Merry, too, had seen the story, and came over to show it to Mrs. Sprague.
"I have seen it, I have seen it. Who of the Caribees can these be? Who is Jacques? I never heard that name here."
"Ah! he must be one of the town recruits. It's a French name."
"Yes, it is part of a rather famous French name," Mrs. Sprague replied, half smiling at Merry's innocence. "Something must be done to get into communication with these escaped men. Some of them must have seen Jack. If there are Caribees among them, you may be sure they have messages from our boys. I think I shall set out for Washington, or ask Mr. Brodie to go."
"That's better. Mr. Brodie can get at the men and you couldn't. I shall be in a fever until we have heard from them."
Brodie agreed with the ladies when, later, they discussed the matter with him, and that evening he set out for Washington. Mrs. Sprague at the tea-table with Merry, who made it a point to give the lonely mother as much of her time as she could spare, was still pondering the paragraph when the sound of carriage-wheels came in through the closed curtains. Then the front door opened without knocking, and there was a rustle in the hallway, and then, with a simultaneous scream, three agitated females, to wit, Mrs. Sprague, Merry, and Olympia, in a confused mass.
"O my child! my child!"
"Dearest, dearest Olympia," Merry splutters, wildly embracing both.
"Oh, how delightful to be here, to see you, mamma as peaceful and serene as in the old days! I thought I should never get home. I left Richmond three weeks ago. I was held at Fredericksburg for ten days. Then I had to turn back when we got to Manassas, through some red tape lacking there. But here I am. Here I am at home—ugh!—I shall never quit it again—never."
"But, my child. Tell us—Jack!"
"Jack? Haven't you heard from him? He escaped three weeks ago. It was he who got the men out of the prison. Dick was with him. Surely you have heard of that?" and Olympia sank into the nearest chair, all the gayety gone from her face, her eyes questioning the two wretched women. Neither could for the moment control her agitation; neither was capable of thinking. All that was in their minds was this dire specter of a month's silence. Alive, Jack or Dick would have found means to relieve their anxiety.
"Surely you heard that a party had escaped from Libby and made their way to Fort Monroe?" Olympia cried, desperately.
"Fort Monroe?" Mrs. Sprague echoed mechanically. "Yes, ah, yes. Merry, where's the paper?"
Olympia devoured the meager scrap and then dropped the journal on her knees. Her mind was in a whirl. In Richmond the escape had been announced, then the news that the party had been surrounded in the swamp, then day by day details of the taking of straggling negroes and one or two soldiers, but no name that even resembled Jack's. The Atterburys, after the first painful sensation, had given their approval of Jack's going, and used all means in their power to get such facts as would comfort Olympia. They assured her that Jack had reached the Union lines, and then she had set out northward, expecting to find him at home or in communication with his family. No word from Dick? No word from Jack? They were dead, and she—she had urged them to the mad adventure! She had given Jack no peace, had fired Dick to the fatal enterprise. She dared not look in the tearless eyes of her mother. She dared not face the ghastly questioning in Merry's meek eye. Brodie had gone down to see the escaped men. Perhaps he would discover something. This was the small comfort left the three when, near midnight, they ended the woful conference.
The next day Olympia was visited by a representative of the Crossbow, the chief journal of Warchester, and urged to write a narrative of her adventures in the rebel capital. Until her friends made her see how much effect it would have in clearing Jack's reputation she shrank from the publicity, but with that end in view—Jack's honor—she wrote, and wrote with strength and clearness, the moving incidents of her brother's capture, captivity, and escape—or his bold effort to escape. This she told so simply, so directly, so vividly, that the truth of it at once, struck the most prejudiced reader, who had no cause to continue in his prepossession. After the publication in the Warchester paper scores who had sided with the Boone faction either called or wrote to confess their error. Even the Acredale Monitor, a weekly sheet notoriously in the interest of Boone, felt constrained to copy parts of the account and publish with it a shambling retraction of previous criticism, based on imperfect knowledge, that it had printed concerning Sergeant Sprague. "Death," it declared, "has obliterated all feeling that existed against our young townsman, whose conduct, though open to grievous doubt in the early part of his military career has been amply atoned for in the intrepid enterprise in which he seems to have lost his life."
A WOMAN'S REASON.
The still, small voice that makes itself a force in the heart, which the poets call our mentor and the moralists conscience, had been painfully garrulous in Kate Boone's breast since the angry parting with Jack at Rosedale. At first, in the wild grief of Wesley's death, she had hugged hatred of Jack to her heart as a sublime revenge for the murder. But with the hot partisanship allayed in the long weeks of reflection preceding the rumor of Jack's own death, she began dimly to admit of palliation in her lover's fatal act. Her father, the Boone faction, all who had access to her, held the shooting to be a craftily planned murder, calculated to bring advantage to the assassin. To check the sacrilegious love she felt in her heart, she too had been forced to believe, to admit the worst. But when the image of Jack came to her mind, as it did day and night, it was as the gay, frank, chivalrous Hotspur, as unlike a murderer as Golgotha to Hesperides. She had never dared to confide to her father that vows had been exchanged between, them—that they were, in fact, affianced lovers. He, never suspecting, talked with her day after day of the signal vengeance in store for the miscreant; how he had enlisted the aid of the most powerful in Washington; how he had instructed the emissaries sent to Richmond to effect Wesley's release, to direct all their energies to entrapping the murderer into the ranks of the escaping prisoners.
She had often been startled by her father's far-seeing, malignantly planned vengeances, and, now that the rumor of Jack's death began to settle into belief, she was appalled by a sudden sense of complicity in a murderous plot. Not that she believed her father capable of murder or its procuration, but, knowing his potency with the authorities, she saw that there were many ways in which Jack might be sacrificed in the natural course of military duties. She had heard things of the sort discussed—how inconvenient men had been sent into pitfalls and never heard of again.
She began dimly to see that, at worst, Jack's act was not the calculated murder her father held it to be. In her own tortured mind there had been at first but one clear process of reasoning. That process, whenever she began to gather the shreds, had led her mind straight to the conviction that Jack's shot had been premeditated, that the chance had been prearranged with the enemies of her brother. At first her only distinct thought was that the hapless Wesley had been lured to his death. The hand of the man she loved had sent the fatal shot into the poor boy's body. Had it been in self-defense—even in the heat of uncontrollable anger—she could have found mitigation for Jack; but there was neither the justification of self-defense nor the plausible pretext of anger. One word of warning, which Jack could have spoken, would have saved Wesley from the rash, the dastardly attempt upon the Rosedale household. The plot, in all its details, must have been known to Jack or Dick, else how explain their presence in the chamber, armed and ready for the murder?
It had been a conspiracy of delusive kindness from the day Wesley entered Rosedale. The frankness and kindliness of the Atterburys had been assumed to lure him to his fatal adventure. Boone himself believed that Jack's ignoble ambition and envy had been the main motives in the murder. To this Kate, from the first, opposed a resolute incredulity.
"You don't know the fellow, I tell you," Boone doggedly argued. "He's as like his father as two snakes in a hole. Old man Sprague never let a man stand in his way. Jack's the same. He thought Wes' kept him from the shoulder-straps, and he got him out of the way. Wasn't he always snooping 'round in the regiment trying to undermine your brother? Wasn't he always trying to be popular? Ah, I know the Spragues. But I'll give them a wrench that'll twist their damned pride out of them. I'll have that cold-blooded young villain shot in a hollow square, and I'll have it done in this very district, that the whole county may know the disgrace of the high and mighty Spragues."
"No, father." Kate had heard all this before, but she, for the first time, resolved upon setting her father right. "No, Jack hasn't a particle of the feeling you ascribe to him. I don't think he liked poor Wesley. They were totally unlike in nature, and I think that Jack felt deeply that he had been wronged by Wesley's appointment. But it was not in his nature to seek revenge. He would have fought Wesley openly, but he would never be one of a gang of murderers. I think I can see how Jack was led into the part he played. It does not lessen the guilt, but it relieves him of the odious suspicions I first felt."
Then Boone, in irritable impatience, reminded her of her own earlier utterances; how from his first coming Wesley had been treated with studied distrust; how he had been denied the boyish intimacy that existed between Jack and Dick; how he was insensibly made to feel that he was in the house under a different cartel from that of Jack and Dick; that he was a prisoner on parole, and his word was doubted. Nothing could make him believe, he declared, getting up moodily, but that the whole lot of them had set out to drive Wesley into a corner and then kill him, as they had done.
Kate sighed wearily as her father left the room. If she could only be as well assured as her strong words implied! Ah! if she could fetch back her lover by getting at the truth, how willingly she would fly to Rosedale and learn all! But she dared not question, lest questioning should confirm, where she now at least had the miserable solace of doubt. Could it be true? Could Jack be the base schemer her father depicted him? Then her mind ran back to Rosedale. She lived again all the enchanting days of that earthly paradise. She saw Wesley's furtive starts, his strange disappearances, his growing melancholy, his moody reticence when she questioned him. Ah! if he had but confided to her! If she had but dreamed of the desperate purpose born of the loneliness he lived in! If Jack had been loyal to him, loyal to her, Wesley would have been warned that eager eyes were upon him, ready wits reading his purposes, and revengeful hatred ready to slaughter him.
When the news came that Jack had lost his life in the very enterprise Wesley had contemplated, Kate collapsed under the shock. Now, when it was too late, she convinced herself that he was innocent. If she could have recalled him to life, she cried in self-reproach, she would not ask whether he was all her first impulse had painted him. She had borne up with something like composure when Wesley's death came upon her; but now, tortured by a sense of responsibility in Jack's fate, she gave way to the grief she had so long repressed. If she had not upbraided him, if she had not accused him, in so many words, of murder, he would never have embarked on the mad plot of escape.
