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Title: Before the Dawn - A Story of the Fall of Richmond
Author: Altsheler, Joseph A. (Joseph Alexander), 1862-1919
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Before the Dawn

A Story of the Fall of Richmond

By

JOSEPH A. ALTSHELER


NEW YORK
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
1903


Copyright, 1903, by
Doubleday, Page & Company
Published April, 1903



OTHER BOOKS BY JOSEPH A. ALTSHELER


The Sun of Saratoga
A Soldier of Manhattan
A Herald of the West
The Last Rebel
In Circling Camps
In Hostile Red
The Wilderness Road
My Captive



For the rhyming pun, given by a member of The Mosaic Club, and quoted in
the third chapter of this book, the author is indebted to T. C. DeLeon's
"_Four Years in Rebel Capitals_."



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                   PAGE

     I. A Woman in Brown                     3

    II. A Man's Mother                      16

   III. The Mosaic Club                     25

    IV. The Secretary Moves                 40

     V. An Elusive Face                     52

    VI. The Pursuit of a Woman              71

   VII. The Cottage in the Side Street      83

  VIII. The Pall of Winter                  97

    IX. Robert and Lucia                   117

     X. Feeding the Hungry                 131

    XI. Mr. Sefton Makes a Confidence      137

   XII. A Flight by Two                    150

  XIII. Lucia's Farewell                   162

   XIV. Prescott's Ordeal                  170

    XV. The Great Rivals                   181

   XVI. The Great Revival                  193

  XVII. The Wilderness                     204

 XVIII. Day in the Wilderness              206

   XIX. Night in the Wilderness            223

    XX. The Secretary Looks On             236

   XXI. A Delicate Situation               248

  XXII. The Lone Sentinel                  264

 XXIII. Out of the Forest                  269

  XXIV. The Despatch Bearer                280

   XXV. The Mountain General               292

  XXVI. Calypso                            300

 XXVII. The Secretary and the Lady         323

XXVIII. The Way Out                        334

  XXIX. The Fall of Richmond               346

   XXX. The Telegraph Station              360

  XXXI. The Coin of Gold                   370



BEFORE THE DAWN



CHAPTER I

A WOMAN IN BROWN


A tall, well-favoured youth, coming from the farther South, boarded the
train for Richmond one raw, gusty morning. He carried his left arm
stiffly, his face was thin and brown, and his dingy uniform had holes in
it, some made by bullets; but his air and manner were happy, as if,
escaped from danger and hardships, he rode on his way to pleasure and
ease.

He sat for a time gazing out of the window at the gray, wintry landscape
that fled past, and then, having a youthful zest for new things, looked
at those who traveled with him in the car. The company seemed to him, on
the whole, to lack novelty and interest, being composed of farmers going
to the capital of the Confederacy to sell food; wounded soldiers like
himself, bound for the same place in search of cure; and one woman who
sat in a corner alone, neither speaking nor spoken to, her whole aspect
repelling any rash advance.

Prescott always had a keen eye for woman and beauty, and owing to his
long absence in armies, where both these desirable objects were scarce,
his vision had become acute; but he judged that this lone type of her
sex had no special charm. Tall she certainly was, and her figure might
be good, but no one with a fair face and taste would dress as plainly as
she, nor wrap herself so completely in a long, brown cloak that he could
not even tell the colour of her eyes. Beautiful women, as he knew them,
always had a touch of coquetry, and never hid their charms wholly.

Prescott's attention wandered again to the landscape rushing past, but
finding little of splendour or beauty, it came back, by and by, to the
lone woman. He wondered why she was going to Richmond and what was her
name. She, too, was now staring out of the window, and the long cloak
hiding her seemed so shapeless that he concluded her figure must be bad.
His interest declined at once, but rose again with her silence and
evident desire to be left alone.

As they were approaching Richmond a sudden jar of the train threw a
small package from her lap to the floor. Prescott sprang forward, picked
it up and handed it to her. She received it with a curt "Thanks," and
the noise of the train was so great that Prescott could tell nothing
about the quality of her voice. It might or might not be musical, but in
any event she was not polite and showed no gratitude. If he had thought
to use the incident as an opening for conversation, he dismissed the
idea, as she turned her face back to the window at once and resumed her
study of the gray fields.

"Probably old and plain," was Prescott's thought, and then he forgot her
in the approach to Richmond, the town where much of his youth had been
spent. The absence of his mother from the capital was the only regret in
this happy homecoming, but he had received a letter from her assuring
him of her arrival in the city in a day or two.

When they reached Richmond the woman in the brown cloak left the car
before him, but he saw her entering the office of the Provost-Marshal,
where all passes were examined with minute care, every one who came to
the capital in those times of war being considered an enemy until proved
a friend. Prescott saw then that she was not only tall, but very tall,
and that she walked with a strong, graceful step. "After all, her figure
may be good," he thought, revising his recent opinion.

Her pass was examined, found to be correct, and she left the office
before his own time came. He would have asked the name on her pass, but
aware that the officer would probably tell him to mind his own business,
he refrained, and then forgot her in the great event of his return home
after so long a time of terrible war. He took his way at once to
Franklin Street, where he saw outspread before him life as it was lived
in the capital of the Confederate States of America. It was to him a
spectacle, striking in its variety and refreshing in its brilliancy, as
he had come, though indirectly, from the Army of Northern Virginia,
where it was the custom to serve half-rations of food and double rations
of gunpowder. Therefore, being young, sound of heart and amply furnished
with hope, he looked about him and rejoiced.

Richmond was a snug little town, a capital of no great size even in a
region then lacking in city growth, but for the time more was said about
it and more eyes were turned upon it than upon any other place in the
world. Many thousands of men were dying in an attempt to reach this
small Virginia city, and many other thousands were dying in an equally
strenuous effort to keep them away.

Such thoughts, however, did not worry Prescott at this moment. His face
was set resolutely toward the bright side of life, which is really half
the battle, and neither the damp nor the cold was able to take from him
the good spirits that were his greatest treasure. Coming from the bare
life of a camp and the somber scenes of battlefields, he seemed to have
plunged into a very whirlwind of gaiety, and his eyes sparkled with
appreciation. He did not notice then that his captain's uniform was
stained and threadbare enough to make him a most disreputable figure in
a drawing-room, however gallant he might appear at the head of a forlorn
hope.

The street was crowded, the pressure of the armies having driven much of
the life of the country into the city, and Prescott saw men, women and
children passing, some in rich and some in poor attire. He saw ladies,
both young and old, bearing in their cheeks a faint, delicate bloom, the
mark of the South, and he heard them as they spoke to each other in
their soft, drawling voices, which reminded him of the waters of a
little brook falling over a precipice six inches high.

It is said that soldiers, after spending a year or two in the serious
business of slaying each other, look upon a woman as one would regard a
divinity--a being to be approached with awe and respect; and such
emotions sprang into the heart of Prescott when he glanced into feminine
faces, especially youthful ones. Becoming suddenly conscious of his
rusty apparel and appearance, he looked about him in alarm. Other
soldiers were passing, some fresh and trim, some rusty as himself, but a
great percentage of both had bandaged limbs or bodies, and he found no
consolation in such company, wishing to appear well, irrespective of
others.

He noticed many red flags along the street and heard men calling upon
the people in loud, strident voices to come and buy. At other places the
grateful glow of coal fires shone from half-opened doorways, and the
faint but positive click of ivory chips told that games of chance were
in progress.

"Half the population is either buying something or losing something," he
said to himself.

A shout of laughter came from one of the open doorways beyond which men
were staking their money, and a voice, somewhat the worse for a liquid
not water, sang:

    "Little McClellan sat eating a melon
    The Chickahominy by;
    He stuck in his spade,
    Then a long while delayed,
    And cried: 'What a brave general am I!'"

"I'll wager that you had nothing to do with driving back McClellan,"
thought Prescott, and then his mind turned to that worn army by the
Rapidan, fighting with such endurance, while others lived in fat ease
here in Richmond.

Half a dozen men, English in face and manner and rolling in their walk
like sailors, passed him. He recognized them at once as blockade runners
who had probably come up from Wilmington to sell their goods for a
better price at the capital. While wondering what they had brought, his
attention was distracted by one of the auctioneers, a large man with a
red face and tireless voice.

"Come buy! Come buy!" he cried. "See this beautiful new uniform of the
finest gray, a sample of a cargo made in England and brought over five
days ago on a blockade runner to Wilmington."

Looking around in search of a possible purchaser, his eye caught
Prescott.

"This will just suit you," he said. "A change of a strap or two and it
will do for either captain or lieutenant. What a figure you will be in
this uniform!" Then he leaned over and said persuasively: "Better buy
it, my boy. Take the advice of a man of experience. Clothes are half the
battle. They may not be so on the firing line, but they are here in
Richmond."

Prescott looked longingly at the uniform which in colour and texture was
all that the auctioneer claimed, and fingered a small package of gold in
his pocket. At that moment some one bid fifty dollars, and Prescott
surveyed him with interest.

The speaker was a man of his own age, but shorter and darker, with a
hawk-like face softened by black eyes with a faintly humourous twinkle
lurking in the corner of each. He seemed distinctly good-natured, but
competition stirred Prescott and he offered sixty dollars. The other man
hesitated, and the auctioneer, who seemed to know him, asked him to bid
up.

"This uniform is worth a hundred dollars if it's worth a cent, Mr.
Talbot," he said.

"I'll give you seventy-five dollars cash or five hundred on a credit,"
said Talbot; "now which will you take?"

"If I had to take either I'd take the seventy-five dollars cash, and I'd
be mighty quick about making a choice," replied the auctioneer.

Talbot turned to Prescott and regarded him attentively for a moment or
two. Then he said:

"You look like a good fellow, and we're about the same size. Now, I
haven't a hundred dollars in gold, and I doubt whether you have. Suppose
we buy this uniform together, and take turns in wearing it."

Prescott laughed, but he saw that the proposition was made in entire
good faith, and he liked the face of the man whom the auctioneer had
called Talbot.

"I won't do that," he replied, "because I have more money than you
think. I'll buy this and I'll lend you enough to help you in buying
another."

Friendships are quickly formed in war time, and the offer was accepted
at once. The uniforms were purchased and the two young men strolled on
together, each carrying a precious burden under his arm.

"My name is Talbot, Thomas Talbot," said the stranger. "I'm a lieutenant
and I've had more than two years' service in the West. I was in that
charge at Chickamauga when General Cheatham, leading us on, shouted:
'Boys, give 'em hell'; and General Polk, who had been a bishop and
couldn't swear, looked at us and said: 'Boys, do as General Cheatham
says!' Well, I got a bad wound in the shoulder there, and I've been
invalided since in Richmond, but I'm soon going to join the Army of
Northern Virginia."

Talbot talked on and Prescott found him entertaining, as he was a man
who saw the humourous side of things, and his speech, being spontaneous,
was interesting.

The day grew darker and colder. Heavy clouds shut out the sun and the
rain began to fall. The people fled from the streets, and the two
officers shivered in their uniforms. The wind rose and whipped the rain
into their faces. Its touch was like ice.

"Come in here and wait till the storm passes," said Talbot, taking his
new friend by the arm and pulling him through an open door. Prescott now
heard more distinctly than ever the light click of ivory chips, mingled
with the sound of many voices in a high or low key, and the soft
movement of feet on thick carpets. Without taking much thought, he
followed his new friend down a short and narrow hall, at the end of
which they entered a large, luxurious room, well lighted and filled with
people.

"Yes, it's a gambling room--The Nonpareil--and there are plenty more
like it in Richmond, I can tell you," said Talbot. "Those who follow war
must have various kinds of excitement. Besides, nothing is so bad that
it does not have its redeeming point, and these places, without pay,
have cared for hundreds and hundreds of our wounded."

Prescott had another errand upon which his conscience bade him hasten,
but casting one glance through the window he saw the soaking streets and
the increasing rain, swept in wild gusts by the fierce wind. Then the
warmth and light of the place, the hum of talk and perhaps the spirit of
youth infolded him and he stayed.

There were thirty or forty men in the room, some civilians and others
soldiers, two bearing upon their shoulders the stripes of a general.
Four carried their arms in slings and three had crutches beside their
chairs. One of the generals was not over twenty-three years of age, but
this war furnished younger generals than he, men who won their rank by
sheer hard service on great battlefields.

The majority of the men were playing faro, roulette or keno, and the
others sat in softly upholstered chairs and talked. Liquors were served
from a bar in the corner, where dozens of brightly polished glasses of
all shapes and sizes glittered on marble and reflected the light of the
gas in vivid colours.

Prescott's mind traveled back to long, lonely watches in the dark forest
under snow and rain, in front of the enemy's outposts, and he admitted
that while the present might be very wicked it was also very pleasant.

He gave himself up for a little while to the indulgence of his physical
senses, and then began to examine those in the room, his eyes soon
resting upon the one who was most striking in appearance. It was a time
of young men, and this stranger was young like most of the others,
perhaps under twenty-five. He was of middle height, very thick and
broad, and his frame gave the impression of great muscular strength and
endurance. A powerful neck supported a great head surmounted by a crop
of hair like a lion's mane. His complexion was as delicate as a woman's,
but his pale blue eyes were bent close to the table as he wagered his
money with an almost painful intentness, and Prescott saw that the
gaming madness was upon him.

Talbot's eyes followed Prescott's and he smiled.

"I don't wonder that you are looking at Raymond," he said. "He is sure
to attract attention anywhere. You are beholding one of the most
remarkable men the South has produced."

Prescott recognized the name as that of the editor of the _Patriot_, a
little newspaper published on a press traveling in a wagon with the
Western army until a month since, when it had come over to the Army of
Northern Virginia. The _Patriot_ was "little" only in size. The wit,
humour, terseness, spontaneous power of expression, and above all of
phrase-making, which its youthful editor showed in its columns, already
had made Raymond a power in the Confederacy, as they were destined in
his maturity to win him fame in a reunited nation.

"He's a great gamester and thinks that he's a master of chance," said
Talbot, "but as a matter of fact he always loses. See how fast his pile
of money is diminishing. It will soon be gone, but he will find another
resource. You watch him."

Prescott did not need the advice, as his attention was already
concentrated on Raymond's broad, massive jaw and the aggressive curve of
his strong face. His movements were quick and nervous; face and figure
alike expressed the most absolute self-confidence. Prescott wondered if
this self-confidence did not lie at the basis of all success, military,
literary, mercantile or other, enabling one's triumphs to cover up his
failures and make the people remember only the former.

Raymond continued to lose, and presently, all his money being gone, he
began to feel in his pockets in an absent-minded way for more, but the
hand came forth empty from each pocket. He did not hesitate.

A man only two or three years older was sitting next to Raymond, and he,
too, was intent on the game. Beside him was a very respectable little
heap of gold and notes, and Raymond, reaching over, took half of the
money and without a word, putting it in front of himself, went on with
his wagers. The second man looked up in surprise, but seeing who had
robbed him, merely made a wry face and continued his game. Several who
had noticed the action laughed.

"It's Raymond's way," said Talbot. "I knew that he would do it. That's
why I told you to watch him. The other man is Winthrop. He's an editor,
too--one of our Richmond papers. He isn't a genius like Raymond, but
he's a slashing writer--loves to criticize anybody from the President
down, and he often does it. He belongs to the F. F. V.'s himself, but he
has no mercy on them--shows up all their faults. While you can say that
gambling is Raymond's amusement, you may say with equal truth that
dueling is Winthrop's."

"Dueling!" exclaimed Prescott in surprise. "Why, I never saw a milder
face!"

"Oh, he doesn't fight duels from choice," replied Talbot. "It's because
of his newspaper. He's always criticizing, and here when a man is
criticized in print he challenges the editor. And the funny thing about
it is, that although Winthrop can't shoot or fence at all, he's never
been hurt. Providence protects him, I suppose."

"Has he ever hit anybody?" asked Prescott.

"Only once," replied Talbot, "and that was his eleventh duel since the
war began. He shot his man in the shoulder and then jumped up and down
in his pride. 'I hit him! I hit him!' he cried. 'Yes, Winthrop,' said
his second, 'some one was bound to get in the way if you kept on
shooting long enough.'"

The place, with its rich colours, its lights shining from glasses and
mirrors, its mellow odours of liquids and its softened sounds began to
have a soporific effect upon Prescott, used so long to the open air and
untold hardships. His senses were pleasantly lulled, and the voice of
his friend, whom he seemed now to have known for a long time, came from
far away. He could have closed his eyes and gone to sleep, but Talbot
talked on.

"Here you see the back door of the Confederacy," he said. "You men at
the front know nothing. You are merely fighting to defend the main
entrance. But while you are getting yourselves shot to pieces without
knowing any special reason why, all sorts of people slip in at this back
door. It is true not only of this government, but also of all others."

A middle-aged, heavy-faced man in a general's uniform entered and began
to talk earnestly to one of the other generals.

"That is General Markham," said Talbot, "who is specially interesting
not because of himself, but on account of his wife. She is years younger
than he, and is said to be the most brilliant woman in Richmond. She has
plans for the General, but is too smart to say what they are. I doubt
whether the General himself knows."

Raymond and Winthrop presently stopped playing and Talbot promptly
introduced his new friend.

"We should know each other since we belong to the same army," said
Raymond. "You fight and I write, and I don't know which of us does the
more damage; but the truth is, I've but recently joined the Army of
Northern Virginia. I've been following the army in the West, but the
news didn't suit me there and I've come East."

"I hope that you have many victories to chronicle," said Prescott.

"It's been a long time since there's been a big battle," resumed the
editor, "and so I've come up to Richmond to see a little life."

He glanced about the room.

"And I see it here," he added. "I confess that the fleshpots of Richmond
are pleasant."

Then he began to talk of the life in the capital, the condition of the
army and the Confederate States, furnishing a continual surprise to
Prescott, who now saw that beneath the man's occasional frivolity and
epicurean tastes lay a mind of wonderful penetration, possessing that
precious quality generally known as insight. He revealed a minute
knowledge of the Confederacy and its chieftains, both civil and
military, but he never risked an opinion as to its ultimate chances of
success, although Prescott waited with interest to hear what he might
say upon this question, one that often troubled himself. But however
near Raymond might come to the point, he always turned gracefully away
again.

They were sitting now in a cheerful corner as they talked, but at the
table nearest them was a man of forty, with immense square shoulders, a
heavy red face and an overbearing manner. He was playing faro and losing
steadily, but every time he lost he marked the moment with an angry
exclamation. The others, players and spectators alike, seemed to avoid
him, and Winthrop, who noticed Prescott's inquiring glance, said:

"That's Redfield, a member of our Congress," and he named the Gulf State
from which Redfield came. "He belonged to the Legislature of his State
before the war, which he advocated with all the might of his lungs--no
small power, I assure you--and he was leader in the shouting that one
Southern gentleman could whip five Yankees. I don't know whether he
means that he's the Southern gentleman, as he's never yet been on the
firing line, but he's distinguishing himself just now by attacking
General Lee for not driving all the Yankees back to Washington."

Redfield at length left the game, uttering with an oath his opinion that
fair play was impossible in the Nonpareil, and turned to the group
seated near him, regarding the Richmond editor with a lowering brow.

"I say, Winthrop," he cried, "I've got a bone to pick with you. You've
been hitting me pretty hard in that rag of yours. Do you know what a
public man down in the Gulf States does with an editor who attacks him!
Why, he goes around to his office and cowhides the miserable little
scamp until he can't lie down comfortably for a month."

A slight pink tint appeared in the cheeks of Winthrop.

"I am not well informed about the custom in the Gulf States, Mr.
Redfield," he said, "but here I am always at home to my enemies, as you
ought to know."

"Oh, nonsense!" exclaimed Raymond. "You two can't fight. We can't afford
to lose Redfield. He's going to lead a brigade against the Yankees, and
if he'll only make one of those fiery speeches of his it will scare all
the blue-backs out of Virginia."

Redfield's red face flushed to a deeper hue, and he regarded the speaker
with aversion, but said nothing in reply, fearing Raymond's sharp
tongue. Instead, he turned upon Prescott, who looked like a mild youth
fit to stand much hectoring.

"You don't introduce me to your new friend," he said to Talbot.

"Mr. Redfield, Captain Prescott," said Talbot. "Mr. Redfield is a Member
of Congress and Captain Prescott comes from the Army of Northern
Virginia, though by way of North Carolina, where he has been recently on
some special duty."

"Ah, from the Army of Northern Virginia," said Redfield in a heavy
growl. "Then can you tell me, Mr. Prescott, why General Lee does not
drive the Yankees out of Virginia?"

A dark flush appeared on Prescott's face. Usually mild, he was not
always so, and he worshiped General Lee.

"I think it is because he does not have the help of men like yourself,"
he replied.

A faint ray of a smile crossed the face of Raymond, but the older man
was not pleased.

"Do you know, sir, that I belong to the Confederate Congress?" he
exclaimed angrily; "and moreover, I am a member of the Military
Committee. I have a right to ask these questions."

"Then," replied Prescott, "you should know that it is your duty to ask
them of General Lee and not of me, a mere subaltern."

"Now, Mr. Redfield," intervened Raymond, "don't pick a quarrel with
Captain Prescott. If there's to be a duel, Winthrop has first claim on
you, and I insist for the honour of my profession that he have it.
Moreover, since he is slender and you are far from it, I demand that he
have two shots to your one, as he will have at least twice as much to
kill."

Redfield growled out other angry words, which stopped under the cover of
his heavy mustache, and then turned abruptly away, leaving Prescott in
some doubt as to his personal courage but none at all as to his ill
will.

"It is the misfortune of the South," said Raymond, "to have such men as
that, who think to settle public questions by personal violence. They
give us a bad name which is not wholly undeserved. In fact, personal
violence is our great sin."

"And the man has a lot of power. That's the worst of it," added Talbot.
"The boys at the front are hauled around so much by the politicians that
they are losing confidence in everybody here in Richmond. Why, when
President Davis himself came down and reviewed us with a great crowd of
staff officers before Missionary Ridge, the boys all along the line set
up the cry: 'Give us somethin' to eat, Mr. Jeff; give us somethin' to
eat! We're hungry! We're hungry!' And that may be the reason why we were
thrashed so badly by Grant not long after."

Prescott saw that the rain had almost ceased, and as he suggested that
he must hurry on, the others rose to go with him from the house. He left
them at the next corner, glad to have made such friends, and quickened
his footsteps as he continued alone.



CHAPTER II

A MAN'S MOTHER


It was a modest house to which Prescott turned his steps, built two
stories in height, of red brick, with green shutters over the windows,
and in front a little brick-floored portico supported on white columns
in the Greek style. His heart gave a great beat as he noticed the open
shutters and the thin column of smoke rising from the chimney. The
servants at least were there! He had been gone three years, and three
years of war is a long time to one who is not yet twenty-five. There was
no daily mail from the battlefield, and he had feared that the house
would be closed.

He lifted the brass knocker and struck but once. That was sufficient, as
before the echo died his mother herself, come before the time set,
opened the door. Mrs. Prescott embraced her son, and she was even less
demonstrative than himself, though he was generally known to his
associates as a reserved man; but he knew the depth of her feelings. One
Northern mother out of every ten had a son who never came back, but it
was one Southern mother in every three who was left to mourn.

She only said: "My son, I feared that I should never see you again."
Then she noticed the thinness of his clothing and its dampness. "Why,
you are cold and wet," she added.

"I do not feel so now, mother," he replied.

She smiled, and her smile was that of a young girl. As she drew him
toward the fire in a dusky room it seemed to him that some one else went
out.

"I heard your footsteps on the portico," she said.

"And you knew that it was me, mother," he interrupted, as he reached
down and patted her softly on the cheek.

He could not remember the time when he did not have a protecting feeling
in the presence of his mother--he was so tall and large, and she so
small. She scarcely reached to the top of his shoulder, and even now, at
the age of forty-five, her cheeks had the delicate bloom and freshness
of a young girl's.

"Sit by the fire here," she said, as she pushed him into an armchair
that she pulled directly in front of the grate.

"No, you must not do that," she added, taking the poker from his hand.
"Don't you know that it is a delight for me to wait upon you, my son
come from the war!"

Then she prodded the coals until they glowed a deep red and the room was
suffused with generous warmth.

"What is this bundle that you have?" she asked, taking it from him.

"A new uniform, mother, that I have just bought, and in which I hope to
do you credit."

She flitted about the room attending to his wants, bringing him a hot
drink, and she would listen to no account of himself until she was sure
that he was comfortable. He followed her with his eyes, noting how
little she had changed in the three years that had seemed so long.

She was a Northern woman, of a Quaker family in Philadelphia, whom his
father had married very young and brought to live on a great place in
Virginia. Prescott always believed she had never appreciated the fact
that she was entering a new social world when she left Philadelphia; and
there, on the estate of her husband, a just and generous man, she saw
slavery under its most favourable conditions. It must have been on one
of their visits to the Richmond house, perhaps at the slave market
itself, that she beheld the other side; but this was a subject of which
she would never speak to her son Robert. In fact, she was silent about
it to all people, and he only knew that she was not wholly like the
Southern women about him. When the war came she did not seek to persuade
her son to either side, but when he made his choice he was always sure
that he caused her pain, though she never said a word.

"Do you wear such thin clothing as this out there in those cold
forests?" she asked, fingering his coat.

"Mother," he replied with a smile, "this is the style now; the shops
recommend it, and you know we've all heard that a man had better be dead
than out of the style."

"And you have become a great soldier?" she said, looking at him fondly.

He laughed, knowing that in any event he would seem great to her.

"Not great, mother," he replied; "but I know that I have the confidence
of General Lee, on whose staff I serve."

"A good man and a great one," she said, clasping her hands thoughtfully.
"It is a pity----"

She stopped, and her son asked:

"What is a pity, mother?"

She did not answer, but he knew. It was said by many that Lee hesitated
long before he went with his State.

"Now," she said, "you must eat," and she brought him bread and meat and
coffee, serving them from a little table that she herself placed by his
side.

"How happens it, mother," he asked, "that this food is still warm? It
must have been hours since you had breakfast."

A deep tint of red as of a blush suffused her cheeks, and she answered
in a hesitating voice:

"Since there was a pause in the war, I knew that sooner or later you
would come, and I remember how hungry you used to be as a growing boy."

"And through all these days you have kept something hot on the fire for
me, ready at a moment's notice!"

She looked at him and there was a faint suspicion of tears in her eyes.

"Yes, yes, Robert," she replied. "Now don't scold me."

He had no intention of scolding her, but his thought was: "Has any other
man a mother like mine?" Then he corrected himself; he knew that there
must be myriads of others.

He said nothing in reply, merely smiling at her, and permitted her to do
as she would. She went about the room with light, easy step, intent on
her little services.

She opened the window shutters and the rich sunlight came streaming in,
throwing a golden glow across the brown face of him who had left her a
boy and come back a man. She sighed a little as she noticed how great
was the change, but she hid the sigh from her son.

"Mother," he asked presently, "was there not some one else in this room
when I came in? The light was faint, but I thought I saw a shadowy
figure disappear."

"Yes," she answered; "that was Helen Harley. She was with me when you
came. She may have known your footstep, too, and if not, she guessed it
from my face, so she went out at once. She did not wish to be a mere
curious onlooker when a mother was greeting her son, come home after
three years in the war."

"She must be a woman now."

"She is a woman full grown in all respects. Women have grown old fast in
the last three years. She is nearly a head taller than I."

"You have been comfortable here, mother?" he asked.

"As much so as one can be in such times," she replied. "I do not lack
for money, and whatever deprivations I endure are those of the common
lot--and this community of ill makes them amusing rather than serious."

She rose and walked to a door leading into the garden.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"I shall return in a few moments."

When she came back she brought with her a tall young woman with eyes of
dark blue and hair of brown shot with gold wherever the firelight fell
upon it. This girl showed a sinuous grace when she walked and she
seemed to Prescott singularly self-contained.

He sprang to his feet at once and took her hand in the usual Southern
fashion, making a compliment upon her appearance, also in the usual
Southern fashion. Then he realized that she had ceased to be a little
girl in all other respects as well as in the physical.

"I have heard that gallantry in the face of the ladies as well as of the
foe is part of a soldier's trade, Robert," she replied.

"And you do not know which requires the greater daring."

"But I know which your General ought to value the more."

After this she was serious. Neither of the younger people spoke much,
but left the thread of the talk to Mrs. Prescott, who had a great deal
to say. The elder woman, for all her gentleness and apparent timidity,
had a bold spirit that stood in no awe of the high and mighty. She was
full of curiosity about the war and plied her son with questions.

"We in Richmond know little that is definite of its progress," she said.
"The Government announces victories and no defeats. But tell me, Robert,
is it true, as I hear, that in the knapsacks of the slain Southern
soldiers they find playing-cards, and in those of the North, Bibles?"

"If the Northern soldiers have Bibles, they do not use them," said
Helen.

"And if the Southern soldiers have playing-cards, they do use them,"
said Mrs. Prescott.

Robert laughed.

"I daresay that both sides use their cards too much and their Bibles too
little," he said.

"Do not be alarmed, Robert," said his mother; "such encounters between
Helen and myself are of a daily occurrence."

"And have not yet resulted in bloodshed," added Miss Harley.

Prescott watched the girl while his mother talked, and he seemed to
detect in her a certain aloofness as far as he was concerned, although
he was not sure that the impression was not due to his absence so long
from the society of women. It gave him a feeling of shyness which he
found difficult to overcome, and which he contrasted in his own mind
with her ease and indifference of manner.

When she asked him of her brother, Colonel Harley, the brilliant cavalry
commander, whose exploits were recounted in Richmond like a romance, she
showed enthusiasm, her eyes kindling with fire, and her whole face
vivid. Her pride in her brother was large and she did not seek to
conceal it.

"I hear that he is considered one of the best cavalry leaders of the
age," she said, and she looked questioningly at Prescott.

"There is no doubt of it," he replied, but there was such a lack of
enthusiasm in his own voice that his mother looked quickly at him. Helen
did not notice. She was happy to hear the praises of her brother, and
she eagerly asked more questions about him--his charge at this place,
the famous ruse by which he had beaten the Yankees at that place, and
the esteem in which he was held by General Lee; all of which Prescott
answered readily and with pleasure. Mrs. Prescott looked smilingly at
Miss Harley.

"It does not seem fair for a girl to show such interest in a brother,"
she said. "Now, if it were a lover it would be all right."

"I have no lover, Mrs. Prescott," replied Helen, a slight tint of pink
appearing in her cheeks.

"It may be so," said the older woman, "but others are not like you."
Then after a pause she sighed and said: "I fear that the girls of '61
will show an unusually large crop of old maids."

She spoke half humourously of what became in reality a silent but great
tragedy, especially in the case of the South.

The war was prominent in the minds of the two women. Mrs. Prescott had
truly said that knowledge of it in Richmond was vague. Gettysburg, it
was told, was a great victory, the fruits of which the Army of Northern
Virginia, being so far from its base, was unable to reap; moreover, the
Army of the West beyond a doubt had won a great triumph at Chickamauga,
a battle almost as bloody as Gettysburg, and now the Southern forces
were merely taking a momentary rest, gaining fresh vigour for victories
greater than any that had gone before.

Nevertheless, there was a feeling of depression over Richmond. Bread was
higher, Confederate money was lower; the scarcity of all things needed
was growing; the area of Southern territory had contracted, the Northern
armies were coming nearer and nearer, and a false note sometimes rang in
the gay life of the capital.

Prescott answered the women as he best could, and, though he strove to
keep a bold temper, a tone of gloom like that which afflicted Richmond
appeared now and then in his replies. He was sorry that they should
question him so much upon these subjects. He was feeling so good, and it
was such a comfort to be there in Richmond with his own people before a
warm fire, that the army could be left to take care of itself for
awhile. Nevertheless, he understood their anxiety and permitted no show
of hesitation to appear in his voice. Miss Harley presently rose to go.
The clouds had come again and a soft snow was falling.

"I shall see you home," said Prescott. "Mother, will you lend me an
umbrella?"

Mrs. Prescott laughed softly.

"We don't have umbrellas in Richmond now!" she replied. "The Yankees
make them, not we, and they are not selling to us this year."

"Mother," said Prescott, "if the Yankees ever crush us it will be
because they make things and we don't. Their artillery, their rifles,
their ammunition, their wagons, their clothes, everything that they have
is better than ours."

"But their men are not," said Helen, proudly.

"Nevertheless, we should have learned to work with our hands," said
Prescott.

They slipped into the little garden, now bleak with winter waste. Helen
drew a red cloak about her shoulders, which Prescott thought singularly
becoming. The snow was falling gently and the frosty air deepened the
scarlet in her cheeks. The Harley house was only on the other side of
the garden and there was a path between the two. The city was now
silent. Nothing came to their ears save the ringing of a church bell.

"I suppose this does not seem much like war to you," said Helen.

"I don't know," replied Robert. "Just now I am engaged in escorting a
very valuable convoy from Fort Prescott to Fort Harley, and there may be
raiders."

"And here may come one now," she responded, indicating a horseman, who,
as he passed, looked with admiring eyes over the fence that divided the
garden from the sidewalk. He was a large man, his figure hidden in a
great black cloak and his face in a great black beard growing bushy and
unkempt up to his eyes. A sword, notable for its length, swung by his
side.

Prescott raised his hand and gave a salute which was returned in a
careless, easy way. But the rider's bold look of admiration still rested
on Helen Harley's face, and even after he had gone on he looked back to
see it.

"You know him?" asked Helen of Robert.

"Yes, I know him and so do you."

"If I know him I am not aware of it."

"That is General Wood."

Helen looked again at the big, slouching figure disappearing at the
corner. The name of Wood was famous in the Confederacy. The greatest of
all the cavalry commanders in a service that had so many, a born
military genius, he was an illiterate mountaineer, belonging to that
despised, and often justly despised, class known in the South as "poor
white trash." But the name of Wood was now famous in every home of the
revolting States. It was said that he could neither read nor write, but
his genius flamed up at the coming of war as certainly as tow blazes at
the touch of fire. Therefore, Helen looked after this singular man with
the deepest interest and curiosity.

"And that slouching, awkward figure is the great Wood!" she said.

"He is not more slouching and awkward than Jackson was."

"I did not mean to attack him," she said quickly.

She had noticed Wood's admiring glance. In fact, it brought a tint of
red to her cheeks, but she was not angry. They were now at her own door.

"I will not ask you to come in," she said, "because I know that your
mother is waiting for you."

"But you will some other time?"

"Yes, some other time."

When he returned to his own house Mrs. Prescott looked at him
inquiringly but said nothing.



CHAPTER III

THE MOSAIC CLUB


Prescott was a staff officer and a captain, bearing a report from the
Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia to the President of the
Confederacy; but having been told in advance that it was perfunctory in
its nature, and that no haste was necessary in its delivery, he waited
until the next morning before seeking the White House, as the residence
of the President was familiarly called at Richmond, in imitation of
Washington. This following of old fashions and old ways often struck
Prescott as a peculiar fact in a country that was rebelling against
them.

"If we succeed in establishing a new republic," he said to himself, "it
will be exactly like the one that we quit."

He was told at the White House that the President was then in conference
with the Secretary of War, but Mr. Sefton would see him. He had heard
often of Mr. Sefton, whose place in the Government was not clearly
defined, but of whose influence there was no doubt. He was usually known
as the Secretary. "The Secretary of what?" "The Secretary of
everything," was the reply.

Mr. Sefton received Prescott in a large dark room that looked like a
workshop. Papers covered the tables and others were lying on the floor,
indicating the office of a man who worked. The Secretary himself was
standing in the darkest corner--a thin, dark, rather small man of about
forty, one who seemed to be of a nervous temperament ruled by a strong
will.

Prescott remembered afterward that throughout the interview the
Secretary remained in the shadow and he was never once able to gain a
clear view of his face. He found soon that Mr. Sefton, a remarkable man
in all respects, habitually wore a mask, of which the mere shadow in a
room was the least part.

Prescott gave his report, and the Secretary, after reading it
attentively, said in a singularly soft voice:

"I have heard of you, Captain Prescott. I believe that you distinguished
yourself in the great charge at Gettysburg?"

"Not more than five thousand others."

"At least you came out of the charge alive, and certainly five thousand
did not do that."

Prescott looked at him suspiciously. Did he mean to cast some slur upon
his conduct? He was sorry he could not see the Secretary's face more
clearly, and he was anxious also to be gone. But the great man seemed to
have another object in view.

"I hear that there is much discontent among the soldiers," said Mr.
Sefton in a gentle, sympathetic voice. "They complain that we should
send them supplies and reinforcements, do they not?"

"I believe I have heard such things said," reluctantly admitted
Prescott.

"Then I have not been misinformed. This illustrates, Captain, the lack
of serious reflection among the soldiers. A soldier feels hungry. He
wants a beefsteak, soft bread and a pot of coffee. He does not see them
and at once he is angry. He waves his hand and says: 'Why are they not
here for me?' The Government does not own the secret of Arabian magic.
We cannot create something where nothing is."

Prescott felt the Secretary gazing at him as if he alone were to blame
for this state of affairs. Then the door opened suddenly and several men
entered. One, tall, thin and severe of countenance, the typical Southern
gentleman of the old school, Prescott recognized at once as the
President of the Confederacy. The others he inferred were members of his
Cabinet, and he rose respectfully, imitating the example of Mr. Sefton,
but he did not fail to notice that the men seemed to be disturbed.

"A messenger from General Lee, Mr. President," said Mr. Sefton, in his
smooth voice. "He repeats his request for reinforcements."

The worried look of the President increased. He ran his hand across his
brow.

"I cannot furnish them," he said. "It is no use to send any more such
requests to me. Even the conscription will not fill up our armies unless
we take the little boys from their marbles and the grandfathers from
their chimney-corners. I doubt whether it would do so then."

Mr. Sefton bowed respectfully, but added nothing to his statement.

"The price of gold has gone up another hundred points, Mr. Sefton," said
the President. "Our credit in Europe has fallen in an equal ratio and
our Secretary of State has found no way to convince foreign governments
that they are undervaluing us."

Prescott looked curiously at the Secretary of State--it was the first
time that he had ever seen him--a middle-aged man with broad features of
an Oriental cast. He it was to whom many applied the words "the brains
of the Confederacy." Now he was not disturbed by the President's evident
annoyance.

"Why blame me, Mr. President?" he said. "How long has it been since we
won a great victory? Our credit is not maintained here in Richmond nor
by our agents in Europe, but on the battlefield."

Mr. Sefton looked at Prescott as if to say: "Just as I told you."
Prescott thought it strange that they should speak so plainly before
him, a mere subordinate, but policy might be in it, he concluded on
second thought. They might desire their plain opinion to get back
informally to General Lee. There was some further talk, all of which
they seemed willing for him to hear, and then they returned to the inner
room, taking Mr. Sefton, who bade Prescott wait.

The Secretary returned in a half-hour, and taking Prescott's arm with an
appearance of great familiarity and friendliness, said:

"I shall walk part of the way with you, if you will let me, Captain
Prescott. The President asks me to say to you that you are a gallant
soldier and he appreciates your services. Therefore, he hopes that you
will greatly enjoy your leave of absence in Richmond."

Prescott flushed with pleasure. He liked a compliment and did not deem
it ignoble to show his pleasure. He was gratified, too, at the
confidence that the Secretary, a man whose influence he knew was not
exaggerated, seemed to put in him, and he thanked him sincerely.

So they walked arm in arm into the street, and those who met them raised
their hats to the powerful Secretary, and incidentally to Prescott also,
because he was with Mr. Sefton.

"If we win," said Mr. Sefton, "Richmond will become a great city--one of
the world's capitals."

"Yes--if we win," replied Prescott involuntarily.

"Why, you don't think that we shall lose, do you?" asked the Secretary
quickly.

Prescott was confused and hesitated. He regretted that he had spoken any
part of his thoughts, and felt that the admission had been drawn from
him, but now thought it better to be frank than evasive.

"Napoleon said that Providence was on the side of the heaviest
battalions," he replied, "and therefore I hope ours will increase in
weight soon."

The Secretary did not seem to be offended, leaning rather to the other
side as he commended the frankness of the young Captain's speech. Then
he began to talk to him at great length about the army, its condition,
its prospects and the spirit of the soldiers. He revealed a knowledge of
the camp that surprised Prescott and aroused in him admiration mingled
with a lingering distrust.

Mr. Sefton seemed to him different, indeed, from the average Southerner.
Very few Southern men at that time sought to conceal their feelings.
Whatever their faults they were open, but Mr. Sefton wore his mask
always. Prescott's mind went back unconsciously to the stories he had
read of the agile Italian politicians of the Middle Ages, and for a
moment paused at the doctrine of reincarnation. Then he was ashamed of
himself. He was wronging Mr. Sefton, an able man devoted to the Southern
cause--as everybody said.

They stopped just in front of Mrs. Prescott's house.

"You live here?" said the Secretary. "I know your mother. I cannot go
in, but I thank you. And Miss Harley lives in the next house. I know
her, too--a spirited and beautiful woman. Good-day, Captain Prescott; I
shall see you again before you return to the army."

He left Prescott and walked back toward the White House. The young
captain entered his own home, thinking of what he had seen and heard,
and the impression remained that he had given the Secretary full
information about the army.

Prescott received a call the next morning from his new friend Talbot.

"You are invited to a meeting of the Mosaic Club to-night at the house
of Mrs. Markham," he said.

"And what is the Mosaic Club?" asked Prescott.

"The Mosaic is a club without organization, by-laws or members!" replied
Talbot. "It's just the choice and congenial spirits of Richmond who have
got into the habit of meeting at one another's houses. They're worth
knowing, particularly Mrs. Markham, the hostess to-night. She heard of
you and told me to invite you. Didn't write you a note--stationery's too
high."

Prescott looked doubtfully at his mother.

"Why, of course you'll go," she said. "You did not come home to sit here
all the time. I would not have you do that."

Talbot called for him shortly after dusk and the two strolled together
toward the street where the Markham residence stood.

"Richmond is to be a great capital some day," said Talbot as they walked
on, "but, if I may use the simile, it's a little ragged and
out-at-elbows now."

This criticism was drawn from him by a misstep into the mud, but he
quickly regained the ill-paved sidewalk and continued his course with
unbroken cheerfulness. The night was dark, the few and widely scattered
street lamps burned dimly, and the city loomed through the dusk,
misshapen and obscure.

"Do you know," said Talbot, "I begin to believe that Richmond wouldn't
amount to much of a town in the North?"

"It would not," replied Prescott; "but we of the South are agricultural
people. Our pride is in the country rather than the towns."

A cheerful light shone from the windows of the Markham house as they
approached it. When they knocked at the door it was opened by a coloured
servant, and they passed into a large room, already full of people who
were talking and laughing as if they had known one another all their
lives. Prescott's first glimpse was of Helen Harley in a flowered silk
dress, and he felt a thrill of gladness. Then he was presented to his
hostess, Mrs. Markham, a small woman, very blonde, bright in attire and
wearing fine jewels. She was handsome, with keen features and brilliant
eyes.

"You are from General Lee's camp," she said, "and it is a Yankee bullet
that has enabled you to come here. If it were not for those Yankee
bullets we should never see our brave young officers; so it's an ill
ball that brings nobody good."

She smiled into his eyes, and her expression was one of such great
friendliness and candour that Prescott liked her at once. She held him
and Talbot a few moments longer with light talk, and then he passed on.

It was a large room, of much width and greater length, containing heavy
mahogany furniture, while the floor was carpeted in dark colours. The
whole effect would have been somber without the presence of so many
people, mostly young, and the cheerful fire in the grate glowing redly
across the shades of the carpet.

There were a half-dozen men, some in uniform and some in civilian garb,
around Helen Harley, and she showed all a young girl's keen and natural
delight in admiration and in the easy flow of talk. Both Raymond and
Winthrop were in the circle, and so was Redfield, wearing a black frock
coat of unusual length and with rings on his fingers. Prescott wondered
why such a man should be a member of this group, but at that moment some
one dropped a hand upon his shoulder and, turning, he beheld the tall
figure of Colonel Harley, Helen's brother.

"I, too, have leave of absence, Prescott," he said, "and what better
could a man do than spend it in Richmond?"

Harley was a large, fair man, undeniably handsome, but with a slight
expression of weakness about the mouth. He had earned his military
reputation and he visibly enjoyed it.

"Where could one find a more brilliant scene than this?" continued the
Colonel. "Ah, my boy, our Southern women stand supreme for beauty and
wit!"

Prescott had been present before the war, both in his own country and in
others, at occasions far larger and far more splendid; but none
impressed him like the present, with the never-failing contrast of camp
and battlefield from which he had come. There was in it, too, a singular
pathos that appealed to his inmost heart. Some of the women wore dresses
that had belonged to their mothers in their youth, the attire of the men
was often strange and variegated, and nearly half the officers present
had empty sleeves or bandaged shoulders. But no one seemed to notice
these peculiarities by eye or speech, nor was their gaiety assumed; it
was with some the gradual contempt of hardship brought about by use and
with others the temporary rebound from long depression.

"Come," said Talbot to his friend, "you must meet the celebrities.
Here's George Bagby, our choicest humourist; Trav. Daniel, artist, poet
and musician; Jim Pegram, Innes Randolph, and a lot more."

Prescott was introduced in turn to Richmond's most noted men of wit and
manners, the cream of the old South, and gradually all drew together in
one great group. They talked of many things, of almost everything except
the war, of the news from Europe, of the books that they had
read--Scott and Dickens, Thackeray and Hugo--and of the music that they
had heard, particularly the favourite arias of Italian opera.

Mrs. Markham and Miss Harley were twin stars in this group, and Prescott
could not tell which had the greater popularity. Mrs. Markham was the
more worldly and perhaps the more accomplished; but the girl was all
youthful freshness, and there was about her an air of simplicity that
the older woman lacked.

It gradually developed into a contest between them, heightened, so it
seemed to Prescott, by the fact that Colonel Harley was always by the
side of Mrs. Markham, and apparently made no effort to hide his
admiration, while his sister was seeking without avail to draw him away.
Prescott stood aside for a few moments to watch and then Raymond put his
hand on his shoulder.

"You see in Mrs. Markham a very remarkable woman--the married belle,"
said the editor. "The married belle, I understand, is an established
feature of life abroad, but she is as yet comparatively unknown in the
South. Here we put a woman on the shelf at twenty--or at eighteen if she
marries then, as she often does."

Coffee and waffles were served at ten o'clock. Two coloured women
brought in the coffee and the cups on a tray, but the ladies themselves
served it.

"I apologize for the coffee," said Mrs. Markham. "I have a suspicion
that it is more or less bean, but the Yankee blockading fleet is very
active and I dare any of you to complain."

"Served by your hand, the common or field bean becomes the finest
mocha," said Mr. Pegram, with the ornate courtesy of the old South.

"And if any one dare to intimate that it is not mocha I shall challenge
him immediately," said Winthrop.

"You will have to use a worse threat than that," said Mrs. Markham. "I
understand that at your last duel you hit a negro plowing in a cornfield
fifty yards from your antagonist."

"And scared the negro's mule half to death," added Raymond.

"But in your cause, Mrs. Markham, I couldn't miss," replied the gallant
Winthrop, not at all daunted.

The waffles were brought in hot from the kitchen and eaten with the
coffee. After the refreshments the company began to play "forfeit
essay." Two hats were handed around, all drawing a question from one hat
and a word from the other. It became the duty of every one to connect
question and word by a poem, essay, song or tale in time to be recited
at the next meeting. Then they heard the results of the last meeting.

"That's Innes Randolph standing up there in the corner and getting ready
to recite," said Talbot to Prescott. "He's one of the cleverest men in
the South and we ought to have something good. He's just drawn from one
hat the words 'Daddy Longlegs' and from the other 'What sort of shoe was
made on the last of the Mohicans?' He says he doesn't ask to wait until
the next meeting, but he'll connect them extempore. Now we'll see what
he has made out of them."

Randolph bowed to the company with mock humility, folded his hands
across his breast and recited:

    "Old Daddy Longlegs was a sinner hoary,
    And punished for his wickedness according to the story;
    Between him and the Indian shoes the likeness doth come in,
    One made a mock o' virtue and one a moccasin."

He was interrupted by the entrance of a quiet little man, modestly clad
in a civilian's suit of dark cloth.

"Mr. Sefton," said some one, and immediately there was a halt in the
talk, followed by a hush of expectation. Prescott noticed with interest
that the company looked uncomfortable. The effect that Mr. Sefton
produced upon all was precisely the same as that which he had
experienced when with the Secretary.

Mr. Sefton was not abashed. He hurried up to the hostess and said:

"I hope I am not intrusive, Mrs. Markham, but I owed you a call, and I
did not know that your little club was in session. I shall go in a few
minutes."

Mrs. Markham pressed him to stay and become one of them for the evening,
and her manner had every appearance of warmth.

"She believes he came to spy upon us," said Raymond, "and I am not sure
myself that he didn't. He knew well enough the club was meeting here
to-night."

But the Secretary quickly lulled the feelings of doubt that existed in
the minds of the members of the Mosaic Club. He yielded readily to the
invitation of Mrs. Markham and then exerted himself to please, showing a
facile grace in manner and speech that soon made him a welcome guest. He
quickly drifted to the side of Miss Harley, and talked so well from the
rich store of his experience and knowledge that her ear was more for him
than for any other.

"Is Mr. Sefton a bachelor?" asked Prescott of Winthrop.

Winthrop looked at the young Captain and laughed.

"Are you, too, hit?" Winthrop asked. "You need not flush, man; I have
proposed to her myself three times and I've been rejected as often. I
expect to repeat the unhappy experience, as I am growing somewhat used
to it now and can stand it."

"But you have not answered my question: is the Secretary married?"

"Unfortunately, he is not."

There was an adjoining room to which the men were permitted to retire
for a smoke if the spirit moved them, and when Prescott entered it for
the first time he found it already filled, General Markham himself
presiding. The General was a middle-aged man, heavy and slow of speech,
who usually found the talk of the Mosaic Club too nimble for his wits
and began his devotions to tobacco at an early hour.

"Have a cigar, Prescott," he said, holding up a box.

"That looks like a Havana label on the box," replied Prescott. "Are they
genuine?"

"They ought to be genuine Havanas," replied the General. "They cost me
five dollars apiece."

"Confederate money," added a colonel, Stormont; "and you'll be lucky if
you get 'em next year for ten dollars apiece."

Colonel Stormont's eyes followed Prescott's round the room and he
laughed.

"Yes, Captain Prescott," he said, "we are a somewhat peculiar company.
There are now fourteen men in this room, but we can muster among us only
twenty-one arms and twenty-four legs. It's a sort of general assembly,
and I suppose we ought to send out a sergeant-at-arms for the missing
members."

The Colonel touched his own empty left sleeve and added: "But, thank
God, I've got my right arm yet, and it's still at the service of the
Confederacy."

The Member of Congress, Redfield, came into the room at this moment and
lighted a pipe, remarking:

"There will be no Confederacy, Colonel, unless Lee moves out and attacks
the enemy."

He said this in a belligerent manner, his eyes half closed and his chin
thrust forward as he puffed at his pipe.

An indignant flush swept over the veteran's face.

"Is this just a case of thumbs up and thumbs down?" he asked. "Is the
Government to have a victory whenever it asks for it, merely because it
does ask for it?"

Redfield still puffed slowly and deliberately at his pipe, and did not
lower his chin a fraction from its aggravating height.

"General Lee overestimates the enemy," he said, "and has communicated
the same tendency to all his men. It's a fatal mistake in war; it's a
fatal mistake, I tell you, sir. The Yankees fight poorly."

The flush on the face of the Confederate colonel deepened. He tapped his
empty sleeve and looked around at what he called the "missing members."

"You are in Congress, Mr. Redfield," he said, "and you have not seen the
Yankees in battle. Only those who have not met them on the field say
they cannot fight."

"I warn you that I am going to speak in Congress on the inaction of Lee
and the general sloth of the military arm!" exclaimed Redfield.

"But, Mr. Redfield," said Prescott, seeking to soothe the Colonel and to
still the troubled waters, "we are outnumbered by the enemy in our front
at least two to one, we are half starved, and in addition our arms and
equipment are much inferior to those of the Yankees."

Here Redfield burst into a passion. He thought it a monstrous shame, he
said, that any subaltern should talk at will about the Southern
Government, whether its military or civil arm.

Prescott flushed deeply, but he hesitated for an answer. His was not a
hot Southern temper, nor did he wish to have a quarrel in a club at
which he was only a guest. While he sought the right words, Winthrop
spoke for him.

"I think, Mr. Redfield," said the editor, "that criticism of the
Government is wholly right and proper. Moreover, not enough of it is
done."

"You should be careful, Mr. Winthrop, how far you go," replied Redfield,
"or you may find your printing presses destroyed and yourself in
prison."

"Which would prove that instead of fighting for freedom we are fighting
for despotism. But I am not afraid," rejoined the editor. "Moreover, Mr.
Redfield, besides telling you my opinion of you here, I am also
perfectly willing to print it in my paper. I shall answer for all that I
say or write."

Raymond was sitting at a table listening, and when Winthrop finished
these words, spoken with much fire and heat, he took out a note-book and
regarded it gravely.

"Which would make, according to my entry here--if Mr. Redfield chooses
to challenge--your ninth duel for the present season," he said.

There was an equivocal smile on the face of nearly every one present as
they looked at the Member of Congress and awaited his reply. What that
would have been they never knew, because just at that moment entered
Mr. Sefton, breathing peace and good will. He had heard the last words,
but he chose to view them in a humourous light. He pooh-poohed such
folly as the rash impulses of young men. He was sure that his friend
Redfield had not meant to cast any slur upon the army, and he was
equally sure that Winthrop, whose action was right-minded were his point
of view correct, was mistaken as to the marrow of Redfield's speech.

The Secretary had a peculiarly persuasive power which quickly exerted
its influence upon Winthrop, Stormont and all the others. Winthrop was
good-natured, avowing that he had no cause of quarrel with anybody if
nobody had any with him, and Redfield showed clearly his relief. It
seemed to Prescott that the Member of Congress had gone further than he
intended.

No breath of these stormy airs was allowed to blow from the smoking-room
upon the ladies, and when Prescott presently rejoined them he found
vivacity and gaiety still prevalent. Prescott's gaze dwelt longest on
Miss Harley, who was talking to the Secretary. He noted again the look
of admiration in the eyes of Mr. Sefton, and that feeling of jealousy
which he would not have recognized had it not been for Talbot's
half-jesting words returned to him. He would not deny to himself now
that Helen Harley attracted him with singular force. There was about her
an elusive charm; perhaps it was the slight trace of foreign look and
manner that added to her Southern beauty a new and piquant grace.

Mr. Sefton was talking in smooth, liquid tones, and the others had drawn
back a little in deference to the all-powerful official, while the girl
was pleased, too. She showed it in her slightly parted lips, her vivid
eyes and the keen attention with which she listened to all that he said.

Mrs. Markham followed Prescott's look. An ironical smile trembled for a
moment on her lips. Then she said:

"The Secretary, the astute Mr. Sefton, is in love."

She watched Prescott keenly to notice the effect upon him of what she
said, but he commanded his countenance and replied with a pretense of
indifference:

"I think so, too, and I give him the credit of showing extremely good
taste."

Mrs. Markham said no more upon the subject, and presently Prescott asked
of Miss Harley the privilege of taking her home when the club adjourned,
after the universal custom among the young in Southern towns.

"My shoulder is a little lame yet, but I am sure that I shall guard you
safely through the streets if you will only let me try," he added
gallantly.

"I shall be pleased to have you go," she replied.

"I would lend you my carriage and horses," said Mrs. Markham, who stood
by, "but two of my horses were killed in front of an artillery wagon at
Antietam, another fell valourously and in like manner at Gettysburg, and
the fourth is still in service at the front. I am afraid I have none
left, but at any rate you are welcome to the carriage."

Prescott laughingly thanked her but declined. The Secretary approached
at that moment and asked Miss Harley if he might see her home.

"I have just accepted Captain Prescott's escort, but I thank you for the
honour, Mr. Sefton," she replied.

Mr. Sefton flashed Prescott a single look, a look that the young Captain
did not like; but it was gone in a moment like a streak of summer
lightning, and the Secretary was as bland and smiling as ever.

"Again do I see that we civilians cannot compete with the military," he
said.

"It was not his shoulder straps; he was quicker than you," said Mrs.
Markham with a soft laugh.

"Then I shall not be a laggard the next time," replied the Secretary in
a meaning tone.

The meeting of the club came to an end a half-hour later, but first
there was a little ceremony. The coffee was brought in for the third and
last time and all the cups were filled.

"To the cause!" said General Markham, the host. "To the cause that is
not lost!"

"To the cause that is right, the cause that is not lost," all repeated,
and they drank solemnly.

Prescott's feelings as he drank the toast were of a curiously mingled
nature. There was a mist in his eyes as he looked upon this gathering of
women and one-armed men all turning so brave a face and so bold a heart
to bad fortune. And he wished, too, that he could believe as firmly as
they in the justice of the cause. The recurring doubts troubled him. But
he drank the toast and then prepared for departure.



CHAPTER IV

THE SECRETARY MOVES


Nearly all the guests left the Markham house at the same time and stood
for a few moments in the white Greek portico, bidding one another
good-night. It seemed to Prescott that it was a sort of family parting.

The last good-by said, Robert and Helen started down the street, toward
the Harley home six or seven blocks away. Her gloved hand rested lightly
on his arm, but her face was hidden from him by a red hood. The cold
wind was still blustering mightily about the little city and she walked
close beside him.

"I cannot help thinking at this moment of your army. Which way does it
lie, Robert?" she asked.

"Off there," he replied, and he pointed northward.

"And the Northern army is there, too. And Washington itself is only two
hundred miles away It seems to me sometimes that the armies have always
been there. This war is so long. I remember I was a child when it began,
and now----"

She paused, but Prescott added:

"It began only three years ago."

"A long three years. Sometimes when I look toward the North, where
Washington lies, I begin to wonder about Lincoln. I hear bad things
spoken of him here, and then there are others who say he is not bad."

"The 'others' are right, I think."

"I am glad to hear you say so. I feel sorry for him, such a lonely man
and so unhappy, they say. I wish I knew all the wrong and right of this
cruel struggle."

"It would take the wisdom of the angels for that."

They walked on a little farther in silence, passing now near the
Capitol and its surrounding group of structures.

"What are they doing these days up there on Shockoe?" asked Prescott.

"Congress is in session and meets again in the morning, but I imagine it
can do little. Our fate rests with the armies and the President."

A deep mellow note sounded from the hill and swelled far over the city.
In the dead silence of the night it penetrated like a cannon shot, and
the echo seemed to Prescott to come back from the far forest and the
hills beyond the James. It was quickly followed by another and then
others until all Richmond was filled with the sound.

Prescott felt the hand upon his arm clasp him in nervous alarm.

"What does that noise mean?" he cried.

"It's the Bell Tower!" she cried, pointing to a dark spire-like
structure on Shockoe Hill in the Capitol Square.

"The Bell Tower!"

"Yes; the alarm! The bell was to be rung there when the Yankees came!
Don't you hear it? They have come! They have come!"

The tramp of swift feet increased and grew nearer, there was a hum, a
murmur and then a tumult in the streets; shouts of men, the orders of
officers and galloping hoof-beats mingled; metal clanked against metal;
cannon rumbled and their heavy iron wheels dashed sparks of fire from
the stones as they rushed onward. There was a noise of shutters thrown
back and lights appeared at innumerable windows. High feminine voices
shouted to each other unanswered questions. The tumult swelled to a
roar, and over it all thundered the great bell, its echo coming back in
regular vibrations from the hills and the farther shore of the river.

After the first alarm Helen was quiet and self-contained. She had lived
three years amid war and its tumults, and what she saw now was no more
than she had trained herself to expect.

Prescott drew her farther back upon the sidewalk, out of the way of the
cannon and the galloping cavalry, and he, too, waited quietly to see
what would happen.

The garrison, except those posted in the defenses, gathered about
Capitol Square, and women and children, roused from their beds, began to
throng into the streets. The whole city was now awake and alight, and
the cries of "The Yankees! The Yankees!" increased, but Prescott,
hardened to alarms and to using his eyes, saw no Yankees. The sound of
scattered rifle shots came from a point far to the eastward, and he
listened for the report of artillery, but there was none.

As they stood waiting and listening, Sefton and Redfield, who had been
walking home together, joined them. The Secretary was keen, watchful and
self-contained, but the Member of Congress was red, wrathful and
excited.

"See what your General and your army have brought upon us," he cried,
seizing Prescott by the arm. "While Lee and his men are asleep, the
Yankees have passed around them and seized Richmond."

"Take your hand off my arm, if you please, Mr. Redfield," said Prescott
with quiet firmness, and the other involuntarily obeyed.

"Now, sir," continued Robert, "I have not seen any Yankees, nor have
you, nor do I believe there is a Yankee force of sufficient size to be
alarming on this side of the Rapidan."

"Don't you hear the bell?"

"Yes, I hear the bell; but General Lee is not asleep nor are his men. If
they had the habit of which you accuse them the Yankee army would have
been in this city long ago."

Helen's hand was still lying on Prescott's arm and he felt a grateful
pressure as he spoke. A thrill of delight shot through him. It was a
pleasure to him to defend his beloved General anywhere, but above all
before her.

The forces of cavalry, infantry and artillery increased and were formed
about Capitol Square. The tumult decreased, the cries of the women and
children sank. Order reigned, but everywhere there was expectation.
Everybody, too, gazed toward the east whence the sound of the shots had
come. But the noise there died and presently the great bell ceased to
ring.

"I believe you are right, Captain Prescott," said the Secretary; "I do
not see any Yankees and I do not believe any have come."

But the Member of Congress would not be convinced, and recovering his
spirit, he criticized the army again. Prescott scorned to answer, nor
did Helen or the Secretary speak. Soon a messenger galloped down the
street and told the cause of the alarm. Some daring Yankee cavalrymen, a
band of skirmishers or scouts, fifty or a hundred perhaps, coming by a
devious way, had approached the outer defenses and fired a few shots at
long range. The garrison replied, and then the reckless Yankees galloped
away before they could be caught.

"Very inconsiderate of them," said the Secretary, "disturbing honest
people on a peaceful night like this. Why, it must be at least half-past
two in the morning."

"You will observe, Mr. Redfield," said Prescott, "that the Yankee army
has not got past General Lee, and the city will not belong to the
Yankees before daylight."

"Not a single Yankee soldier ought to be able to come so near to
Richmond," said the Member of Congress.

"Why, this only gives us a little healthy excitement, Mr. Redfield,"
said the Secretary, smoothly; "stirs our blood, so to speak, and teaches
us to be watchful. We really owe those cavalrymen a vote of thanks."

Then putting his hand on Redfield's arm, he drew him away, first bidding
Prescott and Miss Harley a courteous good-night.

A few more steps and they were at Helen's home. Mr. Harley himself, a
tall, white-haired man, with a self-indulgent face singularly like his
son Vincent's, answered the knock, shielding from the wind with one
hand the flame of a fluttering candle held in the other.

He peered into the darkness, and Prescott thought that he perceived a
slight look of disappointment on his face when he saw who had escorted
his daughter home.

"He wishes it had been the Secretary," thought Robert.

"I was apprehensive about you for awhile, Helen," he said, "when I heard
the bell ringing the alarm. It was reported that the Yankees had come."

"They are not here yet," said Prescott, "and we believe it is still a
long road to Richmond."

As he bade Helen good-night at the door, she urged him not to neglect
her while he was in the capital, and her father repeated the invitation
with less warmth. Then the two disappeared within, the door was shut and
Robert turned back into the darkness and the cold.

His own house was within sight, but he had made his mother promise not
to wait for him, and he hoped she was already asleep. Never had he been
more wide awake, and knowing that he should seek sleep in vain, he
strolled down the street, looking about at the dim and silent city.

He gazed up at the dark shaft of the tower whence the bell had rung its
warning, at the dusky mass of the Capitol, at the spire of St. Paul's,
and then down at a flickering figure passing rapidly on the other side
of the street. Robert's eyes were keen, and a soldier's life had
accustomed him to their use in the darkness. He caught only a glimpse of
it, but was sure the figure was that of the Secretary.

Though wondering what an official high in the Government was about
flitting through Richmond at such an hour, he remembered philosophically
that it was none of his business. Soon another man appeared, tall and
bony, his face almost hidden by a thick black beard faintly touched with
silver in the light of the moon. But this person was not shifty nor
evasive. He stalked boldly along, and his heavy footsteps gave back a
hard metallic ring as the iron-plated heels of his boots came heavily
in contact with the bricks of the sidewalk.

Prescott knew the second figure, too. It was Wood, the great cavalryman,
the fierce, dark mountaineer, and, wishing for company, Robert followed
the General, whom he knew well. Wood turned at the sound of his
footsteps and welcomed him.

"I don't like this town nor its folks," he said in his mountain dialect,
"and I ain't goin' to stay long. They ain't my kind of people, Bob."

"Give 'em a chance, General; they are doing their best."

"What the Gov'ment ought to do," said the mountaineer moodily, "is to
get up ev'ry man there is in the country and then hit hard at the enemy
and keep on hittin' until there ain't a breath left in him. But
sometimes it seems to me that it's the business of gov'ments in war to
keep their armies from winnin'!"

They were joined at the corner by Talbot, according to his wont brimming
over with high spirits, and Prescott, on the General's account, was glad
they had met him. He, if anybody, could communicate good spirits.

"General," said the sanguine Talbot, "you must make the most of the
time. The Yankees may not give us another chance. Across yonder, where
you see that dim light trying to shine through the dirty window,
Winthrop is printing his paper, which comes out this morning. As he is a
critic of the Government, I suggest that we go over and see the task
well done."

The proposition suited Wood's mood, and Prescott's, too, so they took
their way without further words toward Winthrop's office, on the second
floor of a rusty two-story frame building. Talbot led them up a shabby
staircase just broad enough for one, between walls from which the crude
plastering had dropped in spots.

"Why are newspaper offices always so shabby," he asked. "I was in New
York once, where there are rich papers, but they were just the same."

The flight of steps led directly into the editorial room, where
Winthrop sat in his shirt sleeves at a little table, writing. Raymond,
at another, was similarly clad and similarly engaged. A huge stove
standing in the corner, and fed with billets of wood, threw out a
grateful heat. Sitting around it in a semi-circle were four or five men,
including the one-armed Colonel Stormont and another man in uniform. All
were busy reading the newspaper exchanges.

Winthrop waved his hand to the new visitors.

"Be all through in fifteen minutes," he said. "Sit down by the stove.
Maybe you'd like to read this; its Rhett's paper."

He tossed them a newspaper and went on with his writing. The three found
seats on cane-bottomed chairs or boxes and joined the group around the
stove.

Prescott glanced a moment at the newspaper which Winthrop had thrown to
them. It was a copy of the Charleston _Mercury_, conducted by the famous
secessionist Rhett, then a member of the Confederate Senate, and edited
meanwhile by his son. It breathed much fire and brimstone, and called
insistently for a quick defeat of the insolent North. He passed it on to
his friends and then looked with more interest at the office and the men
about him. Everything was shabby to the last degree. Old newspapers and
scraps of manuscript littered the floor, cockroaches crawled over the
desks, on the walls were double-page illustrations from _Harper's
Weekly_ and _Leslie's Weekly_, depicting battle scenes in which the
frightened Southern soldiers were fleeing like sheep before the valiant
sons of the North.

"It's all the same, Prescott," said Talbot. "We haven't any illustrated
papers, but if we had they'd show the whole Yankee army running fit to
break its neck from a single Southern regiment."

General Wood, too, looked about with keen eyes, as if uncertain what to
do, but his hesitation did not last long. A piece of pine wood lay near
him, and picking it up he drew from under his belt a great keen-bladed
bowie-knife, with which he began to whittle long slender shavings that
curled beautifully; then a seraphic smile of content spread over his
face.

Those who were not reading drifted into a discussion on politics and the
war. The rumble of a press just starting to work came from the next
room. Winthrop and Raymond wrote on undisturbed. The General, still
whittling his pine stick, began to stare curiously at them. At last he
said:

"Wa'al, if this ain't a harder trade than fightin', I'll be darned!"

Several smiled, but none replied to the General's comment. Raymond
presently finished his article, threw it to an ink-blackened galley-boy
and came over to the stove.

"You probably wonder what I am doing here in the enemy's camp," he said.
"The office of every newspaper but my own is the camp of an enemy, but
Winthrop asked me to help him out to-night with some pretty severe
criticism of the Government. As he's responsible and I'm not, I've
pitched into the President, Cabinet and Congress of the Confederate
States of America at a great rate. I don't know what will happen to him,
because while we are fighting for freedom here we are not fighting for
the freedom of the press. We Southerners like to put in some heavy licks
for freedom and then get something else. Maybe we're kin to the old
Puritans."

They heard a light step on the stair, and the two editors looked up
expecting to see some one of the ordinary chance visitors to a newspaper
office. Instead it was the Secretary, Mr. Sefton, a conciliatory smile
on his face and a hand outstretched ready for the customary shake.

"You are surprised to see me, Mr. Winthrop," he said, "but I trust that
I am none the less welcome. I am glad, too, to find so many good men
whom I know and some of whom I have met before on this very evening.
Good-evening to you all, gentlemen."

