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John Gayther's Garden and the Stories Told Therein By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 48359

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The Daughter of the House, her fair cheeks a little flushed, walked rapidly down the broad centre path of the garden, looking for John Gayther, the gardener. She soon saw him at work in a bed of tomato-plants.

"John," said she, "I have just finished composing a story, and I came out to tell it to you before I write it. I want to do this because you compose stories yourself which in some ways are a good deal like this of mine. But I can't tell it to you out here in the sun. Isn't there something you can do in your little house? Haven't you some pea-sticks to sharpen?"

"Oh, yes, miss," said John Gayther, with great alacrity; "and if you will go and make yourself comfortable under the shed I will be there in a few minutes."

It was rather difficult for John Gayther to find any pea-sticks which had not already been stuck into the ground or which wanted sharpening, but he succeeded in getting a small armful of them, and with these he came to where the young lady was seated. He drew up a stool and took out a big knife.

"Now," said she, gazing through her gold-rimmed spectacles far out into the sunlit garden, "this is the story of a girl."

John Gayther nodded approvingly. The story of a girl was exactly what he would like to hear, provided it was told by the young lady who sat in front of him.

"She was of an independent turn of mind," said the Daughter of the House, "and there were a great many things in this world which bored her, not because they were uninteresting in themselves, but because she could not enjoy them in the way which suited her. She had thought of hundreds of things she would like to do if she only could do them in her own way and without control by other people. She was very anxious to perform deeds, noble deeds if possible, but she could not endure the everlasting control which seems to be thought necessary in this world-at least, for girls. The consequence of this was that she spent a great deal of her time in doing things which made no imprint whatever upon the progress of the world or upon the elevation of her own character.

"Now it happened that at the time of my story there was a war in the land, and a great many people with whom my heroine was acquainted went forth to do battle for their country and their principles, or to act patriotically in some other way than fighting. I forgot to say that my heroine is named Almia-"

"De Ponsett, I suppose," interrupted John Gayther. "Almia de Ponsett is the name of a beautiful new white tea-rose."

"Not at all," said the young lady, drawing her eyebrows slightly together; "there is no 'de Ponsett' about it, and her name has nothing to do with tea-roses. It is simply Almia. She grew more and more dissatisfied every day the war went on. Everybody who was worth anything was doing something, and here she was doing nothing. What was there she could do? This became the great question of her life. If I were about to write out this story I would say something here about the workings of her mind; but that is not necessary now. But her mind worked a great deal, and the end of it was that she determined to be a nurse. Nursing, indeed, is the only thing a young woman can do in a war.

"But when she began to make inquiries about army nurses-what they ought to do, how they ought to do it, and all that-she ran up against that terrible bugbear of control. Everywhere was control, control, control; and she really began to despair. There were examinations, and training, and applications to the surgeon-general, and to the assistant surgeon, and to special heads of departments and districts and States and counties, for all I know. There was positively no end to the things she would have to do to get a regular appointment to go forth and do her duty to her country. So she threw up the whole business of regular army nursing, and made up her mind to go out into the field of duty to which she had appointed herself, and do the things she ought to do in the way she thought they ought to be done. She likened herself to the knights of old who used to go forth to fight for their ladies and for the upholding of chivalry. She wanted to be a sort of a free-lance, but she did not want to hire herself to anybody. She did not fancy being anything like a guerilla, and then it suddenly struck her that if she did just as she wanted to do she would resemble a bushwhacker more than anything else. A bushwhacker is an honest man. When there is no war he whacks bushes, that is, he cuts them down; and when there is a war-"

"He whacks the enemy," suggested John Gayther.

The Daughter of the House smiled a little. "Yes," she said; "he tries to do that. But he is entirely independent; he is under nobody; and that suited Almia. A bushwhacker nurse was exactly what she wanted to be, and as soon as this was settled she made all her preparations to go to the war."

"Of course," said John Gayther, "the young lady's parents-or perhaps she did not have any parents?"

The Daughter of the House frowned. "Now, John," said she, "I don't want anything said about parents. There were no parents in this case, at least none to be considered. I don't say whether they were dead or not, but the story has nothing to do with them. Parents would be very embarrassing, and I don't want to stop to bother with them."

John Gayther nodded his head as if he thought she was quite right, and she went on:

"The first thing Almia did was to fit herself out after the fashion she thought best adapted to a bushwhacker nurse. She wore heavy boots, and a bicycle-skirt which just came to the top of the boots; and in this skirt she put ever so many pockets. She wore a little cap with a strap to go under the chin; and from her belt on the left side she hung a very little cask, which she happened to have, something like those carried by the St. Bernard dogs in Switzerland when they go to look for lost travellers; and this she filled with brandy. In her pockets she put every kind of thing that wounded men might want: adhesive plaster, raw cotton, bandages, some pieces of heavy pasteboard to make splints, needles and fine silk for sewing up cuts, and a good many other things suitable for wounded people. And in the right-hand pocket of her skirt she carried a pistol with five barrels."

