"The first pilgrimage of my convalescence is to your bower, my gentle nurse. I have come to thank you for more kindness than I can ever repay, except with grateful thoughts."
She had risen when she became aware of his presence; and when she resumed her seat, it seemed with hesitation, and almost an effort, as if two impulses were struggling within her. But her pleasure to see him abroad again was too hearty to be checked, and she timidly gave him the hand which his extended palm invited to a friendly grasp.
"Indeed, Mr. Wayne, I am very glad to see you so far recovered."
"To your kind offices chiefly I owe it, and those of my good friends, your brother and Harold, and our excellent Miss Randolph. My sick-room has been the test of so much friendship, that I could almost be sinful enough to regret the returning health which makes me no longer a dependent on your care. But you are pale, Miss Weems. Or is it that my eyes are unused to this broad daylight? Indeed, I trust you are not ill?"
"Oh, no, I am quite well," she answered; but it was with an involuntary sigh that was in contrast with the words. "But you are not strong yet, Mr. Wayne, and I must not let you linger too long in the fresh morning air. We had best go in under shelter of the veranda."
She arose, and would have led the way, but he detained her gently with a light touch upon her sleeve.
"Stay one moment, I pray you. I seem to breathe new life with this pure air, and the perfume of these bowers awakens within me an inexpressible and calm delight. I shall be all the better for one tranquil hour with nature in bloom, if you, like the guardian nymph of these floral treasures, will sit beside me."
He drew her gently back into the seat, and looked long and earnestly upon her face. She felt his gaze, but dared not return it, and her fair head drooped like a flower that bends beneath the glance of a scorching sun.
"Miss Weems," he said at last, but his voice was so low and tremulous that it scarce rose above the rustle of the swinging willow boughs, "you are soon to be a bride, and in your path the kind Destinies will shower blessings. When they wreathe the orange blossoms in your hair, and you are led to the altar by the hand to which you must cling for life, if I should not be there to wish you joy, you will not deem, will you, that I am less your friend?"
The fair head drooping yet lower was her only answer.
"And when you shall be the mistress of a home where Content will be shrined, the companion of your virtues, and over your threshold many friends shall be welcomed, if I should never sit beside your hearthstone, you will not, will you, believe that I have forgotten, or that I could forget?"
Still lower the fair head drooped, but she answered only with a falling tear.
"I told you the other day that we should be strangers through life, and why, I must not tell, although perhaps your woman's heart may whisper, and yet not condemn me for that which, Heaven knows, I have struggled against—alas, in vain! Do not turn from me. I would not breathe a word to you that in all honor you should not hear, although my heart seems bursting with its longing, and I would yield my soul with rapture from its frail casket, for but one moment's right to give its secret wings. I will bid you farewell to-morrow"—
"Yes, the doctor says that the sea air will do me good, and an occasion offers to-morrow which I shall embrace. It will be like setting forth upon a journey through endless solitudes, where my only companions will be a memory and a sorrow."
He paused a while, but continued with an effort at composure.
"Our hearts are tyrants to us, Miss Weems, and will not, sometimes, be tutored into silence. I see that I have moved, but I trust not offended you."
"You have not offended," she murmured, but in so low a tone that perhaps the words were lost in the faint moan of the swaying foliage.
"What I have said," he continued earnestly, and taking her hand with a gentle but respectful pressure, "has been spoken as one who is dying speaks with his fleeting breath; for evermore my lips shall be shackled against my heart, and the past shall be sealed and avoided as a forbidden theme. We are, then, good friends at parting, are we not?"
"And, believe me, I shall be happiest when I think that you are happy—for you will be happy."
She sighed so deeply that the words were checked upon his lips, as if some new emotion had turned the current of his thought.
"Are you not happy?"
The tears that, in spite of her endeavor, burst from beneath the downcast lids, answered him as words could not have done. He was agitated and unnerved, and, leaning his brow against his hand, remained silent while she wept.
"Harold is a noble fellow," he said at last, after a long silence, and when she had grown calmer, "and deserves to be loved as I am sure you love him."
"Oh, he has a noble heart, and I would die rather than cause him pain."
"And you love him?"
"I thought I loved him."
The words were faint—hardly more than a breath upon her lips; but he heard them, and his heart grew big with an undefined awe, as if some vague danger were looming among the shadows of his destiny. Oriana turned to him suddenly, and clasped his hand within her trembling fingers.
"Oh, Mr. Wayne! you must go, and never see me more. I am standing on the brink of an abyss, and my heart bids me leap. I see the danger, and, oh God! I have prayed for power to shun it. But Arthur, Arthur, if you do not help me, I am lost. You are a man, an honest man, an honorable man, who will not wrong your friend, or tempt the woman that cannot love you without sin. Oh, save me from myself—from you—from the cruel wrong that I could even dream of against him to whom I have sworn my woman's faith. I am a child in your hands, Arthur, and in the face of the reproaching Providence above me, I feel—I feel that I am at your mercy. I feel that what you speak I must listen to; that should you bid me stand beside you at the altar, I should not have courage to refuse. I feel, oh God! Arthur, that I love you, and am betrothed to Harold. But you are strong—you have courage, will, the power to defy such weakness of the heart—and you will save me, for I know you are a good and honest man."
As she spoke, with her face upturned to him, and the hot tears rolling down her cheeks, her fingers convulsively clasped about his hand, and her form bending closer and closer toward him, till her cheek was resting on his bosom, Arthur shuddered with intensity of feeling, and from his averted eyes the scalding drops, that had never once before moistened their surface, betrayed how terribly he was shaken with emotion.
But while she spoke, rapt as they were within themselves, they saw not one who stood with folded arms beside the rustic bench, and gazed upon them.
"As God is my hope," said Arthur, "I will disarm temptation. Fear not. From this hour we part. Henceforth the living and the dead shall not be more estranged than we."
He arose, but started as if an apparition met his gaze. Oriana knelt beside him, and touched her lips to his hand in gratitude. An arm raised her tenderly, and a gentle voice murmured her name.
It was not Arthur's.
Oriana raised her head, with a faint cry of terror. She gasped and swooned upon the intruder's breast.
It was Harold Hare who held her in his arms.
Arthur, with folded arms, stood erect, but pale, in the presence of his friend. His eye, sorrowful, yet calm, was fixed upon Harold, as if awaiting his angry glance. But Harold looked only on the lifeless form he held, and parting the tresses from her cold brow, his lips rested there a moment with such a fond caress as sometimes a father gives his child.
"Poor girl!" he murmured, "would that my sorrow could avail for both. Arthur, I have heard enough to know you would not do me wrong. Grief is in store for us, but let us not be enemies."
Mournfully, he gave his hand to Arthur, and Oriana, as she wakened from her trance, beheld them locked in that sad grasp, like two twin statues of despair.
They led her to the house, and then the two young men walked out alone, and talked frankly and tranquilly upon the subject. It was determined that both should leave Riverside manor on the morrow, and that Oriana should be left to commune with her own heart, and take counsel of time and meditation. They would not grieve Beverly with their secret, at least not for the present, when his sister was so ill prepared to bear remonstrance or reproof. Harold wrote a kind letter for Oriana, in which he released her from her pledged faith, asking only that she should take time to study her heart, but in no wise let a sense of duty stand in the way of her happiness. He took pains to conceal the depth of his own affliction, and to avoid whatever she might construe as reproach.
They would have gone without an interview with Oriana, but that would have seemed strange to Beverly. However, Oriana, although pale and nervous, met them in the morning with more composure than they had anticipated. Harold, just before starting, drew her aside, and placed the letter in her hand.
"That will tell you all I would say, and you must read it when your heart is strong and firm. Do not look so wretched. All may yet be well. I would fain see you smile before I go."
But though she had evidently nerved herself to be composed, the tears would come, and her heart seemed rising to her throat and about to burst in sobs.
"I will be your true wife, Harold, and I will love you. Do not desert me, do not cast me from you. I cannot bear to be so guilty. Indeed, Harold, I will be true and faithful to you."
"There is no guilt in that young heart," he answered, as he kissed her forehead. "But now, we must not talk of love; hereafter, perhaps, when time and absence shall teach us where to choose for happiness. Part from me now as if I were your brother, and give me a sister's kiss. Would you see Arthur?"
She trembled and whispered painfully:
"No, Harold, no—I dare not. Oh, Harold, bid him forget me."
"It is better that you should not see him. Farewell! be brave. We are good friends, remember. Farewell, dear girl."
Beverly had been waiting with the carriage, and as the time was short, he called to Harold. Arthur, who stood at the carriage wheel, simply raised his hat to Oriana, as if in a parting salute. He would have given his right hand to have pressed hers for a moment; but his will was iron, and he did not once look back as the carriage whirled away.
In the drawing-room of an elegant mansion in a fashionable quarter of the city of New York, toward the close of April, a social party were assembled, distributed mostly in small conversational groups. The head of the establishment, a pompous, well-to-do merchant, stout, short, and baldheaded, and evidently well satisfied with himself and his position in society, was vehemently expressing his opinions upon the affairs of the nation to an attentive audience of two or three elderly business men, with a ponderous earnestness that proved him, in his own estimation, as much au fait in political affairs as in the routine of his counting-room. An individual of middle age, a man of the world, apparently, who was seated at a side-table, carelessly glancing over a book of engravings, was the only one who occasionally exasperated the pompous gentleman with contradictions or ill-timed interruptions.
"The government must be sustained," said the stout gentleman, "and we, the merchants of the North, will do it. It is money, sir, money," he continued, unconsciously rattling the coin in his breeches pocket, "that settles every question at the present day, and our money will bring these beggarly rebels to their senses. They can't do without us, sir. They would be ruined in six months, if shut out from commercial intercourse with the North."
"How long before you would be ruined by the operations of the same cause?" inquired the individual at the side-table.
"Sir, we of the North hold the wealth of the country in our pockets. They can't fight against our money—they can't do it, sir."
"Your ancestors fought against money, and fought passably well."
"Yes, sir, for the great principles of human liberty."
"Which these rebels believe they are fighting for. You have need of all your money to keep a respectable army in the field. These Southerners may have to fight in rags, as insurgents generally do: witness the struggle of your Revolution; but until you lay waste their corn-fields and drive off their cattle, they will have full stomachs, and that, after all, is the first consideration."
