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His Sombre Rivals
by E. P. Roe
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"We hope to secure our independence," he added, "and to work out our national development according to the genius of our own people. I pray and hope for the time when the North and South may exist side by side as two friendly nations. Your noble words this afternoon found their echo in my heart. Even though my son should be slain by a Northern hand, as your friend has been by a Southern, I wish to cherish no vindictive bitterness and enmity. The question must now be settled by the stern arbitrament of battle; but when the war is over let it not be followed by an era of hate."

He then told Graham how he had lost his beloved wife years before, and how lonely and desolate he had been until Rita had learned to care for him and provide for his comfort with almost hourly vigilance.

"Yes," said Graham, "I have seen it; she is to you what my friend's wife is to her invalid father, the immeasurable blessing of his life. How it will be now I hardly know, for I fear that her grief will destroy her, and the old major, her father, could not long survive."

A note was now handed to the old gentleman, who, having read it, appeared greatly distressed. After a moment's hesitancy he gave it to Graham, who read as follows:

"I heard the North'ner speak this arternoon, an' I can't be one to take and rob him of his horse and send him to prison. But it'll be done to-night if you can't manage his escape. Every rode is watched, an' your house will be searched to-night. ONE OF THE BAND.

"You'll burn this an' keep mum or my neck will be stretched."

"Who brought the note?" Mr. Anderson asked, going to the door and questioning a colored woman.

"Dunno, mas'r. De do' open a little, and de ting flew in on de flo'."

"Well," said Graham, "I must mount and go at once;" and he was about to resume his arms.

"Wait, wait; I must think!" cried his host. "For you to go alone would be to rush into the very evils we are warned against. I am pained and humiliated beyond measure by this communication. Mr. Graham, do not judge us harshly. There is, I suppose, a vile sediment in every community, and there is here a class that won't enlist in open, honorable warfare, but prowl around, chiefly at night, intent on deeds like this."

"Papa," said Rita, who had read the warning, "I know what to do;" and her brave spirit flashed in her eyes.

"You, my child?"

"Yes. I'll prove to Mr. Graham what a Southern girl will do for a guest—for one who has trusted her. The deep, deep disgrace of his capture and robbery shall not come on our heads. I will guide him at once through the woods to old Uncle Jehu's cabin. No one will think of looking for him there; for there is little more than a bridle-path leading to it; but I know the way, every inch of it."

"But, Rita, I could send one of the servants with Mr. Graham."

"No, papa; he would be missed and afterward questioned, and some awful revenge taken on him. You must say that I have retired when the villains come. You must keep all our servants in. Mr. Graham and I will slip out. He can saddle his horse, and I, you know well, can saddle mine. Now we must apparently go to our rooms and within half an hour slip out unperceived and start. No one will ever dare touch me, even if it is found out."

"Pearl, priceless Pearl, I'll fight my way through all the guerillas in the land, rather than subject you to peril."

"You could not fight your way through them, the cowardly skulkers. What chance would you have in darkness? My plan brings me no peril, for if they met us they would not dare to touch me. But if it costs me my life I will go," she concluded passionately. "This disgrace must not fall on our people."

"Rita is right," said the old clergyman, solemnly. "I could scarcely survive the disgrace of having a guest taken from my home, and they would have to walk over my prostrate form before it could be done; and to send you out alone would be even more shameful. The plan does not involve much peril to Rita. Although, in a sense, you are my enemy, I will trust this pearl beyond price to your protection, and old Jehu will return with her until within a short distance of the house. As she says, I think no one in this region would harm her. I will co- operate with you, Rita, and entreat the Heavenly Father until I clasp you in my arms again. Act, act at once."

Graham was about to protest again, but she silenced him by a gesture that was almost imperious. "Don't you see that for papa's sake, for my own, as well as yours, I must go? Now let us say good-night as if we were parting unsuspicious of trouble. When I tap at your door, Mr. Graham, you will follow me; and you, papa, try to keep our people in ignorance."

Graham wrung the clergyman's hand in parting, and said, "You will always be to me a type of the noblest development of humanity."

"God bless you, sir," was the reply, "and sustain you through the dangers and trying scenes before you. I am but a simple old man, trying to do right with God's help. And, believe me, sir, the South is full of men as sincere as I am."

Within half an hour Graham followed his fair guide down a back stairway and out into the darkness. Rita's pony was at pasture in a field adjoining the stable, but he came instantly at her soft call.

"I shall not put on my saddle," she whispered. "If I leave it hanging in the stable it will be good evidence that I am in my room. There will be no need of our riding fast, and, indeed, I have often ridden without a saddle for fun. I will guide you to your horse and saddle in the dark stable, for we must take him out of a back door, so that there will be no sound of his feet on the boards."

Within a few moments they were passing like shadows down a shaded lane that led from the house to the forest, and then entered what was a mere bridle-path, the starlight barely enabling the keen-eyed Rita to make it out at times. The thick woods on either side prevented all danger of flank attacks. After riding some little time they stopped and listened. The absolute silence, broken only by the cries of the wild creatures of the night, convinced them that they were not followed. Then Rita said, "Old Jehu has a bright boy of sixteen or thereabout, and he'll guide you north through the woods as far as he can, and then God will protect and guide you until you are safe. I know He will help you to escape, that you may say words of comfort to the poor, broken-hearted wife."

"Yes, Pearl, I think I shall escape. I take your guidance as a good omen. If I could only be sure that no harm came to you and your noble father!"

"The worst of harm would have come to us had we permitted the evil that was threatened."

"You seem very young, Pearl, and yet you are in many ways very mature and womanly."

"I am young—only sixteen-but mamma's death and the responsibility it brought me made my childhood brief. Then Henry is five years older than I, and I always played with him, and, of course, you know I tried to reach up to those things that he thought about and did. I've never been to school. Papa is educating me, and oh, he knows so much, and he makes knowledge so interesting, that I can't help learning a little. And then Henry's going into the war, and all that is happening, makes me feel so very, very old and sad at times;" and so she continued in low tones to tell about herself and Henry and her father, of their hopes of final victory, and all that made up her life. This she did with a guileless frankness, and yet with a refined reserve that was indescribable in its simple pathos and beauty. In spite of himself Graham was charmed and soothed, while he wondered at the exquisite blending of girlhood and womanhood in his guide. She also questioned him about the North and the lands he had visited, about his aunt and Grace and her father; and Graham's tremulous tones as he spoke of Grace led her to say sorrowfully, "Ah, she is very, very dear to you also."

"Yes," he said, imitating her frankness, "she is dearer to me than my life. I would gladly have died in Hilland's place to have saved her this sorrow. Were it not for the hope of serving her in some way, death would have few terrors to me. There, my child, I have spoken to you as I have to only one other, my dear old aunty, who is like a mother. Your noble trust begets trust."

Then he became aware that she was crying bitterly.

"Pearl, Pearl," he said, "don't cry. I have become accustomed to a sad heart, and it's an old, old story."

"Oh, Mr. Graham, I remember hearing mamma say once that women learn more through their hearts than their heads. I have often thought of her words, and I think they must be true. Almost from the first my heart told me that there was something about you which made you different from other people. Why is the world so full of trouble of every kind? Ah, well, papa has taught me that heaven will make amends for everything."

They had now reached a little clearing, and Rita said that they were near Jehu's cabin, and that their final words had better be said before awakening the old man. "I must bathe my face, too," she added, "for he would not understand my tears," and went to a clear little spring but a few paces away.

Graham also dismounted. When she returned he took her hand and raised it reverently to his lips as he said, "Pearl, this is not a case for ordinary thanks. I no doubt owe my life, certainly my liberty, to you. On that I will not dwell. I owe to you and your father far more, and so does poor Grace Hilland. You insured a burial for my friend that will bring a world of comfort to those who loved him. The thought of your going to his grave and placing upon it fresh flowers from time to time will contain more balm than a thousand words of well-meant condolence. Pearl, my sweet, pure, noble child, is there nothing I can do for you?"

"Yes," she faltered; "it may be that you can return all that we have done a hundred-fold. It may be that you will meet Henry in battle. In the memory of his little sister you will spare him, will you not? If he should be captured I will tell him to write to you, and I feel sure that you will remember our lonely ride and the gray old father who is praying for you now, and will not leave him to suffer."

Graham drew a seal ring from his finger and said: "Dear Pearl, take this as a pledge that I will serve him in any way in my power and at any cost to myself. I hope the day will come when he will honor me with his friendship, and I would as soon strike the friend I have lost as your brother."

"Now I am content," she said. "I believe every word you say."

"And Grace Hilland will come some day and claim you as a sister dearly beloved. And I, sweet Pearl, will honor your memory in my heart of hearts. The man who wins you as his bride may well be prouder than an emperor."

"Oh, no, Mr. Graham, I'm just a simple Southern girl."

"There are few like you, I fear, South or North. You are a girl to kindle every manly instinct and power, and I shall be better for having known you. The hope of serving you and yours in some way and at some time will give a new zest and value to my life."

"Do not speak so kindly or I shall cry again. I've been afraid you would think me silly, I cry so easily. I do not think we Southern girls are like those at the North. They are colder, I imagine, or at least more able to control their feelings. Papa says I am a child of the South. I can't decide just how much or how little I ought to feel on all occasions, and ever since I saw you mourning over your friend with just such passionate grief as I should feel, my whole heart has ached for you. You will come and see us again if you have a chance?"

"I will make chances, Pearl, even though they involve no little risk."

"No, no; don't do that. You ought to care too much for us to do that. Nothing would give me pleasure that brought danger to you. If I could only know that you reached your friends in safety!"

"I'll find a way of letting you know if I can."

"Well, then, good-by. It's strange, but you seem like an old, old friend. Oh, I know Henry will like you, and that you will like him. Next to mamma's, your ring shall be my dearest treasure. I shall look at it every night and think I have added one more chance of Henry's safety. Oh, I could worship the man who saved his life."

