It came to pass that Helen Eustis and her aunt lost the sense of loneliness which they had found so oppressive during the first weeks of their visit. In the people about them they found a never-failing fund of entertainment. They found in the climate, too, a source of health and strength. The resinous odor of the pines was always in their nostrils; the far, faint undertones of music the winds made in the trees were always in their ears. The provinciality of the people, which some of the political correspondents describe as distressing, was so genuinely American in all its forms and manifestations that these Boston women were enabled to draw from it, now and then, a whiff of New England air. They recognized characteristics that made them feel thoroughly at home. Perhaps, so far as Helen was concerned, there were other reasons that reconciled her to her surroundings. At any rate, she was reconciled. More than this, she was happy. Her eyes sparkled, and the roses of health bloomed on her cheeks. All her movements were tributes to the buoyancy and energy of her nature. The little rector found out what this energy amounted to, when, on one occasion, he proposed to accompany her on one of her walks. It was a five-mile excursion; and he returned, as Mrs. Haley expressed it, "a used-up man."
One morning, just before Christmas, the Waverly carriage, driven in great state by Uncle Prince, drew up in front of the tavern; and in a few moments Helen and her aunt were given to understand that they had been sent for, in furtherance of an invitation they had accepted, to spend the holidays at Waverly.
"Ole Miss would 'a' come," said Uncle Prince, with a hospitable chuckle, "but she sorter ailin'; en Miss Hallie, she dat busy dat she ain't skacely got time fer ter tu'n 'roun'; so dey tuck'n sort atter you, ma'am, des like you wuz home folks."
The preparations of the ladies had already been made, and it was not long before they were swinging along under the green pines in the old-fashioned vehicle. Nor was it long before they passed from the pine forests, and entered the grove of live-oaks that shaded the walks and drives of Waverly. The house itself was a somewhat imposing structure, with a double veranda in front, supported by immense pillars, and surrounded on all sides by magnificent trees. Here, as Helen and her aunt had heard on all sides, a princely establishment had existed in the old time before the war—an establishment noted for its lavish hospitality. Here visitors used to come in their carriages from all parts of Georgia, from South Carolina, and even from Virginia—some of them remaining for weeks at a time, and giving to the otherwise dull neighborhood long seasons of riotous festivity, which were at once characteristic and picturesque. The old days had gone to come no more, but there was something in the atmosphere that seemed to recall them. The stately yet simple architecture of the house, the trees with their rugged and enormous trunks, the vast extent of the grounds—everything, indeed, that came under the eye—seemed to suggest the past. A blackened and broken statue lay prone upon the ground hard by the weather-beaten basin of a fountain long since dry. Two tall granite columns, that once guarded an immense gateway, supported the fragmentary skeletons of two colossal lamps. There was a suggestion not only of the old days before the war, but of antiquity—a suggestion that was intensified by the great hall, the high ceilings, the wide fireplaces, and the high mantels of the house itself. These things somehow gave a weird aspect to Waverly in the eyes of the visitors; but this feeling was largely atoned for by the air of tranquillity that brooded over the place, and it was utterly dispersed by the heartiness with which they were welcomed.
"Here we is at home, ma'am," exclaimed Uncle Prince, opening the carriage-door, and bowing low; "en yon' come ole Miss en Miss Hallie."
The impression which Helen and her aunt received, and one which they never succeeded in shaking off during their visit, was that they were regarded as members of the family who had been away for a period, but who had now come home to stay. Just how these gentle hosts managed to impart this impression, Helen and Miss Tewksbury would have found it hard to explain; but they discovered that the art of entertaining was not a lost art even in the piny woods. Every incident, and even accidents, contributed to the enjoyment of the guests. Even the weather appeared to exert itself to please. Christmas morning was ushered in with a sharp little flurry of snow. The scene was a very pretty one, as the soft white flakes, some of them as large as a canary's wing, fell athwart the green foliage of the live-oaks and the magnolias.
"This is my hour!" exclaimed Helen enthusiastically.
"We enjoy it with you," said Hallie simply.
During the afternoon the clouds melted away, the sun came out, and the purple haze of Indian summer took possession of air and sky. In an hour the weather passed from the crisp and sparkling freshness of winter, to the wistful melancholy beauty of autumn.
"This," said Hallie gently, "is my hour." She was standing on the broad veranda with Helen. For reply, the latter placed her arm around the Southern girl; and they stood thus for a long time, their thoughts riming to the plaintive air of a negro melody that found its way across the fields and through the woods.
Christmas at Waverly, notwithstanding the fact that the negroes were free, was not greatly different from Christmas on the Southern plantations before the war. Few of the negroes who had been slaves had left the place, and those that remained knew how a Christmas ought to be celebrated. They sang the old-time songs, danced the old-time dances, and played the old-time plays.
