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THE

ATLANTIC MONTHLY.

_A Magazine of Literature, Art, and Politics._

VOL. XV. - MARCH, 1865. - NO. LXXXIX.

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1865, by TICKNOR AND
FIELDS, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of
Massachusetts.




THE STORY OF A YEAR.


I.

My story begins as a great many stories have begun within the last three
years, and indeed as a great many have ended; for, when the hero is
despatched, does not the romance come to a stop?

* * * * *

In early May, two years ago, a young couple I wot of strolled homeward
from an evening walk, a long ramble among the peaceful hills which
inclosed their rustic home. Into these peaceful hills the young man had
brought, not the rumor, (which was an old inhabitant,) but some of the
reality of war, - a little whiff of gunpowder, the clanking of a sword;
for, although Mr. John Ford had his campaign still before him, he wore a
certain comely air of camp-life which stamped him a very Hector to the
steady-going villagers, and a very pretty fellow to Miss Elizabeth
Crowe, his companion in this sentimental stroll. And was he not attired
in the great brightness of blue and gold which befits a freshly made
lieutenant? This was a strange sight for these happy Northern glades;
for, although the first Revolution had boomed awhile in their midst, the
honest yeomen who defended them were clad in sober homespun, and it is
well known that His Majesty's troops wore red.

These young people, I say, had been roaming. It was plain that they had
wandered into spots where the brambles were thick and the dews
heavy, - nay, into swamps and puddles where the April rains were still
undried. Ford's boots and trousers had imbibed a deep foretaste of the
Virginia mud; his companion's skirts were fearfully bedraggled. What
great enthusiasm had made our friends so unmindful of their steps? What
blinding ardor had kindled these strange phenomena: a young lieutenant
scornful of his first uniform, a well-bred young lady reckless of her
stockings?

Good reader, this narrative is averse to retrospect.

Elizabeth (as I shall not scruple to call her outright) was leaning upon
her companion's arm, half moving in concert with him, and half allowing
herself to be led, with that instinctive acknowledgment of dependence
natural to a young girl who has just received the assurance of lifelong
protection. Ford was lounging along with that calm, swinging stride
which often bespeaks, when you can read it aright, the answering
consciousness of a sudden rush of manhood. A spectator might have
thought him at this moment profoundly conceited. The young girl's blue
veil was dangling from his pocket; he had shouldered her sun-umbrella
after the fashion of a musket on a march: he might carry these trifles.
Was there not a vague longing expressed in the strong expansion of his
stalwart shoulders, in the fond accommodation of his pace to hers, - her
pace so submissive and slow, that, when he tried to match it, they
almost came to a delightful standstill, - a silent desire for the whole
fair burden?

They made their way up a long swelling mound, whose top commanded the
sunset. The dim landscape which had been brightening all day to the
green of spring was now darkening to the gray of evening. The lesser
hills, the farms, the brooks, the fields, orchards, and woods, made a
dusky gulf before the great splendor of the west. As Ford looked at the
clouds, it seemed to him that their imagery was all of war, their great
uneven masses were marshalled into the semblance of a battle. There were
columns charging and columns flying and standards floating, - tatters of
the reflected purple; and great captains on colossal horses, and a
rolling canopy of cannon-smoke and fire and blood. The background of the
clouds, indeed, was like a land on fire, or a battle-ground illumined by
another sunset, a country of blackened villages and crimsoned pastures.
The tumult of the clouds increased; it was hard to believe them
inanimate. You might have fancied them an army of gigantic souls playing
at football with the sun. They seemed to sway in confused splendor; the
opposing squadrons bore each other down; and then suddenly they
scattered, bowling with equal velocity towards north and south, and
gradually fading into the pale evening sky. The purple pennons sailed
away and sank out of sight, caught, doubtless, upon the brambles of the
intervening plain. Day contracted itself into a fiery ball and vanished.

Ford and Elizabeth had quietly watched this great mystery of the
heavens.

"That is an allegory," said the young man, as the sun went under,
looking into his companion's face, where a pink flush seemed still to
linger: "it means the end of the war. The forces on both sides are
withdrawn. The blood that has been shed gathers itself into a vast
globule and drops into the ocean."

"I'm afraid it means a shabby compromise," said Elizabeth. "Light
disappears, too, and the land is in darkness."

"Only for a season," answered the other. "We mourn our dead. Then light
comes again, stronger and brighter than ever. Perhaps you'll be crying
for me, Lizzie, at that distant day."

