fair cheek against his own, forgetting, in those moments of perfect bliss, all the sorrow, all the anguish of the past.
Nor was it until Hugh said to her: "The doctor was in that battle. Did he escaped unharmed?" that a shadow dimmed the sunshine flooding her pathway that autumn morning.
At the mention of him the muscles about her mouth grew rigid, and a look of pain flitted across her face, showing that there was yet much of bitterness mingled in her cup of joy. Composing herself as soon as possible she told Hugh that she was a widow, but uttered no word of complaint against the dead, and Hugh, knowing that she could not sorrow as other women have sorrowed over the loved ones slain in battle, drew her nearer to him, and after speaking a few words of poor 'Lina, told her of the golden fortune which had so unexpectedly come to him, and added: "And you shall share it with me. Your home shall be with me and Golden Hair—Alice—who has promised to be my wife. We will live very happily together yet, my sister."
Then he asked what Major Stanley's plan was concerning the body of her husband, and upon learning that it was to bury the doctor at home, he announced his determination to accompany them, as he knew he should be able to do so.
Hugh had no suspicion of the truth, but Alice guessed it readily, and could scarcely forbear throwing her arms around Adah's neck and whispering to her how glad she was. She had said to her softly: "I am to be your sister, Adah—are you willing to receive me?" and Adah had only answered by a warm pressure of the hand she held in hers and by the tears which shone in her brown eyes.
It was a great trial to Adah to face the crowd they found assembled at the depot, but Irving, Hugh, and Alice all helped to screen her from observation, and almost before she was aware of it she found herself safe in the carriage which effectually hid her from view. Slowly the procession moved through the village, the foot passengers keeping time to the muffled drum, whose solemn beats had never till that morning been heard in the quiet streets. The wide gate which led into the grounds of Terrace Hill was opened wide, and the black hearse passed in, followed by the other carriages, which wound around the hill and up to the huge building where badges of mourning were hung out—mourning for the only son, the youngest born, the once pride and pet of the stately woman who watched the coming of that group with tear-dimmed eyes, holding upon her lap the little boy whose father they were bringing in, dead, coffined for the grave. Not for the world would that high-bred woman have been guilty of an impropriety, and so she sat in her own room, while Charlie Millbrook met the bearers in the hall and told them where to deposit their burden.
In the same room where we first saw him on the night of his return from Europe, they left him, and went their way, while to Dixson and Pamelia was accorded the honor of first welcoming Adah, whom they treated with as much deference as if she had never been with them in any capacity save that of mistress. She had changed since they last saw her—was wonderfully improved, they said to each other as they left her at the door of the room, where Mrs. Richards, with her two older daughters, was waiting to receive her. But if the servants were struck with the air of dignity and cultivation which Adah acquired during her tour in Europe, how much more did this same air impress the haughty ladies waiting for her appearance, and feeling a little uncertain as to how they should receive her. Any doubts, however, which they had upon this subject were dispelled the moment she entered the room, and they saw at a glance that it was not the timid, shrinking Rose Markham with whom they had to deal, but a woman as wholly self-possessed as themselves, and one with whose bearing even their critical eyes would find no fault. She would not suffer them to patronize her; they must treat her fully as an equal or as nothing, and with a new-born feeling of pride in her late son's widow, Mrs. Richards arose, and putting Willie from her lap, advanced to meet her, cordially extending her hand, but uttering no word of welcome. Adah took the hand, but her eyes never sought the face of her lady mother. They were riveted with a hungry, wistful, longing look on Willie, the little boy, who, clinging to his grandmother's skirts, peered curiously at her, holding back at first, when, unmindful of Asenath and Eudora, who had not yet been greeted, she tried to take him in her arms.
"Oh, Willie, darling, don't you know me? I am poor mamma," and Adah's voice was choked with sobs at this unlooked-for reception from her child.
He had been sent for from Anna's home to meet his mother, because it was proper; but no one at Terrace Hill had said to him that the mamma for whom sweet Anna taught him daily to pray was coming. She was not in his mind, and as eighteen months had obliterated all memories of the gentle, girlish creature he once knew as mother, he could not immediately identify that mother with the lady before him.
It was a sad disappointment to Adah, and without knowing what she was doing, she sank down upon the sofa, and involuntarily laying her head in Mrs. Richards' lap, cried bitterly, her tears bringing answering ones from the eyes of all three of the ladies, for they half believed her grief, in part, was for the lifeless form in the room below.
"Poor child, you are tired and worn. It is hard to lose him just as there was a prospect of perfect reconciliation with us all," Mrs. Richards said, softly smoothing the brown tresses lying on her lap, and thinking even then that curls were more becoming to her daughter-in-law than braids had been, but wondering why, now she was in mourning, Adah had persisted in wearing them.
