She came from upstairs with a mixed armful of papers, books and sewing, said she had been with Charlotte, and said no more, only made a mysterious mouth. I inquired how Charlotte was. She shrugged, sank into a seat on the gallery, let her arm-load into her lap, and replied, "Ah! she lies up there and smiles and smiles, and calls us pet names, and says she's perfectly contented, and then cannot drop half asleep without looking as though she were pressing a knife into her own heart. Oh, Dick, what is the matter with her?"XXVIII OLDEST GAME ON EARTH
"Oh! you wouldn't ask a rebel to sing that," she sighed, "would you?""Well, I can name several! I don't call Scott Gholson anybody, but there's Major Harper--No, I'm not talking too loud, Ned isn't hearing a word. Major Harper's so hot against this thing that he brought it up, with me, yesterday on the battlefield."
I snapped my eyes. He smiled and then frowned. "I don't want a clumsy job, now, mind! I don't want you to get captured if you can possibly avoid it; but all the same they mustn't get this so easily as to suspect it's a bait. So I want you to give those villains that half-chance to rob you, but not the other half, or they may--oh, it's no play! You must manage to have this despatch taken from you totally against your will! Then you must reach Clifton shortly after daylight. Ferry's scouts are there, and you'll say to Lieutenant Ferry the single word, Rodney. Understand?" He pretended to be reconsidering. "I--don't know but--after all--I'd better send one of my staff instead of you."I covered it fiercely and sunk my brow upon it. And thereupon the wave of folly drew back, and on the bared sands of recollection I saw, like drowned things, my mother's face, and Gholson's and the General's, and Major Harper's, and Ned Ferry's, and Camille's. Each in turn brought its separate and peculiar pang; and among those that came a second time and with a crueler pang than before was Camille's.
"Harry," replied the Major, from his table full of documents, "don't you know that any man who's got a woman wrapped round his finger has also got her wrapped round his throat?"The church we went to was in Franklin, but the preacher was a man of note, a Vicksburg refugee. On the way back Gholson and I rode for a time near enough to Squire Sessions and Ned Ferry to know the sermon was being discussed by them, and something they said gave my companion occasion to murmur to me in a tone of eager censure that Ned Ferry's morals were better than his religion.
"But," I responded, "you put it on for a better reason than you could tell me then or can tell me now, though now I know your story."
And so I began to hear the tale. I was startled by its strong reminder of Charlotte's own life; but Charlotte answered my anxious glance with a brow so unfretted that I let the reading go on, and so made a cruel mistake. At every turning-point in the story its reader would have paused to talk it over, but Charlotte, with a steadily darkling brow, murmured each time "Go on," and I was silent, hoping that farther along there would be a better place to stop for good. Not so; the story's whirling flood swept us forward to a juncture ever drawing nearer and clearer, clearer and crueler, where a certain man would have to choose between the woman he loved and that breadth and fruitfulness of life to which his splendid gifts imperiously pointed him. Oh, you story-tellers! Every next page put the question plainer, drove the iron deeper: must a man, or even may a man, wed his love, when she stands between him and his truest career, a drawback and drag upon his finest service to his race and day? And, oh, me! who let my eye quail when Charlotte searched it, as though her own case had brought that question to me before ever we had seen this book. And, oh, that impenetrable woman reading! Her husband was in Lee's army, out of which, she boasted, she would steal him in a minute if she could. She was with us, now, only because, at whatever cost to others, she was going where no advancement of the enemy's lines could shut her off from him; and so stop reading a moment she must, to declare her choice for Love as against all the careers on earth, and to put that choice fairly to shame by the unworthiness of her pleadings in its defence. I intervened; I put her grovelling arguments aside and thrust better ones in, for the same choice, and then, in the fear that they were not enough, stumbled into special pleading and protested that the book itself had put the question unfairly."The horse may have to save you," drawled the Arkansan.
Ere the sun shall go down there are heads to be--'Not because of this speech, but of a soft rubbing sound on the window-sill behind me, my heart turned cold. Yet there I saw a most welcome sight. Against the outer edge of the sill an unseen hand was moving a forked stick to and fro. The tip of one of its tines was slit, in the slit was a white paper, and in the fork hung the bridle of my horse. I glided to the window. But there bethinking me how many a man had put his head out at just such a place and never got it back, I made a long sidewise reach, secured the paper, and read it.The instant Ferry wheeled at the flaming captain's side you could see he was unwelcome. I heard him tell what we knew of the foe and the ground; I saw him glance back at the blown condition of the speeding column and then say "You've got them anyhow, Captain; you'll get every man of them without a scratch, only if you will take your time."
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For an hour or so the world seemed to have taken me for its center as smoothly as a sleeping top. Only after a good seven miles did my meditations begin to reveal any bitter in the sweet; but it was in recalling for the twentieth time the last sight of Camille, that I heard myself say, I know not whether softly or loudly,XII IN THE GENERAL'S TENT
"Life is strife indeed to her," I said.详情
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