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Edward Payson Roe.

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you and whispered, 'Good-by,' and a prayer to God for your happiness
flashed through my mind."

"Arthur, don't talk that way. I can't stand it;" and there was a
rush of tears to her eyes.

"I'm beginning just where you told me to. The next second there
was a sting in my right arm, then something knocked me over and I
lost consciousness for a few moments. I am satisfied, also, that
I was grazed by a bullet that tore my scabbard from my side. When
I came to my senses, I crawled behind a rock so as not to be shot
by our own men, and threw away my sword. I didn't want to surrender
it, you know. Soon after a rebel jerked me to my feet.

"'Can you stand?' he asked.

"'I will try,' I answered.

"'Join that squad of prisoners, then, and travel right smart.'

"I staggered away, too dazed for many clear ideas, and with others
was hurried about half a mile away to a place filled with the rebel
wounded. Here a Union soldier, who happened to have some bandages
with him, dressed my arm. The Confederate surgeons had more than
they could do to look after their own men. Just before dark all
the prisoners who were able to walk were led into a large field,
and a strong guard was placed around us.

"Although my wound was painful, I obtained some sleep, and awoke
the next morning with the glad consciousness that life with its
chances was still mine. We had little enough to eat that day, and
insufficient water to drink. This foretaste of the rebel commissariat
was enough for me, and I resolved to escape if it were a possible
thing."

"You wanted to see me a little, too, didn't you? Nevertheless, you
shall have a good lunch before long."

"Such is my fate. First rebel iron and now irony. I began to play
the role of feebleness and exhaustion, and it did not require much
effort. Of course we were all on the qui vive to see what would
happen next, and took an intense interest in the fight of the 3d,
which Blauvelt has described. The scene of the battle was hidden
from us, but we gathered, from the expression of our guards' faces
and the confusion around us, that all had not gone to the enemy's
mind, and so were hopeful. In the evening we were marched to the
outskirts of Gettysburg and kept there till the afternoon of the
4th, when we started towards Virginia. I hung back and dragged myself
along, and so was fortunately placed near the rear of the column,
and we plodded away. I thanked Heaven that the night promised to
be dark and stormy, and was as vigilant as an Indian, looking for
my chance. It seemed long in coming, for at first the guards were
very watchful. At one point I purposely stumbled and fell, hoping
to crawl into the bushes, but a rebel was right on me and helped
me up with his bayonet."

"O Arthur!"

"Yes, the risks were great, for we had been told that the first man
who attempted to leave the line would be shot. I lagged behind as
if I could not keep up, and so my vigilant guard got ahead of me,
and I proposed to try it on with the next fellow. I did not dare
look around, for my only chance was to give the impression that I
fell from utter exhaustion. We were winding around a mountain-side
and I saw some dark bushes just beyond me. I staggered towards them
and fell just beside them, and lay as if I were dead.

"A minute passed, then another, and then there was no other sound
than the tramp and splash in the muddy road. I edged still farther
and farther from this, my head down the steep bank, and soon found
myself completely hidden. The comrade next to me either would not
tell if he understood my ruse, or else was so weary that he had
not noticed me. If the guard saw me, he concluded that I was done
for and not worth further bother.

"After the column had passed, I listened to hear if others were
coming, then stumbled down the mountain, knowing that my best
chance was to strike some stream and follow the current. It would
take me into a valley where I would be apt to find houses. At last
I became so weary that I lay down in a dense thicket and slept till
morning. I awoke as hungry as a famished wolf, and saw nothing
but a dense forest on every side. But the brook murmured that it
would guide me, and I now made much better progress in the daylight.
At last I reached a little clearing and a wood-chopper's cottage.
The man was away, but his wife received me kindly and said I was
welcome to such poor fare and shelter as they had. She gave me
a glass of milk and some fried bacon and corn-bread, and I then
learned all about the nectar and ambrosia of the gods. In the
evening her husband came home and said that Lee had been whipped
by the Yanks, and that he was retreating rapidly, whereon I drank
to the health of my host nearly all the milk given that night by
his lean little cow. He was a good-natured, loutish sort of fellow,
and promised to guide me in a day or two to the west of the line
of retreat. He seemed very tearful of falling in with the rebels,
and I certainly had seen all I wished of them for the present, so
I was as patient as he desired. At last he kept his word and guided
me to a village about six miles away. I learned that Confederate
cavalry had been there within twenty-four hours, and, tired as I
was, I hired a conveyance and was driven to another village farther
to the northwest, for I now had a morbid horror of being recaptured.
After a night's rest in a small hamlet, I was taken in a light wagon
to the nearest railway station, and came on directly, arriving here
about six this morning. Finding our house closed, I made a descent
on Merwyn. I telegraphed mother last evening that I should be home
this afternoon."

