"And now," said Mr. Lincoln, "to continue for the defence, I believe that Colonel Colfax first distinguished himself at the time of Camp Jackson, when of all the prisoners he refused to accept a parole."
Startled, she looked up at him swiftly, and then down again. "Yes," she answered, "yes. But oh, Mr. Lincoln, please don't hold that against him."
If she could only have seen his face then. But her lashes were dropped.
"My dear young lady," replied the President, "I honor him for it. I was merely elaborating the argument which you have begun. On the other hand, it is a pity that he should have taken off that uniform which he adorned and attempted to enter General Sherman's lines as a civilian,—as a spy."
He had spoken these last words very gently, but she was too excited to heed his gentleness. She drew herself up, a gleam in her eyes like the crest of a blue wave in a storm.
"A spy!" she cried; "it takes more courage to be a spy than anything else in war. Then he will be shot. You are not content in, the North with what you have gained. You are not content with depriving us of our rights, and our fortunes, with forcing us back to an allegiance we despise. You are not content with humiliating our generals and putting innocent men in prisons. But now I suppose you will shoot us all. And all this mercy that I have heard about means nothing—nothing—"
Why did she falter and stop?
"Miss Carvel," said the President, "I am afraid from what I have heard just now, that it means nothing." Oh, the sadness of that voice,—the ineffable sadness,—the sadness and the woe of a great nation! And the sorrow in those eyes, the sorrow of a heavy cross borne meekly,—how heavy none will ever know. The pain of a crown of thorns worn for a world that did not understand. No wonder Virginia faltered and was silent. She looked at Abraham Lincoln standing there, bent and sorrowful, and it was as if a light had fallen upon him. But strangest of all in that strange moment was that she felt his strength. It was the same strength she had felt in Stephen Brice. This was the thought that came to her.
Slowly she walked to the window and looked out across the green grounds where the wind was shaking the wet trees, past the unfinished monument to the Father of her country, and across the broad Potomac to Alexandria in the hazy distance. The rain beat upon the panes, and then she knew that she was crying softly to herself. She had met a force that she could not conquer, she had looked upon a sorrow that she could not fathom, albeit she had known sorrow.
Presently she felt him near. She turned and looked through her tears at his face that was all compassion. And now she was unashamed. He had placed a chair behind her.
"Sit down, Virginia," he said. Even the name fell from him naturally.
She obeyed him then like a child. He remained standing.
"Tell me about your cousin," he said; "are you going to marry him?"
She hung an instant on her answer. Would that save Clarence? But in that moment she could not have spoken anything but the truth to save her soul.
"No, Mr. Lincoln," she said; "I was—but I did not love him. I—I think that was one reason why he was so reckless."
Mr. Lincoln smiled.
"The officer who happened to see Colonel Colfax captured is now in Washington. When your name was given to me, I sent for him. Perhaps he is in the anteroom now. I should like to tell you, first of all, that this officer defended your cousin and asked me to pardon him."
"He defended him! He asked you to pardon him! Who is he?" she exclaimed.
Again Mr. Lincoln smiled. He strode to the bell-cord, and spoke a few words to the usher who answered his ring.
The usher went out. Then the door opened, and a young officer, spare, erect, came quickly into the room, and bowed respectfully to the President. But Mr. Lincoln's eyes were not on him. They were on the girl. He saw her head lifted, timidly. He saw her lips part and the color come flooding into her face. But she did not rise.
The President sighed But the light in her eyes was reflected in his own. It has been truly said that Abraham Lincoln knew the human heart.
The officer still stood facing the President, the girl staring at his profile. The door closed behind him. "Major Brice," said Mr. Lincoln, when you asked me to pardon Colonel Colfax, I believe that you told me he was inside his own skirmish lines when he was captured."
"Yes, sir, he was."
Suddenly Stephen turned, as if impelled by the President's gaze, and so his eyes met Virginia's. He forgot time and place,—for the while even this man whom he revered above all men. He saw her hand tighten on the arm of her chair. He took a step toward her, and stopped. Mr. Lincoln was speaking again.
"He put in a plea, a lawyer's plea, wholly unworthy of him, Miss Virginia. He asked me to let your cousin off on a technicality. What do you think of that?"
"Oh!" said Virginia. Just the exclamation escaped her—nothing more. The crimson that had betrayed her deepened on her cheeks. Slowly the eyes she had yielded to Stephen came back again and rested on the President. And now her wonder was that an ugly man could be so beautiful.
"I wish it understood, Mr. Lawyer," the President continued, "that I am not letting off Colonel Colfax on a technicality. I am sparing his life," he said slowly, "because the time for which we have been waiting and longing for four years is now at hand—the time to be merciful. Let us all thank God for it."
