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Title: A Lincoln Conscript
Author: Greene, Homer
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Lincoln Conscript" ***

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produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



By Homer Greene


  A LINCOLN CONSCRIPT. Illustrated. 12mo, $1.50.

  COAL AND THE COAL MINES. In Riverside Library for Young People.
    Illustrated. 16mo, 75 cents.


HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

Boston and New York



                          A LINCOLN CONSCRIPT



[Illustration: “MY BOY, OF SUCH STUFF ARE PATRIOTS AND HEROES MADE.”]



                               A LINCOLN
                               CONSCRIPT

                            BY HOMER GREENE

                    ILLUSTRATED BY T. DE THULSTRUP


                            [Illustration]


                       HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
                       BOSTON AND NEW YORK : THE
                      RIVERSIDE PRESS, CAMBRIDGE
                                 1909



                   COPYRIGHT, 1909, BY HOMER GREENE

                          ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


                        _Published April 1909_



CONTENTS


    I. “THE SINS OF THE FATHERS”      1
   II. NEWS FROM GETTYSBURG          27
  III. A LOVER OF LINCOLN            52
   IV. THE DRAFTED COPPERHEAD        77
    V. AN UNEXPECTED BREAKFAST      100
   VI. A DESPERATE DECISION         122
  VII. OFF TO THE WAR               143
 VIII. A LETTER FROM THE FRONT      166
   IX. WITH ABRAHAM LINCOLN         191
    X. FIGHTING FOR THE FLAG        215
   XI. THE GREAT TRAGEDY            238
  XII. THE WELCOME HOME             260



ILLUSTRATIONS


 “_My boy, of such stuff are patriots and heroes made_”
                                    (_page 244_)    Frontispiece

 “_I’m no traitor_”                                           12

 “_This isn’t fair play_”                                     54

 “_I’ve discovered a way to get rid of these men_”           108

 “_Well, what’s your case?_”                                 154

 _Lincoln laid his hand on Bannister’s knee_                 202

 “_Father, what does it mean?_”                              218

 _He faced his fellow townsmen_                              274



A LINCOLN CONSCRIPT



CHAPTER I

“THE SINS OF THE FATHERS”


On the second day of July in the year 1863 the Civil War in America
was at its height. Late in the preceding month Lee had turned his
face northward, and, with an army of a hundred thousand Confederate
soldiers at his back, had marched up into Pennsylvania. There was
little to hinder his advance. Refraining, by reason of strict orders,
from wanton destruction of property, his soldiers nevertheless lived on
the rich country through which they passed. York and Carlisle were in
their grasp. Harrisburg was but a day’s march away, and now, on this
second day of July, flushed with fresh victories, they had turned and
were giving desperate battle, through the streets and on the hills of
Gettysburg, to the Union armies that had followed them.

The old commonwealth was stirred as she had not been stirred before
since the fall of Sumter. Every town and village in the state
responded quickly to the governor’s call for emergency troops to
defend the capital city. Mount Hermon, already depleted by generous
early enlistments, and by the draft of 1862, gathered together the
bulk of the able-bodied men left in the village and its surroundings,
and sent them forth in defense of the commonwealth. Not that Mount
Hermon was in especial danger from Lee’s invasion, far from it. Up
in the northeastern corner of the state, on a plateau of one of the
low foot-hills of the Moosic range, sheltered by the mountains at its
back, it was well protected, both by reason of distance and location,
from the advancing foe. But Mount Hermon was intensely patriotic. In
the days preceding the Revolution the sturdy pioneers from Connecticut
had met the equally sturdy settlers from the domain of Penn, and on
this plateau they had fought out their contentions and settled their
differences; the son of the Pennamite had married the daughter of the
Yankee; and the new race, with love of country tingeing every drop
of its blood a deeper red, had stayed on and possessed the land. So,
on this July day, when the armies of North and South were striving
and struggling with each other in bloody combat back and forth across
the plain and up the hills of Gettysburg, Mount Hermon’s heart beat
fast. But it was not for themselves that these people were anxious. It
was for the fathers, husbands, sons, lovers in that army with which
Meade, untried and unproven, was endeavoring to match the strategy and
strength of Lee. News of the first day’s skirmishing had reached the
village, and it was felt that a great battle was imminent. In the early
evening, while the women were still busy at their household tasks,
the men gathered at the post-office and the stores, eager for late
news, anxious to discuss the situation as they had learned it. In the
meantime the boys of the town had congregated on the village green to
resume the military drills which, with more or less frequency, they
had carried on during the summer. These drills were not wholly without
serious intent. It was play, indeed; but, out of the ranks of these
boys, three of the older ones had already gone to the front to fight
real battles; and it was felt, by the men of the town, that the boys
could not be too thoroughly imbued with the military spirit. So, on
this July evening, wakened into new ardor by the news from Gettysburg,
they had gathered to resume their nightly work--and play.

There were thirty-three of them, ranging in years all the way from
eight to eighteen. They were eager and enthusiastic. And the light
of the low sun, shining red on their faces, disclosed a spirit of
earnestness among them, as well as that appreciation of sport common
to all American boys. At the command to fall in there was much pushing
and jostling, much striving for desirable places, and even the young
captain, with great show of authority, could not quite adjust all
differences to the complete satisfaction of his men.

Before the confusion had wholly ceased, and while there were still
awkward gaps in the ranks, a tall, straight, shy-mannered boy of
seventeen, who had remained hitherto on the outskirts of the group,
quietly slipped into one of the vacant places.

The ranks being finally formed, the orderly sergeant stepped out in
front of the company to call the roll. By some inadvertence he had lost
or mislaid his list of names, and for the moment he was at a loss what
to do. But his quick wit came to his rescue, and, beginning at the
right of the line, he called the names of those who were under his eye.

“Albright!”

“Here.”

“Valentine!”

“Here.”

“Bannister!”

“Here.”

It was the tall straight boy who had slipped quietly into the ranks
who responded to this last name. Down the line there went a little
murmur of surprise, and before the sergeant could call the next name,
one of his soldiers stepped one pace to the front and struck his hand
violently against his breast.

The astonished sergeant ceased suddenly to call the roll.

“What’s the matter with you, Sam?” he inquired.

“I want to know,” said Sam, resentment ringing in his voice, “what
right Bob Bannister has to be in this company.”

“Why ain’t he got a right?” responded the sergeant.

“Because he’s a traitor,” replied the indignant Sam.

“And his father’s a copperhead,” added another fledgeling soldier,
stepping also one pace to the front. Then came from the ranks generally
a chorus of protest against the admission of the tall straight youth to
the privileges of the drill.

The sergeant, turning appealingly to the captain, who was standing with
folded arms at some little distance, said deprecatingly: “It’s none o’
my business. All I got to do is to call the roll. I don’t muster ’em
in.”

Whereupon the captain, fifteen years of age, took the matter up.

“Let private Bannister step to the front,” he commanded.

The accused boy fell out of the rear rank, passed to the left of the
line, and so on to the front.

“Speak for yourself, Bob,” he said. “You’re charged with being a
traitor.”

“It’s not true,” replied the boy quietly but firmly, his face flushing
and paling by turns.

“Well, what about your father?” cried Sam. “Ain’t he said ’t this
war’s a failure and ’t Abe Lincoln’s a fraud?”

“An’ ain’t he the biggest copperhead in Mount Hermon township?” piped
up a small boy on the extreme left.

Whereupon there was another chorus of denunciation, and a half-dozen
boys shouted at once: “We don’t want any son of a copperhead in this
company!”

“Shut up, you fellows!” exclaimed the captain, “or I’ll have every
mother’s son of you arrested for breach of discipline, an’ shut you up
in the guard-house on bread an’ water, every one of you. Now, let’s get
at this thing orderly. We’ll give Bob a fair hearing an’ then decide
whether we want him or not.”

“Yes,” added Sam, “le’s court-martial ’im. That’s the way to settle his
hash.”

The idea of court-martialing the objectionable applicant for military
privileges met with instant approval on the part of the company.
Whereupon the captain at once made his appointments for the purpose.

“You, Brilly--Lieutenant Brill, you be judge-advocate general; you,
Sergeant Davis and Corporal Guild, you be assistant judge-advocate
general; you, Sam Powers, you be prosecuting attorney, and you, Private
Grimstone, you defend the prisoner. All three of you sit down on the
bench under this tree an’ hear the witnesses.”

“Aw, shucks!” exclaimed a disgusted youth, leaving the ranks and
walking away. “You fellows are too smart. If you don’t want ’im, kick
’im out an’ done with it, an’ you’ll kick out the best soldier in the
company. Court-martial snakes! Aw, shucks!”

“You, Bill Hinkle,” retorted the captain, “you’re discharged in
disgrace for insubordination. Now, boys, come on. Oh, I forgot! Break
ranks, march!”

But the ranks were already broken beyond immediate repair, and the
crowd surged toward the bench on which the members of the military
trial court were already seated. Witnesses were at once called to
prove what every one knew, that Bob Bannister’s father was an open
sympathizer with the South, that he had declared the war to be a
mistake and a failure and Abraham Lincoln to be a fraud. Then Bob’s
lawyer called for witnesses to come to Bob’s defense; but no one came.
His cause was too unpopular. So the attorney called on Bob himself.

“Now you just stand up here,” he said, “before these judges, an’ make a
clean breast o’ the whole business, an’ throw yourself on the mercy of
this honorable court; an’ don’t you tell no lies because we won’t have
it; do you hear?”

Thus commanded by his own counsel, Bob stood up to face his accusers.
Although he was one of the oldest boys present, and capable, both by
reason of his bigness and his mental ability, of being their leader,
yet his natural diffidence and his unfortunate paternal connection
had kept him in the background during the entire course of the war.
In this mock trial he saw no humor. To him it was very real and of
much moment. He felt that the time was come when he should either be
vindicated as a loyal citizen, fit to associate with his fellows, or
else shut out permanently from their companionship. His face was very
pale as he began to speak, his dark eyes were suffused with emotion,
and a stray lock of his black hair hung damp across his forehead.

“I’m no traitor,” he began. “It’s not right to call me a traitor. And
I’m no copperhead either. I believe in the war. I believe in Abraham
Lincoln, and I--I love the flag.”

[Illustration: “I’M NO TRAITOR.”]

He turned his eyes up toward the stars and stripes drooping lazily from
the summit of the great pole planted on the village green.

“Well, ain’t your father a copperhead?” asked the prosecuting
lawyer savagely. “An’ ain’t he talked ag’inst Lincoln, an’ ag’inst
the soldiers, an’ ag’inst the war, an’ ag’inst the govament, an’
ag’inst--ag’inst the whole business? Ain’t he? An’ ain’t you his son,
an’ ain’t you got to mind him? An’ don’t you believe he tells the
truth? Do you s’pose your father’d lie? Answer me that now. Do you
think he’d lie?”

The prosecuting attorney turned toward his auditors with a smile and a
nod, as much as to say: “That’s a clincher, I’ve got him now.”

But by this time Bob’s diffidence had disappeared. The under part of
his nature was roused and ready to assert itself. He lifted his head,
and his eyes sparkled as he looked around him.

“My father is no liar,” he replied. “He says what he believes to be
true about the war. Maybe he’s mistaken. That’s not for me to say, nor
for you. But so far as I’m concerned, I tell you again that I’m loyal.
I stand by the President, and by the government, and by the flag; and
some day I’ll fight for it, and I’ll do things for it that you, Sam
Powers, and you, Jim Brill, and all the rest of you wouldn’t dare to
do.”

He stood erect, with flushed face and flashing eyes, and for a brief
moment his accusers were silent. Then, gently at first, but increasing
soon to a storm of protest, the voices of his companions were heard in
reply. In the midst of the confusion the judge-advocate general held up
his hand for silence.

“It appears to the court”--he began, but a voice interrupted him:--

“Question! Put the question!”

With little knowledge of parliamentary rules, and still less of
proceedings before a court-martial, the judge-advocate general and his
associates looked a trifle dazed.

“Question! I call for the question,” demanded the person with insistent
voice. “Shall Bob Bannister be allowed to be a member of this company?”

The judge-advocate general pulled himself together and slowly repeated
the question:--

“Shall Bob Bannister be allowed to be a member of this company? All you
that want him say Yes.”

Three feeble and uncertain voices responded in the affirmative.

“And all you that don’t want him say No.”

The chorus of noes was triumphantly loud.

“The noes win,” declared the judge-advocate general; and the captain
added, “The court’s adjourned sign dee.”

“Aw, shucks!” exclaimed Bill Hinkle, now in disgrace himself and
therefore more in sympathy with Bob. “You fellows know a lot, don’t
you! You’re smart, ain’t you! W’y, Bob Bannister’s the best man you
got. I’ll back him to lick any three of you, with one hand tied behind
’is back, by jimminy! You’ve made regular nincompoops o’ yourselves,
you have. Aw, shucks!”

And the deeply and doubly disgusted one walked away.

So did Bob Bannister walk away. He went with bent head and breaking
heart. To be denied the right to join with his companions in any
demonstration looking to his country’s glory or welfare was, to him,
a tragedy. His was one of those natures endowed at birth with a spirit
of patriotism. From the time when he could first read he had absorbed
the history of his country and her heroes. No colors had ever shone
before his eyes more brilliant and beautiful than the red, white, and
blue of his country’s flag. With an intuition far beyond his years, he
had grasped the meaning and foreseen the consequences of a dissolution
of the compact that bound the states together. And when, at last,
the storm broke, when Sumter fell, when Bull Run came, an awakening
calamity, he threw his whole heart and soul into the cause of the
North, and from that time on he lived in spirit, and would have died
in body, with the Union armies, fighting, that the old flag and all
that it symbolized might prevail. Yet, strange as it may seem, his
father, with whom he lived, of whom he was proud and fond, to whom he
was loyally obedient, was an outspoken sympathizer with the Southern
Confederacy. Perhaps it was the strain of Southern blood in his veins,
perhaps it was the underlying aristocracy of feeling of those whose
ancestors have owned slaves, perhaps it was the clear logic of his
mind running in the narrow grooves that genius so often hollows out,
that led Rhett Bannister into his passionate sympathy with the South.
Be that as it may, he was no coward. What he was, what he felt, what
he thought, was known of all men. Opposition could not conquer him,
opprobrious epithets could not cow him, nor could ostracism silence his
eloquent tongue.

Notwithstanding the general and fervent loyalty of the community in
which Bannister lived, there were, nevertheless, among the people,
those who felt that the war was a mistake and a failure, that the issue
had been tried out at an awful sacrifice with but indifferent success,
and that now peace should be had on any reasonable terms. These were
the conservatives, the locofocos. Then there were those who, deeply
sympathizing with the South from the beginning of the trouble, were
ready to make any legal opposition to a further prosecution of the war
by the Federal government, using politics and public speech as their
strongest weapons. These were classed in the North as copperheads. Then
there were still others who, saying little and clothing their conduct
with secrecy, gave what aid, comfort, and active coöperation they could
to the enemies of the Federal government. These were plainly spoken of
as traitors. Indeed, secret organizations sprang up in the North and
West, with their lodges, officers, grips, and passwords, having for
their object a concentrated effort to undermine the patriotic efforts
of the citizens of the North and the administration at Washington,
and to aid indirectly in the defeat of the Union armies in the field.
Perhaps the most deeply rooted organization of the kind in the loyal
states was known as the Knights of the Golden Circle. But Rhett
Bannister was not one of their members. He despised the stab in the
dark, and all secret and unfair methods of warfare. Frank, eloquent,
and outspoken, he never hesitated to say and to do freely and openly
that which he deemed to be right, regardless of the opinions, the
condemnation, or even the hate of his neighbors.

It was to this father and to his home that the boy, refused admission
into the patriotic ranks of his comrades, now started on his way. At
the edge of the village he met Sarah Jane Stark. There are some people
who are always known, not only to their friends but to the public also,
by their full names. Sarah Jane Stark was one of them. She had lived
in Mount Hermon all her life. How long that was it would be ungallant
to say, had not Miss Stark herself declared boastfully that she had
come within fifteen years of living in two centuries. With no children
of her own, she was a mother to all the children in the village.
Kind-hearted, sharp-tongued, a terror to evil-doers, “a very present
help in trouble” to all the worthy who needed her assistance, the
social arbiter of the town, she was the most loved as well as the most
feared woman in the community. When she met Bob in the footpath at the
roadside, she looked at him sharply.

“Look here, Bob Bannister,” she said, “you’ve been crying. Or if you
haven’t, you’ve been so close to it there wasn’t any fun in it. Now you
just go ahead and tell me what the matter is.”

Bob knew from previous experience, on many occasions, that it was
absolutely useless to attempt evasion with Sarah Jane Stark. Much as
his sensitive nature rebelled against complaining of any slight that
his fellows had put upon him, he felt that he must make a clean breast
of it to his questioner.

“Why, they put me out of the company, Miss Stark,” he said. “I wanted
to drill in the company with the other fellows and they wouldn’t let
me. That’s all. I s’pose they had a right to do it; of course they had
a right.”

“Put you out of the company, did they? And what did they put you out
for, I’d like to know? Aren’t you as good a soldier as any of them?”

“Well, that wasn’t exactly it, Miss Stark. They seemed to think that
because--well, they thought I wasn’t loyal.”

“Thought you weren’t loyal! Well, that is a note! Why, you--oh, I see!
On account of your father, eh? Yes, I see.”

Miss Stark tapped her foot impatiently on the hard soil of the
side-path, and looked off toward the blue sky-line of the Moosic range,
behind which the sun had already gone down.

“‘The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children,’” she
said musingly. Then she turned again to Bob.

“You’re no copperhead yourself, are you?” she inquired. “You’re not
even a locofoco, are you?”

“No, indeed, Miss Stark! There isn’t one of those boys that believes
in putting down the rebellion more than I do, that loves the old flag
more than I do, or would fight for it, or for the government, or for
Abraham Lincoln, quicker than I would if I had the chance--Miss Stark,
I’m loyal, I’m loyal!”

He stood erect, eyes flashing, the color back in his cheeks, the soul
within him speaking. Sarah Jane Stark went up to him and put her arm
about his shoulders.

“Good!” she cried. “You’re the right sort. I wish Abe Lincoln had a
hundred thousand at the front just like you. Now you leave that matter
about the company to me. I’ll see those boys, the little brats, and if
they don’t take you in I’ll--”

“No, Miss Stark, please don’t! I couldn’t go back in now. I couldn’t
ever go in after this. But if the war lasts till I get old enough, I
shall be a real soldier in a real company some day.”

“Bully for you!”

It was not a very dignified nor refined expression; but Sarah Jane
Stark was noted for expressing herself forcibly when the occasion
demanded it, and she felt that this was one of the occasions that
demanded it.

“And,” she added, “you go tell Rhett Bannister for me, that if he had
one thousandth part of the natural patriotism and horse-sense of his
son-- No, you needn’t tell him; I’ll tell him myself. I can do it
better. You just trot along home and don’t let the conduct of those
fool boys trouble you. You’re right and they’re wrong, and that’s all
there is to it.”

So Bob went on his way. The Bannister home lay on the old North and
South turnpike road, a full mile from the centre of the village. A very
comfortable home it was, too, neat and prosperous in appearance, with
a small and fertile farm behind the commodious house, and a well-kept
lawn in front. For Rhett Bannister, theorist though he was, was no mere
dreamer of dreams, he was a worker as well; both the fruit of his brain
and the labor of his hands being evident in the comforts by which he
was surrounded.

When Bob went up the path to the porch he found his father and mother
and his six-year-old sister all there, enjoying the coolness of the
evening. It was already too dark for either of his parents to discover
in Bob’s face any sign of distress, and he did not mention to them his
experiences of the evening. But the quick ear of his mother caught the
troubled cadence in his voice, and she went over and sat by him and
began smoothing the hair back from his forehead.

“You’re tired, Robbie,” she said, “and it’s been such a warm day.”

“Did you hear anything new up town about the Pennsylvania raid?”
inquired his father.

“Nothing much,” replied the boy. “I believe there’s been some fighting
around Gettysburg, and they’re expecting a big battle there to-day.”

“Yes,” replied the man, “I suppose the two armies are facing each
other there, very likely the slaughter has already begun. Perhaps
there’ll be another holocaust like Fredericksburg. Doubtless thousands
of lives will be sacrificed and millions of money squandered at
Gettysburg, when ten words from the stiff-necked incompetents at
Washington would have stopped the horrible conflict and brought peace
to the country months ago.”

Bob said nothing, he knew it was useless. He had, on two or three
occasions, attempted in a feeble way to argue with his father questions
pertaining to the war, but he had been fairly swept off his feet by a
flood of logic and eloquence, and he had found silence on these matters
to be the better part for him to take in the presence of his father.

After a few minutes the man added: “If, even now, Lincoln would concede
one half of what the South demands as a plain right--”

Bannister paused. Somewhere in the darkness up the road there was a
confused sound of voices. Then, from a score of lusty young throats
there came in on the still air of the summer night the familiar words
of a patriotic song.

    “My country, ’tis of thee,
     Sweet land of liberty--”

“It sounds good, Robert,” said Rhett Bannister. “But what’s it all
about? What does it mean?”

“I don’t know, father,” said Bob; “I--I guess it’s just the boys
a-marching.”

The voices and the words of the song grew clearer and more distinct.
Now the steady tramp of marching feet could be distinguished. Then
another song broke in upon the night.

    “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave;
     John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave;
     John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave;
       But his soul goes marching on.”

Loud, clear, and musical came the “Glory, glory, hallelujah!” chorus;
and, indistinctly in the darkness, the figures of the marching company
could be discerned, coming down the road in front of the lawn.

The expression on Rhett Bannister’s face could not be seen, but his
voice was heavy with indignation as he muttered:--

“And that same John Brown was a fanatic, a fool, and a murderer, and
richly deserved his fate.”

“They don’t know, father,” said Bob apologetically. “They sing it
because it sounds good.”

Down by the gate there was, for a moment, an ominous silence, then,
full-volumed and vigorous, a new parody on “John Brown’s Body” was
hurled across the darkness toward the house of the copperhead.

    “We’ll hang Rhett Ban’ster on a sour-apple tree;
     We’ll hang Rhett Ban’ster on a sour-apple tree;
     We’ll hang Rhett Ban’ster on a sour-apple tree;
       As we go marching on.”



CHAPTER II

NEWS FROM GETTYSBURG


At the first line of the daring parody Rhett Bannister and his son
both sprang to their feet, the one white with sudden rage, the other
stricken with indignation and alarm. With one step the man reached the
edge of the porch, with the next he was down on the path on his way to
the gate, to give physical expression to his wrath. What would have
happened in the road can only be conjectured, had not Bob’s frightened
little mother run to the porch-steps and called to her husband:--

“Rhett, dear! Rhett, don’t! Don’t mind them. Come back, Rhett, dear!”

The angry man stopped in his headlong passage down the walk. There had
never been a time in all his married life when the pleading voice of
his wife had not been sufficient to check any outburst of passion on
his part. Daring and defiant to all the world beside when occasion
prompted him, he had always been as tender and gentle with her as in
the days of their courtship. She was down at his side now, one hand on
his arm, trying to soothe his outraged feelings.

“They’re mere boys, Rhett. They don’t know any better. Some day, when
they’re older, they’ll regret it. And now you’ll have nothing to
regret, Rhett, dear, nothing.”

Up from the road came a defiant shout:

“Hurrah for Abe Lincoln!”

“Down with the copperheads!”

But, even at the height of his rage, with the taunts and threats of his
tormentors ringing in his ears, Rhett Bannister turned and took pity
on his wife, and led her back to the porch with reassuring words. The
unterrified boys, taking up again their line of march, turned into the
crossroad on their way back to the village, singing:--

    “Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching;
     Cheer up, comrades, they will come.”

“I suppose it isn’t worth while,” said the man, seating himself on the
porch-steps and wiping the perspiration from his forehead. “The boys
are not so much to blame. It’s their parents who instill into their
minds that spirit of intolerance, who deserve to be chastened. Now
you can see, Robert,” turning to the boy, “the extremes to which the
Northern adherents of Lincoln’s cause carry their hate for those who
will not agree with them.”

“I know, father, I know. It’s an outrage. They have treated me even
worse than they have you. And yet--and yet I can’t believe Lincoln is
to blame for it.”

For once the defense of Lincoln did not arouse Bannister’s ire. He was
too deeply interested in what the boy had said of himself.

“And how have they treated you, Robert? What have they done to you?”

“Oh, nothing much. Only they say you’re a copperhead, and they--they--”

“Well?”

“They think I must be a copperhead, too.”

“So! Well, it’s not a pretty name, to be sure, but it stands for
something in these days. And suppose you were a copperhead, what then?”

“But I’m not. And that’s how they hurt me.”

“What have they done to you, Robert? What have they said to you? How
have they hurt you? I want to know.”

The pitch of anger was back in the man’s voice. He could stand
persecution for himself, but to have his loved ones persecuted, that
was unbearable.

“Oh, it don’t amount to much,” replied the boy; “they simply didn’t
want me, that’s all.”

“Didn’t want you when? where? how? Tell me, Robert! I say, tell me!”

It was the last thing the boy would have told to his father voluntarily,
the story of the slight put upon him that evening at the village. But,
inadvertently, he had stumbled into the mention of it, and now there was
no escape from telling the whole story. He had never learned the art of
equivocation, and it did not take many questionings before the whole
humiliating tale was in his father’s possession. But the outburst of
wrath that the boy had feared did not come. Instead, for many minutes,
the man sat silent, looking down at the gray footpath losing itself in
the shadows of the trees. When at last he raised his head, he spoke
slowly as if to himself.

“Poor, weak, wicked human nature! Poor, paltry, fluctuating popular
sentiment! Utterly illogical, brutally oppressive, with no mind nor
thought of its own, led hither and thither by charlatans and demagogues
‘clothed with a little brief authority.’ Ah! but those men who rule and
ruin down there at Washington will have much to answer for some day!
It may not be until the last great day, but the accounting is bound to
come. Mary,” turning to his wife, “is it better that we should follow
the lead of our own minds and consciences, and suffer humiliation and
insult and ostracism; or shall we yield to popular pressure, and hide
our sentiments, and go along with the shouting, cheering, mindless
rabble, and shout and cheer with them?”

“I don’t know, Rhett, dear. I don’t know anything about it. I try to
think it out sometimes, but I get all confused and I stop trying. You
know Cousin Henry is fighting with Lee, and Cousin Charley is with
Grant in Mississippi. So many Kentucky families are divided that way,
and it isn’t strange that I should be at a loss to decide. But you’ve
thought it all out, Rhett, and you must be right, and I’ll think just
as you do, no matter what happens to us. Anyway, so long as I have
you and Robert and Louise I shall try to be happy. Where is Louise? I
forgot all about her. Louise!”

“Here, mother.”

The child had retreated to the corner of the porch when the first sign
of trouble appeared, and, now that the excitement was over, she was
tired and sleepy.

“Come, dearie, it’s long past bedtime. Say good-night to papa and
Robert.”

After that, though Bob and his father sat long upon the porch, there
was no resumption of conversation. Each was immersed in thought, each
was depressed in spirit, and each went to his bed only to pass a
restless and troubled night.

