by Louisa May Alcott
| 1 | 2 | 3 |
Chapter 3. What Became Of Them.
PRIVATE Lennox certainly had chosen pretty hard work, for the -- th was not a "kid-glove" regiment by any means; fighting in mid-winter was not exactly festive, and camps do not abound in beds of roses even at the best of times. But Belle was right in saying she knew a soldier when she saw him, for now that he was thoroughly waked up, he proved that there was plenty of courage, energy, and endurance in him.
It's my private opinion that he might now and then have slightly regretted the step he had taken, had it not been for certain recollections of a sarcastic tongue and a pair of keen eyes, not to mention the influence of one of the most potent rulers of the human heart, namely, the desire to prove himself worthy of the respect, if nothing more, of somebody at home. Belle's socks did seem to keep him safe, and lead him straight in the narrow path of duty. Belle's comfort-bag was such in very truth, for not one of the stout needles on the tricolored cushion but what seemed to wink its eye approvingly at him; not one of the tidy balls of thread that did not remind him of the little hand he coveted, and the impracticable scissors, were cherished as a good omen, though he felt that the sharpest steel that ever came from Sheffield couldn't cut his love in twain. And Belle's lessons, short as they had been, were not forgotten, but seemed to have been taken up by a sterner mistress, whose rewards were greater if not so sweet as those the girl could give. There was plenty of exercise now-a-days of hard work that left many a tired head asleep forever under the snow. There were many opportunities for diving "into the depths and bringing up pearls worth having" by acts of kindness among the weak, the wicked, and the suffering all about him. He learned now how to earn, not buy, the thanks of the poor, and unconsciously proved in the truest way that a private could be a gentleman. But best of all was the steadfast purpose "to live and die for a principle," which grew and strengthened with each month of bitter hardship, bloody strife, and dearly-bought success. Life grew earnest to him, time seemed precious, self was forgotten, and all that was best and bravest rallied round the flag on which his heart inscribed the motto, "Love and Liberty."
Praise and honor he could not fail to win, and had he never gone back to claim his bounty he would have earned the great "Well done," for he kept his oath loyally, did his duty manfully, and loved his lady faithfully, like a knight of the chivalrous times. He knew nothing of her secret, but wore her blue ribbon like an order, never went into battle without first, like many another poor fellow, kissing something which he carried next his heart, and with each day of absence felt himself a better man, and braver soldier, for the fondly foolish romance he had woven about the scarlet stockings.
Belle and Kate did comfort one another, not only with tears and kisses, but with womanly work which kept hearts happy and hands busy. How Belle bribed her to silence will always remain the ninth wonder of the world, but though reams of paper passed between brother and sister during those twelve months not a hint was dropped on one side in reply to artful inquiries from the other. Belle never told her love in words, but she stowed away an unlimited quantity of the article in the big boxes that went to gladden the eyes and -- alas for romance! -- the stomach of Private Lennox. If pickles could typify passion, cigars prove constancy, and gingerbread reveal the longings of the soul, then would the above-mentioned gentleman have been the happiest of lovers. But camp-life had doubtless dulled his finer intuitions, for he failed to understand the new language of love, and gave away these tender tokens with lavish prodigality. Concealment preyed a trifle on Belle's damask cheek it must be confessed, and the keen eyes grew softer with the secret tears that sometimes dimmed them; the sharp tongue seldom did mischief now, but uttered kindly words to every one as if doing penance for the past, and a sweet seriousness toned down the lively spirit which was learning many things in the sleepless nights that followed when the "little prayer" for the beloved substitute was done.
"I'll wait and see if he is all I hope he will be, before I let him know. I shall read the truth the instant I see him, and if he has stood the test I'll run into his arms and tell him everything," she said to herself with delicious thrills at the idea; but you may be sure she did nothing of the sort when the time came.
A rumor flew through the town one day that Lennox had arrived; upon receipt of which joyful tidings Belle had a panic and hid herself in the garret. But when she had quaked, and cried, and peeped, and listened for an hour or two, finding that no one came to hunt her up, she composed her nerves and descended to pass the afternoon in the parlor and a high state of dignity. All sorts of reports reached her -- he was mortally wounded, he had been made a major or a colonel, or a general, no one knew exactly which; he was dead, was going to be married, and hadn't come at all. Belle fully expiated all her small sins by the agonies of suspense she suffered that day, and when at last a note came from Kate begging her "to drop over to see Harry," she put her pride in her pocket and went at once.
The drawing-room was empty and in confusion, there was a murmur of voices up-stairs, a smell of camphor in the air, and an empty wine-glass on the table where a military cap was lying. Belle's heart sunk, and she covertly kissed the faded blue coat as she stood waiting breathlessly, wondering if Harry had any arms for her to run into. She heard the chuckling Biddy lumber up and announce her, then a laugh and a half fond, half exulting -- "Ah, ha, I thought she'd come!"
That spoilt it all; Belle took out her pride instanter, set her teeth, rubbed a quick color into her white cheeks, and snatching up a newspaper, sat herself down with as expressionless a face as it was possible for an excited young woman to possess. Lennox came running down -- "Thank heaven, his legs are safe!" sighed Belle, with her eyes glued to the price of beef. He entered with both hands extended, which relieved her mind upon another point, and he beamed upon her, looking so vigorous, manly, and martial that she cried within herself, "My beautiful brown soldier!" even while she greeted him with an unnecessarily brief "How do you do, Mr. Lennox?"
