Stories by American Authors
THE BRIGADE COMMANDER BY J. W. DE FOREST
SPLIT ZEPHYR BY HENRY A. BEERS
ZERVIAH HOPE BY ELIZABETH STUART PHELPS
THE LIFE-MAGNET BY ALVEY A. ADEE
OSGOOD'S PREDICAMENT BY ELIZABETH D. B. STODDARD
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1896
COPYRIGHT, 1884, BY
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
The Stories in this Volume are protected by copyright, and are printed here by authority of the authors or their representatives.
THE BRIGADE COMMANDER.
BY J. W. DE FOREST.
New York Times.
The Colonel was the idol of his bragging old regiment and of the bragging brigade which for the last six months he had commanded.
He was the idol, not because he was good and gracious, not because he spared his soldiers or treated them as fellow-citizens, but because he had led them to victory and made them famous. If a man will win battles and give his brigade a right to brag loudly of its doings, he may have its admiration and even its enthusiastic devotion, though he be as pitiless and as wicked as Lucifer.
"It's nothin' to me what the Currnell is in prrivit, so long as he shows us how to whack the rrebs," said Major Gahogan, commandant of the "Old Tenth." "Moses saw God in the burrnin' bussh, an' bowed down to it, an' worrshipt it. It wasn't the bussh he worrshipt; it was his God that was in it. An' I worrship this villin of a Currnell (if he is a villin) because he's almighty and gives us the vict'ry. He's nothin' but a human burrnin' bussh, perhaps, but he's got the god of war in um. Adjetant Wallis, it's a —— long time between dhrinks, as I think ye was sayin', an' with rayson. See if ye can't confiscate a canteen of whiskee somewhere in the camp. Bedad, if I can't buy it I'll stale it. We're goin' to fight to-morry, an' it may be it's the last chance we'll have for a dhrink, unless there's more lik'r now in the other worrld than Dives got."
The brigade was bivouacked in some invisible region, amid the damp, misty darkness of a September night. The men lay in their ranks, each with his feet to the front and his head rearward, each covered by his overcoat and pillowed upon his haversack, each with his loaded rifle nestled close beside him. Asleep as they were, or dropping placidly into slumber, they were ready to start in order to their feet and pour out the red light and harsh roar of combat. There were two lines of battle, each of three regiments of infantry, the first some two hundred yards in advance of the second. In the space between them lay two four-gun batteries, one of them brass twelve-pounder "Napoleons," and the other rifled Parrotts. To the rear of the infantry were the recumbent troopers and picketed horses of a regiment of cavalry. All around, in the far, black distance, invisible and inaudible, paced or watched stealthily the sentinels of the grand guards.
There was not a fire, nor a torch, nor a star-beam in the whole bivouac to guide the feet of Adjutant Wallis in his pilgrimage after whisky. The orders from brigade headquarters had been strict against illuminations, for the Confederates were near at hand in force, and a surprise was purposed as well as feared. A tired and sleepy youngster, almost dropping with the heavy somnolence of wearied adolescence, he stumbled on through the trials of an undiscernible and unfamiliar footing, lifting his heavy riding-boots sluggishly over imaginary obstacles, and fearing the while lest his toil were labor misspent. It was a dry camp, he felt dolefully certain, or there would have been more noise in it. He fell over a sleeping Sergeant, and said to him hastily, "Steady, man—a friend!" as the half-roused soldier clutched his rifle. Then he found a Lieutenant, and shook him in vain; further on a Captain, and exchanged saddening murmurs with him; further still a camp-follower of African extraction, and blasphemed him.
"It's a God-forsaken camp, and there isn't a horn in it," said Adjutant Wallis to himself as he pursued his groping journey. "Bet you I don't find the first drop," he continued, for he was a betting boy, and frequently argued by wagers, even with himself. "Bet you two to one I don't. Bet you three to one—ten to one."
Then he saw, an indefinite distance beyond him, burning like red-hot iron through the darkness, a little scarlet or crimson gleam, as of a lighted cigar.
"That's Old Grumps, of the Bloody Fourteenth," he thought. "I've raided into his happy sleeping-grounds. I'll draw on him."
But Old Grumps, otherwise Colonel Lafayette Gildersleeve, had no rations—that is, no whisky.
"How do you suppose an officer is to have a drink, Lieutenant?" he grumbled.
"Don't you know that our would-be Brigadier sent all the commissary to the rear day before yesterday? A canteenful can't last two days. Mine went empty about five minutes ago."
"Oh, thunder!" groaned Wallis, saddened by that saddest of all thoughts, "Too late!" "Well, least said soonest mended. I must wobble back to my Major."
"He'll send you off to some other camp as dry as this one. Wait ten minutes, and he'll be asleep. Lie down on my blanket and light your pipe. I want to talk to you about official business—about our would-be Brigadier."
"Oh, your turn will come some day," mumbled Wallis, remembering Gildersleeve's jealousy of the brigade commander—a jealousy which only gave tongue when aroused by "commissary." "If you do as well as usual to-morrow you can have your own brigade."
"I suppose you think we are all going to do well to-morrow," scoffed old Grumps, whose utterance by this time stumbled. "I suppose you expect to whip and to have a good time. I suppose you brag on fighting and enjoy it."
"I like it well enough when it goes right; and it generally does go right with this brigade. I should like it better if the rebs would fire higher and break quicker."
"That depends on the way those are commanded whose business it is to break them," growled Old Grumps. "I don't say but what we are rightly commanded," he added, remembering his duty to superiors. "I concede and acknowledge that our would-be Brigadier knows his military business. But the blessing of God, Wallis! I believe in Waldron as a soldier. But as a man and a Christian, faugh!"
Gildersleeve had clearly emptied his canteen unassisted; he never talked about Christianity when perfectly sober.
"What was your last remark?" inquired Wallis, taking his pipe from his mouth to grin. Even a superior officer might be chaffed a little in the darkness.
"I made no last remark," asserted the Colonel with dignity. "I'm not a-dying yet. If I said anything last it was a mere exclamation of disgust—the disgust of an officer and gentleman. I suppose you know something about our would-be Brigadier. I suppose you think you know something about him."
"Bet you I know all about him," affirmed Wallis. "He enlisted in the old Tenth as a common soldier. Before he had been a week in camp they found that he knew his biz, and they made him a Sergeant. Before we started for the field the Governor got his eye on him and shoved him into a Lieutenancy. The first battle h'isted him to a Captain. And the second—bang! whiz! he shot up to Colonel, right over the heads of everybody, line and field. Nobody in the old Tenth grumbled. They saw that he knew his biz. I know all about him. What'll you bet?"
"I'm not a betting man, Lieutenant, except in a friendly game of poker," sighed Old Grumps. "You don't know anything about your Brigadier," he added in a sepulchral murmur, the echo of an empty canteen. "I have only been in this brigade a month, and I know more than you do, far, very far more, sorry to say it. He's a reformed clergyman. He's an apostatized minister." The Colonel's voice as he said this was solemn and sad enough to do credit to an undertaker. "It's a bad sort, Wallis," he continued, after another deep sigh, a very highly perfumed one, the sigh of a bar-keeper. "When a clergyman falls, he falls for life and eternity, like a woman or an angel. I never knew a backslidden shepherd to come to good. Sooner or later he always goes to the devil, and takes down whomsoever hangs to him."
"He'll take down the old Tenth, then," asserted Wallis. "It hangs to him. Bet you two to one he takes it along."
"You're right, Adjutant; spoken like a soldier," swore Gildersleeve. "And the Bloody Fourteenth, too! It will march into the burning pit as far as any regiment; and the whole brigade, yes sir! But a backslidden shepherd, my God! Have we come to that? I often say to myself, in the solemn hours of the night, as I remember my Sabbath-school days, 'Great Scott, have we come to that?' A reformed clergyman! An apostatized minister! Think of it, Wallis, think of it! Why, sir, his very wife ran away from him. They had but just buried their first boy," pursued Old Grumps, his hoarse voice sinking to a whimper. "They drove home from the burial-place, where lay the new-made grave. Arrived at their door, he got out and extended his hand to help her out. Instead of accepting, instead of throwing herself into his arms and weeping there, she turned to the coachman and said, 'Driver, drive me to my father's house.' That was the end of their wedded life, Wallis."
The Colonel actually wept at this point, and the maudlin tears were not altogether insincere. His own wife and children he heartily loved, and remembered them now with honest tenderness. At home he was not a drinker and a rough; only amid the hardships and perils of the field.
"That was the end of it, Wallis," he repeated. "And what was it while it lasted? What does a woman leave her husband for? Why does she separate from him over the grave of her innocent first-born? There are twenty reasons, but they must all of them be good ones. I am sorry to give it as my decided opinion, Wallis, in perfect confidence, that they must all be whopping good ones. Well, that was the beginning; only the beginning. After that he held on for a while, breaking the bread of life to a skedaddling flock, and then he bolted. The next known of him, three years later, he enlisted in your regiment, a smart but seedy recruit, smelling strongly of whisky."
"I wish I smelt half as strong of it myself," grumbled Wallis. "It might keep out the swamp fever."
