Wearing Her Colors
IT was fortunate for Eunice that the rush of events distracted all attention from her pale face and languid air. Struggle as she might, she could not rouse herself to any animation, or any show of interest in the great drama enacting around her. To her horror, she began to feel that her interest lay with the other side, and she loathed herself as a creature without patriotism and without honor.
The President's call for seventy-five thousand men, following fast on the fall of Sumter, threw the college into even wilder excitement. The Southerners who had remained up to this time, either in obedience to commands from home or because they believed the troubles would soon be settled and there would be no necessity for leaving, decamped at once. Among the Northern students, many responded to Lincoln's call, and left the campus for the field. Those three-months' men were the very pick and flower of the country, brave young fellows of the noblest aspirations, and a large proportion of them from the colleges of the land. Lucy was full of enthusiasm and glowing with patriotism, and Eunice felt like a traitor by contrast, her heart was so cold and dead within her.
But though she escaped much observation through the stir of the times that drew all thoughts in one direction, she did not wholly escape it. Dr. and Mrs. Charlton noticed her air of passive endurance, her lack of joyous enthusiasm, and thought they understood it, and in every way tried to shield and encourage her with their silent sympathy. Mr. Rogers noticed it, also, and it brought him the keenest pain when he, too, thought he understood it.
On that early-morning walk to the train, Rex had told him just enough of his story to make his heart ache for the two lovers separated by such a grim fate. He was full of tender pity for Eunice, and one evening, as they walked slowly along the familiar Lovers' Lane, he told her how much he had learned to love Rex of late, and then drew her on to talk of him with such delicate sympathy that, almost before she knew what she was doing, Eunice found herself confiding to him all the bitterness and anguish this love had brought her: shame that she should love a traitor, anguish that nothing but an eternal separation lay before them.
In his clear, strong fashion, Mr. Rogers showed her there ought to be no shame. Rex, in his mistaken way, was as much a patriot as himself, and she must not look upon this separation as eternal. A few months would settle all these troubles, and then there would be no reason in the world why she should not give her hand where she had given her heart.
It was a strange rôle for him to be playing,-pleading the cause of his rival,-and he recognized it and smiled a little bitterly to himself. But he was rewarded in the brightness and hope that communicated themselves to Eunice's tones when she next spoke. He had really rolled a great load from her heart, restored her to her self-respect, and given her a little hope in place of the black despair that had been crushing her; and he was unselfishly glad to have been able to comfort her. But his own spirits fell as hers rose, and he felt the need of a little comfort from her in turn.
"After all," he said, "Rex is greatly to be envied: he is going out to try the fortunes of war with a star of love and hope to brighten the path of duty. I can easily understand that death itself would have no terrors for a man glorified by such an assurance, and I can find it in my heart to envy him."
There was a ring of sadness in his tones that Eunice did not for one moment connect with herself, but that yet touched her heart. She felt he was not happy, and she wondered in a vague way if there could be some one in his Philadelphia home whose unkindness made him envy Rex's lot.
The weeks passed on, crowded with excitement and intense feeling. The college, drained by both North and South, numbered a mere handful of students; and, added to all the anxiety of the times, the good doctor trembled for the life of Old Tomlinson. He knew that he was at the helm, and upon his skilful guidance alone hung its fate, whether it should founder on the rocks or outride the storms.
Eunice went home for two summer vacations and returned in the following Septembers; but by the fall of '62 war prices and hard times had begun to tell upon people living on salaries. One by one, her patrons had been compelled to withdraw their children from a school where tuition must be paid and send them to the free public ones. Early in the fall it was evident St. John's school must close, and Eunice, left with almost no money, far from home and too late to make any other engagement for the year, would have found herself in great straits but for Dr. Charlton, who offered her a home and a tiny salary to teach his children until she could find something better, and kept a constant lookout to find the something better for her.
He was greatly embarrassed himself. The endowment of the college had always been small, and now much of its funds became unavailable, being invested in the South or in securities that the war made unprofitable. The number of students was far too small to pay the running expenses, and the faculty had to submit to big deficits in their small salaries. Early in the war prices had gone up with a rush to three and four times their old rates, and it was the necessaries of life that went the highest. How that little band of devoted professors ever lived through those four years is an unsolved enigma. Dr. Charlton, with his clear vision, saw at once that the only hope for the college was in an endowment, and then began a series of herculean labors to secure a sufficient sum to make it independent-labors that eventually placed the college on a solid foundation of prosperity; but the anxiety, the strain, and the almost superhuman exertions of that anxious time told heavily on his health and strength.