"Oh, Jack, didn't you promise not to talk about that?" says Lizzie,
threatening to anticipate the performance in question.

Jack took this rebuke in silence, gazing soberly at the empty sky. Soon
the young girl's eyes stole up to his face. If he had been looking at
anything in particular, I think she would have followed the direction of
his glance; but as it seemed to be a very vacant one, she let her eyes
rest.

"Jack," said she, after a pause, "I wonder how you'll look when you get
back."

Ford's soberness gave way to a laugh.

"Uglier than ever. I shall be all incrusted with mud and gore. And then
I shall be magnificently sun-burnt, and I shall have a beard."

"Oh, you dreadful!" and Lizzie gave a little shout. "Really, Jack, if
you have a beard, you'll not look like a gentleman."

"Shall I look like a lady, pray?" says Jack.

"Are you serious?" asked Lizzie.

"To be sure. I mean to alter my face as you do your misfitting
garments, - take in on one side and let out on the other. Isn't that the
process? I shall crop my head and cultivate my chin."

"You've a very nice chin, my dear, and I think it's a shame to hide
it."

"Yes, I know my chin's handsome; but wait till you see my beard."

"Oh, the vanity!" cried Lizzie, "the vanity of men in their faces! Talk
of women!" and the silly creature looked up at her lover with most
inconsistent satisfaction.

"Oh, the pride of women in their husbands!" said Jack, who of course
knew what she was about.

"You're not my husband, Sir. There's many a slip" - - But the young girl
stopped short.

"'Twixt the cup and the lip," said Jack. "Go on. I can match your
proverb with another. 'There's many a true word,' and so forth. No, my
darling: I'm not your husband. Perhaps I never shall be. But if anything
happens to me, you'll take comfort, won't you?"

"Never!" said Lizzie, tremulously.

"Oh, but you must; otherwise, Lizzie, I should think our engagement
inexcusable. Stuff! who am I that you should cry for me?"

"You are the best and wisest of men. I don't care; you _are_."

"Thank you for your great love, my dear. That's a delightful illusion.
But I hope Time will kill it, in his own good way, before it hurts any
one. I know so many men who are worth infinitely more than I - men wise,
generous, and brave - that I shall not feel as if I were leaving you in
an empty world."

"Oh, my dear friend!" said Lizzie, after a pause, "I wish you could
advise me all my life."

"Take care, take care," laughed Jack; "you don't know what you are
bargaining for. But will you let me say a word now? If by chance I'm
taken out of the world, I want you to beware of that tawdry sentiment
which enjoins you to be 'constant to my memory.' My memory be hanged!
Remember me at my best, - that is, fullest of the desire of humility.
Don't inflict me on people. There are some widows and bereaved
sweethearts who remind me of the peddler in that horrible murder-story,
who carried a corpse in his pack. Really, it's their stock in trade. The
only justification of a man's personality is his rights. What rights has
a dead man? - Let's go down."

They turned southward and went jolting down the hill.

"Do you mind this talk, Lizzie?" asked Ford.

"No," said Lizzie, swallowing a sob, unnoticed by her companion in the
sublime egotism of protection; "I like it."

"Very well," said the young man, "I want my memory to help you. When I
am down in Virginia, I expect to get a vast deal of good from thinking
of you, - to do my work better, and to keep straighter altogether. Like
all lovers, I'm horribly selfish. I expect to see a vast deal of
shabbiness and baseness and turmoil, and in the midst of it all I'm sure
the inspiration of patriotism will sometimes fail. Then I'll think of
you. I love you a thousand times better than my country, Liz. - Wicked?
So much the worse. It's the truth. But if I find your memory makes a
milksop of me, I shall thrust you out of the way, without ceremony, - I
shall clap you into my box or between the leaves of my Bible, and only
look at you on Sunday."

"I shall be very glad, Sir, if that makes you open your Bible
frequently," says Elizabeth, rather demurely.

"I shall put one of your photographs against every page," cried Ford;
"and then I think I shall not lack a text for my meditations. Don't you
know how Catholics keep little pictures of their adored Lady in their
prayer-books?"

"Yes, indeed," said Lizzie; "I should think it would be a very
soul-stirring picture, when you are marching to the front, the night
before a battle, - a poor, stupid girl, knitting stupid socks, in a
stupid Yankee village."