He bowed to every one. Winthrop looked doubtfully at him as if trying to
guess his business.

"Anything private, Mr. Sefton?" he said "If so we can step into the next
room."

"Not at all! Not at all!" replied the Secretary, spreading out his
fingers in negative style. "There is nothing that your friends need not
hear, not even our great cavalry leader, General Wood. I was passing
after a late errand, and seeing your light it occurred to me that I
might come up to you and speak of some strange gossip that I have been
hearing in Richmond."

All now listened with the keenest interest. They saw that the wily
Secretary had not come on any vague errand at that hour of the morning.

"And may I ask what is the gossip?" said Winthrop with a trace of
defiance in his tone.

"It was only a trifle," replied the Secretary blandly; "but a friend may
serve a friend even in the matter of a trifle."

He paused and looked smilingly around the expectant circle. Winthrop
made an impatient movement. He was by nature one of the most humane and
generous of men, but fiery and touchy to the last degree.

"It was merely this," continued the Secretary, "and I really apologize
for speaking of it at all, as it is scarcely any business of mine, but
they say that you are going to print a fierce attack on the Government."

"What then?" asked Winthrop, with increasing defiance.

"I would suggest to you, if you will pardon the liberty, that you
refrain. The Government, of which I am but a humble official, is
sensitive, and it is, too, a critical time. Just now the Government
needs all the support and confidence that it can possibly get. If you
impair the public faith in us how can we accomplish anything?"

"But the newspapers of the North have entire freedom of criticism,"
burst out Winthrop. "We say that the North is not a free country and the
South is. Are we to belie those words?"

"I think you miss the point," replied the Secretary, still speaking
suavely. "The Government does not wish to repress the freedom of the
press nor of any individual, nor in fact have I had any such matter in
mind in giving you this intimation. I think that if you do as I hear you
purpose to do, some rather extreme men will be disposed to make you
trouble. Now there's Redfield."

"The trouble with Redfield," broke in Raymond, "is that he wants all the
twenty-four hours of every day for his own talking."

"True! true in a sense," said the Secretary, "but he is a member of the
House Committee on Military Affairs and is an influential man."

"I thank you, Mr. Secretary," said Winthrop, "but the article is already
written."

A shade crossed the face of Mr. Sefton.

"And as you heard," continued Winthrop, "it attacks the Government with
as much vigour as I am capable of putting into it. Here is the paper
now; you can read for yourself what I have written."

The galley-boy had come in with a half-dozen papers still wet from the
press. Winthrop handed one to the Secretary, indicated the editorial and
waited while Sefton read it.

The Secretary, after the perusal, put down the paper and spoke gently as
if he were chiding a child: "I am sorry this is published, Mr.
Winthrop," he said. "It can only stir up trouble. Will you permit me to
say that I think it indiscreet?"

"Oh, certainly," replied Winthrop. "You are entitled to your opinion,
and by the same token so am I."

"I don't think our Government will like this," said Mr. Sefton. He
tapped the newspaper as he spoke.

"I should think it would not," replied Winthrop with an ironical laugh.
"At least, it was not intended that way. But does our Government expect
to make itself an oligarchy or despotism? If that is so, I should like
to know what we are fighting for?"

Mr. Sefton left these questions unanswered, but continued to express
sorrow over the incident. He did not mean to interfere, he said; he had
come with the best purpose in the world. He thought that at this stage
of the war all influences ought to combine for the public good, and
also he did not wish his young friends to suffer any personal
inconvenience. Then bowing, he went out, but he took with him a copy of
the paper.

"That visit, Winthrop, was meant for a threat, and nothing else," said
Raymond, when he was sure the Secretary was safely in the street.

"No doubt of it," said Winthrop, "but I don't take back a word."

They speculated on the result, until General Wood, putting up his knife
and throwing down his pine stick, drew an old pack of cards from an
inside pocket of his coat.

"Let's play poker a little while," he said. "It'll make us think of
somethin' else and steady our nerves. Besides, it's mighty good trainin'
for a soldier. Poker's just like war--half the cards you've got, an'
half bluff. Lee and Jackson are such mighty good gen'rals 'cause they
always make the other fellow think they've got twice as many soldiers as
they really have."

Raymond, an inveterate gambler, at once acceded to the proposition;
Winthrop and one of the soldiers did likewise, and they sat down to
play. The others looked on.

"Shall we make the limit ten cents in coin or ten dollars Confederate
money?" asked Winthrop.

"Better make it ten dollars Confederate; we don't want to risk too
much," replied Raymond.

Soon they were deep in the mysteries and fascinations of the game. Wood
proved himself a consummate player, a master of "raise" and "bluff," but
for awhile the luck ran against him, and he made this brief comment:

"Things always run in streaks; don't matter whether it's politics, love,
farmin' or war. They don't travel alone. At Antietam nearly half the
Yankee soldiers we killed were red-headed. Fact, sure; but at
Chancellorsville I never saw a single dead Yankee with a red head."

The luck turned by and by toward the General, but Prescott thought it
was time for him to be seeking home and he bade good-night. Colonel
Stormont accompanied him as he went down the rickety stairs.

"Colonel," asked Prescott, as they reached the street, "who, in reality,
is Mr. Sefton?"

"That is more than any of us can tell," replied the Colonel; "nominally
he is at the head of a department in the Treasury, but he has acquired a
great influence in the Cabinet--he is so deft at the despatch of
business--and he is at the White House as much as he is anywhere. He is
not a man whom we can ignore."

Prescott was of that opinion, too, and when he got into his bed, not
long before the break of day, he was still thinking of the bland
Secretary.



CHAPTER V

AN ELUSIVE FACE


Walking abroad at noontime next day, Prescott saw Helen Harley coming
toward Capitol Square, stepping lightly through the snow, a type of
youthful freshness and vigour. The red hood was again over her head, and
a long dark cloak, the hem of it almost touching the snow fallen the
night before, enclosed her figure.

"Good-morning, Mr. Soldier," she said cheerily; "I hope that your
dissipations at the Mosaic Club have not retarded the recovery of your
injured shoulder."

Prescott smiled.

"I think not," he replied. "In fact, I've almost forgotten that I have a
shoulder."

"Now, I can guess where you are going," she said.

"Try and see."

"You are on your way to the Capitol to hear Mr. Redfield reply to that
attack of Mr. Winthrop's, and I'm going there, too."

So they walked together up the hill, pausing a moment by the great
Washington monument and its surrounding groups of statuary where Mr.
Davis had taken the oath of office two years before, and Mr. Sefton, who
saw them from an upper window of that building, smiled sourly.

The doors of the Capitol were wide open, as they always stood during the
sessions of Congress, and Robert and Helen passed into the rotunda,
pausing a moment by the Houdon Washington, and then went up the steps to
the second floor, where they entered the Senate Chamber, now used by the
Confederate House of Representatives. The tones of a loud and tireless
voice reached them; Mr. Redfield was already on his feet.

The honourable member from the Gulf Coast had risen on a question of
personal privilege. Then he required the clerk of the House to read the
offending editorial from Winthrop's newspaper, during which he stood
haughtily erect, his feet rather wide apart, his arms folded indignantly
across his breast, and a look of righteous wrath on his face. When the
clerk finished, he spat plentifully in a spittoon at his feet, cleared
his throat, and let loose the flood of rhetoric which was threatening
already to burst over the dam.

The blow aimed by that villainous writer, the honourable gentleman said,
was struck at him. He was a member of the Committee on Military Affairs,
and he must reply ere the foul stain was permitted to tarnish his name.
He came from a sunny land where all the women were beautiful and all the
men brave, and he would rather die a thousand deaths than permit any
obscure ink-slinger to impeach his fair fame. He carried the honour of
his country in his heart; he would sooner die a thousand deaths than to
permit--to permit---

He paused, and waved his hand as he sought for a metaphor sufficiently
strong-winged.

"Wait a minute, Mr. Redfield, and I'll help you down," dryly said a
thin-faced member from the Valley of Virginia.

The sound of subdued laughter arose and the Speaker rapped for order.
Mr. Redfield glared at the irreverent member from the Valley of
Virginia, then resumed his interrupted flight. Unfortunately for him the
spell was broken. Some of the members began to talk in low whispers and
others to read documents. Besides the murmur of voices there was a sound
of scraping feet. But the honourable member from the sunny shores of the
Gulf helped himself down, though somewhat angrily, and choosing a tamer
course began to come nearer to the point. He called for the suppression
of the offending newspaper and the expulsion of its editor from the
city. He spoke of Winthrop by name and denounced him. Robert saw Mr.
Sefton appear upon the floor and once nod his head approvingly as Mr.
Redfield spoke.

The House now paid more heed, but the dry member from the Valley of
Virginia, in reply to Mr. Redfield, called the attention of the members
to the fact that they could not suppress the newspapers. They might deny
its representatives the privileges of the House, but they could go no
further. He was opposed to spreading the thing to so great an extent, as
it would be sure to reach the North and would be a standing
advertisement to the Yankees that the South was divided against itself.

Then a motion was made to deny the privileges of the House to Winthrop,
or any representative of his paper, but it was defeated by a narrow
margin.

"That, I think," said Robert, "will be the end of this affair."

"I am glad of it," responded Helen, "because I like Mr. Winthrop."

"And, therefore, you believe everything he says is correct?"

"Yes; why not?"

"Women have more personal loyalty than men," said Robert, not replying
directly. "Shall we go now?" he asked a moment later; "I think we have
heard all of interest."

"No, I must stay a little," she replied with some embarrassment. "The
fact is--I am--waiting to see Mr. Sefton."

"To see Mr. Sefton!" Prescott could not refrain from exclaiming in his
surprise.

She looked at him with an air half defiance, half appeal.

"Yes," she said, "and my business is of considerable importance to me.
You don't think that a mere woman can have any business of weight with
so influential a personage as Mr. Sefton. You Southern men, with all
your courtesy and chivalry, really undervalue us, and therefore you are
not gallant at all."

Her defiant look and manner told Prescott that she did not wish him to
know the nature of her business, so he made a light answer, asking her
if she were about to undertake the affairs of the Government. He had no
doubt some would be glad to get rid of them.

He excused himself presently and strolled into the rotunda, where he
gazed absently at the Washington statue and the Lafayette bust, although
he saw neither. Conscious of a feeling of jealousy, he began to wish ill
to the clever Secretary. "What business can she have with a man like
Sefton?" he said to himself.

Passing out of the rotunda, he walked slowly down the steps, and looking
back saw Helen and Mr. Sefton in close and earnest conversation. Then he
went on faster with increased ill temper.

"I have a piece of news for you," said Mrs. Prescott the next morning to
her son at the breakfast table.

He looked at her with inquiring interest.

"Helen Harley has gone to work," she said.

"Gone to work! Mother, what do you mean?"

"The heiress of seven generations must work like a common Northern
mill-hand to support that pompous old father of hers, the heir of six
Virginia generations, who certainly would not work under any
circumstances to support his daughter."

"Won't you explain yourself more clearly, mother?"

"It's this. The Harleys are ruined by the war. The Colonel is absorbed
in his career and spends all his salary on himself. The old gentleman
doesn't know anything about his financial affairs and doesn't want to;
it's beneath his dignity. Helen, who does know about them, is now
earning the bread for her father and herself. Think of a Southern girl
of the oldest blood doing such a thing! It is very low and degrading,
isn't it?"

She looked at him covertly. A sudden thought occurred to him.

"No, mother," he replied. "It is not low and degrading. You think just
the contrary, and so do I. Where has Helen gone to work?"

"In the Treasury Department, under Mr. Sefton. She is copying documents
there."

Robert felt a sudden relief and then alarm that she should owe so much
to Sefton.

"I understand that Harley senior stormed and threatened for awhile,"
continued his mother. "He said no female member of his family had ever
worked before, and he might have added, few male members either. He said
his family would be disgraced forever by the introduction of such a low
Yankee innovation; but Helen stood firm, and, moreover, she was urged by
the hand of necessity. I understand that she has quite a good place and
her salary is to be paid in gold. She will pass here every day at noon,
coming home for her luncheon."

Prescott spent most of the morning at home, the remainder with his new
friends, wandering about the city; but just before noon he was in front
of the Custom House, waiting by the door through which Helen must come.
She appeared promptly at the stroke of twelve and seemed surprised to
see him there.

"I came merely to tell you how much I admire your resolution," he said.
"I think you are doing a noble thing."

The colour in her cheeks deepened a little. He knew he had pleased her.

"It required no great amount of courage," she replied, "for the work is
not hard and Mr. Sefton is very kind. And, aside from the money I am
happier here. Did you never think how hard it was for women to sit with
their hands folded, waiting for this war to end?"

"I have thought of it more than once," he replied.

"Now I feel that I am a part of the nation," she continued, "not a mere
woman who does not count. I am working with the others for our success."

Her eyes sparkled like the eyes of one who has taken a tonic, and she
looked about her defiantly as if she would be ready with a fitting reply
to any who might dare to criticize her.

Prescott liked best in her this quality of independence and
self-reliance, and perhaps her possession of it imparted to her that
slight foreign air which he so often noticed. He thought the
civilization of the South somewhat debilitating, so far as women were
concerned. It wished to divide the population into just two
classes--women of beautiful meekness and men of heroic courage.

Helen had broken down an old convention, having made an attempt that few
women of her class and period would have dared, and at a time, too, when
she might have been fearful of the results. She was joyous as if a
burden had been lifted. Prescott rarely had seen her in such spirits.
She, who was usually calm and grave, seemed to have forgotten the war.
She laughed and jested and saw good humour in everything.

Prescott could not avoid catching the infection from the woman whom he
most admired. The atmosphere--the very air--took on an unusual
brilliancy. The brick walls and the shingled roofs glittered in the
crisp, wintry sunshine; the schoolboys, caps over their ears and mittens
on their fingers, played and shouted in the streets just as if peace
reigned and the cannon were not rumbling onward over there beyond the
trees.

"Isn't this world beautiful at times?" said Helen.

"It is," replied Robert, "and it seems all the more strange to me that
we should profane it by war. But here comes Mrs. Markham. Let us see how
she will greet you."

Mrs. Markham was in a sort of basket cart drawn by an Accomack pony, one
of those ugly but stout little horses which do much service in Virginia
and she was her own driver, her firm white wrists showing above her
gloves as she held the reins. She checked her speed at sight of Robert
and Helen and stopped abreast of them.

"I was not deceiving you the other night, Captain Prescott," she said,
after a cheerful good-afternoon "when I told you that all my carriage
horses had been confiscated. Ben Butler, here--I call him Ben Butler
because he is low-born and has no manners--arrived only last night,
bought for me by my husband with a whole wheelbarrowful of Confederate
bills: is it not curious how we, who have such confidence in our
Government, will not trust its money."

She flicked Ben Butler with her whip, and the pony reared and tried to
bolt, but presently she reduced him to subjection.

"Did I not tell you that he had no manners," she said. "Oh, how I wish I
had the real Ben Butler under my hand, too! I've heard what you've done,
Helen. But, tell me, is it really true? Have you actually gone to
work--as a clerk in an office, like a low-born Northern woman?"

The colour in Helen's cheeks deepened and Robert saw the faintest quiver
of her lower lip.

"It is true," she replied. "I am a secretary in Mr. Sefton's office and
I get fifteen dollars a week."

"Confederate money?"

"No, in gold."

"What do you do it for?"

"For the money. I need it."

Mrs. Markham flicked the pony's mane again and once more he reared, but,
as before, the strong hand restrained him.

"What you are doing is right, Helen," she said. "Though a Southern
woman, I find our Southern conventions weigh heavily upon me: but," she
added quizzically, "of course, you understand that we can't know you
socially now."

"I understand," said Helen, "and I don't ask it."

Her lips were pressed together with an air of defiance and there was a
sparkle in her eyes.

Mrs. Markham laughed long and joyously.

"Why, you little goose," she said, "I believe you actually thought I was
in earnest. Don't you know that we of the Mosaic Club and its circle
represent the more advanced and liberal spirit of Richmond--if I do say
it myself--and we shall stand by you to the utmost. I suspect that if
you were barred, others would choose the same bars for themselves. Would
they not, Captain Prescott?"

"I certainly should consider myself included in the list," replied the
young man sturdily.

"And doubtless you would have much company," resumed she. "And now I
must be going. Ben Butler is growing impatient. He is not accustomed to
good society, and I must humour him or he will make a scene."

She spoke to the horse and they dashed down the street.

"A remarkable woman," said Prescott.

"Yes; and just now I feel very grateful to her," said Helen.

They met others, but not all were so frank and cordial as Mrs. Markham.
There was a distinct chilliness in the manners of one, while a second
had a patronizing air which was equally offensive. Helen's high spirits
were dashed a little, but Robert strove to raise them again. He saw only
the humourous features of such a course on the part of those whom they
had encountered, and he exerted himself to ridicule it with such good
effect that she laughed again, and her happy mood was fully restored
when she reached her own gate.

The next was a festal day in Richmond, which, though always threatened
by fire and steel, was not without its times of joyousness. The famous
Kentucky raider, Gen. John H. Morgan, had come to town, and all that was
best in the capital, both military and civil, would give him welcome and
do him honour.

The hum and bustle of a crowd rose early in the streets, and Prescott,
with all the spirits of youth, eager to see and hear everything of
moment, was already with his friends, Talbot, Raymond and Winthrop.

"Richmond knows how to sing and dance even if the Yankee army is drawing
near. Who's afraid!" said Winthrop.

"I have declined an honour," said Raymond. "I might have gone in one of
the carriages in the procession, but I would rather be here on the
sidewalk with you. A man can never see much of a show if he is part of
it."

It was a winter's day, but Richmond was gay, nevertheless. The heavens
opened in fold on fold of golden sunshine, and a bird of winter, rising
above the city, poured out a flood of song. The boys had a holiday and
they were shouting in the streets. Officers in their best uniforms rode
by, and women, bringing treasured dresses of silk or satin from old
chests, appeared now in gay and warm colours. The love of festivity,
which war itself could not crush, came forth, and these people, all of
whom knew one another, began to laugh and jest and to see the brighter
side of life.

"Come toward the hotel," said Talbot to his friends; "Morgan and some of
the great men of Kentucky who are with him have been there all night.
That's where the procession starts."

Nothing loath, they followed him, and stayed about the hotel, talking
with acquaintances and exchanging the news of the morning. Meanwhile the
brilliant day deepened and at noon the time for the festivities to begin
was at hand.

The redoubtable cavalry leader, whose fame was rivaling that of Stuart
and Wood, came forth from the hotel, his friends about him, and the
grand procession through the streets was formed. First went the Armory
Band, playing its most gallant tunes, and after that the city Battalion
in its brightest uniform. In the first carriage sat General Morgan and
Mayor Joseph Mayo of Richmond, side by side, and behind them in
carriages and on horseback rode a brilliant company; famous Confederate
Generals like J. E. B. Stuart, Edward Johnson, A. P. Hill and others,
Hawes, the so-called Confederate Governor of Kentucky, and many more.

Virginia was doing honour to Kentucky in the person of the latter's
gallant son, John H. Morgan, and the crowd flamed into enthusiasm.
Tumultuous applause arose. These were great men to the people. Their
names were known in every household, and they resounded now, shouted by
many voices in the crisp, wintry air. The carriages moved briskly along,
the horses reared with their riders in brilliant uniforms, and their
steel-shod hoofs struck sparks from the stones of the streets. Ahead of
all, the band played dance music, and the brass of horn and trumpet
flashed back the golden gleam of the sun. The great dark-haired and
dark-eyed cavalryman, the centre and object of so much applause and
enthusiasm, smiled with pleasure, and bowed to right and left like a
Roman Caesar at his triumph.

The joy and enthusiasm of the crowd increased and the applause swelled
into rumbling thunder. Richmond, so long depressed and gloomy, sprang up
with a bound. Why cry when it was so much better to laugh! The flash of
uniforms was in the eyes of all, and the note of triumphant music in
every ear. What were the Yankees, anyway, but a leaderless horde? They
could never triumph over such men as these, Morgan, Stuart, Wood,
Harley, Hill, not to mention the peerless chief of them all, Lee, out
there, always watching.

The low thunder of a cannon came faintly from the north, but there were
few who heard it.

The enthusiasm of the crowd for Morgan spread to everybody, and mighty
cheers were given in turn for all the Generals and the Mayor. The
rebound was complete. The whole people, for the time being, looked
forward to triumph, thorough and magnificent. The nearer the Yankees
came to Richmond the greater would be their defeat and rout. High
spirits were contagious and ran through the crowd like a fire in dry
grass.

"Hurrah!" cried Talbot, clapping his hand heavily upon Prescott's
shoulder. "This is the spirit that wins! We'll drive the Yankees into
the Potomac now!"

"I've never heard that battles were won by shouting and the music of
bands," replied Prescott dryly. "How many of these people who are making
so much noise have anything whatever to do with the war?"

"That's your Puritan mind, old Gloomy Face," replied Talbot. "Nothing
was ever won by being too solemn."

"And we mustn't hold too cheaply the enthusiasm of a crowd--even a crowd
that is influenced merely by the emotion of the moment," said Raymond.
"It is a force which, aimless in itself, may be controlled for good uses
by others. Ha, look at Harley, there! Well done!"

Helen's brother was riding an unusually spirited horse that reared and
curveted every time the band put forth an unusual effort. The Colonel
himself was in gorgeous attire, wearing a brand new uniform with much
gold lace, very large epaulets on his shoulders and a splendid silken
sash around his waist. A great cavalry saber hung at his side. He was a
resplendent figure and he drew much applause from the boys and the
younger women. His eyes shone with pleasure, and he allowed his horse to
curvet freely.

A little girl, perhaps pressed too much by the unconscious crowd or
perhaps driven on by her own enthusiasm, fell directly in front of the
rearing horse of Harley. It was too late for him to stop, and a cry of
alarm arose from the crowd, who expected to see the iron-shod hoofs beat
the child's body into the pavement, but Harley instantly struck his
horse a mighty blow and the animal sprang far over the child, leaving
her untouched.

The applause was thunderous, and Harley bowed and bowed, lifting his
plumed hat again and again to the admiring multitude, while sitting his
still-rearing horse with an ease and grace that was beyond criticism.

"The man's whole character was expressed in that act," said Raymond with
conviction; "vain to the last degree, as fond of display and colours as
a child, unconsciously selfish, but in the presence of physical danger
quick, resourceful, and as brave as Alexander. What queer mixtures we
are!"

Mr. Harley was in one of the carriages of the procession and his eyes
glittered with pleasure and pride when he witnessed the act of his son.
Moreover, in his parental capacity he appropriated part of the credit
and also took off his hat and bowed.

The procession advanced along Main Street toward the south porch of the
City Hall, where General Morgan was to be presented formally to the
people, and the cheers never ceased for a moment. Talbot and the two
editors talked continually about the scene before them, even the minds
of the two professional critics becoming influenced by the unbounded
enthusiasm; but Prescott paid only a vague attention, his mind having
been drawn away by something else.

The young Captain saw in the throng a woman who seemed to him somewhat
different from those around her. She was not cheering nor clapping her
hands--merely floating with the stream. She was very tall and walked
with a strong and graceful step, but was wrapped to her cheeks in a long
brown cloak; only a pair of wonderfully keen eyes, which once met the
glance of his, rose above its folds. Her look rested on him a moment and
held him with a kind of secret power, then her eyes passed on; but it
seemed to him that under a show of indifference she was examining
everything with minute scrutiny.

It was the lady of the brown cloak, his silent companion of the train,
and Prescott burned with curiosity at this unexpected meeting. He
watched her for some time and he could make nothing of her. She spoke to
no one, but kept her place among the people, unnoticed but noticing. He
was recalled to himself presently by Talbot's demand to know why he
stared so much at the crowd and not at the show itself.

Then he turned his attention away from the woman to the procession, but
he resolved not to lose sight of her entirely.

At the south porch of the City Hall General Morgan was introduced with
great ceremony to the inhabitants of the Confederate capital, who had
long heard of his gallant deeds.

After the cheering subsided, the General, a handsome man of thirty-six
or seven, made a speech. The Southern people dearly love a speech, and
they gave him close attention, especially as he was sanguine, predicting
great victories. Little he dreamed that his career was then close to its
bloody end, and that the brilliant Stuart, standing so near, would be
claimed even sooner; that Hill, over there, and others beside him, would
never see the close of the war. There was no note of all this in the air
now, and no note of it in Morgan's speech. Young blood and lively hope
spoke in him, and the bubbling spirits of the crowd responded.

Prescott and his comrades stood beside the porch, listening to the
address and the cheers, and Prescott's attention was claimed again by
the strange woman in the throng. She was standing directly in front of
the speaker, though all but her face was hidden by those around her. He
saw the same keen eyes under long lashes studying the generals on the
porch. "I'm going to speak to that woman," resolved Prescott. "Boys," he
said to his comrades, "I've just caught the eye of an old friend whom I
haven't seen in a long time. Excuse me for a minute."

He edged his way cautiously through the throng until he stood beside the
strange woman. She did not notice his coming and presently he stumbled
slightly against her. He recovered himself instantly and was ready with
an apology.

"I beg your pardon," he said, "but we have met before. I seem to
remember you, Miss, Miss----"

The woman looked startled, then set her lips firmly.

"You are rude, sir," she said. "Is it the custom of Southern gentlemen
to accost ladies in this manner?"

She gave her shoulders a haughty shrug and turned her back upon him.
Prescott flushed, but held his ground, and he would have spoken to her
again had she given him the chance. But she began to move away and he
was afraid to follow deliberately lest he make a scene. Instead, he went
back to his friends.

The General's speech came to an end and was followed by a rolling
thunder of cheers. Then all the people of consequence were presented to
him, and forth from the Hustings court-room, where they had been biding
their time, walked twenty of the most beautiful young ladies of
Richmond, in holiday attire of pink, rose and lilac silk or satin,
puffed and flounced, their hair adorned with pink and red roses from
Richmond hothouses.

It was really a wonderful bit of feminine colouring amid the crowd, and
the Southern people, ever proud of their women, cheered again. Helen
was there--it was a holiday--in a wonderful old dress of rose-coloured
satin, her cheeks glowing and her eyes shining, and as Prescott saw her
he forgot the strange woman who had rebuffed him.

"The most beautiful girl of this score of beautiful girls is to present
a wreath of roses to General Morgan. I wonder who it will be," said
Raymond.

He looked quizzically at Prescott.

"I wonder," repeated Prescott, but he felt no doubt whatever upon the
subject.

The cheering of the crowd ceased, and Helen, escorted by her brother,
stepped from the unserried ranks of beauty to a table where the chaplet
of roses lay. Then the General stood aside, and Helen, walking forward
alone, made a little speech to General Morgan, in which she complimented
him on his courage and brilliant achievements. She said that the sound
of his voice would always strike terror in the North and kindle hope
anew in the South. She was half afraid, half daring, but she spoke the
words clearly. The big, black-bearded General stood before her, hat in
hand and openly admiring. When she came to the end of her speech she
reached up, rested the wreath for a moment on his bushy black crown of
hair and then put it in his hands. Now the crowd gave its greatest burst
of applause. The two figures standing there, the tall, brown soldier and
the beautiful woman, appealed to all that was gallant in their nature.

"It does not look as if there would be any social ostracism of Miss
Harley because she has turned working woman," said Winthrop.

"Cold and selfish emotions don't count at a time like this," said
Raymond; "it's the silent pressure of time and circumstance that she'll
have to reckon with."

Helen, her great deed performed, walked back, blushing somewhat, and hid
herself among her companions. Then, the official ceremonies over, the
occasion became informal, and soon generals and young women alike were
surrounded by admirers, war and beauty having chances about equal in
the competition. The good spirits of the crowd, moved by triumphant
oratory, the beauty of the women and the blaze of uniforms, grew to such
a pitch that no discordant note marred the cheerfulness of those
gathered in the old Court House.

Prescott pressed into the crowd, but he found himself somewhat lost, or,
rather, dimmed, amid the brilliant uniforms of the generals, who were as
thick as corn in the field, and he despaired of securing more than a
small part of Helen's attention. He had admired her beauty more than
ever that day; her timid dignity when all critical eyes were upon her
impressed him, and yet he felt no jealousy now when he saw her
surrounded and so sincerely flattered by others. He was surprised at
himself, and a little angry, too, that it should be so, but search his
mind as he would he could not find the cause. At last he secured a word
or two with her and passed on toward the porch; but looking back saw the
great cavalry leader, Wood, the mountaineer, talking to her, his tall
figure towering a head over hers, his black eyes sparkling with a new
fire and lighting up his face like a blaze. His uniform was not too
bright and he was an imposing figure--lionlike was the simile that
occurred to Prescott.

But he felt no pang--again he was surprised at himself--and went on his
way to the parlour, where the decorations were yet untouched, and gazed
at the crowd, portions of which still lingered in the streets.

His eyes unconsciously sought one figure, a figure that was not there,
and he came to himself with a start when he realized the cause that had
drawn him to the place. Displeased with himself, he rejoined his friends
in the court-room.

"Let's go into the hall and see the ladies and the great men," said
Talbot, and his comrades willingly went with him. It was indeed an
animated scene in the building, the same high spirits and confident hope
for the future that had marked the crowd prevailing here.

Despite the winter without, it was warm in the rooms of the City Hall,
and Prescott, after awhile, went back to the porch from which General
Morgan had made his speech. Many of the enthusiastic throng of
spectators still lingered and small boys were sending off amateur
fireworks. Going outside, he became once more one of the throng, simply
because he had caught another glimpse of a face that interested and
mystified him.

It was the tall woman of the brown cloak, still watching everything with
eyes that missed no detail. She annoyed Prescott; she had become an
obsession like one of those little puzzles the solution of which is of
no importance except when one cannot obtain it. So he lingered in her
neighbourhood, taking care that she should not observe him, and he asked
two or three persons concerning her identity. Nobody knew her.

As the crowd, by and by, began to diminish, the woman turned away. The
outlines of her figure were not disclosed, but her step was swinging and
free, as that of one who had an abundance of health and vigour. She
spoke to nobody, but seemed sure of her way.

She went up Main Street, and Prescott, his curiosity increasing,
followed at a distance. She did not look back, and he closed up
gradually the gap between them, in order that he might not lose sight of
her if she turned around a corner. This she did presently, but when he
hastened and passed the corner, too, he found himself face to face with
the woman in brown.

"Well, sir?" she said sharply.

"Ah, I---- Excuse me, I did not see you. I turned the corner with such
suddenness," he said awkwardly, having an uneasy sense that he had been
intrusive, yet anxious to solve the troublesome little mystery.

"You were following me--and for the second time to-day."

He was silent, but his flushed face confirmed the truth of her
accusation. For the moment that he stood near he examined her features.
He saw eyes so dark that he could not tell whether they were blue or
black, eyelashes of unusual length, and a pale face remarkable for its
strength. But it was youthful and finely cut, while a wisp of bronze
hair at the edge of the hood showed a gleam of gold as the sunshine fell
across it.

"I have heard that Southern gentlemen were always courteous, as I told
you once before," she said.

"I thought I knew you, but made a mistake," Prescott replied, it being
the first thing that came into his mind. "I fear that I have been rude
and I ask your pardon."

He lifted his hat and bowed humbly.

"You can show contrition by ceasing to follow me," she said, and the
sharp tone of her accusation was still in her voice.

Prescott bowed again and turned away. He fully meant to keep his implied
promise, but curiosity was too strong for him, and watching once more
from a distance, he saw her go up Shockoe Hill and into the Capitol
through the wide-open doors. When he found it convenient presently to
enter the Capitol in his turn, he saw no trace of her, and, disappointed
and annoyed with himself, he went back to the City Hall. Here Talbot was
the first whom he met.

"Where have you been?" asked his friend.

"Following a woman."

"Following a woman?"

Talbot looked at Prescott in surprise.

"I didn't know you were that kind of a man, Bob," he said; "but what
luck?"

"None at all. I failed even to learn her name, where she lived or
anything else about her. I'll tell you more this evening, because I want
your advice."

The reception ended presently, and the ladies, escorted by the young
men, went to their homes. Talbot, Winthrop and Raymond rejoined Prescott
soon afterward near Shockoe Hill.

"Now tell us of the woman you were following," said Talbot.

"I don't think I shall," replied Prescott. "I've changed my intention
about it--at least, for the present."

The affair had clung to his mind and the result of his second thought
was a resolution to keep it to himself a while longer. He had formed a
suspicion, but it might be wrong, and he would not willingly do
injustice to any one, least of all to a woman. Her face, when he saw her
close at hand, looked pure and good, and now that he recalled it he
could remember distinctly that there had been in it a touch of reproach
and the reproach was for him--she had seemed to ask why he annoyed her.
No, he would wait before speaking of her to his friends.

Talbot regarded Prescott for a moment with an inquiring gaze, but said
nothing more upon the subject.

Prescott left his friends at the Capitol and spent the remainder of the
day with his mother, who on the plea of age had avoided the reception
and the festivities, although she now had many questions to ask.

"I hear that great enthusiasm was shown and brilliant predictions were
made," she said.

"It is quite true," he replied. "The music, the speeches and the high
spirits, which you know are contagious in a crowd, have done good, I
think, to the Southern cause."

"Did Morgan bring any new recruits for General Lee's army?"

"Now, mother," replied Prescott, laughing a little, "don't let your
Northern blood carry you too far. I know, too, that wars are not won by
music and shouting, and days like to-day bring nothing
substantial--merely an increase of hope; but after all, that is what
produces substantial results."

She smiled and did not answer, but went on quietly with her sewing.
Prescott watched her for awhile and reflected what a beautiful woman his
mother must have been, and was yet, for that matter.

"Mother," he said presently, "you do not speak it aloud, but you cannot
disguise from me the fact that you think it would be better for the
North to win."

She hesitated, but at last she said:

"I cannot rejoice whichever way this war ends. Are you not on the side
of the South? All I can pray for is that it may end quickly."

"In your heart, mother, you have no doubt of the result."

She made no reply, and Prescott did not pursue the subject.



CHAPTER VI

THE PURSUIT OF A WOMAN


The silver lining which the reception to General Morgan put in the cloud
always hanging over Richmond lasted until the next day, when the content
of the capital was rudely shattered by news that important papers had
been stolen from the office of the President in the granite building on
Bank Street. The exact value of these papers the public did not know,
but they contained plans, it was said, of the coming campaign and exact
data concerning the military and financial condition of the Confederacy.
They were, therefore, of value alike to the Government and its enemies,
and great was the noise over their disappearance.

The theft, so supposition ran, was committed while nearly all the
officials were present at the festivities of the preceding day, and when
the guard about the public offices, never very strict, was relaxed more
than usual. But the clue stopped there, and, so far as the city could
hear, it bade fair to remain at that point, as the crush of great
affairs about to decide the fate of a nation would not permit a long
search for such a secret spring, though the leakage might prove
expensive.

"Probably some faithless servant who hopes to sell them to the North for
a large reward," said Raymond to Prescott.

"I think not," replied Prescott with emphasis.

"Ah, you don't? Then what do you think?" asked Raymond, looking at him
sharply.

"A common spy," replied Prescott, not wishing to be surprised into
further disclosure of his thought. "You know such must be here. In war
no city or army is free from spies."

"But that's a vague generalization," said Raymond, "and leads to
nothing."

"True," said Prescott, but he intended a further inquiry into the matter
on his own account, and this he undertook as soon as he was free from
others. He was perhaps better fitted than any one else in Richmond for
the search, because he had sufficient basis upon which to build a plan
that might or might not lead to a definite issue.

He went at once to the building in which the President had his office,
where, despite the robbery of the day before, he roamed about among the
rooms and halls almost as he pleased, inquiring and making suggestions
which might draw from the attendants facts to them of slight importance.
Yes, visitors had been there the day before, chiefly ladies, some from
the farther South, drawn by veneration for their beloved President and a
wish to see the severe and simple offices from which the destiny of
eleven great States and the fate of the mightiest war the world had ever
known was directed.

And who were the ladies? If their names were not known, could not a
description of their appearance be given? But no one had any definite
memory on these points; they were just like other sightseers. Was there
a tall woman with a brown cloak among them? Prescott put this question
to several people, but drew no affirmative reply until he found an old
coloured man who swept the halls. The sweeper thought that he did
remember seeing such a figure on the lower floor, but he was not sure,
and with that Prescott was forced to be content.

He felt that his search had not been wholly in vain, leading as it did
to what might be called the shadow of a clue, and he resolved to
continue it. There had been leaks before in the Confederacy, some by
chance and some by design, notably an instance of the former when Lee's
message to his lieutenant was lost by the messenger and found by a
Northern sympathizer, thus informing his opponents of his plan and
compelling him to fight the costly battle of Antietam. If he pursued
this matter and prevented its ultimate issue, he might save the
Confederacy far more than he could otherwise.

Richmond was a small city, difficult of entrance without a pass, and for
two or three days Prescott, abandoning the society of his friends, trod
its streets industriously, not neglecting the smallest and meanest among
them, seeking always a tall figure in a brown dress and brown cloak. It
became an obsession with him, and, as he now recognized, there was even
more in it than a mere hunt for a spy. This woman troubled him; he
wished to know who and what she was and why she, a girl, had undertaken
a task so unfitting. Yet war, he remembered, is a destroyer of
conventions, and the mighty upheaval through which the country was going
could account for anything.

He found on the third day his reward in another glimpse of the elusive
and now tantalizing brown figure under the brow of Shockoe Hill,
strolling along casually, as if the beauty of the day and the free air
of the heavens alone attracted.

The brown dress had been changed, but the brown cloak remained the same,
and Prescott felt a pang of remorse lest he had done an injustice to a
woman who looked so innocent. Until this moment he had never seen her
face distinctly, save one glimpse, but now the brown hood that she wore
was thrown back a little and there shone beneath it clear eyes of
darkest blue, illuminating a face as young, as pure, as delicate in
outline as he could have wished for in a sister of his own. No harm
could be there. A woman who looked like that could not be engaged upon
an errand such as he suspected, and he would leave her undisturbed.

But, second thought came. He put together again all the circumstances,
the occasions upon which he had seen her, especially that day of the
Morgan reception, and his suspicions returned. So he followed her again,
at a distance now, lest she should see him, and was led a long and
winding chase about the capital.

He did not believe that she knew of his presence, and these vague
meanderings through the streets of Richmond confirmed his belief. No
one with a clear conscience would leave such crooked tracks, and what
other purpose could she have now save to escape observation until the
vigilance of the sentinels, on edge over the robbery, should relax a
little and she could escape through the cordon of guards that belted in
Richmond.

She passed at last into an obscure side street and there entered a
little brown wooden cottage. Prescott, watching from the corner, saw her
disappear within, and he resolved that he would see her, too, when she
came out again. Therefore he remained at the corner or near it,
sauntering about now and then to avoid notice, but always keeping within
a narrow circle and never losing sight of the house.

He was aware that he might remain there a long time, but he had a stiff
will and he was bent upon solving this problem which puzzled and
irritated him.

It was about the middle of the afternoon when he traced her to the
cottage, but the fragment of the day remaining seemed long to him.
Golden shadows hung over the capital, but at last the sun went down in a
sea of flame and the cold night of winter gathered all within its folds.

Prescott shivered as he trod his beat like a policeman, but he was of a
tenacious fiber, and scorning alike the warnings of cold and hunger, he
remained near the house, drawing closer and watching it more zealously
than ever in the moonlight. His resolution strengthened, too; he would
stay there, if necessary, until the sunset of the next day.

More hours passed at a limping gait. The murmur of the city died, and
all was dark and still in the side street. Far into the night, nearly
twelve, it must have been, when a figure stole from the cottage and
glanced up the little ravine toward the main street, where Prescott
stood invisible in the shadow of a high wooden fence.

She did not come by the front door, but stole out from the rear. He was
convinced that he was right in his suspicions, and now every action of
this unknown woman indicated guilt to his mind.

He crouched down in an angle of the fence, hidden completely by its
shadow and the night, though he could see her well as she came up the
little street, walking with light step and watching warily on every
side. He noticed even then how strong and elastic her figure appeared
and that every step was instinct with life and vitality. She must be a
woman of more than common will and mould.

She came on, slightly increasing her speed, and did not see the dark
figure of the man by the fence. A hood was drawn to her eyes and a fold
of her cloak covered her chin. He could see now only a wisp of face like
a sickle of a silver moon, and the feeling that disturbed him in the day
did not return to him. He again imagined her cold and hard, a woman of
middle age, battered by the world, an adventuress who did not fear to go
forth in the night upon what he thought unholy errands.

She entered the main street, passed swiftly down it toward the barriers
of the city, and Prescott, with noiseless footsteps, came behind; one
shadow following the other.

None save themselves seemed to be abroad. The city was steeped in
Sabbath calm and a quiet moon rode in a quiet heaven. Prescott did not
stop now to analyze his feelings, though he knew that a touch of pique,
and perhaps curiosity, too, entered into this pursuit, otherwise he
should not have troubled himself so much with an unbidden task. But he
was the hunter and she the hunted, and he was alive now with the spirit
of the chase.

She turned toward the northwest, where the lines of earthwork were
thinnest, where, in fact, a single person might slip between them in the
darkness, and Prescott no longer had any doubt that his first surmise
was correct. Moreover, she was wary to the last degree, looking
cautiously on every side and stopping now and then to see that she was
not followed. A fine moon sometimes shed its full rays upon her, and she
seemed then to Prescott to be made of silver mist.

He, too, was most wary, knowing the need of it, and allowed the
distance between them to lengthen, clinging meanwhile to the shadow of
buildings and fences with such effect that when she looked back she
never saw the man behind.

They passed into the suburbs, low and straggling, little groups of negro
cabins stringing out now and then in the darkness, and the woman, save
for her occasional pauses to see if she were pursued, kept a straight
and rapid course as if she knew her mind and the way.

They came at last to a spot where there was a small break in the
earthworks, and Prescott saw the sentinels walking their beats, gun on
shoulder. Then the fugitive paused in the shadow of bushes and high
grass and watched attentively.

The pursuit had become curiously unreal to Prescott. It seemed to him
that he was in the presence of the mysterious and weird, but he was
resolute to follow, and he wished only that she should resume her
flight.

When the sentinels were some distance apart she slid between like a
shadow, unseen and unheard, and Prescott, an adept at pursuit, quickly
followed. They were now beyond the first line of earthworks, though yet
within the ring of Richmond's outer defenses, but a single person with
ordinary caution might pass the latter, too.

He followed her through bushes and clumps of trees which hung like
patches of black on the shoulders of the hills, and he shortened the
space between them, not caring now if she saw him, as he no longer had
any doubt of her purpose. He looked back once and saw behind him an
almost imperceptible glow which he knew was the city, and then on the
left beheld another light, the mark of a Confederate fortress, set there
as a guard upon the ways.

She turned to the right, leaving the fortress behind, passing into
country still more desolate, and Prescott thought it was now time to end
the pursuit. He pressed forward with increased speed, and she, hearing
the sound of a footstep behind her, looked back. He heard in the dead
stillness of the night the low cry of fright that broke from her. She
stood for a moment as if the power of motion had departed, and then fled
like a wounded deer, with Prescott, more than ever the hunter, swiftly
following after.

He was surprised at her speed. Clearly she was long-limbed and strong,
and for the time his energies were taxed to keep within sight of her
fleeing figure. But he was a man, she a woman, and the pursuit was not
long. At last she sank, panting, upon a fallen log, and Prescott
approached her, a strange mingling of triumph and pity in his heart.

She looked up and there was appeal in her face. Again he saw how young
she was, how pure the light of her eyes, how delicately moulded each
feature, and surprise came, as a third emotion, to mingle with the
triumph and pity, and not in a less degree.

"Ah, it is you," she said, and in her tone there was no surprise, only
aversion.

"Yes, it is I," replied Prescott; "and you seemed to have expected me."

"Not in the way that you think," she replied haughtily.

A wonderful change came over her face, and her figure seemed to stiffen;
every lineament, every curve expressed scorn and contempt. Prescott had
never before seen such a remarkable transformation, and for the moment
felt as if he were the guilty one and she the judge.

While he was wondering thus at her attractive personality, she rose and
stood before him.

"Now, sir," she said, "you shall let me go, Mr.----Mr.----"

"I am Captain Robert Prescott of the Confederate Army," said Prescott.
"I have nothing to conceal," and then he added significantly: "At
present I am on voluntary duty."

"I have seen enough of you," she said in the same unbending tone. "You
have given me a fright, but now I am recovered and I bid you leave me."

"You mistake, Madam or Miss," replied Prescott calmly, recovering his
composure; "you and I have not seen enough of each other. I am a
gentleman, I hope, at least I have passed for one, and I have no intent
to insult you."

"What is your wish?" she asked, still standing before him, straight and
tall, her tone as cold as ice.

"Truly," thought Prescott, "she can carry it off well, and if such
business as this must be done by a woman, hers is a mind for the task."
But aloud he said: "Madam--or--Miss--you see you are less frank than I;
you do not supply the omission--certain documents important to the
Government which I serve, and as important to our enemies if they can
get them, were taken yesterday from the office of the President. Kindly
give them to me, as I am a better custodian for them than you are."

Her face remained unchanged. Not by a single quiver of the lip or gleam
of the eye did she show emotion, and in the same cold, even voice she
replied:

"You are dreaming, Captain Prescott. Some freak of the fancy has
mastered you. I know nothing of the documents. How could I, a woman, do
such a thing?"

"It is not more strange than your flight from Richmond alone and at such
an hour."

"What signifies that? These are times of war and strange times demand
strange conduct. Besides, it concerns me alone."

"Not so," replied Prescott firmly; "give me the papers."

Her face now changed from its calm. Variable emotions shot over it.
Prescott, as he stood there before her, was conscious of admiration.
What vagary had sent a girl who looked like this upon such a task!

"The papers," he repeated.

"I have none," she replied.

"If you do not give them to me I shall be compelled to search you, and
that, I fancy, you do not wish. But I assure you that I shall do it."

His tone was resolute. He saw a spark of fire in her eye, but he did not
quail.

"I shall turn my back," he added, "and if the papers are not produced
in one minute's time I shall begin my search."

"Would you dare?" she asked with flashing eyes.

"I certainly would," he replied. "I trust that I know my duty."

But in a moment the light in her eyes changed. The look there was an
appeal, and it expressed confidence, too. Prescott felt a strange
tremour. Her glance rested full upon him and it was strangely soft and
pathetic.

"Captain Prescott," she said, "upon my honour--by the memory of my
mother, I have no papers."

"Then what have you done with them?" said Prescott.

"I have never had any."

He looked at her doubtfully. He believed and yet he did not. But her
eyes shone with the light of purity and truth.

"Then why are you out here at such an hour, seeking to escape from
Richmond?" he asked at last.

"Lest I bring harm to another," she said proudly.

Prescott laughed slightly and at once he saw a deep flush dye her face,
and then involuntarily he made an apology, feeling that he was in the
presence of one who was his equal.

"But I must have those papers," he said.

"Then keep your threat," she said, and folding her arms proudly across
her breast she regarded him with a look of fire.

Prescott felt the blood rising in his face. He could not fulfil his
menace and now he knew it.

"Come," he said abruptly, "you must go back to Richmond with me. I can
take you safely past the earthworks and back to the house from which you
came; there my task shall end, but not my duty."

However, he comforted himself with the thought that she had not passed
the last line of defenses and perhaps could not do so at another time.

The girl said nothing, but walked obediently beside him, tall, straight
and strong. She seemed now to be subdued and ready to go wherever he
directed.

Prescott recognized that his own position in following the course that
he had chosen was doubtful. He might turn her over to the nearest
military post and then his troubles concerning her would be at an end;
but he could not choose that alternative save as a last resort. She had
made an appeal to him and she was a woman, a woman of no ordinary type.

The night was far gone, but the moon was full, and now spread its veil
of silver mist over all the hills and fields. The earth swam in an
unreal light and again the woman beside Prescott became unreal, too. He
felt that if he should reach out his hand and touch her he would touch
nothing but air, and then he smiled to himself at such a trick of fancy.

"I have given you my name," he said. "Now what shall I call you?"

"Let it go for the time," she replied.

"I must, since I have no way to compel you," he said.

They approached the inner line of earthworks through which they had
passed in the flight and pursuit, and now Prescott felt it his duty to
find the way back, without pausing to reflect on the strangeness of the
fact that he, a Confederate soldier, was seeking to escape the notice of
the Confederate pickets for the sake of a spy belonging to the other
side.

They saw again the sentinels walking back and forth, gun on shoulder,
and waiting until they were farthest apart, Prescott touched the woman
on the arm. "Now is our time," he said, and they slid with soundless
footsteps between the sentinels and back into Richmond.

"That was well done!" said Prescott joyfully. "You can shut an army out
of a town, but you can't close the way to one man or two."

"Captain Prescott," said the girl, "you have brought me back into
Richmond. Why not let me go now?"

"I take you to the house from which you came," he replied.

"That is your Southern chivalry," she said, "the chivalry of which I
have heard so much."

He was stung by the keen irony in her tone. She had seemed to him, for
awhile, so humble and appealing that he had begun to feel, in a sense,
her protector, and he did not expect a jeer at the expense of himself
and his section. He had been merciful to her, too! He had sacrificed
himself and perhaps injured his cause that he might spare her.

"Is a woman who plays the part of a spy, a part that most men would
scorn, entitled to much consideration?" he asked bluntly.

She regarded him with a cold stare, and her figure stiffened as he had
seen it stiffen once before.

"I am not a spy," she said, "and I may have reasons, powerful reasons,
of which you know nothing, for this attempted flight from Richmond
to-night," she replied; "but that does not mean that I will explain them
to you."

Prescott stiffened in his turn and said with equal coldness:

"I request you, Madam or Miss, whichever you may be, to come with me at
once, as we waste time here."

He led the way through the silent city, lying then under the moonlight,
back to the little street in which stood the wooden cottage, neither
speaking on the way. They passed nobody, not even a dog howled at them,
and when they stood before the cottage it, too, was dark and silent.
Then Prescott said:

"I do not know who lives there and I do not know who you are, but I
shall consider my task ended, for the present at least, when its doors
hide you from me."

He spoke in the cold, indifferent tone that he had assumed when he
detected the irony in her voice. But now she changed again.

"Perhaps I owe you some thanks, Captain Prescott," she said.

"Perhaps, but you need not give them. I trust, madam, and I do not say
it with any intent of impoliteness, that we shall never meet again."

"You speak wisely, Captain Prescott," she said.

But she raised the hood that hid her brow and gave him a glance from
dark blue eyes that a second time brought to Prescott that strange
tremour at once a cause of surprise and anger. Then she opened the door
of the cottage and disappeared within.

He stood for a few moments in the street looking at the little house and
then he hurried to his home.



CHAPTER VII

THE COTTAGE IN THE SIDE STREET


Prescott rose the next morning with an uneasy weight upon his mind--the
thought of the prisoner whom he had taken the night before. He was
unable to imagine how a woman of her manner and presence had ever
ventured upon such an enterprise, and he contrasted her--with poor
results for the unknown--with Helen Harley, who was to him the
personification of all that was delicate and feminine.

After the influence of her eyes, her beauty and her voice was gone, his
old belief that she was really the spy and had stolen the papers
returned. She had made a fool of him by that pathetic appeal to his
mercy and by a simulated appearance of truth. Now in the cold air of the
morning he felt a deep chagrin. But the deed was past and could not be
undone, and seeking to dismiss it from his mind he went to breakfast.

His mother, as he had expected, asked him nothing about his late absence
the night before, but spoke of the reception to General Morgan and the
golden haze that it cast over Richmond.

"Have you noticed, Robert," she asked, "that we see complete victory for
the South again? I ask you once more how many men did General Morgan
bring with him?"

"I don't know exactly, mother. Ten, perhaps."

"And they say that General Grant will have a hundred thousand new
troops."

Prescott laughed.

"At that rate, mother," he replied, "the ten will have to whip the
hundred thousand, which is a heavier proportion than the old one, of one
Southern gentleman to five Yankees. But, seriously, a war is not won by
mere mathematics. It is courage, enthusiasm and enterprise that count."

She did not answer, but poured him another cup of coffee. Prescott read
her thoughts with ease. He knew that though hers had been a Southern
husband and hers were a Southern son and a Southern home, her heart was
loyal to the North, and to the cause that she considered the cause of
the whole Union and of civilization.

"Mother," he said, the breakfast being finished, "I've found it pleasant
here with you and in Richmond, but I'm afraid I can't stay much longer.
My shoulder is almost cured now."

He swung his arm back and forth to show how well it was.

"But isn't there some pain yet?" she asked.

Prescott smiled a little. He saw the pathos in the question, but he
shook his head.

"No, mother," he replied, "there is no pain. I don't mean to be
sententious, but this is the death-grapple that is coming. They will
need me and every one out there."

He waved his hand toward the north and his mother hid a little sigh.

Prescott remained at home all the morning, but in the afternoon he went
to Winthrop's newspaper office, having a direct question in mind.

"Has anything more been heard of the stolen papers?" he asked of
Winthrop.

"So far as I can learn, nothing," replied the editor; "but it's
altogether likely that whoever took them has been unable to escape from
the city. Besides, I understand that these plans were not final and the
matter may not be so serious after all."

It seemed to Prescott in a moment of cold reason that the affair might
well end now, but his desire would not have it so. He was seized with a
wish to know more about that house and the woman in it. Who was she, why
was she here, and what would be her fate?

The afternoon passed slowly, and when the night was advanced he set out
upon his errand, resolved that he would not do it, and yet knowing that
he would.

The little house was as silent and dark as ever, doors and shutters
tightly closed. He watched it more than an hour and saw no sign of life.
She must have gone from the city, he thought, and so concluding, he was
about to turn away, when a hand was laid lightly upon his arm. It was
the woman in brown, and the look upon her face was not all of surprise.
It occurred suddenly to Prescott that she had expected him, and he
wondered why. But his first question was rough.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"Nothing that I wish," she replied, the faintest trace of humour showing
in her tone; "much that I do not wish. The reproof that your voice
conveys is unwarranted. I have tried again to leave Richmond, but I
cannot get past the outer lines of defenses. I am the involuntary guest
of the rebel capital."

"Hardly that," replied Prescott, still somewhat roughly. He did not
relish her jaunty tone, although he was much relieved to know that she
could not escape. "You came uninvited, and you have no right to complain
because you cannot leave when you wish."

"I see that I am in the presence of a sincere rebel patriot," she said
with irony, "and I did not know before that the words 'rebel' and
'patriot' could go together so easily."

"I think that I should surrender you to the authorities," said Prescott.

"But you will not," she said with conviction. "Your conscience would
reproach you too much."

Prescott was silent, uncertain what to say or to do. The woman annoyed
him, and yet he did not conceal from himself that the slight protecting
feeling, born of the fact that she was a woman and, it seemed, helpless,
remained in his mind.

"Are you alone in that house?" he asked, still speaking curtly and
pointing toward the wooden cottage.

"No," she replied.

Prescott looked at her inquiringly. He thought that he detected the
faintest twinkle in her eyes. Could it be that a woman in such a
position was laughing at the man who had helped her? He felt his face
grow red.

"You wish to know who is there?" she said.

"I do not wish to know anything of the kind."

"You do, and I shall tell you. It is merely a woman, an old maid,
perhaps as friendless as myself, Miss Charlotte Grayson. I need not add
that she is a woman of right mind and sympathies."

"What do you mean by that?"

"She wishes to see the quick end of this hateful rebellion. Oh, I tell
you there are many who think as she does, born and bred within the
limits of this Confederacy. They are far more numerous than you rebels
suspect."

She spoke with sudden fire and energy, and Prescott noticed again that
abrupt stiffening of the figure. He saw, too, another curious
effect--her eyes suddenly turned from dark-blue to black, an invariable
change when she was moved by a passion.

"It is always safe for a woman to abuse a man," replied Prescott calmly.

"I am not attacking you, but the cause you serve--a hateful cause. How
can honest men fight for it?" she said.

Prescott heard footsteps in the main street--it was not many yards from
there to the point in the little side street where he stood--and he
shrank back in the shadow of the fence.

"You do not wish to be seen with me," she said.

"Naturally," replied Prescott. "I might have to answer inquiries about
you, and I do not wish to compromise myself."

"Nor me?" she said.

"Perhaps it is too late for that," replied Prescott.

Her face flushed scarlet, and again he saw that sudden change of the
eyes from dark-blue to threatening black. It occurred to him then that
she was handsome in a singular, challenging way.

"Why do you insult me?" she asked.

"I was not aware that I had done so," he replied coolly. "Your pursuits
are of such a singular nature that I merely made some slight comment
thereon."

She changed again and under drooping eyelids gave him that old imploring
look, like the appeal of a child for protection.

"I am ungrateful," she said, "and I give your words a meaning that you
do not intend. But I am here at this moment because I was just returning
from another vain attempt to escape from the city--not for myself, I
tell you again, and not with any papers belonging to your Government,
but for the sake of another. Listen, there are soldiers passing."

It was the tread of a company going by and Prescott shrank still farther
back into the shadow. He felt for the moment a chill in his bones, and
he imagined what must be the dread of a traitor on the eve of detection.
What would his comrades say of him if they caught him here? As the woman
came close to him and put her hand upon his arm, he was conscious again
of the singular thrill that shot through him whenever she touched him.
She affected him as no other woman had ever done--nor did he know
whether it was like or dislike. There was an uncanny fascination about
her that attracted him, even though he endeavoured to shake it off.

The tread of the company grew louder, but the night was otherwise still.
The moon silvered the soldiers as they passed, and Prescott distinctly
saw their features as he hid there in the dark like a spy, fearing to be
seen. Then he grew angry with himself and he shook the woman's hand from
his arm; it had rested as lightly as dew.

"I think that you had better go back to Miss Charlotte Grayson, whoever
she may be," he said.

"But one cannot stay there forever."

"That does not concern me. Why should it? Am I to care for the safety of
those who are fighting me?"

"But do you stop to think what you are fighting for?" She put her hand
on his arm, and her eyes were glowing as she asked the question. "Do
you ever stop to think what you are fighting for, the wrong that you do
by fighting and the greater wrong that you will do if you succeed, which
a just God will not let happen?"

She spoke with such vehement energy that Prescott was startled. He was
well enough accustomed to controversy about the right or wrong of the
war, but not under such circumstances as these.

"Madam," he said, "we soldiers don't stop in the middle of a battle to
argue this question, and you can hardly expect me to do so now."

She did not reply, but the fire still lingered in her eyes. The company
passed, their tread echoed down the street, then died away.

"You are safe now," she said, with the old touch of irony in her voice;
"they will not find you here with me, so why do you linger?"

"It may be because you are a woman," replied Prescott, "that I overlook
the fact of your being a secret and disguised enemy of my people. I wish
to see you safely back in the house there with your friends."

"Good-night," she said abruptly, and she slid away from him with
soundless tread. He had noticed her noiseless walk before, and it
heightened the effect of weird mystery.

She passed to the rear of the house, disappearing within, and Prescott
went away. When he came back in a half-hour he noticed a light shining
through one window of the little house, and it seemed more natural to
him, as if its tenant, Miss Charlotte Grayson, had no reason to hide her
own existence. Prescott was not fond of secrecy--his whole nature was
open, and with a singular sense of relief he turned away for the second
time, going to Winthrop's office, where he hoped to find more congenial
friends.

Raymond, as he expected, was there with his brother editor, and so was
Wood, the big cavalryman, who regarded Robert for a moment with an eye
coldly critical. Raymond and Winthrop, who stood by, knew the cause, but
Wood quickly relaxed and greeted with warmth the addition to the party.
Others came in, and soon a dozen men who knew and liked each other well
were gathered about the stove, talking in the old friendly Southern way
and exchanging opinions with calm certainty on all recondite subjects.

After awhile Winthrop, who passed near the window on some errand,
exclaimed:

"Gentlemen, behold Richmond in her bridal veil."

They looked out and saw the city, streets and roofs alike, sheeted in
gleaming white. The snow which had come down so softly spoke only of
peace and quietness.

"It's battle smoke, not a bridal veil, that Richmond must look for now,"
said Wood, "an' it's a pity."

There was a touch of sentiment in his voice, and Prescott looked at him
with approval. As for himself, he was thinking at that moment of an
unknown woman in a brown, wooden cottage. With the city snowed-in she
might find the vigilance of the sentinels relaxed, but a flight through
the frozen wilderness would be impossible for her. He was angry at
himself again for feeling concern when he should be relieved that she
could not escape; but, after, all she was a woman.

"Why so grave, Prescott?" asked Raymond. "A heavy snow like this is all
in our favour, since we stand on the defensive; it makes it more
difficult for the Yankee army to move."

"I was thinking of something else," replied Prescott truthfully. "I am
going home now," he added. "Good-night."

As he passed out into the street the snow was still falling, soon
covering his cap and military cloak, and clothing him, like the city, in
a robe of white.

Raymond had said truthfully that a deep snow was to the advantage of the
South, but as for himself, he resolved that on the next day he would
investigate the identity of Miss Charlotte Grayson.

Prescott knew to whom it was best to turn for information in regard to
the mysterious Charlotte Grayson, and in the doing so it was not
necessary for him to leave his own home. His mother was likely to know
everybody at all conspicuous in Richmond, as under her peaceful exterior
she concealed a shrewd and inquiring mind.

"Mother," he said to her the next day as they sat before the fire, "did
you ever hear of any lady named Miss Charlotte Grayson?"

She was knitting for the soldiers at the front, but she let the needles
drop with a faint click into her lap.

"Grayson, Charlotte Grayson?" she said. "Is that the name of a new
sweetheart of yours, Robert?"

"No, mother," replied he with a laugh; "it is the name of somebody whom
I have never seen so far as I know, and of whom I never heard until a
day or two ago."

"I recall the woman of whom you speak," she said, "an old maid without
any relatives or any friends in particular. She was a seamstress here
before the war. It was said that she went North at its outbreak, and as
she was a Northern sympathizer it would seem likely; but she was a good
seamstress; she made me a mantle once and I never saw a better in
Richmond."

She waited for her son to offer an explanation of his interest in the
whilom seamstress, but as he did not do so she asked no questions,
though regarding him covertly.

He rose and, going to the window, looked out at the deep and all but
untrodden snow.

"Richmond is in white, mother," he said, "and it will postpone the
campaign which all Southern women dread."

"I know," she replied; "but the battle must come sooner or later, and a
snow in Richmond means more coal and wood to buy. Do you ever think,
Robert, what such questions as these, so simple in peace, mean now to
Richmond?"

"I did not for the moment, mother," he replied, his face clouding, "but
I should have thought of it. You mean that coal and wood are scarce and
money still scarcer?"

She bowed her head, for it was a very solemn truth she had spoken. The
coil of steel with which the North had belted in the South was beginning
to press tighter and tighter during that memorable winter. At every
Southern port the Northern fleets were on guard, and the blockade
runners slipped past at longer and longer intervals. It was the same on
land; everywhere the armies of the North closed in, and besides fire and
sword, starvation now threatened the Confederacy.

There was not much news from the field to dispel the gloom in the South.
The great battle of Chickamauga had been won not long before, but it was
a barren victory. There were no more Fredericksburgs nor
Chancellorsvilles to rejoice over. Gettysburg had come; the genius of
Lee himself had failed; Jackson was dead and no one had arisen to take
his place.

There were hardships now more to be feared than mere battles. The men
might look forward to death in action, and not know what would become of
the women and children. The price of bread was steadily rising, and the
value of Confederate money was going down with equal steadiness.

The soldiers in the field often walked barefoot through the snow, and in
summer they ate the green corn in the fields, glad to get even so
little; but they were not sure that those left behind would have as
much. They were conscious, too, that the North, the sluggish North,
which had been so long in putting forth its full strength, was now
preparing for an effort far greater than any that had gone before. The
incompetent generals, the tricksters and the sluggards were gone, and
battle-tried armies led by real generals were coming in numbers that
would not be denied.

At such a time as this, when the cloud had no fragment of a silver
lining, the spirit of the South glowed with its brightest fire--a
spectacle sometimes to be seen even though a cause be wrong.

"Mother," said Prescott, and there was a touch of defiance in his tone,
"do you not know that the threat of cold and hunger, the fear that those
whom we love are about to suffer as much as ourselves, will only nerve
us to greater efforts?"

"I know," she replied, but he did not hear her sigh.

He felt that his stay in Richmond was now shortening fast, but there was
yet one affair on his mind to which he must attend, and he went forth
for a beginning. His further inquiries, made with caution in the
vicinity, disclosed the fact that Miss Charlotte Grayson, the occupant
of the wooden cottage, and the Miss Charlotte Grayson whom his mother
had in mind, were the same. But he could discover little else concerning
her or her manner of life, save an almost positive assurance that she
had not left Richmond either at the beginning of the war nor since. She
had been seen in the streets, rarely speaking to any one, and at the
markets making a few scanty purchases and preserving the same silence,
ascribed, it was said, to the probable belief on her part that she would
be persecuted because of her known Northern sympathies. Had any one been
seen with her? No; she lived all alone in the little house.

Such were the limits of the knowledge achieved by Prescott, and for lack
of another course he chose the direct way and knocked at the door of the
little house, being compelled to repeat his summons twice before it was
answered. Then the door was opened slightly; but with a soldier's
boldness he pushed in and confronted a thin, elderly woman, who did not
invite him to be seated.

Prescott took in the room and its occupant with a single glance, and the
two seemed to him to be of a piece. The former--and he knew
instinctively that it was Miss Grayson--was meager of visage and figure,
with high cheek bones, thin curls flat down on her temples, and a black
dress worn and old. The room exhibited the same age and scantiness, the
same aspect of cold poverty, with its patched carpet and the slender
fire smouldering on the hearth.

She stood before him, confronting him with a manner in which boldness
and timidity seemed to be struggling with about equal success. There was
a flush of anger on her cheeks, but her lips were trembling.

"I am speaking to Miss Grayson?" said Prescott.

"You are, sir," she replied, "but I do not know you, and I do not know
why you have pushed yourself into my house."

"My name is Prescott, Robert Prescott, and I am a captain in the
Confederate Army, as you may see by my uniform."

He noticed that the trembling of her lip increased and she looked
fearfully at him; but the red flush of anger on her cheek deepened, too.
The chief impression that she made on Prescott was pathetic, standing
there in her poverty of dress and room, and he hastened to add:

"But I am here on my own private business; I have not come to annoy you.
I merely want to inquire of a woman, a lodger of yours."

"I have no lodgers," she replied; "I am alone."

"I don't think I can be mistaken," said Prescott; "she told me that she
was staying in this house."

"And may I ask the name of this lady who knows more about my own house
than I do?" asked Miss Grayson with unconcealed sarcasm.

Prescott saw that her courage was now getting the better of her
timidity. He hesitated and felt his cheeks redden.

"I do not know," he was forced to reply.

Miss Grayson's gaze became steady and triumphant.

"Does it not then occur to you, Captain Prescott, that you are
proceeding upon a very slender basis when you doubt my word?"

"It is hardly that, Miss Grayson," he replied. "I thought--perhaps--that
it might be an evasion, pardonable when it is made for a friend whom one
thinks in danger."

His eye roamed around the room again and it caught sight of something
disclosed to him for the first time by the sudden increase of the
flickering blaze on the hearth. A flash of triumph appeared in his eye
and his boldness and certainty returned to him.

"Miss Grayson," he said, "it is true that I do not know the name of the
lady of whom I speak, but I have some proof of her presence here."

Miss Grayson started and her lips began to tremble again.

"I do not know what you mean," she said.

"I ask for the wearer of this," said Prescott, taking a long brown cloak
from the chair on which it lay and holding it up before Miss Grayson's
eyes.

"Then you ask for me," she replied bravely; "the cloak is mine."

"I have seen it several times before," said Prescott, "and it was always
worn by some one else."

He looked significantly at her and he saw again the nervous trembling of
the lip, but her eye did not quail. This woman, with her strange
mingling of timidity and courage, would certainly protect the unknown if
she could.

"The cloak is mine," she repeated. "It is a question of veracity between
you and me, and are you prepared to say that you alone tell the truth?"

Prescott hesitated, not fancying this oblique method of attack, but a
third person relieved them both from present embarrassment. A door to an
inner apartment opened, and the woman in brown--but not in brown
now--came into the room.

"You need not conceal my presence any longer, Charlotte," said the
newcomer impressively. "I thank you, but I am sure that we need no
protection from Captain Prescott."

"If you think so, Lucia," replied Miss Grayson, and Prescott distinctly
heard her sigh of relief--a sigh that he could have echoed, as he had
begun to feel as if he were acting not as a gentleman, but as a
persecutor of a poor old maid. The girl--Lucia was her first name, he
had learned that much--confronted him, and certainly there was no fear
in her gaze. Prescott saw, too, at the first glance, that she was
transformed. She was dressed in simple white, and a red rose, glowing by
contrast against its whiteness, nestled in her throat. He remembered
afterward a faint feeling of curiosity that in the dead of winter she
should be wearing such a rose. Her eyes, black when she was angry, were
now a deep, liquid blue, and the faint firelight drew gleams of red or
gold, he knew not which, from her hair; the hair itself looked dark.

