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having the buttons removed. You must believe me, for I can prove it; I
can take you to where he is."

"Where?"

"Down cellar, in the place where you had the Confederate prisoners
confined. He - he is locked in there; I held the door against him, and
dropped the bar."

I looked at her in speechless wonder, a wonder not untinged by
admiration and love. She was standing now, erect, facing me, her cheeks
reddening under my direct gaze.

"I am going to make you believe," she insisted. "I will tell you how it
happened, and then you shall take some men with you, and go down there,
and bring the man up. No, I want to tell you about it first - - please,
please listen."

"Would you mind if I call Miles, and then you can tell your story to
both of us?" I asked. "The fellow is armed, is he not; and I shall need
to take some one along with me?"

"Yes, the man has a revolver. You mean the sergeant? I do not mind
telling him."

I hurried back to the front of the house, more anxious to be assured as
to what was going on outside than to discover Miles. Yet there was
nothing alarming, even the cavalry regiment having been withdrawn across
the pike. Without a question the sergeant followed me back to where the
girl waited.



CHAPTER XXXIV

HER STORY

She remained exactly as I had left her, leaning against the wall in the
slight recess left by the stairs, and she recognized the sergeant with
an inclination of the head, although her eyes were upon me.

"Your friends outside seem inclined to allow us a few moments in which
to investigate this matter," I said. "But we shall need to hurry. This
is Miles, and I want you to tell the entire story from the beginning."

My tone was incisive, and she responded as though to an order.

"I will be brief," she began. "My father and I were at the head of the
stairs when your reinforcements came. We were merely waiting there to
make sure you had left the house. Yet we could not fail to overhear what
was said, and to at once realize the importance of the information. I
spoke of it to Major Hardy, but he felt himself still under parole,
bound by his word of honor. I was under no such obligation, however,
and, for the moment it seemed as though my whole duty demanded that I
should escape immediately, and bear this news to the nearest Confederate
commander. Nothing else, no other obligation appeared as important as
this. It was not that I wished to harm you, or to betray you to possible
death or imprisonment, but it seemed to me all that was personal should
be forgotten in duty to the cause of the South. It - it did hurt me,
Lieutenant Galesworth," her voice suddenly changing into a plea, "but I
believed it to be right, to be what I should do."

"I understand fully; we both respect your convictions."

Miles nodded gravely, but said nothing, and the girl hurried on, yet
with evident relief.

"I started back to my room with that intention - your men were all at the
front of the house; it would be easy to slip down the back stairs, leave
by the kitchen door, and run for the stable. I knew father would oppose
my plan, and so I said nothing to him about it. Indeed it all came to me
in a flash, and, almost before I knew it I was back in my own room ready
to act. I passed out the side door into the next room, which would bring
me nearer the back stairs, believing I would thus be less exposed to
Major Hardy's observation. I glanced out first, and saw him beside the
front window at the opposite end of the hall. He was intent upon the
battle, the noise of which was deafening. The firing was so continuous
and so near at hand - the very house shaking - that I almost lost my
nerve. Then I turned my head and looked the other way, and there, back
in the shadows of the ell hallway, in almost exactly the same spot where
I had seen him before, stood one of your soldiers. He had his revolver
out in his hand, and was crouching forward in such a way that his hat
brim almost totally concealed his face, but I knew instinctively that he
was the same man I saw last night. And - and he was watching father."

Her voice broke, and she pressed her hands to her eyes, as though to
blot out the memory, yet her hesitancy was but for an instant.

"I didn't know what to do. If I cried out, or made any alarm, I was
afraid he would fire. My father was standing unconsciously, his back
toward him, unarmed. I cannot tell you how frightened I was, for,
somehow, the man did not seem real; I - I felt as I have sometimes in
dreams. But I had to do something, something desperate. There was an old
gun standing back of the door - just a relic, and unloaded. Yet it
occurred to me it might answer, might serve to frighten the fellow. I
slipped back, grasped it, and returned, but - when I looked out again he
was gone."

