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anything to compromise you. You have only to be blind and deaf if
you see or hear anything."

Her tears were now falling fast, but she did not move, lest observant
eyes should detect her emotion.

"Heaven bless your good, kind heart!" he continued, in a low, earnest
tone. "Whether I live or die, I wish you to know that your memory
will ever be sacred to me, like that of my mother and one other.
Be assured that the life you have done so much to save is always
at your command. Whenever I can serve you or yours you can count
on all that I am or can do. Suwanee, I shall be a better man for
having known you. You don't half appreciate yourself, and every
succeeding day has only proved how true my first impressions were."

She did not answer, and he felt that it would be dangerous to
prolong the interview. They entered the house together. As they
went up the stairs she pressed her handkerchief to her eyes, he
wondering at her silence and emotion. At the landing in the dusky
hall-way he raised her hand to his lips.

There was not a trace of gallantry in the act, and she knew it. It
was only the crowning token of that recognition at which she had
wondered from the first. She realized that it was only the homage
of a knightly man and the final expression of his gratitude; but
it overwhelmed her, and she longed to escape with the terrible
revelation which had come to her at last. She could not repress a
low sob, and, giving his hand a quick, strong pressure, she fled
to her room.

"Can it be possible?" he thought. "Oh! if I have wounded that heart,
however unintentionally, I shall never forgive myself."

"Lane," whispered McAllister, when the former entered his room,
"there are guards about the house."

"I'm not surprised," was the despondent reply. "We are prisoners."

"Does the family know it?"

He told him how Suwanee had detected the espionage of the rebel
sergeant.

"Wouldn't she help us?"

"I shall not ask her to. I shall not compromise her with her people."

"No, by thunder! I'd rather spend my life in prison than harm her.
What shall we do?"

"We must put our light out soon, and take turns in watching for
the slightest opportunity. You lie down first. I do not feel sleepy."

After making some slight preparations the doctor slept, and it was
well on towards morning before Lane's crowding thoughts permitted
him to seek repose. He then wakened McAllister and said, "There has
been a stealthy relief of guards thus far, and I've seen no chance
whatever."

The doctor was equally satisfied that any attempt to escape would
be fruitless.

Suwanee's vigil that night was bitter and terrible, indeed. Her
proud, passionate nature writhed under the truth that she had given
her heart, unsought, to a Northern officer, - to one who had from
the first made it clear that his love had been bestowed on another.
She felt that she could not blame him. His frankness had been almost
equal to that of her own brothers, and he had satisfied her that
they could scarcely be more loyal to her than he would be. She could
detect no flaw in his bearing towards her. He had not disguised
his admiration, his abundant enjoyment of her society, but all
expression of his regard had been tinged with respect and gratitude
rather than gallantry. He perhaps had thought that her knowledge
of his attitude towards Miss Vosburgh was an ample safeguard, if
any were needed. Alas! it had been the chief cause of her fatal
blindness. She had not dreamed of danger for him or herself in
their companionship. Nothing was clearer than that he expected and
wished no such result. It was well for Lane that this was true,
for she would have been a dangerous girl to trifle with.

But she recognized the truth. Before, love had been to her a thing
of poetry, romance, and dreams. Now it was a terrible reality.
Her heart craved with intense longing what she felt it could never
possess.

At last, wearied and exhausted by her deep emotion, she sighed:
"Perhaps it is better as it is. Even if he had been a lover, the
bloody chasm of war would have separated us, but it seems cruel that
God should permit such an overwhelming misfortune to come upon an
unsuspecting, inexperienced girl. Why was I so made that I could,
unconsciously, give my very soul to this stranger? yet he is not a
stranger. Events have made me better acquainted with him than with
any other man. I know that he has kept no secrets from me. There
was nothing to conceal. All has been simple, straightforward, and
honorable. It is to the man himself, in his crystal integrity, that
my heart has bowed, and then - that was his chief power - he made
me feel that I was not unworthy. He taught me to respect my own
nature, and to aspire to all that was good and true.

"After all, perhaps I am condemning myself too harshly, - perhaps
the truth that my heart acknowledged such a man as master is proof
that his estimate of me is not wholly wrong. Were there not some
kinship of spirit between us, this could not be; but the secret
must remain between me and God."

