A Sad Good-by
REX had stated the contents of his father's letter very mildly to Eunice, and he was a little afraid he had betrayed a political confidence in saying as much as he had. What his father had really said was: "Secession is bound to come. South Carolina, at least, is eager for it, and will welcome the pretext that the election of Lincoln will give her. There are some of us who will regret it, but we are in a hopeless minority. Our leaders say, when we express the belief that such a step will result in war, 'The North will never fight; or, if she shows fight, we will thrash her so quickly she will never know what has happened!' For myself, I am not so sanguine, and I am sometimes full of dark forebodings. But I am glad you are out of the turmoil, and I want you to stay there, no matter what happens, until I send for you. Tell Willie Dayton his father says he must stay also."
Rex read the letter to Willie, of course. "Stay," said Willie; "if my State secedes! No, sir; I will have you understand, if there is to be war or trouble of any kind, I want to be in it, and nothing shall keep me here."
That election of '60, and the stormy days that preceded and followed it, are too much a matter of history to need any recalling. The election had taken place, and there was now no longer any doubt about Carolina's seceding. The excitement among the students was intense. Most of them, like Rex, had received instructions to stay in Bellaire until sent for; but most of them, like Willie Dayton, were secretly making preparations to leave the moment the news of the actual secession of their several States should reach them.
Poor Willie! His heart was greatly torn between what he called his patriotism, which drew him imperatively home to share the fortunes of his State, and his boyish passion for Lucy Charlton, which made his heart faint within him at the thought of leaving her. It made it all the harder that he had never yet had courage to declare his love; nor did he feel at all sure how Lucy would receive his declaration, if he should ever dare to make it. Whether from indifference or coyness, it was very seldom indeed that she showed him any special mark of favor. But he had fully made up his mind that before he went away he should, in the language of the day, "address" Miss Lucy, let the result be what it would.
In the meantime he had been untiring in his efforts to raise the "sinews of war." His father had purposely sent him no money, lest he should be tempted to use it in coming home. His funds were all in the hands of his patron, Dr. Charlton, who had received instructions from Mr. Dayton on no account to let Willie have more than was absolutely necessary to pay his running expenses. His friends all intent upon the same scheme as himself, and most of them for the same reason kept on short allowance, had no money to lend him. Rex, might have helped him, but he had promised Mr. Dayton to do everything in his power to keep his boy in Bellaire, and Willie would not ask him for help lest he might tempt him to break his word.
But there was one last resource: Willie went to "Old Sykes" the dealer in second-hand furniture, largely patronized by the poorer students in fitting out their rooms, and often by the wealthier ones when delayed remittances made them temporarily hard up and they were quite willing to dispose of some article of furniture to provide them with the necessary funds for a lark with the boys, or perhaps to buy tickets for some concert or lecture to which they desired to invite the young lady who at that moment reigned supreme in their affections. Of course Old Sykes knew that, when the money from home arrived the furniture would probably be bought back, and it was his part to see that the owners got it at a sufficiently advanced rate.
He knew what Willie was after the moment be entered the small, dusty, disorderly shop, crowded with furniture of all ages and every degree; but he only greeted him with a curt "Howdy" while he went on piling wash-stands on bureaus and chairs on top of both, with the evident intention of making more floor space in his crowded domain.
"Sykes," said Willie, with an attempt at being offhand and business-like, "I have a proposition to make you, but you must pledge yourself to absolute secrecy before I divulge."
Sykes smiled grimly. He had already been pledged to "absolute secrecy" six times that morning, and hence the clearing of his floor space; but he readily gave the pledge. And then Willie told him he wanted him to come up and have a look at some furniture and make him an offer on it. Sykes stopped his work long enough to utter another curt interrogatory:
"Yes, right away, please," said Willie; and slowly investing himself in the coat and waistcoat he had discarded for his work, and putting a battered slouch-hat on his head, Old Sykes declared himself ready to accompany Willie.
