"And young 'Perley'?"
"He, too, we can get no trace of."
"Good heavens! I'm glad Rosa doesn't know that; she'd be in every camp and hospital in the North until she had found her sweetheart."
"That sounds something like a reflection on us—mamma and me."
"Ah! never. What I mean is, that Rosa is such an impulsive, silly child, she would do all sorts of imprudent things. How could you do such a thing? Preposterous!"
"Well, I began it yesterday morning. As I said, so soon as I read Rosa's letter, I went to headquarters, where we have a good friend and gave my word for your safe keeping. You are to be our prisoner; but if you escape you will get us into trouble, for we are none too well considered by the folks in power."
"God forgive me, Olympia! escape is the last thing I think of now, when I am near you. I was going to say I should never care to go back, but I know you wouldn't think the better of me for that."
"I don't know. Why should you go back? The South is sure to be beaten. We are conquering territory every day, from the armies at Donelson to the forts at New Orleans. We shall beat you in Virginia so soon as General McClellan gives the word."
"Even if that were the case, my duty and my honor would point to but one course—to return to the natural course of exchange."
"Honor? Vincent, it is a vague term under such circumstances—"
"I could not love you, dear, so much, loved I not honor more. You know you gave me that for a motto."
"Poetic rubbish, Mr. Soldier; but I must leave you now. You will insist on talking, and, as I shall be held responsible to your mother and Rosa, I must be firm—not another syllable! Besides, the imprudence will keep you here longer, and if you are to be carried away you must get well at once. I can't leave mamma alone in Washington with such grief preying upon her."
He answered with a glance of pitying pleading. He looked so helpless—so woe-begone—that she bent over near his face to smooth his disordered bandages. When she withdrew she was blushing very prettily, and Vincent was smiling in triumph. "On these terms," the smile seemed to say, "I will be mute for an age."
What an adroit ally war is to love! Here was the self-contained Olympia—so confident of herself—fond and yielding as Rosa; when war rushed in, infirmity came to the rescue of Vincent's despairing passion.
Meanwhile, Jones began a systematic search among the prisoners for the missing Caribees. Rosa joined with impatient ardor. There were three thousand inmates of the improvised city, but no one resembling Jack or Dick could be found. Linda, ministering to some of Vincent's comrades, was piteously besought to ask her mistress's good offices for an orderly in the small-pox ward. This was a tent far off from the main barracks on the beach, attended only by a single surgeon and a corps of rather indifferent nurses. Two of Vincent's men were in this lazar, shut off from the world, for the soldier, reckless in battle, has a shuddering horror of this loathsome disease. Rosa instantly resolved that she would herself nurse the plague-smitten rebels. She had no fear of the disease, the truth being that she had only the vaguest idea of what it was. With great difficulty she obtained permission to visit the outcast colony. She was forced to enter the noisome purlieu alone, even the maid's devotion rebelling against the nameless horror small-pox has for the African.
Once within the long marquee, however, Rosa was relieved to find that the casual spectacle was not different from that of the other seriously sick-wards. A melancholy silence seemed to signalize the despair of the twoscore patients, each occupying a cot screened from the rest by thin canvas curtains. Double lines of sentries guarded each opening of the marquee, so that no one could pass in or out without the rigidly vised order of the surgeon-in-chief. Braziers of charcoal burned at the foot of each bed, while the atmosphere was heavy with a strong solution of carbolic acid, then just beginning to be recognized as a sovereign preventive of malarious vapors, and an antiseptic against the germs of disease. Rosa inquired for the proteges she was seeking. They were pointed out, on one side of the tent, the steward accompanying her to each cot.
"All have the small-pox?" she inquired, shuddering, as she glanced at the white screens, behind which an occasional plaintive groan could be heard.
"Oh, no! there are some here that have no more small-pox than I have."
"Then why do you keep them here?" Rosa asked, indignantly.
"Oh, red tape, miss. There's two men that were brought here three months ago. They'd no more small-pox than you have, miss; but they were assigned here, and I have given up trying to get them taken to the convalescent camp. The truth, is the surgeon in charge is afraid to show up here. The others make by the number they have in charge, for we are allowed extra pay and an extra ration for every case on hand."
"Why, this is infamous!" Rosa cried. "It is murder. Why don't you write to the—the—head man?"
"And get myself in the guard-house for my trouble? No, thank you, miss. I wouldn't have spoken to you if it hadn't been for the sympathy you showed coming in, and to sort o' show you that you are not running so much danger as folks try to make you believe."