Virginia had risen now. She crossed the room, her head lifted, her heart lifted, to where this man of sorrows stood smiling down at her.
"Mr. Lincoln," she faltered, "I did not know you when I came here. I should have known you, for I had heard him—I had heard Major Brice praise you. Oh," she cried, "how I wish that every man and woman and child in the South might come here and see you as I have seen you to-day. I think—I think that some of their bitterness might be taken away."
Abraham Lincoln laid his hands upon the girl. And Stephen, watching, knew that he was looking upon a benediction.
"Virginia," said Mr. Lincoln, "I have not suffered by the South, I have suffered with the South Your sorrow has been my sorrow, and your pain has been my pain. What you have lost, I have lost. And what you have gained," he added sublimely, "I have gained."
He led her gently to the window. The clouds were flying before the wind, and a patch of blue sky shone above the Potomac. With his long arm he pointed across the river to the southeast, and as if by a miracle a shaft of sunlight fell on the white houses of Alexandria.
"In the first days of the war," he said, "a flag flew there in sight of the place where George Washington lived and died. I used to watch that flag, and thank God that Washington had not lived to see it. And sometimes, sometimes I wondered if God had allowed it to be put in irony just there." His voice seemed to catch. "That was wrong," he continued. "I should have known that this was our punishment—that the sight of it was my punishment. Before we could become the great nation He has destined us to be, our sins must be wiped out in blood. You loved that flag, Virginia. You love it still.
"I say in all sincerity, may you always love it. May the day come when this Nation, North and South, may look back upon it with reverence. Thousands upon thousands of brave Americans have died under it for what they believed was right. But may the day come again when you will love that flag you see there now—Washington's flag—better still."
He stopped, and the tears were wet upon Virginia's lashes. She could not have spoken then.
Mr. Lincoln went over to his desk and sat down before it. Then he began to write, slouched forward, one knee resting on the floor, his lips moving at the same time. When he got up again he seemed taller than ever.
"There!" he said, "I guess that will fix it. I'll have that sent to Sherman. I have already spoken to him about the matter."
They did not thank him. It was beyond them both. He turned to Stephen with that quizzical look on his face he had so often seen him wear.
"Steve," he said, "I'll tell you a story. The other night Harlan was here making a speech to a crowd out of the window, and my boy Tad was sitting behind him.
"'What shall we do with the Rebels?' said Harlan to the crowd.
"'Hang 'em!' cried the people. "'No,' says Tad, 'hang on to 'em.'
"And the boy was right. That is what we intend to do,—hang on to 'em. And, Steve," said Mr. Lincoln, putting his hand again on Virginia's shoulder, "if you have the sense I think you have, you'll hang on, too."
For an instant he stood smiling at their blushes,—he to whom the power was given to set apart his cares and his troubles and partake of the happiness of others. For of such was his happiness.
Then the President drew out his watch. "Bless me!" he said, "I am ten minutes behind my appointment at the Department. Miss Virginia, you may care to thank the Major for the little service he has done you. You can do so undisturbed here. Make yourselves at home."
As he opened the door he paused and looked back at them. The smile passed from his face, and an ineffable expression of longing—longing and tenderness—came upon it.
Then he was gone.
For a space, while his spell was upon them, they did not stir. Then Stephen sought her eyes that had been so long denied him. They were not denied him now. It was Virginia who first found her voice, and she called him by his name.
"Oh, Stephen," she said, "how sad he looked!"
He was close to her, at her side. And he answered her in the earnest tone which she knew so well.
"Virginia, if I could have had what I most wished for in the world, I should have asked that you should know Abraham Lincoln."
Then she dropped her eyes, and her breath came quickly.
"I—I might have known," she answered, "I might have known what he was. I had heard you talk of him. I had seen him in you, and I did not know. Do you remember that day when we were in the summer-house together at Glencoe, long ago? When you had come back from seeing him?"
"As yesterday," he said.
"You were changed then," she said bravely. "I saw it. Now I understand. It was because you had seen Mr. Lincoln."
"When I saw him," said Stephen, reverently, "I knew how little and narrow I was."
Then, overcome by the incense of her presence, he drew her to him until her heart beat against his own. She did not resist, but lifted her face to him, and he kissed her.
"You love me, Virginia!" he cried.
"Yes, Stephen," she answered, low, more wonderful in her surrender than ever before. "Yes—dear." Then she hid her face against his blue coat. "I—I cannot help it. Oh, Stephen, how I have struggled against it! How I have tried to hate you, and couldn't. No, I couldn't. I tried to insult you, I did insult you. And when I saw how splendidly you bore it, I used to cry." He kissed her brown hair.
"I loved you through it all," he said.
"Virginia, did you dream of me?"
She raised her head quickly, and awe was in her eyes. "How did you know?"
