“The – the – ” she pointed at the trousers, “are they how you wanted them?”
“Fine,” replied Wilfred; “they are just perfect. There isn’t a girl in Richmond who could have done them better. Now about the letter. I want your advice on it; what do you think?”
“Tell me what you said.”
“You want to hear it?” asked Wilfred.
“I’ve got to, haven’t I? How could I help you if I didn’t know what it was all about?”
“You’re a pretty good girl, Caroline. You will help me, won’t you?”
Her hand rested on the table as she bent over him, and he laid his own hand upon it and squeezed it warmly, too warmly thought Caroline, as she slowly drew it away and was sorry she did it the moment she had done so.
“Yes, I will help you,” she said. “But about the letter? You will have to hurry. I am sure your mother will be here in a short time.”
“Well, that letter is mighty important, you know. Everything depends upon it, much more than on mother’s letter, I am sure.”
“I should think so,” said the girl.
She drew a chair up to the table and sat down by the side of the boy.
“I am just going to give it to him strong,” said Wilfred.
“That’s the way to give it to him,” said Caroline. “He’s a soldier and he’s accustomed to such things.”
“You can’t fool much with father. He means business,” said Wilfred; “but he will find that I mean business, too.”
“That’s right,” assented Caroline sapiently, “everybody has got to mean business now. What did you say to him?”
“I said this,” answered the youngster, reading slowly and with great pride, “‘General Ransom Varney, Commanding Division, Army of Northern Virginia, Dear Papa’ – ”
“I wouldn’t say ‘dear papa’ to a General,” interrupted Caroline decisively.
“No? What would you say?”
“I would say ‘Sir,’ of course; that is much more businesslike and soldiers are always so awfully abrupt.”
“You are right,” said the boy, beginning again, “‘General Ransom Varney, Commanding Division, Army of Northern Virginia, Sir’ – that sounds fine, doesn’t it?”
“Splendid,” said the girl, “go on.”
“‘This is to notify you that I want you to let me join the Army right now. If you don’t, I will enlist anyway, that’s all. The seventeen call is out and I am not going to wait for the sixteen. Do you think I am a damned coward’ – ”
Wilfred paused and looked apprehensively at Caroline, who nodded with eyes sparkling brightly.
“That’s fine,” she said.
“I thought it sounded like a soldier.”
“It does; you ought to have heard the Third Virginia swear – ”
“Oh,” said Wilfred, who did not quite relish that experience; but he went on after a little pause. “‘Tom Kittridge has gone; he was killed yesterday at Cold Harbor. Billie Fisher has gone and so has Cousin Stephen. He is not sixteen, he lied about his age, but I don’t want to do that unless you make me. I will, though, if you do. Answer this right now or not at all.’”
“I think that is the finest letter I have ever heard,” said Caroline proudly, as Wilfred stopped, laid the paper down, and stared at her.
“Do you really think so?”
“It is the best letter I – ”
“I am glad you are pleased with it. Now the next thing is how to end it.”
“Why, just end it.”
“Sign your name, of course.”
“What else is there?”
“No, Wilfred Varney.”
“That’s the thing.” He took up a pen from the table and scrawled his name at the bottom of this interesting and historical document. “And you think the rest of it will do?”
“I should think it would,” she assented heartily. “I wish your father had it now.”
“So do I,” said Wilfred. “Maybe it will take two or three days to get it to him and I just can’t wait that long.”
Caroline rose to her feet suddenly under the stimulus of a bright idea that came into her mind.
“I tell you what we can do.”
“We can telegraph him,” she exclaimed.
“Good idea,” cried Wilfred, more and more impressed with Caroline’s wonderful resourcefulness, but a disquieting thought immediately struck him. “Where am I going to get the money?” he asked dubiously.
“It won’t take very much.”
“It won’t? Do you know what they are charging now? Over seven dollars a word only to Petersburg.”
“Well, let them charge it,” said Caroline calmly, “we can cut it down to only a few words and the address won’t cost anything.”
“No, they never charge for that,” continued the girl. “That’s a heap of money saved, and then we can use what we save on the address for the rest.”
Wilfred stared at her as if this problem in economics was not quite clear to his youthful brain, but she gave him no time to question her ingenious calculations.
“What comes after the address?” she asked in her most businesslike manner.
“Leave that out.”
Wilfred swept his pen through it.
“He knows it already,” said Caroline. “What’s next?”
“‘This is to notify you that I want you to let me come right now.’”
