Variations in spelling and hyphenation have been made consistent.
A Romance of the Real Jefferson Davis
Illustrated by J. N. Marchand
BOOKS BY THOMAS DIXON
The Victim The Southerner The Sins of the Father The Leopard's Spots The Clansman The Traitor The One Woman Comrades The Root of Evil The Life Worth Living
"A majestic soul has passed"—Charles A. Dana
New York and London D. Appleton and Company 1914 Copyright, 1914, by Thomas Dixon All rights reserved, including that of translation into all foreign languages, including the Scandinavian Printed in the United States of America
TO THE BRAVE WHO DIED FOR WHAT THEY BELIEVED TO BE RIGHT
Fold up the banners! Smelt the guns! Love rules. Her gentle purpose runs. A mighty mother turns in tears The pages of her battle years Lamenting all her fallen sons!
TO THE READER
In the historical romance which I have woven of the dramatic events of the life of Jefferson Davis I have drawn his real character unobscured by passion or prejudice. Forced by his people to lead their cause, his genius created an engine of war so terrible in its power that through it five million Southerners, without money, without a market, without credit, withstood for four years the shock of twenty million men of their own blood and of equal daring, backed by boundless resources.
The achievement is without a parallel in history, and adds new glory to the records of our race.
The scenes have all been drawn from authentic records in my possession. I have not at any point taken a liberty with an essential detail of history.
I The Curtain Rises II The Parting III A Midnight Session IV A Friendly Warning V Boy and Girl VI God's Will VII The Best Man Wins VIII The Storm Center IX The Old Regime X The Gauge of Battle XI Jennie's Vision XII A Little Cloud XIII The Closing of the Ranks XIV Richmond in Gala Dress XV The House on Church Hill XVI The Flower-Decked Tent XVII The Fatal Victory XVIII The Aftermath XIX Socola's Problem XX The Anaconda XXI Gathering Clouds XXII Jennie's Recruit XXIII The Fatal Blunder XXIV The Sleeping Lioness XXV The Bombardment XXVI The Irreparable Loss XXVII The Light that Failed XXVIII The Snare of the Fowler XXIX The Panic in Richmond XXX The Deliverance XXXI Love and War XXXII The Path of Glory XXXIII The Accusation XXXIV The Turn of the Tide XXXV Suspicion XXXVI The Fatal Deed XXXVII The Raiders XXXVIII The Discovery XXXIX The Conspirators XL In Sight of Victory XLI The Fall of Richmond XLII The Capture XLIII The Victor XLIV Prison Bars XLV The Master Mind XLVI The Torture XLVII Vindication
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"The man in front gave a short laugh and advanced on the girl"
"'You have given me new eyes—'"
"'We have won, sir!' was the short curt answer"
"Dick saluted and sprang into the saddle—'I understand, sir'"
"Jennie thrust her trembling little figure between the two men and confronted Dick"
"'Do your duty—put them on him!'"
LEADING CHARACTERS OF THE STORY
Lt. Jefferson Davis, Of the U. S. Army. Joseph E. Davis, His Big Brother. Colonel Zachary Taylor, "Old Rough and Ready." Sarah Knox Taylor, His Daughter. James Pemberton, A Faithful Slave.
Hon. Roger Barton, An Original Secessionist. Jennie, His Daughter. Dick Welford, A Confederate Soldier. Joseph Holt, A Renegade Southerner. Henrico Socola, A Soldier of Fortune. The President, Of the Confederacy. Mrs. Davis, His Wife. Burton Harrison, His Secretary. Joseph E. Johnston, A Master of Retreat. P. G. T. Beauregard, The First Hero. Stonewall Jackson, Of the "Foot Cavalry." Robert E. Lee, The Southern Commander. U. S. Grant, The Bull Dog Fighter. Nelson A. Miles, A Jailer. John C. Underwood, A Reconstruction Judge.
The hot sun of the South was sinking in red glow through the giant tree-tops of a Mississippi forest beyond the village of Woodville. A slender girl stood in the pathway watching a boy of seven trudge manfully away beside his stalwart brother.
Her lips trembled and eyes filled with tears.
"Wait—wait!" she cried.
With a sudden bound she snatched him to her heart.
"Don't, Polly—you hurt!" the little fellow faltered, looking at her with a feeling of sudden fear. "Why did you squeeze me so hard?"
"You shouldn't have done that, honey," the big brother frowned.
"I know," the sister pleaded, "but I couldn't help it."
"What are you crying about?" the boy questioned.
Again the girl's arm stole around his neck.
"What's the matter with her, Big Brother?" he asked with a brave attempt at scorn.
The man slowly loosened the sister's arms.
"I'm just going home with you, ain't I?" the child went on, with a quiver in his voice.
The older brother led him to a fallen log, sat down, and held his hands.
"No, Boy," he said quietly. "I'd as well tell you the truth now. I'm going to send you to Kentucky to a wonderful school, taught by learned men from the Old World—wise monks who know everything. You want to go to a real school, don't you?"
"But my Mamma don't know—"
"That's just it, Boy. We can't tell her. She wouldn't let you go."
"Well, she's a good Baptist, and it's a long, long way to the St. Thomas monastery."
"A thousand miles, through these big woods—"
The blue eyes dimmed.
"I want to see my Mamma before I go—" his voice broke.
The man shook his head.
"No, Boy; it won't do. You're her baby—"
The dark head sank with a cry.
"I want to see her!"
"Come, come, Jeff Davis, you're going to be a soldier. Remember you're the son of a soldier who fought under General Washington and won our freedom. You're named after Thomas Jefferson, the great President. Your three brothers have just come home from New Orleans. Under Old Hickory we drove the British back into their ships and sent 'em flying home to England. The son of a soldier—the brother of soldiers—can't cry—"
"I will if I want to!"
"All right!" the man laughed—"I'll hold my hat and you can cry it full—"
He removed his hat and held it smilingly under the boy's firm little chin. The childish lips tightened and the cheeks flushed with anger. His bare toes began to dig holes in the soft rich earth. The appeal to his soldier blood had struck into the pride of his heart and the insult of a hat full of tears had hurt.
At last, he found his tongue:
"Does Pa know I'm goin'?"
"Yes. He thinks you're a very small boy to go so far, but knows it's for the best."
"That's why he kissed me when I left?"
"I thought it was funny," he murmured with a half sob; "he never kissed me before—"
"He's quiet and reserved, Boy, but he's wise and good and loves you. He's had a hard time out here in the wilderness fighting his way with a wife and ten children. He never had a chance to get an education and the children didn't either. Some of us are too old now. There's time for you. We're going to stand aside and let you pass. You're our baby brother, and we love you."
The child's hand slowly stole into the rough one of the man.
"And I love you, Big Brother—" the little voice faltered, "and all the others, too, and that's-why-I'm-not-goin'!"
"I'm so glad!" The girl clapped her hands and laughed.
"Well, I am, and I don't care what you say. He's too little to go so far and you know he is—"
The man grasped her hand and whispered:
The brother slipped his arm around the Boy and drew him on his knee. He waited a moment until the hard lines at the corners of the firm mouth had relaxed under the pressure of his caress, pushed the tangled hair back from his forehead and looked into the fine blue-gray eyes. His voice was tender and his speech slow.
"You must make up your mind to go, Boy. I don't want to force you. I like to see your eyes flash when you say you won't go. You've got the stuff in you that real men are made of. That's why it's worth while to send you. I've seen that since you could toddle about the house and stamp your feet when things didn't suit you. Now, listen to me. I've made a vow to God that you shall have as good a chance as any man to make your way to the top. We're going to be the greatest nation in the world. I saw it in the red flash of guns that day at New Orleans as I lay there in the trench and watched the long lines of Red Coats go down before us. Just a lot of raw recruits with old flintlocks! The men who charged us, the picked veterans of England's grand army. But we cut 'em to pieces, Boy! I fired a cannon loaded with grape shot that mowed a lane straight through 'em. It must have killed two hundred men. They burned our Capitol at Washington and the Federalist traitors at Hartford were firin' on us in the rear, but Old Hickory showed the world that we could lick England with one hand tied behind our back. And we did it. We drove 'em like sheep—drove 'em into the sea.
"There's but one name on every lip in this country now, Boy, and that's Old Hickory. He'd be President next time—but for one thing,—just one thing—he didn't have a chance to learn when he was a boy. He's not educated."
The brother paused, and a dreamy look came into his eyes. "We may make him President anyhow. But if he'd been educated—there wouldn't be any if or and about it. Washington and Jefferson and Madison belong to the rich and powerful class. Jackson is a yeoman like your father. But he'd be President. Boy, if he'd been educated! Nothing could stop him. Don't you see this is your country? This is a poor man's world. All you have to do is to train your mind. You've got to do this—you understand—you've got to do it—"
The man paused suddenly and looked into the Boy's wondering eyes. He had forgotten the child's rebellion. The young pioneer of the wilderness was talking to himself. Again he had seen a vision.
He seized the Boy's arms:
"Don't you see, Boy, don't you?"
The child's mouth hardened again:
"No, I don't. I'm just a little boy. I love my Mamma. She's good and sweet to me and I'm not going to leave her—"
Again Polly laughed.
A smile slowly played about the brother's lips and eyes. He must show his trump card.
"But you don't know what I've got for you—"
"Something you've always wanted to have for your own—"
The man slowly rose:
"Come out to the big road—"
The Boy seized his sister's hand:
"Polly, let's see!"
The girl's eyes grew dim:
"Oh, Jeff, I know you're goin'!"
"No—we'll just see what it is—come on!"
In five minutes they emerged from the deep woods into the clearing around a cabin. Beside the roadway stood a horse and pony, both bridled and saddled.
The swift feet of the Boy flew across the opening, the sister wide-eyed and trembling, close on his heels. He threw his arms around the pony's neck and stroked his head with gentle touch. The pony pressed his mouth against the Boy's cheek in friendly response.
