THE WAY OF A MAN
Author of The Covered Wagon, etc.
Illustrated with Scenes from the Photoplay, The Way of A Man, A Pathe Picture
Grosset & Dunlap Publishers New York
I THE KISSING OF MISS GRACE SHERATON II THE MEETING OF GORDON ORME III THE ART OF THE ORIENT IV WARS AND RUMORS OF WAR V THE MADNESS OF MUCH KISSING VI A SAD LOVER VII WHAT COMETH IN THE NIGHT VIII BEGINNING ADVENTURES IN NEW LANDS IX THE GIRL WITH THE HEART X THE SUPREME COURT XI THE MORNING AFTER XII THE WRECK ON THE RIVER XIII THE FACE IN THE FIRELIGHT XIV AU LARGE XV HER INFINITE VARIETY XVI BUFFALO XVII SIOUX! XVIII THE TEST XIX THE QUALITY OF MERCY XX GORDON ORME, MAGICIAN XXI TWO IN THE DESERT XXII MANDY MCGOVERN ON MARRIAGE XXIII ISSUE JOINED XXIV FORSAKING ALL OTHERS XXV CLEAVING ONLY UNTO HER XXVI IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH XXVII WITH ALL MY WORLDLY GOODS I THEE ENDOW XXVIII TILL DEATH DO PART XXIX THE GARDEN XXX THEY TWAIN XXXI THE BETROTHAL XXXII THE COVENANT XXXIII THE FLAMING SWORD XXXIV THE LOSS OF PARADISE XXXV THE YOKE XXXVI THE GOAD XXXVII THE FURROW XXXVIII HEARTS HYPOTHECATED XXXIX THE UNCOVERING OF GORDON ORME XL A CONFUSION IN COVENANTS XLI ELLEN OR GRACE XLII FACE TO FACE XLIII THE RECKONING XLIV THIS INDENTURE WITNESSETH XLV ELLEN
THE KISSING OF MISS GRACE SHERATON
I admit I kissed her.
Perhaps I should not have done so. Perhaps I would not do so again. Had I known what was to come I could not have done so. Nevertheless I did.
After all, it was not strange. All things about us conspired to be accessory and incendiary. The air of the Virginia morning was so soft and warm, the honeysuckles along the wall were so languid sweet, the bees and the hollyhocks up to the walk so fat and lazy, the smell of the orchard was so rich, the south wind from the fields was so wanton! Moreover, I was only twenty-six. As it chances, I was this sort of a man: thick in the arm and neck, deep through, just short of six feet tall, and wide as a door, my mother said; strong as one man out of a thousand, my father said. And then—the girl was there.
So this was how it happened that I threw the reins of Satan, my black horse, over the hooked iron of the gate at Dixiana Farm and strode up to the side of the stone pillar where Grace Sheraton stood, shading her eyes with her hand, watching me approach through the deep trough road that flattened there, near the Sheraton lane. So I laughed and strode up—and kept my promise. I had promised myself that I would kiss her the first time that seemed feasible. I had even promised her—when she came home from Philadelphia so lofty and superior for her stopping a brace of years with Miss Carey at her Allendale Academy for Young Ladies—that if she mitigated not something of her haughtiness, I would kiss her fair, as if she were but a girl of the country. Of these latter I may guiltily confess, though with no names, I had known many who rebelled little more than formally.
She stood in the shade of the stone pillar, where the ivy made a deep green, and held back her light blue skirt daintily, in her high-bred way; for never was a girl Sheraton who was not high-bred or other than fair to look upon in the Sheraton way—slender, rather tall, long cheeked, with very much dark hair and a deep color under the skin, and something of long curves withal. They were ladies, every one, these Sheraton girls; and as Miss Grace presently advised me, no milkmaids wandering and waiting in lanes for lovers.
When I sprang down from Satan Miss Grace was but a pace or so away. I put out a hand on either side of her as she stood in the shade, and so prisoned her against the pillar. She flushed at this, and caught at my arm with both hands, which made me smile, for few men in that country could have put away my arms from the stone until I liked. Then I bent and kissed her fair, and took what revenge was due our girls for her Philadelphia manners.
When she boxed my ears I kissed her once more. Had she not at that smiled at me a little, I should have been a boor, I admit. As she did—and as I in my innocence supposed all girls did—I presume I may be called but a man as men go. Miss Grace grew very rosy for a Sheraton, but her eyes were bright. So I threw my hat on the grass by the side of the gate and bowed her to be seated. We sat and looked up the lane which wound on to the big Sheraton house, and up the red road which led from their farm over toward our lands, the John Cowles farm, which had been three generations in our family as against four on the part of the Sheratons' holdings; a fact which I think always ranked us in the Sheraton soul a trifle lower than themselves.
We were neighbors, Miss Grace and I, and as I lazily looked out over the red road unoccupied at the time by even the wobbling wheel of some negro's cart, I said to her some word of our being neighbors, and of its being no sin for neighbors to exchange the courtesy of a greeting when they met upon such a morning. This seemed not to please her; indeed I opine that the best way of a man with a maid is to make no manner of speech whatever before or after any such incident as this.
"I was just wandering down the lane," she said, "to see if Jerry had found my horse, Fanny."
"Old Jerry's a mile back up the road," said I, "fast asleep under the hedge."
"The black rascal!"
"He is my friend," said I, smiling.
"You do indeed take me for some common person," said she; "as though I had been looking for—"
"No, I take you only for the sweetest Sheraton that ever came to meet a Cowles from the farm yonder." Which was coming rather close home, for our families, though neighbors, had once had trouble over some such meeting as this two generations back; though of that I do not now speak.
"Cannot a girl walk down her own carriage road of a morning, after hollyhocks for the windows, without—"
"She cannot!" I answered. I would have put out an arm for further mistreatment, but all at once I pulled up. What was I coming to, I, John Cowles, this morning when the bees droned fat and the flowers made fragrant all the air? I was no boy, but a man grown; and ruthless as I was, I had all the breeding the land could give me, full Virginia training as to what a gentleman should be. And a gentleman, unless he may travel all a road, does not set foot too far into it when he sees that he is taken at what seems his wish. So now I said how glad I was that she had come back from school, though a fine lady now, and no doubt forgetful of her friends, of myself, who once caught young rabbits and birds for her, and made pens for the little pink pigs at the orchard edge, and all of that. But she had no mind, it seemed to me, to talk of these old days; and though now some sort of wall seemed to me to arise between us as we sat there on the bank blowing at dandelions and pulling loose grass blades, and humming a bit of tune now and then as young persons will, still, thickheaded as I was, it was in some way made apparent to me that I was quite as willing the wall should be there as she herself was willing.
My mother had mentioned Miss Grace Sheraton to me before. My father had never opposed my riding over now and then to the Sheraton gates. There were no better families in our county than these two. There was no reason why I should feel troubled. Yet as I looked out into the haze of the hilltops where the red road appeared to leap off sheer to meet the distant rim of the Blue Ridge, I seemed to hear some whispered warning. I was young, and wild as any deer in those hills beyond. Had it been any enterprise scorning settled ways; had it been merely a breaking of orders and a following of my own will, I suppose I might have gone on. But there are ever two things which govern an adventure for one of my sex. He may be a man; but he must also be a gentleman. I suppose books might be written about the war between those two things. He may be a gentleman sometimes and have credit for being a soft-headed fool, with no daring to approach the very woman who has contempt for him; whereas she may not know his reasons for restraint. So much for civilization, which at times I hated because it brought such problems. Yet these problems never cease, at least while youth lasts, and no community is free from them, even so quiet a one as ours there in the valley of the old Blue Ridge, before the wars had rolled across it and made all the young people old.
I was of no mind to end my wildness and my roaming just yet; and still, seeing that I was, by gentleness of my Quaker mother and by sternness of my Virginia father, set in the class of gentlemen, I had no wish dishonorably to engage a woman's heart. Alas, I was not the first to learn that kissing is a most difficult art to practice!
When one reflects, the matter seems most intricate. Life to the young is barren without kissing; yet a kiss with too much warmth may mean overmuch, whereas a kiss with no warmth to it is not worth the pains. The kiss which comes precisely at the moment when it should, in quite sufficient warmth and yet not of complicating fervor, working no harm and but joy to both involved—those kisses, now that one pauses to think it over, are relatively few.
As for me, I thought it was time for me to be going.
THE MEETING OF GORDON ORME
I had enough to do when it came to mounting my horse Satan. Few cared to ride Satan, since it meant a battle each time he was mounted. He was a splendid brute, black and clean, with abundant bone in the head and a brilliant eye—blood all over, that was easy to see. Yet he was a murderer at heart. I have known him to bite the backbone out of a yearling pig that came under his manger, and no other horse on our farm would stand before him a moment when he came on, mouth open and ears laid back. He would fight man, dog, or devil, and fear was not in him, nor any real submission. He was no harder to sit than many horses I have ridden. I have seen Arabians and Barbary horses and English hunters that would buck-jump now and then. Satan contented himself with rearing high and whirling sharply, and lunging with a low head; so that to ride him was a matter of strength as well as skill. The greatest danger was in coming near his mouth or heels. My father always told me that this horse was not fit to ride; but since my father rode him—as he would any horse that offered—nothing would serve me but I must ride Satan also, and so I made him my private saddler on occasion.
I ought to speak of my father, that very brave and kindly gentleman from whom I got what daring I ever had, I suppose. He was a clean-cut man, five-eleven in his stockings, and few men in all that country had a handsomer body. His shoulders sloped—an excellent configuration for strength—as a study of no less a man than George Washington will prove—his arms were round, his skin white as milk, his hair, like my own, a sandy red, and his eyes blue and very quiet. There was a balance in his nature that I have ever lacked. I rejoice even now in his love of justice. Fair play meant with him something more than fair play for the sake of sport—it meant as well fair play for the sake of justice. Temperate to the point of caring always for his body's welfare, as regular in his habits as he was in his promises and their fulfillments, kindling readily enough at any risk, though never boasting—I always admired him, and trust I may be pardoned for saying so. I fear that at the time I mention now I admired him most for his strength and courage.
