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Chapter 16 – Mustered In

Louisa May AlcottNov 05, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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CHRISTIE’S return was a very happy one, and could not well be
otherwise with a mother, sister, and lover to welcome her back. Her
meeting with Letty was indescribably tender, and the days that
followed were pretty equally divided between her and her brother, in
nursing the one and loving the other. There was no cloud now in
Christie’s sky, and all the world seemed in bloom. But even while
she enjoyed every hour of life, and begrudged the time given to
sleep, she felt as if the dream was too beautiful to last, and often
said:

"Something will happen: such perfect happiness is not possible in
this world."

"Then let us make the most of it," David would reply, wisely bent on
getting his honey while he could, and not borrowing trouble for the
morrow.

So Christie turned a deaf ear to her "prophetic soul," and gave
herself up to the blissful holiday that had come at last. Even while
March winds were howling outside, she blissfully "poked in the dirt"
with David in the green-house, put up the curly lock as often as she
liked, and told him she loved him a dozen times a day, not in words,
but in silent ways, that touched him to the heart, and made his
future look so bright he hardly dared believe in it.

A happier man it would have been difficult to find just then; all
his burdens seemed to have fallen off, and his spirits rose again
with an elasticity which surprised even those who knew him best.
Christie often stopped to watch and wonder if the blithe young man
who went whistling and singing about the house, often stopping to
kiss somebody, to joke, or to exclaim with a beaming face like a
child at a party: "Isn’t every thing beautiful?" could be the sober,
steady David, who used to plod to and fro with his shoulders a
little bent, and the absent look in his eyes that told of thoughts
above or beyond the daily task.

It was good to see his mother rejoice over him with an exceeding
great joy; it was better still to see Letty’s eyes follow him with
unspeakable love and gratitude in their soft depths; but it was best
of all to see Christie marvel and exult over the discoveries she
made: for, though she had known David for a year, she had never seen
the real man till now.

"Davy, you are a humbug," she said one day when they were making up
a bridal order in the greenhouse.

"I told you so, but you wouldn’t believe it," he answered, using
long stemmed rose-buds with as prodigal a hand as if the wedding was
to be his own.

"I thought I was going to marry a quiet, studious, steady-going man;
and here I find myself engaged to a romantic youth who flies about
in the most undignified manner, embraces people behind doors, sings
opera airs, – very much out of tune by the way, – and conducts himself
more like an infatuated Claude Melnotte, than a respectable
gentleman on the awful verge of matrimony. Nothing can surprise me
now: I’m prepared for any thing, even the sight of my Quakerish
lover dancing a jig."

"Just what I’ve been longing to do! Come and take a turn: it will do
you good;" and, to Christie’s utter amazement, David caught her
round the waist and waltzed her down the boarded walk with a speed
and skill that caused less havoc among the flower-pots than one
would imagine, and seemed to delight the plants, who rustled and
nodded as if applauding the dance of the finest double flower that
had ever blossomed in their midst.

"I can’t help it, Christie," he said, when he had landed her
breathless and laughing at the other end. "I feel like a boy out of
school, or rather a man out of prison, and must enjoy my liberty in
some way. I’m not a talker, you know; and, as the laws of
gravitation forbid my soaring aloft anywhere, I can only express my
joyfully uplifted state of mind by ‘prancing,’ as you call it. Never
mind dignity: let’s be happy, and by and by I’ll sober down."

"I don’t want you to; I love to see you so young and happy, only you
are not the old David, and I’ve got to get acquainted with the new
one."

"I hope you’ll like him better than the frost-bitten ‘old David’ you
first knew and were kind enough to love. Mother says I’ve gone back
to the time before we lost Letty, and I sometimes feel as if I had.
In that case you will find me a proud, impetuous, ambitious fellow,
Christie, and how will that suit?"

"Excellently; I like pride of your sort; impetuosity becomes you,
for you have learned to control it if need be; and the ambition is
best of all. I always wondered at your want of it, and longed to
stir you up; for you did not seem the sort of man to be contented
with mere creature comforts when there are so many fine things men
may do. What shall you choose, Davy?"

"I shall wait for time to show. The sap is all astir in me, and I’m
ready for my chance. I don’t know what it is, but I feel very sure
that some work will be given me into which I can put my whole heart
and soul and strength. I spoilt my first chance; but I know I shall
have another, and, whatever it is, I am ready to do my best, and
live or die for it as God wills."

"So am I," answered Christie, with a voice as earnest and a face as
full of hopeful resolution as his own.

Then they went back to their work, little dreaming as they tied
roses and twined smilax wreaths, how near that other chance was; how
soon they were to be called upon to keep their promise, and how well
each was to perform the part given them in life and death.

