But Hooker, the new Northern commander, did not yet move. The chief cause was mud. The winter having been very cold in the first half, was very rainy in the second half. The numerous brooks and creeks and smaller rivers remained flooded beyond their banks, and the Rappahannock flowed a swollen and mighty stream. Ponds and little lakes stood everywhere. Roads had been destroyed by the marching of mighty masses and the rolling of thousands of heavy wheels. Horses often sank nearly to the knee when they trod new paths through the muddy fields. There was mud, mud everywhere.
Hooker, moreover, was confronted by a long line of earthworks and other intrenchments, extending for twenty miles along the Rappahannock, and defended by the victors of Fredericksburg. After that disastrous day the Northern masses at home were not so eager for a battle. The country realized that it was not well to rush a foe, led by men like Lee and Jackson.
But Hooker was a brave and confident man. The North, always ready, was sending forward fresh troops, and when he crossed the Rappahannock, as he intended to do, he would have more men and more guns than Burnside had led when he attacked the blazing heights of Fredericksburg. Lincoln and Stanton, warned too by the great disasters through their attempts to manage armies in the field from the Capitol, were giving Hooker a freer hand.
On the other hand, the Confederate president and his cabinet suddenly curtailed Lee's plans. A fourth of his veterans under Longstreet were drawn off to meet a flank attack of other Northern forces which seemed to be threatened upon Richmond. Lee was left with only sixty thousand men to face Hooker's growing odds.
It was not any wonder that the spirits of the Southern lads sank somewhat. Harry realized more fully every day that it was not sufficient for them merely to defeat the Northern armies. They must destroy them. The immense patriotism of those who fought for the Union always filled up their depleted ranks and more, and they were getting better generals all the time. Hancock and Reynolds and many another were rising to fame in the east.
The Invincibles were posted nearly opposite Falmouth, and Harry had many chances to see them. On his second visit the chessboard was mended so perfectly that the split was not visible, and the two colonels sat down to finish their game. Fifteen minutes later a dispatch from General Jackson to Colonel Leonidas Talbot arrived, telling him to leave at once by the railway in the Confederate rear for Richmond. President Davis wished detailed information from him about the fortifications along the coasts of North Carolina and South Carolina, which were now heavily threatened by the enemy.
The two colonels had not made a move, but Colonel Leonidas Talbot rose, buttoned every button of his neat tunic, and said in precise tones:
"Hector, I depart in a half hour. You will, of course, have command of the regiment in my absence, and if any young lieutenants should be exceedingly obstreperous in the course of that time, perhaps I can prove to them that they are not as old as they think they are."
The colonel's severity of tone was belied by a faint twinkle in the corner of his eye, and the lads knew that they had nothing to fear, especially as Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire was quite as stern and able a guardian as Colonel Talbot.
Colonel Talbot departed, good wishes following him in a shower, and that day a young officer arrived from South Carolina and took a place in the Invincibles that had been made vacant by death.
Harry was still with his friends when this officer arrived, and the tall, slender figure and dark face of the man seemed familiar to him. A little thought recalled where he had first seen that eager gesture and the manner so intense that it betrayed an excessive enthusiasm. But when Harry did remember him he remembered him well.
"How do you do, Captain Bertrand?" he said--the man wore the uniform of a captain.
Bertrand stared at Harry, and then he gradually remembered. It was not strange that he was puzzled at first, as in the two years that had passed since Bertrand was in Colonel Kenton's house at Pendleton, Harry had grown much larger and more powerful, and was deeply tanned by all kinds of weather. But when he did recall him his greeting was full of warmth.
"Ah, now I know!" he exclaimed. "It is Harry Kenton, the son of Colonel George Kenton! And we held that meeting at your father's house on the eve of the war! And then we went up to Frankfort, and we did not take Kentucky out of the Union."
"No, we didn't," said Harry with a laugh. "Captain Bertrand, Lieutenant St. Clair and Lieutenant Langdon."
But Bertrand had known them both in Charleston, and he shook their hands with zeal and warmth, showing what Harry thought--as he had thought the first time he saw him--an excess of manner.
"We've a fine big dry place under this tree," said St. Clair. "Let's sit down and talk. You're the new Captain in our regiment, are you not?"
"Yes," replied Bertrand. "I've just come from Richmond, where I met my chief, that valiant man, Colonel Leonidas Talbot. I have been serving mostly on the coast of the Carolinas, and when I asked to be sent to the larger theater of war they very naturally assigned me to one of my own home regiments. Alas! there is plenty of room for me and many more in the ranks of the Invincibles."
"We have been well shot up, that's true," said Langdon, whom nothing could depress more than a minute, "but we've put more than a million Yankees out of the running."
"How are your Knights of the Golden Circle getting on?" asked Harry.
Bertrand flushed a little, despite his swarthiness.
"Not very well, I fear," he replied. "It has taken us longer to conquer the Yankees than we thought."
"I don't see that we've begun to conquer them as a people or a section," said St. Clair, who was always frank and direct. "We've won big victories, but just look and you'll see 'em across the river there, stronger and more numerous than ever, and that, too, on the heels of the big defeat they sustained at Fredericksburg. And, if you'll pardon me, Captain, I don't believe much in the great slave empire that the Knights of the Golden Circle planned."
