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   Chapter 45 THE LONE TREE HILL

The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 21174

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The three beautiful Carys walked together from the road gate toward the house. Before them, crowning the low hill, showed the white pillars between oaks where the deep coloured leaves yet clung. The sun was down, the air violet, the negro children burning brush and leaves in the hollow behind the house quarter. Halfway to the pillars, there ran back from the drive a long double row of white chrysanthemums. The three sisters paused to gather some for the vases.

Unity and Molly gathered them. Judith sat down on the bank by the road, thick with dead leaves. She drew her scarf about her. Molly came presently and sat beside her. "Dear Judith, dear Judith!" she said, in her soft little voice, and stroked her sister's dress.

Judith put her arm about her, and drew her close. "Molly, isn't it as though the earth were dying? Just the kind of fading light and hush one thinks of going in-I don't know why, but I don't like chrysanthemums any more."

"I know," said Molly, "there's a feel of mould in them, and of dead leaves and chilly nights. But the soldiers are so used to lying out of doors! I don't believe they mind it much, or they won't until the snow comes. Judith-"

"Yes, honey."

"The soldiers that I have dreadful dreams about are the soldiers in prison. Judith, I dreamed about Major Stafford the other night! He had blood upon his forehead and he was walking up and down, walking up and down in a place with a grating."

"You mustn't dream so, Molly.-Oh, yes, yes, yes! I'm sorry for him. On the land and on the sea and for them that are in prison-"

Unity joined them, with her arm full of white bloom. "Oh, isn't there a dreadful hush? How gay we used to be, even at twilight! Judith, Judith, let us do something!"

Judith looked at her with a twisted smile. "This morning, very early, we went with Aunt Lucy over the storeroom and the smoke-house, and then we went down to the quarter and got them all together, and told them how careful now we would all have to be with meal and bacon. And Susan's baby had died in the night, and we had to comfort Susan, and this afternoon we buried the baby. After breakfast we scraped almost the last of the tablecloths into lint, and Molly made envelopes, and Daddy Ben and I talked about shoes and how we could make them at home. Then Aunt Lucy and I went into town to the hospitals. There is a rumour of smallpox, but I am sure it is only a rumour. It has been a hard day. A number of sick were brought in from Fredericksburg. So much pneumonia! An old man and woman came up from North Carolina looking for their son. I took them through the wards. Oh, it was pitiful! No, he was not there. Probably he was killed. And Unity went to the sewing-rooms, and has been there sewing hard all day. And then we came home, and found Julius almost in tears, and Molly triumphant with the parlour carpet all up and ready to be cut into squares-soldiers sleeping in the snowy winter under tulips and roses. And then we read father's letter, and that was a comfort, a comfort! And then we took Susan's little baby and buried it, and did what we could for Susan; and then we walked down to the gate and stopped to gather chrysanthemums. And now we are going back to the house, and I dare say there'll be some work to do between now and bedtime. We're doing something pretty nearly all the time, Unity."

Unity lifted with strength the mass of bloom above her head. "I know, I know! But it's in me to want a brass band to do it by! I want to see the flag waving! I want to hear the sound of our work. Oh, I know I am talking foolishness!" She took Judith by the hands, and lifted her to her feet. "Anyhow, you're brave enough, Judith, Judith darling! Come, let us race to the house."

The three were country-bred, fleet of foot. They ran, swiftly, lightly, up the long drive. Twilight was around them, the leaves drifting down, the leaves crisp under foot. The tall white pillars gleamed before them; through the curtainless windows showed, jewel-like, the flame of a wood fire. They reached the steps almost together, soberly mounted them, and entered the hall. Miss Lucy called to them from the library. "The papers have come."

The old room, quiet, grave, book-lined, stored with records of old struggles, lent itself with fitness to the papers nowadays. The Greenwood Carys sat about the wood fire, Judith in an old armchair, Unity on an old embroidered stool, Molly in the corner of a great old sofa. Miss Lucy pushed her chair into the ring of the lamplight and read aloud in her quick, low, vibrant voice. The army at Fredericksburg-that was what they thought of now, day and night. She read first of the army at Fredericksburg-of Lee on the southern side of the Rappahannock, and Burnside on the northern, and the cannon all planted, and of the women and children beginning to leave. She read all the official statements, all the rumours, all the guesses, all the prophecies of victory and the record of suffering. Then she read the news of elsewhere in the vast, beleaguered fortress-of the fighting on the Mississippi, in Louisiana, in Arkansas, in the Carolinas; echoes from Cumberland Gap, echoes from Corinth. She read all the Richmond news-hot criticism, hot defence of the President, of the Secretary of War, of the Secretary of State; echoes from the House, from the Senate; determined optimism as to foreign intervention; disdain, as determined, of Burnside's "On to Richmond"; passionate devotion to the grey armies in the field-all the loud war song of the South, clear and defiant! She read everything in the paper. She read the market prices. Coffee $4 per lb. Tea $20 per lb. Wheat $5 per bushel. Corn $15 per barrel. Bacon $2 per lb. Sugar $50 per loaf. Chickens $10. Turkeys $50.

