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XX CHARLOTTE OLIVER
An envelope sealed with sealing-wax, unless it has also a wrapping of twine or tape whose only knot is under the seal, can be opened without breaking the seal. Gholson had once told me this. Hold a thin, sharp knife-blade to the spout of a boiling tea-kettle; then press the blade's edge under the edge of the seal. Repeat this operation many times. The wax will yield but a hair's-breadth each time, but a hair's-breadth counts, and in a few minutes the seal will be lifted entire. A touch of glue or paste will fasten it down again, and a seal so tampered with need betray the fact only to an eye already suspicious.

As I say, I slept. The door between me and the hall had a lock, but no key; another door, letting from my room to the room in front of it, had no lock, but was bolted. I slept heavily and for an hour or more. Then I was aware of something being moved--slowly--slyly--by littles--under my pillow. The pillow was in a case of new unbleached cotton. When I first lay down, the cotton had so smelt of its newness that I thought it was enough, of itself, to keep me awake. Now this odor was veiled by another; a delicate perfume; a perfume I knew, and which brought again to me all the incidents of the night, and all their woe. I looked, and there, so close to the bedside that she could see my eyes as plainly as I saw hers, stood Coralie Rothvelt. In the door that opened into the hall were two young officers, staff swells, in the handsomest Federal blue. The moonlight lay in a broad flood between them and me. It silvered Miss Rothvelt from the crown of her hat to the floor, and brightened the earnest animation of her lovely face as she daintily tiptoed backward with one hand delicately poised in the air behind her, and the other still in the last pose of withdrawing from under the pillow--empty!

My problem was indeed simplified. The despatch had been stolen, opened, read, re-sealed and returned. All I now had to do was to lie here till daybreak and then get away if I could, deliver the despatch to Ned Ferry, and tell him--ah! what?--how much? Oh, my bemired soul, how much must I tell? My shame I might bear; I might wash it out in blood at the battle's front; but my perfidy! how much was it perfidy to withhold; how much was it perfidy to confess?

The heaviness of my soul, by reacting upon my frame and counterfeiting sleep better than I could have done it in cold blood, saved me, I fancy, from death or a northern prison. When I guessed my three visitors were gone I stirred, as in slumber, a trifle nearer the window, and for some minutes lay with my face half buried in the pillow. So lying, there stole to my ear a footfall. My finger felt the trigger, my lids lifted alertly, and as alertly reclosed. Outside the window one of the officers, rising by some slender foothold, had been looking in upon me, and in sinking down again and turning away had snapped a twig. He glanced back just as I opened my eyes, but once more my head was in shadow and the moonlight between us. When I peeped again he was moving away.

Five, ten, fifteen minutes dragged by. Counting them helped me to lie still. Then I caught another pregnant sound, a mumbling of male voices in the adjoining front room. I waited a bit, hearkening laboriously, and then ever so gradually I slid from the bed, put on everything except my boots, and moved by inches to the door between the two rooms. It was very thin; "a good sounding-board," thought I as I listened for life or death and hoped my ear was the only one against it.

The discussion warmed and I began to catch words and meanings. Oftenest they were old Lucius Oliver's, whose bad temper made him incautious. While his son and the other two jayhawkers obstinately pressed their scheme he kept saying, sourly, "That's--not--our--wa-ay!"

At length he lost all prudence. "Nn--o!--Nnno--o, sir! Not in this house you don't; and not on this place! Wait till he's off my land; I'm not goin' to have the infernal rebels a-turpentinin' my house and a-burnin' it over my head. What air you three skunks in such a sweat to git found out for, like a pack o' daymn' fools! I've swone to heaven and hell to git even ef revenge can ever git me even, and this ain't the way to git even. It's not--our--wa-ay!"

His son's attitude exasperated him. "You know this ain't ever been our way; you'd say so, yourself, ef you wa'n't skin full o' china-ball whiskey! What in all hell is the reason we can't do him as we've always done the others?"

"Oh, shut your dirty face!" replied the son, while one of his cronies warned both against being overheard. But when this one added something further the old man snarled:

"What's that about the horse?--The horse might git away and be evidence ag'inst us?--What?--Oh, now give the true reason; you want the horse, that's all! You two lickskillets air in this thing pyo'ly for the stealin's. Me and my son ain't bushwhackers, we're gentlemen! At least I'm one. Our game's revenge!"