Thus as I swung leg over Satan that morning I resolved to handle him as I had seen my father do, and I felt strong enough for that. I remembered, in the proud way a boy will have, the time when my father and I, riding through the muddy streets of Leesburg town together, saw a farmer's wagon stuck midway of a crossing. "Come, Jack," my father called me, "we must send Bill Yarnley home to his family." Then we two dismounted, and stooping in the mud got our two shoulders under the axle of the wagon, before we were done with it, our blood getting up at the laughter of the townsfolk. When we heaved together, out came Bill Yarnley's wagon from the mud, and the laughter ended. It was like him—he would not stop when once he started. Why, it was so he married my mother, that very sweet Quakeress from the foot of old Catoctin. He told me she said him no many times, not liking his wild ways, so contrary to the manner of the Society of Friends; and she only consented after binding him to go with her once each week to the little stone church at Wallingford village, near our farm, provided he should be at home and able to attend. My mother I think during her life had not missed a half dozen meetings at the little stone church. Twice a week, and once each Sunday, and once each month, and four times each year, and also annually, the Society of Friends met there at Wallingford, and have done so for over one hundred and thirty-five years. Thither went my mother, quiet, brown-haired, gentle, as good a soul as ever lived, and with her my father, tall, strong as a tree, keeping his promise until at length by sheer force of this kept promise, he himself became half Quaker and all gentle, since he saw what it meant to her.
As I have paused in my horsemanship to speak thus of my father, I ought also to speak of my mother. It was she who in those troublous times just before the Civil War was the first to raise the voice in the Quaker Meeting which said that the Friends ought to free their slaves, law or no law; and so started what was called later the Unionist sentiment in that part of old Virginia. It was my mother did that. Then she asked my father to manumit all his slaves; and he thought for an hour, and then raised his head and said it should be done; after which the servants lived on as before, and gave less in return, at which my father made wry faces, but said nothing in regret. After us others also set free their people, and presently this part of Virginia was a sort of Mecca for escaped blacks. It was my mother did that; and I believe that it was her influence which had much to do with the position of East Virginia on the question of the war. And this also in time had much to do with this strange story of mine, and much to do with the presence thereabout of the man whom I was to meet that very morning; although when I started to mount my horse Satan I did not know that such a man as Gordon Orme existed in the world.
When I approached Satan he lunged at me, but I caught him by the cheek strap of the bridle and swung his head close up, feeling for the saddle front as he reached for me with open mouth. Then as he reared I swung up with him into place, and so felt safe, for once I clamped a horse fair there was an end of his throwing me. I laughed when Miss Grace Sheraton called out in alarm, and so wheeled Satan around a few times and rode on down the road, past the fields where the blacks were busy as blacks ever are, and so on to our own red pillared-gates.
Then, since the morning was still young, and since the air seemed to me like wine, and since I wanted something to subdue and Satan offered, I spurred him back from the gate and rode him hard down toward Wallingford. Of course he picked up a stone en route. Two of us held his head while Billings the blacksmith fished out the stone and tapped the shoe nails tight. After that I had time to look around.
As I did so I saw approaching a gentleman who was looking with interest at my mount. He was one of the most striking men I have ever seen, a stranger as I could see, for I knew each family on both sides the Blue Ridge as far up the valley as White Sulphur.
"A grand animal you have there, sir," said he, accosting Me. "I did not know his like existed in this country."
"As well in this as in any country," said I tartly. He smiled at this.
"You know his breeding?"
"Klingwalla out of Bonnie Waters."
"No wonder he's vicious," said the stranger, calmly.
"Ah, you know something of the English strains," said I. He shrugged his shoulders. "As much as that," he commented indifferently.
There was something about him I did not fancy, a sort of condescension, as though he were better than those about him. They say that we Virginians have a way of reserving that right to ourselves; and I suppose that a family of clean strain may perhaps become proud after generations of independence and comfort and freedom from care. None the less I was forced to admit this newcomer to the class of gentlemen. He stood as a gentleman, with no resting or bracing with an arm, or crossing of legs or hitching about, but balanced on his legs easily—like a fencer or boxer or fighting man, or gentleman, in short. His face, as I now perceived, was long and thin, his chin square, although somewhat narrow. His mouth, too, was narrow, and his teeth were narrow, one of the upper teeth at each side like the tooth of a carnivore, longer than its fellows. His hair was thick and close cut to his head, dark, and if the least bit gray about the edges, requiring close scrutiny to prove it so. In color his skin was dark, sunburned beyond tan, almost to parchment dryness. His eyes were gray, the most remarkable eyes that I have ever seen—calm, emotionless, direct, the most fearless eyes I have ever seen in mortal head, and I have looked into many men's eyes in my time. He was taller than most men, I think above the six feet line. His figure was thin, his limbs thin, his hands and feet slender. He did not look one-tenth his strength. He was simply dressed, dressed indeed as a gentleman. He stood as one, spoke as one, and assumed that all the world accepted him as one. His voice was warmer in accent than even our Virginia speech. I saw him to be an Englishman.
"He is a bit nasty, that one"; he nodded his head toward Satan.
I grinned. "I know of only two men in Fairfax County I'd back to ride him."
"By Jove! How old is your father, my good fellow?"
"Sixty, my good fellow," I replied. He laughed.
"Well," said he, "there's a third in Fairfax can ride him."
He nodded carelessly. I did not share his confidence. "He's not a saddler in any sense," said I. "We keep him for the farms."
"Oh, I say, my friend," he rejoined—"my name's Orme, Gordon Orme—I'm just stopping here at the inn for a time, and I'm deucedly bored. I've not had leg over a decent mount since I've been here, and if I might ride this beggar, I'd be awfully obliged."
My jaw may have dropped at his words; I am not sure. It was not that he called our little tavern an "inn." It was the name he gave me which caused me to start.
"Orme," said I, "Mr. Gordon Orme? That was the name of the speaker the other evening here at the church of the Methodists."
He nodded, smiling. "Don't let that trouble you," said he.
None the less it did trouble me; for the truth was that word had gone about to the effect that a new minister from some place not stated had spoken from the pulpit on that evening upon no less a topic than the ever present one of Southern slavery. Now, I could not clear it to my mind how a minister of the gospel might take so keen and swift an interest in a stranger in the street, and that stranger's horse. I expressed to him something of my surprise.
"It's of no importance," said he again. "What seems to me of most importance just at present is that here's a son of old Klingwalla, and that I want to ride him."
"Just for the sake of saying you have done so?" I inquired.
His face changed swiftly as he answered: "We owned Klingwalla ourselves back home. He broke a leg for my father, and was near killing him."
"Sir," I said to him, catching his thought quickly, "we could not afford to have the horse injured, but if you wish to ride him fair or be beaten by him fair, you are welcome to the chance."
His eye kindled at this. "You're a sportsman, sir," he exclaimed, and he advanced at once toward Satan.
I saw in him something which awakened a responsive chord in my nature. He was a man to take a risk and welcome it for the risk's sake. Moreover, he was a horseman; as I saw by his quick glance over Satan's furniture. He caught the cheek strap of the bridle, and motioned us away as we would have helped him at the horse's head. Then ensued as pretty a fight between man and horse as one could ask to see. The black brute reared and fairly took him from the ground, fairly chased him about the street, as a great dog would a rat. But never did the iron hold on the bridle loosen, and the man was light on his feet as a boy. Finally he had his chance, and with the lightest spring I ever saw at a saddle skirt, up he went and nailed old Satan fair, with a grip which ridged his legs out. I saw then that he was a rider. His head was bare, his hat having fallen off; his hair was tumbled, but his color scarcely heightened. As the horse lunged and bolted about the street, Orme sat him in perfect confidence. He kept his hands low, his knees a little more up and forward than we use in our style of riding, and his weight a trifle further back; but I saw from the lines of his limbs that he had the horse in a steel grip. He gazed down contemplatively, with a half serious look, master of himself and of the horse as well. Then presently he turned him up the road and went off at a gallop, with the brute under perfect control. I do not know what art he used; all I can say is that in a half hour he brought Satan back in a canter.
This was my first acquaintance with Gordon Orme, that strange personality with whom I was later to have much to do. This was my first witnessing of that half uncanny power by which he seemed to win all things to his purposes. I admired him, yet did not like him, when he swung carelessly down and handed me the reins.
"He's a grand one," he said easily, "but not so difficult to ride as old Klingwalla. Not that I would discount your own skill in riding him, sir, for I doubt not you have taken a lot out of him before now."
At least this was generous, and as I later learned, it was like him to give full credit to the performance of any able adversary.
THE ART OF THE ORIENT
"Come," said Orme to me, "let us go into the shade, for I find your Virginia morning warm."
We stepped over to the gallery of the little tavern, where the shade was deep and the chairs were wide and the honeysuckles sweet. I threw myself rather discontentedly into a chair. Orme seated himself quietly in another, his slender legs crossed easily, his hands meeting above his elbows supported on the chair rails, as he gazed somewhat meditatively at his finger tips.
"So you did not hear my little effort the other night?" he remarked, smiling.
"I was not so fortunate as to hear you speak. But I will only say I will back you against any minister of the gospel I ever knew when it comes to riding horses."
