MoboReader > Literature > The Long Roll


The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 34615

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

The Stonewall Brigade, a unit in Jackson's advance, halted on the plateau near the McGehee house. All was dark, all was confused. In the final and general charge, regiments had become separated from brigades, companies from regiments. Fragments of many commands were on the plateau,-Whiting, Ewell, D. H. Hill, Jackson's own division, portions of Longstreet's brigades, even a number of A. P. Hill's broken, exhausted fighters. Many an officer lay silent or moaning, on the scarped slope, in the terrific tangle about the creek, or on the melancholy plain beyond. Captains shouted orders in the colonels' places; lieutenants or sergeants in the captains'. Here, on the plateau, where for hours the blue guns had thundered, the stars were seen but dimly through the smoke. Bodies of men, and men singly or in twos and threes, wandered like ghosts in Hades. "This way, Second Virginia!" "Fall in here, Hood's Texans!"-"Hampton's men, over here!"-"Fifteenth Alabama! Fifteenth Alabama!"-"I'm looking for the Milledgeville Hornets."-"Iverson's men! Iverson's men!"-"Fall in here, Cary's Legion!"-"First Maryland!"-"Fifth Virginia over here!"-"Where in hell is the Eleventh Mississippi!"-"Lawton! Lawton!"-"Sixty-fifth Virginia, fall in here!"

East and south, sloping toward the Chickahominy, ran several miles of heavy forest. It was filled with sound,-the hoofs of horses, the rumbling of wheels, the breaking through undergrowth of masses of men,-sound that was dying in volume, rolling toward the Chickahominy. On the trampled brow of the plateau, beneath shot-riddled trees, General D. H. Hill, coming from the northern face, found General Winder of the First Brigade standing with several of his officers, trying to pierce the murk toward the river. "You rank here, General Winder?" said Hill.

"I think so, general. Such a confusion of troops I have never seen! They have been reporting to me. It is yours now to command."

"Have you seen General Jackson?"

"No. Not lately."

D. H. Hill looked toward the Chickahominy. "I don't deny it's temptatious! And yet.... Very dark. Thick woods. Don't know what obstructions. Men exhausted. Our centre and right not come up. Artillery still across the swamp-What's that cheering toward the river?"

"I don't know. McClellan may have sent reinforcements."

"Have you pickets out?"

"Yes. What do you think, Cleave?"

"I think, sir, the rout outweighs the reinforcements. I think we should press on at once."

"If we had cavalry!" said Winder impatiently. "However, General Stuart has swept down toward the Pamunkey. That will be their line of retreat-to the White House."

"There is the chance," said Cleave, "that General McClellan will abandon that line, and make instead for the James and the gunboats at Harrison's Landing."

Hill nodded. "Yes, it's a possibility. General Lee is aware of it. He'll not unmask Richmond and come altogether on this side the Chickahominy until he knows. All that crowd down there may set to and cross to-night-"

"How many bridges?" asked Lawton.

"Alexander's and Grapevine. Woodbury's higher up."

"I do not believe that there are three, sir. There is a report that two are burned. I believe that the Grapevine is their only road-"

"You believe, colonel, but you do not know. What do you think, General Winder?"

"I think, sir, with Colonel Cleave, that we should push down through the woods to the right of the Grapevine Bridge. They, too, are exhausted, their horses jaded, their ammunition spent. We could gather a little artillery-Poague's battery is here. They are crushed together, in great masses. If we could fall upon them, cause a great panic there at the water, much might come of it."

Hill looked with troubled eyes about the plateau. "And two or three thousand men, perhaps, be swallowed up and lost! A grand charge that took this plateau-yes! and a grand charge at Beaver Dam Creek yesterday at dark, and a grand charge when Albert Sidney Johnston was killed, and a grand charge when Ashby was killed, and on a number of other occasions, and now a grand night-time charge with worn-out troops. All grand-just the kind of grandeur the South cannot afford!... An army yet of blue troops and fresh, shouting brigades, and our centre and right on the other side of the creek.... I don't dare do it, gentlemen!-not on my own responsibility. What do you think, General Lawton?"

"I think you are right, sir."

