In a Border State
ONE clear, crisp morning in the month of October, 1864, the sun was shining brightly through the windows of a comfortable dining-room in a large town on the banks of the Ohio. There were thriving plants in these windows, and in the grate crackled a cheerful soft-coal fire. The table in the centre of the room had places for six persons, but four of them had been vacated, only those at the head and foot being occupied ; the former by just such a round, comfortable, motherly woman as one would naturally associate with the well-kept room and the well-prepared breakfast, which still remained on the table. The children had hurried off to school, and the entire attention of their mother was now devoted to the head of the family, who sat facing her.
Mr. Robert Mitchell was a short, stout man of fifty, with a florid complexion and sandy hair and beard just touched with gray. His face was a good one, and his light blue eyes looked out honestly, if sometimes angrily, from under his shaggy brows. There was quick, hot, Irish blood in his veins, though it had become somewhat tempered, and the other marked qualities of the race — wit, poetry, romance — almost wholly lost in three generations of life and struggling in hardening, practical America.
Mr. Mitchell was evidently out of temper this morning. He moved impatiently in his large armchair, and from time to time gave vent to sundry emphatic exclamations which caused his wife to look at him half timidly, half reproachfully, and silently to rejoice that the children were out of hearing. His second cup of coffee remained untouched, and he had eaten nothing since unfolding the newspaper, whose contents were evidently the cause of his dissatisfaction, — only partly the cause, however. The case was simply this: Robert Mitchell had come to his present home from New England when still a young man, had made his way by great industry and perfect probity, married and reared his family, and lived in entire harmony with his surroundings for more than twenty years. He had long been the senior member of a prominent hardware firm, and until the breaking out of the war had carried on a large and profitable trade with the Southern States. His wife had many relatives in the South, and he himself had made valuable connections and warm friends there. Until recently he had not realized that his home was an adopted one; that he was transplanted, not in his native soil ; that his sympathy with the people among whom he lived was not inherent but acquired. He had never approved of slavery, it is true, nor owned a slave ; the only negro in his house was the old cook, who had come there with his bride. The events preceding the war found him a stanch Union man, in favor of checking the extension of slavery, and of gradually, by legitimate means, putting an end to it altogether; but he was moderate in his views and in the expression of them. During the past few years, since 1861, he had paid bitterly the penalty of his position. He was at first in favor of the neutrality of his State, and when that position became untenable, he heartily approved of throwing her weight on the side of the Union. He was too far advanced in life to make it a point of honor with him to enter the army, and personally he had no desire to take up arms against the people of the South ; he thought that they had had much to bear; his feeling for them was half sorrow, half anger. But anger gradually got the upper hand when he found that he was becoming unpopular; that what he thought guarded expressions of opinion were misunderstood by the rabid “ Southern sympathizers,” who made up half the community. Old business friends grew cool; some finally passed him without a look, because he entertained Union officers, — some of them friends of his boyhood, or connections of such friends, whom the fortune of war had drifted to his hospitable door. His business, too, had suffered; the natural market for his goods was closed, and he lost heavily in consequence. He had many bad debts throughout the South, some owed by honest men who could not pay, some which had been openly repudiated, and this brought irritation as well as loss. Mr. Mitchell gradually became a decided Abolitionist, and was all the more vigorous in expressing his opinions because of his former ill-received moderation and of his growing business embarrassments ; for he was too upright a man to become on any large scale an army contractor, and thus retrieve his fortunes. In this fourth year of the war, however, his views, or, to speak more correctly, his sentiments, had again been modified. The State had been placed under what was practically martial law. There was illegal interference with elections and other acts of petty tyranny committed by a series of provost marshals in his own city. Men whom he knew to be as loyal as himself were put into prison, or fled in the night to avoid it. A cousin of his wife had been arrested and sent beyond the lines because her husband was in the Confederate army. Families were roused at midnight by searchers for “ contraband goods,” that is, weapons, ammunition, and concealed rebels ; property was confiscated ; handsome residences were appropriated for hospitals and government offices, stables plundered, and horses pressed, — often necessary measures, no doubt, but with gratuitous accompaniments of rudeness and arbitrariness. Mrs, Mitchell had recently been forbidden to continue her visits to the hospitals, where she had ministered to the wounded of North and South alike, until she should take the oath of allegiance. All these things had for months been uniting to render her husband impatient with the existing state of affairs. He was out of temper with himself, as well, because he found his sympathies thus changing from side to side; but still more irritated with the circumstances which placed him in a position antagonistic to the government. His attitude seemed to himself shifty and uncertain ; he had an uneasy sense of its seeming so to others. In this he was mistaken. Public opinion had not changed concerning him from the first. He was always spoken of as an unswerving Union man, which was a merit or a fault, according to which side of the community the speaker belonged politically.
These were some of the reflections going on in the depths of Mr. Mitchell’s mind, while on the surface it took in near and disagreeable impressions from the morning paper. At last he threw down the sheet and started from his chair, which slid back some distance from the impetus given by the suddenness of his movement.
“ It’s an outrage for these things to go on,” he exclaimed. “ Freeman’s house was searched last night, and he is ordered South, — a man who has given more hard money to the cause of the Union than any one in the State ! ”
“Mr. Freeman ordered away!” exclaimed Mrs. Mitchell, in evident surprise. “ Why, he ’s been an Abolitionist always. You know he would not speak to Mary’s husband when he decided to join the Southern army. Well, all I can say is that I wish the State had seceded. I always shall think that it would have been better if Bragg had taken the city, and we had gone with the South. You know, Mr. Mitchell,” —
“Yes, I know, I know. I’ve been listening to that sort of talk for four years, and been trying to make you understand that it is all nonsense, and that the government should not be held responsible for the arbitrary acts of a few upstart officers. Though I ’ll be hanged if they ought not to have some check put upon them,” he added, relapsing from patriotism into irritation.
Mr. Mitchell was standing by the fire as he spoke, lighting a cigar preparatory to going down street. He had hardly noticed the tramp of marching feet, so common was the sound ; but now a short, sharp word of command attracted his attention, and glancing out of the window he saw that a regiment of soldiers, in faded blue overcoats that showed long and hard usage, had halted in the street. They were guarding a score or so of prisoners in rebel gray, with haggard, wretched faces, and unkempt hair and beard. These seemed weary and footsore. Some were without shoes, and had their feet tied up in coarse rags ; not a few had a bloody cloth wrapped about the head, or carried one arm in a sling. This street, the main one of the town, ran north and south. At one end was a large square space inclosed by rows of frame cabins, and known as “ the barracks ; ” and all about, on the level common, tents were pitched and troops encamped. At right angles with the other end of the street flowed the river, and here were the government boats for transporting men and supplies. All day long could be heard the tramp of soldiers along this thoroughfare, and the long-drawn words of command as the heavy muskets were shifted ; all night the monotonous roll of the heavily-laden army-wagons made the windows of the houses rattle, and roused the sleepers within.