She had driven him to his death. She had sat silent while Acredale rang with calumnies against him. It was not too late yet to make reparation. She would proclaim publicly that her brother had rashly courted his own death; that Jack had unknowingly shot him down, as many a man does, in battle, shoot his best friend. She resolved on the instant to go to the stricken family and make such expiation there as was in her power. But was there any certainty that the report of Jack's death was true? Grievous mistakes of the same sort had been made repeatedly in the public journals. She was not able to formulate any plan at first. Her father was more morose than ever. He seemed in his way to deplore the young man's death, but not in pity, as she soon learned. Death had robbed him of a cruelly meditated revenge. She wisely made no comment when this brutal feeling betrayed itself; but for the first time in her life the girl shuddered at the sight of her father. The vague rumors of years, that had been whispered about him—rumors which of old had fired her soul with hot indignation, came back insidiously. She shuddered. Was she to lose all—brother, lover, father—in this unnatural strife? She had been so loyal to her father. She had been so proud of him when others reviled. She had felt so serenely confident of the nobleness of his heart, the generosity of his impulses. She had always been able to mold him, as she thought. Could it be possible that he was human to her, inhuman to the rest of the world? Then her mind, tortured by newly awakened doubts, ran back over the events leading to the rupture with the Spragues. She groaned at the retrospect. It was injustice that had displaced Jack in the command of the company. It was injustice that had marked her father's conduct in the Perley feud.
Grief is a logician of very direct methods. Its clarifying processes work like light in darkness. Kate saw the past in her father's conduct with terrifying vividness. She realized that it was her father's harsh purpose that had arrayed Acredale against him. It was his pride and arrogant obstinacy that had brought about the loss of all she loved. The fates had immolated the helpless; were the fates preparing a still bitterer expiation? Life had very little left for her now, but she resolved that she would no longer be isolated by her father's enmities. The great house had been gloomy enough for father and daughter during the last miserable months, but he still fled to her for comfort. It was one evening when he came in, apparently in better spirits than he had shown since Wesley's death, that she told him what had been filling her mind since Jack's death.
"O father, I think I see that our lives have been unworthy, if not altogether wrong. Surely such neighbors as ours could not all take sides against you, if you were in the right in all the feuds that have divided us as a family from the people of Acredale."
Then, in an almost imploring tone of reproach, she retraced the harsh episodes in the father's dealings with the Perleys, with the community, and, finally, the quarrel with the Spragues, involving in it the lives of Wesley and Jack. Her voice softened into tremulousness. She arose, and in her old pleading way pulled the shaggy head down on her breast, pressing her lips on the high, bare forehead.
"Dear father, all this is unchristian; you have in reality been waging war against women and children. Jack was a mere boy, Richard is a boy. I don't go into other enmities, where you have used the enormous power of wealth to crush the helpless. If you had not alienated the Spragues and encouraged Wesley in overbearing Jack, my brother would be alive to-day. My sweetheart—yes, Jack was dearer than all the world to me—he would not be dead to-day. Ah! father, father, what good comes of anger—what joy of revenge? You have brought about the death of these two boys. Is it not time to look at life with a new heart—with clear-seeing eyes?"
Elisha Boone sat quite still. He had listened at first with a flush of anger, which deepened as the girl pleaded, until it died away and left his face very pale. He pushed himself away from the clinging figure, as if the better to see her face. Then his head drooped. He sighed heavily, rose and without a word left the room. Kate heard him ascending the stairs, then the sound of his room door softly closing. Had the hateful fires of vengeance been quenched? It was her father's way, when resolutely opposed, to quit the scene and without confessing himself in the wrong, do as Kate urged. The next morning he was gone before she reached the breakfast-table. There was a note on her plate in his handwriting. She read with a sinking heart:
"MY DAUGHTER: If what you said last night is true, you can not be the daughter to me that you have been. I am going to Washington, and when I come back you will know that your brother was deliberately murdered, and that his murderer, even in the grave, is held guilty before all men of the crime."
The servant confirmed the tidings. Her father had arisen early and departed on the first train. What could it mean? Had he some evidence that she had not heard? Had Jack left papers incriminating him? Ah! why carry the hideous feud further? Why blast the melancholy repose of the living, by fastening this stain upon the dead? But they could not. She knew it. She could herself refute any proof brought forward. She would tell all. She would reveal their tender relationship, and surely then any one, knowing the young man's nature, would scout the assertion of his willfully shooting Wesley. But surely Olympia and Mrs. Sprague must be able to tell, and tell decisively, the circumstances in the tragedy. She would go to them. She owed this to the living; she owed it still more imperatively to the dead. She had not seen Olympia since her return. Mrs. Sprague had been too infirm to see her when she called. But she would not heed rebuffs now. In such a cause, on such a mission, she would have stood at the Sprague door a suppliant until even the obstinacy of her father would have relented. On her way across the square she saw Merry coming from the post. She turned out of her way, and hurrying to the near-sighted spinster held out her hand, saying, softly:
"Ah, Miss Merry, I'm so glad to see you! I have been meaning to call on you ever since I heard of your return, but, what with sorrow and illness, I have put it off, and now I want you to take me home with you. Will you not?"
The pleading tone, the caressing clasp of the hand, the sadly changed face, the somber black weeds, made the voice and figure so much unlike the old Kate, that Merry stood for an instant confused and blushing as she stammered:
"Bless me, Miss Kate, I—I—shouldn't have known you. Ah, I am very glad to see you; sisters will be very glad to see you, too. Do, do come right along with me. I'm afraid the parlor won't be very sightly, but you won't mind, will you?"
Kate squeezed the hand still resting in her own, and drawing the long veil back over face, she walked silently with the puzzled spinster, unable to broach the theme she had at heart. Merry spared her the torture of going at it obliquely.
"I have just been at the Spragues. Poor dears, they are in dreadful distress. Mrs. Sprague is preparing to go in search of the body, but Olympia won't give in that Jack is killed. She says that if he had been she certainly would have known it in Richmond, for there are couriers twice a day from the rebel outposts to the capital; that the Atterburys had taken special measures to learn the fate of the escaped prisoners; that, besides this, several young men in Richmond, who knew Jack well, had been sent down the peninsula with the prisoners, to befriend him in case he were retaken."
"And Olympia believes that Jack is alive?"
"Where does she think he is?"
"She believes that he is among a squad separated from the rest of the prisoners, near the Union lines. It was asserted in Richmond that many had crossed the James River, and were making for the Dismal Swamp, or into Burnside's lines in North Carolina."
"Dear Miss Merry, I—I—think I won't go in now," Kate said, tremblingly. "I must see Olympia. Perhaps I can help them in the search for Jack, and you know there is no time to lose. I shall come and see you all soon."
She squeezed the astonished Merry's hand, convulsively, and shot off, leaving the bewildered lady quite speechless, so speechless that, when she reached the stately presence of Aunt Pliny, she forgot the commissions she had been sent to execute, and was at once reviled by the parrot as "a no-account dawdler."
Meanwhile, Kate, with wild, throbbing hope in her heart that kindled color in her pale cheeks and light in her weary eyes, sped away to the Spragues. There was no tremor in the hand that raised the dragon-headed knocker, nor hesitancy in the voice that bade the servant say that "Miss Boone requested a few moments' conversation with Miss Sprague."
Olympia came presently into the reception-room, and the girls met with a warm embrace.
"Ah, Olympia, I have been made so—so—glad by what Merry tells me! You—do—not believe that your brother is dead?" Her voice faltered, and Olympia, gazing at her fixedly, said:
"No, I shall not believe Jack is dead until I see his body. Poor mother, who believes the worst whenever we are out of her sight, has given up all but the faintest hope. I shall not. I know Jack so well. I know that it would take a good deal to kill him, young and strong as he is. Besides that, I know that the Atterburys would find means to let us know, if there were any certainty as to his fate. Poor Jack! It would be an unendurable calamity if he were to die before the monstrous calumnies that have been published about him are proved lies."
"Dear Olympia, that is one reason of my coming. In my horror at Rosedale, I, too, believed that John had been in a plot to entrap Wesley; but I—I—know better now, and I have come to tell you that it is no less my duty than my right to see that your brother's memory is made as spotless as his life."
"I knew it; I knew you would, do it; I told Jack so in Richmond, almost the last words I said before he set out on this miserable adventure. I told him you were not the girl I took you for if you could believe him to be such a dastard, when you had time to get over the shock of poor Wesley's death. You never heard the whole story of that dreadful night. I must tell it to you—as he would if he were here, and I know you would believe him." The two girls sat down, hand in hand, and Olympia told the tale as it has been set down in these pages.
Kate was sobbing when the story ended. She flung her arms about Olympia's neck, and for a time the two sat silent, tearful.
"Oh, why didn't he tell me this at the time? It was not Jack's bullet that entered poor Wesley's body. Jack was at his right, at the side of the bed. Wesley's wound was on the left side, and the shot must have come from Jones's pistol!"
"I remember that; but Jack's remorse put all thought of everything else out of my head. I recall, perfectly, that the wound was in Wesley's left side. Oh, if I could only get that word to Jack! I If—"
"I'll get it to him if he's alive. I, or mine, have been his undoing! I shall make amends. Ah, Olympia, I—I am ashamed to feel so full of joy—forgive me."
"It isn't your fault, dear, that you didn't know Jack as we do," Olympia said, tenderly.
"What are your plans?" Kate asked, presently.
"Mother insists upon going to the peninsula and examining the ground, questioning all who took part in the pursuit, and seeing with her own eyes every wounded man in the neighborhood. I don't know whether we can get passes, but we shall set out at once and do our best."
"O Olympia. I must—I must go with you! I shall die if I remain here doing nothing—helpless! Let me go. I can aid you much. I can surely get all the passports required. I can do many things that you couldn't do, for my father—"
She stopped and colored. Her father! What was she rashly promising for him? Dead, he was bent on Jack's dishonor; living, he would never rest until Jack's life was condemned.