“We could leave out that last ‘to,’” said Caroline.
Wilfred checked it off, and then read, “‘I want you – let me come right now.’ That doesn’t sound right, and anyway it is such a little word.”
“Yes, but it costs seven dollars just the same as a big word,” observed Caroline.
“But it doesn’t sound right without it,” argued the boy; “we have got to leave it in. What comes after that?”
Caroline in turn took up the note and read,
“‘If you don’t, I’ll come anyhow, that’s all.’”
“You might leave out ‘that’s all,’” said Wilfred.
“No, don’t leave that out. It’s very important. It doesn’t seem to be so important, but it is. It shows – well – it shows that that’s all there is about it. That one thing might convince him.”
“Yes, but we’ve got to leave out something.”
“Not that, though. Perhaps there is something else. ‘The seventeen call is out’ – that’s got to stay.”
“Yes,” said Wilfred.
“‘The sixteen comes next.’ That’s just got to stay.”
“Of course. Now, what follows?”
“‘I’m not going to wait for it,’” read Caroline.
“We can’t cut that out,” said Wilfred; “we don’t seem to be making much progress, do we?”
“Well, we will find something in a moment. ‘Do you think I am’ – ” she hesitated a moment, “‘a damned coward,’” she read with a delicious thrill at her rash, vicarious wickedness.
Wilfred regarded her dubiously. He felt as an author does when he sees his pet periods marked out by the blue pencil of the ruthless editor.
“You might leave that out,” he began, cutting valiantly at his most cherished and admired phrase.
“No,” protested Caroline vehemently, “certainly not! That is the best thing in the whole letter.”
“That ‘damn’ is going to cost us seven dollars, you know.”
“It is worth it,” said Caroline, “it is the best thing you have written. Your father is a General in the army, he’ll understand that kind of language. What’s next? I know there’s something now.”
“‘Tom Kittridge has gone. He was killed yesterday at Cold Harbor.’”
“Leave out that about” – she caught her breath, and her eyes fixed themselves once more on that little round hole in the breast of his jacket – “about his being killed.”
“But he was killed and so was Johnny Sheldon – I have his uniform, you know.”
“I know he was, but you don’t have to tell your father,” said Caroline, choking up, “you don’t have to telegraph him the news, do you?”
“No, of course not, but – ”
“That’s all there is to the letter except the end.”
“Why, that leaves it just the same except the part about – ”
“Yes,” said Caroline in despair, “and after all the work we have done.”
“Let’s try it again,” said Wilfred.
“No,” said Caroline, “there is no use. Everything else has got to stay.”
“Well, then we can’t telegraph it. It would cost hundreds of dollars.”
“Yes, we can telegraph it,” said Caroline determinedly, “you give it to me. I’ll get it sent.”
“But how are you going to send it?” asked Wilfred, extending the letter.
“Never you mind,” answered the girl.
“See here!” the boy cried. “I am not going to have you spend your money, and – ”
“There’s no danger of that, I haven’t any to spend.” She took the letter from his hand. “I reckon Douglass Foray’ll send it for me. He’s in the telegraph office and he’ll do most anything for me.”
“No,” said Wilfred sternly.
“What’s the reason he won’t?” asked the girl.
“Because he won’t.”
“What do you care so long as he sends it?”
“Well, I do care and that’s enough. I’m not going to have you making eyes at Dug Foray on my account.”
“Oh, well,” said the girl, blushing. “Of course if you feel that way about it, I – ”
“That’s the way I feel all right. But you won’t give up the idea of helping me, will you, because I – feel like that?”
“No,” answered Caroline softly, “I’ll help you all I can – about that letter, do you mean?”
“Yes, about that letter and about other things, too.”
“Give it to me,” said the girl, “I will go over it again.”
She sat down at the desk, and as she scanned it, Wilfred watched her anxiously. To them Mrs. Varney entered. She had an open letter in one hand and a cap and belt in the other. She stopped in the doorway and motioned for some one in the hall to follow her, and an orderly entered the room. His uniform was covered with dust, his sunburned, grim face was covered with sweat and dust also. He stood in the doorway with the ease of a veteran soldier, that is without the painful effort to be precise or formal which marks the young aspirant for military honours.
“Wilfred,” said Mrs. Varney, quickly approaching him, “here is a letter from your father.” She extended the paper. “He sent it by his orderly.”
Wilfred stepped closer to the elder woman while Caroline slowly rose from her chair, her eyes fixed on Mrs. Varney.
