AN ECHO OF ANTIETAM
By Edward Bellamy
The air was tremulous with farewells. The regiment, recruited within sight
of the steeples of Waterville, and for three months in camp just outside
the city, was to march the next morning. A series of great battles had
weakened the Federal armies, and the authorities at Washington had ordered
all available men to the front.
The camp was to be broken up at an early hour, after which the regiment
would march through the city to the depot to take the cars. The streets
along the route of the march were already being decorated with flags and
garlands. The city that afternoon was full of soldiers enjoying their last
leave of absence. The liquor shops were crowded with parties of them
drinking with their friends, while others in threes and fours, with locked
arms, paraded the streets singing patriotic songs, sometimes in rather
maudlin voices, for to-day in every saloon a soldier might enter, citizens
vied for the privilege of treating him to the best in the house. No man in
a blue coat was suffered to pay for anything.
For the most part, however, the men were sober enough over their
leave-taking. One saw everywhere soldiers and civilians, strolling in
pairs, absorbed in earnest talk. They are brothers, maybe, who have come
away from the house to be alone with each other, while they talk of family
affairs and exchange last charges and promises as to what is to be done if
anything happens. Or perhaps they are business partners, and the one who
has put the country's business before his own is giving his last counsels
as to how the store or the shop shall be managed in his absence. Many of
the blue-clad men have women with them, and these are the couples that the
people oftenest turn to look at. The girl who has a soldier lover is the
envy of her companions to-day as she walks by his side. Her proud eyes
challenge all who come, saying, "See, this is my hero. I am the one he
You could easily tell when it was a wife and not a sweetheart whom the
soldier had with him. There was no challenge in the eyes of the wife.
Young romance shed none of its glamour on the sacrifice she was making for
her native land. It was only because they could not bear to sit any longer
looking at each other in the house that she and her husband had come out
In the residence parts of the town family groups were gathered on shady
piazzas, a blue-coated figure the centre of each. They were trying to talk
cheerfully, making an effort even to laugh a little.
Now and then one of the women stole unobserved from the circle, but her
bravely smiling face as she presently returned gave no inkling of the
flood of tears that had eased her heart in some place apart. The young
soldier himself was looking a little pale and nervous with all his
affected good spirits, and it was safe to guess that he was even then
thinking how often this scene would come before him afterwards, by the
camp-fire and on the eve of battle.
In the village of Upton, some four or five miles out of Waterville, on a
broad piazza at the side of a house on the main street, a group of four
persons were seated around a tea-table.
The centre of interest of this group, as of so many others that day, was a
soldier. He looked not over twenty-five, with dark blue eyes, dark hair
cut close to his head, and a mustache trimmed crisply in military fashion.
His uniform set off to advantage an athletic figure of youthful
slender-ness, and his bronzed complexion told of long days of practice on
the drill-ground in the school of the company and the battalion. He wore
the shoulder-straps of a second lieutenant.
On one side of the soldier sat the Rev. Mr. Morton, his cousin, and on the
other Miss Bertha Morton, a kindly faced, middle-aged lady, who was her
brother's housekeeper and the hostess of this occasion.
The fourth member of the party was a girl of nineteen or twenty. She was a
very pretty girl, and although to-day her pallid cheeks and red and
swollen eyelids would to other eyes have detracted somewhat from her
charms, it was certain that they did not make her seem less adorable to
the young officer, for he was her lover, and was to march with the
regiment in the morning.
Lieutenant Philip King was a lawyer, and by perseverance and native
ability had worked up a fair practice for so young a man in and around
Upton. When he volunteered, he had to make up his mind to leave this
carefully gathered clientage to scatter, or to be filched from him by less
patriotic rivals; but it may be well believed that this seemed to him a
little thing compared with leaving Grace Roberts, with the chance of never
returning to make her his wife. If, indeed, it had been for him to say, he
would have placed his happiness beyond hazard by marrying her before the
regiment marched; nor would she have been averse, but her mother, an
invalid widow, took a sensible rather than a sentimental view of the case.