"That's the true story of Col. John James Waldron," continued Old Grumps, with a groan which was very somnolent, as if it were a twin to a snore. "That's the true story."
"I don't believe the first word of it—that is to say, Colonel, I think you have been misinformed—and I'll bet you two to one on it. If he was nothing more than a minister, how did he know drill and tactics?"
"Oh, I forgot to say, he went through West Point—that is, nearly through. They graduated him in his third year by the back door, Wallis."
"Oh, that was it, was it? He was a West Pointer, was he? Well, then, the backsliding was natural, and oughtn't to count against him. A member of Benny Havens' church has a right to backslide anywhere, especially as the Colonel doesn't seem to be any worse than some of the rest of us, who haven't fallen from grace the least particle, but took our stand at the start just where we are now. A fellow that begins with a handful of trumps has a right to play a risky game."
"I know what euchered him, Wallis. It was the old Little Joker; and there's another of the same on hand now."
"On hand where? What are you driving at, Colonel?"
"He looks like a boy. I mean she looks like a boy. You know what I mean, Wallis; I mean the boy that makes believe wait on him. And her brother is in camp, got here to-night. There'll be an explanation to-morrow, and there'll be bloodshed."
"Good-night, Colonel, and sleep it off," said Wallis, rising from the side of a man whom he believed to be sillily drunk and altogether untrustworthy. "You know we get after the rebs at dawn."
"I know it—goo-night, Adjutant—gawblessyou," mumbled Old Grumps. "We'll lick those rebs, won't we?" he chuckled. "Goo-night, ole fellow, an' gawblessyou."
Whereupon Old Grumps fell asleep, very absurdly overcome by liquor, we extremely regret to concede, but nobly sure to do his soldierly duty as soon as he should awake.
Stumbling wearily blanketward, Wallis found his Major and regimental commander, the genial and gallant Gahogan, slumbering in a peace like that of the just. He stretched himself a-near, put out his hand to touch his sabre and revolver, drew his caped great-coat over him, moved once to free his back of a root or pebble, glanced languidly at a single struggling star, thought for an instant of his far-away mother, turned his head with a sigh, and slept. In the morning he was to fight, and perhaps to die; but the boyish veteran was too seasoned, and also too tired, to mind that; he could mind but one thing—nature's pleading for rest.
In the iron-gray dawn, while the troops were falling dimly and spectrally into line, and he was mounting his horse to be ready for orders, he remembered Gildersleeve's drunken tale concerning the commandant, and laughed aloud. But turning his face toward brigade headquarters (a sylvan region marked out by the branches of a great oak), he was surprised to see a strange officer, a fair young man in Captain's uniform, riding slowly toward it.
"Is that the Boy's brother?" he said to himself; and in the next instant he had forgotten the whole subject; it was time to form and present the regiment.
Quietly and without tap of drum the small, battle-worn battalions filed out of their bivouacs into the highway, ordered arms and waited for the word to march. With a dull rumble the field-pieces trundled slowly after, and halted in rear of the infantry. The cavalry trotted off circuitously through the fields, emerged upon the road in advance and likewise halted, all but a single company, which pushed on for half a mile, spreading out as it went into a thin line of skirmishers.
Meanwhile a strange interview took place near the great oak which had sheltered brigade headquarters. As the unknown officer, whom Wallis had noted, approached it, Col. Waldron was standing by his horse ready to mount. The commandant was a man of medium size, fairly handsome in person and features, and apparently about twenty-eight years of age. Perhaps it was the singular breadth of his forehead which made the lower part of his face look so unusually slight and feminine. His eyes were dark hazel, as clear, brilliant, and tender as a girl's, and brimming full of a pensiveness which seemed both loving and melancholy. Few persons, at all events few women, who looked upon him ever looked beyond his eyes. They were very fascinating, and in a man's countenance very strange. They were the kind of eyes which reveal passionate romances, and which make them.
By his side stood a boy, a singularly interesting and beautiful boy, fair-haired and blue-eyed, and delicate in color. When this boy saw the stranger approach he turned as pale as marble, slid away from the brigade commander's side, and disappeared behind a group of staff officers and orderlies. The new-comer also became deathly white as he glanced after the retreating youth. Then he dismounted, touched his cap slightly and, as if mechanically, advanced a few steps, and said hoarsely, "I believe this is Colonel Waldron. I am Captain Fitz Hugh, of the —th Delaware."
Waldron put his hand to his revolver, withdrew it instantaneously, and stood motionless.
"I am on leave of absence from my regiment, Colonel," continued Fitz Hugh, speaking now with an elaborate ceremoniousness of utterance significant of a struggle to suppress violent emotion. "I suppose you can understand why I made use of it in seeking you."
Waldron hesitated; he stood gazing at the earth with the air of one who represses deep pain; at last, after a profound sigh, he raised his eyes and answered.
"Captain, we are on the eve of a battle. I must attend to my public duties first. After the battle we will settle our private affair."
"There is but one way to settle it, Colonel."
"You shall have your way if you will. You shall do what you will. I only ask what good will it do to her?"
"It will do good to me, Colonel," whispered Fitz Hugh, suddenly turning crimson. "You forget me."
Waldron's face also flushed, and an angry sparkle shot from under his lashes in reply to this utterance of hate, but it died out in an instant.
"I have done a wrong, and I will accept the consequences," he said. "I pledge you my word that I will be at your disposal if I survive the battle. Where do you propose to remain meanwhile?"
"I will take the same chance, Sir. I propose to do my share in the fighting if you will use me."
"I am short of staff officers. Will you act as my aid?"
"I will, Colonel," bowed Fitz Hugh, with a glance which expressed surprise, and perhaps admiration, at this confidence.
Waldron turned, beckoned his staff officers to approach, and said, "Gentlemen, this is Captain Fitz Hugh of the —th Delaware. He has volunteered to join us for the day, and will act as my aid. And now, Captain, will you ride to the head of the column and order it forward? There will be no drum-beat and no noise. When you have given your order and seen it executed, you will wait for me."
Fitz Hugh saluted, sprang into his saddle and galloped away. A few minutes later the whole column was plodding on silently toward its bloody goal. To a civilian, unaccustomed to scenes of war, the tranquillity of these men would have seemed very wonderful. Many of the soldiers were still munching the hard bread and raw pork of their meagre breakfasts, or drinking the cold coffee with which they had filled their canteens the day previous. Many more were chatting in an undertone, grumbling over their sore feet and other discomfits, chaffing each other, and laughing. The general bearing, however, was grave, patient, quietly enduring, and one might almost say stolid. You would have said, to judge by their expressions, that these sunburnt fellows were merely doing hard work, and thoroughly commonplace work, without a prospect of adventure, and much less of danger. The explanation of this calmness, so brutal perhaps to the eye of a sensitive soul, lies mainly in the fact that they were all veterans, the survivors of marches, privations, maladies, sieges, and battles. Not a regiment present numbered four hundred men, and the average was not above three hundred. The whole force, including artillery and cavalry, might have been about twenty-five hundred sabres and bayonets.
At the beginning of the march Waldron fell into the rear of his staff and mounted orderlies. Then the Boy who had fled from Fitz Hugh dropped out of the tramping escort, and rode up to his side.
"Well, Charlie," said Waldron, casting a pitying glance at the yet pallid face and anxious eyes of the youth, "you have had a sad fright. I make you very miserable."
"He has found us at last," murmured Charlie in a tremulous soprano voice. "What did he say?"
"We are to talk to-morrow. He acts as my aide-de-camp to-day. I ought to tell you frankly that he is not friendly."
"Of course, I knew it," sighed Charlie, while the tears fell.
"It is only one more trouble—one more danger, and perhaps it may pass. So many have passed."
"Did you tell him anything to quiet him? Did you tell him that we were married?"
"But we are not married yet, Charlie. We shall be, I hope."
"But you ought to have told him that we were. It might stop him from doing something—mad. Why didn't you tell him so? Why didn't you think of it?"
"My dear little child, we are about to have a battle. I should like to carry some honor and truth into it."
"Where is he?" continued Charlie, unconvinced and unappeased. "I want to see him. Is he at the head of the column? I want to speak to him, just one word. He won't hurt me."
She suddenly spurred her horse, wheeled into the fields, and dashed onward. Fitz Hugh was lounging in his saddle, and sombrely surveying the passing column, when she galloped up to him.
"Carrol!" she said, in a choked voice, reining in by his side, and leaning forward to touch his sleeve.
He threw one glance at her—a glance of aversion, if not of downright hatred, and turned his back in silence.
"He is my husband, Carrol," she went on rapidly. "I knew you didn't understand it. I ought to have written you about it. I thought I would come and tell you before you did anything absurd. We were married as soon as he heard that his wife was dead."
"What is the use of this?" he muttered hoarsely. "She is not dead. I heard from her a week ago. She was living a week ago."
"Oh, Carrol!" stammered Charlie. "It was some mistake then. Is it possible! And he was so sure! But he can get a divorce, you know. She abandoned him. Or she can get one. No, he can get it—of course, when she abandoned him. But, Carrol, she must be dead—he was so sure."
