HotFreeBooks.com
Fort Lafayette or, Love and Secession
by Benjamin Wood
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Philip snatched up the parchment where it had fallen, and silently followed his companion.

"We are going beyond the line to look about a bit," he said to the sergeant on duty, as they passed his post. "Keep all still and quiet till we return."

"Take some of the boys with you, captain," replied the sergeant. "We're unpleasant close to those devils, sir."

"It's all right, sergeant. There's no danger," And nodding to Seth, the two walked leisurely along the road until concealed by the darkness, when they quickened their pace and pushed boldly toward the Confederate lines.

Half an hour, or less perhaps, after their departure, the sentry, posted at about a hundred yards from the house, observed an unusual light gleaming from the windows of the old farm-house. He called the attention of Lieutenant Williams, who was walking by in conversation with the sergeant, to the circumstance.

"Is not the captain there?" asked the lieutenant.

"No, sir," replied the sergeant, "he started off to go beyond the line half an hour ago."

"Alone?"

"No, sir; that chap that came in at dusk was with him."

"It's strange he should have gone without speaking to me about it."

"I wanted him to take some of our fellows along, sir, but he didn't care to. By George! that house is afire, sir. Look there."

While talking, they had been proceeding toward the farm-house, when the light from the windows brightened suddenly into a broad glare, and called forth the sergeant's exclamation. Before they reached the building a jet of flame had leaped from one of the casements, and continued to whirl like a flaming ribbon in the air. They quickened their pace to a run, and bursting into the doorway, were driven back by a dense volume of smoke, that rolled in black masses along the corridor. They went in again, and the sergeant pushed open the door of the room where Moll lay bound, but shut it quickly again, as a tongue of flame lashed itself toward him like an angry snake.

"It's all afire, sir," he said, coughing and spluttering through the smoke. "Are there any of the captain's traps inside?"

"Nothing at all," replied the lieutenant. "Let's go in, however, and see what can be done."

They entered, but were driven back by the baffling smoke and the flames that were now licking all over the dry plastering of the room.

"It's no use," said the lieutenant, when they had gained their breath in the open air. "There's no water, except in the brook down yonder, and what the men have in their canteens. The house is like tinder. Let it go, sergeant; it's not worth saving at the risk of singing your whiskers."

The men had now come up, and gathered about the officer to receive his commands.

"Let the old shed go, my lads," he said. "It's well enough that some rebel should give us a bonfire now and then. Only stand out of the glare, boys, or you may have some of those devils yonder making targets of you."

The men fell back into the shadow, and standing in little groups, or seated upon the sward, watched the burning house, well pleased to have some spectacle to relieve the monotony of the night. And they looked with indolent gratification, passing the light jest and the merry word, while the red flames kept up their wild sport, and great masses of rolling vapor upheaved from the crackling roof, and blackened the midnight sky. None sought to read the mystery of that conflagration. It was but an old barn gone to ashes a little before its time. Perhaps some mischievous hand among them had applied the torch for a bit of deviltry. Perhaps the flames had caught from Rawbon's pipe, which he had thrown carelessly among a heap of rubbish when startled by Molly's sudden apparition. Or yet, perhaps, though Heaven forbid it, for the sake of human nature, the same hand that had struck so nearly fatally once, had been tempted to complete the work of death in a more terrible form.

But within those blistering walls, who can tell what ghastly revels the mad flames were having over their bound and solitary victim! Perhaps, as she lay there with distended jaws, and eyeballs starting from their sockets, that brain, amid the visions of its madness, became conscious of the first kindling of the subtle element that was so soon to clasp her in its terrible embrace. How dreadful, while the long minutes dragged, to watch its stealthy progress, and to feel that one little effort of an unbound hand could avert the danger, and yet to lie there helpless, motionless, without even the power to give utterance to the shriek of terror which strained her throat to suffocation. And then, as the creeping flame became stronger and brighter, and took long and silent leaps from one object to another, gliding along the lathed, and papered wall, rolling and curling along the raftered ceiling, would not the wretched woman, raving already in delirium, behold the spectres that her madness feared, beckoning to her in the lurid glare, or gliding in and out among the wild fires that whirled in fantastic gambols around and overhead! Nearer and nearer yet the rolling flame advances; it commences to hiss and murmur in its progress; it wreathes itself about the chairs and tables, and laps up the little pool of brandy spilled from the forgotten flask; it plays about her feet, and creeps lazily amid the folds of her gown, yet wet from the brook in which she had concealed herself that day; it scorches and shrivels up the flesh upon her limbs, while pendent fiery tongues leap from the burning rafters, and kiss her cheeks and brows where the black veins swell almost to bursting; every muscle and nerve of her frame is strained with convulsive efforts to escape, but the cords only sink into the bloating flesh, and she lies there crisping like a log, and as powerless to move. The dense, black smoke hangs over her like a pall, but prostrate as she is, it cannot sink low enough to suffocate and end her agony. How the bared bosom heaves! how the tortured limbs writhe, and the blackening cuticle emits a nauseous steam! The black blood oozing from her nostrils proclaims how terrible the inward struggle. The whole frame bends and shrinks, and warps like a fragment of leather thrown into a furnace—the flame has reached her vitals—at last, by God's mercy, she is dead.



CHAPTER XX.

At dawn of the morning of the 21st of July, an officer in plain undress was busily writing at a table in a plainly-furnished apartment of a farm-house near Manassas. He was of middle age and medium size, with dark complexion, bold, prominent features, and steady, piercing black eyes. His manner and the respectful demeanor of several officers in attendance, rather than any insignia of office which he wore, bespoke him of high rank; and the earnest attention which he bestowed upon his labor, together with the numerous orders, written and verbal, which he delivered at intervals to members of his staff, denoted that an affair of importance was in hand. Several horses, ready caparisoned, were held by orderlies at the door-way, and each aid, as he received instructions, mounted and dashed away at a gallop.

The building was upon a slight elevation of land, and along the plain beneath could be seen the long rows of tents and the curling smoke of camp-fires; while the hum of many voices in the distance, with here and there a bugle-blast and the spirit-stirring roll of drums, denoted the site of the Confederate army. The reveille had just sounded, and the din of active preparation could be heard throughout the camp. Regiments were forming, and troops of horse were marshalling in squadron, while others were galloping here and there; while, through the ringing of sabres and the strains of marshal music, the low rumbling of the heavy-wheeled artillery was the most ominous sound.

An orderly entered the apartment where General Beauregard was writing, and spoke with one of the members of the staff in waiting.

"What is it, colonel?" asked the general, looking up.

"An officer from the outposts, with two prisoners, general." And he added something in a lower tone.

"Very opportune," said Beauregard. "Let them come in."

The orderly withdrew and reentered with Captain Weems, followed by Philip Searle and Rawbon. A glance of recognition passed between the latter and Beauregard, and Seth, obeying a gesture of the general, advanced and placed a small package on the table. The general opened it hastily and glanced over its contents.

"As I thought," he muttered. "You are sure as to the disposition of the advance?"

"Quite sure of the main features."

"When did you get in?"

"Only an hour ago. Their vanguard was close behind. Before noon, I think they will be upon you in three columns from the different roads."

"Very well, you may go now. Come to me in half an hour. I shall have work for you. Who is that with you?"

"Captain Searle."

"Of whom we spoke?"

"The same."

The general nodded, and Seth left the apartment. Beauregard for a second scanned Philip's countenance with a searching glance.

"Approach, sir, if you please. We have little time for words. Have you information to impart?"

"Nothing beyond what I think you know already. You may expect at every moment to hear the boom of McDowell's guns."

"On the right?"

"I think the movement will be on your left. Richardson remains on the southern road, in reserve. Tyler commands the centre. Carlisle, Bicket and Ayre will give you trouble there with their batteries. Hunter and Heintzelman, with fourteen thousand, will act upon your left."

"Then we are wrong, Taylor," said Beauregard, turning to an officer at his side; and rising, the two conversed for a moment in low but earnest tone.

"It is plausible," said Beauregard, at length. "Taylor, ride down to Bee and see about it. Captain Searle, you will report yourself to Colonel Hampton at once. He will have orders for you. Captain Weems, you will please see him provided for. Come, gentlemen, to the field!"

The general and his staff were soon mounted and riding rapidly toward the masses and long lines of troops that were marshalling on the plain below.

Beverly stood at the doorway alone with Philip Searle. He was grave and sad, although the bustle and preparation of an expected battle lent a lustre to his eye. To his companion he was stern and distant, and they both walked onward for some moments without a word. At a short distance from the building, they came upon a black groom holding two saddled horses.

"Mount, sir, if you please," said Beverly, and they rode forward at a rapid pace. Philip was somewhat surprised to observe that their course lay away from the camp, and in fact the sounds of military life were lessening as they went on. They passed the brow of the hill and descended by a bridle-path into a little valley, thick with shrubbery and trees. At the gateway of a pleasant looking cottage Beverly drew rein.

"I must ask you to enter here," he said, dismounting. "Within a few hours we shall both be, probably, in the ranks of battle; but first I have a duty to perform."