If he were killed, she said, a wife would do him no good; and if he came
home again, Grace would be waiting for him, and that ought to satisfy a
reasonable man. It had to satisfy an unreasonable one. The Robertses had
always lived just beyond the garden from the parsonage, and Grace, who
from a little girl had been a great pet of the childless minister and his
sister, was almost as much at home there as in her mother's house. When
Philip fell in love with her, the Mortons were delighted. They could have
wished nothing better for either. From the first Miss Morton had done all
she could to make matters smooth for the lovers, and the present little
farewell banquet was but the last of many meetings she had prepared for
them at the parsonage.
Philip had come out from camp on a three-hours' leave that afternoon, and
would have to report again at half-past seven. It was nearly that hour
now, though still light, the season being midsummer. There had been an
effort on the part of all to keep up a cheerful tone; but as the time of
the inevitable separation drew near, the conversation had been more and
more left to the minister and his sister, who, with observations sometimes
a little forced, continued to fend off silence and the demoralization it
would be likely to bring to their young friends. Grace had been the first
to drop out of the talking, and Philip's answers, when he was addressed,
grew more and more at random, as the meetings of his eyes with his
sweetheart's became more frequent and lasted longer.
"He will be the handsomest officer in the regiment, that's one comfort.
Won't he, Grace?" said Miss Morton cheerily.
The girl nodded and smiled faintly. Her eyes were brimming, and the
twitching of her lips from time to time betrayed how great was the effort
with which she kept her self-command.
"Yes," said Mr. Morton; "but though he looks very well now, it is nothing
to the imposing appearance he will present when he comes back with a
colonel's shoulder-straps. You should be thinking of that, Grace."
"I expect we shall hear from him every day," said Miss Morton. "He will
have no excuse for not writing with all those envelopes stamped and
addressed, with blank paper in them, which Grace has given him. You should
always have three or four in your coat pocket, Phil."
The young man nodded.
"I suppose for the most part we shall learn of you through Grace; but you
mustn't forget us entirely, my boy," said Mr. Morton. "We shall want to
hear from you directly now and then."
"Yes; I 'll be sure to write," Philip replied.
"I suppose it will be time enough to see the regiment pass if we are in
our places by nine o'clock," suggested Miss Morton, after a silence.
"I think so," said her brother. "It is a great affair to break camp, and I
don't believe the march will begin till after that time."
"James has got us one of the windows of Ray & Seymour's offices, you
know, Philip," resumed Miss Morton; "which one did you say, James?"
"The north one."
"Yes, the north one," she resumed. "They say every window on Main Street
along the route of the regiment is rented. Grace will be with us, you
know. You must n't forget to look up at us as you go by—as if the
young man were likely to!"
He was evidently not now listening to her at all. His eyes were fastened
upon the girl's opposite him, and they seemed to have quite forgotten the
others. Miss Morton and her brother exchanged compassionate glances. Tears
were in the lady's eyes. A clock in the sitting-room began to strike:
"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven."
"What time is that?" he asked, a little huskily. No one replied at once.
Then Mr. Morton said:
"I am afraid it struck seven, my boy."
"I must leave in ten minutes then," said the young man, rising from the
table. The rest followed his example.
"I wonder if the buggy will be in time?" said he.
"It is at the gate," replied Miss Morton. "I heard it drive up some time
Unmindful of the others now, Philip put his arm about Grace's waist and
drew her away to the end of the piazza and thence out into the garden.
"Poor young things," murmured Miss Morton, the tears running down her
cheeks as she looked after them. "It is pitiful, James, to see how they
"Yes," said the minister; "and there are a great many just such scenes
to-day. Ah, well, as St. Paul says, we see as yet but in part."
Passing in and out among the shrubbery, and presently disappearing from
the sympathetic eyes upon the piazza, the lovers came to a little
summer-house, and there they entered. Taking her wrists in his hands, he
held her away from him, and his eyes went slowly over her from head to
foot, as if he would impress upon his mind an image that absence should
not have power to dim.
