Edward Payson Roe.

An Original Belle online

. (page 29 of 37)
Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 29 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and patriotic millionnaire, giving of his abundance to save the
nation's life, living in a palace meanwhile. What did he mean by
his passionate words, 'I shall measure everything hereafter by the
breadth of your woman's soul'? What have the words amounted to? You
know, papa, that nothing but my duty and devotion to you keeps me
from taking an active part in this struggle, even though a woman.
Indeed, the feeling is growing upon me that I must spend part
of my time in some hospital. A woman can't help having an intense
conviction of what she would do were she a man, and you know what
I would have done, and he knows it also. Therefore he has not kept
his word, for he fails at the vital point in reaching my standard.
I have no right to judge men in Mr. Merwyn's position because
they do not go to the front. Let them do what they think wise and
prudent; let them also keep among their own kind. I protest against
their coming to me for what I give to friends who have already
proved themselves heroes. But there, I forgot. He looks so like a
man that I can't help thinking that he is one, - that he could come
up to my standard if he chose to. He still seeks me - "

"No, he has not been here since he heard Blauvelt's story."

"He passed the house once, hesitated, and did not enter. Papa,
he has not changed, and you know it. He has plainly asked for a
gift only second to what I can give to God. With a tenacity which
nothing but his will can account for, perhaps, he seeks it still.
Do you think his distant manner deceives me for a moment? Nor has
my coldness any influence on him. Yet it has not been the coldness
of indifference, and he knows that too. He has seen and felt, like
sword-thrusts, my indignation, my contempt. He has said to my face,
'You think me a coward.' He is no fool, and has fully comprehended
the situation. If he had virtually admitted, 'I am a coward, and
therefore can have no place among the friends who are surpassing your
ideal of manly heroism,' and withdrawn to those to whom a million
is more than all heroism, the affair would have ended naturally
long ago. But he persists in bringing me a daily sense of failure
and humiliation. He says: 'My regard for you is so great I can't
give you up, yet not so great as to lead me to do what hundreds
of thousands are doing. I can't face danger for your sake.' I have
tried to make the utmost allowance for his constitutional weakness,
yet it has humiliated me that I had not the power to enable him
to overcome so strange a failing. Why, I could face death for you,
and he can't stand beside one whom he used to sneer at as 'little
Strahan.' Yet, such is his idea of my woman's soul that he still
gives me his thoughts and therefore his hopes;" and she almost
stamped her foot in her irritation.

"Would you truly give your life for me?" he asked, gently.

"Yes, I know I could, and would were there necessity; not in callous
disregard of danger, but because the greater emotion swallows up
the less. Faulty as I am, there would be no bargainings and prudent
reservations in my love. These are not the times for half-way people.
Oh think, papa, while we are here in the midst of every comfort,
how many thousands of mutilated, horribly wounded men are dying in
agony throughout the South! My heart goes out to them in a sympathy
and homage I can't express. Think how Lane and even Strahan may be
suffering to-night, with so much done for them, and then remember
the prisoners of war and the poor unknown enlisted men, often
terribly neglected, I fear. Papa, won't you let me go as a nurse?
The ache would go out of my own heart if I tried to reduce this awful
sum of anguish a little. He whose word and touch always banished
pain and disease would surely shield me in such labors. As soon
as danger no longer threatens you, won't you let me do a little,
although I am only a girl?"

"Yes, Marian," her father replied, gravely; "far be it from me to
repress such heaven-born impulses. You are now attaining the highest
rank reached by humanity. All the avenues of earthly distinction
cannot lead beyond the spirit of self-sacrifice for others. This
places you near the Divine Man, and all grow mean and plebeian to the
degree that they recede from him. You see what comes of developing
your better nature. Selfishness and its twin, cowardice, are crowded

"Please don't praise me any more. I can't stand it," faltered the
girl, tearfully. A moment later her laugh rang out. "Hurrah!" she
cried, "since Mr. Merwyn won't go to the war, I'm going myself."

"To make more wounds than you will heal," her father added.
"Remember the circumstances under which you go will have to receive
very careful consideration, and I shall have to know all about the
matron and nurses with whom you act. Your mother will be horrified,
and so will not a few of your acquaintances. Flirting in shadows
is proper enough, but helping wounded soldiers to live - But we
understand each other, and I can trust you now."