"Oh," cried Molly. "We have chickens yet, beside what we send to the hospitals! And we have eggs and milk and butter, and I was looking at the turkeys to-day. I feel wicked!"

"A lot of the turkeys will die," said Unity consolingly. "They always do. I spoke to Sam about the ducks and the guinea-hens the other day. I told him we were going to send them to Fredericksburg. He didn't like it. 'Miss Unity, what fer you gwine ter send all dem critturs away lak dat? You sen' 'em from Greenwood, dey gwine die ob homesickness!' And we don't use many eggs ourselves, honey, and we've no way to send the milk."

Miss Lucy having read the paper through, the Greenwood ladies went to supper. That frugal meal over, they came back to the library, the parlour looking somewhat desolate with the carpet up and rolled in one corner, waiting for the shears to-morrow. "The shepherds and shepherdesses look," said Unity, "as though they were shivering a little. I don't suppose they ever thought they'd live to see a Wilton carpet cut into blankets for Carys and other soldiers gone to war! It's impossible not to laugh when you think of Edward drawing one of those coverlets over him! Oh, me!"

"If Edward gets a furlough this winter," said Judith suddenly, "we must give him a party. With the two companies in town, and some of the surgeons, there will be men enough. Then Virginia and Nancy and Deb and Maria and Betty and Agatha and all the refugeeing girls-we could have a real party once more-"

"Just leaving out the things to eat," said Unity; "and wearing very old clothes. We'll do it, won't we, Aunt Lucy?"

Aunt Lucy thought it an excellent idea. "We mustn't get old before our time! We must keep brightness about the place. I have seen my mother laugh and look all the gayer out of her beautiful black eyes when other folk would have been weeping!-I hear company coming, now! It's Cousin William, I think."

Cousin William it was, not gone to the war because of sixty-eight years and a rich inheritance of gout. He came in, ruddy as an apple, ridden over to cheer up the Greenwood folk and hear and tell news from the front. He had sons there himself, and a letter which he would read for the thirtieth time. When Judith had made him take the great armchair, and Miss Lucy had rung for Julius and a glass of wine, and Unity had trimmed the light, and Molly replenished the fire, he read, and as in these days no one ever read anything perfunctorily, the reading was more telling than an actor could have made it. In places Cousin William himself and his hearers laughed, and in places reader and listener brushed hand across eyes. "Your loving son," he read, and folded the sheets carefully, for they were becoming a little worn. "Now, what's your news, Lucy? Have you heard from Fauquier?"

"Yes, yesterday. He has reached Fredericksburg from Winchester. It is one of his old, dry, charming letters, only-only a little hard to make out in places, because he's not yet used to writing with his left hand." Miss Lucy's face worked for a moment; then she smiled again, with a certain high courage and sweetness, and taking the letter from her work-basket read it to Cousin William. He listened, nodding his head at intervals. "Yes, yes, to be sure, to be sure! You can't remember Uncle Edward Churchill, Lucy, but I can. He used to read Swift to me, though I didn't care for it much, except for Gulliver. Fauquier reminds me of him often, except that Uncle Edward was bitter-though it wasn't because of his empty sleeve; it was for other things.-Fredericksburg! There'll be another terrible battle. And Warwick?"

"We heard from him to-day-a short letter, hurriedly written; but oh! like Warwick-like Warwick!"

She read this, too. It was followed by a silence in the old Greenwood library. Then said Cousin William softly, "It is worth while to get such letters. There aren't many like Warwick Cary. He's the kind that proves the future-shows it isn't just a noble dream. And Edward?"

"A letter three days ago, just after you were here the last time."

The room smiled. "It was what Edward calls a screed," said Molly; "there wasn't a thing about war in it."

Unity stirred the fire, making the sparks go up chimney. "Five pages about Massanutton in her autumn robes, and a sonnet to the Shenandoah! I like Edward."

At ten o'clock Cousin William rode away. The Greenwood women had prayers, and then, linked together, they went up the broad, old shallow stairs to the gallery above, and kissed one another good-night.