"You are so beautiful," he said, "that in this moment, when I ought to
have all my courage, you make me feel that I am a madman to leave you for
the sake of any cause on earth. The future to most men is but a chance of
happiness, and when they risk it they only risk a chance. In staking their
lives, they only stake a lottery ticket, which would probably draw a
blank. But my ticket has drawn a capital prize. I risk not the chance, but
the certainty, of happiness. I believe I am a fool, and if I am killed,
that will be the first thing they will say to me on the other side."
"Don't talk of that, Phil. Oh, don't talk of being killed!"
"No, no; of course not!" he exclaimed. "Don't fret about that; I shall not
be killed. I've no notion of being killed. But what a fool I am to waste
these last moments staring at you when I might be kissing you, my love, my
love!" And clasping her in his arms, he covered her face with kisses.
She began to sob convulsively.
"Don't, darling; don't! Don't make it so hard for me," he whispered
"Oh, do let me cry," she wailed. "It was so hard for me to hold back all
the time we were at table. I must cry, or my heart will break. Oh, my own
dear Phil, what if I should never see you again! Oh! Oh!"
"Nonsense, darling," he said, crowding down the lump that seemed like iron
in his throat, and making a desperate effort to keep his voice steady.
"You will see me again, never doubt it. Don't I tell you I am coming back?
The South cannot hold out much longer. Everybody says so. I shall be home
in a year, and then you will be my wife, to be God's Grace to me all the
rest of my life. Our happiness will be on interest till then; ten per
cent, a month at least, compound interest, piling up every day. Just think
of that, dear; don't let yourself think of anything else."
"Oh, Phil, how I love you!" she cried, throwing her arms around his neck
in a passion of tenderness. "Nobody is like you. Nobody ever was. Surely
God will not part us. Surely He will not. He is too good."
"No, dear, He will not. Some day I shall come back. It will not be long.
Perhaps I shall find you waiting for me in this same little summer-house.
Let us think of that. It was here, you know, we found out each other's
secret that day."
"I had found out yours long before," she said, faintly smiling.
"Time 's up, Phil." It was Mr. Morton's voice calling to them from the
"I must go, darling. Good-by."
"Oh, no, not yet; not quite yet," she wailed, clinging to him. "Why, we
have been here but a few moments. It can't be ten minutes yet."
Under the influence of that close, passionate embrace, those clinging
kisses and mingling tears, there began to come over Philip a feeling of
weakness, of fainting courage, a disposition to cry out, "Nothing can be
so terrible as this. I will not bear it; I will not go." By a tyrannical
effort of will, against which his whole nature cried out, he unwound her
arms from his neck and said in a choked voice:—
"Darling, this is harder than any battle I shall have to fight, but this
is what I enlisted for. I must go."
He had reached the door of the summer-house, not daring for honor's sake
to look back, when a heartbroken cry smote his ear.
"You have n't kissed me good-by!"
He had kissed her a hundred times, but these kisses she apparently
distinguished from the good-by kiss. He came back, and taking her again in
his embrace, kissed her lips, her throat, her bosom, and then once more
their lips met, and in that kiss of parting which plucks the heart up by
How strong must be the barrier between one soul and another that they do
not utterly merge in moments like that, turning the agony of parting to
the bliss of blended being!
Pursued by the sound of her desolate sobbing, he fled away.
The stable-boy held the dancing horse at the gate, and Mr. Morton and his
sister stood waiting there.
"Good-by, Phil, till we see you again," said Miss Morton, kissing him
tenderly. "We 'll take good care of her for you."
"Will you please go to her now?" he said huskily. "She is in the
summer-house. For God's sake try to comfort her."
"Yes, poor boy, I will," she answered. He shook hands with Mr. Morton and
jumped into the buggy.
"I 'll get a furlough and be back in a few months, maybe. Be sure to tell
her that," he said.