The gun fired one April morning at Fort Sumter told many men like
David what their work was to be, and showed many women like Christie
a new right to claim and bravely prove their fitness to possess.

No need to repeat the story of the war begun that day; it has been
so often told that it will only be touched upon here as one of the
experiences of Christie’s life, an experience which did for her what
it did for all who took a share in it, and loyally acted their part.

The North woke up from its prosperous lethargy, and began to stir
with the ominous hum of bees when rude hands shake the hive. Rich
and poor were proud to prove that they loved their liberty better
than their money or their lives, and the descendants of the brave
old Puritans were worthy of their race. Many said: "It will soon be
over;" but the wise men, who had warned in vain, shook their heads,
as that first disastrous summer showed that the time for compromise
was past, and the stern reckoning day of eternal justice was at
hand.

To no home in the land did the great trouble bring a more sudden
change than the little cottage in the lane. All its happy peace was
broken; excitement and anxiety, grief and indignation, banished the
sweet home joys and darkened the future that had seemed so clear.
David was sober enough now, and went about his work with a grim set
to his lips, and a spark in his eyes that made the three women look
at one another pale with unspoken apprehension. As they sat
together, picking lint or rolling bandages while David read aloud
some dismal tale of a lost battle that chilled their blood and made
their hearts ache with pity, each woman, listening to the voice that
stirred her like martial music, said within herself: "Sooner or
later he will go, and I have no right to keep him." Each tried to be
ready to make her sacrifice bravely when the time came, and each
prayed that it might not be required of her.

David said little, but they knew by the way he neglected his garden
and worked for the soldiers, that his heart was in the war. Day
after day he left Christie and his sister to fill the orders that
came so often now for flowers to lay on the grave of some dear, dead
boy brought home to his mother in a shroud. Day after day he hurried
away to help Mr. Power in the sanitary work that soon claimed all
hearts and hands; and, day after day, he came home with what
Christie called the "heroic look" more plainly written on his face.
All that first summer, so short and strange; all that first winter,
so long and hard to those who went and those who stayed, David
worked and waited, and the women waxed strong in the new atmosphere
of self-sacrifice which pervaded the air, bringing out the sturdy
virtues of the North.

"How terrible! Oh, when will it be over!" sighed Letty one day,
after hearing a long list of the dead and wounded in one of the
great battles of that second summer.

"Never till we have beaten!" cried David, throwing down the paper
and walking about the room with his head up like a war-horse who
smells powder. "It is terrible and yet glorious. I thank heaven I
live to see this great wrong righted, and only wish I could do my
share like a man."

"That is natural; but there are plenty of men who have fewer ties
than you, who can fight better, and whose places are easier to fill
than yours if they die," said Christie, hastily.

"But the men who have most to lose fight best they say; and to my
thinking a soldier needs a principle as well as a weapon, if he is
to do real service."

"As the only son of a widow, you can’t be drafted: that’s one
comfort," said Letty, who could not bear to give up the brother lost
to her for so many years.

"I should not wait for that, and I know mother would give her
widow’s mite if she saw that it was needed."

"Yes, Davy." The soft, old voice answered steadily; but the feeble
hand closed instinctively on the arm of this only son, who was so
dear to her. David held it close in both of his, saying gratefully:
"Thank you, mother;" then, fixing his eyes on the younger yet not
dearer women, he added with a ring in his voice that made their
hearts answer with a prompt "Ay, ay!" in spite of love or fear:

"Now listen, you dear souls, and understand that, if I do this
thing, I shall not do it hastily, nor without counting well the
cost. My first and most natural impulse was to go in the beginning;
but I stayed for your sakes. I saw I was not really needed: I
thought the war would soon be over, and those who went then could do
the work. You see how mistaken we were, and God only knows when the
end will come. The boys – bless their brave hearts! – have done nobly,
but older men are needed now. We cannot sacrifice all the gallant
lads; and we who have more to lose than they must take our turn and
try to do as well. You own this; I see it in your faces: then don’t
hold me back when the time comes for me to go. I must do my part,
however small it is, or I shall never feel as if I deserved the love
you give me. You will let me go, I am sure, and not regret that I
did what seemed to me a solemn duty, leaving the consequences to the
Lord!"

"Yes, David," sister and sweetheart answered, bravely forgetting in
the fervor of the moment what heavy consequences God might see fit
to send.