Bertrand's black eyes flashed.
"And why not?" he asked sharply.
"To take Cuba and Mexico would mean other wars, and if we took them we'd have other kinds of people whom we'd have to hold in check with arms. A fine mess we'd make of it, and we haven't any right to jump on Cuba and Mexico, anyway. I've got a far better plan."
"And what is that?" asked Bertrand, with an increasing sharpness of manner.
"The North means to free our slaves. We'll defeat the North and show to her that she can't. Then we'll free 'em ourselves."
"Free them ourselves!" exclaimed Bertrand. "What are we fighting for but the right to hold our own property?"
"I didn't understand it exactly that way. It seems to me that we went to war to defend the right of a state to go out of the Union when it pleases."
"I tell you, this war is being fought to establish our title to our own."
"It's all right, so we fight well," said Harry, who saw Bertrand's rising color and who believed him to be tinged with fanaticism; "it's all that can be asked of us. After Happy Tom sleeps in the White House with his boots on, as he says he's going to do, we can decide, each according to his own taste, what he was fighting for."
"I've known all the time what was in my mind," said Bertrand emphatically. "Of course, the extension of the new republic toward the north will be cut off by the Yankees. Then its expansion must be southward, and that means in time the absorption of Mexico, all the West Indies, and probably Central America."
St. Clair was about to retort, but Harry gave him a warning look and he contented himself with rolling into a little easier position. Harry foresaw that these two South Carolinians would not be friends, and in any event he hated fruitless political discussions.
Bertrand excused himself presently and went away.
"Arthur," said Harry, "I wouldn't argue with him. He's a captain in the Invincibles now, and you're a lieutenant. It's in his power to make trouble for you."
"You're not appealing to any emotion in me that might bear the name of fear, are you, Harry?"
"You know I'm not. Why argue with a man who has fire on the brain? Although he's older than you, Arthur, he hasn't got as good a rein on his temper."
"You can't resist flattery like that, can you, Arthur? I know I couldn't," said Happy Tom, grinning his genial grin.
St. Clair's face relaxed.
"You're right, fellows," he said. "We oughtn't to be quarreling among ourselves when there are so many Yankees to fight."
Mail forwarded from Richmond was distributed in the camp the next day and Harry was in the multitude gathered about the officers distributing it. The delivery of the mail was always a stirring event in either army, and as the war rolled on it steadily increased in importance.
There were men in this very group who had not heard from home since they left it two years before, and there were letters for men who would never receive them. The letters were being given out at various points, but where Harry stood a major was calling them in a loud, clear voice.
"John Escombe, Field's brigade."
Escombe, deeply tanned and twenty-two, ran forward and received a thick letter addressed in a woman's handwriting, that of his mother, and, amid cheering at his luck, disappeared in the crowd.
"Thomas Anderson, Gregg's brigade. Girl's handwriting, too. Lucky boy, Tom."
"Hey, Tom, open it and show it to us! Maybe her picture's inside it! I'll bet she's got red hair!"
But Tom fled, blushing, and opened his letter when he was at a safe distance.
"Carlton Ives, Thomas' brigade."
"In hospital, Major, but I'll take the letter to him. He's in my company."
"Stephen Brayton, Lane's brigade."
There was a silence for a moment, and then some one said:
"Dead, at Antietam, sir."
The major put the letter on one side, and called:
"Thomas Langdon, the Invincibles."
Langdon darted forward and seized his letter.
"It's from my father," he said as he glanced at the superscription, although it was half hidden from him by a mist that suddenly appeared before his eyes.
"Here, Tom, stand behind us and read it," said Harry, who was waiting in an anxiety that was positively painful for a letter to himself.
"Henry Lawton, Pender's brigade," called the major. "This is from a girl, too, and there is a photograph inside. I can feel it. Wish I could get such a letter myself, Henry."
Lawton, his letter in his hand, retreated rapidly amid envious cheers.
"Charles Carson, Lane's brigade."
"Dead at Fredericksburg, sir; I helped to bury him."
"Thomas Carstairs, Field's brigade."
"Killed at the Second Manassas, sir."
"Richard Graves, Archer's brigade."
"Died in hospital after Antietam, sir."
"David Moulton, Field's brigade."
"Killed nearly a year ago, in the valley, sir."
"William Fitzpatrick, Lane's brigade."
"Taken prisoner at Antietam. Not yet exchanged, sir."
"Herbert Jones, Pender's brigade."
"Killed at South Mountain, sir."
Harry felt a little shiver. The list of those who would never receive their letters was growing too long. But this delivery of the mail seemed to run in streaks. Presently it found a streak of the living. It was a great mail that came that day, the largest the army had yet received, but the crowd, hungry for a word from home, did not seem to diminish. The ring continually pressed a little closer.
St. Clair received two letters, and, a long while afterwards, there was one for Dalton, who, however, had not been so long a time without news, as the battlefield was his own state, Virginia. Harry watched them with an envy that he tried to keep down, and after a while he saw that the heap of letters was becoming very small.
His anxiety became so painful that it was hard to bear. He knew that his father had been in the thick of the great battle at Stone River, but not a word from him or about him had ever come. No news in this case was bad news. If he were alive he would certainly write, and there was Confederate communication between Eastern Tennessee and Northern Virginia.
