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An Affair Of Outposts
by [?]

I

CONCERNING THE WISH TO BE DEAD

Two men sat in conversation. One was the Governor of the State. The year was 1861; the war was on and the Governor already famous for the intelligence and zeal with which he directed all the powers and resources of his State to the service of the Union.

“What! you?” the Governor was saying in evident surprise–“you too want a military commission? Really, the fifing and drumming must have effected a profound alteration in your convictions. In my character of recruiting sergeant I suppose I ought not to be fastidious, but”–there was a touch of irony in his manner–“well, have you forgotten that an oath of allegiance is required?”

“I have altered neither my convictions nor my sympathies,” said the other, tranquilly. “While my sympathies are with the South, as you do me the honor to recollect, I have never doubted that the North was in the right. I am a Southerner in fact and in feeling, but it is my habit in matters of importance to act as I think, not as I feel.”

The Governor was absently tapping his desk with a pencil; he did not immediately reply. After a while he said: “I have heard that there are all kinds of men in the world, so I suppose there are some like that, and doubtless you think yourself one. I’ve known you a long time and– pardon me–I don’t think so.”

“Then I am to understand that my application is denied?”

“Unless you can remove my belief that your Southern sympathies are in some degree a disqualification, yes. I do not doubt your good faith, and I know you to be abundantly fitted by intelligence and special training for the duties of an officer. Your convictions, you say, favor the Union cause, but I prefer a man with his heart in it. The heart is what men fight with.”

“Look here, Governor,” said the younger man, with a smile that had more light than warmth: “I have something up my sleeve–a qualification which I had hoped it would not be necessary to mention. A great military authority has given a simple recipe for being a good soldier: ‘Try always to get yourself killed.’ It is with that purpose that I wish to enter the service. I am not, perhaps, much of a patriot, but I wish to be dead.”

The Governor looked at him rather sharply, then a little coldly. “There is a simpler and franker way,” he said.

“In my family, sir,” was the reply, “we do not do that–no Armisted has ever done that.”

A long silence ensued and neither man looked at the other. Presently the Governor lifted his eyes from the pencil, which had resumed its tapping, and said:

“Who is she?”

“My wife.”

The Governor tossed the pencil into the desk, rose and walked two or three times across the room. Then he turned to Armisted, who also had risen, looked at him more coldly than before and said: “But the man– would it not be better that he–could not the country spare him better than it can spare you? Or are the Armisteds opposed to ‘the unwritten law’?”

The Armisteds, apparently, could feel an insult: the face of the younger man flushed, then paled, but he subdued himself to the service of his purpose.

“The man’s identity is unknown to me,” he said, calmly enough.

“Pardon me,” said the Governor, with even less of visible contrition than commonly underlies those words. After a moment’s reflection he added: “I shall send you to-morrow a captain’s commission in the Tenth Infantry, now at Nashville, Tennessee. Good night.”

“Good night, sir. I thank you.”

Left alone, the Governor remained for a time motionless, leaning against his desk. Presently he shrugged his shoulders as if throwing off a burden. “This is a bad business,” he said.

Seating himself at a reading-table before the fire, he took up the book nearest his hand, absently opening it. His eyes fell upon this sentence: