“‘Attack to-night?’” he said very deliberately. “Umph, ‘Plan 3? Attack to-night, plan 3!’ This seems to be in some code, Miss Varney, or a puzzle.”
“It was taken from a Yankee prisoner.”
“From a Yankee prisoner!” he exclaimed in brilliantly assumed surprise.
“Yes, one captured to-day. He is down at Libby now. He gave it to one of our servants, old Jonas, and – ”
“That’s a little different,” said Thorne, examining the paper again. “It puts another face on the matter. This may be something important. ‘Attack to-night,’” he read again, “‘Plan 3, use telegraph’! This sounds important to me, Miss Varney. It looks to me like a plot to use the Department Telegraph lines. To whom did Jonas give it?”
“To no one.”
“Well, how did you – ”
“We took it away from him,” answered Edith.
This was a very different statement from her original intention, but for the moment the girl forgot her part.
“Oh,” said Thorne, “I think that was a mistake.”
“You should have let him deliver it, but it is too late now. Never mind.” He turned toward the door.
Edith caught him by the arm. Was he going out to certain death or what?
“What are you going to do?” she asked breathlessly.
“Find Jonas, and make him tell for whom this paper was intended. He is the man we want.”
The girl released him, and caught her throat with her hand.
“Captain Thorne,” she choked out, and there was joy and triumph in her face, “they have lied about you.”
Thorne turned to her quickly.
“Lied about me!” he exclaimed. “What do you mean?”
He caught the girl’s hands in his and bent over her.
“Don’t be angry,” pleaded Edith, “I didn’t think it would be like this.”
“Yes, yes, but what do you mean?”
Edith sought to draw her hands away from him, but Thorne would not be denied.
“I must know,” he said.
“Let me go,” pleaded the girl, “don’t you understand – ”
But what she might have said further was interrupted by the sharp, stern voice of the Corporal outside. He spoke loud and clearly, there was no necessity for precaution now.
“This way! Look out for that side, will you?”
Thorne released the hands of the woman he loved and stood listening. Edith Varney took advantage of such a diversion to dart through the upper door, the nearer one, into the hall.
“I don’t want to be here now,” she said, as she flew away.
Thorne’s hand went to his revolver which hung at his belt. He had not time to draw it before the Corporal and the two men burst through the door. There were evidently others outside. Thorne’s hand fell away from his revolver, and his position was one of charming nonchalance.
“Out here!” cried the Corporal to one of the soldiers. “Look out there!” pointing to the doorway through which the two men instantly disappeared.
“What is it, Corporal?” asked Thorne composedly.
The Corporal turned and saluted.
“Prisoner, sir, broke out of Libby! We’ve run him down the street, and he turned in here somewhere. If he comes in that way, would you be good enough to let us know?”
“Go on, Corporal,” said Thorne coolly. “I’ll look out for this window.”
He stepped down the long room toward the far window, drew the curtains, and with his hand on his revolver, peered out into the trees beyond the front of the house.
A glance through the window showed Captain Thorne that the yard beyond, which had been empty all evening, was now full of armed men. The Corporal had gone out through the hall door back of the house whence he had entered. There was no doubt but that the back windows would be equally well guarded. The house was surrounded, no escape was possible. He was trapped, virtually a prisoner, although for the time being, they had left him a certain liberty – the liberty of that one large room! It was quite evident to him that he was the object of their suspicions, and he more than feared that his real affiliations had been at last discovered.
Apparently, there would be no opportunity now in which he could carry out his part in the cunningly devised scheme of attack. “Plan 3” would inevitably result in failure, as so many previous plans had resulted, because he would not be able to send the orders that would weaken the position. The best he could hope for, in all probability, was the short shrift of a spy. He had staked his life on the game and it appeared that he had lost.
Nay, more than life had been wagered, honour. He knew the contempt in which the spy was held; he knew that even the gallantry and intrepidity of André and Hale had not saved them from opprobrium and disgrace.
