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MEMORIES OF THE WAR.-MARION P. RICHE
By permission of the Author, My lonely heart is brimming o'er to-night, With memories of my two soldier boys Whose graves are side by side near the old home, The dear New England home so far away. These boys, Eugene and Robert were their names, Were little lads when their loved father died, Saying, with his last feeble, fluttering breath, “Mary, bring up my boys to be true men.” After the first bewilderment of grief Had passed, and I could lift my chastened head And look upon the life that I must live Without the strong support of his true heart, I set myself the task to live for them; And I made solemn covenant with God To bring them up to manhood pure and good. Years passed, and my two little lads had grown To be my stay that I could lean upon Rather than that my hand should lead them now. Eugene, the elder, studious and grave, Had brought his gentle girlwife home to me And taken up his life-work earnestly, Resolved with brain and pen to make The sad world better for his having lived. And Robert-my bright, gay, handsome RobertWas home from school; my cup seemed running o'er With gratitude and peace and quiet joy; And I am thankful yet for those few weeks That we four spent together in our home. When the dark, gathering cloud of civil war Burst with the boom of Sumter's signal gun, Our home, with every other loyal home Was merged in the deep wave of patriot zeal That swept the North, bearing upon its crest The brave and true, the flower of our land. How changed our lives ! instead of evenings spent With books and music or in converse sweet, And days, busy, but full of deep content, The days and nights were filled with restlessness That deepened with the deep'ning roar of war. Eugene laid down his pen and with brave heart
And voice gathered a company of volunteers,
And joined a regiment that lay encamped,
Awaiting orders, at our county town.
Before they marched, Robert, with my consent
(He had but passed his nineteenth birthday then),
Enlisted in his brother's company;
And Eugene's wife and I were left alone.
Then they were ordered South, and we went down
To see our dear ones and to say good-bye;
Ah! 'twas a time that tested women's souls, –
To stand and see the blue lines file away,
To crush the tears back and to say brave words
Despite the sick’ning dread that filled the heart;
Then go back to the silent, lonely home
To pray and wait in deep suspense for news,
News from the war,—I but repeat
The old, sad story that so many know.
Soon letters came to us, short, cheery ones
That told but little of the soldier's life;
Once Robert wrote “I got a little scratch
In the great fight we lost at Fredericksburg,
But I am all right now and don't regret
That I am here to fight my country's foes."
Later, a longer letter from Eugene
Told of high favor to his brother given,
Of his promotion won by daring deeds;
But in a postscript written small,
As if he fain would hide the truth, he said,
"Rob is a splendid soldier, mother dear,
But growing wild. Pray always for his soul.”
That was my elder son's last letter home;
The next was written by a stranger's hand;
The words were few, but oh, how plain they were!
Holding the letter firmly in both hands
I read and Annie heard: “Your son Eugene
Died in the hospital to-night of wounds received
At Chancellorsville on the third of May;
At his request his body and effects
Will be sent home. Accept my sympathy
In this dark hour, and may God comfort you."
Then came the chaplain's name, and that was all.
Such messages were common in those days;
Thousands of other wives nnd mothers know
The same dark maze of grief through which we passea,
The bringing home of the dear lifeless form,
The last sad rites of burial, the blind,
Dumb pain that came and did not go away-
Our lot was not uncommon in those days.
But Annie faded slowly day by day,
And when the winter came her life went out
To join Eugene in that peace-guarded land,
Where wounds and death and sorrow cannot be
More than three dreary years had worn away
Since my two boys enlisted in the war;
One calm October afternoon as I
Sat scraping lint and wond'ring if the mail
Would bring a letter from my absent one,
I raised my eyes and caught a gleam of blue
Between the lilac bushes at the gate;
With nervous haste I rose to welcome in
A bearded soldier, who in silence came
And took my hands and gazed into my eyes;
But not until he smiled and spoke my name
Could I see in the soldier's form or face
Aught to remind me of the fair, slight boy
Who went out from my home three years before;
The Robert of my dreams and prayers was gone,
And in his place this stalwart veteran came,-
Tender and kind to me, my Robert still.
