The Shades of the Wilderness by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter X. The Missing Paper
Harry and Dalton did not awake until late the next morning and they found they had not suffered at all from sleeping between four walls and under a roof. Their lungs were full of fresh air, and youth with all its joyous irresponsibility had come back. Harry sprang out of bed.
"Up! up! old boy!" Harry cried to Dalton. "Don't you hear the bugles calling? not to battle but to pleasure! There is no enemy in our front! We don't have to cross a river with an overwhelming army pressing down upon us! We don't have to ride before the dawn on a scout which may lead us into a thicket full of hostile riflemen. We're in a city, boy, and our business now is beauty and pleasure!"
"Harry," said Dalton, "you ought to go far."
"Why, George? What induces you to assume the role of a prophet concerning me?"
"Because you're so full of life. You're so keen about everything. You must have a heart and lungs of extra steam power."
"But I notice you don't say anything about brain power. Maybe you think it's the quiet, rather silent fellows like yourself, George, who have an excess of that."
"None of your irony. Am I not looking forward to this ball as much as you are? I was a boy when I entered the war, Harry, but two years of fighting day and night age one terribly. I feel as if I could patronize any woman under twenty-five, and treat her as quite a simple young thing."
"Try it, George, and see what happens to you."
"Oh, no! I merely said I felt that way. I've too much sense to put it into action."
"Do you know, George, that when this war is over it will be really time for us to be thinking about girls. We'll be quite old enough. They say that many of the Yankee maidens in Philadelphia and New York are fine for looks. I wonder if they'll cast a favoring eye on young Southern officers as our conquering armies go marching down their streets!"
"It's too remote. Don't think about it, Harry. Richmond will do us for the present."
"But you can let a fellow project his mind into the future."
"Not so far that we'll be marching as conquerors through Philadelphia and New York. Let's deal with realities."
"I've always thought there was something of the Yankee about you, George, not in political principles--I never question your devotion to the cause-- but in calculating, weighing everything and deciding in favor of the one that weighs an ounce the most."
"Are you about through dressing? You've taken a minute longer than the regular time."
There was a knock at the door, and, when Dalton opened it a few inches, a black head announced through the crack that breakfast was ready.
"See what a disgrace you're bringing upon us," said Dalton. "Delaying everything. Mrs. Lanham will say that we're two impostors, that such malingerers cannot possibly belong to the Army of Northern Virginia."
"Lead on," said Harry. "I'm ready, and I'm hungry as every soldier in the Southern army always is."
They had a warm greeting from their hospitable hosts, followed by an abundant breakfast. Then at Mrs. Lanham's earnest solicitation they turned over their dress uniforms to her to be repaired and pressed. Then they went out into the streets again, and spent the whole day rambling about, enjoying everything with the keen and intense delight that can come only to the young, and after long abstinence. Richmond was not depressed. Far from it. There had been a wonderful transformation since those dark days when the army of McClellan was near enough to see the spires of its churches. The flood of battle had rolled far away since then, and it had never come back. It could never come back. It was true that the Army of Northern Virginia had failed at Gettysburg, but it was returning to the South unassailed, and was ready to repeat its former splendid achievements.
Harry went to the post office, and found there, to his great surprise and delight, a letter from his father, written three or four days after Vicksburg.
My dear son: [he wrote]
The news has just come to us that the Army of Northern Virginia, while performing prodigies of valor, has failed to carry all the Northern positions at Gettysburg. Only complete success could warrant a further advance. I assume therefore that General Lee is retreating and I assume also that you, Harry, my beloved son, are alive, that you came unharmed out of that terrible battle. It does not seem possible to me that it could be otherwise. I cannot conceive of you fallen. It may be that it's because you are my son. The sons of others may fall, but not mine, just as we know that all others are doomed to die, but get into the habit of thinking ourselves immortal. So, I address this letter to you in the full belief that it will reach you somewhere, and that you will read it.
You know, of course, of our great loss at Vicksburg. It is disastrous but not irreparable. We still have a powerful army in the West, hardy, indomitable, one with which the enemy will have to reckon. As for myself I have been spared in many battles and I am well. It seems the sport of chance that you and I, while fighting on the same side, should have been separated in this war, you in the East and I in the West. But it has been done by One who knows best, and after all I am glad that you have been in such close contact with two of the greatest and highest-minded soldiers of the ages, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. I do not think of them merely as soldiers, but as knights and champions with flaming swords. One of them, alas! is gone, but we have the other, and if man can conquer he will. Here in the West we repose our faith in Lee, as surely as do you in the East, you who see his face and hear his voice every day.
