Is Anything Lost?
THEY came out of a large frame house on the corner of L–Street. She took his arm without show of ceremony, and they turned in the direction of some low, rough hills, which were neither built up, like the city proper, nor woody, like the country immediately beyond. The air breathed the first beguiling promise of a Virginian spring; like scores of perfect days in past, forgotten seasons, its fitful, fond coquetry was the forerunner of biting winds and harsh rains sure to follow in the regular course of nature. But this could never be a forgotten season ; there was a strange, sickening element of fatality in the soft atmosphere to the two, as they walked along. Their world was undergoing one of those convulsive, transforming agonies which follow in the trail of the war chariot; they were crushed and tortured, though they looked up heroically from under the wheels, as thousands of self-immolating victims have done before, and dedicated to the immortal gods a sacrifice which it may be the gods had little to do with, and were washing their hands the while of this innocent blood.
“ Oh, Jo ! ” she exclaimed, clinging to his arm as though she could hold him back from the inevitable. " The terrible part is that, while you go, I must stay without you in this doomed, forsaken city! ”
It was a day of destiny: Richmond was to be evacuated that night. Rumor had brought many a fantastic tale before, but this time it was Truth, grim and cruel as the grave, abroad in the streets, proclaiming everywhere the sentence of doom.
“ Only to think,” the young girl went on, with tears in her voice, though she forced them back from her eyes, “ I sha’n’t even know where you are, when we ’ve had our whole lives in common for so long ! ”
“ I ’ll send you a letter, Annie, just as soon as I can. There will be some way of getting it through, you may be sure.”
“ Don’t tell me that now ! ” she cried, — “ though of course I want to hear from you. Say you think we shall soon see each other again. You do think so, don't you ? ”
He tried to smile. “ I ’ll say I hope so. Will that do ? ” “ Where did you say our troops were going ? ”
“ To join Johnston in North Carolina. Don’t despair of the cause.” He spoke hopefully. “ If we once yet fairly intrenched behind the mountains there, we may be able to hold out indefinitely, and the North will have to let us alone for our sheer persistence; we will wear them out.”
“ Nothing could bear me up now,” she continued, “ but the firm faith that the Lord is on our side ; all the ministers say so, and of course I know he is. It looks dark now, but he will deliver us yet from the foot of the oppressor.”
She planted firmly on the ground a foot, which, if it were designed at that moment to suggest the enemy’s, failed to convey the idea of a very weighty oppression. It was very small, the foot of this little Tennessee refugee, and would have looked most shapely in a Paris slipper; but it was encased in a leather shoe, which was old and rusty, and had met with an accident to boot. A large hole had somehow been made in the toe, right in front and on top, where holes do not usually come from wearing, and the young lady, with the undaunted economy of war, had stuck a patch of black cloth underneath it. The patch had not escaped Captain Conrad’s observation ; he had laughed at it, the other day, and tried to brush the red mud off it with, his army-cape, when they were walking over by the canal, and she had plunged into a mud puddle. This was her second-best pair of shoes, not her best ; she did have a new pair, but had forgotten, in her agitation, to put them on this afternoon. These others she had purchased at reduced army rates from a shoemaker at one of the hospital camps near the city. “ I only paid three hundred dollars for them,” she told her sister Mildred in triumph, “ when they ’re selling in the city stores for four hundred and fifty. Only think how cheap! I don’t see how he can do it, except that he ’s a soldier detailed to make shoes for the others, and materials are cheaper for the army. You must get a pair ; Jo will see to it for you.”
Annie was a famous manager in her way. As she sat by the captain on a rock under a tree, her toilet was a marvel of ingenuity in its construction. She even had silk flounces on her merino dress; true, they were made out of the best part of a cast-off umbrella, but they answered the purpose for a time. Her hat was considered exquisitely becoming by every one, though it was as different in shape and trimmings from those worn in the North at that period as Martha Washington’s hats would have been, had they been discovered in some Virginian garret. Her gloves were quite an elegant fit; she had made them herself out of an old pair of thread stockings, which, being white originally, she dyed in tea leaves, setting the color with alum, and finally evolved a genteel gray tint. It was universally conceded that Miss Somerville dressed as well as any young lady of her set, which was in the best Richmond circles : and this was the desideratum everywhere, — in Central Africa probably, where they were wearing as little as possible, just then, the same as in the United and Confederate States of America, where they were wearing all they could conveniently get. Of course, there were always some provoking girls who succeeded in dressing better than all the others, — the Misses Briney, for instance. And well they might afford to do so ; their father was one of those speculators who had the monopoly of the salt trade. Regardless of the public good, he and others had run it up for their private benefit. So his daughters, in consequence of his want of patriotism, wore the costliest fabrics which ran the blockade. How different these monopolists were from good Mr. Cheops, the rich butcher, who persisted in selling his meat low in the market, when meat was running up every day, till finally he brought it down and kept it there ! That was patriotism, indeed, and the Misses Cheops should have been visited, and taken up by the first families. But they were not, while the Briney girls were.
