"I don't believe she even saw it," said the conductor, standing again by Mary.
"Yes, she did," replied Mary, smiling upon the child's head as she smoothed its golden curls; "she'll talk about it to-morrow."
The conductor lingered a moment, wanting to put his own hand there, but did not venture, perhaps because of the person sitting on the next seat behind, who looked at him rather steadily until he began to move away.
This was a man of slender, commanding figure and advanced years. Beside him, next the window, sat a decidedly aristocratic woman, evidently his wife. She, too, was of fine stature, and so, without leaning forward from the back of her seat, or unfolding her arms, she could make kind eyes to Alice, as the child with growing frequency stole glances, at first over her own little shoulder, and later over her mother's, facing backward and kneeling on the cushion. At length a cooky passed between them in dead silence, and the child turned and gazed mutely in her mother's face, with the cooky just in sight.
"It can't hurt her," said the lady, in a sweet voice, to Mary, leaning forward with her hands in her lap. By the time the sun began to set in a cool, golden haze across some wide stretches of rolling fallow, a conversation had sprung up, and the child was in the lady's lap, her little hand against the silken bosom, playing with a costly watch.
The talk began about the care of Alice, passed to the diet, and then to the government, of children, all in a light way, a similarity of convictions pleasing the two ladies more and more as they found it run further and further. Both talked, but the strange lady sustained the conversation, although it was plainly both a pastime and a comfort to Mary. Whenever it threatened to flag the handsome stranger persisted in reviving it.
Her husband only listened and smiled, and with one finger made every now and then a soft, slow pass at Alice, who each time shrank as slowly and softly back into his wife's fine arm. Presently, however, Mary raised her eyebrows a little and smiled, to see her sitting quietly in the gentleman's lap; and as she turned away and rested her elbow on the window-sill and her cheek on her hand in a manner that betrayed weariness, and looked out upon the ever-turning landscape, he murmured to his wife, "I haven't a doubt in my mind," and nodded significantly at the preoccupied little shape in his arms. His manner with the child was imperceptibly adroit, and very soon her prattle began to be heard. Mary was just turning to offer a gentle check to this rising volubility, when up jumped the little one to a standing posture on the gentleman's knee, and, all unsolicited and with silent clapping of hands, plumped out her full name:—
"Alice Sevier Witchlin'!"
The husband threw a quick glance toward his wife; but she avoided it and called Mary's attention to the sunset as seen through the opposite windows. Mary looked and responded with expressions of admiration, but was visibly disquieted, and the next moment called her child to her.
"My little girl mustn't talk so loud and fast in the cars," she said, with tender pleasantness, standing her upon the seat and brushing back the stray golden waves from the baby's temples, and the brown ones, so like them, from her own. She turned a look of amused apology to the gentleman, and added, "She gets almost boisterous sometimes," then gave her regard once more to her offspring, seating the little one beside her as in the beginning, and answering her musical small questions with composing yeas and nays.
"I suppose," she said, after a pause and a look out through the window,—"I suppose we ought soon to be reaching M—— station, now, should we not?"
"What, in Tennessee? Oh! no," replied the gentleman. "In ordinary times we should; but at this slow rate we cannot nearly do it. We're on a road, you see, that was destroyed by the retreating army and made over by the Union forces. Besides, there are three trains of troops ahead of us, that must stop and unload between here and there, and keep you waiting, there's no telling how long."
"Then I'll get there in the night!" exclaimed Mary.
"Yes, probably after midnight."
"Oh, I shouldn't have thought of coming before to-morrow if I had known that!" In the extremity of her dismay she rose half from her seat and looked around with alarm.
"Have you no friends expecting to receive you there?" asked the lady.
"Not a soul! And the conductor says there's no lodging-place nearer than three miles"—
"And that's gone now," said the gentleman.
"You'll have to get out at the same station with us," said the lady, her manner kindness itself and at the same time absolute.
"I think you have claims on us, anyhow, that we'd like to pay."
"Oh! impossible," said Mary. "You're certainly mistaking me."
"I think you have," insisted the lady; "that is, if your name is Richling."
"I don't think you know my husband," she said; "he lives a long way from here."
"In New Orleans?" asked the gentleman.
"Yes, sir," said Mary, boldly. She couldn't fear such good faces.
"His first name is John, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir. Do you really know John, sir?" The lines of pleasure and distress mingled strangely in Mary's face. The gentleman smiled. He tapped little Alice's head with the tips of his fingers.
"I used to hold him on my knee when he was no bigger than this little image of him here."
The tears leaped into Mary's eyes.
"Mr. Thornton," she whispered, huskily, and could say no more.
"You must come home with us," said the lady, touching her tenderly on the shoulder. "It's a wonder of good fortune that we've met. Mr. Thornton has something to say to you,—a matter of business. He's the family's lawyer, you know."
"I must get to my husband without delay," said Mary.
"Get to your husband?" asked the lawyer, in astonishment.
"Through the lines?"
"I told him so," said the lady.
"I don't know how to credit it," said he. "Why, my child, I don't think you can possibly know what you are attempting. Your friends ought never to have allowed you to conceive such a thing. You must let us dissuade you. It will not be taking too much liberty, will it? Has your husband never told you what good friends we were?"
Mary nodded and tried to speak.
"Often," said Mrs. Thornton to her husband, interpreting the half-articulated reply.
They sat and talked in low tones, under the dismal lamp of the railroad coach, for two or three hours. Mr. Thornton came around and took the seat in front of Mary, and sat with one leg under him, facing back toward her. Mrs. Thornton sat beside her, and Alice slumbered on the seat behind, vacated by the lawyer and his wife.
"You needn't tell me John's story," said the gentleman; "I know it. What I didn't know before, I got from a man with whom I corresponded in New Orleans."
"No, a man who got it from the Doctor."
So they had Mary tell her own story.
"I thought I should start just as soon as my mother's health would permit. John wouldn't have me start before that, and, after all, I don't see how I could have done it—rightly. But by the time she was well—or partly well—every one was in the greatest anxiety and doubt everywhere. You know how it was."
"Yes," said Mrs. Thornton.
"And everybody thinking everything would soon be settled," continued Mary.
"Yes," said the sympathetic lady, and her husband touched her quietly, meaning for her not to interrupt.
"We didn't think the Union could be broken so easily," pursued Mary. "And then all at once it was unsafe and improper to travel alone. Still I went to New York, to take steamer around by sea. But the last steamer had sailed, and I had to go back home; for—the fact is,"—she smiled,—"my money was all gone. It was September before I could raise enough to start again; but one morning I got a letter from New Orleans, telling me that John was very ill, and enclosing money for me to travel with."
She went on to tell the story of her efforts to get a pass on the bank of the Ohio river, and how she had gone home once more, knowing she was watched, not daring for a long time to stir abroad, and feeding on the frequent hope that New Orleans was soon to be taken by one or another of the many naval expeditions that from time to time were, or were said to be, sailing.
"And then suddenly—my mother died."
Mrs. Thornton gave a deep sigh.
"And then," said Mary, with a sudden brightening, but in a low voice, "I determined to make one last effort. I sold everything in the world I had and took Alice and started. I've come very slowly, a little way at a time, feeling along, for I was resolved not to be turned back. I've been weeks getting this far, and the lines keep moving south ahead of me. But I haven't been turned back," she went on to say, with a smile, "and everybody, white and black, everywhere, has been just as kind as kind can be." Tears stopped her again.
"Well, never mind, Mrs. Richling," said Mrs. Thornton; then turned to her husband, and asked, "May I tell her?"
"Well, Mrs. Richling,—but do you wish to be called Mrs. Richling?"
"Yes," said Mary, and "Certainly," said Mr. Thornton.
"Well, Mrs. Richling, Mr. Thornton has some money for your husband. Not a great deal, but still—some. The younger of the two sisters died a few weeks ago. She was married, but she was rich in her own right. She left almost everything to her sister; but Mr. Thornton persuaded her to leave some money—well, two thousand—'tisn't much, but it's something, you know—to—ah to Mr. Richling. Husband has it now at home and will give it to you,—at the breakfast-table to-morrow morning; can't you, dear?"
"Yes, and we'll not try to persuade you to give up your idea of going to New Orleans. I know we couldn't do it. We'll watch our chance,—eh, husband?—and put you through the lines; and not only that, but give you letters to—why, dear," said the lady, turning to her partner in good works, "you can give Mrs. Richling a letter to Governor Blank; and another to General Um-hm, can't you? and—yes, and one to Judge Youknow. Oh, they will take you anywhere! But first you'll stop with us till you get well rested—a week or two, or as much longer as you will."
Mary pressed the speaker's hand.
"I can't stay."
"Oh, you know you needn't have the least fear of seeing any of John's relatives. They don't live in this part of the State at all; and, even if they did, husband has no business with them just now, and being a Union man, you know"—
"I want to see my husband," said Mary, not waiting to hear what Union sympathies had to do with the matter.
"Yes," said the lady, in a suddenly subdued tone. "Well, we'll get you through just as quickly as we can." And soon they all began to put on wraps and gather their luggage. Mary went with them to their home, laid her tired head beside her child's in sleep, and late next morning rose to hear that Fort Donelson was taken, and the Southern forces were falling back. A day or two later came word that Columbus, on the Mississippi, had been evacuated. It was idle for a woman to try just then to perform the task she had set for herself. The Federal lines!
"Why, my dear child, they're trying to find the Confederate lines and strike them. You can't lose anything—you may gain much—by remaining quiet here awhile. The Mississippi, I don't doubt, will soon be open from end to end."
A fortnight seemed scarcely more than a day when it was past, and presently two of them had gone. One day comes Mr. Thornton, saying:—
"My dear child, I cannot tell you how I have the news, but you may depend upon its correctness. New Orleans is to be attacked by the most powerful naval expedition that ever sailed under the United States flag. If the place is not in our hands by the first of April I will put you through both lines, if I have to go with you myself." When Mary made no answer, he added, "Your delays have all been unavoidable, my child!"
