THE LOST DESPATCH
NATALIE SUMNER LINCOLN
AUTHOR OF "THE TREVOR CASE"
NEW YORK AND LONDON D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 1913
Copyright, 1913, by D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
Printed in the United States of America
TO A GALLANT SOLDIER OF THE UNION BRIGADIER-GENERAL SUMNER H. LINCOLN U.S. ARMY WHO FOUGHT IN TWO WARS UNDER THE FLAG THIS NOVEL OF 1865 IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED
"Love rules the court, the camp, the grove And men below, and saints above."
SIR WALTER SCOTT.
I. THE PIGEON'S FLIGHT 1
II. BRAINS VS. BRAWN 8
III. A KNOT OF RIBBON BLUE 19
IV. BANQUO'S GHOST 30
V. A SCRAP OF PAPER 46
VI. THE SIGNAL LIGHT 51
VII. THE MISCHANCES OF A NIGHT 57
VIII. A VOICE FROM THE PAST 64
IX. OUTWITTED 75
X. THE FORTUNES OF WAR 87
XI. WHO LAUGHS LAST 95
XII. THE FIGHT AT THE FORD 112
XIII. FOR THE CAUSE 120
XIV. WHEN TRAGEDY GRINS 134
XV. NEMESIS 144
XVI. A TANGLED SKEIN 161
XVII. IN CLOSE CONFINEMENT 168
XVIII. WHEN DOCTORS DISAGREE 176
XIX. GROPING IN THE DARK 186
XX. THE TURNING POINT 197
XXI. THE TRIAL 210
XXII. WEAVING THE WEB 229
XXIII. SENSATIONAL EVIDENCE 245
XXIV. A STARTLING DISCOVERY 257
XXV. A THUNDERBOLT 268
XXVI. BY A HAIR'S BREADTH 282
XXVII. WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE 300
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"As Lloyd bent forward ... he received a crashing blow on the temple" Frontispiece
"'You? Nancy!' The doctor gazed incredulously" 68
"'I—I—am afraid he is dead'" 116
"Another interruption stopped her ... A hesitating step crossed the threshold" 278
THE LOST DESPATCH
THE PIGEON'S FLIGHT
It was bitterly cold that December night, 1864, and the wind sighed dismally through the Maryland woods. The moon, temporarily obscured by heavy clouds, gave some light now and then, which but served to make the succeeding darkness more intense. Suddenly the silence was broken by the clatter of galloping hoofs, and two riders, leaving the highway, rode into the woods on their left. The shorter of the two men muttered an oath as his horse stumbled over the uneven ground.
"Take care, Symonds," said his companion quickly, and he ducked his head to avoid the bare branches of a huge tree. "How near are we now to Poolesville?"
"About seven miles by the road," was the gruff reply; "but this short cut will soon bring us there. And none too soon," he added, glancing at their weary horses. "Still, Captain Lloyd, we have done a good night's work."
"I think Colonel Baker will be satisfied," agreed Lloyd.
"And friend Schmidt, now that he sees the game is up, will probably turn state's evidence."
Lloyd shook his head. "I doubt if Schmidt can tell us much. He is too leaky a vessel for a clever spy to trust with valuable information."
"But," objected Symonds, "that is a very important paper you found in his possession to-night."
"True; but that paper does not furnish us with any clue as to the identity of the spy in Washington. Schmidt is simply a go-between like many other sutlers. Probably that paper passed through three or four hands before it was given to him to carry between the lines."
"Well, there is one thing certain; Baker will make Schmidt talk if any man can," declared Symonds. "May I ask, Captain, why we are headed for Poolesville?"
"Because I am looking for the man higher up. I expect to get some trace of the spy's identity in or around Poolesville."
"You may," acknowledged the Secret Service agent doubtfully; "and again you may not. Poolesville used to be called the 'rebs' post-office,' and they do say that word of every contemplated movement of McClellan's army was sent through that village to Leesburg by the 'grape-vine telegraph.'"
"Yes, I know," was the brief reply. The two men spoke in lowered tones as they made what speed they could among the trees. "By the way, Symonds, has it ever been discovered who it was delayed the despatch from Burnside, asking for the pontoon bridges?"
"No, never a trace, worse luck; but do you know," drawing his horse closer to his companion, "I think that and the Allen disaster were accomplished by one and the same person."
"Those two and a good many others we haven't yet heard of," agreed Lloyd. "In fact, it was to trace this particular unknown that I was recalled from service at the front by Pinkerton, and detailed to join the branch of the Secret Service under Colonel Baker."
"We have either arrested or frightened away most of the informers inside the city," volunteered Symonds, after a brief silence. "Besides which, Washington is too well guarded nowadays—two years ago was a different matter. Now, the general commanding the Maryland border patrols declares that a pigeon cannot fly across the Potomac without getting shot."
Lloyd's answer was lost as Symonds' horse stumbled again, recovered himself, and after a few halting steps went dead lame. In a second Symonds had dismounted, and, drawing off his glove, felt the animal's leg.
"Strained a tendon," he growled, blowing on his numb fingers to warm them. "I'll have to lead him to the road; it is over there," pointing to a slight dip in the ground. "You go ahead, sir; it's lucky I know the country."
As the two men reached the edge of the wood and stood debating a moment, they were disturbed by the distant sound of hoof beats.
"Get over on that side of the road," whispered Lloyd, "and keep out of sight behind that tree; leave your horse here."
Symonds did as he was told none too soon. Around the bend of the road came a horseman. Quickly Lloyd's challenge rang out:
"Halt, or I fire!"
As he spoke, Lloyd swung his horse across the narrow road.
Swerving instinctively to the right, the newcomer was confronted by Symonds, who had stepped from behind the tree, revolver in hand. An easy target for both sides, the rider had no choice in the matter. Checking his frightened horse, he called:
"Are you Yanks or rebels?"
Symonds lowered his revolver. He knew that a Confederate picket would not be apt to use the word "rebels."
"We are Yanks," he answered, "and you?"
"Advance, friend," ordered Lloyd, "but put your right hand up. Now," as the rider approached him, "where did you come from, and where are you going?"
"From Harper's Ferry, bearing despatches to Adjutant-General Thomas in Washington from General John Stevenson, commanding this district."
"How did you come to take this cut?" demanded Symonds.
"I rode down the tow path until I reached Edward's Ferry, then cut across here, hoping to strike the turnpike. It's freezing on the tow-path." As he spoke the trooper pulled the collar of his heavy blue overcoat up about his ears until it nearly met his cavalry hat.
The clouds were drifting away from before the moon, and a ray of light illuminated the scene. Lloyd inspected the trooper suspiciously; his story sounded all right, but ...
"Your regiment?" he asked.
"The First Maryland Potomac Home Brigade, Colonel Henry A. Cole. I am attached to headquarters as special messenger."
"Let me see your despatch."
"Hold on," retorted the trooper. "First, tell me who you are."
"That's cool," broke in Symonds. "I guess you will show it to us whether you want to or not. Seems to me, young man," glancing closely at the latter's mount, "your horse is mighty fresh, considering you have ridden such a distance."
"We in the cavalry know how to keep our horses in good condition, as well as ride them." The trooper pointed derisively at Symonds' sorry nag standing with drooping head by the roadside.
"None of your lip," growled Symonds angrily; his poor riding was a sore subject. Further discussion was cut short by Lloyd's peremptory order:
"Come; I am waiting; give me the despatch," and, as the trooper still hesitated, "we are agents of the United States Secret Service."
"In that case, sir." The trooper's right hand went to the salute; then he unbuttoned his coat, and fumbled in his belt. "Here it is, sir."
As Lloyd bent forward to take the expected paper, he received instead a crashing blow on the temple from the butt end of a revolver, which sent him reeling from the saddle. At the same time, Symonds, who had hold of the trooper's bridle, was lifted off his feet by the sudden rearing of the horse, and before he had collected his wits, he was dashed violently to one side and thrown on the icy ground.
Symonds staggered to his feet, but at that instant the trooper, who was some distance away, swerved suddenly toward the woods, and his broad cavalry hat was jerked from his head by a low-hanging branch. His horse then bolted into the middle of the road, and for a second the trooper's figure was silhouetted against the sky in the brilliant moonlight. A mass of heavy hair had fallen down the rider's back.
"By God! It's a woman!" gasped Symonds, as he clutched his revolver.
A shot rang out, followed by a stifled cry; then silence, save for the galloping hoof beats growing fainter and fainter down the road in the direction of Washington.
BRAINS VS. BRAWN
Up Thirteenth Street came the measured tread of marching feet, and two companies of infantry turned the corner into New York Avenue. The soldiers marched with guns reversed and colors furled. A few passers-by stopped to watch the sad procession. Suddenly they were startled by peal on peal of merry laughter, which came from a bevy of girls standing in front of Stuntz's notion store. Instantly two officers left their places by the curb and walked over to the little group.
"Your pardon, ladies," said Lloyd sternly. "Why do you laugh at a soldier's funeral?"
The young girl nearest him wheeled around, and inspected Lloyd from head to foot.
"What's that to you, Mr. Yank?" she demanded impudently.
"Nothing to me, madam; but for you, perhaps, Old Capitol Prison."
"Nonsense, Lloyd," exclaimed his companion, Major Goddard. "I am sure the young ladies meant no intentional offense."
Lloyd's lips closed in a thin line, but before he could reply a girl standing in the background stepped forward and addressed him.
