Revived by this stimulating news quite as much as by the whisky, Barney and his three comrades followed Jones to the boats. There were four—the dug-outs we saw Jack manoeuvring in the same waters a few nights before. A negro sat silent, shadowy in each, and, when Jones gave the word, "Let drive!" the barks shot through the waters, propelled by the single scull, as swiftly as an Indian canoe. In a few moments all debarked on the grassy knoll behind the black line of hedge. Jones made straight for the high doorway, and inserting a key it was noiselessly opened.
"Men," he whispered, "no names must be used in any case. I'm number one, Jim here is number two, Moore number three, and so on. Each one remember his number. Clem will remain here with number six to guard the gate. All the rest follow me."
Two negroes joined the party that stole forward through the rose-field to the negro quarters. All was silent. As they reached the great kitchen behind the house and connected with it by a trellised pavilion, only an occasional light could be seen in the house. All were apparently there. The ball had ended. Leaving Barney in charge of the rest, Jones and Number Two crept along the trellis toward the house and soon disappeared around the southern corner. Jones presently returned and said, exultingly:
"The cavalry is gone; we have nothing to fear.—Plato, you go with Number Two to the stables and bring the horses out; hold six and send the rest scattering in the fields, so that in case of anybody's being in the mind to follow hell have to use his legs, and we can beat them at that game. Where are the ropes?" he asked the black man left in the group.
"In de kitchen, massa."
"Must I go alone, massa?"
"That's a fact.—There, Moore, you go with the boy—don't be a minute."
Barney followed the sable marauder through the grounds to the rear of the trellis, and crept with him through a window which stood open. The kitchen was dark, but the negro seemed perfectly familiar with the place. He made directly for a dark panel in the northern wall, opened a cupboard-door, knelt down and began to grope among bottles, boxes, and what not that housewives gather in such receptacles.
"Oh, de lor'! dey ain't no rope! It's done gone!" "Have you a match?" Barney asked.
"No, massa, but dey is some yondah."
The boy crept cautiously in the direction of the passage leading into the house; he fumbled about, an age, as it seemed to the impatient Barney, and at last uttered an exclamation:
"No, massa, but Ise suah deys kep dar."
"Take my hand and lead me."
"It's molasses, massa, and Ise all stickem," the voice in the dark whispered, delightedly, and Barney could see a double row of glistening white ivory in the dim light that came through the window. He came nearer the clumsy wight, and saw that it was a pan of batter the cook had left on the table, probably the morning griddle-cakes. The negro was a mass of white, pasty glue, and knelt on the floor, licking his hands passively.
"Where are the matches?"
"Under de clock, in a tin safe, massa—right da."
Barney groped angrily about the table, on the clock-shelf, knocking down a tin dish, that fell with the clatter of a bursting magazine in the dense stillness of the night. Both drew back in shadow, waiting with heart-beats that sounded in their ears like tramping horses on thick sward. The clamor of rushing steeds in the lane suddenly drowned this; a loud, joyous whinny sounded in the very kitchen it seemed, and there was a rush houseward past the pantry as of a troop of cavalry. Then a blood-curdling outcry of voices, then shots. Barney, leaving the negro writhing in convulsions under the table, darted to the window—to the rendezvous. It was deserted.
"HE EITHER FEARS HIS FATE TOO MUCH."
When Vincent visited the stables on the morning of that eagerly-looked-for Thursday, he found three of the horses clammy with perspiration and giving every sign of having been ridden! The awkward and evasive answers of the stablemen would not have been enough for any other than a man preoccupied by love. When Rosa went to the kitchen, if her head had not been taken up with the love in her heart, she must certainly have remarked that the stores of food prepared for the household were curiously diminished and the kitchen girls unwontedly reserved. Indeed, in any other condition than that in which the family now found themselves, they must have remarked a singular change in the black brigade in kitchen and garden. But, preocupied each with a different interest, as well as the preparation for the President's fete, the Atterburys remarked nothing sinister in the distracted conduct of their servants, and had only a vague feeling that the great event had in some sort paralyzed their wonted noisy activities and repressed their usual chatter. Kate's uneasiness and restless vagaries, her disjointed talk and half-guilty evasions, would have been remarked by her prepossessed hosts; while Wesley's shifting and moody silence would have warned his comrades that he was suffering the pangs of an evil done or meditated. Precursive signs like these—and much more, which need not be dwelt on—the kind hosts of Rosedale made no note of. But when Vincent opened the mail-bag—brought by an orderly from Williamsburg every morning, the first surprise and shock of the day was felt—though in varying degrees by all the diverse inmates of the house.
"Hah! glory to the Lord of hosts!" the exultant reader cried, as he passed to his mother a large official envelope at the breakfast-table.
"I'm ordered to the field." he cried, as Jack looked inquiringly; "I'm to set out to-night and report for duty with General Johnston to-morrow at Manassas. No more loitering in my lady's bower; Jack, my boy, the carpet will be clear for your knightly pranks after to-night."
"If it were Aladdin's magic rug, I should caper nimbly enough. I warrant you."
"What would you wish—if it were under your feet, with its slaves at your command?"
"I should whisk you all off—North—instanter."
"Ingrate!—plunge us into the chilly blasts of the North, in return for our glorious Southern sun? Fie, Jack! I'm surprised at such selfish ingratitude. We expected better things of our prisoners," Mrs. Atterbury murmured, and affected a reproving frown at the culprit, as she handed her son back the order, with a stilled sigh.
"The sun of the South is not the sun of York to us, you know; all the clouds that lower on our house are doubly darkened by this Southern sun; even the warmth of Rosedale hearts can not make up for our eclipsed Northern star," Jack said, sadly, with a wistful look at the rival warrior reading with sparkling eyes the instructions accompanying the order to march.
"Since Vincent is going so far northward, I think it will be a good time for us to go home," Mrs. Sprague began, tentatively.
"Oh—no—no! Oh, we could never think of such a thing," Rosa cried—"could we, mamma?"
"Why should you go?" Mrs. Atterbury asked. "Until Jack is exchanged, you've certainly no duty in the North so important as watching over this headstrong fellow. We can't think of your going—unless you are weary of us."
"O Mrs. Atterbury, pray don't put it in that way! You know better. Our visit here has been perfect. But you can understand my anxiety to be at home; to be where I can aid my son's release. I have been anxious for some time to broach the subject, but I saw that our going would be a trouble to you; now, since fortune offers this chance, we must seize it—that is, those of us who feel it a duty to go"; and she looked meaningly at Merry and her daughter.
"Nonsense! You are hostages for Vincent, in case he is captured, as long as you are here; I can't let you go—under the laws of war—I can not. Can I, Vincent?"
Vincent looked at Jack solemnly, but made no answer.
"Mamma is quite right. While you are with us no harm can come to Vincent; for, if he should be taken prisoner, we can threaten the Yankee Government to put you to torture unless he is well treated," Rosa interrupted, reassuringly.
"We should be far more aid and comfort to Vincent if we were in the North than we could be here. If he were taken prisoner and wounded, we could return him the kindness we have received here. In any event, we could lessen the hardships of prison life."
"Oh, you would have to minister to a mind diseased, if such a fate should befall me!" Vincent cried, sentimentally; with a glance into Olympia's eyes, which met his at the moment. Both blushed; and Olympia, to relieve the embarrassment, said, decisively:
"Mamma is right. Jack must have his family on the ground, to watch over his interests. I am sure there is some underhand work responsible for this long delay in his case, for I saw by The Whig, last week, that exchanges of prisoners had been made; I think that—" But, suddenly remembering the presence of Kate and Wesley, she did not finish the thought, which implied a belief in the intervention of the elder Boone—to Jack's detriment. In the end—when the two mothers talked the matter over—Mrs. Sprague carried the point. She convinced Mrs. Atterbury that there was danger to Jack in a longer stay of his family in the Confederate lines. Vague reports had already reached them from Acredale of the suspicious hostility in which the Democrats were held after Bull Run. The Northern papers, which came through the lines quite regularly, left no doubt that Democratic leanings were universally interpreted in the North as evidences of rebel sympathy, if not partisanship. Such a charge, as things stood, would be fatal to Jack; and the mother's duty was plain. She had friends in Washington, once powerful, who could stand between her son and calumny—perhaps more serious danger—when she was present in person to explain his conduct. If she could not at once secure his exchange, she could save him from compromise in the present inflammable and capricious state of the public mind. Understanding this, and the enmity of Boone, Mrs. Atterbury not only made no further objection, but acknowledged the urgent necessity of the mother's presence in the North. The idle life of Rosedale had grown unbearably irksome to Merry, too.
"I feel as if I were a rebel," she confided to Mrs. Sprague in the evening talks, when the piano sounded and the young people were making the hours pass in gayety. "It's a sin for us to laugh and be contented here, when our friends are bearing the burdens of war. I shall be ashamed to show my face in Acredale. Oh, I wish I could carry a musket!"
