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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAn Original Belle - Chapter 32. Blauvelt
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An Original Belle - Chapter 32. Blauvelt Post by :srinivasraju Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Payson Roe Date :May 2012 Read :917

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An Original Belle - Chapter 32. Blauvelt

CHAPTER XXXII. BLAUVELT


In June, especially during the latter part of the month, Strahan and Blauvelt's letters to Marian had been brief and infrequent. The duties of the young officers were heavy, and their fatigues great. They could give her little information forecasting the future. Indeed, General Hooker himself could not have done this, for all was in uncertainty. Lee must be found and fought, and all that any one knew was that the two great armies would eventually meet in the decisive battle of the war.

The patient, heroic army of the Potomac, often defeated, but never conquered, was between two dangers that can be scarcely overestimated, the vast, confident hosts of Lee in Pennsylvania, and Halleck in Washington. General Hooker was hampered, interfered with, deprived of reinforcements that were kept in idleness elsewhere, and at last relieved of command on the eve of battle, because he asked that 11,000 men, useless at Harper's Ferry, might be placed under his orders. That this was a mere pretext for his removal, and an expression of Halleck's ill-will, is proved by the fact that General Meade, his successor, immediately ordered the evacuation of Harper's Ferry and was unrestrained and unrebuked. Meade, however, did not unite these 11,000 men to his army, where they might have added materially to his success, but left them far in his rear, a useless, half-way measure possibly adopted to avoid displeasing Halleck.

It would seem that Providence itself assumed the guidance of this longsuffering Union army, that had been so often led by incompetence in the field and paralyzed by interference at Washington. Even the philosophical historian, the Comte de Paris, admits this truth in remarkable language.

Neither Lee nor Meade knew where they should meet, and had under consideration various plans of action, but, writes the French historian, "The fortune of war cut short all these discussions by bringing the two combatants into a field which neither had chosen." Again, after describing the region of Gettysburg, he concludes: "Such is the ground upon which unforeseen circumstances were about to bring the two armies in hostile contact. Neither Meade nor Lee had any personal knowledge of it."

Once more, after a vivid description of the first day's battle, in which Buford with his cavalry division, Doubleday with the First Corps, and Howard with the Eleventh, checked the rebel advance, but at last, after heroic fighting, were overwhelmed and driven back in a disorder which in some brigades resembled a rout, the Comte de Paris recognizes, in the choice of position on which the Union troops were rallied, something beyond the will and wisdom of man.

"A resistless impulse seems to spur it (the rebel army) on to battle. It believes itself invincible. There is scorn of its adversary; nearly all the Confederate generals have undergone the contagion. Lee himself, the grave, impassive man, will some day acknowledge that he has allowed himself to be influenced by these common illusions. It seems that the God of Armies had designated for the Confederates the lists where the supreme conflict must take place: they cheerfully accept the alternative, without seeking for any other."

All the world knows now that the position in the "lists" thus "designated" to the Union army was almost an equivalent for the thousands of men kept idle and useless elsewhere. To a certain extent the conditions of Fredericksburg are reversed, and the Confederates, in turn, must storm lofty ridges lined with artillery.

Of those days of awful suspense, the 3d, 4th, and 5th of July, the French historian gives but a faint idea in the following words: "In the mean while, the North was anxiously awaiting for the results of the great conflict. Uneasiness and excitement were perceptible everywhere; terror prevailed in all those places believed to be within reach of the invaders. Rumors and fear exaggerated their number, and the remembrance of their success caused them to be deemed invincible."

When, therefore, the tidings came, "The rebel army totally defeated," with other statements of the victory too highly colored, a burden was lifted from loyal hearts which the young of this generation cannot gauge; but with the abounding joy and gratitude there were also, in the breasts of hundreds of thousands, sickening fear and suspense which must remain until the fate of loved ones was known.

In too vivid fancy, wives and mothers saw a bloody field strewn with still forms, and each one asked herself, "Could I go among these, might I not recognize HIS features?"

But sorrow and fear shrink from public observation, while joy and exultation seek open expression. Before the true magnitude of the victory at Gettysburg could be realized, came the knowledge that the nation's greatest soldier, General Grant, had taken Vicksburg and opened the Mississippi.

