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Edward Payson Roe.

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shot would have brought thousands of men to their feet. The moon
poured a soft radiance over all, and gave to the scene a weird
and terrible beauty. The army was like a sleeping giant. Would
its awakening be as terrible as on the last three mornings? Then
I thought of that other army sleeping beyond our lines, - an army
which neither bugle nor the thunder of all our guns could awaken.

"I soon distinguished faint, far-off sounds from the disputed
territory beyond our pickets. Rising, I put my hand to my ear, and
then heard the words, 'Water! water!'

"They were the cries of wounded men entreating for that which would
quench their intolerable thirst. The thought that Strahan might be
among this number stung me to the very quick, and I hastened to the
senior captain, who now commanded the regiment. I found him alert
and watchful, with the bugle at his side, for he felt the weight
of responsibility so suddenly thrust upon him.

"'Captain Markham,' I said, 'do you hear those cries for water?'

"'Yes,' he replied, sadly; 'I have heard them for hours,

"'Among them may be Strahan's voice,' I said, eagerly.

"'Granting it, what could we do? Our pickets are way this side of
the spot where he fell.'

"'Captain,' I cried, 'Strahan was like a brother to me. I can't
rest here with the possibility that he is dying yonder for a little
water. I am relieved from duty, you know. If one of my company will
volunteer to go with me, will you give him your permission? I know
where Strahan fell, and am willing to try to reach him and bring
him in.'

"'No,' said the captain, 'I can't give such permission. You might
be fired on and the whole line aroused. You can go to our old
brigade-commander, however - he now commands the division, - and
see what he says. He's back there under that tree. Of course, you
know, I sympathize with your feeling, but I cannot advise the risk.
Good heavens, Blauvelt! we've lost enough officers already.'

"'I'll be back soon,' I answered.

"To a wakeful aid I told my errand, and he aroused the general,
who was silent after he had been made acquainted with my project.

"'I might bring in some useful information,' I added, hastily.

"The officer knew and liked Strahan, but said: 'I shall have to put
my permission on the ground of a reconnoissance. I should be glad
to know if any changes are taking place on our front, and so would
my superiors. Of course you understand the risk you run when once
beyond our pickets?'

"'Strahan would do as much and more for me,' I replied.

"'Very well;' and he gave me permission to take a volunteer, at
the same time ordering me to report to him on my return.

"I went back to our regimental commander, who growled, 'Well, if
you will go I suppose you will; but it would be a foolhardy thing
for even an unwounded man to attempt.'

"I knew a strong, active young fellow in my company who would
go anywhere with me, and, waking him up, explained my purpose. He
was instantly on the qui vive. I procured him a revolver, and we
started at once. On reaching our pickets we showed our authority
to pass, and were informed that the enemy's vedettes ran along the
ridge on which we had fought the day before. Telling our pickets
to pass the word not to fire on us if we came in on the run, we
stole down into the intervening valley.

"The moon was now momentarily obscured by clouds, and this favored
us. My plan was to reach the woods on which the right of our regiment
had rested. Here the shadows would be deep, and our chances better.
Crouching and creeping silently from bush to bush, we made our
gradual progress until we saw a sentinel slowly pacing back and
forth along the edge of the woods. Most of his beat was in shadow,
and there were bushes and rocks extending almost to it. We watched
him attentively for a time, and then my companion whispered: 'The
Johnny seems half dead with sleep. I believe I can steal up and
capture him without a sound. I don't see how we can get by him as
long as he is sufficiently wide awake to walk.'

"'Very well. You have two hands, and my left is almost useless,'
I said. 'Make your attempt where the shadow is deepest, and if he
sees you, and is about to shoot, see that you shoot first. I'll be
with you instantly if you succeed, and cover your retreat in case
of failure."

"In a moment, revolver in hand, he was gliding, like a shadow, from
cover to cover, and it was his good fortune to steal up behind the
sleepy sentinel, grasp his musket, and whisper, with his pistol
against his head, 'Not a sound, or you are dead.'