All this was deeply interesting to the gentlewomen from Boston; but there was one incident that left a lasting impression on both, and probably had its effect in changing the future of one of them. It occurred one evening when they were all grouped around the fire in the drawing-room. The weather had grown somewhat colder than usual, and big hickory logs were piled in the wide fireplace. At the suggestion of Hallie the lights had been put out, and they sat in the ruddy glow of the firelight. The effect was picturesque indeed. The furniture and the polished wainscoting glinted and shone, and the shadows of the big brass andirons were thrown upon the ceiling, where they performed a witch's dance, the intricacy of which was amazing to behold.
It was an interesting group, representing the types of much that is best in the civilization of the two regions. Their talk covered a great variety of subjects, but finally drifted into reminiscences of the war—reminiscences of its incidents rather than its passions.
"I have been told," said Miss Eustis, "that a dead Union soldier was brought here during the war, and buried. Was his name ever known?"
There was a long pause. General Garwood gazed steadily into the fire. His mother sighed gently. Hallie, who had been resting her head against Helen's shoulder, rose from her chair, and glided from the room as swiftly as a ghost.
"Perhaps I have made a mistake," said Helen in dismay. "The incident was so strange—"
"No, Miss Eustis, you have made no mistake," said General Garwood, smiling a little sadly. "One moment—" He paused as if listening for something. Presently the faint sound of music was heard. It stole softly from the dark parlor into the warm firelight as if it came from far away.
"One moment," said General Garwood. "It is Hallie at the piano."
The music, without increasing in volume, suddenly gathered coherency, and there fell on the ears of the listening group the notes of an air so plaintive that it seemed like the breaking of a heart. It was as soft as an echo, and as tender as the memories of love and youth.
"We have to be very particular with Hallie," said the general, by way of explanation. "The Union soldier in our burying-ground is intimately connected with her bereavement and ours. Hers is the one poor heart that keeps the fires of grief always burning. I think she is willing the story should be told."
"Yes," said his mother, "else she would never go to the piano."
"I feel like a criminal," said Helen. "How can I apologize?"
"It is we who ought to apologize and explain," replied General Garwood. "You shall hear the story, and then neither explanation nor apology will be necessary."
A summons was sent for Uncle Prince, and the old man soon made his appearance. He stood in a seriously expectant attitude.
"Prince," said General Garwood, "these ladies are from the North. They have asked me about the dead Union soldier you brought home during the war. I want you to tell the whole story."
"Tell 'bout de what, Marse Peyton?" Both astonishment and distress were depicted on the old negro's face as he asked the question. He seemed to be sure that he had not heard aright.
"About the Union soldier you brought home with your young master from Virginia."
"Whar Miss Hallie, Marse Peyton? Dat her in dar wid de peanner?"
"Yes, she's in there."
"I 'lowed she uz some'r's, kaze I know 'tain't gwine never do fer ter git dat chile riled up 'bout dem ole times; en it'll be a mighty wonder ef she don't ketch col' in dar whar she is."
"No," said General Garwood; "the room is warm. There has been a fire in there all day."
"Yasser, I know I builted one in dar dis mornin', but I take notice dat de drafts dese times look like dey come bofe ways."
The old man stood near the tall mantel, facing the group. There was nothing servile in his attitude: on the contrary, his manner, when addressing the gentleman who had once been his master, suggested easy, not to say affectionate, familiarity. The firelight, shining on his face, revealed a countenance at once rugged and friendly. It was a face in which humor had many a tough struggle with dignity. In looks and tone, in word and gesture, there was unmistakable evidence of that peculiar form of urbanity that can not be dissociated from gentility. These things were more apparent, perhaps, to Helen and her aunt than to those who, from long association, had become accustomed to Uncle Prince's peculiarities.
"Dem times ain't never got clean out'n my min'," said the old negro, "but it bin so long sence I runn'd over um, dat I dunner wharbouts ter begin skacely."
"You can tell it all in your own way," said General Garwood.
"Yasser, dat's so, but I fear'd it's a mighty po' way. Bless yo' soul, honey," Uncle Prince went on, "dey was rough times, en it look like ter me dat ef dey wuz ter come 'roun' ag'in hit 'u'd take a mighty rank runner fer ter ketch one nigger man w'at I'm got some 'quaintance wid. Dey wuz rough times, but dey wa'n't rough 'long at fust. Shoo! no! dey wuz dat slick dat dey ease we-all right down 'mongs' de wuss kind er tribbylation, en we ain't none un us know it twel we er done dar.