However she was dressed, that afternoon in April, Annie looked very fair to the eyes of affection, as the sunset hues fell across her brown hair and pale cheeks. On this eve of separation, of direful portent, she represented all that was most desirable in the world to Captain Conrad, — home, love, and peace. Away from her on the morrow, there would be only the cruel uncertainties of war for a man out yonder. Some thought like this was in his mind as he said to her, —
“ How small what we’ve called hardships seem now! ”
“Positively nothing!” she echoed. “ What were tea and coffee without milk or sugar, or hoe-cakes without butter, compared to being without each other ? But you have n’t gone yet; I have you still. Oh, Jo, I shall never wish for romantic times again ! When I was a little girl I often wished things would leave off being tame and monotonous ; that we could have tilts and tourneys, like those in Scott’s novels, and a few brigands and pirates here and there, for variety. But it does n't pay, now we see how it is. Is n’t it still, out here on these rocks ? I can’t believe anything so dreadful as the evacuation is just going to happen, — that we won’t be here to-morrow evening, or the next ; we have come so often. I ’m never coming here again till you get back, Jo.”
He looked around, as though to assure himself that they were entirely alone in the falling shades. There was no living thing visible, save one solitary sheep, drowsily grazing on the grass beyond.
“Annie, dear,” he began, in a quick and very earnest voice, “ there is one thing more I want to talk to you about. I came here for that, when I could ill spare the time ; there were so many around, at the house. How do you expect to live when the Yankees get in ? Have you any money ? ”
“ Lots,” she answered, with emphasis.
“ You are more lucky than I thought, then.”
“ Aunt Susan has an income from her state stock, you know ; then I heard her say, the other day, that she had fifteen hundred dollars in her black trunk, tied up in a stocking, which we were to use only in case of emergency.”
“ Confederate money? ”
“Of course; what else, pray? Don't we live in the Confederacy ? ”
“You will not to-morrow, my darling, innocent child. Your fifteen hundred dollars will be worth nothing then,—not so much as the stocking it is tied up in, for you might wear that ; and Mrs. Gardner’s Virginia State stock may not pay, — may never pay again. Who can tell ? ”
“ Don’t frighten me so, dear ! How dreadfully you do talk ! — as if everything were actually falling to pieces. I wonder if it will be this way when Gabriel blows his trump at the last day, and everything is changed all in a minute. Will people be standing on corners in squads, do you reckon, as they have been all the afternoon on Franklin and Grace streets ? ”
“ I can’t think about Gabriel now,” he answered hurriedly. “ I only know they 're throwing Confederate money away down town at this very minute ; I saw it in the gutters on Main Street.” He rose as though about to go, giving her a hand to help her to rise, also, and with the other drawing from his pocket a small buckskin bag he placed it in hers.
“ What’s this ? ” asked Annie, in surprise.
“ A parting keepsake.”
She untied the string, curiously peeped in, and saw a number of gold pieces. Without stopping to tie it up again, she leaned over and thrust the bag back into his vest pocket, where it bulged out prominently.
“ Don’t be foolish,” he urged ; “ pride is for other days than these. I am forced to leave the woman I love in the power of an unscrupulous enemy; let me at least feel that I have not left her to starvation ! ”
“ But gold, Joe, — where did you get it?” Annie was used to highsounding figures in Confederate scrip, but gold! It was to the Southern mind at that date the one unchangeably valuable possession in shifting fortunes, and commanded a higher species of respect than that which is everywhere accorded to money.
“ Friday, when I reported that I could not go on with the repairs at Jackson I was detached to make, unless I had more funds, Thompson gave me a hundred and fifty dollars in gold for present use. The quartermaster seemed to have a good deal of it, and things have been rather irregular among them this winter. I’ve been looking all the afternoon, till I saw you, for Thompson, to return him this money. The purpose for which it was designed no longer exists. The government, you know, is to be removed to-night to Danville ; Camp Jackson will be in the Federal lines. But I can't find him. He may be on that canal-boat which started for Lynchburg, with so many members and officials on it. I shan’t certainly give it to Taylor, and have him squandering it for whisky along the road. I can see they ’re all making laws for themselves, in this rule of panic. It has been so ever since Davis got that dispatch from General Lee at St. Paul’s, this morning. No man is in his right place to attend to anything.”
“ You ’ll need it all yourself, if you don't have a chance to return it to the government,” suggested Annie.
“ Of course I shall eventually return it. My family is not poor; we have property,” he added. The Conrads were indeed a family of high social position and landed estates in another part of Virginia. “ But I must act for to-day. I shall only want to take a little money with me ; I might be robbed on the way to the main army. A party of six of us will start together and keep in company, till we come up with it. You see, I should have to share it with them, and I would rather leave it with you. Confederate money will serve our purposes. I 've kept out a few of the gold pieces, in case anything unforeseen should occur.” He handed the bag back to her. “ Rebecca would have done as much for Ivanhoe,” he pleaded, eagerly.
“ You don’t know her as I do, if you think so! ” she protested. “ Indeed, it would be a great deal more like Rowena to take that gold ; she was always calculating.” She threw the bag very forcibly upon the ground.
Seeing it was of no avail that he had evoked these cherished and ghostly friends of hers, brought them all the way back from the Middle Ages, —she was too well versed in their motives to be deceived by a comparative stranger to them, — he exclaimed impetuously, “ Well, Annie, you have thrown it on the ground ; it shall stay there. I will bury that gold for your future use. Stop a minute ! ” and he took out five of the pieces. “These will answer for your present necessities, and you can come any time and get the rest, for I shall mark the place.” Seeing her about to raise further objections, he said firmly, “ Time presses. I may lose the horse I have engaged if I stay five minutes longer, for no bargain will hold tonight ; ” and picking up a stick he dug a hole with the aid of his rapid fingers. The little buckskin bag was soon out of sight. Then he placed a peculiarly marked stone over the spot, and made Annie look well at the tree above it, the rock they had used as a seat, and all the surroundings, already as familiar to her as her own room at home.
