Transcriber's note: In this text version the lower case "i" with macron is represented by ī
A WAR-TIME WOOING
CAPTAIN CHARLES KING, U. S. A.
New York Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square Copyright, 1888, by Harper & Brothers. All rights reserved.
"COLONEL PUTNAM RAISES TO THE LIGHT OF THE FIRST LANTERN A HAIRY, BUSHY OBJECT" Frontispiece
"THE VIRGINIANS KNEW A BRAVE MAN WHEN THEY SAW ONE" Facing page 8
"THE WHOLE TROOP IS HURRIEDLY SADDLING" " 70
"THEN BATHES, WITH COLOGNE, THE WHITE TEMPLES AND SOFT, RIPPLING, SUNNY HAIR" " 90
"BACK COME THOSE DAREDEVILS OF STUART'S" " 110
"A CAVALRY ORDERLY MAKES HIS APPEARANCE AT THE DOOR" " 136
"THEN A YOUNG SOLDIER, IN HIS STAFF UNIFORM, TAKES THREE SPRINGING STEPS, AND IS AT HER SIDE" " 172
"DRAWS FORTH HER PRECIOUS PICTURE AND LAYS IT AT A RIVAL'S FEET" " 194
A WAR-TIME WOOING.
After months of disaster there had come authentic news of victory. All Union-loving men drew a long breath of relief when it was certain that Lee had given up the field and fallen back across the Potomac. The newsboys, yelling through the crowded streets in town, and the evening trains arriving from the neighboring city were besieged by eager buyers of the "extras," giving lists of the killed and wounded. Just at sunset of this late September day a tall young girl, in deep mourning, stood at a suburban station clinging to the arm of a sad, stern-featured old man. People eyed them with respect and sympathy, not unmixed with rural curiosity, for Doctor Warren was known and honored by one and all. A few months agone his only son had been brought home, shot to death at the head of his regiment, and was laid in his soldier grave in their shaded churchyard. It was a bitter trial, but the old man bore up sturdily. He was an eager patriot; he had no other son to send to the front and was himself too old to serve; it had pleased God to demand his first-born in sacrifice upon his country's altar, and though it crushed his heart it could not kill his loyalty and devotion. His whole soul seemed with the army in Virginia; he had nothing but scorn for those who lagged at home, nothing but enthusiastic faith in every man who sought the battle-front, and so it happened that he almost welcomed the indications that told him his daughter's heart was going fast—given in return for that of a soldier lover.
For a moment it had dazed him. She was still so young—so much a child in his fond eyes—still his sweet-faced, sunny-haired baby Bess. He could hardly realize she was eighteen even when with blushing cheeks she came to show him the photograph of a manly, gallant-looking young soldier in the uniform of a lieutenant of infantry. Strange as the story may seem to-day, there was at the time nothing very surprising about its most salient feature—she and her hero had never met.
With other girls she had joined a "Soldiers' Aid Society;" had wrought with devoted though misguided diligence in the manufacture of "Havelocks" that were bearers of much sentiment but no especial benefit to the recipients at the front; and like many of her companions she had slipped her name and address into one of these soon-discarded cap covers. As luck would have it, their package of "Havelocks," "housewives," needle-cases, mittens (with trigger finger duly provided for), ear-muffs, wristlets, knitted socks, and such things, worn by the "boys" their first winter in Virginia, but discarded for the regulation outfit thereafter, fell to the lot of the—th Massachusetts Infantry, and a courteous letter from the adjutant told of its distribution. Bessie Warren was secretary of the society, and the secretary was instructed to write to the adjutant and say how gratified they were to find their efforts so kindly appreciated. More than one of the girls wished that she were secretary just then, and all of them hoped the adjutant would answer. He did, and sent, moreover, a photographic group of several officers taken at regimental headquarters. Each figure was numbered, and on the back was an explanation setting forth the names of the officers, the item which each had received as his share, and, where it was known, the name of the fair manufacturer. The really useful items, it would seem, had been handed to the enlisted men, and the officers had reserved for themselves only such articles as experience had proved to be of no practical value. The six in the picture had all chosen "Havelocks," and opposite the name of Bessie Warren was that of Second Lieutenant Paul Revere Abbot. Reference to the "group" again developed the fact that Mr. Abbot was decidedly the handsomest soldier of the party—tall, slender, youthful, with clear-cut and resolute features and a decidedly firm, solid look about him that was distinguishable in a group of decidedly distinguished-looking men. There followed much laughing talk and speculation and theory among the girls, but the secretary was instructed to write another letter of thanks, and did so very charmingly, and mention was made of the circumstance that several of their number had brothers or cousins at the front. Then some of the society had happened, too, to have a photograph taken in the quaint uniform, with cap and apron, which they had worn at a recently given "Soldiers' Fair," and one of their number—not Miss Warren—sent a copy of this to the camp of the—th Massachusetts. Central figure in this group was Bessie Warren, unquestionably the loveliest girl among them all, and one day there came to her a single photograph, a still handsomer picture of Mr. Paul Revere Abbot, and a letter in a hand somewhat stiff and cramped, in which the writer apologized for the appearance of the scrawl, explained that his hand had been injured while practising fencing with a comrade, but that having seen her picture in the group he could not but congratulate himself on having received a "Havelock" from hands so fair, could not resist the impulse to write and personally thank her, and then to inquire if she was a sister of Guthrie Warren, whom he had known and looked up to at Harvard as a "soph" looks up to a senior; and he enclosed his picture, which would perhaps recall him to Guthrie's mind.
Her mother had been dead many years, and Bessie showed this letter to her father, and with his full consent and with much sisterly pride wrote that Guthrie was indeed her brother; that he, too, had taken up arms for his country and was at the front with his regiment, though nowhere near their friends of the—th Massachusetts (who were watching the fords of the Potomac up near Edward's Ferry), and that she had sent the photograph to him.
One letter seemed to lead to another, and those from the Potomac speedily became very interesting, especially when the papers mentioned how gallantly Lieutenant Paul Abbot had behaved at Ball's Bluff and how hard he had tried to save his colonel, who was taken prisoner. Guthrie returned the photograph to Bess, with a letter which the doctor read attentively. He remembered Paul Abbot as being a leader in the younger set at Harvard, and was delighted to hear of him "under the colors," where every Union-loving man should be—where, as he recalled him, he knew Abbot must be, for he belonged to one of the oldest and best families in all Massachusetts; he was a gentleman born and bred, and would make a name for himself in this war. Guthrie only wished there were some of that stamp in his own regiment, but he feared that there were few who had the stuff of which the Abbots were made—there were too many ward politicians. "But I've cast my lot with it and shall see it through," wrote Guthrie. Poor fellow! poor father! poor loving-hearted Bessie! The first volley from the crouching gray ranks in those dim woods back of Seven Pines sent the ward politicians in mad rush to the rear, and when Guthrie Warren sprang for the colors, and waved them high in air, and shouted for the men to rally and follow him, it was all in vain—all as vain as the effort to stop the firing made by the chivalric Virginia colonel, who leaped forward, with a few daring men at his back, to capture the resolute Yankee and his precious flag. They got them; but the life-blood was welling from the hero's breast as they raised him gently from the silken folds. The Virginians knew a brave man when they saw one, and they carried him tenderly into their lines and wrote his last messages, and that night they sent the honored body back to his brigade, and so the stricken father found and brought home all that was left of the gallant boy in whom his hopes were centred.
For a time Bessie's letters languished after this, though she had written nearly every week during the winter and early spring. Lieutenant Abbot, on the other hand, appeared to redouble his deep interest. His letters were full of sympathy—of a tenderness that seemed to be with difficulty repressed. She read these to her mourning father—they were so full of sorrow for the bitter loss that had befallen them, so rich with soldierly sentiment and with appreciation of Guthrie's heroic character and death, so welcome with reminiscence of him. Not that he and Abbot had met on the Peninsula—it was the unhappy lot of the Massachusetts—th to be held with McDowell's corps in front of Washington while their comrades were doing sharp, soldierly work down along the Chickahominy. But even where they were, said these letters, men talked by the hour of how Guthrie Warren had died at Seven Pines—how daring Phil Kearney himself had ridden up and held forth—
"The one hand still left,"
and asked him his name just before the final advance on the thicket. One letter contained a copy of some soldierly verses her Massachusetts correspondent had written—"Warren's Death at Seven Pines"—in which he placed him peer with Warren who fell at Bunker Hill. The verses thrilled through her heart and soul and brought a storm of tears—tears of mingled pride and love and hopeless sorrow from her aging father's eyes. No wonder she soon began to write more frequently. These letters from Virginia were the greatest joy her father had, she told herself, and though she wrote through a mist that blurred the page, she soon grew conscious of a strange, shy sense of comfort, of a thrilling little spring of glad emotion, of tender, shrinking, sensitive delight, and by the time the hot summer was waning and August was at hand this unseen soldier, who had only shared her thoughts before, took complete and utter control. Why tell the old, old story in its every stage? It was with a new, wild fear at heart she heard of Stonewall Jackson's leap for the Rapidan, of the grapple at Cedar Mountain where the Massachusetts men fought sternly and met with cruel loss. Her father raged with anxiety when the news came of the withdrawal from the Peninsula, the triumphant rush of Lee and Longstreet on Jackson's trail, of the ill-starred but heroic struggle made by Pope along the banks of Bull Run. A few days and nights of dread suspense and then came tidings that Lee was across the Potomac and McClellan marching to meet him. Two more letters reached her from the marching—th Massachusetts, and a telegram from Washington telling her where to write, and saying, "All well so far as I am concerned," at which the doctor shook his head—it sounded so selfish at such a time; it grated on his patriotic ear, and it wasn't such as he thought an Abbot ought to telegraph. But then he was hurried; they probably only let him fall out of ranks a moment as they marched through Washington. And then the newspapers began to teem with details of the fierce battles of the last three days of August, and he forgave him and fathomed the secret in his daughter's breast as she stood breathing very quickly, her cheek flushing, her eyes filling, and listening while he read how Lieutenant Abbot had led the charge of the—th Massachusetts and seized the battle-flag of one of Starke's brigades at that bristling parapet—the old, unfinished railway grade to the north of Groveton. Neither father nor daughter uttered a word upon the subject. The old man simply opened his arms and took her to his heart, where, overcome with emotion, mingling pride and grief and anxiety and tender, budding love, she burst into tears and hid her burning face.