"I know dis," the old man continued, addressing himself exclusively to Miss Eustis and her aunt; "I knows dat we-all wuz a-gittin' 'long mighty well, w'en one day Marse Peyton dar, he tuck 'n' jinded wid de army; en den 'twa'n't long 'fo' word come dat my young marster w'at gwine ter college in Ferginny, done gone en jinded wid um. I ax myse'f, I say, w'at de name er goodness does dey want wid boy like dat? Hit's de Lord's trufe, ma'am, dat ar chile wa'n't mo' dan gwine on sixteen, ef he wuz dat, en I up'n' ax myse'f, I did, w'at does de war want wid baby like dat? Min' you, ma'am, I ain't fin' out den w'at war wuz—I ain't know w'at a great big maw she got."
"My son Ethel," said Mrs. Garwood, the soft tone of her voice chiming with the notes of the piano, "was attending the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. He was just sixteen."
"Yassum," said Uncle Prince, rubbing his hands together gently, and gazing into the glowing embers, as if searching there for some clue that would aid him in recalling the past. "Yassum, my young marster wuz des gone by sixteen year, kaze 'twa'n't so mighty long 'fo' dat, dat we-all sont 'im a great big box er fixin's en doin's fer ter git dar on he's birfday; en I sot up mighty nigh twel day tryin' ter make some 'lasses candy fer ter put in dar wid de yuther doin's."
Here Uncle Prince smiled broadly at the fire.
"Ef dey wuz sumpin' w'at dat chile like, hit wuz 'lasses candy; en I say ter my ole 'oman, I did: ''Mandy Jane, I'll make de candy, en den w'en she good en done, I'll up en holler fer you, en den you kin pull it.' Yassum, I said dem ve'y words. So de ole 'oman, she lay down 'cross de baid, en I sot up dar en b'iled de 'lasses. De 'lasses 'u'd blubber en I'd nod, en I'd nod en de 'lasses 'u'd blubber, en fus news I know de 'lasses 'u'd done be scorched. Well, ma'am, I tuck 'n' burnt up mighty nigh fo' gallons er 'lasses on de account er my noddin', en bimeby w'en de ole 'oman wake up, she 'low dey wa'n't no excusion fer it; en sho nuff dey wa'n't, kaze w'at make I nod dat away?
"But dat candy wuz candy, mon, w'en she did come, en den de ole 'oman she tuck 'n' pull it twel it git 'mos' right white; en my young marster, he tuck 'n' writ back, he did, dat ef dey wuz anythin' in dat box w'at make 'im git puny wid de homesickness, hit uz dat ar 'lasses candy. Yassum, he cert'n'y did, kaze dey tuck 'n' read it right out'n de letter whar he writ it.
"'Twa'n't long atter dat 'fo' we-all got de word dat my young marster done jinded inter de war wid some yuther boys w'at been at de same school'ouse wid 'im. Den, on top er dat, yer come news dat he gwine git married. Bless yo' soul, honey, dat sorter rilded me up, en I march inter de big 'ouse, I did, en I up 'n' tell mistis dat she better lemme go up dar en fetch dat chile home; en den mistis say she gwine sen' me on dar fer ter be wid 'im in de war, en take keer un 'im. Dis holp me up might'ly, kaze I wuz a mighty biggity nigger in dem days. De white folks done raise me up right 'long wid um, en way down in my min' I des laid off fer ter go up dar in Ferginny, en take my young marster by he's collar en fetch 'im home, des like I done w'en he use ter git in de hin'ouse en bodder 'long wid de chickens.
"Dat wuz way down in my min', des like I tell you, but bless yo' soul, chile, hit done drap out 'mos' 'fo' I git ter 'Gusty, in de Nunited State er Georgy. Time I struck de railroad I kin see de troops a-troopin', en year de drums a-drummin'. De trains wuz des loaded down wid um. Let 'lone de passenger kyars, dey wuz in de freight-boxes yit, en dey wuz de sassiest white mens dat yever walk 'pon topside de groun'. Mon, dey wuz a caution. Dey had niggers wid um, en de niggers wuz sassy, en ef I hadn't a-frailed one un um out, I dunner w'at would er 'come un me.
"Hit cert'n'y wuz a mighty long ways fum dese parts. I come down yer fum Ferginny in a waggin w'en I wuz des 'bout big nuff fer ter hol' a plow straight in de' furrer, but 'tain't look like ter me dat 'twuz sech a fur ways. All day en all night long fer mighty nigh a week I year dem kyar-wheels go clickity-clock, clickity-clock, en dem ingines go choo-choo-choo, choo-choo-choo, en it look like we ain't never gwine git dar. Yit, git dar we did, en 'tain't take me long fer ter fin' de place whar my young marster is. I laid off ter fetch 'im home; well, ma'am, w'en I look at 'im he skeer'd me. Yassum, you may b'lieve me er not b'lieve me, but he skeer'd me. Stiddier de boy w'at I wuz a-huntin' fer, dar he wuz, a great big grow'd-up man, en bless yo' soul, he wuz a-trompin' roun' dar wid great big boots on, en, mon, dey had spurrers on um.
