"Return at ten-thirty," the General said to his chauffeur, and then they entered the corridor of the hotel.
Montague gazed about him, and found himself trembling just a little with anticipation. It was not the magnificence of the place. The quiet uptown hotel would have seemed magnificent to him, fresh as he was from the country; but, he did not see the marble columns and the gilded carvings-he was thinking of the men he was to meet. It seemed too much to crowd into one day-first the vision of the whirling, seething city, the centre of all his hopes of the future; and then, at night, this meeting, overwhelming him with the crowded memories of everything that he held precious in the past.
There were groups of men in faded uniforms standing about in the corridors. General Prentice bowed here and there as they retired and took the elevator to the reception-rooms. In the doorway they passed a stout little man with stubby white moustaches, and the General stopped, exclaiming, "Hello, Major!" Then he added: "Let me introduce Mr. Allan Montague. Montague, this is Major Thorne."
A look of sudden interest flashed across the Major's face. "General Montague's son?" he cried. And then he seized the other's hand in both of his, exclaiming, "My boy! my boy! I'm glad to see you!"
Now Montague was no boy—he was a man of thirty, and rather sedate in his appearance and manner; there was enough in his six feet one to have made two of the round and rubicund little Major. And yet it seemed to him quite proper that the other should address him so. He was back in his boyhood to-night—he was a boy whenever anyone mentioned the name of Major Thorne.
"Perhaps you have heard your father speak of me?" asked the Major, eagerly; and Montague answered, "A thousand times."
He was tempted to add that the vision that rose before him was of a stout gentleman hanging in a grape-vine, while a whole battery of artillery made him their target.
Perhaps it was irreverent, but that was what Montague had always thought of, ever since he had first laughed over the tale his father told. It had happened one January afternoon in the Wilderness, during the terrible battle of Chancellorsville, when Montague's father had been a rising young staff-officer, and it had fallen to his lot to carry to Major Thorne what was surely the most terrifying order that ever a cavalry officer received. It was in the crisis of the conflict, when the Army of the Potomac was reeling before the onslaught of Stonewall Jackson's columns. There was no one to stop them-and yet they must be stopped, for the whole right wing of the army was going. So that cavalry regiment had charged full tilt through the thickets, and into a solid wall of infantry and artillery. The crash of their volley was blinding—and horses wore fairly shot to fragments; and the Major's horse, with its lower jaw torn off, had plunged madly away and left its rider hanging in the aforementioned grape-vine. After he had kicked himself loose, it was to find himself in an arena where pain-maddened horses and frenzied men raced about amid a rain of minie-balls and canister. And in this inferno the gallant Major had captured a horse, and rallied the remains of his shattered command, and held the line until help came-and then helped to hold it, all through the afternoon and the twilight and the night, against charge after charge.—And now to stand and gaze at this stout and red-nosed little personage, and realize that these mighty deeds had been his!
Then, even while Montague was returning his hand-clasp and telling him of his pleasure, the Major's eye caught some one across the room, and he called eagerly, "Colonel Anderson! Colonel Anderson!"
And this was the heroic Jack Anderson! "Parson" Anderson, the men had called him, because he always prayed before everything he did. Prayers at each mess,—a prayer-meeting in the evening,—and then rumour said the Colonel prayed on while his men slept. With his battery of artillery trained to perfection under three years of divine guidance, the gallant Colonel had stood in the line of battle at Cold Harbour—name of frightful memory!—and when the enemy had swarmed out of their intrenchments and swept back the whole line just beyond him, his battery had stood like a cape in a storm-beaten ocean, attacked on two sides at once; and for the half-hour that elapsed before infantry support came up, the Colonel had ridden slowly up and down his line, repeating in calm and godly accents, "Give 'em hell, boys—give 'em hell!"—The Colonel's hand trembled now as he held it out, and his voice was shrill and cracked as he told what pleasure it gave him to meet General Montague's son.
"Why have we never seen you before?" asked Major Thorne. Montague replied that he had spent all his life in Mississippi—his father having married a Southern woman after the war. Once every year the General had come to New York to attend the reunion of the Loyal Legion of the State; but some one had had to stay at home with his mother, Montague explained.