"Oh, I don't know; I don't know!" exclaimed Mary, with sudden distraction; "it seems to me I must be to blame, or I'd have been through long ago. I ought to have run through the lines. I ought to have 'run the blockade.'"
"My child," said the lawyer, "you're mad."
"You'll see," replied Mary, almost in soliloquy.
"WHO GOES THERE?"
The scene and incident now to be described are without date. As Mary recalled them, years afterward, they hung out against the memory a bold, clear picture, cast upon it as the magic lantern casts its tableaux upon the darkened canvas. She had lost the day of the month, the day of the week, all sense of location, and the points of the compass. The most that she knew was that she was somewhere near the meeting of the boundaries of three States. Either she was just within the southern bound of Tennessee, or the extreme north-eastern corner of Mississippi, or else the north-western corner of Alabama. She was aware, too, that she had crossed the Tennessee river; that the sun had risen on her left and had set on her right, and that by and by this beautiful day would fade and pass from this unknown land, and the fire-light and lamp-light draw around them the home-groups under the roof-trees, here where she was a homeless stranger, the same as in the home-lands where she had once loved and been beloved.
She was seated in a small, light buggy drawn by one good horse. Beside her the reins were held by a rather tall man, of middle age, gray, dark, round-shouldered, and dressed in the loose blue flannel so much worn by followers of the Federal camp. Under the stiff brim of his soft-crowned black hat a pair of clear eyes gave a continuous playful twinkle. Between this person and Mary protruded, at the edge of the buggy-seat, two small bootees that have already had mention, and from his elbow to hers, and back to his, continually swayed drowsily the little golden head to which the bootees bore a certain close relation. The dust of the highway was on the buggy and the blue flannel and the bootees. It showed with special boldness on a black sun-bonnet that covered Mary's head, and that somehow lost all its homeliness whenever it rose sufficiently in front to show the face within. But the highway itself was not there; it had been left behind some hours earlier. The buggy was moving at a quiet jog along a "neighborhood road," with unploughed fields on the right and a darkling woods pasture on the left. By the feathery softness and paleness of the sweet-smelling foliage you might have guessed it was not far from the middle of April, one way or another; and, by certain allusions to Pittsburg Landing as a place of conspicuous note, you might have known that Shiloh had been fought. There was that feeling of desolation in the land that remains after armies have passed over, let them tread never so lightly.
"D'you know what them rails is put that way fur?" asked the man. He pointed down with his buggy-whip just off the roadside, first on one hand and then on the other.
"No," said Mary, turning the sun-bonnet's limp front toward the questioner and then to the disjointed fence on her nearer side; "that's what I've been wondering for days. They've been ordinary worm fences, haven't they?"
"Jess so," responded the man, with his accustomed twinkle. "But I think I see you oncet or twicet lookin' at 'em and sort o' tryin' to make out how come they got into that shape." The long-reiterated W's of the rail-fence had been pulled apart into separate V's, and the two sides of each of these had been drawn narrowly together, so that what had been two parallel lines of fence, with the lane between, was now a long double row of wedge-shaped piles of rails, all pointing into the woods on the left.
"How did it happen?" asked Mary, with a smile of curiosity.
"Didn't happen at all, 'twas jess done by live men, and in a powerful few minutes at that. Sort o' shows what we're approachin' unto, as it were, eh? Not but they's plenty behind us done the same way, all the way back into Kentuck', as you already done see; but this's been done sence the last rain, and it rained night afore last."
"Still I'm not sure what it means," said Mary; "has there been fighting here?"
"Go up head," said the man, with a facetious gesture. "See? The fight came through these here woods, here. 'Taint been much over twenty-four hours, I reckon, since every one o' them-ah sort o' shut-up-fan-shape sort o' fish-traps had a gray-jacket in it layin' flat down an' firin' through the rails, sort o' random-like, only not much so." His manner of speech seemed a sort of harlequin patchwork from the bad English of many sections, the outcome of a humorous and eclectic fondness for verbal deformities. But his lightness received a sudden check.
"Heigh-h-h!" he gravely and softly exclaimed, gathering the reins closer, as the horse swerved and dashed ahead. Two or three buzzards started up from the roadside, with their horrid flapping and whiff of quills, and circled low overhead. "Heigh-h-h!" he continued soothingly. "Ho-o-o-o! somebody lost a good nag there,—a six-pound shot right through his head and neck. Whoever made that shot killed two birds with one stone, sho!" He was half risen from his seat, looking back. As he turned again, and sat down, the drooping black sun-bonnet quite concealed the face within. He looked at it a moment. "If you think you don't like the risks we can still turn back."
"No," said the voice from out the sun-bonnet; "go on."
"If we don't turn back now we can't turn back at all."
"Go on," said Mary; "I can't turn back."
"You're a good soldier," said the man, playfully again. "You're a better one than me, I reckon; I kin turn back frequently, as it were. I've done it 'many a time and oft,' as the felleh says."
Mary looked up with feminine surprise. He made a pretence of silent laughter, that showed a hundred crows' feet in his twinkling eyes.
"Oh, don't you fret; I'm not goin' to run the wrong way with you in charge. Didn't you hear me promise Mr. Thornton? Well, you see, I've got a sort o' bad memory, that kind o' won't let me forgit when I make a promise;—bothers me that way a heap sometimes." He smirked in a self-deprecating way, and pulled his hat-brim down in front. Presently he spoke again, looking straight ahead over the horse's ears:—
"Now, that's the mischief about comin' with me—got to run both blockades at oncet. Now, if you'd been a good Secesh and could somehow or 'nother of got a pass through the Union lines you'd of been all gay. But bein' Union, the fu'ther you git along the wuss off you air, 'less-n I kin take you and carry you 'way 'long yonder to where you kin jess jump onto a south-bound Rebel railroad and light down amongst folks that'll never think o' you havin' run through the lines."
"But you can't do that," said Mary, not in the form of a request. "You know you agreed with Mr. Thornton that you would simply"—
"Put you down in a safe place," said the man, jocosely; "that's what it meant, and don't you get nervous"— His face suddenly changed; he raised his whip and held it up for attention and silence, looking at Mary, and smiling while he listened. "Do you hear anything?"
"Yes," said Mary, in a hushed tone. There were some old fields on the right-hand now, and a wood on the left. Just within the wood a turtle-dove was cooing.
"I don't mean that," said the man, softly.
"No," said Mary, "you mean this, away over here." She pointed across the fields, almost straight away in front.
"'Taint so scandalous far 'awa-a-ay' as you talk like," murmured the man, jestingly; and just then a fresh breath of the evening breeze brought plainer and nearer the soft boom of a bass-drum.
"Are they coming this way?" asked Mary.
"No; they're sort o' dress-paradin' in camp, I reckon." He began to draw rein. "We turn off here, anyway," he said, and drove slowly, but point blank into the forest.
"I don't see any road," said Mary. It was so dark in the wood that even her child, muffled in a shawl and asleep in her arms, was a dim shape.
"Yes," was the reply; "we have to sort o' smell out the way here; but my smellers is good, at times, and pretty soon we'll strike a little sort o' somepnuther like a road, about a quarter from here."
Pretty soon they did so. It started suddenly from the edge of an old field in the forest, and ran gradually down, winding among the trees, into a densely wooded bottom, where even Mary's short form often had to bend low to avoid the boughs of beech-trees and festoons of grape-vine. Under one beech the buggy stood still a moment. The man drew and opened a large clasp-knife and cut one of the long, tough withes. He handed it to Mary, as they started on again.
"With compliments," he said, "and hoping you won't find no use for it."
"What is it for?"
"Why, you see, later on we'll be in the saddle; and if such a thing should jess accidentally happen to happen, which I hope it won't, to be sho', that I should happen to sort o' absent-mindedly yell out 'Go!' like as if a hornet had stabbed me, you jess come down with that switch, and make the critter under you run like a scared dog, as it were."
"No, I don't say you must, but you'd better, I bet you. You needn't if you don't want to."
Presently the dim path led them into a clear, rippling creek, and seemed to Mary to end; but when the buggy wheels had crunched softly along down stream over some fifty or sixty yards of gravelly shallow, the road showed itself faintly again on the other bank, and the horse, with a plunge or two and a scramble, jerked them safely over the top, and moved forward in the direction of the rising moon. They skirted a small field full of ghostly dead trees, where corn was beginning to make a show, turned its angle, and saw the path under their feet plain to view, smooth and hard.
"See that?" said the man, in a tone of playful triumph, as the animal started off at a brisk trot, lifted his head and neighed. "'My day's work's done,' sezee; 'I done hoed my row.'" A responsive neigh came out of the darkness ahead. "That's the trick!" said the man. "Thanks, as the felleh says." He looked to Mary for her appreciation of his humor.
"I suppose that means a good deal; does it?" asked she, with a smile.
"Jess so! It means, first of all, fresh hosses. And then it means a house what aint been burnt by jayhawkers yit, and a man and woman a-waitin' in it, and some bacon and cornpone, and maybe a little coffee; and milk, anyhow, till you can't rest, and buttermilk to fare-you-well. Now, have you ever learned the trick o' jess sort o' qui'lin' up, cloze an' all, dry so, and puttin' half a night's rest into an hour's sleep? 'Caze why, in one hour we must be in the saddle. No mo' buggy, and powerful few roads. Comes as nigh coonin' it as I reckon you ever 'lowed you'd like to do, don't it?"
He smiled, pretending to hold back much laughter, and Mary smiled too. At mention of a woman she had removed her bonnet and was smoothing her hair with her hand.
"I don't care," she said, "if only you'll bring us through."
The man made a ludicrous gesture of self-abasement.
