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- The Earth Trembled - 2/74 -
The effect of her father's decision and action had been deepened a hundred-fold by an event which occurred soon afterward. Among the thousands who thronged to Charleston when Fort Sumter was attacked, was the son of a wealthy planter residing in the interior of the State. This young soldier's enthusiasm and devotion were much bruited in the city, because, waiving wealth and rank, he had served as a private. His fearlessness at Fort Moultrie enhanced his reputation, and when the small garrison of heroes, commanded by Major Anderson, succumbed, Sidney Wallingford found that he had been voted a hero himself, especially by his fair compatriots with whom he had formerly danced when visiting the town.
The young fellow's head was not easily turned, however, for when, at an evening gathering, a group was lauding the great achievement he said disdainfully, "What! thousands against seventy? Despise the Yankees as we may, the odds were too great. The only thing we can plume ourselves upon is that we would have fought just the same had the seventy been seven thousand. I think the fellows did splendidly, if they were Yankees, yet what else could we expect since their commander was a Southern man? Oh no! we must wait till the conditions are more even before we can exult over our victories. I reckon we'll have them all the same though."
Murmurs of approbation followed these remarks, but he saw only the eloquent eyes of Mary Burgoyne, and, offering her his arm, led her away.
The spring night was as warm as a June evening at the North, and they joined the groups that were strolling under the moonlight in the garden.
Sidney felt the young girl's hand tremble on his arm, and he drew it closer to his side. She soon asked falteringly, "Mr. Wallingford, do you think--will the conditions become more even, as you suggested? Can it be that the North will be so carried away by this abolition fanaticism as to send armies and ships in the vain effort to subjugate us?"
"Thank you, Miss Mary, for saying that it will be a 'vain effort.'"
"Of course it will be, with such men as my father and"--she suddenly hesitated.
"And who else?" he gently asked, trying to look into her averted face.
"Oh--well," she stammered with a forced little laugh, "thousands of brave fellows like you. You do not answer my question. Are we to have anything like a general war? Surely, there ought to be enough good, wise men on both sides to settle the matter."
"The matter might be settled easily enough," he replied lightly. "We know our rights, and shall firmly assert them. If the Yankees yield, all well; if not, we'll make 'em."
"But making them may mean a great war?"
"Oh, yes, some serious scrimmages I reckon. We're prepared however, and will soon bring the North to its senses."
"If anything should happen to my father!" she sighed.
He had led her beneath the shadow of a palmetto, and now breathed into her ear, "Mary, dear Mary, how much I'd give to hear you say in the same tone, 'If anything should happen to Sidney'!" She did not withdraw her hand from his arm, and he again felt it tremble more than before. "Mary," he continued earnestly, "I have asked your father if I might speak to you, and he did not deny me the privilege. Oh, Mary, you must have seen my love in my eyes and heard it in my tones long since. Mary," he concluded impetuously, "let me but feel that I am defending you as well as my State, and I can and will be a soldier in very truth."
She suddenly turned and sobbed on his shoulder, "That's what I fear,--I can hide my secret from you no longer--that's what I fear. Those I love will be exposed to sudden and terrible death. I am not brave at all."
"Shall I go home and plant cotton?" he asked, half jestingly.
"No, no, a thousand times no," she cried passionately. "Have I not seen the deep solemnity with which my father accepted duty so foreign to his tastes and habits? Can you think I would wish you to shrink or fail--you who are so strong and brave? No, no, in very truth. Self must mean only self-sacrifice until our sacred cause is won. Yet think twice, Sidney, before you bind yourself to me. I fear I am not so brave as other women appear to be in these times. My heart shrinks unspeakably from war and bloodshed. Although I shall not falter, I shall suffer agonies of dread. I cannot let you go to danger with stern words and dry eyes. I fear you'll find me too weak to be a soldier's wife."
He led her into deeper and shadier seclusion as he asked, "Do you think I'll hesitate because you have a heart in your bosom instead of a stone? No, my darling. We must keep a brave aspect to the world, but my heart is as tender toward you as yours toward me. What else in God's universe could I dread more than harm to you? But there is little cause to fear. The whole South will soon be with us, foreign nations will recognize us as an independent people, and then we will dictate our own terms of peace; then you shall be my bride in this, our proud city by the sea."
He kissed away her tears, and they strolled through the shadowy walks until each had regained the composure essential in the bright drawing-rooms.
A commission with the rank of captain was speedily offered young Wallingford. He accepted it, but said he would return home and raise his own company. This action was also applauded by his friends and the authorities. Mary saw her father smile approvingly and proudly upon her choice, and he became her ideal hero as well as lover.