Eunice was learning to love the Charltons dearly in the hardships they suffered together through those two years of the war. Mrs. Charlton was shining in a new light as a careful and able financier. The table that had once been so generous was almost meager now, and her children's clothes and her own were turned and twisted to an incredible extent to keep up the respectability of outside appearance that she felt her position demanded. She had prided herself once upon her fancied economies; they were very real ones now. Yet when the times were darkest and when even the doctor's buoyant spirits had turned blue and despondent, she had always a beaming smile and cheering word to make the home circle bright and happy.
In all these long months Eunice had heard from Rex but once, and that was a little note scribbled hurriedly in the saddle and intrusted to a friendly Union picket to mail. The picket had been true to his trust, and the little line that said, "I am thinking of you and waiting for you.-REX," was almost her most cherished possession: not quite-the note that she had received the morning after he went away would always hold the first place.
But it was very shortly before one of the great battles of the early war that Eunice had received this note from Rex, and none had come from him since. Sometimes she feared he had fallen in that battle, and indeed when she read of the awful carnage on both sides with which the papers were full after every battle, she wondered how he could possibly escape. Her heart turned sick within her, and life under the blue and gold skies of that smiling valley looked gray and cold to her.
Through all these dreadful months the friendship of John Rogers was a tower of strength to her. He had not gone to the front with the tide that swept out from the college at Lincoln's first call, but had kept steadily on with his college course. In those days it required almost more moral courage to stay than to go. Rogers had made his decision, deliberately, to watch the course of events and be ready when he found that he was really needed. From the first he had not shared the sanguine hopes of those who thought the war to be only an affair of a few months; he believed it would be a war of years. If so, there would be no coming back to college to finish his education, and he deliberately determined to go steadily ahead with it now as long as he could. The hour might easily come when his country would need him more than it needed him now, and he would be ready; but in the meantime he would secure as much as possible of the equipment that he felt so necessary to his future usefulness.
On a golden September Sunday morning Eunice was in her old place in the choir of St. John's. Rogers was beside her as leader, for college had opened two weeks before and he had come back to finish his senior year. Down in the church below there was but a thin scattering of black coats as compared with the throng that had darkened the rear of the church on Eunice's first Sunday at St. John's; and to Eunice they looked more like boys than like the young men of two years before. She wondered whether it was because she herself felt so much older that they seemed so much younger, or whether the young men had all gone to the war and there were none but boys left to send to college.
For days there had been flying rumors of a great invasion. Lee was sending his Army of Northern Virginia up the Valley. It had already crossed the Potomac, and now no one in Bellaire doubted that an invasion of Pennsylvania was intended. For days great droves of cattle and horses had been passing through Bellaire, the farmers driving them northward to a place of safety, and that very morning there had come a rumor that Harper's Ferry had fallen. Harper's Ferry was the gateway to the Valley; and that little handful of people devoutly joining in the services on that golden morning of the fall of '62 were a-quiver with excitement and dread.
On their way home from choir rehearsal the evening before (for it had come to be understood between them that he should be always on hand to take Rex's place when an attendant was needed), Mr. Rogers had said he had received notice that his company was liable to be called out at any moment.
"I had a great mind to wear my uniform to-night, he said gaily, for he saw that Eunice was shocked and trembling at the news. I wanted you to see how well I look in it. My sword and belt arrived to-day-I'm first lieutenant, you know. I tried them on before supper, and I look very grand, I assure you. "
Then, as Eunice did not speak, he stopped a moment under the trees and added gravely:
"Dear Eunice, Rex went out to battle blessed and crowned by a love that must give him courage to go joyously to death or victory. I have no such inspiration. If I die, there are few to mourn me, and it will make no real difference in any one's life. If I go now, I go to stay until the war is over, for I shall exchange as soon as possible from the militia into the veterans. Will you not send me forth with your blessing? Will you not think of me sometimes in the tent or on the field, where I shall often think of you?"
It was harder than ever for Eunice to speak, and her voice was so low and trembled so greatly that Rogers had to bend his head to catch her words.
