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MY GHOST


At a late "camp fire" of one of the army posts in New York, a number of veterans sat smoking and exchanging reminiscences. Two of them had worn the gray, and, therefore, were welcomed as warmly as they would have welcomed those who had worn the blue, had the situations been reversed. Brave men know how to respect and love one another.

It was Justice Wetmore of the Supreme Court who related the following remarkable experience:

"I have heard the remark made, more than once, that one of the pleasures of trying to kill all your fellow-beings possible in battle is the doubt whether you ever succeed in killing any one at all. You bang away as long as the thing last, but you don't know, even after firing a hundred rounds, whether you have harmed a hair on the head of a mortal. My reply to that remark is that I have positive knowledge that at Bull Run I dropped a Confederate and he never rose again."

The two comrades who had worn the gray were interested at once, as were the others, and asked for the particulars.

"You shall have them, for I'm in for it. I was the champion sprinter at Princeton, and if any one had any doubt of my ability in that line it would have been dissipated by my success at Bull Run. I was one of the first to strike a bee line for Washington. I knew the road well, and passed every one, streaking it for the national capital. The fugitives - and there were several of them - were so absorbed in getting away from the battlefield that they wouldn't clear the road in front of me, but I flanked all such and held the lead with little effort.

"I had no more than fairly gotten under way when I discovered that a long, lank fellow in gray was after me. That there might be no mistake as to his intentions, he shouted as he bore down upon me like a race horse: 'You're my meat, Yank!' No mistake, he knew how to run, but he couldn't do more than hold his own without gaining on me.

"That July Sunday was a scorcher, and the Johnnies made it still hotter for us. Since my gun was only an encumbrance, I flung it away, and my coat, knapsack and other extras went after it. When my cap fell off, I didn't think I had time to pick it up, for all my efforts were needed in getting over the ground.

"I have always suspected that the Johnnies had arranged relays against me in that chase. When I had run about a mile, and looked over my shoulder, I was sure my pursuer was a head taller than the one who started after me. He looked much the same, except in height and the ferocity of expression: that had become more emphatic. At the end of the second mile, another hasty inspection of my enemy showed a similarity of looks except he was taller than the others. I fancied, too, that his cast of countenance had become more determined, so to speak.

"You will admit that it was hardly fair to ring in a relay like that when I was doing my best. At the end of the tenth mile, or thereabouts, the last relay began drawing tip on me, and I had to put on an extra spurt that amazed all who witnessed it. Looking back, I saw the Confederate stagger; he took several wobbling steps, his knees knocked together, his tongue hung out and he groaned. Then he plunged forward on his face and never got up again. I had killed him by compelling him to put forth such terrific exertions that he couldn't stand it and collapsed. So you see there was never any earthly doubt that I had caused the death of one of our impetuous Southern brothers."

"What followed?" asked one of the smiling ex-Confederates.

"I have shown how I acquired full headway. I put on the brakes, but couldn't slow down enough to stop until several miles north of Washington. Then I managed to drop to a walk, and finally came to a full halt within the city limits of Baltimore."

When Comrade Wetmore had smoked a few minutes longer he resumed in a grave voice:

"Perhaps I exaggerated a little in telling the last incident, but that which I have to relate now is strictly true and of an altogether different nature. When the war ended one million consumers were turned into as many producers, and you do not need to be reminded that they had to hustle during the first few years of peace. I secured an engagement with a large mercantile house in New York and was sent on the road to extend its trade. My intention all along was to secure enough funds to resume my study of law. My four years of outdoor life made me impatient of restraint, and I enjoyed getting out on the road and meeting so many old army friends, including those who had once been enemies. I had reenlisted after Bull Run, and went through the war till the final shaking of hands all round at Appomattox. I hadn't received a scratch, though I stayed with the Army of the Potomac and took part in all its battles. I became a captain, and when I laid off my uniform had stored up a reserve of strength and health which has stayed with me ever since.

"One autumn a lengthy trip was arranged for me by the house. I was to go to St. Louis, attend to some business matters there, and afterward visit the Southwest. San Antonio, Texas, was the farthest point, with a goodly number of towns at which to stop on the way, going and coming. I spent a week in St. Louis, and then set out over the Iron Mountain Railway, then broad gauge, for Texas. It had a miserable track in those days. The bed was poor, and we lost time steadily between the widely separated stations. I have often looked out of the last car at the rails and noted the ribbons of metal and the depressions, which made us bound and sway and jolt, as if we were going over a corduroy road. At your ablutions in the morning you had to brace yourself, and were then liable to be pitched over on your head. I can well believe the remark of the testy old gentleman, who had tried in vain for a long time to read his newspaper. Finally the car left the rails and began bumping over the ties. 'Thank heaven,' said he, 'I can now read with comfort.'