"Not knowin', can't say, as the felleh says; but what I can tell you—I always start out to make a spoon or spoil a horn, and which one I'll do I seldom ever promise till it's done. But I have a sneakin' notion, as it were, that I'm the clean sand, and no discount, as Mr. Lincoln says, and I do my best. Angels can do no more, as the felleh says."
He drew rein. "Whoa!" Mary saw a small log cabin, and a fire-light shining under the bottom of the door.
"The woods seem to be on fire just over there in three or four places, are they not?" she asked, as she passed the sleeping Alice down to the man, who had got out of the buggy.
"Them's the camps," said another man, who had come out of the house and was letting the horse out of the shafts.
"If we was on the rise o' the hill yonder we could see the Confedick camps, couldn't we, Isaiah?" asked Mary's guide.
"Easy," said that prophet. "I heer 'em to-day two, three times, plain, cheerin' at somethin'."
* * *
About the middle of that night Mary Richling was sitting very still and upright on a large dark horse that stood champing his Mexican bit in the black shadow of a great oak. Alice rested before her, fast asleep against her bosom. Mary held by the bridle another horse, whose naked saddle-tree was empty. A few steps in front of her the light of the full moon shone almost straight down upon a narrow road that just there emerged from the shadow of woods on either side, and divided into a main right fork and a much smaller one that curved around to Mary's left. Off in the direction of the main fork the sky was all aglow with camp-fires. Only just here on the left there was a cool and grateful darkness.
She lifted her head alertly. A twig crackled under a tread, and the next moment a man came out of the bushes at the left, and without a word took the bridle of the led horse from her fingers and vaulted into the saddle. The hand that rested a moment on the cantle as he rose grasped a "navy-six." He was dressed in dull homespun but he was the same who had been dressed in blue. He turned his horse and led the way down the lesser road.
"If we'd of gone three hundred yards further," he whispered, falling back and smiling broadly, "we'd 'a' run into the pickets. I went nigh enough to see the videttes settin' on their hosses in the main road. This here aint no road; it just goes up to a nigger quarters. I've got one o' the niggers to show us the way."
"Where is he?" whispered Mary; but, before her companion could answer, a tattered form moved from behind a bush a little in advance and started ahead in the path, walking and beckoning. Presently they turned into a clear, open forest and followed the long, rapid, swinging stride of the negro for nearly an hour. Then they halted on the bank of a deep, narrow stream. The negro made a motion for them to keep well to the right when they should enter the water. The white man softly lifted Alice to his arms, directed and assisted Mary to kneel in her saddle, with her skirts gathered carefully under her, and so they went down into the cold stream, the negro first, with arms outstretched above the flood; then Mary, and then the white man,—or, let us say plainly the spy,—with the unawakened child on his breast. And so they rose out of it on the farther side without a shoe or garment wet save the rags of their dark guide.
Again they followed him, along a line of stake-and-rider fence, with the woods on one side and the bright moonlight flooding a field of young cotton on the other. Now they heard the distant baying of house-dogs, now the doleful call of the chuck-will's-widow; and once Mary's blood turned, for an instant, to ice, at the unearthly shriek of the hoot-owl just above her head. At length they found themselves in a dim, narrow road, and the negro stopped.
"Dess keep dish yeh road fo' 'bout half mile an' you strak 'pon the broad, main road. Tek de right, an' you go whah yo' fancy tek you."
"Good-by," whispered Mary.
"Good-by, miss," said the negro, in the same low voice; "good-by, boss; don't you fo'git you promise tek me thoo to de Yankee' when you come back. I 'feered you gwine fo'git it, boss."
The spy said he would not, and they left him. The half-mile was soon passed, though it turned out to be a mile and a half, and at length Mary's companion looked back, as they rode single file, with Mary in the rear, and said softly, "There's the road," pointing at its broad, pale line with his six-shooter.
As they entered it and turned to the right, Mary, with Alice again in her arms, moved somewhat ahead of her companion, her indifferent horsemanship having compelled him to drop back to avoid a prickly bush. His horse was just quickening his pace to regain the lost position when a man sprang up from the ground on the farther side of the highway, snatched a carbine from the earth and cried, "Halt!"
The dark, recumbent forms of six or eight others could be seen, enveloped in their blankets, lying about a few red coals. Mary turned a frightened look backward and met the eyes of her companion.
"Move a little faster," said he, in a low, clear voice. As she promptly did so she heard him answer the challenge. His horse trotted softly after hers.
"Don't stop us, my friend; we're taking a sick child to the doctor."
"Halt, you hound!" the cry rang out; and as Mary glanced back three or four men were just leaping into the road. But she saw, also, her companion, his face suffused with an earnestness that was almost an agony, rise in his stirrups, with the stoop of his shoulders all gone, and wildly cry:—
She smote the horse and flew. Alice awoke and screamed.
"Hush, my darling!" said the mother, laying on the withe; "mamma's here. Hush, darling!—mamma's here. Don't be frightened, darling baby! O God, spare my child!" and away she sped.
The report of a carbine rang out and went rolling away in a thousand echoes through the wood. Two others followed in sharp succession, and there went close by Mary's ear the waspish whine of a minie-ball. At the same moment she recognized, once,—twice,—thrice,—just at her back where the hoofs of her companion's horse were clattering,—the tart rejoinders of his navy-six.
"Go!" he cried again. "Lay low! lay low! cover the child!" But his words were needless. With head bowed forward and form crouched over the crying, clinging child, with slackened rein and fluttering dress, and sun-bonnet and loosened hair blown back upon her shoulders, with lips compressed and silent prayers, Mary was riding for life and liberty and her husband's bedside.
"O mamma! mamma!" wailed the terrified little one.
"Go on! Go on!" cried the voice behind; "they're saddling—up! Go! go! We're goin' to make it. We're goin' to make it! Go-o-o!"
Half an hour later they were again riding abreast, at a moderate gallop. Alice's cries had been quieted, but she still clung to her mother in a great tremor. Mary and her companion conversed earnestly in the subdued tone that had become their habit.
"No, I don't think they followed us fur," said the spy. "Seem like they's jess some scouts, most likely a-comin' in to report, feelin' pooty safe and sort o' takin' it easy and careless; 'dreamin' the happy hours away,' as the felleh says. I reckon they sort o' believed my story, too, the little gal yelled so sort o' skilful. We kin slack up some more now; we want to get our critters lookin' cool and quiet ag'in as quick as we kin, befo' we meet up with somebody." They reined into a gentle trot. He drew his revolver, whose emptied chambers he had already refilled. "D'd you hear this little felleh sing, 'Listen to the mockin'-bird'?"
"Yes," said Mary; "but I hope it didn't hit any of them."
He made no reply.
"Don't you?" she asked.
"D'you want a felleh to wish he was a bad shot?"
"Yes," said Mary, smiling.
"Well, seein' as you're along, I do. For they wouldn't give us up so easy if I'd a hit one. Oh,—mine was only sort o' complimentary shots,—much as to say, 'Same to you, gents,' as the felleh says."
Mary gave him a pleasant glance by way of courtesy, but was busy calming the child. The man let his weapon into its holster under his homespun coat and lapsed into silence. He looked long and steadily at the small feminine figure of his companion. His eyes passed slowly from the knee thrown over the saddle's horn to the gentle forehead slightly bowed, as her face sank to meet the uplifted kisses of the trembling child, then over the crown and down the heavy, loosened tresses that hid the sun-bonnet hanging back from her throat by its strings and flowed on down to the saddle-bow. His admiring eyes, grave for once, had made the journey twice before he noticed that the child was trying to comfort the mother, and that the light of the sinking moon was glistening back from Mary's falling tears.
"Better let me have the little one," he said, "and you sort o' fix up a little, befo' we happen to meet up with somebody, as I said. It's lucky we haven't done it already."
A little coaxing prevailed with Alice, and the transfer was made. Mary turned away her wet eyes, smiling for shame of them, and began to coil her hair, her companion's eye following.
"Oh, you aint got no business to be ashamed of a few tears. I knowed you was a good soldier, befo' ever we started; I see' it in yo' eye. Not as I want to be complimentin' of you jess now. 'I come not here to talk,' as they used to say in school. D'd you ever hear that piece?"
"Yes," said Mary.
"That's taken from Romans, aint it?"
"No," said Mary again, with a broad smile.
"I didn't know," said the man; "I aint no brag Bible scholar." He put on a look of droll modesty. "I used to could say the ten commandments of the decalogue, oncet, and I still tries to keep 'em, in ginerally. There's another burnt house. That's the third one we done passed inside a mile. Raiders was along here about two weeks back. Hear that rooster crowin'? When we pass the plantation whar he is and rise the next hill, we'll be in sight o' the little town whar we stop for refreshments, as the railroad man says. You must begin to feel jess about everlastin'ly wore out, don't you?"
"No," said Mary; but he made a movement of the head to indicate that he had his belief to the contrary.
At an abrupt angle of the road Mary's heart leaped into her throat to find herself and her companion suddenly face to face with two horsemen in gray, journeying leisurely toward them on particularly good horses. One wore a slouched hat, the other a Federal officer's cap. They were the first Confederates she had ever seen eye to eye.
"Ride on a little piece and stop," murmured the spy. The strangers lifted their hats respectfully as she passed them.
"Gents," said the spy, "good-morning!" He threw a leg over the pommel of his saddle and the three men halted in a group. One of them copied the spy's attitude. They returned the greeting in kind.
"What command do you belong to?" asked the lone stranger.
"Simmons's battery," said one. "Whoa!"—to his horse.
"Mississippi?" asked Mary's guardian.
"Rackensack," said the man in the blue cap.
"Arkansas," said the other in the same breath. "What is your command?"
"Signal service," replied the spy. "Reckon I look mighty like a citizen jess about now, don't I?" He gave them his little laugh of self-depreciation and looked toward Mary, where she had halted and was letting her horse nip the new grass of the roadside.