It was thus with a sinking heart that he watched the diminishing heap. Many of the disappointed ones had already gone away, hopeless, and Harry felt like following them, but the major picked up a thick letter in a coarse brown envelope and called:
"Lieutenant Henry Kenton, staff of Lieutenant-General Thomas Jonathan Jackson."
Harry sprang forward and seized his letter. Then he found a place behind a big tree, where St. Clair, Langdon and Dalton were reading theirs, and opened it. He had already seen that the address was in his father's handwriting and he believed that he was alive. The letter must have been written after the battle of Stone River or it would have arrived earlier. He took a hurried glance at the date and saw that it was near the close of January, at least three weeks after the battle. Then all apprehension was gone.
It was a long letter, dated from headquarters near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Colonel Kenton had just heard of the battle of Fredericksburg and he was rejoicing in the glorious victory. He hoped and believed that his son had passed through it safely. The Southern army had not been so successful in the west as in the east, but he believed that they had met tougher antagonists there, the men of the west and northwest, used to all kinds of hardships, and, alas! their own Kentuckians. At both Perryville and Stone River they had routed the antagonists who met them first, but they had been stopped by their own brethren.
Harry smiled and murmured to himself:
"You can never put down dad's state pride. With him the Kentuckians are always first."
He had a good deal of this state pride himself, although in a less accentuated form, and, after the momentary thought, he went on. The colonel was looking for a letter from his son--Harry had written twice since Fredericksburg, and he knew now that the letters would arrive safely. He himself had been wounded slightly in a skirmish just after Stone River, but he was now entirely well. The Southern forces were gathering and General Bragg would have a great army with which they were confident of winning a victory like that of the Second Manassas or Fredericksburg. He was glad that his son was on the staff of so great a genius as General Jackson and that he was also under the command of that other great genius, Lee.
Harry stopped reading for a moment or two and smiled with satisfaction. The impression that Lee and Jackson had made upon the South was as great in the west as in the east. The hero-worship which the fiery and impressionable South gives in such unstinted measure to these two men had begun already. Harry was glad that his father recognized the great Virginians so fully, men who allied with genius temperate and lofty lives.
He resumed his reading, but the remainder of the letter was occupied with personal details. The colonel closed with some good advice to his son about caring for himself on the march and in camp, drawn from his own experience both in the Mexican war and the present strife.
Harry read his letter three times. Then he folded it carefully and put it in an inside pocket of his tunic.
"Is it good news, Harry?" asked Happy Tom, who had already finished with his own letter.
"Yes, it's cheerful."
"So's mine. I'm glad to hear that your father's all right. Mine didn't go to the war. I wish you could meet my father, Harry. I get my cheerful disposition and my good manners from him. When the war was about to begin and I went over to Charleston in about the most splendid uniform that was ever created, he said: 'You fellows will get licked like thunder, and maybe you'll deserve it. As for you, you'll probably get a part of your fool head shot off, but it's so thick and hard that it will be a benefit to you to lose some of it and have the rest opened up. But remember, Tom, whenever you do come back, no matter how many legs and arms and portions of your head you've left behind, there'll be a welcome in the old house for you. You're the fatted calf, but you're sure to come back a lot leaner and maybe with more sense.'"
"He certainly talked to you straight."
"So he did, Harry; but those words were not nearly so rough as they sound, because when I came away I saw tears in his eyes. Father's a smart man, a money-maker as good as the Yankees themselves. He's got sea island cotton in warehouses in more than one place along the coast, and he writes me that he's already selling it to the blockade runners for unmentionable prices in British and French gold. Harry, if your fortunes are broken up by the war, you and your father will have to come down and share with us."
"Thanks for your invitation, Tom; but from what you say about your father we'd be about as welcome as a bear in a kitchen."
"Don't you believe it. You come."
"Arthur, what do you hear?" asked Harry.
"My people are well and they're sending me a lot of things. My mother has put in the pack a brand new uniform. She sewed on the gold lace herself. I hope the next battle won't be fought before it gets here."
"Impossible," said Harry gravely. "General Hooker is too polite a man to push us before Lieutenant St. Clair receives his new clothes."
"I hope so," said St. Clair seriously.
The new uniform, in fact, came a few days later, and as it even exceeded its promise, St. Clair was thoroughly happy. Harry also received a second letter from Colonel Kenton, telling of the receipt of his own, and wishing him equally good fortune in the new battle which they in the west heard was impending in the east.
Harry believed they would surely close with Hooker soon. They had been along the Rappahannock for many weeks now, and the winter of cold rain had not yet broken up, but spring could not be far away. Meanwhile he was drawn closer than ever to Jackson, his great commander, and was almost constantly in his service.
It was, perhaps, the difference in their natures that made the hero-worship in the boy so strong. Jackson was quiet, reserved and deeply religious. Harry was impulsive, physically restless, and now and then talkative, as the young almost always are. Jackson's impassive face and the few words--but always to the point--that he spoke, impressed him. In his opinion now Stonewall Jackson could do no wrong nor make any mistake of judgment.
