Copyright
Edward Payson Roe.

An Original Belle online

. (page 21 of 37)
Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 21 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


without exasperation."

"Well, my dear, perhaps this is one of the minor sacrifices that
we must make for the cause. Until Merwyn can explain for himself,
he has no right to expect from us more than politeness. While I
would not take from him a loan for my individual work, I can induce
him to give much material help. In aiding Strahan, and in other
ways, he has done a great deal, and he is willing to do more. The
prospects are that everything will be needed, and I do not feel
like alienating one dollar or one bit of influence. According to
your theory his course is due to infirmity rather than to fault,
and so he should be tolerated, since he is doing the best he can.
Politeness to him will not compromise either our principles or
ourselves."

"Well, papa, I will do my best; but if he had a particle of my
intuition he would know how I feel. Indeed, I believe he does know
in some degree, and it seems to me that, if I were a man, I couldn't
face a woman while she entertained such an opinion."

"Perhaps the knowledge that you are wrong enables him to face you."

"If that were true he wouldn't be twenty-four hours in proving it."

"Well," said her father, with a grim laugh, and in a low voice,
"he may soon have a chance to show his mettle without going to
the front. Marian, I wish you would join your mother. The city is
fairly trembling with suppressed disloyalty. If Lee marches northward
I shall fear an explosion at any time."

"Leave the city!" said the young girl, hotly. "That would prove
that I possess the same traits that repel me so strongly in Mr.
Merwyn. No, I shall not leave your side this summer, unless you
compel me to almost by force. Have we not recently heard of two
Southern girls who cheered on their friends in battle with bullets
flying around them? After witnessing that scene, I should make
a pitiable figure in Captain Lane's eyes should I seek safety in
flight at the mere thought of danger. I should die with shame."

"It is well Captain Lane does not hear you, or the surgeon would
have fever to contend with, as well as wounds."

"O dear!" cried the girl. "I wish we could hear from him."

Mr. Vosburgh had nearly reached the conclusion that if the captain
survived the vicissitudes of the war he would not plead a second
time in vain.

A few evenings later Merwyn called. Mr. Vosburgh was out, and others
were in the drawing-room. Marian did not have much to say to him,
but treated him with her old, distant politeness. He felt her manner,
and saw the gulf that lay between them, but no one unacquainted with
the past would have recognized any lack of courtesy on her part.

Among the exciting topics broached was the possibility
of a counter-revolution at the North. Merwyn noticed that Marian
was reticent in regard to her father and his opinions, but he was
startled to hear her say that she would not be surprised if violent
outbreaks of disloyalty took place any hour, and he recognized her
courage in remaining in the city. One of the callers, an officer
in the Seventh Regiment, also spoke of the possibility of all the
militia being ordered away to aid in repelling invasion.

Merwyn listened attentively, but did not take a very active part in
the conversation, and went away with the words "counter-revolution"
and "invasion" ringing in his ears.

He became a close student of the progress of events, and, with his
sensitiveness in regard to the Vosburghs, adopted a measure that
taxed his courage. A day or two later he called on Mr. Vosburgh at
his office, and asked him out to lunch, saying that he was desirous
of obtaining some information.

Mr. Vosburgh complied readily, for he wished to give the young
man every chance to right himself, and he could not disguise the
fact that he felt a peculiar interest in the problem presented by
his daughter's unfortunate suitor. Merwyn was rather maladroit in
accounting for his questions in regard to the results of a counter
revolution, and gave the impression that he was solicitous about
his property.

Convinced that his entertainer was loyal from conviction and
feeling, as well as from the nature of his pecuniary interests,
Mr. Vosburgh spoke quite freely of the dangerous elements rapidly
developing at the North, and warned his host that, in his opinion,
the critical period of the struggle was approaching. Merwyn's grave,
troubled face and extreme reticence in respect to his own course
made an unfavorable impression, yet he was acting characteristically.
Trammelled as he was, he could not speak according to his natural
impulses. He felt that brave words, not enforced by corresponding
action, would be in wretched taste, and his hope was that by deeds
he could soon redeem himself. If there was a counter-revolution he
could soon find a post of danger without wearing the uniform of a
soldier or stepping on Southern soil, but he was not one to boast
of what he would do should such and such events take place. Moreover,
before the month elapsed he had reason to believe that he would
receive a letter from his mother giving him freedom. Therefore,
Mr. Vosburgh was left with all his old doubts and perplexities
unrelieved, and Marian's sinister theory was confirmed rather than
weakened.

