Mrs. Edward Leigh



At the first call of the Confederate Government for men to repel the Yankee invaders from our soil, the noble and brave of Macon rushed to the rescue. Our homes should not be invaded. Their wives and sisters should not be insulted no, indeed, not while a hand remained to prevent it. Such was the feeling. Among the first who enlisted was Walter King and his legal friend. They formed a company which belonged to the Regiment of which the gallant Bartow became Colonel, and Walter was appointed Captain and his legal friend the First Lieutenant.
Every one has read of the First Battle of Manassas, and how confident of victory the Yankees were. Even the women accompanied them to witness the defeat of the rebels, and form the feminine element in the proposed triumphant dinner, for which the "conquerors" prepared their appetites, in Richmond. Grand preparations were made for the celebration of the victory, and carriage loads of champagne and numberless delicacies followed the rear of their army.
The scene was such a one as a painter alone could describe with justice to its splendor and singularity. The grand living panorama the gay, glittering uniforms of the Federals contrasting greatly with the somber apparel of the Confederates, filling the plain, while, from the surrounding heights, the gaping spectators, filled with horror at the unexpected turn affairs had taken the continuous roar of artillery, the fierce struggle for freedom; then the flight of the foes of Southern freedom, and the dispersion of their panic-stricken hosts our exultant cry, "the victory is ours," and then the ghastly field, strown with dead and dying; the conquered and the conquerer lying together to rise no more, until the last trump shall call them to the bar of God, to answer there at His dread tribunal, for the misery inflicted by them on the wives, mothers and daughters of the Confederate assertors of the right to rule themselves.
During the afternoon, the gallant Col. Bartow had fallen, shot through the heart. He was grasping the standard of his regiment, and, calling the few brave men who gathered around him, he uttered these memorable words, "They have killed me, but never give up the field." His men, true to their commander, even though his voice was silenced by death, obeyed his last command, and the battery was silenced which had killed him; but, alas, not before many brave hearts had followed their leader.
An hour later, had you been upon the battle-field, you would have seen a form slowly creeping among the dead and dying, until he came to the spot where lay the body of the gallant Bartow. It was his favorite, Captain Walter King. That last charge had given a death wound to as brave a soldier as ever lived or died. Taking the cold hand of Bartow in his own clammy fingers, he said:
We shall not be parted long, Frank. That charge did for us both. But, thank God, we leave brave hearts behind, and as long as one remains, our Confederacy will be unconquered!'
The damp of death was gathering fast upon his brow. A comrade, his legal friend, Edward Leigh, wiped away the cold drops, and vainly tried to staunch the death flood which was gushing from the wound in his side.
'Tis all in vain, Ned, my minutes are numbered. Life was bright oh, so bright to me! My wife, my darling Ella and my little ones, how can I leave them? For who will protect them when I am gone?'
Edward placed his hand in Walter's, who understood his meaning, and said:
Thank you, Edward! May God bless you for the comfort you have given, thus, a dying man. To the world, Ella may seem gay, heartless and giddy; but I tell you, my friend, she is a true woman at heart. I have never fully appreciated her virtues until now. Tell her, Edward, that I have placed my business in your hands; and, in after years, if you can aid my dear wife by your counsel and advice to thread the difficult path a widow is compelled to travel, among the snares of the world, oh, do so; and point out the right path to my dear orphan children, as they pass through temptations which surround youth. Farewell! Edward, God bless you, and my Ella! Ella!'
And thus, with his last breath, bestowing a blessing upon his wife and friend, Walter King breathed his last, another sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
The sun, fiery with grief and rage, could look no longer on the field of battle, and, sinking gradually behind the azure mountains of the Blue Ridge, he hid his face in the shadows, that night might weep her dews and showers over the living and the dead. Who can describe the horrors of that night? There, in the open air, lay the countless dead and dying. Heart-rending cries for succor; prayers for water to moisten their dry lips; while half delirious victims of fever begged mother, wife or sister, to bathe the throbbing temples, when, alas! these dear friends were far away, wholly unconscious of the fate of their beloved ones. Even the stars refused to shine, and the moon, the queen of night, veiled her form in a cloud, and her tears which descended in the form of a shower, moistened the lips of the dying.