The next day but one was the Fourth of July. Early in the morning there
came down to the Bannister homestead the dull echo of the firing of the
little old village heirloom of a cannon, which the boys had dragged
up to the top of a ledge back of the town, and with which they were
accustomed, on Independence Day, to rouse their sleeping neighbors.
There was to be a celebration at the village, of course. There had been
a celebration on the Fourth of July at Mount Hermon from a time whereof
the memory of the oldest inhabitant ran not to the contrary. There were
to be speeches, the band was to play, the glee club was to sing. All
day, in the basement of the town hall, the young ladies were to sell
refreshments and fireworks for the benefit of the Soldiers’ Relief Fund.

Yet there was no spirit of cheerfulness or rejoicing in the air.
The times were too tense. The strain of conflict was too great. The
mightiest battle of the Civil War was on at Gettysburg. For two days,
across the streets and up the heights of that quaint Pennsylvania
village, the armies of Meade and Lee had clashed and striven with each
other, until the uncovered dead lay by ghastly thousands, and every
hollow in the hillside held its pool of blood. Rumors of victory and
rumors of disaster crossed and recrossed each other on the way from the
battle-field to the villages of the North. Mount Hermon hardly knew
what to believe. She was positive only of this: that two score of her
sons were down there in the Army of the Potomac, and that in all human
probability some of them, many of them indeed, were wounded, dying,
dead. Whose husband, son, brother, lover would it prove to be, whose
eyes would never see Mount Hermon’s elms again? No wonder the spirit of
anxiety and fearfulness outweighed that of jubilant patriotism on this
day.

All the morning the news had been sifting little by little into the
village. Toward noon it was certain that out of the stress and horror
of a mighty battle had come distinct victory for the Union armies. Lee
was crushed, there was no doubt of that. His broken ranks were already
in retreat, that too was well assured. From some quarter also came a
rumor that Grant, who had been for weeks thundering at the gates of
Vicksburg, had broken them down at last, had occupied the city, and
that Pemberton’s army was his. Yet Mount Hermon did no loud rejoicing.
She waited impatiently for confirmation of the news, anxiously for
the list of dead and wounded. At two o’clock the stage would come,
bringing the mail and the morning papers. As the hour approached, the
crowd about the post-office grew greater. Not a jubilant crowd, just a
waiting, hoping, fearing, intensely earnest concourse of the people of
Mount Hermon.

Into this gathering strode Rhett Bannister. It was imprudent and
foolhardy for him to come, and he should have known it. Indeed, he did
know it. But during the two nights and a day that had passed since the
slight put on his boy, since the sons of his neighbors had insulted him
at his own home, he had thought much. And the more he thought, the more
deeply wounded became his pride, the more restlessly he chafed under
the humiliating yoke that had been forced on him, the more defiantly
he determined to assert his right to think for himself and to express
such opinions as he saw fit concerning public affairs. He felt that he
was as much of a patriot, that he had the interest of his country as
deeply at heart as any resident of Mount Hermon. Why then should he
submit tamely to humiliation and ostracism and maltreatment? And if he
chose to go where he had a right to go, on the highway, through the
village streets, to the government post-office, to the public gathering
in celebration of a day which was as dear to his heart as to the heart
of any citizen of the town, why in the name of liberty should he not
go? Let the rabble say what they would, he felt that he could defend
himself, by word of mouth, with his strong right arm, if necessary,
against any blatant demagogue or blind political partisan who might
choose to set upon him. In this frame of mind he started for the
village, and in this frame of mind he strode into that group of tense,
anxious, patriotic men and women waiting for the news.

There were few who greeted him as he pushed his way to the post-office
window, and called for his mail. The postmaster handed out to him two
papers and a letter. He tore off the end of the envelope, drew out the
scrap of paper which had been inclosed, and looked at it. Then his
face turned red with anger. Some mischievous, malicious busybody had
sent him an anonymous epistle: a crudely penciled picture, a libelous
scrawl beneath it, the whole a coarse thrust at his alleged disloyalty.
If this had been intended as a joke, he could not have taken it as
such. But it was no joke. To him, indeed, it was simply a coarse,
brutal, wanton attack on his manhood and patriotism. It started the
fires of rage burning with sevenfold heat in his heart. He lifted his
blazing eyes to find half the people in the little room staring at
him, some wonderingly, some exultingly. Out by the doorway there was a
suppressed chuckle. No one spoke. If Bannister had been content to hold
his peace, there would have been no trouble. But he could not do that.
Only death could have sealed his lips in that moment. He held up the
coarse cartoon, with its equally coarse inscription, for the crowd to
look at. Then he said, speaking deliberately:--

“I observe that you have found a new way to fight the battles of your
alleged country.”

For a moment no one replied. Then, from the farther side of the room
came the voice of Sergeant Goodman, home on furlough, wounded.

“To whom are you speaking, Rhett Bannister?”

And the reply came, hot and swift:--

“To the coward who sent me this work of art; to you who aided and
abetted him, and to all of you who take your cue from the Federal
government at Washington, and persecute in every mean and malicious way
those who do not believe in wholesale murder in the South and who are
not afraid to say so in the North.”

“I don’t know anything about your letter and picture, Bannister,” said
the sergeant, “but we who are doing the fighting believe in the Federal
government at Washington, we believe that we are carrying on a just
war, and we believe that if it were not for you and the rest of your
backbiting, disloyal, copperhead crew here in the North, who are giving
aid and sympathy to the rebels of the South, we would have had this war
ended a year ago.”

“Give it to him, sergeant!” cried an enthusiastic listener; “let him
understand that it ain’t healthy for traitors around here.”

“I’m no traitor,” responded Bannister hotly. “I think as much of my
country as you do of yours. I’ll give more to-day, in proportion to my
means, to secure an honorable peace between North and South than any
other man in this room.”

“Hon’able peace!” shouted a gray-haired man indignantly. “Dishon’able
surrender you mean. You want the govament to back down, don’t ye, an’
acknowledge the corn, an’ let Jeff Davis hev his own way, an’ make a
present to ’em o’ the hull South an’ half the North to boot, don’t ye?
An’ tell ’em they done right to shoot down the ol’ flag on Fort Sumter,
an’ tell ’em ’at Abe Lincoln’s a fool an’ a fraud an’ a murderer,
don’t ye? don’t ye?”

“That estimate of Abraham Lincoln is not far from right, my friend,”
replied Bannister. “For it is only a fool and a knave, and a man with
the spirit of Cain in his heart, that would plunge his country into
ruin and keep her there; that would send you, Sergeant Goodman, and
you, Henry Bradbury, and all of us who may be drawn in the accursed
conscription that is coming, down to slaughter, without cause, our
brothers of the South.”

“Look here, Rhett Bannister!”

This was the voice of Henry Bradbury. He stood against the wall with an
empty sleeve hanging at his side, telling mutely of Antietam and Libby.
“You can’t talk that way about Abe Lincoln here. We don’t want to hurt
you, but there’s some of us who’ve been in the army, an’ who love old
Abe, an’ who won’t stand an’ hear him slandered; do you hear!”

“Oh, lynch him!” yelled a shrill voice. “Lynch him, an’ have done with
it. He deserves it!”

“No, tar an’ feather him an’ send him where Old Abe sent Vallandigham,
down among his rebel friends!” cried another.

People were crowding into the little lobby of the post-office,
attracted by the sound of angry voices, curious to see and hear, ready
for any sensation that might befall. Up near the box-window, white with
anger, not with fear, stood Rhett Bannister with clenched hands. In
front of him were a score of indignant men, ready at the next instant,
if wrought to it, to do him bodily harm.

Then old Jeremiah Holloway, the postmaster, puffing and perspiring
with his three hundred pounds, came out from his side door and rapped
against the wall with his cane.

“This won’t do, gentlemen!” he said. “I can’t have a riot in a govament
post-office. You’ll have to git outside an’ have your fun if you want
it. I ain’t protectin’ no copperheads. But I’m goin’ to protect my
property an’ Uncle Sam’s if I have to knock down every one of you.
Besides, the stage’s a-comin’ an’ you got to make way for the United
States mail.”

Holloway’s appeal for the protection of his property might or might
not have had the desired effect, but his announcement of the arrival
of the stage called the attention of the crowd to the approach of a
four-horse vehicle, already half-way down the square, and people surged
out to meet it. For by the stage came papers, letters from the seat
of war, sometimes soldiers on furlough, and this afternoon it brought
also the speaker of the day, an eloquent young lawyer from the county
town, who had already seen service at the front. The band struck up
a patriotic air and marched, playing, across to the platform on the
green, followed by the girls and boys. The older people remained at
the post-office to get their mail. Passengers by stage confirmed the
news of the victory at Gettysburg, hotly fought for, dearly bought,
but a victory nevertheless. They also brought more definite rumors of
Grant’s probable success at Vicksburg. The letters were distributed and
delivered. There were few from the front. The boys who were with Meade
had had no opportunity to write that week. But the newspapers were
already in the hands of eager readers, men with pale faces, women with
pounding hearts.

“Listen to this!” said Adam Johns, the schoolmaster. “Here’s what the
_Tribune_ says: ‘Pickett’s division of Longstreet’s corps crossed the
plain in splendid marching order, driving our skirmishers before them.
At the Emmitsburg road they met the first serious resistance. But they
stormed the stone fence which formed our barricade, and swept on up the
hill under a galling fire from our rifles in front and our artillery on
their flank, closing in and marching over their thousands of fallen, up
into and over our shallow rifle-pits, overpowering our troops, not only
by the momentum, but as well by the daring of their desperate charge.
And that charge was met by resistance just as stubborn, by bravery as
great, by daring as magnificent. From this moment the fighting was
terrible. They were on our guns, bayoneting our gunners, waving their
flags above our pieces, yelling the victory they believed they had won.
But now came the crisis. They had gone too far, they had penetrated too
deeply into our lines. They had exposed themselves to a storm of grape
and canister from our guns on the western slope of Cemetery Hill, and,
Pettigrew’s supporting division having broken and fled, our flanking
columns began to close in on their rear. Then came twenty minutes of
the bloodiest fighting of the war. Gaylord’s regiment of Pennsylvania
farmers struck Pickett’s extreme left and doubled and crushed it in a
fierce encounter. But it was done at an awful sacrifice. Brackett’s
company alone lost twenty-three of its men, and every sergeant, and
Brackett himself was killed in a hand-to-hand encounter with a rebel
rifleman--’”

The reader paused, lifted his eyes, and looked fearfully around the
little room, peering into the strained faces turned toward him.

“She ain’t here,” said a voice from the crowd.

“God help Martha Brackett!” added another.

But there was a woman there, poorly dressed, pale and shrunken from
recent illness, scanning, with dreading eyes, the lists of dead,
wounded, missing, with which columns of the paper some one had given
her were filled. In the midst of the confusion of voices following the
announcement of Brackett’s heroic charge and fall, there was a shrill
scream, the paper fell from the nerveless hand of the woman in poor
clothes, and she fell, white and insensible, to the floor.

“She saw her boy’s name in the list of killed,” said one who had been
looking over her shoulder as she read. Others lifted the poor, limp
body and carried the stricken woman into the fresh air to await her sad
return to consciousness.

And all this time Rhett Bannister, standing defiantly in his corner,
holding his peace, watching the grim tragedies that were being enacted
around him, dread echoes of that mighty tragedy of battle, felt the
surging tide of indignation rising higher and higher in his breast,
until, at last, unable longer to keep rein on his tongue, he cried
out:--

“I charge Abraham Lincoln and the Abolition leaders at Washington with
the death of George Brackett and the murder of Jennie Lebarrow’s son!”

Then, Sergeant Goodman, home on furlough, wounded, strode forth and
grasped the collar of Bannister’s coat, and before he could shake
himself free, or defend himself in any way, others had seized his
hands, and bound his wrists together behind his back, and then they led
him forth, helpless, mute with unspeakable rage.

“What shall we do with him?” asked one.

“Rush him to the platform!” cried another.

And almost before he knew it, Bannister had been tossed up on the
speaker’s stand and thrown into a chair, and was being held there, an
object of execration to the crowd that surrounded him. He was not cowed
or frightened. But he was dumb with indignation that his rights and his
person had been so shamelessly outraged. White-faced, hatless, with
torn coat and disheveled hair, he sat there breathing hate and looking
defiance at his captors and tormentors.

“If this had been in some countries,” said the young orator, looking
scornfully down on him, “you would now be dangling at the end of a rope
thrown over the limb of that big maple yonder, and willing hands would
be pulling you into eternity.”

“And if this were in some communities,” retorted Bannister, “you would
be tried and convicted and legally hanged for inciting an ignorant and
brutal populace to riot and murder.”

A tall, dignified, white-haired old gentleman, who had been scribbling
on a pad, now advanced to the edge of the platform, holding a sheet of
paper in one hand, and resting the other easily in the bosom of his
partly buttoned frock-coat.

“Mr. Chairman,” he said impressively, “I rise to offer the following
resolution, which I hope will be adopted without a dissenting voice.

“_Whereas_, Rhett Bannister, a resident of Mount Hermon township, and
an avowed enemy of Abraham Lincoln and the government at Washington,
has publicly affronted the patriotism and decency of this community
this day;

“_Therefore_, be it resolved that we, the citizens of Mount Hermon,
hereby express our indignation and horror at his conduct, and declare
that he has forfeited all right to his citizenship among us, and to
any consideration on our part, and that henceforth he shall be and is
hereby utterly ostracized, repudiated, and detested by the citizens
of Mount Hermon, and that we use all legal measures to drive him in
disgrace from our community.

“Mr. Chairman, I move the adoption of that resolution.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the chairman, “you have heard Judge
Morgan’s resolution, and the motion for its adoption. Is the motion
seconded?”

A hundred persons vied with one another for the honor of being first
to second it, and a great, tumultuous chorus of “Aye!” indicated its
passage by an overwhelming and unanimous vote.

“And now,” inquired the chairman, “what shall be done with the
prisoner?”

“Drive him home with his hands tied, and let the band play him out of
town to the Rogues’ March!” cried one.

Whereupon the crowd shouted its enthusiastic approval of the
suggestion. And in another moment, helpless as he was, Bannister was
pulled from his chair and from the platform, and a dozen willing hands
turned his face toward home.

Then, suddenly, a woman stood beside him, and the resolute voice of
Sarah Jane Stark was heard:--

“Gentlemen, don’t you think you’re going a little bit too far?”



CHAPTER III

A LOVER OF LINCOLN


There was an awkward pause. The band, already on its way toward the
prisoner, halted. The man who had been pushing Bannister along,
loosened his hold. No one seemed quite ready to answer Miss Stark’s
question. At last, the chairman of the meeting, feeling that the duty
of acting as spokesman devolved properly upon him, replied:--

“The man is a traitor, Miss Stark. He is not fit to remain with us. It
is for our own protection that we are sending him away.”

Sarah Jane Stark tossed her head scornfully.

“Well,” she said, “I don’t see that any of you are in very great or
immediate personal danger. And as for bravery, it don’t take much
courage for fifty men to set on one man and tie his hands behind his
back and buffet and abuse him. I’ve watched the whole thing, and I
don’t like it. The man made a fool of himself, that’s true, and Judge
Morgan told him so. Now you’re making fools of yourselves, and it’s
time some one told you so. I thought I’d be the one, that’s all.”

“But, Miss Stark,” persisted the chairman, “he’s a copperhead, he’s a
defamer of the President and the country, he deserves no consideration,
either from us or from you.”

“Yes,” added one in the crowd, “and he’s a member of the Knights of the
Golden Circle, and they plot treason and murder.”

Then Bannister found his voice for the first time in many minutes.

“That’s a lie,” he said. “I’m not a member of the Knights of the Golden
Circle. I plot nothing. What I think, I say. What I do, I’m not ashamed
of. What you cowards can do to me, I’m not afraid of.”

Sarah Jane Stark turned on him savagely.

“You shut up!” she commanded. “I’m doing the talking for this
delegation.”

Then again she addressed the chairman of the meeting.

“You ought to know,” she said, “that I’m no copperhead. I detest ’em.
You ought to know that with two brothers and a nephew in the Union
armies I have some sympathy with the soldiers. And if I ever loved a
man in my life I love Abe Lincoln. But there’s nothing I love quite so
much as I do fair play. And this isn’t fair play.”

[Illustration: “THIS ISN’T FAIR PLAY.”]

It was strange how quiet the crowd had become. But then, when Sarah
Jane Stark had anything to say, people were always ready to listen.

“Now, the best thing for you people to do,” she added, “the decent
thing to do, is to loosen this man’s hands, give him his coat and hat,
and let him go quietly away to reflect on his monumental foolishness.”

She was already untying the handkerchief that bound Bannister’s wrists
together as she spoke.

“Folly like his,” she went on, “brings its own reward. Maybe the good
Lord wants him for a Union soldier and will supervise the draft to that
end. So it isn’t for you to fly in the face of Providence and spoil it
all before the time is ripe. And you,” giving Bannister a little push
as she spoke, “you go home and get down on your knees and pray for
common sense.”

No one else on earth, save possibly his own cherished wife, could have
sealed Rhett Bannister’s lips and started him homeward this day. But he
had respect for Sarah Jane Stark. Along with his townsmen, he honored
her motives, deferred to her judgment, and obeyed her commands. So,
almost unconsciously, before he fairly knew what he was doing, before
he had time to think whether he was retreating ignominiously from his
enemies, or leaving them in disgust, he found himself alone on the
highway walking toward his home.

When he reached his house, he found his wife and children all
waiting for him on the porch. Much as Bob liked music and crowds
and excitement, he had not cared to go up to the village to-day, and
had induced Louise to stay at home with him. And as for poor Mrs.
Bannister, she shrank with dread from meeting any of her neighbors.

The fact that something had happened to him during his two hours’
absence Bannister could not conceal. It was too evident, from his
appearance, that he had been roughly treated. But neither of his
children dared to ask him questions, and his wife contented herself
with smoothing back his hair and rearranging his tie, knowing full well
in her fluttering and fearful heart, that vengeance had been meted out
to him, and that sooner or later she would know the whole unhappy story.

After supper Bob set off some modest fireworks that he had purchased
a few days before--two or three rockets, a dozen Roman candles, some
pin wheels and giant crackers. And so, as darkness descended, the
Bannister family found some little consolation, some little relief from
the nervous strain of the last few days, in the temporary pleasure of
illuminated patriotism.

Yet, through it all, there was anxiety and apprehension. Wrought up by
music and oratory and fireworks and news of victories, there was no
telling what excesses the ultra-patriotic, irrepressible young people
of the village might indulge in at the expense of a hated copperhead.
Every noise from the direction of the town, every sound of hoofbeats
on the highway, of footfalls on the side path, sent a thrill to the
nerves and a chill to the heart of Mary Bannister. But, as the evening
wore on without incident, she began to feel a measure of relief. Then
the gate-latch clicked and some one entered the yard and started up
the path toward the house. But the suspense of uncertainty lasted only
for a moment, for the heavy strokes of the cane on the walk, and the
uncertain footsteps, announced the approach of their next neighbor to
the east, Seth Mills. He was cordially greeted and invited to a seat
on the porch.

“I’ve just heard,” he explained, “what happened up-town to-day, an’ I
thought I’d come over an’ tell ye--”

“Mary,” said Bannister, “don’t you think you had better take Louise up
to bed? It’s getting quite late. You may stay, Robert, if you wish.”

And when the woman and child had said good-night and had gone, he
turned to his visitor and continued: “Pardon me for interrupting you,
Seth; but you see they don’t know, and I thought it was hardly worth
while to have their feelings worked up over it.”

“Jest so! Jest so!” responded the old man. “Protect the women and
children. That’s what I say. But they wasn’t much I wanted to tell ye,
Rhett, only that, accordin’ to my views, they didn’t treat ye right,
an’ I’m sorry for it. They ort to be ashamed of it themselves. Mebbe
they will be when they’ve hed time to think it over. Me an’ you don’t
agree in politics, Rhett, nor about the war, but that ain’t no reason
why we shouldn’t treat each other decent. That’s what I say.”

“And you are right about it, Seth. But I believe that you and I are
the only two men in this community who could discuss their political
differences without passion. You are of Kentucky ancestry, I am of
South Carolinian. These other people here are either of the domineering
Yankee type, or else are descended from the stubborn Pennsylvania
settlers. Perhaps that accounts for their lack of fairness and reason.
I have often wondered how Abraham Lincoln, with his Virginia ancestry,
his Kentucky birth, and his western training, could be so narrow, so
illogical, so illiberal, so utterly heartless as he has shown himself
to be.”

“I don’t think them are proper words, Rhett, to apply to Abraham
Lincoln. I knowed him personally, you know, back in Illinois. I’ve
told you that a hundred times. An’ I’ve studied him a good deal sence
then, and I’ve come to the conclusion ’at they ain’t no man ever lived
in this country who can see furder ahead, an’ know better how to git
there’n Abe Lincoln. An’ I don’t believe no other president, or king,
or emperor for that matter, has ever felt on his heart a personal
responsibility for his country as Abe Lincoln has felt it, or has
strove or struggled or strained or labored or prayed as Abe Lincoln
hes, that his country might be saved an’ become great an’ happy. That’s
what I say.”

“But, Seth, that’s mere sentiment. Take the facts. Why can’t he see, if
he has such marvelous insight, that the South is demanding merely her
rights? All she wants now is to be let alone, to take her property and
go, to govern herself as she sees fit. And when she is assured that she
may do so, this war will cease, peace will come, the horrible struggle
will be at an end. Why does Abraham Lincoln persist in striving to
compel this brave people, by force of arms, to pass again under the
galling yoke of his hostile government?”

“I’ll tell ye why, Rhett. It’s becuz Abe Lincoln sees better’n they do
what’s best fur ’em. He sees that ef the South was permitted to go an’
set up a separate govamint, an’ hev her own institutions an’ flag, an’
foreign ministers, an’ all that, ’at the next thing, by cracky! the
Western states ’d want to jine up an’ do the same thing, with jest as
good reason, an’ then the New England states ’d foller suit, an’ in
less’n ten years they’d be a dozen different govamints, in place of the
old United States, an’ they’d be everlastingly at each other’s throats,
an’ they wouldn’t one of ’em amount to a hill o’ beans. It’d be rank
folly; that’s what I say.”

“I know, but, Seth, it’s not necessary to borrow trouble for the
future. If this man would only do what is right and just in the
present, the future would take care of itself. It always does. He
claims that he wants to save the Union. Very well. There’s a way open
for him. The South is not anxious to leave the Union. If she were
assured of the rights and consideration to which she is entitled, she
would stay with us. Abraham Lincoln, by virtue of the power of his
office, could secure those rights to her if he would. She must have
such voice in the control of this government as she is entitled to have
by reason of her ancestry, her intelligence, and her patriotism. And
she must have protection for her property at home and abroad, whether
that property consists of land, money, or slaves. Give her these
things and she would be back with us at once. Oh, if Abraham Lincoln
could only see this and act accordingly! If he would only cut loose
from the radicals and the abolitionists, and the petty politicians
who control him, and who even now treat him behind his back with
ridicule and contempt; if he would only heed the counsels of such
men as Vallandigham, Fernando Wood, Judge Woodward, and Judge Taney,
patriots all of them; if he would even now sue for an honorable peace
and strive for a united country, he would get it and get it abundantly.
But, alas! your Lincoln, with his assumed simplicity, his high-sounding
phrases, and his crafty logic, is, after all, but a coward and a
time-server, bending the country to his own selfish ends, plunging her
into destruction in order that the bloody zealots at Washington may be
satisfied. Oh, the folly, the misery, the tragedy of it all!”

The old man did not answer at once. He sat, for a full minute,
looking off to the faint line that marked the western hill-range from
the star-flecked sky. Over in the corner of the porch the boy, who
had listened intently, breathlessly, to the discussion, moved and
drew nearer. From somewhere in the house came the faint music of a
good-night song. Then Seth Mills, straightening up in his chair, took
up again the thread of conversation.

“I don’t see as it’s any use fur you an’ me to argy this thing, Rhett.
We don’t git no nearer together. We’ve each got our opinions, an’
so fur as I can see, we’re likely to keep ’em. But you’ve called Abe
Lincoln a coward. Now, I want to tell you somethin’. I knowed Lincoln
out there in New Salem when he was runnin’ Denton Offut’s store. I’ve
told ye that before. An’ I’ve told ye how the Clary’s Grove boys come
down one day to match Jack Armstrong ag’inst Lincoln in a wrastlin’
match. An’ how, when Jack tried a foul, Abe got mad, an’ ketched him
by the throat an’ give him the blamedest shakin’ up he ever hed in his
life. I didn’t see that, but I know the story’s straight. An’ I’ve
told ye how he straddled a log with a rope tied to it, an’ pushed out
into the Sangamon River at flood, that spring after the deep snow, an’
went tearin’ down with the current, an’ saved the lives o’ three men
a-clingin’ to a tree-top in midstream, an’ come near a-losin’ of his
own life a-doin’ of it. I seen him do that myself. An’ one night, when
we was settin’ round the stove in Offut’s store, swoppin’ yarns, Jim
Hanniwell come in considable the worse fur liquor, an’ begun a-cussin’
an’ a-swearin’ like he us’ally did when he was drunk. An’ some women
come in to buy somethin’, an’ Jim never stopped, an’ Lincoln says,
‘Jim, that’ll do, they’s women here.’ An’ Jim allowed he’d say what he
blame pleased, women or no women, an’ he did. An’ w’en the women was
gone, Lincoln come out aroun’ from behind the counter an’ says, ‘Jim,
somebody’s got to give you a lickin’ an’ it might as well be me as
anybody.’ An’ he took him an’ chucked him out-doors, an’ throwed him
into the mud in the road, an’ rubbed dog-fennel into his mouth, till
the feller yelled fur mercy. I seen him do that too. Mebbe I’ve told ye
all these things before, an’ mebbe I ain’t; but I never told you, nor
no one else, what I’m goin’ to tell ye now, an’ I wouldn’t tell ye this
ef you hadn’t ’a’ said Abe Lincoln was heartless an’ a coward. It was
in that same winter of ’32. I was out with the Clary’s Grove boys one
night, an’ the liquor went round perty free, an’ to make a long story
short, I was layin’ in a snow-bank alongside the road, about midnight,
half a mile from my cabin, dead drunk, an’ the weather around zero.
An’ Abe Lincoln happened along that way an’ found me. It ain’t a nice
story, Rhett, so fur’s I’m concerned, but I’m a-talkin’ plain to-night.
He wasn’t under no obligation to me. I wasn’t much account them days,
anyway. But he turned me over an’ seen who I wuz an’ what the matter
wuz, an’ then he twisted me up onto his long back, Abe Lincoln did, an’
toted me that hull half-mile up-hill, in zero weather, to my home an’
my wife, God bless her, an’ he dropped me on the bed an’ he says, ‘Let
him sleep it off, Mis’ Mills; he’ll feel better in the mornin’; an’
when he wakes up tell him Abe Lincoln asks him not to drink any more.’
An’ I ain’t, Rhett,--I ain’t teched a drop o’ liquor sence that night.
But what I want to say is that the man that had strength enough an’
heart enough to do that fur me who was nothin’ to him, has got strength
enough an’ heart enough an’ grit enough to carry this country that he
loves, on his bent shoulders, through the awfulest storm that ever
swept it, till he brings it home safe an’ sound an’ unbroken to all of
us. It’s a mighty task, Rhett Bannister; but he’s a-goin’ to do it; I
know ’im, an’ I tell ye he’s a-goin’ to do it; an’ when he’s done it,
you an’ me an’ ev’ry man ’at loves his country as he ort to, is goin’
to git down on our knees an’ thank God ’at Abraham Lincoln ever lived.”