"We meant no disrespect to the dead," she said, and her clear, bell-like voice instantly caught both men's attention. "In fact, we did not notice the funeral; they are, alas, of too frequent occurrence these days to attract much attention."
"Ah, indeed." Lloyd's tone betrayed his disbelief. "And may I ask what you were laughing at?"
"Certainly; at Misery."
"Misery?" Lloyd's color rose. He hated to be made ridiculous, and a titter from the listening girls roused his temper. "Is that another name for a funeral?"
"No, sir," demurely; "it is the name of my dog."
"Yes, my pet dog. You know, 'Misery loves company.'" The soft, hazel eyes lighted with a mocking smile as she looked full at the two perplexed men. "I'm 'company,'" she added softly.
In silence Lloyd studied the girl's face with growing interest, A vague, elusive likeness haunted him. Where had he heard that voice before? At that instant the glint of her red-gold hair in the winter sunshine caught his eye. His unspoken question was answered.
"Who's being arrested now?" asked a quiet voice behind Lloyd, and a man, leaning heavily on his cane, pushed his way through the crowd that had collected about the girls. The slight, limping figure was well known in every section of Washington, and Lloyd stepped back respectfully to make room for Doctor John Boyd. It was the first time he had seen the famous surgeon at such close quarters, and he examined the grotesque old face with interest.
Doctor Boyd had lost none of the briskness of youth, despite his lameness, nor his fingers their skill, but his face was a mass of wrinkles. His keen, black eyes, bristling gray beard, predatory nose, and saturnine wit, together with his brusque manner, made strangers fear him. But their aversion was apt to change to idolatry when he became their physician.
"What, Nancy Newton, you here?" continued the surgeon, addressing the last speaker, "and Belle Cary? Have you two girls been sassing our military friends?" indicating the two officers with a wave of his hand.
"Indeed, no, Doctor John," protested Nancy; "such an idea never entered our heads. But these gentlemen don't seem to believe me."
Major Goddard stepped forward, and raised his cap.
"The young lady is mistaken, doctor," he said gravely. "We do believe her, notwithstanding," glancing quizzically at Nancy, "that we have not yet seen her dog."
"Misery!" exclaimed the surgeon, laughing. "So my four-footed friend has gotten you into hot water again, Nancy? I might have known it. Here's the rascal now."
Around the corner of Twelfth Street, with an air of conscious virtue, trotted the cause of all the trouble—a handsome, red-brown field spaniel. Robert Goddard, a lover of dogs, snapped his fingers and whistled, but Misery paid not the slightest attention to his blandishments. Wagging his tail frantically, he tore up to Nancy, and frisked about her.
"Misery, give me that bone." Nancy stooped over, and endeavored to take it from the struggling dog. "I cannot stop his eating in the streets. Oh, he's swallowed it!" Misery choked violently, and looked with reproachful eyes at his mistress. "You sinner," patting the soft brown body, "come along—that is," addressing Lloyd, "if you do not wish to detain us any longer."
"You are at liberty to go." Lloyd bowed stiffly.
"Hold on, Nancy; if you have no particular engagement, come with me to my office. I have a bottle of medicine to send your aunt," exclaimed Doctor Boyd hastily. "Good evening, gentlemen." And he bowed curtly to Lloyd and his friend.
On reaching F Street, the group of girls separated, and Nancy accompanied Doctor Boyd to his office.
"Go into the waiting room, Nancy," directed the surgeon. "It won't take me a moment to write the directions on the label of the bottle."
Obediently Nancy entered the room, followed by Misery, and as the surgeon disappeared into his consulting office, she glanced keenly about her. The room was empty. Quickly she bent over her dog, and took off his round leather collar. Another searching glance about the room; then from a hollow cavity in the round collar, the opening of which was cleverly concealed by the buckle, she drew a tiny roll of tissue paper. Opening it, she read:
Find out Sheridan's future movements. Imperative.
Nancy dropped on her knees before the open grate, tossed the paper into the glowing embers, and watched it burn to the last scrap. A cold, wet nose against her hand roused her.
"Misery, you darling." She stooped, and buried her face in the wriggling body. "My little retriever!" Misery licked her face ecstatically. "If I only knew which way Sam went after giving you that message for me, much valuable time could be saved. As it is——" Doctor Boyd's entrance cut short her whispered words.
* * * * *
Lloyd and his friend, Major Goddard, watched Nancy and her companions out of sight; then continued on their way to Wormley's Hotel, each busy with his own thoughts. The grill room of that famous hostelry was half empty when they reached there, and they had no difficulty in securing a table in a secluded corner. While Lloyd was giving his order to the waiter, Colonel Baker stopped at their table.
"Heard the news?" he asked eagerly; then not waiting for an answer: "They say at the department General Joe Johnston has been captured."
His words were overheard by Wormley, the colored proprietor, who was speaking to the head waiter.
"'Scuse me, Colonel Baker," he said deferentially. "You all ain't captured General Johnston. No, sah. I knows Marse Joe too well to b'lieve that."
Wormley was a privileged character, and his remark was received with good-natured laughter. Under cover of the noise, Baker whispered to Lloyd: "Stanton has discovered his cipher code book has been tampered with. Meet me at my office at five o'clock."
"All right, Colonel," and Baker departed.
By the time they had reached dessert, the grill room was deserted. Goddard lighted a cigar, and, lounging back in his chair, contemplated his host with keen interest.
"I can't understand it, Lloyd," he said finally.
"Understand what?" replied Lloyd, roused from his abstraction.
"Why you became a professional detective. With your social position, talents..."
"That's just it!"
"My talents. If it had not been for them, I would have gone to West Point with you, Bob. But, above all else in the world I enjoy pitting my wits against another's—enjoy unravelling mysteries that baffle others. To me there is no excitement equal to a man hunt. I suppose in a way it is an inheritance; my father was a great criminal lawyer, and his father before him. When Pinkerton organized the Secret Service division of the army in '61, I went with him, thinking I could follow my chosen profession and serve my country at the same time. Besides," with a trace of bitterness in his voice, "I owe society nothing; nor do I desire to associate with society people."
Goddard gazed sorrowfully at his friend. "Hasn't the old wound healed, Lloyd?" he asked softly.
"No; nor ever will," was the brief response, and Lloyd's face grew stern with the pain of other years. "As I told you, Bob, I was detailed here to solve a very serious problem for our government," he resumed, after a slight pause. "Baker has rounded up and arrested all persons suspected of corresponding with the rebels, and sent some to Old Capitol Prison, and others through the lines to Richmond, where they can do us no harm. Most of these spies gave themselves away by their secesh talk, or by boasting of their ability to run the blockade.
"But information of our armies' intended movements is still being carried out of Washington right under Baker's nose. It is imperative that this leak be stopped at once, or the Union forces may suffer another Bull Run. Baker and the provost marshal of the district have tried every means in their power to learn the methods and the identity of this spy, but so far without success."
"But have you found no trace in your search?" inquired Goddard eagerly.
"Until to-day I had only a theory; now I have a clue, a faint one, but——" Lloyd paused and glanced about the room to see that he was not overheard. They had the place to themselves, save for their waiter, Sam, who was busy resetting a table in the opposite corner. "I have told you, Bob, how I came to get this wound"—Lloyd touched his temple—"when on my way to Poolesville." Goddard nodded assent. "But I did not tell you that before the supposed trooper made good his escape his hat was knocked off and Symonds saw that the spy was a woman."
"A woman!" Goddard nearly dropped his cigar in his astonishment. "How did he find that out?"
"Her hair fell down her back when her hat was knocked off."
Goddard stared at his companion. "Well, I'll be—blessed!" he muttered.
"I have been looking for such a woman for some time, and until to-day without success," declared Lloyd calmly.
"Did she by chance leave any trace, any clues, behind her in her flight?"
"One." Lloyd pulled out his leather wallet. "On examining the hat, which he picked up on his return to where I was lying unconscious, Symonds found these hairs adhering to the lining. He put them in an envelope and brought them to me at the hospital." Lloyd drew out a small paper, which he opened with care. "Have you ever seen hair of that color before?"
Goddard took the opened paper, and glanced at its contents. A few red-gold hairs confronted him. Instantly his thoughts flew to the scene of that morning. In his mind's eye he saw the laughing face, the lovely curly Titian hair, and heard the mocking, alluring voice say: "I'm company." He slowly raised his head in time to see the steady gaze of their negro waiter fixed full upon the paper in his hand.
A KNOT OF RIBBON BLUE
"I am so glad to see you, Major Goddard," said his hostess, stepping into the hall to greet the young officer, as the black butler admitted him. "It is a shame you could not get here in time to take supper with us."
"You are not half as disappointed as I, Mrs. Warren," replied Goddard, shaking hands warmly. "I was unavoidably detained at the War Department. Do please accept my sincere apologies for my unintentional rudeness."
"Why, of course; I was sure you could not help the delay. But I must not keep you standing in the hall." And she reentered the parlor, closely followed by Goddard, who glanced about the room with well-bred curiosity.
It was the first time he had been entertained while in Washington. Senator Warren, to whom he had brought letters from mutual friends in the North, had insisted upon his waiving the formality of a first call. The invitation to supper had been seconded by a cordial note from Mrs. Warren, whom he had met two nights before at the Capitol, and he had accepted the invitation, not counting on the exigencies of the War Department.