"Pretty girl, pretty turls, is you tyin'?" and won by her distress, Willie drew near, and laid his baby hand upon the curls he thought so pretty.
"That's mamma, Willie," Asenath said; "the mamma Aunt Anna said would come some time—Willie's mamma. Can't he kiss her?"
The child could not resist the face which, lifting itself up, looked eagerly at him, and he put up his little hands for Adah to take him, returning the kisses she showered upon him and clinging to her neck, while he said:
"Is you mam-ma sure? I prays for mam-ma—God take care of her, and pa-pa too. He's dead. They brought him back with a dum. Poor pa-pa, Willie don't want him dead;" and the little lip began to quiver.
Never before since she knew she was a widow had Adah felt so vivid a sensation of something akin to affection for the dead, as when her child and his mourned so plaintively for papa; and the tears which now fell like rain were not for Willie alone, but were given rather to the dead.
"Mrs. Richards has not yet greeted us," Asenath said; and turning to her at once, Adah apologized for her seeming neglect, pressing both her and Eudora's hands more cordially than she would have done a few moments before.
"Where is Anna?" she asked; and Mrs. Richards replied:
"She's sick. She regretted much that she could not come up here to-day;" while Willie, standing in Adah's lap, with his chubby arm around her neck, chimed in.
"You don't know what we've dot. We've dot 'ittle baby, we has."
Adah knew now why Anna was absent, and why Charlie Millbrook looked so happy when at last he came in to see her, delivering sundry messages from his Anna, who, he said could scarcely wait to see her dear sister. There was something genuine in Charlie's greeting, something which made Adah feel as if she were indeed at home, and she wondered much how even the Richards race could ever have objected to him, as she watched his movements and heard him talking with his stately mother.
"Yes, Major Stanley came," he said, in reply to her questions, and Adah was glad it was put to him, for the blushes dyed her cheek at once, and she bent over Willie to hide them, while Charlie continued: "Captain Worthington came, too, Adah's brother, you know. He was in the same battle with the doctor, was wounded rather seriously and has been discharged, I believe."
"Oh," and Mrs. Richards seemed quite interested now, asking where the young men were, and appearing disappointed when told that, after waiting a few moments in hopes of seeing the ladies, they had returned to the hotel, where Mrs. Worthington and Alice were stopping.
"I fully expected the ladies here; pray, send for them at once," she said, but Adah interposed:
"Her mother would not willingly be separated from Hugh, and as he of course would remain at the hotel, it would be useless to think of persuading Mrs. Worthington to come to Terrace Hill."
"But Miss Johnson surely will come," persisted Mrs. Richards.
Adah could not explain then that Alice was less likely to leave Hugh than her mother, but she said: "Miss Johnson, I think, will not leave mother alone," and so the matter was settled.
It was a terribly long day to Adah, for Mrs. Richards and her daughter kept their darkened room, seeing no one who called, and appearing shocked when Adah stole out from their presence, and taking Willie with her, sought the servants' sitting-room, where the atmosphere was not so laden with restraint. Once the elder lady rang for Pamelia, asking where Mrs. Richards was, and looking a little distressed when told she was in the garden playing with Willie.
"Why, do you want her?" was Pamelia's blunt inquiry, to which her mistress responded with an aggrieved sigh:
"No-o, only I thought perhaps she was with her dead husband; but, poor thing, it is not her nature, I presume, to take it much to heart."
Pamelia didn't believe she did "take it much to heart." Indeed, she didn't see how she could, but she said nothing, and Adah was left to play with Willie until Alice was announced as being in the reception-room. She had driven around, she said, to call on Mrs. Richards, and after that take Adah with her to the cottage, where Anna, she knew, was anxious to receive her. At first Mrs. Richards demurred, fearing it would be improper, but saying: "my late son's wife is, of course, her own mistress, and can do as she likes."
Very adroitly Alice waived all objections, and bore Adah off in triumph.
"I knew you must be lonely up there," she said, as they drove slowly along, "and there can be no harm in visiting one's sick sister."
Anna surely did not think there was, as her warm, welcoming kisses fully testified.
"I wanted so much to see you to-day," she said, "that I have worked myself into quite a fever; but knowing mother as I do, I feared she might not sanction your coming;" then proudly turning down the blanket, she disclosed the red-faced baby, who, just one week ago, had come to the Riverside Cottage.
"Isn't he a beauty?" she asked, pressing her lips upon the wrinkled forehead. "A boy, too, and looks so much like Charlie, but—" and her soft, blue eyes seemed more beautiful than ever with the maternal love-shining for them, "I shall not call him Charlie, nor yet John, though mother's heart is set on the latter name. I can't. I loved my brother dearly, and never so much as now that he is dead, but my baby boy must not bear his name, and so I have chosen Hugh, Hugh Richards. I know it will please you both," and she glanced archly at Alice, who blushingly kissed the little boy who was to bear the name dearest to her of all others.
