She had caught up her reins, but paused, looking at him. He averted his head quickly.
"I will tell you to-morrow. Good evening."
As she went homeward a shadow fell upon her face—a shadow darker than that cast by the black plume in her riding-hat—and once or twice her lips writhed from their ordinary curves of beauty. Nearing the encampment she lowered her veil, but saw that dress parade had been dismissed, and as she shook the reins and Erebus quickened his gallop, she found herself face to face with the colonel, who had just mounted his horse and was riding toward town. She looked at him and bowed; but, in passing, he kept his eyes fixed on the road before him, and in the duskiness his face seemed colder and more inflexible than ever. Such had been the manner of their occasional meetings since the interview at the factory, and she was not surprised that this, her first greeting, was disregarded. The public believed that an engagement existed between him and Salome, and the attentions heaped upon him by the family of the latter certainly gave colour to the report. But Irene was not deceived; she had learned to understand his nature, and knew that his bitterness of feeling and studied avoidance of herself betokened that the old affection had not been crushed. Struggling with the dictates of her heart, and a sense of the respect due to her father's feelings, she passed a sleepless night in pacing the gallery of the observatory. It was a vigil of almost intolerable perplexity and anguish. Under all its painful aspects she patiently weighed the matter, and at sunrise next morning, throwing open the blinds of her room, she drew her rosewood desk to the window, and wrote these words—
"Before you leave W—— allow me to see you for a few moments. If your departure is positively fixed for to-morrow, come to me this afternoon, at any hour which may be most convenient.
As the regiment prepared to march to Mrs. Churchill's residence, the note was received from Andrew's hands. Returning his sword to its scabbard, the colonel read the paper twice, three times—a heavy frown gathered on his forehead, his swarthy cheek fired, and, thrusting the note into his pocket, he turned toward his regiment, saying hastily to the servant—
"You need not wait. No answer is expected."
At the breakfast-table Irene opened a hasty missive from Salome, inviting her to be present at the presentation of the flag, and begging a few choice flowers for the occasion. Smiling quietly, she filled the accompanying basket with some of the rarest treasures of the greenhouse, added a bowl of raspberries which the gardener had just brought in, and sent all, with a brief line excusing herself from attending.
The morning was spent in writing to her father, preparing a parcel for him, and in superintending the making of a large quantity of blackberry jelly and cordial for the use of the hospitals.
About noon Dr. Arnold came, and found her engaged in sealing up a number of the jars, all neatly labelled. The day was warm; she had pushed back her hair from her brow, as she bent over her work; the full sleeves were pinned up above the elbow, and she wore a white check-muslin apron to protect her dress from the resin and beeswax.
"In the name of Medea and her Colchian cauldron! what are you about, Irene?"
"Fixing a box of hospital stores for you to take with you. I have finished, sir. Let me wash my hands, and I will give you some lunch in the dining-room."
"No; I lunched with the Israelites. Salome was brilliant as a Brazilian fire-fly, and presented her banner quite gracefully. Aubrey looked splendid in his uniform; was superbly happy in his speech—always is. Madam did the honours inimitably, and, in fine—give me that fan on the table—everything was decidedly comme il faut. You were expected, and you ought to have gone; it looked spiteful to stay away. I should absolutely like to see you subjected to 212 deg. Fahrenheit, in order to mark the result. Here I am almost suffocating with the heat, which would be respectable in Soudan, and you sit there bolt upright, looking as cool as a west wind in March. Beauty, you should get yourself patented as a social refrigerator, 'Warranted proof against the dog-days.' What rigmarole do you want me to repeat to Leonard?"
"I wish, if you please, when you get to Manassa, that you would persuade father to allow me to come, at least, as far as Richmond. You have some influence with him; will you use it in my favour?"
"You are better off at home; you could possibly do no good."
"Still I want to go. Remember, my father is all I have in this world."
"And what have you elsewhere, Irene?"
"My mother, my Saviour, and my God."
"Are you, then, so very anxious to go to Virginia?" he repeated, after a pause.
"I am. I want to be near father."
"Well, I will see what I can do with him. If I fail, recollect that he is not proverbial for pliability. Look here—are you nervous? Your fingers twitch, and so do your eyelids, occasionally, and your pulse is twenty beats too quick."
"I believe I am rather nervous to-day."
"I did not sleep last night; that is one cause, I suppose."
"And the reason why you did not sleep? Be honest with me."
"My thoughts, sir, were very painful. Do you wonder at it in the present state of the country?"
"Irene, answer me one question, dear child: what does the future contain for you? What hope have you?—what do you live for?"
"I have much to be grateful for—much that makes me happy, and I hope to do some good in the world while I live. I want to be useful—to feel that I have gladdened some hearts, strengthened some desponding spirits, carried balm to some hearth-stones, shed some happiness on the paths of those who walk near me through life."
"Have you, then, fully resolved to remain single?"
"Why do you ask me that, Dr. Arnold?"
"Because you are dear to me, Queen; and I should like to see you happily married before I am laid in my grave."
"You will never see it. Be sure I shall live and die Irene Huntingdon."
"What has induced you to doom yourself to a——"
"Ask me no more, Doctor. If I am content with my lot, who else has the right to question?"
He looked into that fair chiselled face, and wondered whether she could be truly "content"; and the purity and peace in her deep, calm eyes baffled him sorely. She rose, and laid her hand on his shoulder.
"Dr. Arnold, promise me that if there is a battle, and father should be hurt, you will telegraph me at once. Do not hesitate—let me know the truth immediately. Will you?"
"And now, sir, what can I make or have made for you which will conduce to your comfort?"
"Have you any old linen left about the house that could be useful among the wounded?"
"I have sent off a good deal, but have some left. In what form do you want it? As lint, or bandages?"
"Neither; pack it just as it is, and send it on by express. I can't carry the world on my shoulders."
"Write to the overseer's wife to sow all the mustard-seed she can lay her hands on, and save all the sage she can. And, Irene, be sure to send me every drop of honey you can spare. That is all, I believe. If I think of anything else, I will write you."
He stooped, kissed her forehead, and hurried out to his buggy.
The summer day was near its death when Colonel Aubrey rode up the stately avenue, whose cool green arches were slowly filling with shadows. Fastening his spirited horse to the iron post, he ascended the marble steps, and John received his card, and ushered him into the front parlour. The next moment Irene stood at the door; he turned his head, and they were face to face once more.
Never had her extraordinary beauty so stirred his heart; a faint flush tinged his cheek, but he bowed frigidly, and haughtily his words broke the silence.
"You sent for me, Miss Huntingdon, and I obeyed your command. Nothing less would have brought me to your presence."
She crossed the room and stood before him, holding out both hands, while her scarlet lips fluttered perceptibly. Instead of receiving the hands he drew back a step, and crossed his arms proudly over his chest. She raised her fascinating eyes to his, folded her palms together, and, pressing them to her heart, said, slowly and distinctly—
"I heard that you were ordered to Virginia, to the post of danger; and knowing to what risks you will be exposed, I wished to see you at least once more in this world. Perhaps the step I am taking may be condemned by some as a deviation from the delicacy of my sex—I trust I am not wanting in proper appreciation of what is due to my own self-respect—but the feelings which I have crushed back so long now demand utterance. Russell, I have determined to break the seal of many years' silence—to roll away the stone from the sepulchre—to tell you all. I feel that you and I must understand each other before we part for all time, and, therefore, I sent for you."
She paused, drooping her head, unable to meet his searching, steady black eyes riveted upon hers; and, drawing his tall athletic figure to its utmost height, he asked defiantly—
"You sent for me through compassionate compunctions, then—intending, at the close, to be magnanimous, and, in lieu of disdain, tell me that you pity me?"
"Pity you? No, Russell; I do not pity you."
"It is well. I neither deserve nor desire it."
"What motive do you suppose prompted me to send for you on the eve of your departure?"
"I am utterly at a loss to conjecture. I once thought you too generous to wish to inflict pain unnecessarily on any one; but God knows this interview is inexpressibly painful to me."
A numbing suspicion crossed her mind, blanching lip and cheek to the hue of death, and hardening her into the old statue-like expression. Had he, indeed, ceased to love her? Had Salome finally won her place in his heart? He saw, without comprehending, the instantaneous change which swept over her features, and regarded her with mingled impatience and perplexity.
"If such be the truth, Colonel Aubrey, the interview is ended."
He bowed, and turned partially away, but paused irresolute, chained by that electrical pale face, which no man, woman, or child ever looked at without emotion.
"Before we part, probably for ever, I should like to know why you sent for me."
"Do you remember that, one year ago to-night, we sat on the steps of the factory, and you told me of the feeling you had cherished for me from your boyhood?"
"It was a meeting too fraught with pain and mortification to be soon forgotten."
"I believe you thought me cold, heartless, and unfeeling then?"
"There was no room to doubt it. Your haughty coldness carried its own interpretation."
"Because I knew that such was the harsh opinion you had entertained for twelve months, I sought this opportunity to relieve myself of an unjust imputation. If peace had been preserved, and you had always remained quietly here, I should never have undeceived you—for the same imperative reasons, the same stern necessity, which kept me silent on the night to which I allude, would have sealed my lips through life. But all things are changed; you are going into the very jaws of death, with what result no human foresight can predict; and now, after long suffering, I feel that I have earned and may claim the right to speak to you of that which I have always expected to bury with me in my grave."
Again her crowned head bowed itself.