"Did you see him kiss me, Polly?" he cried tremblingly.
"Yes, I saw him," was the solemn response.
"Isn't he a beauty? Look, Polly—he's got a white spot on every foot and one in his forehead and black as a coal all over—and Oh—what a saddle—a red belt and red martingales!"
He touched the saddle lovingly and circled the pony's neck with his arms.
The brother smiled again:
"Well, what do you think of that?"
The Boy was trembling now from head to foot, his heart in his throat as he slowly asked:
"You mean that—you'll—give—him—to me—for—all my own?"
"If you'll be a good boy, go to school and work hard—yes."
"All right, Big Brother," was the quick answer, "I'll go. Help me on him quick, and let me try him!"
The Boy lifted his bare foot into the strong hand, sprang into the saddle, bounded down the road, wheeled, flew back and leaped to the ground.
"He's a dandy!"
Polly dropped her head and started home, making a brave fight to keep back the tears. Half way across the clearing she gave up in a long pitiful wail.
The Boy, busy with his pony, had not missed her. In a moment he was by her side, his arms about her neck.
"Don't cry, Polly honey, I'll be back before long," he pleaded.
The only answer was a sob:
Her hands slowly slipped through his.
He watched her go with quivering lips, and as the little figure slowly faded into the shadows of the woods he called in broken accents:
"Kiss Mamma for me—and tell her I wanted to go back and say good-by—but Joe wouldn't let me!"
"And you—watch out for that old drunk man we saw once in the woods, Polly!"
"Don't let him get you—"
The last good-by stuck in the Boy's throat, but he lifted his blue eyes, saw his pony and smiled through the tears.
A journey of a thousand miles through the unbroken wilderness—the home of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian Nations and all on his own beautiful pony! It was no time for tears.
The Boy's soul leaped for joy.
The party was a delightful one. Major Hinds, a veteran of General Jackson's campaign, the commander of the famous Mississippi Dragoons at the battle of New Orleans, was the leader, accompanied by his wife, her sister and niece, and best of all a boy his own age, the Major's little son Howell.
Howell also was riding a pony. He was a nice enough pony, of course, as ponies went, but couldn't compare with his own. He made up his mind to race the first chance they got, and show those pretty white heels to his rival. He was just dying to tell him how fast they could beat the ground—but he'd wait and surprise the party.
A negro maid accompanied the ladies and a stalwart black man rode a pack-mule laden with tents, blankets and a cooking outfit. They stopped at houses when one could be reached at nightfall. If not, they camped in the woods beneath the towering trees. There was no need of the tents unless it rained. So dense was the foliage that only here and there a bright star peeped through, or a moonbeam shot its silvery thread to the ground. The Indians were all friendly. It was the boast of the Choctaws that no man of their breed had ever shed the blood of a white man.
For days they followed the course of the majestic river rolling its yellow flood to the sea and watched the lazy flat and keel boats drift slowly down to New Orleans bearing the wealth of the new Western World. The men who had manned these rude craft were slowly tramping on foot back to their homes in the North. Their boats could not stem the tide for the return trip. Every day they passed these weary walkers. The Boy was sorry they couldn't ride. His pony's step was so firm and quick and strong.
He raced with Howell the first day and beat him so far there was no fun in it. He never challenged his rival again. He was the guest of Major Hinds on this trip. It would be rude. But he slipped out in the dark that night, and hugged his pony:
"You're the finest horse that ever was!" he whispered.
"Of course I am!" the pony laughed.
"I love you—"
"And I love you," was the quick response as the warm nose touched his cheek.
In the second week, they reached the first stand, "Folsoms'," on the border of the Choctaw Nation. These stands were log cabins occupied by squaw men—whites who had married Indian women. They must pass three more of these stands the Major said—the "Leflores," known as the first and second French camps, and the one at the crossing of the Tennessee River, which had the unusual distinction of being kept by a half-breed Chickasaw Indian.
Here, weary, footsore travelers stopped to rest and refresh themselves—and many dropped and died miles from those they loved. The little graveyard with its rude, wooden-marked mounds the Boy saw with a dull ache in his heart.
And then the first bitter pang of homesickness came. He wondered if his sweet mother were well. He wondered what she said when they told her he had gone. He knew she had cried. What if she were dead and he could never see her again? He sat down on a log, buried his face in his hands and tried to cry the ache out of his heart. He felt that he must turn back or die. But it wouldn't do. He had promised his Big Brother. He rose, brushed the tears away, fed and watered his pony and tenderly rubbed down every inch of his beautiful black skin. He forgot the ache in his new-found love and the strength which had come into his boy's soul from the sense of kinship with Nature which this beautiful dumb four-footed friend had brought him. No man could be friendless or forsaken who possessed the love of a horse. His horse knew and loved him. He said it in a hundred ways. His wide, deep, lustrous eyes, shining with intelligence, had told him! So had the touch of his big warm mouth in many a friendly pony kiss. His pony could laugh, too. He had seen the smiles flicker about his mouth and eyes as he pretended to bite his bare legs. How could any human being be cruel or mean to a horse! His pony had given him new courage and conscious power. He was the master of Nature now when they flew along the trail through the deep woods. His horse had given him wings.
He looked up into the star-sown sky, and promised God to be kind and gentle to all the dumb world for the love of the beautiful friend He had given.
At the last stand on the banks of the winding Tennessee, the Major sat up late in eager discussion about Old Hickory with an enthusiastic Tennesseean. The ladies had retired, and the Boy listened with quiet eagerness to the talk.
"Waal, we're goin' ter make Andrew Jackson President anyhow, Major!" the Tennesseean drawled.
"I'm afraid they'll beat us," the Major answered, with a shake of his head.
"How'll they beat us when we git ready ter make the fight?"
"Old Hickory says himself, he ain't fit—"
"I reckon we know more about that than he does," persisted the man from Tennessee.
"The aristocrats don't think so—"
"What t'ell they got agin him? Ain't he the biggest man in this country to-day? Didn't he lick Spain and England both at Pensacola and didn't he finish the Red Coats at New Orleans—"
"They say his education's poor—"
"He knowed enough to make this country cock o' the walk—what more do they want—damn 'em!"
"They say he swears—"
The Tennesseean roared:
"Waal, if all the cussin' men vote fur him—he'll sho be elected!"
"The real trouble—" the Major said thoughtfully, "is what the scandal-mongers keep saying about his wife—"
"He's killed one son-of-a-gun about that already, an' they better let him alone—"
"That's just it, my friend: he killed that skunk in a duel and it's not the only one he has fought either. Old Hickory's got the temper of the devil."
"Waal, thar ain't nothin' in them lies about his wife—"
The Major lifted his hand and moved closer:
"There's just enough truth at the bottom of it all to give the liars the chance they need to talk forever—"
"I never knowed thar wuz ary grain er truth in hit, at all—"
"There is, though," the Major interrupted, "and that's where we're going to have a big fight on our hands when it comes to the rub. This Lewis Robards, her first husband, was a quarrelsome cuss. Every man that looked at his wife, he swore was after her, and if she lifted her eyes, he was sure she was guilty. There was no divorce law in Virginia and Robards petitioned the Legislature to pass an Act of Divorce in his favor. The dog swore in this petition that his wife had deserted him and was living with Andrew Jackson. He was boarding with her mother, the widow Donelson. The Legislature passed the Act, but it only authorized the Courts of the Territory of Kentucky to try the case, and grant the divorce if the facts were proven.
"Robards never went to Court with it for over two years, and Jackson, under the impression that the Legislature had given the divorce, married Rachel Robards at Natchez in August, 1791.
"Two years later, the skunk slips into Court and gets his divorce!
"As quick as Old Hickory heard this, he married her over again. There was a mighty hullabaloo kicked up about it by the politicians. They tried to run Jackson out of the country—the little pups who were afraid of him. He challenged the leader of this pack of hounds, and shot him dead—"
"Served him right, too," broke in the Tennesseean, removing his pipe, with a nod of his shaggy head.
"But it don't help him on the way to Washington!" The Major grunted, suddenly rising and dismissing the subject for the night.
The Boy's curiosity was kindled to see the great man whose name had filled the world.
The distance to Nashville was quickly covered. The Major pressed straight through the town without pause and drew rein at the General's gate.
The welcome they received from their distinguished host was so simple, so genuine, so real, the Boy's heart went out in loyal admiration.
The house was a big rambling structure of logs, in front of which stood a stately grove of magnificent forest trees. Behind it stretched the grain and cotton fields.
Nothing could surpass the unaffected and perfect courtesy with which the General welcomed his guests. The tall, stately figure, moving with the unconscious grace of perfect manhood, needed no rules of a dancing master for his guidance. He had sprung from the common people, but he was a born leader and ruler of men.
The Boy listened with keen ears to hear him rip out one of those terrible oaths of which so much had been said. His speech was gentle and kind, and he asked a blessing at every meal exactly as his own quiet, dignified father at home. In all the three weeks they remained his guests not an oath or an ugly word fell from his lips. The Boy wondered how people could tell such lies.
The General liked boys, too. It was easy to see that. He gave hours of his time to the games and sports of his adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr., and his two little guests. He got up contests of all sorts. They raced their ponies. They ran and jumped. They played marbles. They followed the hounds. And always with them as friend and counselor, the General, gentle, kind, considerate. The only thing he prohibited was wrestling.
"No, boys," he said with a frown. "That's not a good sport for high spirited youth. To feel the hand of a rival on your body may lead to a fight."
The deep set eyes flashed with the memory of his own hot blooded boyhood and young manhood.
The General's wife won the Boy's whole heart from the moment he saw her.
