"Ye're a Prodez'n preacher! I'll bet ye fifty dollars ye have a rich cherch! Full of leadin' cidizens!"
"Well, I'd go an'—an'—an' I'd say, 'Dawn't ye nivver ax me to go into that place ag'in a-pallaverin' about mercy, until ye gid ud chaynged from the hell on earth it is to a house of justice, wheyre min gits the sintences that the coorts decrees!' I don't complain in here. He don't complain," pointing to Ristofalo; "ye'll nivver hear a complaint from him. But go look in that yaird!" He threw up both hands with a grimace of disgust—"Aw!"—and ceased again, but continued his walk, looked at his fellows, and resumed:—
"I listened to yer sermon. I heerd ye talkin' about the souls of uz. Do ye think ye kin make anny of thim min believe ye cayre for the souls of us whin ye do nahthing for the bodies that's before yer eyes tlothed in rrags and stairved, and made to sleep on beds of brick and stone, and to receive a hundred abuses a day that was nivver intended to be a pairt of annybody's sintince—and manny of'm not tried yit, an' nivver a-goun' to have annythin' proved ag'in 'm? How can ye come offerin' uz merrcy? For ye don't come out o' the tloister, like a poor Cat'lic priest or Sister. Ye come rright out o' the hairt o' the community that's a-committin' more crimes ag'in uz in here than all of us together has iver committed outside. Aw!—Bring us a better airticle of yer own justice ferst—I doan't cayre how crool it is, so ut's justice—an' thin preach about God's mercy. I'll listen to ye."
Ristofalo had kept his eyes for the most of the time on the floor, smiling sometimes more and sometimes less. Now, however, he raised them and nodded to the clergyman. He approved all that had been said. The Irishman went and sat again on the table and swung his legs. The visitor was not allowed to answer before, and must answer now. He would have been more comfortable at the rectory.
"My friend," he began, "suppose, now, I should say that you are pretty nearly correct in everything you've said?"
The prisoner, who, with hands grasping the table's edge on either side of him, was looking down at his swinging brogans, simply lifted his lurid eyes without raising his head, and nodded. "It would be right," he seemed to intimate, "but nothing great."
"And suppose I should say that I'm glad I've heard it, and that I even intend to make good use of it?"
His hearer lifted his head, better pleased, but not without some betrayal of the distrust which a lower nature feels toward the condescensions of a higher. The preacher went on:—
"Would you try to believe what I have to add to that?"
"Yes, I'd try," replied the Irishman, looking facetiously from the youth to Ristofalo. But this time the Italian was grave, and turned his glance expectantly upon the minister, who presently replied:—
"Well, neither my church nor the community has sent me here at all."
The Irishman broke into a laugh.
"Did God send ye?" He looked again to his comrades, with an expanded grin. The youth giggled. The clergyman met the attack with serenity, waited a moment and then responded:—
"Well, in one sense, I don't mind saying—yes."
"Well," said the Irishman, still full of mirth, and swinging his legs with fresh vigor, "he'd aht to 'a' sint ye to the ligislatur."
"I'm in hopes he will," said the little rector; "but"—checking the Irishman's renewed laughter—"tell me why should other men's injustice in here stop me from preaching God's mercy?"
"Because it's pairt your injustice! Ye do come from yer cherch, an' ye do come from the community, an' ye can't deny ud, an' ye'd ahtn't to be comin' in here with yer sweet tahk and yer eyes tight shut to the crimes that's bein' committed ag'in uz for want of an outcry against 'em by you preachers an' prayers an' thract-disthributors." The speaker ceased and nodded fiercely. Then a new thought occurred to him, and he began again abruptly:—
"Look ut here! Ye said in yer serrmon that as to Him"—he pointed through the broken ceiling—"we're all criminals alike, didn't ye?"
"I did," responded the preacher, in a low tone.
"Yes," said Ristofalo; and the boy echoed the same word.
"Well, thin, what rights has some to be out an' some to be in?"
"Only one right that I know of," responded the little man; "still that is a good one."
"And that is—?" prompted the Irishman.
"Society's right to protect itself."
"Yes," said the prisoner, "to protect itself. Thin what right has it to keep a prison like this, where every man an' woman as goes out of ud goes out a blacker devil, and cunninger devil, and a more dangerous devil, nor when he came in? Is that anny protection? Why shouldn't such a prison tumble down upon the heads of thim as built it? Say."
"I expect you'll have to ask somebody else," said the rector. He rose.
"Ye're not a-goun'!" exclaimed the Irishman, in broad affectation of surprise.
"Ah! come, now! Ye're not goun' to be beat that a-way by a wild Mick o' the woods?" He held himself ready for a laugh.
"No, I'm coming back," said the smiling clergyman, and the laugh came.
"That's right! But"—as if the thought was a sudden one—"I'll be dead by thin, willn't I? Of coorse I will."
"Yes?" rejoined the clergyman. "How's that?"
The Irishman turned to the Italian.
"Mr. Ristofalo, we're a-goin to the pinitintiary, aint we?"
"Of coorse we air! Ah! Mr. Preechur, that's the place!"
"Worse than this?"
"Worse? Oh, no! It's better. This is slow death, but that's quick and short—and sure. If it don't git ye in five year', ye're an allygatur. This place? It's heaven to ud!"
SHALL SHE COME OR STAY?
Richling read Mary's letter through three times without a smile. The feeling that he had prompted the missive—that it was partly his—stood between him and a tumult of gladness. And yet when he closed his eyes he could see Mary, all buoyancy and laughter, spurning his claim to each and every stroke of the pen. It was all hers, all!
As he was slowly folding the sheet Mrs. Reisen came in upon him. It was one of those excessively warm spring evenings that sometimes make New Orleans fear it will have no May. The baker's wife stood with her immense red hands thrust into the pockets of an expansive pinafore, and her three double chins glistening with perspiration. She bade her manager a pleasant good-evening.
Richling inquired how she had left her husband.
"Kviet, Mr. Richlin', kviet. Mr. Richlin', I pelief Reisen kittin petter. If he don't gittin' better, how come he'ss every day a little more kvieter, and sit' still and don't say nutting to nobody?"
"Mrs. Reisen, my wife is asking me to send for her"—Richling gave the folded letter a little shake as he held it by one corner—"to come down here and live again."
"Now, Mr. Richlin'?"
"Well, I will shwear!" She dropped into a seat. "Right in de bekinning o' summer time! Vell, vell, vell! And you told me Mrs. Richling is a sentsible voman! Vell, I don't belief dat I efer see a young voman w'at aint de pickest kind o' fool apowt her hussbandt. Vell, vell!—And she comin' down heah 'n' choost kittin' all your money shpent, 'n' den her mudter kittin' vorse 'n' she got 'o go pack akin!"
"Why, Mrs. Reisen," exclaimed Richling, warmly. "you speak as if you didn't want her to come." He contrived to smile as he finished.
"Vell,—of—course! You don't vant her to come, do you?"
Richling forced a laugh.
"Seems to me 'twould be natural if I did, Mrs. Reisen. Didn't the preacher say, when we were married, 'Let no man put asunder'?"
"Oh, now, Mr. Richlin', dere aindt nopotty a-koin' to put you under!—'less-n it's your vife. Vot she want to come down for? Don't I takin' koot care you?" There was a tear in her eye as she went out.
An hour or so later the little rector dropped in.
"Richling, I came to see if I did any damage the last time I was here. My own words worried me."
"You were afraid," responded Richling, "that I would understand you to recommend me to send for my wife."
"I didn't understand you so."
"Well, my mind's relieved."
"Mine isn't," said Richling. He laid down his pen and gathered his fingers around one knee. "Why shouldn't I send for her?"
"You will, some day."
"But I mean now."
The clergyman shook his head pleasantly.
"I don't think that's what you mean."
"Well, let that pass. I know what I do mean. I mean to get out of this business. I've lived long enough with these savages." A wave of his hand indicated the whole personnel of the bread business.
"I would try not to mind their savageness, Richling," said the little preacher, slowly. "The best of us are only savages hid under a harness. If we're not, we've somehow made a loss." Richling looked at him with amused astonishment, but he persisted. "I'm in earnest! We've had something refined out of us that we shouldn't have parted with. Now, there's Mrs. Reisen. I like her. She's a good woman. If the savage can stand you, why can't you stand the savage?"
"Yes, true enough. Yet—well, I must get out of this, anyway."
The little man clapped him on the shoulder.
"Climb out. See here, you Milwaukee man,"—he pushed Richling playfully,—"what are you doing with these Southern notions of ours about the 'yoke of menial service,' anyhow?"
"I was not born in Milwaukee," said Richling.
"And you'll not die with these notions, either," retorted the other. "Look here, I am going. Good-by. You've got to get rid of them, you know, before your wife comes. I'm glad you are not going to send for her now."
"I didn't say I wasn't."
"Oh, you don't know what you'd do," said Richling.
The little preacher eyed him steadily for a moment, and then slowly returned to where he still sat holding his knee.
They had a long talk in very quiet tones. At the end the rector asked:—
"Didn't you once meet Dr. Sevier's two nieces—at his house?"
"Yes," said Richling.
"Do you remember the one named Laura?—the dark, flashing one?"
"Well,—oh, pshaw! I could tell you something funny, but I don't care to do it."
What he did not care to tell was, that she had promised him five years before to be his wife any day when he should say the word. In all that time, and this very night, one letter, one line almost, and he could have ended his waiting; but he was not seeking his own happiness.
They smiled together. "Well, good-by again. Don't think I'm always going to persecute you with my solicitude."
"I'm not worth it," said Richling, slipping slowly down from his high stool and letting the little man out into the street.
A little way down the street some one coming out of a dark alley just in time to confront the clergyman extended a hand in salutation.
"Good-evenin', Mr. Blank."
He took the hand. It belonged to a girl of eighteen, bareheaded and barefooted, holding in the other hand a small oil-can. Her eyes looked steadily into his.
"You don't know me," she said, pleasantly.
"Why, yes, now I remember you. You're Maggie."
"Yes," replied the girl. "Don't you recollect—in the mission-school? Don't you recollect you married me and Larry? That's two years ago." She almost laughed out with pleasure.
"And where's Larry?"
"Why, don't you recollect? He's on the sloop-o'-war Preble." Then she added more gravely: "I aint seen him in twenty months. But I know he's all right. I aint a-scared about that—only if he's alive and well; yes, sir. Well, good-evenin', sir. Yes, sir; I think I'll come to the mission nex' Sunday—and I'll bring the baby, will I? All right, sir. Well, so long, sir. Take care of yourself, sir."
What a word that was! It echoed in his ear all the way home: "Take care of yourself." What boast is there for the civilization that refines away the unconscious heroism of the unfriended poor?
