Our reconstructed household, with its unreconstructed member, now moved forward on the lines laid down. Punctually at a quarter to six P. M. my cousin appeared at the front door, hung his hat on the rack, and passed into the sitting-room, sometimes humming in the hall a bar or two of The Bonny Blue Flag that bears a Single Star, to the infinite distaste of Mrs. Wesley, who was usually at that moment giving the finishing touches to the dinner-table. After dinner, during which I was in a state of unrelaxed anxiety lest the colonel should get himself on too delicate ground, I took him into my small snuggery at the foot of the hall, where coffee was served to us, Mrs. Wesley being left to her own devices.
For several days matters went as smoothly as I could have hoped. I found it so easy, when desirable, to switch the colonel on to one of my carefully contrived side tracks that I began to be proud of my skill and to enjoy the exercise of it. But one evening, just as we were in the middle of the dessert, he suddenly broke out with, “We were conquered by mere brute force, you know!”
“That is very true,” I replied. “It is brute force that tells in war. Wasn’t it Napoleon who said that he had remarked that God was generally on the side which had the heaviest artillery?”
“The North had that, fast enough, and crushed a free people with it.”
“A free people with four millions of slaves?” observed Mrs. Wesley quietly.
“Slavery was a patriarchal institution, my dear lady. But I reckon it is exploded now. The Emancipation Proclamation was a dastardly war measure.”
“It did something more and better than free the blacks,” said Mrs. Wesley; “it freed the whites. Dear me!” she added, glancing at Sheridan and Ulysses, who, in a brief reprieve from bed, were over in one corner of the room dissecting a small wooden camel, “I cannot be thankful enough that the children are too young to understand such sentiments.”
The colonel, to my great relief, remained silent; but as soon as Clara had closed the dining-room door behind her, he said, “Tom Wesley, I reckon your wife doesn’t wholly like me.”
“She likes you immensely,” I cried, inwardly begging to be forgiven. “But she is a firm believer in the justice of the Northern cause.”
“May be she lost a brother, or something.”
“No; she never had a brother. If she had had one, he would have been killed in the first battle of the war. She sent me to the front to be killed, and I went willingly; but I wasn’t good enough; the enemy wouldn’t have me at any price after a year’s trial. Mrs. Wesley feels very strongly on this subject, and I wish you would try, like a good fellow, not to bring the question up at dinner-time. I am squarely opposed to your views myself, but I don’t mind what you say as she does. So talk to me as much as you want to, but don’t talk in Clara’s presence. When persons disagree as you two do, argument is useless. Besides, the whole thing has been settled on the battlefield, and it isn’t worth while to fight it all over again on a table-cloth.”