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S he reined in his horse, the provost said, "Colonel, I've some prisoners down there who asked to see the old man."
By the kindly though disrespectful appellation of "old man," the provost indicated the general commanding the division; the colonel addressed was Edgar Vernaff, his chief of staff; the place of meeting, the woods of North Carolina; and the time, not long after the surrender of the Southern army.
At this moment an orderly bearing a note directed to the general reined up his horse. The chief of staff opened it and read:
"Hon. James Algier presents his compliments to the general commanding United States forces, and requests an immediate interview. Mr. Algier is at present under arrest of the provost guard."
"Who is this Algier ?" asked the chief. "He is a man who arrested himself this morning. Captain Bryant told me to say that he did not think it of any account, if the general was busy. Captain thinks the man is crazy."
"Very well. Say to Captain Bryant I will be along in a little while, and then we 'll see what the man wants."
The sun was sinking through the trees when Vernaff, accompanied by the provost, made his way through the woods to a spring, where
they found two country wagons drawn up, and protected by a detail from the guard.
An elderly man advanced from the fire, and in a stilted way began:
"Sir, have I the honor to address the general commanding this division of the Federal army?"
"I am chief of staff," answered Vernaff. "Any communication you have to make, I will receive in the general's name."
"Sir," replied the old man," I am not habituated to dealing with subordinates; I demand an immediate interview with the officer in command."
Vernaff flushed at this rebuff, then smiled at the pompous manner of the man. Though hurt for an instant by the disdainful speech, he was too good-tempered to take deep offense, so he answered: "General Brown cannot see you to-night; maybe he will find time in the morning, but I will not promise even that. If you have anything important to say, I am the proper person to hear it."
"I have the honor to represent the twentyfourth district of the State of Alabama in the Congress of the Confederate States, and I repeat my demand for an interview with your superior."
"Captain Bryant, you will withdraw your guard. This gentleman is free to go when he sees fit. We have prisoners enough to take care of without bagging the whole rebel Congress."
"But I refuse to be released, sir." "I hardly see how you can help yourself," said Vernaff.
"Sir," returned the man angrily, "I have heard of the impudence of the Northern soldiery, and gave credit for all the evil of which the whole world accuses them, but this surpasses my wildest conception."
"Call in your guard. Whether he will or not, this gentleman is free." Then addressing the man, he touched his cap and wished him "Good-night." But this politeness seemed to inflame the rage of the self-made prisoner, who burst out: "I defy you to withdraw your guard, and leave me and my family unprotected from your brutal hirelings."
"If you ask for a safe-guard," said the colonel coolly," that is another thing, and I will consider your request when you have time to speak with a little more politeness. You are not a prisoner, and we take no responsibility about you in any way; but I have no doubt that if you move up near Captain Bryant's camp he will see that you come to no harm." "In my day and country," replied Algier, "we were taught respect for our elders, but it seems that this is not a part of Northern education. Sir, I am by the fortunes of war thrown
VOL. XXXV.— 27.
into your power, and in the name of the Confederate States I demand the consideration which is my due."
"I do not recognize any Confederate States," said Vernaff; "and the consideration which is your due?—I don't think you would be willing I should pay you what I think that is. And for the rest, my time is of some value, so I will go on my way."
The guard had already left. The dusk had risen up under the trees, though the open places were still flooded with light. The sweet, cool smell of the swamp flowers, the murmurous silence, so strange after the turmoil of camp, flowed over the rider and softened his mood. True, the old man was a representative of the class most offensive to the Northern mind, and Vernaff was a New Englander of the new school, cool and without enthusiasm; yet at heart he was a strong partisan, and the loud vaporings of the Southerner grated upon his nerves.
Scarcely had he turned his face, when a new person entered into the conversation. Close be side him some one said: "Pardon my father. We are all alone here, far from home, and are starving. We have hardly eaten for three days."
The voice was very low and sweet, and the articulation of the words slow, and muffled by a slight lingering upon the vowel sounds. If it had been a male voice, the prolongation of the syllables would have suggested a drawl, and the distinct pauses between the words indicated indifference; but so liquid were the intonations, so sweetly constrained the pronunciation, that at first he did not comprehend that the appeal was a cry for help; and so rare and pure was the cadence, that when it ceased he continued to listen, and the echoes sank deep into his heart—it was like a cool hand upon a fevered brow.
