IF the publishers of the “Atlantic” will permit me, I should like to tell a little incident, growing out of the War, which came under my notice in the summer of 1861. I can give it only as a fragment, for I never heard the end of it, and that, to be candid, is my principal reason for telling it at all, —in the hope, slight enough, it is true, that some chance reader may be able to supply to me what is wanting. For this reason I shall give the true names of persons and places, and the dates also, as nearly as I can recollect them. It is only a simple story of a private in the TwentyFourth Ohio Volunteer Militia, and his sister, and may not touch others as it did me, for I can give but the bald facts ; but I, seeing the reality, can remember nothing in the war which troubles me with such a sense of pain and simple pathos.
About thirty years ago, a family named Carrol, or Carryl, emigrated from the North of Ireland, and settled in Coldwater, a little fishing-village of Michigan.
They were sober ana hard-working, but dull and ignorant, and in no way different from others of their class, except in their unusual strong affection for each other. Old Carrol, however, a rheumatic old man of sixty, with this weak, jealous pride in his “b’ys,” working late and early to keep them clothed, to pay his wife’s doctor’s-bills, and trying to lay up enough to buy the two girls a feather-bed and a clock when they were married, stood in no need of whiskey or dances to keep him alive ; this and his wife’s ill health separated them from the fighting, rollicking Irish crew of the hamlet, — set them apart, so to speak, to act upon each other. Carrol, with one of his sons, worked in a saw-mill, and the other boys, as they grew old enough, easily found jobbing, being known as honest, plodding fellows. The little drama of their lives bade fair to be quiet, and the characters wrought out of it commonplace enough, had not Death thrust his grim face into the scene.
The youngest child was a girl, Ellen, born long after the others, and, like most children coming in the advanced age of their parents, was peculiar : the family traits had worn themselves out, new elements came in. The Irish neighbors, seeing how closely the girl was kept in-doors, and the anxious guard held over her by her father and brothers, thought her a “ natural ” or “ innocent,” whether she was or not. The Carrols kept their own counsel, and warded off gossip as best they could. It was from Ellen I heard how the change came among them first. “ It was a fever,” she said. “John took it, and little Phil, and then Jane. Jane was the oldest of us ; it was she as nursed mother and kept the house. She looked as old as mother. Evenings she ’d put on a white apron, and take me on her knee and sing for us. But she took the fever, and they ’re all three gone away”; which was always Ellen’s phrase for death. She stopped there, adding afterwards quietly, that it was about that time the trouble in her head first came. Ellen took her sister’s place in “keeping the house”; she had enough mind to learn the daily routine of cleaning and the little cooking. Her mother was a cripple for life, confined to her bed most of the time : a credulous, nervous woman, — the one idea in her narrow brain a passionate love for her husband and children.
After the three who had “gone away” were buried in the little Catholic graveyard by the creek, the others crept closer together. Joe, nearest Ellen in age, was kept at home to help with the houseand yard-work, and, partly from being a simple - minded fellow, and partly to humor Ellen, fell into her girl’s ways. “Joe and me,” she said, “churned and cooked together, and then he’d bring his tools into mother’s room and work. We liked that, he was so full of joking and whistling.”
The old man was quieter after his children’s death. One day the machinery at the mill, being old and rotten, broke; the hands were at work in it, underneath the beams which fell. An hour after, just as Ellen and Joe had put the chairs about the supper-table, and sat waiting for their father and Jim, the door was pushed open, and two heaps, shapeless, and covered closely with a quilt, were brought in upon a door. Whatever was the pain or loss of the widow or Joe, they had no time to indulge it ; Ellen needed all their care after that for a year or two. She was “ troubled,” was all the satisfaction they gave to the neighbors’ curiosity, who never saw her in that time.
In the second autumn, however, she began to go about again through the village ; and Joe, after watching her anxiously for some time, found work as a hand on a schooner running to Sandusky, Ohio. This was in the autumn of i860. Once in a while, during the winter, he came home to stay over-night. “Often,” Ellen said, “when Joe came, we had n’t seen anybody cross the doorstep since he went out of it, mother and I lived alone so much ; but mother, in her worst days with pain, had a joking, laughing way with her that kept it pleasant in-doors.”
The Carrols were noted as being a scrupulously clean folk ; so it is probable that the little kitchen and bed-room were still the best idea Joe had of the world, — knowing nothing beyond, indeed, but the schooner and the deck of the wharfboat in Sandusky. To understand what follows, you must remember the utter ignorance dominant in such fishing-stations as Coldwater. The poorer inhabitants, who stared at Ellen as she went down to the beach for water, were Irish and Dutch emigrants, forwarded there like cattle, who had settled down, sold their fish to the trading-vessels, and never had looked outside of that to know they were not naturalized. Ellen was little better ; I do not suppose she ever had read a newspaper in her life ; yet, curiously enough, her language was tolerably correct, her manner quiet and thorough-bred, — even the inflections of her voice were low, and as composed as if she had learned self-poise in the hurly-burly of society. That belonged to her character, however, as much as to the solitude in which she had been brought up.
