Back to the Index Page

 
 
 

A Pair of Stockings, From the Army

 

Kate was sitting by the window. I was sitting beside her. It may be well to state here that Kate was a young lady, and that I am a young gentleman. Kate had large, lustrous dark eyes, which just then were covered with fringed, drooping eyelashes. She had braids of dark hair wreathed around her head, a soft pink color in her cheeks, and a rosebud mouth, womanly, fresh, and lovely. Kate was clad in a pink muslin dress, with a tiny white ruffle around her white throat. She was armed with four steely needles, which were so many bright arrows that pierced my heart through and through. Over her fingers glided a small blue thread, which proceeded from the ball of yarn I held in my hand.

Kate was knitting a stocking, and surely, irrevocably she was taking me captive; already I felt myself entangled by those small threads.

We were the inmates of a boarding house. Kate was a new boarder. I had known her but a few weeks.

The evening was warm, and I took up a palm-leaf fan, and fanned her. She thanked me. I looked at her white hands, gliding in and out under the blue yarn; there were no rings on those fingers. I thought how nicely one would look upon that ring finger—a tiny gold circlet, with two hearts joined upon it, and on the inside two names written—hers and mine. Then I thought of Kate as my wife, always clad in a pink muslin dress, always with her hair in just such glossy braids, and knitting stockings to the end of time.

'Kate shall be my wife,' I said to myself, in rash pride, as I fanned her more energetically. I did not know that the way to a woman's heart was more intricate than a labyrinth; but I had the clue in the blue yarn which I held in my hand. I little knew what I undertook. Kate was shy as a wild deer, timid as a fawn, with an atmosphere of reserve about her which one could not well break through.

'For whom are you knitting those stockings, Miss Kate?' I asked.

'For a soldier, Mr. Armstrong,' she replied, her eye kindling with patriotism.

'If I will be one of the Home Guards, and stay and take care of you, will you knit me a pair?'

'Never. I feel abundantly able to take care of myself. I wish you would enlist, Mr. Armstrong. When you do, I will knit you a pair.'

'It would be almost worth the sacrifice,' I replied.

'Sacrifice! Would you sacrifice yourself for a pair of stockings? Have you not patriotism enough to offer yourself upon the altar of your country? If I were a man, I would enlist in a moment, though I had ten thousand a year, and a wife and seven children.'

I will confess to you, gentle reader, that I was not such a craven as I appeared. The fires of patriotism were smouldering in my bosom, and I needed only a spark from Kate's hand to light them into life and action. Kate rose and left the room, her cheek glowing with spirit, and I sat and fanned the chair where she had sat, for a few moments. It was too bad to break up the delicious tête-à-tête so soon.

I lingered in the parlor after the gas was lighted, but she did not come. I put on my hat, and went out. I would enlist. I had meant to do so all along. I had managed my business in reference to it—the only drawback was the thought of Kate. How pleasant it would be to remind her of her promise, and ask her for the stockings and herself with them! Visions of tender partings and interesting letters floated around me at the thought.

There was a meeting in Tremont Temple in aid of recruiting. Flags hung drooping from the ceiling, bands of music were in attendance in the galleries, and distinguished and eloquent speakers occupied the platform. I do not think their eloquence had much to do with my action, for I had resolved beforehand. I went forward at the close of the meeting, and signed my name to the roll as a Massachusetts volunteer. A pair of hands in the gallery began the thunder of applause that greeted the act. I looked up; Kate was there, clapping enthusiastically. But who was that tall fellow in uniform by her side, with a tremendous mustache, and eyes which flashed brighter than her own? He, then, was the soldier for whom she was knitting the stockings. The rest of the meeting was a blank to me.

I watched, and followed them to the door of the boarding house. I hid myself behind a lamp post, as they paused on the steps. She turned toward him, her face all aglow with feeling.

'Good by, Frank. Take good care of yourself. I'm glad to have you enlist, but so sorry to lose you,' and tears trembled in her eyes.

'Good by, Kate, darling; and after the war is over, I will come home and take care of my bird,' and he turned away.

'Stop Frank!'

'Well, birdie?'

'Those are not fit words to dismiss a soldier with. Here, I'll give you a watchword. Think of it, Frank:

“Never give up! though the grapeshot may rattle
  Or the thick thunder cloud over you burst, Stand like a rock! in the storm or the battle,
  Little shall harm you, though doing their worst!”

'Brave words, Kate. You deserve a kiss for them.' It was given. I turned away in desperation, and walked onward, not caring where I went. Policemen watched me, but the lateness of the hour made no difference to me. I could have walked all night. At length I came to a bridge. The moon was shining upon the rippling water. It looked cold and dark, except where the ripples were. There would be a plunge, and then the water would flow on over my head. Why not? I did not know I had loved her with such devotion. It was all over now. She belonged to another. My foot was on the rail. I thought then of the name I had signed to the roll. 'No, Jacob Armstrong, you have no right to take the life which you have given to your country.' I turned away toward my boarding place, full of bitterness and despair. A tiny glove was on the stairs. I picked it up and pressed it passionately to my lips, and cursed myself for the act as I threw it down again.

The days that followed were weary enough. I made arrangements for my departure with all possible speed. I avoided Kate, and was cold and haughty in my salutations. I am very dignified naturally. I can be an iceberg in human shape when I wish. One evening I went into the parlor before tea, and took up a newspaper. Kate came in. I put on my dignity, and tried to be interested in politics, though I could think of nothing but the dainty figure opposite, and the gleaming needles in her hands. I struggled with the passionate, bitter feelings that rose at the sight of her, and was calm and cold.