The months had not been unpleasant. The Southern army was recuperating from great battles, and, used to farm or forest life, the soldiers easily made shelter for themselves against the rain and mud. The Southern pickets along the river also established good relations with the pickets on the other side. Why not? They were of the same blood and the same nation. There was no battle now, and what was the use of sneaking around like an Indian, trying to kill somebody who was doing you no harm? That was assassination, not war.
The officers winked at this borderline friendship. A Yankee picket in a boat near the left shore could knot a newspaper into a tight wad and throw it to the Johnny Reb picket in another boat near the right bank, and there were strong-armed Johnny Reb pickets who could throw a hunk of chewing tobacco all the way to the Yankee side. Already they were sowing the seeds of a good will which should follow a mighty war.
Harry often went to the bank on the warmer and more sunny days and leisurely watched the men on the other side. St. Clair, Langdon and Dalton usually joined him, if their duties allowed. It was well into March, a dry and warm day, when they sat on a little hillock and gazed at four of the men in blue who were fishing from a small boat near their shore. St. Clair was the last to join the little party, and when he came he was greeted with a yell by the men on the left bank. One of them put up his hands, trumpet-shaped, to his mouth and called:
"Is that President Davis who has just joined you?"
"No," replied Harry, using his hands in like fashion. "What makes you think so?"
"Because Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like him. I've got to put my hands over my eyes to protect them from the blaze of that uniform."
St. Clair, who wore his new uniform, which was modelled somewhat after the brilliant fashion of Stuart's, smiled with content. He was making a great hit.
"You can do all the talking, Harry," he said.
"As I told you, he isn't President Davis," Harry called, "but he's sure, when he's old enough, to be one of his successors."
"Bet you a dollar, Johnny Reb, that President Davis has no successor."
"Take you, Yank, and I'll collect that bet from you when I ride down Pennsylvania Avenue in my Confederate uniform at the head of the Army of Northern Virginia."
"Oh, no, you won't; you'll pay it to me before the State House in Richmond, with the Army of the Potomac looking on and the Stars and Stripes waving gracefully over your head."
"Both of you are betting on things too far off," said Langdon, who could keep out of the conversation no longer. "I'll bet you two dollars that not one of those four men in the boat catches a fish inside of ten minutes."
"In Confederate bills or in money?" was called back.
Roars of laughter, from both sides of the Rappahannock, crossed one another above the middle of the stream.
"What's this?" exclaimed a sharp voice behind the four. "Conversation with the enemy! It's against all the rules of war!"
They looked around and saw Bertrand, his face flushed and his eyes sparkling. Harry leaned back lazily, but St. Clair spoke up quickly.
"We've been having conversations off and on with the enemy for two years," he said. "We've had some mighty hot talks with bullets and cannon balls, and some not so hot with words. Just now we were having one of the class labelled 'not so hot.'"
"What's the matter with you Johnnies?" was called across. "You've broken off the talk just when it was getting interesting. Are you going to back out on that bet? We thought you had better manners. We know you have."
"You're right, we have," said St. Clair, shouting across the stream, "but we were interrupted by a man who hasn't."
"Oh, is that so?" was called back. "If you've troubles of your own, we won't interfere. We'll just look on."
Bertrand was pallid with rage.
"I'm a captain in the Invincibles, Mr. St. Clair," he said, "and you're only a lieutenant. You'll return to your regiment at once and prepare a written apology to me for the words that you've just used to those Yankees."
"Oh, no, I won't do either," drawled St. Clair purposely. "It is true that a captain outranks a lieutenant, but you're a company commander and I'm a staff officer. I take no orders from you."
"Nevertheless you have insulted me, and there is another and perhaps better way to settle it."
He significantly touched the hilt of his sword.
"Oh, if you mean a duel, it suits me well enough," said St. Clair, who was an expert with the sword.
"Early to-morrow morning in the woods back of this point?"
Then Harry jumped to his feet in a mighty wrath and indignation.
"There won't be any duel! And there won't be any seconds!" he exclaimed.
"Why not?" asked Bertrand, his face livid.
"Because I won't allow it."
"How can you help it?"
"It's a piece of thunderation foolishness! Two good Southern soldiers trying to kill each other, when they've sworn to use all their efforts killing Yankees. It's a breach of faith and it's silliness on its own account. You've received the hospitality of my father's house, Captain Bertrand, and he's helped you and been kind to you elsewhere. You owe me enough at least to listen to me. Unless I get the promise of you two to drop this matter, I swear I'll go straight to General Jackson and tell all about it. He'll save you the trouble of shooting each other. He'll have you shot together. You needn't frown, either of you. It's not much fun breaking the rules of a Presbyterian elder who is also one of the greatest generals the world has ever seen."
"You're talking sound sense, Harry," said Happy Tom, an unexpected ally. "I've several objections to this duel myself. We'll need both of these men for the great battle with Hooker. Arthur would be sure to wear his new uniform, and a bullet hole through it would go far toward spoiling it. Besides, there's nothing to fight about. And if they did fight, I'd hate to see the survivor standing up before one of Old Jack's firing squads and then falling before it. You go to General Jackson, Harry, and I'll go along with you, seconding every word you say. Shut up, Arthur; if you open your mouth again I'll roll you and your new uniform in the mud down there. You know I can do it."