Then came the news of fierce fighting at South Mountain, where the—th Massachusetts was prominent; then of the Antietam, where twice it charged through that fearful stretch of cornfield and had but a handful left to guard the riddled colors when nightfall came, and then—silence and suspense. No letters, no news—nothing.
Her white, wan face and pleading eyes were too much for the father to see. Though no formal offer of marriage had been made, though the word "love" had hardly been written in those glowing letters, he reasoned rightly that love alone could prompt a man to write day after day in all the excitements and vicissitudes of stirring campaign. As for the rest—was he not an Abbot? Did not Guthrie know and honor him? Was he not a gallant officer as well as a thoroughbred gentleman? No time for wooing now! That would come with peace. He had even given his consent when she blushingly asked him if she might—"Well, there! read it yourself," she said, putting the closely written page into his hands. It was an eager plea for her picture—and the photograph was sent. He chose the one himself, a dainty "vignette" on card, for it reminded him of the mother who was gone. It was fitting, he told himself, that his daughter—her sainted mother's image, Guthrie's sister—should love a gallant soldier. He gloried in the accounts of Paul Abbot's bravery, and longed to meet him and take him by the hand. The time would come. He could wait and watch over the little girl who was drawing them together. He asked no questions. It would all be right.
And now they stood together at the station waiting for the evening cars and the latest news from the front. It lacked but a few minutes of train time when, with sad and sympathetic face, the station-agent approached, a fateful brown envelope in his hand. The doctor turned quickly at his daughter's gasping exclamation,
"Papa! Mr. Hardy has a telegram!"
Despite every effort his hand and lip trembled violently as he took it and tore it open. It was brief enough—an answer to his repeated despatches to the War Department.
"Lieutenant Paul R. Abbot, dangerously wounded, is at field hospital near Frederick, Maryland."
The doctor turned to her pale, pleading face, tears welling in his eyes.
"Be brave, my little girl," he murmured, brokenly. "He is wounded, but we can go to him at once."
Nearly sunset again, and the South Mountain is throwing its dark shadow clear across the Monocacy. The day has been warm, cloudless, beautiful, and, now that evening is approaching, the sentries begin to saunter out from the deeper shade that has lured them during the afternoon and to give a more soldierly tone to the picture. There are not many of them, to be sure, and this is evidently the encampment of no large command of troops, despite the number of big white tents pitched in the orchard, and the score of white-topped army-wagons, the half-dozen yellow ambulances, and the scraggy lot of mules in the pasture-lot across the dusty highway. The stream is close at hand, only a stone's-throw from the picturesque old farmhouse, and the animated talk among the groups of bathers has that peculiarly blasphemous flavor which seems inseparable from the average teamster. That the camp is under military tutelage is apparent from the fact that a tall young man in the loose, ill-fitting blue fatigue-dress of our volunteers, with war-worn belts and a business-like look to the long "Springfield" over his shoulder, comes striding down to the bank and shouts forthwith,
"You fellows are making too much noise there, and the doctor wants you to dry up."
"Tell him to send us some towels, then," growls one of the number, a black-browed, surly-looking fellow with ponderous, bent shoulders and a slouching mien. Some of his companions titter encouragingly, others are silent. The sergeant of the guard flushes angrily and turns on the speaker.
"You know very well what I mean, Rix. I'm using your own slang in speaking to you because you wouldn't comprehend decent language. It isn't the first time you've been warned not to make such a row here close to a lot of wounded and dying men. Now I mean business. Quit it or you'll get into trouble."
"What authority have you got, I'd like to know," is the sneering rejoinder. "You're nothing but a hospital guard, and have no business interfering with us. I ain't under no doctor's orders. You go back to your stiffs and leave live men alone."
The sergeant is about to speak, when the bathers, glancing up at the bank, see him suddenly face to his left and raise his hand to his shouldered rifle in salute. The next instant a tall young officer, leaning heavily on a cane and with his sword-arm in a sling, appears at the sergeant's side.
"Who is the man who questions your authority?" he asks, in a voice singularly calm and deliberate.
There is a moment's awkward silence. The sergeant has the reluctance of his class to getting a fellow-soldier into a scrape. The half-dressed bathers stand uncomfortably about the shore and look blankly from one to another. The man addressed as Rix is busily occupied in pulling on a pair of soldier brogans, and tying, with great deliberation, the leather strings.
Casting his clear eyes over the group, as he steps forward to the edge, the young officer speaks again:
"You're here, are you, Rix. That leaves little doubt as to the man even if I were not sure of the voice. I could hear your brutal swearing, sir, loud over the prayers the chaplain was saying for the dead. Have you no sense of decency at all?"
"How'n hell did I know there was any prayin' going on?" muttered Rix, bending his scowling brows down over his shoe and tugging savagely at the string.
"What was that remark, Rix?" asks the lieutenant, his grasp tightening on the stick.
"Rix, drop that shoestring; stand attention, and look at me," says the officer, very quietly, but with setting teeth that no man fails to note. Rix slowly and sullenly obeys.
"What was the remark you made just now?" is again the question.
"I said I didn't know they were praying," growls Rix, finding he has to face the music.
"That sounds very little like your words, but—let it go. You knew very well that men were dying here right within earshot when you were making the air blue with blasphemy, and when better men were reverently silent. It is the third time you have been reprimanded in a week. I shall see to it that you are sent back to your company forthwith."
"Not while Lieutenant Hollins is quartermaster you won't," is the insubordinate reply, and even the teamsters look scared as they glance from the scowling, hanging face of Rix to the clear-cut features of the officer, and mark the change that sweeps over the latter. His eyes seem to flash fire, and his pallid face—thin with suffering and loss of blood—flushes despite his physical weakness. His handsome mouth sets like a steel-trap.
"Sergeant, get two of your men and put that fellow under guard," he orders. "Stay where you are, Rix, until they come for you." His voice is low and stern; he does not condescend to raise it for such occasion, though there is a something about it that tells the soldier-ear it can ring with command where ring is needed.
"I'd like to know what I've done," mutters Rix, angrily kicking at the pebbles at his feet.
No answer. The lieutenant has walked back a pace and has seated himself on a little bench. Another officer—a gray-haired and distinguished-looking man, with silver eagles on his shoulders—is rapidly nearing him and reaches the bank just in time to catch the next words. He could have heard them farther back, for Rix is in a fury now, and shouts aloud:
"If you knew your own interests—knew half that I know about your affairs, Lieutenant Abbot—you'd think twice before you ordered me under arrest."
The lieutenant half starts from the bench; but his self-control is strong.
"You are simply adding to your insubordination, sir," he says, coldly. "Take your prisoner, sergeant. You men are all witnesses to this language."
And muttering much to himself, Teamster Rix is marched slowly away, leaving an audience somewhat mystified. The colonel stands looking after him with a puzzled and astonished face; the men begin slowly to edge away, and then Mr. Abbot wearily rises and—again he flushes red when he finds his superior officer facing him at not three paces distance.
"What on earth does that mean, Abbot?" asks the colonel. "Who is that man?"
"One of the regimental teamsters, sir. He came here with the wounded, and there appears to have been no opportunity of sending him back now that the regiment is over in the Shenandoah. At all events, he has been allowed to loaf around here for some time, and you probably heard him swearing."
"I did; that's what brought me out of the house. But what does he mean by threatening you?"
"I have no idea, sir; or, rather, I have an idea, but the matter is of no consequence whatever, and only characteristic of the man. He is a scoundrel, I suspect, and I wonder that Hollins has kept him so long."
"Do you know that Hollins hasn't turned up yet?"
"So I heard this morning, colonel, and yet you saw him the night of the battle, did you not?"
"Not the night after, but the night before. We left him with the wagons when we marched to the ford. I was knocked off my horse about one in the afternoon, just north of the cornfield, and they got me back to the wagons with this left shoulder all out of shape—collar-bone broken; and he wasn't there then, and hadn't been seen since daybreak. Somebody said he was so cut up when you were hit at the Gap. I didn't know you were such friends."
"Well, we've known each other a long time—were together at Harvard and moved in the same set; but there was never any intimacy, colonel."