They entered the cottage, within which all was hushed and still; the sounds of an active household were not heard. They ascended the little stair, and Beverly pushed gently open the door of an apartment and motioned to Philip to enter. He paused at first, for as he stood on the threshold a low sob reached his ear.

"Pass in," said Beverly, in a grave, stern tone. "I have promised that I would bring you, else, be assured, I would not linger in your presence."

They entered. It was a small, pleasant room, and through the lattice interwoven with woodbine the rising sun looked in like a friendly visitor. Upon a bed was stretched the form of a young girl, sleeping or dead, it would be hard to tell, the features were so placid and beautiful in repose. One ray of sunlight fell among the tangles of her golden hair, and glowed like a halo above the marble-white brow. The long dark lashes rested upon her cheek with a delicate contrast like that of the velvety moss when it peeps from the new-fallen snow. Her hands were folded upon her bosom above the white coverlet; they clasped a lily, that seemed as if sculptured upon a churchyard stone, so white was the flower, so white the bosom that it pressed. One step nearer revealed that she was dead; earthly sleep was never so calm and beautiful. By the bedside Oriana Weems was seated, weeping silently. She arose when her brother entered, and went to him, putting her hands about his neck. Beverly tenderly circled his arm about her waist, and they stood together at the bedside, gazing on all that death had left upon earth of their young cousin, Miranda.

"She died this morning very soon after you left," said Oriana, "without pain and I think without sorrow, for she wore that same sweet smile that you see now frozen upon her lips. Oh, Beverly, I am sorry you brought him here!" she added, in a lower tone, glancing with a shudder at Philip Searle, who stood looking with a frown out at the lattice, and stopping the sunbeam from coming into the room. "It seems," she continued, "as if his presence brought a curse that would drag upon the angels' wings that are bearing her to heaven. Though, thank God, she is beyond his power to harm her now!" and she knelt beside the pillow and pressed her lips upon the cold, white brow.

"She wished to see him, Oriana, before she died," said Beverly, "and I promised to bring him; and yet I am glad she passed away before his coming, for I am sure he could bring no peace with him for the dying, and his presence now is but an insult to the dead."

When he had spoken, there was silence for a while, which was broken by the sudden boom of a distant cannon. They all started at the sound, for it awakened them from mournful memories, to yet perhaps more solemn thoughts of what was to come before that bright sun should rise upon the morrow. Beverly turned slowly to where Philip stood, and pointed sternly at the death-bed.

"You have seen enough, if you have dared to look at all," he said. "I have not the power, nor the will, to punish. A soldier's death to-day is what you can best pray for, that you may not live to think of this hereafter. She sent for you to forgive you, but died and you are unforgiven. Bad as you are, I pity you that you must go to battle haunted by the remembrance of this murder that you have done."

Philip half turned with an angry curl upon his lip, as if prepared for some harsh answer; but he saw the white thin face and folded hands, and left the room without a word.

"Farewell! dear sister," said Beverly, clasping the weeping girl in his arms. "I have already overstaid the hour, and must spur hard to be at my post in time. God bless you! it may be I shall never see you again; if so, I leave you to God and my country. But I trust all will be well."

"Oh, Beverly! come back to me, my brother; I am alone in the world without you. I would not have you swerve from your duty, although death came with it; but yet, remember that I am alone without you, and be not rash or reckless. I will watch and pray for you beside this death-bed, Beverly, while you are fighting, and may God be with you."

Beverly summoned an old negress to the room, and consigned his sister to her care. Descending the stairs rapidly, he leaped upon his horse, and waving his hand to Philip, who was already mounted, they plunged along the valley, and ascending the crest of the hill, beheld, while they still spurred on, the vast army in motion before them, while far off in the vanward, from time to time, the dull, heavy booming of artillery told that the work was already begun.



CHAPTER XXI.

On the evening of the 20th July, Hunter's division, to which Harold Hare was attached, was bivouacked on the old Braddock Road, about a mile and a half southeast of Centreville. It was midnight. There was a strange and solemn hush throughout the camp, broken only by the hail of the sentinel and the occasional trampling of horses hoofs, as some aid-de-camp galloped hastily along the line. Some of the troops were sleeping, dreaming, perhaps, of home, and far away, for the time, from the thought of the morrow's danger. But most were keeping vigil through the long hours of darkness, communing with themselves or talking in low murmurs with some comrade; for each soldier knew that the battle-hour was at hand. Harold was stretched upon his cloak, striving in vain to win the boon of an hour's sleep, for he was weary with the toil of the preceding day; but he could not shut out from his brain the whirl of excitement and suspense which that night kept so many tired fellows wakeful when they most needed rest. It was useless to court slumber, on the eve, perhaps, of his eternal sleep; he arose and walked about into the night.

Standing beside the dying embers of a watchfire, wrapped in his blanket, and gazing thoughtfully into the little drowsy flames that yet curled about the blackened fagots, was a tall and manly form, which Harold recognized as that of his companion in arms, a young lieutenant of his company. He approached, and placed his hand upon his fellow-soldier's arm.

"What book of fate are you reading in the ashes, Harry?" he asked, in a pleasant tone, anxious to dispel some portion of his own and his comrade's moodiness.

The soldier turned to him and smiled, but sorrowfully and with effort.

"My own destiny, perhaps," he answered. "Those ashes were glowing once with light and warmth, and before the dawn they will be cold, as you or I may be to-morrow, Harold."

"I thought you were too old a soldier to nurse such fancies upon the eve of battle. I must confess that I, who am a novice in this work, am as restless and nervous as a woman; but you have been seasoned by a Mexican campaign, and I came to you expressly to be laughed into fortitude again."

"You must go on till you meet one more lighthearted than myself," answered the other, with a sigh. "Ah! Harold, I have none of the old elasticity about me to-night. I would I were back under my father's roof, never to hear the roll of the battle-drum again. This is a cruel war, Harold."

"A just one."

"Yes, but cruel. Have you any that you love over yonder, Harold? Any that are dear to you, and that you must strike at on the morrow?"

"Yes, Harry, that is it. It is, as you say, a cruel war."

"I have a brother there," continued his companion; and he looked sadly into the gloom, as if he yearned through the darkness and distance to catch a glimpse of the well-known form. "A brother that, when I last saw him, was a little rosy-cheeked boy, and used to ride upon my knee. He is scarce more than a boy now, and yet he will shoulder his musket to-morrow, and stand in the ranks perhaps to be cut down by the hand that has caressed him. He was our mother's darling, and it is a mercy that she is not living to see us armed against each other."

"It is a painful thought," said Harold, "and one that you should dismiss from contemplation. The chances are thousands to one that you will never meet in battle."

"I trust the first bullet that will be fired may reach my heart, rather than that we should. But who can tell? I have a strange, gloomy feeling upon me; I would say a presentiment, if I were superstitious."

"It is a natural feeling upon the eve of battle. Think no more of it. Look how prettily the moon is creeping from under the edge of yonder cloud. We shall have a bright day for the fight, I think."

"Yes, that's a comfort. One fights all the better in the warm sunlight, as if to show the bright heavens what bloodthirsty devils we can be upon occasion. Hark!"

It was the roll of the drum, startling the stillness of the night; and presently, the brief, stern orders of the sergeants could be heard calling the men into the ranks. There is a strange mingled feeling of awe and excitement in this marshalling of men at night for a dangerous expedition. The orders are given instinctively in a more subdued and sterner tone, as if in unison with the solemnity of the hour. The tramp of marching feet strikes with a more distinct and hollow sound upon the ear. The dark masses seem to move more compactly, as if each soldier drew nearer to his comrade for companionship. The very horses, although alert and eager, seem to forego their prancing, and move with sober tread. And when the word "forward!" rings along the dark column, and the long and silent ranks bend and move on as with an electric impulse, there is a thrill in every vein, and each heart contracts for an instant, as if the black portals of a terrible destiny were open in the van.

A half hour of silent hurry and activity passed away, and at last the whole army was in motion. It was now three o'clock; the moon shone down upon the serried ranks, gleaming from bayonet and cannon, and stretching long black shadows athwart the road. From time to time along the column could be heard the ringing voice of some commander, as he galloped to the van, cheering his men with some well-timed allusion, or dispelling the surrounding gloom with a cheerful promise of victory. Where the wood road branched from the Warrentown turnpike, Gen. McDowell, standing in his open carriage, looked down upon the passing columns, and raised his hat, when the excited soldiers cheered as they hurried on. Here Hunter's column turned to the right, while the main body moved straight on to the centre. Then all became more silent than before, and the light jest passing from comrade to comrade was less frequent, for each one felt that every step onward brought him nearer to the foe.

The eastern sky soon paled into a greyish light, and ruddy streaks pushed out from the horizon. The air breathed fresher and purer than in the darkness, and the bright sun, with an advance guard of thin, rosy clouds, shot upward from the horizon in a blaze of splendor. It was the Sabbath morn.