"More and more troops are coming upon the plateau," said Winder. "General Hill, if you will order us to go we will see to it that you do not repent-"

"They are defeated and retreating, sir," said Cleave. "If they are crossing the river, it is at least in the realm of probability that they have but the one path. No one knows better than you what resolute pressure might now accomplish. Every moment that we wait they gain in steadiness, and other reserves will come up. Make their junction with their centre, and to-morrow we fight a terrific battle where to-night a lesser struggle might secure a greater victory."

"Speaking largely, that is true," said Hill. "But-I wish General Jackson were here! I think you know, gentlemen, that, personally, I could wish, at this minute, to be down there in the woods, beside the Grapevine Bridge. But with the knowledge that the enemy is bringing up reserves, with the darkness so thick, with no great force, and that exhausted, and with no artillery, I cannot take the responsibility of the advance. If General Jackson were here-"

"May I send in search of him, sir?"

"Yes, General Winder, you may do that. And if he says, 'Go!' there won't one of you be happier than I."

"We know that, general.-Cleave, I am going to send you. You're far the likeliest. We want him to come and lead us to the completest victory. By God, we want Front Royal and Port Republic again!"

Cleave, turning, disappeared into the darkness. "See to your men, General Winder. Get them ready," said Hill. "I'm going a little way into the woods to see what I can see myself." He went, Lawton with him. Before many minutes had passed they were back. "Nearly walked into their lines! Strung across the Grapevine road. Massed thick between us and the Chickahominy. Scattered like acorns through the woods. Pretty miserable, I gather. Passed party hunting water. Speech bewrayeth the man, so didn't say anything. Heard the pickets talking. 'Twas Meagher and French came up. They're building great fires by the water. Looks as though they meant to cross. Nothing of General Jackson yet?"

"No, sir. Not yet."

"Well, I'm going into the house for a morsel of food. Send for me the moment you hear anything. I wish the artillery were up. Who's this? Colonel Fauquier Cary? In the darkness, couldn't tell. Yes, General Winder thinks so, too. We've sent to ask General Jackson. Come with me, Cary, to the house. Faugh! this stifling heat! And that was Sykes we were fighting against-George Sykes! Remember he was my roommate at the Point?"

The short path to McGehee's house was not trodden without difficulty. All the great plateau was cumbered with débris of the struggle. On the cut and furrowed ground one stumbled upon abandoned stores and arms. There were overturned wagons and ambulances with dead horses; there were ruined gun-carriages; there were wrecked litters, fallen tents, dead men and the wounded. Here, and on the plain below, the lanterns of the surgeons and their helpers moved like glowworms. They gathered the wounded, blue and grey. "Treat the whole field alike," had said Lee. Everywhere were troops seeking their commands, hoarsely calling, joining at last their comrades. Fires had been kindled. Dim, dim, in the southwestern sky beyond the yet rolling vapour, showed a gleaming where was Richmond. D. H. Hill and Fauquier Cary went indoors. An aide managed to find some biscuits, and there was water from the well. "I haven't touched food since daybreak," said the general.

"Nor I. Much as I like him, I am loath to let Fitz John Porter strike down the York River line to-night, if that's his road, or cross the Chickahominy if that's the road! We have a victory. Press it home and fix it there."

"I believe that you are right. Surely Jackson will see it so."

"Where is General Jackson?"

"God knows!-Thank you, Reid. Poor fare, Cary, but familiar. Come, Reid, get your share."

They ate the hard biscuits and drank the well-water. The air was still and sultry; through the windows they heard, afar off, the bugles-their own and those of the foe.

"High, over all the melancholy bugle grieves."

Moths came in to the candle. With his hand Cary warned them away. One lit on his sleeve. "I wonder what you think of it," he said, and put him out of window. There was a stir at the door. A sergeant appeared. "We're gathering up the wounded, general-and we found a Yankee officer under the trees just here-and he said you'd know him-but he's fainted dead away-" He moved aside. "Litters gave out long ago, so we're taking U. S. blankets-"

Four men, carrying by the corners a blanket with an unconscious man upon it, came into the room. The Confederate officers looked. "No, I don't know him. Why, wait-Yes, I do! It's Clitz-Clitz that was so young and red-cheeked and our pet at the Point!... Yes, and one day in Mexico his regiment filed past, going into a fight, and he looked so like a gallant boy that I prayed to God that Clitz might not be hurt!... Reid, have him put in a room here! See that Dr. Mott sees him at once.-O God, Cary, this fratricidal war! Fighting George Sykes all day, and now this boy-"

"Yes," said Cary. "Once to-day I was opposed to Fitz John Porter. He looked at me out of a cloud, and I looked at him out of one, and the battle roared between. I always liked him." He walked across the room, looked out of the window upon the battlefield, and came back. "But," he said grimly, "it is a war of invasion. What do you think is wrong with Jackson?"