"And any man might worship you. Good-by, Pearl;" and he kissed her hand again and again, then lifted her on her pony with a tenderness that was almost an embrace, and she rode slowly to the door of a little log cabin, while Graham remained concealed in the shadow of the woods until it was made certain that no one was in the vicinity except Jehu and his family.

The old man was soon aroused, and his ejaculations and exclamations were innumerable.

"No, missy, dars no un been roun' heah for right smart days. It's all safe, an' Jehu an' his ole ooman knows how ter keep mum when Mas'r Anderson says mum; an' so does my peart boy Huey"—who, named for his father, was thus distinguished from him. "An' de hossifer is a Linkum man? Sho, sho! who'd a tink it, and his own son a 'Federate! Well, well, Mas'r Anderson isn't low-down white trash. If he thought a ting was right I reckon de hull worl' couldn't make him cut up any white- trash didoes."

When Rita explained further the old negro replied with alacrity: "Ob cose Jehu will took you home safe, an' proud he'll be ter go wid you, honey. You'se a mighty peart little gal, an' does youse blood an' broughten up jestice. Mighty few would dar' ride five mile troo de lonesome woods wid a strange hossifer, if he be a Linkum man. He mus' be sumpen like Linkum hisself. Yes, if you bain't afeared ter show him de way, Huey needn't be;" and the boy, who was now wide awake, said he'd "like notten better dan showin' a Linkum man troo de woods."

Graham was summoned, and in a few moments all was arranged.

He then drew the old man aside and said, "You good, faithful old soul, take care of that girl as the apple of your eye, for she has only one equal in the world. Here is one hundred dollars. That will pay for a good many chickens and vegetables, won't it?"

"Lor' bless you, mas'r, dey ain't chickens nuff in Ole Virginny to brought hundred dollars."

"Well, I'll tell you what I'm afraid of. This region may be wasted by war, like so many others. You may not be troubled in this out-of-the- way place. If Mr. Anderson's family is ever in need, you are now paid to supply them with all that you can furnish"

"'Deed I is, mas'r, double paid."

"Be faithful to them and you shall have more 'Linkum money,' as you call it. Keep it, for your money down here won't be worth much soon."

"Dat's shoah. De cullud people bain't all prayin' for Linkum for notten."

"Good-by. Do as I say and you shall be taken care of some day. Say nothing about this."

"Mum's de word all roun' ter-night, mas'r."

"Huey, are you ready?"

"I is, mas'r."

"Lead the way, then;" and again approaching Rita, Graham took off his hat and bowed low as he said, "Give my grateful greeting to your honored father, and may every hope of his heart be fulfilled in return for his good deeds today. As for you, Miss Anderson, no words can express my profound respect and unbounded gratitude. We shall meet again in happier times;" and backing his horse, while he still remained uncovered, he soon turned and followed Huey.

"Well, now," ejaculated Jehu. "'Clar ter you ef dat ar Linkum hossifer bain't nigh onter bein' as fine a gemman as Mas'r Henry hisself. Won't you take some 'freshment, missy? No? Den I'se go right 'long wid you."

Rita enjoined silence, ostensibly for the reason that it was prudent, but chiefly that she might have a respite from the old man's garrulousness. Her thoughts were very busy. The first romance of her young life had come, and she still felt on her hands the kisses that had been so warm and sincere, although she knew they were given by one who cherished a hopeless love. After all, it was but her vivid Southern imagination that had been kindled by the swift, strange events of the past twenty-four hours. With the fine sense of the best type of dawning womanhood, she had been deeply moved by Graham's strong nature. She had seen in him a love for another man that was as tender and passionate as that of a woman, and yet it was bestowed upon the husband of the woman whom he had loved for years. That he had not hesitated to risk captivity and death in returning for his friend proved his bravery to be unlimited, and a Southern girl adores courage. For a time Graham would be the ideal of her girlish heart. His words of admiration and respect were dwelt upon, and her cheeks flushed up seen in the deep shadow of the forest. Again her tears would fall fast as she thought of his peril and of all the sad scenes of the day and the sadder ones still to come. Grace Hilland, a Southern girl like herself, became a glorified image to her fancy, and it would now be her chief ambition to be like her. She would keep her lovely portrait on her bureau beside her Bible, and it should be almost equally sacred.

In the edge of the forest she parted from Jehu with many and warm thanks, for she thought it wise that there should not be the slightest chance of his being seen. She also handed him a Confederate bill out of her slender allowance, patted him on the shoulder as she would some faithful animal, and rode away. He crept along after her till he saw her let down some bars and turn her pony into the fields. He then crept on till he saw her enter a door, and then stole back to the forest and shambled homeward as dusky as the shadows in which he walked, chuckling, "Missy Rita, sweet honey, guv me one of dern 'Federate rags. Oh, golly! I'se got more money—live Linkum money—dan Mas'r Anderson hisself, and I'se got notten ter do but raise chickens an' garden sass all my born days. Missy Rita's red cheeks never grow pale long as Jehu or Huey can tote chickens and sass."



CHAPTER XXX

GUERILLAS

Graham, beyond a few low, encouraging words, held his peace and also enjoined silence on his youthful guide. His plan was to make a wide circuit around the battlefield of the previous day, and then strike the trail of the Union forces, which he believed he could follow at night. Huey thought that this could be done and that they could keep in the shelter of the woods most of the distance, and this they accomplished, reconnoitring the roads most carefully before crossing them. Huey was an inveterate trapper; and as his pursuit was quite as profitable as raising "sass," old Jehu gave the boy his own way. Therefore he knew every path through the woods for miles around.

The dawn was in the east before Graham reached the Union trail, and be decided to spend the day in a dense piece of woods not very far distant. Huey soon settled the question of Mayburn's provender by purloining a few sheaves of late oats from a field that they passed; but when they reached their hiding-place Graham was conscious that he was in need of food himself, and he also remembered that a boy is always ravenous.

"Well, Huey," he said, "in providing for the horse you have attended to the main business, but what are we going to do?"

"We'se gwine ter do better'n de hoss. If mas'r'll 'zamine his saddle- bags, reckon he'll fine dat Missy Rita hain't de leddy to sen' us off on a hunt widout a bite of suthin' good. She sez, sez she to me, in kind o' whisper like, 'Mas'r Graham'll fine suthin' you'll like, Huey;'" and the boy eyed the saddle-bags like a young wolf.

"Was there ever such a blessed girl!" cried Graham, as he pulled out a flask of wine, a fowl cut into nice portions, bread, butter, and relishes—indeed, the best that her simple housekeeping afforded in the emergency. In the other bag there was also a piece of cake of such portentous size that Huey clasped his hands and rolled up his eyes as he had seen his parents do when the glories of heaven were expatiated upon in the negro prayer-meetings.

"That's all for you, Huey, and here's some bread and cold ham to go with it. When could she have provided these things so thoughtfully? It must have been before she called me last night. Now, Huey, if you ever catch anything extra nice in the woods you take it to Miss Rita. There is ten dollars to pay you; and when the Lincoln men get possession here I'll look after you and give you a fine chance, if you have been faithful. You must not tell Miss Rita what I say, but seem to do all of your own accord. I wish I had more money with me, but you will see me again, and I will make it all right with you."

"It's all right now, mas'r. What wouldn't I do for Missy Rita? When my ole mammy was sick she bro't med'cin, and a right smart lot ob tings, and brung her troo de weariness. Golly! Wonder Missy Rita don't go straight up ter heben like dem rackets dey shoots when de 'Federates say dey hab a vict'ry;" and then the boy's mouth became so full that he was speechless for a long time.

The sense of danger, and the necessity for the utmost vigilance, had diverted Graham's thoughts during his long night ride; and with a soldier's habit he had concentrated his faculties on the immediate problem of finding the trail, verifying Huey's local knowledge by observation of the stars. Now, in the cool summer morning, with Rita's delicious repast before him, life did not seem so desperate a thing as on the day before. Although exceedingly wearied, the strength of mind which would enable him to face his sad tasks was returning. He thought little about the consequences of his disobedience to orders, and cared less. If he lost his rank he would enlist as a private soldier after he had done all in his power for Grace, who had been committed to his care by Hilland's last words. He felt that she had the most sacred claims upon him, and yet he queried, "What can I do for her beyond communicating every detail of her husband's last hours and his burial? What remedy is there for a sorrow like hers?"

At the same time he felt that a lifelong and devoted friendship might bring solace and help at times, and this hope gave a new value to his life. He also thought it very possible that the strange vicissitudes of war might put it in his power to serve the Andersons, in whom he felt a grateful interest that only such scenes as had just occurred could have awakened. It would ever be to him a source of unalloyed joy to add anything to Rita Anderson's happiness.

His kind old aunt, too, had her full share of his thoughts as he reclined on the dun-colored leaves of the previous year and reviewed the past and planned for the future. He recalled her words, "that good would come of it," when he had promised to "live and do his best." Although in his own life he had missed happiness, there was still a prospect of his adding much to the well-being of others.

But how could he meet Grace again? He trembled at the very thought. Her grief would unman him. It was agony even to imagine it; and she might, in her ignorance of an officer's duties in battle, think that if he had kept near Hilland the awful event might have been averted.

After all, he could reach but one conclusion—to keep his old promise "to do his best," as circumstances indicated.

Asking Huey, who had the trained ear of a hunter, to watch and listen, he took some sleep in preparation for the coming night, and then gave the boy a chance to rest.

The day passed quietly, and in the evening he dismissed Huey, with assurances to Rita and her father that a night's ride would bring him within the Union lines, and that he now knew the way well. The boy departed in high spirits, feeling that he would like "showin' Linkum men troo de woods" even better than trapping.