The boom of a heavy gun is heard from the centre. Carlisle has opened the ball. The day's work is begun. Another! The echoes spring from the hillsides all around, like a thousand angry tongues that threaten death. But on the right, no trace of an enemy is to be seen. Burnside's brigade was in the van; they reached the ford at Sudley's Springs; a momentary confusion ensues as the column prepares to cross. Soon the men are pushing boldly through the shallow stream, but the temptation is too great for their parched throats; they stoop to drink and to fill their canteens from the cool wave. But as they look up they see a cloud of dust rolling up from the plain beyond, and their thirst has passed away—they know that the foe is there.

An aid comes spurring down the bank, waving his hand and splashing into the stream.

"Forward, men! forward!"

Hunter gallops to meet him, with his staff clattering at his horse's heels.

"Break the heads of regiments from the column and push on—push on!"

The field officers dash along the ranks, and the men spring to their work, as the word of command is echoed from mouth to mouth.

Crossing the stream, their course extended for a mile through a thick wood, but soon they came to the open country, with undulating fields, rolling toward a little valley through which a brooklet ran. And beyond that stream, among the trees and foliage which line its bank and extend in wooded patches southward, the left wing of the enemy are in battle order.

From a clump of bushes directly in front, came a puff of white smoke wreathed with flame; the whir of the hollow ball is heard, and it ploughs the moist ground a few rods from our advance.

Scarcely had the dull report reverberated, when, in quick succession, a dozen jets of fire gleamed out, and the shells came plunging into the ranks. Burnside's brigade was in advance and unsupported, but under the iron hail the line was formed, and the cry "Forward!" was answered with a cheer. A long grey line spread out upon the hillside, forming rapidly from the outskirts of the little wood. It was the Southern infantry, and soon along their line a deadly fire of musketry was opened.

Meanwhile the heavy firing from the left and further on, announced that the centre and extreme left were engaged. A detachment of regulars was sent to Burnside's relief, and held the enemy in check till a portion of Porter's and Heintzelman's division came up and pressed them back from their position.

The battle was fiercely raging in the centre, where the 69th had led the van and were charging the murderous batteries with the bayonet. We must leave their deeds to be traced by the historic pen, and confine our narrative to the scene in which Harold bore a part. The nearest battery, supported by Carolinians, had been silenced. The Mississippians had wavered before successive charges, and an Alabama regiment, after four times hurling back the serried ranks that dashed against them, had fallen back, outflanked and terribly cut up. On the left was a farm-house, situated on an elevated ridge a little back from the road. Within, while the fiercest battle raged, was its solitary inmate, an aged and bed-ridden lady, whose paralyzed and helpless form was stretched upon the bed where for fourscore years she had slept the calm sleep of a Christian. She had sent her attendants from the dwelling to seek a place of safety, but would not herself consent to be removed, for she heard the whisper of the angel of death, and chose to meet, him there in the house of her childhood. For the possession of the hill on which the building stood, the opposing hosts were hotly struggling. The fury of the battle seemed to concentre there, and through the time-worn walls the shot was plunging, splintering the planks and beams, and shivering the stone foundation. Sherman's battery came thundering up the hill upon its last desperate advance. Just as the foaming horses were wheeled upon its summit, the van of Hampton's legion sprang up the opposite side, and the crack of a hundred rifles simultaneously sounded. Down fell the cannoneers beside their guns before those deadly missiles, and the plunging horses were slaughtered in the traces, or, wounded to the death, lashed out their iron hoofs among the maimed and writhing soldiers and into the heaps of dead. The battery was captured, but held only fop an instant, when two companies of Rhode Islanders, led on by Harold Hare, charged madly up the hill.

"Save the guns, boys!" he cried, as the gallant fellows bent their heads low, and sprang up the ascent right in the face of the blazing rifles.

"Fire low! stand firm! drive them back once again, my brave Virginians!" shouted a young Southern officer, springing to the foremost rank.

The mutual fire was delivered almost at the rifles' muzzles, and the long sword-bayonets clashed together. Without yielding ground, for a few terrible seconds they thrust and parried with the clanging steel, while on either side the dead were stiffening beneath their feet, and the wounded, with shrieks of agony, were clutching at their limbs. Harold and the young Southron met; their swords clashed together once in the smoke and dust, and but once, when each drew back and lowered his weapon, while all around were striking. Then, amid that terrible discord, their two left hands were pressed together for an instant, and a low "God bless you!" came from the lips of both.

"To the right, Beverly, keep you to the right!" said Harold, and he himself, straight through the hostile ranks, sprang in an opposite direction.

When Harold's party had first charged up the hill, the young lieutenant with whom he had conversed beside the watch-fire on the previous evening, was at the head of his platoon, and as the two bodies met, he sent the last shot from his revolver full in the faces of the foremost rank. So close were they, that the victim of that shot, struck in the centre of the forehead, tottered forward, and fell into his arms. There was a cry of horror that pierced even above the shrieks of the wounded and the yells of the fierce combatants. One glance at that fair, youthful face sufficed;—it was his brother—dead in his arms, dead by a brother's hand. The yellow hair yet curled above the temples, but the rosy bloom upon the cheek was gone; already the ashen hue of death was there. There was a small round hole just where the golden locks waved from the edge of the brow, and from it there slowly welled a single globule of black gore. It left the face undisfigured—pale, but tranquil and undistorted as a sleeping child's—not even a clot of blood was there to mar its beauty. The strong and manly soldier knelt upon the dust, and holding the dead boy with both arms clasped about his waist, bent his head low down upon the lifeless bosom, and gasped with an agony more terrible than that which the death-wound gives.

"Charley! Oh God! Charley! Charley!" was all that came from his white lips, and he sat there like stone, with the corpse in his arms, still murmuring "Charley!" unconscious that blades were flashing and bullets whistling around him. The blood streamed from his wounds, the bayonets were gleaming round, and once a random shot ploughed into his thigh and shivered the bone. He only bent a little lower and his voice was fainter; but still he murmured "Charley! Oh God! Charley," and never unfolded his arms from its embrace. And there, when the battle was over, the Southrons found him, dead—with his dead brother in his arms.



CHAPTER XXII.

At the door-way of the building on the hill, where the aged invalid was yielding her last breath amid the roar of battle, a wounded officer sat among the dying and the dead, while the conflict swept a little away from that quarter of the field. The blood was streaming from the shattered bosom, and feebly he strove to staunch it with his silken scarf. He had dragged himself through gore and dust until he reached that spot, and now, rising again with a convulsive effort, he leaned his red hands against the wall, and entered over the fragments of the door, which had been shivered by a shell. With tottering steps he passed along the hall and up the little stairway, as one who had been familiar with the place. Before the door of the aged lady's chamber he paused a moment and listened; all was still there, although the terrible tumult of the battle was sounding all around. He entered; he advanced to the bed-side; the dying woman was murmuring a prayer. A random shot had torn the shrivelled flesh upon her bosom and the white counterpane was stained with blood. She did not see him—her thoughts were away from earth, she was already seeking communion with the spirits of the blest. The soldier knelt by that strange death-bed and leaned his pale brow upon the pillow.

"Mother!"

How strangely the word sounded amid the shouts of combatants and the din of war. It was like a good angel's voice drowning the discords of hell.

"Mother!"

She heard not the cannon's roar, but that one word, scarce louder than the murmur of a dreaming infant, reached her ear. The palsied head was turned upon the pillow and the light of life returned to her glazing eyes.

"Who speaks?" she gasped, while her thin hands were tremulously clasped together with emotion.

"'Tis I, mother. Philip, your son."

"Philip, my son!" and the nerveless form, that had scarce moved for years, was raised upon the bed by the last yearning effort of a mother's love.

"Is it you, Philip, is it you, indeed? I can scarce see your form, but surely I have heard the voice of my boy;—my long absent boy. Oh! Philip! why have I not heard it oftener to comfort my old age?"

"I am dying, mother. I have been a bad son and a guilty man. But I am dying, mother. Oh! I am punished for my sin! The avenging bullet struck me down at the gate of the home I had deserted—the home I have made desolate to you. Mother, I have crawled here to die."

"To die! O God! your hand is cold—or is it but the chill of death upon my own? Oh! I had thought to have said farewell to earth forever, but yet let me linger but a little while, O Lord! if but to bless my son." She sank exhausted upon the pillow, but yet clasped the gory fingers of the dying man.

"Philip, are you there? Let me hear your voice. I hear strange murmurs afar off; but not the voice of my son. Are you there, Philip, are you there?"

Philip Searle was crouching lower and lower by the bed-side, and his forehead, upon which the dews of death were starting, lay languidly beside the thin, white locks that rested on the pillow.

"Look, mother!" he said, raising his head and glaring into the corner of the room. "Do you see that form in white?—there—she with the pale cheeks and golden hair! I saw her once before to-day, when she lay stretched upon the bed, with a lily in her white fingers. And once again I saw her in that last desperate charge, when the bullet struck my side. And now she is there again, pale, motionless, but smiling. Does she smile in mockery or forgiveness? I could rather bear a frown than that terrible—that frozen smile. O God! she is coming to me, mother, she is coming to me—she will lay her cold hand upon me. No—it is not she! it is Moll—look, mother, it is Moll, all blackened with smoke and seared with living fire. O God! how terrible! But, mother, I did not do that. When I saw the flames afar off, I shuddered, for I knew how it must be. But I did not do it, Moll, by my lost soul, I did not!" He started to his feet with a convulsive effort. The hot blood spurted from his wound with the exertion and spattered upon the face and breast of his mother—but she felt it not, for she was dead. The last glimmering ray of reason seemed to drive away the phantoms. He turned toward those sharp and withered features, he saw the fallen jaw and lustreless glazed eye. A shudder shook his frame at every point, and with a groan of pain and terror, he fell forward upon the corpse—a corpse himself.