Far in the night, Edward sat by the body of his friend. At last he succeeded in calling the bearers of an ambulance to him, and they bore away the corpse.
To Edward was left the sad trial of writing to the bereaved wife and mother, and also of accompanying the body of Walter home; where he was buried with military honors. If you chance to stroll through the romantic Rose Hill cemetery, you will find there his tomb, never destitute of fresh flowers a single day.
My grief I will not attempt to describe. Suffice it to say, that for a year my life was one of the strictest seclusion. No gentlemen visitors did I, during that time, receive, not even Edward Leigh, whose business communications were made by letter. Remorse for my thoughtless levities gnawed at my heart. Oh, remember husband, wife, that your partner may die first; and so conduct yourselves that no pain may be felt in the future for imprudences.
At the commencement of the second year, I resumed my former place in fashionable society, and, although sadly changed, was still what the world calls a gay woman. Many suitors bowed at my shrine, and among them were men who had loved me as a girl. Some who had tried in vain to make love to me during my wedded life, now returned to make another vain attempt. Edward Leigh, too, came to see me, and I swoon learned the value of his true and noble heart.
My old love of fun returned, and I determined to teach the men a lesson, and find out who were really in earnest, at the same time.
Each man who had made proposals of marriage to me during three months, I told to come to my house, on the evening of the last day of October, for their final answer, which they promised to do. The day came. You can well imagine my excitement, for I was not sure the one I really loved would come.
Scarcely had the shades of night enveloped the earth, when the bell rang, and a servant ushered Reginald Pompus, into the parlor, looking rather pale and thin, from his intense anxiety, he said, but as I heard, from a slight excess in the wine cup.
Dear Mrs. King', said he, how glad I am, that at last you will make me the happiest of mortals'.
How sir?' said I.
By at last doing as you should have done years ago, consenting to become the wife of one, who is every way worthy'.
Mr. Pompus', I answered, by telling you to come to my house to-night, I gave you to understand, that your suit might be accepted, and it might not. To-night you shall have my decision'.
But Miss Ella, after my long continued love, you cannot help accepting me. I know that you love me'.
Sir', said I, explain yourself more clearly'.
Miss Ella, I do mean, I don't mean, I mean' Just then the door-bell sounded, and I left him to explain his meaning to the air. I had directed the servant to show all the gentlemen into the reception room, where I could see them privately, before turning the animals into the cage together. In the room I found Henry Peyton, still handsome and conceited as ever.
Mrs. King', said he, do not be as cruel as you once were, and consign me again to a lonely life. I have faded but little; my teeth are still sound; my hair is but slightly tinged with grey, and my feet, although a little spread by marching, are still good-looking, and without a corn on them. I beg you to give me a favorable answer'.
I sent them to the parlor to keep Reginald company, for I heard other footsteps on the threshold. I cannot describe my many suitors, but among them were two base men, who had kindly offered to divorce their wives, if I would marry them. These ladies, I had invited to take tea with me, and promised to also invite the husbands, so their coming would excite no suspicions in the minds of the ladies. A few friends I had also invited were in another parlor, and I had promised to call them in as soon as I found there was no danger in my menagerie of suitors. The husbands came, and as it was useless to have a private conversation with them, I only said, that their wives would be there in a few moments, and sent them in the parlor. Last of all Edward Leigh came, and reader, you know what my answer was to him.
Oh dear! how amusing it was to see the faces! Some confused, some angry, some pale, and some enjoying the joke, but all, looking as if they would like to be in a more comfortable predicament. After some fifteen or twenty minutes of general conversation, I said:
Gentlemen, I believe some of you (I did not say all, for I did not wish to expose the married men,) come to receive my answer to your honorable proposal of marriage. Am I right?"
Edward Leigh and Henry Peyton alone had courage to say you are'.
Reginald Pompus drew himself up proudly.
How can you trifle with a gentleman of my standing?' Henry Peyton, who was somewhat of a wag, whispered,
He does stand rather high Mrs. King, six feet two inches without his boots.'
What do you mean Mr. Pompus', said I, determined, for the amusement of the crowd, to get him on his meaning!
Why madam', said he, I don't mean, I do mean, I mean'
For the Lord's sake', exclaimed Henry Peyton, do tell your meaning, at once, don't whip the devil around the stump any longer'.