The other looked at him with his fine, kindly eyes. "Why, let me tell you, Cary,-since it won't go any further,-I am as good a Presbyterian as he is, but I think he has prayed too much."

"I see!" said Cary. "Well, I would be willing to put up a petition of my own just now.-Delay! Delay! We have set opportunity against a wall and called out the firing party." He rose. "Thanks for the biscuits. I feel another man. I'll go now and look after my wounded. There are enough of them, poor souls!"

Another stir occurred at the door. The aide appeared. "They've taken some prisoners in the wood at the foot of the hill, sir. One of them says he's General Reynolds-"

"Reynolds! Good God, Reynolds! Bring him in-"

General Reynolds came in. "Reynolds!"-"Hill!"-"How are you, Reynolds?"-"Good Lord, it's Fauquier Cary!"

The aide put a chair. The prisoner sank into it and covered his face with his hands. Presently he let them drop. "Hill, we ought not to be enemies! Messmates and tent-mates for a year!... It's ghastly."

"I'll agree with you there, Reynolds. It's ghastlier than ghastly.-You aren't hurt?"

Outside, over the great hilltop upon which Richard Cleave was moving, the darkness might be felt. The air smelled strongly of burned powder, was yet thickened by smoke. Where fires had been kindled, the ruddy light went up like pillars to sustain a cloudy roof. There were treetops, burnished, high in air; then all the land fell to the swampy shores of the creek, and beyond to the vast and sombre battle plain, where the shells had rained. The masses of grey troops upon it, resting on their arms, could be divined by the red points of camp-fires. Lanterns, also, were wandering like marsh lights, up and down and to and fro. Here, on the plateau, it was the same. They danced like giant fireflies. He passed a blazing log about which were gathered a dozen men. Some wag of the mess had said something jocular; to a man they were laughing convulsively. Had they been blamed, they would perhaps have answered that it was better to laugh than to cry. Cleave passed them with no inclination to blame, and came to where, under the trees, the 65th was gathered. Here, too, there were fires; his men were dropped like acorns on the ground, making a little "coosh," frying a little bacon, attending to slight hurts, cognizant of the missing but not referring to them loudly, glad of victory, burying all loss, with a wide swing of courage making the best of it in the darkness. When they saw Cleave they suspended all other operations long enough to cheer him. He smiled, waved his hand, spoke a short word to Hairston Breckinridge, and hurried on. He passed the 2d Virginia, mourning its colonel-Colonel Allen-fallen in the front of the charge. He passed other bivouacs-men of Rodes's, of Garland's, of Trimble's. "Where is General Jackson?"-"Can't tell you, sir-" "Here is General Ewell."

"Old Dick" squatted by a camp-fire, was broiling a bit of bacon, head on one side, as he looked up with bright round eyes at Cleave, whom he liked. "That you, Richard Cleave? By God, sir, if I were as excellent a major-general as I am a cook!-Have a bit?-Well, we wolloped them! They fought like men, and we fought like men, and by God, I can't get the cannon out of my ears! General Jackson?-I thought he was in front with D. H. Hill. Going to do anything more to-night? It's pretty late, but I'm ready."

"Nothing-without General Jackson," said Cleave. "Thank you, general-if I might have a mouthful of coffee? I haven't the least idea when I have eaten."

Ewell handed him the tin cup. He drank hastily and went on. Now it was by a field hospital, ghastly sights and ghastly sounds, pine boughs set for torches. He shut his eyes in a moment's faintness. It looked a demoniac place, a smoke-wreathed platform in some Inferno circle. He met a staff officer coming up from the plain. "General Lee has ridden to the right. He is watching for McClellan's next move. There's a rumour that everything's in motion toward the James. If it's true, there's a chase before us to-morrow, eh?-A. P. Hill suffered dreadfully. 'Prince John' kept McClellan beautifully amused.-General Jackson? On the slope of the hill by the breastworks."

