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    The Brothers

    by Louisa May Alcott
    • Rate it:
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    Doctor Franck came in as I sat sewing up the
    rents in an old shirt, that Tom might go tidily to his
    grave. New shirts were needed for the living, and
    there was no wife or mother to "dress him handsome
    when he went to meet the Lord," as one
    woman said, describing the fine funeral she had
    pinched herself to give her son.

    "Miss Dane, I'm in a quandary," began the
    Doctor, with that expression of countenance which
    says as plainly as words, "I want to ask a favor,
    but I wish you'd save me the trouble."

    "Can I help you out of it?

    "Faith! I don't like to propose it. but you
    certainly can, if you please."

    "Then give it a name, I beg."

    "You see a Reb has just been brought in crazy
    with typhoid; a bad case every way; a drunken,
    rascally little captain somebody took the trouble
    to capture, but whom nobody wants to take the
    trouble to cure. The wards are full, the ladies
    worked to death, and willing to be for our own
    boys, but rather slow to risk their lives for a Reb.
    Now you've had the fever, you like queer patients,
    your mate will see to your ward for a while, and I
    will find you a good attendant. The fellow won't
    last long, I fancy; but he can't die without some
    sort of care, you know. I've put him in the fourth
    story of the west wing, away from the rest. It is
    airy, quiet, and comfortable there. I'm on that
    ward, and will do my best for you in every way.
    Now, then, will you go?"

    "Of course I will, out of perversity, if not common
    charity; for some of these people think that
    because I'm an abolitionist I am also a heathen,
    and I should rather like to show them, that, though
    I cannot quite love my enemies, I am willing to
    take care of them."

    "Very good; I thought you'd go; and speaking
    of abolition reminds me that you can have a contraband
    for servant, if you like. It is that fine
    mulatto fellow who was found burying his Rebel
    master after the fight, and, being badly cut over
    the head, our boys brought him along. Will you
    have him?"

    "By all means,--for I'll stand to my guns on
    that point, as on the other; these black boys are
    far more faithful and handy than some of the white
    scamps given me to serve, instead of being served
    by. But is this man well enough?"

    "Yes, for that sort of work, and I think you'll
    like him. He must have been a handsome fellow
    before he got his face slashed; not much darker
    than myself; his master's son, I dare say, and the
    white blood makes him rather high and haughty
    about some things. He was in a bad way when
    he came in, but vowed he'd die in the street rather
    than turn in with the black fellows below; so I
    put him up in the west wing, to be out of the way,
    and he's seen to the captain all the morning.
    When can you go up?"

    "As soon as Tom is laid out, Skinner moved,
    Haywood washed, Marble dressed, Charley
    rubbed, Downs taken up, Upham laid down, and
    the whole forty fed."

    We both laughed, though the Doctor was on
    his way to the dead-house and I held a shroud on
    my lap. But in a hospital one learns that cheerfulness
    is one's salvation; for, in an atmosphere of
    suffering and death, heaviness of heart would soon
    paralyze usefulness of hand, if the blessed gift of
    smiles had been denied us.

    In an hour I took possession of my new charge,
    finding a dissipated-looking boy of nineteen or
    twenty raving in the solitary little room, with no
    one near him but the contraband in the room adjoining.
    Feeling decidedly more interest in the
    black man than in the white, yet remembering the
    Doctor's hint of his being "high and haughty," I
    glanced furtively at him as I scattered chloride of
    lime about the room to purify the air, and settled
    matters to suit myself. I had seen many contrabands,
    but never one so attractive as this. All
    colored men are called "boys," even if their heads
    are white; this boy was five-and-twenty at least,
    strong-limbed and manly, and had the look of one
    who never had been cowed by abuse or worn with
    oppressive labor. He sat on his bed doing nothing;
    no book, no pipe, no pen or paper anywhere
    appeared, yet anything less indolent or listless than
    his attitude and expression I never saw. Erect he
    sat with a hand on either knee, and eyes fixed on
    the bare wall opposite, so rapt in some absorbing
    thought as to be unconscious of my presence,
    though the door stood wide open and my movements
    were by no means noiseless. His face was
    half averted, but I instantly approved the Doctor's
    taste, for the profile which I saw possessed all the
    attributes of comeliness belonging to his mixed race.
    He was more quadroon than mulatto, with Saxon
    features, Spanish complexion darkened by exposure,
    color in lips and cheek, waving hair, and
    an eye full of the passionate melancholy which in
    such men always seems to utter a mute protest
    against the broken law that doomed them at their
    birth. What could he be thinking of? The sick
    boy cursed and raved, I rustled to and fro, steps
    passed the door, bells rang, and the steady rumble
    of army-wagons came up from the street, still he
    never stirred. I had seen colored people in what
    they call "the black sulks," when, for days, they
    neither smiled nor spoke, and scarcely ate. But
    this was something more than that; for the man
    was not dully brooding over some small grievance,--
    he seemed to see an all-absorbing fact or fancy
    recorded on the wall, which was a blank to me.
    I wondered if it were some deep wrong or sorrow,
    kept alive by memory and impotent regret; if he
    mourned for the dead master to whom he had been
    faithful to the end; or if the liberty now his were
    robbed of half its sweetness by the knowledge that
    some one near and dear to him still languished in
    the hell from which he had escaped. My heart
    quite warmed to him at that idea; I wanted to
    know and comfort him; and, following the impulse
    of the moment, I went in and touched him on the
    shoulder.