"I see, I see," says the older officer, reflectively. "He was a stranger to me when I joined the regiment and found him quartermaster. He was Colonel Raymond's choice, and you know that in succeeding to his place I preferred to make no changes. But I say to you now that I wish I had. Hollins has failed to come up to the standard as a campaign quartermaster, and the men have suffered through his neglect more than once. Then he stayed behind when we marched through Washington—a thing he never satisfactorily explained to me—and I had serious thoughts of relieving him at Frederick and appointing you to act in his stead. Now the fortune of war has settled both questions. Hollins is missing, and you are a captain or will be within the month. Have you heard from Wendell?"
"His arm is gone, sir; amputated above the elbow; and he has decided to resign. Foster commands the company, but I shall go forward just as soon as the doctor will let me."
"We'll go together. He says I can stand the ride in ten days or two weeks, but neither of your wounds has healed yet. How's the leg? That must have been a narrow squeak."
"No bones were touched, sir. It was only that I lost so much blood from the two. It was the major who reported me to you as dangerously wounded, was it not?"
"Yes; but when he left you there seemed to be very little chance. You were senseless and exhausted, and with two rifle bullets through you what was to be expected? He couldn't tell that they happened to graze no artery, and the surgeon was too busy elsewhere."
"It gave them a scare at home," said Abbot, smiling; "and my father and sister were on the point of starting for Washington when I managed to send word to them that the wounds were slight. I want to get back to the regiment before they find out that they were comparatively serious, because the family will be importuning the Secretary of War to send me home on leave."
"And any man of your age, with such a home, and a sweetheart, ought to be eager to go. Why not go, Abbot? There will be no more fighting for months now; McClellan has let them slip. You could have a fortnight in Boston as well as not, and wear your captain's bars for the first time. I fancy I know how proud Miss Winthrop would be to sew them on for you."
The colonel is leaning against the trunk of a spreading oak-tree as he speaks. The sun is down, and twilight closing around them. Mr. Abbot, who had somewhat wearily reseated himself on the rude wooden bench a moment before, has turned gradually away from the speaker during these words, and is gazing down the beautiful valley. Lights are beginning to twinkle here and there in the distance, and the gleam of one or two tiny fires tells of other camps not far away. A dim mist of dust is rising from the highroad close to the stream, and a quaint old Maryland cabriolet, drawn by a venerable gray horse, is slowly coming around the bend. The soldiers grouped about the gateway, back at the farmhouse, turn and look curiously towards the hollow-sounding hoof-beats, but neither the colonel nor his junior officer seems to notice them. Abbot's thoughts are evidently far away, and he makes no reply. The surgeon who sanctions his return to field duty yet a while would, to all appearances, be guilty of a professional blunder. The lieutenant's face is pale and thin; his hand looks very fragile and fearfully white in contrast with the bronze of his cheek. He leans his head upon his hand as he gazes away into the distance, and the colonel stands attentively regarding him. He recalls the young fellow's gallant and spirited conduct at Manassas and South Mountain; his devotion to his soldier duty since the day he first "reported." If ever an officer deserved a month at home, in which to recuperate from the shock of painful wounds, surely that officer was Abbot. The colonel well knows with what pride and blessing his revered old father would welcome his coming—the joy it would bring to the household at his home. It is an open secret, too, that he is engaged to Genevieve Winthrop, and surely a man must want to see the lady of his love. He well remembers how she came with other ladies to attend the presentation of colors to the regiment, and how handsome and distinguished a woman she looked. The Common was thronged with Boston's "oldest and best" that day, and Colonel Raymond's speech of acceptance made eloquent reference to the fact that of all the grand old names that had been prominent in the colonial history of the commonwealth not one was absent from the muster-roll of the regiment it was his high honor to command. The Abbots and Winthrops had a history coeval with that of the colony, and were long and intimately acquainted. When, therefore, it was rumored that Genevieve Winthrop was to marry Paul Abbot "as soon as the war was over," people simply took it as a matter of course—they had been engaged ever since they were trundled side by side in the primitive baby-carriages of the earliest forties. This reflection leads the colonel to the realization of the fact that they must be very much of an age. Indeed, had he not heard it whispered that Miss Winthrop was the senior by nearly a year? Abbot looked young, almost boyish, when he was first commissioned in May of '61, but he had aged rapidly, and was greatly changed. He had not shaved since June, and a beard of four months' growth had covered his face. There are lines in his forehead, too, that one could not detect a year before. Why should not the young fellow have a few weeks' leave, thinks the colonel. The regiment is now in camp over beyond Harper's Ferry, greatly diminished in numbers and waiting for its promised recruits. It is evident that McClellan has no intention of attacking Lee again; he is content with having persuaded him to retire from Maryland. Nothing will be so apt to build up the strength and spirits of the new captain as to send him home to be lionized and petted as he deserves to be. Doubtless all the languor and sadness the colonel has noted in him of late is but the outward and visible sign of a longing for home which he is ashamed to confess.
"Abbot," he says again, suddenly and abruptly, "I'm going back to Frederick this evening as soon as the medical director is ready, and I'm going to get him to give you a certificate on which to base application for a month's leave Don't say no. I understand your scruples, but go you shall. You richly deserve it and will be all the better for it. Now your people won't have to be importuning the War Department; the leave shall come from this end of the line."
The lieutenant seems about to turn again as though to thank his commander when there comes an interruption—the voice of the sergeant of the guard close at hand. He holds forth a card; salutes, and says:
"A gentleman inquiring for Colonel Putnam."
And the gentleman is but a step or two behind—an aging man with silvery hair and beard, with lines of sorrow in his refined and scholarly face, and fatigue and anxiety easily discernible in his bent figure—a gentleman evidently, and the colonel turns courteously to greet him.
"Doctor Warren!" he says, interrogatively, as he holds forth his hand.
"Yes, colonel, they told me you were about going back to Frederick, and I desired to see you at once. I am greatly interested in a young officer of your regiment who is here, wounded; he is a college friend of my only son's, sir—Guthrie Warren, killed at Seven Pines." The colonel lifts his forage cap with one hand while the other more tightly clasps that of the older man. "I hear that the reports were exaggerated and that he is able to be about. It is Lieutenant Abbot."
"Judge for yourself, doctor," is the smiling reply. "Here he sits."
With an eager light in his eyes the old gentleman steps forward towards Abbot, who is slowly rising from the bench. He, too, courteously raises his forage cap. In a moment both the doctor's hands have clasped the thin, white hand that leans so heavily on the stick.
"My dear young friend!" he says. "My gallant boy! Thank God it is not what we feared!" and his eyes are filling, his lip is trembling painfully.
"You are very kind, sir," says Abbot, vaguely, "I am doing quite well." Then he pauses. There is such yearning and—something he cannot fathom in the old man's face. He feels that he is expected to say still more—that this is not the welcome looked for. "I beg a thousand pardons, sir, perhaps I did not catch the name aright. Did you say Doctor Warren?"
"Certainly, B—Guthrie Warren's father—you remember?" and the look in the sad old eyes is one of strange perplexity. "I cannot thank you half enough for all you have written of my boy."
And still there is no sign of recognition in Abbot's face. He is courteous, sympathetic, but it is all too evident that there is something grievously lacking.
"I fear there is some mistake," he gently says; "I have no recollection of knowing or writing of any one of that name."
"Mistake! Good God! How can there be?" is the gasping response. The tired old eyes are ablaze with grief, bewilderment, and dread commingled. "Surely this is Lieutenant Paul Revere Abbot—of the—th Massachusetts."
"It certainly is, doctor, but—"
"It surely is your photograph we have: surely you wrote to—to us all this last year—letter after letter about my boy—my Guthrie."
There is an instant of silence that is almost agonizing. The colonel stands like one in a state of shock. The old doctor, trembling from head to foot, looks with almost piteous entreaty; with anguish and incredulity, and half-awakened wrath, into the pale and distressed features of the young soldier.
"I bitterly grieve to have to tell you, sir," is the sorrowful answer, "but I know no such name. I have written no such letters."
Another instant, and the old man has dropped heavily upon the bench, and buried his face in his arms. But for the colonel he might have fallen prone to earth.
An hour after sundown and the rattling old cabriolet has two occupants as it drives back to town. Colonel Putnam comes forth with the old gentleman whom he had so tenderly conducted to the farmhouse but a few moments after the strange scene out on the bank, and is now his escort to Frederick. The sergeant of the guard has been besieged with questions, for several of the men saw the doctor drop upon the bench and were aware of the melodramatic nature of the meeting. Lieutenant Abbot with a face paler than before, with a strange look of perplexity and smouldering wrath about his handsome eyes, has gone over to his own tent, where the surgeon presently visits him. The colonel and his civilian visitor are closeted together over half an hour, and the latter looks more dead than alive, say the men, as he feebly totters down the steps clinging to the colonel's arm.
"What did you say was the name of the officer who was killed—his son?" asks one of the guards as he stands at the entrance to the tent.
"Warren—Guthrie Warren," answers the sergeant, briefly. "I don't know whether the old man's crazy or not. He said the lieutenant had been writing to him for months about his son, and the lieutenant denied having written a line."
"He lied then, by——!" comes a savage growl from within the tent. "Where is the old man? Give me a look at him!" and the scowling face of Rix makes its sudden appearance at the tent-flop, peering forth into the fire-light.
"Be quiet, Rix, and go back where you belong. You've made more than enough trouble to-day," is the sergeant's low-toned order.
"I tell you I only want to see the old man," answers the teamster, struggling, "Don't you threaten me with that bayonet, Drake," he growls savagely at the sentry, who has thrown himself in front of the opening. "It'll be the worse for you fellows that you ever confined me, no matter by whose order; but as for that stuck-up prig, by——! you'll see soon enough what'll come of his ordering me into the guard-tent."