"Good! I knew my Spartans would be ready, and I won’t disgrace them.
I’ve waited more than a year, and done what I could. But all the
while I felt that I was going to get a chance at the hard work, and
I’ve been preparing for it. Bennet will take the garden and
green-house off my hands this autumn for a year or longer, if I
like. He’s a kind, neighborly man, and his boy will take my place
about the house and protect you faithfully. Mr. Power cannot be
spared to go as chaplain, though he longs to desperately; so he is
near in case of need, and with your two devoted daughters by you,
mother, I surely can be spared for a little while."

"Only one daughter near her, David: I shall enlist when you do,"
said Christie, resolutely.

"You mean it?"

"I mean it as honestly as you do. I knew you would go: I saw you
getting ready, and I made up my mind to follow. I, too, have
prepared for it, and even spoken to Mrs. Amory. She has gone as
matron of a hospital, and promised to find a place for me when I was
ready. The day you enlist I shall write and tell her I am ready."

There was fire in Christie’s eyes and a flush on her cheek now, as
she stood up with the look of a woman bent on doing well her part.
David caught her hands in his, regardless of the ominous bandages
they held, and said, with tender admiration and reproach in his
voice:

"You wouldn’t marry me when I asked you this summer, fearing you
would be a burden to me; but now you want to share hardship and
danger with me, and support me by the knowledge of your nearness.
Dear, ought I to let you do it?"

"You will let me do it, and in return I will marry you whenever you
ask me," answered Christie, sealing the promise with a kiss that
silenced him.

He had been anxious to be married long ago, but when he asked Mr.
Power to make him happy, a month after his engagement, that wise
friend said to them:

"I don’t advise it yet. You have tried and proved one another as
friends, now try and prove one another as lovers; then, if you feel
that all is safe and happy, you will be ready for the greatest of
the three experiments, and then in God’s name marry."

"We will," they said, and for a year had been content, studying one
another, finding much to love, and something to learn in the art of
bearing and forbearing.

David had begun to think they had waited long enough, but Christie
still delayed, fearing she was not worthy, and secretly afflicted by
the thought of her poverty. She had so little to give in return for
all she received that it troubled her, and she was sometimes tempted
to ask Uncle Enos for a modest marriage portion. She never had yet,
and now resolved to ask nothing, but to earn her blessing by doing
her share in the great work.

"I shall remember that," was all David answered to that last promise
of hers, and three months later he took her at her word.

For a week or two they went on in the old way; Christie did her
housework with her head full of new plans, read books on nursing,
made gruel, plasters, and poultices, till Mrs. Sterling pronounced
her perfect; and dreamed dreams of a happy time to come when peace
had returned, and David was safe at home with all the stars and bars
a man could win without dying for them.

David set things in order, conferred with Bennet, petted his
womankind, and then hurried away to pack boxes of stores, visit
camps, and watch departing regiments with a daily increasing
certainty that his time had come.

One September day he went slowly home, and, seeing Christie in the
garden, joined her, helped her finish matting up some delicate
shrubs, put by the tools, and when all was done said with unusual
gentleness:

"Come and walk a little in the lane."

She put her arm in his, and answered quickly:

"You’ve something to tell me: I see it in your face."

"Dear, I must go."

"Yes, David."

"And you?"

"I go too."

"Yes, Christie."

That was all: she did not offer to detain him now; he did not deny
her right to follow. They looked each other bravely in the face a
moment, seeing, acknowledging the duty and the danger, yet ready to
do the one and dare the other, since they went together. Then
shoulder to shoulder, as if already mustered in, these faithful
comrades marched to and fro, planning their campaign.

Next evening, as Mrs. Sterling sat alone in the twilight, a tall man
in army blue entered quietly, stood watching the tranquil figure for
a moment, then went and knelt down beside it, saying, with a most
unsoldierly choke in the voice:

"I’ve done it, mother: tell me you’re not sorry."

But the little Quaker cap went down on the broad shoulder, and the
only answer he heard was a sob that stirred the soft folds over the
tender old heart that clung so closely to the son who had lived for
her so long. What happened in the twilight no one ever knew; but
David received promotion for bravery in a harder battle than any he
was going to, and from his mother’s breast a decoration more
precious to him than the cross of the Legion of Honor from a royal
hand.

When Mr. Power presently came in, followed by the others, they found
their soldier standing very erect in his old place on the rug, with
the firelight gleaming on his bright buttons, and Bran staring at
him with a perplexed aspect; for the uniform, shorn hair, trimmed
beard, and a certain lofty carriage of the head so changed his
master that the sagacious beast was disturbed.

