Slowly the winter passed away, and the country was rife with stories of the inhuman treatment of our men, daily dying by hundreds, while those who survived the cruelties were reduced to maniacs and imbeciles. And Helen, as she listened, grew nearly frantic with the sickening suspense. She did not know now where her husband was. He had made several attempts to escape, and with each failure had been removed to safer quarters, so that the chances now of his being exchanged seemed very far away. Week after week, month after month, passed on, until came the memorable battle of the Wilderness, when Lieutenant Bob, as yet unharmed, stood bravely in the thickest of the fight, his tall figure towering above the rest, and his soldier’s uniform buttoned over a dark tress of hair, and a face like Bell Cameron’s, Lieutenant Bob had taken two or three furloughs, but the one which had left the sweetest, pleasantest memory in his heart was that of the autumn before, when the crimson leaves of the maple and the golden tints of the beech were burning themselves out on the hills of Silverton, where his furlough was mostly passed, and where, with Bell Cameron, he scoured the length and breadth of Uncle Ephraim’s farm, now stopping by the shore of Fairy Pond and again sitting for hours on a ledge of rocks far up the hill, where, beneath the softly-whispering pines nodding above their heads, Bell gathered the light brown cones, and said to him the words he had so thirsted to hear:
“I love you, Robert Reynolds.”
Much of Bell’s time was passed with Katy at the farmhouse, and here Lieutenant Reynolds found her, accepting readily of Uncle Ephraim’s hearty invitation to remain; and spending his entire vacation there, with the exception of three days given to his family. Perfectly charmed with quaint Aunt Betsy, whom he remembered so well, he flattered and courted her almost as much as he did Bell, but did not take her with him in his long rambles over the hills, or sit with her at night alone in the parlor until the clock struck twelve—a habit which Aunt Betsy greatly disapproved, but overlooked for this once, seeing, as she said, that:
“The young leftenant was none of her kin, and Isabel only a little.”
Those were halcyon days which Robert passed at Silverton, but one stood out prominently before him, whether sitting by his camp-fire or plunging into the battle, and that the one when, casting aside all pride and foolish theories, Bell Cameron freely acknowledged her love for the man to whom she had been so long engaged, and paid him back the kisses she had before refused to give.
“I shall be a better soldier for this,” Robert had said, as he guided her down the steep of rocks, and with her hand in his, walked slowly back to the farmhouse, which, on the morrow, he left to take again his place in the army.
There were no more furloughs for him after that, and the winter passed away, bringing the spring again, when came that battle in the Wilderness, and like a hero he fought until, becoming separated from his comrades, he fell into the enemy’s hands, and two days after there sped along the telegraphic wires to New York: