( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Miss Lucy opened the paper with trembling fingers. "`A great cavalry fight at Brandy Station! General Lee's telegram. Killed and wounded. " Her three nieces came close to her. "It's not a long bulletin. . . . Thank God, there 's no Cary ! "
She brushed her hand across her eyes, and read on. "We have few particulars as yet. The fighting was severe and lasted all day. The loss on both sides is heavy. Our loss in officers was, as usual, very considerable. Among those killed we have heard the names of Colonel Hampton, brother of General Wade Hampton. Colonel John S. Green, of Rappahannock County, and Colonel Williams, of the Eighteenth North Carolina. The latter was married only one week ago. General W. H. F. Lee, son of General Lee, was shot through the thigh. Colonel Butler, of South Carolina, is reported to have lost a leg. From the meagre accounts we already have we are led to conclude that the fight of Tuesday was one of the heaviest cavalry battles that has occurred during the war, and perhaps the severest ever fought in this country."
Molly drew a long breath. "Let's turn the sheet, Aunt Lucy, and look for Vicksburg."
"A moment!" said Judith. "I saw the word `artillery.' What does it say about the horse artillery ? "
"Just that it made a brilliant fight. A few casualties there are the names."
Judith bent over and read. "You always want to know about the horse artillery," said Molly. "I want to know about everybody, too, but until you've heard about the artillery your eyes are wide and startled as a fawn's. Is there somebody whom you like "
"Don't, Molly!" spoke Miss Lucy. "Don't we all want to know about every arm ? God knows, it is n't just our kith and kin for whom we ache!"
"Of course not!" said Molly. "I just wanted to know "
Judith looked up, steady-eyed again. "So did I, Molly! I just wanted to know. The paper says it was a brilliant fight, and every-body did well those who've ridden on, and those who are lying on the leaves in the woods. And it gives the names of those who are lying there, and we don't know them only that they are names of our brothers. Vicksburg, read about Vicksburg, Aunt Lucy!"
Miss Lucy read. "We have received the Jackson Mississippian as late as the twenty-seventh, since when there has been no reliable in-formation from the besieged city. We have, however, from prison-ers, Northern papers as late as June the first. We quote from them.
"`Washington, June first. Midnight. Up to one o'clock to-night no additional intelligence had been received from General Grant's army later than the previous dispatches of the twenty-eighth, when it was stated that Grant's forces were progressing as favourably as could be expected, and Grant had no fears of the result.'
"Well, I hope that he may yet acquire them," said Unity.
"`Chicago, June first. A special dispatch to the Times dated, "Head-quarters in the Field. Near Vicksburg. May twenty-third," says, "But little has been effected during the last thirty-six hours. Over a hundred pieces of field artillery and several siege guns rained shot and shell on the rebels' works yesterday. The mortar fleet took position behind De Soto Point and bombarded the city during the entire day." '
"Oh," cried Molly. "Oh!"
" `On the right General Sherman has pushed Steele's division squarely to the foot of the parapets. Our men lay in a ditch and on the slope of a parapet, inside one of the principal forts, unable to take it by storm, but determined not to retire. The Federal and Rebel soldiers are not twenty-five feet apart, but both are powerless to inflict much harm. Each watches the other and dozens of muskets are fired as soon as a soldier exposes himself above the works on either side ' "
"Oh, I hope that Edward thinks of Dιsirιe and all of us!"
"If there's need to expose himself he will do it and Dιsirιe and none of us would say, `Think of us!' Go on, Aunt Lucy."
"'Nearly the same condition of things exists in McPherson's front, and his sharpshooters prevent the working of the enemy's pieces in one or two forts. A charge was made yesterday (Friday) morning on one of them by Stephenson's brigade, but was repulsed. Two companies of one brigade got inside, but most of them were captured. The forts are all filled with infantry. Our artillery has dismounted a few guns and damaged the works in some places, but they are still strong ' " "O may they stay so!"
"`General Joe Johnston is reported to be near the Big Black River in our rear, with reinforcements for the besieged army. General Grant can detail men enough for the operations here to keep Johnston in check.'"