"You are an alien, sir, a foreigner; you know nothing of our great institutions; you know nothing of the wealth of the North, and the spirit of the people."
"I see a great deal of bunting in the streets, and hear any quantity of declamation at your popular gatherings. But as I journeyed northward from New Orleans, I saw the same in the South—perhaps more of it."
"And could not distinguish between the frenzy of treason and the enthusiasm of patriotism?"
"Not at all; except that treason seemed more earnest and unanimous."
"You have seen with the eyes of an Englishman—of one hostile to our institutions."
"Oh, no; as a man of the world, a traveller, without prejudice or passion, receiving impressions and noting them. I like your country; I like your people. I have observed foibles in the North and in the South, but there is an under-current of strong feeling and good sense which I have noted and admired. I think your quarrel is one of foibles—one conceived in the spirit of petulance, and about to be prosecuted in the spirit of exaltation. I believe the professed mutual hatred of the sections to be superficial, and that it could be cancelled. It is fostered by the bitterness of fanatics, assisted by a very natural disinclination on the part of the masses to yield a disputed point. If hostilities should cease to-morrow, you would be better friends than ever."
"But the principle, sir! The right of the thing, and the wrong of the thing! Can we parley with traitors? Can we negotiate with armed rebellion? Is it not our paramount duty to set at rest forever the doctrine of secession?"
"As a matter of policy, perhaps. But as a right, I doubt it. Your government I look upon as a mere agency appointed by contracting parties to transact certain affairs for their convenience. Should one or more of those contracting parties, sovereignties in themselves, hold it to their interest to transact their business without the assistance of an agent, I cannot perceive that the right can be denied by any provision of the contract. In your case, the employers have dismissed their agent, who seeks to reinstate the office by force of arms. As justly might my lawyer, when I no longer need his services, attempt to coerce me into a continuance of business relations, by invading my residence with a loaded pistol. The States, without extinguishing their sovereignty, created the Federal Government; it is the child of State legislation, and now the child seeks to chastise and control the parent. The General Government can possess no inherent or self-created function; its power, its very existence, were granted for certain uses. As regards your State's connection with that Government, no other State has the right to interfere; but as for another State's connection with it, the power that made it can unmake."
"So you would have the government quietly acquiesce in the robbery of public property, the occupation of Federal strongholds and the seizure of ships and revenues in which they have but a share?"
"If, by the necessity of the case, the seceded States hold in their possession more than their share of public property, a division should be made by arbitration, as in other cases where a distribution of common property is required. It may have been a wrong and an insult to bombard Fort Sumter and haul down the Federal flag, but that does not establish a right on the part of the Federal Government to coerce the wrong-doing States into a union with the others. And that, I take it, is the avowed purpose of your administration."
"Yes, and that purpose will be fulfilled. We have the money to do it, and we will do it, sir."
A tall, thin gentleman, with a white cravat and a bilious complexion, approached the party from a different part of the room.
"It can't be done with money, Mr. Pursely," said the new comer, "Unless the great, the divine principle of universal human liberty is invoked. An offended but merciful Providence has given the people this chance for redemption, in the opportunity to strike the shackle from the slave. I hold the war a blessing to the nation and to humanity, in that it will cleanse the land from its curse of slavery. It is an invitation from God to wipe away the record of our past tardiness and tolerance, by striking at the great sin with fire and sword. The blood of millions is nothing—the woe, the lamentation, the ruin of the land is nothing—the overthrow of the Union itself is nothing, if we can but win God's smile by setting a brand in the hand of the bondman to scourge his master. But assuredly unless we arouse the slave to seize the torch and the dagger, and avenge the wrongs of his race, Providence will frown upon our efforts, and our arms will not prevail."
A tall man in military undress replied with considerable emphasis:
"Then your black-coated gentry must fight their own battle. The people will not arm if abolition is to be the watchword. I for one will not strike a blow if it be not understood that the institutions of the South shall be respected."
"The government must be sustained, that is the point," cried Mr. Pursely. "It matters little what becomes of the negro, but the government must be sustained. Otherwise, what security will there be for property, and what will become of trade?"
"Who thinks of trade or property at such a crisis?" interrupted an enthusiast, in figured trowsers and a gay cravat. "Our beloved Union must and shall be preserved. The fabric that our fathers reared for us must not be allowed to crumble. We will prop it with our mangled bodies," and he brushed a speck of dust from the fine broadcloth of his sleeve.
"The insult to our flag must be wiped out," said the military gentleman. "The honor of the glorious stripes and stars must be vindicated to the world."
"Let us chastise these boasting Southrons," said another, "and prove our supremacy in arms, and I shall be satisfied."
"But above all," insisted a third, "we must check the sneers and exultation of European powers, and show them that we have not forgotten the art of war since the days of 1776 and 1812."
"I should like to know what you are going to fight about," said the Englishman, quietly; "for there appears to be much diversity of opinion. However, if you are determined to cut each others' throats, perhaps one pretext is as good as another, and a dozen better than only one."
In the quiet recess of a window, shadowed by the crimson curtains, sat a fair young girl, and a man, young and handsome, but upon whose countenance the traces of dissipation and of passion were deeply marked. Miranda Ayleff was a Virginian, the cousin and quondam playmate of Oriana Weems, like her an orphan, and a ward of Beverly. Her companion was Philip Searle. She had known him in Richmond, and had become much attached to him, but his habits and character were such, that her friends, and Beverly chiefly, had earnestly discouraged their intimacy. Philip left for the North, and Miranda, who at the date of our story was the guest of Mrs. Pursely, her relative, met him in New York, after a separation of two years. Philip, who, in spite of his evil ways, was singularly handsome and agreeable in manners, found little difficulty in fanning the old flame, and, upon the plea of old acquaintance, became a frequent visitor upon Miranda at Mr. Pursely's mansion, where we now find them, earnestly conversing, but in low tones, in the little solitude of the great bay window.
"You reproach me with vices which your unkindness has helped to stain me with. Driven from your presence, whom alone I cared to live for, what marvel if I sought oblivion in the wine-cup and the dice-box? Give me one chance, Miranda, to redeem myself. Let me call you wife, and you will become my guardian angel, and save me from myself."
"You know that I love you, Philip," she replied, "and willingly would I share your destiny, hoping to win you from evil. Go with me to Richmond. We will speak with Beverly, who is kind and truly loves me. We will convince him of your good purposes, and will win his consent to our union."
"No, Miranda; Beverly and your friends in Richmond will never believe me worthy of you. Besides, it would be dangerous for me to visit Richmond. I have identified myself with the Northern cause, and although, for your sake, I might refrain from bearing arms against Virginia, yet I have little sympathy with any there, where I have been branded as a drunkard and a gambler."
"Yet, Philip, is it not the land of your birth—the home of your boyhood?"
"The land of my shame and humiliation. No Miranda, I will not return to Virginia. And if you love me, you will not return. What are these senseless quarrels to us? We can be happy in each other's love, and forget that madmen are at war around us. Why will you not trust me, Miranda—why do you thus withhold from me my only hope of redemption from the terrible vice that is killing me? I put my destiny, my very life in your keeping, and you hesitate to accept the trust that alone can save me. Oh, Miranda! you do not love me."
"Philip, I cannot renounce my friends, my dear country, the home of my childhood."
"Then look you what will be my fate: I will join the armies of the North, and fling away my life in battle against my native soil. Ruin and death cannot come too soon when you forsake me."
Miranda remained silent, but, through the gloom of the recess, he could see the glistening of a tear upon her cheek.
The hall-bell rang, and the servant brought in a card for Miss Ayleff. Following it, Arthur Wayne was ushered into the room.
She rose to receive him, somewhat surprised at a visit from a stranger.
"I have brought these letters for you from my good friend Beverly Weems," said Arthur. "At his request, I have ventured to call in person, most happy, if you will forgive the presumption, in the opportunity."
She gave her hand, and welcomed him gracefully and warmly, and, having introduced Mr. Searle, excused herself while she glanced at the contents of Beverly's letter. While thus employed, Arthur marked her changing color; and then, lifting his eyes lest his scrutiny might be rude, observed Philip's dark eye fixed upon her with a suspicious and searching expression. Then Philip looked up, and their glances met—the calm blue eye and the flashing black—but for an instant, but long enough to confirm the instinctive feeling that there was no sympathy between their hearts.
A half-hour's general conversation ensued, but Philip appeared restless and uneasy, and rose to take his leave. She followed him to the parlor door.
"Come to me to-morrow," she said, as she gave her hand, "and we will talk again."
A smile of triumph rested upon his pale lips for a second; but he pressed her hand, and, murmuring an affectionate farewell, withdrew.
Arthur remained a few moments, but observing that Miranda was pensive and absent, he bade her good evening, accepting her urgent invitation to call at an early period.
"Well, Arthur," said Harold Hare, entering the room of the former at his hotel, on the following evening, "I have come to bid you good bye. I start for home to-morrow morning," he added, in reply to Arthur's questioning glance. "I am to have a company of Providence boys in my old friend Colonel R——'s regiment. And after a little brisk recruiting, ho! for Washington and the wars!"
"You have determined for the war, then?"
"Of course. And you?"
"I shall go to my Vermont farm, and live quietly among my books and pastures."
"A dull life, Arthur, when every wind that blows will bring to your ears the swell of martial music and the din of arms."
"If I were in love with the pomp of war, which, thank heaven, I am not, Harold, I would rather dwell in a hermit's cave, than follow the fife and drum over the bodies of my Southern countrymen."
"Those Southern countrymen, that you seem to love better than the country they would ruin, would have little remorse in marching over your body, even among the ashes of your farm-house. Doubtless you would stand at your threshold, and welcome their butchery, should their ruffian legions ravage our land as far as your Green Mountains."
"I do not think they will invade one foot of Northern soil, unless compelled by strict military necessity. However, should the State to which I owe allegiance be attacked by foreign or domestic foe, I will stand among its defenders. But, dear Harold, let us not argue this sad subject, which it is grief enough but to contemplate. Tell me of your plans, and how I shall communicate with you, while you are absent. My distress about this unhappy war will be keener, when I feel that my dear friend may be its victim."
