Part II

Chapter II

Bret Harte

NEVERTHELESS, so complete was his control of voice and manner that, as he rode on to his quarters, no one would have dreamed that General Brant had just looked upon the likeness of the wife from whom he had parted in anger four years ago. Still less would they have suspected the strange fear that came upon him that in some way she was connected with the treachery he had just discovered. He had heard from her only once, and then through her late husband’s lawyer, in regard to her Californian property, and believed that she had gone to her relations in Alabama, where she had identified herself with the Southern cause, even to the sacrifice of her private fortune. He had heard her name mentioned in the Southern press as a fascinating society leader, and even coadjutrix of Southern politicians,—but he had no reason to believe that she had taken so active or so desperate a part in the struggle. He tried to think that his uneasiness sprang from his recollection of the previous treachery of Captain Pinckney, and the part that she had played in the Californian conspiracy, although he had long since acquitted her of the betrayal of any nearer trust. But there was a fateful similarity in the two cases. There was no doubt that this Lieutenant Wainwright was a traitor in the camp,—that he had succumbed to the usual sophistry of his class in regard to his superior allegiance to his native State. But was there the inducement of another emotion, or was the photograph only the souvenir of a fascinating priestess of rebellion, whom the dead man had met? There was perhaps less of feeling than scorn in the first suggestion, but he was nevertheless relieved when the provost marshal found no other incriminating papers in Wainwright’s effects. Nor did he reveal to the division general the finding of the photograph. It was sufficient to disclose the work of the traitor without adding what might be a clue to his wife’s participation in it, near or remote. There was risk enough in the former course,—which his duty made imperative. He hardly dared to think of the past day’s slaughter, which—there was no doubt now—had been due to the previous work of the spy, and how his brigade had been selected—by the irony of Fate—to suffer for and yet retrieve it. If she had had a hand in this wicked plot, ought he to spare her? Or was his destiny and hers to be thus monstrously linked together?

Luckily, however, the expiation of the chief offender and the timely discovery of his papers enabled the division commander to keep the affair discreetly silent, and to enjoin equal secrecy on the part of Brant. The latter, however, did not relax his vigilance, and after the advance the next day he made a minute inspection of the ground he was to occupy, its approaches and connections with the outlying country, and the rebel lines; increased the stringency of picket and sentry regulations, and exercised a rigid surveillance of non-combatants and civilians within the lines, even to the lowest canteener or camp follower. Then he turned his attention to the house he was to occupy as his headquarters.

It was a fine specimen of the old colonial planter’s house, with its broad veranda, its great detached offices and negro quarters, and had, thus far, escaped the ravages and billeting of the war. It had been occupied by its owner up to a few days before the engagement, and so great had been the confidence of the enemy in their success that it had been used as the Confederate headquarters on the morning of the decisive battle. Jasmine and rose, unstained by the sulphur of gunpowder, twined around its ruined columns and half hid the recessed windows; the careless flower garden was still in its unkempt and unplucked luxuriance; the courtyard before the stables alone showed marks of the late military occupancy, and was pulverized by the uneasy horse-hoofs of the waiting staff. But the mingled impress of barbaric prodigality with patriarchal simplicity was still there in the domestic arrangements of a race who lived on half equal familiarity with strangers and their own servants.

The negro servants still remained, with a certain cat-like fidelity to the place, and adapted themselves to the Northern invaders with a childlike enjoyment of the novelty of change. Brant, nevertheless, looked them over with an experienced eye, and satisfied himself of their trustworthiness; there was the usual number of “boys,” gray-haired and grizzled in body service, and the “mammys” and “aunties” of the kitchen. There were two or three rooms in the wing which still contained private articles, pictures and souvenirs of the family, and a “young lady’s” boudoir, which Brant, with characteristic delicacy, kept carefully isolated and intact from his military household, and accessible only to the family servants. The room he had selected for himself was nearest it,—a small, plainly furnished apartment, with an almost conventual simplicity in its cold, white walls and draperies, and the narrow, nun-like bed. It struck him that it might have belonged to some prim elder daughter or maiden aunt, who had acted as housekeeper, as it commanded the wing and servants’ offices, with easy access to the central hall.