He was glad he had not told Richling all his little secret. But Richling found it out later from Dr. Sevier.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
Three days Mary's letter lay unanswered. About dusk of the third, as Richling was hurrying across the yard of the bakery on some errand connected with the establishment, a light touch was laid upon his shoulder; a peculiar touch, which he recognized in an instant. He turned in the gloom and exclaimed, in a whisper:—
"Howdy?" said Raphael, in his usual voice.
"Why, how did you get out?" asked Richling. "Have you escaped?"
"No. Just come out for little air. Captain of the prison and me. Not captain, exactly; one of the keepers. Goin' back some time to-night." He stood there in his old-fashioned way, gently smiling, and looking as immovable as a piece of granite. "Have you heard from wife lately?"
"Yes," said Richling. "But—why—I don't understand. You and the jailer out together?"
"Yes, takin' a little stroll 'round. He's out there in the street. You can see him on door-step 'cross yonder. Pretty drunk, eh?" The Italian's smile broadened for a moment, then came back to its usual self again. "I jus' lef' Kate at home. Thought I'd come see you a little while."
"Return calls?" suggested Richling.
"Yes, return call. Your wife well?"
"Yes. But—why, this is the drollest"— He stopped short, for the Italian's gravity indicated his opinion that there had been enough amusement shown. "Yes, she's well, thank you. By-the-by, what do you think of my letting her come out here now and begin life over again? Doesn't it seem to you it's high time, if we're ever going to do it at all?"
"What you think?" asked Ristofalo.
"Well, now, you answer my question first."
"No, you answer me first."
"I can't. I haven't decided. I've been three days thinking about it. It may seem like a small matter to hesitate so long over"—Richling paused for his hearer to dissent.
"Yes," said Ristofalo, "pretty small." His smile remained the same. "She ask you? Reckon you put her up to it, eh?"
"I don't see why you should reckon that," said Richling, with resentful coldness.
"I dunno," said the Italian; "thought so—that's the way fellows do sometimes." There was a pause. Then he resumed: "I wouldn't let her come yet. Wait."
"See which way the cat goin' to jump."
Richling laughed unpleasantly.
"What do you mean by that?" he inquired.
"We goin' to have war," said Raphael Ristofalo.
"Ho! ho! ho! Why, Ristofalo, you were never more mistaken in your life!"
"I dunno," replied the Italian, sticking in his tracks, "think it pretty certain. I read all the papers every day; nothin' else to do in parish prison. Think we see war nex' winter."
"Ristofalo, a man of your sort can hardly conceive the amount of bluster this country can stand without coming to blows. We Americans are not like you Italians."
"No," responded Ristofalo, "not much like." His smile changed peculiarly. "Wasn't for Kate, I go to Italia now."
"Kate and the parish prison," said Richling.
"Oh!"—the old smile returned,—"I get out that place any time I want."
"And you'd join Garibaldi, I suppose?" The news had just come of Garibaldi in Sicily.
"Yes," responded the Italian. There was a twinkle deep in his eyes as he added: "I know Garibaldi."
"Yes. Sailed under him when he was ship-cap'n. He knows me."
"And I dare say he'd remember you," said Richling, with enthusiasm.
"He remember me," said the quieter man. "Well,—must go. Good-e'nin'. Better tell yo' wife wait a while."
"I—don't know. I'll see. Ristofalo"—
"I want to quit this business."
"Better not quit. Stick to one thing."
"But you never did that. You never did one thing twice in succession."
"There's heap o' diff'ence."
"I don't see it. What is it?"
But the Italian only smiled and shrugged, and began to move away. In a moment he said:—
"You see, Mr. Richlin', you sen' for yo' wife, you can't risk change o' business. You change business, you can't risk sen' for yo' wife. Well, good-night."
Richling was left to his thoughts. Naturally they were of the man whom he still saw, in his imagination, picking his jailer up off the door-step and going back to prison. Who could say that this man might not any day make just such a lion's leap into the world's arena as Garibaldi had made, and startle the nations as Garibaldi had done? What was that red-shirted scourge of tyrants that this man might not be? Sailor, soldier, hero, patriot, prisoner! See Garibaldi: despising the restraints of law; careless of the simplest conventionalities that go to make up an honest gentleman; doing both right and wrong—like a lion; everything in him leonine. All this was in Ristofalo's reach. It was all beyond Richling's. Which was best, the capability or the incapability? It was a question he would have liked to ask Mary.
Well, at any rate, he had strength now for one thing—"one pretty small thing." He would answer her letter. He answered it, and wrote: "Don't come; wait a little while." He put aside all those sweet lovers' pictures that had been floating before his eyes by night and day, and bade her stay until the summer, with its risks to health, should have passed, and she could leave her mother well and strong.
It was only a day or two afterward that he fell sick. It was provoking to have such a cold and not know how he caught it, and to have it in such fine weather. He was in bed some days, and was robbed of much sleep by a cough. Mrs. Reisen found occasion to tell Dr. Sevier of Mary's desire, as communicated to her by "Mr. Richlin'," and of the advice she had given him.
"And he didn't send for her, I suppose."
"Well, Mrs. Reisen, I wish you had kept your advice to yourself." The Doctor went to Richling's bedside.
"Richling, why don't you send for your wife?"
The patient floundered in the bed and drew himself up on his pillow.
"O Doctor, just listen!" He smiled incredulously. "Bring that little woman and her baby down here just as the hot season is beginning?" He thought a moment, and then continued: "I'm afraid, Doctor, you're prescribing for homesickness. Pray don't tell me that's my ailment."
"No, it's not. You have a bad cough, that you must take care of; but still, the other is one of the counts in your case, and you know how quickly Mary and—the little girl would cure it."
Richling smiled again.
"I can't do that, Doctor; when I go to Mary, or send for her, on account of homesickness, it must be hers, not mine."
"Well, Mrs. Reisen," said the Doctor, outside the street door, "I hope you'll remember my request."
"I'll tdo udt, Dtoctor," was the reply, so humbly spoken that he repented half his harshness.
"I suppose you've often heard that 'you can't make a silk purse of a sow's ear,' haven't you?" he asked.
"Yes; I pin right often heeard udt." She spoke as though she was not wedded to any inflexible opinion concerning the proposition.
"Well, Mrs. Reisen, as a man once said to me, 'neither can you make a sow's ear out of a silk purse.'"
"Vell, to be cettaintly!" said the poor woman, drawing not the shadow of an inference; "how kin you?"
"Mr. Richling tells me he will write to Mrs. Richling to prepare to come down in the fall."
"Vell," exclaimed the delighted Mrs. Reisen, in her husband's best manner, "t'at's te etsectly I atwised him!" And, as the Doctor drove away, she rubbed her mighty hands around each other in restored complacency. Two or three days later she had the additional pleasure of seeing Richling up and about his work again. It was upon her motherly urging that he indulged himself, one calm, warm afternoon, in a walk in the upper part of the city.
NARCISSE WITH NEWS.
It was very beautiful to see the summer set in. Trees everywhere. You looked down a street, and, unless it were one of the two broad avenues where the only street-cars ran, it was pretty sure to be so overarched with boughs that, down in the distance, there was left but a narrow streak of vivid blue sky in the middle. Well-nigh every house had its garden, as every garden its countless flowers. The dark orange began to show its growing weight of fruitfulness, and was hiding in its thorny interior the nestlings of yonder mocking-bird, silently foraging down in the sunny grass. The yielding branches of the privet were bowed down with their plumy panicles, and swayed heavily from side to side, drunk with gladness and plenty. Here the peach was beginning to droop over a wall. There, and yonder again, beyond, ranks of fig-trees, that had so muffled themselves in their foliage that not the nakedness of a twig showed through, had yet more figs than leaves. The crisp, cool masses of the pomegranate were dotted with scarlet flowers. The cape jasmine wore hundreds of her own white favors, whose fragrance forerun the sight. Every breath of air was a new perfume. Roses, an innumerable host, ran a fairy riot about all grounds, and clambered from the lowest door-step to the highest roof. The oleander, wrapped in one great garment of red blossoms, nodded in the sun, and stirred and winked in the faint stirrings of the air The pale banana slowly fanned herself with her own broad leaf. High up against the intense sky, its hard, burnished foliage glittering in the sunlight, the magnolia spread its dark boughs, adorned with their queenly white flowers. Not a bird nor an insect seemed unmated. The little wren stood and sung to his sitting wife his loud, ecstatic song, made all of her own name,—Matilda, Urilda, Lucinda, Belinda, Adaline, Madaline, Caroline, or Melinda, as the case might be,—singing as though every bone of his tiny body were a golden flute. The hummingbirds hung on invisible wings, and twittered with delight as they feasted on woodbine and honeysuckle. The pigeon on the roof-tree cooed and wheeled about his mate, and swelled his throat, and tremulously bowed and walked with a smiting step, and arched his purpling neck, and wheeled and bowed and wheeled again. Pairs of butterflies rose in straight upward flight, fluttered about each other in amorous strife, and drifted away in the upper air. And out of every garden came the voices of little children at play,—the blessedest sound on earth.
"O Mary, Mary! why should two lovers live apart on this beautiful earth? Autumn is no time for mating. Who can tell what autumn will bring?"
The revery was interrupted.
"Mistoo Itchlin, 'ow you enjoyin' yo' 'ealth in that beaucheouz weatheh juz at the pwesent? Me, I'm well. Yes, I'm always well, in fact. At the same time nevvatheless, I fine myseff slightly sad. I s'pose 'tis natu'al—a man what love the 'itings of Lawd By'on as much as me. You know, of co'se, the melancholic intelligens?"
"No," said Richling; "has any one"—
"Lady By'on, seh. Yesseh. 'In the mids' of life'—you know where we ah, Mistoo Itchlin, I su-pose?"
"Is Lady Byron dead?"
"Yesseh." Narcisse bowed solemnly. "Gone, Mistoo Itchlin. Since the seventeenth of last; yesseh. 'Kig the bucket,' as the povvub say." He showed an extra band of black drawn neatly around his new straw hat. "I thought it but p'opeh to put some moaning—as a species of twibute." He restored the hat to his head. "You like the tas'e of that, Mistoo Itchlin?"
Richling could but confess the whole thing was delicious.
"Yo humble servan', seh," responded the smiling Creole, with a flattered bow. Then, assuming a gravity becoming the historian, he said:—
"In fact, 'tis a gweat mistake, that statement that Lawd By'on evva qua'led with his lady, Mistoo Itchlin. But I s'pose you know 'tis but a slandeh of the pwess. Yesseh. As, faw instance, thass anotheh slandeh of the pwess that the delegates qua'led ad the Chawleston convention. They only pwetend to qua'l; so, by that way, to mizguide those Abolish-nists. Mistoo Itchlin, I am p'ojecting to 'ite some obitua' 'emawks about that Lady By'on, but I scass know w'etheh to 'ite them in the poetic style aw in the p'osaic. Which would you conclude, Mistoo Itchlin?"