“What does he say, mother?” asked Wilfred.
“He says – ” answered his mother with measured quietness, and controlling herself with the greatest difficulty, “he tells me that – that you – are – ” in spite of her tremendous effort, her voice failed her. “Read it yourself, my boy,” she whispered pitifully.
The letter was evidently exceedingly brief. A moment put Wilfred in possession of its contents. His mother stood with head averted. Caroline stared with trembling lips, a pale face, and a heaving bosom. It was to the orderly that Wilfred addressed himself.
“I am to go back with you?”
“General’s orders, sir,” answered the soldier, saluting, “to enter the service. God knows we need everybody now.”
“When do we start?” asked Wilfred eagerly, his face flushing as he realised that his fondest desire was now to be gratified.
“As soon as you are ready, sir. I am waiting.”
“I am ready now,” said Wilfred. He turned to his mother. “You won’t mind, mother,” he said, his own lips trembling a little for the first time at the sight of her grief.
Mrs. Varney shook her head. She stepped nearer to him, smoothed the hair back from his forehead, and stretched out her arms to him as if she fain would embrace him, but she controlled herself and handed him the cap and belt.
“Your brother,” she said slowly, “seems to be a little better. He wants you to take his cap and belt. I told him your father had sent for you, and I knew you would wish to go to the front at once.”
Wilfred took the belt from her trembling hands, and buckled it about him. His mother handed him the cap.
“Howard says he can get another belt when he wants it, and you are to have his blankets, too. I will go and get them.”
She turned and left the room. She was nearly at the end of her resisting power, and but for the welcome diversion incident to her departure, she could not have controlled herself longer. The last one! One taken, one trembling, and now Wilfred!
The boy entered into none of the emotions of his mother. He clapped the cap on his head and threw it back.
“Fits me just as if it were made for me,” he said, settling the cap firmly in place. “Orderly, I will be with you in a jiffy.”
Caroline stood still near the table, her eyes on the floor.
“We won’t have to send it now, will we?” he pointed to the letter.
Caroline, with a long, deep sigh, shook her head, and slowly handed the letter to him. Wilfred took it mechanically, his eyes fixed on the girl, who had suddenly grown very white of face, trembly of lip, and teary of eye-lashes.
“You are very good,” he said, tearing the letter into pieces, “to help me like you did.”
“It was nothing,” whispered the girl.
“You can help me again, if you want to.”
Caroline lifted her eyes to his face, and he saw within their depths that which encouraged him.
“I can fight twice as well, if – ”
Poor little Caroline couldn’t trust herself to speak. She nodded through her tears.
“Good-bye,” said Wilfred, “you will write to me about helping me to fight twice as well, won’t you. You know what I mean?”
Caroline nodded again.
“I wouldn’t mind if you telegraphed me that you would.”
What might have happened further will never be determined, for at this juncture Mrs. Varney came back with an old faded blanket tied in a roll. She handed it to the boy without speaking. Wilfred threw it over his shoulder, and kissed his mother hurriedly.
“You won’t mind much, will you, mother. I will soon be back. Orderly!” he cried.
“I am ready,” said Wilfred.
He threw one long, meaning look at Caroline, and followed the soldier out of the door and across the hall. The opening and closing of an outside door was heard, and then all was still. Mrs. Varney held her hand to her heart, and long, shuddering breaths came from her. He might soon be back, but how. She knew all about the famous injunction of the Spartan woman, “With your shield or on it,” but somehow she had had no idea of the full significance until it came to her last boy, and for a moment she was forgetful of poor, little Caroline until she saw the girl wavering toward the door, and there was no disguise about the real tears in her eyes now.
“Are you going, dear?” asked Mrs. Varney, forcing herself to speak.
Caroline nodded her head as before.
“Oh, yes,” continued the older woman, “your party, you have to be there.”
At that the girl found voice, and without looking back she murmured, “There won’t be any party to-night.”
Caroline’s departure was again interrupted by the inopportune reëntrance from the back hall of Mr. Arrelsford, who was accompanied by two soldiers, whom he directed to remain by the door. As he advanced rapidly toward Mrs. Varney, Caroline stepped aside toward the rear window.
“Is he – ” began Arrelsford, turning toward the window, and starting back in surprise as he observed Caroline for the first time.
“Yes, he is there,” answered the woman.
“Oh, Mrs. Varney,” cried Caroline, “there’s a heap of soldiers out in your backyard here. You don’t reckon anything’s the matter, do you?”