Not because of this speech, but of a soft rubbing sound on the window-sill behind me, my heart turned cold. Yet there I saw a most welcome sight. Against the outer edge of the sill an unseen hand was moving a forked stick to and fro. The tip of one of its tines was slit, in the slit was a white paper, and in the fork hung the bridle of my horse. I glided to the window. But there bethinking me how many a man had put his head out at just such a place and never got it back, I made a long sidewise reach, secured the paper, and read it.

It was the envelope which had contained Coralie Rothvelt's pass. Its four flaps were spread open, and on the inside was scrawled in a large black writing the following:

Yankees gone, completely fooled. Do not stir till day, then ride for your life. We're not thwarting Lieutenant Ferry's plan, we're only improving upon it. When you report to him don't let blame fall upon the father and son whose roof this night saves you from a bloody death. Do this for the sake of her who is risking her life to save yours. We serve one cause; be wary--be brave--be true.

I stood equally amazed and alert. The voices still growled in the next room, and my horse's bridle still hung before the window. I peered out; there stood the priceless beast. I came a sly step nearer, and lo! in his shadow, flattened against the house, face outward, was Coralie Rothvelt comically holding the forked stick at a present-arms. Throbbing with a grateful, craving allegiance, I seized the rein. Then I bent low out the window and with my free hand touched her face as it turned upward into a beam of moonlight. She pressed my fingers to her lips, and then let me draw her hand as far as it could come and cover it with kisses. Then she drew me down and whispered "You'll do what I've asked?"

When I said I would try she looked distressfully unassured and I added "I'll do whatever risks no life but mine."

Her face spoke passionate thanks. "That's all I can ask!" she said, whispered "When you go--keep the plain road,"--and vanished.

I sat by the window, capped, booted, belted, my bridle in one hand, revolver in the other. In all the house, now, there was no sound, and without there was a stillness only more vast. I could not tell whether certain sensations in my ear were given by insects in the grass and trees or merely by my overwrought nerves and tired neck. The moon sailed high, the air was at last comfortably cool, my horse stood and slept. I thought it must be half-past two.

"Now it must be three." Miss Rothvelt's writing lay in my bosom beside my despatch. At each half-hour I re-read it. At three-and-a-half I happened to glance at the original superscription. A thought flashed upon me. I stared at her name, and began to mark off its letters one by one and to arrange them in a new order. I took C from Coralie and h from Rothvelt; after them I wrote a from Coralie and r from Rothvelt, l and o from Coralie and two t's and an e from Rothvelt, and behold, Charlotte! while the remaining letters gave me Oliver.

Ah! where had my wits been? Yet without a suspicion that she was Charlotte Oliver one might have let the anagram go unsuspected for a lifetime. Evidently it concealed nothing from General Austin or Ned Ferry; most likely it was only the name she used in passing through the lines. At any rate I was convinced she was a good Confederate, and my heart rose.

But why, then, this ardent zeal to save the necks of the two traitors "whose roof this night--" etc.? Manifestly she was moved by passion, not duty; love drove her on; but surely not love for them. "No," I guessed in a reverent whisper, "but love for Ned Ferry." It must have been through grace of some of her nobility and his, caught in my heart even before I was quite sure of it in theirs, that I sat and framed the following theory: Ned Ferry, loving Charlotte Oliver, yet coerced by his sense of a soldier's duty, had put passion's dictates wholly aside and had set about to bring these murderers to justice; doing this though he knew that she could never with honor or happiness to either of them become the wife of a man who had made her a widow, while she, aware of his love, a love so true that he would not breathe it to her while this hideous marriage held her, had ridden perilously in the dead of night to circumvent his plans if, with honor to both of them, it could be done.

The half-hour dragged round to four. My horse roused up but kept as quiet as a clever dog. I heard a light sound in the hall; first a step and then a slide, then a step again and then a slide; Lucius Oliver was coming toward my door. The cords gathered in my throat and my finger stole to the trigger; Heaven only knew what noiseless feet might be following behind that loathsome shuffle. It reached the door and was still. And now the door opened, softly, slowly, and the paralytic stood looking in. The moonlight had swung almost out of the room, but a band of it fell glittering upon the revolver lying in my lap with my fingers on it, each exactly in place. Also it lighted my other hand, on the window-sill, with the bridle in it. Old Lucius was alone. In the gloom I could not see his venom gathering, but I could almost smell it.



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