Richling reflected with downcast eyes.
"It seems to me," he said, when he had passed his hand across his mouth in apparent meditation and looked up,—"seems to me I'd conclude both, without delay."
"Yes? But accawding to what fawmule, Mistoo Itchlin? 'Ay, 'tis theh is the 'ub,' in fact, as Lawd By'on say. Is it to migs the two style' that you advise?"
"That's the favorite method," replied Richling.
"Well, I dunno 'ow 'tis, Mistoo Itchlin, but I fine the moze facil'ty in the poetic. 'Tis t'ue, in the poetic you got to look out concehning the 'ime. You got to keep the eye skin' faw it, in fact. But in the p'osaic, on the cont'a-ay, 'tis juz the opposite; you got to keep the eye skin' faw the sense. Yesseh. Now, if you migs the two style'—well—'ow's that, Mistoo Itchlin, if you migs them? Seem' to me I dunno."
"Why, don't you see?" asked Richling. "If you mix them, you avoid both necessities. You sail triumphantly between Scylla and Charybdis without so much as skinning your eye."
Narcisse looked at him a moment with a slightly searching glance, dropped his eyes upon his own beautiful feet, and said, in a meditative tone:—
"I believe you co'ect." But his smile was gone, and Richling saw he had ventured too far.
"I wish my wife were here," said Richling; "she might give you better advice than I."
"Yes," replied Narcisse, "I believe you co'ect ag'in, Mistoo Itchlin. 'Tis but since yeste'd'y that I jus appen to hea' Dr. Seveeah d'op a saying 'esembling to that. Yesseh, she's a v'ey 'emawkable, Mistoo Itchlin."
"Is that what Dr. Sevier said?" Richling began to fear an ambush.
"No, seh. What the Doctah say—'twas me'ly to 'emawk in his jocose way—you know the Doctah's lill callous, jocose way, Mistoo Itchlin."
He waved either hand outward gladsomely.
"Yes," said Richling, "I've seen specimens of it."
"Yesseh. He was ve'y complimenta'y, in fact, the Doctah. 'Tis the trooth. He says, 'She'll make a man of Witchlin if anythin' can.' Juz in his jocose way, you know."
The Creole's smile had returned in concentrated sweetness. He stood silent, his face beaming with what seemed his confidence that Richling would be delighted. Richling recalled the physician's saying concerning this very same little tale-bearer,—that he carried his nonsense on top and his good sense underneath.
"Dr. Sevier said that, did he?" asked Richling, after a time.
"'Tis the vehbatim, seh. Convussing to yo' 'eve'end fwend. You can ask him; he will co'obo'ate me in fact. Well, Mistoo Itchlin, it supp'ise me you not tickle at that. Me, I may say, I wish I had a wife to make a man out of me."
"I wish you had," said Richling. But Narcisse smiled on.
"Well, au 'evoi'." He paused an instant with an earnest face. "Pehchance I'll meet you this evening, Mistoo Itchlin? Faw doubtless, like myseff, you will assist at the gweat a-ally faw the Union, the Const'ution, and the enfo'cemen' of the law. Dr. Seveeah will addwess."
"I don't know that I care to hear him," replied Richling.
"Goin' to be a gwan' out-po'-ing, Mistoo Itchlin. Citizens of Noo 'Leans without the leas' 'espec' faw fawmeh polly-tickle diff'ence. Also fiah-works. 'Come one, come all,' as says the gweat Scott—includin' yo'seff, Mistoo Itchlin. No? Well, au 'evoi', Mistoo Itchlin."
A PRISON MEMENTO.
The political pot began to seethe. Many yet will remember how its smoke went up. The summer—summer of 1860—grew fervent. Its breath became hot and dry. All observation—all thought—turned upon the fierce campaign. Discussion dropped as to whether Heenan would ever get that champion's belt, which even the little rector believed he had fairly won in the international prize-ring. The news brought by each succeeding European steamer of Garibaldi's splendid triumphs in the cause of a new Italy, the fierce rattle of partisan warfare in Mexico, that seemed almost within hearing, so nearly was New Orleans concerned in some of its movements,—all things became secondary and trivial beside the developments of a political canvass in which the long-foreseen, long-dreaded issues between two parts of the nation were at length to be made final. The conventions had met, the nominations were complete, and the clans of four parties and fractions of parties were "meeting," and "rallying," and "uprising," and "outpouring."
All life was strung to one high pitch. This contest was everything,—nay, everybody,—men, women, and children. They were all for the Constitution; they were all for the Union; and each, even Richling, for the enforcement of—his own ideas. On every bosom, "no matteh the sex," and no matter the age, hung one of those little round, ribbanded medals, with a presidential candidate on one side and his vice-presidential man Friday on the other. Needless to say that Ristofalo's Kate, instructed by her husband, imported the earliest and many a later invoice of them, and distributing her peddlers at choice thronging-places, "everlastin'ly," as she laughingly and confidentially informed Dr. Sevier, "raked in the sponjewlicks." They were exposed for sale on little stalls on populous sidewalks and places of much entry and exit.
The post-office in those days was still on Royal street, in the old Merchants' Exchange. The small hand-holes of the box-delivery were in the wide tessellated passage that still runs through the building from Royal street to Exchange alley. A keeper of one of these little stalls established himself against a pillar just where men turned into and out of Royal street, out of or into this passage. One day, in this place, just as Richling turned from a delivery window to tear the envelope of a letter bearing the Milwaukee stamp, his attention was arrested by a man running by him toward Exchange alley, pale as death, and followed by a crowd that suddenly broke into a cry, a howl, a roar: "Hang him! Hang him!"
"Come!" said a small, strong man, seizing Richling's arm and turning him in the common direction. If the word was lost on Richling's defective hearing, not so the touch; for the speaker was Ristofalo. The two friends ran with all their speed through the passage and out into the alley. A few rods away the chased wretch had been overtaken, and was made to face his pursuers. When Richling and Ristofalo reached him there was already a rope about his neck.
The Italian's leap, as he closed in upon the group around the victim, was like a tiger's. The men he touched did not fall; they were rather hurled, driving backward those whom they were hurled against. A man levelled a revolver at him; Richling struck it a blow that sent it over twenty men's heads. A long knife flashed in Ristofalo's right hand. He stood holding the rope in his left, stooping slightly forward, and darting his eyes about as if selecting a victim for his weapon. A stranger touched Richling from behind, spoke a hurried word in Italian, and handed him a huge dirk. But in that same moment the affair was over. There stood Ristofalo, gentle, self-contained, with just a perceptible smile turned upon the crowd, no knife in his hand, and beside him the slender, sinewy, form, and keen gray eye of Smith Izard.
The detective was addressing the crowd. While he was speaking, half a score of police came from as many directions. When he had finished, he waved his slender hand at the mass of heads.
"Stand back. Go about your business." And they began to go. He laid a hand upon the rescued stranger and addressed the police.
"Take this rope off. Take this man to the station and keep him until it's safe to let him go."
The explanation by which he had so quickly pacified the mob was a simple one. The rescued man was a seller of campaign medals. That morning, in opening a fresh supply of his little stock, he had failed to perceive that, among a lot of "Breckenridge and Lane" medals, there had crept in one of Lincoln. That was the sum of his offence. The mistake had occurred in the Northern factory. Of course, if he did not intend to sell Lincoln medals, there was no crime.
"Don't I tell you?" said the Italian to Richling, as they were walking away together. "Bound to have war; is already begin-n."
"It began with me the day I got married," said Richling.
Ristofalo waited some time, and then asked:—
"I shouldn't have said so," replied Richling; "I can't explain."
"Thass all right," said the other. And, a little later: "Smith Izard call' you by name. How he know yo' name?"
"I can't imagine!"
The Italian waved his hand.
"Thass all right, too; nothin' to me." Then, after another pause: "Think you saved my life to-day."
"The honors are easy," said Richling.
He went to bed again for two or three days. He liked it little when Dr. Sevier attributed the illness to a few moments' violent exertion and excitement.
"It was bravely done, at any rate, Richling," said the Doctor.
"That it was!" said Kate Ristofalo, who had happened to call to see the sick man at the same hour. "Doctor, ye'r mighty right! Ha!"
Mrs. Reisen expressed a like opinion, and the two kind women met the two men's obvious wish by leaving the room.
"Doctor," said Richling at once, "the last time you said it was love-sickness; this time you say it's excitement; at the bottom it isn't either. Will you please tell me what it really is? What is this thing that puts me here on my back this way?"
"Richling," replied the Doctor, slowly, "if I tell you the honest truth, it began in that prison."
The patient knit his hands under his head and lay motionless and silent.
"Yes," he said, after a time. And by and by again: "Yes; I feared as much. And can it be that my physical manhood is going to fail me at such a time as this?" He drew a long breath and turned restively in the bed.
"We'll try to keep it from doing that," replied the physician. "I've told you this, Richling, old fellow to impress upon you the necessity of keeping out of all this hubbub,—this night-marching and mass-meeting and exciting nonsense."
"And am I always—always to be blown back—blown back this way?" said Richling, half to himself, half to his friend.
"There, now," responded the Doctor, "just stop talking entirely. No, no; not always blown back. A sick man always thinks the present moment is the whole boundless future. Get well. And to that end possess your soul in patience. No newspapers. Read your Bible. It will calm you. I've been trying it myself." His tone was full of cheer, but it was also so motherly and the touch so gentle with which he put back the sick man's locks—as if they had been a lad's—that Richling turned away his face with chagrin.
"Come!" said the Doctor, more sturdily, laying his hand on the patient's shoulder. "You'll not lie here more than a day or two. Before you know it summer will be gone, and you'll be sending for Mary."
Richling turned again, put out a parting hand, and smiled with new courage.
NOW I LAY ME—
Time may drag slowly, but it never drags backward. So the summer wore on, Richling following his physician's directions; keeping to his work only—out of public excitements and all overstrain; and to every day, as he bade it good-by, his eager heart, lightened each time by that much, said, "When you come around again, next year, Mary and I will meet you hand in hand." This was his excitement, and he seemed to flourish on it.
But day by day, week by week, the excitements of the times rose. Dr. Sevier was deeply stirred, and ever on the alert, looking out upon every quarter of the political sky, listening to the rising thunder, watching the gathering storm. There could hardly have been any one more completely engrossed by it. If there was, it was his book-keeper. It wasn't so much the Constitution that enlisted Narcisse's concern; nor yet the Union, which seemed to him safe enough; much less did the desire to see the enforcement of the laws consume him. Nor was it altogether the "'oman candles" and the "'ockets"; but the rhetoric.
