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My Cousin The Colonel
by [?]

“Dear old boy!” I cried again. “Come along! I can see that you are nearly famished.”

“I’ve a right smart appetite, Thomas, there’s no mistake about that. If appetite were assets, I could invite a whole regiment to rations.”

I had thrust my hand under his arm, and was dragging him towards a small oyster shop, whose red balloon in a side street had caught my eye, when I suddenly remembered that it was imperative on me to be at the office at eight o’clock that morning, in order to prepare certain papers wanted by the president of the board, previous to a meeting of the directors. (I was at that time under-secretary of the Savonarola Fire Insurance Company.) The recollection of the business which had caused me to be on foot at this unusual hour brought me to a dead halt. I dropped my cousin’s arm, and stood looking at him helplessly. It seemed so inhospitable, not to say cold-blooded, to send him off to get his breakfast alone. Flagg misinterpreted my embarrassment.

“Of course,” he said, with a touch of dignity which pierced me through the bosom, “I do not wish to be taken to any place where I would disgrace you. I know how impossible I am. Yet this suit of clothes cost me twelve hundred dollars in Confederate scrip. These boots are not much to look at, but they were made by a scion of one of the first families of the South; I paid him two hundred dollars for them, and he was right glad to get it. To such miserable straits have Southern gentlemen been reduced by the vandals of the North. Perhaps you don’t like the Confederate gray?”

“Bother your boots and your clothes!” I cried. “Nobody will notice them here.” (Which was true enough, for in those days the land was strewed with shreds and patches of the war. The drivers and conductors of street cars wore overcoats made out of shoddy army blankets, and the dustmen went about in cast-off infantry caps.) “What troubles me is that I can’t wait to start you on your breakfast.”

“I reckon I don’t need much starting.”

I explained the situation to him, and suggested that instead of going to the restaurant, he should go directly to my house, and be served by Mrs. Wesley, to whom I would write a line on a leaf of my memorandum-book. I did not suggest this step in the first instance because the little oyster saloon, close at hand, had seemed to offer the shortest cut to my cousin’s relief.

“So you’re married?” said he.

“Yes–and you?”

“I haven’t taken any matrimony in mine.”

“I’ve been married six years, and have two boys.”

“No! How far is your house?” he inquired. “Will I have to take a caar?”

“A ‘caar’? Ah, yes–that is to say, no. A car isn’t worth while. You see that bakery two blocks from here, at the right? That’s on the corner of Clinton Place. You turn down there. You’ll notice in looking over what I’ve written to Mrs. Wesley that she is to furnish you with some clothes, such as are worn by–by vandals of the North in comfortable circumstances.”

“Tom Wesley, you are as good as a straight flush. If you ever come down South, when this cruel war is over, our people will treat you like one of the crowned heads–only a devilish sight better, for the crowned heads rather went back on us. If England had recognized the Southern Confederacy”–

“Never mind that; your tenderloin steak is cooling.”

“Don’t mention it! I go. But I say, Tom–Mrs. Wesley? Really, I am hardly presentable. Are there other ladies around?”

“There’s no one but Mrs. Wesley.”

“Do you think I can count on her being glad to see me at such short notice?”

“She will be a sister to you,” I said warmly.

“Well, I reckon that you two are a pair of trumps. Au revoir! Be good to yourself.”

With this, my cousin strode off, tucking my note to Mrs. Wesley inside the leather belt buckled tightly around his waist. I lingered a moment on the curbstone, and looked after him with a sensation of mingled pride, amusement, and curiosity. That was my Family; there it was, in that broad back and those not ungraceful legs, striding up Sixth Avenue, with its noble intellect intent on thoughts of breakfast. I was thankful that it had not been written in the book of fate that this limb of the closely pruned Wesley tree should be lopped off by the sword of war. But as Washington Flagg turned into Clinton Place, I had a misgiving. It was hardly to be expected that a person of his temperament, fresh from a four years’ desperate struggle and a disastrous defeat, would refrain from expressing his views on the subject. That those views would be somewhat lurid, I was convinced by the phrases which he had dropped here and there in the course of our conversation. He was, to all intents and purposes, a Southerner. He had been a colonel in Stonewall Jackson’s brigade. And Mrs. Wesley was such an uncompromising patriot! It was in the blood. Her great-grandfather, on the mother’s side, had frozen to death at Valley Forge in the winter of 1778, and her grandfather, on the paternal side, had had his head taken off by a round-shot from his Majesty’s sloop of war Porpoise in 1812. I believe that Mrs. Wesley would have applied for a divorce from me if I had not served a year in the army at the beginning of the war.