"Do you know," said Emily, when they were alone, "it is common talk here in school that you and Charlie Manson are engaged? Oh, you need not blush so," she continued, as she saw the color rise in Liddy's face, "everybody says so and believes it, too. Shall I congratulate you?"
This did not please Liddy at all.
"I wish everybody would mind their own business," she said with a snap, "and leave me to mind mine."
"Oh, fiddlesticks," continued Emily; "what do you care? He is a nice fellow, and comes of a good family. We have all noticed that he has no eyes for any other girl but you, and never had. They say he fell in love with you when you wore short dresses."
When Liddy went home that night she held a communion with herself. So everybody believed it, did they? And she, in spite of her invariable reticence, was being gossiped about, was she? "I've a good mind never to set foot in the academy again," she said to herself.
For a solitary hour she was miserable, and then the reaction came. She began to think it all over, and all the years she had known him from his boyhood passed in review. And in all those years there was not one unsightly fact, or one hour, or one word she could wish were blotted out. And they said he had loved her from the days of short dresses! Well, what if he had? It was no disgrace. Then pride came in and she began to feel thankful he had, and as the recollection of it all came crowding into her thoughts and surging through her heart, she arose and looked into her mirror. She saw the reflection of a sweet face with flushing cheeks, red lips, bright eyes, and—was it possible! a faint glistening of moisture on her eyelashes!
"Pshaw," she said to herself as she turned away, "I believe I am losing my senses."
The next two days at school she barely nodded to him each day. "At least he shall not see it," she thought.
When the next Sunday eve came she dressed herself with unusual care, and as it was a cold night she piled the parlor fireplace full of wood and started it early.
Then she sat down to wait. The time of his usual coming passed, but there was no knock at the door. The hall clock with slow and solemn tick marked one hour of waiting, and still he did not come. She arose and added fuel to the fire, and then, taking a book, tried to read. It was of no use, she could not fix her mind upon anything, and she laid the book down and, crossing the room, looked out of the window. How cheerless the snowclad dooryard, and what a cold glitter the stars seemed to have! She sat down again and watched the fire. The tall clock just outside the parlor door seemed to say: "Never—never—never!"
She arose and shut the door, for every one of those slow and solemn beats was like a blow upon her aching heart. Then she seated herself again by the dying fire, and as she gazed at the fading embers a little realization of what woman's love and woman's waiting means came to her. When the room had grown chill, she lighted her lamp and retired to her chamber.
"I have never realized it before," she said, as she looked at the sad, sweet face in the mirror. And that night it was long ere slumber came to her pillow.
When Liddy reached her desk at the academy the next day she found a note in a well-known hand that said:
"My father was very ill. I could not call last eve. I hope to next Sunday."
It was a bitter-sweet message. At times during the week she felt her face burn at the recollection of how disappointed she had felt the previous Sunday eve. "I am a fool to care," she would say to herself, and then when she caught sight of his face and saw the cloud resting upon it she felt puzzled. She had asked regarding his father's illness and learned he was better, so the ominous shadow was not from that source. She felt sure it was not from an impending declaration of love brewing in his heart, for she knew him well enough to feel that when it came to that, he would have the manly courage to express his feelings in his usual outspoken way.
When Sunday evening came again she awaited his coming with a new anxiety, and when he arrived her heart felt heavy. He greeted her as though nothing was amiss, and began chatting in an offhand manner, as if to prevent any question from her. He even joked and told stories, but with a seeming effort and not in accord with his feelings. Liddy watched him quietly, feeling sure he was acting a part and for a purpose. The more he tried to dissemble, the deeper became her dread. At last, when the chance came, she said in her direct way:
"Charlie, you are not yourself to-night, and I believe you have some serious trouble on your mind. I wish you would tell me what it is."
He looked at her a moment before replying, and then said:
"Oh, well, perhaps I have; but please don't notice it. I do not like to talk of my troubles here. You will dislike me if I do."
"I shall feel hurt if you do not," she answered.
"Don't say that!" he replied; and then, after looking into her earnest face a moment he continued in a lower tone: "You are the last person in the world I would knowingly hurt."
He remained silent for a long time, looking at the fire in a vacant way, and then rising suddenly he said:
"There is no use; I can't talk to-night. I am out of sorts. I think I will go home."
"No, no, Charlie," she replied, trying hard to keep the pain out of her voice: "don't go yet! It's too early, and we have not had a visit for two weeks. Please sit down and tell me all about it. Can't you trust me?"
He remained standing and looking earnestly into her upturned face and pleading eyes for a few moments in silence; then he said:
"Yes, I can trust you, Liddy, and I am not afraid to, either! I am not afraid to trust you with every thought and impulse that ever came to me, but I can't bring myself to hurt you," and then he turned away.
His words almost brought the tears to her eyes, but she kept them back. When he had his coat on and was at the door, she made one more effort. She clasped his arm with both hands, as if to hold him, and said:
"You have made me very wretched, Charlie! Don't leave me in suspense! I do not deserve it. No matter what it is, please tell me!"
He remained silent, but with one hand he softly caressed the two little ones that clasped his arm. Then as her face sank slowly upon them he stooped suddenly and kissed her hair. "When I come again you shall know all," he whispered; "good-night!" and he tore himself away.
The meadows were growing green and the first spring violets were in bloom ere he called again.
To explain his strange mood a little history must be inserted here.
The summer and fall of '61 and the winter and spring of '62 were momentous in the annals of Southton. Fort Sumter had been fired upon, and the war for the preservation of the Union had begun. The President's first call for volunteers had been issued; the Bull Run retreat had occurred, and the seven days' horror of the Chickahominy swamp, followed by the battle of Fair Oaks and the siege of Fredericksburg, had startled the country. Secession was rampant, and Washington was threatened. The second call for volunteers had come and the entire North was alarmed.
In the spring of '62 came the third call, and by that time the spirit of patriotism was spreading over Southton. Captain Samuel Woodruff, a born soldier and a brave man, began to raise a company in that town. It did not require a great effort, for the best and bravest of her sons rallied to his call. This spirit even reached the oldest of the academy boys, and was the cause of Manson's strange reticence with Liddy. Among his mates were many who openly asserted their intention to enlist. Before and after school and at noon it was talked about. Some were, like Manson, the sons of peaceful tillers of the soil, and others the sons of tradesmen, but all were animated by the same patriotic spirit and that was to defend their country in her hour of danger. The example of a few became contagious, and seemed likely to affect all the young men of the academy of suitable age. In fact it did, for out of about thirty that were old enough, eighteen finally enlisted and went to war. Were it not that a list of their names is not pertinent to the thread of this narrative, that roll of honor should be inserted here, for it deserves to be; but it is not necessary. It is well known in Southton, and there the names of those young heroes will never be forgotten.
For weeks while the fever of enlistment was spreading, Manson had passed through serious mental torture. To sign the possibly fatal roll or not to sign was the question! He dared not tell Liddy; he dared not tell his parents. An only son, and one whom he knew his father loved, he felt torn by conflicting duty. Never in his simple life had he passed through such a struggle. Perhaps pride and the example of his mates were strong factors in bringing him to a decision, but he reached one at last, and upon a Saturday during the latter part of April he quietly wrote his name upon the enlistment paper in Captain Woodruff's office, and the deed was done.
In the meantime, and for the few weeks in which he did not call, Liddy lived in an agony of suspense. She knew what was going on, for it was current gossip in school, and there was something in his face that seemed to her ominous. In school she tried hard to act unconcerned, even when, as often was the case, other girls whose young and loving hearts were sore, gave way to tears. Each day she smiled and nodded to him as usual; but the smile had grown pathetic, and into her eyes had crept a look of dread. He saw it all, and hardly dared speak to her. Each Sunday eve she dressed herself for his coming and watched the fire while the tall clock ticked in solemn silence. She dreaded to hear her father speak of the war news, and when at school the gossip as to who had or who was going to enlist was referred to she walked away. She grew silent and morose, and clouds were on her face at all times. There were plenty of sad and worried looks on other girls' faces at school during those weeks, so she was not alone in her gloom.
Manson had felt that deep down in her heart she cared a good deal more for him than her conduct showed, and to tell her of his intentions before he carried them out would be to subject her to needless days of suspense and possibly affect his own sense of duty. Now that it was all over, she must be the first to be told, and how much he dreaded it only those who have passed through the same experiences can tell. He scarcely slept at all that night, and when he presented himself at her house the next day, just before church time, he looked pale and haggard. It was an unusual thing for him to call at that hour, and when Liddy met him her heart sank. Without any formality he asked her to put on her wraps and take a ride.
"I have come to tell you all," he said, "and I can talk better away from the house, and where we are alone."
When they were well on their way and driving along the wooded road toward the top of one of the Blue Hills—a lookout point whence all Southton's area could be seen—he turned his face and looked at hers for the first time since starting. What he saw there smote his heart.
"It's a nice day for a ride, isn't it, Liddy?" he said pleasantly, trying hard to act natural.
Her answer was peculiar.