"Oh, well," he deprecated, "I'm just passing through on my way to Albemarle County across the mountains. You couldn't blame me for wanting something to do—speaking or riding, or what not. One must be occupied, you know. But shall we not have them bring us one of these juleps of the country? I find them most agreeable, I declare."
I did not criticise his conduct as a wearer of the cloth, but declined his hospitality on the ground that it was early in the day for me. He urged me so little and was so much the gentleman that I explained.
"Awhile ago," I said, "my father came to me and said, 'I see, Jack, that thee is trying to do three things—to farm, hunt foxes, and drink juleps. Does thee think thee can handle all three of these activities in combination?' You see, my mother is a Quakeress, and when my father wished to reprove me he uses the plain speech. Well, sir, I thought it over, and for the most part I dropped the other two, and took up more farming."
"Your father is Mr. John Cowles, of Cowles' Farms?"
"No doubt your family know every one in this part of the country?"
"Oh, yes, very well."
"These are troublous times," he ventured, after a time. "I mean in regard to this talk of secession of the Southern States."
I was studying this man. What was he doing here in our quiet country community? What was his errand? What business had a julep-drinking, horse-riding parson speaking in a Virginia pulpit where only the gospel was known, and that from exponents worth the name?
"You are from Washington?" I said at length.
"The country is going into deep water one way or the other," said I. "Virginia is going to divide on slavery. It is not for me, nor for any of us, to hasten that time. Trouble will come fast enough without our help."
"I infer you did not wholly approve of my little effort the other evening. I was simply looking at the matter from a logical standpoint. It is perfectly clear that the old world must have cotton, that the Southern States must supply that cotton, and that slavery alone makes cotton possible for the world. It is a question of geography rather than of politics; yet your Northern men make it a question of politics. Your Congress is full of rotten tariff legislation, which will make a few of your Northern men rich—and which will bring on this war quite as much as anything the South may do. Moreover, this tariff disgusts England, very naturally. Where will England side when the break comes? And what will be the result when the South, plus England, fights these tariff makers over here? I have no doubt that you, sir, know the complexion of all these neighborhood families in these matters. I should be most happy if you could find it possible for me to meet your father and his neighbors, for in truth I am interested in these matters, merely as a student. And I have heard much of the kindness of this country toward strangers."
It was not our way in Virginia to allow persons of any breeding to put up at public taverns. We took them to our homes. I have seen a hundred horses around my father's barns during the Quarterly Meetings of the Society of Friends. Perhaps we did not scrutinize all our guests over-closely, but that was the way of the place. I had no hesitation in saying to Mr. Orme that we should be glad to entertain him at Cowles' Farms. He was just beginning to thank me for this when we were suddenly interrupted.
We were sitting some paces from the room where landlord Sanderson kept his bar, so that we heard only occasionally the sound of loud talk which came through the windows. But now came footsteps and confused words in voices, one of which I seemed to know. There staggered through the door a friend of mine, Harry Singleton, a young planter of our neighborhood, who had not taken my father's advice, but continued to divide his favor between farming, hunting and drinking. He stood there leaning against the wall, his face more flushed than one likes to see a friend's face before midday.
"Hullo, ol' fel," he croaked at me. "Hurrah for C'fedrate States of America!"
"Very well," I said to him, "suppose we do hurrah for the Confederate States of America. But let us wait until there is such a thing."
He glowered at me. "Also," he said, solemnly, "Hurrah for Miss Grace Sheraton, the pretties' girl in whole C'federate States America!"
"Harry," I cried, "stop! You're drunk, man. Come on, I'll take you home."
He waved at me an uncertain hand. "Go 'way, slight man!" he muttered. "Grace Sheraton pretties' girl in whole C'federate States America."
According to our creed it was not permissible for a gentleman, drunk or sober, to mention a lady's name in a place like that. I rose and put my hand across Harry's mouth, unwilling that a stranger should hear a girl's name mentioned in the place. No doubt I should have done quite as much for any girl of our country whose name came up in that way. But to my surprise Harry Singleton was just sufficiently intoxicated to resent the act of his best friend. With no word of warning he drew back his hand and struck me in the face with all his force, the blow making a smart crack which brought all the others running from within. Still, I reflected, that this was not the act of Harry Singleton, but only that of a drunken man who to-morrow would not remember what had been done.
"That will be quite enough, Harry," said I. "Come, now, I'll take you home. Sanderson, go get his horse or wagon, or whatever brought him here."
"Not home!" cried Harry. "First inflict punishment on you for denyin' Miss Gracie Sheraton pretties' girl whole C'fedrate States America. Girls like John Cowles too much! Must mash John Cowles! Must mash John Cowles sake of Gracie Sheraton, pretties' girl in whole wide worl'!"
He came toward me as best he might, his hands clenched. I caught him by the wrist, and as he stumbled past, I turned and had his arm over my shoulder. I admit I threw him rather cruelly hard, for I thought he needed it. He was entirely quiet when we carried him into the room and placed him on the leather lounge.
"By Jove!" I heard a voice at my elbow. "That was handsomely done—handsomely done all around."
I turned to meet the outstretched hand of my new friend, Gordon Orme.
"Where did you learn the trick?" he asked.
"The trick of being a gentleman," I answered him slowly, my face red with anger at Singleton's foolishness, "I never learned at all. But to toss a poor drunken fool like that over one's head any boy might learn at school."
"No," said my quasi-minister of the gospel, emphatically, "I differ with you. Your time was perfect. You made him do the work, not yourself. Tell me, are you a skilled wrestler?"
I was nettled now at all these things which were coming to puzzle and perturb an honest fellow out for a morning ride.
"Yes," I answered him, "since you are anxious to know, I'll say I can throw any man in Fairfax except one."
"My father. He's sixty, as I told you, but he can always beat me."
"There are two in Fairfax you cannot throw," said Orme, smiling.
My blood was up just enough to resent this challenge. There came to me what old Dr. Hallowell at Alexandria calls the "gaudium certaminis." In a moment I was little more than a full-blooded fighting animal, and had forgotten all the influences of my Quaker home.
"Sir," I said to him hotly, "I propose taking you home with me. But before I do that, and since you seem to wish it, I am going to lay you on your back here in the road. Frankly, there are some things about you I do not like, and if that will remedy your conceit, I'm going to do it for you—for any sort of wager you like."
"Money against your horse?" he inquired, stripping to his ruffled shirt as he spoke. "A hundred guineas, five hundred?"
"Yes, for the horse," I said. "He's worth ten thousand. But if you've two or three hundred to pay for my soiling the shoulders of your shirt, I'm willing to let the odds stand so."
He smiled at me simply—I swear almost winningly, such was the quality of the man.
"I like you," he said simply. "If all the men of this country resembled you, all the world could not beat it."
I was stripped by this time myself, and so, without pausing to consider the propriety on either side of our meeting in this sudden encounter in a public street, we went at it as though we had made a rendezvous there for that express purpose, with no more hesitation and no more fitness than two game cocks which might fall fighting in a church in case they met there.
Orme came to me with no hurry and no anxiety, light on his feet as a skilled fencer. As he passed he struck for my shoulder, and his grip, although it did not hold, was like the cutting of a hawk's talons. He branded me red with his fingers wherever he touched me, although the stroke of his hand was half tentative rather than aggressive. I went to him with head low, and he caught me at the back of the neck with a stroke like that of a smiting bar; but I flung him off, and so we stepped about, hands extended, waiting for a hold. He grew eager, and allowed me to catch him by the wrist. I drew him toward me, but he braced with his free arm bent against my throat, and the more I pulled, the more I choked. Then by sheer strength I drew his arm over my shoulder as I had that of Harry Singleton. He glided into this as though it had been his own purpose, and true as I speak I think he aided me in throwing him over my head, for he went light as a feather, and fell on his feet when I freed him. I was puzzled not a little, for the like of this I had not seen in all my meetings with good men.
As we stepped about cautiously, seeking to engage again, his eye was fixed on mine curiously, half contemplatively, but utterly without concern or fear of any kind. I never saw an eye like his. It gave me not fear, but horror! The more I encountered him, the more uncanny he appeared. The lock of the arm at the back of the neck, those holds known as the Nelson and the half-Nelson, and the ancient "hip lock," and the ineffectual schoolboy "grapevine"—he would none of things so crude, and slipped out of them like a snake. Continually I felt his hands, and where he touched there was pain—on my forehead, at the edge of the eye sockets, at the sides of my neck, in the middle of my back—whenever we locked and broke I felt pain, and I knew that such assault upon the nerve centers of a man's body might well disable him, no matter how strong he was. But, as for him, he did not breathe the faster. It was system with him. I say, I felt not fear only but a horror of him.
By chance I found myself with both hands on his arms, and I knew that no man could break that hold when once set, for vast strength of forearm and wrist was one of the inheritances of all men of the Cowles family. I drew him steadily to me, pulled his head against my chest, and upended him fair, throwing him this time at length across my shoulder. I was sure I had him then, for he fell on his side. But even as he fell he rose, and I felt a grip like steel on each ankle. Then there was a snake-like bend on his part, and before I had time to think I was on my face. His knees were astride my body, and gradually I felt them pushing my arms up toward my neck. I felt a slight blow on the back of my head, as though by the edge of the hand—light, delicate, gentle, but dreamy in its results. Then I was half conscious of a hand pushing down my head, of another hand reaching for my right wrist. It occurred to me in a distant way that I was about to be beaten, subdued—I, John Cowles!
This had been done, as he had said of my own work with Singleton, as much by the momentum of my own fall as by any great effort on his part. As he had said regarding my own simple trick, the time of this was perfect, though how far more difficult than mine, only those who have wrestled with able men can understand.
