Symud i'r prif gynnwys
Cuddio Rhestr Erthyglau

5 erthygl ar y dudalen hon



"MISSING." A Sketch of the American War. There's no other way, Mary. I shall have to go!" He said the words as if pronouncing his own doom, and so she received them. There was silence between the two who so loved each other; if the thing were inevitable there was nothing to ba said. Henceforth only endurance was possible. Mary was the first to speak. Ate you quite sure ?" she said, not expecting, only hoping, that some way of escape might open. It was not that she was destitute of patriotism—not that she was less ready than other women to make sacrifices; for she had seen him march away to the war, smiling a farewell to hide an aching heart, in those first days of the country's danger, when all the bravest and the best rushed to its defence. But it was different now. He had none his duty faithfally-fulfilled his two years' service-knomn danger, wounds and hardships—and had returned, as they both hoped, to the old quiet home-life, to the ful- filment of deferred hopes, to the edjoyment of the im- perilled happiness. And yet he had just told her he should have to go again. It was hard to believe- hard to hear. And yet there seemed no other way. The two years of hia absence had been two years of disaster to his parents. For a quarter of a century they had lived peacefully, with a moderate prosperity that fully con- tented their moderate desires, upon the pretty home- stead farm; and now, close upon the sacrifice they had made of their most precious treasure, their only child, followed blight and insect, and storm and fire. The harvested crops, the fine cattle, and the strong draught horses, perished in the conflagration of their barns. Mildew and weevil, for two successive years, made their great wheat field a desolation. The long rains of early summer spoiled the rich, low-lying meadows; and the fire spread over the hill-side, covered with rare timbers, and swept away their fences. The third year, when the season of harvest approached, for many weeks the sky was brass, and the earth dust beneath the scorched and ruined crops. Steady, quiet, home-loviag, God-fearing people were they, aDd yet it seemed as if the wrath of Heaven had descended upon them. And then money was needed to re-build and re-stock, to purchase the necessaries of life, to provide for the coming seed-time, and the fatm was mortgaged for the purpose of raising these needful funds. And in this condition Horace Harding found home matters at the expiration of hia term of service. Old Simon Suggs advanced the money and held the securities. He was a hard, grasping old man, a money- lender by profession, grown ricb. upon unholy gains; but in the rparesly settled agricultural region where the Hardinga lived, he was almost the only moneyed man. Wealth enough there was of flooks, and herds, and waving harvests, but little money, and men would give old Simon almost cent. per cent. sometimes when the necessity was great, as in this case. He would lend to Mr. Harding only on the security of his small but fine farm. Only thus, and the money must be had, and hia terms were accepted. One year's harvest, at war prices, will set us right," Mr. Harding said; and so, blindly, it is true, but re- luctantly, he gave the miser a hold upon those acres, trebly worth the sum advanced, and built and sowed in hope, which hope that tkird summer, that summer of burning heat and drought, blasted and left himbank- rupt in hope as in purse. And now the time was come for payment, and old Simon demanded the fulfilment of his bond. We have called him old Simon, for that was the name by which he was known far and near, and he had the pinched and aged appearance which a miserly life so often produces, but in reality he was not old enough to escape the impending draft. Simon was a great coward, and he valued his precious person far too highly to be willing to make it a mark for bullets. As far as metals were concerned, he preferred gold to lead or steel; and, though rations and free living at the expense of the Government tempted him not a little, he still thought that he could make money enough at home to overbalance the ex- pense. And, as the time approached, his fears so in- creased that he reluctantly decided to procure a sub- stitute. And this was how Horace Harding got per- sonally complicated in the affair. Old Simon threatened to foreclose the mortgage. He had bought up every claim he could discover against Mr. Harding. If he made use of the power in his hands, certain ruin must follow to the distressed family. It was not many hundred dollars, but it re- presented home, comfort, peace to the striken man. To lose these was more than he could bear. He bent beneath the blow, and could not rise. From a hale, middle-aged man, he suddenly grew old, and his mind, yielding with hia physical strength, threatened a decay of its powers, and perhaps a permanent imbecility. And old Simon, looking upon the ruin he could work, saw in it his opportunity. He had a double motive- one now hidden in the background so securely that its existence was never suspected. But he felt that he could bide his time. His first move was to propose to Horace to become his substitute, and to offer as a consideration the relinquishment of all the claims he held against the elder Harding. And this it was that Horace had accepted. That very day he had agreed to enter the army as a substitute for Simon Suggs, and had re- ceived mortgage, notes and all in return. His father was a free man, but he was bound. It was very hard. Long ago, before he first enlisted, he and Mary Lord had been lovers. They had waited for his return, and then Horace had no home to which he might bring a wife. And now there must be a farther delay, perhaps a separation, only to be ended in another sphere of existence. It was a dreadful trial to both those young hearts. How great a trial they, even now, could hardly