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Title: An Echo Of Antietam - 1898
Author: Bellamy, Edward
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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AN ECHO OF ANTIETAM

By Edward Bellamy

1898



I

The air was tremulous with farewells. The regiment, recruited within
sight of the steeples of Waterville, and for three months in camp just
outside the city, was to march the next morning. A series of great
battles had weakened the Federal armies, and the authorities at
Washington had ordered all available men to the front.

The camp was to be broken up at an early hour, after which the regiment
would march through the city to the depot to take the cars. The streets
along the route of the march were already being decorated with flags and
garlands. The city that afternoon was full of soldiers enjoying their
last leave of absence. The liquor shops were crowded with parties of
them drinking with their friends, while others in threes and fours, with
locked arms, paraded the streets singing patriotic songs, sometimes in
rather maudlin voices, for to-day in every saloon a soldier might enter,
citizens vied for the privilege of treating him to the best in the
house. No man in a blue coat was suffered to pay for anything.

For the most part, however, the men were sober enough over their
leave-taking. One saw everywhere soldiers and civilians, strolling in
pairs, absorbed in earnest talk. They are brothers, maybe, who have
come away from the house to be alone with each other, while they talk of
family affairs and exchange last charges and promises as to what is to
be done if anything happens. Or perhaps they are business partners, and
the one who has put the country’s business before his own is giving his
last counsels as to how the store or the shop shall be managed in his
absence. Many of the blue-clad men have women with them, and these are
the couples that the people oftenest turn to look at. The girl who has
a soldier lover is the envy of her companions to-day as she walks by his
side. Her proud eyes challenge all who come, saying, “See, this is my
hero. I am the one he loves.”

You could easily tell when it was a wife and not a sweetheart whom the
soldier had with him. There was no challenge in the eyes of the wife.
Young romance shed none of its glamour on the sacrifice she was making
for her native land. It was only because they could not bear to sit any
longer looking at each other in the house that she and her husband had
come out to walk.

In the residence parts of the town family groups were gathered on shady
piazzas, a blue-coated figure the centre of each. They were trying to
talk cheerfully, making an effort even to laugh a little.

Now and then one of the women stole unobserved from the circle, but her
bravely smiling face as she presently returned gave no inkling of the
flood of tears that had eased her heart in some place apart. The young
soldier himself was looking a little pale and nervous with all his
affected good spirits, and it was safe to guess that he was even then
thinking how often this scene would come before him afterwards, by the
camp-fire and on the eve of battle.

In the village of Upton, some four or five miles out of Waterville, on a
broad piazza at the side of a house on the main street, a group of four
persons were seated around a tea-table.

The centre of interest of this group, as of so many others that day,
was a soldier. He looked not over twenty-five, with dark blue eyes, dark
hair cut close to his head, and a mustache trimmed crisply in military
fashion. His uniform set off to advantage an athletic figure of youthful
slender-ness, and his bronzed complexion told of long days of practice
on the drill-ground in the school of the company and the battalion. He
wore the shoulder-straps of a second lieutenant.

On one side of the soldier sat the Rev. Mr. Morton, his cousin, and on
the other Miss Bertha Morton, a kindly faced, middle-aged lady, who was
her brother’s housekeeper and the hostess of this occasion.

The fourth member of the party was a girl of nineteen or twenty. She was
a very pretty girl, and although to-day her pallid cheeks and red and
swollen eyelids would to other eyes have detracted somewhat from her
charms, it was certain that they did not make her seem less adorable
to the young officer, for he was her lover, and was to march with the
regiment in the morning.