The stable-boy stood aside; the mettlesome horse gave a plunge and started
off at a three-minute gait. The boy drew out his watch and observed: "He
hain't got but fifteen minutes to git to camp in, but he 'll do it. The
mare 's a stepper, and Phil King knows how to handle the ribbons."
The buggy vanished in a cloud of dust around the next turn in the road.
The stable-boy strode whistling down the street, the minister went to his
study, and Miss Morton disappeared in the shrubbery in the direction of
Early next morning the country roads leading into Waterville were covered
with carts and wagons and carriages loaded with people coming into town to
see the regiment off. The streets were hung with flags and spanned with
decorated arches bearing patriotic inscriptions. Bed, white, and blue
streamers hung in festoons from building to building and floated from
cornices. The stores and places of business were all closed, the sidewalks
were packed with people in their Sunday clothes, and the windows and
balconies were lined with gazers long before it was time for the regiment
to appear. Everybody—men, women, and children —wore the
national colors in cockades or rosettes, while many young girls were
dressed throughout in red, white, and blue. The city seemed tricked out
for some rare gala-day, but the grave faces of the expectant throng, and
the subdued and earnest manner which extended even to the older children,
stamped this as no ordinary holiday.
After hours of patient waiting, at last the word passes from mouth to
mouth, "They are coming!" Vehicles are quickly driven out of the way, and
in a general hush all eyes are turned towards the head of the street.
Presently there is a burst of martial music, and the regiment comes
wheeling round the corner into view and fills the wide street from curb to
curb with its broad front. As the blue river sweeps along, the rows of
polished bayonets, rising and falling with the swinging tread of the men,
are like interminable ranks of foam-crested waves rolling in upon the
shore. The imposing mass, with its rhythmic movement, gives the impression
of a single organism. One forgets to look for the individuals in it,
forgets that there are individuals. Even those who have brothers, sons,
lovers there, for a moment almost forget them in the impression of a
mighty whole. The mind is slow to realize that this great dragon, so
terrible in its beauty, emitting light as it moves from a thousand
burnished scales, with flaming crest proudly waving in the van, is but an
aggregation of men singly so feeble.
The hearts of the lookers-on as they gaze are swelling fast. An afflatus
of heroism given forth by this host of self-devoted men communicates
itself to the most stolid spectators. The booming of the drum fills the
brain, and the blood in the veins leaps to its rhythm. The unearthly
gayety of the fife, like the sweet, shrill song of a bird soaring above
the battle, infects the nerves till the idea of death brings a scornful
smile to the lips. Eyes glaze with rapturous tears as they rest upon the
flag. There is a thrill of voluptuous sweetness in the thought of dying
for it. Life seems of value only as it gives the poorest something to
sacrifice. It is dying that makes the glory of the world, and all other
employments seem but idle while the regiment passes.
The time for farewells is gone by. The lucky men at the ends of the ranks
have indeed an opportunity without breaking step to exchange an occasional
hand-shake with a friend on the sidewalk, or to snatch a kiss from wife or
sweetheart, but those in the middle of the line can only look their
farewells. Now and then a mother intrusts her baby to a file-leader to be
passed along from hand to hand till it reaches the father, to be sent back
with a kiss, or, maybe, perched aloft on his shoulder, to ride to the
depot, crowing at the music and clutching at the gleaming bayonets. At
every such touch of nature the people cheer wildly. From every window and
balcony the ladies shower garlands upon the troops.
Where is Grace? for this is the Upton company which is passing now. Yonder
she stands on a balcony, between Mr. Morton and his sister. She is very
pale and the tears are streaming down her cheeks, but her face is radiant.
She is smiling through her tears, as if there was no such thing on earth
as fear or sorrow. She has looked forward to this ordeal with harrowing
expectations, only to find herself at the trying moment seized upon and
lifted above all sense of personal affliction by the passion of
self-devotion with which the air is electric. Her face as she looks down
upon her lover is that of a priestess in the ecstasy of sacrifice. He is
saluting with his sword. Now he has passed. With a great sob she turns
away. She does not care for the rest of the pageant. Her patriotism has
suddenly gone. The ecstasy of sacrifice is over. She is no longer a
priestess, but a brokenhearted girl, who only asks to be led away to some
place where she can weep till her lover returns.
