Merely a Mirror
CAPTAIN CEPHAS SPAIGHT.
SIMPLY a small, unobtrusive, sunbrowned, grizzly-bearded, quiet-spoken, jeans-clothed man, the captain. With his gray cap drawn down over his light blue eyes, you no more think a second time about the man, when you pass him upon the street, than about the chance clouds that happen at the moment to be floating overhead. Yet, when I come upon the captain on the sidewalk to-day, there is a vast deal more electricity passing between us as we clasp hands than you would think; inasmuch as we are just now in the heart of the South and the midst of the war.
“Glad to see you, Mr. Martin!” he says. Nor is Mr. Martin — myself — less pleased to see the captain, for it is many months since we parted upon the deck of the captain’s coasting schooner, the very smell and motion of which is with me again as I hold my friend by the hand.
“ Very glad indeed to see you, brother Martin ! ” my friend says again, the warmth of our meeting having by this time melted away the “ Mr.” from between us. Members we are, you will remark, of the same church.
“I am sure I am,” I said. “ Come out and take dinner and have a bed with us while you are in town. Neither will tilt and toss about quite as much as they used to do on the Susan Jane, yet ” —
“ You know I can’t do it, brother Martin!” the captain says, unclasping his hand from mine as he thinks of it, and standing a little off from me too. “It might ruin my character! I risk it, you well know, to be standing here talking with you on the street! ” And we unconsciously grasp hands again, and immediately withdraw them, in hearty acknowledgment of the fact!
“Two things, however, I must say before we part,” the captain adds, quite seriously, too, lowering his voice; “ one is —
I have to break in upon Captain Cephas Spaight, as I find the colonel standing suddenly beside me. “ Colonel Carp, this is my friend Captain Spaight; captain, this is Colonel Carp! and be careful how you wound his feelings, so ardently is he infatuated in reference to the stars and the bars; ” this last I add almost in a whisper. And there is this peculiarity of the shaking of hands which follows: it is so cordial between the palms of the two, so very cold and formal as to all else; a slight emphasis of mine upon a word or two possibly the cause of that.
“ Anything of interest from below, captain?” It is the old colonel who asks. “ We hear only this wretched stuff! Anything?”
There is the thirst of the perishing in the eyes of the colonel, and in the manner, too. Yet the tall, white-haired, sharp - visaged, restless old gentleman, your very ideal of Don Quixote without armor and Rosinante, eager as he was, Union as he was, would have instantly refuted any news, favorable or unfavorable to the Confederacy, imparted by my friend; as eager to prove or to disprove as to hear.
“ Nothing! ” The word dropped, an icicle, from the cold lips of the seaman. And the old colonel would have gone on to demonstrate the fallacy of that one word, were it not plain that the captain had suddenly sunk fathoms deep into himself, a frightened fish, from the very sight of the colonel, the eager gaze of his questioner getting no reply from the eyes of the sailor, fish-like in their cold vacancy.
Because he understood the whiteheaded, impatient, irascible, argumentative old colonel on the instant; could tell of all that was rushing upon him, in the colonel, with the second nature by which he knew on water when a squall was coming. Not that Colonel Carp would endanger the Union cause and himself by a gesture or a syllable. But he would argue! Argue? Assert, over the table, that the barley coffee we have to drink these days does not taste like genuine coffee, the colonel denies and demonstrates the reverse; only less vehemently the reverse still should you make the opposite assertion. Say “ This last news looks bad, colonel, for the Union side,” and you are in for half an hour’s argument to the opposite, — with all his heart, too, for the colonel is loyal to the centre. Try “ Disastrous to Jeff Davis, colonel, this battle at Nashville; Hood annihilated, it seems!”
“ Do you seriously think so? Why, sir,”— roads, weather, season of the year, crops, nature of locality, rivers, peculiarities of this army and that, wellknown character of the other general and this, tactics of cavalry and of infantry which a babe should be spanked if it did not understand,— “ those guerrillas, too, sir! ” waxing almost wrathful that you could not see it. From inexhaustible stores the colonel poured conclusive arguments upon you to the contrary; before the day was over, if assaulted in that direction, turning all his guns and ammunition in victorious demonstration of the exact opposite! Upon every possible and impossible point started, and with every soul he meets, the colonel’s life is one incessant argument.
No mirror of finest plate-glass from the late lamented France reflects fact more accurately than does this page; all its value in that. Behold in it, then, Colonel Carp journeying, years ago, upon horseback, alone and through a desert region. Upon him behold, too, a highwayman spring suddenly from ambush, and, holding his bridle with the one hand, level a pistol at the colonel’s head with the other, with the regular formula, “ Your money or your life! ”
But the colonel is cooler than he; delighted, after long abstinence on the solitary road, with the opportunity, and a vast deal more expert with his terrible weapon than the footpad with his revolver.
“ Your assertion is, first, that I have money? second, that you will kill me if I do not give it up? ” and the colonel, adopting thus the Socratic mode of destroying his foe, lays down each question, as he states it, with the handle of his riding whip in the palm of his left hand. “ Now, sir, nothing easier than to refute both assertions! First, then ” —
Refuting all my own suggestions in the matter, the colonel often narrated to me his line of argument. Sufficient to say he left his Claude Duval slain, so to speak, by the roadside as by the cold steel of his deadly dialectics; actually argued, possibly exhausted, the villain from his purpose ! Fact.
It would have been better for mankind in some sense, however, had the man at least taken the colonel’s money: the victorious result intensified so his ratiocination that, with manifold excellences, he was simply unendurable! You were not sick when he stood at your bedside during your illness! No, it was easy to show it was not a headache you had to-day. It was the bread you had last eaten and not that wetting of your feet which had made you sick! The rebels would have shot or hung the colonel, too old for conscription, knowing his principles as they did, had they not fled from him instead, chuckling over the fact, as they dodged down all alleys out of his way, that he was their surest ally, so far as refuting was concerned, against the Union people! Many and many a time has the writer, vigorously pursued by the colonel’s remorseless reasoning, headed instantly at every turn, darted at last into utter silence as into a hole, panting therein like a rabbit, while the colonel barked, so to speak, his final arguments after him from without!