Rosa had a basket on her arm filled with such comforting delicacies as the surgeon had advised. She set about administering them to her brother's orderly, when a feeble voice in a cot a few feet away fell upon her ear. She started. Though almost a whisper, there was a strange familiarity in the low tone. She turned to the steward—
"Who is in the third cot from here?"
"Let me see. Oh, yes, number seven; that's a man named Paling."
"And the next?"
"Number eight; that's a man named Jake, or Jakes, I'm blessed if I am certain. They've been out of their head since they come. They're the two I spoke of who ain't no more small-pox than I have."
"May I see them?"
"Certainly. I'll see that they're in shape for inspection, and call you."
He disappeared behind the curtain and could be heard in a kindly, jovial tone:
"There, sonny, keep kivered; the lady is coming to bring you something better than the doctor's gruel, so lie still."
Beckoning to Rosa, he made way for her to enter the narrow aisle of number seven, but he nearly fell over the man across the bed, when Rosa, with a shriek, fell upon the body of number seven, crying:
"O, my darling, my darling, I have found you!"
It would have required the eyes of maternal love of Rosa's to recognize our jaunty Dick in the emaciated, fleshless face that lay imbedded in the disarray of the cot. Dick's blue eyes were sunken and dim, his lips chalky and parched. He made no sign of recognition when Rosa drew back with her arm under his head to scrutinize the disease-worn face.
"Sometimes, miss, he is in his right mind—but he goes off again like this. Is the other man his brother? They seem to understand each other when they are at the worst. Once when we separated them they fought like maniacs until we were forced to let them be near again."
"Oh, yes—the other." Rosa started and hastened to the next cot. Yes, it was Jack—or a piteous ghost of him. He was sleeping, and she withdrew gently.
"Please distribute the contents of the basket to the men I named. I will be back presently."
With this she darted out, running at the top of her speed, heedless even of the peremptory challenge of the sentries, who thought her mad or stricken with the plague, and made no attempt to molest her. She ran straight to Jones's quarters. He was writing, and started in surprise as she entered panting and breathless.
"Ah! I have found them; I have found them!" She could say no more. Jones helped her to a seat and held a glass of water to her lips. Then she regained breath.
"They are in the small-pox ward, but they haven't the disease. Ah! they are there, they are there. Come at once and take them away. Ah! take them away this minute."
"By 'they' do you mean Perley and Sprague?" Jones asked, breathlessly.
"Yes, ah, yes. Thank God! thank God! Ah! I could say prayers from now until my dying day. But, oh, Mr. Jones, do, do hurry; because they may die if we do not get them away from that dreadful pest-house."
"It will take some time to get the order for the removal. Meanwhile, they will need good nursing. If you hope to help them you must be calm; you must keep well. Now go to your brother. It is just as well that Miss Sprague went away this morning. Before she comes back, her brother will be in a place she can visit with safety. You can not go back there. You must remain patient now until I get them away from that dangerous place."
It was not until the next day that the red tape of the establishment was so far cut as to warrant the surgeon in charge in making a personal inspection of the two invalids. He at once, and in indignant astonishment, pronounced the two untouched by the disease set against their names in their papers of admission. Early in the afternoon they were carried on a stretcher to a clean, fresh tent on the sandy beach, where the laurel bushes almost ran into the water. Letters had been dispatched to Olympia in forming her that Jack was found, and urging her to come on at once. The next evening the three ladies arrived—Mrs. Sprague, Olympia, and Kate. With them they brought a renowned physician who had been uniformly successful in treating maladies of the sort the lads were described as suffering.
Days of painful anxiety followed. Once, all hope of Dick was abandoned, and his aunts were telegraphed for. But, in the end, he opened his big blue eyes, sane and convalescent. There was rapid mending after this, you may be sure. Kate had, through Olympia's unobtrusive manoeuvring, been forced to bear the burden of Jack's nursing, and, somehow, when that impatient warrior mingled amorous pleadings with his early consciousness, she forgot upon which side the burden of repentance and forgiving lay. She listened with gentle serenity to his protestations, checking him only by the threat to quit the place and return to her father.