There was to be a great battle the next day. The two armies had been long
manoeuvring for position, and now they stood like wrestlers who have
selected their holds and, with body braced against body, knee against
knee, wait for the signal to begin the struggle. There had been during the
afternoon some brisk fighting, but a common desire to postpone the
decisive contest till the morrow had prevented the main forces from
becoming involved. Philip's regiment had thus far only been engaged in a
few trifling skirmishes, barely enough to stir the blood. This was to be
its first battle, and the position to which it had been allotted promised
a bloody baptism in the morning. The men were in excellent heart, but as
night settled down, there was little or no merriment to be heard about the
camp-fires. Most were gathered in groups, discussing in low tones the
chances of the morrow. Some, knowing that every fibre of muscle would be
needed for the work before them, had wisely gone to sleep, while here and
there a man, heedless of the talk going on about him, was lying on his
back staring up at the darkening sky, thinking.
As the twilight deepened, Philip strolled to the top of a little knoll
just out of the camp and sat down, with a vague notion of casting up
accounts a little in view of the final settlement which very possibly
might come for him next day. But the inspiration of the scene around him
soon diverted his mind from personal engrossments. Some distance down the
lines he could see the occasional flash of a gun, where a battery was
lazily shelling a piece of woods which it was desirable to keep the enemy
from occupying during the night. A burning barn in that direction made a
flare on the sky. Over behind the wooded hills where the Confederates lay,
rockets were going up, indicating the exchange of signals and the
perfecting of plans which might mean defeat and ruin to him and his the
next day. Behind him, within the Federal lines, clouds of dust, dimly
outlined against the glimmering landscape, betrayed the location of the
roads along which artillery, cavalry, infantry were hurrying eagerly
forward to take their assigned places for the morrow's work.
Who said that men fear death? Who concocted that fable for old wives? He
should have stood that night with Philip in the midst of a host of one
hundred and twenty-five thousand men in the full flush and vigor of life,
calmly and deliberately making ready at dawn to receive death in its most
horrid forms at one another's hands. It is in vain that Religion invests
the tomb with terror, and Philosophy, shuddering, averts her face; the
nations turn from these gloomy teachers to storm its portals in exultant
hosts, battering them wide enough for thousands to charge through abreast.
The heroic instinct of humanity with its high contempt of death is wiser
and truer, never let us doubt, than superstitious terrors or philosophic
doubts. It testifies to a conviction, deeper than reason, that man is
greater than his seeming self; to an underlying consciousness that his
mortal life is but an accident of his real existence, the fashion of a
day, to be lightly worn and gayly doffed at duty's call.
What a pity it truly is that the tonic air of battlefields—the air
that Philip breathed that night before Antietam—cannot be gathered
up and preserved as a precious elixir to reinvigorate the atmosphere in
times of peace, when men grow faint of heart and cowardly, and quake at
thought of death.
The soldiers huddled in their blankets on the ground slept far more
soundly that night before the battle than their men-folk and women-folk in
their warm beds at home. For them it was a night of watching, a vigil of
prayers and tears. The telegraph in those days made of the nation an
intensely sensitive organism, with nerves a thousand miles long. Ere its
echoes had died away, every shot fired at the front had sent a tremor to
the anxious hearts at home. The newspapers and bulletin boards in all the
towns and cities of the North had announced that a great battle would
surely take place the next day, and, as the night closed in, a mighty
cloud of prayer rose from innumerable firesides, the self-same prayer from
each, that he who had gone from that home might survive the battle,
whoever else must fall.