Past bitterness and wounded pride were instantly forgotten; hope kindled in his dark, stern face, a beauty that rarely dwelt there, and, throwing down his hat, he stepped forward and took her folded hands in his strong grasp.
"Irene, do you intend me to understand—are you willing that I shall believe that, after all, I have an interest in your heart—that I am more to you than you ever before deigned to let me know? If it, indeed, be so, oh! give me the unmistakable assurance."
Her lips moved; he stooped his haughty head to catch the low fluttering words.
"You said that night: 'I could forgive your father all! all if I knew that he had not so successfully hardened, closed your heart against me.' Forgive him, Russell. You never can know all that you have been to me from my childhood. Only God, who sees my heart, knows what suffering our long alienation has cost me."
An instant he wavered, his strong frame quivered, and then he caught her exultingly in his arms, resting her head upon his bosom, leaning his swarthy hot cheek on hers, cold and transparent as alabaster.
"At last I realize the one dream of my life! I hold you to my heart, acknowledged all my own! Who shall dare dispute the right your lips have given me? Hatred is powerless now; none shall come between me and my own. O Irene! my beautiful darling! not all my ambitious hopes, not all the future holds, not time, nor eternity, could purchase the proud, inexpressible joy of this assurance."
"Instead of cherishing your affection for me, you struggled against it with all the energy of your character. I have seen, for some time, that you were striving to crush it out—to forget me entirely."
"I do not deny it; and certainly you ought not to blame me. You kept me at a distance with your chilling, yet graceful, fascinating hauteur. I had nothing to hope—everything to suffer. I diligently set to work to expel you utterly from my thoughts; and I tell you candidly, I endeavoured to love another, who was brilliant, and witty, and universally admired. But her fitful, stormy, exacting temperament was too much like my own to suit me. I tried faithfully to become attached to her, intending to make her my wife, but I failed signally. My heart clung stubbornly to its old worship; my restless, fiery spirit could find no repose, no happiness, save in the purity, the profound marvellous calm of your nature. You became the synonym of peace, rest; and, because you gave me no friendly word or glance, locking your passionless face against me, I grew savage toward you. Did you believe that I would marry Salome?"
"No! I had faith that, despite your angry efforts, your heart would be true to me."
"Why did you inflict so much pain on us both, when a word would have explained all? When the assurance you have given me to-day would have sweetened the past years of trial?"
"Because I knew it would not have that effect. A belief of my indifference steeled you against me—nerved you to endurance. But a knowledge of the truth would have increased your acrimony of feeling toward him whom you regarded as the chief obstacle, and this, at all hazards, I was resolved to avoid. Because I realized so fully the necessity of estrangement, I should never have acquainted you with my own feelings had I not known that a long, and perhaps final, separation now stretches before us. In the painful course which duty imposed on me, I have striven to promote your ultimate happiness, rather than my own."
"Irene, how can you persuade yourself that it is your duty to obey an unjust and tyrannical decree, which sacrifices the happiness of two to the unreasonable vindictiveness of one?"
"Russell, do not urge me; it is useless. Spare me the pain of repeated refusals, and be satisfied with what I have given you. Believe that my heart is, and ever will be, yours entirely, though my hand you can never claim. I know what I owe my father, and I will pay to the last iota; and I know as well what I owe myself, and, therefore, I shall live true to my first and only love, and die Irene Huntingdon. More than this you have no right to ask—I no right to grant. Be patient, Russell; be generous."
"Do you intend to send me from you? To meet me henceforth as a stranger?"
"Circumstances, which I cannot control, make it necessary."
"At least you will let me hear from you sometimes? You will give me the privilege of writing to you?"
"Impossible, Russell; do not ask that of me."
"Oh, Irene! you are cruel! Why withhold that melancholy comfort from me?"
"Simply for the reason that it would unavoidably prove a source of pain to both. I judge you by myself. I want neither your usefulness in life nor mine impaired by continual weak repining. If your life is spared I shall anxiously watch your career, rejoicing in all your honours, and your noble use of the talents which God gave you for the benefit of your race and the advancement of truth."
"I am not as noble as you think me; my ambition is not as unselfish as you suppose. Under your influence other aims and motives might possess me."
"You mistake your nature. Your intellect and temperament stamp you one of the few who receive little impression from extraneous influences; and it is because of this stern, obstinate individuality of character that I hope an extended sphere of usefulness for you, if you survive this war. Our country will demand your services, and I shall be proud and happy in the knowledge that you are faithfully and conscientiously discharging the duties of a statesman."
He shook his head sadly, placing his palm under her chin, and tenderly raising the face, in order to scan it fully.
"Irene, give me a likeness of yourself as you stand now; or, if you prefer it, have a smaller one photographed to-morrow from that portrait on the wall, and send it to me by express. I shall be detained in Richmond several days, and it will reach me safely. Do not, I beg of you, refuse me this. It is the only consolation I can have, and God knows it is little enough! Oh, Irene, think of my loneliness, and grant this last request!"
His large brilliant eyes were full of tears, the first she had ever seen dim their light, and, moved by the grief which so transformed his lineaments she answered hastily—
"Of course, if you desire it so earnestly, though it were much better that you had nothing to remind you of me."
"Will you have it taken to-morrow?"
She covered her face with her hands for some seconds, as if striving to overcome some impulse; then, turning quickly to him, she wound her arms about his neck, and drew his face down to hers.
"Oh, Russell! Russell! I want your promise that you will so live and govern yourself that, if your soul is summoned from the battlefield, you can confront Eternity without a single apprehension. If you must yield up your life for freedom, I want the assurance that you have gone to your final home at peace with God; that you wait there for me; and that, when my work is done, and I, too, lay my weary head to rest, we shall meet soul to soul, and spend a blessed eternity together, where strife and separation are unknown."
His black locks lay upon her forehead as he struggled for composure, and, after a moment, he answered solemnly—
"I will try, my darling."
She put into his hand the Bible, which she had carefully marked and which bore on the blank leaf, in her handwriting, "Colonel Russell Aubrey, with the life-long prayers of his best friend."
The shadow fled from her countenance, which grew radiant as some fleecy vapour suddenly smitten with a blaze of sunlight, and clearer and sweeter than chiming bells her voice rang through the room.
"Thank God for that promise! I shall lean my heart upon it till the last pulsations are stilled in my coffin. And now I will keep you no longer from your regiment. I know that you have many duties there to claim your time. Turn your face toward the window; I want to look at it, to be able to keep its expression always before me."
She put up her waxen hand, brushed the hair from his pale, dome-like brow, and gazed earnestly at the noble features, which even the most fastidious could find no cause to carp at.
"Of old, when Eurystheus threatened Athens, Macaria, in order to save the city and the land from invasion and subjugation, willingly devoted herself a sacrifice upon the altar of the gods. Ah, Russell! that were an easy task, in comparison with the offering I am called upon to make. I cannot, like Macaria, by self-immolation, redeem my country—from that great privilege I am debarred—but I yield up more than she ever possessed. I give my all on earth—my father and yourself—to our beloved and suffering country. My God! accept the sacrifice, and crown the South a sovereign, independent nation!"
She smothered a moan, and her head sank on his shoulder; but lifting it instantly, with her fathomless affection beaming in her face, she added—
"To the mercy and guidance of Almighty God I commit you, dear Russell, trusting all things in His hands. May He shield you from suffering, strengthen you in the hour of trial, and reunite us eternally in His kingdom, is, and ever shall be, my constant prayer. Good-bye, Russell. Do your duty nobly; win deathless glory on the battlefield in defence of our sacred cause; and remember that your laurels will be very precious to my lonely heart."
He watched the wonderful loveliness of face and form, till his pride was utterly melted, and, sinking on his knees, he threw one arm around her waist exclaiming—
"O Irene, you have conquered! With God's grace I will so spend the residue of my life as to merit your love, and the hope of reunion beyond the grave."
She laid her hand lightly on his bowed head as he knelt beside her, and, in a voice that knew no faltering, breathed out a fervent prayer, full of pathos and sublime faith—invoking blessings upon him—life-long guardianship, and final salvation through Christ. The petition ended, she rose, smiling through the mist that gathered over her eyes, and he said—
"I now ask something which I feel that you will not refuse me. Electra will probably soon come home, and she may be left alone in the world. Will you sometimes go to her for my sake, and give her your friendship?"
"I will, Russell, for her sake, as well as for yours. She shall be the only sister I have ever known."
She drew his hand to her lips, but he caught it away, and pressed a last kiss upon them.
"Good-bye, my own darling! my life angel!"
She heard his step across the hall; a moment after, the tramp of his horse, as he galloped down the avenue, and she knew that the one happy hour of her life had passed—that the rent sepulchre of silence must be re-sealed.
Pressing her hand over her desolate heart, she murmured sadly—
"Thy will, not mine, O Father! Give me strength to do my work; enable me to be faithful even to the bitter end."