"How could they tell such lies!" he kept repeating with boyish indignation. Pure and sweet as the face of his own mother was hers. Loving, unselfish, tender and thoughtful, she moved through her house with the gentle step of a ministering angel. The knightly deference with which the General attended her slightest wish, stirred the Boy's imagination. He could see him standing erect, pistol in hand, in the gray dawn of the morning on which he faced the enemy who had slandered her. He could see the big firm hand grip the pistol's handle in a clasp of steel as he waited the signal of Death. He wondered what sort of wound Dickenson's bullet had made in the General's breast. Anyhow, it had not been fatal. His enemy lived but a few hours.
He set his lips firmly, and repeated the Tennesseean's verdict:
"Served him right, too."
The Boy left the Hermitage under the spell of Old Hickory's personality for life. He had seen a great man.
THE MONASTERY BELLS
The journey from Nashville to Springfield, Kentucky, was quick and uneventful. Long before the spire of St. Thomas' church loomed on the horizon, they passed through the wide, fertile fields of the Dominican monks. The grim figure of a black friar was directing the harvest of a sea of golden-yellow wheat. His workmen were sleek negro slaves. Herds of fat cattle grazed on the hills. A flock of a thousand sheep were nipping the fresh sweet grass in the valley. They passed a big flour mill, whose lazy wheel swung in rhythmic unison with the laughing waters of the creek that watered the rich valley. The monks were vowed to poverty and self-denial. But their Order was rich in slaves and land, in mills and herds and flocks and generous harvests.
As the sun sank in a smother of purple and red behind the hills, they saw the church and monastery. The bells were chanting their call to evening prayer.
The Boy held his breath in silent ecstasy. He had never heard anything like it before. It was wonderful—those sweet notes echoing over hill and valley in the solemn hush of the gathering twilight.
They waited for the priests to emerge from the chapel before making their presence known. Through the open windows the deep solemn throb of the organ pealed. The soul of the Boy rose enchanted on new wings whose power he had never dreamed. Hidden depths were sounded of whose existence he could not know. There was no organ in the little bare log church the Baptists had built near his father's farm in Mississippi. His father and mother were Baptists and of course he was going to be a Baptist some day. But why didn't they have stained glass windows like those through which he saw the light now streaming—wonderful flashing lights, whose colors seemed to pour from the soul of the organ. And why didn't they have a great organ?
He was going to like these Roman Catholics. He wondered what his mother would say to that?
It all seemed so familiar, too. Where had he heard those bells? Where had he heard the peal of that organ and seen the flash of those gorgeous lights? In the sky at sunset perhaps, and in the rumble of the storm. Maybe in dreams—and now they had come true.
In a few months, he found himself the only Protestant boy in school and the smallest of all the scholars. The monks were kind. They seemed somehow to love him better than the others. Father Wallace reminded him of his big brother. He was so gentle.
The Boy made up his mind to join the Catholic Church and went straight to Father Wilson, the venerable head of the college.
The old man smiled pleasantly:
"And why do you wish this, my son?"
"Oh, it's so much more beautiful than the Baptist Church. Besides it's so much easier—"
"Yes, sir. The Baptists have such a hard time getting religion. They seek and mourn so long—"
"Indeed they do—yes, sir—I've seen stubborn sinners mourn all summer in three protracted meetings and then not come through!"
"And you don't like that sort of penance?"
"No, sir. I've always dreaded it. And the worst thing is the new converts have to stand right up in church before all the crowd and tell their experience out loud. I'd hate that—"
"And you like our ways better?"
"A great deal better. The Catholics manage things so nicely. All you have to do is to go to church, learn the catechism and the good priests do all the rest—"
Father Wilson laid his wrinkled hand tenderly on the Boy's head:
"You are very, very young, my son, and you are growing rapidly. What you really need is good Catholic food. Sit down and have a piece of bread and cheese with me."
The Boy sat down and ate the offered bread and cheese in silence.
"I can't join, Father Wilson?" he asked at last.
The priest smiled again:
"No, my son."
"You don't like me, Father?" the boy asked wistfully.
"We like you very much, sir. But we are responsible for the trust your father and mother have put in us. In God's own time when you are older and know the full meaning of your act, I should be glad—but not this way."
The Boy was so small, in fact, that a fine old priest in pity for his tender years had a little bed put in his own room for him to watch the light and shadows in eager young eyes when homesickness threatened. And then he talked of the wonders and glory of Rome on her seven hills by the Tiber, of the Coliseum, the death of Christian martyrs in the arena—of the splendors of St. Peter's, beside whose glory all other churches pale into insignificance. He lifted the curtain of history and gave the child's mind flashes of the Old World whose pageants stretch down the ages into the mists of eternity.
Of books, the Boy learned little—but the monks kindled a light in his soul the years could not dim.
To the other students the old man was not so gentle. They were tougher and he set their tasks accordingly. They rebelled at last and decided on revenge. The plot was hatched and all in readiness for its execution. The only problem was how to put the light out in his room.
The Boy held the key to the citadel. He was on the inside. He could blow the candle out and the thing was done. He refused at first, but the rebels crowded around him and appealed to his sense of loyalty.
"They can force you to sleep in his room," pleaded the ringleader, "but, by Gimminy, that don't make you a monk, does it?"
"No, of course not—"
"You're one of us—stand by us. You didn't ask to sleep in his old room, did you?"
"Well, you're there—the right man in the right place, in the nick of time. Will you stand by us?"
"What do you want me to do?"
"Just blow out the candle—that's all—we'll do the rest. Will you do it?"
The Boy hesitated, smiled and said:
"Yes—when everything's quiet."
The old man had gone to bed and began to snore. The Boy rose noiselessly and blew the candle out.
Instantly from the darkness without, poured a volley of cabbage heads, squashes, potatoes and biscuits. Not a word was spoken, but the charge of the light brigade was swift and terrible.
The Boy pulled the cover over his head and waited for the storm to pass.
When the light was lit and search made, not a culprit could be found. They were all in bed sound asleep. The only one awake was the Boy in the little bed on which lay scattered potatoes, biscuits and cabbage.
The priest drew him from under the cover. His face was stern—the firm mouth rigid with anger.
"Did you know they were going to do that, sir?" he asked.
The Boy trembled but held his tongue.
"Answer me, sir!"
"I didn't know just what they were going to do—"
"You knew they were up to something?"
"And you didn't tell me?"
"I couldn't be a traitor, sir."
"To those young rascals—no—but you could betray me—"
"I'm not a monk, Father—"
"Tell me what you know at once, sir, before I thrash you."
"I don't know much," the Boy slowly answered, "and I can't tell you that."
There was a final ring in the tones with which he ended the sentence. The culprit must be punished. It was out of the question that he should whip him—this quiet, gentle, bright little fellow he had grown to love. He was turned over to another—an old monk of fine face and voice full of persuasive music.
He took the Boy by the hand and led him up the last flight of stairs to the top of the house and into a tiny bare room. The only piece of furniture was an ominous looking cot in the middle of the floor. The Boy had not read the history of the Spanish Inquisition, but it required no great learning in history or philosophy to guess the use of that machine.
There was no terror in the blue eyes. Their light grew hard with resolution. The monk to whom he had been delivered for punishment was the one of all the monastery who had the kindliest, gentlest face. The Boy had always thought him one of his best friends.
Yet, without a word, he laid the culprit face downward on the strange leather couch and drew the straps around his slim body. He had dreamed of mercy, but all hope vanished now. He held his breath and set his lips to receive the blow—the first he had ever felt.
The monk took the switch in his hand and hesitated. He loved the bright, handsome lad. The task was harder than he thought.
He knelt beside the cot and put his hand on the dark little head:
"I hate to strike you, my son—"
"Don't then, Father," was the eager answer.
"I've always had a very tender spot in my heart for you. Tell me what you know and it'll be all right."
"No matter how little, and I'll let you off."
"I know one thing," the Boy said with a smile.
"I know who blew out the light."
"If I tell you that much, you'll let me off?"
"Yes, my son."
The little head wagged doubtfully:
"Honest, now, Father?"
"I give you my solemn word."
"I blew it out!"
The fine old face twitched with suppressed laughter as he loosed the straps, sat down on the cot and drew the youngster in his lap.
"You're a bright chap, my son. You'll go far in this world some day. A great diplomat perhaps, but the road you've started on to-night can only lead you at last into a blind alley. You know now that I love you, don't you?"
"Come now, my Boy, there's too much strength and character in those fine eyes and that splendid square chin and jaw for you to let roistering fools lead you by the nose. You wouldn't have gotten into that devilment if they hadn't persuaded you—now would you?"
"All right. Use the brain and heart God has given you. Don't let fools use it for their own ends. Do your own thinking. Be your own man. Stand on your own bottom."
And then, in low tones, the fine old face glowing with enthusiasm, the monk talked to his little friend of Truth and Right, of Character and Principle, of Love and God, until the tears began to slowly steal down the rosy cheeks.
A new resolution fixed itself in the Boy's soul. He would live his own life. No other human being should do it for him.
The mother's heart rebelled at last. She would not be put off longer. Her baby had been gone two years. She refused point blank to listen to any further argument.
Charles Green, the young Mississippian, studying law in Kentucky, and acting as the Boy's guardian, was notified to bring him at the end of the spring term.
On a glorious day in June they left Bardstown for Louisville, to take the new steamboat line for home. These wonderful boats were the marvels of their day. Their names conveyed but a hint of the awe they inspired. The fleet of three vessels bore the titles, Volcano, Vesuvius and AEtna. And the sparks that flew heavenward from their black chimneys were far more impressive to the people who crowded the shores than the smoke and lava of old Vesuvius to the lazy loungers of Naples.
The Boy saw his pony safely housed on board the AEtna, and amid the clang of bells and the scream of whistles, the floating wonder swung out from her wharf into the yellow tide of the Ohio.
Scores of people crowded her decks for the pleasure of a ride ten miles down the river to return in their carriages.
The Captain of the AEtna, Robinson DeHart, held the Boy in a spell by his lofty manners. He had been a sailor on board an ocean-going brig. To him the landing of his vessel was an event, no matter how often the stop was made, whether to put off a single passenger, or take on a regiment. In fact, he never landed the AEtna, even to take on a cord of wood, without the use of his enormous speaking trumpet and his big brass spy-glass.
