These were the efforts and measures urged by Valois and the anxious Confederates of the East.
It was perfectly logical. It was absolutely easy to make an effective diversion by sea. But some fool's tongue or spy's keen eye ruins all.
When, months after the seizure of the CHAPMAN, Valois learns of this pitiful attempt, he curses the stupid conspirators. They had not the brains to use a Mexican or Central American port for the dark purposes of the piratical expedition. Ample funds, resolute men, and an unprotected enemy would have been positive factors of success. Money, they had in abundance. Madness and folly seem to have ruled the half-hearted conspirators of California. An ALABAMA or two on the Pacific would have been most destructive scourges of the sea. The last days of opportunity glide by. The prosaic records of the Federal Court in California tell of the evanescent fame of Harpending, Greathouse, Rubery, Mason, Kent, and the other would-be buccaneers. The "Golden Circle" is badly shattered.
Every inlet of the Pacific is watched, after the fiasco of the Chapman. She lies at anchor, an ignoble prize to the sturdy old Cyane. It is kismet.
Maxime Valois mourns over the failure of these last plans to save the "cause." Heart-sick, he only wonders when a Yankee bullet will end the throbbings of his unconquerable heart. All is dark.
He fears not for his wife and child. Their wealth is secured. He loses, from day to day, the feelings which tied him once to California.
The infant heiress he hardly knows. His patient, soft-eyed Western wife is now only a placid memory. Her gentle nature never roused the inner fires of his passionate soul. Alien to the Pacific Coast, a soldier of fortune, the ties into which he drifted were the weavings of Fate. His warrior soul pours out its devotion in the military oath to guard to the last the now ragged silken folds of his regimental banner, the dear banner of Louisiana. The eyes of the graceful Creole beauties who gave it are now wet with bitter tears. Beloved men are dying vainly, day by day, under its sacred folds. Even Beauty's spell is vain.
The wild oats are golden once more on the hills of Lagunitas; the early summer breezes waft stray leaf and blossom over the glittering lake in the Mariposa Mountains. Heading the tireless riflemen of his command, Valois throws himself in desperation on the Union lines at Chickamauga. Crashing volley, ringing "Napoleons," the wild yell of the onset, the answering cheers of defiance, sound faintly distant as Maxime Valois drops from his charger. He lies seriously wounded in the wild rush of Bragg's devoted battalions. He has got his "billet."
For months, tossing on a bed of pain, the Louisianian is a sacred charge to his admiring comrades. Far in the hills of Georgia, the wasted soldier chafes under his absence from the field. The beloved silken heralds of victory are fluttering far away on the heights of Missionary Ridge. His faded eye brightens, his hollow cheek flushes when the glad tidings reach him of the environment of Rosecrans. His own regiment is at the front. He prays that he may lead it, when it heads the Confederate advance into Ohio. For now, after Chickamauga's terrific shock, the tide of victory bears northward the flag of his adoration. Months have passed since he received any news of his Western domain. No letters from Donna Dolores gladden him. Far away from the red hills of Georgia, in tenderness his thoughts, chastened with illness, turn to the dark-eyed woman who waits for him. She prays before the benignant face of the Blessed Virgin for her warrior husband. Alas, in vain!
Silent is Hardin. No news comes from Padre Francisco. Nothing from his wife. Valois trusts to the future. The increasing difficulty of contraband mails, hunted blockade-runners, and Federal espionage, cut off his home tidings.
His martial soul thrilled at the glories of Chickamauga, Valois learns that California has shown its mettle on the fiercest field of the West. Cheatham, Brooks, and fearless Terry have led to the front the wild masses of Bragg's devoted soldiery. These sons of California, like himself, were no mere carpet knights. On scattered Eastern fields, old friends of the Pacific have drawn the sword or gallantly died for Dixie. Garnett laid his life down at Rich Mountain. Calhoun Benham was a hero of Shiloh. Wild Philip Herbert manfully dies under the Stars and Bars on the Red River.
The stain of cold indifference is lifted by these and other self-devoted soldiers who battle for the South.
With heavy sighs, the wounded colonel still mourns for the failure to raise the Southern Cross in the West. Every day proves how useless have been all efforts on the Pacific Coast. Virginia is now the "man eater" of the Confederacy. Valois is haunted with the knowledge that some one will retrace the path of Rosecrans. Some genius will break through the open mountain-gates and cut the Confederacy in twain. It is an awful suspense.
While waiting to join his command, he hungers for home news. Grant, the indomitable champion of the North, hurls Bragg from Missionary Ridge. Leaping on the trail of the great army, which for the first time deserts its guns and flags, the blue-clad pursuers press on toward Chattanooga. They grasp the iron gate of the South with mailed hand.
The "Silent Man of Destiny" is called East to measure swords with stately Lee. He trains his Eastern legions for the last death-grapple. On the path toward the sea, swinging out like huntsmen, the columns of Sherman wind toward Atlanta. Bluff, impetuous, worldly wise, genius inspired, Sherman rears day by day the pyramid of his deathless fame. Confident and steady, bold and untiring, fierce as a Hannibal, cunning as a panther, old Tecumseh bears down upon the indefatigable Joe Johnston. Now comes a game worthy of the immortal gods. It is played on bloody fields. The crafty antagonists grapple in every cunning of the art of war. Rivers of human blood make easy the way. The serpent of the Western army writhes itself into the vitals of the torn and bleeding South. Everywhere the resounding crash of arms. Alas, steadfast as Maxime Valois' nature may be, tried his courage as his own battle blade, the roar of battle from east to west tells him of the day of wrath! The yells and groans of the trampled thousands of the Wilderness, are echoed by the despairing chorus of the dying myriads of Kenesaw and Dalton. A black pall hangs over a land given up to the butchery of brothers. Mountain chains, misted in the blue smoke of battle, rise unpityingly over heaps of unburied dead from the Potomac to the Mississippi. Maxime Valois knows at last the penalty of the fatal conspiracy. A sacrificed generation, ruined homes, and the grim ploughshare of war rives the fairest fields of the Land of the Cypress.
Fearless and fate-defying, under ringing guns, crashing volley, and sweeping charge, the Southern veterans only close up the devoted gray ranks. They are thinning with every conflict, where Lee and Johnston build the slim gray wall against the resistless blue sea sweeping down.
There is no pity in the pale moon. The cold, steady stars shine down on the upturned faces of the South's best and bravest. No craven blenching when the tattered Stars and Bars bear up in battle blast. And yet the starry flag crowns mountain and rock. It sweeps through blood-stained gorges and past battle-scarred defile. Onward, ever southward. The two giant swordsmen reel in this duel of desperation. Sherman and Johnston may not be withheld. The hour of fate is beginning to knell the doom of the cause. Southern mothers and wives have given up their unreturning brave as a costly sacrifice on the altar of Baal. Valois, once more in command, a colonel now, riding pale and desperate, before his men, sees their upturned glances. The dauntless ranks, filing by, touch his heroic heart. He fears, when Atlanta's refuge receives the beaten host, that the end is nigh.
Bereft of news from his home, foreseeing the final collapse in Virginia, assured that the sea is lost to the South, the colonel's mood is daily sadder. His hungry eyes are wolfish in their steady glare. Only a soldier now. His flag is his altar of daily sacrifice.
Port after port falls, foreign flatterers stand coldly aloof, empty magazines and idle fields are significant signs of the end. Useless cotton cannot be sent out or made available, priceless though it be. The rich western Mississippi is now closed as a supply line for the armies. The paper funds of the new nation are mere tokens of unpaid promises, never to be redeemed.
Never to falter, not to shun the driving attacks of the pursuing horse or grappling foot, to watch his battle-flag glittering in the van, to lead, cheer, hope, inspire, and madly head his men, is the second nature of Valois. He has sworn not to see his flag dishonored.
It never occurs to him to ask WHERE his creed came from. His blood thrills with the passionate devotion which blots out any sense of mere right and wrong. His motto is "For Dixie's Land to Death."
HOOD'S DAY.—PEACHTREE CREEK.—VALOIS' LAST TRUST.—DE GRESS' BATTERY.—DEAD ON THE FIELD OF HONOR.
A lantern burns dimly before the tent of Colonel Valois on the night of July 21, 1864. Within the lines of Atlanta there is commotion. Myriad lights flicker on the hills. A desperate army at bay is facing the enemy. Seven miles of armed environment mocks the caged tigers behind these hard-held ramparts. Facing north and east, the gladiators of the morrow lie on their arms, ready now for the summons to fall in, for a wild rush on Sherman's pressing lines. It is no holiday camp, with leafy bowers and lovely ladies straying in the moonlight. No dallying and listening to Romeos in gray and gold. No silver-throated bugles wake the night with "Lorena." No soft refrain of the "Suwanee River" melts all the hearts. It is not a gala evening, when "Maryland, my Maryland," rises in grand appeal. The now national "Dixie" tells not of fields to be won. It is a dark presage of the battle morrow. Behind grim redan and salient, the footsore troops rest from the day's indecisive righting. The foeman is not idle; all night long, rumbling trains and busy movements tell that "Uncle Billy Sherman" never sleeps. His blue octopus crawls and feels its way unceasingly. The ragged gray ranks, whose guns are their only pride, whose motto is "Move by day; fight always," are busy with the hum of preparation.