"But such conduct would be unparalleled," said Bertrand.
"I don't care a whoop if it is," said Harry, who had been taught by his father to look upon the duel as a wicked proceeding. "General Jackson wouldn't tolerate such a thing, and in his command what he says is the Ten Commandments. Isn't that so, Dalton?"
"Undoubtedly, and you can depend upon me as a third to you and Happy Tom."
"Now, Captain," continued Harry soothingly, "just forget this, won't you? Both of you are from South Carolina and you ought to be good friends."
"So far as I'm concerned, it's finished," said St. Clair.
But Bertrand turned upon his heel without a word and walked away.
"Hey, there, you Johnnies!" came a loud hail from the other side of the river. "What's the matter with your friend who's just gone away? I was watching with glasses, and he didn't look happy."
"He had a nightmare and he hasn't fully recovered from it yet."
There was a sudden tremendous burst of cheering behind them.
"On your feet, boys!" exclaimed Happy Tom, glancing back. "Here comes Old Jack on one of his tours of inspection."
Jackson was riding slowly along near the edge of the river. He could never appear without rolling cheers from the thirty thousand veteran troops who were eager to follow wherever he led. The mighty cheering swept back and forth in volumes, and when a lull came, one among their friends, the Yankee pickets on the other side of the river, called at the top of his voice:
"Hey, Johnnies, what's the racket about?"
"It's Stonewall Jackson!" Harry roared back, pointing to the figure on the horse.
Then, to the amazement of all, a sudden burst of cheering came from the far bank of the Rappahannock, followed by the words, shouted in chorus: "Hurrah for Stonewall Jackson! Hurrah for Jackson!" Thus did the gallant Northern troops show their admiration for their great enemy whose genius had defeated them so often. Some riflemen among them lying among the bushes at the water's edge might have picked him off, but no such thought entered the mind of anyone.
Jackson flushed at the compliment from the foe, but rode quietly on, until he disappeared among some woods on the left.
"We'd better be going back to headquarters," said Harry to Dalton. "It'll be wise for us to be there when the general arrives."
"That's right, lazy little boys," said Happy Tom. "Wash your faces, run to school, and be all bright and clean when teacher comes."
"It's what we mean to do," said Harry, "and if Arthur says anything more about this silly dueling business, send for us. We'll come back, and we three together will pound his foolish head so hard that he won't be able to think about anything at all for a year to come."
"I'll behave," said St. Clair, "but you fellows look to Bertrand."
Dalton and Harry walked to the headquarters of their general, who now occupied what had been a hunting lodge standing in the grounds of a large mansion. The whole place, the property of an orderly in his service, had been offered to him, but he would only take the hunting lodge, saying that he would not clutter up so fine and large a house.
Now Harry and Dalton walked across the lawn, which was beginning to turn green, and paused for a little while under the budding boughs of the great trees. The general had not yet arrived, but the rolling cheers never ceasing, but coming nearer, indicated that he would soon be at hand.
"A man must feel tremendous pride when his very appearance draws such cheers from his men," said Harry.
The lawn was not cut up by the feet of horses--Jackson would not allow it. Everything about the house and grounds was in the neatest order. Beside the hunting lodge stood a great tent, in which his staff messed.
"Were you here the day General Jackson came to these quarters, Harry?" asked Dalton.
"No, I was in service at the bank of the river, carrying some message or other. I've forgotten what it was."
"Well, I was. We didn't know where we were going to stay, and a lady came from the big house here down to the edge of the woods, where we were still sitting on our horses. 'Is this General Jackson?' asked she. 'It is, madame,' he replied, lifting his hat politely. 'My husband owns this house,' she said, pointing toward it, 'and we will feel honored and glad if you will occupy it as your headquarters while you are here.' He thanked her and said he'd ride forward with a cavalry orderly and inspect the place. The rest of us waited while he and the orderly rode into the grounds, the lady going on ahead.
"The general wouldn't take the house. He said he didn't like to see so fine a place trodden up by young men in muddy military boots. Besides, he and his staff would disturb the inmates, and he didn't want that to happen. At last he picked the hunting lodge, and as he and the orderly rode back through the gate to the grounds, the orderly said: 'General, do you feel wholly pleased with what you have chosen?' 'It suits me entirely,' replied General Jackson. 'I'm going to make my headquarters in that hunting lodge.' 'I'm very glad of that, sir, very glad indeed.' 'Why?' asked General Jackson. 'Because it's my house,' replied the orderly, 'and my wife and I would have felt greatly disappointed if you had gone elsewhere.'"
"And so all this splendid place belongs to an orderly?" said Harry.
"Funny you didn't hear that story," said Dalton. "Most of us have, but I suppose everybody took it for granted that you knew it. As you say, that grand place belongs to one of our orderlies. After all, we're a citizen army, just as the great Roman armies when they were at their greatest were citizen armies, too."
"Ah, here comes the general now," said Harry, "and he looks embarrassed, as he always does after so much cheering. A stranger would think from the way he acts that he's the least conspicuous of our generals, and if you read the reports of his victories you'd think that he had less than anybody else to do with them."
General Jackson, followed by an orderly, cantered up. The orderly took the horse and the general went into the house, followed by the two young staff officers. They knew that he was likely to plunge at once into work, and were ready to do any service he needed.
