Silent Sam and Other Stories of Our Day/During the War
DURING THE WAR
DURING THE WAR
"A WAR" he said emphatically, laying his big hand flat on the bill of fare, "a war 's a fire in a house. It 's fought to save the house. The house 's the important thing. Everybody understands that at the time. Nowadays, you all talk and write about it—glorious fire—heroic firemen—as if the whole thing 'd been some sort of spectacle that the rest of us stood around and cheered! All damn nonsense!"
"Father! Father!" his daughter cried, between laughter and frowns. "You 'll scandalize the waiters."
The lieutenant smiled at him unabashed. "That 's true of a civil war, at least."
"Any war 's a civil war," he replied. "We 're all human beings."
He was leaning forward, with shoulders almost as broad as the small table, with the huge head of a sagacious giant, glaring under irascible gray eyebrows. The slim lieutenant looked like a David to his Goliath—respectful but undismayed. The daughter put her hand on her father's great maul of a fist. "You cross old bear," she said. "Why don't you order your dinner? You 're hungry."
He growled something about "nothing fit to eat," and took up the menu again.
We were so put out to find the 'Fifth Avenue' torn down," she explained to the lieutenant; and he reflected her amusement in a frank expression of his pleasure in being there even to be lectured by her father. He had a fine air of spirited independence, which came of a military carriage of the head and an unwavering directness in the eye. She approved of it. She had seen a great many men cringe before her father, and many others adoringly make themselves ridiculous before her.
The lieutenant asked: "You were accustomed to going there—to the 'Fifth Avenue'?"
"Only hotel in the town," her father muttered. "A man might 's well have dinner in a church—this place."
There were stone pillars rising from beds of palms, stone balconies overhung with creepers, a fountain splashing in a stone basin, stone walls niched and garlanded, and a high vaulted roof of skylights from which hung baskets of ferns and ropes of wistaria vines that blossomed in electric lamps. The air was artificially heated and moistened to the temperature and freshness of the spring, and the music of an orchestra softly covered the sound of the sleet on the outer glass of the skylights.
It was all absurdly artificial, appallingly expensive and yet marvelous to see, with its acres of lamp-lit tables and its quiet multitude of guests. "I wish they 'd turn off that tap," the father growled at the splashing fountain. "All nonsense. Serve a dinner without running water."
"Now, Father," she laughed, "endure it for to-night. We 'll find a quieter hotel to-morrow."
He looked around for the waiter, who was behind him. They began to give their order. "And while we 're waiting for it," she said to her father, "you 'll tell Lieutenant Price about your meeting with General Morgan."
It would be difficult to say how she succeeded in giving the lieutenant to understand—by the mere turn of her eye—that her father's account of his meeting with General Morgan might have point in excusing his manner of meeting Lieutenant Price.
"There was nothing the matter with the way I met General Morgan," he said gruffly.
"It was the raider," she explained to Price. "General Morgan—during the war."
"Oh?" Price was interested. "Did you know him?"
"Know him? No. Knew his brother Charlton. Used to come to the Burritt House in Cincinnati when I was telegraph operator there. Huh! I 'm one of the oldest telegraphers in this country, do you know that?"
Lieutenant Price knew merely that he was the vice-president of a system of railroad and steamship lines that had to publish a folder-map of a hemisphere and two oceans to show its routes—and that he was the father of a young woman who was entirely charming. The latter fact interested Price more than the former. He was of an age to be curious about the father because the daughter had probably inherited from him some of her qualities of mind; he was not of an age to appreciate that this tremendous hulk of a man had one of the most powerful mental equipments in the world of "transportation."
Price had not yet learned the limitations of his own intellect; and when a man still believes that at the proper opportunity he will prove himself another Napoleon, he is contemptuous of any genius that is not transcendent.
"I learned telegraphy when I was thirteen," the father said. "I was a conductor when I was eighteen. The directors picked me out to take Shield's Battery up the line to intercept Morgan when I was twenty."
It was boasting. But it was the millionaire modestly boasting of the poverty of his youth.
"General Morgan had been 'making a nuisance' of himself," his daughter reminded him.
"He had! He 'd been destroying houses and crops—and tearing up railroads—and burning bridges and derailing trains. For two days—for two days—there had n't been a train out of Cincinnati. Nuisance? The whole war had been a nuisance—drafting everybody—upsetting the country—making us run our trains from Columbus around by Xenia and Dayton so as to connect at the 'Transfer' for the South. But this Morgan—" He straightened back in his chair. "When they took me in the room to him—"
"But, Father," she interrupted, "you have n't told us how you came to be there."