There were perhaps a hundred men in the room, and he was passed about from group to group. Many of them had known his father intimately. It seemed almost uncanny to him to meet them in the body; to find them old and feeble, white-haired and wrinkled. As they lived in the chambers of his memory, they were in their mighty youth-heroes, transfigured and radiant, not subject to the power of time.
Life on the big plantation had been a lonely one, especially for a Southern-born man who had fought in the Union army. General Montague had been a person of quiet tastes, and his greatest pleasure had been to sit with his two boys on his knees and "fight his battles o'er again." He had collected all the literature of the corps which he had commanded—a whole library of it, in which Allan had learned to find his way as soon as he could read. He had literally been brought up on the war—for hours he would lie buried in some big illustrated history, until people came and called him away. He studied maps of campaigns and battle-fields, until they became alive with human passion and struggle; he knew the Army of the Potomac by brigade and division, with the names of commanders, and their faces, and their ways-until they lived and spoke, and the bare roll of their names had power to thrill him.—And now here were the men themselves, and all these scenes and memories crowding upon him in tumultuous throngs. No wonder that he was a little dazed, and could hardly find words to answer when he was spoken to.
But then came an incident which called him suddenly back to the world of the present. "There is Judge Ellis," said the General.
Judge Ellis! The fame of his wit and eloquence had reached even far Mississippi—was there any remotest corner of America where men had not heard of the silver tongue of Judge Ellis? "Cultivate him!" Montague's brother Oliver had laughed, when it was mentioned that the Judge would be present—"Cultivate him—he may be useful."
It was not difficult to cultivate one who was as gracious as Judge Ellis. He stood in the doorway, a smooth, perfectly groomed gentleman, conspicuous in the uniformed assembly by his evening dress. The Judge was stout and jovial, and cultivated Dundreary whiskers and a beaming smile. "General Montague's son!" he exclaimed, as he pressed the young man's hands. "Why, why—I'm surprised! Why have we never seen you before?"
Montague explained that he had only been in New York about six hours. "Oh, I see," said the Judge. "And shall you remain long?"
"I have come to stay," was the reply.
"Well, well!" said the other, cordially. "Then we may see more of you. Are you going into business?"
"I am a lawyer," said Montague. "I expect to practise."
The Judge's quick glance had been taking the measure of the tall, handsome man before him, with his raven-black hair and grave features. "You must give us a chance to try your mettle," he said; and then, as others approached to meet him, and he was forced to pass on, he laid a caressing hand on Montague's arm, whispering, with a sly smile, "I mean it."
Montague felt his heart beat a little faster. He had not welcomed his brother's suggestion—there was nothing of the sycophant in him; but he meant to work and to succeed, and he knew what the favour of a man like Judge Ellis would mean to him. For the Judge was the idol of New York's business and political aristocracy, and the doorways of fortune yielded at his touch.
There were rows of chairs in one of the rooms, and here two or three hundred men were gathered. There were stands of battle-flags in the corners, each one of them a scroll of tragic history, to one like Montague, who understood. His eye roamed over them while the secretary was reading minutes of meetings and other routine announcements. Then he began to study the assemblage. There were men with one arm and men with one leg—one tottering old soldier ninety years of age, stone blind, and led about by his friends. The Loyal Legion was an officers' organization, and to that extent aristocratic; but worldly success counted for nothing in it—some of its members were struggling to exist on their pensions, and were as much thought of as a man like General Prentice, who was president of one of the city's largest banks, and a rich man, even in New York's understanding of that term.
The presiding officer introduced "Colonel Robert Selden, who will read the paper of the evening: 'Recollections of Spottsylvania.'" Montague started at the name—for "Bob" Selden had been one of his father's messmates, and had fought all through the Peninsula Campaign at his side.
He was a tall, hawk-faced man with a grey imperial. The room was still as he arose, and after adjusting his glasses, he began to read his story. He recalled the situation of the Army of the Potomac in the spring of 1864; for three years it had marched and fought, stumbling through defeat after defeat, a mighty weapon, lacking only a man who could wield it. Now at last the man had come—one who would put them into the battle and give them a chance to fight. So they had marched into the Wilderness, and there Lee struck them, and for three days they groped in a blind thicket, fighting hand to hand, amid suffocating smoke. The Colonel read in a quiet, unassuming voice; but one could see that he had hold of his hearers by the light that crossed their features when he told of the army's recoil from the shock, and of the wild joy that ran through the ranks when they took up their march to the left, and realized that this time they were not going back.—So they came to the twelve days' grapple of the Spottsylvania Campaign.
