She said, wistfully: “I dare not hope to retain your esteem—I dare not say to you how much I really desire your forgiveness—your friendship——”
Suddenly he turned on her a face, red, distorted, with rage.
“Do you know what this means to me? It means ridicule in my regiment! What kind of figure do you think I shall cut after this? It’s—it’s a shame!—it’s vile usage. I’ll appear absurd—absurd! Do you understand?”
Shocked, she stared into his inflamed visage, which anger and tortured vanity had marred past all belief.
“Is that why you care?” she asked slowly.
“Ailsa! Good God—I scarcely know what I’m saying——”
She stepped back, eyes darkening to deepest violet—retreated, facing him, step by step to the doorway, through it; and left him standing there.
Berkley’s first letter to her was written during that week of lovely weather, the first week in March. The birds never sang more deliriously, the regimental bands never played more gaily; every camp was astir in the warm sunshine with companies, regiments, brigades, or divisions drilling.
At the ceremonies of guard mount and dress parade the country was thronged with visitors from Washington, ladies in gay gowns and scarfs, Congressmen in silk hats and chokers, apparently forgetful of their undignified role in the late affair at Bull Run—even children with black mammies in scarlet turbans and white wool dresses came to watch a great army limbering up after a winter of inaction.
He wrote to her:
“Dearest, it has been utterly impossible for me to obtain leave of absence and a pass to go as far as the Farm Hospital. I tried to run the guard twice, but had to give it up. I’m going to try again as soon as there seems any kind of a chance.
“We have moved our camp. Why, heaven knows. If our general understood what cavalry is for we would have been out long ago—miles from here—if to do nothing more than make a few maps which, it seems, our august leaders entirely lack.
“During the night the order came: ’This division will move at four o’clock in the morning with two days’ rations.’ All night long we were at work with axe and hammer, tearing down quarters, packing stores, and loading our waggons.
“We have an absurd number of waggons. There is an infantry regiment camped near us that has a train of one hundred and thirty-six-mule teams to transport its household goods. It’s the 77th New York,
“The next morning the sun rose on our army in motion. You say that I am a scoffer. I didn’t scoff at that spectacle. We were on Flint Hill; and, as far as we could see around us, the whole world was fairly crawling with troops. Over them a rainbow hung. Later it rained, as you know.
“I’m wet, Ailsa. The army for the first time is under shelter tents. The Sibley wall tents and wedge tents are luxuries of the past for officers and men alike.