Read CHAPTER XIX of Young Captain Jack The Son of a Soldier , free online book, by Horatio Alger and Arthur M. Winfield, on ReadCentral.com.

A Summons from the front.

St. John found his aunt too busy to spend much time talking about Jack’s past and Dr. Mackey’s claim, and it was not long before he took his departure, feeling that he had gained nothing by this new attack upon our hero’s welfare.

“I wish I could get him out of the way,” he muttered, as he walked homeward, by a side road, so as to steer clear of the Federal troops. “If only he would join the army, and get shot down.”

He entered his home filled with thoughts of Jack and Marion, but all these thoughts were driven to the winds after he had read a communication which had been left for him during his absence.

The communication was one from a well-known Southern leader of the neighborhood, and ran, in part, as follows:

“Many of us think it time to call upon you to take up arms as we have done. With our noble country suffering from the invasion of the enemy, every loyal Southerner is needed at the front. Join our ranks ere it be too late. The muster roll can be signed at Wingate’s Hotel, any time to-day or to-night. Do not delay.”

As St. John read this communication his face grew ashen. “Called upon to join at last!” he muttered. “What shall I do now? What excuse can I offer for hanging back?”

“What is in your letter, St. John?” asked his mother.

“They want me to join the army they say every man is needed,” he answered, with half a groan.

“To join? When?”

“At once.”

“What shall you do?”

“I I don’t know.” His legs began to tremble, and he sank heavily on a chair. “I I am too sick to join the army, mother,” he went on, half pleadingly.

Now Mrs. Ruthven did not care to have him leave her, yet she was but human, and it filled her with disgust to have her only offspring such a coward.

“You weren’t very sick this morning.”

“I know that. But the sun has affected my head. I feel very faint.”

“If you don’t join the ranks, all of our neighbors will put you down as a coward, St. John.”

“They can’t want a sick man along,” he whined.

“They will say you are shamming.”

“But I am not shamming. I feel bad enough to take to my bed this minute.”

“Then you had better do it,” answered Mrs. Ruthven, with, however, but little sympathy in her voice.

“I will go to bed at once.”

“You must not forget that your cousin, Harry Powell, is in the army.”

“Yes, on the Yankee side.”

“Still he is brave enough to go. Marion may think a good deal of him on that account.”

“Well, I would go, for Marion’s sake, if I felt at all well,” groaned St. John. “But I am in for a regular spell of sickness, I feel certain of it.”

“Then go to bed.”

“Write Colonel Raymond a note stating that I am in bed, and tell him I would join the ranks if I possibly could,” groaned St. John, and then dragged himself upstairs and retired. Here he called for a negro servant and had a man go for a doctor.

Much disgusted, Mrs. Mary Ruthven penned the note, and sent it to town, shielding her son’s true character as much as possible.

For the remainder of the day St. John stayed in bed, and whenever a servant came into his room he would groan dismally.

When the doctor arrived he was alarmed, until he made an examination.

“He is shamming,” thought the family physician. But as the Ruthvens were among his best customers, he said nothing on this point. He left St. John some soothing medicine and a tonic, and said he would call again the next day.

Instead of using the medicine, the young spendthrift threw it out of the window.

“Don’t catch me swallowing that stuff,” he chuckled to himself. “I am not altogether such a fool.”

Several days passed, and nothing of importance happened to disturb those at either of the Ruthven plantations.

But a surprise was in store for Jack and those with whom he lived.

One of the wounded soldiers stopping at Mrs. Alice Ruthven’s home was named George Walden. The poor fellow had been shot in the shoulder, a painful as well as a dangerous wound.

For several days he lay speechless, and during that time the Confederate surgeon and Mrs. Ruthven, as well as Marion, did all they could to ease his suffering.

One day George Walden began to speak to Marion.

“You are very good to me,” he said. “You are in reality an angel of mercy.”

“I am glad to be able to help you, and thus help the Southern cause,” replied Marion. “But you must not speak too much. It may retard your recovery.”

