Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
On Christmas morning Graham found his breakfast-plate pushed back, and in its place lay a superb sword and belt, fashioned much like the one he had lost in the rescue of his friend. With it was a genial letter from Hilland, and a little note from Grace, which only said:
"You will find my name engraved upon the sword with Warren's. We have added nothing else, for the good reason that our names mean everything--more than could be expressed, were the whole blade covered with symbols, each meaning a volume. You have taught us how you will use the weapon, my truest and best of friends. GRACE HILLAND."
His eyes lingered on the name so long that his aunt asked: "Why don't you look at your gift?"
He slowly drew the long, keen, shining blade, and saw again the name "Grace Hilland," and for a time he saw nothing else. Suddenly he turned the sword and on the opposite side was "Warren Hilland," and he shook his head sadly.
"Alford, what is the matter?" his aunt asked impatiently.
"Why didn't they have their names engraved together?" he muttered slowly, "It's a bad omen. See, a sword is between their names. I wish they had been together. Oh, I wish Hilland could be kept out of the field!"
"There it is, Alford," began his aunt, irritably; "you men who don't believe anything are always the victims of superstition. Bad omen, indeed!"
"Well, I suppose I am a fool; but a strange chill at heart struck me for which I can't account;" and he sprang up and paced the floor uneasily. "Well," he continued, "I would bury it in my own heart rather than cause her one hour's sorrow, but I wish their names had been together." Then he took it up again and said: "Beautiful as it is, it may have to do some stern work, Grace--work far remote from your nature. All I ask is that it may come between Hilland and danger again. I wish I had not had that strange, cursed presentiment"
"Oh, Alford! I never saw you in such a mood, and on Christmas morning, too!"
"That is just what I don't like about it--it's not my habit to indulge such fancies, to say the least. Come what may, however, I dedicate the sword to her service without counting any cost;" and he kissed her name, and laid the weapon reverently aside.
"You are morbid this morning. Go to the door and see my present to you. You will find no bad omens on his shining coat."
Graham felt that it was weak to entertain such impressions as had mastered him, and hastened out. There, pawing the frozen ground, was a horse that satisfied even his fastidious eye. There was not a white hair in the coal-black coat. In his enthusiasm he forgot his hat, and led the beautiful creature up and down, observing with exultation his perfect action, clean-cut limbs, and deep, broad chest.
"Bring me a bridle," he said to the man in attendance, "and my hat."
A moment later he had mounted.
"Breakfast is getting cold," cried his aunt from the window, delighted, nevertheless, at the appreciation of her gift.
"This horse is breakfast and dinner both," he shouted, as he galloped down the path.
Then, to the old lady's horror, he dashed through the trees and shrubbery, took a picket-fence in a flying leap, and circled round the house till Mrs. Mayburn's head was dizzy. Then she saw him coming toward the door as if he would ride through the house; but the horse stopped almost instantly, and Graham was on his feet, handing the bridle to the gaping groom.
"Take good care of him," he said to the man, "for he is a jewel."
"Alford," exclaimed his aunt, "could you make no better return for my gift than to frighten me out of my wits?"
"Dear aunty, you are too well supplied ever to lose them for so slight a cause. I wanted to show the perfection of your gift, and how well it may serve me. You don't imagine that our cavalry evolutions are all performed on straight turnpike roads, do you? Now you know that you have given me an animal that can carry me wherever a horse can go, and so have added much to my chances of safety. I can skim out of a melee like a bird with Mayburn--for that shall be his name--where a blundering, stupid horse would break my neck, if I wasn't shot. I saw at once from his action what he could do. Where on earth did you get such a creature?"
"Well," said the old lady, beaming with triumphant happiness, "I have had agents on the lookout a long time. The man of whom you had your first horse, then called Firebrand, found him; and he knew well that he could not impose any inferior animal upon you. Are you really sincere in saying that such a horse as this adds to your chances of safety?"
"Certainly. That's what I was trying to show you. Did you not see how he would wind in and out among the trees and shrubbery--how he would take a fence lightly without any floundering? There is just as much difference among horses as among men. Some are simply awkward, heavy, and stupid; others are vicious; more are good at times and under ordinary circumstances, but fail you at a pinch. This horse is thoroughbred and well broken. You must have paid a small fortune for him."
"I never invested money that satisfied me better."
"It's like you to say so. Well, take the full comfort of thinking how much you have added to my comfort and prospective well-being. That gallop has already done me a world of good, and given me an appetite. I'll have another turn across the country after breakfast, and throw all evil presentiments to the winds."
"Why, now you talk sense. When you are in any more such moods as this morning I shall prescribe horse."
Before New Year's day Graham had installed his aunt comfortably in rooms adjoining the Hillands', and had thanked his friends for their gift in a way that proved it to be appreciated. Mrs. Mayburn had been cautioned never to speak of what he now regarded as a foolish and unaccountable presentiment, arising, perhaps, from a certain degree of morbidness of mind in all that related to Grace. Iss was on hand to act as groom, and Graham rode out with Hilland and Grace several times before his leave expired. Even at that day, when the city was full of gallant men and fair women, many turned to look as the three passed down the avenue.
