Battle of Fredericksburg Poem
[FEBRUARY 7, 1863.
IT was just before the last fierce charge,
When two soldiers drew their rein,
For a parting word and a touch of hands—
They might never meet again.
One had blue eyes and clustering curls—
Nineteen but a month ago
Down on his chin, red on his
The other was dark, and stern, and proud;
If his faith in the world was dim,
He only trusted the more in those
Who were all the world to him.
They had ridden together in many a raid,
They had marched for many a mile,
And ever till now they had met the foe
With a calm and hopeful smile.
But now they looked in each other's eyes
With an awful ghastly gloom,
And the tall dark man was the first to speak:
"Charlie, my hour has come.
"We shall ride together up the hill,
And you will ride back alone;
Promise a little trouble to take
For me when I am gone.
"You will find a face upon my breast—
I shall wear it into the fight
With soft blue eyes, and sunny
"Like morning light was her love to me;
It gladdened a lonely life,
And little I cared for the frowns
"Write to her, Charlie, when I am gone,
And send back the fair, fond face;
Tell her tenderly how I died,
And where is my resting-place.
"Tell her my soul will wait for hers,
In the border-land between
The earth and heaven, until she comes:
It will not be long, I ween."
Tears dimmed the blue eyes of the boy—
His voice was low with pain:
"I will do your bidding, comrade mine,
If I ride back again.
"But if you come back, and I am dead,
You must do as much for me:
My mother at home must hear the news—
Oh, write to her tenderly.
"One after another those she loved
She has buried, husband and son;
I was the last. When my country called,
She kissed me and sent me on.
"She has prayed at home, like a waiting saint, With her fond face white with woe:
Her heart will be broken when I am gone:
I shall see her soon, I know."
Just then the order came to charge—
For an instant hand touched hand,
Eye answered eye; then on they rushed,
That brave, devoted band.
Straight they went toward the crest of the hill.
And the rebels with shot and shell
Plowed rifts of death through their toiling ranks, And jeered them as they fell.
They turned with a horrible dying yell
From the heights they could not gain,
And the few whom death and doom had spared
Went slowly back again.
But among the dead whom they left behind Was the boy with his curling hair,
And the stern dark man who marched by his side Lay dead beside him there.
There is no one to write to the blue-eyed girl
The words that her lover said;
And the mother who waits for her boy at home Will but hear that he is dead,
And never can know the last fond thought That sought to soften her pain,
Until she crosses the River of Death,
And stands by his side again.
L. C. M.
A DARK NIGHT'S WORK.
By the Author of "Mary Barton," etc.
Printed from the Manuscript and early Proof–sheets purchased by the Proprietors of "Harper's Weekly."
A FEW days afterward Ellinor's father bethought himself that some further communication ought to take place between himself and his daughter's lover on the subject of the approval of the family of the latter to the young man's engagement, and he accordingly wrote a very gentlemanly letter, saying that of course he trusted that Ralph had informed his own father of his engagement; that Mr. Corbet was well known to Mr. Wilkins by reputation, holding the position he did in Shropshire, but that as Mr. Wilkins did not pretend to be in the same station of life, Mr. Corbet might possibly never even have heard of his name, although in his own county it was well known as having been for generations that of the principal conveyancer and land-agent of—shire; that his wife had been a member of the old knightly family of Holsters, and that he himself was descended from
a younger branch of the South Wales De Wintons or Wilkins; that Ellinor, as his only child, would naturally inherit all his property, but that in the mean time, of course, some settlement upon her would be made, the nature of which might be decided nearer the time of the marriage.
It was a very good straightforward letter, and well fitted for the purpose to which Mr. Wilkins knew it would be applied—of being forwarded to Mr. Ralph Corbet's father. One would have thought that it was not an engagement so disproportioned in equality of station as to cause any great opposition on that score; but, unluckily, Captain Corbet, the heir and eldest son, had just formed a similar engagement with Lady Maria Brabant, the daughter of one of the proudest earls in —shire, one who had always resented Mr. Wilkins's appearance on the field as an insult to the county, and ignored his presence at every dinner-table where they met. Lady Maria was staying at the Corbets at the very time when Ralph's letter, inclosing Mr. Wilkins's, reached the paternal halls, and she merely repeated her father's opinions when Mrs. Corbet and her daughters naturally questioned her as to who these Wilkinses were; they remembered the name in Ralph's letters formerly; the father was some friend of Mr. Ness's, the clergyman with whom Ralph had read; they believed Ralph used to dine with these Wilkinses sometimes along with Mr. Ness.