He fulfilled his promises, and before many weeks passed, re-entered Charleston with a hundred brave fellows, devoted to him. The company was incorporated into one of the many regiments forming, and Mr. Burgoyne assured his daughter that the young captain was sure of promotion, and would certainly make a thorough soldier.
Even in those early and lurid days a few things were growing clear, and among them was the fact that the North would not recognize the doctrine of State Rights, nor peaceably accept the Act of Secession. Soldiers would be needed,--how long no one knew, for the supreme question of the day had passed from the hands of statesmen to those of the soldier. The lack of mutual knowledge, the misapprehension and the gross prejudices existing between the two sections, would have been ludicrous had they not been fraught with such long-continued woes. Southern papers published such stuff as this: "The Northern soldiers are men who prefer enlisting to starvation; scurvy fellows from the back slums of cities, with whom Falstaff would not have marched through Coventry. Let them come South, and we will put our negroes at the dirty work of killing them. But they will not come South. Not a wretch of them will live on this side of the border longer than it will take us to reach the ground and drive them off." The Northern press responded in kind: "No man of sense," it was declared, "could for a moment doubt that this much-ado-about-nothing would end in a month. The Northern people are simply invincible. The rebels, a mere band of ragamuffins, will fly like chaff before the wind on our approach." Thus the wretched farces of bluster continued on either side until in blood, agony, and heartbreak, Americans learned to know Americans.
President Lincoln, however, had called out seventy-five thousand troops, and these men were not long in learning that they could not walk over the South in three months. The South also discovered that these same men could not be terrified into abandoning the attempt. There were thoughtful men on both sides who early began to recognize the magnitude of the struggle upon which they had entered. Among these was Major Burgoyne, and the presentiment grew upon him that he would not see the end of the conflict. When, therefore, impetuous young Wallingford urged that he might call Mary his wife before he marched to distant battlefields, the father yielded, feeling that it might be well for her to have another protector besides himself. The union was solemnized in old St. Michael's Church, where Mary's mother and grandmother had been married before her; a day or two of quiet and happiness was vouchsafed, and then came the tidings of the first great battle of the war. Charleston responded with acclamations of triumph; bells sent out their merriest peals; cannon thundered from every fort on the harbor, but Mary wept on her husband's breast. Among the telegrams of victory had come an order for his regiment to go North immediately. Not even a brief honeymoon was permitted to her.
As the exaggerated reports of a magnificent Confederate victory at Bull Run continued to pour in, Major Burgoyne shared for a time in the general elation, believing that independence, recognition abroad, and peace had been virtually secured. All the rant about Northern cowardice appeared to be confirmed, and he eagerly waited for the announcement that Washington had been captured by Johnston's victorious army.
Instead, came the dismal tidings from his only sister that her husband, Captain Hunter, had been killed in the battle over which he had been rejoicing. Then for some mysterious reason the Southern army did not follow the Federals, who had left the field in such utter rout and panic. It soon appeared that the contending forces were occupying much the same positions as before. News of the second great uprising of the North followed closely, and presaged anything but a speedy termination of the conflict. Major Burgoyne was not a Hotspur, and he grew thoughtful and depressed in spirit, although he sedulously concealed the fact from his associates. The shadow of coming events began to fall upon him, and his daughter gradually divined his lack of hopefulness. The days were already sad and full of anxiety, for her husband was absent. He had scouted the idea of the Yankees standing up before the impetuous onset of the Southern soldiers, and his words had apparently proved true, yet even those Northern cowards had killed one closely allied to her before they fled. Remembering, therefore, her husband's headlong courage, what assurance of his safety could she have although victory followed victory?
Major Burgoyne urged his widowed sister to leave her plantation in the charge of an overseer and make her home with him. "You are too near the probable theatre of military operations to be safe," he wrote, "and my mind cannot rest till you are with us in this city which we are rapidly making impregnable." The result was that she eventually became a member of his family. Her stern, sad face added to the young wife's depression, for the stricken woman had been rendered intensely bitter by her loss. Mary was too gentle in nature to hate readily, yet wrathful gleams would be emitted at times even from her blue eyes, as her aunt inveighed in her hard monotone against the "monstrous wrong of the North." They saw their side with such downright sincerity and vividness that the offenders appeared to be beyond the pale of humanity. Few men, even though the frosts of many winters had cooled their blood and ripened their judgment, could reason dispassionately in those days, much less women, whose hearts were kept on the rack of torture by the loss of dear ones or the dread of such loss.
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