"I don't think I'll want you boys," said the general in his usual kindly tone, "at least not for some time. So you can go out and enjoy the sunshine and warmth, of which we have had so little for a long time."
"Thank you, sir," said Harry, but he added hastily:
"Here come some officers, sir."
Jackson glanced through the window of the hunting lodge and caught sight of a waving plume, just as its wearer passed through the gate.
"That's Stuart," he said, with an attempt at severity in his tone, although his smiling eye belied it. "I suppose I might as well defer my work if Jeb Stuart is coming to see me. Stay with me, lads, and help me to entertain him. You know Stuart is nothing but a joyous boy--younger than either of you, although he is one of the greatest cavalry leaders of modern times."
Harry and Dalton were more than willing to remain. Everybody was always glad when Jeb Stuart came. Now he was in his finest mood, and he and the two staff officers with him rode at a canter. They leaped from their horses at Jackson's door, throwing the reins over their necks and leaving them to the orderly. Then they entered boldly, Stuart leading. He was the only man in the whole Southern army who took liberties with Jackson, although his liberties were always of the inoffensive kind.
If St. Clair was gorgeous in his new clothes, he would have been pale beside Stuart, who also had new raiment. A most magnificent feather looped and draped about his gold-braided hat. His uniform, of the finest cloth, was heavy with gold braid and gold epaulets, and the great yellow silk sash about his waist supported his gold-hilted sword.
"What new and splendid species of bird is this?" asked General Jackson, as Stuart and his men saluted. "I have never before seen such grand plumage."
Stuart complacently stroked the gold braid on his left sleeve and looked about the hunting lodge, the walls of which had been decorated accordingly long since by its owner.
"Splendid picture this of a race horse, General," he said, "and the one of the trotter in action is almost as fine. Ah, sir, I knew there were good sporting instincts in you and that they would come out in time. I approve of it myself, but what will the members of your church say, sir, when they hear of your moral decline?"
Jackson actually blushed and remained silent under the chaff.
"And here is a picture of a greyhound, and here of a terrier," continued the bold Stuart. "Oh, General, you're not only going in for racing, but for coursing dogs as well, and maybe fighting dogs, too! Throughout the South all the old ladies look up to you as our highest moral representative. What will they think when they hear of these things? It would be worse than a great battle lost."
"General Stuart," said Jackson, "I know more about race horses than you think I do."
He would add no more, but Harry had learned that, when quite a small boy, he had ridden horses in backwoods races for a sport-loving uncle. But Stuart continued his jests and Jackson secretly enjoyed them. The two men were so opposite in nature that they were complements and each liked the society of the other.
The two lads and the staff officers went outside presently, and the two generals were left together to talk business for a quarter of an hour. When Stuart emerged he glanced at Harry and Dalton and beckoned to them. When they came up he had mounted, but he leaned over, and pointing a long finger in a buckskin glove in turn at each, he said:
"Can you dance?"
"Yes, sir," replied Harry.
"And you, Sir Knight of the Sober Mien?"
"I can try, sir," said Dalton.
"But can you make it a good try?"
"I can, sir."
"That's the right spirit. Well, there's going to be a ball down at my headquarters to-night; not a little, two-penny, half-penny affair, but a real ball, a grand ball. The bands of the Fifth Virginia and of the Acadians will be there to play, alternating. You're invited and you're coming. I've already obtained leave from General Jackson for you both. I wish the general himself would come, but he's just received a theological book that Dr. Graham at Winchester has sent him, and he's bound to spend most of the night on that. Put on your best uniforms and be there just after dark."
Harry and Dalton accepted eagerly, and Stuart, a genuine knight of old alike in his courage and love of adornment, rode out of the grounds.
"There goes a man who certainly loves life," said Dalton.
"And don't you love it, and don't I love it, Mr. Philosopher and Cynic?" said Harry.
"So we do. But, as General Jackson said, General Stuart is a boy, younger than either of us."
"I hope to be the same kind of a boy when I'm his age."
Stuart was riding on, looking about with a luminous eye, fired by the spirit within him and the great landscape spread out before him. It was a noble landscape, the wooded ranges stretching to right and left, with the long sweep of rolling country between. The somber ruins of Fredericksburg were hidden from view just then, but in front of him flowed the great Rappahannock, still black with floods and ice yet floating near the banks.
Stuart drew a deep breath. It was a beautiful part of Virginia, old and with many fine manor houses scattered about. And the people, educated, polite, accustomed to everything, gladly sacrificed all they had for the Confederacy in its hour of need. They had cut up their rugs and carpets and sent them to the great camp on the Rappahannock that the soldiers who had no blankets might use them. The cattle and poultry from the rich farms were also sent to Lee's men. Virginia sacrificed herself for the Confederate cause with a devotion that would have brought tears from a stone.
Some such thoughts as these were in the mind of Stuart as he rode toward his own camp. There was a mist for a few moments before the eyes of the great horseman, but as it cleared he became once more his natural self, the gayest of the gay. He hummed joyously as he rode along, and the refrain of his song was: "Old Joe Hooker, won't you come out of the Wilderness?"