The wife, lest her own appeal might fail, taught her cooing baby to lisp
the father's name, thinking that surely the Great Father's heart would not
be able to resist a baby's prayer. The widowed mother prayed that if it
were consistent with God's will he would spare her son. She laid her
heart, pierced through with many sorrows, before Him. She had borne so
much, life had been so hard, her boy was all she had to show for so much
endured,—might not this cup pass? Pale, impassioned maids, kneeling
by their virgin beds, wore out the night with an importunity that would
not be put off. Sure in their great love and their little knowledge that
no case could be like theirs, they beseeched God with bitter weeping for
their lovers' lives, because, forsooth, they could not bear it if hurt
came to them. The answers to many thousands of these agonizing appeals of
maid and wife and mother were already in the enemy's cartridge-boxes.
The day came. The dispatches in the morning papers stated that the armies
would probably be engaged from an early hour.
Who that does not remember those battle-summers can realize from any
telling how the fathers and mothers, the wives and sisters and sweethearts
at home, lived through the days when it was known that a great battle was
going on at the front in which their loved ones were engaged? It was very
quiet in the house on those days of battle. All spoke in hushed voices and
stepped lightly. The children, too small to understand the meaning of the
shadow on the home, felt it and took their noisy sports elsewhere. There
was little conversation, except as to when definite news might be
expected. The household work dragged sadly, for though the women sought
refuge from thought in occupation, they were constantly dropping whatever
they had in hand to rush away to their chambers to face the presentiment,
perhaps suddenly borne in upon them with the force of a conviction, that
they might be called on to bear the worst. The table was set for the
regular meals, but there was little pretense of eating. The eyes of all
had a far-off expression, and they seemed barely to see one another. There
was an intent, listening look upon their faces, as if they were hearkening
to the roar of the battle a thousand miles away.
Many pictures of battles have been painted, but no true one yet, for the
pictures contain only men. The women are unaccountably left out. We ought
to see not alone the opposing lines of battle writhing and twisting in a
death, embrace, the batteries smoking and flaming, the hurricanes of
cavalry, but innumerable women also, spectral forms of mothers, wives,
sweethearts, clinging about the necks of the advancing soldiers, vainly
trying to shield them with their bosoms, extending supplicating hands to
the foe, raising eyes of anguish to Heaven. The soldiers, grim-faced, with
battle-lighted eyes, do not see the ghostly forms that throng them, but
shoot and cut and stab across and through them as if they were not there,—yes,
through them, for few are the balls and bayonets that reach their marks
without traversing some of these devoted breasts. Spectral, alas, is their
guardianship, but real are their wounds and deadly as any the combatants
Soon after breakfast on the day of the battle Grace came across to the
parsonage, her swollen eyes and pallid face telling of a sleepless night.
She could not bear her mother's company that day, for she knew that she
had never greatly liked Philip. Miss Morton was very tender and
sympathetic. Grace was a little comforted by Mr. Morton's saying that
commonly great battles did not open much before noon. It was a respite to
be able to think that probably up to that moment at least no harm had come
to Philip. In the early afternoon the minister drove into Waterville to
get the earliest bulletins at the "Banner" office, leaving the two women
The latter part of the afternoon a neighbor who had been in Waterville
drove by the house, and Miss Morton called to him to know if there were
any news yet. He drew a piece of paper from his pocket, on which he had
scribbled the latest bulletin before the "Banner" office, and read as
follows: "The battle opened with a vigorous attack by our right. The enemy
was forced back, stubbornly contesting every inch of ground. General
———'s division is now bearing the brunt of the fight and
is suffering heavily. The result is yet uncertain."
The division mentioned was the one in which Philip's regiment was
included. "Is suffering heavily,"—those were the words. There was
something fearful in the way the present tense brought home to Grace a
sense of the battle as then actually in progress. It meant that while she
sat there on the shady piazza with the drowsy hum of the bees in her ears,
looking out on the quiet lawn where the house cat, stretched on the grass,
kept a sleepy eye on the birds as they flitted in the branches of the
apple-trees, Philip might be facing a storm of lead and iron, or, maybe,
blent in some desperate hand-to-hand struggle, was defending his life—her
life—against murderous cut and thrust.