Just as Captain Spaight and myself are pondering how to escape, slow Major Anderson happens in passing to say, “ Bah, Colonel Carp, you were wron^ about Beauregard! ”
“ Wrong ! ” and with the word the colonel is gone after the major, laying down, as he goes, the premises of a tremendous argument.
“I must tell you two things,” Captain Spaight began hurriedly, when this had extricated us from the colonel. “ I am up here from the coast upon Confederate business. I must leave at three o’clock, and it is more damaging than you dream of for me to be seen talking with you here. It is about that little matter of the salt, and, very important, about the torpedo ship I am building to blow up the blockading fleet! ”
The captain is very pale, and speaks quite low; and having tossed with him in a storm or two at sea on the Susan Jane, his unusual manner convinces me that he has something of serious interest to tell.
“ I have heard you are going over the lines, brother Martin,” he says, in a manner very much the reverse of his fish-like passivity in getting rid of Colonel Carp, “ and I have that to tell you which will assuredly save the fleet. You see, our torpedo vessel will be launched in two weeks; first real thick fog after that! Just as sure as it gets among those vessels they are bound to go up! Now the only way ” —
“ Ees never to put any water in ” —_ we are interrupted just then — “ nevver put any, hic, an-ny war-ter in your drink, hic! It spoils the war-ter, in the first place. Of course no bod-dy cares for the war-ter! Nothing person-al, Captain Spaight, for I know you live on that. But it spoils the whisky, hic! First place. Second place, Colonel Carp, argument, sound reas’g, Q. E. D.. you observe! " For it is
GENERAL MLLROY ANDREWS,
who has stumbled upon us unperceived, drunk as usual!
Now, as we turn to look upon the general, as wretched an object as the world owns, if I were to tell you that this poor creature was once, not so very long ago, as noble a specimen of a man, apparently in every sense of the word, as a woman could desire for her husband, you would turn Colonel Carp and endeavor to argue me out of such a notion on the spot! But my mirror reflects actual fact. Look at this thoroughly routed and demoralized general. A few years ago erect as an Indian, now limp, swayed earthward, degraded, and dropping every hour into a lower degradation. Not a victim of intemperance; so please do not skip! Then, eyes bold, gray, defiant; now, bleared orbs swimming in a slimy shame. Who so faultless once in dress, perfect in all the raiment of his handsome person to the very tips of his carefully kidded hands? now the seedy rags are rotting from him in dangling tatters, the moldering thatch of his miserable hat fitly crowning such utter ruins!
If you ask, Since drink is not the cause, what is it? I reply, I do not know! Nobody living knows, or, at least, has ever revealed the secret. In this life no one ever will know certainly.
Years ago General Milroy Andrews arrived in one of the Southern States of the Atlantic coast, from New England, a ruddy, ambitious, thoroughly educated young lawyer. Temperate, honorable, eloquent, energetic, popular, rising patiently from grade to grade, the general comes at last into the charge of one of the most important offices of the State. It is an office of the nature of a bureau for the preservation of the most important papers of the government. Behind his glass doors, in five hundred pigeonholes and labeled receptacles, alphabetically and mathematically arranged, are those documents, upon which heaps of money depend in one way and another. A more orderly office up stairs and down, a more obliging set of clerks, evidently patterned after their chief, a more excellent and urbane chief himself, you never saw, had you been bowed in and out of the bureau that fifteenth day of December.
Yet that very midnight the town sprung from its bed at the boom and rattle of an explosion, to find that General Milroy Andrews’ office had been unaccountably blown up! Though desperate efforts were made by firemen and citizens generally, scarce one of all the valuable documents was saved from the conflagration which followed. People remarked upon the suddenness with which the papers turned to ashes, some imagining a smell of turpentine about the charred bits which the wind, for it was a very windy night, whirled around. But the sympathy of the town was chiefly for the general, rushing with bare feet, in shirt and drawers, to the scene, tearing around the blazing structure almost frantic, held back only by main force of friends from rushing into the flames to save his precious documents.
In fact, for weeks after, the general was nearly beside himself, not alone for the terrible loss to government and private parties, but for so many claims, land titles, law suits, and estates involved in the destruction.
“ My enemies will say it was my doing, that I was bribed to do it or to connive at it!” raved the ruined man. Raved so violently on this wise, and so long, that Shakespeare and human nature asserted itself in people, first suspecting, then openly declaring, " Methinks the general doth protest too much!” Certainly there were parties whose interests in the destruction of documents would have allowed them to pay the general almost any sum he could name, in case some such accident took place And it was a little singular that the clerks who slept in the edifice happened that night, every soul of them, to be at a party at the general’s, from which, at an early hour, the host had to excuse himself and retire, because of severe headache!
Who knows? The general’s wife left him suddenly, silently, and forever. The world was divided upon the subject, but both halves thereof fell away equally from him. If he had been promised money, either he was never paid a penny, the destruction being accomplished, or he had refused it in the agonies of conscience, or had placed it very completely out of his own spending; manifestly no poorer man living than the general! Of course there was a committee of investigation; and, of course, the committee learned and published all it could at vast expense of time and patience and money, the net result being the confirmation of each half of the world in its previous opinion and in its unanimously leaving the general to himself.
And most thoroughly did he act as public executioner upon himself! Because innocent, or because guilty, he hurled himself into drunkenness as a suicide flings himself into the sea from a beetling cliff. If he is ever sober day or night, Sunday or week-day, for years now, nobody is ever there to see it! Even the best people give him whisky as they give him an old coat, a night’s lodging, a meal of victuals; better the poor fellow, crawling earth-worm that he has become, should never be sober again as long as he lives!