Marian saw the deep gladness in her father's eyes and heard it in his tones, and, while she shared in his gratitude and relief, her heart was oppressed with solicitude for her friends. To her, who had no near kindred in the war, these young men had become almost as dear as brothers. She was conscious of their deep affection, and she felt that there could be no rejoicing for her until she was assured of their safety. All spoke of the battle of Gettysburg as one of the most terrific combats of the world. Two of her friends must have been in the thick of it. She read the blood-stained accounts with paling cheeks, and at last saw the words, "Captain Blauvelt, wounded; Major Strahan, wounded and missing."

This was all. There was room for hope; there was much cause to fear the worst. From Lane there were no tidings whatever. She was oppressed with the feeling that perhaps the frank, true eyes of these loyal friends might never again look into her own. With a chill of unspeakable dread she asked herself what her life would be without these friends. Who could ever take their place or fill the silence made by their hushed voices?

Since reading the details of the recent battle her irritation against Merwyn had passed away, and she now felt for him only pity. Her own brave spirit had been awed and overwhelmed by the accounts of the terrific cannonade and the murderous hand-to-hand struggles. At night she would start up from vivid dreams wherein she saw the field with thousands of ghastly faces turned towards the white moonlight. In her belief Merwyn was incapable of looking upon such scenes. Therefore why should she think of him with scorn and bitterness? She herself had never before realized how terrible they were. Now that the dread emergency, with its imperative demand for manhood and action, had passed, her heart became softened and chastened with thoughts of death. She was enabled to form a kinder judgment, and to believe it very possible that Merwyn, in the consciousness of his weakness, was suffering more than many a wounded man of sterner mettle.

On the evening of the day whereon she had read the ominous words in regard to her friends, Merwyn's card was handed to her, and, although surprised, she went down to meet him without hesitation. His motives for this call need brief explanation.

For a time he had given way to the deepest dejection in regard to his own prospects. There seemed nothing for him to do but wait for the arrival of his mother, whom he could not welcome. He still had a lingering hope that when she came and found her ambitious dreams of Southern victory dissipated, she might be induced to give him back his freedom, and on this hope he lived. But, in the main, he was like one stunned and paralyzed by a blow, and for a time he could not rally. He had been almost sleepless for days from intense excitement and expectation, and the reaction was proportionately great. At last he thought of Strahan, and telegraphed to Mrs. Strahan, at her country place, asking if she had heard from her son. Soon, after receiving a negative answer, he saw, in the long lists of casualties, the brief, vague statement that Marian had found. The thought then occurred to him that he might go to Gettysburg and search for Strahan. Anything would be better than inaction. He believed that he would have time to go and return before his mother's arrival, and, if he did not, he would leave directions for her reception. The prospect of doing something dispelled his apathy, and the hope of being of service to his friend had decided attractions, for he had now become sincerely attached to Strahan. He therefore rapidly made his preparations to depart that very night, but decided first to see Marian, thinking it possible that she might have received some later intelligence. Therefore, although very doubtful of his reception, he had ventured to call, hoping that Marian's interest in her friend might secure for him a slight semblance of welcome. He was relieved when she greeted him gravely, quietly, but not coldly.

He at once stated his purpose, and asked if she had any information that would guide him in his search. Although she shook her head and told him that she knew nothing beyond what she had seen in the paper, he saw with much satisfaction that her face lighted up with hope and eagerness, and that she approved of his effort. While explaining his intentions he had not sat down, but now she cordially asked him to be seated and to give his plans more in detail.

"I fear you will find fearful confusion and difficulty in reaching the field," she said.

"I have no fears," he replied. "I shall go by rail as far as possible, then hire or purchase a horse. The first list of casualties is always made up hastily, and I have strong hopes of finding Strahan in one of the many extemporized hospitals, or, at least, of getting some tidings of him."

"One thing is certain," she added, kindly,--"you have proved that if you do find him, he will have a devoted nurse."

"I shall do my best for him," he replied, quietly. "If he has been taken from the field and I can learn his whereabouts, I shall follow him."

The color caused by his first slight embarrassment had faded away, and Marian exclaimed, "Mr. Merwyn, you are either ill or have been ill."