His voice is so hoarse and loud with anger that the colonel's attention is attracted. He has just seated Doctor Warren in the vehicle, and is about to take his place by his side when Rix's tirade bursts upon his ear. The words are only partially distinguishable, but the colonel steps promptly back.
"What is the matter with your prisoner, sergeant? Is he drunk or crazy, that he persists in this uproar?"
"I don't think it either, sir," answers the sergeant; while Rix, at sight of his commanding officer, pops his head back within the tent, and shuts the narrow slit. "He's simply ugly and bent on making trouble."
"Well, stop it! If he utters another insubordinate word, have him bucked and gagged at once. He is disgracing the regiment, and I won't tolerate it. Do you understand?"
"I do, sir."
The colonel turns abruptly away, while the prisoner, knowing his man, keeps discreetly out of sight, and correspondingly silent. At the gate the older officer stops once more and calls to a soldier who is standing near.
"Give my compliments to Lieutenant Abbot, and say that I will be out here again to-morrow afternoon. Now, doctor, I am with you."
The old gentleman is leaning wearily back in his corner of the cab; a strange, stunned, lethargic feeling seems to have come over him. His eyes are fixed on vacancy, if anything, and the colonel's attempt at cheeriness meets no response. As the vehicle slowly rattles away he makes an effort, rouses himself as it were from a stupor-like condition, and abruptly speaks:
"You tell me that—that you have seen Lieutenant Abbot's mail all summer and spring and never saw a—our postmark—Hastings?"
"I have seen his mail very often, and thought his correspondents were all home people. I am sure I would have noticed any letters coming frequently in one handwriting, and his father's is the only masculine superscription that was at all regular."
"My letters—our home letters—were not often addressed by me," hesitates the doctor. "The postmark might have given you an idea. I had not time—" but he breaks off, weakly. It is so hard for him to prevaricate: and it is bitter as death to tell the truth, now. And worse—worse! What is he to tell—how is he to tell her?
The colonel speaks slowly and sadly, but with earnest conviction:
"No words can tell you how I mourn the heartlessness of this trick, doctor; but you may rest assured it is no doing of Abbot's. What earthly inducement could he have? Think of it! a man of his family and connections—and character, too. Some scoundrel has simply borrowed his name, possibly in the hope of bleeding you for money. Did none of the letters ever suggest embarrassments? It is most unfortunate that you did not bring them with you. I know the writing of every officer and many of the men in the regiment, and it would give me a clew with which to work. Promise me you will send them when you reach home."
The Doctor bows his head in deep dejection. "What good will it do? I thought to find a comrade of my boy's. Indeed! it must be one who knew him well!—and how can I desire to bring to punishment one who appreciated my son as this unknown writer evidently did. His only crime seems to have been a hesitancy about giving his own name."
"And a scoundrelly larceny of that of a better man in every way. No, doctor. The honor of my regiment demands that he be run down and brought to justice; and you must not withhold the only proof with which we can reach him. Promise me!"
"I—I will think. I am all unstrung now, my dear sir! Pray do not press me! If it was not Mr. Abbot, who could it have been? Who else could have known him?"
"Why, Doctor Warren, there are probably fifty Harvard men in this one regiment—or were at least," says the colonel, sadly, "up to a month ago. Cedar Mountain, Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam have left but a moiety. Most of our officers are graduates of the old college, and many a man was there. I dare say I could have found a dozen who well knew your son. In the few words I had with Abbot, he told me he remembered that there had been some talk among the officers last July after your son was killed. Some one saw the name in the papers, and said that it must have been Warren of the class of '58, and our Captain Webster, who was killed at Manassas, was in that class and knew him well. Abbot said he remembered him, by sight, as a sophomore would know a senior, but had never spoken to him. Anybody hearing all the talk going on at the time we got the news of Seven Pines could have woven quite a college history out of it—and somebody has."
"Ah, colonel! There is still the fact of the photograph, and the letters that were written about Guthrie all last winter—long before Seven Pines."
The colonel looks utterly dejected, too; he shakes his head, mournfully. "That troubles Abbot as much as it does me. Fields, gallant fellow, was our adjutant then, and he and Abbot were close friends. He could hardly have had a hand in anything beyond the photograph and letter which, you tell me, were sent to the Soldier's Aid Society in town. I remember the young fellows were having quite a lot of fun about their Havelocks when we lay at Edwards's Ferry—but Fields was shot dead, almost the first man, at Cedar Mountain, and of the thirty-five officers we had when we crossed the Potomac the first time, only eleven are with the—th to-day. Abbot, who was a junior second lieutenant then, is a captain now, by rights, and daily expecting his promotion. I showed you several letters in his hand, and they, you admit, are utterly unlike the ones you received. Indeed, doctor, it is impossible to connect Abbot with it in any way."
The doctor's face is covered by his hands. In ten minutes or less he must be at her side. What can he tell his little girl? What shall he say? What possible, probable story can man invent to cover a case so cruel as this? He hardly hears the colonel's words. He is thinking—thinking with a bursting heart and whirling brain. For a time all sense of the loss of his only son seems deadened in face of this undreamed-of, this almost incredible shadow that has come to blight the sweet and innocent life that is so infinitely dear to him. What can he say to Bessie when he meets those beautiful, pleading, trusting, anxious eyes? She has borne up so bravely, silently, patiently. Their journey has been trying and full of fatigue, but once at Frederick he has left her in the hands of a sympathetic woman, the wife of the proprietor of the only tavern in which a room could be had, and, promising to return as soon as he could see the lieutenant, he has gone away on his quest with hopeful heart. A soldier claiming to be of the—th Massachusetts told them that very morning at the Baltimore station that Mr. Abbot was well enough to be up and about. It is barely nine o'clock now. In less than an hour there will be a train going back. All he can think of is that they must go—go as quick as possible. They have nothing now to keep them here, and he has one secret to guard from all—his little girl's. No one must know, none suspect that. In the bitterness of desolation, still stunned and bewildered by the cruelty of the blow that has come upon them, his mind is clear on that point. If possible no one, except those people at the tavern, must know she was with him. None must suspect—above all—none must suspect the bitter truth. It would crush her like a bruised and trodden flower.
"If—if it had been a correspondence where there was a woman in the case," begins the colonel again—and the doctor starts as though stung, and his wrinkled hands wring each other under the heavy travelling-shawl he wears—"I could understand the thing better. Quite a number of romantic correspondences have grown up between our soldiers and young girls at home through the medium of these mittens and things; they seem to have lost their old significance. But you give me to understand that—that there was none?"
"The letters were solely about my son, all that ever came to me," said the doctor, nervously.
"That seems to complicate the matter. If it were a mere flirtation by letter, such as is occasionally going on, then somebody might have borrowed his name and stolen his photograph; but I don't see how he could have secured the replies—the girl's letters—in such a case. No. As you say, doctor, that wasn't apt to be the solution, though I'm at a loss to account for the letters that came from you. They were addressed to Lieutenant Abbot, camp of the—th Massachusetts, you tell me, and Abbot declares he has never heard from any one of your name, or had a letter from Hastings. He would be the last man, too, to get into a correspondence with a woman—for he is engaged."
The doctor starts again as though stung a second time. Was there not in one of those letters a paragraph over which his sweet daughter had blushed painfully as she strove to read it aloud? Did it not speak of an entanglement that once existed; an affair in which his heart had never been enlisted, but where family considerations and parental wishes had conspired to bring about a temporary "understanding"? The cabriolet is bouncing about on the cobblestones of the old-fashioned street, and the doctor is thankful for the physical jar. Another moment and they draw up at the door of the old Maryland hostelry, and the colonel steps out and assists his companion to alight.
"Let me take you to your room now, doctor; then I'll have our staff surgeon come over and see you. It has been a shock which would break a younger man—"
But the old gentleman has nerved himself for the struggle. First and foremost—no one must follow him to his room—none suspect the trial there awaiting him. He turns sadly, but with decision.
"Colonel, I cannot thank you now as you deserve; once home, I will write, but now what I need is absolute rest a little while. I am stunned, bewildered. I must think this out, and my best plan is to get to sleep first. Forgive me, sir, for my apparent discourtesy, and do not take it amiss if I say that for a few moments—for the present—I should like to be alone. We—we will meet again, sir, if it rest with me, and I will write. Good-night, colonel. Good-night, sir."
And he turns hurriedly away. For a moment the soldier stands uncertain what to do. Then he enters the hallway determined to bespeak the best offices of the host in behalf of his stricken friend. There is a broad stairway some distance back in the hall, and up this he sees the doctor slowly laboring. He longs to go to his assistance, but stands irresolute, fearing to offend. The old gentleman nears the top, and is almost on the landing above, when a door is suddenly opened, a light, quick step is heard, and in an instant a tall, graceful girl, clad in deep black—a girl whom the colonel sees is young, beautiful, and very pale—springs forward into view, places her hands on the old man's shoulders, and looks eagerly, imploringly, into his face. What she asks, what she says, the colonel cannot hear; but another moment solves all doubt as to his proper course. He sees her clasped to the doctor's breast; he sees them clinging to each other one instant, and then the father, with sudden rally, bears her pale and probably fainting from his sight. A door shuts with muffled slam, and they are gone; and with the intuition of a gentleman Colonel Putnam realizes why his proffer of services would now be out of place.