    In an instant the man vanished and the slave
    appeared. Freedom was too new a boon to have
    wrought its blessed changes yet, and as he started
    up, with his hand at his temple and an obsequious
    "Yes, Ma'am," any romance that had gathered
    round him fled away, leaving the saddest of all
    sad facts in living guise before me. Not only did
    the manhood seem to die out of him, but the comeliness
    that first attracted me; for, as he turned, I
    saw the ghastly wound that had laid open cheek
    and forehead. Being partly healed, it was no
    longer bandaged, but held together with strips of
    that transparent plaster which I never see without
    a shiver and swift recollections of scenes with
    which it is associated in my mind. Part of his
    black hair had been shorn away, and one eye was
    nearly closed; pain so distorted, and the cruel
    sabre-cut so marred that portion of his face, that,
    when I saw it, I felt as if a fine medal had been
    suddenly reversed, showing me a far more striking
    type of human suffering and wrong than Michel
    Angelo's bronze prisoner. By one of those inexplicable
    processes that often teach us how little we
    understand ourselves, my purpose was suddenly
    changed, and though I went in to offer comfort as
    a friend, I merely gave an order as a mistress.

    "Will you open these windows? this man needs
    more air."

    He obeyed at once, and, as he slowly urged up
    the unruly sash, the handsome profile was again
    turned toward me, and again I was possessed by
    my first impression so strongly that I involuntarily
    said,--

    "Thank you, Sir."

    Perhaps it was fancy, but I thought that in the
    look of mingled surprise and something like
    reproach which be gave me there was also a trace of
    grateful pleasure. But he said, in that tone of
    spiritless humility these poor souls learn so
    soon,--

    "I ain't a white man, Ma'am, I'm a contraband."

    "Yes, I know it; but a contraband is a free
    man, and I heartily congratulate you."

    He liked that; his face shone, he squared his
    shoulders, lifted his head, and looked me full in
    the eye with a brisk--

    "Thank ye, Ma'am; anything more to do fer
    yer?"

    "Doctor Franck thought you would help me
    with this man, as there are many patients and few
    nurses or attendants. Have you had the fever?"

    "No, Ma'am."

    "They should have thought of that when they
    put him here; wounds and fevers should not be
    together. I'll try to get you moved."

    He laughed a sudden laugh,--if he had been a
    white man, I should have called it scornful; as he
    was a few shades darker than myself, I suppose it
    must be considered an insolent, or at least an
    unmannerly one.

    "It don't matter, Ma'am. I'd rather be up
    here with the fever than down with those niggers;
    and there ain't no other place fer me."

    Poor fellow! that was true. No ward in all
    the hospital would take him in to lie side by side
    with the most miserable white wreck there. Like
    the bat in Aesop's fable, he belonged to neither
    race; and the pride of one, the helplessness of the
    other, kept him hovering alone in the twilight a
    great sin has brought to overshadow the whole
    land.

    "You shall stay, then; for I would far rather
    have you than any lazy Jack. But are you well
    and strong enough?"

    "I guess I'll do, Ma'am."

    He spoke with a passive sort of acquiescence,--
    as if it did not much matter, if he were not able,
    and no one would particularly rejoice, if he
    were.

    "Yes, I think you will. By what name shall
    I call you?"

    "Bob, Ma'am."

    Every woman has her pet whim; one of mine
    was to teach the men self-respect by treating them
    respectfully. Tom, Dick, and Harry would pass,
    when lads rejoiced in those familiar abbreviations;
    but to address men often old enough to be my
    father in that style did not suit my old-fashioned
    ideas of propriety. This "Bob" would never do;
    I should have found it as easy to call the chaplain
    "Gus" as my tragical-looking contraband by a
    title so strongly associated with the tail of a kite.

    "What is your other name?" I asked. "I like to call my
    attendants by their last names rather than by their first."

    "I've got no other, Ma'am; we have our masters' names,
    or do without. Mine's dead, and I won't have anything
    of his about me."

    "Well, I'll call you Robert, then, and you may
    fill this pitcher for me, if you will be so kind."

    He went; but, through all the tame, obedience
    years of servitude had taught him, I could see that
    the proud spirit his father gave him was not yet
    subdued, for the look and gesture with which he
    repudiated his master's name were a more effective
    declaration of independence than any Fourth-of-July
    orator could have prepared.

    We spent a curious week together. Robert
    seldom left his room, except upon my errands; and
    I was a prisoner all day, often all night, by the
    bedside of the Rebel. The fever burned itself rapidly
    away, for there seemed little vitality to feed it in
    the feeble frame of this old young man, whose life
    had been none of the most righteous, judging from
    the revelations made by his unconscious lips; since
    more than once Robert authoritatively silenced
    him, when my gentler bushings were of no avail,
    and blasphemous wanderings or ribald camp-songs
    made my cheeks burn and Robert's face assume
    an aspect of disgust. The captain was a gentleman
    in the world's eye, but the contraband was
    the gentleman in mine;--I was a fanatic, and that
    accounts for such depravity of taste, I hope. I
    never asked Robert of himself, feeling that somewhere
    there was a spot still too sore to bear the
    lightest touch; but, from his language, manner, and
    intelligence, I inferred that his color had procured
    for him the few advantages within the reach of a
    quick-witted, kindly treated slave. Silent, grave,
    and thoughtful, but most serviceable, was my contraband;
    glad of the books I brought him, faithful
    in the performance of the duties I assigned to him,
    grateful for the friendliness I could not but feel and
    show toward him. Often I longed to ask what purpose
    was so visibly altering his aspect with such daily
    deepening gloom. But I never dared, and no one else
    had either time or desire to pry into the past of this
    specimen of one branch of the chivalrous "F.F.Vs."