It is a month of horror. North and South stand aghast at the unparalleled butchery of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania. The awful truth that Grant has paved his bloody way to final victory with one hundred thousand human bodies since he crossed the Rapidan, makes the marrow cold in the bones of the very bravest. Sixty thousand foes, forty thousand friends, are the astounding death figures. As if the dark angel of death was not satisfied with a carnage unheard of in modern times, Johnston, the old Marshal Ney of the Confederacy, gives way, in command of the Southern army covering Atlanta, to J.B. Hood. He is the Texan lion. Grizzled Sherman laughs on the 18th of July, when his spies tell him Johnston is relieved. "Replenish every caisson from the reserve parks; distribute campaign ammunition," he says, briefly. "Hood would assault me with a corporal's guard. He will fight by day or night. I know him," Uncle Billy says.
The great Tecumseh feels a twinge as he whips out this verdict. Hood's tactics are fearful. There are thousands of mute witnesses of his own fatal rashness lying at Kenesaw, whose tongues are sealed in death. On that sad clay, Sherman out-Hooded Hood. But the blunt son of Ohio is right. He is a demi-god in intellect, and yet he has the intuition of femininity. He has caught Hood's fighting character at a glance.
There's no time to chaffer over the situation. McPherson, the pride of the army, Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga, and wary Schofield, draw in the great Union forces. Gallant Howard is in this knightly circle. "Black Jack" Logan, the "Harry Monmouth" of this coming field, connects on the 19th. There has been hot work to-day. Firing in Thomas's front tells the great strategist that Hood has tasted blood. Enough!
Sherman knows how that mad Texan will throw his desperate men to the front, in the snapping, ringing zone of fire and flame. Hooker receives the shock of the onset, reinforced by heavy batteries, whose blazing guns tear lightning-rent lanes through the Confederates. Not a second to lose. The gray swarms are pouring on like mountain wolves.
Fighting sharp and hot, the Union lines reach the strong defences of Peachtree Creek. Here Confederate Gilmer's engineering skill has prepared ditch and fraise, abattis and chevaux-de-frise, with yawning graves for the soon-forgotten brave.
McPherson, Schofield, Howard, Hooker, and Palmer are all in line, deployed with strong reserves.
Anxious Sherman sends clouds of orderly officers and scouts, right and left. Hood's defiant volleys die away. Will the rush come to-day? No; the hours wear away. The night brings quiet along the lines. Though a red harvest lies on the field, it is not the crowning effort of the entire enemy. It is only a rattling day of uneasy, hot-tempered fight.
But the awful morrow is to come. Sherman soon divines the difficulty of fathoming the Texan's real designs. Hood is familiar with the ground. Drawing back to the lines of Atlanta, Hood crouches for a desperate spring. The ridges of the red clay hills, with little valleys running to the Chattahoochee in the west, and Ocmulgee in the east, cover his manoeuvres. Corn and cotton patches, with thick forests between, lie along the extended front. A tangled undergrowth masks the entire movements of the lurking enemy.
Tireless Sherman, expectant of some demoniac rush, learns that the array before him is under Hood, Hardee, and the audacious cavalry leader, Wheeler. Stewart's and Smith's Georgian levies are also in line.
Every disposition is made by the wary antagonists. Sherman, eagle-eyed and prompt to join issue, gains a brief repose before the gray of morning looses the fires of hell. McPherson, young and brilliant, whose splendid star is in its zenith, firmly holds his exposed lines along the railroad between two valleys. In his left and rear, the forest throws out dark shades to cover friend and foe. Between the waiting armies, petty murder stays its hands. The stars sweep to the west, bringing the last morning to thousands. They are now dreaming, perhaps, of the homes they will never see. A thrill of nervous tension keeps a hundred thousand men in vague, dumb expectancy. The coming shock will be terrible. No one can tell the issue.
As the worn Confederate sentinel drags up and down before the tent of Colonel Valois, he can see the thoughtful veteran sitting, his tired head resting on a wasted hand.
Spirit and high soul alone animate now the Louisiana colonel. Hope has fled. Over his devoted head the sentinel stars swing, with neither haste nor rest, toward the occident. They will shine on Lagunitas, smiling, fringed with its primeval pines.
In her sleep, perhaps his little girl calls for him in vain. He is doomed not to hear that childish voice again.
A bundle of letters, carelessly tossed down at head-quarters, have been carried in his bosom during the day's scattering fight. They are all old in their dates, and travel-worn in following the shifting positions of his skeleton regiment. They bring him, at last, nearly a year's news.
Suddenly he springs to his feet, and his voice is almost a shriek. "Sentinel, call the corporal." In a moment, Valois, with quivering lip, says, "Corporal, ask Major Peyton to be kind enough to join me for a few moments."
When his field-officer approaches, anticipating some important charge of duty, sword and revolver in hand, the ghastly face of Valois alarms him.
"Colonel!" he cries. Valois motions him to be seated.
"Peyton," begins Valois, brokenly, "I am struck to the heart."
He is ashy pale. His head falls on his friend's bosom.
"My wife!" He needs not finish. The open letters tell the story. It is death news.
The major clasps his friend's thin hands.
"Colonel, you must bear up. We are fallen on sad, sad days." His voice fails him. "Remember to-morrow; we must stand for the South."
The chivalric Virginian's voice sounds hollow and strange. He sought the regiment, won over by Valois' lofty courage and stern military pride. To-morrow the army is to grapple and crush bold Sherman. It will be a death struggle.
Yes, out of these walls, a thunderbolt, the heavy column, already warned, was to seek the Union left, and strike a Stonewall Jackson blow. Its march will be covered by the friendly woods. The keen-eyed adjutants are already warning the captains of every detail of the attack. Calm and unmoved, the gaunt centurions of the thinned host accepted the honorable charges of the forlorn hope. Valois' powder-seasoned fragment of the army was a "corps d'elite." Peyton wondered, as he watched his suffering colonel, if either would see another sparkling jewel-braided night.
The blow of Hood must be the hammer of Thor.
"To-morrow, yes, to-morrow," mechanically replied Valois. "I will be on duty to-morrow."
"To-night, Peyton," he simply said, "I must suffer my last agony. My poor Dolores! Gone—my wife."
The tears trickled through his fingers as he bowed his graceful head.
"And my little Isabel," he softly said; "she will be an orphan. Will God protect that tender child? "Valois was talking to himself, with his eyes fixed on the dark night-shadows hiding the Federal lines. A stern, defiant gaze.
Peyton shivered with a nervous chill.
"Colonel, this must not be." In the silence of the brooding night, it seems a ghastly call from another world, this message of death.
Valois proudly checks himself.
"Peyton, I have few friends left in this land now. I want you to look these letters over." He hands him several letters from Hardin and from the priest. With tender delicacy, his hands close on the last words of affection from the gentle dark-eyed wife, who brought him the great dowry of Lagunitas, and gave him his little Isabel.
Peyton reads the words, old in date but new in their crushing force of sorrow to the husband. Resting on the stacked arms in front of his tent, the colors of Louisiana and the silken shreds of the Stars and Bars wait for the bugles of reveille calling again to battle.
Dolores dying of sudden illness, cut off in her youthful prime, was only able to receive the last rites of the Church, to smile fondly in her last moments, as she kisses the picture of the absent soldier of the Southern Cross. Francois Ribaut, the French gentleman, writes a sad letter, with no formula of the priest. He knows Maxime Valois is face to face with death, in these awful days of war. A costly sacrifice on the altar of Southern rights may be his fate at any moment.
It is to comfort, not admonish, to pledge every friendly office, that the delicate-minded padre softens the blow. Later, the priest writes of the lonely child, whose tender youth wards off the blow of the rod of sorrow.
Philip Hardin's letter mainly refers to the important business interests of the vast estate. The possibility of the orphanage of Isabel occurs. He suggests the propriety of Colonel Valois' making and forwarding a new will, and constituting a guardianship of the young heiress. In gravest terms of friendship, he reminds Valois to indicate his wishes as to the child, her nurture and education. The fate of a soldier may overtake her surviving parent any day.
Other unimportant issues drop out of sight. Hardin has told of the last attempt to fit out a schooner at a secluded lumber landing in Santa Cruz County. They tried to smuggle on board a heavy gun secretly transported there. An assemblage of desperate men, gathering in the lonely woods, were destined to man the boat. By accident, the Union League discovers the affair. Flight is forced on the would-be pirates.
Valois' lip curls as he tells Peyton of the utter prostration of the last Confederate hope beyond the Colorado. All vain and foolish schemes.
"I wish your advice, Major," he resumes. In brief summing up, he gives Peyton the outline of his family history and his general wishes.
A final result of the hurried conclave is the hasty drawing up of a will. It is made and duly witnessed. It makes Philip Hardin guardian of the heiress and sole executor of his testament. His newly descended property he leaves to the girl child, with directions that she shall be sent to Paris. She is to be educated to the time of her majority at the "Sacred Heart." There in that safe retreat, where the world's storms cannot reach the defenceless child, he feels she will be given the bearing and breeding of a Valois. She must be fitted for her high fortunes.
He writes a fond letter to Father Francisco, to whom he leaves a handsome legacy, ample to make him independent of all pecuniary cares. He adjures that steadfast friend to shield his darling's childhood, to follow and train her budding mind in its development. He informs him of every disposition, and sends the tenderest thanks for a self-devotion of years.