Only a fortnight did he stay at home;
Then came a second parting, sadder, far,
Than that when I had bid the two farewell,
For he had said to me the day before,
“Mother, I wish that I, instead of Gene,
Were in the churchyard there so calm and still,
I'm weary of the war and of my life.”
Then came the story of the fatal glass
Pressed to his lips by one who called him friend,
How it had waked a demon in his breast;
And how he fought against the inward foe,
But oft had been o'ermastered in the strife.
“I have not sunken to the depths,” he said,
“The thought of you has kept me back from much
That follows in the cursed wake of drink,
But you can never know the agony
Of this vile thirst that rises up at times
And makes me almost wish I could forget
I ever had a mother or a God,
That I might drown my soul and end my strife."
A half year passed away and war was done,
Peace spread her wings above our blood-stained land,
And stern-browed war-worn men laid down their arms
And gladly took up peaceful toil again.
We hushed our grief for those who came no more,
And hung the vacant chairs with larrel wreaths,
And made the hearth-side bright for tbose who came.
I welcomed home my boy with gladsome cheer.
Hiding with mother's art the pang I felt
At sight of his pale face and falt'ring step.
With look of mute appeal he placed his hands
In mine, as he had done in childhood's days,
When sudden fear had sent him to my knee.
Full soon the trial came by which I knew
How powerless he was to strive alone
Against the foe that held him in its coils.
The struggle was not long, but when 'twas done
Only the semblance of my boy was left;
The deep-struck venom of the serpent’s fang
Had poisoned all the precious vital springs,
And life was moored by but a single strand,
And that slight mooring suddenly gave way
When, glancing, up into my face he said:
“Mother, if I had died instead of Gene
I might have passed in safety o'er the flood,
But now—the way is dark-hold fast my hand.”
I held his hand but it was only clay ;
The life that I had loved so tenderly
Had fled away beyond my reach or call;
And in the cool, gray, morning light I stood,
Stricken, beyond the power of words to tell.
Then came an interval I know not of,
Save that my house was filled with low-voiced friends
And that the bright folds of a silken flag
Were draped about my Robert's lifeless form.
When consciousness returned, and I looked out
Upon the new-made grave beside Eugene's,
I wondered if the nation's victory
Was worth the priceless treasure that it cost.
Such are the memories which this day brings
Through all the mists of more than twenty years,
And these sad memories of mine are not more sad
Than those which stir full many another heart;
My gifted son was not the only one
Whose light went out before it shone afar,
Nor mine the only tenderly reared boy
Who fell into the tempter's ready net;
I am but one among a multitude
Who look with tear-dimmed eyes and aching heart
Back through the years, to count the treasure rare
Each gave to help to pay the price, the great
Price that our nation gave for victory.
A WILD PRAIRIE FIRE. It is high noon of an August day.
Hot! Whew, but how the summer sun beats down on the great prairie,--scorching, withering, shriveling, heating the blood of man and animal until it seems to boil! We have turned aside into this grove of cottonwoods as much for shelter as to prepare and eat the noonday meal. There are one-three-five-seven-ten trees, covering a space of a quarter of an acre.
Here a spring bubbles up from strata of sand and gravel, and so many thousand animals have come here to slake their thirst that the earth is bare of
for the space
of two acres. Not exactly bare, but cropped off so short and trodden under foot so often that it is only a thin carpet to cover the soil. The paths radiating away through the dry and waving grass are like the spokes of a wheel.
Ah, but water touches the spot on a day like this when one has been in the saddle since sunrise. Each man of us says so by word of mouth, and each horse says so in his look of relief after the thirst has been quenched, Whisky! Brandy! Champagne! They would have been flung aside with a feeling of disgust.
-miles toThere are no sign-boards on the prairie. Turn which