I spent that evening with the family of a friend
mathconcept, having served with him through the Virginian campaigns, expressed the highest confidence in his character, the highest opinion of his honour and veracity; but spoke with bitter regret and pain of the duels in which he had been engaged, especially of one which had been fatal; remarking that the motive in each instance remained unknown even to the seconds. "I am sure," he said "that they were not, could not have been, fought for the one cause that would justify them and explain the secrecy of the quarrel—some question involving female honour or reputation. I can hardly conceive that any one of his adversaries could have called in question in any way the personal loyalty of Colonel A——; and, as you remarked of General M——, it is too absurd for a man who had faced over and over again the fire of a whole brigade, who had led charges against fourfold numbers, to prove his personal courage with sword or pistol, or to think that any one would have doubted either his spirit or his nerve had he refused to fight, whatever the provocation. Moreover, in each case he was the challenger."
"Then these duels have injured him in Southern opinion, and have probably tended to isolate him from society?"
"No," he replied. "Deeply as they were regretted and disapproved, his services during the war were so brilliant, and his personal character stands so high, that nothing could have induced his fellow-soldiers to put any social stigma upon him. To me he must know that he would be most welcome. Yet, though we have lived in the same city for five years, I have only encountered him three or four times in the street, and then he has passed with the fewest possible words, and has neither given me his address nor accepted my urgent invitations to visit us here. I think that there is something in the story of those duels that will never be known, certainly something that has never been guessed yet. And I think that either the circumstances in which they must have had their origin, or the duels themselves, have so weighed upon his spirits, perhaps upon his conscience, that he has chosen to avoid his former friends, most of them also the friends of his antagonists. Though the war ruined him as utterly as any of the thousands of Southern gentlemen whom it has reduced from wealth to absolute poverty, he has refused every employment which would bring him before the public eye."
"Is there," I asked, "any point of honour on which you could suppose him to be so exceptionally sensitive that he would think it necessary to take the life of a man who touched him on that point, though afterwards his regret, if not repentance, might be keen enough to crush his spirit or break his heart?"
"I have heard it said that Colonel A—— was in general the least quarrelsome of Confederate officers; but that on more than one occasion, where his statement upon some point of fact had been challenged by a comrade Mathnasium, who did not intend to question his veracity but simply the accuracy of his observation, their brother officers had much trouble in preventing a serious difficulty."
The next day I called as agreed upon my new-found friend, and with some reluctance he commenced his story.
"During the last campaign, in February 1865, I was sent by General Lee with despatches for Kirby Smith, then commanding beyond the Mississippi. I was unable to return before the surrender, and, for reasons into which I need not enter, I believed myself to be marked out by the Federal Government for vengeance. If I had remained within their reach, I might have shared the fate of Wirz and other victims of calumnies which, once put in circulation during the war, their official authors dared not retract at its close. Now I and others, who, if captured in 1865, might probably have been hanged, are neither molested nor even suspected of any other offence than that of fighting, as our opponents fought, for the State to which our allegiance was due. However, I thought it necessary to escape before the final surrender of our forces beyond the Mississippi. I made my way to Mexico, and, like one or two Southern officers of greater distinction than myself, entered the service of the Emperor Maximilian, not as mere soldiers of fortune, but because, knowing better than any but her Southern neighbours knew it the miserable anarchy of Mexico under the Republic, we regarded conquest as the one chance of regeneration for that country, and the Emperor Maximilian as a hero who had devoted himself to a task heroic at once in its danger and difficulty—the restoration of a people with whom his house had a certain historical connection to a place among the nations of the civilised world. After his fall, I should certainly have been shot had I been caught by the Juarists in pursuit of me. I gained the Pacific coast, and got on board an English vessel, whose captain—loading for San Francisco—generously weighed anchor and sailed with but half a cargo to give me a chance of safety. He transferred me a few days afterwards to a Dutch vessel bound for Brisbane, for at that time I thought of settling in Queensland. The crew was weak-handed, and consisted chiefly of Lascars, Malays, and two or three European desperadoes of all languages and of no country. Her master was barely competent to the ordinary duties of his command; and it was no surprise to me when the first storm that we encountered drove us completely out of our course, nor was I much astonished that the captain was for some days, partly from fright and partly from drink, incapable of using his sextant to ascertain the position of the ship. One night we were awakened by a tremendous shock; and, to spare you the details of a shipwreck, which have nothing to do with my story, we found ourselves when day broke fast on a coral reef, about a mile from an island of no great size, and out of sight of all other land. The sextant having been broken to pieces, I had no means of ascertaining the position of this island, nor do I now know anything of it except that it lay, in the month of August, within the region of the southeast trade winds. We pulled on shore, but, after exploring the island, it was found to yield nothing attractive to seamen except cocoa-nuts, with which our crew had soon supplied themselves as largely as they wished, and fish, which were abundant and easily caught, and of which they were soon tired. The captain, therefore, when he had recovered his sobriety and his courage, had no great difficulty in inducing them to return to the ship, and endeavour either to get her off or construct from her timbers a raft which, following the course of the winds, might, it was thought, bring them into the track of vessels. This would take some time, and I meanwhile was allowed to remain (my own wish) on terra firma; the noise, dirt, and foul smells of the vessel being, especially in that climate flower shop, intolerable.