"The man was discreet enough to be utterly silent. In a moment
I was by Rush's side - that was the name of the brave fellow who
accompanied me - and found that he had disarmed his prisoner. I
told Rush to take the rebel's musket and walk up and down the beat,
and especially to show himself in the moonlight. I made the Johnny
give me his word not to escape, telling him that he would be shot
instantly if he did. I gave him the impression that others were
watching him. I then tied his hands behind him and fastened him
to a tree in the shade. Feeling that I had not a moment to lose,
I passed rapidly down through the woods bearing to the left. The
place was only too familiar, and even in the moonlight I could
recognize the still forms of some of my own company. I found two
or three of our regiment still alive, and hushed them as I pressed
water to their lips. I then asked if they knew anything about
Strahan. They did not. Hastening on I reached the spot, by a large
boulder, where I had seen Strahan fall. He was not there, or anywhere
near it. I even turned up the faces of corpses in my wish to assure
myself; for our dead officers had been partially stripped. I called
his name softly, then more distinctly, and at last, forgetful in
my distress, loudly. Then I heard hasty steps, and crouched down
behind a bush, with my hand upon my revolver. But I had been seen.

"A man approached rapidly, and asked, in a gruff voice, 'What the
devil are you doing here?'

"'Looking for a brother who fell hereabouts,' I replied, humbly.

"'You are a - Yankee,' was the harsh reply, 'and a prisoner; I know
your Northern tongue."

"I fired instantly, and wounded him, but not severely, for he fired
in return, and the bullet whizzed by my ear. My next shot brought
him down, and then I started on a dead run for the woods, regained
Rush, and, with our prisoner, we stole swiftly towards our lines.
We were out of sure range before the startled pickets of the enemy
realized what was the matter. A few harmless shots were sent after
us, and then we gained our lines. I am satisfied that the man I shot
was a rebel officer visiting the picket line. Our firing inside
their lines could not be explained until the gap caused by the
missing sentinel we had carried off was discovered.

"Then they knew that 'Yanks,' as they called us, had been within
their lines. Rush, taking the sentinel's place while I was below
the hill, had prevented an untimely discovery of our expedition.
Perhaps it was well that I met the rebel officer, for he was making
directly towards the spot where I had left my companion.

"The poor fellow we had captured was so used up that he could
scarcely keep pace with us. He said he had not had any rest worth
speaking of for forty-eight hours. I passed through our lines, now
alert, and reported at Division Headquarters. The general laughed,
congratulated us, and said he was glad we had not found Strahan among
the dead or seriously wounded, for now there was a good chance of
seeing him again.

"I turned over our prisoner to him, and soon all was quiet again.
Captain Markham, of our regiment, greeted us warmly, but I was
so exhausted that I contented him with a brief outline of what
had occurred, and said I would tell him the rest in the morning.
Satisfied now that Strahan was not crying for water, I was soon
asleep again by the side of Rush, and did not waken till the sun
was well above the horizon.

"I soon learned that the vedettes of the enemy had disappeared from
before our lines, and that our skirmishers were advancing. After a
hasty breakfast I followed them, and soon reached again the ground
I had visited in the night. On the way I met two of our men to whom
I had given water. The other man had meanwhile died. The survivors
told me positively that they had not seen or heard of Strahan after
he had fallen. They also said that they had received a little food
and water from the rebels, or they could not have survived.

"The dead were still unburied, although parties were sent out
within our picket line during the day to perform this sad duty,
and I searched the ground thoroughly for a wide distance, acting
on the possibility that Strahan might have crawled away somewhere.

"I shall not describe the appearance of the field, or speak of my
feelings as I saw the bodies of the brave men and officers of our
regiment who had so long been my companions.

"The rest of my story is soon told. From our surgeon I had positive
assurance that Strahan had not been brought to our corps hospital.
Therefore, I felt driven to one of two conclusions: either he was
in a Confederate hospital on the field beyond our lines, or else
he was a prisoner.

"As usual, the heavy concussion of the artillery produced a rain-storm,
which set in on the afternoon of the 4th, and continued all night.
As the enemy appeared to be intrenching in a strong position, there
seemed no hope of doing any more that day, and I spent the night
in a piece of woods with my men.

"On the dark, dreary morning of the 5th, it was soon discovered
that the Confederate army had disappeared. As the early shades of
the previous stormy evening had settled over the region, its movement
towards Virginia had begun. I became satisfied before night that
Strahan also was southward bound, for, procuring a horse, I rode
all day, visiting the temporary Confederate hospitals. Since they
had left their own severely wounded men, they certainly would not
have taken Union soldiers unable to walk. Not content with my first
search, I spent the next two days in like manner, visiting the
houses in Gettysburg and vicinity, until satisfied that my effort
was useless. Then, availing myself of a brief leave of absence, I
came north."