The company now in the street had evidently halted to get water from a pump near at hand before proceeding to the boat which was to take their prisoners to some Northern fort. Husband and wife watched the men for a few moments in silence as they “broke ranks,” and seated themselves wearily on the curbstones, some filling their canteens at the pump and dashing the water over their bronzed faces, others unbuckling their knapsacks and taking from them pieces of dry bread and uncooked bacon. The prisoners sat quite still in the listlessness of despair or of utter fatigue.
“ Poor fellows ! ” said Mrs. Mitchell with a sigh. “ They look very tired and hungry.” She glanced doubtfully at her husband. “ Shall I tell Mammy to take them out some corn-bread and coffee, Robert ? ”
“ Yes, of course,” was the quick reply. “ You don’t suppose I m such an illtempered brute as to want to see men starve before my eyes, do you ? Send out everything you can spare.”
Mrs. Mitchell bustled away, selecting the store-room key from the basket as she went, and in a few moments she was standing at the door directing the distribution of baskets full of food. Tin cups were held out eagerly for the steaming coffee and the great “ pones ” and hot “ corn - dodgers ” disappeared like magic. Many a worn face looked gratefully toward the kindly mistress, and rough but good-natured jests were exchanged with the fat old negro cook as she went her hospitable round among the men. This was no unusual scene; such companies often stopped here for rest and water, and rarely left without food and refreshment; and it happened more than once that some article of male attire was hurriedly unhooked from its peg in wardrobe or closet and thrust into the cold hands of some one in special need. The prisoners had their full share, — Mrs. Mitchell saw to that; and she always scanned them carefully, half fearing that she might be startled by some dear familiar face. There was no one to-day who was near to her, nor had there ever been ; soon the supply of food was exhausted, and after a little while the men moved on with a cheer of thanks for their breakfast.
As they disappeared down the street, Mr. Mitchell resumed his preparations for leaving the house.
“ I’m sick and tired of such sights,” he said drearily, “ and of the rattle of those army-wagons. Confound them ! I was wakened half a dozen times last night by their noise. I tell you what it is, I must get out of this for a while. I believe I ’ll run out to Brewer’s, and see if a few days’ hunting won’t set me up. There’s nothing to keep me at the store, — about work enough for one man,” bitterly, “ and a dozen to do it. Besides, I promised Rob that he should try his new gun this fall, and I might as well take him with me, don’t you think ? ” the last words somewhat dubiously, for he saw objections ahead on the score of school duties. But for once Mrs. Mitchell did not veto the interference with study ; she saw that her husband was fretted and that he needed to get away for a time from the friction of his environment. So it was soon arranged that he should start early the following morning and that Rob should be made ready to accompany him, and Mr. Mitchell started off to his office with renewed cheerfulness.
That afternoon was spent in preparations dear to the hunter’s heart. The shot-gun had to be drawn from its leathern cover, stained and blackened by long use; it was taken apart, carefully cleaned, oiled, and put together again, all by the owner’s own hands, for the task was too important and too delightful to be entrusted to another. Powder, shot, and wads were measured out, for this was in days before the general use of breech-loaders ; a well-worn suit of brown corduroy was brought from the attic, likewise an aged hair-cloth trunk, a time-honored institution in the family, whose only fault was a tendency to emit half its contents at once, whenever the deep, rounded top was raised. The children, freed from school, crowded around eager to help. Rob, a lad of fourteen, was the hero of the hour ; he was the proud possessor of a new gun, and this was to be his first hunting expedition, though not his first visit to Brewer’s. Clothing, hunting equipments, and ammunition were all stowed away by dusk, and then they gathered about the fire, the children listening to stories of former hunts until the tea-bell rang.
An early start next morning, and a ride of forty miles in a car crowded with soldiers, brought them to their station, where Mr. Mitchell was evidently well known. He was greeted as an old acquaintance by a number of lanternjawed, tobacco-chewing loungers, and after due response he singled out one of them and asked if he could have the spring wagon to go to Brewer’s place.
“ Well, I dunno ’bout that, squire. You could have the wagon quick enough, but these here’s ticklish times with horses. Wut with the guv’ment pressin’ horses and the bushwhackers stealin’ ’em, horses is ’bout es oncertain goods es a man kin han’l.”
They walked away from the station as old Jerry Young drawled out these words, which were evidently not meant as a refusal, but as his contribution to the general fund of conversation.
“ Howsomever,” he continued, “ bein’ es it’s you, I reckon I ’ll have to git ole Bess outer the parsture and carry you on to Brewer’s. I’ve been pestered scan’Ius here lately, tryin’ to keep her outer sight. Are they expectin’ you out thar ? ”
“No,” replied Mr. Mitchell, “ but they know my ways and woq’t be put out by my coming.”
“ Heard from ’em lately ? ”
“ No. Is there any news ? ”
“ I b’lieve not. I seed that gal o’ his’n yisterday at the store. She’s jes’ es perty es ever, — heap too good fer that thar triflin’ Sam Lyle she’s set her heart on.”
“ What, the young fellow from the next farm ? I thought he had joined the guerrillas and been killed.”
“ Well, he wuz with ’em, hut he ain’t killed. Ole Scratch takes care of his own,” said Jerry dryly. “ ’T war n’t more ’n a month ago that he wuz piroutin’ round here es paradeful es ef he wuz commandin’ the whole Army of the Potomac. Look here, squire,” he continued, changing his easy, gossiping tone for one of seriousness, “ ain’t it a leetle risky fer you to be goin’ out there jes’ now ? Thar’s a heap o’ raids goin’ on, and you ’re a strong Union man.”
Mr. Mitchell could not believe that there was any danger so near one of the largest military depots in the Ohio valley, and told old Jerry so ; and before long the wagon was made ready and they started on a five-mile drive, going at a tangent from the railroad right into the heart of the country. At first the road lay between desolate, fenceless fields, marked here and there by circles where tents had stood and charred stumps where camp-fires had burned. Before long they left the turnpike, and seemed then to get every moment farther away from the path not only of war but of civilization. The situation of the Brewer farm was singularly secluded ; it was reached by a series of lanes, like a labyrinth to those who were not familiar with the way, the last one ending at the farm gate ; there seemed nothing beyond except woods. It was this remoteness which was so grateful to Mr. Mitchell and made his visits here peculiarly pleasant. When he put on his hunting-suit, he could forget for a time all business cares and domestic worries and give himself up to the enjoyment of nature, of which he was a sincere though unemotional lover. Brewer was an old friend of his ; their acquaintance had begun through small purchases in the hardware line by the farmer, and casual inquiries as to the hunting in his neighborhood on the part of Mr. Mitchell, which ended in an agreement that he should come and try it for himself ; and the first visit had been frequently repeated during the ten years that had passed since it took place. Mr. Brewer belonged to the class of small farmers so numerous in the free States, but comparatively rare where slavery was an established institution, the more energetic following the trail of Western enterprise, driven by strong objections to being relegated to the class of “ poor whites.” But Brewer was a lymphatic, inefficient man; he had come from Ohio early in life with a wife who would have been the making of him, but who died when their only child was a baby girl of three or four years. After this blow he became more listless than ever and dawdled on where he was, poor and unsuccessful, but unable to overcome the natural inertia and move to some other place. All his affection, hopes, and somewhat colorless ambitions centred in his daughter, now grown to be an unusually pretty girl of eighteen. When she was a little child, fretting because of the nameless want in her life, he had been forced to take in many ways the place of her dead mother, and now there still remained something of feminine thoughtfulness and tenderness in his care of her. The farm was ill-kept and the land was poor at best; much of it was wild and entirely uncultivated, so it was paradise for a hunter. The house, however, was a well-built frame, neat and comfortable, and even showing within some evidences of taste and refinement, the work of Lizzie Brewer’s deft fingers. An old negro man, Jesse, and his wife, Virginia (better known as Aunt Gin), were the only servants, and except her father, Lizzie’s sole companions.
