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Robert E. Lee Portrait
NEWS FROM THE WAR.
ONE of our most ingenious
Mr. Winslow Homer, has portrayed in the picture
which we publish on pages 376 and 377 the thrilling effect of the NEWS FROM THE
WAR. There is news that is exciting and triumphant: news of battles fought and
won; of forts stormed in the teeth of rebel cannon; of brilliant charges with
the bayonet, or fierce avalanches of cavalry; of daring reconnoissances and
hair-breadth escapes: news which fires the heart and makes the eye glisten and
the cheek redden with patriotic ardor. And there is news of defeat; of slaughter
and massacre; of gallant Northern boys left to become the prey of Southern
ghouls, who will convert their skulls into trophies, and whose daughters and
wives will not blush to wear ornaments made of their bones; news which makes the
cheek blanch, and nerves the brave man's heart to further encounters, and warns
the wise man that the time for half-measures has passed. News of the war! We all
live on it. Few of us but would prefer our newspaper in those times to our
breakfast. To some it comes as the brilliant radiance of sunlight after a gloomy
morning, announcing that one who is near and dear to us has fulfilled the hopes
of his friends, and has won fame and promotion and a place in history. To many
tender hearts news of the war, be it of victory or defeat, merely means the
death or wounding of some dear soldier. How little they think, whose lovers or
brothers are reported in the fatal list of killed and wounded, of the triumphs
or the perils of the Union cause! Little she reeks, whose face is buried in her
handkerchief in an agony of anguish, of the utter discomfiture of the rebels!
Her discomfiture is more complete and more abiding than theirs. And then there
is the news of Union victories, conveyed through trumpet-tongued rumor, to
gallant Unionists in prison in the South, to cheer their dreary days; to wounded
men in hospital and in sorrow, whose pains seem less acute, and whose blood
courses more freely as they realize that the cause in which they suffered has
received new lustre; to soldiers in the camp, who hear, with half-suppressed
jealousy, of glories they did not share, and who vow, as they listen to the
news, that when their time comes, they too will make themselves heard of. The
only thing which thrills every heart nowadays is the News of the War. Mr. Homer,
we think, has done justice to his subject.
"COME here a moment, please."
We had only a glimmer of light in
the hospital, for the cots were nearly all empty. Most of our wounded had been
sent home; but the moon was full, and poured its white stream of radiance right
down on the face of the man who had spoken to me.
"What is it you want?" I asked.
" I don't like to be alone. I
feel rather strangely."
"You are excited; what is the
The thin, keen features of the
man wore an eager, restless expression; his black eyes shone fiercely.
"I'm a deserter, you know. This
wound troubles me a little. You don't think I deserted from cupidity, do you?"
"Really I know nothing about it.
You are not well to-night ; I shall give you something quieting so that you may
"No, no, just stay here a moment.
Don't leave me."
He looked so eager that I sat
down on his cot, felt his pulse again, rearranged his bandages, and placed his
pillow more comfortably.
"Your touch is gentle as a
woman's," he said, gratefully, sighing as he spoke. I sat still a little while,
then rose to order his medicine, but he grasped me by the hand and drew me down
again by him.
"This moonlight reminds me of the
night I came near losing my sword-arm. I was lieutenant in a Louisiana regiment.
We had a pretty hard brush with your fellows, and I found myself face to face
with the toughest subject you ever saw. Twice I thought myself gone: our
cartridges were out, and with a great shout of 'Liberty and Union!' the Yankee
came at me with his sabre, cutting a gash in my arm that laid me low.
Fortunately they had to fly just then, or I should have been in the other world.
When I came to my senses, I was all alone with just such a glare of moonlight in
my eyes as shines to-night. I was very weak and consuming with thirst, and not
especially thankful to my brave comrades for thus leaving use in the lurch. You
must know that I joined the army without a spark of love for secession: not a
jot of principle in the matter—purely from the love of adventure, and with my
French blood tingling at the thought of 'la gloire.' I have had different
teaching since; so you need not be hasty in thinking me very contemptible. Glory
has been the dream of my life."