"She is not dead, I tell you. And there can be no divorce. Insanity bars all claim to a divorce. She is in an asylum. She had to leave him, and then she went mad."
"Oh, no, Carrol, it is all a mistake; it is not so, Carrol," she murmured in a voice so faint that he could not help glancing at her, half in fury and half in pity. She was slowly falling from her horse. He sprang from his saddle, caught her in his arms, and laid her on the turf, wishing the while that it covered her grave. Just then one of Waldron's orderlies rode up and exclaimed: "What is the matter with the—the Boy? Hullo, Charlie."
Fitz Hugh stared at the man in silence, tempted to tear him from his horse. "The boy is ill," he answered when he recovered his self-command. "Take charge of him yourself." He remounted, rode onward out of sight beyond a thicket, and there waited for the brigade commander, now and then fingering his revolver. As Charlie was being placed in an ambulance by the orderly and a sergeant's wife, Waldron came up, reined in his horse violently, and asked in a furious voice, "Is that boy hurt?"
"Ah—fainted," he added immediately. "Thank you, Mrs. Gunner. Take good care of him—the best of care, my dear woman, and don't let him leave you all day."
Further on, when Fitz Hugh silently fell into his escort, he merely glanced at him in a furtive way, and then cantered on rapidly to the head of the cavalry. There he beckoned to the tall, grave, iron-gray Chaplain of the Tenth, and rode with him for nearly an hour, apart, engaged in low and seemingly impassioned discourse. From this interview Mr. Colquhoun returned to the escort with a strangely solemnized, tender countenance, while the commandant, with a more cheerful air than he had yet worn that day, gave himself to his martial duties, inspecting the landscape incessantly with his glass, and sending frequently for news to the advance scouts. It may properly be stated here that the Chaplain never divulged to any one the nature of the conversation which he had held with his Colonel.
Nothing further of note occurred until the little army, after two hours of plodding march, wound through a sinuous, wooded ravine, entered a broad, bare, slightly undulating valley, and for the second time halted. Waldron galloped to the summit of a knoll, pointed to a long eminence which faced him some two miles distant, and said tranquilly, "There is our battle-ground."
"Is that the enemy's position?" returned Captain Ives, his Adjutant-General. "We shall have a tough job if we go at it from here."
Waldron remained in deep thought for some minutes, meanwhile scanning the ridge and all its surroundings.
"What I want to know," he observed, at last, "is whether they have occupied the wooded knolls in front of their right and around their right flank."
Shortly afterward the commander of the scouting squadron came riding back at a furious pace.
"They are on the hill, Colonel," he shouted.
"Yes, of course," nodded Waldron; "but have they occupied the woods which veil their right front and flank?"
"Not a bit of it; my fellows have cantered all through, and up to the base of the hill."
"Ah!" exclaimed the brigade commander, with a rush of elation. "Then it will be easy work. Go back, Captain, and scatter your men through the wood, and hold it, if possible. Adjutant, call up the regimental commanders at once. I want them to understand my plan fully."
In a few minutes Gahogan, of the Tenth; Gildersleeve, of the Fourteenth; Peck, of the First; Thomas, of the Seventh; Taylor, of the Eighth, and Colburn, of the Fifth, were gathered around their commander. There, too, was Bradley, the boyish, red-cheeked chief of the artillery; and Stilton, the rough, old, bearded regular, who headed the cavalry. The staff was at hand, also, including Fitz Hugh, who sat his horse a little apart, downcast and sombre and silent, but nevertheless keenly interested. It is worthy of remark, by the way, that Waldron took no special note of him, and did not seem conscious of any disturbing presence. Evil as the man may have been, he was a thoroughly good soldier, and just now he thought but of his duties.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I want you to see your field of battle. The enemy occupy that long ridge. How shall we reach it?"
"I think, if we go at it straight from here, we shan't miss it," promptly judged Old Grumps, his red-oak countenance admirably cheerful and hopeful, and his jealousy all dissolved in the interest of approaching combat.
"Nor they won't miss us nuther," laughed Major Gahogan. "Betther slide our infantree into thim wuds, push up our skirmishers, play away wid our guns for an hour, an' thin rowl in a couple o' col'ms."
There was a general murmur of approval. The limits of volunteer invention in tactics had been reached by Gahogan. The other regimental commanders looked upon him as their superior in the art of war.
"That would be well, Major, if we could do nothing better," said Waldron. "But I do not feel obliged to attack the front seriously at all. The rebels have been thoughtless enough to leave that long semicircle of wooded knolls unoccupied, even by scouts. It stretches from the front of their centre clear around their right flank. I shall use it as a veil to cover us while we get into position. I shall throw out a regiment, a battery, and five companies of cavalry, to make a feint against their centre and left. With the remainder of the brigade I shall skirt the woods, double around the right of the position, and close in upon it front and rear."
"Loike scissors blades upon a snip o' paper," shouted Gahogan, in delight. Then he turned to Fitz Hugh, who happened to be nearest him, and added, "I tell ye he's got the God o' War in um. He's the burrnin' bussh of humanity, wid a God o' Battles inside on't."
"But how if they come down on our thin right wing?" asked a cautious officer, Taylor, of the Eighth. "They might smash it and seize our line of retreat."
"Men who have taken up a strong position, a position obviously chosen for defense, rarely quit it promptly for an attack," replied Waldron. "There is not one chance in ten that these gentlemen will make a considerable forward movement early in the fight. Only the greatest geniuses jump from the defensive to the offensive. Besides, we must hold the wood. So long as we hold the wood in front of their centre we save the road."
Then came personal and detailed instructions. Each regimental commander was told whither he should march, the point where he should halt to form line, and the direction by which he should attack. The mass of the command was to advance in marching column toward a knoll where the highway entered and traversed the wood. Some time before reaching it Taylor was to deploy the Eighth to the right, throw out a strong skirmish line and open fire on the enemy's centre and left, supported by the battery of Parrotts, and, if pushed, by five companies of cavalry. The remaining troops would reach the knoll, file to the left under cover of the forest, skirt it for a mile as rapidly as possible, enfold the right of the Confederate position, and then move upon it concentrically. Counting from the left, the Tenth, the Seventh, and the Fourteenth were to constitute the first line of battle, while five companies of cavalry, then the First, and then the Fifth formed the second line. Not until Gahogan might have time to wind into the enemy's right rear should Gildersleeve move out of the wood and commence the real attack.
"You will go straight at the front of their right," said Waldron, with a gay smile, to this latter Colonel. "Send up two companies as skirmishers. The moment they are clearly checked, lead up the other eight in line. It will be rough work. But keep pushing. You won't have fifteen minutes of it before Thomas, on your left, will be climbing the end of the ridge to take the rebels in flank. In fifteen minutes more Gahogan will be running in on their backs. Of course they will try to change front and meet us. But they have extended their line a long way in order to cover the whole ridge. They will not be quick enough. We shall get hold of their right, and we shall roll them up. Then, Colonel Stilton, I shall expect to see the troopers jumping into the gaps and making prisoners."
"All right, Colonel," answered Stilton in that hoarse growl which is apt to mark the old cavalry officer. "Where shall we find you if we want a fresh order?"
"I shall be with Colburn, in rear of Gildersleeve. That is our centre. But never mind me; you know what the battle is to be, and you know how to fight it. The whole point with the infantry is to fold around the enemy's right, go in upon it concentrically, smash it, and roll up their line. The cavalry will watch against the infantry being flanked, and when the latter have seized the hill, will charge for prisoners. The artillery will reply to the enemy's guns with shell, and fire grape at any offensive demonstration. You all know your duties, now, gentlemen. Go to your commands, and march!"
The Colonels saluted and started off at a gallop. In a few minutes twenty-five hundred men were in simultaneous movement. Five companies of cavalry wheeled into column of companies, and advanced at a trot through the fields, seeking to gain the shelter of the forest. The six infantry regiments slid up alongside of each other, and pushed on in six parallel columns of march, two on the right of the road and four on the left. The artillery, which alone left the highway, followed at a distance of two or three hundred yards. The remaining cavalry made a wide detour to the right, as if to flank the enemy's left.
It was a mile and a quarter—it was a march of fully twenty minutes—to the edge of the woodland, the proposed cover of the column. Ten minutes before this point was reached a tiny puff of smoke showed on the brow of the hostile ridge; then, at an interval of several seconds, followed the sound of a distant explosion; then, almost immediately, came the screech of a rifled shell. Every man who heard it swiftly asked himself, "Will it strike me?" But even as the words were thought out it had passed, high in air, clean to the rear, and burst harmlessly. A few faces turned upward and a few eyes glanced backward, as if to see the invisible enemy. But there was no pause in the column; it flowed onward quietly, eagerly, and with business-like precision; it gave forth no sound but the trampling of feet and the muttering of the officers, "Steady, men! Forward, men."
The Confederates, however, had got their range. A half minute later four puffs of smoke dotted the ridge, and a flight of hoarse humming shrieks tore the air. A little aureole cracked and splintered over the First, followed by loud cries of anguish and a brief, slight confusion. The voice of an officer rose sharply out of the flurry, "Close up, Company A! Forward, men!" The battalion column resumed its even formation in an instant, and tramped unitedly onward, leaving behind it two quivering corpses and a wounded man who tottered rearward.