Then looking well to his arms, and seeing that they were ready for instant use, Graham started on his perilous ride, walking his horse and stopping to listen from time to time. Once in the earlier part of the night he heard the sound of horses' feet, and drawing back into the deep shadow of the woods he saw three or four men gallop by. They were undoubtedly guerillas looking for him, or on some prowl with other objects in view. At last he knew he must be near his friends, and he determined to push on, even though the dawn was growing bright; but he had hardly reached this conclusion when but a short distance in advance a dozen horsemen dashed out of a grove and started toward him.

They were part of "The Band," who, with the instincts of their class, conjectured too truly that, since he had eluded them thus far, their best chance to intercept him would be at his natural approach to the Union lines; and now, with the kind of joy peculiar to themselves, they felt that their prey was in their power, beyond all hope of escape, for Graham was in plain sight upon a road inclosed on either side by a high rail fence. There were so many guerillas that there was not a ghost of a chance in fighting or riding through them, and for a moment his position seemed desperate.

"It's Mayburn to the rescue now," he muttered, and he turned and sped away, and every leap of his noble horse increased the distance between him and his pursuers. His confidence soon returned, for he felt that unless something unforeseen occurred he could ride all around them. His pursuers fired two shots, which were harmless enough, but to his dismay Graham soon learned that they were signals, for from a farmhouse near other horsemen entered the road, and he was between two parties.

There was not a moment to lose. Glancing ahead, he saw a place where the fence had lost a rail or two. He spurred toward it, and the gallant horse flew over like a bird into a wide field fringed on the further side by a thick growth of timber. Bullets from the intercepting party whizzed around him; but he sped on unharmed, while his pursuers only stopped long enough to throw off a few rails, and then both of the guerilla squads rode straight for the woods, with the plan of keeping the fugitive between them, knowing that in its tangle he must be caught.

Graham resolved to risk another volley in order to ride around the pursuers nearest the Union lines, thus throwing them in the rear, with no better chance than a stern chase would give them. In order to accomplish this, however, he had to circle very near the woods, and in doing so saw a promising wood-road leading into them. The yelling guerillas were so close as to make his first plan of escape extremely hazardous; therefore, following some happy instinct he plunged into the shade of the forest. The road proved narrow, but it was open and unimpeded by overhanging boughs. Indeed, the trees were the straight, slender pines in which the region abounded, and he gained on all of his pursuers except two, who, like himself, were superbly mounted. The thud of their horses' hoofs kept near, and he feared that he might soon come to some obstruction which would bring them to close quarters. Mayburn was giving signs of weariness, for his mettle had been sorely tried of late, and Graham resolved to ambush his pursuers if possible. An opportunity occurred speedily, for the road made a sharp turn, and there was a small clearing where the timber had been cut. The dawn had as yet created but a twilight in the woods, and the obscurity aided his purpose. He drew up by the roadside at the beginning of the clearing, and in a position where he could not readily be seen until the guerillas were nearly abreast, and waited, with his heavy revolver in hand and his drawn sword lying across the pommel of his saddle.

On they came at a headlong pace, and passed into the clearing but a few feet away. There were two sharp reports, with the slightest possible interval. The first man dropped instantly; the other rode wildly for a few moments and then fell headlong, while the riderless horses galloped on for a time.

Graham, however, soon overtook them, and with far more compunction than he had felt in shooting their riders, he struck them such a blow with his sword on their necks, a little back of their ears, that they reeled and fell by the roadside. He feared those horses more than all "The Band"; for if mounted again they might tire Mayburn out in a prolonged chase.

To his great joy the wood lane soon emerged into another large open field, and he now felt comparatively safe.

The guerillas, on hearing the shots, spurred on exultantly, feeling sure of their prey, but only to stumble over their fallen comrades. One was still able to explain the mode of their discomfiture; and the dusky road beyond at once acquired wholesome terrors for the survivors, who rode on more slowly and warily, hoping now for little more than the recapture of the horses, which were the envy of all their lawless hearts. Your genuine guerilla will always incur a heavy risk for a fine horse. They soon discovered the poor brutes, and saw at a glance that they would be of no more service in irregular prowlings. Infuriated more at the loss of the beasts than at that of the men, they again rushed forward only to see Graham galloping easily away in the distance.

Even in their fury they recognized that further pursuit was useless, and with bitter curses on their luck, they took the saddles from the fallen horses, and carried their associates, one dead and the other dying, to the farmhouse in which dwelt a sympathizer, who had given them refreshment during the night.

A few hours later—for he travelled the rest of the way very warily— Graham reported to his colonel, and found the brigade under orders to move on the following morning, provided with ten days' rations.

The officer was both delighted and perplexed. "It's a hard case," he said. "You acted from the noblest impulses; but it was flat disobedience to orders."

"I know it. I shall probably be dismissed from the service. If so, colonel, I will enlist as a private in your regiment. Then you can shoot me if I disobey again."

"Well, you are the coolest fellow that ever wore the blue. Come with me to headquarters."

The fact of his arrival, and an imperfect story of what had occurred, soon got abroad among the men; and they were wild in their approval, cheering him with the utmost enthusiasm as he passed to the brigadier's tent. The general was a genuine cavalryman; and was too wise in his day and generation to alienate his whole brigade by any martinetism. He knew Graham's reputation well, and he was about starting on a dangerous service. The cheers of the men crowding to his tent spoke volumes. Hilland's regiment seemed half beside themselves when they learned that Graham had found their lieutenant-colonel dying on the field, and that he had been given an honorable burial. The general, therefore, gave Graham a most cordial welcome; and said that the question was not within his jurisdiction, and that he would forward full particulars at once through the proper channels to the Secretary of War, adding, "We'll be on the march before orders can reach you. Meanwhile take your old command."

Then the story had to be repeated in detail to the chief officers of the brigade. Graham told it in as few words as possible, and they all saw that his grief was so profound that the question of his future position in the army was scarcely thought of. "I am not a sentimental recruit," he said in conclusion. "I know the nature of my offence, and will make no plea beyond that I believed that all danger to our command had passed, and that it would ride quietly into camp, as it did. I also thought that my superiors in giving the order were more concerned for my safety than, for anything else. What the consequences are to myself personally, I don't care a straw. There are some misfortunes which dwarf all others." The conference broke up with the most hearty expressions of sympathy, and the regret for Hilland's death was both deep and genuine.

"I have a favor to ask my colonel, with your approval, General," said Graham. "I would like to take a small detachment and capture the owner of the farmhouse at which was harbored part of the guerilla band from which I escaped. I would like to make him confess the names of his associates, and send word to them that if harm comes to any who showed kindness or respect to officers of our brigade, severe punishment will be meted out on every one whenever the region is occupied by Union forces."

"I order the thing to be done at once," cried the general. "Colonel, give Major Graham as many men as he needs; and, Graham, send word we'll hang every mother's son of 'em and burn their ranches if they indulge in any more of their devilish outrages. Bring the farmer into camp, and I will send him to Washington as a hostage."

On this occasion Graham obeyed orders literally. The farmer and two of the guerillas were captured; and when threatened with a noosed rope confessed the names of the others. A nearly grown son of the farmer was intrusted with the general's message to their associates; and Graham added emphatically that he intended to come himself some day and see that it was obeyed. "Tell them to go into the army and become straightforward soldiers if they wish, but if I ever hear of another outrage I'll never rest till the general's threat is carried out."

Graham's deadly pistol shots and the reputation he had gained in the vicinity gave weight to his words; and "The Band" subsided into the most humdrum farmers of the region. Rita had ample information of his safety, for it soon became known that he had killed two of the most active and daring of the guerillas and captured three others; and she worshipped the hero of her girlish fancy all the more devoutly.



CHAPTER XXXI

JUST IN TIME

Graham returned to camp early in the afternoon, and was again greeted with acclamations, for the events that had occurred had become better known. The men soon saw, however, from his sad, stern visage that he was in no mood for ovations, and that noisy approval of his course was very distasteful. After reporting, he went directly to his tent; its flaps were closed, and Iss was instructed to permit no one to approach unless bearing orders. The faithful negro, overjoyed at his master's safe return, marched to and fro like a belligerent watch-dog.

Graham wrote the whole story to his aunt, and besought her to make known to Grace with all the gentleness and tact that she possessed the awful certainty of her husband's death. A telegram announcing him among the missing had already been sent. "Say to her," he said, in conclusion, "that during every waking moment I am grieving for her and with her. Oh, I tremble at the effect of her grief: I dread its consequences beyond all words. You know that every power I possess is wholly at her service. Write me daily and direct me what to do—if, alas! it is within my power to do anything in regard to a grief that is without remedy."

He then explained that the command was under orders to move the following day, and that he would write again when he could.

During the next two weeks he saw some active service, taking part in several skirmishes and one severe engagement. In the last it was his fortune to receive on the shoulder a sabre-cut which promised to be a painful though not a dangerous wound, his epaulet having broken the force of the blow.

On the evening of the battle a telegram was forwarded to him containing the words:

"Have written fully. Come home if you can for a short time. All need you. CHARLOTTE MAYBURN."

In the rapid movements of his brigade his aunt's letters had failed to reach him, and now he esteemed his wound most fortunate since it secured him a leave of absence.

His journey home was painful in every sense of the word. He was oppressed by the saddest of memories. He both longed and dreaded unspeakably to see Grace, and the lack of definite tidings from her left his mind a prey to the dreariest forebodings, which were enhanced by his aunt's telegram. The physical pain from which he was never free was almost welcomed as a diversion from his distress of mind. He stopped in Washington only long enough to have his wound re-dressed, and pushed northward. A fatality of delays irritated him beyond measure; and it was late at night when he left the cars and was driven to his aunt's residence.

A yearning and uncontrollable interest impelled him to approach first the cottage which contained the woman, dearer to him than all the world, who had been so strangely committed to his care. To his surprise there was a faint light in the library; and Hilland's ill- omened dream flashed across his mind. With a prophetic dread at heart, he stepped lightly up the piazza to a window. As he turned the blinds he witnessed a scene that so smote his heart that he had to lean against the house for support. Before him was the reality of poor Hilland's vision.

