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SCENE. _A Southern Residence on the sh.o.r.e of Charleston Harbour.
Interior.--Large double doors up centre, open. Large, wide window, with low sill. Veranda beyond the doors, and extending beyond window.
A wide opening with corridor beyond. Furniture and appointments quaint and old-fashioned, but an air of brightness and of light; the general tone of the walls and upholstery that of the old Colonial period in its more ornamental and decorative phase, as shown in the early days of Charleston. Old candlesticks and candelabra, with lighted candles nearly burned down. Beyond the central doors and the window, there is a lawn with Southern foliage, extending down to the sh.o.r.es of the harbour; a part of the bay lies in the distance, with low-lying land beyond. The lights of Charleston are seen over the water along the sh.o.r.e. Moonlight. The gray twilight of early morning gradually steals over the scene as the Act progresses._
DISCOVERED, _As the curtain rises_ KERCHIVAL WEST _is sitting in a chair, his feet extended and his head thrown back, a handkerchief over his face_. ROBERT ELLINGHAM _strolls in on veranda, beyond window, smoking. He looks right, starts and moves to window; leans against the upper side of the window and looks across._
KERCHIVAL. [_Under handkerchief_.] Eh? H'm!
ELLINGHAM. Can you sleep at a time like this? My own nerves are on fire.
KERCHIVAL. Fire? Oh--yes--I remember. Any more fire-works, Bob?
ELLINGHAM. A signal rocket from one of the batteries, now and then. [_Goes up beyond window_. KERCHIVAL _arouses himself, taking handkerchief from his eyes._
KERCHIVAL. What a preposterous hour to be up. The ball was over an hour ago, all the guests are gone, and it's nearly four o'clock.
[_Looks at his watch._] Exactly ten minutes of four. [_Takes out a cigar._.] Our Southern friends a.s.sure us that General Beauregard is to open fire on Fort Sumter this morning. I don't believe it. [_Lighting cigar and rising, crosses and looks out through window._] There lies the old fort--solemn and grim as ever, and the flagstaff stands above it, like a warning finger. If they do fire upon it--[_Shutting his teeth for a moment and looking down at the cigar in his hand._]--the echo of that first shot will be heard above their graves, and heaven knows how many of our own, also; but the flag will still float!--over the graves of both sides.
[ELLINGHAM _enters up centre and comes down_.]
Are you Southerners all mad, Robert?
ELLINGHAM. Are you Northerners all blind? [KERCHIVAL _sits_.] We Virginians would prevent a war if we could. But your people in the North do not believe that one is coming. You do not understand the determined frenzy of my fellow-Southerners. Look! [_Pointing_.] Do you see the lights of the city, over the water? The inhabitants of Charleston are gathering, even now, in the gray, morning twilight, to witness the long-promised bombardment of Fort Sumter. It is to be a gala day for them. They have talked and dreamed of nothing else for weeks. The preparations have become a part of their social life--of their amus.e.m.e.nt--their gayeties. This very night at the ball--here--in the house of my own relatives--what was their talk? What were the jests they laughed at? Sumter! War! Ladies were betting bonbons that the United States would not dare to fire a shot in return, and pinning ribbons on the b.r.e.a.s.t.s of their "heroes." There was a signal rocket from one of the forts, and the young men who were dancing here left their partners standing on the floor to return to the batteries--as if it were the night before another Waterloo. The ladies themselves hurried away to watch the "spectacle" from their own verandas. You won't see the truth! I tell you, Kerchival, a war between the North and South is inevitable!
KERCHIVAL. And if it does come, you Virginians will join the rest.
ELLINGHAM. Our State will be the battle-ground, I fear. But every loyal son of Virginia will follow her flag. It is our religion!
KERCHIVAL. My State is New York. If New York should go against the old flag, New York might go to the devil. That is my religion.
ELLINGHAM. So differently have we been taught what the word "patriotism" means!
KERCHIVAL. You and I are officers in the same regiment of the United States Regular Army, Robert; we were cla.s.smates at West Point, and we have fought side by side on the plains. You saved my scalp once; I'd have to wear a wig, now, if you hadn't. I say, old boy, are we to be enemies?
ELLINGHAM. [_Laying his hand over his shoulder._] My dear old comrade, whatever else comes, our friendship shall be unbroken!
KERCHIVAL. Bob! [_Looking up at him._] I only hope that we shall never meet in battle!
ELLINGHAM. In battle? [_Stepping down front._] The idea is horrible!