Yielding at last, she added, “ Who knows, Jo, but what, after all, this may be only a gigantic panic, and our troops will return in a few days? Then what fun it will be for us to come out here again and unearth this treasure together ! ” Just as they were finally getting off, a little bird above them in the tree, which had probably been wakened by their eager voices, tuned up its tiny pipes, and sang a low, plaintive cadence,
— a lay of love and parting. Its pathetic notes echoed the foreboding of their own hearts. There was something within which they dared not express to each other; yet it kept whispering,
Beware of parting! It is not so much the pain of the parting as the how and the where we shall meet again the face about to vanish from our view.”
Annie burst into tears. “ That bird
— I cannot bear it! ” she exclaimed, and they hurried home in the silence of despair. When they got to the gate, she spoke : " Do you mean that this is the very last ? ”
He hesitated, and looked at his watch. " I ’ll stop just one minute, about midnight, as I go by on my horse.”
“ I ’ll be right here at the gate, and not keep you waiting.”
It was now about eight P. M. All the houses along L–Street were bright-
ly lighted, and figures hastily moving about could be seen everywhere through the open windows.
Mrs. Slack had converted her rather dilapidated family mansion into a hoarding-house, not only to accommodate the overflowing population of the Confederate capital, but for the support of the Slacks, though she was an undoubted F. F. V. of “ purest ray serene.” She reserved a few rather unmarketable rooms in her attic for those who might, in Southern phraseology, wish to go to “room-keeping.” Even with General Grant’s army advancing rapidly, the reader must be informed as to what was then meant by room-keeping. It was sometimes found more economical to do one’s own marketing and provisioning, and to keep a separate table from the boarding-house, in one’s own private apartment. It was nothing unusual, in the nomadic society-picnic called together in Richmond by the war, for a family of two or three females to transact all business pertaining to cooking and eating, as well as sleeping, in one and the same room, by means of some extra activity in the morning. They would reserve to themselves the privilege of receiving visitors in the general parlor. In this way they managed to enjoy considerable social pleasure, in spite of bread made out of poor flour, wheat as a substitute for coffee, hasty plates of tepid pea-soup, the profusion of cots and trundle-beds, the scarcity of bureaus and wardrobes. And this was “ room-keeping.” Mrs. Gardner and her nieces “ room-kept,” and found it revolting to their high-bred instincts, though fortunately they had their cooking done in the kitchen below.
As Annie entered the open front door, her ears were saluted by a deafening, bewildering noise of pounding, jumping, and screaming, and as she almost flew to her attic, she found that it all proceeded from the room underneath theirs, occupied by Mrs. General Standard and baby. She opened her own door, and her eyes fell upon a scene of general confusion. Though aunt Susan was calmly sitting in her arm-chair, Milly was on the floor in the middle of the room, amid a conglomeration of dresses, tin pans, and provisions. She raised a face beautiful with the roundness of extreme youth, and flushed with the roses of excitement, to her sister.
“ Oh, s't Annie, I thought you’d never come ! ” Milly always meant to say sister Annie,” but somehow never could spare the time.
“ Why, what are you doing, Milly ? ”
“ Oh, I knew you’d gone to walk with Captain Conrad, and waited for you ever so long down-stairs, where all the boarders were t alking together. Then I thought aunt Susan would feel so lonesome up here, as she was n’t able to come down ; so I could n't leave her by herself any longer, and I came up. Then, when I had told her all I knew about the evacuation, and just had to sit down quietly, I got so miserable that I felt as if I must do something, and I concluded to pack up. Everybody, nearly, in the house and all along the square is packing up, and I feel ever so much better since I began.”
“ But why should we pack up Milly ? We haven’t any place to go to. We can’t follow the army.”
“ Oh, but it’s better to be all packed, any way,” said Milly, confidently, “ for we don’t know what’s going to happen to-morrow, and people can’t steal our things so easily if they ’re all in one place ; and then if those vampires burn the house down, why, we can go sit in the church, and Uncle Jerry, or some of ’em, can move our trunks out for us. Don’t you see how much better it is ? ”
Milly, it will be remarked, had heard of Vandals, but the distinction between them and vampires was not perfectly clear in her mind. She knew that one of these parties killed people by sucking their blood, and the other burned down and smashed up things indiscriminately : which was which did not much matter, in this case, for either would be appropriate. Yet even while revolving these murderous possibilities there was mirth lurking in the corners of her mouth, and she could laugh with the slightest provocation, if she did not decide to cry first. Milly was about fifteen.
The pounding, jumping, crashing, and screaming was still at full blast in the room below. “ What is the matter down there ? ” asked Annie.
“Oh, Mrs. Standard’s packing up, and getting ready to go out to the lines and join the general. All the afternoon no one could convince her of anything about the evacuation, and as dreadfully as we all felt we could n’t help laughing; for she sat rocking the baby just as usual, and kept saying, in her slow, measured way, 'I have received no news of this kind from my husband. General Lee and President Davis have the highest respect for his judgment, and would not decide upon such a measure without his concurrence, I am sure. If it were true, he would have sent a courier at once to inform me, and as he has not done so I am positive it is all right, and the city is safe for the present.’ I thought it was going to be a case of Casabianca on the burning dock,” continued Milly ; “ but a while ago, sure enough, an orderly did ride up, all besmeared and bemired, and brought her a note from the general to come out to the lines at once and join him. So she’s got to be ready in three quarters of an hour, — an ambulance is coming for her; and the baby’s been yelling that way ever since she began to pack. I suppose the poor little thing’s frightened out of its wits.”