For the first time in my life I found myself about to be mastered by another man. Had he been more careful he certainly would have had the victory over me. But the morning was warm, and we had worked for some moments. My man stopped for a moment in his calm pinioning of my arms, and perhaps raised his hand to brush his face or push back his hair. At that moment luck came to my aid. He did not repeat the strange gentle blow at the back of my head—one which I think would have left unconscious a man with a neck less stiff—and as his pressure on my twisted arm relaxed, I suddenly got back my faculties. At once I used my whole body as a spring, and so straightened enough to turn and put my arm power against his own, which was all I wanted.
He laughed when I turned, and with perfect good nature freed my arm and sprang to his feet, bowing with hand upreached to me. His eye had lost its peculiar stare, and shone now with what seemed genuine interest and admiration. He seemed ready to call me a sportsman, and a good rival, and much as I disliked to do so, I was obliged to say as much for him in my own heart.
"By the Lord! sir," he said—with a certain looseness of speech, as it seemed to me, for a minister of the gospel to employ, "you're the first I ever knew to break it."
"'Twas no credit to me," I owned. "You let go your hand. The horse is yours."
"Not in the least," he responded, "not in the least. If I felt I had won him I'd take him, and not leave you feeling as though you had been given a present. But if you like I'll draw my own little wager as well. You're the best man I ever met in any country. By the Lord! man, you broke the hold that I once saw an ex-guardsman killed at Singapore for resisting—broke his arm short off, and he died on the table. I've seen it at Tokio and Nagasaki—why, man, it's the yellow policeman's hold, the secret trick of the Orient. Done in proper time, and the little gentleman is the match of any size, yellow or white."
I did not understand him then, but later I knew that I had for my first time seen the Oriental art of wrestling put in practice. I do not want to meet a master in it again. I shook Orme by the hand.
"If you like to call it a draw," said I, "it would suit me mighty well. You're the best man I ever took off coat to in my life. And I'll never wrestle you again unless"—I fear I blushed a little—"well, unless you want it."
"Game! Game!" he cried, laughing, and dusting off his knees. "I swear you Virginians are fellows after my own heart. But come, I think your friend wants you now."
We turned toward the room where poor Harry was mumbling to himself, and presently I loaded him into the wagon and told the negro man to drive him home.
For myself, I mounted Satan and rode off up the street of Wallingford toward Cowles' Farms with my head dropped in thought; for certainly, when I came to review the incidents of the morning, I had had enough to give me reason for reflection.
WARS AND RUMORS OF WAR
We sent our carriage down to Wallingford that evening and had my new friend, Mr. Orme, out to Cowles' Farms for that night. He was a stranger in the land, and that was enough. I often think to-day how ready we were to welcome any who came, and how easily we might have been deceived as to the nature of such chance guests.
Yet Orme so finely conducted himself that none might criticise him, and indeed both my father and mother appeared fairly to form a liking for him. This was the more surprising on the part of both, since they were fully advised of the nature of his recent speech, or sermon, or what you choose to call it, at the Methodist church, the sentiments of which scarce jumped with their own. Both my parents accepted Orme for what he purported to be, a minister of the gospel; and any singularity of his conduct which they may have noticed they ascribed to his education in communities different from our own quiet one. I remember no acrimonious speech during his visit with us, although the doctrine which he had pronounced and which now and again, in one form or another, he renewed, was not in accord with ours. I recall very well the discussions they had, and remember how formally my mother would begin her little arguments: "Friend, I am moved to say to thee"; and then she would go on to tell him gently that all men should be brothers, and that there should be peace on earth, and that no man should oppress his brother in any way, and that slavery ought not to exist.
"What! madam," Orme would exclaim, "this manner of thought in a Southern family!" And so he in turn would go on repeating his old argument of geography, and saying how England must side with the South, and how the South must soon break with the North. "This man Lincoln, if elected," said he, "will confiscate every slave in the Southern States. He will cripple and ruin the South, mark my words. He will cost the South millions that never will be repaid. I cannot see how any Virginian can fail to stand with all his Southern brothers, front to front against the North on these vital questions."
"I do not think the South would fight the North over slavery alone. The South loves the flag, because she helped create it as much or more than the North. She will not bear treason to the flag." Thus my father.
"It would be no treason," affirmed Orme, "but duty, if that flag became the flag of oppression. The Anglo-Saxon has from King John down refused to be governed unjustly and oppressively."
And so they went on, hour after hour, not bitterly, but hotly, as was the fashion all over the land at that time. My father remained a Whig, which put him in line, sometimes, with the Northern men then coming into prominence, such as Morrill of New England, and young Sherman from across the mountains, who believed in the tariff in spite of what England might say to us. This set him against the Jefferson clans of our state, who feared not a war with the North so much as one with Europe. Already England was pronouncing her course; yet those were not days of triumphant conclusions, but of doubtful weighing and hard judgment, as we in old Virginia could have told you, who saw neighbors set against each other, and even families divided among themselves.
For six years the war talk had been growing stronger. Those of the South recoiled from the word treason—it had a hateful sound to them—nor have they to this day justified its application to themselves. I myself believe to-day that that war was much one of geography and of lack of transportation. Not all the common folk of the North or of the South then knew that it was never so much a war of principle, as they were taught to think, but rather a war of self-interest between two clashing commercial parties. We did not know that the unscrupulous kings of the cotton world, here and abroad, were making deliberate propaganda of secession all over the South; that secession was not a thing voluntary and spontaneous, but an idea nourished to wrong growth by a secret and shrewd commercial campaign, whose nature and extent few dreamed, either then or afterward. It was not these rich and arrogant planters of the South, even, men like our kin in the Carolinas, men like those of the Sheraton family, who were the pillars of the Confederacy, or rather, of the secession idea. Back of them, enshrouded forever in darkness—then in mystery, and now in oblivion which cannot be broken—were certain great figures of the commercial world in this land and in other lands. These made a victim of our country at that time, even as a few great commercial figures seek to do to-day, and we, poor innocent fools, flew at each other's throats, and fought, and slew, and laid waste a land, for no real principle and to no gain to ourselves. Nothing is so easy to deceive, to hoodwink, to blind and betray, as a great and innocent people that in its heart loves justice and fair play.
I fear, however, that while much of this talk was going on upon the galleries at Cowles' Farms, I myself was busier with the training of my pointer than I was with matters of politics. I was not displeased when my mother came to me presently that afternoon and suggested that we should all make a visit to Dixiana Farm, to call upon our neighbors, the Sheratons.
"Mr. Orme says he would like to meet Colonel Sheraton," she explained, "and thee knows that we have not been to see our neighbors for some time now. I thought that perhaps Colonel Sheraton might be moved to listen to me as well as to Mr. Orme, if I should speak of peace—not in argument, as thee knows, but as his neighbor."
She looked at me a moment, her hand dusting at my coat. "Thee knows the Sheratons and the Cowles have sometimes been friends and sometimes enemies—I would rather we were friends. And, Jack, Miss Grace is quite thy equal—it any may be the equal of my boy. And some day thee must be thinking, thee knows—"
"I was already thinking, mother," said I gravely; and so, indeed, I was, though perhaps not quite as she imagined.
At least that is how we happened to ride to the Sheratons that afternoon, in our greater carriage, my father and Mr. Orme by the side of my mother, and I alongside on horseback. In some way the visit seemed to have a formal nature.
Colonel Sheraton met us at his lawn, and as the day was somewhat warm, asked us to be seated in the chairs beneath the oaks. Here Miss Grace joined us presently, and Orme was presented to her, as well as to Mrs. Sheraton, tall, dark, and lace-draped, who also joined us in response to Colonel Sheraton's request. I could not fail to notice the quick glance with which Orme took in the face and figure of Grace Sheraton; and, indeed he had been a critical man who would not have called her fair to look upon.
The elder members of the party fell to conversing in their rocking-chairs there on the lawn, and I was selfish enough to withdraw Miss Grace to the gallery steps, where we sat for a time, laughing and talking, while I pulled the ears of their hunting dog, and rolled under foot a puppy or two, which were my friends. I say, none could have failed to call Grace Sheraton fair. It pleased me better to sit there on the gallery steps and talk with her than to listen once more to the arguments over slavery and secession. I could hear Colonel Sheraton's deep voice every now and then emphatically coinciding with some statement made by Orme. I could see the clean-cut features of the latter, and his gestures, strongly but not flamboyantly made.
As for us two, the language that goes without speech between a young man and a maid passed between us. I rejoiced to mock at her, always, and did so now, declaring again my purpose to treat her simply as my neighbor and not as a young lady finished at the best schools of Philadelphia. But presently in some way, I scarce can say by whose first motion, we arose and strolled together around the corner of the house and out into the orchard.
THE MADNESS OF MUCH KISSING
"That was a very noble thing of you," Miss Grace Sheraton was saying to me, as we passed slowly among the big trees of the Sheraton apple orchard. Her eyes were rather soft and a slight color lay upon her cheeks, whose ivory hue was rarely heightened in this way.
"I am in ignorance, Miss Grace," I said to her.
"Fie! You know very well what I mean—about yesterday."
"Oh, that," said I, and went rather red of the face, for I thought she meant my salutation at the gate.
She, redder now than myself, needed no explanation as to what I meant. "No, not that," she began hastily, "that was not noble, but vile of you! I mean at the tavern, where you took my part—"
So then I saw that word in some way had come to her of the little brawl between Harry Singleton and myself. Then indeed my face grew scarlet. "It was nothing," said I, "simply nothing at all." But to this she would not listen.
"To protect an absent woman is always manly," she said. (It was the women of the South who set us all foolish about chivalry.) "I thank you for caring for my name."
