Captain Mark Ray was a prisoner of war, with several of his own company. An inmate of Libby Prison and a sharer from choice of the apartment where his men were confined. As an officer, he was entitled to better quarters than the filthy pen where the poor privates were, but Mark Ray had a large, warm heart, and he would not desert those who had been so faithful to him, and so he took their fare, and by his genial humor and unwavering cheerfulness kept many a heart from fainting and made the prisoners’ life more bearable than it could have been without him. To young Tom Tubbs, who had enlisted six months before, he was a ministering angel, and many times the poor, homesick boy crept to the side of his captain, and laying his burning head in his lap, wept himself to sleep and dreamed he was at home again. The horrors of that prison life have never been told, but Mark bore up manfully, suffering less in mind, perhaps, than did the friends at home, who lived, as it were, a thousand years in that one brief summer while he languished in that horrid den whose very name had a power to send a thrill of fear to every heart.
At last, as the frosty days of October came on, they began to hope he might be exchanged, and Helen’s face grew bright again, until one day there came a soiled, half-worn letter, in Mark’s own handwriting. It was the first word received from him since his capture in July, and with a cry of joy Helen snatched it from Uncle Ephraim, for she was still at the farmhouse, and sitting down upon the doorstep just where she had been standing, read the words which Mark had sent to her. He said nothing of the treatment he received, for he wanted the letter to reach her, and he knew well that if he complained the chances were small for the missive ever to leave the capital of the “chivalry.” He was very well, he said, and had been all the time, but he pined for home, longing for the dear girl-wife never so dear as now, when separated by so many miles, with prison walls on every side, and an enemy’s line between them.
“But be of good cheer, darling,” he wrote. “I shall come back to you some time, and life will he all the brighter for what you suffer now. I am so glad my darling consented to be my wife, even though I could stay with her but a moment. The knowing you are really mine makes me happy even here, for I think of you by day, and in my dreams I always hold you in my arms and press you to my heart.”
Far different from this cheerful letter was the one which Tom inclosed in it for his family—a wild, homesick outburst, containing so much of truth that it was strange it was ever permitted to leave the city. Of this letter Helen heard by way of Mattie Tubbs, and hope died within her, especially as Tom spoke of their being sent further South as a probable event.
“If Mark goes I shall never see him again,” Helen said, despairingly; and when at last the message came that Mark had been removed, and that, too, just at the time when an exchange was constantly expected, she gave him up as lost, feeling almost as much widowed as Katy in her weeds.