But it was her presence, her indefinable presence that pervaded the
room. The thin little old maid was quite lost in it, and involuntarily
Prescott found himself bowing as if to a great lady.

"I have meant no harm by coming here," he said; "the secrets of this
house are safe as far as I am concerned. I merely came to inquire after
your welfare. Miss--Miss----"

He stopped and looked inquiringly at her. A faint smile curved the
corners of her mouth, and she replied:

"Catherwood; I am Miss Lucia Catherwood, but for the present I have
nothing more to say."

"Catherwood, Lucia Catherwood," repeated Prescott. "It is a beautiful
name, like----"

And then, breaking off abruptly, warned by a sudden lightning glance
from her eyes, he walked to the window and pointed to the white world
outside.

"I came to tell you, Miss Catherwood," he said, "that the snow lies deep
on the ground--you know that already--but what I wish to make clear is
the impossibility of your present escape from Richmond. Even if you
passed the defenses you would almost certainly perish in the frozen
wilderness."

"It is as I told you, Lucia," said Miss Grayson; "you must not think of
leaving. My house is your house, and all that is here is yours."

"I know that, Charlotte," replied Miss Catherwood, "but I cannot take
the bread from your mouth nor can I bring new dangers upon you."

She spoke the last words in a low tone, but Prescott heard her
nevertheless. What a situation, he thought; and he, a Confederate
soldier, was a party to it! Here in the dim little room were two women
of another belief, almost another land, and around them lay the hostile
city. He felt a thrill of pity; once more he believed her claim that she
did not take the papers; and he tapped uneasily on the window pane with
a long forefinger.

"Miss Catherwood," he said hesitatingly--that he should address her and
not Miss Grayson seemed entirely proper--"I scarcely know why I am here,
but I wish to repeat that I did not come with any bad intent. I am a
Confederate soldier, but the Confederacy is not yet so far reduced that
it needs to war on women."

Yet he knew as he spoke that he had believed her a spy and his full duty
demanded that he deliver her to his Government; but perhaps there was a
difference between one's duty and one's full duty.

"I merely wished to know that you were safe here," he continued, "and
now I shall go."

"We thank you for your forbearance, Captain Prescott," said the elder
woman, but the younger said nothing, and Prescott waited a moment,
hoping that she would do so. Still she did not speak, and as she moved
toward the door she did not offer her hand.

"She has no thanks for me, after all that I have done," thought
Prescott, and there was a little flame of anger in his heart. Why should
he trouble himself about her?

"Ladies," he said, with an embarrassed air, "you will pardon me if I
open the door an inch or two and look out before I go. You understand
why."

"Oh, certainly," replied Miss Catherwood, and again that faint smile
lurked for a moment in the corners of her mouth. "We are Pariahs, and it
would ill suit the fair fame of Captain Prescott to be seen coming from
this house."

"You are of the North and I of the South and that is all," said
Prescott, and, bowing, he left, forgetting in his annoyance to take that
precautionary look before opening wide the door.

But the little street was empty and he walked thoughtfully back to his
mother's house.



CHAPTER VIII

THE PALL OF WINTER


The deep snow was followed by the beginning of a thaw, interrupted by a
sudden and very sharp cold spell, when the mercury went down to zero and
the water from the melting snow turned to ice. Richmond was encased in a
sheath of gleaming white. The cold wintry sun was reflected from roofs
of ice, the streets were covered with it, icicles hung like rows of
spears from the eaves, and the human breath smoked at the touch of the
air.

And as the winter pressed down closer and heavier on Richmond, so did
the omens of her fate. Higher and higher went the price of food, and
lower and lower sank the hopes of her people. Their momentary joy under
the influence of such events as the Morgan reception was like the result
of a stimulant or narcotic, quickly over and leaving the body lethargic
and dull. But this dullness had in it no thought of yielding.

On the second day of the great cold all the Harleys came over to take
tea with Mrs. Prescott and her son, and then Helen disclosed the fact
that the Government was still assiduous in its search for the spy and
the lost documents.

"Mr. Sefton thinks that we have a clue," she said, identifying herself
with the Government now by the use of the pronoun.

Prescott was startled a little, but he hid his surprise under a calm
voice when he asked:

"What is this clue, or is it a secret?"

"No, not among us who are so loyal to the cause," she replied
innocently; "and it may be that they want it known more widely because
here in Richmond we are all, in a way, defenders of the faith--our
faith. They say that it was a woman who stole the papers, a tall woman
in a brown dress and brown cloak, who entered the building when nearly
everybody was gone to the Morgan reception. Mr. Sefton has learned that
much from one of the servants."

"Has he learned anything more?" asked Prescott, whose heart was beating
in a way that he did not like.

"No, the traces stop at that point; but Mr. Sefton believes she will be
found. He says she could not have escaped from the city."

"It takes a man like Sefton to follow the trail of a woman," interrupted
Colonel Harley. "If it were not for the papers she has I'd say let her
go."

Prescott had a sudden feeling of warmth for Vincent Harley, and he now
believed a good heart to beat under the man's vain nature; but that was
to be expected: he was Helen Harley's brother. However, it did not
appeal to Helen that way.

"Shouldn't a woman who does such things suffer punishment like a man?"
she asked.

"Maybe so," replied the Colonel, "but I couldn't inflict it."

The elder Harley advanced no opinion, but he was sure whatever Mr.
Sefton did in the matter was right; and he believed, too, that the agile
Secretary was more capable than any other man of dealing with the case.
In fact, he was filled that day with a devout admiration of Mr. Sefton,
and he did not hesitate to proclaim it, bending covert glances at his
daughter as he pronounced these praises. Mr. Sefton, he said, might
differ a little in certain characteristics from the majority of the
Southern people, he might be a trifle shrewder in financial affairs,
but, after all, the world must come to that view, and hard-headed men
such as he would be of great value when the new Southern Republic began
its permanent establishment and its dealings with foreign nations. As
for himself, he recognized the fact that he was not too old to learn,
and Mr. Sefton was teaching him.

Prescott listened with outward respect, but the words were so much mist
to his brain, evaporating easily. Nor did Mr. Harley's obvious purpose
trouble him as much as it had on previous occasions, the figure of the
Secretary not looming so large in his path as it used to.

He was on his way, two hours later, to the little house in the side
street, bending his face to a keen winter blast that cut like the edge
of a knife. He heard the wooden buildings popping as they contracted
under the cold, and near the outskirts of the town he saw the little
fires burning where the sentinels stopped now and then on their posts to
warm their chilled fingers. He was resolved now to protect Lucia
Catherwood. The belief of others that the woman of the brown cloak was
guilty aroused in him the sense of opposition. She must be innocent!

He knocked again at the door, and as before it did not yield until he
had knocked several times. It was then Miss Charlotte Grayson who
appeared, and to Prescott's heightened fancy she seemed thinner and more
acidulous than ever. There was less of fear in her glance than when he
came the first time, but reproach took its place, and was expressed so
strongly that Prescott exclaimed at once:

"I do not come to annoy you, Miss Grayson, but merely to inquire after
yourself and your friend, Miss Catherwood."

Then he went in, uninvited, and looked about the room. Nothing was
changed except the fire, which was lower and feebler; it seemed to
Prescott that the two or three lumps of coal on the hearth were hugging
each other for scant comfort, and even as he looked at it the timbers of
the house popped with the cold.

"Miss Catherwood is still with you, is she not?" asked Prescott. "My
errand concerns her, and it is for her good that I have come."

"Why do you, a Confederate officer, trouble yourself about a woman who,
you say, has acted as a spy for the North?" asked Miss Grayson,
pointedly.

Prescott hesitated and flushed. Then he answered:

"I hope, Miss Grayson, that I shall never be able to overlook a woman in
distress."

His eyes wandered involuntarily to the feeble fire, and then in its turn
the thin face of Miss Grayson flushed. For a moment, in her
embarrassment, she looked almost beautiful.

"Miss Catherwood is still here, is she not?" repeated Prescott. "I
assure you that I came in her interest."

Miss Grayson gave him a look of such keenness that Prescott saw again
the strength and penetration underlying her timid and doubtful manner.
She seemed to be reassured and replied:

"Yes, she is here. I will call her."

She disappeared into the next room and presently Miss Catherwood came
forth alone. She held her head as haughtily as ever, and regarded him
with a look in which he saw much defiance, and he fancied, too, a little
disdain.

"Captain Prescott," she said proudly, "I am not an object for military
supervision."

"I am aware of that," he replied, "and I do not mean to be impolite,
Miss Catherwood, when I say that I regret to find you still here."

She pointed through the window to the white and frozen world outside.

"I should be glad enough to escape," she said, "but that forbids."

"I know it, or at least I expected it," said Prescott, "and it is partly
why I am here. I came to warn you."

"To warn me! Do I not know that I am in a hostile city?"

"But there is more. The search for those missing papers, and, above all,
for the one who took them--a tall woman in a brown cloak, they say--has
not ceased, nor will it; the matter is in the hands of a crafty,
persistent man and he thinks he has a clue. He has learned, as I
learned, that a woman dressed like you and looking like you was in the
Government building on the day of the celebration. He believes that
woman is still in the city, and he is sure that she is the one for whom
he seeks."

Her face blanched; he saw for the first time a trace of feminine
weakness, even fear. It was gone, however, like a mist before a wind, as
her courage came back.

"But this man, whoever he may be, cannot find me," she said. "I am
hidden unless some one chooses to betray me; not that I care for myself,
but I cannot involve my generous cousin in such a trouble."

Prescott shook his head.

"Your trust I have not merited, Miss Catherwood," he said. "If I had
chosen to give you up to the authorities I should have done so before
this. And your confidence in your hiding place is misplaced, too.
Richmond is small. It is not a great city like New York or Philadelphia,
and those who would conceal a Northern spy--I speak plainly--are but
few. It is easy to search and find."

Prescott saw her tremble a little, although her face did not whiten
again, nor did a tear rise to her eye. She went again to the window,
staring there at the frozen world of winter, and Prescott saw that a
purpose was forming in her mind. It was a purpose bold and desperate,
but he knew that it would fail and so he spoke. He pointed out to her
the lines of defenses around Richmond, and the wilderness beyond all,
buried under a cold that chained sentinels even to their fires; she
would surely perish, even if she passed the watch.

"But if I were taken," she said, "I should be taken alone and they would
know nothing of Miss Grayson."

"But I should never give up hope," he said. "After all, the hunted may
hide, if warned, when the hunter is coming."

She gave him a glance, luminous, grateful, so like a shaft of light
passing from one to another that it set Prescott's blood to leaping.

"Captain Prescott," she said, "I really owe you thanks."

Prescott felt as if he had been repaid, and afterward in the coolness of
his own exclusive company he was angry with himself for the feeling--but
she stirred his curiosity; he was continually conscious of a desire to
know what manner of woman she was--to penetrate this icy mist, as it
were, in which she seemed to envelop herself.

There was now no pretext for him to stay longer, but he glanced at the
fire which had burned lower than ever, only two coals hugging each other
in the feeble effort to give forth heat. Prescott was standing beside a
little table and unconsciously he rested his right hand upon it. But he
slipped the hand into his pocket, and when he took it out and rested it
upon the table again there was something between the closed fingers.

Miss Grayson returned at this moment to the room and looked inquiringly
at the two.

"Miss Catherwood will tell you all that I have said to her," said
Prescott, "and I bid you both adieu."

When he lifted his hand from the table he left upon it what the fingers
had held, but neither of the women noticed the action.

Prescott slipped into the street, looking carefully to see that he was
not observed, and annoyed because he had to do so; as always his heart
revolted at hidden work. But Richmond was cold and desolate, and he went
back to the heart of the city, unobserved, meaning to find Winthrop, who
always knew the gossip, and to learn if any further steps had been taken
in the matter of the stolen documents.

He found the editor with plenty of time on his hands and an abundant
inclination to talk. Yes, there was something. Mr. Sefton, so he heard,
meant to make the matter one of vital importance, and the higher
officers of the Government were content to leave it to him, confident of
his ability and pertinacity and glad enough to be relieved of such a
task.

Prescott, when he heard this, gazed thoughtfully at the cobwebbed
ceiling. There was yet no call for him to go to the front, and he would
stay to match his wits against those of the great Mr. Sefton; he had
been drawn unconsciously into a conflict--a conflict of which he was
perhaps unconscious--and every impulse in him told him to fight.

When he went to his supper that evening he found a very small package
wrapped in brown paper lying unopened beside his plate. He knew it in an
instant, and despite himself his face flooded with colour.

"It was left here for you an hour ago," said his mother, who in that
moment achieved a triumph permitted to few mothers, burying a mighty
curiosity under seeming indifference.

"Who left it, mother?" asked Prescott, involuntarily.

"I do not know," she replied. "There was a heavy knock upon the door
while I was busy, and when I went there after a moment's delay I found
this lying upon the sill, but the bringer was gone."

Prescott put the package in his pocket and ate his supper uneasily.

When he was alone in his room he drew the tiny parcel from his pocket
and took off the paper, disclosing two twenty-dollar gold pieces, which
he returned to his pocket with a sigh.

"At least I meant well," he said to himself.

A persistent nature feeds on opposition, and the failure of his first
attempt merely prepared Prescott for a second. The affair, too, began to
absorb his mind to such an extent that his friends noticed his lack of
interest in the society and amusements of Richmond. He had been well
received there, his own connections, his new friends, and above all his
pleasing personality, exercising a powerful influence; and, coming from
the rough fields of war, he had enjoyed his stay very keenly.

But he had a preoccupation now, and he was bent upon doing what he
wished to do. Talbot and the two editors rallied him upon his absence of
mind, and even Helen, despite her new interest in Wood, looked a little
surprised and perhaps a little aggrieved at his inattention; but none of
these things had any effect upon him. His mind was now thrown for the
time being into one channel, and he could not turn it into another if he
wished.

On the next morning after his failure he passed again near the little
wooden house, the day being as cold as ever and the smoke of many
chimneys lying in black lines against the perfect blue-and-white
heavens. He looked at the chimney of the little wooden cottage, and
there, too, was smoke coming forth; but it was a thin and feeble stream,
scarcely making even a pale blur against the transparent skies. The
house itself appeared to be as cold and chilly as the frozen snow
outside.

Prescott glanced up and down the street. An old man, driving a small
wagon drawn by a single horse, was about to pass him. Prescott looked
into the body of the wagon and saw that it contained coal.

"For sale?" he asked.

The man nodded.

"How much for the lot?"

"Twenty dollars."

"Gold or Confederate money?"

The old man blew his breath on his red woolen comforter and thoughtfully
watched it freeze there, then he looked Prescott squarely in the face
and asked:

"Stranger, have you just escaped from a lunatic asylum?"

"Certainly not!"

"Then why do you ask me such a fool question?"

Prescott drew forth one of the two twenty-dollar gold pieces and handed
it to the man.

"I take your coal," he said. "Now unload it into that little back yard
there and answer no questions. Can you do both?"

"Of course--for twenty dollars in gold," replied the driver.

Prescott walked farther up the street, but he watched the man, and saw
him fulfil his bargain, a task easily and quickly done. He tipped the
coal into the little back yard of the wooden cottage, and drove away,
obviously content with himself and his bargain. Then Prescott, too, went
his way, feeling a pleasant glow.

He came back the next morning and the coal lay untouched. The board
fence concealed it from the notice of casual passers, and so thieves had
not been tempted. Those in the house must have seen it, yet not a lump
was gone; and the feeble stream of smoke from the chimney had
disappeared; nothing rose there to stain the sky. It occurred to
Prescott that both the women might have fled from the city, but second
thought told him escape was impossible. They must yet be inside the
house; and surely it was very cold there!

He came back the same afternoon, but the coal was still untouched and
the cold gripped everything in bands of iron. He returned a third time
the next morning, slipping along in the shadow of the high board fence
like a thief--he did have a somewhat guilty conscience--but when he
peeped over the fence he uttered an exclamation.

Four of the largest lumps of coal were missing!

There was no doubt of it; he had marked them lying on the top of the
heap, and distinguished by their unusual size.

"They are certainly gone," said Prescott to himself.

But it was not thieves. There in the snow he perceived the tracks of
small feet leading from the coal-heap to the back door of the house.

Prescott felt a mighty sense of triumph, and gave utterance in a low
voice to the unpoetic exclamation:

"They had to knuckle!"

But there was no smoke coming from the chimney, and he knew they had
just taken the coal. "They!" It was "she," as there was only one trail
in the snow, but he wondered which one. He was curiously inquisitive on
this point, and he would have given much to know, but he did not dream
of forcing an entrance into the house; yes "forcing" was now the word.

He was afraid to linger, as he did not wish to be seen by anybody either
inside or outside the cottage, and went away; but he came back in an
hour--that is, he came to the corner of the street, where he could see
the feeble column of smoke rising once more from the chimney of the
little wooden house.

Then, beholding this faint and unintentional signal, he smote himself
upon the knee, giving utterance again to his feelings of triumph, and
departed, considering himself a young man of perception and ability. His
amiability lasted so long that his mother congratulated him upon it,
and remarked that he must have had good news, but Prescott gallantly
attributed his happiness to her presence alone. She said nothing in
reply, but kept her thoughts to herself.

Inasmuch as the mind grows upon what it consumes, Prescott was soon
stricken with a second thought, and the next day at twilight he bought
as obscurely as he could a Virginia-cured ham and carried it away,
wrapped in brown paper, under his arm.

Fortunately he met no one who took notice, and he reached the little
street unobserved. Here he deliberated with himself awhile, but
concluded at last to put it on the back door step.

"When they come for coal," he said to himself, "they will see it, or if
they don't they will fall over it, if some sneak thief doesn't get it
first."

He noticed, dark as it was, that the little trail in the snow had grown,
and in an equal ratio the size of the coal pile had diminished.

Then he crept away, looking about him with great care lest he be seen,
but some intuition sent him back, and when he stole along in the shadow
of the fence he saw the rear door of the house open and a thin, angular
figure appear upon the threshold. It was too dark for him to see the
face, but he knew it to be Miss Grayson. That figure could not belong to
the other.

She stumbled, too, and uttered a low cry, and Prescott, knowing the
cause of both, was pleased. Then he saw her stoop and, raising his
supply of manna in both her hands, unfold the wrappings of brown paper.
She looked all about, and Prescott knew, in fancy, that her gaze was
startled and inquisitive. The situation appealed to him, flattering
alike his sense of pleasure and his sense of mystery, and again he
laughed softly to himself.

A cloud which had hidden it sailed past and the moonlight fell in a
silver glow on the old maid's thin but noble features; then Prescott saw
a look of perplexity, mingled with another look which he did not wholly
understand, but which did not seem hostile. She hesitated awhile,
fingering the package, then she put it back upon the sill and beckoned
to one within.

Prescott saw Miss Catherwood appear beside Miss Grayson. He could never
mistake her--her height, that proud curve of the neck and the firm poise
of the head. She wore, too, the famous brown cloak--thrown over her
shoulders. He found a strange pleasure in seeing her there, but he was
sorry, too, that Miss Grayson had called her, as he fancied now that he
knew the result.

He saw them talking, the shrug of the younger woman's shoulders, the
appealing gesture of the older, and then the placing of the package upon
the sill, after which the two retreated into the house and shut the
door.

Prescott experienced distinct irritation, even anger, and rising from
his covert he walked away, feeling for the moment rather smaller than
usual.

"Then some sneak thief shall have it," he said to himself, "for I will
not take it again," and at that moment he wished what he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

True to Redfield's prediction, the search for the hidden spy began the
next morning, and, under the direction of Mr. Sefton, was carried on
with great zeal and energy, attracting in its course, as was natural,
much attention from the people of Richmond.

Some of the comments upon this piece of enterprise were not favourable,
and conspicuous among them was that of Mrs. Prescott, who said to her
son:

"If this spy has escaped from Richmond, then the search is useless; if
still here, then no harm has been done and there is nothing to undo."

Prescott grew nervous, and presently he went forth to watch the hue and
cry. The house of Miss Charlotte Grayson had not been searched yet, but
it was soon to be, as Miss Grayson was well known for her Northern
sympathies. He hovered in the vicinity, playing the rôle of the curious
onlooker, in which he was not alone, and presently he saw a small party
of soldiers, ten in number, headed by Talbot himself, arrive in front of
the little brown cottage.

When he beheld his friend conducting this particular portion of the
search, Prescott was tempted, if the opportunity offered, to confide the
truth to Talbot and leave the rest to his generosity; but cool
reflection told him that he had no right to put such a weight upon a
friend, and while he sought another way, Talbot himself hailed him.

"Come along and hold up my hands for me, Bob," he said. "This is a nasty
duty that they've put me to--it's that man Sefton--and I need help when
I pry into the affairs of a poor old maid's house--Miss Charlotte
Grayson."

Prescott accepted the invitation, because it was given in such a
friendly way and because he was drawn on by curiosity--a desire to see
the issue. It might be that Miss Catherwood, reasserting her claim of
innocence, would not seek to conceal herself, but it seemed to him that
the evidence against her was too strong. And he believed that she would
do anything to avoid compromising Miss Grayson.

The house was closed, windows and doors, but a thin gray stream of smoke
rose from the chimney. Prescott noticed, with wary eye, that the snow
which lay deep on the ground was all white and untrodden in front of the
house.

One of the soldiers, obedient to Talbot's order, used the knocker of the
door, and after repeating the action twice and thrice and receiving no
response, broke the lock with the butt of his rifle.

"I have to do it," said Talbot with an apologetic air to Prescott. "It's
orders."

They entered the little drawing-room and found Miss Grayson, sitting in
prim and dignified silence, in front of the feeble fire that burned on
the hearth. It looked to Prescott like the same fire that was flickering
there when first he came, but he believed now it was his coal.

Miss Grayson remained silent, but a high colour glowed in her face and
much fire was in her eye. She shot one swift glance at Prescott and then
ignored him. Talbot, Prescott and all the soldiers took off their caps
and bowed, a courtesy which the haughty old maid ignored without rising.

"Miss Grayson," said Talbot humbly, "we have come to search your house."

"To search it for what?" she asked icily.

"A Northern spy."

"A fine duty for a Southern gentleman," she said.

Talbot flushed red.

"Miss Grayson," he said, "this is more painful to me than it is to you.
You are a well-known Northern sympathizer and I am compelled to do it.
It is no choice of mine."

Prescott noticed that Talbot refrained from asking her if she had any
spy hidden in the house, not putting her word to the proof, and mentally
he thanked him. "You are a real Southern gentleman," he thought.

Miss Grayson remained resolutely in her chair and stared steadily into
the fire, ignoring the search, after her short and sharp talk with
Talbot, who took his soldiers into the other rooms, glad to get out of
her presence. Prescott lingered behind, anxious to catch the eye of Miss
Grayson and to have a word with her, but she ignored him as pointedly as
she had ignored Talbot, though he walked heavily about, making his boots
clatter on the floor. Still that terrifying old maid stared into the
fire, as if she were bent upon watching every flickering flame and
counting every coal.

Her silence at last grew so ominous and weighed so heavily upon
Prescott's spirits that he fled from the room and joined Talbot, who
growled and asked him why he had not come sooner, saying: "A real friend
would stay with me and share all that's disagreeable."

Prescott wondered what the two women would say of him when they found
Miss Catherwood, but he was glad afterward to remember that his chief
feeling was for Miss Catherwood and not for himself. He expected every
moment that they would find her, and it was hard to keep his heart from
jumping. He looked at every chair and table and sofa, dreading lest he
should see the famous brown cloak lying there.

It was a small house with not many rooms, and the search took but a
short time. They passed from one to another seeing nothing suspicious,
and came to the last. "She is here," thought Prescott, "fleeing like a
hunted hare to the final covert." But she was not there--and it was
evident that she was not in the house at all. It was impossible for one
in so small a space to have eluded the searchers. Talbot heaved a sigh
of relief, and Prescott felt as if he could imitate him.

"A nasty job well done," said Talbot.

They went back to the sitting-room, where the lady of the house was
still confiding her angry thoughts to the red coals.

"Our search is ended," said Talbot politely to Miss Grayson, "and I am
glad to say that we have found nothing."

The lady's gaze was not deflected a particle, nor did she reply.

"I bid you good-day, Miss Grayson," continued Talbot, "and hope that you
will not be annoyed again in this manner."

Still no reply nor any change in the confidences passing between the
lady and the red coals.

Talbot gathered up his men with a look and hurried outside the house,
followed in equal haste by Prescott.

"How warm it is out here!" exclaimed Talbot, as he stood in the snow.

"Warm?" said Prescott in surprise, looking around at the chill world.

"Yes, in comparison with the temperature in there," said Talbot,
pointing to Miss Grayson's house.

Prescott laughed, and he felt a selfish joy that the task had been
Talbot's and not his. But he was filled, too, with wonder. What had
become of Miss Catherwood?

They had just turned into the main street, when they met Mr. Sefton, who
seemed expectant.

"Did you find the spy, Mr. Talbot?" he asked.

"No," replied Talbot, with ill-concealed aversion; "there was nothing in
the house."

"I thought it likely that some one would be found there," said the
Secretary thoughtfully. "Miss Grayson has never hidden her Northern
sympathies, and a woman is just fanatic enough to help in such a
business."

Then he dismissed Talbot and his men--the Secretary had at times a curt
and commanding manner--and took Prescott's arm in his with an appearance
of great friendship and confidence.

"I want to talk with you a bit about this affair, Captain Prescott," he
said. "You are going back to the front soon, and in the shock of the
great battles that are surely coming such a little thing will disappear
from your mind; but it has its importance, nevertheless. Now we do not
know whom to trust. I may have seemed unduly zealous. Confess that you
have thought so, Captain Prescott."

Prescott did not reply and the Secretary smiled.

"I knew it," he continued; "you have thought so, and so have many others
in Richmond, but I must do my duty, nevertheless. This spy, I am sure,
is yet in the city; but while she cannot get out herself, she may have
ways of forwarding to the enemy what she steals from us. There is where
the real danger lies, and I am of the opinion that the spy is aided by
some one in Richmond, ostensibly a friend of the Southern cause. What do
you think of it, Captain?"

The young Captain was much startled, but he kept his countenance and
answered with composure:

"I really don't know anything about it, Mr. Sefton. I chanced to be
passing, and as Mr. Talbot, who is one of my best friends, asked me to
go in with him, I did so."

"And it does credit to your zeal," said the Secretary. "It is in fact a
petty business, but that is where you soldiers in the field have the
advantage of us administrators. You fight in great battles and you win
glory, but you don't have anything to do with the little things."

"Our lives are occupied chiefly with little things; the great battles
take but a few hours in our existence."

"But you have a free and open life," said the Secretary. "It is true
that your chance of death is great, but all of us must come to that,
sooner or later. As I said, you are in the open; you do not have any of
the mean work to do."

The Secretary sighed and leaned a little on Prescott's arm. The young
Captain regarded him out of the corner of his eye, but he could read
nothing in his companion's face. Mr. Sefton's air was that of a man
a-weary--one disgusted with the petty ways and intrigues of office.

They walked on together, though Prescott would have escaped could he
have done so, and many people, noting the two thus arm in arm, said to
each other that young Captain Prescott must be rising in favour, as
everybody knew Mr. Sefton to be a powerful man.

Feeling sure that this danger was past for the present, Robert went home
to his mother, who received him in the sitting-room with a slight air of
agitation unusual in one of such a placid temper.

"Well, mother, what is the matter?" he asked. "One would think from your
manner that you have been taking part in this search for the spy."

"And that I am suffering from disappointment because the spy has not
been found?"

"How did you know that, mother?"

"The cook told me. Do you suppose that such an event as this would
escape the notice of a servant? Why, I am prepared to gossip about it
myself."

"Well, mother, there is little to be said. You told me this morning that
you hoped the spy would not be found, and your wish has come true."

"I see no reason to change my wish," she said. "The Confederate
Government has heavier work to do now than to hunt for a spy."

But Prescott noticed during the remainder of the afternoon and
throughout supper that his mother's slight attacks of agitation were
recurrent. There was another change in her. She was rarely a
demonstrative woman, even to her son, and though her only child, she had
never spoiled him; but now she was very solicitous for him. Had he
suffered from the cold? Was he to be assigned to some particularly hard
duty? She insisted, too, upon giving him the best of food, and Prescott,
wishing to please her, quietly acquiesced, but watched her covertly
though keenly.

He knew his mother was under the influence of some unusual emotion, and
he judged that this house-to-house search for a spy had touched a soft
heart.

"Mother," he said, after supper, "I think I shall go out for awhile this
evening."

"Do go by all means," she said. "The young like the young, and I wish
you to be with your friends while you are in Richmond."

Prescott looked at her in surprise. She had never objected to his
spending the evening elsewhere, but this was the first time she had
urged him to go. Yes, "urged" was the word, because her tone indicated
it. However, she was so good about asking no questions that he asked
none in return, and went forth without comment.

His steps, as often before, led him to Winthrop's office, where he and
his friends had grown into the habit of meeting and discussing the news.
To-night Wood came in, too, and sat silently in a chair, whittling a
pine stick with a bowie-knife and evidently in deep thought. His
continued stay in Richmond excited comment, because he was a man of such
restless activity. He had never before been known to remain so long in
one place, though now the frozen world, making military operations
impossible or impracticable, offered fair excuse.

"That man Sefton came to see me to-day," he said after a long silence.
"He wanted to know just how we are going to whip the enemy. What a fool
question! I don't like Sefton. I wish he was on the other side!"

A slight smile appeared on the faces of most of those present. All men
knew the reason why the mountain General did not like the Secretary, but
no one ventured upon a teasing remark. The great black-haired
cavalryman, sitting there, trimming off pine shavings with a razor-edged
bowie-knife, seemed the last man in the world to be made the subject of
a jest.

Prescott left at midnight, but he did not reach home until an hour
later, having done an errand in the meanwhile. In the course of the day
he had marked a circumstance of great interest and importance. Frame
houses when old and as lightly built as that in the little side street
are likely to sag somewhere. Now, at a certain spot the front door of
this house failed to meet the floor by at least an eighth of an inch,
and Prescott proposed to take advantage of the difference.

In the course of the day he had counted his remaining gold with great
satisfaction. He had placed one broad, shining twenty-dollar piece in a
small envelope, and now as he walked through the snow he fingered it in
his pocket, feeling all the old satisfaction.

He was sure--it was an intuition as well as the logical result of
reasoning--that Lucia Catherwood was still in the city and would return
to Miss Grayson's cottage. Now he bent his own steps that way, looking
up at the peaceful moon and down at the peaceful capital. Nothing was
alight except the gambling houses; the dry snow crunched under his feet,
but there was no other sound save the tread of an occasional sentinel,
and the sharp crack of the timbers in a house contracting under the
great cold.

A wind arose and moaned in the desolate streets of the dark city.
Prescott bent to the blast, and shivering, drew the collar of his
military cloak high about his ears. Then he laughed at himself for a
fool because he was going to the help of two women who probably hated
and scorned him; but he went on.

The little house was dark and silent. The sky above, though shadowed by
night, was blue and clear, showing everything that rose against it; but
there was no smoke from the cottage to leave a trail there.

"That's wisdom," thought Prescott. "Coal's too precious a thing now in
Richmond to be wasted. It would be cheaper to burn Confederate money."

He stood for a moment, shivering by the gate, having little thought of
detection, as use had now bred confidence in him, and then went inside.
It was the work of but half a minute to slip a double eagle in its paper
wrapping in the crack under the door, and then he walked away feeling
again that pleasing glow which always came over him after a good deed.

He was two squares away when he encountered a figure walking softly, and
the moonlight revealed the features of Mr. Sefton, the last man in the
world whom he wished to see just then. He was startled, even more
startled than he would admit to himself, at encountering this man who
hung upon him and in a measure seemed to cut off his breath.

But he was convinced once more that it was only chance, as the
Secretary's face bore no look of malice, no thought of suspicion, being,
on the contrary, mild and smiling. As before, he took Prescott's
unresisting arm and pointed up at the bright stars in their sea of blue.

"They are laughing at our passions, Mr. Prescott, perhaps smiling is the
word," he said. "Such a peace as that appeals to me. I am not fond of
war and I know that you are not. I feel it particularly to-night. There
is poetry in the heavens so calm and so cold."

Prescott said nothing; the old sense of oppression, of one caught in a
trap, was in full force, and he merely waited.

"I wish to speak frankly to-night," continued the Secretary. "There was
at first a feeling of coldness, even hostility, between us, but in my
case, and I think in yours too, it has passed. It is because we now
recognize facts and understand that we are in a sense rivals--friendly
rivals in a matter of which we know well."

The hand upon Prescott's arm did not tremble a particle as the Secretary
thus spoke so clearly. But Prescott did not answer, and they went on in
silence to the end of the square, where a man, a stranger to Prescott,
was waiting.

Mr. Sefton beckoned to the stranger and, politely asking Prescott to
excuse him a moment, talked with him a little while in low tones. Then
he dismissed him and rejoined Prescott.

"A secret service agent," he said. "Unfortunately, I have to do with
these people, though I am sure it could not be more repugnant to any one
than it is to me; but we are forced to it. We must keep a watch even
here in Richmond among our own people."

Prescott felt cold to the spine when the Secretary, with a courteous
good-night, released him a few moments later. Then he hurried home and
slept uneasily.

He was in dread at the breakfast table the next morning lest his mother
should hand him a tiny package, left at the door, as she had done once
before, but it did not happen, nor did it come the next day or the next.

The gold double eagle had been kept.



CHAPTER IX

ROBERT AND LUCIA


Two days passed, and neither any word nor his gold having come from the
Grayson cottage, Prescott began to feel bold again and decided that he
would call there openly and talk once more with Miss Grayson. He waited
until the night was dusky, skies and stars alike obscured by clouds, and
then knocked boldly at the door, which was opened by Miss Grayson
herself. "Captain Prescott!" she exclaimed, and he heard a slight
rustling in the room. When he entered Miss Catherwood was there.
Certainly they had a strange confidence in him.

She did not speak, nor did he, and there was an awkward silence while
Miss Grayson stood looking on. Prescott waited for the thanks, the hint
of gratitude that he wished to hear, but it was not given; and while he
waited he looked at Miss Catherwood with increasing interest, beholding
her now in a new phase.

Hitherto she had always seemed to him bold and strong, a woman of more
than feminine courage, one with whom it would require all the strength
and resource of a man to deal even on the man's own ground. Now she was
of the essence feminine. She sat in a low chair, her figure yielding a
little and her face paler than he had ever seen it before. The lines
were softened and her whole effect was that of an appeal. She made him
think for a moment of Helen Harley.

"I am glad that our soldiers did not find you here when they searched
this house," he said awkwardly.

"You were here with them, Captain Prescott--I have heard," she replied.

The colour rose to his face.

"It was pure chance," he said. "I did not come here to help them."

"I do not think that Captain Prescott was assisting in the search,"
interposed Miss Grayson. Prescott again looked for some word or sign of
gratitude, but did not find it.

"I have wondered, Miss Catherwood, how you hid yourself," he said.

The shadow of a smile flickered over her pale face.

"Your wonder will have to continue, if it is interesting enough, Captain
Prescott," she replied.

He was silent, and then a sudden flame appeared in her cheeks.

"Why do you come here?" she exclaimed. "Why do you interest yourself in
two poor lone women? Why do you try to help them?"

To see her show emotion made him grow cooler.

"I do not know why I come," he replied candidly.

"Then do not do so any more," she said. "You are risking too much, and
you, a Southern soldier, have no right to do it."

She spoke coldly now and her face resumed its pallor.

"I am with the North," she continued, "but I do not wish any one of the
South to imperil himself through me."

Prescott felt hotly indignant that she should talk thus to him after all
that he had done.

"My course is my own to choose," he replied proudly, "and as I told you
once before, I do not make war on women."

Then he asked them what they proposed to do--what they expected Miss
Catherwood's future to be.

"If she can't escape from Richmond, she'll stay here until General Grant
comes to rescue her," exclaimed the fierce little old maid.

"The Northern army is not far from Richmond, but I fancy that it has a
long journey before it, nevertheless," said Prescott darkly.

Then he was provoked with himself because he had made such a retort to a
woman.

"It is not well to grow angry about the war now," said Miss Catherwood.
"Many of us realize this; I do, I know."

He waited eagerly, hoping that she would tell of herself, who she was
and why she was there, but she went no further.

He looked about the room and saw that it was changed; its furniture,
always scanty, was now scantier than ever; it occurred to him with a
sudden thrill that these missing pieces had gone to a pawnshop in
Richmond; then his double eagle had not come too soon, and that was why
it never returned to him. All his pity for these two women rose again.

He hesitated, not yet willing to go and not knowing what to say; but
while he doubted there came a heavy knock at the door. Miss Grayson, who
was still standing, started up and uttered a smothered cry, but Miss
Catherwood said nothing, only her pallor deepened.

"What can it mean?" exclaimed Miss Grayson.

No one answered and she added hastily:

"You two must go into the next room!"

She made a gesture so commanding that they obeyed her without a word.
Prescott did not realize what he was doing until he heard the door close
behind him and saw that he was alone with Miss Catherwood in a little
room in which the two women evidently slept. Then as the red blood dyed
his brow he turned and would have gone back.

"Miss Catherwood, I do not hide from any one," he said, all his
ingrained pride swelling up.

"It is best, Captain Prescott," she said quietly. "Not for your sake,
but for that of two women whom you would not bring to harm."

A note of pathetic appeal appeared in her voice, and, hesitating, he was
lost. He remained and watched her as she stood there in the centre of
the room, her hand resting lightly upon the back of a chair and all her
senses alert. The courage, the strength, the masculine power returned
suddenly to her, and he had the feeling that he was in the presence of a
woman who was the match for any man, even in his own special fields.

She was listening intently, and her figure, instinct with life and
strength, seemed poised as if she were about to spring. The pallor in
her cheeks was replaced by a glow and her eyes were alight. Here was a
woman of fire and passion, a woman to whom danger mattered little, but
to whom waiting was hard.

The sound of voices, one short and harsh and the other calm and even,
came to them through the thin wall. The composed tones he knew were
those of Miss Grayson, and the other, by the accent, the note of
command, belonged to an officer. They talked on, but the words were not
audible to either in the inner room.

His injured pride returned. It was not necessary for him to hide from
any one, and he would go back and face the intruder, whoever he might
be. He moved and his foot made a slight sound on the floor. Miss
Catherwood turned upon him quickly, even with anger, and held up a
warning finger. The gesture was of fierce command, and it said as plain
as day, "Be still!" Instinctively he obeyed.

He had no fear for himself; he never thought then of any trouble into
which discovery there might lead him, but the unspoken though eager
question on his lips was to her: "What will _you_ do if we are found?"

The voices went on, one harsh, commanding, the other calm, even
argumentative; but the attitude of the woman beside Prescott never
changed. She stood like a lithe panther, tense, waiting.

The harsh voice sank presently as if convinced, and they heard the sound
of retreating footsteps, and then the bang of the front door as if
slammed in disappointment.

"Now we can go back," said Miss Catherwood, and opening the door she led
the way into the reception room, where Miss Grayson half lay in a chair,
deadly pale and collapsed.

"What was it, Charlotte?" asked Miss Catherwood in a protecting voice,
laying her hand with a soothing gesture upon Miss Grayson's head.

Miss Grayson looked up and smiled weakly.

"It lasted just a little too long for my nerves," she said. "It was, I
suppose, what you might call a domiciliary visit. The man was an officer
with soldiers, though he had the courtesy to leave the men at the door.
He saw a light shining through a front window and thought he ought to
search. I'm a suspect, a dangerous woman, you know--marked to be
watched, and he hoped to make a capture. But I demanded his right, his
orders--even in war there is a sort of law. I had been searched once, I
said, and nothing was found; then it was by the proper authorities, but
now he was about to exceed his orders. I insisted so much on my rights,
at the same time declaring my innocence, that he became frightened and
went away; but, oh, Lucia, I am more frightened now than he ever was!"

Miss Catherwood soothed her and talked to her protectingly and gently,
as a mother to her frightened child, while Prescott admired the voice
and the touch that could be at once so tender and so strong.

But the courageous half in Miss Grayson's dual nature soon recovered its
rule over the timid half and she sat erect again, making apologies for
her collapse.

"You see, now, Captain Prescott," said Miss Catherwood, still leaving a
protecting hand upon Miss Grayson's shoulders, "that I was right when I
wanted you to leave us. We cannot permit you to compromise yourself in
our behalf and we do not wish it. You ran a great risk to-night. You
might not fare so well the next time."

Her tone was cold, and, chilled by it, Prescott replied:

"Miss Catherwood, I may have come where I was not wanted, but I shall
not do so again."

He walked toward the door, his head high. Miss Grayson looked at Miss
Catherwood in surprise.

The girl raised her hand as if about to make a detaining gesture, but
she let it drop again, and without another word Prescott passed out of
the house.

       *       *       *       *       *

One of the formal receptions, occurring twice a month, was held the next
evening by the President of the Confederacy and his wife. Prescott and
all whom he knew were there.

The parlours were crowded already with people--officers, civilians,
curious transatlantic visitors--and more than one workman in his rough
coat, for all the world was asked to come to the President's official
receptions. They had obeyed the order, too, and came with their bravest
faces and bravest apparel. In the White House of the Confederacy there
were few somber touches that night.

The President and his wife, he elderly and severe of countenance, she
young and mild, received in one of the parlours all who would shake the
hand of Mr. Davis. It was singularly like a reception at that other
White House on the Potomac, and the South, in declaring that she would
act by herself, still followed the old patterns.

It was a varied gathering, varied in appearance, manners and temper. The
official and civil society of the capital never coalesced well. The old
families of Richmond, interwoven with nearly three centuries of life in
Virginia, did not like all these new people coming merely with the stamp
of the Government upon them, which was often, so they thought, no stamp
at all; but with the ceaseless and increasing pressure from the North
they met now on common ground at the President's official reception,
mingling without constraint.

Prescott danced three times with Helen Harley and walked twice with her
in the halls. She was at her best that night, beautiful in a gentle,
delicate way, but she did not whip his blood like a wind from the hills,
and he was surprised to find how little bitterness he felt when he saw
her dancing with Mr. Sefton or walking with the great cavalry General
like a rose in the shadow of an oak. But he loved her, he told himself
again; she was the one perfect woman in the world, the one whom he must
make his wife, if he could. These men were not to be blamed for loving
her, too; they could not help it.

Then his eye roved to Colonel Harley, who, unlike General Wood, was as
much at home here as in the field, his form expanding, his face in a
glow, paying assiduous attention to Mrs. Markham, who used him as she
would. He watched them a little, and, though he liked Mrs. Markham, he
reflected that he would not be quite so complacent if he were in General
Markham's place.

Presently Talbot tapped him on the shoulder, saying:

"Come outside."

"Why should I go out into the cold?" replied Prescott. "I'm not going to
fight a duel with you."

"No, but you're going to smoke a cigar with me, a genuine Havana at
that, a chance that you may not have again until this war ends. A friend
just gave them to me. They came on a blockade runner last week by way of
Charleston."

They walked back and forth to keep themselves warm. A number of people,
drawn by the lights and the music, were lingering in the street before
the house, despite the cold. They were orderly and quiet, not
complaining because others were in the warmth and light while they were
in the cold and dark. Richmond under the pressure of war was full of
want and suffering, but she bred no mobs.

"Let's go back," said Talbot presently. "My cigar is about finished and
I'm due for this dance with Mrs. Markham."

"Mine's not," replied Prescott, "and I'm not due for the dance with
anybody, so I think I'll stay a little longer."

"All right; I must go."

Talbot went in, leaving his friend alone beside the house. Prescott
continued to smoke the unfinished cigar, but that was not his reason for
staying. He remained motionless at least five minutes, then he threw the
cigar butt on the ground and moved farther along the side of the house,
where he was wholly in shadow. His pretense of calm, of a lack of
interest, was gone. His muscles were alert and his eye keen to see. He
had on his military cap and he drew his cloak very closely about him
until it shrouded his whole face and figure. He might pass unnoticed in
a crowd.

Making a little circuit, he entered the street lower down, and then came
back toward the house, sauntering as if he were a casual looker-on. No
one noticed him, and he slid into a place in the little crowd, where he
stood for a few moments, then made his way toward a tall figure near the
fence.

When he was beside the house with Talbot he had seen that face under a
black hood, looking over the fence, and the single glance was
sufficient. Now he stood beside her and put his hand upon her arm as if
he had come there with her, that no one might take notice.

She started, looked up into his face, checked a cry and was silent,
though he could feel the arm quivering under the touch of his fingers.

"Why are you here?" he asked in a strained whisper. "Do you not know
better than to leave Miss Grayson's house, and, above all, to come to
this place? Are you a mad woman?"

Anger was mixed with his alarm. She seemed at that moment a child who
had disobeyed him. She shrank a little at his words, but turned toward
him luminous eyes, in which the appeal soon gave way to an indignant
fire.

"Do you know what it is to stay in hiding--to be confined within the
four walls of one room?" she said, and her voice was more intense even
than his had been. "Do you know what it is to sit in the dark and the
cold when you love the warmth and the light and the music? I saw you and
the other man and the satisfaction on your faces. Do you think that you
alone were made for enjoyment?"

Prescott looked at her in surprise, such was the fire and intensity of
her tone and so unexpected was her reply. He had associated her with
other fields of action, more strenuous phases of life than this of the
ballroom, the dance and the liquid flow of music. All at once he
remembered that she was a woman like another woman there in the ballroom
in silken skirts and with a rose in her hair. Unconsciously he placed
her by the side of Helen Harley.

"But the danger!" he said at last. "You are hunted, woman though you
are, and Richmond is small. At such a time as this every strange form is
noted."

"I am not afraid," she replied, and a peculiar kind of pride rang in her
tone. "If I am sought as a criminal it does not follow that I am such."

"And you have left Miss Grayson alone?"

"Miss Grayson has often been alone. She may dislike loneliness, but she
does not fear it. Listen, they are dancing again!"

The liquid melody of the music rose in a rippling flow, coming through
the closed windows in soft minor chords. Standing there beside her, in
the outer darkness and cold, Prescott began to understand the girl's
feeling, the feeling of the hunted, who looks upon ease and joy. The
house was gleaming with lights, even the measured tread of the dancers
mingled with the flow of music; but here, outside, the wind began to
whistle icily down the street, and the girl bent her head to its edge.

"You must go back at once to Miss Grayson's," urged Prescott, "and you
must not come out again like this."

"You command merely for me to disobey," she said coolly. "By what right
do you seek to direct my actions?"

"By the right of wisdom, or necessity, whichever you choose to call it,"
he replied. "Since you will not, of your own choice, care for yourself,
I shall try to make you do so. Come!"

He put his hand upon her again. She sought to draw away, but he would
not let go, and gradually she yielded.

"What a great thing is brute force! at least, you men think so," she
said, as they walked slowly up the street.

"Yes, when properly exerted, as in the present instance."

They went on, the lights in the house became dimmer, and the sound of
the music and the tread of the dance reached them no more.

She looked up into his face presently.

"Tell me one thing," she said.

"Certainly."

"Who is Helen?"

"Who is Helen?"

"Yes, I heard that man say how well she was looking to-night, and you
agreed."

"We were both right. Helen is Miss Helen Harley, and they say she is the
most beautiful woman in Richmond. She is the sister of Colonel Harley,
one of our noted cavalry leaders."

She was silent for a little while, and then Prescott said:

"Now will you answer a question of mine?"

"I should like to hear the question first."

"Where were you hidden when we searched Miss Grayson's house?"

"That I will never tell you," she replied with sudden energy.

"Oh, well, don't do it then," he said in some disappointment.

They were now three or four squares away from the presidential mansion
and were clothed in darkness, and silence save when the frozen snow
crackled crisply under their feet.

"You cannot go any farther with me," she said. "I have warned you before
that you must not risk yourself in my behalf."

"But if I choose to do so, nevertheless."

"Then I shall go back there to the house, where they are dancing."

She spoke in such a resolute tone that Prescott could not doubt her
intent.

"If you promise to return at once to Miss Grayson's cottage I shall
leave you here," he said.

"I make the promise, but for the present only," she replied. "You must
remember that we are enemies; you are of the South, and I am treated as
an enemy in Richmond. Good-night!"

She left him so quickly that he did not realize her departure until he
saw her form flicker in the darkness and then disappear completely. A
faint smile appeared on his face.

"No woman can ever successfully play the rôle of a man," he said to
himself. Despite her former denial and her air of truth he was still
thinking of her as a spy.

Then he walked thoughtfully back to the presidential mansion.

"You must have found that a most interesting cigar," said Talbot to him
when he returned to the house.

"The most interesting one I ever smoked," replied Prescott.

Prescott found himself again with Mrs. Markham and walked with her into
one of the smaller parlours, where Mr. Sefton, Winthrop, Raymond,
Redfield and others were discussing a topic with an appearance of great
earnestness.

"It is certainly a mystery, one of the most remarkable that I have ever
encountered," said the Secretary with emphasis, as Prescott and Mrs.
Markham joined them. "We are sure that it was a woman, a woman in a
brown cloak and brown dress, and that she is yet in Richmond, but we are
sure of nothing else. So far as our efforts are concerned, she might as
well be in St. Petersburg as here in the capital city of the South.
Perhaps the military can give us a suggestion. What do you think of it,
Captain Prescott?"

He turned his keen, cold eye on Prescott, who never quivered.

"I, Mr. Sefton?" he replied. "I have no thoughts at all upon such a
subject; for two reasons: first, my training as a soldier tells me to
let alone affairs which are not my own; and second, you say this spy is
a woman; know then that it is the prayer of every soldier that God will
preserve him from any military duty which has to do with a woman, as it
means sure defeat."

There was a laugh, and Mrs. Markham asked:

"Do you mean the second of your reasons as truth or as a mere compliment
to my sex?"

"Madam," replied Prescott with a bow, "you are a living illustration of
the fact that I could mean the truth only."

"But to return to the question of the spy," said Mr. Sefton,
tenaciously, "have you really no opinion, Captain Prescott? I have heard
that you assisted Mr. Talbot when he was detailed to search Miss
Grayson's house--a most commendable piece of zeal on your part--and I
thought it showed your great interest in the matter."

"Captain Prescott," said Mrs. Markham, "I am surprised at you. You
really helped in the searching of Miss Grayson's house! The idea of a
soldier doing such work when he doesn't have to!"

Prescott laughed lightly--a cloak for his real feelings--as Mrs.
Markham's frank criticism stung him a little.

"It was pure chance, Mrs. Markham. I happened to be near there when
Talbot passed with his detail, and as he and I are the best of friends,
I went with him wholly out of curiosity, I assure you--not the best of
motives, I am willing to admit."

"Then I am to imply, Mrs. Markham," said the Secretary in his smooth
voice, "that you condemn me for instituting such a search. But the
ladies, if you will pardon me for saying it, are the most zealous
upholders of the war, and now I ask you how are we men to carry it on if
we do not take warlike measures."

She shrugged her shoulders and the Secretary turned his attention again
to Prescott.

"What do you think of our chances of capture, Captain?" he said. "Shall
we take this woman?"

"I don't think so," replied Prescott, meeting the Secretary's eye
squarely. "First, you have no clue beyond the appearance of a woman
wearing a certain style of costume in the Government building on a
certain day. You have made no progress whatever beyond that. Now,
whoever this woman may be, she must be very clever, and I should think,
too, that she has friends in the city who are helping her."

"Then," said the Secretary, "we must discover her friends and reach her
through them."

"How do you propose going about it?" asked Prescott calmly.

"I have not made any arrangements yet, nor can I say that I have a
settled plan in view," replied the Secretary; "but I feel sure of
myself. A city of forty thousand inhabitants is not hard to watch, and
whoever this spy's friends are I shall find them sooner or later."

His cold, keen eyes rested upon Prescott, but they were without
expression. Nevertheless, a chill struck the young Captain to the
marrow. Did the Secretary know, or were his words mere chance? He
recognized with startling force that he was face to face with a man of
craft and guile, one who regarded him as a rival in a matter that lay
very close to the heart's desire, and therefore as a probable enemy.

But cold and keen as was the look of the Secretary, Prescott could read
nothing in his face, and whether a challenge was intended or not he
resolved to pick up the glove. There was something stubborn lying at the
bottom of his nature, and confronted thus by formidable obstacles he
resolved to protect Lucia Catherwood if it lay within his power.

General Wood, a look of discontent on his face, entered the room at this
moment. An electrical current of antagonism seemed to pass between him
and the Secretary, which Mrs. Markham, perhaps from an impulse of
mischief and perhaps from a natural love of sport, fostered, permitting
Prescott, to his relief, to retire into the background.

The Secretary's manner was smooth, silky and smiling; he never raised
his voice above its natural pitch nor betrayed otherwise the slightest
temper. He now led the talk upon the army, and gently insinuated that
whatever misfortunes had befallen the Confederacy were due to its
military arm; perhaps to a lack of concord among the generals, perhaps
to hasty and imperfect judgment on the field, or perhaps to a failure to
carry out the complete wishes of the Executive Department.

He did not say any of these things plainly, merely hinting them in the
mildest manner. Prescott, though a representative of the army, did not
take any of it to himself, knowing well that it was intended for the
General, and he watched curiously to see how the latter would reply.

The General surprised him, developing a tact and self-command, a
knowledge of finesse that he would not have believed possible in a rough
and uneducated mountaineer. But the same quality, the wonderful
perception, or rather intuition, that had made Wood a military genius,
was serving him here, and though he perceived at once the drift of the
Secretary's remarks and their intention, he preserved his coolness and
contented himself for awhile with apparent ignorance. This, however, did
not check the attack, and by and by Wood, too, began to deal in veiled
allusions and to talk of a great general and devoted lieutenants
hampered by men who sat in their chairs in a comfortable building before
glowing fires and gossiped of faults committed by others amid the reek
of desperate fields.

It was four o'clock in the morning when Prescott stood again in the
street in the darkness and saw the Secretary taking Helen home in his
carriage.



CHAPTER X

FEEDING THE HUNGRY


"It is now the gossip in Richmond," said Mrs. Prescott to her son as
they sat together before the fire a day or two later, "that General Wood
makes an unusually long stay here for a man who loves the saddle and war
as he does."

"Who says so, mother?"

"Well, many people."

"Who, for instance?"

"Well, the Secretary, Mr. Sefton, as a most shining instance, and he is
a man of such acute perceptions that he ought to know."

Prescott was silent.

"They say that Mr. Sefton wants something that somebody else wants," she
continued. "A while back it was another person whom he regarded as the
opponent to his wish, but now he seems to have transferred the rivalry
to General Wood. I wonder if he is right."

She gazed over her knitting needles into the fire as if she would read
the answer in the coals, but Prescott himself did not assist her, though
he wondered at what his mother was aiming. Was she seeking to arouse him
to greater vigour in his suit? Well, he loved Helen Harley, and he had
loved her ever since they were little boy and little girl together, but
that was no reason why he should shout his love to all Richmond. Sefton
and Wood might shout theirs, but perhaps he should fare better if he
were more quiet.

Lonely and abstracted, Prescott wandered about the city that evening,
and when the hour seemed suitable, bending his head to the northern
blast, he turned willing steps once more to the little house in the
cross street, wondering meanwhile what its two inmates were doing and
how they fared.

As he went along and heard the wind moaning among the houses he had the
feeling that he was watched. He looked ahead and saw nothing; he looked
back and saw nothing; then he told himself it was only the wind rattling
among loose boards, but his fancy refused to credit his own words. This
feeling that he was watched, spied upon, had been with him several days,
but he did not realize it fully until the present moment, when he was
again upon a delicate errand, one perhaps involving a bit of
unfaithfulness to the cause for which he fought. He, the bold Captain,
the veteran of thirty battles, shook slightly and then told himself
courageously that it was not a nervous chill, but the cold. Yet he
looked around fearfully and wished to hear other footsteps, to see other
faces and to feel that he was not alone on such a cold and dark
night--alone save for the unknown who watched him. At the thought he
looked about again, but there was nothing, not even the faintest echo of
a footfall.

The chill, the feeling of oppression passed for the time and he hastened
to the side street and the little house. It was too dark for him to tell
whether any wisp of smoke rose from the chimney, and no light shone from
the window. He opened the little gate and passed into the little yard
where the snow seemed to be yet unbroken. Then he slipped two of the
beautiful gold double eagles under the door and almost ran away, the
feeling that he was watched returning to him and hanging on his back
like crime on the mind of the guilty.

Prescott's early ancestors had been great borderers, renowned Indian
fighters and adepts in the ways of the forest, when the red men, silent
and tenacious, followed upon their tracks for days and it was necessary
to practise every art to throw off the pursuers, unseen but known to be
there. Unconsciously a thin strain of heredity now came into play, and
he began to wind about the city before going home, turning suddenly
from one street into another, and gliding swiftly now and then in the
darkest shadow, making it difficult for pursuer, if pursuer he had, to
follow him.

He did not reach home until nearly two hours after he had left the
cottage, and then his fingers and ears were blue and almost stiff with
cold.

He wandered into the streets again the next morning, and ere long saw a
slender figure ahead of him walking with decision and purpose. Despite
the distance and the vagueness of her form he knew that it was Miss
Grayson, and he followed more briskly, drawn by curiosity and a
resolution to gratify it.

She went to one of the markets and began to barter for food, driving a
sharp bargain and taking her time. Prescott loitered near and at last
came very close. There were several others standing about, but if she
noticed and recognized the Captain she gave no sign, going on
imperturbably with her bargaining.

Prescott thought once or twice of speaking to her, but he concluded that
it was better to wait, letting her make the advances if she would. He
was glad of his decision a few minutes later, when he saw a new figure
approaching.

The new arrival was Mr. Sefton, a fur-lined cloak drawn high around his
neck and his face as usual bland and smiling. He nodded to Prescott and
then looked at Miss Grayson, but for the moment said nothing, standing
by as if he preferred to wait for whatever he had in mind.

Miss Grayson finished her purchases, and drawing her purse took forth
the money for payment. A yellow gleam caught Prescott's eye and he
recognized one of his double eagles. The knowledge sent a thrill through
him, but he still stood in silence, glancing casually about him and
waiting for one of the others to speak first.

Miss Grayson received her change and her packages and turned to go away,
when she was interrupted by the Secretary, with no expression whatever
showing through his blandness and his smiles.

"It is Miss Grayson, is it not?" he said smoothly.

She turned upon him a cold and inquiring look.

"I am Mr. Sefton of the Treasurer's office," he said in the same even
tones--smooth with the smoothness of metal. "Perhaps it is too much to
hope that you have heard of me."

"I have heard of you," she said with increasing coldness.

"And I of you," he continued. "Who in Richmond has not heard of Miss
Charlotte Grayson, the gallant champion of the Northern Cause and of the
Union of the States forever? I do not speak invidiously. On the
contrary, I honour you; from my heart I do, Miss Grayson. Any woman who
has the courage amid a hostile population to cling to what she believes
is the right, even if it be the wrong, is entitled to our homage and
respect."

He made a bow, not too low, then raised his hand in a detaining gesture
when Miss Grayson turned to go.

"You are more fortunate than we--we who are in our own house--Miss
Grayson," he said. "You pay in gold and with a large gold piece, too.
Excuse me, but I could not help noticing."

Prescott saw a quiver on her lips and a sudden look of terror in her
eyes; but both disappeared instantly and her features remained rigid and
haughty.

"Mr. Sefton," she said icily, "I am a woman, alone in the world and, as
you say, amid a hostile population; but my private affairs are my own."

There was no change in the Secretary's countenance; he was still bland,
smiling, purring like a cat.

"Your private affairs, Miss Grayson," he said, "of course! None would
think of questioning that statement. But how about affairs that are not
private? There are certain public duties, owed by all of us in a time
like this."

"You have searched my house," she said in the same cold tones; "you have
exposed me to that indignity, and now I ask you to leave me alone."

"Miss Grayson," he said, "I would not trouble you, but the sight of
gold, freshly coined gold like that and of so great a value, arouses my
suspicions. It makes a question spring up in my mind, and that question
is, how did you get it? Here is my friend, Captain Prescott; he, too, no
doubt, is interested, or perhaps you know him already."

It was said so easily and carelessly that Prescott reproved himself when
he feared a double meaning lurking under the Secretary's words.
Nervousness or incaution on the part of Miss Grayson might betray much.
But the look she turned upon Prescott was like that with which she had
favoured the Secretary--chilly, uncompromising and hostile.

"I do not know your friend," she said.

"But he was with the officer who searched your house," said the
Secretary.

"A good reason why I should not know him."

The Secretary smiled.

"Captain Prescott," he said, "you are unfortunate. You do not seem to be
on the road to Miss Grayson's favour."

"The lady does not know me, Mr. Sefton," said Prescott, "and it cannot
be any question of either favour or disfavour."

The Secretary was now gazing at Miss Grayson, and Prescott used the
chance to study his face. This casual but constant treading of the
Secretary upon dangerous ground annoyed and alarmed him. How much did he
know, if anything? Robert would rather be in the power of any other man
than the one before him.

When he had sought in vain to read that immovable face, to gather there
some intimation of his purpose, the old feeling of fear, the feeling
that had haunted him the night before when he went to the cottage, came
over him again. The same chill struck him to the marrow, but his will
and pride were too strong to let it prevail. It was still a calm face
that he showed to the lady and the Secretary.

"If you have not known Captain Prescott before, you should know him
now," the Secretary was saying. "A gallant officer, as he has proved on
many battlefields, and a man of intelligence and feeling. Moreover, he
is a fair enemy."

Prescott bowed slightly at the compliment, but Miss Grayson was
immovable. Apparently the history and character of Captain Robert
Prescott, C. S. A., were of no earthly interest to her, and Prescott,
looking at her, was uncertain if the indifference were not real as well
as apparent.

"Mr. Sefton," said Miss Grayson, "you asked an explanation and I said
that I had none to give, nor have I. You can have me arrested if you
wish, and I await your order."

"Not at all, Miss Grayson," replied the Secretary; "let the explanation
be deferred."

"Then," she said with unchanging coldness, "I take pleasure in bidding
you good-day."

"Good-day," rejoined the Secretary, and Prescott politely added his own.

Miss Grayson, without another word, gathered up her bundles and left.

"Slumbering fire," said the Secretary, looking after her.

"Is she to be blamed for it?" said Prescott.

"Did my tone imply criticism?" the Secretary asked, looking at
Prescott.



CHAPTER XI

MR. SEFTON MAKES A CONFIDENCE


Prescott now resolved, whatever happened, to make another attempt at the
escape of Lucia Catherwood. Threats of danger, unspoken, perhaps, but to
his mind not the less formidable, were multiplying, and he did not
intend that they should culminate in disaster. The figure of that woman,
so helpless and apparently the sole target at this moment of a powerful
Government, made an irresistible appeal to him.

But there were moments of doubt, when he asked himself if he were not
tricked by the fancy, or rather by a clever and elusive woman--as
cunning as she was elusive--who led him, and who looked to the end and
not to the means. He saw something repellent in the act of being a spy,
above all when it was a woman who took the part. His open nature
rejected such a trade, even if it were confined to the deed of a moment
done under impulse. She had assured him that she was innocent, and there
was a look of truth in her face when she said it; but to say it and to
look it was in the business of being a spy, and why should she differ
from others?

But these moments were brief; they would come to his mind and yet his
mind in turn would cast them out. He remembered her eyes, the swell of
her figure, her noble curves. She was not of the material that would
turn to so low a trade, he said to himself over and over again.

He was still thinking of a plan to save her and trying to find a way
when a message arrived directing him to report at once to the Secretary
of War. He surmised that he would receive instructions to rejoin General
Lee as soon as possible, and he felt a keen regret that he should not
have time to do the thing he wished most to do; but he lost no time in
obeying the order.

The Secretary of War was in his office, sitting in a chair near the
window, and farther away slightly in the shadow was another figure, more
slender but stronger. Prescott recognized again, with that sudden and
involuntary feeling of fear, the power of the man. It was Mr. Sefton,
his face hidden in the shadows, and therefore wholly unread. But as
usual the inflexibility of purpose, the hardening of resolve followed
Prescott's emotion, and his figure stiffened as he stood at attention to
receive the commands of the mighty--that is, the Secretary of War of the
Confederate States of America.

But the Secretary of War was not harsh or fierce; instead, he politely
invited the young Captain to a chair and spoke to him in complimentary
terms, referring to his gallant services on many battlefields, and
declaring them not unknown to those who held the strings of power. Mr.
Sefton, from the security of the shadows, merely nodded to their guest,
and Prescott returned the welcome in like fashion, every nerve attuned
for what he expected to prove an ordeal.

"Many officers are brave," began the Secretary of War, "and it is not
the highest compliment when we call you such, Captain Prescott. Indeed,
we mean to speak much better of you when we say that you have bravery,
allied with coolness and intelligence. When we find these in one person
we have the ideal officer."

Prescott could not do less than bow to this flattery, but he wondered
what such a curious prelude foreshadowed. "It means no good to me," he
thought, "or he would not begin with such praise." But he said aloud:

"I am sure I have some zealous friend to thank for commendation so much
beyond my desert."

"It is not beyond your desert, but you have a friend to thank
nevertheless," replied the Secretary of War. "A friend, too, whom no man
need despise. I allude to Mr. Sefton here, one of the ablest members of
the Government, one who surpasses most of us in insight and pertinacity.
It is he who, because of his friendship for you and faith in you,
wishes to have you chosen for an important and delicate service which
may lead to promotion."

Prescott stared at this man whose words rang so hollow in his ear, but
he could see no sign of guile or satire on the face of the Secretary of
War. On the contrary, it bore every appearance of earnestness, and he
became convinced that the appearance was just. Then he cast one swift
glance at the inscrutable Mr. Sefton, who still sat in the shadow and
did not move.

"I thank you for your kind words," he said to the Secretary of War, "and
I shall appreciate very much the honour, of which you give me an
intimation."

The great man smiled. It is pleasant to us all to confer benefits and
still pleasanter to know that they are appreciated.

"It is a bit of work in the nature of secret service, Captain Prescott,"
he continued, "and it demands a wary eye and a discerning mind."

Prescott shuddered with repulsion. Instinctively he foresaw what was
coming, and there was no task which he would not have preferred in its
place. And he was expected, too, at such a moment, to look grateful.

"You will recall the episode of the spy and the abstraction of the
papers from the President's office," continued the Secretary of War in
orotund and complaisant tones. "It may seem to the public that we have
dropped this matter, which is just what we wish the public to think, as
it may lull the suspicions of the suspected. But we are more resolved
than ever to secure the guilty!"

Prescott glanced again at Mr. Sefton, but he still sat in the shadow,
and Prescott believed that he had not yet moved either hand or foot in
the whole interview.

"To be brief, Captain Prescott," resumed the Secretary of War, "we wish
you to take charge of this service which, I repeat, we consider delicate
and important."

"Now?" asked Prescott.

"No, not immediately--in two or three days, perhaps; we shall notify
you. We are convinced the guilty are yet in Richmond and cannot escape.
It is important that we capture them, as we may unearth a nest of
conspirators. I trust that you see the necessity of our action."

Prescott bowed, though he was raging inwardly, and it was in his mind to
decline abruptly such a service, but second thought told him a refusal
might make a bad matter worse. He would have given much, too, to see the
face of Mr. Sefton--his fancy painted there a smile of irony.

As the Secretary of War seemed to have said all that he intended,
Prescott turned to go, but he added a word of thanks to Mr. Sefton,
whose voice he wished to hear. Mr. Sefton merely nodded, and the young
Captain, as he went out, hesitated on the doorstep as if he expected to
hear sardonic laughter behind him. He heard nothing.

The fierce touch of the winter outside cooled his blood, and as he
walked toward his home he tried to think of a way out of the difficulty.
He kept repeating to himself the words of the Secretary of War: "In two
or three days we shall send for you," and from this constant repetition
an idea was born in his head. "Much may be done in two or three days,"
he said to himself, "and if a man can do it I will!" and he said it with
a sense of defiance.

His brain grew hot with the thought, and he walked about the city, not
wishing yet to return to his home. He had been walking, he knew not how
long, when a hand fell lightly upon his arm and, turning, he beheld the
bland face of Mr. Sefton.

"May I walk a little with you, Captain Prescott?" he said. "Two heads
are sometimes better than one."

Prescott was hot alike with his idea and with wrath over his recent
ordeal; moreover, he hated secret and underhand parts, and spoke
impulsively:

"Mr. Secretary, I have you to thank for this task, and I do not thank
you at all!"

"Why not? Most young officers wish a chance for promotion."

"But you set me spying to catch a spy! There are few things in the world
that I would rather not do."

"You say 'you set me spying'! My dear sir, it was the Secretary of War,
not I."

"Mr. Sefton," exclaimed Prescott angrily, "why should we fence with
words any longer? It is you and you alone who are at the bottom of
this!"

"Since that is your theory, my dear Captain, what motive would you
assign?"

Prescott was slow to wrath, but when moved at last he had little fear of
consequences, and it was so with him now. He faced the Secretary and
gazed at him steadily, even inquiringly. But, as usual, he read nothing
in the bland, unspeaking countenance before him.

"There is a motive, an ulterior motive," he replied. "For days now you
have been persecuting me and I am convinced that it is for a purpose."

"And if so ready to read an unspoken purpose in my mind, then why not
read the cause of it?"