On the rug before the flickering fire the stricken wife crouched, wringing her hands, which looked ghostly in their whiteness. A candle burning dimly on a table increased the light of the fire; and by their united rays he saw, with a thrill of horror, that her loosened hair, which covered her bowed face and shoulders, was, in truth, silver white; and its contrast with her black wrapper made the whole scene, linked as it was with a dead man's dream, so ghostly that he shuddered, and was inclined to believe it to be the creation of his overwrought senses. In self-distrust he looked around. Other objects were clear in the faint moonlight. He was perfectly conscious of the dull ache of his wound. Had the phantom crouched before the fire vanished? No; but now the silver hair was thrown back, and Grace Hilland's white, agonized face was lifted heavenward. Oh, how white it was!

She slowly took a dark-colored vial from her bosom.

Thrilled with unspeakable horror, "Grace!" he shouted, and by a desperate effort threw the blind upward and off from its hinges, and it fell with a crash on the veranda. Springing into the apartment, he had not reached her side before the door opened, and his aunt's frightened face appeared.

"Great God! what does this mean, Alford?"

"What does it mean, indeed!" he echoed in agonized tones, as he knelt beside Grace, who had fallen on the floor utterly unconscious. "Bring the candle here," he added hoarsely.

She mechanically obeyed and seemed almost paralyzed. After a moment's search he snatched up something and cried: "She's safe, she's safe! The cork is not removed." Then he thrust the vial into his pocket, and lifted Grace gently on the lounge, saying meanwhile: "She has only fainted; surely 'tis no more. Oh, as you value my life and hers, act. You should know what to do. I will send the coachman for a physician instantly, and will come when you need me."

Rushing to the man's room, he dragged him from his bed, shook him awake, and gave him instructions and offers of reward that stirred the fellow's blood as it had never been stirred before; and yet when he reached the stable he found that Graham had broken the lock and had a horse saddled and ready.

"Now ride," he was commanded, "as if the devil you believe in was after you."

Then Graham rushed back into the house, for he was almost beside himself. But when he heard the poor old major calling piteously, and asking what was the matter, he was taught his need of self-control. Going up to the veteran's room, he soothed him by saying that he had returned late in the night in response to his aunt's telegram, and that he had found Grace fainting on the floor, that Mrs. Mayburn and the servants were with her, and that a physician had been sent for.

"Oh, Graham, Graham," moaned the old man, "I fear my peerless girl is losing her mind, she has acted so strangely of late. It's time you came. It's time something was done, or the worst may happen."

With an almost overwhelming sense of horror, Graham remembered how nearly the worst had happened, but he only said: "Let us hope the worst has passed. I will bring you word from Mrs. Mayburn from time to time."

His terrible anxiety was only partially relieved, for his aunt said that Grace's swoon was obstinate, and would not yield to the remedies she was using. "Come in," she cried. "This is no time for ceremony. Take brandy and chafe her wrists."

What a mortal chill her cold hands gave him! It was worse than when Hilland's hands were cold in his.

"Oh, aunt, she will live?"

"Certainly," was the brusque reply. "A fainting turn is nothing. Come, you are cool in a battle: be cool now. It won't do for us all to lose our wits, although Heaven knows there's cause enough."

"How white her face and neck are!"—for Mrs. Mayburn had opened her wrapper at the throat, that she might breathe more easily—"just as Hilland saw her in his dream."

"Have done with your dreams, and omens, and all your weird nonsense. It's time for a little more common-sense. Rub her wrists gently but strongly; and if she shows signs of consciousness, disappear."

At last she said hastily, "Go"

Listening at the door, he heard Grace ask, a few moments later, in a faint voice, "What has happened?'"

"You only fainted, deary."

"Why—why—I'm in the library."

"Yes, you got up in your sleep, and I followed you; and the doctor will soon be here, although little need we have of him."

"Oh, I've had a fearful dream. I thought I saw Warren or Alford. I surely heard Alford's voice."

"Yes, dear, I've no doubt you had a bad dream; and it may be that Alford's voice caused it, for he arrived late last night and has been talking with your father."

"That must be it," she sighed; "but my head is so confused. Oh, I am so glad he's come! When can I see him?"

"Not till after the doctor comes and you are much stronger."

"I wish to thank him; I can't wait to thank him."

"He doesn't want thanks, deary; he wants you to get well. You owe it to him and your father to get well—as well as your great and lifelong sorrow permits. Now, deary, take a little more stimulant, and then don't talk. I've explained everything, and shown you your duty; and I know that my brave Grace will do it."

"I'll try," she said, with a pathetic weariness in her voice that brought a rush of tears to Graham's eyes.

Returning to Major St. John, he assured him that Grace had revived, and that he believed she would be herself hereafter.

"Oh, this cursed war!" groaned the old man; "and how I have exulted in it and Warren's career! I had a blind confidence that he would come out of it a veteran general while yet little more than a boy. My ambition has been punished, punished; and I may lose both the children of whom I was so proud. Oh, Graham, the whole world is turning as black as Grace's mourning robes."

"I have felt that way myself. But, Major, as soldiers we must face this thing like men. The doctor has come; and I will bring him here before he goes, to give his report."

"Well, Graham, a father's blessing on you for going back for Warren. If Grace had been left in suspense as to his fate she would have gone mad in very truth. God only knows how it will be now; but she has a better chance in meeting and overcoming the sharp agony of certainty."

Under the physician's remedies Grace rallied more rapidly; and he said that if carried to her room she would soon sleep quietly.

"I wish to see Mr. Graham first," she said, decisively.

To Mrs. Mayburn's questioning glance, he added, "Gratify her. I have quieting remedies at hand."

"He will prove more quieting than all remedies. He saved my husband's life once, and tried to do so again; and I wish to tell him I never forget it night or day. He is brave, and strong, and tranquil; and I feel that to take his hand will allay the fever in my brain."

"Grace, I am here," he said, pushing open the door and bending his knee at her side while taking her hand. "Waste no strength in thanks. School your broken heart into patience; and remember how dear, beyond all words, your life is to others. Your father's life depends on yours."

"I'll try," she again said; "I think I feel better, differently. An oppression that seemed stifling, crushing me, is passing away. Alford, was there no chance—no chance at all of saving him?"

"Alas! no; and yet it is all so much better than it might have been! His grave is in a quiet, beautiful spot, which you can visit; and fresh flowers are placed upon it every day. Dear Grace, compare your lot with that of so many others whose loved ones are left on the field."

"As he would have been were it not for you, my true, true friend," and she carried his hand to her lips in passionate gratitude. Then tears gushed from her eyes, and she sobbed like a child.

"Thank the good God!" ejaculated Mrs. Mayburn. "These are the first tears she has shed. She will be better now. Come, deary, you have seen Alford. He is to stop with us a long time, and will tell you everything over and over. You must sleep now."

Graham kissed her hand and left the room, and the servants carried her to her apartment. Mrs. Mayburn and the physician soon joined him in the library, which was haunted by a memory that would shake his soul to his dying day.

The physician in a cheerful mood said, "I now predict a decided change for the better. It would almost seem that she had had some shock which has broken the evil spell; and this natural flow of tears is better than all the medicine in the world;" and then he and Mrs. Mayburn explained how Grace's manner had been growing so strange and unnatural that they feared her mind was giving way.

"I fear you were right," Graham replied sadly; and he told them of the scene he had witnessed, and produced the vial of laudanum.

The physician was much shocked, but Mrs. Mayburn had already guessed the truth from her nephew's words and manner when she first discovered him.

"Neither Grace nor her father must ever know of this," she said, with a shudder.

"Certainly not; but Dr. Markham should know. As her physician, he should know the whole truth."

"I think that phase of her trouble has passed," said the doctor, thoughtfully; "but, as you say, I must be on my guard. Pardon me, you do not look well yourself. Indeed, you look faint;" for Graham had sunk into a chair.

"I fear I have been losing considerable blood," said Graham, carelessly; "and now that this strong excitement is passing, it begins to tell. I owe my leave of absence to a wound."

"A wound!" cried his aunt, coming to his side. "Why did you not speak of it?"

"Indeed, there has been enough to speak of beyond this trifle. Take a look at my shoulder, doctor, and do what you think best."

"And here is enough to do," was his reply as soon as Graham's shoulder was bared: "an ugly cut, and all broken loose by your exertions this evening. You must keep very quiet and have good care, or this reopened wound will make you serious trouble."

"Well, doctor, we have so much serious trouble on hand that a little more won't matter much."

His aunt inspected the wound with grim satisfaction, and then said, sententiously: "I'm glad you have got it, Alford, for it will keep you home and divert Grace's thoughts. In these times a wound that leaves the heart untouched may be useful; and nothing cures a woman's trouble better than having to take up the troubles of others. I predict a deal of healing for Grace in your wound."

"All which goes to prove," added the busy physician, "that woman's nature is different from man's."

When he was gone, having first assured the major over and over again that all danger was past, Graham said, "Aunt, Grace's hair is as white as yours."

"Yes; it turned white within a week after she learned the certainty of her husband's death."

"Would that I could have died in Hilland's place!"

"Yes," said the old lady, bitterly; "you were always too ready to die."

He drew her down to him as he lay on the lounge, and kissed her tenderly, as he said, "But I have kept my promise 'to live and do my best.'"

"You have kept your promise to live after a fashion. My words have also proved true, 'Good has come of it, and more good will come of it.'"



CHAPTER XXXII

A WOUNDED SPIRIT

Grace's chief symptom when she awoke on the following morning was an extreme lassitude. She was almost as weak as a violent fever would have left her, but her former unnatural and fitful manner was gone. Mrs. Mayburn told Graham that she had had long moods of deep abstraction, during which her eyes would be fixed on vacancy, with a stare terrible to witness, and then would follow uncontrollable paroxysms of grief.