Blauvelt then gave Merwyn some suggestions, adding: "If you find
no trace of him on the field, I would advise, as your only chance,
that you follow the track of Lee's army, especially the roads on
which their prisoners were taken. Strahan might have given out by
the way, and have been left at some farmhouse or in a village. It
would be hopeless to go beyond the Potomac."

Rising, he concluded: "Mark my words, and see if I am not right.
Strahan is a prisoner, and will be exchanged." Then with a laugh and
a military salute to Marian, he said, "I have finished my report."

"It is accepted with strong commendation and congratulations," she
replied. "I shall recommend you for promotion."

"Good-by, Miss Vosburgh," said Merwyn, gravely. "I shall start in
the morning, and I agree with Captain Blauvelt that my best chance
lies along the line of Lee's retreat."

Again she gave him her hand kindly in farewell; but her thought
was: "How deathly pale he is! This has been a night of horrors
to him, - to me also; yet if I were a man I know I could meet what
other men face."

"She was kind," Merwyn said to himself, as he walked through the
deserted streets; "but I fear it was only the kindness of pitiful
toleration. It is plainer than ever that she adores heroic action,
that her ardor in behalf of the North is scarcely less than that of
my mother for the South, and yet she thinks I am not brave enough
to face a musket What a figure I make beside the men of whom we
have heard to-night! Well, to get away, to be constantly employed,
is my only hope. I believe I should become insane if I brooded much
longer at home."

In spite of his late hours, he ordered an early breakfast, proposing
to start without further delay.

The next morning, as he sat down to the table, the doorbell rang,
there was a hasty step down the hall, and Strahan, pale and gaunt,
with his arm in a sling, burst in upon him, and exclaimed, with
his old sang froid and humor: "Just in time. Yes, thanks; I'll stay
and take a cup of coffee with you."

Merwyn greeted him with mingled wonder and gladness, yet even at
that moment the thought occurred to him: "Thwarted on every side!
I can do absolutely nothing."

After Strahan was seated Merwyn said: "Half an hour later I should
have been off to Gettysburg in search of you. Blauvelt is here, and
says he saw you fall, and since a blank, so far as you are concerned."

"Thank God! He escaped then?"

"Yes; but is wounded slightly. What is the matter with your arm?"

"Only a bullet-hole through it. That's nothing for Gettysburg.
I was captured, and escaped on the first night's march. Dark and
stormy, you know. But it's a long story, and I'm hungry as a wolf.
Where's Blauvelt?"

"He's a guest at Mr. Vosburgh's."

"Lucky fellow!" exclaimed Strahan; and for some reason the edge of
his appetite was gone.

"Yes, he IS a lucky fellow, indeed; and so are you," said Merwyn,
bitterly. "I was there last evening till after midnight;" and
he explained what had occurred, adding, "Blauvelt trumpeted your
praise, and on the night of the 3d he went inside the enemy's picket
line in search of you, at the risk of his life.'

"Heaven bless the fellow! Wait till I spin my yarn. I shall give
him credit for the whole victory."

"Write a note to Miss Vosburgh, and I'll send it right down."

"Confound it, Merwyn! don't you see I'm winged? You will even have
to cut my food for me as if I were a baby."

"Very well, you dictate and I'll write. By the way, I have a note
for you in my pocket."

Strahan seized upon it and forgot his breakfast. Tears suffused
his blue eyes before he finished it, and at last he said, "Well,
if you HAD found me in some hospital this would have cured me, or
else made death easy."

Merwyn's heart grew heavy, in spite of the fact that he had told
himself so often that there was no hope for him, and he thought,
"In the terrible uncertainty of Strahan's fate she found that he
was more to her than she had supposed, and probably revealed as
much in her note, which she feared might reach him only when death
was sure."

The glad intelligence was despatched, and then Merwyn said: "After
you have breakfasted I will send you down in my coupe."

"You will go with me?"

"No. There is no reason why I should be present when Miss Vosburgh
greets her friends. I remained last night by request, that I might
be better informed in prosecuting my search."