"I can't talk of the day or anything else, Charlie, till I know the worst. Remember, you have kept me in suspense four long, weary weeks. Tell me now as soon as you can."
He made no reply, and spoke not another word until they reached the lookout place. In silence he assisted her to alight, and taking the carriage robe, he spread it upon a rock where they had often sat viewing the landscape below. Then he said, in a low voice:
"Please sit down, Liddy. I've fixed a nice seat for you, and now I can talk to you."
Then their eyes met for the second time since starting. Her face and lips were pale, and her eyes full of fear. She clasped her hands before her face as if to ward off the coming blow.
"Tell me now," she said hurriedly, "tell me the worst, only tell me quickly! I've suffered long enough!"
He looked at her a moment pityingly, dreading to deal the blow, and trying to frame it into suitable words—and then it came.
"Liddy," he said in a husky whisper, "I love you, and I've enlisted!"
A brief sentence, but what a message!
A woman's heaven and a woman's hell in six words!
For one instant she looked at him, until its full force came to her and then she burst into tears, and the next moment she was in a heap on the robe-covered rock and sobbing like a child. Instantly he was beside her, gathering her in his arms and kissing her hair, her tear-wet face and lips. Not a word was spoken; not one was needed! He knew now that her heart was his, and for weal or woe; for joy or sorrow, their lives must be as one.
"Don't cry any more, my darling," he whispered at last. "I shall come back all safe, and then you will be my wife, won't you, Liddy?"
She made no answer, but a small, soft hand crept into one of his, and he knew his prize was won.
When they were ready to leave the hallowed spot she gathered a bunch of the spring violets growing there, and kissing them, handed the cluster to him in silence.
Late that evening when they parted she put one arm caressingly about his neck and whispered: "Give me all the hours you can, Charlie, before you must go; they may be all we shall ever have together."
A DAY IN THE WOODS.
When schoolmates who have studied and played together until almost maturity reach the parting of their ways a feeling of sadness comes to them; but when out of such a band there are eighteen of the best young men about to take part in the horror of war, the occasion becomes doubly so. The last few weeks passed together by the graduating pupils of Southton Academy came back to them in after years much like the memory of a funeral. There were no frolics at noontime or after school; no mirth and scant laughter.
A few of the girls were known to be carrying aching hearts, and it was whispered that two or three were engaged to be married to young soldier-boys now in the academy. Liddy wore a new and heavy plain gold ring, and when questioned as to its significance quietly answered, as was her wont: "I have no confessions to make," but those who were nearest to her and knew her best detected a proud look in her eyes and drew their own conclusions. It was noticed also that she and Manson were seldom apart during the noon hour, and invariably walked away from the academy together. As there were other couples who thus paired off it caused no comment.
When the last day came the academy was packed with the parents and friends of pupils, and on Liddy's desk was a bunch of June roses. She knew whose hand had placed them there. When the final exercises began she felt herself growing nervous. She had never felt so before, but now the mingled joy and sorrow of the past four weeks were telling upon her. There were several patriotic and warlike recitations by the young men, and readings of an unusually melancholy nature by young ladies, all of which tended to make matters worse, so that when her turn came she felt ready to cry. But she caught a look from Manson that was like wine. "He has been brave," she thought; "I will be as much so"—and she was.
When the exercises were over the principal made a brief but feeling address which raised him several degrees in Manson's estimation, and that was the end. Most of the pupils lingered, loth to utter the last farewells, but finally they were spoken, and with many moist eyes among that gathering of young friends they separated. Some of them never met in life again.
The few remaining evenings ere Liddy and her lover were to part were not wasted by them, and the last Sunday was one long to be remembered.
"Come early," she had said the night before; "I have a little surprise for you." When he arrived at her house that day, just as the distant church bells were faintly calling, he found her dressed for a ride, and was a little puzzled.
"I want you to take me to church to-day," she said, smiling, and then added, in a low voice, "to our church on the top of Blue Hill, where there will be no one but God and ourselves."
It was an odd thought, and yet, knowing her as he did, it was not surprising. The simple reverence of it touched him, however.
"Now," she continued more cheerfully, "no more sober thoughts. Let us try and be happy, and like children once more. Here is a basket I have packed, and you are to put it in the carriage. We are to dine in the woods."
The day was one of those rare ones that come only in June, and when they reached the spot, now, henceforth and forever sacred to them, the sheltering trees were fresh with new foliage, the birds singing while building their nests, the summer breeze softly whispering in the scattered hemlocks, and over all shone the mellow sunshine.
For a long time they sat on the rock, now hallowed by her tears, viewing the beautiful landscape spreading out below and living over, as they had many times before, and as young lovers will, all the little incidents of their lives, and what a marvelous thing it was that they had come to love each other. It was all a story as old as the rock upon which they sat, and pure and sweet as the blue violets blooming at their feet. In the midst of it Manson pointed to a spot in the valley below—a cedar pasture with an immense boulder in the middle—and said: "Once upon a time, several years ago, when I was a boy, I was picking berries in that field, when a little girl in short dress and calico sun-bonnet came running down a path near me until, almost at my feet, she stumbled, and girl, berries and bonnet went sprawling upon the ground! Can you guess who it was?"
Liddy turned her face toward him and smilingly answered: "Was that the way I entered your heart, Charlie? It wasn't a dignified way, was it?"
"It was at least effective," he replied, "for you have remained in it ever since."
When the sun was high overhead she arose and said, with bewitching imperiousness: "Now, sir, you have been idle long enough; you must help me set the table. Bring me that basket in the carriage."
"If we are to begin keeping house up here," he answered cheerfully, "perhaps you had better wait till I build you a table."
"I shall be glad if you can," she said, and watched him curiously while he cut small, straight sticks, and then larger ones with forked ends. These he drove into the ground under a tree, and placing one stout stick to connect each of the forked ones and form supporting ends, laid the others across and close together to make the table. He then placed flat stones for seats, covering them with the carriage cushions, and when all was done he said: "My dear, your table is ready; now I will help you to set it."
"I am glad I brought a tablecloth," she remarked smiling.
When the dainty little banquet board, just large enough for two, was covered with a snow-white spread and napkins, plates, knives and forks, and all the attractive results of her culinary art, he smiled, for the tempting food would make any hungry man smile.
"It's not an elaborate dinner," she remarked, as they sat down, "but you must get used to my cooking some time, and you might as well begin now."
When the sun was low in the west and she sat near him idly weaving flowers into the band of his hat, he said: "Liddy, have you never wondered how I am going to solve the vocation problem I used to worry about?"
"No," she answered quietly, "and I do not wish to discuss it, either. Remember, we are children to-day." Then she continued, in a lower tone: "I have trusted you with my heart, my life, and all the happiness I can ever hope for, and when the time comes I know you will not fail me."
"I realize what it all means," he answered, after a long pause, "and you can trust me, for so long as God gives me strength you shall have all the blessings I can win in life."
They sat in silence until the lowering sun had left the valley in shadow and smiled only on the hilltop where they lingered. Perhaps the dread parting that was near seemed creeping toward them with the shades of night, for his arm stole softly about her waist, and her hand crept into his. They watched until the last ray of sunlight had vanished, and when they arose he once more gathered her close in his arms and whispered:
"Promise me, my darling, that if I never come back you will visit this spot alone, once a year, in June, and if there be such a thing as a life beyond the grave, I will be here in spirit."
"I promise," she answered solemnly, "and no man shall ever have the right to stop me."
When they were ready to leave the place he had to lead her to the carriage, for her eyes were blinded by tears.
THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND ME.
With bayonets flashing in the sunlight, with flags flying and keeping step to the martial music, Southton's brave Company E marched full one hundred strong to the depot the next day, ready to leave for the war.
Almost the entire town was there to see them off, and hundreds of men, old and young, filled the air with cheers. Mingling in that throng were as many mothers, wives, sweethearts and sisters with aching hearts, whose sobs of anguish were woven into the cheering. Strong men wept as well. As the train rolled away, Manson fought the tears back that he might not lose the last sight of one fair girl whose heart he knew was breaking. When it was all over, and he realized that for months or years, or perhaps never, would he behold her again, he knew what war and parting meant. He had obeyed his conscience and sense of duty, and now he must pay the price, and the payment was very bitter. Of his future he knew not, or what it might hold for him. He could only hope that when his hour of trial came that he would not falter, and if the worst must come that he would find strength to meet it as a soldier should.
War is such a ghastly, hideous horror, and so utterly at variance with this simple narrative, that I hesitate to speak of it. There can be no moments of happiness, no rifts of sunshine, and but few gleams of hope woven into the picture. All must be as war is—a varying but continued succession of dreaded horror and the fear of death. The first month of Manson's experience at the training camp was hard only in anticipation, and but a daily round of duty easily performed and soon passed. Liddy's frequent letters, each filled with all the sweet and loving words that, like flowers, naturally spring from a woman's heart, cheered him greatly; but when the order came to go to the front, the scene changed, and the reality of war came. He dreaded the first shock, not so much from fear of death; but lest his courage fail. When it came at Chancellorsville it was all over before he knew it. Although under fire for eight hours, he was not conscious of the lapse of time or aught else, except that he obeyed orders and loaded and fired with the rest; forgetting that he might fall, or whether he was brute or human. That night he wrote to Liddy: "We have had our first battle, and for many hours I forgot even you. I know now that I shall not falter. Poor Luzerne Norton, one of our academy boys, was killed, also three others from our company; and seven were wounded."