'I am glad you have enlisted, Mr. Armstrong, she said.

'Thank you,' I replied stiffly.

'I suppose you are very busy making preparations?'

'Very.'

'And you are going soon?'

'I hope so.'

Kate left the room. I wished she was back again a thousand times. How kind and shy she looked. If there was a gleam of hope—that tall fellow in uniform—no, she might stay away forever. And yet my heart gave a great leap as she appeared again.

'I want to show you a photograph, Mr. Armstrong,' she said, blushing and smiling. I took it. It was the officer in uniform, with the tremendous mustache and flashing eyes.

'It is my brother Frank. Does he look like me?'

I started as if I had been shot.

'Miss Kate, I want to take a walk now, and I should like some company. Will you go with me?'

'Hadn't we better have tea first?' she said, smiling. 'The bell has just rung.'

I do not know how that tea passed off, whether we had jumbles or muffins, whether I drank tea or cold water; but I knew that opposite me sat Kate, radiant in pink muslin, and when the interminable tea was over, we were going to take a walk together. I was thinking what I should say. I am generally a sociable and genial man, and it seems to me that on this particular evening I was assaulted with a storm of questions and remarks.

'Don't you think so, Mr. Armstrong?' asked the lady on my right, the lady on my left, and the gentleman in black at the end of the table. I aimed monosyllables at them promiscuously, and have at present no means of knowing whether they fitted the questions and remarks or not.

In the midst of a mental speech, I was vigorously assaulted by Mary, the table girl, and, looking about me in surprise, I caught a glimpse of the boardinghouse cat just disappearing through the door:

'And sure, Mr. Armstrong, yer must be blind. The blow was intended for the cat, and she had her paw in yer plate.'

Perhaps you do not know how pleasant it is to take a walk with a little gloved hand resting upon your arm, little feet keeping step with yours, and a soft voice chiming in with everything you say. I was happy on that particular night. We walked on the Common. The stars shone, and the long branches of the old elms swayed to and fro in the moonlight, as we passed under them. It was just the time and place that I liked.

'Miss Kate,' I began, 'in a few days I shall be far away from home and friends, amid danger and death, fighting the battles of my country. I have known you but a short time; but that time has been long enough to show me that I love you with my whole soul. I offer my hand and heart to you. May I not hope that you will sometimes think of the soldier—that I may carry your heart with me?'

'I think you may hope,' she replied, gently; 'but this is very sudden. I will give you a final answer to-morrow morning.'

When we got home, we went into the dining room, and I helped her to a glass of ice water, and hoped she would linger there a moment; but she was shy, and bade me a kind good night. I didn't know till the next morning what she was about the rest of the evening; when she met me on the stairs, placed a small parcel in my hands, saying:

'My answer, Mr. Armstrong,' and was off like a fawn.

I opened it, and saw the stockings, blue, and warm and soft. A note was stitched in the toe of one of them:

     MY DEAR FRIEND: I said I was knitting the stockings for a soldier.
     I began them, with a patriotic impulse, for no one in particular. I
     finished them last night, and knit loving thoughts of you in with
     every stitch, I have always liked you, but I do not think I should
     have given you my hand if you had not enlisted. I love you, but I
     love my country more. I give you the stockings. When you wear them,
     I hope you will sometimes think of her who fashioned them, and who
     gives herself to you with them. Yours, KATE.

I reverently folded the tiny note, after having committed it to memory, and repeated its contents to myself all the way to my office, beginning with 'Mr. Armstrong,' and ending with 'Yours, Kate.' I was in a state of extreme beatification. Kate was mine, noble girl! She loved me, and yet was willing to give me up for her country's cause. And I began to repeat the note to myself again, when, on a crossing, I was accosted by a biped, commonly known as a small boy:

'Mister, yer stocking is sticking out of yer pocket.'

I turned calmly around, and addressed him:

'Boy, I glory in those stockings. I am willing that the universe should behold them. My destiny is interwoven with them. Every stitch is instinct with life and love.'

'Don't see it, mister! Glory, hallelujah!' and he ended his speech by making an exclamation point of himself, by standing on his head—a very bad practice for small boys. I advise all precocious youngsters, who may read this article, to avoid such positions.

We broke camp, and started off in high spirits. I paraded through the streets with a bouquet of rosebuds on my bayonet. I found a note among them afterward, more fragrant than they.

When our regiment left Boston, it went from Battery Wharf. I went on board the Merrimac. Kate could not pass the lines, and stationed herself in a vessel opposite, where we could look at each other. I aimed a rosebud at her; it fell into the green water, and floated away. The second and third were more successful. She pressed one to her lips and threw it back again; the other she kept. Afterward, with the practical forethought which forms a part of her character, she bought out an apple woman, and stormed me with apples. The vessel left the wharf, and I looked back with eyes fast growing dim, and watched the figure on the dock, bravely waving her white handkerchief as long as I could see.

Well, it is hard for a man to leave home and friends, and all that he holds dear; but I do not regret it, though I have to rough it now. I am writing now beside a bivouac made of poles and cornstalks. My desk is a rude bench. I have just finished my dinner of salt junk and potatoes. On my feet is that pair of stockings. Profanity and almost every vice abounds; there are temptations all around me, but pure lips have promised to pray for me, and I feel that I shall be shielded and guarded, and kept uncontaminated, true to my 'north star,' which shines so brightly to me—true to my country and my God.

 
 
 

Back to the Index Page