Harold pressed his hand affectionately, and the two friends spoke of the misty future, till Harold arose to depart. They had not mentioned Oriana's name, though she was in their thoughts, and each, as he bade farewell, knew that some part of the other's sadness was for her sake.
Arthur accompanied Harold a short distance up Broadway, and returning, found at the office of the hotel, a letter, without post-mark, to his address. He stepped into the reading-room to peruse it. It was from Beverly, and ran thus:
"RICHMOND, May —, 1861.
"DEAR ARTHUR: The departure of a friend gives me an opportunity to write you about a matter that I beg you will attend to, for my sake, thoroughly. I learned this morning, upon receipt of a letter from Mr. Pursely, that Miranda Ayleff, of whom we spoke together, and to whom I presume you have already delivered my communication, is receiving the visits of one Philip Searle, to whom, some two years since, she was much attached. Entre nous, Arthur, I can tell you, the man is a scoundrel of the deepest dye. Not only a drunkard and a gambler, but dishonest, and unfit for any decent girl's society. He is guilty of forgery against me, and, against my conscience, I hushed the matter only out of consideration for her feelings. I would still have concealed the matter from her, had this resumption of their intimacy not occurred. But her welfare must cancel all scruples of that character; and I therefore entreat you to see her at once, and unmask the man fully and unequivocally. If necessary you may show my letter for that purpose. I would go on to New York myself immediately, were I not employed upon a State mission of exceeding delicacy and importance; but I have full confidence in your good judgment. Spare no arguments to induce her to return immediately to Richmond.
"Oriana has not been well; I know not what ails her, but, though she makes no complaint, the girl seems really ill. She knows not of my writing, for I would not pain her about Miranda, of whom she is very fond. But I can venture, without consulting her, to send you her good wishes. Let me hear from you in full about what I have written. Your friend.
"P.S.—Knowing that you must yet be weak with your late illness, I would have troubled Harold, rather than you, about this matter, but I am ignorant of his present whereabouts, while I know that you contemplated remaining a week or so in New York. Write me about the ugly bite in the shoulder, from which I trust you are well recovered. B.W."
Arthur looked up from the letter, and beheld Philip Searle seated at the opposite side of the table. He had entered while Arthur's attention was absorbed in reading, and having glanced at the address of the envelope which lay upon the table, he recognized the hand of Beverly. This prompted him to pause, and taking up one of the newspapers which were strewn about the table, he sat down, and while he appeared to read, glanced furtively at his vis-a-vis over the paper's edge. When his presence was noticed, he bowed, and Arthur, with a slight and stern inclination of the head, fixed his calm eye upon him with a searching severity that brought a flush of anger to Philip's brow.
"That is Weems' hand," he muttered, inwardly, "and by that fellow's look, I fancy that no less a person than myself is the subject of his epistle."
Arthur had walked away, but, in his surprise at the unexpected presence of Searle, he had allowed the letter to remain upon the table. No sooner had he passed out of the room, than Philip quietly but rapidly stretched his hand beneath the pile of scattered journals, and drew it toward him. It required but an instant for his quick eye to catch the substance. His face grew livid, and his teeth grated harshly with suppressed rage.
"We shall have a game of plot and counterplot before this ends, my man," he muttered.
There were pen and paper on the table, and he wrote a few lines hastily, placed them in the envelope, and put Beverly's letter in his pocket. He had hardly finished when Arthur reentered the room, advanced rapidly to the table, and, with a look of relief, took up the envelope and its contents, and again left the room. Philip's lip curled beneath the black moustache with a smile of triumphant malice.
"Keep it safe in your pocket for a few hours, my gamecock, and my heiress to a beggar-girl, I'll have stone walls between you and me."
The evening was somewhat advanced, but Arthur determined at once to seek an interview with Miss Ayleff. Hastily arranging his toilet, he walked briskly up Broadway, revolving in his mind a fit course for fulfilling his delicate errand.
To shorten his way, he turned into a cross street in the upper part of the city. As he approached the hall door of a large brick house, his eye chanced to fall upon a man who was ringing for admittance. The light from the street lamp fell full upon his face, and he recognized the features of Philip Searle. At that moment the door was opened, and Philip entered. Arthur would have passed on, but something in the appearance of the house arrested his attention, and, on closer scrutiny, revealed to him its character. One of those impulses which sometimes sway our actions, tempted him to enter, and learn, if possible, something further respecting the habits of the man whose scheme he had been commissioned to thwart. A moment's reflection might have changed his purpose, but his hand was already upon the bell, and the summons was quickly answered by a good-looking but faded young woman, with painted cheeks and gay attire. She fixed her keen, bold eyes upon him for a few seconds, and then, tossing her ringlets, pertly invited him to enter.
"Who is within?" asked Arthur, standing in the hall.
"Only the girls. Walk in."
"The gentleman who came in before me, is he there?"
"Do you want to see him?" she asked, suspiciously.
"Oh, no. Only I would avoid being seen by any one."
"He will not see you. Come right in." And she threw open the door, and flaunted in.
Arthur followed her without hesitation.
Bursts of forced and cheerless laughter, and the shrill sound of rude and flippant talk, smote unpleasantly upon his ear. The room was richly furnished, but without taste or modesty. The tall mirrors were displayed with ostentation, and the paintings, offensive in design, hung conspicuous in showy frames. The numerous gas jets, flashing among glittering crystal pendants, made vice more glaring and heartlessness more terribly apparent. Women, with bold and haggard eyes, with brazen brows, and cheeks from which the roses of virgin shame had been plucked to bloom no more forever—mostly young girls, scourging their youth into old age, and gathering poison at once for soul and body—with sensual indolence reclined upon the rich ottomans, or with fantastic grace whirled through lewd waltzes over the velvet carpets. There was laughter without joy—there was frivolity without merriment—there was the surface of enjoyment and the substance of woe, for beneath those painted cheeks was the pallor of despair and broken health, and beneath those whitened bosoms, half veiled with gaudy silks, were hearts that were aching with remorse, or, yet more unhappy, benumbed and callous with habitual sin.
Yet there, like a crushed pearl upon a heap of garbage, lingers the trace of beauty; and there, surely, though sepulchred in the caverns of vice, dwells something that was once innocence, and not unredeemable. But whence is the friendly word to come, whence the guardian hand that might lift them from the slough. They live accursed by even charity, shunned by philanthropy, and shut from the Christian world like a tribe of lepers whose touch is contagion and whose breath is pestilence. In the glittering halls of fashion, the high-born beauty, with wreaths about her white temples and diamonds upon her chaste bosom, gives her gloved hand for the dance, and forgets that an erring sister, by the touch of those white fingers, might be raised from the grave of her chastity, and clothed anew with the white garments of repentance. But no; the cold world of fashion, that from its cushioned pew has listened with stately devotion to the words of the Redeemer, has taught her that to redeem the fallen is beneath her caste. The bond of sisterhood is broken. The lost one must pursue her hideous destiny, each avenue of escape blocked by the scorn and loathing which denies her the contact of virtue and the counsel of purity. In the broad fields of charity, invaded by cold philosophers, losing themselves in searching unreal and vague philanthropies, none so practical in beneficence as to take her by the hand, saying, "Go, and sin no more."
But whenever the path of benevolence is intricate and doubtful, whenever the work is linked with a riddle whose solving will breed discord and trouble among men, whenever there is a chance to make philanthropy a plea for hate, and bitterness and charity can be made a battle-cry to arouse the spirit of destruction, and spread ruin and desolation over the fair face of the earth, then will the domes of our churches resound with eloquence, then will the journals of the land teem with their mystic theories, then will the mourners of human woe be loud in lamentation, and lift up their mighty voices to cry down an abstract evil. When actual misery appeals to them, they are deaf; when the plain and palpable error stalks before them, they turn aside. They are too busy with the tangles of some philanthropic Gordian knot, to stretch out a helping hand to the sufferer at their sides. They are frenzied with their zeal to build a bridge over a spanless ocean, while the drowning wretch is sinking within their grasp. They scorn the simple charity of the good Samaritan; theirs must be a gigantic and splendid achievement in experimental beneficence, worthy of their philosophic brains. The wrong they would redress must be one that half the world esteems a right; else there would be no room for their arguments, no occasion for their invective, no excuse for their passion. To do good is too simple for their transcendentalism; they must first make evil out of their logic, and then, through blood and wasting flames, drive on the people to destruction, that the imaginary evil may be destroyed. While Charity soars so high among the clouds, she will never stoop to lift the Magdalen from sin.
Arthur heaved an involuntary sigh, as he gazed upon those sad wrecks of womanhood, striving to harden their sense of degradation by its impudent display. But an expression of bewildered and sorrowful surprise suddenly overspread his countenance. Seated alone upon a cushioned stool, at the chimney-corner, was a young woman, her elbows resting upon her knees, and her face bent thoughtfully upon her palms. She was apparently lost in thought to all around her. She was thinking—of what? Perhaps of the green fields where she played in childhood; perhaps of her days of innocence; perhaps of the mother at whose feet she had once knelt in prayer. But she was far away, in thought, from that scene of infamy of which she was a part; for, in the glare of the gaslight, a tear struggled through her eyelashes, and glittered like a ray from heaven piercing the glooms of hell.
Arthur walked to her, and placed his hand softly upon her yellow hair.
"Oh, Mary!" he murmured, in a tone of gentle sorrow, that sounded strangely amid the discordant merriment that filled the room.
She looked up, at his touch, but when his voice fell upon her ear, she arose suddenly and stood before him like one struck dumb betwixt humiliation and wonder. The angel had not yet fled that bosom, for the blush of shame glowed through the chalk upon her brow and outcrimsoned the paint upon her cheek. As it passed away, she would have wreathed her lip mechanically with the pert smile of her vocation, but the smile was frozen ere it reached her lips, and the coarse words she would have spoken died into a murmur and a sob. She sank down again upon the cushion, and bent her face low down upon her hands.
"Oh, Mary! is it you! is it you! I pray heaven your mother be in her grave!"