There was still the Wilderness thicket; the enemy's intrenchments, covering about eight miles, lay in the shape of a dome, and at the cupola of it were breastworks of heavy timbers banked with earth, and with a ditch and a tangle of trees in front. The place was the keystone of the Confederate arch, and the name of it was "the Angle"—"Bloody Angle!" Montague heard the man who sat next to him draw in his breath, as if a spasm of pain had shot through him.
At dawn two brigades had charged and captured the place. The enemy returned to the attack, and for twenty hours thereafter the two armies fought, hurling regiment after regiment and brigade after brigade into the trenches. There was a pouring rain, and the smoke hung black about them; they could only see the flashes of the guns, and the faces of the enemy, here and there.
The Colonel described the approach of his regiment. They lay down for a moment in a swamp, and the minie-balls sang like swarming bees, and split the blades of the grass above them. Then they charged, over ground that ran with human blood. In the trenches the bodies of dead and dying men lay three deep, and were trampled out of sight in the mud by the feet of those who fought. They would crouch behind the works, lifting their guns high over their heads, and firing into the throngs on the other side; again and again men sprang upon the breastworks and fired their muskets, and then fell dead. They dragged up cannon, one after another, and blew holes through the logs, and raked the' ground with charges of canister.
While the Colonel read, still in his calm, matter-of-fact voice, you might see men leaning forward in their chairs, hands clenched, teeth set. They knew! They knew! Had there ever before been a time in history when breastworks had been charged by artillery? Twenty-four men in the crew of one gun, and only two unhurt! One iron sponge-bucket with thirty-nine bullet holes shot through it! And then blasts of canister sweeping the trenches, and blowing scores of living and dead men to fragments! And into this hell of slaughter new regiments charging, in lines four deep! And squad after squad of the enemy striving to surrender, and shot to pieces by their own comrades as they clambered over the blood-soaked walls! And heavy timbers in the defences shot to splinters! Huge oak trees—one of them twenty-four inches in diameter—crashing down upon the combatants, gnawed through by rifle-bullets! Since the world began had men ever fought like that?
Then the Colonel told of his own wound in the shoulder, and how, toward dusk, he had crawled away; and how he became lost, and strayed into the enemy's line, and was thrust into a batch of prisoners and marched to the rear. And then of the night that he spent beside a hospital camp in the Wilderness, where hundreds of wounded and dying men lay about on the rain-soaked ground, moaning, screaming, praying to be killed. Again the prisoners were moved, having been ordered to march to the railroad; and on the way the Colonel went blind from suffering and exhaustion, and staggered and fell in the road. You could have heard a pin drop in the room, in the pause between sentences in his story, as he told how the guard argued with him to persuade him to go on. It was their duty to kill him if he refused, but they could not bring themselves to do it. In the end they left the job to one, and he stood and cursed the officer, trying to get up his courage; and finally fired his gun into the air, and went off and left him.
Then he told how an old negro had found him, and how he lay delirious; and how, at last, the army marched his way. He ended his narrative the simple sentence: "It was not until the siege of Petersburg that I was able to rejoin my Command."
There was a murmur of applause; and then silence. Suddenly, from somewhere in the room, came the sound of singing—"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!" The old battle-hymn seemed to strike the very mood of the meeting; the whole throng took it up, and they sang it, stanza by stanza. It was rolling forth like a mighty organ-chant as they came to the fervid closing:—
"He hath sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; He is sifting out the hearts of men before his judgment seat; Oh! be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet,—Our God is marching on!"
There was a pause again; and the presiding officer rose and said that, owing to the presence of a distinguished guest, they would forego one of their rules, and invite Judge Ellis to say a few words. The Judge came forward, and bowed his acknowledgment of their welcome. Then, perhaps feeling a need of relief after the sombre recital, the Judge took occasion to apologize for his own temerity in addressing a roomful of warriors; and somehow he managed to make that remind him of a story of an army mule, a very amusing story; and that reminded him of another story, until, when he stopped and sat down, every one in the room broke into delighted applause.