Never had Grace looked so radiantly beautiful as when in the brilliant sunshine of a Washington winter and in the frosty air she galloped over the smooth, hard roads. Hilland was proud of the almost wondering looks of admiration that everywhere greeted her, and too much in love to note that the ladies they met looked at him in much the same way. The best that was said of Graham was that he looked a soldier, every inch of him, and that he rode the finest horse in the city as if be had been brought up in a saddle. He was regarded by society as reserved, unsocial, and proud; and at two or three receptions, to which he went because of the solicitation of his friends, he piqued the vanity of more than one handsome woman by his courteous indifference.
"What is the matter with your husband's friend?" a reigning belle asked Grace. "One might as well try to make an impression on a paving- stone."
"I think your illustration unhappy," was her quiet reply. "I cannot imagine Mr. Graham at any one's feet."
"Not even your own?" was the malicious retort.
"Not even my own," and a flash of anger from her dark eyes accompanied her answer.
Still, wherever he went he awakened interest in all natures not dull or sodden. He was felt to be a presence. There was a consciousness of power in his very attitudes; and one felt instinctively that he was far removed from the commonplace--that he had had a history which made him different from other men.
But before this slight curiosity was kindled to any extent, much less satisfied, his leave of absence expired; and with a sense of deep relief he prepared to say farewell. His friends expected to see him often in the city; he knew they would see him but seldom, if at all. He bad made his visit with his aunt, and she understood him. His quiet poise was departing, and he longed for the stern, fierce excitement of active service.
Before he joined his regiment he spent the day with his friends, and took occasion once, when alone with Hilland, to make an appeal that was solemn and almost passionate in its earnestness, adjuring him to remain employed in duties like those which now occupied him. But he saw that his efforts were vain.
"No, Graham," was Hilland's emphatic reply; "just as soon as there is danger at the front I shall be with my regiment Now I can do more here."
With Grace he took a short ride in the morning while Hilland was engaged in his duties, and he looked at the fair woman by his side with the thought that he might never see her again. It almost seemed as if Grace understood him, for although the rich color mantled in her cheeks and she abounded in smile and repartee, a look of deep sadness rarely left her eyes.
Once she said abruptly, "Alford, you will come and see us often before the campaign opens? Oh, I dread this coming campaign. You will come often?"
"I fear not, Grace," he said, gravely and gently, "I will try to come, but not often." Then he added, with a short, abrupt laugh, "I wish I could break Hilland's leg." In answer to a look of surprise he continued, "Could not your father procure an order that would keep him in the city? He would have to obey orders."
"Ah, I understand you," and there was a quick rush of tears to her eyes. "It's of no use. I have thought of everything, but Warren's heart is set on joining his regiment in the spring."
"I know it. I have said all that I could say to a brother on the subject."
"From the first, Alford, you have tried to make the ordeal of this war less painful to me, and how well you have succeeded! You have been our good genius. Warren, in his impetuous, chivalrous feeling, would have gone into it unadvisedly, hastily; and before this might--Oh, I can't even think of it," she said with a shudder. "But years have passed since your influence guided him into a wiser and more useful course, and think how much of the time I have been able to be with him! And it has all been due to you, Alford. But the war seems no nearer its end. It rather assumes a larger and more threatening aspect Why do not men think of us poor women before they go to war?"
"You think, then, that even your influence cannot keep him from the field?"
"No, it could not. Indeed, beyond a certain point I dare not exert it. I should be dumb before questions already asked, 'Why should I shrink when other husbands do not? What would be said of me here? what by my comrades in the regiment? What would your brave father think, though he might acquiesce? Nay, more, what would my wife think in her secret heart?' Alas! I find I am not made of such stern stuff as are some women. Pride and military fame could not sustain me if--if--"
"Do not look on the gloomy side, Grace. Hilland will come out of it all a major-general."
"Oh, I don't know, I don't know. I do know that he will often be in desperate danger; what a dread certainty that is for me! Oh, I wish you could be always near him; and yet 'tis a selfish wish, for you would not count the cost to yourself."
"No, Grace; I've sworn that on the sword you gave me."
"I might have known as much." Then she added earnestly, "Believe me, if you should fall it would also imbitter my life."
"Yes, you would grieve sincerely; but there would be an infinite difference, an infinite difference. One question, however, is settled beyond recall. If my life can serve you or Hilland, no power shall prevent my giving it. There is nothing more to be said: let us speak of something else."
"Yes, Alford, one thing more. Once I misjudged you. Forgive me;" and she caused her horse to spring into a gallop, resolving that no commonplace words should follow closely upon a conversation that had touched the most sacred feelings and impulses of each heart.
For some reason there was a shadow over their parting early in the evening, for Graham was to ride toward the front with the dawn. Even Hilland's genial spirits could not wholly dissipate it. Graham made heroic efforts, but he was oppressed with a despondency which was wellnigh overwhelming. He felt that he was becoming unmanned, and in bitter self-censure resolved to remain with his regiment until the end came, as he believed would be the case with him before the year closed.
"Alford, remember your promise. We all may need you yet," were his aunt's last words in the gray of the morning.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.