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- Captain Macklin - 1/39 -

[Illustration: "Go, Royal!" he cried, "and--God bless you!"]






"Go, Royal!" he cried, "and--God bless you!" FRONTISPIECE

He made our meeting something of a ceremony

We walked out to the woods

I was sure life in Sagua la Grande would always suit me

The moon rose over the camp ... but still we sat

And the next instant I fell sprawling inside the barrack yard

I sprang back against the cabin



It may seem presumptuous that so young a man as myself should propose to write his life and memoirs, for, as a rule, one waits until he has accomplished something in the world, or until he has reached old age, before he ventures to tell of the times in which he has lived, and of his part in them. But the profession to which I belong, which is that of a soldier, and which is the noblest profession a man can follow, is a hazardous one, and were I to delay until to-morrow to write down what I have seen and done, these memoirs might never be written, for, such being the fortune of war, to-morrow might not come.

So I propose to tell now of the little I have accomplished in the first twenty-three years of my life, and, from month to month, to add to these memoirs in order that, should I be suddenly taken off, my debit and credit pages may be found carefully written up to date and carried forward. On the other hand, should I live to be an old man, this record of my career will furnish me with material for a more complete autobiography, and will serve as a safeguard against a failing memory.

In writing a personal narrative I take it that the most important events to be chronicled in the life of a man are his choice of a wife and his choice of a profession. As I am unmarried, the chief event in my life is my choice of a profession, and as to that, as a matter of fact, I was given no choice, but from my earliest childhood was destined to be a soldier. My education and my daily environment each pointed to that career, and even if I had shown a remarkable aptitude for any other calling, which I did not, I doubt if I would have pursued it. I am confident that had my education been directed in an entirely different channel, I should have followed my destiny, and come out a soldier in the end. For by inheritance as well as by instinct I was foreordained to follow the fortunes of war, to delight in the clash of arms and the smoke of battle; and I expect that when I do hear the clash of arms and smell the smoke of battle, the last of the Macklins will prove himself worthy of his ancestors.

I call myself the last of the Macklins for the reason that last year, on my twenty-second birthday, I determined I should never marry. Women I respect and admire, several of them, especially two of the young ladies at Miss Butler's Academy I have deeply loved, but a soldier cannot devote himself both to a woman and to his country. As one of our young professors said, "The flag is a jealous mistress."

The one who, in my earliest childhood, arranged that I should follow the profession of arms, was my mother's father, and my only surviving grandparent. He was no less a personage than Major-General John M. Hamilton. I am not a writer; my sword, I fear and hope, will always be easier in my hand than my pen, but I wish for a brief moment I could hold it with such skill, that I might tell of my grandfather properly and gratefully, and describe him as the gentle and brave man he was. I know he was gentle, for though I never had a woman to care for me as a mother cares for a son, I never missed that care; and I know how brave he was, for that is part of the history of my country. During many years he was my only parent or friend or companion; he taught me my lessons by day and my prayers by night, and, when I passed through all the absurd ailments to which a child is heir, he sat beside my cot and lulled me to sleep, or told me stories of the war. There was a childlike and simple quality in his own nature, which made me reach out to him and confide in him as I would have done to one of my own age. Later, I scoffed at this virtue in him as something old-fashioned and credulous. That was when I had reached the age when I was older, I hope, than I shall ever be again. There is no such certainty of knowledge on all subjects as one holds at eighteen and at eighty, and at eighteen I found his care and solicitude irritating and irksome. With the intolerance of youth, I could not see the love that was back of his anxiety, and which should have softened it for me with a halo and made me considerate and grateful. Now I see it--I see it now that it is too late. But surely he understood, he knew how I looked up to him, how I loved him, and how I tried to copy him, and, because I could not, consoled myself inwardly by thinking that the reason I had failed was because his way was the wrong one, and that my way was the better. If he did not understand then, he understands now; I cannot bear to think he does not understand and forgive me.