A red light proclaimed the place as Cleave approached it. It seemed a solitary flame, night around it and a sweep of scarped earth. Cleave, coming into the glow, found only the old negro Jim, squat beside it like a gnome, his eyes upon the jewelled hollows, his lips working. Jim rose. "De gineral, sah? De gineral done sont de staff away ter res'. Fo' de Lawd, de gineral bettah follah dat 'zample! Yaas, sah,-ober dar in de big woods."

Cleave descended the embankment and entered a heavy wood. A voice spoke-Jackson's-very curtly. "Who is it, and what is your business?"

"It is the colonel of the 65th Virginia, sir. General Winder sends me, with the approval of General D. H. Hill, from the advance by the McGehee house."

A part of the shadow detached itself and came forward as Jackson. It stalked past Cleave out of the belt of trees and over the bare red earth to the fire. The other man followed, and in the glare faced the general again. The leaping flame showed Jackson's bronzed face, with the brows drawn down, the eyes looking inward, and the lips closed as though no force could part them. Cleave knew the look, and inwardly set his own lips. At last the other spoke. "Well, sir?"

"The enemy is cramped between us and the Chickahominy, sir. Our pickets are almost in touch of theirs. If we are scattered and disorganized, they are more so,-confused-distressed. We are the victors, and the troops still feel the glow of victory."


"There might be a completer victory. We need only you to lead us, sir."

"You are mistaken. The men are wearied. They worked very hard in the Valley. They need not do it all."

"They are not so wearied, sir. There is comment, I think, on what the Army of the Valley has not done in the last two days. We have our chance to refute it all to-night."

"General Lee is the commander-in-chief. General Lee will give orders."

"General Lee has said to himself: 'He did so wonderfully in the Valley, I do not doubt he will do as wonderfully here. I leave him free. He'll strike when it is time.'-It is time now, sir."

"Sir, you are forgetting yourself."

"Sir, I wish to rouse you."

Jackson walked past the fire to a fallen tree, sat himself down and looked across to the other man. The low flame more deeply bronzed his face. His eyes looked preternaturally sunken. He sat, characteristically rigid, a figure in grey stone. There was about him a momentary air of an Indian, he looked so ruthless. If it was not that, thought Cleave, then it was that he looked fanatic. Whichever it might be, he perceived that he himself stood in arctic air. He had been liked, he knew; now he saw the mist of disfavour rise. Jackson's voice came gratingly. "Who sent you?"

"General Winder and General D. H. Hill."

"You will tell General Hill that I shall make no further attack to-night. I have other important duties to perform."

"I know what I risk," said Cleave, "and I do not risk it lightly. Have you thought of how you fell on them at Front Royal and at Winchester? Here, too, they are confused, retr

eating-a greater force to strike, a greater result to win, a greater service to do for the country, a greater name to make for yourself. To-morrow morning all the world may say, 'So struck Napoleon-'"

"Napoleon's confidence in his star was pagan. Only God rules."

"And the man who accepts opportunity-is he not His servant? May we not, sir, may we not make the attack?"

"No, sir; not to-night. We have marred too many Sundays-"

"It is not Sunday!"

Jackson looked across with an iron countenance. "So little the fighter knows! See, what war does! But I will keep, in part at least, the Sabbath. You may go, sir."

"General Jackson, this is Friday evening."

"Colonel Cleave, did you hear my order? Go, sir!-and think yourself fortunate that you do not go under arrest."


Jackson rose. "One other word, and I take your sword. It occurs to me that I have indulged you in a freedom that-Go!"

Cleave turned with sharp precision and obeyed. Three paces took him out of the firelight into the overhanging shadow. He made a gesture of sorrow and anger. "Who says that magic's dead? Now, how long will that potion hold him?" He stumbled in the loose, bare earth, swamp and creek below him. He looked down into that trough of death. "I gained nothing, and I have done for myself! If I know him-Ugh!"

He shook himself, went on through the sultry, smoky night, alternate lantern-slides of glare and darkness, to the eastern face of the plateau. Here he found Winder, reported, and with him encountered D. H. Hill coming with Fauquier Cary from the McGehee house. "What's that?" said Hill. "He won't pursue to-night? Very well, that settles it! Maybe they'll be there in the morning, maybe not. Look here, Winder! Reynolds's taken-you remember Reynolds?"

Cary and Cleave had a moment apart. "All well, Fauquier? The general?-Edward?"