As Jerry Young drove up to the gate of the “ lot,” there was no sign of life about the place except a couple of hunting-dogs, whose barks soon turned to whines and short yelps of delight as they recognized old friends. Their noise brought Aunt Gin’s fat figure around the corner of the house and Jesse from the stable almost at the same moment. Then a door opened on the front porch, showing an interior of commonplace comfort: bright flowered carpet, black hair-cloth furniture, and, cutting off one angle of the room in a manner peculiar to rural localities, a spare bed covered with a vivid “log-cabin” quilt. In the doorway stood Lizzie Brewer, shading her eyes from the sun that she might see the travelers more clearly. Her figure was slight and girlish, and her pose graceful; for the rest she had a quantity of brown waving hair, clear gray eyes, and a warm, healthy color in her cheeks ; a cheery, wholesome country girl who would be pretty for a dozen years and commonplace the rest of her life.
She smiled and nodded a cordial welcome at first; then the flush deepened and a worried look came into her face. She turned back toward the room, saying with an odd mingling of pleasure and annoyance, “ It’s Mr. Mitchell and Rob, pappy; they have come from the station in Jerry Young’s wagon.” At these words Mr. Brewer emerged from the house and reached the stile in time to help Jerry lift out the trunk. He was enough like Jerry himself and like the other lank, chin-whiskered, butternut-coated loungers at the station to be their twin brother.
“ Howdy, ’Squire ; howdy, Rob.” said he, with as much of heartiness as was in him. “ How that boy does grow! Got a gun, too! Well, well, we must try and find some pa’tridges fer you. Here, you Jesse, take and tote this trunk in the house. Won’t you 'light, Jerry, and have a snack ? ”
“ Thanky, Brewer, I reckon not. I’ve been layin’ off fer a week, to git in my fodder, and I must ’tend to it to-day,” replied Jerry, and after a short rest and some water for his horse, he drove away, leaving Mr. Mitchell with a sense of relief that for a time the last link was broken that connected him with the world. It was only ten o’clock, an ideal autumn day, bright but cool : the trees were almost bare of leaves, which lay in rustling brown masses on the ground, and made walking a luxury. Rob and his father got a cup of Aunt Gin’s excellent coffee, put some biscuits in their pockets, and were soon ready for a day’s sport. Brewer and Lizzie were all kindness and hospitality, full of genuine sympathy with the boy’s delight and of interest in his plans for the day. But now and then they seemed preoccupied, looked at each other doubtfully, and answered at random. Nothing ever happened here, or the thought might have formed itself in Mr. Mitchell’s mind that there was something on hand, some event impending which his coming might complicate into cause for anxiety.
“ I’m afraid you ’ll he disapp’inted about the birds, ’Squire,” said Brewer, as they were about to set out. “ There ain’t many this year, and what there is has been pretty well seared. We ’ve had so much raidin’ goin’ on about here.” Lizzie looked at him uneasily, and be added hastily, —
“ Not but what it does good, too, — it keeps the niggers in order.”
“ Have there been any outrages near here ? ” asked Mr. Mitchell, with an uneasy sense of having given a hostage to fortune in his small companion.
“ Not what you could call outrages exactly, but there’s been a heap o’ horses taken and some houses burned,” was the reply.
Mr. Mitchell turned to Lizzie and said cheerily, “ Well, Lizzie, I hope you won’t let that rebel sweetheart of yours get hold of us.”
The girl started, seemed confused for a moment, and then, looking straight at him from her honest eyes, replied, “ No harm shall ever come to you in this house, sir, if I can help.”
In spite of Brewer’s prediction, the day’s shooting was not a bad one. Rob missed the birds, but was triumphant over two mangled squirrels, and his father also was well satisfied with his spoils when, a little before dusk, they started to return to the farm. As they came across country and reached the top of a hill they stopped for a moment to rest and take their bearings. The road lay below them, about two hundred yards away ; it was plainly visible, for there was little foliage to obstruct the view, and the scene was lighted by the last lingering red of sunset. Suddenly and silently a troop of horsemen, about a dozen in number, came in sight, were clearly outlined for a moment against the glowing west, and then with a bend in the road were lost to view. The appearance was so remarkable in this remote locality that Mr. Mitchell started and had not recovered from his surprise when the men disappeared.
“ Did you see that, father ? ” exclaimed Rob.
“Yes, my son. I suppose it is a posse of Union soldiers on some scouting expedition,” he replied, making an explanation for himself as well as for the boy.
“ But they did n’t have on uniforms,” urged Rob.
Mr. Mitchell had by this time noted that fact himself, and it made him uneasy. “ I saw a few blue overcoats,” he said ; “ perhaps the rest were prisoners, — though now I think of it, they all had guns,” he added thoughtfully. During the day he had given himself up to the pleasure of the sport, finding a new zest in Rob’s delight; but now this incident recalled what had been told him of the guerrilla raids, and he began to be anxious. He was known here as a Union man, and these outlaws claimed to belong to the Southern army, though most of them had no connection with it, and only brought shame on a cause which they professed to aid. He reflected that it would be awkward to fall into their hands, that it might go hard with Rob as well as with himself. It seemed impossible, after all, to get away from this confounded war, and bushwhackers were even worse than the roll of armywagons. He wished that lie had stayed in town.
The light was fading rapidly and the air growing chill, so they again set out briskly on their homeward way. It was dark when they crossed the stile, and walked under the locust and sycamore trees across the grass in front of the house. Mr. Brewer stood at the door smoking a corn-cob pipe with his usual placidity ; he asked many questions about their hunting exploits, and his freely expressed admiration made Rob feel a greater hero than ever.
“ Well, now, I call that right peart, shootin’ two squirrels the first day. You must get Jesse to take off the skins for you, so you can carry ’em home. And I would n’t wonder if you could have a cap made out of ’em ; they ’re powerful warm for winter.”
Rob immediately had visions of himself, the envy of every boy of his acquaintance, in such head-gear as he had once seen and coveted in a picture of Daniel Boone. He wondered if his mother would let him wear it to Sundayschool.