"Ah, yes—that's true. Your father is potent at headquarters. I can answer for mamma. We shall be delighted and comforted to have you. I shall need you as much as mamma needs me. We are only waiting for Mr. Brodie's report. I don't expect much from his researches. It is only a woman's heart that upholds one in such trials as this search means."
The plans were agreed upon at once and the two girls separated, knit together by the same bond in more senses than one, for, while Olympia set out to rescue her brother, she secretly hoped that the search would bring her near some one else; and so, as soon as Kate had gone, she sat down and wrote Vincent of Jack's disappearance, asking his aid in finding such traces as might be in the rebel lines. She merely alluded to their projected plan, adding, in a postscript, that she would write him as soon as the party approached the outposts. Kate wrote at once to her father, at his Washington address, narrating her visit to the Spragues, telling him of the new hope that had come to her, and beseeching him to lend his whole heart to the distressed mother and sister. He should see her in Washington within a few days, and she counted on his sympathy with her to help to restore the lost son and brother if alive, to co-operate in giving the body honorable burial if he were dead. These letters dispatched, the party waited only to hear from Brodie. He came a day or two later, but he could give them no hope. He had been repelled from all sources of information, insulted in the War Office, and denied access to the President. He was convinced that there were secret influences at work to obscure the true facts in the case of the escaped prisoners, but what the agencies were he could not guess. When Olympia told this to Kate, she was surprised at her look and response.
"I know the influences, I think, and I can discover the agencies. Take comfort. I believe Jack is alive. I promise you that I shall never rest until he is found, alive or dead."
"O Kate, what an impulsive ally we have gained! I wish Jack could have heard that speech; it would have put power in his arm, as poor Barney used to say."
Twenty-four hours later the three women were in Washington, Kate remaining with her friends, instead of joining her father at Willard's.
A GAME OF CHANCE.
It was the end of January, 1862, when Olympia and her mother found themselves in Washington for the second time in quest of the missing soldier. They took lodgings in the same quiet house, not far from Lafayette Square—Kate with them. Kate counted upon her father's aid, active or passive; but when her messenger returned from Willard's with word that Mr. Boone had gone from the hotel several days before, she was numb with a dreadful foreboding. He was avoiding her deliberately. She drove at once to the hotel. The clerk summoned to her aid could only inform her that her father had given up his room and had left the hotel late at night. She could get no further clew. She telegraphed at once to Acredale and returned to the Spragues, not daring to breathe her apprehensions. Yes, her father was plainly keeping away from her. He meant to persist in his savage vengeance. What had he learned? Was Jack indeed dead, and was his good name the object of her father's hatred? Whither should she turn? Why had she not thought of this—her fathers passivity or even opposition? How could she reveal her terrors to the mother and sister? How make known to them the unworthy side of her father's character? If in the morning no telegram came from Acredale, it would be proof that her father was bent, implacably in his purpose to undo Jack, living or dead. When she reached the lodging, Olympia was dressed for the street.
"You are just in time. I have matured my plans. First, we must find out at the proper quarter the names of all the wounded brought here from Fort Monroe. Then we must trace the report in the Herald down to its origin. Then we must visit every hospital in and near Washington to find out from actual sight of each man whether Jack or Dick, or any one we know, is in the city. As we go on, we shall learn a good deal which may modify this plan, or perhaps make the search less difficult."
Olympia said this with composure and a certain confidence in herself that struck Kate with admiration. She felt ashamed of herself. Here was Olympia, unconscious of Jack's real peril if living, the menace to his reputation if dead, planning as composedly as if it were an every-day thing to have a brother lost in the appalling mazes of war; and she had been weakly depending upon her father, Jack's most persevering enemy! She recoiled from herself in a shiver of self-reproach as she said:
"Olympia, you have the good sense of a man in an emergency. I am ashamed of myself. I, who ought to do the thinking for you, am as helpless as a kitchen-maid set to playing lady in the parlor. I can at least help you; I can make my body follow you, if I haven't sense enough to suggest."
"Dear Kate, it isn't sense, or insight, or any fine quality of mind that is needed here. All I ask is, that you won't get dispirited, or, if you do, don't let mamma see you are. Poor mamma! She is as easily influenced as a baby. Jack is her darling, remember. All the world is a small affair to her compared with our poor boy. I fancy, if we were as much wrapped up in him as she is, we should make poor pioneers in the wilderness before us."
But Kate could stand no more of this. With a choking sob she turned and fled up the stairway, crying as she disappeared: "Wait—wait a moment; I must get my purse."
When she reappeared, the heavy mourning-veil was drawn down, and Olympia, with a reassured glance, opened the door.
"You must affect confidence, if you have it not—even gayety. I warn you not to be shocked at my conduct. I must keep up mamma's spirits, and to do it I must play indifference or confidence, and you must be careful to say nothing, to do nothing, to excite her suspicions."
Kate's cab had driven off, and the two girls walked through Lafayette Square into Pennsylvania Avenue to get another. The wide streets were filled, as of old, with skurrying orderlies, groups of lounging officers, and lumbering army wagons. But even the untrained eyes of Olympia soon took account of the better discipline, the more businesslike celerity of the men on duty as well as the flying couriers. The White House was gay with hunting, and salutes from the distant forts were signalizing the news that had just come of Union successes at Mill Spring and Roanoke Island. The girls, procuring a hack, were driven to the provost-general's office. Here, after an interminable delay they were admitted to the presence of a complacent young coxcomb in spotless regimentals, who, so soon as he saw Olympia's face and bearing, threw off the listlessness of routine, and, rising deferentially, asked her pleasure. She told her story simply, and asked his advice as to the course to be followed. When the extract from the Herald was shown to him, he examined an enormous folio, and then rang a bell.
"It is more than likely that these names are wrong. This happens constantly. The operators are raw and some of them can barely read. The names are given hurriedly, and if not written plainly they make wretched work of them. The newspapers make many a fool famous, while neglecting many a hero who deserves fame, simply through the blundering or carelessness of the writers or operators. Here is an orderly who will take you to the surgeon-general. You will find in his books the names of all the wounded in hospital in the Eastern armies. But if your brother was wounded or brought in wounded at Fort Monroe, his name will be on the books of the Army of the Potomac or the Department of Eastern Virginia."
They were treated with the same deferential gallantry at the surgeon-general's office; the young doctors, indeed, became almost obtrusive in their eagerness to spare the young women the drudgery of scrutinizing the long lists of invalids. But, after two days' careful search, no names resembling Sprague or Perley could be found.
"I wonder who this can be?" Kate said, returning to an entry made a month before: "Jones, Warchester; Caribee Regiment."
"I know no one of that name," Olympia said, "but perhaps he might know something of Jack. Let us go to him. It will do no harm to find out who he is."
The surgeon's clerk readily gave them Jones's address, reminding them that the hospital was in Georgetown, and that they would be too late to obtain entrance to the patient that day. Next morning Mrs. Sprague was too ill to rise from her bed, and Olympia could not leave her alone. Kate undertook the investigation into the Jones affair alone. When she reached the hospital there was some delay before she could see the personage intrusted with the admission of guests. She was shown into an office on the ground-floor and given a seat. As she sat, distraught and eager, she heard her own name in the next room, the door of which stood open:
"It's at Boone's risk. He would have him moved, and the surgeon-general gave him carte blanche with the patient."
"Well, it will cost the man his life. I'll stake my diploma on that. Why, the journey to Warchester alone is enough to down the most vigorous convalescent."
Kate trembled. What did this mean? What was she hearing? Boone—Warchester? Whom had her father been taking from the hospital—Jack? Her heart gave a wild leap. Yes—Jack. Who else did her father know in the army? She arose trembling, fainting, but resolute. She reached the open door, but tried for a moment in vain to ask:
"If you please, tell me, tell me—" But she could say no more. The occupants of the room, in undress uniform, turned upon her at first in hostile surprise, but, as she threw her veil farther back in alarm, the elder of the two said:
"Pray, madam, what is it; are you ill?"
"No; may I sit down, please? Thank you. I am come to, to—" What should she say? How expose the doubt of her father? How find out for certain who had been removed to Warchester—abducted was the word her agitated thoughts shaped. Oh, if Olympia, intrepid, self-possessed, were only with her!—but no, not Olympia; no one must ever know the unutterable crime she suspected her father of. She must be brave. She must be resolute. Oh, where were her arts now, when she most needed them? She tried to speak. A hoarse gasping came in her throat and died there.
"Ah—ah—some water!—I—I am faint."
In an instant a goblet of cool water was at her lips. She drank slowly, deliberating all the time to recover her senses; the surgeons—both young men, mere lads—waiting respectfully, inferring much from the melancholy robes. The water cooled her head, and she began to be able to think coherently.
"I have the surgeon-general's permit to visit a patient in your fever ward—Jones, the name is. Can I see him?"
"Pray, let me see the permit, madam?" He glanced at it, looked significantly at his comrade, and said:
"This man was removed three days ago."
"Ah!" Kate's veil, by an imperceptible gesture, fell over part of her face. A great trembling came upon her again. The young surgeons exchanged glances.
"Who—who—did—who asked for his removal?"
"A Mr. Boone, also of Warchester."
"Thank you—I am too late—I wanted to—to ask this Mr. Jones some questions concerning a dear friend in his regiment. But I can write, if you will kindly give me the address."
"I am very sorry—beyond Warchester we have no record here of his whereabouts. If he had been officially transferred to another government hospital, we should have all the facts. But the removal was a personal favor to Mr. Boone. He is well known both here and in Warchester, and you can have no difficulty in communicating with him."
"Ah, true; I had forgotten that."
"If we can be of any service to you, Miss Sprague," the young man said, handing Kate back the permit, made out in Olympia's name, which Kate had never thought of, "you can always reach us through the surgeon-general's office." He handed her a card with his own and his comrade's name in pencil.