"My conscience!" exclaimed John Gayther, "that was dangerous. And then, you know, nurses hardly ever carry pistols."

"But this was necessary," said she, "as you will see as the story goes on. Then, when she put on a long waterproof cloak which covered everything, she was ready to go to the war."

John Gayther looked at the Daughter of the House steadfastly and wondered if the Almia of the story had cut off her beautiful hair. He was sure she had had an abundance of light silvery-golden hair which fluffed itself all about her head under her wide hat, and it would be a sort of shock to think of its being cut off. But he asked no questions; he did not want to interrupt too much.

"Almia knew by the papers," continued the Daughter of the House, "that a great battle was expected to take place not far from a town at some distance from her home; and she went to this town by rail, carrying only a small hand-bag in addition to the things she wore under her waterproof. She took lodgings at a hotel, and, after an early breakfast the next morning, she hired a cab to take her out to the battle-field. The cabman drove her several miles into the country, but when he heard the booming of the preliminary cannon with which the battle was then opening, he refused to go any farther, and she was obliged to get out at the corner of a lane and the highroad. She paid the man his fare and gave him five dollars extra, and then she engaged him to call at that place for her at eight o'clock that evening. She was sure the battle would be over by that time, as it would be beginning to get dark. The cabman was sorry to leave her there to walk the rest of the way, but his horse was afraid of cannon, and he did not dare to go any farther.

"Almia took off her waterproof and left it in the cab, and the cabman was a good deal astonished when he saw her without it. He said he supposed she was a reporter and that the little cask was full of ink; he had driven lady reporters about before this. But Almia told him she was a nurse, and that he must not fail to call for her at the time appointed. Then he drove away; and she walked rapidly along the lane, which seemed to lead toward the battle-field. The lane soon began to curve, and she left it and walked across several fields. Soon she came to some outposts, where the sentries wanted to know where she was going. Of course the sentries behind an army are not as strict as those in front of it, and so when she informed them she was a nurse they told her how to get to the field-hospital, which was a mile or more away.

"But Almia did not intend to go to any hospital. She knew if she did she would immediately be put under orders; and now her blood was up, and she could stand no orders. She thought she perceived a faint smell of powder in the air. This made her feel wonderfully independent, and she strode onward with a light and fearless step. But when she came to a bosky copse which concealed her from the sentries, she turned away from the direction of the hospital, and pressed onward toward the point from which came the heaviest sound of cannon.

"Now you must understand, John Gayther," remarked the Daughter of the House, taking off her broad hat, that the breeze might more freely blow through the masses of her silvery-golden hair, "that when people who are really in earnest, especially people in fiction, go forth to find things they want, they generally find them. And if it is highly desirable that these things should be out of the common they are out of the common. A great deal of what happens in real life, and almost everything in literature, depends on this principle. You, of course, comprehend this, because you compose stories yourself."

"Oh, yes," said the gardener; "I comprehend it perfectly."

"I say all this on account of what is about to happen in this story, and also because I don't want you to make any objection in your mind on account of its not being exactly according to present usages. Almia was pushing steadily through the clump of bushes when she heard, not far away, the clash of arms. Greatly excited, she silently moved on, and peeping out from behind some foliage, she saw in a small open space in the woods two men engaged in single combat. How her heart did beat! She was frightened nearly to death. But she did not think of flight; her eyes were glued upon the fascinating spectacle before her. Often had she heard of two brave swordsmen fighting each other to the bitter end, and often had she dreamed of these noble contests; but her eyes were all unfamiliar with such inspiring sights. This truly was war.

"The combatants were both moderately young men, athletic and active, one with brown hair and the other with black. They had thrown aside their coats and vests, and each wore a broad leathern belt. Fiercely and swiftly their long swords clashed. Sparks flew, and the ring of the steel sounded far into the woods; but there was none to hear save Almia only, and her soul tingled with admiration and terror as the bright blades flashed against the background of semi-gloom which pervaded the woods. She scarcely breathed. Her whole soul was in her eyes."

"I have seen it there before," thought John Gayther, but he said nothing.

"Now there was a tremendous onset from each swordsman, and the ground echoed beneath their rapid footfalls as they stamped around. Then there was a lunge and a sharp nerve-tingling scrape as one blade ran along the other; and then, without a groan, down fell one of these brave warriors flat upon his back upon the grass, the wild flowers, and bits of bark. Instantly the impulses of a woman flashed through every vein and nerve of that onlooking girl. Scarcely had the tall form of the soldier touched the sod when she became a nurse. Springing out from her leafy concealment, she knelt beside the vanquished form of the fallen man. The other soldier, who was about to rest himself by leaning on his sword, sprang back; it seemed as though there had suddenly appeared before him a being from another world."

