The Guns of Sumter
THE days and weeks dragged wearily along for Eunice. She had hardly realized how much she would miss Rex's bright presence, and what a void there would be in her life which none of the simple merrymakings of Bellaire society could fill. Rex called occasionally on Mrs. Charlton and the ladies, and Mrs. Charlton, suspecting that meant Eunice, tried at first to excuse herself. But Eunice gave her so quietly and so decidedly to understand that it did not, and that she would on no account go to the parlor without her, that Mrs. Charlton concluded at once there was trouble of some kind between them. She confided her suspicions to Dr. Charlton, and the good doctor was much concerned.
"I was afraid once," he said, "that Rex was inclined to amuse himself with her; but I believe now that it has been a grand passion with him, and she certainly has produced a wonderful transformation in him. I would almost be willing to trust him to make her happy now; but of course since South Carolina has seceded, they can never marry, and I am heartily sorry for them both. Do you think, my dear," anxiously,-"that she feels it much? I would not have her coming here result in suffering for worlds."
"I am sure I can't tell," returned Mrs. Charlton, reflectively; "she is always so quiet and so reserved. But I sometimes fancy she is a little paler, and she certainly eats almost nothing-hardly enough to keep her alive, I should say."
"Dear! dear!" groaned the doctor, ruefully; "these troublesome young people! Can't you get her to confide in you, my love? It would help her just to talk it over."
Mrs. Charlton promised to try, but she never succeeded. There was no getting near enough to Eunice on that subject to make the beginning of a confidence.
Once Eunice did not go down when, as usual, Rex called for the ladies. The very next day, "Judge" brought her a note. It read:
"EUNICE: Never do that again. I only call when I feel that I must see you, must look on your dear face, or die. Do not deny me that one small pleasure.And so she always came down to the parlor when he called, and plied her little shuttle, while Rex talked to Mrs. Charlton and Lucy, with an occasional remark to "Miss Harlowe," to whom he was always coldly formal, and went away strengthened in his determination to win her finally, but more hopeless than ever of any immediate yielding on her part.
As for Eunice, as the days went on, in spite of Rex's note, she began to feel that he could not really care for her. He passed her on the street with the most formal bow. She had met him once walking with Miss Lydia and apparently in the gayest spirits, and rumor had it that he was paying marked attention to Miss Annie Allen, the organist. Eunice said to herself that she was glad, and that she had judged him rightly when she thought him incapable of a serious attachment; and yet she knew she was miserable, and she took herself roundly to task when she discovered that it made her misery far more acute to think that he was so quickly consoled, than if she had believed him unhappy and secretly pining for her.
And so the weeks went on, and now spring had come; the crocuses and snowdrops of March had given place to the daffodils and hyacinths and tulips of April. Peach-trees and cherry-trees were masses of pink and white bloom, and there was a tender green on the maples and lindens in the campus. The trees that arched Lovers' Lane threw lace-like shadows on the path that Eunice always took on her morning walk to school through the soft, fragrant air, and the birds sang their nuptial songs on the high boughs with riotous joy.
Never did the sun shine so brightly nor the birds sing so madly nor the flowers bloom so sweetly as in that spring of '61. Yet a dark cloud, gloomy with portents of war, hung over the land, and anxious eyes were turned constantly to distant South Carolina, and ears were strained to catch the echoes of that first shot, now hourly expected. And at last it came. It rolled over the fair valleys of the South, and reverberated among the mountains of the North, until it filled the land with its awful thunders. There were many hearts, North and South, that turned faint and sick under, those first dreadful sounds, and among them were two at least in the little family circle of the Charltons. Mrs. Charlton felt that the dividing stroke had fallen at last that separated her from kindred and friends; and Eunice knew that unsatisfactory and painful as had been her intercourse with Rex through the last few months, even that was at an end now.
It was Tuesday morning when the news reached them, and she was not surprised when, in the afternoon, "Judge" brought her a note. She read it with a pale face and a beating heart.