They went in to dinner. Montague sat by General Prentice, and he, in turn, by the Judge; the latter was reminded of more stories during the dinner, and kept every one near him laughing. Finally Montague was moved to tell a story himself—about an old negro down home, who passed himself off for an Indian. The Judge was so good as to consider this an immensely funny story, and asked permission to tell it himself. Several times after that he leaned over and spoke to Montague, who felt a slight twinge of guilt as he recalled his brother's cynical advice, "Cultivate him!" The Judge was so willing to be cultivated, however, that it gave one's conscience little chance.
They went back to the meeting-room again; chairs were shifted, and little groups formed, and cigars and pipes brought out. They moved the precious battle-flags forward, and some one produced a bugle and a couple of drums; then the walls of the place shook, as the whole company burst forth:—
"Bring the good old bugle, boys! we'll sing another song—Sing it with a spirit that will start the world along—Sing it as we used to sing it, fifty thousand strong,—While we were marching through Georgia!"
It was wonderful to witness the fervour with which they went through this rollicking chant—whose spirit we miss because we hear it too often. They were not skilled musicians—they could only sing loud; but the fire leaped into their eyes, and they swayed with the rhythm, and sang! Montague found himself watching the old blind soldier, who sat beating his foot in time, upon his face the look of one who sees visions.
And then he noticed another man, a little, red-faced Irishman, one of the drummers. The very spirit of the drum seemed to have entered into him—into his hands and his feet, his eyes and his head, and his round little body. He played a long roll between the verses, and it seemed as if he must surely be swept away upon the wings of it. Catching Montague's eye, he nodded and smiled; and after that, every once in a while their eyes would meet and exchange a greeting. They sang "The Loyal Legioner" and "The Army Bean" and "John Brown's Body" and "Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching"; all the while the drum rattled and thundered, and the little drummer laughed and sang, the very incarnation of the care-free spirit of the soldier!
They stopped for a while, and the little man came over and was introduced. Lieutenant O'Day was his name; and after he had left, General Prentice leaned over to Montague and told him a story. "That little man," he said, "began as a drummer-boy in my regiment, and went all through the war in my brigade; and two years ago I met him on the street one cold winter night, as thin as I am, and shivering in a summer overcoat. I took him to dinner with me and watched him eat, and I made up my mind there was something wrong. I made him take me home, and do you know, the man was starving! He had a little tobacco shop, and he'd got into trouble—the trust had taken away his trade. And he had a sick wife, and a daughter clerking at six dollars a week!"
The General went on to tell of his struggle to induce the little man to accept his aid—to accept a loan of a few hundreds of dollars from Prentice, the banker! "I never had anything hurt me so in all my life," he said. "Finally I took him into the bank—and now you can see he has enough to eat!"
They began to sing again, and Montague sat and thought over the story. It seemed to him typical of the thing that made this meeting beautiful to him—of the spirit of brotherhood and service that reigned here.—They sang "We are tenting to-night on the old camp ground"; they sang "Benny Havens, Oh!" and "A Soldier No More"; they sang other songs of tenderness and sorrow, and men felt a trembling in their voices and a mist stealing over their eyes. Upon Montague a spell was falling.
Over these men and their story there hung a mystery—a presence of wonder, that discloses itself but rarely to mortals, and only to those who have dreamed and dared. They had not found it easy to do their duty; they had had their wives and children, their homes and friends and familiar places; and all these they had left to serve the Republic. They had taught themselves a new way of life—they had forged themselves into an iron sword of war. They had marched and fought in dust and heat, in pouring rains and driving, icy blasts; they had become men grim and terrible in spirit-men with limbs of steel, who could march or ride for days and nights, who could lie down and sleep upon the ground in rain-storms and winter snows, who were ready to leap at a word and seize their muskets and rush into the cannon's mouth. They had learned to stare into the face of death, to meet its fiery eyes; to march and eat and sleep, to laugh and play and sing, in its presence—to carry their life in their hands, and toss it about as a juggler tosses a ball. And this for Freedom: for the star-crowned goddess with the flaming eyes, who trod upon the mountain-tops and called to them in the shock and fury of the battle; whose trailing robes they followed through the dust and cannon-smoke; for a glimpse of whose shining face they had kept the long night vigils and charged upon the guns in the morning; for a touch of whose shimmering robe they had wasted in prison pens, where famine and loathsome pestilence and raving madness stalked about in the broad daylight.