The large rooms were comfortably filled with men and women, who sat or stood talking together in little groups. In the further corner a girl was seated at the grand piano; as she raised her head, Goddard recognized Nancy Newton. Mrs. Warren was on the point of introducing him to several of her guests when Nancy struck a few opening chords. Instantly the low hum of conversation ceased, and her clear mezzo-soprano voice filled the room:
He stole from its nest in my golden hair, A knot of ribbon blue; He placed on my hand a jewel rare, And whispered soft, as he held it there, "Tender and true, Adieu, adieu!"
Drawn by the charm of her voice, Goddard edged nearer and nearer the piano until he leaned against its side facing the singer. He scanned intently the downcast face, the soft, rippling hair, the broad brow, and sensitive red lips. Attracted by the steadiness of his gaze, she raised her eyes to his. For one brief second soul gazed into soul; then the hazel eyes fell before the gray ones, and a rich wave of color mantled Nancy's cheeks as her voice rose in birdlike notes:
They brought my soldier home to me, And my knot of ribbon blue; But the cruel wound on his brow was hid By the flag draped over the coffin lid! Tender and true, Adieu, adieu!
Silence followed the last note as it died away, for the song struck home. Northern and Southern sympathizers alike swallowed a suspicious lump as they thought of their loved ones far away on a field of strife, and the applause was late in coming.
"Upon my soul, Nancy, that is a doleful song." Doctor Boyd strode over to the piano. "Give us something cheerful. Play 'Dixie.'"
"Indeed, you will do nothing of the sort," declared Mrs. Warren, as Nancy's fingers strayed over the keys. "Do you suppose I want the provost marshal's men camping on my doorstep? Play 'Yankee Doodle' if you wish; but first, Nancy, I want you to meet Major Goddard—Miss Newton. Doctor Boyd, this is our friend Major Goddard, who is here on leave."
Nancy simply bowed in acknowledgment of the introduction, but Doctor Boyd held out his hand in hearty greeting.
"Glad to meet you, Major." Seeing Goddard's face more clearly as a guest moved from before one of the lamps, he added: "Why, you are the officer who wished to arrest us this morning, eh, Nancy?"
"Oh, no, sir," protested Goddard hastily. "Captain Lloyd and I simply wanted to—to——"
"Don't apologize," retorted the doctor. "Stanton would like nothing better than to send me to Old Capitol Prison; but they can't spare my services, so I am left free to practice my profession."
"What are you growling about now?" asked Senator Warren, reaching around the doctor to shake hands with Goddard. "Has my wife left you to the tender mercies of Doctor John, Major? Come on, and I will introduce you to Mrs. Bennett."
"From bad to worse," chuckled the doctor. "She will be claiming your scalp, Major. Come to me when you want a hair restorer."
Mrs. Bennett, a very pretty woman with mincing manners, received Goddard graciously, and made room for him on the sofa by her.
"Your name is already familiar to us," she said, "for your gallant conduct at Cedar Creek was mentioned in all despatches. Mrs. Arnold," touching a stout woman who sat next her on the shoulder to attract her attention, "may I present Major Robert Goddard?"
"How do you do." Mrs. Arnold held out a fat, jeweled hand in welcome. Her good-natured face was creased in smiles. "My nephew, John Gurley, has spoken of you so often that I feel as if we were old friends."
"That is very kind of you, Mrs. Arnold," said Goddard gratefully. "John gave me a letter of introduction, but I have been so busy since my arrival here I have had no chance to call on you."
"How is John?"
"Very well, and very busy since he has been given his troop."
"Is that the handsome boy who was with you on sick leave last November, Mrs. Arnold?" asked Mrs. Bennett, raising her eyes languidly to look more closely at Goddard. "My husband was quite jealous of his attentions. So absurd, you know. Ah!" She purred as Doctor Boyd drew up a chair and sat down by her. "My old antagonist! How are you this evening?"
"Still unreconstructed," retorted the doctor. He turned and surveyed the room, brilliant with the glitter of uniforms and handsome toilets, and his penetrating old eyes grew moist as he read the sorrow and anxiety which both men and women hid beneath feverish excitement and forced gayety.
Until the breaking out of the war, Washington was almost entirely a Southern city. After the firing on Sumter, it became a house divided, and brother fought brother, while Washington women stifled their moans of anguish, and faced the world with a bravery which equaled that shown on the battlefield.
"How lovely Nancy Newton looks to-night," went on the doctor, suddenly realizing that Mrs. Bennett was waiting for him to speak.
"I cannot agree with you." Mrs. Bennett's sleepy eyes opened, and the soft purr left her voice. "Those pink roses in her red hair are quite too daring for good taste."
"Daring," echoed Mrs. Arnold, but half catching Mrs. Bennett's remark. "Daring, did you say? Nancy is downright bold. The idea of that young girl going to parties given by the officers in the camps about here. Such conduct would not have been tolerated in my day." And she squared her ponderous shoulders.
"There were no camps in your day, Mrs. Arnold," retorted the doctor dryly. "Nancy was chaperoned there by Mrs. Warren. Do you question our hostess' conduct?"
Alarmed at the very suggestion of such a thing, Mrs. Arnold instantly backed water.
"I—I—was not informed Mrs. Warren went with her. But, Doctor, take a kindly word from me, and warn Nancy that she must be more circumspect in her conduct. She is already being talked about."
"By a lot of scandal mongers, whose word I would not take on oath," exclaimed the doctor hotly.
"One moment, Doctor John," cooed Mrs. Bennett. "It has been whispered that Nancy is suspected of aiding and abetting the enemy, although," spitefully, "she does sing our songs so well."
"And what of that? Half Washington suspects the other half of sending contraband goods through the lines. I don't doubt some of our unimpeachable friends carry quinine concealed in their bustles."
"Well, really, Doctor!" Mrs. Arnold's face rivaled her cherry gown in color. "Such things were not mentioned in my day," she ended feebly.
"Civil war brings strange usages," the doctor smiled grimly, "and to-day's conduct cannot be judged by the standards of the past. I am sorry to shock your sensibilities, but you ladies must not believe all you hear."
"What scandal are you discussing so vigorously?" called Nancy from a near-by window seat.
Mrs. Bennett jumped perceptibly as Nancy's soft voice reached her. "Dear child, how you startle one! Have you been there long?" Her voice rose to a sharper key.
"Miss Nancy and I have just returned from the back parlor," volunteered her escort, a tall officer, wearing the red stripes of the artillery on his well-worn uniform. As he walked toward Mrs. Bennett, she detained him for a moment.
Goddard, who had been an interested listener to the doctor's defense of Nancy, rose from his seat on the sofa, and, seizing his opportunity, stepped over to the alcove and joined the young girl.
"How is my friend, Misery?" he asked.
"Very miserable, indeed, when I left him this afternoon. He does not enjoy being away from me."
"I dare swear he is not alone in that," laughed Goddard. "Won't you sing again, Miss Newton?"
"Not to-night. Are you, by chance, the Major Goddard whom my friend, John Gurley, is always talking and writing about?"
"Yes; John is in my regiment. We are chums, you know."
"I saw a great deal of Captain Gurley when he was with his aunt, Mrs. Arnold, in November. We had great fun together." Nancy laughed at a passing recollection. "In his last letter he urged me to come to Winchester and make a long-promised visit at my cousins, the Pages."
"Why don't you?" asked Goddard eagerly. "We can give you a very good time there. The officers' mess has organized a weekly hop, although girls are scarce, and I am sure we can arrange some other amusements for you."
"I hesitate to make any definite plans," replied Nancy thoughtfully, "for General Sheridan is likely to skedaddle out of the Valley at any moment, and I would not enjoy being captured by Early."
"We are billed to stay there some time longer," replied Goddard confidently. "The roads are in no condition to move cavalry and artillery. There really is no prospect of our leaving winter quarters until later on."
"In that case I will ask Aunt Metoaca's permission to go."
"I expect to return day after to-morrow, Miss Newton; it would give me great pleasure to escort you to Winchester if you can arrange to go as soon as that."
"I will talk it over with Aunt Metoaca," was Nancy's non-committal reply, and Goddard's face fell.
"May I call and see your aunt?" he pleaded eagerly. "I am sure I can convince her that it is safe for you to make the trip."
"Under your escort," laughed Nancy. In the soft lamplight Goddard caught the witchery of her eyes, and his heart gave a most unaccustomed thump against his ribs. "Take care, sir; you don't know what a grave responsibility you may be assuming."
"I am willing to assume all risks," he answered, a trifle unsteadily. "When can I know that you will go to Winchester?"
Nancy hesitated, and her fingers strayed to a knot of blue ribbon pinned to her gown. Abstractedly she unfastened it, and Goddard's hand closed over the ribbon as she murmured: "Come and see my aunt to-morrow. Our address is 306 C Street."
"I am sorry to interrupt"—Goddard wheeled around as Senator Warren joined them—"but a friend has called for you, Major; he says that you are needed at the War Department."
Goddard slipped the knot of ribbon inside his coat as his eyes traveled past the senator's spare figure to a man standing directly under the hall light. It was Lloyd.
Bidding his host and Mrs. Warren a hasty good-bye, Goddard joined his friend, and they departed at once; so absorbed in conversation neither noticed the sudden hubbub that arose in the room they had just left.
"Quick, Doctor; she has fainted!" gasped Mrs. Warren, and Boyd stepped forward to offer first aid to the silent figure on the floor.