Pale, wasted as he was, the young
lieutenant's face had a strange fascination in it. Now his eyes gleamed again,
his proud mouth was tremulous with feeling that, of course, was yet
incomprehensible to me. I tried to make him be silent; but so intense was his
desire to speak that I found it best to listen calmly—best for more reasons than
one: life was low in the chalice, perhaps my listening might sweeten its last
"Yes, glory has been a bright
dream ever since I could listen to old stories of my ancestors in other lands,
where our name was a proud one, a name I have tried to keep with honor. Well, I
woke in the moonlight with a dim sense of concern for my generous friends who
had left me to fate, and a very urgent desire to get water; so I managed to
crawl through the woods, sometimes rising to my feet only to fall again, though
I had tied my handkerchief round my arm to stop the bleeding. I recollected
passing a farm-house before the fray, and as well as I could made my way for it.
I was fortunate; though alarmed, the occupants were accustomed to danger and
kindly took me in. For some time I was very ill: during my illness
our regiment was ordered off;
indeed the Federals had gained possession of that part of the country. No one
molested me; for the family was a poor Union one, who had been robbed of nearly
all their valuables, but who, notwithstanding our ill-treatment, did not make
known my refuge. I need not tell you how kind they were, how patient and
careful; there was only an elderly woman, a boy of fourteen, and a young woman
in the family. From the time I first opened my eyes after the delirium of fever,
until—no matter for time—but kindness and tenderest care from both, but
principally the younger woman, greeted me. I can see her great, dark, sad eyes
looking now at me. 'Dieu!' how beautiful, how tender, how full of love. Love,
did I say? adoration! What a life was hers! Poor Nina, poor Nina ! She was the
daughter of one of the most influential, proudest merchants in New Orleans—her
mother a quadroon slave. The father died one day of apoplexy without adjusting
his 'property,' leaving Nina a slave. Too proud, too good, too beautiful. She
fled, for her mother had already named her price—three thousand dollars. I gnash
my teeth with rage at our cursed institution—she taught me what I was fighting
to perpetuate. She, poor Nina, not even then safe from pursuers. I can not
express to you how gentle and tender was her care of me. I can only tell you
that it inspired the deepest love." The invalid raised himself on one arm,
flashing darker, deeper than ever were his black eyes—a noble brow, white and
thin to spirituality—the proud lips quivering again with pain and passion. Again
I tried unavailingly to soothe him—he must have felt the strong tide of life
ebbing, but it seemed only to nerve him on to speaking.
"I had left in New Orleans rare
beauties, my own cousins—proud, elegant women; I have frittered time away over
soulless creatures; I have believed myself in love with these moths, glittering,
gaudy, vain beings; but never had I loved truly till I saw Nina. You do not know
what it cost me to confess this even to myself. I, who had dreamed of glory all
my life—I, who had proudest of blood in my veins—I to love a woman tainted with
African lineage! I feel wild—the room swims—hush, you must listen! Nina's voice
was rich with melody, but it became torture. Her gentle, healing touch
distracted me, her light footfall, her winning womanliness and modesty all
jarred. I was nearly mad, and because I loved her—loved her whose price was
three thousand dollars!
"I can see the room where I lay
day after day battling dire thoughts—wan and weak, weaker than now, for to-night
I am strong. My wound would not heal, for my brain was on fire. So lying there
on the nice white pillows, fanned or read to by that beautiful, sad, passionate
woman, who, even in her nice sense of beauty and order, in her loving desire to
please, in her longing to amuse or change the current of my unhappy thoughts,
betrayed the same emotion which was galling me. She wreathed flowers dextrously;
she cooked the most delicate birds for my fastidious appetite; she sang softly
low-toned ballads, rich and sweet, in old French words. And I, cold, mute,
passive, listened with ears intent to hear, eyes aching to drink in her
loveliness; for she was lovely—yes, though worth only three thousand dollars!