I have had two or three letters from Pendleton. That part of the State is for the present outside the area of conflict, though I hear that the guerilla bands to the east in the mountains still vex and annoy, and that Skelly is growing bolder. I foresee the time when we shall have to reckon with this man, who is a mere brigand.
I hear that the prospects for fruit in our orchards were never finer. You will remember how you prowled in them when you were a little boy, Harry, and what a pirate you were among the apples and peaches and pears and good things that grew on tree and bush and briar in that beautiful old commonwealth of ours. I often upbraided you then, but I should like to see you now, far out on a bough as of old, reaching for a big yellow pear, or a red, red bunch of cherries! Alas! there are many lads who will never return, who will never see the pear trees and the cherry trees again, but I repeat I cannot feel that you will be among them. Who would ever have dreamed when this war began that it could go so far? More than two years of fierce and deadly battles and I can see no end. A deadlock and neither side willing to yield! How glad would be the men who made the war to see both sections back where they were two and a half years ago! and that's no treason.
Water rose in Harry's eyes. He knew how terribly his father's heart had been torn by the quarrel between North and South, and that he had thoughts which he did not tell to his son. Harry was beginning at last to think some of the same thoughts himself. If the South succeeded, then, after the war, what? Another war later on or reunion.
The rest of the letter was wholly personal, and in the end it directed Harry, when writing to him, to address his letters care of the Western Army under General Bragg. Harry was moved and he responded at once. He went to the hotel in which he had met the young men who constituted the leading lights in what was called the Mosaic Club, and, securing writing materials, made a long reply, which he posted with every hope that it would soon reach its destination.
Early in the evening he rejoined Dalton at the house of the Lanhams and they found that Mrs. Lanham had done wonders with their best uniforms. When they were dressed in them they felt that it was no harder to charge the Curtis house than to rush a battery.
"You young men go early," said Mr. Lanham. "Mrs. Lanham and I will appear later."
They departed, daring to practice their dance steps in the street to the delight of small boys who did not hesitate to chaff them. But Harry and Dalton did not care. They answered the chaff in kind, and soon approached the Curtis home, all the windows of which were blazing with light.
The house stood in extensive grounds, and lofty white pillars gave it an imposing appearance. Guests were arriving fast. Most of the men were military, but there was a fair sprinkling of civilians nevertheless. The lads saw their friends of the Mosaic Club pass in just ahead of them, all dressed with extreme care. Generals and colonels and other officers were in most favor now, but these men, with their swift and incisive wit and their ability to talk well about everything, fully made up for the lack of uniform.
Harry and Dalton, before passing through the side gateway that led to the house, paused awhile to look at those who came. Many people, and they ranked among the best in Richmond, walked. They had sent all their horses to the front long ago to be ridden by cavalrymen or to draw cannon. Others, not so self-sacrificing, came in heavy carriages with negroes driving.
Harry noticed that in many cases the clothing of the men showed a little white at the seams, and there were cuffs the ends of which had been trimmed with great care. But it was these whom he respected most. He remembered that Virginia had not really wanted to go into the war, and that she had delayed long, but, being in it, she was making supreme sacrifices.
And there were many young girls who did not need elaborate dress. In their simple white or pink, often but cotton, their cheeks showing the delicate color that is possessed only by the girls in the border states of the South, they seemed very beautiful to Harry and George, who had known nothing but camps and armies so long.
It was the healthy admiration of the brave youth of one sex for the fair youth of the other, but there was in it a deeper note, too. Age can stand misfortune. Youth wonders why it is stricken, and Harry felt as they passed by, bright of face and soft of voice, that the clouds were gathering heavily over them.
But he was too young himself for the feeling to endure long. Dalton was proposing that they go in and they promptly joined the stream of entering guests. Randolph soon found them and presented them to Mrs. Curtis, a large woman of middle years, and dignified manner, related to nearly all the old families of Virginia, and a descendant of a collateral branch of the Washingtons. Her husband, William Curtis, seemed to be of a different type, a man of sixty, tall, thin and more reserved than most Southerners of his time. His thin lips were usually compressed and his pale blue eyes were lacking in warmth. But the long strong line of his jaw showed that he was a man of strength and decision.
"A Northern bough on a Southern tree," whispered Dalton, as they passed on. "He comes from some place up the valley and they say that the North itself has not his superior in financial skill."
"I did not warm to him at first," said Harry, "but I respect him. As you know, George, we've put too little stress upon his kind of ability. We'll need him and more like him when the Confederacy is established. We'll have to build ourselves up as a great power, and that's done by trade and manufactures more than by arms."