Thanking the young man with as much self-possession as she could summon, Kate reached the carriage in a whirl of wild imaginings, more terrifying as she strove to reduce them to definite shape. Who was this Jones? Why remove him to Warchester? If it were not Jack, what interest could her father have in his removal? But. first, what could she say to Olympia? She could say she did not know Jones, but Olympia would surely ask what questions she had put to him. What should she say? That he had been taken away from the hospital? She knew Olympia well enough to know that this vague story would only incite her to further inquiry. She would find out the father's handiwork in the affair, and she, too, would be set on the rack of suspicion.
When the carriage reached the door, Kate dared not enter. She dismissed the man and set out toward the green fields below the rounded slope of Meridian Hill. Here she could breathe freely. "I can think clearly now," she panted, with a gush of warm tears. If she could only remain calm, she could look Into the black abyss with the eye of reason, rather than terror. Calmness came soothingly as she walked, and she began at the beginning, weighing probabilities. All seemed dark and hopeless, until she came back to the record in the surgeon-general's office. Jones, sent from Hampton Hospital, December 13th. This was about the time Jack had reached the Union lines. He had left Richmond late in November. All Brodie's inquiries at Fort Monroe had been fruitless in finding the whereabouts of the fugitives that came through the lines at that time. Dick had been one of them. If Jones were not Jack himself, he must have been one of the group that escaped with Jack. It all led back to the first frightful conjecture. Her father was abducting a witness who could divulge Jack's whereabouts, or he was secreting Jack until be could work him harm. The walk began to revive Kate's courage as well as her faculties. She must act with energy. The hardest part of the problem was to get clear of Olympia, for Kate at once made up her mind to quit Washington that very night for home. She must evade Olympia's inquiries as best she could, and make some excuse for journeying thither.
When she reached home, fortune had intervened to save her conscience from the falsehoods she feared she would have to employ. The landlady met her in the hallway with a white face.
"O Miss Boone, Mrs. Sprague is taken very bad. The doctor's with her now. I think it is typhoid fever."
Up-stairs misfortune gave her a further release. Olympia came into Kate's room, agitated and in tears.
"All, Kate, mamma is suffering pitiably. The doctor thinks it is typhoid, and he ordered me to remain away from her. You must leave the house. It won't do for all of us to be ill together. I may not be able to see you for days, until the crisis is past. But you must continue the search, and you must let me know, from day to day, what you learn. There are letters for you—I hear mamma. I will be back in a moment."
Kate fairly hated herself for the passing thrill of relief over the timely illness that had intervened to expedite her mission. She glanced over the letters. There was one in her father's hand, postmarked Acredale. It contained no clew to his purposes, but she read tremblingly:
"My daughter: You are doing a foolish thing. The search you propose can lead to nothing. All that can be done has been done by his friends. They have found no trace of him. Women can not hope to succeed where so keen a man as Brodie has failed. I have every confidence that in good time the matter will be cleared up, but you must remember that the Government and its agents have all they can do to manage and keep track of the millions of soldiers in the field, and they can not be expected to take much interest in the fate of the wounded or dead. Always affectionately.
All doubt of her father's sinister intervention in Jack's disappearance now took the form of certainty in the girl's mind. When Olympia came back, a few moments later, Kate said, tenderly:
"I have news from home. I must go back at once. It is less of a grief to me, since I should be banished from you if I were here. I shall not be gone long. I shall certainly be back as soon as you can receive me. In the mean while, don't despair. I have been put on a new trail that I can not explain to you now. But I can say this much, when you see me again you shall know whether Jack is alive or dead."
Olympia, who had been so strong, cheery, and masterful when it had been a question of reassuring her mother, was now the stricken spirit. She looked at Kate through swimming eyes, and her voice was lost in sobs as she tried to speak. The girls held each other in a tearful silence, neither able to say what was in the minds of both. Even the uncertainty had a sort of solace compared with the dreadful possibility of the worst.
"Remember, dear, you have your mother. What is our poor grief to hers; what is our loss to hers? It ought to comfort you to know that whatever human thought, courage, love can do to recover Jack, I shall do, just as you would in my place. I am very strong and resolute now, and I am filled with hope—so filled that I can not talk to you. I dare not let you see how much I hope, lest if it be not fulfilled you will hate me for inspiring you with it."
"I will hope. I do believe you will do better than I should. The loving are the daring—you will find Jack. I know it."
"Ah, God bless you, Olympia! That removes a curse from me—I—I mean that fills me with a courage that is not my own, I have learned yours or stolen it. But you will forgive me, for I mean to use it all in your behalf."
Olympia smiled sadly, and the two parted. By the night express Kate left the city, and, the next afternoon, reached Acredale. As she anticipated, her father was not at home. He had only been an hour or two in the house since his return. The servants had no idea where he was. His letters were forwarded to him under cover of his lawyers in Warchester. If, as she fearfully surmised, her father were engaged in some cruel scheme to the hurt of Jack, her best way with him would be perfect frankness. She had never yet failed in swerving him from his most headstrong impulses when she could talk with him. She must have him now to herself. Her best plan, therefore, would be to write. Yet she hardly knew how to frame the note, reflecting bitterly, as she sat twirling her pen, on the monstrous state of things that made writing to her own father almost a duplicity. At length she wrote:
"DEAREST PAPA: I am come all the way from Washington, leaving poor Mrs. Sprague very low with fever, and her daughter tormented and ill with anxiety. I feel, I know, that you can relieve the distress of this miserable mother and devoted sister. I must see you. I felt sure of seeing you in Washington, and you can imagine my surprise and grief when they told me at the hotel that you had gone. Do come to me, or let me come to you. Your daughter's place is with you or near you now. We have only each other in this world; pray, dear father, let nothing come between us; let nothing make you doubt the constant love of your daughter.
The note dispatched, she went immediately to the Perleys. Perhaps they had news that might be of help. No. The three ladies met her with agitated volubility. Had she heard from their nephew? Had Dick escaped with Jack? Olympia had assured them that he had quitted Richmond with her brother. They had written to the Caribee regiment, and received word that no trace of him could be found. The regiment, or what was left of it, was home refilling its ranks. The officers, indeed, knew nothing of such a person as Richard Perley. McGoyle, who was now colonel, did vaguely recall the lad at Washington, but had no idea what became of him. Kate found a new grief in the misery of the helpless ladies. But she could give them no comfort, and returned home to await her father's coming. In the evening a messenger brought her a note. It was in the straight, emphatic hand of her father. He wrote:
"DEAR DAUGHTER: I am just now engaged in very important matters that require me to move about considerably. I shall not be home for some days. I am glad you have come home. That's the place for you. You had better let the matter you speak of alone. The mother and sister are enough in the business. I don't see how it concerns you or me. If the man is dead it will be known as soon as the commissioners of exchange hand in their lists. If he is not dead, it is certainly no business of yours or mine to bring him home. I will write you soon again. Love your father. Keep the house well till I come."
That was all. More than evasive. Subtly calculated to make her believe that he had dismissed all thought of Jack and was immersed in his own affairs. She sat staring and helpless, a cold horror creeping into her heart and a nameless terror taking outline in her senses. Hideous alternative. To be coherent she must suspect, nay, accuse, her father of a dreadful duplicity. He was deceiving her; else why no mention of his mission to Washington—his abduction of Jones? Jones! Who was he? Oh, blind and senseless that she had been! Why had she not asked the young men at Georgetown to describe Jones? That would have revealed all she needed to know. Was it too late to write them? Yes; but could she throw suspicion upon her father by writing to strangers, and of necessity exposing the sinister secrecy of her father's action. But she could hurry back to Washington, and, without letting the young men know, got a descriptive list. This she resolved to do. Twenty-four hours later she was in Washington. The journey was thrown away. The descriptive list had been sent by the hospital steward with the invalid. He could be found in the military hospital in Warchester. His name was Leander Elkins. This was something gained. Two days later she was at the hospital in Warchester. The steward, Elkins, came to her in the waiting room. He was a young giant in stature, with light flaxen hair, a merry blue eye, and so bashful in the presence of a woman that he colored rosily as Kate asked him if he was the person she had sent for.
"Yes'm. I'm Lee Elkins," he stammered, very much perplexed to find ease for his large hands and ample feet.
"Are you—is Mr. Jones, who came from the Georgetown Hospital, in your case?" Kate had thought out her course in advance, and had decided that the direct way was the best. Unless the man had been charged to conceal facts, an apparent knowledge of Jones's movements would be the surest way of eliciting his whereabouts.
"Oh no, miss. Jones wa'nt brought here; he was took to a private place. I don't rightly know where, but I calculate I ken find eout of ye want to know."
"Yes, I should like very much to know. I am deeply interested in him, Did you have charge of him?"
"I can't say I did. I was sent from Washington in the same train, but the old chap that got Jones removed did all the nussing. I only got a sight of him as he was lifted into the carriage."
"Should you know him again if you saw him?"
"Think I should. Yes'm, think I should. His head was about as big as a pumpkin."
"He had been wounded?"
"Well, I should say so."
"Have you seen the gentleman that brought him on from Washington lately?"
"Not here, mum; I did see him in the street the other day. He was in a wagon—leastwise, it looked mighty like him."
Kate began to breathe more freely. Her father had, at least, avoided any collusion with inferiors. His handiwork had been natural, involving no conspiracy or bribing of menials.
"Do you think you could find out for me where Mr. Jones is?"
"Wall, I reckon it could be done. It may take some days, as I must trust to the luck of running upon old Dofunny again."