"You might carry a canteen, my dear. I believe the regiments take out vivandieres—there would be an outlet for your warlike emotions," Mrs. Sprague said, with the purpose of cheering the unhappy spinster.
"Ah, no; I must not give encouragement to that dreadful Richard. But we shall go now, thank Heaven, and it will comfort my sisters to have the boy back on Northern soil, even if he persists in being a soldier."
She had a long talk with Jack on the subject. That tempest-tossed knight convinced her that it would only incite the boy to more unruliness to persist in his quitting the army, or to urge him northward now, before an exchange was properly arranged. Indeed, he was a prisoner—taken in battle—though his name did not appear on the lists. So Vincent's sudden going was welcomed as a stroke of good fortune. The Atterburys, understanding the natural feelings of the family, made only perfunctory opposition. Olympia and Kate were to remain until their brothers' fates were decided. Vincent, who had been for weeks wildly impatient to return to the field, was divided in mind now—by joy and despair. He had put off and put off a last appeal to Olympia. He had not had an opportunity, or rather had too much opportunity—and had, from day to day, deferred the longed-for yet dreaded decision. When ready to speak, prudence whispered that it would be better to leave the question open until it should come up of itself. She would learn every day to know him better in his own home, where all the artificialities of life are stripped from a man, by the concurrent abrasions of family love and domestic devoirs. She would see that, however unworthy of her love he might have seemed in the old boyish days at Acredale, now he could be a man when manliness was demanded; that he could be patient, reticent, humble in the trials her caprice or coquetry put upon him. She had, it seemed to him, deepened and broadened the current of his love during these blissful weeks of waiting. Her very reserve, under the new conditions surrounding her, had made more luminous the beauty of her heart and mind. She was no longer the airy, capricious Olympia of his college days. The pensive gravity of misfortune and premature responsibility had ennobled and made more tangible the traits that had won him in her Northern home. She had not avoided him during these weeks of purifying probation, as he feared she would. Of late—Jack's state being secure—she had revived much of the old vivacity, and deepened the thrall that held him.
But now the merry-making season which had opened before them was at an end. The madrigals that welled up in his soft heart must sing themselves in the silence of the night, in the camp yonder, with no ears to comprehend, no heart to melt to them. He should probably not get a chance to see her again during the conflict. How long? Perhaps a year—for it would take two campaigns, as the rebel leaders reckoned, to convince the North that the Confederacy was unconquerable! And what might not happen during those momentous months? Perhaps Jack's death?—and then they would be divided as by fire—or, if the conflict resulted victoriously for the South, as he knew it must, he foresaw that the soldier of the conquering army would not be received as a wooer in the family of the defeated. He knew her so well! She would, in the very pride of outraged patriotism, give her love to one of the defeated, rather than add to the triumphs of the hated South. She had strong convictions on the war. She hated slavery, and she could not be made to see that the South was warring for liberty, not to sustain slavery. These thoughts ran through Vincent's troubled mind as his mother directed the preparations for the fete of the President.
Kate, Jack, and Dick were pressed into the service of decorating the apartments. Olympia left the room with her mother to advise and assist in making ready for the journey North; and Vincent, aiding his mother with a sadly divided mind, kept furtive watch on the hallway. She held him hours in suspense, he thought, almost wrathfully, of deliberate purpose; for she must have read in his eyes that he wanted to talk with her. The artless Dick finally gave him a chance.
"I say, Vint, get Polly to show you the roses needed for the tables; I'll be with you by-and-by to cut the ferns. Do you think you could make yourself of that much use? You're not worth a straw here"
"Send for Miss Polly and I'll do my best," Vincent said, with a gulp, to conceal his joy. She appeared presently; and, as they were passing out of the door, Rosa cried, imperiously:
"Oh, yes, Vint, we need ever so much honeysuckle; you know where it hangs thickest—in the Owl's Glen. Olympia will like to see that—the haunt of her favorite bird"; and the busy little maid laughed cheerily, like a disordered goddess, intoxicated by the exhaling odors of the floral chaos.
"En route for Roumelia, then," Vincent cried in military cadence, as the florists set out. Roumelia was the name Jack had given the rose-lands near the stream, in fanciful allusion to the Turkish province of flowers. Halting at the gardener's cottage, Vincent procured an immense pair of shears, like a double rapier in size, and, bidding the man follow to gather the blossoms, he pushed into the blooming vineyard.
"With such an instrument I should say it was the golden fleece you were after," Olympia cried, as he reached her side, "though I believe Jason didn't do the shearing."
"No, the powers of air worked for him, and he found his quest ready to his hand."
"I'm sure the powers of air have not denied you; look at those radiant ranks of blossoms bending to be gathered."
"Ah, yes, beauty stoops sometimes to welcome the trembling hand of the suitor."
"Your hand is rather unsteady—infirm of purpose; give me the blades." She took them laughingly, and snipped the green stems rapidly and dexterously.
"Yes, I believe men are infirm in moral purposes, as compared to women. It is only in the brutalities of life that men are decisive."
"Do you mean that women approach the trials of life less thinkingly and act less rationally than men?"
"Yes and no. The daring too much is always before a man; the daring too little is, I think, the only trouble a woman has."
"Oh, that is a large question, involving too much mental strain in a garden of roses, where the senses sleep and one is content with mere breath and the faintest motion."
"There are enough roses; now we will go for the wild smilax and honeysuckle; perhaps the cool air of the pools will restore your mental activities."
They left the dismembered roses scattered in fragrant heaps on the shaded path and walked slowly toward the dense hedge.
"What a perfect fortress this green wall makes of the gardens!" Olympia said, glancing around the great square, where the solid green wall could be seen running up much higher than their heads.
"Yes, as I said the other day, it would take hard work for an invading force to get at the house unless traitors within gave up the gates. This one," he added, unlocking a massive oak door, crossed with thick planks and studded with iron bolts, "alone admits from the creek and swamp. It is locked all the time; no one has the key except the gardener, who delivers it to mamma every night."
"A feudal demesne; it takes one back to the so-called days of chivalry."
"Why do you say 'so-called'? To me they are the delight of the past—when men went to battle for the smile of the women they loved, when knights rode the world over in search of adventure, and my lady, in her donjon, listened with pleasure to the lover's roundelay. Ah, it was a perfect life, an enchanting time. We are living in a coarse, brutal age; chivalry was the creed of civilization, the knights the priesthood of the higher life."
"There's the Southerner through and through in that sentimentality. To me chivalry means all that is narrow, cruel, and rapacious in man. The philandering knights were sensual boobies, the simpering dames soulless wantons. Life meant simply the rule of the strong, the slaughter of the weak. Servitude was its law and robbery its methods. Have you ever traveled in out-of-the-way places in Germany, Austria, or Italy?"
"No, I've never been abroad."
"You would know better what I mean if you had seen the monstrous relics of the age you admire. The few ruled the many; the knights were simply a brotherhood of blood and rapine; men were slaves, women were worse. The bravest were as unlettered as your body-servant, the most beautiful dames as termagant as Penelope the cook. At the table men and women ate from a common dish, without forks or spoons. Men guzzled gallons of unfermented wine. A bath was unknown. Cleanliness was as unpracticed as Islamism in New York. Ugh! anything but chivalry for me."
"But surely the great lords were not what you represent. They were gentle born, gentle bred. They could not be robbers; they lived from great estates."
"They were the 'Knights of St. Nicholas,' which, in the slang of the middle ages, meant what they call in the West road agents; indeed, plain highwaymen they were called in England in Bacon's day."
Vincent bent over discomfited, and held the little shallop until Olympia was seated, and then pushed off into the murky stream.
"Do you see those streamers of loveliness waving welcome to you, fair damsel—Nature knows its kind?"
"That's one word for me and one for yourself," she cried, seizing the dainty pink sprays that now trailed over her head and shoulders as the boat glided along the fringe of hushes supporting the clinging vines.
"Oh, no, Olympia; I can't speak even one word for myself. I have been trembling to do it this six weeks, but your eye had none of the invitation these starry blossoms offer us. I am going to say now, Olympia, what I have to say—for after to-day there will be no chance; what has been on my mind you have long known. You know that I love you; how much I love you, how impossible it is to think of life without you, I dare not venture to say to you, for you distrust our Southern exaggeration. But I do love you; ah, my God! all the world else—my mother, my sister, my duty seem nothing compared to the one passionate hope in my breast. Do you believe me, Olympia—do you doubt me?"
"Far from it, Vincent—dear Vincent—no—no—sit where you are and listen to me—" She was deeply moved, and the lover in his heart cursed the luckless veils of blossom that she apparently, without design, drew before her face. "I do believe all you say; I knew it before you said it. But you remember we went over this very same ground before. Since then, it is true, you have been the means of saving us much misery; how much I hardly dare think of when I look back to that dreadful day, when mamma lay in the fever of coming disease and the hopelessness of despair. All I can say, dear, dear Vincent, is what I said before. Wait until thine and mine are no longer at war. Wait until one flag covers us—"
"But that can never be!"