The next morning father and daughter parted with few misgivings,
and the latter promised to go to her mother in a day or two, Mr.
Vosburgh adding that if the week passed quietly he could join them
on Saturday evening.

So they quietly exchanged their good-by kiss on the edge of a
volcano already in eruption.

An early horseback ride in Central Park had become one of Merwyn's
habits of late. At that hour he met comparatively few abroad, and
the desire for solitude was growing upon him. Like Mr. Vosburgh,
he had watched with solicitude the beginning of the draft, feeling
that if it passed quietly his only remaining chance would be to
wring from his mother some form of release from his oath. Indeed,
so unhappy and desperate was he becoming that he had thought
of revealing everything to Mr. Vosburgh. The government officer,
however, might feel it his duty to use the knowledge, should there
come a time when the authorities proceeded against the property
of the disloyal. Moreover, the young man felt that it would be
dishonorable to reveal the secret.

Beyond his loyal impulses he now had little motive for effort.
Marian's prejudices against him had become too deeply rooted, and
her woman's honor for the knightly men her friends had proved too
controlling a principle, ever to give him a chance for anything
better than polite tolerance. He had discovered what this meant
so fully, and in Blauvelt's story had been shown the inevitable
contrast which she must draw so vividly, that he had decided: -

"No more of Marian Vosburgh's society until all is changed. Therefore
no more forever, probably. If my mother proves as obdurate as a
Southern jailer, I suppose I'm held, although I begin to think I
have as good cause to break my chains as any other Union man. She
tricked me into captivity, and holds me remorselessly, - not like a
mother. Miss Vosburgh did show she had a woman's heart, and would
have given me her hand in friendship had I not been compelled to
make her believe that I was a coward. If in some way I can escape
my oath, and my reckless courage at the front proves her mistaken,
I may return to her. Otherwise it is a useless humiliation and pain
to see her any more."

Such had been the nature of his musings throughout the long Sunday
whose quiet had led to the belief that the draft would scarcely create
a ripple of overt hostility. During his ride on Monday morning he
nearly concluded to go to his country place again. He was growing
nervous and restless, and he longed for the steadying influence
of his mountain rambles before meeting his mother and deciding
questions which would involve all their future relations.

As with bowed head, lost in thought, he approached the city by
one of the park entrances, he heard a deep, angry murmur, as if
a storm-vexed tide was coming in. Spurring his horse forward, he
soon discovered, with a feeling like an electric shock, that a tide
was indeed rising. Was it a temporary tidal wave of human passion,
mysterious in its origin, soon to subside, leaving such wreckage
as its senseless fury might have caused? Or was it the beginning
of the revolution so long feared, but not now guarded against?

Converging from different avenues, men, women, and children were
pouring by the thousand into a vacant lot near the park. Their presence
seemed like a dream. Why was this angry multitude gathering here
within a few rods of rural loveliness, their hoarse cries blending
with the songs of robins and thrushes? It had been expected that
the red monster would raise its head, if at all, in some purlieu
of the east side. On the contrary its segregate parts were coming
together at a distance from regions that would naturally generate
them, and were forming under his very eyes the thing of which he
had read, and, of late, had dreamed night and day, - a mob.

To change the figure, the vacant space, unbuilt upon as yet, was
becoming an immense human reservoir, into which turgid streams
with threatening sounds were surging from the south. His eyes could
separate the tumultuous atoms into ragged forms, unkempt heads,
inflamed faces, animated by some powerful destructive impulse. Arms
of every description proved that the purpose of the gathering was
not a peaceful one. But what was the purpose?

Riding closer he sought to question some on the outskirts of the
throng, and so drew attention to himself. Volleys of oaths, stones,
and sticks, were the only answers he received.

"Thank you," Merwyn muttered, as he galloped away. "I begin
to comprehend your meaning, but shall study you awhile before I
take part in the controversy. Then there shall be some knock-down

As he drew rein at a short distance the cry went up that he was a
"spy," and another rush was made for him; but he speedily distanced
his pursuers. To his surprise the great multitude turned southward,
pouring down Fifth and Sixth avenues. After keeping ahead for a
few blocks, he saw that the mob, now numbering many thousands, was
coming down town with some unknown purpose and destination.