Robert Goddard felt at peace with himself and the world as he strolled down Pennsylvania Avenue on his way to the Capitol the next morning. He had spent most of the night explaining to Secretary Stanton the lay of the land in and about Winchester. Having been on many scouting parties under General Torbet, he was well acquainted with the Shenandoah Valley, that "Garden of Virginia," as it was called.
The Avenue was alive with people, and the army uniform predominated, although numerous congressmen hurried by, intent on dodging the mud holes which dotted the streets, so that they might reach the Capitol with fairly clean boots and trousers.
Goddard stopped before the Kirkwood House to watch with much amusement the efforts of several negroes to drag a one-horse hack out of the mud into which it had sunk up to its hubs. Suddenly the occupant of the carriage opened the door and beckoned to him. Recognizing Mrs. Bennett, Goddard, with a rueful glance at his immaculate boots, floundered through the mud to the side of the carriage.
"Good morning, Major." Mrs. Bennett held forth a slender hand in greeting. "This is a nice predicament; and I have an important engagement at eleven o'clock."
"It is too bad," sympathized Goddard. "Still, the condition of the Avenue is due to a patriotic cause; the passing back and forth of heavy artillery and cavalry all these years has made it like a ploughed field."
"Mud is not confined to this Avenue," sighed Mrs. Bennett. "Last Sunday my carriage stuck in the middle of H Street right in front of St. John's Church, and my husband had to carry me to the sidewalk."
"May I do the same now?" inquired Goddard quickly.
Mrs. Bennett hesitated; Goddard's fine physique looked quite equal to the strain of carrying her slight form, but she was not at all certain her husband would approve.
"You are very kind, Major, but——" she began dubiously. "Oh, here is Colonel Bennett." A tall soldierly man of middle age strode up to the carriage. "My dear, you have arrived just in time to rescue poor me. Major Goddard, my husband. The major has just volunteered to carry me through the mud, Charles."
"Much obliged to you, sir," exclaimed Bennett heartily. "I was passing, and recognized my coachman, so concluded my wife was stuck again. Now, Cora, stand on the step, and I will carry you over to the hotel." And in a few seconds, with Goddard's assistance, Mrs. Bennett was safely deposited on the sidewalk.
"It was a shame, Major, that you had to leave Mrs. Warren's so early in the evening." Mrs. Bennett straightened her clothes as best she could, while she waited for her husband to return from giving directions to the driver of the stalled carriage. "I hope it was no bad news that took you away?"
"Oh, no; Captain Lloyd came to tell me that I was wanted at the department. I am afraid I must be running along, Mrs. Bennett. Will you excuse me?"
"Why, certainly, Major. Many thanks for offering to assist me. I hope you will come and see me before you leave."
Thanking her for the invitation, Goddard bade Mrs. Bennett and her husband a hasty good-bye, and resumed his interrupted stroll down the Avenue. At the corner of John Marshall Place, he saw two ladies waiting by the curb. As the younger turned toward him, he recognized Nancy, and saw the inevitable Misery sitting close at her side. Quickening his steps, he hastened across the street and joined her.
"This is better luck than I hoped for," he said, his eyes lightening with pleasure. "I planned to call at your house on my return from the Capitol, but now...."
"Aunt Metoaca," Nancy smiled demurely as she extricated her hand from Goddard's eager clasp, "may I present Major Goddard? The major has most kindly offered to escort me to Winchester, as I told you last night."
Miss Metoaca Newton inspected Goddard keenly as she returned his low bow. First impressions counted with her. Goddard was also taking stock of Miss Metoaca. He decided in his own mind he had never seen a more angular frame, nor so large a nose as her physiognomy presented.
"I hope you have given your consent to Miss Newton's trip?" he asked eagerly.
"Yes and no." Miss Metoaca's voice surprised him by its thin treble. It did not seem possible that so little sound could come out of so big a cavity. "I don't hold with so much gadding about. 'Twasn't so when I was a girl, fifty-odd years ago. The way women run hither and yon after Tom, Dick, and Harry is surprising. I declare I am the only virgin in Washington these days." She stopped to search in her reticule for her handkerchief. "So I have just decided, as long as Nancy has set her heart on it, to go with her to Winchester. Besides which, I am anxious to see Lindsay Page."
"That is splendid!" Goddard's face lighted with pleasure, then fell. "How about your passes? Shall I ask Secretary Stanton for them?"
"Young man, when I want a thing, I go to headquarters for it; so I am on my way to see President Lincoln now. I reckon he will give them to me. Many thanks, all the same," she wound up, conscious she had been abrupt in her refusal.
"May I walk up to the White House with you, then?"
"I will be glad of your company, but Nancy is not going with me." Her eyes twinkled as she saw Goddard's disappointment. "Secondly, I am not walking this morning. Nancy is just waiting to put me on that new Yankee contraption, the horse car."
"Here comes one now." Nancy pointed to that slow-moving vehicle as it toiled leisurely up the avenue.
"Of all the miserable inventions," groaned Miss Metoaca, glancing with indignation at the ankle-deep mud that lay between her and the car track. "Why don't they fix it so it can come over here and take in its passengers? What does anyone want with a stationary track way off yonder? Nancy, keep that dratted dog from under my skirts," indignantly, as her hoop tilted at a dangerous angle. "Don't you let him follow me; I won't have mud splashed over my new dress." Nancy clutched Misery's collar obediently. "Well, here goes."
Gathering her ample skirts about her, and with Goddard in close attendance rendering what assistance he could, the spinster plunged through the mud until she reached the car step, by the side of which hung two pictures of a woman, illustrating the proper and improper way to get on and off a car. Miss Metoaca paused to take breath and readjust her Fanchon bonnet. As she was about to enter the car, she noticed a grinning black boy standing with one foot on the step.
"Where's that nigger going?" she demanded of the conductor.
"On top, ma'am," he answered respectfully.
Her question was overheard by a man in clerical dress who sat next the door, and, as she took the seat opposite, he leaned across and addressed her.
"You evidently forget, madam," he said severely, "that the blacks are the Lord's people as well as we, and are entitled to go where we go, being good and free Americans."
"If the good Lord intended those worthless niggers to be my equals, He'd have bleached them out," retorted Miss Metoaca, the light of combat in her eyes. Goddard waited to hear no more, but bolted out of the door and across the Avenue to where Nancy stood waiting, and they walked slowly in the direction of Capitol Hill.
"I am a stranger within your gates," quoted Goddard softly. "Take pity on me, and tell me something about the people I met last night at Mrs. Warren's."
"Let me see, whom did you meet? Oh, yes, Doctor John. He is the most cantankerous and the dearest man I ever met. His patients positively worship him, and yet he has many enemies who would gladly see him humiliated."
"All strong characters are bound to make enemies, and I dare say Doctor Boyd has a caustic tongue," laughed Goddard, helping Nancy around an extra deep mud hole. "Is Captain Gurley's aunt good fun?"
"Mrs. Arnold?" Nancy dimpled with a merry smile. "She is our 'Mrs. Malaprop.' Her husband secured a big contract to furnish clothing to the government at the breaking out of the war. Now he is very wealthy. Mrs. Arnold does not approve of me."
Goddard colored hotly as he recalled the conversation of the night before. "Why not?" he demanded.
"Because she does not like my friendship with her nephew. When they first came to Washington, the Arnolds lived at the National Hotel, but last year Mr. Arnold bought a vacant lot on our street, and has built a large double house with a ballroom, if you please. I believe Mrs. Arnold is to give her house-warming some time soon. It was she who made the original remark about having a 'spinal staircase in the back,' and Doctor Boyd told her it was quite the proper place for it."
"Is Mrs. Bennett a friend of yours?"
"Mrs. Bennett?" echoed Nancy. "She is Mrs. Arnold's shadow. Aunt Metoaca sees more of her than I do. I somehow don't believe Mrs. Bennett cares for me. She is quite literary in her tastes, and I hear is writing a book about Washington. It ought to prove interesting reading," Nancy's dimples appeared again, "as she imagines every man she meets is in love with her. Her husband, Colonel Bennett, is stationed in the quartermaster general's office, and is just as nice as he can be, and perfectly wrapped up in his pretty wife. They were married about two years ago. Little is known here of Mrs. Bennett's antecedents."
"Which way are you going, Miss Newton?" asked Goddard, as they crossed the street and walked through the Capitol grounds. He looked with admiration at the stately lines of the building which sheltered the law-makers, and bared his head to the Stars and Stripes floating lazily to and fro from the flag poles on each wing of the Capitol. "I can't help it," with a quick, boyish laugh. "I have seen too many die in defense of the flag not to salute it on all occasions."
Nancy nodded comprehendingly. "It is everything to have an ideal," she said softly. "I am going down A Street to see one of Doctor John's charity patients."
Absorbed in watching his companion, Goddard did not notice the direction they were walking until Nancy called his attention to an unpretentious, rambling building standing on the corner of First and A streets. "Old Capitol Prison," she said, in explanation. "In 1800 it was a tavern; then after the burning of the Capitol by the British it was used by both houses of Congress, hence the name, 'Old Capitol.'"
Goddard stopped and inspected the building with interest. As his eyes passed along the rows on rows of barred windows, he was attracted by the actions of one of the sentries. After watching him for a few seconds, he turned to Nancy.
"Something is wrong over there," he said briefly. "If you will wait here, I will go over and investigate." Without waiting for a reply, he crossed the street and accosted the sentry. "What's the trouble here?"
