“I would like to be your friend,” he said in a voice perceptibly under control.
“Why?” asked Berkley harshly. “Is there any reason on God’s earth why I could ever forgive you?”
“No; no reason perhaps. Yet, you are wrong.”
“I say so in the light of the past, Berkley. Once I also believed that a stern, uncompromising attitude toward error was what God required of an upright heart.”
“Error! D-do you admit that?” stammered Berkley. “Are you awake at last to the deviltry that stirred you—the damnable, misguided, distorted conscience that twisted you into a murderer of souls? By God, are you alive to what you did to—her?”
Colonel Arran, upright in his saddle and white as death, rode straight on in front of him.. Beside him, knee to knee, rode Berkley, his features like marble, his eyes ablaze.
“I am not speaking for myself,” he said between his teeth, “I am not reproaching you, cursing you, for what you have done to me—for the ruin you have made of life for me, excommunicating me from every hope, outlawing me, branding me! I am thinking, now, only of my mother. God!—to think—to think of it—of her——”
Arran turned on him a face so ghastly that the boy was silenced. Then the older man said:
“Do you not know that the hell men make for others is what they are destined to burn in sooner or later? Do you think you can tell me anything of eternal punishment?” He laughed a harsh, mirthless laugh. “Do you not think I have learned by this time that vengeance is God’s—and that He never takes it? It is man alone who takes it, and suffers it. Humanity calls it justice. But I have learned that what the laws of men give you is never yours to take; that the warrant handed you by men is not for you to execute. I—have—learned—many things in the solitary years, Berkley. . . . But this—what I am now saying to you, here under the stars—is the first time I have ever, even to myself, found courage to confess Christ.”
Very far away to the south a rocket rose—a slender thread of fire. Then, to the northward, a tiny spark grew brighter, flickered, swung in an arc to right, to left, dipped, soared, hung motionless, dipped again to right, to left, tracing faint crimson semicircles against the sky.
Two more rockets answered, towering, curving, fading, leaving blue stars floating in the zenith.
And very, very far away there was a dull vibration of thunder, or of cannon.
The tremendous exodus continued; regiment after regiment packed knapsacks, struck tents, loaded their waggons and marched back through the mud toward Alexandria, where transports were waiting in hundreds.
The 3rd Zouaves were scheduled to leave early. Celia had only a few hours now and then in camp with husband and son. Once or twice they came to the hospital in the bright spring weather where new blossoms on azalea and jasmine perfumed the fields and flowering peach orchards turned all the hills and valleys pink.