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Chapter 13

BELLE ISLE--TERRIBLE SUFFERING FROM COLD AND HUNGER--FATE OF LIEUTENANT
BOISSEUX'S DOG--OUR COMPANY MYSTERY--TERMINATION OF ALL HOPES OF ITS
SOLUTION.

In February my chum--B. B. Andrews, now a physician in Astoria, Illinois
--was brought into our building, greatly to my delight and astonishment,
and from him I obtained the much desired news as to the fate of my
comrades. He told me they had been sent to Belle Isle, whither he had
gone, but succumbing to the rigors of that dreadful place, he had been
taken to the hospital, and, upon his convalesence, placed in our prison.

Our men were suffering terribly on the island. It was low, damp, and
swept by the bleak, piercing winds that howled up and down the surface of
the James. The first prisoners placed on the island had been given tents
that afforded them some shelter, but these were all occupied when our
battalion came in, so that they were compelled to lie on the snow and
frozen ground, without shelter, covering of any kind, or fire. During
this time the cold had been so intense that the James had frozen over
three times.

The rations had been much worse than ours. The so-called soup had been
diluted to a ridiculous thinness, and meat had wholly disappeared.
So intense became the craving for animal food, that one day when
Lieutenant Boisseux--the Commandant--strolled into the camp with his
beloved white bull-terrier, which was as fat as a Cheshire pig, the
latter was decoyed into a tent, a blanket thrown over him, his throat cut
within a rod of where his master was standing, and he was then skinned,
cut up, cooked, and furnished a savory meal to many hungry men.

When Boisseux learned of the fate of his four-footed friend he was,
of course, intensely enraged, but that was all the good it did him.
The only revenge possible was to sentence more prisoners to ride the
cruel wooden horse which he used as a means of punishment.

Four of our company were already dead. Jacob Lowry and John Beach were
standing near the gate one day when some one snatched the guard's blanket
from the post where he had hung it, and ran. The enraged sentry leveled
his gun and fired into the crowd. The balls passed through Lowry's and
Beach's breasts. Then Charley Osgood, son of our Lieutenant, a quiet,
fair-haired, pleasant-spoken boy, but as brave and earnest as his gallant
father, sank under the combination of hunger and cold. One stinging
morning he was found stiff and stark, on the hard ground, his bright,
frank blue eyes glazed over in death.

One of the mysteries of our company was a tall, slender, elderly
Scotchman, who appeared on the rolls as William Bradford. What his past
life had been, where he had lived, what his profession, whether married
or single, no one ever knew. He came to us while in Camp of Instruction
near Springfield, Illinois, and seemed to have left all his past behind
him as he crossed the line of sentries around the camp. He never
received any letters, and never wrote any; never asked for a furlough or
pass, and never expressed a wish to be elsewhere than in camp. He was
courteous and pleasant, but very reserved. He interfered with no one,
obeyed orders promptly and without remark, and was always present for
duty. Scrupulously neat in dress, always as clean-shaved as an
old-fashioned gentleman of the world, with manners and conversation that
showed him to have belonged to a refined and polished circle, he was
evidently out of place as a private soldier in a company of reckless and
none-too-refined young Illinois troopers, but he never availed himself of
any of the numerous opportunities offered to change his associations.
His elegant penmanship would have secured him an easy berth and better
society at headquarters, but he declined to accept a detail. He became
an exciting mystery to a knot of us imaginative young cubs, who sorted up
out of the reminiscential rag-bag of high colors and strong contrasts
with which the sensational literature that we most affected had
plentifully stored our minds, a half-dozen intensely emotional careers
for him. We spent much time in mentally trying these on, and discussing
which fitted him best. We were always expecting a denouement that would
come like a lightning flash and reveal his whole mysterious past, showing
him to have been the disinherited scion of some noble house, a man of
high station, who was expiating some fearful crime; an accomplished
villain eluding his pursuers--in short, a Somebody who would be a fitting
hero for Miss Braddon's or Wilkie Collins's literary purposes. We never
got but two clues of his past, and they were faint ones. One day, he
left lying near me a small copy of "Paradise Lost," that he always
carried with him. Turning over its leaves I found all of Milton's bitter
invectives against women heavily underscored. Another time, while on
guard with him, he spent much of his time in writing some Latin verses in
very elegant chirography upon the white painted boards of a fence along
which his beat ran. We pressed in all the available knowledge of Latin
about camp, and found that the tenor of the verses was very
uncomplimentary to that charming sex which does us the honor of being our
mothers and sweethearts. These evidences we accepted as sufficient
demonstration that there was a woman at the bottom of the mystery, and
made us more impatient for further developments. These were never to
come. Bradford pined away an Belle Isle, and grew weaker, but no less
reserved, each day. At length, one bitter cold night ended it all.
He was found in the morning stone dead, with his iron-gray hair frozen
fast to the ground, upon which he lay. Our mystery had to remain
unsolved. There was nothing about his person to give any hint as to his
past.

John McElroy