Lieutenant Philip King was a lawyer, and by perseverance and native
ability had worked up a fair practice for so young a man in and around
Upton. When he volunteered, he had to make up his mind to leave this
carefully gathered clientage to scatter, or to be filched from him by
less patriotic rivals; but it may be well believed that this seemed to
him a little thing compared with leaving Grace Roberts, with the chance
of never returning to make her his wife. If, indeed, it had been for him
to say, he would have placed his happiness beyond hazard by marrying
her before the regiment marched; nor would she have been averse, but her
mother, an invalid widow, took a sensible rather than a sentimental view
of the case. If he were killed, she said, a wife would do him no good;
and if he came home again, Grace would be waiting for him, and that
ought to satisfy a reasonable man. It had to satisfy an unreasonable
one. The Robertses had always lived just beyond the garden from the
parsonage, and Grace, who from a little girl had been a great pet of the
childless minister and his sister, was almost as much at home there as
in her mother’s house. When Philip fell in love with her, the Mortons
were delighted. They could have wished nothing better for either. From
the first Miss Morton had done all she could to make matters smooth for
the lovers, and the present little farewell banquet was but the last of
many meetings she had prepared for them at the parsonage.

Philip had come out from camp on a three-hours’ leave that afternoon,
and would have to report again at half-past seven. It was nearly that
hour now, though still light, the season being midsummer. There had been
an effort on the part of all to keep up a cheerful tone; but as the time
of the inevitable separation drew near, the conversation had been more
and more left to the minister and his sister, who, with observations
sometimes a little forced, continued to fend off silence and the
demoralization it would be likely to bring to their young friends. Grace
had been the first to drop out of the talking, and Philip’s answers,
when he was addressed, grew more and more at random, as the meetings of
his eyes with his sweetheart’s became more frequent and lasted longer.

“He will be the handsomest officer in the regiment, that’s one comfort.
Won’t he, Grace?” said Miss Morton cheerily.

The girl nodded and smiled faintly. Her eyes were brimming, and the
twitching of her lips from time to time betrayed how great was the
effort with which she kept her self-command.

“Yes,” said Mr. Morton; “but though he looks very well now, it is
nothing to the imposing appearance he will present when he comes back
with a colonel’s shoulder-straps. You should be thinking of that,
Grace.”

“I expect we shall hear from him every day,” said Miss Morton. “He will
have no excuse for not writing with all those envelopes stamped and
addressed, with blank paper in them, which Grace has given him. You
should always have three or four in your coat pocket, Phil.”

The young man nodded.

“I suppose for the most part we shall learn of you through Grace; but
you mustn’t forget us entirely, my boy,” said Mr. Morton. “We shall want
to hear from you directly now and then.”

“Yes; I ‘ll be sure to write,” Philip replied.

“I suppose it will be time enough to see the regiment pass if we are in
our places by nine o’clock,” suggested Miss Morton, after a silence.

“I think so,” said her brother. “It is a great affair to break camp, and
I don’t believe the march will begin till after that time.”

“James has got us one of the windows of Ray & Seymour’s offices, you
know, Philip,” resumed Miss Morton; “which one did you say, James?”

“The north one.”

“Yes, the north one,” she resumed. “They say every window on Main Street
along the route of the regiment is rented. Grace will be with us, you
know. You must n’t forget to look up at us as you go by--as if the
young man were likely to!”

He was evidently not now listening to her at all. His eyes were fastened
upon the girl’s opposite him, and they seemed to have quite forgotten
the others. Miss Morton and her brother exchanged compassionate glances.
Tears were in the lady’s eyes. A clock in the sitting-room began to
strike:

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.”

Philip started.

“What time is that?” he asked, a little huskily. No one replied at once.
Then Mr. Morton said:

“I am afraid it struck seven, my boy.”

“I must leave in ten minutes then,” said the young man, rising from the
table. The rest followed his example.

“I wonder if the buggy will be in time?” said he.

“It is at the gate,” replied Miss Morton. “I heard it drive up some time
ago.”

Unmindful of the others now, Philip put his arm about Grace’s waist and
drew her away to the end of the piazza and thence out into the garden.

“Poor young things,” murmured Miss Morton, the tears running down her
cheeks as she looked after them. “It is pitiful, James, to see how they
suffer.”

“Yes,” said the minister; “and there are a great many just such scenes
to-day. Ah, well, as St. Paul says, we see as yet but in part.”

Passing in and out among the shrubbery, and presently disappearing
from the sympathetic eyes upon the piazza, the lovers came to a little
summer-house, and there they entered. Taking her wrists in his hands, he
held her away from him, and his eyes went slowly over her from head to
foot, as if he would impress upon his mind an image that absence should
not have power to dim.