A DYING MESSAGE
In July, 1861, when the North, blinded by avarice and hate, rang with the cry of "On to Richmond," our Confederate Army of the Potomac was divided between Manassa and Winchester, watching at both points the glittering coils of the Union boa-constrictor, which writhed in its efforts to crush the last sanctuary of freedom. The stringency evinced along the Federal lines prevented the transmission of dispatches by the Secessionists of Maryland, and for a time Generals Beauregard and Johnston were kept in ignorance of the movements of the enemy. Patterson hung dark and lowering around Winchester, threatening daily descent; while the main column of the grand army under McDowell proceeded from Washington, confident in the expectation of overwhelming the small army stationed at Manassa. The friends of liberty who were compelled to remain in the desecrated old capital appreciated the urgent necessity of acquainting General Beauregard with the designs of McDowell, and the arch-apostate, Scott; but all channels of egress seemed sealed; all roads leading across the Potomac were vigilantly guarded, to keep the great secret safely; and painful apprehensions were indulged for the fate of the Confederate army. But the Promethean spark of patriotic devotion burned in the hearts of Secession women; and, resolved to dare all things in a cause so holy, a young lady of Washington, strong in heroic faith, offered to encounter any perils, and pledged her life to give General Beauregard the necessary information. Carefully concealing a letter in the twist of her luxuriant hair, which would escape detection even should she be searched, she disguised herself effectually, and, under the mask of a market-woman, drove a cart through Washington, across the Potomac, and deceived the guard by selling vegetables and milk as she proceeded. Once beyond Federal lines, and in friendly neighbourhood, it was but a few minutes' work to "off ye lendings," and secure a horse and riding-habit. With a courage and rapidity which must ever command the admiration of a brave people she rode at hard gallop that burning July afternoon to Fairfax Court-house, and telegraphed to General Beauregard, then at Manassa's Junction, the intelligence she had risked so much to convey. Availing himself promptly of the facts, he flashed them along electric wires to Richmond, and to General Johnston; and thus, through womanly devotion, a timely junction of the two armies was effected, ere McDowell's banners flouted the skies of Bull Run.
The artillery duel of the 18th of July ended disastrously for the advance guard of the Federals—a temporary check was given.
A pure Sabbath morning kindled on the distant hill-tops, wearing heavenly credentials of rest and sanctity on its pearly forehead—credentials which the passions of mankind could not pause to recognize; and with the golden glow of summer sunshine came the tramp of infantry, the clatter of cavalry, the sullen growl of artillery. Major Huntingdon had been temporarily assigned to a regiment of infantry after leaving Richmond, and was posted on the right of General Beauregard's lines, commanding one of the lower fords. Two miles higher up the stream, in a different brigade, Colonel Aubrey's regiment guarded another of the numerous crossings. As the day advanced, and the continual roar of cannon toward Stone-Bridge and Sudley's ford indicated that the demonstrations on McLean's, Blackford's and Mitchell's fords were mere feints to hold our right and centre, the truth flashed on General Beauregard that the main column was hurled against Evans' little band on the extreme left. Hour after hour passed, and the thunder deepened on the Warrenton road; then the General learned, with unutterable chagrin, that his order for an advance on Centreville had miscarried, that a brilliant plan had been frustrated, and that new combinations and dispositions must now be resorted to. The regiment to which Major Huntingdon was attached was ordered to the support of the left wing, and reached the distant position in an almost incredibly short time, while two regiments of the brigade to which Colonel Aubrey belonged were sent forward to the same point as a reserve.
Like incarnations of victory, Beauregard and Johnston swept to the front where the conflict was most deadly; everywhere, at sight of them, our thin ranks dashed forward, and were mowed down by the fire of Rickett's and Griffin's batteries, which crowned the position they were so eager to regain. At half-past two o'clock the awful contest was at its height; the rattle of musketry, the ceaseless whistle of rifle balls, the deafening boom of artillery, the hurtling hail of shot, the explosion of shell, dense volumes of smoke shrouding the combatants, and clouds of dust boiling up on all sides, lent unutterable horror to a scene which, to cold, dispassionate observers, might have seemed sublime. As the vastly superior numbers of the Federals forced our stubborn bands to give back slowly, an order came from General Beauregard for the right of his line, except the reserves, to advance, and recover the long and desperately disputed plateau. With a shout, the shattered lines sprang upon the foe and forced them temporarily back. Major Huntingdon's horse was shot under him; he disengaged himself and marched on foot, waving his sword and uttering words of encouragement. He had proceeded but a few yards when a grape-shot entered his side, tearing its way through his body, and he fell where the dead lay thickest. For a time the enemy retired, but heavy reinforcements pressed in, and they returned, reoccupying the old ground. Not a moment was to be lost; General Beauregard ordered forward his reserves for a second effort, and with magnificent effect, led the charge in person. Then Russell Aubrey first came actively upon the field. At the word of command he dashed forward with his splendid regiment, and, high above all, towered his powerful form, with the long black plume of his hat drifting upon the wind as he led his admiring men.
As he pressed on, with thin nostril dilated, and eyes that burned like those of a tiger seizing his prey, he saw, just in his path, leaning on his elbow, covered with blood, and smeared with dust, the crushed, withering form of his bitterest enemy. His horse's hoofs were almost upon him; he reined him back an instant, and glared down at his old foe. It was only for an instant, and as Major Huntingdon looked on the stalwart figure and at the advancing regiment, life-long hatred and jealousy were forgotten—patriotism throttled all the past in her grasp—he feebly threw up his hand, cheered faintly, and, with his eyes on Russell's, smiled grimly, saying, with evident difficulty—
"Beat them back, Aubrey! Give them the bayonet."
The shock was awful—beggaring language. On, on they swept, while ceaseless cheers mingled with the cannonade; the ground was recovered, to be captured no more. The Federals were driven back across the turnpike, and now dark masses of reinforcements debouched on the plain, and marched toward our left. Was it Grouchy or Blucher? Some moments of painful suspense ensued, while General Beauregard strained his eyes to decipher the advancing banner. Red and white and blue, certainly; but was it the ensign of Despotism or of Liberty? Nearer and nearer came the rushing column, and lo! upon the breeze streamed, triumphant as the Labarum of Constantine, the Stars and Bars. Kirby Smith and Elzey—God be praised! The day was won, and Victory nestled proudly among the folds of our new-born banner. One more charge along our whole line, and the hireling hordes of oppression fled panic-stricken. Russell had received a painful wound from a minnie ball, which entered his shoulder and ranged down toward the elbow, but he maintained his position, and led his regiment a mile in the pursuit. When it became evident that the retreat was a complete rout, he resigned the command to Lieutenant-Colonel Blackwell, and rode back to the battlefield.
Picking his way to avoid trampling the dead, Russell saw Major Huntingdon at a little distance, trying to drag himself toward a neighbouring tree. The memory of his injuries crowded upon the memory of all that he had endured and lost through that man's prejudice—the sorrow that might have been averted from his blind mother—and his vindictive spirit rebelled at the thought of rendering him aid. But as he paused and struggled against his better nature, Irene's holy face, as he saw it last, lifted in prayer for him, rose, angel-like, above all that mass of death and horrors. The sufferer was Irene's father; she was hundreds of miles away. Russell set his lips firmly, and, riding up to the prostrate figure, dismounted. Exhausted by his efforts, Major Huntingdon had fallen back in the dust, and an expression of intolerable agony distorted his features as Russell stooped over him, and asked in a voice meant to be gentle—
"Can I do anything for you? Could you sit up, if I placed you on my horse?"
The wounded man scowled as he recognized the voice and face, and turned his head partially away, muttering—
"What brought you here?"
"There has never been any love between us, Major Huntingdon; but we are fighting in the same cause for the first time in our lives. You are badly wounded, and, as a fellow-soldier, I should be glad to relieve your sufferings, if possible. Once more, for humanity's sake, I ask, can you ride my horse to the rear, if I assist you to mount?"
"No. But, for God's sake, give me some water!"
Russell knelt, raised the head, and unbuckling his canteen, put it to his lips, using his own wounded arm with some difficulty. Half of the contents was eagerly swallowed, and the remainder Russell poured slowly on the gaping, ghastly wound in his side. The proud man eyed him, steadily till the last cool drop was exhausted, and said sullenly—
"You owe me no kindness, Aubrey. I hate you, and you know it. But you have heaped coals of fire on my head. You are more generous than I thought you. Thank you, Aubrey; lay me under that tree yonder, and let me die."
"I will try to find a surgeon. Who belongs to your regiment?"
"Somebody whom I never saw till last week. I won't have him hacking about me. Leave me in peace."
"Do you know anything of your servant? I saw him as I came on the field."
"Poor William! he followed me so closely that he was shot through the head. He is lying three hundred yards to the left, yonder. Poor fellow! he was faithful to the last."
A tear dimmed the master's eagle eye as he muttered, rather than spoke, these words.
"Then I will find Dr. Arnold at once, and send him to you."
It was no easy matter, on that crowded, confused Aceldama, and the afternoon was well-nigh spent before Russell, faint and weary, descried Dr. Arnold busily using his instruments in a group of wounded. He rode up, and, having procured a drink of water and refilled his canteen, approached the surgeon.
"Doctor, where is your horse? I want you."
"Ho, Cyrus! bring him up. What is the matter, Aubrey? You are hurt."
"Nothing serious, I think. But Major Huntingdon is desperately wounded—mortally, I am afraid. See what you can do for him."
"You must be mistaken! I have asked repeatedly for Leonard, and they told me he was in hot pursuit, and unhurt. I hope to Heaven you are mistaken."
"Impossible; I tell you I lifted him out of a pool of his own blood. Come; I will show you the way."
At a hard gallop they crossed the intervening woods, and, without difficulty, Russell found the spot where the mangled form lay still. He had swooned, with his face turned up to the sky, and the ghastliness of death had settled on his strongly marked, handsome features.
"God pity Irene!" said the doctor, as he bent down and examined the horrid wound, striving to press the red lips together.
The pain caused from handling him roused the brave spirit to consciousness, and opening his eyes he looked around wonderingly.
"Well, Hiram! it is all over with me, old fellow."