The mother sank rapidly this winter ; but the two children, accustomed to her illness, were blind to the change.
When the States one by one seceded during that winter and spring, and the country was rife with war and the terror of it, the Coldwater people fished on dully as ever. Joe brought home stories of “ fighting beyond there,” and of men he had met on the Sandusky wharf who had gone, and then whittled and whistled as usual: the tale sounding to the two women fearful and far-off, as if it had been in the Crimea. “Though I had heard of the Virginians,” said Ellen simply, when she told the story. “ There was Mr. Barker, a Methodist preacher, told us once of the ' man-hunters,’ as he called them, and how they chained their slaves and burned them alive, and hunted men with dogs. But I took him up wrong. I thought they all were black.” Ellen’s idea of them was as vague as ours is of the cannibals, and not very different, I suspect.
So far off did this country of the manhunters seem, where “ there was fighting,” that, when Joe wandered about uneasily in one of his weekly visits, and told again and again, with furtive glances at his mother, how half the deckhands on the schooner had gone into a regiment forming in Sandusky, and how it was a good chance to see the world, Ellen sewed quietly on, scarcely looking up. That Joe could have any interest in this dim horror of a war never crossed her poor brain.
The next day after the schooner sailed her mother grew suddenly worse, and began to sink, going faster every day for a week. It was the first time Ellen had been left alone to face danger. “ If Joe was here ! ” the two poor creatures cried, through all their fright and pain. If Joe were there, Ellen thought all would be well again. But Thursday, his usual day for coming, passed without him. That night the mother died. Two women of the village, hearing the story from the doctor, came to the house in time to make the body ready for burial, — the “natural,” as they called Ellen, sitting quietly by the bed, her face hid, not answering when they spoke.
There was a letter brought to her that night from Joe, a lew lines only, written to his mother, saying he had enlisted and would not come back to say good-bye ; be was going to do better for her and Ellen than he ever had done before. “ I do not remember about that time,” Ellen said afterward, when questioned. “ My trouble came back when Joe left me.” It brought the wild, wandering look into her eyes, even to refer to it in this way. I do not know if I spoke of the curious affection between this brother and sister. Father and brothers and sister had watched and cared for the girl, because of the great trouble which God had sent to her ; and now all the love and gratitude she had given to them all, when living, was centred on this boy Joe. Joe absorbed all the world which her weak mind knew, — just at the age, too, when women’s hearts open and are filling with thoughts of love and marriage. No matter how long Ellen had lived, “ my brother,” as she gravely, respectfully called him, would have been all, I think, she would ever have loved, and he would have satisfied all her cravings.
Her mother was buried before she became conscious again ; then her reason came back to her; and when the woman who had stayed in the house returned, after a few hours’ gossiping, she found Ellen, her old quiet self, going gently about the house, packing her clothes in a carpet-bag, and putting with great care in a little hand-basket, such as ladies carry knitting in, her Testament, their two or three silver spoons, Joe's box of Sunday collars, and what little money was left.
“ Where are you going ? ” asked the woman, in some trepidation.
“ To Joe,” Ellen said, quietly, unconscious that there was anything unusual in the plan.
The woman speedily gathered a caucus of her cronies, with the doctor; but to all queries or remonstrances she returned the same quiet, unmoved answer. She was going to Joe. What else should she do ? There were only herself and her brother now: he would expect her. Who would cook for Joe, or keep his clothes straight, if she did not go ? “ My plan was,” she said, gravely, long after, “ that Joe would hire a little house for me near where the regiment stayed. He could have lived with me, and gone with them to fight when their turn came.” Finally they allowed her her own way, partly because they were puzzled to know what else to do with her. Joe was in Sandusky with his regiment, the TwentyFourth Ohio, his letter had stated.