Even Captain Cephas Spaight, a religious man abhorring drunkenness, gives him to-day a greasy Confederate bill to keep drunk upon! One can get the parallax of the fallen angels from the awful angle of this man’s fall! And he may be as innocent as you or I, save of his intemperance. That we shall know about this also, hereafter, is one of the matters which makes that hereafter the most interesting of worlds; the satisfaction of our curiosity almost compensating the pains of death. “ And you, Mr. Martin, and you, Cappen Spaight,” the poor general solemnly adjures us as he reels away, not without the insight about us of children, the insane, and the drunk, “don’t you two, hic, ever mix your North and your South any more than your war-ter and your whisky, hic! Won’t mix, Federal and Confederate, you un’erstand; only spoils both. Secesh or Union, whisky or warter, one or t’ other, hic: won’t mix ! ”
As the wrecked gentleman reels away, relieving this mirror of the smell and soil of his presence, both the sailor and Mr. Martin color and wince at his Parthian word; the elements do effervesce within one, Heaven knows! with an anguish unknown to a heart definitely in line of battle on either side. What can you do but go with the stronger side within you? — and here that side is for the old flag, though you die for it, slain by the weaker side within yourself!
“ And now I do hope I can tell you about the salt,” says my friend from the coast, in rapid thaw, as the general reels downward to doom from our side. “ But I must tell you first about that torpedo boat,” — voice low and rapid. “ I am the designer and builder of it, as you have heard, to keep from worse. Under close and suspicious watch day and night, of course. But I am the only man in the State who can do anything of the sort, and they have spent so much money and time, have had so many contraptions go out that were dead certain to blow up the blockaders and half of them never heard of again, dying like wet squibs under water, that they are resolved to succeed this time! Why, brother Martin, millions, yes millions in Europe in gold and silver, for our cotton, depends on it; cotton bales lying in stacks down there upon the coast, thousands of bales all ready to be rushed in from the interior! I do believe the Confederacy could afford to pay me one solid million down on deck, if I could guarantee the dispersion of the fleet, if only for a little while. And I could do it as certain as pulling trigger. And I will blow up the fleet, will let in cargoes of arms and ammunition from Belgium and elsewhere, for this beautiful Confederacy; oh yes, I will do it—pre-haps ! ” Which is equivalent with my friend to a torrent of oaths, for he is such a grave, cold, silent soul, blue and true as steel!
Catching fire, as from such a flint I do on the spot, eager to get away though Captain Cephas Spaight is, I must and do tell him, in rapid words, of my late visit to the coast solely and expressly to see the flag, not seen, except in dreams or as drawn out through an inch or so ripped open in the mattress of my bed for the purpose, and that by night, for years now! How I ascended the tower of observation where the telescope of the coast guard is, and how my eye was so sealed to the end of the telescope through which I saw the flag flying at the masts of the blockaders that I could not —
“ But, brother Martin, we ’ll have our whole life after the war is over to talk about all that! ” my friend interrupts me. “ You know I have but an hour or two. I came up here only to get the fulminating stuff that long-headed German in spectacles has been making for us. Said he ’d be ready with it by three. Hah!” ejaculated the captain, suddenly ceasing to stroke his grizzled beard, “never thought of it before! That German, philosopher-looking fellow, with enormous spectacles, you know, was mixing and mashing at the detonating, fulminating, whatever they call it, powder, all in a great zinc-lined trough up there, actually smoking his pipe, pipe as large as an ear of corn, as he pounded and stirred! He fled here from the political reaction of 1849. Wonder if he will fix it all up right? ” a comical emphasis upon the last word! “ But this is not business,” he adds, suddenly very grave; “ if you get over the lines, brother Martin, go instantly to the commodore of the fleet and tell him — here, I ’ll try and describe it upon the palm of my hand.” But as the seaman holds up the broad and horny palm, I touch him with a low “ Hush, hush! here comes
Even as I caution the captain, the new-comer, standing on the instant between us, grasps him roughly by the shoulder with the one hand and myself with the other, exclaiming as he does so,
“ Talking treason, I ’ll bet a dime! Come along both of you; provost-marshal is holding court up-town this moment. Six feet of rope each; trees are near the front door!” and our new friend shakes us both to the utmost of his strength, trying thereafter to drag us along.
“ Mr. Burrows, this is Captain Spaight,” I say; “ captain, this is Mr. Burrows, of whom you must have heard. You must excuse him, captain, but he will have his joke; ” for I could not but observe that the gray complexion of the seaman had suddenly grown livid, not from fear, but anger.
“ Oh, you are the man that bosses the gang building torpedoes down on the coast!” says our abrupt arrival with great curiosity. “ But it’s very suspicious, your being seen with Martin here! And I ’ll be hanged if we did n’t have the best joke up yonder at the provostmarshal’s office just now!” He was a short, thick-set, swarthy-hued man, known to all men as being eternally in jest, and he felt called upon now to exert his well-known powers for the entertainment of so celebrated a stranger as the captain, the swift torrent of his talk not arrested by, quite submerging, in fact, all the usual pebbles of pause and punctuation. “You see they’d taken it into their wooden noddles that the young English fellow traveling about with a permit from Jeff Davis yellow hair you know parted down the middle before and behind mutton-chop whiskers flying away from each cheek in long tails correspondent of the London Times they say writing a big book for us or against us nobody knows only he says he is a wonderful hater of Seward and loves Jeff with all his soul had him up just now before the provost undoubtedly the grandest jackass now braying and you ought to have seen that English snob very hair turned white to the tips a spy you see the provost thought he might be with that little glass stuck in his eye all the time spy-glass you know in fact it was I told the provost about it grave as death and had the fellow taken up.”