Merwyn, however, was no longer despondent. The swift march of events
might give him the opportunities he craved. He was too young not to
seize on the faintest hope offered by the future, and the present
period was one of reaction from the deep dejection that, for a
time, had almost paralyzed him in the country.

Even as a boy he had been a sportsman, and a good shot with gun,
rifle, and pistol, but now he began to perfect himself in the use
of the last-named weapon. He arranged the basement of his house in
such a way that he could practise with his revolvers, and he soon
became very proficient in the accuracy and quickness of his aim.

According to the press despatches of the day, there was much
uncertainty in regard to General Lee's movements and plans. Mr.
Vosburgh's means of information led him to believe that the rebel
army was coming North, and many others shared the fear; but as
late as June 15, so skilfully had the Confederate leader masked
his purposes, that, according to the latest published news, the
indications were that he intended to cross the Rappahannock near
Culpepper and inaugurate a campaign similar to the one that had
proved so disastrous to the Union cause the preceding summer.

On the morning of the 16th, however, the head-lines of the leading
journals startled the people through the North. The rebel advance
had occupied Chambersburg, Pa. The invasion was an accomplished
fact. The same journals contained a call from the President for
100,000 militia, of which the State of New York was to furnish
20,000. The excitement in Pennsylvania was intense, for not only
her capital, but her principal towns and cities were endangered.
The thick-flying rumors of the past few days received terrible
confirmation, and, while Lee's plans were still shrouded in mystery,
enough was known to awaken apprehension, while the very uncertainty
proved the prolific source of the most exaggerated and direful
stories. There was immense activity at the various armories, and
many regiments of the city militia expected orders to depart at
any hour. The metropolis was rocking with excitement, and wherever
men congregated there were eager faces and excited tones.

Behind his impassive manner, when he appeared in the street, no
one disguised deeper feeling, more eager hope, more sickening fear,
than Willard Merwyn. When would his mother's letter come? If this
crisis should pass and he take no part in it he feared that he
himself would be lost.

Since his last call upon Marian he felt that he could not see her
again until he could take some decided course; but if there were
blows to be struck by citizens at the North, or if his mother's
letter acceded to his wish, however grudgingly, he could act at
once, and on each new day he awoke with the hope that he might be
unchained before its close.

The 17th of June was a memorable day. The morning press brought
confirmation of Lee's northward advance. The men of the Quaker
City were turning out en masse, either to carry the musket or for
labor on fortifications, and it was announced that twelve regiments
of the New-York militia were under marching orders. The invasion
was the one topic of conversation. There was an immense revival
of patriotism, and recruiting at the armories went on rapidly. At
this outburst of popular feeling disloyalty shrunk out of sight for
a time, and apparently the invaders who had come north as allies
of the peace party created an uprising, as they had expected, but
it was hostile to them.

The people were reminded of the threats of the Southern leaders.
The speech of Jeff Davis in the winter of 1860-61 was quoted: "If
war should result from secession, it will not be our fields that
will witness its ravages, but those of the North."

The fact that this prediction was already fulfilled stung even the
half-hearted into action, and nerved the loyalty of others, and
when it became known that the gallant Seventh Regiment would march
down Broadway en route for Pennsylvania at noon, multitudes lined
the thoroughfare and greeted their defenders with acclamations.

Merwyn knew that Marian would witness the departure, and he watched
in the distance till he saw her emerge from her home and go to a
building on Broadway in which her father had secured her a place.
She was attended by an officer clad in the uniform of a service
so dear to her, but which HE had sworn never to wear. He hastily
secured a point of observation in a building opposite, for while
the vision of the young girl awakened almost desperate revolt at
his lot, he could not resist a lover's impulse to see her. Pale,
silent, absorbed, he saw her wave her handkerchief and smile at
her friends as they passed; he saw a white-haired old lady reach
out her hands in yearning love, an eloquent pantomime that indicated
that her sons were marching under her eyes, and then she sank back
into Marian's arms.