“You are so beautiful,” he said, “that in this moment, when I ought to
have all my courage, you make me feel that I am a madman to leave you
for the sake of any cause on earth. The future to most men is but a
chance of happiness, and when they risk it they only risk a chance.
In staking their lives, they only stake a lottery ticket, which would
probably draw a blank. But my ticket has drawn a capital prize. I risk
not the chance, but the certainty, of happiness. I believe I am a fool,
and if I am killed, that will be the first thing they will say to me on
the other side.”

“Don’t talk of that, Phil. Oh, don’t talk of being killed!”

“No, no; of course not!” he exclaimed. “Don’t fret about that; I shall
not be killed. I’ve no notion of being killed. But what a fool I am to
waste these last moments staring at you when I might be kissing you, my
love, my love!” And clasping her in his arms, he covered her face with
kisses.

She began to sob convulsively.

“Don’t, darling; don’t! Don’t make it so hard for me,” he whispered
hoarsely.

“Oh, do let me cry,” she wailed. “It was so hard for me to hold back all
the time we were at table. I must cry, or my heart will break. Oh, my
own dear Phil, what if I should never see you again! Oh! Oh!”

“Nonsense, darling,” he said, crowding down the lump that seemed like
iron in his throat, and making a desperate effort to keep his voice
steady. “You will see me again, never doubt it. Don’t I tell you I am
coming back? The South cannot hold out much longer. Everybody says so. I
shall be home in a year, and then you will be my wife, to be God’s Grace
to me all the rest of my life. Our happiness will be on interest till
then; ten per cent, a month at least, compound interest, piling up every
day. Just think of that, dear; don’t let yourself think of anything
else.”

“Oh, Phil, how I love you!” she cried, throwing her arms around his neck
in a passion of tenderness. “Nobody is like you. Nobody ever was. Surely
God will not part us. Surely He will not. He is too good.”

“No, dear, He will not. Some day I shall come back. It will not be
long. Perhaps I shall find you waiting for me in this same little
summer-house. Let us think of that. It was here, you know, we found out
each other’s secret that day.”

“I had found out yours long before,” she said, faintly smiling.

“Time ‘s up, Phil.” It was Mr. Morton’s voice calling to them from the
piazza.

“I must go, darling. Good-by.”

“Oh, no, not yet; not quite yet,” she wailed, clinging to him. “Why, we
have been here but a few moments. It can’t be ten minutes yet.”

Under the influence of that close, passionate embrace, those clinging
kisses and mingling tears, there began to come over Philip a feeling of
weakness, of fainting courage, a disposition to cry out, “Nothing can be
so terrible as this. I will not bear it; I will not go.” By a tyrannical
effort of will, against which his whole nature cried out, he unwound her
arms from his neck and said in a choked voice:--

“Darling, this is harder than any battle I shall have to fight, but this
is what I enlisted for. I must go.”

He had reached the door of the summer-house, not daring for honor’s sake
to look back, when a heartbroken cry smote his ear.

“You have n’t kissed me good-by!”

He had kissed her a hundred times, but these kisses she apparently
distinguished from the good-by kiss. He came back, and taking her again
in his embrace, kissed her lips, her throat, her bosom, and then once
more their lips met, and in that kiss of parting which plucks the heart
up by the roots.

How strong must be the barrier between one soul and another that they do
not utterly merge in moments like that, turning the agony of parting to
the bliss of blended being!

Pursued by the sound of her desolate sobbing, he fled away.

The stable-boy held the dancing horse at the gate, and Mr. Morton and
his sister stood waiting there.

“Good-by, Phil, till we see you again,” said Miss Morton, kissing him
tenderly. “We ‘ll take good care of her for you.”

“Will you please go to her now?” he said huskily. “She is in the
summer-house. For God’s sake try to comfort her.”

“Yes, poor boy, I will,” she answered. He shook hands with Mr. Morton
and jumped into the buggy.