"Ef I hadn't er year 'im laugh, I nev'd a-know'd 'im in de roun' worl'. I say ter myse'f, s' I, I'll des wait en see ef he know who I is. But shoo! my young marster know me time he lays eyes on me, en no sooner is he see me dan he fetched a whoop en rushed at me. He 'low: 'Hello, Daddy! whar de name er goodness you rise fum?' He allers call me Daddy sence he been a baby. De minute he say dat, it come over me 'bout how lonesome de folks wuz at home, en I des grabbed 'im, en 'low: 'Honey, you better come go back wid Daddy.'
"He sorter hug me back, he did, en den he laugh, but I tell you dey wa'n't no laugh in me, kaze I done see w'iles I gwine long w'at kinder 'sturbance de white folks wuz a-gettin' up, en I know'd dey wuz a-gwine ter be trouble pile 'pon trouble. Yit dar he wuz a-laughin' en a-projickin', en 'mongs' all dem yuther mens dey wa'n't none un um good-lookin' like my young marster. I don't keer w'at kinder cloze he put on, dey fit 'im, en I don't keer w'at crowd he git in, dey ain't none un um look like 'im. En 'tain't on'y me say dat; I done year lots er yuther folks say dem ve'y words.
"I ups en sez, s'I: 'Honey, you go 'long en git yo' things, en come go home 'long wid Daddy. Dey er waitin' fer you down dar'—des so! Den he look at me cute like he us'ter w'en he wuz a baby, en he 'low, he did:
"'I'm mighty glad you come, Daddy, en I hope you brung yo' good cloze, kaze you des come in time fer ter go in 'ten'ance on my weddin'.' Den I 'low: 'You oughtn' be a-talkin' dat away, honey. W'at in de name er goodness is chilluns like you got ter do wid marryin'?' Wid dat, he up 'n' laugh, but 'twa'n't no laughin' matter wid me. Yit 'twuz des like he tell me, en 'twa'n't many hours 'fo' we wuz gallopin' cross de country to'ds Marse Randolph Herndon' place; en dar whar he married. En you may b'lieve me er not, ma'am, des ez you please, but dat couple wuz two er de purtiest chilluns you ever laid eyes on, en dar Miss Hallie in dar now fer ter show you I'm a-tellin' de true word. 'Mos' 'fo' de weddin' wuz over, news com dat my young marster en de folks wid 'im mus' go back ter camps, en back we went.
"Well, ma'am, dar we wuz—a mighty far ways fum home, Miss Hallie a-cryin', en de war gwine on des same ez ef 'twuz right out dar in de yard. My young marster 'low dat I des come in time, kaze he mighty nigh pe'sh'd fer sumpin' 'n'er good ter eat. I whirled in, I did, en I cook 'im some er de right kinder vittles; but all de time I cookin', I say ter myse'f, I did, dat I mought er come too soon, er I mought er come too late, but I be bless' ef I come des in time.
"Hit went on dis away scan'lous. We marched en we stopped, en we stopped en we marched, en 'twuz de Lord's blessin' dat we rid hosses, kaze ef my young marster had 'a' bin 'blige' ter tromp thoo de mud like some er dem white mens, I speck I'd 'a' had ter tote 'im, dough he uz mighty spry en tough. Sometimes dem ar bung-shells 'u'd drap right in 'mongs' whar we-all wuz, en dem wuz de times w'en 292 feel like I better go off some'r's en hide, not dat I wuz anyways skeery, kaze I wa'n't; but ef one er dem ur bung-shells had er strucken me, I dunner who my young marster would 'a' got ter do he's cookin' en he's washin'.
"Hit went on dis away, twel bimeby one night, way in de night, my young marster come whar I wuz layin', en shuck me by de shoulder. I wuz des wide 'wake ez w'at he wuz, yit I ain't make no motion. He shuck me ag'in, en 'low: 'Daddy! Oh, Daddy! I'm gwine on de skirmish line. I speck we gwine ter have some fun out dar.'
"I 'low, I did: 'Honey, you make 'aste back ter break'us, kaze I got some sossige meat en some gennywine coffee.'