"I hope not, Leonard; can't you turn a little, and let me feel for the ball?"
"It is of no use; I am torn all to pieces. Take me out of this dirt, on the fresh grass somewhere."
"I must first extract the ball. Aubrey, can you help me raise him a little?"
Administering some chloroform, he soon succeeded in taking out the ball, and, with Russell's assistance, passed a bandage round the body.
"There is no chance for me, Hiram; I know that. I have few minutes to live. Some water."
Russell put a cup to his white lips, and calling in the assistance of Cyrus, who had followed his master, they carried him several yards farther, and made him comfortable, while orders were despatched for an ambulance.
A horrible convulsion seized him at this moment, and so intense was the agony that a groan burst through his set teeth, and he struggled to rise. Russell knelt down and rested the haughty head against his shoulder, wiping off the cold drops that beaded the pallid brow. After a little while, lifting his eyes to the face bending over him, Major Huntingdon gazed into the melancholy black eyes, and said, almost in a whisper—
"I little thought I should ever owe you thanks. Aubrey, forgive me all my hate; you can afford to do so now. I am not a brute; I know magnanimity when I see it. Perhaps I was wrong to visit Amy's sins on you; but I could not forgive her. Aubrey, it was natural that I should hate Amy's son."
Again the spasm shook his lacerated frame, and twenty minutes after his fierce, relentless spirit was released from torture; the proud, ambitious, dauntless man was with his God.
Dr. Arnold closed the eyes with trembling fingers, and covered his face with his hands to hide the tears that he could not repress.
For some moments silence reigned; then Dr. Arnold said suddenly—
"Come in, and let me see your arm. Your sleeve is full of blood."
An examination discovered a painful flesh-wound—the minnie ball having glanced from the shoulder and passed out through the upper part of the arm. In removing the coat to dress the wound, the doctor exclaimed—
"Here is a bullet-hole in the breast, which must have just missed your heart! Was it a spent ball?"
A peculiar smile disclosed Russell's faultless teeth an instant, but he merely took the coat, laid it over his uninjured arm, and answered—
"Don't trouble yourself about spent balls—finish your job. I must look after my wounded."
As soon as the bandages were adjusted he walked away and took from the inside pocket of the coat a heavy square morocco case containing Irene's ambrotype. When the coat was buttoned as on that day, it rested over his heart; and during the second desperate charge of General Beauregard's lines, Russell felt a sudden thump, and, above all the roar of that scene of carnage, heard the shivering of the glass which covered the likeness. The morocco was torn and indented, but the ball was turned aside harmless, and now, as he touched the spring, the fragments of glass fell at his feet. It was evident that his towering form had rendered him a conspicuous target; some accurate marksman had aimed at his heart, and the ambrotype-case had preserved his life. With a countenance pale from physical suffering, but beaming with triumphant joy for the Nation's first great victory, he went out among the dead and dying, striving to relieve the wounded, and to find the members of his own command.
But all of intolerable torture centred not there, awful as was the scene. Throughout the length and breadth of the Confederacy telegraphic despatches told that the battle was raging; and an army of women spent that 21st upon their knees, in agonizing prayer for husbands and sons who wrestled for their birthright on the far-off field of blood.
The people of W—— were subjected to painful suspense as hour after hour crept by, and a dense crowd collected in front of the telegraph office, whence floated an ominous red flag. Andrew waited on horseback to carry to Irene the latest intelligence, and during the entire afternoon she paced the colonnade, with her eyes fixed on the winding road. At half-past five o'clock the solemn stillness of the sultry day was suddenly broken by a wild, prolonged shout from the town; cheer after cheer was caught up by the hills, echoed among the purple valleys, and finally lost in the roar of the river. Andrew galloped up the avenue with an extra, yet damp from the printing-press, containing the joyful tidings that McDowell's army had been completely routed, and was being pursued toward Alexandria. Meagre was the account—our heroes, Bee and Bartow, had fallen. No other details were given, but the premonition, "Heavy loss on our side," sent a thrill of horror to every womanly heart, dreading to learn the price of victory. Irene's white face flashed as she read the despatch, and raising her hands, exclaimed—
"Oh, thank God! thank God!"
"Shall I go back to the office?"
"Yes; I shall certainly get a despatch from father some time to-night. Go back and wait for it. Tell Mr. Rogers, the operator, what you came for, and ask him I say please to let you have it as soon as it arrives. And, Andrew, bring me any other news that may come before my despatch."
As the night advanced, her face grew haggard, and the wan lips fluttered ceaselessly. Russell she regarded as already dead to her in this world, but for her father she wrestled desperately in spirit. Mrs. Campbell joined her, uttering hopeful, encouraging words, and Nellie came out, with a cup of tea on a waiter.
"Please drink your tea, just to please me, Queen. I can't bear to look at you. In all your life I never saw you worry so. Do sit down and rest; you have walked fifty miles since morning."
"Take it away, Nellie. I don't want it."
"But, child, it will be time enough to fret when you know Mas' Leonard is hurt. Don't run to meet trouble; it will face you soon enough. If you won't take the tea, for pity's sake let me get you a glass of wine."
"No; I tell you I can't swallow anything. If you want to help me, pray for father."
She resumed her walk, with her eyes strained in the direction of the town.
Thus passed three more miserable hours; then the clang of the iron gate at the foot of the avenue fell on her aching ear; the tramp of horses' hoofs and roll of wheels came up the gravelled walk.
The carriage stopped; Judge Harris and his wife came up the steps, followed slowly by Andrew, whose hat was slouched over his eyes. As they approached Irene put out her hands wistfully.
"We have won a glorious victory, Irene, but many of our noble soldiers are wounded. I knew you would be anxious, and we came——"
"Is my father killed!"
"Your father was wounded. He led a splendid charge."
"Wounded! No! he is killed! Andrew, tell me the truth—is father dead?"
The faithful negro could no longer repress his grief, and sobbed convulsively, unable to reply.
"Oh, my God! I knew it!" she gasped.
The gleaming arms were thrown up despairingly, and a low, dreary cry wailed through the stately old mansion as the orphan turned her eyes upon Nellie and Andrew—the devoted two who had petted her from childhood.
Judge Harris led her into the library, and his weeping wife endeavoured to offer consolation, but she stood rigid and tearless, holding out her hand for the despatch. Finally they gave it to her and she read:—
"CHARLES T. HARRIS—
"Huntingdon was desperately wounded at three o'clock to-day, in making a charge. He died two hours ago. I was with him. The body leaves to-morrow for W——.
The paper fell from her fingers; with a dry sob she turned from them, and threw herself on the sofa, with her face of woe to the wall. So passed the night.
THE BLOCKADE RUNNER
"I intend to trust you with important despatches, Miss Grey—for I have great confidence in female ingenuity, as well as female heroism. The meekest of women are miniature Granvelles; nature made you a race of schemers. Pardon me if I ask, how you propose to conceal the despatches? It is no easy matter now to run the blockade of a Southern port, especially on the Gulf; and you must guard against being picked up by the Philistines."
"I am fully aware of all the risk attending my trip; but if you will give me the papers, prepared as I directed in my note from Paris, I will pledge my life that they shall reach Richmond safely. If I am captured and carried North, I have friends who will assist me in procuring a passport to the South, and little delay will occur. If I am searched, I can bid them defiance. Give me the despatches, and I will show you how I intend to take them."
Electra opened her trunk, took out a large portfolio, and selected from the drawings one in crayon representing the heads of Michael Angelo's Fates. Spreading it out, face downward, on the table, she laid the closely-written tissue paper of despatches smoothly on the back of the thin pasteboard; then fitted a square piece of oil-silk on the tissue missive, and having, with a small brush, coated the silk with paste, covered the whole with a piece of thick drawing paper, the edges of which were carefully glued to those of the pasteboard. Taking a hot iron from the grate, she passed it repeatedly over the paper, till all was smooth and dry; then in the centre wrote with a pencil: "Michael Angelo's Fates, in the Pitti Palace. Copied May 8th, 1861." From a list of figures in a small note-book she added the dimensions of the picture, and underneath all, a line from Euripides.
Her eyes sparkled as she bent over her work, and at length, lifting it for inspection, she exclaimed triumphantly—
"There, sir! I can baffle even the Paris detective, much more the lynx-eyed emissaries of Lincoln, Seward & Co. Are you satisfied? Examine it with your own hands."
"Perfectly satisfied, my dear young lady. But suppose they should seize your trunk? Confiscation is the cry all over the North."
"Finding nothing suspicious or 'contraband' about me, except my Southern birth and sympathies, they would scarcely take possession of the necessary tools of my profession. I have no fear, sir; the paper is fated to reach its destination."
"Are your other despatches sealed up pictorially?"
She laughed heartily.
"Of course not. We women are too shrewd to hazard all upon one die."
"Well—well! You see that we trust important data to your cunning fingers. You leave London to-morrow for Southampton; will arrive just in time for the steamer. Good-bye, Miss Grey. When I get back to the Confederacy, I shall certainly find you out. I want you to paint the portraits of my wife and children. From the enviable reputation you have already acquired I am proud to claim you for my countrywoman. God bless you, and lead you safely home. Good-bye, Mr. Mitchell. Take care of her and let me hear from you on your arrival."