Clear and resonant on the night air the old man’s voice rang as he
finished his story and rose to his feet. And while his face could not
be seen for the darkness, they who heard him felt that it was aglow
with enthusiasm and love for the largest-minded, biggest-hearted man
that had ever crossed his path--Abraham Lincoln. And Bob, leaning far
forward in his chair, drinking in every word of the story, thrilled
with the earnestness of the speaker, felt his heart fired anew with
reverence and enthusiasm for the great war-president, and with zeal for
the cause which he had so faithfully espoused.

Rhett Bannister was too much of a gentleman and too deeply artistic in
temperament to try to break with argument or depreciation the force of
the old man’s recital.

“Oh, well!” he said, rising. “We all have our heroes. This would be a
sad world if there were no heroes to worship. And I can’t blame you,
Seth, for having put a halo around Lincoln’s head.”

“Thank you, Rhett; good-night!”

The old man limped slowly down the path and out into the road and
turned his face toward home. After that, to those who sat upon the
porch, the quiet of the windless, starlit summer night was unbroken.
Over in the direction of the village an occasional rocket flared up
into the sky and fell back into darkness--nothing more.

But from that night the dominating personality in Bob Bannister’s
life was Abraham Lincoln. Look which way he would, the vision of that
rugged, kindly face, which he had seen so often pictured, and the tall,
gaunt form, stood out ever before his eyes, heroic, paternal, potential
to the uttermost. From Seth Mills he obtained a small volume published
in 1860 reciting the President’s career. And from the same source he
got what was much better, that modest, unique sketch of Lincoln’s life,
written by himself at about the same time for the same purpose. These
books he read and reread many times, and the oftener he read them the
greater grew his admiration for the one great hero of his thought and
life.

In the meantime, under the conscription act of March 3, 1863, put in
force by the proclamation of the President, the enrollment for the
draft went on. In many of the states the drawings were made in July.
On the thirteenth of that month began the draft riots in the city of
New York, which were suppressed only after the destruction by the mob
of much property, after the shedding of much blood and the loss of
many lives. The country was deeply stirred. The anti-war party took
advantage of the opportunity to denounce the government at Washington
openly and bitterly. Only in communities where the sentiment was
intensely patriotic was the policy of the draft upheld. Mount Hermon
was one of these communities. Already partially depopulated by her
voluntary contributions of men to the Union armies, she nevertheless
accepted the situation philosophically and cheerfully, believing with
Lincoln, that this was the only practical way to put a speedy end to
the war.

But to Rhett Bannister this draft was the crowning act of infamy
perpetrated by a tyrannical government. His whole nature rebelled
against the idea of being compelled, on pain of death, to bear arms
against his brothers of the South whom he believed to be absolutely
in the right. It was not until September, however, that the drawing
for the Congressional district in which he resided, the Eleventh
of Pennsylvania, took place at Easton under the supervision of the
provost-marshal, Captain Samuel Yohe.

It happened that on the afternoon of the last day of the drawing Bob
went up to the village to make some purchases and do some errands for
his father. Since his unfortunate experience on Independence Day Rhett
Bannister had not often been seen among his neighbors. Aside from a
few of the more radical sympathizers with the Southern cause, not many
people sought him socially, and by the entire Union element he was
practically ostracized.

The condemnation visited on his father Bob could not wholly escape.
While there were few who knew of his own loyalty, there were many
who knew only that he was the son of Rhett Bannister the despised
copperhead. So, in these days, when Bob went up to the village he
spent no time in loitering, or visiting, or playing with his former
schoolfellows. His errands done, he started without delay on his way
toward home.

But, on this September afternoon, there was excitement at the village.
For two successive days the names drawn from the wheel at Easton had
included but a bare half-dozen from Mount Hermon. And these were the
names of men who could well afford to pay the three hundred dollars
demanded by the government as the price of their release from service.
But to-day, the last day of the drawing, it was more than probable that
the number of men drafted from Mount Hermon would be at least doubled.

So, as the day wore on, the crowd about the door of the post-office
increased. At five o’clock a special messenger would arrive from
Carbon Creek with a list of the men that day drafted from Mount Hermon
township, the list having been sent by telegraph from Easton to that
station.

When finally the messenger arrived, Bob was listening with breathless
interest to a discussion concerning the Emancipation Proclamation, and
it was only when he heard some one shout, “Here’s the list!” that he
realized what had happened.

“Let Adam Johns read it,” demanded a man in the crowd.

Whereupon the young schoolmaster, mounting a chair, and unfolding the
paper placed in his hands, began to read. And the very first name that
he read was his own. He looked out calmly over the group of men before
him, his face paling somewhat with the shock of the news.

“I will go,” he said. “I ought to have gone before. I am ashamed to
have waited for--for this--but--”

“You’re all right, Adam!” interrupted some one in the crowd, who knew
how the schoolmaster’s widowed mother leaned on him for comfort and
support, “you’re all right. There’s a dozen of us here that’ll be sons
to her when you go.”

The young man wiped from his eyes the sudden moisture that dimmed his
sight, and went on with the reading of the list. It was not a long one.
There were some surprises, but there was no demonstration. For the most
part the reading was greeted with the silence of intense earnestness.
And the very last name on the list was the name of Rhett Bannister. The
schoolmaster’s hand grasping the paper fell to his side. For an instant
no one spoke. Then a man shouted, “Hurrah for the draft!” and another
one cried, “Uncle Sam’s got him now!” and then, amid the confusion of
voices, men were heard everywhere congratulating one another on the
drafting of Rhett Bannister.

With flushed face Bob started for the door, and the crowd parted to let
him pass. But outside he ran into a group of his schoolmates, the same
boys who had court-martialed him and dismissed him in disgrace from
their company three months before.

“Old man got struck with lightnin’ this time, didn’t he, Bob?” called
out Sam Powers.

“He’ll skedaddle for Pike County when he hears about it,” added
“Brilly.” “Better run home an’ tell him, quick.”

“He don’t dare to,” responded Sam. “I’ll dare you,” he continued,
shaking his forefinger in Bob’s face, “to go home an’ tell your
copperhead dad he’s drafted!”

“Aw, shucks!” exclaimed Bill Hinkle. “You fellows are smart, ain’t you!
Let him alone. He ain’t done nothin’ to you. Aw, shucks!”

And then Bob got angry.

“It’s none o’ you fellows’ business,” he said, “whether my father’s
drafted or not. You’re bullies an’ cowards, the whole lot of you! Get
out o’ my way!”

And so, with flashing eye, heaving breast, erect head, he passed
through the crowd of boys untouched. Awed and silenced by his outburst
of wrath, they dared not molest him. But, as he went down the road
through the gathering twilight toward his home, he began to wonder if,
after all, Sam Powers was not right. Would he dare to tell his father?



CHAPTER IV

THE DRAFTED COPPERHEAD


Would he dare to tell his father about the draft? The question kept
repeating itself in Bob Bannister’s mind, and the answer to it grew
more and more uncertain as he drew nearer to his home. Already he could
see the gabled roof of the house, and, back of it, dimly outlined
against the gray sky, the white blades of the windmill, free from their
lashing, whirling swiftly in the rising wind. The windmill did the work
of three men for Rhett Bannister. It sawed his wood, pumped his water,
churned his milk, threshed his grain, and drove the machinery by which
he manufactured his stock in trade. A few years before the beginning of
the war he had secured a patent on a design for a beehive, ingeniously
adapted to the instinct of the bees, and so arranged as to make their
product removable quickly, easily, and at any time. His success in the
manufacture and sale of these hives had been so great that for a time
he was quite unable to supply the demand for them. Then the war came,
and with it, and as a consequence of it, his ever-growing unpopularity;
and, almost before he knew it, his business had so fallen away that
it became necessary for him to dismiss his hired help, and he himself
had little to do save to manufacture and store his product in hope of
better times. Indeed, for the last few weeks the whir of the wheel had
been an unusual sound, and Bob wondered as he drew near, that it should
be going on this day, especially at so late an hour. So, instead of
stopping at the house, he went straight on to the shop entrance, to
discover, if possible, the cause of this unwonted activity.

At the bench, in the gloom, he saw his father, fashioning, with the
power-saw, a heavy block of wood into the form of a brace. The man did
not look up from his work as the boy entered; perhaps he did not hear
him come.

“I’m back, father,” said Bob; “I saw the windmill going and I came on
over here.”

“Yes; you’re late. What kept you?”

“Why, nothing in particular.”

“Were there any letters?”

Then Bob remembered that in his eagerness to hear the discussion
concerning the Emancipation Proclamation, in his excitement over the
reading of the draft-list, and in his haste to get away after his
father’s name had been announced, he had forgotten to inquire for his
mail.

“Why, I--didn’t get the mail,” he stammered. “I--I--didn’t ask for it.”

“Why not?”

The man laid down his work, slipped the belt from the pulley, and
turned toward Bob.

“Because--” replied the boy, “because I wanted to get away.”

“Mean again to you, were they? Small, contemptible spirits! How
tyranny in high places is always imitated by the mob!”

“Not so much that, father; but--there was news.”

“Oh, news. I see. Was the conscription-list in?”

“A special messenger brought it.”

“And did you see it? or hear it read?”

“Adam Johns read it out loud.”

And then there was silence between them. The man could not quite
condescend to ask for the desired information; the boy could not quite
bring himself to the point of volunteering it. So they stood there in
the gathering darkness, speechless. Over their heads the great wheel
creaked and whirred. And each knew, in his heart, that the other knew
that Rhett Bannister’s name was on the list of drafted men.

Out in the road there was the noise of wagon-wheels going by, mingled
with the talking of men. And then, above the rattle of the wheels,
above the creaking and groaning of the windmill, above the howling of
the wind, came the voice of one shouting:--

“Rhett Bannister--you copperhead--you’re drafted--thank God!”

That was all. The voices were again silent. The wagon passed on, the
whir and wheeze of the windmill never ceased. In the darkness Bob could
not see his father’s face, but he knew as well how it looked as though
the sun of midday shone on it. And then, involuntarily, from his own
lips came the confirmation:--

“Father, it is true.”

But Rhett Bannister did not reply. He stood there in the darkness,
dimly outlined, immovable. Still the wheel went round, faster and
faster in the driving wind, and the boughs of the maples, bending and
springing in the gale, swept and scraped against the eaves of the
work-shop. Then the doorway was darkened by another figure. Bob’s
mother, peering into the gloom, called out:--

“Rhett, dear, are you there?”

“Yes, Mary.”

“Rob hasn’t come yet.”

“Yes, mother, I’m here too.”

“I’m so glad! What was it those men shouted, Rhett? Does it mean any
harm to you?”

“I hope not, Mary. It was just some wild zealot echoing the sentiment
of his crazy masters, that’s all. We’ll go in to supper now.”

As he spoke, Bannister pulled the lever that clamped the wheel, and the
whirring and grinding ceased. Then he locked the shop-door and they all
went down the path to the house.

At the supper-table the subject of the draft was not mentioned. But,
later in the evening, after Bob’s sister had gone to bed, and a
wood-fire had been lighted in the fireplace, for it had grown suddenly
cold, Rhett Bannister chose to inform his wife of the situation. Try
as he might to prevent it, the social blight which had fallen on him
covered her also with its sinister darkness. Her heart was deeply
troubled. She passed her days in anxiety and her nights in fear. She
knew little of the deep undercurrents of political passion and of
fratricidal strife that were undermining the bed-rock of the nation.
She knew only that she trusted her husband and believed in him, and
was ready to endure any suffering for his sake. And while, always, he
sought to protect and comfort her, even to the extent of keeping from
her knowledge such matters as would give her unnecessary anxiety or
alarm, still there were times when he thought she ought, for the sake
of all of them, to know what was happening. And to-night was one of
those times.

“Sit here, Mary,” he said. “Let’s talk over this matter of the draft.
That rowdy shouted, and Robert confirms the report, that I have been
drafted. That means that I shall have to go and fight in the ranks of
the Union armies, whether I will or no.”

“O Rhett! Do you mean that you have to go as Charley Hitchner did, and
John Strongmeyer?”

“Yes, only they were drafted by the state. The government at Washington
chooses to take me.”

“But what shall I do without you? If they knew how impossible it is for
you to go and leave me alone, they wouldn’t make you do it, I’m sure.”

“Yes, dear. The privations and sufferings of wives and children are not
considered. The administration at Washington needs men to carry on this
unholy war, and wives may starve and babies may die, but the war must
go on. There, Mary, never mind,” as the tears came into the woman’s
eyes, “I haven’t gone yet. Perhaps I’ll not go. A man’s house is his
castle, you know. They’ll have hard work to take me if I choose to
stay. Well, Rob, who else was drafted? You heard the list read.”

“Yes, father, Adam Johns read it. His own name was the first one on
it.”

“Ah! poor old Mrs. Johns. She idolizes that boy.”

“And must Adam Johns go to war?” inquired Mrs. Bannister, anxiously.

“Yes, mother,” replied Bob. “He said he would go. He said he was sorry
he had waited for the draft. And Henry Bradbury said he would take care
of Adam’s mother. And a lot more said so too.”

“Oh, well!” rejoined Bannister, “such obligations rest lightly on the
consciences of those who make them after the excitement and passion
have died out. Poor Anna Johns will have to look out for herself if her
boy goes. And if he dies, God help her! Who else were drawn, Robert?”

“Why, Elias Traviss. They said he would pay his three hundred dollars
exemption money, though, and stay home; that he could well afford to do
it.”

“Yes,” said Bannister, bitterly, “there lies the iniquity of the whole
proceeding. The rich man may buy his release from service with money;
the poor man must pay the price with his body, his blood, his life,
perhaps. It’s barbarous; it’s inhuman!”

Then, all in a moment, Mary Bannister grasped the idea of purchased
exemption.

“Why, Rhett!” she exclaimed, “you have that money in the bank, you
know. If they come for you, you can pay them the three hundred dollars
and stay at home, the same as Elias Traviss is going to do. Can’t he,
Robbie?”

“Yes, mother, or hire a substitute the same as ’Squire Matthews did.”

“So you won’t have to go, Rhett, you see, even if you are drafted. And
we can well afford the money.”

Bannister looked from his wife to his son, and back again, with a smile
of pity on his lips for their simplicity. But there was no anger in his
voice as he replied:--

“That is true, Mary. Doubtless I could purchase immunity from the draft
with money. But my money would be used by me to buy a substitute, or
by the government for the purposes of the war, and the moral guilt on
my part would be even greater than though I went myself. No, I shall
not purchase my release, nor shall I go to war. There are means of
defending my rights and my person against this tyranny, and I shall
exercise them. I may die in the attempt, but I shall not have it
charged against my memory that I fought my brothers of the South with
bayonet and rifle, or helped others to do it.”

In his excitement, he rose from his chair and paced up and down the
floor, but, in a moment, growing calmer, he added:--

“Oh, well! they haven’t come for me yet. Let’s not borrow trouble.
We’ll have it soon enough. Keep a stout heart, Mary. And we’ll all go
to bed now and sleep away our cares.”

It was all very well for Rhett Bannister to speak thus lightly of
sleeping away cares, but as for his poor wife, she lay half the night,
dreading lest the next noise she should hear might be Lincoln’s
soldiers come to take away her husband to what both he and she
considered a cruel, causeless war. Nor did sleep come quickly to close
Bob’s eyes. Never before had the conflict between parental love and
duty and his exalted sense of patriotism been so fierce and strong.
Yet, reason with himself as he would, he was not able to convince
either his heart or his judgment that his father was right and that
Abraham Lincoln was wrong. And as the great War President expounded his
thought on the crisis to the American people, and governed his conduct
accordingly, Bob Bannister believed in him, trusted him, followed
him in spirit, and would have followed him in body had he been of
sufficient age to bear arms.

But here and now was the fact of his father’s conscription to deal
with; a fact which opened the door to untold trouble, to possible, if
not probable, tragedy. For Bob knew that in declaring his proposed
resistance to the draft his father was not indulging in mere bravado.
What Rhett Bannister said he meant, and what he undertook to do he did
if it was within the power of human accomplishment. So Bob waited in
dread for the coming of the officer to serve the notice of the draft.

But when, three days after the drawing, a deputy provost-marshal did
come with a conscription notice, neither Bob nor his father was at
home. So the notice was left at the house with Mrs. Bannister, and
she, poor woman, after contemplating it all the afternoon with dread
and apprehension, thrust it into her husband’s hand at night, saying
deprecatingly, tearfully:--

“O Rhett, I couldn’t help it! He just gave it to me, and I didn’t know
what it meant till I read it, and I don’t know now, except I suppose it
means that you are really drafted and must go to war. And he wouldn’t
stay to let me tell him why it was just impossible for you to go,
and--and that’s all I know about it, Rhett dear.”

Bannister took the notice and read it over. It was simply to the effect
that, in accordance with the Act of Congress of March 3, 1863, he had
been drawn to serve for three years, or during the war, as a soldier
in the armies of the United States. It further notified him to report
for duty within ten days from the date of service of the notice, at
the office of the provost-marshal for the district, Captain Samuel
Yohe, at Easton, Pa. There was an additional notice to those desiring
to purchase release from service, to pay the three hundred dollars
commutation money to the deputy internal-revenue collector for the
district.

When he had carefully read the notice a second time, Bannister folded
it and laid it on the desk.

“I have ten days of peace,” he said, “in which to prepare for war.”

Thereafter he was very busy. He cleaned up many odds and ends of work
as though he were preparing for a long journey. Oddly enough, however,
he spent much time in making repairs to his windmill. He carried the
boxing of the shaft higher above the roof of his shop, closed the
top of it over carefully, and made a little window in each of the
four sides. He appeared anxious to get it completed before a storm
should come up. Little was said about the draft, or about his personal
liability for service, and the subject of commutation money, or a
substitute, was not again so much as mentioned. But it was with a sense
of dread and apprehension that Mrs. Bannister and Bob saw the days go
by, saw the preparations going forward for the approaching crisis,
noted the fixed lips and the unfaltering eye that always indicated
that Rhett Bannister’s mind was made up and that wild horses could not
drag him from his purpose. Once, the thought flashed across Bob’s mind
that possibly, instead of attempting to resist the draft, his father
had decided to accept the inevitable and report for duty as a soldier
of the United States. And the idea sent such a thrill of joy through
him, so set the blood to bounding in his veins, opened up to him such a
vision of pride and exultation, that it was hard for him to get back
to the level of the stubborn fact that all the work being done by his
father was being done simply for the purpose of being better prepared
to resist the officers of the law.

So, on the evening of the tenth day from the date of service of notice
of the draft, Rhett Bannister was still at his home. With apparent
unconcern he sat at the table in his sitting-room reading a late copy
of the New York _Day-Book_, a violent anti-administration journal which
had that day reached him.

“The _Day-Book_ is right,” he said, laying down the paper, “in
declaring that if there was any manhood left in Pennsylvania, her
citizens would rise in armed rebellion against the enforcement of this
cruel and obnoxious draft as did the citizens of New York city in July.
If the army had both ways to face, North and South, the war would soon
be at end. Well, I am but one against the powers at Washington, but all
the armies of the United States cannot force me to wear their uniform
and bear their weapons against my will.”

By that speech, Bob’s hopes, if he still cherished any, were completely
dashed. He knew by that that his father would resist the enforcement of
the draft to the end, bitter and bloody though the end might be.

The ten days had expired. All the other drafted men from Mount Hermon
had gone to Easton. But Rhett Bannister had not responded to the call.
Henceforth, by the terms of the conscription act, he was classed as a
deserter, subject to arrest, court-martial, and speedy execution. He
himself said that a price was now on his head.

Mrs. Bannister went about the house, pale, apprehensive, starting
fearfully at every unusual sound, peering constantly up the road, yet
in dread of what she might see there.

For Bob, his days were miserable and his nights were sleepless. He
turned over constantly in his mind scheme after scheme to save the
honor of the family and to relieve his father from the desperate
situation in which he had placed himself. But all schemes were useless,
impractical, impossible.

On the fourth day after the expiration of the time-limit, a rumor from
a friendly source floated down secretly to the Bannister homestead, to
the effect that a detachment of United States soldiers, members of the
invalid corps, on provost-guard duty, had reached the county seat and
were about to start out to round up deserters, and drafted men who had
failed to respond. They were likely, the warning went, to appear at
Mount Hermon at any hour. Loyal citizens said that Rhett Bannister had
reached the end of his rope; and radical Unionists remarked that the
end of that rope had a loop in it.

Seth Mills came over that afternoon to have a last talk with his
obdurate neighbor.

“It won’t do any good, Rhett,” he declared. “They’re bound to git
ye sooner or later, dead or alive. Now what’s the use o’ bein’ so
confounded pigheaded an’ contrary? Why don’t you jest make up your mind
to go like a man an’ hev done with it, fer your wife’s sake, an’ your
children’s sake, an’ your country’s sake, by cracky! That’s what I say.”

And Bannister replied:--

“I would be less than a man, Seth, if I yielded principle and pride,
and humbled and stultified myself like a coward, in order to make it
easy for my family and myself. No matter what the outcome of this awful
struggle may be, no matter what becomes of me in this crisis, I intend
that my children and my children’s children shall say of me, in the
days to come: ‘He kept his judgment and his conscience clear.’ I will
not yield, Seth, I will not yield.”

And that ended the argument, and Seth Mills limped back home,
discouraged, saddened, angry, that his neighbor, whom he loved for his
many kindnesses and sterling character, should be so blind to his own
interests, so obstinate, so childish, so utterly unreasonable.

That night, some time after midnight, Bob was wakened from a troubled
sleep, more by the feeling that something was going wrong than by
any actual noises that he heard. He sat up in bed and listened,
and, from somewhere outside the house, the sound of low voices came
distinctly to his ears. He leaped to the floor, thinking that at last
the provost-guard had come to apprehend his father, and had chosen the
night-time for their errand, thinking the more easily to find him.
Hastily slipping on his shoes and trousers, he started down the hall.
By a ray of moonlight which fell through the hall-window he discovered
his mother standing at the door of her room, fully dressed.

“Oh, Rob,” she whispered, “be still! be still!”

When he came closer to her he saw that she had been weeping and that
her face was white with fear.

“Where’s father?” he asked.

“Hush! He’s not here. He went out after you went to bed. He’s been away
all night. Oh, Robbie, look here!”

She took his hand and led him to the window of her room and pointed out
into the road. Distinctly, in the moonlight, he saw a man in uniform,
carrying a gun, pacing back and forth along the road in front of the
house. Then she took him to the hall-window, and showed him another
soldier leaning carelessly against the garden fence, with his eyes
fixed on the rear of the house.

“There are four of them,” she said. “They came a few minutes ago. I saw
them come down the road. They have surrounded the house.”

“But, father,” repeated Bob; “where’s father?”

“Hush, Robbie, hush! They won’t find him. They think he’s here in the
house, but he isn’t. He left it long before they came.”

“But, where is he, mother? I insist on knowing.”

“Don’t talk so loud, Robbie. You’ll waken Louise. They’ll hear you.”

“Did he go to the woods, mother? to the barn? to the shop? where?”

“Hush! my boy, hush! Don’t whisper it. He went to the shop. He’s
in--Robbie, listen, he’s in the windmill tower. He has his gun with
him, and his revolver. He’s going to--to--”

She reeled and fell, fainting and exhausted, into the boy’s arms, and
he led and dragged her back into her own room, and laid her tenderly
on her bed. He chafed her hands and bathed her face, and by and by she
returned to consciousness, and told him in more detail of the manner in
which his father had left the house, and of the coming of the soldiers.
But she never loosened her clasp of his hand until the gray light in
the eastern sky announced the approach of dawn.

Then there came a knocking at the hall-door of the house. Bob released
his hand from his mother’s, and slipped quietly into his own room
and began to put on the rest of his clothes. But, long before he had
finished, the knocking was repeated. It came louder, more persistently.
He made haste to be ready, but, before he could leave his room, the
knocking was again renewed, with strokes that resounded through
the house. Somehow it reminded him of the knocking at the gate in
_Macbeth_, and of the awful tragedy which the opening of that gate was
to disclose. What tragedy would follow the knocking at the door of the
house of Bannister?



CHAPTER V

AN UNEXPECTED BREAKFAST


As Bob descended the stairs to open the hall-door in response to
the knocking, his mother stood on the upper landing, trembling with
excitement and fear. When the door was finally opened, she could see,
dimly outlined in the doorway, a man dressed in the uniform of a
sergeant in the army of the United States.

“We have come,” he said to Bob, “by order of the provost-marshal, to
arrest Rhett Bannister, who has been drafted and has failed to respond.”

The man was courteous in manner, but firm of speech.

“He is not here,” replied Bob.

“Pardon me,” said the man, “but we believe he is here. He was in this
house last night. To the best of our knowledge he has not left it. We
shall be obliged to search the premises.”

“You may do so,” answered Bob, “but I assure you he is not here.”

Without waiting to discuss the matter, the sergeant stepped into the
hall, followed by a private in uniform. Outside, the house-doors were
guarded by the two soldiers who remained.

If Rhett Bannister were within, there would be no chance for him to
escape. The sergeant pushed his way into the parlor and sitting-room,
threw open the blinds, and looked carefully about him. He went into
the dining-room, raised the shades, and examined the pantries and the
kitchen. He procured a lantern, went into the cellar and searched every
nook and corner of it.

“It is necessary for me,” he said when he came back up the cellar-stairs,
“to ask permission to go into the second story. Who is up there?”

“My mother and my young sister,” replied Bob.

“Will you kindly go ahead and tell them that we are coming. I shall
have to examine every room.”

“You may go now,” said the boy. “My mother is dressed.”

So they went, all three, upstairs. The soldiers peered into the room
where Louise, undisturbed by the noise, still slept peacefully on. In
the presence of Mrs. Bannister the sergeant removed his cap.

“I regret this necessity, madam,” he said, “but we are under orders to
arrest Rhett Bannister, and it is our duty to make this search.”

The woman was too much frightened to reply, so the party went on into
the other rooms, up the ladder into the attic, into all the corners and
closets, everywhere. When the search was completed, the sergeant came
back to the head of the stairs and addressed Mrs. Bannister.

“You are Rhett Bannister’s wife?”

“Yes,” tremblingly, “yes, I am his wife.”

“I am sorry, but your husband is now classed as a deserter. If he is
arrested he becomes subject to the death penalty. I believe that only a
prompt surrender on his part will lead to a suspension or abatement of
his sentence. If you know where he is I would advise you, for your own
sake, to urge him to give himself up at once.”

She turned to Bob, appealingly.

“Do I have to tell, Robbie? Do I? Do I have to? Would it be better?”

“No, mother, you don’t have to, and it wouldn’t be better. Father has
made up his mind what he wants to do, and we have no right to interfere
with his plans.”

The frightened woman was clinging to Bob’s arm and looking up tearfully
into his face.