"He ain't say nothin', but w'en he git little ways off, he tu'n 'roun' en come back, he did, en 'low: 'Good night, Daddy.' I lay dar, en I year un w'en dey start off. I year der hosses a-snort-in', en der spurrers a-jinglin'. Ef dey yever wuz a restless creetur hit uz me dat night. I des lay dar wid my eyes right wide open, en dey stayed open, kaze, atter w'ile, yer come daylight, en den I rousted out, I did, en built me a fire, en 'twa'n't long 'fo' I had break'us a-fryin' en de coffee a'b'ilin', kaze I spected my young marster eve'y minute; en he uz one er dese yer kinder folks w'at want he's coffee hot, en all de yuther vittles on de jump.
"I wait en I wait, en still he ain't come. Hit cert'n'y look like a mighty long time w'at he stay 'way; en bimeby I tuck myse'f off ter make some inquirements, kaze mighty nigh all he's comp'ny done gone wid 'im. I notice dat de white mens look at me mighty kuse w'en I ax um 'bout my young marster; en bimeby one un um up en 'low: 'Ole man, whar yo' hat?' des dat away. I feel on my haid, en, bless goodness! my hat done gone; but I 'spon' back, I did: ''Tain't no time fer no nigger man fer ter be bodder'n' 'bout he's hat,' des so. Well, ma'am, bimeby I struck up wid some er my young marster' comp'ny, en dey up 'n' tell me dat dey had a racket out dar en de skirmish line, en dey hatter run in, en dey speck my young marster be 'long terreckerly. Den I year some un say dat day speck de Yankees tuck some pris'ners out dar, en den I know dat ain't gwine do fer me. I des runn'd back ter whar we been campin', en I mount de hoss w'at my young marster gun me, en I rid right straight out ter whar dey been fightin'. My min' tol' me dey wuz sumpin' 'n'er wrong out dar, en I let you know, ma'am, I rid mighty fas'; I sholy made dat ole hoss git up fum dar. De white mens dey holler at me w'en I pass, but eve'y time dey holler I make dat creetur men' he's gait. Some un um call me a country-ban', en say I runnin' 'way, en ef de pickets hadn't all been runnin' in, I speck dey'd 'a' fetched de ole nigger up wid de guns. But dat never cross my min' dat day.
"Well, ma'am, I haid my hoss de way de pickets comin' fum; en ef dey hadn't er been so much underbresh en so many sassyfac saplin's, I speck I'd 'a' run dat creetur ter def: but I got ter whar I hatter go slow, en I des pick my way right straight forrerd de bes' I kin. I ain't hatter go so mighty fur, nudder, 'fo' I come 'cross de place whar dey had de skirmish; en fum dat day ter dis I ain't never see no lonesome place like dat. Dey wuz a cap yer, a hat yander, en de groun' look like it wuz des strowed wid um. I stop en listen. Den I rid on a little ways, en den I stop en listen. Bimeby I year hoss whicker, en den de creetur w'at I'm a-ridin', he whicker back, en do des like he wanter go whar de t'er hoss is. I des gin 'im de rein; en de fus news I know, he trot right up ter de big black hoss w'at my young marster rid.
"I look little furder, I did, en I see folks lyin' on de groun'. Some wuz double' up, en some wuz layin' out straight. De win' blow de grass back'ards en forrerds, but dem sojer-men dey never move; en den I know dey wuz dead. I look closer; en dar 'pon de groun', 'mos' right at me, wuz my young marster layin' right by de side er one er dem Yankee mens. I jumped down, I did, en run ter whar he wuz; but he wuz done gone. My heart jump, my knees shuck, en my han' trimble; but I know I got ter git away fum dar. Hit look like at fus' dat him en dat Yankee man been fightin'; but bimeby I see whar my young marster bin crawl thoo de weeds en grass ter whar de Yankee man wuz layin'; en he had one arm un' de man' haid, en de ter han' wuz gripped on he's canteen. I fix it in my min', ma'am, dat my young marster year dat Yankee man holler fer water; en he des make out fer ter crawl whar he is, en dar I foun' um bofe.
"Dey wuz layin' close by a little farm road, en not so mighty fur off I year a chicken crowin'. I say ter myse'f dat sholy folks must be livin' whar dey chickens crowin'; en I tuck'n' mount my young marster's hoss, en right 'roun' de side er de hill I come 'cross a house. De folks wuz all gone; but dey wuz a two-hoss waggin in de lot en some gear in de barn, en I des loped back atter de yuther hoss, en 'mos' 'fo' you know it, I had dem creeturs hitch up: en I went en got my young marster en de Yankee man w'at wuz wid 'im, en I kyard um back ter de camps. I got um des in time, too, kase I ain't mo'n fairly start 'fo' I year big gun, be-bang! en den I know'd de Yankees mus' be a-comin' back. Den de bung-shells 'gun ter bus'; en I ax myse'f w'at dey shootin' at me fer, en I ain't never fin' out w'at make dey do it.