During all this, Rosa was divided in her mind. She resented the assiduity of Jones in the recovery of Dick. That reticent person had installed himself in Dick's tent and never quitted the lad, day or night, unless to relinquish him to Rosa's arbitrary hand. When, one day, Pliny and Merry Perley entered the tent, Jones changed color. The two ladies, not heeding the stranger, fell upon the convalescent on the cot, and Jones slipped away. Thereafter Rosa had her invalid to herself, Jones only reappearing at night, to keep the vigils of the dark. A month later, the invalids were strong enough to be removed. An inquiry had been set on foot to account for the presence of the two Union soldiers among the rebel prisoners. The result was confusing, however. The facts seemed to point out design in the original entry of the young men's names at Hampton, where they had been taken when brought in by the outposts.
The dispersion of the rest of their companions from Richmond was accounted for by furloughs granted them so soon as they reached the provost-marshal's office. Just before leaving Point Lookout Jack received a much-directed letter that gave signs of having been in every mail-bag in the Army of the Potomac. It was from Barney Moore, bristling with wonder and turgid with woful lamentation at Jack's coldness in not writing him. He had been sent by mistake to Ship Island, near New Orleans, to join his regiment, and had only at the writing of the letter reached Washington, where the Caribees were expected every day to move to the Peninsula in McClellan's new campaign.
So soon as he was sufficiently recovered to write, Jack reported by letter to the regiment. He had received no reply. The explanation was awaiting him so soon as he reached Washington. While seated with his mother in Willard's, a heavy knock came on the door. It was thrown open before the maid could reach it. A provost corporal stood on the threshold, a file of men behind him:
"I have an order for the arrest of Sergeant John Sprague."
"I am John Sprague. Of what am I accused?"
"I have no orders to tell you. My orders are to deliver you at the provost prison. You will hear the charges there."
"But I am still under the doctor's charge. I am on the hospital list."
"I don't know what condition you are in. My orders are to arrest you, and you know I have no option. All can be remedied at the provost's office."
"I will go with you, my son," Mrs. Sprague said, trying to look untroubled. "It is some error which can be explained."
"No, mamma, you can't come. Send word to the counsel you engaged in the search. I fancy it is some mistake; but I wish it hadn't occurred just now. I wouldn't write Olympia about it." Olympia had gone on to Acredale with Kate, to set the house in order for a season of festivity. Jack, Vincent, Dick, and the rest, were to join them so soon as the invalid had taken rest in Washington.
The guard indulged Jack in a carriage to headquarters. Here he was handed over to a lieutenant in charge, and conducted to a prison-like apartment in the rear.
"What is the charge against me?" Jack asked, as the officer touched a bell.
"I am not acquainted with the papers in your case. My instructions are to hold you until called for.—Sergeant," he added, as a soldier in uniform entered, "the prisoner is to be confined in close quarters, and is not to be lost sight of night or day."
The soldier saluted and motioned Jack to follow him, two other soldiers closing in behind him as he set out. At the end of a short hallway the sergeant stopped, took a key from a bunch at his belt, unlocked a heavily-barred door and motioned Jack to enter. It was useless to protest, useless to parley. He knew military procedure too well to think of it, but his heart swelled with bitter rage. This was the reward of an almost idolatrous patriotism—this was the patrie's way of cherishing her defenders. He flung himself on the cot in a wild passion of tears and rebellious scorn. But his humiliation was not yet ended; while he sat with his face covered by his bands, he felt hands upon his legs, and the sharp click of a lock. He moved his left leg. Great God! it was chained to an enormous iron bolt. He started to rise; the sharp links of the chain cut his ankle as the great ball rolled away from him. With a cry of madness he flung himself on the harsh pine pallet, groaning his heart out in bitter anguish and maledictions. In time food was brought him, but he sat supine, staring ghastly at the dull-eyed orderly, silent, unquestioning. Dim banners of light fell across the corridor. They were broken at regular intervals by the passing figure of a sentry. The night wore on. There was a lull in the monotonous tramp. Steps came toward Jack's cell—stopped; the key grated in the lock; some one touched him on the shoulder. He never stirred.
"Cheer up, Sprague; it's all a mistake." It was the voice of the lawyer.
At this Jack started, his eyes gleaming wildly. "Ah, I thought so. I knew I could never have been disgraced like this in earnest. They have discovered the wrong done me?"
"No, no; not exactly that, Jack, but we shall show them the mistake, I make no doubt."
"Why am I dishonored? Of what am I accused? Why am I here?" Jack cried, shivering under the revulsion from despair to hope, and from hope back to horror.