Harry and Dalton had gone back to the big mess tent and were already arraying themselves with the utmost care for Jeb Stuart's ball. Their clothes were in good condition now. After the long rest they had been able to brush and furbish up their best uniforms, until they were both neat and bright. They had no thought of rivalling St. Clair, who undoubtedly would be there, but they were satisfied--they never expected to rival St. Clair in that respect. But they were splendid youths, fine, tall, upstanding, and with frank eyes and tanned faces.
"Will many girls be there?" asked Dalton.
"Of course. They'll come in from all the country around to be at Jeb Stuart's ball. I wish we could invite a few of the Yankees over to see what girls we have in Virginia."
"That would be fine, but Hooker wouldn't let 'em, and Lee and Jackson would certainly disapprove."
Harry and Dalton started at twilight, and on their way they met Captain Sherburne, who was bound for the same place. The captain was pretty fond of good dress himself, and he, too, had a new uniform, perhaps not so bright as St. Clair's, but fine and vivid, nevertheless.
"Well, well," said Harry, as he greeted him heartily. "You've got a lot of shine about you, but you just watch out for St. Clair. He's sure to be there, and he has a new uniform straight from Charleston. He's making the most of it, too. Now may be the time to settle that sartorial rivalry between you."
"All right," said Sherburne joyously. "I'm ready. Come on."
The house, a large one standing in ample grounds, was already lighted as brilliantly as time and circumstances afforded. It is true that most of these lights were of home-made tallow candles, because no other illumination was to be had, and they made a brave show to these soldiers who were used so long only to the light of their fires and the moon and stars.
Before these lights people were passing and repassing, and the sounds of pleasant voices reached their ears. But they were stopped by four figures just emerging from the shadows. The four were Colonel Leonidas Talbot, just returned from Richmond, Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire, Lieutenant Arthur St. Clair, and Lieutenant Thomas Langdon, all arrayed with great care and bearing themselves haughtily. Sherburne and St. Clair cast quick glances at each other. But each remained content, because the taste of each was gratified.
The meeting was most friendly. Harry and Dalton were very glad to see Colonel Talbot, whom they had missed very much, but Harry detected at once a note of anxiety in the voice of each colonel.
"Hector," said Colonel Talbot, "I shall certainly dance. What, go to Jeb Stuart's ball and not dance, when the fair and bright young womanhood of Virginia is present? And I a South Carolinian! What would they think of my gallantry, Hector, if I did not?"
"It is certainly fitting, Leonidas. I used to be a master myself of all the steps, waltz and gavotte and the Virginia reel and the others. Once, when I was only twenty, I went to New Orleans to visit my cousins, the de Crespignys, and many of them there were, four brothers, with seven or eight children apiece, mostly girls; and 'pon my soul, Leonidas, for the two months I was gone I did little but dance. What else could one do when he had about twenty girl cousins, all of dancing age? We danced in New Orleans and we danced out on the great plantation of Louis de Crespigny, the oldest of the brothers, and all the neighbors for miles around danced with us. There was one of my cousins, a third cousin only she was, Flora de Crespigny, just seventeen years of age, but a beautiful girl, Leonidas, a most beautiful girl--they ripen fast down there. Once at the de Crespigny plantation I danced all day and all the night following, mostly with her. Young Gerard de Langeais, her betrothed, was furious with jealousy, and just after the dawn, neither of us having yet slept, we fought with swords behind the live oaks. I was not in love with Flora and she was not in love with me, but de Langeais thought we were, and would not listen to my claim of kinship.
"I received a glorious little scratch on my left side and he suffered an equally glorious little puncture in his right arm. The seconds declared enough. Then we fell into the arms of each other and became friends for life. A year later I went back to New Orleans, and I was the best man at the wedding of Gerard and Flora, one of the happiest and handsomest pairs I ever saw, God bless 'em. Their third son, Julien, is in a regiment in the command of Longstreet, and when I look at him I see both his father and his mother, at whose wedding I danced again for a whole day and night. But now, Leonidas, I fear that my knees are growing a little stiff, and think of our age, Leonidas!"
"Age! age! Hector Lucien Philip Etienne St. Hilaire, how dare you talk of age! Your years are exactly the same as mine, and I can outride, outwalk, outdance, and, if need be, make love better than any of these young cubs who are with us. I am astonished at you, Hector! Why, it's been only a few years since you and I were boys. We've scarcely entered the prime of life, and we'll show 'em at Jeb Stuart's ball!"
"That's so, Leonidas, and you do well to rebuke me," and Lieutenant- Colonel Hector St. Hilaire puffed out his chest--he was, in fact, a fine figure of a man. "We'll go to Jeb Stuart's ball, as you say, and in the presence of the Virginia fair show everybody what real men are."
"And we'll be glad to see you do it, Colonel," said Sherburne.
The dancing had not yet begun, but as they entered the grounds the Acadian band swung into the air of the Marseillaise, playing the grand old Revolutionary tune with all the spirit and fervor with which Frenchmen must have first played and sung it. Then it swung into the soul-stirring march of Dixie, and a wild shout, which was partly feminine, came from the house.
The two colonels had walked on ahead, leaving the young officers together. Langdon caught sight of a figure standing before an open door, with a fire blazing in a large fireplace serving as a red background. That background was indeed so brilliant that every external detail of the figure could be seen. Langdon, stopping, pulled hard on the arms of Harry and Sherburne.