    On the seventh night, Dr. Franck suggested that
    it would be well for some one, besides the general
    watchman of the ward, to be with the captain, as
    it might be his last. Although the greater part of
    the two preceding nights had been spent there, of
    course I offered to remain,--for there is a strange
    fascination in these scenes, which renders one
    careless of fatigue and unconscious of fear until the
    crisis is passed.

    "Give him water as long as he can drink, and
    if he drops into a natural sleep, it may save him.
    I'll look in at midnight, when some change will
    probably take place. Nothing but sleep or a
    miracle will keep him now. Good night."

    Away went the Doctor; and, devouring a whole
    mouthful of grapes, I lowered the lamp, wet
    the captain's head, and sat down on a hard stool
    to begin my watch. The captain lay with his
    hot, haggard face turned toward me, filling the air
    with his poisonous breath, and feebly muttering,
    with lips and tongue so parched that the sanest
    speech would have been difficult to understand.
    Robert was stretched on his bed in the inner room,
    the door of which stood ajar, that a fresh draught
    from his open window might carry the fever-fumes
    away through mine. I could just see a long, dark
    figure, with the lighter outline of a face, and, having
    little else to do just then, I fell to thinking of
    this curious contraband, who evidently prized
    his freedom highly, yet seemed in no haste to
    enjoy it. Doctor Franck had offered to send him on
    to safer quarters, but he had said, "No, thank
    yer, Sir, not yet," and then had gone away to
    fall into one of those black moods of his, which
    began to disturb me, because I had no power to
    lighten them. As I sat listening to the clocks from
    the steeples all about us, I amused myself with
    planning Robert's future, as I often did my own,
    and had dealt out to him a generous hand of
    trumps wherewith to play this game of life which
    hitherto had gone so cruelly against him, when a
    harsh, choked voice called,--

    "Lucy!"

    It was the captain, and some new terror seemed
    to have gifted him with momentary strength.

    "Yes, here's Lucy," I answered, hoping that
    by following the fancy I might quiet him,--for
    his face was damp with the clammy moisture, and
    his frame shaken with the nervous tremor that so
    often precedes death. His dull eye fixed upon
    me, dilating with a bewildered look of incredulity
    and wrath, till he broke out fiercely.--

    "That's a lie! she's dead,--and so's Bob,
    damn him!"

    Finding speech a failure, I began to sing the
    quiet tune that had often soothed delirium like
    this; but hardly had the line,

    "See gentle patience smile on pain,"

    passed my lips, when he clutched me by the wrist,
    whispering like one in mortal fear,--

    "Hush! she used to sing that way to Bob, but
    she never would to me. I swore I'd whip the
    Devil out of her, and I did; but you know before
    she cut her throat she said she'd haunt me, and
    there she is!"

    He pointed behind me with an aspect of such
    pale dismay, that I involuntarily glanced over
    my shoulder and started as if I had seen a veritable
    ghost; for, peering from the gloom of that inner
    room, I saw a shadowy face, with dark hair all
    about it, and a glimpse of scarlet at the throat.
    An instant showed me that it was only Robert
    leaning from his bed's-foot, wrapped in a gray
    army-blanket, with his red shirt just visible above
    it, and his long hair disordered by sleep. But
    what a strange expression was on his face! The
    unmarred side was toward me, fixed and motionless
    as when I first observed it,--less absorbed
    now, but more intent. His eye glittered, his lips
    were apart like one who listened with every sense,
    and his whole aspect reminded me of a hound to which
    some wind had brought the scent of unsuspected prey.

    "Do you know him, Robert? Does he mean
    you?"

    "Lord, no, Ma'am; they all own half a dozen
    Bobs: but hearin' my name woke me; that's all."

    He spoke quite naturally, and lay down again,
    while I returned to my charge, thinking that this
    paroxysm was probably his last. But by another
    hour I perceived a hopeful change, for the tremor
    had subsided, the cold dew was gone, his breathing
    was more regular, and Sleep, the healer, had
    descended to save or take him gently away.
    Doctor Franck looked in at midnight, bade me
    keep all cool and quiet, and not fail to administer
    a certain draught as soon as the captain woke.
    Very much relieved, I laid my head on my arms,
    uncomfortably folded on the little table, and
    fancied I was about to perform one of the feats
    which practice renders possible,--"sleeping with
    one eye open," as we say: a half-and-half doze, for
    all senses sleep but that of hearing; the faintest
    murmur, sigh, or motion will break it, and give
    one back one's wits much brightened by the
    permission to "stand at ease." On this night,
    the experiment was a failure, for previous vigils,
    confinement, and much care had rendered naps
    a dangerous indulgence, Having roused half a
    dozen times in an hour to find all quiet, I dropped
    my heavy head on my arms, and, drowsily resolving
    to look up again in fifteen minutes, fell fast
    asleep.