"Well, ma'am, w'en I git back ter camps, dar wuz Cunnel Tip Herndon, w'ich he wuz own br'er ter Miss Hallie. Maybe you been year tell er Marse Tip, ma'am; he cert'ny wuz a mighty fine man. Marse Tip, he 'uz dar, en 'twa'n't long 'fo' Miss Hallie wuz dar, kaze she ain't live so mighty fur; en Miss Hallie say dat my young marster en de Yankee man mus' be brung home terge'er. So dey brung um."
Uncle Prince paused. His story was at an end. He stooped to stir the fire; and when he rose, his eyes were full of tears. Humble as he was, he could pay this tribute to the memory of the boy soldier whom he had nursed in sickness and in health. It was a stirring recital. Perhaps it is not so stirring when transferred to paper. The earnestness, the simplicity, the awkward fervor, the dramatic gestures, the unique individuality of Uncle Prince, can not be reproduced; but these things had a profound effect on Miss Eustis and her aunt.
Throughout the narrative the piano had been going, keeping, as it seemed, a weird accompaniment to a tragic story. This also had its effect; for, so perfectly did the rhythm and sweep of the music accord with the heart-rending conclusion, that Helen, if her mind had been less preoccupied with sympathy, would probably have traced the effect of it all to a long series of rehearsals: in fact, such a suggestion did occur to her, but the thought perished instantly in the presence of the unaffected simplicity and the childlike earnestness which animated the words of the old negro.
The long silence which ensued—for the piano ceased, and Hallie nestled at Helen's side once more—was broken by General Garwood.
"We were never able to identify the Union soldier. He had in his possession a part of a letter, and a photograph of himself. These were in an inner pocket. I judge that he knew he was to be sent on a dangerous mission, and had left his papers and whatever valuables he may have possessed behind him. The little skirmish in which he fell was a surprise to both sides. A scouting party of perhaps a dozen Federal cavalrymen rode suddenly upon as many Confederate cavalrymen who had been detailed for special picket duty. There was a short, sharp fight, and then both sides scampered away. The next day the Federal army occupied the ground."
"It is a pity," said Helen, "that his identity should be so utterly lost."
"Hallie, my dear," said Mrs. Garwood, "would it trouble you too much to get the photograph of the Union soldier? If it is any trouble, my child—"
Hallie went swiftly out of the room, and returned almost immediately with the photograph, and handed it to Helen, who examined it as well as she could by the dim firelight.
"The face is an interesting one, as well as I can make out," said Helen, "and it has a strangely familiar look. He was very young."
She handed the picture to her aunt. Her face was very pale.
"I can't see by this light," said Miss Tewksbury. But Uncle Prince had already brought a lamp which he had been lighting. "Why, my dear," said Miss Tewksbury, in a tone of voice that suggested both awe and consternation—"why, my dear, this is your brother Wendell!"
"Oh, Aunt Harriet! I thought so—I was afraid so—but are you sure?"
"As sure as that I am sitting here."
Helen burst into tears. "Oh, why didn't I recognize him? How could I fail to know my darling brother?" she cried.
Hallie rose from her low stool, and stood gazing at Helen. Her face was pale as death, but in her eyes gleamed the fire of long-suppressed grief and passion. She seemed like one transformed. She flung her white arms above her head, and exclaimed:
"I knew it! I knew it! I knew that some poor heart would find its long-lost treasure here. I have felt it—I have dreamed it! Oh, I am so glad you have found your brother!"
"Oh, but I should have known his picture," said Helen.
"But, my dear child," said Miss Tewksbury, in a matter-of-fact way, "there is every reason why you should not have known it. This picture was taken in Washington, and he never sent a copy of it home. If he did, your father put it away among his papers. You were not more than twelve years old when Wendell went away."
"Perhaps if Hallie will get the fragment of letter," said General Garwood to Miss Tewksbury, "it will confirm your impression."
"Oh, it is no impression," replied Miss Tewksbury. "I could not possibly be mistaken."
The fragment of letter, when produced, proved to be in the handwriting of Charles Osborne Eustis; and there was one sentence in it that was peculiarly characteristic. "Remember, dear Wendell," it said, "that the war is not urged against men; it is against an institution which the whole country, both North and South, will be glad to rid itself of."
It would be difficult, under all the circumstances, to describe Helen's thoughts. She was gratified—she was more than gratified—at the unexpected discovery, and she was grateful to those who had cared for her brother's grave with such scrupulous care. She felt more at home than ever. The last barrier of sectional reserve (if it may be so termed) was broken down, so far as she was concerned; and during the remainder of her stay, her true character—her womanliness, her tenderness, her humor—revealed itself to these watchful and sensitive Southerners. Even Miss Tewksbury, who had the excuse of age and long habit for her prejudices, showed the qualities that made her friends love her. In the language of the little rector, who made a sermon out of the matter, "all things became homogeneous through the medium of sympathy and the knowledge of mutual suffering."