CHAPTER XXIII.

The Federal troops, with successive charges, had now pushed the enemy from their first position, and the torn battalions were still being hurled against the batteries that swept their ranks. The excellent generalship of the Confederate leaders availed itself of the valor and impetuosity of their assailants to lure them, by consecutive advance and backward movement, into the deadly range of their well planted guns. It was then that, far to the right, a heavy column could be seen moving rapidly in the rear of the contending hosts. Was it a part of Hunter's division that had turned the enemy's rear? Such was the thought at first, and with the delusion triumphant cheers rang from the parched throats of the weary Federals. They were soon to be undeceived. The stars and bars flaunted amid those advancing ranks, and the constant yells of the Confederates proclaimed the truth. Johnston was pouring his fresh troops upon the battle-field. The field was lost, but still was struggled for in the face of hope. It was now late in the afternoon, and the soldiers, exhausted with their desperate exertions, fought on, doggedly, but without that fiery spirit which earlier in the day had urged them to the cannon's mouth. There was a lull in the storm of carnage, the brief pause that precedes the last terrific fury of the tempest. The Confederates were concentrating their energies for a decisive effort. It came. From the woods that skirted the left centre of their position, a squadron of horsemen came thundering down upon our columns. Right down upon Carlisle's battery they rode, slashing the cannoneers and capturing the guns. Then followed their rushing ranks of infantry, and full upon our flank swooped down another troop of cavalry, dashing into the road where the baggage-train had been incautiously advanced. Our tired and broken regiments were scattered to the right and left. In vain a few devoted officers spurred among them, and called on them to rally; they broke from the ranks in every quarter of the field, and rushed madly up the hillsides and into the shelter of the trees. The magnificent army that had hailed the rising sun with hopes of victory was soon pouring along the road in inextricable confusion and disorderly retreat. Foot soldier and horseman, field-piece and wagon, caisson and ambulance, teamster and cannoneer, all were mingled together and rushing backward from the field they had half won, with their backs to the pursuing foe. That rout has been traced, to our shame, in history; the pen of the novelist shuns the disgraceful theme.

Harold, although faint with loss of blood, which oozed from a flesh-wound in his shoulder, was among the gallant few who strove to stem the ebbing current; struck at last by a spent ball in the temple, he fell senseless to the ground. He would have been trampled upon and crushed by the retreating column, had not a friendly hand dragged him from the road to a little mound over which spread the branches of an oak. Here he was found an hour afterward by a body of Confederate troops and lifted into an ambulance with others wounded and bleeding like himself.

While the vehicle, with its melancholy freight, was being slowly trailed over the scene of the late battle, Harold partially recovered his benumbed senses. He lay there as in a dream, striving to recall himself to consciousness of his position. He felt the dull throbbing pain upon his brow and the stinging sensation in his shoulder, and knew that he was wounded, but whether dangerously or not he could not judge. He could feel the trickling of blood from the bosom of a wounded comrade at his side, and could hear the groans of another whose thigh was shattered by the fragment of a shell; but the situation brought no feeling of repugnance, for he was yet half stunned and lay as in a lethargy, wishing only to drain one draught of water and then to sleep. The monotonous rumbling of the ambulance wheels sounded distinctly upon his ear, and he could listen, with a kind of objectless curiosity, to the casual conversation of the driver, as he exchanged words here and there with others, who were returning upon the same dismal errand from the scene of carnage. The shadows of night spread around him, covering the field of battle like a pall flung in charity by nature over the corpses of the slain. Then his bewildered fancies darkened with the surrounding gloom, and he thought that he was coffined and in a hearse, being dragged to the graveyard to be buried. He put forth his hand to push the coffin lid, but it fell again with weakness, and when his fingers came in contact with the splintered bone that protruded from his neighbor's thigh, and he felt the warm gushing of the blood that welled with each throb of the hastily bound artery, he puzzled his dreamy thoughts to know what it might mean. At last all became a blank upon his brain, and he relapsed once more into unconsciousness.

And so, from dreamy wakefulness to total oblivion he passed to and fro, without an interval to part the real from the unreal. He was conscious of being lifted into the arms of men, and being borne along carefully by strong arms. Whither? It seemed to his dull senses that they were bearing him into a sepulchre, but he was not terrified, but careless and resigned; or if he thought of it at all, it was to rejoice that when laid there, he should be undisturbed. Presently a vague fancy passed athwart his mind, that perhaps the crawling worms would annoy him, and he felt uneasy, but yet not afraid. Afterward, there was a sensation of quiet and relief, and his brain, for a space, was in repose. Then a bright form bent over him, and he thought it was an angel. He could feel a soft hand brushing the dampness from his brow, and fingers, whose light touch soothed him, parting his clotted hair. The features grew more distinct, and it pleased him to look upon them, although he strove in vain to fix them in his memory, until a tear-drop fell upon his cheek, and recalled his wandering senses; then he knew that Oriana was bending over him and weeping.

He was in the cottage where Beverly had last parted from his sister; not in the same room, for they feared to place him there, where Miranda was lying in a shroud, with a coffin by her bed-side, lest the sad spectacle should disturb him when he woke. But he lay upon a comfortable bed in another room, and Beverly and Oriana stood beside, while the surgeon dressed his wounds.



CHAPTER XXIV.

No need to say that Harold was well cared for by his two friendly foes. Beverly had given his personal parole for his safe keeping, and he was therefore free from all surveillance or annoyance on that score. His wounds were not serious, although the contusion on the temple, which, however, had left the skull uninjured, occasioned some uneasiness at first. But the third day he was able to leave his bed, and with his arm in a sling, sat comfortably in an easy-chair, and conversed freely with his two excellent nurses.

"Did Beverly tell you of Arthur's imprisonment?" he asked of Oriana, breaking a pause in the general conversation.

"Yes," she answered, looking down, with a scarcely perceptible blush upon her cheek. "Poor Arthur! Yours is a cruel government, Harold, that would make traitors of such men. His noble heart would not harbor a dangerous thought, much less a traitorous design."

"I think with you," said Harold. "There is some strange mistake, which we must fathom. I received his letter only the day preceding the battle. Had there been no immediate prospect of an engagement, I would have asked a furlough, and have answered it in person. I have small reason to regret my own imprisonment," he added, "my jailers are so kind; yet I do regret it for his sake."

"You know that we are powerless to help him," said Beverly, "or even to shorten your captivity, since your government will not exchange with us. However, you must write, both to Arthur and to Mr. Lincoln, and I will use my best interest with the general to have your letters sent on with a flag."

"I know that you will do all in your power, and I trust that my representations may avail with the government, for I judge from Arthur's letter that he is not well, although he makes no complaint. He is but delicate at the best, and what with the effects of his late injuries, I fear that the restraint of a prison may go ill with him."

"How unnatural is this strife that makes us sorrow for our foes no less than for our friends?" said Oriana. "I seem to be living in a strange clime, and in an age that has passed away. And how long can friendship endure this fiery ordeal? How many scenes of carnage like this last terrible one can afflict the land, without wiping away all trace of brotherhood, and leaving in the void the seed of deadly hate?"

"If this repulse," said Beverly, "which your arms have suffered so early in the contest, will awaken the North to a sense of the utter futility of their design of subjugation, the blood that flowed at Manassas will not have been shed in vain."

"No, not in vain," replied Harold, "but its fruits will be other than you anticipate. The North will be awakened, but only to gird up its loins and put forth its giant strength. The shame of that one defeat will be worth to us hereafter a hundred victories. The North has been smitten in its sleep; it will arouse from its lethargy like a lion awakening under the smart of the hunter's spear. Beverly, base no vain hopes upon the triumph of the hour; it seals your doom, for it serves but to throw into the scale against you the aroused energies that till now have been withheld."

"You count upon your resources, Harold, like a purse-proud millionaire, who boasts his bursting coffers. We depend rather upon our determined hearts and resolute right hands. Upon our power to endure, greater than yours to inflict, reverse. Upon our united people, and the spirit that animates them, which can never be subdued. The naked Britons could defend their native soil against Caesar's legions, the veterans of a hundred fights. Shall we do less, who have already tasted the fruits of liberty so dearly earned? Harold, your people have assumed an impossible task, and you may as well go cast your treasures into the sea as squander them in arms to smite your kith and kin. We are Americans, like yourselves; and when you confess that you can be conquered by invading armies, then dream of conquering us."

"And we will startle you from your dream with the crack of our Southern rifles," added Oriana, somewhat maliciously, while Harold smiled at her enthusiasm.

