Poor Franklin groaned at this, but thought of no right words to say until ten hours afterward, which is mostly the human way. “I know—I could have known,” he blundered—“I should not be so rude as to suppose that—ah, it was only you that I remembered! The war is past and gone, The world, as you say, is very small. It was only that I was glad—”
“Ah, sir,” said Mary Ellen, and her voice now held a plaintiveness which was the stronger from the droop of the tenderly curving lips—“ah, sir, but you must remember! To lose your relatives, even in a war for right and principle—and the South was right!” (this with a flash of the eye late pensive)—“that is hard enough. But for me it was not one thing or another; it was the sum of a thousand misfortunes. I wonder that I am alive. It seems to me as though I had been in a dream for a long, long time. It is no wonder that those of us left alive went away, anywhere, as far as we could, that we gave up our country—that we came even here!” She waved a hand at the brown monotony visible through the window.
“You blame me as though it were personal!” broke in Franklin; but she ignored him.
“We, our family,” she went on, “had lived there for a dozen generations. You say the world is small. It is indeed too small for a family again to take root which has been torn up as ours has been. My father, my mother, my two brothers, nearly every relative I had, killed in the war or by the war—our home destroyed—our property taken by first one army and then the other—you should not wonder if I am bitter! It was the field of Louisburg which cost me everything. I lost all—all—on that day which you wish me to remember. You wish me to remember that you saw me then, that I perhaps saw you. Why, sir, if you wished me to hate you, you could do no better—and I do not wish to hate any one. I wish to have as many friends as we may, here in this new country; but for remembering—why, I can remember nothing else, day or night, but Louisburg!”
“You stood so,” said Franklin, doggedly and fatuously, “just as you did last night. You were leaning on the arm of your mother—”
Mary Ellen’s eyes dilated. “It was not my mother,” said she.
“A friend?” said Franklin, feelingly as he might.
“The mother of a friend,” said Mary Ellen, straightening up and speaking with effort. And all the meaning of her words struck Franklin fully as though a dart had sunk home in his bosom.
“We were seeking for my friend, her son,” said Mary Ellen. “I—Captain Franklin, I know of no reason why we should speak of such things at all, but it was my—I was to have been married to the man for whom we were seeking, and whom we found! That is what Louisburg means to me. It means this frontier town, a new, rude life for us. It means meeting you all here—as we are glad and proud to do, sir—but first of all it means—that!”