“I ‘ll get a furlough and be back in a few months, maybe. Be sure to
tell her that,” he said.

The stable-boy stood aside; the mettlesome horse gave a plunge and
started off at a three-minute gait. The boy drew out his watch and
observed: “He hain’t got but fifteen minutes to git to camp in, but he
‘ll do it. The mare ‘s a stepper, and Phil King knows how to handle the
ribbons.”

The buggy vanished in a cloud of dust around the next turn in the road.
The stable-boy strode whistling down the street, the minister went to
his study, and Miss Morton disappeared in the shrubbery in the direction
of the summer-house.



II

Early next morning the country roads leading into Waterville were
covered with carts and wagons and carriages loaded with people coming
into town to see the regiment off. The streets were hung with flags
and spanned with decorated arches bearing patriotic inscriptions. Bed,
white, and blue streamers hung in festoons from building to building
and floated from cornices. The stores and places of business were all
closed, the sidewalks were packed with people in their Sunday clothes,
and the windows and balconies were lined with gazers long before it was
time for the regiment to appear. Everybody--men, women, and children
--wore the national colors in cockades or rosettes, while many young
girls were dressed throughout in red, white, and blue. The city seemed
tricked out for some rare gala-day, but the grave faces of the expectant
throng, and the subdued and earnest manner which extended even to the
older children, stamped this as no ordinary holiday.

After hours of patient waiting, at last the word passes from mouth to
mouth, “They are coming!” Vehicles are quickly driven out of the way,
and in a general hush all eyes are turned towards the head of the
street. Presently there is a burst of martial music, and the regiment
comes wheeling round the corner into view and fills the wide street from
curb to curb with its broad front. As the blue river sweeps along, the
rows of polished bayonets, rising and falling with the swinging tread
of the men, are like interminable ranks of foam-crested waves rolling in
upon the shore. The imposing mass, with its rhythmic movement, gives the
impression of a single organism. One forgets to look for the individuals
in it, forgets that there are individuals. Even those who have brothers,
sons, lovers there, for a moment almost forget them in the impression of
a mighty whole. The mind is slow to realize that this great dragon,
so terrible in its beauty, emitting light as it moves from a thousand
burnished scales, with flaming crest proudly waving in the van, is but
an aggregation of men singly so feeble.

The hearts of the lookers-on as they gaze are swelling fast. An afflatus
of heroism given forth by this host of self-devoted men communicates
itself to the most stolid spectators. The booming of the drum fills the
brain, and the blood in the veins leaps to its rhythm. The unearthly
gayety of the fife, like the sweet, shrill song of a bird soaring above
the battle, infects the nerves till the idea of death brings a scornful
smile to the lips. Eyes glaze with rapturous tears as they rest upon the
flag. There is a thrill of voluptuous sweetness in the thought of dying
for it. Life seems of value only as it gives the poorest something to
sacrifice. It is dying that makes the glory of the world, and all other
employments seem but idle while the regiment passes.

The time for farewells is gone by. The lucky men at the ends of the
ranks have indeed an opportunity without breaking step to exchange an
occasional hand-shake with a friend on the sidewalk, or to snatch a kiss
from wife or sweetheart, but those in the middle of the line can only
look their farewells. Now and then a mother intrusts her baby to a
file-leader to be passed along from hand to hand till it reaches the
father, to be sent back with a kiss, or, maybe, perched aloft on his
shoulder, to ride to the depot, crowing at the music and clutching at
the gleaming bayonets. At every such touch of nature the people cheer
wildly. From every window and balcony the ladies shower garlands upon
the troops.

Where is Grace? for this is the Upton company which is passing now.
Yonder she stands on a balcony, between Mr. Morton and his sister. She
is very pale and the tears are streaming down her cheeks, but her face
is radiant. She is smiling through her tears, as if there was no such
thing on earth as fear or sorrow. She has looked forward to this ordeal
with harrowing expectations, only to find herself at the trying moment
seized upon and lifted above all sense of personal affliction by the
passion of self-devotion with which the air is electric. Her face as
she looks down upon her lover is that of a priestess in the ecstasy
of sacrifice. He is saluting with his sword. Now he has passed. With a
great sob she turns away. She does not care for the rest of the pageant.
Her patriotism has suddenly gone. The ecstasy of sacrifice is over. She
is no longer a priestess, but a brokenhearted girl, who only asks to be
led away to some place where she can weep till her lover returns.