Letty smiled at him approvingly, then went to comfort her mother who
could not recover her tranquillity so soon. But Christie stood
aloof, looking at her lover with something more than admiration in
the face that kindled beautifully as she exclaimed:

"O David, you are splendid! Once I was so blind I thought you plain;
but now my ‘boy in blue’ is the noblest looking man I ever saw. Yes,
Mr. Power, I’ve found my hero at last! Here he is, my knight without
reproach or fear, going out to take his part in the grandest battle
ever fought. I wouldn’t keep him if I could; I’m glad and proud to
have him go; and if he never should come back to me I can bear it
better for knowing that he dutifully did his best, and left the
consequences to the Lord."

Then, having poured out the love and pride and confidence that
enriched her sacrifice, she broke down and clung to him, weeping as
so many clung and wept in those hard days when men and women gave
their dearest, and those who prayed and waited suffered almost as
much as those who fought and died.

When the deed was once done, it was astonishing what satisfaction
they all took in it, how soon they got accustomed to the change, and
what pride they felt in "our soldier." The loyal frenzy fell upon
the three quiet women, and they could not do too much for their
country. Mrs. Sterling cut up her treasured old linen without a
murmur; Letty made "comfort bags" by the dozen, put up jelly, and
sewed on blue jackets with tireless industry; while Christie
proclaimed that if she had twenty lovers she would send them all;
and then made preparations enough to nurse the entire party.

David meantime was in camp, getting his first taste of martial life,
and not liking it any better than he thought he should; but no one
heard a complaint, and he never regretted his "love among the
roses," for he was one of the men who had a "principle as well as a
weapon," and meant to do good service with both.

It would have taken many knapsacks to hold all the gifts showered
upon him by his friends and neighbors. He accepted all that came,
and furnished forth those of his company who were less favored.
Among these was Elisha Wilkins, and how he got there should be told.

Elisha had not the slightest intention of enlisting, but Mrs.
Wilkins was a loyal soul, and could not rest till she had sent a
substitute, since she could not go herself. Finding that Lisha
showed little enthusiasm on the subject, she tried to rouse him by
patriotic appeals of various sorts. She read stirring accounts of
battles, carefully omitting the dead and wounded; she turned out,
baby and all if possible, to cheer every regiment that left; and was
never tired of telling Wash how she wished she could add ten years
to his age and send him off to fight for his country like a man.

But nothing seemed to rouse the supine Elisha, who chewed his quid
like a placid beast of the field, and showed no sign of a proper
spirit.

"Very well," said Mrs. Wilkins resolutely to herself, "ef I can’t
make no impression on his soul I will on his stommick, and see how
that’ll work."

Which threat she carried out with such skill and force that Lisha
was effectually waked up, for he was "partial to good vittles," and
Cynthy was a capital cook. Poor rations did not suit him, and he
demanded why his favorite dishes were not forthcoming.

"We can’t afford no nice vittles now when our men are sufferin’ so.
I should be ashamed to cook ’em, and expect to choke tryin’ to eat
’em. Every one is sacrificin’ somethin’, and we mustn’t be slack in
doin’ our part, – the Lord knows it’s precious little, – and there
won’t be no stuffin’ in this house for a consid’able spell. Ef I
could save up enough to send a man to do my share of the fightin’, I
should be proud to do it. Anyway I shall stint the family and send
them dear brave fellers every cent I can git without starvin’ the
children."

"Now, Cynthy, don’t be ferce. Things will come out all right, and it
ain’t no use upsettin’ every thing and bein’ so darned
uncomfortable," answered Mr. Wilkins with unusual energy.

"Yes it is, Lisha. No one has a right to be comfortable in such
times as these, and this family ain’t goin’ to be ef I can help it,"
and Mrs. Wilkins set down her flat-iron with a slam which plainly
told her Lisha war was declared.

He said no more but fell a thinking. He was not as unmoved as he
seemed by the general excitement, and had felt sundry manly impulses
to "up and at ’em," when his comrades in the shop discussed the
crisis with ireful brandishing of awls, and vengeful pounding of
sole leather, as if the rebels were under the hammer. But the
selfish, slothful little man could not make up his mind to brave
hardship and danger, and fell back on his duty to his family as a
reason for keeping safe at home.

But now that home was no longer comfortable, now that Cynthy had
sharpened her tongue, and turned "ferce," and now – hardest blow of
all – that he was kept on short commons, he began to think he might
as well be on the tented field, and get a little glory along with
the discomfort if that was inevitable. Nature abhors a vacuum, and
when food fell short patriotism had a chance to fill the aching
void. Lisha had about made up his mind, for he knew the value of
peace and quietness; and, though his wife was no scold, she was the
ruling power, and in his secret soul he considered her a very
remarkable woman. He knew what she wanted, but was not going to be
hurried for anybody; so he still kept silent, and Mrs. Wilkins began
to think she must give it up. An unexpected ally appeared however,
and the good woman took advantage of it to strike one last blow.