In the mean time his father became gradually aware of an unusual stillness about the place. There was no sound of Aunt Gin from the kitchen, which was near enough for her voice to be frequently heard crooning some campmeeting hymn ; Jesse did not come as usual to prepare the game for cooking, and Lizzie was nowhere to be seen.
“ Rob,” said he finally, “ take those birds to the kitchen.”
“ Why, to be sure,” said Brewer, starting out of a brown study. “ I beg your pardon, squire, I’ve been sorter pestered to-day, and I clean forgot about that there game. Here, Jesse ! ” he shouted. And Jesse’s bow-legs were soon seen coming from the smoke-house accompanied by his wife. Lizzie followed, closing the door carefully behind her, and then joined the group on the porch. She nestled close to her father, and he laid his hand caressingly on her hair, looking down at her with an expression of love and anxiety on his face.
The rattling of dishes in the kitchen and Aunt Gin’s voice raised in sacred song proclaimed the glad tidings that supper was in course of preparation. Rob slipped away to superintend the skinning of his squirrels, and afterwards to tease Aunt Gin into singing his favorite ditty, and before long it rang out on the evening air : —
The possum’s tail is bar’,
The rabbit ’s got no tail at all
’Cept a little bunch o’ ha’r.”
It was a point of honor with Rob to eat as much squirrel as he could, scorning the more delicate quail and devoting himself to the spoil of his own right arm. After he had gone to bed and was sleeping dreainlessly, notwithstanding the liberties taken with his digestion, Mr. Mitchell joined his host in a final pipe at the door. His old friend was not so chatty and communicative as usual; it was only when Mr. Mitchell spoke of Lizzie and praised her blooming young womanhood that Brewer became talkative. Even here there seemed to be a shadow, for he spoke drearily of her dead mother, of his being left alone to care for her, and the difficulties in his way.
“ You see I can’t say no to the child, even when I’m dead sure it’s for her own good. She only has to look at me pleadin like, and I do jes’ what she says.
Yet I know I kin tell better what is good for her. She ain’t seen no other men, so how kin she jedge ? ” His voice died away in a pitiful quaver of weakness. Mr. Mitchell inferred that there must be some undesirable love-affair in the wind, but a question or two showed him that the subject could not be pressed just now ; so he said good-night, and was soon sleeping soundly after the unwonted exercise of the day. About midnight he was roused by what seemed to him a very loud noise. He started up and looked around the room, for his first impression was that the sound was close beside him; but Rob was motionless, and everything was just as he had left it, — that he could see by the moonlight which shone brightly through the uncurtained window. He listened intently ; all was still for a moment, and then he heard in the neighboring kitchen cautious footsteps and the clatter of pans, and the idea became strong in his mind that it was the ringing fall of one of these that had awakened him. An outer door on a line with his window was carefully opened and closed, and then all was still. He tried in vain to go to sleep again; the edge was taken from his fatigue and lie had gotten wide awake in his intense listening. At last he rose, went to the window, and stood looking out into the night. The moon was full, and peered through the bare branches of the trees; there was a misty ring around it, and the air was full of that smokiness peculiar to the autumn season. He raised the sash and leaned out; the air blew fresh and cool upon his face. The yard was flooded with moonlight; the haze gave it the effect of a veil of silver tissue. The commonplace scene was glorified ; a fairy charm was thrown over the whitewashed stable and smoke-house, over Jesse’s little cabin, and the paths of flat, irregular stones leading to them shone white as marble. The impression of stillness, of solitude, was strong upon him ; he was miles away from any other habitation, and under this roof no one stirred ; only the moon was awake and seemed listening, expectant. All at once something happened which, under the circumstances, startled him as if it had been an absolute impossibility. The door of the smoke-house, which stood just opposite the window, about fifty yards away, suddenly swung wide open ; he had a glimpse of a brightly lighted space, a huge fire burning on the hearth, and candles on a table, around which were seated a number of persons, seemingly men ; the light was caught and reflected by various metallic points about their dress. There was just time for this impression to be powerfully photographed on his brain when the door closed again, quickly and noiselessly. Mr. Mitchell was stunned with surprise ; lie had thought himself the only waking creature on the place, and here was this roomful of men. He had not time to attempt an explanation of the mystery ; his eyes had hardly accustomed themselves to the moonlight, after the sudden glare of the more brilliant light, when he perceived two figures gradually taking shape through the silver haze. It was evidently to give them egress that the door had opened, and they were coming toward the house. The path led beneath his window, or rather beside it, for the room was hardly six feet above ground. The figures were already near the house when he saw them, and he at once recognized one of them as Lizzie Brewer. Her companion was a man of powerful frame : his arm was around her waist, his head bent over her, and this position, together with a soft felt hat which he wore, entirely concealed his face. Talking earnestly, the pair passed the window and stopped at a little hack porch just beyond. Then their speech became more distinct, and the first words that Mr. Mitchell heard pinned him to the spot.
“ Why, Lizzie, what’s the old man to you ? He’s a damned Yankee and has done harm enough. He’d come just in time to put the hoys in a good humor — they’ve had the devil’s own luck lately.” The tone was meant to be kind to the girl, but there was a hint of brutality in it for others. The answer came pleadingly: —
“ He’s known me ever since I was a little child, Sam, and has always been kind to me. He never comes here without bringing me some present. I’m fond of him and I could n’t hear to have any harm come to him in our house. ”
“ No fear of that; we would take him out into the woods, and he’d not trouble you any more.”
“But, Sam, what good would it do you ? He is only here to hunt for a few days, and has no money with him. You would gain nothing, and only put yourself in new danger. Oh, my dear, my dear,” she broke out passionately, “ leave those men ! They are so rough, and some of them look so cruel and wicked that I could n’t bear to go near them. Sam, you don’t know what I suffer at the thought of the risk you run all the time. Give it up, come home, — come here. Pappy will let you, and you know I want you. I love you so much and I want you to he good ” — her voice was choked by a sob. The man seemed moved by her appeal, and soothed her for a moment with some awkward words of endearment, and then said in an injured tone, —
“ I thought you’d be proud to see me the captain of such a fine troop ; that’s the reason I came, and now you hardly speak to them. There’s no harm in them. — a bit rough, perhaps, but you see the life makes us so.”
“ Why will you lead it, then, Sam ? Come home,” pleaded Lizzie.
“ And go to farm-work, or to keeping store at the station ! ” he exclaimed irritably. “ Not much ! I’ve no taste for that sort of thing. It’s a fine, free life we lead. Look at Morgan, what he’s done for the South, and what a name he ’s got. Besides, it ’s too late now ; the Yanks would he down on me in a minute for the hanging of that cursed old Abolitionist, Stevens.”
She started away from him. “ But you told me you had nothing to do with that.”