Then came more screeches, and a shell exploded over the high road, knocking a gunner lifeless from his carriage. The brigade commander glanced anxiously along his batteries, and addressed a few words to his chief of artillery. Presently the four Napoleons set forward at a gallop for the wood, while the four Parrotts wheeled to the right, deployed, and advanced across the fields, inclining toward the left of the enemy. Next, Taylor's regiment (the Eighth) halted, fronted, faced to the right, and filed off in column of march at a double-quick until it had gained the rear of the Parrotts, when it fronted again, and pushed on in support. A quarter of a mile further on these guns went into battery behind the brow of a little knoll, and opened fire. Four companies of the Eighth spread out to the right as skirmishers, and commenced stealing toward the ridge, from time to time measuring the distance with rifle-balls. The remainder of the regiment lay down in line between the Parrotts and the forest. Far away to the right, five companies of cavalry showed themselves, maneuvering as if they proposed to turn the left flank of the Southerners. The attack on this side was in form and in operation.
Meantime the Confederate fire had divided. Two guns pounded away at Taylor's feint, while two shelled the main column. The latter was struck repeatedly; more than twenty men dropped silent or groaning out of the hurrying files; but the survivors pushed on without faltering, and without even caring for the wounded. At last a broad belt of green branches rose between the regiments and the ridge; and the rebel gunners, unable to see their foe, dropped suddenly into silence.
Here it appeared that the road divided. The highway traversed the forest, mounted the slope beyond and dissected the enemy's position, while a branch road turned to the left and skirted the exterior of the long curve of wooded hillocks. At the fork the battery of Napoleons had halted, and there it was ordered to remain for the present in quiet. There, too, the Fourteenth filed in among the dense greenery, threw out two companies of skirmishers toward the ridge, and pushed slowly after them into the shadows.
"Get sight of the enemy at once!" was Waldron's last word to Gildersleeve. "If they move down the slope, drive them back. But don't commence your attack under half an hour."
Next he filed the Fifth into the thickets, saying to Colburn, "I want you to halt a hundred yards to the left and rear of Gildersleeve. Cover his flank if he is attacked; but otherwise lie quiet. As soon as he charges, move forward to the edge of the wood, and be ready to support him. But make no assault yourself until further orders."
The two next regiments—the Seventh and First—he placed in echelon, in like manner, a quarter of a mile further along. Then he galloped forward to the cavalry, and had a last word with Stilton. "You and Gahogan must take care of yourselves. Push on four or five hundred yards, and then face to the right. Whatever Gahogan finds let him go at it. If he can't shake it, help him. You two must reach the top of the ridge. Only, look out for your left flank. Keep a squadron or two in reserve on that side."
"Currnell, if we don't raich the top of the hill, it'll be because it hasn't got wan," answered Gahogan. Stilton only laughed and rode forward.
Waldron now returned toward the fork of the road. On the way he sent a staff officer to the Seventh with renewed orders to attack as soon as possible after Gildersleeve. Then another staff officer was hurried forward to Taylor with directions to push his feint strongly, and drive his skirmishers as far up the slope as they could get. A third staff officer set the Parrotts in rear of Taylor to firing with all their might. By the time that the commandant had returned to Colburn's ambushed ranks, no one was with him but his enemy, Fitz Hugh.
"You don't seem to trust me with duty, Colonel," said the young man.
"I shall use you only in case of extremity, Captain," replied Waldron. "We have business to settle to-morrow."
"I ask no favors on that account. I hope you will offer me none."
"In case of need I shall spare no one," declared Waldron.
Then he took out his watch, looked at it impatiently, put it to his ear, restored it to his pocket, and felt into an attitude of deep attention. Evidently his whole mind was on his battle, and he was waiting, watching, yearning for its outburst.
"If he wins this fight," thought Fitz Hugh, "how can I do him a harm? And yet," he added, "how can I help it?"
Minutes passed. Fitz Hugh tried to think of his injury, and to steel himself against his chief. But the roar of battle on the right, and the suspense and imminence of battle on the left, absorbed the attention of even this wounded and angry spirit, as, indeed, they might have absorbed that of any being not more or less than human. A private wrong, insupportable though it might be, seemed so small amid that deadly clamor and awful expectation! Moreover, the intellect which worked so calmly and vigorously by his side, and which alone of all things near appeared able to rule the coming crisis, began to dominate him, in spite of his sense of injury. A thought crossed him to the effect that the great among men are too valuable to be punished for their evil deeds. He turned to the absorbed brigade commander, now not only his ruler but even his protector, with a feeling that he must accord him a word of peace, a proffer in some form of possible forgiveness and friendship. But the man's face was clouded and stern with responsibility and authority. He seemed at that moment too lofty to be approached with a message of pardon. Fitz Hugh gazed at him with a mixture of profound respect and smothered hate. He gazed, turned away, and remained silent.
Minutes more passed. Then a mounted orderly dashed up at full speed, with the words, "Colonel Major Gahogan has fronted."
"Has he?" answered Waldron, with a smile which thanked the trooper and made him happy. "Ride on through the thicket here, my man, and tell Colonel Gildersleeve to push up his skirmishers."
With a thud of hoofs and a rustling of parting foliage the cavalryman disappeared amid the underwood. A minute or two later a thin, dropping rattle of musketry, five hundred yards or so to the front, announced that the sharpshooters of the Fourteenth were at work. Almost immediately there was an angry response, full of the threatenings and execution of death. Through the lofty leafage tore the screech of a shell, bursting with a sharp crash as it passed overhead, and scattering in humming slivers. Then came another, and another, and many more, chasing each other with hoarse hissings through the trembling air, a succession of flying serpents. The enemy doubtless believed that nearly the whole attacking force was massed in the wood around the road, and they had brought at least four guns to bear upon that point, and were working them with the utmost possible rapidity. Presently a large chestnut, not fifty yards from Fitz Hugh, was struck by a shot. The solid trunk, nearly three feet in diameter, parted asunder as if it were the brittlest of vegetable matter. The upper portion started aside with a monstrous groan, dropped in a standing posture to the earth, and then toppled slowly, sublimely prostrate, its branches crashing and all its leaves wailing. Ere long, a little further to the front, another Anak of the forest went down; and, mingled with the noise of its sylvan agony, there arose sharp cries of human suffering. Then Colonel Colburn, a broad-chested and ruddy man of thirty-five, with a look of indignant anxiety in his iron-gray eyes, rode up to the brigade commander.
"This is very annoying, Colonel," he said. "I am losing my men without using them. That last tree fell into my command."
"Are they firing toward our left?" asked Waldron.
"Not a shot."
"Very good," said the chief, with a sigh of contentment. "If we can only keep them occupied in this direction! By the way, let your men lie down under the fallen tree, as far as it will go. It will protect them from others."
Colburn rode back to his regiment. Waldron looked impatiently at his watch. At that moment a fierce burst of line firing arose in front, followed and almost overborne by a long-drawn yell, the scream of charging men. Waldron put up his watch, glanced excitedly at Fitz Hugh, and smiled.
"I must forgive or forget," the latter could not help saying to himself. "All the rest of life is nothing compared with this."
"Captain," said Waldron, "ride off to the left at full speed. As soon as you hear firing at the shoulder of the ridge, return instantly and let me know."
Fitz Hugh dashed away. Three minutes carried him into perfect peace, beyond the whistling of ball or the screeching of shell. On the right was a tranquil, wide waving of foliage, and on the left a serene landscape of cultivated fields, with here and there an embowered farm-house. Only for the clamor of artillery and musketry far behind him, he could not have believed in the near presence of battle, of blood and suffering and triumphant death. But suddenly he heard to his right, assaulting and slaughtering the tranquillity of nature, a tumultuous outbreak of file-firing, mingled with savage yells. He wheeled, drove spurs into his horse, and flew back to Waldron. As he re-entered the wood he met wounded men streaming through it, a few marching alertly upright, many more crouching and groaning, some clinging to their less injured comrades, but all haggard in face and ghastly.
"Are we winning?" he hastily asked of one man who held up a hand with three fingers gone and the bones projecting in sharp spikes through mangled flesh.
"All right, Sir; sailing in," was the answer.
"Is the brigade commander all right?" he inquired of another who was winding a bloody handkerchief around his arm.
"Straight ahead, Sir; hurrah for Waldron!" responded the soldier, and almost in the same instant fell lifeless with a fresh ball through his head.
"Hurrah for him!" Fitz Hugh answered frantically, plunging on through the underwood. He found Waldron with Colburn, the two conversing tranquilly in their saddles amid hissing bullets and dropping branches.
"Move your regiment forward now," the brigade commander was saying; "but halt it in the edge of the wood."
"Shan't I relieve Gildersleeve if he gets beaten?" asked the subordinate officer eagerly.
"No. The regiments on the left will help him out. I want your men and Peck's for the fight on top of the hill. Of course the rebels will try to retake it; then I shall call for you."
Fitz Hugh now approached and said, "Colonel, the Seventh has attacked in force."