There followed a week of inactivity in which Brant felt a singular resemblance in this Southern mansion to the old casa at Robles. The afternoon shadows of the deep verandas recalled the old monastic gloom of the Spanish house, which even the presence of a lounging officer or waiting orderly could not entirely dissipate, and the scent of the rose and jasmine from his windows overcame him with sad memories. He began to chafe under this inaction, and long again for the excitement of the march and bivouac, in which, for the past four years, he had buried his past.

He was sitting one afternoon alone before his reports and dispatches, when this influence seemed so strong that he half impulsively laid them aside to indulge in along reverie. He was recalling his last day at Robles, the early morning duel with Pinckney, the return to San Francisco, and the sudden resolution which sent him that day across the continent to offer his services to the Government. He remembered his delay in the Western town, where a volunteer regiment was being recruited, his entrance into it as a private, his rapid selection, through the force of his sheer devotion and intelligent concentration, to the captaincy of his company; his swift promotion on hard-fought fields to the head of the regiment, and the singular success that had followed his resistless energy, which left him no time to think of anything but his duty. The sudden intrusion of his wife upon his career now, even in this accidental and perhaps innocent way, had seriously unsettled him.

The shadows were growing heavier and deeper, it lacked only a few moments of the sunset bugle, when he was recalled to himself by that singular instinctive consciousness, common to humanity, of being intently looked at. He turned quickly,—the door behind him closed softly. He rose and slipped into the hall. The tall figure of a woman was going down the passage. She was erect and graceful; but, as she turned towards the door leading to the offices, he distinctly saw the gaudily turbaned head and black silhouette of a negress. Nevertheless, he halted a moment at the door of the next room.

“See who that woman is who has just passed, Mr. Martin. She doesn’t seem to belong to the house.”

The young officer rose, put on his cap, and departed. In a few moments he returned.

“Was she tall, sir, of a good figure, and very straight?”


“She is a servant of our neighbors, the Manlys, who occasionally visits the servants here. A mulatto, I think.”

Brant reflected. Many of the mulattoes and negresses were of good figure, and the habit of carrying burdens on their heads gave them a singularly erect carriage.

The lieutenant looked at his chief.

“Have you any orders to give concerning her, General?”

“No,” said Brant, after a moment’s pause, and turned away.

The officer smiled. It seemed a good story to tell at mess of this human weakness of his handsome, reserved, and ascetic-looking leader.

A few mornings afterwards Brant was interrupted over his reports by the almost abrupt entrance of the officer of the day. His face was flushed, and it was evident that only the presence of his superior restrained his excitement. He held a paper in his hand.

“A lady presents this order and pass from Washington, countersigned by the division general.”

“A lady?”

“Yes, sir, she is dressed as such. But she has not only declined the most ordinary civilities and courtesies we have offered her, but she has insulted Mr. Martin and myself grossly, and demands to be shown to you—alone.”

Brant took the paper. It was a special order from the President, passing Miss Matilda Faulkner through the Federal lines to visit her uncle’s home, known as “Gray Oaks,” now held and occupied as the headquarters of Brant’s Brigade, in order to arrange for the preservation and disposal of certain family effects and private property that still remained there, or to take and carry away such property; and invoking all necessary aid and assistance from the United States forces in such occupancy. It was countersigned by the division commander. It was perfectly regular and of undoubted authenticity. He had heard of passes of this kind,—the terror of the army,—issued in Washington under some strange controlling influence and against military protest; but he did not let his subordinate see the uneasiness with which it filled him.

“Show her in,” he said quietly.

But she had already entered, brushing scornfully past the officer, and drawing her skirt aside, as if contaminated: a very pretty Southern girl, scornful and red-lipped, clad in a gray riding-habit, and still carrying her riding-whip clenched ominously in her slim, gauntleted hand!

“You have my permit in your hand,” she said brusquely, hardly raising her eyes to Brant. “I suppose it’s all straight enough,—and even if it isn’t, I don’t reckon to be kept waiting with those hirelings.”