"See any troops along the way you come?" asked the man in the hat.
"No; on'y a squad o' fellehs back yonder who was all unsaddled and fast asleep, and jumped up worse scared'n a drove o' wile hogs. We both sort o' got a little mad and jess swapped a few shots, you know, kind o' tit for tat, as it were. Enemy's loss unknown." He stooped more than ever in the shoulders, and laughed. The men were amused. "If you see 'em, I'd like you to mention me"— He paused to exchange smiles again. "And tell 'em the next time they see a man hurryin' along with a lady and sick child to see the doctor, they better hold their fire till they sho he's on'y a citizen." He let his foot down into the stirrup again and they all smiled broadly. "Good-morning!" The two parties went their ways.
"Jess as leave not of met up with them two buttermilk rangers," said the spy, once more at Mary's side; "but seein' as thah we was the oniest thing was to put on all the brass I had."
From the top of the next hill the travellers descended into a village lying fast asleep, with the morning star blazing over it, the cocks calling to each other from their roosts, and here and there a light twinkling from a kitchen window, or a lazy axe-stroke smiting the logs at a wood-pile. In the middle of the village one lone old man, half-dressed, was lazily opening the little wooden "store" that monopolized its commerce. The travellers responded to his silent bow, rode on through the place, passed over and down another hill, met an aged negro, who passed on the roadside, lifting his forlorn hat and bowing low; and, as soon as they could be sure they had gone beyond his sight and hearing, turned abruptly into a dark wood on the left. Twice again they turned to the left, going very warily through the deep shadows of the forest, and so returned half around the village, seeing no one. Then they stopped and dismounted at a stable-door, on the outskirts of the place. The spy opened it with a key from his own pocket, went in and came out again with a great armful of hay, which he spread for the horses' feet to muffle their tread, led them into the stable, removed the hay again, and closed and locked the door.
"Make yourself small," he whispered, "and walk fast." They passed by a garden path up to the back porch and door of a small unpainted cottage. He knocked, three soft, measured taps.
"Day's breakin'," he whispered again, as he stood with Alice asleep in his arms, while somebody was heard stirring within.
"Sam?" said a low, wary voice just within the unopened door.
"Sister," softly responded the spy, and the door swung inward, and revealed a tall woman, with an austere but good face, that could just be made out by the dim light of a tallow candle shining from the next room. The travellers entered and the door was shut.
"Well," said the spy, standing and smiling foolishly, and bending playfully in the shoulders, "well, Mrs. Richlin',"—he gave his hand a limp wave abroad and smirked,—"'In Dixie's land you take yo' stand.' This is it. You're in it!—Mrs. Richlin', my sister; sister, Mrs. Richlin'."
"Pleased to know ye," said the woman, without the faintest ray of emotion. "Take a seat and sit down." She produced a chair bottomed with raw-hide.
"Thank you," was all Mary could think of to reply as she accepted the seat, and "Thank you" again when the woman brought a glass of water. The spy laid Alice on a bed in sight of Mary in another chamber. He came back on tiptoe.
"Now, the next thing is to git you furder south. Wust of it is that, seein' as you got sich a weakness fur tellin' the truth, we'll jess have to sort o' slide you along fum one Union man to another; sort o' hole fass what I give ye, as you used to say yourself, I reckon. But you've got one strong holt." His eye went to his sister's, and he started away without a word, and was presently heard making a fire, while the woman went about spreading a small table with cold meats and corn-bread, milk and butter. Her brother came back once more.
"Yes," he said to Mary, "you've got one mighty good card, and that's it in yonder on the bed. 'Humph!' folks'll say; 'didn't come fur with that there baby, sho!'"
"I wouldn't go far without her," said Mary, brightly.
"I say," responded the hostess, with her back turned, and said no more.
"Sister," said the spy, "we'll want the buggy."
"All right," responded the sister.
"I'll go feed the hosses," said he, and went out. In a few minutes he returned. "Joe must give 'em a good rubbin' when he comes, sister," he said.
"All right," replied the woman, and then turning to Mary, "Come."
"Eat." She touched the back of a chair. "Sam, bring the baby." She stood and waited on the table.
Mary was still eating, when suddenly she rose up, saying:—
"Why, where is Mr. ——, your brother?"
"He's gone to take a sleep outside," said his sister. "It's too resky for him to sleep in a house."
She faintly smiled, for the first time, at the end of this long speech.
"But," said Mary, "oh, I haven't uttered a word of thanks. What will he think of me?"
She sank into her chair again with an elbow on the table, and looked up at the tall standing figure on the other side, with a little laugh of mortification.
"You kin thank God," replied the figure. "He aint gone." Another ghost of a smile was seen for a moment on the grave face. "Sam aint thinkin' about that. You hurry and finish and lay down and sleep, and when you wake up he'll be back here ready, to take you along furder. That's a healthy little one. She wants some more buttermilk. Give it to her. If she don't drink it the pigs'll git it, as the ole woman says.... Now you better lay down on the bed in yonder and go to sleep. Jess sort o' loosen yo' cloze; don't take off noth'n' but dress and shoes. You needn't be afeard to sleep sound; I'm goin' to keep a lookout."
In her sleep Mary dreamed over again the late rencontre. Again she heard the challenging outcry, and again was lashing her horse to his utmost speed; but this time her enemy seemed too fleet for her. He overtook—he laid his hand upon her. A scream was just at her lips, when she awoke with a wild start, to find the tall woman standing over her, and bidding her in a whisper rise with all stealth and dress with all speed.
"Where's Alice?" asked Mary. "Where's my little girl?"
"She's there. Never mind her yit, till you're dressed. Here; not them cloze; these here homespun things. Make haste, but don't get excited."
"How long have I slept?" asked Mary, hurriedly obeying.
"You couldn't 'a' more'n got to sleep. Sam oughtn't to have shot back at 'em. They're after 'im, hot; four of 'em jess now passed through on the road, right here past my front gate."
"What kept them back so long?" asked Mary, tremblingly attempting to button her dress in the back.
"Let me do that," said the woman. "They couldn't come very fast; had to kind o' beat the bushes every hundred yards or so. If they'd of been more of 'em they'd a-come faster, 'cause they'd a-left one or two behind at each turn-out, and come along with the rest. There; now that there hat, there, on the table." As Mary took the hat the speaker stepped to a window and peeped into the early day. A suppressed exclamation escaped her. "O you poor boy!" she murmured. Mary sprang toward her, but the stronger woman hurried her away from the spot.
"Come; take up the little one 'thout wakin' her. Three more of 'em's a-passin'. The little young feller in the middle reelin' and swayin' in his saddle, and t'others givin' him water from his canteen."
"Wounded?" asked Mary, with a terrified look, bringing the sleeping child.
"Yes, the last wound he'll ever git, I reckon. Jess take the baby, so. Sam's already took her cloze. He's waitin' out in the woods here behind the house. He's got the critters down in the hollow. Now, here! This here bundle's a ridin'-skirt. It's not mournin', but you mustn't mind. It's mighty green and cottony-lookin', but—anyhow, you jess put it on when you git into the woods. Now it's good sun-up outside. The way you must do—you jess keep on the lef' side o' me, close, so as when I jess santer out e-easy todes the back gate you'll be hid from all the other houses. Then when we git to the back gate I'll kind o' stand like I was lookin' into the pig-pen, and you jess slide away on a line with me into the woods, and there'll be Sam. No, no; take your hat off and sort o' hide it. Now; you ready?"
Mary threw her arms around the woman's neck and kissed her passionately.
"Oh, don't stop for that!" said the woman, smiling with an awkward diffidence. "Come!"
* * *
"What is the day of the month?" asked Mary of the spy.
They had been riding briskly along a mere cattle-path in the woods for half an hour, and had just struck into an old, unused road that promised to lead them presently into and through some fields of cotton. Alice, slumbering heavily, had been, little by little, dressed, and was now in the man's arms. As Mary spoke they slackened pace to a quiet trot, and crossed a broad highway nearly at right angles.
"That would 'a' been our road with the buggy," said the man, "if we could of took things easy." They were riding almost straight away from the sun. His dress had been changed again, and in a suit of new, dark brown homespun wool, over a pink calico shirt and white cuffs and collar, he presented the best possible picture of spruce gentility that the times would justify. "'What day of the month,' did you ask? I'll never tell you, but I know it's Friday."
"Then it's the eighteenth," said Mary.
They met an old negro driving three yoke of oxen attached to a single empty cart.
"Uncle," said the spy, "I don't reckon the boss will mind our sort o' ridin' straight thoo his grove, will he?"
"Not 'tall, boss; on'y dess be so kyine an' shet de gates behine you, sah."
They passed those gates and many another, shutting them faithfully, and journeying on through miles of fragrant lane and fields of young cotton and corn, and stretches of wood where the squirrel scampered before them and reaches of fallow grounds still wet with dew, and patches of sedge, and old fields grown up with thickets of young trees; now pushing their horses to a rapid gallop, where they were confident of escaping notice, and now ambling leisurely, where the eyes of men afield, or of women at home, followed them with rustic scrutiny; or some straggling Confederate soldier on foot or in the saddle met them in the way.
"How far must we go before we can stop?" asked Mary.
"Jess as far's the critters'll take us without showin' distress."
"South is out that way, isn't it?" she asked again, pointing off to the left.
"Look here," said the spy, with a look that was humorous, but not only humorous.
"Two or three times last night, and now ag'in, you gimme a sort o' sneakin' notion you don't trust me," said he.
"Oh!" exclaimed she, "I do! Only I'm so anxious to be going south."