Two things were at least clear, - the outbreak was unexpected, and
no preparation had been made for it. As he approached his home on
a sharp trot, a vague air of apprehension and expectation was beginning
to manifest itself, and but little more. Policemen were on their
beats, and the city on the fashionable avenues and cross-streets
wore its midsummer aspect. Before entering his own home he obeyed
an impulse to gallop by the Vosburgh residence. All was still quiet,
and Marian, with surprise, saw him clattering past in a way that
seemed reckless and undignified.

On reaching his home he followed his groom to the stable, and said,
quietly: "You are an old family servant, but you must now give me
positive assurance that I can trust you. There is a riot in the
city, and there is no telling what house will be safe. Will you
mount guard night and day in my absence?"

"Faix, sur, I will. Oi'll sarve ye as I did yer fayther afore ye."

"I believe you, but would shoot you if treacherous. You know I've
been expecting this trouble. Keep the horse saddled. Bar and bolt
everything. I shall be in and out at all hours, but will enter by
the little side-door in the stable. Watch for my signal, and be
ready to open to me only any door, and bolt it instantly after me.
Leave all the weapons about the house just where I have put them.
If any one asks for me, say I'm out and you don't know when I'll
be back. Learn to recognize my voice and signal, no matter how
disguised I am."

The faithful old servant promised everything, and was soon
executing orders. Before their neighbors had taken the alarm, the
heavy shutters were closed, and the unusual precautions that in the
family's absence had been adopted rendered access possible only
to great violence. On reaching his room Merwyn thought for a few
moments. He was intensely excited, and there was a gleam of wild
hope in his eyes, but he felt with proud exultation that in his
manner he was imitating his father. Not a motion was hasty or useless.
Right or wrong, in the solitude of his room or in the midst of the
mob, his brain should direct his hand.

"And now my hand is free!" he exclaimed, aloud; "my oath cannot
shackle it now."

His first conclusion was to mingle with the mob and learn the
nature and objects of the enemy. He believed the information would
be valuable to Mr. Vosburgh and the police authorities. Having
accomplished this purpose he would join any organized resistance he
could find, at the same time always seeking to shield Marian from
the possibility of danger.

He had already been shown that in order to understand the character
and aims of the mob he must appear to be one of them, and he decided
that he could carry off the disguise of a young city mechanic better
than any other.

This plan he carried out by donning from his own wardrobe a plain
dark flannel suit, which, when it had been rolled in dust and oil,
and received a judicious rip here and there, presented the appearance
of a costume of a workman just from his shop. With further injunctions
to Thomas and the old serving-woman, he made his way rapidly to
the north-east, where the smoke of a conflagration proved that the
spirit of mischief was increasing.

One would not have guessed, as he hurried up Third Avenue, that he
was well armed, but there were two small, yet effective revolvers
and a dirk upon his person. As has been related before, he had
practised for this emergency, and could be as quick as a flash with
his weapon.

He had acted with the celerity of youth, guided by definite plans,
and soon began to make his way quietly through the throng that
blocked the avenue, gradually approaching the fire at the corner of
45th Street. At first the crowd was a mystery to him, so orderly,
quiet, and inoffensive did it appear, although composed largely
of the very dregs of the slums. The crackling, roaring flames,
devouring tenement-houses, were equally mysterious. No one was
seeking to extinguish them, although the occupants of the houses
were escaping for their lives, dragging out their humble effects.
The crowd merely looked on with a pleased, satisfied expression.
After a moment's thought Merwyn remembered that the draft had been
begun in one of the burning houses, and was told by a bystander,
"We smashed the ranch and broke some jaws before the bonfire."

That the crowd was only a purring tiger was soon proved, for some
one near said, "There's Kennedy, chief of the cops;" and it seemed
scarcely a moment before the officer was surrounded by an infuriated
throng who were raining curses and blows upon him.

