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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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?"
"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
"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
"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
"Yes, I think you will. By what name shall
I call you?"
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,--
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,
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
"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
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
"Let me go, Robert,--the captain is stirring,
--I must give him something."
"No, Ma'am, yer can't stir an inch. Look
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
"I flung it out o' winder, Ma'am; he'll have to
"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,
"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
"Do let me go to him! he'll die without
"I mean he shall;--don't yer interfere, if yer
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,
"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
"Who is Lucy?" I asked hurriedly, intent on
keeping his mind busy with any thought but
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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,--
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