“ These are trying times, dear children,” said aunt Susan, on whose face the signet of disease was set, as well as that of a mind at peace with itself under all circumstances. “ I do hope everything will be better than it looks now, although to-night the ground does seem to be shaking under our feet.”
“ It certainly is, at this moment,” said Milly, as the commotion in the lower region waxed louder and stronger.
After a while they had finished all the active employment they could find for their hands to do ; there was nothing left but to wait, — such a hard thing to do always. They had no watches, and generally guessed at the time, unless they were where they could see the clock in the square. The old clock on Mrs. Slack’s stairs had stopped six months ago at half past one. Presently a horse galloped up to the gate. Could it be anywhere near midnight ? It was after eleven.
Annie put her head out of the window, and exclaimed, “ That is Jo, — so soon ? Run, Milly, if you want to say good-by, for I must have the last word.”
A few seconds after, she brushed by her on the stairs, on her return from this leave-taking. Milly’s tears were streaming over those roses now, for she, too, loved the captain. Annie hurried out to the gate, to which he had hitched his horse. He was standing there quietly in the mellow moonlight, — the same moon that was erelong to set, and shroud the retreat in gloom. How often she had stood with him there before ! It was incredible, now, that the old law was about to pass away and all things to become new. A wave of sound in the distance kept steadily rising and falling, but her own neighborhood was very quiet now. The preparation was over. Only the Pryor girls were watching from their window. They had watched a dozen parting scenes that night from the same observatory. Little did Annie care for the Pryors in that last full moment. Her trembling feet had slipped through this outer earth of bloom and verdure, and had struck the heavy layer of tragedy which underlies it so closely everywhere.
A fortnight and two days had passed by. A certain old-fashioned house in Richmond stood there, unchanged, on
the corner of L–Street; it was far
removed from the burnt district. No difference at all was perceptible in the premises, except an advance of vegetation in the small garden.
The gate clicked, and two men in the uniform of officers of the United States Army walked up the narrow gravel path to the porch and door, both almost on a level with the street. That door, as in Confederate days, was open, and so was the one at the opposite end of the hall, by which coincidence their position commanded a full view, if not a satisfactory one, of the kitchen yard, directly to the rear. A venturesome pig was rambling meditatively through the spacious hall, and grunting in a modified, apologetic way, as though well aware he was abusing his privileges. The officers laughed heartily, and wondered if this were the celebrated old Virginia hospitality as shown alike to man and beast, of which they had, as yet, no experimental knowledge. They consulted a card they had with them, and were convinced that this house answered to the description given. It had no number and no bell, but there was a knocker, with a lion rampant to catch hold of, and this responded bravely. An old colored woman issued on the stroke, from the quarters in the rear: she was Aunt Jane, the cook of the establishment. When her eye fell upon the strangers, she rushed forward in a transport of welcome. Throwing her arms around the neck of the foremost man, she screamed, with a joyful ring, —
“ Ef it ain’t two o’ dem blessed critters ! Thank the Lord, you done come at last! ” Her victim retreated a good yard and more; but nowise disheartened, she continued. “ I never runned away. No, I waited for my freedom to come to me ; and I allers knowed it would come, for I had de witness ob de Sperrit — Git out ! Git away from here, you nasty beast! ” dividing her attention between the officers and the pig; but her tone, though one of disapproval, did not seem to imply that his perambulations had taken any extraordinary direction.
Aunt Jane urbanely invited them into the parlor, and went to tell “ the mistiss.” This they found to be a large, cheerful apartment, with various evidences of gentility apparent to the naked eye in the line of family portraits.
While the officers were in rapt contemplation of these works of art, awaiting the descent of Mrs. Slack to arrange the barter of board and lodgings for greenbacks, rations, and perquisites, two young girls were sitting up-stairs, under that sloping roof, looking drearily out of their dormer-window.
They had not been enslaved ; they had not been forcibly abducted from the L–Street house; they had never found themselves freer to come and go, at their own sweet will, than now, for the streets were never quieter or safer ; they had ample leisure to unpack, and pack again, all unmolested, if they chose. Their scanty store of provisions was untouched by the invading foe, and he had even offered, in a general way, to furnish rations to all the inhabitants whose necessities required them ; but kind Mrs. Slack had insisted on their sitting at her table, and having everything in common, now they were in “ the hands of the enemy,” as she said. So their apprehensions of personal danger had not been realized, and yet they were miserable. It was as if they had fortified themselves, with an invincible mien, to meet misfortune at the front door, where he was every moment expected to appear, and he had crept in, like a thief, by the back entrance, so as to take them at a disadvantage. Their aunt Susan lay ill, and they watched her rapid decay with daily growing anxiety ; they had hoped she would last for years. On examining her store of money, they found she had only provided herself with some few greenbacks, and these, with the constant demands of illness, were rapidly lessening. They had written to their uncle Donald in Tennessee, since the occupation, but there had not been time yet to receive an answer ; really, they knew very little about him now, for they had only received two or three letters from him since the beginning of the war. Then, all their friends in Richmond were poor now, and Annie had, at last, begun to spend the five gold pieces she had taken from Captain Conrad. When she sent the first of them to be sold for greenbacks, it was with a tightening about the heart, for it reminded her so of Jo,
— and he had not come home yet. She was expecting him every hour now with feverish impatience ; for ever since Lee’s surrender the “ boys in gray ” had been coming in by twos and threes, and more, all jaded and forlorn, but unharmed. So the clouds were gathering heavily around the sisters ; it was easy to see this from their careworn faces and drooping air, as they listlessly sat by the window, and aunt Susan lay quietly on her couch, by the side of the trundle-bed.