Here Mr. Burrows, who talks without the necessity of breathing, apparently, stops only to laugh. “ Because it was the funniest spectacle. Provost-marshal sitting there solemn as an owl, the room full of armed men, Englishman seated on a candle box in a corner frightened to death and telling how heartily he detested Lincoln and how devotedly he admired the Confederacy as a vast advance on England itself. Mr. Provost-Marshal I said it is impossible to tell what traitorous documents this person may have in his possession. I think somebody should be detailed to look into them. You are quite right Burrows the fool said. Bless my soul sir said the Englishman there are piles of manuscript in my possession, and he held his hand a yard from the floor, that high. The greater the necessity of having them examined sir provostmarshal said. Mr. Boggs — Blacksmith Boggs, never read a page of manuscript in his life, if of print, one of the provost’s guards armed with six revolvers and a yäger — you will please proceed immediately to this person’s apartments and read all the written matter you find there— take him two years the Englishman said — and make full notes of the contents of the same; meanwhile we will be compelled sir to keep you in custody until Mr. Boggs — Heaven help my soul the Englishman kept saying — makes his report. If upon reading the same I find nothing of a nature injurious to our cause I will cheerfully release you. And there sits that Englishman this moment — by all means go up and see him before you leave—chewing the ends of his flyaway beard and there is Boggs up among the fellow’s papers hard at it. Harder work than he ever did with tongs and sledge-hammer at the forge in the hottest August! ”
However vexed at our visitor, it was as impossible not to laugh at his own excessive sense of fun in every line of his face, word and tone and manner, as it would be to escape the shocks of the electric eel if you held one in your grasp; only, in this case, the eel so holds you instead, and writhes around you in his uproarious spirits, that you cannot escape.
Certainly Tom Burrows was a dead failure, if his mission in the world was not to make men laugh! Not merely fun alone, from every pore and always, but a mimic Tom is, so perfect a mimic that he almost actually is, for the moment, the person mimicked. And it is a faculty so intuitive and inseparable from the man, forever a boy, that he mimics whoever he is conversing with to a shadow, hardly conscious of the fact himself, even in the act! I remember being seated with him in a parlor conversing with the most sedate and stately lady of our mutual acquaintance, a lady whose every sentence was measured and very sad. No wonder, poor soul! husband and children had certainly done all they could to break her heart. And the conversation chanced, too, to be upon a recent phase of her severe calamities, calamities so severe as to be the talk of the town. It was with utmost difficulty, even there and then, I could refrain from laughing outright at Tom’s precise reproduction of her every shade of manner and tone in speaking to her: it was as if a mirror was held up before poor Mrs. Ramsey, every tearful inflection there of face and voice, she utterly unconscious of his crime. And I noticed, out of the corners of my eyes, how even her sad, set face relaxed into smiles when Tom addressed himself to me. Although I can hardly think Tom was mimicking me, or if he was it must have been a failure, not the least like.
“ You men heard the remarkable course pursued by Major Anderson yesterday? Down Main Street! Grave old soul if any ever lived, the major, yet went tearing down the street, over all the town ordinances and a school full of children just out!” our volatile friend tells us, in unceasing although irrelevant continuation of his previous remarks. “ The major was riding by my jewelry establishment so exceeding erect in such solemn charge of the entire universe and it happened by the merest accident there was lying by where I was smoking a cigar at the time one of those headers things that fizz and dash about you know left over from last Fourth of July. If it had been my own father I could not have helped just touching the fuse to my cigar and pitching the thing just under the two old grays gray horse you know as well as man as they passed by pompous old soul the major always in charge of all the world! I greatly regret to hear, Mr. Martin,” — the speaker turns upon me, straightens himself, throwing his stomach forward, putting a thumb in each armhole of his vest, and assuming the whole bearing, manner, and tone of Major Anderson as by magic transformation,— “that you were the author of that most disgraceful scene at the marriage of Miss Julia Wells. You would hardly believe, sir,” Major Anderson continues, for, identity apart, it is the stolid major who now turns, in the person of the mimic, upon Captain Spaight, whose generally sorrowful visage has been upon a broad grin in spite of himself, indignant at it, since Tom with his contagion of fun has arrived, “ forgetful of the solemnities of the occasion, disregarding even the ordinary decencies of society, having no respect for the officiating clergyman, this sober-seeming brother Martin of yours placed himself immediately behind that minister the moment he began to perform the ceremony of marriage, silently but perfectly mimicked the minister to such a degree as to confuse the bride and bridegroom, through them the clergyman, and so, the entire company assembled! It was simply disgraceful, sir! ” and the personated major brings down an imaginary gold-headed cane, upon which his two hands are supposed to rest, with solemn indignation upon the pavement. “ Nor is it the first offense,” Major Anderson continues, in a measured and sepulchral manner ; and it is all only a truthful narrative of the proceedings of, not brother Martin, but Tom Burrows himself; merely instances of some of his latest capers. “ When Miss Laura McPherson Randolph, of the oldest family in Virginia, was married in church, actually in St. Peter’s, beautifully decorated for the occasion and densely crowded with the élite of our town, married to Brevet Brigadier-General I. Buddlecome Bankhooven, a descendant of those who came over with Hendrick Hudson, and afterward moved South, — married to the general, here upon special leave from the seat of war for the purpose, — even then, sir, this demure-faced person, prompted, in this case, by his low Union sentiments, refrained not from his disreputable courses. It was well known that he had been a devoted admirer, certainly an incessant visitor upon Miss Laura McPherson Randolph; ” which was certainly the fact with Tom and the lively brunette in question, Tom being of “ excellent family,” too ; “ consequently,” the personated major continued, no smile upon his face, “ the eyes of all that vast congregation followed rather the rejected lover down the aisle than the bridal pair coming immediately upon his footsteps. Mark, sir, the villainy of the scoundrel. He seats himself upon one side of the chancel, where the officiating clergymen, for there are four in full canonicals, are the only persons present who cannot see him, draws from his pocket an enormous white handkerchief, and, a smile already upon the face of the audience in expectation, goes into convulsions of simulated weeping at his loss as the solemn service proceeds, throwing the entire church into convulsions of laughter, and the volatile bride into hysterics of the same; General I. Buddlecome Bankhooven, and the astounded officials beside the altar, being only less convulsed by their bewilderment as to the reason of the unseemly proceedings! ”
“ I wonder the general did not use his weapons, even if he was on furlough! ” Captain Spaight breaks in. “ But, my dear sir,” he continues, “ I have to leave at three, and must have a moment or two with " —
“ Hah! jolly time, is n’t it, Martin? ” Tom Burrows continues — not regarding the captain in the least, as he never does any one — with an instant and total change of manner, person, in fact. And a child who had ever seen rapid Ben Barton would have recognized the new personation in the moment. “Jolly time, jolly time! ” striking the rounded back of his right hand in the palm of his left in the way peculiar to Ben Barton when “ in a gale.” “ And splendid place this for a fellow to be married in,” gazing all around as from a lofty eminence, “ only a little chilly,” — a shiver here. “ Let me help you with your shawl, Margy. Ah, that is it. Magnificent sunrise ! ” shading his eyes with his hands. “ All ready, reverend; go ahead!” Captain Spaight looks somewhat bewildered.