She rose and escaped quickly from the room; but he followed her and checked her at the stairway.
"Let me speak with you, Mary. No, not here; lead me to your room."
He followed her up-stairs, and closing the door, sat beside her as she leaned upon the bed and buried her face in the pillow.
It was the child of his old nurse. Upon the hill-sides of his native State they had played together when children, and now she lay there before him, with scarce enough of woman's nature left to weep for her own misery.
"Mary, how is this? Look up, child," he said, taking her hand kindly. "I had rather see you thus, bent low with sorrow, than bold and hard in guilt. But yet look up and speak to me. I will be your friend, you know. Tell me, why are you thus?"
"Oh, Mr. Wayne, do not scold me, please don't. I was thinking of home and mother when you came and put your hand on my head. Mother's dead."
"Well for her, poor woman. But how came you thus?"
"I scarcely seem to know. It seems to me a dream. I married John, and he brought me to New York. Then the war came, and he went and was killed. And mother was dead, and I had no friends in the great city. I could get no work, and I was starving, indeed I was, Mr. Wayne. So a young man, who was very handsome, and rich, I think, for he gave me money and fine dresses, he promised me—Oh, Mr. Wayne, I was very wrong and foolish, and I wish I could die, and be buried by my poor mother."
"And did he bring you here?"
"Oh no, sir. I came here two weeks ago, after he had left me. And when he came in one night and found me here, he was very angry, and said he would kill me if I told any one that I knew him. And I know why; but you won't tell, Mr. Wayne, for it would make him angry. I have found out that he is married to the mistress of this house. He's a bad man, I know now, and often comes here drunk, and swears at the woman and the girls. Hark! that's her room, next to mine, and I think he's in there now."
The faint sound of voices, smothered by the walls, reached them from the adjoining chamber; but as they listened, the door of that room opened, and the loud and angry tones of a man, speaking at the threshold, could be distinctly heard. Arthur quietly and carefully opened the door of Mary's room, an inch or less, and listened at the aperture. He was not mistaken; he recognized the voice of Philip Searle.
"I'll do it, anyhow," said Philip, angrily, and with the thick utterance of one who had been drinking. "I'll do it; and if you trouble me, I'll fix you."
"Philip, if you marry that girl I'll peach; I will, so help me G—d," replied a woman's voice. "I've given you the money, and I've given you plenty before, as much as I had to give you, Philip, and you know it. I don't mind that, but you shan't marry till I'm dead. I'm your lawful wife, and if I'm low now, it's your fault, for you drove me to it."
"I'll drive you to hell if you worry me. I tell you she's got lots of money, and a farm, and niggers, and you shall have half if you only keep your mouth shut. Come, now, Molly, don't be a fool; what's the use, now?"
They went down the stairway together, and their voices were lost as they descended. Arthur determined to follow and get some clue, if possible, as to the man's, intentions. He therefore gave his address to Mary, and made her promise faithfully to meet him on the following morning, promising to befriend her and send her to his mother in Vermont. Hearing the front door close, and surmising that Philip had departed, he bade her good night, and descending hastily, was upon the sidewalk in time to observe Philip's form in the starlight as he turned the corner.
It was now ten o'clock; too late to call upon Miranda without disturbing the household, which he desired to avoid. Arthur's present fear was that possibly an elopement had been planned for that night, and he therefore determined, if practicable, to keep Searle in view till he had traced him home. The latter entered a refreshment saloon upon Broadway; Arthur followed, and ordering, in a low tone, some dish that would require time in the preparation, he stepped, without noise, into an alcove adjoining one whence came the sound of conversation.
"Well, what's up?" inquired a gruff, coarse voice.
"Fill me some brandy," replied Philip. "I tell you, Bradshaw, it's risky, but I'll do it. The old woman's rock. She'll blow upon me if she gets the chance; but I'm in for it, and I'll put it through. We must manage to keep it mum from her, and as soon as I get the girl I'll accept the lieutenancy, and be off to the wars till all blows over. If Moll should smoke me out there, I'll cross the line and take sanctuary with Jeff. Davis."
"What about the girl?"
"Oh; she's all right," replied Philip, with a drunken chuckle. "I had an interview with the dear creature this morning, and she's like wax in my hands. It's all arranged for to-morrow morning. You be sure to have the carriage ready at the Park—the same spot, you know—by ten o'clock. She can't well get away before, but that will be time enough for the train."
"I want that money now."
"Moll's hard up, but I got a couple of hundred from her. Here's fifty for you; now don't grumble, I'm doing the best I can, d—n you, and you know it. Now listen—I want to fix things with you about that blue-eyed chap."
The waiter here brought in Arthur's order, and a sudden silence ensued in the alcove. The two men had evidently been unaware of the proximity of a third party, and their tone, though low, had not been sufficiently guarded to escape Arthur hearing, whose ear, leaning against the thin partition, was within a few inches of Philip's head. A muttered curse and the gurgling of liquor from a decanter was all that could be heard for the space of a few-moments, when the two, after a brief whisper, arose and left the place, not, however, without making ineffectual efforts to catch a glimpse of the occupant of the tenanted alcove. Arthur soon after followed them into the street. He was aware that he was watched from the opposite corner, and that his steps were dogged in the darkness. But he drew his felt hat well over his face, and by mingling with the crowd that chanced to be pouring from one of the theatres, he avoided recognition and passed unnoticed into his hotel.
Arthur felt ill and much fatigued when he retired to rest, and was restless and disturbed with fever throughout the night. He had overtasked his delicate frame, yet scarce recovered from the effects of recent suffering, and he arose in the morning with a feeling of prostration that he could with difficulty overcome. However, he refreshed himself with a cup of tea, and prepared to call upon Miss Ayleff. It was but seven o'clock, a somewhat early hour for a morning visit, but the occasion was one for little ceremony. As he was on the point of leaving his room, there was a peremptory knock at the door, and, upon his invitation to walk in, a stranger entered. It was a gentlemanly personage, with a searching eye and a calm and quiet manner. Arthur was vexed to be delayed, but received the intruder with a civil inclination of the head, somewhat surprised, however, that no card had been sent to give him intimation of the visit.
"Are you Mr. Arthur Wayne?" inquired the stranger.
"I am he," replied Arthur. "Be seated, sir."
"I thank you. My name is ——. I am a deputy United States marshal of this district."
Arthur bowed, and awaited a further statement of the purpose of his visit.
"You have lately arrived from Virginia, I understand?"
"A few days since, sir—from a brief sojourn in the vicinity of Richmond."
"And yesterday received a communication from that quarter?"
"I did. A letter from an intimate acquaintance."
"My office will excuse me from an imputation of inquisitiveness. May I see that letter?"
"Excuse me, sir. Its contents are of a private and delicate nature, and intended only for my own perusal."
"It is because its contents are of that nature that I am constrained to ask you for it. Pardon me, Mr. Wayne; but to be brief and frank you, I must either receive that communication by your good will, or call in my officers, and institute a search. I am sure you will not make my duty more unpleasant than necessary."
Arthur paused awhile. He was conscious that it would be impossible for him to avoid complying with the marshal's request, and yet it was most annoying to be obliged to make a third party cognizant of the facts contained in Beverly's epistle.
"I have no desire to oppose you in the performance of your functions," he finally replied, "but really there are very particular reasons why the contents of this letter should not be made public."
A very faint indication of a smile passed over the marshal's serious face; Arthur did not observe it, but continued:
"I will hand you the letter, for I perceive there has been some mistake and misapprehension which of course it is your duty to clear up. But you must promise me that, when your perusal of it shall have satisfied you that its nature is strictly private, and not offensive to the law, you will return it me and preserve an inviolable secrecy as to its contents."
"When I shall be satisfied on that score, I will do as you desire."
Arthur handed him the letter, somewhat to the other's surprise, for he had certainly been watching for an attempt at its destruction, or at least was prepared for prevarication and stratagem. He took the paper from its envelope and read it carefully. It was in the following words:
Richmond, May —, 1861.
Dear Arthur: This will be handed to you by a sure hand. Communicate freely with the bearer—he can be trusted. The arms can be safely shipped as he represents, and you will therefore send them on at once. Your last communication was of great service to the cause, and, although I would be glad to have you with us, the President thinks you are too valuable, for the present, where you are. When you come, the commission will be ready for you. Yours truly,
Beverly Weems, Capt. C.S.A.
"Are you satisfied?" inquired Arthur, after the marshal had silently concluded his examination of the document.
"Perfectly satisfied," replied the other, placing the letter in his pocket. "Mr. Wayne, it is my duty to arrest you."
"In the name of the United States."
"For what offence?"
Arthur remained for a while silent with astonishment. At last, as the marshal arose and took his hat, he said:
"I cannot conceive what act or word of mine can be construed as treasonable. There is some mistake, surely; I am a quiet man, a stranger in the city, and have conversed with but one or two persons since my arrival. Explain to me, if you please, the particular nature of the charge against me."
"It is not my province, at this moment, to do so, Mr. Wayne. It is sufficient that, upon information lodged with me last evening, and forwarded to Washington by telegraph, I received from the Secretary of War orders for your immediate arrest, should I find the information true. I have found it true, and I arrest you."
"Surely, nothing in that letter can be so misconstrued as to implicate me."
"Mr. Wayne, this prevarication is as useless as it is unseemly. You know that the letter is sufficient warrant for my proceeding. My carriage is at the door. I trust you will accompany me without further delay."
"Sir, I was about to proceed, when you entered, upon an errand that involves the safety and happiness of the young lady mentioned in that letter. The letter itself will inform you of the circumstance, and I assure you, events are in progress that require my immediate action. You will at least allow me to visit the party?"
The marshal looked at him with surprise.
"The lady of whom my friend makes mention."
"I do not understand you. I can only conceive that, for some purpose of your own, you are anxious to gain time. I must request you to accompany me at once to the carriage."
"You will permit me at least to send a, letter—a word—a warning?"
"That your accomplice may receive information? Assuredly not."
"Be yourself the messenger—or send"——
"This subterfuge is idle." He opened the door and stood beside it. "I must request your company to the carriage."
Arthur's cheek flushed for a moment with anger.