To begin to pray for his safety was not to dare to cease, for to cease
would be to withdraw a sort of protection—all, alas I she could give
—and abandon him to his enemies. If she had been watching over him
from above the battle, an actual witness of the carnage going on that
afternoon on the far-off field, she could scarcely have endured a more
harrowing suspense from moment to moment. Overcome with the agony, she
threw herself on the sofa in the sitting-room and lay quivering, with her
face buried in the pillow, while Miss Morton sat beside her, stroking her
hair and saying such feeble, soothing words as she might.
It is always hard, and for ardent temperaments almost impossible, to hold
the mind balanced in a state of suspense, yielding overmuch neither to
hope nor to fear, under circumstances like these. As a relief to the
torture which such a state of tension ends in causing, the mind at length,
if it cannot abandon itself to hope, embraces even despair. About five
o'clock Miss Morton was startled by an exceeding bitter cry. Grace was
sitting upon the sofa. "Oh, Miss Morton!" she cried, bursting into tears
which before she had not been able to shed, "he is dead!"
"Grace! Grace! what do you mean?"
"He is dead, I know he is dead!" wailed the girl; and then she explained
that while from moment to moment she had sent up prayers for him, every
breath a cry to God, she suddenly had been unable to pray more, and this
she felt was a sign that petition for his life was now vain. Miss Morton
strove to convince her that this was but an effect of overwrought nerves,
but with slight success.
In the early evening Mr. Morton returned with the latest news the
telegraph had brought. The full scope of the result was not yet known. The
advantage had probably remained with the National forces, although the
struggle had been one of those close and stubborn ones, with scanty
laurels for the victors, to be expected when men of one race meet in
battle. The losses on both sides had been enormous, and the report was
confirmed that Philip's division had been badly cut up.
The parsonage was but one of thousands of homes in the land where no lamps
were lighted that evening, the members of the household sitting together
in the dark,—silent, or talking in low tones of the far-away
star-lighted battlefield, the anguish of the wounded, the still heaps of
Nevertheless, when at last Grace went home she was less entirely
despairing than in the afternoon. Mr. Morton, in his calm, convincing way,
had shown her the groundlessness of her impression that Philip was
certainly dead, and had enabled her again to entertain hope. It no longer
rose, indeed, to the height of a belief that he had escaped wholly
scathless. In face of the terrible tidings, that would have been too
presumptuous. But perhaps he had been only wounded. Yesterday the thought
would have been insupportable, but now she was eager to make this
compromise with Providence. She was distinctly affected by the curious
superstition that if we voluntarily concede something to fate, while yet
the facts are not known, we gain a sort of equitable assurance against a
worse thing. It was settled, she told herself, that she was not to be
overcome or even surprised to hear that Philip was wounded,—slightly
wounded. She was no better than other women, that he should be wholly
The paper next morning gave many names of officers who had fallen, but
Philip's was not among them. The list was confessedly incomplete;
nevertheless, the absence of his name was reassuring. Grace went across
the garden after breakfast to talk with Miss Morton about the news and the
auspicious lack of news. Her friend's cheerful tone infused her with fresh
courage. To one who has despaired, a very little hope goes to the head Eke
wine to the brain of a faster, and, though still very tremulous, Grace
could even smile a little now and was almost cheerful. Secretly already
she was beginning to play false with fate, and, in flat repudiation of her
last night's compact, to indulge the hope that her soldier had not been
even wounded. But this was only at the bottom of her heart. She did not
own to herself that she really did it. She felt a little safer not to
break the bargain yet.
About eleven o'clock in the forenoon Mr. Morton came in. His start and
look of dismay on seeing Grace indicated that he had expected to find his
sister alone. He hastily attempted to conceal an open telegram which he
held in his hand, but it was too late. Grace had already seen it, and
whatever the tidings it might contain, there was no longer any question of
holding them back or extenuating them. Miss Morton, after one look at her
brother's face, silently came to the girl's side and put her arms around
her waist. "Christ, our Saviour," she murmured, "for thy name's sake, help
her now." Then the minister said:—
"Try to be brave, try to bear it worthily of him; for, my poor little
girl, your sacrifice has been accepted. He fell in a charge at the head of
Philip's body was brought home for burial, and the funeral was a great
event in the village. Business of all kinds was suspended, and all the
people united in making of the day a solemn patriotic festival. Mr. Morton
preached the funeral sermon.