"And so there is a woman in the case, after all," he thinks to himself as he steps forth into the cool evening air. "And it is for her sake the good old man shrinks from dragging the matter into the light of day—his daughter, probably; and some scoundrel has been at work, and in my regiment."
The colonel grinds his teeth and clinches his fists at this reflection. He is a husband and father himself, and now he understands some features in the old doctor's trouble which had puzzled him before. He strolls across the street to the sidewalk under the quaint old red-brick, dormer-windowed houses where lights are still gleaming, and where groups of people are chatting and laughing in the pleasant air. Many of them are in the rough uniform of the army—teamsters, drivers, and slightly wounded soldiers out on pass from the neighboring field hospitals. The old cabriolet is being trundled off to some neighboring stable after a brief confabulation between the driver thereof and the landlord of the tavern, and the colonel is about hailing and tendering the Jehu another job for the morrow, when he sees that somebody else is before him; and, bending down from his seat, the driver is talking with a man who has come out from the shadow of a side porch. There is but little light in the street, and the colonel has turned on reaching the curb, and is seeking among the windows across the way for one which may possibly prove to be the young lady's. He is interested in the case more than ever now, but the windows give no sign. Some are lighted, and occasional shadows flit across them, but none that are familiar. Suddenly he hears a sound that brings him back to himself—the tramp of marching feet, and the sudden clash of arms as they halt; a patrol from the provost-marshal's guard comes quickly around a corner from the soft dust of a side street, and the non-commissioned officers are sharply halting all neighboring men in uniform, and examining their passes. Several parties in army overcoats shuffle uneasily up the street, only to fall into the clutches of a companion patrol that pops up as suddenly around the next corner beyond. "Rounding up the stragglers," thinks the colonel, with a quiet smile of approval, and, like the soldier he is, he finds time to look on a moment and watch the manner in which the work is done. The patrol seems to have possessed itself of both sides of the street at the same instant, and "spotted" every man in blue. These are bidden to stand until their papers are examined by the brace of young officers who appear upon the scene, belted and sashed, and bearing small lanterns. Nor are uniforms alone subject to scrutiny. Ever since Second Bull-Run there has been much straggling in the army, and not a little desertion; and though a fortnight has passed since Antietam was fought, the provost-marshal's men have not yet finished scouring the country, and a sharp lookout is kept for deserters. Those civilians who can readily establish their identity as old residents of the town have no trouble. Occasionally a man is encountered whom nobody seems to know, and, despite their protestations, two of those characters have been gathered in by the patrol, and are now on their way to the office. The colonel hears their mingled complaint and blasphemy as they are marched past him by a file of the guard, and then turns to the nearest of the officers—
"Lieutenant, did you note the man who ran back from where that cab is standing?"
The officer of the patrol looks quickly up from the "pass" he is examining by the light of his lantern, and at sight of Colonel Putnam his hand goes up to the visor of his cap.
"No, colonel; was there one? Which way did he go?"
"Straight back to the shadow of the porch; just a minute ago. What attracted my attention to him was the fact that he was deep in talk with the driver when your men rounded the corner, and did not seem to see or hear them. Then I turned to look at that corporal yonder, as he crossed to halt a man on the east side, and at sound of his voice this fellow at the cab started suddenly and ran, crouching in the shadow, back to the side of the tavern there. It looks suspicious."
"Come with me, two of you," says the lieutenant, quickly, and, followed by a brace of his guard, he crosses the street, and his lantern is seen dancing around the dark gallery. The colonel, meantime, accosts the driver:
"What took that man away so suddenly? Who is he?"
"I don't know, sir. I never seen him afore. He stopped me right here to ask who the gentleman was I was drivin'. I told him your name, 'cause I heard it, and he started then kinder queer, but came back and said 'twas the citizen he meant; and the boss here had just told me that was Doctor Warren, and that his daughter was up-stairs. Then the feller jumped like he was scared; the guard had just come round the corner, and when he saw them he just put for the barn."
"Is there a barn back there?" asks the colonel. The driver nods assent. A moment's silence, and then the colonel continues: "I want to see you in the morning. Wait for me here at the hotel about nine o'clock. Meantime say nothing about this, and you'll lose nothing by holding your tongue. What was his face like—this man I mean?"
"Couldn't see it, sir. It was dark, and he had a beard all over it, and wore a black-felt hat—soft; and he had a cloak something like yours, that was wrapped all over his shoulders."
"Remember, I want to see you here in the morning; and hold your tongue till then."
With that the colonel hastens off on the trail of the searching-party. He sees the lantern glimmering among some dark buildings beyond the side-gallery, and thither he follows. To all appearances the spot is almost a cul de sac of wooden barns, board-fences, and locked doors, except for a gateway leading to the yard behind the tavern. The search has revealed no trace of the skulker, and the lieutenant holds his lamp aloft as he examines the gate and peers over the picket fence that stands barely breast-high and bars them out.
"May have gone in here," he mutters. "Come on!"
But the search here only reveals half a dozen avenues of escape. The man could have gone back through several doors into the building itself, or eastward, through some dilapidated yards, into a street that was uninfested by patrols, and dark as the bottom of a well. "It is useless to waste further time," says the lieutenant, who presently rejoins the colonel behind the tavern, and finds him staring up at the rear windows. To him the young officer, briefly and in low tone, reports the result of his search.
"I presume there is nothing else I can do just here, is there, colonel?" he asks. The colonel shakes his head.
"Nothing that I can think of, unless you look through the halls and office."
"We are going there. Shall I light you back to the street?"
"Er—ah—no! I think I'll wait here—just a moment," says the colonel, and, marvelling not a little, the subaltern leaves him.
No sooner is he gone, followed by his men, than Colonel Putnam steps back to the side of an old chain-pump that he has found in the course of his researches, and here he leans for support. Though his shoulder has set in shape, and is doing fairly well, he has had two rather long drives this day, and one fatiguing experience; he is beginning to feel wearied, but is not yet ready to go to his bed. That was Doctor Warren's shadow, bent and feeble, that he saw upon the yellow light of the window-shade a moment ago, and he is worried at the evidence of increasing weakness and sorrow. Even while he rests there, irresolute as to what he ought to do—whether to go and insist on his right, as a man and a father, to be of some comfort to another in his sore trial, or to respect that father's evident wish to conceal his daughter's interest in the trouble that had come upon them—he is startled to see another shadow, hers; and this shadow is in hat and veil. Whither can they be going at this hour of the night? 'Tis nearly ten o'clock. Yes, surely; there is the doctor's bent shadow once more, and he has thrown on an outer coat of some kind. Then they are going back by the night train. They shrink from having it known that she was here at all; that she was in any way interested. And the doctor wants to make his escape without the pang of seeing or being seen again by those who witnessed his utter shock and distress this day. So be it! thinks the colonel. God knows I would not intrude on the sanctity of his sorrow or her secret. Later, when they are home again, the matter can be looked into so far as getting specimens of this skulking felon's handwriting is concerned, and no one need know, when he is unearthed, that it was a young girl he was luring under the name of another man. So be it! They may easily elude all question now. Night and the sacred mantle of their evident suffering will shield them from observation or question.
The colonel draws deeper into the shade of the barn. It seems a sacrilege now to be thus spying upon their movements, and he is ashamed of the impulse that kept him there. He decides to leave the yard and betake himself to his lodgings, when he is suddenly aware of a dark object rising from under the back porch. Stealthily and slowly the figure comes crouching out into the open yard, coming towards where the colonel stands in the shadow of the black out-buildings; and then, when close by the pump where he stood but a moment before, it rises to its full height, and draws a long breath of relief. It is a man in a soft black-felt hat, with a heavy, dark beard, and wearing one of the biggest of the great circular capes that make a part of the officer's overcoat, and are most frequently worn without the coat itself, unless the weather be severe.
The colonel is unarmed; his pistols are over at the room he temporarily occupies in town; he is suffering from recent injury, and one arm is practically good for nothing, but he loses no time in lamenting these points. The slight form of the girl approaches the window at this very instant as though to pick up some object on the sill, then disappears, and the light vanishes from the room. From the figure at the pump he hears a stifled exclamation of surprise, but no articulate word; and before the figure has time to recover he stands close beside it and his voice breaks the stillness of the night.
"Your name, sir, and your regiment? I am Colonel Putnam."
He has laid his hand on the broad shoulder under the cloak and plainly feels the start and thrill with which his words are greeted. He even fancies he can hear the stifled word "God!" The man seems stricken dumb, and more sharply the colonel begins his stern query a second time, but gets no farther than "Your name," when, with a violent wrench, the stranger is free; he makes a spring, trips over some loose rubbish, and goes crashing to earth.
"The guard!" yells the colonel, as he throws himself upon him, but the man is up in an instant, hurls off his antagonist, and, this time, leaps off into the darkness in comparative safety. But he has left a clew behind. As the soldiers of the provost guard come running around into the yard and the windows are thrown up and eager heads peer forth in excited inquiry, Colonel Putnam raises to the light of the first lantern a hairy, bushy object that he holds in his hand; it is a false beard, and a big one.
"By Jove!" says the lieutenant. "It must be some rebel spy."