When the letter reached Liddy her heart sank. To know that one of her bright and happy schoolmates of a few months before had been shot and killed, and others wounded, was to have the dread reality of war brought very near home. "Thank God my boy was spared," she thought. That night she wrote him the most loving letter he had ever received, concluding with: "Be brave, my darling, and always remember that come what may I shall keep my promise."
Then came the battle of Gettysburg, and although his company escaped with only a few wounded, it was here he first realized the ghastly horror of a battlefield after the fight is over, and how the dead are buried.
When his next letter reached the sad-hearted one at home, no mention was made of this experience, and when she wrote asking why he had never told her how a battleground looked, or anything about it, he replied: "Not for worlds would I tell you how we bury the dead, or how they looked, or anything of the sickening details. Please do not read them in the papers, for it will do you no good, and cause you needless suffering. I wish to keep misery from you. Think of me only as doing my duty, and try to believe (as I do) that I shall come back to you alive and well."
For the next six months he had no battles to face—only skirmishing and picket duty. When Christmas came it brought him two boxes of good things to gladden his heart. One was from his dear old mother, and one was from Liddy, and tucked away in that, between four pairs of blue socks knit by her fair hands, was a loving letter and a picture of herself.
Almost a month after came the battle of Tracy City and the fall of brave Captain Upson. There were others wounded, but none of his company were killed. It was here Manson received his first promotion to a corporal's position, and he was afterward made sergeant. In the spring that followed, and almost one year from the day he first told Liddy of his love, came the battle of Boyd's Trail. Five days after, when the moon was full one night, he wrote by the light of a camp fire: "Do you remember one year ago to-day, and where we were and what I said? I little realized that day what was in store for me. One thing I must tell you, however, and that is you can never know how much comfort it has been to me to live over all the happy hours we have had together. Every little word and look of love from you has come back to me again and again in my long, lonesome hours of picket duty, and to-night as I sit by the camp fire and see the moon shining through the trees I can recall just how I felt the first time I kissed you, when the same moon seemed to be laughing at me. Do you remember one night when we were driving across the plains on our way back from a little party over to Marion, and you sang that 'Meet Me by Moonlight' ballad? That was three years ago, and yet I can almost hear your voice now."
When this letter reached Liddy she read it in tears.
For the next year it was with Manson as with all that slowly decreasing company—one unending round of nervous strain, long marches, sharp fighting, or, worse yet—carrying the wounded from the battlefield and burying the dead. They lived poorly, slept on the ground or in the mud at times, and became accustomed to filth and stench, indifferent to danger and hardened to death. When a comrade fell those who knew him best said: "Poor fellow, he's gone," and buried him without a prayer; but the dead who were personally unknown awakened no more feeling than so many leaves fallen by the wayside. It could not well be otherwise, for such is war. Individual cases of heroism were common enough, and passed almost unnoticed; for they were all brave men who came to fight and die if need be, and no less was expected.
War makes strange bedfellows, and forms unexpected friendships. It was after the battle of Gettysburg, when the Tenth Army Corps remained in camp for several months, and one night while on picket duty, that Manson met with a curious adventure, and made the acquaintance of a fellow-soldier by the name of Pullen, belonging to a Maine regiment, whose existence, and the tie thus formed, eventually led to a sequence of events of serious import. The enemy were encamped but a few miles away, and that most dastardly part of warfare, the firing upon pickets from ambush, was of nightly occurrence. Manson's beat that night was over a low hill covered with scrub oak, and across part of a narrow valley, through which wound a small, marsh-bordered stream. The night was sultry, and the dampness of the swamp formed in a shallow strata of fog, filling this valley, but not rising above the level of the uplands. To add to the weirdness of his surroundings, the thin crescent of a new moon threw a faint light over all and outlined the winding turns of this mist-filled gorge. Away to the northward a belt of dark clouds emitted frequent flashes of heat lightning, and occasional sharp reports along the line bespoke possible death lurking in every thicket. Keeping always in shadow, and oft pausing to listen, Manson slowly traversed his beat, waiting only at either end to exchange a whispered "All's well!" with the next sentry.
What a vigil! And what a menace seemed hidden behind every bush or spoke in every sound! The faint creak of a tree as the night wind stirred the branches; the rustle of leaves on the ground or the breaking of a twig as some prowling animal moved about; the flight of a bird, disturbed at its rest; the hoot of an owl on the hillside or the croak of a frog in the swamp were all magnified tenfold by the half-darkness and the sense of danger near. One end of his beat ended at the brook and here he waited longest, for the sentry he met there was, like himself, hardly out of his teens, and unused to war. A bond of fellowship sprang into existence almost at sight, and made them brothers in feeling at once.
It was while whispering together beside this brook, and oppressed by the suspense of night and danger near, that they detected a sound of more than usual ill-omen, and that, the certain one that some creature had stepped into the stream above, and was cautiously and slowly wading in it. Hardly breathing, and bending low, the better to catch every sound that came, they listened with beating hearts until it ceased. Once they had detected the click of stones striking together as if moved by a human foot and twice caught the faint plash of a bush or limb of tree dropping into the water. Then the sounds ceased, and only the faint murmur of that slow-running stream disturbed the silence.
For a few moments they waited there, and then together crept up out of the gorge. Just as they emerged from the pall of the fog, and where the moon's thin disk still outlined that narrow white-blanketed valley, they paused, looking across, above, below and all around, and listening as intently as two human beings so environed would when believing danger near. And as they looked and listened for moments that seemed hours, suddenly, scarce five rods away, they saw a man slowly emerged from the bush-covered bank, rapidly cross this narrow gorge, apparently walking on the fog, and disappear in the dark thicket on the other side!
Forgetting in the first shock of supernatural added to natural fear that they stood fully exposed in the faint moonlight, they looked at each other, while a cold chill of dread seemed to check even the power to think. Manson was the first to recover, and with a quick, "We must hide," almost hissed, dropped on all fours behind a bush, followed by his comrade. That the motion betrayed them to watchful eyes is certain, for the next instant, out from the dark thicket across the gorge there leaped a flash of red fire, and the ping of a bullet, cutting leaves and twigs above them, told its own tale. Too scared to think of returning the fire, or conscious that to do so was unwise, they slowly crawled deeper into the scrub and along the top of the hillock. All that night they kept together, and how long it was until the gray light of coming dawn lifted a little of their burden of fear, no one who has never skulked along a picket line in darkness and dread can imagine!
When the relief guard came, Manson and his mate tried to discover where their night-prowling enemy had crossed that narrow gorge, if he had crossed at all, but could not. Whether ghost, or shadow, or flesh-and-blood enemy had walked on fog in the faint moonlight before them, they could not tell, and never afterward were they able to determine. The only certain fact was that some one had fired at them, and fired meaning to kill! Wisely, too, they agreed to keep the ghost part of that experience a secret, and none of their comrades ever knew they had seen a man walking upon the fog.
BESIDE THE CAMP FIRE.
Both Manson's and Pullen's regiments were encamped along the edge of a belt of pine woods, and after their creepy experience together on picket duty, they naturally sought each other as often as possible. There is a 'witching romance lingering about a camp fire in the woods that stimulates the imagination, and when these two newly made friends could meet for an evening's visit beside theirs, many a tale of youthful experience and boyish escapade was exchanged.
"Speaking of ghosts," said Manson, one evening, "I do not believe in their existence exactly, and yet there is a strange fascination about the idea that I can't understand. Now I do not believe we saw a man walking on fog the other night, and yet I can't resist the desire to hunt the matter out and discover what sort of an optical illusion it was. I am not at all certain the man who took a shot at us was the one we saw across the ravine, either. I had an experience once when I was about nine years old, that, in a way, tainted my mind with the ghost idea, and perhaps that is the reason why the possibility of seeing one affects me in the way it does. A couple of miles from the farm where I was reared there stood an old deserted ruin of a house known as the Tim Buck place. It was hidden away behind hills and woods and reached from the highway through a half-mile lane, thick grown with bushes. Here, years before I was born, there had once lived a man by the name of Buck, who hanged himself in the garret one day, while his wife was away. It was said she came back just at dusk and found him hanging lifeless from a rafter in the garret. What became of her I never knew, but no one ever lived on the place afterward, and in time the farm and house reverted to the town for taxes. It also soon obtained the reputation of being haunted, and no one ever went near it after dark. A couple of 'coon hunters told how they had taken refuge in it from a sudden shower at night, but left in a hurry when they heard some one walking on the chamber floor above. Some one else said they had seen a white figure walking on the ridge-pole just at dusk. All this was current gossip in the town, and believed by many.