There was not much of the furniture Willie could sell, for more than half of it belonged to Rex; but his bed with its furnishings, his rocker and book-case, and a small desk were his own. Old Sykes was a shrewd fellow. He kept up a low, aggravating whistle throughout the inspection, shaking his head over every scratch or loose screw, and his whole manner was so thoroughly disparaging that Willie was almost prepared for the extremely low sum that he named as his "outside figure." To Willie's indignant remonstrance he answered coolly:
"All right; I reckon I'm loadin' myself up too heavy, anyway. I'm taking just as good every day at less money; I am only doing it to oblige you fellers. And I reckon I'm a fool for my pains," he added as he saw Willie hesitating., "Times is mighty onsartin. Shouldn't wonder if the old college'd bu'st up, you fellers is leavin' in such a hurry; and I'11 have all this stuff on my hands and nary a student to sell to."
He did not believe his own doleful prediction; he expected to sell it all back to the owners next September for three times what he had given for it, and he could not forbear mentally licking his chops at the fine speculation he was making. But he was a better prophet than he knew. Old Tomlinson did not quite break up, but it was a hard struggle for life for the next four years. Her Southern boys never came back to her, and those who came to take their places from Maryland and Pennsylvania were not only few in number but struggling for an education against all the financial discouragements of war-times, and doing without most things that the Southerners had considered absolute necessities; so that at the end of the war Old Sykes found himself still the possessor of a large part of the property acquired in those December days, and his fine speculations had left him a poorer and a sadder, though no doubt a wiser man.
"Very well, Mr. Sykes," said Willie, with dignity, "I will accept your offer, and now will you have the kindness to make an estimate on my books?"
Still the sum fell far short of Willie's necessities, and to the books he added all his summer wardrobe, and as much of his winter as he dared part with, before be secured the amount he considered absolutely necessary to furnish him with the means of flight.
It was Friday morning, December 21, that the bulletin-board in front of the Mansion House announced to a crowd of excited students and citizens the accomplished fact of South Carolina's secession. They were prepared for it, of course; for the Baltimore and Philadelphia dailies had kept them fully informed of the progress of the convention in session at Charleston. It was the last day of the college term preceding the Christmas holidays, which in those days lasted four weeks. Students from the far South were many of them accustomed to spend those four weeks in Bellaire or in visiting college friends who lived near; but even those who had been in the habit of going home had very generally received instructions not to come at this time. That they were not all going to heed this prohibition, Mr. Sykes, standing on the outskirts of the crowd and smiling grimly as he saw half a dozen South Carolinians slipping quietly away and hurrying toward the campus, very well knew.
Willie Dayton felt that his hour had come! But one thing he had resolved on: he would not leave Bellaire until he had spoken to Lucy. He knew it would hardly be possible for him to see her before Saturday night, when he had an engagement with her for choir rehearsal; he would speak to her then, and if she would not accept him he would start for home on Monday morning.
Lovers' vows should always be breathed beneath the soft skies of May or June, and amid the fragrance of apple-blossoms or roses. But since that was denied to Willie, the kindly fates made the best amends possible by sending a drizzling rain all Friday night which froze as it fell and turned the old campus into a fairy world of shimmering beauty under the white radiance of the full moon. On that Saturday night Lucy was bewitching. The roses in her cheeks took a deeper tint from the frosty air, her round, white chin nestled cozily in her gray-squirrel tippet, and a "turban" of crimson velvet with a drooping white plume rested jauntily on her golden curls.
Willie had had but little to say until they had entered the campus and turned, as usual, into Lovers' Lane.
"Oh, isn't it beautiful?" exclaimed Lucy, ecstatically, looking up into the arch of fretted crystal above them, with its millions of glittering spear-points flashing and gleaming as the branches swayed gently. Willie did not look up. He looked straight down into her eyes.
"Yes," he said; "beautiful!" And Lucy, catching his glance, blushed and looked down. Willie made a desperate plunge:
"I am going away in a day or two, Cousin Lucy." Her start of surprise and her soft, regretful "Oh!" encouraged him. He bent his head toward her and went on rapidly:
"I must go. My country calls me, but I leave my heart behind me. Lucy, if I could be sure that you loved me, that some day I could come back and win you for my wife, I would go away happy even if I knew I was going straight into war."