"From some cause, our train was held up for an hour at Jeffersonville. I was walking up and down the platform to stretch my legs when a bright, handsome young fellow glanced at the Masonic charm on my watch chain and with a smile remarked:

"'My friend, you carry good credentials.'

"I was attracted by his appearance and manner. Finding that he was a brother, we affiliated right off. He had been riding in the ordinary day coach, but I took him with me into the smoking compartment of my sleeper, and we spent several hours delightfully. He had been through the war, had been a cadet of General Sherman at the Louisiana Military Institute, had lost a brother at Vicksburg, and was twice captured, escaping both times with the help of some Masonic friends among the Unionists, for he had joined the order soon after the war began.

"During our chat and exchange of experiences we had one attentive but silent listener. Others came and went, but this man stayed throughout, smoking nervously and listening to every word. I took him for another ex-Confederate, but he was older than either Colonel Thomson, my new friend, or myself. He was dressed in gray, wore a slouch hat, and had a full dark beard. His eyes were keen and penetrating and he had a way of looking intently at me that would have been disconcerting had I not been so much interested in my new friend. Even when Colonel Thomson was talking the attention of this man seemed to be centered in me. I was annoyed; but tried to ignore his discourtesy.

"At Marshall, Colonel Thomson and I were obliged to separate. I was going westward, while he was on his way to Shreveport. He urged me to accompany him, to cast business aside for a week or two; but I was forced to refuse. I am glad to say, however, that we have met several times since, and the acquaintance, begun so pleasantly, has been kept up ever since.

"When we were taking a parting drink of 'pine knot' at Marshall, and were about to shake hands, Colonel Thomson asked: 'Did you notice that man in the smoking compartment in the slouch hat and with the big whiskers?'

"'I did; he seemed to show a special interest in me.'

"'Well, I wish to warn you against him.'

"'Why?'

"'He is following you.'

"'What makes you think so?'

"'I noticed his manner in the car; a few minutes ago he slipped up to me on the platform and asked me if I knew your name? I replied that I did, but it was none of his business. I didn't like his manner. He then wanted to know if you hadn't been a Federal captain in the war, and if your name wasn't Wetmore. You see, he got it right somehow. I lost my temper and ordered him not to speak to me again. He muttered something which I didn't catch and walked away. He is after you for some cause; he means you harm; be on your guard and don't let him get the drop on you. Good-by, my brother, till we meet again.'

"From that time forward the bearded stranger haunted me. He had probably learned my destination from our conversation, but at every station where I seized the chance for a little exercise he also paced up and down the platform. We continually met, and again and again I encountered those gray eyes, that seemed to pierce me through. He never spoke a word. Once, when I had become wrought up by his eternal shadowing, I confronted him, determined to demand an explanation, but he turned abruptly away.

'All night,' I said to myself, 'I shall take care that you don't get the best of me.'

"Thus it went until I left the train at one of the Texan towns for a stay of several days. My shadow and I rode to the hotel together. After I had registered he did the same without apparently noticing my signature, though I know he read it. He went to his room, which happened to be one floor below mine. When I had washed up it was about the middle of the afternoon, and I started out to make a few business calls. Glancing back, I saw him following a block to the rear.
Coming Out of the store first visited, after a stay of an hour or so, he was waiting on the other side of the street. He kept up his espionage, and that night at dinner sat behind me at another table.

"By that time he had gotten onto my nerves. I didn't know how to shake him off, and I was too angered to attempt to address him again. For days I had been trying to recall any incident of army life that would explain his persistent dogging of my footsteps. I couldn't for the life of me think of anything of that nature.

"That night I was so wrought up that I kept in my room, reading and smoking until a late hour, when I lay down to try to sleep. It must have been midnight before I shut my eyes. I first carefully locked and bolted my door, and laid my loaded revolver under my pillow. My belief was that the man had not yet found the opportunity he was seeking. If he entered my room and caught me unprepared it would be easy to kill me and then slip away before his crime was discovered.

"I was in the midst of an uneasy, restless sleep when I was roused by a slight noise. I had turned down the gas, but instantly sat bolt upright, instinctively snatching my weapon from under the pillow.

"There he was, standing at the foot of my bed and scowling at me. He did not speak, but his appearance and manner said 'I've got you where I want you! Our account will now be settled!'

"With hardly a second's pause, I aimed straight at him and let fly. Then I leaped out of bed and made for him, pistol in hand. But he wasn't there! I turned up the gas and stared around. The room was empty, except as regarded myself. The lock and fastenings of the door had not been disturbed.