From the hour when tidings of the fall of Sumter reached Europe, Electra had resolved to cut short the studies which she had pursued so vigorously since her removal to Florence, and return to the South. But the tide of travel set toward, not from European shores, and it was not until after repeated attempts to find some one homeward-bound, that she learned of Eric Mitchell's presence in Paris, and his intention of soon returning to W——. She wrote at once, requesting his permission to place herself under his care. It was cordially accorded; and, bidding adieu to Italy, she joined him without delay, despite the pleadings of Mr., Mrs. Young, and Louisa, who had recently arrived at Florence, and sincerely mourned a separation under such painful circumstances.
Eric was detained in Paris by a severe attack of the old disease, but finally reached London—whence, having completed their arrangements, they set off for Southampton, and took passage in the Trent, which was destined subsequently to play a prominent part in the tangled role of Diplomacy, and to furnish the most utterly humiliating of many chapters of the pusillanimity, sycophancy, and degradation of the Federal government.
The voyage proved pleasant and prosperous; and, once at Havana, Eric anxiously sought an opportunity of testing the vaunted efficiency of the blockade. Unfortunately, two steamers had started the week previous, one to New Orleans, the other to Charleston; only sailing vessels were to be found, and about the movements of these, impenetrable mystery seemed wrapped. On the afternoon of the third day after their arrival, Eric, wearied with the morning's fruitless inquiry, was resting on the sofa at the hotel, while Electra watched the tide of passers-by, when Willis, Eric's servant, came in quickly, and walked up to the sofa.
"Master, Captain Wright is here. I asked him to come and see you, and he is waiting downstairs."
"Yes, sir; the captain you liked so much at Smyrna—the one who gave you that pipe, sir."
"Oh, I remember! Yes—yes; and he is here? Well, show him up."
"Master, from the way he watches the clouds, I believe he is about to run out. Maybe he can take us?"
"Willis is invaluable to you, Mr. Mitchell," said Electra, as the negro left the room.
"He is indeed. He is eyes, ears, crutches, everything to me, and never forgets anything or anybody. He has travelled over half the world with me—could desert me, and be free at any moment he felt inclined to do so—but is as faithful now as the day on which I first left home with him."
"Ah, Captain! this is an unexpected pleasure. I am heartily glad to see you. Miss Grey—Captain Wright. Take a seat."
The captain looked about thirty, possibly older; wore a grey suit and broad straw hat, and, when the latter was tossed on the floor, showed a handsome, frank, beaming face, with large, clear, smiling blue eyes, whose steady light nothing human could dim. His glossy reddish-brown hair was thrust back from a forehead white and smooth as a woman's, but the lower portion of the face was effectually bronzed by exposure to the vicissitudes of climate and weather; and Electra noticed a peculiar nervous restlessness of manner, as though he were habitually on the watch.
"I am astonished to see you in Havana, Mitchell. Where did you come from?"
"Just from Paris, where bad health drove me, after I bade you good-bye at Smyrna. Have you a vessel here, captain?"
"Of course I have! Don't you suppose that I would be in the army if I could not serve my country better by carrying in arms and ammunition? I have already made two successful trips with my schooner—ran in, despite the blockaders. I am negotiating for a steamer, but until I can get one ready I intend to sail on."
"When did you arrive here last?"
"About ten days ago. They chased me for nearly fifteen miles, but I stole out of sight before morning."
"When do you expect to leave here?"
The captain darted a swift, searching glance at Electra, rose and closed the door, saying, with a light laugh—
"Take care, man! You are not exactly deer-hunting or crab-catching in a free country! Mind that, and talk softly. I am watched here; the Federal agents all know me, and there are several Federal vessels in port. When do I expect to leave? Well, to-night, if the weather thickens up, as I think it will, and there is evident sign of a storm. Most sailors wait for fair weather; we blockade runners for foul."
"Oh, Captain! do take us with you!" said Electra eagerly.
"What! In a rickety schooner, in the teeth of a gale? Besides, Miss, I am taking a cargo of powder this trip, and if I am hard pressed I shall blow up vessel and all, rather than suffer it to fall into Yankee clutches. You would not relish going up to heaven after the fashion of a rocket, would you?"
"I am willing, sir, to risk everything you threaten, rather than wait here indefinitely."
"Can't you take us, Wright—Miss Grey, Willis, and myself? We are very impatient to get home."
"But I have no accommodation for passengers."
"But I suppose, sir, we could contrive to live a few days without eating at a regular table. I will take some cheese and crackers and fruit along in a basket, if that will ease your mind. Do waive your scruples, and consent to take charge of us."
"I add my prayers to hers. Wright, do take us. We shall not mind privations or inconvenience."
"Well, then, understand distinctly that, if anything happens, you are not to blame me. If the young lady gets sea-sick, or freckled, or sunburnt, or starved to death, or blown up, or drowned, or, worse than all, if the Yankee thieves by the wayside take her as a prize, it will be no fault of mine whatever, and I tell you now I shall not lay it on my conscience."
"Wright, to what part are you bound?"
"Ah! that is more than I can tell you. The winds must decide it. I can't try the Carolinas again this trip; they are watching for me too closely there. New Orleans is rather a longer run than I care to make, and I shall keep my eyes on Apalachicola and Mobile."
"What object have you in starting to-night, particularly in the face of a gale?"
Again the captain's eyes swept round the room, to guard against any doors that might be ajar.
"As I told you before, I am watched here. The Federals have a distinguished regard for me, and I have to elude suspicion, as well as run well, when I do get out. Two hours ago a Federal armed steamer which has been coaling here, weighed anchor, and has probably left the harbour, to cruise between this place and Key West. As they passed, one of the crew yelled out to me that they would wait outside, and catch me certainly this time; that I had made my last jaunt to Dixie, etc. I have carefully put out the impression that I need some repairs, which cannot be finished this week; and have told one or two confidentially that I could not leave until the arrival of a certain cargo from Nassau which is due to-morrow. That Puritanical craft which started off at noon does not expect me for several days, and to-night I shall rub my fingers and sail out right in her wake. Ha! ha! how they will howl! What gnashing of teeth there will be, when they hear of me in a Confederate port! And now about your baggage. Have everything ready; I will show Willis the right wharf, and at dark he must bring the trunks down; I will be on the watch, and send a boat ashore. About sunset you and Miss Grey can come aboard, as if for a mere visit. I must go and make what little preparation I can for your comfort."
Nothing occurred to frustrate the plan; Eric and Electra were cordially received, and at dusk Willis and the baggage arrived punctually. The schooner was lying some distance from the wharf, all sails down, and apparently contemplating no movement. With darkness came a brisk, stiffening wind, and clouds shutting out even dim starlight. At ten o'clock, all things being in readiness, the captain went on deck; very soon after the glimmering lights of the city, then the frowning walls of Moro, were left behind, and the Dixie took her way silently and swiftly seaward.
About two o'clock, being unable to sleep, from the rocking of the vessel, Electra, knowing that Eric was still on deck, crept up the steps in the darkness, for the lights had been extinguished. The captain was passing, but paused, saying in a whisper—
"Is that you, Miss Grey? Come this way and I will show you something."
He grasped her hand, led her to the bow, where Eric was sitting on a coil of rope, and, pointing straightforward, added in the same suppressed tone—
"Look right ahead—you see a light? The Philistines are upon us! Look well, and you will see a dark, irregular, moving mass; that is the steamer of which I told you. They have found out at last that there is going to be all sorts of a gale, and as they can't ride it like my snug, dainty little egg-shell, they are putting back with all possible speed. Twenty minutes ago they were bearing down on me; now you see that they will pass to our left. What a pity they don't know their neighbours!"
"Do you think that they will not see you?"
"Certainly! with sails down, and lights out, there is nothing to be seen on such a night as this. There! don't you hear her paddles?"
"No. I hear nothing but the roar of the wind and water."
"Ah! that is because your ears are not trained like mine. Great Neptune! how she labours already! Now! be silent."
On came the steamer, which Electra's untrained eyes, almost blinded by spray, could barely discern; and her heart beat like a muffled drum as it drew nearer and nearer. Once she heard a low, chuckling laugh of satisfaction escape the captain; then, with startling distinctness, the ringing of a bell was borne from the steamer's deck.
"Four bells—two o'clock. How chagrined they will be to-morrow, when they find out they passed me without paying their respects!" whispered the captain.
Gradually the vessel receded, the dark mass grew indistinct, the light flickered, and was soon lost to view, and the sound of the labouring machinery was drowned in the roar of the waves.
Before he went back on deck, the captain made a comfortable place for her on the sofa in the little cabin. The storm increased until it blew a perfect hurricane, and the schooner rolled and creaked, now and then shivering in every timber. It was utterly impossible to sleep, and Eric, who was suffering from a headache, passed a miserable night. In the white sickly dawn the captain looked in again, and Electra thought that no ray of sunshine could be more radiant or cheering than his joyous, noble face.
About noon the fury of the gale subsided, the sun looked out through rifts in the scudding clouds, and toward night fields of quiet blue were once more visible. By next morning the weather had cleared up, with a brisk westerly wind; but the sea still rolled heavily; and Eric, unable to bear the motion, kept below, loth to trust himself on his feet. Electra strove to while away the tedious time by reading aloud to him; but many a yearning look was cast toward the deck, and finally she left him with a few books, and ran up to the open air.
On the afternoon of the third day after leaving Havana the captain said—
"Well, Miss Grey, I shall place you on Confederate soil to-morrow, God willing."
"Then you are going to Mobile?"
"Yes; I shall try hard to get in there early in the morning. You will know your fate before many hours."
"Do you regard this trial as particularly hazardous?"