"Where they wear bicycle-skirts," thought John Gayther.

"Every trace of enthusiastic excitement had passed away from Almia, who now had something in this world to do, and who set about doing it without loss of a second. The man was only wounded, for he opened his eyes and said so, and drawing up his shirt-sleeve he showed Almia that the cut was in the lower part of his left arm. Instantly despatching the other soldier to a neighboring spring for water, she cleansed the wound, and, finding it was not very deep, she drew the edges of the cut together and held them in place with strips of adhesive plaster. When this had been done she wrapped the arm in several folds of bandage, and the man having risen to a sitting posture, she gave him a small draught of brandy from her cask.

"Almia now explained how she happened to appear upon the scene, and, addressing the wounded man, she said she hoped she could soon find some way of conveying him to a hospital. 'Hospital!' he cried, springing to his feet under the revivifying influence of the brandy. 'No hospital for me! I can walk as well as anybody. And now, sir,' he said, speaking to his former opponent, 'am I to consider myself vanquished, and am I to go with you as your prisoner?' The other regarded him without answering, and for the moment Almia, too, was lost in reflection."

At this point John Gayther, who had been in wars, began to wonder, even if soldiers in these days should engage in single combat with long swords, how one of them could be wounded in the left arm; but he did not interrupt the story.

"The first thing that shaped itself clearly in Almia's mind was the fear of being left alone in these woods. Now that she was so near the edge of the battle, there was no knowing what she might meet with next. The soldier who had conquered now spoke. 'Yes, sir,' said he; 'you are my prisoner, and it is my duty to take you to my regiment and deliver you to my officers. I am sorry to do so, but such are the laws of war.' The other soldier bowed his head, simply remarking, 'Proceed; I will follow you.'"

"If I should take a prisoner," thought John Gayther, "I should make him walk in front of me."

"Then Almia stepped forward; she had made up her mind, and she was very resolute. 'Gentlemen,' said she, 'this cannot be. We are nearing the contending forces; there may be stragglers; and I do not wish to be left alone. You are both my prisoners.' The two soldiers looked at her in utter amazement. 'Yes,' said Almia, firmly; 'I mean what I say. I am, it is true, a nurse; but I am a bushwhacker nurse, perfectly independent, and free to act according to the dictates of my judgment. You are my prisoners; and if one of you attempts to escape it will be the duty of the other to assist in arresting his enemy. Do not smile; I am armed.' And with this she took from her pocket the pistol with the five barrels. The two soldiers stopped smiling. 'Yes,' continued Almia; 'I would not wish to do anything of the kind, but if either of you attempts to escape I will call upon him to halt, and if he does not do it I will fire upon his legs while the other soldier attacks him with his sword. You are enemies, and each one of you is bound by his soldiery oaths to prevent the escape of the other. I am absolutely impartial. If either of you should be wounded I would dress his wounds and nurse him carefully without asking to which side he belongs. But if either of you attempts to escape I will, as I said, fire at his legs without asking to which side he belongs.'

"The soldier with the brown hair looked at the one with the black hair. 'If I should attempt to escape,' said he, 'would you assist this lady in restraining me?' 'I would,' answered the other. 'Then I would do the same by you,' said the first speaker. 'Miss, I am your prisoner.' 'And I also,' said the black-haired soldier."

"Well, well," said John Gayther, who had not cut a pea-stick for the last fifteen minutes; "I suppose you could not tell by their uniforms which one of them belonged to your side-I mean the young lady could not tell?"

"Almia had no side," replied the Daughter of the House, "and the soldiers wore no coats, for they had thrown them aside in the heat of the combat; and she purposely took no note whatever of their trousers. She was determined to be absolutely impartial. 'Now, then,' said Almia to her prisoners, 'I am going to get just as close to the battle as I can. I am delighted to have you with me, not only because you can remove wounded prisoners to shady places where I can nurse them, but because you will be a protection to me. Should an unruly soldier appear from either army he will always be met by an enemy and by me.'

"The three now pressed on, for there was no time to lose. The roar of the battle was increasing; reports of musketry as well as cannon rent the air, and the sharp whistling of rifle-balls could frequently be heard. Reaching a wood road, they followed this for some distance, Almia in advance, when suddenly they came upon a man sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree. He had a little blank-book in his hand, and apparently he was making calculations in it with a lead-pencil. At the sound of approaching footsteps he rose to his feet, still holding the open book in his hand. He was a moderately tall man, a little round-shouldered, and about fifty years old. He wore a soldier's hat and coat, but his clothes were so covered with dust it was impossible to perceive to which army he belonged. He had a bushy beard, and that was also very dusty. He wore spectacles, and had a very pleasant smile, and looked from one to the other of the new-comers with much interest. 'I hope,' said he, speaking to the soldiers, 'that this young woman is not your prisoner.' 'No, sir,' said Almia, before the others had time to reply; 'they are my prisoners.' The dusty man looked at her in amazement. 'Yes,' said the man with the black hair; 'she speaks the truth. We are her prisoners.'

