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- Bricks Without Straw - 50/87 -
crippled by her absence and showed, even in that brief period, how much was due to her ability and skill. Everybody was clamorous for her immediate return--everybody except Eliab Hill, who after an almost sleepless night sent a letter begging her not to return for a considerable time.
It was a strangely earnest letter for one of its apparent import. The writer dwelt at considerable length upon the insidious and treacherous character of the disease from which she was recovering. He grew eloquent as he detailed all that the people of Red Wing owed to her exertions in their behalf, and told how, year after year, without any vacation, she had labored for them. He showed that this must have been a strain upon her vital energies, and pointed out the danger of relapse should she resume her duties before she had fully recovered. He begged her, therefore, to remain at Mulberry Hill at least a month longer; and, to support his request, informed her that with the advice and consent of the Superintendent he had dismissed the school until that time. He took especial pains, too, to prevent the report of the threatened difficulty from coming to her ears. This was the more easily accomplished from the fact that those who had apprehended trouble were afraid of being deemed cowardly if they acknowledged their belief. So, while the greater number of the men in the little hamlet were accustomed to sleep in the neighboring thickets, in order to be out of harm's way should the Ku Klux come to make good their decree, very little was said, even among themselves, about the threatened attack.
In utter unconsciousness, therefore, of the fate that brooded over those in whom she took so deep an interest, Mollie abandoned herself to the restful delights of convalescence. She soon found herself able to visit the room of the confirmed invalid below, and though she seemed to detect a sort of coolness in her manner she did not dream of associating the change with herself. She attributed it entirely to the sore affliction which had fallen upon the household since her arrival, and which, she charitably reasoned, her own recovery must revive in their minds in full force. So she pardoned the fair, frail invalid who, reclining languidly upon the couch, asked as to her health and congratulated her in cool, set phrases upon her recovery.
Such was not the case, however, with her host. There were tears in his eyes when he met her on the landing for the first time after she left her sick-bed. She knew they were for the little Hildreth whom she had nursed and whom her presence recalled. And yet there was a gleam in his eyes which was not altogether of sorrow. She, too, mourned for the sweet child whom she had learned to love, and her eyes responded to the tender challenge with copious tears. Yet her own feelings were not entirely sad. She did not know why. She did not stop to analyze or reason. She only gave him her hand--how thin and white it was compared with the first time he had seen her and had noted its soft plumpness!
Their lips quivered so that they could not speak. He held her hand and assisted the servant in leading her into the parlor. She was still so weak that they had to lay her on the sofa. Hesden Le Moyne bent over her for a little while, and then hurried away. He had not said a word, and both had wept; yet, as she closed her eyes after he had gone she was vaguely conscious that she had never been so happy before in her life. So the days wore on, quietly and swiftly, full of a tender sorrow tempered with an undefined joy. Day by day she grew stronger and brighter, needing less of assistance but receiving even more of attention from the stricken father of her late charge.
"You have not asked about Satan," said Mr. Le Moyne suddenly one day.
"Why should I?" she replied, with an arch look. "If that personage will be equally forgetful of me I am sure I shall be very glad."
"Oh, I mean your horse--Midnight, as you call him," laughed Hesden.
"So I supposed," she replied. "I have a dim notion that you applied that eipthet to him on the night of my arrival. Your mother, too, said something about 'Satan,' that night, which I remember puzzled me very greatly at the moment, but I was too much flustered to ask about it just then. Thinking of it afterward, I concluded that she intended to refer to my black-skinned pet. But why do you give him that name?"
"Because that was the first name he ever knew," answered Hesden, with an amused smile.
"The first name he ever knew? I don't understand you," she replied. "My brother captured him at Appomattox, or near there, and named him Midnight, and Midnight he has been ever since."
"Very true," said Hesden, "but he was Satan before that, and very well earned this name, in his young days." "In his young days?" she asked, turning towards him in surprise. "Did you know him then?"