"Oh, no," he said, carelessly; "I have only shared in the general excitement and anxiety. I am satisfied that we have but barely escaped a serious outbreak in this city."

"I think you are right," she answered, gravely, and her thought was: "He is indeed to be pitied if a few weeks of fearful expectation have made him so pale and haggard. It has probably cost him a tremendous effort to remain in the city where he has so much at stake."

After a moment's silence Merwyn resumed: "I shall soon take my train. Would you not like to write a few lines to Strahan? As I told you, in effect, once before, they may prove the best possible tonic in case I find him."

Marian, eager to comply with the suggestion, excused herself. In her absence her father entered. He also greeted the young man kindly, and, learning of his project, volunteered some useful instructions, adding, "I can give you a few lines that may be of service."

At last Merwyn was about to depart, and Marian, for the first time, gave him her hand and wished him "God-speed." He flushed deeply, and there was a flash of pleasure in his dark eyes as he said, in a low tone, that he would try to deserve her kindness.

At this moment there was a ring at the door, and a card was brought in. Marian could scarcely believe her eyes, for on it was written, "Henry Blauvelt."

She rushed to the door and welcomed the young officer with exclamations of delight, and then added, eagerly, "Where is Mr. Strahan?"

"I am sorry indeed to tell you that I do not know," Blauvelt replied, sadly. Then he hastily added: "But I am sure he was not killed, for I have searched every part of the field where he could possibly have fallen. I have visited the hospitals, and have spent days and nights in inquiries. My belief now is that he was taken prisoner."

"Then there is still hope!" exclaimed the young girl, with tears in her eyes. "You surely believe there is still hope?"

"I certainly believe there is much reason for hope. The rebels left their own seriously wounded men on the field, and took away as prisoners only such of our men as were able to march. It is true I saw Strahan fall just as we were driven back; but I am sure that he was neither killed nor seriously wounded, for I went to the spot as soon as possible afterwards and he was not there, nor have I been able, since, to find him or obtain tidings of him. He may have been knocked down by a piece of shell or a spent ball. A moment or two later the enemy charged over the spot where he fell, and what was left of our regiment was driven back some distance. From that moment I lost all trace of him. I believe that he has only been captured with many other prisoners, and that he will be exchanged in a few weeks."

"Heaven grant that it may be so!" she breathed, fervently. "But, Mr. Blauvelt, YOU are wounded. Do not think us indifferent because we have asked so eagerly after Major Strahan, for you are here alive and apparently as undaunted as ever."

"Oh, my wounds are slight. Carrying my arm in a sling gives too serious an impression. I merely had one of the fingers of my left hand shot away, and a scratch on my shoulder."

"But have these wounds been dressed lately?" Mr. Vosburgh asked, gravely.

"And have you had your rations this evening?" Marian added, with the glimmer of a smile.

"Thanks, yes to both questions. I arrived this afternoon, and at once saw a good surgeon. I have not taken time to obtain a better costume than this old uniform, which has seen hard service."

"Like the wearer," said Marian. "I should have been sorry indeed if you had changed it."

"Well, I knew that you would be anxious to have even a negative assurance of Strahan's safety."

"And equally so to be positively assured of your own."

"I hoped that that would be true to some extent. My dear old mother, in New Hampshire, to whom I have telegraphed, is eager to see me, and so I shall go on in the morning."

"You must be our guest, then, to-night," said Mr. Vosburgh, decisively. "We will take no refusal, and I shall send at once to the hotel for your luggage."

"It is small indeed," laughed Blauvelt, flushing with pleasure, "for I came away in very light marching order."

Marian then explained that Merwyn, who, after a brief, polite greeting from Blauvelt, had been almost forgotten, was about to start in search of Strahan.

"I would not lay a straw in his way, and possibly he may obtain some clue that escaped me," said the young officer.

"Perhaps, if you feel strong enough to tell us something of that part of the battle in which you were engaged, and of your search, Mr. Merwyn may receive hints which will be of service to him," Mr. Vosburgh suggested.

"I shall be very glad to do so, and feel entirely equal to the effort. Indeed, I have been resting and sleeping in the cars nearly all day, and am so much better that I scarcely feel it right to be absent from the regiment."

They at once repaired to the library, Marian leaving word with Mammy Borden that they were engaged, should there be other callers.

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