He was disappointed when on looking down his eyes encountered the face of his petitioner. She who stood beside him was a young girl, clothed in garments draggled to the knees with yellow mud and torn in a hundred places. Her head and shoulders were covered with a dirty black and green shawl drawn tightly together under her chin. Her face was too long, her nose too large, and her mouth too full; through the grime and soot which lay in ridges under her eyes it was impossible to guess at her complexion, though the tear-courses had striped this envelope, and their channels showed white by contrast against the surrounding blackness. But the clear brown eyes which were turned on his face were piteously beautiful. There was nothing vulgar or bold about the face, and through all the misery there was a suspicion of mockery-shamed amusement at her uncouth appearance, as well as a wild desperation at
her terrible condition. She looked like a lady playing the part of stage beggar, but not quite able to forget herself in the dramatic impersonation.
Though she stated the fact that they were starving but as an excuse for her father's excitement, yet her manner was that of one asking for charity, and so he understood it, and would have granted aid without question, probably without verbal reply to her words, but that the circumstances were so novel.
The girl repeated, though less earnestly this time: "We are wofully hungry. Your men, or some one else, have stolen our mules; we can't get on, we can't go back, we can't stay here, and what in the world are we to do? Father at last made up his mind to surrender, and now it seems you won't have him." Then, with a faint little attempt at a smile and a careless gesture, she added: "He thought at least you would feed and protect your prison
Vernaff hesitated; and before he found words, the old man broke in: "Come away, Claudine. These people do not care for our misfortunes. To them it is but one more injury they find themselves permitted to inflict upon their hated enemies. Why allow them the satisfaction? I had supposed you to have too much pride to bandy words with persons of their class."
Bryant laughed aloud at the dignity assumed by the old Southerner, and even Vernaff threw down an amused glance. He did not reply directly, but gave orders to the provost to have the two cared for. Something in his contemptuous tone and manner made the girl flush at the indignity.
As the young officer rode off, Bryant said to the colonel: "I hardly know what to do with these people; I've got five hundred now in the bull-pen, and I guess some of them are pretty rough. I can't very well spare a special detail, and besides, my own lambs ain't saints, and I don't want to take the responsibility of a female Sunday-school on my shoulders; so it is not a very nice place for a woman. Don't you think if I should send them some rations and let them look out for themselves here in the woods, it would be just as well? Then if there should be any trouble, it would be their own fault and not ours.'
'But," responded Vernaff, "the woods are full of stragglers, broken men of both armies. No, we must take care of them in some way. If you think best, you may send them up to headquarters. I suppose they will be safe enough under our guard, and General Brown can shoulder the responsibility. But don't pick up any more women, if you please. Camp is no place for them."
Vernaff, who was just completing his studies when the war came, had left women out of his consideration, and now the idea of having a girl on his hands was disagreeable to contemplate. He tried to forget her, but somehow he could not bring himself to that state of feeling; the refugees were to be in some sort his guests-they must be fed and given shelter. This, at least, he could attend to, and to-morrow some arrangement might be made for forwarding them to their destination.
The chief of staff made a report to his commanding officer on his return, who was amused at the narration of the old man's peculiarities, laughing off the whole affair as a jest. "They are your friends, colonel," he said; "I wash my hands of all responsibility. Do with them as you please."
"But you will see the man?"
"Not to-night, I guess. Give him some supper to cool off his blood, and, if I feel like it, I'll talk with him to-morrow. But where do you propose to stow them? If Bryant's guards are a little wild, what do you think of the joyous reprobates you have picked out for headquarters?"
"If you have no objections, I will give up my rooms to them," answered Vernaff. "Very well," said the general.
The general and his staff were lodged in an old plantation house, the commander and his chief of staff taking the upper story for their own quarters, each occupying the suite on each side of the wide hall. The lower floor was devoted to the remainder of the staff, while tents and shelters ranged around the yard served for the guard and the band. Vernaff and the young aide-de-camp, who was his mess-mate, gave up their rooms, arranging the front one with what comforts they could find, and Vernaff ordered the best supper the place afforded for the entertainment of his guests.