“ Ben Barton, you know him, captain,” Mr. Martin explains to the seaman, “ was married last week to a lady after three days’ acquaintance, — in rebound from another lady, — at dawn and on the top of Mount Aural.” And the captain sees the scene for himself, for Tom Burrows delineates it perfectly. “ Thank you, reverend, thank you! Thank you, Bodgers, same to you! ” for Ben Barton is receiving his congratulations on the elevated spot. " How the wind blows! Same to you, old fellow! Thank you, Tom! Best thing you can do, Tom Burrows,” holding the pretended hand of the same, “ is to get married like me; cure you of your capers. Hah, Margy, take care of that precipice! ” a step to one side and a downward gaze, “five hundred feet, they say. The less of this champagne, therefore, gentlemen,” wave of the hand toward imaginary breakfast on the rocks, “ the better for us. By the bye, reverend, — like to have forgotten it, — accept this slight token. Ah, yes, and like to have forgotten it; I leave at once to go back to the front and never once thought of a license. It is necessary you know; please get one for me! " All of which is but the reproduction of fact as well as person.
“ Mr. Burrows,” Mr. Martin hints at this point, “yonder comes Major Anderson ” —
“ Not afraid,” remarks Mr. Tom, returning suddenly to himself. “ Had forgotten I am clerk escaped the ranks that way of that double-distilled dunce of a provost-marshal want to see if Englishman has left anything of his flaxen beard dozen more like cases going to have up fun alive! Bye, captain. Don’t you think,” holding the seaman’s hand and looking in a saner manner than ever before in the cold eyes of the same, “ that you had better not blow up that flag? ”
For, as I explain to my friend, while Tom crosses the street and hurries up the other side to avoid Major Anderson, Tom is known to the innermost circle of the Union people as being himself intensely Union, making a perpetual fool of the provost-marshal, partly from that cause. Nor would he have spent so much of his time upon the captain and myself, but that it was the best way he had of showing his kindly feeling to us as being of the same thinking, under the surface, as himself.
When the Confederate government, soon after tins, suddenly abolishes the provost-marshal folly throughout the South, outside the army, at least, Tom Burrows finds his only excuse for keeping out of the ranks suddenly gone. The next morning he goes too, toward the Federal lines, in hot pursuit of escaping deserters! Dressed in Confederate gray, he dashes into the houses along the road with eager questioning as to the same. In his violent hurry after the escaping scoundrels, he has barely time to snatch a meal’s victuals, or a night’s lodging for himself and horse, to be paid for on his speedy return. Needless to say, the deserters are but creatures of his fertile brain. Safely in the Federal camp, he remains there until disgusted; then as suddenly forsakes the Federals and returns, to be arrested as a spy and thrown into a dungeon, which it must have required all the splendor of his wit to have made endurable. But who could have been villain enough to put Tom to death in any case! Apart from his eccentricities, a warm-hearted, honorable gentleman, the very Prince Hal of his realm of good fellows; if he still lives, the soul of fun himself and the cause of fun in others, may he live and laugh and make others laugh a thousand years ! At last, these interruptions are but for a few moments.
“ What I want to say,” the captain continues, much more cheerful in his whole aspect and manner for the last interrupter, “is this: You know government employs me also making salt upon the coast, certain percentage of salt made coming to me. Now, I know you are none too well paid as pastor by the church here, — no minister is, these terrible times, — and I want to send you a little salt, as soon as I can. Oh, never mind thanking me. But the main matter is about that torpedo boat! If that German chemist is Federal, why, there is no danger, of course. But we have Confederate chemists down there, too; and the compound will be thoroughly tested. But, rotten through and through!”the captain adds reflectively, his head sunk into the grizzled beard upon his bosom. “ There was that Sea-Savage, as they named it! Built farther along the coast, with the same object as ours. Most admirably and scientifically constructed by a head machinist from Richmond; the cotton, rather the arms and ammunition for it, is so exceedingly important! After it was finished, night upon night was appointed to make the attempt. The most lovely night for the purpose would come, dark as pitch, rain pouring in torrents, men eager for the excitement and the big prize money; sure as they came actually to start, some little thing — a bolt, a nut, a lever — would be found wrong, the boat closely guarded, too, day and night, and morning always came before it was fixed. At last, one night was certainly set, all undoubtedly right this time! Just before the crew got aboard, a green rocket from the blockading fleet and an explosion of the torpedo boat almost at the same moment! The machinist from Richmond was in a fury, said treason was in the camp, swore he would go to Richmond and have it investigated, and could point out the traitor. Yes, and he could, for the man stood in his boots, wore his spectacles, smoked his enormous pipe; a German, you see. That is the way I came to be left here, the only man that is supposed to understand such things. And mine is an improvement, upon his torpedo boat I mean, built under treble watch, for those arms we must have. Now,” the captain adds, as he spreads out his left palm and begins to describe upon it with the very blunt forefinger of his right hand, “ when you cross the lines, see the commodore immediately; tell him on every foggy or rainy night to keep every yawl owned by the fleet rowing and watching around it for dear life, quarter of a mile circle, or we can break thenline and strike the ships before the crew are ready! And this, don't forget, in case they see us coming; we may attempt it in broad day; there is only one angle— a degree too much or too little and you might as well pitch hard tack on our sides as cannon shot; their only possible hope is ” —
“ Why did n’t you go quietly home with me instead of trying to tell me on the streets! ” I say sharply to the captain. “ Hush !