"Of course; the blockading squadrons grow more efficient and expert every day, and some danger necessarily attends every trial. Mobile ought to be pretty well guarded by this time."
The wind was favourable, and the schooner ploughed its way swiftly through the autumn night. The captain did not close his eyes; and just about daylight Electra and Eric, aroused by a sudden running to and fro, rose, and simultaneously made their appearance on deck.
"What is the matter, Wright?"
"Matter! why, look ahead, my dear fellow, and see where we are. Yonder is Sand Island lighthouse, and a little to the right is Fort Morgan. But the fleet to the left is hardly six miles off, and it will be a tight race if I get in."
There was but a glimmering light, rimming the East, where two or three stars burned with indescribable brilliance and beauty, and in the grey haze and wreaths of mist which curled over the white-capped waves, Electra could distinguish nothing. The air was chill, and she said, with a slight shiver—
"I can't see any lighthouse."
"There is, of course, no light there, these war-times; but you see that tall, white tower, don't you? There, look through my glass. That low dark object yonder is the outline of the fort; you will see it more distinctly after a little. Now, look right where my finger points; that is the flag-staff. Look up overhead—I have hoisted our flag, and pretty soon it will be a target for those dogs.
"Ha! Mitchell! Hutchinson! they see us! There is some movement among them. They are getting ready to cut us off this side of the Swash channel! We shall see."
He had crowded on all sail, and the little vessel dashed through the light fog as if conscious of her danger, and resolved to sustain herself gallantly. Day broke fully, sea and sky took the rich orange tint which only autumn mornings give, and in this glow a Federal frigate and sloop slipped from their moorings, and bore down threateningly on the graceful bounding schooner.
"But for the fog, which puzzled me about three o'clock, I should have run by unseen, and they would never have known it till I was safe in Navy cove. We will beat them, though, as it is, by about twenty minutes. An hour ago I was afraid I should have to beach her. Are you getting frightened, Miss Grey?"
"Oh, no! I would not have missed this for any consideration. How rapidly the Federal vessels move! They are gaining on us."
Her curling hair, damp with mist, clustered around her forehead; she had wrapped a scarlet crape shawl about her shoulders, and stood with her red lips apart and trembling, watched the exciting race.
"Look at the frigate!"
There was a flash at her bow, a curl of white smoke rolled up, then a heavy roar, and a thirty-two pounder round shot fell about a hundred yards to the right of the vessel.
A yell of defiance rent the air from the crew of the Dixie—hats were waved—and, snatching off her shawl, Electra shook its bright folds to the stiffening breeze, while her hot cheeks matched them in depth of colour.
Another and another shot was fired in quick succession, and so accurate had they become, that the last whizzed through the rigging, cutting one of the small ropes.
"Humph! they are getting saucy," said the captain looking up coolly, when the yells of his crew ceased for a moment; and, with a humorous twinkle in his fine eyes, he added—
"Better go below, Miss Grey; they might clip one of your curls next time. The Vandals see you, I dare say, and your red flag stings their Yankee pride a little."
"Do you suppose they can distinguish me?"
"Certainly. Through my glass I can see the gunners at work, and of course they see you. Should not be surprised if they aimed specially at you. That is the style of New England chivalry."
Whiz—whiz; both sloop and frigate were firing now in good earnest, and one shell exploded a few yards from the side of the little vessel, tossing the foam and water over the group on deck.
The boom of a columbiad from the fort shook the air like thunder, and gave to the blockaders the unmistakable assurance, "Thus far, and no farther."
The schooner strained on its way; a few shot fell behind, and soon, under the frowning bastions of the fort, whence the Confederate banner floated so proudly on the balmy Gulf breeze, spreading its free folds like an aegis, the gallant little vessel passed up the channel, and came to anchor in Mobile Bay, amid the shouts of crew and garrison, and welcomed by a salute of five guns.
RESULTS OF SECESSION
Immediately after her arrival in Mobile, Electra prepared to forward her despatches by Captain Wright, whose business called him to Richmond before his return to Cuba; and an examination of them proved that the expedient resorted to was perfectly successful. By moistening the edges of the drawing-paper, the tissue missive was drawn out uninjured, and, to Eric's surprise, she removed the carefully-stitched blue silk which lined the tops of her travelling gauntlets, and extracted similar despatches, all of which were at once transmitted to the seat of government. While waiting for a boat, they heard the painful tidings of Major Huntingdon's death, which increased Eric's impatience to reach W——. The remainder of the journey was sad, and four days after leaving the Gulf City the lights of W—— and roar of the Falls simultaneously greeted the spent travellers. Having telegraphed of his safe arrival, the carriage was waiting at the depot, and Andrew handed to Electra a note from his mistress, requesting her to come at once to her house instead of going to the hotel. Eric added earnest persuasion, and with some reluctance the artist finally consented. They were prepared for the silent, solemn aspect of the house, and for the mourning dress of the orphan, but not for the profound calm, the melancholy, tearless composure with which she received them. Mental and physical suffering had sadly changed her. The oval face was thinner, and her form had lost its roundness, but the countenance retained its singular loveliness, and the mesmeric splendour of the large eyes seemed enhanced. Of her father she did not speak, but gave her uncle a written statement of all the facts which she had been able to gather concerning the circumstances of his death; and thus a tacit compact was formed; to make no reference to the painful subject.
As she accompanied Electra to the room prepared for her, on the night of her arrival, the latter asked, with ill-concealed emotion—
"Irene, can you tell me anything about Russell? I am very anxious to hear something of him."
Irene placed the silver lamp on the table, and standing in its glow, answered quietly—
"He was wounded in the arm at Manassa, but retains command of his regiment, and is doing very well. Dr. Arnold is the regimental surgeon, and in one of his letters to me he mentioned that your cousin's wound was not serious."
"I am going to him immediately."
"Unfortunately, you will not be allowed to do so. The wounded were removed to Richmond as promptly as possible, but your cousin remained at Manassa, where ladies are not permitted."
"Then I will write to him to meet me in Richmond."
Irene made no reply, and, watching her all the while, Electra asked—
"When did you see him last? How did he look?"
"The day before he started to Richmond. He was very well, I believe, but looked harassed and paler than usual. He is so robust, however, that I think you need entertain no apprehension concerning his health."
The inflexible features, the low, clear, firm voice were puzzling, and Electra's brow thickened and darkened as she thought—
"Her father is dead now; there is no obstacle remaining. She must love him, and yet she gives no sign of interest."
Two days later, they sat together before one of the parlour windows. Electra was engaged in tearing off and rolling bandages, while Irene slowly scraped lint from a quantity of old linen, which filled a basket at her side. Neither had spoken for some time; the sadness of their occupation called up gloomy thoughts; but finally Electra laid down a roll of cloth, and, interlacing her slight fingers, said—
"Irene, the women of the South must exercise an important influence in determining our national destiny; and because I felt this so fully, I hurried home to share the perils, and privations, and trials of my countrywomen. It is not my privilege to enter the army, and wield a sword or musket; but I am going to true womanly work—into the crowded hospitals, to watch faithfully over sick and wounded."
"I approve your plan, think it your duty, and wish that I could start to Richmond with you to-morrow—for I believe that in this way we may save valuable lives. You should, as you have said, go on at once; you have nothing to keep you; your work is waiting for you there. But my position is different; I have many things to arrange here before I can join you. I want to see the looms at work on the plantation; and am going down next week with Uncle Eric, to consult with the overseer about several changes which I desire made concerning the negroes. When all this is accomplished, I too shall come into the hospitals."
"About what time may I expect you?"
"Not until you see me; but at the earliest practicable day."
"Your uncle objects very strenuously to such a plan, does he not?"
"He will acquiesce at the proper time. Take care! you are making your bandages too wide."
"A long dark vista stretches before the Confederacy. I cannot, like many persons, feel sanguine of a speedy termination of the war."
"Yes—a vista lined with the bloody graves of her best sons; but beyond glimmers Freedom—Independence."
"But do you still cling to a belief in the possibility of Republican forms of Government? This is a question which constantly disquiets me."
"My faith in that possibility is unshaken. We shall yet teach the world that self-government is feasible."
"But in Europe, where the subject is eagerly canvassed, the impression obtains that, in the great fundamental principle of our government, will be found the germ of its dissolution. This war is waged to establish the right of Secession, and the doctrine that 'all just governments rest on the consent of the governed.' With such a precedent, it would be worse than stultification to object to the secession of any State or States now constituting the Confederacy, who at a future day may choose to withdraw from the present compact. Granting our independence, which Europe regards as a foregone conclusion, what assurance have you (say they, gloating, in anticipation over the prospect) that, so soon as the common dangers of war, which for a time cemented you so closely, are over, entire disintegration will not ensue, and all your boasts end in some dozen anarchical pseudo-republics, like those of South America and Mexico?"
"That is an evil which our legislators must guard against by timely provision. We are now, thank God! a thoroughly homogeneous people, with no antagonistic systems of labour necessitating conflicting interests. As States, we are completely identified in commerce and agriculture, and no differences need arise. Purified from all connection with the North, and with no vestige of the mischievous element of New England Puritanism, we can be a prosperous and noble people."
Electra had finished the bandages, and was walking slowly before the windows, and, without looking up from the lint, which she was tying into small packages, Irene said—
"Electra, my friend, are you sure that you realize your personal responsibility? Your profession will give, you vast influence in forming public taste and I hope much from its judicious use. Be careful that you select only the highest, purest types to offer to your countrymen and women, when Peace enables us to turn our attention to the great work of building up a noble school of Southern Art. We want no feeble, sickly sentimentality, nor yet the sombre austerity which seems to pervade your mind, judging from the works you have shown me."
