A KENTUCKY STORY OF
LOVE AND WAR
JOHN FOX, JR.
F. GRAHAM COOTES
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CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
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COPYRIGHT, 1900, BY
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
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THE MASTER OF
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John Fox, Jr. (from a photograph) Frontispiece
"Go on!" said Judith 76
"Nothin', Ole Cap'n—jes doin' nothin'—jes lookin' for you" 132
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Day breaking on the edge of the Bluegrass and birds singing the dawn in. Ten minutes swiftly along the sunrise and the world is changed: from nervous exaltation of atmosphere to an air of balm and peace; from grim hills to the rolling sweep of green slopes; from a high mist of thin verdure to low wind-shaken banners of young leaves; from giant poplar to white ash and sugar-tree; from log-cabin to homesteads of brick and stone; from wood-thrush to meadow-lark; rhododendron to bluegrass; from mountain to lowland, Crittenden was passing home.
He had been in the backwoods for more than a month, ostensibly to fish and look at coal lands, but, really, to get away for a while, as his custom was, from his worse self to the better self that he was when he was in the mountains—alone. As usual, he had gone in with bitterness and, as usual, he had set his face homeward with but half a heart for the old fight against fate and himself that seemed destined always to end in defeat. At dusk, he heard the word of the outer world from the lips of an old mountaineer at the foot of the Cumberland—the first heard, except from his mother, for full thirty days—and the word was—war. He smiled incredulously at the old fellow, but, unconsciously, he pushed his horse on a little faster up the mountain, pushed him, as the moon rose, aslant the breast of a mighty hill and, winding at a gallop about the last downward turn of the snaky path, went at full speed alongside the big gray wall that, above him, rose sheer a thousand feet and, straight ahead, broke wildly and crumbled into historic Cumberland Gap. From a little knoll he saw the railway station in the shadow of the wall, and, on one prong of a switch, his train panting lazily; and, with a laugh, he pulled his horse down to a walk and then to a dead stop—his face grave again and uplifted. Where his eyes rested and plain in the moonlight was a rocky path winding upward—the old Wilderness Trail that the Kentucky pioneers had worn with moccasined feet more than a century before. He had seen it a hundred times before—moved always; but it thrilled him now, and he rode on slowly, looking up at it. His forefathers had helped blaze that trail. On one side of that wall they had fought savage and Briton for a home and a country, and on the other side they had done it again. Later, they had fought the Mexican and in time they came to fight each other, for and against the nation they had done so much to upbuild. It was even true that a Crittenden had already given his life for the very cause that was so tardily thrilling the nation now. Thus it had always been with his people straight down the bloody national highway from Yorktown to Appomattox, and if there was war, he thought proudly, as he swung from his horse—thus it would now be with him.
If there was war? He had lain awake in his berth a long while, looking out the window and wondering. He had been born among the bleeding memories of one war. The tales of his nursery had been tales of war. And though there had been talk of war through the land for weeks before he left home, it had no more seemed possible that in his lifetime could come another war than that he should live to see any other myth of his childhood come true.
Now, it was daybreak on the edge of the Bluegrass, and, like a dark truth from a white light, three tall letters leaped from the paper in his hand—War! There was a token in the very dawn, a sword-like flame flashing upward. The man in the White House had called for willing hands by the thousands to wield it, and the Kentucky Legion, that had fought in Mexico, had split in twain to fight for the North and for the South, and had come shoulder to shoulder when the breach was closed—the Legion of his own loved State—was the first body of volunteers to reach for the hilt. Regulars were gathering from the four winds to an old Southern battlefield. Already the Legion was on its way to camp in the Bluegrass. His town was making ready to welcome it, and among the names of the speakers who were to voice the welcome, he saw his own—Clay Crittenden.
The train slackened speed and stopped. There was his horse—Raincrow—and his buggy waiting for him when he stepped from the platform; and, as he went forward with his fishing tackle, a livery-stable boy sprang out of the buggy and went to the horse's head.
"Bob lef' yo' hoss in town las' night, Mistuh Crittenden," he said. "Miss Rachel said yestiddy she jes knowed you was comin' home this mornin'."
Crittenden smiled—it was one of his mother's premonitions; she seemed always to know when he was coming home.
"Come get these things," he said, and went on with his paper.
Things had gone swiftly while he was in the hills. Old ex-Confederates were answering the call from the Capitol. One of his father's old comrades—little Jerry Carter—was to be made a major-general. Among the regulars mobilizing at Chickamauga was the regiment to which Rivers, a friend of his boyhood, belonged. There, three days later, his State was going to dedicate two monuments to her sons who had fallen on the old battlefield, where his father, fighting with one wing of the Legion for the Lost Cause, and his father's young brother, fighting with the other against it, had fought face to face; where his uncle met death on the field and his father got the wound that brought death to him years after the war. And then he saw something that for a moment quite blotted the war from his brain and made him close the paper quickly. Judith had come home—Judith was to unveil those statues—Judith Page.
The town was asleep, except for the rattle of milk-carts, the banging of shutters, and the hum of a street-car, and Crittenden moved through empty streets to the broad smooth turnpike on the south, where Raincrow shook his head, settled his haunches, and broke into the swinging trot peculiar to his breed—for home.
Spring in the Bluegrass! The earth spiritual as it never is except under new-fallen snow—in the first shy green. The leaves, a floating mist of green, so buoyant that, if loosed, they must, it seemed, have floated upward—never to know the blight of frost or the droop of age. The air, rich with the smell of new earth and sprouting grass, the long, low skies newly washed and, through radiant distances, clouds light as thistledown and white as snow. And the birds! Wrens in the hedges, sparrows by the wayside and on fence-rails, starlings poised over meadows brilliant with glistening dew, larks in the pastures—all singing as they sang at the first dawn, and the mood of nature that perfect blending of earth and heaven that is given her children but rarely to know. It was good to be alive at the breaking of such a day—good to be young and strong, and eager and unafraid, when the nation called for its young men and red Mars was the morning star. The blood of dead fighters began to leap again in his veins. His nostrils dilated and his chin was raised proudly—a racial chord touched within him that had been dumb a long while. And that was all it was—the blood of his fathers; for it was honor and not love that bound him to his own flag. He was his mother's son, and the unspoken bitterness that lurked in her heart lurked, likewise, on her account, in his.
On the top of a low hill, a wind from the dawn struck him, and the paper in the bottom of the buggy began to snap against the dashboard. He reached down to keep it from being whisked into the road, and he saw again that Judith Page had come home. When he sat up again, his face was quite changed. His head fell a little forward, his shoulders drooped slightly and, for a moment, his buoyancy was gone. The corners of the mouth showed a settled melancholy where before was sunny humour. The eyes, which were dreamy, kindly, gray, looked backward in a morbid glow of concentration; and over the rather reckless cast of his features, lay at once the shadow of suffering and the light of a great tenderness. Slowly, a little hardness came into his eyes and a little bitterness about his mouth. His upper lip curved in upon his teeth with self-scorn—for he had had little cause to be pleased with himself while Judith was gone, and his eyes showed now how proud was the scorn—and he shook himself sharply and sat upright. He had forgotten again. That part of his life belonged to the past and, like the past, was gone, and was not to come back again. The present had life and hope now, and the purpose born that day from five blank years was like the sudden birth of a flower in a desert.
The sun had burst from the horizon now and was shining through the tops of the trees in the lovely woodland into which Crittenden turned, and through which a road of brown creek-sand ran to the pasture beyond and through that to the long avenue of locusts, up which the noble portico of his old homestead, Canewood, was visible among cedars and firs and old forest trees. His mother was not up yet—the shutters of her window were still closed—but the servants were astir and busy. He could see men and plough-horses on their way to the fields; and, that far away, he could hear the sound of old Ephraim's axe at the woodpile, the noises around the barn and cowpens, and old Aunt Keziah singing a hymn in the kitchen, the old wailing cry of the mother-slave.
"Oh I wonder whur my baby's done gone, Oh Lawd! An' I git on my knees an' pray."
The song stopped, a negro boy sprang out the kitchen-door and ran for the stiles—a tall, strong, and very black boy with a dancing eye, white teeth, and a look of welcome that was little short of dumb idolatry.
"Howdy, Ole Cap'n." Crittenden had been "Ole Captain" with the servants—since the death of "Ole Master," his father—to distinguish him from "Young Captain," who was his brother, Basil. Master and servant shook hands and Bob's teeth flashed.
"What's the matter, Bob?"
Bob climbed into the buggy.
"You gwine to de wah."
"How do you know, Bob?"
"Oh, I know—I know. I seed it when you was drivin' up to de stiles, an' lemme tell you, Ole Cap'n." The horse started for the barn suddenly and Bob took a wide circuit in order to catch the eye of a brown milkmaid in the cowpens, who sniffed the air scornfully, to show that she did not see him, and buried the waves of her black hair into the silken sides of a young Jersey.
"Yes," he said, shaking his head and making threats to himself, "an' Bob's gwine wid him."
As Crittenden climbed the stiles, old Keziah filled the kitchen-door.
"Time you gittin' back, suh," she cried with mock severity. "I been studyin' 'bout you. Little mo' an' I'd 'a' been comin' fer you myself. Yes—suh."