A beautiful, slow, uneventful voyage on the Father of Waters landed the Boy in safety at the Woodville stopping-place. He leaped down the gang-plank with a shout and clasped his Big Brother's hand.
"My, my, but you've grown, Boy!"
"Won't little mother be surprised and glad?"
"Let's fool her," the Boy cried. "Let me go up by myself and she won't know me!"
"All right—we'll try."
The brother stopped at the village and the young stranger walked alone to his father's house. How beautiful it all seemed—the big log house with the cabins clustering around it! A horse neighed at the barn and a colt answered from the field.
He walked boldly up to the porch and just inside the door sat his lovely mother. She had been one of the most beautiful girls in all South Carolina in her day, his father had often said. She was beautiful still. She had known what happiness was. She was the mother of ten strong children—five boys and five girls—and her heart was young with their joys and hopes. A smile was playing about her fine mouth. She was dreaming perhaps of his coming.
The Boy cleared his throat with a deep manly note and spoke in studied careless tones:
"Seen any stray horses around here, ma'am?"
The mother's eyes flashed as she sprang through the doorway and snatched him to her heart with a cry of joy:
"No—but I see a stray Boy! Oh, my darling, my baby, my heart!"
And then words failed. She loosed her hold and held him at arm's length, tried to say something, but only clasped him again and cried for joy.
"Please, Ma, let me have him!" Polly pleaded.
And then he clasped his sister in a long, voiceless hug—loosed her and caught her again:
"I missed you, Polly, dear!" he sighed.
When all the others had been greeted, he turned to his mother:
"Down in the field with the colts."
"I'll go find him!"
With a bound he was off. He wondered what his silent, undemonstrative father would do. He had always felt that he was a man of deep emotion for all his self-control.
He saw him in the field, walked along the edge of the woods, and suddenly came before him without warning. The father's lips trembled. He stooped without a word, clasped the Boy in his arms and kissed him again and again.
The youngster couldn't help wondering why a strong man should kiss so big a boy. The mother—yes—but his father, a man—no.
It was sweet, this home-coming to those who loved deepest. Somehow the monastery, its bells, its organ, its jeweled windows, and its kindly black-robed priests seemed far away and unreal now—only a dream that had passed.
The mother's breakdown was not allowed to stop the Boy's education. Both father and older brother were determined on this. They would use the schools at home now.
He was sent to the County Academy in the fall. The Boy didn't like it. After the easy life with the kindly old monks at St. Thomas, this academy was not only cheap and coarse and uninteresting, but the teacher had no sense. He gave lessons so long and hard it was impossible to memorize them.
The Boy complained to the teacher. A lesson of the same length was promptly given again. The rebel showed the teacher he was wrong by failing to know it.
"I'll thrash you, sir!" was the stern answer.
The Boy would not take that from such a fool. He rose in his wrath, went home and poured out the indignant story of his wrongs.
The father was a man of few words, but the long silence which followed gave a feeling of vague uneasiness. He was never dictatorial to his children, but meant what he said. His voice was quiet and persuasive when he finally spoke.
"Of course, my son, you will have to choose for yourself whether you will work with your hands only, or with your head and hands. You can't be an idler, I need more cotton pickers. You don't like school, try the cotton, I'll give you work."
The Boy flushed and looked at his father keenly. It was no joke. He meant exactly what he had said, and a boy with any sand in his gizzard couldn't back down.
"All right, sir," was the firm answer. "I'll begin in the morning."
He went forth to his task with grim determination. The sun of early September had just risen and it was already hot as he bent to work. Cotton picking looked easy from a distance. When you got at it, things somehow were different. A task of everlasting monotony, this bending from boll to boll along the endless rows! He never realized before how long the cotton rows were. There was a little stop at the end before turning and selecting the next, but these rows seemed to stretch away into eternity.
Three hours at it, and he was mortally tired. His back ached in a dull hopeless pain. He lifted his head and gazed longingly toward the school he had scorned.
"What a fool!" he sighed. "But I'll stick to it. I can do what any nigger can."
He looked curiously at the slaves who worked without apparent effort. Not one of them seemed the least bit tired. He could get used to it, too. After all, this breath of the open world was better than being cooped up in a stuffy old schoolhouse with a fool to set impossible tasks.
"Pooh! I'll show my father!" he exclaimed.
The negroes broke into a plantation song. Jim Pemberton, the leader, sang each stanza in a clear fine tenor that rang over the field and echoed through the deep woods. The others joined in the chorus and after the last verse repeated in low sweet notes that died away so softly it was impossible to tell the moment the song had ceased.
The music was beautiful, but it was impossible for him to join in their singing. He couldn't lower himself to an equality with black slaves. This cotton picking seemed part of their scheme of life. Their strong black bodies swayed in a sort of rhythmic movement even when they were not singing. Somehow his body didn't fit into the scheme. His back ached and ached. No matter. He had chosen, and he would show them he had a man's spirit inside a boy's breast.
At noon the ache had worn away and he felt a sense of joy in conquering the pain.
He ate his dinner in silence and wondered what Polly was thinking about at school. Girl-like, she had cried and begged him to go back.
With a cheerful wave of his hand to his mother, he returned to the field before the negroes, strapped the bag on his shoulder and bent again to his task. The afternoon was long. It seemed at three o'clock there could be no end to it and still those long, long rows of white fleece stretched on and on into eternity—all alike in dull, tiresome monotony.
He whistled to keep up his courage.
The negroes whispered to one another and smiled as they looked his way. He paid no attention.
By four o'clock, the weariness had become a habit and at sundown he felt stronger than at dawn. He swung the bag over his back and started to the weighing place.
"Pooh—it's easy!" he said with scorn.
The negroes crowded around his pile of cotton.
"Dat Boy is sho one cotton-picker!" cried Jim Pemberton, regarding him with grinning admiration.
"Of course, I can pick cotton if I want to—"
"But ye raly don't wanter?" Jim grinned.
"Sure I do. I'm sick of school."
Jim laughed aloud and, coming close, whispered insinuatingly:
"I'se sho sick er pickin' cotton, an' when yer quits de job—"
"I'm not going to quit—"
"Yassah, yassah?—I understan' dat—but de pint is, when yer do quit, don't fergit Jim, Marse Jeff. I likes you. You got de spunk. I wants ter be yo' man."
The appeal touched the Boy's pride. He answered with quiet dignity:
"All right, James—"
Jim lifted his head and walled his eyes:
"Des listen at him call me Jeemes! I knows a real marster when I sees him!"
That night, the father asked no questions and made no comment on the fact that he had picked a hundred and ten pounds of cotton—as much as any man in the field. His deciding to work with his hands had apparently been accepted as final.
This thing of deciding life for himself was a serious business. It would be very silly to jump into a career with slaves, coarse and degrading, just because a fool happened to be teaching at the County Academy. He must think this thing over. Tired as he was, he lay awake until eleven o'clock, thinking, thinking for himself.
It was lonesome work, too, this thinking for himself.
If his father had only done the thinking for him, it would have been so much easier to accept his decision and then rebel if he didn't like it.
He returned to the field next morning with renewed determination. Through the long, hot, interminable day he bent and fought the battle in silence. His back ached worse than the first day. Every muscle in his finely strung little body was bruised and sore and on fire.
He began to ask if his father were right. Wasn't a man a double fool who had brains and refused to use them?
An idiot could pick cotton when the bag was fastened on his back. All he needed was one hand. All he had to do was to bend, hour after hour, day after day, until it became the habit of life and the ache stopped.
He could see this now, for himself. He smiled at the quiet wisdom of his father. He certainly knew how to manage boys. He must acknowledge that. He was quiet and considerate about it, too. He didn't dictate. He only suggested things for consideration and choice. It was easy to meet the views of that kind of a father. He treated a boy with the dignity of a man.
When the cotton was weighed, the Boy faced his father:
"I've thought it all over, sir, and I'd like to go back to school."
"All right, my son, you can return in the morning."
He made no comment. He indulged in no smile at the Boy's expense. He received his decision with the serious dignity of a judge of the Supreme Court of Life.
The rebellion ended for all time. Teachers and schools took on a new meaning. A lesson was no longer a hard task set by a heartless fool who had been accidentally placed in a position of power. School meant the training of his mind for a higher and more useful life.
Progress now was steady. The next year a new teacher came, a real teacher, the Rev. John Shaw from Boston, Massachusetts—a man of even temper, just, gentle, a profound scholar with a mind whose contagious enthusiasm drew the spirits of the young as a magnet.
The Boy learned more under his guidance within a year than in all his life before, and next full was ready to enter Transylvania University at Lexington, Kentucky.
The polite, handsome boy from Mississippi who had served an apprenticeship with his father's negroes in a cotton field, gave the professors no trouble. Good-natured, prudent, joyous, kind, manly, he attended to his lessons and his own business. He neither gambled nor drank, nor mingled with the rowdy set. He had come there for something else.
He had just passed his examinations for the Senior class in July, 1824, when the first great sorrow came. The wise father whom he had grown to love and reverence died in his sixty-eighth year.
His thoughtful Big Brother came in person to tell him and break the blow with new ambitions and new hopes. He had secured an appointment from President Monroe as a cadet to West Point from the State of Mississippi.
And then began the four years of stern discipline that makes a soldier and fits him to command men.
But once in those busy years did the gay spirit within rise in rebellion, to learn wisdom in the bitterness of experience.
With Emile Laserre, his jolly Creole friend from Louisiana, he slipped down to Bennie Haven's on a frolic—taking French leave, of course. The alarm was given of the approach of an instructor, and the two culprits bolted for the barracks at breakneck speed through pitch darkness. Scrambling madly through the woods, there was a sudden cry, a crash and silence. He had fallen sixty feet over a precipice to the banks of the Hudson. Young Laserre crawled carefully to the edge of the rock, peered over and called through the darkness:
"Are you dead, Jeff?"