"This severity," he said, "is ridiculous and unjust. I tell you, you and those for whom you act will be accountable for a great crime—for innocence betrayed—for a young life made desolate—for perhaps a dishonored grave. I plead not for myself, but for one helpless and pure, who at this hour may be the victim of a villain's plot. In the name of humanity, I entreat you give me but time to avert the calamity, and I will follow you without remonstrance. Go with me yourself. Be present at the interview. Of what consequence to you will be an hour's delay?"
"It may be of much consequence to those who are in league with you. I cannot grant your request. You must come with me, sir, or I shall be obliged to call for assistance," and he drew a pair of handcuffs from his pocket.
Arthur perceived that further argument or entreaty would be of no avail. He was much agitated and distressed beyond measure at the possible misfortune to Miranda, which, by this untimely arrest, he was powerless to avert. Knowing nothing of the true contents of the letter which Philip had substituted for the one received from Beverly, he could not imagine an excuse for the marshal's inflexibility. He was quite ill, too, and what with fever and agitation, his brain was in a whirl. He leaned against the chair, faint and dispirited. The painful cough, the harbinger of that fatal malady which had already brought a sister to an early grave, oppressed him, and the hectic glowed upon his pale cheeks. The marshal approached him, and laid his hand gently on his shoulder.
"You seem ill," he said; "I am sorry to be harsh with you, but I must do my duty. They will make you as comfortable as possible at the fort. But you must come."
Arthur followed him mechanically, and like one in a dream. They stepped into the carriage and were driven rapidly away; but Arthur, as he leaned back exhausted in his seat, murmured sorrowfully:
"And poor little Mary, too! Who will befriend her now?"
In the upper apartment of a cottage standing alone by the roadside on the outskirts of Boston, Miranda, pale and dejected, sat gazing vacantly at the light of the solitary lamp that lit the room. The clock was striking midnight, and the driving rain beat dismally against the window-blinds. But one month had passed since her elopement with Philip Searle, yet her wan cheeks and altered aspect revealed how much of suffering can be crowded into that little space of time. She started from her revery when the striking of the timepiece told the lateness of the hour. Heavy footsteps sounded upon the stairway, and, while she listened, Philip, followed by Bradshaw, entered the room abruptly.
"How is this?" asked Philip, angrily. "Why are you not in bed?"
"I did not know it was so late, Philip," she answered, in a deprecating tone. "I was half asleep upon the rocking-chair, listening to the storm. It's a bad night, Philip. How wet you are!"
He brushed off the hand she had laid upon his shoulder, and muttered, with bad humor:
"I've told you a dozen times I don't want you to sit up for me. Fetch the brandy and glasses, and go to bed."
"Oh, Philip, it is so late! Don't drink: to-night, Philip. You are wet, and you look tired. Come to bed."
"Do as I tell you," he answered, roughly, flinging himself into a chair, and beckoning Bradshaw to a seat. Miranda sighed, and brought the bottle and glasses from the closet.
"Now, you go to sleep, do you hear; and don't be whining and crying all night, like a sick girl."
The poor girl moved slowly to the door, and turned at the threshold.
"Good night, Philip."
"Oh, good night—there, get along," he cried, impatiently, without looking at her, and gulping down a tumblerful of spirits. Miranda closed the door and left the two men alone together.
They remained silent for a while, Bradshaw quietly sipping his liquor, and Philip evidently disturbed and angry.
"You're sure 'twas she?" he asked at last.
"Oh, bother!" replied Bradshaw. "I'm not a mole nor a blind man. Don't I know Moll when I see her?"
"Curse her! she'll stick to me like a leech. What could have brought her here? Do you think she's tracked me?"
"She'd track you through fire, if she once got on the scent. Moll ain't the gal to be fooled, and you know it."
"What's to be done?"
"Move out of this. Take the girl to Virginia. You'll be safe enough there."
"You're right, Bradshaw. It's the best way. I ought to have done it at first. But, hang the girl, she'll weary me to death with her sermons and crying fits. Moll's worth two of her for that, matter—she scolds, but at least she never would look like a stuck fawn when I came home a little queer. For the matter of that, she don't mind a spree herself at times." And, emptying his glass, the libertine laughed at the remembrance of some past orgies.
While he was thus, in his half-drunken mood, consoling himself for present perplexities by dwelling upon the bacchanalian joys of other days, a carriage drove up the street, and stopped before the door. Soon afterward, the hall bell was rung, and Philip, alarmed and astonished, started from his seat.
"Who's that?" he asked, almost in a whisper.
"Don't know," replied his companion.
"She couldn't have traced me here already—unless you have betrayed me, Bradshaw," he added suddenly, darting a suspicious glance upon his comrade.
"You're just drunk enough to be a fool," replied Bradshaw, rising from his seat, as a second summons, more violent than the first, echoed through the corridors. "I'll go down and see what's the matter. Some one's mistaken the house, I suppose. That's all."
"Let no one in, Bradshaw," cried Philip, as that worthy left the room. He descended the stairs, opened the door, and presently afterward the carriage drove rapidly away. Philip, who had been listening earnestly, could hear the sound of the wheels as they whirled over the pavement.
"All right," he said, as he applied himself once more to the bottle before him. "Some fool has mistaken his whereabouts. Curse me, but I'm getting as nervous as an old woman."
He was in the act of lifting the glass to his lips, when the door was flung wide open. The glass fell from his hands, and shivered upon the floor. Moll stood before him.
She stood at the threshold with a wicked gleam in her eye, and a smile of triumph upon her lips; then advanced into the room, closed the door quietly, locked it, seated herself composedly in the nearest chair, and filled herself a glass of spirits. Philip glared upon her with an expression of mingled anger, fear and wonderment.
"Are you a devil? Where in thunder did you spring from?" he asked at last.
"You'll make me a devil, with your tricks, Philip Searle," she said, sipping the liquor, and looking at him wickedly over the rim of the tumbler.
"Ha! ha! ha!" she laughed aloud, as he muttered a curse between his clenched teeth, "I'm not the country girl, Philip dear, that I was when you whispered your sweet nonsense in my ear. I know your game, my bully boy, and I'll play you card for card."
"Bradshaw" shouted Philip, going to the door and striving to open it.
"It's no use," she said, "I've got the key in my pocket. Sit down. I want to talk to you. Don't be a fool."
"Where's Bradshaw, Moll?"
"At the depot by this time, I fancy, for the carriage went off at a deuce of a rate."
She laughed again, while he paced the room with angry strides.
"'Twas he, then, that betrayed me. The villain! I'll have his life for that, as I'm a sinner."
"Your a great sinner; Philip Searle. Sit down, now, and be quiet. Where's the girl?"
"Miranda Ayleff. The girl you've ruined; the girl you've put in my place, and that I've come to drive out of it. Where is she?"
"Don't speak so loud, Moll. Be quiet, can't you? See here, Moll," he continued, drawing a chair to her side, and speaking in his old winning way—"see here, Moll: why can't you just let this matter stand as it is, and take your share of the plunder? You know I don't care about the girl; so what difference does it make to you, if we allow her to think that she's my lawful wife? Come, give us a kiss, Moll, and let's hear no more about it."
"Honey won't catch such an old fly as I am, Philip," replied the woman, but with a gentled tone. "Where is the girl?" she asked suddenly, starting from the chair. "I want to see her. Is she in there?"
"No," said Philip, quickly, and rising to her passage to the door of Miranda's chamber. "She is not there, Moll; you can't see her. Are you crazy? You'd frighten the poor girl out of her senses."
"She's in there. I'm going in to speak with her. Yes I shall, Philip, and you needn't stop me."
"Keep back. Keep quiet, can't you?"
"No. Don't hold me, Philip Searle. Keep your hands off me, if you know what's good for you."
She brushed past him, and laid her hand upon the door-knob; but he seized her violently by the arm and pulled her back. The action hurt her wrist, and she was boiling with rage in a second. With her clenched fist, she struck him straight in the face repeatedly, while with every blow, she screamed out an imprecation.
"Keep quiet, you hag! Keep quiet, confound you!" said the infuriated man. "Won't you? Take that!" and he planted his fist upon her mouth.
The woman, through her tears and sobs, howled at him curse upon curse. With one hand upon her throat, he essayed to choke her utterance, and thus they scuffled about the room.
"I'll cut you, Philip; I will, by ——"
Her hand, in fact, was fumbling about her pocket, and she drew forth a small knife and thrust it into his shoulder. They were near the table, over which Philip had thrust her down. He was wild with rage and the brandy he had drank. His right hand instinctively grasped the heavy bottle that by chance it came in contact with. The next instant, it descended full upon her forehead, and with a moan of fear and pain, she fell like lead upon the floor, and lay bleeding and motionless.
Philip, still grasping the shattered bottle, gazed aghast upon the lifeless form. Then a cry of terror burst upon his ear. He turned, and beheld Miranda, with dishevelled hair, pale as her night-clothes, standing at the threshold of the open door. With a convulsive shudder, she staggered into the room, and fainted at his feet, her white arm stained with the blood that was sinking in little pools into the carpet.
He stood there gazing from one to the other, but without seeking to succor either. The fumes of brandy, and the sudden revulsion from active wrath to apathy, seemed to stupefy his brain. At last he stooped beside the outstretched form of Molly, and, with averted face, felt in her pocket and drew out the key. Stealthily, as if he feared that they could hear him, he moved toward the door, opened it, and passing through, closed it gently, as one does who would not waken a sleeping child or invalid. Rapidly, but with soft steps, he descended the stairs, and went out into the darkness and the storm.
When Miranda awakened from her swoon, the lamp was burning dimly, and the first light of dawn came faintly through the blinds. All was still around her, and for some moments she could not recall the terrible scene which had passed before her eyes. Presently her fingers came in contact with the clots of gore that were thickening on her garment, and she arose quickly, and, with a shudder, tottered against the wall. Her eyes fell upon Moll's white face, the brow mangled and bruised, and the dishevelled hair soaking in the crimson tide that kept faintly oozing from the cut. She was alone in the house with that terrible object; for Philip, careless of her convenience, had only procured the services of a girl from a neighboring farm-house, who attended to the household duties during the day, and went home in the evening. But her womanly compassion was stronger than her sense of horror, and kneeling by the side of the prostrate woman, with inexpressible relief she perceived, by the slight pulsation of the heart, that life was there. Entering her chamber, she hastily put on a morning wrapper, and returning with towel and water, raised Moll's head upon her lap, and washed the thick blood from her face. The cooling moisture revived the wounded woman; her bosom swelled with a deep sigh, and she opened her eyes and looked languidly around.