"Jess so," said the man. "Well, we're goin' sort o' due west right now. You see we dassent take this railroad anywheres about here,"—they were even then crossing the track of the Mobile and Ohio Railway—"because that's jess where they sho to be on the lookout fur us. And I can't take you straight south on the dirt roads, because I don't know the country down that way. But this way I know it like your hand knows the way to your mouth, as the felleh says. Learned it most all sence the war broke out, too. And so the whole thing is we got to jess keep straight across the country here till we strike the Mississippi Central."
"What time will that be?"
"Time! You don't mean time o' day, do you?" he asked.
"Yes," said Mary, smiling.
"Why, we'll be lucky to make it in two whole days. Won't we, Alice!" The child had waked, and was staring into her mother's face. Mary caressed her. The spy looked at them silently. The mother looked up, as if to speak, but was silent.
"Hello!" said the man, softly; for a tear shone through her smile. Whereat she laughed.
"I ought to be ashamed to be so unreasonable," she said.
"Well, now, I'd like to contradict you for once," responds the spy; "but the fact is, how kin I, when Noo Orleens is jest about south-west frum here, anyhow?"
"Yes," said Mary, pleasantly, "it's between south and south-west."
The spy made a gesture of mock amazement.
"Well, you air partickly what you say. I never hear o' but one party that was more partickly than you. I reckon you never hear' tell o' him, did you?"
"Who was he?" asked Mary.
"Well, I never got his name, nor his habitation, as the felleh says; but he was so conscientious that when a highwayman attackted him onct, he wouldn't holla murder nor he wouldn't holla thief, 'cause he wasn't certain whether the highwayman wanted to kill him or rob him. He was something like George Washington, who couldn't tell a lie. Did you ever hear that story about George Washington?"
"About his chopping the cherry-tree with his hatchet?" asked Mary.
"Oh, I see you done heard the story!" said the spy, and left it untold; but whether he was making game of his auditor or not she did not know, and never found out. But on they went, by many a home; through miles of growing crops, and now through miles of lofty pine forests, and by log-cabins and unpainted cottages, from within whose open doors came often the loud feline growl of the spinning-wheel. So on and on, Mary spending the first night in a lone forest cabin of pine poles, whose master, a Confederate deserter, fed his ague-shaken wife and cotton-headed children oftener with the spoils of his rifle than with the products of the field. The spy and the deserter lay down together, and together rose again with the dawn, in a deep thicket, a few hundred yards away.
The travellers had almost reached the end of this toilsome horseback journey, when rains set in, and, for forty-eight hours more, swollen floods and broken bridges held them back, though within hearing of the locomotive's whistle.
But at length, one morning, Mary stepped aboard the train that had not long before started south from the town of Holly Springs, Mississippi, assisted with decorous alacrity by the conductor, and followed by the station-agent with Alice in his arms, and by the telegraph-operator with a home-made satchel or two of luggage and luncheon. It was disgusting,—to two thin, tough-necked women, who climbed aboard, unassisted, at the other end of the same coach.
"You kin just bet she's a widder, and them fellers knows it," said one to the other, taking a seat and spitting expertly through the window.
"If she aint," responded the other, putting a peeled snuff-stick into her cheek, "then her husband's got the brass buttons, and they knows that. Look at 'er a-smi-i-ilin'!"
"What you reckon makes her look so wore out?" asked the first. And the other replied promptly, with unbounded loathing, "Dayncin'," and sent her emphasis out of the window in liquid form without disturbing her intervening companion.
During the delay caused by the rain Mary had found time to refit her borrowed costume. Her dress was a stout, close-fitting homespun of mixed cotton and wool, woven in a neat plaid of walnut-brown, oak-red, and the pale olive dye of the hickory. Her hat was a simple round thing of woven pine straw, with a slightly drooping brim, its native brown gloss undisturbed, and the low crown wrapped about with a wreath of wild grasses plaited together with a bit of yellow cord. Alice wore a much-washed pink calico frock and a hood of the same stuff.
"Some officer's wife," said two very sweet and lady-like persons, of unequal age and equal good taste in dress, as their eyes took an inventory of her apparel. They wore bonnets that were quite handsome, and had real false flowers and silk ribbons on them.
"Yes, she's been to camp somewhere to see him."
"Beautiful child she's got," said one, as Alice began softly to smite her mother's shoulder for private attention, and to whisper gravely as Mary bent down.
Two or three soldiers took their feet off the seats, and one of them, at the amiably murmured request of the conductor, put his shoes on.
"The car in front is your car," said the conductor to another man, in especially dirty gray uniform.
"You kin hev it," said the soldier, throwing his palm open with an air of happy extravagance, and a group of gray-headed "citizens," just behind, exploded a loud country laugh.
"D' I onderstaynd you to lafe at me, saw?" drawled the soldier, turning back with a pretence of heavy gloom on his uncombed brow.
"Laughin' at yo' friend yondeh," said one of the citizens, grinning and waving his hand after the departing conductor.
"'Caze if you lafe at me again, saw,"—the frown deepened,—"I'll thess go 'ight straight out iss caw."
 Out of this car.
The laugh that followed this dreadful threat was loud and general, the victims laughing loudest of all, and the soldier smiling about benignly, and slowly scratching his elbows. Even the two ladies smiled. Alice's face remained impassive. She looked twice into her mother's to see if there was no smile there. But the mother smiled at her, took off her hood and smoothed back the fine gold, then put the hood on again, and tied its strings under the upstretched chin.
Presently Alice pulled softly at the hollow of her mother's elbow.
"Mamma—mamma!" she whispered. Mary bowed her ear. The child gazed solemnly across the car at another stranger, then pulled the mother's arm again, "That man over there—winked at me."
And thereupon another man, sitting sidewise on the seat in front, and looking back at Alice, tittered softly, and said to Mary, with a raw drawl:—
"She's a-beginnin' young."
"She means some one on the other side," said Mary, quite pleasantly, and the man had sense enough to hush.
The jest and the laugh ran to and fro everywhere. It seemed very strange to Mary to find it so. There were two or three convalescent wounded men in the car, going home on leave, and they appeared never to weary of the threadbare joke of calling their wounds "furloughs." There was one little slip of a fellow—he could hardly have been seventeen—wounded in the hand, whom they kept teazed to the point of exasperation by urging him to confess that he had shot himself for a furlough, and of whom they said, later, when he had got off at a flag station, that he was the bravest soldier in his company. No one on the train seemed to feel that he had got all that was coming to him until the conductor had exchanged a jest with him. The land laughed. On the right hand and on the left it dimpled and wrinkled in gentle depressions and ridges, and rolled away in fields of young corn and cotton. The train skipped and clattered along at a happy-go-lucky, twelve-miles-an-hour gait, over trestles and stock-pits, through flowery cuts and along slender, rain-washed embankments where dewberries were ripening, and whence cattle ran down and galloped off across the meadows on this side and that, tails up and heads down, throwing their horns about, making light of the screaming destruction, in their dumb way, as the people made light of the war. At stations where the train stopped—and it stopped on the faintest excuse—a long line of heads and gray shoulders was thrust out of the windows of the soldiers' car, in front, with all manner of masculine head-coverings, even bloody handkerchiefs; and woe to the negro or negress or "citizen" who, by any conspicuous demerit or excellence of dress, form, stature, speech, or bearing, drew the fire of that line! No human power of face or tongue could stand the incessant volley of stale quips and mouldy jokes, affirmative, interrogative, and exclamatory, that fell about their victim.
At one spot, in a lovely natural grove, where the air was spiced with the gentle pungency of the young hickory foliage, the train paused a moment to let off a man in fine gray cloth, whose yellow stripes and one golden star on the coat-collar indicated a major of cavalry. It seemed as though pandemonium had opened. Mules braying, negroes yodling, axes ringing, teamsters singing, men shouting and howling, and all at nothing; mess-fires smoking all about in the same hap-hazard, but roomy, disorder in which the trees of the grove had grown; the railroad side lined with a motley crowd of jolly fellows in spurs, and the atmosphere between them and the line of heads in the car-windows murky with the interchange of compliments that flew back and forth from the "web-foots" to the "critter company," and from the "critter company" to the "web-foots." As the train moved off, "I say, boys," drawled a lank, coatless giant on the roadside, with but one suspender and one spur, "tha-at's right! Gen'l Beerygyard told you to strike fo' yo' homes, an' I see you' a-doin' it ez fass as you kin git thah." And the "citizens" in the rear car-windows giggled even at that; while the "web-foots" he-hawed their derision, and the train went on, as one might say, with its hands in its pockets, whooping and whistling over the fields—after the cows; for the day was declining.
Mary was awed. As she had been forewarned to do, she tried not to seem unaccustomed to, or out of harmony with, all this exuberance. But there was something so brave in it, coming from a people who were playing a losing game with their lives and fortunes for their stakes; something so gallant in it, laughing and gibing in the sight of blood, and smell of fire, and shortness of food and raiment, that she feared she had betrayed a stranger's wonder and admiration every time the train stopped, and the idlers of the station platform lingered about her window and silently paid their ungraceful but complimentary tribute of simulated casual glances.
For, with all this jest, it was very plain there was but little joy. It was not gladness; it was bravery. It was the humor of an invincible spirit—the gayety of defiance. She could easily see the grim earnestness beneath the jocund temper, and beneath the unrepining smile the privation and the apprehension. What joy there was, was a martial joy. The people were confident of victory at last,—a victorious end, whatever might lie between, and of even what lay between they would confess no fear. Richmond was safe, Memphis safer, New Orleans safest. Yea, notwithstanding Porter and Farragut were pelting away at Forts Jackson and St. Philip. Indeed, if the rumor be true, if Farragut's ships had passed those forts, leaving Porter behind, then the Yankee sea-serpent was cut in two, and there was an end of him in that direction. Ha! ha!
"Is to-day the twenty-sixth?" asked Mary, at last, of one of the ladies in real ribbons, leaning over toward her.
It was the younger one who replied. As she did so she came over and sat by Mary.
