Stories by American Authors, Volume 8 online

. (page 1 of 12)
Online LibraryVariousStories by American Authors, Volume 8 → online text (page 1 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by D Alexander, Juliet Sutherland and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at

Stories by American Authors










_The Stories in this Volume are protected by copyright, and are
printed here by authority of the authors or their representatives._

[Illustration: Elizabeth Stuart Phelps]



_New York Times._

The Colonel was the idol of his bragging old regiment and of the
bragging brigade which for the last six months he had commanded.

He was the idol, not because he was good and gracious, not because he
spared his soldiers or treated them as fellow-citizens, but because he
had led them to victory and made them famous. If a man will win
battles and give his brigade a right to brag loudly of its doings, he
may have its admiration and even its enthusiastic devotion, though he
be as pitiless and as wicked as Lucifer.

"It's nothin' to me what the Currnell is in prrivit, so long as he
shows us how to whack the rrebs," said Major Gahogan, commandant of
the "Old Tenth." "Moses saw God in the burrnin' bussh, an' bowed down
to it, an' worrshipt it. It wasn't the bussh he worrshipt; it was his
God that was in it. An' I worrship this villin of a Currnell (if he
is a villin) because he's almighty and gives us the vict'ry. He's
nothin' but a human burrnin' bussh, perhaps, but he's got the god of
war in um. Adjetant Wallis, it's a - - long time between dhrinks, as
I think ye was sayin', an' with rayson. See if ye can't confiscate a
canteen of whiskee somewhere in the camp. Bedad, if I can't buy it
I'll stale it. We're goin' to fight to-morry, an' it may be it's the
last chance we'll have for a dhrink, unless there's more lik'r now in
the other worrld than Dives got."

The brigade was bivouacked in some invisible region, amid the damp,
misty darkness of a September night. The men lay in their ranks, each
with his feet to the front and his head rearward, each covered by his
overcoat and pillowed upon his haversack, each with his loaded rifle
nestled close beside him. Asleep as they were, or dropping placidly
into slumber, they were ready to start in order to their feet and pour
out the red light and harsh roar of combat. There were two lines of
battle, each of three regiments of infantry, the first some two
hundred yards in advance of the second. In the space between them lay
two four-gun batteries, one of them brass twelve-pounder "Napoleons,"
and the other rifled Parrotts. To the rear of the infantry were the
recumbent troopers and picketed horses of a regiment of cavalry. All
around, in the far, black distance, invisible and inaudible, paced or
watched stealthily the sentinels of the grand guards.

There was not a fire, nor a torch, nor a star-beam in the whole
bivouac to guide the feet of Adjutant Wallis in his pilgrimage after
whisky. The orders from brigade headquarters had been strict against
illuminations, for the Confederates were near at hand in force, and a
surprise was purposed as well as feared. A tired and sleepy youngster,
almost dropping with the heavy somnolence of wearied adolescence, he
stumbled on through the trials of an undiscernible and unfamiliar
footing, lifting his heavy riding-boots sluggishly over imaginary
obstacles, and fearing the while lest his toil were labor misspent. It
was a dry camp, he felt dolefully certain, or there would have been
more noise in it. He fell over a sleeping Sergeant, and said to him
hastily, "Steady, man - a friend!" as the half-roused soldier clutched
his rifle. Then he found a Lieutenant, and shook him in vain; further
on a Captain, and exchanged saddening murmurs with him; further still
a camp-follower of African extraction, and blasphemed him.

"It's a God-forsaken camp, and there isn't a horn in it," said
Adjutant Wallis to himself as he pursued his groping journey. "Bet you
I don't find the first drop," he continued, for he was a betting boy,
and frequently argued by wagers, even with himself. "Bet you two to
one I don't. Bet you three to one - ten to one."

Then he saw, an indefinite distance beyond him, burning like red-hot
iron through the darkness, a little scarlet or crimson gleam, as of a
lighted cigar.

"That's Old Grumps, of the Bloody Fourteenth," he thought. "I've
raided into his happy sleeping-grounds. I'll draw on him."

But Old Grumps, otherwise Colonel Lafayette Gildersleeve, had no
rations - that is, no whisky.

"How do you suppose an officer is to have a drink, Lieutenant?" he

"Don't you know that our would-be Brigadier sent all the commissary to
the rear day before yesterday? A canteenful can't last two days. Mine
went empty about five minutes ago."