KERCHIVAL. [_Rising and crossing to him._] My dear old comrade, one of us will be wrong in this great fight, but we shall both be honest in it. [_Gives hand_, ELLINGHAM _grasps it warmly, then turns away._
ELLINGHAM. Colonel Haverill is watching the forts, also; he has been as sad to-night as we have. Next to leaving you, my greatest regret is that I must resign from his regiment.
KERCHIVAL. You are his favourite officer.
ELLINGHAM. Naturally, perhaps; he was my guardian.
_Enter_ HAVERILL. _He walks down, stopping centre._
HAVERILL. Kerchival! I secured the necessary pa.s.sports? to the North yesterday afternoon; this one is yours; I brought it down for you early in the evening. [KERCHIVAL _takes paper. Goes to window._] I am ordered direct to Washington at once, and shall start with Mrs.
Haverill this forenoon. You will report to Captain Lyon, of the 2d Regiment, in St. Louis. Robert! I have hoped for peace to the last, but it is hoping against hope. I feel certain, now, that the fatal blow will be struck this morning. Our old regiment is already broken up, and you, also, will now resign, I suppose, like nearly all your fellow-Southerners in the service.
ELLINGHAM. You know how sorry I am to leave your command, Colonel!
HAVERILL. I served under your father in Mexico; he left me, at his death, the guardian of you and your sister, Gertrude. Even since you became of age, I have felt that I stood in his place. But you must be your sister's only guardian now. Your father fell in battle, fighting for our common country, but you--
ELLINGHAM. He would have done as I shall do, had he lived. He was a Virginian!
HAVERILL. I am glad, Robert, that he was never called upon to decide between two flags. He never knew but one, and we fought under it together. [_Exit._
ELLINGHAM. Kerchival! Something occurred in this house to-night which--which I shouldn't mention under ordinary circ.u.mstances, but I--I feel that it may require my further attention, and you, perhaps, can be of service to me. Mrs. Haverill, the wife of the Colonel--
KERCHIVAL. Fainted away in her room.
ELLINGHAM. You know?
KERCHIVAL. I was one of the actors in the little drama.
KERCHIVAL. About half-past nine this evening, while the ladies were dressing for the ball, I was going up-stairs; I heard a quick, sharp cry, sprang forward, found myself at an open door. Mrs. Haverill lay on the floor inside, as if she had just reached the door to cry for help, when she fell. After doing all the unnecessary and useless things I could think of, I rushed out of the room to tell your sister, Gertrude, and my own sister, Madeline, to go and take care of the lady. Within less than twenty minutes afterwards, I saw Mrs. Haverill sail into the drawing-room, a thing of beauty, and with the glow of perfect health on her cheek. It was an immense relief to me when I saw her. Up to that time I had a vague idea that I had committed a murder.
KERCHIVAL. M--m. A guilty conscience. Every man, of course, does exactly the wrong thing when a woman faints. When I rushed out of Mrs.
Haverill's room, I left my handkerchief soaked with water upon her face. I must ask her for it; it's a silk one. Luckily, the girls got there in time to take it off; she wouldn't have come to if they hadn't. It never occurred to me that she'd need to breathe in my absence. That's all I know about the matter. What troubles you? I suppose every woman has a right to faint whenever she chooses. The scream that I heard was so sharp, quick and intense that--
ELLINGHAM. That the cause must have been a serious one.
KERCHIVAL. Yes! So I thought. It must have been a mouse.
ELLINGHAM. Mr. Edward Thornton has occupied the next room to that of Mrs. Haverill to-night.
KERCHIVAL. [_Crosses quickly._] What do you mean?
ELLINGHAM. During the past month or more he has been pressing, not to say insolent, in his attentions to Mrs. Haverill.
KERCHIVAL. I've noticed that myself.
ELLINGHAM. And he is an utterly unscrupulous man; it is no fault of mine that he was asked to be a guest at this house to-night. He came to Charleston, some years ago, from the North, but if there are any vices and pa.s.sions peculiarly strong in the South, he has carried them all to the extreme. In one of the many scandals connected with Edward Thornton's name, it was more than whispered that he entered a lady's room unexpectedly at night. But, as he killed the lady's husband in a duel a few days afterwards, the scandal dropped.
KERCHIVAL. Of course; the gentleman received ample satisfaction as an outraged husband, and Mr. Thornton apologized, I suppose, to his widow.
ELLINGHAM. He has repeated the adventure.