Now, I should have grown warmer in the face and in the heart at this, but the very truth is that I felt a chill come over me, as though I were getting deeper into cold water. I guessed her mind. Now, how was I, who had kissed her at the lane, who had defended her when absent, who called now in state with his father and mother in the family carriage—how was I to say I was not of the same mind as she? I pulled the ears of the hunting dog until he yelped in pain.
We were deep in the great Sheraton orchard, across the fence which divided it from the house grounds, so far that only the great chimney of the house showed above the trees. The shade was gracious, the fragrance alluring. At a distance the voices of singing negroes came to us. Presently we came to a fallen apple tree, a giant perhaps planted there generations before. We seated ourselves here, and we should have been happy, for we were young, and all about us was sweet and comforting. Yet, on my honor, I would rather at that moment have been talking to my mother than to Grace Sheraton. I did not know why.
For some time we sat there, pulling at apple blossoms and grass stems, and talking of many things quite beside the real question; but at last there came an interruption. I heard the sound of a low, rumbling bellow approaching through the trees, and as I looked up I saw, coming forward with a certain confidence, Sir Jonas, the red Sheraton bull, with a ring in his nose, and in his carriage an intense haughtiness for one so young. I knew all about Sir Jonas, for we had bred him on our farm, and sold him not long since to the Sheratons.
Miss Grace gathered her skirts for instant flight, but I quickly pushed her down. I knew the nature of Sir Jonas very well, and saw that flight would mean disaster long before she could reach any place of safety.
"Keep quiet," I said to her in a low voice. "Don't make any quick motions, or he'll charge. Come with me, slowly now."
Very pale, and with eyes staring at the intruder, she arose as I bade her and slowly moved toward the tree which I had in mind. "Now—quick!" I said, and catching her beneath the arms I swung her up into the low branches. Her light lawn gown caught on a knotty limb, somewhat to her perturbation, and ere I could adjust it and get her safe aloft Sir Jonas had made up his mind. He came on with head down, in a short, savage rush, and his horn missed my trouser leg by no more than an inch as I dodged around the tree. At this I laughed, but Miss Grace screamed, until between my hasty actions I called to her to keep quiet.
Sir Jonas seemed to have forgotten my voice, and though I commanded him to be gone, he only shook his curly front and came again with head low and short legs working very fast. Once more he nearly caught me with a side lunge of his wicked horns as he whirled. He tossed up his head then and bolted for the tree where Miss Grace had her refuge. Then I saw it was the red lining of her Parisian parasol which had enraged him. "Throw it down!" I called out to her. She could not find it in her heart to toss it straight down to Sir Jonas, who would have trampled it at once, so she cast it sidelong toward me, and inch by inch I beat Sir Jonas in the race to it. Then I resolved that he should not have it at all, and so tossed it into the branches of another tree as I ran.
"Come," called the girl to me, "jump! Get up into a tree. He can't catch you there."
But I was in no mind to take to a tree, and wait for some inglorious discovery by a rescue party from the house. I found my fighting blood rising, and became of the mind to show Sir Jonas who was his master, regardless of who might be his owner.
His youth kept him in good wind still, and he charged me again and again, keeping me hard put to it to find trees enough, even in an orchard full of trees. Once he ripped the bark half off a big trunk as I sprang behind it, and he stood with his head still pressed there, not two feet from where I was, with my hand against the tree, braced for a sudden spring. His front foot dug in the sod, his eyes were red, and between his grumbles his breath came in puffs and snorts of anger. Evidently he meant me ill, and this thought offended me.
Near by me on the ground lay a ragged limb, cut from some tree by the pruners, now dry, tough and not ill-shaped for a club. I reached back with my foot and pulled it within reach, then stooped quickly and got it in hand, breaking off a few of the lesser branches with one foot, as we still stood there eying each other. "Now, sir," said I to Sir Jonas at last, "I shall show you that no little bull two years old can make me a laughing stock." Then I sprang out and carried the war into Africa forthwith.
Sir Jonas was surprised when I came from behind the tree and swung a hard blow to the side of his tender nose; and as I repeated this, he grunted, blew out his breath and turned his head to one side with closed eyes, raising his muzzle aloft in pain. Once more I struck him fair on the muzzle, and this time he bawled loudly in surprise and anguish, and so turned to run. This act of his offered me fair hold upon his tail, and so affixed to him, I followed smiting him upon the back with blows which I think cut through his hide where the pointed knots struck. Thus with loud orders and with a voice which he ought better to have remembered, I brought him to his senses and pursued him entirely out of the orchard, so that he had no mind whatever to return. After which, with what dignity I could summon, I returned to the tree where Grace Sheraton was still perched aloft. Drawing my riding gloves from my pocket I reached up my hands, somewhat soiled with the encounter, and so helped her down to earth once more. And once more her gaze, soft and not easily to be mistaken, rested upon me.
"Tell me, Jack Cowles," she said, "is there anything in the world you are afraid to do?"
"At least I'm not afraid to give a lesson to any little Sir Jonas that has forgot his manners," I replied. "But I hope you are not hurt in any way?" She shook her head, smoothing out her gown, and again raised her eyes to mine.
We seated ourselves again upon our fallen apple tree. Her hand fell upon my coat sleeve. We raised our eyes. They met. Our lips met also—I do not know how.
I do not hold myself either guilty or guiltless. I am only a man now. I was only a boy then. But even then I had my notions, right or wrong, as to what a gentleman should be and do. At least this is how Grace Sheraton and I became engaged.
A SAD LOVER
I shall never forget the scene there under the oak of the Sheraton front yard, which met my gaze when Miss Grace and I came about the corner of the house.
Before us, and facing each other, stood my father and Colonel Sheraton, the former standing straight and tall, Colonel Sheraton with tightly clenched hand resting on his stick, his white hair thrown back, his shaggy brows contracted. My mother sat in the low rocker which had been brought to her, and opposite her, leaning forward, was Mrs. Sheraton, tall, thin, her black eyes fixed upon the men. Orme, also standing, his hands behind him, regarded the troubled men intently. Near at hand was the Sheratons' Jim, his face also fixed upon them; and such was his own emotion that he had tipped his silver tray and dropped one of the Sheraton cut glass julep glasses to the sod.
It was mid-afternoon, or evening, as we call it in Virginia, and the light was still frank and strong, though the wind was softening among the great oaks, and the flowers were sweet all about. It was a scene of peace; but it was not peace which occupied those who made its central figures.
"I tell you, Cowles," said Colonel Sheraton, grinding his stick into the turf, "you do not talk like a Virginian. If the North keeps on this course, then we Southerners must start a country of our own. Look, man—" He swept about him an arm which included his own wide acres and ours, lying there shimmering clear to the thin line of the old Blue Ridge—"We must fight for these homes!"
My mother stirred in her chair, but she made no speech, only looked at my father.
"You forget, Colonel," said my father in his low, deep voice, "that this man Lincoln has not yet been elected, and that even if elected he may prove a greater figure than we think. He has not yet had chance to learn the South."
Orme had been standing silent, his face indifferent or faintly lighted with an habitual cynicism. Now he broke in. "He will never be elected," he said emphatically. "It would ruin the entire industry of the South. I tell you Lincoln is thinking of his own political advancement and caring nothing for this country. The South must secede, gentlemen—if you will allow me as a stranger to venture an opinion."
My mother turned her gaze to him, but it was Sheraton who spoke.
"It goes back to the old Articles of Federation, our first compact," he said. "From the very first the makers of this country saw that by reason of diverse industries the South was separated from the North. This secession has been written in the sky from the beginning of the world."
"Nay, brother Sheraton," broke in my mother eagerly "it was the union of brothership that was written first in the sky."
He turned to her with the bow of a gentleman. "It is you ladies who knit the world together with kindness," he said. "Alas, that men must rend it with fighting."
"Alas!" whispered she.
Sheraton's own face was sad as he went on with the old justification. "Jefferson would turn over in his grave if he saw Virginia divided as it is. Why, Cowles, we've all the world we need here. We can live alone here, each on his own acres, a gentleman, and all he needs of government is protection and fair laws. Calhoun was right. Better give us two peaceful countries, each living happily and content, than one at war with itself. Clay was a great man, but both he and Webster were fighting against the inevitable."
"That is true," interrupted Orme; "unquestionably true. Texas came near becoming a colony of England because this country would not take her. She declared for slavery, and had that right. The Spaniards had made California a slave state, but the gold seekers by vote declared her free. They had that right to govern themselves. As to the new lands coming in, it is their right also to vote upon the question of slavery, each new state for itself."
"The war has already begun on the border," said my father. "My friend and partner, Colonel Meriwether of Albemarle, who is with the Army in the West, says that white men are killing white men all across the lands west of the Missouri."
"At least, Cowles," said Colonel Sheraton, pacing a short way apart, his hands behind his back, "we can wait until after this election."
"But if the Government takes action?" suggested Orme.
Sheraton whirled quickly, "Then war! war!" he cried, "War till each Virginian is dead on his doorstep, and each woman starved at her fireside. John Cowles, you and I will fight—I know that you will fight."
"Yes," said my father, "I will fight."
"And with us!"
"No," said my father, sighing; "no, my friend, against you!" I saw my mother look at him and sink back in her chair. I saw Orme also gaze at him sharply, with a peculiar look upon his face.
But so, at least, this argument ended for the time. The two men, old neighbors, took each other solemnly by the hand, and presently, after talk of more pleasant sort on lesser matters, the servants brought our carriage and we started back for Cowles' Farms.
There had been no opportunity for me to mention to Colonel and Mrs. Sheraton something that was upon my mind. I had small chance for farewell to Miss Grace, and if I shall admit the truth, this pleased me quite as well as not.
We rode in silence for a time, my father musing, my mother silent also. It was Orme who was the first I heard to speak.