“I am sorry to be obliged to add,” said the sergeant, “that all persons
who aid and abet a deserter in his efforts to escape arrest, are
classed as co-conspirators with him, and as traitors to their country,
and are subject to punishment accordingly. So, if either of you have
any knowledge as to Rhett Bannister’s whereabouts, I--”

But at this point the terrified woman gave way completely; the
sympathizing sergeant turned away from her, and Bob led her, sobbing
convulsively, back to her own room. When he was again able to leave
her and go downstairs, he found that the soldiers had made a thorough
search of the out-of-door premises, and were just returning from the
shop, the lock on the door of which they had forced, and the interior
of which they had explored. Strangely enough, it had not occurred to
them to examine the tower of the windmill. There was nothing about
it, either in the shop or on the outside, which would indicate to the
casual observer that it might become a hiding-place for a fugitive. If
it had occurred to them, and they had proceeded with such a search, the
tragedy which Bob feared would surely have come. For Rhett Bannister,
standing in his cramped quarters within the tower, watching, through
his port-hole, the movements of the soldiers about his house and yard,
and their approach to the shop, listening to the breaking of the lock
on the shop-door, and to the exploration going on beneath him, was
ready, on the instant of discovery, from his point of advantage, to
shoot to kill any person who attempted to force him from his place of
concealment. Yet, for that morning at least, a merciful Providence so
blinded the eyes and dulled the wits of those soldiers as to save Rhett
Bannister from the disgrace and horror of shedding another’s blood.

When Bob came out on the kitchen porch and glanced involuntarily
and fearfully up at the windmill tower, he caught a glimpse of a
rifle-barrel through one of the small dark openings his father had
made, and knew, on the instant, how narrowly the household had escaped
a tragedy. For, even as he looked, the soldiers were coming back,
by the garden-path, to the house. The young sergeant was plainly
disappointed and vexed over the result of his expedition. He had hoped
and intended to have credit for bagging the most notorious copperhead
in that section of the state. And now that his ambition was likely to
fail of realization, he could not quite repress his deep feeling of
annoyance. He came back to the boy on the porch.

“I don’t want to be harsh,” he said, “but from either you or your
mother I must have definite information as to Rhett Bannister’s
whereabouts. I believe both of you know where he is.”

“My mother is already so frightened by your raid,” replied Bob, “that
if she knew and was willing to tell, I doubt whether she would be able
to. But you may ask me any questions you like.”

“Very well. Do you know where your father is at this moment?”

“I believe I do.”

“Where is he?”

“I will not tell.”

The sergeant’s face flushed, and he bit his drooping moustache. He was
plainly angry.

“I have already told you,” he said, “that to shield deserters is an
offense hardly less treasonable than desertion itself. I don’t intend
to be balked in this thing. Your father is somewhere about these
premises. I know, for I have had the house watched. He could not have
escaped. You can point out his hiding-place to me, or I will put you
under arrest and take you before the provost-marshal.”

The boy’s face paled and his lip quivered, but he was still resolute.

“I’ll go,” he said, “but I’ll not tell.”

“Very well, come on!”

The sergeant spoke gruffly, and laid a rough hand on the lad’s shoulder.

“Let me go first and tell my mother.”

“No. It’s your choice to go--go now. March!”

Then a better thought came into the sergeant’s mind. Down on the
Delaware a good and anxious mother was fearing and praying for him.
The thought of her softened his anger.

“Well,” he said, “go and tell her. Tell her anything you like. But
sooner or later you will tell us what we want to know.”

Bob hurried upstairs to his mother’s room.

“Mother,” he said, “I’ve discovered a way to get rid of these men. I’ve
offered to go up to Mount Hermon with them. When we are gone you can
let father know.”

[Illustration: “I’VE DISCOVERED A WAY TO GET RID OF THESE MEN.”]

“Oh, Robbie! they don’t mean any harm to you?”

“None at all, mother. But tell father--tell father not to go into the
windmill tower again. They might find out--somehow--that that’s his
hiding-place, and come back here before I do, to get him. Tell him not
to go into the tower again, _not for anything_.”

He kissed his mother good-by and hurried out into the hall. His little
sister stood there, clad in her nightdress, with flushed cheeks and
rumpled hair and wondering eyes.

“Good-by, Dotty!” he called back to her as he hurried down the stairs.
“I’ve got to go up to town early this morning. I’m off now. You jump
back into bed and get your beauty sleep.”

In another minute he was out in the road with the sergeant and his
three men, and they went marching away toward Mount Hermon. The
young officer was inclined to be silent and severe at first, but
he soon thawed out, and then Bob found his conversation to be most
interesting. He said, in answer to the boy’s inquiry, that he had been
in the service since almost the beginning of the war. He had been
with McClellan all through the Peninsular Campaign. He had fought at
Antietam and at Fredericksburg and Gettysburg. In that last great
battle a bullet had pierced his thigh, severing a small artery, and he
had nearly bled to death before receiving surgical attention. But he
was almost well now, and ready again for active service.

And as they walked on, and the young man told of his battles and his
marches and his wounds, of the glory of fighting for the old flag, and
of his ardent hope for ultimate victory and peace, and above all, of
his reverence for the great and noble President at Washington, whom
all the soldiers loved and honored, and for whom they would cheerfully
have died, Bob felt the tides of patriotism rising high and higher in
his breast; and, notwithstanding the errand which the young soldier had
tried his best to perform, the boy could not help feeling in his heart
that here indeed was a hero worthy of his admiration.

Absorbed in the story, carried away by his enthusiasm for a cause which
could command such fealty as this, he forgot, for the time, that his
father, a despised copperhead, a fugitive from the execution of the
draft, with the penalty for desertion hanging over his head, was still
back at the old home, ready to shed the blood of any who might dare
seek to apprehend him. He forgot that he himself was under arrest as
a traitor, charged with aiding and abetting his father, on his way to
the office of the provost-marshal, where he must either purge himself
from contempt, by answering the questions put to him, or suffer the
penalty of his disobedience. So, with glowing eyes and flushed cheeks
and swiftly beating heart, he told of his own hopes and beliefs and
desires, of his own longing for the ascendency of the Union cause, of
his faith in the great generals, Meade, Sheridan, Sherman, Grant, and
of his absolute devotion to the one overmastering hero of the mighty
war, Abraham Lincoln. And when he had told all these things, with an
earnestness and enthusiasm that stamped them as unmistakably genuine,
and his own patriotism as quite unsullied, it is small wonder that the
heart of the young soldier warmed to him, and, before either of them
was aware of it, they were the best of friends.

At a turn in the road the perspective of the long straight street
that led through the village lay before them. The leafage of October,
red and yellow and glorious along the maple-bordered highway, grew
brilliant in the morning light. Back in the valley below them, as
they turned and looked, they saw the fog-banks, which had lain heavy
and close to the earth, beginning to break and drift away under the
influence of the morning sun. The young sergeant bared his head and
gazed in admiration at the rolling landscape, as it broadened away to
the east.

“Beautiful!” he exclaimed. “Beautiful! I remember a morning down in the
Shenandoah Valley when the sun rose on a landscape much like this; and,
even in the stress of the work on hand, I admired it and remember it.”

“What was the work, sergeant?” asked Bob.

“Covering the retreat of a beaten army, my boy; one of the gloomiest
tasks of war: on every side the evidence of disaster and the wrecks
of battle: abandoned cannon, broken wheels, carcasses of horses, the
suffering wounded, and the unburied dead. Oh! war is a terrible thing
after all--a terrible thing. To-morrow I go back to it. I report for
duty to my regiment somewhere down on the Rappahannock.”

Bob spoke up eagerly:--

“Then you won’t be able to go back to--to--”

“To get Rhett Bannister? No. That duty will devolve on some one else
now. I must report to the provost-marshal at Easton to-night. It’s
too bad I couldn’t have had the credit of capturing him, he’s such a
notorious copperhead. Oh, I forgot! You’re his son, aren’t you? And
I have you under arrest, taking you to the provost-marshal. That’s
strange! Why, boy, you are no traitor. I never saw a man more loyal
than you are. Indeed, I have talked with few men who know more about
the war, the campaigns, and the generals. I never heard a man outside
the ranks express more genuine devotion to his country. How is it? What
do you mean by having Rhett Bannister for a father?”

“I can’t explain it,” replied Bob, “except that I know he’s honest
about it, and truly believes he’s right. He’s of Southern ancestry, you
know. His father was a South Carolinian. I can’t blame him. I don’t
blame him. I’ve tried to think the way he does about it, and not be
against him, but I can’t, I simply can’t!”

“No, my boy, you can’t! But you can tell me where he is. It’s not yet
too late to get him and reach Carbon Creek for the noon train. Will you
do it?”

“No, sergeant, I won’t. I’m loyal to my country; but I’m loyal to my
father too, and I won’t betray him.”

“Well, I admire your pluck, but I’ll have to take you-- Will I,
though?--is it my duty? Say, boys!” he called to the three private
soldiers who had preceded them; “boys, halt!”

The men stopped and wheeled round to face their commander.

“Soldiers,” he said, “you know why I’m taking this boy. I considered
his conduct treasonable in not disclosing his father’s hiding-place.
But I find that in reality he is just as loyal as any one of us, except
that he knows his father’s secret and refuses to give it away. Now what
shall we do with him?”

They had reached a point in front of the dwelling-house of Sarah Jane
Stark. The men looked in on the smooth green lawn, and then away to
the eastern hill range. But before they had made up their minds how to
reply to the officer’s question, a woman, coming down the walk from the
house, reached the gate where they were standing. It was Sarah Jane
Stark herself.

“What’s all this about?” she inquired. “Bob Bannister, what are you
doing here with these soldiers?”

“I’ve been arrested, Miss Stark,” replied Bob modestly.

“You? Arrested? Fudge! What does the boy mean?” turning to the officer.

“It means, madam,” replied the sergeant courteously but firmly, “that
this boy knows the whereabouts of Rhett Bannister, whom we have orders
to arrest, and will not disclose them. We are taking him to the
provost-marshal.”

“What for?”

“To compel him to tell where his father is, or punish him for his
disobedience.”

“Oh, nonsense! The boy isn’t to blame. You’d do the same thing yourself
in his place. Besides there isn’t a more patriotic citizen in Mount
Hermon township than this very boy. I know what I’m talking about.”

The sergeant doffed his cap.

“I believe you are more than half right, madam,” he said. “I myself am
inclined to think that he may do us more good right here at his home,
as a somewhat remarkable illustration of patriotism under difficulties,
than he would lying in a guard-house living on bread and water.”

“Of course he will! Mind you, I’ve no excuses for his fool father. That
man’s making the mistake of his life. But this boy is all right. Say,
have you had breakfast, any of you?”

“My men and I have not, and I do not think young Bannister has. We will
stop at the Bennett House in the village long enough for breakfast.”

“Oh, nonsense! The Bennett House! You come right up here to the Sarah
Jane Stark house, and I’ll give you a better breakfast than you’ll get
at all the Bennett Houses in the country, and it won’t cost you a penny
either.”

She turned up the path as she spoke, and, after a moment of hesitation,
the rest of the party followed her. The delay, however, gave the
officer an opportunity to make a whispered inquiry of Bob concerning
her, and, being thus assured of her integrity and loyalty, he no longer
hesitated to lead his little party to her house.

“Now, you go right into the kitchen,” she said, “all of you, and wash
your hands, and by the time you’ve done that, breakfast’ll be ready.”

And Sarah Jane Stark was as good as her word, and her breakfast was
as good as her promises. The pleasant sight of it, and the fragrant
odor of it, as they entered the dining-room, was something long to
be remembered. When they were all seated she turned abruptly to the
sergeant.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Anderson,” he replied, “Stanley B. Anderson.”

“Well, Sergeant Anderson, you ask a blessing.”

The young fellow flushed to the tips of his ears.

“I have never done such a thing,” he said. “I beg you will excuse me.
At my home my mother always says grace. Will you not say it here?”

“Very well, I will. And I want you all to say ‘amen,’ every one of
you.”

So they bowed their heads, and Sarah Jane Stark said:--

“O Lord, make us thankful for this food; confound the enemies of our
country, and give us charity in our hearts for all men.”

And every one at the table responded heartily, “Amen!”

It was a delicious breakfast and a delightful occasion. They all said
so afterward, and many times afterward. In the hearts of these boys
in uniform Sarah Jane Stark found a warm place at once. For they were
mere boys--not one of them was over twenty-three, and this woman of
middle age, with her big heart, her bluff manner, her solicitude for
their comfort, her interest in their stories of the war, her intense
patriotism, and withal her broad charity, came suddenly into their
lives, like a breath from some bigger, better, sweeter world than
they had lived in, and they loved her. And one day, in the following
June, after the battle and slaughter of Cold Harbor, one of these
poor fellows, lying on a rough cot in a field hospital, dying from a
dreadful wound, dictated a last letter to his waiting mother at home,
and another to Sarah Jane Stark at Mount Hermon. And when she was old
and wrinkled and gray, this dear woman, who never had a child of her
own, would read over again that brief, pathetic letter from the dying
soldier boy of Cold Harbor, and weep as she read.

So, after breakfast, they all went out into the beautiful October
morning, and down the footpath to the gate where she had first found
them. And she shook hands with every one of the young soldiers,
and wished them God-speed, and early and abundant victory, and the
blessings of a long peace. Then she turned to Bob and said:--

“Now, you run along back home, and put an end to your mother’s anxiety,
and tell your miserable father for me, that the Lord has delivered him
this once out of the hands of the Philistines, so that he may enter the
armies of Abraham Lincoln like a man, and fight for his country as
he ought to; and somehow--I can’t tell you why, but somehow I have an
intuition that he’s going to do it.”

And the sergeant and the provost-guard stood by and heard her and said
never a word.

So they parted. Sarah Jane Stark walked back up the footpath, across
the lawn, to her comfortable home. The young soldiers, refreshed,
invigorated and high-spirited, went swinging up through the streets of
Mount Hermon to their appointed rendezvous. And Bob Bannister, with
newer, bigger thoughts in his mind, with his soul filled with larger
enthusiasms, with a determination in his heart to break in some way,
any way, the galling bonds of disloyalty that girded and girdled his
own home, went back free down the road by which he had come an hour
before, a prisoner of the United States.



CHAPTER VI

A DESPERATE DECISION


Through all of the day following the breakfast at Sarah Jane Stark’s
house, indeed through most of the succeeding night, the thought and
ambition loomed large in Bob Bannister’s mind and heart, to lift, in
some way, the dark cloud of disloyalty that rested upon the household
he loved. His one hour with the soldiers of the United States had
inspired and inspirited him to new and greater effort, to the making of
any sacrifice, in order to uphold the honor of his country and his home.

In the night an idea came to him, suddenly, brilliantly--he wondered
he had not thought of it before. To be sure, there were some details
to be worked out, some difficulties to be overcome; but the plan was
feasible, he knew that, and, if he could carry it into successful
execution, his father would have the price lifted from his head, the
honor of the family would be saved, and he himself would have the joy
of serving his country.

So it was settled and he went to sleep. On the following morning he
went up to Mount Hermon and drew from the bank half of his savings. The
money was paid to him without question, as his father had long before
made formal release of his legal right to it. It was money that he
himself had earned, most of it in former years, by carrying the mail
from the village post-office to Rick’s Corners, the next settlement
to the east on the old North and South Turnpike road. But when his
father’s pro-slavery and anti-war sentiments became pronounced, Bob
lost his position as mail-carrier, and a boy whose father had been
among the first to enlist as a soldier received the appointment.

As for his morning tasks at home that day, he did them with a vigor
and spirit that surprised and pleased his father. In the afternoon
he finished up little odds and ends of work that had been awaiting
his leisure, and rearranged his small store of keepsakes, treasures,
valuables, things that a boy of seventeen has accumulated and looks
upon with sentiment. Some articles, outgrown by him or become useless,
he destroyed. He appeared to be making ready for a long absence. But he
did it all so quietly, with so little ostentation, that no suspicions
were aroused on the part of any member of his family.

Then, when everything was done, doubts as to the wisdom of his
contemplated course began to assail his mind. What would his father
say? What would his mother do? What would his little sister think? The
plan that had seemed so brilliant to him in the darkness of the night
loomed shadowy and doubtful in the cold light of a dull October day.
He began to wish that there were some one whom he could take into his
confidence; to whom he could outline the project he had in mind, and
from whom he could get good and seasonable advice. Well, there was
some one. There was Seth Mills. He was old, to be sure; but he was
absolutely honest, his judgment was still good, he had always been
Bob’s father’s faithful friend, and his mother’s kindest neighbor.
Besides, having no children of his own, the old man always had set
great store by Bob, and the boy felt that, in any event, he would get
sympathy and disinterested counsel. So he went to see Seth Mills. He
walked down along the path by the spring-house, and across the meadow,
and found his neighbor in the barn-yard milking his cows.

“Uncle Seth,” he said, “I’ve come to tell you what I’m going to do, and
see what you think of it.”

The old man looked up but did not stop his milking.

“Well, Robbie, what is it ye goin’ to do?”

“I’m going to war.”

The rich streams that had been piercing the boiling white foam in the
milk-pail suddenly ceased. The man’s hands relaxed without falling,
and he gazed at the boy as if trying to comprehend his meaning.

“You--you goin’ to enlist?”

“Yes. I’ve thought it all out. You know my father. You know what he
thinks about the war and about the draft. You know he’s been drafted
and won’t go, and says the soldiers can’t take him alive. Well,
Sergeant Anderson said that, defying the draft that way, he’s classed
as a deserter, and when he’s caught he’s liable to be shot. Now you
know that isn’t a nice thing to happen to your father. So I’ve decided
to do this. I’m going to Easton to see this provost-marshal and offer
to take my father’s place as a drafted man, and go wherever they choose
to send me, provided they’ll let him off. I think they will, don’t you?”

For a moment the old man did not answer. He seemed to be trying fully
to comprehend the situation. Then, suddenly, he took it in. Rising to
his feet as quickly as his rheumatic legs would let him, kicking over
his three-legged milking-stool in the operation, and barely saving his
pail of milk from the same fate, he grasped Bob heartily by the hand.

“Jest the thing!” he exclaimed, “jest the thing! Here I’ve been layin’
awake nights fur a week tryin’ to think up some way o’ savin’ Rhett
Bannister’s neck, an’ here you’ve gone an’ struck it the first time, by
cracky!”

“You think the plan’s all right, do you, Uncle Seth?”

“Sound as a dollar, my boy, sound as a dollar. They’ll take ye an’ glad
to git ye. To be sure, you’re a leetle mite under age, but that won’t
make no difference; you’re big an’ strong, an’ you can carry a gun an’
fight with the best of ’em.”

“But, will they let father off?”

“Well, now I sh’d think they would. They don’t want no copperheads in
the army, nor no deserters, nor--why, I sh’d think they’d be tickled to
death to swap him for you, an’ call good riddance to him. That’s what
I say.”

“It looks that way to me, too, Uncle Seth, and I do want to help father
and save him if I can.”

“Yes, an’ they’s another thing about it, Robbie. S’posin’ ye git to
go down there. S’posin’ ye git to be one of Uncle Sam’s soldiers
a-fightin’ in the army. You think your father’s goin’ to set down to
hum contented, an’ let his boy do the soldierin’? No, sir-ee! that
ain’t him. You mark my words. In less’n ten days he’ll be down there
a-tryin’ to git to take your place stid o’ your takin’ his’n. That’s
what I say. Now, you mark my words!”

But Bob did not quite believe that. The most that he hoped to do was
to relieve his father from the effect of the draft and the result of
his disobedience to it. More than that, of course, it would give him
the opportunity that he had longed for and waited for, to fight for his
country and his country’s flag.

So they talked it over, the boy and the old man, and every moment they
grew more enthusiastic over the project and what it was likely to
accomplish.

“When ye goin’, Robbie?”

“Why, I thought--I thought I’d go to-morrow morning, Uncle Seth. You
see I can’t very well let them know I’m going. That would spoil it all.
So I thought I’d get up early to-morrow morning and slip away before
anybody was up, and catch the early train at Carbon Creek. You don’t
think I ought to tell them before I go, do you?”

“No, I s’pose not. But what’ll your ma think when she finds you ain’t
to home? What’ll your pa say?”

“That’s the only thing about it that worries me, Uncle Seth. When I’m
once in the army, and they know where I am and what to expect, it won’t
be so bad. But how to ease their minds before they find out, I don’t
know. I’ve thought over it a good deal, but I can’t quite make out how
I’m going to do it. I might leave a letter, but then they’d know where
I was going and likely stop me before I got there. I might--say, I’ll
tell you what; I just happen to think of it. Suppose you kind o’ happen
along there some time to-morrow forenoon, and say to them that you
know where I am and where I’m going, and that it’s all right; and if I
don’t come back in a day or two I’ll write and tell them all about it.
That’ll do, won’t it?”

“Certain! I’ll put their minds to rest. Jest leave that to me. They’ll
know’t when I tell ’em ye’re all right, ye air all right.”

Then, for a minute, the old man stood silent, chewing contemplatively
on a straw.

“I don’t know,” he said finally, “as I’d ort to encourage ye in this
thing. Mebbe it ain’t jest right. It’s a-goin’ ag’inst yer father’s
wish an’ will. It’s a-makin’ yer mother an awful lot of anxiety. Mebbe
it won’t amount to nothin’ anyway. Mebbe they won’t take ye. Mebbe they
won’t leave him go free. Ef they do take ye, ye go to war, an’ ye
know, or else ye don’t know, what war is. You’re jest a boy. You’ll hev
to suffer. You’ll see some hard times. Ye ain’t use to it. Likely ye’ll
git sick. Mebbe ye’ll git swamp fever, an’ that’s bad enough. Mebbe
ye’ll git wounded, crippled for life. Mebbe ye’ll git killed, an’ yer
body buried in a trench with a hundred others, like they buried ’em at
Antietam an’ Gettysburg, an’ nobody never know where ye lay, nor how ye
died. It’s awful, war is, it’s jest awful, an’ ye ortn’t to go, unless
ye realize what’s likely to happen to ye; and I ortn’t to encourage ye
in goin’ unless I’m ready to shoulder the responsibility fer what may
happen, an’ I ain’t quite ready to do that.”

“And I don’t want you to do that, Uncle Seth. I know what I’m about.
I’ve thought it all out. I’ve thought about every dreadful thing that
can possibly happen to me. But before I get through thinking what may
happen to me, I begin to think about what is pretty sure to happen
to my father if things go on as they are. And then I can’t hesitate
any more. To have my father shot as a deserter, why, that would be
worse for me, and worse for my mother, and for my little sister all
our lives, than it would be to have me tired, or hungry, or sick, or
wounded, or shot to death in battle and buried in a trench. And besides
that I want to go for the sake of going. I want to do something for my
country. Abraham Lincoln wants more soldiers, and if he wants them he
should have them. I’m ready to go, and I’m going. I’ve made up my mind;
and you couldn’t discourage me, Uncle Seth, if you talked a thousand
years!”

In the gray October twilight the boy stood erect, with flushed face
and flashing eyes. The spirit of the time had entered his soul as it
entered the souls of thousands of other boys in those soul-stirring
days, and, like them, he was ready. Consequences were of no moment. His
country was calling, his response rang fervent and true.

So Seth Mills spoke no more discouraging words. But he put his hands on
the boy’s shoulders and looked up into his eyes, for the boy was the
taller of the two.

“You’re right,” he said, “and I’m wrong. I hadn’t thought it was in ye.
Go on. I’ll stand back o’ ye. God bless ye, I’m proud o’ ye!”

Tears came into the old man’s eyes as he spoke, and coursed down the
furrows in his cheeks, and his own patriotic heart was roused to a new
pitch of loyalty.

When, at last, the final arrangement with his old friend had been
made, and the little details of his departure were settled, and the
good-bys and hand-shaking were at an end, and Bob turned back into the
meadow-path toward home, it was almost dark.

His father sat at the supper-table that evening with apparent unconcern.
He knew that there were no provost-guards in the neighborhood, no one
with authority to arrest or imprison him. For while it was true that,
in a sense, he was isolated in the midst of an intensely patriotic
community, he was, nevertheless, in more or less constant communication
with friends and sympathizers who kept him well informed as to the
dangers which surrounded or approached him. On this night he knew, for
instance, that Sergeant Anderson, with his little squad of soldiers, had
returned to Easton, and that no other detail of troops had as yet come
into the county. He knew also that means would be found to warn him of
the approach of an enemy long before that enemy could reach him. So he
ate his supper with his family in peace, and sat quietly at his table
reading his paper without apprehension of danger when Bob started to go
upstairs to bed.

“Good-by, father!” said the boy, standing at the stair-door with his
lamp in his hand.

“Good-_by_,” repeated his father, “what do you mean by that?”

“Did I say good-by? I meant to say good-night. But you know I never go
to bed at night any more, father, without thinking that something may
happen before morning to separate us--forever.”

His lip trembled a little as he spoke, and he still stood, hesitating,
at the stair-door.

“Well, Robert, nothing will happen to-night, I know. You can go to bed
without fear to-night. To-morrow, maybe, danger will come again, we
cannot tell. But to-night, I believe we are safe.”

He saw that, for some reason, the boy’s emotions were deeply stirred,
and he imagined it was due to a suddenly augmented fear of what might
happen to his father.

“You don’t know anything, do you, Bob?” he inquired suddenly. “You
haven’t heard of danger immediately at hand? Did Seth Mills tell you
anything that would lead you to think--?”

“No, father, oh no! I was just--well, I won’t worry about you to-night,
anyway. But if anything _should_ happen that we don’t see each other
again--for a good while--I’d like to have you think that while I
believe in Abraham Lincoln, and in the Union, and in the war, I
believe in you, too, and I wouldn’t want, ever, to do anything that
would seem to be disloyal to you.”

“No, Bob, of course not. I believe that. I’m sorry these Northern
notions of patriotism have entered so deeply into your mind. But, when
you’re older and understand things better, you’ll think differently.
There, go along to bed, now. You’re tired and nervous to-night. In the
morning you’ll feel better.”

He held out his hand and Bob came over and clasped it tightly.

“Good-night, father!”

“Good-night!”

The boy went on to bed, and Rhett Bannister resumed his reading. But he
could keep neither his mind nor his eyes on the printed page. He was
thinking of his son upstairs. Once a sudden and startling thought came
to him, more by way of intuition than suggestion. He dropped his book,
rose to his feet, and stood staring at the door through which Bob had
gone. But a sound of voices came to him faintly down the stairway,
natural, reassuring voices, and after a minute he sat down again and
took up his book, and whatever apprehensive thought it was that had so
suddenly and strangely entered his mind, he dismissed it and resumed
his reading.

Upstairs Bob had found his mother sitting with Louise, who had long
been asleep, and sewing. It seemed to him that when his mother was not
busy about something else she was always sewing. He entered the room
where she sat, and looked at her a moment before speaking. The anxiety
of the last few months, the harassing dread of the last few days, had
worn her greatly and left her haggard and pale. Bob was almost shocked
as he gazed on her face under the lamplight. He had never seen her look
so before. Would his conduct of the morrow bring to her added sorrow,
or intense relief? He dared not stop to think about it then. He knew
simply that he was doing right and could not change his plans.

“Good-night, mother!” he said. “I’m going to bed.”

“Good-night, Robbie! Come here and kiss me.”

He went where she was, and leaned over, and she put her hands on his
shoulders and kissed him. He started to go away, but at the door of the
room he turned back.

“Mother, if anything should happen to-night,--we don’t know what may
happen these days,--but if anything should happen, and I had to do
something, I don’t want you ever to think but that I felt I was doing
the right thing.”

“Yes, Robbie, yes. I don’t know just what you mean, but I know you mean
to do what is right. And these are dreadful days, and dreadful nights.
I don’t know how it’s all going to end. I’m in terror all the time.
I wish your father could do something, or you could do something, or
somebody could do something to help us. If this keeps on I shall die!
Oh, why don’t they stop this cruel, _cruel_ war!”

Bob went back into the room and put his arms about his mother’s
shoulders.

