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   Chapter 27 JUDITH AND STAFFORD

The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 22101

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The cortège bearing Ashby to his grave wound up and up to the pass in the Blue Ridge. At the top it halted. The ambulance rested beside a grey boulder, while the cavalry escort dismounted and let the horses crop the sweet mountain grass. Below them, to the east, rolled Piedmont Virginia; below them to the west lay the great Valley whence they had come. As they rested they heard the cannon of Cross Keys, and with a glass made out the battle smoke.

For an hour they gazed and listened, anxious and eager; then the horsemen remounted, the ambulance moved from the boulder, and all went slowly down the long loops of road. Down and down they wound, from the cool, blowing air of the heights into the warm June region of red roads, shady trees and clear streams, tall wheat and ripening cherries, old houses and gardens. They were moving toward the Virginia Central, toward Meechum's Station.

A courier had ridden far in advance. At Meechum's was a little crowd of country people. "They're coming! That's an ambulance!-Is he in the ambulance? Everybody take off their hats. Is that his horse behind? Yes, it is a horse that he sometimes rode, but the three stallions were killed. How mournful they come! Albert Sidney Johnston is dead, and Old Joe may die, he is so badly hurt-and Bee is dead, and Ashby is dead." Three women got out of an old carryall. "One of you men come help us lift the flowers! We were up at dawn and gathered all there were-"

The train from Staunton came in-box cars and a passenger coach. The coffin, made at Port Republic, was lifted from the ambulance, out of a bed of fading flowers. It was wrapped in the battle-flag. The crowd bowed its head. An old minister lifted trembling hand. "God-this Thy servant! God-this Thy servant!" The three women brought their lilies, their great sprays of citron aloes. The coffin was placed in the aisle of the passenger coach, and four officers followed as its guard. The escort was slight. Never were there many men spared for these duties. The dead would have been the first to speak against it. Every man in life was needed at the front. The dozen troopers stalled their horses in two of the box cars and themselves took possession of a third. The bell rang, slowly and tollingly. The train moved toward Charlottesville, and the little crowd of country folk was left in the June sunshine with the empty ambulance. In the gold afternoon, the bell slowly ringing, the train crept into Charlottesville.

In this town, convenient for hospitals and stores, midway between Richmond and the Valley, a halting place for troops moving east and west, there were soldiers enough for a soldier's escort to his resting place. The concourse at the station was large, and a long train followed the bier of the dead general out through the town to the University of Virginia, and the graveyard beyond.

There were no students now at the University. In the white-pillared rotunda surgeons held council and divided supplies. In the ranges, where were the cell-like students' rooms, and in the white-pillared professors' houses, lay the sick and wounded. From room to room, between the pillars, moved the nursing women. To-day the rotunda was cleared. Surgeons and nurses snatched one half-hour, and, with the families from the professors' houses, and the men about the place and the servants, gathered upon the rotunda steps, or upon the surrounding grassy slopes, to watch the return of an old student. It was not long before they heard the Dead March.

For an hour the body lay between the white columns before the rotunda that Jefferson had built. Soldiers and civilians, women and children, passing before the bier, looked upon the marble face and the hand that clasped the sword. Then, toward sunset, the coffin lid was closed, the bearers took the coffin up, the Dead March began again, and all moved toward the graveyard.

Dusk gathered, soft and warm, and filled with fireflies. The Greenwood carriage, with the three sisters and Miss Lucy, drew slowly through the scented air up to the dim old house. Julius opened the door. The ladies stepped out, and in silence went up the steps. Molly had been crying. The little handkerchief which she dropped, and which was restored to her by Julius, was quite wet.

Julius, closing the carriage door, looked after the climbing figures: "Fo' de Lawd, you useter could hear dem laughin' befo' dey got to de big oaks, and when dey outer de kerriage an' went up de steps dey was chatterin' lak de birds at daybreak! An' now I heah dem sighin' an' Miss Molly's handkerchief ez wet ez ef 't was in de washtub! De ol' times is evaporated."

"Dat sholy so," agreed Isham, from the box. "Des look at me er-drivin' horses dat once I'd er scorned to tech!-An' all de worl' er-mournin'. Graveyards gitting full an' ginerals lyin' daid. What de use of dis heah war, anyhow? W'ite folk ought ter hab more sence."

In the Greenwood dining-room they sat at table in silence, scarcely touching Car'line's supper, but in the parlour afterward Judith turned at bay. "Even Aunt Lucy-of all people in the world! Aunt Lucy, if you do not smile this instant, I hope all the Greenwood shepherdesses will step from out the roses and disown you! And Unity, if you don't play, sing, look cheerful, my heart will break! Who calls it loss this afternoon? He left a thought of him that will guide men on! Who doubts that to-morrow morning we shall hear that Cross Keys was won? Oh, I know that you are thinking most of General Ashby!-but I am thinking most of Cross Keys!"

