Chapter XIII. Captain Bodine
 

The next day was warm and sunny, and Aun' Sheba, rising much refreshed, felt herself equal to her duties in spite of her fears to the contrary. She took Vilet with her to a shop, and there purchased a much smaller basket, the weight of which when filled would not be burdensome to the girl. Thus equipped she appeared before Mara at the usual hour with her grandchild, and began complacently: "Now, honey lam', you'se gwine to hab two strings to you'se bow. I sometimes feel ole an' stiff in my jints an' my heft is kinder agin me in trompin'. Here's my granddaughter, an' she's spry as a cricket. She kin run yere an' dar wid de orders'n less dan no time, so you won't be kept kin' ob scruged back an' down kase I'se slow an' hebby. You see?"

"Yes, Aun' Sheba, and I am very glad to see. I have been worrying about you, for it has seemed to me that you were going beyond your strength, and yet I did not know of any one to help you or whether you wanted any one."

"Now, honey, you jes' took de words out'n my mouth 'bout you. You'se lookin' po'ly, an' I'se dreffle 'feared you'se gwine ter get beat ont. You want help mo'n me, an' I'se had it on my min' ter talk wid you."

"Oh, Aun' Sheba, I'm very well," protested Mara, yet glad to think that her paleness and languor were ascribed to fatigue.

"Now see yere, honey, I'se got my blin' side, I know, but it ain't toward you. I watch ober you too many yeahs not to know wen you po'ly. You'se gwine beyon' you strengt, too. Why can't you get some one ter he'p you an' den we go along swimmin'?"

"Well, I'll see. I reckon I'll be better soon, and I don't care to do more than can be done in a quiet way."

The new arrangement on Aun' Sheba's side of the "pana'ship" soon began to work well. Vilet proved quick and trustworthy, saving her grandmother many a weary step, and Mara was compelled to see that the mutual income might be greatly increased if she also had efficient help. She recognized the truth that she was becoming worn, and she also knew the cause to be that she worked without the spring of hopefulness or even the quietness of a heart at rest. She had almost decided to intrust Aun' Sheba with the task of finding a suitable helper, when she made two acquaintances who were destined to become intimately associated with her experiences.

One afternoon she felt so lonely, desolate and hopeless that she felt she must go out of herself. The future was taking on an aspect hard to face. Disposed to self-sacrifice, she was wretchedly conscious that there was nothing on which she could bestow a devotion which could sustain or inspire. There was no future to look forward to, no cause to be furthered, no goal to be reached by brave, patient effort. If she had lived at the time of the war she would have loved scarcely less than her mother, but her heart would have been almost equally divided between the cause and those who fought and suffered for it. If her lot had been cast in the North it would have been much the same. The same patriotic motives would have kindled her imagination and produced the most intense loyalty in thought and action. She was endowed with a spirit which, had she lived in the past, might easily have led her into an effort to restore some overthrown dynasty, and she would have so idealized even a very questionable conspiracy as to render it worthy, in her belief, of unstinted self-sacrifice. A girl of her character would have faced the wild beasts of the Roman amphitheatre for the sake of her faith, or she would have intrigued against the Spanish Inquisition although hourly conscious that she was exposing herself to its horrors. It was this very tendency to give herself up wholly to some object which she felt had a supreme claim upon her, that had enabled her to live so long upon the memories of the past. The lost cause, for which her father had died, had been as sacred to her as the old dream of freedom to a Pole, but Clancy's question in regard to the old phase of her life, "What good will it do?" combining with other circumstances, had awakened her to the futility of her course. Denied the hope of any future achievement, lacking a powerful motive to sacrifice herself and her love, her strong nature chafed and tended to despondency at the thought of a simple existence. It was not enough merely to earn a living and live. She craved an inspiring object, an antidote for her heartache, a consciousness that in giving up much she also accomplished much. Yet the future stretched away like an arid plain and she was depressed by the foreboding that every step carried her further from all that could give zest to life. She was, therefore, in a mood to accept anything which would relieve the dreary monotony.

On the afternoon in question she decided to call upon an old lady who had lost nearly all her kindred and property. "Surely," thought the girl, "she has nothing to look forward to in this world but a few more straitened years, then death. I wish I were as old as she."

Taking a little delicacy she started out to pay the visit, hoping to gain an insight into the philosophy of patient endurance. She veiled herself heavily, for she was ever haunted by the fear of meeting Clancy on the street, and that her tell-tale face might lead him to guess the cost of her effort to avoid him.

An old colored woman showed the way into the parlor while she went up to prepare her mistress for the call. Reading by the window was a middle-aged gentleman who bowed gravely and resumed his book.

He riveted Mara's attention instantly, for her first glance revealed that he had lost his right leg and that crutches leaned against the arm of his chair. He could not be other than a veteran of the Confederate army, as it would be strange indeed to find an ex-soldier of the North in that abode. His strong, finely-cut side face, distinctly outlined against the light, was toward her. It was marked by deep lines as if the man had suffered and had passed through memorable experiences. He wore no beard or whiskers, but an iron-gray mustache gave a distinguished cast to a visage whose habitual expression was rather cold and haughty.

Mara had time to note these characteristics before she was summoned to Mrs. Bodine's apartment. Although the day was mild, the old lady, wrapped in shawls, sat by an open fire, and her wrinkled face lighted up with pleasure as the girl came toward her. Indeed, there was something like excitement in her manner as she kissed her guest and said: "Bring your chair close, my dear, so I can see you and hold your hand. I've something to tell you which I reckon will interest you almost as much as it does me."

