Read CHAPTER X - THE BLUE AND THE GRAY of A Waif of the Mountains , free online book, by Edward S. Ellis, on ReadCentral.com.

The four years of stupendous war came to an end.  The sun of the Southern Confederacy went down in gloom and defeat behind the hills of Appomattox, never to rise again, and blessed peace brooded over a reunited nation, which shall endure through the coming ages to the end of time.

It was only the faint echoes of the mighty struggle that, faintly reverberating across prairie and mountain, reached the little mining settlement nestling among the solitudes of the Sierras.  Vose Adams made more frequent journeys to Sacramento, in order to gather news of the terrific events, which were making history at an appalling rate.  Upon his return, the miners gathered round Parson Brush, or some other one with a good voice, who stood up, with every eye centred on him and every ear keyed to the highest point and they listened with breathless interest until the thrilling story was read through to the end.

The same diversity of sentiment that appeared at first continued to the last, but the parson’s earnest words and his insistence that no quarrels should take place among the neighbors prevented any outbreak, though more than once the point was perilously near.

“If your sympathies are with the Union or with the South,” he said impressively, “there is nothing to prevent your taking up arms, but it must be on the battle field and not here.”

And this wise counsel prevailed.  Now and then some ardent partisan shouldered his rifle, bade his friends a hasty good-by and hurried away.  One by one, they went until the new recruits numbered five.  Thus the population of New Constantinople dwindled to about one-half, and retaining its exclusive tastes, permitted no new comers to join them, so that the boom which in its early days was so confidently looked for sank to zero and vanished.  In truth it looked as if New Constantinople was doomed to die of dry rot.

Strange news came now and then from the men who had gone to the war.  Maurice Dawson wrote often to his daughter Nellie, whose letters, it can well be understood were the bright spots in his life of adventure and danger.  She had improved wonderfully under the careful tuition of Parson Brush, who, gaining experience, as he saw the brightness of her mind, found his work of the most pleasant nature conceivable.  She displayed a thirst for knowledge and made advances which astonished him.  The books needed for her instruction were procured by Vose Adams in Sacramento, and she valued such presents more than anything else.  The teacher declared many a time, with a certain pride, that she put him upon his mettle to make clear the abstruse problems with which he wrestled when in college.

“How she will surprise the boys and her father when they come back,” reflected the parson; “it won’t take her much longer to reach the point beyond which I cannot lead her.”

To her friends who remained, the growth and improvement of the girl were astonishing.  Probably no one of her sex ever gave nature itself a better chance to show what she can do with a healthy frame, when untrammeled by the fashions and requirements of modern usages.  Her lithe, comely figure was perfect.  She never knew an hour’s illness.  The cheeks had the rose tint of health, the eyes were clear, the teeth perfect and her spirits buoyant.  As one of the men expressed it, she was like a burst of sunshine in the settlement.

But Parson Brush was thoughtful.  He saw that she was crossing the line into young womanhood, and that her own interests demanded that she should go out into the world of which he had told her so much; that she should meet those of her own sex and learn the mysteries of her own being.  The affection of her friends could not make up for this lack.  It cost the honest fellow many a pang when he thought of this, but his consolation lay in the inevitable conclusion that nothing could be done until the return of her parent or until his wishes were made known.

“If it so happens that he shall fall in battle, then a grave problem must be met.  It will not do for her to remain here; I will talk it over with the others and we shall make some arrangement for her good,” and with this conclusion he was content to await the issue of events.

Occasionally the parson received a letter from the father.  The missives were models in their way, telling of his experiences in the service of the battles, of the prospect of victory and his faith in the final triumph of the great struggle.  He thanked the teacher for his interest in his child and assured him that his kindness would never be forgotten by father or daughter.

Vose Adams continued his frequent journeys to Sacramento, for those were stirring times and he was as anxious as his friends for news.  Always on his return he was met by Nellie some distance down the winding trail, and, as soon as she was in sight, he held up the plump letter for which she yearned, and over which she was made happy beyond expression, and he never failed to carry back with him the reply of the child, who knew how much it cheered the brave soldier in the distant East and South fighting the battles of his country.

For two years and more there was not a break in this correspondence.  Dawson must have been a good soldier, for, though he enlisted as a private, he was soon promoted, and before the close of the two years, was a full fledged captain, with the brevet of major.  It was about this time that one of his letters gave the story of Gettysburg.  In the hell-blast of Pickett’s charge two of his old friends, who had left New Constantinople to fight for the South, were riddled, and another, marching at the captain’s side, had his head blown off by an exploding shell.  Thus in one engagement three of the old residents of the mining settlement were wiped out.