"Oh, thunder!" groaned Wallis, saddened by that saddest of all
thoughts, "Too late!" "Well, least said soonest mended. I must wobble
back to my Major."

"He'll send you off to some other camp as dry as this one. Wait ten
minutes, and he'll be asleep. Lie down on my blanket and light your
pipe. I want to talk to you about official business - about our
would-be Brigadier."

"Oh, _your_ turn will come some day," mumbled Wallis, remembering
Gildersleeve's jealousy of the brigade commander - a jealousy which
only gave tongue when aroused by "commissary." "If you do as well as
usual to-morrow you can have your own brigade."

"I suppose you think we are all going to do well to-morrow," scoffed
old Grumps, whose utterance by this time stumbled. "I suppose you
expect to whip and to have a good time. I suppose you brag on fighting
and enjoy it."

"I like it well enough when it goes right; and it generally does go
right with this brigade. I should like it better if the rebs would
fire higher and break quicker."

"That depends on the way those are commanded whose business it is to
break them," growled Old Grumps. "I don't say but what we are rightly
commanded," he added, remembering his duty to superiors. "I concede
and acknowledge that our would-be Brigadier knows his military
business. But the blessing of God, Wallis! I believe in Waldron as a
soldier. But as a man and a Christian, faugh!"

Gildersleeve had clearly emptied his canteen unassisted; he never
talked about Christianity when perfectly sober.

"What was your last remark?" inquired Wallis, taking his pipe from his
mouth to grin. Even a superior officer might be chaffed a little in
the darkness.

"I made no last remark," asserted the Colonel with dignity. "I'm not
a-dying yet. If I said anything last it was a mere exclamation of
disgust - the disgust of an officer and gentleman. I suppose you know
something about our would-be Brigadier. I suppose you think you know
something about him."

"Bet you I know _all_ about him," affirmed Wallis. "He enlisted in the
old Tenth as a common soldier. Before he had been a week in camp they
found that he knew his biz, and they made him a Sergeant. Before we
started for the field the Governor got his eye on him and shoved him
into a Lieutenancy. The first battle h'isted him to a Captain. And the
second - bang! whiz! he shot up to Colonel, right over the heads of
everybody, line and field. Nobody in the old Tenth grumbled. They saw
that he knew his biz. I know _all_ about him. What'll you bet?"

"I'm not a betting man, Lieutenant, except in a friendly game of
poker," sighed Old Grumps. "You don't know anything about your
Brigadier," he added in a sepulchral murmur, the echo of an empty
canteen. "I have only been in this brigade a month, and I know more
than you do, far, very far more, sorry to say it. He's a reformed
clergyman. He's an apostatized minister." The Colonel's voice as he
said this was solemn and sad enough to do credit to an undertaker.
"It's a bad sort, Wallis," he continued, after another deep sigh, a
very highly perfumed one, the sigh of a bar-keeper. "When a clergyman
falls, he falls for life and eternity, like a woman or an angel. I
never knew a backslidden shepherd to come to good. Sooner or later he
always goes to the devil, and takes down whomsoever hangs to him."

"He'll take down the old Tenth, then," asserted Wallis. "It hangs to
him. Bet you two to one he takes it along."

"You're right, Adjutant; spoken like a soldier," swore Gildersleeve.
"And the Bloody Fourteenth, too! It will march into the burning pit
as far as any regiment; and the whole brigade, yes sir! But a
backslidden shepherd, my God! Have we come to that? I often say
to myself, in the solemn hours of the night, as I remember my
Sabbath-school days, 'Great Scott, have we come to that?' A reformed
clergyman! An apostatized minister! Think of it, Wallis, think of it!
Why, sir, his very wife ran away from him. They had but just buried
their first boy," pursued Old Grumps, his hoarse voice sinking to a
whimper. "They drove home from the burial-place, where lay the
new-made grave. Arrived at their door, _he_ got out and extended his
hand to help _her_ out. Instead of accepting, instead of throwing
herself into his arms and weeping there, she turned to the coachman
and said, 'Driver, drive me to my father's house.' That was the end of
their wedded life, Wallis."

The Colonel actually wept at this point, and the maudlin tears were
not altogether insincere. His own wife and children he heartily loved,
and remembered them now with honest tenderness. At home he was not a
drinker and a rough; only amid the hardships and perils of the field.