Ah, the "'eto'ic"! He bathed, he paddled, dove, splashed, in a surf of it.
"Doctah,"—shaking his finely turned shoulders into his coat and lifting his hat toward his head,—"I had the honah, and at the same time the pleasu', to yeh you make a shawt speech lass evening. I was p'oud to yeh yo' bunning eloquence, Doctah,—if you'll allow. Yesseh. Eve'ybody said 'twas the moze bilious effo't of the o'-casion."
Dr. Sevier actually looked up and smiled, and thanked the happy young man for the compliment.
"Yesseh," continued his admirer, "I nevveh flatteh. I give me'-it where the me'-it lies. Well, seh, we juz make the welkin 'ing faw joy when you finally stop' at the en'. Pehchance you heard my voice among that sea of head'? But I doubt—in 'such a vas' up'ising—so many imposing pageant', in fact,—and those 'ocket' exploding in the staw-y heaven', as they say. I think I like that exp'ession I saw on the noozpapeh, wheh it says: 'Long biffo the appointed owwa, thousan' of flashing tawches and tas'eful t'anspa'encies with divuz devices whose blazing effulgence turn' day into night.' Thass a ve'y talented style, in fact. Well, au 'evoi', Doctah. I'm going ad the—an' thass anotheh thing I like—'tis faw the ladies to 'ing bells that way on the balconies. Because Mr. Bell and Eve'et is name bell, and so is the bells name' juz the same way, and so they 'ing the bells to signify. I had to elucidate that to my hant. Well, au 'evoi', Doctah."
The Doctor raised his eyes from his letter-writing. The young man had turned, and was actually going out without another word. What perversity moved the physician no one will ever know; but he sternly called:—
The Creole wheeled about on the threshold.
The Doctor held him with a firm, grave eye, and slowly said:—
"I suppose before you return you will go to the post office." He said nothing more,—only that, just in his jocose way,—and dropped his eyes again upon his pen. Narcisse gave him one long black look, and silently went out.
But a sweet complacency could not stay long away from the young man's breast. The world was too beautiful; the white, hot sky above was in such fine harmony with his puffed lawn shirt-bosom and his white linen pantaloons, bulging at the thighs and tapering at the ankles, and at the corner of Canal and Royal streets he met so many members of the Yancey Guards and Southern Guards and Chalmette Guards and Union Guards and Lane Dragoons and Breckenridge Guards and Douglas Rangers and Everett Knights, and had the pleasant trouble of stepping aside and yielding the pavement to the far-spreading crinoline. Oh, life was one scintillating cluster breast-pin of ecstasies! And there was another thing,—General William Walker's filibusters! Royal street, St. Charles, the rotunda of the St. Charles Hotel, were full of them.
It made Dr. Sevier both sad and fierce to see what hold their lawless enterprise took upon the youth of the city. Not that any great number were drawn into the movement, least of all Narcisse; but it captivated their interest and sympathy, and heightened the general unrest, when calmness was what every thoughtful man saw to be the country's greatest need.
An incident to illustrate the Doctor's state of mind.
It occurred one evening in the St. Charles rotunda. He saw some citizens of high standing preparing to drink at the bar with a group of broad-hatted men, whose bronzed foreheads and general out-of-door mien hinted rather ostentatiously of Honduras and Ruatan Island. As he passed close to them one of the citizens faced him blandly, and unexpectedly took his hand, but quickly let it go again. The rest only glanced at the Doctor, and drew nearer to the bar.
"I trust you're not unwell, Doctor," said the sociable one, with something of a smile, and something of a frown, at the tall physician's gloomy brow.
"I am well, sir."
"I—didn't know," said the man again, throwing an aggressive resentment into his tone; "you seemed preoccupied."
"I was," replied the Doctor, returning his glance with so keen an eye that the man smiled again, appeasingly. "I was thinking how barely skin-deep civilization is."
The man ha-ha'd artificially, stepping backward as he said, "That's so!" He looked after the departing Doctor an instant and then joined his companions.
Richling had a touch of this contagion. He looked from Garibaldi to Walker and back again, and could not see any enormous difference between them. He said as much to one of the bakery's customers, a restaurateur with a well-oiled tongue, who had praised him for his intrepidity in the rescue of the medal-peddler, which, it seems, he had witnessed. With this praise still upon his lips the caterer walked with Richling to the restaurant door, and detained him there to enlarge upon the subject of Spanish-American misrule, and the golden rewards that must naturally fall to those who should supplant it with stable government. Richling listened and replied and replied again and listened; and presently the restaurateur startled him with an offer to secure him a captain's commission under Walker. He laughed incredulously; but the restaurateur, very much in earnest, talked on; and by littles, but rapidly, Richling admitted the value of the various considerations urged. Two or three months of rapid adventure; complete physical renovation—of course—natural sequence; the plaudits of a grateful people; maybe fortune also, but at least a certainty of finding the road to it,—all this to meet Mary with next fall.
"I'm in a great hurry just now," said Richling; "but I'll talk about this thing with you again to-morrow or next day," and so left.
The restaurateur turned to his head-waiter, stuck his tongue in his cheek, and pulled down the lower lid of an eye with his forefinger. He meant to say he had been lying for the pure fun of it.
When Dr. Sevier came that afternoon to see Reisen—of whom there was now but little left, and that little unable to leave the bed—Richling took occasion to raise the subject that had entangled his fancy. He was careful to say nothing of himself or the restaurateur, or anything, indeed, but a timid generality or two. But the Doctor responded with a clear, sudden energy that, when he was gone, left Richling feeling painfully blank, and yet unable to find anything to resent except the Doctor's superfluous—as he thought, quite superfluous—mention of the island of Cozumel.
However, and after all, that which for the most part kept the public mind heated was, as we have said, the political campaign. Popular feeling grew tremulous with it as the landscape did under the burning sun. It was a very hot summer. Not a good one for feeble folk; and one early dawn poor Reisen suddenly felt all his reason come back to him, opened his eyes, and lo! he had crossed the river in the night, and was on the other side.
Dr. Sevier's experienced horse halted of his own will to let a procession pass. In the carriage at its head the physician saw the little rector, sitting beside a man of German ecclesiastical appearance. Behind it followed a majestic hearse, drawn by black-plumed and caparisoned horses,—four of them. Then came a long line of red-shirted firemen; for he in the hearse had been an "exempt." Then a further line of big-handed, white-gloved men in beavers and regalias; for he had been also a Freemason and an Odd-fellow. Then another column, of emotionless-visaged German women, all in bunchy black gowns, walking out of time to the solemn roll and pulse of the muffled drums, and the brazen peals of the funeral march. A few carriages closed the long line. In the first of them the waiting Doctor marked, with a sudden understanding of all, the pale face of John Richling, and by his side the widow who had been forty years a wife,—weary and red with weeping. The Doctor took off his hat.
RISE UP, MY LOVE, MY FAIR ONE.
The summer at length was past, and the burning heat was over and gone. The days were refreshed with the balm of a waning October. There had been no fever. True, the nights were still aglare with torches, and the street echoes kept awake by trumpet notes and huzzas, by the tramp of feet and the delicate hint of the bell-ringing; and men on the stump and off it; in the "wigwams;" along the sidewalks, as they came forth, wiping their mouths, from the free-lunch counters, and on the curb-stones and "flags" of Carondelet street, were saying things to make a patriot's heart ache. But contrariwise, in that same Carondelet street, and hence in all the streets of the big, scattered town, the most prosperous commercial year—they measure from September to September—that had ever risen upon New Orleans had closed its distended record, and no one knew or dreamed that, for nearly a quarter of a century to come, the proud city would never see the equal of that golden year just gone. And so, away yonder among the great lakes on the northern border of the anxious but hopeful country, Mary was calling, calling, like an unseen bird piping across the fields for its mate, to know if she and the one little nestling might not come to hers.
And at length, after two or three unexpected contingencies had caused delays of one week after another, all in a silent tremor of joy, John wrote the word—"Come!"
He was on his way to put it into the post-office, in Royal street. At the newspaper offices, in Camp street, he had to go out into the middle of the way to get around the crowd that surrounded the bulletin-boards, and that scuffled for copies of the latest issue. The day of days was passing; the returns of election were coming in. In front of the "Picayune" office he ran square against a small man, who had just pulled himself and the most of his clothing out of the press with the last news crumpled in the hand that he still held above his head.
"Hello, Richling, this is pretty exciting, isn't it?" It was the little clergyman. "Come on, I'll go your way; let's get out of this."
He took Richling's arm, and they went on down the street, the rector reading aloud as they walked, and shopkeepers and salesmen at their doors catching what they could of his words as the two passed.
"It's dreadful! dreadful!" said the little man, thrusting the paper into his pocket in a wad.
"Hi! Mistoo Itchlin," quoth Narcisse, passing them like an arrow, on his way to the paper offices.
"He's happy," said Richling.
"Well, then, he's the only happy man I know of in New Orleans to-day," said the little rector, jerking his head and drawing a sigh through his teeth.
"No," said Richling, "I'm another. You see this letter." He showed it with the direction turned down. "I'm going now to mail it. When my wife gets it she starts."
The preacher glanced quickly into his face. Richling met his gaze with eyes that danced with suppressed joy. The two friends attracted no attention from those whom they passed or who passed them; the newsboys were scampering here and there, everybody buying from them, and the walls of Common street ringing with their shouted proffers of the "full account" of the election.
"Richling, don't do it."
"Why not?" Richling showed only amusement.
"For several reasons," replied the other. "In the first place, look at your business!"
"Never so good as to-day."
"True. And it entirely absorbs you. What time would you have at your fireside, or even at your family table? None. It's—well you know what it is—it's a bakery, you know. You couldn't expect to lodge your wife and little girl in a bakery in Benjamin street; you know you couldn't. Now, you—you don't mind it—or, I mean, you can stand it. Those things never need damage a gentleman. But with your wife it would be different. You smile, but—why, you know she couldn't go there. And if you put her anywhere where a lady ought to be, in New Orleans, she would be—well, don't you see she would be about as far away as if she were in Milwaukee? Richling, I don't know how it looks to you for me to be so meddlesome, and I believe you think I'm making a very poor argument; but you see this is only one point and the smallest. Now"—
Richling raised his thin hand, and said pleasantly:—
"It's no use. You can't understand; it wouldn't be possible to explain; for you simply don't know Mary."