"My parents had sense enough not to tell me, but when I was old enough to be sent to the district school, I heard all this, and more, too; and the worst of it was I believed all I heard. I had never been near the house, but when I heard the stories, I got another boy for company and went to look at it from the top of a near-by hill. As I grew older the fascination of the place kept increasing, and one day it overcame my fear and all alone I paid it a visit.
"The house was a ruin—roof fallen in, floor rotted away and pitched into the cellar: only the walls were standing, and the beams and rafters, like the ribs of a skeleton, still in place. I remember the well-sweep was in the usual position, and seemed to me like a warning finger pointing at the bleaching rafters. It took me a good half hour to muster courage enough to go within ten rods of the ruin, but I finally did, and at last, scared half to death, and trembling, found myself peeping in at one window. It was dark in there and smelt queer, and I, a nine-year-old boy, fully expected to see some new and horrible spook appear at any moment. How long I stood there I never knew, for I forgot all else except the belief that if I waited long enough I should see something queer. I did, too, for all at once I saw in an inner room, where a closet door stood half open, a white, bony hand reach out from behind it, take hold, and seemingly shut that door from the inside! I didn't wait any longer, you may be sure, and never stopped running until I came in sight of home, two miles away!"
"And didn't you ever go back there?" said Pullen, "when you got older?"
"Oh, yes, I did, but not for a year after, and during that year I dreamed of that house and one or a dozen skeleton hands, countless times. Finally I mustered up spunk, went there one day all alone, set the old ruin on fire, and then ran as fast as my legs would carry me to a hilltop half a mile away, and stood and watched the fire. The place was so hidden away no one saw it burn except me, and I never told for fear of consequences."
"And did you ever outgrow the belief that you really saw a skeleton hand open that door?" said Pullen, reaching forward to pick up an ember and light the pipe he had just refilled.
Manson was silent for a few moments, as he lay resting his head on one hand and watching the firelight play hide-and-seek among the pine boughs overhead.
"No, to tell you the truth, Frank," he replied at last, slowly, "I do not think I ever did. Of course, I know I did not see what I thought I did, and yet I have not quite outgrown the scare. I won't admit that I believe in ghosts, and yet the thought of them, owing perhaps to that boyhood fright, has a sort of deadly fascination for me. I believe and yet I do not believe, and if I were told I could see one by going anywhere, no matter how grewsome the spook was, I could not resist going."
"You ought to have lived where I came from," observed Pullen, looking curiously at his comrade; "for about twenty miles from my home is an island known as 'The Pocket,' that is fairly swarming with ghosts."
"Tell me about it," said Manson, suddenly interested.
"Well, it is a long yarn," replied Pullen, "but, from your make-up, the island is just such a spot as you would enjoy visiting. As I told you the other night, I was born and brought up on an island off the coast of Maine, and when I was quite a lad I first heard about this island, and that no one ever went there because it was haunted. I wasn't old enough to understand what being haunted meant, but later on I did. They used to tell about it being a hiding-place for smugglers before I was born, and that a murder had been committed there and that some one in a fishing boat had seen a man fully ten feet tall, standing on a cliff on it, one night. Dad, who was a sea captain, used to laugh at all this, and yet almost everybody believed there was some mystery connected with it. Another thing, I guess, helped give it a bad name was the fact that a ship was wrecked on it once, and no one discovered it until long after, and then they found four or five skeletons among the rocks. Another queer thing about this island that is really a fact is, that any time, day or night, you can hear a strange, bellowing sound like that of a mad bull, coming from somewhere on it. When there is a storm you can hear it for miles away. The sound can't be located anywhere, and yet you can hear it all the time. If you are one side, it seems to come from the other, and go around to that side and it is back where you came from. Inside the island is a circular pocket or walled-in harbor, like the crater of a volcano, that is entered through a narrow passage between two cliffs. Altogether it's a curious place, but as for ghosts—well, I've been there many a time and never saw one yet. But then, I do not believe in spooks, and perhaps that accounts for it. It's like the believers in spiritualism, that can readily see their dead ancestors' faces peering out of a cabinet, and all that sort of bosh, but I never could. I'll bet," with a laugh, "that you could go to Pocket Island and see ghosts by the dozen."
"I would like to go there," replied Manson quietly, "and if we ever get home alive, I will."
"Come and make a visit, and I'll take you there," said Pullen; "that is" (soberly) "if I ever go home."
The story-telling ceased while the two friends, each thinking of the same thing, gravely watched the slowly fading fire.
"Come," said Pullen at last, "quit thinking about what may happen, and tell me another ghost story. It's your turn now."
But Manson was silent, for the story-telling mood had fled, and his thoughts were far away.
"Where are you now?" continued Pullen, studying his comrade's face. "With some girl, I'll bet; am I right?"
"Yes," answered Manson slowly, "I was with some one just then, and thinking of a fool promise I exacted from her before I left, and all this ghost-story telling has made me realize what an injury I may have done her by exacting that promise."
"Tell me," said Pullen, "I can sympathize with you, for I, too, have a girl I left behind me."
"Well," came the answer slowly, "this girl has too much good sense to believe in ghosts, and yet, you can't ever tell who does or does not believe in them. The foolish part of it is that I took her to a lonely spot away in the woods one day, before I left, and asked her to promise me that in case I never came back she would visit this spot alone once a year, on that same day, and if I was in spirit I would appear to her, or at least if there was any such thing as spirit life, I would be there, too. She is one of those 'true blue' girls would keep such a promise as long as she lived, I think; and now you understand what a fool promise it was."
"I can't dispute you," answered Pullen, and then they separated.
"Do you know, Frank," said Manson, a week later, as once more the two lounged beside their camp fire, "that I have the hardest kind of a task to keep myself from believing in omens, and especially the 'three warnings' business? Now, to illustrate, we lost a man out of our company two nights ago, and he was shot within ten feet of where you and I stood the night we were shot at. His name was Bishop, and an old schoolmate of mine. I was on the morning guard-mount detail, and was the first one to see him as we were going along the picket line. He had been shot in the head, and most likely never knew what hit him. To make the fate of Bishop more impressive his going on for night duty instead of myself had been decided by chance."
"Well, what of it?" said Pullen. "It was his bad luck and not yours that time, wasn't it? That fact ought to drive away your presentiments instead of increasing them, my boy."
"Perhaps, and yet it doesn't," replied Manson. "It keeps crowding me into the belief that I am booked for the same fate in the near future, and, do all I can, I can't put that idea away."
"Nonsense," put in Pullen, "that is all bosh, and in the same list with the Friday business, and seeing the moon over your left shoulder, and all that string of superstition that has come down to us, or rather, up to us from the Dark Ages, when mankind believed in no end of hobgoblin things."
"Say, Frank, don't you believe in luck?" interposed Manson. "Don't you believe there is such a thing as good or ill luck in this world, and that one or the other follows us most of the time all through life?"
"Yes, to a certain extent I do," answered Frank. "But I've noticed that good luck comes oftenest to those who put forth the greatest effort, and ill luck is quite apt to chase those who are seemingly born tired."
Manson was silent, for the wholesome optimism of his friend went far to dispel his grewsome imaginings.
"How does a mystery you can't understand affect you, Frank?" he said at last.
"Oh, as for that, if I can't find some solution for it easily I put it away and think of some other matter. Life is too short to waste in trying to solve all we can't understand. And speaking of mysteries," continued Frank, "you ought to have been born and brought up where I was, on an island off the coast of Maine. There is more mystery to the square mile down that way, I believe, than anywhere else in the world, unless it be Egypt. There is a little village called Pemaquid, where they fence it in and charge an admission. I know of a dozen places where there are old Indian villages; old fort sites; old burial-places that fairly bristle with mystery! If you go anywhere near them the natives will ask you to go and look at this spot, or that, and act as if they expected you to take off your hat while they tell all about it in an awed whisper. Oh, we have mystery to burn down in Maine! Maine would just suit you, Manson! There isn't an island on the coast, a lake or mountain in the interior that hasn't got a fairy tale, or some legend connected with it. You remember what I told you about Pocket Island the other night? Well, that is a fair sample. And speaking of fairy tales, there is a curious one current down our way about a Jew and an Indian who were known to be smugglers and came and went in a mysterious way. They sailed a small sloop called the Sea Fox, and, according to the stories, this Jew was one of the most adroit villains ever born with a hooked nose. Where he hailed from the devil only knew, and he never told, and when after he had mystified everybody for two years, smuggled liquor by the boatload all the time without getting caught once, he mysteriously disappeared, and left the entire coast guessing. According to the stories, and there are hundreds told about him, he was the smoothest Sheeney that ever swore by Moses. Dozens of constables were on the watch for him; his sloop was searched many times; every one believed he was smuggling liquor all the time and yet no one ever caught him. All this happened when I was a boy, and yet to-day no one sees a small tops'l sloop gliding into some uninhabited cove that they don't say 'There goes the Sea Fox.'"
"And did no story ever crop out regarding what became of him, or where he went to?" inquired Manson.