"Judith, Judith, you are the strongest of us all-"

"Judith, darling; nothing's going to hurt Richard! I just feel it-"

"Hush, Molly! Judith's not afraid."

"No. I am not afraid. I think the cannon have stopped at Cross Keys, and that they are resting on the field.-Now, for us women. I do not think that we do badly now. We serve all day and half the night, and we keep up the general heart. I think that if in any old romance we read of women like the women of the South in this war we would say, 'Those women were heroic.' We have been at war for a year and two months. I see no end of it. It is a desert, and no one knows how wide it is. We may travel for years. Beside every marching soldier, there marches invisible a woman soldier too. We are in the field as they are in the field, and doing our part. No-we have not done at all badly, but now let us give it all! There is a plane where every fibre is heroic. Let us draw to full height, lift eyes, and travel boldly! We have to cross the desert, but from the desert one sees all the stars! Let us be too wise for such another drooping hour!" She came and kissed her aunt, and clung to her. "I wasn't scolding, Aunt Lucy! How could I? But to-night I simply have to be strong. I have to look at the stars, for the desert is full of terrible shapes. Some one said that the battle with Shields may be fought to-morrow. I have to look at the stars." She lifted herself. "We finished 'Villette,' didn't we?-Oh, yes! I didn't like the ending. Well, let us begin 'Mansfield Park'-Molly, have you seen my knitting?"

Having with his fellows of the escort from Port Republic seen the earth heaped over the dead cavalry leader, Maury Stafford lay that night in Charlottesville at an old friend's house. He slept little; the friend heard him walking up and down in the night. By nine in the morning he was at the University. "Miss Cary? She'll be here in about half an hour. If you'll wait-"

"I'll wait," said Stafford. He sat down beneath an elm and, with his eyes upon the road by which must approach the Greenwood carriage, waited the half-hour. It passed; the carriage drew up and Judith stepped from it. Her eyes rested upon him with a quiet friendliness. He had been her suitor; but he was so no longer. Months ago he had his answer. All the agitation, the strong, controlling interest of his world must, perforce, have made him forget. She touched his hand. "I saw you yesterday afternoon. I did not know if you had ridden back-"

"No. I shall be kept here until to-morrow. Will you be Sister of Mercy all day?"

"I go home to-day about four o'clock."

"If I ride over at five may I see you?"

"Yes, if you wish. I must go now-I am late. Is it true that we won the battle yesterday? Tell me-"

"We do not know the details yet. It seems that only Ewell's division was engaged. Trimble's brigade suffered heavily, but it was largely an artillery battle. I saw a copy of General Jackson's characteristic telegram to Richmond. 'God gave us the victory to-day at Cross Keys.'-Frémont has drawn off to Harrisonburg. There is a rumour of a battle to-day with Shields."

He thought that afternoon, as he passed through the road gates and into the drive between the oaks, that he had never seen the Greenwood place look so fair. The sun was low and there were shadows, but where the light rays touched, all lay mellow and warm, golden and gay and sweet. On the porch he found Unity, sitting with her guitar, singing to a ragged grey youth, thin and pale, with big hollow eyes. She smiled and put out her hand. "Judith said you were coming. She will be down in a moment. Major Stafford-Captain Howard-Go on singing? Very well,-

"Soft o'er the fountain, lingering falls the southern moon-"

"Why is it that convalescent soldiers want the very most sentimental ditties that can be sung?

Far o'er the mountain, breaks the day too soon!"

"I know that string is going to snap presently! Then where would I buy guitar strings in a land without a port?

"Nita! Juanita! Ask thy soul if we should part-

Nita! Juanita! Lean thou on my heart!"

Judith came down in a soft old muslin, pale violet, open at the throat. It went well with that warm column, with the clear beauty of her face and her dark liquid eyes. She had a scarf in her hand; it chanced to be the long piece of black lace that Stafford remembered her wearing that April night.-"It is a lovely evening. Suppose we walk."

There was a path through the flower garden, down a slope of grass, across a streamlet in a meadow, then gently up through an ancient wood, and more steeply to the top of a green hill-a hill of hills from which to watch the sunset. Stafford unlatched the flower-garden gate. "The roses are blooming as though there were no war!" said Judith. "Look at George the Fourth and the Seven Sisters and my old Giant of Battle!"

"Sometimes you are like one flower," answered Stafford, "and sometimes like another. To-day, in that dress, you are like heliotrope."

Judith wondered. "Is it wise to go on-if he has forgotten so little as that?" She spoke aloud. "I have hardly been in the garden for days. Suppose we rest on the arbour steps and talk? There is so much I want to know about the Valley-"

Stafford looked pleadingly. "No, no! let us go the old path and see the sunset over Greenwood. Always when I ride from here I say to myself, 'I may never see this place again!'"