estimate. But Horace was comforted by the thought that thus he purchased home and peace for his parents, and surely no sacri- fice was too great if made for them. After he was gone, those he left behind were as peaceful as human beings can be, encumbered with anxiety and sad expectation. Battle after battle, dire and bloody, was fought. Horace was in most of them. Horace was exposed to all the horrors of wounds, imprisonment, and sudden death. No one could pre- dict the tilings of the coming day, but a great hush of dread and expectation was over all the laud. At last the blow fell. A great and terrible battle had been fought. The wounded and the dead counted by thousands. There were hnndreds of prisoners. Horace's own regiment had been more than deci- mated. The smoke of battle must clear away before the losses can be counted. It cleared. The names— long lists of slain—were published, and the columns of wounded. Hia name waa not among those. Stay! here it is. But opposite to it is written, Missing.. The months and the years pass away, and no tidings came of the lost one. And then old Simon Sugga appears once more upon the scene. He has bided his time. He does not mean to wait till the deadness of despair is quite over, until energy and the power of resistance are re- awakened. He has known the mother of Mary Lord all her life. In her youth he had a sneaking fondness for her, long sacrificed to his passion for gain. Now he visits her in her trouble, modulates the sharp whine of his voice to softness, and condoles with her in the loss she has met. She cannot see his pinched and meagre face, and she has not that sensitive gift whereby she can detect the falseness of his voice, or, with sure instinot, shrink from the besotted selfishness of his nature. They are very poor now, for Mary has had neither heart nor strength for her accustomed tasks. She has done her best, poor girl, and sacrificed much for her mother's comfort. For no more dutiful child existed than this sadly-tried girl. Bnt in her grief she has made mistakes, and seemed to neglect her employer's work, and they no longer trust her as once they did. She has become languid and nerveless, and could not all at once muster the forces of her nature that had been wersted in her sore conflict with grief and sus- ponse. It was while she was in this state that Simon Snggs commenced his siege. He was a careful man, for first of all he undermined the mother's caution. In a little time he had her all upon his side, and then by degrees he ventured to speak plainly. First he said slighting words of Horace. He had.been cowardly, he hinted. It was known that he tried to slink away from the field during this very battle. He had been fired at. He waa undoubtedly either dead or a deserter-in the last case hiding from the inevitable doom of his crime, and would never dare to return, thus leaving Mary as free as if he were really dead. And then old Simon would boast of his wealth, and utter such magnificent promises for the future, that the poor weak and sightless woman was ever more and more persuaded that he was the best friend and protector two helpless women ever had, that Mary could not do better than te marry him-that she must accept his offer-that it was her duty not to slight this gleam of fortune, but to provide thus for her own comfort and the helpless old age of her mother. Mary did not yield easily. She resisted with all her feeble powers. But she had a great doal to contend with. She loved and respected her mother, the habit of obedience was strong, and so was that of self-sacri- fice. For herself, she reflected, it mattered little—she should not live long. She had not the faintest shadow of love for Simon Suggs, no respect, not even toler- ance. He was totally, utterly repulsive to her-in mind, in person, in character. If she had any positive feeling toward him, it was that of hate. But con- vinced at last that Horace was gone, she resolved to think only of her mother. With a heart numb with despair, ahe gave her consent to the proposed match. The wedding morning came; The poor, pale, hope- less bride awaited the coming of the bridegroom, with an apathy more dreadful to behold than the liveliest paroxysms of hate or disgust. It was well that her mother, who loved her dearly even while practising this cruelty, was blind and unsensitive. She thought Mary had shown great good sense, and that she was securing for both of them an excellent home. Shewas pleased, for she was weary of privation and poverty. And then the bridegroom, looking older and meaner than ever in his unwonted finery, came, and the party/ set out for the village church. And as they entered Simon Suggs started, for his eye fell, for one moment, upon a soldier, in worn and faded uniform, sauntering up the opposite street. Only a moment, and the man was gone. Surely soldiers were common enough in those days, and he smiled at his sudden apprehension. Another moment, and the pair stood before the altar, and the service began. Quietly up the aisle came the soldier; worn, faded, and not over clean his clothes, thin and brown his face-a contrast to the ffav bright crowd. His shadow fell across the kneel- ing'pair? Th^ was a start and a cry. The bride has risen. Her wan face is all alive with joy and colour, as for an instant it is turned towards the audience. The next, it is hidden on the shoulder of that worn and faded coat of blue. Horace is returned. The bullet you hired did not kill me, you see, he shouts after Simon Suggs, stealing out of the church. I've got well and come home. The war is over, and I shall enjoy my own again." And then he lifts up the pale face and presses a kiss upon the white lips, and bears, not without a glance around of triumph, a half-fainting form to the vestry. There was no wedding that day, but there was one on the next. It was but natural to expect that result, since the dead was alive and the "missing had been found.