The farewell signature is affixed. Colonel Valois indites to Judge Philip Hardin a letter of last requests. It is full of instructions and earnest appeal. When all is done, he closes his letter. "I send you every document suggested. My heart is sore. I can no longer write. I will lead my regiment to-morrow in a desperate assault. If I give my life for my country, Hardin, let my blood seal this sacred bond between you and me. I leave you my motherless child. May God deal with you and yours as you shall deal with the beloved little one, whose face I shall never see.
"If I had a thousand lives I would lay them down for the flag which may cover me to-morrow night. Old friend, remember a dying man's trust in you and your honor."
When Peyton has finished reading these at Colonel Valois' request, his eyes are moist. To-night the bronzed chief is as tender as a woman. The dauntless soul, strong in battle scenes, is shaken with the memories of a motherless little one. She must face the world alone, God's mercy her only stay.
Colonel Valois, who has explained the isolation of the child, has left his estate in remainder to the heirs of Judge Valois, of New Orleans.
Old and tottering to his tomb is that veteran jurist. The possible heir would be Armand, the boy student, cut off in Paris. No home-comings now. The ports are all closed.
When all is prepared, Colonel Valois says tenderly: "Peyton, I have some money left at Havana. I will endorse these drafts to you, and give you a letter to the banker there. You can keep them for me. I want you to ride into Atlanta and see these papers deposited. Let there be made a special commission for their delivery to our agent at Havana. Let them leave Atlanta at once. I want no failure if Sherman storms the city. I will not be alive to see it."
Awed by the prophetic coolness of Valois' speech, Peyton sends for his horse. He rides down to the town, where hundreds on hundreds of wounded sufferers groan on every side. Thousands desperately wait in the agony of suspense for the morrow's awful verdict. He gallops past knots of reckless merry-makers who jest on the edge of their graves. Henry Peyton bears the precious packet and delivers it to an officer of the highest rank. He is on the eve of instant departure for the sea-board. Cars and engines are crowded with the frightened people, flying from the awful shock of Hood's impending assault.
This solemn duty performed, the Major rejoins Colonel Valois at a gallop. Lying on his couch, Valois' face brightens as he springs from his rest. "It is well. I thank you," he simply says. He is calm, even cheerful. The bonhomie of his race is manifest. "Major Peyton," he says, pleasantly, "I would like you to remember the matters of this evening. Should you live through this war the South will be in wild disorder. I have referred to your kindness, in my letter to Hardin and in a paper I have enclosed to him. It is for my child. You will have a home at Lagunitas if you ever go to California."
He discusses a few points of the movement of the morrow. There is no extra solemnity in going under fire. They have lived in a zone of fire since Sherman's pickets crossed the open, months ago. But this supreme effort of Hood marks a solemn epoch. The great shops and magazines of Atlanta, the railroad repair works, foundries and arsenals, the geographical importance, studied fortifications, and population to be protected, make the city a stronghold of ultimate importance to the enfeebled South.
If the Northern bayonets force these last doors of Georgia, then indeed the cause is desperate.
When midnight approached, Colonel Valois calmly bade his friend "Good-night." Escorting him to his tent, he whispers, "Peyton, take your coffee with me to-morrow. I will send for you."
Slumber wraps friend and foe alike. All too soon the gray dawn points behind the hills. There is bustle and confusion. Shadowy groups cluster around the waning fires long before daybreak. The gladiators are falling into line. Softly, silently, day steals over the eastern hills. Is it the sun of Austerlitz or of Waterloo?
Uneasy picket-firing ushers in the battle day. Colonel Valois and Major Peyton share their frugal meal. The rattle of picket shots grows into a steady, teasing firing. Well-instructed outpost officers are carrying on this noisy mockery.
Massed behind the circling lines of Atlanta, within the radius of a mile and a half, the peerless troops who DOUBT Hood's ability, but who ADORE his dauntless bravery, are silently massed for the great attack.
The officers of Valois' regiment, summoned by the adjutant, receive their Colonel's final instructions. His steady eye turns fondly on the men who have been his comrades, friends, and devoted admirers. "Gentlemen," he says, "we will have serious work to-day. I shall expect you to remember what Georgia hopes from Louisiana."
Springing to his saddle, he doffs his cap as the head of the regiment files by, in flank movement. The lithe step, steady swing, and lightly poised arms proclaim matchless veterans. They know his every gesture in the field. He is their idol.
As Peyton rides up, he whispers (for the colors have passed), "Henry, if you lead the regiment out of this battle, I ask you never to forget my last wishes." The two friends clasp hands silently. With a bright smile, whose light lingers as he spurs past the springy column, he takes the lead, falcon-eyed, riding down silently into the gloomy forest-shades of death.
A heavy mass of troops, pushing out in swift march, works steadily to the Union left, and gains its ground rapidly. The Seventeenth Corps of Blair, struck in flank, give way. The Sixteenth Union Corps of Dodge are quickly rushed up. The enemy are struck hard. Crash and roar of battle rise now in deafening clamor. Away to the unprotected Union rear ride the wild troopers of Wheeler. The whole left of Sherman's troops are struck at disadvantage. They are divided, or thrown back in confusion toward Decatur. The desperate struggle sways to and fro till late in the day. With a rush of Hood's lines, Murray's battery of regular artillery is captured. The Stars and Bars sweep on in victory.
Onward press the Confederate masses in all the pride of early victory. The Fifteenth Corps, under Morgan L. Smith, make a desperate attempt to hold on at a strong line of rifle pits. The seething gray flood rolls upon them and sends them staggering back four hundred yards. Over two cut-off batteries, the deadly carnage smites blue and gray alike. Charge and countercharge succeed in the mad struggle for these guns. Neither side can use them until a final wave shall sweep one set of madmen far away.
With desperate valor, Morgan L. Smith at last claims the prize. His cheering troops send double canister from the regained batteries into the gray columns of attack. General Sherman, at a deserted house, where he has made his bivouac, paces the porch like a restless tiger. The increasing firing on the left, tells him of this heavy morning attack. A map spread on a table catches his eye from time to time. The waiting crowd of orderlies and staff officers have, one by one, dashed off to reform the lines or strengthen the left. While the firing all along the line is everywhere ominous, the roar on the left grows higher and higher. Out from the fatal woods begin to stream weary squads of the wounded and stragglers. The floating skulkers hover at the edge of the red tide of conflict.
Ha! A wounded aide dashes up with tidings of the ominous gap on the left. That fearful sweep of Wheeler's cavalry to the rear is known at last by the fires of burning trains. With a few brief words of counsel, and a nod of his stately head, McPherson, the splendid light of battle on his brow, gallops away to reform these broken lines. The eye of the chief must animate his corps.
Hawk-eyed Sherman watches the glorious young general as he turns into the forest. A grim look settles on the general's face. He runs his eye over the map. As the tiger's approach is heralded by the clatter of the meaner animals, so from out that forest the human debris tell of Hood's battle hammer crashing down on that left "in air." Is there yet time to reform a battle, now fighting itself in sudden bloody encounters? All is at haphazard. A sigh of relief. McPherson is there. His ready wit, splendid energy, and inspiring presence are worth a thousand meaner souls, in the wild maelstrom of that terrible July day.
Old Marshal Tecumseh, with unerring intuition, knows that the creeping skirmishers have felt the whole left of his position. With the interior lines and paths of the forest to aid, if anything has gone wrong, if gap or lap has occurred, then on those unguarded key-points and accidental openings, the desperate fighters of the great Texan will throw their characteristic fierceness. Atlanta's tall chimneys rise on the hills to the west. There, thousands, with all at stake, listen to the rolling notes of this bloody battle. High in the air, bursting shells with white puffs light up the clouds of musketry smoke. Charging yells are borne down the wind, with ringing answering cheers. The staccato notes of the snapping Parrotts accentuate the battle's din.
Sherman, with cloudy brow, listens for some news of the imperilled left wing. Is the iron army of the Tennessee to fail him now? Seven miles of bayonets are in that great line, from left to right, headed by McPherson, Schofield, and Thomas, the flower of the Union Army.
Looking forward to a battle outside Atlanta, a siege, or a flanking bit of military chesswork, the great Union commander is dragged now into a purely defensive battle. Where is McPherson?
Sherman has a quarter of an hour of horrible misgiving. He saw the mad panic of the first Bull Run. He led the only compact body of troops off that fatal field himself. It was his own brigade. In his first-fought field, he showed the unshakable nerve of Macdonald at Wagram. But he has also seen the fruits of the wild stampede of McCook and Crittenden's divisions since at Chickamauga. It tore the laurels from Rosecrans' brow. Is this to be a panic? Rosecrans' defeat made Sherman the field-marshal of the West.
At Missionary Ridge, even the invincibles of the South fled their lines in sudden impulse, giving up an almost impregnable position. The haughty old artillerist, Braxton Bragg, was forced to officially admit that stampede. He added a few dozen corpses to his disciplinary "graveyards," "pour encourager les autres." Panic may attack even the best army.
Is it panic now swelling on the breeze of this roaring fight? Fast and far his hastily summoned messengers ride. To add a crowning disaster to the confusion of the early morning death grapple, the sun does not touch the meridian before a bleeding aide brings back McPherson's riderless horse. Where is the general? Alas, where?