She took a deep breath, and I heard Miles clinch and unclinch his hands.

"Maybe it was just a ghost, Miss, or a shadow," he interrupted hoarsely,
"for I swear to God there wasn't none of our men up there - you know
that, Lieutenant."

"We called the roll in the front hall not ten minutes before, anyhow," I
replied, still looking at Billie, "and I hardly see how any of them got
away after that."

"I - I almost believed the same thing," she confessed, speaking swiftly.
"As I said, it did not seem exactly real from the first, yet I had to
trust my own eyes, and I saw him almost as plainly as I see you two now.
Then he was gone; gone so quickly I could not conceive the possibility
of it. The whole affair appeared imaginary, a matter of nerves. It was
an hallucination; out of my own brain, it seemed, I had conjured up that
crouching figure. I had overheard your roll-call, and realized no
trooper could have been there. I even convinced myself that it was all a
fantasy. I was so certain of it that I stole out into the hall, and
peered down the back stairs. I was frightened, so frightened I shook
from head to foot, but it was because my nerves were all unstrung. I
was sure by this time there had been no one there, and forced myself to
investigate. I saw nothing, heard nothing, and step by step advanced
clear to the back window, and looked out. Then, without the slightest
warning, something was thrown over my head, and I was utterly helpless
in the vice-like clutch of an arm. I cannot explain how startled, how
helpless I was. It occurred so suddenly I could not even cry out, could
scarcely struggle. I was instantly stifled, and left weak as a child. I
know I did make an effort to break away, but the cloth was clutched
closer about my face, and the assailant's grip hurled me to the floor.
The horror was more intense because he never uttered a sound; because I
was in the dark, my mind still dazed by conjecture, and - and I fainted."

The dramatic intensity with which she told this held us speechless. Her
hands were to her face, and I took them away, holding them tightly.

"Go on, Billie," I urged gently. "It was a man then, after all."

"Yes, it was certainly a man, yet I did not really know it until he had
carried me, unconscious, down the back stairs into the kitchen. I came
to myself then, but remained dazed, and only partially comprehended what
occurred. I could see nothing, as he had knotted the cloth about my
head so tightly I could hardly breathe. But I could judge something from
sounds, and I knew he was a man, because he swore once. I think he
intended to leave me lying there, and himself escape through the back
door. I know he lifted the bar and looked out. It was then he shut the
door again quickly, and became profane. Something he saw outside
compelled a change of plan, for he came back quickly, dragged the table
to one side, and opened the trap leading down into the cellar. Whoever
he was he evidently knew all about the house. Then, he caught me up
again, took me down the steps in his arms, and dropped me at the foot,
while he ran back and shut the trap. I was nearly smothered by this
time, scarcely half conscious, and the man must have realized my
condition, for, when he came back, he loosened the wrap about my face.
This enabled me to breathe again freely, but I was so weak I could not
get up, and he was obliged to drag me across the cellar floor. I
struggled still to escape, and succeeded in getting the cloth lifted so
I could see out a little with one eye, but the light was poor, and the
man kept hidden behind where I couldn't get even a glimpse of his face."

One of the men passed us going back into the kitchen, and she paused a
moment until he had gone by, Miles and I waiting impatiently.

"He didn't seem to know what to do with me. I don't think he intended
any injury, and only seemed anxious to escape himself. I tried to talk,
but he would not answer a word. After the first attempt I was not so
much afraid of him, although he was rough enough when I tried to get
away. You know how the cellar is divided off into compartments. Well, he
discovered the one with the door, where you put your prisoners, and
dragged me in there. I knew he meant to close the door and leave me, but
he thought me so weak and helpless that, after we were once inside, he
walked across to test the iron bars at the windows. I don't know how I
did it; I couldn't have stood alone a moment before, but, all at once,
it seemed as if I must, and I made the effort. I think I crawled out,
for I can scarcely remember now even how it was done, but I slammed the
door shut, and dropped the bar across. I heard him pounding and swearing
inside, but was certain he couldn't get out. I didn't faint, but I lay
down there quite a while, so completely exhausted I could scarcely lift
my hand. I could hear him digging at the wood of the door with a knife,
and the awful firing outside and up stairs. I knew the house was being
attacked, and then when it became quiet again, I was equally sure you
had driven the Confederates back. By that time I was able to get to my
feet once more, and felt my way forward to the front stairs, for I knew
I could never lift the trap. In the hall I met the soldier, and he made
me hide here behind the stairs because the fight had begun again."