“ Oh, look out here ! ” cried Milly. As many as a dozen ex-Confederates were riding by, and Annie strained her eyes to look in each face as they passed ; then she turned away from the window with a sigh. “ Oh,” exclaimed Milly, “I did hope so that the captain was one of those! ”
By the next day, Major Graham and Captain Channing were as thoroughly domesticated at Mrs. Slack’s as they would be in a year under existing social obstacles. Their material wants were conscientiously supplied. It was, in truth, important that they should stay; there were very few boarders there now,
— and “ one must live, you know ! ” They had not come to Richmond for society, or doubtless they would have been disappointed ; as it was, they would be very busy, while they were at Mrs. Slack’s, supervising the erection of some temporary quarters to be run up in the suburbs, just a few squares beyond L–Street.
Being neither “ dead, nor deaf, nor dumb,” however, they could not fail to notice the youth, beauty, and sorrowful countenances of the two young ladies at the end of their table. Mrs. Slack had considerately seated them as far as possible from the officers. “ It would be unpleasant for young girls to be brought in contact with them ; though, to be sure, they are quite polite and gentlemanly, and all that sort of thing ! ” she said. These polite and gentlemanly individuals realized the situation, and were aware that it would be as easy to move Mont Blanc itself as to remove the least of the prejudices of their fair neighbors at this early period of the Federal rule ; so, although it might have been agreeable to ascertain the color of eyes invariably lowered at their approach, they had to be resigned to a better acquaintance with their back hair, which nature had grown in so lavish a mood as to forbid concealment from the profane gaze.
After a few days, when, in conversation with their mutual landlady, — the only mutual thing they had,— they learned the unprotected state of these girls, they were deeply touched, being, after all, human.
It would be too sad to portray in detail the death of aunt Susan, but it soon occurred. They laid her to rest in Hollywood, on the hill-side of the historic James. After this, Annie, being the elder of the two and the manager, was forced to devote a great deal of her time to arithmetic.
“ Milly,” she said one morning, " my brain ’s all in a ferment, from doing sums. I keep adding and adding all the time, — the money we ought to have to get this and that, and what we owe Mrs. Slack, and what we owe our dear pastor. I more than suspect he has done so much for the poor members of his congregation that he has very little left for himself. His wife says that if it were respectable to be seen in the streets without a coat, she is sure he would come home every day in his shirt-sleeves ; he will give his clothes away to people who are worse off than he is.”
“ Yes, he’s too heavenly minded by far, in my opinion,” said Milly, “for this world. Oh, dear me! ” with for her a rare accent of discouragement. “Why don't we hear from uncle Donald ? Why don't the captain come back ? Sometimes I think not only dear aunt Susan, but everybody we ” —
Annie jumped up, and clapped her hand hastily over Milly’s mouth. She could not bear what she knew was coming.
“ I’ll tell you what we can do!” exclaimed Milly, pushing her hand away, brightening up, and changing the subject. She had the charming temperament which prefers to look on the sunny side. “ We can make pies and cakes, and sell them to the soldiers. It can be kept a dead secret from our acquaintances. Plato can carry them around and sell them for us. We can give him — what do you call it ? — a percentage for his trouble. We can do that for a while, you know, until something turns up. There’s one trouble, though,” she added, contemplatively : “ I never made any pies and cakes myself, though I’ve seen others do it often. I ’m going right down to the kitchen now, to get Aunt Jane to let me try my hand! That’s a brilliant idea. This is baking-day, and I ’ll take her this apron as a present, to encourage the old lady, and make her feel an interest.”
Annie did not oppose this project: her thoughts were far away. It may be as well to state here, however, lest it should afterwards be overlooked, that, like many other fine plans in theory, it failed in execution, There was an obvious difficulty in making cakes, apple sauce, and lemon pies without the wherewithal, and this cost money. The principles of young Plato, moreover, were not formed on the incorruptible model of Plato First’s. He was likely, besides his percentage in money, to take one in the pies and cakes iarge enough to destroy all the profits of the trade.
On the morning in question, the theoretical pies and cakes answered a purpose, however : Annie had a chance to get an hour or two away from Milly. She wanted to take a solitary walk, not a walk for pleasure; it would be a very painful one, for she had never meant to go there again until — But it could be postponed no longer. So, hastily putting on her hat, she walked resolutely out of the house and garden in the direction of a familiar spot. Presently it began to look very odd over there. What was it ?