Lady Maria was a good-natured girl, and meant no harm in repeating her father's words, touched up, it is true, by some of the dislike she herself felt to the intimate alliance proposed, which would make her sister-in-law to the daughter of an "upstart attorney," "not received in the county," "always trying to push his way into the set above him," "claiming connection with the De Wintons of — Castle, who, as she well knew, only laughed when he was spoken of, and said they were more rich in relations than they were aware of"—"not people papa would ever like her to know, whatever might be the family connection."
These little speeches told in a way the girl who uttered them did not intend they should. Mrs. Collect and her daughters set themselves violently against this foolish entanglement of Ralph's; they would not call it an engagement. They argued, and they urged, and they pleaded, till the squire, anxious for peace at any price, and always more under the sway of the people who were with him, however unreasonable they might be, rather than of the absent, even though the latter had the wisdom of Solomon or the prudence and sagacity of his son Ralph, wrote an angry letter, saying that, as Ralph was of age, of course he had a right to please himself, therefore all his father could say was that the engagement was not at all what either he or Ralph's mother had expected or hoped; that it was a degradation to the family just going to ally themselves with a peer of James the First's creation; that, of course, Ralph must do what he liked, but that if he married this girl he must never expect to have her received by the Corbets of Corbet Hall as a daughter. The squire was rather satisfied with his production, and took it to show it to his wife; but she did not think it was strong enough, and added a little postscript:
"DEAR RALPH,—Though, as second son, you are entitled to Bromley at my death, yet I can do much to make the estate worthless. Hitherto regard for you has prevented my taking steps as to sale of timber, etc., which would materially increase your sister's portions; this just measure I shall infallibly take if I find you persevere in keeping to this silly engagement. Your father's disapproval is always a sufficient reason to allege."
Ralph was annoyed at the receipt of these letters, though he only smiled as he locked them up in his desk.
"Dear old father! how he blusters! As to my mother, she is reasonable when I talk to her. Once give her a definite idea of what Ellinor's fortune will be, and let her, if she chooses, cut down her timber—a threat she has held over me ever since I knew what a rocking-horse was, and which I have known to be illegal these ten years past — and she'll come round. I know better than they do how Reginald has run up post-obits, and as for that vulgar high-born Lady Maria they are all so full of, why she is a Flanders mare to my Ellinor, and has not a silver penny to cross herself with, besides! I bide my time, you dear good people!"
He did not think it necessary to reply to these letters immediately, nor did he even allude to their contents in his to Ellinor. Mr. Wilkins, who had been very well satisfied with his own letter to the young man, and had thought that it must be equally agreeable to every one, was not at all suspicious of any disapproval because the fact of a distinct sanction on the part of Mr. Ralph Corbet's friends to his engagement was not communicated to him.
As for Ellinor, she trembled all over with happiness. Such a summer for the blossoming of flowers and ripening of fruit had not been known for years: it seemed to her as if bountiful loving Nature wanted to fill the cup of Ellinor's joy to overflowing, and as if every thing, animate and inanimate, sympathized with her happiness. Her father was well, and apparently content. Miss Monro was very kind. Dixon's lameness was quite gone off. Only Mr. Dunster came creeping about the house, on pretense of business, seeking out her father, and disturbing all his leisure with his dust-colored parchment-skinned careworn face, and seeming to disturb the smooth current of her daily life whenever she saw him.
Ellinor made her appearance at the Hamley assemblies, but with less eclat than either her father or her lover expected. Her beauty and natural grace were admired by those who could discriminate; but to the greater number there was (what they called) "a want of style"—want of elegance there certainly was not, for her figure
was perfect, and though she moved shyly, she moved well. Perhaps it was not a good place for a correct appreciation of Miss Wilkins; some of the old dowagers thought it a piece a of presumption for her to be there at all; but the Lady Holster of the day (who remembered her husband's quarrel with Mr. Wilkins, and looked away whenever Ellinor came near) resented this opinion. "Miss Wilkins is descended from Sir Frank's family, one of the oldest in the county; the objection might have been made years ago to the father, but as he had been received she did not know why Miss Wilkins was to be alluded to as out of her place." Ellinor's greatest enjoyment in the evening was to hear her father say, after all was over, and they were driving home,
"Well, I thought my Nelly the prettiest girl there; and I think I know some other people who would have thought the same if they could have spoken out.