He was suffering too much to laugh, though he determined to give an Irishman's reply to that question, if it killed him. He managed to wheeze back the answer:
"Not dead—but spachless!"
Many were the temptations of rebellion from the friends he loved in the years that followed, but never again did he yield. Somehow the thing didn't work in his case.
There was one professor who put his decision of obedience to the supreme test. For some reason this particular instructor took a violent dislike to the tall, dignified young Southerner. Perhaps because he was more anxious to have the love of his cadet friends than the approval of his teachers. Perhaps from some hidden spring of character within the teacher which antagonized the firm will and strong personality of the student who dared to do his own thinking. From whatever cause, it was plain to all that the professor sought opportunities to insult and browbeat the cadet he could not provoke into open rebellion.
The professor was lecturing the class on presence of mind as the supreme requisite of a successful soldier. He paused, and looked directly at his young enemy:
"Of course, there are some who will always be confused and wanting in an emergency—not from cowardice, but from the mediocre nature of their minds."
The insult was direct and intended. He hoped to provoke an outburst which would bring punishment, if not disgrace.
The cadet's lips merely tightened and the steel from the depths of his blue eyes flashed into his enemy's for a moment. He would bide his time.
Three days later, in a building crowded with students, the professor was teaching the class the process of making fire-balls.
The room was a storehouse of explosives and the ball suddenly burst into flames.
Cadet Davis saw it first and calmly turned to his tormentor:
"The fire-ball has ignited, sir,—what shall I do?"
The professor dashed for the door:
"Run! Run for your lives!"
The cadet snatched the fire-ball from the floor, dashed it through the window and calmly walked out.
He had saved many lives and the building from destruction. His revenge was complete and sweet. But deeper and sweeter than his triumph over an enemy was the consciousness that he was master of himself. He had learned life's profoundest lesson.
On his graduation, the Second Lieutenant of Infantry, from the State of Mississippi, barely twenty years old, reported for duty to the Jefferson Barracks at St. Louis.
He was ordered to the frontier to extend the boundaries of the growing Republic—now accompanied by his faithful body servant, James Pemberton.
The Fort, situated on the Wisconsin River, was the northern limit of the Illinois tribe of Indians, and the starting point of all raids against the Iroquois who still held the rich lands around the village of Chicago.
The Boy Lieutenant was the first lumberman to put axe into the virgin forests of Wisconsin. He was sent into the wilderness with a detachment for cutting timber to enlarge the Fort.
Under the direction of two voyageurs he embarked in a little open boat and began the perilous journey.
The first day out his courage and presence of mind were put to quick test.
The Indians suddenly appeared on the shore and demanded a trade for tobacco. The little party rowed to the bank and began to parley. A guide's keen eyes saw through their smooth palaver the hostile purpose of a bloody surprise and warned the commander. The order to push into the river and pull for their lives was instantly given.
With savage yells the Indians sprang into their canoes and gave chase.
It was ten to one and they were sure of their prey. The chance of escape from such strong, swift rowers in light bark canoes was slight. The low fierce cries of victory and the joyous shout of coming torture rang over the waters.
The Indians gained rapidly.
The young Lieutenant's eye measured the distance between them and saw the race was hopeless. With quick command he ordered a huge blanket stretched in the bow for a sail. The wind was blowing a furious gale and might swamp their tiny craft. It was drowning or death by torture. The commander's choice was instantaneous.
The frail boat plunged suddenly forward, swayed and surged from side to side through the angry, swirling waters, settled at last, and drew steadily away from the maddened savages.
With a curious smile, the boyish commander stood in the stern and watched the black swarm of yelling devils fade in the distance.
He was thinking of his old professor at West Point. His insult had been the one thing in life to which he owed most. He could see that clearly now. His heart went out in a wave of gratitude to his enemy. Our enemies are always our best friends when we have eyes to see.
The winter following he was ordered down to Winnebago.
The village of Chicago was the nearest center of civilization. The only way of reaching it was by wagon, and the journey consumed three months.
There was much gambling in the long still nights, and some drinking. In lieu of the excitement of the gaming table, he took his fun in breaking and riding wild horses, and hairbreadth escapes were the order of his daily exercise. It was gambling, perhaps, but it developed the muscles of mind and body.
His success with horses was remarkable. No animal that man has broken to his use is keener to recognize a master and flout a coward than the horse. No coward has ever been able to do anything with a spirited horse.
He was wrestling one day with a particularly vicious specimen, to the terror and anguish of Jim Pemberton.
"For de Lawd's sake, Marse Jeff, let dat debbil go!"
"No, James, not yet—"
"He ain't no count, no how—"
"All the more reason why I should be his master, not he be mine."
The horse was possessed of seven devils. He jumped and plunged and bucked, wheeled and reared and walked on his hind legs in mad effort to throw his cool rider. The moment he reared, the Lieutenant dropped his feet from the stirrups and leaned close to the brute's trembling, angry head. At last in one supreme effort the beast threw himself straight into the air and fell backwards, with the savage purpose of crushing his tormentor beneath his body.
With a quiet laugh, the young officer slipped from the saddle and allowed him to thump himself a crashing blow. As the horse sprang to his feet to run, the Lieutenant leaped lightly into the saddle and the fight was over.
"Well, for de Lawd, did ye ebber see de beat er dat!" Jim Pemberton cried with laughing admiration.
Scarcely a week passed without its dangerous excursions against the Pawnees, Comanches and other hostile tribes of Indians. The friendly tribes, too, were everlastingly changing to hostiles in a night. Death rode in the saddle with every man who left a fortified post in these early days of our national life.
The Lieutenant was ordered on a peculiarly long and daring raid into hostile territory, and twice barely escaped a massacre. Their errand accomplished, and leisurely returning to the Fort, they suddenly met a large party of Indians.
The Lieutenant shot a swift glance at their leader and saluted him with friendly uplifted hand:
"Can you tell us the way to the Fort, Chief?"
The tall brave placed himself squarely in the path and pointed in the wrong direction.
Instantly the Lieutenant spurred his horse squarely on the savage, grasped him by the hair, dragged him a hundred yards and flung him into the bushes. The assault was so sudden, so unexpected, so daring, the whole band was completely cowed, and the soldiers rode by without attack.
Nor was the Indian the only enemy to test the youngster's mettle. The pioneer soldiers of the rank and file in these turbulent days had minds of their own which they sometimes dared to use.
The Lieutenant had no beard. His smooth, handsome face, clear blue eyes, fresh color and gay laughter, gave the impression of a boy of nineteen, when by the calendar he could boast of twenty-one.
A big strapping, bearded soldier, employed in building the Fort, had proven himself the terror of his fellow workmen. He was a man of enormous strength and gave full rein to an ugly, quarrelsome disposition.
His eyes rested with decided disapproval on the graceful young master of horses.
"I'll whip that baby-faced Lieutenant," he coolly announced to his satellites, "if ever he opens his jaw to me—watch me if I don't. What does he know about work?"
The men reported the threat to the Lieutenant. The next day without a moment's hesitation, in quiet tones, he gave his first order to the giant:
"Put that piece of dressed scantling beside the window—"
The man deliberately lifted a rough board and placed it.
"The rough board won't do," said the even voice. "It must he a dressed scantling."
The soldier threw him an insolent laugh, and stooped to take up a board exactly like the one he had laid down.
The baby-faced Lieutenant suddenly seized a club, knocked him down, and beat him until he yelled for quarter.
The soldiers had watched the clash at first with grins and winks and nudges, betting on their giant. His strength was invincible. When the unexpected happened, and they saw the slender, plucky youngster standing over the form of the fallen brave, they raised a lusty shout for him.
When the giant scrambled to his feet, the victor said with a smile:
"This has been a fight, man to man, and I'm satisfied. I'll not report it officially."
The big one grinned sheepishly and respectfully offered his hand:
"You're all right, Lieutenant. I made a mistake. I beg your pardon. You're the kind of a commander I've always liked."
Again the soldiers gave a shout. No man under him ever again presumed on his beardless face. He had only to make his orders known to have them instantly obeyed.
Jim Pemberton had watched the little drama of officer and man with an ugly light gleaming in his eyes. The young master had not seen him. That night in his quarters Jim quietly said:
"I'd a killed him ef he'd a laid his big claws on you, Marse Jeff."
"Would you, James?"
"Dat I would, sah."
Nothing more was said. But a new bond was sealed between master and man.
While at Fort Crawford, the Lieutenant had been ordered up the Yellow River to build a saw mill. He had handled the neighboring Indians with such friendly skill and won their good will so completely, he was adopted by their chief as a brother of the tribe. An old Indian woman bent with age traveled a hundred miles to the Fort to warn the "Little Chief" of a coming attack of hostile bands. Her warning was unheeded by the new commander and a massacre followed.
The success of this attack raised the war spirit of the entire frontier and gave the soldiers a winter of exceptional danger and hardship. The country in every direction swarmed with red warriors on the warpath. The weather was intensely cold, and his Southern blood suffered agonies unknown to his companions. Often wet to the skin and compelled to remain in the saddle, the exposure at last brought on pneumonia. For months he lay in his bed, directing, as best he could, the work of his men.
James Pemberton lifted his weak, emaciated form in his arms as if he were a child. The black man carried his money, his sword and pistols. At any moment, day or night, he could have stepped from the door into the wilderness and been free. He was free. He loved the man he served. With tireless patience and tenderness, he nursed him back from the shadows of death into life again.
On recovering from this illness, the Lieutenant faced a new commander at the head of his regiment—a man destined to set in motion the greatest event of his life.
Colonel Zachary Taylor had been promoted to the command of the First Infantry on the death of Colonel Morgan. Already he had earned the title that would become the slogan of his followers in the campaign which made him President. "Old Rough and Ready" at this time was in the prime of his vigorous manhood.