Prescott hesitated. This calm, expressionless man with the impression of
power troubled him. The Secretary again put his hand lightly upon his
arm.

"We are near the outskirts of the city, Captain," said Mr. Sefton, "and
I suggest that we walk on toward the fortifications in order that none
may overhear what we have to say. It may be that you and I shall arrive
at such an understanding that we can remain friends."

There was suggestion in the Secretary's words for the first time,
likewise a command, and Prescott willingly adopted his plan. Together
the two strolled on through the fields.

"I have a tale to tell," began the Secretary, "and there are
preliminaries and exordiums, but first of all there is a question.
Frankly, Captain Prescott, what kind of a man do you think I am?"

Prescott hesitated.

"I see you do not wish to speak," continued the Secretary, "because the
portrait you would paint is unflattering, but I will paint it for
you--at least, the one that you have in your mind's eye. You think me
sly and intriguing, eaten up by ambition, and caring for nobody in the
world but myself. A true portrait, perhaps, so far as the external
phases go, and the light in which I often wish to appear to the world,
but not true in reality."

Prescott waited in silence to hear what the other might have to say, and
whatever it was he was sure that it would be of interest.

"That I am ambitious is true," continued the Secretary; "there are few
men not old who are not so, and I think it better to have ambition than
to be without it. But if I have ambition I also have other qualities. I
like my friends--I like you and would continue to like you, Captain
Prescott, if you would let me. It is said here that I am not a true
Southerner, whatever may be my birth, as my coldness, craft and
foresight are not Southern characteristics. That may be true, but at
least I am Southern in another character--I have strong, even violent
emotions, and I love a woman. I am willing to sacrifice much for her."

The Secretary's hand was still resting lightly on Prescott's arm, and
the young Captain, feeling it tremble, knew that his companion told the
truth.

"Yes," resumed Mr. Sefton, "I love a woman, and with all the greater
fire because I am naturally undemonstrative and self-centred. The stream
comes with an increased rush when it has to break through the ice. I
love a woman, I say, and I am determined to have her. You know well who
it is!"

"Helen Harley," said Prescott.

"I love Helen Harley," continued the Secretary, "and there are two men
of whom I am jealous, but I shall speak first of one--the one whom I
have feared the longer and the more. He is a soldier, a young man
commended often by his superiors for gallantry and skill--deservedly so,
too--I do not seek to deny it. He is here in Richmond now, and he has
known Helen Harley all his life. They were boy and girl together. But he
has become mixed in an intrigue here. There is another woman----"

"Mr. Sefton! You proposed that we understand each other, and that is
just what I wish, too. You have been watching me all this time."

"Watching you! Yes, I have, and to purpose!" exclaimed the Secretary.
"You have done few things in Richmond that have not come to my
knowledge. Again I ask you what kind of a man do you think I am? When I
saw you standing in my path I resolved that no act of yours should
escape me. You know of this spy, Lucia Catherwood, and you know where
she is. You see, I have even her name. Once I intended to arrest her and
expose you to disgrace, but she had gone. I am glad now that we did not
find her. I have a better use for her uncaught, though it annoys me that
I cannot yet discover where she was when we searched that house."

The cold chill which he had felt before in the presence of this man
assailed Prescott again. He was wholly within his power, and
metaphorically, he could be broken on the wheel if the adroit and
ruthless Secretary wished it. He bit his dry lip, but said nothing,
still waiting for the other.

"I repeat that I have a better use for Miss Catherwood," continued Mr.
Sefton. "Do you think I should have gone to all this trouble and touched
upon so many springs merely to capture one misguided girl? What harm can
she do us? Do you think the result of a great war and the fate of a
continent are to be decided by a pair of dark eyes?"

They were walking now along a half-made street that led into the fields.
Behind them lay the city, and before them the hills and the forest, all
in a robe of white. Thin columns of smoke rose from the earthworks,
where the defenders hovered over the fires, but no one was near enough
to hear what the two men said.

"Then why have you held your hand?" asked Prescott.

"Why?" and the Secretary actually laughed, a smooth, noiseless laugh,
but a laugh nevertheless, though so full of a snaky cunning that
Prescott started as if he had been bitten. "Why, because I wished you,
Robert Prescott, whom I feared, to become so entangled that you would
be helpless in my hands, and that you have done. If I wish I can have
you dismissed from the army in disgrace--shot, perhaps, as a traitor. In
any event, your future lies in the hollow of my hand. You are wholly at
my mercy. I speak a word and you are ruined."

"Why not speak it?" Prescott asked calmly. His first impulse had passed,
and though his tongue was dry in his mouth the old hardening resolve to
fight to the last came again.

"Why not speak it? Because I do not wish to do so--at least, not yet.
Why should I ruin you? I do not dislike you; on the contrary, I like
you, as I have told you. So, I shall wait."

"What then?"

"Then I shall demand a price. I am not in this world merely to pass
through it mechanically, like a clock wound up for a certain time. No; I
want things and I intend to have them. I plan for them and I make
sacrifices to get them. My one desire most of all is Helen Harley, but
you are in the way. Stand out of it--withdraw--and no word of mine shall
ever tell what I know. So far as I am concerned there shall be no Lucia
Catherwood. I will do more: I will smooth her way from Richmond for her.
Now, like a wise man, pay this price, Captain Prescott. It should not be
hard for you."

He spoke the last words in a tone half insinuating, half ironical.
Prescott flushed a deep red. He did love Helen Harley; he had always
loved her. He had not been away from her so much recently because of any
decrease in that love; it was his misfortune--the pressure of ugly
affairs that compelled him. Was the love he bore her to be thrown aside
for a price? A price like that was too high to pay for anything.

"Mr. Secretary," he replied icily, "they say that you are not of the
South in some of your characteristics, and I think you are not. Do you
suppose that I would accept such a proposition? I could not dream of it.
I should despise myself forever if I were to do such a thing."

He stopped and faced the Secretary angrily, but he saw no reflection of
his own wrath in the other's face; on the contrary, he had never before
seen him look so despondent. There was plenty of expression now on his
countenance as he moodily kicked a lump of snow out of his way. Then Mr.
Sefton said:

"Do you know in my heart I expected you to make that answer. You would
never have put such an alternative to a rival, but I--I am different. Am
I responsible? No; you and I are the product of different soils and we
look at things in a different way. You do not know my history. Few do
here in Richmond--perhaps none; but you shall know, and then you will
understand."

Prescott saw that this man, who a moment ago was threatening him, was
deeply moved, and he waited in wonder.

"You have never known what it is," resumed the Secretary, speaking in
short, choppy tones so unlike his usual manner that the voice might have
belonged to another man, "to belong to the lowest class of our people--a
class so low that even the negro slaves sneered at and despised it; to
be born to a dirt floor, and a rotten board roof and four log walls! A
goodly heritage, is it not? Was not Providence kind to me? And is it not
a just and kind Providence?"

He laughed with concentrated bitterness, and a feeling of pity for this
man whom he had been dreading so much stole over Prescott.

"We talk of freedom and equality here in the South," continued the
Secretary, "and we say we are fighting for it; but not in England itself
is class feeling stronger, and that is what we are fighting to
perpetuate. I say that you have no such childhood as mine to look back
to--the squalour, the ignorance, the sin, the misery, and above all the
knowledge that you have a brain in your head and the equal knowledge
that you are forbidden to use it--that places and honours are not for
you!"

Again he fiercely kicked a clump of snow from his path and gazed
absently across the fields toward the wintry horizon, his face full of
passionate protestation. Prescott was still silent, his own position
forgotten now in the interest aroused by this sudden outburst.

"If you are born a clod it is best to be a clod," continued the
Secretary, "but that I was not. As I said, I have a brain in my head,
and eyes to see. From the first I despised the squalour and the misery
around me, and resolved to rise above it despite all the barriers of a
slave-holding aristocracy, the most exclusive aristocracy in the world.
I thought of nothing else. You do not know my struggles; you cannot
guess them--the years and the years and all the bitter nights. They say
that any oppressed and despised race learns and practises craft and
cunning. So does a man; he must--he has no other choice.

"I learned craft and cunning and practised them, too, because I had to
do so. I did things that you have never done because you were not driven
to them, and at last I saw the seed that I had planted begin to grow.
Then I felt a joy that you can never feel because you have never worked
for an object, and never will work for it, as I have done. I have
triumphed. The best in the South obey me because they must. It is not
the title or the name, for there are those higher than mine, but it is
the power, the feeling that I have the reins in my hand and can guide."

"If you have won your heart's desire why do you rail at fate?" asked
Prescott.

"Because I have not won my wish--not all of it. They say there is a weak
spot in every man's armour; there is always an Achilles' heel. I am no
exception. Well, the gods ordained that I, James Sefton, a man who
thought himself made wholly of steel, should fall in love with a piece
of pink-and-white girlhood. What a ridiculous bit of nonsense! I suppose
it was done to teach me I am a fool just like other men. I had begun to
believe that I was exceptional, but I know better now."

"Then you call this a weakness and regret it?"

"Yes, because it interferes with all my plans. The time that I should be
devoting to ambition I must sacrifice for a weakness of the heart."

The low throb of a distant drum came from a rampart, and the Secretary
raised his head, as if the sound gave a new turn to his thoughts.

"Even the plans of ambition may crumble," he said. "Since I am speaking
frankly of one thing, Captain Prescott, I may speak likewise of another.
Have you ever thought how unstable may prove this Southern Confederacy
for which we are spending so much blood?"

"I have," replied Prescott with involuntary emphasis.

"So have I; again I speak to you with perfect frankness, because it will
not be to your profit to repeat what I say. Do you realize that we are
fighting against the tide, or, to put it differently, against the weight
of all the ages? When one is championing a cause opposed to the tendency
of human affairs his victories are worse than his defeats because they
merely postpone the certain catastrophe. It is impossible for a
slave-holding aristocracy under any circumstances to exist much longer
in the world. When the apple is ripe it drops off the tree, and we
cannot stay human progress. The French Revolution was bound to triumph
because the institutions that it destroyed were worn out; the American
Colonies were bound to win in their struggle with Britain because nature
had decreed the time for parting; and even if we should succeed in this
contest we should free the slaves ourselves inside of twenty years,
because slavery is now opposed to common sense as well as to morality."

"Then why do you espouse such a cause?" asked Prescott.

"Why do you?" replied the Secretary very quickly.

It was a question that Prescott never yet had been able to answer to his
own complete satisfaction, and now he preferred silence. But no reply
seemed to be expected, as the Secretary continued to talk of the
Southern Confederacy, the plan upon which it was formed, and its
abnormal position in the world, expressing himself, as he had said he
would, with the most perfect frankness, displaying all the qualities of
a keen analytical and searching mind. He showed how the South was
one-sided, how it had cultivated only one or two forms of intellectual
endeavour, and therefore, so he said, was not fitted in its present mood
to form a calm judgment of great affairs.

"The South is not sufficiently arithmetical," he said; "statistics are
dry, but they are very useful on the eve of a great war. The South,
however, has always scorned mathematics; she doesn't know even now the
vast resources of the North, her tremendous industrial machinery which
also supports the machinery of war, and above all she does not know that
the North is only now beginning to be aroused. Even to this day the
South is narrow, and, on the whole, ignorant of the world."

Prescott, who knew these things already, did not like, nevertheless, to
hear them said by another, and he was in arms at once to defend his
native section.

"It may be as you say, Mr. Secretary," he replied, "and I have no doubt
it is true that the North is just gathering her full strength for the
war, but you will see no shirking of the struggle on the part of the
Southern people. They are rooted deep in the soil, and will make a
better fight because of the faults to which you point."

The Secretary did not reply. They were now close to the fortifications
and could see the sentinels, as they walked the earthworks, blowing on
their fingers to keep them warm. On one side they caught a slight
glimpse of the river, a sheet of ice in its bed, and on the other the
hills, with the trees glittering in icy sheaths like coats of mail.

"It is time to turn back," said Mr. Sefton, "and I wish to say again
that I like you, but I also warn you once more that I shall not spare
you because of it; my weakness does not go so far. I wish you out of my
way, and I have offered you an alternative which you decline. Many men
in my position would have crushed you at once; so I take credit to
myself. You adhere to your refusal?"

"Certainly I do," replied Prescott with emphasis.

"And you take the risk?"

"I take the risk."

"Very well, there is no need to say more. I warn you to look out for
yourself."

"I shall do so," replied Prescott, and he laughed lightly and with a
little irony.

They walked slowly back to the city, saying no more on the subject which
lay nearest to their hearts, but talking of the war and its chances. A
company of soldiers shivering in their scanty gray uniforms passed them.

"From Mississippi," said the Secretary; "they arrived only yesterday,
and this, though the south to us, is a cruel north to them. But there
will not be many like these to come."

They parted in the city, and the Secretary did not repeat his threats;
but Prescott knew none the less that he meant them.



CHAPTER XII

A FLIGHT BY TWO


It was about ten by the watch, and a very cold, dark and quiet night,
when Prescott reached the Grayson cottage and paused a moment at the
gate, the dry snow crumbling under his heels. There was no light in the
window, nor could he see any smoke rising from the chimney. The coal
must be approaching the last lump, he thought, and the gold would be
gone soon, too. But there was another and greater necessity than either
of those driving him on, and, opening the gate, he quickly knocked upon
the door. It was low but heavy, a repeated and insistent knock, like the
muffled tattoo of a drum, and at last Miss Grayson answered, opening the
door a scant four inches and staring out with bright eyes.

"Mr. Prescott!" she exclaimed, "it is you! You again! Ah, I have warned
you and for your own good, too! You cannot enter here!"

"But I must come in," he replied; "and it is for my own good, too, as
well as yours and Miss Catherwood's."

She looked at him with searching inquiry.

"Don't you see that I am freezing on your doorstep?" he said
humourously.

He saw her frown plainly by the faint flicker of the firelight, and knew
she did not relish a jest at such a time.

"Let me in and I will tell you everything," he added quickly. "It is an
errand more urgent than any on which I have come before."

She opened the door slowly, belief and unbelief competing in her mind,
and when it was closed again Prescott insisted upon knowing at once if
Miss Catherwood were still in the house.

"Yes, she is here," Miss Grayson replied at last and reluctantly.

"Then I must see her and see her now," said Prescott, as he quietly took
a seat in the chair before her.

"You cannot see her again," said Miss Grayson.

"I do not move from this chair until she comes," said Prescott
resolutely, as he spread his fingers out to the tiny blaze.

Miss Grayson gave him one angry glance; her lips moved as if she would
say something, but changing her mind, she took a chair on the other side
of the fire and her face also bore the cast of resolution.

"It is no use, Miss Grayson," said Prescott. "I am here for the best of
purposes, I assure you, and I will not stir. Please call Miss
Catherwood."

Miss Grayson held out for a minute or two longer, and then, a red spot
in either cheek, she walked into the next room and returned with Lucia.

Prescott knew her step, light as it was, before she came, and his heart
beat a little more heavily. He rose, too, and bowed with deep respect
when she appeared, feeling a strange thrill of pleasure at seeing her
again.

He had wondered in what aspect she would appear, she whose nature seemed
to him so varied and contradictory, and whose face was the index to
these changing phases. She came in quietly, a young girl, pale,
inquiring, yet saying no word; but there was a sparkle in her gaze that
made the blood leap for a moment to Prescott's face.

"Miss Catherwood," he said, "you forbade me to return here, but I have
come nevertheless."

She was still silent, her inquiring look upon him.

"You must leave Richmond to-night!" he said. "There must be no delay."

She made a gesture as if she would call his attention to the frozen
world outside and said:

"I am willing enough to leave Richmond if I knew a way."

"I will find the way--I go with you!"

"That I cannot permit; you shall not risk your future by making such an
attempt with me."

"It will certainly be risked greatly if I do not make the attempt with
you," he replied.

They looked at him in wonder. Prescott saw now, by a sudden intuition,
the course of action that would appeal to them most, and he said:

"It is as much for my sake as it is for yours. That you are here is
known to a man powerful in this Government, and he knows also that I am
aware of your presence. There is to be another search for you and I
shall be forced to lead it. It means my ruin unless you escape before
that search begins."

Then he explained to them as much as he thought necessary, although he
did not give Mr. Sefton's name, and dwelt artfully upon his own peril
rather than upon hers.

Lucia Catherwood neither moved nor spoke as Prescott told the story.
Once there was a strange light in her eyes as she regarded him, but it
was momentary, gone like a flash, and her face remained expressionless.

"But is there a way?" asked Miss Grayson in doubt and alarm.

"I shall find a way," replied Prescott confidently. "Lift the curtain
from the window and look. The night is dark and cold; all who can will
be under roofs, and even the sentinels will hug walls and earthworks.
Now is our time."

"You must go, Lucia," said Miss Grayson decisively.

Miss Catherwood bowed assent and went at once to the next room to
prepare for the journey.

"Will you care for her as if she were your own, your sister?" asked Miss
Grayson, turning appealingly to Prescott.

"As God is my witness," he replied, and the ring in his tone was so deep
and true that she could not doubt it.

"I believe you," said this bravest of old maids, looking him steadfastly
in the eye for a few moments and then following the girl into the next
room.

Prescott sat alone by the fire, staring at three or four coals that
glowed redly on the hearth, and wondering how he should escape with
this girl from Richmond. He had said confidently that he should find a
way and he believed he would, but he knew of none.

They came back presently, the girl wrapped to the eyes in a heavy black
cloak.

"It is Miss Grayson's," she said with a touch of humour. "She has
consented to take my brown one in its place."

"Overshoes?" said Prescott, interrogatively.

Her feet peeped from beneath her dress.

"Two pairs," she replied. "I have on both Charlotte's and my own."

"Gloves?"

She held out her hands enclosed in the thickest mittens.

"You will do," said Prescott; "and now is the time for us to go."

He turned his back while these two women, tried by so many dangers,
wished each other farewell. There were no tears, no vehement
protestations; just a silent, clinging embrace, a few words spoken low,
and then the parting. Prescott's own eyes were moist. There must be
unusual qualities in these two women to inspire so deep an attachment,
so much capacity for sacrifice.

He opened the door an inch or so and, looking out, beheld a city silent
and dark, like a city of the dead.

"Come," he said, and the two went out into the silence and cold
desolation. He glanced back and saw the door yet open a few inches. Then
it closed and the brave old maid was left alone.

The girl shivered at the first touch of the night and Prescott asked
anxiously if she found the cold too great.

"Only for a moment," she replied. "Which way shall we go?"

He started at the question, not yet having chosen a course, and replied
in haste:

"We must reach the Baltimore road; it is not so far to the Northern
pickets, and when we approach them I can leave you."

"And you?" she said, "What is to become of you?"

All save her eyes was hidden by the dark cloak, but she looked up and he
saw there a light like that which had shone when she came forth to meet
him in the house.

"I?" he replied lightly. "Don't worry about me. I shall return to
Richmond and then help my army to fight and beat your army. Really
General Lee couldn't spare me, you know. Come!"

They stole forward, two shadows in the deeper shadow, the dry snow
rustling like paper under their feet. From some far point came the faint
cry of a sentinel, announcing to a sleepy world that all was well, and
after that the silence hung heavily as ever over the city. The cold was
not unpleasant to either of them, muffled as they were in heavy
clothing, for it imparted briskness and vigour to their strong young
bodies, and they went on at a swift pace through the densest part of the
city, into the thinning suburbs and then toward the fields and open
spaces which lay on the nearer side of the earthworks. Not a human being
did they see not a dog barked at them as they passed, scarcely a light
showed in a window; all around them the city lay in a lethargy beneath
its icy covering.

Involuntarily the girl, oppressed by the loneliness which had taken on a
certain weird quality, walked closer to Prescott, and he could faintly
hear her breathing as she fled with him, step for step.

"The Baltimore road lies there," he said, "and yonder are earthworks.
See! Where the faint light is twinkling! that low line is what we have
to pass."

They heard the creaking of wagons and the sound of voices as of men
speaking to horses, and stopped to listen. Then they beheld lights
nearer by on the left.

"Stay here a moment and I'll see what it is," said Prescott.

"Oh, don't leave me!" she cried with a sudden tremour.

"It is only for a moment," he replied, glad to hear that sudden tremour
in her voice.

Turning aside he found close at hand an obscure tavern, and beside it at
least a dozen wagons, the horses hitched as if ready for a journey. He
guessed immediately that these were the wagons of farmers who had been
selling provisions in the city. The owners were inside taking something
to warm them up for the home journey and the horses outside were
stamping their feet with the same purpose.

"Not likely to bother us," was Prescott's unspoken comment as he
returned to the girl who stood motionless in the snow awaiting him. "It
is nothing," he said. "We must go forward now, watch our chance and slip
through the earthworks."

She did not speak, but went on with him, showing an infinite trust that
appealed to every fiber of his being. The chill of the wintry night had
been driven away by vigourous exercise, but its tonic effect remained
with both, and now their courage began to rise as they approached the
first barrier. It seemed to them that they could not fail on such a
night.

"There is an interval yonder between two of the earthworks," said
Prescott. "I'm sure we can pass them."

Silently they approached the opening. The moon glimmered but faintly
across the white snow, and no sign of life came from the earthworks. But
as they drew near a sentinel, gun on shoulder, appeared walking back and
forth, and beyond where his post ended was another soldier, likewise
walking back and forth, gun on shoulder.

"It is evident that our way doesn't lie there," said Prescott, turning
back quickly lest the sentinel should see them and demand an
explanation.

"What shall we do?" she asked, seeming now to trust to him implicitly.

"Why, try another place," he replied lightly. "If at first you don't
succeed, try, try again."

They tried again and failed as before. The sentinels of the Confederacy
everywhere were watchful, despite the wintry night and the little
apparent need of precaution. Yet the two were drawn closer and closer
together by the community of hope and despair, and when at last they
drifted back toward the tavern and the wagons Prescott felt as if he,
too, were seeking to escape from Richmond to join the Army of the North.
He even found it in his heart to condemn the vigilance of his own.

"Captain Prescott," said the girl, as they stood watching the light in
the tavern window, "I insist that you leave me here. I wish to make an
attempt alone. Why should you risk yourself?"

"Even if you passed the fortifications," he replied, "you would perish
in the frozen hills beyond. Do you think I have come so far to turn back
now?"

Staring at the wagons and the stamping horses, he noticed one of the
farmers come out of the tavern. His appearance gave Prescott a happy
inspiration.

"Stay here a moment or two, Miss Catherwood," he said. "I want to talk
to that man."

She obeyed without a word of protest, and he approached the farmer, who
lurched toward one of the wagons. Prescott had marked this suggestive
lurch, and it gave him an idea.

The farmer, heated by many warm drinks, was fumbling with the gear of
his horses when Prescott approached, and to his muddled eyes the
stranger seemed at least a general, looming very stiff and very tall
with his great military cloak drawn threateningly about him.

"What is your name?" asked Prescott sternly.

The severe tone made a deep and proper impression on the intoxicated
gentleman's agricultural mind, so he replied promptly, though with a
stutter:

"Elias Gardner."

"Where are you from, Elias, and what are you doing here?"

The military discipline about Richmond was very strict, and the farmer,
anxious to show his good standing, replied with equal promptness:

"From Wellsville. I've been selling a load of farm truck in Richmond.
Oh, I've got my pass right enough, Colonel."

He took his pass from his pocket and handed it to the man who from the
dignity and severity of his manner might be a general officer. Prescott
looking at it felt a thrill of joy, but there was no change in the
sternness of his tone when he addressed the farmer again.

"Why, this pass," he said, "is made out to Elias Gardner _and wife_. You
said nothing about your wife."

The farmer was somewhat confused, and explained hastily that his wife
was going to stay awhile in Richmond with relatives, while he went home
alone. In three or four days he would be back with another load of
provisions and then he could get her. The face of the stern officer
gradually relaxed and he accused the good Mr. Gardner of taking
advantage of his wife's absence to enjoy himself. Prescott nodded his
head slightly toward the tavern, and the farmer, taking courage from the
jocular contraction of the Colonel's left eye, did not resent the
insinuation. On the contrary, he enjoyed it, feeling that he was a devil
of a fellow, and significantly tapped the left pocket of his coat, which
gave forth a ring as of glass.

"The quality of yours is bad," said Prescott. "Here, try mine; it's like
velvet to the throat, a tonic to the stomach, and it means sweet sleep
to-morrow."

Drawing from his pocket his own well-filled flask, with which from
prudential motives he had provided himself before undertaking his
journey, he handed it to Mr. Gardner of Wellsville and made him drink
deep and long.

When the farmer finished he sighed deeply, and words of appreciation and
gratitude flowed from his tongue.

"Bah, man!" said Prescott, "you cannot drink at all. You do not get the
real taste of it with one little sip like that on such a cold night as
this. Here, drink it down a real drink, this time. Are you a girl to
refuse such liquor?"

The last taunt struck home, and Mr. Gardner of Wellsville, making a
mighty suspiration, drank so long and deep that the world wavered when
he handed the flask back to Prescott, and a most generous fire leaped
up and sparkled in his veins. But when he undertook to step forward the
treacherous earth slid from under his feet, and it was only the arm of
the friendly officer that kept him from falling. He tried to reach his
wagon, but it unkindly moved off into space.

Prescott helped him to the wagon and then into it. "How my head goes
round!" murmured the poor farmer.

"Another taste of this will put you all right," said Prescott, and he
forced the neck of his flask into Elias Gardner's mouth. Elias drank
deeply, either because he wanted to or because he could not help
himself, and closing his eyes dropped off to slumber as peacefully as a
tired child.

Prescott laid Mr. Gardner down in the bed of his own wagon, and then
this chivalrous Confederate officer picked a man's pocket--deliberately
and with malice aforethought. But he did not take much--only a piece of
paper with a little writing on it, which he put in the pocket of his
waistcoat. Moreover, as a sort of compensation he pulled off the man's
overcoat--which was a poor one--and putting it on his own shoulders,
wrapped his heavy military cloak around the prostrate farmer. Then he
stretched him out in a comfortable place in the wagon bed and heaped
empty sacks above him until Elias was as cozy as if he had been in his
own bed at home.

Having placed empty chicken crates on either side of Elias and others
across the top, to form a sort of roof beneath which the man still slept
sweetly, though invisibly, Prescott contemplated his work for a moment
with deep satisfaction. Then he summoned the girl, and the two, mounting
the seat, drove the impatient horses along the well-defined road through
the snow towards the interval between the earthworks.

"It is necessary for me to inform you, Miss Catherwood, that you're not
Miss Catherwood at all," said Prescott.

A faint gleam of humour flickered in her eye.

"And who am I, pray?" she asked.

"You are a much more respectable young woman than that noted Yankee
spy," replied Prescott in a light tone. "You are Mrs. Elias Gardner, the
wife of a most staid and worthy farmer, of strong Southern proclivities,
living twenty miles out on the Baltimore road."

"And who are you?" she asked, the flicker of humour reappearing in her
eye.

"I am Mr. Elias Gardner, your husband, and, as I have just said, a most
honest and worthy man, but, unfortunately, somewhat addicted to the use
of strong liquors, especially on a night as cold as this."

If Prescott's attention had not been demanded then by the horses he
would have seen a rosy glow appear on her face. But it passed in a
moment, and she remained silent.

Then he told her of the whole lucky chance, his use of it, and how the
way now lay clear before them.

"We shall take Mr. Gardner back home," he said, "and save him the
trouble of driving. It will be one of the easiest and most comfortable
journeys that he ever took, and not a particle of harm will come to him
from it."

"But you? How will you get back into Richmond?"

She looked at him anxiously as she spoke.

"How do you know that I want to return?"

"I am speaking seriously."

"I am sure it will not be a difficult matter," he said. "A man alone can
pass the fortifications of any city without much trouble. It is not a
matter that I worry about at all. But please remember that you are Mrs.
Elias Gardner, my wife, as questions may be asked of you before this
night's journey ends."

The flush stole over her cheeks again, but she said nothing.

Prescott picked up the long whip, called a "black snake," which was
lying on the seat and cracked it over the horses, a fine, sturdy pair,
as he had noticed already. They stepped briskly along, as if anxious to
warm themselves after their long wait in the cold, and Prescott, who
was a good driver, felt the glorious sensation of triumph over
difficulties glowing within him.

"Ho, for a fine ride, Mrs. Gardner!" he said gaily to the girl.

His high spirits were infectious and she smiled back at him.

"With such an accomplished driver holding the lines, and so fine a
chariot as this, it ought to be," she replied.

The horses blew the steam from their nostrils, the dry snow crunched
under their heels, and the real Elias Gardner slumbered peacefully under
his own chicken crates as they approached the earthworks.

As before, when they had walked instead of coming in their own private
carriage, they soon saw the sentinel, half frozen but vigilant, and he
promptly halted them. Prescott produced at once the pass that he had
picked from the pocket of the unconscious Elias, and the sentinel called
the officer of the guard, who appeared holding a dim lantern and yawning
mightily.

Now this officer of the guard was none other than Thomas Talbot,
Esquire, himself, as large as life but uncommonly sleepy, and anxious to
have done with his task. Prescott was startled by his friend's
appearance there at such a critical moment, but he remembered that the
night was dark and he was heavily muffled.

Talbot looked at the pass, expressed his satisfaction and handed it back
to Prescott, who replaced it in his waistcoat pocket with ostentatious
care.

"Cold night for a long drive," said Talbot, wishing to be friendly.

Prescott nodded but did not speak.

"Especially for a lady," added Talbot gallantly.

Miss Catherwood nodded also, and with muttered thanks Prescott,
gathering up the lines, drove on.

"That was a particular friend of mine," he said, when they were beyond
the hearing of the outpost, "but I do not recall a time when the sight
of him was more unwelcome."

"Well, at any rate, he was less troublesome than friends often are."

"Now, don't forget that you are still Mrs. Elias Gardner of Wellsville,"
he continued, "as there are more earthworks and outposts to pass."

"I don't think that fugitives often flee from a city in their own coach
and four," she said with that recurring flicker of humour.

"At least not in such a magnificent chariot as ours," he said, looking
around at the lumbering farm wagon. The feeling of exultation was
growing upon him. When he had resolved to find a way he did not see one,
but behold, he had found it and it was better than any for which he had
hoped. They were not merely walking out of Richmond--they were driving
and in comfort. The road seemed to have been made smooth and pleasant
for them.

There was another line of earthworks and an outpost beyond, but the pass
for honest Elias Gardner and wife was sufficient. The officer, always a
young man and disposed to be friendly, would glance at it, wave them on
their way and retreat to shelter as quickly as possible.

The last barrier was soon crossed and they were alone in the white
desolation of the snow-covered hills and forests. Meanwhile, the real
Elias Gardner slumbered peacefully in his own wagon, the "world
forgetting and by the world forgot."

"You must go back, Captain Prescott, as I am now well beyond the
Confederate lines encircling Richmond and can readily care for myself,"
said Miss Catherwood.

But he refused to do so, asserting with indignation that it was not his
habit to leave his tasks half finished, and he could not abandon her in
such a frozen waste as that lying around them. She protested no further,
and Prescott, cracking his whip over the horses, increased their speed,
but before long they settled into an easy walk. The city behind sank
down in the darkness, and before them curved the white world of hills
and forests, white even under its covering of a somber night.



CHAPTER XIII

LUCIA'S FAREWELL


Prescott has never forgotten that night, the long ride, the relief from
danger, the silent woman by his side; and there was in all a keen
enjoyment, of a kind deeper and more holy than he had ever known before.
He had saved a woman, a woman whom he could admire, from a great danger;
it was hers rather than his own that appealed to him, and he was
thankful. In her heart, too, was a devout gratitude and something more.

The worthy Elias Gardner, slumbering so peacefully under his crates, was
completely forgotten, and they two were alone with the universe. The
clouds by and by passed away and the heavens shone blue and cold; a good
moon came out, and the white hills and forests, touched by it, flashed
now and then with the gleam of silver. All the world was at peace; there
was no sign of war in the night nor in those snowy solitudes. Before
them stretched the road, indicated by a long line of wheel tracks in the
snow, and behind them was nothing. Prescott, by and by, let the lines
drop on the edge of the wagon-bed, and the horses chose their own way,
following with mere instinct the better path.

He began now to see himself as he was, to understand the impulse that
had driven him on. Here by his side, her warm breath almost on his face,
was the girl he had saved, but he took no advantage of time and place,
infringing in no degree upon the respect due to every woman. He had come
even this night believing her a spy, but now he held her as something
holy.

She spoke by and by of the gratitude she owed him, not in many words,
but strong ones, showing how deeply she felt all she said, and he did
not seek to silence her, knowing the relief it would give her to speak.

Presently she told him of herself. She came from that borderland between
North and South which is of both though not wholly of either, but her
sympathies from the first had turned to the North, not so much through
personal feeling, but because of a belief that it would be better for
the North to triumph. The armies had come, her uncle with whom she had
lived had fallen in battle, and their home was destroyed, by which army
she did not know. Then she turned involuntarily to her nearest relative,
Miss Grayson, in whose home she knew she would receive protection, and
who, she knew, too, would share her sympathies. So she had come to
Richmond.

She said nothing of the accusation, the affair of the papers, and
Prescott longed to ask her again if she were guilty, and to hear her say
that she was not. He was not willing to believe her a spy, that she
could ever stoop to such an act; and here in the darkness with her by
his side, with only purity and truth in her eyes, he could not believe
her one. But when she was away he knew that his doubts would return.
Then he would ask himself if he had not been tricked and used by a woman
as beautiful and clever as she was ruthless. Now he saw only her beauty
and what seemed to him the truth of her eyes, and he swore again
silently and for the twentieth time that he would not leave her until he
saw her safe within the Northern lines. So little thought he then of his
own risks, and so willing a traitor was he, for a moment, and for the
sake of one woman's eyes, to the cause that he served. But a traitor
only in seeming, and not in reality, he would have said of himself with
truth.

"What do you intend to do now?" asked Prescott at last.

"There is much in the trail of our army that I can do," she said. "There
will be many wounded soon."

"Yes, when the snow goes," said Prescott. "Doesn't it seem strange that
the dead cold of winter alone should mean peace nowadays?"

Both spoke solemnly. For the time the thought of war inspired Prescott
with the most poignant repulsion, since he was taking this girl to the
army which he expected to fight.

"There is one question which I should like to ask you," he said after
awhile.

"What is it?"

"Where were you hidden that day my friend Talbot searched for you and I
looked on?"

She glanced quickly up into his face, and her lips curved in the
slightest smile. There was, too, a faint twinkle in her eye.

"You have asked me for the second time the one question that I cannot
answer," she replied. "I am sorry to disappoint you, Captain Prescott,
but ask me anything else and I think I can promise a reply. This one is
a secret not mine to tell."

Silence fell once more over them and the world about them. There was no
noise save the soft crush of the horses' feet in the snow and the crunch
of the wagon wheels. The silvery glow of the moon still fell across the
hills, and the trees stood motionless like white but kindly sentinels.

Prescott by and by took his flask from his pocket.

"Drink some of this," he said; "you must. The cold is insidious and you
should fend it off."

So urged she drank a little, and then Prescott, stopping the horses,
climbed back in the wagon-bed.

"It would be strange," he said, "if our good farmer prepared for a
twenty-mile drive without taking along something to eat."

"And please see that he is comfortable," she said. "I know these are war
times, but we are treating him hardly."

Prescott laughed.

"You shouldn't feel any remorse," he said. "Our worthy Elias was never
more snug in his life. He's still sleeping as sweetly as a baby, and is
as warm as a rabbit in its nest. Ah, here we are! Cold ham, light bread,
and cold boiled eggs. I'll requisition them, but I'll pay him for them.
It's a pity we can't feed the horses, too."

He took a coin from his pocket and thrust it into that of the sleeping
farmer. Then he spread the food upon the seat of the wagon, and the two
ate with hearty appetites due to the cold, their exertions and the
freedom from apprehension.

Prescott had often eaten of more luxurious fare, but none that he
enjoyed more than that frugal repast, in a lonely wagon on a cold and
dark winter morning. Thrilled with a strange exhilaration, he jested and
found entertainment in everything, and the girl beside him began to
share his high spirits, though she said little, but laughed often at his
speeches. Prescott never before had seen in her so much of feminine
gentleness, and it appealed to him, knowing how strong and masculine her
character could be at times. Now she left the initiative wholly to him,
as if she had put herself in his hands and trusted him fully, obeying
him, too, with a sweet humility that stirred the deeps of his nature.

At last they finished the crumbs of the farmer's food and Prescott
regretfully drove on.

"The horses have had a good rest, too," he said, "and I've no doubt they
needed it."

The character of the night did not change, still the same splendid white
silence, and just they two alone in the world.

"We must be at least twenty miles from Richmond," said the girl.

"I haven't measured the time," Prescott replied, "but it's an easy
progress. I am quite sure that if we keep on going long enough we'll
arrive somewhere at last."

"I think it likely," she said, smiling. "I wonder that we don't see any
houses."

"Virginia isn't the most densely peopled country in the world, and we
are coming to a pretty sterile region that won't support much life in
the best of times."

"Are we on doubtful ground?"

"That or very near it."

They passed at least one or two houses by the roadside, but they were
lone and dark. No lean Virginia dogs howled at them and the solitary
and desolate character of the country did not abate.

"Are you cold?" asked Prescott.

"Not at all," she replied. "I have never in my life taken an easier
journey. It seems that fortune has been with us."

"Fortune favours the good or ought to do so."

"How long do you think it is until daylight?"

"I don't know; an hour, I suppose; why bother about it?"

Certainly Prescott was not troubling his head by trying to determine the
exact distance to daylight, but he began to think for the first time of
his journey's end. He must leave Miss Catherwood somewhere in
comparative safety, and he must get back to Richmond, his absence
unnoted. These were problems which might well become vexing, and the
exaltation of the moment could not prevent their recurrence. He stopped
the wagon and took a look at the worthy Elias, who was slumbering as
peacefully as ever. "A sound conscience makes a sound sleeper," he
quoted, and then he inspected the country.

It was a little wilderness of hills and scrub forest, all lying under
the deep snow, and without sign of either human or animal life.

"There is nothing to do but drive on," he said. "If I only dared to wake
our friend, the farmer, we might find out from him which way the nearest
Northern pickets lie."

"You should let me go now, Captain Prescott, I beg you again."

"Abandon you in this snowy waste! I claim to be an American gentleman,
Miss Catherwood. But if we don't strike a promising lead soon I shall
waken our friend Elias, and he will have to point a way, whether he will
or no."

But that threat was saved as a last resort, and he drove quietly around
the curve of a hill. When they reached the other side, there was the
rapid crunch of hoofs in the snow, an abrupt command to halt, and they
found themselves surrounded by a dozen troopers. Prescott recognized the
faded blue uniform and knew at once that he was in the midst of Yankee
horsemen. The girl beside him gave one start at the sudden apparition
and then became calm and impassive.

"Who are you?" asked the leader of the horsemen, a lieutenant.

"Elias Gardner of Wellsville," replied Prescott in a drawling, rural
voice.

"That tells nothing," said the Lieutenant.

"It's my name, anyhow," replied Prescott coolly, "and if you don't
believe it, here's a pass they gave me when I went into Richmond with a
load of produce."

The Lieutenant read the paper by the moonlight and then handed it back
to its temporary owner.

"It's all right," he said; "but I want to know, Mr. Elias Gardner and
Mrs. Elias Gardner, what you mean by feeding the enemy."

"I'd sell to you at the same price," replied Prescott.

Some of the troopers were looking at the barrels and crates in the
wagons to see if they were really empty, and Prescott was in dread lest
they come upon the sleeping farmer; but they desisted soon, satisfied
that there was nothing left to eat.

The Lieutenant cocked a shrewd eye on Prescott.

"So you've been in Richmond, Mr. Farmer; how long were you there?" he
asked.

"Only a day."

"Don't you think it funny, Mr. Farmer, that you should go so easily into
a town that armies of a hundred thousand men have been trying for more
than two years to enter and have failed?"

"Maybe I showed better judgment," Prescott replied, unable to restrain a
gibe.

The Lieutenant laughed.

"Perhaps you are right," he said; "but we'll have Grant soon. Now, Mr.
Gardner, you've been in Richmond, and I've no doubt you used your eyes
while you were there, for you look to me like a keen, observant man. I
suspect that you could tell some interesting things about their
earthworks, forts and so forth."

Prescott held up his hands in mock consternation.

"I ain't no soldier," he replied in his drawling tone. "I wouldn't know
a fort if I saw one, and I never get near such things if I know it."

"Then perhaps Mrs. Gardner took notice," continued the Lieutenant in a
wheedling tone. "Women are always observant."

Miss Catherwood shook her head.

"See here, you two," said the Lieutenant, "if you'll only tell me about
those fortifications I'll pay you more than you got for that load of
produce."

"We don't know anything," said Prescott; "ain't sure there are any
fortifications at all."

"Confound it!" exclaimed the Lieutenant in a vexed tone, "a Northern man
can never get anything out of these Virginia farmers!"

Prescott stared at him and grinned a little.

"Go on!" said the Lieutenant, waving his hand in anger. "There's a camp
of ours a mile farther ahead. They'll stop you, and I only hope they'll
get as much out of you as I have."

Prescott gladly obeyed the command and the Northern horsemen galloped
off, their hoof-beats making little noise in the snow. But as he drove
on he turned his head slightly and watched them until they were out of
sight. When he was sure they were far away he stopped his own horses.

"Will you wait here a moment in the wagon, Miss Catherwood, until I go
to the top of the hill?" he asked.

She nodded, and springing out, Prescott ran to the crest. There looking
over into the valley, he saw the camp of which the Lieutenant had
spoken, a cluster of tents and a ring of smoking fires with horses
tethered beyond, the brief stopping place of perhaps five hundred men,
as Prescott, with a practised eye, could quickly tell.

He saw now the end of the difficulty, but he did not rejoice as he had
hoped.

"Beyond this hill in the valley, and within plain view from the crest,
is the camp of your friends, Miss Catherwood," he said. "Our journey is
over. We need not take the wagon any farther, as it belongs to our
sleeping friend, the farmer, but you can go on now to this Northern
detachment--a raiding party, I presume, but sure to treat you well. I
thank God that the time is not yet when a woman is not safe in the camp
of either North or South. Come!"

She dismounted from the wagon and slowly they walked together to the top
of the hill. Prescott pointed to the valley, where the fires glowed
redly across the snow.

"Here I leave you," he said.

She looked up at him and the glow of the fires below was reflected in
her eyes.

"Shall we ever see each other again?" she asked.

"That I cannot tell," he replied.

She did not go on just yet, lingering there a little.

"Captain Prescott," she asked, "why have you done so much for me?"

"Upon my soul I do not know," he replied.

She looked up in his face again, and he saw the red blood rising in her
cheeks. Borne away by a mighty impulse, he bent over and kissed her, but
she, uttering a little cry, ran down the hill toward the Northern camp.

He watched her until he saw her draw near the fires and men come forward
to meet her. Then he went back to the wagon and drove it into a side
path among some trees, where he exchanged outer clothing again with the
farmer, awakening the amazed man directly afterward from his slumbers.
Prescott offered no explanations, but soothed the honest man's natural
anger with a gold eagle, and, leaving him there, not three miles from
his home, went back on foot.

He slipped easily into Richmond the next night, and before morning was
sleeping soundly in his own bed.



CHAPTER XIV

PRESCOTT'S ORDEAL


Prescott was awakened from his sleep by his mother, who came to him in
suppressed anxiety, telling him that a soldier was in the outer room
with a message demanding his instant presence at headquarters. At once
there flitted through his mind a dream of that long night, now passed,
the flight together, the ride, the warm and luminous presence beside him
and the last sight of her as she passed over the hill to the fires that
burned in the Northern camp. A dream it was, vague and misty as the
darkness through which they had passed, but it left a delight, vague and
misty like itself, that refused to be dispelled by the belief that this
message was from Mr. Sefton, who intended to strike where his armour was
weakest.

With the power of repression inherited from his Puritan mother he hid
from her pleasure and apprehension alike, saying:

"Some garrison duty, mother. You know in such a time of war I can't
expect to live here forever in ease and luxury."

The letter handed to him by the messenger, an impassive Confederate
soldier in butternut gray, was from the commandant of the forces in
Richmond, ordering him to report to Mr. Sefton for instructions. Here
were all his apprehensions justified. The search had been made, the
soldiers had gone to the cottage of Miss Grayson, the girl was not
there, and the Secretary now turned to him, Robert Prescott, as if he
were her custodian, demanding her, or determined to know what he had
done with her. Well, his own position was uncertain, but she at least
was safe--far beyond the lines of Richmond, now with her own people,
and neither the hand of Sefton nor of any other could touch her. That
thought shed a pleasant glow, all the more grateful because it was he
who had helped her. But toward the Secretary he felt only defiance.

As he went forth to obey the summons the city was bright, all white and
silver and gold in its sheet of ice, with a wintry but golden sun above;
but something was missing from Richmond, nevertheless. It suddenly
occurred to him that Miss Grayson must be very lonely in her bleak
little cottage.

He went undisturbed by guards to the Secretary's room--the Confederate
Government was never immediately surrounded with bayonets--and knocked
upon the door. A complete absence of state and formality prevailed.

The Secretary was not alone, and Prescott was not surprised. The
President of the Confederacy himself sat near the window, and just
beyond him was Wood, in a great armchair, looking bored. There were
present, too, General Winder, the commander of the forces in the city,
another General or two and members of the Cabinet.

"An inquisition," thought Prescott. "This disappointed Secretary would
ruin me."

The saving thought occurred to him that if he had known of Miss
Catherwood's presence in Richmond Mr. Sefton also had known of it. The
wily Secretary must have in view some other purpose than to betray him,
when by so doing he would also betray himself. Prescott gathered
courage, and saluting, stood respectfully, though in the attitude of one
who sought no favour.

All the men in the room looked at him, some with admiration of the
strong young figure and the open, manly face, others with inquiry. He
wondered that Wood, a man who belonged essentially to the field of
battle, should be there; but the cavalry leader, for his great
achievements, was high in the esteem of the Confederate Government.

It was the Secretary, Mr. Sefton, who spoke, for the others seemed
involuntarily to leave to him subjects requiring craft and guile--a
tribute or not as one chooses to take it.

"The subject upon which we have called you is not new to us nor to you,"
said the Secretary in expressionless tones. "We revert to the question
of a spy--a woman. It is now known that it was a woman who stole the
important papers from the office of the President. The secret service of
General Winder has learned that she has been in this city all the
while--that is, until the last night or two."

He paused here a few moments as if he would mark the effect of his
words, and his eyes and those of Prescott met. Prescott tried to read
what he saw there--to pierce the subconscious depths, and he felt as if
he perceived the soul of this man--a mighty ambition under a silky
exterior, and a character in which a dual nature struggled. Then his
eyes wandered a moment to Wood. Both he and Sefton were mountaineers in
the beginning, and what a contrast now! But he stood waiting for the
Secretary to proceed.

"It has become known to us," continued the Secretary, "that this
dangerous spy--dangerous because of the example she has set, and because
of the connections that she may have here--has just escaped from the
city. She was concealed in the house of Miss Charlotte Grayson, a
well-known Northern sympathizer--a house which you are now known,
Captain Prescott, to have visited more than once."

Prescott looked again into the Secretary's eyes and a flash of
intelligence passed between them. He read once more in their depths the
desire of this man to torture him--to drag him to the edge of the abyss,
but not to push him over.

"There is a suspicion--or perhaps I ought to say a fear--that you have
given aid and comfort to the enemy, this spy, Captain Prescott," said
the Secretary.

Prescott's eyes flashed with indignant fire.

"I have been wounded five times in the service of the Confederacy," he
replied, "and I have here an arm not fully recovered from the impact of
a Northern bullet." He turned his left arm as he spoke. "If that was
giving aid and comfort to the enemy, then I am guilty."

A murmur of approval arose. He had made an impression.

"It was by my side at Chancellorsville that he received one of his
wounds," said Wood in his peculiar slow, drawling tones.

Prescott shot him a swift and grateful glance.

But the Secretary persisted. He was not to be turned aside, not even by
the great men of the Confederacy who sat in the room about him.

"No one doubts the courage of Captain Prescott," he said, "because that
has been proved too often--you see, Captain, we are familiar with your
record--but even the best of men may become exposed to influences that
cause an unconscious change of motive. I repeat that none of us is
superior to it."

Prescott saw at once the hidden meaning in the words, and despite
himself a flush rose to his face. Perhaps it was true.

The Secretary looked away toward the window, his glance seeming to rest
on the white world of winter outside, across which the yellow streaks of
sunlight fell like a golden tracery. He interlaced his fingers
thoughtfully upon his knees while he waited for an answer. But Prescott
had recovered his self-possession.

"I do not know what you mean," he said. "I am not accustomed, perhaps,
to close and delicate analysis of my own motives, but this I will say,
that I have never knowingly done anything that I thought would cause the
Confederacy harm; while, on the contrary, I have done all I could--so
far as my knowledge went--that would do it good."

As he spoke he glanced away from the Secretary toward the others, and he
thought he saw the shadow of a smile on the face of the President. What
did it mean? He was conscious again of the blood flushing to his face.
It was the President himself who next spoke.

"Do you know where this woman is, Captain Prescott?" he asked.

"No, I do not know where she is," he replied, thankful that the question
had come in such a form.

Wood, the mountaineer, moved impatiently. He was of an impetuous
disposition, untrammeled by rule, and he stood in awe of nobody.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I can't exactly see the drift of all this talk.
I'd as soon believe that any of us would be a traitor as Captain
Prescott, an' I don't think we've got much time to waste on matters like
this. Grant's a-comin'. I tell you, gentlemen, we've got to think of
meetin' him and not of huntin' for a woman spy."

He spoke with emphasis, and again Prescott shot him another swift and
grateful glance.

"There is no question of treason, General Wood," said Mr. Sefton
placidly. "None of us would wrong Captain Prescott by imputing to him
such a crime. I merely suggested an unconscious motive that might have
made him deflect for a moment, and for a moment only, from the straight
and narrow path of duty."

Prescott saw a cruel light in the Secretary's eyes and behind it a
suggestion of enjoyment in the power to make men laugh or quiver as he
wished; but he did not flinch, merely repeating:

"I have done my duty to the Confederacy as best I could, and I am ready
to do it again. Even the children among us know that a great battle is
coming, and I ask that I be permitted again to show my loyalty at the
front."

"Good words from a good man," exclaimed Wood.

"General," said the President quietly, "comments either for or against
are not conducive to the progress of an examination."

Wood took the rebuke in good part, lifted a ruler from the table and
with an imaginary pocket-knife began to trim long shavings from it.

Prescott, despite his feeling that he had done no moral wrong--though
technically and in a military sense he had sinned--could not escape the
sensation of being on trial as a criminal, and his heart rose up in
indignant wrath. Those five wounds were ample reply to such a charge.
He felt these questions to be an insult, and cold anger against the
Secretary who was seeking to entrap or torture him rose in his heart.
There came with it a resolve not to betray his part in the escape of the
girl; but they never asked him whether or not he had helped her in her
flight. When he noticed this his feeling of apprehension departed, and
he faced the Secretary, convinced that the duel was with him alone and
that these others were but seconds to whom Mr. Sefton had confided only
a part of what he knew.

The Secretary asked more questions, but again they were of a general
nature and did not come to the point, as he made no mention of Miss
Grayson or her cottage.

Wood said nothing, but he was growing more impatient than ever, and the
imaginary shavings whittled by his imaginary knife were increasing in
length.

"Gentlemen," he exclaimed, "it still 'pears to me that we are wastin'
time. I know Prescott an' he's all right. I don't care two cents whether
or not he helped a woman to escape. S'pose she was young and pretty."

All smiled saved Sefton and Prescott.

"General, would you let gallantry override patriotism?" asked the
President.

"There ain't no woman in the world that can batter down the
Confederacy," replied the other stoutly. "If that is ever done, it'll
take armies to do it, and I move that we adjourn."

The President looked at his watch.

"Yes," he said, "we must go. Mr. Sefton, you may continue the
examination as you will and report to me. Captain Prescott, I bid you
good-day, and express my wish that you may come clear from this ordeal."

Prescott bowed his thanks, but to Wood, whose active intervention in his
behalf had carried much weight, he felt deeper gratitude, though he said
nothing, and still stood in silence as the others went out, leaving him
alone with the Secretary.

Mr. Sefton, too, was silent for a time, still interlacing his fingers
thoughtfully and glancing now and then through the window. Then he
looked at Prescott and his face changed. The cruelty which had lurked in
his eyes disappeared and in its place came a trace of admiration, even
liking.

"Captain Prescott," he said, "you have borne yourself very well for a
man who knew he was wholly in the power of another, made by
circumstances his enemy for the time being."

"I am not wholly in the power of anybody," replied Prescott proudly. "I
repeat that I have done nothing at any time of which I am ashamed or for
which my conscience reproaches me."

"That is irrelevant. It is not any question of shame or conscience,
which are abstract things. It is merely one of fact--that is, whether
you did or did not help Miss Catherwood, the spy, to escape. I am
convinced that you helped her--not that I condemn you for it or that I
am sorry you did so. Perhaps it is for my interest that you have acted
thus. You were absent from your usual haunts yesterday and the night
before, and it was within that time that the spy disappeared from Miss
Grayson's. I have no doubt that you were with her. You see, I did not
press the question when the others were here. I halted at the critical
point. I had that much consideration for you."

He stopped again and the glances of these two strong men met once more;
Prescott's open and defiant, Sefton's cunning and indirect.

"I hear that she is young and very beautiful," said the Secretary
thoughtfully.

Prescott flushed.

"Yes, young and very beautiful," continued the Secretary. "One might
even think that she was more beautiful than Helen Harley."

Prescott said nothing, but the deep flush remained on his face.

"Therefore," continued the Secretary, "I should imagine that your stay
with her was not unpleasant."

"Mr. Sefton," exclaimed Prescott, taking an angry step forward, "your
intimation is an insult and one that I do not propose to endure."

"You mistake my meaning," said the Secretary calmly. "I intended no such
intimation as you thought, but I wonder what Helen Harley would think of
the long period that you have spent with one as young and beautiful as
herself."

He smiled a little, showing his white teeth, and Prescott, thrown off
his guard, replied:

"She would think it a just deed."

"Then you admit that it is true?"

"I admit nothing," replied Prescott firmly. "I merely stated what I
thought would be the opinion of Helen Harley concerning an act of
mercy."

The Secretary smiled.

"Captain Prescott," he said, "I am not sorry that this has happened, but
be assured that I am not disposed to make war upon you now. Shall we let
it be an armed peace for the present?"

He showed a sudden warmth of manner and an easy agreeableness that
Prescott found hard to resist. Rising from the chair, he placed his hand
lightly upon Robert's arm, saying:

"I shall go with you to the street, Captain, if you will let me."

Together they left the room, the Secretary indicating the way, which was
not that by which Prescott had come. They passed through a large office
and here Prescott saw many clerks at work at little desks, four women
among them. Helen Harley was one of the four. She was copying papers,
her head bent down, her brown hair low on her forehead, unconscious of
her observers.

In her simple gray dress she looked not less beautiful than on that day
when, in lilac and rose, drawing every eye, she received General Morgan.
She did not see them as they entered, for her head remained low and the
wintry sunshine from the window gleamed across her brown hair.

The Secretary glanced at her casually, as it were, but Prescott saw a
passing look on his face that he could translate into nothing but
triumphant proprietorship. Mr. Sefton was feeling more confident since
the examination in the room above.

"She works well," he said laconically.

"I expected as much," said Prescott.

"It is not true that people of families used to an easy life cannot
become efficient when hardship arrives," continued the Secretary. "Often
they bring great zeal to their new duties."

Evidently he was a man who demanded rigid service, as the clerks who saw
him bent lower to their task, but Helen did not notice the two until
they were about to pass through a far door. Her cheeks reddened as they
went out, for it hurt her pride that Prescott should see her there--a
mere clerk, honest and ennobling though she knew work to be.

The press of Richmond was not without enterprise even in those days of
war and want, and it was seldom lacking in interest. If not news, then
the pungent comment and criticism of Raymond and Winthrop were sure to
find attentive readers, and on the day following Prescott's interview
with the Secretary they furnished to their readers an uncommonly
attractive story.

It had been discovered that the spy who stole the papers was a beautiful
woman--a young Amazon of wonderful charms. She had been concealed in
Richmond all the while--perhaps she might be in the city yet--and it was
reported that a young Confederate officer, yielding to her fascinations,
had hidden and helped her at the risk of his own ruin.

Here, indeed, was a story full of mystery and attraction; the city
throbbed with it, and all voices were by no means condemnatory. It is a
singular fact that in war people develop an extremely sentimental side,
as if to atone for the harsher impulses that carry them into battle.
Throughout the Civil War the Southerners wrote much so-called poetry and
their newspapers were filled with it. This story of the man and the maid
appealed to them. If the man had fallen--well, he had fallen in a good
cause. He was not the first who had been led astray by the tender, and
therefore pardonable, emotion. What did it matter if she was a Northern
girl and a spy? These were merely added elements to variety and charm.
If he had made a sacrifice of himself, either voluntarily or
involuntarily, it was for a woman, and women understood and forgave.

They wondered what this young officer's name might be--made deft
surmises, and by piecing circumstance to circumstance proved beyond a
doubt that sixteen men were certainly he. It was somewhat tantalizing
that at least half of these men, when accused of the crime, openly
avowed their guilt and said they would do it again. Prescott, who was
left out of all these calculations, owing to the gravity and soberness
of his nature, read the accounts with mingled amusement and vexation.
There was nothing in any of them by which he could be identified, and he
decided not to inquire how the story reached the newspapers, being
satisfied in his own mind that he knew already. The first to speak to
him of the matter was his friend Talbot.

"Bob," he said, "I wonder if this is true. I tried to get Raymond to
tell me where he got the story, but he wouldn't, and as all the
newspapers have it in the same way, I suppose they got it from the same
source. But if there is such a girl, and if she has been here, I hope
she has escaped and that she'll stay escaped."

It was pleasant for Prescott to hear Talbot talk thus, and this opinion
was shared by many others as he soon learned, and his conscience
remained at ease, although he was troubled about Miss Grayson. But he
met her casually on the street about a week afterward and she said:

"I have had a message from some one. She is safe and well and she is
grateful." She would add no more, and Prescott did not dare visit her
house, watched now with a vigilance that he knew he could not escape;
but he wondered often if Lucia Catherwood and he in the heave and drift
of the mighty war should ever meet again.

The gossip of Richmond was not allowed to dwell long on the story of the
spy, with all its alluring mystery of the man and the maid. Greater
events were at hand. A soft wind blew from the South one day. The ice
broke up, the snow melted, the wind continued to blow, the earth
dried--winter was gone and spring in its green robe was coming. The time
of play was over. The armies rose from their sleep in the snows and
began to brush the rust from the cannon. Horses stretched themselves and
generals studied their maps anew. Three years of tremendous war was
gone, but they were prepared for a struggle yet more gigantic.

To those in Richmond able to bear arms was sent an order--"Come at once
to the front"--and among them was Prescott, nothing loath. His mother
kissed him a tearless good-by, hiding her grief and fear under her
Puritan face.

"I feel that this is the end, one way or the other," she said.

"I hope so, mother."

"But it may be long delayed," she added.

To Helen he said a farewell like that of a boy to the girl who has been
his playmate. Although she flushed a little, causing him to flush, too,
deep tenderness was absent from their parting, and there was a slight
constraint that neither could fail to notice.

Talbot was going with him, Wood and Colonel Harley were gone already,
and Winthrop and Raymond said they should be at the front to see. Then
Prescott bade farewell to Richmond, where in the interval of war he had
spent what he now knew to be a golden month or two.



CHAPTER XV

THE GREAT RIVALS


A large man sat in the shadow of a little rain-washed tent one golden
May morning and gazed with unseeing eyes at the rich spectacle spread
before him by Nature. The sky was a dome of blue velvet, mottled with
white clouds, and against the line of the horizon a belt of intense
green told where the forest was springing into new life under the vivid
touch of spring. The wind bore a faint, thrilling odour of violets.

The leader was casting up accounts and trying in vain to put the balance
on his own side of the ledger. He dealt much with figures, but they were
never large enough for his purpose, and with the brave man's faith he
could trust only in some new and strange source of supply. Gettysburg,
that drawn field of glorious defeat, lay behind him, and his foe, as he
knew, was gathering all his forces and choosing his ablest leader that
he might hurl his utmost strength upon these thin battalions. But the
soul of the lonely man rose to the crisis.

Everything about him was cast in a large mould, and the dignity and slow
gravity of his manner added to his size. Thus he was not only a leader,
but he had the look of one--which is far from being always so. Yet his
habitual expression was of calm benevolence, his gestures whenever he
moved were gentle, and his gray eyes shed a mild light. His fine white
hair and beard contributed to his fatherly appearance. One might have
pointed him out as the president of a famous college or the leader of a
reform movement--so little does Nature indicate a man's trade by his
face.

Those around the gray-haired chief, whose camp spread for miles through
the green forest, were singularly unlike him in manner and bearing, and
perhaps it was this sharp contrast that gave to him as he sat among his
battalions the air of a patriarch. He was old; they were young. He was
white of head, but one might search in vain through these ragged
regiments for a gray hair. They were but boys, though they had passed
through some of the greatest battles the world has ever known, and
to-day, when there was a pause in the war and the wind blew from the
south, they refused to be sad or to fear for the future. If the truth be
told, the future was the smallest item in their reckoning. Men of their
trade, especially with their youth, found the present so large that room
was left for nothing else. They would take their ease now and rejoice.

Now and then they looked toward the other and larger army that lay
facing them not far away, but it did not trouble them greatly. There was
by mutual though tacit consent an interval of peace, and these foes, who
had learned in fire and smoke to honour each other, would not break it
through any act of bad faith. So some slept on the grass or the
fresh-cut boughs of trees; others sang or listened to the music of old
violins or accordions, while more talked on any subject that came into
their minds, though their voices sank when it was of far homes not seen
since long ago. Of the hostile camp facing theirs a like tale might have
been told.

It seemed to Prescott, who sat near the General's tent, as if two huge
picnic parties had camped near each other with the probability that they
would join and become one in a short time--an illusion arising from the
fact that he had gone into the war without any deep feeling over its
real or alleged causes.

"Why do you study the Yankees so hard?" asked Talbot, who lay in the
shade of a tree. "They are not troubling us, and I learned when I cut my
eye teeth not to bother with a man who isn't bothering me--a rule that
works well."

"To tell you the truth, Talbot," replied Prescott, "I was wondering how
all this would end."

"The more fool you," rejoined Talbot. "Leave all that to Marse Bob.
Didn't you see how hard he was thinking back there?"

Prescott scarcely heard his words, as his eyes were caught by an unusual
movement in the hostile camp. He carried a pair of strong glasses, being
a staff officer, and putting them to his eyes he saw at once that an
event of uncommon interest was occurring within the lines of the
Northern army. There was a great gathering of officers near a large
tent, and beyond them the soldiers were pressing near. A puff of smoke
appeared suddenly, followed by a spurt of flame, and the sound of a
cannon shot thundered in their ears.

Talbot uttered an angry cry.

"What do they mean by firing on us when we're not bothering them?" he
cried.

But neither shot nor shell struck near the lines of the Southern army.
Peace still reigned unbroken. There was another flash of fire, another
cannon shot, and then a third. More followed at regular intervals. They
sounded like a signal or a salute.

"I wonder what it can mean?" said Prescott.

"If you want to find out, ask," said Talbot, and taking his comrade by
the arm, he walked toward a line of Northern sentinels posted in a wood
on their right.

"I've established easy communication," said Talbot; "there's a right
good fellow from Vermont over here at the creek bank. He talks through
his nose, but that don't hurt him. I traded him some whisky for a pouch
of tobacco last night, and he'll tell us what the row is about."

Prescott accepted his suggestion without hesitation. It was common
enough for the pickets on either side to grow friendly both before and
after those terrific but indecisive battles so characteristic of the
Civil War, a habit in which the subordinate officers sometimes shared
while those of a higher rank closed their eyes. It did no military
injury, and contributed somewhat to the smoothness and grace of life.
The thunder of the guns, each coming after its stated interval, echoed
again in their ears. A great cloud of yellowish-brown smoke rose above
the trees. Prescott used his glasses once more, but he was yet unable to
discover the cause of the commotion. Talbot, putting his fingers to his
lips, blew a soft, low but penetrating whistle, like the distant note of
a mocking-bird. A tall, thin man in faded blue, with a straggling beard
on his face and a rifle in his hand, came forward among the trees.

"What do you want, Johnny Reb?" he asked in high and thin but friendly
tones.

"Nothing that will cost you anything, Old Vermont," replied Talbot.

"Wall, spit it out," said the Vermonter. "If I'd been born in your State
I'd commit suicide if anybody found it out. Ain't your State the place
where all they need is more water and better society, just the same as
hell?"

"I remember a friend of mine," said Talbot, "who took a trip once with
four other men. He said they were a gentleman from South Carolina, a man
from Maryland, a fellow from New York, and a damned scoundrel from
Vermont. I think he hit it off just about right."

The Vermonter grinned, his mouth forming a wide chasm across the thin
face. He regarded the Southerner with extreme good nature.

"Say, old Johnny Reb," he asked, "what do you fellows want anyway?"

"We'd like to know when your army is going to retreat, and we have come
over here to ask you," replied Talbot.

The cannon boomed again, its thunder rolling and echoing in the morning
air. The note was deep and solemn and seemed to Prescott to hold a
threat. Its effect upon the Vermonter was remarkable. He straightened
his thin, lean figure until he stood as stiff as a ramrod. Then dropping
his rifle, he raised his hand and gave the cannon an invisible salute.

"This army never retreats again," he said. "You hear me, Johnny Reb,
the Army of the Potomac never goes back again. I know that you have
whipped us more than once, and that you have whipped us bad. I don't
forget Manassas and Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, but all that's
done past and gone. We didn't have good generals then, and you won't do
it again--never again, I say. We're comin', Johnny Reb, with the biggest
and best army we've had, and we'll just naturally sweep you off the face
of the earth."

The emphasis with which he spoke and his sudden change of manner at the
cannon shot impressed Prescott, coming, too, upon his own feeling that
there was a solemn and ominous note in the sound of the gun.

"What do those shots mean?" he asked. "Are they not a salute for
somebody?"

"Yes," replied the Vermonter, a glow of joy appearing in his eye. "Grant
has come!"

"Ah!"

"He's to command us now," the Vermonter continued, "and you know what
that means. You have got to stand up and take your medicine. You hear me
telling you!"

A sudden thrill of apprehension ran through Prescott's veins. He had
been hearing for a long time of this man Grant and his great deeds in
the West, where no general of the South seemed able to stand before him.
Now he was here in the East among that group of officers yonder, and
there was nothing left for either side but to fight. Grant would permit
no other choice; he was not like the other Northern generals--he would
not find excuses, and in his fancy double and triple the force before
him, but he would drive straight for the heart of his foe.

It was a curious chance, but as the echo of the last gun rolled away
among the trees the skies were darkened by leaden clouds rolling up from
the southwest and the air became somber and heavy. Prescott saw as if in
a vision the mighty battles that were to come and the miles of fallen
scattered through all the wilderness that lay around them.

But Talbot, gifted with a joyous soul that looked not far into the
future, never flinched. He saw the cloud on the face of Prescott and the
glow in the eyes of the Vermonter, but he was stirred by no tumult.

"Never mind," he said calmly. "You've got your Grant and you are welcome
to him, but Marse Bob is back there waiting for him." And he nodded over
his shoulder toward the tent where the lone man had been sitting. His
face as he spoke was lighted by the smile of supreme confidence.

They thanked the man for his news and walked slowly back to their camp,
Prescott thoughtful all the way. He knew now that the crisis had come.

The two great protagonists stood face to face at last.

When Robert announced the arrival of Grant to his Commander-in-Chief a
single flash appeared in the eye of Lee and then the mask settled back
over his face, as blank and expressionless as before.

Then Prescott left the General's tent and walked toward a little house
that stood in the rear of the army, well beyond the range of a hostile
cannon shot. The arrival of Grant, now conceded by North and South alike
to be the ablest general on the Northern side, was spreading with great
swiftness among the soldiers, but these boys, veterans of many fields,
showed little concern; they lived in the present and thought little of
"next week."

Prescott noted, as he had noted so many times before, the motley
appearance of the army, but with involuntary motion he began to
straighten and smooth his own shabby uniform. He was about to enter the
presence of a woman and he was young and so was she.

The house was a cheap and plain structure, such as a farmer in that
sterile region would build for himself; but farmer and family were gone
long since, swept away by the tide of war, and their home was used for
other purposes.

Prescott knocked lightly at the door and Helen Harley opened it.

"Can the Colonel see me?" he asked.

"He will see any one if we let him," she replied.

"Then I am just 'any one'!"

"I did not say that," she replied with a smile.

She stood aside and Prescott entered the room, a bare place, the rude
log walls covered with neither lath nor plaster, yet not wholly lacking
in proof that woman was present. The scanty articles of furniture were
arranged with taste, and against the walls were tacked a few sheets from
last year's New York and London illustrated weeklies. Vincent Harley lay
on a pallet of blankets in the corner, a petulant look on his face.