He had tried to take her hand as he made his boyish speech, but she had swiftly withdrawn it from his arm, and now stood looking up at him proudly.
"Do you mean to say, Cousin Willie, you are going back to South Carolina, and if there should be war, you will fight against your country?"
Her tone struck coldly to Willie's heart, but he answered steadily and proudly:
"Yes, I am going home; but if I fight it will be for my country. My State, my native land, is my country."
Lucy's blue eyes flashed and her little figure was drawn up to its full height as she answered scornfully:
"Then, sir, you will be a traitor! You are a traitor, and I will have nothing more to do with you!" She turned as she spoke and started homeward.
Willie stood as if petrified a moment, and then he followed her with a quick cry:
"Lucy, stop! Listen to me, please."
Her soft heart could not resist the pain in his voice, and she stopped and turned slowly toward him.
"Lucy," he said, impetuously seizing her hand, and holding it in spite of her struggles, "you are the love of my life! I would gladly shed my heart's blood for you at this moment; but not even you must call me traitor. It is right that I should go with my State and fight for her if need be,-just as, if you were a man, it would be right for you to fight for Pennsylvania,-and I want you to take back that word."
Lucy hesitated a moment, and then she softened.
"Perhaps I was wrong, Cousin Willie, to call you a traitor; but oh, you are wrong, too. South Carolina is not your country, nor Pennsylvania mine, but the United States. Do not go home now. Wait until this excitement is over. Perhaps after a while you will feel differently."
"Lucy," he said, pressing the little hand he held so hard that she winced with pain, "it is heaven to have you ask me to stay, for I hope it is because you love me a little, and God knows I would do anything in the world for you that I could. But I must go, Lucy. Will you tell me that you love me before I go? I could almost be happy, even away from you, if I could lie sure of that."
But Lucy's softened mood had passed, and a saucy, teasing one had come in its place.
"No, sir," she said; "I do not love you, even a little. I have always liked you, and, I used to think you were very nice; but I am not sure I think that any more. And please, sir, let go my hand; you are hurting me."
Willie relaxed his pressure a little, but still held the hand. "Lucy," he said, and his voice was husky with his effort to control it, "do not trifle with me. I am terribly in earnest. Answer me. Will you marry me some day, when this trouble is all over and I come back?"
He was so stern that he frightened Lucy, but she answered petulantly, "No, no; I will never marry a-a South Carolinian who fights for his State!"
Willie turned pale and slowly dropped her hand. They walked toward the house, neither of them speaking until they were at the foot of the steps. There he stopped and said gravely, "Will you let me go to church with you to-morrow night, Cousin Lucy? It may be the last time I shall ever see you. I leave early Monday morning."
Lucy answered shyly, "Yes." In this new mood of calm repression, she hardly knew the boy that she had been accustomed to treat a little condescendingly. Heretofore, though two or three years younger than Willie, she had always had an elder-sisterly feeling toward him; now he seemed suddenly to have sprung into manhood, and she felt very young indeed.
"And you will not forget the Christmas present you promised me?" he went on. "You will give it to me, please, to-morrow night?"
Lucy had not forgotten it. It was lying at that moment in her bureau drawer, neatly done up in white tissue-paper tied with a blue ribbon: an ambrotype in a pretty case, and beautifully colored, Lucy thought; the blue eyes very blue, the pink cheeks very pink, and the golden curls a bright yellow. She promised she would bring it to him, and then he added with a little hesitation:
"I do not like to ask you to keep any secrets from your father and mother, but you know it is essential that they should not know that I am going away."
And Lucy, hardly knowing whether she was doing wrong or not, promised to keep his secret.
In the quiet of her own room she shed a few tears, mingled with some smiles and blushes; she was sorry indeed to have Willie go away, and he was her first lover: not at all her ideal, which was of some one grand and stern, tall and dark and cold, not boyish and sunny-natured, with brown curls and smiling blue eyes. But, after all, there was a little sense of shy elation in the fact of having a genuine lover. "And, besides," she confessed to herself, "I really do like Cousin Willie very much."