Daybreak, and the broad expanse of valley opening away to the south is just lighting up in chill, half-reluctant fashion, as though the night had been far too short or the revels of yester-even far too long. There is a swish and plash of rapid running waters close at hand, and here and there, where the stream is dammed by rocky ridge, the wisps of fog rise slowly into air, mingling with and adding to the prevailing tone of chilly gray. Through these fog-wreaths there stands revealed a massive barrier of wooded and rock-ribbed heights, towering aloft and shutting out the eastern sky, all their crests a-swim in floating cloud, all their rugged foothills dotted with the tentage of a sleeping army. Here, close at hand on the banks of the rushing river, a sentry paces slowly to and fro, the dew dripping from his shouldered musket and beading on his cartridge-box. The collar of his light-blue overcoat is muffled up about his ears, and his forage cap is pulled far down over his blinking eyes. As he paces southward he can see along the stream-bed camps and pale-blue ghosts of sentries pacing as wearily as himself in the wan and cheerless light. Trees are dripping with heavy charge of moisture that the faintest whiff of morning air sends showering on the bank beneath; and a little deluge of the kind coming suddenly down upon this particular sentry as he strolls under the spreading branches serves to augment the expression of general weariness and disgust, which by no means distinguishes him from his more distant fellows, but evokes no further comment than a momentary huddling of head and shoulders into the depths of the blue collar, and the briefest possible mention of the last place of all others one would be apt to connect with cooling showers. Facing about and slouching along the other way the sentry sees a picture that, had he poetry or love of the grand and beautiful in his soul, would a thousand-fold compensate him for his enforced vigil. Every moment, as the timid light grows bolder with its reinforcement from the east, there opens a vista before his eyes that few men could look upon unmoved. To his right the brawling Shenandoah, swift and swirling, goes rushing through its last rapids, as though bent on having one final "hurrah" on its own account before losing its identity in the welcoming waters of the Potomac. Hemming it in to the right—the east—and shutting out the crimson dawn are the massive bulwarks of the Loudon Heights climbing towards the changing heavens. Westward, less bold and jagged, but still a mighty barrier in almost any other companionship, are the sister heights of Bolivar, scarred and seamed with earth-work and rifle-pit, and bristling with abattis and battery. Down the intervening valley plunges the Shenandoah and winds the macadam of the highway, its dust subdued for the time being; while, straight away to the front, mist-wreathed at their base from the sleeping waters of the winding canal, cloud-capped at their lofty summit from the bank of vapor that hovers along the entire range, rock-ribbed, precipitous, magnificent in silent, stubborn strength, the towering heights of Maryland span the scene from east to west, and stand superb, the background to the picture. All as yet is sombre in tone, black, dark green, and brown and gray. The mist hangs heavy over everything, and the twinkle of an occasional camp-fire is but the sodden glow of ember whose life is long since burned out. But, see! Through the deep, jagged rift where runs the Potomac, along the rock-bound gorge through which in ages past the torrent burst its way, there creeps a host of tiny shafts of color—the skirmishers, the eclaireurs, of the irresistible array of which they form but the foremost line—the coming army of the God of Day. Here behind the frowning Loudon no such light troops venture; but, skilled riders as they are,
"Spurring the winds of the morning,"
they pour through the rocky gap, and now they find their lodgment on every salient of the grim old wall beyond the broad Potomac. Here, there, everywhere along the southern face are glinting shafts or points on rocks or ridge. Seam and shadow take on a purplish tinge. The hanging mass of cloud beams with answering smile upon its earthward face as gold and crimson and royal purple mantle the billowy cheeks. Now the rocks light up with warmer glow, and long, horizontal shadows are thrown across the hoary curtain, and slowly the gorgeous cloud-crests lift away and more and more the heights come gleaming into view. Now there are breaks and caverns here and there through the shifting vapors, and hurried little glimpses of the cliffs beyond, and these cloud-caves grow and widen, and broad sheets of yellow light seem warming up the dripping wall and changing into mist the clinging beads of dew. And now, far aloft, the fringe of firs and stunted oaks is seen upon the summit as the sun breaks through the shimmering veil, and there, fluttering against the blue of heaven, circled in fleecy frame of vapor, glowing, waving in the sky, all aflame with tingeing sunshine, there leaps into view the "Flag of the Free," crowning the Maryland heights and shining far up the guarded valley of the Shenandoah. A puff of smoke juts out from the very summit across the stream; the sentry eyes it with a sigh of reviving interest in life; five, ten, twenty seconds he counts before the boom of the salute follows the sudden flash and wakes the echoes of the opposite cliffs.
Listen! Up on the westward heights, somewhere among those frowning batteries, a bugle rings out upon the air—
"I can't get 'em up, I can't get 'em up, I can't get 'em up in the mo—orning,"
it merrily sings, and the rocks of Loudon echo back the spirited notes. Farther up the valley a distant drum rattles, and then, shrill and piercing, with hoarse, rolling accompaniment, the fifes of some infantry regiment burst into the lively trills of the reveille. Another camp takes up the strain, off to the left. Then the soft notes of the cavalry trumpets come floating up from the water-side, and soon, regiment after regiment, the field-music is all astir and the melody of the initial effort becomes one ringing, blaring, but most effectually waking discord. Loud in the nearest camp the little drummers and fifers are thumping away at "Bonnie Lass o' Gawrie." Over by the turnpike the rival corps of the—th Connecticut are pounding out the cheerful strains in which Ireland's favored bard declared he would "Mourn the hopes that leave," little dreaming that British fifes and drums would make it soldier music—"two-four time"—all the world over. Halfway across the valley, where the Bolivars narrow it, an Ohio regiment is announcing to the rest of the army, within earshot, that it wakes to the realization that its "Name it is Joe Bowers," tooted and hammered in "six-eight time" through the lines of "A" tents; and a New York Zouave organization turns out of its dew-dripping blankets and cordially blasphemes the musicians who are expressing as their conception of the regimental sentiment, "Oh, Willie, we have missed you." And so the chorus goes up and down the Shenandoah, and the time-worn melodies of the earliest war-days—the days before we had "Tramp, tramp," and "Marching through Georgia" (which we never did have in Virginia), and even lackadaisical "When this crew-el war is o-ver," are the matins of the soldiers of the Union Army.
At last the uproar dies away. Here in the neighboring camp the sergeants are rapidly calling the rolls, and some companies are so reduced in number that no call over is necessary—a simple glance at the baker's dozen of war-worn, grisly looking men is sufficient to assure the sergeant of the presence of every one left to be accounted for. In this brigade they are not turning out under arms just now, as is the custom farther to the front. It has been cruelly punished in the late battle, and is accorded a resting-spell pending the arrival of recruits from home. One first sergeant, who still wears the chevrons of a corporal, in making his report to his company commander briefly says:
"Rix came back last night, sir; returned to duty with his company."
"Hello, Hunnewell!" sings out the officer addressed, calling to the new adjutant, who is hurriedly passing by. "What does this mean? Are the wagons back?"
"No," says the adjutant, halting short with the willingness of a man who has news to tell. "Some of the provost-marshal's men came up last night from Point of Rocks and fetched Rix with them, and letters from the colonel. Both he and Abbot made complaint of the man's conduct, and had him relieved and sent up here under guard. Heard about Abbot?"
"He's appointed major and assistant adjutant-general, and goes to staff duty; and the colonel will be back this week."
"Does he say who's to be quartermaster?" asks the lieutenant with eager interest, and forgetting to record his congratulations on the good-fortune that has befallen his regimental comrade.
"No," says Mr. Hunnewell, with some hesitancy. "There's a hitch there. To begin with, does anybody know that a vacancy exists?"
"Why, Hollins has been missing now ever since the 18th of September, and he must be either dead or taken prisoner."
The adjutant looks around him, and, seeing other officers and men within earshot, though generally occupied with their morning ablutions, he comes closer to his comrade of the line and the two who have joined him, and speaks with lowered voice.
"There is some investigation going on. The colonel sent for such books and papers of Hollins's as could be found about camp, and an order came last night for Captain Dodge to report at once at Frederick. He was better acquainted with Hollins than any one else—among the officers anyway—and he knew something about his whereabouts the other times he was missing. This makes the third."
"Three times and out, say I," answers one of the party. "I heard some talk at division headquarters when I was up there last night: the general has a letter that Colonel Raymond wrote soon after he was exchanged, but if it be anything to Hollins's discredit I wonder he did not write to Putnam. He wouldn't want his successor to be burdened with a quartermaster whom he knew to be—well—shady, so to speak."
"That's the one thing I never understood about Abbot," says the captain, sipping the cup of coffee that a negro servant had just brought to him. "Some more of that, Belshazzar; these gentlemen will join me. How he, who is so blue-blooded, seems to be on such terms of intimacy with Hollins is what I mean," he explains. "It was through him that Hollins was taken into companionship from the very start. He really is responsible for him. They were class-mates, and no one else knew anything of him—except vaguely."