"That was the end of it, Wallis," he repeated. "And what was it while
it lasted? What does a woman leave her husband for? Why does she
separate from him over the grave of her innocent first-born? There are
twenty reasons, but they must all of them be good ones. I am sorry to
give it as my decided opinion, Wallis, in perfect confidence, that
they must all be whopping good ones. Well, that was the beginning;
only the beginning. After that he held on for a while, breaking the
bread of life to a skedaddling flock, and then he bolted. The next
known of him, three years later, he enlisted in your regiment, a smart
but seedy recruit, smelling strongly of whisky."

"I wish I smelt half as strong of it myself," grumbled Wallis. "It
might keep out the swamp fever."

"That's the true story of Col. John James Waldron," continued Old
Grumps, with a groan which was very somnolent, as if it were a twin to
a snore. "That's the true story."

"I don't believe the first word of it - that is to say, Colonel, I
think you have been misinformed - and I'll bet you two to one on it.
If he was nothing more than a minister, how did he know drill and

"Oh, I forgot to say, he went through West Point - that is, nearly
through. They graduated him in his third year by the back door,

"Oh, that was it, was it? He was a West Pointer, was he? Well, then,
the backsliding was natural, and oughtn't to count against him. A
member of Benny Havens' church has a right to backslide anywhere,
especially as the Colonel doesn't seem to be any worse than some of
the rest of us, who haven't fallen from grace the least particle, but
took our stand at the start just where we are now. A fellow that
begins with a handful of trumps has a right to play a risky game."

"I know what euchered him, Wallis. It was the old Little Joker; and
there's another of the same on hand now."

"On hand where? What are you driving at, Colonel?"

"He looks like a boy. I mean she looks like a boy. You know what I
mean, Wallis; I mean the boy that makes believe wait on him. And her
brother is in camp, got here to-night. There'll be an explanation
to-morrow, and there'll be bloodshed."

"Good-night, Colonel, and sleep it off," said Wallis, rising from the
side of a man whom he believed to be sillily drunk and altogether
untrustworthy. "You know we get after the rebs at dawn."

"I know it - goo-night, Adjutant - gawblessyou," mumbled Old Grumps.
"We'll lick those rebs, won't we?" he chuckled. "Goo-night, ole
fellow, an' gawblessyou."

Whereupon Old Grumps fell asleep, very absurdly overcome by liquor, we
extremely regret to concede, but nobly sure to do his soldierly duty
as soon as he should awake.

Stumbling wearily blanketward, Wallis found his Major and regimental
commander, the genial and gallant Gahogan, slumbering in a peace like
that of the just. He stretched himself a-near, put out his hand to
touch his sabre and revolver, drew his caped great-coat over him,
moved once to free his back of a root or pebble, glanced languidly
at a single struggling star, thought for an instant of his far-away
mother, turned his head with a sigh, and slept. In the morning he was
to fight, and perhaps to die; but the boyish veteran was too seasoned,
and also too tired, to mind that; he could mind but one
thing - nature's pleading for rest.

In the iron-gray dawn, while the troops were falling dimly and
spectrally into line, and he was mounting his horse to be ready for
orders, he remembered Gildersleeve's drunken tale concerning the
commandant, and laughed aloud. But turning his face toward brigade
headquarters (a sylvan region marked out by the branches of a great
oak), he was surprised to see a strange officer, a fair young man in
Captain's uniform, riding slowly toward it.

"Is that the Boy's brother?" he said to himself; and in the next
instant he had forgotten the whole subject; it was time to form and
present the regiment.

Quietly and without tap of drum the small, battle-worn battalions
filed out of their bivouacs into the highway, ordered arms and waited
for the word to march. With a dull rumble the field-pieces trundled
slowly after, and halted in rear of the infantry. The cavalry trotted
off circuitously through the fields, emerged upon the road in advance
and likewise halted, all but a single company, which pushed on for
half a mile, spreading out as it went into a thin line of skirmishers.

Meanwhile a strange interview took place near the great oak which had
sheltered brigade headquarters. As the unknown officer, whom Wallis
had noted, approached it, Col. Waldron was standing by his horse ready
to mount. The commandant was a man of medium size, fairly handsome in
person and features, and apparently about twenty-eight years of age.
Perhaps it was the singular breadth of his forehead which made the
lower part of his face look so unusually slight and feminine. His
eyes were dark hazel, as clear, brilliant, and tender as a girl's,
and brimming full of a pensiveness which seemed both loving and
melancholy. Few persons, at all events few women, who looked upon him
ever looked beyond his eyes. They were very fascinating, and in a
man's countenance very strange. They were the kind of eyes which
reveal passionate romances, and which make them.