And now this army of deliverance, with its waving banners and its prancing horses and its rumbling cannon, had marched into the shadow-world. The very ground that it had trod was sacred; and one who fingered the dusty volumes which held the record of its deeds would feel a strange awe come upon him, and thrill with a sudden fear of life—that was so fleeting and so little to be understood. There were boyhood memories in Montague's mind, of hours of consecration, when the vision had descended upon him, and he had sat with face hidden in his hands.
It was for the Republic that these men had suffered; for him and his children—that a government of the people, by the people, for the people, might not perish from the earth. And with the organ-music of the Gettysburg Address echoing within him, the boy laid his soul upon the altar of his country. They had done so much for him—and now, was there anything that he could do? A dozen years had passed since then, and still he knew that deep within him—deeper than all other purposes, than all thoughts of wealth and fame and power—was the purpose that the men who had died for the Republic should find him worthy of their trust.
The singing had stopped, and Judge Ellis was standing before him. The Judge was about to go, and in his caressing voice he said that he would hope to see Montague again. Then, seeing that General Prentice was also standing up, Montague threw off the spell that had gripped him, and shook hands with the little drummer, and with Selden and Anderson and all the others of his dream people. A few minutes later he found himself outside the hotel, drinking deep draughts of the cold November air.
Major Thorne had come out with them; and learning that the General's route lay uptown, he offered to walk with Montague to his hotel.
They set out, and then Montague told the Major about the figure in the grape-vine, and the Major laughed and told how it had felt. There had been more adventures, it seemed; while he was hunting a horse he had come upon two mules loaded with ammunition and entangled with their harness about a tree; he had rushed up to seize them—when a solid shot had struck the tree and exploded the ammunition and blown the mules to fragments. And then there was the story of the charge late in the night, which had recovered the lost ground, and kept Stonewall Jackson busy up to the very hour of his tragic death. And there was the story of Andersonville, and the escape from prison. Montague could have walked the streets all night, exchanging these war-time reminiscences with the Major.
Absorbed in their talk, they came to an avenue given up to the poorer class of people; with elevated trains rattling by overhead, and rows of little shops along it. Montague noticed a dense crowd on one of the corners, and asked what it meant.
"Some sort of a meeting," said the Major.
They came nearer, and saw a torch, with a man standing near it, above the heads of the crowd.
"It looks like a political meeting," said Montague, "but it can't be, now—just after election."
"Probably it's a Socialist," said the Major. "They're at it all the time."
They crossed the avenue, and then they could see plainly. The man was lean and hungry-looking, and he had long arms, which he waved with prodigious violence. He was in a frenzy of excitement, pacing this way and that, and leaning over the throng packed about him. Because of a passing train the two could not hear a sound.
"A Socialist!" exclaimed Montague, wonderingly. "What do they want?"
"I'm not sure," said the other. "They want to overthrow the government."
The train passed, and then the man's words came to them: "They force you to build palaces, and then they put you into tenements! They force you to spin fine raiment, and then they dress you in rags! They force you to build jails, and then they lock you up in them! They force you to make guns, and then they shoot you with them! They own the political parties, and they name the candidates, and trick you into voting for them—and they call it the law! They herd you into armies and send you to shoot your brothers—and they call it order! They take a piece of coloured rag and call it the flag and teach you to let yourself be shot—and they call it patriotism! First, last, and all the time, you do the work and they get the benefit—they, the masters and owners, and you—fools—fools—fools!"
The man's voice had mounted to a scream, and he flung his hands into the air and broke into jeering laughter. Then came another train, and Montague could not hear him; but he could see that he was rushing on in the torrent of his denunciation.
Montague stood rooted to the spot; he was shocked to the depths of his being—he could scarcely contain himself as he stood there. He longed to spring forward to beard the man where he stood, to shout him down, to rebuke him before the crowd.
The Major must have seen his agitation, for he took his arm and led him back from the throng, saying: "Come! We can't help it."
"But—but—," he protested, "the police ought to arrest him."
"They do sometimes," said the Major, "but it doesn't do any good."
They walked on, and the sounds of the shrill voice died away. "Tell me," said Montague, in a low voice, "does that go on very often?"
"Around the corner from where I live," said the other, "it goes on every Saturday night."
"And do the people listen?" he asked.
"Sometimes they can't keep the street clear," was the reply.
And again they walked in silence. At last Montague asked, "What does it mean?"
The Major shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps another civil war," said he.