"You should have telegraphed me, also," said Marian, reproachfully.
"You would have saved me some very sad hours. I did not sleep much
last night."

"Forgive me. I thoughtlessly wished to give you a surprise, and I
could scarcely believe you cared so much."

"You will always believe it now, Arthur. Merciful Heaven! what
risks you have had!"

"You have repaid me a thousand-fold. Friend, sister, or wife, you
will always be to me my good genius."

"I wish the war was over," she said, sadly. "I have not heard from
Captain Lane for weeks, and after the battle the first tidings
from Blauvelt was that he was wounded and that you were wounded
and missing. I can't tell you how oppressed I was with fear and
foreboding."

"How about Lane?" Strahan asked, with interest.

She told him briefly the story she had heard and of the silence
which had followed.

"He leads us all," was his response. "If he survives the war, he
will win you, Marian."

"You suggest a terrible 'if' and there may be many others. I admit
that he has kindled my imagination more than any man I ever saw, but
you, Arthur, have touched my heart. I could not speak to him, had
he returned, as I am now speaking to you. I have the odd feeling
that you and I are too near of kin to be anything to each other
except just what we are. You are so frank and true to me, that I
can't endure the thought of misleading you, even unintentionally."

"Very well, I'll grow up some day, and as long as you remain free,
I'll not give up hope."

"Foolish boy! Grow up, indeed! Who mounted his horse in that storm
of shells and bullets in spite of friendly remonstrances, and said,
'The men must see us to-day'? What more could any man do? I'm just
as proud of you as if my own brother had spoken the words;" and
she took his hand caressingly, then exclaimed, "You are feverish."

A second later her hand was on his brow, and she sprung up and
said, earnestly, "You should have attention at once."

"I fancy the doctor was right after all," said Strahan, rising
also. "I'll take the one o'clock train and be at home in a couple
of hours."

"I wish you would stay. You can't imagine what a devoted nurse I'll
be."

"Please don't tempt me. It wouldn't be best. Mamma is counting the
minutes before my return now, and it will please her if I come on
an earlier train. Mountain air and rest will soon bring me around,
and I can run down often. I think the fever proceeds simply from
my wound, which hasn't had the best care. I don't feel seriously
ill at all."

She ordered iced lemonade at once, lunch was hastened, and then
she permitted him to depart, with the promise that he would write
a line that very night.






CHAPTER XXXVIII.

A LITTLE REBEL.





THE next day Marian received a note from Strahan saying that some
bad symptoms had developed in connection with his wound, but that
his physician had assured him that if he would keep absolutely quiet
in body and mind for a week or two they would pass away, concluding
with the words: "I have promised mother to obey orders, and she
has said that she would write you from time to time about me. I do
not think I shall be very ill."

"O dear!" exclaimed Marian to her father at dinner, "what times these
are! You barely escape one cause of deep anxiety before there is
another. Now what is troubling you, that your brow also is clouded?"

"Is it not enough that your troubles trouble me?"

"There's something else, papa."

"Well, nothing definite. The draft, you know, begins on Saturday
of this week. I shall not have any rest of mind till this ordeal is
over. Outwardly all is comparatively quiet. So is a powder magazine
till a spark ignites it. This unpopular measure of the draft is to
be enforced while all our militia regiments are away. I know enough
about what is said and thought by thousands to fear the consequences.
I wish you would spend a couple of weeks with your mother in that
quiet New-England village."