“Your ‘permit’ is ‘straight’ enough, Miss Faulkner,” said Brant, slowly reading her name from the document before him. “But, as it does not seem to include permission to insult my officers, you will perhaps allow them first to retire.”

He made a sign to the officer, who passed out of the door.

As it closed, he went on, in a gentle but coldly unimpassioned voice,—

“I perceive you are a Southern lady, and therefore I need not remind you that it is not considered good form to treat even the slaves of those one does not like uncivilly, and I must, therefore, ask you to keep your active animosity for myself.”

The young girl lifted her eyes. She had evidently not expected to meet a man so young, so handsome, so refined, and so coldly invincible in manner. Still less was she prepared for that kind of antagonism. In keeping up her preconcerted attitude towards the “Northern hireling,” she had been met with official brusqueness, contemptuous silence, or aggrieved indignation,—but nothing so exasperating as this. She even fancied that this elegant but sardonic-looking soldier was mocking her. She bit her red lip, but, with a scornful gesture of her riding-whip, said,—

“I reckon that your knowledge of Southern ladies is, for certain reasons, not very extensive.”

“Pardon me; I have had the honor of marrying one.”

Apparently more exasperated than before, she turned upon him abruptly.

“You say my pass is all right. Then I presume I may attend to the business that brought me here.”

“Certainly; but you will forgive me if I imagined that an expression of contempt for your hosts was a part of it.”

He rang a bell on the table. It was responded to by an orderly.

“Send all the household servants here.”

The room was presently filled with the dusky faces of the negro retainers. Here and there was the gleaming of white teeth, but a majority of the assembly wore the true negro serious acceptance of the importance of “an occasion.” One or two even affected an official and soldierly bearing. And, as he fully expected, there were several glances of significant recognition of the stranger.

“You will give,” said Brant sternly, “every aid and attention to the wants of this young lady, who is here to represent the interests of your old master. As she will be entirely dependent upon you in all things connected with her visit here, see to it that she does not have to complain to me of any inattention,—or be obliged to ask for other assistance.”

As Miss Faulkner, albeit a trifle paler in the cheek, but as scornful as ever, was about to follow the servants from the room, Brant stopped her, with a coldly courteous gesture.

“You will understand, therefore, Miss Faulkner, that you have your wish, and that you will not be exposed to any contact with the members of my military family, nor they with you.”

“Am I then to be a prisoner in this house—and under a free pass of your—President?” she said indignantly.

“By no means! You are free to come and go, and see whom you please. I have no power to control your actions. But I have the power to control theirs.”

She swept furiously from the room.

“That is quite enough to fill her with a desire to flirt with every man here,” said Brant to himself, with a faint smile; “but I fancy they have had a taste enough of her quality.”

Nevertheless he sat down and wrote a few lines to the division commander, pointing out that he had already placed the owner’s private property under strict surveillance, that it was cared for and perfectly preserved by the household servants, and that the pass was evidently obtained as a subterfuge.

To this he received a formal reply, regretting that the authorities at Washington still found it necessary to put this kind of risk and burden on the army in the field, but that the order emanated from the highest authority, and must be strictly obeyed. At the bottom of the page was a characteristic line in pencil in the general’s own hand—“Not the kind that is dangerous.”

A flush mounted Brant’s cheeks, as if it contained not only a hidden, but a personal significance. He had thought of his own wife!

Singularly enough, a day or two later, at dinner, the conversation turned upon the intense sectional feeling of Southern women, probably induced by their late experiences. Brant, at the head of the table, in his habitual abstraction, was scarcely following the somewhat excited diction of Colonel Strangeways, one of his staff.

“No, sir,” reiterated that indignant warrior, “take my word for it! A Southern woman isn’t to be trusted on this point, whether as a sister, sweetheart, or wife. And when she is trusted, she’s bound to get the better of the man in any of those relations!”