"Halt all!" he said, "and tell me if in very truth I see what I see!"
"Go on!" said St. Clair.
"Item No. one, a pink dress of some gauzy, filmy stuff, with ruffle after ruffle around the skirt."
"Item No. two, a pink slipper made of silk, perchance, with the toe of it just showing beyond the hem of the skirt."
"You observe well, my lord."
"Item three, a fair and slim white hand, and a round and beautiful wrist."
"Correct. Again thou observest well, Sir Launcelot."
"Item four, a rosy young face which the firelight makes more rosy, and a crown of golden hair, which this same firelight turns to deeper gold."
"Correct, ye Squire of Fair Ladies; and now, lead on!"
They entered the great house and found it already filled with officers and women, most of whom were young. The visitors had brought with them the best supplies that the farms could furnish, turkeys, chickens, hams, late fruits well preserved, and, above all, that hero-worship with which they favored their champions. To these girls and their older sisters the young officers who had taken part in so many great battles were like the knights of old, splendid and invincible.
There was no warning note in all that joyous scene, although a hostile army of one hundred and thirty-five thousand men and four hundred guns lay on the other side of the river which flowed almost at their feet. It seemed to Harry afterward that they danced in the very face of death, caring nothing for what the dawn might bring.
Stuart was in great feather. In his finest apparel he was the very life and soul of the ball, and these people forgot for a while the desolation into which war was turning their country. The Virginia band and the Acadians carried on an intense but friendly rivalry, playing with all the spirit and vigor of men who were anxious to please. It was a joy to Harry when he was not dancing to watch them, especially the Acadians, whose faces glowed as the dancers and their own bodies swayed to the music they were making.
Harry and his comrades were very young, but youth matures rapidly in war, and they felt themselves men. In truth they had done the deeds of men for two years now, and they were treated as such by the others. Bertrand also was present, and while he cast a dark look or two at St. Clair, he kept away from him.
Bye and bye another young man, obviously of French blood, appeared. But he was not dark. He had light hair, blue eyes, and he was tall and slender. But the pure strain of his Gallic blood showed, nevertheless, as clearly as if he had been born in Northern France itself. Lieutenant- Colonel Hector St. Hilaire welcomed him with warmth and pride and introduced him to the lads, who at that moment were not dancing.
"This is that young cousin of mine of whom I was speaking," he said. "It is Julien de Langeais, son of that beautiful cousin, Flora de Crespigny, and of that gallant and noble man, Gerard de Langeais, with whom I fought the duel. I did not know that you would be here, Julien, and the surprise makes the pleasure all the greater."
"I did not know myself, sir, until an hour ago, that I could come," replied young de Langeais, "but it is a glorious sight, sir, and I'm truly glad to be here."
His eyes sparkled at the sight of the dancers and his feet beat time to the music. Harry saw that here was one who was in love with life, a soul akin to that of Langdon, and he and his comrades liked him at once and without reservations. Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire saw how they received him and his splendid mustaches curled up with pleasure.
"Go with them, Julien," he said, "and they will see that you enjoy yourself to the full. They are good boys. Meanwhile I have a dance with that beautiful Mrs. Edgehill, and if I am not there, Leonidas, honorable and lofty-minded as he is, but weak where the ladies are concerned, will insert himself into my place."
"Go, sir. Do not delay on my account," said young de Langeais. "I'm sure that I'll fare well here."
Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire hurried away. Both he and Colonel Talbot were fully maintaining their reputations as dancing men. St. Clair and Langdon had partners, and making apologies they left to join them. Harry and Dalton remained with de Langeais.
"Colonel St. Hilaire said that you were with Longstreet," said Harry.
"I am, or rather was. At least our regiment belongs with him, but when he was detached to meet the possible march on Richmond we were left with General Lee, and I am glad of it."
"The great operations are sure to be where Lee and Jackson are."
They got along so well that in another hour they felt as if they had known de Langeais all their lives. The night lengthened. Refreshments were served at times, but the dancers took them in relays. The dancing in the ballroom never ceased, and Jeb Stuart nearly always led it.
It was after midnight now and Harry and his new friend, de Langeais, throwing their military cloaks over their shoulders, walked out on one of the porticos for air. Many people, black and white, had gathered as usual to watch the dancing.
Harry glanced at them casually, and then he saw a large figure almost behind the others. His intuition was sudden, but he had not the least doubt of its accuracy. He merely wondered why he had not looked for the man before.
"Come with me a minute," he said to de Langeais, and they walked toward the tree. But Shepard was gone, and Harry had expected that, too. He did not intend to hunt for him any further, because he was sure not to find him.
The brilliant spirit of the ball suddenly departed from him, and as he and de Langeais went back toward the house it was the stern call of war that came again. The deep boom of a cannon rolled from a point on the Rappahannock, and Harry was not the only one who felt the chill of its note. The dancing stopped for a few moments. Then the gloom passed away, and it was resumed in all its vigor.
But Stuart came out on the porch and Harry and de Langeais halted, because they heard the hoofs of a galloping horse. The man who came was in the dress of a civilian, and he brought a message.