"Thank you, papa," said Ellinor, squeezing his hand, which she held. She thought he alluded to the absent Ralph as the person who would have agreed with him had he had the opportunity of seeing her; but no, he seldom thought much of the absent, but had been rather flattered by seeing Lord Hildebrand take up his glass for the apparent purpose of watching Ellinor.
"Your pearls, too, were as handsome as any in the room, child; but we must have them reset; the sprays are old-fashioned now. Let me have them to-morrow to send up to Hancock."
"Papa, please, I had rather keep them as they are—as mamma wore them."
He was touched in a minute.
"Very well, darling. God bless you for thinking of it."
But he ordered her a set of sapphires instead, for the next assembly.
These halls were not such as to intoxicate Ellinor with success, and make her in love with gayety. Large parties came from the different country-houses in the neighborhood and danced with each other. When they had exhausted the resources they brought with them they had generally a few dances to spare for the friends of the same standing with whom they were the most intimate. Ellinor, coming with her father, and joining an old card-playing dowager by way of a chaperon—the said dowager being under old business obligations to the firm of Wilkins and Son, and apologizing to all her acquaintances for her own weak condescension to Mr. Wilkins's foible in wishing to introduce his daughter into society above her natural sphere. It was upon this lady, after she had uttered some such speech as this I have just mentioned, that Lady Holster had come down with the pedigree of Ellinor's mother. But though the old dowager had drawn back, a little discomfited at my lady's reply, she was not more attentive to Ellinor in consequence. She allowed Mr. Wilkins to bring in his daughter and place her on the crimson sofa beside her; spoke to her occasionally in the interval that elapsed before the rubbers could be properly arranged in the card-room; invited the girl to accompany her to that sober amusement, and on Ellinor's declining, and preferring to remain with her father, the dowager left her with a sweet smile on her plump countenance, and an approving conscience somewhere within her portly frame, assuring her that she had done all that could possibly have been expected from her toward "that good Wilkins's daughter." Ellinor stood by her father watching the dances, and thankful for the occasional chance of a dance. While she had been sitting by her chaperon Mr. Wilkins had made the tour of the room, dropping out the little fact of his daughter's being present wherever he thought the seed likely to bring forth the fruit of partners. And some came because they liked Mr. Wilkins, and some asked Ellinor because they had done their duty dances to their own party, and might please themselves. So that Miss Wilkins usually had an average of one invitation to every three dances, and this principally toward the end of the evening.
But considering her real beauty, and the care which her father always took about her appearance, she met with far less than her due of admiration. Admiration she did not care for; partners she did; and sometimes felt mortified when she had to sit or stand quiet during all the first part of the evening. If it had not been for her father's wishes she would much rather have staid at home; but, nevertheless, she talked even to the irresponsive old dowager, and fairly chattered to her father when she got to him, because she did not like him to fancy that she was not enjoying herself.
And, indeed, she had so much happiness in the daily course of this part of her life, that, on looking back on it afterward, she could not imagine any thing brighter than it had been. The delight of receiving her lover's letters—the anxious happiness of replying to them (always a little bit fearful lest she should not express herself and her love in the precisely happy medium becoming a maiden)—the father's love and satisfaction in her—the calm prosperity of the whole household was delightful at the time, and, looking back upon it, it was dream-like.
Occasionally Mr. Corbet came down to see her. He always slept on these occasions at Mr. Noss's; but he was at Ford Bank the greater part of the one day between two nights that he allowed himself for the length of his visits. And even these short peeps were not frequently taken. He was working hard at law; fagging at it tooth and nail; arranging his whole life so as best to promote the ends of his ambition; feeling a delight in surpassing and mastering his fellows—those who started in the race at the same time. He read Ellinor's letters over and over again; nothing else besides law-books. He perceived the repressed love hidden away in subdued expressions
in his mistress's communications, with an amused pleasure at the attempt at concealment. He was glad that her gayeties were not more gay; he was glad that she was not too much admired, although a little indignant at the want of taste on the part of the —shire gentlemen. But if other admirers had come prominently forward he should have had to take some more decided steps to assert his rights than he had hitherto done; for he had caused Ellinor to express a wish to her father that her engagement might not be too much talked about until nearer the time when it would be prudent for him to marry her. He thought that the knowledge of this, the only imprudently hasty step he ever meant to take in his life, might go against his character for wisdom if the fact was known while he was as yet only a student. Mr. Wilkins wondered a little; but acceded, as he always did, to any of Ellinor's requests. Mr. Ness was a confidant, of course; and some of Lady Maria's connections heard of it, and forgot it again very soon, and, as it happened, no one else was sufficiently interested in Ellinor to care to ascertain the fact.
