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MRS. HAVERILL. It was nothing, John; I--I--was ill, for a few moments, but I am well now.
HAVERILL. You said nothing about it to me.
MRS. HAVERILL. Do not give it another thought.
HAVERILL. Was there anything besides your health involved in the affair? There was. [_Aside_.] How came this handkerchief in her room?
MRS. HAVERILL. My husband! I do not want to say anything more--at--at present--about what happened to-night. There has never been a shadow between us--will you not trust me?
HAVERILL. Shadow! You stand in a bright light of your own, my wife; it shines upon my whole life--there can be no shadow there. Tell me as much or as little as you like, and in your own time. I am sure you will conceal nothing from me that I ought to know. I trust my honour and my happiness to you, absolutely.
MRS. HAVERILL. They will both be safe, John, in my keeping. But there is something else that I wish to speak with you about; something very near to your heart--your son!
HAVERILL. My son!
MRS. HAVERILL. He is in Charleston.
HAVERILL. And not--in prison? To me he is nowhere. I am childless.
MRS. HAVERILL. I hope to see him to-day; may I not take him some kind word from you?
HAVERILL. My lawyers in New York had instructions to provide him with whatever he needed.
MRS. HAVERILL. They have done so, and he wants for nothing; he asks for nothing, except that I will seek out the poor young wife--only a girl herself--whom he is obliged to desert, in New York.
HAVERILL. His marriage was a piece of reckless folly, but I forgave him that.
MRS. HAVERILL. I am sure that it was only after another was dependent on him that the debts of a mere spendthrift were changed to fraud--and crime.
HAVERILL. You may tell him that I will provide for her.
MRS. HAVERILL. And may I take him no warmer message from his father?
HAVERILL. I am an officer of the United States Army. The name which my son bears came to me from men who had borne it with honour, and I transmitted it to him without a blot. He has disgraced it, by his own confession.
MRS. HAVERILL. _I_ cannot forget the poor mother who died when he was born; her whose place I have tried to fill, to both Frank and to you.
I never saw her, and she is sleeping in the old graveyard at home. But I am doing what she would do to-day, if she were living. No pride--no disgrace--could have turned her face from him. The care and the love of her son has been to me the most sacred duty which one woman can a.s.sume for another.
HAVERILL. You have fulfilled that duty, Constance. Go to my son! I would go with you, but he is a man now; he could not look into my eyes, and I could not trust myself. But I will send him something which a man will understand. Frank loves you as if you were his own mother; and I--I would like him to--to think tenderly of me, also. He will do it when he looks at this picture. [_Taking a miniature from his pocket._
MRS. HAVERILL. Of me!
HAVERILL. I have never been without it one hour, before, since we were married. He will recognize it as the one that I have carried through every campaign, in every scene of danger on the Plains; the one that has always been with me. He is a fugitive from justice. At times, when despair might overcome him, this may give him nerve to meet his future life manfully. It has often nerved me, when I might have failed without it. Give it to him, and tell him that I send it. [_Giving her the miniature._] I could not send a kinder message, and he will understand it. [_Turning, stands a moment in thought._ THORNTON _appears at window, looking at them quietly over his shoulder, a cigar in his hand._ MRS. HAVERILL _sees him and starts with a suppressed breath, then looks at_ HAVERILL, _who moves left. Aside._] My son! My son! We shall never meet again! [_Exit in thought._
MRS. HAVERILL _looks after him earnestly, then turns and looks at THORNTON, drawing up to her full height._ THORNTON _moves up stage, beyond window._
MRS. HAVERILL. Will he dare to speak to me again? [_Enter_ THORNTON; _he comes down quietly. He has thrown away cigar._
THORNTON. Mrs. Haverill! I wish to offer you an apology.
MRS. HAVERILL. I have not asked for one, sir!
THORNTON. Do you mean by that, that you will not accept one?
MRS. THORNTON. [_Aside_] What can I say? [_Aloud._] Oh, Mr.
Thornton!--for my husband's sake, I--
THORNTON. Ah! You are afraid that your husband may become involved in an unpleasant affair. Your solicitude for his safety, madame, makes me feel that my offense to-night was indeed unpardonable. No gentleman can excuse himself for making such a mistake as I have made. I had supposed that it was Lieutenant Kerchival West, who--
MRS. HAVERILL. What do you mean, sir?
THORNTON. But if it is your husband that stands between us--
MRS. HAVERILL. Let me say this, sir: whatever I may fear for my husband, he fears nothing for himself.
THORNTON. He knows? [_Looking at her, keenly._] [_Enter_ KERCHIVAL WEST, _now in riding suit._] [_He stops, looking at them._] You are silent. Your husband does know what occurred to-night; that relieves my conscience. [_Lightly._] Colonel Haverill and I can now settle it between us.
MRS. HAVERILL. No, Mr. Thornton! My husband knows nothing, and, I beg of you, do not let this horrible affair go further. [_Sees_ KERCHIVAL.
KERCHIVAL. Pardon me. [_Stepping forward._] I hope I am not interrupting you. [_Aside._] It _was_ Thornton. [_Aloud._] You said you would have a letter for me to carry, Mrs. Haverill.
MRS. HAVERILL. Yes, I--I will go up and write it at once. [_Crosses; stops and looks back. Aside._] I wonder how much he overheard.
KERCHIVAL. [_Quietly._] I suppose eight o'clock will be time enough for me to go?
MRS. HAVERILL. Oh, yes! [_Glancing at him a moment._]--quite.
[_Exit, through apartment._
KERCHIVAL. [_Quietly._] Mr. Thornton! you are a scoundrel! Do I make myself plain?
THORNTON. You make the fact that you desire to pick a quarrel with me quite plain, sir; but I choose my own quarrels and my own enemies.
KERCHIVAL. Colonel Haverill is my commander, and he is beloved by every officer in the regiment.
THORNTON. On what authority, may I ask, do you--
KERCHIVAL. The honour of Colonel Haverill's wife is under our protection.
THORNTON. Under your protection? You have a better claim than that, perhaps, to act as her champion. Lieutenant Kerchival West is Mrs.
Haverill's favourite officer in the regiment.
KERCHIVAL. [_Approaching him._] You dare to suggest that I--
THORNTON. If I accept your challenge, I shall do so not because you are her protector, but my rival.
KERCHIVAL. Bah! [_Striking him sharply on the cheek with glove. The two men stand facing each other a moment._] Is it my quarrel now?