“ It rained hard,” she said afterwards, “ that night, when I left Coldwater. Dr. S— came down with me to the boat. He was very kind. We had to wait on the shore a bit, and it rained and was so dark you could only see the mud under foot and the great cold water beyond. When I looked at the mud, and the rain dripping, dripping through it, I could n’t but think of them as was lying under it up on the hill, — of them up on the hill. And there was a black line, Sir, where the water met the sky, and I thought I had to go beyond that, — I did n’t know where. But Joe was beyond there. I kept saying, ‘Joe, Joe,’ over to myself, and ' Lord Jesus, thinking, if He stayed near me, i would not be afraid. For the boat rocked when I came on board, and the water underneath heaved up black. I never had been on the water before. But I sat down on deck with my little basket in my hand. Dr. S— came back twice to speak to the Captain about me. He was very sorry for me ; be said, ‘ God bless you, Ellen,’ before he went away up the plank, I watched him as long as I could, but the night was dark and very wet. Then the shore seemed to go back from us, and he went with it; and Coldwater, and our old house, and them as were up on the hill went with it, and we were alone on the water in the rain. But I said ‘Joe,’ over and over to myself, trying to make believe he was near. I sat there until late. The night was very dark, and I was wet; but the boat kept heaving up and down, and there was a noise underneath like some great beast trying to get out. I did not know what they had down there. But the Captain came to me before morning. ‘ It’s only the engine, Ellen,’ he said. ‘ Go below, poor child ! ’ He was very kind; he was kind all the time till we reached Sandusky. So were the boat-hands. There was no woman aboard but me ; the men swore and cursed as I never heard before, but they always spoke respectful to me ; they used to say, when they 'd pass near where I sat with my basket, ' Keep heart, Ellen, you 'll find your brother all right.’ One of them said once, ‘ You need n’t be feared: you 've got a Friend as ’ll take care of you.' I said, ‘Yes: Him and Joe.’”
It was noon of a clear day when the boat reached Sandusky City.
“ I looked for Joe, quick, among the men that were on the wharf; but he was not there." (I prefer to let Ellen tell her own story as far as possible.) “ I saw the Captain send a hand ashore, and when he came back, ask him a question : then he came up to me : he looked anxious. ‘Ellen,’ he says, ‘don't be troubled, but Joe is not here. The regiment went on to Columbus two days ago.’ He said there 'd be no trouble, that I could follow him on the railroad.”
The Captain kept her on board until evening, when the train for Columbus started ; then he went with her, secured her a seat, and arranged her comfortably. He had daughters at home, he told Ellen, bidding her keep quiet until she reached Columbus, then tell the name of her brother’s regiment, and she would be with him in twenty minutes. “ I am sure,” he added, “Joe will get a furlough to attend to you.”
The old boatman paid for her passage himself, his last charge being to “take care of her money,” which made Ellen, when he was gone, remove it from her basket and carry it in a roll in her hand. There was a dull oil-lamp flickering in one end of the car, men’s faces peering at her from every dusky corner, the friendly Captain’s nodding a grave good-bye from the door, — and then, with a shrill cry, the train shot off into the night. It must be a lonesome, foreboding moment to any timid woman starting alone at night on a long journey, with the possible death waiting for her in every throb of the engine or coupling of the cars : so it was no wonder that the poor “natural,” rushing thus into a world that opened suddenly wider and darker before her, “Joe,” her one clear point, going back, back, out of sight, and withal a childish, unspeakable terror at the shrieking, fire-belching engine, should have cowered down on her seat, afraid to move or speak. So the night passed. “ I was afraid to cry,” said Ellen.
An hour or two after midnight the train reached Columbus ; the depot dingy and dark; one or two far-off lamps bringing the only light out of the foggy night.
“ The cars stopped with a great cry, and the people all rushed out. It seemed to me a minute and they were all gone. Nobody was left but me ; when I got up and went to the car-door, they looked just like shadows going into the darkness, and beyond that there was a world of black houses. You ’ve seen Columbus, Sir ? ”
“Then it would frighten you,”—in her slow, grave way. “ I suppose there are not so many people in all the world beside.” (It was Ellen’s only experience of a city.) “ So I was there alone at the depot, waiting for Joe. I was so sure he would come. There was a crowd of men, with whips, calling out, and plucking at my shawl. I was very afraid, so I crept off into a dark corner and sat down on a box with my carpetbag and basket. The men drove off with their carriages, but there were half a dozen others under a shed quarrelling. I sat there an hour, thinking surely Joe would be along. Then the clock struck two : I got up and went to the men under the shed. I said to them, ‘ Do you know Joseph Carrol ? ’
“ The men raised up from where they were lying, and stared at me. I ’m afraid, Sir, they had been drinking. So I said it again. They laughed and began to make jokes about me. I cried a little,— I could n’t help it, Sir. I knew the Lord Jesus was near me, but I could n’t help it. One of the men, whose clothes were the raggedest and whose face was very red, said, —
“ ‘ Boys, I guess you ’re mistaken. Who are you, my girl ? ’
“I told them I was Joseph Carrol’s sister, and how it was I had come to find him.
“‘You ’ll have to help me, Sir,’ I said to the red-faced man ; ‘for I have a trouble in my head often, and it seems as if it was a-coming soon.’
“ Some of the men laughed again, but the man I had spoken to got up and buttoned his coat. He had to lean against the fence, he was so unsteady.
“‘You stop that jeering, Jim Flynn,’ he says, swearing. ‘ Can’t you see what the girl is ? Where’s your money, Ellen ? ’
“ Then it was I found my money was gone. I remembered putting it on the seat beside me before we changed cars at Urbanna. So I told him. He looked at me steady.