Hugh—they talked of him a while, and then Anna spoke of Irving Stanley, expressing her fears that she could not see him to thank him for his kindness and forbearance to her erring brother.
"He must be noble and good," she said, then turning to Adah, she continued: "You were with him a year. You must know him well. Do you like him?"
"Yes," and Adah's face was all ablaze, as the simple answer dropped from her lips.
For a moment Anna regarded her intently, then her eyes were withdrawn and her white hand beat the counterpane softly, but nothing more was said of Irving Stanley then.
The next day near the sunsetting, they buried the dead soldier, Mrs. Richards and Adah standing side by side as the body was lowered to its last resting place, the older leaning upon the younger for support, and feeling as she went back to her lonely home and heard the merry laugh of little Willie in the hall that she was glad her son had married the young girl, who, now that John was gone forever from her sight began to be very dear to her as his wife, the Lily whom he had loved so much. In the dusky twilight of that night when alone with Adah she told her as much, speaking sadly of the past, which she regretted, and wishing she had never objected to receiving the girl about whom John wrote so lovingly.
"Had I done differently he might have been living now, and you might have been spared much pain, but you'll forgive me. I'm an old woman, I am breaking fast, and soon shall follow my boy, but while I live I wish for peace, and you must love me, Lily, because I was his mother. Let me call you Lily, as he did," and the hand of her who had conceded so much rested entreatingly upon the bowed head of the young girl beside her. There was no acting there, Adah knew, and clasping the trembling hand she involuntarily whispered:
"I will love you, mother, I will."
"And stay with me, too?" Mrs. Richards continued, her voice choked with the sobs she could not repress, when she heard herself called mother by the girl she had so wronged. "You will stay with him, Lily. Anna is gone, my other daughters are old. We are lonely in this great house. We need somebody young to cheer our solitude, and you will stay, as mistress, if you choose, or as a petted, youngest daughter."
This was an unlooked for trial to Adah. She had not dreamed of living there at Terrace Hill, when Hugh and her own mother could make her so happy in their home. But Adah had never consulted her own happiness, and as she listened to the pleading tones of the woman who surely had some heart, some noble qualities, she felt that 'twas her duty to remain there for a time at least, and so she replied at last:
"I expected to live with my own mother, but for the present my home shall be here with you."
"God bless you, darling," and the proud woman's lips touched the fair cheek, while the proud woman's hand smoothed again the soft short curls, pushing them back from the white brow, as she murmured: "You are very beautiful, my child, just as John said you were."
It was hard for Adah to tell Mrs. Worthington that she could not make one of the circle who would gather around the home fireside Hugh was to purchase somewhere, but she did at last, standing firmly by her decision and saying in reply to her mother's entreaties: "It is my duty. They need me more than you, who have both Hugh and Alice."
Adah was right, so Hugh said, and Alice, too, while Irving Stanley said nothing. He must have found much that was attractive about the little town of Snowdon, for he lingered there long after there was not the least excuse for staying. He did not go often to Terrace Hill, and when he did, he never asked for Adah, but so long as he could see her on the Sabbath days when, with the Richards' family she walked quietly up the aisle, her cheek flushing when she passed him, and so long as he occasionally met her at Mrs. Worthington's rooms, or saw her riding in the Richards' carriage, so long was he content to stay. But there came a time when he must go, and then he asked for Adah, and in the presence of her mother-in-law invited her to go with him to her husband's grave. She went, taking Willie with her, and there, with that fresh mound between them, Irving Stanley told her what he had hitherto withheld, told what the dying soldier had said, and asked if it should be so.
"Not now, not yet," he continued, as Adah's eyes were bent upon that grave, "but by and by, will you do your husband's bidding—be my wife?"
"I will," and taking Willie's hand Adah put it with hers into the broad, warm palm which clasped them both, as Irving whispered: "Your child, darling, shall be mine, and never need he know that I am not his father."
It was arranged that Alice should tell Mrs. Richards, as Adah would have no concealments. Accordingly, Alice asked a private interview with the lady, to whom she told everything as she understood it. And Mrs. Richards, though weeping bitterly, generously exonerated Adah from all blame, commended her as having acted very wisely, and then added, with a flush of pride:
"Many a woman would be glad to marry Irving Stanley, and it gives me pleasure to know that to my son's widow the honor is accorded. He is worthy to take John's place, and she, I believe, is worthy of him. I love her already as my daughter, and shall look upon him as a son. You say they are in the garden. Let them both come to me."
They came, and listened quietly, while Mrs. Richards sanctioned their engagement, and then, with a little eulogy upon her departed son, said to Adah: "You will wait a year, of course. It will not be proper before."