In an hour the wagon came. The night had fallen, but the lanterns on the piazza gave light enough to show the passengers as they stepped from the rude vehicle. The old man walked across the veranda as solemnly as Jugurtha marching to the Mamertine. He cast a haughty look of recognition at Vernaff, but did not vouchsafe a word. "You will go upstairs with this gentleman," said the colonel, indicating the aide-de-camp. "The lady will take the front room. There is a door between the two."
The girl, her head still covered by the dark shawl, hesitated a moment, then said pleasantly:
"We thank you very much for your politeness: yes, you are very kind." She paused, drew a long sigh of relief, and continued: "I never thought I should be so glad to see
a Federal-but it is much better than the dark."
The young lieutenant showed the father and daughter to their rooms, while Vernaff directed the servants to carry their goods and chattels after them. In a few moments the aide returned, saying that the lady wished to speak with the chief, and in obedience the colonel presented himself at her door, which she opened at his knock. She had removed the dingy shawl, and her hair, long and thick, hung in careless coils about her neck and face. Her whole expression was changed by this flood of brown and golden red: thin and pale as she was, the outlines of her features were not so angular, nor her profile so sharp as it had appeared. It was a striking face not very pretty, and maybe a little harsh, but one capable of infinite variety; a face that would become more attractive as one grew better acquainted with its charm. But now there was a deprecatory trembling of her lips, though an amused smile sparkled in her eyes. With a quick gesture she began:
"I want to be a model prisoner, and how can I obey you if you don't send me some soap and hot water?" She paused a moment; then, looking frankly into his eyes, continued: "I would n't trouble you so much,- but, oh! I am so uncomfortable, and I could n't make up my mind to speak to the other officer. You won't think me unreasonable, will you?"
"I shall be extremely happy to supply all your wants," answered Vernaff stiffly. He wanted to say something pleasant, and to relieve the girl from her evident embarrassment; but under his calm demeanor he was the more embarrassed of the two, and could only articulate this frigid sentence. But he avenged himself on his awkwardness by sending the whole of his dressing-service - and it was a very elegant one-to the young lady's chamber. For now it was slowly dawning upon him that she was a lady. They should be made to understand that the officers of the United States could be kind when occasion called for kindness.
It was the custom of the division that the band should play before the general headquarters every pleasant evening, and a couple of hours after the arrival of the refugees the music burst out with a sudden crash. Vernaff was smoking his pipe on the lower piazza when the concert began. He knew that his prisoners if so they were to be consideredcould hear perfectly well from their apart ments, and that it would be a work of supererogation to inform them that the band was playing; yet, after some hesitation, he ascended the stairs and knocked at the old man's door. It was opened by Miss Algier, who,
candle in hand, made way for him to pass. The change in her appearance was startling. Her rich hair was carefully brushed and coiled in a graceful knot; her face, too thin and careworn for beauty, was refined and full of intelligence. She had changed her dress, and though poor in material, it was clean and skillfully fitted to her person, and the hand that held the candle was the hand of a person with a grandmother.
Vernaff looked at her with astonishment. Except for her eyes he would not have known her, they were sparkling with excitement from the coffee, and their redness had been washed away, but they were the same great brown eyes that had looked out from under the shawl when he encountered her in the wood.
"If you would like," began the colonel, "you may go on the upper piazza to hear the music."
The old man answered, from the cot where he was seated: "I had hoped that my cell would be free from intrusion. No, sir; if it is permitted, I will remain in my confinement."
"As you please," said Vernaff, changing color at this rebuff. But the words were hardly uttered when the lady interrupted: "Oh! I shall be very glad to go. Please wait a moment." And without consulting her father, she darted into her own room, and returned with a shawl hanging over her arm. "Good-night, papa," she said, throwing her arm around his neck and kissing him on the forehead. "Don't keep awake for me; I shall not be gone long. Leave the door between our rooms half open, so that we can hear each other in the night"; and she came into the dusky hall, closing the door behind her.
When she was alone with the chief, she said demurely: "Am I to be shot at sunrise ?" "No; why?" he asked.
"Oh, I did not know. From your tone I thought you might mean," and here she tried to imitate his voice," the condemned are now permitted to take the air for a few moments, before being led to execution. Now I feel relieved."
"You are in no sense a prisoner," he answered gravely.
By this time they had come to the piazza, where it was light enough to distinguish faces, the great fire in the yard throwing a red glare over the scene.