Good morning, sir. Captain Spaight, Major Anderson! ” I add as the major halts beside us, having been held in charge of Davenburg, the Jewish cotton broker, since the flight of Tom Burrows, the major being the positive and the little Jew being quite the negative person of said charge. And I introduce my friends to each other, that being the cordial custom of the country; always willing to share your acquaintance with whatever other friend happens along. Better that than the icy doubtfulness of each other nearer the north pole.
A superb-looking man, Major Anderson, as he solemnly takes the captain and myself in charge! A very Czar of all the Russias, commanding in physique, tone, manner, entire aspect. His goldheaded cane is a kingly sceptre, only longer than is usual, as becomes such a monarch. You are in his custody from the outset. He knows it perfectly well. So do you! A syllable will explain.
For very many years Major Anderson, created and rarely constituted for that express purpose, has been in charge of one of the State penitentiaries. Owing to emergencies, for all these long years, a lesser branch of the State refuge for idiots and lunatics has been connected with the same, although in buildings kept wholly separate. Separate except to the major, who, residing near by, divides his time very evenly between two classes of people who may be ticketed as the supremely foolish: voluntarily so, and therefore in the penitentiary; involuntarily so, and therefore in the refuge for the imbecile and the insane. And a most admirable officer the major, resigning from West Point long ago for the purpose, makes. None quite so perfectly adapted for each of his charges, people believe, in all the world. Cool, calm, firm as rock, kind as a mother, gentle as a child, with the presence of a monarch, a divinity doth hedge the major in.
A thorough Christian gentleman, in the faithful doing of his thoroughly defined work no one can dream of a defect in this grand old major. Save one, but that is tremendous! From long and unceasing charge of people placed utterly in his sole power, criminal or deranged, by night and by day for years on years, the major, wholly unconscious of the fact himself, has come to regard every human being with whom he is thrown, outside the walls of his buildings, as belonging to the one class or the other. And as the major is often puzzled to know, within those walls, whether the folly of his patient be voluntary or involuntary, whether his charge should be in chains or a strait - jacket, convict or lunatic, so as to all he meets outside! From second nature of long habit, Captain Spaight and myself are to him to-day persons to be held, on the instant, in charge. Criminal or painfully deficient, he has not had time to decide which; certainly one or the other. And that would make no difference, only a joke to be laughed at, the major merely “ an eccentric genius,” if by some magnetism of his presence upon us, or by some latent weakness in our own bosoms, subtle and strange yet strong, we did not feel it too. Willfully and deliberately a fool or only unfortunately and helplessly so, one or the other, no alternative to that!
I resent, for one, however, and refuse my situation. “ Tom Burrows was just telling us the way he made you scamper down street, major. Excuse me,” I add hilariously, “ but I would like to have been there to see. ‘ When next John Gilpin rides abroad, may I ’ ” —
“ I have met in my life similar cases,” the major made weighty answer, not in the least angry at the reminder, with his head a little inclined in half-smiling reflection. “ Madness does not invariably rave and rend and weep. Most frequently, in fact, it chatters and smiles and laughs. Poor Tom! Poor, poor fellow! ” he added, but looking at me, too, in a curiously considering manner which dried the laughter from my lips. Bless me! I had often had a half thought myself that Tom’s fun looked like insanity, so incessant it was and uncontrollable; and I have often shared in it to the extent of laughing at or with him. What if —
“ We all know that all men are more or less depraved,” he proceeded, the living reproduction of Tom’s mimicry of himself of a few moments before. “ And it is currently stated in medical works that no one but is insane in some point! ” the major, very kind and forbearing with us, as he speaks, yet evidently classing us, with those curious, considering eyes and that indescribable manner of his, as he slowly utters the words. Criminal these? or only imbecile? Poor creatures !
The effect of the major was on the spot and upon all; perhaps the deepest debasement of all before him was on the part of the persons who had never seen or heard of the famous superintendent before, nor knew, at the moment they surrendered themselves helplessly into his hands, who he was.
On this occasion I basely essay a diversion from myself to my companion in custody. “ You have heard of Captain Cephas Spaight, Major Anderson! Engaged, as you doubtless know, in the torpedo service upon our coast! ”
“ Ah! Preparing contrivances to blow up the blockading fleet?” the major says.
What was the absurd reason of it? The slow considering by the major of the seaman’s face as he spoke? The gentle pity of his accents? The cheerful humoring of this new unfortunate, who dreams, poor fellow, of making tallow candles into wax by boiling them in brandy, or of creating perpetual motion by his infatuated plan of wheels and weights and levers! On the instant, Captain Spaight hangs his head, fallen in my estimation and his own, taken into moral custody by the major, who does not release me, however, from his charge.
“Humph!” That is all the major says. Impossible for any keeper to be more considerate and humane, but, on the instant, we too are of the major’s opinion! Imbecile!