Dashing far ahead of his staff and orderlies, tearing from wood to wood, to close in the fatal gap and reface his lines—a volley from a squad of Hood's pickets drops the great corps commander, McPherson, a mangled corpse, in the forest. No such individual loss to either army has happened since Stonewall Jackson's untimely end at Chancellorsville.
His rifled body is soon recovered. With super-human efforts it is borne to the house in the clearing and laid at General Sherman's feet.
Lightning flashes of wit traverse Sherman's brain. Every rebel straggler is instantly searched as he is swept in. The invaluable private papers of General McPherson, the secret orders, and campaign plans are found in the haversack of one of the captured skirmishers. These, at least, are safe.
With this blow, comes the news of the Seventeenth Corps being thrown back, far out of its place, by the wild rush of Hood's braves. All goes wrong. The day is lost.
Will it be a Bull Run?
No! The impetuous Logan tears along his lines. "Black Jack's" swarthy face brings wild cheers from the men, who throw themselves madly on the attacking lines, seeking vengeance. The Fifteenth Corps' rifles are sounding shotted requiem salvos for their lost leader. The Seventeenth holds on and connects. The Sixteenth Corps, struck heavily in flank by the victorious Confederates, faces into line of battle to the left. It grimly holds on, and pours in its leaden hail. Smith's left flank doubled back, joining Leggett, completes the reformed line. From high noon till the darkness of the awful night, a general conflict rages along the whole front. War in its grim horror.
Sherman, casting a wistful glance on the body of McPherson, stands alert. He is as bristling as a wild boar at bay. Sherman at his best.
Is this their worst? No, for at four in the afternoon, a terrific sally from Atlanta throws the very flower of the assailants on the bloody knoll, evermore to be known as "Leggett's Hill." There is madness and demoniac fury in the way those gray columns struggle for that ridge.
In vain does Hood send out his bravest stormers to crown the wished-for position of Leggett.
Sherman is as sure of Atlanta now, as if his eagles towered over its domes. Drawing to the left the corps of Wood, massing Schofield with twenty heavy guns playing on Hood's charging columns, Sherman throws Wood, backed by John A. Logan's victorious veterans, on the great body of the reeling assailants. The final blow has met its stone wall, in the lines of Leggett. The blue takes up the offensive, with wild cheers of triumph. They reach "Uncle Billy's" ears.
Some decisive stroke must cut the tangle of the involved forces. When Hood sees that his devoted troops have not totally crushed the Union left, when his columns reel back from Leggett's Hill, mere fragments, he knows that even his dauntless men cannot be asked to try again that fearful quest. It is checkmate!
But Wheeler is still careering in destruction around Sherman's rear parks, and ravaging his supplies. Hood persists in his desperate design to pierce the Union lines somewhere. He throws away his last chance of keeping an army together. His fiery valor bade him defend Atlanta from the OUTSIDE. He now sends a last thunderbolt crashing on the Decatur road.
During the day Valois' regiment has been thrown in here and there. The stern colonel gazes with pride on the seasoned fighters at their grim work.
But it is after four when Colonel Valois is ordered to mass his regiment, followed by the last reserve, and lead it to the front in the supreme effort of this awful day. His enemy in front is a Union battery, which has been a flail to the Southern army.
In dozens of encounters the four heavy twenty-pound Parrotts of De Gress have been an object of the maddest attack. Superbly handled, in the best equipment, its high power, long range, and dashing energy have given to this battery the rank in the West, which John Pelham's light artillery gained under Lee's eyes in Virginia. The pride of Sherman's artillery is the famous battery of De Gress. To-day it has been dealing out death incessantly, at half musket-range. It has swept rank on rank of the foes away. Now, with the frenzy of despair, General Hood sends a forlorn column to pierce the Union lines, carry the road, and take those renowned guns. A lull betokens the last rush.
Riding to the front, Colonel Valois reins up beside Major Peyton. There is only time for a few last directions. A smile which haunts Peyton for many a long day, flashes on Maxime Valois' stern lips. He dashes on, waving his sword, and cries in his ringing voice,
"Come on, boys, for Louisiana!"
Springing like panthers into the open, the closed ranks bound toward the fated guns at a dead run. Ha! There was a crashing salvo. Now, it is load and fire at will. Right and left, fire pours in on the guns, whose red flashes singe the very faces of the assailants. Peyton's quick eye sees victory wavering. Dashing towards the guns he cheers his men. As he nears the battery the Louisiana color-bearer falls dead. Henry Peyton seizes the Pelican flag, and dashes on over friends, dead and dying, as his frightened steed races into the battery.
There, every horse is down. The guns are now silent. A knot of men, with clubbed rammers, bayonet thrusts, and quick revolver shots, fight for the smoking cannon. A cheer goes up. De Gress's guns are taken. Peyton turns his head to catch a glimpse of Colonel Valois. Grasping the star-spangled guidon of the battery with his bridle hand, Valois cuts down its bearer.
A wild yell rises as a dozen rebel bayonets are plunged into a defiant fugitive, for he has levelled his musket point-blank and shot Valois through the heart.
The leader's frightened charger bounds madly to the front, and the Louisiana colonel falls heavily to the ground.
Clasped in his clenched hands, the silken folds of the captured battery flag are dyed with his blood. A dozen willing arms raise the body, bearing it to one side, for the major, mindful of the precious moments, yells to "swing the guns and pass the caissons." In a minute, the heavy Parrotts of De Gress are pouring their shrapnel into the faces of the Union troops, who are, three hundred yards away, forming for a rush to recapture them.
As the cannon roar their defiance to the men who hold them dear, Peyton bends over Maxime Valois. The heart is stilled forever. With his stiffening fingers clutching his last trophy, the "Stars and Stripes," there is the light of another world shining on the face of the dead soldier of the Southern Cross. Before sending his body to the rear, Henry Peyton draws from Valois' breast a packet of letters. It is the last news from the loved wife he has rejoined across the shadowy river. United in death. Childish Isabel is indeed alone in the world. A rain of shrieking projectiles and bursting shells tells of the coming counter-charge.
Drawing back the guns by hand to a cover for the infantry, and rattling the caissons over a ridge to screen the ammunition boxes, the shattered rebel ranks send volleys into the faces of the lines of Schofield, now coming on at a run.
The captured Parrotts ring and scream. One over-heated gun of the battery bursts, adding its horrors to the struggle. Logan's men are leaping over the lines to right and left, bayoneting the gunners. The Louisianians give way and drift to the rear. The evening shadows drop over crest, wood, and vale. When the first stars are in the skies Hood's shattered columns stream back into Atlanta. The three guns of De Gress have changed hands again. Even the bursted piece falls once more under the control of the despairing Union artillery captain. He has left him neither men, horses, fittings, nor harness available—only three dismantled guns and the wreck of his fourth piece. But they are back again! Sherman's men with wildest shouts crowd the field. They drive the broken remnants of the proud morning array under the guns of the last lines of the doomed city. Dare-devil Hood has failed. The desperate dash has cost ten thousand priceless men. The brief command of the Texan fighter has wrecked the invaluable army of which Joe Johnston was so mindful.
McPherson, who joined the subtlety of Stonewall to the superb bearing of Sidney Johnston, a hero born, a warrior, and great captain to be, lies under the stars in the silent chambers of the Howard House.
General Sherman, gazing on his noble features, calm in death, silently mourns the man who was his right hand. Thomas, Schofield, Howard, Logan, and Slocum stand beside the dead general. They bewail the priceless sacrifice of Peachtree Creek.
In the doomed city of Atlanta, there is gloom and sadness. With the fragments of the regiment which adored him, a shattered guard of honor, watching over him with yet loaded guns, in charge of the officers headed by Major Peyton, the body of Maxime Valois rests within the Southern lines.
For the dear land of his birth he had abandoned the fair land of his choice. With the captured banner of his country in his hand, he died in the hour of a great personal triumph, "under the Stars and Bars." Game to the last.
High-souled and devoted, the son of Louisiana never failed the call of his kinsmen. He carried the purest principles to the altar of Secession.
Watching by the shell from which the dauntless spirit had fled in battle and in storm, Henry Peyton feels bitterly that the fate of Atlanta is sealed. He knows the crushing of their weak lines will follow. He can picture Sherman's heavy columns taking city after city, and marching toward the blue sea.
The end is approaching. A gloomier darkness than the night of the last battle broods over the Virginian. With pious reverence, he hastens to arrange the few personal matters of his chief. He knows not the morrow. The active duties of command will soon take up all his time. He must keep the beloved regiment together.
For, of the two or three companies left of a regiment "whose bayonets were once a thousand," Henry Peyton is the colonel now. A "barren honor," yet inexpressibly dear to him.
In the face of the enemy, within the lines held hard by the reorganizing fragments of yesterday's host, the survivors bury the brave leader who rode so long at their head. Clad in his faded gray, the colonel lies peacefully awaiting the great Reveille.
When the sloping bayonets of the regiment glitter, for the last time, over the ramparts their generous blood has stained in fight, as the defeated troops move away, many a stout heart softens as they feel they are leaving alone and to the foe the lost idol of their rough worship.
Major Peyton preserves for the fatherless child the personal relics of his departed friend. Before it is too late, he despatches them to the coast, to be sent to Havana, to await Judge Hardin's orders at the bankers'. The news of the fate of Colonel Valois, and the last wishes of the dead Confederate, are imparted in a letter to Judge Hardin by Peyton.