The sudden eclipse which passed over his joyful countenance would have been ludicrous if it hadn't been pathetic; but he was used to hard knocks now, and bore this, his hardest, like a man. He shook hands heartily, and as Belle sat down again (not to betray that she was trembling a good deal), he stood at ease before her, talking in a way which soon satisfied her that he had borne the test, and that bliss was waiting for her round the corner. But she had made it such a very sharp corner she couldn't turn it gracefully, and while she pondered how to do so he helped her with a cough. She looked up quickly, discovering all at once that he was very thin, rather pale in spite of the nice tan, and breathed hurriedly as he stood with one hand in his breast.
"Are you ill, wounded, in pain?" she asked, forgetting herself entirely.
"Yes, all three," he answered, after a curious look at her changing color and anxious eyes.
"Sit down -- tell me about it -- can I do any thing?" and Belle began to plump up the pillows on the couch with nervous eagerness.
"Thank you, I'm past help," was the mournful reply, accompanied by a hollow cough which made her shiver.
"Oh, don't say so! Let me bring father; he is very skilful. Shall I call Kate?"
"He can do nothing; Kate doesn't know this, and I beg you won't tell her. I got a shot in the breast and made light of it, but it will finish me sooner or later. I don't mind telling you, for you are one of the strong, cool sort, you know, and are not affected by such things. But Kate is so fond of me, I don't want to shock and trouble her yet awhile. Let her enjoy my little visit, and after I'm gone you can tell her the truth."
Belle had sat like a statue while he spoke with frequent pauses and an involuntary clutch or two at the suffering breast. As he stopped and passed his hand over his eyes, she said slowly, as if her white lips were stiff,
"Back to my place. I'd rather die fighting than fussed and wailed over by a parcel of women. I expected to stay a week or so, but a battle is coming off sooner than we imagined, so I'm away again to-morrow. As I'm not likely ever to come back, I just wanted to ask you to stand by poor Kate when I'm finished, and to say good-bye to you, Belle, before I go." He put out his hand, but holding it fast in both her own, she laid her tearful face down on it, whispering imploringly,
"Oh, Harry, stay!"
Never mind what happened for the next ten minutes; suffice it to say that the enemy having surrendered, the victor took possession with great jubilation and showed no quarter.
"Bang the field piece, toot the fife, and beat the rolling drum, for ruse number three has succeeded! Come down, Kate, and give us your blessing," called Lennox, taking pity on his sister, who was anxiously awaiting the denouement on the stairs.
In she rushed, and the young ladies laughed and cried, kissed and talked tumultuously, while their idol benignantly looked on, vainly endeavoring to repress all vestiges of unmanly emotion.
"And you are not dying, really, truly?" cried Belle, when fair weather set in after the flurry.
"Bless your dear heart, no! I'm as sound as a nut, and haven't a wound to boast of, except this ugly slash on the head."
"It's a splendid wound, and I'm proud of it," and Belle set a rosy little seal on the scar which quite reconciled her lover to the disfigurement of his handsome forehead. "You've learned to fib in the army, and I'm disappointed in you," she added, trying to look reproachful and failing entirely.
"No, only the art of strategy. You quenched me by your frosty reception, and I thought it was all up till you put the idea of playing invalid into my head. It succeeded so well that I piled on the agony, resolving to fight it out on that line, and if I failed again to make a masterly retreat. You gave me a lesson in deceit once, so don't complain if I turned the tables and made your heart ache for a minute, as you've made mine for a year."
Belle's spirit was rapidly coming back, so she gave him a capital imitation of his French shrug, and drawled out in his old way --
"I have my doubts about that, mon ami."
"What do you say to this -- and this -- and this?" he retorted, pulling out and laying before her with a triumphant flourish, a faded blue ribbon, a fat pincushion with a hole through it, and a dainty-painted little picture of a pretty girl in scarlet stockings.
"There, I've carried those treasures in my breast-pocket for a year, and I'm firmly convinced that they have all done their part toward keeping me safe. The blue ribbon bound me fast to you, Belle; the funny cushion caught the bullet that otherwise might have finished me, and the blessed little picture was my comfort during those dreadful marches, my companion on picket-duty with treachery and danger all about me, and my inspiration when the word 'Charge!' went down the line, for in the thickest of the fight I always saw the little grey figure beckoning me on to my duty."
"Oh, Harry, you won't go back to all those horrors, will you? I'm sure you've done enough, and may rest now and enjoy your reward," said Kate, trying not to feel that "two is company and three is none."
"I've enlisted for the war, and shall not rest till either it or I come to an end. As for my reward, I had it when Belle kissed me."
"You are right, I'll wait for you, and love you all the better for the sacrifice," whispered Belle. "I only wish I could share your hardships, dear, for while you fight and suffer I can only love and pray."
"Waiting is harder than working to such as you, so be contented with your share, for the thought of you will glorify the world generally for me. I'll tell you what you can do while I'm away; it's both useful and amusing, so it will occupy and cheer you capitally. Just knit lots of red hose, because I don't intend you to wear any others hereafter, Mrs. Lennox."
"Mine are not worn out yet," laughed Belle, getting merry at the thought.
"No matter for that, those are sacred articles, and henceforth must be treasured as memorials of our love. Frame and hang 'em up; or, if the prejudices of society forbid that flight of romance, lay them carefully away where moths can't devour nor thieves steal 'em, so that years hence, when my descendants praise me for any virtues I may possess, any good I may have done, or any honor I may have earned, I can point to those precious relics and say proudly,
"My children, for all that I am, or hope to be, you must thank your honored mother's scarlet stockings."
| 1 | 2 | 3 |
More: Writer Directory | Book Reviews | Homework Help | E-texts | Timeline | Submit a Review |