"Rapidly Almia explained the situation, and when she had finished, the stranger nodded his head three or four times, and put his blank-book in his pocket. 'Well, well, well,' said he, 'this is what might be expected from the tendency of the times! There are sixteen thousand two hundred and forty more women than men in this State, and many of them are single and have to do something. But a bushwhacker nurse! Truly I never thought of anything like that!'

"'And you?' asked Almia. 'I think it is right that you should give some account of yourself. I do not ask your name, nor do I wish to know which cause you have espoused. But as you appear to be a soldier I am curious to know how you happen to be sitting by the roadside making calculations.' 'I am a soldier,' answered the dusty man, 'but, under the circumstances,'-regarding very closely the trousers of Almia's two companions,-'I am very glad you do not want to know to which side I belong. The facts of the case are these: I am an Exceptional Pedestrian. I am also a very earnest student of social aspects considered in their relation to topography. Yesterday, when my army halted at noon, I set out to make some investigations in connection with my favorite research, and when I returned, much later than I expected, my army had gone on, and I have not yet been able to come up to it, although I have walked a great many miles.'

"'I should say,' remarked the soldier with the black hair, 'that you are a deserter.' 'No,' replied the Exceptional Pedestrian, 'I did not desert my army; it deserted me. And now I wish to say that I have become very much interested in you all, and, if there is no objection, I should like to join your company for the present.' 'I have no objection myself,' said Almia, 'but what do you say?' she asked, addressing the two soldiers. 'I am afraid, miss,' replied the man with the brown hair, who had recognized some peculiarities in the fashion of the stranger's dusty clothes, 'that if he attempted to leave us I would be obliged to shoot him as a deserter.' 'And I,' said the other, 'would be obliged to do the same thing, because he is my enemy.' 'Under these circumstances,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian, 'I beg to insist that I be allowed to attach myself to your party.'

"Almia felt she had reason to be proud. Here were three military men who were in her power, and who could not get away from her. They were like three mice tied together by the tails, each pulling in a different direction and all remaining in the place where they had been dropped.

"The party now pushed forward toward the battle's edge. 'If glory is your object,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian to Almia, 'it would have been better if you had joined a regular corps of nurses. Then any meritorious action on your part would have been noted and reported to the authorities, and your good conduct would have been recognized. But now you can expect nothing of the kind.' 'I did not come for the sake of glory,' said Almia, flushing slightly; 'I came to succor the suffering, and to do it without trammels.'

"'Trammels are often very desirable,' said he; 'they enable us to proceed to a greater distance along the path of duty than we would be apt to go if we could wander as we please from side to side.'

"Almia was about to reply somewhat sharply to this remark when, suddenly, they heard a sound which made their nerves tingle. It was the clang of sabres and the thunder of countless hoofs. They were in a mass of tangled underbrush, and they peeped out into a wide roadway and beheld the approach of a regiment of cavalry. On came this tidal wave of noble horsemen; it reached the spot where Almia's burning eyes glowed through the crevices of the foliage. Wildly galloping, cavalryman after cavalryman passed her by. The eyes of the horses flashed fire, and their nostrils were widely distended as if they smelt the battle from afar. Their powerful necks were curved; their hoofs spurned the echoing earth; and their riders, with flashing blades waved high above their heads, shouted aloud their battle-cry, while their tall plumes floated madly in the surging air. And, above the thunder of the hoofs, and the clinking and the clanking of the bits and chains, and the creaking of their leathern saddles, rose high the clarion voice of their leader, urging them on to victory or to death.

"Almia had never been so excited in her life; she could scarcely breathe. This was the grandeur of glorious war! Oh, how willingly would she have mounted a fleet steed and have followed those valiant horsemen as they thundered away into the distance!"

John Gayther had seen many a body of cavalry on the march, but he had never beheld anything like this.

"After her excitement Almia felt somewhat weak; she needed food; and when they had crossed the roadway they stopped to rest under the shade of a spreading oak. Unfortunately the soldiers had brought no rations with them, and Almia had only some Albert biscuit, which she did not wish to eat because she had brought them to relieve the faintness of some wounded soldier. 'If you will permit us,' said the soldier with the black hair, 'we two will go out and forage. Each of us will see to it that the other returns.'