And she gave a loud laugh that rang through the yard and ended in a soft, queer little whoop that was musical. Crittenden smiled but, instead of answering, raised his hand warningly and, as he approached the portico, he stepped from the gravel-walk to the thick turf and began to tiptoe. At the foot of the low flight of stone steps he stopped—smiling.
The big double front door was wide open, and straight through the big, wide hallway and at the entrance of the dining-room, a sword—a long cavalry sabre—hung with a jaunty gray cap on the wall. Under them stood a boy with his hands clasped behind him and his chin upraised. The lad could see the bullet-hole through the top, and he knew that on the visor was a faded stain of his father's blood. As a child, he had been told never to touch the cap or sword and, until this moment, he had not wanted to take them down since he was a child; and even now the habit of obedience held him back for a while, as he stood looking up at them. Outside, a light wind rustled the leaves of the rose-bush at his mother's window, swept through the open door, and made the curtain at his elbow swell gently. As the heavy fold fell back to its place and swung out again, it caught the hilt of the sword and made the metal point of the scabbard clank softly against the wall. The boy breathed sharply, remembered that he was grown, and reverently reached upward. There was the stain where the blood had run down from the furrowed wound that had caused his father's death, long after the war and just before the boy was born. The hilt was tarnished, and when he caught it and pulled, the blade came out a little way and stuck fast. Some one stepped on the porch outside and he turned quickly, as he might have turned had some one caught him unsheathing the weapon when a child.
"Hold on there, little brother."
Crittenden stopped in the doorway, smiling affectionately, and the boy thrust the blade back to the hilt.
"Why, Clay," he cried, and, as he ran forward, "Are you going?" he asked, eagerly.
"I'm the first-born, you know," added Crittenden, still smiling, and the lad stretched the sabre out to him, repeating eagerly, "Are you going?"
The older brother did not answer, but turned, without taking the weapon, and walked to the door and back again.
"Me? Oh, I have to go," said the boy solemnly and with great dignity, as though the matter were quite beyond the pale of discussion.
"Yes; the Legion is going."
"Only the members who volunteer—nobody has to go."
"Don't they?" said the lad, indignantly. "Well, if I had a son who belonged to a military organization in time of peace"—the lad spoke glibly—"and refused to go with it to war—well, I'd rather see him dead first."
"Who said that?" asked the other, and the lad coloured.
"Why, Judge Page said it; that's who. And you just ought to hear Miss Judith!"
Again the other walked to the door and back again. Then he took the scabbard and drew the blade to its point as easily as though it had been oiled, thrust it back, and hung it with the cap in its place on the wall.
"Perhaps neither of us will need it," he said. "We'll both be privates—that is, if I go—and I tell you what we'll do. We'll let the better man win the sword, and the better man shall have it after the war. What do you say?"
"Say?" cried the boy, and he gave the other a hug and both started for the porch. As they passed the door of his mother's room, the lad put one finger on his lips; but the mother had heard and, inside, a woman in black, who had been standing before a mirror with her hands to her throat, let them fall suddenly until they were clasped for an instant across her breast. But she gave no sign that she had heard, at breakfast an hour later, even when the boy cleared his throat, and after many futile efforts to bring the matter up, signalled across the table to his brother for help.
"Mother, Basil there wants to go to war. He says if he had a son who belonged to a military organization in time of peace and refused to go with it in time of war, that he'd rather see him dead."
The mother's lip quivered when she answered, but so imperceptibly that only the older son saw it.
"That is what his father would have said," she said, quietly, and Crittenden knew she had already fought out the battle with herself—alone. For a moment the boy was stunned with his good fortune—"it was too easy"—and with a whoop he sprang from his place and caught his mother around the neck, while Uncle Ben, the black butler, shook his head and hurried into the kitchen for corn-bread and to tell the news.
"Oh, I tell you it's great fun to have to go to war! Mother," added the boy, with quick mischief, "Clay wants to go, too."
Crittenden braced himself and looked up with one quick glance sidewise at his mother's face. It had not changed a line.
"I heard all you said in the hallway. If a son of mine thinks it his duty to go, I shall never say one word to dissuade him—if he thinks it is his duty," she added, so solemnly that silence fell upon the three, and with a smothered, "Good Lawd," at the door, Ben hurried again into the kitchen.
"Both them boys was a-goin' off to git killed an' ole Miss Rachel not sayin' one wud to keep 'em back—not a wud."
After breakfast the boy hurried out and, as Crittenden rose, the mother, who pretended to be arranging silver at the old sideboard, spoke with her back to him.
"Think it over, son. I can't see that you should go, but if you think you ought, I shall have nothing to say. Have you made up your mind?"
"Think it over very carefully, then—please—for my sake." Her voice trembled, and, with a pang, Crittenden thought of the suffering she had known from one war. Basil's way was clear, and he could never ask the boy to give up to him because he was the elder. Was it fair to his brave mother for him to go, too—was it right?
"Yes mother," he said, soberly.
The Legion came next morning and pitched camp in a woodland of oak and sugar trees, where was to be voiced a patriotic welcome by a great editor, a great orator, and young Crittenden.
Before noon, company streets were laid out and lined with tents and, when the first buggies and rockaways began to roll in from the country, every boy-soldier was brushed and burnished to defy the stare of inspection and to quite dazzle the eye of masculine envy or feminine admiration.
In the centre of the woodland was a big auditorium, where the speaking was to take place. After the orators were done, there was to be a regimental review in the bluegrass pasture in front of historic Ashland. It was at the Colonel's tent, where Crittenden went to pay his respects, that he found Judith Page, and he stopped for a moment under an oak, taking in the gay party of women and officers who sat and stood about the entrance. In the centre of the group stood a lieutenant in the blue of a regular and with the crossed sabres of the cavalryman on his neck-band and the number of his regiment. The girl was talking to the gallant old Colonel with her back to Crittenden, but he would have known her had he seen but an arm, a shoulder, the poise of her head, a single gesture—although he had not seen her for years. The figure was the same—a little fuller, perhaps, but graceful, round, and slender, as was the throat. The hair was a trifle darker, he thought, but brown still, and as rich with gold as autumn sunlight. The profile was in outline now—it was more cleanly cut than ever. The face was a little older, but still remarkably girlish in spite of its maturer strength; and as she turned to answer his look, he kept on unconsciously reaffirming to his memory the broad brow and deep clear eyes, even while his hand was reaching for the brim of his hat. She showed only gracious surprise at seeing him and, to his wonder, he was as calm and cool as though he were welcoming back home any good friend who had been away a long time. He could now see that the lieutenant belonged to the Tenth United States Cavalry; he knew that the Tenth was a colored regiment; he understood a certain stiffness that he felt rather than saw in the courtesy that was so carefully shown him by the Southern volunteers who were about him; and he turned away to avoid meeting him. For the same reason, he fancied, Judith turned, too. The mere idea of negro soldiers was not only repugnant to him, but he did not believe in negro regiments. These would be the men who could and would organize and drill the blacks in the South; who, in other words, would make possible, hasten, and prolong the race war that sometimes struck him as inevitable. As he turned, he saw a tall, fine-looking negro, fifty yards away, in the uniform of a sergeant of cavalry and surrounded by a crowd of gaping darkies whom he was haranguing earnestly. Lieutenant and sergeant were evidently on an enlisting tour.
Just then, a radiant little creature looked up into Crittenden's face, calling him by name and holding out both hands—Phyllis, Basil's little sweetheart. With her was a tall, keen-featured fellow, whom she introduced as a war correspondent and a Northerner.
"A sort of war correspondent," corrected Grafton, with a swift look of interest at Crittenden, but turning his eyes at once back to Phyllis. She was a new and diverting type to the Northern man and her name was fitting and pleased him. A company passed just then, and a smothered exclamation from Phyllis turned attention to it. On the end of the line, with his chin in, his shoulders squared and his eyes straight forward, was Crittenden's warrior-brother, Basil. Only his face coloured to show that he knew where he was and who was looking at him, but not so much as a glance of his eye did he send toward the tent. Judith turned to Crittenden quickly:
"Your little brother is going to the war?" The question was thoughtless and significant, for it betrayed to him what was going on in her mind, and she knew it and coloured, as he paled a little.
"My little brother is going to the war," he repeated, looking at her. Judith smiled and went on bravely:
Crittenden, too, smiled.
"I may consider it my duty to stay at home."
The girl looked rather surprised—instead of showing the subdued sarcasm that he was looking for—and, in truth, she was. His evasive and careless answer showed an indifference to her wish and opinion in the matter that would once have been very unusual. Straightway there was a tug at her heart-strings that also was unusual.
The people were gathering into the open-air auditorium now and, from all over the camp, the crowd began to move that way. All knew the word of the orator's mouth and the word of the editor—they had heard the one and seen the other on his printed page many times; and it was for this reason, perhaps, that Crittenden's fresh fire thrilled and swayed the crowd as it did.
When he rose, he saw his mother almost under him and, not far behind her, Judith with her father, Judge Page. The lieutenant of regulars was standing on the edge of the crowd, and to his right was Grafton, also standing, with his hat under his arm—idly curious. But it was to his mother that he spoke and, steadfastly, he saw her strong, gentle face even when he was looking far over her head, and he knew that she knew that he was arguing the point then and there between them.