    The striking of a deep-voiced clock woke me
    with a start. "That is one," thought I, but, to
    my dismay, two more strokes followed; and in
    remorseful haste I sprang up to see what harm my
    long oblivion had done. A strong hand put me
    back into my seat, and held me there. It was
    Robert. The instant my eye met his my heart
    began to beat, and all along my nerves tingled
    that electric flash which foretells a danger that we
    cannot see. He was very pale, his mouth grim,
    and both eyes full of sombre fire,--for even the
    wounded one was open now, all the more sinister
    for the deep scar above and below. But his touch
    was steady, his voice quiet, as he said,--

    "Sit still, Ma'am; I won't hurt yer, nor even
    scare yer, if I can help it, but yer waked too
    soon."

    "Let me go, Robert,--the captain is stirring,
    --I must give him something."

    "No, Ma'am, yer can't stir an inch. Look
    here!"

    Holding me with one hand, with the other he
    took up the glass in which I had left the draught,
    and showed me it was empty.

    "Has he taken it?" I asked, more and more
    bewildered.

    "I flung it out o' winder, Ma'am; he'll have to
    do without."

    "But why, Robert? why did you do it?"

    "Because I hate him!"

    Impossible to doubt the truth of that; his whole
    face showed it, as he spoke through his set teeth,
    and launched a fiery glance at the unconscious
    captain. I could only hold my breath and stare
    blankly at him, wondering what mad act was coming
    next. I suppose I shook and turned white, as women
    have a foolish habit of doing when sudden danger
    daunts them; for Robert released my arm, sat down
    upon the bedside just in front of me, and said, with
    the ominous quietude that made me cold to see and hear,--

    "Don't yer be frightened, Ma'am: don't try
    to run away, fer the door's locked an' the key
    in my pocket; don't yer cry out, fer yer'd have to
    scream a long while, with my hand on yer mouth,
    before yer was heard. Be still, an' I'll tell yer
    what I'm goin' to do."

    "Lord help us! he has taken the fever in some
    sudden, violent way, and is out of his head. I
    must humor him till some one comes"; in pursuance
    of which swift determination, I tried to say,
    quite composedly,--

    "I will be still and hear you; but open the
    window. Why did you shut it?"

    "I'm sorry I can't do it, Ma'am; but yer'd
    jump out, or call, if I did, an' I'm not ready yet.
    I shut it to make yer sleep, an' heat would do it
    quicker'n anything else I could do."

    The captain moved, and feebly muttered,
    "Water!" Instinctively I rose to give it to him,
    but the heavy hand came down upon my shoulder,
    and in the same decided tone Robert said,-=

    "The water went with the physic; let him
    call."

    "Do let me go to him! he'll die without
    care!"

    "I mean he shall;--don't yer interfere, if yer
    please, Ma'am."

    In spite of his quiet tone and respectful manner,
    I saw murder in his eyes, and turned faint with
    fear; yet the fear excited me, and, hardly knowing
    what I did, I seized the hands that had seized me,
    crying,--

    "No, no, you shall not kill him! it is base to
    hurt a helpless man. Why do you hate him?
    He is not your master?"

    "He's my brother."

    I felt that answer from head to foot. and
    seemed to fathom what was coming, with a
    prescience vague, but unmistakable. One appeal
    was left to me, and I made it.

    "Robert, tell me what it means? Do not
    commit a crime and make me accessory to it--
    There is a better way of righting wrong than by
    violence;--let me help you find it."

    My voice trembled as I spoke, and I heard the
    frightened flutter of my heart; so did he, and if
    any little act of mine had ever won affection or
    respect from him, the memory of it served me
    then. He looked down, and seemed to put some
    question to himself; whatever it was, the answer
    was in my favor, for when his eyes rose again,
    they were gloomy, but not desperate.

    "I will tell you, Ma'am; but mind, this makes
    no difference; the boy is mine. I'll give the Lord
    a chance to take him fust; if He don't, I shall."

    "Oh, no! remember, he is your brother."

    An unwise speech; I felt it as it passed my lips,
    for a black frown gathered on Robert's face, and
    his strong hands closed with an ugly sort of grip.
    But he did not touch the poor soul gasping there
    before him, and seemed content to let the slow
    suffocation of that stifling room end his frail life.

    "I'm not like to forget that, Ma'am, when I've
    been thinkin' of it all this week. I knew him when
    they fetched him in, an' would 'a' done it long
    'fore this, but I wanted to ask where Lucy was;
    he knows,--he told to-night,--an' now he's done
    for."

    "Who is Lucy?" I asked hurriedly, intent on
    keeping his mind busy with any thought but
    murder.