"I think so. I saw Warwick for a moment. A minie had hurt his hand-not serious, he said. Edward I have not seen."

"I had a glimpse of him this morning.-This morning!"

"Yes-long ago, is it not? You'll get your brigade after this."

The other looked at him oddly. "Will I? I strongly doubt it. Well, it seems not a large thing to-night."

Beyond the main battlefield where A. P. Hill's and Longstreet's shattered brigades lay on their arms, beyond the small farmhouse where Lee waked and watched, beyond the Chickahominy and its swamps, beyond forest and farm land, lay Richmond under the stars. Eastwardly, within and without its girdling earthworks, that brilliant and histrionic general, John Bankhead Magruder, El Capitan Colorado, with a lisping tongue, a blade like Bayard's, and a talent for drama and strategy, kept General McClellan under the impression, confirmed by the whole Pinkerton force, that "at least eighty thousand men" had remained to guard Richmond, when Lee with "at least eighty thousand men" had crossed the Chickahominy. Richmond knew better, but Richmond was stoically calm as to the possibility of a storming. What it had been hard to be calm over was the sound, this Friday, of the guns beyond the Chickahominy. Mechanicsville, yesterday, was bad enough, but this was frightful. Heavy, continuous, it took away the breath and held the heart in an iron grip. All the loved ones there-all the loved ones there!-and heavier and heavier toward night grew the fearful sound.... Then began the coming of the wounded. In the long dusk of the summer evening, the cannonading ceased. A little after nine arrived couriers, announcing the victory. The church bells of Richmond, not yet melted into cannon, began to ring. "It was a victory-it was a victory," said the people to one another.... But the wounded continued to come in, ambulance, cart, and wagon rolling like tumbrels over the stones. To many a mother was brought tidings of the death of her son, and many a wife must say, "I am widowed," and many children cried that night for their father. The heat was frightful. The city tossed and moaned, without sleep, or nursed, or watched, or wandered fevered through the streets. The noise of the James around its rocky islands was like the groaning of the distant battlefield. The odour of the June flowers made the city like a chamber of death. All windows were open wide to the air, most houses lighted. Sometimes from these there came forth a sharp cry; sometimes womens' forms, restless in the night, searching again the hospitals. "He might be here."-"He might be at this one." Sometimes, before such or such a house, cart or carriage or wagon stopped. "Oh, God! wounded or-?" All night long fared the processions from the field of Gaines's Mill to the hospitals. Toward dawn it began to be "No room. Try Robinson's-try the De Sales."-"Impossible here! We can hardly step between the rows. The beds gave out long ago. Take him to Miss Sally Tompkins."-"No room. Oh, the pity of it! Take him to the St. Charles or into the first private house. They are all thrown open."

Judith, kept at the Stonewall all the night before, had gone home, bathed, drawn the shutters of her small room, lain down and resolutely closed her eyes. She must sleep, she knew,-must gather strength for the afternoon and night. The house was quiet. Last night the eldest son had been brought in wounded. The mother, her cousin, had him in her chamber; she and his mammy and the old family doctor. His sister, a young wife, was possessed by the idea that her husband might be in one of the hospitals, delirious, unable to tell where he belonged, calling upon her, and no one understanding. She was gone, in the feverish heat, upon her search. There came no sounds from below. After the thunder which had been in the ear, after the sounds of the hospital, all the world seemed as silent as a cavern or as the depth of the sea. Judith closed her eyes, determinedly stilled her heart, drew regular breath, put herself out of Richmond back in a certain cool and green forest recess which she loved, and there wooed sleep. It came at last, with a not unhappy dream. She thought she was walking on the hills back of Greenwood with her Aunt Lucy. The two said they were tired and would rest, and entered the graveyard and sat down upon the bank of ivy beside Ludwell Cary's grave. That was all natural enough; a thing they had done many times. They were taught at Greenwood that there was nothing mournful there. Shells lay about them, beneath the earth, but the beneficent activities had escaped, and were active still, beneficent still.... The word "shells" in the dream turned the page. She was upon a great sea beach and quite alone. She sat and looked at the waves coming rolling in, and presently one laid Richard at her feet. She bandaged the cut upon his forehead, and called him by his name, and he looked at her and smiled. "Out of the ocean, into the ocean," he said. "All of us. A going forth and a returning." She felt herself, in the dream, in his arms, and found it sweet. The waves were beneath them; they lay now on the crests, now in the hollows, and there seemed no port. This endured a long while, until she thought she heard the sea-fairies singing. Then there came a booming sound, and she thought, "This is the port, or perhaps it is an island that we are passing." She asked Richard which it was, but he did not answer, and she turned upon the wave and found that he was not there.... It was seaweed about her arms. The booming grew louder, rattled the window-glass. She opened her eyes, pushed her dark loosened hair from her arms and bosom, and sat up. "The cannon again!"