Kate started. "Old Dofunny"—the unsuspecting humorist meant her father by this jocular nom de guerre, and she dared not resent it. How should she gain her end and yet save herself from the humiliation of seeming to spy upon her father? It wouldn't do for Elkins to go to him, for he would at once suspect, inquire, and learn that she had come upon his tracks. If she could only see him face to face, she would be spared all this odious complotting. But she dared not reject the means Providence had put in her hands. And yet, how use them, and avoid throwing suspicion upon her father in cautioning Elkins not to approach him? She was not equal to the invention of a plan on the moment, and said in a doubting, reflective way:
"Never mind. I may be able to learn from some of his friends where he is. The gentleman you speak of does not live in this city, and you would hardly be able to find him. If I could, find him I could find Mr. Jones."
"Ah, yes; jes' so. Wall, I think I can find him in another way. I remember the carriage that took him from the station, I can find out from the driver. 'T'wan't no mystery, I reckon."
Kate looked into the innocent blue eyes as the young fellow scratched his tow head, wondering whether he was as simple-minded as he seemed. He stood the scrutiny with blushing restiveness, in which there was nothing of the malign, and she resolved that he was to be trusted.
"Very well," she said, indifferently, "that does seem the shortest way to find out the poor fellow's whereabouts. Get the facts, and you shall be well paid for your trouble."
"'Tain't no trouble, miss, if it's a service to you. It would make me powerful glad to do anything for a comrade or his sister."
Kate smiled at the astute mingling of sly fun and questioning implied in the gently rising inflection in this query.
"Yes," she said, "you will be relieving the anxious heart of a sister if you find what I am seeking."
"Nuff said, miss. Just as soon as I get my relief I'm off like a shot. Where shall you be?"
"Ah, yes; you can come to me at the Alburn House. Here is my card, and you will doubtless be at some expense. Here is money to pay—spare no expense."
The big eyes opened in wonder as Kate handed him three new ten-dollar greenbacks, just then something of a novelty to soldiers especially, who got their pay infrequently. It was a bold stroke to intrust her name to this unconscious agent of her father, for, if he were really playing a part, his first act would be to reveal her visit and thus set her father on his guard. But she trusted him implicitly. His wide-open blue eyes, the artless admiration mingling with his bashful diffidence, all were proof that he could not be deceiving her. She took rooms at the Alburn House, which was not the chief hotel, as being better adapted for her purpose of seclusion. At the big hotel she was known, and if her father were in town she would be under his espionage without the solace of writing him. Late in the evening her agent came in radiant. He had found the man.
"Easy as rolling off a log." The hackman had taken him to the house where Jones was lying. It was on the outskirts of the city toward Acredale. He described the house. Kate knew it very well. It was the property of her father.
"Did you see the patient?"
"No, indeed. You didn't tell me to, and I had nothing, to see him for. Ef you had told me that you wanted I should see him, I'd have seen him as easy as greased lightning."
"Thank you. I am relieved of a great burden through your kindness. You must permit me to give you something to show my gratitude. Here, use this money for some one who needs it, if you do not need it yourself."
"But I don't need it. Here is what you gave me this morning, 'cept a half-dollar I spent in treating John. I couldn't think of taking so much money. It's more'n Uncle Sam allows me for five months' pay."
"No, I shall feel distressed if you do not accept it. You can find use for it. It will bring you luck, for it is the reward of a very important service. Perhaps some time we may meet again, and then you shall know how important."
The tow hair stood up in wild dismay, and the blue eyes were perfect saucepans, as Kate gently forced the money into the big palm.
"Wall, I vum, miss, I feel like I was a-robbing you, but ef yeou deu want I should take it, why I will, and send it to my old mother, who will find plenty o' use for it. Good-by, miss. Ef you should want me again, I'm at the hospital. I shall be mitey tickled to do anything for yeou or your brother."
TWO BLADES OF THE SAME STEEL.
It was too late to follow up the discovery that night. Kate, after a feverish rest, set out early in the morning. She went first to Acredale, where she could get her own equipage and driver. The tenants of the house did not know her. She rang boldly at the door, and when a maid answered, quite taken aback by the girlish figure in deep black, Kate asked, confidently:
"I want to see the sick man, Mr. Jones."
"Yes'm, come right in. This way, please, ma'am." The girl led the way up a flight of stairs, but if she had been part of the balustrade Kate could not have been more immovable. Whom was she about to see? Jack, wan, emaciated, on the verge of the grave? They had said in Washington that the journey would kill him; was it to that end her relentless father had persisted in the removal? Was she about to see the dying brought to death's door by her own flesh and blood? She reeled against the stair-post and brought her veil over her face. The girl had turned above and was waiting in wonder. With a desperate gathering together of her relaxed forces, she mounted the stairway. In the corridor the girl turned to a closed doorway and knocked lightly. There was no sound within; but the door swung open, and Elisha Boone stood on the threshold. He did not in the dim light observe the figure in black, but, looking at the maid, said, softly:
"What's wanted, Sarah?"
"A young lady to see Mr. Jones, sir," and, stepping slightly aside for Kate to enter, the father recognized the visitor.
"You here, Kate? What does this mean?"
With a great throb of joy she flung herself into his arms; too happy, too relieved to take into consideration the defeat of her purpose involved in the meeting. For an instant she lost all thought of anything but that her estranged parent was in her arms, that she would not let him quit her sight again, that her pleading would keep him from any act that could cause her or any one else unhappiness.
"Ah, father, I'm so relieved, so glad! I was miserable, and did not know where you were. I—I will not let you leave me again."
"But my child, you must not be here; this is a house of sickness; there is dangerous illness here."
"It's no more dangerous for me than for you. I know who is here." She looked archly at him, as he started in surprise. "I will help nurse Mr. Jones." She said this with immense knowingness in her manner as she squeezed the astonished man to her heart. The maid meanwhile had retreated to a safe distance, where she lurked in covert to make report of the extraordinary goings on.
"Impossible, Kate; you must not be here. I will not have it; you must go." His voice grew stern. "You must go, I say, Kate; you must go down-stairs this instant."
"Come, Boone, I say, this isn't fair; let the lady come in if she wants to see valor laid low." Boone, who had been insensibly moving Kate from the open doorway, caught her eye fixed on the room, and looking over his shoulder at these jocular words he saw Jones leaning against the post, a wan smile on his face. Boone turned, almost flinging Kate from him, and, fairly lifting the invalid, carried him back into the room.
"This is madness; you are in no condition to rise. I won't be responsible for your life if you persist in this course."
"So much trouble off your hands, old man. I'll be more use to you dead than living. Better let me blow my own flame out. It won't burn long at best or worst."
In the overwhelming revulsion of feeling brought about by the actual sight of Jones, Kate stood, interdicted, in the corridor, uncertain what to do. She heard the man's words and shuddered at the bantering levity with which he spoke of his own death. Who could it be? It was not Jack, as she had feared and hoped. But he must know something of Jack. She must speak with him. How? It would not do to irritate her father. She caught Boone's almost whispered words:
"I tell you, Jones, you shall be brought about, but you know the danger of seeing any Acredale people. My daughter knows you—knows the Perleys. I should think that would be reason enough why you should not be seen by her."
"Oh, I don't mind; the sight of a pretty girl is the best medicine I know of. I'd risk all Acredale for that."
Kate turned softly and waited at the foot of the stairs for her father. He came presently, looking worried and embarrassed.
"Now don't go to imagining mysteries here. This is a man who has been on my hands a good many years. He is an irreclaimable spendthrift. He was in other days a man of repute and station. I am interested in him, through old ties, since the days we were boys."
"The carriage is here, papa; won't you come home with me?"
"Yes; you get into the carriage."
He reappeared presently, the face of a strange woman, that Kate had not seen, peering over his shoulder into the carriage as he came down the steps. Kate instantly divined that he had been warning the landlady against admitting strangers to the sick man's room. During the drive home Kate strove to reassert her old dominion over the moody figure at her side. It was useless. As the carriage stopped at the door he turned toward her and said, not unkindly:
"Daughter, there are some things I know better how to manage than you do. You have been spying on your father. This is another count in the long score of grudges I owe the Sprague tribe and their scoundrel son. Understand me clearly, my child; you must not speak of this matter again. The whole business will soon be at an end; that end is in my hands, and no power this side the grave can alter a fact in the outcome. You are very dear to me; you are all I have left in the world; you must trust me, and you must believe that I am doing everything for the best. Try to think that the world is not coming to an end because I insist on having my own way for once."
Nothing but the sense of having giving hostages to good behavior rather than honor upheld Kate in the line she had marked out for herself. She was not, in the modern sense of the word, a strong-minded young woman, this sorely beset champion of the overborne. She hadn't even the perversity of the sex in love. Chivalrously as she loved the lost soldier, she loved her father with that old-fashioned veneration which made her see all that he did with the moral indistinctness, without which there could not be the perfect filial devotion that makes the family a union in good report and evil. She had not even that, by no means repellent, secondary egoism which upholds us in doing ungrateful things that abstract good may follow. Opposition, which becomes delightful when we can call it persecution, had no charm for her. If her father had suddenly adopted the role of the stern parent in novels and ordered her to her chamber, Kate would have regarded it as a joke, and felt rather relieved that she could thus escape the pledge given to the Spragues. But, as it was, she felt morally bound by her promise to Olympia; and, though she realized dimly that her instrumentality was slowly involving her father in a coil of unloveliness, she resolutely braced herself for the worst. In spite of herself she had believed in conquering her father's severity and changing his mind. She had rescued him from revenges quite as dear to him as this, at least so far as she understood it, forgetting that her father believed himself to be pursuing the deliberate murderer of his son. When we have achieved a victory over our own less noble impulses and put the sophistries that misled us behind us, it is impossible to realize that others have not the same vision, the same mind as our own. Kate had accused Jack of cold-blooded murder. She had reasoned herself out of that hateful spirit, and, forgetting that her father had not the vital force of love to act as a fulcrum, she could not quite comprehend how difficult it was to shift the wrathful burden in his mind. She had gone too far to recede now with honor. Olympia had trusted her, had indeed given over into her hands the active work of finding the strangely lost clew of Jack's whereabouts. Perhaps for her father's sake it was better that she should be the instrument. She might be able to dissemble his intervention, shield him from obloquy—if, as she feared, he was responsible for anything doubtful.