“ ‘ I believe you' he says. ‘ Come along. The Twenty-Fourth Ohio is out in Camp Chase, — four miles out. You come to an hotel to-night and go out to Joe in the morning.’
“ So he took me up to a big house, and said to a man there that I was a decent girl, and gave him money to pay for my bed and breakfast, and bid me good-night.”
Early in the morning Ellen dressed herself neatly, “to please Joe,” and started out to the camp, carrying her basket, asking her way as she went. The girl had wrought herself up now to such a certainty of seeing him that a disappointment was sure to be a new and different shock from any that had gone before. I suppose, too, the novel sight of the tents, the crowds of armed men, excited her feeble mind beyond its powers. She came to the gate and asked the sentry to tell Joseph Carrol of the Twenty-Fourth Ohio that his sister had come.
“ It would need a long call to do that, my girl,” said the man. “ The TwentyFourth went off to active service yesterday.”
“To where ? ”
About a mile from the camp live two childless old people who then were keepers of the toll-gate on the road into town. I am ashamed to say that I have forgotten their name, it being a common one; but I remember what their lives were, and I am sure that they who carry the record of every man’s hours to add to the Great Reckoning must find in their hackneyed name a meaning even to them of great truth and a rare charity. The old lady told me afterwards of her finding Ellen sitting on the roadside near her well, her mind quite gone, yet very gentle and grave even in her madness. They took her home to the toll-gate house, and kept her for two or three days, in which they learned her story.
“ My husband,” she said, “ telegraphed to the Colonel of the regiment and found it was delayed at Bellaire ; but as Ellen's health was in so critical a state, they thought it best to say nothing about her to her brother, and I was resolved that she should not go on. We offered (what we had never done before to any one) to adopt her, and treat her as our own child. People coming in and seeing the awkward country-body would wonder why we set such a sudden store by her, but in a little while they’d see as we did. I think her pure soul showed right through her homely face. Then she trusted people as free as a child ; so everybody was kind to her. But I used to think there was but two people real to her in the world, — the ‘Lord Jesus,' and ‘Joed' ”
When Ellen was herself again, however, she insisted upon going on, and fell into so restless and wild a state that the gate-keeper and his wife were forced to yield. Her carpet-bag was repacked with all the additions which the old lady’s motherly ingenuity could suggest, her pocket-book well filled, and then having found her a companion to Bellaire, the Colonel was again telegraphed to, and Ellen herself was the bearer of letters from the Governor of Ohio and her new friends, in the hope of obtaining a furlough for Carrol. With a prudent after-thought, too, the gate-keeper's wife wrote Ellen’s name and her own address upon a card which she fastened to the faithful little basket, in case of any accident; and then, with many anxious looks and blessings, Ellen again started on her Journey.
At Zanesville, her companion, finding some unexpected business which would detain him in that place, left her to pursue her journey alone. It is but a few hours' ride from Columbus to Bellaire (the terminus of the Central Ohio Railroad); but at Lewis’s Mills this day a collision or some other accident occurred, by which the train was delayed until late that night: no other harm was done, except to give time for poor Ellen’s chance again to fail her. Joe’s regiment crossed the Ohio that night and went into Virginia.
Bellaire and Benwood, the opposite point on the other side of the river, are small railroad stations, which one or two iron-mills have rendered foul with ashes and smoke. The crossing of the river at that time was by a ferry, rendered purposely tedious by the managers of the Baltimore and Ohio Road, to force their passengers to the lower junction at Parkersburg. I mention this to account for the detention which ensued. When the train stopped at Bellaire, Ellen followed the crowd off the platform into a tavern consisting of a barn-like eating-room and a few starved little garret rooms over it. She stopped at the door uncertainly, while the passengers crowded about the eating-stands at the far end of the room. A fat, oily landlord came up with a hat driven down over his brows.
“Cross the river to-night, Ma’am? Slow work ! slow work ! Not get this train over till morning. Better take a bite.”
Ellen managed to interpose her brother’s name and that of the regiment.
“ Twenty-Fourth Ohio ? Gone over to-day and this evening. Government has the roads and ferries now, and that keeps passengers back. Troops must be transported, you know,” —and then stopped suddenly, seeing Ellen’s face.
“ Where did you say he had gone ? ”
“ Over,” with a jerk of his thumb across the river, — “ into Virginia. You are ill, young woman ! I ’ll call Susan.”
Virginia, the country of the man-hunters ! A low moon lighted up the broad river and the hills beyond ; they were mountains to Ellen, threatening and fierce. She looked at them steadily.