Oh, the craft of artless tongues! Jack strode along in silence a few
moments, splashing straight through a puddle; then, ere he was quite
clear of it, he stretched out his arm and gave his companion a long
embrace.

"And pray what am I to do," resumed Lizzie, wondering, rather proudly
perhaps, at Jack's averted face, "while you are marching and
countermarching in Virginia?"

"Your duty, of course," said Jack, in a steady voice, which belied a
certain little conjecture of Lizzie's. "I think you will find the sun
will rise in the east, my dear, just as it did before you were engaged."

"I'm sure I didn't suppose it wouldn't," says Lizzie.

"By duty I don't mean anything disagreeable, Liz," pursued the young
man. "I hope you'll take your pleasure, too. I wish you might go to
Boston, or even to Leatherborough, for a month or two."

"What for, pray?"

"What for? Why, for the fun of it: to 'go out,' as they say."

"Jack, do you think me capable of going to parties while you are in
danger?"

"Why not? Why should I have all the fun?"

"Fun? I'm sure you're welcome to it all. As for me, I mean to make a new
beginning."

"Of what?"

"Oh, of everything. In the first place, I shall begin to improve my
mind. But don't you think it's horrid for women to be reasonable?"

"Hard, say you?"

"Horrid, - yes, and hard too. But I mean to become so. Oh, girls are such
fools, Jack! I mean to learn to like boiled mutton and history and plain
sewing, and all that. Yet, when a girl's engaged, she's not expected to
do anything in particular."

Jack laughed, and said nothing; and Lizzie went on.

"I wonder what your mother will say to the news. I think I know."

"What?"

"She'll say you've been very unwise. No, she won't: she never speaks so
to you. She'll say I've been very dishonest or indelicate, or something
of that kind. No, she won't either: she doesn't say such things, though
I'm sure she thinks them. I don't know what she'll say."

"No, I think not, Lizzie, if you indulge in such conjectures. My mother
never speaks without thinking. Let us hope that she may think favorably
of our plan. Even if she doesn't" - -

Jack did not finish his sentence, nor did Lizzie urge him. She had a
great respect for his hesitations. But in a moment he began again.

"I was going to say this, Lizzie: I think for the present our engagement
had better be kept quiet."

Lizzie's heart sank with a sudden disappointment. Imagine the feelings
of the damsel in the fairy-tale, whom the disguised enchantress had just
empowered to utter diamonds and pearls, should the old beldame have
straightway added that for the present mademoiselle had better hold her
tongue. Yet the disappointment was brief. I think this enviable young
lady would have tripped home talking very hard to herself, and have been
not ill pleased to find her little mouth turning into a tightly clasped
jewel-casket. Nay, would she not on this occasion have been thankful for
a large mouth, - a mouth huge and unnatural, - stretching from ear to ear?
Who wish to cast their pearls before swine? The young lady of the pearls
was, after all, but a barnyard miss. Lizzie was too proud of Jack to be
vain. It's well enough to wear our own hearts upon our sleeves; but for
those of others, when intrusted to our keeping, I think we had better
find a more secluded lodging.

"You see, I think secrecy would leave us much freer," said Jack, - "leave
_you_ much freer."

"Oh, Jack, how can you?" cried Lizzie. "Yes, of course; I shall be
falling in love with some one else. Freer! Thank you, Sir!"

"Nay, Lizzie, what I'm saying is really kinder than it sounds. Perhaps
you _will_ thank me one of these days."

"Doubtless! I've already taken a great fancy to George Mackenzie."

"Will you let me enlarge on my suggestion?"

"Oh, certainly! You seem to have your mind quite made up."

"I confess I like to take account of possibilities. Don't you know
mathematics are my hobby? Did you ever study algebra? I always have an
eye on the unknown quantity."

"No, I never studied algebra. I agree with you, that we had better not
speak of our engagement."

"That's right, my dear. You're always right. But mind, I don't want to
bind you to secrecy. Hang it, do as you please! Do what comes easiest to
you, and you'll do the best thing. What made me speak is my dread of the
horrible publicity which clings to all this business. Nowadays, when a
girl's engaged, it's no longer, 'Ask mamma,' simply; but, 'Ask Mrs.
Brown, and Mrs. Jones, and my large circle of acquaintance, - Mrs.
Grundy, in short.' I say nowadays, but I suppose it's always been so."

"Very well, we'll keep it all nice and quiet," said Lizzie, who would
have been ready to celebrate her nuptials according to the rites of the
Esquimaux, had Jack seen fit to suggest it.