"You are dishonored, my poor young friend, because a court-martial has found you guilty of murder, desertion, and treason against the articles of war, and you are here because you are sentenced to be shot one week from Friday, in the center of a hollow square, seated on your own coffin."
FATHER ABRAHAM'S JOKE.
In her own mind, as the train rolled toward Acredale from Washington, Kate was enjoying in anticipation the victory she had to announce to her father. He had written her regularly from Warchester, where he was engaged in an important suit. She had written more frequently than he, but she had made no allusion to the happy ending of her troubles. It was partly dread that the knowledge of Jack's restoration might bring on more active hostility, as well as a whimsical feminine caprice to spring the great event upon him when all danger was over. She watched Dick and Rosa in the seat near her, for they, too, were of the advance guard to Acredale, where, when Olympia had arranged the house, Vincent and Jack were to come for final restoration to health. When the party arrived at the little Acredale Station there was a great crowd gathered.
A company of the Caribees was just setting out for the front. Some of the old members recognized Dick, and then straightway went up a cheer that brought all the corner loiterers to the spot to learn the goings on. It was in consequence rather a triumphal procession that followed the carriage to the Sprague gateway, and even followed up the sanded road to the broad piazza. Rosa remained with Olympia, while Kate carried Dick off to commit him to the aunts waiting on the porch to welcome the prodigal. Kate had telegraphed her coming, and her father was at the door to meet her. He was plainly relieved and delighted to have her with him again, for he held her long and close in his arms. "Then all's forgiven; we're friends again," she said, laughing and crying together.
"There is nothing to forgive. It may be a matter of regret that you are a Boone in blood rather than an Ovid, and that you imitate the Boones in obstinacy. But justice has been done, and there's no need to quarrel about strangers."
She didn't understand in the least what he meant about justice being done. Remembering that all was well, she smiled as they entered the library, and when she had removed her wraps, said, in repressed triumph: "You need never attempt the role of Shylock again. I play Portia better than you play the Jew. You have lost your pound of flesh."
"Well, be magnanimous. Don't abuse your victory. I shouldn't, in your place; but women are never merciful to the fallen."
"I am to you. For, see, I kiss you as gayly as when I believed you all heart and goodness."
"Now you believe me no heart and badness?"
"I didn't say that, I say you are given over to sinful hates, and I must correct you."
"Well, I'm willing now to be corrected."
"But the correction will be a severe one; you must prepare for a very grievous penance."
"Knowing you, I can foresee that you won't spare the rod. Very well, I'll try to get used to it."
At this moment a servant came to the door.
"A note for Miss Kate," she said. Kate tore it open and read:
"Come to me at once. I have frightful news from Washington. As it concerns Jack you ought to know it.
She read the lines twice before she could seize the meaning. Frightful news concerning Jack! Had he suffered a relapse? Had he been accidentally hurt? No; if it had been news of that sort, Olympia would have come herself. A gleam of prescience shot through her brain. The court—the charges against Jack! That was it. That was the secret of her father's equanimity under her raillery. She turned with a rush into the library. The bad blood of the Boones was all up in her soul now. She walked straight at, not to her father, and, holding Olympia's note before him, said in bitter scorn:
"Tell me what this means. I know that you know."
He took the paper with leisurely unconcern, affecting not to remark Kate's flashing wrath; he read the lines, handed the paper back, or held it toward Kate, who put her hands behind her.
"Since it concerns you, my child, suppose you go over and ask Miss Sprague. How should I know the affairs of such superior people?"
"Could nothing soften you?—humanize you, I was going to say. Could nothing satisfy you but the death of this injured family?—for this blow will kill them. Kill them? Why should they care to live when that noble fellow has been dishonored by your cruel acts? Ah, I know what you have done! You have brought the court to disgrace Jack—to make him appear a deserter. You it was who, in some mysterious way, caused him to be abducted into the small-pox ward among the rebel prisoners. But it shall all be made known. I shall myself go on the stand and testify to your handiwork. Yes, I am a Boone in this. I will follow the lesson you have set me. I will avenge the innocent and save him by exposing the guilty."
"On second thought, daughter, you are not in a frame of mind to see strangers to-night. You will remain home this evening. To-morrow you can see your friend and advise her in her sorrow, whatever it is." He went to the door and called the servant. "Go to Miss Sprague with my compliments, and tell her my daughter is not able to leave the house this evening." As the man closed the outer door, Kate made a step forward, crying:
"You never mean to say that I am a prisoner in my own father's house?"