"There is a great deal of romance in both your natures," he replied. "But it is not so good as powder for a fighting medium. The spirit you boast of will not support you long without the aid of good round dollars."

"Thank heaven we have less faith in their efficacy than you Northern gold-worshippers," observed Oriana, with playful sarcasm. "While our soldiers have good round corn-cakes, they will ask for no richer metals than lead and steel. Have you never heard of the regiment of Mississippians, who, having received their pay in government certificates, to a man tore up the documents as they took up the line of march, saying 'we do not fight for money?'"

Harold smiled, thinking perhaps that nothing better could have been done with the currency in question.

"I think," said Beverly, "you are far out of the way in your estimate of our resources. The South is strictly an agricultural country, and as such, best able to support itself under the exhaustion consequent upon a lengthened warfare, especially as it will remain in the attitude of resistance to invasion. From the bosom of its prolific soil it can draw its natural nourishment and retain its vigor throughout any period of isolation, while you are draining your resources for the means of providing an active aggressive warfare. The rallying of our white population to the battle field will not interrupt the course of agricultural pursuit, while every enlistment in the North will take one man away from the tillage of the land or from some industrial avocation."

"Not so," replied Harold. "Our armies for the most part will be recruited from the surplus population, and abundant hands will remain behind for the purposes of industry."

"At first, perhaps. But not after a few more such fields as were fought on Sunday last. To carry out even a show of your project of subjugation, you must keep a million of men in the field from year to year. Your manufacturing interests will be paralyzed, your best customers shut out. You will be spending enormously and producing little beyond the necessities of consumption. We, on the contrary, will be producing as usual, and spending little more than before."

"Can your armies be fed, clothed, and equipped without expense?"

"No. But all our means will be applied to military uses, and our operations will be necessarily much less expensive than yours. In other matters, we will forget our habits of extravagance. We will become, by the law of necessity, economists in place of spendthrifts. We will gather in rich harvests, but will stint ourselves to the bare necessities of life, that our troops may be fed and clothed. The money that our wealthy planters have been in the habit of spending yearly in Northern cities and watering places, will be circulated at home. Some fifty millions of Southern dollars, heretofore annually wasted in fashionable dissipation, will thus be kept in our own pockets and out of yours. The spendthrift sons of our planters, and their yet more extravagant daughters, will be found studying economy in the rude school of the soldier, and plying the needle to supply the soldiers' wants, in place of drawing upon the paternal estates for frivolous enjoyments. Our spending population will be on the battle-field, and the laborer will remain in the cotton and corn-field. There will be suffering and privation, it is true, but rest assured, Harold, we will bear it all without a murmur, as our fathers did in the days of '76. And we will trust to the good old soil we are defending to give us our daily bread."

"Or if it should not," said Oriana, "we can at least claim from it, each one, a grave, over which the foot of the invader may trample, but not over our living bodies."

"I have no power to convince you of your error," answered Harold. "Let us speak of it no more, since it is destined that the sword must decide between us. Beverly, you promised that I should go visit my wounded comrades, who have not yet been removed. Shall we go now? I think it would do me good to breathe the air."

They prepared for the charitable errand, and Oriana went with them, with a little basket of delicacies for the suffering prisoners.



CHAPTER XXV.

It was a fair morning in August, the twentieth day after the eventful 21st of July. Beverly was busy with his military duties, and Harold, who had already fully recovered from his wounds, was enjoying, in company with Oriana, a pleasant canter over the neighboring country. They came to where the rolling meadow subsided into a level plain of considerable extent on either side of the road. At its verge a thick forest formed a dark background, beyond which the peering summits of green hills showed that the landscape was rugged and uneven. Oriana slackened her pace, and pointed out over the broad expanse of level country.

"You see this plain that stretches to our right and left?"

"Of course I do," replied Harold.

"Yes; but I want you to mark it well," she continued, with a significant glance; "and also that stretch of woodland yonder, beyond which, you see, the country rises again."

"Yes, a wild country, I should judge, like that to the left, where we fought your batteries a month ago."

"It is, indeed, a wild country as you say. There are ravines there, and deep glens, fringed with almost impenetrable shrubbery, and deep down in these recesses flows many a winding water-course, lined and overarched with twisted foliage. Are you skillful at threading a woodland labyrinth?"

"Yes; my surveying expeditions have schooled me pretty well. Why do you ask? Do you want me to guide you through the wilderness, in search of a hermit's cave."

"Perhaps; women have all manner of caprices, you know. But I want you to pay attention to those landmarks. Over yonder, there are some nooks that would do well to hide a runaway. I have explored some of them myself, for I passed some months here formerly, before the war. Poor Miranda's family resided once in the little cottage where we are stopping now. That is why I came from Richmond to spend a few days and be with Beverly. I little thought that my coming would bring me to Miranda's death-bed. Look there, now: you have a better view of where the forest ascends into the hilly ground."

"Why are you so topographical to-day? One would think you were tempting me to run away," said Harold, smiling, as he followed her pointing finger with his eyes.

"No; I know you would not do that, because Beverly, you know, has pledged himself for your safe-keeping."

"Very true; and I am therefore a closer prisoner than if I were loaded down with chains. When do you return to Richmond?"

"I shall return on the day after to-morrow. Beverly has been charged with an important service, and will be absent for several weeks. But he can procure your parole, if you wish, and you can come to the old manor-house again."

"I think I shall not accept parole," replied Harold, thoughtfully. "I must escape, if possible, for Arthur's sake. Beverly, of course, will release himself from all obligations about me, before he goes?"

"Yes, to-morrow; but you will be strictly guarded, unless you give parole. See here, I have a little present for you; it is not very pretty, but it is useful."

She handed him a small pocket-compass, set in a brass case.

"You can have this too," she added, drawing a small but strong and sharp poignard from her bosom. "But you must promise me never to use it except to save your life?"

"I will promise that cheerfully," said Harold, as he received the precious gifts.

"To-morrow we will ride out again. We will have the same horses that bear us so bravely now. Do you note how strong and well-bred is the noble animal you ride?"

"Yes," said Harold, patting the glorious arch of his steed's neck. "He's a fine fellow, and fleet, I warrant."

"Fleet as the winds. There are few in this neighborhood that can match him. Let us go home now. You need not tell Beverly that I have given you presents. And be ready to ride to-morrow at four o'clock precisely."

He understood her thoroughly, and they cantered homeward, conversing upon indifferent subjects and reverting no further to their previous somewhat enigmatical theme.

On the following afternoon, at four o'clock precisely, the horses were at the door, and five minutes afterward a mounted officer, followed by two troopers, galloped up the lane and drew rein at the gateway.

Harold was arranging the girths of Oriana's saddle, and she herself was standing in her riding-habit beside the porch. The officer, dismounting, approached her and raised his cap in respectful salute. He was young and well-looking, evidently one accustomed to polite society.

"Good afternoon, Captain Haralson," said Oriana, with her most gracious smile. "I am very glad to see you, although, as you bring your military escort, I presume you come to see Beverly upon business, and not for the friendly visit you promised me. But Beverly is not here."

"I left him at the camp on duty, Miss Weems," replied the captain. "It is my misfortune that my own duties have been too strict of late to permit me the pleasure of my contemplated visit."

"I must bide my time, captain. Let me introduce my friend. Captain Hare, our prisoner, Mr. Haralson; but I know you will help me to make him forget it, when I tell you that he was my brother's schoolmate and is our old and valued friend."

The young officer took Harold frankly by the hand, but he looked grave and somewhat disconcerted as he answered:

"Captain Hare, as a soldier, will forgive me that my duty compels me to play a most ungracious part upon our first acquaintance. I have orders to return with him to headquarters, where I trust his acceptance of parole will enable me to avail myself of your introduction to show him what courtesy our camp life admits, in atonement for the execution of my present unpleasant devoir."

"I shall esteem your acquaintance the more highly," answered Harold, "that you know so well to blend your soldiership with kindness. I am entirely at your disposition, sir, having only to apologize to Miss Weems for the deprivation of her contemplated ride."

"Oh, no, we must not lose our ride," said Oriana. "It is perhaps the last we shall enjoy together, and such a lovely afternoon. I am sure that Captain Haralson is too gallant to interrupt our excursion."

She turned to him with an arch smile, but he looked serious as he replied:

"Alas! Miss Weems, our gallantry receives some rude rebuffs in the harsh school of the soldier. It grieves me to mar your harmless recreation, but even that mortification I must endure when it comes in the strict line of my duty."

"But your duty does not forbid you to take a canter with us this charming afternoon. Now put away that military sternness, which does not become you at all, and help me to mount my pretty Nelly, who is getting impatient to be off. And so am I. Come, you will get into camp in due season, for we will go only as far as the Run, and canter all the way."

She took his arm, and he assisted her to the saddle, won into acquiescence by her graceful obstinacy, and, in fact, seeing but little harm the tufted hills rolled into one another like the waves of a swelling sea, their crests tipped with the slant rays of the descending sun, and their graceful slopes alternating among purple shadows and gleams of floating light.

"It is indeed so beautiful," answered Harold, "that I should deem you might be content to live there as of old, without inviting the terrible companionship of Mars."