She knew her father too well to suppose that he would flinch from any measure he had proposed to himself. She knew that she need not count any further upon her accustomed powers of persuasion. His own words were final on that score. If she could only learn his intentions! If she could be sure that he was ulteriorly shaping events against Jack—was acquainted with his whereabouts—she would have known exactly what to do. But, pilloried in doubt, shackled by the dread of exposing him in some hateful malevolence which would forever disgrace him in the community, she hardly dared stir, though she felt that every hour's delay was a new peril to Jack in some way. The more she thought of the scene of the morning, the surer she felt that Jones—or Mr. Dick, as her father sometimes called him—was in some way an instrument in the paternal scheme. If she could but see Jones ten minutes! Her father, she well knew, had guarded against that. Whom could she send in her place? Ah! there was the double check. She couldn't expose her father to a stranger; yet if her apprehensions were grounded on anything more substantial than fear, strangers must in time know all. Could Merry be made use of? No—that would not do. The libertine tone of the invalid, his impudent allusion to herself, convinced Kate that a man must be her agent, if any one were to be. But what man did she know? If she sent any of the servants, her father would recognize them, and the attempt fail. She had trusted Elkins. He seemed an honest, incurious lad, just the one to be trusted in the business. She could invent a fable which would satisfy his ready credulity without compromising her father. It was plain that he was the only resource. She dressed at once and returned to the Alburn. Thence she dispatched a note to Elkins, begging him to call at his earliest leisure. While waiting his return, she wrote a letter to be handed to Jones. This was a work of no little ingenuity, forced as she was to avoid all allusion to her father and the scene of the morning. When completed, this stroke of the conspiracy ran:
"DEAR SIR: A mother and sister who have exhausted all official sources in vain to get trace of a lost son and brother, John Sprague of the Caribees, have reason to believe that you can give them a clew to his whereabouts. Will you therefore kindly confide in the bearer of this letter, giving him by word of mouth such facts as will enable John Sprague's relatives to work intelligently in the search for him, living or dead?
"Very truly yours,
It was hardly written when Elkins himself appeared, radiant with satisfaction and blushing like a peony under lamplight.
"Yeour note came just in th' nick o' time. I have leave of absence for twenty-four hours, and was just goin' inter teown."
"If you can spare me the day, I have a very important matter I think you can attend to for me. I want you to go to the sick man Jones. You must see before entering whether he is alone or not. I don't know how you can find out, but you can invent some way. If you see the man who brought him from Washington, you are not to enter. But if you find that he is not in the house, ask boldly for Jones, and when you reach him hand him this note. He will give you an answer, and you must be careful not to lose a word, for life depends on the accuracy of your report. I fancy that your regimentals and hospital badge can gain you admission, if, as I have reason to believe, there are orders to refuse strangers admission. I depend on you to overcome any difficulty you may meet. If you knew how much depends upon it, I'm sure you would not be baffled by anything less than force."
The big blue eyes were fairly bulging, like two monster morning-glories, as Elkins, putting the note carefully in his jacket pocket, said, softly:
"Ef I don't get thet 'ere letter into Jones's hands, you may have me drummed out o' camp by the mule-drivers."
"I believe you, and trust you. I shall be here to-morrow morning early, and shall hope to hear something from you. Good-by."
"Good-by, miss. Just you make up your mind I am goin' to do what you command."
When she reached home she found her father in the library. He looked at her inquiringly as she came over and kissed him.
"I have been in town all day, and am run out."
"Yes, still plotting."
"You're wasting your time, my dear. You'll know all you care to soon enough, if you'll just keep quiet."
"Yes; but I can't. I want to know all you know, and I want to know it now."
"All I know wouldn't be much, according to the Spragues, who gave me my status in this town, long ago, as an ignoramus."
"Perhaps you were then, papa."
"Yes; I hadn't been schooled fifteen years by my accomplished daughter."
"A lie is truth to those who only tell the truth."
"What does that mean?"
"It's simple enough—a home-made epigram. People who tell nothing but the truth are easiest made to believe a lie. The Spragues had heard of you as ignorant, and believed it. You can't blame them for that."
"I don't blame them because it was a lie. I blame them because it was the truth. I don't care a straw how many lies are told about me—it's the ill-natured truth I object to."
"I'm afraid that you will have a hard time in life if you like lies better than the truth."
"I didn't say that."
"Then I don't understand English."
"You don't understand me."
"Ah, yes I do, papa. I do understand you. I know that at this moment you are doing something that you are ashamed of—something that later you will bitterly repent. You are carrying on now through pride what you began in wrath. Stop where you are. The dead can not be avenged. That's a barbarous code. Remember, in all the petty irritations of the past, when you have been hurt by your neighbors, you were never so triumphant as when you surprised those who injured you by a magnanimous return—"
"There, I made an agreement with you that we should not speak of these things. I mean it. I find that you take advantage of me. I shall be banished from the house if you do not keep to your bargain."
Kate sighed. She had hoped that the early banter was paving the way for a reconciliation. She took up some work and tried to busy her hands.
"Suppose you read me something? You haven't read in an age."
"What shall it be?"
"Oh, something from Dickens—anything you like."
"Very well, I shall show you a counterfeit presentment of yourself," and, with an arch-smile, she began to read from The Chimes.
He listened soberly until the last page was turned, and then, rising, said abstractedly:
"I sha'n't see you for a few days. I wish you would remain at home as much as possible. Get some of the neighbors' girls to keep you company, if you're lonesome."
"Oh, I shall not be lonesome. I shall have too much to do—too much to think about."
He laughed. "You are enough like your father, my girl, to pass for him. Very well, you'll be penitent enough when I come back."
He was gone in the morning, as he had said, and she was free to keep her appointment with Elkins. He was waiting for her when she readied the hotel.
"Well?" she cried, breathlessly.
"I saw him."
She seized the blushing lad's two hands. "Ah, you splendid follow! And then?—"
"He wrote this note for you," and he handed her an envelope with her own name written on it in an uneven, uncertain scrawl. She tore it open and read:
"DEAR MADAM: I can not understand why there should be any difficulty in finding what became of Sprague and his party. We all reached the lines together, but, as I was hit by a bullet in the head at the moment of rescue, I knew nothing of their movements after reaching the Union lines. I, too, am interested in the young man. I should like to see you or some of his friends at once, as I suspect foul play of some sort.
"Did you get to him without trouble?" Kate asked, keenly, disappointed by the result of all this strategy.
"I made them believe I was on hospital business. I showed them a large official envelope, and they let me go up. Jones told me to tell you that he would see you there in the parlor if you would come; that he is unable to leave the house, or he would come to see you."
"Can you take me there now?"
"I have four hours of my leave still. It does not expire until two o'clock."
"Then we will go at once. Will you call a carriage?"
While he was gone, Kate read the note again. She was more puzzled than ever. The man wrote as if he had no idea that Jack was not easily traceable, yet all the Spragues' money and influence had been spent in vain. He expected her. Where could her father be? He wrote as though he had no idea that he had been virtually a prisoner. When she reached the house, the servant made no difficulty in admitting her. Elkins remained outside in the vehicle, with an admonition from Kate to remain unseen unless she called him. Jones, the shadow of the burly soldier we saw in the famous escape, was seated in a deep, reclining chair, and, as Kate entered, rose feebly.
"Pray, don't rise, don't disturb yourself in the least. I will sit here near you, and we can talk, if it won't make you ill."
"No. It isn't talking that troubles me—but never mind that. Your note has pulled me down a good deal. I was given to understand that the boys were home and all right."
"Jack and young Perley."
"Who gave you—who told you that?"
"Your father. He is the only person I have talked with since I got my wits back."
Kate drew back with a shuddering horror.
"Are you quite sure, Mr.—Mr. Jones that my father told you that?"
"Perfectly certain. Do you suppose that I would not have taken measures to find out where my own—I mean where friends were? These boys saved me from prison once and from a death nearly as dreadful as Libby. Could I be indifferent to them?"
"But why should papa tell you they were safe, when—when our hearts have been tortured? Ah! I see. He wanted to spare you the anxiety. Ah! yes. He knew that you would fret and worry, and that you could not recover under the strain." Kate's heart swelled with a triumphant revulsion. She had vilely suspected without cause. She must now do justice. Jones eyed her pensively, holding his head with both his hands.
"Nothing has been heard of the boys since when?"
"Nothing directly since the escape from Richmond. Miss Sprague brought that news, and about the same time a paragraph in the Herald announced that prisoners from Richmond had reached the Union lines on the Warrick."
"When was that?"
"Late in November."
"Yes, I was one of them. I escaped from Richmond. Jack and young Perley got me out of the tobacco warehouse. We reached the Warrick after a hard week of marching and hiding, and the boys were alive and well when we reached the Union outpost. I was last to cross the bridge, and as I plunged into the thick bushes a bullet struck me, I knew no more until I found myself here. I had agents at Fort Monroe waiting for me. They probably forwarded me at once. But I don't understand how there can be any difficulty in tracing the two boys. Haven't they written?"
"Not a line, not a word concerning them has been heard. Mrs. Sprague sent agents so soon as the Herald paragraph was shown to Olympia. They are in Washington now on the quest. It was there we got track of you—before you were sent here,"'
"Why was I sent here?"
Kate was about to speak. Again the shadow of her first fear—again the dread of some malevolent purpose on her father's part—choked her speech.
"I—I—don't know," she faltered.
"Who came with me?"
"Ah!" Jones's eyes were penetrating her now. She felt the questioning in them, and turned her face to the clinging folds of the veil.