“All the stories I had heard of that country came up quick to me,” she said, afterwards. “ I thought it was death for me or Joe to venture there. Then he was gone ! But I had a great courage, somehow, there at Bellaire. It came to me sudden. I said to the man it did not matter. I would have gone with Joe, and I could follow him. He spoke to me a minute or two, and then he went for ‘Susan,’ who was his wife. She was a sharp-faced woman, and she scolded her servants all the time ; but she was very kind to me. When I told her about Joe, she brought me some tea, and made me lie down until it would be time to cross the ferry, which was not until near morning. She would take no money from me. She said, Sue Myers was no skin-flint to take money from the likes of me. Afterwards she said, if I found Joe and he did well, he could pay her some time again : these soldiers made money easy, lounging round camp. I was angry at that,” Ellen said, reddening ; “ but she would not take the money from me. She told me not to be disappointed, if the regiment had left Benwood and gone out the Baltimore Road. She knew they were to camp at Piedmont, and to follow them up, for they had but a day’s start of me. It was quite clear day before our turn came to cross the ferry, and then we had to wait for hours on the other side. When I came out of the ferry-house, I put my foot on the grass, and I thought, 'This is Virginia ! ’ It was as if I had stepped on some place where a murder had been done. I was as silly as a halfwitted person,” blushing apologetically. “ I have had great kindness done to me in Virginia since then.”
Though Ellen said no more of this, as she was talking to Virginians, we readily understood the real terror which had seized her, added to the gnawing anxiety to see her brother. Caspar Hauser was not more ignorant of the actual world than this girl, brought up as she had been in such utter seclusion. The last few days had shattered whatever fancies she had formed about life, and given her nothing tangible in their stead. Even Coldwater and Joe, and “ them that lay up on the hill,” were beginning to be like dreams, cold and faroff. It was just a wild whirling through space, night-storms, strange faces crowding about her from place to place ; undefined sights, sounds that terrified her, and a long-drawn sickening hope to find joe through all. No more warm rooms and comfortable evenings beside the fire with mother, no more suppers made ready for the boys, and jokes and laughing when they came home; there was no more a house to call home, no mother nor boys, only something cold and clammy under the muddy ground yonder.
“ Ours had been a damp house on the lake-shore,” Ellen said, “and we kept a fire always. Winter or summer, I always had seen a warm fire in the grate ; but the morning I left Coldwater they put it out; and in all my travel, when I ’d think of home, I ’d go back to the thought of that grate, with a few wet ashes scattered over the hearth, and nobody to sweep them up, and the cold sun shining down the chimney on them. When I’d think of that, I’d say, ‘It ’s all over!’ It began to seem to me as if there was no more Ellen and no more Joe.”
She had come, too, into the border region, where the war was breaking ground, with all its dull, gross reality of horrors, to which the farther South and North were strangers ; the broken talk in the cars was even more terrifying to her, because half understood,— of quiet farmers murdered in cold blood, of pillaging and outrage, of anticipated insurrections among the slaves, and vengeance for their wrongs.
“ I thought of the Lord Jesus and Joe, but they did not seem to be alive here,” she said. “ I would peep into my basket and look at the Testament and the spoons and Joe’s collars, and that made things seem real to me.” (Ellen’s basket, by the way, was but another example of the singular habit which we find in persons of unsound intellect, the clinging to some one inanimate object as if it formed a tangible link to hold time and place together.)
When the train stopped at Littleton, the conductor, an old, gray-headed man, came up to Ellen as she sat alone.
“ Simeon Myers told me your story.” he said, gravely. “ He crossed the river to tell me. I ’ll take the matter in hand myself; I telegraphed before leaving Benwood, in advance. The Twenty-Fourth Ohio, they say there, have gone on to camp at Piedmont; but the movements of the troops are so uncertain, we will wait until the answer comes to my despatch at the next station. You go to sleep, Ellen.”
“Yes, Sir,” humbly.
She sat with her hand over her eyes, until the name of the next station was called, then rose, and remained standing. The old conductor came in.
“ Sit down,” he said, gently. “ Why, you shiver, and are as cold as if your blood was frozen ! ”
“ My brother, Sir ? ”
“ Tut! tut! Yes ! Good news this time, Ellen. The Twenty-Fourth is at Fetterman, — has stopped there, I don't know why, — and” — pulling out his watch, but speaking slowly, and controlling her with his eye — “in two hours we will be there.”
At this time (June, 1861) Government, striking at the Rebellion wildly, as a blind man learning to fence, was throwing bodies of raw, undisciplined troops into the Border States, wherever there was foothold, to their certain destruction, though with an ulterior good effect, as it proved. Camps of these men were stationed along the road as Ellen passed, — broad-backed and brawny-limbed Iowans and Indianians, clothed in every variety of militia military gear, riding saddleless horses, with a rope often for a bridle, sleeping on the ground with neither tents nor blankets. Near one of these straggling encampments the long train stopped, with a trumpet-like shriek from the engine. “ Here’s Fetterman, and here’s Joe, Ellen,” said the conductor, his old face in almost as bright a glow as hers, as he hustled her off on the platform.