The girl did not lower her voice, and was greatly surprised at the immediate order for silence which proceeded from Mr. Arrelsford, whose presence she acknowledged with a very cool, indifferent bow.
“No, there is nothing the matter, dear,” said Mrs. Varney. “Martha,” she said to the old servant who had come in response to her ring, “I want you to go home with Miss Mitford. You must not go alone, dear. Good-night.”
“Thank you very much, Mrs. Varney,” answered Caroline. “Come, Martha.” As she turned, she hesitated. “You don’t reckon she could go with me somewhere else, do you?”
“Why, where else do you want to go at this hour, my dear girl?” asked Mrs. Varney.
“Just to – to the telegraph office,” answered Caroline.
Mr. Arrelsford, who had been waiting with ill-concealed impatience during this dialogue, started violently.
“Now!” exclaimed Mrs. Varney in great surprise, not noticing the actions of her latest guest. “At this time of night?”
“Yes,” answered Caroline, “it is on very important business, and – I – ”
“Oh,” returned Mrs. Varney, “if that is the case, Martha must go with you.”
“You know we haven’t a single servant left at our house,” Caroline said in explanation of her request.
“I know,” said Mrs. Varney, “and, Martha, don’t leave her for an instant.”
“No’m,” answered Martha, “Ah’ll take ca’ ob huh.”
As soon as she had left the room, passing between the two soldiers, Arrelsford took up the conversation. He spoke quickly and in a sharp voice. He was evidently greatly excited.
“What is she going to do at the telegraph office?” he asked.
“I have no idea,” answered the woman.
“Has she had any conversation with him?” said Arrelsford, pointing to the front of the house.
“They were talking together in this room early this evening before you came the first time, but it isn’t possible she could – ”
“Anything is possible,” snapped Arrelsford impatiently. He was evidently determined to suspect everybody, and leave no stone unturned to prevent the failure of his plans. “Corporal,” he cried, “have Eddinger follow that girl. He must get to the telegraph office as soon as she does, and don’t let any despatch she tries to send get out before I see it. Let her give it in, but hold it. Make no mistake about that. Get an order from the department for you to bring it to me.” As the Corporal saluted and turned away to give the order, Arrelsford faced Mrs. Varney again. “Are they both out there?”
“Yes,” answered the woman. “Did you bring the man from Libby Prison?”
“I did, the guards have him out in the street on the other side of the house. When we get Thorne in here alone I’ll have him brought over to that back window and shoved into the room.”
“And where shall I stay?”
“Out there,” said Arrelsford, “by the lower door, opening upon the back hall. You can get a good view of everything from there.”
“But if he sees me?”
“He won’t see you if it is dark in the hall.” He turned to the Corporal who had reëntered and resumed his station. “Turn out those lights out there,” he said. “We can close these curtains, can’t we?”
“Certainly,” said Mrs. Varney, opening the rear door and drawing the heavy portières, but leaving space between them so that any one in the dark hall could see through them but not be seen from the room.
“I don’t want too much light in here, either,” said Arrelsford. As he spoke he blew out the candles in the two candelabra which had been placed on the different tables, and left the large, long room but dimly illuminated by the candles in the sconces on the walls.
Mrs. Varney watched him with fascinated awe. In spite of herself there still lingered a hope that Arrelsford might be mistaken. Thorne had enlisted her interest, and he might under other conditions have aroused her matronly affections, and she was hoping against hope that he might yet prove himself innocent, not only because of his personality but as well because the thought that she might have entertained a spy was repugnant to her, and because of the honour of the Dumont family, which was one of the oldest and most important ones in the western hills of the Old Dominion.
Arrelsford meantime completed his preparations by moving the couch which Caroline Mitford had placed before the window back to the wall.
“Now, Mrs. Varney,” he said, stepping far back out of sight of the window, “will you open the curtains? Do it casually, carelessly, please, so as not to awaken any suspicion if you are seen.”
“But your soldiers, won’t they – ”
“They are all at the back of the house. They came in the back way, and the field in front is absolutely clear, although I have men concealed in the street to stop any one who may attempt to escape that way.”
Mrs. Varney walked over to the window and drew back the curtains. She stood for a moment looking out into the clear, peaceful quietness of a soft spring night. The moon was full, and being somewhat low shone through the long windows and into the room, the candle light not being bright enough to dim its radiance. Her task being completed, she turned, and once more the man who was in command pointed across the hall toward the room on the other side.
“Are those women in there yet?” he asked peremptorily.