She looked at her watch. It was two o'clock. Rising, she put on her dark, thin muslin, and took her shady hat. The room seemed to throb to the booming guns. All the birds had flown from the tulip tree outside. She went downstairs and tapped at her cousin's door. "How is he?"-"Conscious now, thank God, my dear! The doctor says he will be spared. How the house shakes! And Walter and Ronald out there. You are going back?"

"Yes. Do not look for me to-night. There will be so much to be done-"

"Yes, yes, my dear. Louder and louder! And Ronald is so reckless! You must have something to eat."

"Shirley will give me a glass of milk. Tell Rob to get well. Good-bye."

She kissed her cousin, drank her glass of milk in the dining-room where the silver was jingling on the sideboard, and went out into the hot, sound-filled air. At three she was at her post in the hospital.

The intermittent thunder, heavier than any on the continent before, was stilled at last,-at nine, as had happened the night before. The mazed city shook the mist from before its eyes, and settled to the hot night's work, with the wagons, bringing the dead and the wounded, dull on the cobblestones to the ear, but loud, loud to the heart. All that night the Stonewall Hospital was a grisly place. By the next morning every hospital in town was choked with the wounded, and few houses but had their quota. The surgeons looked like wraiths, the nursing women had dark rings beneath their eyes, set burningly in pale faces, the negroes who valiantly helped had a greyish look. More emotional than the whites, they burst now and then into a half wail, half chant. So heavy was the burden, so inadequate the small, beleaguered city's provision for the weight of helpless anguish, that at first there was a moment of paralysis. As easy to strive with the tornado as with this wind of pain and death! Then the people rallied and somewhat outstripped a people's best.

From the troops immediately about the city came the funeral escorts. All day the Dead March from "Saul" wailed through the streets, out to Hollywood. The churches stayed open; old and young, every man in the city, white or black, did his part, and so did all the women. The need was so great that the very young girls, heretofore spared, found place now in hospital or house, beside the beds, the pallets, the mere blanket, or no blanket, on the floor. They could keep away the tormenting flies, drawn by the heat, the glare, the blood and effluvia, could give the parched lips water, could watch by the less terrifically hurt. All the city laboured; putting aside the personal anguish, the private loss known, suspected, or but fearfully dreaded. Glad of the victory but with only calamity beneath its eyes, the city wrestled with crowding pain, death, and grief.

Margaret Cleave was at one of the great hospitals. An hour later came, too, Miriam and Christianna. "Yes, you can help. Miriam, you are used to it. Hold this bandage so, until the doctor comes. If it grows blood-soaked-like this one-call some one at once. Christianna, you are strong.-Mrs. Preston, let her have the bucket of water. Go up and down, between the rows, and give water to those who want it. If they cannot lift themselves, help them-so!"

Christianna took the wooden bucket and the tin dipper. For all she looked like a wild rose she was strong, and she had a certain mountain skill and light certainty of movement. She went down the long room, giving water to all who moaned for it. They lay very thick, the wounded, side by side in the heat, the glare of the room, where all the light possible must be had. Some lay outstretched and rigid, some much contorted. Some were delirious, others writhed and groaned, some were most pathetically silent and patient. Nearly all were thirsty; clutched the dipper with burning fingers, drank, with their hollow eyes now on the girl who held it, now on mere space. Some could not help themselves. She knelt beside these, raised the head with one hand, put water to the lips with the other. She gained her mountain steadiness and did well, crooning directions in her calm, drawling voice. This bucket emptied, she found where to fill it again, and pursued her task, stepping lightly between the huddled, painful rows, among the hurrying forms of nurses and surgeons and coloured helpers.

