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My Cousin The Colonel
by [?]

I stood curiously alone in the world. My father died before I was born, and my mother shortly afterwards. I had neither brother nor sister. Indeed, I never had any near relatives except a grandfather until my sons came along. Mrs. Wesley, when I married her, was not merely an only child, but an orphan. Fate denied me even a mother-in-law. I had one uncle and one cousin. The former I do not remember ever to have seen, and my association with the latter, as has been stated, was of a most limited order. Perhaps I should have had less sentiment about family ties if I had had more of them. As it was, Washington Flagg occupied the position of sole kinsman, always excepting the little Wesleys, and I was as glad to see him that May morning in his poverty as if he had come to me loaded with the title-deeds of those vast estates which our ancestors (I wonder that I was allowed any ancestors: why wasn’t I created at once out of some stray scrap of protoplasm?) were supposed to have held in the colonial period. As I gazed upon Washington Flagg I thrilled with the sense that I was gazing upon the materialization in a concrete form of all the ghostly brothers and sisters and nephews and nieces which I had never had.

“Dear old boy!” I exclaimed, in my turn, holding on to his hand as if I were afraid that I was going to lose him again for another twenty years. “Bless my stars! where did you come from?”

“From Dixie’s Land,” he said, with a laugh. “‘Way down in Dixie.”

In a few words, and with a picturesqueness of phrase in which I noted a rich Southern flavor, he explained the phenomenon of his presence in New York. After Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court-House, my cousin had managed to reach Washington, where he was fortunate enough to get a free pass to Baltimore. He had nearly starved to death in making his way out of Virginia. To quote his words, “The wind that is supposed to be tempered expressly for shorn lambs was not blowing very heavily about that time.” At Baltimore he fell in with a former Mobile acquaintance, from whom he borrowed a sum sufficient to pay the fare to New York–a humiliating necessity, as my cousin remarked, for a man who had been a colonel in Stonewall Jackson’s brigade. Flagg had reached the city before daybreak, and had wandered for hours along the water-front, waiting for some place to open, in order that he might look up my address in the Directory, if I were still in the land of the living. He had had what he described as an antediluvian sandwich the previous day at two o’clock, since which banquet no food had passed his lips.

“And I’ll be hanged,” he said, “if the first shop that took down its shutters wasn’t a restaurant, with a cursed rib of roast beef, flanked with celery, and a ham in curl-papers staring at me through the window- pane. A little tin sign, with ‘Meals at All Hours’ painted on it–what did they want to go and do that for?–knocked the breath clean out of me. I gave one look, and ploughed up the street, for if I had stayed fifteen seconds longer in front of that plate-glass, I reckon I would have burst it in. Well, I put distance between me and temptation, and by and by I came to a newspaper office, where I cornered a Directory. I was on the way to your house when we collided; and now, Tom Wesley, for heaven’s sake introduce me to something to eat. There is no false pride about me; I’d shake hands with a bone.”

The moisture was ready to gather in my eyes, and for a second or two I was unable to manage my voice. Here was my only kinsman on the verge of collapse–one miserable sandwich, like a thin plank, between him and destruction. My own plenteous though hasty morning meal turned into reproachful lead within me.