    With one of the swift transitions of a mixed
    temperament like this, at my question Robert's
    deep eyes filled, the clenched hands were spread
    before his face, and all I heard were the broken
    words,--

    "My wife,--he took her--"

    In that instant every thought of fear was swallowed
    up in burning indignation for the wrong,
    and a perfect passion of pity for the desperate man
    so tempted to avenge an injury for which there
    seemed no redress but this. He was no longer
    slave or contraband, no drop of black blood
    marred him in my sight, but an infinite compassion
    yearned to save, to help, to comfort him.
    Words seemed so powerless I offered none, only
    put my hand on his poor head, wounded, homeless,
    bowed down with grief for which I had no
    cure, and softly smoothed the long neglected hair,
    pitifully wondering the while where was the
    wife who must have loved this tender-hearted man
    so well.

    The captain moaned again, and faintly whispered,
    "Air!" but I never stirred. God forgive me!
    just then I hated him as only a woman thinking
    of a sister woman's wrong could hate. Robert
    looked up; his eyes were dry again, his mouth
    grim. I saw that, said, "Tell me more," and he
    did,--for sympathy is a gift the poorest may give,
    the proudest stoop to receive.

    "Yer see, Ma'am, his father,--I might say
    ours, if I warn't ashamed of both of 'em,--his
    father died two years ago, an' left us all to
    Marster Ned,--that's him here, eighteen then. He
    always hated me, I looked so like old Marster: he
    don't--only the light skin an' hair. Old Marster
    was kind to all of us, me 'specially, an' bought
    Lucy off the next plantation down there in South
    Car'lina, when he found I liked her. I married
    her, all I could, Ma'am; it warn't much, but we
    was true to one another till Marster Ned come
    home a year after an' made hell fer both of us.
    He sent my old mother to be used up in his
    rice swamp in Georgy; he found me with my pretty
    Lucy, an' though young Miss cried, an' I prayed
    to him on my knees, an' Lucy run away, he
    wouldn't have no mercy; he brought her back,
    an'--took her, Ma'am."

    "Oh! what did you do?" I cried, hot with
    helpless pain and passion.

    How the man's outraged heart sent the blood
    flaming up into his face and deepened the tones
    of his impetuous voice, as he stretched his arm
    across the bed, saying, with a terribly expressive
    gesture,--

    "I half murdered him, an' to-night I'll finish."

    "Yes, yes,--but go on now; what came next?"

    He gave me a look that showed no white man could
    have felt a deeper degradation in remembering and
    confessing these last acts of brotherly
    oppression.

    "They whipped me till I couldn't stand, an'
    then they sold me further South. Yer thought
    I was a white man once;--look here!"

    With a sudden wrench he tore the shirt from
    neck to waist, and on his strong brown shoulders
    showed me furrows deeply ploughed, wounds
    which, though healed, were ghastlier to me than
    any in that house. I could not speak to him, and,
    with the pathetic dignity a great grief lends the
    humblest sufferer, he ended his brief tragedy by
    simply saying,--

    "That's all. Ma'am. I've never seen her since,
    an' now I never shall in this world,--maybe not
    in t' other."

    "But, Robert, why think her dead? The
    captain was wandering when he said those sad
    things; perhaps he will retract them when he is
    sane. Don't despair; don't give up yet."

    "No, Ma'am, I guess he's right; she was too
    proud to bear that long. It's like her to kill
    herself. I told her to, if there was no other way;
    an' she always minded me, Lucy did. My poor
    girl! Oh, it warn't right! No, by God, it warn't!"

    As the memory of this bitter wrong, this
    double bereavement, burned in his sore heart, the
    devil that lurks in every strong man's blood leaped
    up; he put his hand upon his brother's throat, and,
    watching the white face before him, muttered low
    between his teeth,--

    "I'm lettin' him go too easy; there's no pain in
    this; we a'n't even yet. I wish he knew me.
    Marster Ned! it's Bob; where's Lucy?"

    From the captain's lips there came a long faint
    sigh, and nothing but a flutter of the eyelids
    showed that he still lived. A strange stillness
    filled the room as the elder brother held the
    younger's life suspended in his hand, while wavering
    between a dim hope and a deadly hate. In
    the whirl of thoughts that went on in my brain,
    only one was clear enough to act upon. I must
    prevent murder, if I could,--but how? What
    could I do up there alone, locked in with a dying
    man and a lunatic?--for any mind yielded utterly
    to any unrighteous impulse is mad while the impulse
    rules it. Strength I had not, nor much
    courage, neither time nor wit for stratagem, and
    chance only could bring me help before it was
    too late. But one weapon I possessed,--a tongue,
    --often a woman's best defence: and sympathy,
    stronger than fear, gave me power to use it. What
    I said Heaven only knows, but surely Heaven
    helped me; words burned on my lips, tears
    streamed from my eyes, and some good angel
    prompted me to use the one name that had power
    to arrest my hearer's hand and touch his heart.
    For at that moment I heartily believed that Lucy
    lived, and this earnest faith roused in him a like
    belief.

