A young soldier on furlough passed through the streets of Columbia on the 26th of January, 1865. When he reached the State House, he entered the open portals, and, mounting the stairs, passed into the Hall of Representatives. The midday sun streams in through the red-draped windows. In front of the entrance is the Speaker’s desk, canopied with gray moss; the delicate tendrils over-hang it, and give a fairy lightness to the structure, increased by garlands of evergreens, flowers and vines which decorate the white pillars by which it is upheld. From among these shine out, in letters of gold:
“A tribute to our sick and wounded soldiers.”
From this center extended a half-circle of booths, each marked by the shield of one of the Confederate States, the lady in charge being, in most instances, from the State designated. Each held equal rights, and exercised her own ingenuity in making the booth attractive. The variety was wonderful green garlands everywhere; the rich embroidery of a white crepe shawl, caught in with tiny Confederate flags, which had run the blockade; groups of gaily dressed dolls which, on inspection, proved to be of cloth or paste-board in tissue paper; flowers closely watched in the garden till they opened their hearts to serve the soldier.
But, besides many make-ups, there were many articles of intrinsic value. Much had been received from over the waters; and much had been sent from depleted stores of households where there was ever willingness to spare a blanket, some yards of calico or flannel, a pair of shoes, home-knit socks and stockings, and homespun.
As the young soldier glanced around that semi-circle, he recognized, among the cheery matrons and girls, many whom he knew to be bereft of home and fortune. Columbia had been for some time the city of refuge for the women and children of other States which had been subjected to the horrors of war. Elegance of bearing in plainest of attire there was in plenty in this assemblage in the State House of South Carolina. There was youth, beauty, joyous laughter, fuss, feathers, and fun.
Our soldier, Frank Elden, sees his Cousin Nellie coming across the hall, with her hands full of small wares and strips of colored ribbons; he draws away from her sight as she nears the Virginia table, next to which he stands, under the gallery.
“See!” she says to the starry-eyed matron in charge, “I’ve succeeded; give me the book to make an entry. Here are four pen-knives, two four-bladed knives, ten papers of pins now this box of hairpins must be divided up, six in a parcel and oh! Mrs. Chesnut, look at these sugarplums! Only one box. Aren’t they lovely I Two almonds and two creams, to be tied in the papers stamped with the Confederate flag, did you say was enough? My gracious!” she exclaimed, as she lifted the dainty bits from their nest.” ‘Tis like drawing her eye-teeth to get these blockade goods from Mrs. Snowden.”
Mrs. Chesnut laughs. “Virginia appreciates the spirit that resigns individual rights when a common interest demands it; so go and ask Mrs. Snowden if she wants some eggs. The supply from Camden is more than I need.”
Nellie leaves the booth as Frank puts himself in range of her vision. She comes rushing toward him with a glad cry. His first inquiry is: “Where is Alice?”
“Oh, you can’t see her just now. She is in the Louisiana restaurant, giving breakfast to the officers who are on their way to Beauregard; they have only till the next train leaves, and Mrs. Slocum has put Alice and one of the Goodwyn girls to serve them.”
“How long do you suppose that breakfast will last, Nell?”
“As long as they will eat. The length of time depends upon their capacity. They have been living on rancid bacon and moldy hardtack for weeks, and on nothing at all for the last twenty-four hours. That is the kind we love to serve, and see them enjoy the best we have. And how they rave over real coffee!”
She leaves him to deliver Mrs. Chesnut’s message. On her return Frank says: “Nellie, that last letter of yours played the mischief with my peace of mind; till Alice’s letter set all straight, I was jealous enough to have killed Harry Heyward.”
They saunter around the hall, pausing at the booths as Nell points out distinctive features in each. “See this baby house; isn’t it beautiful? The handiwork of Dr. Julian Chisolm; as skilful in making doll furniture as he is at the Wayside Hospital, healing wounds.” Frank tries to keep up with the keen interest of his cousin, but he is longing for the moment when Alice’s guests shall be seated. “You haven’t seen the crepe shawl given to the bazaar by Mrs. Joe Johnston. We had a live calf given to our table; as we can’t serve it whole, we mean to raffle it. Won’t you take a chance?”
Their course is frequently broken into by the girls who flit about, robin redbreasts, with white caps. They give Frank joyous greeting, and make him take chances on baby dresses, berry spoons, and grabs from bags, which bring up horns of popcorn and peanut candy; but one grab brings him recompense; he recognizes the tobacco bag as a piece of one of Alice’s well-remembered silk gowns. Reaching the booth on the right of the Speaker’s desk, Nellie pauses and says: ”No woman here ever passes this spot without paying homage to those Paris bonnets. All admire, but none buy. What could we do with that lovely pink velvet, or that blue, with ostrich plumes, gowned, as we are, in calico, homespun or woolens of four years’ wear?”