"We do not invite it," said the young captain. "Leave us in peaceful possession of our own, and no war cries shall echo among those hills. If Mars has driven his chariot into our homes, he comes at your bidding, an unwelcome intruder, to be scourged back again."

"At our bidding! No. The first gun that was fired at Sumter summoned him, and if he should leave his foot-prints deep in your soil, you have well earned the penalty."

"It will cost you, to inflict it, many such another day's work as that at Manassas a month ago."

The taunt was spoken hastily, and the young Southron colored as if ashamed of his discourtesy, and added:

"Forgive me my ungracious speech. It was my first field, sir, and I am wont to speak of it too boastingly. I shall become more modest, I hope, when I shall have a better right to be a boaster."

"Oh," replied Harold, "I admit the shame of our discomfiture, and take it as a good lesson to our negligence and want of purpose. But all that has passed away. One good whipping has awakened us to an understanding of the work we have in hand. Henceforth we will apply ourselves to the task in earnest."

"You think, then, that your government will prosecute the war more vigorously than before?"

"Undoubtedly. You have heard but the prelude of a gale that shall sweep every vestige of treason from the land."

"Let it blow on," said the Southron, proudly. "There will be counter-blasts to meet it. You cannot raise a tempest that will make us bow our heads."

"Do you not think," interrupted Oriana, "that a large proportion of your Northern population are ready at least to listen to terms of separation?"

"No," replied Harold, firmly. "Or if there be any who entertain such thoughts, we will make them outcasts among us, and the finger of scorn will be pointed at them as recreant to their holiest duty."

"That is hardly fair," said Oriana. "Why should you scorn or maltreat those who honestly believe that the doctrine in support of which so many are ready to stake their lives and their fortunes, may be worthy of consideration? Do you believe us all mad and wicked people in the South—people without hearts, and without brains, incapable of forming an opinion that is worth an argument? If there are some among you who think we are acting for the best, and Heaven knows we are acting with sincerity, you should give them at least a hearing, for the sake of liberty of conscience. Remember, there are millions of us united in sentiment in the South, and millions, perhaps, abroad who think with us. How can you decide by your mere impulses where the right lies?"

"We decide by the promptings of our loyal hearts, and by our reason, which tells us that secession is treason, and that treason must be crushed."

"Heart and brain have been mistaken ere now," returned Oriana. "But if you are a type of your countrymen, I see that hard blows alone will teach you that God has given us the right to think for ourselves."

"Do you believe, then," asked Haralson, "that there can be no peace between us until one side or the other shall be exhausted and subdued?"

"Not so," replied Harold. "I think that when we have retrieved the disgrace of Bull Run and given you in addition, some wholesome chastisement, your better judgment will return to you, and you will accept forgiveness at our hands and return to your allegiance."

"You are mistaken," said the Southron. "Even were we ready to accept your terms, you would not be ready to grant them. Should the North succeed in striking some heavy blow at the South, I will tell you what will happen; your abolitionists will seize the occasion of the peoples' exultation to push their doctrine to a consummation. Whenever you shall hear the tocsin of victory sounding in the North, then listen for the echoing cry of emancipation—for you will hear it. You will see it in every column of your daily prints; you will hear your statesmen urging it in your legislative halls, and your cabinet ministers making it their theme. And, most dangerous of all, you will hear your generals and colonels, demagogues, at heart, and soldiers only of occasion, preaching it to their battalions, and making converts of their subordinates by the mere influences of their rank and calling. And when your military chieftains harangue their soldiers upon political themes, think not of our treason as you call it, but look well to the political freedom that is still your own. With five hundred thousand armed puppets, moving at the will of a clique of ambitious epauletted politicians and experimentalists, you may live to witness, whether we be subdued or not, a coup d'etat for which there is a precedent not far back in the annals of republics."

"Have you already learned to contemplate the danger that you are incurring? Do you at last fear the monster that you have nursed and strengthened in your midst? Well, if your slaves should rise against you, surely you cannot blame us for the evil of your own creation."

"It is the hope of your abolitionists, not our fear, that I am rehearsing. Should your armies obtain a foothold on our soil, we know that you will put knives and guns into the hands of our slaves, and incite them to emulate the deeds of their race in San Domingo. You will parcel out our lands and wealth to your victorious soldiery, not so much as a reward for their past services, but to seal the bond between them and the government that will seek to rule by their bayonets. You see, we know the peril and are prepared to meet it. Should you conquer us, at the same time you would conquer the liberties of the Northern citizen. You will be at the mercy of the successful general whose triumph may make him the idol of the armed millions that alone can accomplish our subjugation. In the South, butchery and rapine by hordes of desperate negroes—in the North anarchy and political intrigue, to be merged into dictatorship and the absolutism of military power. Such would be the results of your triumph and our defeat."

"Those are the visions of a heated brain," said Harold. "I must confess that your fighting is better than your logic. There is no danger to our country that the loyalty of its people cannot overcome—as it will your rebellion."



CHAPTER XXVI.

They had now approached the edge of the plain which Oriana had pointed out on the preceding day. The sun, which had been tinging the western sky with gorgeous hues, was peering from among masses of purple and golden clouds, within an hour's space of the horizon. Captain Haralson, interested and excited by his disputation, had been riding leisurely along by the side of his prisoner, taking but little note of the route or of the lapse of time.

"Cease your unprofitable argument," cried Oriana, "and let us have a race over this beautiful plain. Look! 'tis as smooth as a race-course, and I will lay you a wager, Captain Haralson, that my Nelly will lead you to yonder clump, by a neck."

She touched her horse lightly with the whip, and turned from the road into the meadows.

"It is late, Miss Weems," said the Southron, "and I must report at headquarters before sundown. Besides, I am badly mounted, and it would be but a sorry victory to distance me. I pray you, let us return."

"Nonsense! Nelly is not breathed. I must have one fair run over this field; and, gentlemen, I challenge you both to outstrip Nelly if you can."

With a merry shout, she struck the fleet mare smartly on the flank, and the spirited animal, more at the sound of her voice than aroused by the whip-lash, stretched forward her neck and sprang over the tufted level. Harold waved his hand, as if in invitation, to his companion, and was soon urging his powerful horse in the same direction. Haralson shouted to them to stop, but they only turned their heads and beckoned to him gaily, and plunging the spurs into the strong but heavy-hoofed charger that he rode, he followed them as best he could. He kept close in their rear very well at first, but he soon observed that he was losing distance, and that the two swift steeds in front, that had been held in check a little at the start, were now skimming the smooth meadow at a tremendous pace.

"Halt!" he cried, at the top of his lungs; but either they heard it not or heeded it not, for they still swept on, bending low forward in the saddle, almost side by side.

A vague suspicion crossed his mind.

"Halt, there!"

Oriana glanced over her shoulder, and could see a sunray gleaming from something that he held in his right hand. He had drawn a pistol from his holster. She slackened her pace a little, and allowing Harold to take the lead, rode on in the line between him and the pursuer. Harold turned in his saddle. She could hear the tones of his voice rushing past her on the wind.

"Come no further with me, lest suspicion attach to yourself. The good horse will bear me beyond pursuit. Remember, it is for Arthur's sake I have consented you should make this sacrifice. God bless you! and farewell!"

A pistol-shot resounded in the air. Oriana knew it was fired but to intimidate—the distance was too great to give the leaden messenger a deadlier errand. Yet she drew rein, and waited, breathless with excitement and swift motion, till Haralson came up. He turned one reproachful glance upon her as he passed, and spurred on in pursuit. Harold turned once again, to assure himself that she was unhurt, then waved his hand, and urging his swift steed to the utmost, sped on toward the forest which was now close at hand. The two troopers soon came galloping up to where Oriana still sat motionless upon her saddle, watching the race with strained eyes and heaving bosom.

"Your prisoner has escaped," she said; "spur on in pursuit."

She knew that it was of no avail, for Harold had already disappeared among the mazes of the wood, and the sun was just dipping below the horizon. Darkness would soon shroud the fugitive in its friendly mantle. She turned Nelly's head homeward, and cantered silently away in the gathering twilight.



CHAPTER XXVII.

When Captain Haralson and the two troopers reached the verge of the forest, they could trace for a short distance the hoof-prints of Harold's horse, and followed them eagerly among the labyrinthine paths which the fugitive had made through the tangled shrubbery and among the briery thickets. But soon the gloom of night closed in upon them in the depth of the silent wood, and they were left without a sign by which to direct the pursuit. It was near midnight when they reached the further edge of the forest, and there, throwing fantastic gleams of red light among the shadows of the tall trees, they caught sight of what seemed to be the glimmer of a watchfire. Soon after, the growl of a hound was heard, followed by a deep-mouthed bay, and approaching cautiously, they were hailed by the watchful sentinel. It was a Confederate picket, posted on the outskirt of the forest, and Haralson, making himself known, rode up to where the party, awakened by their approach, had roused themselves from their blankets, and were standing with ready rifles beside the blazing fagots.

Haralson made known his errand to the officer in command, and the sentries were questioned, but all declared that nothing had disturbed their watch; if the fugitive had passed their line, he had succeeded in eluding their vigilance.