It was, he said, the first war of its kind in history. It marked an epoch in the growth of national character since the world began. As an American, he believed that no finger of mediaevalism should so much as touch this hemisphere. The Cubans had earned their freedom long since, and the cries of starving women and children for the bread which fathers and brothers asked but the right to earn must cease. To put out of mind the Americans blown to death at Havana—if such a thing were possible—he yet believed with all his heart in the war. He did not think there would be much of a fight—the regular army could doubtless take good care of the Spaniard—but if everybody acted on that presumption, there would be no answer to the call for volunteers. He was proud to think that the Legion of his own State, that in itself stood for the reunion of the North and the South, had been the first to spring to arms. And he was proud to think that not even they were the first Kentuckians to fight for Cuban liberty. He was proud that, before the Civil War even, a Kentuckian of his own name and blood had led a band of one hundred and fifty brave men of his own State against Spanish tyranny in Cuba, and a Crittenden, with fifty of his followers, were captured and shot in platoons of six.
"A Kentuckian kneels only to woman and his God," this Crittenden had said proudly when ordered to kneel blindfolded and with his face to the wall, "and always dies facing his enemy." And so those Kentuckians had died nearly half a century before, and he knew that the young Kentuckians before him would as bravely die, if need be, in the same cause now; and when they came face to face with the Spaniard they would remember the shattered battle-ship in the Havana harbour, and something more—they would remember Crittenden. And then the speaker closed with the words of a certain proud old Confederate soldier to his son:
"No matter who was right and who was wrong in the Civil War, the matter is settled now by the sword. The Constitution left the question open, but it is written there now in letters of blood. We have given our word that they shall stand; and remember it is the word of gentlemen and binding on their sons. There have been those in the North who have doubted that word; there have been those in the South who have given cause for doubt; and this may be true for a long time. But if ever the time comes to test that word, do you be the first to prove it. You will fight for your flag—mine now as well as yours—just as sincerely as I fought against it." And these words, said Crittenden in a trembling voice, the brave gentleman spoke again on his death-bed; and now, as he looked around on the fearless young faces about him, he had no need to fear that they were spoken in vain.
And so the time was come for the South to prove its loyalty—not to itself nor to the North, but to the world.
Under him he saw his mother's eyes fill with tears, for these words of her son were the dying words of her lion-hearted husband. And Judith had sat motionless, watching him with peculiar intensity and flushing a little, perhaps at the memory of her jesting taunt, while Grafton had stood still—his eyes fixed, his face earnest—missing not a word. He was waiting for Crittenden, and he held his hand out when the latter emerged from the crowd, with the curious embarrassment that assails the newspaper man when he finds himself betrayed into unusual feeling.
"I say," he said; "that was good, good!"
The officer who, too, had stood still as a statue, seemed to be moving toward him, and again Crittenden turned away—to look for his mother. She had gone home at once—she could not face him now in that crowd—and as he was turning to his own buggy, he saw Judith and from habit started toward her, but, changing his mind, he raised his hat and kept on his way, while the memory of the girl's face kept pace with him.
She was looking at him with a curious wistfulness that was quite beyond him to interpret—a wistfulness that was in the sudden smile of welcome when she saw him start toward her and in the startled flush of surprise when he stopped; then, with the tail of his eye, he saw the quick paleness that followed as the girl's sensitive nostrils quivered once and her spirited face settled quickly into a proud calm. And then he saw her smile—a strange little smile that may have been at herself or at him—and he wondered about it all and was tempted to go back, but kept on doggedly, wondering at her and at himself with a miserable grim satisfaction that he was at last over and above it all. She had told him to conquer his boyish love for her and, as her will had always been law to him, he had made it, at last, a law in this. The touch of the loadstone that never in his life had failed, had failed now, and now, for once in his life, desire and duty were one.
He found his mother at her seat by her open window, the unopened buds of her favourite roses hanging motionless in the still air outside, but giving their fresh green faint fragrance to the whole room within; and he remembered the quiet sunset scene every night for many nights to come. Every line in her patient face had been traced there by a sorrow of the old war, and his voice trembled:
"Mother," he said, as he bent down and kissed her, "I'm going."
Her head dropped quickly to the work in her lap, but she said nothing, and he went quickly out again.
It was growing dusk outside. Chickens were going to roost with a great chattering in some locust-trees in one corner of the yard. An aged darkey was swinging an axe at the woodpile and two little pickaninnies were gathering a basket of chips. Already the air was filled with the twilight sounds of the farm—the lowing of cattle, the bleating of calves at the cowpens, the bleat of sheep from the woods, and the nicker of horses in the barn. Through it all, Crittenden could hear the nervous thud of Raincrow's hoofs announcing rain—for that was the way the horse got his name, being as black as a crow and, as Bob claimed, always knowing when falling weather was at hand and speaking his prophecy by stamping in his stall. He could hear Basil noisily making his way to the barn. As he walked through the garden toward the old family graveyard, he could still hear the boy, and a prescient tithe of the pain, that he felt would strike him in full some day, smote him so sharply now that he stopped a moment to listen, with one hand quickly raised to his forehead. Basil was whistling—whistling joyously. Foreboding touched the boy like the brush of a bird's wing, and death and sorrow were as remote as infinity to him. At the barn-door the lad called sharply:
"Suh!" answered a muffled voice, and Bob emerged, gray with oatdust.
"I want my buggy to-night." Bob grinned.
"New whip—new harness—little buggy mare—reckon?"
"I want 'em all."
Bob laughed loudly. "Oh, I know. You gwine to see Miss Phyllis dis night, sho—yes, Lawd!" Bob dodged a kick from the toe of the boy's boot—a playful kick that was not meant to land—and went into the barn and came out again.
"Yes, an' I know somewhur else you gwine—you gwine to de war. Oh, I know; yes, suh. Dere's a white man in town tryin' to git niggers to 'list wid him, an' he's got a nigger sojer what say he's a officer hisself; yes, mon, a corpril. An' dis nigger's jes a-gwine through town drawin' niggers right an' left. He talk to me, but I jes laugh at him, an' say I gwine wid Ole Cap'n ur Young Cap'n, I don't keer which. An' lemme tell you, Young Capn', ef you ur Ole Cap'n doan lemme go wid you, I'se gwine wid dat nigger corpril an' dat white man what 'long to a nigger regiment, an' I know you don't want me to bring no sech disgrace on de fambly dat way—no, suh. He axe what you de cap'n of," Bob went on, aiming at two birds with one stone now, "an' I say you de cap'n of ever'body an' ever'ting dat come 'long—dat's what I say-an' he be cap'n of you wid all yo' unyform and sich, I say, if you jest come out to de fahm—yes, mon, dat he will sho."
The boy laughed and Bob reiterated:
"Oh, I'se gwine—I'se gwine wid you—" Then he stopped short. The turbaned figure of Aunt Keziah loomed from behind the woodpile.
"What dat I heah 'bout you gwine to de wah, nigger, what dat I heah?"
Bob laughed—but it was a laugh of propitiation.
"Law, mammy. I was jes projeckin' wid Young Cap'n."
"Fool nigger, doan know what wah is—doan lemme heah you talk no more 'bout gwine to de wah ur I gwine to w'ar you out wid a hickory—dat's whut I'll do—now you min'." She turned on Basil then; but Basil had retreated, and his laugh rang from the darkening yard. She cried after him:
"An' doan lemme heah you puttin' dis fool nigger up to gittin' hisself killed by dem Cubians neither; no suh!" She was deadly serious now. "I done spanked you heap o' times, an' 'tain't so long ago, an' you ain' too big yit; no, suh." The old woman's wrath was rising higher, and Bob darted into the barn before she could turn back again to him, and a moment later darted his head, like a woodpecker, out again to see if she were gone, and grinned silently after her as she rolled angrily toward the house, scolding both Bob and Basil to herself loudly.
A song rose from the cowpens just then. Full, clear, and quivering, it seemed suddenly to still everything else into silence. In a flash, Bob's grin settled into a look of sullen dejection, and, with his ear cocked and drinking in the song, and with his eye on the corner of the barn, he waited. From the cowpens was coming a sturdy negro girl with a bucket of foaming milk in each hand and a third balanced on her head, singing with all the strength of her lungs. In a moment she passed the corner.
The song stopped short.
"Say, honey, wait a minute—jes a minute, won't ye?" The milkmaid kept straight ahead, and Bob's honeyed words soured suddenly.
"Go on, gal, think yo'self mighty fine, don't ye? Nem' min'!"
Molly's nostrils swelled to their full width, and, at the top of her voice, she began again.
"Go on, nigger, but you jes wait."
Molly sang on:
"Take up yo' cross, oh, sinner-man."
Before he knew it, Bob gave the response with great unction:
Then he stopped short.
"I reckon I got to break dat gal's head some day. Yessuh; she knows whut my cross is," and then he started slowly after her, shaking his head and, as his wont was, talking to himself.
He was still talking to himself when Basil came out to the stiles after supper to get into his buggy.
"Young Cap'n, dat gal Molly mighty nigh pesterin' de life out o' me. I done tol' her I'se gwine to de wah."
"What did she say?"
"De fool nigger—she jes laughed—she jes laughed."
The boy, too, laughed, as he gathered the reins and the mare sprang forward.
"We'll see—we'll see."
And Bob with a triumphant snort turned toward Molly's cabin.