The girl looked up at her companion with amused astonishment; she could not understand why he should take her badinage so seriously. But seeming to reason that it must be the way with all "Yankees," her mouth hardened into a faint ironical smile, and following his example, she sedately said: "But I do
not know but that I would rather like to be a flattering,- but I don't think I should have prisoner." liked him. He would have disturbed me, whereas you rest me."
"And why is that?" he asked.
"Oh, I have read that in jail they allow, with other things, one chair for their convicts; and I think I should like to sit down." Vernaff brought a chair for the lady and a blanket for himself. When she was seated, he threw the latter at her feet, but at a respectful distance, and in camp fashion cast himself down upon it.
"How in the world did you get lost in these woods?" he asked, in a pause of the music.
She told how they had left Richmond on the Sunday afternoon of the evacuation; how, there being no railroad available, her father had procured the team, and how they had intended to find their way back to their home, across the mountains; and that when they arrived at this halting-place, their draught animals had been stolen, and they could go no farther. Their provisions were exhausted; their money, being in Confederate currency, was worthless; and altogether their condition was desperate. Then the advance of the Union army came in sight. "I knew," she said," that you Yankees were cannibals, but I thought father was too old and I too thin to serve. So, being hungry and perfectly miserable, we surrendered; and on the whole," she concluded, "I don't know but I rather like being a prisoner; it relieves one of all responsibility, though of course it would depend on who your jailer might be."
"So you consider all Yankees cannibals?" asked Vernaff.
"Certainly; there can be no doubt about that. We Southrons live entirely upon fire and blazes, and you all upon your fellow-creatures. But," checking herself, "I do not include you with the rest. You might almost pass for a rebel. That is the highest compliment I can pay any one."
"Thank you," he said, flattered by her evident desire to please, and too unaccustomed to women's ways to suspect that she was playing with his vanity for her own amusement.
When again the band was silent, the girl drew a long breath of quiet satisfaction. She looked at her companion, and speaking lazily, said: "Yes, I think I like being a prisoner. I feel very contented."
"I'm sure," he responded, "I like being a jailer; at least, if I am to have you for my charge."
"That sounded very pretty," she said, with out changing the tone of her voice. "But yes, it would make a difference who might be your keeper. Your friend Captain Bryant, for instance, would have been very attentive and
"Then you are satisfied with your stern jailer?" he asked.
"Oh, I suppose I must make the best of a bad bargain; and again, I am dependent on you for my breakfast, so must make friends of my enemies. Don't you think a little deception is justifiable?"
The conversation drifted on in this way until, the band long retired, the moon rose high above the pines. Then at length the girl arose to go in, and Vernaff sprang to his feet.
"Good-night," she said, holding out her hand. " "Again let me thank you for all your kindness, and for a very pleasant evening.”
Now, among the people with whom Vernaff had been educated, the old custom of shaking hands has fallen somewhat into disuse. Perhaps a light touch of the fingers might be allowed when meeting after a long separation, or a gentle pressure when taking farewell; but the clasping of hands on every possible occasion, as is the fashion in the South, was a surprise to him. Of course he took the hand which was extended to him; but then he found that he did not know what to do with it. It was an honest, firm hand, warm and pleasant to hold, and he did not care to drop it; so, not knowing what else to do, he raised it to his lips and kissed its smooth surface.
It was the young lady's turn to be astonished. With eyes full of half-covert indignation, she examined him from head to feet; then seeing that no ill meaning was attached to his motion, she withdrew her hand, and, repeating her farewell, entered her apartment. Once in her room, she carefully washed away the innocent kiss, rubbing the spot until it burned red.
In the morning Vernaff was grave and distant. He had sent a handful of flowers at breakfast-time, and when they met in Algier's room she thanked him for the politeness with pleasant effusion.
"You are very welcome," he replied solemnly; and then gravely made arrangements with her father concerning their journey home. He gave the old man a safe conduct through the lines of the army, furnished provisions, and even supplied a pair of condemned government mules for draught. They were to leave at once, and before dark travel beyond danger from stragglers.
The girl sat watching while he was talking. to her father. The mastery which he seemed to have over everything at first irritated her nerves, but presently she succumbed to his strong personality. The old man, haughtily accepting the proffered assistance, asked: "Are