"Oh, always their many, many troops!"
"'General McClernand was hard pressed on the left yesterday, and sent for reinforcements. General Quinby's division went to his assistance at four o'clock. The contest continued until one of our flags was planted at the foot of the earthworks on the outside of a rebel fort, and kept there for several hours, but the fort was not taken.'"
"`McClernand's loss yesterday is estimated at one thousand killed and wounded. The fighting grows more desperate each day. The trans-ports are now bringing supplies to within three miles of our right.'"
The group on the Greenwood porch kept silence, then "What from Tennessee ? "
"`A cavalry fight at Franklin. Infantry not engaged. A general battle is, however, considered imminent.'"
Molly put her head down in Judith's lap and. began to cry. "Oh, I want to see father! Oh, I want to see father! Oh, I miss him so!"
Unity knit very fast. Miss Lucy sat, the paper fallen beside her, her fine, dark eyes on the distant mountains. She saw the old, peaceful, early-century years again, and her brothers and herself, children again, playing in the garden at Fontenoy, playing in the garden here at Greenwood, going into town in the great old coach, watching Mr. Jefferson pass and Mr. Madison. She saw her brilliant girlhood set still in so shining, so peaceful a world! .. . The old White and her ball-gowns, and the roses and serenading...
The leisurely progresses, too, from great house to great house, and all in a golden, tranquil world. She saw her beautiful father and mother and a certain lover whom she had had, and her brothers wonderful and gallant. And now the first three were dead, and long dead, and Warwick was with Lee at Culpeper, and Fauquier, yesterday in "the severest cavalry battle yet fought on this continent," and Warwick's son, Edward, fighting in a city besieged ! Everywhere kinsmen and friends, fighting! And the gaunt and ruined country, the burning houses and the turned-out fields, the growing hunger, want no longer skulking, but walking all the highroads, care and wounds and sickness, a chill at all hearts and a lessening of the sunlight! "I have lived out of a gold world into an iron one," thought Miss Lucy.
The old Greenwood carriage came round to the door. Judith kissed Molly and rose, Unity with her. It was their day at the hospital. Isham took them into town, Isham thin and sorrowful, driving the old farm-horses, muttering and mumbling of old times and new. The day was hard at the hospital, though not so hard as there had been days. Soldiers from the Wilderness still choked the rooms, and there was sickness, sickness, sickness! and so little with which to cope with sickness. But it was not so crowded as it had been, nor so desperate. Many had died, and many had grown well enough to go away, and many were convalescent. There were only fifty or so very bad. The two young women, straight and steady, bright and tender, came into a long ward like twin shafts of sun-light.
The ward wanted all the news about Brandy Station it could get, and all the news about Port Hudson and Vicksburg. Cavalry in the ward got into an argument with Artillery, and Infantry had to call the nurses to smooth things down. A man whose arm had been torn from the socket fell to crying softly because there was a piece of shell, he said, between the fingers and he could not get it out.
" `Nerve ends ?' Yes, Doctor, maybe so. . . Then, don't you reckon the nerve ends in my arm out there in the Wilderness are feeling for my shoulder ? Oh, I feel them feeling for it!"
Down the line was a jolly fellow and he sang very loudly
"Yankee Doodle had a mind
Some of the soldiers from the Wilderness, falling wounded in the brush which was set on fire, had been badly burned before their comrades could draw them forth. One of these now, lying wrapped like a mummy in oil-soaked cotton, was begging pitifully for morphia and there was no morphia to give.
"I come from old Manassas with a pocket full of fun; I killed forty Yankees with a single-barrelled gun "
Forenoon, afternoon passed. The nurses dressed and bandaged wounds, bathed and lifted, gave the scanty dole of medicines, brought and held the bowls of broth, aired the wards, straightened the beds, told the news, filled the pipes, read and wrote the home letters, took from dying lips the home messages, closed the eyes of the dead, composed the limbs, saw the body carried out to where the pine coffin waited, turned back with cheer to the ward, dealt the cards for the convalescent, picked up the fallen checker-piece, laughed at all jokes, helped sick and weary Life over many a hard place in the road, saved it many a jolt.