"I judge, from what I heard your little girl asking you, that you are going beyond Jackson."
"I'm going to New Orleans."
"Do you live there?" The lady's interest seemed genuine and kind.
"Yes. I am going to join my husband there."
Mary saw by the reflection in the lady's face that a sudden gladness must have overspread her own.
"He'll be mighty glad, I'm sure," said the pleasant stranger, patting Alice's cheek, and looking, with a pretty fellow-feeling, first into the child's face and then into Mary's.
"Yes, he will," said Mary, looking down upon the curling locks at her elbow with a mother's happiness.
"Is he in the army?" asked the lady.
Mary's face fell.
"His health is bad," she replied.
"I know some nice people down in New Orleans," said the lady again.
"We haven't many acquaintances," rejoined Mary, with a timidity that was almost trepidation. Her eyes dropped, and she began softly to smooth Alice's collar and hair.
"I didn't know," said the lady, "but you might know some of them. For instance, there's Dr. Sevier."
Mary gave a start and smiled.
"Why, is he your friend too?" she asked. She looked up into the lady's quiet, brown eyes and down again into her own lap, where her hands had suddenly knit together, and then again into the lady's face. "We have no friend like Dr. Sevier."
"Mother," called the lady softly, and beckoned. The senior lady leaned toward her. "Mother, this lady is from New Orleans and is an intimate friend of Dr. Sevier."
The mother was pleased.
"What might one call your name?" she asked, taking a seat behind Mary and continuing to show her pleasure.
The mother and daughter looked at each other. They had never heard the name before.
Yet only a little while later the mother was saying to Mary,—they were expecting at any moment to hear the whistle for the terminus of the route, the central Mississippi town of Canton:—
"My dear child, no! I couldn't sleep to-night if I thought you was all alone in one o' them old hotels in Canton. No, you must come home with us. We're barely two mile' from town, and we'll have the carriage ready for you bright and early in the morning, and our coachman will put you on the cars just as nice—Trouble?" She laughed at the idea. "No; I tell you what would trouble me,—that is, if we'd allow it; that'd be for you to stop in one o' them hotels all alone, child, and like' as not some careless servant not wake you in time for the cars to-morrow." At this word she saw capitulation in Mary's eyes. "Come, now, my child, we're not going to take no for an answer."
Nor did they.
But what was the result? The next morning, when Mary and Alice stood ready for the carriage, and it was high time they were gone, the carriage was not ready; the horses had got astray in the night. And while the black coachman was on one horse, which he had found and caught, and was scouring the neighboring fields and lanes and meadows in search of the other, there came out from townward upon the still, country air the long whistle of the departing train; and then the distant rattle and roar of its far southern journey began, and then its warning notes to the scattering colts and cattle.
"Look away!"—it seemed to sing—"Look away!"—the notes fading, failing, on the ear,—"away—away—away down south in Dixie,"—the last train that left for New Orleans until the war was over.
FIRE AND SWORD.
The year the war began dates also, for New Orleans, the advent of two better things: street-cars and the fire-alarm telegraph. The frantic incoherence of the old alarum gave way to the few solemn, numbered strokes that called to duty in the face of hot danger, like the electric voice of a calm commander. The same new system also silenced, once for all, the old nine-o'clock gun. For there were not only taps to signify each new fire-district,—one for the first, two for the second, three, four, five, six seven, eight, and nine,—but there was also one lone toll at mid-day for the hungry mechanic, and nine at the evening hour when the tired workman called his children in from the street and turned to his couch, and the slave must show cause in a master's handwriting why he or she was not under that master's roof.
And then there was one signal more. Fire is a dreadful thing, and all the alarm signals were for fire except this one. Yet the profoundest wish of every good man and tender women in New Orleans, when this pleasing novelty of electro-magnetic warnings was first published for the common edification, was that mid-day or midnight, midsummer or midwinter, let come what might of danger or loss or distress, that one particular signal might not sound. Twelve taps. Anything but that.
Dr. Sevier and Richling had that wish together. They had many wishes that were greatly at variance the one's from the other's. The Doctor had struggled for the Union until the very smoke of war began to rise into the sky; but then he "went with the South." He was the only one in New Orleans who knew—whatever some others may have suspected—that Richling's heart was on the other side. Had Richling's bodily strength remained, so that he could have been a possible factor, however small, in the strife, it is hard to say whether they could have been together day by day and night by night, as they came to be when the Doctor took the failing man into his own home, and have lived in amity, as they did. But there is this to be counted; they were both, though from different directions, for peace, and their gentle forbearance toward each other taught them a moderation of sentiment concerning the whole great issue. And, as I say, they both together held the one longing hope that, whatever war should bring of final gladness or lamentation, the steeples of New Orleans might never toll—twelve.
But one bright Thursday April morning, as Richling was sitting, half dressed, by an open window of his room in Dr. Sevier's house, leaning on the arm of his soft chair and looking out at the passers on the street, among whom he had begun to notice some singular evidences of excitement, there came from a slender Gothic church-spire that was highest of all in the city, just beyond a few roofs in front of him, the clear, sudden, brazen peal of its one great bell.
"Fire," thought Richling; and yet, he knew not why, wondered where Dr. Sevier might be. He had not seen him that morning. A high official had sent for him at sunrise and he had not returned.
"Clang," went the bell again, and the softer ding—dang—dong of others, struck at the same instant, came floating in from various distances. And then it clanged again—and again—and again—the loud one near, the soft ones, one by one, after it—six, seven, eight, nine—ah! stop there! stop there! But still the alarm pealed on; ten—alas! alas!—eleven—oh, oh, the women and children!—twelve! And then the fainter, final asseverations of the more distant bells—twelve! twelve! twelve!—and a hundred and seventy thousand souls knew by that sign that the foe had passed the forts. New Orleans had fallen.
Richling dressed himself hurriedly and went out. Everywhere drums were beating to arms. Couriers and aides-de-camp were galloping here and there. Men in uniform were hurrying on foot to this and that rendezvous. Crowds of the idle and poor were streaming out toward the levee. Carriages and cabs rattled frantically from place to place; men ran out-of-doors and leaped into them and leaped out of them and sprang up stair-ways; hundreds of all manner of vehicles, fit and unfit to carry passengers and goods, crowded toward the railroad depots and steam-boat landings; women ran into the streets wringing their hands and holding their brows; and children stood in the door-ways and gate-ways and trembled and called and cried.
Richling took the new Dauphine street-car. Far down in the Third district, where there was a silence like that of a village lane, he approached a little cottage painted with Venetian red, setting in its garden of oranges, pomegranates, and bananas, and marigolds, and coxcombs behind its white paling fence and green gate.
The gate was open. In it stood a tall, strong woman, good-looking, rosy, and neatly dressed. That she was tall you could prove by the gate, and that she was strong, by the graceful muscularity with which she held two infants,—pretty, swarthy little fellows, with joyous black eyes, and evidently of one age and parentage,—each in the hollow of a fine, round arm. There was just a hint of emotional disorder in her shining hair and a trace of tears about her eyes. As the visitor drew near, a fresh show of distressed exaltation was visible in the slight play of her form.
"Ah! Mr. Richlin'," she cried, the moment he came within hearing, "'the dispot's heels is on our shores!'" Tears filled her eyes again. Mike, the bruiser, in his sixth year, who had been leaning backward against her knees and covering his legs with her skirts, ran forward and clasped the visitor's lower limbs with the nerve and intention of a wrestler. Kate followed with the cherubs. They were Raphael's.
"Yes, it's terrible," said Richling.
"Ah! no, Mr. Richlin'," replied Kate, lifting her head proudly as she returned with him toward the gate, "it's outrageouz; but it's not terrible. At least it's not for me, Mr. Richlin'. I'm only Mrs. Captain Ristofalah; and whin I see the collonels' and gin'r'ls' ladies a-prancin' around in their carridges I feel my humility; but it's my djuty to be brave, sur! An' I'll help to fight thim, sur, if the min can't do ud. Mr. Richlin', my husband is the intimit frind of Gin'r'l Garrybaldy, sur! I'll help to burrin the cittee, sur!—rather nor give ud up to thim vandjals! Come in, Mr. Richlin'; come in." She led the way up the narrow shell-walk. "Come 'n, sur, it may be the last time ye' do ud before the flames is leppin' from the roof! Ah! I knowed ye'd come. I was a-lookin' for ye. I knowed ye'd prove yerself that frind in need that he's the frind indeed! Take a seat an' sit down." She faced about on the vine-covered porch, and dropped into a rocking-chair, her eyes still at the point of overflow. "But ah! Mr. Richlin', where's all thim flatterers that fawned around uz in the days of tytled prosperity?"
Richling said nothing; he had not seen any throngs of that sort.
"Gone, sur! and it's a relief; it's a relief, Mr. Richlin'!" She marshalled the twins on her lap, Carlo commanding the right, Francisco the left.
"You mustn't expect too much of them," said Richling, drawing Mike between his knees, "in such a time of alarm and confusion as this." And Kate responded generously:—
"Well, I suppose you're right, sur."
"I've come down," resumed the visitor, letting Mike count off "Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief," on the buttons of his coat, "to give you any help I can in getting ready to leave town. For you mustn't think of staying. It isn't possible to be anything short of dreadful to stay in a city occupied by hostile troops. It's almost certain the Confederates will try to hold the city, and there may be a bombardment. The city may be taken and retaken half-a-dozen times before the war is over."
"Mr. Richlin'," said Kate, with a majestic lifting of the hand, "I'll nivver rin away from the Yanks."
"No, but you must go away from them. You mustn't put yourself in such a position that you can't go to your husband if he needs you, Mrs. Ristofalo; don't get separated from him."