A slight quiver crossed the mobile features of the artist as she bit her full lip, and asked—
"What would you pronounce the distinguishing characteristic of my works? I saw, yesterday, that you were not fully satisfied."
"A morbid melancholy, which you seem to have fostered tenderly instead of crushing vigorously. A disposition to dwell upon the stern and gloomy aspects of the physical world, and to intensify and reproduce abnormal and unhappy phases of character. Your breezy, sunshiny, joyous moods you have kept under lock and key while in your studio."
"I admit the truth of your criticism, and I have struggled against the spirit which hovers with clouding wings over all that I do; but the shadow has not lifted—God knows whether it ever will. You have finished your work; come to my room for a few minutes."
They went upstairs together; and as Electra unlocked and bent over a large square trunk, her companion noticed a peculiar curl about the lines of the mouth, and a heavy scowl on the broad brow.
"I want to show you the only bright, shining face I ever painted."
She unwrapped an oval portrait, placed it on the mantelpiece, and, stepping back, fixed her gaze on Irene. She saw a tremor cross the quiet mouth, and for some seconds the sad eyes dwelt upon the picture as if fascinated.
"It must have been a magnificent portrait of your cousin, years ago; but he has changed materially since it was painted. He looks much older, sterner, now."
"Irene, I value this portrait above everything else save the original; and, as I may be called to pass through various perils, I want you to take care of it for me until I come back to W——. It is a precious trust, which I would be willing to leave in no hands but yours."
"You forget that, before long, I, too, shall go to Virginia."
"Then pack it away carefully among your old family pictures, where it will be secure. I left my large and best paintings in Italy, with Aunt Ruth, who promised to preserve and send them to me as soon as the blockade should be raised."
"What are Mr. Young's views concerning this war?"
"He utterly abhors the party who inaugurated it, and the principles upon which it is waged. Says he will not return to America at least for the present; and as soon as he can convert his property into money, intends to move to the South. He opposed and regretted Secession until he saw the spirit of the Lincoln dynasty, and from that time he acknowledged that all hope of Union or reconstruction was lost. Have you heard anything from Harvey since the troubles began?"
"It is more than a year since I received a line from him. He was then still in the West, but made no allusion to the condition of the country."
"Irene, I hope to see Russell soon. You were once dear friends; have you any message for him—any word of kind remembrance?"
One of Irene's hands glided to her side, but she answered composedly—
"He knows that he always has my best wishes; but will expect no message."
On the following day Electra started to Richmond, taking with her a large supply of hospital stores, which the ladies of W—— had contributed.
Eric had proposed to his niece the expediency of selling the Hill, and becoming an inmate of his snug, tasteful, bachelor home; but she firmly refused to consent to this plan: said that she would spend her life in the house of her birth; and it was finally arranged that her uncle should reserve such of the furniture as he valued particularly, and offer the residue for sale, with the pretty cottage, to which he was warmly attached. During the remainder of autumn Irene was constantly engaged in superintending work for the soldiers, in providing for several poor families in whom she was much interested, and in frequent visits to the plantation, where she found more than enough to occupy her mind; and Eric often wondered at the admirable system and punctuality she displayed—at the grave composure with which she discharged her daily duties, and the invariable reticence she observed with regard to her past life.
"Did you ring, Mas' Eric?"
"Yes. Has Irene come home?"
"Not yet, sir."
"Bring some more wood."
Owing to the scarcity of coal, the grate had been removed, and massive brass andirons substituted. John piled them with oak wood, swept the hearth, and retired. After a time, the door opened and the mistress came in.
"Irene! you must be nearly frozen. What kept you out so late?"
"I had more than usual to attend to at the Asylum this afternoon."
"What was the matter?"
"We have a new matron, and I was particularly anxious that she should start right in one or two respects. I waited, too, in order to see the children at supper, and satisfy myself about the cooking."
"How many orphans are there in the Asylum?"
"Thirty-four. I admitted two this evening—children of one of our soldiers, who died from a wound received at Leesburg."
"Poor little things! I am afraid you will find numbers of similar instances before this war is at an end."
"We will try to find room for all such cases. The building will accommodate one hundred."
"You must be very cold; I will make John bring you a glass of wine."
"No, sir; I do not need it. My shawl was thick and warm."
She turned her head slightly, and raised her eyes.
"Did you receive a letter which I sent to your room?"
"Yes, sir. It was from Dr. Arnold."
"He has established himself in Richmond."
"Yes, sir; his recent attack of rheumatism unfitted him for service in the field."
"I had a letter from Colonel Aubrey to-day. He wants to buy my house."
She made no comment, and her eyes drooped again to the perusal of the strange shapes which danced and flickered on the burnished andirons.
"What use do you suppose he had for it?"
"I cannot imagine, unless he intends it as a home for Electra."
"What a witch you are at guessing; that is exactly it. He says, in this letter, that he may not survive the war, and wishes to have the assurance that his cousin is comfortably provided for, before he goes into another battle. His offer is liberal, and I shall accept it."
"Well, I am glad she will own it—for I have often heard her speak of those old poplar trees in the front yard. She has always admired the place."
At this juncture the tea-bell summoned them to the dining-room, and she allowed her uncle no opportunity of renewing the conversation. When the meal was concluded, and they had returned to the library, Irene drew her table and basket near the lamp, and resumed her knitting. The invalid frowned, and asked impatiently—
"Can't you buy as many of those coarse things as you want, without toiling night and day?"
"In the first place, I do not toil; knitting is purely mechanical, very easy, and I like it. In the second place, I cannot buy them, and our men need them when they are standing on guard. It is cold work holding a musket in the open air, such weather as this."
He looked annoyed, and dived deeper among his cushions.
"Don't you feel as well as usual this evening, Uncle Eric?"
"Oh! I am well enough—but I hate the everlasting motion of those steel needles."
She rolled up the glove, put it in her basket, and rose.
"Shall I read to you? Or, how would you like a game of chess?"
"I do not expect you to humour my whims. Above all things, my child, I dread the thought of becoming troublesome to you."
"You can never be that, Uncle Eric; and I shall always be glad if you will tell me how I can make your time pass more pleasantly. I know this house must seem gloomy enough at best. Let us try a game of chess; we have not played since you came from Europe."
She brought the board, and they sat down to the most quiet and absorbing of all games. Both played well, and when Eric was finally vanquished, he was surprised to find, from the hands of the clock, that the game had lasted nearly two hours. As she carefully replaced the ivory combatants in their box, Irene said—
"Uncle, you know that I have long desired and intended to go to Richmond, but various circumstances combined to keep me at home. I felt that I had duties here which must first be discharged; now the time has come when I can accomplish my long-cherished plan. Dr. Arnold has taken charge of the hospital in Richmond which was established with the money we sent from W—— for the relief of our regiments. Mrs. Campbell is about to be installed as matron, and I have to-day decided to join them. In his letter received this afternoon he orders me not to come, but I know that he will give me a ward when he finds me at his elbow. I am aware that you have always opposed this project, but I hope, sir, that you will waive your objections, and go on with me next week."
"It is a strange and unreasonable freak, which, I must say, I do not approve of. There are plenty of nurses to be hired, who have more experience, and are every way far more suitable for such positions."
"Uncle, the men in our armies are not hired to fight our battles; and the least the women of the land can do is to nurse them when sick or wounded."
She laid her hand gently on his whitening hair, and added pleadingly—
"Do not oppose me, Uncle Eric. I want your sanction in all that I do. There are only two of us left; go with me as my adviser—protector. I could not be happy if you were not with me."
His eyes filled instantly, and drawing her close to him, he exclaimed tremulously—
"My dear Irene! there is nothing I would not do to make you happy. Happy I fear you never will be. Ah! don't smile and contradict me; I know the difference between happiness and resignation. Patience, uncomplaining endurance, never yet stole the garments of joy. I will go with you to Virginia, or anywhere else that you wish."
"Thank you, Uncle Eric. I will try to make you forget the comforts of home, and give you no reason to regret that you sacrificed your wishes and judgment to mine. I must not keep you up any later."
The army of the Potomac had fallen back to Yorktown when Irene reached Richmond; and the preparations which were being made for the reception of the wounded gave melancholy premonition of impending battles.
Dr. Arnold had been entrusted with the supervision of several hospitals, but gave special attention to one established with the funds contributed by the citizens of W——, and thither Irene repaired on the day of her arrival.
In reply to her inquiries, she was directed to a small room, and found the physician seated at a table examining a bundle of papers. He saw only a form darkening the doorway, and, without looking up, called out gruffly—
"Well, what is it? What do you want?"
"A word of welcome."
He sprang to his feet instantly, holding out both hands.
"Dear child! Queen! God bless you! How are you? Pale as a cloud, and thin as a shadow. Sit down here by me. Where is Eric?"
"He was much fatigued, and I left him at the hotel."
"You have been ill a long time, Irene, and have kept it from me. That was not right; you should have been honest in your letters. A pretty figure you will cut nursing sick folks! Work in my sight, indeed! If you say work to me again, I will clap you into a lunatic asylum and keep you there till the war is over. Turn your face to the light."
"I am well enough in body; it is my mind only that is ill at ease; my heart only that is sick—sorely sick. Here I shall find employment, and, I trust, partial forgetfulness. Put me to work at once; that will be my best medicine."
"And you really missed me, Queen?"