Lisha sat eating a late breakfast one morning, with a small son at
either elbow, waiting for stray mouthfuls and committing petty
larcenies right and left, for Pa was in a brown study. Mrs. Wilkins
was frying flap-jacks, and though this is not considered an heroical
employment she made it so that day. This was a favorite dish of
Lisha’s, and she had prepared it as a bait for this cautious fish.
To say that the fish rose at once and swallowed the bait, hook and
all, but feebly expresses the justice done to the cakes by that
long-suffering man. Waiting till he had a tempting pile of the
lightest, brownest flapjacks ever seen upon his plate, and was
watching an extra big bit of butter melt luxuriously into the warm
bosom of the upper one, with a face as benign as if some of the
molasses he was trickling over them had been absorbed into his
nature, Mrs. Wilkins seized the propitious moment to say
impressively:

"David Sterlin’ has enlisted!"

"Sho! has he, though?"

"Of course he has! any man with the spirit of a muskeeter would."

"Well, he ain’t got a family, you see."

"He’s got his old mother, that sister home from furrin’ parts
somewheres, and Christie just going to be married. I should like to
know who’s got a harder family to leave than that?"

"Six young children is harder: ef I went fifin’ and drummin’ off,
who ‘d take care of them I’d like to know?"

"I guess I could support the family ef I give my mind to it;" and
Mrs. Wilkins turned a flapjack with an emphasis that caused her lord
to bolt a hot triangle with dangerous rapidity; for well he knew
very little of his money went into the common purse. She never
reproached him, but the fact nettled him now; and something in the
tone of her voice made that sweet morsel hard to swallow.

"’Pears to me you ‘re in ruther a hurry to be a widder, Cynthy,
shovin’ me off to git shot in this kind of a way," growled Lisha,
ill at ease.

"I’d ruther be a brave man’s widder than a coward’s wife, any day!"
cried the rebellious Cynthy: then she relented, and softly slid two
hot cakes into his plate; adding, with her hand upon his shoulder,
"Lisha, dear, I want to be proud of my husband as other women be of
theirs. Every one gives somethin’, I’ve only got you, and I want to
do my share, and do it hearty."

She went back to her work, and Mr. Wilkins sat thoughtfully stroking
the curly heads beside him, while the boys ravaged his plate, with
no reproof, but a half audible, "My little chaps, my little chaps!"

She thought she had got him, and smiled to herself, even while a
great tear sputtered on the griddle at those last words of his.

Imagine her dismay, when, having consumed the bait, her fish gave
signs of breaking the line, and escaping after all; for Mr. Wilkins
pushed back his chair, and said slowly, as he filled his pipe:

"I’m blest ef I can see the sense of a lot of decent men going off
to be froze, and starved, and blowed up jest for them confounded
niggers."

He got no further, for his wife’s patience gave out; and, leaving
her cakes to burn black, she turned to him with a face glowing like
her stove, and cried out:

"Lisha, ain’t you got no heart? can you remember what Hepsey told
us, and call them poor, long-sufferin’ creeters names? Can you think
of them wretched wives sold from their husbands; them children as
clear as ourn tore from their mothers; and old folks kep slavin
eighty long, hard years with no pay, no help, no pity, when they git
past work? Lisha Wilkins, look at that, and say no ef you darst!"

Mrs. Wilkins was a homely woman in an old calico gown, but her face,
her voice, her attitude were grand, as she flung wide the door of
the little back bedroom. and pointed with her tin spatula to the
sight beyond.

Only Hepsey sitting by a bed where lay what looked more like a
shrivelled mummy than a woman. Ah! but it was that old mother worked
and waited for so long: blind now, and deaf; childish, and half dead
with many hardships, but safe and free at last; and Hepsey’s black
face was full of a pride, a peace, and happiness more eloquent and
touching than any speech or sermon ever uttered.

Mr. Wilkins had heard her story, and been more affected by it than
he would confess: now it came home to him with sudden force; the
thought of his own mother, wife, or babies torn from him stirred him
to the heart, and the manliest emotion he had ever known caused him
to cast his pipe at his feet, put on his hat with an energetic slap,
and walk out of the house, wearing an expression on his usually
wooden face that caused his wife to clap her hands and cry
exultingly:

"I thought that would fetch him!"

Then she fell to work like an inspired woman; and at noon a
sumptuous dinner "smoked upon the board;" the children were scrubbed
till their faces shone; and the room was as fresh and neat as any
apartment could be with the penetrating perfume of burnt flapjacks
still pervading the air, and three dozen ruffled nightcaps
decorating the clothes-lines overhead.