At the very end of the long lane, she came upon a blanket spread on the blood-stained floor. On it lay a man, blond and straight, closed eyes with a line between them, hand across his breast touching his shirt where it was stiff with dried blood. "Air you thirsty?" began Christianna, then set the bucket suddenly down.

Allan opened his eyes. "Very thirsty.... I reckon I am light-headed. I'm not on Thunder Run, am I?"

The frightful day wore on to late afternoon. No guns shook the air in these hours. Richmond understood that, out beyond the entrenchments, there was a pause in the storm. McClellan was leaving his own wonderful earthworks. But would he retreat down the Peninsula by the way he had come, or would he strike across and down the James to his gunboats by Westover? The city gathered that General Lee was waiting to find out. In the meantime the day that was set to the Dead March in "Saul" passed somehow, in the June heat and the odour of flowers and blood.

Toward five o'clock Judith left the Stonewall Hospital. She had not quitted it for twenty-four hours, and she came now into the light and air like a form emerging from Hades, very palely smiling, with the grey of the underworld, its breath and its terror still about her. There was hardly yet a consciousness of fatigue. Twelve hours before she had thought, "If I do not rest a little, I shall fall." But she had not been able to rest, and the feeling had died. For the last twelve she had moved like an automaton, swift, sure, without a thought of herself. It was as though her will stood somewhere far above and swayed her body like a wand. Even now she was going home, because the will said she must; must rest two hours, and come back fresher for the night.

As she came out into the golden light, Cleave left the group of young and old about the door and met her. In the plane along which life now moved, nothing was unnatural; certainly Richmond did not find it so, that a lover and his beloved should thus encounter in the street, a moment between battles. Her dark eyes and his grey ones met. To find him there seemed as natural as it had been in her dream; the street was no more to her than the lonely beach. They crossed it, went up toward the Capitol Square, and, entering, found a green dip of earth with a bench beneath a linden tree. Behind them rose the terraced slope to the pillared Capitol; as always, in this square children's voices were heard with their answering nurses, and the squirrels ran along the grass or upon the boughs above. But the voices were somewhat distant and the squirrels did not disturb; it was a leafy, quiet nook. The few men or women who passed, pale, distrait, hurrying from one quarter of the city to another, heeded as little as they were heeded. Lovers' meetings-lovers' partings-soldiers-women who loved them-faces pale and grave, yet raised, hands in hands, low voices in leafy places-man and woman together in the golden light, in the breathing space before the cannon should begin again-Richmond was growing used to that. All life was now in public. For the most part a clear altruism swayed the place and time, and in the glow smallness of comment or of thought was drowned. Certainly, it mattered not to Cleave and Judith that it was the Capitol Square, and that people went up and down.

"I have but the shortest while," he said. "I came this morning with Allen's body-the colonel of the 2d. I ride back directly. I hope that we will move to-night."

"Following McClellan?"

"To get across his path, if possible."

"There will be another battle?"

"Yes. More than one, perhaps."

"I have believed that you were safe. I do not see that I could have lived else."

"Many have fallen; many are hurt. I found Allan Gold in the hospital. He will not die, however.... Judith, how often do I see your face beside the flag!"

"When I was asleep I dreamed of you. We were drifting together, far out at sea-your arm here-" She lifted his hand, drew his arm about her, rested her head on his breast. "I love you-I love you-I love you."

They stayed in the leafy place and the red-gold light for half an hour, speaking little, sitting sometimes with closed eyes, but hand in hand. It was much as though they were drifting together at sea, understanding perfectly, but weary from battling, and with great issues towering to the inner vision. They would have been less nobly minded had their own passion inexorably claimed them. All about them were suffering and death and the peril of their cause. For one half-hour they drew happiness from the darkly gigantic background, but it was a quiet and lofty form, though sweet, sweet! with whom they companioned. When the time was passed the two rose, and Cleave held her in his arms. "Love-Love-"

When he was gone she waited awhile beneath the trees, then slowly crossed the Capitol Square and moved toward the small room behind the tulip tree. The streets were flooded with a sunset glow. Into Franklin from Main came marching feet, then, dull, dull! the muffled drums. Soldiers and furled colours and the coffin, atop it the dead man's cap and gauntlets and sword; behind, pacing slowly, his war horse, stirrups crossed over saddle. Soldiers, soldiers, and the drums beating like breaking hearts. She moved back to a doorstep and let the Dead March from "Saul" go by.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top