The Earth Trembled by Edward Payson Roe
Chapter I. Mary Wallingford
At the beginning of the Civil War there was a fine old residence on Meeting Street in Charleston, South Carolina, inhabited by a family almost as old as the State. Its inheritor and owner, Orville Burgoyne, was a widower. He had been much saddened in temperament since the death of the wife, and had withdrawn as far as possible from public affairs. His library and the past had secured a stronger hold upon his interest and his thoughts than anything in the present, with one exception, his idolized and only child, Mary, named for her deceased mother. Any book would be laid aside when she entered; all gloom banished from his eyes when she coaxed and caressed him.
She was in truth one to be loved because so capable of love herself. She conquered and ruled every one not through wilfulness or imperiousness, but by a gentle charm, all her own, which disarmed opposition.
At first Mr. Burgoyne had paid little heed to the mutterings which preceded the Civil War, believing them to be but Chinese thunder, produced by ambitious politicians, North and South. He was preoccupied by the study of an old system of philosophy which he fancied possessed more truth than many a more plausible and modern one. Mary, with some fancy work in her hands, often watched his deep abstraction in wondering awe, and occasionally questioned him in regard to his thoughts and studies; but as his explanations were almost unintelligible, she settled down to the complacent belief that her father was one of the most learned men in the world.
At last swiftly culminating events aroused Mr. Burgoyne from his abstraction and drove him from his retirement. He accepted what he believed to be duty in profound sorrow and regret. His own early associations and those of his ancestors had been with the old flag and its fortunes; his relations to the political leaders of the South were too slight to produce any share in the alienation and misunderstandings which had been growing between the two great sections of his country, and he certainly had not the slightest sympathy with those who had fomented the ill-will for personal ends. Finally, however, he had found himself face to face with the momentous certainty of a separation of his State from the Union. For a time he was bewildered and disturbed beyond measure; for he was not a prompt man of affairs, living keenly in the present, but one who had been suddenly and rudely summoned from the academic groves of the old philosophers to meet the burning imperative questions of the day--questions put with the passionate earnestness of a people excited beyond measure.
It was this very element of popular feeling which finally turned the scale in his decision. Apparently the entire Southern people were unanimous in their determination "to be free" and to separate themselves from their old political relations. His pastor with all other friends of his own rank confirmed this impression, and, as it was known that he wavered, the best and strongest men of his acquaintance argued the question with him. His daughter was early carried away by the enthusiasm of her young companions, nevertheless she watched the conflict in her father's mind with the deepest interest. She often saw him walk the floor with unwonted tears in his eyes and almost agony on his brow; and when at last, he decided in accordance with the prevailing sentiment of his State, the Act of Secession and all that it involved became sacred in her thoughts.
She trembled and shrank when the phase of negotiation passed away, and war was seen to be the one alternative to submission. She never doubted or hesitated, however; neither did her father after his mind was once made up. Every day the torrent of bitter feeling deepened and broadened between them and the North, of which, practically, they knew very little. Even such knowledge as they possessed had come through distorted mediums, and now everything was colored by the blackest prejudice. They were led to believe and made to feel that not only their possessions but their life and honor were at stake. In early years Mr. Burgoyne had served with distinction in the war with Mexico, and he therefore promptly received a commission.
The effect of her father's decision and action had been deepened a hundred-fold by an event which occurred soon afterward. Among the thousands who thronged to Charleston when Fort Sumter was attacked, was the son of a wealthy planter residing in the interior of the State. This young soldier's enthusiasm and devotion were much bruited in the city, because, waiving wealth and rank, he had served as a private. His fearlessness at Fort Moultrie enhanced his reputation, and when the small garrison of heroes, commanded by Major Anderson, succumbed, Sidney Wallingford found that he had been voted a hero himself, especially by his fair compatriots with whom he had formerly danced when visiting the town.
The young fellow's head was not easily turned, however, for when, at an evening gathering, a group was lauding the great achievement he said disdainfully, "What! thousands against seventy? Despise the Yankees as we may, the odds were too great. The only thing we can plume ourselves upon is that we would have fought just the same had the seventy been seven thousand. I think the fellows did splendidly, if they were Yankees, yet what else could we expect since their commander was a Southern man? Oh no! we must wait till the conditions are more even before we can exult over our victories. I reckon we'll have them all the same though."
Murmurs of approbation followed these remarks, but he saw only the eloquent eyes of Mary Burgoyne, and, offering her his arm, led her away.
The spring night was as warm as a June evening at the North, and they joined the groups that were strolling under the moonlight in the garden.
Sidney felt the young girl's hand tremble on his arm, and he drew it closer to his side. She soon asked falteringly, "Mr. Wallingford, do you think--will the conditions become more even, as you suggested? Can it be that the North will be so carried away by this abolition fanaticism as to send armies and ships in the vain effort to subjugate us?"
"Thank you, Miss Mary, for saying that it will be a 'vain effort.'"
"Of course it will be, with such men as my father and"--she suddenly hesitated.
"And who else?" he gently asked, trying to look into her averted face.
