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BUCKTHORN. Except? [_Turning sharply._
GERTRUDE. Only a letter. Here it is. [_Taking letter from the bosom of her dress._] Upon my soul, it is all I have. Truly it is.
BUCKTHORN. [_Taking letter._] Colonel West, you're reprieved. [_Winks at_ KERCHIVAL, _who turns away, laughing._ BUCKTHORN _reads letter._]
"Washington"--Ho!--ho! From within our own lines!--"Colonel Kerchival West--"
GERTRUDE. Please, General!--Don't read it aloud.
BUCKTHORN. Very well! I won't.
KERCHIVAL. [_Aside._] I wonder what it has to do with me?
BUCKTHORN. [_Reading. Aside._] "If Kerchival West had heard you say, as I did--m--m----that you loved him with your whole heart--" [_He glances up at_ GERTRUDE, _who drops her head coyly._] This is a very important military doc.u.ment. [_Turns to last page._] "Signed, Constance Haverill." [_Turns to front page._] "My dear Gertrude!" Is this Miss Gertrude Ellingham?
GERTRUDE. Yes, General.
BUCKTHORN. I sent my daughter, Jenny, to your house, with an escort, this morning.
GERTRUDE. She is here.
BUCKTHORN. [_Tapping her under the chin._] You're an arrant little Rebel, my dear; but I like you immensely. [_Draws up suddenly, with an_ "Ahem!" _Turns to_ KERCHIVAL.] Colonel West, I leave this dangerous young woman in your charge. [KERCHIVAL _approaches._] If she disobeys you in any way, or attempts to escape--read that letter!
[_Giving him the letter._
GERTRUDE. Oh! General!
BUCKTHORN. But not till then.
KERCHIVAL. [_Tenderly, taking her hand_.] My--prisoner!
GERTRUDE. [_Aside_.] I could scratch my own eyes out--or his, either--rather than have him read that letter.
_Enter_ CORPORAL DUNN, _with_ GUARD _of four soldiers and_ CAPTAIN EDWARD THORNTON _as a prisoner_.
KERCHIVAL. Edward Thornton!
GERTRUDE. They have taken him also! He has the despatch!
CORPORAL DUNN. The Confederate Officer, Colonel, who was pursued by our troops at Oak Run, after they captured the young lady.
BUCKTHORN. The little witch has been communicating with the enemy!
KERCHIVAL. [_To_ GERTRUDE.] You will give me your parole of honour until we next meet?
GERTRUDE. Yes. [_Aside_.] That letter! I _am_ his prisoner. [_She walks up the steps and looks back at_ THORNTON. _Exit_.
KERCHIVAL. [_To_ BUCKTHORN.] We will probably find the despatches we have been looking for now, General.
BUCKTHORN. Prisoner! You will hand us what papers you may have.
THORNTON. I will hand you nothing.
BUCKTHORN. Colonel! [KERCHIVAL _motions to_ THORNTON, _who looks at him sullenly_.
KERCHIVAL. Corporal Dunn!--search the prisoner. [DUNN _steps to_ THORNTON, _taking him by the shoulder and turning him rather roughly_.
THORNTON'S _back to the audience._ DUNN _throws open his coat, takes paper from his breast, hands it to_ KERCHIVAL, _who gives it to_ BUCKTHORN.] Proceed with the search. [DUNN _continues the search_.
BUCKTHORN _drops upon seat, lights a match, looks at the paper._
BUCKTHORN. [_Reading_.] "General Rosser will rejoin General Early with all the cavalry in his command, at----" This is important. [_Continues to read with matches. The_ CORPORAL _hands a packet to_ KERCHIVAL. _He removes the covering_.
KERCHIVAL. [_Starting_.] A portrait of Mrs. Haverill! [_He touches_ CORPORAL DUNN _on the shoulder quickly and motions him to retire._ DUNN _falls back to the_ GUARD. KERCHIVAL _speaks apart to_ THORNTON, _who has turned front_.] How did this portrait come into your possession?
THORNTON. That is my affair, not yours!
BUCKTHORN. Anything else, Colonel?
KERCHIVAL. [_Placing the miniature in his pocket._] Nothing!
THORNTON. [_Apart, over_ KERCHIVAL'S _shoulder._] A time will come, perhaps, when I can avenge the insult of this search, and also this scar. [_Pointing to a scar on his face._] Your aim was better than mine in Charleston, but we shall meet again; give me back that picture.
KERCHIVAL. Corporal! Take your prisoner!
THORNTON. Ah! [_Viciously springing at_ KERCHIVAL; CORPORAL DUNN _springs forward, seizes_ THORNTON, _throws him back to the_ GUARD _and stands with his carbine levelled at_ THORNTON; _looks at_ KERCHIVAL, _who quietly motions him out._ CORPORAL DUNN _gives the orders to the men and marches out with_ THORNTON.
BUCKTHORN. Ah! [_Still reading with matches._] Colonel! [_Rising._]
The enemy has a new movement on foot, and General Sheridan has left the army! Listen! [_Reads from despatches with matches._] "Watch for a signal from Three Top Mountain to-night."
KERCHIVAL. We hope to be able to read that signal ourselves.
BUCKTHORN. Yes, I know. Be on your guard. I will speak with General Haverill, and then ride over to General Wright's headquarters. Keep us informed.
KERCHIVAL. I will, General. [_Saluting._ BUCKTHORN _salutes and exit._] "Watch for a signal from Three Top Mountain to-night."
[_Looking up at mountain._] We shall be helpless to read it unless Lieutenant Bedloe is successful. I only hope the poor boy is not lying dead, already, in those dark woods beyond the Ford. [_Looking off; turns down stage, taking the miniature from his pocket._] How came Edward Thornton to have this portrait of Mrs. Haverill in his possession? [GERTRUDE _runs in on veranda._
GERTRUDE. Oh, Colonel West! He's here! [_Looks back._] They are coming this way with him.
KERCHIVAL. Him! Who?
GERTRUDE. My own horse!
KERCHIVAL. Ah, I remember! He and I were acquainted in Charleston.
GERTRUDE. Two troopers are pa.s.sing through the camp with him.