Strahan changed the subject, but thought: "She's loyal to her friends.
Merwyn, with all his money, has made no progress. Her choice will
eventually fall on Lane, Blauvelt, or poor little me. Thank Heaven
I gave the Johnnies the slip! The other fellows shall have a fair
field, but I want one, too."

Before they had finished their breakfast Blauvelt came tearing in,
and there was a fire of questions between the brother-officers.

Tears and laughter mingled with their words; but at last they
became grave and quiet as they realized how many brave comrades
would march with them no more.

In a few moments Blauvelt said, "Come; Miss Marian said she would
not take a mouthful of breakfast till you returned with me."

Merwyn saw them drive away, and said, bitterly, "Thanks to my
mother, I shall never have any part in such greetings."






CHAPTER XXXVII.

STRAHAN'S ESCAPE.






AFTER Blauvelt had left Mr. Vosburgh's breakfast-table in obedience
to his own and Marian's wish to see Strahan at once, the young girl
laughed outright - she would laugh easily to-day - and exclaimed: -

"Poor Mr. Merwyn! He is indeed doomed to inglorious inaction. Before
he could even start on his search, Strahan found him. His part in
this iron age will consist only in furnishing the sinews of war
and dispensing canned delicacies in the hospitals. I do feel sorry
for him, for last night he seemed to realize the fact himself. He
looked like a ghost, back in the shadow that he sought when Captain
Blauvelt's story grew tragic. I believe he suffered more in hearing
about the shells than Mr. Blauvelt did in hearing and seeing them."

"It's a curious case," said her father, musingly. "He was and has
been suffering deeply from some cause. I have not fully accepted
your theory yet."

"Since even your sagacity can construct no other, I am satisfied
that I am right. But I have done scoffing at Mr. Merwyn, and should
feel as guilty in doing so as if I had shown contempt for physical
deformity. I have become so convinced that he suffers terribly from
consciousness of his weakness, that I now pity him from the depths
of my heart. Just think of a young fellow of his intelligence
listening to such a story as we heard last night and of the inevitable
contrasts that he must have drawn!"

"Fancy also," said her father, smiling, "a forlorn lover seeing
your cheeks aflame and your eyes suffused with tears of sympathy
for young heroes, one of whom was reciting his epic. Strahan is
soon to repeat his; then Lane will appear and surpass them all."

"Well," cried Marian, laughing, "you'll admit they form a trio to
be proud of."

"Oh, yes, and will have to admit more, I suppose, before long.
Girls never fall in love with trios."

"Nonsense, papa, they are all just like brothers to me." Then there
was a rush of tears to her eyes, and she said, brokenly, "The war
is not over yet, and perhaps not one of them will survive."

"Come, my dear," her father reassured her, gently, "you must imitate
your soldier friends, and take each day as it comes. Remembering
what they have already passed through, I predict that they all
survive. The bravest men are the most apt to escape."

Marian's greeting of Strahan was so full of feeling, and so many
tears suffused her dark blue eyes, that they inspired false hopes
in his breast and unwarranted fears in that of Blauvelt. The heroic
action and tragic experience of the young and boyish Strahan had
touched the tenderest chords in her heart. Indeed, as she stood,
holding his left hand in both her own, they might easily have
been taken for brother and sister. His eyes were almost as blue as
hers, and his brow, where it had not been exposed to the weather,
as fair. She knew of his victory over himself. Almost at the same
time with herself, he had cast behind him a weak, selfish, frivolous
life, assuming a manhood which she understood better than others.
Therefore, she had for him a tenderness, a gentleness of regard,
which her other friends of sterner natures could not inspire. Indeed,
so sisterly was her feeling that she could have put her arms about
his neck and welcomed him with kisses, without one quickening throb
of the pulse. But he did not know this then, and his heart bounded
with baseless hopes.

Poor Blauvelt had never cherished many, and the old career with
which he had tried to be content defined itself anew. He would
fight out the war, and then give himself up to his art.

He could be induced to stay only long enough to finish his breakfast,
and then said: "Strahan can tell me the rest of his story over
the camp-fire before long. My mother has now the first claim, and
I must take a morning train in order to reach home to-night."

"I also must go," exclaimed Mr. Vosburgh, looking at his watch,
"and shall have to hear your story at second hand from Marian. Rest
assured," he added, laughing, "it will lose nothing as she tells
it this evening."