"Not a word or whisper; that is where the mystery lies, and, as I said, it is one more added to the large stock we already have."
"I would love to spend a month down your way, Frank," said Manson, after a pause.
"And why not?" replied Pullen. "I've a good boat, plenty of time, and when we get out of this scrape I would be more than glad to have you visit me. I will take you all around among the islands and show you all the mysteries, even Pocket Island, and who knows but we may run across the Sea Fox? Promise me to come, will you?"
"Yes, if ever I get back alive I will," answered Manson.
It was not long after this pleasant chat that there occurred another episode in Manson's war experience that had a peculiar effect upon his imagination, and one that perhaps will illustrate the pathos of war as well as any.
"We do not pause to think what we are about to do when we are marched into battle," he said to his friend Frank the day after it happened; "we are under orders to kill if we can, and the smell of smoke, the roar of guns, and the awful horror of it all deadens every sense except the brutal one to shed blood. But to deliberately shoot an enemy, even though you know he is only waiting to shoot you, is another matter. I had to do it yesterday morning, however, and how miserable I have been ever since, no one can imagine. As you know, the Rebs have been shooting pickets off and on, for two weeks, and orders have been issued to shoot at sight and ask no questions. I had been on the line all night and was so dead tired and worn out with the nervous strain that I was ready to lie down in the mud even, and go to sleep, when just at daylight I saw a man crawling on all fours across an open space maybe twenty rods away, and across a ravine.
"It was a little lighter up where he was and I knew he couldn't see me. I lay low behind a rock and watched him, and as it grew lighter saw he wore gray, and I knew he was an enemy. For ten minutes he never moved, and I lay there with a bead on him trying to decide what to do. I knew he was there to kill, and that my duty was to shoot, and yet I hesitated. We shoot in battle not really knowing whether we kill or not, but to deliberately pull trigger knowing it means sending a human soul into eternity is an awful thing to do. His own action decided the matter, for, as I saw him lift himself a little and then raise his gun to the shoulder, I fired. Then I saw him spring to his feet, whirl around, clasp his hands to his breast and slowly sink forward half out of sight. I put a fresh cartridge in, and then never took my eyes off that gray heap until the relief guard came along. He was not quite dead when we went to him, for the ball had gone through his lungs, and he was fighting hard for breath. He was a beardless boy, not over eighteen, and as he gasped, the blood gushed out of his mouth. We saw him try to speak, but could not, and then he looked at us three; first one and then another. It must be he saw more pity in my face than in the others, for the poor boy suddenly reached out his hand toward me, and as I took it he drew me down to try and whisper to me. It was of no use; I could not catch the sound.
"I wiped the blood away from his lips and then rolled my blouse up for a pillow and laid his head on it. I could see a mute look of gratitude in his eyes, like those of a dying dog, and, mingling with that, the awful fear of death. It was all over in a few moments, and at the last he drew my hand to his lips and kissed it. The other two boys turned away, and I was glad, for the tears were chasing each other down my face. The one bit of consolation I had was, the poor boy did not know I shot him. When it was all over, we left him, and later we three went up there and buried him beside the rock where he died. I saw his face hovering over me all last night, and it will haunt me as long as I live."
THE GRASP OF DEATH.
When the fierce heat of E Company's second summer in an almost tropical climate was fast depleting their ranks, Manson wrote to Liddy:
"Disease among us is more dangerous than rebel bullets. When I was a boy I used to feel that the long, hot hours in hay fields, or the bitter cold ones in the snow-buried woods, were severe hardships, but now I thank God for them! If I survive the exposure here it will be because of the splendid health and strength that came to me from those days on the farm. Sometimes when the miserable food I have to eat, or the vile water I must drink, is at its worst, I think of what mother used to cook, and how sweet the water in dear old Ragged Brook used to taste on a hot summer day, and you cannot imagine what I would give for a chance to thrust my face into that cool stream, where it was leaping over a mossy ledge, and drink my fill.
"I have passed through some ghastly and sickening experiences, too horrible to relate to you, and at times I am so depressed that I lose all hope, and then again I feel that I shall pull through all right. One thing I want you to do, and that is, forget the foolish promise I exacted from you that day on Blue Hill. Some things have occurred that have convinced me it was doing you a cruel injustice to ask such a promise."
It was the last letter Liddy ever received from her soldier boy, and when she read it it filled her with a new and uncanny dread.
During those first two years of service, E Company made heroic history. They took part in eleven hard-fought battles, besides many skirmishes, and not a man flinched or shirked a duty! They were all hardy sons of old New England, who, like their forefathers of '76, fought for home and liberty; for freedom and love of country. Such, and such only, are true heroes!
Of the battles in which they took part, now famous in history, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Tracy City, Resaca, Peach Creek and Atlanta were the most severe, though many others were as sanguinary. Their losses in all these engagements were sixteen officers, killed or wounded in battle, and twenty-three privates, or total of thirty-nine. In addition, eight were taken prisoners, most of whom died in rebel prison pens; and thirty-six others died of disease or were disabled by it. Out of the one hundred hardy men who left Southton, only nineteen returned unharmed at the close of the war!—a record for brave service that was not surpassed, and one that should weave a laurel wreath around every name!
Manson had passed through eight battles unharmed and dread disease had failed to touch his splendid strength; but at the battle of Peach Creek, and under a blazing July sun he fell. His regiment had been ordered to charge a hill, from the top of which a perfect storm of rebel bullets were pouring upon them, and with hands gripping his gun and teeth fiercely set, he with the rest faced the almost certain death as they charged up the hill! When half way up, and just as he had leaped a low stone wall, two red-hot irons seemed to pierce him, and with a bullet through one leg, and a shattered arm he went down, and leaving him there, the storm of battle swept on!
Conscious still, and believing his end had come, he yet remembered that wall, and faint and bleeding he crawled back to it. He could hear the roar of guns, and the groans of dying men about him, and in that awful moment, with death near, one thought alone came, and that was to shelter himself between the rocks, so that mad horses and frenzied men might not trample upon his face. He could see near by a rock close to the wall, and like some wild animal that had received its death wound, yet crawls into a thicket to die, so he crept into this shelter and lay there moaning.
Hour after hour passed in agony, while his life blood ebbed away. He could not stop it; he did not try. Since death was near and he felt that it must come, the sooner it was over the better. Men and horses swept by and heeded him not! The fierce sun beat upon him, but no one came to succor! His tongue grew parched and a terrible thirst tortured him; but there was no water. Only the hard stones upon which his head was pillowed, the dry earth that drank his blood, and the merciless sun blazing above. He could hear the dying men about him groaning and cursing God in their agony, and the roar of cannon that made the earth tremble beneath him.
Then the sounds of conflict and carnage passed away, and left only the moans of the wounded near him to echo his own. At last night came and threw her dark mantle over that scene of death and despair, and later the moon rose and shed her pale light upon it. Those soft beams of silvery white were angels of mercy, for they carried that dying boy's heart away to the hills of old New England, and to where a rippling brook danced like silver coin beneath them, and a fair girl's face and tender blue eyes smiled upon him. Then the picture faded and he knew no more.
THOSE WHO WAIT.
There is nothing in life much harder to bear than suspense. To know the worst, whatever that may be, is far preferable to the long agony of doubt; hoping for the best, yet fearing the worst. Even a hardened criminal has been known to admit that the two or three hours of waiting for the verdict was far worse than the march to the gallows. If this be so, what must it be to the tender, loving hearts of good and true women whose husbands, sweethearts, brothers and sons are facing the dangers of war, and who (God pity them) have to endure this dread suspense for weeks and months when no tidings reach them?
When the train bearing Liddy's soldier boy from sight had rolled away she clung to her father's arm in mute despair. Pride sustained her until they had left the town behind, and were driving across the wide plains toward her home, and then the tears came. The memory of many pleasant moonlit drives along the same road when her lover was with her came back, and with it the realization that it was all ended, perhaps forever, and that the best she could look forward to was three years of weary waiting. Before her, miles away, rose the Blue Hills, distinct in the clear air, and as she looked at them, back came the memory of one day a month before—a day replete with joy and sorrow, when he had paid her the greatest and sweetest compliment a man can pay a woman. She could recall the very tones of his voice and she could almost feel the touch of his arms when he had held her close for one brief moment. In silence she rode along for a time, trying to control herself, and then turning to her father she said:
"Father, there is something I must tell you, and I ask your forgiveness for not doing so before." And then, in her odd, winsome way, resting her cheek against his shoulder and holding her left hand before his face for a moment, she continued: "Can you guess?"
"No, my child," he answered, quickly, wishing to cheer her, "I could not possibly guess. The ways of my little girl are so deep and dark, how could I?" and then continuing in a more cheerful tone: "Don't cry any more, Liddy. Some one is coming back from the war by and by, and some one else will want a lot of new dresses for a wedding, and expects to be happy, and I hope she will be."
Then a little hand began stroking his arm and a still damp face was being rubbed against his shoulder, and presently a soft voice whispered: "Father, you have always been too good to me. You never said a word and you knew it all along, I guess!" which rather incoherent speech may be excused under the circumstances.