"Ah! Mr. Richlin', it's you as has the right to say so; and I'll do as you say. Mr. Richlin', my husband"—her voice trembled—"may be wounded this hour. I'll go, sur, indeed I will; but, sur, if Captain Raphael Ristofalah wor here, sur, he'd be ad the front, sur, and Kate Ristofalah would be at his galliant side!"
"Well, then, I'm glad he's not here," rejoined Richling, "for I'd have to take care of the children."
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Kate. "No, sur! I'd take the lion's whelps with me, sur! Why, that little Mike theyre can han'le the dthrum-sticks to beat the felley in the big hat!" And she laughed again.
They made arrangements for her and the three children to go "out into the confederacy" within two or three days at furthest; as soon as she and her feeble helper could hurry a few matters of business to completion at and about the Picayune Tier. Richling did not get back to the Doctor's house until night had fallen and the sky was set aglare by seven miles' length of tortuous harbor front covered with millions' worth of burning merchandise. The city was being evacuated.
Dr. Sevier and he had but few words. Richling was dejected from weariness, and his friend weary with dejections.
"Where have you been all day?" asked the Doctor, with a touch of irritation.
"Getting Kate Ristofalo ready to leave the city."
"You shouldn't have left the house; but it's no use to tell you anything. Has she gone?"
"Well, in the name of common-sense, then, when is she going?"
"In two or three days," replied Richling, almost in retort.
The Doctor laughed with impatience.
"If you feel responsible for her going get her off by to-morrow afternoon at the furthest." He dropped his tired head against the back of his chair.
"Why," said Richling, "I don't suppose the fleet can fight its way through all opposition and get here short of a week."
The Doctor laid his long fingers upon his brow and rolled his head from side to side. Then, slowly raising it:—
"Well, Richling!" he said, "there must have been some mistake made when you was put upon the earth."
Richling's thin cheek flushed. The Doctor's face confessed the bitterest resentment.
"Why, the fleet is only eighteen miles from here now." He ceased, and then added, with sudden kindness of tone, "I want you to do something for me, will you?"
"Well, then, go to bed; I'm going. You'll need every grain of strength you've got for to-morrow. I'm afraid then it will not be enough. This is an awful business, Richling."
They went upstairs together. As they were parting at its top Richling said:—
"You told me a few days ago that if the city should fall, which we didn't expect"—
"That I'd not leave," said the Doctor. "No; I shall stay. I haven't the stamina to take the field, and I can't be a runaway. Anyhow, I couldn't take you along. You couldn't bear the travel, and I wouldn't go and leave you here, Richling—old fellow!"
He laid his hand gently on the sick man's shoulder, who made no response, so afraid was he that another word would mar the perfection of the last.
When Richling went out the next morning the whole city was in an ecstasy of rage and terror. Thousands had gathered what they could in their hands, and were flying by every avenue of escape. Thousands ran hither and thither, not knowing where or how to fly. He saw the wife and son of the silver-haired banker rattling and bouncing away toward one of the railway depots in a butcher's cart. A messenger from Kate by good chance met him with word that she would be ready for the afternoon train of the Jackson Railroad, and asking anew his earliest attention to her interests about the lugger landing.
He hastened to the levee. The huge, writhing river, risen up above the town, was full to the levee's top, and, as though the enemy's fleet was that much more than it could bear, was silently running over by a hundred rills into the streets of the stricken city.
As far as the eye could reach, black smoke, white smoke, brown smoke, and red flames rolled and spread, and licked and leaped, from unnumbered piles of cotton bales, and wooden wharves, and ships cut adrift, and steam-boats that blazed like shavings, floating down the harbor as they blazed. He stood for a moment to see a little revenue cutter,—a pretty topsail schooner,—lying at the foot of Canal street, sink before his eyes into the turbid yellow depths of the river, scuttled. Then he hurried on. Huge mobs ran to and fro in the fire and smoke, howling, breaking, and stealing. Women and children hurried back and forth like swarms of giant ants, with buckets and baskets, and dippers and bags, and bonnets, hats, petticoats, anything,—now empty, and now full of rice and sugar and meal and corn and syrup,—and robbed each other, and cursed and fought, and slipped down in pools of molasses, and threw live pigs and coops of chickens into the river, and with one voiceless rush left the broad levee a smoking, crackling desert, when some shells exploded on a burning gunboat, and presently were back again like a flock of evil birds.
It began to rain, but Richling sought no shelter. The men he was in search of were not to be found. But the victorious ships, with bare black arms stretched wide, boarding nettings up, and the dark muzzles of their guns bristling from their sides, came, silently as a nightmare, slowly around the bend at Slaughterhouse Point and moved up the middle of the harbor. At the French market he found himself, without forewarning, witness of a sudden skirmish between some Gascon and Sicilian market-men, who had waved a welcome to the fleet, and some Texan soldiers who resented the treason. The report of a musket rang out, a second and third reechoed it, a pistol cracked, and another, and another; there was a rush for cover; another shot, and another, resounded in the market-house, and presently in the street beyond. Then, in a moment, all was silence and emptiness, into which there ventured but a single stooping, peeping Sicilian, glancing this way and that, with his finger on trigger, eager to kill, gliding from cover to cover, and presently gone again from view, leaving no human life visible nearer than the swarming mob that Richling, by mounting a pile of ship's ballast, could see still on the steam-boat landing, pillaging in the drenching rain, and the long fleet casting anchor before the town in line of battle.
Late that afternoon Richling, still wet to the skin, amid pushing and yelling and the piping calls of distracted women and children, and scuffling and cramming in, got Kate Ristofalo, trunks, baskets, and babes, safely off on the cars. And when, one week from that day, the sound of drums, that had been hushed for a while, fell upon his ear again,—no longer the jaunty rataplan of Dixie's drums, but the heavy, monotonous roar of the conqueror's at the head of his dark-blue columns,—Richling could not leave his bed.
Dr. Sevier sat by him and bore the sound in silence. As it died away and ceased, Richling said:—
"May I write to Mary?"
Then the Doctor had a hard task.
"I wrote for her yesterday," he said. "But, Richling, I—don't think she'll get the letter."
"Do you think she has already started?" asked the sick man, with glad eagerness.
"Richling, I did the best I knew how"—
"Whatever you did was all right, Doctor."
"I wrote to her months ago, by the hand of Ristofalo. He knows she got the letter. I'm afraid she's somewhere in the Confederacy, trying to get through. I meant it for the best, my dear boy."
"It's all right, Doctor," said the invalid; but the physician could see the cruel fact slowly grind him.
"Doctor, may I ask one favor?"
"One or a hundred, Richling."
"I want you to let Madame Zenobie come and nurse me."
"Why, Richling, can't I nurse you well enough?"
The Doctor was jealous.
"Yes," answered the sick man. "But I'll need a good deal of attention. She wants to do it. She was here yesterday, you knew. She wanted to ask you, but was afraid."
His wish was granted.
ALMOST IN SIGHT.
In St. Tammany Parish, on the northern border of Lake Ponchartrain, about thirty miles from New Orleans, in a straight line across the waters of the lake, stood in time of the war, and may stand yet, an old house, of the Creole colonial fashion, all of cypress from sills to shingles, standing on brick pillars ten feet from the ground, a wide veranda in front, and a double flight of front steps running up to it sidewise and meeting in a balustraded landing at its edge. Scarcely anything short of a steamer's roof or a light-house window could have offered a finer stand-point from which to sweep a glass round the southern semi-circle of water and sky than did this stair-landing; and here, a long ship's-glass in her hands, and the accustomed look of care on her face, faintly frowning against the glare of noonday, stood Mary Richling. She still had on the pine-straw hat, and the skirt—stirring softly in a breeze that had to come around from the north side of the house before it reached her—was the brown and olive homespun.
"No use," said an old, fat, and sun-tanned man from his willow chair on the veranda behind her. There was a slight palsied oscillation in his head. He leaned forward somewhat on a staff, and as he spoke his entire shapeless and nearly helpless form quaked with the effort. But Mary, for all his advice, raised the glass and swung it slowly from east to west.
The house was near the edge of a slightly rising ground, close to the margin of a bayou that glided around toward the left from the woods at its back, and ran, deep and silent, under the shadows of a few huge, wide-spreading, moss-hung live-oaks that stood along its hither shore, laving their roots in its waters, and throwing their vast green images upon its glassy surface. As the dark stream slipped away from these it flashed a little while in the bright open space of a marsh, and, just entering the shade of a spectral cypress wood, turned as if to avoid it, swung more than half about, and shone sky-blue, silver, and green as it swept out into the unbroken sunshine of the prairie.
It was over this flowery savanna, broadening out on either hand, and spreading far away until its bright green margin joined, with the perfection of a mosaic, the distant blue of the lake, that Mary, dallying a moment with hope, passed her long glass. She spoke with it still raised and her gaze bent through it:—
"There's a big alligator crossing the bayou down in the bend."
"Yes," said the aged man, moving his flat, carpet-slippered feet a laborious inch; "alligator. Alligator not goin' take you 'cross lake. No use lookin'. 'Ow Peter goin' come when win' dead ahead? Can't do it."
Yet Mary lifted the glass a little higher, beyond the green, beyond the crimpling wavelets of the nearer distance that seemed drawn by the magical lens almost into her hand, out to the fine, straight line that cut the cool blue below from the boundless blue above. Round swung the glass, slowly, waveringly, in her unpractised hand, from the low cypress forests of Manchac on the west, to the skies that glittered over the unseen marshes of the Rigolets on the farthest east.
"You see sail yondeh?" came the slow inquiry from behind.
"No," said Mary, letting the instrument down, and resting it on the balustrade.
"Humph! No! Dawn't I tell you is no use look?"
"He was to have got here three days ago," said Mary, shutting the glass and gazing in anxious abstraction across the prairie.
The Spanish Creole grunted.