In her own room Judith laid pine knots upon the brands. Up flared the light, and reddened all the pleasant chamber. She unclad herself, slipped on her dressing-gown, brushed and braided her dusky hair, rippling, long and thick, then fed again the fire, took letters

from her rosewood box, and in the light from the hearth read them for the thousandth time. There was none from Richard Cleave after July, none, none! Sitting in a low chair that had been her mother's, she bowed herself over the June-time letters, over the May-time letters. There had been but two months of bliss, two months! She read them again, although she had them all by heart; she held her hand as though it held a pen and traced the words so that she might feel, "Here and so, his hand rested"; she put the paper to her cheek, against her lips; she slipped to her knees, laid her arms along the seat of the chair and her head upon them, and prayed. "O God! my lover hast Thou put far from me.-O God! my lover hast Thou put far from me."

She knelt there long; but at last she rose, laid the letters in the box, and took from another compartment Margaret Cleave's. These were since July, a letter every fortnight. Judith read again the later ones, the ones of the late summer. "Dear child-dearest child, I cannot tell you! Only be forever sure that wherever he is, at Three Oaks or elsewhere, he loves you, loves you! No; I do not know that his is the course that I should take, but then women are different. I do not think I would ever think of pride or of the world and the world's opinion. If you cried to me I would go, and the world should not hold me back. But men have been trained to uphold that kind of pride. I did not think that Richard had it, but I see now all his father in him. Darling child, I do not think that it will last, but just now, oh, just now, you must possess your heart in patience!"

The words blurred before Judith's eyes. She sunk her head upon her knees. "Possess my heart in patience-Possess my heart in patience-Oh, God, I am not old enough yet to do it!"

She read another letter, one of later date. "Judith, I promised. I cannot tell you. But he is well, oh, believe that! and believe, too, that he is doing his work. He is not the kind to rest from work, he must work. And slowly, slowly that brings salvation. You are a noble woman. Be noble still-and wait awhile-and wait awhile! It will come right. Miriam is better. The woods about Three Oaks are gorgeous."

She read another. "Child, he is not at Three Oaks. Now you must rest-rest and wait."

Judith put the letters in the rosewood box. She arose, locked her hands behind her head and walked softly up and down the room. "Rest-rest and wait. Patience-quietude-tranquillity-strength-fortitude-endurance.-Rest- patience-calm quietude-"

It worked but partially. Presently, when she lay down it was to lie still enough, but sleepless. Late in the night she slept, but it was to dream again, much as she had dreamed during the Seven Days, great and tragic visions. Dawn waked her. She lay, staring at the white ceiling; then she arose. It was not cold. The earth lay still at this season, yet wrapped and warmed and softened with the memories of summer. Judith looked out of the window. There was a glow in the eastern sky, the trees were motionless, the brown path over the hills showed like a beckoning finger. She dressed, put a cloak about her, went softly downstairs and left the house.

The path across the meadow, through the wood, up the lone tree hill-she would see the sunrise, she would get above the world. She walked quickly, lightly, through the dank stillness. There was mist in the meadow, above the little stream. The wood was shadowy; mist, like ghosts, between the trees. She passed through it and came out on the bare hillside, rising dome-like to the one tree with the bench around it. The eastern sky was burning gold. Judith stood still. There was a man seated upon the bench, on the side that overlooked Greenwood. He sat with his head buried in his hands. She could not yet tell, but she thought he was in uniform.

With the thought she moved onward. She never remembered afterwards, whether she recognized him then, or whether she thought, "A soldier sleeping through the night up here! Why did he not come to the house?" She made no noise on the bare, moist earth of the path. She was within thirty feet of the bench when Cleave lifted his head from his hands, rose, stood still a moment, then with a gesture, weary and determined, turned to descend the hill-on the side away from Greenwood, toward a cross-country road. She called to him. "Richard!"

It was rapture-all beneath the rising sun forgotten save only this gold-lit hilltop, with its tree from Eden garden! But since it was earth, and Paradise not yet real, and there were checks and bars enough in their human lot, they came back from that seraph flight. This was the lone tree hill above Greenwood, and a November day, though gold-touched, and Philip Deaderick must get back to the section of Pelham's artillery refitting at Gordonsville.-"What do you mean? You are a soldier-you are back in the army?-but you have another name? Oh, Richard, I see, I see! Oh, I might have known! A gunner with Pelham. Oh, my gunner with Pelham, why did you not come before?"