Irving had hoped for only six months' probation, but Adah was satisfied with the year, and they went from Mrs. Richards' presence with the feeling that Providence was indeed smiling upon their pathway, and flooding it with sunshine.
The next day Major Stanley left Snowdon, but not until there had come to Hugh a letter, whose handwriting made Mrs. Worthington turn pale, it brought back so vividly the terror of the olden times. It was from Murdock, and it inclosed for Densie Densmore the sum of five hundred dollars.
"Should she need more, I will try and supply it," he wrote, "for I have wronged her cruelly." Then, after speaking of his fruitless search for Adah, and his hearing at last that she was found and Dr. Richards dead, he added: "As there is nothing left for me to do, and as I am sure to be playing mischief if idle, I have joined the army, and am training a band of contrabands to fight as soon as the government comes to its senses, and is willing for the negroes to bear their part in the battle."
The letter ended with saying that he should never come out of the war alive, simply because it would last until he was too old to live any longer.
It was a relief for Mrs. Worthington to hear from him, and know that he probably would not trouble her again, while Adah, whose memories of him were pleasanter, expressed a strong desire to see him.
"We will find him by and by, when you are mine," Irving said playfully; then, drawing her into an adjoining room where they could be alone, he said his parting words, and then with Hugh went to meet the train which took him away from Snowdon.
The New England hills were tinged with that peculiar purplish haze so common to the Indian summer time, and the warm sunlight of November fell softly upon Snowdon, whose streets this morning were full of eager, expectant people, all hurrying on to the old brick church, and quickening their steps with every stroke of the merry bell, pealing so joyfully from the tall, dark tower. The Richards' carriage was out, and waiting before the door of the Riverside Cottage, for the appearance of Anna, who was this morning to venture out for a short time, and leaving her baby Hugh alone. Another, and far handsomer carriage, was standing before the hotel, where Hugh and his mother were yet stopping, and where, in a pleasant private room, Adah Richards helped Alice Johnson make her neat, tasteful toilet, smoothing lovingly the rich folds of grayish-colored silk, arranging the snowy cuffs and collar, and then bringing the stylish hat of brown Neapolitan, with its pretty face trimmings of blue, and declaring it a shame to cover up the curls of golden hair falling so luxuriously about the face and neck of the blushing bride. For it was Alice's wedding day, and in the room adjoining, Hugh Worthington stood, waiting impatiently the opening of the mysterious door which Adah had shut against him, and wondering if, after all, it were not a dream that the time was coming fast when neither bolts nor locks would have a right to keep him from his wife.
It seemed too great a joy to be true, and by way of reassuring himself he had to look often at the crowds of people hurrying by, and down upon old Sam, who, in full dress, with white cotton gloves drawn awkwardly upon his cramped distorted fingers, stood by the carriage, bowing to all who passed, himself the very personification of perfect bliss. Sam was very happy, inasmuch as he took upon himself the credit of having made the match, and was never tired of relating the wondrous story to all who would listen to it.
"Massah Hugh de perfectest massah," he said, "and Miss Ellis a little more so;" adding that though "Canaan was a mighty nice place, he 'sumed he'd rather not go thar jist yet, but live a leetle longer to see them 'joy themselves. Thar they comes—dat's miss in gray. She knows how't orange posies and silks and satins is proper for weddin' nights; but she's gwine travelin', and dat's why she comed out in dat stun-color, Sam'll be blamed if he fancies." And having thus explained Alice's choice of dress, the old negro held the carriage door himself, while Hugh, handing in his mother, sister and his bride, took his seat beside them, and was driven to the church.
Twenty minutes passed, and then the streets were filled again; but now the people were going home, talking as they went of the beauty of the bride and of the splendid-looking bridegroom, who looked so fondly at her as she murmured her responses, kissing her first himself when the ceremony was over, and letting his arm rest for a moment around her slender form. No one doubted its being a genuine love match, and all rejoiced in the happiness of the newly-married pair, who, at the village depot, were waiting for the train which would take them on their way to Kentucky, for that was their destination.
In the distracted condition of the country, Hugh's presence was needed there; for, taking advantage of his absence, and the thousand rumors afloat touching the Proclamation, one of his negroes had already run away in company with some half dozen of the colonel's, who, in a terrible state of excitement, talked seriously of emigrating to Canada. Hugh's timely arrival, however, quieted him somewhat, though he listened in sorrow, and almost with tears, to Hugh's plan of selling the Spring Bank farm and removing with his negroes to some New England town, where Alice, he knew, would be happier than she had been in Kentucky. This was one object which Hugh had in view in going to Kentucky then, but a purchaser for Spring Bank was not so easily found in those dark days; and so, doing with his land the best he could, he called about him his negroes, and giving to each his freedom, proposed that they stay quietly where they were until spring, when he hoped to find them all employment on the farm he went to buy in New England.