Mr. Peyton', said Pompus, I hold you responsible for this insult; you shall hear from me in the morning. Good evening ladies', and he left the room, leaving my friends convulsed with laughter.
An old widower who had been paying attention to me for some months, now arose and said:
I think that you have served us rather badly; such an exposure is unpardonable. But for once I will overlook such a liberty, and I now renew my offer of marriage. Will you accept it?'
No sir', said I, and I am very sorry for the part I have acted towards you. Your venerable age should have commanded at least my respect'.
This was the unkindest cut of all, and my old friend muttered incorrigible', and resumed his seat.
Just then a servant called me from the room. In a little while Edward followed, and you may judge the surprise of the gentlemen, when the folding doors were thrown open, and a bridal party stood before them. The girls had conducted the affair with such silence, that not a whisper had reached the crowd in the adjoining room.
And there and then, Edward Leigh and I were united in the holy bands of matrimony, and I for one do not regret it.

Early this morning Edward reached home. Miss Dean was with him. Knowing that she would feel very much fatigued, and besides, not wishing a stranger to witness my joy at meeting my husband, I ordered the servant to show her immediately to her room, and to merely say that there would be company at dinner, so she could be prepared to meet my friends: the same she had met before. How glad Edward was to see me, and how handsome he looked; I think he improves every day. I am sure I do not wonder at Miss Dean's loving him; it shows her taste is excellent. Dinner time came, and Miss Dean entered the dining room looking her loveliest. She was somewhat surprised at seeing us there, for Edward had made her think he was alone. But a woman of the world is always prepared for any emergency.
Dinner passed on finely. Aunt Tabitha and Miss Dean were fast learning to love each other, when to our dismay, a friend of Edward's, who was very intimate in the family, but was not in the secret of our little plot, entered the dining room.
Ah! Edward, my dear fellow,' he said, I just this minute heard of your arrival, could not wait a moment, and so accepted your general invitation, and came to take dinner with you. I had no idea you would have company'. Edward of course was very glad to see his friend, and ordered a chair to be placed for him at the table, then introduced him to the strangers. He was a genial friendly man, and must shake hands all round. When he came to me he exclaimed:
Dear Mrs. Leigh how glad you must be, to have your husband home after his long absence. It is a mystery how he can leave such a wife so long.'
Miss Dean's face betrayed many contending emotions; and the rest of the company looked at each other in consternation, and then laughed long and heartily.
Miss Dean,' said Edward, forgive me, for I have been playing towards you a part which I regret very much, but you must blame the ladies, for the fault was theirs. Allow me to present to you my wife, the real Mrs. Leigh, also my maiden Aunt, Miss Tabitha Leigh, your Mother's friend, Miss Bella, and for her sake, I am sure you can, and will forgive our deception'.
And now children', said Aunt Tabitha, let this be a lesson to all. I hope it will teach you Edward, never to describe me as your wife, for I will be certain to pass myself as such! And I trust this experience will effectually destroy the flirting propensities of each one. Miss Bella dear, do not be offended at an old maid; never believe all a gentleman tells you insinuating his admiration, especially if he is married.'
Dear Reader, only three short months have passed since the last dinner party at our house, and yet Mr. Hunt and Miss Dean are one. The fun of it is, she is three years older than he is, but she does not seem to mind our teasing, but answers let those laugh who win.' Aunt Tabitha is staying with her for a time, and Miss Bella is truly striving to make happy the life her Mother came so near blasting.
And now reader, farewell! Let the lessons here taught by direct didacticism, as well as by inference, sink deep into thy heart. Perhaps you have never indulged in that exciting gambling of the noblest affections of human nature, called flirting. If so, thank God for his goodness in preserving you from a sin so petrifying to the heart, and so often leading to a wreck of innocence and happiness forever. If you have indulged in it, oh! forsake it instantly. I feel that I have been preserved miraculously through a sea of dangerous shoals and breakers; your fate may be more adverse; you may go to the bottom. Among the blessings of this war, are probably to be reckoned, the sobering influence which individual suffering brings on each one; and really Providence seems determined that every individual in the Confederate States shall feel grief in some shape, before the war is over. God grant that flirtation, one of the lesser evils, may be thoroughly and forever extirpated from Southern society.