The next day was not a comfortable one for Lucy. Sitting in the choir at the morning and the afternoon service, with Willie just a little in the rear on the other side, she was conscious of his sad eyes often resting on her. He walked home with her from both services, for he kept saying to himself, "It is the last time," and though the pleasure was a painful one, he would not have missed it.
Except for a little reference once or twice to "last times," and how often they would be in his thoughts, he did not refer to his going away. But he was so subdued and quiet that Lucy found difficult all her efforts to be natural and bright.
In the evening he did not return to the conversation of the night before until they had arrived at the little gate at the end of Lovers' Lane on their way home. Lucy, with her little package safely stowed away in her pocket, was beginning to think he was not going to ask her for it, and was fluctuating between proudly declaring to herself that he should not have it unless he asked, and weakly trying to screw her courage to the point of offering it to him. At the gate he stopped.
"Have you my Christmas present for me, Lucy?" he asked timidly.
Pockets were not hard to find in those days. She slipped her hand quickly into hers, and laid the little package in his hand. He undid it carefully, folding the paper and the blue ribbon and putting them in his pocket before be opened the case. Then letting a ray of moonlight fall upon it, he looked at it a long, long time, apparently forgetting Lucy's presence, and at last raising it passionately to his lips. Lucy did not see that; she had turned restlessly away: but it would have made no difference to Willie if she had. Then he said-again gently:
"All my requests are last requests now, Cousin Lucy; and I do not believe you will refuse them. Will you give me one tiny curl to put in the case with your picture?"
Lucy's head was still turned away, but Willie heard her soft "Yes" and lifted the curl that lay next her face. It was soft and warm from its nestling-place in her neck, and he held it in his hand a moment and then lifted it to his lips before he cut off a tiny spiral and, laying it in the case, put it away in an inner pocket. When he spoke again it was diffidently.
"Cousin Lucy," he said, "if you do not mind going up to the house alone, I will say good-by to you here."
Lucy turned toward him. She felt she must say something kind to him before he went away forever. There was such a sadness in his voice and in his eyes that she could hardly stand it, and there was a real ache in her own heart. She put out both hands to him.
"Oh, Cousin Willie, I wish you would not go, and I hope you will be back before long. Don't you think you will?"
He took her two hands and looked down into her eyes a minute with such entreaty in his own that hers fell before them.
"Are you sure, Lucy, there is no hope for me?" he said at last.
"Quite sure," said Lucy, under her breath.
With a quick pressure he dropped her hands. "Good-by, and God bless you," he added; and then, holding open the little gate, he added hoarsely, "Go, please."
With bent head she walked slowly through the gate and part way up the path; and then she stopped and looked around. Willie's arms were folded on the gatepost and his head was bent upon them, and she thought she heard what sounded like a suppressed sob. Frightened and almost awe-struck, she stole quickly away.
Willie's train left at six the next morning, and it was a heroic proof of devotion on Rex's part to get up in the shivering December air and walk down to the station with him. It was long before sunrise, but the moon, still almost full, reflected from the snowy campus, made it quite light. On their way down the long path toward the Iron Gate, Willie looked up at Lucy's window to send her a last farewell in his thoughts. To his joyful surprise, a white handkerchief was fluttering from it. He took off his hat in response, and then in graceful Southern fashion kissed his hand to her and passed under the overarching trees, whose crystal foliage, making almost as effectual a screen as the leaves of June, hid him from Lucy's sight forever. A minute later she heard the Iron Gate clang; she knew he was gone, and she threw herself on her bed and buried her face in her pillow.
Who of the three, Rex or Willie or Lucy, could dream that seven months later, almost to the very day, all through the dreadful carnage of that hot July Sunday on the battle-field of the first Bull Run, a boyish figure should carry the Confederate colors proudly through the thickest of the fight; and when his comrades should be hunting their dead at night, that they would come upon him lying with smiling eyes upturned to the calm moon, and tightly clasping in his hands, that rested upon his heart, the picture of a beautiful girl, with a ring of golden hair tied by a bit of blue ribbon fastened to the velvet lining of the case!