The few weeks that followed were not as gloomy to Liddy as later ones. Her home duties outside of school hours had always been numerous, and now she found them a relief. Letters also came frequently from the absent one, and she felt that he was not yet in danger—that was a grain of consolation. But when he wrote that they were to start for the front the next day, her heart grew heavy again and from that time on the dread suspense was never lifted. She wrote him frequently and tried to make her letters brave and cheerful. All the simple details of her home life were faithfully portrayed, and it became a habit to write him a page every night. She called it a little chat, but it might better have been called an evening prayer, for into those tender words were woven every sweet wish and hopeful petition of a loving woman's heart. After the battle of Chancellorsville a cloud seemed resting upon Southton, and Liddy felt that the weary waiting was becoming more oppressive than ever. It had been her father's custom to drive "over town," as it was called, once a day to obtain the news, and she had always met him on his return, even before he entered the house, to more quickly learn the worst. She began to dread even this, lest he should bring the tidings she feared most.
Then came the call for needed supplies to be used in the care of the wounded, and gladly Liddy joined with other good ladies in picking lint, preparing bandages, and the like, and contributing many articles for the use and comfort of the soldiers. In this noble work she came to realize how many other hearts besides her own carried a burden, and to feel a kinship of sorrow with them. Her engagement to Manson seemed to be generally known and the common burden soon obliterated her first girlish reticence concerning it.
"I feel that I am growing old very fast," she wrote him, "and that I am a girl no longer. Just think, it is only ten months since I felt angry when some of the girls told me they heard I was engaged to you, and now I don't care who knows it."
For the next three months there were no battles that he was engaged in, and yet the suspense was the same. Then when the new year came another burden was added, for her mother grew worse, and it seemed to Liddy as if the shadows were thick about her. An event that occurred in the early spring, and two months after the battle of Tracy City, made a deep impression on her. Captain Upson, promoted from first lieutenant of Company E, was wounded at that battle, and dying later, was brought to Southton for burial. He was universally respected and almost the entire townsfolk gathered at the church to pay their tribute. Hundreds failed to gain admission, and it was said to have been the largest funeral ever known in the town. Liddy had never seen a military funeral and the ceremonies were sadly impressive. The long service at the church; the touching words of the minister uttered over the flag-draped coffin, upon which rested a sword; the sad procession to the cemetery, headed by muffled drum and melancholy fife mingling their sounds with the tolling bell, and then the arched arms of soldiers, beneath which the body was borne; the short prayer; the three volleys; and last of all, lively music on the return. This feature impressed her as the saddest of all, for it seemed to say: "Now, we will forget the dead as soon as possible," which in truth was what it meant in military custom.
It is needless to say as she returned with her father to their now saddened home, a possible event of similar import in which she must be a broken-hearted mourner entered her mind. During the next month came another and far worse blow. Her mother, long an invalid, contracted a severe cold and, in spite of all possible effort to save her, in three short days passed away. To even faintly express the anguish of that now bereaved husband and motherless girl is impossible and shall not be attempted.
When the funeral was over and they once more sat by the fire in the sitting-room, as was customary each evening, their pleasant home seemed utterly desolate, and the tall clock in the hall ticked with far deeper solemnity. Liddy in fact was, as she felt herself to be, walking "through the valley and shadow of death." To add to her utter wretchedness, if that were possible, she had received no letter from Manson for three weeks, and there were no rifts of sunshine in her horizon. She wrote him a long account of her loss and all the misery of mind she was experiencing and then, as she had no address to mail it to, held the letter in waiting, and finally tore it up. "It will only give him pain to know it," she thought, "and he has enough to bear." When she next heard from him she realized more than ever how many lonely and homesick hours he had to endure, and was glad she had kept her sorrow to herself.
A few weeks later her father, thinking to make the house more cheerful, proposed that her Aunt Mary—a widowed sister of his—should come and live with them.
"No, father," said Liddy, after the matter had been discussed, "I would rather be alone and take care of you myself." Then she added, with a little quiver in her voice: "You are the only one I've got to love now and perhaps the only one I shall ever have."
Liddy was essentially a home-loving girl and cared but little for company. A few friends, and good ones, might be considered as the text of her life, and even at school it had been the same. Her home duties and her father's needs were a sufficient kingdom, and over it she was a gracious queen. For the first three months after her mother's death she and her father lived a life of nearly silent sadness. Almost daily he visited the town, dreading far worse than Liddy ever knew lest he must return with sad tidings. He knew what was ever in her heart, and as her life-happiness was dear to him, he wasted no time in discussing war news with his friends in the village. When June came Liddy felt that a change in the morose current of their lives must be made, and in her peculiar way set about to carry out her idea. She knew his fiftieth birthday came during that month, and when the day arrived she said to him:
"Come home early to-night, father, I have a great, big favor to ask of you." All that afternoon she worked at her little plot, and when tea time came and he entered the house a surprise awaited him. The dining-table had been moved into the sitting-room, set with the best china, and in the center was a vase of flowers. Draped from the hanging lamp above it, and extending to each corner were ropes of ground pine, and around his plate was a double row of full-blown roses. It was a pretty sight, and when he looked at it he smiled and said: "Expecting company, Liddy?"
"Yes, you," was her answer; "and I've made a shortcake, and I picked the strawberries myself."
When he was seated in his accustomed chair he looked at the array of roses, and in a surprised voice remarked: "Why didn't you put some around your own plate, Liddy?"
"Because it's not my birthday," came the answer; "count them, father."
The thoughtful tribute touched him, and a look of sadness crept in his face. "I had forgotten how old I was," he said.
Liddy made no reply until she had poured his tea, and then she said, in her earnest way: "Now, father, I don't want you to think of that any more, or anything else that is past and gone. Please think how hard I worked all the afternoon to fix the table and how much I want to make you happy."
When it came time to retire, he said: "You haven't told me yet what that big favor is, Liddy!"
For answer she went to him and taking his face in her hands, she kissed him on either cheek and whispered: "Wait till to-morrow!"
A FEW BRIGHT DAYS.
The next evening after supper Liddy showed unusual cheerfulness. She had that day received three letters from the absent one, though of different dates, and all contained assuring words. Then she had a little plan of loving intent mapped out in her mind and was eager to carry it out. Her father noticed her unusual mood and said: "It seems good to see you smile once more, Liddy."
"I am trying hard to feel happy," she answered, "and harder still to make you feel so as well." And then, drawing her chair close to him, she sat down and rested her face against his shoulder. It was one of her odd ways, and it must be now stated that when this winsome girl most earnestly desired to reach her father's heart, she always stroked his shoulder with her face.
"Well," he said, recognizing her method, "I know you have something on your mind; so tell me what it is right away!"
She made no immediate reply, but softly stroked him for a moment and then replied: "Yes, I do want something; I want a clock!" and then, straightening herself up, she continued earnestly: "I want a lot of things; I want a pretty clock to put on the mantel, and I want you to put the tall one up into the attic, for it gives me the blues; and say, father"—— and here again her face went to his shoulder, "I want a piano!"
"Is that all?" he answered, a droll smile creeping into his face.
"No," she said, "that isn't all; but it's all I dare ask for now."
"Better tell me the rest," he replied, stroking the head that still rested against his arm. "You haven't surprised me yet."
And then there was a very pretty scene, for the next instant that blue-eyed heart-breaker was sitting in her father's lap, with both arms around his neck.
"Do you mean it, father?" she whispered. "Can I have a piano?"
"Why, of course," he answered softly, "if you want one."
In a week the old cottage organ that had felt the touch of Liddy's childish fingers learning the scale, was keeping company with the tall clock in the attic, and in its place stood a piano. In the sitting-room a new clock that chimed the hours and halves ticked on the mantel. These were not all the changes, for when so much was won our heart-breaker renewed her assault by her usual method, and pretty portieres took the place of doors between parlor, hall and sitting-room, and delicate lace curtains draped the windows. Then Liddy surveyed her home with satisfaction and asked her father how he liked it.
"It makes a great change in the rooms," he replied, "and they seem more cheerful."
"Do you notice that it also makes the carpets look worn and shabby?" said Liddy; "and the parlor furniture a little old-fashioned?"
Mr. Camp sat down in one of the parlor chairs and looked around. For a few moments he surveyed the room in silence and then said: "Liddy, did you ever hear the story of the brass fire-dogs? I don't think you have, so I will tell it. There was once a good woman who persuaded her husband to buy a pair of brass fire-dogs for the parlor, to take the place of the old iron ones. When the new ones were in place she polished them very brightly and asked him to look into the room. 'Don't you think,' she said, 'they make the carpet look old and worn?' They certainly did, so he bought a new carpet. That in turn made the furniture seem shabby, so he was persuaded to renew that. By this time the curtains were not in harmony, and had to be changed. When it was all done he remarked: 'Wife, you said the fire-dogs would only cost me four dollars, but they have really cost me two hundred.'"