"Wait! I have faith that it will be!"
"If one flag should cover us—my flag—would you—would you—?"
"Ah, Vincent! don't ask me; don't force me to say something thing that will make you unhappy, since I don't know my own mind well enough yet to answer as you wish me to answer—"
"But you can tell me now whether you love me, or, at least, whether there is any one you love more?"
"I don't think I love you. I know, however, that I think no more of any one else than I think of you; pray, let that suffice."
"But how cruel that is, Olympia! It is as much, as to say that you won't wait and see whether you may meet some one that you can be surer of than you are of me?"
"I must distress you whatever I say, Vincent! Frankly, I don't think you can decide just now whether your heart is really engaged. I think you do not know me as a man should knows the woman he makes his wife. I am certain I do not know you. If you had been born and bred in the North, I should have no difficulty in deciding; but your ways are so different here: women are accorded so much before marriage, and made so little of a man's life after marriage, that I shrink from a promise which, if lightly or inconsiderately given, would bring the last misery a woman can confront."
"What, Olympia! you think Southern men do not hold marriage to be sacred?"
"I think that the Southern man has a good deal of the knight you spoke of in him, and, like the Frenchman, marries inconsiderately, and does penance in infidelity, at least to the form, if not the fact, of the relation."
"O Olympia! where do you get such repulsive ideas of us; who has been traducing us to you?"
"I judge from the Southern men I have seen North; pardon me, Vincent, I do not see how it can be otherwise in a society based upon human servitude. To live on the labors of a helot people blunts the finer sensibilities of men and women alike; when you can look unshrinkingly at the separation of husband and wife on the auction-block, when you can see innocent children taken from their mothers and sold into eternal separation, I think it is not unnatural in me to fear that a woman with my convictions would not be happy mated with a Southerner. All this is cruel, I fear you will think, but it would be crueller for me to encourage a love that, under present circumstances, would bring misery to both of us."
"You are an abolitionist?"
"Yes; every right-thinking person in the North is an abolitionist to this extent; we want the South to take the remedy into its own hands, to free its slaves voluntarily; the radical abolitionists prefer a violent means. That I do not seek or did not; but now, Vincent, it is bound to come."
"And, if it should come, what would you answer to my question?"
"Here is a white rose: I picked it with my hand, and, you see, a drop of my blood is on it; when you can give me a rose with a drop of your blood on it as free from taint as the stain mine makes, I shall have an answer that will not be unworthy your waiting for!"
"Unworthy! I don't understand you. Surely, you don't think me a profligate?"
"When the time comes that no human being acknowledges your ownership, perhaps you may receive a voluntary bond-maid, bound to you by stronger ties than the chattel of the slave."
"But you love me, then, Olympia?"
"I can not love where I do not reverence."
"But it is not my fault that slaves are my inheritance!"
"It will be your fault if they are your support when you are your own master."
"You love an idea better than you love a man who would die for you!"
"I love manliness and the sense of right, which is called duty, better than I love a man who is blind to the first impulse of real manhood—"
"Would you ask a Jew to give up his synagogue to gain your hand?"
"The synagogue is the temple of a creed as divine as my own, and the faith of the man I loved would never swerve me in accepting or refusing him."
"We of the South believe slavery a divine institution—that is, first established by the fathers!"
"The tribes in the Fiji Islands believe man-eating an ordinance of the gods!"
"Well, this sort of discussion leads to nothing," Vincent said, ruefully. "The world is well lost for the woman one loves, when I come to you shorn of my world!"
"Ah! then, Vincent, you will find another!"
He drew her hand from the clinging vines and kissed it.
"I am very happy. I shall lose my world with a very light heart."
"The world is a very tough brier; we sometimes bring it closer, when its thorns prick us more painfully in the struggles to cast it off."
"Then I'll cut the brambles, and not risk tearing my flesh!"
"That's the soldier's way—the heroic way; but wait for the future; I am young and you are not old."
Vincent's gayety when they returned to the drawing-room attracted the observant Dick, and he slyly whispered to the warrior, "Been practicing the Roman strategy with the Sabines?"
"No, I've been at the Temple of Minerva and taken a pledge to hold my tongue."
"Ah! the goddess of the owls; but, as they see light only in darkness, I fear you groped in blackness."
The whole household were to meet President Davis and his party in Williamsburg, assist at the review, and get back with the distinguished guests in time for a state dinner. Merry and Mrs. Sprague were reluctant to go, but they feared a refusal would be misunderstood. Poor Merry was very tearful and disconsolate at the thought of leaving Dick, but she strove heroically to hide her grief when the cavalcade set out, the elder ladies driving, the young people mounted. The ancient capital of Virginia was aflame with the new rebel bunting. President Davis, with Generals Lee and Magruder, were in place on the pretty green before the old colonial college edifice when the Rosedale people came up. Davis saluted Mrs. Atterbury with cordial urbanity; but, as the troops were already in column, there was only time for hasty presentation of the strangers.
Jack watched the rather piebald pageant with absorbed interest. The infantry marched wretchedly. The arms were as varied as the uniforms, and the artillery seemed a relic of Jackson's time. But the cavalry was superb. Never had he seen such splendid ranks, such noble horses. At sight of the tall, elegant figure of the President, the troops broke into the peculiar shrill cheer that afterward became a sound of wonder, almost terror, to unaccustomed Northern ears. It was a mingling of the boyish treble of college cries and the menacing shriek of the wild-cat. Jack was secretly very much delighted with the review. More than half the rank and file were mere boys; and he could see that they were unruly, almost to point-blank disregard of their officers commands, or the prescriptions of the manual. It would take short work for the disciplined hosts the new Northern general was training, to sweep such chaff from the field of war. Vincent saw something of this in his comrade's eye, and a good deal nettled himself by the slovenly march and humorous abandon of the men, he said:
"You must remember, Jack, our army is made up of gentlemen's sons; the gentry of the South are all in arms, and we can't at once reduce them to the mere machines a more heterogeneous soldiery can be made. The men who won Manassas passed in review a day or two before the battle, and they made the same impression upon me—upon Beauregard himself—that I see these men have made on you. Depend upon it, in a fight they will be good soldiers."
"Let me have the poor comfort of underrating my enemy, the thing above all others that a wise man shuns and a fool indulges."
"Oh, on that theory revile them if you like."
"No, indeed; I'm far from reviling them. The cavalry is magnificent. I don't think we have a regiment in our army that can compare with that brigade. Who commands it?"
"Jeb Stuart—the Murat of the South," Vincent said, proudly. "I'm going to tell the President what you said of the brigade; you know he is passionately fond of the army, and really wanted to be the commander-in-chief, when they made him President at Montgomery."
At sunset the President and General Lee entered the carriage with Mrs. Atterbury and Mrs. Sprague, Merry driving in a phaeton with Kate, who didn't enjoy so long a ride on the horse.
"I'm glad we've got such important hostages as yourself and son," Davis said gallantly to Mrs. Sprague, as the carriage passed out of the clamor of acclamation the crowd set up. "I knew the Senator, your husband, intimately. If he had lived, I doubt whether we should have been driven out of the Union. He was, in my mind, one of the most prudent statesmen that came from the North to Congress."
"He certainly never would have consented to break up the Union," Mrs. Sprague said, in embarrassment.
"Nor should I, madam, if there had been any further security in it. The truth is, there was nothing left for us but to go out or be kicked out. The leaders of the Abolition party long ago proclaimed that. However, war settles all such problems. When it is settled by the sword we shall be satisfied."
Mrs. Atterbury changed the conversation by asking how Mrs. Davis liked Richmond.
"Oh, she has been treated royally by the people there. I declare Richmond is as Southern a city as Charleston. I have been agreeably surprised by the absolute unanimity of gentle and simple in the cause. My wife receives a clothes-basketful of letters every morning from the mothers of the Confederacy proffering time, money, and service wherever she can suggest anything for them to do. I propose later on establishing an order something like the Golden Fleece, which shall confer a certain social precedence upon the wearers. I have thousands of letters on the subject, and as the society of the South is, as a matter of fact, a society of gentle-folk—for the most part lineally descended from the nobility of older countries—I think it proper and right that lineage should have certain acknowledged advantages in the new commonwealth. But I propose to go further, and institute an order of something like nobility for women—who have thus far given us great help and encouragement. Indeed, there are many in the Congress—a dozen Senators I could name—who think that we ought to make our regime entirely different from the North, and that we should adopt a monarchical form—"
"I'm sure, I think we should," Mrs. Atterbury exclaimed, delightedly. "We are really as unlike the Northern people as the French or the Germans."