In the stern realities of the last retreat, fighting and marching, after the winter snows have whitened the shot-torn fields around Atlanta; sick of carnage and the now useless bloodshed, Colonel Peyton leads his mere detachment to the final scene of the North Carolina surrender. Grant's iron hand has closed upon Petersburg's weakened lines. Sheridan's invincible riders, fresh from the Shenandoah, have shattered the steadfast at Five Forks.
Gloomy days have fallen, also, on the cause in the West. The despairing valor of the day at Franklin and the assault on Nashville only needlessly add to. the reputation for frantic bravery of the last of the magnificent Western armies of the Confederacy. Everywhere there are signs of the inevitable end. With even the sad news of Appomattox to show him that the great cause is irretrievably lost, there are bitter tears in Henry Peyton's eyes when he sees the flags of the army he has served with, lowered to great Sherman in the last surrender.
The last order he will ever give to them turns out for surrender the men whose reckless bravery has gilded a "Lost Cause" with a romantic halo of fadeless glory. Peyton sadly sheathes the sword he took from Maxime Valois' dead hands. Southward, he takes his way. Virginia is now only a graveyard and one vast deserted battle-field. The strangers' bayonets are shining at Richmond. He cannot revisit the scenes of his boyhood. A craving seizes him for new scenes and strange faces. He yearns to blot out the war from his memory. He dreams of Mexico, Cuba, or the towering Andes of South America. His heart is too full to linger near the scenes where the red earth lies heaped over his brethren of the sword. Back to Atlanta he travels, with the returning fragments of the men who are now homeward bound. All is silent now. From wood and hill no rattling fire wakes the stillness of these days. The blackened ruins and the wide swath cut by Sherman tell him how true was the prediction that the men of the Northwest would "hew their way to the Gulf with their swords." He finds the grave of Valois, when dismantled and crippled Atlanta receives him again. Standing there, alone, the pageantry of war has rolled away. The battle-fields are covered with wild roses. The birds nest in the woods where Death once reigned supreme. High in the air over Atlanta the flag of the country waves, on the garrison parade, with not a single star erased.
On his way to a self-appointed exile, the Virginian has seen the wasted fields, blackened ruins, and idle disheartened communities of the conquered, families brought to misery, and the young arms-bearing generation blotted out. Hut and manor-house have been licked up by the red torch of war. The hollow-eyed women, suffering children, and dazed, improvident negroes, wander around aimlessly. Bridges, mills and factories in ruins tell of the stranger's torch, and the crashing work of the artillery. Tall, smokeless chimneys point skywards as monuments of desolation.
Bowed in defeat, their strongholds are yet occupied by the blue-coated victors. All that is left of the Southern communities lingers in ruined homes and idle marts. They now are counting the cost of attempted secession, in the gloom of despair.
The land is one vast graveyard. The women who mourn husbands and lovers stray over fields of strife, and wonder where the loved one sleeps. Friend and foe, "in one red burial blent," are lying down in the unbroken truce of death.
Atlanta's struggle against the restless Sherman has been only wasted valor, a bootless sacrifice. Her terrific sallies, lightning counter-thrusts, and final struggles with the after-occupation, can be traced in the general desolation, by every step of the horrible art of war.
Here, by the grave of his intrepid comrade, Henry Peyton reviews the past four years. His scars and wasted frame tell him of many a deadly fray, and the dangers of the insane fight for State rights.
The first proud days of the war return. Hopes that have failed long since are remembered. The levy and march to the front, the thousand watch-fires glittering around the unbroken hosts, whose silken-bordered banners tell of the matchless devotion of the women clinging blindly to the cause.
Peyton thinks now of the loved and lost who bore those flags, to-day furled forever, to the front, at Bull Run, Shiloh, the Seven Days, Groveton, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Chickamauga, and Spottsylvania.
The foreign friends in Europe, the daring rovers of the sea who carried the Stars and Bars from off New York to Singapore and far Behring Straits. What peerless leaders. Such deep, sagacious statesmen. The treasures of the rich South, the wealth of King Cotton, all wasted uselessly. A popular devotion, which deeply touched the magnanimous Grant in the supreme hour of victory, has been lavished on the altar of the Confederacy where Davis, Lee, and Jackson were enthroned. Fallen gods now, but still majestic and yet revered.
Peyton thinks with an almost breaking heart of all these sacrifices for the Lost Cause. By his friend's grave he feels that an awful price has been paid for the glories of the short-lived Confederacy.
The noble-hearted Virginian dares not hope that there may yet be found golden bands of brotherhood to knit together the children of the men who fought under gray and blue. Frankly acknowledging the injustice of the early scorn of the Northern foe, he knows, from glances cast backward over the storied fields, the vigor of the North was under-estimated. The men of Donelson, Antietam, Stone River, Vicksburg, awful Gettysburg, of Winchester, and Five Forks, are as true and tried as ever swung a soldier's blade.
He has seen the country's flag of stars stream out bravely against the tide of defeat. If American valor needs a champion the men who saw the "Yankees" at Seven Pines, Gaines Mill, Marye's Heights, and holding in fire and flame the batteries of Corinth and Knoxville, will swear the embittered foes were worthy of each other.
The defeated Confederate veteran, as he plucks a rose from the grass growing over the gallant Valois, bitterly remembers the useless sacrifices of the whole Southern army to the "Virginia policy." A son of the "old State" himself, he can feel now, in the sorrow and silence of defeat, that the early triumphs of the war were wasted. The great warlike generation was frittered away on the Potomac.
Devoted to Lee, he still mourns the lost months of the fall of '61, when, flushed with triumph, the Confederates could have entered Washington. Then Maryland would have risen "en masse." Foreign lands would have been won over. An aggressive policy even in 1862, after the Peninsula, might have changed the final result. The dead Californian's regrets for the abandonment of all effort in the Pacific, the cutting-off and uselessness of the great trans-Mississippi region, all return to him in vain sorrow.
By Maxime Valois' grave, Peyton wonders if the battle-consecrated blood of the sons has washed away the sins of the fathers. He knows not of the brighter days, when the past shall seem a vision of romance. When our country will smile in peace and brotherhood, from ocean to ocean. Sadly he uncovers his head. He leaves Maxime Valois lying in the proud silence of the soldier's grave—"dead on the field of honor."
To New Orleans Colonel Peyton repairs. On making search, he finds that Judge Valois has not survived the collapse of the Confederacy. His only son is abroad, in Paris. The abandoned plantations and family property are under the usual load of debt, taxes, and all the legal confusion of a change of rulers.
Peyton thanks the dead soldier in his heart for the considerable legacy of his unused balances. He is placed beyond immediate necessity. He leaves the land where the Southern Cross met defeat. He wishes to wander over Cuba, Mexico, and toward the West. At Havana, he finds that the documents and articles forwarded by the agents to Judge Hardin have been duly sent though never acknowledged.
The letters taken from Colonel Valois' body he seals in a packet. He trusts that fate may lead him some day westward. They are too precious to risk. He may some day tell the little lady of Lagunitas, of the gallant father whose thoughts, before his last battle, were only for the beloved "little one." She is confided, as a trust, from the dying to Judge Hardin. She is surely safe in the sheltering care of Valois' oldest friend. A "Southern gentleman."
Peyton for years can bring back the tender solemnity of Maxime Valois' face, as he reads his charge to Hardin.
"And may God deal with you and yours, as you deal with me and mine."
The devoted father's appeal would touch a heart of stone.
The folly of not beginning active war in the West; the madness of not seizing California at the outset; the rich prizes of the Pacific left ungathered, for has not Semmes almost driven Yankee ships from the sea with the Alabama, and does not Waddell, with the cockle-shell Shenandoah, burn and destroy the entire Pacific whaling fleet? The free-booter sails half around the world, unchallenged, after the war. Oh, coward Knights of the Golden Circle! Fools, and blind, to let California slip from your grasp!
Maxime Valois was right. Virginian rule ruined the Confederacy. Too late, too late!
Had Sidney Johnston lived; had Robert E. Lee been willing to leave sacred Virginia uncovered for a fortnight in the days before he marshalled the greatest army the Southerners ever paraded, and invaded the North boldly, a peace would have resulted.
Peyton thinks bitterly of the irreparable loss of Sidney Johnston. He recalls the death of peerless Jackson. Jackson, always aggressive, active, eager to reach for the enemy, and ever successful.
Wasted months when the prestige was with the South, the fixed determination of Lee to keep the war in Virginia, and Davis's deadly jealousy of any leading minds, seem to have lost the brightest chances of a glorious success.
Peyton condemns the military court of Davis and the intrenched pageantry of Lee's idle forces. The other armies of the Confederacy fought, half supplied, giving up all to hold the Virginia lines. He cannot yet realize that either Sherman or Grant might have baffled Sidney Johnston had he lived. Lee was self-conscious of his weakness in invasion. He will not own that Philip Sheridan's knightly sword might have reached the crest of the unconquered Stonewall Jackson.
Vain regret, shadowy dreams, and sad imaginings fill Colonel Peyton's mind. The thrilling struggles of the Army of the West, its fruitless victories, and unrewarded heroism make him proud of its heroes. Had another policy ruled the Confederate military cabinet, success was certain. But he is now leaving his friend's grave.