"Now there's just where you wrong Abbot, captain," answers Mr. Hunnewell, very promptly, "and I want to hit that nail on the head right here. I thought just as you did, for a while; but got an inkling as to the real state of the case some time ago. It wasn't Abbot who endorsed him at all, except by silence and sufferance, you may say. Hollins was at his tent day and night—always following him up and actually forcing himself upon him; and one night, after Hollins had that first scrape, and came back under a cloud and went to Abbot first thing to intercede with the colonel, I happened to overhear a piece of conversation between them. Abbot was just as cold and distant as man could possibly be. He told him plainly that he considered his course discreditable to the whole regiment, and especially annoying to him, because, said Abbot, 'You have virtually made me your sponsor with every man who showed a disposition to repel you.' Then Hollins made some reply which I did not fully catch, but Abbot was angry, and anybody could have heard his answer. He told Hollins that if it had not been for the relationship to which he alluded he could not have tolerated him at all, but that he must not draw on it too often. Then Hollins came out, and I heard him muttering to himself. He fawned on Abbot while he was in the tent, but he was scowling and gritting his teeth when he left; and I heard him cursing sotto voce, until he suddenly caught sight of me. Then he was all joviality, and took me by the arms to tell me how 'Paul, old boy, has been raking me over the coals. We were chums, you know, and he thinks a heap of me, and don't want the home people to know of my getting on a spree,' was the way he explained it. Now, if you remember, it was Hollins who was perpetually alluding to his intimacy with the Abbots. Paul himself never spoke of it. What Palfrey once told me in Washington may explain it; he said that Hollins was distantly related to the Winthrops, and that there was a time when he and Miss Winthrop were quite inseparable—you know what a handsome fellow he was when he first joined us?"
"Well," answers the captain, with the half-way and reluctant withdrawal of the average man who has made an unjust statement, "it may be as you say, but all the same it was Abbot's tacit endorsement or tolerance that enabled Hollins to hold a place among us as long as he has. If he has been sheltered under the shadow of Abbot's wing, and turns out to be a vagabond, so much the worse for the wing. All the same, I'm glad of Abbot's promotion. Wonder whose staff he goes on?"
"Lieutenant," says a corporal, saluting the group and addressing his company commander, "Rix says he would like to speak with the major before breakfast. He was for going to headquarters alone just now, but I told him he must wait until I had seen you."
The lieutenant glances quickly around. There, not ten paces away—his forage cap on the back of his head, his hulking shoulders more bent than ever, hands in his pockets and a scowl on his face—stands, or rather slouches, Rix. He looks unkempt, dirty, determinedly ugly, and very much as though he had been in liquor most of the week, and was sober now only through adverse circumstances over which he had no control.
"What do you want of the major, Rix?" demands the lieutenant, with military directness.
"Well, I want him—'n that's enough," says the ex-teamster, with surly, defiant manner, and never changing his attitude. "I want t' know what I'm sent back here for, like a criminal."
"Because you look most damnably like one," says the officer, impulsively, and then, ashamed of having said such a thing to one who is powerless to resent, he tempers the wrath with which he would rebuke the man's insubordination, and, after an instant's pause, speaks more gently.
"Come here, Rix. Stand up like a man and tell me your trouble. If you have been wronged in any way I'll see that you are righted; but recollect what and where you are."
"I'm a man, by God! Good as any of you a year ago; better'n most of you five years ago; an' now I'm ordered about by boys just out of their teens. I'm not under Abbot's orders. Lieutenant Hollins is my officer; he'll fix me all right. Where's he, lieutenant? He's the man I want."
"Rix, you will only get into more trouble if you don't mend your manners," says the lieutenant, half agreeing with the muttered comment of a comrade, that the man had better be gagged forthwith, but determined to control his own temper. "As to Lieutenant Hollins, he has not been heard of since Antietam. Nobody knows what's become of him."
The effect of this announcement is startling. Rix turns ghastly white; his bloodshot eyes stare fearfully at his informant, then blink savagely around on one after another of the party. His fingers twitch nervously, and he clutches at his throat.
"Are—are you sure, lieutenant?" he gasps, all his insolence of manner gone.
"Sure, sir. He hasn't been seen or heard of since—"
"Why, my God! He told me back there at Boonsboro' that he would ride right over to camp—time I was going back with the colonel through the Gap."
"Boonsboro'! Why, man, that was several days after the battle that you went back with the colonel's ambulance! Then you've seen him since we have. Where was it?"
But Rix has recovered his wits, such as they are. He has made a damaging admission, and one that places him in a compromising position. He quickly blurts forth a denial.
"No, no! It wasn't then. I misremembered. 'Twas when we went over the first time. He says to me right there at Boonsboro'—"
"You're lying, Rix," interposed the senior officer of the party, who has been an absorbed listener. "You didn't go through Boonsboro' at all, first time over. We followed the other road, and you followed us. It must have been when you went back. Now what did the quartermaster say?"
But Rix sets his jaws firmly, and will tell no more. Twice he is importuned, but to no purpose. Then the captain speaks again.
"We need not disturb the commanding officer until breakfast-time, but there is no doubt in my mind this man can give important evidence. I will take the responsibility. Have Rix placed in charge of the guard at once."
And when the corporal reappears it is with a file of men, armed with their Springfields. Between them Rix is marched away, a scared and haggard-looking man.
For a moment the officers stand in silence, gazing after him. Then the captain speaks.
"That man could tell a story, without deviating a hair's-breadth from the truth, that would astonish the commonwealth of Massachusetts, or I am vastly mistaken in him. Does anybody know his antecedents?"
"He was our first quartermaster-sergeant, that's all I know of him," answers Mr. Hunnewell; "but he was in bad odor with the colonel, I heard, long before Cedar Mountain. He would have 'broken' him if it had not been for Hollins's intercessions."
"I mean his antecedents, before the outbreak of the war, not in the regiment. Where did Hollins get him? Why did he get him, and have him made quartermaster-sergeant, and stick to him as he did for months, after everybody else was convinced of his worthlessness? There is something I do not understand in their relations. Do you remember, when we were first camped at Meridian Hill, Hollins and Rix occupied the same tent a few days, and the colonel put a stop to it? Hollins was furious, and tried to raise a point against the colonel. He pointed to the fact that in half the regiments around us the quartermaster was allowed to have his sergeant for a tent-mate if he wanted to; and if Colonel Raymond had any objections, why didn't he say so before they left the state? He had lived with him a whole month in camp there, and the colonel never said a word. I confess that some of us thought that Rix was badly treated when he was ordered to pitch his tent elsewhere, but the colonel never permitted any argument. I heard him tell Hollins that what was permissible while we were simply state troops was not to be considered precedent for his action when they were mustered into the national service. In his regiment, as in the well-disciplined regiments of any state, the officers and enlisted men must live apart."
"But Hollins claimed that Rix was a man of good birth and education, and that he was coaching him for a commission," interposes one of the group.
"That was an afterthought, and had no bearing on the case anyway. I know that in this, as in some other matters, there were many of us who chafed a little at the idea of regular army discipline among us, but we know now the colonel was right. As for Rix, he turned out to be a drunkard before we got within rifle-range of Virginia."
"Yet he was retained as quartermaster-sergeant."
"Because Hollins shielded him and kept him out of the way. I tell you," puts in the captain, testily, "Colonel Raymond would have 'broken' him if he had not been taken at Ball's Bluff. Putnam didn't like to overthrow Raymond's appointee without his full knowledge and consent, and so he hung on till after we got back to Alexandria. Even then Hollins had him detailed as driver on plea that his lame foot would prevent his marching. But Hollins is gone now and Mr. ex-Q. M. Sergeant Rix is safely jugged. Mark my words, gentlemen, he'll be needed when Hollins's papers are overhauled."
"Hullo! What's up now?" suddenly demands the adjutant. "Look at headquarters."
From where they stand the broad highway up the valley is plainly visible for a mile or more, and to the right of the turnpike, on a little rising ground, are pitched the tents of the division commander and his staff. Farther away, among some substantial farm-buildings, are to be seen the cavalrymen of the regular service who are attached, as escort and orderlies, to the headquarters of the Second Corps, and a dozen of these gentry are plainly visible scurrying about between their little tents and the picket-line, where their horses are tethered. It is evident that the whole troop is hurriedly saddling and that orderlies are riding off beyond the buildings, each with one or more led horses—the "mounts" of the staff. Here, close at hand, among the tents of the Massachusetts men, the soldiers have risen to their feet, and with coffee steaming from the battered tin cup in one hand and bread or bacon clutched in the other they are gazing with interest, but no sign of excitement, at the scene of evident action farther to the front. A year ago such signs of preparation at headquarters would have sent the whole regiment in eager rush for its arms and equipments, but it has learned wisdom with its twelve-month of campaigning. Not a shot has been heard up the valley. It can be no attack there. Yet something unquestionably has happened. Yes, the escort is "leading out." See! far up on the heights, to the west, the men are thronging on the parapets. They have a better view from there of what is going on at Sumner's headquarters. Next, shooting around the building on the low rise to the right front, there comes a staff-officer at rapid gallop. Down the slope he rides, over the low stone wall his charger bears him, and down the turnpike he speeds, heedless of the shouts of inquiry that seem to greet him from the camps that flank the road. Sharp to his right he turns, at a little lane a quarter-mile away, and disappears among the trees. "Going to the cavalry camps," hazards the adjutant, and determines that he had better get over to the major's tent—their temporary commander—and warn him "something's coming." Another minute, quick, pealing, spirited, there rings on the air the sound of a trumpet, and the stirring call of "Boots and saddles!" startles the ear of many a late sleeper among the officers. The sun is not yet shining in the valley; the dew is sparkling on every blade and leaf: but the Second Corps is all astir, and there is a cheer in the cavalry camp that tells of soldierly doings close at hand. A light battery is parked just across the highway, and as the aide reappears, spurring from the lane out into the pike again, the officers see how its young commander has vaulted into saddle and is riding down to intercept him so that not a minute be lost if the guns are needed. They are. For though the aide comes by like a shot, he has shouted some quick words to the captain of the battery, and the latter waves his jaunty forage cap to his expectant bugler, standing, clarion in hand, by the guard-fire. "Boots and saddles!" again; and—drivers and cannoneers—the men drop their tin cups and plates, and leap for the lines of harness. Down comes the aide full tilt as before. Captain Lee runs to the roadside and hails him with familiar shout:
"What's up, Win?"