"Certainly not. We're not play-actors. I think it best that you should not go to the neighbors to-night, and you, as a dutiful daughter, obey without murmur, because I have always been an indulgent parent and gratified every whim of yours, even to letting you consort with my bitterest enemies for months." As he spoke, there was a ring at the doorbell. Presently the servant entered the room and announced "Mr. Jones." Before Boone could direct him to be shown into another room Jones entered the library, fairly pushing the astonished menial aside. Boone held up his hand with a warning gesture, and nodded toward Kate; but, without halting, Jones advanced to Boone's chair, and, seizing him by the shoulder, held up a copy of the afternoon paper.
"Read that? What does it mean?"
Boone's eyes rested a moment on the paragraphs pointed out. Then, throwing the paper aside, he asked, coldly:
"Why should you ask me what it means? If you are interested in the affair, you might find out by writing to the court."
At this, Jones, looking around the room, marked the two doors, one leading to the hall, the other to the drawing-room. He deliberately went to each, and, locking it, slipped the key in his pocket. He glanced reassuringly at Kate, as she sat dumfounded waiting the issue of this singular scene. He confronted Boone, leaning against the mantel.
"It's just as well that we have a witness to this final settlement, Elisha Boone.—Twenty years ago, Miss Boone, I was a citizen of this town. I was the owner of these acres. I am Richard Perley. In those days I was a wild fellow—I thought then, a wicked one; but I have learned since that I was not, for folly is not crime. In those days—I was barely twenty-five—your father had a hard ground to till in his way of life. I became his patron, and from that I became his slave. I never exactly knew how it came about, but within a few years most of my property was mortgaged to Elisha Boone. I won't accuse him, as the world does, of inciting me to drink and gambling. God knows he has enough to answer for without that! In the end I was driven to a deed that imperiled my liberty, and Elisha Boone put the temptation and the means to do it within my reach. Detection followed, and the detection came about through Elisha Boone. All my property in his hands, my name a scorn, and my person subject to the law, Elisha Boone had no further fear of me, and thenceforth doled me out an income sufficient to supply my modest wants. I strove to turn the new leaf that recommends itself to men who have exhausted the so-called pleasures of life. I was living in honesty and seclusion in Richmond, when Boone, who had never lost sight of me, came with a mission for me to perform. I was engaged as an agent of the detective force of the United States, with the special duty of rescuing Wesley Boone from captivity.
"I was further commissioned to get evidence against John Sprague, fixing upon him the crime of betraying his colors and aiding the Confederacy. In the attempt to rescue Captain Boone at Bosedale circumstances pointed to the guilt of young Sprague, but that was all dissipated a few weeks after, when, at the peril of his own life, not once, but a score of times, he rashly liberated a score or two of prisoners, and personally led them through an entire rebel army to the Union lines. I, who would have been abandoned by a less noble nature, for I was weakened by captivity and bad fare, broke down, but Sprague and—and—young Dick—my son, clung to me with such devotion as few sons would exhibit under such trials, and brought me safe to the outposts. Here, by some mysterious means, we were all dispersed. When I found my senses I was under Elisha Boone's Samaritan care in the house where you saw me at first. The two boys, Sprague and Perley, spirited away from the hospital at Hampton, where they had been entered under assumed names, Jacques and Paling, were by some curious instrumentality hidden in the small-pox ward of the rebel prison at Point Lookout. While they lay there, and while some one in Washington knew that they were there, a court martial in that city hurriedly convened, found John Sprague guilty of murder, desertion, and treason, and the evening dispatches from Washington state that John Sprague is to be shot a week from Friday in a hollow square, in which a company of the Caribees is to do the shooting.
"Miss Boone, you worked faithfully to rescue the life of this young man, but your father has brought that work to ruin. Worse, the death you dreaded when you gave heart and soul to the rescue of the lost was a mercy compared to that in store for him. He is to be shot by a file of his own company, seated upon a rough board coffin, ready to receive his mangled remains. You will—"
But Kate, at this hideous detail, fell with a low, wailing cry to the floor, happily dead to the woful consciousness of the scene and its meaning. Jones ran to the door, and, unlocking it, shouted for the servants. When they came, she was carried to her room and the physician summoned. Almost at the same time Olympia, in her traveling-dress, drove up. She was informed by the servants of Kate's state, and, without stopping to ask permission, ran up to the sick-room. Kate was now conscious, but at sight of Olympia she covered her face, shuddering.