"While they were gone the Exceptional Pedestrian conversed with Almia. 'During my investigations of the social aspects of this region,' he said, 'I put many miles between myself and the army to which I belong, but by closely adhering to certain geological and topographical principles I knew I should eventually find it. In fact, when you met with me I was making some final calculations which would not fail to show me where I should find my comrades. There is no better way to discover the position of an army than by observ

ing the inclination of the geological strata. In this section, for instance, the general trend of the beds of limestone and quartz indicates the direction of the running streams, and these naturally flow into the valleys and plains, and the land, being well watered, is more fertile; consequently it was soonest cleared by the settlers, while the higher ground surrounding it is still encumbered by timber growth. An army naturally desires open ground for its operations, for large bodies of cavalry and artillery cannot deploy to advantage through wooded districts. Therefore, if we follow this roadway, which, as you see, slightly descends to the northeast, we shall soon come within sight of the opposing forces.'

"'But,' said Almia, 'the roar of the battle comes over from that way, which must be the northwest.'

"'That may be,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian, 'but the principle remains.'

"The two soldiers now returned, bearing two large apple-pies resting upon two palm-leaf fans. 'These were all we could procure,' said the brown-haired soldier, 'and the woman would not sell her plates.' The pies were rapidly divided into quarters, and the hungry party began to eat. 'It is true,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian, 'that the character of the apple indicates the elevation above sea-level of the soil in which it grew. The people who grew these apples would have done much better if they had devoted themselves to the cultivation of the huckleberry. These they could have sold, and then have bought much better apples grown in the plains. I also notice that the flour of which this pastry is made was ground from the wheat of this region, which is always largely mixed with cockle. If the people would give up growing wheat for three or four years, cockle would probably disappear, and they would then have flour of a much higher grade.' Almia and the two soldiers could not help smiling when they perceived that while the Exceptional Pedestrian was making these criticisms he ate three quarters of a pie, which was more than his share.

"When the pies had been consumed the little party pressed forward, but not to the northeast, for the two soldiers insisted that the battle raged in the northwest, and they would not go in any other direction, although the Exceptional Pedestrian endeavored to overwhelm them with arguments to prove that he was right. The din of the battle, however, soon proved that he was wrong. Penetrating an extensive thicket, they reached its outer edge, and there gazed upon a far-stretching battle-field.

"Now this would be the place," said the Daughter of the House, "for a fine description, not only of the battle-field, but of the battle which was raging upon it; and, if I ever write this story, I shall tell how one army was posted on one side of a wide valley, while the other army was posted on the other, and how regiments and battalions and detachments from each side came down into the beautiful plain and fought and fired and struggled until the grass was stained with blood; and how the cannon roared from the hills and mowed down whole battalions of infantry below; how brave soldiers fell on every side, wounded and dead, while men with stretchers hurried to carry them away from beneath the hoofs of the charging cavalry. I would tell how the carnage increased every moment; how the yells of fury grew louder; and how the roar of the cannon became more and more terrible.

"But all I can say now is that it was a spectacle to freeze the blood. Poor Almia could scarcely retain consciousness as she gazed upon the awful scenes of woe and suffering which spread out beneath her. And she could do nothing! Her labors would be useful only in cases of isolated woundings. If she were to mingle in the fray she would perish in the general slaughter; and if she were to go and offer assistance in the hospitals she would find herself but as a drop in the bucket, her efforts unrecognized, even if she were not driven away as an interloper. Besides, she did not know where the hospitals were.

"As she gazed upon this scene of horror she perceived an officer, mounted upon a noble charger and followed by several horsemen, take a position upon a hillock not far from the spot where she and her companions were concealed. From this point of vantage the officer, who was evidently a general, could perceive the whole battle-field."

"And get himself picked off by a sharp-shooter," thought John Gayther, but he did not interrupt.

"The brown-haired soldier trembled with emotion, and whispered to Almia, 'That is my Commander-in-Chief.' Even without this information Almia would have known that the stalwart figure upon the pawing steed was an officer in high command; for, after speaking a few words to one of his companions, the latter galloped away into the valley toward the right, and very soon the battle raged more fiercely in that direction, and the booming of the cannon and the cracking of the rifles was more continuous. Then another officer was sent galloping to the left, and in this direction, too, the battle grew fiercer and the carnage increased. Courier after courier was sent away, here and there, until, at last, the commander remained with but one faithful adherent. Since his arrival upon the hillock the horrors of the bloody contest had doubled, and Almia could scarcely endure to look into the valley.

"'Is there no way,' she said in a gasping whisper, 'of stopping this? These two armies are like hordes of demons! Humanity should not permit it!'

"'Humanity has nothing to do with it,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian. 'A declaration of war eliminates humanity as a social factor. Such is the usage of nations.'

"'I don't care for the usage of nations,' said Almia. 'It is vile!'

"Now something very important happened in the battle-field. The Commander-in-Chief rose in his stirrups and peered afar. Then, suddenly turning, he sent his only remaining follower with clattering hoofs to carry a message. 'He is making it worse!' declared Almia. 'Now more brave men will fall; more blood will flow.'