He hesitated for a moment, then said suddenly, “ Well, it ’s true ; but it was my men did it, and we stand together. There’s a price on all our heads, but I reckon it will be some time before it’s paid,” he added defiantly. “ But about old man Mitchell, Lizzie, it ain’t safe to go off and leave him here. He may get wind of it some way and put the soldiers on our track. We must take him away with us — if we don’t do anything more.” Then with a violent start and an oath, “ Is he in that room? The window is open and he may have heard every word. I 'll make sure of him now, certain.” As he spoke he rapidly approached the house, and by means of the rough-hewn stone foundation began to climb. Mr. Mitchell had been standing at one side of the window, and now instinctively drew back a little more into the shadow. In a moment a hand appeared inside the window, holding on by the sill; then another, grasping a pistol, ready cocked, with finger on the trigger ; and then a head was thrust into the room. There was a certain bold beauty in the face; the black eyes told of courage and daring, the full red lips under the drooping mustache of vanity and sensuality. It was the face of a determined, unscrupulous ruffian, who had probably taken more than one life and who would not hesitate at another. He looked straight into the room at the bed where Rob’s sturdy form could be dimly seen by the light of the moon ; had he thrust in his head two inches farther, had he even turned his eyes to one side, he would have looked full into those of the man who he thought lay sleeping before him. He kept his uncomfortable position only for a moment, but it seemed an eternity to Mr. Mitchell; he was no coward, but the father’s heart sank within him while the bushwhacker’s eyes were fixed on his sleeping boy.
“ He’s fast enough,” was heard outside, “ and it’s a good thing for him that he is. Look here, Lizzie, you are too soft-hearted for these times. If ever that old man stands in my way, he 'll go down like any other; do you hear ? But this time I 'll let him off—that is, if the boys don’t find out he’s here. If they do, it would be no use trying to save him, for they are up to anything tonight. Now, my girl, stop that crying and give me a kiss. I don’t see you often, and each time may be the last. I’m a rough fellow, I know, but I love you, and I always mean to be kind to you.”
She clung to him and poured out her thanks, and all the love of a heart which, when first awakened from its maiden slumber, had blindly enthroned him as its idol. She was a gentle, childish creature whose only strength was in her affection, She did not weigh good and evil; she could only feel. He was accustomed to her adoration ; it was necessary for him to disport himself before some one as the dashing hero which he was painted by her fancy and his own vanity. Had he lived in different times, he might have been always obscure and harmless ; but the political upheaval had brought, him to the surface, and the commonplace nature was brutalized by war.
Mr. Mitchell was ashamed to listen to avowals made so artlessly, but he dared not stir for fear of again incurring the danger which he had escaped almost by miracle. Before long, however, the lovers passed the window, went slowly along the path to the smoke-house, and joined the company where Mr. Brewer was playing the perfunctory part of host.
Mr. Mitchell’s life had been an uneventful one, and this narrow escape from a violent death was not at all to his taste ; still, now that the danger was past, there was something inspiring in the adventure, and he determined to see it out. Toward daylight the smokehouse door was again opened, and he watched a dozen men — ill-looking fellows, all fully armed — move from a table which had been amply covered with eatables. Some wore army overcoats (he shuddered to think how they had gotten them), from which he concluded that they were the same men over whom he and Rob had puzzled their brains in the afternoon. They filed out silently and disappeared in the direction of the stable; then came the sound of horses’ hoofs, restlessly tramping ; and by the first streaks of dawn Mr. Mitchell saw the guerrilla band ride slowly away down the road.
A March day in a locality where that often means, as it did at present, a combination of disagreeables rarely equaled. The sky was leaden-gray, not threatening rain or snow, but sullenly gloomy and depressing. The streets were windswept and white with the fine limestone dust which sifted through every crevice. The air was not very cold, but sudden sharp gusts of wind chilled the passer-by to the marrow, and drove into his eyes and between his teeth particles so hard and dry that they cut like splinters of steel.
On a particularly windy corner of Water Street stood the tall warehouse of Mr. Mitchell. Within, a counter stretched along one side, with breaks here and there for convenience in passing behind it; the remainder of the space was taken up by samples of hardware — barrels of nails, piles of hoe and axe heads, and stacks of muskets ; spades leaned against the wall, and heaps of chains lay coiled on the floor. In the centre of the store was a fiery little stove ; the pipe was red-hot for some distance, and the smoke, meeting the March blasts in its narrow passage, was sometimes conquered in the struggle and driven back into the room. One of the clerks was seated near the stove with a customer, to whom he had just sold a bill of goods, and he was now imparting such items of current events as were still new to a man from the interior of the State who had not the benefit of the daily papers. The other clerks were taking stock in groups of three: one, mounted on a ladder, took packages of screws, bolts, cutlery, and so forth from the upper shelves, threw them down to a companion, who caught them dexterously, counted their contents, and called out the same to a third clerk, who noted it down as they were tossed up again and put back in their places. This period, usually an interesting one, because recording the result of the year’s work, was now almost an empty form, so few were the goods sold from season to season.
As the men worked they talked of the news from the front, — how Grant was drawing ever closer the cord that was to strangle Lee in Richmond. The account of Lee’s attack on Fort Stedman had just been received, and some were rejoicing over its failure and the consequent tightening of Grant’s grip on the fated city, when the salesman at the stove broke in, —
“ It’s all very well for you fellows to crow about the victory, but I’ve got a brother-in-law somewhere down there with General Lee, and this ain’t exactly the kind of news that I like to take to my sister when I go home to dinner. It’s been all I could do this last year to keep that damned provost marshal from sending her South ; he would have done it if it had n’t been for the old man,” giving a backward nod of his head toward the private office of his employer. “ Thank the Lord,” he added fervently, in spite of the oath just uttered, “it looks as if the war was almost over at last.”
As he spoke the great front door swung open slowly and heavily. One of the stock-takers called his attention to the fact by calling out, warningly, “ Butler! ”
“ All right,” returned the young man, bringing his tilted chair down from two feet to four, and coming forward to meet the expected customer. “ Why, how do you do, Mr. Brewer ? We have n’t seen you here for a month of Sundays. What can I do for you to-day ? ”
They had met some yards from the door, and Butler now perceived that Mr. Brewer was not alone ; a slight, womanly figure stood at the door looking out into the street. The old man looked more lank and washed-out than ever; even the sharp wind had brought no color to his cheeks, but only made his faded eyes red and watery. He was dressed in rough homespun, and wore a blue-checked shirt, with a huge, stiff collar, whose points projected far beyond his face, and were evidently cutting his ears cruelly.
“ Thanky, Mr. Butler,” he said hesitatingly. “ I was n’t layin’ off to buy any goods to-day, but I ’d be obleeged if you’d ask Mr. Mitchell if I could see him.”
“Certainly,” said Butler. “Won’t you and the — lady come to the fire ? ” putting two split-bottomed chairs near it.
“No, thanky, we’ll wait here,” said Brewer, and during the few moments required for Butler to go to the rear of the store and come back again, the two stood side by side, silent and dejected. Soon they were pausing at the glass door which separated Mr. Mitchell’s private room from the rest of the store, to make way for an officer in uniform, who was just taking his leave. The woman started timidly at sight of him, and drew closer to her companion. Mr. Mitchell stood in the doorway, speeding one guest as he welcomed the others.