"Oh," groaned Merwyn, "if that were my mother I could give her a
love that would be almost worship."






CHAPTER XXXI.

"I'VE LOST MY CHANCE."





During the remainder of the 17th of June and for the next few days,
the militia regiments of New York and Brooklyn were departing for
the seat of war. The city was filled with conflicting rumors. On
the 19th it was said that the invaders were returning to Virginia.
The questions "Where is Lee, and what are his purposes? and what
is the army of the Potomac about?" were upon all lips.

On the 20th came the startling tidings of organized resistance to
the draft in Ohio, and of troops fired upon by the mob. Mr. Vosburgh
frowned heavily as he read the account at the breakfast-table and
said: "The test of my fears will come when the conscription begins
in this city, and it may come much sooner. I wish you to join your
mother before that day, Marian!"

"No," she said, quietly, - "not unless you compel, me to."

"I may be obliged to use my authority," said her father, after some
thought. "My mind is oppressed by a phase of danger not properly
realized. The city is being stripped of its loyal regiments, and
every element of mischief is left behind."


"Papa, I entreat you not to send me away while you remain. I assure
you that such a course would involve far greater danger to me than
staying with you, even though your fears should be realized. If
the worst should happen, I might escape all harm. If you do what
you threaten, I could not escape a wounded spirit."

"Well, my dear," said her father, gently, "I appreciate your courage
and devotion, and I should indeed miss you. We'll await further
developments."

Day after day passed, bringing no definite information. There were
reports of severe cavalry fighting in Virginia, but the position
of the main body of Lee's army was still practically unknown to the
people at large. On the 22d, a leading journal said, "The public
must, with patience, await events in Virginia, and remain in
ignorance until some decisive point is reached;" and on the 24th,
the head-lines of the press read, in effect, "Not much of importance
from Pennsylvania yesterday." The intense excitement caused by
the invasion was subsiding. People could not exist at the first
fever-heat. It was generally believed that Hooker's army had brought
Lee to a halt, and that the two commanders were manoeuvring for
positions. The fact was that the Confederates had an abundance of
congenial occupation in sending southward to their impoverished
commissary department the immense booty they were gathering among
the rich farms and towns of Pennsylvania. Hooker was seeking, by
the aid of his cavalry force and scouts, to penetrate his opponent's
plans, meanwhile hesitating whether to fall on the rebel communications
in their rear, or to follow northward.

Lee and his great army, flushed with recent victories, were not all
that Hooker had to contend with, but there was a man in Washington,
whose incapacity and ill-will threatened even more fatal difficulties.
Gen. Halleck, Commander-in-Chief, hung on the Union leader like
the "Old Man of the Sea." He misled the noble President, who,
as a civilian, was ignorant of military affairs, paralyzed tens
of thousands of troops by keeping them where they could be of no
practical use, and by giving them orders of which General Hooker
was not informed. The Comte de Paris writes, "Lee's projects could
not have been more efficiently subserved," and the disastrous defeat
of General Milroy confirms these words. It was a repetition of the
old story of General Miles of the preceding year, with the difference
that Milroy was a gallant, loyal man, who did all that a skilful
officer could accomplish to avert the results of his superior's
blundering and negligence.

Hooker was goaded into resigning, and of the army of the Potomac the
gifted French author again writes, "Everything seemed to conspire
against it, even the government, whose last hope it was;" adding
later: "Out of the 97,000 men thus divided (at Washington, Frederick,
Fortress Monroe, and neighboring points) there were 40,000, perfectly
useless where they were stationed, that might have been added to
the army of the Potomac before the 1st of July. Thus reinforced, the
Union general could have been certain of conquering his adversary,
and even of inflicting upon him an irreparable disaster."

The fortunes of the North were indeed trembling in the balance.
We had to cope with the ablest general of the South and his great
army, with the peace (?) faction that threatened bloody arguments
in the loyal States, and with General Halleck.