III

There was to be a great battle the next day. The two armies had been
long manoeuvring for position, and now they stood like wrestlers who
have selected their holds and, with body braced against body, knee
against knee, wait for the signal to begin the struggle. There had
been during the afternoon some brisk fighting, but a common desire to
postpone the decisive contest till the morrow had prevented the main
forces from becoming involved. Philip’s regiment had thus far only been
engaged in a few trifling skirmishes, barely enough to stir the blood.
This was to be its first battle, and the position to which it had been
allotted promised a bloody baptism in the morning. The men were in
excellent heart, but as night settled down, there was little or no
merriment to be heard about the camp-fires. Most were gathered in
groups, discussing in low tones the chances of the morrow. Some, knowing
that every fibre of muscle would be needed for the work before them, had
wisely gone to sleep, while here and there a man, heedless of the talk
going on about him, was lying on his back staring up at the darkening
sky, thinking.

As the twilight deepened, Philip strolled to the top of a little knoll
just out of the camp and sat down, with a vague notion of casting up
accounts a little in view of the final settlement which very possibly
might come for him next day. But the inspiration of the scene around him
soon diverted his mind from personal engrossments. Some distance down
the lines he could see the occasional flash of a gun, where a battery
was lazily shelling a piece of woods which it was desirable to keep the
enemy from occupying during the night. A burning barn in that direction
made a flare on the sky. Over behind the wooded hills where the
Confederates lay, rockets were going up, indicating the exchange of
signals and the perfecting of plans which might mean defeat and ruin to
him and his the next day. Behind him, within the Federal lines, clouds
of dust, dimly outlined against the glimmering landscape, betrayed the
location of the roads along which artillery, cavalry, infantry were
hurrying eagerly forward to take their assigned places for the morrow’s
work.

Who said that men fear death? Who concocted that fable for old wives? He
should have stood that night with Philip in the midst of a host of one
hundred and twenty-five thousand men in the full flush and vigor of
life, calmly and deliberately making ready at dawn to receive death
in its most horrid forms at one another’s hands. It is in vain that
Religion invests the tomb with terror, and Philosophy, shuddering,
averts her face; the nations turn from these gloomy teachers to storm
its portals in exultant hosts, battering them wide enough for thousands
to charge through abreast. The heroic instinct of humanity with its
high contempt of death is wiser and truer, never let us doubt,
than superstitious terrors or philosophic doubts. It testifies to a
conviction, deeper than reason, that man is greater than his seeming
self; to an underlying consciousness that his mortal life is but an
accident of his real existence, the fashion of a day, to be lightly worn
and gayly doffed at duty’s call.

What a pity it truly is that the tonic air of battlefields--the air
that Philip breathed that night before Antietam--cannot be gathered
up and preserved as a precious elixir to reinvigorate the atmosphere in
times of peace, when men grow faint of heart and cowardly, and quake at
thought of death.

The soldiers huddled in their blankets on the ground slept far more
soundly that night before the battle than their men-folk and women-folk
in their warm beds at home. For them it was a night of watching, a vigil
of prayers and tears. The telegraph in those days made of the nation an
intensely sensitive organism, with nerves a thousand miles long. Ere its
echoes had died away, every shot fired at the front had sent a tremor
to the anxious hearts at home. The newspapers and bulletin boards in
all the towns and cities of the North had announced that a great battle
would surely take place the next day, and, as the night closed in, a
mighty cloud of prayer rose from innumerable firesides, the self-same
prayer from each, that he who had gone from that home might survive the
battle, whoever else must fall.