The sentry wheeled about and swung his bayonet to the charge; then, recognizing the uniform and shoulder straps, he lowered his Springfield and saluted.
"It's the prisoner there, Major," pointing to a woman who was leaning as far out of an open window on the ground floor as the bars would permit. "I can't make her go back."
"Call the corporal of the guard."
"I have, Major; but the devil a bit of good that did me. She wouldn't pay any more attention to his orders than to mine."
"Well, then, why not stop shouting at the woman, and leave her alone?"
"It's against orders for any prisoner, man or woman, to approach near enough to touch the window sill or the bars. The corporal says I'm to shoot her unless she moves back, and the superintendent says the same. Damn it! Do they think I 'listed to shoot women?" He mopped his heated face. "Last week they court-martialed a guard for not obeying orders; so I must do it." Then, in a loud, authoritative voice, he called, "For the last time, ma'am, get back from that window. I'll count three; then I'll fire. One——" His rifle jumped to his shoulder, and he took aim. The woman stood as if carved from stone, gazing steadily at the sentry, down whose white face beads of perspiration were trickling. "Two——"
"Wait," whispered Goddard, then shouted: "Look out, madam; there's a mouse!"
With a convulsive start, the woman sprang back from the window. The sentry dropped the butt of his gun on the sidewalk, and turned gratefully to Goddard.
"Thanks, Major. If that prisoner shows her face again, I'll just start some real mice through the window." And, saluting, he resumed his beat.
Nancy did not wait, but joined Goddard before he could recross the street.
"I go down this way," she said, and Goddard, suiting his step to hers, strolled with her along A Street. "What train do you propose taking to Winchester, Major?"
"The nine o'clock, if that is convenient for you and your aunt."
"Perfectly so." She stopped before an unpretentious house. "Shall we meet at the depot to-morrow?"
"If you will let me, I will call for you and your aunt."
"We shall be delighted." The front door had been opened by a small boy in answer to Goddard's imperative knock. Nancy turned and held out her hand. "Until then—good-bye." And the door slammed shut.
Turning on his heel, Goddard retraced his steps to the Capitol, but when he reached the building he concluded not to enter, so continued on his way to his boarding house opposite the Ebbitt. On leaving the Capitol grounds, his progress was blocked by a regiment of raw recruits on its way to the front, which halted and "marked time." Their band struck up "Three Hundred Thousand More," and the soldiers instantly sang the stirring words:
We are coming, Father Abra'am, three hundred thousand more, From Mississippi's winding stream and from New England's shore; We leave our ploughs and workshops, our wives and children dear, With hearts too full for utterance, with but a silent tear; We dare not look behind us, but steadfastly before: We are coming, Father Abra'am, three hundred thousand more.
You have called us, and we're coming, by Richmond's bloody tide To lay us down, for Freedom's sake, our brothers' bones beside; Or from foul treason's savage grasp to wrench the murderous blade, And in the face of foreign foes its fragments to parade. Six hundred thousand loyal men and true have gone before; We are coming, Father Abra'am, three hundred thousand more.
Goddard promptly joined in the singing with others in the crowd which had collected. Suddenly a heavy hand fell on his shoulder, and facing about he found Lloyd standing behind him.
"Come out of this crowd," said the latter, sternly. In silence the two men walked up the Avenue to Third Street, and Lloyd led his companion into that quieter thoroughfare. Looking to see that no one was near enough to hear what he said, he turned savagely on Goddard.
"I should arrest you at once."
Goddard stared blankly at Lloyd, unable to believe his ears.
"On what charge?" he demanded, hotly.
"Aiding and abetting the enemy."
Goddard's face cleared. "You are crazy," he remarked, tersely.
"Am I? We shall see. I warned you Nancy Newton was a spy."
Goddard's eyes snapped angrily, and his color rose.
"Suppose we leave Miss Newton's name out of the discussion," he said, haughtily; then, in a more friendly tone: "Here I am, happy and carefree, and you appear, like 'Banquo's ghost,' and shout your silly theories, which you admit you can't prove, into my ears."
"My theories do hold water," was the stern reply. "Better for you, you blockhead, if they didn't."
Goddard's face went white. "By heavens! I allow no one to address me in that way. If it wasn't for our long friendship...."; his clenched hands finished the sentence.
"It is owing to our old friendship that I haven't had you arrested, Bob," Lloyd spoke more quietly, realizing he had gone a step too far.
"Then explain what your insinuations mean."
"I will. Half an hour ago you were in front of Old Capitol Prison"—Goddard nodded assent—"helping the sentry make that woman behave herself. Well, it was all a plant."
"Yes. While you and the sentry were engaged with that woman, Nancy Newton was signaling from an opposite doorway to another prisoner in the same row."
Goddard gazed incredulously at Lloyd. "How do you know?"
"I was following you both down the street, and saw the whole affair. I was too far away to interfere, and by the time I had reached the prison you and your companion were a block away." Goddard stood biting his lip, so Lloyd, after waiting for a reply, continued: "The comedy was well played. Your presence but added realism to it in case passers-by noticed the scene. In some way, she and the woman arranged to engage the sentry's attention while she signaled to the other prisoner; and there you are."
"What are you going to do about it?" asked Goddard; then added stubbornly: "Mind you, Lloyd, I am still convinced Miss Newton is innocent of the grave charge you bring against her. Many Washingtonians have been arrested for various offences and put in the Old Capitol; possibly one of them is a friend of Miss Newton's, and, seeing her standing opposite the prison, seized the opportunity to wave to her." But Lloyd remained obstinately silent, and Goddard repeated his first question, "What are you going to do about it?"
"Arrest her as a suspect. No, on second thoughts, I will leave her free, but watched. Take my word for it, Bob; if you give that clever girl rope enough she will hang herself."
A SCRAP OF PAPER
"A penny for your thoughts, Nancy." Mrs. Warren leaned across the table and addressed her friend.
Nancy started guiltily, and her thoughts returned to her surroundings with a rush. Senator Warren, seated on her left, noticed her confusion, and whispered in her ear:
"Blue or gray?"
"Gray," she answered; then colored hotly as she met his amused gaze.
"You did not notice me this morning," continued the senator, lowering his voice so the others could not hear, "and Major Goddard had eyes but for you—small blame to him!"
Nancy drew a long, slow breath of relief, and the carmine receded from her cheeks.
"Major Goddard is very good-looking," she said composedly. "His coloring is a decided relief from the many blond men one meets nowadays. Blue-black hair and gray eyes are an unusual combination."
"Did you see the President to-day, Senator?" inquired their host, Colonel Mitchell, breaking in on the conversation; and Nancy sat back in her chair, glad of a moment's respite in which to collect her thoughts. Her head ached, and she pushed the soft hair from off her forehead with an impatient hand. Would her chaperone never make the move to leave?
Their table was in one corner, and Nancy sat with her back to the other diners. Mrs. Warren and the two men were soon absorbed in a heated argument as they slowly sipped their coffee. Nancy turned impatiently in her seat, and surveyed the animated scene behind her with restless, tired eyes.
Washington, filled with strangers from all sections of the country lying north of Mason and Dixon's line, was a city of perpetual unrest. Besides the soldiers stationed in the encircling camps and fortifications, regiments were continually passing through the capital on their way to and from the front. Statesmen, government contractors, and shoddy politicians haunted hotel lobbies and restaurants.
Gautier's, where many of the old residents and statesmen congregated, was more than usually crowded that night, and the Frenchman had difficulty in supplying the wants of his patrons; so earlier in the evening he had engaged extra waiters to meet the emergency.
The stringed orchestra in the gallery ceased playing, and in the momentary lull Nancy's quick ear caught fragments of conversation between two officers seated at the adjoining table. Interested, she gently edged her chair nearer to the men; then, leaning back, pretended to be absorbed in watching some new arrivals, as Sam, who was earning an honest penny by doing extra work on his night off from Wormley's, deftly removed the dessert plates.
"I tell you, Jim," Nancy heard the older officer say positively, "Grant intends to have Sheridan join him as soon as he breaks winter camp."
"Nonsense, nonsense; the strategical movement would be to have him march south and re-enforce Sherman. That would mean the death knell of the Confederacy."
"You are entirely wrong," returned the first speaker heatedly. "Why, man, look here; suppose this pepper-caster is Richmond, this crust Petersburg, this crumb Lee, and this crumb Grant—now, bring this crumb, Sheridan..." His words were drowned by the strains of "The Girl I Left Behind Me," and the other diners in the room joined in the chorus.
At the conclusion of the song, Mrs. Warren gathered her belongings together, preparatory to departure. Colonel Mitchell, seeing his guests had finished supper, opened his pocketbook and drew out a roll of bank notes. As he thrust the money back into the pocketbook after paying his bill, a small folded piece of paper dropped unseen, except by Nancy, on the floor close beside her chair.
Like a flash she planted her foot squarely on it. Colonel Mitchell had risen to help Mrs. Warren into her wrap; the senator was busy talking to a newcomer. None of them had noticed her quick action. Dare she stoop over and pick up the paper? As she hesitated, their waiter, Sam, returned with the colonel's change. Mitchell waved the tray away impatiently, and the negro stepped back, dropping his napkin over Nancy's foot as he did so.
"Please 'scuse me, missy." Stooping swiftly, he deftly lifted her foot and removed the paper as he picked up the cloth. "Hyar's yo' napkin," laying it back in her lap; then in a voice that reached her ear alone, "Look out, yo' am bein' watched."
