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put an end to these disorders.
The Rev. Mr. Davis has taken refuge with me, and this afternoon I shall bring
him and Bessie over. The only misfortune is that we must defer our tour, as I
must remain to protect my property."
He was speaking to Victoria, but
at this last he looked toward Nest. She sat motionless. He hardly knew if she
had heard. All past, all future time, eternity itself, were centred in these few
hours between now and her marriage. Geoffrey had come, bringing the clergyman
and Bessie. They were urging her to dress; they made her go up stairs, where she
sat passive under their hands, turning and moving as they told her: a woman of
marble might have been dressed as was Nest Grainger for her wedding.
Dale had written to Nest over and
again. The letters had not reached her for the best of reasons. Geoffrey, who
always brought them their mails, had recognized post-mark and handwriting, and
quietly destroyed those of Dale's; put them out of the way just as he did his
honor when it interfered with his will. Close on that, Dale was wounded and
spent three months in the hospital, and several more at home, in recruiting his
health. The first letter that he got on joining his regiment was that in which
she told him of her promise to Geoffrey. He wrote at once, and Geoffrey burned
that like the rest. Leave of absence was not to be hoped for; but Dale kept up
courage, for they were ordered on to Tennessee. Fort Henry fell, and they
planted themselves before Fort Donelson. The Confederate Generals were fully
alive to the importance of the post and poured in reinforcements. The garrison
worked manfully, and at night constructed batteries as if by magic. Dale was mad
with impatience. These walls stood between him and Nest; and if the siege were
prolonged till Johnston were reinforced affairs might wear an ugly aspect:
ankle-deep in mud and water he worked foremost among our gallant men. The iron-clads
stormed away at the fort, the rebel guns answered stoutly. End as it would, the
contest was plainly to be no short or easy one. Then could he but have fancied
himself a match for Johnston's army, I think Dale might have forgotten military
duty and run away—so intolerable was his anxiety.
On the third night the
beleaguered garrison made a sortie. They had hoped to surprise the hostile camp;
General Grant, making a reconnoisance in
person, espied them even in the storm and darkness. Came then a short, sharp
struggle; it was too cold to reload the rifles, and they fought with bayonet and
bowie-knife, struggling soundlessly in the snow. The garrison were driven back,
and Dale got a cut in the arm that did him good: gave him less time to think
The siege dragged on two weary
days, then Floyd and Pillow cut their way out and Buckner surrendered. Terms of
capitulation—surrender—all took time. Dale's uneasiness rose to positive
agony. He asked and obtained
leave to precede the Federal advance on Nashville; but even there difficulties
beset him. He knew nothing of Nest's whereabouts, and in the general confusion
and terror found it almost impossible to obtain information.
He rode from street to street
like a madman—was misdirected; and when at last he stumbled on the old Grainger
place it was deserted. Nest had gone to Oak Hall. Then more questioning, more
fruitless searching, and a ride of several
miles without the city before he
reached the "Oaks."
Geoffrey Fenwick himself answered
his eager, imperative knock, and had no need of the Federal uniform to divine
who stood before him. He stepped back.
"You will find Nest there, Mr.
Hawthorne," he said, with a strange smile.
Dale scanned him hastily. Nest
had no brother; besides his instinct taught him that this was a foe. This, then,
was the "Geoffrey" of whom she had written. He did what he had never done in
battle, turned white, and stood trembling, unable to advance a step. Geoffrey
stood silent, surveying him with a cold and cruel look. Then a low murmur in the
drawing-room rose into a sudden, passionate exclamation, and with a swift rush
and rustle, as though she had broken from some detaining grasp, Nest came to the
doorway. Her eyes rested first on Geoffrey, and from him went to that other
still figure facing him. She did not cry out, but grew so mortally pale that
Geoffrey thought her fainting, and moved hastily toward her; but without looking
at him she went straight to Dale. "So you came," she said, low. "You were true,
after all. Bless you for that! though it is too late."
"On the contrary," observed
Geoffrey, "Mr. Hawthorne is just in time—to congratulate you."
"The misery that I have wrought,"
went on Nest, looking no more at her husband than if he had been the stone hound
over the doorway, "will recoil chiefly on myself, as it should. You can, you
must, forget the woman who would not prefer your memory, dead, or even false, to
this man's devotion."
Dale put his hand to his head
like one stunned. "Why should you think me false, Nest? I wrote you, again and
"I never received a line," she
answered, growing whiter yet, if that were possible. "Yet I might have known!
Oh! fool that I was! Small use now, however, to blame or question. Here is your
ring. Give it to some woman worthier to wear it; and when you tell her of me,
speak as gently as you can. Say she was weak, very weak, but I believe she
honestly loved me."
The last words came out
falteringly, and even as she spoke she threw up her hands and staggered blindly.
Dale sprang forward, caught her, kissed her despite of Geoffrey; and then,
relinquishing her to the frightened women, went sighing away, before her
merciful unconsciousness should be over. Nest lives to the outward world as
Geoffrey's wife; but between her and him she has built a wall of separation that
he may never hope to pass; and Bessie and Victoria whisper fearfully to each
other that she seldom speaks, and never of her own accord. Dale is fighting on,
and courts Death in the front of every battle, who sends him honors instead, at
which he smiles grimly.
A SUCCESSFUL FORAGING PARTY AT THE WEST.