"This morning, "said her anxious nurse, "she is more like a broken lily that has not strength to raise its head. But the weakness will pass; she'll rally. Not many die of grief, especially when young."

"Save her life, aunty, and I can still do a man's part in the world."

"Well, Alford, you must help me. She has been committed to your care; and it's a sacred trust"

Graham was now installed in his old quarters, and placed under Aunt Sheba's care. His energetic aunt, however, promised to look in upon him often, and kept her word. The doctor predicted a tedious time with his wound, and insisted on absolute quiet for a few days. He was mistaken, however. Time would not be tedious, with frequent tidings of Grace's convalescence and her many proofs of deep solicitude about his wound.

Grace did rally faster than had been expected. Her system had received a terrible shock, but it had not been enfeebled by disease. With returning strength came an insatiate craving for action—an almost desperate effort to occupy her hands and mind. Before it was prudent for Graham to go out or exert himself—for his wound had developed some bad symptoms—she came to see him, bringing delicacies made with her own hands.

Never had her appearance so appealed to his heart. Her face had grown thin, but its lovely outlines remained; and her dark eyes seemed tenfold more lustrous in contrast with her white hair. She had now a presence that the most stolid would turn and look after with a wondering pity and admiration, while those gifted with a fine perception could scarcely see her without tears. Graham often thought that if she could be turned into marble she would make the ideal statue representing the women of both the contending sections whose hearts the war had broken.

As she came and went, and as he eventually spent long hours with her and her father, she became to him a study of absorbing interest, in which his old analytical bent was not wholly wanting. "What," he asked himself every hour in the day, "will be the effect of an experience like this on such a woman? what the final outcome?" There was in this interest no curiosity, in the vulgar sense of the word. It was rather the almost sleepless suspense of a man who has everything at stake, and who, in watching the struggle of another mind to cope with misfortune, must learn at the same time his own fate. It was far more than this—it was the vigilance of one who would offer help at all times and at any cost, Still, so strong are natural or acquired characteristics that he could not do this without manifesting some of the traits of the Alford Graham who years before had studied the mirthful Grace St. John with the hope of analyzing her power and influence. And had he been wholly indifferent to her, and as philosophical and cynical as once it was his pride to think he was, she would still have remained an absorbing study. Her sudden and awful bereavement had struck her strong and exceptional spiritual nature with the shattering force of the ball that crashes through muscle, bone, and nerves. In the latter case the wound may be mortal, or it may cause weakness and deformity. The wounded spirit must survive, although the effects of the wound may be even more serious and far- reaching—changing, developing, or warping character to a degree that even the most experienced cannot predict. Next to God, time is the great healer; and human love, guided by tact, can often achieve signal success.

But for Graham there was no God; and it must be said that this was becoming true of Grace also. As Hilland had feared, the influence of those she loved and trusted most had gradually sapped her faith, which in her case had been more a cherished tradition, received from her mother, than a vital experience.

Hilland's longings for a life hereafter, and his words of regret that she had lost the faith of her girlhood, were neutralized by the bitter revolt of her spirit against her immeasurable misfortune. Her own experience was to her a type of all the desolating evil and sorrow of the world; and in her agony she could not turn to a God who permitted such evil and suffering. It seemed to her that there could be no merciful, overruling Providence—that her husband's view, when his mind was in its most vigorous and normal state, was more rational than a religion which taught that a God who loved good left evil to make such general havoc.

"It's the same blind contention of forces in men as in nature," she said to herself; "and only the strong or the fortunate survive."

One day she asked Graham abruptly, "Do you believe that the human spirit lives on after death?"

He was sorely troubled to know how to answer her, but after a little hesitation said, "I feel, as your husband did, that I should be glad if you had the faith of your girlhood. I think it would be a comfort to you."

"That's truly the continental view, that superstition is useful to women. Will you not honestly treat me as your equal, and tell me what you, as an educated man, believe?"

"No," he replied, gravely and sadly, "I will only recall with emphasis your husband's last words."

"You are loyal to him, at least; and I respect you for it. But I know what you believe, and what Warren believed when his faculties were normal and unbiased by the intense longing of his heart. I am only a woman, Alford, but I must use such little reason as I have; and no being except one created by man's ruthless imagination could permit the suffering which this war daily entails. It's all of the earth, earthy. Alford," she added, in low, passionate utterance, "I could believe in a devil more easily than in a God; and yet my unbelief sinks me into the very depths of a hopeless desolation. What am I? A mere little atom among these mighty forces and passions which rock the world with their violence. Oh, I was so happy! and now I am crushed by some haphazard bullet shot in the darkness."

He looked at her wonderingly, and was silent.

"Alford," she continued, her eyes glowing in the excitement of her strong, passionate spirit, "I will not succumb to all this monstrous evil. If I am but a transient emanation of the earth, and must soon return to my kindred dust, still I can do a little to diminish the awful aggregate of suffering. My nature, earth-born as it is, revolts at a selfish indifference to it all. Oh, if there is a God, why does He not rend the heavens in His haste to stay the black torrents of evil? Why does He not send the angels of whom my mother told me when a child, and bid them stand between the armies that are desolating thousands of hearts like mine? Or if He chooses to work by silent, gentle influences like those of spring, why does He not bring human hearts together that are akin, and enhance the content and happiness which our brief life permits? But no. Unhappy mistakes are made. Alas, my friend, we both know it to our sorrow! Why should I feign ignorance of that which your unbounded and unselfish devotion has proved so often? Why should you not know that before this deadly stroke fell my one grief was that you suffered; and that as long as I could pray I prayed for your happiness? Now I can see only merciless force or blind chance, that in nature smites with the tornado the lonely forest or the thriving village, the desolate waves or some ship upon them. Men, with all their boasted reason, are even worse. What could be more mad and useless than this war? Alford, I alone have suffered enough to make the thing accursed; and I must suffer to the end: and I am only one of countless women. What is there for me, what for them, but to grow lonelier and sadder every day? But I won't submit to the evil. I won't be a mere bit of helpless drift. While I live there shall be a little less suffering in the world. Ah, Alford! you see how far removed I am from the sportive girl you saw on that May evening years ago. I am an old, white-haired, broken-hearted woman; and yet," with a grand look in her eyes, she concluded, "I have spirit enough left to take up arms against all the evil and suffering within my reach. I know how puny my efforts will be; but I would rather try to push back an avalanche than cower before it."

Thus she revealed to him the workings of her mind; and he worshipped her anew as one of the gentlest and most loving of women, and yet possessed of a nature so strong that under the guidance of reason it could throw off the shackles of superstition and defy even fate. Under the spell of her words the evil of the world did seem an avalanche, not of snow, but of black molten lava; while she, too brave and noble to cower and cringe, stood before it, her little hand outstretched to stay its deadly onset.



CHAPTER XXXIII

THE WHITE-HAIRED NURSE

Life at the two cottages was extremely secluded. All who felt entitled to do so made calls, partly of condolence and partly from curiosity. The occupants of the two unpretending dwellings had the respect of the community; but from their rather unsocial ways could not be popular. The old major had ever detested society in one of its phases—that is, the claims of mere vicinage, the duty to call and be called upon by people who live near, when there is scarcely a thought or taste in common. With his Southern and army associations he had drifted to a New England city; but he ignored the city except as it furnished friends and things that pleased him. His attitude was not contemptuous or unneighborly, but simply indifferent.

"I don't thrust my life on any one," he once said to Mrs. Mayburn, "except you and Grace. Why should other people thrust their lives on me?"

His limited income had required economy, and his infirmities a life free from annoyance. As has been shown, Grace had practiced the one with heart as light as her purse; and had interposed her own sweet self between the irritable veteran and everything that could vex him. The calling world had had its revenge. The major was profane, they had said; Grace was proud, or led a slavish life. The most heinous sin of all was, they were poor. There were several families, however, whom Grace and the major had found congenial, with various shades of difference; and the young girl had never lacked all the society she cared for. Books had been her chief pleasure; the acquaintance of good whist-players had been cultivated; army and Southern friends had appeared occasionally; and when Mrs. Mayburn had become a neighbor, she had been speedily adopted into the closest intimacy. When Hilland had risen above their horizon he soon glorified the world to Grace. To the astonishment of society, she had married a millionaire, and they had all continued to live as quietly and unostentatiously as before. There had been another slight effort to "know the people at the St. John cottage," but it had speedily died out. The war had brought chiefly military associations and absence. Now again there was an influx of callers largely from the church that Grace had once attended. Mrs. Mayburn received the majority with a grim politeness, but discriminated very favorably in case of those who came solely from honest sympathy. All were made to feel, however, that, like a mourning veil, sorrow should shield its victims from uninvited observation.

Hilland's mother had long been dead, and his father died at the time when he was summoned from his studies in Germany. While on good terms with his surviving relatives, there had been no very close relationship or intimacy remaining. Grace had declared that she wished no other funeral service than the one conducted by the good old Confederate pastor; and the relatives, learning that they had no interest in the will, speedily discovered that they had no further interest whatever. Thus the inmates of the two cottages were left to pursue their own shadowed paths, with little interference from the outside world. The major treasured a few cordial eulogies of Hilland cut from the journals at the time; and except in the hearts wherein he was enshrined a living image, the brave, genial, high-souled man passed from men's thoughts and memories, like thousands of others in that long harvest of death.

Graham's wound at last was wellnigh healed, and the time was drawing near for his return to the army. His general had given such a very favorable account of the circumstances attending his offence, and of his career as a soldier both before and after the affair, that the matter was quietly ignored. Moreover, Hilland, as a soldier and by reason of the loyal use of his wealth, stood very high in the estimation of the war authorities; and the veteran major was not without his surviving circle of influential friends. Graham, therefore, not only retained his rank, but was marked for promotion.