“ Why, I declare,” she exclaimed, half aloud, “ they ’re actually building something ! ” She had come right up to those low stony hills now, and there were some soldiers in the Federal uniform, some workmen and mules with carts, and altogether a disgusting, desecrating air of business in the neighborhood of her dear trysting-place. A building she had never laid eyes on before was boldly confronting her. How she wished it could be burned down ! It was not painted yet, and there was an immense pile of lumber at one side of it; her heart sank. “ But oh, there’s our tree and rock, just as it always was ! Yet it does bewilder my senses to find things so different.” She did not like to go near those horrid soldiers, though there were only two or three of them ; there were two officers, also, who seemed to be giving directions. But the case was so all important, she must at least reconnoitre this time, so that, it’ obliged to come once again at a more favorable hour, she could accomplish her objects in a hurry. Of course she could not keep coming and going where she was liable to meet any of those Yankee troops. She felt her thick green veil (the same for which she had paid fifty dollars a few weeks before, and could now have procured for a fifty-cent greenback) to be sure that it was tight over her face and head ; then she walked slowly on, looking down at the ground for a moment, every now and then, and looking up again in the most studiously unconscious way. But the men were not noticing her: they had seen so many women smothered in veils, since they came to Richmond, that they all looked alike to them, and it did not pay to try and detect the difference between the average F. F. V.’s and the average market-women ; so they had ceased to scrutinize. Annie was emboldened to draw a little nearer the scene of action : they appeared to be measuring the ground, and oh, confusion ! — there were the two officers who boarded at Mrs. Slack’s ! But their backs were turned. In haste she walked as near as she could go to the supposed locality of her treasure, so as to be fully assured before leaving the ground, when, woe indescribable ! she discovered that the pile of lumber was lying in such a way that it would be utterly impossible to make any explorations without having the greater part of it moved. She stood still an instant, to reflect on this unforeseen obstacle, and just then up stepped, with firm yet gentle tread, Major Graham.
“ Good morning ! ” with a courteous bow. How dared he speak to her now ? He had never done so at Mrs. Slack’s, yet here he showed no hesitation. “ Pardon me for addressing a stranger, but I have charge of these premises,” he began ; “ and seeing that you have apparently some interest in them — perhaps you have dropped something ?I hoped you would permit me to assist you in some way, if possible.”
“ Oh, I did n’t think you could see me — I mean that you were looking,” quoth Annie, “ or that I was in the way, at all, of the workmen.”
“ Not in the least,” he replied, with a smile. “ You are at perfect liberty to inspect these buildings ; they are rather rough, and are only temporary. But the place is hardly attractive as a promenade, just now, and I did n’t think you would be walking here, unless ” — He did not quite know how to finish, for the reason we must all of us have had, at times, when we dared not speak the thing foremost in our minds, and nothing else was to the point. So they both did considerable thinking in a few seconds.
“ I can’t get it, now, without his knowing,” was running through her mind. “ I can’t wait for the money without making others wait and suffer, — even then I might not get any. There is no one I can ask for any more. I ’ll have to tell him a part, at least.”
“ Well ” — she began.
Seeing that something was coming, he interrupted: “I have a little room that I use as an office, just here,” opening a door at the end of the frame building. “ Do come in a moment, for I should be sorry to have one of the men come to me to receive further orders, from over there where they are laying off the ground. It may happen at any minute, and might be embarrassing for you.”
“ Oh, no, thank you ! ” exclaimed Annie, terrified. “ I must go home now! ” How could she be shut in there with a Yankee officer, or even be talking to him ? It was a shame! Her cheeks burned at the thought of the Taylors and Johnsons and Brineys knowing it, — but they did not. In her agitation she pushed her veil aside, and now, for the first time, Major Graham ascertained that her eyes were as brown as her hair. They met his : in that one instant of time an irrepressible conviction of the man’s honesty and worth bore in upon her mind, like a sudden illumination, and was superior to all previous education and deeply rooted impressions. By an overwhelming impulse she found herself in that little room, and he with her. She looked back, though, to see that he did not shut the door. That would be more than she could bear.
“ Yes, —I have lost something,” she commenced, “ I mean I wanted to find something — I — A friend of mine, who is n’t here now, hid something — that is to say, he buried some tiling. I need it now, and if you will be so kind as to let me look for it ” —
“ Anything in the world to assist your search,” he responded, without the show of surprise Annie had expected; “ but will you not be more definite ? ” And then she was obliged to bring it out, which she did with a rush, that it was a small bag of gold. She failed to see any avaricious gleam in his eye. Yes, he was aware that burying their valuables had been a common resort among the Southerners, and sometimes a very judicious one, but he was truly glad that it had proved to be an unnecessary precaution in Richmond.
Then her story came out, little by little, and her manner underwent a thaw, as will generally be the case, if two people talk long enough, under such circumstances. The solidity of the ice can be maintained only under a paucity of language.
She said it was a small buckskin bag, tied up with a string, and there was just a hundred dollars in it. “ I don’t know how many of the pieces were large and how many small, for it was getting late, and I had n't time to examine them.” His imagination was left to supply various details, and was capable of filling up vacancies which were occasioned by the great reluctance she felt to speak to him of her dear, absent Jo.
“ And now are you sure that the right place was just under the extreme northwest corner of that pile of lumber leaning against that beech ? ”
“ Oh, yes ! It was a beech, I’m sure, and there was a gray rock, which had lots of moss on the sides of it.”
“ Well, I assure you, it will give me great pleasure to institute a search for it. An excuse can easily be made for moving that pile, and I will thoroughly examine the premises with my own eyes and hands.”
Now this was the end of it, and she was going ; she had been standing during the entire conversation. He had been kind; she wanted to convey some idea of her appreciation, but she most wanted to avoid being at all impressive, so she thought she would begin by putting the qualification before the thanks : “It is most painful to a Southern woman —I hope you understand ” —
“ I fully understand : you are about to remind me that in your geography the large, though unimportant tract of land north of Mason’s and Dixon’s line is labeled, ‘The Yankee States, — inhabited by a horrid race ; ’ and that there is a great gulf fixed on your map between them and you. Won’t you at least allow me to swim across the gulf, if I can do you a service, and if I promise to swim right back to my own side, and stay there afterwards ? To relieve your mind of any idea of obligation in the case, I assure you that I regard the restoration of your personal property as a simple act of justice, on my part. I would do the same for any one, — say, old Aunt Jane ; and yet I would rather choose some other example. She might deem it necessary to reward me ! ” He smiled at the mental photograph of this colored aunty as she had rushed forward to embrace him.