"And you never saw the man's face, Miss?" questioned the sergeant.

"No; he seemed to try and keep out of sight, and, in the cellar, it was
too dark for me to distinguish features a few feet away. He acted as
though afraid I might possibly recognize and identify him."

"You can give no description? He reminded you of no one you had ever
seen?"

She was trying to think, to recall every detail to memory, but only
shook her head.

"He was not a large man, rather slenderly built, but strong; young, I
think - the same one I saw before and told you about, Lieutenant
Galesworth, and he wore the same uniform."

My eyes turning from her face encountered Miles; and he burst out,

"I'm jiggered if this don't beat me, sir. Of course the lady is telling
the truth, but where did that buck ever get one o' our uniforms? We
didn't bring no change o' costume along, an' I could tell you now,
within ten feet, where every one o' the lads is posted. They ain't any
of 'em been long 'nough out o' my sight to pull off this kind of a
stunt, an' every mother's son of 'em has got his own clothes on. An'
somehow her description don't just exactly fit any of our boys. Who do
you reckon the sucker is?"

"I have given up guessing, Sergeant," I answered brusquely, "and am
going to find out. If he is down below in the cellar we will be at the
bottom of all this mystery in about three minutes. Come on with me. No,
the two of us are enough. Miss Billie, you had better remain here."

"But," catching me by the sleeve, "he is armed; he has a revolver and a
knife."

"Don't worry about that," and I caught the restraining hand in my own.
"One of us will open the door, and the other have the fellow covered
before he knows what to do. Come on, Miles."

It seemed dark below, descending as we did suddenly from out the glare
of the upper hall, and we had to grope our way forward from the foot of
the stairs. I saw Billie follow us a few steps, and then stop, leaning
over to witness all she could. I was a step or so in advance of Miles,
and had drawn my revolver. The cellar was as quiet as a grave. I felt
my way along the wall toward where I remembered this special door to be,
endeavoring to make no noise. My eyes could discern outlines better by
this time, and, as we approached, I became convinced the door we sought
stood ajar. I stopped, startled at the unexpected discovery, and began
feeling about for the bar; it was not in the socket. What could this
mean? Had Billie told us a false story, or had her prisoner, by some
magical means, escaped? She had said he was hacking at the wood with a
knife; could he have cut a hole through sufficiently large to permit of
his lifting the bar? This seemed scarcely possible, yet no other theory
suggested itself, and I stepped rather recklessly forward to
investigate. My foot struck against a body on the floor, and, but for
Miles, I should have fallen. A moment we stood there breathless, and
then he struck a match. A man lay at our feet, face downward, clad in
Federal cavalry uniform, about him a shallow pool of blood.



CHAPTER XXXV

THE DEAD MAN

The match flared out, burning Miles' fingers so he dropped it still
glowing on the floor. We could yet distinguish dimly the outlines of the
man's form at our feet, and I heard Billie come down the stairs behind
us. There was no other sound, except our breathing.

"Strike another, Sergeant," I commanded, surprised by the sound of my
own voice, "and we'll see who the fellow is."

He experienced difficulty making it light, but at last the tiny blaze
illumined the spot where we stood. I bent over, dreading the task, and
turned the dead man's face up to the flare. He was a man of middle age,
wearing a closely trimmed chin beard. I failed to recognize the
countenance, and glanced up questioningly at Miles just as he uttered an
exclamation of surprise.