Of all this, however, he thought and cared little. If he had loved Grace before, he idolized her now. And yet with all her deep affection for him and her absolute trust, she seemed more remote than ever. In the new phase of her grief she was ever seeking to do little things which she thought would please him. But this was also true of her course toward Mrs. Mayburn, especially so toward her father, and also, to a certain extent, toward the poor and sick in the vicinity. Her one effort seemed to be to escape from her thoughts, herself, in a ceaseless ministry to others. And the effort sometimes degenerated into restlessness. There was such a lack of repose in her manner that even those who loved her most were pained and troubled. There was not enough to keep her busy all the time, and yet she was ever impelled to do something.

One day she said to Graham, "I wish I could go back with you to the war; not that I wish to shed another drop of blood, but I would like to march, march forever."

Shrewd Mrs. Mayburn, who had been watching Grace closely for the last week or two, said quietly: "Take her back with you, Alford. Let her become a nurse in some hospital. It will do both her and a lot of poor fellows a world of good."

"Mrs. Mayburn, you have thought of just the thing," cried Grace. "In a hospital full of sick and wounded men I could make my life amount to something; I should never need to be idle then."

"Yes, you would. You would be under orders like Alford, and would have to rest when off duty. But, as you say, you could be of great service, instead of wasting your energy in coddling two old people. You might save many a poor fellow's life."

"Oh," she exclaimed, clasping her hands, "the bare thought of saving one poor woman from such suffering as mine is almost overwhelming. But how can I leave papa?"

"I'll take care of the major and insure his consent. If men are so possessed to make wounds, it's time women did more to cure them. It's all settled: you are to go. I'll see the major about it now, if he has just begun his newspaper;" and the old lady took her knitting and departed with her wonted prompt energy.

At first Graham was almost speechless from surprise, mingled doubt and pleasure; but the more he thought of it, the more he was convinced that the plan was an inspiration.

"Alford, you will take me?" she said, appealingly.

"Yes," he replied, smilingly, "if you will promise to obey my orders in part, as well as those of your superiors."

"I'll promise anything if you will only take me. Am I not under your care?"

"Oh, Grace, Grace, I can do so little for you!"

"No one living can do more. In providing this chance of relieving a little pain, of preventing a little suffering, you help me, you serve me, you comfort me, as no one else could. And, Alford, if you are wounded, come to the hospital where I am; I will never leave you till you are well. Take me to some exposed place in the field, where there is danger, where men are brought in desperately wounded, where you would be apt to be."

"I don't know where I shall be, but I would covet any wound that would bring you to my side as nurse."

She thought a few moments, and then said, resolutely: "I will keep as near to you as I can. I ask no pay for my services. On the contrary, I will employ my useless wealth in providing for exposed hospitals. When I attempt to take care of the sick or wounded, I will act scrupulously under the orders of the surgeon in charge; but I do not see why, if I pay my own way, I cannot come and go as I think I can be the most useful."

"Perhaps you could, to a certain extent, if you had a permit," said Graham, thoughtfully; "but I think you would accomplish more by remaining in one hospital and acquiring skill by regular work. It would be a source of indescribable anxiety to me to think of your going about alone. If I know just where you are, I can find you and write to you."

"I will do just what you wish," she said, gently.

"I wish for only what is best for you."

"I know that. It would be strange if I did not."

Mrs. Mayburn was not long in convincing the major that her plan might be the means of incalculable benefit to Grace as well as to others. He, as well as herself and Graham, had seen with deep anxiety that Grace was giving way to a fever of unrest; and he acquiesced in the view that it might better run its course in wholesome and useful activity, amid scenes of suffering that might tend to reconcile her to her own sorrow.

Graham, however, took the precaution of calling on Dr. Markham, who, to his relief, heartily approved of the measure. On one point Graham was firm. He would not permit her to go to a hospital in the field, liable to vicissitudes from sudden movements of the contending armies. He found one for her, however, in which she would have ample scope for all her efforts; and before he left he interested those in charge so deeply in the white-haired nurse that he felt she would always be under watchful, friendly eyes.

"Grace," he said, as he was taking leave, "I have tried to be a true friend to you."

"Oh, Alford!" she exclaimed, and she seized his hand and held it in both of hers.

His face grew stern rather than tender as he added: "You will not be a true friend to me—you will wrong me deeply—if you are reckless of your health and strength. Remember that, like myself, you have entered the service, and that you are pledged to do your duty, and not to work with feverish zeal until your strength fails. You are just as much under obligation to take essential rest as to care for the most sorely wounded in your ward. I shall take the advice I give. Believing that I am somewhat essential to your welfare and the happiness of those whom we have left at home, I shall incur no risks beyond those which properly fall to my lot. I ask you to be equally conscientious and considerate of those whose lives are bound up in you."

"I'll try," she said, with that same pathetic look and utterance which had so moved him on the fearful night of his return from the army. "But, Alford, do not speak to me so gravely, I had almost said sternly, just as we are saying good-by."

He raised her hand to his lips, and smiled into her pleading face as he replied, "I only meant to impress you with the truth that you have a patient who is not in your ward—one who will often be sleeping under the open sky, I know not where. Care a little for him, as well as for the unknown men in your charge. This you can do only by taking care of yourself. You, of all others, should know that there are wounds besides those which will bring men to this hospital."

Tears rushed into her eyes as she faltered, "You could not have made a stronger appeal."

"You will write to me often?"

"Yes, and you cannot write too often. Oh, Alford, I cannot wish you had never seen me; but it would have been far, far better for you if you had not."

"No, no," he said, in low, strong emphasis. "Grace Hilland, I would rather be your friend than have the love of any woman that ever lived."

"You do yourself great wrong (pardon me for saying it, but your happiness is so dear to me), you do yourself great wrong. A girl like Pearl Anderson could make you truly happy; and you could make her happy."

"Sweet little Pearl will be happy some day; and I may be one of the causes, but not in the way you suggest. It is hard to say good-by and leave you here alone, and every moment I stay only makes it harder."

He raised her hand once more to his lips, then almost rushed away.

Days lapsed into weeks, and weeks into months. The tireless nurse alleviated suffering of every kind; and her silvery hair was like a halo around a saintly head to many a poor fellow. She had the deep solace of knowing that not a few wives and mothers would have mourned had it not been for her faithfulness.

But her own wound would not heal. She sometimes felt that she was slowly bleeding to death. The deep, dark tide of suffering, in spite of all she could do, grew deeper and darker; and she was growing weary and discouraged.

Graham saw her at rare intervals; and although she brightened greatly at his presence, and made heroic efforts to satisfy him that she was doing well, he grew anxious and depressed. But there was nothing tangible, nothing definite. She was only a little paler, a little thinner; and when he spoke of it she smilingly told him that he was growing gaunt himself with his hard campaigning.

"But you, Grace," he complained, "are beginning to look like a wraith that may vanish some moonlight night."

Her letters were frequent, sometimes even cheerful, but brief. He wrote at great length, filling his pages with descriptions of nature, with scenes that were often humorous but not trivial, with genuine life, but none of its froth. Life for both had become too deep a tragedy for any nonsense. He passed through many dangers, but these, as far as possible, he kept in the background; and fate, pitying his one deep wound, spared him any others.

At last there came the terrible battle of the Wilderness, and the wards were filled with desperately wounded men. The poor nurse gathered up her failing powers for one more effort; and Confederate and Union men looked after her wonderingly and reverently, even in their mortal weakness. To many she seemed like a ministering spirit rather than a woman of flesh and blood; and lips of dying men blessed her again and again. But they brought no blessing. She only shuddered and grew more faint of heart as the scenes of agony and death increased. Each wound was a type of Hilland's wound, and in every expiring man she saw her husband die. Her poor little hands trembled now as she sought to stem the black, black tide that deepened and broadened and foamed around her.

Late one night, after a new influx of the wounded, she was greatly startled while passing down her ward by hearing a voice exclaim, "Grace—Grace Brentford!"

It was her mother's name.

The call was repeated; and she tremblingly approached a cot on which was lying a gray-haired man.

"Great God!" he exclaimed, "am I dreaming? am I delirious? How is it that I see before me the woman I loved forty-odd years ago? You cannot be Grace Brentford, for she died long years since."

"No, but I am her daughter."

"Her daughter!" said the man, struggling to rise upon his elbow—"her daughter! She should not look older than you."

"Alas, sir, my age is not the work of time, but of grief. I grew old in a day. But if you knew and loved my mother, you have sacred claims upon me. I am a nurse in this ward, and will devote myself to you."

The man sank back exhausted. "This is strange, strange indeed," be said. "It is God's own providence. Yes, my child, I loved your mother, and I love her still. Harry St. John won her fairly; but be could not have loved her better than I. I am now a lonely old man, dying, I believe, in my enemy's hands, but I thank God that I've seen Grace Brentford's child, and that she can soothe my last hours."

"Do not feel so discouraged about yourself," said Grace, her tears falling fast. "Think rather that yon have been brought here that I might nurse you back to life. Believe me, I will do so with tender, loving care."

"How strange it all is!" the man said again. "You have her very voice, her manner. But it was by your eyes that I recognized you. Your eyes are young and beautiful like hers, and full of tears, as hers were when she sent me away with an ache to my heart that has never ceased. It will soon be cured now. Your father will remember a wild young planter down in Georgia by the name of Phil Harkness."

"Indeed, sir, I've heard both of my parents speak of you, and it was ever with respect and esteem."

"Give my greeting to your father, and say I never bore him any ill- will. In the saddest life there is always some compensation. I have had wealth and honors; I am a colonel in our army, and have been able to serve the cause I loved; but, chief of all, the child of Grace Brentford is by my side at the end. Is your name Grace also?"

"Yes. Oh, why is the world so full of hopeless trouble?"

"Not hopeless trouble, my child. I am not hopeless. For long years I have had peace, if not happiness—a deep inward calm which the confusion and roar of the bloodiest battles could not disturb. I can close my eyes now in my final sleep as quietly as a child. In a few hours, my dear, I may see your mother; and I shall tell her that I left her child assuaging her own sorrow by ministering to others."

"Oh, oh!" sobbed Grace, "pray cease, or I shall not be fit for my duties; your words pierce my very soul. Let me nurse you back to health. Let me take you to my home until you are exchanged, for I must return. I must, must. My strength is going fast; and you bring before me my dear old father whom I have left too long."

"My poor child! God comfort and sustain you. Do not let me keep you longer from your duties, and from those who need you more than I. Come and say a word to me when you can. That's all I ask. My wound was dressed before your watch began, and I am doing as well as I could expect. When you feel like it, you can tell me more about yourself."

Their conversation had been in a low tone as she sat beside him, the patients near either sleeping or too preoccupied by their own sufferings to give much heed.

Weary and oppressed by bitter despondency, she went from cot to cot, attending to the wants of those in her charge. To her the old colonel's sad history seemed a mockery of his faith, and but another proof of a godless or God-forgotten world. She envied his belief, with its hope and peace; but he had only increased her unbelief. But all through the long night she watched over him, coming often to his side with delicacies and wine, and with gentle words that were far more grateful.

Once, as she was smoothing back his gray locks from his damp forehead, he smiled, and murmured, "God bless you, my child. This is a foretaste of heaven."

In the gray dawn she came to him and said, "My watch is over, and I must leave you for a little while; but as soon as I have rested I will come again."

"Grace," he faltered, hesitatingly, "would you mind kissing an old, old man? I never had a child of my own to kiss me."

She stooped down and kissed him again and again, and he felt her hot tears upon his face.

"You have a tender heart, my dear," he said, gently. "Good-by, Grace— Grace Brentford's child. Dear Grace, when we meet again perhaps all tears will be wiped from your eyes forever."

She stole away exhausted and almost despairing. On reaching her little room she sank on her couch, moaning; "Oh, Warren, Warren, would that I were sleeping your dreamless sleep beside you!"

Long before it was time for her to go on duty again she returned to the ward to visit her aged friend. His cot was empty. In reply to her eager question she was told that he had died suddenly from internal hemorrhage soon after she had left him.

She looked dazed for a moment, as if she had received a blow, then fell fainting on the cot from which her mother's friend had been taken. The limit of her endurance was passed.

Before the day closed, the surgeon in charge of the hospital told her gently and firmly that she must take an indefinite leave of absence. She departed at once in the care of an attendant; but stories of the white-haired nurse lingered so long in the ward and hospital that at last they began to grow vague and marvellous, like the legends of a saint.



CHAPTER XXXIV

RITA'S BROTHER

All through the campaign of '64 the crimson tide of war deepened and broadened. Even Graham's cool and veteran spirit was appalled at the awful slaughter on either side. The Army of the Potomac—the grandest army ever organized, and always made more sublime and heroic by defeat—was led by a man as remorseless as fate. He was fate to thousands of loyal men, whom he placed at will as coolly as if they had been the pieces on a chessboard. He was fate to the Confederacy, upon whose throat he placed his iron grasp, never relaxed until life was extinct. In May, 1864, he quietly crossed the Rapidan for the death-grapple. He took the most direct route for Richmond, ignoring all obstacles and the fate of his predecessors. To think that General Grant wished to fight the battle of the Wilderness is pure idiocy. One would almost as soon choose the Dismal Swamp for a battleground. It was undoubtedly his hope to pass beyond that gloomy tangle, over which the shadow of death had brooded ever since fatal Chancellorsville. But Lee, his brilliant and vigilant opponent, rarely lost an advantage; and Graham's experienced eye, as with the cavalry he was in the extreme advance, clearly saw that their position would give their foes enormous advantages. Lee's movements would be completely masked by the almost impervious growth, He and his lieutenants could approach within striking distance, whenever they chose, without being seen, and had little to fear from the Union artillery, which the past had given them much cause to dread. It was a region also to disgust the very soul of a cavalryman; for the low, scrubby growth lined the narrow roads almost as effectually as the most scientifically prepared abatis.

Graham's surmise was correct. Lee would not wait till his antagonist had reached open and favorable ground, but he made an attack at once, where, owing to peculiarities of position, one of his thin regiments had often the strength of a brigade.

On the morning of the 5th of May began one of the most awful and bloody battles in the annals of warfare. Indeed it was the beginning of one long and almost continuous struggle which ended only at Appomattox.

With a hundred thousand more, Graham was swept into the bloody vortex, and through summer heat, autumn rains, and winter cold, he marched and fought with little rest. He was eventually given the colonelcy of his regiment, and at times commanded a brigade. He passed through unnumbered dangers unscathed; and his invulnerability became a proverb among his associates. Indeed he was a mystery to them, for his face grew sadder and sterner every day, and his reticence about himself and all his affairs was often remarked upon. His men and officers had unbounded respect for him, that was not wholly unmixed with fear; for while he was considerate, and asked for no exposure to danger in which he did not share, his steady discipline was never relaxed, and he kept himself almost wholly aloof, except as their military relations required contact. He could not, therefore, be popular among the hard- swearing, rollicking, and convivial cavalrymen. In a long period of inaction he might have become very unpopular, but the admirable manner in which he led them in action, and his sagacious care of them and their horses on the march and in camp, led them to trust him implicitly. Chief of all, he had acquired that which with the stern veterans of that day went further than anything else—a reputation for dauntless courage. What they objected to were his "glum looks and unsocial ways," as they termed them.

They little knew that his cold, stern face hid suffering that was growing almost desperate in its intensity. They little knew that he was chained to his military duty as to a rock, while a vulture of anxiety was eating out his very heart. What was a pale, thin, white- haired woman to them? But what to him? How true it is that often the heaviest burdens of life are those at which the world would laugh, and of which the overweighted heart cannot and will not speak!

For a long time after his plunge into the dreary depths of the Wilderness he had received no letters. Then he had learned of Grace's return home; and at first he was glad indeed. His aunt had written nothing more alarming than that Grace had overtaxed her strength in caring for the throngs of wounded men sent from the Wilderness, that she needed rest and good tonic treatment. Then came word that she was "better"; then they "hoped she was gaining"; then they were about to go to "the seashore, and Grace had always improved in salt air." It was then intimated that she had found "the summer heat very enervating, and now that fall winds were blowing she would grow stronger." At last, at the beginning of winter, it was admitted that she had not improved as they had hoped; but they thought she was holding her own very well—that the continued and terrific character of the war oppressed her—and that every day she dreaded to hear that he had been stricken among other thousands.

Thus, little by little, ever softened by some excuse or some hope, the bitter truth grew plain: Grace was failing, fading, threatening to vanish. He wrote as often as he could, and sought with all his skill to cheer, sustain, and reconcile her to life. At first she wrote to him not infrequently, but her letters grew further and further apart, and at last she wrote, in the early spring of '65.

"I wish I could see you, Alford; but I know it is impossible. You are strong, you are doing much to end this awful war, and it's your duty to remain at your post. You must not sully your perfect image in my mind, or add to my unhappiness by leaving the service now for my sake. I have learned the one bitter lesson of the times. No matter how much personal agony, physical or mental, is involved, the war must go on; and each one must keep his place in the ranks till he falls or is disabled. I have fallen. I am disabled. My wound will not close, and drop by drop life and strength are ebbing. I know I disappoint you, my true, true friend; but I cannot help it. Do not reproach me. Do not blame me too harshly. Think me weak, as I truly am. Indeed, when I am gone your chances will be far better. It costs me a great effort to write this. There is a weight on my hand and brain as well as on my heart. Hereafter I will send my messages through dear, kind Mrs. Mayburn, who has been a mother to me in all my sorrow. Do not fear: I will wait till you can come with honor; for I must see you once more."

For a long time after receiving this letter a despair fell on Graham. He was so mechanical in the performance of his duties that his associates wondered at him, and he grew more gaunt and haggard than ever. Then in sharp reaction came a feverish eagerness to see the war ended.

Indeed all saw that the end was near, and none, probably, more clearly than the gallant and indomitable Lee himself. At last the Confederate army was outflanked, the lines around Petersburg were broken through, and the final pursuit began. It was noted that Graham fought and charged with an almost tiger-like fierceness; and for once his men said with reason that he had no mercy on them. He was almost counting the hours until the time when he could sheathe his sword and say with honor, "I resign."

One morning they struck a large force of the enemy, and he led a headlong charge. For a time the fortunes of the battle wavered, for the Confederates fought with the courage of desperation. Graham on his powerful horse soon became a conspicuous object, and all gave way before him as if he were a messenger of death, at the same time wondering at his invulnerability.

The battle surged on and forward until the enemy were driven into a thick piece of woods. Graham on the right of his line directed his bugler to give the order to dismount, and a moment later his line of battle plunged into the forest. In the desperate melee that followed in the underbrush, he was lost to sight except to a few of his men. It was here that he found himself confronted by a Confederate officer, from whose eyes flashed the determination either to slay or to be slain. Graham had crossed swords with him but a moment when he recognized that he had no ordinary antagonist; and with his instinct of fight aroused to its highest pitch he gave himself up wholly to a personal and mortal combat, shouting meantime to those near, "Leave this man to me."

Looking his opponent steadily in the eye, like a true swordsman, he remained first on the defensive; and such was his skill that his long, straight blade was a shield as well as a weapon. Suddenly the dark eyes and features of his opponent raised before him the image of Rita Anderson; and he was so overcome for a second that the Confederate touched his breast with his sabre and drew blood. That sharp prick and the thought that Rita's brother might be before him aroused every faculty and power of his mind and body. His sword was a shield again, and he shouted, "Is not your name Henry Anderson?"

"My name is our cause," was the defiant answer; "with it I will live or die."

Then came upon Graham one of those rare moments in his life when no mortal man could stand before him. Ceasing his wary, rapid fence, his sword played like lightning; and in less than a moment the Confederate's sabre flew from his hand, and he stood helpless.

"Strike," he said, sullenly; "I won't surrender."