"Tell me the instant minute you see Pa a comin’, and I’ll dish up
the gravy," was Mrs. Wilkins’s command, as she stepped in with a cup
of tea for old "Harm," as she called Hepsey’s mother.

"He’s a comin’, Ma!" called Gusty, presently.

"No, he ain’t: it’s a trainer," added Ann Lizy.

"Yes, ’tis Pa! oh, my eye! ain’t he stunnin’!" cried Wash, stricken
for the first time with admiration of his sire.

Before Mrs. Wilkins could reply to these conflicting rumors her
husband walked in, looking as martial as his hollow chest and thin
legs permitted, and, turning his cap nervously in his hands, said
half-proudly, half-reproachfully:

"Now, Cynthy, be you satisfied?"

"Oh, my Lisha! I be, I be!" and the inconsistent woman fell upon his
buttony breast weeping copiously.

If ever a man was praised and petted, admired and caressed, it was
Elisha Wilkins that day. His wife fed him with the fat of the land,
regardless of consequences; his children revolved about him with
tireless curiosity and wonder; his neighbors flocked in to applaud,
advise, and admire; every one treated him with a respect most
grateful to his feelings; he was an object of interest, and with
every hour his importance increased, so that by night he felt like a
Commander-in-Chief, and bore himself accordingly. He had enlisted in
David’s regiment, which was a great comfort to his wife; for though
her stout heart never failed her, it grew very heavy at times; and
when Lisha was gone, she often dropped a private tear over the
broken pipe that always lay in its old place, and vented her
emotions by sending baskets of nourishment to Private Wilkins, which
caused that bandy-legged warrior to be much envied and cherished by
his mates.

"I’m glad I done it; for it will make a man of Lisha; and, if I’ve
sent him to his death, God knows he’ll be fitter to die than if he
stayed here idlin’ his life away."

Then the good soul openly shouldered the burden she had borne so
long in secret, and bravely trudged on alone.

"Another great battle!" screamed the excited news-boys in the
streets. "Another great battle!" read Letty in the cottage parlor.
"Another great battle!" cried David, coming in with the war-horse
expression on his face a month or two after he enlisted.

The women dropped their work to look and listen; for his visits were
few and short, and every instant was precious. When the first
greetings were over, David stood silent an instant, and a sudden
mist came over his eyes as he glanced from one beloved face to
another; then he threw back his head with the old impatient gesture,
squared his shoulders, and said in a loud, cheerful voice, with a
suspicious undertone of emotion in it, however:

"My precious people, I’ve got something to tell you: are you ready?"

They knew what it was without a word. Mrs. Sterling clasped her
hands and bowed her head. Letty turned pale and dropped her work;
but Christie’s eyes kindled, as she answered with a salute:

"Ready, my General."

"We are ordered off at once, and go at four this afternoon. I’ve got
a three hours’ leave to say good-by in. Now, let’s be brave and
enjoy every minute of it."

"We will: what can I do for you, Davy?" asked Christie, wonderfully
supported by the thought that she was going too.

"Keep your promise, dear," he answered, while the warlike expression
changed to one of infinite tenderness.

"What promise?"

"This;" and he held out his hand with a little paper in it. She saw
it was a marriage license, and on it lay a wedding-ring. She did not
hesitate an instant, but laid her own hand in his, and answered with
her heart in her face:

"I’ll keep it, David."

"I knew you would!" then holding her close he said in a tone that
made it very hard for her to keep steady, as she had vowed she would
do to the last: "I know it is much to ask, but I want to feel that
you are mine before I go. Not only that, but it will be a help and
protection to you, dear, when you follow. As a married woman you
will get on better, as my wife you will be allowed to come to me if
I need you, and as my" – he stopped there, for he could not add – "as
my widow you will have my pension to support you."

She understood, put both arms about his neck as if to keep him safe,
and whispered fervently:

"Nothing can part us any more, not even death; for love like ours
will last for ever."

"Then you are quite willing to try the third great experiment?"

"Glad and proud to do it." "With no doubt, no fear, to mar your
consent." "Not one, David." "That’s true love, Christie!"

Then they stood quite still for a time, and in the silence the two
hearts talked together in the sweet language no tongue can utter.
Presently David said regretfully:

"I meant it should be so different. I always planned that we’d be
married some bright summer day, with many friends about us; then
take a happy little journey somewhere together, and come back to
settle down at home in the dear old way. Now it’s all so hurried,
sorrowful, and strange. A dull November day; no friends but Mr.
Power, who will be here soon; no journey but my march to Washington
alone; and no happy coming home together in this world perhaps. Can
you bear it, love?"