"I'm glad to see you, Prescott," he said, "and then I'm not, because you
fill my soul with envy. Here I am, tied to these blankets, while you can
walk about and breathe God's air as you will. I wouldn't mind it so much
if I had got that bullet in a big battle, say like Gettysburg, but to be
knocked off one's horse as nice as you please in a beggarly little
skirmish. It's too much, I say."

"You ought to be thankful that the bullet, instead of putting you on the
ground, didn't put you under it," replied Prescott.

"Now, don't you try the pious and thankful dodge on me!" cried Harley.
"Helen does it now and then, but I stop her, even if I have to be
impolite to a lady. I wouldn't mind _your_ feelings at all."

His sister sat down on a camp stool. It was easy to see that she
understood her brother's temper and knew how to receive his outbursts.

"There you are again, Helen," he cried, seeing her look. "A smile like
that indicates a belief in your own superiority. I wish you wouldn't do
it. You hurt my vanity, and you are too good a sister for that."

Prescott laughed.

"I think you are getting well fast, Harley," he said. "You show too much
energy for an invalid."

"I wish the surgeon thought the same," replied Harley, "but that doctor
is feeble-minded; I know he is! Isn't he, Helen?"

"Perhaps he's keeping you here because he doesn't want us to beat the
Yankees too soon," she replied.

"Isn't it true, Prescott, that a man is always appreciated least by his
own family?" he asked.

He spoke as if in jest, but there was a trace of vanity, and Prescott
hesitated for a reply, not wishing to appear in a false light to either
brother or sister.

"Slow praise is worth the most," he replied ambiguously. Harley showed
disappointment. He craved a compliment and he expected it.

While they talked Prescott was watching Helen Harley out of the corner
of his eye. Outside were the wild soldiers and war; here, between these
narrow log walls, he beheld woman and peace. He was seized with a sudden
sick distaste of the war, its endless battles, its terrible slaughter,
and the doubt of what was to come after.

Harley claimed his attention, for he could not bear to be ignored.
Moreover, he was wounded, and with all due deference to his sister, the
visit was to him.

"Does either army mean to move?" he asked.

"I think so; I came to tell you about it," replied Prescott.

Harley at once was full of eagerness. This touched him on his strongest
side. He was a warrior by instinct, and his interest in the affairs of
the army could never be languid.

"Why, what news have you?" he asked quickly.

"Grant has come!"

He uttered an exclamation, but for a little while made no further
comment. Like all the others, he seemed to accept the arrival of the new
Northern leader as the signal for immediate action, and he wished to
think over it.

"Grant," he said presently, "will attack us, and you don't know what it
costs me to be lying here. I must be up and I will. Don't you see what
is coming? Don't you see it, I say?"

"What is it that you see?" asked Prescott.

"Why, General Lee is going to win the greatest victory of the age. He
will beat their biggest army, led by their best General. Why, I see it
now! It will be the tactics of Chancellorsville over again. What a pity
Jackson is gone! But there's Wood. He'll make a circuit with ten
thousand men and hit 'em on the right flank, and at the same time I'll
go around with my cavalry and dig into 'em on the left. The Yankees
won't be dreaming of it, for Bobby Lee will be pounding 'em in front and
they'll have eyes only for him. Won't it be grand, magnificent!"

There was a flash in his eye now and he was no longer irritable or
impatient.

"Isn't war a glorious game?" he said. "Of course it is best not to have
war, but if we must have it, it draws out of a man the best that is in
him, if he's any good at all."

There was a light knock at the door, and Prescott, who was contrasting
brother and sister, noticed their countenances change oddly and in a
manner as different as their characters. Evidently they knew the knock.
She closed her lips tightly and a faint pink tint in her cheeks
deepened. He looked up quickly and the light in his eyes spoke welcome.
"Come in!" he called in a loud voice, but his sister said nothing.

The lady who entered was Mrs. Markham, as crisp as the breath of the
morning. Her dress was fresh and bright in colour, a brilliant note in a
somber camp.

"Oh, Colonel!" she cried, going forward and taking both of Harley's
hands in the warmth of her welcome. "I have been so anxious to see you
again, and I am glad to know that you are getting well."

A pleased smile came over Harley's face and remained there. Here was
one, and above all a woman, who could appreciate him at his true value,
and whom no small drop of jealousy or envy kept from saying so.

"You give me too much credit, Mrs. Markham," he said.

"Not at all, my dear Colonel," she replied vivaciously. "It is not
enough. One who wins laurels on such a terrible field as war has a right
to wear them. Do not all of us remember that great charge of yours just
at the critical moment, and the splendid way in which you covered the
retreat from Gettysburg. You always do your duty, Colonel."

"My brother is not the only man in the army who does his duty," said
Miss Harley, "and there are so many who are always true that he does not
like to be singled out for special praise."

Colonel Harley frowned and Mrs. Markham shot a warning side glance at
Miss Harley. Prescott, keenly watching them both, saw a flash as of
perfect understanding and defiance pass between two pairs of eyes and
then he saw nothing more. Miss Harley was intent upon her work, and Mrs.
Markham, blonde, smiling and innocent, was talking to the Colonel,
saying to him the words that he liked to hear and soothing his wounded
spirit.

Mrs. Markham had just come from Richmond to visit the General, and she
told gaily of events in the Southern capital.

"We are cheerful there, Colonel," she said, "confident that such men as
you will win for us yet. Oh, we hear what is going on. They print news
on wall-paper, but we get it somehow. We have our diversions, too. It
takes a thousand dollars, Confederate money, to buy a decent calico
dress, but sometimes we have the thousand dollars. Besides, we have
taken out all the old spinning-wheels and looms and we've begun to make
our own cloth. We don't think it best that the women should spend all
their time mourning while the men are at the front fighting so bravely."

Mrs. Markham chattered on; whatever might be the misfortunes of the
Confederacy they did not seem to impress her. She was so lively and
cheerful, and so deftly mingled compliments with her gaiety, that
Prescott did not wonder at Harley's obvious attraction, but he was not
sorry to see the frown deepen on the face of the Colonel's sister. The
sound of some soldiers singing a gay chorus reached their ears and he
asked Helen if she would come to the door of the house and see them. She
looked once doubtfully at the other woman, but rose and went with him,
the two who were left behind making no attempt to detain her.

"Too much watching is not good, Helen," said Prescott, reproachfully.
"You are looking quite pale. See how cheerful the camp is! Did you ever
before hear of such soldiers?"

She looked over the tattered army as far as she could see and her eyes
grew wet.

"War is a terrible thing," she replied, "and I think that no cause is
wholly right; but truly it makes one's heart tighten to see such
devotion by ragged and half-starved soldiers, hardly a man of whom is
free from wound or scar of one."

The rolling thunder of a cannon shot came from a point far to the left.

"What is that?" she asked.

"It means probably that the tacit truce is broken, but it is likely that
it is more in the nature of a range-finding shot than anything else. We
are strongly intrenched, and as wise a man as Grant will try to flank us
out of here, before making a general attack. I am sure there will be no
great battle for at least a week."

"And my brother may be well in that time," she said. "I am so anxious to
see him once more in the saddle, where he craves to be and where he
belongs."

There are women who prefer to see the men whom they love kept back by a
wound in order that they might escape a further danger, but not of such
was Helen. Prescott remembered, too, the single glance, like a solitary
signal shot, that had passed between her and Mrs. Markham.

"We are all anxious to see Colonel Harley back in the saddle," he
replied, "and for a good reason. His is one of our best sabers."

Then she asked him to tell her of the army, the nature of the position
it now occupied, the movements they expected, and he replied to her in
detail when he saw how unaffected was her interest. It pleased him that
she should be concerned about these things and should understand them as
he explained their nature; and she, seeing his pleasure, was willing to
play upon it. So talking, they walked farther and farther from the house
and were joined presently by the cheerful Talbot.

"It's good of you to let us see you, Miss Harley," he said. "We are
grateful to your brother for getting wounded so that you had to come and
nurse him; but we are ungrateful because he stays hurt so long that you
can't leave him oftener."

Talbot dispensed a spontaneous gaiety. It was his boast that he could
fall in love with every pretty girl whom he saw without committing
himself to any. "That is, boys," he said, "I can hover on the brink
without ever falling over, and it is the most delightful sensation to
know that you are always in danger and that you will always escape it.
You are a hero without the risk."

He led them away from more sober thoughts, talking much of Richmond and
the life there.

They went back presently to the house and met Mrs. Markham at the door
just as she was leaving.

"The Colonel is so much better," she said sweetly to Miss Harley. "I
think that he enjoys the visits of friends."

"I do not doubt it," replied the girl coldly, and she went into the
room.



CHAPTER XVI

THE GREAT REVIVAL


Two men sat early the next morning in a tent with a pot of coffee and a
breakfast of strips of bacon between them. One was elderly, calm and
grave, and his face was known well to the army; the other was youngish,
slight, dark and also calm, and the soldiers were not familiar with his
face. They were General Lee and Mr. Sefton.

The Secretary had arrived from Richmond just before the dawn with
messages of importance, and none could tell them with more easy grace
than he. He was quite unembarrassed now as he sat in the presence of the
great General, announcing the wishes of the Government--wishes which
lost no weight in the telling, and whether he was speaking or not he
watched the man before him with a stealthy gaze that nothing escaped.

"The wishes of the Cabinet are clear, General Lee," he said, "and I have
been chosen to deliver them to you orally, lest written orders by any
chance should fall into the hands of the enemy."

"And those wishes are?"

"That the war be carried back into the enemy's own country. It is better
that he should feel its ills more heavily than we. You will recall,
General, how terror spread through the North when you invaded
Pennsylvania. Ah, if it had not been for Gettysburg!"

He paused and looked from under lowered eyelashes at the General. There
had been criticism of Lee because of Gettysburg, but he never defended
himself, taking upon his shoulders all the blame that might or might not
be his. Now when Mr. Sefton mentioned the name of Gettysburg in such a
connection his face showed no change. The watchful Secretary could not
see an eyelid quiver.

"Yes, Gettysburg was a great misfortune for us," said the General, in
his usual calm, even voice. "Our troops did wonders there, but they did
not win."

"I scarcely need to add, General," said the Secretary, "that the
confidence of the Government in you is still unlimited."

Then making deferential excuses, Mr. Sefton left the tent and Lee
followed his retreating figure with a look of antipathy.

The Secretary wandered through the camp, watching everything. He had
that most valuable of all qualities, the ability to read the minds of
men, and now he set himself to the discovery of what these simple
soldiers, the cannon food, were thinking. He did it, too, without
attracting any attention to himself, by a deft question here, a
suggestion there, and then more questions, always indirect, but leading
in some fashion to the point. Curiously, but truly, his suggestions were
not optimistic, and after he talked with a group of soldiers and passed
on the effect that he left was depressing. He, too, looked across toward
the Northern lines, and, civilian though he was, he knew that their
tremendous infolding curve was more than twice as great as that forming
the lines of the South. A singular light appeared in the Secretary's
eyes as he noticed this, but he made no verbal comment, not even to
himself.

The Secretary's steps led straight toward the house in which the wounded
Colonel Harley lay, and when the voice bidding him to enter in response
to his knock was feminine, he smiled slightly, entered with light step,
and bowed with all the old school's courteous grace over the hand of
Helen Harley.

"There are some women, Miss Harley," he said, "who do not fear war and
war's alarms."

"Some, Mr. Sefton!" she replied. "There are many--in the South, I
know--and there must be as many in the North."

"It is your generous heart that speaks," he said, and then he turned to
Colonel Harley, who was claiming the attention of an old acquaintance.

The two men shook hands with great warmth. Here was one who received the
Secretary without reserve. Miss Harley, watching, saw how her brother
hung upon the words of this accomplished man of the world; how he
listened with a pleased air to his praise and how he saw in the
Secretary a great man and a friend.

He asked Helen presently if she would not walk with him a little in the
camp and her brother seconded the idea. He was not intentionally
selfish, and he loved his sister.

"She sits here all the time nursing me," he said, "when I'm almost well,
and she needs the fresh air. Take her out, Mr. Sefton, and I'll thank
you if she doesn't."

But she was willing to go. She was young; red blood flowed in her veins;
she wished to be happy; and the world, despite this black cloud of war
which hung over her part of it, was curious and interesting. She was not
fond of close rooms and sick beds, so with a certain relief she walked
forth by the side of the Secretary.

It was another of those beautiful days in May which clothe the Virginia
earth in a gauze of spun silver. Nature was blooming afresh, and peace,
disturbed by the vain battle of the night before, had returned to the
armies.

"It seems to me a most extraordinary thing to behold these two armies
face to face and yet doing nothing," said Helen.

"Wars consist of much more than battles," replied the Secretary.

"I am learning that," she said.

She looked about her with eager interest, custom not dimming to her the
strange sights of an army in camp and on the eve of a great conflict.
Nothing was like what she imagined it would be. The soldiers seemed to
have no fear of death; in fact, nothing, if they could be judged by
their actions, was further from their thoughts; they were gay rather
than sad, and apparently were enjoying life with an indifference to
circumstances that was amazing.

They were joined presently by Prescott, who thought it no part of his
cue to avoid the Secretary. Mr. Sefton received him with easy courtesy,
and the three strolled on together.

The Secretary asked the news of the camp, and Prescott replied that the
Reverend Doctor Warren, a favourite minister, was about to preach to the
soldiers.

"He is worth hearing," said Prescott. "Doctor Warren is no ordinary man,
and this is Sunday, you know."

This army, like other armies, included many wild and lawless men who
cherished in their hearts neither the fear of God nor the fear of man;
but the South was religious, and if the battle or march did not forbid,
Sunday was observed with the rites of the church. The great Jackson, so
eager for the combat on other days, would not fight on Sunday if it
could be helped.

The crowd was gathering already to hear the minister, who would address
them from a rude little platform built in the centre of a glade.

The day was so calm, so full of the May bloom that Helen felt its peace
steal over her, and for the moment there was no war; this was not an
army, but just a great camp-meeting in the woods, such as the South
often had and still has.

The soldiers were gathered already to the number of many thousands, some
sitting on stumps and logs and others lying on the ground. All were
quiet, inspired with respect for the man and his cloth.

"Let us sit here and listen," said Prescott, and the three, sitting on a
convenient log, waited.

Doctor Warren, for he was an M.A. and a Ph.D. of a great American
university and had taken degrees at another in Germany, ascended his
rude forest pulpit. He was then about forty years of age; tall, thin,
with straight black hair, slightly long, and with angular but
intellectual features.

"A good man," thought Helen, and she was deeply impressed by his air of
authority and the respect that he so evidently inspired.

He spoke to them as to soldiers of the cross, and he made his appeal
directly to their hearts and minds, never to their passions. He did not
inquire into the causes of the conflict in which they were engaged, he
had no criticism for the men on the other side; he seemed rather to
include them in his address. He said it was a great war, marked by many
terrible battles as it would be marked by many more, and he besought
them so to bear themselves that whatever the issue none could say that
he had not done his duty as he saw it. And whether they fell in battle
or not, that would be the great comfort to those who were at home
awaiting their return.

Prescott noticed many general officers in the crowd listening as
attentively as the soldiers. All sounds in the camp had died and the
speaker's clear voice rose now and penetrated far through the forest.
The open air, the woods, the cannon at rest clothed the scene with a
solemnity that no cathedral could have imparted. The same peace enfolded
the Northern army, and it required but little fancy to think that the
soldiers there were listening, too. It seemed at the moment an easy and
natural thing for them both to lay down their arms and go home.

The minister talked, too, of home, a place that few of those who heard
him had seen in two years or more, but he spoke of it not to enfeeble
them, rather to call another influence to their aid in this struggle of
valour and endurance. Prescott saw tears rise more than once in the eyes
of hardened soldiers, and he became conscious again of the power of
oratory over the Southern people. The North loved to read and the South
to hear speeches; that seemed to him to typify the difference in the
sections.

The minister grew more fiery and more impassioned. His penetrating voice
reached far through the woods and around him was a ring of many
thousands. Few have ever spoken to audiences so large and so singular;
of women there were not twenty, just men, and men mostly young, mere
boys the majority, but with faces brown and scarred and clothing
tattered and worn, men hardened to wounds and reckless of death, men who
had seen life in its wildest and most savage phases. But all the brown
and scarred faces were upturned to the preacher, and the eyes of the
soldiers as they listened gleamed with emotional fire. The wind moaned
now and then, but none heard it. Around them the smoky camp-fires flared
and cast a distorting light over those who heard.

Prescott's mind, as he listened to the impassioned voice of the preacher
and looked at the brown, wild faces of those who listened, inevitably
went back to the Crusades. There was now no question of right or wrong,
but he beheld in it the spirit of men stirred by their emotions and
gathering a sort of superhuman fire for the last and greatest conflict,
for Armageddon. Here was the great drama played against the background
of earth and sky, and all the multitude were actors.

The spirit of the preacher, too, was that of the crusading priest. The
battlefields before them were but part of the battle of life; it was
their duty to meet the foe there as bravely as they met the temptation
of evil, and then he preached of the reward afterward, the Heaven to
come. His listeners began to see a way into a better life through such a
death, and many shook with emotion.

The spell was complete. The wind still moaned afar, and the fires still
flared, casting their pallid light, but all followed the preacher. They
saw only his deepset, burning eyes, the long pale face, and the long
black hair that fell around it. They followed only his promises of death
and life. He besought them to cast their sins at the feet of the
Master--to confess and prepare for the great day to come.

Prescott was a sober man, one who controlled his emotions, but he could
not help being shaken by the scene, the like of which the world has not
witnessed since the Crusades--the vast forest, the solemn sky overhead,
the smoky fires below, and the fifty thousand in the shadow of immediate
death who hung on the words of one man.

The preacher talked of olden days, of the men who, girding themselves
for the fight, fell in the glory of the Lord. Theirs was a beautiful
death, he said, and forgiveness was for all who should do as they and
cast away their sins. Groans began to arise from the more emotional of
the soldiers; some wept, many now came forward and, confessing their
sins, asked that prayers be said for their souls. Others followed and
then they went forward by thousands. Over them still thundered the voice
of the preacher, denouncing the sin of this world and announcing the
glory of the world to come. Clouds swept up the heavens and the fires
burned lower, but no one noticed. Before them flashed the livid face and
burning eyes of the preacher, and he moved them with his words as the
helmsman moves the ship.

Denser and denser grew the throng that knelt at his feet and begged for
his prayers, and there was the sound of weeping. Then he ceased suddenly
and, closing his eyes and bending his head, began to pray. Involuntarily
the fifty thousand, too, closed their eyes and bent their heads.

He called them brands snatched from the burning; he devoted their souls
to God. There on their knees they had confessed their sins and he
promised them the life everlasting. New emotions began to stir the souls
of those who mourned. Death? What was that? Nothing. A mere dividing
place between mortality and immortality, a mark, soon passed, and
nothing more. They began to feel a divine fire. They welcomed wounds and
death, the immortal passage, and they longed for the battlefield and the
privilege of dying for their country. They thought of those among their
comrades who had been so fortunate as to go on before, and expected
joyfully soon to see them again.

Prescott looked up once, and the scene was more powerful and weird than
any he had ever seen before. The great throng of people stood there with
heads bowed listening to the single voice pouring out its invocation and
holding them all within its sweep and spell.

The preacher asked the blessing of God on every one and finished his
prayer. Then he began to sing:

    "I've found a friend in Jesus,
      He is everything to me,
    He's the fairest of ten thousand to my soul;
      The Lily of the Valley in Him alone I see--
    All I need to cleanse and make me fully whole.

    "He's my comfort in trouble,
    In sorrow He's my stay;
      He tells me every care on Him to roll.
    He's the Lily of the Valley, the Bright and Morning Star
      He's the fairest of ten thousand to my soul."

He sang one verse alone, and then the soldiers began to join, at first
by tens, then by hundreds and then by thousands, until the grand chorus,
rolling and majestic, of fifty thousand voices swelled through all the
forest:

    "He's the Lily of the Valley, the Bright and Morning Star,
    He's the fairest of ten thousand to my soul."

The faces of the soldiers were no longer sad. They were transfigured
now. Joy had come after sorrow and then forgiveness. They heard the
promise.

"The best of all ways to prepare soldiers for battle," said a cynical
voice at Prescott's elbow.

It was Mr. Sefton.

"But it is not so intended," rejoined Prescott.

"Perhaps not, but it will suffice."

"His is what I call constructive oratory," presently continued the
Secretary in a low voice. "You will notice that what he says is always
calculated to strengthen the mind, although the soldiers themselves do
not observe it."

"But no man could be more sincere," said Helen.

"I do not doubt it," replied the Secretary.

"It is impossible for me to think that the men singing here may fall in
battle in a few days," said Helen.

The singing ended and in a few minutes the soldiers were engaged in many
avocations, going about the business of the day. Prescott and Mr. Sefton
took Helen back to the house and then each turned to his own task.

Several officers were gathered before a camp-fire on the following
morning mending their clothes. They were in good humour because Talbot
was with them and gloom rarely endured long in his presence.

"After all, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?" said Talbot.
"Will it profit me more to be killed in a decent uniform than in a
ragged one?"

"Don't you want to make a respectable casualty?" asked Prescott.

"Yes; but I don't like to work so much for it," replied Talbot. "It's
harder to dress well now than it is to win a battle. You can get mighty
little money and it's worth mighty little after you get it. The 'I
promise to pay' of the Confederate States of America has sunk terribly
low, boys."

He held up a Confederate bill and regarded it with disgust.

"It would take a wheelbarrow full of those to buy a decent suit of
clothes," he said. "Do you know the luck I had yesterday when I tried to
improve my toilet?"

All showed interest.

"More than six months' pay was due me," said Talbot, "and thinking I'd
buy something to wear, I went around to old Seymour, the paymaster, for
an installment. 'See here, Seymour,' I said, 'can't you let me have a
month's pay. It's been so long since I have had any money that I've
forgotten how it looks. I want to refresh my memory.'

"You ought to have seen the look old Seymour put on. You'd have thought
I'd asked him for the moon. 'Talbot' he said, 'you're the cheekiest
youngster I've met in a long time.'

"'But the army owes me six months' pay,' I said. 'What's that got to do
with it?' he asked. 'I'd like to know what use a soldier has for money?'
Then he looked me up and down as if it wouldn't work a footrule hard to
measure me. But I begged like a good fellow--said I wanted to buy some
new clothes, and I'd be satisfied if he'd let me have only a month's
pay. At last he gave me the month's pay--five hundred dollars--in nice
new Confederate bills, and I went to a sutler to buy the best he had in
the way of raiment.

"I particularly wanted a nice new shirt and found one just to suit me.
'The price?' I said to the sutler. 'Eight hundred dollars,' he answered,
as if he didn't care whether I took it or not. That settled me so far as
the shirt question was concerned--I'd have to wait for that until I was
richer; but I looked through his stock and at last I bought a
handkerchief for two hundred dollars, two paper collars for one hundred
dollars each, and I've got this hundred dollars left. Oh, I'm a
bargainer!"

And he waved the Confederate bill aloft in triumph.

"I'd give this hundred dollars for a good cigar," he added, "but there
isn't one in the army."

One of the men sang:

    "I am busted, mother, busted.
      Gone the last unhappy check;
    And the infernal sutler's prices
      Make every pocket-book a wreck."

Prescott sat reading a newspaper. It was the issue of the _Richmond
Whig_ of April 30, 1864, and his eyes were on these paragraphs:

"That the great struggle is about to take place for the possession of
Richmond is conceded on all sides. The enemy is marshaling his cohorts
on the Rapahannock and the Peninsula, and that a last desperate effort
will be made to overrun Virginia and occupy her ancient capital is
admitted by the enemy himself. What, then, becomes the duty of the
people of Richmond in view of the mighty conflict at hand? It is
evidently the same as that of the commander of a man-of-war who sails
out of port to engage the foes of his flag in mortal combat. The decks
are cleared for action; non-combatants are ordered below or ashore; the
supply of ammunition and food is looked to, and a short prayer uttered
that Heaven will favour the right and protect the land and the loved
ones for whom the battle is waged.

"We sincerely hope and pray that the red waves of battle may not, as in
1862, roll and break and hiss against the walls of the capital, and the
ears of our suffering but resolute people may never again be saluted by
the reports of hostile guns. But our hopes may be disappointed; the
enemy may come again as he has come before, and, for aught we know, the
battle may be fought on these hills and in these streets. It is with a
view of this possible contingency that we would urge upon our people to
make all needful preparation for whatever fate betides them, and
especially to give our brave and unconquerable defenders a clear deck
and open field. And above all, let the living oracles of our holy
religion, and pious men and women of every persuasion, remember that God
alone giveth the victory, and that His ear is ever open to the prayer of
the righteous."

       *       *       *       *       *

Prescott's thoughts the next morning were of Lucia Catherwood, who had
floated away from him in a sort of haze. It seemed a long time since
they parted that night in the snow, and he found himself trying to
reproduce her face and the sounds of her voice. Where was she now? With
that army which hung like a thunder cloud on their front? He had no
doubt of it. Her work would be there. He felt that they were going to
meet again, and it would not be long.

That day the Southern breeze blew stronger and sweeter than ever. It
came up from the Gulf, laden with a million odours, and the little wild
flowers in delicate tints of pink and purple and blue peeped up amid the
shades of the forest.

That night Grant, with one hundred and thirty thousand men and four
hundred guns, crossed the Rapidan and advanced on the Army of Northern
Virginia.

The fiercest and bloodiest campaign recorded since history rose from the
past was about to begin.



CHAPTER XVII

THE WILDERNESS


There is in Virginia a grim and sterile region the name of which no
American ever hears without a shudder. When you speak to him of the
Wilderness, the phantom armies rise before him and he hears the thunder
of the guns as the vast struggle sweeps through its shades. He sees,
too, the legions of the dead strewn in the forest, a mighty host, and he
sighs to think so many of his countrymen should have fallen in mutual
strife.

It is a land that deserves its name. Nature there is cold and stern. The
rock crops up and the thin red soil bears only scrub forest and weary
bushes. All is dark, somber and lonely, as if the ghosts of the fallen
had claimed it for their playground.

The woodchopper seeks his hut early at night, and builds high the fire
for the comfort of the blaze. He does not like to wander in the dark
over the ground where vanished armies fought and bled so long. He sees
and hears too much. He knows that his time--the present--has passed with
the day, and that when the night comes it belongs again to the armies;
then they fight once more, though the battle is soundless now, amid the
shades and over the hills and valleys.

Now and then he turns from the fire and its comradeship and looks
through the window into the darkness. He, too, shudders as he thinks of
the past and remembers the long roll, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness,
Spottsylvania and the others. Even the poor woodchopper knows that this
melancholy tract of ground has borne more dead men's bones than any
other of which history tells, and now and then he asks why, but no one
can give him the answer he wishes. They say only that the battles were
fought, that here the armies met for the death struggle which both knew
was coming and which came as they knew.

The Wilderness has changed but little in the generation since Grant and
Lee met there. The sullen soil is sullen and unyielding still. As of old
it crops up here in stone and there turns a thin red tint to the sun.
The sassafras bushes and the scrub oaks moan sadly in the wind, and few
human beings wander over the desolate hills and valleys.

At Gettysburg there is a city, and the battlefield is covered with
monuments in scores and scores, and all the world goes to see them. The
white marble and granite shafts and pillars and columns, the green hills
and fields around, the sunshine and the sound of many voices are
cheerful and tell of life; you are not with the dead--you are simply
with the glories of the past.

But it is different when you come to the Wilderness. Here you really
walk with ghosts. There are no monuments, no sunshine, no green grass,
no voices; all is silent, somber and lonely, telling of desolation and
decay. To many it is a more real monument than the clustering shafts of
Gettysburg. All this silence, all this abandonment tell in solemn and
majestic tones that here not one great battle was fought, but many; that
here in one year shone the most brilliant triumph of the South; and
here, in another year, she fought her death struggle.

When you walk among the bushes and the scrub oaks and listen to the
desolate wind you need no inscription to tell you that you are in the
Wilderness.



CHAPTER XVIII

DAY IN THE WILDERNESS


Helen Harley saw the sun rise in a shower of red and gold on a May
morning, and then begin a slow and quiet sail up a sky of silky blue. It
even touched the gloomy shades of the Wilderness with golden gleams, and
shy little flowers of purple, nestling in the scant grass, held up their
heads to the glow. From the window in the log house in which she had
nursed her brother she looked out at the sunrise and saw only peace, and
the leaves of the new spring foliage moving gently in the wind.

The girl's mind was not at rest. In the night she had heard the rumbling
of wheels, the tread of feet, and many strange, muffled sounds. Now the
morning was here and the usual court about her was missing. Gone were
the epaulets, the plumes and the swords in sheath. The generals, Raymond
and Winthrop, who had come only the day before. Talbot, Prescott and
Wood, were all missing.

The old house seemed desolate, abandoned, and she was lonely. She looked
through the window and saw nothing that lived among the bushes and the
scrub oaks only the scant grass and the new spring foliage waving in the
gentle wind. Here smouldered the remains of a fire and there another,
and yonder was where the tent of the Commander had stood; but it was
gone now, and not a sound came to her ears save those of the forest. She
was oppressed by the silence and the portent.

Her brother lay upon the bed asleep in full uniform, his coat covering
his bandages, and Mrs. Markham was in the next room, having refused to
return to Richmond. She would remain near her husband, she said, but
Helen felt absolutely alone, deserted by all the world.

No, not alone! There, coming out of the forest, was a single horseman,
the grandest figure that she had ever seen--a man above six feet in
height, as strong and agile as a panther, his head crowned with
magnificent bushy black hair, and his face covered with a black beard,
through which gleamed eyes as black as night. He rode, a very king, she
thought.

The man came straight toward the window of the log house, the feet of
his horse making no sound upon the turf. Here was one who had come to
bid her good-by.

She put her hand through the open window, and General Wood, the
mountaineer, bending low over his horse's neck, kissed it with all the
grace and gallantry of an ancient knight.

"I hope that you will come back," she said softly.

"I will, I must, if you are here," he said.

He kissed her hand again.

"Your brother?" he added.

"He is still asleep."

"What a pity his wounds are so bad! We'll need him to-day."

"Is it coming? Is it really coming to-day, under these skies so peaceful
and beautiful?" she asked in sudden terror, though long she had been
prepared for the worst.

"Grant is in the Wilderness."

She knew what that meant and asked no more.

Wood's next words were those of caution.

"There is a cellar under this house," he said. "If the battle comes near
you, seek shelter in it. You promise?"

"Yes, I promise."

"And now good-by."

"Good-by," she said.

He kissed her hand again and, without another word, turned and rode
through the forest and away. She watched him until he was quite out of
sight, and then her eyes wandered off toward the east, where the new
sun was still piling up glowing bands of alternate red and gold.

Her brother stirred on the bed and awoke. He was fretful that morning.

"Why is the place so silent?" he asked, with the feeling of a vain man
who does not wish to be left alone.

"I do not know," she replied, though well she knew.

There was a knock at the door and Mrs. Markham entered, dressed as if
for the street--fresh, blonde and smiling.

"You two are up early, Helen," she said. "What do you see there at the
window?"

"Nothing," replied Helen. She did not tell any one of the parting with
Wood. That belonged to her alone.

A coloured woman came with the breakfast, which was served on a little
table beside Harley's bed. He propped himself up with a pillow and sat
at the table with evident enjoyment. The golden glory of the new sun
shone there through the window and fell upon them.

"How quiet the camp is!" said Mrs. Markham after awhile. "Surely the
army sleeps late. I don't hear any voices or anything moving."

"No," said Helen.

"No, not a thing!" exclaimed Mrs. Markham.

"Eh?" cried Harley.

His military instinct leaped up. Silence where noise has been is
ominous.

"Helen," he said, "go to the window, will you?"

"No. I'll go," said Mrs. Markham, and she ran to the window, where she
uttered a cry of surprise.

"Why, there is nothing here!" she exclaimed. "There are no tents, no
guns, no soldiers! Everything is gone! What does it mean?"

The answer was ready.

From afar in the forest, low down under the horizon's rim, came the
sullen note of a great gun--a dull, sinister sound that seemed to roll
across the Wilderness and hang over the log house and those within it.

Harley threw himself on the bed with a groan of grief and rage.

"Oh, God," he cried, "that I should be tied here on such a day!"

Helen ran to the window but saw nothing--only the waving grass, the
somber forest and the blue skies and golden sunshine above. The echo of
the cannon shot died and again there was silence, but only for a moment.
The sinister note swelled up again from the point under the horizon's
rim far off there to the left, and it was followed by another, and more
and more, until they blended into one deep and sullen roar.

Unconsciously Constance Markham, the cynical, the worldly and the
self-possessed, seized Helen Harley's hand in hers.

"The battle!" she cried. "It is the battle!"

"Yes," said Helen; "I knew that it was coming."

"Ah, our poor soldiers!"

"I pity those of both sides."

"And so do I. I did not mean it that way."

The servant was cowering in a corner of the room. Harley sprang to his
feet and stood, staggering.

"I must be at the window!" he said.

Helen darted to his support.

"But your wounds," she said. "You must think of them!"

"I tell you I shall stay at the window!" he exclaimed with energy. "If I
cannot fight, I must see!"

She knew the tone that would endure no denial, and they helped him to
the window, where they propped him in a chair with his eyes to the
eastern forest. The glow of battle came upon his face and rested there.

"Listen!" he cried. "Don't you hear that music? It's the big guns, not
less than twenty. You cannot hear the rifles from here. Ah if I were
only there!"

The three looked continually toward the east, where a somber black line
was beginning to form against the red-and-gold glow of the sunrise.
Louder and louder sounded the cannon. More guns were coming into action,
and the deep, blended and violent note seemed to roll up against the
house until every log, solid as it was, trembled with the concussion.
Afar over the forest the veil of smoke began to grow wider and thicker
and to blot out the red-and-gold glory of the sunrise.

Harley bent his head. He was listening--not for the thunder of the great
guns, but for the other sounds that he knew went with it--the crash of
the rifles, the buzz and hiss of the bullets flying in clouds through
the air, the gallop of charging horsemen, the crash of falling trees cut
through by cannon shot, and the shouts and cries. But he heard only the
thunder of the great guns now, so steady, so persistent and so
penetrating that he felt the floor tremble beneath him.

He searched the forest with eyes trained for the work, but saw no human
being--only the waving grass, the somber woods, and a scared lizard
rattling the bark of a tree as he fled up it.

In the east the dull, heavy cloud of smoke was growing, spreading along
the rim of the horizon, climbing the concave arch and blotting out all
the glory of the sunrise. The heavy roar was like the sullen, steady
grumbling of distant thunder, and the fertile fancy of Harley, though
his eyes saw not, painted all the scene that was going on within the
solemn shades of the Wilderness--the charge, the defense, the shivered
regiments and brigades; the tread of horses, cannon shattered by cannon,
the long stream of wounded to the rear, and the dead, forgotten amid the
rocks and bushes. He had beheld many such scenes and he had been a part
of them. But who was winning now? If he could only lift that veil of the
forest!

Every emotion showed on the face of Harley. Vain, egotistic, and often
selfish, he was a true soldier; his was the military inspiration, and he
longed to be there in the field, riding at the head of his horsemen as
he had ridden so often, and to victory. He thought of Wood, a cavalry
leader greater than himself, doing a double part, and for a moment his
heart was filled with envy. Then he flushed with rage because of the
wounds that tied him there like a baby. What a position for him,
Vincent Harley, the brilliant horseman and leader! He even looked with
wrath upon his sister and Mrs. Markham, two women whom he admired so
much. Their place was not here, nor was his place here with them. He was
eaten with doubt and anxiety. Who was losing, who was winning out there
beyond the veil of the forest where the pall of smoke rose? He struck
the window-sill angrily with his fist.

"I hate this silence and desolation here around us," he exclaimed, "with
all that noise and battle off there where we cannot see! It chills me!"

But the two women said nothing, still sitting with their hands in each
other's and unconscious of it; forgetting now in this meeting of the two
hundred thousand the petty personal feelings that had divided them.

Louder swelled the tumult. It seemed to Helen, oblivious to all else,
that she heard amid the thunder of the cannon other and varying notes.
There was a faint but shrill incessant sound like the hum of millions of
bees flying swiftly, and another, a regular but heavier noise, was
surely the tread of charging horsemen. The battle was rolling a step
nearer to them, and she began to see, low down under the pall of smoke,
flashes of fire like swift strokes of lightning. Then it rolled another
step nearer and its tumult beat heavily and cruelly on the drums of her
ears. Yet the deathly stillness in the scrub oaks around the house
continued. They waved as peacefully as ever in the gentle wind from the
west. It was still a battle heard but not seen.

She would have left the window to cower in the corner with the coloured
woman who served them, but this struggle, of which she could see only
the covering veil, held her appalled. It was misty, intangible, unlike
anything of which she had read or heard, and yet she knew it to be real.
They were in conflict, the North and the South, there in the forest, and
she sat as one in a seat in a theatre who looked toward a curtained
stage.

When she put her free hand once on the window-sill she felt beneath her
fingers the faint, steady trembling of the wood as the vast, insistent
volume of sound beat upon it. The cloud of smoke now spread in a huge,
somber curve across all the east, and the swift flashes of fire were
piercing through it faster and faster. The volume of sound grew more and
more varied, embracing many notes.

"It comes our way," murmured Harley, to himself rather than to the
women.

Helen felt a quiver run through the hand of Mrs. Markham and she looked
at her face. The elder woman was pale, but she was not afraid. She, too,
would not leave the window, held by the same spell.

"Surely it is a good omen!" murmured Harley; "the field of
Chancellorsville, where we struck Hooker down, is in this same
Wilderness."

"But we lost there our right arm--Jackson," said Mrs. Markham.

"True, alas!" said Harley.

The aspect of the day that had begun so bright and clear was changing.
The great pall of smoke in the east gave its character to all the sky.
From the west clouds were rolling up to meet it. The air was growing
close, sultry and hot. The wind ceased to blow. The grass and the new
leaves hung motionless. All around them the forest was still heavy and
somber. The coloured woman in the corner began to cry softly, but from
her chest. They could hear her low note under the roar of the guns, but
no one rebuked her.

"It comes nearer and nearer," murmured Harley.

There was relief, even pleasure in his tone. He had forgotten his sister
and the woman to whom his eyes so often turned. That which concerned him
most in life was passing behind the veil of trees and bushes, and its
sound filled his ears. He had no thought of anything else. It was
widening its sweep, coming nearer to the house where he was tied so
wretchedly by wounds; and he would see it--see who was winning--his own
South he fiercely hoped.

The thoughts of brother and sister at that moment were alike. All the
spirit and fire of the old South flushed in every vein of both. They
were of an old aristocracy, with but two ambitions, the military and the
political, and while they prayed for complete success in the end, they
wanted another great triumph on the field of battle. Gettysburg, that
insuperable bar, was behind them, casting its gloomy memory over the
year between; but this might take its place, atoning for it, wiping it
out. But there was doubt and fear in the heart of each; this was a new
general that the North had, of a different kind from the old--one who
did not turn back at a defeat, but came on again and hammered and
hammered. They repeated to themselves softly the name "Grant." It had to
them a short, harsh, abrupt sound, and it did not grow pleasant with
repetition.

An odour, the mingled reek of smoke, burnt gunpowder, trampled dust and
sweating men, reached them and was offensive to their nostrils. Helen
coughed and then wiped her face with her handkerchief. She was surprised
to find her cheeks damp and cold. Her lips felt harsh and dry as they
touched each other.

The trembling of the house increased, and the dishes from the breakfast
which they had left on the table kept up an incessant soft, jarring
sound. The battle was still spreading; at first a bent bow, then a
semi-circle, the horns of the crescent were now extending as if they
meant to meet about the house, and yet they saw not a man, not a horse,
not a gun; only afar off the swelling canopy of smoke, and the flashes
of light through it, and nearer by the grass and the leaves, now hanging
dull and lifeless.

Harley groaned again and smote the unoffending window-sill with his
hand.

"Why am I here--why am I here," he repeated, "when the greatest battle
of all the world is being fought?"

The clouds of smoke from the cannon and the clouds from the heated and
heavy air continued to gather in both heavens and were now meeting at
the zenith. The skies were dark, obscure and somber. Most trying of all
was the continuous, heavy jarring sound made by the thunder of the
guns. It got upon the nerves, it smote the brain cruelly, and once Helen
clasped her hands over her ears to shut it out, but she could not; the
sullen mutter was still there, no less ominous because its note was
lower.

A sudden tongue of flame shot up in the east above the forest, but
unlike the others did not go out again; it hung there a red spire,
blood-red against the sky, and grew taller and broader.

"The forest burns!" murmured Harley.

"In May?" said Helen.

"What a cannonade it must be to set green trees on fire!" continued
Harley.

The varying and shriller notes heard through the steady roar of the
great guns now grew more numerous and louder; and most persistent among
them was a nasty buzz, inconceivably wicked in its cry.

"The rifles! A hundred thousand of them at least!" murmured Harley, to
whose ear all these sounds were familiar.

New tongues of fire leaped above the trees and remained there, blood-red
against the sky; sparks at first fugitive and detached, then in showers
and millions, began to fly. Columns of vapour and smoke breaking off
from the main cloud floated toward the house and assailed those at the
window until eyes and nostrils tingled. The strange, nauseous odour, the
mingled reek of blood and dust, powder and human sweat grew heavier and
more sickening.

Helen shuddered again and again, but she could not turn away. The whole
look of the forest had now changed to her. She saw it through a red
mist: all the green, the late green of the new spring, was gone. All
things, the trees, the leaves, the grass and the bushes, seemed burnt,
dull and dead.

"Listen!" cried Harley. "Don't you hear that--the beat of horses' feet!
A thousand, five thousand of them! The cavalry are charging! But whose
cavalry?"

His soul was with them. He felt the rush of air past him, the strain of
his leaping horse under him, and then the impact, the wild swirl of
blood and fire and death when foe met foe. Once more he groaned and
struck the window-sill with an angry hand.

Nearer and nearer rolled the battle and louder and shriller grew its
note. The crackle of the rifles became a crash as steady as the thunder
of the great guns, and Helen began to hear, above all the sound of human
voices, cries and shouts of command. Dark figures, perfectly black like
tracery, began to appear against a background of pallid smoke, or ruddy
flame, distorted, shapeless even, and without any method in their
motions. They seemed to Helen to fly back and forth and to leap about as
if shot from springs like jumping-jacks and with as little of life in
them--mere marionettes. The great pit of fire and smoke in which they
fought enclosed them, and to Helen it was only a pit of the damned. For
the moment she had no feeling for either side; they were not fellow
beings to her--they who struggled there amid the flame and the smoke and
the falling trees and the wild screams of the wounded horses.

The coloured woman cowering in the corner continued to cry softly, but
with deep sobs drawn from her chest, and Helen wished that she would
stop, but she could not leave the window to rebuke her even had she the
heart to do so.

The smoke, of a close, heavy, lifeless quality, entered the window and
gathered in the rooms, penetrating everything. The floor and the walls
and the furniture grew sticky and damp, but the three at the window did
not notice it. They had neither eyes nor heart now save for the
tremendous scene passing before them. No thought of personal danger
entered the mind of either woman. No, this was a somber but magnificent
panorama set for them, and they, the spectators, were in their proper
seats. They were detached, apart from the drama which was of another age
and another land, and had no concern with them save as a picture.

Helen could not banish from her mind this panoramic quality of the
battle. She was ashamed of herself; she ought to draw from her heart
sympathy for those who were falling out there, but they were yet to her
beings of another order, and she remained cold--a spectator held by the
appalling character of the drama and not realizing that those who played
the part were human like herself.

"The battle is doubtful," said Harley.

"How do you know?"

"See how it veers to and fro--back and forth and back and forth it goes
again. If either side were winning it would all go one way. Do you know
how long we have been here watching?"

"I have no idea whatever."

He looked at his watch and then pointed upward at the heavens where in
the zenith a film of light appeared through the blur of cloud and smoke.

"There's the sun," he said; "it's noon. We've been sitting here for
hours. The time seems long and again it seems short. Ah, if I only knew
which way fortune inclined! Look how that fire in the forest is
growing!"

Over in the east the red spires and pillars and columns united into one
great sheet of flame that moved and leaped from tree to tree and shot
forth millions of sparks.

"That fire will not reach us," said Harley. "It will pass a half-mile to
the right."

But they felt its breath, far though hot, and again Helen drew her
handkerchief across her burning face. The deadly, sickening odour
increased. A light wind arose, and a fine dust of ashes, borne on its
breath, began to enter the window and sweep in at every possible crevice
and cranny of the old house. It powdered the three at the window and
hung a thin, gray and pallid veil over the floor and the scanty
furniture. The faint jarring of the wood, so monotonous and so
persistent, never ceased. And distinctly through the sounds they heard
the voice of the coloured woman, crying softly from her chest, always
the same, weird, unreal and chilling.

The struggle seemed to the three silent watchers to swing away a little,
the sounds of human voices died, the cries, the commands were heard no
more; but the volume of the battle grew, nevertheless. Harley knew that
new regiments, new brigades, new batteries were coming into action;
that the area of conflict was spreading, covering new fields and holding
the old. He knew by the rising din, ever swelling and beating upon the
ear, by the vast increase in the clouds of smoke, the leaping flashes of
flame and the dust of ashes, now thick and drifting, that two hundred
thousand men were eye to eye in battle amid the gloomy thickets and
shades of the Wilderness, but God alone knew which would win.

Some of the awe that oppressed the two women began to creep over Harley
and to chill the blood in his veins. He had gone through many battles;
he had been with Pickett in that fiery rush up Cemetery Hill in the face
of sixty thousand men and batteries heaped against each other; but there
he was a part of things and all was before him to see and to hear: here
he only sat in the dusk of the smoke and the ashes and the clouds, while
the invisible battle swung to and fro afar. He heard only the beat of
its footsteps as it reeled back and forth, and saw only the mingled
black and fiery mists and vapours of its own making that enclosed it.

The dun clouds were still rolling up from both heavens toward the
zenith, shot now and then with yellow streaks and scarlet gleams.
Sometimes they threw back in a red glare the reflection of the burning
forest, and then again the drifting clouds of smoke and ashes and dust
turned the whole to a solid and dirty brown. It was now more than a
battle to Harley. Within that cloud of smoke and flashing flame the fate
of a nation hung--the South was a nation to him--and before the sun set
the decree might be given. He was filled with woe to be sitting there
looking on at so vast an event. Vain, selfish and superficial, depths in
his nature were touched at last. This was no longer a scene set as at a
theatre, upon which one might fight for the sake of ambition or a
personal glory. Suddenly he sank into insignificance. The fortunes or
the feelings of one man were lost in mightier issues.

"It's coming back!" exclaimed Mrs. Markham.

The battle again approached the old house, the clouds swept up denser
and darker, the tumult of the rifles and the great guns grew louder; the
voices, the cries and the commands were heard again, and the human
figures, distorted and unreal, reappeared against the black or fiery
background. To Helen's mind returned the simile of a huge flaming pit in
which multitudes of little imps struggled and fought. She was yet unable
to invest them with human attributes like her own, and the mystic and
unreal quality in this battle which oppressed her from the first did not
depart.

"It is all around us," said Mrs. Markham.

Helen looked up and saw that her words were true. The battle now made a
complete circuit of the house, though yet distant, and from every point
came the thunder of the cannon and the rifles, the low and almost
rhythmic tread of great armies in mortal struggle, and the rising clouds
of dust, ashes and smoke shot with the rapid flame of the guns, like
incessant sheet-lightning.

The clouds had become so dense that the battle, though nearer, grew
dimmer in many of its aspects; but the distorted and unreal human
figures moved like shadows on a screen and were yet visible, springing
about and crossing and recrossing in an infinite black tracery that the
eye could not follow. But to neither of the three did the thought of
fear yet come. They were still watchers of the arena, from high seats,
and the battle was not to take them in its coils.

The flame, the red light from the guns, grew more vivid, and was so
rapid and incessant that it became a steady glare, illuminating the vast
scene on which the battle was outspread; the black stems of the oaks and
pines, the guns--some wheelless and broken now, the charging lines,
fallen horses scattered in the scrub, all the medley and strain of a
titanic battle.

The sparks flew in vast showers. Bits of charred wood from the burning
forest, caught up by the wind, began to fall on the thin roof of the old
house, and kept up a steady, droning patter. The veil of gray ashes upon
the floor and on the scanty furniture grew thicker. The coloured woman
never ceased for a moment to cry drearily.

"It is still doubtful!" murmured Harley.

His keen, discerning eye began to see a method, an order in all this
huge tumult--signs of a design, and of another design to defeat it--the
human mind seeking to achieve an end. One side was the North and another
the South--but which was his own he could not tell. For the present he
knew not where to place his sympathies, and the fortunes of the battle
were all unknown to him.

He looked again at his watch. Mid-afternoon. Hours and hours had passed
and still the doubtful battle hung on the turning of a hair; but his
study of it, his effort to trace its fortune through all the intricate
maze of smoke and flame, did not cease. He sought to read the purposes
of the two master minds which marshaled their forces against each other,
to evolve order from chaos and to read what was written already.

Suddenly he uttered a low cry. He could detect now the colour of the
uniforms. There on the right was the gray, his own side, and Harley's
soul dropped like lead in water. The gray were yielding slowly, almost
imperceptibly, but nevertheless were yielding. The blue masses were
pouring upon them continually, heavier and heavier, always coming to the
attack.

Harley glanced at the women. They, too, saw as he saw. He read it in the
deathly pallor of their faces, their lips parted and trembling, the
fallen look of their eyes. It was not a mere spectacle now--something to
gaze at appalled, not because of the actors in it, but because of the
spectacle itself. It was beginning now to have a human interest, vital
and terrible--the interest of themselves, their friends and the South to
which they belonged.

Helen suddenly remembered a splendid figure that had ridden away from
her window that morning--the figure of the man who alone had come to bid
her good-by, he who had seemed to her a very god of war himself; and she
knew he must be there in that flaming pit with the other marionettes who
reeled back and forth as the master minds hurled fresh legions anew to
the attack. If not there, one thing alone had happened, and she refused
to think of that, though she shuddered; but she would not picture him
thus. No; he rode triumphant at the head of his famous brigade, sword in
hand, bare and shining, and there was none who could stand before its
edge. It was with pride that she thought of him, and a faint blush crept
over her face, then passed quickly like a mist before sunshine.

The battle shifted again and the faces of the three who watched at the
window reflected the change in a complete and absolute manner. The North
was thrust back, the South gained--a few feet perhaps, but a gain
nevertheless, and joy shone on the faces where pallor and fear had been
before. To the two women this change would be permanent. They could see
no other result. The North would be thrown back farther and farther,
overwhelmed in rout and ruin. They looked forward to it eagerly and in
fancy saw it already. The splendid legions of the South could not be
beaten.

But no such thoughts came to Harley. He felt all the joy of a momentary
triumph, but he knew that the fortune of the battle still hung in doubt.
Strain eye and ear as he would, he could see no decrease in the tumult
nor any decline in the energy of the figures that fought there, an
intricate tracery against the background of red and black. The afternoon
was waning, and his ears had grown so used to the sounds without that he
could hear everything within the house. The low, monotonous crying of
the coloured woman was as distinct as if there were no battle a
half-mile away.

The dense fine ashes crept into their throats and all three coughed
repeatedly, but did not notice it, having no thought for anything save
for what was passing before them. They were powdered with it, face, hair
and shoulders, until it lay over them like a veil, but they did not know
nor care.

The battle suddenly changed again and the South was pressed back anew.
Once more their faces fell, and the hearts of the women, raised to such
heights, sank to the depths. It was coming nearer, too. There was a
fierce hiss, a shrill scream and something went by.

"A shell passed near us then," said Harley, "and there's another. The
battle is swinging close."

Still the element of fear did not enter into the minds of any of the
three, not even into those of the women, although another shell passed
by and then others, all with a sharp, screaming note, full of malignant
ferocity. Then they ceased to come and the battle again hovered in the
distance, growing redder and redder than ever against a black background
as the day darkened and the twilight approached. Its sound now was a
roar and a hum--many varying notes blending into a steady clamour, which
was not without a certain rhythm and music--like the simultaneous
beating of a million mighty bass drums.

"They still press us back," murmured Harley; "the battle is wavering."

With the coming of the twilight the light in the forest of scrub oaks
and pines, the light from so many cannon and rifles, assumed vivid and
unearthly hues, tinged at the edges with a yellow glare and shot through
now and then with blue and purple streaks. Over it hung the dark and
sullen sky.

"It comes our way again," said Harley.

It seemed now to converge upon them from all sides, to contract its
coils like a python, but still the house was untouched, save by the
drifting smoke and ashes. Darker and darker the night came down, a black
cap over all this red struggle, but with its contrast deepening the
vivid colours of the combat that went on below.

Nearer it came, and suddenly some horsemen shot from the flame-cloud and
stood for a moment in a huddled group, as if they knew not which way to
turn. They were outlined vividly against the red battle and their
uniforms were gray. Even Helen could see why they hesitated and doubted.
Riderless horses galloped out of the smoke and, with the curious
attraction that horses have for the battlefield, hovered near, their
empty saddles on their backs.

A groan burst from Harley.

"My God," he cried, "those cavalrymen are going to retreat!"

Then he saw something that struck him with a deeper pang, though he was
silent for the moment. He knew those men. Even at the distance many of
the figures were familiar.

"My own troop!" he gasped. "Who could have thought it?"

Then he added, in sad apology: "They need a leader."

The horsemen were still in doubt, although they seemed to drift backward
and away from the field of battle. A fierce passion lay hold of Harley
and inflamed his brain. He saw his own men retreating when the fate of
the South hung before them. He thought neither of his wounds nor of the
two women beside him, one his sister. Springing to his feet while they
tried in vain to hold him back, he cried out that he had lingered there
long enough. He threw off their clinging hands, ran to the door, blood
from his own wounds streaking his clothes, and they saw him rush across
the open space toward the edge of the forest where the horsemen yet
lingered. They saw him, borne on by excitement, seize one of the
riderless horses, leap into the saddle and turn his face toward the
battle. They almost fancied that they could hear his shout to his
troops: "Come on, men; the way is here, not there!"

The horse he had seized was that of a slain bugler, and the bugle, tied
by a string to the horn of the saddle, still hung there. Harley lifted
it to his lips, blew a note that rose, mellow and inspiring, above all
the roar of the cannon and the rifles, and then, at the head of his men,
rode into the heart of the battle.



CHAPTER XIX

NIGHT IN THE WILDERNESS


The two women clasped hands again and looked at each other as Harley
disappeared amid the smoke.

"He has left us," said Mrs. Markham.

"Yes, but he has gone to his country's need," said his sister proudly.

Then they were silent again. Night, smoky, cloudy and dark, thick with
vapours and mists, and ashes and odours that repelled, was coming down
upon the Wilderness. Afar in the east the fire in the forest still
burned, sending up tongues of scarlet and crimson over which sparks flew
in myriads. Nearer by, the combat went on, its fury undimmed by the
darkness, its thunder as steady, as persistent and terrible as before.

Helen was struck with horror. The battle, weird enough in the day, was
yet more so in the darkness, and she could not understand why it did not
close with the light. It partook of an inhuman quality, and that scene
out there was more than ever to her an inferno because the flaming pit
was now enclosed by outer blackness, completely cut off from all else--a
world to itself in which all the passions strove, and none could tell to
which would fall the mastery.

She felt for the moment horror of both sides, North and South alike, and
she wished only that the unnatural combat would cease; she did not care
then--a brief emotion, though--which should prove the victor.

It was a dark and solemn night that came down over the Wilderness and
the two hundred thousand who had fought all day and still fought amid
its thickets. Never before had that thin, red soil--redder now--borne
such a crop, and many were glad that the darkness hid the sight from
their enemies. The two Generals, the master minds who had propelled
their mighty human machines against each other, were trying to reckon
their losses--with the battle still in progress--and say to themselves
whether they had won or lost. But this battlefield was no smooth and
easy chessboard where the pawns might be moved as one wills and be
counted as they fell, but a wilderness of thickets and forests and hills
and swamps and valleys where the vast lines bent or twisted or
interlaced and were lost in the shades and the darkness. Count and
reckon as they would, the two Generals, equal in battle, face to face
for the first time--could not give the total of the day. It was still an
unadded sum, and the guns, despite the night, were steadily contributing
new figures. This was the flaw in their arithmetic; nothing was
complete, and they saw that they would have to begin again to-morrow.
So, with this day's work yet unfinished, they began to prepare, sending
for new regiments and brigades, massing more cannon, and planning
afresh.

But all these things were unknown to Helen as she sat there at the
window with Mrs. Markham. Her thoughts wandered again to Wood, that
splendid figure on horseback, and she sought to identify him there among
the black marionettes that gyrated against the red background. But with
the advance of night the stage was becoming more indistinct, the light
shed over it more pallid and shifting, and nothing certain could be
traced there. All the black figures were mixed in a confused whirl, and
where stood the South and where the North neither Helen nor Mrs. Markham
could tell.

The night was thick and hot, rank with vapours and mists and odours that
oppressed throat and nostrils. The wind seemed to have died, but the
fine dust of ashes still fell and the banks of nauseous smoke floated
about aimlessly.

New fear assailed the two women for the first time--not so much fear of
the shells and the bullets, but of the night and its mysteries and the
weird combat that was still going on there where the light was so pallid
and uncertain. Once again those who fought had become for them
unreal--not human beings, but imps in an inferno of their own creation.
They wished now that Harley was still with them. Whatever else he might
be, he was brave and he would defend them. They looked around fearfully
at the shadows that were encroaching upon the house. The rain of ashes
and dust began to annoy them, and they moved a little closer to each
other.

Helen glanced back once. The inside of the house was now in total
darkness, and out of it came the monotonous wailing of the black woman.
It occurred suddenly to Helen that the servant had crouched there crying
the whole day long. But she said nothing to her and turned her back to
the window.

"It is dying now," said Mrs. Markham.

The dull red light suddenly contracted and then broke into intermittent
flashes. The sound of the cannon and the rifles sank into the low
muttering of distant thunder. The two women felt the house under them
cease to tremble. Then the intermittent flashes, too, disappeared, the
low rumbling died away like the echo of a distant wind, and a sudden and
complete silence, mystic and oppressive in its solemnity, fell over the
Wilderness. Only afar the burning forest glowed like a torch.

The silence was for awhile more terrifying than the battle to which they
had grown used. It hung over the forest and them like something visible
that enfolded them. They breathed a hot, damp air heavy with ashes and
smoke and dust, and their pulses throbbed painfully in their temples.
Around them all the time was that horrible deathlike pall of silence.

They spoke, and their voices, attuned before to the roar of the battle,
sounded loud, shrill and threatening. Both started, then laughed weakly.

"Is it really over?" exclaimed Mrs. Markham, hysterically.

"Until to-morrow," replied Helen, with solemn prevision.

She turned to the inner blackness of the house and lighted a candle,
which she placed on the table, where it burned with an unsteady yellow
light, illuminating the centre of the room with a fitful glow, but
leaving the corners still in darkness. Everything lay under its veil of
ashes--the table, the floor, and the bed on which Harley had slept.

Helen felt a strange sort of strength, the strength of excitement and
resolve. She shook the black woman by the arm and bade her bring food.

"We must eat, for we shall have work to do," she said to Mrs. Markham,
and nodded her head toward the outside.

It was the task of but a few minutes, and then the two women prepared to
go forth. They knew they would be needed on this night, and they
listened to hear the ominous sounds that would be a call to them. But
they heard nothing. There was the same dead, oppressive stillness. Not a
leaf, not a blade of grass seemed to stir. Helen looked once more from
the window. Afar in the east the forest still burned, but the light
there was pallid, grayish, more of the quality of moonlight than of
fire, and looked dim. Directly before her in the forest where the battle
had been all was black, silent and impenetrable. It was true there were
faint lights here and there as of torches that had burned badly, but
they were pin-points, serving only to deepen the surrounding blackness.
Once or twice she thought she saw figures moving slowly, but she was not
sure. She heard nothing.

Helen was in an unreal world. An atmosphere new, fiery and surcharged
surrounded her, and in its heat little things melted away. Only the
greater remained. That life in Richmond, bright and gay in many of its
aspects, lived but a few days since, was ages and ages ago; it belonged
to another world. Now she was in the forest with the battle and the
dead, and other things did not count.

The door stood wide open, and as Helen prepared to go another woman
entered there, a woman young like herself, tall, wrapped in a long brown
cloak, but bareheaded. Two or three stray locks, dark but edged with red
gold, strayed down. Her face, clear and feminine though it was, seemed
to Helen stronger than any other woman's face that she had ever seen.

Helen knew instinctively that this was a woman of the North, or at
least one with the North, and her first feeling was of hostility. So, as
the two stood looking at each other, her gaze at first was marked by
aversion and defiance. Who was she who had come with the other army, and
why should she be there?

But Lucia Catherwood knew both the women in the old house. She
remembered a day in Richmond when this girl, in lilac and rose, so fair
a representative of her South, welcomed a gallant general; and she
remembered another, a girl of the same years, lonely, an outcast in the
farthest fringe of the crowd--herself. Her first emotion, too, was
hostility, mingled with another feeling closely akin to it. She had seen
her with Prescott, and unwillingly had confessed them well matched. She,
too, asked what this woman was doing here in the forest beside the
battle; but these feelings had only a short life with her. There were
certain masculine qualities in Lucia Catherwood that tended to openness
and frankness. She advanced and offered her hand like a man to Helen.

"We come under different flags," she said, "but we cannot be enemies
here; we must be friends at least to-night, and I could wish that it
should always be so."

Her smile was so frank, so open, so engaging that Helen, whose nature
was the same, could resist her no longer. Despite herself she liked this
girl, so tall, so strong, with that clear, pure face showing a
self-reliance such as she had never before seen on the face of a woman.
Mrs. Markham yet hung back a little, cool, critical and suspicious, but
presently she cast this manner from her and spoke as if Lucia Catherwood
was her friend, one of long and approved standing.

"I think that our work is to be the same," said Helen simply, and the
other bowed in silent assent. Then the three went forth.

The field of battle, or rather the portion of it which came nearest to
them--it wound for miles through the thickets--lay a half-mile from the
house under the solid black veil of a cloudy night, the forest, and the
smoke that yet drifted about aimlessly. Outside the house the strange,
repellent odours grew stronger, as if it were the reek of some infernal
pit.

They advanced over open ground, and the field of conflict was still
black and soundless, though there was a little increase in the lights
that moved dimly there. The smoke assailed them again, and fine ashes
from the distant fire in the east now and then fell upon them. But they
noticed none of these things, still advancing with steady step and
unshrinking faces toward the forest.

The twinkling lights increased and sounds came at last. Helen would not
say to herself what they were. She hoped that her fancy deceived her;
but the three women did not stop. Helen looked at the tall, straight
young figure beside her, so strong, so self-reliant, and she drew
strength from her companion--now she was such. They walked side by side,
and Mrs. Markham came behind. Helen began to feel the influence of a
personality, a will stronger than her own, and she yielded to it without
further question and without reluctance, having the feeling that she had
known this girl a long time.

The trembling lights of the forest increased, moving about like so many
fireflies in the night; the nauseous odours grew heavier, more
persistent, and for a moment Helen felt ill; her head began to spin
around at the thought of what she was going to see, but quickly she
recovered herself and went on by the side of the girl who never
faltered. Helen wondered at such courage, and wondering, she admired.

The ground grew rougher, set with tiny hillocks and stones and patch
after patch of scrub bushes. Once Helen stumbled against something that
felt cold even through the leather of her shoe, and she shuddered. But
it was only a spent cannon ball lying peacefully among the bushes, its
mission ended.

They reached burnt ground--spots where the scanty grass or the bushes
had been set on fire by the cannon or the rifles. Many places still
burned slowly and sent up languid sparks and dull smoke. In other places
the ground was torn as if many ploughs had been run roughly over it,
and Helen knew that the shells and the cannon balls had passed in
showers. There were other objects, too, lying very quiet, but she would
not look at them, though they increased fast as they went on, lying like
seed sown above ground.

They were at the edge of the forest now, and here the air was thicker
and darker. The mists and vapours floated among the trees and lay like
warm, wet blankets upon their faces. They saw now many moving figures,
some bending down as if they would lift something from the earth, and
others who held lights. Occasionally they passed women like themselves,
but not often. Some of the men were in gray uniform and some in blue,
but they passed and repassed each other without question, doing the work
they had come there to do.

Here in the forest the area of burnt ground was larger, and many coils
of smoke rose languidly to join the banks of it that towered overhead.
The still objects, too, were lying as far as one could see, in groups
here, somewhat scattered there, but the continuity never broken, many
with their faces upturned to the sky as if they awaited placidly the
last call. Helen was struck by this peace, this seeming confidence in
what was to come. The passage, then, had not been so hard! Here, when
she stood in the centre of it all, the old feelings of awe returned, and
the real world, the world that she had known before this day, swung
farther and farther away.

There was still but little noise, for those who yet lived were silent,
waiting patiently, and the vast peace was more powerful in its
impression upon the mind than any tumult could have been. Helen looked
up once at the skies. They were black and overcast. But few stars
twinkled there. It was a fit canopy for the Wilderness, the gloomy
forest that bore such a burden. From a far point in the southwest came
the low rumble of thunder, and lightning, like the heat-lightning of a
summer night, glimmered fitfully. Then there was a faint, sullen sound,
the report of a distant cannon shot. Helen started, more in anger than
terror. Would they fight again at such a time? She felt blame for both,
but the shot was not repeated then. A signal gun, she thought, and went
on, unconsciously going where the strong young figure of Lucia
Catherwood led the way. She heard presently another distant cannon shot,
its solemn echoes rolling all around the horizon, but she paid no heed
to it. Her mind was now for other things.

An inky sky overhung the battlefield and all it held. Those nights in
the Wilderness were among the blackest in both ways this country has
ever known. Brigades and batteries moving in the dense scrub, seeking
better places for the fresh battle on the morrow, wandered sometimes
through each other's lines. Soldiers, not knowing whether they were
among friends or enemies, and not caring, drank in the darkness from the
same streams, and, overpowered by fatigue, North and South alike often
slept a soundless sleep under trees not fifty yards from one another;
but the two Generals, who were the supreme expression of the genius of
either side, never slept. They had met for the first time; each nearly
always a victor before, neither had now won. The result yet to come lay
hidden in the black Wilderness, and by smoking camp-fires they planned
for the next day, knowing well that they would meet again in a combat
fiercer, longer and deadlier than ever, the one always seeking to drive
on, the other always seeking to hold him back.

The Wilderness enclosed many secrets that night, hiding dead and living
alike. Many of the fallen lay unseen amid the ravines and hollows, and
the burning forest was their funeral pyre. Never did the Wilderness more
deserve its name; gloomy at any time, it had new attributes of solemn
majesty. Everything seemed to be in unison with those who lay there--the
pitchy blackness, the low muttering of distant thunder, the fitful
glimmer of the lightning, the stems of trees twisted and contorted by
the gleam of the uncertain flashes, the white faces of the slain
upturned to the sky seen dimly by the same light, the banks of smoke and
vapour yet floating through the forest, the strange, repellent odours,
and the heavy, melancholy silence.

Those who had come upon the field after the night began worked without
talk, the men from either side passing and repassing each other, but
showing no hostility. The three women, too, began to help them, doing
the errand upon which they had come, and their service was received
without question and without comment. No one asked another why he was
there; his duty lay plain before him.

It was Lucia Catherwood who took the lead, neither Helen nor Mrs.
Markham disputing her fitness for the place, too apparent to all to be
denied; it was she who never flinched, who, if she spoke at all, spoke
words of cheer, whose strength and courage seemed never to fail.

Thus the hours passed, and the character of the night in the Wilderness
did not change. There was yet compared with the tumult of the day a
heavy, oppressive silence; the smoke and the vapours did not go away,
the heavy atmosphere did not thin, and at intervals the distant thunder
rumbled and the fitful lightning glared over a distorted forest.

The three worked in silence, like those around them, faithful,
undaunted. Mrs. Markham, the cynical and worldly, was strangely changed,
perhaps the most changed of the three; all her affectations were gone,
and she was now only an earnest woman. And while the three worked they
always watched for one man. And this man was not the same with any one
of the three.

It was past midnight and Helen did not know how long she had been upon
the battlefield, working as she did in a kind of a dream, or rather
mist, in which everything was fanciful and unreal, with her head full of
strange sights and unheard sounds, when she saw two men ride side by
side and silently out of the black forest--two figures, one upright,
powerful, the other drooping, with head that swayed slightly from side
to side.

She knew them at once despite the shadows of the trees and the faint
moonlight--and it was what her thoughts had told her would come true.
It had never occurred to her that the one who sat in the saddle so erect
and so powerful could fall; nor had he.

She and Mrs. Markham advanced to meet them. Harley's head swayed
slightly from side to side, and his clothing showed red in the dim
moonlight. Wood held him in the saddle with one hand and guided the two
horses with the other. Both women were white to the lips, but it was
Helen who spoke first.

"I expected you," she said to Wood.