Cleave wrung her hands, clasped in his, then bent and kissed them. "Judith, I will speak to you as to a comrade, because you would be the truest comrade ever man had! What would you do-what would you have done-in my place? What would you do now, in my place, but say-but say, 'I love you; let me go'?"

"I?" said Judith. "What would I have done? I would have re?ntered the army as you have re?ntered it. I would serve again as you are serving again. If it were necessary-Oh, I see that it was necessary!-I would serve disguised as you are disguised. But-but-when it came to Judith Cary-"

"Judith, say that it was not you and I, but some other disgraced soldier and one of your sisters-"

"You are not a disgraced soldier. The innocent cannot be disgraced."

"Who knows that I was innocent? My mother, and you, Judith, know it; my kinspeople and certain friends believe it; but all the rest of the country-the army, the people-they don't believe it. Let my name be known to-morrow, and by evening a rougher dismissal than before! Do you not see, do you not see, Judith?"

"I see partly. I see that you must serve. I see that you walk with dangers. I see that-that you could not even write. I see that I must possess my soul in patience. I see that we must wait-Oh, God, it is all waiting, waiting, waiting! But I do not see-and I refuse to see, Richard-anything at the end of it all but love, happiness, union, home for you and me!"

He held her close. "Judith, I do not know the right. I am not sure that I see the right, my soul is so tempest-tossed. That day at White Oak Swamp. If I could cleanse that day, bring it again into line with the other days of my life, poor and halting though they may have been, though they may be, if I could make all men say 'His life was a whole-one life, not two. He had no twin, a disobedient soldier, a liar and betrayer, as it was said he had.'-If I could do that, Judith! I do not see how I will do it, and yet it is my intention to do it. That done, then, darling, darling! I will make true love to you. If it is not done-but I will not think of that. Only-only-how to do it, how to do it! That maddens me at times-"

"Is it that? Then we must think of that. They are not all dead who could tell?-"

"Maury Stafford is not dead."

"Maury Stafford!-What has he to do with it?"

Cleave laughed, a sound sufficiently grim. "What has he not to do with it?-with that order which he carried from General Jackson to General Winder, and from General Winder-not, before God! to me! Winder is dead, and the courier who could have told is dead, and others whom I might have called are dead-dead, I will avow, because of my choice of action, though still-given that false order-I justify that choice! And now we hear that Major Stafford was among those taken prisoner at Sharpsburg."

Judith stood upright, her hand at her breast, her eyes narrowed. "Until this hour I never knew the name of that officer. I never thought to ask. I never thought of the mistake lying there. The mistake! All these months I have thought of it as a mistake-as one of those misunderstandings, mishappenings, accidental, incomprehensible, that wound and blister human life! I never saw it in a lightning flash for what it was till now!"

She looked about her, still with an intent and narrowed gaze. "The lone tree hill. It is a good place to see it from. There is nothing to be done but to join this day to a day last June-the day of Port Republic." Raising her hands she pressed them to her eyes as though to shut out a veritable lightning glare, then dropped them. She stood very straight, young, slender, finely and strongly fibred. "He said he would do the worst he could, and he has done it. And I said, 'At your peril!' and at his peril it shall be! And the harm that he has done, he shall undo it!" She turned. "Richard! he shall undo it."

Cleave stood beside her. "Love, love! how beautiful the light is over Greenwood! I thought, sitting here, 'I will not wait for the sunshine; I will go while all things are in shadow.' And I turned to go. And then came the sunshine. I must go now-away from the sunshine. I had but an hour, and half of it was gone before the sunshine came."

"How shall I know," she said, "if you are living? There is a battle coming."

"Yes. Judith, I will not write to you. Do not ask me; I will not. But after each battle I have managed somehow to get a line to my mother. She will tell you that I am living, well and living. I do not think that I shall die-no, not till Maury Stafford and I have met again!"

"He is in prison. They say so many die there.... Oh, Richard, write to me-"

But Cleave would not. "No! To do that is to say, 'All is as it was, and I let her take me with this stain!' I will not-I will not. Circumstance has betrayed us here this hour. We could not help it, and it has been a glory, a dream. That is it, a dream. I will not wake till I have said good-bye!"

They said good-bye, still in the dream, as lovers might, when one goes forth to battle and the other stays behind. He released her, turned short and sharp, and went down from the lone tree hill, down the side from Greenwood, to the country road. A piece of woods hid him from sight.

Judith stood motionless for a time, then she sat down upon the bench. She sat like a sibyl, elbows on knees, chin in hands, her gaze narrowed and fixed. She spoke aloud, and her voice was strange in her own ears. "Maury Stafford in prison. Where, and how long?"

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