"Have no fear for me: I feel as if I could bear any thing just now;
for I’ve got into a heroic mood and I mean to keep so as long as I
can. I’ve always wanted to live in stirring times, to have a part in
great deeds, to sacrifice and suffer something for a principle or a
person; and now I have my wish. I like it, David: it’s a grand time
to live, a splendid chance to do and suffer; and I want to be in it
heart and soul, and earn a little of the glory or the martyrdom that
will come in the end. Surely I shall if I give you and myself to the
cause; and I do it gladly, though I know that my heart has got to
ache as it never has ached yet, when my courage fails, as it will by
and by, and my selfish soul counts the cost of my offering after the
excitement is over. Help me to be brave and strong, David: don’t let
me complain or regret, but show me what lies beyond, and teach me to
believe that simply doing the right is reward and happiness enough."

Christie was lifted out of herself for the moment, and looked
inspired by the high mood which was but the beginning of a nobler
life for her. David caught the exaltation, and gave no further
thought to any thing but the duty of the hour, finding himself
stronger and braver for that long look into the illuminated face of
the woman he loved.

"I’ll try," was all his answer to her appeal; then proved that he
meant it by adding, with his lips against her cheek: "I must go to
mother and Letty. We leave them behind, and they must be comforted."

He went, and Christie vanished to make ready for her wedding,
conscious, in spite of her exalted state of mind, that every thing
was very hurried, sad, and strange, and very different from the
happy day she had so often planned.

"No matter, we are ‘well on’t for love,’ and that is all we really
need," she thought, recalling with a smile Mrs. Wilkins’s advice.

"David sends you these, dear. Can I help in any way?" asked Letty,
coming with a cluster of lovely white roses in her hand, and a world
of affection in her eyes.

"I thought he’d give me violets," and a shadow came over Christie’s
face.

"But they are mourning flowers, you know."

"Not to me. The roses are, for they remind me of poor Helen, and the
first work I did with David was arranging flowers like these for a
dead baby’s little coffin."

"My dearest Christie, don’t be superstitious: all brides wear roses,
and Davy thought you’d like them," said Letty, troubled at her
words.

"Then I’ll wear them, and I won’t have fancies if I can help it. But
I think few brides dress with a braver, happier heart than mine,
though I do choose a sober wedding-gown," answered Christie, smiling
again, as she took from a half-packed trunk her new hospital suit of
soft, gray, woollen stuff.

"Won’t you wear the pretty silvery silk we like so well?" asked
Letty timidly, for something in Christie’s face and manner impressed
her very much.

"No, I will be married in my uniform as David is," she answered with
a look Letty long remembered.

"Mr. Power has come," she said softly a few minutes later, with an
anxious glance at the clock.

"Go dear, I’ll come directly. But first" – and Christie held her
friend close a moment, kissed her tenderly, and whispered in a
broken voice: "Remember, I don’t take his heart from you, I only
share it with my sister and my mother."

"I’m glad to give him to you, Christie; for now I feel as if I had
partly paid the great debt I’ve owed so long," answered Letty
through her tears.

Then she went away, and Christie soon followed, looking very like a
Quaker bride in her gray gown with no ornament but delicate frills
at neck and wrist, and the roses in her bosom.

"No bridal white, dear?" said David, going to her.

"Only this," and she touched the flowers, adding with her hand on
the blue coat sleeve that embraced her: "I want to consecrate my
uniform as you do yours by being married in it. Isn’t it fitter for
a soldier’s wife than lace and silk at such a time as this?"

"Much fitter: I like it; and I find you beautiful, my Christie,"
whispered David, as she put one of her roses in his button-hole.

"Then I’m satisfied."

"Mr. Power is waiting: are you ready, love?"

"Quite ready."

Then they were married, with Letty and her mother standing beside
them, Bennet and his wife dimly visible in the door-way, and poor
Bran at his master’s feet, looking up with wistful eyes, half human
in the anxious affection they expressed.

Christie never forgot that service, so simple, sweet, and solemn;
nor the look her husband gave her at the end, when he kissed her on
lips and forehead, saying fervently, "God bless my wife!"

A tender little scene followed that can better be imagined than
described; then Mr. Power said cheerily:

"One hour more is all you have, so make the most of it, dearly
beloved. You young folks take a wedding-trip to the green-house,
while we see how well we can get on without you."

"THEN THEY WERE MARRIED."

David and Christie went smiling away together, and if they shed any
tears over the brief happiness no one saw them but the flowers, and
they loyally kept the secret folded up in their tender hearts.