Wood replied that Harley was not hurt save by exhaustion from his
previous wounds. He had come, too, at a critical moment, and his coming
had been worth much to the South. But now he was half unconscious; he
must rest or die. The General spoke in simple words, language that one
would have called dialect, but Helen did not think of those things; his
figure was grander than ever before to her, because, despite the battle,
he had remembered to bring back her brother.

Mrs. Markham was quiet, saying no word, but she went with them to the
house, where Harley was placed on the very bed on which he had slept the
night before. Lucia Catherwood did not turn back, and was left alone on
the field, but she was neither afraid nor lonely. She, too, was looking
for some one--one whom she was in dread lest she find and whom she
wished to find nevertheless. But she had a feeling--how or whence it
came she did not know--that she would find him there. Always while she
helped the others, hour after hour, she looked for him, glancing into
every ravine and hollow, and neglecting no thicket or clump of bushes
that she passed. She believed that she would know him if she saw but the
edge of his coat or his hand.

At last she reached the fringe of the battlefield. The fallen forms were
fewer and the ground less torn by the tramplings of men and horses and
the wheels of guns, though the storm had passed, leaving its track of
ruin. Here, too, were burned spots, the grass still smouldering and
sending up tiny sparks, a tree or two twisted out of shape and
half-consumed by flames; a broken cannon, emblem of destruction, lying
wheelless on the ground. Lucia looked back toward the more populous
field of the fallen and saw there the dim lights still moving, but
decreasing now as the night waned. Low, blurred sounds came to her ears.
As for herself, she stood in the darkness, silvered dimly by a faint
moonlight, a tall, lithe young figure, self-reliant, unafraid.

She began now to search every hollow, to look among the bushes and the
ravines. She had heard from men of his own company that he was missing,
and she would not turn back while he was unfound. It was for this that
she had come, and he would need her.

She was on the farthest rim of the battlefield, where the lights when
she looked back were almost lost, and it seemed to be enclosed wholly by
the darkness and the vapours. No voice came from it, but in the forest
before her were new sounds--a curious tread as of many men together
stepping lightly, the clanging of metal, and now and then a neigh coming
faintly. This, she knew, were the brigades and the batteries seeking
position in the darkness for a new battle; but she was not afraid.

Lucia Catherwood was not thinking then of the Wilderness nor of the vast
tragedy that it held, but of a flight one snowy night from a hostile
capital, a flight that was not unhappy because of true companionship.
Formed amid hard circumstances, hers was not a character that yielded
quickly to sentiment, but when the barriers were broken down she gave
much.

She heard a tread in the brushwood. Some horses, saddles on and bridles
hanging--their riders lost, she well knew how--galloped near her, looked
at her a moment or two with wide eyes, and then passed on. Far to the
right she heard a faint cannon shot. If they were going to fight again,
why not wait until the next day? It could not be done in all this
darkness. A blacker night she had never seen.

She came to a tiny valley, a mere cup in the bleak, red ridges, well set
with rich green grass as if more fertile soil had gathered there, but
all torn and trampled, showing that one of the fiercest eddies of the
battle had centred in this spot. At the very edge lay two horses with
their outstretched necks crossed united in death. In the trampled grass
lay other dark figures which she could not pass without a shudder.

She paused here a moment because it seemed to be growing darker. The low
rumble of thunder from the far western horizon came again, all the more
threatening because of its faintness and distance. The lightning gleamed
a moment and by its quick flash she saw the one she was seeking.

He lay at the far edge of the little valley where the grass had grown
richest and tallest, and he was almost hidden by the long stems. It was
his face that she saw first, white and still in the lightning's glare,
but she did not believe that he was dead. Ah! that could not happen.

Raising his head in her arms, she rested it upon her knee, moistening
his lips with water that she carried in a flask. She was a strong woman,
both physically and mentally, far beyond the average of her sex, and now
she would not yield to any emotion. No; she would do what it was
necessary to do, and not until then would she even put her finger upon
his wrist to find if the pulse were still beating.

The wound was on the side of the head, under the hair, and she
remembered afterward how glad she was that the scar would always be
hidden by the hair. Strong enough to examine the nature of the injury,
she judged that it had been done by a fragment of shell, and she
believed that the concussion and loss of blood, rather than any fatal
wound, had caused Prescott's fall.

As she drew away the hair, washed the wound and bound it up with a strip
from her own dress, she was filled with a divine gladness. Not only was
she doing that which she wished most to do, but she was making
repayment. He would have died there had she not found him, and no one
else would have found him in that lone spot.

Not yet did she seek to move him or to bring help. She would have him to
herself for awhile--would watch over him like a mother, and she could do
as much as any surgeon. She was glad Helen and the other woman had
turned aside, for she alone had found him. No one else could claim a
share in saving him. He was for the time hers and hers alone, and in
this she rejoiced.

As his pulse was growing stronger she knew that he would live. No doubt
of it now occurred to her mind, and she was still happy. The battle of
the day that was gone and of the day that was to come, and all the
thousands, the living and the fallen, were alike forgotten. She
remembered only him.

Again came the tramp of riderless horses, and for a moment she was in
dread--not for herself, but for him--but again they turned and passed
her by. When the low, threatening note of the cannon shot came once more
she trembled lest the battle be renewed in the darkness and surge over
this spot; but silence only followed the report. Misty forms filed past
in the thicket. They were in blue, a regiment of her own people passing
in the darkness. She crouched low in the grass, holding his head upon
her knees, hiding again, not for herself, but for him. She would not
have him a prisoner, but preferred to become one herself, and cared
nothing for it. This was repayment. His pulse was growing stronger and
stronger and he uttered half-spoken words while his head moved slightly
upon her knees.

She did not know how long she had been there, and she looked back again
toward the field. It was now wholly in darkness, then lighted dimly by a
fitful flash of lightning. She must carry him to shelter, and without
taking thought, she tried to lift him in her arms. He was heavy, lying
like lead, and she put him down again, but very softly. She must go for
help. Then she heard once more the tread of those riderless horses and
feared for him. She could not leave him there alone. She made a mighty
effort, lifted him in her arms, and staggered toward the battlefield.



CHAPTER XX

THE SECRETARY LOOKS ON


The old house in the woods which still lay within the Confederate lines
became a hospital before morning, and when General Wood turned away from
it he beheld a woman staggering through the darkness, carrying a strange
burden. It was Lucia Catherwood, and when she came nearer he knew that
the burden was a man. He saw then that the girl's expression was one
that he had never before seen on the face of woman. As he ran forward
she gasped:

"Take him; it is Captain Prescott!"

Full of wonder, but with too much delicacy under his rough exterior to
ask questions, the mountaineer lifted Prescott in his arms and carried
him into the house, where he was placed on the bed beside Harley, who
was unconscious, too. Lucia Catherwood followed alone. She had been
borne up by the impulse of excessive emotion, but she was exhausted now
by her mighty effort. She thought she was going to faint--she who had
never fainted in her life--and leaned against the outside wall of the
house, dizzy and trembling. Black shadows, not those of the night,
floated before her eyes, and the house moved away; but she recovered
herself in a few moments and went in.

Improvised beds and cots were in every room, and many of the wounded lay
on the floor, too. Mixed with them were some in blue just as on the
other side of the battlefield were some in gray mixed with the blue.
There was a powerful odour of drugs, of antiseptics, and Helen and Mrs.
Markham were tearing cloth into strips.

Prescott lay a long time awaiting his turn at the surgeon's hand--so
long that it seemed to Lucia Catherwood it would never come; but she
stayed by his side and did what she could, though conscious that both
Mrs. Markham and Helen were watching her at times with the keenest
curiosity, and perhaps a little hostility. She did not wonder at it; her
appearance had been so strange, and was still so lacking in explanation,
that they could not fail, after the influence of the battlefield itself
had somewhat passed, to be curious concerning her. But she added nothing
to what she had said, doing her work in silence.

The surgeon came at last and looked at Prescott's head and its bandages.
He was a thin man of middle age, and after his examination he nodded in
a satisfied way.

"You did this, I suppose," he said to Lucia--it was not the first woman
whom he had seen beside a wounded man. When she replied in the
affirmative, he added:

"I could not have done better myself. He's suffering chiefly from
concussion, and with good nursing he'll be fit for duty again in a few
weeks. You can stay with him, I suppose? You look strong, and women are
good for such work."

"Yes; I will stay with him," she replied, though she felt a sudden doubt
how she should arrange to do so.

The surgeon gave a few instructions and passed on--it was a busy night
for him and all his brethren, and they could not linger over one man.
Lucia still sat by the side of Prescott, applying cooling bandages,
according to the surgeon's instructions, and no one sought to interfere
with her.

The house, which contained so many wounded, was singularly quiet. Hardly
one of them groaned. There was merely the sound of feet moving softly.
Two or three lights burned very low. Outside was the same silence and
darkness. Men came in or went away and the others took no notice.

A man entered presently, a slender man, of no particular presence, with
veiled eyes, it seemed to Lucia, and she observed that his coming
created a faint rustle of interest, something that had not happened
with any other. He was not in uniform, and his first glance was for
Helen Harley. Then he came toward Lucia and, bending down, looked keenly
at the face of her patient.

"It is Captain Prescott," he said. "I am sorry. Is he badly hurt?"

"No," she replied; "he is suffering chiefly from concussion, the surgeon
says, and will be well again in two or three weeks."

"With good nursing?"

"Yes, with good nursing." She glaced up in a little surprise.

Revelation, comprehension, resolve, shot over James Sefton's face. He
was genuinely pleased, and as he glanced at Lucia Catherwood again her
answering gaze was full of understanding.

"Your name is Lucia Catherwood," he said.

"Yes," she replied, without surprise.

"It does not matter how I knew it," he continued; "it is sufficient that
I do know it. I know also that you are the best nurse Robert Prescott
could have."

Her look met his, and, despite herself, the deep red dyed her face, even
her neck. There was a swift look of admiration on the Secretary's face.
Then he smiled amiably. He had every reason to feel amiable. He realized
now that he had nothing to fear from Prescott's rivalry with Helen
Harley so long as Lucia Catherwood was near. Then why not keep her near?

"You are to be his nurse," he continued, "and you must have the right to
go through our lines, even to Richmond if necessary. Here is a pass for
you."

He took pencil and paper from his pocket and wrote an order which he
handed to her.

The Secretary's next concern was for Harley, and he spoke in low tones
of him to Mrs. Markham and his sister. He had heard of his heroic charge
at a critical moment--of a man rising from his bed of wounds to lead
back his wavering regiment; the army was ringing with it. In the new
republic such a hero should have a great reward. Helen flushed with
pleasure, but Mrs. Markham, shrewder and keener, said nothing. Her own
husband, unhurt, came an hour later, and he was proud of his wife at
work there among the wounded. The Secretary stayed a long while, and
Lucia felt at times that he was watching her with an eye that read her
throughout; but when she saw him looking at Helen Harley she thought she
knew the reason of his complacency. She, too, was acute.

The Secretary brought news of the battle, and as he prophesied that the
next day would be bloodier than the one just closed, he glanced through
the window at the black Wilderness with real awe upon his face.

Lucia followed his look, and despite herself she felt a certain pride.
This general, who struck so hard and never ceased striking, was her
general. She had known that it would be so, but these people about her
had not known it until now. She felt in her heart that the end was
coming, but she knew it would be over the roughest road ever traveled by
a victorious army.

She formed plans, too, as she sat there, and was thankful for the pass
that she concealed in her dress. No matter how it had come, she had it
and it was all-powerful. She did not fear this Secretary whom others
seemed to fear. If necessary she would go to Richmond again, and she
would there join her cousin, Miss Grayson, her nearest living relative,
who could now give her protection that no one could question.

About three o'clock in the morning a young man whose face and manner she
liked came in and looked at Prescott. He showed deep concern, and then
relief, when assured that the wound was not serious. His name was
Talbot--Thomas Talbot, he said--and he was a particular friend of
Prescott's. He gave Lucia one or two glances, but in a few moments he
went away to take his part in the next day's battle.

Lucia dozed a little by and by, her sleep being filled with strange
dreams. She was awakened by a low, distant sound, one that the preceding
day had made familiar--the report of a cannon shot. She looked out of
the window, and it was still so dark that the forest, but a short
distance away, was invisible.

"They have begun early," she murmured.

She saw Prescott stir as if he had heard a call, and his eyes half
opened. Then he made an effort to move, but she put her hand gently upon
his forehead and he sank back to rest. She saw in his half-open eyes a
fleeting look of comprehension, gratitude and joy, then the eyes closed
again, and he floated off once more into the land of peace where he
abode for the present. Lucia felt singularly happy and she knew why, for
so engrossed was she in Prescott that she scarcely heard the second
cannon shot, replying to the first. There came others, all faint and
far, but each with its omen. The second day's battle had begun.

The supreme commanders of either side were now ready. Human minds had
never been more busy than theirs had been. Grant was still preparing to
attack; no thought of failure entered his resolute soul. If he did not
succeed to-day, then he would succeed on the next day or next week or
next month; he would attack and never cease attacking. Lee stood
resolutely in his path, resolved to beat him back, not only on this
line, but on every other line, always bringing up his thinning brigade
for a new defense.

The Wilderness still held secrets for both, but they intended to solve
them that day, to see which way the riddle ran, and the Wilderness
itself was as dark, as calm and as somber as ever. It had been torn by
cannon balls, pierced by rifle bullets and scorched by fire; but the two
armies were yet buried in it and it gave no sign to the world outside.

In the house, despite the wounded, there was deep attention and a
concern that nothing could suppress. The scattered cannon shots blended
into a steady thunder already, but it was distant and to the watchers
told nothing. The darkness, too, was still so great that they could see
no flashes.

The Secretary, mounted on an Accomack pony, rode out of the woods and
looked a little while at the house, then turned away and continued in
the direction of the new battle. He was in a good humour that morning,
smiling occasionally when no one could see. The combat already begun did
not trouble Mr. Sefton, although it was his business there to see how it
was going and supplement, or, rather, precede, the General's reports
with such news as he could obtain, and so deft a mind as his could
obtain much. Yet he was not worried over either its progress or its
result. He had based his judgment on calculations made long ago by a
mind free from passion or other emotion and as thoroughly arithmetical
as a human mind can be, and he had seen nothing since to change the
estimates then formed.

When he thought how they missed Jackson it was with no intention of
depreciating Wood. Both were needed, and he knew that the mountain
General would be wherever the combat was fiercest that day. And then, he
might not come back! The Secretary pondered over this phase of the
matter. He had been growing suspicious of late, and Wood was a good
general, but he was not sure that he liked him. But pshaw! There was
nothing to dread in such a crude, rough mountaineer.

He glanced to the left and saw there the heads of horses and horsemen
rising and falling like waves as they swept over the uneven ground. He
believed them to be Wood's troopers, and, taking his field-glass, he
studied the figure that rode at their head. It was Wood, and the
Secretary saw that they were about to strike the Northern flank. He was
not a soldier, but he had an acute mind and a keen eye for effect. He
recognized at once the value of the movement, the instinct that had
prompted it and the unflinching way in which it was being carried out.
"Perhaps Wood will fall there! He rides in the very van," he thought,
but immediately repented, because his nature was large enough to admit
of admiration for a very brave man.

The sun shone through the clouds a little and directly upon the point in
the Northern lines where Wood was aiming to strike, and the Secretary
watched intently. He saw the ranks of horsemen rising and falling
quickly and then pausing for a second or two before hurling themselves
directly upon the Northern flank. He saw the flash of sabers, the jets
of white smoke from rifle or pistol, and then the Northern line was cut
through. But new regiments came up, threw themselves upon the cavalry,
and all were mingled in a wild pell-mell among the thickets and through
the forests. Clouds of smoke, thick and black, settled down, and horse
and foot, saber and gun were hidden from the Secretary.

"Stubborn! As stubborn as death!" he murmured; "but the end is as
certain as the setting of the sun."

Turning his horse, he rode to a new hill, from which he made another
long and careful examination. Then he rode a mile or two to the rear and
stopped at a small improvised telegraph station, whence he sent three
brief telegrams. The first was to President Jefferson Davis of the
Southern Confederacy in Richmond; the others, somewhat different in
nature, were for two great banking houses--one in London, the other in
Paris--and these two despatches were to be forwarded from a seaport by
the quickest steamer.

This business despatched, Mr. Sefton, rubbing his hands with pleasure,
rode back toward the battle.

A figure, black-bearded, gallant and large, came within the range of his
glasses. It was Wood, and the Secretary breathed a little sigh of
sorrow. The General had come safely out of the charge and was still a
troublesome entity, but Mr. Sefton checked himself. General Wood was a
brave man, and he could respect such splendid courage and ability.

Thinking deeply on the way and laying many plans, he turned his pony and
rode back toward the house which was still outside the area of battle,
and the Secretary judged that it would not come within it on that day at
least. More than one in that log structure waited to hear what news he
would bring.

       *       *       *       *       *

Prescott, shortly after daylight, had opened his ears to a dull, steady,
distant sound, not unpleasant, and his eyes to a wonderful, luminous
face--a face that he knew and which he once had feared he might never
see again.

"Lucia Catherwood!" he said.

"Yes, it is I," she replied softly, so softly that no one else could
hear.

"I think that you must have found me and brought me here," he said. An
intuition had told him this.

She answered evasively: "You are not hurt badly. It was a piece of
shell, and the concussion did the harm."

Prescott looked a question. "You will stay by me?" his eyes said to her
as plain as day.

"Yes, I will stay by you," was her positive reply in the same language.

Then he lay quite still, for his head was dull and heavy; but it was
scarcely an ache, and he did not suffer pain. Instead, a soothing
content pervaded his entire system and he felt no anxiety about
anything. He tried to remember his moments of unconsciousness, but his
mind went back only to the charge, the blow upon the head, and the fall.
There everything had stopped, but he was still sure that Lucia
Catherwood had found him and somehow had brought him here. He would have
died without her, of that he had no doubt, and by and by he should learn
about it all.

Men came into the house and went away, but he felt no curiosity. That
part of him seemed to be atrophied for the present, but after awhile
something aroused his interest. It was not any of the men or women who
passed and repassed, but that curious, dull, steady, distant sound which
had beat softly upon his ears the moment he awoke. He remembered now
that it had never ceased, and it began to trouble him, reminding him of
the buzzing of flies on a summer afternoon when he was a boy and wanted
to sleep. He wondered what it was, but his brain was still dulled and
gave no information. He tried to forget but could not, and looked up at
Lucia Catherwood for explanation, but she had none to offer.

He wished to go to sleep, but the noise--that soft but steady drumming
on the ear--would not let him. His desire to know grew and became
painful. He closed his eyes in thought and it came to him with sudden
truth it was the sound of guns, cannon and rifles. The battle, taken up
where it was left off the night before, was going on.

North and South were again locked in mortal strife, and the Wilderness
still held its secret, refusing to name the victor. Prescott felt a
sudden pang of disappointment. He knew the straits of the South; he knew
that she needed every man, and he was lying there helpless on a bed
while the persistent Grant was hammering away and would continue to
hammer away as no general before him had done. He tried to move, but
Lucia put her cool hand upon his forehead. That quieted him, but he
still listened intently to the sound of battle, distinguishing with a
trained ear the deep note of the cannon and the sharper crash of the
rifle. All waited anxiously for the return of the Secretary, confident
that he would come and confident that he would bring true news of the
battle's fortunes. It required but a short acquaintance with Mr. Sefton
to produce upon every one the impression that he was a man who saw.

The morning had not been without pleasure to Prescott. His nurse seemed
to know everything and to fear nothing. Lucia understood her peculiar
position. She had a full sense that she was an outsider, but she did not
intend to go away, being strongly fortified by the feeling that she was
making repayment. Once as she sat by Prescott, Helen came, too, and
leaned over him. Lucia drew away a little as if she would yield to
another who had a better claim, but Helen would not have it so.

"Do not go," she said. "He is yours, not mine."

Lucia did not reply, but a tacit understanding arose between the two
women, and they were drawn toward each other as friends, since there was
nothing to divide them.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Secretary at that moment was riding slowly toward the house, turning
now and then to look at the battle which yet hung in doubt, in its vast
canopy of smoke. He studied it with keen eyes and a keener mind, but he
could yet make nothing of it, and could give no news upon his arrival at
the house.

The long day waned at last, but did not bring with its shadows any
decrease in the violence of the battle. Its sound was never absent for a
moment from the ears of those in the house, and the women at the windows
saw the great pyramid of flame from the forest fire, but their anxiety
was as deep as ever. No word came to indicate the result. Night fell,
close, heavy and black, save where the forest burned, and suddenly the
battle ceased.

News came at length that the South had held her lines. Grant had failed
to break through the iron front of Lee. A battle as bloody as Gettysburg
had been fought and nothing was won; forty thousand men had been struck
down in the Wilderness, and Grant was as far as ever from Richmond.

The watchers in the house said little, but they rejoiced--all save Lucia
Catherwood, who sat in silence. However the day might have ended, she
did not believe the campaign had ended with it, and her hope continued.

A messenger arrived in haste the next day. The house must be abandoned
by all who could go. Grant had turned on his left flank and was
advancing by a new road. The Southern army must also turn aside to meet
him.

It was as Lucia Catherwood expected. Meade, a victor at Gettysburg, had
not attacked again. Grant, failing in the Wilderness, moved forward to
fight within three days another battle as great.

The story of either army was the same. The general in his tent touched
the spring that set all things in motion. The soldiers rose from the hot
ground on which they lay in a stupor rather than sleep. Two streams of
wounded poured to the rear, one to the North and one to the South. The
horses, like their masters, worn and scarred like them, too, were
harnessed to cannon and wagon; the men ate as they worked; there was no
time for delay. This was to be a race, grand and terrible in its nature,
with great battles as incidents. The stakes were high, and the players
played with deadly earnestness.

Both Generals sent orders to hurry and themselves saw that it was done.
The battle of yesterday and the day before was as a thing long past; no
time to think of it now. The dead were left for the moment in the
Wilderness as they had fallen. The air was filled with commands to the
men, shouts to the horses, the sough of wheels in the mud, the breaking
of boughs under weight, and the clank of metal. The Wilderness, torn now
by shells and bullets and scorched by the fires, waved over two armies
gloomier and more somber than ever, deserving to the full its name.

They were still in the Wilderness, and it had lost none of its ominous
aspects. Far to left and right yet burned the forest fires set by the
shells, flaring luridly in the intense blackness that characterized
those nights. The soldiers as they hurried on saw the ribbons and coils
of flame leaping from tree-top to tree-top, and sometimes the languid
winds blew the ashes in their faces. Now and then they crossed parts of
the forest where it had passed, and the earth was hot to their feet.
Around them lay smouldering logs and boughs, and from these fallen
embers tongues of flame arose. Overhead, the moon and stars were shut
out by the clouds and smoke and vapour.

Even with a passion for a new conflict rising in them, the soldiers as
they hurried on felt the weirdness, the satanic character of the
battleground. The fitful flashes of lightning often showed faces stamped
with awe; wet boughs of low-growing trees held them back with a moist
and sticky touch; the low rumble of thunder came from the far horizon
and its tremendous echo passed slowly through the Wilderness; and
mingled again with this sound was an occasional cannon shot as the
fringes of the two armies hastening on passed the time of night.

The tread of either army was heavy, dull and irregular, and the few
torches they carried added little light to the glare of the lightning
and the glow of the burning forest. The two marched on in the dark,
saying little, making little noise for numbers so great, but steadily
converging on Spottsylvania, where they were destined to meet in a
conflict rivaling in somber grandeur that of the past two days.



CHAPTER XXI

A DELICATE SITUATION


The wounded and those who watched them in the old house learned a little
of the race through the darkness. The change of the field of combat, the
struggle for Spottsylvania and the wheel-about of the Southern army
would leave them in the path of the North, and they must retreat toward
Richmond.

The start next morning was through a torn and rent Wilderness, amid
smoke and vapours, with wounded in the wagons, making a solemn train
that wound its way through the forest, escorted on either flank by
troopers, commanded by Talbot, slightly wounded in the shoulder. The
Secretary had gone again to look on at the battle.

It was thus that Lucia Catherwood found herself on the way, of her own
free will, to that Richmond from which she had recently escaped with so
much trouble. There was no reason, real or conventional, why she should
not go, as the precious pass from the Secretary removed all danger; and
there in Richmond was Miss Grayson, the nearest of her blood. Helen
removed the last misgiving.

"You will go with us? We need you," she said.

"Yes," replied Lucia simply; "I shall go to Richmond. I have a relative
there with whom I can stay until the end of the war."

Helen was contented with this. It was not a time to ask questions. Then
they rode together. Mrs. Markham was with them, quiet and keen-eyed.
Much of the battle's spell had gone from her, and she observed
everything, most of all Lucia Catherwood. She had noticed how the girl's
eyes dwelled upon Prescott, the singular compound of strength and
tenderness in her face, a character at once womanly and bold, and the
astute Mrs. Markham began to wonder where these two had met before; but
she said nothing to any one.

Prescott was in a wagon with Harley. Fate seemed to have linked for
awhile these two who did not particularly care for each other. Both were
conscious, and Prescott was sitting up, refreshed by the air upon his
face, a heavy and noxious atmosphere though it was. So much of his
strength had returned that he felt bitter regret at being unable to take
part in the great movement which, he had gathered, was going on, and it
was this feeling which united him and Harley for the time in a common
bond of sympathy; but the latter presently spoke of something else:

"That was a beautiful girl who replaced your bandage this morning,
Prescott. Upon my honour, she is one of the finest women I ever saw, and
she is going with us, I hear. Do you know anything about her?"

Prescott did not altogether like Harley's tone, but he knew it was
foolish to resent it and he replied:

"She is Miss Lucia Catherwood, a relative of Miss Charlotte Grayson, who
lives in Richmond, and whom I presume she is going there to join. I have
seen Miss Catherwood once or twice in Richmond."

Then he relapsed into silence, and Harley was unable to draw from him
any more information; but Prescott, watching Lucia, saw how strong and
helpful she was, doing all she could for those who were not her own. A
woman with all a woman's emotions and sympathies, controlled by a mind
and body stronger than those of most women, she was yet of the earth,
real and substantial, ready to take what it contained of joy or sorrow.
This was one of her qualities that most strongly attracted Prescott, who
did not like the shadowy or unreal. Whilst he was on the earth he wished
to be of it, and he preferred the sure and strong mind to the misty and
dreamy.

He wished that she would come again to the wagon in which he rode, but
now she seemed to avoid him--to be impelled, as it were, by a sense of
shyness or a fear that she might be thought unfeminine. Thus he found
scant opportunity during the day to talk to her or even to see her, as
she remained nearly all the time in the rear of the column with Helen
Harley.

Harley's vagrant fancy was caught. He was impressed by Lucia's tall
beauty, her silence, her self-possession, and the mystery of her
presence. He wished to discover more about her, who she was, whence she
came, and believing Prescott to be his proper source of information, he
asked him many questions, not noticing the impatient or taciturn
demeanour of his comrade until Robert at last exclaimed with a touch of
anger:

"Harley, if you wish to know so much about Miss Catherwood, you had
better ask her these questions, and if she wishes she will answer them."

"I knew that before," replied Harley coolly; "and I tell you again,
Prescott, she's a fine girl--none finer in Richmond."

Prescott turned his back in so far as a wounded man in that narrow space
could turn, and Harley presently relapsed into silence.

They were yet in the Wilderness, moving among scrub pines, oaks and
cedars, over ground moist with rain and dark with the shadow of the
forest. It was Talbot's wish to keep in the rear of the Southern army
until the way was clear and then turn toward Richmond. But this was not
done with ease, as the Southern army was a shifting quantity, adapting
its movements to those of the North; and Talbot often was compelled to
send scouts abroad, lest he march with his convoy of wounded directly
into the Northern ranks. Once as he rode by the side of Prescott's wagon
he remarked:

"Confound such a place as this Wilderness; I don't think any region ever
better deserved its name. I'll thank the Lord when I get out of it and
see daylight again."

They were then in a dense forest, where the undergrowth was so thick
that they broke a way through it with difficulty. The trees hung down
mournful boughs dripping with recent rain; the wheels of the wagons and
the feet of the horses made a drumming sound in the soft earth; the
forest fire still showed, distant and dim, and a thin mist of ashes came
on the wind at intervals; now and then they heard the low roll of a
cannon, so far away that it seemed but an echo.

Thomas Talbot was usually a cheerful man who shut one eye to grief and
opened the other to joy; but he was full of vigilance to-day and thought
only of duty. Riding at the head of his column, alert for danger, he was
troubled by the uncertainties of the way. It seemed to him that the two
armies were revolving like spokes around a hub, and he never knew which
he was going to encounter, for chance might bring him into the arc of
either. He looked long at the gloomy forest, gazed at the dim fire which
marked the latest battlefield, and became convinced that it was his only
policy to push on and take the risk, though he listened intently for
distant cannon shots and bore away from them.

They stopped about the middle of the afternoon to rest the horses and
serve men and women with scanty food. Prescott felt so strong that he
climbed out of the wagon and stood for a moment beside it. His head was
dizzy at first, but presently it became steady, and he walked to Lucia
Catherwood, who was standing alone by a great oak tree, gazing at the
forest.

She did not notice him until she heard his step in the soft earth close
behind her, when she started in surprise and alarm, exclaiming upon the
risk he took and cautioning against exertion.

"My head is hard," he said, "and it will stand more blows than the one I
received in the battle. Really I feel well enough to walk out here and I
want to speak to you."

She was silent, awaiting his words. A shaft of sunshine pierced an
opening in the foliage and fell directly upon her. Golden gleams
appeared here and there in her hair and the colour in her cheeks
deepened. Often Prescott had thought how strong she was; now he thought
how very womanly she was.

"You are going with the wounded to Richmond?" he said.

"Yes," she replied. "I am going back to Miss Grayson's, to the house and
the city from which you helped me with so much trouble and danger to
escape."

"I am easier in my conscience because I did so," he said. "But Miss
Catherwood, do you not fear for yourself? Are you not venturing into
danger again?"

She smiled once more and replied in a slightly humourous tone:

"No; there is no danger. I went as one unwelcome before; I go as a guest
now. You see, I am rising in the Confederacy. One of your powerful men,
Mr. Sefton, has been very kind to me."

"What has he done for you?" asked Prescott, with a sudden jealous
twinge.

"He has given me this pass, which will take me in or out of Richmond as
I wish."

She showed the pass, and as Prescott looked at it he felt the colour
rise in his face. Could the heart of the Secretary have followed the
course of his own?

"I am here now, I may say, almost by chance," she continued. "After I
left you I reached the main body of the Northern army in safety, and I
intended to go at once to Washington, where I have relatives, though
none so near and dear as Miss Grayson--you see I am really of the South,
in part at least--but there was a long delay about a pass, the way of
going and other such things, and while I was waiting General Grant began
his great forward movement. There was nothing left for me to do then but
to cling to the army--and--and I thought I might be of some use there.
Women may not be needed on a battlefield, but they are afterward."

"I, most of all men, ought to know that," said Prescott, earnestly.
"Don't I know that you, unaided, brought me to that house? Were it not
for you I should probably have died alone in the Wilderness."

"I owed you something, Captain Prescott, and I have tried to repay a
little," she said.

"You owe me nothing; the debt is all mine."

"Captain Prescott, I hope you do not think I have been unwomanly," she
said.

"Unwomanly? Why should I think it?"

"Because I went to Richmond alone, though I did so really because I had
nowhere else to go. You believe me a spy, and you think for that reason
I was trying to escape from Richmond!"

She stopped and looked at Prescott, and when she met his answering gaze
the flush in her cheeks deepened.

"Ah, I was right; you do think me a spy!" she exclaimed with passionate
earnestness, "and God knows I might have been one! Some such thought was
in my mind when I went to Miss Grayson's in Richmond. That day in the
President's office, when the people were at the reception I was sorely
tempted, but I turned away. I went into that room with the full
intention of being a spy. I admit it. Morally, I suppose that I was one
until that moment, but when the opportunity came I could not do it. The
temptation would come again, I knew, and it was one reason why I wished
to leave Richmond, though my first attempt was made because I feared
you--I did not know you then. I do not like the name of spy and I do not
want to be one. But there were others, and far stronger reasons. A
powerful man knew of my presence in that office on that day; he could
have proved me guilty even though innocent, and he could have involved
with my punishment the destruction of others. There was Miss
Grayson--how could I bring ruin upon her head! And--and----"

She stopped and the brilliant colour suffused her face.

"You used the word 'others,'" said Prescott. "You mean that so long as
you were in Richmond my ruin was possible because I helped you?"

She did not reply, but the vivid colour remained in her face.

"It is nothing to me," said Prescott, "whether you were or were not a
spy, or whether you were tempted to be one. My conscience does not
reproach me because I helped you, but I think that it would give me
grievous hurt had I not done so. I am not fitted to be the judge of
anybody, Miss Catherwood, least of all of you. It would never occur to
me to think you unwomanly."

"You see that I value your good opinion, Captain Prescott," she said,
smiling slightly.

"It is the only thing that makes my opinion of any worth."

Talbot approached at that moment. Prescott introduced him with the
courtesy of the time, not qualified at all by their present
circumstances, and he regarded Talbot's look of wonder and admiration
with a secret pleasure. What would Talbot say, he thought, if he were to
tell him that this was the girl for whom he had searched Miss Grayson's
house?

"Prescott," said Talbot, "a bruised head has put you here and a
scratched arm keeps me in the same fix, but this is almost our old crowd
and Richmond again--Miss Harley and her brother, Mrs. Markham, you and
myself. We ought to meet Winthrop, Raymond and General Wood."

"We may," added Prescott, "as they are all somewhere with the army;
Raymond is probably printing an issue of his paper in the rear of it--he
certainly has news--and as General Wood is usually everywhere we are not
likely to miss him."

"I think it just as probable that we shall meet a troop of Yankee
cavalry," said Talbot. "I don't know what they would want with a convoy
of wounded Confederates, but I'm detailed to take you to safety and I'd
like to do it."

He paused and looked at Lucia. Something in her manner gave him a
passing idea that she was not of his people.

"Still there is not much danger of that," he continued. "The Yankees are
poor horsemen--not to be compared with ours, are they, Miss Catherwood?"

She met his gaze directly and smiled.

"I think the Yankee cavalry is very good," she said. "You may call me a
Yankee, too, Captain Talbot. I am not traveling in disguise."

Talbot stroked his mustache, of which he was proud, and laughed.

"I thought so," he said; "and I can't say I'm sorry. I suppose I ought
to hate all the Yankees, but really it will add to the spice of life to
have with us a Yankee lady who is not afraid to speak her mind. Besides,
if things go badly with us we can relieve our minds by attacking you."

Talbot was philosophical as well as amiable, and Prescott saw at once
that he and Lucia would be good friends, which was a comfort, as it was
in the power of the commander of the convoy to have made her life
unpleasant.

Talbot stayed only a minute or two, then rode on to the head of the
column, and when he was gone Lucia said:

"Captain Prescott, you must go back to your wagon; it is not wise for
you to stay on your feet so long--at least, not yet."

He obeyed her reluctantly, and in a few moments the convoy moved on
through the deep woods to the note of an occasional and distant cannon
shot and a faint hum as of great armies moving. An hour later they heard
a swift gallop and the figure of Wood at the head of a hundred horsemen
appeared.

The mountaineer seemed to embrace the whole column in one comprehensive
look that was a smile of pleasure when it passed over the face of Helen
Harley, a glance of curiosity when it lingered on Lucia Catherwood, and
inquiry when it reached Talbot, who quickly explained his mission. All
surrounded Wood, eager for news.

"We're going to meet down here somewhere near a place they call
Spottsylvania," said the General succinctly. "It won't be many days--two
or three, I guess--and it will be as rough a meeting as that behind us
was. If I were you, Talbot, I'd keep straight on to the south."

Then the General turned with his troopers to go. It was not a time when
he could afford to tarry; but before starting he took Helen Harley's
hand in his with a grace worthy of better training:

"I'll bring you news of the coming battle, Miss Harley."

She thanked him with her eyes, and in a moment he was gone, he and his
troopers swallowed up by the black forest. The convoy resumed its way
through the Wilderness, passing on at a pace that was of necessity slow
owing to the wounded in the wagons and the rough and tangled nature of
the country, which lost nothing of its wild and somber character. The
dwarf cedars and oaks and pines still stretched away to the horizon.
Night began to come down in the east and there the Wilderness heaved up
in a black mass against the sullen sky. The low note of a cannon shot
came now and then like the faint rumble of dying thunder.

Lucia walked alone near the rear of the column. She had grown weary of
the wagons and her strong young frame craved exercise. She was seldom
afraid or awed, but now the sun sinking over the terrible Wilderness and
the smoke of battle around chilled her. The long column of the hurt,
winding its way so lonely and silent through the illimitable forest,
seemed like a wreck cast up from the battles, and her soul was full of
sympathy. In a nature of unusual strength her emotions were of like
quality, and though once she had been animated by a deep and passionate
anger against that South with which she now marched, at this moment she
found it all gone--slipped away while she was not noticing. She loved
her own cause none the less, but no longer hated the enemy. She had
received the sympathy and the friendship of a woman toward whom she had
once felt a sensation akin to dislike. She did not forget how she had
stood in the fringe of the crowd that day in Richmond and had envied
Helen Harley when, in her glowing beauty, she received the tribute of
the multitude. Now the two women were drawn together. Something that had
been between them was gone, and in her heart Lucia knew what it was; but
she rejoiced in a companionship and a friendship of her own sex when she
was among those who were not of her cause.

It was impossible to resist sharing the feelings of the column: when it
was in dread lest some wandering echo might be the tread of Northern
horsemen, she, too, was in dread. She wanted this particular column to
escape, but when she looked toward another part of the Wilderness, saw
the dim light and heard the far rumble of another cannon shot, she felt
a secret glow of pride. Grant was still coming, always coming, and he
would come to the end. The result was no longer in doubt; it was now
merely a matter of time and patience.

The sun sank behind the Wilderness; the night came down, heavy, black
and impenetrable; slow thunder told of rain, and Talbot halted the
convoy in the densest part of the forest, where the shelter would be
best--for he was not sure of his way and farther marching in the dark
might take him into the enemy's camp. All day they had not passed a
single house nor met a single dweller in the Wilderness; if they had
been near any woodcutter's hut it was hidden in a ravine and they did
not see it. If a woodcutter himself saw them he remained in his covert
in the thicket and they passed on, unspoken.

Talbot thought it best to camp where they were for the night, and he
drew up the wagons in a circle, in the centre of which were built fires
that burned with a smoky flame. All hovered around the blaze, as they
felt lonely in this vast Wilderness and were glad when the beds of coal
began to form and glow red in the darkness. Even the wounded in the
wagons turned their eyes that way and drew cheer from the ruddy glow.

A rumour arose presently, and grew. It said that a Yankee woman was
among them, traveling with them. Some one added that she bore a pass
from the powerful Mr. Sefton and was going to Richmond, but why he did
not know. Then they looked about among the women and decided that it
could be none save Lucia; but if there was any feeling of hostility
toward her it soon disappeared. Other women were with the column, but
none so strong, none so helpful as she. Always she knew what to do and
when to do it. She never grew tired nor lost her good humour; her touch
had healing in it, and the wounded grew better at the sight of her face.

"If all the Yankees are like her, I wish I had a few more with this
column," murmured Talbot under his breath.

Lucia began to feel the change in the atmosphere about her. The coldness
vanished. She looked upon the faces that welcomed her, and being a woman
she felt warmth at her heart, but said nothing.

Prescott crawled again from his wagon and said to her as she passed:

"Why do you avoid me, Miss Catherwood?"

A gleam of humour appeared in her eye.

"You are getting well too fast. I do not think you will need any more
attention," she replied.

He regarded her with an unmoved countenance.

"Miss Catherwood," he said, "I feel myself growing very much worse. It
is a sudden attack and a bad one."

But she passed on, disbelieving, and left him rueful.

The night went by without event, and then another day and another night,
and still they hovered in the rear of their army, uncertain which way to
go, tangled up in the Wilderness and fearing at any moment a raid of the
Northern cavalry. They yet saw the dim fire in the forest, and no hour
was without its distant cannon shot.

On the second day the two editors, Raymond and Winthrop, joined them.

"I've been trying to print a paper," said Raymond ruefully, "but they
wouldn't stay in one place long enough for me to get my press going.
This morning a Yankee cannon shot smashed the press and I suppose I
might as well go back to Richmond. But I can't, with so much coming on.
They'll be in battle before another day."

Raymond spoke in solemn tones (even he was awed and oppressed by what he
had seen) and Winthrop nodded assent.

"They are converging upon the same point," said Winthrop, "and they are
sure to meet inside of twenty-four hours."

When Lucia awoke the next morning the distant guns were sounding in her
ears and a light flame burned under the horizon in the north. Day had
just come, hot and close, and the sun showed the colour of copper
through the veil of clouds hanging at the tops of the trees.

"It's begun," she heard Talbot say briefly, but she did not need his
words to tell her that the armies were joined again in deadly strife in
the Wilderness.

They ate breakfast in silence, all watching the glowing light in the
north and listening to the thunder of the guns. Prescott, strong after
his night's rest and sleep, came from the wagon and announced that he
would not ride as an invalid any more; he intended to do his share of
the work, and Talbot did not contradict him; it was a time when a man
who could serve should be permitted to do it.

Talbot said they would remain in the camp for the present and await the
fortunes of the battle; it was not worth while to continue a retreat
when none knew in which direction the right path lay. But the men as
they listened were seized with a fever of impatience. The flame of the
cannon and the thunder of the battle had a singular attraction for them.
They wished to be there and they cursed their fate because they were
here. The wounded lamented their wounds and the well were sad because
they were detailed for such duty; the new battle was going on without
them, and the result would be decided while they waited there in the
Wilderness with their hands folded. How they missed the Secretary with
his news!

The morning went slowly on. The sun rose high, but it still shone with a
coppery hue through the floating clouds, and a thick blanket of damp
heat enclosed the convoy. The air seemed to tremble with the sound from
the distant battle; it came in waves, and save for it the forest was
silent; no birds sang in the trees, nothing moved in the grass. There
was only the rumble of guns, coming wave upon wave. Thus hour after hour
passed, and the fever of impatience still held the souls of those in
this column. But the black Wilderness would tell no tale; it gave back
the sound of conflict and nothing more. They watched the growing smoke
and flame, the forest bursting into fresh fires, and knew only that the
battle was fierce and desperate, as before.

Prescott's strength was returning rapidly, and he expected in another
day or two to return to the army. The spirit was strong within him to
make the trial now, but Talbot would not hear of it, saying that his
wound was not healed sufficiently. On the morning of that second day he
stood beside Lucia, somewhat withdrawn from the others, and for awhile
they watched the distant battle. It was the first time in twenty-four
hours that he had been able to speak to her. She had not seemed exactly
to avoid him, but she was never in his path. Now he wished to hold her
there with talk.

"I fear that you will be lonely in Richmond," he said at random.

"I shall have Miss Grayson," she replied, "and the panorama of the war
will pass before me; I shall not have time for loneliness."

"Poor Richmond! It is desolate now."

"Its condition may become worse," she said meaningly.

He understood the look in her eyes and replied:

"You mean that Grant will come?"

"Yes!" she exclaimed, pointing toward the flame of the battle. "Can't
you see? Don't you know, Captain Prescott, that Grant will never turn
back? It is but three days since he fought a battle as great as
Gettysburg, and now he is fighting another. The man has come, and the
time for the South is at hand."

"But what a price--what a price!" said Prescott.

"Yes," she replied quickly; "but it is the South, not the North, that
demands payment."

Then she stopped, and brilliant colour flushed into her face.

"Forgive me for saying such things at such a time," she said. "I do not
hate anybody in the South, and I am now with Southern people. Credit it
to my bad taste."

But Prescott would not have it so. It was he who had spoken, he said,
and she had the right to reply. Then he asked her indirectly of herself,
and she answered willingly. Hers had been a lonely life, and she had
been forced to develop self-reliance, though perhaps it had taken her
further than she intended. She seemed still to fear that he would think
her too masculine, a bit unwomanly; but her loneliness, the lack of love
in her life, made a new appeal to Prescott. He admired her as she stood
there in her splendid young beauty and strength--a woman with a mind to
match her beauty--and wondered how his fleeting fancy could ever have
been drawn to any other. She was going to that hostile Richmond, where
she had been in such danger, and she would be alone there save for one
weak woman, watched and suspected like herself. He felt a sudden
overwhelming desire to protect her, to defend her, to be a wall between
her and all danger.

Far off on the northern horizon the battle flamed and rumbled, and a
faint reflection of its lurid glow fell on the forest where they stood.
It may be that its reflection fell on Prescott's ardent mind and
hastened him on.

"Lucia," he exclaimed, "you are going back to Richmond, where you will
be suspected, perhaps insulted! Give me the right to protect you from
everybody!"

"Give you the right!" she exclaimed, in surprise; but as she looked at
him the brilliant colour dyed her face and neck.

"Yes, Lucia," he said, "the greatest and holiest of all rights! Do you
not see that I love you? Be my wife! Give me the right as your husband
to stand between you and all danger!"

Still she looked at him, and as she gazed the colour left her face,
leaving it very pale, while her eyes showed a dazzling hue.

The forgotten battle flamed and thundered on the horizon.

"No," she replied, "I cannot give you such a promise."

"Lucia! You do not mean that! I know you do not. You must care for me a
little. One reason why you fled from Richmond was to save me!"

"Yes, I do care for you--a little. But do you care for me enough--ah! do
not interrupt me! Think of the time, the circumstances! One may say
things now which he might not mean in a cooler moment. You wish to
protect me--does a man marry a woman merely to protect her? I have
always been able to protect myself."

There was a flash of pride in her tone and her tall figure grew taller.
Prescott flushed a little and dropped his eyes for a moment.

"I have been unfortunate in my words, but, believe me, Lucia, I do not
mean it in that way. It is love, not protection, that I offer. I believe
that I loved you from the first--from the time I was pursuing you as a
spy; and I pursue you now, though for myself."

She shook her head sadly, though she smiled upon him. She was his enemy,
she said--she was of the North and he of the South--what would he say to
his friends in Richmond, and how could he compromise himself by such a
marriage? Moreover, it was a time of war, and one must not think of
love. He grew more passionate in his declaration as he saw that which he
wished slipping from him, and she, though still refusing him, let him
talk, because he said the things that she loved best to hear. All the
while the forgotten battle flamed and thundered on the northern horizon.
Its result and progress alike were of no concern to them; both North and
South had floated off in the distance.

Talbot came that way as they talked, and seeing the look on their faces,
started and turned back. They never saw him. Lucia remained fixed in her
resolve and only shook her head at Prescott's pleading.

"But at least," said Prescott, "that 'no' is not to apply forever. I
shall refuse to despair."

She smiled somewhat sadly without reply, and there was no opportunity to
say more, as others drew near, among them Mrs. Markham, wary and
keen-eyed as ever. She marked well the countenances of these two, but
reserved her observations for future use.

The battle reclaimed attention, silhouetted as it was in a great flaming
cloud against a twilight sky, and its low rumble was an unbroken note.

When night fell a messenger came with terrible news. Grant had broken
through at last! The thin lines of the Confederates could not stand this
steady, heavy hammering day after day. They must retreat through the
Wilderness and draw fresh breath to fight again. Sadly the convoy took
its way to the south, and in three hours it was enveloped by the
remnants of a broken brigade, retreating in the fear of hot pursuit by
both cavalry and infantry. The commander of the brigade, by virtue of
his rank, became commander of the whole, and Talbot, longing for action,
fell back to the rear, resolved to watch for the enemy.

Talbot hated to exercise authority, preferring to act alone; and now he
became a picket, keen-eyed, alert, while his friends went into camp
ahead on the bank of a narrow but deep river. Presently he heard shots
and knew that the skirmishers of the enemy were advancing, though he
wondered why they should show such pernicious activity on so black a
night. They were in battle with some other retreating Southern
force--probably a regiment, he thought--and if they wanted to fight he
could not help it.



CHAPTER XXII

THE LONE SENTINEL


The desultory firing troubled the ears of Talbot as he trod to and fro
on his self-imposed task, as he could not see the use of it. The day for
fighting and the night for sleep and rest was the perfect division of a
soldier's life.

The tail of the battle writhed on without regard for his feelings or
theories, though its efforts became gradually feebler, and he hoped that
by and by the decent part of both armies would settle into lethargy,
leaving the night to the skirmishers, who never sleep and are without
conscience.

He went back a little to an open spot where a detail of about twenty men
were posted. But he did not remain with them long. Securing a rifle, he
returned toward the enemy, resolved to watch on his own account--a
voluntary picket.

Talbot was not troubled for his friends alone. The brigade had been
beaten and driven back upon the river, and with the press of numbers
against it he feared that the next day would bring its destruction. The
coming of the night, covering friend and foe alike and making activity
hazardous, was opportune, since it would give his comrades time to rest
and gather their strength for the stand in the morning. He could hear
behind him even now the heavy tread of the beaten companies as they
sought their places in the darkness, the clank of gun wheels, and now
and then the neigh of a tired horse.

The crash of a volley and another volley which answered came from his
right, and then there was a spatter of musketry, stray shots following
each other and quickly dying away. Talbot saw the flash of the guns, and
the smell of burnt gunpowder came to his nostrils. He made a movement
of impatience, for the powder poisoned the pure air. He heard the shouts
of men, but they ceased in a few moments, and then farther away a cannon
boomed. More volleys of rifle shots and the noise of the cheering or its
echo came from his left; but unable to draw meaning from the tumult, he
concluded at last it was only the smouldering embers of the battle and
continued to walk his voluntary beat with steady step.

The night advanced and the rumbling in the encampment behind him did not
cease at all, the sounds remaining the same as they were earlier in the
evening--that is, the drum of many feet upon the earth, the rattle of
metal and the hum of many voices. Talbot concluded that the men would
never go to sleep, but presently a light shot up in the darkness behind
him, rising eight or ten feet above the earth and tapering at the top to
a blue-and-pink point. Presently another arose beside it, and then
others and still others, until there were thirty, forty, fifty or more.

Talbot knew these were the campfires and he wondered why they had not
been lighted before. At last the men would go to sleep beside the
cheerful blaze. The fires comforted him, too, and he looked upon the
rosy flame of each, shining there in the darkness, as he would have
looked upon a personal friend. They took away much of his lonely
feeling, and as they bent a little before the wind seemed to nod to him
a kind of encouragement in the dangerous work upon which he had set
himself. He could see only the tops of these rosy cones; all below was
hidden by the bushes that grew between. He could not see even the dim
figure of a soldier, but he knew that they were there, stretched out in
long rows before the fires, asleep in their blankets, while others stood
by on their arms, ready for defense should the pickets be driven in.

The troublesome skirmishers seemed to be resting just then, for no one
fired at him and he could not hear them moving in the woods. The
scattering shots down the creek ceased and the noises in the camp began
to die. It seemed as if night were about to claim her own at last and
put everybody to rest. The fires rose high and burned with a steady
flame.

A stick broke under his feet with a crackling noise as he walked to and
fro, and a bullet sang through the darkness past his ear. He fired at
the flash of the rifle, and as he ran back and forth fired five or six
times more, slipping in the bullets as quickly as he could, for he
wished to create an illusion that the patrol consisted of at least a
dozen men. The opposing skirmishers returned his fire with spirit, and
Talbot heard their bullets clipping the twigs and pattering among the
leaves, but he felt no great alarm, since the night covered him and only
a chance ball could strike him.

His opponents were wary, and only two or three times did he see the
shadows which he knew to be their moving figures. He fired at these but
no answering cry came, and Talbot could not tell whether any of his
bullets struck, though it did not matter. His lead served well enough as
a warning, and the skirmishers must know that the nearer they came the
better aim they would have to face. Presently their fire ceased and he
was disappointed, as his blood had risen to fever heat and he was in
fighting humour.

The night went on its slow way, and Talbot, stopping a moment to rest
and listen for the skirmishers, calculated that it was not more than two
hours until day. The long period through which he had watched began to
press upon him. Weights dragged at his feet, and he noticed that his
rifle when he shifted it from one shoulder to the other appeared many
pounds heavier than before. His knees grew stiff and he felt like an old
man; but he allowed himself no rest, continuing his walk back and forth
at a slower pace, for he believed he could feel his joints grate as he
stepped. He looked at the fires with longing and was tempted to go; but
no, he must atone for the neglect of that chief of brigade.

Just when the night seemed to be darkest the skirmishers made another
attack, rushing forward in a body, firing with great vigour and
shouting, though hitherto they had fought chiefly in silence. Talbot
considered it an attempt to demoralize him and was ready for it. He
retreated a little, sheltered himself behind a tree and opened fire,
skipping between shots from one tree to another in order that he might
protect the whole of his battle line and keep his apparent numbers at
their height.

His assailants were so near now that he could see some of them springing
about, and one of his shots was followed by a cry of pain and the
disappearance of the figure. After that the fire of his antagonists
diminished and soon ceased. They had shown much courage, but seemed to
think that the defenders were in superior numbers and a further advance
would mean their own destruction.

Again silence came, save for the hum of the camp. The fires burnt
brightly behind him, and far off in front he saw the flickering fires of
the enemy. As the wind increased the lights wavered and the cones split
into many streams of flame before it. The leaves and boughs whistled in
the rush of air and the waters of the creek sang a minor chord on the
shallows. Talbot had heard these sounds a hundred times when a boy in
the wilderness of the deep woods, and it was easy enough for him to
carry himself back there, with no army or soldier near. But he quickly
dismissed such thoughts as would lull him only into neglect of his
watch. After having kept it so long and so well it would be the height
of weakness to fail now, when day could not be much more than two hours
distant.

The silence remained unbroken. An hour passed and then another, and in
the east he saw a faint shade of dark gray showing through the black as
if through a veil.

The gray tint brightened and the black veil became thinner. Soon it
parted and a bar of light shot across the eastern horizon, broadening
rapidly till the world of hills, fields and forests rose up from the
darkness. A trumpet sounded in the hostile camp.

Skirmishers filled the woods in front of Talbot and pressed toward him
in a swarm.

"Surrender!" cried out one of them, an officer. "It is useless for you
to resist! We are a hundred and you are one! Don't you see?"

Talbot turned and looked back at the fires burning in the empty camp of
his comrades. The light of the morning showed everything, even to the
last boat-load of the beaten brigade landing on the farther shore; he
understood all.

"Yes, I will surrender," he said, as his eyes gleamed with sudden
comprehension of his great triumph, "but I've held you back till the
last company of our division has passed the river and is safe."



CHAPTER XXIII

OUT OF THE FOREST


The retreating brigade, the river behind it and the pursuit seemingly
lost on the farther shore, passed on in the golden sunshine of the
morning through, a country of gentle hills, green fields and scattered
forest.

It was joined three hours after sunrise by no less a person than Mr.
Sefton himself, fresh, immaculate and with no trace of discomposure on
his face. He was on horseback, and told them he had just come across the
fields from another division of the army not more than three miles away.
He gave the news in a quiet tone, without any special emphasis upon the
more important passages. The South had been compelled to give ground;
Grant had lost more than fifty thousand men, but he was coming through
the Wilderness and would not be denied. He was still fighting as if he
had just begun, and reinforcements were constantly pouring forward to
take the places of the fallen in his ranks.

Prompted by a motive which even his own analytical mind could not
define, the Secretary sought Lucia Catherwood. He admired her height,
her strength and resolved beauty--knew that she was of a type as
admirable as it was rare, and wondered once or twice why he did not love
her instead of Helen Harley. Here was a woman with a mind akin to his
own--bold, keen and penetrating. And that face and figure! He wished he
could see her in a drawing-room, dressed as she should be, and with the
lights burning softly overhead. Then she would be indeed a princess, if
there were any such beings, in the true meaning of the word, on this
earth. She would be a fit wife for a great man--the greater half of
himself.

But he did not love her; he loved Helen Harley--the Secretary confessed
it to himself with a smothered half-sigh. At times he was pleased with
this sole and recently discovered weak spot in his nature, because it
brought to him some fresh and pleasing emotions, not at all akin to any
that he had ever felt before; but again it troubled him, as a flaw in
his armour. His love for Helen Harley might interfere with his
progress--in fact, was doing so already, but he said to himself he could
not help it. Now he was moved to talk to Lucia Catherwood. Dismounting
from his horse, he took a place by her side.

She was walking near the rear of the column and there were others not
many feet away, but she was alone in the truest sense, having a feeling
of personal detachment and aloofness. These people were kind to her, and
yet there was a slight difference in their manner toward her and toward
one another--a difference almost imperceptible and perhaps not intended,
but sufficient to show her that she was not of them. Just now it gave
her such a sense of loneliness and exclusion that she almost welcomed
the smile of the Secretary when he spoke to her. As ready to recognize
the power in him as he was to note her own strong and keen mind, she
waited guardedly to hear what he had to say.

"Miss Catherwood," he said, "I was glad to assist you in your plan of
returning to Richmond, but I have wondered why you should wish to
return. If I may use a simile, Richmond is the heart of the storm, and
having escaped from such a place, it seems strange that you should go
back to it."

"There are many other women in Richmond," she replied, "and as they will
not be in any greater danger than I, should I be less brave than they?"

"But they have no other choice."

"Perhaps I have none either. Moreover, a time is coming when it is not
physical courage alone that will be needed. Look back, Mr. Sefton."

She pointed to the Wilderness behind them, where they saw the crimson
glow of flames against the blue sky, and long, trailing clouds of black
smoke. The low mutter of guns, a continuous sound since sunrise, still
came to their ears.

"The flames and the smoke," she said, "are nearer to Richmond than they
were yesterday, just as they were nearer yesterday than they were the
day before."

"It is yet a long road to Richmond."

"But it is being shortened. I shall be there at the end. The nearest and
dearest of all my relatives is in Richmond and I wish to be with her.
There are other reasons, too, but the end of which I spoke is surely
coming and you know it as well as I. Perhaps you have long known it. As
for myself, I have never doubted, despite great defeats."

"It is not given to men to have the faith of women."

"Perhaps not; but in this case it does not require faith: reason alone
is sufficient. What chance did the South ever have? The North, after all
these years, is just beginning to be aroused. Until the present you have
been fighting only her vanguard. Sometimes it seems to me that men argue
only from passion and sentiment, not from reason. If reason alone had
been applied this war would never have been begun."

"Nor any other. It is a true saying that neither men nor women are ever
guided wholly for any long period by reason. That is where
philosophers,--idealogists, Napoleon called them--make their mistake,
and it is why the science of government is so uncertain--in fact, it is
not a question of science at all, but of tact."

The Secretary was silent for awhile, but he still walked beside Miss
Catherwood, leading his horse by the bridle. Prescott presently glancing
back, beheld the two together and set his teeth. He did not like to see
Lucia with that man and he wondered what had put them side by side. He
knew that she had a pass from Mr. Sefton, and this fresh fact added to
his uneasiness. Was it possible those two had a secret in common?

The Secretary saw the frown on Prescott's face and was pleased, though
he spoke of him and his great services. "He has more than courage--he
has sense allied with it. Sometimes I think that courage is one of the
commonest of qualities, but it is not often that it is supported by
coolness, discrimination and the ability to endure. A fine young man,
Robert Prescott, and one destined to high honours. If he survive the
war, I should say that he will become the Governor of his State or rise
high in Congress."

He watched the girl closely out of the corner of his eye as he spoke,
for he was forming various plans and, as Lucia Catherwood was included
in his comprehensive schemes, he wished to see the effect upon her of
what he said, but she betrayed nothing. So far as her expression was
concerned Prescott might have been no more to her than any other chance
acquaintance. She walked on, the free, easy stride of her long limbs
carrying her over the ground swiftly. Every movement showed physical and
mental strength. Under the tight sleeve of her dress the muscle rippled
slightly, but the arm was none the less rounded and feminine. Her chin,
though the skin upon it was white and smooth like silk, was set firmly
and marked an indomitable will.

Curious thoughts again flowed through the frank mind of the Secretary.
Much of his success in life was due to his ability to recognize facts
when he saw them. If he made failures he never sought to persuade
himself that they were successes or even partial successes; thus he
always went upon the battlefield with exact knowledge of his resources.
He wondered again why he did not fall in love with Lucia Catherwood.
Here was the exact complement of himself, a woman with a mind a fit mate
to his own. He had come far already, but with her to aid him there were
no heights to which he--no, they--might not climb. And she was
beautiful--beautiful, with a grace, a stateliness and dignity beyond
compare.

Mr. Sefton glanced down the column and saw there a head upon which the
brown hair curled slightly. The eyes were turned away, but the Secretary
knew they were blue and that there was something in the face which
appealed to strong men for protection. He shook his head slowly. The
tricky little god was making sport of him, James Sefton, the
invincible, and he did not like it.

A sense of irritation against Lucia Catherwood rose in Mr. Sefton's
mind. As he could not stir her in any obvious manner by speaking of
Prescott, he felt a desire to move her in some way, to show his power
over her, to compel from her an appeal for mercy. It would be a triumph
to bring a woman at once so strong and so proud to her knees. He would
not proceed to extreme measures, and would halt at the delicate moment,
but she must be made to feel that he was master of the situation.

So he spoke again of her return to Richmond, suggesting plans for her
pleasant stay while there, mentioning acquaintances of his whom he would
like her to know, and making suggestions to which he thought she would
be compelled to return answers that would betray more or less her
position in Richmond.

She listened at first with a flush on her face, giving way soon to
paleness as her jaw hardened and her lips closed firmly. The perception
of Lucia Catherwood was not inferior to that of the Secretary, and she
took her resolve.

"Mr. Sefton," she said at length, "I am firmly convinced of one thing."

"And what is that?"

"That you know I am the alleged spy for whom you were so long looking in
Richmond."

The Secretary hesitated for an answer. Her sudden frankness surprised
him. It was so different from his own methods in dealing with others
that he had not taken it into account.

"Yes, you know it," she continued, "and it may be used against me, not
to inflict on me a punishment--that I do not dread--but to injure the
character and reputation that a woman loves--things that are to her the
breath of life. But I say that if you choose to use your power you can
do so."

The Secretary glanced at her in admiration, the old wonder concerning
himself returning to him.

"Miss Catherwood," he said, "I cannot speak in too high praise of your
courage. I have never before seen a woman show so much. Your surmise is
correct. You were the spy or alleged spy, as you prefer to say, for whom
I was looking. As for the morality of your act, I do not consider that;
it never entered into my calculations; but in going back to Richmond you
realize that you will be wholly in the power of the Confederate
Government. Whenever it wants you you will have to come, and in very
truth you will have to walk in the straight and narrow path."

"I am not afraid," she said, with a proud lifting of her head. "I will
take the risks, and if you, Mr. Sefton, for some reason unknown to me,
force me to match my wits with yours, I shall do the best I can."

The haughty uplift of her neck and the flash of her eye showed that she
thought her "best" would be no mean effort, but this attitude appealed
to the Secretary more than a humble submission ever would have done.
Here was one with whom it would be a pleasure to make a test of skill
and force. Certainly steel would be striking sparks from steel.

"I am not making any threats, Miss Catherwood," he said. "That would be
unworthy, I merely wish you to understand the situation. I am a frank
man, I trust, and, like most other men, I seek my own advancement; it
would further no interest of mine for me to denounce you at present, and
I trust that you will not at any time make it otherwise."

"That is, I am to serve you if you call upon me."

"Let us not put it so bluntly."

"I shall not do anything that I do not wish to do," she said, with the
old proud uplift of her head. "And listen! there is something which may
soon shatter all your plans, Mr. Sefton."

She pointed backward, where the purplish clouds hung over the
Wilderness, whence came the low, sullen mutter, almost as faint as the
distant beat of waves on a coast.

The Secretary smiled deprecatingly.

"After all, you are like other women, Miss Catherwood. You suppose, of
course, that I stake my whole fortune upon a single issue, but it is
not so. I wish to live on after the war, whatever its result may be, and
the tide of fortune in that forest may shift and change, but mine may
not shift and change with it."

"You are at least frank."

"The South may lose, but if she loses the world will not end on that
account. I shall still wish to play my part. Ah, here comes Captain
Prescott."

Prescott liked little this long talk between Lucia and the Secretary and
the deep interest each seemed to show in what the other said. He bore it
with patience for a time, but it seemed to him, though the thought was
not so framed in his mind, that he had a certain proprietary interest in
her because he had saved her at great risk.

The Secretary received him with a pleasant smile, made some slight
remark about duty elsewhere and dropped easily away. Prescott waited
until he was out of hearing before he said:

"Do you like that man, Miss Catherwood?"

"I do not know. Why?"

"You were in such close and long conversation that you seemed to be old
friends."

"There were reasons for what we said."

She looked at him so frankly that he was ashamed, but she, recognizing
his tone and the sharpness of it, was not displeased. On the contrary,
she felt a warm glow, and the woman in her urged her to go further. She
spoke well of the Secretary, his penetrating foresight and his knowledge
of the world and its people--men, women and children. Prescott listened
in a somewhat sulky mood, and she, regarding him with covert glances,
was roused to a singular lightness that she had not known for many days.
Then she changed, showing him her softer side, for she could be as
feminine as any other woman, not less so than Helen Harley, and she
would prove it to him. Becoming all sunshine with just enough shadow to
deepen the colours, she spoke of a time when the war should have
passed--when the glory of this world with the green of spring and the
pink of summer should return. Her moods were so many and so variable,
but all so gay, that Prescott began to share her spirits, and although
they were retreating from a lost field and the cannon still muttered
behind them, he forgot the war and remembered only this girl beside him,
who walked with such easy grace and saw so bright an outlook.

Thus the retreat continued. The able-bodied soldiers of the brigade were
drafted away, but the women and wounded men went on. Grant never ceased
his hammer strokes, and it was necessary for the Southern leaders to get
rid of all superfluous baggage. Prescott, singularly enough, found
himself in command of this little column that marched southward, taking
the place of his friend Talbot, lost in a mysterious way to the regret
of all.

Mr. Sefton left them the day after his talk with Lucia, and Prescott was
not sorry to see him go, for some of his uneasiness departed with him.
Harley, vain, fretful and complaining, gave much trouble, yielding only
to the influence of Mrs. Markham, with whom Prescott did not like to see
him, but was helpless in the matter. Helen and Lucia were the most
obedient of soldiers and gave no trouble at all. Helen, a warm partisan,
seemed to think little of the great campaign that was going on behind
her, and to concern herself more about something else. Yet she was not
unhappy--even Prescott could see it--and the bond between her and Lucia
was growing strong daily. Usually they were together, and once when Mrs.
Markham spoke slightingly of the "Northern woman," as she called Lucia,
Helen replied with a sharpness very remarkable for her--a sharpness that
contributed to the growing coldness between them, which had begun with
the power Mrs. Markham exercised over Helen's brother.

Prescott noticed these things more or less and sometimes they pained
him; but clearly they were outside his province, and in order to give
them no room in his mind he applied himself more diligently than ever to
his duties, his wound now permitting him to do almost a man's work.

They marched slowly and it gave promise of being a long journey. The
days grew very hot; the sun burned the grass, and over them hung clouds
of steamy vapour. For the sake of the badly wounded who had fever they
traveled often by night and rested by day in the shade. But that cloud
of war never left them.

The days passed and distant battles still hung on their skirts. The
mutter of the guns was seldom absent, and they yet saw, now and then, on
the horizon, flashes like heat-lightning. One morning there was a rapid
beat of hoofs, a glitter of sabers issuing from a wood, and in a moment
the little convoy was surrounded by a troop of cavalry in blue.

"Only wounded men and women," said their leader, a young colonel with a
fine, open face. "Bah, we have no time to waste with them!"

He bowed contritely, touching his hat to the ladies and saying that he
did not mean to be ungallant. Then in a moment he and his men were gone
at gallop in a cloud of dust, disappearing in a whirlwind across the
plain, leaving the little convoy to proceed at its leisure.

Prescott gazed after them, shading his eyes with his hands. "There must
be some great movement at hand," he said, "or they would have asked us
questions, at least."

The day grew close and sultry. Columns of steamy vapour moved back and
forth and enclosed them, and the sun set in a red mist. At night it
rained, but early the next morning the mutter of the cannon grew to a
rumble and then a storm. The hot day came and all the east was filled
with flashes of fire. The crash of the cannon was incessant, and in
fancy every one in that little convoy heard the tramping of brigades and
the clatter of hoofs as the horsemen rushed on the guns.

"They have met again!" said Lucia.

"Yes," replied Prescott. "It's Grant and Lee. How many great battles is
this since they met first in the Wilderness?"

Nobody could tell; they had lost count.

The tumult lasted about an hour and then died away, to be succeeded by a
stillness intense and painful. The sun shone with a white glare. No wind
stirred. The leaves and the grass drooped. The fields were deserted;
there was not a sign of life in them, either human or animal. The road
lay before them, a dusty streak.

None came to tell of the battle, and, oppressed by anxiety, Prescott
moved on. Some horsemen appeared on the hills the next morning, and as
they approached, Prescott, with indescribable joy, recognized in the
lead the figure of Talbot, whose unknown fate they had mourned. Talbot
delightedly shook hands with them all, not neglecting Lucia Catherwood.
His honest face glowed with emotion.