The locust-trees were quiet now and the barn was still except for the occasional stamp of a horse in his stall or the squeak of a pig that was pushed out of his warm place by a stronger brother. The night noises were strong and clear—the cricket in the grass, the croaking frogs from the pool, the whir of a night-hawk's wings along the edge of the yard, the persistent wail of a whip-poor-will sitting lengthwise of a willow limb over the meadow-branch, the occasional sleepy caw of crows from their roost in the woods beyond, the bark of a house-dog at a neighbour's home across the fields, and, further still, the fine high yell of a fox-hunter and the faint answering yelp of a hound.
And inside, in the mother's room, the curtain was rising on a tragedy that was tearing open the wounds of that other war—the tragedy upon which a bloody curtain had fallen more than thirty years before. The mother listened quietly, as had her mother before her, while the son spoke quietly, for time and again he had gone over the ground to himself, ending ever with the same unalterable resolve.
There had been a Crittenden in every war of the nation—down to the two Crittendens who slept side by side in the old graveyard below the garden.
And the Crittenden—of whom he had spoken that morning—the gallant Crittenden who led his Kentuckians to death in Cuba, in 1851, was his father's elder brother. And again he repeated the dying old Confederate's deathless words with which he had thrilled the Legion that morning—words heard by her own ears as well as his. What else was left him to do—when he knew what those three brothers, if they were alive, would have him do?
And there were other untold reasons, hid in the core of his own heart, faced only when he was alone, and faced again, that night, after he had left his mother and was in his own room and looking out at the moonlight and the big weeping willow that drooped over the one white tomb under which the two brothers, who had been enemies in the battle, slept side by side thus in peace. So far he had followed in their footsteps, since the one part that he was fitted to play was the role they and their ancestors had played beyond the time when the first American among them, failing to rescue his king from Carisbrooke Castle, set sail for Virginia on the very day Charles lost his royal head. But for the Civil War, Crittenden would have played that role worthily and without question to the end. With the close of the war, however, his birthright was gone—even before he was born—and yet, as he grew to manhood, he had gone on in the serene and lofty way of his father—there was nothing else he could do—playing the gentleman still, though with each year the audience grew more restless and the other and lesser actors in the drama of Southern reconstruction more and more resented the particular claims of the star. At last, came with a shock the realization that with the passing of the war his occupation had forever gone. And all at once, out on his ancestral farm that had carried its name Canewood down from pioneer days; that had never been owned by a white man who was not a Crittenden; that was isolated, and had its slaves and the children of those slaves still as servants; that still clung rigidly to old traditions—social, agricultural, and patriarchal—out there Crittenden found himself one day alone. His friends—even the boy, his brother—had caught the modern trend of things quicker than he, and most of them had gone to work—some to law, some as clerks, railroad men, merchants, civil engineers; some to mining and speculating in the State's own rich mountains. Of course, he had studied law—his type of Southerner always studies law—and he tried the practice of it. He had too much self-confidence, perhaps, based on his own brilliant record as a college orator, and he never got over the humiliation of losing his first case, being handled like putty by a small, black-eyed youth of his own age, who had come from nowhere and had passed up through a philanthropical old judge's office to the dignity, by and by, of a license of his own. Losing the suit, through some absurd little technical mistake, Crittenden not only declined a fee, but paid the judgment against his client out of his own pocket and went home with a wound to his foolish, sensitive pride for which there was no quick cure. A little later, he went to the mountains, when those wonderful hills first began to give up their wealth to the world; but the pace was too swift, competition was too undignified and greedy, and business was won on too low a plane. After a year or two of rough life, which helped him more than he knew, until long afterward, he went home. Politics he had not yet tried, and politics he was now persuaded to try. He made a brilliant canvass, but another element than oratory had crept in as a new factor in political success. His opponent, Wharton, the wretched little lawyer who had bested him once before, bested him now, and the weight of the last straw fell crushingly. It was no use. The little touch of magic that makes success seemed to have been denied him at birth, and, therefore, deterioration began to set in—the deterioration that comes from idleness, from energy that gets the wrong vent, from strong passions that a definite purpose would have kept under control—and the worse elements of a nature that, at the bottom, was true and fine, slowly began to take possession of him as weeds will take possession of an abandoned field.
But even then nobody took him as seriously as he took himself. So that while he fell just short, in his own eyes, of everything that was worth while; of doing something and being something worth while; believing something that made the next world worth while; or gaining the love of a woman that would have made this life worth while—in the eyes of his own people he was merely sowing his wild oats after the fashion of his race, and would settle down, after the same fashion, by and by—that was the indulgent summary of his career thus far. He had been a brilliant student in the old university and, in a desultory way, he was yet. He had worried his professor of metaphysics by puzzling questions and keen argument until that philosopher was glad to mark him highest in his class and let him go. He surprised the old lawyers when it came to a discussion of the pure theory of law, and, on the one occasion when his mother's pastor came to see him, he disturbed that good man no little, and closed his lips against further censure of him in pulpit or in private. So that all that was said against him by the pious was that he did not go to church as he should; and by the thoughtful, that he was making a shameful waste of the talents that the Almighty had showered so freely down upon him. And so without suffering greatly in public estimation, in spite of the fact that the ideals of Southern life were changing fast, he passed into the old-young period that is the critical time in the lives of men like him—when he thought he had drunk his cup to the dregs; had run the gamut of human experience; that nothing was left to his future but the dull repetition of his past. Only those who knew him best had not given up hope of him, nor had he really given up hope of himself as fully as he thought. The truth was, he never fell far, nor for long, and he always rose with the old purpose the same, even if it stirred him each time with less and less enthusiasm—and always with the beacon-light of one star shining from his past, even though each time it shone a little more dimly. For usually, of course, there is the hand of a woman on the lever that prizes such a man's life upward, and when Judith Page's clasp loosened on Crittenden, the castle that the lightest touch of her finger raised in his imagination—that he, doubtless, would have reared for her and for him, in fact, fell in quite hopeless ruins, and no similar shape was ever framed for him above its ashes.
It was the simplest and oldest of stories between the two—a story that began, doubtless, with the beginning, and will never end as long as two men and one woman, or two women and one man are left on earth—the story of the love of one who loves another. Only, to the sufferers the tragedy is always as fresh as a knife-cut, and forever new.
Judith cared for nobody. Crittenden laughed and pleaded, stormed, sulked, and upbraided, and was devoted and indifferent for years—like the wilful, passionate youngster that he was—until Judith did love another—what other, Crittenden never knew. And then he really believed that he must, as she had told him so often, conquer his love for her. And he did, at a fearful cost to the best that was in him—foolishly, but consciously, deliberately. When the reaction came, he tried to reestablish his relations to a world that held no Judith Page. Her absence gave him help, and he had done very well, in spite of an occasional relapse. It was a relapse that had sent him to the mountains, six weeks before, and he had emerged with a clear eye, a clear head, steady nerves, and with the one thing that he had always lacked, waiting for him—a purpose. It was little wonder, then, that the first ruddy flash across a sky that had been sunny with peace for thirty years and more thrilled him like an electric charge from the very clouds. The next best thing to a noble life was a death that was noble, and that was possible to any man in war. One war had taken away—another might give back again; and his chance was come at last.
It was midnight now, and far across the fields came the swift faint beat of a horse's hoofs on the turnpike. A moment later he could hear the hum of wheels—it was his little brother coming home; nobody had a horse that could go like that, and nobody else would drive that way if he had. Since the death of their father, thirteen years after the war, he had been father to the boy, and time and again he had wondered now why he could not have been like that youngster. Life was an open book to the boy—to be read as he ran. He took it as he took his daily bread, without thought, without question. If left alone, he and the little girl whom he had gone that night to see would marry, settle down, and go hand in hand into old age without questioning love, life, or happiness. And that was as it should be; and would to Heaven he had been born to tread the self-same way. There was a day when he was near it; when he turned the same fresh, frank face fearlessly to the world, when his nature was as unspoiled and as clean, his hopes as high, and his faith as child-like; and once when he ran across a passage in Stevenson in which that gentle student spoke of his earlier and better self as his "little brother" whom he loved and longed for and sought persistently, but who dropped farther and farther behind at times, until, in moments of darkness, he sometimes feared that he might lose him forever—Crittenden had clung to the phrase, and he had let his fancy lead him to regard this boy as his early and better self—better far than he had ever been—his little brother, in a double sense, who drew from him, besides the love of brother for brother and father for son, a tenderness that was almost maternal.
The pike-gate slammed now and the swift rush of wheels over the bluegrass turf followed; the barn-gate cracked sharply on the night air and Crittenden heard him singing, in the boyish, untrained tenor that is so common in the South, one of the old-fashioned love-songs that are still sung with perfect sincerity and without shame by his people:
"You'll never find another love like mine, "You'll never find a heart that's half so true."
And then the voice was muffled suddenly. A little while later he entered the yard-gate and stopped in the moonlight and, from his window, Crittenden looked down and watched him. The boy was going through the manual of arms with his buggy-whip, at the command of an imaginary officer, whom, erect and martial, he was apparently looking straight in the eye. Plainly he was a private now. Suddenly he sprang forward and saluted; he was volunteering for some dangerous duty; and then he walked on toward the house. Again he stopped. Apparently he had been promoted now for gallant conduct, for he waved his whip and called out with low, sharp sternness;
"Steady, now! Ready; fire!" And then swinging his hat over his head:
"Double-quick—charge!" After the charge, he sat down for a moment on the stiles, looking up at the moon, and then came on toward the house, singing again:
"You'll never find a man in all this world Who'll love you half so well as I love you."