The wife, lest her own appeal might fail, taught her cooing baby to lisp
the father’s name, thinking that surely the Great Father’s heart would
not be able to resist a baby’s prayer. The widowed mother prayed that if
it were consistent with God’s will he would spare her son. She laid her
heart, pierced through with many sorrows, before Him. She had borne so
much, life had been so hard, her boy was all she had to show for so much
endured,--might not this cup pass? Pale, impassioned maids, kneeling
by their virgin beds, wore out the night with an importunity that would
not be put off. Sure in their great love and their little knowledge that
no case could be like theirs, they beseeched God with bitter weeping
for their lovers’ lives, because, forsooth, they could not bear it if
hurt came to them. The answers to many thousands of these agonizing
appeals of maid and wife and mother were already in the enemy’s
cartridge-boxes.



IV

The day came. The dispatches in the morning papers stated that the
armies would probably be engaged from an early hour.

Who that does not remember those battle-summers can realize from
any telling how the fathers and mothers, the wives and sisters and
sweethearts at home, lived through the days when it was known that a
great battle was going on at the front in which their loved ones were
engaged? It was very quiet in the house on those days of battle. All
spoke in hushed voices and stepped lightly. The children, too small to
understand the meaning of the shadow on the home, felt it and took their
noisy sports elsewhere. There was little conversation, except as to when
definite news might be expected. The household work dragged sadly, for
though the women sought refuge from thought in occupation, they were
constantly dropping whatever they had in hand to rush away to their
chambers to face the presentiment, perhaps suddenly borne in upon them
with the force of a conviction, that they might be called on to bear
the worst. The table was set for the regular meals, but there was little
pretense of eating. The eyes of all had a far-off expression, and they
seemed barely to see one another. There was an intent, listening look
upon their faces, as if they were hearkening to the roar of the battle a
thousand miles away.

Many pictures of battles have been painted, but no true one yet, for
the pictures contain only men. The women are unaccountably left out.
We ought to see not alone the opposing lines of battle writhing and
twisting in a death, embrace, the batteries smoking and flaming, the
hurricanes of cavalry, but innumerable women also, spectral forms of
mothers, wives, sweethearts, clinging about the necks of the advancing
soldiers, vainly trying to shield them with their bosoms, extending
supplicating hands to the foe, raising eyes of anguish to Heaven. The
soldiers, grim-faced, with battle-lighted eyes, do not see the ghostly
forms that throng them, but shoot and cut and stab across and through
them as if they were not there,--yes, through them, for few are the
balls and bayonets that reach their marks without traversing some of
these devoted breasts. Spectral, alas, is their guardianship, but real
are their wounds and deadly as any the combatants receive.

Soon after breakfast on the day of the battle Grace came across to
the parsonage, her swollen eyes and pallid face telling of a sleepless
night. She could not bear her mother’s company that day, for she knew
that she had never greatly liked Philip. Miss Morton was very tender and
sympathetic. Grace was a little comforted by Mr. Morton’s saying that
commonly great battles did not open much before noon. It was a respite
to be able to think that probably up to that moment at least no harm
had come to Philip. In the early afternoon the minister drove into
Waterville to get the earliest bulletins at the “Banner” office, leaving
the two women alone.

The latter part of the afternoon a neighbor who had been in Waterville
drove by the house, and Miss Morton called to him to know if there were
any news yet. He drew a piece of paper from his pocket, on which he had
scribbled the latest bulletin before the “Banner” office, and read as
follows: “The battle opened with a vigorous attack by our right. The
enemy was forced back, stubbornly contesting every inch of ground.
General ------‘s division is now bearing the brunt of the fight and is
suffering heavily. The result is yet uncertain.”

The division mentioned was the one in which Philip’s regiment was
included. “Is suffering heavily,”--those were the words. There was
something fearful in the way the present tense brought home to Grace a
sense of the battle as then actually in progress. It meant that while
she sat there on the shady piazza with the drowsy hum of the bees in her
ears, looking out on the quiet lawn where the house cat, stretched
on the grass, kept a sleepy eye on the birds as they flitted in the
branches of the apple-trees, Philip might be facing a storm of lead
and iron, or, maybe, blent in some desperate hand-to-hand struggle, was
defending his life--her life--against murderous cut and thrust.