"Because I dreamed of you," he answered. And those dreams used to linger with me half the day as I went about my work. I used to think of them as I sat in the saddle on the march."
"I, too, treasured them," she said. "And I hated myself for doing it."
"Virginia, will you marry me?"
"Yes, dear, to-morrow." Faintly, "I have no one but you—now."
Once more he drew her to him, and she gloried in his strength.
"God help me to cherish you, dear," he said, "and guard you well."
She drew away from him, gently, and turned toward the window.
"See, Stephen," she cried, "the sun has come out at last."
For a while they were silent, looking out; the drops glistened on blade and leaf, and the joyous new green of the earth entered into their hearts.
IT was Virginia's wish, and was therefore sacred. As for Stephen, he little cared whither they went. And so they found themselves on that bright afternoon in mid-April under the great trees that arch the unpaved streets of old Annapolis.
They stopped by direction at a gate, and behind it was a green cluster of lilac bushes, which lined the walk to the big plum-colored house which Lionel Carvel had built. Virginia remembered that down this walk on a certain day in June, a hundred years agone, Richard Carvel had led Dorothy Manners.
They climbed the steps, tottering now with age and disuse, and Virginia playfully raised the big brass knocker, brown now, that Scipio had been wont to polish until it shone. Stephen took from his pocket the clumsy key that General Carvel had given him, and turned it in the rusty lock. The door swung open, and Virginia stood in the hall of her ancestors.
It was musty and damp this day as the day when Richard had come back from England and found it vacant and his grandfather dead. But there, at the parting of the stairs, was the triple-arched window which he had described. Through it the yellow afternoon light was flooding now, even as then, checkered by the branches in their first fringe of green. But the tall clock which Lionel Carvel used to wind was at Calvert House, with many another treasure.
They went up the stairs, and reverently they walked over the bare floors, their footfalls echoing through the silent house. A score of scenes in her great-grandfather's life came to Virginia. Here was the room—the cornet one at the back of the main building, which looked out over the deserted garden—that had been Richard's mother's. She recalled how he had stolen into it on that summer's day after his return, and had flung open the shutters. They were open now, for their locks were off. The prie-dieu was gone, and the dresser. But the high bed was there, stripped of its poppy counterpane and white curtains; and the steps by which she had entered it.
And next they went into the great square room that had been Lionel Carvel's, and there, too, was the roomy bed on which the old gentleman had lain with the gout, while Richard read to him from the Spectator. One side of it looked out on the trees in Freshwater Lane; and the other across the roof of the low house opposite to where the sun danced on the blue and white waters of the Chesapeake.
"Honey," said Virginia, as they stood in the deep recess of the window, "wouldn't it be nice if we could live here always, away from the world? Just we two! But you would never be content to do that," she said, smiling reproachfully. "You are the kind of man who must be in the midst of things. In a little while you will have far more besides me to think about."
He was quick to catch the note of sadness in her voice. And he drew her to him.
"We all have our duty to perform in the world, dear," he answered. "It cannot be all pleasure."
"You—you Puritan!" she cried. "To think that I should have married a Puritan! What would my great-great-great-great-grandfather say, who was such a stanch Royalist? Why, I think I can see him frowning at me now, from the door, in his blue velvet goat and silverlaced waistcoat."
"He was well punished," retorted Stephen, "his own grandson was a Whig, and seems to have married a woman of spirit."
"She had spirit," said Virginia. "I am sure that she did not allow my great-grandfather to kiss her—unless she wanted to."
And she looked up at him, half smiling, half pouting; altogether bewitching.
"From what I hear of him, he was something of a man," said Stephen. "Perhaps he did it anyway."
"I am glad that Marlborough Street isn't a crowded thoroughfare," said Virginia.
When they had seen the dining room, with its carved mantel and silver door-knobs, and the ballroom in the wing, they came out, and Stephen locked the door again. They walked around the house, and stood looking down the terraces,—once stately, but crumbled now,—where Dorothy had danced on the green on Richard's birthday. Beyond and below was the spring-house, and there was the place where the brook dived under the ruined wall,—where Dorothy had wound into her hair the lilies of the valley before she sailed for London.
The remains of a wall that had once held a balustrade marked the outlines of the formal garden. The trim hedges, for seventy years neglected, had grown incontinent. The garden itself was full of wild green things coming up through the brown of last season's growth. But in the grass the blue violets nestled, and Virginia picked some of these and put them in Stephen's coat.
"You must keep them always," she said, "because we got them here."
They spied a seat beside a hoary trunk. There on many a spring day Lionel Carvel had sat reading his Gazette. And there they rested now. The sun hung low over the old-world gables in the street beyond the wall, and in the level rays was an apple tree dazzling white, like a bride. The sweet fragrance which the day draws from the earth lingered in the air.
It was Virginia who broke the silence.