And inside, the mother, too, was listening; and she heard the elder brother call the boy into his room and the door close, and she as well knew the theme of their talk as though she could hear all they said. Her sons—even the elder one—did not realize what war was; the boy looked upon it as a frolic. That was the way her two brothers had regarded the old war. They went with the South, of course, as did her father and her sweetheart. And her sweetheart was the only one who came back, and him she married the third month after the surrender, when he was so sick and wounded that he could hardly stand. Now she must give up all that was left for the North, that had taken nearly all she had.
Was it all to come again—the same long days of sorrow, loneliness, the anxious waiting, waiting, waiting to hear that this one was dead, and that this one was wounded or sick to death—would either come back unharmed? She knew now what her own mother must have suffered, and what it must have cost her to tell her sons what she had told hers that night. Ah, God, was it all to come again?
Some days later a bugle blast started Crittenden from a soldier's cot, when the flaps of his tent were yellow with the rising sun. Peeping between them, he saw that only one tent was open. Rivers, as acting-quartermaster, had been up long ago and gone. That blast was meant for the private at the foot of the hill, and Crittenden went back to his cot and slept on.
The day before he had swept out of the hills again—out through a blossoming storm of dogwood—but this time southward bound. Incidentally, he would see unveiled these statues that Kentucky was going to dedicate to her Federal and Confederate dead. He would find his father's old comrade—little Jerry Carter—and secure a commission, if possible. Meanwhile, he would drill with Rivers's regiment, as a soldier of the line.
At sunset he swept into the glory of a Southern spring and the hallowed haze of an old battlefield where certain gallant Americans once fought certain other gallant Americans fiercely forward and back over some six thousand acres of creek-bottom and wooded hills, and where Uncle Sam was pitching tents for his war-children—children, too—some of them—of those old enemies, but ready to fight together now, and as near shoulder to shoulder as the modern line of battle will allow.
Rivers, bronzed, quick-tempered, and of superb physique, met him at the station.
"You'll come right out to camp with me."
The town was thronged. There were gray slouched hats everywhere with little brass crosses pinned to them—tiny rifles, sabres, cannon—crosses that were not symbols of religion, unless this was a time when the Master's coming meant the sword. Under them were soldiers with big pistols and belts of big, gleaming cartridges—soldiers, white and black, everywhere—swaggering, ogling, and loud of voice, but all good-natured, orderly.
Inside the hotel the lobby was full of officers in uniform, scanning the yellow bulletin-boards, writing letters, chatting in groups; gray veterans of horse, foot, and artillery; company officers in from Western service—quiet young men with bronzed faces and keen eyes, like Rivers's—renewing old friendships and swapping experiences on the plains; subalterns down to the last graduating class from West Point with slim waists, fresh faces, and nothing to swap yet but memories of the old school on the Hudson. In there he saw Grafton again and Lieutenant Sharpe, of the Tenth Colored Cavalry, whom he had seen in the Bluegrass, and Rivers introduced him. He was surprised that Rivers, though a Southerner, had so little feeling on the question of negro soldiers; that many officers in the negro regiments were Southern; that Southerners were preferred because they understood the black man, and, for that reason, could better handle him. Sharpe presented both to his father, Colonel Sharpe, of the infantry, who was taking credit to himself, that, for the first time in his life, he allowed his band to play "Dixie" in camp after the Southerners in Congress had risen up and voted millions for the national defence. Colonel Sharpe spoke with some bitterness and Crittenden wondered. He never dreamed that there was any bitterness on the other side—why? How could a victor feel bitterness for a fallen foe? It was the one word he heard or was to hear about the old war from Federal or ex-Confederate. Indeed, he mistook a short, stout, careless appointee, Major Billings, with his negro servant, his Southern mustache and goatee and his pompous ways, for a genuine Southerner, and the Major, though from Vermont, seemed pleased.
But it was to the soldier outside that Crittenden's heart had been drawn, for it was his first stirring sight of the regular of his own land, and the soldier in him answered at once with a thrill. Waiting for Rivers, he stood in the door of the hotel, watching the strong men pass, and by and by he saw three coming down the street, arm in arm. On the edge of the light, the middle one, a low, thick-set, black-browed fellow, pushed his comrades away, fell drunkenly, and slipped loosely to the street, while the two stood above him in disgust. One of them was a mere boy and the other was a giant, with a lean face, so like Lincoln's that Crittenden started when the boy called impatiently:
"Pick him up, Abe."
The tall soldier stooped, and with one hand lifted the drunken man as lightly as though he had been a sack of wool, and the two caught him under the arms again. As they came on, both suddenly let go; the middle one straightened sharply, and all three saluted. Crittenden heard Rivers's voice at his ear:
"Report for this, Reynolds."
And the drunken soldier turned and rather sullenly saluted again.
"You'll come right out to camp with me," repeated Rivers.
And now out at the camp, next morning, a dozen trumpets were ringing out an emphatic complaint into Crittenden's sleeping ears:
"I can't git 'em up, I can't git 'em up, I can't git 'em up in the mornin', I can't git 'em up, I can't git 'em up, I can't git 'em up at all. The corporal's worse than the sergeant, The sergeant's worse than the lieutenant, And the captain is worst of all."
This is as high up, apparently, as the private dares to go, unless he considers the somnolent iniquity of the Colonel quite beyond the range of the bugle. But the pathetic appeal was too much for Crittenden, and he got up, stepping into a fragrant foot-bath of cold dew and out to a dapple gray wash-basin that sat on three wooden stakes just outside. Sousing his head, he sniffed in the chill air and, looking below him, took in, with pure mathematical delight, the working unit of the army as it came to life. The very camp was the symbol of order and system: a low hill, rising from a tiny stream below him in a series of natural terraces to the fringe of low pines behind him, and on these terraces officers and men sitting, according to rank; the white tepees of the privates and their tethered horses—camped in column of troops—stretching up the hill toward him; on the first terrace above and flanking the columns, the old-fashioned army tents of company officer and subaltern and the guidons in line—each captain with his lieutenants at the head of each company street; behind them and on the next terrace, the majors three—each facing the centre of his squadron. And highest on top of the hill, and facing the centre of the regiment, the slate-coloured tent of the Colonel, commanding every foot of the camp.
"Yes," said a voice behind him, "and you'll find it just that way throughout the army."
Crittenden turned in surprise, and the ubiquitous Grafton went on as though the little trick of thought-reading were too unimportant for notice.
"Let's go down and take a look at things. This is my last day," Grafton went on, "and I'm out early. I go to Tampa to-morrow."
All the day before, as he travelled, Crittenden had seen the station thronged with eager countrymen—that must have been the way it was in the old war, he thought—and swarmed the thicker the farther he went south. And now, as the two started down the hill, he could see in the dusty road that ran through the old battlefield Southern interest and sympathy taking visible shape. For a hundred miles around, the human swarm had risen from the earth and was moving toward him on wagon, bicycle, horseback, foot; in omnibus, carriage, cart; in barges on wheels, with projecting additions, and other land-craft beyond classification or description. And the people—the American Southerners; rich whites, whites well-to-do, poor white trash; good country folks, valley farmers; mountaineers—darkies, and the motley feminine horde that the soldier draws the world over—all moving along the road as far as he could see, and interspersed here and there in the long, low cloud of dust with a clanking troop of horse or a red rumbling battery—all coming to see the soldiers—the soldiers!
And the darkies! How they flocked and stared at their soldier-brethren with pathetic worship, dumb admiration, and, here and there, with a look of contemptuous resentment that was most curious. And how those dusky sons of Mars were drinking deep into their broad nostrils the incense wafted to them from hedge and highway.
For a moment Grafton stopped still, looking.
Below the Majors' terrace stood an old sergeant, with a gray mustache and a kind, blue eye. Each horse had his nose in a mouth-bag and was contentedly munching corn, while a trooper affectionately curried him from tip of ear to tip of tail.
"Horse ever first and man ever afterward is the trooper's law," said Grafton.
"I suppose you've got the best colonel in the army," he added to the soldier and with a wink at Crittenden.
"Yes, sir," said the guileless old Sergeant, quickly, and with perfect seriousness. "We have, sir, and I'm not sayin' a wor-rd against the rest, sir."
The Sergeant's voice was as kind as his face, and Grafton soon learned that he was called "the Governor" throughout the regiment—that he was a Kentuckian and a sharpshooter. He had seen twenty-seven years of service, and his ambition had been to become a sergeant of ordnance. He passed his examination finally, but he was then a little too old. That almost broke the Sergeant's heart, but the hope of a fight, now, was fast healing it.
"I'm from Kentucky, too," said Crittenden. The old soldier turned quickly.
"I knew you were, sir."
This was too much for Grafton. "Now-how-on-earth—" and then he checked himself—it was not his business.
"You're a Crittenden."