Lane, tormented by the fear suggested by Suwanee's manner on the
previous evening, dreaded to meet her again, but at first he was
reassured. Never had she been more brilliant and frolicsome than at
the breakfast-table that morning. Never had poor McAllister been
more at his wits' end to know how to reply to her bewildering
sallies of good-natured badinage. Every vulnerable point of Northern
character received her delicate satire. Lane himself did not escape
her light shafts. He made no defence, but smiled or laughed at
every palpable hit. The girl's pallor troubled him, and something
in her eyes that suggested suffering. There came a time when he
could scarcely think of that day without tears, believing that no
soldier on either side ever displayed more heroism than did the
wounded girl.

He and the surgeon walked out again, and saw that they were watched.
He found that his men had become aware of the truth and had submitted
to the inevitable. They were far from the Union lines, and not
strong enough to attempt an escape through a hostile country. Lane
virtually gave up, and began to feel that the best course would be
to submit quietly and look forward to a speedy exchange. He longed
for a few more hours with Suwanee, but imagined that she avoided
him. There was no abatement of her cordiality, but she appeared
preoccupied.

After dinner a Confederate officer called and asked for Miss
Roberta, who, after the interview, returned to her mother's room
with a troubled expression. Suwanee was there, calmly plying her
needle. She knew what the call meant.

"I suppose it's all right, and that we can't help ourselves,"
Roberta began, "but it annoys me nevertheless. Lieutenant Macklin,
who has just left, has said that our own men and the Union soldiers
are now well enough to be taken to Richmond, and that he will start
with them to-morrow morning. Of course I have no regrets respecting
the enlisted men, and am glad they are going, for they are proving
a heavy burden to us; but my feelings revolt at the thought that
Captain Lane and the surgeon should be taken to prison from our
home."

"I don't wonder," said Suwanee, indignantly; "but then what's the
use? we can't help ourselves. I suppose it is the law of war."

"Well, I'm glad you are so sensible about it. I feared you would
feel a hundred-fold worse than I, you and the captain have become
such good friends. Indeed, I have even imagined that he was in
danger of becoming something more. I caught him looking at you at
dinner as if you were a saint 'whom infidels might adore.' His homage
to our flirtatious little Suwanee has been a rich joke from the
first. I suppose, however, there may have been a vein of calculation
in it all, for I don't think any Yankee - "

"Hush," said Suwanee, hotly; "Captain Lane is still our guest,
and he is above calculation. I shall not permit him to be insulted
because he has over-estimated me."

"Why, Suwanee, I did not mean to insult him. You have transfixed
him with a dozen shafts of satire to-day, and as for poor Surgeon
McAllister - "

"That was to their faces," interrupted Suwanee, hastily.

"Suwanee is right," said Mrs. Barkdale, smiling. "Captain Lane has
had the sense to see that my little girl is good-hearted in spite
of her nonsense."

The girl's lip was quivering but she concealed the fact by savagely
biting off her thread, and then was impassive again.

"I sincerely regret with you both," resumed their mother, "that
these two gentlemen must go from our home to prison, especially
so since receiving a letter from Captain Lane, couched in terms of
the strongest respect and courtesy, and enclosing a hundred dollars
in Northern money as a slight compensation - so he phrased it - for
what had been done for his men. Of course he meant to include
himself and the surgeon, but had too much delicacy to mention the
fact. He also stated that he would have sent more, but that it was
nearly all they had."

"You did not keep the money!" exclaimed the two girls in the same
breath.

"I do not intend to keep it," said the lady, quietly, "and shall
hand it back to him with suitable acknowledgments. I only mention
the fact to convince Roberta that Captain Lane is not the typical
Yankee, and we have much reason to be thankful that men of a different
stamp were not quartered upon us. And yet," continued the matron,
with a deep sigh, "you little know how sorely we need the money.
Your father's and brothers' pay is losing its purchasing power.
The people about here all profess to be very hot for the South,
but when you come to buy anything from them what they call 'Linkum
money' goes ten times as far. We have never known anything but
profusion, but now we are on the verge of poverty."

"Oh, well," said Suwanee, recklessly, "starving isn't the worst
thing that could happen."

"Alas! my child, you can't realize what poverty means. Your heart
is as free from care as the birds around us, and, like them, you
think you will be provided for."