In fact, everything was so agreeable during the visit of Helen and her aunt to Waverly—a visit that was prolonged many days beyond the limit they had set—that Uncle Prince remarked on it one night to his wife.
"I'm a nigger man, 'Mandy Jane," said he, "but I got two eyes, en dey er good ones. W'at I sees I knows, en I tell you right now, Marse Peyton is done got strucken."
"Done got strucken 'bout what?" inquired 'Mandy Jane.
"'Bout dat young lady w'at stayin' yer. Oh, you neenter holler," said Uncle Prince in response to a contemptuous laugh from 'Mandy Jane. "I ain't nothin' but a nigger man, but I knows w'at I sees."
"Yes, you is a nigger man," said 'Mandy Jane triumphantly. "Ef you wuz a nigger 'oman you'd have lots mo' sense dan w'at you got. W'y, dat lady up dar ain't our folks. She mighty nice, I speck, but she ain't our folks. She ain't talk like our folks yit."
"No matter 'bout dat," said Uncle Prince. "I ain't seed no nicer 'oman dan w'at she is, en I boun' you she kin talk mighty sweet w'en she take a notion. W'en my two eyes tell me de news I knows it, en Marse Peyton done got strucken long wid dat white 'oman."
"En now you gwine tell me," said 'Mandy Jane with a fine assumption of scorn, "dat Marse Peyton gwine marry wid dat w'ite 'oman en trapse off dar ter der Norf? Shoo! Nigger man, you go ter bed 'fo' you run yo'se'f 'stracted."
"I dunno whar Marse Peyton gwine, 'Mandy Jane, but I done see 'im talkin' 'long wid dat white lady, en lookin' at her wid he's eyes. Huh! don' tell me! En dat ain't all, 'Mandy Jane," Uncle Prince went on: "dat Bud Stucky, he's f'rever'n etarnally sneakin' 'roun' de house up dar. One day he want sumpin' ter eat, en nex' day he want Miss Hallie fer ter play en de peanner, but all de time I see 'im a-watchin' dat ar white lady fum de Norf."
"Hush!" exclaimed 'Mandy Jane.
"Des like I tell you!" said Uncle Prince.
"Well, de nasty, stinkin', oudacious villyun!" commented 'Mandy Jane. "I lay ef I go up dar en set de dogs on 'im, he'll stop sneakin' 'roun' dis place."
"Let 'im 'lone, 'Mandy Jane, let 'im 'lone," said Uncle Prince solemnly. "Dat ar Bud Stucky, he got a mammy, en my min' tell me dat he's mammy kin run de kyards en trick you. Now you watch out, 'Mandy Jane. You go on en do de washin', like you bin doin', en den ole Miss Stucky won't git atter you wid de kyards en cunjur you. Dat ole 'oman got er mighty bad eye, mon."
Uncle Prince, it appears, was a keen observer, especially where General Garwood was concerned. He had discovered a fact in regard to "Marse Peyton," as he called him, that had only barely suggested itself to that gentleman's own mind—the fact that his interest in Miss Eustis had assumed a phase altogether new and unexpected. Its manifestations were pronounced enough to pester Miss Tewksbury, but, strange to say, neither General Garwood nor Miss Eustis appeared to be troubled by them. As a matter of fact, these two were merely new characters in a very old story, the details of which need not be described or dwelt on in this hasty chronicle. It was not by any means a case of love at first sight. It was better than that: it was a case of love based on a firmer foundation than whim, or passion, or sentimentality. At any rate, Helen and her stalwart lover were as happy, apparently, as if they had just begun to enjoy life and the delights thereof. There was no love-making, so far as Miss Tewksbury could see; but there was no attempt on the part of either to conceal the fact that they heartily enjoyed each other's companionship.
Bud Stucky continued his daily visits for several weeks; but one day he failed to make his appearance, and after a while news came that he was ill of a fever. The ladies at Waverly sent his mother a plentiful supply of provisions, together with such delicacies as seemed to them necessary; but Bud Stucky continued to waste away. One day Helen, in spite of the protests of her aunt, set out to visit the sick man, carrying a small basket in which Hallie had placed some broiled chicken and a small bottle of homemade wine. Approaching the Stucky cabin, she was alarmed at the silence that reigned within. She knocked, but there was no response; whereupon she pushed the door open and entered. The sight that met her eyes, and the scene that followed, are still fresh in her memory.