“ It was just a few low houses, not so large as Coldwater, and soldiers everywhere, on the hills and in the fields and strolling along the road ; and it was a clear, blue summer’s day, and — oh, it did seem as the soldiers and the town and the sky were glad because I had got there at last, and were saying, ‘Joe ! Joe ! ’ ”
She went into the nearest house, a wide, wooden building, where two women sat shelling peas. Ellen propounded her usual question. The oldest woman took off her spectacles, and looked at her keenly.
“The Twenty-Fourth Ohio? How far did you say you had come ? Michigan ? Forgive me, (Jinny, bring a chair,) if I looked at you curiously; but I really fancied the people out yonder were savages.”
Ellen laughed nervously.
“ And you are Virginian ? Yes ! But my brother ” —
The old lady’s scrutiny grew graver.
“We are Virginians, in every sense of the word. So I know but little of the movements of the troops. But Captain Williams, the commandant of the post, occupies two of our rooms, and his wife is a gentle little body. Jinny, call Mrs. Williams.”
So Jinny, a shy, kindly-faced little girl, disappeared, and speedily returned with the officer’s wife (who had a dainty baby in her arms) and a glass of currant wine, which she pressed on Ellen. Mrs. Williams heard Ellen’s story in silence, looking significantly at her hostess when it was finished.
“Yes, yes ; of course you ’ll see Joe. Hold the baby, please, Jinny. Now let me take off your bonnet. But you won’t mind, if there’s a little delay, — a very little. I am not sure, but I am afraid. We ’ll send for Captain Williams, and know at once. But some detached companies went on to Grafton for special orders this morning, and I thought part of the Twenty-Fourth was with them. There ! there ! lie down a bit on my bed, or stay here with Mrs. Ford. Very well; it will all be right; only keep up heart.”
So chattering, the little woman and the old one fussed about Ellen, soothing, patting her, administering tea, comfort, and hope, all in a breath, as women do to the healing of soul and body, — while Jinny, baby in arms, made off and brought in a moustached young man, with a pleasant, cheerful face, not unlike his wife’s.
“ It is an unfortunate piece of work,” he said. “Yes, the detachment included that company to which Carrol belonged. They are at Grafton now ; and I cannot send a message, for official despatches will be going over the lines until night. In the morning, though, it shall be the first word to go. I know the colonel of that regiment, and I do not doubt we will have Joe here on furlough to-morrow.”
“ They were very careful of me,” said Ellen. “ Mrs. Ford made me sleep in her spare room ; and Mrs. Williams brought me in my supper herself, and sat by me with baby all the evening. I could n’t believe they were all Virginians, and fighting against each other too. The next morning was clear and sunny. Jinny came in, and opened the window, and said, ‘ Is n’t such a clear day a good omen?’ But I had n’t courage to laugh with her, I was so tired ; I had to lie still on a settee there was there. Captain Williams came in, and said,—
“ ‘ By nine o'clock we will have an answer to my message, Ellen.’
“ 1 said then, ‘ When it comes, if it is “ No,” will you just say, “ No, Ellen,” and no more, — not one word more, please ?’
“ He said, ' I understand,’ and went out.
“ I heard him tell them not to disturb me ; so I lay quite still, with my hands over my eyes. He kept pacing up and down as if he was anxious ; then I heard a man’s step coming towards him. I knew he brought the message. Captain Williams came towards the door ; his wife was there waiting. I heard him speak to her, and then he said, ' You do it, Mary.’ So she came in, and kissed me, and she said, ' He is gone, Ellen,’ — no more but that. I knew then I never should see my brother again. Mrs. Williams cried, but I did not. She told me, after a while, that he had gone by another road to the Kanawha Salines, where they were fighting that day. ' You cannot go,’ she said. ‘It is a wilderness of hills and swamps. You must stay with us ; help me with baby, and presently Joe will be back.’
“ I did not say anything. I lay there, and covered my face. She thought I was asleep presently, so rose softly and went away. I lay quiet all day. I could not speak nor move. They brought me some wine, and talked to me, but I did not understand. I knew I must go on, go on ! ” — with the wild look again in her eyes. “ They would not disturb me, but let me lie still all night there. Early in the morning, before day, I got up softly, softly, I was so afraid they would hear me, and made a light. I wanted to bid Joe farewell before I started.”
“ Where were you going, Ellen ? ”
“ On, you know,” — with that grave, secretive look of the insane. “ I had to go. So I made a light. I wanted to write a letter to my brother, but my head was so tired I could not; then I took my little Testament, and I marked the fourteenth chapter of St. John. He knew that I liked that best, and I thought that would be my letter. I wrote alongside of the printing, ‘Good bye, Joe.’ Then I fastened it up, and directed it to Joseph Carrol, Kanawha Salines.”
“That was a wide direction, Ellen.”
“Was it, Sir?” indifferently. “So Joe has it now. I think all his life he ’ll look at that, and say, ‘That was Sis’s last word.’ I went gently out of the door, and I put my book in the post-office, and then I went away.”