"No, papa, not till you tell me that all danger is past. How much
I should have missed during the past few days if I had been away!
But for my feeling that my first duty is to you, I should have
entreated for your permission to become a hospital nurse. Papa,
women should make sacrifices and take risks in these times as well
as men."

"Well, a few more days will tell the story. If the draft passes
off quietly and our regiments return, I shall breathe freely once
more."

A letter was brought in, and she exclaimed, "Captain Lane's
handwriting!" She tore open the envelope and learned little more
at that time than that he had escaped, reached our lines, and gone
to Washington, where he was under the care of a skilful surgeon.
"In escaping, my wound broke out again, but I shall soon be able
to travel, and therefore to see you."

In order to account for Lane's absence and silence we must take
up the thread of his story where Zeb had dropped it. The cavalry
force of which Captain Lane formed a part retired, taking with it
the prisoners and such of the wounded as could bear transportation;
also the captured thief. Lane was prevented by his wound from
carrying out his threat, which his position as chief officer of
an independent command would have entitled him to do. The tides of
war swept away to the north, and he was left with the more seriously
wounded of both parties in charge of the assistant surgeon of his
regiment. As the shades of evening fell, the place that had resounded
with war's loud alarms, and had been the scene of so much bustle and
confusion, resumed much of its old aspect of quiet and seclusion. The
marks of conflict, the evidence of changes, and the new conditions
under which the family would be obliged to live, were only too
apparent. The grass on the lawn was trampled down, and there were
new-made graves in the edge of the grove. Fences were prostrate,
and partly burned. Horses and live stock had disappeared. The
negro quarters were nearly empty, the majority of the slaves having
followed the Union column. Confederate officers, who were welcome,
honored guests but a few hours before, were on their way to
Washington as prisoners. Desperately wounded and dying men were
in the out-buildings, and a Union officer, the one who had led the
attacking party and precipitated these events, had begun his long
fight for life in the mansion itself, - a strange and unexpected
guest.

Mrs. Barkdale, the mistress of the house, could scarcely rally from
her nervous shock or maintain her courage, in view of the havoc made
by the iron heel of war. Miss Roberta's heart was full of bitterness
and impotent revolt. She had the courage and spirit of her race,
but she could not endure defeat, and she chafed in seclusion and
anger while her mother moaned and wept. Miss Suwanee now became
the leading spirit.

"We can't help what's happened, and I don't propose to sit down
and wring my hands or pace my room in useless anger. We were all
for war, and now we know what war means. If I were a man I'd fight;
being only a woman, I shall do what I can to retrieve our losses
and make the most of what's left. After all, we have not suffered
half so much as hundreds of other families. General Lee will soon
give the Northerners some of their own medicine, and before the
summer is over will conquer a peace, and then we shall be proud of
our share in the sacrifices which so many of our people have made."

"I wouldn't mind any sacrifice, - no, not of our home itself, - if
we had won the victory," Roberta replied. "But to have been made
the instrument of our friends' defeat! It's too cruel. And then
to think that the man who wrought all this destruction, loss, and
disgrace is under this very roof, and must stay for weeks, perhaps!"

"Roberta, you are unjust," cried Suwanee. "Captain Lane proved
himself to be a gallant, considerate enemy, and you know it. What
would you have him do? Play into our hands and compass his own
defeat? He only did what our officers would have done. The fact
that a Northern officer could be so brave and considerate was a
revelation to me. We and all our property were in his power, and
his course was full of courtesy toward all except the armed foes
who were seeking to destroy him. The moment that even these became
unarmed prisoners he treated them with great leniency. Because we
had agreed to regard Northerners as cowards and boors evidently
doesn't make them so."

"You seem wonderfully taken with this Captain Lane."

"No," cried the girl, with one of her irresistible laughs; "but our
officer friends would have been taken with him if he had not been
wounded. I'm a genuine Southern girl, so much so that I appreciate
a brave foe and true gentleman. He protected us and our home as
far as he could, and he shall have the best hospitality which this
home can now afford. Am I not right, mamma?"

"Yes, my dear, even our self-respect would not permit us to adopt
any other course."

"You will feel as I do, Roberta, after your natural grief and anger
pass;" and she left the room to see that their wounded guest had
as good a supper as she could produce from diminished resources.

The surgeon, whom she met in the hall, told her that his patient was
feverish and a "little flighty" at times, but that he had expected
this, adding: "The comfort of his room and good food will bring him
around in time. He will owe his life chiefly to your hospitality,
Miss Barkdale, for a little thing would have turned the scale against
him. Chicken broth is all that I wish him to have to-night, thanks."

And so the process of care and nursing began. The Union colonel
had left a good supply of coffee, sugar, and coarse rations for
the wounded men, and Suwanee did her best to supplement these,
accomplishing even more by her kindness, cheerfulness, and winsome
ways than by any other means. She became, in many respects, a
hospital nurse, and visited the wounded men, carrying delicacies
to all alike. She wrote letters for the Confederates and read
the Bible to those willing to listen. Soon all were willing, and
blessed her sweet, sunny face. The wounds of some were incurable,
and, although her lovely face grew pale indeed in the presence of
death, she soothed their last moments with the gentlest ministrations.
There was not a man of the survivors, Union or rebel, but would
have shed his last drop of blood for her. Roberta shared in these
tasks, but it was not in her nature to be so impartial. Even among
her own people she was less popular. Among the soldiers, on both
sides, who did the actual fighting, there was not half the bitterness
that existed generally among non-combatants and those Southern
men who never met the enemy in fair battle; and now there was
a good-natured truce between the brave Confederates and those who
had perhaps wounded them, while all fought a battle with the common
foe, - death. Therefore the haggard faces of all lighted up with
unfeigned pleasure when "Missy S'wanee," as they had learned from
the negroes to call her, appeared among them.

But few slaves were left on the place, and these were old and feeble
ones who had not ventured upon the unknown waters of freedom. The
old cook remained at her post, and an old man and woman divided
their time between the house and the garden, Suwanee's light feet
and quick hands relieving them of the easier labors of the mansion.

Surgeon McAllister was loud in his praises of her general goodness
and her courtesy at the table, to which he was admitted; and Lane,
already predisposed toward a favorable opinion, entertained for her
the deepest respect and gratitude, inspired more by her kindness
to his men than by favors to himself. Yet these were not few, for
she often prepared delicacies with her own hands and brought them
to his door, while nearly every morning she arranged flowers and
sent them to his table.

Thus a week passed away. The little gathering of prostrate men,
left in war's trail, was apparently forgotten except as people from
the surrounding region came to gratify their curiosity.

Lane's feverish symptoms had passed away, but he was exceedingly
weak, and the wound in his shoulder was of a nature to require
almost absolute quiet. One evening, after the surgeon had told him
of Suwanee's ministrations beside a dying Union soldier, he said,
"I must see her and tell her of my gratitude."

On receiving his message she hesitated a single instant, then
came to his bedside. The rays of the setting sun illumined her
reddish-brown hair as she stood before him, and enhanced her beauty
in her simple muslin dress. Her expression towards him, her enemy,
was gentle and sympathetic.

He looked at her a moment in silence, almost as if she were a vision,
then began, slowly and gravely: "Miss Barkdale, what can I say to
you? I'm not strong enough to say very much, yet I could not rest
till you knew. The surgeon here has told me all, - no, not all. Deeds
like yours can be told adequately only in heaven. You are fanning
the spark of life in my own breast. I doubt whether I should have
lived but for your kindness. Still more to me has been your kindness
to my men, the poor fellows that are too often neglected, even
by their friends. You have been like a good angel to them. These
flowers, fragrant and beautiful, interpret you to me. You can't
know what reverence - "

"Please stop, Captain Lane," said Suwanee, beginning to laugh, while
tears stood in her eyes. "Why, I'm only acting as any good-hearted
Southern girl would act. I shall not permit you to think me a saint
when I am not one. I've a little temper of my own, which isn't
always sweet. I like attention and don't mind how many bestow it - in
brief, I am just like other girls, only more so, and if I became
what you say I shouldn't know myself. Now you must not talk any
more. You are still a little out of your head. You can only answer
one question. Is there anything you would like, - anything we can
do for you to help you get well?"

"No; I should be overwhelmed with gratitude if you did anything
more. I am grieved enough now when I think of all the trouble and
loss we have caused you."

