Twilight Stories


"I thought, Mr. Allen, when I gave my Bennie to his country, that not a father in all this broad land made so precious a gift--no, not one. The dear boy only slept a minute, just one little minute at his post; I know that was all, for Bennie never dozed over a duty. How prompt and reliable he was! I know he only fell asleep one little second--he was so young and not strong, that boy of mine. Why, he was as tall as I, and only eighteen!

And now they shoot him because he was found asleep when doing sentinel duty. "Twenty-four hours,' the telegram said, only twenty-fours hours. Where is Bennie now?"

"We will hope with his heavenly Father," said Mr. Allen soothingly.

"Yes, yes; let us hope; God is very merciful! 'I should be ashamed, father,' Bennie said, 'when I am a man to think I never used this great right arm'--and he held it out proudly before me--'for my country when it needed it. Palsy it, rather than keep it at the plow.' 'Go, then, my boy, and God keep you!' I said. God has kept him, I think, Mr. Allen!" And the farmer repeated these last words slowly, as if in spite of his reason his heart doubted them.

"Like the apple of the eye, Mr. Owen; doubt it not."

Blossom sat near them listening with blanched cheek. She had not shed a tear. Her anxiety had been so concealed that no one had noticed it. She had occupied herself mechanically in the household cares. Now, she answered a gentle tap at the door, opening it to receive from a neighbor's hand a letter. "It is from him," was all she said.

It was like a message from the dead! Mr. Owen took the letter, but could not break the envelope on account of his trembling fingers, and held it toward Mr. Allen, with the helplessness of a child. The minister opened it and read as follows:

"Dear Father:--When this reaches you I shall be in eternity. At first it seemed awful to me, but I have thought so much about it that now it has no terror. They say they will not bind me, nor blind me, but that I may meet death like a man. I thought, father, that it might have been on the battle field, for my country, and that when I fell, it would be fighting gloriously; but to be shot down like a dog for nearly betraying it--to die for neglect of duty! O, father! I wonder the very thought does not kill me! But I shall not disgrace you; I am going to write you all about it, and when I am gone you may tell my comrades. I cannot, now.

"You know I promised Jemmie Carr's mother I would look after her boy; and when he fell sick I did all I could for him. He was not strong when he was ordered back into the ranks, and the day before that night, I carried all his luggage besides my own on our march. Towards night we went in on double quick, and though the luggage began to feel very heavy, everybody else was tired, too; and as for Jemmie, if I had not lent him an arm now and then he would have dropped by the way. I was all tired out when we came into camp, and then it was Jemmie's turn to be sentry. I would take his place; but I was too tired, father. I could not have kept awake if a gun had been pointed at my head; but I did not know it until--well, until it was too late."

"God be thanked" interrupted Mr. Owen, reverently, "I knew Bennie was not the boy to sleep carelessly at his post."

"They tell me to-day that I have a short reprieve, 'time to write to you,' the good Colonel says. Forgive him, Father, he only does his duty; he would gladly save me if he could; and do not lay my death against Jemmie. The poor boy is heart-broken, and does nothing but beg and entreat them to let him die in my place.

"I can't bear to think of mother and Blossom. Comfort them, Father! Tell them I die as a brave boy should, and that, when the war is over, they will not be ashamed of me, as they must be now. God help me! It is very hard to bear! Good-bye, father, God seems near and dear to me; not at all as if he wished me to perish forever, but as if he felt sorry for his poor sinful, broken-hearted child, and would take me to be with him and my Savior in a better life."

A deep sigh burst from Mr. Owen's heart. "Amen," he said, solemnly, "amen."