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The Dear Dead Face

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The war I refer to was not one of those which we have lately had upon our own hands, but that which a few years ago raged so long, so fiercely, between the Northern and Southern States of America. It was my fortune to serve on the medical staff with a portion of the Northern army during most of that terrible struggle ; and it is needless to say that uiany personal incidents carne under my notice, which will never leave my memory. Not one of them, however, made so painfut an impression upon me as that which I am about to describe. Toward noon on the day after one of the fiercest fights of all the war, a young soldier was brought in from the battlefield, where by some mischance he had been overlooked and abandoned, while comrades of hia far less grievously wounded than he, had been sheltered and tended before nightfall. The poor fellow had lain all night and during the long scorohing hours of the morning, amiii heaps of dead, both men and horses, suffering from the loss of an arm, and othtr wounds. An army surgeon is not as a rule a man prone to undue eeotiment or to feminine softness at the sight of physical suffering ; and I am not conscious of any weakness that makes me an exception in this particular. There was, however, in thji _yuuth'a expression of countenance somethuig which struek me irrefistibly, and with the strong glance of his large, bright eye, fixed my attention and awakened my cager interest. He was a slender youth, tall, yet gracefully made, with a head which, as the novelists phrase it, would bring ecstacy to the soul of a sculptor ; and eveiy feature molded to the truc type of manly beauty. A single glance gave me this sumuiary outline of my patient belore I had time to ascertain the nature or extent of his injuries. A very brief examination soon told me that the lile which for hours had been ebbing so painfully away was well nigh spent ; and he must have read the awful truth in my face, for he whispered to me faiutly and sadly, as I rose : "ís there, then, no hopes?" Alas I there was no hope ; but I had not speech to tell him so ; lor something was rising in my throat and ohoking me, and a moii-ture in my eyes was blinding me ; and the only reply I could give him was a shake of my head. The brave spirit which had nerved hira through the fight had kept him up till now; but now, when the dismal truth had broken upon him, thcre passed over his pallid face a look of mingled disappointment and resignation which it was painful beyond expression to witness. I lost no time jn giving him puch -urirical aid as his desperate condition callud for and his waning strength could bear. I had hardly done so when an unexpected voice addressed him : " My own dear boy! my brave, heroio boy!" The tono was of cheery encouragenient, yet feebly disguising the woe of a breaking heart ; for it was his mother's voice that spoke, and her lips that kissed bis fevered brow. Gently she turned back his disordered and blood-stained locks, sembling with evident effort tho mother's anguisb, lest slie should add another sotrow to the pangs of his dying hour. "My mother!" he cried, with almost frantic delight. "Is it you, my mother ? How came you hcre ? Is it you, or am I dreaming? " and as he spoke he threw his only remaining arm around her neck and kissed her with all the rapture of a child. "ThankGod!" he continued in snatches, as his failing strength allowed hini, "thank üod for this blessed joy, that I see your face once more, my mother. All last night, as I lay arnid the dreadful sights around me, I prayed one prayer in all my pain, and only one. I prayed that I might look once more upon your face, my sweetest mother, once more hear your voice. I secmed to pray in vain, yet still I prayed." "My poor, poor boy," che said; "a curse upon the hand that has brought you to this! " and her tears at length broke from her control. To the amazernent of all, there appeared to be something in this exclamation of his mother that stiruulated the dying youth to a final effort of speech and inotion. He half raised himself from his bed, and with that unaccountable energy which sometimos marks the closing moments of life, he said : "! don' t say that. Don'tsayaccursed. You know not the words you are speaking. Oh!" he cried, after a moment's paue, "how shall I teil her the horrible tale ? How can I smite her down with such a blow, at such an hour?" and he feil back exhausted upon his pillow. The effort has been too much for him, and for some moments we doubt if the spirit has not fled. It was only a passing weakness, however, and before long ho rallied again. Again he spoke, but with a kind of dreamy half coitsciousness ; at one moment gazing into his nioiher's eyes, at another seemingly forgetful of her presence. "Truly it was a bloody field," he said. "I had been in several hard-fought fights before, but they were all children's pastime compared with that of yesterday. No sooner had we come in siidit of the eneiuy than tlie Hoging voice of the general was heard : "At them, myboys, and do your duty I" "What happened after that, I know not. Know not, do I say? Oh, would it were truc that I knew not ! Begrimmed with dust, each man was confronted with his own individual foe, and if thtre be fighting ainong fiends, then surely did our tijihtimc resetuble theirs. I was myself wounded whn a fair haired man bore down upon me from the opposing line, if line it could then be callea, and I received his headlong onset with a terrific bayonet ihrust; and as ho feil I thought of (Jain, and of that deed which has made the name of Cain a name of malediction forever. I know not why, but I feit myself compelled to halt in the nridst of the melee to kneel beside the fair-haired man and look at him. I turnt'd him over, and looked upon his face - his dear, dead face. Ah ! mother, it was - it was - it was my brother's face, and my own arm had sla in him I" The scène at that moment it would not be easy to describe. In an instant the weeping mother's tears were dry and her face becarne passionlees as marble. My own euiotion, which I had already acknowledged, I took no pain to conceal. Rough, hard-favored soldiers standing by listeoed with bated breath to this more than tragic narrative, while big tear-drops weiled frora their eyes unchecked and undisguised. "Yes," he continued, soliloquising, "my own arm had slain him. Dear, uarling brother Fred ! I laid my face upon his, and it was cold - that face which in our boyhood seetned but the mirror of my own ; ever near me - at home, at school, at meals, at play - which laughed when ï was glad, and wept when I was sorrowful. Oh, would we botu had died in those fresh bright days of innocence. I kissed his pallid lips, I looked into his eyes, but in them was no responsive lance. He was dead. 1 had slain him ! Ihe very thought was a burning in ruy brain. heeded not the carnage around me. I thought not of my own wounds. I even knew not when my arm was gone. Oh, the arui that had done such a deed deserved to perish. Forgive me, O my brother ! How gladly would I give my lile to bring back tinne again ! Siay, i'riend ; do not bhut out the blessed light. I can not sce my mother. Fred, sweet brother, put up your sword, and let us play with flowers once more upon this pleasant grass. ' ' And 80 he passed away- to join his brother, let us hope, in a land where bloem the flowers that never fade, where strife and wars are unknown, and where the mysteries and niisunderstandings of our present state are dispclled by tbe light that never dies. Reverence for the childless mother's grief, as well as the many-voiced cali of duty, prevented my making at that moment the inquines which thronged my mind both as to the history of this strangely sorrqwstricken family, and the means by whieh the poor mother had come to know of her son's condition and whereabouts. I have often since tried to trace her ; but the search bas always been fruitless. They certainly belonged to the better class of society ; and I think it likewise certain that they were Southerners. The younger brother - which I took him to be - whose sad narrative is here giyen, had probably residcd for some time in the north, and becoming imbued with the sentiments and opinions which charged the atmosphero around him, found himself eventually in the ranks. In a word, I look upon tho whole episode as one of those awful coincidences of fate which are generally thought to take place only in the pages of romance, but which a wide experience has taught me to believe are by no means infrequent among the unrecorded realities of life. -