"I'd sooner cut off my right hand," replied Graham, smiling upon him, "than strike the brother of Rita Anderson."

"Is your name Graham?" asked his opponent, his aspect changing instantly.

"Yes; and you are Henry. I saw your sister's eyes in yours. Take up your sword, and go quietly to the rear as my friend, not prisoner. I adjure you, by the name of your old and honored father and your noble- hearted sister, to let me keep my promise to them to save your life, were it ever in my power."

"I yield," said the young man, in deep despondency. "Our cause is lost, and you are the only man in the North to whom I should be willing to surrender. Colonel, I will obey your orders."

Summoning his orderly and another soldier, he said to them, "Escort this gentleman to the rear. Let him keep his arms. I have too much confidence in you, Colonel Anderson, even to ask that you promise not to escape. Treat him with respect. He will share my quarters to- night." And then he turned and rushed onward to overtake the extreme advance of his line, wondering at the strange scene which had passed with almost the rapidity of thought.

That night by Graham's camp-fire began a friendship between himself and Henry Anderson which would be lifelong. The latter asked, "Have you heard from my father and sister since you parted with them?"

"No. My duties have carried me far away from that region. But it is a source of unspeakable gratification that we have met, and that you can tell me of their welfare."

"It does seem as if destiny, or, as father would say, Providence, had linked my fortunes and those of my family with you. He and Rita would actually have suffered with hunger but for you. Since you were there the region has been tramped and fought over by the forces of both sides, and swept bare. My father mentioned your name and that of Colonel Hilland; and a guard was placed over his house, and he and Rita were saved from any personal annoyance. But all of his slaves, except the old woman you remember, were either run off or enticed away, and his means of livelihood practically destroyed. Old Uncle Jehu and his son Huey have almost supported them. They, simple souls, could not keep your secret, though they tried to after their clumsy fashion. My pay, you know, was almost worthless; and indeed there was little left for them to buy. Colonel Graham, I am indebted to you for far more than life, which has become wellnigh a burden to me."

"Life has brought far heavier burdens to others than to you, Colonel Anderson. Those you love are living; and to provide for and protect such a father and sister as you possess might well give zest to any life. Your cause is lost; and the time may come sooner than you expect when you will be right glad of it. I know you cannot think so now, and we will not dwell on this topic. I can testify from four years' experience that no cause was ever defended with higher courage or more heroic self-sacrifice. But your South is not lost; and it will be the fault of its own people if it does not work out a grander destiny within the Union than it could ever achieve alone. But don't let us discuss politics. You have the same right to your views that I have to mine. I will tell you how much I owe to your father and sister, and then you will see that the burden of obligation rests upon me;" and he gave his own version of that memorable day whose consequences threatened to culminate in Grace Hilland's death.

Under the dominion of this thought he could not hide the anguish of his mind; and Rita had hinted enough in her letters to enable Anderson to comprehend his new-found friend. He took Graham's hand, and as he wrung it he said, "Yes, life has brought to others heavier burdens than to me."

"You may have thought," resumed Graham, "that I fought savagely to- day; but I felt that it is best for all to end this useless, bloody struggle as soon as possible. As for myself, I'm just crazed with anxiety to get away and return home. Of course we cannot be together after tonight, for with the dawn I must be in the saddle. Tonight you shall share my blankets. You must let me treat you as your father and Rita treated me. I will divide my money with you: don't grieve me by objecting. Call it a loan if you will. Your currency is now worthless. You must go with the other prisoners; but I can soon obtain your release on parole, and then, in the name of all that is sacred, return home to those who idolize you. Do this, Colonel Anderson, and you will lift a heavy burden from one already overweighted"'

"As you put the case I cannot do otherwise," was the sad reply. "Indeed I have no heart for any more useless fighting. My duty now is clearly to my father and sister."

That night the two men slumbered side by side, and in the dawn parted more like brothers than like foes.

As Graham had predicted, but a brief time elapsed before Lee surrendered, and Colonel Anderson's liberty on parole was soon secured. They parted with the assurance that they would meet again as soon as circumstances would permit.

At the earliest hour in which he could depart with honor, Graham's urgent entreaty secured him a leave of absence; and he lost not a moment in his return, sending to his aunt in advance a telegram to announce his coming.



CHAPTER XXXV

HIS SOMBRE RIVALS

Never had his noble horse Mayburn seemed to fail him until the hour that severed the military chain which had so long bound him to inexorable duty, and yet the faithful beast was carrying him like the wind. Iss, his servant, soon fell so far behind that Graham paused and told him to come on more leisurely, that Mayburn would be at the terminus of the military railroad. And there Iss found him, with drooping head and white with foam. The steam-engine was driven to City Point with the reckless speed characteristic of military railroads; but to Graham the train seemed to crawl. He caught a steamer bound for Washington, and paced the deck, while in the moonlight the dark shores of the James looked stationary. From Washington the lightning express was in his view more dilatory than the most lumbering stage of the old regime.

When at last he reached the gate to his aunt's cottage and walked swiftly up the path, the hour and the scene were almost the same as when he had first come, an indifferent stranger, long years before. The fruit-trees were as snowy white with blossoms, the air as fragrant, the birds singing as jubilantly, as when he had stood at the window and gazed with critical admiration on a sportive girl, a child- woman, playing with her little Spitz dog. As he passed the spot where she had stood, beneath his ambush behind the curtains, his excited mind brought back her image with lifelike realism—the breeze in her light hair, her dark eyes brimming with mirth, her bosom panting from her swift advance, and the color of the red rose in her cheeks.

He groaned as he thought of her now.

His aunt saw him from the window, and a moment later was sobbing on his breast.

"Aunt," he gasped, "I'm not too late?"

"Oh, no," she said, wearily; "Grace is alive; but one can scarcely say much more. Alford, you must be prepared for a sad change."

He placed her in her chair, and stood before her with heaving breast. "Now tell me all," he said, hoarsely.

"Oh, Alford, you frighten me. You must be more composed. You cannot see Grace, looking and feeling as you do. She is weakness itself;" and she told him how the idol of his heart was slowly, gradually, but inevitably sinking into the grave.

"Alford, Alford," she cried, entreatingly, "why do you look so stern? You could not look more terrible in the most desperate battle."

In low, deep utterance, he said, "This is my most desperate battle; and in it are the issues of life and death."

"You terrify me, and can you think that a weak, dying woman can look upon you as you now appear?"

"She shall not die," he continued, in the same low, stern utterance, "and she must look upon me, and listen, too. Aunt, you have been faithful to me all these years. You have been my mother. I must entreat one more service. You must second me, sustain me, co-work with me. You must ally all your experienced womanhood with my manhood, and with my will, which may be broken, but which shall not yield to my cruel fate."

"What do you propose to do?"

"That will soon be manifest. Go and prepare Grace for my visit. I wish to see her alone. You will please be near, however;" and he abruptly turned and went to his room to remove his military suit and the dust of travel.

He had given his directions as if in the field, and she wonderingly and tremblingly obeyed, feeling that some crisis was near.

Grace was greatly agitated when she heard of Graham's arrival; and two or three hours elapsed before she was able to be carried down and placed on the sofa in the library. He, out in the darkness on the piazza, watched with eyes that glowed like coals—watched as he had done in the most desperate emergency of all the bloody years of battle. He saw her again, and in her wasted, helpless form, her hollow cheeks, her bloodless face, with its weary, hopeless look, her mortal weakness, he clearly recognized his sombre rivals, Grief and Death; and with a look of indomitable resolution he raised his hand and vowed that he would enter the lists against them. If it were within the scope of human will he would drive them from their prey.

His aunt met him in the hall and whispered, "Be gentle."

"Remain here," was his low reply. "I have also sent for Dr. Markham;" and he entered.

Grace reached out to him both her hands as she said, "Oh, Alford, you are barely in time. It is a comfort beyond all words to see you before—before—" She could not finish the sinister sentence.

He gravely and silently took her hands, and sat down beside her.

"I know I disappoint you," she continued. "I've been your evil genius, I've saddened your whole life; and you have been so true and faithful! Promise me, Alford, that after I'm gone you will not let my blighted life cast its shadow over your future years. How strangely stern you look!"

"So you intend to die, Grace?" were his first, low words.

"Intend to die?"

"Yes. Do you think you are doing right by your father in dying?"

"Dear, dear papa! I have long ceased to be a comfort to him. He, too, will be better when I am gone. I am now a hopeless grief to him. Alford, dear Alford, do not look at me in that way."

"How else can I look? Do you not comprehend what your death means to me, if not to others?"

"Alford, can I help it?"

"Certainly you can. It will be sheer, downright selfishness for you to die. It will be your one unworthy act. You have no disease: you have only to comply with the conditions of life in order to live."

"You are mistaken," she said, the faintest possible color coming into her face. "The bullet that caused Warren's death has been equally fatal to me. Have I not tried to live?"

"I do not ask you to try to live, but to live. Nay, more, I demand it; and I have the right. I ask for nothing more. Although I have loved you, idolized you, all these years, I ask only that you comply with the conditions of life and live." The color deepened perceptibly under his emphatic words, and she said, "Can a woman live whose heart, and hope, and soul, if she has one, are dead and buried?"

"Yes, as surely as a man whose heart and hope were buried long years before. There was a time when I weakly purposed to throw off the burden of life; but I promised to live and do my best, and I am here to-day. You must make me the same promise. In the name of all the past, I demand it. Do you imagine that I am going to sit down tamely and shed a few helpless tears if you do me this immeasurable wrong?"

"Oh, Alford!" she gasped, "what do you mean?"

"I am not here, Grace, to make threats," he said gravely; "but I fear you have made a merely superficial estimate of my nature. Hilland is not. You know that I would have died a hundred times in his place. He committed you to my care with his last breath, and that trust gave value to my life. What right have you to die and bring to me the blackness of despair? I am willing to bear my burden patiently to the end. You should be willing to bear yours."

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