"I am on a scout around our army now," he said, "and I thought I should
find you near here somewhere. I wanted to tell you what had become of
me. I was captured that night we were crossing the river--some of my
blundering--but I escaped the next night. It was easy enough to do it.
There was so much fighting and so much of everything going on that I
just rose up and walked out of the Yankee camp. Nobody had time to pay
any attention to me. I got back to Lee--somehow I knew I must do it, as
he could never win the war without me--and here I am."

"There was a battle yesterday morning; we heard it," said Prescott.

Talbot's face clouded and the corners of his mouth drooped.

"We have won a great victory," he said, "but it doesn't pay us. The
Yankees lost twelve or fifteen thousand men, but we haven't gained
anything. That firing you heard was at Cold Harbour. It was a great
battle, an awful one. I hope to God I shall never see its like again. I
saw fifteen thousand men stretched out on the bloody ground in rows. I
don't believe that so many men ever before fell in so short a time. I
have heard of a whirlwind of death, but I never saw one till then.

"We had gone into intrenchments and Grant moved against us with his
whole army. They came on; you could hear 'em, the tramp of regiments
and brigades, scores of thousands, and the sun rising up and turning to
gold over their heads. Our cannon began. What a crash! It was like
twenty thunderbolts all at once. We swept that field with tons and tons
of metal. Then our rifles opened and the whistling of the bullets was
like the screaming of a wind on a plain. You could see the men of that
army shoot up into the air before such a sheet of metal, and you heard
the cracking of bones like the breaking up of ice. After awhile those
that lived had to turn back; human beings could not stand more, and we
were glad when it was all over."

Talbot stayed a little while with them. Then he and his men, like the
Northern cavalry, whirled off in a cloud of dust, and the little convoy
resumed its solemn march southward, reaching Richmond in safety.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE DESPATCH BEARER


Leaves of yellow and red and brown were falling, and the wind that came
up the valley played on the boughs like a bow on the strings of a
violin. The mountain ridges piled against each other cut the blue sky
like a saber's edge, and the forests on the slopes rising terrace above
terrace burned in vivid colours painted by the brush of autumn. The
despatch bearer's eye, sweeping peaks and slopes and valleys, saw
nothing living save himself and his good horse. The silver streams in
the valleys, the vivid forests on the slopes and the blue peaks above
told of peace, which was also in the musical note of the wind, in the
shy eyes of a deer that looked at him a moment then fled away to the
forest, and in the bubbles of pink and blue that floated on the silver
surface of the stream at his feet.

Prescott had been into the far South on a special mission from the
Confederate Government in Richmond after his return from the Wilderness
and complete recovery from his wound, and now he was going back through
a sea of mountains, the great range that fills up so much of North
Carolina and its fifty thousand square miles, and he was not sorry to
find the way long. He enjoyed the crisp air, the winds, the burning
colours of the forest, the deep blue of the sky and the infinite peace.
But the nights lay cold on the ridges, and Prescott, when he could find
no cabin for shelter, built a fire of pine branches and, wrapping
himself in his blanket, slept with his feet to the coals. The cold
increased by and by, and icy wind roared among the peaks and brought a
skim of snow. Then Prescott shivered and pined for the lowlands and the
haunts of men.

He descended at last from the peaks and entered a tiny hamlet of the
backwoods, where he found among other things a two-weeks-old Richmond
newspaper. Looking eagerly through its meager columns to see what had
happened while he was buried in the hills, he learned that there was no
new stage in the war--no other great battle. The armies were facing each
other across their entrenchments at Petersburg, and the moment a head
appeared above either parapet the crack of a rifle from the other told
of one more death added to the hundreds of thousands. That was all of
the war save that food was growing scarcer and the blockade of the
Southern ports more vigilant. It was a skilful and daring blockade
runner now that could creep past the watching ships.

On an inside page he found social news. Richmond was crowded with
refugees, and wherever men and women gather they must have diversion
though at the very mouths of the guns. The gaiety of the capital, real
or feigned, continued, and his eye was caught by the name of Lucia
Catherwood. There was a new beauty in Richmond, the newspaper said, one
whose graces of face and figure were equaled only by the qualities of
her mind. She had relatives of strong Northern tendencies, and she had
been known to express such sympathies herself; but they only lent
piquancy to her conversation. She had appeared at one of the President's
receptions; and further on Prescott saw the name of Mr. Sefton. There
was nothing by which he could tell with certainty, but he inferred that
she had gone there with the Secretary. A sudden thought assailed and
tormented him. What could the Secretary be to her? Well, why not? Mr.
Sefton was an able and insinuating man. Moreover, he was no bitter
partisan: the fact that she believed in the cause of the North would not
trouble him. She had refused himself and not many minutes later had been
seen talking with the Secretary in what seemed to be the most
confidential manner. Why had she come back to Richmond, from which she
had escaped amid such dangers? Did it not mean that she and the
Secretary had become allies more than friends? The thought would not
let Prescott rest.

Prescott put the newspaper in his pocket and left the little tavern with
an abruptness that astonished his host, setting out upon his ride with
increased haste and turning eastward, intending to reach the railroad at
the nearest point where he could take a train to Richmond.

His was not a morbid mind, but the fever in it grew. He had thought that
the Secretary loved Helen Harley: but once he had fancied himself in
love with Helen, too, and why might not the Secretary suffering from the
same delusion be changed in the same way? He took out the newspaper and
read the story again. There was much about her beauty, a description of
her dress, and the distinction of her manner and appearance. The
President himself, it said, was charmed with her, and departing from his
usual cold reserve gave her graceful compliments.

This new reading of the newspaper only added more impetus to his speed
and on the afternoon of the same day he reached the railroad station.
Early the next morning he entered Richmond.

His heart, despite its recurrent troubles, was light, for he was coming
home once more.

The streets were but slightly changed--perhaps a little more bareness
and leanness of aspect, an older and more faded look to the clothing of
the people whom he passed, but the same fine courage shone in their
eyes. If Richmond, after nearly four years of fighting, heard the guns
of the foe once more, she merely drew tighter the belt around her lean
waist and turning her face toward the enemy smiled bravely.

The President received the despatch bearer in his private room, looking
taller, thinner and sterner than ever. Although a Kentuckian by birth,
he had been bred in the far South, but had little of that far South
about him save the dress he wore. He was too cold, too precise, too free
from sudden emotion to be of the Gulf Coast State that sent him to the
capital. Prescott often reflected upon the odd coincidence that the
opposing Presidents, Lincoln and Davis, should have been produced by
the same State, Kentucky, and that the President of the South should be
Northern in manner and the President of the North Southern in manner.

Mr. Davis read the despatches while their bearer, at his request, waited
by. Prescott knew the hopeless tenor of those letters, but he could see
no change in the stern, gray face as its owner read them, letter after
letter. More than a half-hour passed and there was no sound in the room
save the rustling of the paper as the President turned it sheet by
sheet. Then in even, dry tones he said:

"You need not wait any longer, Captain Prescott; you have done your part
well and I thank you. You will remain in Richmond until further orders."

Prescott saluted and went out, glad to get into the free air again. He
did not envy the responsibility of a president in war time, whether the
president of a country already established or of one yet tentative. He
hurried home, and it was his mother herself who responded to the sound
of the knocker--his mother, quiet, smiling and undemonstrative as of
old, but with an endless tenderness for him in the depths of her blue
eyes.

"Here I am again, mother, and unwounded this time," he cried after the
first greeting; "and I suppose that as soon as they hear of my arrival
all the Yankees will be running back to the North."

She smiled her quiet, placid smile.

"Ah, my son," she said, and from her voice he could not doubt her
seriousness, "I'm afraid they will not go even when they hear of your
arrival."

"In your heart of hearts, mother, you have always believed that they
would come into Richmond. But remember they are not here yet. They were
even closer than this before the Seven Days, but they got their faces
burned then for their pains."

They talked after their old custom, while Prescott ate his luncheon and
his mother gave him the news of Richmond and the people whom he knew. He
noticed often how closely she followed the fortunes of their friends,
despite her seeming indifference, and, informed by experience, he never
doubted the accuracy of her reports.

"Helen Harley is yet in the employ of Mr. Sefton," she said, "and the
money that she earns is, I hear, still welcome in the house of the
Harleys. Mr. Harley is a fine Southern gentleman, but he has found means
of overcoming his pride; it requires something to support his state."

"But what of Helen?" asked Prescott. He always had a feeling of
repulsion toward Mr. Harley, his sounding talk, his colossal vanity and
his selfishness.

"Helen, I think," said his mother, "is more of a woman than she used to
be. Her mind has been strengthened by occupation. You won't object,
Robert, will you, if I tell you that in my opinion both the men and
women of the South have suffered from lack of diversity and variety in
interests and ambitions. When men have only two ambitions, war and
politics, and when women care only for the social side of life,
important enough, but not everything, there can be no symmetrical
development. A Southern republic, even if they should win this war, is
impossible, because to support a State it takes a great deal more than
the ability to speak and fight well."

Prescott laughed.

"What a political economist we have grown to be, mother!" he said, and
then he added thoughtfully: "I won't deny, however, that you are
right--at least, in part. But what more of Helen, mother? Is Mr. Sefton
as attentive as ever to his clerk?"

She looked at him covertly, as if she would measure alike his expression
and the tone of his voice.

"He is still attentive to Helen--in a way," she replied, "but the
Secretary is like many other men: he sees more than one beautiful flower
in the garden."

"What do you mean, mother?" asked Prescott quickly.

His face flushed suddenly and then turned pale. She gave him another
keen but covert look from under lowered eyelids.

"There's a new star in Richmond," she replied quietly, "and singular as
it may seem, it is a star of the North. You know Miss Charlotte Grayson
and her Northern sympathies: it is a relative of hers--a Miss
Catherwood, Miss Lucia Catherwood, who came to visit her shortly after
the battles in the Wilderness--the 'Beautiful Yankee,' they call her.
Her beauty, her grace and distinction of manner are so great that all
Richmond raves about her. She is modest and would remain in retirement,
but for the sake of her own peace and Miss Grayson's she has been
compelled to enter our social life here."

"And the Secretary?" said Prescott. He was now able to assume an air of
indifference.

"He warms himself at the flame and perhaps scorches himself, too, or it
may be that he wishes to make some one else jealous--Helen Harley, for
instance. I merely venture the suggestion; I do not pretend to know all
the secrets of the social life of Richmond."

Prescott went that very afternoon to the Grayson cottage, and he
prepared himself with the greatest care for his going. He felt a sudden
and strong anxiety about his clothing. His uniform was old, ragged and
stained, but he had a civilian suit of good quality.

"This dates from the fall of '60," he said, looking at it, "and that's
more than four years ago; but it's hard to keep the latest fashions in
Richmond now."

However, it was a vast improvement, and the change to civilian garb made
him feel like a man of peace once more.

He went into the street and found Richmond under the dim cold of a
November sky, distant houses melting into a gray blur and people
shivering as they passed. As he walked briskly along he heard behind him
the roll of carriage wheels, and when he glanced over his shoulder what
he beheld brought the red to his face.

Mr. Sefton was driving and Helen Harley sat beside him. On the rear seat
were Colonel Harley and Lucia Catherwood. As he looked the Secretary
turned back and said something in a laughing manner to Lucia, and she,
laughing in like fashion, replied. Prescott was too far away to
understand the words even had he wished, but Lucia's eyes were smiling
and her face was rosy with the cold and the swift motion. She was
muffled in a heavy black cloak, but her expression was happy.

The carriage passed so swiftly that she did not see Prescott standing on
the sidewalk. He gazed after the disappearing party and others did
likewise, for carriages were becoming too scarce in Richmond not to be
noticed. Some one spoke lightly, coupling the names of James Sefton and
Lucia Catherwood. Prescott turned fiercely upon him and bade him beware
how he repeated such remarks. The man did not reply, startled by such
heat, and Prescott walked on, striving to keep down the anger and grief
that were rising within him.

He concluded that he need not hurry now, because if he went at once to
the little house in the cross street she would not be there; and he came
to an angry conclusion that while he had been upon an errand of hardship
and danger she had been enjoying all the excitement of life in the
capital and with a powerful friend at court. He had always felt a sense
of proprietorship in her and now it was rudely shocked. He forgot that
if he had saved her she had saved him. It never occurred to him in his
glowing youth that she had an entire right to love and marry James
Sefton if fate so decreed.

He walked back and forth so angrily and so thoroughly wrapped in his own
thoughts that he noticed nobody, though many noticed him and wondered at
the young man with the pale face and the hot eyes.

It was twilight before he resumed his journey to the little house. The
gray November day was thickening into the chill gloom of a winter night
when he knocked at the well-remembered door. The shutters were closed,
but some bars of ruddy light shone through them and fell across the
brown earth. He was not coming now in secrecy as of old, but he had come
with a better heart then.

It was Lucia herself who opened the door--Lucia, with a softer face than
in the earlier time, but with a royal dignity that he had never seen in
any other woman, and he had seen women who were royal by birth. She was
clad in some soft gray stuff and her hair was drawn high upon her head,
a crown of burnished black, gleaming with tints of red, like flame,
where the firelight behind her flickered and fell upon it.

The twilight was heavy without and she did not see at once who was
standing at the door. She put up her hands to shade her eyes, but when
she beheld Prescott a little cry of gladness broke from her. "Ah, it is
you!" she said, holding out both her hands, and his jealousy and pain
were swept away for the moment.

He clasped her hands in the warm pressure of his own, saying: "Yes, it
is I; and I cannot tell you how glad I am to see you once more."

The room behind her seemed to be filled with a glow, and when they went
in the fire blazed and sparkled and its red light fell across the floor.
Miss Grayson, small, quiet and gray as usual, came forward to meet him.
Her tiny cool hand rested in his a moment, and the look in her eyes told
him as truly as the words she spoke that he was welcome.

"When did you arrive?" asked Lucia.

"But this morning," he replied. "You see, I have come at once to find
you. I saw you when you did not see me."

"When?" she asked in surprise.

"In the carriage with the Secretary and the Harleys," he replied, the
feeling of jealousy and pain returning. "You passed me, but you were too
busy to see me."

She noticed the slight change in his tone, but she replied without any
self-consciousness.

"Yes; Mr. Sefton--he has been very kind to us--asked me to go with Miss
Harley, her brother and himself. How sorry I am that none of us saw
you."

The feeling that he had a grievance took strong hold of Prescott, and it
was inflamed at the new mention of the Secretary's name. If it were any
other it might be more tolerable, but Mr. Sefton was a crafty and
dangerous man, perhaps unscrupulous too. He remembered that light remark
of the bystander coupling the name of the Secretary and Lucia
Catherwood, and at the recollection the red flushed into his face.

"The Secretary is able and powerful," he said, "but not wholly to be
trusted. He is an intriguer."

Miss Grayson looked up with her quiet smile.

"Mr. Sefton has been kind to us," she said, "and he has made our life in
Richmond more tolerable. We could not be ungrateful, and I urged Lucia
to go with them to-day."

The colour flickered in the sensitive, proud face of Lucia Catherwood.

"But, Charlotte, I should have gone of my own accord, and it was a
pleasant drive."

There was a shade of defiance in her tone, and Prescott, restless and
uneasy, stared into the fire. He had expected her to yield to his
challenge, to be humble, to make some apology; but she did not, having
no excuses to offer, and he found his own position difficult and
unpleasant. The stubborn part of his nature was stirred and he spoke
coldly of something else, while she replied in like fashion. He was sure
now that Sefton had transferred his love to her, and if she did not
return it she at least looked upon him with favouring eyes. As for
himself, he had become an outsider. He remembered her refusal of him.
Then the impression she gave him once that she had fled from Richmond,
partly and perhaps chiefly to save him, was false. On second thought no
doubt it was false. And despite her statement she might really have been
a spy! How could he believe her now?

Miss Grayson, quiet and observant, noticed the change. She liked this
young man, so serious and steady and so different from the passionate
and reckless youths who are erroneously taken by outsiders to be the
universal type of the South. Her heart rallied to the side of her
cousin, Lucia Catherwood, with whom she had shared hardships and dangers
and whose worth she knew; but with the keen eye of the kindly old maid
she saw what troubled Prescott, and being a woman she could not blame
him. Taking upon herself the burden of the conversation, she asked
Prescott about his southern journey, and as he told her of the path that
led him through mountains, the glory of the autumn woods and the peace
of the wilderness, there was a little bitterness in his tone in
referring to those lonesome but happy days. He had felt then that he was
coming north to the struggles and passions of a battleground, and now he
was finding the premonition true in more senses than one.

Lucia sat in the far corner of the little room where the flickering
firelight fell across her face and dress. They had not lighted candle
nor lamp, but the rich tints in her hair gleamed with a deeper sheen
when the glow of the flames fell across it. Prescott's former sense of
proprietorship was going, and she seemed more beautiful, more worth the
effort of a lifetime than ever before. Here was a woman of mind and
heart, one not bounded by narrow sectionalism, but seeing the good
wherever it might be. He felt that he had behaved like a prig and a
fool. Why should he be influenced by the idle words of some idle man in
the street? He was not Lucia Catherwood's guardian; if there were any
question of guardianship, she was much better fitted to be the guardian
of him.

Had he obeyed this rush of feeling he would have swept away all
constraint by words abrupt, disjointed perhaps, but alive with
sincerity, and Miss Grayson gave him ample opportunity by slipping with
excuses into the next room. The pride and stubbornness in Prescott's
nature were tenacious and refused to die. Although wishing to say words
that would undo the effect of those already spoken, he spoke instead of
something else--topics foreign then to the heart of either--of the war,
the social life of Richmond. Miss Harley was still a great favourite in
the capital and the Secretary paid her much attention, so Lucia said
without the slightest change in her tone. Helen's brother had made
several visits to Richmond; General Wood had come once, and Mr. Talbot
once. Mr. Talbot--and now she smiled--was overpowered on his last visit.
Some Northern prisoners had told how the vanguard of their army was held
back in the darkness at the passage of the river by a single man who was
taken prisoner, but not until he had given his beaten brigade time to
escape. That man was discovered to be Talbot and he had fled from
Richmond to escape an excess of attention and compliments.

"And it was old Talbot who saved us from capture," said Prescott. "I've
often wondered why we were not pursued more closely that night. And he
never said anything about it."

"Mrs. Markham, too, is in Richmond," Lucia continued, "and she is,
perhaps, the most conspicuous of its social lights. General Markham is
at the front with the army"--here she stopped abruptly and the colour
came into her face. But Prescott guessed the rest. Colonel Harley was
constantly in Mrs. Markham's train and that was why he came so often to
Richmond. The capital was not without its gossip.

The flames died down and a red-and-yellow glow came from the heart of
the coals. The light now gleamed only at times on the face of Lucia
Catherwood. It seemed to Prescott (or was it fancy) that by this
flickering radiance he saw a pathetic look on her face--a little touch
of appeal. Again he felt a great wave of tenderness and of reverence,
too. She was far better than he. Words of humility and apology leaped
once more to the end of his tongue, but they did not pass his lips. He
could not say them. His stubborn pride still controlled and he rambled
on with commonplace and idle talk.

Miss Grayson came back bearing a lamp, and by chance, as it were, she
let its flame fall first upon the face of the man and then upon the face
of the woman, and she felt a little thrill of disappointment when she
noted the result in either case. Miss Charlotte Grayson was one of the
gentlest of fine old maids, and her heart was soft within her. She
remembered the long vigils of Prescott, his deep sympathy, the
substantial help that he had given, and, at last, how, at the risk of
his own career, he had helped Lucia Catherwood to escape from Richmond
and danger. She marked the coldness and constraint still in the air and
was sorry, but knew not what to do.

Prescott rose presently and said good-night, expressing the hope that it
would not be long until he again saw them both. Lucia echoed his hope in
a like formal fashion and Prescott went out. He did not look back to see
if the light from the window still fell across the brown grass, but
hurried away in the darkness.



CHAPTER XXV

THE MOUNTAIN GENERAL


It was a bleak, cold night and Prescott's feelings were of the same
tenor. The distant buildings seemed to swim in a raw mist and
pedestrians fled from the streets. Prescott walked along in aimless
fashion until he was hailed by a dark man on a dark horse, who wished to
know if he were going "to walk right over us," but the rough words were
belied by joviality and welcome.

Prescott came out of his cloud and, looking up, recognized the great
cavalryman, Wood. His huge beard seemed bigger than ever, but his keen
eyes shone in the black tangle as if they were looking through the holes
in a mask.

"What ails you, boy?" he asked Prescott. "You were goin' to walk right
into me, horse an' all, an' I don't believe you'd have seen a house if
it had been planted right in your path!"

"It's true I was thinking of something else," replied Prescott with a
smile, "and did not see what was about me; but how are you, General?"

Wood regarded him closely for a moment or two before replying and then
said:

"All right as far as that goes, but I can't say things are movin' well
for our side. We're in a deadlock down there at Petersburg, and here
comes winter, loaded with snow an' hail an' ice, if signs count for
anythin'. Mighty little for a cavalryman to do right now, so I just got
leave of absence from General Lee, an' I've run up to Richmond for a day
or two."

Then the big man laughed in an embarrassed way, and Prescott, looking up
at him, knew that his face was turning red could it but be seen.

"A man may employ his time well in Richmond, General," said Prescott,
feeling a sudden and not unsympathetic desire to draw him out.

The General merely nodded in reply and Prescott looked at him again and
more closely. The youth of General Wood and himself had been so
different that he had never before recognized what there was in this
illiterate man to attract a cultivated woman.

The crude mountaineer had seemed to him hitherto to be a soldier and
nothing else; and soldiership alone, in Prescott's opinion, was very far
from making up the full complement of a man. The General sitting there
on his horse in the darkness was so strong, so masterful, so deeply
touched with what appeared to be the romantic spirit, that Prescott
could readily understand his attraction for a woman of a position
originally different in life. His feeling of sympathy grew stronger.
Here at least was a man direct and honest, not evasive and doubtful.

"General," he said with abrupt frankness, "you have come to Richmond to
see Miss Harley and I want to tell you that I wish you the utmost
success."

He held out his hand and the great mountaineer enclosed it in an iron
grasp. Then Wood dismounted, threw his bridle over his arm and said:

"S'pose we go along together for awhile?"

They walked a minute or two in silence, the General running his fingers
nervously through his thick black beard.

"See here, Prescott," he said at last, "you've spoke plain to me an'
I'll do the same to you. You wished me success with Miss Harley. Why, I
thought once that you stood in the way of me or any other man."

"Not so, General; you credit me with far more attractions than I have,"
replied Prescott deliberately. "Miss Harley and I were children together
and you know that is a tie. She likes me, I am sure, but nothing more.
And I--well I admire her tremendously, but----"

He hesitated and then stopped. The mountaineer gave him a sudden keen
glance and laughed softly.

"There's somebody else?" he said.

Prescott was silent but the mountaineer was satisfied.

"See here, Prescott," he exclaimed with great heartiness. "Let's wish
each other success."

Their hands closed again in a firm grasp.

"There's that man Sefton," resumed the mountaineer, "but I'm not so much
afraid of him as I was of you. He's cunnin' and powerful, but I don't
think he's the kind of man women like. He kinder gets their teeth on
edge. They're afraid of him without admirin' his strength. There's two
kinds of strong men: the kind that women are afraid of an' like and the
kind that they're afraid of an' don't like; an' I think Sefton falls
into the last class."

Prescott's liking for his companion increased, and mingled with it was a
growing admiration wholly aside from his respect for him as a soldier.
He was showing observation or intuition of a high order. The General's
heart was full. He had all of the mountaineer's reserve and taciturnity,
but now after years of repression and at the touch of real sympathy his
feelings overflowed.

"See here, Prescott," he said abruptly, "I once thought it was wrong for
me to love Helen Harley--the difference between us is so great--and
maybe I think so yet, but I'm goin' to try to win her anyhow. I'm just
that deep in love, and maybe the good God will forgive me, because I
can't help it. I loved that girl the first time I ever set eyes on her;
I wasn't asked about it, I just had to."

"There is no reason why you should not go ahead and win her," said the
other, warmly.

"Prescott," continued the mountaineer, "you don't know all that I've
been."

"It's nothing dishonest, that I'd swear."

"It's not that, but look where I started. I was born in the mountains
back there, an' I tell you we weren't much above the wild animals that
live in them same mountains. There was just one room to our log
house--one for father, mother and all of us. I never was taught nothin'.
I didn't learn to read till I was twenty years old and the big words
still bother me. I went barefoot six months every year till I was a man
grown. Why, my cavalry boots pinch me now."

He uttered the lamentation of the boots with such tragic pathos that
Prescott smiled, but was glad to hide it in the darkness.

"An' I don't know nothin' now," resumed the mountaineer sadly. "When I
go into a parlour I'm like a bear in a cage. If there's anythin' about
to break, I always break it. When they begin talkin' books and pictures
and such I don't know whether they are right or wrong."

"You are not alone in that."

"An' I'm out of place in a house," continued the General, not noticing
the interruption. "I belong to the mountains an' the fields, an' when
this war's over I guess I'll go back to 'em. They think somethin' of me
now because I can ride an' fight, but war ain't all. When it's over
there'll be no use for me. I can't dance an' I can't talk pretty, an'
I'm always steppin' on other peoples' feet. I guess I ain't the timber
they make dandies of."

"I should hope not," said Prescott with emphasis. He was really stirred
by the big man's lament, seeing that he valued so much the little things
that he did not have and so little the great things that he did have.

"General," he said, "you never shirked a battle and I wouldn't shirk
this contest either. If I loved a woman I'd try to win her, and you
won't have to go back to the mountains when this war is over. You've
made too great a name for that. We won't give you up."

Wood's eyes shone with satisfaction and gratitude.

"Do you think so?" he asked earnestly.

"I haven't a doubt of it," replied Prescott with the utmost sincerity.
"If fortune was unkind to you in the beginning nature was not so. You
may not know it, but I think that women consider you rather good to look
at."

Thus they talked, and in his effort to console another Robert forgot
some of his own pain. The simple, but, on the whole, massive character
of Wood appealed to him, and the thought came with peculiar force that
what was lacking in Helen Harley's nature the tougher fiber of the
mountaineer would supply.

It was late when they separated and much later before Prescott was able
to sleep. The shadow of the Secretary was before him and it was a
menacing shadow. It seemed that this man was to supplant him at every
turn, to appear in every cause his successful rival. Nor was he
satisfied with himself. A small but audible voice told him he had
behaved badly, but stubborn pride stopped his ear. What right did he
have to accuse her? In a worldly sense, at least, she might fare well if
she chose the Secretary.

There was quite a crowd in the lobby of the Spotswood Hotel next
morning, gathered there to talk, after the Southern habit, when there is
nothing pressing to be done, and conspicuous in it were the editors,
Raymond and Winthrop, whom Prescott had not seen in months and who now
received him with warmth.

"How's the _Patriot_?" asked Prescott of Raymond.

"The _Patriot_ is resting just now," replied Raymond quietly.

"How is that--no news?"

"Oh, there's plenty of news, but there's no paper. I did have a little,
but Winthrop was short on a supply for an edition of his own sheet, and
he begged so hard that I let him have mine. That's what I call true
professional courtesy."

"The paper was so bad that it crumbled all to pieces a day after
printing," said Winthrop.

"So much the better," replied Raymond. "In fact, a day is much too long
a life for such a sheet as Winthrop prints."

The others laughed and the talk returned to the course from which it had
been taken for a moment by the arrival of Prescott. Conspicuous in the
crowd was the Member of Congress, Redfield, not at all improved in
appearance since the spring. His face was redder, heavier and coarser
than ever.

"I tell you it is so," he said oratorically and dogmatically to the
others. "The Secretary is in love with her. He was in love with Helen
Harley once, but now he has changed over to the other one."

Prescott shifted uneasily. Here was the name of the Secretary dogging
him and in a connection that he liked least of all.

"It's the 'Beautiful Yankee,' then," said another, a young man named
Garvin, who aspired eagerly to the honours of a ladykiller. "I don't
blame him. You don't see such a face and figure more than once in a
lifetime. I've been thinking of going in there myself and giving the
Secretary something to do."

He flecked a speck of dust off his embroidered waistcoat and exuded
vanity. Prescott would have gone away at once, but such an act would
have had an obvious meaning--the last thing that he desired, and he
stayed, hoping that the current of talk would float to a new topic.
Winthrop and Raymond glanced at him, knowing the facts of the Wilderness
and of the retreat that followed, but they said nothing.

"I think that the Secretary or anybody else should go slow with this
Yankee girl," said Redfield. "Who is she--and what is she? Where did she
come from? She drifted in with the army after the battles in the
Wilderness and that's all we know."

"It's enough," said Garvin; "because it makes a delightful mystery which
but adds to the 'Beautiful Yankee's' attractions. The Secretary is far
gone there. I happen to know that he is to take her to the President's
reception to-morrow night."

Prescott started. He was glad now that he had not humbled himself.

"At any rate," said Redfield, "Mr. Sefton can't mean to marry her--an
unknown like that; it must be something else."

Prescott felt hot pincers grip him around the heart, and a passion that
he could not control flamed to his brain. He strode forward and put his
hand heavily on the Member's shoulder.

"Are you speaking of Miss Catherwood?" he demanded.

"I am," replied Redfield, throwing off the heavy hand. "But what
business is that of yours?"

"Simply this; that she is too good and noble a woman to be spoken of
slightingly by you. Such remarks as you have just made you repeat at
your risk."

Redfield made an angry reply and there were all the elements of a fierce
encounter; but Raymond interfered.

"Redfield," he said, "you are wrong, and moreover you owe all of us an
apology for speaking in such a way of a lady in our presence. I fully
indorse all that Captain Prescott says of Miss Catherwood--I happen to
have seen instances of her glorious unselfishness and sacrifice, and I
know that she is one of God's most nearly perfect women."

"And so do I," said Winthrop, "and I," "and I," said the others.
Redfield saw that the crowd was unanimously against him and frowned.

"Oh, well, perhaps I spoke hastily and carelessly," he said. "I
apologize."

Raymond changed the talk at once.

"When do you think Grant will advance again?" he asked.

"Advance?" replied Winthrop hotly. "Advance? Why, he can't advance."

"But he came through the Wilderness."

"If he did he lost a hundred thousand men, more than Lee had altogether,
and now he's checkmated."

"He'll never see Richmond unless he comes to Libby," said Redfield
coarsely.

"I'm not so sure," said Raymond gravely. "Whatever we say to the people
and however we try to hold up their courage, we ought not to conceal the
facts from ourselves. The ports of the Confederacy are sealed up by the
Yankee cruisers. We have been shattered down South and here we are
blockaded in Richmond and Petersburg. It takes a cartload of our money
to buy a paper collar and then it's a poor collar. When I bring out the
next issue of my newspaper--and I don't know when that will be--I shall
say that the prospects of the Confederacy were never brighter; but I
warn you right now, gentlemen, that I shall not believe a single one of
my own words."

Thus they talked, but Prescott did not follow them, his mind dwelling on
Lucia and the Secretary. He was affected most unpleasantly by what he
had heard and sorry now that he had come to the hotel. When he could
conveniently do so he excused himself and went home.

He was gloomier than ever at supper and his mother uttered a mild jest
or two on his state of mind.

"You must have failed to find any friends in the city," she said.

"I found too many," he replied. "I went to the Spotswood Hotel, mother,
and I listened there to some tiresome talk about whipping the Yankees
out of their boots in the next five minutes."

"Aren't you going to do it?"

Prescott laughed.

"Mother," he said, "I wouldn't have your divided heart for anything. It
must cause you a terrible lot of worry."

"I do very well," she said, with her quiet smile, "and I cherish no
illusions."



CHAPTER XXVI

CALYPSO


It was announced that the presidential reception on the following
evening would be of special dignity and splendour, and it was thought
the part of duty by all who were of consequence in Richmond to attend
and make a brave show before the world. Mr. Davis, at the futile peace
conference in the preceding July, had sought to impress upon the
Northern delegates the superior position of the South. "It was true," he
said, "that Sherman was before Atlanta, but what matter if he took it?
the world must have the Southern cotton crop, and with such an asset the
Southern Republic must stand." He was not inclined now to withdraw in
any particular from this position, and his people stood solidly behind
him.

Prescott, as he prepared for the evening, had much of the same spirit,
although his was now a feeling of personal defiance toward a group of
persons rather than toward the North in general.

"Are you going alone?" asked his mother.

"Why, yes, mother, unless you will go with me, and I know you won't.
Whom else could I ask?"

"I thought that you might take Miss Catherwood," she replied without
evasion.

"No chance there," replied Prescott, with a light laugh.

"Why not?"

"Miss Catherwood would scorn a humble individual like myself. The
'Beautiful Yankee' looks far higher. She will be escorted to-night by
the brilliant, the accomplished, the powerful and subtle gentleman, the
Honourable James Sefton."

"You surprise me!" said his mother, and her look was indeed full of
astonishment and inquiry, as if some plan of hers had gone astray.

"I have heard the Secretary's name mentioned once or twice in connection
with hers," she said, "but I did not know that his attentions had
shifted completely from Helen Harley. Men are indeed changeable
creatures."

"Are you just discovering that, at your age, mother?" asked Prescott
lightly.

"I believe Lucia Catherwood too noble a woman to love a man like James
Sefton," she said.

"Why, what do you know of Miss Catherwood?"

His mother did not answer him, and presently Prescott went to the
reception, but early as he was, Colonel Harley, the two editors and
others were there before him. Colonel Harley, as Raymond termed it, was
"extremely peacocky." He wore his most gorgeous raiment and in addition
he was clothed about with vanity. Already he was whispering in the ear
of Mrs. Markham, who had renewed her freshness, her youth and her
liveliness.

"If I were General Markham," said Raymond cynically, "I'd detail a guard
of my most faithful soldiers to stand about my wife."

"Do you think she needs all that protection?" asked Winthrop.

"Well, no, _she_ doesn't need it, but it may save others," replied
Raymond with exceeding frankness.

Winthrop merely laughed and did not dispute the comment. The next
arrival of importance was that of Helen Harley and General Wood. Colonel
Harley frowned, but his sister's eyes did not meet his, and the look of
the mountaineer was so lofty and fearless that he was a bold man indeed
who would have challenged him even with a frown. Helen was all in white,
and to Prescott she seemed some summer flower, so pure, so snowy and so
gentle was she. But the General, acting upon Prescott's advice, had
evidently taken his courage in his hands and arrayed himself as one who
hoped to conquer. His gigantic figure was enclosed for the first time
since Prescott had known him in a well-fitting uniform, and his great
black mane of hair and beard had been trimmed by one who knew his
business. The effect was striking and picturesque. Prescott remembered
to have read long ago in a child's book of natural history that the
black-maned lion was the loftiest and boldest of his kind, and General
Wood seemed to him now to be the finest of the black-maned lions.

There was a shade of embarrassment in the manner of Helen Harley when
she greeted Prescott. She, too, had recollections; perhaps she had
fancied once, like Prescott, that she loved when she did not love. But
her hesitation was over in a moment and she held out her hand warmly.

"We heard of your return from the South," she said. "Why haven't you
been to see us?"

Prescott made some excuse about the pressure of duty, and then, bearing
his friend's interest in mind, spoke of General Wood, who was now in
conversation some distance away with the President himself.

"I believe that General Wood is to-night the most magnificent figure in
the South," he said. "It is well that Mr. Davis greets him warmly. He
ought to. No man under the rank of General Lee has done more for the
Confederacy."

His voice had all the accent of sincerity and Helen looked up at him,
thanking him silently with her eyes.

"Then you like General Wood," she said.

"I am proud to have him as a friend and I should dislike very much to
have him as an enemy."

Richmond in its best garb and with its bravest face was now arriving
fast, and Prescott drifted with some of his friends into one of the
smaller parlours. When he returned to the larger room it was crowded,
and many voices mingled there. But all noise ceased suddenly and then in
the hush some one said: "There she comes!" Prescott knew who was meant
and his anger hardened in him.

Miss Catherwood was looking unusually well, and even those who had
dubbed her "The Beautiful Yankee" added another superlative adjective. A
spot of bright red burned in either cheek and she held her head very
high. "How haughty she is!" Prescott heard some one say. Her height,
her figure, her look lent colour to the comment.

Her glance met Prescott's and she bowed to him, as to any other man whom
she knew, and then with the Secretary beside her, obviously proud of the
lady with whom he had come, she received the compliments of her host.

Lucia Catherwood did not seem to be conscious that everybody was looking
at her, yet she knew it well and realized that the gaze was a singular
mixture of curiosity, like and dislike. It could not well be otherwise,
where there was so much beauty to inspire admiration or jealousy and
where there were sentiments known to be different from those of all the
others present. A mystery as tantalizing as it was seductive, together
with a faint touch of scandal which some had contrived to blow upon her
name, though not enough really to injure her as yet, sufficed to give a
spice to the conversation when she was its subject.

The President engaged her in talk for a few minutes. He himself, clad in
a grayish-brown suit of foreign manufacture, was looking thin and old,
the slight stoop in his shoulders showing perceptibly. But he brightened
up with Southern gallantry as he talked to Miss Catherwood. He seemed to
find an attraction not only in her beauty and dignity, but in her
opinions as well and the ease with which she expressed them. He held her
longer than any other guest, and Mr. Sefton was the third of three,
facile, smiling, explaining how they wished to make a convert of Miss
Catherwood and yet expected to do so. Here in Richmond, surrounded by
truth and with her eyes open to it, she must soon see the error of her
ways; he, James Sefton, would vouch for it.

"I have no doubt, Mr. Sefton, that you will contribute to that end,"
said the President.

She was the centre of a group presently, and the group included the
Secretary, Redfield, Garvin and two or three Europeans then visiting in
Richmond. Prescott, afar in a corner of the room, watched her covertly.
She was animated by some unusual spirit and her eyes were brilliant; her
speech, too, was scintillating. The little circle sparkled with
laughter and jest. They undertook to taunt her, though with good humour,
on her Northern sympathies, and she replied in like vein, meeting all
their arguments and predicting the fall of Richmond.

"Then, Miss Catherwood, we shall all come to you for a written
protection," said Garvin.

"Oh, I shall grant it," she said. "The Union will have nothing to fear
from you."

But Garvin, unabashed at the general laugh on himself, returned to the
charge. Prescott wandered farther away and presently was talking to Mrs.
Markham, Harley being held elsewhere by bonds of courtesy that he could
not break. Thus eddies of the crowd cast these two, as it were, upon a
rock where they must find solace in each other or not at all.

Mrs. Markham was a woman of wit and beauty. Prescott often had remarked
it, but never with such a realizing sense. She was young, graceful, and
with a face sufficiently supplied with natural roses, and above all keen
with intelligence. She wore a shade of light green, a colour that
harmonized wonderfully with the green tints that lurked here and there
in the depths of her eyes, and once when she gazed thoughtfully at her
hand Prescott noticed that it was very white and well shaped. Well,
Harley was at least a man of taste.

Mrs. Markham was pliable, insinuating and complimentary. She was
smitten, too, by a sudden mad desire. Always she was alive with coquetry
to her finger tips, and to-night she was aflame with it. But this quiet,
grave young man hitherto had seemed to her unapproachable. She used to
believe him in love with Helen Harley; now she fancied him in love with
some one else, and she knew his present frame of mind to be vexed
irritation. Difficult conquests are those most valued, and here she saw
an opportunity. He was so different from the others, too, that, wearied
of easy victories, all her fighting blood was aroused.

Mrs. Markham was adroit, and did not begin by flattering too much nor by
attacking any other woman. She was quietly sympathetic, spoke guardedly
of Prescott's services in the war, and made a slight allusion to his
difference in temperament from so many of the careless young men who
fought without either forethought or present thought.

Prescott found her presence soothing; her quiet words smoothed away his
irritation, and gradually, without knowing why, he began to have a
better opinion of himself. He wondered at his own stupidity in not
having noticed before what an admirable woman was Mrs. Markham, how much
superior to others and how beautiful. He saw the unsurpassed curve of
her white arm where the sleeve fell back, and there were wonderful green
tints lurking in the depths of her eyes. After all, he could not blame
Harley--at least, for admiration.

They passed into one of the smaller rooms and Prescott's sense of
satisfaction increased. Here was one woman, and a woman of beauty and
wit, too, who could appreciate him. They sat unnoticed in a corner and
grew confidential. Once or twice she carelessly placed her hand upon his
coat sleeve, but let it rest there only for a moment, and on each
occasion he noticed that the hand and wrist were entirely worthy of the
arm. It was a small hand, but the fingers were long, tapering and very
white, each terminating in a rosy nail. Her face was close to his, and
now and then he felt her light breath on his cheek. A thrill ran through
his blood. It was very pleasant to sit in the smile of a witty and
beautiful woman.

He looked up; Lucia Catherwood was passing on the arm of a Confederate
general and for a moment her eyes flashed fire, but afterward became
cold and unmoved. Her face was blank as a stone as she moved on, while
Prescott sat red and confused. Mrs. Markham, seeming not to notice,
spoke of Miss Catherwood, and she did not make the mistake of
criticizing her.

"The 'Beautiful Yankee' deserves her name," she said. "I know of no
other woman who could become a veritable Helen of Troy if she would."

"If she would," repeated Prescott; "but will she?"

"That I do not know."

"But I know," said Prescott recklessly; "I think she will."

Mrs. Markham did not reply. She was still the sympathetic friend,
disagreeing just enough to incite triumphant and forgiving opposition.

"Even if she should, I do not know that I could wholly blame her," she
said. "I fancy that it is not easy for any woman of great beauty to
concentrate her whole devotion on one man. It must seem to her that she
is giving too much to an individual, however good he may be."

"Do you feel that way about it yourself, Mrs. Markham?"

"I said a woman of great beauty."

"It is the same."

Her serenity was not at all disturbed and her hand rested lightly on his
arm once more.

"You are a foolish boy," she said. "When you pay compliments, do not pay
them in such blunt fashion."

"I could not help it; I had too good an excuse."

She smiled slightly.

"Southern men are clever at flattery," she said, "and the Northern men,
they say, are not; perhaps on that account those of the North are more
sincere."

"But we of the South often mean what we say, nevertheless."

Had Prescott been watching her face, he might have seen a slight change
of expression, a momentary look of alarm in the green depths of the
eyes--some one else was passing--but in another instant her face was as
calm, as angelic as ever.

She spoke of Helen Harley and her brave struggle, the evident devotion
of General Wood, and the mixed comment with which it was received.

"Will he win her?" asked Prescott.

"I do not know; but somebody should rescue her from that selfish old
father of hers. He claims to be the perfect type of the true Southern
gentleman--he will tell you so if you ask him--but if he is, I prefer
that the rest of the world should judge the South by a false type."

"But General Wood is not without rivals," said Prescott. "I have often
thought that he had one of the most formidable kind in the Secretary,
Mr. Sefton."

He awaited her answer with eagerness. She was a woman of penetrating
mind and what she said would be worth considering. Regarding him again
with that covert glance, she saw anxiety trembling on his lips and she
replied deliberately:

"The Secretary himself is another proof why a woman of beauty should not
concentrate all her devotion on one man. You have seen him to-night and
his assiduous attention to another woman. Captain Prescott, all men are
fickle--with a few exceptions, perhaps."

She gave him her most stimulating glance, a look tipped with flame,
which said even to a dull intelligence--and Prescott's was not--that he
was one of the few, the rare exceptions. As her talk became more
insinuating her hand touched his arm and rested there ten seconds where
it had rested but five before. Again he felt her breath lightly on his
cheek and he noticed how finely arched and seductive was the curve of
her long yellow lashes. He had felt embarrassed and ashamed when Lucia
Catherwood saw him there in an attitude of devotion to Mrs. Markham, but
that sensation was giving way to stubbornness and anger. If Lucia should
turn to some one else why might not he do the same?

Yielding himself to the charms of a perfect face, a low and modulated
voice and a mind that never mistook flippancy and triviality for wit, he
met her everywhere on common ground, and she wondered why she had not
seen the attractions of this grave, quiet young man long before! Surely
such a conquest--and she was not certain yet that it was achieved--was
worth a half-dozen victories of the insipid and over-easy kind.

An hour later Prescott was with Lucia for a few minutes, and although no
one else was within hearing, their conversation was formal and
conventional to the last degree. She spoke of the pleasure of the
evening, the brave show made by the Confederacy despite the pressure of
the Northern armies, and her admiration for a spirit so gallant. He paid
her a few empty compliments, told her she was the shining light among
lesser lights, and presently he passed out. He noticed, however, that
she was, indeed, as he had said so lightly, the star of the evening. The
group around her never thinned, and not only were they admiring, but
were anxious to match wits with her. The men of Richmond applauded, as
one by one each of them was worsted in the encounter; at least, they had
company in defeat, and, after all, defeat at such hands was rather more
to be desired than victory. When Prescott left she was still a centre of
attraction.

Prescott, full of bitterness and having no other way of escape from his
entanglement, asked to be sent at once to his regiment in the trenches
before Petersburg, but the request was denied him, as it was likely, so
he was told, that he would be needed again in Richmond. He said nothing
to his mother of his desire to go again to the front, but she saw that
he was restless and uneasy, although she asked no questions.

He had ample cause to regret the refusal of the authorities to accede to
his wish, when rumour and vague innuendo concerning himself and Mrs.
Markham came to his ears. He wondered that so much had been made of a
mere passing incident, but he forgot that his fortunes were intimately
connected with those of many others. He passed Harley once in the
streets and the flamboyant soldier favoured him with a stare so insolent
and persistent that his wrath rose, and he did not find it easy to
refrain from a quarrel; but he remembered how many names besides his own
would be dragged into such an affair, and passed on.

Helen Harley, too, showed coldness toward him, and Prescott began to
have the worst of all feelings--the one of lonesomeness and
abandonment--as if every man's hand was against him. It begot pride,
stubbornness and defiance in him, and he was in this frame of mind when
Mrs. Markham, driving her Accomack pony, which somehow had survived a
long period of war's dangers, nodded cheerily to him and threw him a
warm and ingratiating smile. It was like a shaft of sunshine on a wintry
day, and he responded so beamingly that she stopped by the sidewalk and
suggested that he get into the carriage with her. It was done with such
lightness and grace that he scarcely noticed it was an invitation, the
request seeming to come from himself.

It was a small vehicle with a narrow seat, and they were compelled to
sit so close together that he felt the softness and warmth of her body.
He was compelled, too, to confess that Mrs. Markham was as attractive by
daylight as by lamplight. A fur jacket and a dark dress, both
close-fitting, did not conceal the curves of her trim figure. Her cheeks
were glowing red with the rapid motion and the touch of a frosty
morning, and the curve of long eyelashes did not wholly hide a pair of
eyes that with tempting glances could draw on the suspecting and the
unsuspecting alike. Mrs. Markham never looked better, never fresher,
never more seductive than on that morning, and Prescott felt, with a
sudden access of pride, that this delightful woman really liked him and
considered him worth while. That was a genuine tribute and it did not
matter why she liked him.

"May I take the reins?" he asked.

"Oh, no," she replied, giving him one more of those dazzling smiles.
"You would not rob me, would you? I fancy that I look well driving and I
also get the credit for spirit. I am going shopping. It may seem strange
to you that there is anything left in Richmond to buy or anything to buy
it with, but the article that I am in search of is a paper of pins, and
I think I have enough money to pay for it."

"I don't know about that," said Prescott. "My friend Talbot gave five
hundred dollars for a paper collar. That was last year, and paper
collars must be dearer now. So I imagine that your paper of pins will
cost at least two thousand dollars."

"I am not so foolish as to go shopping with our Confederate money. I
carry gold," she replied. With her disengaged hand she tapped a little
purse she carried in her pocket and it gave forth an opulent tinkle.

She was driving rapidly, chattering incessantly, but in such a gay and
light fashion that Prescott's attention never wandered from herself--the
red glow of her cheeks, the changing light of her eyes and the
occasional gleam of white teeth as her lips parted in a laugh. Thus he
did not notice that she was taking him by a long road, and that one or
two whom they passed on the street looked after them in meaning fashion.

Prescott was not in love with Mrs. Markham, but he was charmed. Hers was
a soft and soothing touch after a hard blow. A healing hand was
outstretched to him by a beautiful woman who would be adorable to make
love to--if she did not already belong to another man, such an old
curmudgeon as General Markham, too! How tightly curled the tiny ringlets
on her neck! He was sitting so close that he could not help seeing them
and now and then they moved lightly under his breath.

He remembered that they were a long time in reaching the shop, but he
did not care and said nothing. When they arrived at last she asked him
to hold the lines while she went inside. She returned in a few minutes
and triumphantly held up a small package.

"See," she said, "I have made my purchase, but it was the last they had,
and no one can say when Richmond will be able to import another paper of
pins. Maybe we shall have to ask General Grant."

"And then he won't let us," said Prescott.

She laughed and glanced up at him from under the long, curling
eyelashes. The green tints showed faintly in her eyes and were
singularly seductive. She made no effort to conceal her high good
humour, and Prescott now and then felt her warm breath on his cheek as
she turned to speak to him in intimate fashion.

She drove back by a road not the same, but as long as before, and
Prescott found it all too short. His gloom fled away before her flow of
spirits, her warm and intimate manner, and the town, though under gray
November skies, became vivid with light and colour.

"Do you know," she said, "that the Mosaic Club meets again to-night and
perhaps for the last time? Are you not coming?"

"I am not invited."

"But I invite you. I have full authority as a member and an official of
the club."

"I'm all alone," said Prescott.

"And so am I," said she. "The General, you know, is at the front, and no
one has been polite enough yet to ask to take me."

Her look met his with a charming innocence like that of a young girl,
but the lurking green depths were in her eyes and Prescott felt a thrill
despite himself.

"Why not," was his thought. "All the others have cast me aside. She
chooses me. If I am to be attacked on Mrs. Markham's account--well, I'll
give them reason for it."

The defiant spirit was speaking then, and he said aloud:

"If two people are alone they should go together and then they won't be
alone any more. You have invited me to the club to-night, Mrs. Markham,
now double your benefaction and let me take you there."

"On one condition," she said, "that we go in my pony carriage. We need
no groom. The pony will stand all night in front of Mr. Peyton's house
if necessary. Come at eight o'clock."

Before she reached her home she spoke of Lucia Catherwood as one comes
to a subject in the course of a random conversation, and connected her
name with that of the Secretary in such a manner that Prescott felt a
thrill of anger rise, not against Mrs. Markham, but against Lucia and
Mr. Sefton. The remark was quite innocent in appearance, but it
coincided so well with his own state of mind in regard to the two that
it came to him like a truth.

"The Secretary is very much in love with the 'Beautiful Yankee,'" said
Mrs. Markham. "He thought once that he was in love with Helen Harley,
but his imagination deceived him. Even so keen a man as the Secretary
can deceive himself in regard to the gossamer affair that we call love,
but his infatuation with Lucia Catherwood is genuine."

"Will he win her?" asked Prescott. Despite himself, his heart throbbed
as he waited for her answer.

"I do not know," she replied; "but any woman may be won if a man only
knows the way of winning."

"A Delphic utterance, if ever there was one," he said, and laughed
partly in relief. She had not said that Mr. Sefton would win her.

He left Mrs. Markham at her door and went home, informing his mother by
and by that he was going to a meeting of the Mosaic Club in the evening.

"I am to take a lady," he said.

"A very natural thing for a young man to do," she replied, smiling at
him. "Who is it to be, Miss Catherwood or Miss Harley?"

"Neither."

"Neither?"

"No; I am in bad grace with both. The lady whom I am to have the honour,
the privilege, etc., of escorting is Mrs. Markham."

Her face fell.

"I am sorry to hear it," she said frankly.

Prescott, for the first time since his childhood, felt some anger toward
his mother.

"Why not, mother?" he asked. "We are all a great family here together in
Richmond. Why, if you trace it back you'll probably find that every one
of us is blood kin to every other one. Mrs. Markham is a woman of wit
and beauty, and the honour and privilege of which I spoke so jestingly
is a real honour and privilege."

"She is a married woman, my son, and not careful enough of her actions."

Prescott was silent. He felt a marked shyness in discussing such
questions with his mother, but his obstinacy and pride remained even in
her mild presence. A few hours later he put on his cloak and went out in
the twilight, walking swiftly toward the well-kept red brick house of
General Charles Markham. A coloured maid received him and took him into
the parlour, but all was well-ordered and conventional. Mrs. Markham
came in before the maid went out and detained her with small duties
about the room.

Prescott looked around at the apartment and its comfort, even luxury.
Report had not wronged General Markham when it accused him of having a
quarter-master's interest in his own fortunes. It was not her fault that
she became it all wonderfully well, but even as he admired her he
wondered how another would look in the midst of this dusky red luxury;
another with the ease and grace of Mrs. Markham herself, with the same
air of perfect finish, but taller, of more sumptuous build and with a
nobler face. She, too, would move with soundless steps over the dark red
carpet, and were she sitting there before the fire, with the glow of the
coals falling at her feet, the room would need no other presence.

"A penny for your thoughts, Mr. Wise Man," she said.

"My reward should be greater," he said, fibbing without conscience,
"because I was thinking of you."

"In that event we should be starting," she said lightly. "Ben Butler and
the family coach are at the door, and if you deem yourself capable of
it, Sir Knight, I think that I shall let you drive this evening."

"He would be a poor captain who could not guide a vessel with such a
precious cargo," said Prescott gallantly.

"You forget that you are a part of the cargo."

"But I don't count. Again it was you of whom I was thinking."

She settled herself in the phaeton beside him--very close; it could not
be otherwise--and Ben Butler, the Accomack pony, obedient to the will of
Prescott, rattled away through the street. He recalled how long she had
been in reaching the shop by day, and how long also in returning, and
now the spirit of wickedness lay hold of him; he would do likewise. He
knew well where the house of Daniel Peyton stood, having been in it many
times before the war, but he chose a course toward it that bent like the
curve of a semicircle, and the innocent woman beside him took no notice.

The night was dark and frosty, with a wind out of the northwest that
moaned among the housetops, but Prescott, with a beautiful woman by his
side, was warm and cozy in the phaeton. With her dark wrap and the dark
of the night around them she was almost invisible save her face, in
which her eyes, with the lurking green shadows yet in them, shone when
she looked up at him.

Ben Butler was a capable pony and he paid habitual deference to the
wishes of his mistress--the result of long training. As he progressed at
a gentle walk Prescott scarcely needed one hand for his guidance. It was
this lack of occupation that caused the other to wander into dangerous
proximity to the neat and well-gloved fingers of Mrs. Markham, which
were not far away in the first place.

"You should not do that," she said, removing her hand, but Prescott was
not sorry--he did not forget the thrill given him by the pleasant
contact, and he was neither apologetic nor humble. The lady was not too
angry, but there appeared to Prescott a reproachful shadow--that of
another woman, taller and nobler of face and manner, and despite his
manhood years he blushed in the darkness. A period of constraint
followed; and he was so silent, so undemonstrative that the lady gave
him a glance of surprise. Her hand strayed back to its former place of
easy approach, but Prescott was busy with Ben Butler, and he yielded
only when she placed her hand upon his arm, being forced by a sudden
jolt of the phaeton to lean more closely against him. But, fortunately
or unfortunately, they were now in front of the Peyton house, and lights
were shining from every window.

Prescott stepped out of the phaeton and tied Ben Butler to the
hitching-post. Then he assisted Mrs. Markham to the ground and together
the two entered the portico.

"We are late," said Prescott, and he felt annoyance because of it.

"It does not matter," she said lightly, feeling no annoyance at all.

He knew that their late entrance would attract marked notice to them,
and now he felt a desire to avoid such attention; but she would make of
it a special event, a function. Despite Prescott's efforts, she
marshaled himself and herself in such masterly fashion that every eye in
the room was upon them as they entered, and none could help noticing
that they came as an intimate pair--or at least the skilful lady made it
seem so.

These two were the last--all the members of the club and their guests
were already there, and despite the bond of fellowship and union among
them many eyebrows were lifted and some asides were spoken as Mrs.
Markham and Prescott arrived in this fashion.

Lucia Catherwood was present--Raymond had brought her--but she took no
notice, though her bearing was high and her colour brilliant. Some one
had prepared her for this evening with careful and loving hands--perhaps
it was Miss Grayson. All the minute touches that count for so much were
there, and in her eyes was some of the bold and reckless spirit that
Prescott himself had been feeling for the last day or two.

This little company had less of partisan rancour, less of sectional
feeling, than any other in Richmond, and that night they made the
beautiful Yankee their willing queen. She fell in with their spirit:
there was nothing that she did not share and lead. She improvised
rhymes, deciphered puzzles and prepared others of her own that rivaled
in ingenuity the best of Randolph or Caskie or Latham or McCarty or any
of the other clever leaders of this bright company. Prescott saw the wit
and beauty of Mrs. Markham pale before this brighter sun, and the
Secretary seemed to be the chosen favourite of Miss Catherwood. He
warmed under her favouring glance, and he, too, brought forth ample
measure from the store of his wit.

Harley was there in splendid uniform, as always, but somber and
brooding. Prescott clearly saw danger on the man's brow, but a threat,
even one unspoken, always served to arouse him, and he returned with
renewed devotion to Mrs. Markham. His growing dislike for Harley was
tinctured with a strain of contempt. He accused the man's vanity and
selfishness, but he forgot at the same moment that he was falling into
the same pit.

The men presently withdrew for a few moments into the next room, where
the host had prepared something to drink, and a good-natured, noisy
crowd was gathered around the table. The noisiest of them all was
Harley, whose manner was aggressive and whose face was inflamed, as if
he had made himself an undisputed champion at the bowl. The Secretary
was there, too, saying nothing, his thin lips wrinkled in a slight smile
of satisfaction. He was often pleased with himself, rarely more so than
to-night, with the memory of Lucia Catherwood's glorious brow and eyes
and the obvious favour that she showed him. He was a fit mate for her,
and she must see it. Wisdom and love should go together. Truly, all
things were moving well with him, he repeated in his thought. Prescott
was following the very course he would have chosen for him, kneeling at
Mrs. Markham's feet as if she were a new Calypso. The man whom he knew
to be his rival was about to embroil himself with everybody.

If he wanted more evidence of his last inference, Harley of the inflamed
face and threatening brow was quick to furnish it. When Prescott came in
Harley took another long draught and said to the crowd:

"I have a pretty bit of gossip for you, gentlemen."

"What is it?" asked Randolph, and all looked up, eager to hear any fresh
and interesting news.

"It's the story of the spy who was here last winter," replied Harley.
"The romance, rather, because that spy, as all of you know, was a woman.
The story will not down. It keeps coming up, although we have a great
war all about us, and I hear that the Government, so long on a blind
trial, has at last struck the right one."

"Indeed," said Randolph, with increased interest. "What is it? The
answer to that puzzle has always bothered me."

"They say that the spy was a woman of great beauty, and she found it
impossible to escape from Richmond until an officer of ours, yielding to
her claims, helped her through the lines. I'll wager that he took full
pay for his trouble."

"His honour against hers," said some one.

Harley laughed coarsely.

Prescott became deathly white. He would have fought a duel then with
Harley--on the instant. All the Puritan training given him by his mother
and his own civilized instincts were swept away by a sudden overwhelming
rush of passion.

His colour came back and none noticed its momentary loss, all eyes being
on Harley. Prescott glanced at Mr. Sefton, but the Secretary remained
calm, composed and smiling, listening to Harley with the same air of
interested curiosity shown by the others. Prescott saw it all with a
flash of intuition; the Secretary had given Harley a hint, just a vague
generalization, within the confines of truth, but without any
names--enough to make those concerned uneasy, but not enough to put the
power in any hands save those of the Secretary. Harley himself confirmed
this by continuing the subject, though somewhat uncertainly, as if he
were no longer sure of his facts.

It occurred to Prescott that he might borrow this man's own weapons and
fight him with the cold brain and craft that had proved so effective
against himself, Robert Prescott. But when he turned to look at the
Secretary he found Mr. Sefton looking at him. A glance that was a
mingling of fire and steel passed between the two; it was also a look
of understanding. Prescott knew and the Secretary saw that he knew. In
the bosom of James Sefton respect rose high for the young man whom he
had begun to hold rather cheap lately. His antagonist was entirely
worthy of him.

Harley rambled on. He looked uncertainly now and then at Prescott, as if
he believed him to be the traitorous officer and would provoke him into
reply; but Prescott's face was a perfect mask, and his manner careless
and indifferent. The suspicions of the others were not aroused, and
Harley was not well enough informed to go further; but his look whenever
it fell on Robert was full of hatred, and Prescott marked it well.

"What do you think of a fellow who would do such a thing?" asked Harley
at last.

"I've a pretty good opinion of him," said Raymond quietly.

"You have?" exclaimed Harley.

"I have," repeated Raymond; "and I'm willing to say it before a man high
in the Government, like Mr. Sefton here. Are all the powers of the
Confederate Government to be gathered for the purpose of making war on
one poor lone woman? Suppose we whip Grant first and bother about the
woman afterward. I think I'll write an editorial on the Government's
lack of chivalry--that is, I will when I get enough paper to print it
on, but I don't know when that will be. However, I'll keep it in mind
till that time arrives."

"I think you are wrong," said the Secretary smoothly, as one who
discusses ethics and not personalities. "This man had his duty to do,
and however small that duty may have been, he should have done it."

"You generalize, and since you are laying down a rule, you are right,"
said Raymond. "But this is a particular case and an exception. We owe
some duties to the feminine gender as well as to patriotism. The greater
shouldn't always be swallowed up in the lesser."

There was a laugh, and Winthrop suggested that, as they were talking of
the ladies, they return to them. On the way Prescott casually joined the
Secretary.

"Can I see you in the office to-morrow, Mr. Sefton?" he asked.

"Certainly," replied the Secretary. "Will three in the afternoon do?
Alone, I suppose?"

"Thank you," said Prescott. "Three in the afternoon and alone will do."

Both spoke quietly, but the swift look of understanding passed once
more. Then they rejoined the ladies.

Prescott had not spoken to Lucia Catherwood in the whole course of the
evening, but now he sought her. Some of the charm which Mrs. Markham so
lately had for him was passing; in the presence of Lucia she seemed less
fair, less winning, less true. His own conduct appeared to him in
another light, and he would turn aside from his vagrant fancy to the one
to whom his heart was yet loyal. But he found no chance to speak to her
alone. The club by spontaneous agreement had chosen to make her its
heroine that night, and Prescott was permitted to be one of the circle,
nothing more. As such she spoke to him occasionally as she would to
others--chance remarks without colour or emphasis, apparently directed
toward him because he happened to be sitting at that particular point,
and not because of his personality.

Prescott chafed and sought to better his position, wishing to have an
individuality of his own in her regard; but he could not change the
colourless rôle which she assigned him. So he became silent, speaking
only when some remark was obviously intended for him, and watched her
face and expression. He had always told himself that her dominant
characteristic was strength, power of will, endurance; but now as he
looked he saw once or twice a sudden droop, faint but discernible, as if
for a flitting moment she grew too weak for her burden. Prescott felt a
great access of pity and tenderness. She was in a position into which
no woman should be forced, and she was assailed on all sides by danger.
Her very name was at the mercy of the Secretary, and now Harley with his
foolish talk might at any time bring an avalanche down upon her. He
himself had treated her badly, and would help her if he could. He turned
to find Mrs. Markham at his elbow.

"We are going in to supper," she said, "and you will have to take me."

Thus they passed in before Lucia Catherwood's eyes, but she looked over
them and came presently with Raymond.

That was a lean supper--the kitchens of Richmond in the last year of the
war provided little; but Prescott was unhappy for another reason. He was
there with Mrs. Markham, and she seemed to claim him as her own before
all those, save his mother, for whom he cared most. General Wood and
Helen Harley were across the table, her pure eyes looking up with
manifest pleasure into the dark ones of the leader, which could shine so
fiercely on the battlefield but were now so soft. Once Prescott caught
the General's glance and it was full of wonder; intrigue and the cross
play of feminine purposes were unknown worlds to the simple mountaineer.

Prescott passed from silence to a feverish and uncertain gaiety, talking
more than any one at the table, an honour that he seldom coveted. Some
of his jests and epigrams were good and more were bad; but all passed
current at such a time, and Mrs. Markham, who was never at a loss for
something to say, seconded him in able fashion. The Secretary, listening
and looking, smiled quietly. "Gone to his head; foolish fellow," was
what his manner clearly expressed. Prescott himself saw it at last and
experienced a sudden check, remembering his resolve to fight this man
with his own weapons, while here he was only an hour later behaving like
a wild boy on his first escapade. He passed at once from garrulity to
silence, and the contrast was so marked that the glances exchanged by
the others increased.

Prescott was still taciturn when at a late hour he helped Mrs. Markham
into the phaeton and they started to her home. He fully expected that
Harley would overtake him when he turned away from her house and seek a
quarrel, but the fear of physical harm scarcely entered into his mind.
It was the gossip and the linking of names in the gossip that troubled
him.

Mrs. Markham sat as close to him as ever--the little phaeton had grown
no wider--but though he felt again her warm breath on his cheek, no
pulse stirred.

"Why are you so silent, Captain Prescott?" she asked. "Are you thinking
of Lucia Catherwood?"

"Yes," he replied frankly, "I was."

She glanced up at him, but his face was hidden in the darkness.

"She was looking very beautiful to-night," she said, "and she was
supreme; all the men--and must I say it, all of us women,
too--acknowledged her rule. But I do not wonder that she attracts the
masculine mind--her beauty, her bearing, her mysterious past, constitute
the threefold charm to which all of you men yield, Captain Prescott. I
wish I knew her history."

"It could be to her credit only," said Prescott.

She glanced up at him again, and now the moonlight falling on his face
enabled her to see it set and firm, and Mrs. Markham felt that there had
been a change. He was not the same man who had come with her to the
meeting of the club, but she was not a woman to relinquish easily a
conquest or a half-conquest, and she called to her aid all the art of a
strong and cultivated mind. She was bold and original in her methods,
and did not leave the subject of Lucia Catherwood, but praised her,
though now and then with slight reservations, letting fall the inference
that she was her good friend and would be a better one if she could.
Such use did she make of her gentle and unobtrusive sympathy that
Prescott felt his heart warming once more to this handsome and
accomplished woman.

"You will come to see me again?" she said at the door, letting a little
hand linger a few moments in his.

"I fear that I may be sent at once to the front."

"But if you are not you will come?" she persisted.

"Yes," said Prescott, and bade her good-night.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE SECRETARY AND THE LADY


The chief visitor to the little house in the cross street two days later
was James Sefton, the agile Secretary, who was in a fine humour with
himself and did not take the trouble to conceal it. Much that conduced
to his satisfaction had occurred, and the affairs that concerned him
most were going well. The telegrams sent by him from the Wilderness to a
trusty agent at an American seaport and forwarded thence by mail to
London and Paris had been answered, and the replies were of a nature
most encouraging. Moreover, the people here in Richmond in whose
fortunes he was interested were conducting themselves in a manner that
he wished. Therefore the Secretary was pleasant.

He was received by Lucia Catherwood in the little parlour where Prescott
had often sat. She was grave and pale, as if she suffered, and there was
no touch of warmth in the greeting that she gave the Secretary. But he
did not appear to notice it, although he inquired after the health of
herself and Miss Grayson, all in the manner of strict formality. She sat
down and waited there, grave and quiet, watching him with calm, bright
eyes.

The Secretary, too, was silent for a few moments, surveying the woman
who sat opposite him, so cool and so composed. He felt once more the
thrill of involuntary admiration that she always aroused in him.

"It is a delicate business on which I come to you, Miss Catherwood," he
said. "I wish to speak of Miss Harley and my suit there; it is not
prospering, as you know. Pardon me for speaking to you of such intimate
feelings. I know that it is not customary, but I have thought that you
might aid me."

"Was it for such a reason that you gave me a pass to Richmond and helped
me to come here?"

"Well, in part, at least; but I can say in my own defense, Miss
Catherwood, that I bore you no ill will. Perhaps, if the first phase of
the affair had never existed, I should have helped you anyhow to come to
Richmond had I known that you wished to do so."

"And how can I help you now?"

The Secretary shrugged his shoulders. He did not wish to say all that
was in his mind. Moreover, he sought to bring her will into subjection
to his. The personal sense that he was coming into contact with a mind
as strong as his own did not wholly please him, yet by a curious
contrariety this very feeling increased his admiration of her.

"I was willing that you should come to Richmond," he said, "for a reason
that I will not mention and which perhaps has passed away. I have had in
my mind--well, to put it plainly, a sort of bargain, a bargain in which
I did not consult you. I thought that you might help me with Helen
Harley, that--well, to speak plainly again, that your attractions might
remove from my path one whom I considered a rival."

A deep flush overspread her face, and then, retreating, left it paler
than ever. Her fingers were pressed tightly into the palms of her hands,
but she said nothing.

"I am frank," continued the Secretary, "but it is best between us.
Finesse would be wasted upon one with your penetrating mind, and I pay
you the highest compliment I know when I discard any attempt to use it.
I find that I have made a great mistake in more respects than one. The
man who I thought stood in my way thought so himself at one time, but he
knows better. Helen Harley is very beautiful and all that is good, but
still there is something lacking. I knew it long ago, but only in the
last few weeks has it had its effect upon me. This man I thought my
rival has turned aside into a new path, and I--well, it seems that fate
intends that he shall be my rival even in his changes--have followed
him."