"It's so, Harry. But listen to that music!"
A band of four pieces placed behind flowers and shrubbery was playing. Here was no blare of trumpets or call of bugles. It was the music of the dance and the sentimental old songs of the South, nearly all of which had a sad and wailing note. Harry heard the four black men play the songs that he had heard Samuel Jarvis sing, deep in the Kentucky mountains, and his heart beat with an emotion that he could not understand. Was it a cry for peace? Did his soul tell him that an end should come to fighting? Then throbbed the music of the lines:
Soft o'er the fountain lingering falls the Southern moon Far o'er the mountain breaks the day too soon. In thy dark eyes' splendor, where the moonlight loves to dwell Weary looks, yet tender, speak their fond farewell. Nita, Juanita! Ask thy soul if we should part, Nita, Juanita! Lean thou on my heart!
The music of the sad old song throbbed and throbbed, and sank deep into Harry's heart. At another time he might not have been stirred, but at this moment he was responsive in every fiber. He saw once more the green wilderness, and he heard once more the mellow tones of the singer coming back in far echoes from the gorges.
"Nita, Juanita! Ask thy soul if we should part," hummed Dalton, but Harry was still far away in the green wilderness, listening to the singer of the mountains. Then the singer stopped suddenly, and he was listening once more to the startling prediction of the old, old woman:
"I am proud that our house has sheltered you, but it is not for the last time. You will come again, and you will be thin and pale and in rags, and you will fall at the door. I see you coming with these two eyes of mine."
That prediction had been made a long time ago, years since, it seemed, but whenever it returned to him, and it returned at most unexpected times, it lost nothing of its amazing vividness and power; rather they were increased. Could it be true that the supremely old had a vision or second sight? Then he rebuked himself angrily. There was nothing supernatural in this world.
"Wake up, Harry! What are you thinking about?" whispered Dalton sharply. "You seem to be dreaming, and here's a house full of pretty girls, with more than a half-dozen looking at you, the gallant young officer of the Army of Northern Virginia, the story of whose romantic exploits had already reached Richmond."
"I was dreaming and I apologize," said Harry. That minute in which he had seen so much, so far away, passed utterly, and in another minute both he and Dalton were dancing with Virginia girls, as fair as dreams to these two, who had looked so long only upon the tanned faces of soldiers.
Both he and Dalton were at home in a half-hour. People in the Old South then, as in the New South now, are closely united by ties of kinship which are acknowledged as far as they run. One is usually a member of a huge clan and has all the privileges that clanship can confer. Kentucky was the daughter of Virginia, and mother and daughter were fond of each other, as they are to-day.
After the third dance Harry was sitting with Rosamond Lawrence of Petersburg in a window seat. She was a slender blonde girl, and the dancing had made the pink in her cheeks deepen into a flush.
"You're from Kentucky, I know," said Miss Lawrence, "but you haven't yet told me your town."
"Pendleton. It's small but it's on the map. My father is a colonel in the Western army."
"Aren't you a Virginian by blood? Most all Kentuckians are."
"Partly. My great grandfather, though, was born in Maryland."
"What was his name, Lieutenant Kenton?"
"Henry Ware! Kentucky's first and greatest governor."
"Yes, he was my great grandfather. I'm proud to be his descendant."
"I should think you would be."
"But his wife, who was Lucy Upton, my great grandmother, was of Virginia blood, and all of the next two generations intermarried with people of Virginia stock."
"Then you are a Kentuckian and a Virginian, too. I knew it! You have a middle name, haven't you?"
"Will you tell me what it is?"
The girl laughed.
"Harry Cary Kenton. Why Cary is one of our best old Virginia names. Will you tell me too what was your mother's name before she was married?"
"Another. Oh, all this unravels finely. And what was your grandmother's name?"
"Nothing could be more Virginian than Brent. Oh, you're one of us, Lieutenant Kenton, a real Virginian of the true blood."
"And heart and soul too!" giving her one of his finest young military glances.
She laughed. It was only quick friendship between them and no more, and a half-hour later he was dancing with another Virginia girl, not so blonde, but just as handsome, and their talk was quite as friendly. Her name was Lockridge, and as they sat down near the musicians to rest, and listen a while, Harry saw a figure, slender and black-robed, pass. He knew at once who she was, and it had been predicted that he might meet her there, but she had stirred his curiosity a little, and thinking he might obtain further information he asked Miss Lockridge:
"Who is the woman who just passed us?"