“ Good-morning, colonel. I ’ll see to that matter at once. Don’t forget that my wife expects you to tea this evening. Brewer, how are you? Walk in.” And looking closely at his companion, who had a veil over her face, “Why, it’s Lizzie, is n’t it ? ” A vision of the last tune he had seen the girl came vividly before him, and he welcomed her with special cordiality, seated them both by the fire, and began a conversation with the father on some commonplace topic. But he soon perceived that this was no ordinary visit. Lizzie was very pale ; her childish features looked pinched and anxious, and her eyes had a wide-open look of helpless pain, like those of a child or of some dumb animal. Mr. Mitchell felt sure that something extraordinary had brought about this, her first visit to town. She meant, no doubt, to ask his aid, and he was conscious of a throb of deep sympathy, and a strongdesire to he of service to her ; remembering besides the part which she had played in his adventure on that autumn night six months before.
“ Mr. Mitchell,” said Brewer, after a pause, which he had spent in smoothing down a wisp of hair that was plastered over his bald head, “ we ’re in a heap o’ trouble, Lizzie an’ me, an’ I ’lowed I didn’t know anybody to come to but you; and Lizzie, she thought so, too.” He paused and looked at the girl, whose face flushed slightly as tears filled her eyes, — slow, painful tears, as if the fountain had been wept out, and only these two drops wrung from the very depths and dregs of sorrow.
“You know, Brewer, that I ’ll do anything I can for you. What is the matter ? ” asked Mr. Mitchell.
“ Well, sir, there’s a friend of Lizzie’s here that she wants mightily to see, and we thought you might help at it. She’s powerful fond of him, and he was a likely lad once, but he got all wrong’long o’ the war.”
“ Father,” said Lizzie reproachfully.
“ Well, my dear, I don’t want to say no harm o’ Sam, fer I know your heart’s set on him, and I say he was a likely boy enough when you two young ones played together. I’m fond of him myself, and I’m almost es much troubled about tins here bizness es Lizzie is,” he continued, turning again to Mr. Mitchell. “ You see, Sam went South, and got into the army, but he had some fuss with one of the officers, so he jest left and come home. His father, old Dave Lyle, was like me, he was for the Union; but Sam’s goin’ off made the people there think he was a rebel, and the soldiers did treat him powerful bad when they were camped near his farm. They burned his fences, and ruined his pasture, and took his horses, so the old man, he sorter lost heart, and he died soon after Sam got back. Then Sam turned bushwhacker, and he’s been raidin’ round the State nigh about a year, and I reckon he’s been perty reckless,” he added guardedly. “ ’T enny rate, he was captured not long ago, and now he’s here in jail, and Lizzie and me want to see him.”
Mr. Mitchell sat thoughtful for a moment. “ I think I can manage it, Brewer. That gentleman who left as you came in is an old friend of mine, and he has great influence with the provost marshal. Are you sure the man is imprisoned here ? ”
“ Yes, sir; we saw it in the paper day before yesterday. It’s two weeks old,” drawing a rumpled sheet out of his pocket, “ and Lizzie’s been oneasy for fear he might ’a’ been taken somewhere else. She didn’t give me no rest till I said I’d bring her to town.”
“ Very well, then, I ’ll see about it at once. What’s the name ? Sam Lyle, did you say ? ”
Lizzie broke in suddenly, “ Oh no, sir. You know he took another name, father. It’s Montgomery.”
“ Montgomery ! ” exclaimed Mr. Mitchell. His face grew very grave, and he hastily took up the morning paper, then as hastily folded and thrust it into one of the pigeon-holes of his desk. “ You don’t mean to say that this man is the guerrilla chief, Montgomery ? ”
“Yes,” said Lizzie, a little flicker of pride in her lover shining through her grief. “ He has been captain of the band almost from the first.”
Mr. Mitchell looked at the simple pair in wonder and pity. To them the bushwhacker was “ Sam,” the high-spirited fellow whom they bad always known ; who was a little wild, perhaps, but nothing worse. To Lizzie lie was her first lover, the man who had stirred her fancy and won her heart. To Mr. Mitchell he was one of the worst of many criminals who had infested the State of late, and by their outrages increased the horrors of war, and brought reproach upon both parties in the struggle. He had been glad to hear of the man’s capture, close on the heels of a brutal murder, and only that morning had read that the trial was over, and the prisoner condemned. These people, in their secluded home, had learned only the first one of a chain of events which was to end on the scaffold. What was he to do ? How break to them tidings that would he so terrible ?
Mr. Mitchell had been in dilemmas before, and there was one person who had always helped him. Now, in his perplexity, he did what a man always does under similar circumstances, — turned to the best woman he knew; one whose tact and tenderness would enable her to make, and at the same time heal, a grievous wound. It is usually a woman who has this dreary task to perform, who “ breaks had news ” by the softness of her heart and the strength of her sympathy. These thoughts flashed through his mind, and he then became conscious that both Brewer and Lizzie were watching him closely, and that a look of alarm was growing on their faces.
“ This will never do,” he said to himself ; then, with an effort, aloud, “ I’m afraid it may be harder than I thought to get you an order to visit your friend, but however, we ’ll see what can be done. In the mean time, you must both come home with me. I ’m sure you are tired, and you can rest while I see Colonel Parker. Cheer up, Lizzie,” he continued, turning kindly to her, and feeling like a base impostor as he spoke. “ My wife will soon make you feel all right. She has always wanted to know you, and now this is a first-rate chance.” He took up his hat and coat as he spoke, and led the way to the street, giving some directions to Butler as they passed through the store.
Mrs. Mitchell made her visitors heartily welcome. She knew and liked Brewer already, and her heart went out at once to the gentle, motherless girl, whose young face was so sad. Her husband found an opportunity to tell her hastily of the painful, almost hopeless, mission on which they had come, and then hurried off to the office of the post-commander. When he told his errand the colonel shook his head.
“ Too late, I am afraid. The men are to be hanged this afternoon.”
“ What! ” exclaimed Mr. Mitchell, “ not so soon ? ”
“So soon, my dear fellow ? It would be far better if they had been caught and hung a year ago. A good many innocent lives would have been saved.”
“ But was not the trial very much hurried ? ”
The soldier shrugged his broad shoulders. “ It can hardly be called a trial,” he replied. “ The men were caught redhanded, and they were dealt with accordingly. These guerrilla outrages must be stopped. We must make an example of these men. No one can doubt their guilt, even though it may not have been proved down to the last formality of the law.”