At six o'clock, the two from Greenwood left the hospital. Out-side they saw, on the other side of the street, a small crowd gathering about a bulletin board. They went across as folk always went across when there was seen to be a bulletin. The crowd was largely composed of country people, old men, women, and boys. It parted be-fore the ladies from Greenwood and the two came close to the board. A boy, standing on a great stone beneath, alternately mastered, somewhat slowly, the writing, then, facing around, delivered it in a high young voice to the crowd.
A farmer, bent and old, touched Judith's sleeve. "Miss Judith Cary, you read it to us. I could do it spryer than Tom there, but my eyes are mighty bad."
"I don't mind," said Tom. "They've got so many words that were n't in the reading-books! You do it, Miss Judith."
Judith stepped upon the stone. The board held an account of the 'battle of Brandy Station, later and fuller than that in the morning paper. She read first it was always read first the names of the killed and wounded. It appeared that this crowd had in them only a general interest. There were murmurs respectful and pitying, but no sudden sharp cry from a woman, no groan from a man.
"Further particulars of the fight," read Judith. "The enemy attacked at daybreak. They had with them artillery with which they proceeded furiously to shell General Stuart's headquarters.
The cavalry fighting was desperate and the loss on both sides heavy. We had only cavalry and the artillery in action, the enemy having retreated before our infantry arrived. The fight lasted all day and was conducted with extreme gallantry. Many individual acts of heroism occurred both among officers and men. The horse artillery gathered fresh laurels. The spirit of Pelham stays with it. A gunner named Deaderick
"A gunner named Deaderick, a strongly built man, held at bay a dozen of the enemy who would have laid hands upon his gun which had been dismounted by a shell striking the wheel. Almost singly he kept the rush back until his comrades could replace the gun, train, and serve it, when the attack was completely repulsed and the gun saved "
Judith finished reading. The crowd thanked her. She stepped from the great stone and passed with Unity to where the carriage waited. Isham touched the old farm-horses; they passed out of the town into the June country bathed in sunset light.
For a while there was silence, then, "Judith," said Unity, "I am a talkative wretch, I know, but I can be silent as the grave when I want to be! Where is Richard ? Is he in the horse artillery ? "
"I have never seen you when I did not think you beautiful. But back there, standing on that stone, of a sudden you were most beautiful. It was like a star blazing out, a star with a voice, and some-thing splendid in that, too. Judith, is he that gunner you were reading about ?"
"Yes oh, yes!"
"Well, you don't often cry," said Unity, crying herself. "Cry it out, my dear, cry it out. We have such splendid things nowadays to cry for ! "
Judith dried her tears. "No, I don't often cry. . . . Let it rest, Unity, between us, silent, silent "
That night, at Greenwood, she opened wide the windows of her room, till the moonlight flooded all the floor. She sat in the window seat, in the heart of the silver radiance, her hands clasped upon her knees, her head thrown back against the wood. Before her lay the silver hills; up to her came the breath of the garden lilies. She sat with wide, unseeing eyes; the mind exercising its own vision. It gazed upon the bivouac of the horse artillery; it saw the two days ago battle; and it saw tomorrow's march. It saw the moving guns, and heard the rumbling of them; saw the column of horse and heard the tread, marched side by side with that gunner of the horse artillery. Mists arose and blurred. There was a transition. Judith's mind left the South. It travelled under Northern skies; it sought out and entered Northern prisons. It saw Maury Stafford; saw him walking, walking, a stockaded yard, or standing, standing, before a barred window, looking out, looking up to the stars that shone over Virginia. . . . The prisons, the prisons, North and South, the prisons! Judith fell to shuddering. "O God -- O God! Even our enemy show him mercy!"
Off in the distance a whip-poor-will was calling. The sound was ineffably mournful; the whole night saddened and saddened. The odour of the lilies laid waxen fingers upon the heart. The high, bare sky was worse than a vault hung with clouds. The light wind came like the sigh of an overladen heart. Judith moved, sank forward on the window seat, and wept.