Only once or twice was any news received of Al Bidwell.  It was known that Ruggles was with the Army of Northern Virginia, but no tidings came of Budge Isham and Ike Hoe.  The continued silence was accepted as almost certain proof of their death, and yet both were well and unharmed.

One day in early summer, two sunburned, shaggy men rode down the mountain side and drew up their horses in front of the Heavenly Bower.  They had ridden from the East and had come through many hardships and dangers.  One of them wore a partial uniform of blue, while the other was of a faded, butternut tinge.  The two had been engaged for years in trying to slay each other, inclusive of their respective friends, but failing in the effort, gave it up when the final surrender took place at Appomattox.  Both were from New Constantinople, and they now turned their faces in that direction.  Starting from widely separated points their lines of travel converged and finally joined.  When they met, there was a moment of mutual sharp scrutiny, then an exclamation of delight, a fervent handclasp and a moistening of the eyes, as both exclaimed: 

“God bless you, old boy!  There’s no one in the world I would rather meet than you!  Shake again!”

And they did, and henceforward they followed the same trail and “drank from the same canteen.”  They shared their rations with each other, and in the regions of the West, where danger lurked in the air, one watched while the other slept, ready to interpose his body as a shield between peril and his comrade.

And what splendid soldiers the Civil War made!  How those veterans could fight!  What pluck, what coolness, what nerve, what daring they displayed!  There was one stormy night beyond the Mississippi, when a band of jayhawkers, believing the two men carried a few hundred dollars, formed a plan for shooting both for the sake of the plunder.  There were six of the outlaws at the opening of proceedings, but at the close just half the number was left, and one of them carried away a wound with him, from which he could never recover, while the defenders did not receive a scratch.

“When I heard that rebel yell of yours,” remarked the veteran who wore the blue, “it tingled through my veins as it did at Chancellorsville, Antietam and various other scenes of unpleasantness.  I couldn’t help sailing in.”

“I didn’t mean to let out the yawp,” returned his companion, “but when the shooting began, it was so like old times I couldn’t help it.  It was real enjoyable.”

“Yes,” was the dry response, “but rather more so for us than for the other fellows.”

Three days later a band of Indians concluded to try their hand upon the veterans, but the trouble was that the red men could not get a fair chance.  Before they arrived within effective striking distance, the veterans began shooting, and whenever they shot somebody fell.  The thing became so monotonous that the hostiles gave it up in disgust and drew off.  Thenceforward the old soldiers had comparatively an easy time of it.

And so, after a ride of more than two thousand miles on horseback, these two men entered Dead Man’s Gulch and drew rein in front of the Heavenly Bower.  Their coming caused a sensation, for their looks showed they were veterans of the war and were certain to bring important news.  The couple smiled and whispered to each other, for they saw that no one suspected their identity.

Among the wondering group that gathered round was Nellie Dawson.  She was profoundly interested, for Vose Adams had made two journeys to and from Sacramento without bringing a letter from her father.  Doubtless these men could tell her something, and she stood on the edge of the group, waiting for them to speak and for the opportunity to question them.

“Do you see her?” whispered one of the men.

“Yes; gracious! hasn’t she grown?  Why, she was a little girl when we left and now she’s a young woman.”

“Blessed if she isn’t!  She wears such long dresses that you can see only the tiny toes of her shoes; we’ve obsarved a good many purty women since we left these parts, but nothing that could come up to her.”

“You can bet your life!  She hasn’t any idée of who we are, nor have the boys, but it looks to me as if the parson is a little suspicious.”

Although the patronage of the Heavenly Bower had shrunk a good deal, Landlord Ortigies was as genial and hospitable as ever.  The new arrivals had time only for a few secret comments, when he came forward: 

“Strangers, you’re welcome to the best we have, which isn’t anything to boast of; look as if you had rid a good many miles and you must be as tired and thirsty as your animals.  If you’ll turn ’em over to Vose Adams, he’ll ’tend to them, and, if you’ll allow me, you shall have a good meal, which before the same, I beg to tender you some distilled home brewed Mountain Dew.”

Thanking the landlord for his offer, the men dismounted and waited outside, while he brought forth two glasses, half-filled with the fiery stuff of the poetical name.  One of the men took his and eagerly swallowed it.  The other held his aloft, where under the bright sunlight it glowed crimson like blood.  With his hand motionless for a moment, he slowly inverted the glass and allowed the liquid to run out on the ground.

“Max, I reckon you haven’t forgot when I done something like that some four years ago,” said the man, turning toward the astonished host.