Merwyn made an impulsive spring forward in his defence, but a dozen
forms intervened, and his effort was supposed to be as hostile as
that of the rioters. The very numbers that sought to destroy Kennedy
gave him a chance, for they impeded one another, and, regaining his
feet, he led a wild chase across a vacant lot, pursued by a hooting
mob as if he were a mad dog. The crowd that filled the street
almost as far as eye could reach now began to sway back and forth
as if coming under the influence of some new impulse, and Merwyn
was so wedged in that he had to move with the others. Being tall
he saw that Kennedy, after the most brutal treatment, was rescued
almost by a miracle, apparently more dead than alive. It also
became clear to him that the least suspicion of his character and
purpose would cost him his life instantly. He therefore resolved
on the utmost self-control. He was ready to risk his life, but not
to throw it away uselessly, - not at least till he knew that Marian
was safe. It was his duty now to investigate the mob, not fight

The next excitement was caused by the cry, "The soldiers are coming!"

These proved to be a small detachment of the invalid corps, who
showed their comprehension of affairs by firing over the rioters'
heads, thinking to disperse them by a little noise. The mob settled
the question of noise by howling as if a menagerie had broken loose,
and, rushing upon the handful of men, snatched their muskets, first
pounding the almost paralyzed veterans, and then chasing them as
a wilderness of wolves would pursue a small array of sheep.

As Merwyn stepped down from a dray, whereon he had witnessed the
scene, he muttered, indiscreetly, "What does such nonsense amount

A big hulking fellow, carrying a bar of iron, who had stood beside
him, and who apparently had had his suspicions, asked, fiercely,
"An' what did ye expect it wud amount to? An' what's the nonsense
ye're growlin' at? By the holy poker oi belave you're a spy."

"Yis, prove that, and I'll cut his heart out," cried an inebriated
woman, brandishing a knife a foot long.

"Yes, prove it, you thunderin' fool!" cried Merwyn.

"The cops are comin' now, and you want to begin a fight among

True enough, the cry came ringing up the avenue, "The cops comin.'"

"Oh, an' ye's wan uv us, oi'll stan' by ye; but oi've got me eye
on ye, and 'ud think no more o' brainin' ye than a puppy."

"Try brainin' the cops first, if yer know when yer well off," replied
Merwyn, drawing a pistol. "I didn't come out to fight bullies in
our crowd."

The momentary excitement caused by this altercation was swallowed
up by the advent of a squad of police, which wheeled into the avenue
from 43d Street, and checked the pursuit of the bleeding remnants
of the invalid corps. Those immediately around the young man pressed
forward to see what took place, he following, but edging towards
the sidewalk, with the eager purpose to see the first fight between
the mob and the police.



AFTER reaching the sidewalk Merwyn soon found a chance to mount
a dry-goods box, that he might better observe the action of the
police and form an idea of their numbers. The moment he saw the
insignificant band he felt that they were doomed men, or else the
spirit abroad was not what he thought it to be, and he had been
witnessing some strong indications of its ruthless nature.

It was characteristic of the young fellow that he did not rush to
the aid of the police. He was able, even in that seething flood
of excitement, to reason coolly, and his thoughts were something
to this effect: "I'm not going to throw away my life and all its
chances and duties because the authorities are so ignorant as to
sacrifice a score or two of their men. I shall not fight at all until
I have seen Marian and Mr. Vosburgh. When I have done something to
insure their safety, or at least to prove that I am not a coward,
I shall know better what to do and how to do it. This outbreak is
not an affair of a few hours. She herself may be exposed to the
fury of these fiends, for I believe her father is, or will be, a
marked man."

Seeing, farther up the avenue, a small balcony as yet unoccupied,
he pushed his way towards it, that he might obtain one more view
of the drift of affairs before taking his course. The hall-door
leading to the second story was open and filled with a crowd of
frightened, unkempt women and children, who gave way before him.
The door of the room opening on the balcony was locked, and, in
response to his repeated knockings, a quavering voice asked what
was wanted.

"You must open instantly," was his reply.

A trembling, gray-haired woman put the door ajar, and he pushed
in at once, saying: "Bolt the door again, madam. I will do you no
harm, and may be able to save you from injury;" and he was out in
the balcony before his assurances were concluded.

"Indeed, sir, I've done no one any wrong, and therefore need no
protection. I only wish to be let alone with my children."

