"You come here," Mrs. Desborough went on, feeling herself choke at his words, but determined not to give way to the warmer impulse of her heart, "and even you are moved by these sacred relics. What do you think they are to us?"
She was half conscious that she was appealing to the memorials around her to strengthen her in her purpose not to yield, not to make peace with the son of the man who had slain her husband, her hero, her love; she felt that in harboring for an instant such an impulse she was untrue to the Cause which, though lost, was for her forever living with the deathless devotion of love and anguish.
"These relics do move me," her son-in-law said gently. "They move me so deeply that they seem to me wrong. I confess that I was thinking, before you came in, that if I were a Southerner, with the traditions of the South behind me, and the bitter sense of failure to embitter me, they would stir me to madness; that I should feel it impossible ever to be loyal to anything but the South. The war is over. The South at last is understood. She is honored for the incredible bravery with which, under crushing odds, she fought for her conviction. Why prolong the inevitable pain? Why gather these relics to nourish a feeling absolutely untrue--the feeling that the Union is less your country than it is ours?"
"Because it is just to the dead," she answered swiftly. "Because it is only justice that we keep in remembrance how true they were, how gallant, how brave, how noble, and--O God!--that we make some poor record of what we of the South have suffered!"
He shook his head and sighed. She saw the tears in his eyes and did not attempt to hide her own.
"Would you have it forgotten," she demanded passionately, "that the grandfather of your son--the father of your wife--was one of God's noblemen? Would you have him remembered only as a beaten rebel? I tell you that if we had not gathered these memorials, every clod that was wet with their blood would cry out against us! In the North you call these men rebels; there is no battlefield in the South where the very rustle of the grass does not whisper over their graves that they were patriots and heroes! And this, poor though it be"--and she waved her hand to the cases around them--"is the best memorial we can give them."
He made a step forward, and held out both his hands impulsively. She did not take them, and they dropped again. He hesitated, and then drew back.
"It must be as it is," he said sadly. "Even if I blamed you women of the South, I could not say so here. Only," he added, his voice falling, "can you forget that the women of the North suffered too? I grew up in the shadow of a grief so great that it sapped the very life of my mother, and in the end killed her. Do you think I could visit that upon the innocent head of Louise?--I did not mean, though, to speak of myself, now that I know who you are. I will not intrude on you; but my little son, with your husband's name and his mother's eyes, is certainly guiltless. I will not come with him, but may I not send him with my man to see you this afternoon, so that I may say to Louise that you have kissed him and given him your blessing? Sorrow has taken away his other grandmother."
It seemed to her that she could not endure the speaking of one syllable more. Her whole body trembled, and she raised her hands in an impulsive gesture which implored him to be silent. All the old mother-love for Louise, the passionate crying of her lonely heart for this unseen grandson with the blood of her dead husband warm in his veins, the grief of black years and fidelity to old ideals, warred within her, and tore her like wolves. She cast a glance around as if to find some way by which she could flee from this position which it was too terrible to face. Then she saw her companion look at her with infinite pity and sadness.
"Then," he said, "I can only say good-by."
But she sprang forward as if she burst from chains, and threw herself upon his breast, the agony of the long, bitter past gushing in a torrent of hot tears.
"Oh, my son! my son!" she sobbed.