“There, mother, there. It’s terrible! I know it’s terrible. I wish the
war would stop. I wish I could do something to stop it. Maybe I can,
just a little. But the only way to stop it is to give Abraham Lincoln
enough soldiers to defeat the Southern armies. We must do that. At any
sacrifice, we _must_ do it. And, mother, I shall do my part.”

She did not appreciate the significance of his words, but she wiped the
tears from her eyes and said:--

“Don’t let’s think about it any more to-night, Robbie.” And she kissed
him again, and again she took up her sewing.

Bob went over to Louise, who was stirring uneasily in her sleep, and
kissed her gently, and went out into the hall. At the door he turned to
look once more at his mother.

“Good-night, mother!” he said, “and good dreams. I think we shall all
be happier soon.”

He went to his room, removed his working-clothes, put on his best
suit, got together a few things and put them into a little hand-bag
that had once belonged to his South Carolinian grandfather, put out
his light, and threw himself down on the bed for a brief sleep. But he
slept only fitfully, looking often at his watch by the light of the
moon that shone in at his window; and at last, at four o’clock, he rose
for the last time, took his satchel and shoes in his hands and crept
softly downstairs. He went through by the kitchen, stopping there to
bathe his face and hands, then, sliding back the bolt, he opened the
door and stepped out on to the porch. The moon was shining brightly,
and the night was very still. There were as yet no signs of morning
in the east, nor any noise of stirring men or beasts. He bethought
himself of food, but he feared lest, by moving around in the darkness
of the pantry to seek it, he would arouse some of the inmates of the
house. So he closed the door behind him, sat down on the porch-steps
and put on his shoes, and then, satchel in hand, he started down the
garden pathway to the kitchen gate. The windows of the sleeping-room
occupied by Louise opened on this side of the house, but there was no
possibility of his being seen by her. Once in the road, he turned his
face toward Mount Hermon. When he reached the front gate, he stopped
and looked up the path toward the house. From his mother’s window shone
the faint light of her night-lamp. There were no other signs of life
about the premises. Then, suddenly, there in the shadow of the trees,
with his boyhood home in front of him, and in the dark west toward
which his footsteps were pointing a fate which no man could fathom, a
feeling of profound depression fell upon him, a sense of unutterable
loneliness and desolation. For the time being all of his courage, all
of his determination, all of his invincible patriotism, deserted him
and left him weak and homesick and miserable. In another moment he
would have turned back and sought the safety and protection which his
dear home offered him; but, even as he hesitated, out of the darkness
of the east there grew slowly and solemnly clear to his mental vision
the tall, gaunt form, the sadly resolute and rugged face of Abraham
Lincoln. And, with the vision, there came back into his mind, one
by one and then all together, the overpowering reasons that had led
him into taking this momentous step. So his judgment returned, his
thought grew clear, courage came back to him, and strength, and deep
determination, and he turned his face once more toward Mount Hermon,
and plunged ahead into the shadows.



CHAPTER VII

OFF TO THE WAR


By the time Bob reached the village the sky was gray along the
eastern horizon, and a faint tinge of pink, seen through a gap in the
hill-range, announced the coming of the sun. In front of the gate of
Sarah Jane Stark he stopped, and looked longingly up at her house.
Light shone from two of her lower windows, and a wisp of blue smoke
curled lazily from the southern chimney. He thought he would like to go
in and tell Miss Stark what he was about to do. He wondered what she
would say if she knew. He felt, in his heart, that she would approve
his course and bid him God-speed. However, there was not time to visit
her. He wanted to get through the village before daybreak, so that
he should not be seen of many people. So he gripped his satchel and
hurried on. At the next corner he turned out of the main street, and
skirted the closely built portion of the town by an outlying way. He
met no one whom he knew until he came in again to the main traveled
highway beyond the town. This road led directly to the railroad
station at Carbon Creek. It had been his purpose to wait here for the
stage that left Mount Hermon every morning for Carbon Creek, carrying
passengers and mail. But he was in no mood to stand still, and,
besides, the chilly October air made exercise a necessity. So he walked
quickly along, feeling that the farther from Mount Hermon he could
get the safer he would be. It was broad daylight now, and the stage
was likely to overtake him at any moment. He began to wonder whom he
would have for fellow passengers. But, even as he wondered, a horse and
buggy, coming up rapidly from behind, was about to pass him, when the
man who was driving turned in his seat and looked back at Bob. When he
saw who it was, he reined up his horse and called out:

“Why, Bob Bannister! is that you? Where are you going? Won’t you jump
in and ride?”

It was Henry Bradbury who spoke, the crippled veteran who had left an
arm at Malvern Hill in ’62, and who had declared that he would gladly
have left both arms, or even his life, if only “Little Mac” could have
taken Richmond as the climax of that unfortunate Peninsular Campaign.
For, somehow, after that campaign, McClellan, whom he, with a hundred
thousand other soldiers, had worshiped as the one splendid hero of the
war, lost lustre in his eyes, and never regained it to that November
night, when, at Warrenton, Virginia, he was relieved from the command
of the Army of the Potomac. And yet, to this day, Henry Bradbury will
not permit any one, in his presence, to speak harshly of McClellan.

“No, thank you, Mr. Bradbury,” replied Bob, very much confused. “I’m
not going far. I was just waiting for the stage to come along.”

“Well, if you’re going to Carbon Creek you might just as well jump in
and ride with me. I’ve got lots of room and you’ll save your stage
fare.”

Bob hesitated for a moment. He did not know what embarrassing questions
the veteran might ask. Then, suddenly, he made up his mind to accept
the invitation.

“I will go with you, Mr. Bradbury,” he said. “I think I would a good
deal rather go with you than in the stage.”

He climbed into the wagon and they started on, the old soldier driving
with one hand with great ease and facility.

“I might as well be plain with you, Bob,” he said. “I don’t think much
of your father, but I’ve got nothing against you. In fact, if what they
tell me about your loyalty is true, you deserve a good deal of credit,
and I wouldn’t be the last one to give it to you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Bradbury! My father and I don’t quite agree about the
war, and about--the draft, but I don’t want to set up my judgment as
better than his, and I don’t want to criticise him, and I’d rather not
hear anybody else do it.”

“That’s all right, my boy. I’m afraid his obstinacy is going to cost
him his neck, but I don’t know as I’ve got any call to try to set his
son against him. Let’s change the subject. Going up to the station, are
you?”

“Yes.”

“Going to take the train?”

“Yes, I expect to.”

After that for a few minutes there was silence. Bradbury looked Bob
over carefully to see if perchance there might be something about his
dress or appearance to indicate his errand. But there was nothing.
Finally his curiosity prevailed, and he said:--

“I don’t want to be inquisitive, but may I ask where you are going?”

“I want to go to Easton, Mr. Bradbury.”

There was another pause, followed by another question.

“I suppose it’s none o’ my business, but can I inquire if Rhett
Bannister has decided to give himself up?”

“I think not, Mr. Bradbury. He don’t change his mind very easily after
he’s once made it up.”

The veteran was puzzled. What was Bob Bannister going to Easton for? His
visit there must in some way be connected with the provost-marshal’s
office and the draft. He could have no other errand. Then, suddenly, a
light broke in upon Henry Bradbury’s mind. He reined his horse up
sharply and turned to face the boy.

“Look here, Bob Bannister! are you going to enlist?”

Bob hardly knew how to reply. He considered the question for a moment
before he answered it.

“Well,” he said finally, “I thought one of us ought to go to the war,
Mr. Bradbury.”

The man dropped his reins and grasped Bob’s hand.

“You’re all right!” he exclaimed. “I wish Abe Lincoln had a hundred
thousand more just like you. Richmond would be ours in thirty days.”

“But, Mr. Bradbury, nobody knows what I’m going to do, and I wish you
wouldn’t tell. Maybe I’ll not be able to do it, anyway.”

“Mum’s the word. Don’t your folks know?”

“No. I couldn’t have gone if they knew.”

“Certainly not. Well, my boy, Henry Bradbury says God bless you! Do you
hear? God bless you!”

So, after the ice had been thus broken, Bob explained fully the project
he had in mind; there were a score of things to be talked about, a
hundred questions to be asked on either side, and a hundred answers to
be given. And before they were quite aware of it they had reached the
station at Carbon Creek. But the train would not be due yet for nearly
an hour. Learning that Bob had not had his breakfast, the veteran
compelled him to go across the road with him to the Eagle Hotel.

“Get up the best breakfast you know how for this young man and me,”
he said to the landlord. “Ham and eggs and potatoes and biscuits and
pancakes and coffee and all the fixin’s. I want you to remember,” he
added to Bob, “I want you to remember, some morning when you’re eating
hard-tack and salt pork, and drinking black and muddy coffee,--I want
you to remember the breakfast Henry Bradbury bought for you at the
Eagle Hotel at Carbon Creek the morning you started for the war.”

And Bob did remember it. Many times he remembered it in the days that
were to come.

In due time the stage pulled up at the station, the train came in,
and Bob said good-by to his veteran friend and stepped on board.
He had but one change of cars to make, the one at Scranton, and,
late in the afternoon, he reached Phillipsburg and walked across the
river to Easton. The provost-marshal’s office was already closed
for the day, and Bob had to content himself with finding a modest
hotel where he could stay over night and wait patiently for what the
morning might bring. After supper he strolled out into the street.
Reaching the public square, he saw a hundred newly arrived drafted men
formed into a company and drilled in military movements. They were
very awkward, indeed. Bob thought that the company of boys at home
could have done far better. But, later in the evening, when a body of
seasoned veterans, belonging to the invalid corps, reached the city,
and marched, with fine precision, up the street to the square, and
stacked their arms and were dismissed, he looked upon them with deep
admiration. This was something like. The moving ranks, the rhythmic
tramp, the glistening arms, the stirring music of the fife and drum,
all this had a fascination for the boy such as he had never experienced
before. When the troops were dismissed one of the officers, meeting and
greeting a comrade on the corner where Bob was waiting, stood for a
moment and talked with him.

“Yes,” Bob heard him say, “we’ve got a little provost duty to do up
in this end of the state. There were a good many in some sections who
didn’t respond to the draft. Some of them are already in, the rest
we’re going to round up. One of the most notorious of these fellows is
a man by the name of Bannister. I’m going after him myself, when I get
through around here. I’ll give him four days from now to make his peace
with Uncle Sam, and if he don’t do it something will drop. I’m going
after him and I intend to get him, dead or alive.”

The soldiers passed on, and Bob, pale of face and much troubled in
heart, went back to his hotel more determined than ever to take his
father’s place in the ranks if, by any possible means, so desirable a
substitution could be made.

Notwithstanding his anxiety and the many noises in the streets, he
slept fairly well, and at nine o’clock on the following morning he
presented himself at the office of the provost-marshal. Many were
already waiting to see that officer, and Bob had to take his place in
line and await his turn. Most of those who swarmed about the marshal’s
office were drafted men who were there to urge their claims for
exemption from service on account of physical disability. Many were
present with substitutes whom they had hired to serve for them. Some
who had failed to respond to the notice of draft were being brought
in by members of the provost-guard, to answer for their neglect or
disobedience.

When Bob’s turn finally came and he was ushered into the provost-marshal’s
office, he did not quite know how to state his errand. A man in captain’s
uniform sat behind a long table, busily writing. There were two or three
clerks in various parts of the room, and soldiers with side-arms stood
guard at the door.

The provost-marshal looked up from his writing and saw Bob.

“Well,” he said, “what’s your case?”

[Illustration: “WELL, WHAT’S YOUR CASE?”]

“I haven’t any case,” replied Bob, “except that I want to enlist in
place of my father, who has been drafted.”

“Go as a substitute, eh? Well, you want to see Lieutenant Morrison
about that, in the next room. Your father is here, I suppose,” he
added, as Bob turned away.

“No,” replied Bob, “he isn’t. That’s the trouble. Nor does he know I’m
here.”

The captain laid down his pen and looked at the boy curiously.

“That’s strange,” he said. “What’s the reason he don’t know?”

Bob advanced a step closer to the marshal’s table.

“Well, he isn’t in sympathy with the war. And when he was drafted he
wouldn’t report. And when the soldiers came to arrest him he--they
couldn’t find him.”

“I see. And you--why did you come without his knowledge?”

“Why, he wouldn’t have let me come if he knew. And I, I believe in the
war. I want to be a soldier. And I thought if I could just take his
place so he could stay home with mother and I could go and fight--why,
I thought it would be better all around.”

“What’s your father’s name?”

“Bannister. Rhett Bannister.”

The marshal’s face clouded.

“Bannister of Mount Hermon?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m sorry, my boy, but, figuratively speaking, there’s a price on your
father’s head. He’s a notorious rebel sympathizer, a regular secession
firebrand. He has declared that the government will never take him
alive. Very well, then, we’ll take him dead. But we can’t afford to
accept a price for his freedom. Our orders are to get him, and we
shall do it if it takes a regiment of soldiers.”

The marshal took up his pen and made as if to resume his writing.

“Then it’s no use,” inquired Bob weakly, “for me to think about
substituting for him?”

“Not the slightest, my boy. But if you really want to serve your
country, I’ll tell you what you can do. You can enlist. We need men
and we’ll be glad to have you. Any recruiting officer will take your
application. That’s all, isn’t it?”

“I guess so; yes, sir.”

“Very well, good-morning! Let in the next man, corporal.”

Bob left the office in a daze. The hope that for two days had lain
next his heart, was suddenly blasted. He hardly knew what to do or
which way to turn. He walked out through the crowd of waiting men,
but he scarcely saw them, nor did they notice him. It was too common
a sight in these days to see disappointed men leaving the marshal’s
office, for any one to comment on this particular boy’s downcast
look or halting step. He went out into the October sunlight, and,
threading his way through throngs of citizens and soldiers, he walked
down the eastern side of the public square. Well, it was all over. He
had failed. His errand had simply served to emphasize his father’s
disloyalty. What now? Should he go home, or-- The marshal had said
something about his enlisting, anyway. How would that work? He had
wandered into the street leading to the bridge across the Delaware.
Suddenly he was aware that a man in soldier’s uniform, whom he had
just met and passed, had stopped and turned and was calling to him.
Bob faced about and looked. In an instant he recognized the soldier as
Sergeant Anderson, who had arrested him and marched him off to Sarah
Jane Stark’s house for breakfast.

“Are you Bob Bannister?” asked the sergeant.

“Yes,” replied Bob, “and you are Sergeant Anderson.”

“Exactly. But what in the world are you doing here?”

“Why, I came here last night to-- Well, I might as well tell you; I
thought they would let me substitute for my father.”

“Oh, no! I don’t believe you could do that. Have you seen Captain Yohe?”

“Yes, he wouldn’t let me.”

“I thought he wouldn’t. That’s too bad after you came all the way here
for that purpose. It will be a disappointment to your father, too.”

“He don’t know I came.”

“Don’t know you came! Why--say, boy, did you work this thing out
yourself? Were you willing to do this?”

“Willing! I’d ’a’ crawled from Mount Hermon on my hands and knees to
be allowed to do it. I want to save my father, Sergeant Anderson. And
I want to help my country. I thought I was going to do both, and now I
can’t do either.”

“That’s too bad!”

“Say, do you suppose I could enlist? The marshal suggested that I might
enlist.”

“Why, yes, I suppose you could. How old are you?”

“Seventeen my last birthday.”

“Well, that’s a little under age, but I guess you can get in. Uncle Sam
needs soldiers pretty bad. I guess they’ll take you.”

“I believe I’ll try it. It looks this way to me. If I get to be a
soldier and have a good record, then if they do get father, whatever
happens to him it won’t be quite so bad for the rest of us if I’ve
proved my loyalty.”

“That’s right! I don’t believe you’re going to help him by enlisting,
but if worst comes to worst men are going to forget your father’s
disgrace in thinking of your bravery. Will you do it? Will you enlist?”

“Yes, Sergeant Anderson, I will.”

“Then I’ll tell you what to do. You go with me. In an hour I shall
start back to the South to join my regiment. I’ll take you along. I’ll
get you into my company. I’ll get you into my mess. I’ll stand by
you, and take care of you, and share with you, because you’re a hero
already, and I’m proud of you!”

The sergeant’s eyes dimmed as he grasped the boy’s hand and shook it
enthusiastically.

“Thank you!” replied Bob. “I’m no hero; and I may disgrace you; but
I’ll go, and I’ll do the very best I can.”

“Good! Be at the depot across the bridge yonder in an hour, and I’ll
meet you there. The train leaves at eleven o’clock.”

The sergeant hurried away, and Bob went back to his hotel to get his
baggage. It occurred to him to write a brief letter to Seth Mills,
and he did so, telling him what had happened at Easton and giving him
permission to repeat to his father and mother so much or so little
of the information as he saw fit. Then he hurried to the railroad
station and there, promptly at the hour agreed upon, he met Sergeant
Anderson. At eleven o’clock they boarded the train for Harrisburg, and
from thence, with little delay, they went to Washington. It was late at
night when they reached the capital city, and Bob was very tired. They
passed through the jostling crowds at the railroad station and sought a
rooming house, not far away, with which Sergeant Anderson was familiar,
stopping on the way to get a meagre luncheon at a near-by restaurant.
They were not long in seeking their beds, and they had no sooner laid
themselves down than the young officer fell into a heavy and restful
sleep.

But Bob was not so fortunate. The events of the day were still
very fresh and vivid in his mind, and he could not readily dismiss
the memory of them. It had all been so novel, so exciting, so
nerve-racking, for this boy of seventeen, who never before in his life
had been fifty miles distant from his native town. Yet he was not
discontented or unhappy. On the contrary, so far as the wisdom of his
course was concerned, his mind was perfectly at rest. His only anxiety
was on account of his father and mother, who would be worrying about
him at home. Yet he felt that he had done right. Whatever now might
happen to his father, permanent escape from the Federal authorities, or
arrest, imprisonment, and death, he knew that his own record as a Union
soldier would help to save the family from complete disgrace. Moreover,
the ambition of years was about to be realized, he was soon to be
enlisted in the ranks of his country’s soldiers, and march and fight
under the folds of the old flag. So, with this thought in his mind to
temper the anxiety for his father in his heart, he fell into a calmer,
deeper sleep than he had known before in many months.

It was late when they arose the next morning, and, after a hurried
breakfast, went out into the streets. It was Bob’s first visit to
Washington, and he was deeply impressed by the sights and sounds that
surrounded him. There were many people moving to and fro. Small bodies
of troops went marching by. Officers in uniform hurried here and there.
Hospital wagons carrying sick and wounded men brought in from the
front, went trailing through the streets. Everywhere was noise, bustle,
activity, color. Yet nowhere was there gayety. There was no laughter,
no lightness of look or word, no care-free expression on the face of
any passer-by. For Washington was troubled. Meade, who had been driven
back almost half-way from the Rappahannock to the capital, under the
repeated onslaughts of Lee’s depleted but still daring and determined
armies, was just now taking fresh courage, facing his troops about,
and turning back once more from Centreville toward the Rapidan. Yet
the shadow of unnecessary retreat and imminent danger still rested
on the city, and complete confidence had not been restored in the
commander and the army that had fought so splendidly and successfully
at Gettysburg in July. Even Sergeant Anderson, usually buoyant and
light-hearted, seemed to partake of the prevailing depression, and as
he and Bob made their way down to the river and across Long Bridge,
little was said by either of them.

At the end of the bridge a supply wagon going down to Alexandria came
along, and the driver, who knew Sergeant Anderson, gave both men a ride
with him to the Virginia city.

Early in the afternoon one of the trains that ran at irregular
intervals from Alexandria to the front was made up, and Anderson,
having the necessary passports, was able to procure a ride for his
companion and himself. At Bristol station he made inquiry and learned
that his regiment had gone on to Gainesville, and thence to Auburn,
and so the two men followed after on foot. That night, as guests of
the rear-guard, they slept, rolled in blankets, in an open field. It
was not until late the next morning that they came up with Anderson’s
regiment, camped under the shelter of a low hill-range near Auburn.

The sergeant, beloved by the men of his company for his bravery in
battle, and his cheerfulness and gentleness in camp and on the march,
was heartily welcomed back. And his recommendation of Bob was an open
sesame for the boy into the good graces of the entire command. So it
happened that, before nightfall, Bob Bannister, duly examined, passed,
mustered, and clothed in uniform, became a soldier in the Army of the
Potomac.



CHAPTER VIII

A LETTER FROM THE FRONT


There was consternation in the house of Bannister. The son of the house
had disappeared over night. His mother was distracted, his father was
anxious and angry. The morning wore on and he did not return. No one
had seen him nor could any trace of him be found. Toward noon Seth
Mills came over. He was able to quiet, to some extent, the apprehension
concerning the boy. But he would not tell where Bob had gone.

“The boy knows what he’s a-doin’,” said the old man, “and he’s
perfectly safe. He won’t git back to-night. He may be back to-morrow
night--I don’t know. Ef he don’t come till the day after, I’ll tell ye
more about ’im. He’s on the right track an’ he’s able to take keer of
’imself, an’ some day ye’re a-goin’ to be proud o’ that boy, both of
ye. That’s what I say.”

He stood up very straight and rapped his cane three times on the floor
for emphasis and turned toward the door. With this statement and this
promise the Bannisters had to be satisfied. They knew, from long
experience, that the old man could not be forced to tell more than he
chose. So the day dragged on. Rhett Bannister had not been so unhappy
before in all his life. A dozen times he thought of starting out to
find his son, and a dozen times he abandoned the idea. A dozen times he
felt that he must go over and choke the truth out of old Seth Mills,
and as often he restrained himself. He surmised something of what had
happened, and what he surmised hurt and angered him.

The day went by, and the night, and the next day, and Bob did not
return. The next night a candle shone all night from the porch-window,
that the boy might be guided safely to his door, if haply he should
come back, and all night Rhett Bannister lay sleepless and perplexed.
The next morning he started out to find Seth Mills. It was the first
time in two weeks that he had left his own premises. He met the old man
in the road, hobbling toward the Bannister home.

“Seth,” he said, “I want you to tell me where Robert has gone, and I
want you to tell me now. Do you hear? _now!_”

His voice rose in anger as he spoke, a look of determination was in his
eyes, and the old man knew that the time had come when he must reveal
his secret.

“Yes,” he replied deliberately, “I was jes’ comin’ over to tell ye.
I think it’s time now ye ort to know. Well, sir, the night before he
left, Bob come an’ told me ’at he was a-goin’ to Easton to try to
pervail on the provost-marshal there to let him go as a substitute in
your place. Ef he ain’t back to-day I expect they’ve let him do it. Now
you’ve got it, Rhett Bannister, straight from the shoulder; make the
most of it.”

For a moment Bannister did not reply. His worst fear had been realized.
A great wave of indignation and anger swept over his soul. He stood
over the bent form of his old neighbor, white-faced and quivering.

“And you!” he cried, “you of all men, to encourage him, to assist him
in this rebellious, this disgraceful, this suicidal folly!”

And again the old man stood up very straight.

“I did encourage him,” he replied. “And I glory in his grit. And ef you
hed one drop of human blood in your veins, you’d be the proudest father
on the Lord’s footstool to-day.”

Then, lest in his wrath he should wholly forget himself, Bannister
turned on his heel and strode away. But he did not go immediately to
his home. He felt that he could not yet trust himself to tell his wife.
And when, finally, he did go to her he found that she already knew.
Seth Mills had been there and told her that since he had seen her
husband he had received a letter from Bob, saying that he had been
refused as a substitute, but that he was about starting to the front
with Sergeant Anderson to enlist. Then Rhett Bannister lost entire
control of his tongue.

“So,” he said, “the radicals have caught their prey at last. Such
Lincoln bigots as Seth Mills and Henry Bradbury and Sarah Jane Stark
have drilled into the boy’s mind their brand of pestilent patriotism
till they have turned his head and sent him off on this wild-goose
chase after glory. Little thought have they for his health or life or
the peace of mind of his parents. And when he dies, as die he will,
in that awful struggle, his blood will be on their heads. Oh, it’s
horrible! horrible!”

He had not thought to give way, like this, to his passion, and the
next moment he had repented himself of his anger. His wife had thrown
herself into a chair, and, resting her head on a table, was sobbing
hysterically. He went over to her and put his arms about her shoulders.

“There, Mary,” he said, “there, never mind. We’ll get him back somehow.
He’s too young to enlist. They can’t hold him against his will or ours.
We’ll get him back.”

And so, little by little, she was calmed and comforted.

Seth Mills had told her that Bob would write as soon as he reached
his destination. But the day went by and the night wore away and no
letter came. Another day and another night dragged their long hours
out, and still there was no letter. Word reached Bob’s parents from
those who had seen him on the way to Easton. Congratulations on their
son’s patriotism and bravery came to them in almost every mail. Henry
Bradbury wrote to Bannister:--

“If you are not proud of your boy, you ought to be. I saw him when he
started. A braver boy never left this town. If you hang for treason, he
will redeem your family from disgrace. Get down on your knees and thank
God for him.”

And some of these darts sank deeply into Rhett Bannister’s sensitive
soul. At times he was wild with rage, at other times he was bowed
and silent with grief and despair. His own fate mattered little to
him any more. His whole thought was as to when and by what method he
could rescue his son from the hateful hands into which he had fallen.
But, even as he pondered and grieved, there crept into his heart a
softer feeling toward the boy, an almost unconscious sympathy with the
enthusiasm, the ambition, the noble unselfishness which had governed
the lad’s conduct, which had impelled him to seek his father’s welfare
at peril of his own, which had led him willingly, gladly into the
ranks of the Union armies. Indeed, he went so far as to wonder if he
himself could by any possibility be mistaken in his attitude toward the
Federal government, and his view concerning the conduct of the war.
If, after all, there might not possibly be something back of all this
attempt at coercion, back of all these vast fighting armies in blue,
back of all this lavish expenditure of blood and treasure, some great
principle, some high ideal, which his eyes had been too dim to see,
but which appealed to the hearts and souls of large-minded men, and
fervent patriotic youth, and led them into untold sacrifices that that
principle might be upheld and that ideal maintained.

On the fifth day after Bob’s disappearance, the boy who brought mail
from the post-office to the residents along the North and South
Turnpike road, left a letter at the Bannister house, a letter which,
at the first glance, Mrs. Bannister knew was from Bob. With trembling
hands she tore the envelope apart and drew forth the sheet of paper
inclosed. In her calmer moments she could have read the letter without
difficulty. Now, the words, strangely twisted and distorted, swam
before her eyes, and the whole page was an unsolved mystery. She ran to
the door calling to her husband:--

“Rhett! Rhett! Here’s a letter--from Rob--come quick!”

At his bench in the shop he heard her, and hurried to her side. She
thrust the letter into his hands.

“Read it!” she exclaimed. “Read it aloud!”

So he read it.

                                    “IN CAMP AT TURKEY RUN, VA.,
                                         _October 23, 1863_.