Poor Bud Stucky, the shadow of his former self, was lying on the bed. His thin hands were crossed on his breast, and the pallor of death was on his emaciated face. His mother sat by the bed with her eyes fixed on his. She made no sign when Helen entered, but continued to gaze on her son.
The young woman, bent on a mission of mercy, paused on the threshold, and regarded the two unfortunates with a sympathy akin to awe. Bud Stucky moved his head uneasily, and essayed to speak, but the sound died away in his throat. He made another effort. His lips moved feebly; his voice had an unearthly, a far-away sound.
"Miss," he said, regarding her with a piteous expression in his sunken eyes, "I wish you'd please, ma'am, make maw let me go." He seemed to gather strength as he went on. "I'm all ready, an' a-waitin'; I wish you'd please, ma'am, make 'er let me go."
"Oh, what can I do?" cried Helen, seized with a new sense of the pathos that is a part of the humblest human life.
"Please, ma'am, make 'er let me go. I been a-layin' here ready two whole days an' three long nights, but maw keeps on a-watchin' of me; she won't let me go. She's got 'er eyes nailed on me constant."
Helen looked at the mother. Her form was wasted by long vigils, but she sat bolt upright in her chair, and in her eyes burned the fires of an indomitable will. She kept them fixed on her son.
"Won't you please, ma'am, tell maw to let me go? I'm so tired er waitin'."
The plaintive voice seemed to be an echo from the valley of the shadow of death. Helen, watching narrowly and with agonized curiosity, thought she saw the mother's lips move; but no sound issued therefrom. The dying man made another appeal:
"Oh, I'm so tired! I'm all ready, an' she won't let me go. A long time ago when I us' ter ax 'er, she'd let me do 'most anything, an' now she won't let me go. Oh, Lordy! I'm so tired er waitin'! Please, ma'am, ax 'er to let me go."
Mrs. Stucky rose from her chair, raised her clasped hands above her head, and turned her face away. As she did so, something like a sigh of relief escaped from her son. He closed his eyes, and over his wan face spread the repose and perfect peace of death.
Turning again toward the bed, Mrs. Stucky saw Helen weeping gently. She gazed at her a moment. "Whatter you cryin' fer now?" she asked with unmistakable bitterness. "You wouldn't a-wiped your feet on 'im. Ef you wuz gwine ter cry, whyn't you let 'im see you do it 'fore he died? What good do it do 'im now? He wa'n't made out'n i'on like me."
Helen made no reply.
She placed her basket on the floor, went out into the sunlight, and made her way swiftly back to Waverly. Her day's experience made a profound impression on her, so much so that when the time came for her to go home, she insisted on going alone to bid Mrs. Stucky good-by.
She found the lonely old woman sitting on her door-sill. She appeared to be gazing on the ground, but her sun-bonnet hid her face. Helen approached, and spoke to her. She gave a quick upward glance, and fell to trembling. She was no longer made of iron. Sorrow had dimmed the fire of her eyes. Helen explained her visit, shook hands with her, and was going away, when the old woman, in a broken voice, called her to stop. Near the pine-pole gate was a little contrivance of boards that looked like a bird-trap. Mrs. Stucky went to this, and lifted it.
"Come yer, honey," she cried, "yer's somepin' I wanter show you." Looking closely, Helen saw molded in the soil the semblance of a footprint. "Look at it, honey, look at it," said Mrs. Stucky; "that's his darlin' precious track."
Helen turned, and went away weeping. The sight of that strange memorial, which the poor mother had made her shrine, leavened the girl's whole after-life.
When Helen and her aunt came to take their leave of Azalia, their going away was not by any means in the nature of a merry-making. They went away sorrowfully, and left many sorrowful friends behind them. Even William, the bell-ringer and purveyor of hot batter-cakes at Mrs. Haley's hotel, walked to the railroad station to see them safely off. General Garwood accompanied them to Atlanta; and though the passenger depot in that pushing city is perhaps the most unromantic spot to be found in the wide world—it is known as the "Car-shed" in Atlantese—it was there that he found courage to inform Miss Eustis that he purposed to visit Boston during the summer in search not only of health, but of happiness; and Miss Eustis admitted, with a reserve both natural and proper, that she would be very happy to see him.
It is not the purpose of this chronicle to follow General Garwood to Boston. The files of the Boston papers will show that he went there, and that, in a quiet way, he was the object of considerable social attention. But it is in the files of the "Brookline Reporter" that the longest and most graphic account of the marriage of Miss Eustis to General Garwood is to be found. It is an open secret in the literary circles of Boston that the notice in the "Reporter" was from the pen of Henry P. Bassett, the novelist. It was headed "Practical Reconstruction"; and it was conceded on all sides that, even if the article had gone no farther than the head-line, it would have been a very happy description of the happiest of events.