"Oh, talk about the country," sobbed Grace, when he asked her if there was
anything in particular she would like him to speak of.
"For pity's sake don't let me feel sorry now that I gave him up for the
Union. Don't leave me now to think it would have been better if I had not
let him go."
So he preached of the country, as ministers sometimes did preach in those
days, making it very plain that in a righteous cause men did well to die
for their native land and their women did well to give them up. Expounding
the lofty wisdom of self-sacrifice, he showed how truly it was said that
"whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his
life... shall find it," and how none make such rich profit out of their
lives as the heroes who seem to throw them away.
They had come, he told the assembled people, to mourn no misadventure, no
misfortune; this dead soldier was not pitiable. He was no victim of a
tear-compelling fate. No broken shaft typified his career. He was rather
one who had done well for himself, a wise young merchant of his blood, who
having seen a way to barter his life at incredible advantage, at no less a
rate indeed than a man's for a nation's, had not let slip so great an
So he went on, still likening the life of a man to the wares of a
shopkeeper, worth to him only what they can be sold for and a loss if
overkept, till those who listened began to grow ill at ease in presence of
that flag-draped coffin, and were vaguely troubled because they still
Then he spoke of those who had been bereaved. This soldier, he said, like
his comrades, had staked for his country not only his own life but the
earthly happiness of others also, having been fully empowered by them to
do so. Some had staked with their own lives the happiness of parents, some
that of wives and children, others maybe the hopes of maidens pledged to
them. In offering up their lives to their country they had laid with them
upon the altar these other lives which were bound up with theirs, and the
same fire of sacrifice had consumed them both. A few days before, in the
storm of battle, those who had gone forth had fulfilled their share of the
joint sacrifice. In a thousand homes, with tears and the anguish of
breaking hearts, those who had sent them forth were that day fulfilling
theirs. Let them now in their extremity seek support in the same spirit of
patriotic devotion which had upheld their heroes in the hour of death. As
they had been lifted above fear by the thought that it was for their
country they were dying, not less should those who mourned them find
inspiration in remembering it was for the nation's sake that their tears
were shed, and for the country that their hearts were broken. It had been
appointed that half in blood of men and half in women's tears the ransom
of the people should be paid, so that their sorrow was not in vain, but
for the healing of the nation.
It behooved these, therefore, to prove worthy of their high calling of
martyrdom, and while they must needs weep, not to weep as other women
wept, with hearts bowed down, but rather with uplifted faces, adopting and
ratifying, though it might be with breaking hearts, this exchange they had
made of earthly happiness for the life of their native land. So should
they honor those they mourned, and be joined with them not only in
sacrifice but in the spirit of sacrifice.
So it was in response to the appeal of this stricken girl before him that
the minister talked of the country, and to such purpose was it that the
piteous thing she had dreaded, the feeling, now when it was forever too
late, that it would have been better if she had kept her lover back, found
no place in her heart. There was, indeed, had she known it, no danger at
all that she would be left to endure that, so long as she dreaded it, for
the only prayer that never is unanswered is the prayer to be lifted above
self. So to pray and so to wish is but to cease to resist the divine
gravitations ever pulling at the soul. As the minister discoursed of the
mystic gain of self-sacrifice, the mystery of which he spoke was fulfilled
in her heart. She appeared to stand in some place overarching life t and
death, and there was made partaker of an exultation whereof if religion
and philosophy might but catch and hold the secret, their ancient quest
Grazing through streaming eyes upon the coffin of her lover, she was able
freely to consent to the sacrifice of her own life which he had made in
giving up his own.