"How do you feel now, madam?" asked Miranda, gently.
"Who are you?" said Moll, in reply, after a moment's pause.
"Miranda—Miranda Searle, the wife of Philip," she added, trembling at the remembrance of the woman's treatment at her husband's hands.
Molly raised herself with an effort, and sat upon the floor, looking at Miranda, while she laughed with a loud and hollow sound.
"Philip's wife, eh? And you love him, don't you? Well, dreams can't last forever."
"Don't you feel strong enough to get up and lie upon the bed?" asked Miranda, soothingly, for she was uncomfortable tinder the strange glare that the woman fixed upon her.
"I'm well enough," said Moll. "Where's Philip?"
"Indeed, I do not know. I am very sorry, ma'am, that—that"—
"Never mind. Give me a glass of water."
Miranda hastened to comply, and Moll swallowed the water, and remained silent for a moment.
"Shan't I go for assistance?" asked Miranda, who was anxious to put an end to this painful interview, and was also distressed about her husband's absence. "There's no one except ourselves in the house, but I can go to the farmer's house near by."
"Not for the world," interrupted Moll, taking her by the arm. "I'm well enough. Here, let me lean on you. That's it. I'll sit on the rocking-chair. Thank you. Just bind my head up, will you? Is it an ugly cut?" she asked, as Miranda, having procured some linen, carefully bandaged the wounded part.
"Oh, yes! It's very bad. Does it pain you much, ma'am?"
"Never mind. There, that will do. Now sit down there. Don't be afraid of me. I ain't a-going to hurt you. It's only the cut that makes me look so ugly."
"Oh, no! I am not at all afraid, ma'am," said Miranda, shuddering in spite of herself.
"You are a sweet-looking girl," said Moll, fixing her haggard, but yet beautiful eyes upon the fragile form beside her. "It's a pity you must be unhappy. Has that fellow been unkind to you?"
"What fellow madam?"
"He is my husband, madam," replied Miranda, mildly, but with the slightest accent of displeasure.
"He is, eh? Hum! You love him dearly, don't you?"
Miranda blushed, and asked:
"Do you know my husband?"
"Know him! If you knew him as well, it would be better for you. You'll know him well enough before long. You come from Virginia, don't you?"
"You must go back there."
"If Philip wishes it."
"I tell you, you must go at once—to-day. I will give you money, if you have none. And you must never speak of what has happened in this house. Do you understand me?"
"Forget Philip. You must never see him any more. Why should you want to? Don't you know that he's a brute, and will beat you as he beat me, if you stay with him. Why should you care about him?"
"He is my husband, and you should not speak about him so to me," said Miranda, struggling with her tears, and scarce knowing in what vein to converse with the rude woman, whose strange language bewildered and frightened her.
"Bah!" said Moll, roughly. "You're a simpleton. There, don't cry, though heaven knows you've cause enough, poor thing! Philip Searle's a villain. I could send him to the State prison if I chose."
"Oh, no! don't say that; indeed, don't."
"I tell you I could; but I will not, if you mind me, and do what I tell you. I'm a bad creature, but I won't harm you, if I can help it. You helped me when I was lying there, after that villain hurt me, and I can't help liking you. And yet you've hurt me, too."
"Yes. Shall I tell you a story? Poor girl! you're wretched enough now, but you'd better know the truth at once. Listen to me: I was an innocent girl, like you, once. Not so beautiful, perhaps, and not so good; for I was always proud and willful, and loved to have my own way. I was a country girl, and had money left to me by my dead parents. A young man made my acquaintance. He was gay and handsome, and made me believe that he loved me. Well, I married him—do you hear? I married him—at the church, with witnesses, and a minister to make me his true and lawful wife. Curse him! I wish he had dropped down dead at the altar. There, you needn't shudder; it would have been well for you if he had. I married him, and then commenced my days of sorrow and—of guilt. He squandered my money at the gambling-table, and I was sometimes in rags and without food. He was drunk half the time, and abused me; but I was even with him there, and gave him as good as he gave me. He taught me to drink, and such a time as we sometimes made together would have made Satan blush. I thought I was low enough; but he drove me lower yet. He put temptation in my way—he did, curse his black heart! though he denied it. I fell as low as woman can fall, and then I suppose you think he left me? Well, he did, for a time; he went off somewhere, and perhaps it was then he was trying to ruin some other girl, as foolish as I had been. But he came back, and got money from me—the wages of my sin. And all the while, he was as handsome, and could talk as softly as if he was a saint. And with that smooth tongue and handsome face he won another bride, and married her—married her, I tell you; and that's why I can send him to the State prison."
"Send him! Who? My God! what do you mean?" cried Miranda, rising slowly from her chair, with clasped hands and ashen cheeks.
"Philip Searle, my husband!" shouted Moll, rising also, and standing with gleaming eyes before the trembling girl.
Miranda sank slowly back into her seat, tearless, but shuddering as with an ague fit. Only from her lips, with a moaning sound, a murmur came:
"No, no, no! oh, no!"
"May God strike me dead this instant, if it is not true!" said Moll, sadly; for she felt for the poor girl's, distress.
Miranda rose, her hands pressed tightly against her heart, and moved toward the door with tottering and uncertain steps, like one who suffocates and seeks fresh air. Then her white lips were stained with purple; a red stream gushed from her mouth and dyed the vestment on her bosom; and ere Moll could reach her, she had sunk, with an agonizing sob, upon the floor.
The night after the unhappy circumstance we have related, in the bar-room of a Broadway hotel, in New York city, a colonel of volunteers, moustached and uniformed, and evidently in a very unmilitary condition of unsteadiness, was entertaining a group of convivial acquaintances, with bacchanalian exercises and martian gossip.
He had already, with a month's experience at the seat of war, culled the glories of unfought fields, and was therefore an object of admiration to his civilian friends, and of envy to several unfledged heroes, whose maiden swords had as yet only jingled on the pavement of Broadway, or flashed in the gaslight of saloons. They were yet none the less conscious of their own importance, these embryo Napoleons, but wore their shoulder straps with a killing air, and had often, on a sunny afternoon, stood the fire of bright eyes from innumerable promenading batteries, with gallantry, to say the least.
And now they stood, like Caesars, amid clouds of smoke, and wielded their formidable goblets with the ease of veterans, though not always with a soldierly precision. And why should they not? Their tailors had made them heroes, every one; and they had never yet once led the van in a retreat.
"And how's Tim?" asked one of the black-coated hangers-on upon prospective glory.
"Tim's in hot water," answered the colonel, elevating his chin and elbow with a gesture more suggestive of Bacchus than of Mars.
"Hot brandy and water would be more like him," said the acknowledged wit of the party, looking gravely at the sugar in his empty glass, as if indifferent to the bursts of laughter which rewarded his appropriate sally.
"I'll tell you about it," said the colonel. "Fill up, boys. Thompson, take a fresh segar."
Thompson took it, and the boys filled up, while the colonel flung down a specimen of Uncle Sam's eagle with an emphasis that demonstrated what he would do for the bird when opportunity offered.
"You see, we had a party of Congressmen in camp, and were cracking some champagne bottles in the adjutant's tent. We considered it a military necessity to floor the legislators, you know; but one old senator was tough as a siege-gun, and wouldn't even wink at his third bottle. So the corks flew about like minie balls, but never a man but was too good a soldier to cry 'hold, enough.' As for that old demijohn of a senator, it seemed he couldn't hold enough, and wouldn't if he could; so we directed the main battle against him, and opened a masked battery upon him, by uncovering a bottle of Otard; but he never flinched. It was a game of Brag all over, and every one kept ordering 'a little more grape.' Presently, up slaps a mounted aid, galloping like mad, and in tumbles the sleepy orderly for the officer of the day.
"'That's you, Tim,' says I. But Tim was just then singing the Star Spangled Banner in a convivial whisper to the tune of the Red, White, and Blue, and wouldn't be disturbed on no account.
"'Tumble out, Tim,' says I, 'or I'll have you court-martialled and shot.'
"'In the neck,' says Tim. But he did manage to tumble out, and finished the last stanzas with a flourish, for the edification of the mounted aid-de-camp.
"'Where's the officer of the day?' asked the aid, looking suspiciously at Tim's shaky knees.
"'He stands before you,' replied Tim, steadying himself a little by affectionately hanging on to the horse's tail.
"'You sir? you're unfit for duty, and I'll report you, sir, at headquarters,' said the aid, who was a West Pointer, you know, stiff as a poker in regimentals.
"'Sir!—hic,' replied Tim, with an attempt at offended dignity, the effect of which was rather spoiled by the accompanying hiccough.
"'Where's the colonel!' asked the aid.
"'Drunk,' says that rascal, Tim, confidentially, with a knowing wink.
"'Where's the adjutant?'
"'Good God, sir, are you all drunk?'
"''Cept the surgeon—he's got the measles.'
"'Orderly, give this dispatch, to the first sober officer you can find.'
"'It's no use, captain,' says Tim, 'the regiment's drunk—'cept me, hic!' and Tim lost his balance, and tumbled over the orderly, for you see the captain put spurs to his horse rather suddenly, and whisked the friendly tail out of his hands.
"So we were all up before the general the next day, but swore ourselves clear, all except Tim, who had the circumstantial evidence rather too strong against him."
"And such are the men in whom the country has placed its trust?" muttered a grey-headed old gentleman, who, while apparently absorbed in his newspaper, had been listening to the colonel's narrative.
A young man who had lounged into the room approached the party and caught the colonel's eye:
"Ah! Searle, how are you? Come up and take a drink."