"Yes, inexpressibly; I felt my need of you continually. You must know how I cling to you now."
Again he drew her little hands to his granite mouth, and seemed to muse for a moment.
"Doctor, how is Electra?"
"Very well—that is, as well as such an anomalous, volcanic, torrid character ought to be. At first she puzzled me (and that is an insult I find it hard to forgive), but finally I found the clue. She is indefatigable and astonishingly faithful as a nurse; does all her duty, and more, which is saying a good deal—for I am a hard taskmaster. Aren't you afraid that I will work you more unmercifully than a Yankee factory-child, or a Cornwall miner? See here, Queen; what do you suppose brought Electra to Richmond?"
"A desire to render some service to the sick and suffering, and also to be comparatively near her cousin."
"Precisely; only the last should be first, and the first last. Russell is a perverse, ungrateful dog."
As he expected, she glanced up at him, but refrained from comment.
"Yes, Irene—he is a soulless scamp. Here is his cousin entirely devoted to him, loving him above everything else in this world, and yet he has not even paid her a visit, except in passing through to Yorktown with his command. He might be a happy man if he would but open his eyes and see what is as plain as the nose on my face—which, you must admit, requires no microscope. She is a gifted woman, and would suit him exactly—even better than my salamander, Salome."
A startled, incredulous expression came into Irene's large eyes, and gradually a look of keen pain settled on her features.
"Aha! did that idea never occur to you before?"
"Never, sir; and you must be mistaken."
"Why, child? The fact is patent. You women profess to be so quick-witted, too, in such matters—I am amazed at your obtuseness. She idolizes Aubrey."
"It is scarcely strange that she should; she has no other relatives near her, and it is natural that she should love her cousin."
"I tell you I know what I say! she will never love anybody else as she loves Aubrey. Besides, what is it to you whether he marries her or not?"
"I feel attached to her, and want to see her happy."
"As Russell's wife?"
"No, sir. The marriage of cousins was always revolting to me."
She did not flinch from his glittering grey eye, and her grieved look deepened.
"Is she here? Can I see her?"
"She is not in this building, but I will inform her of your arrival. I have become much interested in her. She is a brilliant, erratic creature, and has a soul! which cannot safely be predicated of all the sex nowadays. Where are you going?"
"Back to Uncle Eric. Will you put me in the same hospital with Electra and Mrs. Campbell?"
"I will put you in a strait-jacket! I promise you that."
Electra was agreeably surprised at the unusual warmth with which Irene received her some hours later, but little suspected why the lips lingered in their pressure of hers, or understood the wistful tenderness of the eyes which dwelt so fondly on her face. The icy wall of reserve had suddenly melted, as if in the breath of an August noon, and dripped silently down among things long past. Russell's name was casually mentioned more than once, and Electra fell asleep that night wholly unconscious that the torn and crumpled pages of her heart had been thoroughly perused by the woman from whom she was most anxious to conceal the truth.
Having engaged a suite of rooms near the hospital, a few days sufficed for preliminary arrangements, and Irene was installed in a ward of the building to which she had requested Dr. Arnold to appoint her.
Thus, by different, by devious thorny paths, two sorrowing women emerged upon the broad highway of Duty, and, clasping hands, pressed forward to the divinely appointed goal—Womanly Usefulness.
Only those who have faithfully ministered in a hospital can fully appreciate the onerous nature of the burdens thus assumed—can realize the crushing anxiety, the sleepless apprehension, the ceaseless tension of brain and nerve, the gnawing, intolerable sickness and aching of heart over sufferings which no human skill can assuage; and the silent blistering tears which are shed over corpses of men whose families kneel in far distant homes, praying God's mercy on dear ones lying at that moment stark and cold on hospital cots with strangers' hands about the loved limbs.
Day by day, week after week, those tireless women-watchers walked the painful round from patient to patient, administering food and medicine to diseased bodies, and words of hope and encouragement to souls, who shrank not from the glare and roar and carnage of battle, but shivered and cowered before the daring images which deathless memory called from the peaceful, happy Past. It was not wonderful that the home-sick sufferers regarded them with emotions which trenched on adoration, or that often, when the pale thin faces lighted with a smile of joy at their approach, Irene and Electra felt that they had a priceless reward.
IN THE HOSPITAL
It was a long, low, rather narrow room, lined with rows of cots, which stretched on either side to the door, now left open to admit free circulation of air. A muffled clock ticked on the mantelpiece. Two soldiers, who had been permitted to visit their sick comrades, slumbered heavily, one with head drooped on his chest, the other with chair tilted against the window-facing, and dark-bearded face thrown back. The quivering flame of the candle gleamed fitfully along the line of features—some youthful, almost childish; others bearing the impress of accumulated years; some crimsoned with fever, others wan and glistening with the dew of exhaustion; here a forehead bent and lowering, as in fancy the sleeper lived over the clash and shock of battle; and there a tremulous smile, lighting the stern manly mouth, as the dreamer heard again the welcome bay of watchdog on the doorstep at home, and saw once more the loved forms of wife and children springing joyfully from the cheery fireside to meet his outstretched arms. A few tossed restlessly, and frequent incoherent mutterings wandered, waif-like up and down the room, sometimes rousing Andrew, who once or twice lifted his head to listen, and then sank back to slumber.
Before a small pine table, where stood numerous vials, Irene drew her chair, and, leaning forward, opened her pocket-Bible, and rested her head on her hand.
A wounded boy started up, twirling one arm, as if in the act of cheering, and then fell back, groaning with pain which the violent effort cost him.
Irene stooped over him, and softly unbuttoning his shirt-collar, removed the hot, bloody cloths from his lacerated shoulder, and replaced them with fresh folds of linen, cold and dripping. She poured out a glass of water, and lifted his head, but he frowned, and exclaimed—
"I won't have it in a tumbler. Mother, make Harry bring me a gourdful fresh from the spring. I say, send Buddie for some."
She humoured the whim, walked out of the room, and paused in the passage. As she did so, a dark form glided unperceived into a dim corner, and when she re-entered the room with the gourd of water the figure passed through the hall-door out into the night.
"Here is your gourd, Willie, fresh and cold."
He swallowed the draught eagerly, and his handsome face wore a touching expression as he smiled and whispered—
"Hush! Jessie is singing under the old magnolia down by the spring. Listen! 'Fairy Belle!' We used to sing that in camp; but nobody sings like Jessie. So sweet! so sweet!"
He set his teeth hard and shuddered violently, and taking his fingers in hers she found them clenched.
"Here I am, Miss Irene."
"Go upstairs and ask the doctor to come here."
The surgeon came promptly.
"I am afraid he is going into convulsions. What shall I do for him?"
"Yes; just what I have been trying to guard against. I fear nothing will do any good; but you might try that mixture which acted like a charm on Leavans."
"Here is the bottle. How much shall I give?"
"A spoonful every half-hour while the convulsions last, if he can swallow it; it can't possibly do any harm, and may ease his suffering. Poor fellow! may the vengeance of a righteous God seek out his murderer! I would stay here with you, Miss Huntingdon, if I could render any service. As it is, I am more needed upstairs."
The paroxysms were short, but so severe that occasionally she required Andrew's assistance to hold the sufferer on his cot, and as they grew less frequent, she saw that his strength failed rapidly. Finally he fell into a troubled sleep, with one hand clutching her arm.
Nearly an hour passed thus, and the nurse knelt softly beside her charge, and prayed long and fervently that the soul of the young martyr might find its home with God, and that his far-off mourning mother might be strengthened to bear this heavy burden of woe.
As she knelt with her face upturned, a soft, warm palm was laid upon her forehead, and a low, sweet, manly voice pronounced in benediction—
"May the Lord bless you, Irene, and abundantly answer all your prayers."
She rose quickly, and put out her disengaged hand.
"Oh, Harvey, dear friend! Thank God, I have found you once more."
He lifted the candle and held it near her face, scanning the sculptured features, then stooped and kissed her white cheek.
"I felt that I could not be mistaken. I heard our soldiers blessing a pale woman in black, with large eyes bluer than summer skies, and hair that shone like rays of a setting sun; and I knew the silent, gentle, tireless watcher, before they told me her name. For many years I have prayed that you might become an instrument of good to your fellow-creatures, and to-night I rejoice to find you, at last, an earnest co-worker."
"Where have you been this long time, Harvey? And how is it that you wear a Confederate uniform?"
"I am chaplain in a Texas regiment, and have been with the army from the beginning of these days of blood. At first it was a painful step for me; my affections, my associations, the hallowed reminiscences of my boyhood, all linked my heart with New York. My relatives and friends were there, and I knew not how many of them I might meet among the war-wolves that hung in hungry herds along the borders of the South. Moreover, I loved and revered the Union—had been taught to regard it as the synonym of national prosperity. Secession I opposed and regretted at the time as unwise; but to the dogma of consolidated government I could yield no obedience; and when every sacred constitutional barrier had been swept away by Lincoln—when the habeas corpus was abolished, and freedom of speech and press denied—when the Washington conclave essayed to coerce freemen, to 'crush Secession' through the agency of the sword and cannon—then I swore allegiance to the 'Seven States' where all of republican liberty remained. Henceforth my home is with the South; my hopes and destiny hers; her sorrows and struggles mine."
His white, scholarly hands were sunburnt now; his bronzed complexion, and long, untrimmed hair and beard gave a grim, grizzled aspect to the noble face; and the worn and faded uniform showed an acquaintance with the positive hardships and exposure of an active campaign.