"That's right," laughed the Kentuckian. The Sergeant turned. A soldier came up and asked some trifling question, with a searching look, Grafton observed, at Crittenden. Everyone looked at that man twice, thought Grafton, and he looked again himself. It was his manner, his bearing, the way his head was set on his shoulders, the plastic force of his striking face. But Crittenden saw only that the Sergeant answered the soldier as though he were talking to a superior. He had been watching the men closely—they might be his comrades some day—and, already, had noticed, with increasing surprise, the character of the men whom he saw as common soldiers—young, quiet, and above the average countryman in address and intelligence—and this man's face surprised him still more, as did his bearing. His face was dark, his eye was dark and penetrating and passionate; his mouth was reckless and weak, his build was graceful, and his voice was low and even—the voice of a gentleman; he was the refined type of the Western gentleman-desperado, as Crittenden had imagined it from fiction and hearsay. As the soldier turned away, the old Sergeant saved him the question he was about to ask.
"He used to be an officer."
"Who—how's that?" asked Grafton, scenting "a story."
The old Sergeant checked himself at once, and added cautiously:
"He was a lieutenant in this regiment and he resigned. He just got back to-day, and he has enlisted as a private rather than risk not getting to Cuba at all. But, of course, he'll get his commission back again." The Sergeant's manner fooled neither Grafton nor Crittenden; both respected the old Sergeant's unwillingness to gossip about a man who had been his superior, and Grafton asked no more questions.
There was no idleness in that camp. Each man was busy within and without the conical-walled tents in which the troopers lie like the spokes of a wheel, with heads out like a covey of partridges. Before one tent sat the tall soldier—Abe—and the boy, his comrade, whom Crittenden had seen the night before.
"Where's Reynolds?" asked Crittenden, smiling.
"Guard-house," said the Sergeant, shaking his head.
Not a scrap of waste matter was to be seen anywhere—not a piece of paper—not the faintest odour was perceptible; the camp was as clean as a Dutch kitchen.
"And this is a camp of cavalry, mind you," said Grafton. "Ten minutes after they have broken camp, you won't be able to tell that there has been a man or horse on the ground, except for the fact that it will be packed down hard in places. And I bet you that in a month they won't have three men in the hospital." The old Sergeant nearly blushed with pleasure.
"An' I've got the best captain, too, sir," he said, as they turned away, and Grafton laughed.
"That's the way you'll find it all through the army. Each colonel and each captain is always the best to the soldier, and, by the way," he went on, "do you happen to know about this little United States regular army?"
"I thought so. Germany knows a good deal—England, France, Prussia, Russia—everybody knows but the American and the Spaniard. Just look at these men. They're young, strong, intelligent—bully, good Americans. It's an army of picked men—picked for heart, body, and brain. Almost each man is an athlete. It is the finest body of men on God Almighty's earth to-day, and everybody on earth but the American and the Spaniard knows it. And how this nation has treated them. Think of that miserable Congress—" Grafton waved his hands in impotent rage and ceased—Rivers was calling them from the top of the hill.
So all morning Crittenden watched the regimental unit at work. He took a sabre lesson from the old Sergeant. He visited camps of infantry and artillery and, late that afternoon, he sat on a little wooded hill, where stood four draped, ghost-like statues—watching these units paint pictures on a bigger canvas below him, of the army at work as a whole.
Every green interspace below was thickly dotted with tents and rising spirals of faint smoke; every little plain was filled with soldiers, at drill. Behind him wheeled cannon and caisson and men and horses, splashed with prophetic drops of red, wheeling at a gallop, halting, unlimbering, loading, and firing imaginary shells at imaginary Spaniards—limbering and off with a flash of metal, wheel-spoke and crimson trappings at a gallop again; in the plain below were regiments of infantry, deploying in skirmish-line, advancing by rushes; beyond them sharpshooters were at target practice, and little bands of recruits and awkward squads were everywhere. In front, rose cloud after cloud of dust, and, under them, surged cloud after cloud of troopers at mounted drill, all making ready for the soldier's work—to kill with mercy and die without complaint. What a picture—what a picture! And what a rich earnest of the sleeping might of the nation behind it all. Just under him was going an "escort of the standard," which he could plainly see. Across the long drill-ground the regiment—it was Rivers's regiment—stood, a solid mass of silent, living statues, and it was a brave sight that came now—that flash of sabres along the long length of the drill-field, like one leaping horizontal flame. It was a regimental acknowledgment of the honour of presentation to the standard, and Crittenden raised his hat gravely in recognition of the same honour, little dreaming that he was soon to follow that standard up a certain Cuban hill.
What a picture!
There the nation was concentrating its power. Behind him that nation was patching up its one great quarrel, and now a gray phantom stalked out of the past to the music of drum and fife, and Crittenden turned sharply to see a little body of men, in queer uniforms, marching through a camp of regulars toward him. They were old boys, and they went rather slowly, but they stepped jauntily and, in their natty old-fashioned caps and old gray jackets pointed into a V-shape behind, they looked jaunty in spite of their years. Not a soldier but paused to look at these men in gray, who marched thus proudly through such a stronghold of blue, and were not ashamed. Not a man joked or laughed or smiled, for all knew that they were old Confederates in butter-nut, and once fighting-men indeed. All knew that these men had fought battles that made scouts and Indian skirmishes and city riots and, perhaps, any battles in store for them with Spain but play by contrast for the tin soldier, upon whom the regular smiles with such mild contempt; that this thin column had seen twice the full muster of the seven thousand strong encamped there melt away upon that very battlefield in a single day. And so the little remnant of gray marched through an atmosphere of profound respect, and on through a mist of memories to the rocky little point where the Federal Virginian Thomas—"The Rock of Chickamauga"—stood against seventeen fierce assaults of hill-swarming demons in butter-nut, whose desperate valour has hardly a parallel on earth, unless it then and there found its counterpart in the desperate courage of the brothers in name and race whose lives they sought that day. They were bound to a patriotic love-feast with their old enemies in blue—these men in gray—to hold it on the hill around the four bronze statues that Crittenden's State was putting up to her sons who fought on one or the other side on that one battlefield, and Crittenden felt a clutch at his heart and his eyes filled when the tattered old flag of the stars and bars trembled toward him. Under its folds rode the spirit of gallant fraternity—a little, old man with a grizzled beard and with stars on his shoulders, his hands folded on the pommel of his saddle, his eyes lifted dreamily upward—they called him the "bee-hunter," from that habit of his in the old war—his father's old comrade, little Jerry Carter. That was the man Crittenden had come South to see. Behind came a carriage, in which sat a woman in widow's weeds and a tall girl in gray. He did not need to look again to see that it was Judith, and, motionless, he stood where he was throughout the ceremony, until he saw the girl lift her hand and the veil fall away from the bronze symbols of the soldier that was in her fathers and in his—stood resolutely still until the gray figure disappeared and the veterans, blue and gray intermingled, marched away. The little General was the last to leave, and he rode slowly, as if overcome with memories. Crittenden took off his hat and, while he hesitated, hardly knowing whether to make himself known or not, the little man caught sight of him and stopped short.
"Why—why, bless my soul, aren't you Tom Crittenden's son?"
"Yes, sir," said Crittenden.
"I knew it. Bless me, I was thinking of him just that moment—naturally enough—and you startled me. I thought it was Tom himself." He grasped the Kentuckian's hand warmly.
"Yes," he said, studying his face. "You look just as he did when we courted and camped and fought together." The tone of his voice moved Crittenden deeply. "And you are going to the war—good—good! Your father would be with me right now if he were alive. Come to see me right away. I may go to Tampa any day." And, as he rode away, he stopped again.
"Of course you have a commission in the Legion."
"No, sir. I didn't ask for one. I was afraid the Legion might not get to Cuba." The General smiled.
"Well, come to see me"—he smiled again—"we'll see—we'll see!" and he rode on with his hands still folded on the pommel of his saddle and his eyes still lifted, dreamily, upward.
It was guard-mount and sunset when Crittenden, with a leaping heart, reached Rivers's camp. The band was just marching out with a corps of trumpeters, when a crash of martial music came across the hollow from the camp on the next low hill, followed by cheers, which ran along the road and were swollen into a mighty shouting when taken up by the camp at the foot of the hill. Through the smoke and faint haze of the early evening, moved a column of infantry into sight, headed by a band.
"Tramp, tramp, tramp, The boys are marching!"
Along the brow of the hill, and but faintly seen through the smoky haze, came the pendulum-like swing of rank after rank of sturdy legs, with guidons fluttering along the columns and big, ghostly army wagons rumbling behind. Up started the band at the foot of the hill with a rousing march, and up started every band along the line, and through madly cheering soldiers swung the regiment on its way to Tampa—magic word, hope of every chafing soldier left behind—Tampa, the point of embarkation for the little island where waited death or glory.
Rivers was deeply dejected.
"Don't you join any regiment yet," he said to Crittenden; "you may get hung up here all summer till the war is over. If you want to get into the fun for sure—wait. Go to Tampa and wait. You might come here, or go there, and drill and watch for your chance." Which was the conclusion Crittenden had already reached for himself.
The sun sank rapidly now. Dusk fell swiftly, and the pines began their nightly dirge for the many dead who died under them five and thirty years ago. They had a new and ominous chant now to Crittenden—a chant of premonition for the strong men about him who were soon to follow them. Camp-fires began to glow out of the darkness far and near over the old battlefield.