Mr. Mitchell ruefully acknowledged the justice of arguments which he had often used himself, but somehow they lost their force when he thought of Lizzie Brewer’s face. Colonel Parker agreed to do anything possible to help him, and they went together to the office of the provost marshal. The guard at the gate presented arms, the superior raised his hand in stiff military salute, and they ascended the high stone steps of a house wliich had once been the pride of the city. Now the steps were stained and defaced, the hall which they entered was bare and dirty, and as they turned into what had once been a long drawing-room, the sense of desolation became more intense. The room was bare of furniture; the rich paper hung in strips from the walls; only the handsome crystal chandeliers and the piermirrors over the white marble mantelpieces showed the remains of former splendor. Where were now the gallant forms that had once been reflected in those mirrors ? Dead on Southern battlefields, groaning in hospitals or starving in prisons, both North and South; for this had been, in former times, a rendezvous for the brave and the fair of all parties, and many hands that afterwards shook defiance and death at each other had met here in the dance. Mr. Mitchell sighed as lie looked about the familiar room, and thought of the happy family group that he had known there, now scattered and broken, and again his heart swelled in indignant protest against the horrors of this evil war.
The provost marshal —a young man for so responsible a position, but with keen eyes and a square jaw which indicated that he had the force of character necessary to fill it properly — was seated at a plain deal table in an armchair covered with tattered, faded damask. He rose and saluted Colonel Parker, but his greeting to the citizen was short and not very courteous. Mr. Mitchell instinctively took the same manner, and said, somewhat curtly, —
“ I have come, sir, to request an order to see the prisoner Montgomery.”
“Impossible,” replied the officer. “ He is to be banged at four o’clock. He has made no request to see any one, and must not be disturbed in his preparations for death.”
“ But,” urged Mr. Mitchell, “he does not know that he has friends in the city. They have just come on purpose to see him.”
“ Friends or relatives ? ” asked the provost.
Mr. Mitchell hesitated. “ A friend who has known him from boyhood, and the young woman to whom he is engaged.”
“ Hum,” said the officer, frowning and thoughtfully rubbing his smoothshaven chin. “ The request would have to be made in person, and the visitors searched before entering his cell. Montgomery is a desperate fellow, and would kill himself if he could get the means. They must not be given him ; he must be executed.”
Colonel Parker now interposed with a few words as to the touching character of the suppliants, and the provost marshal gradually laid aside his official brusqueness and asked several questions which showed a growing interest in the case. Finally, turning to Mr. Mitchell, he said, —
“ I would strongly advise that the young woman do not see this man. He has been wounded in the face, in the first place, and is an unsightly object. Besides, his state of mind is terrible, especially since he has learned that he is to be hanged and not shot. He claims that he is an officer in the Confederate army, and should be treated as such. Take my advice, and tell her nothing more until he is dead.”
Colonel Parker promptly agreed in this opinion, and after a moment’s thought Mr. Mitchell could not but appreciate the wisdom of it. He went sorrowfully to his home, and told his wife of his unsuccessful errand. She said Lizzie was lying down, and her father was in the dining-room. After a short consultation they agreed in the necessity of telling him the whole truth, and went to find him. They had forgotten that the morning paper was in the room. Brewer held it in his hands when they entered, and by the expression of his face Mr. Mitchell knew that the blow had already fallen. The old man stood on the hearth-rug; one hand clutched the mantel, the other the paper, which trembled in his grasp.
“ Look here, ’Squire,” he said hoarsely, “ is this true ? Are they goin’ to kill Dave Lyle’s boy ? He’s been wild and reckless, I know, but Lord A’mighty, he ain’t shorely done nothin’ to deserve that! I saw the men that were with him last fall, the time you come out there huntin’, and they were a hard set, — heap worse ’n Sam. It was the brass buttons and the name o’ captain that turned his head. Take me to the prison, Mr. Mitchell; let me see the officer’s, and tell ’em what I know about the boy and about his father before him. But don’t tell Lizzie,” he added, lowering his voice; “ it would kill the child. Come, let’s go now ; it may be too late if we don’t hurry,” and he took up his hat as he spoke.
Mrs. Mitchell wiped her eyes, and her husband stood for a moment silent and downcast; then he took his old friend by the hand and said kindly, “ It, is too late already, Brewer. I have seen the officers, and they can do nothing. He has been tried and condemned to death.”
“ But can’t we get a new trial ? Can’t we get it changed to imprisonment ? Or if there’s a fine, I could pay it. You know I would n’t let a matter of money stand in the way of my girl’s happiness. My poor little Lizzie ! ” the old man went on, with a pitiful quaver in his voice. “ How on God’s earth am I ever to tell her ? What can I do ? What can I do ? ” He wrung his hands like a woman in his pain and weakness.
“ Sit down here, Brewer, and listen to me quietly for a moment,” said Mr. Mitchell. “ Come, for Lizzie’s sake.” He yielded at once. “Now I have done all I can, and I find that it is doubtful whether you could see Sam even if you applied yourself. He is preparing for death, and it would not be well to distract his thoughts. He is to be executed soon, very soon, — this very day.” The old man groaned, and covered his face with his hands. “Now would it not be better to say nothing to Lizzie until all is over ? ” A sudden thought came to him like an inspiration, and he went on, “ She need not know how he died. He was wounded when they captured him, and that could account for it.”
“ Yes, yes,” said Brewer eagerly. “ She must not know. She must never know. It would kill her. She has loved him all her life, and believed in him, and been proud of him; and now to know he was ” — He broke off shuddering. “But who’s to tell her he’s dead ? I can’t. My God! I can’t. Why, ’Squire, I’d lay down my life to save her from pain, and how could I strike a blow right at her heart ? ”
The two men looked helplessly at each other. Gentle little Mrs. Mitchell gave a final rub to her eyes, put her handkerchief resolutely into her pocket, and came close to the agonized father.
“I ’ll take care of that, Mr. Brewer,” she said, “ if it will be any comfort to you. X ’ll tell the poor lamb. It would be her mother’s place if she were alive, and, with God’s help, I ’ll take it this once.”
Mr. Mitchell had a choking sensation in his throat ; he could only lay his hand on his wife’s shoulder, patting it gently during the moment of silence that followed, for Brewer had no words, even of thanks. Mrs. Mitchell now took matters quietly but completely into her own hands ; directed her husband to keep away from the house, since Lizzie did not know of his return, and must think that he was still trying to arrange an interview with her lover. Mr. Mitchell meekly obeyed, and left the house with a feeling of added tenderness and respect for his wife, while she, with a few sensible words, toned up Brewer’s feeble nature to the part which he had to play during the next two hours.
Dinner was over. Brewer had made a show of eating heartily. Lizzie sat silent, listening intently, and starting every time the door opened. The children came from school, and created a diversion. They made much of the visitors, and asked innumerable questions about the farm. Rob’s squirrel-skin cap was brought out and duly admired, and only Mrs. Mitchell’s timely interference saved her guests from a minute inspection of many other childish treasures stored away in odd corners of the house and yard. Rob wondered where his father was. Lizzie’s heart leaped into her eyes at the question, and Brewer rose at once, and said he would go down to the store and see if there were any news. He stood behind Lizzie as he spoke, his hands on the back of her chair, his eyes on her young head. His chin began to tremble. He looked appealingly at Mrs. Mitchell, who nodded encouragingly, and said, —
“ Go right along, Mr. Brewer, that’s the best thing you can do. X ’ll take care of Lizzie.”