“Where is the key?”
Mrs. Varney left the room and went to the door.
“It is on this side,” she said.
“Will you lock it, please?”
The woman softly turned the key in the lock, and returned to the drawing-room without a sound. As she did so the noise of the opening of one of the long French windows in the front of the room attracted the attention of both of them. Edith Varney entered the room nervously and stepped forward. She began breathlessly, in a low, feverishly excited voice.
Mrs. Varney hurried toward her and caught her outstretched hand.
“I want to speak to you,” whispered the girl.
“We can’t wait,” said Arrelsford, stepping forward.
“You must,” persisted the girl. She turned to her mother again, “I can’t do it, I can’t! Oh, let me go!”
“But, my dear,” said her mother, “you were the one who suggested that – ”
“But I was sure then, and now – ”
“Has he confessed?” asked Mrs. Varney.
“No, no,” answered the girl with a glance of fear and apprehension toward Arrelsford, who stood staring menacingly at her elbow.
“Don’t speak so loud,” whispered the Secret Service Agent.
“Edith,” said her mother soothingly, “what is it that has changed you?”
She waited for an answer, but none came. The girl’s face had been very pale but it now flushed suddenly with colour.
“Dear,” said her mother, “you must tell me.”
Edith motioned Mr. Arrelsford away. He went with ill-concealed impatience to the far side of the room and waited nervously to give the signal, anxious lest something should miscarry because of this unfortunate unwillingness of the girl to play her part.
“What is it, dear?” whispered her mother.
“Mamma,” said Edith, she forced the words out, “he – he – loves me.”
“Impossible!” returned Mrs. Varney, controlling her voice so that the other occupant of the room could not hear.
“Yes,” faltered the girl, “and I – some one else must do it.”
“You don’t mean,” said Mrs. Varney, “that you return – ”
But Mr. Arrelsford’s patience had been strained to the breaking point. He did not know what interchange was going on between the two women, but it must be stopped. He came forward resolutely. The girl saw his determination in his face.
“No, no,” she whispered, “not that, not now!”
She shrank away from him as she spoke.
“But, Edith,” said Mrs. Varney, “more reason now than ever.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said Mr. Arrelsford, “but we must go on.”
“But why – why are you doing this?” asked Edith, pleading desperately.
“Because I please,” snapped out the Secret Service Agent, and it was quite evident that he was pleased. Some of his satisfaction was due to the fact that he had by his own efforts at last succeeded in unearthing a desperate plot, and had his hands on the plotters. That he was thereby serving his country and demonstrating his fitness for his position of responsibility and trust also added to his satisfaction, but this was greatly enhanced by the fact that Thorne was his rival, and he could make a guess that he was a successful rival in love as well as in war.
“You have never pleased before,” persisted Edith. “Hundreds of suspicious cases have come up – hundreds of men have been run down – but you preferred to sit at your desk in the War Department, until – ”
“Edith! Edith!” interposed her mother.
“I can’t discuss that now,” said Arrelsford.
“No, we will not discuss it. I will have nothing more to do with the affair.”
“You won’t,” whispered Arrelsford threateningly.
“Don’t say that,” urged Mrs. Varney.
“Nothing, nothing at all,” said Edith.
“At your own suggestion, Miss Varney,” persisted the Secret Service Agent vehemently, “I agreed to accept a plan by which we could criminate this friend of yours or establish his innocence. When everything is ready you propose to withdraw and make the experiment a failure, perhaps allowing him to escape altogether and being a party to treason against your own country.”
Edith looked from Arrelsford’s set face, with his bitter words, the truth of which she was too just not to acknowledge, ringing in her ears, to the face of her mother. It was a sweet face, full of sympathy and love, but it was set in the same way as the man’s. The patriotism of the woman was aroused. The kind of help that Edith wanted in her mother’s look she did not find there.
“You mustn’t do this, Edith; you must do your part,” said Mrs. Varney.
The resolution of the girl gave way.
“He is there,” she faltered piteously, “he is there at the further end of the veranda. What more do you want of me?” Her voice rose in spite of her efforts to control herself.
“Call him to the room, and do it naturally. If any one else should do it he would suspect something immediately and be on his guard.”
“Very well,” said the girl helplessly. “I will call him.”
She turned toward the window.
“Wait,” said Arrelsford, “one thing more. I want him to have this paper.” He handed Edith the communication which had been taken from Jonas earlier in the evening.
“What am I to do with this?” asked the girl, taking it.