She began, it appears, to retrace her way on the railroad-track on foot, leaving her money and clothes at Mrs. Ford’s, but carrying the little basket carefully. The Williamses, thinking she had followed Joe, searched for her in the direction of Grafton, and so failed to find her. There are no villages between Fetterman and Fairmount, — only scattered farm-houses, and but few of those, — the line of the railroad running between solitary stretches of moorland, and in gloomy defiles of the mountains. Ellen followed the road, a white, glaring, dusty line, all day. Nothing broke the dreary silence but the whirr of some unseen bird through the forests, or the hollow thud, thud of a woodpecker on a far-off tree. Once or twice, too, a locomotive with a train of cars rushed past her with a fierce yell. She slept that night by the road-side with a fallen tree for a pillow, and the next morning began again her plodding journey.
I come now to the saddest part of the poor girl’s story, gathered from her own indistinct remembrances. I mean to pass briefly over it. On the latter part of this day’s travel, Ellen had passed several of the encampments which lined the road, but had escaped notice by making a detour through the woods. A mile or two east of Fairmount, however, coming near one, she went up to the first low shed ; for the men had thrown up temporary huts, part wood, part mud.
“ It was a woman who was there,” she said, in apology; “ and I was not very strong. I had eaten nothing but berries since the morning before.”
The woman was a sutler. She listened to Ellen's explanations, incoherent enough probably, and then, bursting into a loud laugh, called to some of the soldiers lounging near by.
“ Here's a likely tale,” she said. “ I half suspect this is the Rebel spy that’s been hanging round these two weeks, and kept Allan dodging you. See to her, boys, while I weigh out this sugar.”
The regiment was made up of the offals of a large city ; the men, both brutal and idle, eager for excitement; this sutler, the only woman in camp. The evening was coming on. Ellen was alone in the half-drunken, shouting crowd.
— Not alone. He was near who was real and actual to her always. When I think of Christ as the All-Wise and All-Merciful in this our present day, I like to remember Him as going step by step with this half-crazed child in her long and solitary journey. When I hear how her danger was warded back, how every rough face turned at last towards her with a strange kindness and tenderness, I see again the Hand that wrote upon the dust of the Temple, and clearer than in the storm or battle which I know He guides I see again the face of Him who took little children in His arms and blessed them.
When the sutler went down to the end of the held she found Big Jake, the bully of the regiment, holding the girl by the shoulder, her clothes covered with mud with which the men had pelted her. She had given one or two lowcries of terror, and stood shivering weakly, her eye alone steady, holding the man at bay, as she might a brute. She held out her hands when she saw the woman. “ I am no spy,” she cried, shrilly.
“We ’ll soon test that,” growled the camp-follower.
“ Here, you Jake, unhand the girl! Yonder ’s Captain C— looking this way. If she turns out as I say, it ’ll be a lucky stroke of work for you an’ me.”
Jake flung her back with a curse, and the woman led her to her shed. She searched Ellen. I saw the girl, when she told it, turn ashy white with terrible shame and anger. She was one of the womanliest women I ever knew.
“ I would have killed her then,” she said gravely.
“ When she could not find that I was a spy, she fastened me in an open pen outside her shed. I tore off the clothes she had touched, they seemed so vile to me. I was so shamed that I held my hands to my throat so that I could die, but she came and fastened them with a cord. She kept me there all the evening, and the men looked over the pen and laughed at ‘ Mother Murray’s prisoner.’ After a while I did not heed them. The moon came up, and I cried then thinking if mother or Joe could know what had come to me. Then I made up my mind what to do. I prayed to the Lord Jesus ; but I thought, through all, what I would do. She brought me some food, but I would not touch it, though I was sick with hunger. When the drum had beat and the camp was all quiet, there was a sentry came walking up and down before the pen. He had a kind, good face: he whistled to keep himself awake. Afterwards he stopped it, and, leaning over the log-fence, said, ‘ Forgive me. I did n’t think of your being a prisoner, or I would not have whistled.’ It was so sudden, his kind way of speaking, that I began to cry, sitting back in the corner. He bade me never heed, for that I would be free in the morning. ‘ You ’re no spy,’ he said,— ‘only Captain Roberts heard Mother Murray’s story, and put me here till he could see for himself in the morning.’ Then he asked me questions, and somehow it did me good to tell all about Joe, and how I had not found him. He stood there when I had done, thinking, and whistling again, soft to himself. ‘Just you wait, Ellen,’ he says, — ‘I know what you want.’ And with that he takes out a little Testament, and, sitting down, he reads to me. Then he asked me what verses I liked, and talked of the chapters, till I began to forget all that had happened. Then he put the book in his pocket, and talked of other things, and made me laugh once or twice ; and at last he took a card out of his pocket, and thought for a good while. Then he wrote a name on it, Mrs. Jane Burroughs, Xenia, Ohio, and gave it to me. ' That is my mother,’ he said, very gravely, — ‘ as good a woman as God lets live. Do you go to her, Ellen, when you ’re out of this den, and tell her I sent you, and, if I should die in this bloody business, to remember I said to be good to you.’ Soon after that another man came and took his place, and I saw him no more. He was very kind. But I knew what I would do,” —with the same dropping of the voice.