"That's Miss Carden, Miss Henrietta Carden, a sewing woman, very capable too, who always helps at the big balls. Mrs. Curtis relies greatly upon her. The door through which she went leads to the ladies' dressing-room."
"A native of Richmond?"
"I don't know. But why are you so curious about a sewing woman, Lieutenant Kenton?"
Harry flushed. There was a faint tinge of rebuke in her words, and he knew that he merited it.
"It was just an idle question," he replied quickly, and with an air of indifference. "I noticed her on the train when we came into the capital, and we are so little used to women that we are inquisitive about every one whom we see. Why, Miss Lockridge, I didn't realize until I came to this ball that women could be so extraordinarily beautiful. Every one of you looks like an angel, just lowered gently from Heaven."
"If you're not merely a flatterer then it's long absence that gives charm. I assure you, Lieutenant Kenton, that we're very, very common clay. You should see us eat."
"I'll get you an ice at once."
"Oh, I don't mean that. I mean substantial things!"
"A healthy appetite doesn't keep a girl from being an angel."
"When men marry us they find out that we're not angels."
"The word 'angel' is with me merely a figure of speech. I don't want any real angel. I want my wife, if I ever marry, to be thoroughly human."
Harry's progress was rapid. A handsome figure and face, and an ingenuous manner made him a favorite. After midnight he wandered into a room where older men were smoking and talking. They were mostly officers, some of high rank, one a general, and they talked of that which they could never get wholly from their minds, the war. All knew Harry, and, as he wanted fresh air, they gave him a place by a window which looked upon a small court.
Harry was tired. In dancing he had been compelled to bring into play muscles long unused, and he luxuriated in the cushioned chair, while the pleasant night breeze blew upon him. They were discussing Lee's probable plans to meet Meade, who would certainly follow him in time across the Potomac. They spoke with weight and authority, because they were experienced men who had been in many battles, and they were here on furlough, most of them recovering from wounds.
Harry heard them, but their words were like the flowing of a river. He paid no heed. They did not bring the war back to him. He was thinking of the music and of the brilliant faces of the girls whom he loved collectively. What that Lawrence girl had said was true. He was a Virginian as well as a Kentuckian, and the Kentuckians and Virginians were all one big family. All those pretty Virginia girls were his cousins. It might run to the thirty-second degree, but they were his cousins just the same, and he would claim them with confidence.
He smiled and his eyelids drooped a little. It was rather dark outside, and he was looking directly into the court in which rosebushes and tall flowering plants grew. A shadow passed. He did not see whence it came or went, but he sat up and laughed at himself for dozing and conjuring up phantoms when he was at his first real ball in ages.
All the civilians had gone out and only five or six of the officers, the most important, were left. Their talk had grown more eager, and on the center of the table around which they sat lay a large piece of white canvas upon which they were drawing a map expressing their collective opinion. Every detail was agreed upon, after much discussion, and Harry, as much interested as they, began to watch, while the lines grew upon the canvas. He ventured no opinion, being so much younger than the others.
"We don't know, of course, exactly what General Lee will do," said a colonel, "but we do know that he's always dangerous. He invariably acts on the offensive, even if he's retreating. I should think that he'd strike Meade about here."
"Not there, but not far from it," said the general. "Make a dot at that point, Bathurst, and make another dot here about twenty miles to the east, which represents my opinion."
Bathurst made the dots and the men, wholly absorbed, bent lower over their plans, which were growing almost unconsciously into a map, and a good one too. Harry was as much interested as they, and he still kept himself in the background, owing to his youth and minor rank.
The door to the room was open a little and the music, a waltz, came in a soft ripple from the drawing room. It was rhythmic and languorous, and Harry's feet would have moved to its tune at any other time, but he was too deeply absorbed in the conjectures and certainties that they were drawing with their pencils on the white canvas.
Many of the details, he knew, were absolutely true, and others he was quite sure must be true, because these were men of high rank who carried in their minds the military secrets of the Confederacy.
"I think we're pretty well agreed on the general nature of the plan," said Bathurst. "We differ only in details."
"That's so," said the general, "but we're lingering too long here. God knows that we see little enough of our women folks, and, when we have the chance to see them, and feel the touch of their hands, we waste our time like a lot of fools making military guesses. If I'm not too old to dance to the tune of the shells I'm not too old to dance to the tune of the fiddle and the bow. That's a glorious air floating in from the ballroom. I think I can show some of these youngsters like Kenton here how to shake a foot."