The dead silence that followed, the ominous joggle of a glass at the speaker’s elbow, the quick, sympathetic glance that Brant instinctively felt was directed at his own face, and the abrupt change of subject, could not but arrest his attention, even if he had overlooked the speech. His face, however, betrayed nothing. It had never, however, occurred to him before that his family affairs might be known—neither had he ever thought of keeping them a secret. It seemed so purely a personal and private misfortune, that he had never dreamed of its having any public interest. And even now he was a little ashamed of what he believed was his sensitiveness to mere conventional criticism, which, with the instinct of a proud man, he had despised.

He was not far wrong in his sardonic intuition of the effect of his prohibition upon Miss Faulkner’s feelings. Certainly that young lady, when not engaged in her mysterious occupation of arranging her uncle’s effects, occasionally was seen in the garden, and in the woods beyond. Although her presence was the signal for the “oblique” of any lounging “shoulder strap,” or the vacant “front” of a posted sentry, she seemed to regard their occasional proximity with less active disfavor. Once, when she had mounted the wall to gather a magnolia blossom, the chair by which she had ascended rolled over, leaving her on the wall. At a signal from the guard-room, two sappers and miners appeared carrying a scaling-ladder, which they placed silently against the wall, and as silently withdrew. On another occasion, the same spirited young lady, whom Brant was satisfied would have probably imperiled her life under fire in devotion to her cause, was brought ignominiously to bay in the field by that most appalling of domestic animals, the wandering and untrammeled cow! Brant could not help smiling as he heard the quick, harsh call to “Turn out, guard,” saw the men march stolidly with fixed bayonets to the vicinity of the affrighted animal, who fled, leaving the fair stranger to walk shamefacedly to the house. He was surprised, however, that she should have halted before his door, and with tremulous indignation, said,—

“I thank you, sir, for your chivalrousness in turning a defenseless woman into ridicule.”

“I regret, Miss Faulkner,” began Brant gravely, “that you should believe that I am able to control the advances of farmyard cattle as easily as”— But he stopped, as he saw that the angry flash of her blue eyes, as she darted past him, was set in tears. A little remorseful on the following day, he added a word to his ordinary cap-lifting when she went by, but she retained a reproachful silence. Later in the day, he received from her servant a respectful request for an interview, and was relieved to find that she entered his presence with no trace of her former aggression, but rather with the resignation of a deeply injured, yet not entirely unforgiving, woman.

“I thought,” she began coldly, “that I ought to inform you that I would probably be able to conclude my business here by the day after to-morrow, and that you would then be relieved of my presence. I am aware—indeed,” she added, bitterly, “I could scarcely help perceiving, that it has been an exceedingly irksome one.”

“I trust,” began Brant coldly, “that no gentleman of my command has”—


She interrupted him quickly, with a return of her former manner, and a passionate sweep of the hand.

“Do you suppose for a moment that I am speaking—that I am even thinking—of them? What are they to me?”

“Thank you. I am glad to know that they are nothing; and that I may now trust that you have consulted my wishes, and have reserved your animosity solely for me,” returned Brant quietly. “That being so, I see no reason for your hurrying your departure in the least.”

She rose instantly.

“I have,” she said slowly, controlling herself with a slight effort, “found some one who will take my duty off my hands. She is a servant of one of your neighbors,—who is an old friend of my uncle’s. The woman is familiar with the house, and our private property. I will give her full instructions to act for me, and even an authorization in writing, if you prefer it. She is already in the habit of coming here; but her visits will give you very little trouble. And, as she is a slave, or, as you call it, I believe, a chattel, she will be already quite accustomed to the treatment which her class are in the habit of receiving from Northern hands.”

Without waiting to perceive the effect of her Parthian shot, she swept proudly out of the room.

“I wonder what she means,” mused Brant, as her quick step died away in the passage. “One thing is certain,—a woman like that is altogether too impulsive for a spy.”

Later, in the twilight, he saw her walking in the garden. There was a figure at her side. A little curious, he examined it more closely from his window. It was already familiar to him,—the erect, shapely form of his neighbor’s servant. A thoughtful look passed over his face as he muttered,—“So this is to be her deputy.”

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