To begin to pray for his safety was not to dare to cease, for to cease
would be to withdraw a sort of protection--all, alas I she could give
--and abandon him to his enemies. If she had been watching over him
from above the battle, an actual witness of the carnage going on that
afternoon on the far-off field, she could scarcely have endured a more
harrowing suspense from moment to moment. Overcome with the agony, she
threw herself on the sofa in the sitting-room and lay quivering,
with her face buried in the pillow, while Miss Morton sat beside her,
stroking her hair and saying such feeble, soothing words as she might.

It is always hard, and for ardent temperaments almost impossible, to
hold the mind balanced in a state of suspense, yielding overmuch neither
to hope nor to fear, under circumstances like these. As a relief to
the torture which such a state of tension ends in causing, the mind
at length, if it cannot abandon itself to hope, embraces even despair.
About five o’clock Miss Morton was startled by an exceeding bitter cry.
Grace was sitting upon the sofa. “Oh, Miss Morton!” she cried, bursting
into tears which before she had not been able to shed, “he is dead!”

“Grace! Grace! what do you mean?”

“He is dead, I know he is dead!” wailed the girl; and then she explained
that while from moment to moment she had sent up prayers for him, every
breath a cry to God, she suddenly had been unable to pray more, and this
she felt was a sign that petition for his life was now vain. Miss
Morton strove to convince her that this was but an effect of overwrought
nerves, but with slight success.

In the early evening Mr. Morton returned with the latest news the
telegraph had brought. The full scope of the result was not yet known.
The advantage had probably remained with the National forces, although
the struggle had been one of those close and stubborn ones, with scanty
laurels for the victors, to be expected when men of one race meet in
battle. The losses on both sides had been enormous, and the report was
confirmed that Philip’s division had been badly cut up.

The parsonage was but one of thousands of homes in the land where no
lamps were lighted that evening, the members of the household sitting
together in the dark,--silent, or talking in low tones of the far-away
star-lighted battlefield, the anguish of the wounded, the still heaps of
the dead.

Nevertheless, when at last Grace went home she was less entirely
despairing than in the afternoon. Mr. Morton, in his calm, convincing
way, had shown her the groundlessness of her impression that Philip
was certainly dead, and had enabled her again to entertain hope. It
no longer rose, indeed, to the height of a belief that he had escaped
wholly scathless. In face of the terrible tidings, that would have been
too presumptuous. But perhaps he had been only wounded. Yesterday the
thought would have been insupportable, but now she was eager to make
this compromise with Providence. She was distinctly affected by the
curious superstition that if we voluntarily concede something to fate,
while yet the facts are not known, we gain a sort of equitable assurance
against a worse thing. It was settled, she told herself, that she
was not to be overcome or even surprised to hear that Philip was
wounded,--slightly wounded. She was no better than other women, that he
should be wholly spared.

The paper next morning gave many names of officers who had fallen,
but Philip’s was not among them. The list was confessedly incomplete;
nevertheless, the absence of his name was reassuring. Grace went across
the garden after breakfast to talk with Miss Morton about the news and
the auspicious lack of news. Her friend’s cheerful tone infused her with
fresh courage. To one who has despaired, a very little hope goes to
the head Eke wine to the brain of a faster, and, though still very
tremulous, Grace could even smile a little now and was almost cheerful.
Secretly already she was beginning to play false with fate, and, in flat
repudiation of her last night’s compact, to indulge the hope that her
soldier had not been even wounded. But this was only at the bottom of
her heart. She did not own to herself that she really did it. She felt a
little safer not to break the bargain yet.

About eleven o’clock in the forenoon Mr. Morton came in. His start and
look of dismay on seeing Grace indicated that he had expected to find
his sister alone. He hastily attempted to conceal an open telegram which
he held in his hand, but it was too late. Grace had already seen it, and
whatever the tidings it might contain, there was no longer any question
of holding them back or extenuating them. Miss Morton, after one look
at her brother’s face, silently came to the girl’s side and put her arms
around her waist. “Christ, our Saviour,” she murmured, “for thy name’s
sake, help her now.” Then the minister said:--

“Try to be brave, try to bear it worthily of him; for, my poor little
girl, your sacrifice has been accepted. He fell in a charge at the head
of his men.”