"What do you mean?" she asked, a sudden fire leaping to her eyes and a
cold dread clutching her heart.

"I mean," he said, "that however beautiful Helen Harley may be, there
are others as beautiful and one perhaps who has something that she
lacks. What is that something? The power to feel passion, to love with a
love that cares for nothing else, and if need be to hate with a hate
that cares for nothing else. She must be a woman with fire in her veins
and lightning in her heart, one who would appear to the man she loves
not only a woman, but as a goddess as well."

"And have you found such a woman?"

She spoke in cold, level tones.

The Secretary looked at her sitting there, her head thrown slightly
back, her eyes closed and the curve of her chin defiant to the uttermost
degree. The wonder that he had not always loved this woman instead of
Helen Harley returned to him. She was a girl and yet she was not; there
was nothing about her immature or imperfect; she was girl and woman,
too. She had spoken to him in the coldest of tones, yet he believed in
the fire beneath the ice. He wished to see what kind of torch would set
the flame. His feeling for her before had been intellectual, now it was
sentimental and passionate.

James Sefton realized that Lucia Catherwood was not merely a woman to be
admired, but one to be loved and desired. She had appealed to him as one
with whom to make a great career; now she appealed to him as a woman
with whom to live. He remembered the story of her carrying the wounded
Prescott off the battlefield in her arms and in the dark, alone and
undaunted, amid all the dead of the Wilderness. She was tall and strong,
but was it so much strength and endurance as love and sacrifice? He was
filled with a sudden fierce and wild jealousy of Prescott, because, when
wounded and stricken down, she had sheltered him within her arms.

His look again followed the curves of her noble face and figure, the
full development of strong years, and a fire of which he had not deemed
himself capable burned in the eyes of the Secretary. The pale shade of
Helen Harley floated away in the mist, but Lucia met his silent gaze
firmly, and again she asked in cold, level tones:

"Have you found such a woman?"

"Yes, I have found her," replied the Secretary. "Perhaps I did not know
it until to-day; perhaps I was not sure, but I have found her. I am a
cold and what one would call a selfish man, but ice breaks up under
summer heat, and I have yielded to the spell of your presence, Lucia."

"Miss Catherwood!"

"Well, Miss Catherwood--no, Lucia it shall be! I swear it shall be
Lucia! I do not care for courtesy now, and you are compelled to hear me
say it. It is a noble name, a beautiful one, and it gives me pleasure to
say it. Lucia! Lucia! Lucia!"

"Go on, then, since I cannot stop you."

"I said that I have found such a woman and I have. Lucia, I love you,
because I cannot help myself, just as you cannot help my calling you
Lucia. And, Lucia, it is a love that worships, too. There is nothing bad
in it. I would put myself at your feet. You shall be a queen to me and
to all the rest of the world, for I have much to offer you besides my
poor self. However the war may end, I shall be rich, very rich, and we
shall have a great career. Let it be here if you will, or in the North,
or in Europe. You have only to say."

There was then a feeling for him not all hate in the soul of Lucia
Catherwood. If he loved her, that was a cloak for many sins, and she
could not doubt that he did, because the man hitherto so calm and the
master of himself was transformed. His words were spoken with all the
fire and heat of a lover, his eyes were alight, and his figure took on a
certain dignity and nobility. Lucia Catherwood, looking at him, said to
herself in unspoken words: "Here is a great man and he loves me." Her
heart was cold, but a ray of tenderness came from it nevertheless.

The Secretary paused and in his agitation leaned his arm upon the
mantel. Again his eyes dwelt upon her noble curves, her sumptuous
figure, and the soul that shone from her eyes. Never before had he felt
so utter a sense of powerlessness. Hitherto to desire a thing was with
him merely the preliminary to getting it. Even when Helen Harley turned
away from him, he believed that by incessant pursuit he could yet win
her. There he took repulses lightly, but here it was the woman alone who
decreed, and whatever she might say no act or power of his could change
it. He stood before her a suppliant.

"You have honoured me, Mr. Sefton, with this declaration of your love,"
she said, and her tones sounded to him as cold and level as ever, "but I
cannot--cannot return it."

"Neither now nor ever? You may change!"

"I cannot change, Mr. Sefton." She spoke a little sadly--out of pity for
him--and shook her head.

"You think that my loyalty is due to Helen Harley, but I do not love
her! I cannot!"

"No, it is not that," she said. "Helen Harley may not love you; I do not
think she does. But I am quite sure of myself. I know that I can never
love you."

"You may not now," he said hotly, "but you can be wooed and you can be
won. I could not expect you to love me at once--I am not so foolish--but
devotion, a long devotion, may change a woman's heart."

"No," she repeated, "I cannot change."

She seemed to be moving away from him. She was intangible and he could
not grasp her. But he raised his head proudly.

"I do not come as a beggar," he said. "I offer something besides
myself."

Her eyes flashed; she, too, showed her pride.

"I stand alone, I am nothing except myself, but my choice in the most
important matter that comes into a woman's life shall be as free as the
air."

She, too, raised her head and met him with an unflinching gaze.

"I also understand," he said moodily. "You love Prescott."

A flush swept over her face, and then retreating left it pale again, but
she was too proud to deny the charge. She would not utter an untruth nor
an evasion even on so delicate a subject. There was an armed truce of
silence between them for a few minutes, till the evil genius of the
Secretary rose and he felt again that desire to subject her will to his
own.

"If you love this young man, are you quite sure that he loves you?" he
asked in quiet tones.

"I will not discuss such a subject," she replied, flushing.

"But I choose to speak of it. You saw him at the President's house two
nights ago making obvious love to some one else--a married woman. Are
you sure that he is worthy?"

She maintained an obstinate silence, but became paler than ever.

"If so, you have a mighty faith," he went on relentlessly. "His face was
close to Mrs. Markham's. Her hair almost touched his cheek."

"I will not listen to you!" she cried.

"But you must. Richmond is ringing with talk about them. If I were a
woman I should wish my lover to come to me with a clean reputation, at
least."

He paused, but she would not speak. Her face was white and her teeth
were set firmly together.

"I wish you would go!" she said at last, with sudden fierceness.

"But I will not. I do not like you the least when you rage like a
lioness."

She sank back, coldness and quiet coming to her as suddenly as her anger
had leaped up.

"You have told me that you cannot love me," he said, "and I have shown
you that the man you love cannot love you. I refuse to go. Awhile since
I felt that I was powerless before you, and that I must abide by your
yea and nay; but I feel so no longer. Love, I take it, is a battle, and
I use a military simile because there is war about us. If a good
general wishes to take a position, and if he fails in the direct
charge--if he is repelled with loss--he does not on that account
retreat; but he resorts to artifice, to stratagem, to the mine, to the
sly and adroit approach."

Her courage did not fail, but she felt a chill when he talked in this
easy and sneering manner. She had liked him--a little--when he disclosed
his love so openly and so boldly, but now no ray of tenderness came from
her heart.

"I can give you more of the news of Richmond," said the Secretary, "and
this concerns you as intimately as the other. Perhaps I should refrain
from telling you, but I am jealous enough in my own cause to tell it
nevertheless. Gossip in Richmond--well, I suppose I must say it--has
touched your name, too. It links you with me."

"Mr. Sefton," she said in the old cold, level tones, "you spoke of my
changing, but I see that you have changed. Five minutes ago I thought
you a gentleman."

"If I am doing anything that seems mean to you I do it for love of you
and the desire to possess you. That should be a sufficient excuse with
any woman. Perhaps you do not realize that your position depends upon
me. You came here because I wrote something on a piece of paper. There
has been a whisper that you were once a spy in this city--think of it;
the name of spy does not sound well. Rumour has touched you but lightly,
yet if I say the word it can envelope and suffocate you."

"You have said that you love me; do men make threats to the women whom
they love?"

"Ah, it is not that," he pleaded. "If a man have a power over a woman he
loves, can you blame him if he use it to get that which he wishes?"

"Real love knows no such uses," she said, and then she rose from her
chair, adding:

"I shall not listen any longer, Mr. Sefton. You remind me of my
position, and it is well, perhaps, that I do not forget it. It may be,
then, that I have not listened to you too long."

"And I," he replied, "if I have spoken roughly I beg your pardon. I
could wish that my words were softer, but my meaning must remain the
same."

He bowed courteously--it was the suave Secretary once more--and then he
left her.

Lucia Catherwood sat, dry-eyed and motionless, for a long time, gazing
at the opposite wall and seeing nothing there. She asked herself now why
she had come back to Richmond. To be with Miss Grayson, her next of kin,
and because she had no other place? That was the reason she had given to
herself and others--but was it the whole reason?

Now she wished that she had never seen Richmond. The first visit had
ended in disaster, and the second in worse. She hated the sight of
Richmond. What right had she among these people who were not hers? She
was a stranger, a foreigner, of another temperament, another cast of
thought.

Her mind flitted over the threats, open and veiled, of the Secretary,
but she had little fear for herself. There she had the power to fight,
and her defiant spirit would rise to meet such a conflict. But this
other! She must sit idle and let it go on. She was surprised at her
sudden power of hatred, which was directed full against a woman in whose
eyes--even in moments of peace--there were lurking green tints.

He had done much for her! Well, she had done as much for him and hence
there was no balance between them. She resolved to cast him out wholly,
to forget him, to make him part of a past that was not only dead but
forgotten. But she knew even as she took this resolution that she feared
the Secretary because she believed it lay within his power to ruin
Prescott.

The door was opened and Miss Grayson came quietly into the room. She was
a cool, soothing little person. Troubles, if they did not die, at least
became more tolerable in her presence. She sat in silence sewing, but
observed Lucia's face and knew that she was suffering much or it would
not show in the countenance of one with so strong a will.

"Has Mr. Sefton been gone long?" she asked after awhile.

"Yes, but not long enough."

Miss Grayson said nothing and Miss Catherwood was the next to interrupt
the silence.

"Charlotte," she said, "I intend to leave Richmond at once."

"Leaving Richmond is not a mere holiday trip now," said Miss Grayson.
"There are formalities, many and difficult."

"But I must go!" exclaimed Miss Catherwood vehemently, all her anger and
grief flashing out--it seemed to her that the gates suddenly opened. "I
tell you I must leave this city! I hate everything in it, Charlotte,
except you! I am sorry that I ever saw it!"

Miss Grayson went on calmly with her sewing.

"I shall not let you go," she said in her quiet, even voice. "I could
have endured life without you had I never had you, but having had you I
cannot. I shall not let you go. You must think of me now, Lucia, and not
of yourself."

Miss Grayson looked up and smiled. The smile of an old maid, not herself
beautiful, can be very beautiful at times.

"See what a burden I am," Miss Catherwood protested. "We nearly starved
once."

Then she blushed--blushed most beautifully, thinking of a certain round
gold piece, still unspent.

"You are no burden at all, but a support. I shall have money enough
until this war ends. The Confederate Government, you know, Lucia, paid
me for the confiscations--not as much as they were worth, but as much as
I could expect--and we have been living on it."

The face of Lucia Catherwood altered. It expressed a singular tenderness
as she looked at Miss Grayson, so soft, so small and so gray.

"Charlotte," she said, "I wish that I were as good as you. You are never
excited, passionate or angry. You always know what you ought to do and
you always do it."

Miss Grayson looked up again and her eyes suddenly sparkled.

"You make a mistake, a great mistake, Lucia," she said. "It is only the
people who do wrong now and then who are really good. Those of us who do
right all the time merely keep in that road because we cannot get out of
it. I think it's a lack of temperament--there's no variety about us. And
oh, Lucia, I tell you honestly, I get so tired of keeping forever in the
straight and narrow path merely because it's easiest for me to walk that
way. I don't mean to be sacrilegious, but I think that all the rejoicing
in Heaven over the hundredth man who has sinned and repented was not
because he had behaved well at last, but because he was so much more
interesting than all the other ninety-nine put together. I wish I had
your temper and impulses, Lucia, that I might flash into anger now and
then and do something rash--something that I should be sorry for later
on, but which in my secret heart I should be glad I had done. Oh, I get
so tired of being just a plain, goody-goody little woman who will always
do the right thing in the most uninteresting way; a woman about whom
there is no delightful uncertainty; a woman on whom you can always
reckon just as you would on the figure 4 or 6 or any other number in
mathematics. I am like such a figure--a fixed quantity, and that is why
I, Charlotte Grayson, am just a plain little old maid."

She had risen in her vehemence, but when she finished she sank back into
her chair and a faint, delicate pink bloomed in her face. Miss Charlotte
Grayson was blushing! Lucia was silent, regarding her. She felt a great
flood of tenderness for this prim, quiet little woman who had, for a
rare and fleeting moment, burst her shell. Miss Grayson had always
accepted so calmly and so quietly the life which seemed to have been
decreed for her that it never before occurred to Lucia to suppose any
tempestuous feelings could rise in that breast; but she was a woman like
herself, and the tie that bound them, already strong, suddenly grew
stronger.

"Charlotte," she said, placing her hand gently upon the old maid's
shoulder, "it seems to me sometimes that God has not been quite fair to
women. He gives us too little defense against our own hearts."

"Best discard them entirely," said Miss Grayson briskly. "Come, Lucia,
you promised to help me with my sewing."



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE WAY OUT


Prescott at three o'clock the following afternoon knocked on the door of
Mr. Sefton's private office and the response "Come in!" was like his
knock, crisp and decisive. Prescott entered and shut the door behind
him. The Secretary had been sitting by the window, but he rose and
received his guest courteously, extending his hand.

Prescott took the proffered hand. He had learned to look upon the
Secretary as his enemy, but he found himself unable to hate him.

"We had an interview in this room once before," said the Secretary, "and
it was not wholly unfriendly."

"That is true," replied Prescott, "and as the subject that I have to
propose now is of a somewhat kindred nature I hope that we may keep the
same tone."

"It rests with you, my dear Captain," said the Secretary meaningly.

Prescott was somewhat embarrassed. He scarcely knew how to begin.

"I came to ask a favour," he said at last.

"The willingness to bestow favours does not always imply the power."

"It is true," said Prescott; "but in this case the will may go with the
power. I have come to speak to you of Lucia Catherwood."

"What of her?" asked the Secretary sharply. He was betrayed into a
momentary interruption of his habitual calm, but settled himself into
his seat and looked keenly across the table at his rival, trying to
guess the young man's plan of campaign. Calculating upon the basis of
what he himself would do in the same position, he could form no
conclusion.

"I have come to speak on her account," continued Prescott, "and though I
may be somewhat involved, I wish it to be distinctly understood that I
am not to be considered. I ask no favour for myself."

"I see that you have brought your pride with you," said the Secretary
dryly.

Prescott flushed a little.

"I trust that I always have it with me," he said.

"We are frank with each other."

"It is best so, and I have come for yet plainer speaking. I am well
aware, Mr. Sefton, that you know all there is to be known concerning
Miss Catherwood and myself."

"'All' is a large statement."

"I refer to the facts of Miss Catherwood's former presence in Richmond,
what she did while here, and how she escaped from the city. You know
that I helped her."

"And by doing so you put yourself in an extremely delicate position,
should any one choose to relate the facts to the Government."

"Precisely. But again it is Miss Catherwood of whom I am speaking, not
myself. You may speak of me, you may denounce me at any time you choose,
but I ask you, Mr. Sefton, to respect the secret of Miss Catherwood. She
has told me that her acts were almost involuntary; she came here because
she had nowhere else to come--to her cousin, Miss Grayson. She admits
that she was once tempted to act as a spy--that the impulse was strong
within her. You know the depth of her Northern sympathies, the strength
of her nature, and how deeply she was moved--but that is all she admits.
This impulse has now passed. Would you ruin her here, as you can do,
where she has so many friends, and where it is possible for her life to
be happy?"

A thin smile appeared on the face of the Secretary.

"You will pardon me if I call this a somewhat extraordinary appeal,
Captain Prescott," he said. "You seem to show a deep interest in Miss
Catherwood, and yet if I am to judge by what I saw the other night, and
before, your devotion is for another lady."

Prescott flushed an angry red; but remembering his resolve he replied
quietly:

"It is not a question of my devotion to anybody, Mr. Sefton. I merely
speak for Miss Catherwood, believing that she is in your power."

"And what induced you to believe that I would betray her?"

"I have not indicated such a belief. I merely seek to provide against a
contingency."

The Secretary pondered, lightly tapping the table with the forefinger of
his right hand. Prescott observed his thin, almost ascetic face,
smooth-shaven and finely cut. Both General Wood and the Secretary were
mountaineers, but the two faces were different; one represented blunt
strength and courage; the other suppleness, dexterity, meditation, the
power of silent combination. Had the two been blended here would have
been one of the world's giant figures.

"We have begun by being frank; we should continue so," said the
Secretary presently. "We seem doomed to be rivals always, Captain
Prescott; at least we can give each other the credit of good taste. At
first it was Helen Harley who took our fancy--a fancy it was and nothing
more--but now I think a deeper passion has been stirred in us by the
same object, Miss Catherwood. You see, I am still frank. I know very
well that you care nothing for Mrs. Markham. It is but a momentary
folly, the result of jealousy or something akin to it--and here I am,
resolved to triumph over you, not because I would enjoy your defeat, but
because my own victories are sweet to me. If I happen to hold in my hand
certain cards which chance has not dealt to you, can you blame me if I
play them?"

"Will you spare Miss Catherwood?" asked Prescott.

"Should I not play my cards?" repeated the Secretary.

"I see," said Prescott. "You told me that I brought my pride with me.
Well, I did not bring all of it. I left at home enough to permit me to
ask this favour of you. But I was wrong; I should not have made the
request."

"I have not refused it yet," said the Secretary. "I merely do not wish
to pledge myself. When a man makes promises he places bonds on his own
arms, and I prefer mine free; but since I seek Miss Catherwood as a
wife, is it not a fair inference that her fame is as dear to me as it is
to you?"

Prescott was compelled to admit the truth of this statement, but it did
not cover all the ground. He felt that the Secretary, while not
betraying Lucia, would in some way use his knowledge of her for his own
advantage. This was the thought at the bottom of his mind, but he could
not speak it aloud to the Secretary. Any man would repel such an
intimation at once as an insult, and the agile mind of James Sefton
would make use of it as another strong trump card in playing his game.

"Then you will make no promise?" asked Prescott.

"Promises are poor coin," replied the Secretary, "hardly better than our
Confederate bills. Let me repeat that the fame of Lucia Catherwood is as
dear to me as it is to you. With that you should be content."

"If that is all, good-day," said Prescott, and he went out, holding his
head very high. The Secretary saw defiance in his attitude.

Mr. Sefton went the following evening to the little house in the cross
street, seeking an interview with Lucia Catherwood, and she, holding
many things in mind, was afraid to deny him.

"It is your friend, Captain Prescott, of whom I wish to speak," he said.

"Why my friend rather than the friend of anybody else?" she asked.

"He has been of service to you, and for that reason I wish to be of
service to him. There has been talk about him. He may find himself
presently in a very dangerous position."

The face of Lucia Catherwood flushed very red and then became equally
pale. The Secretary noticed how her form stiffened, nor did he fail to
observe the single angry flash from her eyes. "She cares very much for
that man," was his mental comment. The Secretary was not less frank with
himself in his love than in other matters.

"If you have come here merely to discuss Richmond gossip I shall beg you
to leave at once," she said coldly.

"You misunderstand me," replied the Secretary. "I do not speak of any
affair of the heart that Captain Prescott may have. It is no concern of
mine where his affections may fall, even if it be in an unlicensed
quarter. The difficulty to which I allude is of another kind. There is
malicious gossip in Richmond; something has leaked out in some way that
connects him with an affair of a spy last winter. Connect is scarcely
the word, because that is too definite; this is exceedingly vague.
Harley spoke of it the other night, and although he did not call
Prescott by name, his manner indicated that he was the man meant. Harley
seems to have received a little nebulous information from a certain
quarter, not enough upon which to take action had one the malice to wish
it, but enough to indicate that he might obtain more from the same
source."

The Secretary paused, and his expression was one of mingled concern and
sympathy. A young man whom he liked was about to fall into serious
difficulties and he would save him from them if he could. Yet they
understood each other perfectly. A single glance, a spark from steel
like that which had passed between Prescott and the Secretary, passed
now between these two. The Secretary was opening another mine in the
arduous siege that he had undertaken; if he could not win by treaty he
would by arms, and now he was threatening her through Prescott.

She did not flinch and therefore she won his increased admiration. Her
natural colour returned and she met his glance firmly. The life of Lucia
Catherwood had been hard and she was trained to repression and
self-reliance.

"I do not understand why you should speak of this to me," she said.

"Merely that you might exert your influence in his favour."

She was measuring him then with a glance not less penetrating than his
own. Why should she seek now to save Prescott? But she would, if she
could. This was a threat that the Secretary might keep, but not at once,
and she would seek time.

"Captain Prescott has done me a great service," she said, "and naturally
I should be grateful to any who did as much for him."

"Perhaps some one who will do as much can be found," he said. "It may be
that I shall speak to him of you later and then he will claim the reward
that you promise."

It was on her lips to say that she promised nothing except gratitude,
but she withheld the words. It suddenly seemed fair to a singularly
honest mind to meet craft with craft. She had heard of the military
phrase, "in the air"; she would leave the Secretary in the air. So she
merely said:

"I am not in Captain Prescott's confidence, but I know that he will
thank you."

"He should," said the Secretary dryly, and left her.

Almost at the very moment that the Secretary was going to the Grayson
cottage Prescott was on his way to Winthrop's newspaper office.

There was little to be done, and a group including General Wood, who had
come that afternoon from Petersburg, sat in the old fashion by the stove
and talked of public affairs, especially the stage into which the war
had now come. The heat of the room felt grateful, as a winter night was
falling outside, and in the society of his friends Prescott found
himself becoming more of an optimist than he had been for some days.
Cheerfulness is riveted in such a physical base as youth and strength,
and Prescott was no exception. He could even smile behind his hand when
he saw General Wood draw forth the infallible bowie-knife, pull a piece
of pine from a rickety box that held fuel for the stove and begin to
whittle from it long, symmetrical shavings that curled beautifully. This
was certain evidence that General Wood, for the evening at least, was
inclined to look on the bright side of life.

Unto this placid group came two men, walking heavily up the wooden
stairs and showing signs of mental wear. Their eyebrows were raised with
surprise at the sight of Prescott, but they made no comment. They were
Harley and Redfield.

Harley approached Winthrop with a jovial air.

"I've found you a new contributor to your paper and he's ready to bring
you a most interesting piece of news."

Winthrop flipped the ash off his cigar and regarded Harley coolly.

"Colonel!" he said, "I'm always grateful for good news, but I don't take
it as a favour. If it comes to the pinch I can write my newspaper all by
myself."

Harley changed countenance and his tone changed too.

"It's in the interest of justice," he said, "and it will be sure to
attract attention at the same time."

"I imagine that it must be in the interest of justice when you and Mr.
Redfield take so much trouble to secure its publication," said Winthrop;
"and I imagine that I'm not risking much when I also say that you are
the brilliant author who has written the little piece."

"It's this," said Harley. "It's about a man who has been paying too
ardent attentions to a married woman--no names given, of course; he is a
captain, a young man who is here on leave, and she is the wife of a
general who is at the front and can't look after his own honour. Gossip
says, too, that the captain has been concerned in something else that
will bring him up with a jerk if the Government hears of it. It's all
written out here. Oh, it will make a fine stir!"

Prescott half rose from his seat, but sank back and remained quiet.
Again he imitated the Secretary's example of self-repression and waited
to see what Winthrop would do. General Wood trimmed off a shaving so
long that it coiled all the way around his wrist. Then he took it off
carefully, dropped it on the floor with the others, and at once went to
work whittling a new one.

"Let's see the article," said Winthrop.

Harley handed it to him and he read it carefully.

"A fine piece of work," he said; "who wrote it--you or Redfield?"

"Oh, we did it together," replied Harley with a smile of appreciation.

Redfield uttered a denial, but it was too late.

"A fine piece of work," repeated Winthrop, "admirably adapted to the
kindling of fires. Unfortunately my fire is already kindled, but it can
help on the good cause."

With that he cast the paper into the stove.

Harley uttered an oath.

"What do you mean?" he cried.

"I mean that you can't use my paper to gratify your private revenge. If
you want to do that sort of thing you must get a newspaper of your own."

"I think you are infernally impertinent."

"And I think, Vincent Harley, that you are a damned fool. You want a
duel with the man about whom you've written this card, but for excellent
reasons he will decline to meet you. Still I hate to see a man who is
looking for a fight go disappointed, and just to oblige you I'll fight
you myself."

"But I've no quarrel with you," said Harley sullenly.

"Oh, I can give you ample cause," said Winthrop briskly. "I can throw
this water in your face, or if you prefer it I can give you a blow on
the cheek, a hard one, too. Take your choice."

Prescott arose.

"I'm much obliged to you, Winthrop," he said, "for taking up my quarrel
and trying to shield me. All of you know that I am meant in that card
which he calls such 'a piece of good news.' I admire Colonel Harley's
methods, and since he is so persistent I will fight him on the condition
that the meeting and its causes be kept absolutely secret. If either of
us is wounded or killed let it be said that it was in a skirmish with
the enemy."

"Why these conditions?" asked Redfield.

"For the sake of others. Colonel Harley imagines that he has a
grievance against me. He has none, and if he had the one that he
imagines he is certainly in no position to call me to account. Since he
will have it no other way, I will fight him."

"I object," said Winthrop with temper. "I have a prior claim. Colonel
Harley has tried to use me, an unoffending third party, as the
instrument of his private revenge, and that is a deadly offense. I have
the reputation of being a hot-blooded man and I intend to live up to my
reputation."

A glass of water was standing by the cooler. He lifted it and hurled the
contents into Harley's face. The man started back, strangling and
coughing, then wiped the water from his face with a handkerchief.

"Do you dispute the priority of my claim over Captain Prescott?" asked
Winthrop.

"I do not," said Harley. "Mr. Redfield will call on you again in my
behalf within an hour."

Prescott was irresolute.

"Winthrop," he said, "I can't permit this."

"Oh, yes, you can," said Winthrop, "because you can't help yourself."

Then General Wood upreared his gigantic form and ran the fingers of his
left hand solemnly through his black whiskers. He put his bowie-knife in
its sheath, brushed the last shaving off his trousers and said:

"But there's somebody who can help it, an' I'm the man. What's more, I
mean to do it. Colonel Harley, General Lee transferred your regiment to
my command yesterday and I need you at the front. I order you to report
for duty at once, and I won't have any delay about it either. You report
to me in Petersburg to-morrow or I'll know the reason why; I go myself
at daylight, but I'll leave a request with the Government that Captain
Prescott also be despatched to me. I've got work for him to do."

The man spoke with the utmost dignity and his big black eyes shot fire.

"The king commands," said Raymond softly.

Wood put his hand on Harley's arm.

"Colonel," he said, "you are one of my lieutenants, and we're thinkin'
about a movement that I've got to talk over with you. You'll come with
me now to the Spotswood Hotel, because there's no time to waste. I don't
reckon you or I will get much sleep to-night, but if we don't sleep
to-night we'll doze in the saddle to-morrow."

"The king not only commands, but knows what to command," said Raymond
softly.

It was the general of the battlefield, the man of lightning force who
spoke, and there was none who dared to disobey. Harley, himself a
brilliant soldier though nothing else, yielded when he felt the hand of
steel on his arm, and acknowledged the presence of a superior force.

"Very well, General," he said respectfully; "I am at your service."

"Good-night, gentlemen," said Wood to the others, and he added
laughingly to the editors: "Don't you boys print anythin' until you know
what you're printin'," and to Prescott: "I reckon you'd better say
good-by to-morrow to your friends in Richmond. I don't allow that you'll
have more'n a couple of days longer here," and then to Harley: "Come
along, Colonel; an' I s'pose you're goin' out with us, too, Mr.
Redfield."

He swept up the two with his glance and the three left together, their
footsteps sounding on the rickety steps until they passed into the
street.

"There goes a man, a real man," said Raymond with emphasis. "Winthrop,
it takes such as he to reduce fellows like you and Harley to their
proper places."

"It is unkind of him to kidnap Harley in that summary fashion," said
Winthrop ruefully. "I really wanted to put a bullet through him. Not in
a vital place--say through the shoulder or the fleshy part of the arm,
where it would let blood flow freely. That's what he needs."

But Prescott was devoutly thankful to Wood, and especially for his
promise that he, too, should speedily be sent to the front. What he
wished most of all now was to escape from Richmond.

The promise was kept, the order to report to General Wood himself in
Petersburg came the next day and he was to start on the following
morning.

He took courage to call upon Lucia and found her at home, sitting
silently in the little parlour, the glow from the fire falling across
her hair and tinting it with deep gleams of reddish gold. Whether she
was surprised to see him he could not judge, her face remaining calm and
no movement that would betray emotion escaping her.

"Miss Catherwood," he said, "I have come to bid you farewell. I rejoin
the army to-morrow and I am glad to go."

"I, too, am glad that you are going," she said, shading her eyes with
her hands as if to protect them from the glow of the fire.

"There is one thing that I would ask of you," he said, "and it is that
you remember me as I was last winter, and not as I have appeared to you
since I returned from the South. That was real; this is false."

His voice trembled, and she did not speak, fearing that her own would do
the same.

"I have made mistakes," he said. "I have yielded to rash impulses, and
have put myself in a false position before the world; but I have not
been criminal in anything, either in deed or intent. Even now what I
remember best, the memory that I value most, is when you and I fled
together from Richmond in the cold and the snow, when you trusted me and
I trusted you."

She wished to speak to him then, remembering the man, stained with his
own blood, whom she had carried in her strong young arms off the
battlefield. With a true woman's heart she liked him better when she was
acting for him than when he was acting for her; but something held her
back--the shadow of a fair woman with lurking green depths in her blue
eyes.

"Lucia!" exclaimed Prescott passionately, "have you nothing to say to
me? Can't you forget my follies and remember at least the few good
things that I have done?"

"I wish you well. I cannot forget the great service that you did me,
and I hope that you will return safely from a war soon to end."

"You might wish anybody that, even those whom you have never seen," he
said.

Then with a few formal words he went away, and long after he was gone
she still sat there staring into the fire, the gleams of reddish gold in
her hair becoming fainter and fainter.

Prescott left Richmond the next morning.



CHAPTER XXIX

THE FALL OF RICHMOND


Two long lines of earthworks faced each other across a sodden field;
overhead a chilly sky let fall a chilly rain; behind the low ridges of
earth two armies faced each other, and whether in rain or in sunshine,
no head rose above either wall without becoming an instant mark for a
rifle that never missed. Here the remorseless sharpshooters lay. Human
life had become a little thing, and after a difficult shot they
exchanged remarks as hunters do when they kill a bird on the wing.

If ever there was a "No Man's Land," it was the space between the two
armies which had aptly been called the "Plain of Death." Any one who
ventured upon it thought very little of this life, and it was well that
he should, as he had little of it left to think about. The armies had
lain there for weeks and weeks, facing each other in a deadlock, and a
fierce winter, making the country an alternation of slush and snow, had
settled down on both. The North could not go forward; the South could
not thrust the North back; but the North could wait and the South could
not. Lee's army, crouching behind the earthen walls, grew thinner and
hungrier and colder as the weeks passed. Uniforms fell away in rags,
supplies from the South became smaller and smaller, but the lean and
ragged army still lay there, grim and defiant, while Grant, with the
memory of Cold Harbour before him, dared not attack. He bided his time,
having shown all the qualities that were hoped of him and more.
Tenacious, fertile in ideas, he had been from the beginning the one to
attack and his foe the one to defend. The whole character of the war had
changed since he came upon the field. He and Sherman were now the two
arms of a vise that held the Confederacy in its grip and would never let
go.

Prescott crouched behind the low wall, reading a letter from his mother,
while his comrades looked enviously at him. A letter from home had long
since become an event. Mrs. Prescott said she was well, and, so far as
concerned her physical comfort, was not feeling any excessive stress of
war. They were hearing many reports in Richmond from the armies. Grant,
it was said, would make a great flanking movement as soon as the warmer
weather came, and the newspapers in the capital gave accounts of vast
reinforcements in men and supplies he was receiving from the North.

"If we know our Grant, and we think we do, he will certainly move," said
Prescott grimly to himself, looking across the "Plain of Death" toward
the long Northern line.

Then his mother continued with personal news of his friends and
acquaintances.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The popularity of Lucia Catherwood lasts," she wrote. "She would avoid
publicity, but she can scarcely do it without offending the good people
who like her. She seems gay and is often brilliant, but I do not think
she is happy. She receives great attention from Mr. Sefton, whose power
in the Government, disguised as it is in a subordinate position, seems
to increase. Whether or not she likes him I do not know. Sometimes I
think she does, and sometimes I think she has the greatest aversion to
him. But it is a courtship that interests all Richmond. People mostly
say that the Secretary will win, but as an old woman--a mere
looker-on--I have my doubts. Helen Harley still holds her place in the
Secretary's office, but Mr. Sefton no longer takes great interest in
her. Her selfish old father does not like it at all, and I hear that he
speaks slightingly of the Secretary's low origin; but he continues to
spend the money that his daughter earns.

"It is common gossip that the Secretary knows all about Lucia's life
before she came to Richmond; that he has penetrated the mystery and in
some way has a hold over her which he is using. I do not know how this
report originated, but I think it began in some foolish talk of Vincent
Harley's. As for myself, I do not believe there is any mystery at all.
She is simply a girl who in these troublous times came, as was natural,
to her nearest relative, Miss Grayson."

       *       *       *       *       *

"No bad news, Bob, I hope," said Talbot, looking at his gloomy face.

"None at all," said Prescott cheerily, and with pardonable evasion.

"There go the skirmishers again."

A rapid crackle arose from a point far to their left, but the men around
Talbot and Prescott paid no attention to it, merely huddling closer in
the effort to keep warm. They had ceased long since to be interested in
such trivialities.

"Grant's going to move right away; I feel it in my bones," repeated
Talbot.

Talbot was right. That night the cold suddenly fled, the chilly clouds
left the heavens and the great Northern General issued a command. A year
before another command of his produced that terrific campaign through
the Wilderness, where a hundred thousand men fell, and he meant this
second one to be as significant.

Now the fighting, mostly the work of sharpshooters through the winter,
began in regular form, and extended in a long line over the torn and
trampled fields of Virginia, where all the soil was watered with blood.
The numerous horsemen of Sheridan, fresh from triumphs in the Valley of
Virginia, were the wings of the Northern force, and they hung on the
flanks of the Southern army, incessantly harrying it, cutting off
companies and regiments, giving the worn and wounded men no respite.

Along a vast, curving line that steadily bent in toward Richmond--the
Southern army inside, the Northern army outside--the sound of the cannon
scarcely ever ceased, night or day. Lee fought with undiminished skill,
always massing his thin ranks at the point of contact and handling them
with the old fire and vigour; but his opponent never ceased the terrible
hammering that he had begun more than a year ago. Grant intended to
break through the shell of the Southern Confederacy, and it was now
cracking and threatening to shatter before his ceaseless strokes.

The defenders of a lost cause, if cause it was, scarcely ever knew what
it was to draw a free breath. When they were not fighting, they were
marching, often on bare feet, and of the two they did not know which
they preferred. They were always hungry; they went into battles on empty
stomachs, came out with the same if they came out at all, and they had
no time to think of the future. They had become mere battered machines,
animated, it is true, by a spirit, but by a spirit that could take no
thought of softness. They had respected Grant from the first; now,
despite their loss by his grim tactics, they looked in wonder and
admiration at them, and sought to measure the strength of mind that
could pay a heavy present price in flesh and blood in order to avoid a
greater price hereafter.

Prescott and Talbot were with the last legion. The bullets, after
wounding them so often, seemed now to give them the right of way. They
came from every battle and skirmish unhurt, only to go into a new one
the next day.

"If I get out of all this alive," said Talbot, with grim humour, "I
intend to eat for a month and then sleep for a year; maybe then I'll
feel rested."

Wood, too, was always there with his cavalry, now a thin band, seeking
to hold back the horsemen of the North, and Vincent Harley, ever a good
soldier, was his able second.

In these desperate days Prescott began to feel respect for Harley; he
admired the soldier, if not the man. There was no danger too great for
Harley, no service too arduous. He slept in the saddle, if he slept at
all, and his spirit never flinched. There was no time for, him to renew
his quarrel with Prescott, and Prescott was resolved that it should
never be renewed if there were any decent way of avoiding it.

The close of a day of incessant battle and skirmish was at hand, and
clouds of smoke darkened the twilight. From the east and from the west
came the low mutter and thunder of the guns. The red sun was going down
in a sea of ominous fire. There were strange reports of the deeds of
Sheridan, but the soldiers themselves knew nothing definite. They had
lost touch with other bodies of their comrades, and they could only hope
to meet them again. Meanwhile they gave scarcely a glance at the lone
and trampled land, but threw themselves down under the trees and fell
asleep.

A messenger came for Prescott. "The General-in-Chief wishes you," he
said.

Prescott walked to a small fire where Lee sat alone for the present and
within the shelter of the tent. He was grave and thoughtful, but that
was habitual with him. Prescott could not see that the victor of
Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville had changed in bearing or manner. He
was as neat as ever; the gray uniform was spotless; the splendid sword,
a gift from admirers, hung by his side. His face expressed nothing to
the keen gaze of Prescott, who was now no novice in the art of reading
the faces of men.

Prescott saluted and stood silent.

Lee looked at him thoughtfully.

"Captain Prescott," he said, "I have heard good reports of you, and I
have had the pleasure also to see you bear yourself well."

Prescott's heart beat fast at this praise from the first man of the
South.

"Do you know the way to Richmond?" asked the General.

"I could find it in a night as black as my hat."

"That is good. Here is a letter that I wish you to take there and
deliver as soon as you can to Mr. Davis. It is important, and be sure
you do not fall into the hands of any of the Northern raiders."

He held out a small sealed envelope, and Prescott took it.

"Take care of yourself," he said, "because you will have a dangerous
ride."

Prescott saluted and turned away. He looked back once, and the General
was still sitting alone by the fire, his face grave and thoughtful.

Prescott had a good horse, and when he rode away was full of faith that
he would reach Richmond. He was glad to go because of the confidence Lee
showed in him, and because he might see in the capital those for whom he
cared most.

As he rode on the lights behind him died and the darkness came up and
covered Lee's camp. But he had truly told the General that he could find
his way to Richmond in black darkness, and to-night he had need of both
knowledge and instinct. There was a shadowed moon, flurries of rain, and
a wind moaning through the pine woods. From far away, like the swell of
the sea on the rocks, came the low mutter of the guns. Scarcely ever did
it cease, and its note rose above the wailing of the wind like a kind of
solemn chorus that got upon Prescott's nerves.

"Is it a funeral song?" he asked.

On he went and the way opened before him in the darkness; no Northern
horsemen crossed his path; the cry of "Halt!" never came. It seemed to
Prescott that fate was making his way easy. For what purpose? He did not
like it. He wished to be interrupted--to feel that he must struggle to
achieve his journey. This, too, got upon his nerves. He grew lonely and
afraid--not afraid of physical danger, but of the omens and presages
that the night seemed to bear. He wondered again about the message that
he bore. Why had not General Lee given some hint of its contents? Then
he blamed himself for questioning.

He rode slowly and thus many hours passed. Mile after mile fell behind
him and the night went with them. The sun sprang up, the golden day
enfolded the earth, and at last from the top of a hill he saw afar the
spires of Richmond. It was a city that he loved--his home, the scene of
the greatest events in his life, including his manhood's love; and as he
looked down upon it now his eyes grew misty. What would be its fate?

He rode on, giving the countersign as he passed the defenses. With the
pure day, the omens and presages of the night seemed to have passed.
Richmond breathed a Sabbath calm; the Northern armies might have been a
thousand miles away for all the sign it gave. There was no fear, no
apprehension on the faces he saw. Richmond still had absolute faith in
Lee; whatever his lack of resources, he would meet the need.

From lofty church spires bells began to ring. The air was pervaded with
a holy calm, and Prescott, with the same feeling upon him, rode on. He
longed to turn aside to see his mother and to call at the Grayson
cottage, but "as soon as possible," the General had said, and he must
deliver his message. He knocked at the door of the White House of the
Confederacy. "Gone to church," the servant said when he asked for Mr.
Davis.

Prescott took his way to Doctor Hoge's church, well knowing where the
President of the Confederacy habitually sat, and stiff with his night's
riding, walked and led his mount. At the church door he gave the horse
to a little negro boy to hold and went quietly inside.

The President and his family were in their pew and the minister was
speaking. Prescott paused a few moments at the entrance to the aisle. No
one paid any attention to him; soldiers were too common a sight to be
noticed. He felt in the inside pocket of his waistcoat and drew forth
the sealed envelope. Then he slipped softly down the aisle, leaned over
the President's pew and handed him the note with the whispered words, "A
message from General Lee."

Prescott, receiving no orders, quietly withdrew to a neighbouring vacant
pew and watched Mr. Davis as he opened the envelope and read the letter.
He saw a sudden gray pallor sweep over his face, a quick twitching of
the lips and then a return of the wonted calm.

The President of the Confederacy refolded the note and put it in his
pocket. Presently he rose and left the church and Prescott followed him.
An hour later Richmond was stricken into a momentary dumbness, soon
followed by the chattering of many voices. The city, the capital, was to
be given up. General Lee had written that the Southern army could no
longer defend it, and advised the immediate departure of the Government,
which was now packing up, ready to take flight by the Danville railroad.

Richmond, so long the inviolate, was to be abandoned. No one questioned
the wisdom of Lee, but they were struck down by the necessity. Panic ran
like fire in dry grass. The Yankees were coming at once, and they would
burn and slay! Their cavalry had already been seen on the outskirts of
the city. There was no time to lose if they were to escape to the
farther South.

The streets were filled with the confused crowd. The rumours grew; they
said everything, but of one thing the people were sure. The Government
was packing its papers and treasures in all haste, and the train was
waiting to take it southward. That they beheld with their own eyes.
Great numbers of the inhabitants, too, made ready for flight as best
they could, but they yet preserved most of their courage. They said they
would come back. General Lee, when he gathered new forces, would return
to the rescue of the city and they would come with him. The women and
the children often wept, but the men, though with gloomy faces, bade
them be of good cheer.

Prescott, still with no orders and knowing that none would come, walked
slowly through the crowd, his heart full of grief and pity. This was his
world about him that was falling to pieces. He knew why the night had
been so full of omens; why the distant cannon had escorted him like
funeral guns.

His first thought was now of his mother, and his second was of Lucia
Catherwood, knowing well that in such a moment the passions of all the
wild and lawless would rise. He hurried to his home, and on his way he
met the Secretary, calm, composed, a quiet, cynical smile on his face.

"Well, Mr. Sefton," said Prescott, "it has come."

"Yes," replied the Secretary, "and not sooner than I have expected."

"You are leaving?" said Prescott.

"Yes," replied Mr. Sefton, "I go with the Government. I am part of it,
you know, but I travel light. I have little baggage. I tell you, too,
since you wish to know it, that I asked Miss Catherwood to go with us as
my wife--we could be married in an hour--or, if not that, as a refugee
under the escort of Miss Grayson."

"Well?" said Prescott. His heart beat violently.

"She declined both propositions," replied the Secretary quietly. "She
will stay here and await the coming of the conquerors. After all, why
shouldn't she? She is a Northern sympathizer herself, and a great change
in her position and ours has occurred suddenly."

Their eyes met and Prescott saw his fall a little and for the first
time. The sudden change in positions was, indeed, great and in many
respects.

The Secretary held out his hand.

"Good-by, Captain Prescott," he said. "We have been rivals, but not
altogether enemies. I have always wished you well where your success was
not at the cost of mine. Let us part in friendship, as we may not meet
again."

Prescott took the extended hand.

"I am sorry that chance or fate ever made us rivals," the Secretary went
on. "Maybe we shall not be so any longer, and since I retire from the
scene I tell you I have known all the while that Miss Catherwood was not
a spy. She was there in the President's office that day, and she might
have been one had she yielded to her impulse, but she put the temptation
aside. She has told you this and she told you the full truth. The one
who really took the papers was discovered and punished by me long ago."

"Then why----" began Prescott.

The Secretary made a gesture.

"You ask why I kept this secret?" he said. "It was because it gave me
power over both you and her; over her through you. I knew your part in
it, too. Then I helped Miss Grayson and her when she came back to
Richmond; she could not turn me away. I played upon your foolish
jealousy--I fancy I did that cleverly. I brought her back here to draw
you away from Helen Harley and she drew me, too. She did not intend it,
nor did she wish it; but perhaps she felt her power ever since that
meeting in the Wilderness and knew that she was safe from any
disclosures of mine. But she loved you from the first, Captain Prescott,
and never anybody else. You see, I am frank with myself as I have tried
always to be in all respects. I have lost the field and I retire in
favour of the winner, yourself!"

The Secretary, bowing, walked away. Prescott watched him a minute or
two, but he could see no signs of haste or excitement in the compact,
erect figure. Then he hastened to his mother.

He found her in her parlour, prepared as if for the coming of some one.
There was fervent feeling in her look, but her manner was calm as she
embraced her son. Prescott knew her thoughts, and as he had never yet
found fault with them he could not now at such a time.

"I know everything, Robert," she said. "The Government is about to flee
from Richmond."

"Yes, mother," he replied, "and I brought the order for it to go. Is it
not singular that such a message should have been delivered by your son?
Your side wins, mother."

"I never doubted that it would, not even after that terrible day at Bull
Run and the greater defeats that came later. A cause is lost from the
beginning when it is against the progress of the human race."

There was mingled joy and sadness in her manner--joy that the cause
which she thought right had won; sadness that her friends, none the less
dear because for so many months they had taken another view, should
suffer misfortune.

"Mother," Prescott said presently, "I do not wish to leave you, but I
must go to the cottage of Miss Grayson and Miss Catherwood. There are
likely to be wild scenes in Richmond before the day is over, and they
should not be left alone."

The look that she bent upon her son then was singularly soft and
tender--smiling, too, as if something pleased her.

"They will be here, Robert," she said. "I expect them any minute."

"Here! in this house!" he exclaimed, starting.

"Yes, here in this house," she said triumphantly "It will not be the
first time that Lucia Catherwood has been sheltered behind these walls.
Do you not remember when they wished to arrest her, and Lieutenant
Talbot searched the cottage for her? She was at that very moment here,
in this house, hidden in your own room, though she did not know that it
was yours. I saved her then. Oh, I have known her longer than you
think."

Stirred by a sudden emotion Prescott stooped down and kissed his mother.

"I have always known that you were a wonderful woman," he said, "but I
gave you credit for less courage and daring than you really have."

Some one knocked.

"There they are now," exclaimed Mrs. Prescott, and hurrying forward she
opened the door. Lucia Catherwood and Charlotte Grayson entered. At
first they did not see Prescott, who stood near the window, but when his
tall form met their eyes Miss Grayson uttered a little cry and the
colour rose high in Lucia's face.

"We are surprised to see you, Captain Prescott," she said.

"But glad, too, I hope," he replied.

"Yes, glad, too," she said frankly.

She seemed to have changed. Some of her reserve was gone. This was a
great event in her life and she was coming into a new world without
losing the old.

"Miss Catherwood," Prescott said, "I am glad that my mother's house is
to be the shelter of Miss Grayson and yourself at such a time. We have
one or two faithful and strong-armed servants who will see that you
suffer no harm."

The two women hesitated and were embarrassed. Prescott saw it.

"You will not be bothered much by me," he said. "I have no instructions,
but it is obvious that I should go forth and help maintain order." Then
he added: "I saw Mr. Sefton departing. He bade me good-by as if he did
not expect ever to be in Richmond again."

Again Lucia Catherwood flushed.

"He said a like farewell to me," she said.

Prescott's gaze met hers, and she flushed deeper than ever as her eyes
dropped for a moment.

"I hope that he has gone forever," said Prescott. "He is an able man and
I admire him in many ways. But I think him a dangerous man, too."

"Amen," said Miss Charlotte Grayson with emphasis. Lucia was silent, but
she did not seem to be offended.

He went presently into the street, where, indeed, his duty called him.
When a capital, after years of war, is about to fall, the forces of evil
are always unchained, and now it was so with Richmond. Out from all the
slums came the men and women of the lower world, and down by the navy
storehouses the wharf-rats were swarming. They were drunk already, and
with foul words on their lips they gathered before the stores, looking
for plunder. Then they broke in the barrels of whisky at the wharf and
became drunker and madder than ever. The liquor ran about them in great
streams. Standing ankle deep in the gutters, they waded in it and
splashed it over each other. Hilarious shouts and cries arose and they
began to fight among themselves. Everywhere the thieves came from their
holes and were already plundering the houses.

Steadily the skies darkened over Richmond and a terrified multitude kept
pressing toward the railroad station, seeking to flee into the farther
South. Behind them the mad crowd still drank and fought in the gutters
and the thieves passed from house to house. Again and again the cry was
raised that the Yankees were here, but still they did not come. Many
fancied that they heard far away the thunder of the guns, and even
Prescott was not sure. He went once to the Harley house and found Helen
there, unafraid, quieting the apprehensions of her father, who should
have been quieting hers. She, too, would stay. Mrs. Markham, she told
him, was already on the train and would follow the Government. Prescott
was very glad that she had gone. He felt a mighty relief to know that
this woman was passing southward and, he hoped, out of his life.

Twilight came on and then the night, settling down black and heavy over
the lost capital. The President and his Cabinet were ready and would
soon start; the small garrison was withdrawing; an officer at the head
of men with torches went about the city, setting fire to all the
property of the Government--armouries, machine shops, storehouses,
wharves. The flames shot up at many points and hung like lurid clouds,
shedding a ghastly light over Richmond.

The gunboats in the river, abandoned by their crews, were set on fire,
and by and by they blew up with tremendous explosions. The reports added
to the terror of the fleeing crowd and cries of fright arose from the
women and children. The rumours which had flown so fast in the day
thickened and grew blacker in the night. "All the city was to be burned!
The Yankees were going to massacre everybody!" It was in vain for the
soldiers, who knew better, to protest. The Government property, burning
so vividly, gave colour to their fears.

It seemed as if all Richmond were on fire. The city lay lurid and
ghastly under the light of these giant torches. Wandering winds picked
up the ashes and sifted them down like a fine gray snow. Wagons loaded
with children and household goods passed out on every road. When the
President and his Cabinet were gone, and the whistling of the train was
heard for the last time, the soldiers disappeared up the river, but the
streets and roads were still crowded with the refugees, and the fires,
burning more fiercely than ever, spread now to private houses. Richmond
was a vast core of light.

Prescott will never forget that night, the sad story of a fallen city,
the passing of the old South, the weepings, the farewells, the people
going from their homes out upon the bare country roads in the darkness,
the drunken mob that still danced and fought behind them, and the
burning city making its own funeral pyre.

Midnight passed, but there was still no sign of the Yankees. Prescott
wished that they would come, for he had no fear of them: they would save
the city from the destruction that was threatening it and restore order.
Richmond was without rulers. The old had gone, but the new had not come.

The wheels of some belated guns rattled dully in the street, passing up
the river to join in the retreat. The horsemen supporting it filed by
like phantoms, and many of them, weatherbeaten men, shed tears in the
darkness. From the river came a dazzling flash followed by a tremendous
roar as another boat blew up, and then General Breckinridge, the
Secretary of War, and his staff rode over the last bridge, already set
on fire, its burning timbers giving them a final salute as they passed.
It was now half way between midnight and morning, and blazing Richmond
passively awaited its fate.



CHAPTER XXX

THE TELEGRAPH STATION


It had been a night of labour and anxiety for Prescott. In the turmoil
of the flight he had been forgotten by the President and all others who
had the power to give him orders, and he scarcely knew what to do. It
was always his intention, an intention shared by his comrades, to resist
to the last, and at times he felt like joining the soldiers in their
retreat up the river, whence by a circuitous journey he would rejoin
General Lee; but Richmond held him. He was not willing to go while his
mother and Lucia, who might need him at any moment, were there, and the
pathos of the scenes around him troubled his heart. Many a woman and
child did he assist in flight, and he resolved that he would stay until
he saw the Northern troops coming. Then he would slip quietly away and
find Lee.

He paid occasional visits to his home and always the three women were at
the windows wide awake--it was not a night when one could sleep. The
same awe was on their faces as they gazed at the burning buildings, the
towers of fire twisted and coiled by the wind. Overhead was a sullen
sky, a roof of smoke shutting out the stars, and clouds of fine ashes
shifting with the wind.

"Will all the city burn, Robert?" asked his mother far toward morning.

"I do not know, mother," he replied, "but there is danger of it. I am a
loyal Southerner, but I pray that the Yankees will come quickly. It
seems a singular thing to say, but Richmond now needs their aid."

Lucia said little. Once, as Prescott stood outside, he saw her face
framed in the window like a face in a picture, a face as pure and as
earnest as that of Ruth amid the corn. He wondered why he had ever
thought it possible that she could love or marry James Sefton. Alike in
will and strength of mind, they were so unlike in everything else. He
came nearer. The other two were at another window, intent on the fire.

"Lucia," he whispered, "if I stay here it is partly for love of you.
Tell me, if you still hold anything against me, that you forgive me. I
have been weak and foolish, but if so it was because I had lost
something that I valued most in all the world. Again I say I was weak
and foolish, but that was all; I have done nothing wrong. Oh, I was mad,
but it was a momentary madness, and I love you and you alone."

She put down her hand from the window and shyly touched his hair. He
seized the hand and kissed it. She hastily withdrew it, and the red
arose in her cheeks, but her eyes were not unkind.

His world, the world of the old South, was still falling about him.
Piece by piece it fell. The hour was far toward morning. The rumble of
wagons in the streets died. All the refugees who could go were gone, but
the thieves and the drunkards were still abroad. In some places men had
begun to make efforts to check the fire and to save the city from total
ruin, and Prescott helped them, working amid the smoke and the ashes.

The long night of terror come to an end and the broad sun flushed the
heavens. Then rose again the cry: "The Yankees!" and now report and
rumour were true. Northern troops were approaching, gazing curiously at
this burning city which for four years had defied efforts, costing
nearly a million lives, and the Mayor went forth ready to receive them
and make the surrender.

Prescott and the three women followed to see. He was stained and
blackened now, and he could watch in safety, slipping out afterward to
join his own army. The fires still roared, and overhead the clouds of
smoke still drifted. Afar sounded the low, steady beat of a drum. The
vanguard of the North was entering the Southern capital, and even those
fighting the fires deserted their work for awhile to look on.

Slowly the conquerors came down the street, gazing at the burning city
and those of its people who remained. They themselves bore all the marks
of war, their uniforms torn and muddy, their faces thin and brown, their
ranks uneven. They marched mostly in silence, the people looking on and
saying little. Presently they entered the Capitol grounds. A boy among
the cavalry sprang from his horse and ran into the building, holding a
small tightly wrapped package in his hand.

Prescott, looking up, saw the Stars and Bars come down from the dome of
the Capitol; then a moment later something shot up in its place, and
unfolding, spread its full length in the wind until all the stripes and
stars were shining. The flag of the Union once more waved over Richmond.
A cheer, not loud, broke from the Northern troops and its echo again
came from the crowd.

Prescott felt something stir within him and a single tear ran down his
cheek. He was not a sentimental man, but he had fought four years for
the flag that was now gone forever. And yet the sight of the new flag
that was the old one, too, was not wholly painful. He was aware of the
feeling that it was like an old and loved friend come back again.

Then the march went on, solemn and somber. The victors showed no
elation; there were no shouts, no cheers. The lean, brown men in the
faded blue uniforms rarely spoke, and the watchful, anxious eyes of the
officers searched everywhere. The crowd around them sank into silence,
but above them and around them the flames of the burning city roared and
crackled as they bit deep into the wood. Now and then there was a rumble
and then a crash as a house, its supports eaten away, fell in; and at
rare intervals a tremendous explosion as some magazine blew up, to be
followed by a minute of intense, vivid silence, for which the roaring
flames seemed only a background.

The drunken mob of the under-world shrank away at the sight of the
troops, and presently relapsed, too, into a sullen silence of fear or
awe. The immense cloud of smoke which had been gathering for so many
hours over Richmond thickened and darkened and was cut through here and
there by the towers of flame which were leaping higher and higher. Then
a strong breeze sprang up, blowing off the river, and the fire reached
the warehouses filled with cotton, which burned almost like gunpowder,
and the conflagration gathered more volume and vigour. The wind whirled
it about in vast surges and eddies. Ashes and sparks flew in showers.
The light of the sun was obscured by the wide roof of smoke, but beneath
there was the lurid light of the fire. The men saw the faces of each
other in a crimson glow, and in such a light the mind, too, magnified
and distorted the objects that the eye beheld. The victorious soldiers
themselves looked with awe upon the burning city. They had felt, in no
event, any desire to plunder or destroy; and now it was alike their
instinct and wish to save. Regiment after regiment stacked arms on
Shockoe Hill, divided into companies under the command of officers, and
disappeared down the smoking street--not now fighters of battles, but
fighters of fire. The Yankees had, indeed, come in time, for to them the
saving of the city from entire ruin was due. All day they worked with
the people who were left, among the torrents of flame and smoke,
suppressing the fire in places, and in others, where they could not,
taking out the household goods and heaping them in the squares. They
worked, too, to an uncommon chorus. Cartridges and shells were exploding
in the burning magazines, the cartridges with a steady crackle and the
shells with a hiss and a scream and then a stream of light. All the time
the smoke grew thicker and stung the eyes of those who toiled in its
eddies.

Man gradually conquered, and night came upon a city containing acres and
acres of smoking ruins, but with the fires out and a part left fit for
human habitation. Then Prescott turned to go. The Harley house was swept
away, and the Grayson cottage had suffered the same fate; but the
inmates of both were gathered at his mother's home and he knew they
were safe. The stern, military discipline of the conquerors would soon
cover every corner of the city, and there would be no more drinking, no
more rioting, no more fires.

His mother embraced him and wept for the first time.

"I would have you stay now," she said, "but if you will go I say nothing
against it."

Lucia Catherwood gave him her hand and a look which said, "I, too, await
your return."

Prescott's horse was gone, he knew not where; so he went into the
country on foot in search of Lee's army, looking back now and then at
the lost city under the black pall of smoke. While there, he had
retained a hope that Lee would come and retake it, but he had none now.
When the Stars and Bars went down on the dome of the Capitol it seemed
to him that the sun of the Confederacy set with it. But still he had a
vague idea of rejoining Lee and fighting to the last; just why he did
not understand; but the blind instinct was in him.

He did not know where Lee had gone and he learned that the task of
finding him was far easier in theory than in practice. The Northern
armies seemed to be on all sides of Richmond as well as in it, to
encircle it with a ring of steel; and Prescott passed night after night
in the woods, hiding from the horsemen in blue who rode everywhere. He
found now and then food at some lone farmhouse, and heard many reports,
particularly of Sheridan, who, they said, never slept, but passed his
days and nights clipping down the Southern army. Lee, they would say,
was just ahead; but when Prescott reached "just ahead" the General was
not there. Lee always seemed to be fleeing away before him.

Spring rushed on with soft, warm winds and an April day broke up in
rain. The night was black, and Prescott, lost in the woods, seeking
somewhere a shelter, heard a sound which he knew to be the rumble of a
train. Hope sprang up; where there was a train there was a railroad, and
a railroad meant life. He pushed on in the direction whence the sound
came, cowering before the wind and the rain, and at last saw a light. It
might be Yankees or it might not be Yankees, but Prescott now did not
care which, intent as he was upon food and shelter.

The light led him at last to an unpainted, one-room shanty in the woods
by the railroad track, a telegraph station. Prescott stared in at the
window and at the lone operator, a lank youth of twenty, who started
back when he saw the unshorn and ghastly face at the window. But he
recovered his coolness in a moment and said:

"Come in, stranger; I guess you're a hungry Reb."

Prescott entered, and the lank youth, without a word, took down some
crackers and hard cheese from a shelf.

"Eat it all," he said; "you're welcome."

Prescott ate voraciously and dried his clothing before the fire in a
little stove.

The telegraph instrument on a table in a corner kept up a monotonous
ticking, to which the operator paid no attention. But it was a soothing
sound to Prescott, and with the food and the heat and the restful
atmosphere he began to feel sleepy. The lank youth said nothing, but
watched his guest languidly and apparently without curiosity.

Presently the clicking of the telegraph instrument increased in rapidity
and emphasis and the operator went to the table. The rapid tick aroused
Prescott from the sleep into which he was falling.

"Tick-tack, tick-tack, tick-tack," went the instrument. A look of
interest appeared on the face of the lank youth.

"That instrument seems to be talking to you," said Prescott.

"Yes, it's saying a few words," replied the operator.

"Tick-tack, tick-tack, tick-tack!" went the instrument.

"It's a friend of mine farther up the line," said the boy. "Would you
like to hear what he's saying?"

"If you don't mind," replied Prescott.

It was very warm in the room and he was still drowsy. The boy began in
a mechanical voice as of one who reads:

"General Lee surrendered to General Grant to-day----"

"What's that?" exclaimed Prescott, springing to his feet. But the boy
went on:

"General Lee surrendered to General Grant to-day at Appomattox Court
House. The Army of Northern Virginia has laid down its arms and the war
is over."

Prescott stood for a moment like one dazed, then staggered and fell back
in his chair.

"I guess you're one of that army, mister," said the boy, hastily
bringing a cup of water.

"I was," replied Prescott as he recovered himself.

He stayed all night in the hut--there was nothing now to hurry for--and
the next morning the lank youth, with the same taciturn generosity,
shared with him his breakfast.

Prescott turned back toward Richmond, his heart swelling with the desire
for home. The sun came out bright and strong, the rain dried up, and the
world was again young and beautiful; but the country remained lone and
desolate, and not till nearly noon did he come in contact with human
life. Then he saw a half-dozen horsemen approaching--whether Northern or
Southern he did not care--it did not matter now, and he went on straight
toward them.

But the foremost rider leaped down with a cry of joy and wrung his hand.

"Bob, Bob, old boy!" he said. "We did not know what had become of you
and we had given you up for dead!"

It was Talbot, and Prescott returned his grasp with interest.

"Is it true--true that Lee has surrendered?" he asked, though knowing
well that it was true.

Talbot's eyes became misty.

"Yes, it is all so," he replied. "I was there and I saw it. We went down
to Appomattox and the Yankees came right after us--I don't know how many
strong, but too strong for us. Grant would never let us alone. He was
there at our heels all the time, and Sheridan kept galloping around us,
lopping off every straggling regiment and making our lives miserable.
When we got to Appomattox we found the Yankees were so thick that we
stayed there. We couldn't move. There weren't more than fifteen thousand
of us left, and we were starved and barefoot. The firing around us never
stopped. Grant kept pressing and pressing. Bob, I felt then that
something was going to happen."

Talbot stopped and choked, but in a moment he went on:

"Our generals had a big talk--I don't know what they said, but I know
what they did. A messenger went over to Grant's army, and by and by
General Grant and a lot of officers came and met General Lee and his
staff, and they went into a house and talked a long time. When they came
out it was all over. The Army of Northern Virginia, the victor of so
many great battles, was no more. We couldn't believe it for awhile,
though we knew that it must come. We hung around Marse Bob, and asked
him if it was true, and he said it was. He said when a war was over it
was over. He said we were beaten and we must now stop fighting. He told
us all to go home and go to work. It was an undivided Union; the war had
settled that and we must stick to it. General Grant had promised him
that we shouldn't be harmed, and he told us to think no more of war now,
but to rebuild our homes and our country. We loved Marse Bob in victory,
but we love him just as much now in defeat. We crowded around him and we
shook his hand and we would hardly let him go."

Talbot choked again, and it was a long time until he continued:

"General Grant did everything that he promised General Lee. He's the
right sort all through--so is the Yankee army. I've got nothing against
it. They never insulted us with a single word. We had our own camp and
they sent us over part of their rations. We needed them badly enough;
and then General Grant said that every man among us who had a horse was
to take it--and we did. Here I am on mine, and I reckon you might call
it a gift from the Yankee General."

The little group was silent. They had fought four years, and all had
ended in defeat. Tears were wiped from more than one brown face.

"We're going to Richmond, Bob," said Talbot at last, "and I guess you
are bound that way, too. You haven't any horse. Here, get up behind me."

Prescott accepted the offer, and the silent little group rode on toward
Richmond. On the way there Talbot said:

"Vincent Harley is dead. He was killed at Sailor's Creek. He led a last
charge and was shot through the heart. He must have died instantly, but
he did not even fall from the saddle. When the charge spent its force,
the reins had dropped from his hands, but he was sitting erect--stone
dead. It's a coincidence, but General Markham was killed on the same
day."

Prescott said nothing, but Thomas Talbot, who never remained long in the
depths, soon began to show signs of returning cheerfulness. They stopped
for a noon rest in a clearing, and after they ate their scanty dinner
Talbot leaped upon a stump.

"Oyez! Oyez!" he cried. "Attention all! I, Thomas Talbot, do offer for
sale one job lot of articles. Never before was there such an opportunity
to obtain the rare and valuable at such low prices."

"What are you selling, Tom?" asked Prescott.

"Listen and learn," replied Talbot, in sonorous and solemn tones.
"Gentlemen, I offer to the highest bidder and without reserve one
Confederacy, somewhat soiled, battered and damaged, but surrounded by
glorious associations. The former owners having no further use for it,
this valuable piece of property is put upon the market. Who'll buy?
Who'll buy? Come, gentlemen, bid up. You'll never have another such
chance. What do I hear? What do I hear?"

"Thirty cents!" called some one.

"Thirty cents! I am bid thirty cents!" cried Talbot.

"Confederate money," added the bidder.

A laugh arose.

"Do you want me to give you this property?" asked Talbot.

But he could get no higher bid, and he descended from the stump amid
laughter that bordered closely on something else.

Then they resumed their journey.



CHAPTER XXXI

THE COIN OF GOLD


Prescott had been at home some months. Johnston's army, too, had
surrendered. Everywhere the soldiers of the South, seeing that further
resistance would be criminal, laid down their arms. A mighty war, waged
for four years with unparalleled tenacity and strewn all the way with
tremendous battles, ceased with astonishing quickness.

The people of Richmond were already planning the rebuilding of the city;
the youthful were looking forward with hope to the future, and not the
least sanguine among them were a little group gathered as of old in the
newspaper office of Winthrop. They had been discussing their own
purposes.

"I shall stay in Richmond and continue the publication of my newspaper,"
said Winthrop.

"And I shall bring my wandering journal here, give it a permanent home
and be your deadly rival," said Raymond.

"Good!" said Winthrop, and they shook hands on the bargain.

General Wood said nothing about his own happiness, which he considered
assured, because he was to be married to Helen Harley the following
month. But some one spoke presently of the Secretary.

"Gone to England!" said Raymond briefly.

Raymond mentioned a little later a piece of gossip that was being
circulated quietly in Richmond. A million dollars in gold left in the
Confederate treasury had disappeared mysteriously; whether it had been
moved before the flight of the Government or at that time nobody knew.
As there was no Confederate Government now, it consequently had no
owner, and nobody took the trouble to look for it.

Prescott was in London a few years later, where he found it necessary to
do some business with the great banking firm of Sefton & Calder, known
throughout two continents as a model of business ability and integrity.
The senior partner greeted him with warmth and insisted on taking him
home to dinner, where he met Mrs. Sefton, a blond woman of wit and
beauty about whom a man had once sought to force a quarrel upon him. She
was very cordial to him, asking him many questions concerning people in
Richmond and showing great familiarity with the old town. Prescott
thought that on the whole both Mr. Sefton and his wife had married well.

But all this, on that day in Winthrop's office, was in the future, and
after an hour's talk he walked alone up the street. The world was fair,
life seemed all before him, and he turned his course to the new home of
Helen Harley. She had grieved for her brother awhile, but now she was
happy in her coming marriage. Lucia and Miss Grayson were with her,
helping to prepare for the day, and making a home there, too, until they
could have one of their own.

Prescott had noticed his mother's increasing love for Lucia, but between
Lucia and himself there was still some constraint; why, he did not know,
but it troubled him.

He knocked at the Harley home and Helen herself answered the door.

"Can I see Miss Catherwood?" he asked.

"She is in the next room," she replied. "She does not know that you are
here, but I think you can go in unannounced."

She opened the second door for him at once and he entered. Lucia was
standing by the window and there was a faint smile on her face, but the
smile was sad. She was looking at something in her hand and Prescott's
eyes caught a yellow gleam.

His step had been so light that Lucia did not hear him. He came nearer
and she looked up. Then her hands closed quickly over the yellow gleam.

"What have you there?" asked Prescott, suddenly growing brave.

"Something that belongs to you."

"Let me see it."

She opened her hand and a gold double eagle lay in the palm.

"It is the last that you left on Miss Grayson's doorstep," she said,
"and I am going to give it back to you."

"I will take it," he said, "on one condition."

"What is that?"

"That you come with it."

She flushed a rosy red.

"Won't you come, Lucia?" he said. "Life is not life without you."

"Yes," she said softly, "I will come."


THE END.





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large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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