“There’s only one thing hateful to me in this war,” he said, caressing the arching neck of his horse, “and that is, the better we do our duty as soldiers the more sorrow we must bring upon our own friends.”
“That’s a rather solemn view to take of what Jack regards as the path of glory.”
“Oh, you know what I mean: under the flag there can or ought to be no friendships—the bullet sent from the musket, the sword drawn in light, must be aimed blindly. It might be my fate, for example, to meet Jack, to—to—”
“Yes,” Olympia laughed demurely, ignoring the sentimental aspect of Vincent’s remark. “Yes, that might paralyze the arm of valor; but, then, you and Jack have met before, when duty demanded one thing and affection another: I don’t see that the dilemma softened the blows, or that either of you are any the worse for them.”
Vincent was the real Southerner of his epoch—impulsive, sentimental, ardent in all that he espoused, without the slightest notion of humor, though imaginative as a dreamer; love, war, and his State, Virginia, were passions that he thought it a duty to uphold at any and all times. He colored under the girl’s satiric sally. If she had been a man he would have bid her to battle on the spot. Her sly fun and gentle malice he resented as insulting, coarse, and unwomanly. He flashed a look of piteous, surprised reproach at her as she flecked the flies from the neck of her horse. He rode along moodily—too angry, too wretched to trust himself to speak, for he felt sure he must say something bitter. But, as she gave no sign of resuming the discourse, he was forced to take up the burden again. Venturing nearer her side, he said in a conciliating, argumentative tone, as if he had not heard the foregoing speech:
“Do you know, it seems to me, Olympia, that you of the North do not seem to realize the seriousness of the war, the determination of our side to make the South free? Here you go about the common business of life, parties, balls, dress, and all the follies of peace, as if war could not affect you at all. Your newspapers are full of coarse jokes at the expense of your own soldiers, your own President. There seems no devotion to your own cause, such as we feel in the South. I believe that if put to a vote more than half the North would side with us to-day.”
Malbrook S’EN Va-T-en guerre.
Olympia had been jogging along, apparently oblivious to everything but the blazing vision of sun and cloud above the lake, purpling shapes of mirage, reflecting the smooth surface of the glowing water. But as the young man’s voice—fallen into a melodious murmur—ceased, she took up the theme with unexpected earnestness.