"Thank you, Sam." Nancy's voice was unruffled as her fingers closed spasmodically over the paper concealed in the napkin. Seeing her friends were still occupied, she seized her chance, and whispered rapidly: "Go to Mr. Shriver's room at Wormley's, search behind the glass in the mirror over his bureau; then bring the paper you will find concealed there to me at the Perrys' to-night." Sam nodded understandingly. Nancy rose. "Senator Warren, will you help me on with my coat."
THE SIGNAL LIGHT
"Are you sure you have made no mistake, Lloyd?" whispered Colonel Baker in his companion's ear.
"Positive, Colonel; I have laid my plans too carefully for that."
The two men were crouching behind a corner of a tumbled-down stone wall. Their position commanded a full view of an old square mansion standing some little distance from B Street. The galleries on the south side of the house overlooked a low, rolling meadow which ran down to the Potomac River.
"Have you no proof against the girl?"
"No tangible proof so far, though I am morally certain she is the cleverest spy of them all."
"Why not arrest her on suspicion?"
"What good would that accomplish? Her family and friends are the most influential in the District. Without actual proof of her guilt, you could not hold her forty-eight hours."
Colonel Baker moved restlessly. Such tactics were foreign to his nature. He believed in arresting first and investigating afterward. But his department had gone too far in a recent case, and he had been warned by no less a person than the President himself that his high-handed methods would no longer be tolerated.
"My idea is to make her convict herself," resumed Lloyd, after a slight pause.
"And you think your plot is going to work?"
"It has succeeded so far. I found out that Colonel Mitchell was entertaining Senator and Mrs. Warren, and that Miss Newton was to be of the party. The colonel's sentiments for her have changed within the last few days. I shouldn't be surprised if she had snubbed him, and wounded his vanity. Anyway he was quite willing to enter into a little scheme I suggested. I put it on purely patriotic motives, mind you," Lloyd smiled grimly to himself, "that, as a loyal Union officer, it was his duty to assist me. So he wrote a bogus despatch, purporting to come from the adjutant-general, which he was to drop accidentally before Miss Newton, and then give her an opportunity to pick it up."
"Did she do it?"
"I am positive she did, although I did not actually see her. I saw Mitchell, who managed it very cleverly, drop the paper, and as they left their table I walked over to it. The paper had disappeared from the floor."
"Why didn't you arrest her then?"
"Because I want to find out her method of passing information on to the rebels. She may have a confederate who would carry out her schemes while she is in prison, and we would be none the wiser and still unable to stop the leak. I judged that the moment Miss Newton had time to read that paper she would instantly try to communicate with the rebels. And I judged rightly." He paused to look up and down the silent street.
"Go on," whispered Baker impatiently.
"Symonds and I shadowed her home. She stayed in the house just long enough to change her dress, then came on here by a circuitous route. She has been in there about ten minutes," nodding his head in the direction of the house.
"I am glad I met you," rejoined Baker grimly. "I enjoy being in at the death. Sure she cannot escape you?"
"The house is surrounded by my men. I am going to give her a few more minutes before I interrupt her little game."
Somewhere in the neighborhood a dog bayed, but there was no sign of life about the house, except a loose shutter banged dismally to and fro in the cutting east wind. No stars were out, and the men had to strain their eyes to make out objects in the dark. Suddenly Baker clutched Lloyd's arm and pointed to the south. A faint light had appeared from a window over the south portico, which grew brighter as it moved once to the left, then to the right, and then was raised, shedding a brilliant gleam on the deserted galleries.
"Signaling, by God!" swore Baker. "Come, man, in with you."
He started to his feet, but Lloyd pulled him down again.
"Wait," he cautioned. "We can interfere there at any moment." Reluctantly Baker followed his advice. Five minutes, ten minutes passed on leaden feet to the anxious watchers. But their vigil was rewarded. Lloyd touched his companion on the shoulder, and muttered: "If my eyes don't deceive me, here comes some one in answer to that signal."
Baker glanced up the deserted street, and dimly saw a man slowly approaching, apparently picking his way with care. The newcomer was nearly opposite the dilapidated entrance gate, when the side door of the house was cautiously opened and a figure stole out, and, making a quick dash through the gate, collided violently against him.
The Secret Service men were too far away to catch what was said, but they saw the two shake hands. Lloyd's men to the west of the house had witnessed the meeting, and, without waiting for a signal, were closing in on the pair, who stood still for a moment, then turned and walked straight toward the place where the two officers were crouching.
"Given into our hands," muttered Baker exultingly; then, as the newcomer stepped almost in front of him, he sprang forward, and seized him in no uncertain grip. "I've got you," he shouted in triumph.
The man straightened his bent shoulders to his full height; then stood passive.
"Well, well, so you have," said a quiet voice, "and what are you going to do about it?"
"A light here," roared Baker.
Obediently one of the soldiers who had come running up struck a match, and held it in the hollow of his hand so the wind would not extinguish it. As the tiny flame grew brighter, he raised the match, and the light fell full on the face of Baker's prisoner.
"Good God! The President!" gasped the colonel, and his hands fell nerveless by his side.
THE MISCHANCES OF A NIGHT
Baker glanced hopelessly about him; at the President, who pulled his old gray shawl closer around his shoulders to keep out the chill wind; at Lloyd, who stood clutching Nancy by her arms; and at the soldiers who stood grouped about them. For once his feelings were beyond expression.
"How long are you going to keep me here?" inquired Lincoln patiently. "And why did you jump at me like a Comanche Indian?"
"Not a mo-moment, sir," stuttered Baker. "It was this young lady we were after. We had no intention at all of interfering with you."
"And why do you want Miss Newton, Baker?" asked Lincoln.
"She is a rebel spy. We caught her signaling to-night."
"I deny it," exclaimed Nancy hotly; and she tried to step forward, but Lloyd's strong arm held her back.
"Mr. President, hear me just one moment." Lloyd spoke with great earnestness, and Lincoln turned to face him. One of the soldiers had found a half-burnt candle in his coat pocket, and by its feeble rays the President noticed Lloyd's detaining hand on Nancy's shoulder.
"Release Miss Newton," he ordered sternly. "Then tell your story in detail."
Reluctantly Lloyd did as he was told. "This young lady picked up a piece of paper in Gautier's which I knew contained valuable information. I have suspected her for some days of supplying the Confederates with our secrets; so I followed her here, and saw the signal light. Colonel Baker and I thought you came up the street in answer to it. It was too dark to recognize you...."
"So you took me for a rebel spy?"
"I certainly am sorry for my precipitancy, Mr. President," said Baker apologetically. "Thinking you were an accomplice of this lady's, I tried only to do my duty."
"My shoulder and arm can testify to your zeal," chuckled Lincoln. "Now, Miss Nancy, what have you to say to these charges?"
"I never picked up a paper, Mr. President," said Nancy firmly. "On my return home to-night from Gautier's I found a message from my old mammy, Aunt Polly, saying she was very ill and that she needed me. She lives in that house with her son, who is the caretaker during Mr. Perry's absence. So I..."
"Disguised yourself and came here," broke in Lloyd insultingly.
"If by 'disguise' you mean I changed my evening gown, I did—for this more suitable street dress." Nancy threw back her head haughtily. "I am offering my explanation to the President; not to you, sir."
"Continue your remarks, Miss Nancy," directed Lincoln quietly.
"Why, that is all, Mr. President. After changing my gown I came here..."
"By side streets," again interposed Lloyd.
"By side streets, because the more direct route is crowded with noisy men and women," answered Nancy calmly. "I found Doctor Boyd here with Aunt Polly." Lloyd uttered another exclamation, but Nancy refused to pay heed. "He advised that we move Aunt Polly into a room facing south as it would be warmer and more cheery for her in the daytime. Jasper and the doctor carried her there, and I went ahead with the lamp..."
"With which you have been signaling to the rebels," declared Lloyd roughly.
"I did nothing of the sort," retorted Nancy vehemently. "In trying to find a place to put the lamp down I walked backward and forward with it in my hand until I had pushed a table before the window. I then placed the lamp on it, and went to help the doctor. He told me my presence was no longer needed, and advised me to go home, as Aunt Metoaca would be alarmed by my long absence. Bidding Aunt Polly good night, I slipped out of the side entrance and ran into you at the gate, Mr. President."
"Miss Nancy told me then," volunteered Lincoln, slowly, "that she had been with Aunt Polly who was ill. I know Aunt Polly, too; we have frequent talks when I stroll down this street and she is working in the garden, or sweeping the driveway."
"And I will take my oath to the truth of Nancy's story," said Doctor Boyd, stepping into the circle about the President. "Aunt Polly had to undergo a minor operation, she insisted on Nancy being present, and to prevent the old woman working herself into a fever I sent for Nancy. I would have escorted her here myself, but my duties at the hospital prevented."
Lincoln nodded understandingly. "It's all right, Doctor," he said soothingly. "I believe Miss Nancy, and I guess our friend, Colonel Baker, does, also."
Baker looked doubtfully at Nancy. "Yes," he muttered ungraciously, "Miss Newton has made everything clear." He turned to address Lloyd, but the latter had disappeared.
"Then suppose we walk on," said Lincoln. "It is cold standing here. Your aunt called to see me this morning, Miss Nancy."
"It was most kind of you to give us passes to Winchester." Nancy looked gratefully at the President as she tried to keep step with his long strides. "The change will do Aunt Metoaca good, she has been too long in Washington without a change of air, and I am worried about her condition."
