For ten long, weary days, Leah pursued the way that lay straight and unobstructed before her, every step bringing her nearer and nearer to the city of her childhood. Scarcely able, much of the time, to obtain food by day, or lodging by night, still she undauntedly pursued her way, and kept her eyes straight forward toward the end. Foraging parties, and straggling soldiers, passed occasionally, yet not one syllable of disrespect or insult was offered to the lonely woman as she passed along, the living impersonation of unfriended helplessness.
At length, in pain, in weariness, in tears, the journey was almost accomplished, and the evening of the tenth day was closing in. The stars were stealing, one by one, into the blue heavens above, and the bright lights of a hundred camp-fires, far and near, announced the welcome fact that the Queen City was near at hand. The stray shot, too, of some vigilant sentinel, reminded her that, without passports, one could not easily find ingress to the once peaceful, hospitable city. As this thought came, Leah trembled; but she passed forward undaunted to the dreaded sentry line that stretched itself across her pathway. She was too weary to weep, too bewildered to think, too anxious to do aught but look forward toward the advancing city, with its myriad lights, and then down again at the innocent child asleep on her bosom. Upon the breeze that came to greet her, as if in kindly welcome, she caught the note of the old familiar music of the chimes of St. Angelo. “Home, Sweet Home” rang out upon her weary ear with all the sweetness and familiarity of by-gone days.
“How changed is everything here; and, alas! how changed am I,” said she; and tottering beneath the burden of her child and the awakened weight of memories, she would have fallen exhausted to the earth, but for a sharp, ringing voice, that said:
“Halt! Who comes there?”
Recalled to a sense of her true situation by this unexpected inquiry, Leah summoned the remnant of her strength and courage, and replied, “Only a woman, weak and tired. In heaven’s name let me pass.”
“Advance, and give the countersign.”
“I cannot! indeed I cannot! But in mercy’s name, give me rest and food within the City this night,” she replied with a despairing voice.
“Whence do you come?”
“From Sandy Bar, some hundred miles away, and I have walked the whole distance. I bring you no ill, or good news. I am nothing but a poor, helpless woman, faint and famishing. I pray you, in the name of pity, let me pass, kind sentinel.”
Touched by these imploring words, the sentry looked furtively around him, and replied softly, “Woman, be quick. Go on; and mind, if you say that I passed you without the countersign, my head will pay the forfeit. Go on, for Tom Marbray hasn’t the heart to say no to such a looking woman as you are.”
“God bless you!” murmured Leah; “bless you a thousand-fold;” and she hurried forward, and was soon lost in the winding streets of the city, that was now overshadowed by the darkness of night.