"Good!" answered Waldron, with that sweet smile of his which thanked people who brought him pleasant news. "I thought I heard his fire. Gahogan will be on their right rear in ten minutes. Then we shall get the ridge. Ride back now to Major Bradley, and tell him to bring his Napoleons through the wood, and set two of them to shelling the enemy's centre. Tell him my idea is to amuse them, and keep them from changing front."
Again Fitz Hugh galloped off as before on a comfortably safe errand, safer at all events than many errands of that day. "This man is sparing my life," he said to himself. "Would to God I knew how to spare his!"
He found Bradley lunching on a gun caisson, and delivered his orders. "Something to do at last, eh?" laughed the rosy-cheeked youngster. "The smallest favors thankfully received. Won't you take a bite of rebel chicken, Captain? This rebellion must be put down. No? Well, tell the Colonel I am moving on, and John Brown's soul not far ahead."
When Fitz Hugh returned to Waldron he found him outside of the wood, at the base of the long incline which rose into the rebel position. About the slope were scattered prostrate forms, most numerous near the bottom, some crawling slowly rearward, some quiescent. Under the brow of the ridge, decimated and broken into a mere skirmish line sheltered in knots and, singly, behind rocks and knolls and bushes, lay the Fourteenth Regiment, keeping up a steady, slow fire. From the edge above, smokily dim against a pure, blue heaven, answered another rattle of musketry, incessant, obstinate, and spiteful. The combatants on both sides were lying down; otherwise neither party could have lasted ten minutes. From Fitz Hugh's point of view not a Confederate uniform could be seen. But the smoke of their rifles made a long gray line, which was disagreeably visible and permanent; and the sharp whit! whit! of their bullets continually passed him, and cheeped away in the leafage behind.
"Our men can't get on another inch," he ventured to say to his commander. "Wouldn't it be well for me to ride up and say a cheering word?"
"Every battle consists largely in waiting," replied Waldron thoughtfully. "They have undoubtedly brought up a reserve to face Thomas. But when Gahogan strikes the flank of the reserve, we shall win."
"I wish you would take shelter," begged Fitz Hugh. "Everything depends on your life."
"My life has been both a help and a hurt to my fellow-creatures," sighed the brigade commander. "Let come what will to it."
He glanced upward with an expression of profound emotion; he was evidently fighting two battles, an outward and an inward one.
Presently he added, "I think the musketry is increasing on the left. Does it strike you so?"
He was all eagerness again, leaning forward with an air of earnest listening, his face deeply flushed and his eye brilliant. Of a sudden the combat above rose and swelled into higher violence. There was a clamor far away—it seemed nearly a mile away—over the hill. Then the nearer musketry, first Thomas' on the shoulder of the ridge, next Gildersleeve's in front, caught fire and raged with new fury.
Waldron laughed outright. "Gahogan has reached them," he said to one of his staff who had just rejoined him. "We shall all be up there in five minutes. Tell Colburn to bring on his regiment slowly."
Then, turning to Fitz Hugh, he added, "Captain, we will ride forward."
They set off at a walk, now watching the smoking brow of the eminence, now picking their way among dead and wounded. Suddenly there was a shout above them and a sudden diminution of the firing; and looking upward, they saw the men of the Fourteenth running confusedly toward the summit. Without a word the brigade commander struck spurs into his horse and dashed up the long slope at a run, closely followed by his enemy and aid. What they saw when they overtook the straggling, running, panting, screaming pell-mell of the Fourteenth was victory!
The entire right wing of the Confederates, attacked on three sides at once, placed at enormous disadvantage, completely outgeneraled, had given way in confusion, was retreating, breaking, and flying. There were lines yet of dirty gray or butternut; but they were few, meagre, fluctuating, and recoiling, and there were scattered and scurrying men in hundreds. Three veteran and gallant regiments had gone all to wreck under the shock of three similar regiments far more intelligently directed. A strong position had been lost because the heroes who held it could not perform the impossible feat of forming successively two fresh fronts under a concentric fire of musketry. The inferior brain power had confessed the superiority of the stronger one.
On the victorious side there was wild, clamorous, fierce exultation. The hurrying, shouting, firing soldiers, who noted their commander riding among them, swung their rifles or their tattered hats at him, and screamed "Hurrah!" No one thought of the Confederate dead under foot, nor of the Union dead who dotted the slope behind. "What are you here for, Colonel?" shouted rough old Gildersleeve, one leg of his trousers dripping blood. "We can do it alone."
"It is a battle won," laughed Fitz Hugh, almost worshipping the man whom he had come to slay.
"It is a battle won, but not used," answered Waldron. "We haven't a gun yet, nor a flag. Where is the cavalry? Why isn't Stilton here? He must have got afoul of the enemy's horse, and been obliged to beat it off. Can anybody hear anything of Stilton?"
"Let him go," roared old Grumps. "The infantry don't want any help."
"Your regiment has suffered, Colonel," answered Waldron, glancing at the scattered files of the Fourteenth. "Halt it and reorganize it, and let it fall in with the right of the First when Peck comes up. I shall replace you with the Fifth. Send your Adjutant back to Colburn and tell him to hurry along. Those fellows are making a new front over there," he added, pointing to the centre of the hill. "I want the Fifth, Seventh, and Tenth in echelon as quickly as possible. And I want that cavalry. Lieutenant," turning to one of his staff, "ride off to the left and find Colonel Stilton. Tell him that I need a charge in ten minutes."
Presently cannon opened from that part of the ridge still held by the Confederates, the shells tearing through or over the dissolving groups of their right wing, and cracking viciously above the heads of the victorious Unionists. The explosions followed each other with stunning rapidity, and the shrill whirring of the splinters was ominous. Men began to fall again in the ranks or to drop out of them wounded. Of all this Waldron took no further note than to ride hastily to the brow of the ridge and look for his own artillery.
"See how he attinds to iverything himself," said Major Gahogan, who had cantered up to the side of Fitz Hugh. "It's just a matther of plain business, an' he looks after it loike a business man. Did ye see us, though, Captin, whin we come in on their right flank? By George, we murthered um. There's more'n a hundred lyin' in hapes back there. As for old Stilton, I just caught sight of um behind that wood to our left, an' he's makin' for the enemy's right rair. He'll have lots o' prisoners in half an hour."
When Waldron returned to the group he was told of his cavalry's whereabouts, and responded to the information with a smile of satisfaction.
"Bradley is hurrying up," he said, "and Taylor is pushing their left smartly. They will make one more tussle to recover their line of retreat; but we shall smash them from end to end and take every gun."
He galloped now to his infantry, and gave the word "Forward!" The three regiments which composed the echelon were the Fifth on the right, the Seventh fifty yards to the rear and left of the Fifth, the Tenth to the rear and left of the Seventh. It was behind the Fifth, that is the foremost battalion, that the brigade commander posted himself.
"Do you mean to stay here, Colonel?" asked Fitz Hugh, in surprise and anxiety.
"It is a certain victory now," answered Waldron, with a singular glance upward. "My life is no longer important. I prefer to do my duty to the utmost in the sight of all men."
"I shall follow you and do mine, Sir," said the Captain, much moved, he could scarcely say by what emotions, they were so many and conflicting.
"I want you other wheres. Ride to Colonel Taylor at once, and hurry him up the hill. Tell him the enemy have greatly weakened their left. Tell him to push up everything, infantry, and cavalry, and artillery, and to do it in haste."
"Colonel, this is saving my life against my will," remonstrated Fitz Hugh.
"Go!" ordered Waldron, imperiously. "Time is precious."
Fitz Hugh dashed down the slope to the right at a gallop. The brigade commander turned tranquilly, and followed the march of his echelon. The second and decisive crisis of the little battle was approaching, and to understand it we must glance at the ground on which it was to be fought. Two hostile lines were marching toward each other along the broad, gently rounded crest of the hill and at right angles to its general course. Between these lines, but much the nearest to the Union troops, a spacious road came up out of the forest in front, crossed the ridge, swept down the smooth decline in rear, and led to a single wooden bridge over a narrow but deep rivulet. On either hand the road was hedged in by a close board fence, four feet or so in height. It was for the possession of this highway that the approaching lines were about to shed their blood. If the Confederates failed to win it, all their artillery would be lost, and their army captured or dispersed.
The two parties came on without firing. The soldiers on both sides were veterans, cool, obedient to orders, intelligent through long service, and able to reserve all their resources for a short-range and final struggle. Moreover, the fences as yet partially hid them from each other, and would have rendered all aim for the present vague and uncertain.
"Forward, Fifth!" shouted Waldron. "Steady. Reserve your fire." Then, as the regiment came up to the fence, he added, "Halt; right dress. Steady, men."
Meantime he watched the advancing array with an eager gaze. It was a noble sight, full of moral sublimity, and worthy of all admiration. The long, lean, sunburned, weather-beaten soldiers in ragged gray stepped forward, superbly, their ranks loose, but swift and firm, the men leaning forward in their haste, their tattered slouch hats pushed backward, their whole aspect business-like and virile. Their line was three battalions strong, far outflanking the Fifth, and at least equal to the entire echelon. When within thirty or forty yards of the further fence they increased their pace to nearly a double-quick, many of them stooping low in hunter fashion, and a few firing. Then Waldron rose in his stirrups and yelled, "Battalion! ready—aim—aim low. Fire!"