    “MY DEAREST FATHER AND MOTHER:--

    “I know I gave you a good deal of anxiety and distress. I am
    very sorry for that, but I thought I was doing what was right
    and now I know I was. I wrote Uncle Seth about it. I suppose
    he has told you. They wouldn’t take me as a substitute for
    father, so I thought I would enlist anyway, and I met Sergt.
    Anderson at Easton, and he brought me down here and got me
    into his company. The only regret I have is that father isn’t
    here with me as a soldier. I am so anxious and fearful about
    him. It is such a splendid thing to be a soldier of the United
    States. I am so happy, all except about father. We marched
    here to-day from Auburn. We are in camp here. They say Gen.
    Meade may take us on down to Fredericksburg and have a battle
    there. I am very well and happy. Oh, mother, do you remember
    how the boys wouldn’t have me in the company last summer, and
    how bad I felt about it? Well, they are still in Mount Hermon
    playing soldier with wooden swords and guns, and now I am in
    the army with a real musket and knapsack and canteen, and maybe
    to-morrow or next day I shall go into a real battle to fight
    for my country. Oh, mother, I’m so proud of being a soldier. I
    am in Col. Gordon’s regiment, Co. M, Army of the Potomac, Va.
    Please write to me. I am so sorry I gave you anxiety about me,
    but I couldn’t help it. If anything happens to father, tell me.
    If he could only be here and see things the way I do. Give my
    dear love to Dottie.

                                         “Your affectionate son,

                                       “ROBERT BARNWELL BANNISTER.”

When he had finished reading the letter, the man held it in his hand
and said nothing. Neither did he see anything in the room about him.
His eyes were piercing the distance, gazing on a blue-coated stripling
in Meade’s army down among the Virginia hills.

The woman was the first to speak. There was no longer in her face the
strain of grief or anxiety, the steady look of pain. Her eyes were
shining and tearless. Her hands were clasped.

“Rhett,” she said, “I’m proud of him. He’s the bravest boy in the
world. What a splendid, splendid letter!”

For one moment the mother’s pride in her offspring asserted itself,
the spirit of her Kentucky ancestors shone forth in her countenance,
and she spoke the words that came straight from her heart to her lips.
Then, suddenly realizing that for the first time in all their twenty
years of married life, she had expressed a thought in direct antagonism
to the opinion of the husband whom she honored and loved, she sank
back into a chair, pale-faced and silent, and let her hands fall
dejectedly to her side.

But there was no protest from him. Instead, with a look in his eyes
which she could not quite fathom, he came over and sat down by her and
kissed her and said:--

“We are both proud of his spirit, Mary, however mistaken his conduct.
But he is too good a boy for us to permit him to be lost and destroyed
in this awful whirlpool of war. We must get him back.”

Late in the evening of that day there came a knock at the kitchen door
of the Bannister house. When the door was opened some one from the
outer darkness thrust in a scrap of paper and disappeared. On the paper
was scrawled:--

“Rounding-up squad expected at Scranton to-night. Look out!”

When Rhett Bannister read the warning, he said:--

“It makes little difference now. It simply hastens my departure.
Doubtless the end will be the same.”

To his wife he added:--

“I start to-morrow morning to try to reach Robert. The probability is
that I shall not succeed. But the least I can do is to make the effort.”

Then, gently, calmly, carefully, he outlined to his wife the plan that
he had in mind, and explained to her why there was nothing left for him
to do but to try to reach and save the boy. The effort might cost him
his life, but to stay at home was likely also to cost him his life, and
to attempt to escape from the Federal authorities was utterly useless.
There was a wild possibility, the thousandth part of a chance, that he
might get to Bob and be able to take the boy’s place in the ranks. That
was all. And when it was all said, he did not find her nerveless, or
hysterical, or in tears, as he had expected and feared, but, instead,
in her eyes there was a look of resolution and bravery, across her
gentle lips there was drawn a line of courage and determination such
as, in all their married life, he had never seen there before.

“I am content,” she said. “I believe you are doing right. Rhett, dear,
no matter what happens now, come life or death or desolation, I shall
have two heroes to worship and dream of as long as I live.”

Strange it is, and divine, that in a woman so weak so strong a spirit
will develop when the right hour strikes.

So, in the bleak darkness of the next morning, at the same hour on
which his son had left home scarcely a week before, Rhett Bannister
kissed his wife and his sleeping child good-by, and set forth on a
mission which, even in his most hopeful moments, promised him only
bitter and disastrous failure.

Up the dark road, in the face of the chill October wind, he hurried,
into the streets of Mount Hermon, past the home of Sarah Jane Stark,
making the same détour around the village that Bob had made, coming
out into the main road where he had come, hurrying on in the gray
light of the morning, toward his hoped-for destination. But, farther
on, he left the main highway and struck off across the country by a
little-traveled road, expecting to reach a way station on the railroad
a few miles beyond Carbon Creek, and there meet the morning train.

In this effort he was successful. He met no one on the way, nor did
any one at the station recognize him. But he had no sooner boarded
the train than that happened which he might have expected. Soldiers
in uniform arose mysteriously and one stood guard at each door of the
car, and another one, followed by an officer, came down the aisle and
stopped at the conscript’s seat.

“Is your name Bannister?” inquired the officer.

“It is,” responded the man. “Rhett Bannister of Mount Hermon, at your
service; drafted by the government, classed as a deserter, and on my
way to join the Army of the Potomac in Virginia.”

“Good! you are our prisoner. Have you any arms about you?”

The officer hastily and skillfully examined the prisoner’s clothing.

“I am unarmed and defenseless,” replied Bannister. “I will go with you
willingly. I am not disappointed nor surprised. I only ask to be heard
by any officer in authority before whom you take me.”

The mode of capture had been simple enough. The provost-guard had only
to follow the conscript’s trail, to board the train at Carbon Creek,
and be ready to apprehend him when he should appear. They did not
handcuff him. He was entirely in their power, and it was apparent that
he would make no resistance.

And so the notorious copperhead, the man who had denounced Abraham
Lincoln, who had ridiculed the draft, who had defied the Federal army,
was at last a prisoner of the United States. Within five minutes the
fact of his identity was known to every person on the train. Men hissed
and jeered at him as he was taken into an adjoining car, and women
looked on him with detestation. At a station where a change of cars was
made, a sympathizer, with more zeal than discretion, attempted, in a
loud voice, to argue justification for the prisoner. But his oratory
was soon drowned in a storm of protest, and he himself was buffeted by
the crowd till he was glad to escape.

So, all the way to Easton, the despised conscript was mocked and
frowned upon. Accustomed as he had been to condemnation by his fellow
men, the experience of this day was the most bitter and degrading that
his life had thus far known. With little to eat, and no comfortable
resting-place, he passed a sleepless night. In the morning he was
brought before the provost-marshal.

“Captain Yohe,” said the officer in charge, “this is Rhett Bannister,
the Mount Hermon deserter.”

The provost-marshal laid down his pen and looked the prisoner in the
face.

“Your son,” he said, “was before me a few days ago seeking to be
substituted in your place. Were you aware of that fact?”

“I have since learned it, sir.”

“I understand that he afterward enlisted and is now at the front. Is
that true?”

“I believe it is.”

“How is it that so unpatriotic a father can have so patriotic a son?”

“I hold myself to be as much of a patriot, sir, as any man in this
state. The boy and I take different views of the same matter, that
is all. He is young, barely seventeen, and easily influenced by
professions of loyalty and the glitter of arms. He has no business to
be in the ranks. His place is at home with his mother. I am willing, I
desire, to be substituted for him.”

“I see. The scheme is a pretty one, but we cannot permit you to
purchase immunity from punishment in that way. Neither your son’s age,
nor his patriotism, nor his bravery can serve to effect your release.
You have the standing only of a deserter, you must be dealt with as
such. I shall remand you to the officers of the division and regiment
to which, as a drafted man, you were assigned. They may shoot you, or
hang you, or do what they will with you. I am through with you. In my
judgment no power on earth can save you from the extreme penalty meted
out to deserters unless it be Abraham Lincoln himself. At any rate, I
do not want you longer on Pennsylvania soil. Remove the prisoner.”

No wonder Rhett Bannister received little sympathy or consideration at
the hands of his captors after that condemnation. Between two soldiers
under orders to deliver him to the commander of the regiment to which
he had been assigned, he was hustled and hurried on board train, and so
off toward Washington.

The soldier guard, at the first opportunity, purchased a pack of cards
and a bottle of whiskey. At the station where the next change of cars
was made another bottle of whiskey was obtained. The smoking-car in
which they sat, and up and down the aisle of which they reeled, was
filled with the noise of their harsh orders, their rude quarreling with
each other, and their coarse jests at the expense of their prisoner.
To Rhett Bannister it was a bitter, a humiliating, a degrading night.
But long before the train rolled into the station at Washington, both
drunken soldiers had fallen into a heavy sleep. Nor did they awaken
when the brakeman announced the station and cried, “All out!”

The few passengers remaining in the car rose to leave. Bannister rose
with them. Not so much because he desired to escape from the custody of
the Federal authorities, as because he wished to relieve himself of the
odious and repellent society of his drunken and disreputable guards.

One man, looking at him askance, said:--

“He ought not to be allowed to get away like that.”

And another one replied:--

“Let him go. After such a night as he has had he deserves his freedom.
But I hope his guards will be court-martialed and shot.”

After that no one attempted to detain him, and Rhett Bannister
stepped down from the car, a free man. He walked leisurely up the
train platform, across the lobby, through the waiting-room, and out
into the street. Over the roofs of the houses to the east the sky was
beginning to show the first faint streaks of morning gray. An all-night
restaurant at the corner attracted his attention, and it occurred
to him that he should be hungry. He knew that he was very tired. He
entered, and the sleepy and sullen waiter served him with a sandwich
and a cup of coffee. Refreshed, he went out once more into the street.
It was very quiet in the city at this hour. Only a few stragglers were
abroad and they did not notice him.

When he reached Pennsylvania Avenue he turned up toward the Treasury
building and sauntered slowly on. Not that he cared particularly which
direction he took. But, in other days, he had been familiar with the
streets of Washington, and some trend of mind or instinct of memory led
his steps that way. He knew that he could not permanently escape, that,
sooner or later, he would be recaptured and put to his punishment, and
that his punishment would be the more hasty and severe because of his
temporary freedom.

The hope that he had dared to entertain on leaving home, that he
might be permitted to take his son’s place in the ranks, had now
quite vanished. Before him lay only disgrace and death and a stain
on his family name in the North for generations. It was the darkest,
most desolate hour his life had known. A small squad of soldiers, in
command of an officer, approached him, marching up the street through
the crisp morning air in brisk time, swinging their arms in unison as
they came, and the thought entered his mind that the best thing he
could do would be to surrender himself to them. But when he met them he
passed without speaking, and they paid no attention to him. A little
farther on a crippled veteran with crutches sat on the curb and asked
alms as Bannister passed by. And this hater of the Federal blue thrust
his hand into his pocket, drew forth a liberal sum, and gave it to the
uniformed beggar, without a word. The man was probably a fraud, but
what did it matter? It was doubtless a doomed man’s last opportunity to
do a charitable deed. So he passed on, up around the Treasury building
and along the front of the White House. It was almost daylight now, but
the street-lamps had not yet been extinguished, and in the President’s
mansion two windows were still brilliantly illuminated.

As Bannister reached the corner by the War Department building he
turned and looked back at the White House. There lived the man whom he
had ridiculed as a buffoon, whom he had denounced as a tyrant, whom he
had decried as a malefactor. And the remark made by Captain Yohe the
day before at Easton came back into his mind: “No power on earth can
save you from the extreme penalty meted out to deserters unless it be
Abraham Lincoln himself.”

So this man held also in his hands dominion over life and death. At
his word, spoken or withheld, he, Rhett Bannister, would live or die.
At his word, spoken or withheld, soldiers by the thousands had given
and would still give their lives that his counsels and his judgments
might prevail. What an awful responsibility! How it must weigh on a
man’s soul! How it must sober him and search him, and drive from his
heart all forms of avarice and selfishness and hatred and hypocrisy!
How could this man Lincoln, by any human possibility, be anything but
honest and humble and God-fearing, with such an awful load upon his
mind and heart!

Involuntarily, as he pondered, Bannister had turned into the park lying
between the White House and the War Department and was sauntering
leisurely up the path. There was no purpose in it. Doubtless, his
thoughts being upon Abraham Lincoln, he was drawn unconsciously toward
the physical abiding-place of the man.

And then, suddenly, he became aware that some one was coming toward him
down the walk. In the gray light of the morning, under the frost-bitten
foliage, a man, tall, bent, with a high black hat on his head, and a
gray plaid shawl thrown about his shoulders to protect him from the
chill October air, came shuffling down the path. One glance at the
uncouth figure, at the deep-lined, careworn face, into the sad and
measureless depths of the never-to-be-forgotten eyes told Bannister
that the man who approached him was Abraham Lincoln.



CHAPTER IX

WITH ABRAHAM LINCOLN


So this was Lincoln--the man whom, lately, Rhett Bannister had hated
above all other living men, at whose door he had laid all the woes
and wounds and spilled blood of the nation. Awkward, indeed, he was,
with gnarled features, ungainly limbs, and shambling gait. All this
Bannister had expected to see. But where was the domineering air, the
crafty expression, the pride of power, the ingrained coarseness, for
which he had also looked? In that ungraceful form he could see now only
the human frame bending under the weight of a mighty responsibility.
In the furrowed face, drawn and ashy, and eloquent with suffering and
care, in the deep-set, patient eyes, signals of a soul weighed down
with sorrow, he could read now only the story of a life untouched by
selfishness, of a heart breaking with the burdens and pierced with the
griefs of a mighty and beloved nation.

And with the vision of this man before him, so intensely human, so
pleadingly simple, Rhett Bannister felt slipping away from him the old
hate and scorn and enmity, and into their places came creeping pity
for the man, reverence for his sorrow, sympathy with him in the awful
burden he was bearing on his bent shoulders and in his mighty heart,
the problems, griefs, and cares of his brothers, North and South,
engaged in fratricidal strife. It was all in a moment. It followed one
look into that infinitely sad and tender face, but in that moment the
tide of feeling in Rhett Bannister’s mind and heart had turned. Abraham
Lincoln was no longer the hated monster of other days, but a man,
instead, of like passions, cares, griefs, and hopes with himself; a man
to whom it was no humiliation to speak; nay, a man to whom he would
dare to appeal in behalf of his son and himself, assured in advance of
an honest and sympathetic hearing.

And what was it that Captain Yohe had said?

Bannister uncovered his head, and moved to the side of the path to let
the Chief Magistrate by. And, even as he did so, there arose in his
heart, and issued from his lips, an appeal which, one week before, he
would have scorned to make.

“Mr. President,” he said, “this meeting is by chance, but I beg that
you will grant me one moment to hear my case.”

The President stopped and cast a look of sad inquiry on the man who
had accosted him. Doubtless, he thought, here was another father come
to plead for the life of a son who had been sentenced to a disgraceful
death. For what offense this time? Cowardice, desertion, sleeping
at his post, or some other crime for which stern war demands stern
penalties? They were so common in those days, appeals from fathers,
mothers, wives, sweethearts; and the tender heart of Lincoln was daily
pierced with them.

“Well?” He braced himself mentally, to listen to some new and agonizing
tale of trouble.

“I will be frank with you, Mr. President,” Bannister hurried on, “and
brief. I am a Pennsylvanian. I am what is called a copperhead. A few
weeks ago I was drafted. I refused to report for service. I have an
only son, just passed seventeen, who is as ardent a supporter of the
Union cause as I am a detractor of it. Without my knowledge he visited
the provost-marshal of the district and asked to go as a substitute in
my place. His request being denied, he enlisted. That was four days
ago. He is now in Meade’s army in Virginia. Yesterday I left my home,
hoping to reach him where he is and induce the officer of his regiment
to discharge him and take me in his place. Before I was twenty miles on
my journey I was arrested as a deserter. The provost-marshal sent me
for condemnation and sentence to the regiment to which, as a drafted
man, I had been assigned. Less than an hour ago I reached Washington.
My guards were drunk and asleep. I walked away from them and came here.
It is by the merest chance that I now meet you. My boy is too young
to withstand the rigors and hardships of the service. He should be
back home with his mother. I want to take his place in the ranks. Mr.
President, I cannot hope to do this unless you will help me.”

For a moment the President stood, looking into the eyes of the speaker.
Here was a new and novel case. It aroused his interest. It appealed to
his humanity.

“Come,” he said, “let’s go over to the telegraph office. It’s too cold
to stand here. I was going there anyway. It’s all right,” he added to
two guards who had hurried up. “I want to talk to this man. He’s going
over to the telegraph office with me.”

So the lank, angular, shawl-clad figure moved on down the path,
followed by the escaped conscript, while he in turn was followed by
the two guards, who watched his every movement. A suspicion entered
Bannister’s mind as he walked, that the President was leading him into
ambush to procure the more easily his re-arrest. The re-arrest did not
much matter. But that any one, after looking into this man’s face,
should think of charging him with duplicity, that did matter. And the
next moment the suspicion was effectually cast out.

They went up the steps leading to the War Department, and into
the telegraph office which was installed there. Lincoln asked for
dispatches left for him by Major Eckert, and read them over carefully.
Some of them he read twice. The inactivity of the Army of the Potomac,
the apparent inability of Meade to strike a telling, if not a final
blow, weighed heavily on his mind. He had come over, as was his custom,
in the early morning, to get and read, at first-hand, dispatches from
the front. When he finally laid down the yellow slips he beckoned to
Bannister to follow him.

“We’ll go into Stanton’s room,” he said; “he won’t be here for an hour
yet.”

So they sat down together in the room ordinarily occupied by the
Secretary of War. In the outer office the telegraph instruments
kept up a monotonous clicking. Through the open door between the
rooms messengers could be seen passing hurriedly in and out. Lincoln
stretched his long legs out in front of him and ran his fingers through
his carelessly combed hair.

“So you got away from your guards, did you?” he inquired. “Did you say
they were drunk?”

“Yes, Mr. President, very drunk. They procured whiskey and drank a
great deal on the train coming down to Washington. When I left the car
this morning they were sound asleep.”

“What are their names? To what command are they attached?”

“I do not know. My name is Rhett Bannister, and my home is at Mount
Hermon in Pennsylvania.”

“I see.”

The President rose, went out into the telegraph office, and dictated a
message. When he returned and sat down again he said:--

“I’ve sent out orders to have those men hunted up, arrested, and
remanded for trial. The soldier on duty who shows cowardice in the face
of the enemy may have some excuse for his conduct. But the soldier on
duty who shows cowardice in the face of John Barleycorn must reap the
full reward of his cowardice.”

He set his lips tightly together, and let his clenched hand fall on the
table-top. After a moment he continued:--

“So you are what they call up in Pennsylvania a copperhead?”

“I have been so designated, Mr. President.”

“Yes. Well, now, I’ve been wanting to see some of you copperheads and
talk with you, and find out from you, if I can, why you oppose the
war, and seek opportunities to stab the administration in the back.
I’ve been wanting to know. Maybe this meeting is providential. Maybe
I can learn something from you that will help us all. I’ve never run
across one of you before, face to face, like this. Vallandigham’s the
only one I know much about, and he’s so fiery and oratorical I can’t
quite get head or tail to what he says. What is your creed, anyway?”

“I can speak for myself only, Mr. President. I am of Southern birth
and breeding. My sympathies lie entirely with the South. I feel that
they were right on every issue between them and the abolitionists
and radicals of the North. I feel that they had just cause to secede
from the compact formed by the states, and to set up a government of
their own which should be in accord with their views and policies.
I feel that the attempt to coerce them was unjust and tyrannical. I
feel that the war, on the part of the North, has been and is an awful
mistake, criminal in many of its aspects. Feeling that way, I have done
all that lay in my power, from my home in the North, openly, and I
believe honorably, to oppose the war, and to weaken the power of your
administration. I speak frankly because you have asked me for my views.”

“That’s right; that’s right. That’s what I want to know. We must be
honest with each other. Now, don’t you think the Union, as it was, was
a splendid aggregation of states?”

“Yes, Mr. Lincoln, I do.”

“And don’t you think the Union, restored as it was, would be a still
more splendid aggregation of states?”

“I do, if the causes of war were removed.”

“Exactly! We are trying to remove them. You and your friends of the
South are trying to retain them. If their armies prevail in this
struggle, the situation is hopeless. Nothing is settled. The Union is
shattered. The future is black with trouble. If our armies prevail in
this struggle, all the issues that led to the war become dead issues.
The Union will be restored as it was. The future will be large with
promise. I can see, so far as my vision reaches, but one end that will
bring permanent peace and happiness. We must conquer the armies of the
South; we _must_ do it. The life of the Union, for which our fathers
fought, depends on it. There, I’ve said a good deal. I don’t know that
I’ve made myself clear. I don’t get a chance to talk to you copperheads
very often. I take it when I can get it.”

There was nothing flippant or sarcastic in his tone or manner. He was
frank and plain, but in deadly earnest. It required no brilliancy of
comprehension to discover that. Rhett Bannister saw it and acknowledged
it. He saw more. He saw that this man grasped the situation as no man
had ever grasped it before. That in his heart the Union was the one
thing of prime importance, and that his mind and soul and body were
tense with the desire and effort to save the Union. But was he right?
Was he right? For, while Bannister could not now but acknowledge the
sincerity and skill of the man who was talking to him, he was not yet
ready to yield his own judgment.

“I do not think you put yourself in the place of the men of the South,”
he replied, “and look at the matter through their eyes. Consider for
a moment. You deny them the right to live in new territory of the
United States in the same manner in which they and their fathers, for
generations back, have lived in their Southern homes. Is that just?
They resent that as an indignity. You seek to compel them by force of
arms to accept this humiliating situation. They resist. Why should
they not? Finally, you yourself issue a proclamation depriving them,
so far as lies in your power, of their right to own slaves. Then you
demand that they lay down their arms in order to save the Union. Do you
think they can greatly care whether such a Union as that is saved or
broken?”

Lincoln leaned over and laid his hand on Bannister’s knee.

[Illustration: LINCOLN LAID HIS HAND ON BANNISTER’S KNEE.]

“My friend,” he said, “you look at but one aspect of the case. I
believe I view it as a whole. You are sincere in your belief. I concede
that. The great body of your brethren in the South are sincere. We are
both fighting for what we believe to be the right. We both pray to the
same God for the success of our armies. We could not do that if we were
not honest with ourselves. But I believe I have the larger vision. I
believe I see more clearly what will bring about the largest measure
of prosperity for all of us. I believe in the Union as it was. I want
to preserve it. I want to bring back into it all those states, all
those citizens who are willfully and mistakenly trying to leave it,
and to destroy it. All that I have done, I have done with that end in
view. All that I shall do, I shall do with that end in view. If I have
proclaimed emancipation for the slaves, that was the purpose of it.
If we must prosecute this war until their last soldier, or ours, is
lying dead on the battle-field, that will be the purpose of it. I have
declared amnesty to every man in rebellion, save the leaders of the
insurrection, who will come back to us and take the oath of allegiance.
The purpose of the declaration is to save, to restore, to build up, to
make bigger and better and stronger the Union which has been and ought
to be more to us and dearer to us than any man or body of men that the
nation can produce. That is my one mission, my one purpose, my one
hope, and, under God, my one determination to the end.”

Into the gaunt, haggard, ashen face came, as he talked, the light of
the high purpose that filled his soul. To Rhett Bannister, looking on
him, listening in breathless suspense, it seemed almost as though,
like the angel at the sepulchre, “his countenance was like lightning,
and his raiment white as snow.” The mighty and homely spirit that had
dominated great minds in this tremendous conflict, and bent them to
its will, had already laid its spell on the mind of this one-time
hater of the nation’s chief. Abraham Lincoln stood revealed before him
now, not as the ambitious tyrant, the crafty plotter, the traitor to
his kind, but as the one man of greatest skill, of wisest thought, of
tenderest heart, of largest soul, whom the troublous times had brought
forth.

In the silence that followed Lincoln’s words, as Bannister sat mute and
thrilled, he felt that every heart-beat in his breast was hammering
down the last barrier that stood between him and the personality of the
great President. Henceforth, no matter how divergent their views, their
logic, their ways to conclusions, in the essence of a large patriotism
and a great humanity their souls had touched, and they were one.

At length Bannister spoke. It was his last word, his final protest, his
weak clutch at the floating, fading straw.

“But the pride of the South, Mr. President; the pride of the South!”

Lincoln sat back and crossed his legs, and over his face there came a
reminiscent smile.

“Up in Sangamon County,” he said, “when I lived there, I knew a man by
the name of Seth Mills. He owned a spring in common with his neighbor
Sam Lewis. But they couldn’t agree on the amount of water each should
have, nor how much could be carried away by trough; and their quarrel
over the spring led to a fight and a lawsuit. Well, when I went up
to Springfield, the controversy was still on, but Seth was getting a
good bit the worst of it. One day he came up to Springfield to see me,
and when he came into my office I said to myself: ‘The spring war has
reached an acute stage.’ But Seth sat down and said: ‘Abe, I’ve decided
to be generous to Sam. He’s licked me in the courts of Sangamon County,
but I _could_ take the case up to the Supreme Court of the United
States and make him a lot o’ trouble and cost. But I ain’t goin’ to do
it. I’m goin’ to swaller my pride an’ be liberal with him. Now I’ve
proposed to Sam that he chip in an’ we’ll build the spring bigger an’
deeper, an’ wall it up, an’ put in a pipe big enough to run water to
both our houses. It’ll cost two or three dollars, but I believe it’s
wuth it. An’ Sam has yielded the p’int and accepted the offer.’”

Lincoln laughed softly and then continued:--

“It seems to me, my friend, that the South can afford to do as Seth
Mills did, swallow her pride, be generous to us, get back with us into
the Union, and help us build it bigger and broader and deeper, and wall
it up, and put in a pipe big enough to supply us all with prosperity
and happiness and peace. Maybe it’ll cost two or three dollars, but I
believe it’s worth it.”

It was not until the story and its moral were nearly finished that
Bannister realized that it was about his own old Seth Mills that the
President was talking.

“I know that man, Mr. Lincoln,” he said. “I know Seth Mills, and I can
well believe and appreciate the story. He has been, for years, my
next and most valued neighbor, a good citizen, an honest man, and a
worshiper at the shrine of Abraham Lincoln.”

“Well, now, I’m glad to hear from Seth; I’m glad to hear from him. I
knew he went East somewhere. You tell him, when you see him, if you
ever do, that Abe Lincoln sends him greeting and good wishes in memory
of the old days in Sangamon County.”

Then the light of reminiscent memory died out from the President’s
face, and the old strained, haggard, weary look came back into it. He
straightened up his long body and said:--

“Let’s see. You’re a fugitive, ain’t you? a deserter?”

“Something like that, I believe, Mr. Lincoln.”

The President rose and went out into the telegraph office and gave some
orders. When he came back he said:--

“I’ve sent for Lieutenant Forsythe. I’ll turn you over to him. He’ll
see that you get to the right place. Tell me again about that boy of
yours, will you?”

So Bannister again told Bob’s story, and again expressed his
willingness and eagerness to take the boy’s place in the ranks.

“I do not feel quite as I did when I came in here, Mr. Lincoln,” he
said. “I am ready now to concede that the quickest way to permanent
peace is by the subjugation of the Southern armies. But, Mr. President,
when the South is beaten, I am sure--I am sure you will be charitable.”

The President did not reply. He had turned to the table, taken a pen,
and begun to write. When he had finished he again faced Bannister, and
read to him what he had written. It was as follows:--

                                “WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON, D. C.,
                                         _October 26, 1863_.