The girl sprung up with a ringing laugh, and kissed her mother as
she exclaimed, "I'll cut off my hair, put on one of brother Bob's
old suits, and enlist;" and then she left the room.

At supper there was a constraint on all except Suwanee. Mrs. Barkdale
and Roberta felt themselves to be in an embarrassing position. The
men at the table, who had been guests so long, would be marched
away as prisoners from their door in the morning. The usages of
war could not satisfy their womanly and chivalric natures, or make
them forget the courtesy and respect which, in spite of prejudices,
had won so much good-will. Lane scarcely sought to disguise his
perplexity and distress. Honest Surgeon McAllister, who knew that
they all had been an awful burden, was as troubled as some men
are pleased when they get much for nothing. Suwanee appeared in
a somewhat new role. She was the personification of dignity and
courtesy. She acted as if she knew all and was aware that their
guests did. Therefore levity would be in bad taste, and their only
resource was the good breeding which ignores the disagreeable and
the inevitable. Her mother looked on her with pride, and wondered
at so fine an exibition of tact. She did not know that the poor
girl had a new teacher, and that she was like an inexorable general
who, in a desperate fight, summons all his reserve and puts forth
every effort of mind and body.

Lane had not found a chance to say one word to Suwanee in private
during the day, but after supper she went to the piano and began
to play some Southern airs with variations of her own improvising.
He immediately joined her and said, "We shall not attempt to escape;
we are too closely watched."

She did not reply.

"Miss Suwanee," he began again, and distress and sorrow were in his
tones, "I hardly know how to speak to you of what troubles me more
than the thought of captivity. How can I manage with such proud,
chivalric women as you and your mother and sister? But I am not
blind, nor can I ignore the prosaic conditions of our lot. I respect
your pride; but have a little mercy on mine, - nay, let me call it
bare self-respect. We have caused you the loss of your laborers,
your fields are bare, and you have emptied your larder in feeding
my men, yet your mother will not take even partial compensation.
You can't realize how troubled I am."

"You, like ourselves, must submit to the fortunes of war," she
replied, with a sudden gleam of her old mirthfulness.

"A bodily wound would be a trifle compared with this," he resumed,
earnestly. "O Miss Suwanee, have I won no rights as a friend?
rather, let me ask, will you not generously give me some rights?"

"Yes, Captain Lane," she said, gently, "I regard you as a friend,
and I honor you as a true man. Though the war should go on forever
I should not change in these respects unless you keep harping on
this financial question."

"Friends frankly accept gifts from friends; let it be a gift
then, by the aid of which you can keep your mother from privation.
Suwanee, Suwanee, why do you refuse to take this dross from me when
I would give my heart's blood to shield you from harm?"

"You are talking wildly, Captain Lane," she said, with a laugh.
"Your heart belongs to Miss Vosburgh, and therefore all its blood."

"She would be the first to demand and expect that I should risk all
and give all for one to whom I owe so much and who is so deserving."

"I require of her no such sacrifice," Suwanee replied, coldly, "nor
of you either, Captain Lane. Unforeseen circumstances have thrown
us together for a time. We have exchanged all that is possible
between those so divided, - esteem and friendship. If my father
thinks it best he will obtain compensation from our government.
Perhaps, in happier times, we may meet again," she added, her tone
and manner becoming gentle once more; "and then I hope you will
find me a little more like what you have thought me to be."

"God grant that we may meet again. There, I can't trust myself
to speak to you any more. Your unaffected blending of humility
and pride with rare, unconscious nobility touches my very soul.
Our leave-taking in the morning must be formal. Good-by, Suwanee
Barkdale. As sure as there is a God of justice your life will be
filled full with happiness."

Instead of taking his proffered hand, she trembled, turned to the
piano, and said hastily between the notes she played: "Control
yourself and listen. We may be observed. You and the surgeon be
ready to open your door and follow me at any time to-night. Hang
your sword where it may be seen through the open window. I have
contrived a chance - a bare chance - of your escape. Bow and retire."

He did so. She bent her head in a courtly manner towards him, and
then went on with her playing of Southern airs.

