“Return at ten-thirty,” the General said to his chauffeur, and then they entered the corridor of the hotel.
Montague gazed about him, and found himself trembling just a little with anticipation. It was not the magnificence of the place. The quiet uptown hotel would have seemed magnificent to him, fresh as he was from the country; but, he did not see the marble columns and the gilded carvings-he was thinking of the men he was to meet. It seemed too much to crowd into one day-first the vision of the whirling, seething city, the centre of all his hopes of the future; and then, at night, this meeting, overwhelming him with the crowded memories of everything that he held precious in the past.
There were groups of men in faded uniforms standing about in the corridors. General Prentice bowed here and there as they retired and took the elevator to the reception-rooms. In the doorway they passed a stout little man with stubby white moustaches, and the General stopped, exclaiming, “Hello, Major!” Then he added: “Let me introduce Mr. Allan Montague. Montague, this is Major Thorne.”
A look of sudden interest flashed across the Major’s face. “General Montague’s son?” he cried. And then he seized the other’s hand in both of his, exclaiming, “My boy! my boy! I’m glad to see you!”
Now Montague was no boy—he was a man of thirty, and rather sedate in his appearance and manner; there was enough in his six feet one to have made two of the round and rubicund little Major. And yet it seemed to him quite proper that the other should address him so. He was back in his boyhood to-night—he was a boy whenever anyone mentioned the name of Major Thorne.
“Perhaps you have heard your father speak of me?” asked the Major, eagerly; and Montague answered, “A thousand times.”
He was tempted to add that the vision that rose before him was of a stout gentleman hanging in a grape-vine, while a whole battery of artillery made him their target.
Perhaps it was irreverent, but that was what Montague had always thought of, ever since he had first laughed over the tale his father told. It had happened one January afternoon in the Wilderness, during the terrible battle of Chancellorsville, when Montague’s father had been a rising young staff-officer, and it had fallen to his lot to carry to Major Thorne what was surely the most terrifying order that ever a cavalry officer received. It was in the crisis of the conflict, when the Army of the Potomac was reeling before the onslaught of Stonewall Jackson’s columns. There was no one to stop them-and yet they must be stopped, for the whole right wing of the army was going. So that cavalry regiment had charged full tilt through the thickets, and into a solid wall of infantry and artillery. The crash of their volley was blinding—and horses wore fairly shot to fragments; and the Major’s horse, with its lower jaw torn off, had plunged madly away and left its rider hanging in the aforementioned grape-vine. After he had kicked himself loose, it was to find himself in an arena where pain-maddened horses and frenzied men raced about amid a rain of minie-balls and canister. And in this inferno the gallant Major had captured a horse, and rallied the remains of his shattered command, and held the line until help came-and then helped to hold it, all through the afternoon and the twilight and the night, against charge after charge.—And now to stand and gaze at this stout and red-nosed little personage, and realize that these mighty deeds had been his!
Then, even while Montague was returning his hand-clasp and telling him of his pleasure, the Major’s eye caught some one across the room, and he called eagerly, “Colonel Anderson! Colonel Anderson!”
And this was the heroic Jack Anderson! “Parson” Anderson, the men had called him, because he always prayed before everything he did. Prayers at each mess,—a prayer-meeting in the evening,—and then rumour said the Colonel prayed on while his men slept. With his battery of artillery trained to perfection under three years of divine guidance, the gallant Colonel had stood in the line of battle at Cold Harbour—name of frightful memory!—and when the enemy had swarmed out of their intrenchments and swept back the whole line just beyond him, his battery had stood like a cape in a storm-beaten ocean, attacked on two sides at once; and for the half-hour that elapsed before infantry support came up, the Colonel had ridden slowly up and down his line, repeating in calm and godly accents, “Give ‘em hell, boys—give ‘em hell!”—The Colonel’s hand trembled now as he held it out, and his voice was shrill and cracked as he told what pleasure it gave him to meet General Montague’s son.