    “MAJOR-GENERAL MEADE,
        Army of Potomac:--

    “This letter will be given to you by Lieut. J. B. Forsythe, who
    has in custody and will turn over to you one Rhett Bannister
    of Pennsylvania. Bannister was drafted, failed to respond, and
    was apprehended by the provost-guard. On his way to join the
    regiment to which he had been assigned he accidentally ran
    across me. It appears that he has a son, not yet eighteen years
    of age, who recently enlisted, without his father’s knowledge,
    and is now in your army, Col. Gordon’s regiment of Penn.
    Volunteers, Co. M. Bannister wants to take his son’s place,
    and have the boy discharged and sent home to his mother, who
    is back there alone. I can see no objection, if it would not
    be subversive of discipline in your army, to discharging the
    boy and taking the father in his place. If this meets with your
    views I would like it done.

                                                      “A. LINCOLN.”

He folded the letter, handed it to Bannister, and said:--

“There, you can give that to Forsythe when he comes, and he’ll take
you to Meade; and whatever Meade says must be done must be done. Maybe
he’ll take you and discharge the boy. Maybe he’ll keep you both. Maybe
he’ll keep the boy and have you court-martialed and shot. Whatever he
does you’ll have to be satisfied with it. Well, I guess that’s all.”

He rose to his feet, took his well-worn, high, black hat from the
table, and reached out his hand to Bannister, who gripped it, unable
for a moment to speak. When his voice did come to him he could only
say:--

“Mr. President, I am deeply grateful to you. I came here distrusting
and disliking you. I shall leave here--well--I--from to-day I am a
Lincoln conscript.”

In the telegraph office the President stopped for a few moments to look
over late dispatches, and then went out, back through the park and
across the lawn, to the treadmill of the White House, there to wear his
own life out that the nation which he loved might live.

While Bannister was waiting for his guard, Secretary of War Edwin M.
Stanton, stern, spectacled, heavy-bearded, came bustling in.

“Well,” he said as he espied Bannister in his room, “what is it? What
do you want?”

“I am waiting for Lieutenant Forsythe,” replied Bannister, who at once
recognized the great War Secretary. “Mr. Lincoln has given me this
order.”

As he spoke, he handed the letter to the Secretary, who took it and
read it carefully through.

“Another one of the President’s interferences!” he exclaimed
impatiently. “He has enough to do at the White House. I wish he would
let this department alone. His orders for suspension of sentence, and
honorable discharge, and all that, in defiance of the regulations, are
absolutely subversive of discipline. They are demoralizing the entire
army.”

A young officer had entered while the testy Secretary was voicing his
annoyance, and now stood at attention in the doorway.

“Here’s another order of the President’s,” continued the Secretary,
addressing the officer. “He wants you to take this man down to Meade. I
don’t know anything about the case. It ought to have gone through this
department. I suppose I’ll have to back it.”

He sat down at the table, endorsed the letter on the back, and handed
it to the officer, who took it and read it carefully.

“Why is it,” continued Stanton, still voicing his irritability, “that
the President always chooses you to send on these irregular errands?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Secretary,” replied the lieutenant, “except that Mr.
Lincoln and I trust each other.”

The great War Secretary looked at the officer for a moment, with a
quizzical expression in his eyes, then, without another word, he turned
to his desk and took up again the herculean task which as a patriot,
as an enthusiast, as a lover though a critic of Lincoln, he cheerfully
and splendidly performed.

So Bannister, accompanied by his guard, went out, along the street,
across the Potomac, and down through war-ravaged Virginia, toward the
camping hosts of Meade, toward the son who, with a foresight clearer
than his own, had preceded him to war. And as he went a new fire of
patriotism burned in his heart, a new light of comprehension illumined
his mind, and to his list of the world’s great heroes was added a new
great name.



CHAPTER X

FIGHTING FOR THE FLAG


For three days, Robert Barnwell Bannister had been a soldier of the
United States. On the evening of the third day he sat at the opening
of his tent studying a small volume of infantry tactics which had
fallen into his hands. Inside the tent his comrade and tent-mate, a
young fellow hardly older and no less patriotic and enthusiastic than
himself, just in from two hours of picket-duty, lay resting on a rude
board couch, with a block of wood and a coat for a pillow, singing
softly to himself a rude bit of doggerel that had recently become
popular in camp.

    “Mud in the coffee and niggers in the pork,
     Lobskous salad to be eaten with a fork,
     Hardtack buns--oh, but soldiering is fun;
     Never mind the grub, boys, we’ll make the Johnnies run.”

After a moment he called out:--

“Say, Bob, here’s a conundrum. What’s the difference between a
bounty-jumper and a--”

“Oh, button up!” replied Bob, who was studying out a peculiarly
difficult infantry formation, and did not wish to be interrupted.

“All right! now you’ll never know,” responded his comrade.

For a few moments there was silence, then the voice in the tent was
again heard singing rude rhymes of war.

    “We are goin’ to drop our thunder,
               Johnny Reb, Johnny Reb;
     You had better stand from under,
               Johnny Reb, Johnny Reb;
     You will see the lightnin’ flash,
     You will hear the muskets crash,
     It will be the Yankees comin’,
               Johnny Reb, Johnny Reb;
     And we’ll git you while you’re runnin’,
                       Johnny Reb.”

Above the tent, below it, all about it, from Warrenton to Turkey
Run, was encamped Meade’s great army. There were seasoned veterans,
raw volunteers, conscript regiments, all accepting and enduring with
philosophic fortitude the hardships and vicissitudes of army life.
Here and there camp-fires had been lighted, here and there a belated
meal was being eaten. It was an hour for rest and relaxation from the
stern duties of war, only the picket force being thrown to the front in
triplicate lines, to protect the army from surprise.

Bob Bannister looked well in his suit of army blue. He bore himself
with soldier-like precision, and a dignity befitting his occupation.
Young, enthusiastic, good-natured, intensely patriotic, he had at
once become a favorite with the men of his company. His every duty,
performed with intelligence and alacrity, marked him in the eyes of the
officers as one destined to promotion. As he sat there in the twilight,
still studying his book, an orderly approached him and inquired:--

“Are you private Bannister?”

“That is my name.”

“You are wanted at company headquarters.”

Wondering what it could mean, private Bannister laid aside his book
and went with the orderly up the company street to the captain’s
quarters. Inside the tent a candle was burning on a rude table by
which the captain was seated. Standing about, against the inner walls,
were a half-dozen men whose faces the boy could not recognize in the
semi-darkness.

Bob advanced to within a few paces of the table, saluted, and stood at
attention.

“Private Bannister,” said the captain, “I want to know if you recognize
this person?”

He nodded, as he spoke, toward a man dressed in civilian costume,
standing near the entrance to the tent. Bob turned and peered into the
shadows. The man stepped forward.

“Father!”

“Rob!”

And then Bob rushed into his father’s arms.

For a moment no one spoke. But the soldiers who saw the meeting never
forgot it.

“Father, what does it mean?”

[Illustration: “FATHER, WHAT DOES IT MEAN?”]

Bannister, his voice lost in emotion and his eyes dim with tears,
pointed to a paper lying on the captain’s table. He had tried to
imagine how Bob would look in uniform, but he had not thought to
see quite so straight, manly a figure, clear of eye, handsome of
countenance, “every inch a soldier.” And the words of Mary Bannister,
when he read Bob’s letter to her, came back into his mind and voiced
his sentiment: “I’m proud of him. He’s the bravest boy in the world.”

“Private Bannister,” said the captain, “your father is here in custody
of Lieutenant Forsythe of the regular army, who brings with him this
letter.”

The captain then read impressively, with a sense of its true
importance, the President’s letter to General Meade. When he reached
the end and read the name “A. Lincoln,” every man in the tent lifted
his cap reverently from his head.

“This communication,” continued the captain, “was delivered to the
general commanding, by him endorsed and delivered to the division
commander, then to the commander of our brigade, to the colonel of
the regiment, and in due course has reached me. It has been endorsed
as follows by all the officers through whose hands it has passed: ‘If
not prejudicial to the service, let the President’s wish be carried
out.’ There is therefore nothing left for me to do except to give the
order for your discharge, and the mustering in of your father to take
your place. Permit me to add, however, that we shall regret to lose
you. During your brief term of service you have been a good soldier, a
credit to the company and the army.”

In the silence that followed, the captain half rose from the table as
if to close the interview. Then Bob found his voice.

“But, Captain Howarth,” he said, “I don’t want to be discharged. I
don’t want to go home. I want to stay. I am old enough. I can march.
I can do picket-duty. I can fight. But I can’t go back home now, it’s
simply impossible.”

The captain dropped back into his seat, incredulous. Among the men
standing against the tent-wall there was a buzz of approving voices.
Rhett Bannister put his arm about the boy’s shoulders affectionately.

“You’re right, my son,” he said. “You’re right. I shouldn’t have asked
it. I didn’t think. I didn’t realize; but--you’re right.”

Then Lieutenant Forsythe stepped forward.

“Permit me,” he said, “to make a suggestion. I talked much with this
man on my way down here. I believe he will make a good and earnest
soldier. The son has already proved his ability and patriotism. Why
not keep them both? I am sure it will not militate against the spirit
of the President’s order.”

“Right you are!” exclaimed Sergeant Anderson, stepping out from the
shadow where he had stood dreading lest he should lose his protégé, of
whom he had grown wondrously fond.

“Good!” said the other men.

“Let it be done,” responded the captain. And it was done.

In less than two hours Rhett Bannister was also a soldier of the United
States. And so he and his son served their country in the ranks. They
ate by the same camp-fire, slept in the same rude tent, and marched,
shoulder to shoulder, through the autumn mists and the winter slush and
mud of old Virginia. At Mine Run, a month after they were sworn in,
they had their first baptism of fire, and bore themselves with such
coolness and bravery as to elicit compliments for both from Captain
Howarth. In winter-quarters, with the monotony of camp-life and the
round of daily duties pressing on them, their spirits never flagged.
Both by precept and example they radiated courage and cheerfulness to
all their company. When, occasionally, a spirit of dissatisfaction
showed itself in the ranks, when impatience with those in command
became manifest, when poor and scanty fare and wretched clothing were
the rule, it was Rhett Bannister, cool and logical, free of speech and
earnest in manner, who moved among the men and counseled patience, who
pointed out to them their duty and appealed to their patriotism, and
never without success. “His influence with the soldiers,” said Captain
Howarth, one day, “is worth a thousand courts-martial.”

There was one time in particular when murmurings of discontent broke
forth, when the winter rains of Virginia were coldest and most
piercing; when food was scarce and foraging forbidden; when Meade,
under whom the soldiers had fought at Gettysburg, was discredited
and displaced, and Grant, whom they did not know, was given supreme
command; when the authorities at Washington seemed stricken with
lethargy and blindness, and the anti-war sentiment in the North,
increasing with dangerous rapidity, came filtering down to ears and
hearts in the ranks not unwilling to receive it. Then it was that Rhett
Bannister, the one-time hater of the administration, detractor of the
army, denouncer of the war, went out among his comrades, from man to
man, from tent to tent, from company to company, urging duty, pleading
patriotism, counseling patience.

“You think you have troubles,” he said one night to a group of
murmuring men, crowded into a smoky tent, while the cold rain dripped
through the tattered canvas, and the wind howled dismally among
the pines outside. “You think you have hardships and burdens and
afflictions in the service of your country. Let me tell you something.
I have seen Abraham Lincoln. I have talked with him face to face. I
have read in his sad eyes and hollow cheeks, and the lines creasing his
forehead, the story of his suffering. Boys, that man is bearing the
burdens of this country and the woes of her people on his heart. Every
drop of blood that is shed is as though it came from his body, every
groan of a wounded soldier is as though it came from his lips, every
tear from the eyes of those left desolate is as though it furrowed his
face. You cannot conceive the immensity of the burdens he is bearing,
or the weight of suffering he endures. Yet he is patiently, faithfully,
earnestly, prayerfully, with tremendous power of will and strength of
soul, pressing on toward the hoped-for end, and by God’s grace he is
going soon to bring us all back out of the shadows of war into the
light of a victorious peace. Boys, when you think you have burdens to
bear, remember Abraham Lincoln.”

And they did. No man who heard those impassioned words that night ever
again opened his lips in complaint of his commanders.

Letters came from Mount Hermon almost daily, sometimes a half-dozen in
a bunch. People up there wanted Rhett Bannister and his son to know
that they were appreciated at home. But the letters that came from
Mary Bannister, strong, cheerful, splendid letters, were the ones that
brought most joy to the hearts of their recipients. At last she felt
that the ban had been lifted, and that she was once more a woman among
women. She was not insensible, indeed, to the dangers that surrounded
her loved ones night and day. She knew well enough that any mail might
bring her terrible tidings about one or both of them. But such anxiety
was as nothing to the agony of mind she had endured through many weeks
before her son and husband went down to the war. And as there drifted
up to her ears now and again news of the brave conduct and manly
bearing of those so near and dear to her, she went about her household
labors, happy in the thought that from this time forth she could look
any man or woman in the face and say: “Behold my heroes!”

One day there came down to Rhett Bannister a letter from Sarah Jane
Stark. A wise, impetuous, laudatory letter, such as no one on earth
could write save Sarah Jane Stark herself. Over the first two pages
Bannister laughed like a boy, but when he had finished the last line of
the letter, tears were streaming down his face.

“To think,” she wrote, “that the one-time copperhead of Mount Hermon is
serving his country in the ranks. I would give Billy my cat to see you
in your blue uniform, and you know how much I love Billy. And that dear
boy! I never cried about a boy in my life before, you know that; but I
cry about that boy of yours every time I hear from him! I’m so proud of
him, and so fond of him! Heaven bless both of you!”

And down at the end of the letter a postscript was hidden away. It
said:--

“I’ve induced Mary Bannister to come up to town with Louise and live
with me this winter. It’ll be pretty lonely down at your place, and
I’ve got a big house and plenty of room, and I want company, and I want
her. She’s such a dear, brave, patient little woman, and we’ll have a
glorious time together.”

So, with no disquietude on account of their loved ones at home on their
minds, Rhett Bannister and his son faced the enemy and, with their
comrades in arms, fared on.

When Grant, in the spring of ’64, began his arduous and bloody campaign
from the Rappahannock to the Rapidan and from the Rapidan to the James,
they were in the forefront of the conflict. Yet they seemed to lead
charmed lives. Out from the tangled depths and thousand pitfalls of The
Wilderness, from the forest scarred and seamed across with fire and
shell and bullet, from the ghastly field with its blood-soaked herbage
and its piled-up heaps of dead, they came unscathed. At Spottsylvania
Court-House and up and down and across the North Anna, through all
of May they marched and fought. At Cold Harbor, in the early days of
June, they faced, with their comrades, the merciless fire of those
Confederate riflemen, until, scorched, winnowed, withered, the Union
army, with ten thousand dead and wounded on the field, retired from
the hopeless and unequal contest. Yet father and son came out of it
without serious injury. Shocked, sickened, exhausted, they were indeed;
scratched here and there by hissing bullets, but otherwise unharmed.
Again, in the awful fiasco before Petersburg, in the crater left by the
exploding mine, hemmed in, helpless, horribly entangled, black soldiers
and white falling by hundreds under the pitiless enfilading fire of a
thousand down-pointed Confederate guns, even from that pit of death
they escaped, wrenched, bruised, battered, buffeted, but whole.

So, through all that summer they fought, in the bloodiest, cruelest
campaign recorded in history, shallow trenches filled with dead
everywhere proclaiming the awful sacrifice at which Grant was forcing
the desperate and depleted armies of the South into their final
strongholds.

As his officers had predicted from the beginning, Bob Bannister was
rapidly promoted. For meritorious conduct, for brave deeds, to fill
vacancies above him as the grim tragedy of war played itself out, he
donned his corporal’s stripes, exchanged them for a sergeant’s, added
the orderly’s diamond, and finally, in the fall of ’64, his shoulders
were decorated with the straps of a first lieutenant. When this
happened his company held a jubilee. He was a mere boy, indeed, not
long past eighteen, possibly the youngest commissioned officer in the
Army of the Potomac; but the men of his command trusted him, believed
in him, loved him, and would have followed him wherever he chose to
lead, even to the gates of death.

But Rhett Bannister was not promoted. That was not, however, the
fault of his officers. Nor was it that his conduct was not splendidly
soldier-like and meritorious,--it was simply because he would not have
it so. It was after Cold Harbor that Captain Baker called him one
night to company headquarters,--Howarth had long ago been invalided
home,--and said to him:--

“Bannister, I am going to make a sergeant of you.”

“But, captain--”

“Oh, I know how you feel, but there’s no help for it. Brady’s dead,
Holbert’s a prisoner, and Powelton and Gray can’t do the work. You must
take it.”

“Captain, I beg of you not to do it. Be good to me. I’ll fight
anywhere. I’ll take any mission. I’ll face any danger. But I can’t
accept an office in the army of the United States. I told you this when
you spoke of making me a corporal. I repeat it now. If I were to accept
this honor I never could fight again, I never could look the boys in
the face again, I would feel so cowardly and ashamed and dismayed.
Don’t do it, captain, I beseech you, don’t do it! Let me fight in the
ranks and be contented and happy as I am to-night.”

And the captain gave heed to his protest, knowing that it came from his
heart; and so he continued to fight in the ranks, honored, trusted,
and loved by all his comrades. In the midst of the political campaign
of ’64, when the contest for the office of President of the United
States was stirring the North as no political contest had ever stirred
it before; when Lincoln’s enemies felt that they had won the victory,
and that the battle of the ballots on election day would only ratify
it; when Lincoln himself gave up the hope that he would be permitted
to lead the nation back to peace and safety; when only the votes of
the soldiers in the field could by any possibility save the day, Rhett
Bannister turned politician and went out electioneering. From man
to man he went, from company to company, from regiment to regiment,
earnest, anxious, persuasive, pleading with his whole heart and soul
the cause of Abraham Lincoln. And when the November ballots were
counted, and the overwhelming majority proved that the people in the
North as well as the soldiers in the field had confidence in the great
War President, no heart in the Army of the Potomac beat with more
exultant pride and unbounded happiness than did the heart of Rhett
Bannister, the Lincoln conscript.

In March came the President’s second inaugural address. A newspaper
containing a report of it floated early into camp and came into
Bannister’s hands. He read the address word by word, sentence by
sentence again and again. Then he called together the men who were fond
of listening to him and read it to them.

“You will not find,” he said, “in all history, nor in all literature,
a clause so sublime in thought, so simple in diction, so sweet with
divine charity as this; listen: ‘With malice toward none, with charity
for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,
let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s
wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his
widow and his orphan; to do all which may achieve and cherish a just
and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.’

“Gentlemen, that is Abraham Lincoln, than whom no man who ever lived
in America has had a higher aim, a sweeter spirit, or a more prophetic
vision.”

All winter Grant had sat before Petersburg, grim, silent, relentless,
pushing here and there ever a little farther to the front, seeking the
exhaustion of his enemy, waiting for the auspicious moment to let fall
the blow which should lead quickly to the inevitable end. To Lee’s army
looking from the heights on the tented foe in front of them by day, on
the thousand camp-fires gleaming there at night, it seemed as though
a ravenous monster, white-toothed, fiery-eyed, lay crouching before
them, stretching out a sharp claw now and then, waiting pitilessly
until the exhausted foe, weak and helpless, should fall, an easy prey,
into its clutches. Surely no soldier, no army, ever held out more
bravely against more fearful odds, in more desperate straits, than did
this remnant of Lee’s tattered host, in its final effort to save the
Confederate capital from falling into the hands of its enemies. Yet
every drum-beat trembling on the soft spring air was but the knell
of Richmond’s hope; every passing hour brought nearer and nearer her
unavoidable doom.

Late in March Grant threw out a force on his left, under Sheridan,
to meet and turn, and crush if possible, Lee’s right flank, and thus
precipitate the fall of Petersburg. It was at Five Forks that the
two armies met and clashed in the last decisive battle of the war.
Overwhelmed in front, cut off from the main column on the left, borne
down upon from the rear, fighting twice its numbers on every side, the
little army of Confederate veterans, with a thousand of its men already
captured, and a thousand lying dead and wounded along the barricades it
had so stoutly defended, broke and fled helplessly and hopelessly to
the west, only the darkness of night saving it from utter annihilation
at the hands of Sheridan’s pursuing cavalry.

But on that field of Five Forks, after the blue-clad hosts had swept
over it across the enemy’s redoubts, and only the grim harvest of
battle was left, dread rows of fallen men and horses struggling and
groaning among the silent dead, Rhett Bannister lay, at the edge of
the White Oak road, his shoulder pierced by a minié ball, his dim eyes
seeking vainly for the child of his heart. And just beyond lay Bob,
stretched on the greensward, his blood-splashed face turned upward to
the twilight sky, seeing nothing, knowing nothing of battle or victory,
of friend or foe, deaf alike to the dying thunders of the conflict, to
the exultant shouts of the victors, to the heart-stirring cry of that
father who would joyously have given his own life that his son might
live.



CHAPTER XI

THE GREAT TRAGEDY


But Bob Bannister was not killed at Five Forks, nor did he die of his
wounds. A fragment of a bursting shell had struck his head, torn loose
the scalp, laid bare the skull, felled him with a crash, and left
him insensible for hours. He did not know when he was carried from
the field; but, later on, he realized that he was being jolted over
rough roads, that somewhere there was a great pain of which he was
dimly conscious, and that now and then a cup of water was placed most
refreshingly to his parched lips. When he did come fully to himself it
was the day after the battle, and he was in the army hospital at City
Point, one of the hundreds of occupants of the long rows of cots that
lined the walls. His head was swathed in bandages, a blinding pain
shot back and forth across his eyes, and in his mouth was still that
insatiable thirst. On the cot beside him lay his father, who had also
been ordered by the field surgeon to the hospital at City Point. Those
minié balls made ugly wounds, as thousands of veterans of both armies
can testify, and Rhett Bannister certainly needed surgical skill and
careful nursing. But the surgeon who sent him to City Point, and who
knew and loved both him and his son, had a deeper thought in mind.
That wound of Bob’s, under certain conditions, might suddenly lead to
something very grave, and--well, it was a good idea for the boy to
have his father at his side. But, for stalwart manhood and clean and
vigorous youth, wounds yield readily to proper treatment, and, before
many days had passed, both father and son were well on the road to
recovery.

Then, one morning, a strange thing happened, and, to Bob Bannister, as
he thought of it in after years, the most beautiful thing that ever
entered into his life. Into the far, south door of the hospital tent,
accompanied only by a member of his staff and an assistant surgeon,
came Abraham Lincoln.

A whisper ran down the rows of cots that the President was there, and
every man who could do so, rose to his feet, or sat up in bed, and
saluted as “Father Abraham” passed by. At many a cot he stopped to give
greeting to maimed and helpless veterans of the war, to speak words of
encouragement to the sick and wounded boys who had fought and suffered
that the common cause might triumph, to bend over the prostrate form of
some poor wreck tossed up from the awful whirlpool of battle. Soldiers
who lived never forgot the benediction of his presence that beautiful
day, and more than one fell into his last sleep with the vision of the
fatherly and sympathetic face of the beloved President before his dim
and closing eyes.

They came to the ward where lay the sick and wounded Southern prisoners.

“You won’t want to go in there, Mr. President,” said the young surgeon
who was escorting him, “those are only rebels in there.”

The President turned and laid his large hand gently on the shoulder of
his escort, and looked serenely and earnestly into his eyes.

“You mean,” he said, “that they are Confederates. I want to see them.”

And so, into the Confederate wards he went, greeting every sufferer as
he passed, asking after their wants, bringing to all of them good cheer
and hopefulness and helpfulness as he passed by. One boy of seventeen
said to him:--

“My father knew you, Mr. Lincoln, before the war. He was killed at
Chantilly. He said to me once: ‘Whatever happens, don’t you ever
believe Abraham Lincoln guilty of harshness or cruelty.’ I am so glad
to have told you that, Mr. Lincoln, before I die.”

And Lincoln, as he pushed back the damp hair from the boy’s forehead,
and inquired the father’s name, and saw the death pallor already
stealing into the young face, said:--

“Thank you, my son. If I know my own heart, there has never been
harshness or cruelty in it; there is no malice or bitterness in it
to-day. I sympathize with you. I sympathize with all of you--” he
lifted his head and looked around on the rapt faces turned toward
him--“the more because your cause is a lost cause, because you are
suffering also the bitterness of defeat. And yet I feel that, under
God, this very defeat will prove the salvation of your beloved South.”

And so he passed on. When he came to the cot where Rhett Bannister was
lying, he gave him a word of simple greeting and would have gone by had
not something in the man’s face attracted his attention and caused him
to stop.

“Have I ever seen you before?” he inquired.

“Yes, Mr. President. I am Rhett Bannister from Pennsylvania. I spent
a half-hour with you one morning in the Secretary’s room in the
War Department, in the fall of ’63. I was an escaped conscript that
morning.”

A smile of recognition lit up the face of the President, and his
gnarled hand grasped the hand of the wounded man.

“I remember,” he said. “I remember very well. And have you been in the
service ever since?”

Some one across the aisle, who had heard the conversation, replied that
time for Bannister.

“Yes, Mr. President, he has. And he’s been the bravest and the best
soldier in the ranks, bar none. I’m the adjutant of his battalion, and
I know.”

“Good!” exclaimed the President. “Oh, that’s very good. I felt that
we’d make a good soldier of him in the end. And, let’s see! There was a
boy whose place you took. The boy went home.”

“No, Mr. President, he wouldn’t go, so we both stayed.”

“The boy wouldn’t go home? What became of him?”

“He’s here, Mr. President, on the next cot. We were both clipped at
Five Forks.”

The President turned half round and looked incredulously on the pale
face of the youth at his side. Then he took the boy’s two hands in both
of his, and bent over him. There was no grace in the movement, there
was no beauty of face or smoothness of diction to add charm to the
incident; but Bob Bannister will remember to his last hour on earth how
the great War President leaned over him and spoke.

“My boy, of such stuff are patriots and heroes made.”

Then, glancing at the wall where Bob’s frayed and dusty coat hung at
the head of his cot, with the shoulder-straps of a first lieutenant
half showing, he said, inquiringly:--

“That coat’s not yours?”

“It is mine, Mr. President.”

Lincoln looked down again at the boyish face beneath him.

“It’s hard to believe,” he said.

And then the adjutant across the aisle spoke up for the second time.

“It’s quite true, Mr. President. And he has splendidly earned every
step of his promotion.”

Still holding the boy’s hands and looking down into his face, the
President said:--

“I thank you, my son. In the name of the country for which you have
fought and suffered, I thank you.”

After a moment he added:--

“And, let me see, there was a mother back there in Pennsylvania, wasn’t
there? How’s the mother?”

“Very well, Mr. Lincoln, and waiting patiently for us.”

“Well, you’re going home to her very soon now. The mothers are going
to have their reward. The war is almost over now, my boy--it’s almost
over, Bannister. Peace is coming, next week maybe, next month for
sure. And the peace that’s coming was well worth fighting for. I tell
you the mothers have not agonized in vain, the dead have not died for
naught.”

There were tears in his eyes as he spoke. He never could quite get over
his pity for the mothers whose boys had died in the conflict, nor his
sorrow over the unnumbered lives lost in the maelstrom of war. These
things lay, always, a mighty burden on his heart. He lived with them
by day and he dreamed of them at night. But now that there were to be
no more battles, no more agonies, no more dead faces turned upward to
the sky, a thankfulness such as no other life has ever known filled his
soul and suffused his countenance. Rhett Bannister, who had seen him
in the dark days of ’63, and who had ever since been haunted by the
inexpressible sadness of his face, noted at once how that face had been
transfigured. Not that it bore evidence now of pride or exultation,
or a selfish joy in victories achieved, but rather that it shone with
a great gladness because the sufferings and the hardships and the
heart-agonies of a whole nation were so near their end. After a little
he loosed one of Bob’s hands and took one of Bannister’s.