Lloyd rejoined the little procession at the corner of New York Avenue and Seventeenth Street. To the right gleamed the lights of the cavalry corral on the ellipse back of the White House, and on the left were the buildings of the quartermaster general's depot. Lloyd drew Baker to one side and whispered:
"Apparently the girl has covered her tracks this time. Symonds and I entered the house and the darky, Jasper, and his mother repeated the same tale to me. We searched the house, but could find nothing suspicious. On leaving I stationed a guard about the grounds, for I am convinced she did signal to some one who may try to enter the house later on."
"Better give it up," growled Baker, whose temper had been sorely tried by his own exploit.
"Never!" Lloyd's teeth came together with an ominous click. "I will trap that girl if it takes me months."
The President and Nancy led the way up Seventeenth Street to Pennsylvania Avenue and down that thoroughfare toward the White House. Lincoln stopped when he reached the entrance to the War Department.
"I am going in here to read the latest despatches," he said. "Good night, Doctor. Miss Nancy, when do you go to Winchester?"
"On the early train to-morrow, or, rather, this morning. Good night, Mr. President."
"Good night and a safe journey to you." The President watched Nancy and Doctor Boyd out of sight; then turned to Baker. "Don't take it to heart, man. I rather enjoyed your springing at me—it was a new sensation."
"Indeed, Mr. President, you should not go out at this time of night without a guard," remonstrated Baker earnestly. "Then such a thing would never have happened. It is not safe for you to walk about without proper protection."
"Baker," said the President reminiscently, "you remind me of the little girl who had just been told of the omnipresence of God, and was so upset that she turned angrily upon her pet dog, saying: 'Go back in the house, Peggy. It's bad enough having God tagging 'round, without you.' Good night, Baker," and Lincoln disappeared inside the War Department.
A VOICE FROM THE PAST
Some hours later Doctor Boyd stepped inside his hall and softly closed the front door. Quickly removing his hat and heavy cloak, he went directly into his back office and felt about in the dark for his match box. It was not to be found in its accustomed place, and an angry exclamation escaped the doctor. Apparently Martha Crane, his trusted old housekeeper, had taken advantage of his absence and tidied up his desk, an act of vandalism which always reduced Boyd to a state bordering on frenzy.
"Kin I help yo', suh?"
Doctor Boyd's right hand sought his hip pocket, and he faced in the direction from which the voice came. The intruder guessed his intention and spoke hastily.
"Fo' God's sake, doan shoot, suh. I'se Sam." And to confirm his statement he struck a match and held it so that his features were visible by the flickering flame.
"Well, come in and light this confounded burner," exclaimed the doctor testily, as his fingers slowly relaxed their hold on his weapon. "Next time don't announce your presence so dramatically, Sam, or you may get hurt."
"Yessir." The negro stepped with alacrity through the doorway which led to the front office, and applied his half burned match to the gas jet over the doctor's desk. "Miss Martha done told me ter wait in dar."
"Confound the woman!" The doctor seated himself in his armchair and contemplated the neatly arranged papers and ornaments on his desk in despair. "Where is she?"
"Done gone out," announced Sam briefly. "I tole her I'd be 'sponsible fo' de house 'til she cum back."
"Where were you to-night, Sam? Miss Nancy expected you to meet her at the Perry's."
"I went dar, suh, but I seed a lot ob men a-hangin' 'roun' watchin' de place, so I jes' cum on heah, thinkin' p'raps Miss Nancy mite be wif yo'. I done got de papah she wanted."
"Miss Nancy leaves at nine o'clock for Winchester."
"Golly! Den I mus' git right 'roun' an' gib her dis heah papah." Sam started for the door.
"Stop!" commanded Boyd. "The Newtons' house is also watched by Secret Service agents. I saw them sneaking about the yard when I left Miss Nancy an hour ago. If you go there at this hour you will be arrested instantly."
Sam scratched his woolly head in perplexity. "I reckon if I jes' go to der back alley an' whistle fo' Misery dey won' notice dis ole nigger," he volunteered hopefully, after a moment's thought.
"What good would that do you?"
"I'll jes' slip de papah in de dawg's collah, an' he'll take it ter Missy same as he brings her messages ter me."
Boyd shook his head. "It is too much to risk on a dog's sagacity now that suspicion is directed toward Miss Nancy."
"Den 'spose I meet Missy at de train an' slip de papah in her han'."
"Unfortunately she is shadowed wherever she goes. Sit down a moment, Sam, and let me think." The doctor stroked his chin reflectively. "I'm afraid if I go to their house on the pretext of giving Miss Metoaca medicine I will be searched, and if that paper is incriminating we will all swing together. Here, let me read the message, and then I can repeat it to Miss Nancy at the station."
"No, suh, 'scuse me, suh, but dis heah papah was ter be delibered ter her pussionally."
"I am the best judge of that. Give me the paper at once."
"No, suh," reiterated Sam obstinately. "Cunnel Newton tole me I was ter do 'zackly what Miss Nancy oddered, 'kase he willed meh ter her fo' he died, an' I'se her serbent now same as I wore his body serbent."
"Confound your stupidity," growled Doctor Boyd. At that moment a sound from the basement reached his quick ear. Signing to Sam to remain where he was, Boyd tiptoed out into the hall and over to the back stairs. The kitchen door creaked dolefully as it was pushed open by an old woman who walked heavily along the lower hall toward the stairs carrying a lighted candle. The doctor drew a sigh of relief.
"Glad you have returned, Martha," he called softly. "Please bring some ice water into my office on your way to bed."
Sam was plucking nervously at his old hat when the doctor reentered the office.
"'Tain't 'kase I doan want ter gib yo' dat papah, suh," he began confusedly, edging toward the open hall door. "But de cunnel, he brunged meh up ter obey his odders, same as he done Miss Nancy. His word wore law to eb'ry one on de plantashun. I reckon I'se jes' got ter fin' some way ob reachin' Miss Nancy."
"You won't have to reach far," volunteered a familiar voice from the doorway. Sam wheeled about and a gasp escaped him.
"You? Nancy!" The doctor gazed incredulously at the stooping, gray-haired woman who hobbled into the room and closed the door.
For answer Nancy straightened her bent shoulders and removed the gray wig.
"I found Martha Crane with Aunt Metoaca," she explained, seating herself by the desk. "She told me that you were here, Sam, and having failed to meet you at the Perrys' I decided to try and catch you here before you left."
"But where on earth did you get that disguise?" demanded the doctor.
"I borrowed the clothes from Martha; fortunately, with padding, they fit me quite well. She also lent me the key of your basement so that I would not attract attention by going to the front door. The wig," Nancy laughed, "I used that in some tableaux at one of the Sanitary Fairs last year. It came in very handy, for the Secret Service men thought I was old Martha and let me pass unquestioned."
"No wonder; your make-up is perfect," declared Boyd heartily.
"Have you secured the paper for me, Sam?" asked Nancy.
"Yes, Missy." Sam took a small slip of paper from an inside pocket and handed it to her. Nancy studied the closely written lines intently.
"Important?" inquired the doctor, breaking the long silence.
"Very." She carefully refolded the slip. "This contains the key to Stanton's private cipher code."
A low whistle of surprise escaped Boyd. "How did you get it?"
"Arthur Shriver, who, as you know, was a clerk in his office, copied it, but before he could get it to me he was arrested on suspicion," explained Nancy. "I heard he was confined in one of the front rooms in the Old Capitol Prison, and so arranged to have the sentry's attention diverted while I questioned Arthur by prearranged signals."
"Did the plan work?"
"It did. Arthur told me where he had hidden the paper, and I sent Sam to-night to get it for me."
"Well, well!" The doctor sat back and contemplated Nancy admiringly. "There's another message written on the back of that paper."
Nancy turned it over and her eyes widened in surprise as she read aloud the hastily scrawled words: "Mrs. Bennett is a Union spy. I have just overheard an interview between her and Stanton."
"That woman!" ejaculated the doctor. "That cat!"
"Felines scratch," Nancy shrugged her shoulders disdainfully. "Stanton is fighting the devil with fire."
"Be careful, Nancy; don't undervalue your opponents," cautioned the doctor.
"I flatter myself I am a match for Mrs. Bennett," retorted Nancy, "and forewarned is forearmed."
"Strange," muttered Doctor Boyd. "Very strange. Do you recollect the——"
"I shall turn this paper over to you, Doctor," broke in Nancy impetuously, "to take through the lines, along with a despatch which I also secured to-night."
Boyd shook his head. "Impossible. I cannot leave the city now."
"Because I have a capital operation to perform at ten o'clock."
Nancy gazed at him in consternation. "Why, Doctor, you have always said that when the Cause needed your services you would not fail...."
"Nor will I, when the Cause really needs me. But at present you are better equipped to carry these messages through the lines than I."
Nancy fingered the table ornaments for a moment in silence; then raised her troubled eyes to her listener's face.
"I have sent my last despatch," she announced quietly.
"What!" The doctor could not believe his ears. "Why?"
"Because I refuse to deceive people any longer. I was brought up to believe a lie an abomination of the Lord—and I have been a living lie for three long years!"
"You have developed a New England conscience," growled Boyd.
"Do you think all the virtues belong north of Mason and Dixon's line?" retorted Nancy hotly. "For shame!"