There was a stunning roar of three hundred and fifty rifles, and a deadly screech of bullets. But the smoke rolled out, the haste to reload was intense, and none could mark what execution was done. Whatever the Confederates may have suffered, they bore up under the volley, and they came on. In another minute each of those fences, not more than twenty-five yards apart, was lined by the shattered fragment of a regiment, each firing as fast as possible into the face of the other. The Fifth bled fearfully: it had five of its ten company commanders shot dead in three minutes; and its loss in other officers and in men fell scarcely short of this terrible ratio. On its left the Seventh and the Tenth were up, pouring in musketry, and receiving it in a fashion hardly less sanguinary. No one present had ever seen, or ever afterward saw, such another close and deadly contest.
But the strangest thing in this whole wonderful fight was the conduct of the brigade commander. Up and down the rear of the lacerated Fifth Waldron rode thrice, spurring his plunging and wounded horse close to the yelling and fighting file-closers, and shouting in a piercing voice encouragement to his men. Stranger still, considering the character which he had borne in the army, and considering the evil deed for which he was to account on the morrow, were the words which he was distinctly and repeatedly heard to utter. "Stand steady, men—God is with us!" was the extraordinary battle-cry of this backslidden clergyman, this sinner above many.
And it was a prophecy of victory. Bradley ran up his Napoleons on the right in the nick of time, and, although only one of them could be brought to bear, it was enough; the grape raked the Confederate left, broke it, and the battle was over. In five minutes more their whole array was scattered, and the entire position open to galloping cavalry, seizing guns, standards, and prisoners.
It was in the very moment of triumph, just as the stubborn Southern line reeled back from the fence in isolated clusters, that the miraculous impunity of Waldron terminated, and he received his death wound. A quarter of an hour later Fitz Hugh found a sorrowful group of officers gazing from a little distance upon their dying commander.
"Is the Colonel hit?" he asked, shocked and grieved, incredible as the emotion may seem.
"Don't go near him," called Gildersleeve, who, it will be remembered, knew or guessed his errand in camp. "The Chaplain and surgeon are there. Let him alone."
"He's going to render his account," added Gahogan. "An' whativer he's done wrong, he's made it square to-day. Let um lave it to his brigade."
Adjutant Wallis, who had been blubbering aloud, who had cursed the rebels and the luck energetically, and who had also been trying to pray inwardly, groaned out, "This is our last victory. You see if it ain't. Bet you two to one."
"Hush, man!" replied Gahogan. "We'll win our share of um, though we'll have to work harder for it. We'll have to do more ourselves, an' get less done for us in the way of tactics."
"That so, Major," whimpered a drummer, looking up from his duty of attending to a wounded comrade. "He knowed how to put his men in the right place, and his men knowed when they was in the right place. But it's goin' to be uphill through the steepest part of hell the rest of the way."
Soldiers, some of them weeping, some of them bleeding, arrived constantly to inquire after their commander, only to be sent quietly back to their ranks or to the rear. Around lay other men—dead men, and senseless, groaning men—all for the present unnoticed. Everything, except the distant pursuit of the cavalry, waited for Waldron to die. Fitz Hugh looked on silently, with the tears of mingled emotions in his eyes, and with hopes and hatreds expiring in his heart. The surgeon supported the expiring victor's head, while Chaplain Colquhoun knelt beside him, holding his hand and praying audibly. Of a sudden the petition ceased, both bent hastily toward the wounded man, and after what seemed a long time exchanged whispers. Then the Chaplain rose, came slowly toward the now advancing group of officers, his hands outspread toward heaven in an attitude of benediction, and tears running down his haggard white face.
"I trust, dear friends," he said, in a tremulous voice, "that all is well with our brother and commander. His last words were, 'God is with us.'"
"Oh! but, man, that isn't well," broke out Gahogan, in a groan. "What did ye pray for his sowl for? Why didn't ye pray for his loife?"
Fitz Hugh turned his horse and rode silently away. The next day he was seen journeying rearward by the side of an ambulance, within which lay what seemed a strangely delicate boy, insensible, and, one would say, mortally ill.
AN ATTENUATED YARN SPUN BY THE FATES.
BY HENRY A. BEERS
Century Magazine, June, 1883.
It was the evening of Commencement Day. The old church on the green, which had rung for many consecutive hours with the eloquence of slim young gentlemen in evening dress, exhorting the Scholar in Politics or denouncing the Gross Materialism of the Age, was at last empty and still. As it drew the dewy shadows softly about its eaves and filled its rasped interior with soothing darkness, it bore a whimsical likeness to some aged horse which, having been pestered all day with flies, was now feeding in peace along the dim pasture.
It was Clay who suggested this resemblance, and we all laughed appreciatively, as we used to do in those days at Clay's clever sayings. There were five of us strolling down the diagonal walk to our farewell supper at "Ambrose's." Arrived at that refectory, we found it bare of guests and had things quite to ourselves. After supper, we took our coffee out in the little court-yard, where a fountain dribbled, and the flutter of the grape-leaves on the trellises in the night wind invited to confidences.
"Well, Armstrong," began Doddridge, "where are you going to spend the vacation?"
"Vacation!" answered Armstrong; "vacations are over for me."
"You're not going to work for your living at once?" inquired Berkeley.
"I'm going to work to-morrow," replied Armstrong, emphatically: "I'm going down to New York to enter a law office."
"I thought you had some notion of staying here and taking a course of graduate study."
"No, sir! The sooner a man gets into harness, the better. I've wasted enough time in the last four years. The longer a man loafs around in this old place, under pretense of reading and that kind of thing, the harder it is for him to take hold."
Armstrong was a rosy little man, with yellow hair and light eyes. His expression was one of irresolute good nature. His temper was sanguine and expansive, and he had been noted in college for anything but concentration of pursuit. He was gregarious in his habits, susceptible and subject to sudden enthusiasms. His good nature made him a victim to all the bores and idlers in the class, and his room became a favorite resort for men on their way to recitation, being on the ground floor and near the lecture-rooms. They would drop in about half an hour before the bell rang, and make up a little game of "penny ante" around Armstrong's center-table. In these diversions he seldom took part, as he had given it out publicly that he was "studying for a stand"; but his abstinence from the game in no wise damped the spirits of his guests. Occasionally his presence would receive the notice of the company somewhat as follows:
No. 1. "Make less noise, fellows: Charley is digging out that Puckle lesson."
No. 2. "You go into the bedroom, Charley, and shut the door, and then you won't be bothered by the racket."
No. 3. "Oh, hang the Puckle! Come and take a hand, Charley. We'll let you in this pool without an ante."
No. 4. "Why don't you get a new pack of cards, Charley? It's a disgrace to you to keep such a dirty lot of old pasteboards for your friends."
In face of which abuse, Armstrong was as helpless as Telemachus under the visitation of the suitors. The resolute air with which he now declared his intention of grappling with life had therefore something comic about it, and Berkeley said, rather incredulously:
"I suppose you'll keep up your reading along with your law?"
"No," replied the other; "Themis is a jealous mistress. No; I'm going to bone right down to it."
"Haven't you changed your ideal of life lately?" asked Clay, a little scornfully.
"Perhaps I have," said Armstrong, "perhaps I've had to."
"What is your ideal of life?" I inquired.
"Well, I'll tell you," he answered, draining his coffee-cup solemnly, and putting it down with the manner of a man who has made up his mind. The rest of us arranged ourselves in attitudes of attention. "My ideal is independence," began Armstrong. "I want to live my own life; and as the first condition of independence is money, I'm going for money. Culture and taste, and all that, are well enough when a man can afford it, but for a poor man it means just so many additional wants which he can't gratify. My father is an educated man; a country minister with a small salary and a large family; and his education, instead of being a blessing, has been an actual curse to him. He has pined for all sorts of things which he couldn't have—books, engravings, foreign travel, leisure for study, nice people and nice things about him. I've made up my mind that, whatever else I may be, I won't be poor, and I won't be a minister, and I won't have a wife and brats hanging to me. I tell you that, next to ill health, poverty is the worst thing that can happen to a man. All the sentimental grievances that are represented in novels and poetry as the deepest of human afflictions,—disappointed ambitions, death of friends, loss of faith, estrangements, having your girl go back on you,—they don't signify very long if a man has sound health and a full purse. The ministers and novel writers and fellows that preach the sentimental view of life don't believe it themselves. It's a kind of professional or literary quackery with them. Just let them feel the pinch of poverty, and then offer them a higher salary or a chance to make a little 'sordid gain' in some way, and see how quick they'll accept the call to 'a higher sphere of usefulness.' Berk, hand over a match, will you; this cigar has gone out."
"Loud cries of 'We will—we will'!" said Berkeley. "But can it be? Has the poick turned cynic, and the sickly sentimentalist become a materialist and a misogynist?"
(Armstrong was our class poet, and had worried the official muse on Presentation Day to the utterance of some four hundred lines filled with allusions to Alma Mater, Friendship's Altar, the Elms of Yale, etc. His piece on that occasion had been "pronounced, by a well-known literary gentleman who was present, equal to the finest productions of our own Willis.")