"I will stop soon; you are kind
to be patient. I was dreaming one night of past scenes—of my beautiful,
fashionable cousins; but their faces became suddenly dark and vicious as imps;
their voices taunting, mocking me with my love of glory, my hopes of fame; for
it seemed as if Nina had told them of my love for her, and in their impishness
it became a matter of rare sport to jeer and mock use with my sudden fall from
greatness, from ancestral pride. I suppose I spoke aloud in my dreams, for as I
woke a pale face, whose dark eyes were floating with tears, vanished like a
vision before use. So I knew that Nina had heard all. The next day I was left
all alone. Oh, how long it was! how wearily impatient I became for my kind
nurse, my tender friend! The day wore away, and evening came. In the long,
tranquil twilight I watched the stars as a sick man will, longing for Nina. She
came at last, slowly, feebly, as if very tired, very weary and depressed. For
the first time I drew her close to me, her unresisting head down on my bosom,
and told her that I loved her better than life, better than fame, better than
any human being in the wide, wide world. She was very still; only her soft
breath on my cheek, enlist the beating of her heart close to mine told me that
she heard. Again I spoke, more intensely, more impatiently, told her all my
struggles; my whole heart poured itself out, and still she knelt at my side in
" 'Speak, Nina!' I said; 'only
say one word.'
" 'I would die for you—I would
die; but I can not live and be yours,' was her only reply. " 'But, Nina, you
must. Have I not given up all? am I not willing to resign a claim which the
world acknowledges—good birth—?' I was going on when she passionately exclaimed,
" 'I can not bear it—stop! I can
not be beneath even you! I have no tame woman's heart; I have the fire of the
South burning, leaping in my veins!' She rose quickly, standing beside use in
her beautiful indignation, pride and love struggling together as they had done
with me. Her words came wildly fast and almost incoherent. She spoke of her
white father bitterly, witheringly; of her slave mother with unmixed contempt;
of the world in disdain, almost cursing her Creator. She was in a passion of
wild grief; of utter, unsubdued anguish. I tried to allay her sorrow, assuring
her of my love. Gradually she calmed down; tears came to her relief. She
caressed me as if I had been a little child she had unwittingly injured—all
harshness, all reproach ceased to issue from her lips. It was like the hushing
of a storm, the gentle rain after flashing electricity and gusts of furious
"I recalled my childish lessons,
long forgotten—of humility, of a Heavenly Father's love and mercy, spite of
"Poor Nina, how quietly she
" It was late when she bade me
good-night, but I thought her happier when we parted.
"I do not know how long I had
slept when I was wakened by strange outcries, scuffling noises, remonstrance,
rough replies, and, as I staggered weakly to the door, a sharp report. Two men
rushed quickly past out of the house, leaving all silent within, excepting a low
sound which I knew to be Nina's voice. I called, and presently the elder woman
came, very much excited and alarmed, saying that the men were slave-catchers in
search of Nina, whom, by their going so hastily away, she feared was injured.
The boy came also quaking into my room, where they at last brought my poor Nina.
She was indeed wounded, mortally—whether by her own hand I could scarcely
determine, though I think it must have been in self-defense.
"She opened her beautiful eyes
only once upon me, then closed them with the same tired, weary expression I had
noticed in the evening. We watched her through the night, but human aid could
not avail. She was gone before morning—to where she could not be sold for three
"Dieu! do you wonder I deserted?
Do you wonder I want to live to meet those wretches? Glory has been my dream—now
vengeance has its place!"
"Vengeance is mine, I will repay,
saith the Lord," was my answer, as the deserter's grasp tightened. His pale face
glowed suddenly, his proud lips quivered, a convulsive smile played over his
fine features—the broad band of moonlight still shimmered over the little cot.
The soldier had joined the ranks above.
IT had been the stupidest
evening. A little singing, a little dancing, and a little talking. Singing!