"When win' change, he goin' start. He dawn't start till win' change. Win' keep ligue dat, he dawn't start 't all." He moved his orange-wood staff an inch, to suit the previous movement of his feet, and Mary came and laid the glass on its brackets in the veranda, near the open door of a hall that ran through the dwelling to another veranda in the rear.
In the middle of the hall a small woman, as dry as the peppers that hung in strings on the wall behind her, sat in a rush-bottomed rocking-chair plaiting a palmetto hat, and with her elbow swinging a tattered manilla hammock, in whose bulging middle lay Alice, taking her compulsory noonday nap. Mary came, expressed her thanks in sprightly whispers, lifted the child out, and carried her to a room. How had Mary got here?
The morning after that on which she had missed the cars at Canton she had taken a south-bound train for Camp Moore, the camp of the forces that had evacuated New Orleans, situated near the railway station of Tangipahoa, some eighty miles north of the captured city. Thence, after a day or two of unavoidable delay, and of careful effort to know the wisest step, she had taken stage,—a crazy ambulance,—with some others, two women, three children, and an old man, and for two days had travelled through a beautiful country of red and yellow clays and sands below and murmuring pines above,—vast colonnades of towering, branchless brown columns holding high their green, translucent roof, and opening up their wide, bright, sunshot vistas of gentle, grassy hills that undulated far away under the balsamic forest, and melted at length into luminous green unity and deer-haunted solitudes. Now she went down into richer bottom-lands, where the cotton and corn were growing tall and pretty to look upon, like suddenly grown girls, and the sun was beginning to shine hot. Now she passed over rustic bridges, under posted warnings to drive slow or pay a fine, or through sandy fords across purling streams, hearing the monotone of some unseen mill-dam, or scaring the tall gray crane from his fishing, or the otter from his pranks. Again she went up into leagues of clear pine forest, with stems as straight as lances; meeting now a farmer, and now a school-girl or two, and once a squad of scouts, ill-mounted, worse clad, and yet more sorrily armed; bivouacking with the jolly, tattered fellows, Mary and one of the other women singing for them, and the "boys" singing for Mary, and each applauding each about the pine-knot fire, and the women and children by and by lying down to slumber, in soldier fashion, with their feet to the brands, under the pines and the stars, while the gray-coats stood guard in the wavering fire-light; but Mary lying broad awake staring at the great constellation of the Scorpion, and thinking now of him she sought, and now remorsefully of that other scout, that poor boy whom the spy had shot far away yonder to the north and eastward. Now she rose and journeyed again. Rare hours were those for Alice. They came at length into a low, barren land, of dwarfed and scrawny pines, with here and there a marshy flat; thence through a narrow strip of hickories, oaks, cypresses, and dwarf palmetto, and so on into beds of white sand and oyster-shells, and then into one of the villages on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
Her many little adventures by the way, the sayings and doings and seeings of Alice, and all those little adroitnesses by which Mary from time to time succeeded in avoiding or turning aside the suspicions that hovered about her, and the hundred times in which Alice was her strongest and most perfect protection, we cannot pause to tell. But we give a few lines to one matter.
Mary had not yet descended from the ambulance at her journey's end; she and Alice only were in it; its tired mules were dragging it slowly through the sandy street of the village, and the driver was praising the milk, eggs, chickens, and genteel seclusion of Mrs. ——'s "hotel," at that end of the village toward which he was driving, when a man on horseback met them, and, in passing, raised his hat to Mary. The act was only the usual courtesy of the highway; yet Mary was startled, disconcerted, and had to ask the unobservant, loquacious driver to repeat what he had said. Two days afterward Mary was walking at the twilight hour, in a narrow, sandy road, that ran from the village out into the country to the eastward. Alice walked beside her, plying her with questions. At a turn of the path, without warning, she confronted this horseman again. He reined up and lifted his hat. An elated look brightened his face.
"It's all fixed," he said. But Mary looked distressed, even alarmed.
"You shouldn't have done this," she replied.
The man waved his hand downward repressively, but with a countenance full of humor.
"Hold on. It's still my deal. This is the last time, and then I'm done. Make a spoon or spoil a horn, you know. When you commence to do a thing, do it. Them's the words that's inscribed on my banner, as the felleh says; only I, Sam, aint got much banner. And if I sort o' use about this low country a little while for my health, as it were, and nibble around sort o' pro bono pūblico takin' notes, why you aint a-carin', is you? For wherefore shouldest thou?" He put on a yet more ludicrous look, and spread his hand off at one side, working his outstretched fingers.
"Yes," responded Mary, with severe gravity; "I must care. You did finish at Holly Springs. I was to find the rest of the way as best I could. That was the understanding. Go away!" She made a commanding gesture, though she wore a pleading look. He looked grave; but his habitual grimace stole through his gravity and invited her smile. But she remained fixed. He gathered the rein and straightened up in the saddle.
"Yes," she insisted, answering his inquiring attitude; "go! I shall be grateful to you as long as I live. It wasn't because I mistrusted you that I refused your aid at Camp Moore or at——that other place on this side. I don't mistrust you. But don't you see—you must see—it's your duty to see—that this staying and—and—foll—following—is—is—wrong." She stood, holding her skirt in one hand, and Alice's hand in the other, not upright, but in a slightly shrinking attitude, and as she added once more, "Go! I implore you—go!" her eyes filled.
"I will; I'll go," said the man, with a soft chuckle intended for self-abasement. "I go, thou goest, he goes. 'I'll skedaddle,' as the felleh says. And yit it do seem to me sorter like,—if my moral sense is worthy of any consideration, which is doubtful, may be,—seems to me like it's sort o' jumpin' the bounty for you to go and go back on an arrangement that's been all fixed up nice and tight, and when it's on'y jess to sort o' 'jump into the wagon' that's to call for you to-morrow, sun-up, drove by a nigger boy, and ride a few mile' to a house on the bayou, and wait there till a man comes with a nice little schooner, and take you on bode and sail off, and 'good-by, Sally,' and me never in sight from fust to last, 'and no questions axed.'"
"I don't reject the arrangement," replied Mary, with tearful pleasantness. "If you'll do as I say, I'll do as you say; and that will be final proof to you that I believe you're"—she fell back a step, laughingly—"'the clean sand!'" She thought the man would have perpetrated some small antic; but he did not. He did not even smile, but lifted the rein a little till the horse stepped forward, and, putting out his hand, said:—
"Good-by. You don't need no directions. Jess tell the lady where you' boardin' that you've sort o' consented to spend a day or two with old Adrien Sanchez, and get into the wagon when it comes for you." He let go her hand. "Good-by, Alice." The child looked up in silence and pressed herself against her mother. "Good-by," said he once more.
"Good-by," replied Mary.
His eyes lingered as she dropped her own.
"Come, Alice," she said, resisting the little one's effort to stoop and pick a wild-pea blossom, and the mother and child started slowly back the way they had come. The spy turned his horse, and moved still more slowly in the opposite direction. But before he had gone many rods he turned the animal's head again, rode as slowly back, and, beside the spot where Mary had stood, got down, and from the small imprint of her shoe in the damp sand took the pea-blossom, which, in turning to depart, she had unawares trodden under foot. He looked at the small, crushed thing for a moment, and then thrust it into his bosom; but in a moment, as if by a counter impulse, drew it forth again, let it flutter to the ground, following it with his eyes, shook his head with an amused air, half of defiance and half of discomfiture, turned, drew himself into the saddle, and with one hand laid upon another on the saddle-bow and his eyes resting on them in meditation, passed finally out of sight.
* * *
Here, then, in this lone old Creole cottage, Mary was tarrying, prisoner of hope, coming out all hours of the day, and scanning the wide view, first, only her hand to shade her brow, and then with the old ship's-glass, Alice often standing by and looking up at this extraordinary toy with unspoken wonder. All that Mary could tell her of things seeable through it could never persuade the child to risk her own eye at either end of it. So Mary would look again and see, out in the prairie, in the morning, the reed birds, the marsh hen, the blackbirds, the sparrows, the starlings, with their red and yellow epaulets, rising and fluttering and sinking again among the lilies and mallows, and the white crane, paler than a ghost, wading in the grassy shallows. She saw the ravening garfish leap from the bayou, and the mullet in shining hundreds spatter away to left and right; and the fisherman and the shrimp-catcher in their canoes come gliding up the glassy stream, riding down the water-lilies, that rose again behind and shook the drops from their crowns, like water-sprites. Here and there, farther out, she saw the little cat-boats of the neighboring village crawling along the edge of the lake, taking their timid morning cruises. And far away she saw the titanic clouds; but on the horizon, no sail.
In the evening she would see mocking-birds coming out of the savanna and flying into the live-oaks. A summer duck might dart from the cypresses, speed across the wide green level, and become a swerving, vanishing speck on the sky. The heron might come round the bayou's bend, and suddenly take fright and fly back again. The rattling kingfisher might come up the stream, and the blue crane sail silently through the purple haze that hung between the swamp and the bayou. She would see the gulls, gray and white, on the margin of the lake, the sun setting beyond its western end, and the sky and water turning all beautiful tints; and every now and then, low down along the cool, wrinkling waters, passed across the round eye of the glass the broad, downward-curved wing of the pelican. But when she ventured to lift the glass to the horizon, she swept it from east to west in vain. No sail.
"Dawn't I tell you no use look? Peter dawn't comin' in day-time, nohow."
But on the fifth morning Mary had hardly made her appearance on the veranda, and had not ventured near the spy-glass yet, when the old man said:—
"She rain back in swamp las' night; can smell."
"How do you feel this morning?" asked Mary, facing around from her first glance across the waters. He did not heed.
"See dat win'?" he asked, lifting one hand a little from the top of his staff.
"Yes," responded Mary, eagerly; "why, it's—hasn't it—changed?"
"Yes, change' las' night 'fo' went to bed."
The old man's manner betrayed his contempt for one who could be interested in such a change, and yet not know when it took place.