V

Philip’s body was brought home for burial, and the funeral was a great
event in the village. Business of all kinds was suspended, and all the
people united in making of the day a solemn patriotic festival. Mr.
Morton preached the funeral sermon.

“Oh, talk about the country,” sobbed Grace, when he asked her if there
was anything in particular she would like him to speak of.

“For pity’s sake don’t let me feel sorry now that I gave him up for the
Union. Don’t leave me now to think it would have been better if I had
not let him go.”

So he preached of the country, as ministers sometimes did preach in
those days, making it very plain that in a righteous cause men did well
to die for their native land and their women did well to give them up.
Expounding the lofty wisdom of self-sacrifice, he showed how truly it
was said that “whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever
will lose his life... shall find it,” and how none make such rich profit
out of their lives as the heroes who seem to throw them away.

They had come, he told the assembled people, to mourn no misadventure,
no misfortune; this dead soldier was not pitiable. He was no victim of a
tear-compelling fate. No broken shaft typified his career. He was rather
one who had done well for himself, a wise young merchant of his blood,
who having seen a way to barter his life at incredible advantage, at
no less a rate indeed than a man’s for a nation’s, had not let slip so
great an opportunity.

So he went on, still likening the life of a man to the wares of a
shopkeeper, worth to him only what they can be sold for and a loss if
overkept, till those who listened began to grow ill at ease in presence
of that flag-draped coffin, and were vaguely troubled because they still
lived.

Then he spoke of those who had been bereaved. This soldier, he said,
like his comrades, had staked for his country not only his own life but
the earthly happiness of others also, having been fully empowered by
them to do so. Some had staked with their own lives the happiness of
parents, some that of wives and children, others maybe the hopes of
maidens pledged to them. In offering up their lives to their country
they had laid with them upon the altar these other lives which were
bound up with theirs, and the same fire of sacrifice had consumed them
both. A few days before, in the storm of battle, those who had gone
forth had fulfilled their share of the joint sacrifice. In a thousand
homes, with tears and the anguish of breaking hearts, those who had
sent them forth were that day fulfilling theirs. Let them now in their
extremity seek support in the same spirit of patriotic devotion which
had upheld their heroes in the hour of death. As they had been lifted
above fear by the thought that it was for their country they were dying,
not less should those who mourned them find inspiration in remembering
it was for the nation’s sake that their tears were shed, and for the
country that their hearts were broken. It had been appointed that half
in blood of men and half in women’s tears the ransom of the people
should be paid, so that their sorrow was not in vain, but for the
healing of the nation.

It behooved these, therefore, to prove worthy of their high calling of
martyrdom, and while they must needs weep, not to weep as other women
wept, with hearts bowed down, but rather with uplifted faces, adopting
and ratifying, though it might be with breaking hearts, this exchange
they had made of earthly happiness for the life of their native land. So
should they honor those they mourned, and be joined with them not only
in sacrifice but in the spirit of sacrifice.

So it was in response to the appeal of this stricken girl before him
that the minister talked of the country, and to such purpose was it that
the piteous thing she had dreaded, the feeling, now when it was forever
too late, that it would have been better if she had kept her lover back,
found no place in her heart. There was, indeed, had she known it, no
danger at all that she would be left to endure that, so long as she
dreaded it, for the only prayer that never is unanswered is the prayer
to be lifted above self. So to pray and so to wish is but to cease to
resist the divine gravitations ever pulling at the soul. As the minister
discoursed of the mystic gain of self-sacrifice, the mystery of which
he spoke was fulfilled in her heart. She appeared to stand in some
place overarching life t and death, and there was made partaker of an
exultation whereof if religion and philosophy might but catch and hold
the secret, their ancient quest were over.

Grazing through streaming eyes upon the coffin of her lover, she was
able freely to consent to the sacrifice of her own life which he had
made in giving up his own.





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