And gets no further answer than
"Tell you as I come back."
Meantime other aides have been scurrying to and fro; and far and near, up and down the Shenandoah and out across the valley, where the morning sunshine triumphs over the barring Loudon, the same stirring call rings out upon the air. "Boots and saddles!" everywhere, and nowhere the long-roll or the infantry assembly.
"Back to your breakfast, boys," says a tall and bearded sergeant. "Whatever it is, it don't amount to shucks. The infantry isn't called for."
But that it amounts to more than "shucks," despite the footman's epigram, is presently apparent when the staff-officer comes more slowly back, easing his panting horse. The major has by this time turned out, and in boots and overcoat is striding over to the stone wall to get the news.
"What is it, Win?" he asks.
And the aide-de-camp, bending low from the saddle and with grave face, replies,
"Stuart again, by Heaven! He whipped around our right, somewhere near Martinsburg, last night, and is crossing at Williamsport now."
"What! Why, we've got three corps over there about Antietam yet."
"Yes; and he'll go around them, just as he did round us, and be up in Pennsylvania to-morrow. Where are your wounded?"
"Some over near Keedysville; the others, those we lost at South Mountain, somewhere near Frederick. The colonel and Abbot were there at last accounts. Why?"
"Because it will be just like him to go clean around us and come down the Monocacy. If he should, they are gone, sure."
Two days after the excitement in Frederick consequent upon the escape of the supposed spy Colonel Putnam was chatting with the provost-marshal and the landlord of the tavern where Doctor Warren had paid his brief visit. They were discussing a piece of news that had come in during the morning. From the very first the proprietor of the old tavern had scoffed at the theory of there being anything of a Southern spy about the mysterious stranger. He was a Southern man himself, and, though hardly an enemy to the Union, he had that personal sympathy for a host of neighbors and friends which gave him something of a leaning that way. He did not believe, he openly said, that anything on earth could whip the South so long as they kept on their own soil; but things looked black for their cause when they crossed the Potomac. Maryland had not risen in tumultuous welcome as Lee hopefully expected. The worn, ragged, half-* starved soldiers that had marched up the valley in mid-September had little of the heroic in their appearance, despite the fame of their exploits; and in their hunger and thirst they had made way, soldier-fashion, with provender for which they could not pay. The host himself had suffered not a little from their forays, and while his sentiments were broadly Southern his business instincts were emphatically on the side of the greenbacks of the North. He had found the Union officers men of means, if not of such picturesquely martial attributes as their Southern opponents; and while he would not deny his friendship for many a gallant fellow in the rebel gray, neither would he rebuff the blue-coat whose palm was tinged with green. He liked the provost-marshal because that functionary had twice rescued his bar from demolition at the hands of a gang of stragglers. He admired Colonel Putnam as a soldier and a gentleman, but he was enjoying a triumph over both of them; he had news to tell which seemed to sustain his theory and defeat theirs as to the identity of the man who left his beard behind him.
"I am told you knew this Doctor Warren, colonel," he was saying, "and up to this time I had not spoken of him for reasons which—well, because he had reasons for asking me to make no mention of his being here. Now, if he was a Doctor Warren, from the North, and a loyal man, what would he be doing with a spy?"
"I did not know he saw him at all," said Colonel Putnam, quickly.
"Nor do I; but I do believe that he was here purposely to meet him; that he, the man you tried to arrest, was here at this house to meet your friend who followed you out to camp. If Doctor Warren is a loyal man, as you doubtless believe him, he would have no call to be here to get papers from a man who could only meet him in disguise. I'm told the doctor made himself all clear to you as to who he was."
Colonel Putnam's face is a study. He is unquestionably turning pale, and his eyes are filled with a strange, introspective, puzzled look. He is startled, too.
"Do you mean to tell me he did have communication with the doctor?" he asks.
"My wife is ready to swear to it," replies mine host. "Her story is simply this: She had come down-stairs just as the doctor returned. She had been sitting with the young lady, who was very nervous and ill at ease while he was away, and had gone into the kitchen at the back of the house to get her a cup of tea. She was startled by a rap at the door, and in walks a man wrapped up in a big military cape. He wore spectacles and a full black beard, and he took off his hat, and spoke like a gentleman. He said he desired to see either Doctor Warren or the young lady at once on business of the utmost importance, and asked her if she would conduct him up by a rear stairway. My wife told him to go around to the office, but he replied that he expected that, and hastened to tell her that it was because there were Union officers in the hallway that he could not go there. There were personal reasons why he must not be seen; and she said to him that a man who looked like an officer and spoke like a gentleman ought not to be afraid to go among his fellows; and he said he was not an officer, and then asked her, suddenly, if she was a friend to the North or the South; and before she could answer they both saw lights dancing about out there in the yard, and he was startled, and said 'twas for him they were searching, and begged her, as she was a woman, not to betray him; he was the young lady's lover, he said in explanation, and had risked much to meet her. And my wife's heart was touched at that, and she showed him a place to hide; and when she went up she heard the young lady sobbing and the old man trying hard to comfort her; and she knocked, but they begged to be left undisturbed until they called, and she went down and told the man; and he was fearfully nervous and worried, she said, especially when told about the crying going on; and he wrote a few lines on a scrap of paper, gave it to her with a little packet, and she took them up to the doctor; and they were just coming out of their room at the moment, and the doctor put the papers in his pocket, and said to her and to me that he begged us to make no mention of his daughter's being there to any one—there were reasons. And her face was hidden in her veil, and he seemed all broken down with anxiety or illness, and said they must have a carriage or something to take them at once to the railway. They probably went back to Baltimore that night, but the doctor took the packet in his pocket; and the man whom you saw come up from under the back piazza, colonel, was the man who sent it him."
The provost-marshal is deeply interested. Colonel Putnam sits, in a maze of perplexity, silent and astounded.
"The doctor was well known to you, was he not, Putnam?" asked the marshal.
The colonel starts, embarrassed and troubled.
"No. I never saw him before."
"He brought letters to you, didn't he?"
"No letters. In fact, it wasn't me whom he came to see at all."
"Whom did he want, then?"
"Mr. Abbot," answers the colonel, briefly, and with growing embarrassment.
"Oh! Abbot knew him, did he?"
"No; he didn't. That is the singular part of it. The more I recall the interview the more I'm upset."
"Because he said he had come to see an old friend of his son's whom he mourned as killed at Seven Pines. He named Abbot, and said he had been in correspondence with him for a year. As luck would have it, Abbot was sitting right there beside me, and I said at once, 'Here's your man,' or something like it; and then Abbot didn't know him at all; declared he had never written a line to him; never heard of him. The old gentleman was completely floored. He vowed that for a whole year he had been receiving letters from Lieutenant Paul Revere Abbot, and now had come to see him because he was reported severely wounded."
"Did he show you any of the letters?"
"Why, no! He said there were none with him. He—I declare I do not know what excuse he did give," says the colonel, in dire distress of mind.
The provost-marshal's eyes are glittering, and his face is set and eager. He thinks intently one moment, and then turns on the silent colonel and their perplexed landlord.
"Keep this thing perfectly quiet, gentlemen; I may have to look further into it; but at this moment, colonel, circumstances point significantly at your friend, the doctor. Do you see nothing suspicious in his conduct? His confident claim of a year's correspondence with an officer of your regiment was possibly to gain your friendship and protection. As ill-luck for him and good-luck for us would have it, he named the wrong man. Abbot was there, and could deny it on the spot. The old man was floored, of course; but his only way of carrying the thing through was to play the martyr, and tell the story that for a year somebody had been writing to him daily or weekly over the name of Abbot. What a very improbable yarn, Putnam! Just think for yourself. What man would be apt to do that sort of thing? What object could he have? Why, the doctor himself well realized what a transparent fiction it must appear, and away he slips by the night train the moment he gets back. And now our friend, the landlord, throws further light upon the matter. He was here to meet that night visitor, perhaps convey valuable information to him, but was frightened by the blunder he had made, and got away as speedily as possible, and without seeing the owner of the beard, although a packet of papers was duly handed to him from that mysterious party. Doctor Warren may turn out a candidate for the fortress of that name in your own harbor, colonel."
And, thinking it all over, Putnam cannot make up his mind what to say. There is something in his impression of the doctor that utterly sets at naught any belief that he was acting a part. He was so simple, so direct, so genuine in his manner and in his distress. On the other hand, analyzing the situation, the colonel is compelled to realize that to any one but himself the doctor's story would appear unworthy of credence. He is in this uncomfortable frame of mind when a staff-officer comes to see him with some papers from the quartermaster-general that call for an immediate investigation of the affairs of the missing Lieutenant Hollins, and for two or three days Colonel Putnam is away at the supply depot on the railway. It is there that he learns the pleasant news that his gallant young comrade has been promoted to a most desirable staff position, and ordered to report for duty in Washington as soon as able to travel. He writes a line of congratulation to Abbot, and begs him to be sure and send word when he will come through, so that they may meet, and then returns to his patient overhauling of the garbled accounts of the quondam quartermaster.