"But there are some things I do know. Just think; she's with her mother where she is. Imagine her falling ill here,—as you've told me she used to do,—and you with that bakery on your hands."
Richling looked grave.
"Oh no," continued the little man. "You've been so brave and patient, you and your wife, both,—do be so a little bit longer! Live close; save your money; go on rising in value in your business; and after a little you'll rise clear out of the sphere you're now in. You'll command your own time; you'll build your own little home; and life and happiness and usefulness will be fairly and broadly open before you." Richling gave heed with a troubled face, and let his companion draw him into the shadow of that "St. Charles" from the foot of whose stair-way he had once been dragged away as a vagrant.
"See, Richling! Every few weeks you may read in some paper of how a man on some ferry-boat jumps for the wharf before the boat has touched it, falls into the water, and— Make sure! Be brave a little longer—only a little longer! Wait till you're sure!"
"I'm sure enough!"
"Oh, no, you're not! Wait till this political broil is over. They say Lincoln is elected. If so, the South is not going to submit to it. Nobody can tell what the consequences are to be. Suppose we should have war? I don't think we shall, but suppose we should? There would be a general upheaval, commercial stagnation, industrial collapse, shrinkage everywhere! Wait till it's over. It may not be two weeks hence; it can hardly be more than ninety days at the outside. If it should the North would be ruined, and you may be sure they are not going to allow that. Then, when all starts fair again, bring your wife and baby. I'll tell you what to do, Richling!"
"Will you?" responded the listener, with an amiable laugh that the little man tried to echo.
"Yes. Ask Dr. Sevier! He's right here in the next street. He was on your side last time; maybe he'll be so now."
"Done!" said Richling. They went. The rector said he would do an errand in Canal street, while Richling should go up and see the physician.
Dr. Sevier was in.
"Why, Richling!" He rose to receive him. "How are you?" He cast his eye over his visitor with professional scrutiny. "What brings you here?"
"To tell you that I've written for Mary," said Richling, sinking wearily into a chair.
"Have you mailed the letter?"
"I'm taking it to the post-office now."
The Doctor threw one leg energetically over the other, and picked up the same paper-knife that he had handled when, two years and a half before, he had sat thus, talking to Mary and John on the eve of their separation.
"Richling, I'll tell you. I've been thinking about this thing for some time, and I've decided to make you a proposal. I look at you and at Mary and at the times—the condition of the country—the probable future—everything. I know you, physically and mentally, better than anybody else does. I can say the same of Mary. So, of course, I don't make this proposal impulsively, and I don't want it rejected.
"Richling, I'll lend you two thousand to twenty-five hundred dollars, payable at your convenience, if you will just go to your room, pack up, go home, and take from six to twelve months' holiday with your wife and child."
The listener opened his mouth in blank astonishment.
"Why, Doctor, you're jesting! You can't suppose"—
"I don't suppose anything. I simply want you to do it."
"Well, I simply can't!"
"Did you ever regret taking my advice, Richling?"
"No, never. But this—why, it's utterly impossible! Me leave the results of four years' struggle to go holidaying? I can't understand you, Doctor."
"'Twould take weeks to explain."
"It's idle to think of it," said Richling, half to himself.
"Go home and think of it twenty-four hours," said the Doctor.
"It is useless, Doctor."
"Very good, then; send for Mary. Mail your letter."
"You don't mean it!" said Richling.
"Yes, I do. Send for Mary; and tell her I advised it." He turned quickly away to his desk, for Richling's eyes had filled with tears; but turned again and rose as Richling rose. They joined hands.
"Yes, Richling, send for her. It's the right thing to do—if you will not do the other. You know I want you to be happy."
"Doctor, one word. In your opinion is there going to be war?"
"I don't know. But if there is it's time for husband and wife and child to draw close together. Good-day."
And so the letter went.
A BUNDLE OF HOPES.
Richling insisted, in the face of much scepticism on the part of the baker's widow, that he felt better, was better, and would go on getting better, now that the weather was cool once more.
"Well, I hope you vill, Mr. Richlin', dtat's a fect. 'Specially ven yo' vife comin'. Dough I could a-tooken care ye choost tso koot as vot she couldt."
"But maybe you couldn't take care of her as well as I can," said the happy Richling.
"Oh, tdat's a tdifferendt. A voman kin tek care herself."
Visiting the French market on one of these glad mornings, as his business often required him to do, he fell in with Narcisse, just withdrawing from the celebrated coffee-stand of Rose Nicaud. Richling stopped in the moving crowd and exchanged salutations very willingly; for here was one more chance to hear himself tell the fact of Mary's expected coming.
"So'y, Mistoo Itchlin," said Narcisse, whipping away the pastry crumbs from his lap with a handkerchief and wiping his mouth, "not to encounteh you a lill biffo', to join in pahtaking the cup what cheeahs at the same time whilce it invigo'ates; to-wit, the coffee-cup—as the maxim say. I dunno by what fawmule she makes that coffee, but 'tis astonishin' how 'tis good, in fact. I dunno if you'll billieve me, but I feel almost I could pahtake anotheh cup—? 'Tis the tooth." He gave Richling time to make any handsome offer that might spontaneously suggest itself, but seeing that the response was only an over-gay expression of face, he added, "But I conclude no. In fact, Mistoo Itchlin, thass a thing I have discovud,—that too much coffee millytates ag'inst the chi'og'aphy; and thus I abstain. Well, seh, ole Abe is elected."
"Yes," rejoined Richling, "and there's no telling what the result will be."
"You co'ect, Mistoo Itchlin." Narcisse tried to look troubled.
"I've got a bit of private news that I don't think you've heard," said Richling. And the Creole rejoined promptly:—
"Well, I thought I saw something on yo' thoughts—if you'll excuse my tautology. Thass a ve'y diffycult to p'event sometime'. But, Mistoo Itchlin, I trus' 'tis not you 'ave allowed somebody to swin'le you?—confiding them too indiscweetly, in fact?" He took a pretty attitude, his eyes reposing in Richling's.
Richling laughed outright.
"No, nothing of that kind. No, I"—
"Well, I'm ve'y glad," interrupted Narcisse.
"Oh, no, 'tisn't trouble at all! I've sent for Mrs. Richling. We're going to resume housekeeping."
Narcisse gave a glad start, took his hat off, passed it to his left hand, extended his right, bowed from the middle with princely grace, and, with joy breaking all over his face, said:—
"Mistoo Itchlin, in fact,—shake!"
"Yesseh—an' many 'appy 'eturn! I dunno if you kin billieve that, Mistoo Itchlin; but I was juz about to 'ead that in yo' physio'nomie! Yesseh. But, Mistoo Itchlin, when shall the happy o'casion take effect?"
"Pretty soon. Not as soon as I thought, for I got a despatch yesterday, saying her mother is very ill, and of course I telegraphed her to stay till her mother is at least convalescent. But I think that will be soon. Her mother has had these attacks before. I have good hopes that before long Mrs. Richling will actually be here."
Richling began to move away down the crowded market-house, but Narcisse said:—
"Thass yo' di'ection? 'Tis the same, mine. We may accompany togetheh—if you'll allow yo' 'umble suvvant?"
"Come along! You do me honor!" Richling laid his hand on Narcisse's shoulder and they went at a gait quickened by the happy husband's elation. Narcisse was very proud of the touch, and, as they began to traverse the vegetable market, took the most populous arcade.
"Mistoo Itchlin," he began again, "I muz congwatulate you! You know I always admiah yo' lady to excess. But appopo of that news, I might infawm you some intelligens consunning myseff."
"Good!" exclaimed Richling. "For it's good news, isn't it?"
"Yesseh,—as you may say,—yes. Faw in fact, Mistoo Itchlin, I 'ave ass Dr. Seveeah to haugment me."
"Hurrah!" cried Richling. He coughed and laughed and moved aside to a pillar and coughed, until people looked at him, and lifted his eyes, tired but smiling, and, paying his compliments to the paroxysm in one or two ill-wishes, wiped his eyes at last, and said:—
"And the Doctor augmented you?"
"Well, no, I can't say that—not p'ecisely."
"Why, what did he do?"
"Well, he 'efuse' me, in fact."
"Why—but that isn't good news, then."
Narcisse gave his head a bright, argumentative twitch.
"Yesseh. 'Tis t'ue he 'efuse'; but ad the same time—I dunno—I thing he wasn' so mad about it as he make out. An' you know thass one thing, Mistoo Itchlin, whilce they got life they got hope; and hence I ente'tain the same."
They had reached that flagged area without covering or inclosure, before the third of the three old market-houses, where those dealers in the entire miscellanies of a housewife's equipment, excepting only stoves and furniture, spread their wares and fabrics in the open weather before the Bazar market rose to give them refuge. He grew suddenly fierce.
"But any'ow I don't care! I had the spunk to ass 'im, an' he din 'ave the spunk to dischawge me! All he can do; 'tis to shake the fis' of impatience." He was looking into his companion's face, as they walked, with an eye distended with defiance.
"Look out!" exclaimed Richling, reaching a hurried hand to draw him aside. Narcisse swerved just in time to avoid stepping into a pile of crockery, but in so doing went full into the arms of a stately female figure dressed in the crispest French calico and embarrassed with numerous small packages of dry goods. The bundles flew hither and yon. Narcisse tried to catch the largest as he saw it going, but only sent it farther than it would have gone, and as it struck the ground it burst like a pomegranate. But the contents were white: little thin, square-folded fractions of barred jaconet and white flannel; rolls of slender white lutestring ribbon; very narrow papers of tiny white pearl buttons, minute white worsted socks, spools of white floss, cards of safety-pins, pieces of white castile soap, etc.
"Mille pardons, madame!" exclaimed Narcisse; "I make you a thousan' poddons, madam!"
He was ill-prepared for the majestic wrath that flashed from the eyes and radiated from the whole dilating, and subsiding, and reexpanding, and rising, and stiffening form of Kate Ristofalo!
"Officerr," she panted,—for instantly there was a crowd, and a man with the silver-crescent badge was switching the assemblage on the legs with his cane to make room,—"Officerr," she gasped, levelling her tremulous finger at Narcisse, "arrist that man!"
"Mrs. Ristofalo!" exclaimed Richling, "don't do that! It was all an accident! Why, don't you see it's Narcisse,—my friend?"