"By the way, Mr. Cowles," he said, "you spoke of Colonel Meriwether of Albemarle County. Is he away in the West? It chances that I have letters to him, and I was purposing going into that country before long."
"Indeed, sir?" replied my father. "I am delighted to know that you are to meet my friend. As it chances, he is my associate in a considerable business enterprise—a splendid man, a splendid man, Meriwether. I will, if you do not mind, add my letter to others you may have, and I trust you will carry him our best wishes from this side of the mountains."
That was like my father—innocent, unsuspicious, ever ready to accept other men as worthy of his trust, and ever ready to help a stranger as he might. For myself, I confess I was more suspicious. Something about Orme set me on edge, I knew not what. I heard them speaking further about Meriwether's being somewhere in the West, and heard Orme also say carelessly that he must in any case run over to Albemarle and call upon some men whom he was to meet at the University of Virginia. We did not ask his errand, and none of us suspected the purpose of his systematic visiting among the more influential centers of that country. But if you will go now to that white-domed building planned by Thomas Jefferson at Charlottesville, and read the names on the brazen tablets by the doors, names of boys who left school there to enter a harder school, then you will see the results of the visit there of Gordon Orme.
My little personal affairs were at that time so close to me that they obscured clear vision of larger ones. I did not hear all the talk in the carriage, but pulled my horse in behind and so rode on moodily, gazing out across the pleasant lands to the foot of old Catoctin and the dim Blue Ridge. A sudden discontent assailed me. Must I live here always—must I settle down and be simply a farmer forever? I wanted to ride over there, over the Rock Fish Gap, where once King Charles' men broke a bottle in honor of the king, and took possession of all the lands west of the Pacific. The West—the word in some way thrilled in my blood—I knew not why. I was a boy. I had not learned to question any emotion, and introspection troubled me no more than it did my pointer dog.
Before we had separated at the door of our house, I motioned to my mother, and we drew apart and seated ourselves beneath our own oaks in the front yard of Cowles' Farms. Then I told her what had happened between Miss Grace and myself, and asked her if she was pleased.
"I am very content with thee," she answered, slowly, musingly. "Thee must think of settling, Jack, and Miss Grace is a worthy girl. I hope it will bring peace between our families always." I saw a film cross her clear, dark eye. "Peace!" she whispered to herself. "I wish that it might be."
But peace was not in my heart. Leaving her presently, I once more swung leg over saddle and rode off across our fields, as sad a lover as ever closed the first day of his engagement to be wed.
WHAT COMETH IN THE NIGHT
When I rode up our lane in the dusk, I found my father and mother sitting in the cool of the front gallery, and giving my rein to one of our boys, I flung myself down on the steps near by, and now and again joined in their conversation.
I was much surprised to learn that our whilom guest, Gordon Orme, had taken sudden departure during my absence, he having been summoned by a messenger from the village, who he stated brought him word that he must forthwith be on his way to Albemarle. He had asked my father if he cared to sell the black horse, Satan, to which he had taken a fancy, but this had been declined. Then it seems there had come up something of our late meeting at the village, and Orme, laughing, had told of our horse breaking and wrestling in a way which it seemed had not detracted from my standing in my parents' eyes. None of us three was willing to criticise our guest, yet I doubt if any one of us failed to entertain a certain wonder, not to say suspicion, regarding him. At least he was gone.
Our talk now gradually resolved itself to one on business matters. I ought to have said that my father was an ambitious man and one of wide plans. I think that even then he foresaw the day when the half-patriarchial life of our State would pass away before one of wider horizons of commercial sort. He was anxious to hand down his family fortune much increased, and foreseeing troublous times ahead as to the institution of slavery in the South, he had of late been taking large risks to assure success in spite of any change of times. Now, moved by some strange reasons which he himself perhaps did not recognize, he began for the first time, contrary to his usual reticence, to explain to my mother and me something of these matters. He told us that in connection with his friend, Colonel William Meriwether, of Albemarle, he had invested heavily in coal lands in the western part of the State, in what is now West Virginia. This requiring very large sums of money, he for his part had encumbered not only the lands themselves, but these lands of Cowles' Farms to secure the payment. The holder of these mortgages was a banking firm in Fredericksburg. The interest was one which in these times would be considered a cruel one, and indeed the whole enterprise was one which required a sanguine courage, precisely as his; for I have said that risk he always held as challenge and invitation.
"Does thee think that in these times thee should go so deeply in debt," asked my mother of him.
"Elizabeth," he said, "that is why I have gone in debt. Two years from now, and the value of these lands here may have been cut in half. Ten years from now the coal lands yonder will be worth ten times what they are to-day."
"John," she said to him suddenly, "sell those coal lands, or a part of them."
"Now, that I could not do," he answered, "for half their value. The country now is fuller of war than of investment. But come peace, come war, there lies a fortune for us all. For my share there remains but one heavy payment; and to-morrow I ride to raise funds for that among our tenants and elsewhere. I admit that my bankers are shrewd and severe—in fact, I think they would rather see the payments forfeited than not. As Meriwether is away, it is with me to attend to this business now."
And so, with this prelude, I may as well tell without more delay what evil fortune was in store for us.
That coming day my father rode abroad as he had planned, taking black Satan for his mount, since he needed to travel far. He had collected from various sources, as his account book later showed, a sum of over five thousand dollars, which he must have had in gold and negotiable papers in his saddle-bags. During his return home, he came down the deep trough road which ran in front of the Sheraton farms and ours. He passed near to a certain clump of bushes at the roadside. And there that happened which brought to a sudden end all the peace and comfort of our lives, and which made me old before my time.
I heard the horse Satan whinny at our lane gate, wildly, as though in fright; and even as I went out my heart stopped with sudden fear. He had leaped the gate at the lower end of the lane. His bridle rein was broken, and caught at his feet as he moved about, throwing up his head in fright as much as viciousness. I hastily looked at the saddle, but it bore no mark of anything unusual. Not pausing to look farther, I caught the broken reins in my hand, and sprung into the saddle, spurring the horse down the lane and over the gate again, and back up the road which I knew my father must have taken.
There, at the side of the road, near the clump of blackberry vines and sumac growth, lay my father, a long dark blot, motionless, awesome, as I could see by the light of the moon, now just rising in a gap of the distant mountains. I sprang down and ran to him, lifted his head, called to him in a voice so hoarse I did not recognize it. I told him that it was his son had come to him, and that he must speak. So at last, as though by sheer will he had held on to this time, he turned his gray face toward me, and as a dead man, spoke.
"Tell your mother," he said; "Tell Meriwether—must protect—good-by."
Then he said "Lizzie!" and opened wide his arms.
Presently he said, "Jack, lay my head down, please." I did so. He was dead, there in the moon.
I straightened him, and put my coat across his face, and spurred back down the road again and over the gate. But my mother already knew. She met me at the hall, and her face was white.
"Jack," she said, "I know!"
Then the servants came, and we brought him home, and laid him in his own great room, as the master of the house should lie when the end comes, and arrayed him like the gentleman he was.
Now came that old wire-hair, Doctor Bond, his mane standing stiff and gray over a gray face, down which tears rolled the first time known of any man. He sent my mother away and called me to him. And then he told me that in my father's back were three or four pierced wounds, no doubt received from the sharp stubs of underbrushes when he fell. But this, he said, could hardly have been the cause of death. He admitted that the matter seemed mysterious to him.
Up to this time we had not thought of the cause of this disaster, nor pondered upon motives, were it worse than accident. Now we began to think. Doctor Bond felt in the pockets of my father's coat; and so for the first time we found his account book and his wallets. Doctor Bond and I at once went out and searched the saddle pockets my father had carried. They were quite empty.
All this, of course, proved nothing to us. The most that we could argue was that the horse in some way had thrown his rider, and that the fall had proved fatal; and that perhaps some wandering negro had committed the theft. These conclusions were the next day bad for the horse Satan, whom I whipped and spurred, and rode till he trembled, meting out to him what had been given old Klingwalla, his sire, for another murdering deed like this. In my brutal rage I hated all the world. Like the savage I was, I must be avenged on something. I could not believe that my father was gone, the man who had been my model, my friend, my companion all my life.
But in time we laid him away in the sunny little graveyard of the Society of Friends, back of the little stone church at Wallingford. We put a small, narrow, rough little slab of sandstone at his head, and cut into it his name and the dates of his birth and death; this being all that the simple manners of the Society of Friends thought fit. "His temple is in my heart," said my mother; and from that day to her death she offered tribute to him.
Thus, I say, it was that I changed from a boy into a man. But not the man my father had been. Life and business matters had hitherto been much a sealed book for me. I was seized of consternation when a man came riding over from the little Wallingford bank, asking attention to word from Abrams & Halliday, bankers of Fredericksburg. I understood vaguely of notes overdue, and somewhat of mortgages on our lands, our house, our crops. I explained our present troubles and confusion; but the messenger shook his head with a coldness on his face I had not been accustomed to see worn by any at Cowles' Farms. Sweat stood on my face when I saw that we owed over fifteen thousand dollars—a large sum in those simple days—and that more would presently follow, remainder of a purchase price of over a hundred thousand dollars for lands I had never seen. I looked about me at the great house of Cowles' Farms, and a coldness came upon my heart as I realized for the first time that perhaps this home was not ours, but another's. Anger again possessed me at this thought, and with small adieu I ordered the man from the place, and told him I would horsewhip him if he lingered but a moment. Then, too late, I thought of more business-like action, and of following the advice my father had given me, at once to see his associate, Colonel Meriwether. Thereafter I consulted my mother.
In the chaotic state of affairs then existing, with the excitement of a turbulent election approaching, it may be supposed that all commercial matters were much unsettled. None knew what might be the condition of the country after the fall elections; but all agreed that now was no time to advance money upon any sort of credit. As to further pledges, with a view to raising these sums now due, I found the matter hopeless.