While inspecting the bonnets, Frank and Nell overheard a warm discussion between the lady of this and the matron of the adjoining booth. Designating the spot with a majestic sweep of the hand, the first said: “Indeed, this space is not common property. Louisiana is taking more than belongs to her.” “That is as it ought to be,” answered the Louisiana lady, standing on her border with arms full of bundles, ready to be lodged on the disputed territory, “when she has more than Carolina has to show; said Carolina being dreadfully stuck up with Paris bonnets and blockade goods! She does just what she pleases to, anyway.”
Louisiana withdraws into her boundaries, but not before the South Carolina lady remarks: “Well, South Carolina didn’t choose any of the best places, and if she does choose to be stuck up in a corner, she doesn’t intend to be hemmed in, and if you don’t infringe upon her rights she will never meddle with yours.”
Nell enjoys the spat between her elders, and answers to Frank’s question: “What part do you take in this affair?” “Everything by turns. I pick up news mostly for the ‘Night Blooming Cereus,’ the bazaar paper published by Virginia. Tonight I’ll have in it that funny dispute on States’ rights.”
Suddenly turning, Frank meets the stare of a great wax doll. “Why, Nell! Where did this come from? All the finery of the country seems collected on this child.” “A wonderful doll! I would be envious of its silk and lace if not so grateful for its safe arrival. It braved the whole United States fleet, and the swamp angel besides, to be present at the bazaar.”
Familiar voices call his attention. In the doorway of a committee room stand two sisters Mrs. Isabella and Mrs. Amie Snowden. They take each a hand of the young soldier, and he stands linked with the genius that brought forth the bazaar. The younger lady “Miss Amie,” as everybody called her from her girlhood had taken part in works of charity and patriotism. Among the very last to serve the Confederate soldier, her voice was the first raised after the war in behalf of a home for Confederate widows and orphans.
“Now, Bella,” said Miss Amie to her sister, “be sure you give Frank a cup of Mrs. Huger’s cafe au lait made by her own hands, Frank, in the very coffee pot Mr. Huger brought years ago from France.” Then she reads a number of notes handed to her. “Oh, my! how am I to manage everything? Here, Bella, is a letter about those Calhoun bonds that I have sewed in the lining of my frock, and another to say there is a trunk from Liverpool in Charleston awaiting my orders; and Dr. Chisolm wants brands; and there is a box of eggs at the Greenville depot and two muttons at the other. I’ll take Mrs. Singleton’s carriage but, Nell, you girls must eat. Eat chicken salad, if you can cut around Ellen Elmore. She is at the Texas table, but Carolina feeds from Texas, and she won’t let you girls have it if the supply is low.”
Nell finds Alice and secures an interview for her cousin. Leaving them, she encounters the gaze of a handsome man, whose figure is well set off by a new uniform. He accosts her abruptly: “The bazaar seems little patronized by military men.”
“Of course not; they are at the front, which I judge you have not visited lately,” looking at his fresh uniform.
“Perhaps not; I have been walking the streets of your beautiful city for some days, and I’ll not forget its handsomest residences.”
“It is lovely; I wish we could entertain visitors as we used to.”
“Yes, I’ve heard of Columbia’s hospitality, and some day I shall partake of it. Now my friends here are few, but in a short time I shall have lots of them.”
“In Hampton’s command, I suppose?” He did not answer, but is deeply interested in all that she tells him of the city, its prominent people and their homes. Nell has forgotten her suspicions of his being a sneak or a quartermaster, when they return in full force with his next words:
“This gayety is ill-timed. It is like Nero fiddling while Rome was burning.”
“We have smiles for our men; our tears are for ourselves.”
“Your self-control is wonderful,” he replied, sneeringly, “when you know that the Confederacy is at its last gasp, and Sherman is almost here.”
Nell flashes her eyes upon him. “Thinking this, your duty is outside of the city, to guard it.”
A cynical expression passed over his countenance. “My duty is here, though it subjects me to the sharpness of a woman’s tongue.”
Anger leaps into her eyes. “And to being taken for a well-whipped man, or perhaps a spy.”
His face turned white, and he hurried away. She saw him several times talking with Eugenia Goodwyn, after which the mysterious stranger was not seen again in the State House bazaar.
Several days later, a New York Herald, which came by underground railway, was received in Columbia. It contained a graphic description of the bazaar, and among the beauties was mentioned Eugenia Goodwyn and her glossy curls.
The 17th of February, Sherman was in Columbia.