"Oh, that's the fortune of war," she said, with a light, deprecatory
gesture. "You couldn't help it any more than we could."

"You are a generous enemy, Miss Barkdale."

"I'm no wounded man's enemy, at least not till he is almost well.
Were I one of my brothers, however, and you were on your horse again
with your old vigor - " and she gave him a little, significant nod.

He now laughed responsively, and said, "I like that." Then he added,
gravely: "Heaven grant I may never meet one of your brothers in
battle. I could not knowingly harm him."

"Thank you for saying that," she said, gently. "Now, tell me truly,
isn't there anything you wish?"

"Yes, I wish to get better, so that I may have a little of your
society. These days of inaction are so interminably long, and you
know I've been leading a very active life."

"I fear you wouldn't enjoy the society of such a hot little rebel
as I am."

"We should differ, of course, on some things, but that would
only give zest to your words. I'm not so stupid and prejudiced,
Miss Barkdale, as to fail to see that you are just as sincere and
patriotic as I am. I have envied the enlisted men when I have heard
of your attentions to them."

"Now," she resumed, laughing, "I've found out that the 'good angel'
is not treating you as well as the common soldiers. Men always let
out the truth sooner or later. If Surgeon McAllister will permit,
I'll read and talk to you also."

"I not only give my permission," said the surgeon, "but also assure
you that such kindness will hasten the captain's recovery, for time
hangs so heavily on his hands that he chafes and worries."

"Very well," with a sprightly nod at the surgeon, "since we've
undertaken to cure the captain, the most sensible thing for us to
do IS to cure him. You shall prescribe when and how the doses of
society are to be administered." Then to Lane, "Not another word;
good-night;" and in a moment she was gone.

Suwanee never forgot that interview, for it was the beginning
of a new and strange experience to her. From the first, her high,
chivalric spirit had been compelled to admire her enemy. The unknown
manner in which he had foiled her sister's strategy showed that
his mind was equal to his courage, while his hot indignation, when
he found them threatened by a midnight marauder, had revealed his
nature. Circumstances had swiftly disarmed her prejudices, and her
warm heart had been full of sympathy for him as he lay close to
the borders of death. All these things tended to throw down the
barriers which would naturally interpose between herself and a
Northern man. When, therefore, out of a full heart, he revealed
his gratitude and homage, she had no shield against the force of
his words and manner, and was deeply touched. She had often received
gallantry, admiration, and even words of love, but never before had
a man looked and acted as if he reverenced her and the womanhood
she represented. It was not a compliment that had been bestowed,
but a recognition of what she herself had not suspected. By her
family or acquaintances she had never been thought or spoken of as
an especially good girl. Hoydenish in early girlhood, leading the
young Southern gallants a chase in later years, ever full of frolic
and mischief, as fond of the dance as a bird of flying, she was
liked by every one, but the graver members of the community were
accustomed to shake their heads and remark, "She is a case; perhaps
she'll sober down some day." She had hailed the war with enthusiasm,
knowing little of its meaning, and sharing abundantly in rural
Virginia's contempt for the North. She had proved even a better
recruiting officer than her stately sister, and no young fellow
dared to approach her until he had donned the gray. When the war
came she met it with her own laughing philosophy and unconquerable
buoyancy, going wild over Southern victories and shrugging her plump
shoulders over defeats, crying: "Better luck next time. The Yankees
probably had a hundred to one. It won't take long for Southerners
to teach Northern abolitionists the difference between us." But
now she had seen Northern soldiers in conflict, had witnessed the
utmost degree of bravery on her side, but had seen it confronted
by equal courage, inspired by a leader who appeared irresistible.

This Northern officer, whose eyes had flashed like his sabre in
battle, whose wit had penetrated and used for his own purpose the
scheme of the enemy, and whose chivalric treatment of women plotting
against him had been knightly, - this man who had won her respect by
storm, as it were, had followed her simple, natural course during
the past week, and had metaphorically bowed his knee to her in
homage. What did it mean? What had she done? Only made the best of
things, and shown a little humanity toward some poor fellows whose



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 26 of 37)