Colonel Sheraton might, perhaps, have aided us, but him I would not ask. Before this time I had acquainted him of my intentions in regard to his daughter; and now I went to him and placed the matter before him, explaining to him the nature of our affairs and announcing my intention to make a quick journey to the West, in order to obtain assistance from Colonel Meriwether, of whom I hoped to find instant solution of the financial problems, at least. It seemed wise for me to place before Miss Grace's father the question of advisability of allowing her to remain pledged to a man whose fortunes were in so sad a state. I asked him what was right for me to do. His face was very grave as he pondered, but he said, "If my girl's word has been passed, we will wait. We will wait, sir." And that was all I knew when I made my hurried preparations for the longest journey I had at that time ever known.
BEGINNING ADVENTURES IN NEW LANDS
In those days travel was not so easy as it is now. I went by carriage to Washington, and thence by stage to the village of York in Pennsylvania, and again by stage thence to Carlisle Barracks, a good road offering thence into the western countries. In spite of all my grief I was a young man, and I was conscious of a keen exhilaration in these my earliest travels. I was to go toward that great West, which then was on the tongue of all the South, and indeed all the East. I found Pennsylvania old for a hundred years. The men of Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York were passing westward in swarms like feeding pigeons. Illinois and Iowa were filling up, and men from Kentucky were passing north across the Ohio. The great rivers of the West were then leading out their thousands of settlers. Presently I was to see those great trains of white-topped west-bound wagons which at that time made a distinguishing feature of American life.
At this Army post, which then was used as a drilling ground for the cavalry arm, one caught the full flavor of the Western lands, heard the talk of officers who had been beyond the frontier, and saw troops passing out for the Western service. Here I heard also, and to my consternation, quiet conversation among some of the officers, regarding affairs at our National capital. Buchanan, it seems, was shipping arms and ordnance and supplies to all the posts in the South. Disaffection, fomented by some secret, unknown cause, was spreading among the officers of the Army. I was young; this was my first journey; yet none the less these matters left my mind uneasy. I was eager to be back in Virginia, for by every sign and token there certainly was trouble ahead for all who dwelt near the Potomac.
Next I went on to Harrisburg, and thence took rail up the beautiful Susquehanna valley, deep into and over the mountains. At Pittsburg I, poor provincial, learned that all this country too was very old, and that adventures must be sought more than a thousand miles to the westward, yet a continual stir and bustle existed at this river point. A great military party was embarking here for the West—two companies of dragoons, their officers and mounts. I managed to get passage on this boat to Louisville, and thence to the city of St. Louis. Thus, finally, we pushed in at the vast busy levee of this western military capital.
At that time Jefferson Barracks made the central depot of Army operations in the West. Here recruits and supplies were received and readjusted to the needs of the scattered outposts in the Indian lands. Still I was not in the West, for St. Louis also was old, almost as old as our pleasant valley back in Virginia. I heard of lands still more remote, a thousand miles still to the West, heard of great rivers leading to the mountains, and of the vast, mysterious plains, of which even yet men spoke in awe. Shall I admit it—in spite of grief and trouble, my heart leaped at these thoughts. I wished nothing so much as that I might properly and fitly join this eager, hurrying, keen-faced throng of the west-bound Americans. It seemed to me I heard the voice of youth and life beyond, and that youth was blotted out behind me in the blue Virginia hills.
I inquired for Colonel Meriwether about my hotel in the city, but was unable to get definite word regarding his whereabouts, although the impression was that he was somewhere in the farther West. This made it necessary for me to ride at once to Jefferson Barracks. I had at least one acquaintance there, Captain Martin Stevenson of the Sixth Cavalry, a Maryland man whom we formerly met frequently when he was paying suit to Kitty Dillingham, of the Shenandoah country. After their marriage they had been stationed practically all of the time in Western posts.
I made my compliments at Number 16 of Officers' Row, their present quarters at Jefferson. I found Kitty quite as she had been in her youth at home, as careless and wild, as disorderly and as full of good-heartedness. Even my story, sad as it was, failed to trouble her long, and as was her fashion, she set about comforting me, upon her usual principle that, whatever threatened, it were best be blithe to-day.
"Come," she said, "we'll put you up with us, right here. Johnson, take Mr. Cowles' things; and go down to the city at once for his bags."
"But, my dear Mrs. Kitty," I protested, "I can't. I really must be getting on. I'm here on business with Colonel Meriwether."
"Never mind about Colonel Meriwether," rejoined my hostess, "we'll find him later—he's up the river somewhere. Always take care of the important things first. The most important thing in the whole world just now is the officers' ball to-night. Don't you see them fixing up the dancing platform on Parade? It's just as well the K.O.'s away, because to-night the mice certainly are going to play."
It seemed good to hear the voice of friends again, and I was nothing loath to put aside business matters for the time and listen to Kitty Stevenson's chatter. So, while I hesitated, Johnson had my hat and stick.
The city of St. Louis, I repeat, was then the richest and gayest capital of the West, the center of the commercial and social life of West and South alike. Some of the most beautiful women of the world dwelt there, and never, I imagine, had belles bolder suitors than these who passed through or tarried with the Army. What wonder the saying that no Army man ever passed St. Louis without leaving a heart, or taking one with him? What wonder that these gay young beauties emptied many an Army pocket for flowers and gems, and only filled many an Army heart with despondency in return? Sackcloth lay beyond, on the frontier. Ball followed ball, one packed reception another. Dinings and sendings of flowers, and evening love-makings—these for the time seemed the main business of Jefferson Barracks. Social exemptions are always made for Army men, ever more gallant than affluent, and St. Louis entertained these gentlemen mightily with no expectation of equivalent; yet occasionally the sons of Mars gave return entertainments to the limits, or more than the limits, of their purses. The officers' balls at these barracks were the envy of all the Army; and I doubt if any regimental bands in the service had reason for more proficiency in waltz time.
Of some of these things my hostess advised me as we sat, for the sake of the shade, on the gallery of Number 16, where Stevenson's man of all work had brought a glass-topped table and some glasses. Here Captain Stevenson presently joined us, and after that escape was impossible.
"Do you suppose Mr. Cowles is engaged?" asked Kitty of her husband impersonally, and apropos of nothing that I could see.
"I don't think so. He looks too deuced comfortable," drawled Stevenson. I smiled.
"If he isn't engaged he will be before morning," remarked Kitty, smiling at me.
"Indeed, and to whom, pray?" I inquired.
"How should I know? Indeed, how should you know? Any one of a dozen—first one you see—first one who sees you; because you are tall, and can dance."
"I hardly think I should dance."
"Of course you will dance. If you refuse you will be put in irons and taken out to-morrow and shot. It will do you no good to sit and think, poor boy."
"I have no clothes," I protested.
"Johnson will have your boxes out in time. But you don't want your own clothes. This is bal masque, of course, and you want some sort of disguise, I think you'd look well in one of Matt's uniforms."
"That's so," said Stevenson, "we're about of a size. Good disguise, too, especially since you've never been here. They'll wonder who the new officer is, and where he comes from. I say, Kitty, what an awfully good joke it would be to put him up against two or three of those heartless flirts you call your friends—Ellen, for instance."
"There won't be a button left on the uniform by morning," said Kitty contemplatively. "To-night the Army entertains."
"And conquers," I suggested.
"Sometimes. But at the officers' ball it mostly surrenders. The casualty list, after one of these balls, is something awful. After all, Jack, all these modern improvements in arms have not superceded the old bow and arrow." She smiled at me with white teeth and lazy eyes. A handsome woman, Kitty.
"And who is that dangerous flirt you were talking about a moment ago?" I asked her, interested in spite of myself.
"I lose my mess number if I dare to tell. Oh, they'll all be here to-night, both Army and civilians. There's Sadie Galloway of the Eighth, and Toodie Devlin of Kentucky, and the Evans girl from up North, and Mrs. Willie Weiland—"
"And Mrs. Matthew Stevenson."
"Yes, myself, of course; and then besides, Ellen."
"Never mind. She is the most dangerous creature now at large in the Western country. Avoid her! Pass not by her! She stalketh by night. She'll get you sure, my son. She has a string of hearts at her will as long as from here to the red barn."
"I shall dance to-night," I said. "If you please, I will dance with her, the first waltz."
"Yes?" She raised her eyebrows. "You've a nice conceit, at least. But, then, I don't like modest men."
"Listen to that," chuckled Stevenson, "and yet she married me! But what she says is true, Cowles. It will be worse than Chapultepec in the crowd anywhere around Ellen to-night. You might lose a leg or an arm in the crush, and if you got through, you'd only lose your heart. Better leave her alone."
"Lord, what a night it'll be for the ball," said Kitty, sweeping an idle arm toward Parade, which was now filling up with strings of carriages from the city. We could see men now putting down the dancing floor. The sun was sinking. From somewhere came the faint sound of band music, muffled behind the buildings.
"Evening gun!" said Stevenson presently, and we arose and saluted as the jet of smoke burst from a field piece and the roar of the report brought the flag fluttering down. Then came strains of a regimental band, breaking out into the national air; after which the music slid into a hurrying medley, and presently closed in the sweet refrain of "Robin Adair," crooning in brass and reeds as though miles away. Twilight began to fall, and the lamps winked out here and there. The sound of wheels and hoofs upon the gravel came more often. Here and there a bird twittered gently in the trees along the walks; and after a time music came again and again, for four bands now were stationed at the four corners of the Parade. (And always the music began of war and deeds, and always it ended in some soft love strain.) Groups gathered now upon the balconies near the marquees which rose upon the Parade. Couples strolled arm in arm. The scene spoke little enough of war's alarms or of life's battles and its sadness.