When Mara was seated in a low chair she resumed: "How much you would look like your father, child, if your eyes were bright and laughing instead of being so large and sad! Well, well, there has been enough to make all our eyes sad, and you, poor child, have had more than enough. Yet you are good and brave, my dear. So far from sitting down in helpless grieving, you are taking care of yourself and have time to think of an old woman like me. Poor Mrs. Hunter! what would she do without you? She, like so many of us, has been blighted and stranded, and she would have been worse off than I if it had not been for you, for I have a little left, but oh, it is so little. Never did I wish it were more so much as I do now. You must be patient with me, child. I sit here so much alone that it is a godsend to have some one to talk to, and you are the very one I wanted to see. I was going to send for you, for I knew you would like to see my guests. My cousin and his daughter are visiting me, and I wish they could stay with me always. I knew you would like to meet Captain Bodine--"

"Captain Bodine!" exclaimed Mara, "why, that is the name of an officer who used to be in my father's regiment."

"He is the very same, my dear."

"Was that he in the parlor?" Mara asked, trembling with excitement.

"Yes, he and his daughter arrived only yesterday."

"Oh!" said Mara, "I've received letters from him, and I've longed to see him for years. Can I not go down and speak to him at once? I surely do not need any introduction to the old friend of my father."

"No, my dear, no indeed. You need no formal introduction to any guest or relative of mine. Besides, he knows you well and all about you, although he has never seen you since you were a child. It would please him greatly to have you go down and speak to him at once, for he would know that I would tell you about his being here, and he might think you cold or formal if you delayed seeing him. I'm glad you feel so, my dear, but you must come back and sit with me awhile before you go home. I'll ring for Hannah and have a nice little feast while you are downstairs."

Mara scrupulously veiled her impatience until her kind, garrulous friend was through, and then stole with swift, noiseless tread to the parlor below. Standing in the doorway, she saw that the object of her quest was absorbed in his book. "He is my ideal of the soldier of that day," she thought. "How truly he represents us, with his sad, proud face and mutilated body!" In a sort of awe she hesitated a moment and then said timidly, "Captain Bodine."

He looked up quickly, and seeing Mara's lustrous eyes and flushed face, divined instantly who she was.

"Is not this Miss Wallingford?" he asked, his face expressing glad anticipation as he began to gather up his crutches.

"Do not rise," cried Mara, coming forward instantly with outstretched hands.

But he was on his crutches, and said feelingly, "Heaven forbid that I should receive the daughter of my old friend with so little respect." He took the girl's face into his hands, and looked earnestly into her eyes. "Yes," he resumed gently, "you are Sidney Wallingford's child. God bless you, my dear," and he kissed her lightly on the forehead. "You won't mind this from an old comrade of your father," he said as he made her take his chair and sat down near her. "We have been bereft of so much that what remains has become very precious. I know all about you, Mara."

Tears were in the girl's eyes as she replied falteringly, "And I know of you, sir, and have longed to meet you. You can scarcely know how much your words mean to me when you say you were my father's comrade and friend. I knew this, but it seems more real to me now, and I feel that seeing you is coming as near as I can to seeing him."

"My poor child! Would to God that he had lived, for you would have been his pride and solace, as my daughter is to me. When I saw you last you were a little black-eyed girl and happily did not understand your loss, although you looked as if you did. I never thought so many years would pass before I saw you again, but we have had to fight some of our hardest battles since the war," and he sighed deeply.

"How soon can I meet your daughter?" Mara asked, her eyes full of sympathy.

"Very soon. I urged her to take a walk on the Battery, for she has not been very well of late. I said I knew all about you, as I have been told of your loyalty and brave efforts and your kindness to my aged cousin, but now that I see you, I feel that I know very little. Your face is full of stories, my dear child. You are young, and yet you look as if the memories of the past had made you far older than your years warrant That is the trouble with us. We have much more to look back upon than to look forward to. Yet it should not be so with you."

"It can scarcely be otherwise," Mara answered sadly; "you have touched the very core of our trouble, and I suppose it is the trouble with us all who are so closely linked with the past--we have so little to look forward to. But now that you can tell me about my father the past seems so near and real that I do not wish to think about anything else."

Time sped rapidly as Captain Bodine recalled the scenes and incidents of his life which were associated with his old commander, and Mara listened with an absorbed, tearful interest which touched him deeply. The proud, reserved expression of his face had passed away utterly, and the girl appreciated the change. His sympathy, the gentleness of his tones and the profound respect which was blended with his paternal manner made her feel that her father's friend was already her friend in a very near and sacred sense. While he was reserved about his own affairs, and she also was conscious of a secret of which she could never speak, they had so much in common that she felt that they could talk for hours. But the old lady in the apartment above grew impatient, and at last Hannah stood courtesying in the door as she said, "Missus p'sent her compl'ments an' say would be glad to see you."

"There, I've been selfish and thoughtless," said Captain Bodine, "but I shall see you again, for it will give Ella and me great pleasure to call upon you."

"Yes, indeed, we must meet often," Mara added earnestly. "I hope you are going to make a long stay in Charleston."

"I scarcely know," he replied, and again there was an involuntary sigh; "but I must keep you no longer."