"Very well, indeed," he replied, smiling at her eagerness. "He was raised on this plantation and never knew any other master than me until that day at Rouse's Bridge."
"Why, that is the very place my brother captured him. I remember the name now that you mention it!" she exclaimed.
"Is it anything surprising," said he, "that the day I lost him should be the day he captured him?"
"No--not exactly--but then"--she paused in confusion as she glanced at the empty sleeve which was pinned across his breast.
"Yes," said he, noticing her look, "I lost that there," pointing to the empty sleeve as he spoke; "and though it was a sore loss to a young man who prided himself somewhat on his physical activity, I believe I mourned the horse more than I did the arm."
"But my brother--" she began with a frightened look into his face.
"Well, he must have been in my immediate vicinity, for Satan was the best-trained horse in the squadron. Even after I was dismounted, he would not have failed to keep his place in the ranks when the retreat was sounded, unless an unusually good horseman were on his back."
"My brother said he had as hard a struggle with him then as he had with his rider before," she said, looking shyly up.
"Indeed! I am obliged to him," he responded with a smile. "The commendation of an enemy is always pleasant to a soldier."
"Oh, he said you were terribly bloodthirsty and rode at him as if nothing would satisfy you but his life," she said, with great eagerness.
"Very likely," he answered, lightly. "I have some reputation for directness of purpose, and that was a moment of desperation. We did not know whether we should come back or not, and did not care. We knew that the end was very near, and few of us wished to outlive it. Not that we cared so much--many of us at least--for the cause we fought for; but we dreaded the humiliation of surrender and the stigma of defeat. We felt the disgrace to our people with a keenness that no one can appreciate who has not been in like circumstances. I was opposed to the war myself, but I would rather have died than have lived to see the surrender."
"It must have been hard," she said, softly.
"Hard!" he exclaimed. "I should think it was! But then," he added, his brow suddenly clearing, "next to the fact of surrender I dreaded the loss of my horse. I even contemplated shooting him to prevent his falling into the hands of the enemy."
"My brother thought you were rather anxious to throw away your own life," she said, musingly.
"No," he answered, "just indifferent. I wonder if I saw him at all."
"Oh, you must, for you-" she began eagerly, but stopped in confusion.
"Well, what did I do? Nothing very bad, I hope?" he asked.
"Well, you left an ugly scar on a very smooth forehead, if you call that bad, sir," she said, archly.
"Indeed! Of course I do," was the reply, but his tone indicated that he was thinking less of the atrocity which she had laid to his charge than of the events of that last day of battle. "Let me see," said he, musingly. "I had a sharp turn with a fellow on a gray horse. He was a slender, fair-haired man"--looking down at the figure on the sofa behind which he stood as if to note if there were any resemblance. "He was tall, as tall as I am, I should say, and I thought--I was of the impression--that he was of higher rank than a captain. He was somewhat in advance of his line and right in my path. I remember thinking, as I crossed swords with him that if--if we were both killed, the odds would be in favor of our side. He must have been a colonel at least, or I was mistaken in his shoulder-straps."
"My brother was a colonel of volunteers," she said, quietly. "He was only a captain, however, after his transfer to the regular army."
"Indeed!" said he with new interest. "What was he like?"
For answer Mollie put her hand to her throat, and opening a gold locket which she wore, held up the case so far as the chain would allow while Hesden bent over to look at it. His face was very near her own, and she noted the eagerness with which he scanned the picture.
"Yes, that is the man!" he said at length, with something like a sigh. "I hope I did not injure him seriously."
"Only his beauty," she replied, pleasantly.
"Of which, judging from what I see," he said saucily, letting his eyes wander from the miniature to her face, "he could afford to lose a good deal and yet not suffer by comparison with others."
It was a bold, blunt compliment, yet it was uttered with evident sincerity; but she had turned the locket so that she could see the likeness and did not catch the double meaning of his words. So she only answered calmly and earnestly, "He was a good brother."
A shadow passed over his face as he noticed her inattention to his compliment, but he added heartily,
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