“Why have we never seen you before?” asked Major Thorne. Montague replied that he had spent all his life in Mississippi—his father having married a Southern woman after the war. Once every year the General had come to New York to attend the reunion of the Loyal Legion of the State; but some one had had to stay at home with his mother, Montague explained.
There were perhaps a hundred men in the room, and he was passed about from group to group. Many of them had known his father intimately. It seemed almost uncanny to him to meet them in the body; to find them old and feeble, white-haired and wrinkled. As they lived in the chambers of his memory, they were in their mighty youth-heroes, transfigured and radiant, not subject to the power of time.
Life on the big plantation had been a lonely one, especially for a Southern-born man who had fought in the Union army. General Montague had been a person of quiet tastes, and his greatest pleasure had been to sit with his two boys on his knees and “fight his battles o’er again.” He had collected all the literature of the corps which he had commanded—a whole library of it, in which Allan had learned to find his way as soon as he could read. He had literally been brought up on the war—for hours he would lie buried in some big illustrated history, until people came and called him away. He studied maps of campaigns and battle-fields, until they became alive with human passion and struggle; he knew the Army of the Potomac by brigade and division, with the names of commanders, and their faces, and their ways-until they lived and spoke, and the bare roll of their names had power to thrill him.—And now here were the men themselves, and all these scenes and memories crowding upon him in tumultuous throngs. No wonder that he was a little dazed, and could hardly find words to answer when he was spoken to.
But then came an incident which called him suddenly back to the world of the present. “There is Judge Ellis,” said the General.
Judge Ellis! The fame of his wit and eloquence had reached even far Mississippi—was there any remotest corner of America where men had not heard of the silver tongue of Judge Ellis? “Cultivate him!” Montague’s brother Oliver had laughed, when it was mentioned that the Judge would be present—“Cultivate him—he may be useful.”
It was not difficult to cultivate one who was as gracious as Judge Ellis. He stood in the doorway, a smooth, perfectly groomed gentleman, conspicuous in the uniformed assembly by his evening dress. The Judge was stout and jovial, and cultivated Dundreary whiskers and a beaming smile. “General Montague’s son!” he exclaimed, as he pressed the young man’s hands. “Why, why—I’m surprised! Why have we never seen you before?”
Montague explained that he had only been in New York about six hours. “Oh, I see,” said the Judge. “And shall you remain long?”
“I have come to stay,” was the reply.
“Well, well!” said the other, cordially. “Then we may see more of you. Are you going into business?”
“I am a lawyer,” said Montague. “I expect to practise.”
The Judge’s quick glance had been taking the measure of the tall, handsome man before him, with his raven-black hair and grave features. “You must give us a chance to try your mettle,” he said; and then, as others approached to meet him, and he was forced to pass on, he laid a caressing hand on Montague’s arm, whispering, with a sly smile, “I mean it.”
Montague felt his heart beat a little faster. He had not welcomed his brother’s suggestion—there was nothing of the sycophant in him; but he meant to work and to succeed, and he knew what the favour of a man like Judge Ellis would mean to him. For the Judge was the idol of New York’s business and political aristocracy, and the doorways of fortune yielded at his touch.
There were rows of chairs in one of the rooms, and here two or three hundred men were gathered. There were stands of battle-flags in the corners, each one of them a scroll of tragic history, to one like Montague, who understood. His eye roamed over them while the secretary was reading minutes of meetings and other routine announcements. Then he began to study the assemblage. There were men with one arm and men with one leg—one tottering old soldier ninety years of age, stone blind, and led about by his friends. The Loyal Legion was an officers’ organization, and to that extent aristocratic; but worldly success counted for nothing in it—some of its members were struggling to exist on their pensions, and were as much thought of as a man like General Prentice, who was president of one of the city’s largest banks, and a rich man, even in New York’s understanding of that term.
The presiding officer introduced “Colonel Robert Selden, who will read the paper of the evening: ‘Recollections of Spottsylvania.’” Montague started at the name—for “Bob” Selden had been one of his father’s messmates, and had fought all through the Peninsula Campaign at his side.
He was a tall, hawk-faced ...