“It was preposterous to suppose Bob would expect it,” Juno said, while the mother admitted that it was a most unfortunate affair, as indeed the whole war had proved. For her part, she sometimes wished the North had let the South go quietly when they wanted to, and so saved thousands of lives, and prevented the country from being flooded with cripples, and negroes, and calls for more men and money. On the whole, she rather doubted the propriety of re-electing Lincoln, and prolonging the war; and she certainly doubted the propriety of giving her daughter to a cripple. There was Arthur Grey, who had lately been so attentive; he was a wealthier man than Lieutenant Bob, and if Bell had any discretion she would take him in preference to a disfigured soldier.
Such was the purport of Mrs. Cameron’s remarks, to which her husband listened, his eyes blazing with passion, which, the moment she finished, burst forth in a storm of oaths and invectives against what, with his pet adjective, he called her “Copperhead principles,” denouncing her as a traitor, reproaching her for the cruelty which would separate her daughter from Robert Reynolds because he had lost an arm in the service of his country, and then turning fiercely to Bell with the words:
“But it isn’t for you to say whether he shall or shall not have Bell. She is of age. Let her speak for herself.”
And she did speak, the noble, heroic girl, who had listened, with bitter scorn, to what her mother and sister said, and who now, with elevated nostrils and voice hoarse with emotion, answered slowly and impressively:
“I would marry Lieutenant Reynolds if he had only his ears left to hear me tell him how much I love and honor him! Arthur Grey! Don’t talk to me of him! the craven coward, who will neither volunteer nor give a cent for our poor, suffering soldiers, but turns people off with: ’Government provides,’ or ‘the stores do not reach them,’ and all those subterfuges to which mean men resort to keep from giving, and to avoid the draft swore he was forty-five, when we all know better. Don’t insult Robert with such a comparison, or think I will break my faith with him.”
After this no more was said to Bell, who waited anxiously for further news from Bob, and who, the moment she heard he was at home, went to his father’s house, and asked to see him.
He was sleeping when she entered his room, and pushing back the heavy curtain, so that the light would fall more directly upon him, Mrs. Reynolds went out and left her there alone.
With a beating heart, she stood looking at his hollow eyes, his sunken cheek, his short, dry hair, and thick, gray skin—all marks of the brutal treatment he had received. She did not think of his arm until she glanced at the wall where hung a large-sized photograph, taken in full uniform the last time he was at home, and in which his full, well-developed figure showed to good advantage. Could it be that the wreck before her had ever been as full of life and vigor as the picture would indicate, and was that arm which held the sword severed from the body, and left a token of the murderous war?