The Crisis - Volume 05
The Crisis - Volume 05
VOLUME 5.: CHAPTER XVI
WINTER HAD VANISHED. SPRING WAS come with a hush. Toward a little island set in the blue waters of Charleston harbor anxious eyes were strained.
Was the flag still there?
God alone may count the wives and mothers who listened in the still hours of the night for the guns of Sumter. One sultry night in April Stephen's mother awoke with fear in her heart, for she had heard them. Hark! that is the roar now, faint but sullen. That is the red flash far across the black Southern sky. For in our beds are the terrors and cruelties of life revealed to us. There is a demon to be faced, and nought alone.
Mrs. Brice was a brave woman. She walked that night with God.
Stephen, too, awoke. The lightning revealed her as she bent over him. On the wings of memory be flew back to his childhood in the great Boston house with the rounded front, and he saw the nursery with its high windows looking out across the Common. Often in the dark had she come to him thus, her gentle hand passing over aim to feel if he were covered.
"What is it, mother?" he said.
She said: "Stephen, I am afraid that the war has come."
He sat up, blindly. Even he did not guess the agony in her heart.
"You will have to go, Stephen."
It was long before his answer came.
"You know that I cannot, mother. We have nothing left but the little I earn. And if I were-" He did not finish the sentence, for he felt her trembling. But she said again, with that courage which seems woman's alone:
"Remember Wilton Brice. Stephen-I can get along. I can sew."
It was the hour he had dreaded, stolen suddenly upon him out of the night. How many times had he rehearsed this scene to himself! He, Stephen Brice, who had preached and slaved and drilled for the Union, a renegade to be shunned by friend and foe alike! He had talked for his country, but he would not risk his life for it. He heard them repeating the charge. He saw them passing him silently on the street. Shamefully he remembered the time, five months agone, when he had worn the very uniform of his Revolutionary ancestor. And high above the tier of his accusers he saw one face, and the look of it stung to the very quick of his soul.
Before the storm he had fallen asleep in sheer weariness of the struggle, that face shining through the black veil of the darkness. If he were to march away in the blue of his country (alas, not of hers!) she would respect him for risking life for conviction. If he stayed at home, she would not understand. It was his plain duty to his mother. And yet he knew that Virginia Carvel and the women like her were ready to follow with bare feet the march of the soldiers of the South.
The rain was come now, in a flood. Stephen's mother could not see in the blackness the bitterness on his face. Above the roar of the waters she listened for his voice.
"I will not go, mother," he said. "If at length every man is needed, that will be different."
"It is for you to decide, my son," she answered. "There are many ways in which you can serve your country here. But remember that you may have to face hard things."
"I have had to do that before, mother," he replied calmly. "I cannot leave you dependent upon charity."
She went back into her room to pray, for she knew that he had laid his ambition at her feet.
It was not until a week later that the dreaded news came. All through the Friday shells had rained on the little fort while Charleston looked on. No surrender yet. Through a wide land was that numbness which precedes action. Force of habit sent men to their places of business, to sit idle. A prayerful Sunday intervened. Sumter had fallen. South Carolina had shot to bits the flag she had once revered.
On the Monday came the call of President Lincoln for volunteers. Missouri was asked for her quota. The outra