He put the things away from him to clear the table-cloth before him. "Here," he said curtly. "Here 's Kentucky. Here 's the river. Here 's Indiana. Here 's Ohio. Morgan got across into Indiana on the Alice Dean and raided up into Ohio and got around behind Cincinnati and cut off the town. Our troops were after him, or he 'd have burned Cincinnati if he 'd had time. He was trying to get back to the river, and we believed he 'd cross the C. H. & D. somewhere between Cincinnati and Dayton. Shield's Battery was ordered up the line from Cincinnati, at the last minute, to help intercept him, and when the train was made up—about twenty cars, five hundred men, guns on flat cars—the directors called me in and asked me if I was afraid to take it out."
"And you were n't, of course," the lieutenant said politely.
He looked up with a flicker of amusement. "How old are you?"
The lieutenant answered calmly: "Twenty-six."
He nodded—or rather, he swayed his head. He had no visible neck; the weight of his enormous skull seemed to have sunken his jaw down on his shoulders. "I 'm Scotch," he said. "And, at that time, I was red-headed—if you know what that means."
The lieutenant considered him. He was gray now, but his hair was tousled on his head in a sort of humorous impatience of convention; his gray eyebrows winged up from his nose fiercely; his mouth, between heavy wrinkles, was hung with as many muscles as a great Dane's; his eyes were keen blue under lids that sagged down toward their outer corners.
The lieutenant took their glinting challenge without a blink.
He went on again: "All Cincinnati was down in the yards, asking questions in the dark and crowding on the tracks. They started us off with a whoop, shouting to us as we pulled out. We put on steam till we got clear of them. Then we slowed down and crawled up the track, ten miles an hour—as quiet as we could—no headlight, not a light on the train. It was dark. We could n't see at all, and it did n't take long for the excitement to leak away and leave us anxious. It had been hot in town; it was cooler out on the line. That made a difference. Felt chilly.
"There was an officer of some sort in the cab with us, and he was all on edge because his artillery was tied up on flat cars and his men cooped up in coaches; and if Morgan derailed the train and swooped down on us— Well, it took us three-quarters of an hour to make Carthage, and that gentleman was fretting all the way, with his hands tied behind him. I don't doubt he was a good fighter. Don't doubt it. But this sort of thing was like running past the block signals when you have to make time and don't know whether you 'll bump into the train ahead or not. It 's a thing you have to get used to. And mind you," he admonished the lieutenant, "a man 's like a horse. He shies at a thing that 's new to him. Don't you be too quick to call a man a coward. You 'll probably find there are some things he 's a mighty sight braver about than you are. I 've learned that.
"Well, we got to Carthage. Ed Nash was agent there, and he stopped us with a lantern and called me in to the telegraph key. 'Come in here,' he said. 'Some fool 's asking questions. See what you make of it.'
I did n't make anything of it, at first—except that there was something familiar about the 'send.' It was some one who wanted to know who we were. We wanted to know where he was. And we kept sparring with him till suddenly it came to me that perhaps it was Ellsworth, Morgan's operator. He used to work on our line once, and I thought I recognized his way of handling the key. Telegraphers were scarce in those days. And the artillery officer kept asking: 'What is it? What is it?'
"I said to him, with a wink at Nash: 'It 's the man at Dayton. The line 's clear. Get aboard and we'll go ahead.' And when we'd got rid of him, I said to Nash: 'He 's tapped our wire. Cut him off from Cincinnati so he won't get hold of any messages. Wire them that we 've gone ahead.'
"You see, I figured that if we did n't want to meet Morgan, it was just as likely that he didn't want to meet us either. If he had wanted to, he could have simply waited for us. The fact that Ellsworth tried to draw us out showed me that he had n't time to wait and listen to what was going on over the wire. Our troops were pressing Morgan, and Ellsworth was probably on ahead, with the scouting, trying to find the clearest way through to the river. We had either to make a dash for Hamilton or turn back. My orders were to take the train to Hamilton."
"Why did n't you tell the officer?" Price put in, with a professional jealousy.
"It was none of his business. I was in charge of that train."
The lieutenant had nothing more to say.