Around a little fire on top of the hill, and in front of the Colonel's tent, sat the Colonel, with kind Irish face, Irish eye, and Irish wit of tongue. Near him the old Indian-fighter, Chaffee, with strong brow, deep eyes, long jaw, firm mouth, strong chin—the long, lean face of a thirteenth century monk who was quick to doff cowl for helmet. While they told war-stories, Crittenden sat in silence with the majors three, and Willings, the surgeon (whom he was to know better in Cuba), and listened. Every now and then a horse would loom from the darkness, and a visiting officer would swing into the light, and everybody would say:
There is no humour in that monosyllable of good cheer throughout the United States Army, and with Indian-like solemnity they said it, tin cup in hand:
Once it was Lawton, tall, bronzed, commanding, taciturn—but fluent when he did speak—or Kent, or Sumner, or little Jerry Carter himself. And once, a soldier stepped into the circle of firelight, his heels clicking sharply together; and Crittenden thought an uneasy movement ran around the group, and that the younger men looked furtively up as though to take their cue from the Colonel. It was the soldier who had been an officer once. The Colonel showed not a hint of consciousness, nor did the impassive soldier to anybody but Crittenden, and with him it may have been imagination that made him think that once, when the soldier let his eye flash quite around the group, he flushed slightly when he met Crittenden's gaze. Rivers shrugged his shoulders when Crittenden asked about him later.
"Black sheep, ... well-educated, brave, well-born most likely, came up from the ranks, ... won a commission as sergeant fighting Indians, but always in trouble—gambling, fighting, and so forth. Somebody in Washington got him a lieutenancy, and while the commission was on its way to him out West he got into a bar-room brawl. He resigned then, and left the army. He was gentleman enough to do that. Now he's back. The type is common in the army, and they often come back. I expect he has decency enough to want to get killed. If he has, maybe he'll come out a captain yet."
By and by came "tattoo," and finally far away a trumpet sounded "taps"; then another and another and another still. At last, when all were through, "taps" rose once more out of the darkness to the left. This last trumpeter had waited—he knew his theme and knew his power. The rest had simply given the command:
Lights out of the soldier's camp, they said. Lights out of the soldier's life, said this one, sadly; and out of Crittenden's life just now something that once was dearer than life itself.
Such the trumpet meant to one poet, and such it meant to many another than Crittenden, doubtless, when he stretched himself on his cot—thinking of Judith there that afternoon, and seeing her hand lift to pull away the veil from the statues again. So it had always been with him. One touch of her hand and the veil that hid his better self parted, and that self stepped forth victorious. It had been thickening, fold on fold, a long while now; and now, he thought sternly, the rending must be done, and should be done with his own hands. And then he would go back to thinking of her as he saw her last in the Bluegrass. And he wondered what that last look and smile of hers could mean. Later, he moved in his sleep—dreaming of that brave column marching for Tampa—with his mind's eye on the flag at the head of the regiment, and a thrill about his heart that waked him. And he remembered that it was the first time he had ever had any sensation about the flag of his own land. But it had come to him—awake and asleep—and it was genuine.
It was mid-May now, and the leaves were full and their points were drooping toward the earth. The woods were musical with the cries of blackbirds as Crittenden drove toward the pike-gate, and the meadow was sweet with the love-calls of larks. The sun was fast nearing the zenith, and air and earth were lusty with life. Already the lane, lined with locust-trees, brambles, wild rose-bushes, and young elders, was fragrant with the promise of unborn flowers, and the turnpike, when he neared town, was soft with the dust of many a hoof and wheel that had passed over it toward the haze of smoke which rose over the first recruiting camp in the State for the Spanish war. There was a big crowd in the lovely woodland over which hung the haze, and the music of horn and drum came forth to Crittenden's ears even that far away, and Raincrow raised head and tail and quickened his pace proudly.
For a week he had drilled at Chickamauga. He had done the work of a plain soldier, and he liked it—liked his temporary comrades, who were frankly men to men with him, in spite of his friendship with their superiors on top of the hill. To the big soldier, Abe Long, the wag of the regiment, he had been drawn with genuine affection. He liked Abe's bunkie, the boy Sanders, who was from Maine, while Abe was a Westerner—the lineal descendant in frame, cast of mind, and character of the border backwoodsman of the Revolution. Reynolds was a bully, and Crittenden all but had trouble with him; for he bullied the boy Sanders when Abe was not around, and bullied the "rookies." Abe seemed to have little use for him, but as he had saved the big soldier's life once in an Indian fight, Abe stuck to him, in consequence, loyally. But Blackford, the man who had been an officer once, had interested him most; perhaps, because Blackford showed peculiar friendliness for him at once. From Washington, Crittenden had heard not a word; nor from General Carter, who had left Chickamauga before he could see him again. If, within two days more, no word came, Crittenden had made up his mind to go to Tampa, where the little General was, and where Rivers's regiment had been ordered, and drill again and, as Rivers advised, await his chance.
The camp was like some great picnic or political barbecue, with the smoking trenches, the burgoo, and the central feast of beef and mutton left out. Everywhere country folks were gathering up fragments of lunch on the thick grass, or strolling past the tents of the soldiers, or stopping before the Colonel's pavilion to look upon the martial young gentlemen who composed his staff, their beautiful horses, and the Colonel's beautiful guests from the river city—the big town of the State. Everywhere were young soldiers in twos and threes keeping step, to be sure, but with eyes anywhere but to the front; groups lying on the ground, chewing blades of bluegrass, watching pretty girls pass, and lounging lazily; groups to one side, but by no means out of sight, throwing dice or playing "craps"—the game dear to the darkey's heart. On the outskirts were guards to gently challenge the visitor, but not very stern sentinels were they. As Crittenden drove in, he saw one pacing a shady beat with a girl on his arm. And later, as he stood by his buggy, looking around with an amused sense of the playful contrast it all was to what he had seen at Chickamauga, he saw another sentinel brought to a sudden halt by a surprised exclamation from a girl, who was being shown through the camp by a strutting lieutenant. The sentinel was Basil and Phyllis was the girl.
"Why, isn't that Basil?" she asked in an amazed tone—amazed because Basil did not speak to her, but grinned silently.
"Why, it is Basil; why—why," and she turned helplessly from private to officer and back again. "Can't you speak to me, Basil?"
Basil grinned again sheepishly.
"Yes," he said, answering her, but looking straight at his superior, "I can if the Lieutenant there will let me." Phyllis was indignant.
"Let you!" she said, witheringly; and she turned on the hapless tyrant at her side.
"Now, don't you go putting on airs, just because you happen to have been in the Legion a little longer than some people. Of course, I'm going to speak to my friends. I don't care where they are or what they happen to be at the time, or who happens to think himself over them."
And she walked up to the helpless sentinel with her hand outstretched, while the equally helpless Lieutenant got very red indeed, and Basil shifted his gun to a very unmilitary position and held out his hand.
"Let me see your gun, Basil," she added, and the boy obediently handed it over to her, while the little Lieutenant turned redder still.
"You go to the guard-house for that, Crittenden," he said, quietly. "Don't you know you oughtn't to give up your gun to anybody except your commanding officer?"
"Does he, indeed?" said the girl, just as quietly. "Well, I'll see the Colonel." And Basil saluted soberly, knowing there was no guard-house for him that night.
"Anyhow," she added, "I'm the commanding officer here." And then the gallant lieutenant saluted too.
"You are, indeed," he said; and Phyllis turned to give Basil a parting smile.
Crittenden followed them to the Colonel's tent, which had a raised floor and the good cheer of cigar-boxes, and of something under his cot that looked like a champagne-basket; and he smiled to think of Chaffee's Spartan-like outfit at Chickamauga. Every now and then a soldier would come up with a complaint, and the Colonel would attend to him personally.
It was plain that the old ex-Confederate was the father of the regiment, and was beloved as such; and Crittenden was again struck with the contrast it all was to what he had just seen, knowing well, however, that the chief difference was in the spirit in which regular and volunteer approached the matter in hand. With one, it was a business pure and simple, to which he was trained. With the other, it was a lark at first, but business it soon would be, and a dashing business at that. There was the same crowd before the tent—Judith, who greeted him with gracious frankness, but with a humorous light in her eye that set him again to wondering; and Phyllis and Phyllis's mother, Mrs. Stanton, who no sooner saw Crittenden than she furtively looked at Judith with a solicitude that was maternal and significant.
There can be no better hot-bed of sentiment than the mood of man and woman when the man is going to war; and if Mrs. Stanton had not shaken that nugget of wisdom from her memories of the old war, she would have known it anyhow, for she was blessed with a perennial sympathy for the heart-troubles of the young, and she was as quick to apply a remedy to the children of other people as she was to her own, whom, by the way, she cured, one by one, as they grew old enough to love and suffer, and learn through suffering what it was to be happy. And how other mothers wondered how it was all done! In truth, her method—if she had a conscious method—was as mysterious and as sure as is the way of nature; and one could no more catch her nursing a budding passion here and there than one could catch nature making the bluegrass grow. Everybody saw the result; nobody saw just how it was done. That afternoon an instance was at hand. Judith wanted to go home, and Mrs. Stanton, who had brought her to camp, wanted to go to town. Phyllis, too, wanted to go home, and her wicked little brother, Walter, who had brought her, climbed into Basil's brake before her eyes, and, making a face at her, disappeared in a cloud of dust. Of course, neither of the brothers nor the two girls knew what was going on, but, a few minutes later, there was Basil pleading with Mrs. Stanton to let him take Phyllis home, and there was Crittenden politely asking the privilege of taking Judith into his buggy. The girl looked embarrassed, but when Mrs. Stanton made a gracious feint of giving up her trip to town, Judith even more graciously declined to allow her, and, with a smile to Crittenden, as though he were a conscious partner in her effort to save Mrs. Stanton trouble, gave him her hand and was helped into the smart trap, with its top pressed flat, its narrow seat and a high-headed, high-reined, half-thoroughbred restive between the slender shafts; and a moment later, smiled a good-by to the placid lady, who, with a sigh that was half an envious memory, half the throb of a big, kind heart, turned to her own carriage, assuring herself that it really was imperative for her to drive to town, if for no other reason than to see that her mischievous boy got out of town with the younger Crittenden's brake.