“ The purpose,” a kindly smile, “ your deliberate effort, at least, and intention,” smile gone, “ is to drive the United States flag from our shores!” A silence. “Ah! Yes!” Imbecile? Yes, and voluntarily so! For we are all three of us Union men, perfectly known, each to the other. Imbecile and guilty! Deserving to occupy, if it were possible, both wards of the major’s buildings. Scarce more utterly and justly in his custody in that case than we actually are here upon the streets. Yet, for your life, there is nothing you can resent, the defect being so wholly in yourself. No fault herein of this Ithuriel if we are discovered to him and to ourselves as being what we are! Very disagreeable, however. In fact, throughout the wide domain of the major, people are in the habit of rather eluding and evading this their custodian, when it is possible; their very act in doing so deepening in each his sense of personal subjection to the major’s lawful authority. “ Good morning, chancellor,” I say, eager for a diversion from our miserable, because detected selves, as that legal dignitary passes at this moment. " You have heard of the wedding, major?" jocularly to our keeper.
“Yes, sir, I have heard of it,” the major makes reply, with a kindly bow to the chancellor, as to another one of his patients at large in the grounds for the moment, looking curiously after him as he passes up street and then bringing the same considering gaze to bear with refreshed energy upon me. “ As singular an affair as I often hear of,” the major continues, weighing me in the scales of his careful eyes as he speaks. “ I am told you consented to go at midnight ” —
“ Allow me, major! ” I assert myself. “ We all know the chancellor to be a learned, upright, honorable, and true man in every sense of the word. We know equally well that the lady in question is very lively, beautiful, willful, and witty, exceedingly admired and sought after. Desperately in love was the chancellor for weary years. Weary, because a severe time he has of it with the capricious beauty, who is more than a match for all his legal devices and cunning cross-examinations, turning his judicial head quite gray. It was by far the most difficult case, requiring more long and eloquent pleading and knowledge of human nature than any before him heretofore in all his life! ”
Not unaware of the restlessness of Captain Spaight, as a symptom naturally to be expected in his case, the major kindly listens to my defense as who should say, Let him have his way, poor fellow!
“ And you married them! ” he interjects, with tone and manner as of keeper humoring his charge.
“ As everybody knows,” I rapidly continue, “ the chancellor had obtained a license often before, only to get positive refusal from the lovely tyrant when he comes for the private marriage duly appointed. Last night it was near twelve o’clock before he obtained her consent to secure a fresh license; even then, she called to him after he had left the door, running out into the front yard for the purpose, ' You need n’t bring Mr. Martin! I won’t, — won’t, — won’t!’ For she is her own mistress.”
“ And the chancellor persevered! ” the major smilingly humors that patient also, just now elsewhere in the grounds.
“I considered it all a professional secret,” I make defense, “until I find this morning that the whole town knows the story. ' You will he sure to give it back to me,’ ” I continue my narration, “ ' in case she really won’t,’ the lover said to me as he gave me the license, somewhat ruefully, too. ' I will, if! ’ I replied; for, not being in love myself with this modern Zenobia, my blood was up, knowing the chancellor and his long ordeal as I did.
“ After we were arrived at the house of the friend with whom she was staying at the time, that friend the chancellor’s sincere ally also, it was but to have the chancellor rejoin me in the parlor, to lean against the mantel, his hands iu his pockets, deepest dejection upon his face.
“ ' Well? ' said I.
“ ' ' She won’t,’ said he.
“ ' Try again,’ said I. But it was only to have him return, more utterly cast down.
“ ' She says she — will — not! ’
“ ' Very good,’ said I, after we had stood in mournful reflection for some time; ' if the lady will not come in here to be married, suppose we go in there, wherever she is with her friends? ’
“ ' ' Excellent idea! ’ the chancellor assented. ' Because they are all in the supper room, everything in confusion there! We have had such a time of it,’ the lover added, and we marched to the door thereof to have it shut hurriedly in our face, with the alarmed outcry, " Oh, don’t come in here! We ’ll come to the parlor! ’ And she did come and — they were married! ”
“ Just a moment!” said the major, with uplifted forefinger, for I spoke only less rapidly than was the wont of Tom Burrows, anxious to release Captain Spaight, as well as myself, from custody. “ They say she said ' No, sir! ’ when you asked the question. Be careful! ” the major added, not aloud but in manner more impressive than words.
“ She said nothing of the kind,” I replied. “ That is, she said nothing at all; simply gave her head the archly disdainful toss of her willful mood. Yet what could I do? ” as the major regarded me sorrowfully; “ we had the license, she stood by his side, even although she refused to touch him or permit him to touch her. And they were married! ” I added defiantly, getting wearied, the reader with me, of the matter! And oh, those terrible days of battle and wounds and prison afterward, during which this woman clung to her husband with woman’s unwearying devotion! Dead, to-day, both of them. In the case of these two, at least, the major’s patients were neither fools nor knaves. “ Ah, Major Anderson!” I exclaimed, breaking bounds for the moment, “ I wish with all my soul some such woman had taken you in hand! ” for the major is an old bachelor, which will make these facts more credible to the reader.
“ Humph! You do? ” and the major smiles in the same old considering manner upon me from his superiority, as from the summits of the Andes. “Me?” Imbecile and criminal to have dared such a thought! All I gain by that!
” But surely you know Dr. Clavis, major! ” I add, making the grasp of a prisoner upon his rescuer, seizing, as I say the words, upon a lithe and wiry and very white-headed old gentleman passing us with quick and elastic step, eager-eyed energy in every feature of his face and movement. “ This gentleman,” I add, after due introduction, “ is, if he will allow me to say it, the best surgeon in the Confederate army; at our town today for fresh medical supplies. And this Dr. Clavis, — you know it, doctor, — at the very beginning of the war, made a tremendous speech for the Union to a vast multitude.
