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KERCHIVAL. At the American flag--must have nerves of steel.
GERTRUDE. You Northern men are so slow to--
KERCHIVAL. I have been slow; but I a.s.sure you, Miss Gertrude, that my heart--
GERTRUDE. What subject are we on now?
KERCHIVAL. You were complaining because I was too slow.
GERTRUDE. I was doing nothing of the kind, sir!--let me finish, please. You Northern men are so slow to believe that our Southern heroes--Northern _men_ and Southern _heroes_--you recognize the distinction I make--you won't believe that they will keep their promises. They have sworn to attack Fort Sumter this morning, and--they--will do it. This "American Flag" you talk of is no longer our flag: it is foreign to us!--It is the flag of an enemy!
KERCHIVAL. [_Tenderly and earnestly._] Am I your enemy?
GERTRUDE. You have told me that you will return to the North, and take the field.
KERCHIVAL. Yes, I will. [_Decisively._
GERTRUDE. You will be fighting against my friends, against my own brother, against me. We _shall_ be enemies.
KERCHIVAL. [_Firmly_.] Even that, Gertrude--[_She looks around at him; he looks squarely into her eyes as he proceeds._]--if you will have it so. If my country needs my services, I shall not refuse them, though it makes us enemies! [_She wavers a moment, under strong emotion, and turns away; sinks upon the seat, her elbow on the back of it, and her tightly-clenched fist against her cheek, looking away from him._
GERTRUDE. I will have it so! I am a Southern woman!
KERCHIVAL. We have more at stake between us, this morning, than a cigar-case and a box of gloves. [_Turning up stage._
_Enter_ MRS. HAVERILL _from apartment_.
MRS. HAVERILL. Mr. West! I've been looking for you. I have a favour to ask.
KERCHIVAL. Of me?--with pleasure.
MRS. HAVERILL. But I am sorry to have interrupted you and Gertrude.
[_Apart._] There are tears in your eyes, Gertrude, dear!
GERTRUDE. [_Apart._] They have no right there.
MRS. HAVERILL. [_Apart._] I'm afraid I know what has happened. A quarrel! and you are to part with each other so soon. Do not let a girl's coquetry trifle with her heart until it is too late. You remember the confession you made to me last night?
GERTRUDE. [_Apart._] Constance! [_Starting._] That is my secret; more a secret now than ever.
MRS. HAVERILL. [_Apart._] Yes, dear; but you do love him. [GERTRUDE _moves away._
GERTRUDE. You need not ride over with me, Mr. West.
KERCHIVAL. I can be ready in one moment.
GERTRUDE. I choose to go alone! Old Pete will be with me; and Jack, himself, is a charming companion.
KERCHIVAL. If you prefer Jack's company to mine--
GERTRUDE. I do. [_Exit on veranda and down right._
KERCHIVAL. d.a.m.n Jack! But you will let me a.s.sist you to mount. [_Exit after her._
MRS. HAVERILL. We leave for the North before noon, but every hour seems a month. If my husband should learn what happened in my room to-night, he would kill that man. What encouragement could I have given him? Innocence is never on its guard--but, [_Drawing up._] the last I remember before I fell unconscious, he was crouching before me like a whipped cur! [_Starts as she looks out of the window._] There is Mr. Thornton now--Ah! [_Angrily._] No,--I must control my own indignation. I must keep him and Colonel Haverill from meeting before we leave Charleston. Edward Thornton would shoot my husband down without remorse. But poor Frank! I must not forget him, in my own trouble. I have but little time left to care for his welfare.
KERCHIVAL. You said I could do you a favour, Mrs. Haverill?
MRS. HAVERILL. Yes, I wanted to speak with you about General Haverill's son, Frank. I should like you to carry a message to Charleston for me, as soon as it is light. It is a sad errand. You know too well the great misfortune that has fallen upon my husband in New York.
KERCHIVAL. His only son has brought disgrace upon his family name, and tarnished the reputation of a proud soldier. Colonel Haverill's fellow-officers sympathize with him most deeply.
MRS. HAVERILL. And poor young Frank! I could hardly have loved the boy more if he had been my own son. If he had not himself confessed the crime against the bank, I could not have believed him guilty. He has escaped from arrest. He is in the city of Charleston. I am the only one in all the world he could turn to. He was only a lad of fourteen when his father and I were married, six years ago; and the boy has loved me from the first. His father is stern and bitter now in his humiliation. This note from Frank was handed to me while the company were here last evening. I want you to find him and arrange for me to meet him, if you can do it with safety. I shall give you a letter for him.
KERCHIVAL. I'll get ready at once; and I will do all I can for the boy. [_Turning._
MRS. HAVERILL. And--Mr. West! Gertrude and Madeline have told me that--that--I was under obligations to you last evening.
KERCHIVAL. Don't mention it. I merely ran for them, and I--I'm very glad you didn't choke--before they reached you. I trust you are quite well now?
MRS. HAVERILL. I am entirely recovered, thank you. And I will ask another favour of you, for we are old friends. I desire very much that General Haverill should not know that--that any accident occurred to me to-night--or that my health has not been perfect.
KERCHIVAL. Certainly, madam!
MRS. HAVERILL. It would render him anxious without cause.
KERCHIVAL [_Aside_.] It looks as if Robert was right; she doesn't want the two men to meet.
_Enter_ HAVERILL. _A white silk handkerchief is in his hand_.
HAVERILL. Constance, my dear, I've been all over the place looking for you. I thought you were in your room. But--by the way, Kerchival, this is your handkerchief; your initials are on it. [KERCHIVAL _turns and stares at him a second_. MRS. HAVERILL _starts slightly and turns front_. HAVERILL _glances quickly from one to the other, then extends his hands toward_ KERCHIVAL, _with the handkerchief_. KERCHIVAL _takes it_. MRS. HAVERILL _drops into chair_.
KERCHIVAL. Thank you. [_He exits with a quick glance back._ HAVERILL _looks at_ MRS. HAVERILL, _who sits nervously looking away. He then glances after_ KERCHIVAL. _A cloud comes over his face, and he stands a second in thought. Then, with a movement as if brushing away a pa.s.sing suspicion, he smiles pleasantly and approaches_ MRS. HAVERILL; _leans over her_.
HAVERILL. My fair Desdemona! [_Smiling_.] I found Ca.s.sio's handkerchief in your room. Have you a kiss for me? [_She looks up; he raises her chin with a finger and kisses her_.] That's the way I shall smother you.
MRS. HAVERILL. [_Rising and dropping her head upon his breast_.]
HAVERILL. But what is this they have been telling me?
MRS. HAVERILL. What have they said to you?
HAVERILL. There was something wrong with you in the early part of the evening; you are trembling and excited, my girl!