"Yer frind rised his hand to sthrike me, sur, he did! Yer frind rised his hand to sthrike me, he did!" And up she went and down she went, shortening and lengthening, swelling and decreasing. "Yes, yes, I know yer frind; indeed I do! I paid two dollars and a half fur his acquaintans nigh upon three years agone, sur. Yer frind!" And still she went up and down, enlarging, diminishing, heaving her breath and waving her chin around, and saying, in broken utterances,—while a hackman on her right held his whip in her auditor's face, crying, "Carriage, sir? Carriage, sir?"—
"Why didn'—he rin agin—a man, sur! I—I—oh! I wish Mr. Ristofalah war heer!—to teach um how—to walk!—Yer frind, sur—ixposing me!" She pointed to Narcisse and the policeman gathering up the scattered lot of tiny things. Her eyes filled with tears, but still shot lightning. "If he's hurrted me, he's got 'o suffer fur ud, Mr. Richlin'!" And she expanded again.
"Carriage, sir, carriage?" continued the man with the whip.
"Yes!" said Richling and Mrs. Ristofalo in a breath. She took his arm, the hackman seized the bundles from the policeman, threw open his hack door, laid the bundles on the front seat, and let down the folding steps. The crowd dwindled away to a few urchins.
"Officerr," said Mrs. Ristofalo, her foot on the step and composure once more in her voice, "ye needn't arrist um. I could of done ud, sur," she added to Narcisse himself, "but I'm too much of a laydy, sur!" And she sank together and stretched herself up once more, entered the vehicle, and sat with a perpendicular back, her arms folded on her still heaving bosom, and her head high.
As to her ability to have that arrest made, Kate Ristofalo was in error. Narcisse smiled to himself; for he was conscious of one advantage that overtopped all the sacredness of female helplessness, public right, or any other thing whatsoever. It lay in the simple fact that he was acquainted with the policeman. He bowed blandly to the officer, stepped backward, touching his hat, and walked away, the policeman imitating each movement with the promptness and faithfulness of a mirror.
"Aren't ye goin' to get in, Mr. Richlin'?" asked Mrs. Ristofalo. She smiled first and then looked alarmed.
"I—I can't very well—if you'll excuse me, ma'am."
"Ah, Mr. Richlin'!"—she pouted girlishly. "Gettin' proud!" She gave her head a series of movements, as to say she might be angry if she would, but she wouldn't. "Ye won't know uz when Mrs. Richlin' comes."
Richling laughed, but she gave a smiling toss to indicate that it was a serious matter.
"Come," she insisted, patting the seat beside her with honeyed persuasiveness, "come and tell me all about ud. Mr. Ristofalah nivver goes into peticklers, an' so I har'ly know anny more than jist she's a-comin'. Come, git in an' tell me about Mrs. Richlin'—that is, if ye like the subject—and I don't believe ye do." She lifted her finger, shook it roguishly close to her own face, and looked at him sidewise. "Ah, nivver mind, sur! that's rright! Furgit yer old frinds—maybe ye wudden't do ud if ye knewn everythin'. But that's rright; that's the way with min." She suddenly changed to subdued earnestness, turned the catch of the door, and, as the door swung open, said: "Come, if ud's only fur a bit o' the way—if ud's only fur a ming-ute. I've got somethin' to tell ye."
"I must get out at Washington Market," said Richling, as he got in. The hack hurried down Old Levee street.
"And now," said she, merriment dancing in her eyes, her folded arms tightening upon her bosom, and her lips struggling against their own smile, "I'm just a good mind not to tell ye at ahll!"
Her humor was contagious and Richling was ready to catch it. His own eye twinkled.
"Well, Mrs. Ristofalo, of course, if you feel any embarrassment"—
"Ye villain!" she cried, with delighted indignation, "I didn't mean nawthing about that, an' ye knew ud! Here, git out o' this carridge!" But she made no effort to eject him.
"Mary and I are interested in all your hopes," said Richling, smiling softly upon the damaged bundle which he was making into a tight package again on his knee. "You'll tell me your good news if it's only that I may tell her, will you not?"
"I will. And it's joost this,—Mr. Richlin',—that if there be's a war Mr. Ristofalah's to be lit out o' prison."
"I'm very glad!" cried Richling, but stopped short, for Mrs. Ristofalo's growing dignity indicated that there was more to be told.
"I'm sure ye air, Mr. Richlin'; and I'm sure ye'll be glad—a heap gladder nor I am—that in that case he's to be Captain Ristofalah."
"Yes, sur." The wife laid her palm against her floating ribs and breathed a sigh. "I don't like ud, Mr. Richlin'. No, sur. I don't like tytles." She got her fan from under her handkerchief and set it a-going. "I nivver liked the idee of bein' a tytled man's wife. No, sur." She shook her head, elevating it as she shook it. "It creates too much invy, Mr. Richlin'. Well, good-by." The carriage was stopping at the Washington Market. "Now, don't ye mintion it to a livin' soul, Mr. Richlin'!"
Richling said "No."
"No, sur; fur there be's manny a slip 'tuxt the cup an' the lip, ye know; an' there may be no war, after all, and we may all be disapp'inted. But he's bound to be tleared if he's tried, and don't ye see—I—I don't want um to be a captain, anyhow, don't ye see?"
Richling saw, and they parted.
* * *
Thus everybody hoped. Dr. Sevier, wifeless, childless, had his hopes too, nevertheless. Hopes for the hospital and his many patients in it and out of it; hopes for his town and his State; hopes for Richling and Mary; and hopes with fears, and fears with hopes, for the great sisterhood of States. Richling had one hope more. After some weeks had passed Dr. Sevier ventured once more to say:—
"Richling, go home. Go to your wife. I must tell you you're no ordinary sick man. Your life is in danger."
"Will I be out of danger if I go home?" asked Richling.
Dr. Sevier made no answer.
"Do you still think we may have war?" asked Richling again.
"I know we shall."
"And will the soldiers come back," asked the young man, smilingly, "when they find their lives in danger?"
"Now, Richling, that's another thing entirely; that's the battle-field."
"Isn't it all the same thing, Doctor? Isn't it all a battle-field?"
The Doctor turned impatiently, disdaining to reply. But in a moment he retorted:—
"We take wounded men off the field."
"They don't take themselves off," said Richling, smiling.
"Well," rejoined the Doctor, rising and striding toward a window, "a good general may order a retreat."
"Yes, but—maybe I oughtn't to say what I was thinking"—
"Oh, say it."
"Well, then, he don't let his surgeon order it. Doctor," continued Richling, smiling apologetically as his friend confronted him, "you know, as you say, better than any one else, all that Mary and I have gone through—nearly all—and how we've gone through it. Now, if my life should end here shortly, what would the whole thing mean? It would mean nothing. Doctor; it would be meaningless. No, sir; this isn't the end. Mary and I"—his voice trembled an instant and then was firm again—"are designed for a long life. I argue from the simple fitness of things,—this is not the end."
Dr. Sevier turned his face quickly toward the window, and so remained.
There came a sound of drums. Twice on such a day, once the day before, thrice the next day, till by and by it was the common thing. High-stepping childhood, with laths and broom-handles at shoulder, was not fated, as in the insipid days of peace, to find, on running to the corner, its high hopes mocked by a wagon of empty barrels rumbling over the cobble-stones. No; it was the Washington Artillery, or the Crescent Rifles, or the Orleans Battalion, or, best of all, the blue-jacketed, white-leggined, red-breeched, and red-fezzed Zouaves; or, better than the best, it was all of them together, their captains stepping backward, sword in both hands, calling "Gauche! gauche!" ("Left! left!") "Guide right!"—"Portez armes!" and facing around again, throwing their shining blades stiffly to belt and epaulette, and glancing askance from under their abundant plumes to the crowded balconies above. Yea, and the drum-majors before, and the brilliant-petticoated vivandieres behind!
What pomp! what giddy rounds! Pennons, cock-feathers, clattering steeds, pealing salvos, banners, columns, ladies' favors, balls, concerts, toasts, the Free Gift Lottery—don't you recollect?—and this uniform and that uniform, brother a captain, father a colonel, uncle a major, the little rector a chaplain, Captain Ristofalo of the Tiger Rifles; the levee covered with munitions of war, steam-boats unloading troops, troops, troops, from Opelousas, Attakapas, Texas; and a supper to this company, a flag to that battalion, farewell sermon to the Washington Artillery, tears and a kiss to a spurred and sashed lover, hurried weddings,—no end of them,—a sword to such a one, addresses by such and such, serenades to Miss and to Mademoiselle.
Soon it will have been a quarter of a century ago!
And yet—do you not hear them now, coming down the broad, granite-paved, moonlit street, the light that was made for lovers glancing on bayonet and sword soon to be red with brothers' blood, their brave young hearts already lifted up with the triumph of battles to come, and the trumpets waking the midnight stillness with the gay notes of the Cracovienne?—
"Again, again, the pealing drum, The clashing horn, they come, they come, And lofty deeds and daring high Blend with their notes of victory."
Ah! the laughter; the music; the bravado; the dancing; the songs! "Voila l'Zouzou!" "Dixie!" "Aux armes, vos citoyens!" "The Bonnie Blue Flag!"—it wasn't bonnie very long. Later the maidens at home learned to sing a little song,—it is among the missing now,—a part of it ran:—
"Sleeping on grassy couches; Pillowed on hillocks damp; Of martial fame how little we know Till brothers are in the camp."
By and by they began to depart. How many they were! How many, many! We had too lightly let them go. And when all were gone, and they of Carondelet street and its tributaries, massed in that old gray, brittle-shanked regiment, the Confederate Guards, were having their daily dress parade in Coliseum place, and only they and the Foreign Legion remained; when sister Jane made lint, and flour was high, and the sounds of commerce were quite hushed, and in the custom-house gun-carriages were a-making, and in the foundries big guns were being cast, and the cotton gun-boats and the rams were building, and at the rotting wharves the masts of a few empty ships stood like dead trees in a blasted wilderness, and poor soldiers' wives crowded around the "Free Market," and grass began to spring up in the streets,—they were many still, while far away; but some marched no more, and others marched on bleeding feet, in rags; and it was very, very hard for some of us to hold the voice steady and sing on through the chorus of the little song:—
"Brave boys are they! Gone at their country's call. And yet—and yet—we cannot forget That many brave boys must fall."
Oh! Shiloh, Shiloh!
But before the gloom had settled down upon us it was a gay dream.
"Mistoo Itchlin, in fact 'ow you ligue my uniefawm? You think it suit my style? They got about two poun' of gole lace on that uniefawm. Yesseh. Me, the h-only thing—I don' ligue those epaulette'. So soon ev'ybody see that on me, 'tis 'Lieut'nan'!' in thiz place, an' 'Lieut'nan'!' in that place. My de'seh, you'd thing I'm a majo'-gen'l, in fact. Well, of co'se, I don' ligue that."
"And so you're a lieutenant?"