By his side stood a boy, a singularly interesting and beautiful boy,
fair-haired and blue-eyed, and delicate in color. When this boy saw
the stranger approach he turned as pale as marble, slid away from the
brigade commander's side, and disappeared behind a group of staff
officers and orderlies. The new-comer also became deathly white as he
glanced after the retreating youth. Then he dismounted, touched his
cap slightly and, as if mechanically, advanced a few steps, and said
hoarsely, "I believe this is Colonel Waldron. I am Captain Fitz Hugh,
of the - th Delaware."

Waldron put his hand to his revolver, withdrew it instantaneously, and
stood motionless.

"I am on leave of absence from my regiment, Colonel," continued Fitz
Hugh, speaking now with an elaborate ceremoniousness of utterance
significant of a struggle to suppress violent emotion. "I suppose you
can understand why I made use of it in seeking you."

Waldron hesitated; he stood gazing at the earth with the air of one
who represses deep pain; at last, after a profound sigh, he raised his
eyes and answered.

"Captain, we are on the eve of a battle. I must attend to my public
duties first. After the battle we will settle our private affair."

"There is but one way to settle it, Colonel."

"You shall have your way if you will. You shall do what you will. I
only ask what good will it do to _her_?"

"It will do good to _me_, Colonel," whispered Fitz Hugh, suddenly
turning crimson. "You forget _me_."

Waldron's face also flushed, and an angry sparkle shot from under his
lashes in reply to this utterance of hate, but it died out in an

"I have done a wrong, and I will accept the consequences," he said.
"I pledge you my word that I will be at your disposal if I survive
the battle. Where do you propose to remain meanwhile?"

"I will take the same chance, Sir. I propose to do my share in the
fighting if you will use me."

"I am short of staff officers. Will you act as my aid?"

"I will, Colonel," bowed Fitz Hugh, with a glance which expressed
surprise, and perhaps admiration, at this confidence.

Waldron turned, beckoned his staff officers to approach, and said,
"Gentlemen, this is Captain Fitz Hugh of the - th Delaware. He has
volunteered to join us for the day, and will act as my aid. And now,
Captain, will you ride to the head of the column and order it forward?
There will be no drum-beat and no noise. When you have given your
order and seen it executed, you will wait for me."

Fitz Hugh saluted, sprang into his saddle and galloped away. A few
minutes later the whole column was plodding on silently toward its
bloody goal. To a civilian, unaccustomed to scenes of war, the
tranquillity of these men would have seemed very wonderful. Many of
the soldiers were still munching the hard bread and raw pork of their
meagre breakfasts, or drinking the cold coffee with which they had
filled their canteens the day previous. Many more were chatting in an
undertone, grumbling over their sore feet and other discomfits,
chaffing each other, and laughing. The general bearing, however, was
grave, patient, quietly enduring, and one might almost say stolid. You
would have said, to judge by their expressions, that these sunburnt
fellows were merely doing hard work, and thoroughly commonplace work,
without a prospect of adventure, and much less of danger. The
explanation of this calmness, so brutal perhaps to the eye of a
sensitive soul, lies mainly in the fact that they were all veterans,
the survivors of marches, privations, maladies, sieges, and battles.
Not a regiment present numbered four hundred men, and the average was
not above three hundred. The whole force, including artillery and
cavalry, might have been about twenty-five hundred sabres and

At the beginning of the march Waldron fell into the rear of his staff
and mounted orderlies. Then the Boy who had fled from Fitz Hugh
dropped out of the tramping escort, and rode up to his side.

"Well, Charlie," said Waldron, casting a pitying glance at the yet
pallid face and anxious eyes of the youth, "you have had a sad fright.
I make you very miserable."

"He has found us at last," murmured Charlie in a tremulous soprano
voice. "What did he say?"

"We are to talk to-morrow. He acts as my aide-de-camp to-day. I ought
to tell you frankly that he is not friendly."

"Of course, I knew it," sighed Charlie, while the tears fell.

"It is only one more trouble - one more danger, and perhaps it may
pass. So many _have_ passed."

"Did you tell him anything to quiet him? Did you tell him that we were

"But we are not married yet, Charlie. We shall be, I hope."

"But you ought to have told him that we were. It might stop him from
doing something - mad. Why didn't you tell him so? Why didn't you think
of it?"