"I must send one of my men back to camp to report the escape," said Haralson, "and will ask you to spare me a couple of your fellows to help me hunt the Yankee down. Confound him, I deserve to lose my epaulettes for my folly, but I'll follow him to the Potomac, rather than return to headquarters without him."

"Who was it?" asked the officer; "was he of rank?"

"A captain, Captain Hare, well named for his fleetness; but he was mounted superbly, and I suspect the whole thing was cut and dried."

"Hare?" cried a hoarse voice; and the speaker, a tall, lank man, who had been stretched by the fire, with the head of a large, gaunt bloodhound in his lap, rose suddenly and stepped forward.

"Harold Hare, by G—d!" he exclaimed; "I know the fellow. Captain, I'm with you on this hunt, and Bully there, too, who is worth the pair of us. Hey, Bully?"

The dog stretched himself lazily, and lifted his heavy lip with a grin above the formidable fangs that glistened in the gleam of the watchfire.

"You may go," said his officer, "but I can't spare another. You three, with the dog, will be enough. Rawbon's as good a man as you can get, captain. Set a thief to catch a thief, and a Yankee to outwit a Yankee. You'd better start at once, unless you need rest or refreshment."

"Nothing," replied Haralson. "Let your man put something into his haversack. Good night, lieutenant. Come along, boys, and keep your eyes peeled, for these Yankees are slippery eels, you know."

Seth Rawbon had already bridled his horse that was grazing hard by, and the party, with the hound close at his master's side, rode forth upon their search.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

Harold had perceived the watchfire an hour earlier than his pursuers, having obtained thus much the advantage of them by the fleetness of his steed. He moved well off to the right, riding slowly and cautiously, until another faint glimmer in that direction gave him to understand that he was about equi-distant between two pickets of the enemy. He dismounted at the edge of the forest, and securing his steed to the branch of a tree, crept forward a few paces beyond the shelter of the wood, and looked about earnestly in the darkness. Nothing could be seen but the long, straggling line of the forest losing itself in the gloom, and the black outlines, of the hills before him; but his quick ear detected the sound of coming hoof and the ringing of steel scabbards. A patrol was approaching, and fearful that his horse, conscious of the neighborhood of his kind, might betray his presence with a sign of recognition, he hurried back, and standing beside the animal, caressed his glossy neck and won his attention with the low murmurs of his voice. The good steed remained silent, only pricking up his ears and peering through the branches as the patrol went clattering by. Harold waited till the trampling of hoofs died away in the distance, and judging, from their riding on without a challenge or a pause, that there was no sentry within hail, he mounted and rode boldly out into the open country. The stars were mostly obscured by heavy clouds, but here and there was a patch of clear blue sky, and his eye, practised with many a surveying night-tramp, discovered at last a twinkling guide by which to shape his path in a northerly direction. It was a wild, rough country over which he passed. With slow and careful steps, his sagacious steed moved on, obedient to the rein, at one time topping the crest of a rugged hill, and then winding at a snail's pace down the steep declivity, or following the tortuous course of the streamlet through deep ravines, whose jagged and bush-clad sides frowned down upon them on either side, deepening the gloom of night.

So all through the long hours of darkness, Harold toiled on his lonely way, startled at times by the shriek of the night bird, and listening intently to catch the sign of danger. At last the dawn, welcome although it enhanced the chances of detection, blushed faintly through the clouded eastern sky, and Harold, through the mists of morning, could see a fair and rolling landscape stretched before him. The sky was overcast, and presently the heavy drops began to fall. Consulting the little friendly compass which Oriana had given him, he pushed on briskly, turning always to the right or left, as the smoke, circling from some early housewife's kitchen, betrayed the dangerous neighborhood of a human habitation.

Crossing a rivulet, he dismounted, and filled a small leathern bottle that he carried with him, his good steed and himself meanwhile satisfying their thirst from the cool wave. His appetite, freshened by exercise, caused him to remember a package which Oriana's forethought had provided for him on the preceding afternoon. He drew it from, his pocket, and while his steed clipped the tender herbage from the streamlet's bank, he made an excellent breakfast of the corn bread and bacon, and other substantial edibles, which his kind friend had bountifully supplied. Man and horse thus refreshed, he remounted, and rode forward at a gallant pace, the strong animal he bestrode seeming as yet to show no signs of fatigue.

The rain was now falling in torrents, a propitious circumstance, since it lessened the probabilities of his encountering the neighboring inhabitants, most of whom must have sought shelter from the pelting storm. He occasionally came up with a trudging negro, sometimes a group of three or four, who answered timidly whenever he accosted them, and glanced at him askance, but yet gave the information he requested. Once, indeed, he could discern a troop of cavalry plashing along at same distance through the muddy road, but he screened himself in a cornfield, and was unobserved. His watch had been injured in the battle, and he had no means, except conjecture, of judging of the hour; but by the flagging pace of his horse, and his own fatigue, he knew that he must have been many hours in the saddle. Surely the Potomac must be at hand! Yet there was no sign of it, and over interminable hill and dale, through corn-fields, and over patches of woodland and meadow, the weary steed was urged on, slipping and sliding in the saturated soil. What was that sound which caused his horse to prick up his ears and quicken his pace with the instinct of danger? He heard it himself distinctly. It was the baying of a bloodhound.

"They are on my track!" muttered Harold; "and unless the river is at hand, I am lost. Forward, sir! forward, good fellow!" he shouted cheerily to his horse, and the noble animal, snorting and tossing his silken mane, answered with an effort, and broke into a gallop.

Down one hill into a little valley they pushed on, and up the ascent of another. They reached the crest, and then, thank Heaven! there was the broad river, winding through the valley. Dull and leaden hued as it looked, reflecting the clouded sky, he had never hailed it so joyfully when sparkling with sunbeams as he did at the close of that weary day. Yet the danger was not past; up and down the stream he gazed, and far to the right he could distinguish a group of tents peering from among the foliage of a grove, and marking the site of a Confederate battery. But just in front of him was a cheering sight; an armed schooner swung lazily at anchor in the channel, and the wet bunting that drooped listlessly over her stern, revealed the stars and stripes.

The full tones of the bloodhound's voice aroused him to the necessity of action; he turned in the saddle and glanced over the route he had come. On the crest of the hill beyond that on which he stood, the forms of three horsemen were outlined against the greyish sky. They distinguished him at the same moment, for he could hear their shouts of exultation, borne to him on the humid air.

It was yet a full mile to the river bank, and his horse was almost broken down with fatigue. Dashing his armed heels against the throbbing flanks of the jaded animal, he rushed down the hill in a straight line for the water. The sun was already below the horizon, and darkness was coming on apace. As he pushed on, the shouts of his pursuers rang louder upon his ear at every rod; it was evident that they were fresh mounted, while his own steed was laboring, with a last effort, over the rugged ground, stumbling among stones, and groaning at intervals with the severity of exertion. He could hear the trampling behind him, he could catch the words of triumph that seemed to be shouted almost in his very ear. A bullet whizzed by him, and then another, and with each report there came a derisive cheer. But it was now quite dark, and that, with the rapid motion, rendered him comparatively fearless of being struck. He spurred on, straining his eyes to see what was before him, for it seemed that the ground in front became suddenly and curiously lost in the mist and gloom. Just then, simultaneously with the report of a pistol, he felt his good steed quiver beneath him; a bullet had reached his flank, and the poor animal fell upon his knees and rolled over in the agony of death.

It was well that he had fallen; Harold, thrown forward a few feet, touched the earth upon the edge of the rocky bank that descended precipitously a hundred feet or more to the river—a few steps further, and horse and rider would have plunged over the verge of the bluff.

Harold, though bruised by his fall, was not considerably hurt; without hesitation, he commenced the hazardous descent, difficult by day, but perilous and uncertain in the darkness. Clinging to each projecting rock and feeling cautiously for a foothold among the slippery ledges, he had accomplished half the distance and could already hear the light plashing of the wave upon the boulders below. He heard a voice above, shouting: "Look out for the bluff there, we must be near it!"

The warning came too late. There was a cry of terror—the blended voice of man and horse, startling the night and causing Harold to crouch with instinctive horror close to the dripping rock. There was a rush of wind and the bounding by of a dark whirling body, which rolled over and over, tearing over the sharp angles of the cliff, and scattering the loose fragments of stone over him as he clung motionless to his support. Then there was a dull thump below, and a little afterward a terrible moan, and then all was still.

Harold continued his descent and reached the base of the bluff in safety. Through the darkness he could see a dark mass lying like a shadow among the pointed stones, with the waves of the river rippling about it. He approached it. There lay the steed gasping in the last agony, and the rider beneath him, crushed, mangled and dead. He stooped down by the side of the corpse; it was bent double beneath the quivering body of the dying horse, in such a manner as must have snapped the spine in twain. Harold lifted the head, but let it fall again with a shudder, for his fingers had slipped into the crevice of the cleft skull and were all smeared with the oozing brain. Yet, despite the obscurity and the disfigurement, despite the bursting eyeballs and the clenched jaws through which the blood was trickling, he recognized the features of Seth Rawbon.