“Give it to him, and tell him where it came from. Tell him old Jonas got it from a prisoner at Libby Prison and brought it to you.”
“But why am I to do this?” asked the girl.
“Why not? If he is innocent, what’s the harm? If not, if he is in the plot and we can’t catch him otherwise, the message on the paper will send him to the telegraph office to-night, and that’s where we want him.”
“But I never promised that,” said the girl with obvious reluctance to do anything not only that might tend to harm the suspected, but that might work to the furtherance of Arrelsford’s designs.
“Do you still believe him innocent?” sneered the man.
Edith lifted her head and for the first time she looked Arrelsford full in the face.
“I still believe him innocent,” answered the girl, slowly and with deliberate emphasis.
“Then why are you afraid to give him the paper?” asked Arrelsford, directly with cunning adroitness.
The girl, thus entrapped, clasped the paper to her breast, and turned toward the window. Her mind was made up, but it was not necessary for her to call. Her ear, tuned to every sound he made, caught the noise of his footfall on the porch. She turned her head and spoke to the other two.
“Captain Thorne is coming,” she whispered expressionlessly, “unless you want to be seen, you had better go.”
“Here, this way, Mrs. Varney,” said Arrelsford, taking that lady by the arm and going down to the far end to the door covered by the portières.
The two disappeared, and it was impossible for a soul to see them in the darkness of the hall, although they could see clearly enough, even in the dimly lighted drawing-room, everything that would happen. Edith stood as if rooted to the floor, the paper still in her hand, when Thorne opened the sash which she had closed behind her and entered in his turn the window through which she had come a short time before. He stepped eagerly toward her.
“You were so long,” he whispered, “coming for me, that – ” He stopped abruptly, and looked at her face, “is anything the matter?”
“You had been away such a long time that I thought – ”
“Only a few minutes.”
“Only a few years,” said the man passionately. His voice was low and gently modulated, not because he had anything to conceal but because of the softness of the moonlight and the few candles dimly flickering upon the walls of the great room, the look in the girl’s eyes, and the feeling in his heart. A few minutes, the girl had said! – Ah, it was indeed a few years to him.
“If it was a few years to you,” returned the girl with a violent effort at lightness, although her heart was torn to pieces with the emotions of the moment, “what a lot of time there is.”
“No,” said Thorne, “there is only to-night.”
Edith threw out her hand to check what she would fain have heard, but Thorne caught it. He came closer to her.
“There’s only to-night, and you in the world,” he said.
“You overwhelm me.”
“I can’t help myself. I came here determined not to tell you how I loved you, and for the last half hour I have been telling you nothing else. I could tell you all my life and never finish. Ah, my darling, my darling, – there’s only to-night and you.”
Edith swayed toward him for a moment, completely influenced by his ardour, but then drew back.
“No, no,” she faltered. “You mustn’t.” She glanced around the room apprehensively. “No, no, not now!”
“You are right,” said the man. She dragged herself away from him. He would not retain her against her will, and without a struggle he released her hand. “You are right. Don’t mind what I said, Miss Varney. I have forgotten myself, believe me.” He drew further away from her. “I came to make a brief call, to say good-bye, and – ”
He turned and walked toward the hall door, after making her a low bow, and it was not without a feeling of joy that she noticed that he walked unsteadily, blindly.
“Oh, Captain Thorne,” she said, just as he had reached the door, “I – ”
He stopped and looked back.
“Before you go I want to ask your advice about something.”
“Yes, it seems to be a military matter, and – ”
“What is it?” asked Thorne, turning back.
“What do you think this means?” said the girl, handing him the folded despatch.
She had intended to look him full in the face as he took it, but at the last moment her courage failed her. She looked away and did not see the instant but quickly mastered start of surprise. She was only conscious that Thorne had possessed himself of the document.
“What is it?” asked Thorne, holding it in his hand.
“That is what I want you to tell me,” said the girl.
“Oh, don’t you know?” said Thorne, now entirely master of himself.
“No,” answered the girl, but there was something in her voice which now fully aroused the suspicions of the man.
“It appears to be a note from some one,” he said casually, “but it is so dark in here. With your permission, I will light some of the candles on the table, and then we can see what it is.”
He took one of the candles from the sconces on the wall and lighted the candelabra that stood on the nearest table. Holding the paper near the light, he glanced around rapidly, and then read it, giving no outward evidence of his surprise and alarm, although the girl was now watching him narrowly. He glanced at her and then looked at the paper again, and slowly read aloud its message.