A moment later the rebel sergeant disappeared from some shrubbery
a little beyond the parlor window, and chuckled, "The Yankee captain
has found out that he can't make either an ally or a sweetheart
out of a Southern girl; but I suspicioned her a little last night."

At two o'clock that night there was an almost imperceptible tap
at Lane's door. He opened it noiselessly, and saw Suwanee with her
finger on her lips.

"Carry your shoes in your hands," she said, and then led the way
down the stairs to the parlor window. Again she whispered: "The
guard here is bribed, - bribed by kindness. He says I saved his life
when he was wounded. Steal through the shrubbery to the creek-road;
continue down that, and you'll find a guide. Not a word. Good-by."

She gave her hand to the surgeon, whose honest eyes were moist with
feeling, and then he dropped lightly to the ground.

"Suwanee," began Lane.

"Hush! Go."

Again he raised her hand to his lips, again heard that same low,
involuntary sob that had smote his heart the preceding night; and
then followed the surgeon. The guard stood out in the garden with
his back towards them, as, like shadows, they glided away.

On the creek-road the old colored man who worked in the garden
joined them, and led the way rapidly to the creek, where under some
bushes a skiff with oars was moored. Lane slipped twenty dollars into
the old man's hand, and then he and his companion pushed out into
the sluggish current, and the surgeon took the oars and pulled
quietly through the shadows of the overhanging foliage. The continued
quiet proved that their escape had not been discovered. Food had
been placed in the boat. The stream led towards the Potomac. With
the dawn they concealed themselves, and slept during the day, travelling
all the following night. The next day they were so fortunate as
to fall in with a Union scouting party, and so eventually reached
Washington; but the effort in riding produced serious symptoms in
Lane's wound, and he was again doomed to quiet weeks of convalescence,
as has already been intimated to the reader.

When Mrs. Barkdale and Roberta came down the next morning they
found Suwanee in the breakfast room, fuming with apparent irritability.

"Here is that Lieutenant Macklin again," she said, "and he is very
impatient, saying that his orders are imperative, and that he is
needed on some special duty. His orders are to convey the prisoners
to the nearest railroad station, and then report for some active
service. From all I can gather it is feared that the Yankees propose
an attack on Richmond, now that General Lee is away."

"It's strange that Captain Lane and the surgeon don't come down,"
Roberta remarked. "I truly wish, however, that we had not to meet
them again."

"Well, since it must be, the sooner the ordeal is over the better,"
said Suwanee, with increasing irritation. "Captain Lane has sense
enough to know that we are not responsible for his being taken
away."

"Hildy," said Mrs. Barkdale, "go up and tell the gentlemen that
breakfast is ready."

In a few moments the old woman returned in a fluster and said, "I
knock on de doah, and dey ain't no answer."

"What!" exclaimed Suwanee, in the accents of surprise; then, sharply,
"go and knock louder, and wake them up," adding, "it's very strange."

Hildy came back with a scared look, and said, "I knock and knock;
den I open de doah, and der' ain't no one dere."

"They must be out in the grounds for a walk," exclaimed Roberta.
"Haven't you seen them this morning?"

"I ain't seen nuffin' nor heard nuffin'," protested the old woman.

"Girls, this is serious," said Mrs. Barkdale, rising; and she
summoned Lieutenant Macklin, who belonged to a class not received
socially by the family.

"We have but this moment discovered," said the lady, "that Captain
Lane and Surgeon McAllister are not in their room. Therefore we
suppose they are walking in the grounds. Will you please inform
them that breakfast is waiting?"

"Pardon me, madam, they cannot be outside, or I should have been
informed."

"Then you must search for them, sir. The house, grounds, and
buildings are open to you."

The fact of the prisoners' escape soon became evident, and there
were haste, confusion, and running to and fro to no purpose. Suwanee
imitated Roberta so closely that she was not suspected. Lieutenant
Macklin and the rebel sergeant at last returned, giving evidence
of strong vexation.

"We don't understand this," began the lieutenant.

"Neither do we," interrupted Mrs. Barkdale, so haughtily that they
were abashed, although they directed keen glances towards Suwanee,
who met their scrutiny unflinchingly.

The Barkdales were not people to be offended with impunity, and the
lieutenant knew it. He added, apologetically: "You know I must do
my duty, madam. I fear some of your servants are implicated, or
that guards have been tampered with."