"'Of course,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian. 'He gives no thought to the falling of brave men or the flowing of blood. Upon his commands depends the fate of the battle!'

"'And without his commands?' asked Almia, trembling in every fibre.

"The Exceptional Pedestrian shrugged his shoulders and slightly smiled. 'Without them,' he said, 'there would soon be an end to the battle. He is the soul, the directing spirit, of his army. Unless he directs, the contest cannot be carried on.'

"Almia sprang to her feet, not caring whether she was seen or not. She looked over the battle-field, and her heart was sick within her. Not only did she see the carnage which desecrated the beautiful plain, but she saw, far, far away, the mothers and sisters of those who were dead, dying, and wounded; she saw the whiteness of their faces when their feverish eyes should scan the list of dead and wounded; she saw them groan and fall senseless when they read the names of loved ones. She could bear no more.

"Suddenly she turned. 'Gentlemen,' she said, 'follow me.' And without another word she stepped out into the open field and walked rapidly toward the Commander-in-Chief, whose eyes were fixed so steadfastly on the battle that he did not notice her approach. The three soldiers gazed at her in amazement, and then they followed her. They could not understand her mad action, but they could not desert her.

"Almia stopped at the horse's head. With her left hand she seized his bridle, and in a clear, loud voice she exclaimed, 'Commander-in-Chief, you are my prisoner!' There was no trembling, no nervousness now; body and soul, she was as hard as steel. The general looked down upon her in petrified bewilderment. He gazed at the three soldiers, and again looked down at her. 'Girl!' he thundered, 'what do you mean? Let go my horse!' As he said these words he gave his bridle a jerk; but the noble steed paid no attention to his master. He was not afraid of girls. In former days he had learned to like them; to him a girl meant sugar and savory clover-tops. He bent his head toward Almia, and instantly her hand was in her pocket and she drew forth an Albert biscuit. The horse, which had not tasted food since morning, eagerly took it from her hand, and crunched it in delight.

"The Commander-in-Chief now became furious, and his hand sought the hilt of his sword. If Almia had been a man he would have cut her down. 'Girl!' he cried, 'what do you mean? Are you insane? You men, remove her instantly.'

"Then Almia spoke up bravely, never loosening her hold upon the bridle of the horse. 'I am not insane,' she said. 'I am a nurse, but not a common one; I am a bushwhacker nurse, and that means I am entirely independent. These men are under my control. They are from the opposing armies, and compel each other to obey my commands. I have determined to stop this blood and slaughter. If you do not quietly surrender to me I will fire at one of your legs, and call upon the soldier who is your enemy to attack you with his sword. His duty to his country will compel him to do so.'

"The general, who was now so infuriated he could not speak, jerked savagely at the reins; but Almia had just given the noble animal another biscuit, and his nose was seeking the pocket from which it came. The horse was conquered!

"At this moment a rifle-ball shrieked wildly overhead. The enemy had perceived the little party upon the hillock. The three soldiers, who stood a little below, shouted to Almia to come down or she would be killed. She instantly obeyed this warning, but she did not release her hold upon the general's bridle. She started down the hillock away from the battle, and the horse, who willingly subjected himself to her guidance, trotted beside her. The general did not attempt to restrain him, for he had been startled by the rifle-shots.

"A little below the edge of the hill Almia stopped, and, turning toward the Commander-in-Chief, she said, 'You might as well surrender. I do not wish to injure you, but if you compel me to do so, I must.' And with this she drew the pistol from her pocket.

"'Is that thing loaded?' exclaimed the general.

"'It is,' answered Almia, 'and with five balls.'

"'Please put it back in your pocket,' said the officer, who, for the first time during the terrible battle, showed signs of fear. 'A girl with a pistol,' said he, 'makes me shudder. Why do you stand there?' he shouted to the three men. 'Come here and take her away.'

"But they did not obey, and the black-haired soldier stepped forward. 'You are my enemy, sir,' he said, 'and I am bound to assist in your capture if I can. There are two of your own men here, but only one of them is armed.'

"As he spoke these words a great shell struck the top of the hillock and blew the earth and little stones in every direction. Without a word the whole party retired rapidly to an open space behind a large overhanging rock. The general was very much disturbed. The enemy must be getting nearer. He almost forgot Almia.

"'Look here,' he cried to the brown-haired soldier; 'creep back to the top of the hillock and tell me how the battle goes.' With furrowed brows he waited, while Almia fed his horse. The brown-haired soldier came quickly back. 'Tell me,' cried the general, without waiting for the other to speak, 'has my cavalry made its grand charge, and cut off the approach of the left wing of the enemy?'

"'No, sir,' replied the soldier, touching his cap; 'it did not charge in time, and it is now all mixed up with the artillery, which is rapidly retiring.'

"'What!' cried the general, 'retiring?'