"I'll bet the cigars," said Doddridge, "that Armstrong marries the first girl he sees in New York."
"Yes," said Clay, "his boarding-house keeper's daughter."
"And has a dozen children before he is forty," added Berkeley; "a dozen kids, and all of them girls. Charley is sure to be a begetter of wenches."
"And writes birthday odes 'To My Infant Daughter' for the 'Home Journal,'" continued Clay.
"No, no," said the victim of this banter, shaking his head solemnly. "I shall give no hostages to Fortune. I mean to live snug and carry as little sail as possible: to leave only the narrowest margin out for Fate to tread on. The man who has the fewest exposed points leads, on the whole, the happiest life. How can a man enjoy himself freely when a piece of defective plumbing, the bursting of a toy pistol, the carelessness of a nurse, may plunge him into a life-long sorrow? I don't say it's a very noble life that I propose to myself, but it's a safe one. I'm too nervous and anxious to stand the responsibilities of matrimony."
"If you can't stand responsibility," said Doddridge, "I don't see why you choose the law for a profession. You don't seem to me cut out for a lawyer anyway. I always thought you meant to be some kind of a literary chap."
"Yes," said Berkeley, "why don't you go for a snug berth under the government, or study for a tutorship here? That's the life that would suit you, old man."
"Not at all," answered Armstrong; "I have a horror of any salaried position, or of any position where a man is obliged to conform his habits and opinions to other people's. It is the worst sort of dependence. Now a lawyer in successful practice, and especially if he is a bachelor, is about as independent as a man can be. His relations with his clients are merely professional, and what he does or thinks privately is nobody's business."
"If you are going to be a mere lawyer," asked Clay, "what becomes of your education and your intellectual satisfactions, etc.?"
"A man can get his best intellectual satisfactions out of the work of his profession," answered Armstrong. "Besides, as to that, there's time enough. Fifteen years of solid work will enable one to put by a fair competence, if he lives carefully and has no one but himself to support; and then he will be free to take up a hobby. Oh, I shall cultivate a hobby or two after awhile. It keeps the mind healthy to have some interest of the kind outside of one's business. I may take to book-collecting or numismatics or raising orchids. Perhaps I may become an authority on ancient armor; time enough for that by and by. And then I can cut over to Europe every summer if I like, and no one to interfere with my down-sittings or my up-risings, my goings-out or my comings-in. Do you know," he went on, after a pause, "how I always look to myself in the glass of the future? I figure myself like old Tulkinghorn, in 'Bleak House,'—going down into his reverberating vaults for a bottle of choice vintage, after the work of the day, and then sitting quietly in the twilight in his dusky, old-fashioned law chambers, sipping his wine while the room fills with the fragrance of southern grapes. The gay old silver-top!"
There was silence for a few minutes after Armstrong had finished his declaration. It was broken by Berkeley, who had risen, and was walking up and down in front of the fountain with his hands thrust into his pockets.
"You couldn't lead that sort of life if you tried," he said; "you aren't built for it."
"Don't you make any mistake," rejoined the other; "it's the sort of life I'm going to live."
"It's a cowardly life," retorted Berkeley.
"Did I say it wasn't? I said it was safe. You can call it what you like."
"Well," replied Berkeley, seating himself again, "my ideal career is just the opposite of that."
"Suppose you explain yours, then," said Armstrong.
Berkeley hesitated a few moments before beginning. He was a lean, tallish fellow, with a Scotch cast of countenance, a small blue eye, high cheek bones, a freckled skin, and whity-brown hair. He had a dry, cautious humor, fed by much out-of-the-way reading. He had been distinguished in college by methodical habits, a want of ambition, a disposition to keep to himself, and a mixture of selfishness and bonhomie which made him a cold friend but an agreeable companion. It was therefore with some surprise that we heard him deliver himself as follows:
"I believe that the greatest mistake a man can make is in not getting enough out of life. I want to lead a full life, to have a wide experience, to develop my whole nature to the utmost, to touch mankind at the largest possible number of points. I want adventure, change, excitement, emotion, suffering even,—I don't care what, so long as it is not stagnation. Just consider what there is on this planet to be seen, learned, enjoyed, and what a miserably small share of it most people appropriate. Why, there are men in my village who have never been outside the county and seldom out of the township; who have never heard a word of any language but English; never seen a city or a mountain or the ocean—or, indeed, any body of water bigger than Fresh Pond or the Hogganum River; never been in a theatre, steamboat, library, or cathedral. Cathedral! Their conception of a church is limited to the white wooden meeting-house at 'the center.' Their art-gallery is the wagon of a travelling photographer. Their metropolitan hotel is the stoop and bar-room of the 'Uncas House.' Their university is the unpainted school-house on the hill. Their literature is the weekly newspaper from the county town. But take the majority of educated men even. What a rusty, small kind of existence they lead! They are in a rut, just the same as the others, only the rut is a trifle wider. If I had my way I would never do the same work or talk with the same people—hardly live in the same place for two days running. Life is too short to do a thing twice. When I come to the end of mine I don't want to say J'ai manque la vie; but make my brag, with the Wife of Bath,
'Unto this day it doth myn herte bote That I have had my world as in my time.'"
"Well, how are you going to do all those fine things?" inquired Armstrong. "For instance, that about not living in one place two days running. I'm afraid you'll find that inconvenient, not to say expensive."
"Oh, you mustn't take me too literally. I may have to travel on foot or take a steerage passage, but I shall keep going all the same. I haven't made any definite plans yet. I shall probably strike for something in the diplomatic line,—secretary of legation, or some small consulship perhaps. But the principle is the main thing, and the principle is: Don't do anything because it's the nearest and easiest and most obvious thing to do, but make up your mind to get the best. Look at the lazy way in which men accept their circumstances. There is the matter of acquaintance, for instance—we let chance determine it. We know the men that we can't help knowing,—the ones in the next house, cousins and second cousins, business connections, etc. Here at college, now, we get acquainted with the fellows at the eating club or in the same society, or those who happen to sit next us in the class-room, because their names begin with the same letter. That's it; it's just a sample of our whole life. Our friendships, like everything else about us, are determined by the alphabet. We go with the Z's because some arbitrary system of classification has put us among them, instead of fighting our way up to the A's, where we naturally belong. The consequence is that one's friends are mostly dreadful bores."
"I'm sure we are all much obliged to you," murmured Clay, parenthetically.
"There are about two or three thousand people in the world," continued Berkeley, "supremely worth knowing. Why shouldn't I know them?—— I will! Everybody knows two or three thousand people,—mostly very stupid people,—or, rather, he lets them know him. Why shouldn't he use some choice in the matter? Why not know Thackeray and Carlyle, Lord Palmerston and the Pope, and the Emperor of China and all the great statesmen, authors, African explorers, military commanders, artists, hereditary nobles, actresses, wits and belles of the best society, instead of putting up with Tom, Dick, and Harry?"
"Berkeley, 'with whom the bell-mouthed flask had wrought!'" exclaimed Clay. "Decidedly, Berk, you should take your coffee without cognac."
"Let me suggest," put in Doddridge, "that some of those parties you mentioned are not so easy to get introductions to."
"Oh, I say again, you mustn't take me too literally. But even the top swells are easier to know than you think. All that is wanted is a little cheek. But take it in a smaller way; say that we resolve to cultivate the best society within our reach. Doubtless there are numbers of interesting and distinguished people right here in New Haven whose acquaintance it would be worth while to have. But how long would you beggars live here without making the least effort to look them out, and meanwhile put up with the same old every-day bores—like me, or Polisson here? And it's the same way with marriage. A fellow blunders into matrimony with the first attractive girl that gives him the opportunity. He knows, if he takes the time to think about it, that there are a thousand others better than she, if he will wait and look through the world a little. 'Juxtaposition in fine,' as Clough says."
"Of course, with such a brilliant destiny before you, you'll never marry," said I.
"Yes, I think I shall. I fancy that the noblest possibilities of life are never realized without marriage. Yes, I can think of nothing finer than to have a lot of manly boys and sweet girls growing up around one. But when I marry it shall be so as to give completeness and expansion to life, not narrowness and dullness. I shall never marry and settle down. Settle down! What a damnable expression that is! A man ought to settle up. I mean to have my fling first, too. I should like to gamble a bit at Baden-Baden. I should like to go out to Colorado and have a lick at mining speculations. I want to rough it some too, and see how life is lived close to the bone: ship for a voyage before the mast; enlist for a campaign or two somewhere and have joy of battle; join the gypsies or the Mormons or the Shakers for awhile, and taste all the queerness of things. And then I want to float for another while on the very top-most crest of society. I want to fight a duel or two, elope with a marquise, do a little of everything for the experience's sake, as a man ought to take opium once in his life just to know how it feels."