"Stephen, do you remember that fearful afternoon of the panic, when you came over from Anne Brinsmade's to reassure me?"
"Yes, dear," he said. "But what made you think of it now?"
She did not answer him directly.
"I believed what you said, Stephen. But you were so strong, so calm, so sure of yourself. I think that made me angry when I thought how ridiculous I must have been."
He pressed her hand.
"You were not ridiculous, Jinny." She laughed.
"I was not as ridiculous as Mr. Cluyme with his bronze clock. But do you know what I had under my arm—what I was saving of all the things I owned?"
"No," he answered; "but I have often wondered." She blushed.
"This house—this place made me think of it. It was Dorothy Manners's gown, and her necklace. I could not leave them. They were all the remembrance I had of that night at Mr. Brinsmade's gate, when we came so near to each other."
"Virginia," he said, "some force that we cannot understand has brought us together, some force that we could not hinder. It is foolish for me to say so, but on that day of the slave auction, when I first saw you, I had a premonition about you that I have never admitted until now, even to myself."
"Why, Stephen," she cried, "I felt the same way!"
"And then," he continued quickly, "it was strange that I should have gone to Judge Whipple, who was an intimate of your father's—such a singular intimate. And then came your party, and Glencoe, and that curious incident at the Fair."
"When I was talking to the Prince, and looked up and saw you among all those people."
"That was the most uncomfortable of all, for me."
"Stephen," she said, stirring the leaves at her feet, "you might have taken me in your arms the night Judge Whipple died—if you had wanted to. But you were strong enough to resist. I love you all the more for that."
Again she said:— "It was through your mother, dearest, that we were most strongly drawn together. I worshipped her from the day I saw her in the hospital. I believe that was the beginning of my charity toward the North."
"My mother would have chosen you above all women, Virginia," he answered.
In the morning came to them the news of Abraham Lincoln's death. And the same thought was in both their hearts, who had known him as it was given to few to know him. How he had lived in sorrow; how he had died a martyr on the very day of Christ's death upon the cross. And they believed that Abraham Lincoln gave his life for his country even as Christ gave his for the world.
And so must we believe that God has reserved for this Nation a destiny high upon the earth.
Many years afterward Stephen Brice read again to his wife those sublime closing words of the second inaugural:—
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his children —to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
The author has chosen St. Louis for the principal scene of this story for many reasons. Grant and Sherman were living there before the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln was an unknown lawyer in the neighboring state of Illinois. It has been one of the aims of this book to show the remarkable contrasts in the lives of these great men who came out of the West. This old city of St. Louis, which was founded by Laclede in 1765, likewise became the principal meeting-place of two great streams of emigration which had been separated, more or less, since Cromwell's day. To be sure, they were not all Cavaliers who settled in the tidewater Colonies. There were Puritan settlements in both Maryland and Virginia. But the life in the Southern states took on the more liberal tinge which had characterized that of the Royalists, even to the extent of affecting the Scotch Calvinists, while the asceticism of the Roundheads was the keynote of the Puritan character in New England. When this great country of ours began to develop, the streams moved westward; one over what became the plain states of Ohio and Indiana and Illinois, and the other across the Blue Ridge Mountains into Kentucky and Tennessee. They mixed along the line of the Ohio River. They met at St. Louis, and, farther west, in Kansas.
Nor can the German element in St. Louis be ignored. The part played by this people in the Civil War is a matter of history. The scope of this book has not permitted the author to introduce the peasantry and trading classes which formed the mass in this movement. But Richter, the type of the university-bred revolutionist which emigrated after '48, is drawn more or less from life. And the duel described actually took place in Berlin.
St. Louis is the author's birthplace, and his home, the home of those friends whom he has known from childhood and who have always treated him with unfaltering kindness. He begs that they will believe him when he says that only such characters as he loves are reminiscent of those he has known there. The city has a large population,—large enough to include all the types that are to be found in the middle West.
One word more. This book is written of a time when feeling ran high. It has been necessary to put strong speech into the mouths of the characters. The breach that threatened our country's existence is healed now. There is no side but Abraham Lincoln's side. And this side, with all reverence and patriotism, the author has tried to take.
Abraham Lincoln loved the South as well as the North.
PG EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Behind that door was the future: so he opened it fearfully Being caught was the unpardonable crime Believe in others having a hard time Freedom meant only the liberty to earn their own living Humiliation and not conscience which makes the sting Most dangerous of gifts, the seeing of two sides of a quarrel Naturally she took preoccupation for indifference Principle in law not to volunteer information Read a patent medicine circular and shudder with seven diseases She could pass over, but never forgive what her aunt had said Silence—goad to indiscretion Simple men who command by force of character So much for Democracy when it becomes a catchword They have to print something To be great is to be misunderstood