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- An Original Belle - 70/94 -
"Well, since it must be, the sooner the ordeal is over the better," said Suwanee, with increasing irritation. "Captain Lane has sense enough to know that we are not responsible for his being taken away."
"Hildy," said Mrs. Barkdale, "go up and tell the gentlemen that breakfast is ready."
In a few moments the old woman returned in a fluster and said, "I knock on de doah, and dey ain't no answer."
"What!" exclaimed Suwanee, in the accents of surprise; then, sharply, "go and knock louder, and wake them up," adding, "it's very strange."
Hildy came back with a scared look, and said, "I knock and knock; den I open de doah, and der' ain't no one dere."
"They must be out in the grounds for a walk," exclaimed Roberta. "Haven't you seen them this morning?"
"I ain't seen nuffin' nor heard nuffin'," protested the old woman.
"Girls, this is serious," said Mrs. Barkdale, rising; and she summoned Lieutenant Macklin, who belonged to a class not received socially by the family.
"We have but this moment discovered," said the lady, "that Captain Lane and Surgeon McAllister are not in their room. Therefore we suppose they are walking in the grounds. Will you please inform them that breakfast is waiting?"
"Pardon me, madam, they cannot be outside, or I should have been informed."
"Then you must search for them, sir. The house, grounds, and buildings are open to you."
The fact of the prisoners' escape soon became evident, and there were haste, confusion, and running to and fro to no purpose. Suwanee imitated Roberta so closely that she was not suspected. Lieutenant Macklin and the rebel sergeant at last returned, giving evidence of strong vexation.
"We don't understand this," began the lieutenant.
"Neither do we," interrupted Mrs. Barkdale, so haughtily that they were abashed, although they directed keen glances towards Suwanee, who met their scrutiny unflinchingly.
The Barkdales were not people to be offended with impunity, and the lieutenant knew it. He added, apologetically: "You know I must do my duty, madam. I fear some of your servants are implicated, or that guards have been tampered with."
"You are at liberty to examine any one you please."
They might as well have examined a carved, wrinkled effigy as old Cuffy, Lane's midnight guide. "I don' know nuffin' 'tall 'bout it," he declared. "My ole woman kin tell yo' dat I went to bed when she did and got up when she did."
The guard, bought with kindness, was as dense in his ignorance as any of the others. At last Macklin declared that he would have to put citizens on the hunt, for his orders admitted of no delay.
The Union prisoners, together with the Confederates, when formed in line, gave a ringing cheer for "Missy S'wanee and the ladies," and then the old mansion was left in more than its former isolation, and, as the younger girl felt, desolation.
She attended to her duties as usual, and then went to her piano. The words spoken the previous evening would ever make the place dear to her. While she was there old Hildy crept in, with her feeble step, and whispered, "I foun' dis un'er Cap'n Lane's piller."
It was but a scrap of paper, unaddressed; but Suwanee understood its significance. It contained these words: "I can never repay you, but to discover some coin which a nature like yours can accept has become one of my supreme ambitions. If I live, we shall meet again."
Those words formed a glimmering hope which grew fainter and fainter in the dark years which followed.
She did not have to mask her trouble very long, for another sorrow came like an avalanche. Close to the Union lines, on Cemetery Ridge, lay a white-haired colonel and his two tall sons. They were among the heroes in Pickett's final charge, on the 3d of July. "Missy S'wanee" laughed no more, even in self-defence.
SUNDAY'S LULL AND MONDAY'S STORM.
SUNDAY, the 12th of July, proved a long, restful sabbath to Marian and her father, and they spent most of its hours together. The great tension and strain of the past weeks appeared to be over for a time. The magnificent Union victories had brought gladness and hopefulness to Mr. Vosburgh, and the return of her friends had relieved his daughter's mind. He now thought he saw the end clearly. He believed that hereafter the tide of rebellion would ebb southward until all the land should be free.
"This day has been a godsend to us both," he said to Marian, as they sat together in the library before retiring. "The draft has begun quietly, and no disturbances have followed. I scarcely remember an evening when the murmur of the city was so faint and suggestive of repose. I think we can both go to the country soon, with minds comparatively at rest. I must admit that I expected no such experience as has blessed us to-day. We needed it. Not until this respite came did I realize how exhausted from labor and especially anxiety I had become. You, too, my little girl, are not the blooming lassie you were a year ago."
"Yet I think I'm stronger in some respects, papa."
"Yes, in many respects. Thank God for the past year. Your sympathy and companionship have made it a new era in my life. You have influenced other lives, also, as events have amply proved. Are you not satisfied now that you can be unconventional without being queer? You have not been a colorless reflection of some social set; neither have you left your home for some startling public career; and yet you have achieved the distinct individuality which truthfulness to nature imparts. You have simply been developing your better self naturally, and you have helped fine fellows to make the best of themselves."
"Your encouragement is very sweet, papa. I'm not complacent over myself, however; and I've failed so signally in one instance that I'm vexed and almost saddened. You know what I mean."
"Yes, I know," with a slight laugh. "Merwyn is still your unsolved problem, and he worries you."
"Not because he is unsolved, but rather that the solution has proved so disappointing and unexpected. He baffles me with a trait which I recognize, but can't understand, and only admit in wonder and angry protest. Indeed, from the beginning of our acquaintance he has reversed my usual experiences. His first approaches incensed me beyond measure,--all the more, I suppose, because I saw in him an odious reflection of my old spirit. But, papa, when to his condescending offer I answered from the full bitterness of my heart, he looked and acted as if I had struck him with a knife."
Her father again laughed, as he said: "You truly used heroic surgery, and to excellent purpose. Has he shown any conceit, complacency, or patronizing airs since?"
"No, I admit that, at least."
"In destroying some of his meaner traits by one keen thrust, you did him a world of good. Of course he suffered under such a surgical operation, but he has had better moral health ever since."
"Oh, yes," she burst out, "he has become an eminently respectable and patriotic millionnaire, giving of his abundance to save the nation's life, living in a palace meanwhile. What did he mean by his passionate words, 'I shall measure everything hereafter by the breadth of your woman's soul'? What have the words amounted to? You know, papa, that nothing but my duty and devotion to you keeps me from taking an active part in this struggle, even though a woman. Indeed, the feeling is growing upon me that I must spend part of my time in some hospital. A woman can't help having an intense conviction of what she would do were she a man, and you know what I would have done, and he knows it also. Therefore he has not kept his word, for he fails at the vital point in reaching my standard. I have no right to judge men in Mr. Merwyn's position because they do not go to the front. Let them do what they think wise and prudent; let them also keep among their own kind. I protest against their coming to me for what I give to friends who have already proved themselves heroes. But there, I forgot. He looks so like a man that I can't help thinking that he is one,--that he could come up to my standard if he chose to. He still seeks me--"
"No, he has not been here since he heard Blauvelt's story."
"He passed the house once, hesitated, and did not enter. Papa, he has not changed, and you know it. He has plainly asked for a gift only second to what I can give to God. With a tenacity which nothing but his will can account for, perhaps, he seeks it still. Do you think his distant manner deceives me for a moment? Nor has my coldness any influence on him. Yet it has not been the coldness of indifference, and he knows that too. He has seen and felt, like sword-thrusts, my indignation, my contempt. He has said to my face, 'You think me a coward.' He is no fool, and has fully comprehended the situation. If he had virtually admitted, 'I am a coward, and therefore can have no place among the friends who are surpassing your ideal of manly heroism,' and withdrawn to those to whom a million is more than all heroism, the affair would have ended naturally
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