"I know it doesn't look well for a lover to be so cautious," pursued
Jack; "but you understand me, Lizzie, don't you?"

"I don't entirely understand you, but I quite trust you."

"God bless you! My prudence, you see, is my best strength. Now, if ever,
I need my strength. When a man's a-wooing, Lizzie, he is all feeling, or
he ought to be; when he's accepted, then he begins to think."

"And to repent, I suppose you mean."

"Nay, to devise means to keep his sweetheart from repenting. Let me be
frank. Is it the greatest fools only that are the best lovers? There's
no telling what may happen, Lizzie. I want you to marry me with your
eyes open. I don't want you to feel tied down or taken in. You're very
young, you know. You're responsible to yourself of a year hence. You're
at an age when no girl can count safely from year's end to year's end."

"And you, Sir!" cries Lizzie; "one would think you were a grandfather."

"Well, I'm on the way to it. I'm a pretty old boy. I mean what I say. I
may not be entirely frank, but I think I'm sincere. It seems to me as if
I'd been fibbing all my life before I told you that your affection was
necessary to my happiness. I mean it out and out. I never loved any one
before, and I never will again. If you had refused me half an hour ago,
I should have died a bachelor. I have no fear for myself. But I have for
you. You said a few minutes ago that you wanted me to be your adviser.
Now you know the function of an adviser is to perfect his victim in the
art of walking with his eyes shut. I sha'n't be so cruel."

Lizzie saw fit to view these remarks in a humorous light. "How
disinterested!" quoth she: "how very self-sacrificing! Bachelor indeed!
For my part, I think I shall become a Mormon!" - I verily believe the
poor misinformed creature fancied that in Utah it is the ladies who are
guilty of polygamy.

Before many minutes they drew near home. There stood Mrs. Ford at the
garden-gate, looking up and down the road, with a letter in her hand.

"Something for you, John," said his mother, as they approached. "It
looks as if it came from camp. - Why, Elizabeth, look at your skirts!"

"I know it," says Lizzie, giving the articles in question a shake. "What
is it, Jack?"

"Marching orders!" cried the young man. "The regiment leaves day after
to-morrow. I must leave by the early train in the morning. Hurray!" And
he diverted a sudden gleeful kiss into a filial salute.

They went in. The two women were silent, after the manner of women who
suffer. But Jack did little else than laugh and talk and circumnavigate
the parlor, sitting first here and then there, - close beside Lizzie and
on the opposite side of the room. After a while Miss Crowe joined in his
laughter, but I think her mirth might have been resolved into articulate
heart-beats. After tea she went to bed, to give Jack; opportunity for
his last filial _épanchements_. How generous a man's intervention makes
women! But Lizzie promised to see her lover off in the morning.

"Nonsense!" said Mrs. Ford. "You'll not be up. John will want to
breakfast quietly."

"I shall see you off, Jack," repeated the young lady, from the
threshold.

Elizabeth went up stairs buoyant with her young love. It had dawned upon
her like a new life, - a life positively worth the living. Hereby she
would subsist and cost nobody anything. In it she was boundlessly rich.
She would make it the hidden spring of a hundred praiseworthy deeds. She
would begin the career of duty: she would enjoy boundless equanimity:
she would raise her whole being to the level of her sublime passion. She
would practise charity, humility, piety, - in fine, all the virtues:
together with certain _morceaux_ of Beethoven and Chopin. She would walk
the earth like one glorified. She would do homage to the best of men by
inviolate secrecy. Here, by I know not what gentle transition, as she
lay in the quiet darkness, Elizabeth covered her pillow with a flood of
tears.

Meanwhile Ford, down-stairs, began in this fashion. He was lounging at
his manly length on the sofa, in his slippers.

"May I light a pipe, mother?"

"Yes, my love. But please be careful of your ashes. There's a
newspaper."

"Pipes don't make ashes. - Mother, what do you think?" he continued,
between the puffs of his smoking; "I've got a piece of news."

"Ah?" said Mrs. Ford, fumbling for her scissors; "I hope it's good
news."

"I hope you'll think it so. I've been engaging myself" - puff, - puff - "to
Lizzie Crowe." A cloud of puffs between his mother's face and his own.
When they cleared away, Jack felt his mother's eyes. Her work was in her
lap. "To be married, you know," he added.