Fancy a great guy of a girl making mouths over that divine song of tender
sorrow—"Den lieben langen Tag." Actually roaring it out in a hoarse, strident
voice—those mournful, melancholy periods! It makes me shiver to think of it now.
And the dancing! Somebody
thrumming on a piano the "Leduc Lancers," in a limping, haphazard kind of
manner; and the choicest partner in the room a youth who performed remarkable
bows, and said, "Yaas, chawming!"
That youth—I can see him now! He
wore his hair parted in the middle, affected the English drawl, and knew the
latest fashion before it was an hour old. You wouldn't be likely to have your
"Whirled by the whirlings of the
waltz, The fine magnetic manliness,"
in dancing with this specimen.
No, I should think not.
But the talking! Talking?
Twaddle! A graceless gossip, with now and then a suggestion of slander—just a
breath of the malaria.
Don't you know how it's done? A
mention of some name, ominous silences, uplifting of eyebrows, compression of
lips, and the poison is at work as surely as if a Babel of tongues had
Why do nine-tenths of the women
of our day cry out against Mr. Thackeray? Why do they declare his pictures of
society are false and cynical? Because nine-tenths of the women recognize how
fearfully and wonderfully they are made by these sharp strokes of Mr.
Thackeray's pencil; and the likeness frightens and shames them; so they hide
their faces, and cry, "It is false!"
They are not brave enough, not
honest enough, not simple enough, many of them, to take the truth and let it
teach them better manners, better taste, and more Christian charity. They are
afraid of themselves, they are afraid of each other, and they are afraid of Mr.
But I am not going to enter into
a discussion of this matter now. I only wanted to give you an idea of the social
state that evening; and— Well, to go on, as I said, a little singing, a little
dancing, and a little talking; and I had tried all three, and found the yield of
amusement and satisfaction dry and barren.
I had just finished a waltz with
Tommy Meyrun, the little dandy, and was standing in the embrasure of a
bay-window, leaning against the lowered sash with a dull, angry, bored feeling,
out of patience with myself and all the world, specially little Tommy, when
whiff! white violets and fern leaves—that was the odor. And then such a rush of
Don't you understand that?
Perfumes, you know, are associations sometimes. You remember what Holmes says in
the Autocrat: "Memory, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more
readily reached through the sense of smell than by almost any other channel."
His specialty was marigolds and
the yellow everlasting. Mine was the odor of white violets and young fern
I think if I were asleep, and any
one should place a handful of these on my pillow, that I should either awaken at
once with the never-forgotten fragrance thrilling my heart, or else my soul
would wander off into a dream—and no dream, perhaps, but a vision, who can
tell?—of a spring day long past, when a girl, half a child, a girl not yet
fifteen, standing by the brink of a river, lost in her vague sweet fancies,
suddenly finds herself covered and crowned by May's fresh dainties—white violets
and the feathery plumes of the fern. Shaken down in loose bunches, the delicate
sprays and slips settled in her hair, her arms, and dropped into her breast.
Before a start of surprise can come, she meets a face smiling at her in the
smooth water of the river—a boy's face, arch, mischievous, and manly. And a gay
frolic ensues. The flowers serve as missiles, and rain harmlessly about, flung
by the vigorous young hands.
That was all. The day went, and
years went. The boy goes out into the world, and sees a dozen
faces, fairer to him perhaps,
which erases the girl face of that day from his memory, it may be altogether.
And the girl, as years flowed on, ceased to think of the boy-lover, or
admirer—it was hardly a passion. A score of friends—maybe lovers, maybe
admirers—had taken his place. But an odor of white violets and fern leaves
breathes up from woods and dells, and straightway the most curious sense of loss
and desolation pierces and thrills. A flash, and the picture comes: the spring
day, the smooth flowing river, and the young faces meeting there. This was my
experience over and over again. This was my experience now, standing there in
the window embrasure, leaning against the lowered sash
A curious sense of loss and
desolation. That was the oddest part of it. Why should I feel that invariably
with the remembrance? No doubt you will think I am very missyish and sentimental
when I tell you my fancy about it. If regret was in it, it was not for the time,
nor the emotions of the time, but rather for the promise of splendid manhood and
the possibilities lying in that promise. Possibilities and realizations which
had never— Ah, well! I was standing by the window there, you know, when all this
came again with that whiff of violets and fern leaves. But whence came the
violets and ferns?
I looked out into the May night.
No, never in that trim lawny garden space. I did not think of looking within.
Within! Where, drooping in the button-hole of Tommy Meyrun's faultless coat, or
withering in the bosom of one of those chattering magpies?
Violets here! So I kept my eyes
down and mused. Whiff—again—nearer, sweeter. A shadow between me and the lights
beyond. I glanced up.
"How do you do, Duke?" and I put
my hand out to meet his.
"How do you do, Daphne?"
My name was Margaret, but he had
an odd fancy of calling me Daphne. And there in his left hand, swinging idly at
his side, hung the fern feathers and a bunch of white violets. He lifted them to
"I've been Maying, you see."
"Yes; how lovely!" and I eyed
them wistfully. He surveyed my dress a moment, then held out his flowers.
I knew he had a peculiar sense of
fitness. What you would call artistic.
"They quite suit you," he said;
"will you wear them?" .
My dress was all white—a vapory
muslin with soft puffs of lace half covering the material—and not an ornament
nor a suggestion of ribbon.
While I fastened them at my bosom
he went on talking about them.
"I have a fancy for this odd
combination of tree and flower," he said, musingly. "They have a peculiar charm
I looked up curiously, half
disappointedly too, I believe. A sense of invasion, as if it had been my
exclusive right and privilege to have associations connected with these odors.
But he did not answer the look—he gave no explanation; instead, kept on:
"There must have been a spell
upon me to bring these here to-night. You were no doubt waiting for them;" and
he smiled half dreamily, half archly, at his own words.
"I know the combination well," I
remarked, as I mused over the slender pointed lances, striking against my white
dress its pale green blades.
"That is rather odd," he
returned, apparently surprised.
"Odd—why?" and I was surprised.
What mutual mystery were we
running darkly against through this foliage of flowers.
"Why? Well, it's a singular
combination; don't you think so? Violets and ferns?"
"I don't know—is it? How did the
fancy come to you?" I questioned.
"Oh, it is a simple accident of
association. I had a cousin who was fond of them. A splendid good fellow, always
in the woods, and knew every thing about nature. You should have heard him talk.
He had multitudes of stories of trees and plants; associations of course
followed, and this was one. Yes, a splendid good fellow. I always think of what
one of his friends said of him, the only perfect bit of inscription I ever heard
applied to such a soul. 'His heart lies so close to Nature that he feels every
throb she gives, and se his life has become regulated by her sweet and pure
"A flower soul," I said.
"Yes, just. Perfectly manly, yet
as delicate and sensitive as a woman in his tastes and habits."
A full, sweet breath came wafting
up then from the violets, and I thrilled again with my sense of loss.
Perfectly manly, yet as delicate
and sensitive as a delicate woman in his habits and tastes. That was what I had
lost. That was the possibility of my boy-lover—I like the word "lover" for its
earnestness. That was what he might have been if he had lived, I felt sure.
But coming back from the past to
the present, I asked:
"And this cousin, where is he
"Where is he? Oh, dead long
ago—three years or more."
The extreme regret, the yearning
meaning of this, told more than any thing what he was to him —"dead long
ago—three years or more." That three years was an age to him; very long indeed
in separation. And do you believe actually that I felt bereft too? "Dead, both
dead! The type was rare. We shall not be likely to see their like again," I
mused over to myself.
I wanted to know more of this
cousin but did not care to cross into his shadow again.
There is something about Duke
Evan that makes it difficult to follow up a subject when once he gets silent and
thoughtful. Not so much the preoccupation stays you as an assertion of reserve,
quite unexpected and positive. Unexpected, because