"Third! Of the Chasseurs-a-Pied! Coon he'p 't, in fact; the fellehs elected me. Goin' at Pensacola tomaw. Dr. Seveeah continue my sala'y whilce I'm gone. no matteh the len'th. Me, I don' care, so long the sala'y continue, if that waugh las' ten yeah! You ah pe'haps goin' ad the ball to-nighd, Mistoo Itchlin? I dunno 'ow 'tis—I suppose you'll be aztonizh' w'en I infawm you—that ball wemine me of that battle of Wattaloo! Did you evva yeh those line' of Lawd By'on,—
'Theh was a soun' of wibalwy by night, W'en—'Ush-'ark!—A deep saun' stwike'—?
Thaz by Lawd By'on. Yesseh. Well"—
The Creole lifted his right hand energetically, laid its inner edge against the brass buttons of his kepi, and then waved it gracefully abroad:—
"Au 'evoi', Mistoo Itchlin. I leave you to defen' the city."
"To-morrow," in those days of unreadiness and disconnection, glided just beyond reach continually. When at times its realization was at length grasped, it was away over on the far side of a fortnight or farther. However, the to-morrow for Narcisse came at last.
A quiet order for attention runs down the column. Attention it is. Another order follows, higher-keyed, longer drawn out, and with one sharp "clack!" the sword-bayoneted rifles go to the shoulders of as fine a battalion as any in the land of Dixie.
"En avant!"—Narcisse's heart stands still for joy—"Marche!"
The bugle rings, the drums beat; "tramp, tramp," in quick succession, go the short-stepping, nimble Creole feet, and the old walls of the Rue Chartres ring again with the pealing huzza, as they rang in the days of Villere and Lafreniere, and in the days of the young Galvez, and in the days of Jackson.
The old Ponchartrain cars move off, packed. Down at the "Old Lake End" the steamer for Mobile receives the burden. The gong clangs in her engine-room, the walking-beam silently stirs, there is a hiss of water underneath, the gang-plank is in, the wet hawser-ends whip through the hawse-holes,—she moves; clang goes the gong again—she glides—or is it the crowded wharf that is gliding?—No.—Snatch the kisses! snatch them! Adieu! Adieu! She's off, huzza—she's off!
Now she stands away. See the mass of gay colors—red, gold, blue, yellow, with glitter of steel and flutter of flags, a black veil of smoke sweeping over. Wave, mothers and daughters, wives, sisters, sweethearts—wave, wave; you little know the future!
And now she is a little thing, her white wake following her afar across the green waters, the call of the bugle floating softly back. And now she is a speck. And now a little smoky stain against the eastern blue is all,—and now she is gone. Gone! Gone!
Farewell, soldier boys! Light-hearted, little-forecasting, brave, merry boys! God accept you, our offering of first fruits! See that mother—that wife—take them away; it is too much. Comfort them, father, brother; tell them their tears may be for naught.
"And yet—and yet—we cannot forget That many brave boys must fall."
Never so glad a day had risen upon the head of Narcisse. For the first time in his life he moved beyond the corporate limits of his native town.
"'Ezcape fum the aunt, thou sluggud!'" "Au 'evoi'" to his aunt and the uncle of his aunt. "Au 'evoi'! Au 'evoi'!"—desk, pen, book—work, care, thought, restraint—all sinking, sinking beneath the receding horizon of Lake Ponchartrain, and the wide world and a soldier's life before him.
Farewell, Byronic youth! You are not of so frail a stuff as you have seemed. You shall thirst by day and hunger by night. You shall keep vigil on the sands of the Gulf and on the banks of the Potomac. You shall grow brown, but prettier. You shall shiver in loathsome tatters, yet keep your grace, your courtesy, your joyousness. You shall ditch and lie down in ditches, and shall sing your saucy songs of defiance in the face of the foe, so blackened with powder and dust and smoke that your mother in heaven would not know her child. And you shall borrow to your heart's content chickens, hogs, rails, milk, buttermilk, sweet potatoes, what not; and shall learn the American songs, and by the camp-fire of Shenandoah valley sing "The years creep slowly by, Lorena" to messmates with shaded eyes, and "Her bright smile haunts me still." Ah, boy! there's an old woman still living in the Rue Casa Calvo—your bright smile haunts her still. And there shall be blood on your sword, and blood—twice—thrice—on your brow. Your captain shall die in your arms; and you shall lead charge after charge, and shall step up from rank to rank; and all at once, one day, just in the final onset, with the cheer on your lips, and your red sword waving high, with but one lightning stroke of agony, down, down you shall go in the death of your dearest choice.
BLUE BONNETS OVER THE BORDER.
One morning, about the 1st of June, 1861, in the city of New York, two men of the mercantile class came from a cross street into Broadway, near what was then the upper region of its wholesale stores. They paused on the corner, near the edge of the sidewalk.
"Even when the States were seceding," said one of them, "I couldn't make up my mind that they really meant to break up the Union."
He had rosy cheeks, a retreating chin, and amiable, inquiring eyes. The other had a narrower face, alert eyes, thin nostrils, and a generally aggressive look. He did not reply at once, but, after a quick glance down the great thoroughfare and another one up it, said, while his eyes still ran here and there:—
"Wonderful street, this Broadway!"
He straightened up to his fullest height and looked again, now down the way, now up, his eye kindling with the electric contagion of the scene. His senses were all awake. They took in, with a spirit of welcome, all the vast movement: the uproar, the feeling of unbounded multitude, the commercial splendor, the miles of towering buildings; the long, writhing, grinding mass of coming and going vehicles, the rush of innumerable feet, and the countless forms and faces hurrying, dancing, gliding by, as though all the world's mankind, and womankind, and childhood must pass that way before night.
"How many people, do you suppose, go by this corner in a single hour?" asked the man with the retreating chin. But again he got no answer. He might as well not have yielded the topic of conversation as he had done; so he resumed it. "No, I didn't believe it," he said. "Why, look at the Southern vote of last November—look at New Orleans. The way it went there, I shouldn't have supposed twenty-five per cent. of the people would be in favor of secession. Would you?"
But his companion, instead of looking at New Orleans, took note of two women who had come to a halt within a yard of them and seemed to be waiting, as he and his companion were, for an opportunity to cross the street. The two new-comers were very different in appearance, the one from the other. The older and larger was much beyond middle life, red, fat, and dressed in black stuff, good as to fabric, but uncommonly bad as to fit. The other was young and pretty, refined, tastefully dressed, and only the more interesting for the look of permanent anxiety that asserted itself with distinctness about the corners of her eyes and mouth. She held by the hand a rosy, chubby little child, that seemed about three years old, and might be a girl or might be a boy, so far as could be discerned by masculine eyes. The man did not see this fifth member of their group until the elder woman caught it under the arms in her large hands, and, lifting it above her shoulder, said, looking far up the street:—
"O paypy, paypy, choost look de fla-ags! One, two, dtree,—a tuzzent, a hundut, a dtowsant fla-ags!"
Evidently the child did not know her well. The little face remained without a smile, the lips sealed, the shoulders drawn up, and the legs pointing straight to the spot whence they had been lifted. She set it down again.
"We're not going to get by here," said the less talkative man. "They must be expecting some troops to pass here. Don't you see the windows full of women and children?"
"Let's wait and look at them," responded the other, and his companion did not dissent.
"Well, sir," said the more communicative one, after a moment's contemplation, "I never expected to see this!" He indicated by a gesture the stupendous life of Broadway beginning slowly to roll back upon itself like an obstructed river. It was obviously gathering in a general pause to concentrate its attention upon something of leading interest about to appear to view. "We're in earnest at last, and we can see, now, that the South was in the deadest kind of earnest from the word go."
"They can't be any more in earnest than we are, now," said the more decided speaker.
"I had great hopes of the peace convention," said the rosier man.
"I never had a bit," responded the other.
"The suspense was awful—waiting to know what Lincoln would do when he came in," said he of the poor chin. "My wife was in the South visiting her relatives; and we kept putting off her return, hoping for a quieter state of affairs—hoping and putting off—till first thing you knew the lines closed down and she had the hardest kind of a job to get through."
"I never had a doubt as to what Lincoln would do," said the man with sharp eyes; but while he spoke he covertly rubbed his companion's elbow with his own, and by his glance toward the younger of the two women gave him to understand that, though her face was partly turned away, the very pretty ear, with no ear-ring in the hole pierced for it, was listening. And the readier speaker rejoined in a suppressed voice:—
"That's the little lady I travelled in the same car with all the way from Chicago."
"No times for ladies to be travelling alone," muttered the other.
"She hoped to take a steam-ship for New Orleans, to join her husband there."
"Some rebel fellow, I suppose."
"No, a Union man, she says."
"Oh, of course!" said the sharp-eyed one, sceptically. "Well, she's missed it. The last steamer's gone and may get back or may not." He looked at her again, narrowly, from behind his companion's shoulder. She was stooping slightly toward the child, rearranging some tie under its lifted chin and answering its questions in what seemed a chastened voice. He murmured to his fellow, "How do you know she isn't a spy?"
The other one turned upon him a look of pure amusement, but, seeing the set lips and earnest eye of his companion, said softly, with a faint, scouting hiss and smile:—
"She's a perfect lady—a perfect one."
"Her friend isn't," said the aggressive man.
"Here they come," observed the other aloud, looking up the street. There was a general turning of attention and concentration of the street's population toward the edge of either sidewalk. A force of police was clearing back into the by-streets a dense tangle of drays, wagons, carriages, and white-topped omnibuses, and far up the way could be seen the fluttering and tossing of handkerchiefs, and in the midst a solid mass of blue with a sheen of bayonets above, and every now and then a brazen reflection from in front, where the martial band marched before. It was not playing. The ear caught distantly, instead of its notes, the warlike thunder of the drum corps.
The sharper man nudged his companion mysteriously.
"Listen," he whispered. Neither they nor the other pair had materially changed their relative positions. The older woman was speaking.
"'Twas te fun'est dting! You pe lookin' for te Noo 'Leants shteamer, undt me lookin' for te Hambourg shteamer, undt coompt right so togeder undt never vouldn't 'a' knowedt udt yet, ovver te mayne exdt me, 'Misses Reisen, vot iss your name?' undt you headt udt. Undt te minudt you shpeak, udt choost come to me like a flash o' lightenin'—'Udt iss Misses Richlin'!'" The speaker's companion gave her such attention as one may give in a crowd to words that have been heard two or three times already within the hour.
"Yes, Alice," she said, once or twice to the little one, who pulled softly at her skirt asking confidential questions. But the baker's widow went on with her story, enjoying it for its own sake.