"After we left Carthage we could see red in the sky, over to the left, where Morgan was burning anything he could set a match to as he went along. It began to look pretty warm ahead. We could n't make speed for fear they 'd torn up the tracks. We had to feel our way. Ever do that in a dark room?—where you knew you 'd heard a burglar?—and did n't know whether he was waiting for you with a blackjack or making off down the stairs? Try it on a cold night when you feel chilly about the knees.
"The officer kept complaining that it should 've been cavalry and not artillery on the job. So it should—but that did n't help any. I began to feel a tremble in the pit of my stomach, leaning out of the cab window; and I could see that the engineer was hanging back by the door so as to be ready to jump if we struck a snag. And then, as we swung past Ellison's Crossing, just north of Glendale, we ran by a half-dozen men on horseback, standing as close to the rails as they dared to get; and it was so dark we could scarcely see more than the whites of their faces, but they let us pass without a word, just leaning over in the saddle to peer into the cars. And I says to myself: 'Now who was that? Any of our own men would have hailed us. Farmers would n't crowd up to look at a train that way.' And I said to the engineer: 'Let her out, Bob. Let her go.'
"He did it. And I was right. It was Morgan's men—the first of them—and the rest was clear track to Hamilton. We just got through by that." And he held up two thick fingers.
The lieutenant nodded. The daughter was watching him thoughtfully.
"We were n't sure of it till we got to Hamilton and heard that Morgan was south of us, making for Glendale; and when I went to the despatcher's room to telegraph Nash that we 'd arrived safe, I found the wires cut."
"So," Price said, "you did n't meet Morgan on that trip, after all."
"Did n't, eh? Huh! My orders were to report to Cincinnati that I had arrived at Hamilton, I got a hand-car and a couple of men and began to pump back to Carthage. Before we got to Ellison's we slowed down and listened, and we could hear the horses' hoofs scuffling and pounding across the planking between the rails at the crossing. We left the hand-car there, and climbed the bank into the woods and crept along to where we could see the road. It was just about dawn—light enough to see them dragging along, half asleep in their saddles—so much steam rising from the horses you could scarcely see the riders. Tired. It had been a red-hot day. They were riding in undershirts and trousers—and they looked less like glorious war and heroic warriors than anything you ever saw in a book of battles—like a procession of tin-peddlers, the way their sabers rattled."
He made a gesture, dismissing the picture. "My orders were to report to Cincinnati. I had fooled that crowd of corn-crackers once, and I thought I 'd try it again. They were trailing along, with gaps between them, and nobody was paying any attention to anything he passed, apparently; and I thought if I could come down on them full sweep in the hand-car, if I did n't strike on one of the gaps, I 'd probably scare the horses into opening up to let me through—do you see? A hand-car can make quite a noise, rattling down on you that way. I thought we could help it with a yell at the right minute. The only thing was: had they torn up the track?
"To find that out, I had to turn off through the woods, as near as possible to the crossing, to look at the rails. I was careless, maybe. Anyway I ran head on into a squad of men lying down under the trees. They grabbed me. I knocked two or three of them over before some one struck me a crack on the head with the butt of a carbine.
"They were with Ellsworth—waiting there with his key for any messages that might come along from Cincinnati. He knew me. They 'd have known I was a conductor, anyway, by the silver badge on my cap. Didn't wear uniform—those days—train men. And they wanted to know, where our troops were—where I had left my train. And I told them they could all go—"
He checked himself, hoisted himself in his chair, and put his clenched hand on the table-top, menacingly. "I was mad. I— In those days I had a bad temper. And I guess Ellsworth knew it. I told him what I thought of him. When they could n't get anything out of me, I heard him say: 'Take him to the General. That 'll give him time to cool off.' So they hoisted me on a broken-legged plow-horse and started me off to Harris's stock farm, where Morgan and his staff were having breakfast.
"It gave me time to cool off, all right, but I did n't let them see it. I saw I 'd have to bluff it out, and I kept cursing and abusing them all the way. They were too dog-tired and sleepy to resent it. They were so tired they talked as thick as if they were drunk." He pointed his finger at the lieutenant. "You can do anything you like with a tired man. Remember that. All the mistakes I ever made in my life I made when I was tired. And I said to myself: 'If Morgan 's as done out as the rest of them, I can bluff it through. I can bluff it through.'