"Ah, Kate! Kate! what is it? Have you learned the dreadful news? I am going to take the train back this evening."
"I, too, will go with you. Stay with me; don't leave me!"
She stopped, put out her hand, as if to make sure of Olympia, then broke into low but convulsive sobs. Her father, with the doctor, entered the room; but at the sight Kate turned her head to the wall, crying, piteously:
"No, no—not here, not here! I can't see him now! Oh, spare me! I—I—"
"Do your duty, doctor," Boone said, in a quick, gasping tone, and with an uncertain step quit the chamber. Olympia explained to the physician that Kate had heard painful news from an unexpected quarter, and that her illness was more nervous than physical.
"I don't know about that," the doctor said, decisively. He felt her pulse, then with a quick start of surprise raised her head and examined the tongue and lining of the palate. A still graver look settled on his face as he tested the breath and action of the heart. When he had apparently satisfied himself he turned to Olympia with a perturbed air, and, beckoning her into the dressing-room, said:
"Miss Sprague, this is no place for you. Miss Boone has every symptom of typhoid fever. She has evidently been exposed to a malarial air. Her complaint may be even worse than typhoid—I can't quite make out certain whitish blotches on her skin. I should suspect small-pox or varioloid, but that there has not been a case reported here for years. Where has she been of late?"
Olympia turned ghastly white with horror.
"O doctor, she has been nursing Jack, who was for weeks in the small-pox ward at Point Lookout!"
"Good God! Fly, fly the house at once! I wondered if I could be deceived in the symptoms. I must insist on your leaving at once."
"But the poor girl must have some one of her own sex with her. Whom can she get if not a friend?"
"She can get a professional nurse, and that is worth a dozen friends. Indeed, friends will be only a drawback for the next ten days."
He took her gently by the shoulders and pushed her out of the room. He was an old friend of the family, and she was accustomed to his tyrannical ways. He held her sternly under way until the front door closed and shut her out. Then, turning into the library, he saw that the host was alone. Closing the door, he said:
"Mr. Boone, your daughter has been exposed to a great danger. We may be able to save her, but it will require great patience."
"Danger, doctor! What do you mean?"
"Your daughter has caught the most hideous of all diseases—small-pox!"
Elisha Boone started to his feet. "Great God! where could she catch small-pox?"
"She caught it nursing young Sprague. I thought you knew of that;" and the doctor regarded the incredulous, terror-stricken face of the father with bewildered fixity. Well he might. The first rod of the moral law had just struck him. The vengeance he had so subtly planned had turned into retributive justice. He had refused Kate's prayer; he had driven her to this mad search and the contagion now periling her life, or, if it were spared, leaving her a hideous specter of herself. This passed through his shattered mind as the doctor stood regarding him.
"What do you propose doing?" he finally asked, to get his thoughts from the torturing grip of conscience.
"I propose to install two trained nurses in the house. You are not to let a soul know what your daughter is suffering from. I hope to be able to check the evil in the blood, but I must be secure against any form of meddling. You must avoid your daughter's chamber—indeed, it would be better if you could quit Acredale for a few days. You would be less embarrassed by intrusive neighbors and keep your conscience clear of evasions."
So it was settled that Boone should take up his quarters in Warchester, coming out late every night for news.
Meanwhile, Acredale had read with amazement, first, of the finding of Jack Sprague among the rebels at Point Lookout, then, the extraordinary story of the court-martial and death-sentence. Every one called at the Sprague mansion, but it was in the hands of the servants, Olympia and her guest having returned to Washington so soon as the story of her brother's peril reached her. Dick, too, had flown to his adored Jack, and Acredale, confounded by the swift alternations in the young soldier's fortunes, settled down to wait the outcome with a tender sorrow for the bright young life eclipsed in disgrace so awful, death so ignominious.
We have looked on while most of the people in this history worked through night to light in the moral perplexities besetting them. We have seen warriors in love and danger gallantly extricating themselves and plucking the bloom of safety from the dragon path of danger. We have seen a moral combat in the minds of most of the people who have had to do with our luckless Jack. But all herein set down has been the merest November melancholy compared to the charnel-house of dead hopes and baffled purposes that tortured Elisha Boone. Unlovely as Boone has seemed to us, he had one of the prime conditions of human goodness—he loved. He had loved very fondly his son Wesley. He loved very tenderly his daughter Kate.