Sail on, O Union strong and great! ’
I remember your splendid closing, doctor, as if it were yesterday. Yet a still more powerful and thrilling address this doctor made, and to a larger crowd, on the very same spot and upon the very next day, against the Union, as a tyrannical and detestable despotism deserving its speedy and utter overthrow! ” for my long and intimate relations with Dr. Clavis allow me this freedom of remark; especially in my present emergency.
“ You are walking up street? ” the major speaks to the alert surgeon, before he can reply. " Anxious to be out of my hands, I see; no wonder! ” the major says to us, although only with eyes and in manner, and, with a kind nod, is gone. He takes the surgeon’s arm as they depart, reducing his swift step to his own slow and stately tread. In charge of him! No relief from that for the surgeon unless by amputation!
But three o’clock, the hour of his departure, is coming, by this time, upon Captain Spaight like a squall at sea. Very hurriedly he draws me out of sight of men behind two tobacco hogsheads placed the one on top of the other. With palm and finger he swiftly demonstrates to me the angle to which the commodore must depress his guns if the balls are to hurt the torpedo boat. “ His best way is to keep his fires banked, plenty of steam on ! ” adds my friend. “ The instant he sees us, — a blue flash from shore, remember, brother Martin; a handful of the fulminating compound accidentally thrown upon our camp-fire will do that; if we make the attempt by day the same course is best, — make right for the torpedo boat, run directly upon us and over us!” Amazing, the measure of hidden fire under so much ice! “ And as to that little salt, as soon as I can. Goodby! ”
Let it only be added, never from that hour-hare I seen Captain Cephas Spaight! Sincerely religious men there were upon both sides during the war, as there are still, even upon that side of the two, whichever it is, which is most enveloped from clear seeing of things in the powder smoke even yet lingering upon the battlefield !
But a wild, drunken reprobate before? Not a bit of it; a cool, set, mechanical-minded skeptic and unbeliever before, the captain’s religion, to my certain knowledge from thorough study of his case, made him one of the purest and truest and gentlest and most loving of men; as a Christian sailor a standing miracle to all other sailors! The rebuking of the winds and the waves no such proof of the power of the Christ to these as is the captain, and the manifest and superhuman change wrought by that Christ in him!
Let me stop here a moment and ask myself again, as I have done so often before, Suppose you had got into the Federal lines immediately after parting with the captain, as you and he so confidently reckoned upon; would you have sought commodores and generals and imparted what you knew about Confederate affairs ? In vain I face the mirror of this page toward myself herein, the reflection thereupon is too vague and undefined to be worth stating; but I doubt, I doubt.
Eight weeks after this Captain Spaight has receded from my mind, as if he were aboard the Susan Jane, quite down the horizon. For the storms blow terribly , if that figure may be continued, these days, and all the waters are wild with wind and foam! So much so that, when one morning a very roughly dressed man stands, ox-whip in hand, in the door of my house, and, after demanding and learning my name, thrusts his hand into his bosom, I am relieved when he produces therefrom, instead of a revolver, a letter, very crumpled and dirty though it be!
Yet, its contents blanch my check only less than would those of a revolver! It is the bill for freight due the person who hands it to me for delivering the salt promised by Captain Spaight!
“ One hundred and thirty-seven dollars and fifty cents in gold!” I repeat terrified.
“ That’s what ’s the matter with me! An' as soon :s you can! ” my visitor says impatiently. “ The roads are mighty heavy, my cows is hungry and tired, an’ I ’m likely, as like as not, waggings, cows, an’ all, to be conscripted for military duty! Hurry, if you please, an' let me get out o’ the way! ”
In half an hour thereafter I am down town and behold Captain Cephas Spaight’s gift to me of “ a little salt ”! Two enormous blue and bespattered wagons stand halted beside the pavement in the centre of the town, eight yoke of oxen to each, the wiser of said “ cows ” having seized the opportunity to lie down, waiting events as they chew the cud of the past, a lesson therein to others of us in that terrible then! And salt is in eager demand, the Federals having destroyed the most important of the works in the region, hourly threatening the rest! Easy to find a merchant more than willing to pay the freight, store the salt, and ask a reasonable commission upon its speedy sale!
“ Why, my dear sir,” he said, as he did the gold and odd change in silver up in an old shot bag for the teamster, taking freight receipt therefor, “ my dear sir, why, that salt will be worth to you, commissions deducted, no less than” — and he whispers the awful amount—“in gold!” Yet he is very shy of me, this merchant, in general, because no man in town is a more ardent friend, in words, of the Confederacy, and selected by me just now because of that, for wise reasons. Even then, we are not anxious to see the provost-marshal at this juncture. Nor Tom Burrows ! A better joke than to put the plastic marshal up to seizing the salt, Tom vvoidd not have desired; for a joke Tom would slaughter his dearest friend. And brother Martin thinks, as the salt is being rapidly transferred, with many an anxious glance up street and down, from the wagons to the bins of the merchant, of the glad surprise of all this to the dear ones at home !
You who never can be informed of the keen and long-continued anguish of those days, laugh, if you like it, with Tom Burrows, at the statement! Brother Martin thinks, just then, Who has said that about the sparrow not falling to the ground without the knowledge of the loving Father, food supplied to it, also, by the hand which gives to the skies their stars, to the martyrs their crowns! Making a Christian of Captain Spaight years ago; putting the thought in his heart as he placed him in the salt works in part for this! A Father shielding the gift over broad prairies, as well from scouting party in gray then, as from Tom Burrows in motley now! The eyes will moisten in the very moment that, lighting upon the teamster, they smile, too, thinking how little he knows himself to be of the number of the angels of God, unduly elated as he is, with the salt off his mind, and just returned, wiping his lips, from a convenient saloon! And if you, O patient reader, but knew how much that salt netted before night, and how painfully that gold was needed, you would understand that never even Attic salt was so appreciated!
William M. Baker.