“ This is going quite too far,” thought Annie; “he ’s getting familiar. I must set him back in his place.” The ice was thickening again. “ I have no acquaintance with the cook’s private history,” she began, with carefully measured dignity, “ nor do I care to discuss the study of geography and maps in a business interview. I am extremely indebted to you for your kind intentions. Good morning!” As she went out of the door, she turned once more, and added, “ Please don’t tell anybody at Mrs. Slack’s ! ”
“ Oh, no ! But pardon me if I can’t help feeling sorry about the ' gulf,’ ” he added, wickedly.
Then, being tired of standing, he threw himself into a chair, tilted it back, — feet up in the window, — and laughed heartily; after which he began whistling.
The young lady was making doublequick time up the street, and never looked back once, till she reached the front gate.
That day, at dinner, as the elder Miss Somerville passed round to her own seat, Major Graham naturally turned to see who it was. She bowed very slightly, almost imperceptibly.
“It was a bow, though ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Slack to herself, in amazement, down at her end. “ I did n’t know they had ever been introduced ! ”
The next morning, after breakfast, as Annie glided out of the dining-room, the major, who had evidently not breakfasted, came in from the porch, and by the time she had reached the foot of the staircase he was standing at the side of it. He would have been visible from the dining-room to the other boarders, but for once that door was shut; he had calculated his time and opportunity. “ Here, Miss Somerville! ” slipping something into her hand, glancing at the same instant both up and down the hall. “ I told you I was good at finding ” and with a semi-friendly smile — a trifle chilly it was, as though fearing a rebuke — he was off again before she could regain her composure enough to say something. Then she flew to her garret to tell the story to Milly, whose first enthusiastic outburst on hearing it was, —
“ S’t’ Annie, I can’t help it what the others are, but I do believe that man is a gentleman ! ”
“ I reckon he must be ! ” assented Annie, reflectively.
“ Heavens and earth, Graham! ” said Captain Channing that day, as his comrade joined him in a post-prandial cigar, “ what were you doing out yonder last night after dark, and this morning since sunrise ? I have n’t had a chance to speak to you myself, but have heard of you as engaged in tearing up the country with a vengeance. Were you ‘digging for the infinite,’ trying to connect with the underground railroad to China, or what ? ”
“ I was 'what.' ” replied the major, very quietly.
Channing looked at him rather curiously.
“ Liberally construed, that means 'Mind your own business,’ I presume. If so, I’ve nothing more to say, of course; only I wonder if you did find anything ? ”
“ The devil! ” ejaculated the major, with a twitch of the shoulders. “ I say, Channing, they ’re having a tremendous time of it in Washington. Have you seen to-day’s dispatches ? My cigar’s out again; here, give me a light.”
Then, getting into the affairs of the nation, they puffed away, and were happy.
It was some weeks after this that Milly came tripping in, one day, holding up a letter triumphantly above her head. “ Uncle Donald at last ! ” she cried.
Her sister did not smile, though her eyes quickened with a gleam of intelligence at the tidings so long delayed. Somehow, it was very hard for her to smile of late. The letter read : —
MY DEAR CHILDREN, — I cannot express my grief at hearing of the loss we have all sustained in the death of my sister Susan. The thought, too, of the many hardships my brother’s children have undergone, while I had enough and to spare, is deeply painful to me ; it shall be the effort of my remaining years to make you forget them. Your letter was forwarded to me by friends in Tennessee, I having sold out there two years ago, disgusted with my torn and distracted State, which I could not help, and moved to a ranch in California. You know I am an old line whig, of iron-clad principles. I love the Union, and I suppose you don’t, dear little rebs ; but come to me as soon as possible, and we won’t dispute about politics. Come and cheer the heart and home of a lonely old man, who will be only too glad to have something young about him to keep him from becoming a fossil. I inclose you a check, which will, I hope, cover all your present expenses, and will write again as soon as I can hear of a suitable escort to bring you across the country. Your affectionate uncle,
It is not very difficult to foresee that Annie and Mildred Somerville soon drifted Westward with the current. And Joseph Conrad, too, would have gone out to California, or kept Annie, at least, in Virginia ; he would have followed her, if need be, to the ends of the earth ; but he lay asleep at Appomattox Court House, among the last of those “ unreturning brave ” who died for an idea.
And whether we stay South, or go East or West, the dead are never forgotten : we carry them with us.
It was early in the summer of 1876, the civil war had become an old story, and a full Western train came puffing along, nearly at its destination, Philadelphia.
Extremes were meeting, en route to that city, every day now, — Maine and Madeira, Barbary and Japan ; surely, one should not be surprised at any possible encounter or combination.
A lady and gentleman, who occupied a seat on this train together, seemed to have come a long way, from the number of their bags, umbrellas, and wraps ; more than all, from their air of acclimation to the cars, which is not to be acquired in a few hours’ travel. The gentleman wore a linen duster; so did the lady, like the other hundreds of thousands who came to the Centennial; but in other respects there was something in their appearance which rather invited a second and a more interested glance. They were the reverse of ordinary. As he occasionally walked up and down the aisle for a change of position, his fellow - travelers thought his carriage fine and commanding ; the more discerning of them decided that his shoulders must have come from West Point, and that the lines and expression of his face indicated talent and energy.