Colonel Taylor sent the Lieutenant on an ugly, important mission.
Four hundred pioneers had taken possession of the lead mines at Dubuque against the protest of the Indians whose rights had been ignored. The Lieutenant and fifty men were commissioned to eject the miners. To a man, they were heavily armed. They believed they were being cheated of their rights of discovery by the red tape of governmental interference. They had sworn to resist any effort to drive them out of these mines. Most of them were men of the higher types of Western adventurer. The Lieutenant liked these hardy sons of his own race, and determined not to use force against them if it could he avoided.
He crossed the river to announce his official instructions, and was met by a squad of daring, resolute fellows, armed and ready for a fight.
Their leader, a tall, red-headed, serious-looking man, opened the conference with scant ceremony. Looking the youthful officer squarely in the eye, he slowly drawled:
"Young man, we have defied the gov'ment once befo' when they sent their boys up here to steal our mines. Now, ef yer know when yer well off, you'll let honest white men alone and quit sidin' with Injuns—"
There was no mistaking his accent. He meant war.
The Lieutenant's answer came in quick, even, tones:
"The United States Government has ordered your removal, gentlemen. My business as a soldier is to obey. I shall be sorry to use force. But I'll do it, if it's necessary. I suggest a private interview with your leader—" he nodded to the red-headed man.
"Talk it over!"
The men from all sides gave their approval. The leader hesitated a moment, and measured the tall, straight young officer. He didn't like this wrestle at close quarters with those penetrating eyes and the trained mind behind them. But with a toss of his red locks he muttered:
"All right, fire away—you can talk your head off, for all the good it'll do ye."
They walked off together a few yards and sat down.
With the friendliest smile the Lieutenant extended his hand:
"Before we begin our chat, let's shake hands?"
The brawny hand clasped his.
"I want you to know," the young officer continued earnestly, "my real feelings toward you and your men. I've been out here four years with you fellows, pushing the flag into the wilderness, and the more I see of you the better I like you. I know real men when I see them. You're strong, generous, brave, and you do things. You're building a great republic on this frontier of the world. I've known your hospitality. You've had little education in the schools, but you're trained for this big work in the only school that counts out here—the School of Danger and Struggle and Experience—"
The brawny hand was lifted in a helpless sort of protest:
"Look a here, Boy, you're goin' ter bamboozle me, I kin jist feel it in my bones—"
"On the other hand," the Lieutenant continued eagerly, "I assure you I am going to treat you and your friends with the profoundest respect. It's due you. Let's reason this thing out. You've taken up these mines under the old right of first discovery—"
"Yes, and they're ours, too,"—the lean jaws came together with a snap.
"So I say. But it will take a little time and a little patience to establish your claims. The Indian, you know, holds the first rights to this land—"
"T'ell with Injuns!"
"Even so, isn't it better to first settle their claims and avoid war?"
"And you know we can't settle with the Indians while you hold by force the mines they claim as the owners of the soil—"
The leader scratched his head and rose with sudden resolution:
"Come on, and tell this to the boys."
The leader escorted the Lieutenant to the crowd, and commanded them to hear him. His speech was interrupted at first by angry exclamations, but at its close there was respectful silence. The fight was won without a blow.
The new Colonel was much pleased at the successful ending of the dangerous job. He had received the orders to eject these miners with a wry face. That the work had been done without bloodshed had lifted a load from his mind.
The Lieutenant was honored on the night of his return by an invitation to dine with Colonel Taylor's family. They had been settled in the crowded quarters of the Fort during his absence—the wife, three daughters and a little son.
The Lieutenant's curiosity was but mildly roused at the thought of meeting the girls. In the lofty ways of youth, he had put marriage out of his mind. A soldier should not marry. He had given his whole soul to his country, its flag and its service. He would be agreeable to the ladies, of course, in deference to his commander and the honor he was receiving at his hands.
The dinner was a success. The mother was charming and gracious in her welcome. Something in her ways recalled his own mother.
She extended her hand with a genial smile, and took his breath with her first remark:
"I've quite fallen in love with you, sir, because of a story I heard of your West Point career—"
"Not in pity for my fall over the cliff, I hope," he answered gravely.
The mother's voice dropped to a whisper:
"No,—your friend Albert Sydney Johnston told me that you saved a large part of your allowance and sent it home to your mother—"
The young officer's lips trembled, and he looked away for a moment:
"But she sent it back to me, madam."
"Yes, until you wrote that she hurt you by not keeping it—"
To relieve his evident embarrassment, the mother introduced him in rapid succession to her daughters, the eldest Anne, the second Sarah Knox, the youngest Elizabeth. Richard, the handsome little boy, had introduced himself. He had liked the Lieutenant from the first.
He had been so surprised by the mother's possession of one of the sweetest secrets of his schoolboy life, and had blushed so furiously over it, he had scarcely noticed the girls, merely bowing in his confusion.
It was not until they were seated at the table and the dinner had fairly begun, that he became conscious of the charm of the second daughter, who sat directly opposite.
Her beauty was not dazzling, but in fifteen minutes she had completely absorbed his attention. It was impossible, of course, not to look at her. She sat squarely before him. There was no embarrassment in the frank, honest curiosity with which she returned his gaze.
The thing that first impressed him was the frankness of a winsome personality. He listened with keen attention to her voice. There was no simper, no affectation, no posing. She was just herself. He found himself analyzing her character. Refined—yes. Intelligent—beyond a doubt. She talked with her father in a quiet, authoritative way which left no doubt on that score. Graceful, tender, sincere, too—her tones to her impulsive brother and her younger sister proved that. And a will of her own she had. The firmly set, full lips were eloquent of character. He liked that above all things in a woman. He couldn't stand a simpering doll.
"Sing for us, Sarah!" her brother said impulsively, as they rose from the table.
"Certainly, Dick, if you wish it."
There was no holding back for urging. No mock modesty. No foolishness in her answer. It was straight, affectionate, responsive, open hearted, generous—just like his own sweet little sister Polly when he had asked of her a favor.
And then, he blushed to find himself staring at her in a sort of dreamy reverie. He hoped her music would not spoil the impression her personality had made. This had happened once in his life. He could never talk to the girl again, after he had heard her sing. The memory of it was a nightmare.
He watched her tune the guitar with a sense of silly dread. The tuning finished, she turned to her brother and asked with a smile:
"And what shall I sing, Sir Richard?"
"The one I love best—'Fairy Bells.'"
When the first line with its sweet accompaniment floated out from the porch on the balmy air of the June evening, the Lieutenant's fears had vanished. Never had he heard a song whose trembling melody so found his inmost soul. It set the Fairy Bells ringing in the deep woods of his far-away Mississippi home. He could see the fairy ringing them—her beautiful hair streaming in the moonlight, a smile on her lips, the joy and beauty of eternal youth in every movement of her exquisite form.
When the last note had died softly away, he leaned close and before he knew what he was doing, whispered:
"Glorious, Miss Sarah!"
"You like it very much?" she asked.
"My favorite, too."
All night the "Fairy Bells" rang in his heart. For the first time in life, he failed to sleep. He listened entranced until dawn.
In the swift weeks which followed, life blossomed with new and wonderful meaning.
In the stern years on the plains, the young officer had known but one motive of action—duty. He was an exile from home and its comforts, friends and the haunts of civilized man for his country's sake. He had come to plant her flag on the farthest frontier and push it farther against all corners.
In the struggle against the snows of winter and the pestilence of the summer wilderness, he had fought Nature with the dogged determination of the soldier. Snow meant winter quarters, the spring marching and fighting. The hills were breastworks. The night brought dreams of strategy and surprise. The grass and flowers were symbols of a nation's wealth and the prophecy of war.
By a strange magic, the coming of a girl had transformed the world. He had seen the strategic value of these hills and valleys often before. He had not dreamed of their beauty. The mists that hung over the ragged lines of the western horizon were no longer fogs that might conceal an army. They were the folds of a huge veil which Nature was softly drawing over the face of a beautiful bride. Why had he not seen this before?
The awful silence of the plains from which he had fled to books had suddenly become God's great whispering gallery. He listened with joyous awe and reverence.
The stars had been his guides by night to find the trail. He had merely lifted his eyes to make the reckoning. He had never seen before the crystal flash from their jeweled depths.
He looked into the eyes of the graceful young rider by his side and longed to tell her of this miracle wrought in his soul. But he hesitated. She was too dignified and self-possessed. It would be silly when put into words.
But the world to-day was too beautiful to hurry through it. He just couldn't.
"Let's stop on this hill and watch the sunset, Miss Sarah?" he suggested.
"I'd love to," was the simple answer.
With a light laugh, she sprang from the saddle. They touched the ground at the same moment.
He looked at her with undisguised admiration.
"You're a wonderful rider," he said.
"A soldier's daughter must be—it's part of her life."
He tied their horses to the low hanging limbs of a cluster of scrub trees, and found a seat on the bowlders which the Indians had set for a landmark on the lonely hilltop.
Westward the plains stretched, a silent ocean of green, luscious grass.
"What's that dark spot in the valley?" the girl eagerly asked.
"Watch it a moment—"
They sat in silence for five minutes.
"Why, it's moving!" she cried.
"An illusion?" he suggested.
"Nonsense, I'm not dreaming."
"I've been dreaming a lot lately—"
A smile played about the corners of her fine mouth. But she ignored the hint.
"Tell me," she cried; "you studied the sciences at West Point, what does it mean?"
"Look closely. Any fifteen-year-old boy of the plains could explain it."
"Am I so ignorant?" she laughed.
"No," he answered soberly, "our eyes just refuse to see things at which we are looking until the voice within reveals. The eyes of a hunter could make no mistake about such a spot—particularly if it moved."
"It might be a passing cloud—"
"There's none in the sky."
"Tell me!" she pleaded.
"A herd of buffalo."