"Besides, I never did have much respect for soldiers—account of their clothes. No need for a man to dress himself up like a performing monkey. Cursed nonsense.
"Morgan had stopped for breakfast at Harris's—a big house—big farm. Harris had always talked as if he could eat a rebel a day and still thirst for blood, but when I got into the dining-room, Harris was waiting on the table himself, as willing as a nigger. I recognized Morgan—I 'd seen him at the hotel—and I just stood there glaring at him, while they explained who I was. I could hear Harris cracking his finger-joints behind him, with nervousness, while he listened. And when Morgan looked at me, I looked at him under my eyebrows, with my head down, and I said: 'Morgan, I helped your brother—'"
"Oh, dear!" his daughter interrupted. "You have n't told the lieutenant about that."
"Well," he interpolated briefly, "Charlton Morgan had been sent up to Camp Chase on my train with a carload of other prisoners about a year or so before, and he recognized me going through the car with my lantern, and I promised to get word to his family that he was n't killed, and go out to Camp Chase to see him—and took him tobacco. And when he was exchanged, I lent him money and took a signet ring from him. 'And darn your eyes,' I said to Morgan, 'this 's the thanks I get. If you want to fight, why don't you stay where there are soldiers to fight with? Coming around here burning private property—assaulting private citizens. You ought to be ashamed of yourself yourself. 'Here,' I said, 'you take that ring back to your brother Charlton, and tell him if he 's ever penned up in Camp Chase again and I go there to see him, it 'll be to see him hanged.'"
The lieutenant was grinning. "It was a wonder he did n't have you shot."
"Young man," he said grimly; "it would be a bigger man than John Morgan that 'd have the nerve to have me shot, at any stage of the game. He took the ring from the officer who picked it up, and he looked at the seal on it, and then he said: 'Send him back to his railroad in charge of some one.' He said it in the voice of a man who did n't want to be bothered with anything as unimportant as I was, and that stuck in my crop—but I swallowed it—and I remembered it.
"Before they started me out I heard him tell Harris they 'd exchange horses with him; and Harris said: 'With pleasure. General. With pleasure'—though he knew it meant leaving him a lot of broken nags in exchange for a stable of the finest horses in Ohio. He never held up his head afterward—Harris. He died of it.
"All right," he said to the waiter, with the soup. "Serve it."
"When we got back to the hand-car, the raid had passed, and the two soldiers asked me, if they surrendered, would I take them back to Cincinnati and give them something to eat. They fell asleep on the car. I had to pump the whole load myself. But I got back to Cincinnati with two prisoners," he ended triumphantly, "and reported my train."
"Well," the lieutenant said, in a voice of amused admiration of that domineering personality, "you would have made a great—"
"Here," he interrupted. "Here 's the ring. I kept it as a souvenir."
He drew it from his finger and passed it across the table. It was a heavy ring of soft gold, and the shield on which the seal had once been graven was now worn smooth. "Had to have it let out twice," he said.
The lieutenant turned it over. "But," he said, I thought—I understood you to say that General Morgan kept it."
"So he did. I 'll tell you. Wait till I have some soup."
He ate with gusto. "Been at board meetings—panic conferences—all day. Hungry as if I 'd been at work."
The daughter chatted with the lieutenant till her father put down his spoon. Then she turned to him expectantly.
He reached out his hand for the ring. "Morgan was captured. Too important a prisoner to keep in Camp Chase, so they shut him up in the penitentiary in Columbus. It was about three blocks from the railroad station. We used to run right under its walls.
"One night—one o'clock—four cattle drovers in long overcoats, with drovers' gads—hickory poles, six or seven feet long, about an inch thick—they used them to prod up cattle— Four of them got aboard. I noticed they did n't get on till they saw me on, after the train started; and then I noticed that they all sat together in two seats, instead of each man sprawling over as many seats as he could cover, the way drovers usually did. And when I came to collect their fares, instead of having passes—drovers always traveled on passes—they paid their four dollars each.
"That made me suspicious. I 'd heard the company was putting detectives on the cars—'spotters'—and I had made up my mind that if I ever saw any on my train, I 'd hand in my resignation. The more I looked at those men the more sure I was they were detectives. I spent most of the trip to Dayton turning over in my mind a hot letter I was going to write when I turned in my badge.