The birds are singing in the forest. As the sun lights up the dark woods where McPherson died, into Henry Peyton's war-tried soul enters the peace which broods over field and incense-breathing trees. Far in the East, the suns of future years may bring happier days, when the war wounds are healed. The brothers of the Union may find a nobler way to reach each other's hearts than ball or bayonet. But he cannot see these gleams of hope.
A LOST HEIRESS.—MILLIONS AT STAKE.
MOUNT DAVIDSON'S MAGIC MILLIONS.—A CALIFORNIA PLUTOCRACY.—THE PRICE OF A CRIME.
Philip Hardin's library in San Francisco is a place for quiet labors. A spider's parlor. September, 1864, hides the enchanted interior with deeper shades from the idle sight-seer.
Since the stirring days of 1861, after the consecutive failures of plot, political scheme, and plan of attack, the mysterious "chief of the Golden Circle" has withdrawn from public practice. A marked and dangerous man.
It would be an insult to the gallant dead whose blood watered the fields of the South, for Philip Hardin to take the "iron-clad oath" required now of practitioners.
Respected for his abilities, feared by his adversaries, shunned for his pro-secession views, Philip Hardin walks alone. No overt act can be fastened on him, Otherwise, instead of gazing on Alcatraz Island from his mansion windows, he might be behind those frowning walls, where the l5-inch Columbiads spread their radial lines of fire, to cross those of the works of Black Point, Fort Point, and Point Blunt. Many more innocent prisoners toil there. He does not wish to swell their number. Philip Hardin dares not take that oath in open court. His pride prevents, but, even were he to offer it, the mockery would be too patent.
A happy excuse prevents his humiliation. Trustee of the vast estate of Lagunitas, he has also his own affairs to direct. It is a dignified retirement.
Another great passion fills his later days. Since the wandering Comstock and Curry, proverbially unfortunate discoverers, like Marshall, pointed to hundreds of millions for the "silver kings," along Mount Davidson's stony, breast, he gambles daily. The stock board is his play-room.
The mining stock exchange gives his maturer years the wilder excitements of the old El Dorado.
Washoe, Nevada Territory, or the State of Nevada, the new "Silverado" drives all men crazy. A city shines now along the breast of the Storey County peaks, nine thousand feet above the sea. The dulness of California's evolution is broken by the rush to Washoe. Already the hardy prospectors spread out in that great hunt for treasure which will bring Colorado, Idaho, and Montana, crowned aspirants, bearing gifts of gold and silver, to the gates of the Union. The whole West is a land of hidden treasures.
Speculation's mad fever seized on Hardin from the days of 1860. Shares, stocks, operations, schemes, all the wild devices of hazard, fill up his days with exciting successes and damning failures.
His name, prestige, and credit, carry him to the front. As in the early days, his cool brain and nerve mark him as a desperate gamester. But his stakes are now gigantic.
Secure in his mansion house, with private wires in his study, he operates through many brokers and agents. His interrupted law business is transferred to less prominent Southern advocates.
Philip Hardin's fine hand is everywhere. Reliable dependants, old prospecting friends and clients, keep him informed by private cipher of every changing turn of the brilliant Virginia City kaleidoscope.
Hardin gambles for pleasure, for vanity, and for excitement. Led on by his desire to stand out from the mass of men, he throws his fortune, mixed with the funds of Lagunitas, into the maelstrom of California Street. Success and defeat alternate.
It is a transition time. While war rages in the East, the California merchant kings are doubling fortunes in the cowardly money piracy known as California's secession. The "specific contract act" is the real repudiation of the government's lawful money. This stab in the back is given to the struggling Union by the well-fed freedom shriekers of the Union League. They howl, in public, over their devotion to the interests of the land.
The future railroad kings of the Pacific, Stanford, Hopkins, Crocker, Huntington, Colton, and their allies, are grasping the gigantic benefits flowing from the Pacific Railroad, recommended by themselves as a war measure. Heroes.
The yet uncrowned bonanza kings are men of obscure employment, or salaried miners working for wages which would not in a month pay their petty cash of a day in a few years.
Quiet Jim Flood, easy O'Brien, sly Jones, sturdy Mackay, and that guileless innocent, "Jim Fair," are toiling miners or "business men." Their peculiar talents are hidden by the obscurity of humdrum, honest labor.
Hands soon to sway the financial sceptre, either mix the dulcet cocktail, swing the pick, or else light with the miner's candle the Aladdin caves to which they grope and burrow in daily danger, deep hidden from public view. These "silver kings" are only in embryo.
These two groups of remarkable men, the future railroad princes, and the budding bonanza kings, represent cunning, daring, energy, fortitude, and the remarkable powers of transition of the Western resident.
The future land barons are as yet merely sly, waiting schemers. They are trusting to compound interest, rotten officials, and neglected laws to get possession of ducal domains. The bankers, merchant princes, and stock operators are writing their names fast in California's strange "Libro d'oro." All is restlessness. All is a mere waiting for the turbid floods of seething human life to settle down. In the newer discoveries of Nevada, in the suspense of the war, the railroads are yet only half finished, croaked at mournfully by the befogged Solons of the press. All is transition.
It is only when the first generation of children born in California will reach maturity in the 'eighties; only when the tide of carefully planned migration from North and South, after the war, reaches the West, that life becomes regular. Only when the railways make the new State a world's thoroughfare, and the slavery stain is washed from our flag, that civilization plants the foundations of her solid temples along the Pacific.
There is no crystallization until the generation of mere adventurers begin to drop into graves on hillside and by the sea. The first gold-seekers must pass out from active affairs before the real State is honestly builded up.
No man, not even Philip Hardin, could foresee, with the undecided problems of 1860, what would be the status of California in ten years, as to law, finance, commerce, or morals.
A sudden start might take the mass of the people to a new Frazer River or another Australia. They might rush to the wilds of some frontier treasury of nature, now unknown.
Even Philip Hardin dared not dream that humble bar-keepers would blossom out into great bank presidents, that signatures, once potent only on the saloon "slate," would be smiled on by "friend Rothschild" and "brother Baring." The "lightning changes" of the burlesque social life of Western America begin to appear. It is a wild dream that the hands now toiling with the pick or carrying the miner's tin dinner-pail, would close in friendship on the aristocratic palm of H.R.H. Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales. The "chambermaid's own" romances would not dare to predict that ladies bred to the broom and tub or the useful omnipotent "fry pan," would smile on duchesses, crony with princesses, or regulate their visiting lists by the "Almanach de Gotha."
Their great magician is Gold. In power, in pleasing witchery of potent influence; insidious flattery of pleasure; in remorseless persecution of the penniless, all wonders are its work. Ariel, Mephisto, Moloch, thou, Gold! King Gold! and thy brother, Silver!
While Philip Hardin speculated from his lofty eyrie, the San Francisco hills are now covered with the unsubstantial palaces of the first successful residents. He dared not dream that the redwood boxes called mansions, in which the wealthy lived in the days of '60, would give way to the lordly castles of "Nob Hill."
These castles, whether of railroad tyrant, bonanza baron, or banking conspirator, were yet castles in the air.
Perched in lofty isolation now, they architecturally dominate the meaner huts below. Vulgar monuments of a social upheaval which beggars the old stories of fairy changelings, of Sancho Panza, of "Barney the Baron," or "Monte Cristo."
In the days of '60, Philip Hardin is too busy with plot and scheme, with daily plunging, and dreaming over the fate of Lagunitas, to notice the social elevation of the more aspiring male and female adventurers. The rising tide of wealth grows. Judicious use of early gained riches, trips to Europe, furtive lessons, the necessities of the changed station, and an unlimited cheek and astounding adaptability change the lucky men and women whom fortune's dower has ennobled. They are all now "howling swells."
Some never reach as high as the "Monarchs of Mount Davidson," who were pretty high up at the start, nearly a mile and a half. In many cases, King Midas's Court shows very fairly scattered promotions.
Society's shoddy geometry gives a short-cut for "my lady's maid" to become "my lady." She surely knows "how to dress." The lady who entertains well, in some cases does so with long experience as a successful professional cook.
Some who dropped into California with another woman's husband, forget, while rolling in their carriages, that they ever had one of their own. Children with no legal parents have not learned the meaning of "filius nullius." From the bejewelled mass of vigorous, keen upstarts, now enriched by stocks, the hardy children of the great bonanzas, rises the chorus, "Let the past rest. We have passed the gates of Gold."
To the "newer nobility of California," is given local golden patents. They cover modest paternal names and many shady personal antecedents.
In a land without a past, the suddenly enriched speculators reign in mart and parlor. They rule society and the Exchange. In a great many cases, a judicious rearrangement of marriage proves that the new-made millionnaires value their recently acquired "old wines" and "ancient pictures," more than their aging wives. They bring much warmth of social color into the local breezy atmosphere of this animated Western picture, these new arrangements of Hymen.
Hardin, plunging into the general madness of stock speculation, destined to reign for twenty years, keeps his own counsel. He sneers not at the households queened over by the "Doubtful Loveliness" of the "Rearranged Aristocracy of the Pacific." He has certain twinges when he hears the laughing girl child at play in the bowers of his park. While the ex-queen of the El Dorado, now a marvel of womanly beauty, gazes on that dancing child, she cannot yet see, among the many flashing gems loading her hands, the plain circlet of a wedding ring.
No deeper consecration than the red blood of the murdered gambler ever sealed the lawless union of the "Chief of the Golden Circle" with the peerless "Empress of Rouge et Noir."