Mr. Power cheered the old lady, while Letty, always glad to serve,
made ready the last meal David might ever take at home.

A very simple little marriage feast, but more love, good-will, and
tender wishes adorned the plain table than is often found at wedding
breakfasts; and better than any speech or song was Letty’s broken
whisper, as she folded her arms round David’s empty chair when no
one saw her, "Heaven bless and keep and bring him back to us."

How time went that day! The inexorable clock would strike twelve so
soon, and then the minutes flew till one was at hand, and the last
words were still half said, the last good-byes still unuttered.

"I must go!" cried David with a sort of desperation, as Letty clung
to one arm, Christie to the other.

"I shall see you soon: good-by, rny husband," whispered Christie,
setting him free.

"Give the last kiss to mother," added Letty, following her example,
and in another minute David was gone.

At the turn of the lane, he looked back and swung his cap; all waved
their hands to him; and then he marched away to the great work
before him, leaving those loving hearts to ask the unanswerable
question: "How will he come home?"

Christie was going to town to see the regiment off, and soon
followed with Mr. Power. They went early to a certain favorable
spot, and there found Mrs. Wilkins, with her entire family perched
upon a fence, on the spikes of which they impaled themselves at
intervals, and had to be plucked off by the stout girl engaged to
assist in this memorable expedition.

"Yes, Lisha ‘s goin’, and I was bound he should see every one of his
blessed children the last thing, ef I took ’em all on my back. He
knows where to look, and he’s a goin’ to see seven cheerful faces as
he goes by. Time enough to cry byme by; so set stiddy, boys, and
cheer loud when you see Pa," said Mrs. Wilkins, fanning her hot
face, and utterly forgetting her cherished bonnet in the excitement
of the moment.

"I hear drums! They’re comin’!" cried Wash, after a long half hour’s
waiting had nearly driven him frantic.

The two younger boys immediately tumbled off the fence, and were
with difficulty restored to their perches. Gusty began to cry, Ann
Elizy to wave a minute red cotton handkerchief, and Adelaide to kick
delightedly in her mother’s arms.

"Jane Carter, take this child for massy sake: my legs do tremble so
I can’t h’ist her another minute. Hold on to me behind, somebody,
for I must see ef I do pitch into the gutter," cried Mrs. Wilkins,
with a gasp, as she wiped her eyes on her shawl, clutched the
railing, and stood ready to cheer bravely when her conquering hero
came.

Wash had heard drums every five minutes since he arrived, but this
time he was right, and began to cheer the instant a red cockade
appeared at the other end of the long street.

It was a different scene now than in the first enthusiastic, hopeful
days. Young men and ardent boys filled the ranks then, brave by
instinct, burning with loyal zeal, and blissfully ignorant of all
that lay before them.

Now the blue coats were worn by mature men, some gray, all grave and
resolute; husbands and fathers with the memory of wives and children
tugging at their heart-strings; homes left desolate behind them, and
before them the grim certainty of danger, hardship, and perhaps a
captivity worse than death. Little of the glamour of romance about
the war now: they saw what it was, a long, hard task; and here were
the men to do it well.

Even the lookers-on were different. Once all was wild enthusiasm and
glad uproar; now men’s lips were set, and women’s smileless even as
they cheered; fewer handkerchiefs whitened the air, for wet eyes
needed them; and sudden lulls, almost solemn in their stillness,
followed the acclamations of the crowd. All watched with quickened
breath and proud souls that living wave, blue below, and bright with
a steely glitter above, as it flowed down the street and away to
join the sea of dauntless hearts that for months had rolled up
against the South, and ebbed back reddened with the blood of men
like these.

As the inspiring music, the grand tramp drew near, Christie felt the
old thrill and longed to fall in and follow the flag anywhere. Then
she saw David, and the regiment became one man to her. He was pale,
but his eyes shone, and his whole face expressed that two of the
best and bravest emotions of a man, love and loyalty, were at their
height as he gave his new-made wife a long, lingering look that
seemed to say:

"I could not love thee, dear, so much, Loved I not honor more."

Christie smiled and waved her hand to him, showed him his wedding
roses still on her breast, and bore up as gallantly as he, resolved
that his last impression of her should be a cheerful one. But when
it was all over, and nothing remained but the trampled street, the
hurrying crowd, the bleak November sky, when Mrs. Wilkins sat
sobbing on the steps like Niobe with her children scattered about
her, then Christie’s heart gave way, and she hid her face on Mr.
Power’s shoulder for a moment, all her ardor quenched in tears as
she cried within herself:

"No, I could not bear it if I was not going too!"

 

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