The people were asking: "Where is the army of the Potomac? What
can it be doing, that the invasion goes on so long unchecked?" At
Gettysburg this patient, longsuffering army gave its answer.

Meanwhile the North was brought face to face with the direst
possibilities, and its fears, which history has proved to be just,
were aroused to the last degree. The lull in the excitement which
had followed the first startling announcement of invasion was
broken by the wildest rumors and the sternest facts. The public
pulse again rose to fever-heat. Farmers were flying into Harrisburg,
before the advancing enemy; merchants were packing their goods
for shipment to the North; and the panic was so general that the
proposition was made to stop forcibly the flight of able-bodied
men from the Pennsylvanian capital.

As Mr. Vosburgh read these despatches in the morning paper, Marian
smiled satirically, and said: "You think that Mr. Merwyn is under
some powerful restraint. I doubt whether he would be restrained
from going north, should danger threaten this city."

And many believed, with good reason, that New York City was
threatened. Major-General Doubleday, in his clear, vigorous account
of this campaign writes: "Union spies who claimed to have counted
the rebel forces as they passed through Hagerstown made their
number to be 91,000 infantry and 280 guns. This statement, though
exaggerated, gained great credence, and added to the excitement of
the loyal people throughout the Northern States, while the disloyal
element was proportionately active and jubilant." Again he writes:
"There was wild commotion throughout the North, and people began to
feel that the boast of the Georgia Senator, Toombs, that he would
call the roll of his slaves at the foot of Bunker Hill Monument,
might soon be realized. The enemy seemed very near and the army of
the Potomac far away." Again: "The Southern people were bent upon
nothing else than the entire subjugation of the North and the
occupation of our principal cities."

These statements of sober history are but the true echoes of the
loud alarms of the hour. On the morning of the 20th of June, such
words as these were printed as the leading editorial of the New York
Tribune: "The rebels are coming North. All doubt seems at length
dispelled. Men of the North, Pennsylvanians, Jerseymen, New-Yorkers,
New-Englanders, the foe is at your doors! Are you true men or
traitors? brave men or cowards? If you are patriots, resolved and
deserving to be free, prove it by universal rallying, arming, and
marching to meet the foe. Prove it NOW!"

Marian, with flashing eyes and glowing cheeks, read to her father
this brief trumpet call, and then exclaimed: "Yes, the issue is
drawn so sharply now that no loyal man can hesitate, and to-day
Mr. Merwyn cannot help answering the question, 'Are you a brave
man or a coward?' O papa, to think that a MAN should be deaf to
such an appeal and shrink in such an emergency!"

At that very hour Merwyn sat alone in his elegant home, his face
buried in his hands, the very picture of dejection. Before him on
the table lay the journal from which he had read the same words
which Marian had applied to him in bitter scorn. An open letter
was also upon the table, and its contents had slain his hope. Mrs.
Merwyn had answered his appeal characteristically. "You evidently
need my presence," she wrote, "yet I will never believe that you
can violate your oath, unless your reason is dethroned. When you
forget that you have sworn by your father's memory and your mother's
honor, you must be wrecked indeed. I wonder at your blindness to
your own interests, and can see in it the influence which, in all
the past, has made some weak men reckless and forgetful of everything
except an unworthy passion. The armies of your Northern friends
have been defeated again and again. I have means of communication
with my Southern friends, and before the summer is over our gallant
leaders will dictate peace in the city where you dwell. What then
would become of the property which you so value, were it not for my
influence? My hope still is, that your infatuation will pass away
with your youth, and that your mind will become clear, so that
you can appreciate the future that might be yours. If I can only
protect you against yourself and designing people, all may yet be
well; and when our glorious South takes the foremost place among
the nations of the earth, my influence will be such that I can still
obtain for you rank and title, unless you now compromise yourself
by some unutterable folly. The crisis is approaching fast, and the
North will soon learn that, so far from subduing the South, it will
be subjugated and will gladly accept such terms as we may deem it
best to give. I have fulfilled my mission here. The leading classes
are with us in sympathy, and it will require but one or two more
victories like that of Chancellorsville to make England our open
ally. Then people of our birth and wealth will be the equals of the
English aristocracy, and your career can be as lofty as you choose
to make it. Then, with a gratitude beyond words, you will thank me
for my firmness, for you can aspire to the highest positions in an
empire such as the world has not seen before."