"We got to Dayton about three-thirty. We were to change engines there. The yardmaster came to report the engine off the track, down the yards. These four fellows were in the restaurant with me— That 's another thing drovers would n't do. They 'd wait for their breakfasts till they got to Cincinnati—and when they heard about the engine they went down the yards with me to help get her back on the rails. 'Well,' I said to myself, 'you lads are certainly anxious to get on.' They carried the blocks and worked as hard as the best of us. I was a little puzzled, but between being hurried because we were going to be so late that we 'd miss connections at the 'Transfer'—and angry because the old man had put 'spotters' on me—I didn't look at them right. And then one of them dropped his slouch hat. I was standing by with the lantern, and I saw him. He had shaved off his beard, but I knew his eyes. I have a good memory for faces. Conductors soon develop that.
"It was John Morgan.
"He grabbed up the hat again, and went on with his work, and I edged up to see his hands—to make sure. He had that ring on, with the seal turned in.
"Well, we got the engine on, and went back to the train, and I did n't say anything but just thought it over. As I was going through their car, one of them asked me if we would stop at the 'Transfer.' And I said: 'No'—that we 'd missed connections and we 'd go right into Cincinnati. And then I remembered the way I 'd been dragged before John Morgan as if he were the biggest man on earth—and the way he 'd said: 'Take him back to his railroad'—and I thought I 'd give him a taste of that sort of thing himself. So I said: 'If you 're afraid to face Cincinnati, you can jump when we slow down for the curve at the "Transfer."' One of them said: 'What do you mean?' It was either Captain Hines or General Basil Duke—I never knew which. I looked him up and down. 'You know what I mean, darn well,' I said, and I turned to Morgan and I said: 'Now, Morgan, give me back my ring.'
"One of the men did n't move—just sat there with his hat down over his eyes as if he thought that if he kept quiet no one would notice him. Duke—or Hines—made as if to leap up, and I shoved him back by the shoulder. 'Keep quiet,' I said, 'you fool, you. You can't jump off here.' And by that time Morgan had remembered me.
"He took off the ring and held it out to me. I said: 'We're quits'—and took it. 'But the next time you come around here interfering with this railroad,' I said, 'I 'll not let you off so easily, do you understand?'—and I left him.
"I looked in on them, once or twice—just for the fun of seeing them feel nervous. You never saw two generals and a captain look more like schoolboys caught in an orchard. They didn't know what I was going to do with them."
He snorted contemptuously. "They thought there was n't anything going on in the world but them and their fool war. Huh!
"They jumped near Mill Creek. I heard afterwards they were badly shaken up, but they made off down to the river and got across to a Mrs. Ludlow's—where they were expected. Next day, when it was in the papers that they had escaped from the prison, I reported about the four drovers who had jumped from the train. That was all I ever had to do with John Morgan. Never bothered me any more."
The daughter added: "Except that I was born in the room in Covington where his body had been laid out."
"Well," the lieutenant said, "you 'd have made a great soldier."
"Soldier? I 've seen a good many great soldiers—and I only saw one man in the whole war that I 'd take off my hat to, now."
"Who was that? General Grant?"
"Abraham Lincoln." He leaned forward impressively. "All the generals that ever lived did n't come knee-high to him. I was n't old enough to appreciate him then. I don't know whether I ever will he old enough to appreciate him all. But I tell you, young man, if you want to see war as it is, learn to see it the way he saw it—if you ever can. We were like a lot of quarreling children beside him. War? Glory? Heroism? If you want to know about what they amount to, get a good war-time photograph of Lincoln and look into his eyes. Into his eyes!" His lips quivered with some unacknowledged emotion. He looked down at his plate.
"Now, Daddy," his daughter put in quickly. "You 've talked enough. Eat your dinner. I 'll entertain the lieutenant."
Price turned to her, flattered. When she looked at him, it was rather absent-mindedly. There was an unguarded expression of appraisal in her eyes. As a plebe at West Point he had noticed something of the same look in another girl—when she first saw him out of his cadet uniform.
He puzzled over it. Before they rose from the table he knew what it meant. He showed the knowledge in the stiffer set of his shoulders and the more determined poise of his chin as he followed her out of the dining-room. She said good night to him at the door of the elevator, and she said it hastily—in her anxiety for her father, who was showing signs of depression and fatigue. He had been silent. He roused himself to say to the lieutenant, by way of farewell: "War! Huh! Cursed nuisance. Good-night."