“Good-by, boys!” he said, “and health to you, and a happy home-going.
Some day you’ll come to Washington. Come in and see me. I’ll be waiting
for you. Good-by!”

He passed down the aisle, tall, loose-jointed, with ill-fitting clothes
and awkward mien; but to those two wounded soldiers on their cots it
seemed that a more beautiful presence than his had never passed their
way.

Wounds heal rapidly when light hearts and clean living add their
measure of assistance to the surgeon’s skill. And so it came about that
both Bannister and his son were discharged from the hospital a week
later. With the surgeon’s certificates in their pockets, they were
ready to start toward the North, toward home, toward the sweetest,
most life-giving spot in all the world. They would not need to come
back, they knew that, for the war was practically over. Richmond had
fallen, Lee had surrendered, Johnston’s army would soon be in the
hands of Sherman, there was no more fighting to be done. So they went
on board a transport one day, and rode down the James and up the
Potomac to Washington. It was early in the evening when they reached
the city, and after a good meal and a refreshing rest they went out
on the streets for a short stroll before retiring. They were to leave
Washington on an early train the next morning, and they thought to get
a glimpse of it this night in its holiday attire, as it might be many
years before either of them would come that way again.

It was a beautiful spring night. The air was soft, and heavy with
the scent of blossoming lilacs. The night before, the city had been
splendidly illuminated in honor of the recent victories and the dawn
of peace, and to-night the rejoicings were still going on. The crowds
that filled the streets were happy, high-spirited, exultant. Oh, but
it was a different city from the one through which Bob Bannister went,
on his way to war, in the fall of ’63! Then gloom, anxiety, was on the
face of every person who went hurrying by; despondency in the slow
gait of every loiterer on the streets. And over the head of the Chief
Magistrate hung ever the horror of blood, on his heart weighed ever the
apprehension of unforeseen disaster. But to-night, how different! Some
one who had seen the President that day said he had not been so happy,
so contented, so tender and serene, since he had been in Washington.
His son Captain Robert Lincoln had come up from the South and spent
the morning with him. Some friends from the West had occupied his
joyful attention for a brief time in the afternoon. All who saw him
that day never afterward forgot the peaceful and gentle serenity of
his face. He had said to the members of his Cabinet at their meeting
that morning, that, on his part, there was no feeling of hate or
vindictiveness toward any person of the South. That, so far as he could
control it, now that the war was over, there should be no persecution,
no more bloody work of any kind. That resentment must give way and be
extinguished, and harmony and union must prevail.

As Bannister and his son walked through the gay crowds on the streets
that night, they heard people say that the President and Mrs. Lincoln
had gone with a small party to see the play, “Our American Cousin,”
at Ford’s Theatre on Tenth Street. It was a time for relaxation and
pleasure, and the President wanted the people to feel that he rejoiced
with them. When the play should be over, there would be a crowd waiting
at the door of the play-house to see the Chief Magistrate come out and
enter his carriage, and to show their admiration and love for him by
cheers and huzzas and the waving of hats and handkerchiefs. The theatre
was not far away, and Bannister and Bob thought to go there and take
part in the demonstration. F Street, along which they were walking,
was almost deserted. The crowds had gravitated down into E Street and
beyond, and were thronging Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bob looked at his watch,--the boys of his company had sent it to him
as a memento before he left the hospital,--and saw that it was nearly
half-past ten.

“I think we’ll have to hurry a little, father,” he said, “the play must
be nearly over now.”

So they quickened their steps. Between Tenth and Eleventh Streets, as
they hurried along, a strange thing happened. As they passed the mouth
of an alley leading to the centre of the block, toward E Street, their
attention was attracted by an unusual noise proceeding from the depths
of the passageway. Some one down there was shouting and cursing. Then
there was a clatter of horse’s hoofs on the cobblestone pavement;
around the corner of a building, and into the light of the dim lamp
hung at the foot of the alley, clanging up the passage and dashing out
into the street, came a man on horseback. He was hatless, wild-eyed,
terrible in countenance and mien. In one hand he held his horse’s rein,
in the other he grasped a dagger, shining in the moonlight at the
hilt, stained with blood on the blade. Heading his horse to the north,
bending forward in his saddle, his long, dark hair flying out behind
him, he went, in a mad gallop, up the half-deserted street, and, before
the astonished onlookers had fairly caught breath, he had vanished into
the night. A half-dozen men, strolling along in that vicinity, turned
and gazed after the flying horseman, and then all, with one accord,
involuntarily started in the direction he had taken. At the corner of
Tenth Street, as they looked down toward Ford’s Theatre, they saw that
there was some confusion there. Men were running toward the play-house,
other men were pushing their passage from its doorway. There were
shouts which Bannister and his son could not understand, but they, with
the others, ran down toward the centre of the disturbance. Before they
were able to reach the front of the theatre, the cry came, loud and
clear, so that all could hear it:--

“Lincoln has been shot!”

And again:--

“The President has been killed!”

One man, white-faced, bareheaded, rushed from the doorway of the
theatre crying:--

“Stop the assassin! Stop him! It was Wilkes Booth. Don’t let him get
away!”

But those who had seen the flying horseman disappear down the long
moonlit vista of F Street, knew that the assassin had already made his
escape.

Men and women, with horror-stricken faces, were now pouring from
the entrance to the play-house. The street was filling up with a
jostling, questioning, gesticulating crowd. “How did it happen?”--“Who
did it?”--“Why was it done?”--“Where is the murderer?”--“Catch
him!”--“Hang him!” Men demanded information, and action as well. Two
soldiers in full uniform, with side-arms, hurled themselves out into
the roadway, through the crowd, and up toward F Street. Some one called
a boy and told him to run to the White House as though his life were
the forfeit for delay, and tell Robert Lincoln to come.

And then, suddenly, a hush fell upon the crowd. It was known that they
were bringing the President down. The space about the doorway was
cleared, and out into the lamplight came men bearing the long, limp
body of Abraham Lincoln. At the sidewalk they hesitated and stopped.
What should they do with him? There was no carriage there. And if there
had been, it was too long and rough a journey to the White House to
take a dying man. Diagonally across the street, on the high front porch
of a plain three-story dwelling-house, a young man stood. He had come
from his bed-chamber to learn the cause of the disturbance, and seeing
the limp body of the President brought from the door of the theatre,
and that the bearers were in doubt as to what they should do, he called
out across the street, over the heads of the multitude:--

“Bring him in here! Bring him in here!”

And the men who were carrying the body, having no plan of their own,
knowing nothing better to do, bore their unconscious burden across the
way, up the steep and winding stairs to the porch, through the modest
doorway and down the narrow hall into a small plain sleeping-room at
the end, and laid the President of the United States on a bed where a
soldier of the ranks, home on furlough, had slept for many nights.

And it was there that the President died. Not in the White House with
its stately halls and ornate rooms, not where his labor had been done
and his cares had weighed him down, not where his hours of anguish
had been spent and his tears of pity had been shed; but here, in this
humble home, like the homes he had loved and lived in before the nation
called him for its chief, it was here, in the gray of the next morning,
that he died. And Stanton, his great War Secretary, standing at his
bedside when the last breath left the mortal body, Stanton who had
known him for many years, who had in turn denounced him, ridiculed him,
criticised him, honored him, and loved him, turned in that moment to
the awe-stricken onlookers at the last scene and said: “Now he is with
the ages.”

Among those lining the pathway across the street along which the
President’s body was borne, dripping blood as it passed, stood Rhett
Bannister and his son. For one moment, as the moonlight fell on the
gray face, already stamped with the seal of death, they saw him.
His long arms hung loosely at his sides, his eyes were closed, his
countenance showed no mark of suffering, save that some one, holding
his wounded head, had inadvertently smeared his cheek with blood.
They never forgot that sight. They never could forget it. Many and
many a time, in the stillness of midnight, in the light and noise of
noonday, no matter where or when, the vision of that face they both had
known and loved, with its closed eyes and tangled hair, and with the
blood-splash on the cheek, came back to them, with its never-ending
shock and sorrow.

After the President’s body had passed, and the crowd closed in again,
and men took second thought and began to realize the horror of the
hour, and to rave against the assassin, and those who might have
influenced him, and while women, pale-faced and unbonneted, wept and
wrung their hands, the soldiers came and cleared the theatre, and drove
the people from the street; and thenceforward, until the dead body of
the Chief Magistrate had been borne from the humble house where he
died, no one without authority was permitted to pass that way.

Rhett Bannister and Bob were pushed and crowded back with the rest
up into F Street, along which they had been quietly strolling a
half-hour earlier, and there, exhausted from the shock of the tragedy,
grief-stricken as they had never been before, they sat down on the
street curb to rest. And, even as they sat there, men came running by
calling out that Secretary of State Seward had been stabbed in his bed,
and that every member of the Cabinet had been marked for murder.

“Father,” said Bob, when he found his voice to speak, “what does it all
mean?”

“I don’t know, Robert, except that the most inhuman and uncalled-for
crime that ever marred the centuries has been committed this night.”

“Father, I can’t go home. While such things as these are still possible
I wouldn’t dare go home, there’s more work for us to do yet in the
army. I am going back to-morrow morning to join my regiment in
Virginia.”

“You are right, my son, and I will go back with you.”

And they went.



CHAPTER XII

THE WELCOME HOME


The war was over. Peace rested on the land. All men, North and South,
were thankful that the shedding of human blood had ceased. June came,
brighter, more beautiful, than any other June of which living men had
memory. The world was filled with sunshine, with flowers, with the
songs of birds, with the flashings of waters, with the gladness of
nature and humanity. The last tired, tattered soldier of the South
had gone back to his home to pick up the broken threads of destiny
and to begin his life anew. And, slowly drifting up from camp and
battle-field, the veterans of the Union army were coming by ones and
twos and in little groups, some of them mere ghosts of the boys who had
gone to the front when the war was on. But for every war-worn soldier
thus returning there was one who would never come again. So there were
tears as well as smiles, and heart-aches as well as rejoicings.

But the soldiers from Mount Hermon did not come until after the close
of the Grand Review in Washington, in which they took part. Then they
too turned their faces toward home. It was agreed that they should all
come together. And Mount Hermon, that had sent them forth with its
God-speed, that had rejoiced in their victories and sorrowed in their
defeats, was ready to welcome them back. They were to come on a special
car that would reach Carbon Creek late in the forenoon. There they were
to be met by a committee of welcome, with a band of music and decorated
wagons. The party would reach Mount Hermon about noon, and after the
first greetings had been given, there was to be a dinner under a great
tent on the public square, the finest dinner that the men of Mount
Hermon could buy and the women of Mount Hermon could prepare. And
after the dinner, from the platform at the end of the tent, there were
to be addresses of welcome, and music, and every returning man and boy
who had worn the blue was to be made to feel that the town was proud of
him this day, and honored him for the service he had performed for his
country and the lustre he had shed upon Mount Hermon.

So, on the day of the arrival, the committee of welcome was at Carbon
Creek a full hour before the train was due, so fearful were they lest
by some unforeseen delay they should be one minute too late. In due
time the procession, half a hundred strong, started on its way to Mount
Hermon, the band in the first wagon playing “Marching through Georgia.”
All along the route there was, as the newspapers said next day, “a
continuous ovation.” Farm-houses were decorated, flags were flying
everywhere, groups of cheering citizens stood at every crossroad. When
they reached the borough line, they all descended from the wagons and
formed on foot to march to the village green. Not quite as they had
formed in other days under Southern skies, for now there was no one in
command; officers and privates alike were in the ranks to-day, marching
shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, in one long, glad, home-coming
procession. But you couldn’t keep those ranks in order; no one could
have kept them in order. One old veteran said that Ulysses Grant
himself couldn’t have kept the men in line, there was so much cheering,
so much hand-shaking, so many waiting wives and mothers and children to
be kissed and hugged and kissed again. And long before the great tent
on the green was reached there was no more semblance of order in those
happy ranks, than you would have found among a group of schoolgirls out
for a holiday.

Private Bannister and his son were both in the procession. Not that
it was Rhett Bannister’s choice to be there. He had thought to make
the journey back to his home quietly and alone, in much the same way
that he had left it nearly two years before, and there await such
welcome, good or ill, as the people of the community might see fit to
give him. But his comrades simply would not have it so. Indeed, they
refused absolutely to go together, or to partake in the ceremony of
welcome, unless he would go with them. So he went, not without many
misgivings, fearing the worst, yet hoping for the best. And the best
came. His record in the ranks had preceded him long before. The story
of his conversion by Abraham Lincoln was a story that his neighbors
never wearied of telling. And if there was one thing more than another
on which Mount Hermon prided herself, next to having as one of her own
boys the youngest commissioned officer in the Army of the Potomac, it
was on the fact that Rhett Bannister, the once hated, despised, and
outlawed copperhead, had become one of the best and bravest and truest
soldiers in the armies of his country.

And so Mount Hermon welcomed him. Nor could he for one moment doubt
the sincerity of his welcome. The hearty handclasp, the trembling
voice, the tear-dimmed eye with which old friends and neighbors greeted
him, left no room for questionings.

One block from the public square Henry Bradbury came upon them. He put
his one remaining arm around Bob’s shoulders and hugged him till he
winced.

“You rascal!” he exclaimed. “You runaway! You patriot! God bless you!”

Then he released Bob, and grasped Bob’s father’s hand.

“Rhett Bannister,” he said, “I never took hold of but one man’s hand
in my life before, that I was prouder to shake, and that was Abraham
Lincoln’s.”

Then when he got his voice again, he added:--

“Fall out, both of you. Sarah Jane Stark wants to see you at her house
before you go to the square.”

So they followed him three blocks around, and down to the house of
Sarah Jane Stark. She was there in the hall, waiting for them.

“Bob Bannister,” she said, “I love you!” And she put her hands up on
his broad shoulders and kissed him on both cheeks. Then she turned
to Bob’s father, and, without a word, and much to his amazement and
confusion, she saluted him in the same way.

“There!” she exclaimed, “that’s the first time I’ve kissed a man in
forty years. I never expect to kiss another, but--to-day--it’s worth
it. There, not a word! I know what I’m doing. Go in there, both of you.
March!”

She opened the parlor door, thrust them both into the room, and closed
the door on them without another word. In that room were Mary Bannister
and Louise. At the end of fifteen minutes, Sarah Jane Stark came back
down the hall and knocked briskly.

“Come,” she said, “it’s time to go to the square. You needn’t think
you can stay here and make love all day. And I won’t give you a thing
to eat. You’ve got to go up to the tent and eat with the rest of us.”

On the way up she walked with Bob. She had a thousand questions to ask,
nor could Bob get one quite answered before a new one would strike him
squarely between the eyes. But when she said: “And where’s that dear
sergeant who took breakfast with us one morning, and who couldn’t say
grace; what became of him?” and Bob answered, “He was killed at Cold
Harbor, Miss Stark,” she was silent for a full minute.

They were just ready to sit down to dinner in the big tent when the
Bannisters arrived. A place had been reserved for them at the head of
the table, two and two on each side of the master of the feast, with
all the other veterans and their wives and daughters and sweethearts in
line below, and the patriotic citizens of Mount Hermon filling up the
rest of the long tables.

That was a dinner! In the whole history of Mount Hermon nothing had
been known to equal it. And when it was over, and the tables had been
partly cleared, the flag at the end of the tent was drawn aside, and
there on the platform were the speakers, the singers, and the band. A
chorus of girls, dressed in white, with little flags in their hands,
sang “America.” There was a brief and fervent prayer by the old
clergyman who had married nearly every one’s father and mother in Mount
Hermon, and who knew all the middle-aged people by their first names.
Then the burgess of the borough delivered the address of welcome, and
the band played. After that the chairman of the meeting rose and rapped
for order.

“Our young friends,” he said, “desire to participate, to a brief
extent, in this programme of rejoicing. I will call upon Master Samuel
Powers.”

So Master Samuel Powers made his way awkwardly and blushingly up
between benches and tables, to the platform. At the steps he stumbled,
recovered himself with a masterly jerk, and continued on his course.
Turning to the audience, red-faced and frightened, he began to search
in his pockets for something that he had evidently mislaid. Into
his coat pockets and trousers pockets, each side in turn, outside
and inside, he searched with increasing desperation, but in vain.
Then he tried the pockets all over again, with the same result. The
audience began to see the comical side of the boy’s embarrassment, and
half-suppressed laughter was heard throughout the tent. Some one in the
crowd yelled:--

“Cough it up, Sam! cough it up! You’ve swallered it!”

And a boy’s voice somewhere in the rear responded:--

“Aw, snakes! Let ’im alone. He’s got it in his head. Give it to ’em,
Sammy, boy! Chuck it at ’em! Go it!”

Thus adjured, Sam advanced to the front of the platform.

“I had a paper,” he said, “to read from, but I guess I’ve lost it.
Anyway, what I want to say is that two years ago us boys had a military
company here. An’ we’ve got it yet. An’ we’re goin’ to keep it. Well,
two years ago Bob Bannister tried to get in the company an’ we wouldn’t
let ’im in because--” he gave a frightened glance at Rhett Bannister,
sitting below him--“I might as well tell--because his father was a
copperhead. Well, after what happened we got a little ashamed of
ourselves, an’ when we heard how he was fightin’ down there in a real
company, we were all sorry we hadn’t let him in. So when our captain
moved away we elected Bob Bannister captain, with leave of absence till
the war was over. But somehow or another that didn’t seem to be quite
enough to do. An’ then when we heard about Five Forks we got together
an’ chipped in, and our fathers helped us a little, and we bought him
the best sword an’ silk sash that Henry Bradbury could find in New
York, an’ we want to give it to him here to-day. Say, Bill Hinkle,
bring that sword up here!”

Thunders of applause greeted Sam’s remarks. Some one took Bob by the
arm and dragged him to the platform, and when he had received the
sword, which was indeed a beauty, there were insistent calls for a
speech. Bob looked down to his father for help and inspiration, and as
he did so the audience saw on his head the long, red, ragged scar over
which the hair had not yet grown, and then the applause was renewed
with threefold vehemence.

Finally he managed to stammer out:--

“I can’t make a speech. I’m sure this tribute from the boys has touched
my heart. I know I’m very grateful to you all for the way you’ve
welcomed me. I’ll never forget this day, and--and I guess that’s all.”

He turned and made a rapid retreat from the platform, while the
audience shouted itself hoarse with approval of his speech. There
was more music by the band, and then Judge Morgan mounted the
platform. He had aged much during the last two years of the war, and
his hand trembled visibly as he thrust it, after the old fashion,
into the breast of his tightly buttoned Prince Albert coat. But his
voice, though quavering a little at the start, was still strong and
penetrating, and no one in the audience could fail to hear him as he
spoke.

“Mr. Chairman, returning soldiers of the Union armies, ladies and
fellow citizens:--

“Some two years ago it was my fortune, or misfortune as you choose,
to be present at a meeting of the citizens of Mount Hermon, held
on the nation’s natal day, on this very spot. The great battle of
Gettysburg had just been fought. Public feeling ran high, the spirit
of patriotism was at white heat. It became my duty to draw and present
to that meeting a set of resolutions condemnatory of one of our fellow
citizens whose unpatriotic attitude and open disloyalty brought down
upon his head our righteous wrath. I need not repeat those resolutions
here. I need not call your attention further to the exciting incidents
of that day. Many of you will remember them. I will hasten on to say
that it has been my duty and my great pleasure to prepare another set
of resolutions to be presented to this meeting to-day. They are as
follows:--

“RESOLVED: _First_,--That the resolutions heretofore adopted by the
citizens of Mount Hermon on the fourth day of July, A. D. 1863,
denouncing as disloyal and unworthy of citizenship one Rhett Bannister,
be and they are hereby absolutely suspended, revoked, and made void.

“_Second_,--That we welcome the said Rhett Bannister to his home as he
returns to us from the war, bringing with him a record for loyalty and
courage of which the best and bravest soldier might well be proud. And
we congratulate him and his noble wife on the splendid service which
their son Lieutenant Robert Barnwell Bannister has rendered to his
country in her hour of need.

“_Third_,--That we welcome with open arms and thankful hearts all these
soldiers of the Republic, who have returned to us this day bearing
laurels of victory, and we extend our assistance and condolence to all
sick and wounded veterans and to all widows and orphans through whose
sufferings our country has been saved.

“Mr. Chairman, I move the adoption of these resolutions by a rising
vote.”

And how they did vote! rising of course, standing on chairs, tables,
anything; cheering, waving hats and handkerchiefs, to express their
approval of the resolutions which Judge Morgan had so acceptably
framed. Then there were shouts for “Bannister! Rhett Bannister! Rhett
Bannister!”

At first he did not want to go. Then, as the second and wiser thought
came to him, he mounted the platform and faced his fellow townsmen.
In the beginning he could not quite control his voice, but it soon
got back its old resonant ring, and then the audience sat in rapt
attention, listening to his words.

[Illustration: HE FACED HIS FELLOW TOWNSMEN.]

“My friends and neighbors, I do not deserve this. I never dreamed of a
welcome home like this. I thought to come back quietly, alone, and slip
as easily as I might into the old grooves, and I hoped that some day,
possibly, you would forget. But the boys who marched with me, fought
with me, suffered with me, not one of whom but has been braver, truer,
more faithful, and more deserving than I,--the boys, I say, would not
listen to it. So here I am, with them--and you. And now that I am here
I want to say to you what I have had it in my heart to say to you,
night and day, for nearly two years. I am, as you know, descended from
the men and women of the South. When the war came on I sympathized with
my brothers there. If I had been resident among them then, and had
failed to rally to their cause, I would have been more than a poltroon.
I could not see that the environment of a lifetime here should have
led me into wiser counsels and better judgment. You know the story of
my folly. But, like Saul of Tarsus, breathing out threatenings and
slaughter, I came one day into the presence of an overmastering soul. I
went out from that presence changed, and utterly subdued. I saw things
in a new light and with a larger vision. Not that I loved my people
of the South any less, but that I loved my country more. By the grace
and mercy of Abraham Lincoln, and the goodness of God, I was permitted
to fight in the ranks of my country’s soldiers, side by side with my
son whom you have just seen and heard. I never commended this boy
publicly before, and it is not probable that I ever shall again; but
I will say to-day, that no knight of old ever sought the Holy Grail
with more persistent courage and deeper devotion than he has sought
his country’s welfare. As for me, I am what I am to-day, I have done
what I have done, because of Abraham Lincoln. If you had seen him as
I saw him, if you had heard him as I heard him, you would have loved
him as I loved him--yet not so deeply. For my love was greater because
he loved my people of the South. Doubt me if you will, discredit me if
you must, but I speak what I believe and know when I say that the men
and women of the South have never had a better friend, a truer guide,
a wiser counselor, than they lost when the foul assassin’s bullet sent
this gentle spirit to its home. I have done what I could. I have been
the best soldier I knew how to be. Now I am back with you, to take up
once more the old life, and to try to prove to you through all the
days and nights that are to come, that your flag is my flag, that your
country is my country, and that this home among the Pennsylvania hills
was never quite so dear to me before as it is to-day. I thank you.
I am grateful to you all. Your welcome has touched me so deeply--so
deeply”--and then his voice went utterly to pieces, and with tears of
joy streaming down his face, he left the stand.

The meeting did not last long after that. There were more numbers on
the programme indeed. But when Rhett Bannister had finished, so many
were talking, so many were cheering, so many were crying, that the
chairman simply let the people have their own way and finish as they
would.

It was a happy supper-party at the Bannister home that night; so like
the suppers in the summer days of old, in the years before the war.
After it was over, Bob went down by the path across the meadow, as he
used to go, to see Seth Mills. The old man had failed much of late. Age
was resting heavily upon him, and he was too feeble to go far from home.

And in the beautiful June twilight Rhett Bannister sat upon his porch
and looked out upon the old familiar scene: the fields, the trees,
the road, the clear and wonderful expanse of sky. But when his eyes
wandered, for a moment, to the shop and the windmill tower crowned by
the motionless blades of the big wheel, he turned them away. There
were things which, on this night of nights, he did not care to bring
back to memory. And, as he sat there, holding in his own the hand of
the happiest, proudest woman that the stars looked down upon that
summer night in all the old Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, there came
the well-remembered click of the front-gate latch, and, out of the
darkness, hobbling slowly up the walk, came the bent figure of Seth
Mills. Bannister leaped from the porch and hurried down the path to
meet him. The old man stopped and looked him over in well-feigned
dismay.

“Rhett Bannister,” he exclaimed, “you blamed ol’ copperhead! you
skallywag deserter! you deep-dyed villyan! what ’a you wearin’ them
blue soldier clothes fur?”

Then, as Bannister hesitated, in doubt as to how he should take this
outburst, his visitor broke into a hearty laugh.

“Well, Rhett,” he said, “I forgive you. I forgive you. Where’s your
hand? Where’s your two hands? I knowed what you’d do when the boy
went. I told him so. God bless you, but I’m proud of you! I’m proud
o’ both of you! Bob’s been down; splendid boy; said I mustn’t come up
here; too fur to walk. I told him to mind his own business; that I was
comin’ up to shake hands with Rhett Bannister ef it took a leg; ef it
took both legs, by cracky!”

Bannister helped the old man up the steps, and made him comfortable in
a big porch-chair, and told him a hundred things he wanted to know, and
at last he told him about Abraham Lincoln.

“You know I saw the President?”

“I heard all about it, Rhett. You’ve been blessed above your fellow
men.”

“But you didn’t know that he spoke to me of you?”

“Of me? Seth Mills?”

“Yes, of you. He told me that story about how you settled the spring
controversy with Sam Lewis.”

“No!”

“Yes, he did. And then I told him that I knew you, that you were my
nearest and best neighbor; and he said: ‘You tell Seth Mills for me, if
you ever see him again, that Abe Lincoln remembers him, and sends him
greeting and good wishes in memory of the old days in Sangamon County.’
I’ve carried that message in my heart for you through blood and fire,
Seth, and now, to-night, it is yours.”

But the old man did not reply. Instead, his hand stole out and rested
on his neighbor’s knee, and then, softly in the darkness, Bannister
heard him sob.

But Seth Mills went home at last, and over the crest of the eastern
hill-range the full moon came shining. And then something else
happened. From the shadows of the roadway that fronted the house,
suddenly, sweetly, jubilantly on the night air, came the music of a
chorus of fresh young voices singing:--

       “Home, home, sweet, sweet home;
    Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”

They were the same boys who, two years before, had marched down the
road at night singing songs of derision to the hated copperhead.

Ah! but those two years. What may not happen in a time like that? What
change of thought, of heart, of life? What tragedy and transformation?

As the faint, sweet chorus of the boy-singers came back to him across
the moonlit fields, Rhett Bannister turned his face to the star-strewn
sky, and thanked God that after the storm and stress and trial, and
through the ministry of one great man, he had fallen upon such glorious
days.


                          The Riverside Press
                       CAMBRIDGE · MASSACHUSETTS
                               U · S · A



 Transcriber’s Notes:

 --Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).

 --Except for the frontispiece, illustrations have been moved to
   follow the text that they illustrate, so the page number of the
   illustration may not match the page number in the Illustrations.

 --Punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were silently corrected.

 --Archaic and variable spelling has been preserved.

 --Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.

 --The Author’s em-dash style has been retained.





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