No time for contemplation or for revery. There was a scrambling overhead, with now and then a snarl and an angry growl. And further up, he heard the sound of voices, labored and suppressed, as of men who were speaking while toiling at some unwonted exercise. Harold threw off his coat and boots, and waded out into the river. The dark hull of the schooner could be seen looming above the gloomy surface of the water, and he dashed toward it through the deepening wave. There was a splash behind him and soon he could hear the puffing and short breathing of a swimming dog. He was then up to his arm-pits in the water, and a few yards further would bring him off his footing. He determined to wait the onset there, while he could yet stand firm upon the shelving bottom. He had not long to wait. The bloodhound made directly for him; he could see his eyes snapping and glaring like red coals above the black water. Harold braced himself as well as he could upon the yielding sand, and held his poignard, Oriana's welcome gift, with a steady grasp. The dog came so close that his fetid breath played upon Harold's cheek; then he aimed a swift blow at his neck, but the brute dodged it like a fish. Harold lost his balance and fell forward into the water, but in falling, he launched out his left hand and caught the tough loose skin above the animal's shoulder. He held it with the grasp of a drowning man, and over and over they rolled in the water, like two sea monsters at their sport. With all his strength, Harold drew the fierce brute toward him, circling his neck tightly with his left arm, and pressed the sharp blade against his throat. The hot blood gushed out over his hand, but he drove the weapon deeper, slitting the sinewy flesh to the right and left, till the dog ceased to struggle. Then Harold flung the huge carcass from him, and struck out, breathless as he was, for the schooner. It was time, for already his pursuers were upon the bank, aiming their pistol shots at the black spot which they could just distinguish cleaving through the water. But a few vigorous strokes carried him beyond their vision and they ceased firing. Soon he heard the sound of muffled oars and a dark shape seemed to rise from the water in front of him. The watch on board the schooner, alarmed by the firing, had sent a boat's crew to reconnoitre. Harold divined that it was so, and hailing the approaching boat, was taken in, and ten minutes afterward, stood, exhausted but safe, upon the schooner's deck.



CHAPTER XXIX.

With the earliest opportunity, Harold proceeded to Washington, and sought an interview with the President, in relation to Arthur's case. Mr. Lincoln received him kindly, but could give no information respecting the arrest or alleged criminality of his friend. "There were so many and pressing affairs of state that he could find no room for individual cases in his memory." However, he referred him to the Secretary of War, with a request that the latter would look into the matter. By dint of persistent inquiries at various sources, Harold finally ascertained that the prisoner had a few days previously been released, upon the assurance of the surgeon at the fort, that his failing health required his immediate removal. Inquiry had been made into the circumstances leading to his arrest; made too late, however, to benefit the victim of a State mistake, whose delicate health had already been too severely tried by the discomforts attendant upon his situation. However, enough had been ascertained to leave but little doubt as to his innocence; and Arthur, with the ghastly signs of a rapid consumption upon his wan cheek, was dismissed from the portals of a prison, which had already prepared him for the tomb.

Harold hastened to Vermont, whither he knew the invalid had been conveyed. It was toward the close of the first autumn day that he entered the little village, upon whose outskirts was situated the farm of his dying friend. The air was mild and balmy, but the voices of nature seemed to him more hushed than usual, as if in mournful unison with his own sad reveries. He had passed on foot from the village to the farm-house, and when he opened the little white wicket, and walked along the gravelled avenue that led to the flower-clad porch, the willows on either side seemed to droop lower than willows are used to droop, and the soft September air sighed through the swinging boughs, like the prelude of a dirge.

Arthur was reclining upon an easy-chair upon the little porch, and beside him sat a venerable lady, reading from the worn silver-clasped Bible, which rested on her lap. The lady rose when he approached; and Arthur, whose gaze had been wandering among the autumn clouds, that wreathed the points of the far-off mountains, turned his head languidly, when the footsteps broke his dream.

He did not rise. Alas! he was too weak to do so without the support of his aged mother's arm, which had so often cradled him in infancy and had now become the staff of his broken manhood. But a beautiful and happy smile illumined his pale lips, and spread all over the thin and wasted features, like sunlight gleaming on the grey surface of a church-yard stone. He lifted his attenuated hand, and when Harold clasped it, the fingers were so cold and deathlike that their pressure seemed to close about his heart, compressing it, and chilling the life current in his veins.

"I knew that you would come, Harold. Although I read that you were missing at the close of that dreadful battle, something told me that we should meet again. Whether it was a sick man's fancy, or the foresight of a parting soul, it is realized, for you are here. And you come not too soon, Harold," he added, with a pressure of the feeble hand, "for I am going fast—fast from the discords of earth—fast to the calm and harmony beyond."

"Oh, Arthur, how changed you are!" said Harold, who could not keep from fastening his gaze on the white, sunken cheek and hollow eyes of his dying comrade. "But you will get better now, will you not—now that you are home again, and we can nurse you?"

Arthur shook his head with a mournful smile, and the fit of painful coughing which overtook him answered his friend's vain hope.

"No, Harold, no. All of earth is past to me, even hope. And I am ready, cheerful even, to go, except for the sake of some loved ones that will sorrow for me."

He took his mother's hand as he spoke, and looked at her with touching tenderness, while the poor dame brushed away her tears.

"I have but a brief while to stay behind," she said, "and my sorrow will be less, to know that you have ever been a good son to me. Oh, Mr. Hare, he might have lived to comfort me, and close my old eyes in death, if they had not been so cruel with him, and locked him within prison walls. He, who never dreamed of wrong, and never injured willingly a worm in his path."

"Nay, mother, they were not unkind to me in the fort, and did what they could to make me comfortable. But, Harold, it is wrong. I have thought of it in the long, weary nights in prison, and I have thought of it when I knew that death was beckoning me to come and rest from the thoughts of earth. It is wrong to tamper with the sacred law that shields the citizen. I believe that many a man within those fortress walls is as innocent in the eyes of God as those who sent him there. Yet I accuse none of willful wrong, but only of unconscious error. If the sacrifice of my poor life could shed one ray upon the darkness, I would rejoice to be the victim that I am, of a violated right. But all, statesmen, and chieftains, and humble citizens, are being swept along upon the whirlwinds of passion; all hearts are ablaze with the fiery magnificence of war, and none will take warning till the land shall be desolate, and thousands, stricken in their prime, shall be sleeping—where I shall soon be—beneath the cold sod. I am weary, mother, and chill. Let us go in."

They bore him in and helped him to his bed, where he lay pale and silent, seeming much worse from the fatigue of conversation and the excitement of his meeting with his old college friend. Mrs. Wayne left him in charge of Harold, while she went below to prepare what little nourishment he could take, and to provide refreshment for her guest.

Arthur lay, for a space, with his eyes closed, and apparently in sleep. But he looked up, at last, and stretched out his hand to Harold, who pressed the thin fingers, whiter than the coverlet on which they rested.

"Is mother there?"

"No, Arthur," replied Harold. "Shall I call her?"

"No. I thought to have spoken to you, to-morrow, of something that has been often my theme of thought; but I know not what strange feeling has crept upon me; and perhaps, Harold—for we know not what the morrow may bring—perhaps I had better speak now."

"It hurts you, Arthur; you are too weak. Indeed, you must sleep now, and to-morrow we shall talk."

"No; now, Harold. It will not hurt me, or if it does, it matters little now. Harold, I would fain that no shadow of unkindness should linger between us twain when I am gone."

"Why should there, Arthur? You have been my true friend always, and as such shall I remember you."

"Yet have I wronged you; yet have I caused you much grief and bitterness, and only your own generous nature preserved us from estrangement. Harold, have you heard from her?"

"I have seen her, Arthur. During my captivity, she was my jailer; in my sickness, for I was slightly wounded, she was my nurse. I will tell you all about it to-morrow."

"Yes, to-morrow," replied Arthur, breathing heavily. "To-morrow! the word sounds meaningless to me, like something whose significance has left me. Is she well, Harold?"

"Yes."

"And happy?"

"I think so, Arthur. As happy as any of us can be, amid severed ties and dread uncertainties."

"I am glad that she is well. Harold, you will tell her, for I am sure you will meet again, you will tell her it was my dying wish that you two should be united. Will you promise, Harold?"

"I will tell her all that you wish, Arthur."

"I seem to feel that I shall be happy in my grave, to know that, she will be your wife; to know that my guilty love—for I loved her, Harold, and it was guilt to love—to know that it left no poison behind, that its shadow has passed away from the path that you must tread."

"Speak not of guilt, my friend. There could live no crime between two such noble hearts. And had I thought you would have accepted the sacrifice, I could almost have been happy to have given her to you, so much was her happiness the aim of my own love."

"Yes, for you have a glorious heart, Harold; and I thank Heaven that she cannot fail to love you. And you do not think, do you, Harold, that it would be wrong for you two to speak of me when I am gone? I cannot bear to think that you should deem it necessary to drive me from your memories, as one who had stepped in between your hearts. I am sure she will love you none the less for her remembrance of me, and therefore sometimes you will talk together of me, will you not?"

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse