An Affair Of Outposts
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 surpriseyou 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, butthere was a touch of irony in his mannerwell, 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. Ive known you a long time andpardon meI dont 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 sleevea 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 thatno 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?
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 manwould it not be better that hecould 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 mans identity is unknown to me, he said, calmly enough.
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