"After you, General," laughed Bathurst. "We know your capacity on both the field and the floor, and how you respond to the shell and the bow. Come on! The ballroom is calling to us, and I doubt whether we'll explain to the satisfaction of everybody why we've been away from it so long. You, too, Harry!"
They rose in a group and went out hastily. Harry was last, and his hand was on the bolt of the door, preparatory to closing it, when the general turned to Bathurst and said:
"You've that diagram of ours, haven't you, Bathurst? It's not a thing to be left lying loose."
"Why, no, sir, I thought you put it in your pocket."
The general laughed.
"You're suffering from astigmatism, Bathurst," he said. "Doubtless it was Colton whom you saw stowing it away. I think we'd better tear it into little bits as we have no further use for it."
"But I haven't it, sir," said Colton, a veteran colonel, just recovering from a wound in the arm. "I supposed of course that one of the others took it."
An uneasy look appeared in the general's eyes, but it passed in an instant.
"You have it, Morton?"
"No, sir. Like Bathurst I thought one of the others took it."
"And you, Kitteridge?"
"I did not take it, sir."
"You surely have it, Johnson?"
"No, sir, I was under the impression that you had taken it away with you."
"And you, McCurdy?"
McCurdy shook his head.
"Then Kenton, as you were the last to rise, you certainly have it."
"I was just a looker-on; I did not touch it," said Harry, whose hand was still on the bolt of the partly opened door.
The general laughed.
"Another case of everybody expecting somebody else to do a thing, and nobody doing it," he said. "Kenton, go back and take it from the table. In our absorption we've been singularly forgetful, and that plan must be destroyed at once."
Harry reentered the room, and in their eagerness all of the officers followed. Then a simultaneous "Ah!" of dismay burst from them all. There was nothing on the table. The plan was gone. They looked at one another, and in the eyes of every one apprehension was growing.
"The window is partly open," said the general, affecting a laugh, although it had an uneasy note, "and of course it has blown off the table. We'll surely find it behind the sofa or a chair."
They searched the room eagerly, going over every inch of space, every possible hiding place, but the plan was not there.
"Perhaps it's in the court," said the general. "It might have fluttered out there. Raise the sash higher, Kenton. Let nobody make any noise. We must be as quiet as possible about this. Luckily there's enough moonlight now for us to find even a small scrap of paper in the court."
They stole through the window silently, one by one, and searched every inch of the court's space. But nothing was in it, save the grass and the flowers and the rosebushes that belonged there. They returned to the room, and once more looked at one another in dismay.
"Shut the window entirely and lock the door, Kenton," said the general.
Harry did so. Then the general looked at them all, and his face was set and very firm.
"We must all be searched," he said. "I know that every one of you is the soul of honor. I know that not one of you has concealed about his person this document which has suddenly become so valuable. I know that not one of you would smuggle through to the enemy such a plan at any price, no matter how large. Nevertheless we must know beyond the shadow of a doubt that none of us has the map. And I insist, too, that I be searched first. Bathurst, Colton, begin!"
They examined one another carefully in turn. Every pocket or possible place of concealment was searched. Harry was the last and when they were done with him the general heaved a huge sigh of relief.
"We know positively that we are not guilty," he said. "We knew it before, but now we've proved it. That is off our minds, but the mystery of the missing map remains. What a strange combination of circumstances. I think, gentlemen, that we had best say nothing about it to outsiders. It's certainly to the interest of every one of us not to do so. It's also to the interest of all of us to watch the best we can for a solution. You're young, Kenton, but from what I hear of you you're able to keep your own counsel."
"You can trust me, sir," said Harry.
"I know it, and now unlock the door. We've held ourselves prisoners long enough, and they'll be wondering about us in the ballroom."
Harry turned the key promptly enough and he was glad to escape from the room. He felt that he had left behind a sinister atmosphere. He had not mentioned to the older men the faint shadow that he thought he had seen crossing the courtyard. But then it was only fancy, nothing more, an idle figment of the brain! There was the music now, softer and more tempting than ever, an irresistible call to flying feet, and another dance with Rosamond Lawrence was due.
"I thought you weren't coming, Lieutenant Kenton," she said. "Some one said that you had gone into the smoking-room and that you were talking war with middle-aged generals and colonels."
"But I escaped as soon as I could, Miss Rosamond," he said--he was thinking of the locked door and the universal search.
"Well, you came just in time. The band is beginning and I was about to give your dance to that good-looking Lieutenant Dalton."
"You wouldn't treat me like that! Throw over your cousin in such a manner! I can't think it!"
"No, I wouldn't!"
Then the full swell of the music caught them both, and they glided away, as light and swift as the melody that bore them on.