“Hush-sh,” he whispered. “It may be the enemy,” but his words were not regarded, or understood.
The doctor was in Lily’s presence, and in fancy it was her hand, not Irving’s which wiped the death-sweat from his brow, and he murmured words of love and fond endearment, as to a living, breathing form. Fainter and fainter grew the pulse, weaker and weaker the trembling voice, until at last Irving could only comprehend that some one was bidden to pray—to say “Our Father.”
Reverently, as for a departing brother, he prayed over the dying man, asking that all the past might be forgiven, and that the erring might rest at last in peace.
“Say Amen for me, I’m too weak,” the doctor whispered; then, as reason asserted her sway again, he continued: “I see it now; Lily’s gone, and I am dying here in the woods, in the dark, in the night, on the ground; cared for by you who will be Lily’s husband. You may, you may tell her I said so; tell her kiss my boy; love him, Major Stanley; love him as your own, even though others shall call you father. Tell her—I tried—to pray—”
He never spoke again; and when next the thick, black, clotted blood oozed up from the gaping wound, it brought with it all there was of life; and there in those Virginia woods, in the darkness of the night, Irving Stanley sat alone with the dead. And yet not alone, for away to his right, and where the neigh of a horse had been heard, another wounded soldier lay—his soft, brown locks moist with dew, and his captain’s uniform wet with the blood which dripped from the terrible gash in the fleshy part of the neck, where a murderous ball had been. One arm, the right one, was broken, and lay disabled upon the grass; while the hand of the other clutched occasionally at the damp grass, and then lifting itself, stroked caressingly the powerful limbs of the faithful creature standing guard over the prostrate form of his master.
Hugh and Rocket! They had been in many battles, and neither shot nor shell had harmed them until to-day, when Hugh had received the charge which sent him reeling from his horse, breaking his arm in the field, and scarcely conscious that two of his comrades were leading him from the field. How or by what means he afterward reached the woods, he did not know, but reach them he had, and unable to travel farther, he had fallen to the ground, where he lay, until Rocket came galloping near, riderless, frightened, and looking for his master. With a cry of joy the noble brute answered that master’s faint whistle, bounding at once to his side, and by many mute but meaning signs, signifying his desire that Hugh should mount as heretofore.
But Hugh was too weak for that, and after several ineffectual efforts to rise, fell back half fainting on the turf; while Rocket took his stand directly over him, a powerful and efficient guard until help from some quarter should arrive. Patiently, faithfully he stood, waiting as quietly as if he knew that aid was coming, not far away, in the form of an old man, whose hair was white as snow, and whose steps were feeble with age, but who had the advantage of knowing every inch of that ground, for he had trodden it many a time, with a homesick heart which pined for “old Kentuck,” whence he had been stolen.