All this time Mr. Ralph Corbet maintained a very quietly decided attitude toward his own family. He was engaged to Miss Wilkins, and all he could say was that he was sorry that they disapproved of it. He was not able to marry just at present, and before the time for his marriage arrived he trusted that his own family would take a more reasonable view of things, and be willing to receive her as his wife with all becoming respect or affection. This was the substance of what he repeated in different forms in reply to his father's angry letters. At length his invariable determination made way with his father; the paternal thunderings were subdued to a distant rumbling in the sky; and presently the inquiry was broached as to how much fortune Miss Wilkins would have; how much down on her marriage; what were the eventual probabilities. Now this was a point on which Mr. Ralph Corbet wished himself to be informed upon. He had not thought much about it in making the engagement; he had been too young, or too much in love. But an only child of a wealthy attorney ought to have something considerable; and an allowance, so as to enable the young couple to start housekeeping in a moderately good part of town, would be an advantage to him in his profession. So he replied to his father, adroitly suggesting that a letter containing certain modifications of the inquiry, which had been rather roughly put in Mr. Corbet's last, should he sent to him, in order that he might himself ascertain from Mr. Wilkins what were Ellinor's prospects as regarded fortune.
The desired letter came, but not in such a form that he could pass it on to Mr. Wilkins; he preferred to make quotations, and even these quotations were a little altered and dressed before he sent them on. The gist of his letter to Mr. Wilkins was this: He stated that he hoped soon to be in a position to offer Ellinor a home; that he anticipated a steady progress in his profession, and consequently in his income; but that contingencies might arise, as his father suggested, which would deprive him of the power of earning a livelihood, perhaps when it might be more required than it would be at first; that it was true that, after his mother's death, a small estate in Shropshire would come to him as second son, and of course Ellinor would receive the benefit of this property, secured to her legally as Mr. Wilkins thought best—that being a matter for after-discussion—but that at present his father was anxious, as might be seen from the extract, to ascertain whether Mr. Wilkins could secure him from the contingency of having his son's widow and possible children thrown upon his hands by giving Ellinor a dowry; and if so, it was gently insinuated what would be the amount of the same.
When Mr. Wilkins received this letter it startled him out of a happy day-dream. He liked Ralph Corbet and the whole connection quite well enough to give his consent to an engagement; and sometimes even he was glad to think that Ellinor's future was assured, and that she would have a protector and friends after he was dead and gone. But he did not want them to assume their responsibilities so soon. He had not distinctly contemplated her marriage as an event likely to happen before his death. He could not understand how his own life would go on without her; or, indeed, why she and Ralph Corbet could not continue just as they were at present. He came down to breakfast with the letter in his hand. By Ellinor's blushes, as she glanced at the handwriting, he knew that she had heard from her lover by the same post; by her tender caresses—caresses given as if to make up for the pain which the prospect of her leaving him was sure to give him—he was certain that she was aware of the contents of the letter. Yet he put it in his pocket, and tried to forget it.
He did this not merely from his reluctance to complete any arrangements which might facilitate Ellinor's marriage. There was a further annoyance connected with the affair. His money matters had been for some time in an involved state; he had been living beyond his income, even reckoning that, as he always did, at the highest point at which it ever touched. He kept no regular accounts, reasoning with himself—or, perhaps, I should rather say persuading himself—that there was no great occasion for regular accounts, when he had a steady income coming in from his profession, as well as the interest of a good sum of money left him by his father; and when his expenditure, living in his own house near a country town where provisions were cheap, for his small family—only one child—could ever amount to any thing like his incomings from the above-mentioned sources. But servants and horses, and choice wines and (Next Page)
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