"Oh, my friend," she faltered, "I shall think of you very, very often. I am proud of your friendship, and to know that you are fighting to preserve the country we both love will help greatly to mitigate my shame that I should love one who is fighting to destroy it."
This morning, up in the choir, she was finding it hard to follow the words of the good pastor-noble and stirring words, inspired by the greatness of the times; instead she was involuntarily listening for the signal that should call this friend, too, to that black gulf of battle and death.
They had sung for anthem the noble "Battle Hymn of the Republic":
"In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,and with all hearts glowing with the stirring words and music, the preacher had taken his text:
"Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh in vain."There could have been no better music, no better text, with which to send out to battle those young hearts beating high with courage and patriotism; but Eunice, listening to them, kept thinking of the Southern camps, where at this very moment zealous army chaplains were preaching-perhaps from the same text-to bronzed and war-worn veterans in gray. Who could tell which was the Lord's side?
And then, in the midst of her questionings, she heard a slight stir in the rear of the church below. She leaned a little forward over the railing of the gallery and saw a man moving silently about among the students, who, one after another, rose and quietly stole out of the church. In a few moments the same man had mounted the gallery stairs and was speaking to Mr. Rogers and to two or three others in the choir. Rogers turned to her and his lips formed the words, "It has come"; then he, too, stole away after the others.
College discipline was stern in those days. In the tremendous excitement of the morning there had been a line of students at the doctor's office begging to be excused from church. But there was something of the Spartan in Dr. Charlton's nature, and he had but one reply for each: "The duty of the morning is to attend divine service; if the summons comes, let it find us at our post, like good soldiers." And such was the magnetism of his personality and the inspiration of his glowing eye that there were no murmurings among the disappointed students.
Now, however, it was another matter. The summons had come! At the stir among the students the doctor caught the preacher's eye and signaled to him that it would be better to close the service at once; and with his thirdly and fourthly and his grand closing peroration yet untouched, the good man announced the doxology, and as the last note died away he extended his hands over the bowed heads of the people and with trembling voice prayed:
"The blessing of the Lord God of battles be upon you and abide with you, and may the strength of our Lord go with those who go forth this hour to war."
Then was there hurry and rush on the quiet Sabbath streets. In all directions boys and young men were running wildly, and the women and the older men were not far behind them. You might have thought the rebels were at their doors, such was the excitement in the staid old town.
Dr. Charlton had been among the foremost to reach the college; he must see his boys before they were off. From room to room he went, encouraging the pale and trembling ones, restraining the ardor of the too impetuous, leaving words of cheer and wisdom and benediction with all. His heart was wrung. They were but boys, only a few years older than his own two little fellows, and who could tell what lay before them!
At home Mrs. Charlton was working feverishly. The children stood around in an awe-struck circle to see mother sew on Sunday; for she and Lucy and Eunice were hurriedly making such little comforts as they thought the young soldiers might need in camp. No one thought of dinner, for in two hours there would be on the siding in front of the campus the train that was to bear these brave young fellows down the Valley to meet Lee!
There had been a constant stream of callers at the Charlton house. Every boy leaving the college had run in for a moment to say good-by to dear Mrs. Charlton, who sent them all off with the mother's blessing their own mothers would have longed to give them, with tears and smiles and brave words that comforted many a boyish heart on that bloody battle-field of Antietam toward which their young faces were set.
Last of all came John Rogers, with no more excitement in his manner than usual, only perhaps a little graver than was his wont. He brought his sword and his belt in his hand, and before them all he boldly asked Eunice to buckle them on for him and send him out like the knights of old with her blessing. As he watched her slender fingers performing their office tremblingly, but with the deftness natural to them, he said, trying to speak lightly:
"And now I claim the right to wear your colors; you must let me have that little scarlet ribbon at your throat to tie in my buttonhole. You see," he explained to Dr. and Mrs. Charlton and Lucy, who stood by, "since Miss Harlowe cannot go into the army and do her own fighting, I have promised to represent her on the field as her devoted friend and brother, and I think that gives me a right to wear her colors."
And so he went off, to return no more until the war should be over,-to all appearance gaily, proudly clanking his sword and wearing his bit of scarlet with the fond wishes and tremulous blessing of his four friends showered upon him.