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The Blue and the Gray
by [?]

“DON’T bring him in here; every corner is full,” said the nurse, eying with dismay the gaunt figure lying on the stretcher in the doorway.

“Where shall we put him, then? They can’t have him in either of the other wards on this floor. He’s ordered up here, and here he must stay, if he’s put in the hall, poor devil!” said the foremost bearer, looking around the crowded room in despair.

The nurse’s eye followed his, and both saw a thin hand beckoning from the end of the long ward.

“It’s Murry; I’ll see what he wants;” and Miss Mercy went to him with her quick, noiseless step, and the smile her grave face always wore for him.

“There’s room here, if you turn my bed ’round, you see. Don’t let them leave him in the hall,” said Murry, lifting his great eyes to hers, brilliant with the fever burning his strength away, and pathetic with the silent protest of life against death.

“It’s like you to think of it; he’s a rebel,” began Miss Mercy.

“So much more reason to take him in. I don’t mind having him here; but it will distress me dreadfully to know that any poor soul was turned away, from the comfort of this ward especially.”

The look he gave her made the words an eloquent compliment, and his pity for a fallen enemy reproached her for her own lack of it. Her face softened as she nodded, and glanced about the recess.

“You will have the light in your eyes, and only the little table between you and a very disagreeable neighbor,” she said.

“I can shut my eyes if the light troubles them; I’ve nothing else to do now,” he answered, with a faint laugh.”I was too comfortable before; I’d more than my share of luxuries; so bring him along, and it will be all right.”

The order was given, and, after a brief bustle, the two narrow beds stood side by side in the recess under the organ-loft, for the hospital had been a church. Left alone for a moment, the two men eyed each other silently. Murry saw a tall, sallow man, with fierce black eyes, wild hair and beard, and a thin-lipped, cruel mouth. A ragged gray uniform was visible under the blanket thrown over him; and in strange contrast to the squalor of his dress, and the neglect of his person, was the diamond ring that shone on his unwounded hand. The right arm was bound up, the right leg amputated at the knee; and, though the man’s face was white and haggard with suffering, not a sound escaped him as he lay with his eyes fixed half defiantly upon his neighbor.

John Clay, the new-comer, saw opposite him a small, wasted figure, and a plain face; yet both face and figure were singularly attractive, for suffering seemed to have refined away all the grosser elements, and left the spiritual very visible through that frail tenement of flesh. Pale-brown hair streaked the hollow temples and white forehead. A deep color burned in the thin cheeks still tanned by the wind and weather of a long campaign. The mouth was grave and sweet, and in the gray eyes lay an infinite patience touched with melancholy. He wore a dressing-gown, but across his feet lay a faded coat of army-blue. As the other watched him, he saw a shadow pass across his tranquil face, and for a moment he laid his wasted hand over the eyes that had been so full of pity. Then he gently pushed a mug of fresh water, and the last of a bunch of grapes, toward the exhausted rebel, saying, in a cordial tone, “You look faint and thirsty; have ’em.”

Clay’s lips were parched, and his hand went involuntarily toward the cup; but he caught it back, and, leaning forward, asked, in a shrill whisper, “Where are you hurt?”

“A shot in the side,” answered Murry, visibly surprised at the man’s manner.

“What battle?”

“The Wilderness.”

“Is it bad?”

“I’m dying of wound-fever; there’s no hope, they say.”

That reply, so simple, so serenely given, would have touched almost any hearer; but Clay smiled grimly, and lay down as if satisfied, with his one hand clenched, and an exulting glitter in his eyes, muttering to himself, “The loss of my leg comes easier after hearing that.”