"I beg your pardon," the old surgeon bowed toward her with stately courtesy. "Do be reasonable, child. This operation I am to perform means not only life to the patient, but much to science. Besides, I doubt if the authorities would allow me to leave Washington to-day. Now, your plans for leaving the city are already made; therefore it will be a very simple, easy matter for you to carry those papers into Virginia. You will run little risk..."
"I am not hesitating on that score," broke in Nancy. "I would give my life gladly for the 'bonnie blue flag'—in the open. It is the underhand methods—the spying—the deceit—that burn like a red-hot coal." Nancy paused; then continued more quietly: "There is such a word as 'honor'." She drew out another slip of paper from the bosom of her dress and tossed it, together with the paper already in her hand, on the table. "You must find another messenger."
"Missy, Missy, what yo' talkin' 'bout?" Nancy and the doctor both started. They had forgotten Sam's presence. "Is yo' goin' back on yo' gibben word—yo'—a Newton?"
The girl's face whitened. She started to speak, but the negro gave her no opportunity to do so.
"Has yo' done forgot dat Sunday night?" he asked, leaning forward across the table in his earnestness. "Dat night when I fotched yo' from Newton Manor to Massa's bedside?" His voice deepened, the musical voice of the emotional African.
In Nancy's mind distinct and vivid rose the memory of that wild ride through the night to her father, the gay, handsome father whom she idolized. Then, in thought, she again knelt beside the rude bed in the silent tent, clinging to a feeble hand which had not the strength to return her pressure.
"Missy," Sam's voice brought her back to the present, "Massa done brunged yo' up ter ride, an' shoot, an' swim 'kase he wanted a boy so bad. He wore shot leadin' a charge ag'in de Yanks, an' when de gen'ral cum later ter say how bad he feel ter lose Massa, he jes' said: 'Ah wish Ah haid uh son ter take ma place in de ranks.'" The negro paused, then continued slowly: "When yo' an' I got dar, Missy, de Massa wore mos' gone, but he say ter yo': 'Doan cry, dear, de fightin' Newtons allus die wid de boots on—an' so die happy.' An' den he raise hissef up uh li'le an' gasp: 'Ah gib yo' ter de Cause—swear to uphold de honoh ob Virginny—ter repel invasion—swear——'" Sam raised his right hand solemnly. "An' yo' swore dat oath on de Crucifix, Missy, on de Crucifix—in a dyin' man's han'."
Sam's accusing eyes held Nancy spellbound. Mechanically she readjusted her wig. Quickly her right hand sought the papers lying on the table, and before either of the men realized her intention she had slipped from the room and was gone.
For once Lloyd had overslept, and he kicked a chair viciously out of his way as he stooped to find an elusive collar button. A loud knock at his door interrupted his search. On opening it he found one of the chambermaids leaning against the opposite wall.
"Well, what is it?" he demanded sharply.
"Dis hyar gen'man's down to de do' an' wants ter see yo' to onst," and she thrust a card into his hand.
"Tell Colonel Mitchell I will be down in a minute. No, stay—show him up here." Lloyd retreated into his room. He had just completed his toilet when a second knock sounded on his door.
"Good morning, Mitchell," he said cordially, admitting the officer. "I had you come up here because we can be more private. Sit down and have a cigar," and he pulled forward a chair; then opened his cigar case.
But the colonel remained standing, and waved aside the proffered cigar. "Did you catch Miss Newton?" he asked eagerly.
"We found her, yes; but my plan missed fire."
"She did not try to communicate with the rebels last night."
"Then you did not arrest her as a spy?"
"No—I had not sufficient evidence against her to do so."
"Is she at large?"
"Yes; but closely watched."
"Did you take the despatch from her?"
"She still has it?"
"I suppose so. Good God! man, what's the matter?"
Mitchell, white faced and trembling, collapsed into a chair.
"Pull yourself together," continued Lloyd sternly. "She cannot do any harm even if she does manage to send that despatch to Lee; it is false information."
Twice Mitchell tried to speak. "Man, man," he gasped finally. "By some fearful mischance I dropped a real despatch and not the bogus one."
With eyes starting from his head, Lloyd regarded the unfortunate officer while he slowly digested his startling news. Then he picked up his overcoat and hat and made for the closed door. "To think I let that girl go into Virginia under the President's pass with that despatch in her pocket. Damnation!" and the door slammed violently on his retreating figure.
Goddard rose bright and early that morning. He did not awaken Lloyd, for he had bidden him good-bye the night before, so after scrawling a few lines to his friend thanking him for his hospitality and leaving the note on the bureau, he hastened down to the Newtons'. Nancy and her aunt did not keep him waiting long, and with the help of their butler he got them into the waiting hack, tossed in their numerous hand luggage, and jumped up by the driver. On their arrival at the depot he found they had but three minutes in which to catch the train, so he unceremoniously bundled Miss Metoaca and Nancy through the gates and to the train; while the hackman brought up the rear with two carpet bags and a lunch hamper.
They found they had the car practically to themselves, so Miss Metoaca picked out the cleanest seat, and insisted that all the luggage be put by her side where it would be directly under her eye. Then she announced she was going to take "forty winks," as she had been up most of the night and needed sleep. With a sigh of satisfaction, Goddard settled himself next to Nancy in the seat directly across the aisle from Miss Metoaca. As the train pulled out from the depot a man swung himself aboard the back platform and slipped into a seat in the rear of the last car unseen by Goddard.
"You look tired," said Goddard, glancing keenly at Nancy's pale face.
"I am; for I spent most of the night with a sick servant. But you, Major Goddard, don't look any too fresh yourself," replied Nancy quickly.
It was true. Goddard had spent a sleepless night. He could not believe—would not believe Lloyd's charge against Nancy. After all, she was not the only girl, or woman, with red-gold hair in the world. Lloyd had nothing to go upon but theories—no absolute proof—and an innocent act might easily be construed into a guilty one by a suspicious mind. Perhaps Lloyd's wish had proved father to the thought; he showed extraordinary animosity toward Nancy. All the chivalry of his nature revolted at the Secret Service officer's cold-blooded scheme to ensnare her, and Goddard determined in his own mind she should have fair play.
"Are you a Washingtonian by birth, Miss Newton?" he inquired, as she moved restlessly under his intent gaze.
"No, by adoption. I was born and raised in Richmond. I do not remember my mother. She died when I was very young. After my father's death I came north in charge of my black mammy, Aunt Polly, to live with Aunt Metoaca. My dear father," Nancy's eyes filled with unbidden tears, and she hastily tried to wink them away. "I wish you could have known each other, Major. Dad's courtly greeting and warm heart won him so many, many friends."
"I second the wish," said Goddard gently. "Pardon the question, but has he been dead long?"
"Three years now; but time has not lessened my sorrow. We were all in all to each other, notwithstanding I was his greatest disappointment."
"He wanted a son and heir; but I was his only child, the last of a long line of fighting men. Dad was my constant companion as well as my teacher," she sighed involuntarily. "I miss him more and more as the years go on."
Goddard nodded sympathetically. "'Oh, for the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still,'" he quoted softly. Nancy started, and, as her lips quivered, Goddard added more lightly, "I have a fellow feeling with you, for I am an orphan, too, Miss Nancy; but I cannot say I had so agreeable a guardian as you have."
"Aunt Metoaca has been both mother and father to me. Bless her dear kind heart!" and Nancy glanced with deep affection at the nodding gray head on the opposite seat. "She and Doctor John Boyd are the only friends I have."
"Oh, come, you know you have legions of..."
"Of acquaintances—yes," interpolated Nancy swiftly. "It is my fault. I do not make friends easily, and lately..."
"Yes, and lately?" asked Goddard, as she hesitated.
"I have noticed a change in my acquaintances. Oh, nothing tangible; but there is a coolness in their greeting, and I hear innuendoes."
"What do you care? Women will say anything when jealous, which I suspect is the cause of their behavior. Hasn't your mirror told you that?" and Goddard smiled, as he looked with admiration at her winsome face.
"It is not always the women who throw the first stone, Major," again Nancy hesitated. "There is a man in Washington—he chose to consider himself in love with me, and because I did not encourage his suit he—he—insinuates——"
"The beast! Why don't you tell him he is a liar and a coward?"
"Because I am only a woman."
"I wish you would give me the right to protect you," whispered Goddard, carried away by the wistful appeal in her large, eloquent eyes.
"Major Goddard," Nancy drew back, frightened by the intensity of his manner. "This is very wrong. You—you—forget we have not known each other long."
"I am getting on as fast as I can," retorted Goddard sturdily; his heart thumping as he saw her confusion. "Miss Newton—Nancy—I mean every word I have said. Tell me that scoundrel's name!"
Unconsciously Goddard raised his voice, and Miss Metoaca awoke from her slumbers, which had long exceeded the "forty winks." That limit existed only in her imagination.
"Well, young people, are you hungry?" to attract Goddard's attention she prodded him with her umbrella. "Suppose we open our lunch basket."
Reluctantly Goddard rose and assisted Miss Metoaca in handing the sandwiches, cakes, and cold coffee to Nancy. They did full justice to the good things provided by Miss Metoaca's excellent cook, and lingered over the improvised lunch table. Finally Nancy commenced putting the remains of the lunch into the hamper just as the train reached the railroad bridge which spanned the Potomac at the juncture of the Shenandoah River.
As the train came to a stop before the depot at Harper's Ferry their car was surrounded by a squad of soldiers, and a lieutenant of infantry swung on board the forward platform and consulted with the conductor.