"The strongest argument for declaring the Confederacy an empire is the one that weighed with Napoleon I. We should at one stroke secure the alliance of all the monarchies. They have never looked with favor on the experiment of a powerful republic over here, and it is almost certain they would befriend us for transforming this mighty infant state into an empire. However, that is for future action. Our agents abroad have sent us full reports on the matter."
"I doubt the wisdom of ever hinting such a thing," General Lee said, gravely. "We must show that we are able to act independently in selecting our form of government. I doubt very much whether the masses would listen favorably to an empire established by foreign aid."
"Possibly, general, possibly. As I said before, there will be time enough for that when, like Napoleon, we have made our armies the masters of this continent. Then, with boundaries embracing Mexico, Canada, and the Western States—for they can never exist independent of us—we can choose empire, republic, or a Venetian oligarchy."
As they came in sight of Rosedale, Davis stood up in the carriage to get a better view of the landscape, which showed swift alternations of dense thickets and wood and rolling acres of rich crops.
"What a State Virginia is!" he exclaimed with enthusiasm. "It has the climate and soil to support half of Europe. Mother of Presidents in the past, it will be the granary and magazine of the Confederacy in ten years. My own State, Mississippi, is rich in land, but the climate is hard for the stranger. It enervates the European at first. But we are an agricultural people, or rather we give our energies to our staple, cotton; that is to be the chief treasure of the Confederacy."
Dinner was ready for the table when the guests came from their rooms. Davis excused his lack of ceremonial dress, saying pleasantly:
"I am something of a soldier, you know, and travel with a light train. Lee, there, has the advantage of me. A soldier's uniform is court costume the world over."
"But you are the commander-in-chief, Mr. President. Don't you have a uniform?"
"No. I am commander-in-chief only in law. Congress is really the commander-in-chief. The man that assumes those duties can attend to them alone. He is, of course, subject to the executive; but only in general plans, rarely in details."
Davis was placed at Mrs. Atterbury's right, Mrs. Sprague at her left, General Lee sat at Vincent's right, vis-a-vis to Jack, who was lost in prodigious admiration of the Socratic-like chieftain—Lee was as yet unknown to all but a discriminating few in the Confederacy. He was as tall as Davis fully six feet—but more rounded and symmetrical. He spoke with great gravity, but seemed to enjoy the jests that the young people found opportunities to indulge in, when it was seen that the President devoted his talk exclusively to the hostess or Mrs. Sprague. Davis was a good talker, and charmed the company with reminiscences of old times in Congress.
"I don't remember Lincoln distinctly," he said, concluding a reminiscence, "but I think he's the man that used to be so popular in the House cloak-room, telling stories which were said to be extremely droll."
"Mrs. Lincoln is in some sort kin to Mrs. Davis, isn't she?" Mrs. Atterbury asked. "I have read it somewhere."
"Very distant. Mrs. Lincoln is of the Kentucky Tods, and they were in some way kin of my wife's family, the Howells. Not enough to put on mourning, if Mrs. Lincoln should become a widow."
"Is it true, Mr. President, that a society in the North has offered a million dollars for your capture—abduction? I heard it in Williamsburg, and saw an allusion to it in The Examiner the other day."
"Oh, I'm sure I can't say. If the offer were authenticated, I should be tempted to go and get the reward myself. With a million dollars I could do a good deal more for the cause in the North than I can here, making brigadiers and settling questions of precedence between Cabinet ministers, judges, and Senators."
"Mr. President, give me an exchange North, and I will ascertain the facts in the million-dollar offer and write you faithfully how to set about getting the money," Jack said, very soberly, from his end of the table.
"Ah! the Yankee spoke there—nothing if not a bargain. Sir, you deserve your clearance papers, but I'm too good a friend of Mrs. Atterbury and her daughter to bring about the loss of company that I am sure must be agreeable. Then, too, there's no telling the miracles of conversion that may be brought about by such ministers as Miss Rosa there."
Rosa blushed, Jack felt foolish, and everybody laughed except Dick, who looked unutterable things at his adored, and boldly entered the lists against the great personage by asking, in a quivering treble:
"Doesn't the Bible say that the wife shall cleave to the husband; that his people shall be her people, his God her God, where he goes she goes?"
"It is so said in the Bible, sir; but it was a woman that uttered it, and she was in love. When you know more of the sex, you will understand that women in love are like poets; they say much that they don't mean, and more that they don't understand."
"But, Mr. President, what the one woman said in the Bible all women practice. You never knew a woman that didn't believe her husband's beliefs, hate his hates, love his loves."
Davis smiled, and his eyes twinkled kindly on his boyish inquisitor.
"I know only one woman. That is as much as a man can speak for. She doesn't hate my hates, love my loves, or enter unprotestingly into all my ways. Indeed, I may say that, being a peaceful man, I wanted to remain in Washington, for I believed that Seward was sincere in pleading for a compromise; but the woman I speak of had her own opinion convinced me that she was right, and I came to my own people."
At this moment there was a diversion. A soldier, booted and spurred, entered the room, walked to the head of the table, and bending deferentially to the President, said;
"I am ordered to deliver this message wherever you may be found." He handed Davis a large envelope and retreated respectfully two or three paces backward. Everybody affected to resume conversation as the President, breaking the seal, said;
"Pardon me a moment, madam." But he had no sooner ran over the lines than he turned to the courier, crying, in visible discomfiture:
"When did you leave the war office?"
"At five o'clock, sir."
"General, we must return instantly to Richmond; a hundred or more of the prisoners have broken out of Libby! It is reported that a column of the enemy with gunboats have passed up the James.—Madam, this is one of the exigencies of a time of war. I needn't say to an Atterbury that everything must give way to public business!" He called Lee aside, spoke rapidly to him, and the latter, beckoning Vincent, left the room. He returned in ten minutes, announcing that everything was in readiness to set out. The carriage with Mrs. Sprague's and Merry's small luggage was ready when the cavalcade set out, Davis riding with them and the cavalry company from below, divided into squadrons before and behind the carriage. It was eleven o'clock as the last dark line of the troop disappeared. Olympia and Jack stood at the great gate in mournful silence. The swiftness of the parting had lessened the pain, but their minds were full of the sorrow that follows the inevitable. Mrs. Sprague had herself declined to postpone the ordeal when Mrs. Atterbury pointed out the untimely hour. No, it was better to suffer this slight inconvenience to have Vincent's protecting presence all the way to the Union lines; and Jack, acknowledging this, didn't say a word to dissuade her. Vincent's last act was to call Jack to his room.
"I wanted to tell you, Jack, what a great joy it has been to me—it has been to all of us—to have you in our home at this trying time. I can not tell you how much comfort it has been to me now, but some time you shall know," Vincent stammered, and began to open a drawer in the bureau. "Here is something I want you to accept as a keepsake from me." He drew forth a pistol-case and opened it. "It will be a melancholy pleasure for me to feel, in the dark days to come, that these weapons may prove your friend in battle, where I must be your enemy."
"By George, they're beauties!" Jack cried, taking the weapons out.
"Yes; they were bought last year, and I have had J.S. cut on one, and V.A. on the other. I meant them for your Christmas last year, but they were mislaid."
"What a kind fellow you are, Vint! I don't think I ought to take these."
"Why not? I have others! I shall feel easier, knowing that you have them. You can stow them about you easily, they are so small."
"But it's against the laws of war for a prisoner to be armed."
"That's just the reason I haven't asked you to take them before. You can leave them here in my room until you are exchanged, and then you can carry them with impunity."
The household assembled at the gate leading into the roadway as the cavalcade took up the march. There were sad, sobbing farewells spoken—the kindly night covering the tears, and the loud neighing of the horses drowning the sobs.
The Northern group remained in the roadway, straining their eyes to catch the last glimpse of the wanderers as they disappeared in the misty foliage, far up the roadway.
The horizon to the zenith was full of shimmering star-points, Olympia, with Jack, turned slowly toward the house, silent and not wholly sad. Dick, in a low treble, could be heard just behind them, quoting melancholy verses to Rosa; and the brother and sister returned slowly up the dewy, odorous path. At the porch Rosa exclaimed, in surprise:
"I wonder where Pizarro is? I haven't seen him while we have been out. It can't be possible he has followed Vincent! What shall we do if he has?"
"Make Dick take his place. A terrier is sometimes as faithful as a mastiff," Jack said, quickly.
"Oh! Miss Atterbury wants something with a bite, rather than a bark, and a terrier wouldn't do," the boy answered.
"I want Pizarro. I shall never sleep a wink all night if he isn't here," Rosa said, in consternation; "he is better than a regiment of soldiers, for he won't let a human being come near the house after the doors are closed, not even the servants."