"But we had the brass fire-dogs already," said Liddy laughing, "so the story doesn't hit me." Then, going to him and putting one arm around his neck and stroking his face with the other hand, she continued: "The trouble is, father, you have got me instead of new fire-dogs; are you sorry?"
"You must judge for yourself," was his answer. "Is there anything else you wish?"
"Yes, there are two other things I want," was her reply, still stroking him; "I want to see you look happier, and feel happier, and I want some one to come back safe from the war."
Life is at best but a succession of moods that, like a pendulum, ever vibrate between mirth and sadness. Circumstances will almost invariably force the vibrations to greater extremes, but just as surely will its opposite mood return. Though clouds darken to-day, the sun will shine to-morrow; and if sorrow comes, joy will follow; while ever above the rippled shores of laughter floats the mist of tears.
In some respects Liddy was a peculiar girl. While loving those near her with almost pathetic tenderness and constantly striving to show it, she shrank like a scared child from any public exhibition of that feeling. She had another peculiarity that might be called a whim—she loved to try experiments upon her own feelings to see what effect they would have. It was this that had been the real cause of her desire to attend the military funeral that had taken place in Southton a few months previous. Since her mother's death Liddy had remained at home nearly all the time. She seldom went to the village, because to do so awakened unpleasant memories. To drive past the now vacant academy or near the depot was to awaken unhappy thought and force her into a sad mood. The seclusion of her home seemed more in harmony with her feelings. She had but few intimate friends, and even those jarred upon her now, and her father was the best, and the only one she cared to be with. One day in mid-summer, she surprised him with a strange request.
"Father," she said, "I want to go fishing. I don't mean to tramp through the brush along a brook, but I want you to take me to some pretty pond where there are trees all around, and where I can sit in a boat on the shady side and fish. We will take a basket of lunch and have a nice time. If we cannot catch fish we can pick pond lilies. Will you go?"
As there was nothing that loving father would not do for his only child, it is needless to say that the trip was made.
When Liddy began to catch fish, and he noticed how excited she became, he said, with quiet humor: "Which would you rather do, Liddy, put your fish in the boat or hang them up in the trees? Tut, tut!" he continued, as he saw a deep shadow creep over her face, "you will have Charlie to bait your hook next summer, never fear!"
That night she wrote to her soldier boy: "I coaxed father to take me fishing to-day. I wanted to see if it wouldn't bring me nearer to you or you to me. I came home in a sad mood, however, though I learned one thing, and that is wherein lies the fascination of fishing. It's the constant expectation of getting a bite that takes your mind away from all else."
With the autumn evenings came the time for open fires, and Liddy had hard work to keep her spirits up. There were so many tender associations lurking in the firelight, and so much that brought back the past and gone hours of happiness that it was painful instead of cheerful. Thanksgiving time and the holidays were days of sadness instead of joy. The long eighteen months of constant dread and suspense had worn upon her nerves and was slowly changing her from a light-hearted, happy girl to a saddened, waiting woman. The winter slowly dragged its weary length, and one evening, about a year from the time she had attended the military funeral, she broke down entirely. She had tried piano practice for a time and then reading, but neither availed to occupy her thoughts or drive away the gloom. Finally she sat down beside her father, who was reading, and said piteously:
"Father, please talk to me; tell me stories, scold me—anything! I am so utterly wretched I am ready to cry!"
"My child," he answered tenderly, stroking the fair head that was resting against his arm, "don't let your mind brood so much upon your own troubles; try and think how many there are who have more to bear than you have."
The delicate reproach, though not intended as such by him, was the last straw, for the next instant her head was down in his lap and she was sobbing like a child. When the little shower was over she raised her face and whispered:
"Don't think it's all Charlie, father, or that I forget mother, or how much you have to bear; for I do not. It's all combined, and the silent room upstairs added to the dread, that is breaking my heart."
When the day that marked the anniversary of her parting from Manson arrived she tried another experiment upon herself. The promise she had made him that day seemed a sacred bond, and she resolved to go alone to Blue Hill and see how it would affect her. The day was almost identical to the one two years previous, and when, late in the afternoon, she arrived at the top, the spot seemed unchanged. The trees were thick with the same fresh foliage, the birds were there, and around the rock where they had sat grew the same blue violets. Under a tree was the little lattice table, just as they had left it. She sat down on the rock and tried to live over the thoughts and feelings of that day. They all came back, like so many spectres of a past and gone happiness, and as, one by one, they filed by in thought, the utter silence and solitude of the place seemed to increase. The only sound was the faint whisper of the breeze in the hemlocks, and as she listened and looked into the shadow beyond where the trees grew thicker, a strange feeling of fear began to assail her heart and a new and horrible dread crept into her thoughts. She had not heard from the absent one for two weeks—what if the dreaded fate had already come and he was at this very moment near her in spirit? And as all the horror of this thought forced itself upon her, she suddenly rose to her feet, and almost running, left the spot.
When she arrived home and looked into her mirror she saw a strange expression on her face and her lips were pale. "I could not go there again," she said to herself; "I should go mad if I did."
During the next few weeks the dread seemed to grow upon her day by day. She did not dare tell her father of her trip to Blue Hill, but he noticed that she was getting thin and that her eyes were growing hollow. Then came the news of the battle of Peach Creek and that Company E were engaged in it; but no names of the killed or wounded, if any, reached her, and no letter from Manson.
Each day her father drove to the village and he was always met at the gate upon his return by a sad-faced girl whose blue eyes wore a look of piteous appeal. He tried to comfort her all he could; but it did no good. She could not talk; she could scarcely eat or sleep, but went about her daily work as if in a trance. Occasionally in the evening she would give way to tears, and for three weeks she existed in a state of wretchedness no pen can describe. Then one evening her father handed her a letter in a strange handwriting and turned his face away, for he knew its contents.
"Tell me the worst, father," she almost screamed, "tell me quick; is he alive?"
"Yes, my child," he answered sadly, "but we must go to him to-morrow. He is in the hospital at Washington and very low."
AMONG THE WOUNDED.
At nearly noon the day after the battle of Peach Creek the searchers for wounded came upon Manson, still alive, but delirious. Of that ghastly battlefield, or the long agony of that wounded boy, I hesitate to speak. No pen can describe, either, and to even faintly portray them is but to add gloom to a narrative already replete with it. The twenty-four hours of his indescribable pain and torturing thirst were only broken by a few hours of merciful delirium, when he was once more a boy and living his simple, care-free life on the farm, or happy with Liddy. When found he knew it not. When examined by a surgeon that stern man shook his head and remarked: "Slim chance for you, poor devil—too much blood gone already!"
For two weeks he was delirious most of the time, but his rugged constitution saved him, and when he showed signs of gaining and could be moved, he was taken to the hospital at Washington. Once there, he began to fail again, for the long journey had been too much for him.
"He won't last long," said the doctor in charge to the nurse. "Better ask him if there is any one he wishes to see."
When he made his rounds the next morning Manson was worse and again out of his head. "He has been wandering in his mind all night," was the nurse's report, "and he talks about fishing and catching things in traps, and there is a girl mixed in it all. Case of sweetheart, I guess."
That day the wounded boy rallied a little and began to think, and bit by bit the sane hours of the past few weeks came back to him. How near to the shores of eternal silence his bark had drifted, he little knew! The long hours of agony on the battlefield since the moment he had instinctively crawled behind a rock had been a delirium of despair broken only by visions of vague and shadowy import that he could not grasp. All that he thought was that death must soon end his misery, and he hoped it might come soon. At times he had bitten and torn the sleeves of his coat, soaked with blood from his shattered arm, or beaten his head against the dry earth in his agony.
How long it had lasted he could not tell, and the last that he remembered was looking at the moon, and then he seemed to be drifting away and all pain ceased. Then all around him he could hear voices and over his head a roof, and he felt as if awakened from some horrible dream. With his well arm he felt of the other and found it was bound with splints. The faces he could see were all strange, but the men wore the familiar blue uniform and he knew they were not enemies. He was carried to a freight-car and laid in it, where he took a long, jolting ride that was all a torture, at the end of which he was taken in an open wagon to a long, low building, and laid on one of many narrow cots which were ranged in double rows. He could not raise his head or turn his body. He could only rest utterly helpless and inert, and indifferent to either life or death.
Of Liddy he thought many times, and of his mother and father as well, and he wondered what they would say and how they would feel when the tidings reached them. Then a kind-faced woman came and lifted his head and held it while he took medicine or sipped broth, and then he was wandering beside a brook again, or in green meadows. Later he could see the white cots all about and the unceiled roof over his head and the same motherly face, and he was asked who his friends were and whom he would like to send for, and from that time on he began to hope.
Would the one human being on earth he cared most to see come so far, and could she if she would? And would life still be left in him when she reached his side; or would he have been carried out of the long, low room, dead, as he had seen others carried? He wondered what she would say or do when she came, and oh! if he could only know whether she was coming! He could see the door at one corner of the room where she must enter, and it was a little comfort to look at that. Then a resolution and a feeling that he must live and be there when she came began to grow upon him. He knew four days had passed since she had been sent for and he could now count the hours, and from that time on his eyes were seldom turned away from that door while he was awake. Did ever hours pass more slowly than those? Could it be possible? I think not. He had no means of knowing the time except to ask the nurse, and when night came he knew that sleep might bridge a few hours more speedily.