"You are at liberty to examine any one you please."

They might as well have examined a carved, wrinkled effigy as old
Cuffy, Lane's midnight guide. "I don' know nuffin' 'tall 'bout it,"
he declared. "My ole woman kin tell yo' dat I went to bed when she
did and got up when she did."

The guard, bought with kindness, was as dense in his ignorance as
any of the others. At last Macklin declared that he would have to
put citizens on the hunt, for his orders admitted of no delay.

The Union prisoners, together with the Confederates, when formed
in line, gave a ringing cheer for "Missy S'wanee and the ladies,"
and then the old mansion was left in more than its former isolation,
and, as the younger girl felt, desolation.

She attended to her duties as usual, and then went to her piano.
The words spoken the previous evening would ever make the place
dear to her. While she was there old Hildy crept in, with her feeble
step, and whispered, "I foun' dis un'er Cap'n Lane's piller."

It was but a scrap of paper, unaddressed; but Suwanee understood
its significance. It contained these words: "I can never repay you,
but to discover some coin which a nature like yours can accept has
become one of my supreme ambitions. If I live, we shall meet again."

Those words formed a glimmering hope which grew fainter and fainter
in the dark years which followed.

She did not have to mask her trouble very long, for another sorrow
came like an avalanche. Close to the Union lines, on Cemetery Ridge,
lay a white-haired colonel and his two tall sons. They were among
the heroes in Pickett's final charge, on the 3d of July. "Missy
S'wanee" laughed no more, even in self-defence.






CHAPTER XLI.

SUNDAY'S LULL AND MONDAY'S STORM.





SUNDAY, the 12th of July, proved a long, restful sabbath to Marian
and her father, and they spent most of its hours together. The
great tension and strain of the past weeks appeared to be over for
a time. The magnificent Union victories had brought gladness and
hopefulness to Mr. Vosburgh, and the return of her friends had
relieved his daughter's mind. He now thought he saw the end clearly.
He believed that hereafter the tide of rebellion would ebb southward
until all the land should be free.

"This day has been a godsend to us both," he said to Marian, as
they sat together in the library before retiring. "The draft has
begun quietly, and no disturbances have followed. I scarcely remember
an evening when the murmur of the city was so faint and suggestive
of repose. I think we can both go to the country soon, with
minds comparatively at rest. I must admit that I expected no such
experience as has blessed us to-day. We needed it. Not until this
respite came did I realize how exhausted from labor and especially
anxiety I had become. You, too, my little girl, are not the blooming
lassie you were a year ago."

"Yet I think I'm stronger in some respects, papa."

"Yes, in many respects. Thank God for the past year. Your sympathy
and companionship have made it a new era in my life. You have
influenced other lives, also, as events have amply proved. Are
you not satisfied now that you can be unconventional without being
queer? You have not been a colorless reflection of some social
set; neither have you left your home for some startling public
career; and yet you have achieved the distinct individuality which
truthfulness to nature imparts. You have simply been developing
your better self naturally, and you have helped fine fellows to
make the best of themselves."

"Your encouragement is very sweet, papa. I'm not complacent over
myself, however; and I've failed so signally in one instance that
I'm vexed and almost saddened. You know what I mean."

"Yes, I know," with a slight laugh. "Merwyn is still your unsolved
problem, and he worries you."

"Not because he is unsolved, but rather that the solution has proved
so disappointing and unexpected. He baffles me with a trait which
I recognize, but can't understand, and only admit in wonder and
angry protest. Indeed, from the beginning of our acquaintance he
has reversed my usual experiences. His first approaches incensed
me beyond measure, - all the more, I suppose, because I saw in
him an odious reflection of my old spirit. But, papa, when to his
condescending offer I answered from the full bitterness of my heart,
he looked and acted as if I had struck him with a knife."

Her father again laughed, as he said: "You truly used heroic surgery,
and to excellent purpose. Has he shown any conceit, complacency,
or patronizing airs since?"

"No, I admit that, at least."


"In destroying some of his meaner traits by one keen thrust, you
did him a world of good. Of course he suffered under such a surgical
operation, but he has had better moral health ever since."

"Oh, yes," she burst out, "he has become an eminently respectable



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 28 of 37)