“I will not talk much. But you are so kind I must thank you. What is your name?”

“Marion Ruthven.”

Then he told her his own, and said he had a sister at home, in Savannah, Ga., and asked Marion to write a letter for him, which she did willingly.

After that Marion and George Walden became quite intimate, and the soldier told much about himself and the battles through which he had passed.

“Some of them are nothing but nightmares,” he said. “I never wish to see the like of them again.”

“And yet you saw only the fighting, I presume,” said Marion. “Think of what those in the hospital corps must behold.”

“I was attached to the hospital corps,” returned George Walden. “I have helped to carry in hundreds who were wounded.”

“If you were in the hospital service, did you ever meet a doctor named Mackey?” questioned Marion, with increased interest.

At this question the brow of the wounded soldier darkened, and he shifted uneasily upon his couch.

“Yes, I know Dr. Mackey well,” he said, at last.

“You do!” cried the girl. “And what do you know of him? I would like to know very much.”

“Is he your friend?” asked George Walden cautiously.

“No, I cannot say that he is.”

“Because, if he is your friend, I would rather not say anything further, Miss Ruthven. I do not wish to hurt your feelings.”

“Which means that what you have to say would be of no credit to Dr. Mackey?”

“Exactly.”

“I would like to know all about him. I will tell you why. You have noticed Jack, my brother?”

“The lad who helped move me yesterday?”

“Yes.”

“Of course a fine young fellow.”

“He is not my real brother. My parents adopted him about ten years ago.”

“Indeed.”

“Some time ago Dr. Mackey turned up here and claimed Jack as his son.”

“Impossible! Why, Dr. Mackey is a bachelor!”

“You are sure of this? He says he was married to Jack’s mother, who was shipwrecked on our shore, and who died at this house a few days later.”

“I have heard Dr. Mackey declare several times that he was heart-free, that he had never cared for any woman, and consequently had never married.”

At this declaration Marion’s face lit up.

“I knew it! I knew it!” she cried. “I must tell mamma and Jack at once!”

“Dr. Mackey is a fraud,” went on the wounded soldier. “To the best of my knowledge, he comes from Philadelphia, where he used to run a mail-order medical bureau of some sort something which the Post-office Department stopped as a swindle.”

“My cousin thought he came from Philadelphia,” said Marion. “But wait until I call my mother and Jack.”

Marion ran off without delay, but failed to find either Mrs. Ruthven or our hero, both having gone to town to purchase something at Mr. Blackwood’s store.

“Da will be back afore supper time, Miss Marion,” said one of the servants, and with this she had to be content.

“My folks have gone away,” she said to George Walden. “As soon as they come back I will bring them to you. I hope you can prove your words.”

“I am sure I can prove them,” answered the wounded soldier.

“Jack does not like this Dr. Mackey in the least, and the idea of being compelled to recognize the man as his father is very repulsive to him.”

“I don’t blame the boy. For myself, I hate the doctor he is so rough to the wounded placed in his care. He treated one of my chums worse than a dog, and I came pretty close to having it out with him in consequence.”

“He doesn’t look like a very tender-hearted man.”

“He doesn’t know what tenderness is, Miss Ruthven. I would pity your brother if he had to place himself under Dr. Mackey’s care.”

“We won’t give Jack up unless the courts make us. My mother is firm on that point.”

“But why does he want the boy?”

“That is the mystery if Jack is not really his son.”

“Perhaps there is a fortune coming to your brother, and the doctor wants to secure it. A man like Dr. Mackey wouldn’t do a thing of this sort without an object. I can tell you one thing the fellow worships money.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Because I know that a wounded soldier once told him to be careful and he would give him all the money he had twelve dollars. The doctor was careful, and took every dollar that was offered.”

“But had he a right to take the soldier’s money?” asked Marion indignantly.

“Not exactly, but in war times many queer things happen that are never told of at headquarters,” answered George Walden.

Here the conversation ceased, for the soldier was quite exhausted. Soon Marion gave him a quieting draught, and then George Walden slept.