An expedition, calling upon Pizarro in many keys, set out and wandered through the grounds, back to the quarters, to the gates leading to the rose-fields, to the stable, but Pizarro was not to be found. Lights were burning in the hall only when the four re-entered, and with a very grave face Rosa bade the rest good-night.
Rosedale had been a bed of thorns to Wesley Boone since his recovery. He felt that he was an incongruous visitor among the rest, as a hawk might feel in a dove-cote. He would have willingly returned to Richmond—even at the risk of re-entering the prison—if Kate had not been on his hands. The life of the place, the constant necessity of masking his aversion to the Spragues, his detestation of Dick, the simple merry-making and intimate amenities of such close quarters, tasked his small art of dissimulation beyond even the most practiced powers. The garment of duplicity was gossamer, he felt, after all, in such atmosphere of loyalty and trust as surrounded him at Rosedale.
He knew that in the daily attrition and conventional intimacies of the table, the drawing-room, or the promenade, the cloak covering his resentful antipathy, his moral perversities, his thinly veiled impatience, was worn to such thin shreds that eyes keen as Jack's must see and know him as he was. What was hatefulest and most unendurable of all was the bondage of truce in which the Atterburys held him. Wesley was no coward, and he ached to meet Jack face to face, arm to arm, and settle with that thoughtless insubordinate a rankling list of griefs heaped up in moments of over-vivacious frankness. He would make Jack smart for his arrogance, his insolence, his cursed condescension so soon as they were back among the Caribees.
But meanwhile, here, daily tortured by harmless things—tortured by his soul's imaginings—Wesley was becoming a burden to Kate, who saw too plainly that he was in misery, and realized that it was largely through his own inherent weakness and insincerity. He had all the coarse fiber of his father without the same force in its texture. With merely superficial good manners, he was never certain whether the punctilious niceties observed toward him by the Spragues and Atterburys were not a species of studied satire. Vincent, who had never shown him the slightest consideration in Acredale, treated him here with the chivalrous decorum that the code of the South demanded in those days to a guest. Wesley ground his teeth under the burden, not quite sure whether it was mockery or malevolence. He watched with malignant attentiveness the imperceptible change of tone and manner that marked the family's treatment of the Spragues. There was none of the grave ceremoniousness he resented in the Atterburys' behavior with them.
Jack was a hobbledehoy son of the house, almost as much as Vincent. Kate, too, was, he felt certain, treated with a reserve not shown to Mrs. Sprague or Merry. Brooding on this, brooding on the unhappiness of his own disposition, which denied him the privilege of enjoying the best at the moment, indifferent to what might be behind, Wesley had come to hate the Atterburys for the burden of an obligation that he could never lift. He hated Mrs. Atterbury for her high-bred, easy ignoring of all conditions save those that she exacted. He hated Rosa for her gayety, her absorption in the young scamp Dick. He hated Vincent because he seemed to think there was no one in the North but the Spragues worthy of a moment's consideration. It is in hate as in love—what we seek we find. Every innocent word and sign that passed in the group, in which he did not seek to make himself one, Wesley construed as a gird at him or his family. Constantly on the watch for slights or disparagements, the most thoughtless acts of the two groups were taken by the tormented egotist as in some sense a disparagement to his own good repute or his family standing.
Nor were the marked affection and confidence shown Kate by everybody in the house a mitigation of this malign fabric of humiliation. Jack's fondness for Kate had not escaped the observant eyes of Dick, who had confided the secret to Rosa, who had likewise unraveled it to mamma, and, as she kept nothing from Vincent, the Atterburys had that sort of interest in Kate that intimate spectators always show in love affairs, where there are no clashing interests involved. It was a moot question, however, between the three, when, after weeks of observation, Mrs. Atterbury declared that Jack was not in love with Miss Boone. "He can't be," she declared. "He doesn't seek her alone; he doesn't make up to her in the evening. Half the time when they come together it is by Dick's arrangement. He seems to be in love with Kate."
"How absurd!" Rosa cried, with a laugh; "a boy like him! Why, he would be in school, if there were no war."
"Well, Rosa, I fancy that Dick hasn't found war very much different from school, so far. He seems to recite a good deal to the mistress, and occupies the dunce's block quite regularly," Vincent retorted, with a provoking significance that set mamma in a brown study and suspended the comments on Kate's and Jack's probable sentiments.
Mrs. Sprague and Wesley were the only people in the house who had no suspicion of a deeper feeling than mere passing goodfellowship between Jack and Kate. Both were blinded by the same confidence. The mother could never conceive a son of the house of Sprague making such a breach on the family traditions as a union with a Boone. Wesley could not conceive a sister of his giving her heart to the son of a family that had insolently refused to concede social equality to her father. Something of Wesley's miserable inner unrest could not fail to be visible to the Atterburys, but the less congenial he became the more watchfully considerate they made their treatment of him. He was their guest, with all the sacred rights and immunities that quality implies, in the exaggerated code of the Southern host. Kate was the single power that Wesley had bent his headstrong will before, ever since he was a boy. His father he obeyed, while in his presence, trusting to wheedling to make his peace in the event of disobedience. But Kate he couldn't wheedle.
She was relentless in her scorn for his meannesses and follies, and, though he did not always heed her counsels, he proved their justness by finding his own course wrong. Kate, however, hesitated about remonstrating with him on his deepening moodiness, for she was not quite sure whether it was mad jealousy of Dick's favor in Rosa's eyes, or a secret purpose to attempt to fly from the gentle bondage of Rosedale. Wesley with Rosa it was remarked by Kate, was, or seemed to be, his better self, or rather better than the self with which others identified him. It was, however, she feared, more to torment Dick, than because she found Wesley to her liking, that the little maid often carried the moody captain off into the garden, pretending to teach him the varied flora of that blooming domain. Dick remarked these excursions with growing impatience, and visited his anger upon Rosa in protests so pungent and woe-begone that she was forced to own to him that she only pretended an interest in the captain, so that he might not think he was shut out of the confidence of the circle.
"And who cares if he does think he is shut out, I should like to know? He is a sneak, and I don't like to have you talking with him alone," Dick cries, quite in the tone of the Benedict who has passed the marriage-portal and feels safe to make his will known.
"I should like to know what right you have to order what I shall or shall not do?" Rosa protests, half angry, half laughing. "Why, you talk like a grown man—like a husband. How dare you?"
Dick pauses confused, and looks guiltily about at this.
"Ah, if you put it that way I have no right except this: My whole heart is yours. You know that. You may not have given me all yours." (Protesting shrug from Rosa's shoulders.) "Well, all the same; if my heart is all your own you have a duty in the case. You ought to spare your own property from pain." (Rosa laughs softly.) "Of course you are right. You are always right. How could such a beautiful being be wrong!" The artful rogue slips his arm about her waist at this, and, after a feeble struggle, he is permitted to hold this outwork unprotested.
"And, Rosa, if I speak like a man, it is because I am a man. Wasn't it the part of maids in the old times to inspire the arm of their sweethearts; to make them constant in danger, brave in battle, and patient in defeat? Are you less than any of the damsels we read of in chivalry? Am I not a man when I look in your dear eyes and see nothing worldlier than love, nothing earthlier than truth there?"
"What a blarney you are! I must really get Vint to send you away, or he will have a Yankee brother-in-law."
"And the Perleys will have a rebel at the head of the house."
Now, this silly prattle had been carried on in the arbor near the library, and Wesley, sitting under the curtain, had heard every word of it. Neither the words nor the unmistakable sounds that lips meeting lips make, which followed, served to soothe his angry discontent. This was early on the great Davis gala day, and thereafter he disappeared from the scene. He made one of the party to Williamsburg, and, though distraught in the conversation, was keenly alert to all he saw.
Rallied upon his reticence, he had snubbed Kate and turned disdainfully from Jack's polite proffers to guide him through the review. He had studied Davis all through the manoeuvres with a furtive, fascinated attention, which Mrs. Atterbury remarked with complacency, attributing it to awe. At the dinner-table, seated between Kate and Merry, he had never taken his eye from the chief of the Confederacy. Twice the President, courteously addressing him, he had blushed guiltily and dropped his gaze. Before the dinner was half over he pleaded a severe headache, and, bidding his hostess good-night, hurried from the room. The wide hall was deserted; the moon threw broad swaths of light on the cool matting, and he halted for an instant, breathing rapidly. Something lying on the rug at the door moved languidly. Wesley, looking carefully about, moved swiftly to the spot and stopped. Pizarro raised his head, whining amicably, and, as Wesley bent over to pat him, wagged his tail with a spasmodic thud against the floor, in sign of goodfellowship.
"Come, Pizarro, come with me," Wesley said, coaxingly. But the dog, redoubling the tattoo with his tail, remained obstinately at his post. Wesley stole to the end of the hall and listened, then, hearing the busy clamor of the servants moving from the kitchen to the dining-room, he retraced his steps to the stairs, bounded lightly up and in three minutes reappeared, and, keeping his eyes on the half-closed doors, slipped softly to Pizarro. The dog sniffed excitedly, and as Wesley took a thick parcel from his coat-pocket the beast leaped up and attempted to seize it.
