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KERCHIVAL. You say a prisoner has been captured? Is it a spy?
BARKET. Worse--a petticoat.
KERCHIVAL. A female prisoner! [_Dropping into seat._
BARKET. I towld the byes your honour wouldn't thank us fer the catchin' of her. The worst of it is she's a lady; and what's worse still, it's a purty one.
KERCHIVAL. Tell Major Wilson, for me, to let her take the oath, and everything else she wants. The Government of the United States will send her an apology and a new bonnet.
BARKET. The young lady is to take the oath, is it? She says she'll see us d.a.m.ned first.
KERCHIVAL. A lady, Barket?
BARKET. Well! she didn't use thim exact words. That's the way I understand her emphasis. Ivery time she looks at me, I feel like getting under a boom-proof. She was dashing through the woods on a gray horse, sur; and we had the divil's own chase. But we came up wid her, at last, down by the bend in Oak Run. Just at that moment we saw the figure of a Confederate officer, disappearing among the trays on the ither side.
BARKET. Two of us rayturned wid the girl; and the rist wint after the officer. Nothing has been heard of thim yet.
KERCHIVAL. Have you found any despatches on the prisoner?
BARKET. Well!--yer honour, I'm a bachelor, meself; and I'm not familar with the jayography of the s.e.x. We byes are in mortal terror for fear somebody might order us to go on an exploring expedition.
KERCHIVAL. Tell them to send the prisoner here, Barket, and hurry to Buckton's Ford yourself, at once.
BARKET. As fast as me horse can carry me, sir, and it's a good one.
KERCHIVAL. I'd rather deal with half the Confederate Army than with one woman, but I must question her. They captured her down by the Bend in Oak Run. [_Taking out map; looks at it._] I see. She had just met, or was about to meet, a Confederate officer at that point. It is evident that she was either taking him a despatch or was there to receive one. Oak Run. [CORPORAL DUNN _and Two_ SOLDIERS _enter, with_ GERTRUDE _as a prisoner. They stop;_ KERCHIVAL _sits studying map._ GERTRUDE _glances at him and marches down with head erect; stops, with her back to him._
CORPORAL DUNN. The prisoner, Colonel West!
KERCHIVAL. Ah! Very well, Corporal; you can go. [_Rising; he motions the_ GUARD _to retire._ CORPORAL DUNN _gives the necessary orders and exit with_ GUARD.] Be seated, madam. [GERTRUDE _draws up, folding her arms and planting her foot, spitefully._ KERCHIVAL _shrugs his shoulder. Aside._] I wish they'd capture a tigress for me, or some other female animal that I know how to manage better than I do a woman. [_Aloud._] I am very sorry, madam, but, of course, my duty as a military officer is paramount to all other considerations. You have been captured within the lines of this army, and under circ.u.mstances which lead me to think that you have important despatches upon your person. I trust that you will give me whatever you have at once. I shall be exceedingly sorry if you compel me to adopt the extreme--and the very disagreeable course--for both of us--of having--you--I--I hesitate even to use the word, madam--but military law is absolute--having you--
GERTRUDE. Searched! If you dare, Colonel West! [_Turning to him suddenly and drawing up to her full height._
KERCHIVAL. Gertrude Ellingham! [_Springs across to her, with his arms extended._] My dear Gertrude!
GERTRUDE. [_Turning her back upon him._] Not "dear Gertrude" to you, sir!
KERCHIVAL. Not?--Oh! I forgot.
GERTRUDE. [_Coldly._] I am your prisoner.
KERCHIVAL. Yes. [_Drawing up firmly, with a change of manner._] We will return to the painful realities of war. I am very sorry that you have placed yourself in a position like this, and, believe me, Gertrude--[_With growing tenderness._]--I am still more sorry to be in such a position myself. [_Resting one hand on her arm, and his other arm about her waist._
GERTRUDE. [_After looking down at his hands._] You don't like the position? [_He starts back, drawing up with dignity._] Is that the paramount duty of a military officer?
KERCHIVAL. You will please hand me whatever despatches or other papers may be in your possession.
GERTRUDE. [_Looking away._] You will _force_ me, I suppose. I am a woman; you have the power. Order in the guard! A corporal and two men--you'd better make it a dozen--I am dangerous! Call the whole regiment to arms! Beat the long roll! I won't give up, if all the armies of the United States surround me.
_Enter_ GENERAL BUCKTHORN.
KERCHIVAL. General Buckthorn! [_Saluting._
BUCKTHORN. Colonel West.
GERTRUDE. [_Aside._] Jenny's father! [BUCKTHORN _glances at_ GERTRUDE, _who still stands looking away. He moves down to_ KERCHIVAL.
BUCKTHORN. [_Apart, gruffly._] I was pa.s.sing with my staff, and I was informed that you had captured a woman bearing despatches to the enemy. Is this the one?
KERCHIVAL. Yes, General.
BUCKTHORN. Ah! [_Turning, looks at her._
GERTRUDE. I wonder if he will recognize me. He hasn't seen me since I was a little girl. [_Turns toward, him._
BUCKTHORN. [_Turning to_ KERCHIVAL; _punches him in the ribs._] Fine young woman!--[_Turns and bows to her very gallantly, removing his hat. She bows deeply in return._] A-h-e-m! [_Suddenly pulling himself up to a stern, military air; then gruffly to_ KERCHIVAL, _extending his hand._] Let me see the despatches.
KERCHIVAL. She declines positively to give them up.
BUCKTHORN. Oh! Does she? [_Walks thoughtfully; turns._] My dear young lady! I trust you will give us no further trouble. Kindly let us have those despatches.
GERTRUDE. [_Looking away._] I have no despatches, and I would not give them to you if I had.
BUCKTHORN. What! You defy my authority? Colonel West, I command you!
Search the prisoner! [GERTRUDE _turns suddenly towards_ KERCHIVAL, _facing him defiantly. He looks across at her aghast. A moment's pause._
KERCHIVAL. General Buckthorn--I decline to obey that order.
BUCKTHORN. You--you decline to obey my order! [_Moves down to him fiercely._
KERCHIVAL. [_Apart._] General! It is the woman I love.
BUCKTHORN. [_Apart._] Is it? d.a.m.n you, sir! I wouldn't have an officer in my army corps who would obey me, under such circ.u.mstances. I'll have to look for those despatches myself.
KERCHIVAL. [_Facing him, angrily._] If you dare, General Buckthorn!
BUCKTHORN. [_Apart._] Blast your eyes! I'd kick you out of the army if you'd _let_ me search her; but it's my military duty to swear at you.
[_To_ GERTRUDE.] Colonel West has sacrificed his life to protect you.
GERTRUDE. His life!
BUCKTHORN. I shall have him shot for insubordination to his commander, immediately. [_Gives_ KERCHIVAL _a huge wink, and turns._
GERTRUDE. Oh, sir! General! I have told you the truth. I have no despatches. Believe me, sir, I haven't so much as a piece of paper about me, except--