    He listened with the lowering look of one in
    whom brute instinct was sovereign for the time,--
    a look that makes the noblest countenance base.
    He was but a man,--a poor, untaught, outcast,
    outraged man. Life had few joys for him; the
    world offered him no honors, no success, no home,
    no love. What future would this crime mar? and
    why should he deny himself that sweet, yet bitter
    morsel called revenge? How many white men,
    with all New England's freedom, culture, Christianity,
    would not have felt as he felt then?
    Should I have reproached him for a human anguish,
    a human longing for redress, all now left
    him from the ruin of his few poor hopes? Who
    had taught him that self-control, self-sacrifice, are
    attributes that make men masters of the earth and
    lift them nearer heaven? Should I have urged
    the beauty of forgiveness, the duty of devout
    submission? He had no religion, for he was no
    saintly "Uncle Tom," and Slavery's black shadow
    seemed to darken all the world to him and shut
    out God. Should I have warned him of penalties,
    of judgments, and the potency of law? What
    did he know of justice, or the mercy that should
    temper that stern virtue, when every law, human
    and divine, had been broken on his hearthstone?
    Should I have tried to touch him by appeals to
    filial duty, to brotherly love? How had his
    appeals been answered? What memories had
    father and brother stored up in his heart to plead
    for either now? No,--all these influences, these
    associations, would have proved worse than useless,
    had I been calm enough to try them. I was
    not; but instinct, subtler than reason, showed me
    the one safe clue by which to lead this troubled
    soul from the labyrinth in which it groped and
    nearly fell. When I paused, breathless, Robert
    turned to me, asking, as if human assurances could
    strengthen his faith in Divine Omnipotence,--

    "Do you believe, if I let Marster Ned live, the
    Lord will give me back my Lucy?"

    "As surely as there is a Lord, you will find her
    here or in the beautiful hereafter, where there is
    no black or white, no master and no slave."

    He took his hand from his brother's throat,
    lifted his eyes from my face to the wintry sky
    beyond, as if searching for that blessed country,
    happier even than the happy North. Alas, it was
    the darkest hour before the dawn!--there was no
    star above, no light below but the pale glimmer
    of the lamp that showed the brother who had
    made him desolate. Like a blind man who believes
    there is a sun, yet cannot see it, he shook
    his head, let his arms drop nervously upon his
    knees, and sat there dumbly asking that question
    which many a soul whose faith is firmer fixed than
    his has asked in hours less dark than this,--

    "Where is God?" I saw the tide had turned,
    and strenuously tried to keep this rudderless
    lifeboat from slipping back into the whirlpool
    wherein it had been so nearly lost.

    "I have listened to you, Robert; now hear me,
    and heed what I say, because my heart is full of
    pity for you, full of hope for your future, and a
    desire to help you now. I want you to go away
    from here, from the temptation of this place, and
    the sad thoughts that haunt it. You have conquered
    yourself once, and I honor you for it, because,
    the harder the battle, the more glorious the
    victory; but it is safer to put a greater distance
    between you and this man. I will write you
    letters, give you money, and send you to good old
    Massachusetts to begin your new life a freeman,
    --yes, and a happy man; for when the captain is
    himself again, I will learn where Lucy is, and move
    heaven and earth to find and give her back to
    you. Will you do this, Robert?"

    Slowly, very slowly, the answer came; for the
    purpose of a week, perhaps a year, was hard to
    relinquish in an hour.

    "Yes, Ma'am, I will."

    "Good! Now you are the man I thought you,
    and I'll work for you with all my heart. You
    need sleep, my poor fellow; go, and try to forget.
    The captain is still alive, and as yet you are spared
    the sin. No, don't look there; I'll care for him.
    Come, Robert, for Lucy's sake."

    Thank Heaven for the immortality of love!
    for when all other means of salvation failed, a spark
    of this vital fire softened the man's iron will until
    a woman's hand could bend it. He let me take
    from him the key, let me draw him gently away
    and lead him to the solitude which now was the
    most healing balm I could bestow. Once in his
    little room, he fell down on his bed and lay there
    as if spent with the sharpest conflict of his life. I
    slipped the bolt across his door, and unlocked my
    own, flung up the window, steadied myself with a
    breath of air, then rushed to Doctor Franck. He
    came; and till dawn we worked together, saving
    one brother's life, and taking earnest thought how
    best to secure the other's liberty. When the sun
    came up as blithely as if it shone only upon happy
    homes, the Doctor went to Robert. For an hour
    I heard the murmur of their voices; once I caught
    the sound of heavy sobs, and for a time a reverent
    hush, as if in the silence that good man were
    ministering to soul as well as sense. When he
    departed he took Robert with him, pausing to tell
    me he should get him off as soon as possible, but
    not before we met again.

    Nothing more was seen of them all day; another
    surgeon came to see the captain, and another
    attendant came to fill the empty place. I tried to
    rest, but could not, with the thought of poor Lucy
    tugging at my heart, and was soon back at my
    post again, anxiously hoping that my contraband
    had not been too hastily spirited away. Just as
    night fell there came a tap, and opening, I saw
    Robert literally "clothed and in his right mind."
    The Doctor had replaced the ragged suit with
    tidy garments, and no trace of that tempestuous
    night remained but deeper lines upon the forehead,
    and the docile look of a repentant child. He did
    not cross the threshold, did not offer me his hand,
    --only took off his cap, saying, with a traitorous
    falter in his voice,--

    "God bless you, Ma'am! I'm goin'."

    I put out both my hands, and held his fast.

    "Good-bye, Robert! Keep up good heart,
    and when I come home to Massachusetts we'll
    meet in a happier place than this. Are you quite
    ready, quite comfortable for your journey?