A carriage passed with two gentlemen, and drew up at the Officers' Club. "Billy Williams, adjutant," commented Captain Stevenson lazily. "Who's the other?"
"Yes, who's the tall one?" asked Kitty, as the gentlemen descended from the carriage. "Good figure, anyhow; wonder if he dances."
"Coming over, I believe," said Stevenson, for now the two turned our way. Stevenson rose to greet his fellow officer, and as the latter approached our stoop, I caught a glance at his companion.
It was Gordon Orme!
Orme was as much surprised on his own part. After the presentations all around he turned to me with Kitty Stevenson. "My dear Madam," he said, "you have given me the great pleasure of meeting again my shadow, Mr. Cowles, of Virginia. There is where I supposed him now, back home in Virginia."
"I should expect to meet Mr. Orme if I landed on the moon," I replied.
"Er—Captain Orme," murmured Adjutant Williams to me gently.
So then my preacher had turned captain since I saw him last!
"You see, Stevenson," went on Williams easily, "Captain Orme was formerly with the British Army. He is traveling in this country for a little sport, but the old ways hang to him. He brings letters to our Colonel, who's off up river, and meantime. I'm trying to show him what I can of our service."
"So good of you to bring Captain Orme here, Major. I'm sure he will join us to-night?" Kitty motioned toward the dancing pavilion, now well under way. Orme smiled and bowed, and declared himself most happy. Thus in a few moments he was of our party. I could not avoid the feeling that it was some strange fate which continually brought us two together.
"The Army's rotten for want of service," grumbled Williams, following out his own pet hobby. "Nothing in the world to do for our fellows here. Sport? Why, Captain Orme, we couldn't show you a horse race where I'd advise you to bet a dollar. The fishing doesn't carry, and the shooting is pretty much gone, even if it were the season. Outside of a pigeon match or so, this Post is stagnant. We dance, and that's all. Bah!"
"Why, Major, you old ingrate," reproved Kitty Stevenson. "If you talk that way we'll not let you on the floor to-night."
"You spoke of pigeon shooting," said Orme lazily, "Blue rocks, I imagine?"
"No," said Williams, "Natives—we use the wild birds. Thousands of them around here, you know. Ever do anything at it?"
"Not in this country," replied Orme. "Sometimes I have taken on a match at Hurlingham; and we found the Egyptian pigeons around Cairo not bad."
"Would you like to have a little match at our birds?"
"I shouldn't mind."
"Oh, you'll be welcome! We'll take your money away from you. There is Bardine—or say, Major Westover. Haskins of the Sixth got eighty-five out of his last hundred. Once he made it ninety-two, but that's above average, of course."
"You interest me," said Orme, still lazily. "For the honor of my country I shouldn't mind a go with one of your gentlemen. Make it at a hundred, for what wagers you like."
"To-morrow afternoon, if you say; I'm not stopping long, I am afraid. I'm off up river soon."
"Let's see," mused Williams. "Haskins is away, and I doubt if Westover could come, for he's Officer of the Day, also bottle-washer. And—"
"How about my friend Mr. Cowles?" asked Orme. "My acquaintance with him makes me think he'd take on any sort of sporting proposition. Do you shoot, sir?"
"All Virginians do," I answered. And so I did in the field, although I had never shot or seen a pigeon match in all my life.
"Precisely. Mrs. Stevenson, will you allow this sort of talk?"
"Go on, go on," said Kitty. "I'll have something up myself on Mr. Cowles." ("Don't let him scare you, Jack," she whispered to me aside.)
That was a foolish speech of hers, and a foolish act of mine. But for my part, I continually found myself doing things I should not do.
Orme passed his cigarette case. "In view of my possibly greater experience," he said, "I'd allow Mr. Cowles six in the hundred."
"I am not looking for matches," said I, my blood kindling at his accustomed insolence; "but if I shot it would be both men at scratch."
"Oh, very well," smiled Orme. "And should we make a little wager about it—I ask your consent, Mrs. Stevenson?"
"America forever!" said Kitty.
What could I do after that? But all at once I thought of my scanty purse and of the many troubles that beset me, and the strange unfitness in one of my present situation engaging in any such talk. In spite of that, my stubborn blood had its way as usual.
"My war chest is light," I answered, "as I am farther away from home than I had planned. But you know my black horse, Mr. Orme, that you fancied?"
"Oh, by Jove! I'll stake you anything you like against him—a thousand pounds, if you like."
"The odds must be even," I said, "and the only question is as to the worth of the horse. That you may not think I overvalue him, however, make it half that sum, or less, if these gentlemen think the horse has not that value."
"A son of old Klingwalla is worth three times that," insisted Orme. "If you don't mind, and care to close it, we'll shoot to-morrow, if Major Williams will arrange it."
"Certainly," said that gentleman.
"Very well," I said.
"And we will be so discourteous to the stranger within our gates," said the vivacious Kitty, "as to give you a jolly good beating, Captain Orme. We'll turn out the Post to see the match. But now we must be making ready for the serious matters of the evening. Mr. Orme, you dance, of course. Are you a married man—but what a question for me to ask—of course you're not!"
Orme smiled, showing his long, narrow teeth. "I've been a bit busy for that," he said; "but perhaps my time has come."
"It surely has," said Kitty Stevenson. "I've offered to wager Mr. Cowles anything he liked that he'd be engaged before twelve o'clock. Look, isn't it nicely done?"
We now turned toward the big square of the Parade, which had by this time wholly been taken over for the purposes of military occupation. A vast canopy covered the dancing floor. Innumerable tents for refreshments and wide flapped marquees with chairs were springing up, men were placing the decorations of flags, and roping about the dancing floor with braided ribbons and post rosettes. Throngs now filled the open spaces, and more carriages continually came. The quarters of every officer by this time were packed, and a babel of chatter came from every balcony party. Now and again breathed the soft music from the distant military bands. It was a gay scene, one for youth and life, and not for melancholy.
"Now, I wonder who is this Ellen?" mused I to myself.
THE GIRL WITH THE HEART
Captain Stevenson left us soon after dinner, he being one of the officers' committee on preparations for the ball, so that I spent a little time alone at his quarters, Orme and Major Williams having gone over to the Officers' Club at the conclusion of their call. I was aroused from the brown study into which I had fallen by the sound of a loud voice at the rear of Number 16, and presently heard also Kitty's summons for me to come. I found her undertaking to remove from the hands of Annie, her ponderous black cook, a musket which the latter was attempting to rest over the window sill of the kitchen.
"Thar he goes now, the brack rascal!" cried Annie, down whose sable countenance large tears were coursing. "Lemme get one good shot at him. I can shore hit him that clost."
"Be silent! Annie," commanded Kitty, "and give me this gun. If I hear of your shooting at Benjie any more I'll certainly discharge you.
"You see," explained Kitty to me, "Annie used to be married to Benjie Martin, who works for Colonel Meriwether, at the house just beyond the trees there."
"I'se married to him yit," said Annie, between sobs. "Heap more'n that taller-faced yaller girl he done taken up with now."
"I think myself," said Kitty, judicially, "that Benjie might at least bow to his former wife when he passes by."
"That'd be all I wanted," said Annie; "but I kaint stand them horty ways. Why, I mended the very shirt he's got on his back right now; and I bought them shoes fer him."
"Annie's such a poor shot!" explained Kitty. "She has taken a pot-shot at Benjie I don't know how many times, but she always misses. Colonel Meriwether sent a file down to see what was going on, the first time, but when I explained it was my cook, he said it was all right, and that if she missed Benjie it harmed no one, and if she happened to kill him it would be only what he deserved. Annie's the best cook in the Army, and the Colonel knows it. Aren't you, Annie?"
"Ef I could only shoot as good as I ken cook," remarked Annie, "it would be a powerful sight o' res' to my soul. I shorely will git that nigger yet."
"Of course you will," said Kitty. "Just wait till to-morrow morning, Annie, and when he starts around in the yard, you take a rest over the window sill. You see," she resumed to me, "we try to do everything in the world to keep our servants happy and comfortable, Mr. Cowles.
"But now, as to you, sir, it is time you were getting ready for the serious business of the evening. Go into Matt's room, there, and Johnson will bring you your disguise."
So finally I got into Captain Stevenson's uniform, which I did not dislike, although the coat was a trifle tight across the back. At the domino mask they fetched I hesitated, for anything like mummery of this sort was always repugnant to me. Not to comply with the order of the day, however, would now have made me seem rather churlish, so presently, although with mental reservations, I placed myself in the hands of my hostess, who joined me in full ball costume, mask and all.
"You may know me," said Kitty, "by the pink flowers on my gown. They're printed on the silk, I suspect. When Matt and I are a major, we'll have them hand embroidered; but a captain's pay day doesn't come half often enough for real hand embroidery."
"I should know you anywhere, Mrs. Kitty," I said. "But now as to this Ellen? How shall I know her?"
"You will not know her at all."
"Couldn't you tell me something of how she will look?"
"No, I've not the slightest idea. Ellen doesn't repeat herself. There'll be a row of a dozen beauties, the most dangerous girls in all St. Louis. You shall meet them all, and have your guess as to which is Ellen."
"And shall I never know, in all the world?"
"Never in all the world. But grieve not. To-night joy is to be unconfined, and there is no to-morrow."
"And one may make mad love to any?"
"To any whom one madly loves, of course; not to twelve at once. But we must go. See, isn't it fine?"
Indeed the scene on Parade was now gayer than ever. Laughter and chatter came from the crowded galleries all about the square, whose houses seemed literally full to overflowing. Music mingled with the sound of merry voices, and forsooth now and again we heard the faint popping of corks along Officers' Row. The Army entertained.