"I knew what it meant. My overwrought nerves had given away. I was deceived by a phantasm and was on the edge of total collapse. Fortunately, the report of my revolver was so muffled that it attracted no attention, but the remaining hours of night were horrible. I could not sleep, I shivered and trembled and finally broke down and wept like a child. I was in urgent need of medical attention and determined to secure it on the morrow.

"The landlord gave me the name of the foremost physician in the town, and I sought him out. He was Dr. Haskell, and not only was mayor of the town, but Master of the Masonic lodge. He had served as a surgeon in Lee's army, and was one of the finest gentlemen I ever met. He listened with keen interest to my story.

'Of course you recognize that it is a case of nerves,' he said pleasantly, 'but I'm sure we can soon set you right. You tell me you have no recollection of this man until you saw him on your journey to Texas?'

"'I never so much as heard of him.'

'Evidently a case of mistaken identity; he takes you for some one against whom he has a grievance; we must manage to set him right. Do you know his name?'

"'He registered as "J. J. Fanning," of Augusta, Ga.'

"The doctor started.

'Describe him.' "I did so.

"Dr. Haskell prescribed a sedative and to my astonishment said:

"'Go back to your hotel, sleep for a few hours (your medicine will enable you to do that), and at three o'clock you will receive a call; don't ask me anything, but do as directed.'

"Wondering and perplexed, I followed orders. The powders which I took induced refreshing slumber. When I awoke I glanced at my watch and saw that it was three o'clock to the minute. I had scarcely noticed the fact when there was a knock. I sprang from my bed, turned the key and opened the door.

"And then you might have knocked me down with a feather. J. J. Fanning, my ghost, stood before me. I was so dumfounded that I could only stammer, as I reflected that my revolver was in the pocket of my coat which I had laid over a chair, 'What do you want?'

"'A few words with you, Brother Wetmore; may I come in?'

"And with the air of a Chesterfield he stepped across the threshold, hat in hand, and sat down in a chair.

"'Have no misgiving, Brother Wetmore,' he added in the same pleasant manner; 'I confess I did have evil intentions toward you; you once did me a great wrong, but I have learned that you are a brother Mason and that fact closes the feud.'

"'Who told you I am a Mason?' I asked, when able to command my words.

"'I visited the lodge in this town last night and made the acquaintance of Worshipful Master Haskell.'

'But I never met him until today.'

"'He received a letter from your employers in New York a few days ago, in which they, or rather the head of your firm, who is an old friend of Worshipful Master Haskell, mentioned that you belonged to the order and would soon visit this place. I had a talk with the Master after the meeting and asked about you, not knowing that he had ever heard of you. He told me what I have just stated. I said no more, for I was thrown into a state of perplexity and was undecided as to what I should do. This noon the Master sent me a note insisting that I should call upon you at three o'clock this afternoon. He said it was my duty as a brother Mason, and here I am.'

"'I have known of your persistent dogging of me,' I said, having pulled myself together, 'and have been warned against you. I was prepared to shoot you on the first demonstration on your part, and I am prepared to do so this minute. But, before going further, I demand that you tell me what wrong I ever did you, whom I never saw until a few days ago.'

"'Very well; you were formerly Captain Wetmore, of the Federal army?'

"'I was.'

"'On Sherman's march from Atlanta to Savannah he burned and destroyed right and left.'

'That cannot be denied.'

"'He perpetrated many outrages, but as he truthfully declared that war is "hell," no special blame belongs to him. My paternal home lay in his path; it was burned to ashes; that, too, was only one instance of similar ones by both sides, and is not to be laid up against him. But a small brother of mine, only ten years old, while trying to save a pet pony from capture was shot to death by a Federal captain.'

'It was an infamous crime!' I exclaimed; 'I hope he was punished as he deserved by his superiors.'

"'He was not; I took upon myself the duty; the name of the Federal captain, as I succeeded in learning after much trouble, was Captain Wetmore, of the New York. You understand now why I have persistently followed you all the way from St. Louis, on the watch for a chance to shoot you?'

"I was thunderstruck. All was now clear to me.

"'Brother Fanning, you have my profoundest sympathy.

I give you my Masonic word that I was never connected with General Sherman's command; I was with the Army of the Potomac from its organization to Appomattox; I never set foot in Georgia.'

"'Is that true?' demanded my visitor, starting from his "'As true as that I am talking with you this minute. My name is not a very common nor a very uncommon one. What were the initials of the other Captain Wetmore?'

'I never learned, nor did I try to learn. I simply found out his surname and that of the regiment to which he belonged. I need not tell you the unspeakable relief it is to know the truth, Brother Wetmore.'

"And we clasped hands."


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