Whether it was indeed the cognac, or only the unusual excitement attending this outburst of pent-up fire, Berkeley's cheek had got a flush upon it. Perhaps, too, it was owing to the influences of the day and the hour, the splash of the fountain, the rustle of the vine-leaves, and the wavering shadows which played about the court-yard as the gas-jets flickered in the breeze of night, that made his boastful words seem less extravagantly out of character than they otherwise would. The silence which followed his speech was broken by Clay, who sat with his foot on the rim of the fountain, balancing on the hind legs of his chair, and looking thoughtfully at the slender jet as it rose and fell. He still wore the dress suit in which he had figured on the Commencement platform in the afternoon, and which set off the aristocratic grace of his slight figure. There was a pale intellectual light in his face, and his black eyes had the glow of genius.
"I think," he began, "that Berkeley makes a mistake in confounding a full life with a restless one. I believe in a full experience too, but the satisfactions should be inward ones. Take the matter of foreign travel, for one thing, on which you lay so much stress. It is a great stimulus to the imagination, no doubt; but then foreign countries are accessible to the imagination by other means—through books and art, for example. I think it likely that the reality is, quite as often as not, disappointing. Place, after all, is indifferent. 'The soul is its own place': you can't get rid of yourself by going abroad, and it's himself that a man gets sooner tired of than of anything else. Then as to acquaintances, I don't know that I should care to know personally such men as Thackeray and Carlyle, and the big composers and artists and other people that you mentioned. It might be equally disenchanting. They put the best of themselves into their books, or pictures, or music. I certainly would not seek their society through a formal introduction, at all events. It is hard for a small man to keep his self-respect in face of a great man when he obtains his acquaintance as a special favor. If I could meet some of those fellows, quite naturally and accidentally, on equal terms, I might like it, but not otherwise. But, leaving that point out of account, I think that the career which Berkeley proposes to himself would turn out very hollow. It would result in the superficial gratification of the curiosity and the senses; and, as soon as the novelty got rubbed off, what is there left?"
"So then," said Berkeley, "you've swung into line with Armstrong, have you? You mean to plod along in some professional rut too. What has got into all our idealists?"
"Not by any means," answered Clay. "Armstrong talks about independence, and yet destines himself to the worst kind of dependence—slavery to money-getting. Most people, it seems to me, spend the best part of their lives not in living, but in getting the means to live. We'll give Armstrong, say twenty years, to lay up enough money to retire on and begin to live. What sort of a position will he be in then to enjoy his independence? His nature will have got so subdued to what it works in that the only safety for him will be to keep on at the law."
"All right! Then I'll keep on," interjected Armstrong.
"What the devil do you mean to do then?" asked Berkeley of Clay.
"I don't quite know yet," replied the latter. "I shall 'loaf and invite my soul' whenever I feel like it. I shall live as I go along, and not postpone it till I am forty. I sha'n't put myself into any mill that will grind me just so much a day. I need my leisure too badly for that. I presume I shall spend most of my time at first in reading and walking. Then, whenever I think of anything to write I shall write it, and if I can sell what I write to some publisher or other, so much the better. If not, go on as before."
"Meanwhile, where will your bread and butter come from?" asked Armstrong.
"Oh, I sha'n't starve. I can get some sort of hack work—something that won't take much of my time, and which I can do with my left hand. But the great point, after all, is to make your wants simple; to live like an Arab, content with a few dates and a swallow from the gourd. 'Lessen your denominator.' It's easier than raising your numerator, and the quotient is the same."
"No, it's not the same," Berkeley retorted. "Renunciation and enjoyment are not the same. It makes a heap of difference whether you have a thing or simply do without it. The plain living and high thinking philosophy may do for Clay, whose mind to him a kingdom is; but a fellow like me, whose mind is only a small Central American republic, can't live on the revenues of the spirit. The fact is, Clay, you've read too much Emerson. I went into that myself once, but I soon found out that it wouldn't wear. I want mine thicker. The worst thing about the career of a literary man or an artist is that if he fails there are no compensations; and success is mighty uncertain. Nobody doubts that you are smart enough, Clay, and I am sure we expect great things of you, whatever line you take up. But, for the sake of the argument, suppose you have grubbed along in a small way, living on crusts and water, till you are fifty, without doing any really good work. Then where are you? You haven't had any fun. You've no other string to your bow. You haven't that practical experience of the world which would enable you to turn your hand to something else. You have no influence or reputation; for, of all poor things, poor art of any kind is the worst—hateful to gods and men and columns. In short, where are you? You're out of the dance; you don't count."
"Yes," added Armstrong, "and you've no professional success or solid standing in the community; and, what's worse, you've no money, which might make up for the want of all the rest."
"I don't think you get my meaning. I may fail," said Clay, proudly; "I may never even try to succeed, in your sense of the word. I decline all mean competitions and all low views of success. The noblest ideal of life—at least, the noblest to me—is self-culture in the high meaning of the word; the harmonious development of one's whole nature. Armstrong has drawn a picture of his future in the likeness of old Tulkinghorn. I suppose we are all accustomed to put our anticipations into some such concrete shape before our mind's eye. The typical situation which I am fond of imagining is something like this: I like to fancy myself sitting in a dark old upper room in some remote farm-house, at the close of a winter day, after three or four hours of steady reading or writing. The room is full of books—the best books. There is a little fire on the hearth, there is a dingy curtain at the window. It is solitary and still, and when the light gets too scant to let me read any more, I fill my pipe, and go and stand in the window. Outside, there is a row of leafless elms, and beyond that a dim, wide landscape of lakes and hills, and beyond that a red, windy sunset. I can sit in that window and smoke my pipe and have my own thoughts till the hills grow black. There is no one to say to me 'Go' or 'Come'; no patient to visit; no confounded case on the docket next morning at nine; no distasteful, mean, slavish job of any kind. How can I fail to have thoughts worth the thinking, and to live a rich and free life when I breathe every day the bracing air of nature and the great poets? Isn't such a life in itself the best kind of success, even if a man accomplishes nothing in particular that you can put your hand on?"
"Yes, I know," said Armstrong, taking a long breath. "I have felt that way too. But a man has got to put all that sternly behind him and do the world's work for the world's wages, if he means to amount to anything. It's only a finer kind of self-indulgence, after all—egoistic Hedonism and that sort of thing."
"It won't be all standing at windows and looking at sunsets," added Doddridge. "Has it ever occurred to you that, before entering on a life of self-denial and devotion to rather vague ideals, a man ought to be mighty sure of himself? Can you keep up the culture business without growing in on yourself unhealthily, and then getting sick of inaction? Don't you think there will be times of disappointment and doubt when you look around and see fellows without half your talents getting ahead of you in the world?"
"Of course," answered Clay, "I shall have to make sacrifices, and I shall have to stick to them when made. But there have always been plenty of people willing to make similar sacrifices for similar compensations. Men have gone out into the wilderness or shut themselves up in the cloister for opportunities of study or self-communion, or for other objects which were perhaps at bottom no more truly devotional than mine. Nowadays such opportunities may be had by any man who will keep himself free from the servitude of a bread-winning profession. It is not necessary now to cry Ecce in deserto or Ecce in penetralibus. Oh, I shall have my dark days; but whenever the blue devils get thick I shall take to the woods and return to sanity."
"You mean to live in the country, then?" I inquired.
"Yes; most of the time, at any rate. Nature is fully half of life to me."
Again there was a pause.
"Well, you next, Polisson," said Armstrong, finally. "Let's hear what your programme is."
"Oh, nothing in the least interesting," I replied. "My future is all cut and dried. I shall spend the next two years in the south of France—mainly at Lyons—to learn the details of the silk manufacture. Then I shall come home to go into my father's store for a year as a clerk in the importing department. At the close of that year the governor will take me in as junior partner, and I shall marry my second cousin. We shall live with my parents, and I am going to be very domestic, though, as a matter of form, I shall join one or two clubs. I shall go down town every morning at nine, and come up at five."
"Quite a neat little destiny," said Armstrong. "I wish I had your backing. Come, Dodd, what's yours? You're the only man left."
"I haven't made up my mind yet," said Doddridge, slowly.
He was a large, spare man, with a swarthy skin, a wide mouth, a dark, steady eye, and a long jaw. There was an appearance of power and will about him which was well borne out by his character. He had been a systematic though not a laborious student, and while maintaining a stand comfortably near the head of the class, had taken a course in the Law School during Senior year, doing his double duties with apparent ease. He was a constant speaker in the debates of the Linonian Society, and the few who attended the meetings of that moribund school of eloquence spoke of Doddridge's speeches as oases in the waste of forensic dispute, being always distinguished by vigor and soundness, though without any literary quality, such as Clay's occasional performances had. Berkeley, who covered his own lazy and miscellaneous reading with the mask of eclecticism, and proclaimed his disbelief in a prescribed course of study, was wont to say that Doddridge was the only man that he knew who was using the opportunities given by the college for all they were worth, and really getting out of "the old curric" that mental discipline which it professed to impart. Though rather taciturn, he was not unsocial, and was fond of his pipe in the evening. He liked a joke, especially if it was of a definite kind, and at some one's expense touching a characteristic weakness of the man. There was at bottom something a little hard about him, though every one agreed that he was a good fellow. We all felt sure that he would make a distinguished success in practical life; and we doubtless thought—if we thought about it at all—that with his clear foresight and habits of steady work, he had already decided upon his career. His words were therefore a surprise.