Her facile moods, restrained passions, blind devotion, and self-acquired charms of education, keep Philip Hardin strangely faithful to a dark bond.
Luxury, in its most insidious forms, woos to dreamy enjoyment the not guileless Adam and Eve of this hidden western Paradise.
There is neither shame nor the canker of regret brooding over these "children of knowledge," who have tasted the clusters of the "Tree of Life."
Within and without, it is the same. Philip Hardin is not the only knave and unpunished murderer in high place. His "Gulnare" is not the only lovely woman here, who bears unabashed the burden of a hideous past. A merit is peculiar to this guilty, world-defying pair. They seek no friends, obtrude on no external circles, and parade no lying sham before local respectability.
It is not so with others. The bench, the forum, the highest places, the dazzling daily displays of rough luxury, are thronged by transformed "Nanas" and resolute climbers of the social trapeze. The shameless motto flaunts on their free-lance banners, golden-bordered:
"Pour y parvenir."
Philip Hardin smiles, on the rare occasions when he enters the higher circles of "society," to see how many fair faces light up, in strange places, with a smile of recognition. How many rosy lips are closed with taper fingers, hinting, "Don't ask me how I got here; I AM! here!"
In his heartless indifference to the general good, he greets the promoted "ladies" with grave courtesy. It is otherwise with the upstart men. His pride of brain and life-long station makes him haughtily indifferent to them. He will not grovel with these meaner human clods.
A sardonic grin relaxes his dark visage as he sees them go forth to "shine" in the East and "abroad."
Why should not the men of many aliases, the heroes of brawl and murder, of theft and speculation, freely mix with the more polished money sharks swarming in the Eastern seas of financial piracy?
"Arcades ambo!" Bonanza bullion rings truer than the paper millions of shoddy and petroleum. The alert, bright free-lances of the West are generally more interesting than the "shoddy" magnates or "contract" princes of the war. They are, at least, robust adventurers; the others are only money-ennobled Eastern mushrooms.
The Western parvenu is the more picturesque. The cunning railroad princes have, at least, built SOMETHING. It is a nobler work than the paper constructions of Wall Street operators. It may be jeered, that these men "builded better than they knew." Hardin feels that on one point they never can be ridiculed, even by Eastern magnate, English promoter, or French financier. They can safely affirm they grasped all they could. They left no humble sheaf unreaped in the clean-cut fields of their work. They took all in sight.
Hardin recognizes the clean work of the Western money grabbers, as well and truly done. The railroad gang, bonanza barons, and banking clique, sweep the threshing floor. Nothing escapes them.
He begins to feel, in the giant speculations of 1862 and 1863, that luck can desert even an old gamester, at life's exciting table. He suffers enormously, yet Lagunitas's resources are behind him.
In the long fight of the street, victory perches with the strongest battalions. Philip Hardin cannot know that men toiling by the day in obscure places now, will yet exchange cigars with royal princes. They will hobnob with the Hapsburgs. They will enter racing bets in the jewelled notebooks of grand dukes. They copy the luxuries, the inborn vices of the blue blood of Europe's crowned Sardanapalian autocrats.
From saloon to salon, from kitchen to kirmess, from the faro table to the Queen's drawing-room, from the canvas trousers of the miner to Poole's creations, from the calico frock of the housemaid to Worth's dazzling masterpieces, from making omelets to sneering at operas, the great social lightning-change act goes on.
Philip Hardin loves his splendid home, where the foot of Hortense Duval sinks in the tufted glories of Persia and the Wilton looms. He does not marvel to see ex-cattle-drovers, promoted waiters, lucky lemonade-sellers, and Pike County discoverers, buying gold watch-chains by the pound. They boast huge golden time-pieces, like young melons. Their diamond cluster pins are as resplendent as crystal door-knobs.
Fair hands, fresh from the healthful contact of washing-soda, wave recognition to him from coupe or victoria. In some cases these are driven by the millionnaire himself, who insists on "holding the ribbons."
The newspapers, in the recherche society columns, refer to the grandeur of the "Gold Hill" outfit, the Virginia City "gang," the Reese River "hummers," or the Eberhardt "crowd." These are the Golden Horde.
These lucky children of fortune mingle with the stock-brokers, who, resplendent in attire, and haughty of demeanor, fill the thousand offices of speculation. They disdain the meaner element, as they tool their drags over the Cliff Road to bathe in champagne, and listen to the tawdry Phrynes and bedraggled Aspasias who share their vulture feast of the moment.
It is a second descent of male and female harpies. Human nature, loosened from long restraint by the war, has flooded the coast with the moral debris of the conflict. It is a reign of the Bacchanals.
"After all," thinks Philip Hardin, as he sees these dazzling rockets rise, with golden trails, into the social darkness of the Western skies, "they are really the upper classes here. Their power of propulsion to the zenith is inherent in themselves. If they mingle, in time, with the aristocratic noblesse of Europe, they may infuse a certain picturesque element." Hardin realizes that some of the children of these millionnaires of a day will play at school with young princes, their girls will marry titles, and adorn their smallest belongings with excrescent coronets and coats of arms, won in the queer lottery of marriage.
"It is well," the cold lawyer muses. "After all, many of the aristocracy of Europe are the descendants of expert horse-thieves, hired bravos, knights who delighted to roast the merchant for his fat money-bags, or spit the howling peasant on their spears. Many soft-handed European dames feel the fiery blood burning in their ardent bosoms. In some cases, a reminder of the beauty whose easy complaisance caught a monarch's smile and earned an infamous title. Rapine, murder, lust, oppression, high-handed bullying, servile slavishness in every vile abandonment, have bred up delicate, dreamy aristocrats. Their ancestors, by the two strains, were either red-handed marauders, or easy Delilahs."
The God-given title to batten in luxury, is one which depends now on the possession of golden wealth. It finally burns its gleaming pathway through every barrier.
With direct Western frankness, the Pacific "jeunesse doree" will date from bonanza or railroad deal. Spoliated don, stolen franchise, giant stock-job, easy political "coup de main," government lands scooped in, or vast tracts of timber stolen under the law's easy formalities, are their quarterings. Whiskey sellers, adventuresses, and the minor fry of fighting henchmen, make up the glittering train of these knights. The diamond-decked dames of this "Golden Circle" exclaim in happy chorus, as they sit in the easy-chairs of wealth's thronging courts:
"This is the way we long have sought, And mourned because we found it not."
But riding behind Philip Hardin is the grim horseman, Care. He mourns his interrupted political career. The end of the war approaches. His spirited sultana now points to the lovely child. Her resolute lips speak boldly of marriage.
Hardin wonders if any refluent political wave may throw him up to the senate or the governor's chair. His powers rust in retirement. He fears the day when his stewardship of Lagunitas may be at an end.
He warily determines to get rid of Padre Francisco as soon as possible. The death of Donna Dolores places all in his hands. As he confers with the quick-witted ex-queen of the El Dorado, he decides that he must remove the young Mariposa heiress to San Francisco. It is done. Philip Hardin cannot travel continually to watch over a child.
"Kaintuck" and the sorrowing padre alone are left at Lagunitas. The roses fall unheeded in the dead lady's bower. On this visit, when Hardin takes the child to the mansion on the hill, he learns the padre only awaits the return of Maxime Valois, to retire to France. Unaware of the great strength of the North and East, the padre feels the land may be held in the clutches of war a long period. He would fain end his days among the friends of his youth. As he draws toward old age, he yearns for France. Hardin promises to assist the wishes of the old priest.
After Padre Francisco retires to the silent cottage by the chapel, Hardin learns from "Kaintuck" a most momentous secret. There are gold quartz mines of fabulous richness on the Lagunitas grant. Slyly extracting a few tons of rock, "Kaintuck" has had these ores worked, and gives Philip Hardin the marvellous results.
Hardin's dark face lights up: "Have you written Colonel Valois of this?" "Not a word," frankly says "Kaintuck."
"Judge, I did not want to bring a swarm of squatters over our lines. I thought to tell you alone, and you could act with secrecy. If they stake off claims, we will have a rush on our hands."
Hardin orders the strictest silence. As he lies in the guest chamber of Lagunitas, Philip Hardin is haunted all night by a wild unrest. If Lagunitas were only his. There is only Valois between him and the hidden millions in these quartz veins. Will no Yankee bullet do its work?
The tireless brain works on, as crafty Philip Hardin slumbers that night. Visions of violence, of hidden traps, of well-planned crime, haunt his dreams. Only "Kaintuck" knows. Secretly, bit by bit, he has brought in these ores. They have been smuggled out and worked, with no trace of their real origin. No one knows but one. Though old "Kaintuck" feels no shadow over his safety, the sweep of the dark angel's wing is chilling his brow. He knows too much.
When Hardin returns to San Francisco he busies himself with Lagunitas. His brow is dark as he paces the deck of the Stockton steamer. Hortense Duval has provided him with a servant of great discretion to care for the child. Marie Berard is the typical French maid. Deft, neat-handed, she has an eye like a hawk. Her little pet weaknesses and her vices give spice to an otherwise colorless character.
The boat steams down past the tule sloughs. Hardin's cigar burns late on the deck as he plots alone.
When he looks over his accumulated letters, he seizes eagerly a packet of papers marked "Havana." Great God!