    "Yes, Ma'am, Yes; the Doctor's fixed everything;
    I'm goin' with a friend of his; my papers
    are all right, an' I'm as happy as I can be till I
    find,--"

    He stopped there; then went on, with a glance
    into the room,--

    "I'm glad I didn't do it, an' I thank yer,
    Ma'am, fer hinderin' me,--thank yer hearty; but
    I'm afraid I hate him jest the same."

    Of course he did; and so did I; for these faulty
    hearts of ours cannot turn perfect in a night, but
    need frost and fire, wind and rain, to ripen and
    make them ready for the great harvest-home.
    Wishing to divert his mind, I put my poor mite
    into his hand, and, remembering the magic of a
    certain little book, I gave him mine, on whose
    dark cover whitely shone the Virgin Mother and
    the Child, the grand history of whose life the book
    contained. The money went into Robert's pocket
    with a grateful murmur, the book into his bosom
    with a long took and a tremulous--

    "I never saw my baby, Ma'am."

    I broke down then; and though my eyes were
    too dim to see, I felt the touch of lips upon my
    hands, heard the sound of departing feet, and
    knew my contraband was gone.

    When one feels an intense dislike, the less one
    says about the subject of it the better; therefore
    I shall merely record that the captain lived,--in
    time was exchanged; and that, whoever the other
    party was, I am convinced the Government got
    the best of the bargain. But long before this
    occurred, I had fulfilled my promise to Robert; for
    as soon as my patient recovered strength of memory
    enough to make his answer trustworthy, I asked, without
    any circumlocution,--

    "Captain Fairfax, where is Lucy?"

    And too feeble to be angry, surprised, or insincere,
    he straightway answered,--

    "Dead, Miss Dane."

    "And she killed herself, when you sold Bob?"

    "How the Devil did you know that?" he
    muttered, with an expression half-remorseful,
    half-amazed; but I was satisfied, and said no more.

    Of course, this went to Robert, waiting far
    away there in a lonely home,--waiting, working,
    hoping for his Lucy. It almost broke my heart
    to do it; but delay was weak, deceit was wicked;
    so I sent the heavy tidings. and very soon the
    answer came,--only three lines; but I felt that the
    sustaining power of the man's life was gone.

    "I thought I'd never see her any more; I'm glad
    to know she's out of trouble. I thank yer, Ma'am;
    an' if they let us, I'll fight fer yer till I'm killed.
    which I hope will be 'fore long."

    Six months later he had his wish, and kept his
    word.

    Every one knows the story of the attack on
    Fort Wagner; but we should not tire yet of
    recalling how our Fifty-Fourth, spent with three
    sleepless nights, a day's fast, and a march under
    the July sun, stormed the fort as night fell, facing
    death in many shapes, following their brave leaders
    through a fiery rain of shot and shell, fighting
    valiantly for God and Governor Andrew,"--
    how the regiment that went into action seven hundred
    strong came out having had nearly half its
    number captured, killed, or wounded, leaving
    their young commander to be buried, like a chief
    of earlier times, with his body-guard around him,
    faithful to the death. Surely, the insult turns to
    honor, and the wide grave needs no monument
    but the heroism that consecrates it in our sight;
    surely, the hearts that held him nearest see through
    their tears a noble victory in the seeming sad defeat;
    and surely, God's benediction was bestowed,
    when this loyal soul answered, as Death called
    the roll, "Lord, here I am, with the brothers
    Thou hast given me!"

    The future must show how well that fight was
    fought; for though Fort Wagner still defies us,
    public prejudice is down; and through the cannon
    smoke of that black night the manhood of the
    colored race shines before many eyes that would
    not see, rings in many ears that would not hear,
    wins many hearts that would not hitherto believe.

    When the news came that we were needed,
    there was none so glad as I to leave teaching
    contrabands, the new work I had taken up, and
    go to nurse "our boys," as my dusky flock so
    proudly called the wounded of the Fifty-Fourth.
    Feeling more satisfaction, as I assumed my big
    apron and turned up my cuffs, than if dressing for
    the President's levee, I fell to work on board the
    hospital-ship in Hilton-Head harbor. The scene
    was most familiar, and yet strange; for only dark
    faces looked up at me from the pallets so thickly
    laid along the floor, and I missed the sharp accent
    of my Yankee boys in the slower, softer voices
    calling cheerily to one another, or answering my
    questions with a stout, "We'll never give it up,
    Ma'am, till the last Reb's dead," or, "If our
    people's free, we can afford to die."

    Passing from bed to bed, intent on making one
    pair of hands do the work of three, at least, I
    gradually washed, fed, and bandaged my way
    down the long line of sable heroes, and coming to
    the very last, found that he was my contraband.
    So old, so worn, so deathly weak and wan, I
    never should have known him but for the deep
    scar on his cheek. That side lay uppermost, and
    caught my eye at once; but even then I doubted,
    such an awful change had come upon him, when,
    turning to the ticket just above his head, I saw the
    name, "Robert Dane." That both assured and
    touched me, for, remembering that he had no
    name, I knew that he had taken mine. I longed
    for him to speak to me, to tell how he had fared
    since I lost sight of him, and let me perform some
    little service for him in return for many he had
    done for me; but he seemed asleep; and as I
    stood re-living that strange night again, a bright
    lad, who lay next him softly waving an old fan
    across both beds, looked up and said,--

    "I guess you know him, Ma'am?"

    "You are right. Do you?"