"Follow me, Pizarro, and you shall have it." He held up the packet, a red, glistening slice of raw beef. The dog whined ecstatically and Wesley, holding a morsel of it just out of his reach, retreated up the stairs. Pizarro bounded after him as if construing the by-play into a challenge, and frisking in all sorts of fantastic shapes to win the savory prize. The door of Wesley's room was open, and as the dog came abreast of it he flung a piece into the apartment. Pizarro, lowering his sniffing nose, looked at the tempting bit sidewise, and then wagging his tail in modest deprecation of his boldness, made a start inward. It was swallowed in an instant, and then, as Wesley entered, the door was closed. Pizarro, by the humility of his manner, the lowered head and sidelong glance, asked pardon for intruding upon the privacy of a guest, but argued with his ears and by short yelps, in extenuation, that such a feast as a bit of meat—after an active day, when the servants had forgotten to feed him—no dog with a healthy appetite could resist, no matter how perfect his breeding. He was ready for the larger ration Wesley held in his hand.
Wesley held the temptation in his hand until he had lured the dog into a large closet communicating with the bedroom by a locked door. Once in, the door was shut, and the young man sank on a seat in a thrill of grateful relief.
"That danger's over," he muttered. "Now to see who is in the upper rooms."
Perfect silence on the upper floor; only the solemn shadows of the night, as the moon rises higher and higher, and the plaintive cries of the night-birds alone betoken life. Through the windows the white-jacketed house-servants are rushing gayly to and from the dining-room. All the rooms are dimly lighted. The President's apartment is fragrant with blossoms, and the lace counterpane turned down. Retracing his steps, Wesley enters Vincent's room on the corridor with his own. The candle is burning dimly on the mantel. He seems to know his whereabouts very well for he makes straight for a bureau between the bed and the window. He takes from the top drawer a pistol-case, which he has evidently handled before, as he touches the spring at once. He takes out one pistol, and, rapidly extracting the loads, puts it back. He has taken four out of the five barrels of the second when a sound of footsteps in the hall startles him. He has barely time to replace the weapons, close the case, put it in the drawer and crawl under the bed, when Vincent and Jack enter.
His suspense and terror are so overmastering that he can only hear an occasional word. His own heart-beats sound in his ears like the thumping of a paddle. Is Vincent going to bed? Are Jack and he going to sit and smoke, as they often do? No, relief beyond words, they are going out! Perhaps to Jack's room? They often sit there until very late, and then Vincent slips in stocking-feet to his own room. But they are gone, and he must fly. He dares not return to extract the last charge. But one ball can't do much hurt in the dark, and, if his plans are carried out with care, there will be no chance for any one to use the weapons on the rescuing party, even if he were disposed to. In a moment Wesley is back in his room, marking, with surprise, that there is no sound from Jack's or Dick's room. But all is well. He is in his own room and secure from surprise.
He sat down to think. He must keep everything in mind. One whippoorwill cry from outside would mean that all was well; two that he must hurry to the rendezvous. It seemed like a dream. Davis, the arch-rebel, the chief architect of the Confederacy, under the same roof; in an hour, if no hitch come, the traitor would be bound and flying in trusty Union hands. And when they got North?—when he, Wesley Boone, handed over to the authorities in Washington this hateful chief of a hateful cause, what fame would be his! No one could dispute it. He had informed Butler's agent; he had watched day and night; had given the Unionists plans of the grounds; was now periling his own rescue to bring the arch-traitor to his doom. Ah! what in all history would compare with this glorious daring? He sat glowing in dreams of such delicious, roseate delight, that he took no heed of time, and was startled when he heard Dick and Jack bidding each other good-night. Then in a few minutes be heard Jack's door open and a tap at Dick's door.
"Come to my room. I want to show you a present I got to-night." Then silence. Wesley had no watch. The rebels had relieved him of that at Bull Run. But it must be quite midnight. He opened one of the windows softly. Oh, the glory of the night, harbinger of his high emprise, his deathless glory! The wondrous, wondrous stillness of the scene—and to think that over yonder, in the dark depths of the forest, fifty, perhaps a hundred, men were waiting for him—for him? Yes, the mighty arms of the Union were about him; the trump of a fame, such as no song had ever sung, was poised to blow to the world his daring. Hark! Heavens, yes; the long, tender plaint of the whippoorwill. Ah! now, now there was no doubt. In swooning delight he waits. Good Heaven! What's that sound? Angels and ministers of grace, the dead in wailing woe over the deed about to be done? Ah! he breathes.
Pizarro has grown tired of imprisonment and has set up an expostulatory wail, facetiously impatient at first, but now breaking into sharp yelps. This will never do. He must stop that ear-splitting outcry, or the househould will be awakened. That sharp-eyed, razor tongued young devil, Dick, is just across the hall. Wesley opens the closet door, and Pizarro bounds out, licking his jailer's hands in grateful acknowledgment. He frisks, appealing to the room door, inviting the further favor of being permitted to go to his post, his wagging tail explaining how necessary it is that a dog intrusted with such important duties as the guardianship of the household can not suffer the casual claims of friendlessness or the comity of surreptitious feeding to lure him into infidelity. The tail proving ineffectual in argument, Pizarro supplemented its eloquence by sharp admonitory yelps, tempered by a sharp crescendo whining, of which he seemed rather proud as an accomplishment.
"Damn the brute! He will ruin everything. I must kill him." But how? He had no weapon. He looked about the room in gasping terror—the dog accepting the move as a sign that the eloquence of the tail argument had proved overpowering, supplemented this by an explosion of ecstatic yelps of a deep, bass volume, that murdered the deep silence of the night, like salvos of pistols. The curtains to the windows were held in place by stout dimity bands. Whispering soothingly to the dog, Wesley knotted four of these together, and, making as if to open the door, slipped the bands like a lasso over the head of the unsuspecting brute. In an instant his howls were silenced. The dog, with protruding tongue and eyes—that had the piteous pleading and reproach of the human, looked up at him, bloodshot and failing. But now the second signal must be near! He may have missed it in the infernal howling of the brute. Yes, that was it. He looks out of the window; his room is in view of the covered way to the kitchen. He sees moving figures; he hears voices. They are there. He has missed the signal; he must hasten to them. He puts out the lights and opens the door cautiously. All is invitingly, reassuringly still. He is at the hall door in a minute, in another he is with the shadows in the rear of the house.
"Jones, is it you?"
"Ah, captain, we are waiting for ropes to secure the prize."
"There is no time to wait. The dog has made such a noise that I didn't hear your signal. I saw you from my window. Come, we must not lose a minute, for I couldn't fasten the brute very well. Davis is here, and we have only to take him from his room. The cavalry went about eleven; I heard them march away an hour ago."
"Now, give me the exact situation here, that there may be no surprise. How many men are we likely to encounter in the event of a fracas?"
"Counting Davis and Lee, four in the house. How near the orderlies and guards are you know better than I. Besides Davis, there's Jack Sprague, young Atterbury, and Dick—but he don't count."
"He is not over his wound, and besides he's but a boy. They had two pistols loaded, but I managed to draw all the charges except one. So that if Jack and Atterbury should come to the rescue they could do no damage."
"They sleep at this end of the house?"
"Yes, and our work is at the other."
"Well, then, in that case I will get ladders I saw near the carriage-house and put them up to Davis's window as a means of escape in case these young men get after us before we finish the job. Even with their unloaded pistols, two full grown men and the boy could make trouble."
He called Number Two and gave him orders to place a ladder at each of the two windows of Davis's room, and to have a man at the top of each—armed. When the men had hurried away, Jones continued:
"Here's a pistol for you. It is a six-shooter bull-dog, and will do sure work. Now move on to the stairway; others will join us in a moment. You're sure you know Davis's room? It would be mighty awkward to poke into any of the others."
"Yes; everybody in the house was taken to see it. It is the old lady's room, occupied by mother and daughter, generally; but given up to the President for the night."
They are in the hall, stealing softly over the thick matting; they are in the broad corridor—running the whole length of the house—Jack's, Olympiads, Dick's, and Kate's rooms all behind them—southward. Wesley, with Jones touching his right arm and Number Two at his left, is moving slowly, silently northward to the left of the stairs.
"Great God! What was that?"
A sound as of a clattering troop of cavalry, the neighing of horses in the grounds! Wesley halted, trembling, dismayed.
"That's all right," Jones whispered, "I ordered the stables opened so that the horses wouldn't be handy, if any one should happen to be at hand who felt like pursuing us, or going for the cavalry."
"It was a mistake; the horses will arouse the house. We must hurry."