He has read of Sherman's occupation of Atlanta. The struggle of Peachtree Creek brought curses on Tecumseh's grizzled head. Now, with a wildly beating heart, he learns of the death of Colonel Valois among the captured guns of De Gress. As the last pages are scanned, he tears open the legal documents. The cold beads stand out on his brow. He is master now. The king is dead!
He rings for Madame Duval. With shaking hand, he pours a draught from the nearest decanter. He is utterly unnerved. The prize is at last within his grasp. It shall be his alone!
Lighting a fresh cigar he paces the room, a human tiger. There is but one frail girl child between him and Lagunitas, with its uncoined millions. He must act. To be deep and subtle as a thieving Greek, to be cold and sneaking as an Apache, to be as murderous as a Malay creeping, creese in hand, over the bulwarks of a merchantman,—all that is to be only himself. Power is his for aye.
But to be logically correct, to be wise and safe in secret moves. Time to think? Yes. Can he trust Hortense Duval? Partly. He needs that devilish woman's wit of hers. Will he tell her all? No. Professional prudence rules. A dark scheme has formulated itself in his brain, bounding under the blow of the brandy.
He will get Hortense out of the State, under the pretext of sending the colonel's child to Paris. The orphan's education must be brilliant.
He will have no one know of the existence of Valois' mine. If "Kaintuck" were only gone. Yes! Yes! the secret of the mines. If the priest were only in France and locked up in his cloister. The long minority of the child gives time to reap the golden harvest.
A sudden thought: the child may not live! His teeth chatter. As he paces the room, Hortense enters. She sees on his face the shadow of important things.
"What has happened, Philip?" she eagerly asks.
"Sit down, Hortense. Listen to me," says Hardin, as he sees the doors all secure.
Her heart beats fast. Is this the end of all? She has feared it daily.
"How would you like to live in Paris?" he ejaculates.
He watches her keenly, pacing to and fro. A wild hope leaps up. Will he retire, and live his days out abroad? Is the marriage to come at last?
"Philip, I don't understand you," she murmurs. Her bosom heaves within its rich silks, under its priceless laces. The sparkling diamonds in her hair glisten, as she gazes on his inscrutable face. Is this heaven or hell? Paradise or a lonely exile? To have a name at last for her child?
"Colonel Valois was killed at the battles near Atlanta. I have just received from the Havana bankers the final letters of Major Peyton, his friend." Hardin speaks firmly.
"Under the will, that child Isabel inherits the vast property. She must be educated in France. Some one must take care of her."
Hortense leans over, eagerly. What does he mean? "There is no one but me to look after her. The cursed Yankees will probably devastate the South. I dare not probate his will just now. There is confiscation and all such folly."
Philip Hardin resumes his walk. "I do not wish to pay heavy war taxes and succession tax on all this great estate. I must remain here and watch it. I must keep the child's existence and where-abouts quiet. The courts could worry me about her removal. Can I trust you, Hortense?" His eyes are wolfish. He stops and fixes a burning glance on her. She returns it steadily.
"What do you wish me to do?" she says, warily.
It will be years and years she must remain abroad.
"Can I trust you to go over with that child, and watch her while I guard this great estate? You shall have all that money and my influence can do for you. You can live as an independent lady and see the great world."
She rises and faces him, a beautiful, expectant goddess. "Philip, have I been true to you these years?"
He bows his head. It is so! She has kept the bond.
"Do I go as your wife?" Her voice trembles with eagerness.
"No. But you may earn that place by strictly following my wishes." He speaks kindly. She is a grand woman after all. Bright tears trickle through her jewelled fingers. She has thrown herself on the fauteuil. The woman of thirty is a royal beauty, her youthful promise being more than verified. She is a queen of luxury.
"Listen to me, Hortense," says Hardin, softly. He seats himself by her side and takes the lovely hands in his. His persuasive voice flows like honey. "I am now surrounded by enemies. I am badly compromised. I am all tied up. I fear the Union League, the government spies, and the damned Yankee officers here. One foolish move would utterly ruin me. If you will take this child you can take any name you wish. No one knows you in Paris. I will have the bankers and our Southern friends vouch for you in society. I will support you, so you can move even in the Imperial circles. If you are true to me, in time I will do as you wish. I dare not now." He is plausible, and knows how to plead. This woman, loving and beloved, cannot hold out.
"Think of our child, Philip," cries Hortense, as she throws herself on his breast. He is moved and yet he lies.
"I do at this very moment, Hortense. I am not a rich man, for I have lost much for the South. These Yankee laws keep me out of court. I dare not get in their power. If I hold this estate, I will soon be able to settle a good fortune on Irene. I swear to you, she shall be my only heiress except yourself. You can take Irene with you and give her a superb education. You will be doing a true mother's duty. I will place such a credit and funds for you that the future has no fears. When I am free to act, 'when this foolish war is over,' I can come to you. Will you do as I wish?"
"Philip, give me till to-morrow to think. I have only you in the world." The beautiful woman clings to him. He feels she will yield. He is content to wait.
While they talk, the two children chatter under the window in childish glee.
"Hortense, you must act at once! to-morrow! The steamer leaves in three days. I wish you to go by Panama direct to France. New York is no place for you. I will have much to arrange. I will give you to-night. Now leave me, for I have many papers to draw up."
In her boudoir, Hortense Duval sits hours dreaming, her eyes fixed on vacancy. All the hold she has on Hardin is her daily influence, and HIS child. To go among strangers. To be alone in the world. And yet, her child's future interests. While Hardin paces the floor below, or toils at his cunningly worded papers, she feels she is in the hands of a master.
Philip Hardin's late work is done. By the table he dreams over the future. Hortense will surely work his will. He will divest himself of the priest. He must open these mines. He will get rid of "Kaintuck;" but how?
Dark thoughts come to him. He springs up aghast at the clatter when his careless arm brushes off some costly trifles. With the priest gone forever and the child in Paris, he has no stumbling block in his way but "Kaintuck." There are ways; yes, ways.——!——!——!——!
"He must go on a journey; yes, a long, long journey." Hardin stops here, and throwing himself on his couch, drifts out on the sea of his uneasy dreams.
Morning proves to him Hortense is resigned; an hour's conclave enlightens her as to the new life. Every contingency will be met. Hortense, living in wealth's luxurious retirement, will be welcomed as Madame Natalie de Santos, everywhere. A wealthy young widow, speaking French and Spanish, with the best references. She will wear a discreet mask of Southern mystery, and an acknowledged relationship to families of Mexico and California. Her personal appearance, tact, and wealth will be an appropriate dower to the new acquisition of the glittering Capital of Pleasure. She is GOOD ENOUGH for Paris.
Rapidly, every preparation moves on. The luggage of Madame de Santos is filled with the varied possessions indicating years of elegance. Letters to members of the Confederate court circle at Paris are social endorsements. Wealth will do the rest.
Hardin's anxiety is to see the heiress lodged at the "Sacred Heart" at Paris. In his capacity as guardian, he delegates sole power to Madame Natalie de Santos. She alone can control the little lady of Lagunitas. With every resource, special attentions will be paid to the party, from Panama, on the French line. The hegira consists of the two children, Marie Berard, and the nameless lady, soon to be rebaptized "Natalie de Santos." Not unusual in California,—!—a golden butterfly.
Vague sadness fills Hortense Duval's heart as she wanders through her silent mansion, choosing these little belongings which are dear to her shadowed heart. They will rob a Parisian home of suspicious newness. The control of the heiress as well as their own child, the ample monetary provision, and the social platform arranged for her, prove Hardin's devotion. It is the best she can do.
True, he cannot now marry with safety. He has promised to right that wrong in time.
There has been no want of tenderness in his years of devotion. Hortense Duval acknowledges to herself that he dares not own her openly, as his wife, even here. But in Paris, after a year or so. Then he could come, at least as far as New York. He could meet her, and by marriage, legitimize his child. Her child. The tiger's darling.
A sudden thought strikes her. Some other woman!—Some one of REAL station and blood. Ah, no! She shivers slightly as she paces the room. No corner of the earth could hide him from her vengeance if he betrays her.
The dinner of the last evening is a serious feast. As Hortense ministers to the dark master of the house, she can see he has not fully disclosed his ultimate plans. It is positive the child must be hidden away at Paris from all. Hardin enjoins silence as to the future prospects of the orphan. The little one has already forgotten her father. She is rapidly losing all memories of her sweet mother.
In the silence of these last hours, Philip Hardin speaks to the woman who has been his only intimate in years.
"Hortense, I may find a task for you which will prove your devotion," he begins with reluctance.
"What is it, Philip?" she falters.
He resumes. "I do not know how far I may be pushed by trouble. I shall have to struggle and fight to hold my own. I am safe for a time, but I may be pushed to the wall. Will you, for the sake of our own child, do as I bid you with that Spanish brat?"
At last she sees his gloomy meaning. Is it murder? An orphan child!
"Philip," she sobs, "be careful! For MY SAKE, for YOUR OWN." She is chilled by his cold designs.
"Only at the last. Just as I direct, I may wish you to control the disappearance of that young one, who stands between me and our marriage."
She seizes his hands: "Swear to me that you will never deceive me."
"I do," he answers huskily.
"On the cross," she sternly says, flashing before his startled eyes a jewelled crucifix. "I will obey you—I swear it on this—as long as you are true." She presses her ashy lips on the cross.