"Miss Boone, you seem to be deeply interested in these boys. Are you really their friend?"
"Ah, believe me, I am heart and soul their friend!"
"Does your father know it?"
"Yes: he knows that I am seeking them."
"Does he approve your search?"
"No, he does not."
"Good. Now listen. We have short time to work in. You have a carriage outside. Your father will be here any moment. I could never keep from him my indignation and even distrust. I shall get into that carriage with you, and you must conceal me somewhere and give me time to set the proper machinery in motion to find these boys. There is no other way. Your father has some reason for keeping their whereabouts concealed. I may know the purpose and I may not. The boys may have been killed in the volley that struck me. It will require a mere telegram to find out. I know whom to address, but I must be where I can use trusted agents. I have no money. You can, I hope, provide me with that, or the Spragues if you can't."
He spoke with a flush deepening on his face, and arose with something like vigor.
"Ample means—you shall have any sum you need," Kate said, handing him a well-filled purse.
"Good—I have one or two articles in my room. I will fetch them and follow you to the carriage."
Ten minutes later the carriage was whirling over the broad road to Warchester. By Jones's advice it was stopped at the hospital. Here he proposed remaining for the night, to mislead suspicion if any one had taken the precaution to follow.
"I will remain with our friend Elkins to-night, as you suggest," Jones said; "to-morrow I will send you word of my whereabouts, and you may expect to have news of the boys within the week."
"My address will be in Washington," Kate said. "I shall go at once to the Spragues. They have been there, as I told you, to seek every possible source of information. I left them to follow you, hoping that through you I should find the missing."
"You made no mistake. I shall find them. You can tell your friends that," and he added, with a gleam of savage malice, "God help the man that has raised the weight of a feather against them, for he has put a heavy hurt on me if he has harmed them!"
Kate shuddered. Was she never to emerge from this hideous circle of vengeful hatred—this condition of passionate vendetta—where men were seeking each other's harm? On reaching home she addressed a note to her father explaining frankly that she had entered into communication with Jones; that who had been pained by all that she had heard; that the inquiry had now passed out of her hands and was in that of the authorities, and begging him to drop any participation he might have meditated In a late letter Olympia had given good news of her mother, saying that Kate could return with safety, and, informing her father of this, Kate bade him good-by for a time.
When Kate reached Washington she found Mrs. Sprague convalescent, but painfully feeble. The poor mother reproached herself for the interruption of the search, and implored the two girls to begin again without a moment's delay. Kate gave her as much hope as she dared. She hinted something of the outlines of what she had done and the new agent in the field. With this Mrs. Sprague was greatly comforted, but begged then to remit no efforts of their own. It was after three days' fruitless searching among the records of the department and among the men of the Caribee regiment, now returned to Washington en route to the front, that Kate bethought herself of her father's probable presence in the city. She got out of the carriage and entered the long reception room of Willard's to make inquiry. The boy who came at her call said, as soon as she asked for Mr. Boone:
"Why, I jast saw him at the desk, paying his bill. He is probably there still. Wait here until I see."
But Kate, fearing that he might be gone before she could reach him, followed the boy. There was no sign of her father at the desk, and, turning hastily out of the main corridor, filled with officers and the clank of swords almost stunning her, she reached the porch just as a cab set out toward the station. She might a glimpse of her father's face in it. He was leaving the city. She must see him. The inspiration of the instant suggested by a cabman was followed. She hastily entered the vehicle and bade the driver keep in sight of the one her father was in until it came to a stop. The driver whipped up his horses, but there wasn't much speed in them. Kate dared not look out of the window, and sat in feverish anxiety while she was whirled along Pennsylvania Avenue, almost to the Baltimore Station, then the only one in the city connecting with the North. To her surprise, the driver stopped near the curb a block or more short of the railway. She looked out, and as she did so the driver pointed to her father's carriage halted just ahead. She took out her purse, but was delayed a moment in getting the fare, keeping her eye, however, on her father as he hurried from the cab to a building before which a sentry was lazily pacing. She was not two minutes in reaching the doorway, but he had disappeared.
The soldier asked her no questions, and of course she could ask none, as probably her father was unknown to the military filling the place. She must follow on until she overtook him. There were clerks busy at long desks, military officials moving about with files of documents. The presence of a few women in widow's weeds reassured Kate, and as no one molested her she persisted in her design. He was not on the lower floor, and, coming back, she ascended a broad stairway. The hall was wide, and filled with people all in uniform. She could hear a monotonous voice reading in front, where the crowd clustered thickest. She looked about helplessly, and tried to push forward. Suddenly she heard the words: "Guilty of taking the life of the same Wesley Boone. Specification third: And that the said John Sprague is guilty of the crime of spying inside the lines of the armies of the United States." For a moment Kate stood stupefied—rooted to the floor. Jack was undergoing an ignominious trial for murder—for desertion! All fear, all timidity, all sense of the unfitness of feminine evidence in such a place fled from her. She pushed her way through the astonished throng which fell aside as they saw her black dress and flowing drapery. She reached the last range of benches, where men were seated, some writing, some consulting documents, while the clerk read the charges. Her eye fell upon her father seated near the place of the presiding officer. She grew confident and confirmed by the sight: it was a signal to the daring that fired her. "Stop!" she said, in a clear voice. "I don't know what this place is; I don't know what meaning these proceedings have. I heard a charge that is not true. It is false that John Sprague murdered Wesley Boone. Wesley Boone was my brother, and he was killed in the dark by one of several shots fired at the same instant. Furthermore, my brother was armed and in the sleeping-room of the mistress of the house at the dead of night. If John Sprague's bullet killed him it was shot in self-defense and in the safeguarding of two terrified women. He had no more idea of whom he was struggling with than—than the soldier who fires in battle. Furthermore, he is no spy. He risked his life to rescue prisoners. He saved the life of one of them who can be brought here to testify. He—"
But here Kale broke down. She had spoken with a passionate, resentful vehemence, her mind all the time seething with the fear and shame of her father's responsibility for this hideous attack upon the absent. She stretched out her hand exhaustedly for support. A young officer near her pushed up a chair and helped her into it. Boone had turned in speechless amazement as the first words of the voice sounded in his ears. His back was toward the door, and he had not seen Kate. He turned as she broke into this fervid apostrophe. Whether from surprise, prudence, or anger he sat silent, uninterrupting till she tottered into the seat placed for her by a stranger. Then he arose and went to her side, in nowise angry or discomposed so far as his outward demeanor betrayed him. The presiding officer of the court-martial had attempted to silence Kate by a gesture, but with eyes fixed steadily upon him she had disregarded his command. Now, however, he spoke:
"Madame, you must know this is highly disorderly and indecorous. The court can take no cognizance of this sort of testimony. Do you desire to be heard by counsel? If you do, the judge-advocate will give you all lawful assistance."
"If the court please, this lady is my daughter. She is somewhat excited. I will take the necessary measures in the matter," Boone began.
Kate pushed her father from before her and again addressed the president.
"I refuse my father's aid in this case. I don't know what is necessary, but I ask this court, if it has anything to do with John Sprague, to give his friends an opportunity to present his story truthfully and without prejudice."
"The judge-advocate will give you all necessary information. Meanwhile, the case will be adjourned until to-morrow."
Elisha Boone stood beside his daughter, a figure of perplexity and chagrin. He dared not remonstrate openly. He was forced to hear the judge-advocate question this extraordinary witness, and instruct her on the steps necessary to be taken; worse than all, hear him inform Kate that the citations to John Sprague had been regularly issued, and that the evidence of his desertion rested wholly on the fact that he had put in no answer to the charges promulgated against him by his commanding officer; that the trial was proceeding on the ground that Sprague had deserted to the enemy, and refused to answer within the time allowed by law.
"But he has never heard of the charges," Kate cried, indignantly. "He has not been heard of since he escaped from Richmond."
"As we understand it, he reached the Union lines merely to ambuscade our outposts, and then returned to Richmond."
"His sister left Richmond ten days after his flight, and he had then passed into our lines, as she had the surest means of knowing."
"There is some extraordinary error in all this. If Sprague can be produced before the term fixed by the regulations, he can vindicate himself by establishing the facts you have told me. If not, we have no alternative but to condemn him to death as a spy and deserter. The testimony on these specifications is uncontradicted. The murder we may not be able to establish, though we have witnesses of the shooting."
It was arranged that Sprague's counsel should see the judge-advocate at once, Kate giving him the address in case by any accident she should be prevented from seeing the Spragues. As she left the room, under a fusillade of admiring glances, she leaned on her father's arm, trembling but resolute. She now knew the worst, and she had no further terror. As they reached the door, her father asked:
"Where are you going? I suppose I need not tell you that I was on my way home when I came here, for I suppose you have been spying on my movements."
"Never. I feared you were acting unwisely, but I never dreamed of watching you. Providence has put your plans in my hands at nearly every step, but I was so ignorant that, of myself, the information would have done but little service to poor Jack. I came into the court by the merest chance. I saw you get into the cab at Willard's, and as I had only reached Washington, I wanted to see you before you went away. I drove after you—followed without the slightest suspicion of the place or your purpose in it."
"Well, all your running about is useless. He will be sentenced to death and the family disgraced. Nothing can now prevent that."
"Yes, Jack can prevent it! I can prevent it!"
"Jack will be found. Surely they dare not commit such a monstrous crime against the absent, the undefended!"
"Well, we won't talk of it. I suppose you are with the Spragues?"
"Yes; I shall remain with them until this is ended."
"What if I should tell you to come home with me?"
"I should, of course, obey you if you commanded me. But before doing so I should have to put my statement in legal shape—that is, swear to it, and give my address to the court that I might be regularly summoned."
"You know something of law, too, I see. I sha'n't ask you to go home, nor shall I go myself. I shall remain to see how this affair turns out."