Judith and Crittenden were out of the push of cart, carriage, wagon, and street-car now, and out of the smoke and dust of the town, and Crittenden pulled his horse down to a slow trot. The air was clear and fragrant and restful. So far, the two had spoken scarcely a dozen words. Crittenden was embarrassed—he hardly knew why—and Judith saw it, and there was a suppressed smile at the corners of her mouth which Crittenden did not see.
"It's too bad."
Crittenden turned suddenly.
"It's a great pleasure."
"For which you have Mrs. Stanton to thank. You would have got it for yourself five—dear me; is it possible?—five years ago."
"Seven years ago," corrected Crittenden, grimly. "I was more self-indulgent seven years ago than I am now."
"And the temptation was greater then."
The smile at her mouth twitched her lips faintly, and still Crittenden did not see; he was too serious, and he kept silent.
The clock-like stroke of the horse's high-lifted feet came sharply out on the hard road. The cushioned springs under them creaked softly now and then, and the hum of the slender, glittering spokes was noiseless and drowsy.
"You haven't changed much," said Judith, "except for the better."
"You haven't changed at all. You couldn't—for better or worse."
Judith smiled dreamily and her eyes were looking backward—very far backward. Suddenly they were shot with mischief.
"Why, you really don't seem to—" she hesitated—"to like me any more."
"I really don't—" Crittenden, too, hesitated—"don't like you any more—not as I did."
"You wrote me that."
The girl gave a low laugh. How often he had played this harmless little part. But there was a cool self-possession about him that she had never seen before. She had come home, prepared to be very nice to him, and she was finding it easy.
"And you never answered," said Crittenden.
"No; and I don't know why."
The birds were coming from shade and picket—for midday had been warm—into the fields and along the hedges, and were fluttering from one fence-rail to another ahead of them and piping from the bushes by the wayside and the top of young weeds.
"You wrote that you were—'getting over it.' In the usual way?"
Crittenden glanced covertly at Judith's face. A mood in her like this always made him uneasy.
"Not in the usual way; I don't think it's usual. I hope not."
"Oh, pride, absence—deterioration and other things."
Judith's head was leaning backward, her eyes were closed, but her face seemed perfectly serious.
"You told me to get over it."
Crittenden did not deign to answer this, and Judith was silent a long while. Then her eyes opened; but they were looking backward again, and she might have been talking to herself.
"I'm wondering," she said, "whether any woman ever really meant that when she said it to a man whom she—" Crittenden turned quickly—"whom she liked," added Judith as though she had not seen his movement. "She may think it her duty to say it; she may say it because it is her duty; but in her heart, I suppose, she wants him to keep on loving her just the same—if she likes him—" Judith paused—"even more than a very little. That's very selfish, but I'm afraid it's true."
And Judith sighed helplessly.
"I think you made it little enough that time," laughed Crittenden. "Are you still afraid of giving me too much hope?"
"I am afraid of nothing—now."
"Thank you. You were ever too much concerned about me."
"I was. Other men may have found the fires of my conscience smouldering sometimes, but they were always ablaze whenever you came near. I liked you better than the rest—better than all——"
Crittenden's heart gave a faint throb and he finished the sentence for her.
And that one had been unworthy, and Judith had sent him adrift. She had always been frank with Crittenden. That much he knew and no more—not even the man's name; but how he had wondered who and where and what manner of man he was! And how he had longed to see him!
They were passing over a little bridge in a hollow where a cool current of air struck them and the freshened odour of moistening green things in the creek-bed—the first breath of the night that was still below the cloudy horizon.
"Deterioration," said Judith, almost sharply. "What did you mean by that?"
Crittenden hesitated, and she added:
"Go on; we are no longer children."
"Oh, it was nothing, or everything, just as you look at it. I made a discovery soon after you went away. I found that when I fell short of the standard you"—Crittenden spoke slowly—"had set for me, I got at least mental relief. I couldn't think of you until—until I had recovered myself again."
"I used the discovery."
"That was weak."
"It was deliberate."
"Then it was criminal."
"Both, if you wish; but credit me with at least the strength to confess and the grace to be ashamed. But I'm beginning all over again now—by myself."
He was flipping at one shaft with the cracker of his whip and not looking at her, and Judith kept silent; but she was watching his face.
"It's time," he went on, with slow humour. "So far, I've just missed being what I should have been; doing what I should have done—by a hair's breadth. I did pretty well in college, but thereafter, when things begin to count! Law? I never got over the humiliation of my first ridiculous failure. Business? I made a fortune in six weeks, lost it in a month, and was lucky to get out without having to mortgage a farm. Politics? Wharton won by a dozen votes. I just missed being what my brother is now—I missed winning you—everything! Think of it! I am five feet eleven and three-quarters, when I should have been full six feet. I am the first Crittenden to fall under the line in a century. I have been told"—he smiled—"that I have missed being handsome. There again I believe I overthrow family tradition. My youth is going—to no purpose, so far—and it looks as though I were going to miss life hereafter as well as here, since, along with everything else, I have just about missed faith."
He was quite sincere and unsparing, but had Judith been ten years older, she would have laughed outright. As it was, she grew sober and sympathetic and, like a woman, began to wonder, for the millionth time, perhaps, how far she had been to blame.
"The comfort I have is that I have been, and still am, honest with myself. I haven't done what I ought not and then tried to persuade myself that it was right. I always knew it was wrong, and I did it anyhow. And the hope I have is that, like the man in Browning's poem, I believe I always try to get up again, no matter how often I stumble. I sha'n't give up hope until I am willing to lie still. And I guess, after all—" he lifted his head suddenly—"I haven't missed being a man."
"And a gentleman," added Judith gently.
"According to the old standard—no." Crittenden paused.
The sound of buggy wheels and a fast-trotting horse rose behind them. Raincrow lifted his head and quickened his pace, but Crittenden pulled him in as Basil and Phyllis swept by. The two youngsters were in high spirits, and the boy shook his whip back and the girl her handkerchief—both crying something which neither Judith nor Crittenden could understand. Far behind was the sound of another horse's hoofs, and Crittenden, glancing back, saw his political enemy—Wharton—a girl by his side, and coming at full speed. At once he instinctively gave half the road, and Raincrow, knowing what that meant, shot out his feet and Crittenden tightened the reins, not to check, but to steady him. The head of the horse behind he could just see, but he went on talking quietly.
"I love that boy," pointing with his whip ahead. "Do you remember that passage I once read you in Stevenson about his 'little brother'?"
The horse behind was creeping up now, and his open nostrils were visible past the light hair blowing about Judith's neck. Crittenden spoke one quiet word to his own horse, and Judith saw the leaders of his wrist begin to stand out as Raincrow settled into the long reach that had sent his sire a winner under many a string.
"Well, I know what he meant—that boy never will. And that is as a man should be. The hope of the race isn't in this buggy—it has gone on before with Phyllis and Basil."
Once the buggy wheels ran within an inch of a rather steep bank, and straight ahead was a short line of broken limestone so common on bluegrass turnpikes, but Judith had the Southern girl's trust and courage, and seemed to notice the reckless drive as little as did Crittenden, who made the wheels straddle the stones, when the variation of an inch or two would have lamed his horse and overturned them.
"Yes, they are as frank as birds in their love-making, and they will marry with as little question as birds do when they nest. They will have a house full of children—I have heard her mother say that was her ambition and the ambition she had for her children; and they will live a sane, wholesome, useful, happy life."
The buggy behind had made a little spurt, and the horses were almost neck and neck. Wharton looked ugly, and the black-eyed girl with fluffy black hair was looking behind Judith's head at Crittenden and was smiling. Not once had Judith turned her head, even to see who they were. Crittenden hardly knew whether she was conscious of the race, but they were approaching her gate now and he found out.
"Shall I turn in?" he asked.
"Go on," said Judith.
There was a long, low hill before them, and up that Crittenden let Raincrow have his full speed for the first time. The panting nostrils of the other horse fell behind—out of sight—out of hearing.
"And if he doesn't get back from the war, she will mourn for him sincerely for a year or two and then——"
"Marry someone else."
That was what she had so often told him to do, and now he spoke as though it were quite possible—even for him; and she was both glad and a little resentful.
At the top of the hill they turned. The enemy was trotting leisurely up the slope, having given up the race earlier than they knew. Judith's face was flushed.
"I don't think you are so very old," she said.
Crittenden laughed, and took off his hat very politely when they met the buggy, but Wharton looked surly. The girl with the black hair looked sharply at Judith, and then again at Crittenden, and smiled. She must have cared little for her companion, Judith thought, or something for Crittenden, and yet she knew that most women smiled at Crittenden, even when they did not know him very well. Still she asked: "And the other things—you meant other women?"