In a moment they were before the door of the Davis room. Wesley raised the latch. It was an old-fashioned fastening. Number Two was directed to stand at the threshold while Wesley and Jones secured Davis.
Now they are in the room. There is no sound; but from the open window, looking upon the carriage-road, there is the tramping of horses, drowning all sounds in the room. They are nearly to the large canopied bed between the open windows, when Jones, who is nearest, discovers a startled apparition half rising from the bed. He is discovered by the figure at the same instant, and a piercing scream, so loud, prolonged, and ear-splitting that it echoes over the house, ends the wild dream of the marauders. Wesley reels in panic. But Jones is an old campaigner. If he can't have victory, there must be no recapture. He rushes at the white figure, and snatches—Rosa, limp, nerveless, and swooning!
"See who's in the bed!—I'm damned if you haven't brought us to the wrong room—see, quick!"
But there was no necessity for seeing. Mrs. Atterbury uttered a stifled cry: "Help! help! murder!"
"You, Boone, know the place; stand by me and I'll see that we are not nabbed; but you've made a nice mess of the affair."
But the comments of the indignant Jones were suddenly drowned in a blood-curdling sound in the doorway: the savage, suppressed growl of a dog, and the responsive imprecations of Number Two. With this came the apparition of two figures, at sight of which Jones darted to the window, the two figures, Jack and Dick, following to his right and left.
"Save your powder, whoever you are. Fire at me, and you hit the young woman. I don't know who she is, but her body is my protection." Saying this, Jones coolly, determinedly retreated backward to the window; but Dick, hardly hearing, and certainly not comprehending, had come within arm's length of the two, somewhat to the left of Jones.
"Don't fear, Rosa," Dick exclaimed, between his teeth. "I can see you. Ah, ah!" Then four reports, that sounded as one, split the air.
Rosa broke from the thick cloud of smoke as a fifth report rang out, and a scream of death went up between the bed and the door where Jack stood.
At the instant Dick spoke, Jack, in the doorway, heard an exclamation at his side. He half turned, and as he did so his eye caught the outlines of a man, with a shining something raised in the air, coming toward him from the bedside. He pointed his own pistol at the figure, there were three simultaneous reports, and the oncoming figure fell with a hoarse cry of pain. The man at Jack's back now cried:
"Get through the window; they're coming through the house!"
"It's only a dog; come on."
Then there was a sound of flying feet in the wide passage.
"Are you hurt, Rosa? Tell me—did they hit you? Speak, oh, speak!" It was Dick's voice, in a convulsive sob. Now, the boy again, that danger was gone.
Jack meanwhile had struck a match, and soon found the candles on the night-table near the bed. There was, at the same instant, the audible sound of scurrying along the passage. He ran out. The man assailed by the dog had reached the head of the stairs. As Jack got half-way down the corridor, man and dog disappeared over the balustrade. When he reached the hall the dog was inside, growling furiously, the door was closed and the man gone. Jack opened the door. Pizarro bounded out, and Jack followed. The dog stopped a moment, sniffed the ground, and made for the kitchen. A loud bark, followed by a ferocious growl, and a scream of mortal pain broke on the air; then a pistol-shot, and a long, pitiful gasp, and silence.
"Well, that dog won't trouble any one now," Jack heard, and the voice made his hair rise into bristling quills.
"Barney!" he cried; "Barney Moore, is that you?"
"It is; no one else. If I'm not drunk or dreaming, that's my own Jack. God be praised!"
"How in Heaven's name did you get here?"
"I might ask you the same question, but you have priority of query, as they say in court. I came here first to help rescue Captain Wesley Boone, and second to capture his rebel Excellency Jeff Davis."
"O my God! my God! Barney, Barney, tell me all, and tell me quickly!"
Barney told all he knew, and told it rapidly, Jack catching his arm almost fiercely, as the miserable truth began to define itself in his whirling senses. Then the meaning of the two marauders in the ladies' apartments became plain. Jack and Barney were hurrying toward the chamber as the latter talked, Jack filled with an awful fear.
THE STORY OF THE NIGHT.
Now, the timely—or untimely—appearance of Jack and Dick in the crisis of the plot came about in this way: Dick, on returning from Jack's room, had remarked, with quickening suspicion, a gleam of light under Wesley's door. Perhaps he is ill, the boy thought, compunctiously; if he were, he (Dick) ought to offer his services. He started to carry this kind thought into effect, when he heard suspicious sounds in the room. Some one was moving. He waited, now in alert anticipation. The plaintive signal of the whippoorwill—bringing passionate energy to Wesley—reached Dick's ears; he heard the opening of the window; then silence. Could Wesley be descending thence to the ground? He blew out his candle, drew the curtain, and cautiously raised the window. No; Wesley was not getting out. Then the sound of the Pizarro episode came dimly through the walls. He thought the dog's expostulatory growls a voice. There was someone in the room with Wesley. Perhaps it was Kate. It wouldn't do to act until he was sure that his suspicions were a certainty. Besides, Jack had warned him not to interfere, with a mere escape on Wesley's part, unless it seemed to involve depredations upon the Atterburys. Then he heard the faint sound of the scuffle, when Wesley throttled the compromising mastiff. Should he slip over and warn Jack? He was moving toward the door, when, through the stillness of the night, a sound came up from the direction of the quarters. He ran lightly to the window again. His eyes, now accustomed to the darkness in his room, distinguished clearly in the pale starlight. He thrilled with a sudden sensation of choking. Yonder, stealing houseward from the rose-gardens, he could plainly discern two—four—six—moving figures. Heavens, the slaves were out! There was to be a servile uprising. Now he must go and warn Jack; but he must note first whither the assassins were directing their attack. Perhaps, with the aid of Jack's pistols, they could be frightened away by a few shots from the windows. He ran noiselessly to Jack's room, to his bed, and whispered in his sleeping ear:
"Jack, make no noise; dress yourself and come. The negroes are surrounding the house, and Wesley is in mischief."
Jack was awake and in his clothes in a few seconds. He handed Dick one of the pistols, and, armed with the other, hastened toward Wesley's room. The door was open and all was silent. Dick looked in hastily, marked the open window, and exclaimed:
"He is gone! Come to my room. I know exactly where to locate them from my window; it is nearer the point they halted at than Wesley's."
Yes; figures were moving swiftly against the trellised walls that led to the kitchen. They moved, too, with the precision of people thoroughly acquainted with the place. Then some one appeared swiftly from under the shadow of the house; then three came toward it and passed under the veranda near Wesley's window. Jack leaned far out to discover what this diversion meant. At the same instant the sounding gallopade of hoofs came from the tranquil roadway leading to the stables. The shrill whinny of horses broke on the air.
"They are mounted. There are a score of them!" Jack cried, desperately. "We can at least keep them out of the house."
"We can, if Wesley hasn't opened the doors to them," Dick said, shrewdly.
"That's a fact. But is it sure Wesley is not in his room? Bring matches and let us examine it."
There was no sign of Wesley in the room. The cool night air poured in from the open window.
"Draw the curtain before you strike the match," Jack whispered. "We must not let a light be seen from the outside."
"But the curtains are thin, the light will shine through."
"Sh! Come here. By Heaven, it is Wesley, and he is dead! No—the devil!—it is Pizarro—dead! Kneel down and strike a match, keeping between the light and the window. One glance will be enough."
One glimpse revealed the dog with distended tongue and half-glazed eyes, but still alive. Jack loosed the band from the neck. The dog gave a convulsive thrill and uttered a plaintive moan.
"Set a basin of water down here. He may recover. Poor fellow! This was a cruel return for his kindness to Wesley," Jack said, forcing the dog's nose into the basin. He began to lap the cool water greedily. But now Dick, in the doorway, littered a cry.
"They are in the house. I hear them moving in the vestibule. Come, for God's sake, Jack! They are making for Mrs. Atterbury's apartment. Evidently some one who knows that the family jewels are there, for what else can they want?"
The dog staggered to his feet as the two stole softly from the room. They followed with high-wrought, loudly-beating hearts and tingling nerves. The marauders in front of them moved on like men accustomed to the house. They made, as the light footfalls indicated, straight for Mrs. Atterbury's door, which, unlike the others, fronted the length of the hall in a small vestibule sunk into the lateral wall. The invaders were thus screened from Jack and Dick when they had turned the corner, and the latter were forced to move with painful caution to get the advantage of surprise to offset superior numbers. But now a new peril menaces them. A shuffling in the long corridor behind them freezes the current of their blood. They have been caught in a trap. There are two forces in the house. They both turn and halt, silent and trembling, against the south wall and wait. The steps still advance, the scraping of the nailed boots tears the light matting.
"We will wait until the new-comer or new-comers are abreast," Jack breathes in Dick's ear, "and then fire a volley into them point blank."