In Mrs. Ford's view, like the king in that of the British Constitution,
her only son could do no wrong. Prejudice is a stout bulwark against
surprise. Moreover, Mrs. Ford's motherly instinct had not been entirely
at fault. Still, it had by no means kept pace with fact. She had been
silent, partly from doubt, partly out of respect for her son. As long as
John did not doubt of himself, he was right. Should he come to do so,
she was sure he would speak. And now, when he told her the matter was
settled, she persuaded herself that he was asking her advice.

"I've been expecting it," she said, at last.

"You have? why didn't you speak?"

"Well, John, I can't say I've been hoping it."

"Why not?"

"I am not sure of Lizzie's heart," said Mrs. Ford, who, it may be well
to add, was very sure of her own.

Jack began to laugh. "What's the matter with her heart?"

"I think Lizzie's shallow," said Mrs. Ford; and there was that in her
tone which betokened some satisfaction with this adjective.

"Hang it! she is shallow," said Jack. "But when a thing's shallow, you
can see to the bottom. Lizzie doesn't pretend to be deep. I want a wife,
mother, that I can understand. That's the only wife I can love. Lizzie's
the only girl I ever understood, and the first I ever loved. I love her
very much, - more than I can explain to you."

"Yes, I confess it's inexplicable. It seems to me," she added, with a
bad smile, "like infatuation."

Jack did not like the smile; he liked it even less than the remark. He
smoked steadily for a few moments, and then he said, -

"Well, mother, love is notoriously obstinate, you know. We shall not be
able to take the same view of this subject: suppose we drop it."

"Remember that this is your last evening at home, my son," said Mrs.
Ford.

"I do remember. Therefore I wish to avoid disagreement."

There was a pause. The young man smoked, and his mother sewed, in
silence.

"I think my position, as Lizzie's guardian," resumed Mrs. Ford,
"entitles me to an interest in the matter."

"Certainly, I acknowledged your interest by telling you of our
engagement."

Further pause.

"Will you allow me to say," said Mrs. Ford, after a while, "that I think
this a little selfish?"

"Allow you? Certainly, if you particularly desire it. Though I confess
it isn't very pleasant for a man to sit and hear his future wife pitched
into, - by his own mother, too."

"John, I am surprised at your language."

"I beg your pardon," and John spoke more gently. "You mustn't be
surprised at anything from an accepted lover. - I'm sure you misconceive
her. In fact, mother, I don't believe you know her."

Mrs. Ford nodded, with an infinite depth of meaning; and from the
grimness with which she bit off the end of her thread it might have
seemed that she fancied herself to be executing a human vengeance.

"Ah, I know her only too well!"

"And you don't like her?"

Mrs. Ford performed another decapitation of her thread.

"Well, I'm glad Lizzie has one friend in the world," said Jack.

"Her best friend," said Mrs. Ford, "is the one who flatters her least. I
see it all, John. Her pretty face has done the business."

The young man flushed impatiently.

"Mother," said he, "you are very much mistaken. I'm not a boy nor a
fool. You trust me in a great many things; why not trust me in this?"

"My dear son, you are throwing yourself away. You deserve for your
companion in life a higher character than that girl."

I think Mrs. Ford, who had been an excellent mother, would have liked to
give her son a wife fashioned on her own model.

"Oh, come, mother," said he, "that's twaddle. I should be thankful, if I
were half as good as Lizzie."

"It's the truth, John, and your conduct - not only the step you've taken,
but your talk about it - is a great disappointment to me. If I have
cherished any wish of late, it is that my darling boy should get a wife
worthy of him. The household governed by Elizabeth Crowe is not the home
I should desire for any one I love."

"It's one to which you should always be welcome, Ma'am," said Jack.

"It's not a place I should feel at home in," replied his mother.

"I'm sorry," said Jack. And he got up and began to walk about the room.
"Well, well, mother," he said at last, stopping in front of Mrs. Ford,
"we don't understand each other. One of these days we shall. For the
present let us have done with discussion. I'm half sorry I told you."

"I'm glad of such a proof of your confidence. But if you hadn't, of
course Elizabeth would have done so."

"No, Ma'am, I think not."

"Then she is even more reckless of her obligations than I thought her."

"I advised her to say nothing about it."

Mrs. Ford made no answer. She began slowly to fold up her work.

"I think we had better let the matter stand," continued her son. "I'm
not afraid of time. But I wish to make a request of you: you won't
mention this conversation to Lizzie, will you? nor allow her to suppose
that you know of our engagement? I have a particular reason."



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