Those were the best days of my life, the days I spent with him as a child in his own home on the Hudson. It stands at Dobbs Ferry, set in a grove of pines, with a garden about it, and a box hedge that shuts it from the road. The room I best remember is the one that overlooks the Hudson and the Palisades. From its windows you can watch the great vessels passing up and down the river, and the excursion steamers flying many flags, and tiny pleasure-boats and great barges. There is an open fireplace in this room, and in a corner formed by the book- case, and next to the wood-box, was my favorite seat. My grandfather's place was in a great leather chair beside the centre-table, and I used to sit cross-legged on a cushion at his feet, with my back against his knees and my face to the open hearth. I can still see the pages of "Charles O'Malley" and "Midshipman Easy," as I read them by the lifting light of that wood fire, and I can hear the wind roaring down the chimney and among the trees outside, and the steamers signalling to each other as they pushed through the ice and fog to the great city that lay below us. I can feel the fire burning my face, and the cold shivers that ran down my back, as my grandfather told me of the Indians who had once hunted in the very woods back of our house, and of those he had fought with on the plains. With the imagination of a child, I could hear, mingled with the shrieks of the wind as it dashed the branches against the roof, their hideous war-cries as they rushed to some night attack, or the howling of the wolves in the snow. When I think of myself as I was then I am very fond of that little boy who sat shivering with excitement, and staring with open eyes at the pictures he saw in the firelight, a little boy who had made no enemies, no failures, who had harmed no one, and who knew nothing of the world outside the walls that sheltered him, save the brave old soldier who was his law and his example, his friend in trouble, and his playmate.

I knew nothing then, and I know very little now, either of my father or my mother. Whenever I asked my grandfather concerning them he always answered vaguely that he would tell me some day, "when you are of age," but whether he meant when I was twenty-one or of an age when I was best fitted to hear the truth, I shall never know. But I guessed the truth from what he let fall, and from what I have since heard from others, although that is but little, for I could not ask strangers to tell me of my own people. For some reason, soon after they were married my mother and father separated and she brought me to live with her father, and he entered the Southern army.

I like to think that I can remember my mother, and it seems I must, for very dimly I recollect a young girl who used to sit by the window looking out at the passing vessels. There is a daguerreotype of my mother, and it may be that my recollection of her is builded upon that portrait. She died soon after we came to live with my grandfather, when I was only three years old, but I am sure I remember her, for no other woman was ever in the house, and the figure of the young girl looking out across at the Palisades is very clear to me.

My father was an Irish officer and gentleman, who came to the States to better his fortunes. This was just before the war; and as soon as it began, although he lived in the North, in New York City, he joined the Southern army and was killed. I believe, from what little I have learned of him, that he was both wild and reckless, but the few who remember him all say that he had many noble qualities, and was much loved by men, and, I am afraid, by women. I do not know more than that, except the one story of him, which my grandfather often told me.

"Whatever a man may say of your father," he would tell me, "you need not believe; for they may not have understood him, and all that you need to remember, until when you are of age I shall tell you the whole truth, is how he died." It is a brief story. My father was occupying a trench which for some hours his company had held under a heavy fire. When the Yankees charged with the bayonet he rose to meet them, but at the same moment the bugle sounded the retreat, and half of his company broke and ran. My father sprang to the top of the trench and called, "Come back, boys, we'll give them one more volley." It may have been that he had misunderstood the call of the bugle, and disobeyed through ignorance, or it may have been that in his education the signal to retreat had been omitted, for he did not heed it, and stood outlined against the sky, looking back and waving his hand to his men. But they did not come to him, and the advancing troop fired, and he fell upon the trench with his body stretched along its length. The Union officer was far in advance of his own company, and when he leaped upon the trench he found that it was empty and that the Confederate troops were in retreat. He turned, and shouted, laughing: "Come on! there's only one man here--and he's dead!"

But my father reached up his hand, to where the officer stood above him, and pulled at his scabbard.

Captain Macklin - 1/39

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