"That you cannot expect with certainty, in view of what is going
on to-day. Do you not know that they are burning houses? As long
as I'm here I'll be a protection. I merely wish the use of this
little outlook for a brief time. So say nothing more, for I must
give my whole attention to the fight."

"Well then, since you are so civil, you can stay; but the street
is full of devils."

He paid no heed to her further lamentations, and looking southward
saw that the police had formed a line across the avenue, and that
such battered remnants of the invalid corps as had escaped were
limping off behind their cover as fast as possible. The presence
of the city's guardians had caused a brief hesitation in the
approaching and broken edge of the rabble. Seeing this the brave
sergeant ordered a charge, which was promptly and swiftly made, the
mob recoiling before it more and more slowly as under pressure it
became denser. There was no more effort to carry out the insane,
rather than humane, tactics of the invalid corps, who had either
fired high or used blank cartridges, for now the police struck
for life with their locust clubs, and the thud of the blows could
often be heard even above the uproar. Every one within reach of
their arms went down, and the majority lay quietly where they fell,
as the devoted little band pressed slowly forward. With regret
Merwyn saw Barney Ghegan among the foremost, his broad red face
streaming with perspiration, and he wielding his club as if it were
the deadliest of shillalahs.

They did indeed strike manfully, and proved what an adequate force
could do. Rioters fell before them on every side. But hopeless
reaping was theirs, with miles of solid, bloodthirsty humanity
before them. Slowly and more falteringly they made their way three
blocks, as far as 46th Street, sustained by the hope of finding
reinforcements there. Instead of these, heavier bodies of the
enemy poured in from the side-streets upon the exhausted men, and
the mob closed behind them from 45th Street, like dark, surging
waves. Then came a mad rush upon the hemmed-in officers, who were
attacked in front and in the rear, with clubs, iron-bars, guns,
and pistols. Tom, bruised, bleeding, the force that had fought so
gallantly broke, each man striking out for his own life. The vast
heterogeneous crowd now afforded their chief chance for escape.
Dodging behind numbers, taking advantage of the wild confusion
of the swaying, trampling masses, and striking down some direct
opponent, a few got off with slight bruises. There were wonderful
instances of escape. The brave sergeant who had led the squad had
his left wrist broken by an iron bar, but, knocking down two other
assailants, he sprung into a house and bolted the door after him.
An heroic German girl, with none of the stolid phlegm attributed
to her race, lifted the upper mattress of her bed. The sergeant
sprung in and was covered up without a word. There was no time then
for plans and explanations. A moment later the door was broken,
and a score of fierce-visaged men streamed in. Now the girl was
stolidity itself.

"Der cop run out der back door," was all that she could be made to
say in answer to fierce inquiries. Every apartment was examined in
vain, and then the roughs departed in search of other prey. Brave,
simple-hearted girl! She would have been torn to pieces had her
humane strategy been discovered.

But a more memorable act of heroism was reserved for another woman,
Mrs. Eagan, the wife of the man who had rescued Superintendent Kennedy
a short time before. A policeman was knocked down with a hay-bale
rung, and fell at her very feet. In a moment more he would have
been killed, but this woman instantly covered his form with her
own, so that no blow could reach him unless she was first struck.
Then she begged for his life. Even the wild-beast spirit of the mob
was touched, and the pursuers passed on. A monument should have
been built to the woman who, in that pandemonium of passion, could
so risk all for a stranger.

I am not defending Merwyn's course, but sketching a character. His
spirit of strategical observation would have forsaken him had he
witnessed that scene, and indeed it did forsake him as he saw Barney
Ghegan running and making a path for himself by the terrific blows
of his club. Three times he fell but rose again, with the same
indomitable pluck which had won his suit to pretty Sally Maguire.
At last the brave fellow was struck down almost opposite the balcony.
Merwyn knew the man was a favorite of the Vosburghs, and he could
not bear that the brave fellow should be murdered before his very
eyes; yet murdered he apparently was ere Merwyn could reach the
street. Like baffled fiends his pursuers closed upon the unfortunate
man, pounding him and jumping upon him. And almost instantly the
vile hags that followed the marauders like harpies, for the sake

Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 29 of 37)