A further requisition was made upon the bartender, and the company indulged anew. Searle, although a little pale and nervous, was all life and gaiety. His coming was a fresh brand on the convivial flame, and the party, too much exhilarated to be content with pushing one vice to excess, sallied forth in search of whatever other the great city might afford. They had not to look far. Folly is at no fault in the metropolis for food of whatever quality to feed upon; and they were soon accommodated with excitement to their hearts content at a fashionable gambling saloon on Broadway. The colonel played with recklessness and daring that, if he carries it to the battle-field, will wreathe his brow with laurels; but like many a rash soldier before him, he did not win. On the contrary, his eagles took flight with a rapidity suggestive of the old adage that "gold hath wings," and when, long after midnight, he stood upon the deserted street alone with Philip Searle and his reflections, he was a sadder and a soberer man.
"Searle, I'm a ruined man."
"You'll fight all the better for it," replied Philip, knocking the ashes from his segar. "Come, you'll never mend the matter by taking cold here in the night air; where do you put up? I'll see you home."
"D—n you, you take it easy," said the colonel, bitterly. Philip could afford to take it easy, for he had most of the colonel's money in his pocket. In fact, the unhappy votary of Mars was more thoroughly ruined than his companion was aware of, for when fortune was hitting him hardest, he had not hesitated to bring into action a reserve of government funds which had been intrusted to his charge for specific purposes.
"Searle," said the colonel, after they had walked along silently for a few minutes, "I was telling you this evening about that vacant captaincy."
"Yes, you were telling me I shouldn't have it," replied Philip, with an accent of injured friendship.
"Well, I fancied it out of my power to do anything about it. But"—
"I think I might get it for you, for—for"——
"A consideration?" suggested Philip, interrogatively.
"Well, to be plain with you, let me have five hundred, and you've won all of that to-night, and I'll get you the captaincy."
"We'll talk about it to-morrow morning," replied Philip.
And in the morning the bargain was concluded; Philip, with the promise that all should be satisfactorily arranged, started the same day for Washington, to await the commission so honorably disposed of by the gallant colonel.
We will let thirty days pass on, and bear the reader South of the Potomac, beyond the Federal lines and within rifle-shot of an advanced picket of the Confederate army, under General Beauregard. It was a dismal night—the 16th of July. The rain fell heavily and the wind moaned and shrieked through the lone forests like unhappy spirits wailing in the darkness. A solitary horseman was cautiously wending his way through the storm upon the Centreville road and toward the Confederate Hue. He bore a white handkerchief, and from time to time, as his ear seemed to catch a sound other than the voice of the tempest, he drew his rein and raised the fluttering symbol at his drawn sword's point. Through the dark masses of foliage that skirted the roadside, presently could be seen the fitful glimmer of a watchfire, and the traveller redoubled his precautions, but yet rode steadily on.
"Halt!" cried a stern, loud voice from a clump of bushes that looked black and threatening in the darkness. The horseman checked his horse and sat immovable in the centre of the road.
"Who goes there?" followed quick, in the same deep, peremptory tone.
"An officer of the United States, with a flag of truce," was answered in a clear, firm voice.
"Stand where you are." There was a pause, and presently four dark forms emerged from the roadside, and stood at the horse's head.
"You've chosen a strange time for your errand, and a dangerous one," said one of the party, with a mild and gentlemanly accent.
"The officer in command of this picket."
"Is not that Beverly Weems?"
"The same. And surely I know that voice."
"Of course you do, if you know Harold Hare."
And the stranger, dismounting, stretched out his hand, which was eagerly and warmly clasped, and followed by a silent and prolonged embrace.
"How rash you have been, Harold," said Beverly, at last. "It is a mercy that I was by, else might a bullet have been your welcome. Why did you not wait till morning?"
"Because my mission admits of no delay. It is most opportune that I have met you. You have spoken to me at times, and Oriana often, of your young cousin, Miranda."
"Yes, Harold, what of her?"
"Beverly, she is within a rifle-shot of where we stand, very sick—dying I believe."
"Good God, Harold! what strange tale is this?"
"I am in command of an advanced picket, stationed at the old farm-house yonder. Toward dusk this evening, a carriage drove up, and when challenged, a pass was presented, with orders to assist the bearer, Miranda Ayleff, beyond the lines. I remembered the name, and stepping to the carriage door, beheld two females, one of whom was bending over her companion, and holding a vial, a restorative, I suppose, to her lips.
"'She has fainted, sir,' said the woman, 'and is very ill. I'm afraid she won't last till she gets to Richmond. Can't you help her; isn't there a surgeon among you at the farm-house there?'
"We had no surgeon, but I had her taken into the house, and made as comfortable as possible. When she recovered from her swoon, she asked for you, and repeatedly for Oriana, and would not be comforted until I promised her that she should be taken immediately on to Richmond. 'She could not die there, among strangers,' she said; 'she must see one friend before she died. She must go home at once and be forgiven.' And thus she went, half in delirium, until I feared that her life would pass away, from sheer exhaustion. I determined to ride over to your picket at once, not dreaming, however, that you were in command. At dawn to-morrow we shall probably be relieved, and it might be beyond my power then to meet her wishes."
"I need not say how much I thank you, Harold. But you were ever kind and generous. Poor girl! Let us ride over at once, Harold. Who is her companion?"
"A woman some years her senior, but yet young, though prematurely faded. I could get little from her. Not even her name. She is gloomy and reserved, even morose at times; but she seems to be kind and attentive to Miranda."
Beverly left some hasty instructions with his sergeant, and rode over with Harold to the farm-house. They found Miranda reclining upon a couch of blankets, over which Harold had spread his military cloak, for the dwelling had been stripped of its furniture, and was, in fact, little more than a deserted ruin. The suffering girl was pale and attenuated, and her sunken eyes were wild and bright with the fire of delirium. Yet she seemed to recognize Beverly, and stretched out her thin arms when he approached, exclaiming in tremulous accents:
"Take me home, Beverly, oh, take me home!"
Moll was seated by her side, upon a soldier's knapsack; her chin resting upon her hands, and her black eyes fixed sullenly upon the floor. She would give but short and evasive answers to Beverly's questions, and stubbornly refused to communicate the particulars of Miranda's history.
"She broke a blood-vessel a month ago in Boston. But she got better, and was always wanting to go to her friends in Richmond. And so I brought her on. And now you must take care of her, for I'm going back to camp."
This was about all the information she would give, and the two young men ceased to importune her, and directed their attentions to the patient.
The carriage was prepared and the cushions so arranged, with the help of blankets, as to form a kind of couch within the vehicle. Upon this Miranda was tenderly lifted, and when she was told that she should be taken home without delay, and would soon see Oriana, she smiled like a pleased child, and ceased complaining.
Beverly stood beside his horse, with his hand clasped in Harold's. The rain poured down upon them, and the single watchfire, a little apart from which the silent sentinel stood leaning on his rifle, threw its rude glare upon their saddened faces.
"Good bye, old friend," said Beverly. "We have met strangely to-night, and sadly. Pray heaven we may not meet more sadly on the battle-field."
"Tell Oriana," replied Harold, "that I am with her in my prayers." He had not spoken of her before, although Beverly had mentioned that she was at the old manor house, and well. "I have not heard from Arthur," he continued, "for I have been much about upon scouting parties since I came, but I doubt not he is well, and I may find a letter when I return to camp. Good bye; and may our next meeting see peace upon the land."
They parted, and the carriage, with Beverly riding at its side, moved slowly into the darkness, and was gone.
Harold returned into the farm-house, and found Moll seated where he had left her, and still gazing fixedly at the floor. He did not disturb her, but paced the floor slowly, lost in his own melancholy thoughts. After a silence of some minutes, the woman spoke, without looking up.
"Have they gone?"
"She is dying, ain't she?"
"I fear she is very ill."
"I tell you, she's dying—and it's better that she is."
She then relapsed into her former mood, but after a while, as Harold paused at the window and looked out, she spoke again.
"Will it soon be day?"
"Within an hour, I think," replied Harold. "Do you go back at daylight?"
"You have no horse?"
"You'll lend me one, won't you? If you don't, I don't care; I can walk."
"We will do what we can for you. What is your business at the camp?"
"Never mind," she answered gruffly. And then, after a pause, she asked:
"Is there a man named Searle in your army—Philip Searle?"
"Nay, I know not. There may be. I have never heard the name. Do you seek such a person? Is he your friend, or relative?"
"Never mind," she said again, and then was silent as before.
With the approach of dawn, the sentry challenged an advancing troop, which proved to be the relief picket guard. Harold saluted the officer in command, and having left orders respectively with their subordinates, they entered the farm-house together, and proceeded to the apartment where Moll still remained seated. She did not seem to notice their entrance; but when the new-comer's voice, in some casual remark, reached her ear, she rose up suddenly, and walking straight forward to where the two stood, looking out at the window, she placed her hand heavily, and even rudely, upon his shoulder. He turned at the touch, and beholding her, started back, with not only astonishment, but fear.
"You needn't look so white, Philip Searle," she said at last, in a low, hoarse tone. "It's not a ghost you're looking at. But perhaps you're only angry that you only half did your business while you were at it."
"Where did you pick up this woman?" asked Searle of Harold, drawing him aside.
"She came with an invalid on her way to Richmond," replied Harold.
He spoke almost in a whisper, but Moll overheard him, and answered fiercely:
"One that is dying, Philip; and you know well enough who murdered her. 'Twasn't me you struck the hardest blow that night. Do you see that scar? That's nothing; but you struck her to the heart."
"What does she mean?" asked Harold, looking sternly into Philip's disturbed eye.
"Heaven knows. She's mad," he answered. "Did she tell you nothing—no absurd story?"
"Nothing. She was sullen and uncommunicative, and half the time took no notice of our questions."
"No wonder, poor thing!" said Philip. "She's mad. However, I have some little power with her, and if you will leave us alone awhile, I will prevail upon her to go quietly back to Washington."
Harold went up to the woman, who was leaning with folded arms against the wall, and spoke kindly to her.
"Should you want assistance, I will help you. We shall be going in half an hour. You must be ready to go with us, you know, for you can't stay here, where there may be fighting presently."
"Thank you," she replied. "Don't mind me. I can take care of myself. You can leave us alone together. I'm not afraid of him."
