"How awfully sad it is!" said she; "I suppose the house was prettily furnished when the Lees lived here? Did you ever see it then?"
Sybil was not very profound, but she had sympathy, and at this moment Carrington felt sorely in need of comfort. He wanted some one to share his feelings, and he turned towards her hungry for companionship.
"The Lees were old family friends of mine," said he. "I used to stay here when I was a boy, even as late as the spring of 1861. The last time I sat here, it was with them. We were wild about disunion and talked of nothing else. I have been trying to recall what was said then. We never thought there would be war, and as for coercion, it was nonsense. Coercion, indeed!
The idea was ridiculous. I thought so, too, though I was a Union man and did not want the State to go out. But though I felt sure that Virginia must suffer, I never thought we could be beaten. Yet now I am sitting here a pardoned rebel, and the poor Lees are driven away and their place is a grave-yard."
Sybil became at once absorbed in the Lees and asked many questions, all which Carrington gladly answered. He told her how he had admired and followed General Lee through the war. "We thought he was to be our Washington, you know; and perhaps he had some such idea himself;" and then, when Sybil wanted to hear about the baffles and the fighting, he drew a rough map on the gravel path to show her how the two lines had run, only a few miles away; then he told her how he had carried his musket day after day over all this country, and where he had seen his battles. Sybil had everything to learn; the story came to her with all the animation of real life, for here under her eyes were the graves of her own champions, and by her side was a rebel who had stood under our fire at Malvern Hill and at South Mountain, and who was telling her how men looked and what they thought in face of death. She listened with breathless interest, and at last summoned courage to ask in an awestruck tone whether Carrington had ever killed any one himself. She was relieved, although a little disappointed, when he said that he believed not; he hoped not; though no private who has discharged a musket in baffle can be quite sure where the bullet went. "I never tried to kill any one," said he, "though they tried to kill me incessantly." Then Sybil begged to know how they had tried to kill him, and he told her one or two of those experiences, such as most soldiers have had, when he had been fired upon and the balls had torn his clothes or drawn blood. Poor Sybil was quite overcome, and found a deadly fascination in the horror. As they sat together on the steps with the glorious view spread before them, her attention was so closely fixed on his story that she saw neither the view nor even the carriages of tourists who drove up, looked about, and departed, envying Carrington his occupation with the lovely girl.
She was in imagination rushing with him down the valley of Virginia on the heels of our flying army, or gloomily toiling back to the Potomac after the bloody days at Gettysburg, or watching the last grand debacle on the road from Richmond to Appomattox. They would have sat there till sunset if Carrington had not at length insisted that they must go, and then she rose slowly with a deep sigh and undisguised regret.
As they rode away, Carrington, whose thoughts were not devoted to his companion so entirely as they should have been, ventured to say that he wished her sister had come with them, but he found that his hint was not well received.
Sybil emphatically rejected the idea: "I'm very glad she didn't come. If she had, you would have talked with her all the time, and I should have been left to amuse myself. You would have been discussing things, and I hate discussions. She would have been hunting for first principles, and you would have been running about, trying to catch some for her. Besides, she is coming herself some Sunday with that tiresome Mr. Ratcliffe. I don't see what she finds in that man to amuse her. Her taste is getting to be demoralised in Washington. Do you know, Mr. Carrington, I'm not clever or serious, like Madeleine, and I can't read laws, and hate politics, but I've more common sense than she has, and she makes me cross with her. I understand now why young widows are dangerous, and why they're bumed at their husband's funerals in India. Not that I want to have Madeleine burned, for she's a dear, good creature, and I love her better than anything in the world; but she will certainly do herself some dreadful mischief one of these days; she has the most extravagant notions about self-sacrifice and duty; if she hadn't luckily thought of taking charge of me, she would have done some awful thing long ago, and if I could only be a little wicked, she would be quite happy all the rest of her life in reforming me; but now she has got hold of that Mr. Ratcliffe, and he is trying to make her think she can reform him, and if he does, it's all up with us. Madeleine will just go and break her heart over that odious, great, coarse brute, who only wants her money."