"EUNICE: I go in a day or two-perhaps to-morrow. I must see you before I go. Meet me at eight o'clock this evening in Lovers' Lane."It did not even occur to her not to meet him. She, too, felt that she must see him for the last time. When she passed through the little gate into the lane, there was light enough from a young moon, whose rays fell freely through the thin foliage, to see him walking with hurried strides, his back to her, down toward the Iron Gate. At the click of the little gate he turned quickly and came toward her. He stopped directly in front of her, and without waiting a moment began:
"Eunice, will you marry me and go home with me to-morrow?" She could see very plainly his white, stern face, and the feverish glow in his dark eyes. She longed to say, "Yes, I will go." Country and friends, father and mother-nothing seemed to her then of much moment compared with the happiness of seeing that pale, beautiful face light up with joy and love. But she only shook her head and said, "I cannot, Rex." He looked at her a moment with wild eyes, and then seizing her hand in a vice-like grip, he said fiercely:
"You don't know what you say, Eunice. You must! Do you know"-hoarsely-"what the guns of Sumter mean? I did not believe it for a long time, but I know now. It is war! When I go from here I go to fight, perhaps to death. I cannot die unless you bear my name. It is grim courting, Eunice; but I am not asking you so much to be my wife as to be my widow. I can go bravely to battle when I feel that in fighting for my home I am fighting for you, and that if I die there is one wearing my name who will mourn for me, and that if you cannot be mine on earth, you will be mine in heaven."
She tried to speak, but he would not let her.
"There is only one word that I want to hear you say, Eunice. Come with me now to Dr. Charlton, and say it there. He will marry us when he knows how it is, and to-morrow we will go home together. Come, Eunice, now-this very minute."
As well try to drag the Plymouth Rock from its eternal foundations as to move this little Puritan maiden. He was maddened by her sad but firm resistance, and for a moment he had wild thoughts of picking her up in his arms and fleeing with her to the ends of the earth. To feel himself helpless before a slender girl that he could crush in his arms, made him beside himself. He would not at first recognize that he could not prevail with her by the mere strength of his determination. When at last it slowly dawned upon him that there was absolutely no hope, despair and resentment were almost equally mingled in his heart.
Eunice, her own heart torn with anguish for herself, and for him even more, would have tried to comfort him in every gentle and tender way; but he would not listen to her. He stood a minute looking off with fierce eyes and stern lips, and she crept up to him and laid her hand lightly on his arm, looking up with eyes that pleaded mutely for kindness and forgiveness. He glanced down and met the look, but it did not melt him. He flung her hand from his arm and laughed bitterly.
"I might have known," he said, "that you were a cold, heartless Yankee. I have been a fool!"
And then with elaborate courtesy:
"Miss Harlowe, I cannot leave you here. Shall I accompany you to the house?"
She turned and walked beside him, hoping every moment his mood would change, but not daring to say anything to him while that bitter smile still lingered on his face. At the foot of the steps she stopped and put out her hand, faltering, "Good-by, Rex," but he would not notice the hand. With an ironical bow, he said, "I will bid you good evening, Miss Harlowe," and, lifting his hat, passed through the little gate in the hedge without a backward glance.
It was a long and weary night for Eunice, who lived over every word and every look from the day when she first saw him on the Burton steps to this last bitter parting. She did not know when he would go: perhaps on that same early train the other South Carolinians had taken. If she could only see him once more, and have him tell her that he forgave her for the pain she had made him suffer!
At half-past five o'clock she rose, glad to forsake her weary bed, and throwing a dressing-gown around her, she sat down by the window. In a few moments she saw "Judge" with his wheelbarrow piled with trunks and boxes, and she knew then he was going, and sat watching with painful eagerness for a last glimpse of him.
She saw him: his graceful, erect figure dressed, as usual, with the last degree of carefulness, walking rapidly, and talking earnestly to Mr. Rogers, who was beside him. Once he turned towards her window, but before she could open the shutter through which she was looking and wave her hand in farewell, he was out of sight. She listened a few moments more, and heard the Iron Gate clang, and then she turned drearily away. The romance of her life was ended.
But after breakfast "Judge" brought her a little note. She tore it open with trembling fingers and read with eyes that could hardly see:
"DEAR EUNICE: Forgive me for my rudeness to-night. I was wild with pain, but that is no excuse for being so cruel to you, and so far forgetting myself. You are the dearest, sweetest, loveliest woman God ever made- the only woman in the world for me. In life and in death I am yours,