He looked at her gratefully, then laid his horny hand softly on the brown hair before him, and said, with infinite tenderness in his voice, “You stay here, my daughter ; pappy ’ll soon come hack and tell you how things look.” The plain old face was transfigured for a moment, glorified by a look of unspeakable love for his child; then a great sob rose in his throat, and he hurried from the room.
A little later, Lizzie Brewer sat alone in the cosey family sitting-room, her hands clasped in her lap, her head drooping. She did not weep, but there was a look of fixed sadness in her eyes, and now and then a pathetic quiver about her lips, that told what she was suffering. Her heart was aching with sorrow and dread, and above all with unspeakable longing.
“ Oh Sam ! Sam! ” she murmured. “ If I could only see you just once ! If I could only tell you that I love you better than ever! My poor, poor boy! ”
She thought of him in prison, lonely, suffering, brow-beaten, — he to whom she had looked up as to a superior in his days of pride; and there entered into her love an element which made it very tender, — that maternal instinct which is always present, though perhaps latent, in the love of every true woman, even for husband or lover. It is this instinct which enables her to give the gentlest service where her highest respect and sentiment is awakened; it makes her heart the haven, the balm for life’s stricken ones; sometimes it even outlasts love and pride. Lizzie stretched out her arms involuntarily, as if to fold her beloved in them; they ached with emptiness. She rose and walked restlessly about the room, saying, —
“ It can’t last much longer — it can’t! I could n’t stand it. Father and Mr. Mitchell will surely get them to let me see him. Oh, if they would only come ! ”
She went to the window and stood looking down into the street; it seemed crowded to her rustic eyes, and there was in truth an unusual stir among the groups that passed, all going in the same direction, away from the city and out towards the commons. One man was evidently explaining something to several others who were walking with him ; he paused for a moment and pointed backward, then held up his hand warningly as if telling them to listen. Just then a sound fell upon Lizzie’s ear ; solemn, ominous, she felt it to be, though heard now for the first time in her life. It was the hollow, monotonous roll of a drum, two slow beats together, then three a shade more closely connected; just these five counts over and over again, unchanged, unvaried, marking the time for marching feet, making her heart swell with a vague but terrible foreboding of evil. She had been diverted for a moment by the life and movement in the street, but at this sound her thoughts turned instantly to her lover, true to that law by which a great love in one’s heart becomes the pivotal point upon which all else turns, the centre about which clusters all joy and all sorrow. Just as in happier days any simple gladness in her life — the odor of a flower, the beauty in sky or field — had set her longing for his sympathy, so now, her nature profoundly moved by this unwonted sound, she turned to him, though in no way associating him with it. Still sounded the five steady beats, coming nearer and nearer, and seeming to strike her heart to stone, so cold and heavy it had grown; the passers-by hurried on toward a cross street at right angles with the one on which the house stood. Suddenly there broke out the brazen blare of horns ; it was like the crash of that calamity which the muffled drum had foreboded. Lizzie trembled, cowered; her whole nature, finely tuned for the nonce by love, vibrated in unison with the solemn, inspiring notes of the Dead March. It was not alone that her individual sorrow stood forth more vividly; it was a new and overwhelming sense of the great sum of human misery, of life with its infinite pain, and of “ the old, old fashion, death.” She sank upon her knees and laid her face in her hands, and rested so until the music slowly died away in the distance. She did not at all know what it meant; she was ignorant that it touched her narrow life ; but it taught her, educated her, more than all her past had done. It lifted her above the ordinary plane ; she was no longer self-centred, but a unit in the great scheme of things that stretched out far beyond her knowing. Never had her heart sounded such a depth of sadness ; never had it caught such a conception of infinite calm ; for a moment she understood the agony of Gethsemane and the serenity of Calvary.
Lizzie did not hear the door open or perceive that she was no longer alone until she felt about her the motherly arms of Mrs. Mitchell. Then the spell of the music was broken, the reaction came, and she fell from her high mood into a burst of womanly tears. Mrs. Mitchell soothed and petted her as she would have comforted one of her own little ones in some childish trouble ; and then, when Lizzie was quieter, led her to talk of her father, and said that he had grown a good deal older in these last years. She was glad to see that the girl’s gentle heart took quick alarm.
“ You don’t think he is sick, do you, Mrs. Mitchell ? ” she asked anxiously.
“ No, my dear, only greatly troubled just now. But you know people have less courage as they grow older; sorrow is harder to them ; so you must try now and help him bear whatever comes, just as he has helped and cared for you all these years.”
Lizzie’s head drooped for a moment; then she said, “ I never thought of that. I 'm afraid I have n’t been much comfort to him lately. I ’ve been thinking of myself, and of — of — some one else,” she added, hesitating.
“ Yes, I know,” said gentle Mrs. Mitchell; “ of some one who has come into your life, and who may go out of it again. But your father is yours as long as you both live, — nothing can change him. You must remember that, and if he should bring bad news you must be brave for his sake, dear child, for every tear of yours is like a knife to his heart.”
Lizzie looked up quickly, her eyes startled, terror-stricken.
“ Oh, Mrs. Mitchell, do you think the news will be bad ? Won’t they let me see Sam ? Oh, just once, once more ! ” she made her natural human moan.
Mrs. Mitchell spoke now very gravely. “ My dear, Sam was badly wounded when they captured him. He was in prison for two weeks, where you know men are sometimes roughly treated. He grew worse there, not better.”
The girl sprang up ; a look of terrible certainty came into her white face. “ Is he dead ? ”
Mrs. Mitchell silently covered her eyes.
“ Dead! ” the girl repeated in an awed whisper; it was no longer a question. Then, after a moment, “ That music — was it for him ? ”
“ Yes, my child, for him. When a soldier dies, he is always buried so.”
The door opened softly and Brewer paused on the threshold, scanning the face of his child ; he saw that the blow had fallen, and silently held out his arms to her as he entered. She turned to him: “ O father, you are all I have! Take me home, take me home ! ” and her head sought the faithful shelter, the true breast that had soothed her motherless childhood. Then the door closed, and they were alone with their grief.
And so we too will leave them. We will not watch through those first hours of agony, nor follow them in their journey to their saddened home. The springhope blossomed into summer’s fullness and died with the fallen leaves; but Lizzie Brewer’s heart stood still in a monotony of sorrow. The father watched her with untiring though awkward care, soothing her with commonplace phrases that were quickened into new meaning by his infinite tenderness for his stricken child. There was little real comfort for her in his words, but she saw at last how pinched and old his face had grown, and this won the first thought from her dead lover. Her soldier, her hero — for he was always that to her, shielded as she was in her secluded life from any cruel awakening. About his distant grave clustered all the romance and sentiment of her simple nature.
She glorified every act of his life ; she dreamed what he would have been had he lived — for her; not knowing that death had chilled into enduring form a flower of love that otherwise would have faded. Her way is lonely since then, but she holds in her heart’s inner chamber an idol which can never be shattered, an ideal which can never be degraded. Shall we pity, or envy her ?
Patty Blackburn Semple.