"And I order you, Captain Blauvelt, to make this house your
headquarters when you are in town," said Marian, giving his hand
a warm pressure in parting. Strahan accompanied his friend to the
depot, then sought his family physician and had his wound dressed.

"I advise that you reach your country home soon," said the doctor;
"your pulse is feverish."

The young officer laughed and thought he knew the reason better
than his medical adviser, and was soon at the side of her whom he
believed to be the exciting cause of his febrile symptoms.

"Oh," he exclaimed, throwing himself on a lounge, "isn't this
infinitely better than a stifling Southern prison?" and he looked
around the cool, shadowy drawing-room, and then at the smiling face
of his fair hostess, as if there were nothing left to be desired.

"You have honestly earned this respite and home visit," she said,
taking a low chair beside him, "and now I'm just as eager to hear
your story as I was to listen to that of Captain Blauvelt, last
night."

"No more eager?" he asked, looking wistfully into her face.

"That would not be fair," she replied, gently. "How can I distinguish
between my friends, when each one surpasses even my ideal of manly
action?"

"You will some day," he said, thoughtfully. "You cannot help doing
so. It is the law of nature. I know I can never be the equal of
Lane and Blauvelt."

"Arthur," she said, gravely, taking his hand, "let me be frank with
you. It will be best for us both. I love you too dearly, I admire
and respect you too greatly, to be untrue to your best interests
even for a moment. What's more, I am absolutely sure that you only
wish what is right and best for me. Look into my eyes. Do you not
see that if your name was Arthur Vosburgh, I could scarcely feel
differently? I do love you more than either Mr. Lane or Mr. Blauvelt.
They are my friends in the truest and strongest sense of the word,
but - let me tell you the truth - you have come to seem like a younger
brother. We must be about the same age, but a woman is always older
in her feelings than a man, I think. I don't say this to claim any
superiority, but to explain why I feel as I do. Since I came to
know - to understand you - indeed, I may say, since we both changed
from what we were, my thoughts have followed you in a way that
they would a brother but a year or two younger than myself, - that
is, so far as I can judge, having had no brother. Don't you
understand me?"

"Yes," he replied, laughing a little ruefully, "up to date."

"Very well," she added, with an answering laugh, "let it be then
to date. I shall not tell you that I feel like a sister without
being as frank as one. I have never loved any one in the way - Oh,
well, you know. I don't believe these stern times are conducive to
sentiment. Come, tell me your story."

"But you'll give me an equal chance with the others," he pleaded.

She now laughed outright. "How do I know what I shall do?" she
asked. "I may come to you some day for sympathy and help. According
to the novels, people are stricken down as if by one of your hateful
shells and all broken up. I don't know, but I'm inclined to believe
that while a girl can withhold her love from an unworthy object,
she cannot deliberately give it here or there as she chooses. Now
am I not talking to you like a sister?"

"Yes, too much so - "

"Oh, come, I have favored you more highly than any one."

"Do not misunderstand me," he said, earnestly, "I'm more grateful
than I can tell you, but - "

"But tell me your story. There is one thing I can give you at
once, - the closest attention."

"Very well. I only wish you were like one of the enemy's batteries,
so I could take you by storm. I'd face all the guns that were at
Gettysburg for the chance."

"Arthur, dear Arthur, I do know what you have faced from a simple
sense of duty and patriotism. Blauvelt was a loyal, generous friend,
and he has told us."

"You are wrong. 'The girl I left behind me' was the corps-de-reserve
from which I drew my strength. I believe the same was true of
Blauvelt, and a better, braver fellow never drew breath. He would
make a better officer than I, for he is cooler and has more brains."

"Now see here, Major Strahan," cried Marian, in mock dignity,
"as your superior officer, I am capable of judging of the merits
of you both, and neither of you can change my estimate. You are
insubordinate, and I shall put you under arrest if you don't tell
me how you escaped at once. You have kept a woman's curiosity in
check almost as long as your brave regiment held the enemy, and
that's your greatest achievement thus far. Proceed. Captain Blauvelt
has enabled me to keep an eye on you till you fell and the enemy
charged over you. Now you know just where to begin."

"My prosaic story is soon told. Swords and pike-staffs! what a
little martinet you are! Well, the enemy was almost on me. I could
see their flushed, savage faces. Even in that moment I thought of



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 25 of 37)