"You know, Mr. Richlin' he told me finfty dtimes, 'Misses Reisen, doant kif up te pissness!' Ovver I see te mutcheenery proke undt te foundtries all makin' guns undt kennons, undt I choost says, 'I kot plenteh moneh—I tdtink I kfit undt go home.' Ovver I sayss to de Doctor, 'Dte oneh dting—vot Mr. Richlin' ko-in to tdo?' Undt Dr. Tseweer he sayss, 'How menneh pa'ls flour you kot shtowed away?' Undt I sayss, 'Tsoo hundut finfty.' Undt he sayss, 'Misses Reisen, Mr. Richlin' done made you rich; you choost kif um dtat flour; udt be wort' tweny-fife tollahs te pa'l, yet.' Undt sayss I, 'Doctor, you' right, undt I dtank you for te goodt idea; I kif Mr. Richlin' innahow one pa'l.' Undt I done-d it. Ovver I sayss, 'Doctor, dtat's not like a rigler sellery, yet.' Undt dten he sayss, 'You know, mine pookkeeper he gone to te vor, undt I need'"—
A crash of brazen music burst upon the ear and drowned the voice. The throng of the sidewalk pushed hard upon its edge.
"Let me hold the little girl up," ventured the milder man, and set her gently upon his shoulder, as amidst a confusion of outcries and flutter of hats and handkerchiefs the broad, dense column came on with measured tread, its stars and stripes waving in the breeze and its backward-slanting thicket of bayoneted arms glittering in the morning sun. All at once there arose from the great column, in harmony with the pealing music, the hoarse roar of the soldiers' own voices singing in time to the rhythm of their tread. And a thrill runs through the people, and they answer with mad huzzas and frantic wavings and smiles, half of wild ardor and half of wild pain; and the keen-eyed man here by Mary lets the tears roll down his cheeks unhindered as he swings his hat and cries "Hurrah! hurrah!" while on tramps the mighty column, singing from its thousand thirsty throats the song of John Brown's Body.
Yea, so, soldiers of the Union,—though that little mother there weeps but does not wave, as the sharp-eyed man notes well through his tears,—yet even so, yea, all the more, go—"go marching on," saviors of the Union; your cause is just. Lo, now, since nigh twenty-five years have passed, we of the South can say it!
"And yet—and yet, we cannot forget"—
and we would not.
A PASS THROUGH THE LINES.
About the middle of September following the date of the foregoing incident, there occurred in a farmhouse head-quarters on the Indiana shore of the Ohio river the following conversation:—
"You say you wish me to give you a pass through the lines, ma'am. Why do you wish to go through?"
"I want to join my husband in New Orleans."
"Why, ma'am, you'd much better let New Orleans come through the lines. We shall have possession of it, most likely, within a month." The speaker smiled very pleasantly, for very pleasant and sweet was the young face before him, despite its lines of mental distress, and very soft and melodious the voice that proceeded from it.
"Do you think so?" replied the applicant, with an unhopeful smile. "My friends have been keeping me at home for months on that idea, but the fact seems as far off now as ever. I should go straight through without stopping, if I had a pass."
"Ho!" exclaimed the man, softly, with pitying amusement. "Certainly, I understand you would try to do so. But, my dear madam, you would find yourself very much mistaken. Suppose, now, we should let you through our lines. You'd be between two fires. You'd still have to get into the rebel lines. You don't know what you're undertaking."
She smiled wistfully.
"I'm undertaking to get to my husband."
"Yes, yes," said the officer, pulling his handkerchief from between two brass buttons of his double-breasted coat and wiping his brow. She did not notice that he made this motion purely as a cover for the searching glance which he suddenly gave her from head to foot. "Yes," he continued, "but you don't know what it is, ma'am. After you get through the other lines, what are you going to do then? There's a perfect reign of terror over there. I wouldn't let a lady relative of mine take such risks for thousands of dollars. I don't think your husband ought to thank me for giving you a pass. You say he's a Union man; why don't he come to you?"
Tears leaped into the applicant's eyes.
"He's become too sick to travel," she said.
"I thought you said you hadn't heard from him for months." The officer looked at her with narrowed eyes.
"I said I hadn't had a letter from him." The speaker blushed to find her veracity on trial. She bit her lip, and added, with perceptible tremor: "I got one lately from his physician."
"How did you get it?"
"Now, madam, you know what I asked you, don't you?"
"Yes. Well, I'd like you to answer."
"I found it, three mornings ago, under the front door of the house where I live with my mother and my little girl."
"Who put it there?"
"I do not know."
The officer looked her steadily in the eyes. They were blue. His own dropped.
"You ought to have brought that letter with you, ma'am," he said, looking up again; "don't you see how valuable it would be to you?"
"I did bring it," she replied, with alacrity, rummaged a moment in a skirt-pocket, and brought it out. The officer received it and read the superscription audibly.
"'Mrs. John H——.' Are you Mrs. John H——?"
"That is not the envelope it was in," she replied. "It was not directed at all. I put it into that envelope merely to preserve it. That's the envelope of a different letter,—a letter from my mother."
"Are you Mrs. John H——?" asked her questioner again. She had turned partly aside and was looking across the apartment and out through a window. He spoke once more. "Is this your name?"
He smiled cynically.
"Please don't do that again, madam."
She blushed down into the collar of her dress.
"That is my name, sir."
The man put the missive to his nose, snuffed it softly, and looked amused, yet displeased.
"Mrs. H——, did you notice just a faint smell of—garlic—about this—?"
"Well, I have no less than three or four others with the very same odor." He smiled on. "And so, no doubt, we are both of the same private opinion that the bearer of this letter was—who, Mrs. H——?"
Mrs. H—— frequently by turns raised her eyes honestly to her questioner's and dropped them to where, in her lap, the fingers of one hand fumbled with a lone wedding-ring on the other, while she said:—
"Do you think, sir, if you were in my place you would like to give the name of the person you thought had risked his life to bring you word that your husband—your wife—was very ill, and needed your presence? Would you like to do it?"
The officer looked severe.
"Don't you know perfectly well that wasn't his principal errand inside our lines?"
"No!" echoed the man; "and you don't know perfectly well, I suppose, that he's been shot at along this line times enough to have turned his hair white? Or that he crossed the river for the third time last night, loaded down with musket-caps for the rebels?"
"But you must admit you know a certain person, wherever he may be, or whatever he may be doing, named Raphael Ristofalo?"
"I do not."
The officer smiled again.
"Yes, I see. That is to say, you don't admit it. And you don't deny it."
The reply came more slowly:—
"I do not."
"Well, now, Mrs. H——, I've given you a pretty long audience. I'll tell you what I'll do. But do you please tell me, first, you affirm on your word of honor that your name is really Mrs. H——; that you are no spy, and have had no voluntary communication with any, and that you are a true and sincere Union woman."
"I affirm it all."
"Well, then, come in to-morrow at this hour, and if I am going to give you a pass at all I'll give it to you then. Here, here's your letter."
As she received the missive she lifted her eyes, suffused, but full of hope, to his, and said:—
"God grant you the heart to do it, sir, and bless you."
The man laughed. Her eyes fell, she blushed, and, saying not a word, turned toward the door and had reached the threshold when the officer called, with a certain ringing energy:—
She wheeled as if he had struck her, and answered:—
"What, sir!" Then, turning as red as a rose, she said, "O sir, that was cruel!" covered her face with her hands, and sobbed aloud. It was only as she was in the midst of these last words that she recognized in the officer before her the sharper-visaged of those two men who had stood by her in Broadway.
"Step back here, Mrs. Richling."
"Well, madam! I should like to know what we are coming to, when a lady like you—a palpable, undoubted lady—can stoop to such deceptions!"
"Sir," said Mary, looking at him steadfastly and then shaking her head in solemn asseveration, "all that I have said to you is the truth."
"Then will you explain how it is that you go by one name in one part of the country, and by another in another part?"
"No," she said. It was very hard to speak. The twitching of her mouth would hardly let her form a word. "No—no—I can't—tell you."
"Very well, ma'am. If you don't start back to Milwaukee by the next train, and stay there, I shall"—
"Oh, don't say that, sir! I must go to my husband! Indeed, sir, it's nothing but a foolish mistake, made years ago, that's never harmed any one but us. I'll take all the blame of it if you'll only give me a pass!"
The officer motioned her to be silent.
"You'll have to do as I tell you, ma'am. If not, I shall know it; you will be arrested, and I shall give you a sort of pass that you'd be a long time asking for." He looked at the face mutely confronting him and felt himself relenting. "I dare say this does sound very cruel to you, ma'am; but remember, this is a cruel war. I don't judge you. If I did, and could harden my heart as I ought to, I'd have you arrested now. But, I say, you'd better take my advice. Good-morning! No, ma'am, I can't hear you! So, now, that's enough! Good-morning, madam!"
One afternoon in the month of February, 1862, a locomotive engine and a single weather-beaten passenger-coach, moving southward at a very moderate speed through the middle of Kentucky, stopped in response to a handkerchief signal at the southern end of a deep, rocky valley, and, in a patch of gray, snow-flecked woods, took on board Mary Richling, dressed in deep mourning, and her little Alice. The three or four passengers already in the coach saw no sign of human life through the closed panes save the roof of one small cabin that sent up its slender thread of blue smoke at one corner of a little badly cleared field a quarter of a mile away on a huge hill-side. As the scant train crawled off again into a deep, ice-hung defile, it passed the silent figure of a man in butternut homespun, spattered with dry mud, standing close beside the track on a heap of cross-tie cinders and fire-bent railroad iron, a gray goat-beard under his chin, and a quilted homespun hat on his head. From beneath the limp brim of this covering, as the train moved by him, a tender, silly smile beamed upward toward one hastily raised window, whence the smile of Mary and the grave, unemotional gaze of the child met it for a moment before the train swung round a curve in the narrow way, and quickened speed on down grade.
The conductor came and collected her fare. He smelt of tobacco above the smell of the coach in general.
"Do you charge anything for the little girl?"
The purse in which the inquirer's finger and thumb tarried was limber and flat.
It was not the customary official negative; a tawdry benevolence of face went with it, as if to say he did not charge because he would not; and when Mary returned a faint beam of appreciation he went out upon the rear platform and wiped the plenteous dust from his shoulders and cap. Then he returned to his seat at the stove and renewed his conversation with a lieutenant in hard-used blue, who said "the rebel lines ought never to have been allowed to fall back to Nashville," and who knew "how Grant could have taken Fort Donelson a week ago if he had had any sense."
There were but few persons, as we have said, in the car. A rough man in one corner had a little captive, a tiny, dappled fawn, tied by a short, rough bit of rope to the foot of the car-seat. When the conductor by and by lifted the little Alice up from the cushion, where she sat with her bootees straight in front of her at its edge, and carried her, speechless and drawn together like a kitten, and stood her beside the captive orphan, she simply turned about and pattered back to her mother's side.