And there was even more than honour upon the board. His love! Not the remotest idea of succumbing to the attractions of Edith Varney ever entered his head when he attempted the desperate, the fatal rôle. At first he had regarded the Varney house and herself as a chessboard and a pawn in the game. The strength of character which had enabled him to assume the unenviable part he played, because of his country’s need, for his country’s good, and which would have carried him through the obloquy and scorn that were sure to be visited upon him – with death at the end! – did not stand him in good stead when it came to thoughts of her. Until he yielded to his passion, and broke his self-imposed vow of silence, he had fought a good fight. Now he realised that the woman who should accept his affections would compromise herself forever in the eyes of everything she held dear, even if he succeeded and lived, which was unlikely.
He had never, so he fancied, in the least and remotest way given her any evidence that he loved her. In reality, she had read him like an open book, as women always do. He had come there that night to get the message from Jonas, and then to bid her good-bye forever, without disclosing the state of his affections. If he succeeded in manipulating the telegraph and carrying out his end of the project, he could see no chance of escape. Ultimate detection and execution appeared certain, and any avowal would therefore be useless. But he had counted without her. She had shown her feelings, and he had fallen. To the temptation of her presence and her artless disclosure, he had not been able to make adequate resistance.
He was the last man on earth to blame her or to reproach her for that; but the fierce, impetuous temperament of the man was overwhelming when it once broke loose, and he felt that he must tell her or die.
Because of his iron self-repression for so long he was the less able to stand the pressure in the end. He had thrown everything to the winds, and had told her how he loved her.
Out there in the moonlight in the rose arbour, the scent of the flowers, the southern night wind, the proximity of the girl, her eyes shining like stars out of the shadows in which they stood, the pallor of her face, the rise and fall of her bosom, the fluttering of her hand as unwittingly or wittingly, who knows, she touched him, had intoxicated him, and his love and passion had broken all bounds, and he had spoken to her and she had answered. She loved him. What did that mean to him now?
Sometimes woman’s love makes duty easy, sometimes it makes it hard. Sometimes it is the crown which victors wear, and sometimes it is the pall that overshadows defeat.
What Edith Varney knew or suspected concerning him, he could not tell. That she knew something, that she suspected something, had been evident, but whatever her knowledge and suspicion, they were not sufficiently powerful or telling to prevent her from returning love for love, kiss for kiss. But did she love him in spite of her knowledge and suspicion? The problem was too great for his solution then.
These things passed through his mind as he stood there by the window, with his hand on his revolver, waiting. It was all he could do. Sometimes even to the most fiery and the most alert of soldiers comes the conviction that there is nothing to do but wait. And if he thinks of it, he will sympathise with the women who are left behind in times of war, who have little to do but wait.
The room had suddenly become his world, the walls his horizon, the ceiling his sky. At any exit he would find the way barred. Why had they left him in the room, free, armed, his revolver in his hand?
None but the bravest would have entered upon such a career as he had chosen. His nerves were like steel in the presence of danger. He had trembled before the woman in the garden a moment since; the stone walls of the house were no more rigidly composed than he in the drawing-room now. It came to him that there was nothing left but one great battle in that room unless they shot him from behind door or window or portière, giving him no chance. If they did confront him openly he would show them that if he had chosen the Secret Service and the life of a spy he could fight and die like a man and a soldier. He held some lives within the chamber of his revolver, and they should pay did they give him but a chance.
Indeed, they were already giving him a chance, he thought to himself as he waited and listened. He was utterly unable to divine why he was at liberty in the room, and why he was left alone, or what was toward.
In the very midst of these crowding and tumultuous thoughts which ran through his mind in far, far less time than it has taken to record them, he heard a noise at the window at the farther side of the room, as if some one fumbled at the catch. Instantly Thorne shrank back behind the portières of the window he was guarding, not completely concealing himself but sufficiently hid as to be unobserved except by careful scrutiny in the dim light. Once more he clutched the butt of his revolver swinging at his waist. He bent his body slightly, and even the thought of Edith Varney passed from his mind. He stood ready, powerful, concentrated, determined, confronting an almost certain enemy with the fierce heart and envenomed glance of the fighter at bay.
He had scarcely assumed this position when the window was opened, and a man was thrust violently through into the room. At the first glance, Thorne as yet unseen, recognised the newcomer as his elder brother, Henry Dumont. Unlike the two famous brothers of the parable, these two loved each other.