"No," said Merwyn, sternly, "if there is a free State left at the
North, I will work there with my own hands for a livelihood, rather
than have any part or lot in this Southern empire. Yet what can I
ever appear to be but a shrinking coward? An owner of slaves all
her life, my mother has made a slave of me. She has fettered my
very soul. Oh! if there are to be outbreaks at the North, let them
come soon, or I shall die under the weight of my chains."

The dark tide of invasion rose higher and higher. At last the tidings
came that Lee's whole army was in Pennsylvania, that Harrisburg
would be attacked before night, and that the enemy were threatening
Columbia on the northern bank of the Susquehanna, and would have
crossed the immense bridge which there spans the river, had it not
been burned.

On the 27th, the Tribune contained the following editorial words:
"Now is the hour. Pennsylvania is at length arousing, we trust not
too late. We plead with the entire North to rush to the rescue; the
whole North is menaced through this invasion. It we do not stop it
at the Susquehanna, it will soon strike us on the Delaware, then
on the Hudson."

"My chance is coming," Merwyn muttered, grimly, as he read these
words. "If the answering counter-revolution does not begin during
the next few days, I shall take my rifle and fight as a citizen as
long as there is a rebel left on Northern soil."

The eyes of others were turned towards Pennsylvania; he scanned
the city in which he dwelt. He had abandoned all morbid brooding,
and sought by every means in his power to inform himself in regard
to the seething, disloyal elements that were now manifesting
themselves. From what Mr. Vosburgh had told him, and from what he
had discovered himself, he felt that any hour might witness bloody
co-operation at his very door with the army of invasion.

"Should this take place," he exclaimed, as he paced his room, "oh
that it might be my privilege, before I died, to perform some deed
that would convince Marian Vosburgh that I am not what she thinks
me to be!"

Each new day brought its portentous news. On the 30th of June, there
were accounts of intense excitement at Washington and Baltimore,
for the enemy had appeared almost at the suburbs of these cities.
In Baltimore, women rushed into the streets and besought protection.
New York throbbed and rocked with kindred excitement.

On July 3d, the loyal Tribune again sounded the note of deep alarm:
"These are times that try men's souls! The peril of our country's
overthrow is great and imminent. The triumph of the rebels
distinctly and unmistakably involves the downfall of republican
and representative institutions."

By a strange anomaly multitudes of the poor, the oppressed in other
lands, whose hope for the future was bound up in the cause of the
North, were arrayed against it. Their ignorance made them dupes
and tools, and enemies of human rights and progress were prompt to
use them. On the evening of this momentous 3d of July, a manifesto,
in the form of a handbill, was extensively circulated throughout
the city. Jeff Davis himself could not have written anything more
disloyal, more false, of the Union government and its aims, or
better calculated to incite bloody revolution in the North.

For the last few days the spirit of rebellion had been burning like
a fuse toward a vast magazine of human passion and intense hatred
of Northern measures and principles. If from Pennsylvania had come
in electric flash the words, "Meade defeated," the explosion would
have come almost instantly; but all now had learned that the army
of the Potomac had emerged from its obscurity, and had grappled
with the invading forces. Even the most reckless of the so-called
peace faction could afford to wait a few hours longer. As soon as
the shattered columns of Meade's army were in full retreat, the
Northern wing of the rebellion could act with confidence.

The Tribune, in commenting on the incendiary document distributed
on the evening of the 3d, spoke as follows: "That the more determined
sympathizers, in this vicinity, with the Southern rebels have, for
months, conspired and plotted to bring about a revolution is as
certain as the Civil War. Had Meade been defeated," etc.

The dramatic culmination of this awful hour of uncertainty may
be found in the speeches, on July 4th, of ex-President Franklin
Pierce, at Concord, N.H., and of Governor Seymour, in the Academy
of Music, at New York. The former spoke of "the mailed hand of
military usurpation in the North, striking down the liberties of



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 21 of 37)