"That big black field! It must be ten acres—"
The man laughed at her ignorance with a sudden longing in his heart to help and protect her.
"Ten acres! Look again. They are twenty miles away. The herd is packed so densely, the ground is invisible. They cover a thousand acres."
"I assure you, it's true. They were once even more plentiful. But we're pushing them back with the Indians into the sunset. And they, too, will fade away into the twilight at last—"
He stopped suddenly. He had almost spoken a sentence that would have committed him beyond retreat. It was just on his lips to say:
"I didn't take such tender views of Indians and buffaloes until I met you!"
For the life of him he couldn't make the girl out. Her voice was music. Her laughter contagious. And yet she was reserved. About her personality hung a spell which forbade familiarity. Flirting was a pastime in the army. But it had never appealed to him. He was not so sure about her when she laughed.
And then her father worried him. The fiery old Southerner had the temper of the devil when roused. He could see that this second daughter was his favorite. He had caught a look of unreasonable anger and jealousy in his eye only that afternoon when they rode away together.
Still he must risk it. He had really suggested this sunset scene for that purpose. The field was his own choosing. Only a coward could run now.
He managed at last to get his lips to work.
"Since you came, Miss Sarah—I've been seeing life at a new angle—" he paused awkwardly.
The red blood mounted to her cheeks.
"You have given me new eyes—"
She turned her head away. There was no mistaking the tremor of his tones. She was too honest to simper and pretend. Her heart was pounding so loudly she wondered if he could hear.
He fumbled nervously with his glove, glanced at her from the corner of his eye, and his voice sank to a whisper:
"I—I love you, Sarah!"
She turned slowly and looked at him through dimmed eyes:
"And I love you—"
She paused, brushed a tear from her cheek, and with sweet reproach quietly added:
"Why didn't you tell me sooner? We've lost so many beautiful days that might have been perfect—"
He suddenly stooped and kissed her full lips.
"We'll not lose any more—"
"The world is beautiful, isn't it, dear!" she said, nestling closer.
"Since I see with your eyes—yes. It was only a place to fight in, before. Now it's a fairy world, and these wild flowers that cover the plains only grow to make a carpet for the feet of the girl I love—"
"A fairy world—yes—" she whispered, "it's been just that to me since I first sang the 'Fairy Bells' for you—"
"I'll never love another song as that," he said reverently.
"Nor I," was the low response. "My heart will beat to its music forever—it just means you, now—"
For a long time they sat without words, holding each other's hand. The sun hung a glowing ball of fire on the rim of the far-away hills, and the shadows of the valley deepened into twilight.
"How wonderful the silence of the plains!" the lover sighed.
"It used to oppress me."
The man nodded.
"And now, I hear the beat of angels' wings and know that God is near—"
"Because we love—" and she laughed for joy.
Again they sat in sweet, brooding silence.
A horseman rode over the hilltop in the glow of the fading sun. From its summit, he lifted his hand and waved a salute. They looked below, and in the doorway of a cabin, a young mother stood, a babe in her arms answering with hand uplifted high above her child.
"What does it matter, dear," she whispered, "a cabin or a palace!"
Side by side through the still white light of the full moon they rode home, in each heart the glow of the wonder and joy of Love's first revelation. Words were an intrusion. The eyes of the soul were seeing now the hidden things of life.
The gleam of the lights at the Fort brought them sharply out of dreamland into the world of fact.
"You must see my father to-night, dear," she said eagerly.
"Must I, to-night?"
"I'd rather face a hundred Red Men in war paint."
A merry laugh was her answer as she leaned close:
"Don't be silly, he likes you."
"But he loves you."
"Of course, and for that reason my happiness will be his."
"God knows, I hope so," was the doleful response. "But if I must, I must. I'll see him."
A quick kiss in the friendly shadows and she was gone.
He walked alone an hour after supper, screwing up his courage to the point of bearding the Colonel in his den. He fumbled the door-bell at last, his heart in his throat.
Old Rough and Ready was not inclined to help him in his embarrassment. Never had he seen the lines of his strong jaw harder or more set than when he grunted:
"Sit down, sir. Don't stand there staring. I'm not on inspection."
The perspiration started on his forehead and he moistened his dry lips.
"I beg your pardon, Colonel. I was a little flustered. I've—a—something—on—my mind—"
"Out with it!"
"I—I—I'm in love with Miss Sarah."
"You don't say?"
"Well, it's no news to me. The whole family have been enjoying the affair for some time. I suppose you're asking—or think you're asking—for my daughter's hand in marriage?"
"That's it—yes, sir—exactly."
"I guessed as much. I'm glad to tell you, young man, that I've always had the kindliest feelings for you personally—"
"Thank you, sir—"
"And the warmest admiration for your talents as an officer. You're a good soldier. You have brains. You have executive ability. You're a leader of men. You'll go far in your profession—"
"Thank you, sir—"
"And that's why I don't like you as a son-in-law."
"I love my daughter, and I want her to be happy in a real home with a real husband and children by her side. A soldier's life is a dog's life. I've pitied the poor girl who gave up her home for me. Many a bitter tear has she shed over my absence, in torturing dread of the next letter from the frontier—"
He paused and sprang to his feet:
"A hundred times I've sworn no daughter of mine should ever marry a soldier! The better the soldier, the more reason she should not marry him—"
"There's no 'but' about it!" the Colonel thundered. "You're asking me to let you murder my girl, that's all—but it's life. I'll have to give my consent and wish you good luck, long life, and all the happiness you can get out of a soldier's lot."
The Colonel extended his hand and the Lieutenant grasped it with grateful eagerness.
The days that followed were red lettered in the calendar of life.
And then it came—a crash of thunder out of the clear sky—the thing he had somehow felt and dreaded.
A petty court-martial was called to adjust a question of army discipline. The court was composed of Z. Taylor, Colonel Commanding, Major Thomas F. Smith, a fiery-tempered gay officer of the old army, Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, and the new Second Lieutenant who had just arrived from the Jefferson Barracks at St. Louis.
The army regulations required that each officer sitting in court-martial should be in full uniform. The new arrival from St. Louis had come without his uniform. His trunk had miscarried and was returned to the Jefferson Barracks.
He rose with embarrassment:
"I must beg the pardon of the Court, Colonel," he began cautiously, "for not appearing in my uniform. As it is in St. Louis I respectfully ask to be excused to-day from wearing it."
The old Colonel scowled. It was just like a young fool to wish to sit in solemn judgment on a fellow officer—in his shirt sleeves. If he had asked to be excused from serving on the Court—yes—he could accept his excuse and let him go. But this insolence was unbearable. The Colonel glanced over the Court before putting the question to a vote. Smith was his enemy. Whichever way he voted as President, the Major could be depended on to go against his decision. There was a feud between those two hot-tempered fire-eaters which had lasted for years. He glanced at his future son-in-law with a smile of assured victory. Tom Smith would vote against him, but the trembling youngster who had quailed before him that night asking for his daughter's hand was practically in the family. He smiled at the certainty of downing Smith once more.
In a voice, whose tones left nothing to the imagination of the presumptuous Second Lieutenant, the Colonel growled:
"Gentlemen, we are asked to allow an officer to sit in the formal judgment of a court-martial without uniform—I put the question to a vote and cast mine. No!"
"I vote yes!" shouted the Major.
The Colonel did not condescend to look his way. He knew what that vote was before he heard it. He bent his piercing eyes on his future son-in-law:
There was just a moment's hesitation. The Lieutenant smiled at his embarrassed young fellow officer and mildly answered:
"I think, Colonel, in view of the distance to St. Louis, we may excuse the young man for the first offense—I vote—yes."
The old Colonel stared at him in speechless amazement. Smith grinned.
The Colonel's face grew purple with rage. He was just able to gasp his words during the progress of the trial. It was brief, and when it ended and the rest had gone, he faced the Lieutenant with blazing eyes:
"How dare you, sir, vote with that damned fool against me?"
"Why, I never thought to hurt you, Colonel—"
"No? And what did you think?"
"I only thought of relieving the evident embarrassment of a young officer—"
"You did, eh?—no thought of me or my feelings, of my wishes. You're a hell of a son-in-law, you are—"
He paused for breath and choked with rage no words could express. When at last his tongue found speech, he swore in oaths more expressive and profound than modern man has ever dreamed. He damned the Court. He damned Tom Smith. He damned the Second Lieutenant. He damned the regiment. He damned the Government that created it. He damned the Indians that called it to the plains. He damned the world and all in it, and all things under it. But, particularly and specifically, he damned the young ass who dared to flaunt his feelings and opinions after smiling in his face at his house, for days and weeks and months.
Finally, facing the blushing Lieutenant, his eyes flashing indignant scorn, he shouted:
"No man who votes with a damned fool like Tom Smith, can marry my daughter!"
"Colonel, I protest," pleaded the heartsick lover.
"I forbid you to ever put your foot inside my quarters again!"
"Silence, sir! I forbid you to ever speak to my daughter again!"
"I repudiate you and all yours. I wipe you from the map. You don't exist. I don't know you. I never knew you. Get out of my sight!"
The tall, slender form slowly straightened and a look of cold pride shot from the depths of his blue eyes. Without a word he turned and left.
Black Hawk was leading his red warriors in a great uprising. A wave of fierce excitement swept the frontier. There was stern work now for men to do and women must wait alone.
The regiment marched to the front. The Colonel as a man was freezingly formal with the Lieutenant. As an officer, he knew his worth and relied on it in every emergency. The State of Illinois had raised two companies of raw recruits to join in subduing the Indians. The Colonel sent his most efficient subordinate to swear in the new soldiers. On the morning of the muster, there appeared before the tall Lieutenant, a man full three inches taller, and famous in his county as the gawkiest, slab-sidest, homeliest, best-natured fellow in the State. He was dressed in a suit of blue jeans.
In slow, pleasing drawl, he announced:
"I am the Captain, of this company—"
And he waved his long arm toward the crowd of his countrymen on the right.