Thorne’s muscles relaxed, his hand still clutched the butt of his revolver, he was still alert, but here was not an enemy. He began at once to fathom something at least of the plan and the purpose of the people who had trapped him. In a flash he perceived that his enemies were not yet in possession of all the facts which would warrant them in laying hands upon him. He was suspected, but the final evidence upon which to turn suspicion into certainty was evidently lacking. He could feel, although he could not see them, that every door and window had eyes, solely for him, and that he was closely watched for some false move which would betray him. The plan for which he had ventured so much was still possible; he had not yet failed. His heart leaped in his breast. The clouds around his horizon lifted a little. There was yet a possibility that he could succeed, that he could carry out his part of the cunningly devised and desperate undertaking, the series of events of which this night and the telegraph office were to be the culmination.
A less cautious and a less resourceful man might have evinced some emotion, might have gone forward or spoken to the newcomer, would have at least done something to have attracted his attention, but save for that relaxation of the tension, which no one could by any possibility observe, Thorne stood motionless, silent, waiting; just as he might have stood and waited had he been what he seemed and had the newcomer been utterly unknown and indifferent to him.
His brother was dressed in the blue uniform of the United States; like the others it had seen good service, but as Thorne glanced from his own clothes to those of his brother, the blood came to his face, it was like seeing his own flag again. For a fleeting moment he wished that he had on his own rightful uniform himself and that he had never put it off for anything; but duty is not made up of wishes, gratified or ungratified, and the thought passed as he watched the other man.
Henry Dumont had been thrust violently into the room by the soldiers outside. He had been captured, as Arrelsford had said, earlier in the day; he had allowed himself to be taken. He had been thrust into Libby Prison with dozens of prisoners taken in the same sortie. He had not been searched, but then none of the others had been; had he been selected for that unwonted immunity alone it would have awakened his suspicions, but the Confederates had made a show of great haste in disposing of their prisoners, and had promised to search them in the morning. Therefore, Henry Dumont had retained the paper which later he had given Jonas, when by previous arrangement he made his daily visit to the prison.
He had been greatly surprised, when about a quarter to nine o’clock, a squad of soldiers had taken him from the prison, had marched him hurriedly through the streets with which he was entirely unfamiliar, and had taken him to the residence section of the city, and had halted at the back of a big house. He had asked no questions, and no explanations had been vouchsafed to him. He was more surprised than ever when he was taken up to the porch, the window was opened, and he was thrust violently into a room, so violently that he staggered and had some difficulty in recovering his balance.
He made a quick inspection of the room. Thorne, in the deeper shadows at the farther end of the room was invisible to him. He stood motionless save for the turning of his head as he looked around him. He moved a few steps toward the end of the room, opposite his entrance, passed by the far door opening into the back hall which was covered with portières, and went swiftly toward the near door into the front hall. The door was slightly ajar, and as he came within range of the opening he saw in the shadows of the hall, crossed bayonets and men. No escape that way!
He went on past the door toward the large windows at the front of the house and in another moment would have been at the front window where Thorne stood. The latter dropped the curtain and stepped out into the room.
For the thousandth part of a second the two brothers stared at each other, and then in a fiercely intense voice, Thorne, playing his part, desperately called out:
“Halt! You are a prisoner!”
Both brothers were quick witted, both knew that they were under the closest observation, both realised that they were expected to betray relationship, which would incriminate both, and probably result fatally for one and certainly ruin the plan. Thorne’s cue was to regard his brother as the prisoner whom it was important to arrest, and Dumont’s cue was to regard his brother as an enemy with whom it was his duty to struggle. The minds of the two were made up instantly. With a quick movement Dumont sought to pass his brother, but with a movement equally as rapid, Thorne leaped upon him, shouting again:
“Halt, I say!”
The two men instantly grappled. It was no mimic struggle that they engaged in, either. They were of about equal height and weight, if anything Thorne was the stronger, but this advantage was offset by the fact that he had been recently ill, and the two fought therefore on equal terms at first. It was a fierce, desperate grapple in which they met. As they struggled violently, both by a common impulse, reeled toward that part of the room near the mantel which was farthest away from doors or windows, and where they would be the least likely to be overheard or to be more closely observed. As they fought together, Thorne called out again:
“Corporal of the Guard, here is your man! Corporal of the Guard, what are you doing?”
At that instant the two reeling bodies struck the wall next to the mantel with a fearful smash, and a chair that stood by was overturned by a quick movement on the part of Henry Dumont, who did not know his brother had already received the important message. In the confusion of the moment, he hissed in Thorne’s ear:
“Attack to-night, plan 3, use telegraph! Did you get that?”