"'Yes, sir,' said the soldier; 'I am sorry to say that our whole army is retreating, pell-mell, as fast as it can go. The enemy is in active pursuit, and its left wing is now advancing up this side of the valley. In less than twenty minutes the retreat of our cavalry and artillery will be cut off by the hills, and the infantry is already scattering itself far and wide.'

"'I must go!' shouted the general, drawing his sword from its scabbard. 'I must rally my forces! I must-'

"'No, general,' said the brown-haired soldier; 'that is impossible. If you were now to attempt to approach our army you would throw yourself into the ranks of the enemy.'

"The Commander-in-Chief dropped the bridle from his listless hands, and bowed his head. 'Lost!' he murmured. 'Lost! And this was the decisive battle of the war! If I had been able to order my cavalry to charge, the enemy's left wing would have been cut from their main body. But for you,' he continued, fixing his eyes upon Almia with a look of unutterable sadness, 'I should have done it. You have caused me to lose this battle.'

"Almia drew herself up, her heart swelling with emotion. This was the proudest moment of her life-prouder by far than she had ever expected any moment of her existence to be. 'Yes,' she said; 'that is what I did. And if this was the decisive battle of the war, then will follow peace; blood will cease to flow, widows and orphans will cease to suffer, and men who have been fighting one another like tigers without really understanding why they sought one another's lives will again meet as friends.'

"'There is a great deal of sense in what you say,' exclaimed the Exceptional Pedestrian. 'I admit I am a soldier, but I do not approve of war. The statistics of social aspects prove-'

"He was interrupted by the brown-haired soldier, who remarked: 'It would be well for us to retire, for doubtless the enemy will soon occupy the ridge.'

"The general took no notice; apparently he was lost in thought.

"'Excuse me, sir,' said the brown-haired man, 'but you must seek a place of safety.'

"The general raised his head. 'Is there a road to the west?' he asked. 'I must take a roundabout way, and join my army, and share its fortunes, whatever they may be.'

"'Yes, sir,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian; 'if you skirt these woods, and follow the upward trend of the limestone- and quartz-beds, and then keep along the crest of the mountain for about eight miles, you will come to the village of Kirksville, where our retreating army will no doubt halt for the night.'

"The general said no more. He turned his horse, whose bridle Almia had now released, and, casting another look of sadness upon the erect form of the bushwhacker nurse, he sped away.

"I will not say anything more of the general, except that after following for half an hour the directions given to him by the Exceptional Pedestrian, he rode at full speed into the ranks of the enemy, and was obliged to surrender. No evil happened to him, however, for the war was soon ended, and he was released.

"'Now,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian, who was in no way a traitor, but only a person accustomed to making mistakes, 'the day is drawing to a close, and we must hurry away.'

"No one objected, and the three soldiers accompanied Almia back over the way she had taken when she walked to the battle-field. A little after eight o'clock they arrived at the main road, and there Almia found her cab waiting for her.

"'I will probably not see you again,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian, shaking her very cordially by the hand; 'for as the war is now practically over, and my regiment probably scattered, I shall go West. There are many features of our social aspects out there which I wish to study. But before I leave you, miss, I wish to thank you for having made yourself so highly instrumental in bringing this terrible and inhuman war to a close.'

"'Good-by,' said Almia. 'But I think it may be said that it was an Albert biscuit which gave us peace. If that horse had not been used to being fed by girls, my efforts might have come to nothing.'

"When the two younger soldiers bade good-by to Almia they did not say much, but it seemed to her they felt a good deal. At any rate, she knew she felt a good deal. She had known them but a little while, but they had come into her life in such a strange way; for a time she had ruled their destinies, and they had been so good to her! They had stood by her, regardless of everything but her wishes; and then, they were both so handsome, such gallant soldiers. She took their hands, she gazed into their honest faces, a few words of farewell were spoken, and then they helped her into the cab, the door was shut, and she drove away.

"As she turned and looked out of the little window in the back of the cab she saw one of them gazing after her; but the dusk of the evening had come on so rapidly she could not be certain which one of them it was. At a turn in the road she sank into her seat. She was tired; she was faint; and, instinctively thrusting her hand into her pocket, she found there one Albert biscuit which had been left. She drew it out, but when she looked at it, it seemed to her as though it would be a sacrilege to eat it; its companions had done so much for humanity. But she did eat it, and felt stronger.

"For the rest of the drive she sat and wondered and wondered which it was who had looked back, the brown-haired soldier or the black-haired one. Then she tried to think which she would like it to be, but she could not make up her mind.

"Before parting with the soldiers Almia had exchanged cards with them, and they had assured her they would let her know how fortune should treat them. Day after day she watched and waited for the letter-carrier; but a fortnight passed, and he brought her nothing-at least, nothing she cared for.

