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GERTRUDE. General Haverill! [_Anxiously, coming down._] Colonel West persists in disobeying the injunctions of the Surgeon. He is preparing to join his regiment at the front. Give him your orders to remain here. Compel him to be prudent!
HAVERILL. [_Quickly._] The honour of death at the front is not in reserve for him.
GERTRUDE. Eh? What did you say, General?
HAVERILL. Gertrude! I wish to speak to you, as your father's old friend; and I was once your guardian. Your father was my senior officer in the Mexican War. Without his care I should have been left dead in a foreign land. He, himself, afterwards fell fighting for the old flag.
GERTRUDE. The old flag. [_Aside._] My father died for it, and he--[_Looking left._]--is suffering for it--the old flag!
HAVERILL. I can now return the kindness your father did to me, by protecting his daughter from something that may be worse than death.
GERTRUDE. What do you mean?
HAVERILL. Last night I saw you kneeling at the side of Kerchival West; you spoke to him with all the tender pa.s.sion of a Southern woman. You said you loved him. But you spoke into ears that could not hear you.
Has he ever heard those words from your lips? Have you ever confessed your love to him before?
GERTRUDE. Never. Why do you ask?
HAVERILL. Do not repeat those words. Keep your heart to yourself, my girl.
GERTRUDE. General! Why do you say this to me? And at such a moment--when his life--
HAVERILL. His life! [_Turning sharply._] It belongs to me!
KERCHIVAL. Sergeant! [_Without. He steps in front road, looking back._] See that my horse is ready at once. General! [_Saluting._] Are there any orders for my regiment, beyond those given to Major Wilson, in my absence, this morning? I am about to ride on after the troops and re-a.s.sume my command.
HAVERILL. [_Quietly._] It is my wish, Colonel, that you remain here under the care of the Surgeon.
KERCHIVAL. My wound is a mere trifle. This may be a critical moment in the campaign, and I cannot rest here. I must be with my own men.
HAVERILL. [_Quietly._] I beg to repeat the wish I have already expressed. [KERCHIVAL _walks to him, and speaks apart, almost under his breath, but very earnest in tone._
KERCHIVAL. I have had no opportunity, yet, to explain certain matters, as you requested me to do yesterday; but whatever there may be between us, you are now interfering with my duty and my privilege as a soldier; and it is my right to be at the head of my regiment.
HAVERILL. [_Quietly._] It is my positive order that you do not rea.s.sume your command.
KERCHIVAL. General Haverill, I protest against this--
HAVERILL. [_Quietly._] You are under arrest, sir.
GERTRUDE. Ah! [KERCHIVAL _unclasps his belt and offers his sword to_ HAVERILL.
HAVERILL. [_Quietly._] Keep your sword; I have no desire to humiliate you; but hold yourself subject to further orders from me. [KERCHIVAL _goes up veranda._
KERCHIVAL. My regiment at the front!--and I under arrest! [_Exit._
HAVERILL. Gertrude! If your heart refuses to be silent--if you feel that you must confess your love to that man--first tell him what I have said to you, and refer him to me for an explanation. [_Exit into road._
GERTRUDE. What can he mean? He would save me from something worse than death, he said. "His life--it belongs to me!" What can he mean?
Kerchival told me that he loved me--it seems many years since that morning in Charleston--and when we met again, yesterday, he said that he had never ceased to love me. I will not believe that he has told me a falsehood. I have given him my love, my whole soul and my faith.
[_Drawing up to her full height._] My perfect faith!
JENNY _runs in from road, and up the slope. She looks down the hill, then enters._
JENNY. A flag of truce, Gertrude. And a party of Confederate soldiers, with an escort, coming up the hill. They are carrying someone; he is wounded.
_Enter up the slope, a_ LIEUTENANT OF INFANTRY _with an escort of Union soldiers, their arms at right shoulder, and a party of Confederate soldiers bearing a rustic stretcher._ LIEUTENANT FRANK BEDLOE _lies on the stretcher._ MAJOR HARDWICK, _a Confederate Surgeon, walks at his side._ MADELINE _appears at veranda, watching them._ GERTRUDE _stands with her back to audience. The_ LIEUTENANT _gives orders in a low tone, and the front escort moves to right, in road. The Confederate bearers and the_ SURGEON _pa.s.s through the gate.
The rear escort moves to left, in road, under_ LIEUTENANT'S _orders.
The bearers halt, front; on a sign from the_ SURGEON, _they leave the stretcher on the ground, stepping back._
MAJOR HARDWICK. Is General Haverill here?
GERTRUDE. Yes; what can we do, sir?
MADELINE. The General is just about mounting with his staff, to ride away. Shall I go for him, sir?
MAJOR. Say to him, please, that Colonel Robert Ellingham, of the Tenth Virginia, sends his respects and sympathy. He instructed me to bring this young officer to this point, in exchange for himself, as agreed upon between them last evening. [_Exit_ MADELINE.
JENNY. Is he unconscious or sleeping, sir?
MAJOR. Hovering between life and death. I thought he would bear the removal better. He is waking. Here, my lad! [_Placing his canteen to the lips of_ FRANK, _who moves, reviving._] We have reached the end of our journey.
FRANK. My father!
MAJOR. He is thinking of his home. [FRANK _rises on one arm, a.s.sisted by the_ SURGEON.
FRANK. I have obeyed General Haverill's orders, and I have a report to make.
GERTRUDE. We have already sent for him. [_Stepping to him._] He will be here in a moment.
FRANK. [_Looking into her face, brightly._] Is not this--Miss--Gertrude Ellingham?
GERTRUDE. You know me? You have seen me before?
FRANK. Long ago! Long ago! You know the wife of General Haverill?
GERTRUDE. I have no dearer friend in the world.
FRANK. She will give a message for me to the dearest friend _I_ have in the world. My little wife! I must not waste even the moment we are waiting. Doctor! My note-book! [_Trying to get it from his coat. The_ SURGEON _takes it out. A torn and blood-stained lace handkerchief also falls out._ GERTRUDE _kneels at his side._] Ah! I--I--have a message from another--[_Holding up handkerchief._]--from Captain Heartsease.
[JENNY _makes a quick start towards him._] He lay at my side in the hospital, when they brought me away; he had only strength enough to put this in my hand, and he spoke a woman's name; but I--I--forgot what it is. The red spots upon it are the only message he sent.
[GERTRUDE _takes the handkerchief and looks back at_ JENNY, _extending her hand._ JENNY _moves to her, takes the handkerchief and turns back, looking down on it. She drops her face into her hands and goes out sobbing._
_Enter_ MADELINE _on veranda._
MADELINE. General Haverill is coming. I was just in time. He was already on his horse.