“Yes,” returned Thorne, still keeping up the struggle.
“Good,” said Dumont. “They are watching us. Shoot me in the leg.”
“No, I can’t do it,” whispered Thorne.
All the while the two men were reeling and staggering and struggling against the wall and furniture. The encounter would have deceived the most suspicious.
“Shoot, shoot,” said the elder.
“I can’t shoot my own brother,” the younger panted out.
“It is the only way to throw them off the scent,” persisted Dumont.
“I won’t do it,” answered Thorne, and then he shouted again:
“Corporal of the Guard, I have your prisoner!”
“Let me go, damn you!” roared Dumont furiously, making another desperate effort, – “if you don’t do it, I will,” he added under his breath. “Give me the revolver!”
“No, no, Harry,” was the whispered reply, and “Surrender, curse you!” the shouted answer. “You’ll hurt yourself,” he pleaded.
“I don’t care,” muttered Dumont. “Let me have it.”
His hands slipped down from Thorne’s shoulders and grasped the butt of the revolver. The two grappled for it fiercely, but the struggle was beginning to tell on Thorne, who was not yet in full possession of his physical vitality. His long illness had sapped his strength.
“Don’t, don’t, for God’s sake!” he whispered, and then shouted desperately, “Here’s your man, Corporal, what’s the matter with you?”
“Give me that gun,” said Dumont, and in spite of himself his voice rose again. There was nothing suspicious in the words, it was what he might have said had the battle been a real one; as he spoke by a more violent effort he wrenched the weapon from the holster and away from Thorne’s detaining hand. The latter sought desperately to repossess himself of it.
“Look out, Harry! You’ll hurt yourself,” he implored, but the next moment by a superhuman effort Dumont threw him back. As Thorne staggered, Dumont turned the pistol on himself. Recovering himself with incredible swiftness, Thorne leaped at his brother, and the two figures went down together with a crash in the midst of which rang out the sharp report of the heavy service weapon. Instead of shooting himself harmlessly in the side, in the struggle Dumont had unfortunately shot himself through the lung.
Not at first comprehending exactly what had happened, Thorne rose to his feet, took the revolver from the other’s hand, and stood over the body of his mortally wounded brother, the awful anguish of his heart in his face. Fortunately, they were near the far end of the room, next the wall, and no one could see the look in Thorne’s eyes or the distortion of his features in his horror.
“Harry!” he whispered. “My God, you have shot yourself!”
But Henry Dumont was past speaking. He simply smiled at his brother, and closed his eyes. The next instant the room was filled with light and sound. From every window and door people poured in; the soldiers from the porches, from the hall, Mrs. Varney, Arrelsford and Edith; from the other side of the hall a hubbub of screams and cries rose from behind the locked door where the sewing women sat. Martha brought up the rear with lights, which Arrelsford took from her and set on the table. The room was again brightly illuminated.
As they crowded through the various entrances, their eyes fell upon Thorne. He was leaning nonchalantly against the table, his revolver in his hand, a look of absolute indifference upon his face. His acting was superb had they but known it. He could not betray himself now and make vain his brother’s sublime act of self-sacrifice for the cause. There was a tumult of shouts and sudden cries:
“Where is he? What has he done? This way now!”
Most of those who entered had eyes only for the man lying upon the floor, blood welling darkly through his grey shirt exposed by the opening of his coat which had been torn apart in the struggle. Three people had eyes only for Thorne, the man who hated him, the girl who loved him, and the woman who suspected him. Between the soldiers and these three stood the Corporal of the Guard, representing as it were, the impartial law.
Thorne did not glance once at the girl who loved him, or at the man who hated him, or at the woman who suspected him. He fixed his eyes upon the Corporal of the Guard.
“There’s your prisoner, Corporal,” he said calmly, without a break in his voice, although such anguish possessed him as he had never before experienced and lived through, but his control was absolutely perfect.
And his quiet words and quiet demeanour increased the hate of one man, and the suspicions of one woman, and the love and admiration of the other.
“There’s your prisoner,” he said, slipping his revolver slowly back into its holster. “We had a bit of a struggle and I had to shoot him. Look out for him.”