With this love came the sanctification that must abide where love is. I don't think he had much of what may be called the second condition of human goodness—reverence. If he had, we should never have seen him push revenge to the verge of crime. Richard Perley, it is true, accuses him of a turpitude that makes a man shudder and abhor; but allowances must be made for the exaggeration of a careless spendthrift—a "good fellow," than whom I can conceive of nothing so useless and mischievous in the human economy. For my part, I think I could endure the frank heartlessness of a man like Boone more philosophically than the false good-nature of the creature men call a good fellow.
Obviously, Boone did not take Dick Perley's estimate of him very seriously. He, too, could have told a tale not without its strong features of a shiftless set, constantly borrowing, constantly squandering, constantly provoking the thrifty to accumulate unguarded properties. All this, however, had faded from the old man's mind now. He had avenged himself upon the life-long scorners of his name and fame; but the blow that shattered their pride had sent a dart to his own heart. His beautiful Kate, his big-hearted, high-spirited, man-witted girl!—she would bear a leper-taint for life, and his hand had put the virus on her perfect flesh!
In a few days the black in his hair withered to an ashen white. His flesh fell away. He could neither eat nor sleep. He shambled through the obscure streets of Warchester, or lingered wistfully in the beech woods behind his own palatial home in Acredale, staring at the window of his daughter's chamber. The week passed in such mental torture as tries the strong when confronted by the major force of conscience. Then the doctor told him that he had balked the plague; that Kate was recovering from varioloid; that beyond a transparency of skin, which would add to her beauty rather than impair it, there would be no sign of the attack.
Elisha Boone slept in his own home that night, and, for the first time in forty years, he fell upon his knees—upon his knees! Indeed, the doctor found him so at midnight, when he came with a request from his daughter to come to her room. The doctor, with a word of warning against agitating the sufferer, wisely retired from the solemn reconciliation which, without knowing the circumstances, he knew was to take place between father and child. She was propped up upon pillows whose texture her flesh rivaled in whiteness. She opened her arms as the specter of what had been her father flew to her with a stifled cry.
"O father, we have both been wicked! we have both been punished! Help me to do my part; help me to bear my burden."
It was hope, mercy, and peace the meeting brought. The next day Elisha Boone bade Kate a tender farewell. She did not ask him where he was going. She knew, and the light in her eye shone brighter as he rode in the darkness over the bare fields and through the sleeping towns to the capital, where Jack's fate was hanging in the balance. With Boone's influence to aid them, Jack's friends found a surprising change in the demeanor of the officials, hitherto captious and indifferent. Boone himself laid the case before the President, omitting certain details not essential to the showing of the monstrous injustice done a brave soldier. The President listened attentively, and with the expression, half sad and half droll, with which he softened the asperities of official life, said, humorously:
"I wish by such simple means as courts-martial we could find out more such soldiers as this; we need all of that sort we can get." He touched a bell, and, when a clerk appeared in response, he said, "Ask General McClellan to come in for a moment before he leaves."
What need to go into the details? The court reconvened, and traversed the charges, which were disproved or withdrawn. John Sprague was pronounced guiltless on every specification, and, on General McClellan's recommendation, was promoted to a captaincy and assigned to the headquarters staff. I might go on and tell of Jack's daring on the Peninsula and his immeasurable usefulness to McClellan in the Williamsburg contest and the final wondrous change of base from the Chickahominy to the James; how his services were recognized by promotion to a colonelcy on the battle-field of Malvern; and how, when McClellan was wronged by Stanton, and removed from the army, Jack broke his sword and swore that he would never serve again. But, thinking better of it, he applied for a place in Hancock's corps, and was by his side from Fredericksburg to Gettysburg. You have seen from the very first what was going to happen. The marriages all took place, just as you have guessed from the beginning. Young Dick was too impatient and too skeptical to wait until the end of the war, and, to the amazement of his aunts and the amusement of Acredale, he carried Rosa off, one day, and was secretly married in the rector's study at Warchester, so that his first son was born under the Stars and Bars in Richmond, while Dick was beleaguering the walls at Fort Walthall, four miles away. The other young people waited rationally until a month or two after the peace, and while they were still entitled to wear the blue, and then they were wedded. It was said that Kate made the most beautiful bride ever seen in Warchester, for it was there they were married.