    "As much as any one was able to, Ma'am."

    "Why do you say 'was,' as if the man were
    dead and gone?"

    "I s'pose because I know he'll have to go.
    He's got a bad jab in the breast, an' is bleedin'
    inside, the Doctor says. He don't suffer any,
    only gets weaker 'n' weaker every minute. I've
    been fannin' him this long while, an' he's talked
    a little; but he don't know me now, so he's most
    gone, I guess."

    There was so much sorrow and affection in the
    boy's face, that I remembered something, and
    asked, with redoubled interest,--

    Are you the one that brought him off? I
    was told about a boy who nearly lost his life in
    saving that of his mate."

    I dare say the young fellow blushed, as any
    modest lad might have done; I could not see it,
    but I heard the chuckle of satisfaction that escaped
    him, as he glanced from his shattered arm and
    bandaged side to the pale figure opposite.

    "Lord, Ma'am, that's nothin'; we boys always
    stan' by one another, an' I warn't goin' to
    leave him to be tormented any more by them
    cussed Rebs. He's been a slave once, though
    he don't look half so much like it as me, an'
    was born in Boston."

    He did not; for the speaker was as black as the ace
    of spades,--being a sturdy specimen, the knave of clubs
    would perhaps be a fitter representative,-- but the dark
    freeman looked at the white slave with the pitiful, yet
    puzzled expression I have so often seen on the faces of
    our wisest men, when this tangled question of Slavery
    presents itself, asking to be cut or patiently undone.

    "Tell me what you know of this man; for,
    even if he were awake, he is too weak to talk."

    "I never saw him till I joined the regiment, an'
    no one 'peared to have got much out of him. He
    was a shut-up sort of feller, an' didn't seem to
    care for anything but gettin' at the Rebs. Some
    say he was the fust man of us that enlisted; I know
    he fretted till we were off, an' when we pitched
    into old Wagner, he fought like the Devil."

    "Were you with him when he was wounded?
    How was it?"

    "Yes, Ma'am. There was somethin' queer
    about it; for he 'peared to know the chap that
    killed him, an' the chap knew him. I don't dare
    to ask, but I rather guess one owned the other
    some time,--for, when they clinched, the chap
    sung out, 'Bob!' an' Dane, 'Marster Ned!
    then they went at it."

    I sat down suddenly, for the old anger and
    compassion struggled in my heart, and I both longed
    and feared to hear what was to follow.

    "You see, when the Colonel--Lord keep an'
    send him back to us!--it a'n't certain yet, you
    know, Ma'am, though it's two days ago we lost
    him--well, when the Colonel shouted, 'Rush on.
    boys, rush on!' Dane tore away as if he was
    goin' to take the fort alone; I was next him, an'
    kept close as we went through the ditch an' up
    the wall. Hi! warn't that a rusher!" and the
    boy flung up his well arm with a whoop, as if the
    mere memory of that stirring moment came over
    him in a gust of irrepressible excitement.

    "Were you afraid?" I said,--asking the question
    women often put, and receiving the answer
    they seldom fail to get.

    "No, Ma'am!"-- emphasis on the "Ma'am,"
    --"I never thought of anything but the damn
    Rebs, that scalp, slash, an' cut our ears off, when
    they git us. I was bound to let daylight into one
    of 'em at least, an' I did. Hope he liked it!"

    "It is evident that you did, and I don't blame
    you in the least. Now go on about Robert, for
    I should be at work."

    "He was one of the fust up; I was just behind,
    an' though the whole thing happened in a minute.
    I remember how it was, for all I was yellin' an'
    knockin' round like mad. Just where we were,
    some sort of an officer was wavin' his sword an'
    cheerin' on his men; Dane saw him by a big
    flash that come by; he flung away his gun, give a
    leap, an' went at that feller as if he was Jeff,
    Beauregard, an' Lee, all in one. I scrabbled
    after as quick as I could, but was only up in time
    to see him git the sword straight through him an'
    drop into the ditch. You needn't ask what I did
    next, Ma'am, for I don't quite know myself; all
    I 'm clear about is, that I managed somehow to
    pitch that Reb into the fort as dead as Moses,
    git hold of Dane, an' bring him off. Poor old
    feller! we said we went in to live or die; he said
    he went in to die, an' he 's done it."

    I had been intently watching the excited
    speaker; but as he regretfully added those last
    words I turned again, and Robert's eyes met mine,
    --those melancholy eyes, so full of an intelligence
    that proved he had heard, remembered, and reflected
    with that preternatural power which often
    outlives all other faculties. He knew me, yet
    gave no greeting; was glad to see a woman's face,
    yet had no smile wherewith to welcome it; felt
    that he was dying, yet uttered no farewell. He
    was too far across the river to return or linger
    now; departing thought, strength, breath, were
    spent in one grateful look, one murmur of submission
    to the last pang he could ever feel. His lips
    moved, and, bending to them, a whisper chilled
    my cheek, as it shaped the broken words,--

    "I would have done it,--but it 's better so,--
    I'm satisfied."

    Ah! well he might be,--for, as he turned his face
    from the shadow of the life that was, the sunshine
    of the life to be touched it with a beautiful
    content, and in the drawing of a breath my
    contraband found wife and home, eternal liberty
    and God.
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