"Oh--well," she stammered with a forced little laugh, "thousands of brave fellows like you. You do not answer my question. Are we to have anything like a general war? Surely, there ought to be enough good, wise men on both sides to settle the matter."
"The matter might be settled easily enough," he replied lightly. "We know our rights, and shall firmly assert them. If the Yankees yield, all well; if not, we'll make 'em."
"But making them may mean a great war?"
"Oh, yes, some serious scrimmages I reckon. We're prepared however, and will soon bring the North to its senses."
"If anything should happen to my father!" she sighed.
He had led her beneath the shadow of a palmetto, and now breathed into her ear, "Mary, dear Mary, how much I'd give to hear you say in the same tone, 'If anything should happen to Sidney'!" She did not withdraw her hand from his arm, and he again felt it tremble more than before. "Mary," he continued earnestly, "I have asked your father if I might speak to you, and he did not deny me the privilege. Oh, Mary, you must have seen my love in my eyes and heard it in my tones long since. Mary," he concluded impetuously, "let me but feel that I am defending you as well as my State, and I can and will be a soldier in very truth."
She suddenly turned and sobbed on his shoulder, "That's what I fear,--I can hide my secret from you no longer--that's what I fear. Those I love will be exposed to sudden and terrible death. I am not brave at all."
"Shall I go home and plant cotton?" he asked, half jestingly.
"No, no, a thousand times no," she cried passionately. "Have I not seen the deep solemnity with which my father accepted duty so foreign to his tastes and habits? Can you think I would wish you to shrink or fail--you who are so strong and brave? No, no, in very truth. Self must mean only self-sacrifice until our sacred cause is won. Yet think twice, Sidney, before you bind yourself to me. I fear I am not so brave as other women appear to be in these times. My heart shrinks unspeakably from war and bloodshed. Although I shall not falter, I shall suffer agonies of dread. I cannot let you go to danger with stern words and dry eyes. I fear you'll find me too weak to be a soldier's wife."
He led her into deeper and shadier seclusion as he asked, "Do you think I'll hesitate because you have a heart in your bosom instead of a stone? No, my darling. We must keep a brave aspect to the world, but my heart is as tender toward you as yours toward me. What else in God's universe could I dread more than harm to you? But there is little cause to fear. The whole South will soon be with us, foreign nations will recognize us as an independent people, and then we will dictate our own terms of peace; then you shall be my bride in this, our proud city by the sea."
He kissed away her tears, and they strolled through the shadowy walks until each had regained the composure essential in the bright drawing-rooms.
A commission with the rank of captain was speedily offered young Wallingford. He accepted it, but said he would return home and raise his own company. This action was also applauded by his friends and the authorities. Mary saw her father smile approvingly and proudly upon her choice, and he became her ideal hero as well as lover.
He fulfilled his promises, and before many weeks passed, re-entered Charleston with a hundred brave fellows, devoted to him. The company was incorporated into one of the many regiments forming, and Mr. Burgoyne assured his daughter that the young captain was sure of promotion, and would certainly make a thorough soldier.
Even in those early and lurid days a few things were growing clear, and among them was the fact that the North would not recognize the doctrine of State Rights, nor peaceably accept the Act of Secession. Soldiers would be needed,--how long no one knew, for the supreme question of the day had passed from the hands of statesmen to those of the soldier. The lack of mutual knowledge, the misapprehension and the gross prejudices existing between the two sections, would have been ludicrous had they not been fraught with such long-continued woes. Southern papers published such stuff as this: "The Northern soldiers are men who prefer enlisting to starvation; scurvy fellows from the back slums of cities, with whom Falstaff would not have marched through Coventry. Let them come South, and we will put our negroes at the dirty work of killing them. But they will not come South. Not a wretch of them will live on this side of the border longer than it will take us to reach the ground and drive them off." The Northern press responded in kind: "No man of sense," it was declared, "could for a moment doubt that this much-ado-about-nothing would end in a month. The Northern people are simply invincible. The rebels, a mere band of ragamuffins, will fly like chaff before the wind on our approach." Thus the wretched farces of bluster continued on either side until in blood, agony, and heartbreak, Americans learned to know Americans.
President Lincoln, however, had called out seventy-five thousand troops, and these men were not long in learning that they could not walk over the South in three months. The South also discovered that these same men could not be terrified into abandoning the attempt. There were thoughtful men on both sides who early began to recognize the magnitude of the struggle upon which they had entered. Among these was Major Burgoyne, and the presentiment grew upon him that he would not see the end of the conflict. When, therefore, impetuous young Wallingford urged that he might call Mary his wife before he marched to distant battlefields, the father yielded, feeling that it might be well for her to have another protector besides himself. The union was solemnized in old St. Michael's Church, where Mary's mother and grandmother had been married before her; a day or two of quiet and happiness was vouchsafed, and then came the tidings of the first great battle of the war. Charleston responded with acclamations of triumph; bells sent out their merriest peals; cannon thundered from every fort on the harbor, but Mary wept on her husband's breast. Among the telegrams of victory had come an order for his regiment to go North immediately. Not even a brief honeymoon was permitted to her.