Lieutenant Jefferson Davis promptly administered to Abraham Lincoln his first oath to support the Constitution and laws of the United States.
Two men destined to immortal fame had met and passed with scarcely a glance at each other. The young army officer was too much of a gentleman to mark the ill-fitting blue jeans of the awkward captain of militia. Great events, after all, make men great. Only the eye of God could foresee the coming tragedy in which these two would play their mighty roles.
At the end of the brief struggle on the frontier, Black Hawk's people were scattered to the four winds and the brave old warrior, with a handful of his men, sought Colonel Taylor's command to surrender.
Again, the Colonel sent his most accomplished officer, the Lieutenant whom he had forbidden to enter his house,—to treat with the fallen Chief.
The Lieutenant received with kindly words the broken-hearted warrior, his two sons and sixty braves, and conducted them at once as prisoners of war to the barracks at St. Louis.
The cholera was raging at Rock Island, and on the boat two of the Indian prisoners were seized with the fatal disease. The Lieutenant, at the risk of his life, personally ministered to their needs. The two stricken men made known to the commander in broken words and signs that they had sworn an oath of eternal friendship. In pleading tones the stronger said:
"We beg the good Chief to put us ashore that hand in hand we may go to the happy hunting grounds together."
Near the first little settlement their prayer was granted.
The young officer turned to his boat with a sigh as he saw the red warriors slip their arms about each other and slowly sink to the ground to die alone and unattended.
Old Black Hawk sat in silent, stolid indifference to his fate until the curious settlers began to crowd on the boat and stare at his misery.
The Lieutenant interfered with sharp decision.
"Push those men back, Corporal!" he ordered angrily.
The crowd was roughly pushed back and the Lieutenant took Black Hawk kindly by the arm and led him into a reserved apartment where he was free from vulgar eyes.
The old man's lips tightened. He gazed at the officer steadily and spoke in measured tones:
"The young war Chief treats me with much kindness. He is good and brave. He puts himself in my place and sees all that I suffer. With him I am much pleased."
The Lieutenant bowed and left him under the protection of the guard. Courtesy to a fallen foe in the old days was the first obligation of an officer and a gentleman.
In the autumn, Colonel Taylor again sent his Lieutenant on a distant duty—this time one of peculiar danger. He was ordered to Louisville and Lexington on recruiting service. And the cholera was known to be epidemic but a few miles from Lexington.
The good-by scene that night at the lovers' trysting place, the little tent reception-room of the McCreas', was long and tender and solemn.
"Oh, I feel dreadful about this trip, dear," his sweetheart kept repeating with pitiful despair that refused to be comforted.
"You must be brave, my own," he answered with a frown. "A soldier's business is to die. I am a soldier. I go where duty calls—"
"To battle—yes—but this black pestilence that comes in the night—I'm afraid—I just can't help it—I'm afraid. I've always had a horror of such things. I've a presentiment that you'll die that way—"
"Presentiments and dreams go by opposites. I'll live to a ripe old age—"
She looked up into his face with a tender smile:
"You think so?"
"Yes, why not?"
"Well—I've something to tell you—"
She paused and the man bent low.
"I've made a vow to God—" the voice stopped with a sob—"that if He will only send you safely back to me this time—I'll wait no longer on my father's whim—I am yours—"
The lover clasped her trembling form to his heart.
"Good-by, dearest," he said at last. "I wish to go with that promise ringing in my soul."
Ten days after he reached Lexington, the cholera broke out, and hundreds fled. He stood by his men, watched their diet, nursed the sick, and buried the dead. He helped the carpenter make the coffins and reverently bore the victims to their graves. No fear was in his soul. Love was chanting the anthem of Life.
A strange new light was burning in the eyes of the woman he loved on the day he returned in safety.
She seized his hand and spoke with decision:
"Come with me."
Her father was standing at the gate. She faced him, holding defiantly the hand of her lover.
The old man saw and understood. His jaw was set with sullen determination and his face hardened.
"We have waited two long years," she began softly. "We have been patient and hopeful, but you have given no sign. My lover's character is beyond reproach, and I am proud of him. I am sorry to cross you, Father, but I've made up my mind, I am going to marry him now."
The Colonel turned in silence and slowly walked into the house.
Captain McCrea engaged a stateroom for her on the boat for Louisville. The lovers planned to meet at her aunt's, the Colonel's oldest sister. The tearful good-bys had been said to Mother and sisters and brother.
The Colonel had not spoken, but he had business on the boat before she cast her lines from the shore.
The daughter drew him into her stateroom and slipped her arms around his neck. Few words were spoken and they were broken.
"Please, Father—please?—I love you—please—"
"I'm no longer a child. I'm a woman. You're a real man and you know I could have no respect for myself if I should yield my life's happiness to a whim—"
The old Colonel stroked her shoulder:
"I understand. You're a chip off the old block. You're just as stubborn as I am. And—I—won't—eat—my—words."
With firm hand, he drew away and hurried from the boat.
The Taylor clan of Kentucky gathered for the wedding in force. The romance appealed to their fancy. They loved their high-spirited, self-poised little kinswoman and they liked the tall, modest, young officer she had chosen for her husband. The stern old Colonel was not there, but his brother and his three sisters and all their tribe made merry at the wedding feast.
On the deck of the lazy river steamer, the bride and groom slowly drifted down the moonlit shimmering way to the fields of Mississippi.
The bride nestled close to her lover's side in the long sweet silences too deep for words.
He took her hand in his at last, and said tenderly:
"I've something very important to tell you now, my dear—"
"I'm not afraid—"
"You trust me implicitly?"
"You have given up all for me," he went on evenly, "I'll show your father what I can do for you—"
"You love me—it's enough."
"No. I have resigned my commission in the army. I have given up my career. We'll live only for each other now and build our nest in the far sunny South beyond the frost line."
A little smothered cry was her answer. And then her head slowly sank with a sob on his breast.
THE FAIRY BELLS
They built their home on the banks of the great river where the tide sweeps in graceful curve, all but completing the circle of an enchanted isle.
From the little flower-veiled porch through festoons of lacing boughs gleamed the waters of the huge curved mirror held by Nature's hand. The music from the decks of the steamers floated up on the soft air until music and perfume of flowers seemed one.
In the cool of the morning, on swift, high-bred horses, they rode side by side along the river's towering bluff and laughed in sheer joy at their foolish happiness. In the waning afternoon, hand in hand, they walked the sunlit fields and paused at dusk to hear the songs of slaves. The happiness of lovers is contagious. It sets the hearts of slaves to singing.
In the white solemn splendor of the Southern moon they strolled through enchanted paths of scented roses. On the rustic seat beneath a magnolia in full second bloom they listened to the song of a mocking-bird whose mate had built her nest in the rose trellis beside their door. They could count the beat of his bird heart night after night as he sang the glory of his love and the beauty of his coming brood of young.
"You are happy, dearest?" the lover sighed.
"In heaven,—I am with you."
"And it shall be forever."
"The old life of blood and strife—it seems an ugly dream."
"Except for the sweet days when you were near."
"This only is life, my own, to hold your hand, and walk the way together, to build, not to destroy, to make flowers bloom, birds and slaves sing, to create, not kill—production is communion with God. We live now in His peace that passeth understanding!"
A long silence followed. An owl in a distant tree top gave a shrill plaintive cry. The bride nestled closer and he felt her shiver.
"You are chill, dearest?" he murmured.
"Just a little."
"We're forgetting the late August night winds—"
"No—no—it's nothing—I'm just a wee bit afraid of an owl, that's all."
A dark figure slowly approached and stood with uncovered head.
"What is it, James?" the master asked.
"It's too late, sir, for you and the mistis to be out in dis air—it's chill an' fever time—"
"Thank you, James—we'll go in at once."
When the faithful footfall had died away, the lover lifted his bride in his arms and carried her in, while she softly laughed and clung to his strong young shoulders.
It came with swift, sure tread, the silent white figure of the Pestilence that walks in Tropic Splendor.
The lover laughed the doctor's fears to scorn and the old man was brave and cheerful in the presence of youth and happiness.
James Pemberton followed him to the gate and held his horse's bridle with a tremor in his black hand.
"You don't think, doctor—" he paused, afraid to say the thing—"you don't think my young mistis gwine ter die?"
"She's very ill, Jim—it's an even fight for life."
"Ef she do—hit'll kill my young marster—"
"Soldiers can't die that way—no—"
"Yassah—but dey ain't been married but three months, sah, an' he des worship de very groun' her little foot walks on—she des can't die—she too young an' putty, sah—hit des natchally can't be—"
The doctor's gray head slowly moved as if in remembrance of tragic scenes.
"Death loves a shining mark sometimes!"
He turned to the slave in tones of warning:
"Watch your master closely—"
"He'll go down next—"
Two days later, the strong man collapsed with a crash that took even the experienced old doctor by surprise. An iron will had bent over the bedside of his bride and fought with grim defiance the battle with unseen foe until the last ounce of strength had gone.
In his delirium they moved him to another room and he awoke to find himself in a prison cell on a desert island a thousand miles from the mate he adored.
He watched his jailers and at last his hour came. The tired guard beside his prison pallet slept. With fevered stealth he rose and with the strength of a giant, bent the bars of his cage and crawled and fought his way over hill and valley, rocks and mountains, back to the bedside of his beloved.
He paused in rapture at the door. She was sitting up in bed, the pillows propped behind her back, singing their favorite song—"Fairy Bells." How soft and weirdly sweet her voice—its notes so far away and plaintive—never had she sung so divinely!
He held his breath lest a word or quiver of its melody should be lost. And then he slipped his strong arms about her and looked into her eyes shining with unearthly beauty.
"You have come at last, my own!" she sighed. "I knew the Bells would call you—"
"Yes—dearest—and I'll never leave you again—they took me away a wounded prisoner of war—but I broke the bars and came when I heard you call—"