They walked on between the box. "The box

has not been clipped this year. I do not know why, except that all things go unpruned. The garden itself may go back to wilderness."

"You have noticed that? It is always so in times like these. We leave the artificial. Things have a hardier growth-feeling breaks its banks-custom is not listened to-"

"It is not so bad as that!" said Judith, smiling. "And we will not really let the box grow out of all proportion!-Now tell me of the Valley."

They left the garden and dipped into the green meadow. Stafford talked of battles and marches, but he spoke in a monotone, distrait and careless, as of a day-dreaming scholar reciting his lesson. Such as it was, the recital lasted across the meadow, into the wood, yet lit by yellow light, a place itself for day dreams. "No. I did not see him fall. He was leading an infantry regiment. He was happy in his death, I think. One whom the gods loved.-Wait! your scarf has caught."

He loosed it from the branch. She lifted the lace, put it over her head, and held it with her slender hand beneath her chin. He looked at her, and his breath came sharply. A shaft of light, deeply gold, struck across the woodland path. He stood within it, on slightly rising ground that lifted him above her. The quality of the light gave him a singular aspect. He looked a visitant from another world, a worn spirit, of fine temper, but somewhat haggard, somewhat stained. Lines came into Judith's brow. She stepped more quickly, and they passed from out the wood to a bare hillside, grass and field flowers to the summit. The little path that zigzagged upward was not wide enough for two. He moved through the grass and flowers beside her, a little higher still, and between her and the sun. His figure was dark; no longer lighted as it was in the wood. Judith sighed inwardly. "I am so tired that I am fanciful. I should not have come." She talked on. "When we were children and read 'Pilgrim's Progress' Unity and I named this the Hill Difficulty. And we named the Blue Ridge the Delectable Mountains-War puts a stop to reading."

"Yes. The Hill Difficulty! On the other side was the Valley of Humiliation, was it not?"

"Yes: where Christian met Apollyon. We are nearly up, and the sunset will be beautiful."

At the top, around a solitary tree, had been built a bench. The two sat down. The sun was sinking behind the Blue Ridge. Above the mountains sailed a fleet of little clouds, in a sea of pale gold shut in by purple headlands. Here and there on the earth the yellow light lingered. Judith sat with her head thrown back against the bark of the tree, her eyes upon the long purple coast and the golden sea. Stafford, his sword drawn forward, rested his clasped hands upon the hilt and his cheek on his hands. "Are they not like the Delectable Mountains?" she said. "Almost you can see the shepherds and the flocks-hear the pilgrims singing. Look where that shaft of light is striking!"

"There is heliotrope all around me," he answered. "I see nothing, know nothing but that!"

"You do very wrongly," she said. "You pain me and you anger me!"

"Judith! Judith! I cannot help it. If the wildest tempest were blowing about this hilltop, a leaf upon this tree might strive and strive to cling to the bough, to remain with its larger self-yet would it be twisted off and carried whither the wind willed! My passion is that tempest and my soul is that leaf."

"It is more than a year since first I told you that I could not return your feeling. Last October-that day we rode to the old mill-I told you so again, and told you that if we were to remain friends it could only be on condition that you accepted the truth as truth and let the storm you speak of die! You promised-"

"Even pale friendship, Judith-I wanted that!"

"If you wish it still, all talk like this must cease. After October I thought it was quite over. All through the winter those gay, wonderful letters that you wrote kept us up at Greenwood-"

"I could hear from you only on those terms. I kept them until they, too, were of no use-"

"When I wrote to you last month-"

"I knew of your happiness-before you wrote. I learned it from one nearly concerned. I-I-" He put his hand to his throat as if he were choking, arose, and walked a few paces and came back. "It was over there near Gordonsville-under a sunset sky much like this. What did I do that night? I have a memory of all the hours of blackness that men have ever passed, lying under forest trees with their faces against the earth. You see me standing here, but I tell you my face is against the earth, at your feet-"

"It is madness!" said Judith. "You see not me, but a goddess of your own making. It is a chain of the imagination. Break it! True goddesses do not wish such love-at least, true women do not!"

"I cannot break it. It is too strong. Sometimes I wish to break it, sometimes not."

Judith rose. "Let us go. The sun is down."

She took the narrow path and he walked beside and above her as before. Darker crimson had come into the west, but the earth beneath had yet a glow and warmth. They took a path which led, not by way of the wood, but by the old Greenwood graveyard, the burying-place of the Carys. At the foot of the lone tree hill they came again side by side, and so mounted the next low rise of ground. "Forgive me," said Stafford. "I have angered you. I am very wretched. Forgive me."