At the instant Rosa's shriek, blood-curdling and electric, breaks from the corner. Dick is over the intervening steps in two mighty bounds, Jack at his heels and the foe in the rear following. Against the open window Dick catches the outlines of his darling in the brawny arms of Tarquin. He has the advantage of the light, and, as the ruffian retreats to the window, Dick is at his side, and in an instant deals him a stunning blow on the head. Jack, in the dim light, sees the dark figure dashing at him with the gleam of steel in his hand. He levels his weapon, three reports ring out at once, and the miserable Wesley falls with a dreadful gurgling gasp on the floor.
But there are interlopers in the rear as well! Jack turned to confront them. He realized vaguely hearing a struggle as he confronted the robbers. Ah! yes, the dog; the dog has come upon the scene. There is sound of low, fierce, growling, flying footsteps on the floor, and Jack, assuring himself by a quick glance that there were no more marauders in the room, hurried to see that the front door was closed before re-enforcements could come to the invaders. But Pizarro's lusty growls, denoting recovered strength, attracted him kitchenward, and he encountered Barney, and with Barney something of a clew to the hideous attempt. One prayer was in his heart—one hope—that Wesley had escaped; but with shuddering horror he hastened with Barney back to the scene of blood and death. The great candelabra on the mantel had been lighted, and the room was visible as in daylight. Jack halted, transfixed, horror-stricken, in the doorway. The women in hastily snatched robes were all there, and on the floor, wailing over the dead body of Wesley, Kate sat, prone and disheveled, calling to him to look at her, to speak to her, as she kissed the cold lips in incredulous despair. She paid no heed to Mrs. Atterbury, to Olympia, kneeling beside her—all her heart, all her senses benumbed in the agony of the cruel blow. Jack moved to the piteous group, and, dropping on his knees, felt the lifeless pulse, and sank back, pale and shrinking, with the feeling that he was a murderer. Mrs. Atterbury turned to him, crying convulsively:
"Oh, what does it mean, Mr. Sprague? what does it mean?"
"It is a dreadful game of cross-purposes. These unhappy men believed Mr. Davis to be in this room when they entered. They meant to capture him and carry him North."
"Ah, thank God! thank God! who carried our President away in time," and the matron clasped her hands fervently as she sank in a chair. But the sight of Kate, woe-begone, feverishly caressing the dead brother, brought the tenderer instincts back. She rose again, and, clasping her arms about the poor girl, said pleadingly:
"Let him be carried to his room; you are covered with blood."
"Ah, it is his blood, his innocent blood! Murdered, when he should have found merry."
Jack found tongue now. He was hideously calm—the frightful calm of great-hearted men, who use mirth, levity, and indolency to hide emotion.
"Miss Boone—Kate it was perhaps the shot from my pistol that killed Wesley. I did it in defense of women in peril, in defense of my own life. It was an accident in one sense. Had I known the circumstances I certainly shouldn't have fired, but you must put the blame on me, not upon this guiltless household."
She looked up at him—looked with a wild, despairing, unbelieving gaze, pressing the handsome dead face to her bosom, and then, with a wild, wailing sob, bent her head until the shining dark mass of hair fell like a funeral veil over her own and the dead face. Rosa, who had disappeared in the dressing-room, now entered the chamber. Turning from the woful group on the floor, she glanced hastily about, as if in search of some one. Her eyes fell upon Dick, dazed and bleeding, on the couch. She ran to him with a tender cry.
"O Richard! are you hurt? Great heavens! your face is all blood. You are wounded. O mamma, come—come—Richard is dying!"
The boy tried his best to smile, holding his hand over his left side, as if stifling pain. He smiled—a bright, contented happy smile—as Rosa knelt, sobbing, by his side, and, opening his jacket, baring the blood-stained shirt, plucked a purplish rose from the bleeding bosom.
"The white rose is red now, Rosa."
"Oh, my darling! my darling!" Rosa sobbed; and the boy, smiling in the joy of it, tried to raise himself to fold her in his arms. But the long tension had been too much—he fell back unconscious.
Olympia saw that Mrs. Atterbury, the natural head of the house, was unequal to the dismal burden of control. She took the painful duty of order upon herself, sent Jack to summon the servants, called Barney to her aid in removing Dick to his room, and, when the terrified housemaids came, distributed the rest to the nearest apartments. Morning had dawned when the work was done, and then Jack set out to investigate the condition of the quarters. Twenty or more of the negroes had disappeared. It was easy to trace them to the swamp, but Jack made no attempt to organize a pursuit. Blood could be traced on the white shell path leading to the rose-fields, and the pond gate was wide open. He reported the state of affairs to Mrs. Atterbury. She begged him to take horse to Williamsburg, bring the surgeon, and deliver a note to the commanding officer. He returned in two hours with the surgeon, and a half-hour later a cavalry troop clattered into the grounds.
Dick's wound was first examined. The ball had entered the fleshy part of his chest, just under the armpit. It was readily extracted, and, if so much blood had not been lost, the boy would not be in serious danger. Wesley had died almost instantly. The ball entered his breast just above the heart. He had passed away painlessly. Jones was shot through the right shoulder, the ball passing clear across the breast, grazing the upper ribs, and lodging just above the left lung. He was, by Mrs. Atterbury's command, removed to the quarters and delivered to the commander of the cavalry troop as a spy, an inciter of servile insurrection. By order of the department commander, civilians were refused all communication with him, as the Davis cabinet meant to make a stern example so soon as he was able to bear trial. Mrs. Atterbury announced to Jack and Olympia that so soon as Dick could bear removal the house would be closed and the family return to Richmond. They heard this with relief, for the place had become hideous to all now. To Jack it was a reminder of his misfortune, and to every one of the group it was associated with crime, treason, and blood. The hardest part of poor Jack's burden was the seizure of Barney, who was marched off by the cavalry commander. Vincent gone, Jack had no one to reach the ear of authority, and he shrank from asking the intervention of the mistress whose home had been invaded by the guiltless culprit. The case was stated with all the eloquence Jack was master of to the captain in command.
"You are a soldier, sir," the officer replied. "You know I have no latitude in the matter. This Moore has no status as a regular prisoner of war; he is found on the premises of a non-combatant aiding servile insurrection. Even President Davis himself could not intervene. The Southern people are deeply agitated by Butler's attempts to arouse the negroes. We have been weakened, robbed by the abduction of hundreds right here on the Peninsula. The gang that Moore came here with was led by this scoundrel Jones, who is Butler's agent. A very vigorous example must be made of these wretches, or the country-side will be deserted and the government will be without produce. We must inspire confidence in the owners of plantations, or the soldiers in the army will have to come back to guard their homes."
Jack saw the futility of further pleading. The officer was unquestionably right. Such scenes as Rosedale had witnessed would end in the desertion of the rural regions of the Confederacy. At Mrs. Atterbury's urgent intercession Kate was permitted to leave the lines with her dead. She was conducted to the rebel outposts in the Atterbury carriage, and under a flag of truce entered the Union lines near Hampton. Olympia accompanied her in the carriage, Jack riding with the escort. Kate refused every suggestion to see Jack; refused his own prayerful message, and sternly, solemnly with her dead passed from the scene of her sorrows.
Youth and something else stronger than medicine, more tenacious than any other motive that keeps the life-current brisk and vigorous, made Dick's recovery swift and sure. Rosa had no torments for him now. The blood-red rose had proved a magician's amulet to confirm her mind in the sweet teachings of her heart. But the patrician mother was with difficulty brought to listen to the tying of this love-knot. She had looked forward to a grand alliance for the heiress of Rosedale—an alliance that should bring the family high up in the dominant hierarchy of the South. She listened silently to the young girl's pleading prattle of the boy's bravery, his wit, his manliness. She did not say no, but she hoped to find a way to distract her daughter from a mesalliance, which would not only diminish her child's rank, but compromise the family politically. Such a sacrifice could not be. Fortunately, both were mere children, and the knot would unravel itself without perplexities that maturer love would have involved. So the mother smiled on the happy girl, kissed Dick tenderly morning and night, for he had been a hero in their defense, and she was too kindly of heart, too loyal to obligation, to permit Dick's attitude of suitor to lessen her fondness and admiration for the bright, handsome lad. Olympia was the confidante of both the lovers, listened with her usual good-humor to the boy's raptures and the girl's panegyrics, and soon came to share Jack's high place in the happy lovers' devotion.
Jack meanwhile sank into incurable gloom. The memory of Kate's mute, reproachful look, her heart-broken outcry, never quitted him. He woke at times with the dead eyes of Wesley staring into the night at him, the convicting gaze of Kate fastened upon him. He must fly, or he must die in this abhorred, guilt-haunted atmosphere. Olympia saw this, Mrs. Atterbury saw it, and the first week in November Rosedale was turned over to the military and the household re-established in the stately house in the official quarter of Richmond, where the bustle and movement of new conditions gave Jack's mind another direction, or, rather, took it from the bitter brooding that threatened madness.