The women said to themselves, “ She must feel proud of him ! ”
The men said, “ He ought to feel proud of her ! ”
They had often been observed talking and making merry together, in a quiet, unobtrusive way, as though they were, for some reason or other, specially pleased with this journey. But then most persons were pleased to be on their way to the Centennial.
Just now he was absorbed in a San Francisco paper, as the letters at the head of the sheet proclaimed to the passer-by, and she was merely looking out of the window, — a mutual disregard which, if not denoting an absence of sympathy, rather suggests a superior quality of it that can dispense with effort.
Presently he folded his paper, however, and asked his companion if she were tired. “We ’re due in less than an hour now.”
“ I am a little tired, and I might be candid enough to confess more than a little nervous ; for you know — no, you never will know — what it is to meet a mother-in-law for the first time. I ’m all ready to like her,” she hurried on, not willing that this fact should be doubted, “ but is she all ready to like me ? ”
“ Trust her a while. Can’t you ? ”
“ She may think her distinguished son should have married somebody who was younger and prettier.”
“ You won’t surely expect me to begin and compliment you now, if I did not to win you.” He smiled over at her a little tenderly, as if quizzing her, “ But I must admit that even in the leveling duster of ’76 you are rather — lady-like. You see I put it mildly. Stop, — I’ve a word of encouragement for you from a disinterested person. When I met Williams on the train this morning,
‘ By George!’ he broke out. ‘Who’s that handsome party you ’re traveling with ? ’ I stopped him, prudentially. ‘ Take care, my good friend, I married her about three weeks ago ; ’ and he melted, oozed away, fairly, in congratulations, leaving me with the flattering impression that he would have liked it himself.”
“ How funny you are, any way ! Any other man would have come right in and told me this; but I notice it always takes you a good while to tell anything. Only to think of your waiting till we were actually married before you ever confessed about your giving me that, yourself! ”
“ Giving you what? ’Pon my word, I don’t know what you mean.”
“ That gold in Richmond, you know.”
“ Oh! Are you still anxious to pay me ? You may, if you choose,” and he shook his head at her and laughed.
“I’m not at all troubled about paying you now; it may stand,” she said, in a perfectly satisfied tone. “ But at the time— Oh, Philip! I would almost rather have died.”
“Yes, I saw how it was.” They liked to bring back those old times, often as they must have done so before. “ Channing and I used to wish we could do something to help you, — you were two pretty young creatures, especially Milly ; but there was your terrible rebel dignity. And when the chance really presented itself in that unforeseen shape I thought, ‘ Now, Graham, is it really that you want to help her because she needs it and your heart responds to the call of suffering womanhood, or are you only willing to do it in some way which could add to her appreciation of yourself, — in short, by letting her know all about it ? Here comes the test.’ ”
“ And your decision was on the side of pure and heavenly charity.” She spoke with a low, reverential accent. She must have been “ proud of him; ” those women were right.
“ Why not ? ” he went on. “ I was pretty flush just then ; gold was not to me what it was to you. One must do some good in the world, and I never cared to do mine among the Parsees or the Ashantees. May be I expected to send in my bill, some day, to your rich uncle Donald.”
“ You did n’t happen to know he was rich then.”
“ Ah, so I did n’t ! I forgot. At any rate, the facts in the case were that Miss Somerville, positive damsel that she was, had mistaken her moorings ; it was impossible to find anything out there. She had said she ‘ could n't wait,’ so what else could I do ? Break her little reb— excuse me, Confederate heart? ”
“ One thing I’m very sure of, Philip ; you were n’t a bit in love with me then.”
“No, for the best reason in the world, I had some one else in my mind, as you had. But who would be without his disappointments ? I, for one, would n’t sell out at any price. In truth, Nancy, I owe you to the Indians ; for when I was sent West, and met you again, it really seemed as if the coincidence of being brought together a second time without seeking it was so striking that it would be rash to neglect the goods the gods provided.”
“ Thank you ; indeed you were kind! ” she returned in an amused tone. “ You thought it a pity, too, that Milly, three years younger, had gotten so far ahead of me with her husband and two children ? She always was the best looking, you know.”
“ Yes, Eliot is a fortunate man. I’ve nothing to say about Graham, for that would be personal.”
“ Well, I ’m thankful it is so they can stay with uncle Donald,” she continued more seriously, “ since I am to follow the fortunes of the army. Your hair is growing decidedly gray, my dear ; you will soon arrive at that happy period when you will have a right to expect posts near large cities, and soft places generally, let us hope, — though I can stand any post that you can. We are both of us getting on in life,”— and her eyes were softened as that long-gone past came streaming back, — “ but I do not feel that I have lost anything. Do you ? ”
“ Well, no.”
“ Youth is gone forever,” she added, with scarce a shade of regret for that “dead yesterday; ” “ but who would take it, with all its crudeness, again ? The years bring their own compensation.”
The train was slackening its speed now ; they might be overheard. Colonel Graham began picking up newspapers, and resumed at once the indifferent air which, under retrospective influences, he had thrown aside. A man will shield himself from the eye and ear of the world, though that world may be composed of men and women having hearts like his own.
But his wife, as she turned away, and peered through the dusty pane, was looking beyond the flat, tame landscape out there, far away into some other country.
“ My happiness was, after all my grieving, only hidden like the gold,” she mused. “ and God brought it back to me. And Jo ? It is all safely over for him. He is where he can never lose anything again, — the richest of us all.”
Fanny Albert Doughty.