"My dear little child, we are about to have a battle. I should like to
carry some honor and truth into it."

"Where is he?" continued Charlie, unconvinced and unappeased. "I want
to see him. Is he at the head of the column? I want to speak to him,
just one word. He won't hurt me."

She suddenly spurred her horse, wheeled into the fields, and dashed
onward. Fitz Hugh was lounging in his saddle, and sombrely surveying
the passing column, when she galloped up to him.

"Carrol!" she said, in a choked voice, reining in by his side, and
leaning forward to touch his sleeve.

He threw one glance at her - a glance of aversion, if not of downright
hatred, and turned his back in silence.

"He is my husband, Carrol," she went on rapidly. "I knew you didn't
understand it. I ought to have written you about it. I thought I would
come and tell you before you did anything absurd. We were married as
soon as he heard that his wife was dead."

"What is the use of this?" he muttered hoarsely. "She is not dead. I
heard from her a week ago. She was living a week ago."

"Oh, Carrol!" stammered Charlie. "It was some mistake then. Is it
possible! And he was so sure! But he can get a divorce, you know. She
abandoned him. Or _she_ can get one. No, _he_ can get it - of course,
when she abandoned him. But, Carrol, she _must_ be dead - he was _so_

"She is _not_ dead, I tell you. And there can be no divorce. Insanity
bars all claim to a divorce. She is in an asylum. She had to leave
him, and then she went mad."

"Oh, no, Carrol, it is all a mistake; it is not so, Carrol," she
murmured in a voice so faint that he could not help glancing at her,
half in fury and half in pity. She was slowly falling from her horse.
He sprang from his saddle, caught her in his arms, and laid her on the
turf, wishing the while that it covered her grave. Just then one of
Waldron's orderlies rode up and exclaimed: "What is the matter with
the - the Boy? Hullo, Charlie."

Fitz Hugh stared at the man in silence, tempted to tear him from
his horse. "The boy is ill," he answered when he recovered his
self-command. "Take charge of him yourself." He remounted, rode onward
out of sight beyond a thicket, and there waited for the brigade
commander, now and then fingering his revolver. As Charlie was being
placed in an ambulance by the orderly and a sergeant's wife, Waldron
came up, reined in his horse violently, and asked in a furious voice,
"Is that boy hurt?"

"Ah - fainted," he added immediately. "Thank you, Mrs. Gunner. Take
good care of him - the best of care, my dear woman, and don't let him
leave you all day."

Further on, when Fitz Hugh silently fell into his escort, he merely
glanced at him in a furtive way, and then cantered on rapidly to the
head of the cavalry. There he beckoned to the tall, grave, iron-gray
Chaplain of the Tenth, and rode with him for nearly an hour, apart,
engaged in low and seemingly impassioned discourse. From this
interview Mr. Colquhoun returned to the escort with a strangely
solemnized, tender countenance, while the commandant, with a more
cheerful air than he had yet worn that day, gave himself to his
martial duties, inspecting the landscape incessantly with his glass,
and sending frequently for news to the advance scouts. It may properly
be stated here that the Chaplain never divulged to any one the nature
of the conversation which he had held with his Colonel.

Nothing further of note occurred until the little army, after two
hours of plodding march, wound through a sinuous, wooded ravine,
entered a broad, bare, slightly undulating valley, and for the second
time halted. Waldron galloped to the summit of a knoll, pointed to a
long eminence which faced him some two miles distant, and said
tranquilly, "There is our battle-ground."

"Is that the enemy's position?" returned Captain Ives, his
Adjutant-General. "We shall have a tough job if we go at it from

Waldron remained in deep thought for some minutes, meanwhile scanning
the ridge and all its surroundings.

"What I want to know," he observed, at last, "is whether they have
occupied the wooded knolls in front of their right and around their
right flank."

Shortly afterward the commander of the scouting squadron came riding
back at a furious pace.

"They are on the hill, Colonel," he shouted.

"Yes, of course," nodded Waldron; "but have they occupied the woods
which veil their right front and flank?"

"Not a bit of it; my fellows have cantered all through, and up to the
base of the hill."

"Ah!" exclaimed the brigade commander, with a rush of elation. "Then
it will be easy work. Go back, Captain, and scatter your men through
the wood, and hold it, if possible. Adjutant, call up the regimental

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryVariousStories by American Authors, Volume 8 → online text (page 1 of 12)