"At last a letter came. It was from one of the soldiers; she knew that by the address and its general appearance, but of course she did not know the handwriting. She held it in her hand and gazed upon it, and her heart beat fast as she asked herself the question, 'Which one has written first?'

"Presently she opened it. It was from the brown-haired soldier. Her face flushed and her heart said to her, 'This is right; this is what you hoped for.' Then she read the letter, which was long. It told of many things; and, among others, it informed Almia how grateful were the writer's wife and two little girls for the kindness she had shown the husband and father. She had dressed his wounds; she had saved him from being made a prisoner. For the rest of their lives they would never forget her.

"The letter dropped from Almia's hand; she had received a shock, and for a time she could not recover from it. She sat still, looking out into the nothingness of the distant sky. Then her face flushed again, and her heart told her it had made a mistake. She was well pleased that this was the one who had written that he was married.

"Hour after hour and day after day Almia became more and more convinced that she was right. It was the black-haired soldier on whom her thoughts were constantly fixed. And no wonder. In the first place, he was the better soldier of the two. She hated war; but, if men must fight, it is glorious to conquer, and she had seen his quick and practised blade lay low his enemy. The thought of his power made her heart swell. Moreover, he had stood by her in the moment of greatest peril; he it was who had said to the Commander-in-Chief, armed and mounted though he was, that he would attack him if her commands were not obeyed. Then, too, he was a little taller than the other, and handsomer; his chest was broad, he stood erect.

"Day after day she watched and waited, but no letter came. At last, however, there was a ring at the bell, and the black-haired soldier was announced. By a supreme effort Almia controlled herself; she bade her heart be still, and she went down to meet him. She was dressed in white; there were flowers in her hair and in her belt. She could not help wondering what he would think of the difference between her and the girl he had known as a bushwhacker nurse.

"When her eyes fell upon him and their hands met she was the one who had the right to be the more amazed. She had thought him handsome before; he was glorious now. Arrayed in fashionable, well-fitting clothes, wearing only a mustache, and with his hair properly cut, he was a vision of manly beauty. Instantly, without any volition on her part, her heart went out to him; she knew that it belonged to him.

"For twenty minutes, perhaps a little longer, Almia sat with the man she loved; and as she listened to him, saying but little herself, colder and colder grew the heart she had given him. Soon she discovered that he looked upon her as a young lady in whom he took an interest on account of the adventures they had had together, but still as a chance acquaintance. He had come to see her because he had happened to be in the town in which she lived. When he went away she did not ask him to come again, and it was plain that he did not expect such an invitation. The few remarks he made about his future plans precluded the supposition that they might meet again. He was pleasant, he was polite, he was even kind; but when he departed he left her with a heart of stone. There was now nothing in the world for which she cared to live. She despised herself for such a feeling, but existence was a blank. She had loved; perhaps, unwittingly, she had shown her love; and now by day and by night she moaned and mourned that the bushwhacker nurse had ever met the two brave soldiers with their glittering swords-that she had not passed them by and gone out into the battle-field to be laid low by some chance bullet."

For some little time the Daughter of the House had been speaking in a voice which grew lower and lower, and now she stopped. There were tears in her eyes, brought there by the story she herself was telling. John Gayther dropped his pea-stick and leaned forward.

"Now miss," said he, "I really think your story is not quite right. You must have forgotten something-a good many things. Think it over, and I am sure you will agree with me that that is not the true ending."

She looked at him in surprise. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"I mean this," replied the gardener. "If you will put your mind to it, and seriously consider the whole situation, I believe you will see, just as well as I do, that it really turned out very differently from the way you have just told it. That black-haired soldier did not go away in twenty minutes. It must have been somebody else at some other time who went away so soon. It would have been simply impossible for him to have done it. The longer he sat and looked at Miss Almia, the more he gazed into her beautiful eyes, the more fervently he must have thought that if it depended upon him he would never leave her, never, never again. And she, as she gazed into his handsome features, thrilling with the emotion he could not hide, must have known what was passing in his heart. It did not even need the words he soon spoke to make her understand she was the one thing in the world he loved, and that, in spite of sickness and obstacles of all sorts, he had come that day to tell her so. And when they had sat together for hours, and at last he was obliged to go, and they stood together, his impassioned eyes looking down into her orbs of heavenly blue, you know what must have happened, miss, now, don't you, really? And isn't this the true, true end of the story?"

The eyes of the Daughter of the House were sparkling; a little flush had come upon her cheeks, and a smile upon her lips.

"I do really believe that is the true ending, John," said she; "but how did you ever come to know so much about such things?"

"I can't tell you that, miss," said the gardener; "but sometimes I notice things I cannot see, as when I look upon a flower bud not yet open and know exactly what is inside of it."

With the smile still on her lips and the flush still on her cheeks, the Daughter of the House walked away through the garden. She had determined to make her story end sadly, but John Gayther had known her heart better than she knew it herself.





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