Harold left the room, and busied himself about the preparations for departure. Left alone with the woman he had wronged, Philip for some moments paced the room nervously and with clouded brow. Finally, he stopped abruptly before Moll, who had been following his motions with her wild, unquiet eyes.
"Where have you sprung from now, and what do you want?"
"Do you see that scar?" she said again, but more fiercely than before. "While that lasts, there's no love 'twixt you and me, and it'll last me till my death."
"Then why do you trouble me. If you don't love me, why do you hang about me wherever I go? We'll be better friends away from each other than together. Why don't you leave me alone?"
"Ha! ha! we must be quits for that, you know," she answered, rather wildly, and pointing to her forehead. "Do you think I'm a poor whining fool like her, to get sick and die when you abuse me? I'll haunt you till I die, Philip; and after, too, if I can, to punish you for that."
Philip fancied that he detected the gleam of insanity in her eye, and he was not wrong, for the terrible blow he had inflicted had injured her brain; and her mind, weakened by dissipation and the action of excitement upon her violent temperament, was tottering upon the verge of madness.
"When I was watching that poor sick girl," she continued, "I thought I could have loved her, she was so beautiful and gentle, as she lay there, white and thin, and never speaking a word against you, Philip, but thinking of her friends far away, and asking to be taken home—home, where her mother was sleeping under the sod—home, to be loved and kissed again before she died. And I would have loved her if I hadn't hated you so much that there wasn't room for the love of any living creature in my bad heart. I used to sit all night and hear her talk—talk in her dreams and in her fever—as if there were kind people listening to her, people that were kind to her long ago. And the room seemed full of angels sometimes, so that I was afraid to move and look about; for I could swear I heard the fanning of their wings and the rustle of their feet upon the carpet. Sometimes I saw big round tears upon her wasted cheeks, and I wouldn't brush them away, for they looked like jewels that the angels had dropped there. And then I tried to cry myself, but, ha! ha! I had to laugh instead, although my heart was bursting. I wished I could have cried; I'm sure it would have made my heart so light, and perhaps it would have burst that ring of hot iron that was pressing so hard around my head. It's there now, sinking and burning right against my temples. But I can't cry, I haven't since I was a little girl, long ago, long ago; but I think I cried when mother died, long ago, long ago."
She was speaking in a kind of dreamy murmur, while Philip paced the room; and finally she sank down upon the floor, and sat there with her hands pressed against her brows, rocking herself to and fro.
"Moll," said Philip, stooping over her, and speaking in a gentle tone, "I'm sorry I struck you, indeed I am; but I was drunk, and when you cut me, I didn't know what I was about. Now let's be friends, there's a good girl. You must go back to Washington, you know, and to New York, and stay there till I come back. Won't you, now, Moll?"
"Won't I? No, Philip Searle, I won't. I'll stay by you till you kill me; yes, I will. You want to go after that poor girl and torment her; but she's dying and soon you won't be able to hurt her any more."
"Was it she, Moll, was it Miranda that came here with you? Was she going to Richmond?"
"She was going to heaven, Philip Searle, out of the reach of such as you and me. I'm good enough for you, Philip, bad as I am; and I'm your wife, besides."
"You told her that?"
"Told her? Ha! ha! Told her? do you think I'm going to make that a secret? No, no. We're a bad couple, sure enough; but I'm not going to deny you, for all that. Look you, young man," she continued, addressing Harold, who at that moment entered the room, "that is Philip Searle, and Philip Searle is my husband—my husband, curse his black heart! and if he dares deny it, I'll have him in the State prison, for I can do it."
"She's perfectly insane," said Philip; but Harold looked thoughtful and perplexed, and scanned his fellow-officer's countenance with a searching glance.
"At all events," he said, "she must not remain here. My good woman, we are ready now, and you must come with us. We have a horse for you, and will make you comfortable. Are you ready?"
"No," she replied, sullenly, "I won't go. I'll stay with my husband."
"Nay," remonstrated Harold, gently, "you cannot stay here. This is no place for women. When we arrive at headquarters, you shall tell your story to General McDowell, and he will see that you are taken care of, and have justice if you have been wronged. But you must not keep us waiting. We are soldiers, you know, and must do our duty."
Still, however, she insisted upon remaining where she was; but when two soldiers, at a gesture from Harold, approached and took her gently by the arms, she offered no resistance, and suffered herself to be led quietly out. Harold coldly saluted Searle, and left him in charge of the post; while himself and party, accompanied by Moll and the coachman who had driven them from Washington, were soon briskly marching toward the camp.
Toward dusk of the same day, while Philip and his lieutenant were seated at the rude pine table, conversing after their evening meal, the sergeant of the guard entered with a slip of paper, on which was traced a line in pencil.
"Is the bearer below?" asked Philip, as he cast his eyes over the paper.
"Yes, sir. He was challenged a minute ago, and answered with the countersign and that slip for you, sir."
"It's all right, sergeant; you may send him up. Mr. Williams," he continued, to his comrade, "will you please to look about a little and see that all is in order. I will speak a few words with this messenger."
The lieutenant and sergeant left the room, and presently afterward there entered, closing the door carefully after him, no less a personage than Seth Rawbon.
"You're late," said Philip, motioning him to a chair.
"There's an old proverb to answer that," answered Rawbon, as he leisurely adjusted his lank frame upon the seat. Having established himself to his satisfaction, he continued:
"I had to make a considerable circuit to avoid the returning picket, who might have bothered me with questions. I'm in good time, though. If you've made up your mind to go, you'll do it as well by night, and safer too."
"What have you learned?"
"Enough to make me welcome at headquarters. You were right about the battle. There'll be tough work soon. They're fixing for a general advance. If you expect to do your first fighting under the stars and bars, you must swear by them to-night."
"Have you been in Washington?"
"Every nook and corner of it. They don't keep their eyes skinned, I fancy, up there. Your fancy colonels have slippery tongues when the champagne corks are flying. If they fight as hard as they drink, they'll give us trouble. Well, what do you calculate to do?" he added, after a pause, during which Philip was moody and lost in thought.
Philip rose from his seat and paced the floor uneasily, while Rawbon filled a glass from a flask of brandy on the table. It was now quite dark without, and neither of them observed the figure of a woman crouched on the narrow veranda, her chin resting on the sill of the open window. At last Philip resumed his seat, and he, too, swallowed a deep draught from the flask of brandy.
"Tell me what I can count upon?" he asked.
"The same grade you have, and in a crack regiment. It's no use asking for money. They've none to spare for such as you—now don't look savage—I mean they won't buy men that hain't seen service, and you can't expect them to. I told you all about that before, and it's time you had your mind made up."
"What proofs of good faith can you give me?"
Rawbon thrust his hand into his bosom and drew out a roll of parchment.
"This commission, under Gen. Beauregard's hand, to be approved when you report yourself at headquarters."
Philip took the document and read it attentively, while Rawbon occupied himself with filling his pipe from a leathern pouch. The female figure stepped in at the window, and, gliding noiselessly into the room, seated herself in a third chair by the table before either of the men became aware of her presence. They started up with astonishment and consternation. She did not seem to heed them, but leaning upon the table, she stretched her hand to the brandy flask and applied it to her lips.
"Who's this?" demanded Rawbon, with his hand upon the hilt of his large bowie knife.
"Curse her! my evil genius," answered Philip, grating his teeth with anger. It was Moll.
"What's this, Philip!" she said, clutching the parchment which had been dropped upon the table.
"Leave that," ejaculated her husband, savagely, and darting to take it from her.
But she eluded his grasp, and ran with the document into a corner of the room.
"Ha! ha! ha! I know what it is," she said, waving it about as a schoolboy sometimes exultingly exhibits a toy that he has mischievously snatched from a comrade.
"It's your death-warrant, Philip Searle, if somebody sees it over yonder. I heard you. I heard you. You're going over to fight for Jeff. Davis. Well, I don't care, but I'll go with you. Don't come near me. Don't hurt me, Philip, or I'll scream to the soldier out there."
"I won't hurt you, Moll. Be quiet now, there's a good girl. Come here and take a sup more of brandy."
"I won't. You want to hurt me. But you can't. I'm a match for you both. Ha! ha! You don't know how nicely I slipped away from the soldiers when they, were resting. I went into the thick bushes, right down in the water, and lay still. I wanted to laugh when I saw them, hunting for me, and I could almost have touched the young officer if I had wished. But I lay still as a mouse, and they went off and never found me. Ha! ha! ha!"
"Is she drunk or mad?" asked Rawbon.
"Mad," answered Philip, "but cunning enough to do mischief, if she has a mind to. Moll, dear, come sit down here and be quiet; come, now."
"Mad? mad?" murmured Moll, catching his word. "No, I'm not mad," she continued wildly, passing her hands over her brows, "but I saw spirits just now in the woods, and heard voices, and they've frightened me. The ghost of the girl that died in the hospital was there. You knew little blue-eyed Lizzie, Philip. She was cursing me when she died and calling for her mother. But I don't care. The man paid me well for getting her, and 'twasn't my fault if she got sick and died. Poor thing! poor thing! poor little blue-eyed Lizzie! She was innocent enough when she first came, but she got to be as bad as any—until she got sick and died. Poor little Lizzie!" And thus murmuring incoherently, the unhappy woman sat down upon the floor, and bent her head upon her knees.
"Clap that into her mouth," whispered Philip, handing Rawbon his handkerchief rolled tightly into a ball. "Quietly now, but quick. Look out now. She's strong as a trooper."
They approached her without noise, but suddenly, and while Philip grasped her wrists, Rawbon threw back her head, and forcing the jaws open by a violent pressure of his knuckles against the joint, thrust the handkerchief between her teeth and bound it tightly there with two turns of his sash. The shriek was checked upon her lips and changed into a painful, gurgling groan. The poor creature, with convulsive efforts, struggled to free her arms from Philip's grasp, but he managed to keep his hold until Rawbon had secured her wrists with the stout cord that suspended his canteen. A silk neckerchief was then tightly bound around her ankles, and Moll, with heaving breast and glaring eyes, lay, moaning piteously, but speechless and motionless, upon the floor.
"We can leave her there," said Rawbon. "It's not likely any of your men will come in, until morning at least. Let's be off at once."