Six days passed, and then in the gray light of the next morning he opened his weary waiting eyes and saw bending over him the fair face that for two long years, and all through his hopeless agony he had longed for, and as he reached his hand to her in mute gratitude, unable to speak, he felt it clasped, and the next instant she was on her knees beside him and pressing a tear-wet face upon it, and he was listening to the first prayer she ever uttered!
Gone now like a flash of light were all those weary months of heart-hunger! Gone all the agony and despair of that day and night on the battlefield! Gone all the hours of pain through which he counted the moments one by one as he watched the door! No more was he lying upon a narrow cot listening to the moans of the wounded as he saw the dead carried out! Instead was he resting on a bed of violets and listening to the heart throbs of thankfulness and supplication murmured by an angel! And if ever a prayer reached the heavenly throne it was that one! When it was finished, and her loving blue eyes were looking into his, he whispered:
"Liddy, God bless you! Now I shall live."
Such is the power of love!
I feel that here and now I must beg the kind reader's pardon for introducing so much that is painful and sad in the lives of these two, fitted by birth and education for peace and simple home happiness. War and all its horrors is not akin to them and was never meant to be. Rather should their footsteps lead them where the bobolink sings as he circles over a green meadow, and the blue water lilies stoop to kiss the brook that ripples through it; or where the fields of grain bend and billow in the summer breeze; or the old mill-wheel splashes, while the white flowers in the pond above smile in the sunlight. If the patient reader will but follow their lives a little further, only peace and happiness and all the gentle voices of nature shall be their companions.
For a month, while cheered by the presence of her devoted father, Liddy nursed that feeble spark of life back to health and strength as only a tender and heroic woman could. All the dread aftermath of war that daily assailed her every sense, did not make her falter, but through all those scenes of misery and death she bravely stood by her post and her love-imposed duty. How hard a task it was, no one unaccustomed to such surroundings can even faintly realize, and it need not be dwelt upon. When she had fulfilled the most God-like mission ever confided to woman's hands—that of caring for the sick and dying—and when returning strength made it possible to remove her charge, those three devoted ones returned to the hills of old New England.
How fair the peaceful valley of Southton seemed once more, and how clear and distinct the Blue Hills were outlined in the pure September air! The trees were just gaining the annual glory of autumn color; but to Liddy they brought no tinge of melancholy, for her heart was full of sweetest joy. She had saved the one life dearest on earth to her, and now the voices of nature were but sounds of heavenly music. And how dear to her was her home once more, and all about it! The brook that rippled near sounded like the low tinkle of sweet bells, and the maple by the gate whispered once again the tender thoughts of the love that had first come to her beneath them. She was like a child in her happiness, and every thought and every impulse was touched by the mystic, magic wand of love. Few ever know the supreme joy that came to her and none can except they walk with bleeding hearts and weary feet through the valley of despair, bearing the burden of a loved one's life.
The first evening she was alone with her father, she came as a child would, to sit upon his knee, and putting her arms around his neck whispered:
"Father, I never knew until now what it means to be happy, and how good and kind you could be to me, and how little it is in my power to pay it all back. I can only love and care for you as long as I live, or as long as God spares your life."
And be it said, she kept her promise.
PLANS FOR HAPPINESS.
Appomattox and a glorious ending of the most sanguinary war in the history of the nineteenth century had come, and with it a few changes in Southton.
Only a part of that brave E Company that three years before marched so proudly away to fight for the Union ever returned, and of those the greater number bore the scars of war and disease. Very many sorrowing women and children were scattered through the town, whose hearts were sore with wounds that only time could heal, and the empty sleeve and the vacant chair were sad reminders on all sides.
The Rev. Jotham still extended his time-worn orthodox arguments to a wearisome length, usually concluding them with more or less varied and vivid pictures of the doom in store for those who failed at once to repent and believe; but strange to say the sinners who were moved by his eloquence were few and far between. It was known that he was not in sympathy with the great majority of the North, or the principles upon which the war had been fought, but believed in the right of secession, and that the North was wrong in its political position. Had he kept these opinions to himself it would have been far wiser; but he made the mistake of giving utterance to them at a Memorial Day service held in his church, which expression was so obnoxious to the most of his audience and such a direct reflection upon the brave men from the town who had shed their blood for their country that one of the leading men of Southton arose at the close of Rev. Jotham's remarks and there and then rebuked him. The affair created quite a disturbance in public feeling and was perhaps one of the indirect causes that eventually led to a division of his church and to the formation of a separate society in another part of the town.
A new principal had assumed charge of the academy, the trustees having decided for several reasons that a change would be beneficial. Mr. Webber, who had ruled there for several years, industriously circulated a report that by reason of several very flattering offers to engage in mercantile pursuits, as well as failing health, he had decided to resign. As his voice, and the apparent desire to use it upon any and all possible occasions, showed no cessation of energy, a few skeptical ones were inclined to doubt that his health was seriously affected, and as it was over a year before he accepted any of the flattering offers, they believed he must have had hard work to find them. For the rest the town resumed the old-time even tenor of its way, though there had been added to its annals heroic history, and to its calendar one day of annual mourning.
Aunt Sally Hart said that "Liddy Camp had showed mighty good grit and that young Manson ought to feel purty proud of her," which expression seemed to reflect the general sentiment.
When the autumn days and returning health came to Manson, sunshine seemed to once more smile upon the lives of our two young friends, and how happy they were during the all too short evenings spent together in Liddy's newly furnished parlor, need not be described. It was no longer a courtship, but rather a loving discussion of future plans in life, for each felt bound by an obligation stronger even than love, and how many charming air castles they built out of the firelight flashes shall not be told. In a way, Liddy was a heroine among the little circle of her schoolmates and friends, and deserved to be, for few there were among them who could have found the strength to have faced the ghastly scenes she had, from a sense of duty.
"I do not care to talk about it," she said once to one of those who had been near her in the old days at the academy; "it all came so suddenly I did not stop to think, and if I had it would have made no difference. I did not think of myself at all, or what I was to meet. How horrible it was to be thrust among hundreds of wounded and dying men; to hear what I had to, and see what I did, I cannot describe and do not wish to. Under the same circumstances," she added quietly, "I should face that awful experience over again if necessary."
Life and all its plans practically resolve themselves into a question of income finally, and no matter how well aimed Cupid's darts may be, the almighty dollar and the ability to obtain possession of it, is of greater weight in the scale than all the arrows the boy-god ever carried. Even as an academy boy Manson had realized this; faintly at first, and yet with growing force, as his attachment for Liddy increased. With a certain pride in character he had resolved to withhold any declaration of love until he had at least a settled occupation in life; but when it came to going to war and parting, perhaps forever, from the girl he loved, to longer remain silent was to control himself beyond his strength. Now that she had shown how much his life meant to her by an act of devotion and self-sacrifice so unusual, his ambition to obtain a home that he could invite her to share, returned with redoubled force. What to do, or where to turn, he did not know. He was not even recuperated from the terrible ordeal that had so nearly cost him his life; but for all that his ambition was spurring him onward far in advance of his strength. One evening late that autumn, when he found himself unexpectedly alone with Mr. Camp, he said:
"I have for some time wished to express to you my hopes and ask your advice regarding my future plans. First, I want to ask you for Liddy, and beyond that, what I had best turn to to obtain a livelihood. I want Liddy, and I want a home to keep her in."
Mr. Camp looked at him a moment, while a droll smile crept into his face, and then replied:
"I am willing you should have Liddy, of course. I wouldn't have taken her to that hospital to try to save your life if I hadn't believed you worthy of her; but beyond that I don't think I have much to say in the matter anyway. I couldn't keep you apart if I would, and I wouldn't if I could." And then he added a little more seriously: "She is all I have left in my life, and whatever plans you two make, I hope you will consider that."
Manson was silent. The perfect confidence and simple pathos of Mr. Camp's statement came to him forcibly, and made him realize how much he was asking. He meditated a few moments, and then said:
"I feel that I am asking for more than I deserve, and that I owe you far more than I can ever repay, but believe me, I shall do all in my power."
"We won't worry about that now," replied Mr. Camp, smiling again; "wait till your arm is well, and then we will talk it all over. In the meantime"—and a twinkle came into his eyes—"you have one well arm, and I guess that's all Liddy needs just at present."
The autumn and winter evenings sped by on wings of wind to Liddy and her lover, for all the sweet illusions of life were theirs. Occasionally they called on some of their old schoolmates, or were invited to social gatherings, and how proud she was of her manly escort, and he of the fair girl he felt was all his own, need not be told.
One day in the spring Mr. Camp said to Manson: "How would you like to be a farmer?"
"I have no objections," he replied; "my father is one, and there is no reason why I should be ashamed of it. It means hard work, but I am used to that. I am ready and willing to do anything to earn an honest living."