They were driving down Pennsylvania Avenue now. Kate, recalling her departure, asked, "You did not get the letter I left for you at home?"
"No, I did not know you were gone."
"I left a few lines to tell you that I had seen Jones." She watched him as she said this. He did not start, as she expected. His lips were suddenly compressed and his eye grew dark; then he smiled grimly.
"I hope you felt repaid for your trouble."
"Yes. I felt amply repaid. Jones has undertaken to find out what became of Jack after his arrival at the Union outposts."
"Did you discuss the whole affair with him?"
"Yes. I was greatly relieved by what I learned. I was afraid you had some sinister purpose in secreting him as the only link between Jack and his friends. It gave me new life to find that you had been so tender and thoughtful to Jones, for, as the event proved, he no sooner learned that there were apprehensions as to Jack's safety, than he set about his discovery."
"Did Jones share your grateful sentiment?"
"I think he did. To spare you agitation, he set out at once alone, in order that you might be relieved of all responsibility."
"Ah!" And Elisha Boone sank far back in the cushion. The carriage stopped in front of Willard's; then he said: "I shall remain here now. I will order the driver to take you home. Come to me as often as you can." He kissed her in the old friendly way and hurried into the hotel.
On reaching her lodgings she found a telegram waiting her. It read: "Jones gone South. He will advise you of his movements. ELKINS."
THE LOST CARIBEES.
Meanwhile war, in one of its grim humors, had prepared a comedy when the stage was set in tragic trappings. In the withdrawal of Johnston's army from Manassas—signalized in history as the Quaker campaign, because our army found wooden guns in the deserted works—that ardent young Hotspur, Vincent Atterbury, ran upon a disagreeable end to a very charming adventure. In chivalric bravado, to emphasize the fact that the withdrawal of the Confederates was merely strategic, not forced, the young man, with a lively company of horsemen, hungering for excitement, formed themselves into a defiant rear-guard. The Union outposts, never suspecting that Johnston's army was not behind the enterprising cavalry, withdrew prudently to the main forces.
Then, when they were convinced that the little band was merely on an audacious lark, forces were sent out on either flank, while the main body feigned the disorder of retreat. The result was, that Vincent's squadron was handsomely entrapped, and in the savage contest that ensued the intrepid major was hustled from his horse with a dislocated shoulder and broken wrist. He was brought, with a half-dozen more of his dare-devil comrades, into the Union lines, and in the course of time found himself in the hideous shambles allotted rebel prisoners at Point Lookout, Maryland. Too weak at first, or too confused, to bethink himself of his Northern friends, Vincent shared the hard usage of his companions and resigned himself patiently to the slow procedure of exchange, which was now going on regularly, since the Union victories in the West and South had given the Northern authorities ten prisoners to the Southerners' one. The prospect of his own release was, under these circumstances, rather distant, as without special intervention he would have to await his turn, the rule being that those first captured were first exchanged. He knew that his family's influence and his own intimacy with General Johnston would probably hasten the release, but he could not count upon an immediate return to his duties, and in view of this he was not very reluctant to undergo convalescence in the North.
Jack's influence, he counted, would soon relieve him from the hardships of confinement, and then he should see Olympia—that, at least, was recompense for his misfortune. His mother and Rosa would immediately learn of his capture, and he might count upon hearing from them, as very generous latitude was allowed in such cases by the authorities on both sides. He caused a letter to be written to Jack, addressing it to his regiment, in care of the War Department, and waited patiently the response. His disappointment and anxiety, as days passed and he got no answer, began to tell on his health, already weakened by his wounds. Thus, one day, when a young lady was shown to his bedside—who fell upon him with a glad cry, and held his head to her breast—he was too far gone in delirium to distinguish his sister.
"My darling! O Olympia, I knew you would come," he murmured, and Rosa, terrified, but composed, soothed the fevered lover as best she might. He grew worse in spite of all her devotion. The physicians, burdened with patients far in excess of their powers, assured her that her brother would require the most patient care and enlightened nursing; that medicine would do him but slight good, and that she must make up her mind to a prolonged illness. Rosa was alone in the vast hospital, save for the presence of her maid Linda, who had come through the lines with her and was, of course, under the Northern laws, free. Worse than all, she was poorly provided with money, and this need, rather than Vincent's love-lorn babbling about Olympia, reminded Rosa to call upon the Spragues for help. She wrote at once to Olympia, telling the distressing story, and then set about bettering Vincent's surroundings.
Point Lookout had been selected for its natural prison-like safeguards. A rank bog surrounded the place on three sides, and thus but few troops were needed to guard the great mass of rebel prisoners lodged in wooden barracks and long lines of tents. Vincent's case seemed to have grown stationary after her coming. He slept a fitful, troubled sleep half the day. At night he grew delirious and restless. Rosa and Linda divided the hours into watches, and administered the draughts prepared by the stewards. Through the humanity of the physician in charge, the invalid had been transferred to an A tent, where Rosa could remain day and night unmolested with her maid. Vincent thus cared for, Rosa began to think of the other poor fellows in her brother's squadron, and set about a systematic search for them. Many of them she found in the general wards of the hospital. It was on this kindly mission one day that she heard her brother's name mentioned by a civilian, who was talking with an official in uniform.
"Major Atterbury? Oh, yes; he was removed to division D. You will find him in a separate tent. He has a woman nurse. I will send an orderly with you."
Rosa did not recognize the civilian at first, but as he turned to accompany the soldier she remembered where she had seen him before. He was the prisoner Jack had spoken with in Richmond the day the party visited the tobacco warehouse. She hastened her step, and, as she came up with the men, she said, tremulously:
"I am Major Atterbury's sister. My brother is unconscious. Can I attend to the business you have with him?"
Jones turned and stopped, glancing in surprise at the girl.
"I'm sorry to learn that your brother's so low. But you can do all that I hoped from him. Here is a letter addressed to John Sprague. It was received at his regiment three days ago. I happened to be there making inquiries for him, and the colonel handed it to me. Under the circumstances I felt justified in reading it, and it turns out that I did well."
"John Sprague is missing?" Rosa cried, her mind instantly at work in alarm for some one else.
Jones, dismissing the orderly, told her the facts as we have already followed them. Leaving out all mention of Kate, he told her how he had hurried down to Newport News, and thence to the outposts on the Warrick.
There he had learned that Jack and Dick had been wounded, fatally the story went, in the final volley fired by the pursuers. They had been carried to the hospital at Hampton. But there all trace had been lost. The steward who received them and the surgeon who had taken their descriptive list had been transferred to St. Louis. There was, however, no record of their deaths, and upon that he based the hope that they were either in hospital, or had been, through some strange confusion, assigned among rebel wounded, a thing that had frequently happened in the hurry of transporting large numbers of wounded men.
"And does Mrs. Sprague know all this?" Rosa cried, understanding now why Vincent's letter and her own had not brought a response.
"Partly, I think. Mrs. Sprague and her daughter are in Washington, in the state of mind you may imagine, and exhausting bales of red tape to reach the lost boys."
Poor Rosa! She had thought her grief and terror too much to endure before. Now how trivial Vincent's fever in comparison with this appalling disappearance of Dick and Jack! She walked on over the sparse herbage, over her shoes in the soft sand, when Linda came running from the tent in joyous excitement.
"De good Lord, Miss Rosa, she's here; she's done come!"
"Who is here—who is come?" Rosa cried, impatiently; "not mamma?"
"'Deed no, Miss Rosa; Miss Limpy."
"Yes, indeedy; and, oh, bress de Lord, Massa Vint knows her, and is talkin' like a sweet dove!"
It was true. Miss "Limpy," blushing very red, was surprised by Rosa in a very motherly attitude by the patient's cot. The two girls melted in a delirious hug, mingled with spasmodic smacks of the lips and a soft, gurgling crescendo of exclamation, not very intelligible to Jones and Linda, who discreetly remained near the door on the outside.
Vincent's eyes were fixed on Olympia. For the first time in ten days they shone with the light of reason. He smiled softly at the scene and murmured lightly to himself. Warned not to tax the feeble powers of the invalid, Rosa and Jones withdrew, leaving Olympia to recover from the fatigues of her journey in the tent with Vincent.
"Now, you're not to talk, you know," Olympia said, with matronly decision, "I shall remain here to mesmerize you into repose. You know I am a magnetic person. Be perfectly quiet, and keep your eyes off me. They make me nervous."
"I can only keep my eyes away on condition you put your hand in mine, Then the magnetic current can have full play."
"My impression is that you have not been ill at all. I believe you have been shamming, to escape the harder lines of the prison. Very well, you needn't answer. I'll take that shake of the head as denial and proof for want of better. Now, I will give you the history of our doings since I saw you at Fairfax Court-House in January. I got home safe. I found mamma in painful excitement."
He moved impatiently, and said, beseechingly:
"But tell me how you got here so soon. How did you learn I was here? Jack told you when he got my letter?"
"O Vincent, that was what I was coming to! Jack has never been seen or heard from since he escaped from your troops near the Warrick. I did not know you had written. I got a letter from Rosa yesterday morning and went at once to the War Department, where we have a good friend—"
"I can't understand it. All these things are done with system in an army like yours. Men can't disappear like this, leaving no record. I'll stake my head there's foul play, if the boys can't be found. Have you made inquiry in the company on duty where Jack and his companions got into your lines?"
She explained all the efforts that had been made—how Brodie had been baffled, and how letters had been sent to the commanding officer at Fort Monroe.
"We had begun to think that Jack had been recaptured; but surely, if he were, you would have known of it."
"Of course I should."
"Then that confines the search to our own lines. I can not make myself believe that Jack is dead, though mamma has nearly made up her mind to it. The mysterious part of the affair is, that we can not find one of the men who escaped with Jack, though it was announced in the papers weeks ago that a party of them had arrived at Fort Monroe."