They were beside the low graveyard wall. She turned, leaning against it. There were tears in her eyes. "You all come, and you go away, and the next day brings news that such and such an one is dead! With the sound of Death's wings always in the air, how can any one-I do not wish to be angry. If you choose we will talk like friends-like a man and a woman of the South. If you do not, I can but shut my ears and hasten home and henceforth be too wise to give you opportunity-"

"I go back to the front to-morrow. Be patient with me these few minutes. And I, Judith-I will cling with all my might to the tree-"

A touch like sunlight came upon him of his old fine grace, charming, light, and strong. "I won't let go! How lovely it is, and still-the elm tops dreaming! And beyond that gold sky and the mountains all the fighting! Let us go through the graveyard. It is so still-and all their troubles are over."

Within the graveyard, too, was an old bench around an elm. "A few minutes only!" pleaded Stafford. "Presently I must ride back to town-and in the morning I return to the Valley." They sat down. Before them was a flat tombstone sunk in ivy, a white rose at the head. Stafford, leaning forward, drew aside with the point of his scabbard the dark sprays that mantled the graved coat of arms.

Ludwell Cary

In part I sleep. I wake within the whole.

He let the ivy swing back. "I have seen many die this year who wished to live. If death were forgetfulness! I do not believe it. I shall persist, and still feel the blowing wind-"

"Listen to the cow-bells!" said Judith. "There shows the evening star."

"Can a woman know what love is? This envelope of the soul-If I could but tear it! Judith, Judith! Power and longing grow in the very air I breathe!-will to move the universe if thereby I might gain you!-your presence always with me in waves of light and sound! and you cannot truly see nor hear me! Could you do so, deep would surely answer deep!"

"Do you not know," she said clearly, "that I love Richard Cleave? You do not attract me. You repel me. There are many souls and many deeps, and the ocean to which I answer knows not your quarter of the universe!"

"Do you love him so? I will work him harm if I can!"

She rose. "I have been patient long enough.-No! not with me, if you please! I will go alone. Let me pass, Major Stafford!-"

She was gone, over the dark trailing periwinkle, through the little gate canopied with honeysuckle. For a minute he stayed beneath the elms, calling himself fool and treble fool; then he followed, though at a little distance. She went before him, in her pale violet, through the gathering dusk, unlatched for herself the garden gate and passed into the shadow of the box. A few moments later he, too, entered the scented alley and saw her waiting for him at the gate that gave upon the lawn. He joined her, and they moved without speaking to the house.

They found the family gathered on the porch, an old horse waiting on the gravel below, and an elderly, plain man, a neighbouring farmer, standing halfway up the steps. He was speaking excitedly. Molly beckoned from above. "Oh, Judith, it's news of the battle-"

"Yes'm," said the farmer. "Straight from Staunton-telegram to the colonel in Charlottesville. 'Big fighting at Port Republic. Jackson whipped Shields. Stonewall Brigade suffered heavily.'-No'm-That was all. We won't hear details till to-morrow.-My boy John's in the Stonewall, you know-but Lord! John always was a keerful fellow! I reckon he's safe enough-but I ain't going to tell his mother about the battle till to-morrow; she might as well have her sleep.-War's pernicious hard on mothers. I reckon we'll see the bulletin to-morrow."

He was gone, riding in a sturdy, elderly fashion toward his home in a cleft of the hills. "Major Stafford cannot stay to supper, Aunt Lucy," said Judith clearly. "Is that Julius in the hall? Tell one of the boys to bring Major Stafford's horse around."

As she spoke she turned and went into the house. The group upon the porch heard her step upon the polished stair. Unity proceeded to make conversation. A negro brought the horse around. Judith did not return. Stafford, still and handsome, courteous and self-possessed, left farewell for her, said good-bye to the other Greenwood ladies, mounted and rode away. Unity, sitting watching him unlatch the lower gate and pass out upon the road, hummed a line-

"Nita! Juanita! Ask thy soul if we should part!"

"I have a curious feeling about that man," said Miss Lucy, "and yet it is the rarest thing that I distrust anybody!-What is it, Molly?"

"It's no use saying that I romance," said Molly, "for I don't. And when Mr. Hodge said 'the Stonewall Brigade suffered heavily' he looked glad-"

"Who looked glad?"

"Major Stafford. It's no use looking incredulous, for he did! There was the most curious light came into his face. And Judith saw it-"

"Molly-Molly-"

"She did! You know how Edward looks when he's white-hot angry-still and Greek looking? Well, Judith looked like that. And she and Major Stafford crossed looks, and it was like crossed swords. And then she sent for his horse and went away, upstairs to her room. She's up there now praying for the Stonewall Brigade and for Richard."

"Molly, you're uncanny!" said Unity. "Oh me! Love and Hate-North and South-and we'll not have the bulletin until to-morrow-"

Miss Lucy rose. "I am going upstairs to Judith and tell her that I simply know Richard is safe. There are too many broken love stories in the world, and the Carys have had more than their share."

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