In the morning Ellen was released, and the soldiers forbidden to molest her. She hurried along the road to Fairmont. There is a long bridge there, spanning the Monongahela. “ I saw it when I was in the cars, and the sight of the water below it came back to me through all my trouble. It was noon when I came to it again. I don’t think I stopped at all, to think about Joe, or to think good-bye to him. But,’’ her eye wandering vaguely, " I said good-bye to my little basket. I had packed it at home for my journey, you know. I thought Joe would laugh when he saw some things I had there. But it was all over now. So I went down to the water’s edge, and set it down ; and then I went up, and climbed up on the parapet of the bridge, and then I heard a cry, and I was jerked down to the ground. When I came to myself, I was in a bed. They had ice on my head. They told me they had found my basket, and so knew my name. I laid there for several days. It was soldiers that found me. They paid for me at the tavern. But the regiment Was going on. One day, when I was able to sit up, two of them said to me, they would take me to see Joe. They took me on the cars ; all the way I had to lie down, with ice to my head. We came a long way; every time we stopped, they said we were going to Joe. I did n’t know, my brain was like fire in my head.”
Ellen was sent on by the officers of this regiment, and lodged by them for safe-keeping in the jail at Wheeling. The long-suspended brain-fever had set in. She was taken through the streets, her clothes ragged and muddy, her head bare, followed by a curious crowd of idlers, with just enough reason left to know what the house was in which they lodged her. Cruel as they were in act, it proved a kindness to the girl. The jailer and his family nursed her carefully, and gave her a large, airy room in the old debtors’ prison.
After she had been there three weeks, a person who had accidentally seen Ellen that first day on the street went to the jail and asked to see her. A whim, perhaps, the fruit of idleness or curiosity. But Ellen thought otherwise. She was clothed and in her right mind now, and sat inside of the iron door, looking with her large, grave, blue eyes searchingly at her visitor. “ God sent you,” she said, quietly.
That night she told the jailer's wife that her new friend had promised to come the next morning and take her out.
“ She may disappoint you, Ellen.”
“No. I know God meant her to come, and I shall see my brother again.”
She was strangely cheerful ; it seemed as if, in that long torpor, some vision of the future had in truth been given to her.
“I shall see Joe,” she would repeat steadily, a great glow on her face, “ I know.”
She carried her little basket, going to her friend’s house. It was here I saw Ellen. She was not pretty, — with an awkward, ungainly build, and homely free ; but there hung about her a great innocence and purity; and she had a certain trustful manner that went home to the roughest and gained their best feeling from them. Her voice, I remember, was low and remarkably sweet. It was curious to see how all, from the servants in the house to blasé young men of society, were touched by some potent charm, and tried in simple, natural ways to aid her. I used to think Ellen was sent into the world to show how near one of the very least of these, His brethren, came to Him. She grew restless, — her disease working with her. “ She must go on to Columbus, — to the gate-keeper and his wife. She would live with them as their child.”
Meanwhile every effort had been made to communicate with her brother, or to gain a furlough for him. But ail failed; the regiment was in the wilds of the Virginia border in active service. No message could reach him. There was no system then in the army.
What could be done for Ellen's comfort in the future her friends did anxiously, and then sent her on to Columbus. She remained with the old people but a week, however. “She was very happy with us,” the gate-keeper's wife said. Governor Dennison promised to procure Joe a furlough, and, if possible, a dismissal, as soon as the regiment could be reached by letter. In the mean while she busied herself in making a dress and little useful things for housekeeping, to please her brother when he should come ; used to talk all day of her plans, — how they would live near us in some quiet little house. Her trouble seemed all forgotten.
But one day she went out and saw the camp. The sight of the armed men and the uniforms seemed to bring back all she had suffered in Virginia. She was uneasy and silent that night, — said once or twice that she must go on, go on. — got her basket and packed it again. The next morning she went across the field without it, as if to take a walk. When an hour passed we searched for her, and found she had gone into town and taken passage on the Western Railroad.
My story ends here. We never could trace her, though no effort was left untried. I confess that this is one, though almost hopeless. Yet I thought that some chance reader might be able to finish the story for me.
Whether Joe fell in his country’s service or yet lives in some "little house” for Ellen, or whether she has found a longer, surer rest, in a house made ready for her long ago by other hands than his, I may never know; but I am sure, that, living or dead, He who is loving and over all has the poor “natural” in His tenderest keeping, and that some day she will go home to Him and to Joe.