"It's one of Mahoney's fellows, sir," he asserted sharply. "Burke's the
name."

"Then he couldn't possibly be the same man Miss Hardy saw up stairs
that first time."

"No, sir, this don't help none to clear that affair up. But it's Burke
all right, an' he's had a knife driven through his heart. What do you
ever suppose he could 'a' been doin' down here?"

"Where was he stationed?"

"He was with me till that last shindy started; then when you called for
more men in the kitchen I sent him an' Flynn out there."

Miles lit a third match, and I looked about striving to piece together
the evidence. I began to think I understood something of what had
occurred. This soldier, Burke, was a victim, not an assailant. He lay
with his hand still clasping the bar which had locked the door. He had
been stabbed without warning, and whoever did the deed had escaped over
the dead body. I stepped back to where I could see the full length of
the cellar; the trap door leading up into the kitchen stood wide open.
Convinced this must be the way Burke had come down, I walked over to the
narrow stairs, and thrust my head up through the opening. There were six
men in the room, and they stared at me in startled surprise, but came
instantly to their feet.

"When did Burke go down cellar?" I asked briefly.

The man nearest turned to his fellows, and then back toward me, feeling
compelled to answer.

"'Bout ten minutes ago, wasn't it, boys?"

"Not mor 'n that, sir."

"What was he after?"

"Well, we got sorter dry after that las' scrimmage, an' Jack here said
he reckoned thar'd be something ter drink down stairs; he contended that
most o' these yer ol' houses had plenty o' good stuff hid away. Finally
Burke volunteered to go down, an' see what he could find. We was waitin'
fer him to com' back. What's happened ter Burke, sir?"

"Knifed."

"Killed! Burke killed! Who did it?"

"That is exactly what I should like to find out. There is some one in
this house masquerading in our uniform who must be insane. He killed a
Confederate captain this morning, crushed in his skull with a revolver
butt, and now he has put a knife into Burke. Has any one come up
these steps?"

"Not a one, sir."

"And I was at the head of the other stairs. Then he is hiding in the
cellar yet."

Suddenly I remembered that Billie was below exposed to danger; in that
semi-darkness the murderous villain might creep upon her unobserved.
The thought sent a cold chill to my heart, and I sprang down again to
the stone floor.

"Three of you come down, and bring up the body," I called back. "Then
we'll hunt the devil."

She had not left the lower step of the front stairs, but caught my hands
as though the darkness, the dread uncertainty, had robbed her of
all reserve.

"What is it?" she asked. "I do not understand what has happened."

"The man you locked up has escaped," I explained, holding her tightly to
me, the very trembling of her figure yielding me courage. "I haven't the
entire story, but this must be the way of it: One of the men on duty in
the kitchen came down here hunting for liquor. Either the prisoner
called to him, and got him to open the door, or else he took down the
bar while searching. Anyway we found the door ajar, and the
soldier dead."

"Then - then the - the other one is down here somewhere still," cowering
closer against me, and staring about through the gloom. "Who - who are
those men?"

"Soldiers coming for Burke's body - he was the trooper killed. Don't be
afraid, dear - I am here with you now."

"Oh, I know; I would not be frightened, only it is all so horrible. I
am never afraid when I can see and understand what the danger is. You do
not believe me a silly girl?"

"You are the one woman of my heart, Billie," I whispered, bending until
my lips brushed her ear. "Don't draw away, little girl. This is no time
to say such things, I know, but all our life together has been under
fire. It is danger which has brought us to each other."

"Oh, please, please don't."

"Why? Are you not willing to hear me say 'I love you'?"

Her eyes lifted to mine for just an instant, and I felt the soft
pressure of her hand.

"Not now; not here," and she drew away from me slightly. "You cannot
understand, but I feel as though I had no right to love. I bring
misfortune to every one. I cannot help thinking of Captain Le Gaire, and
it seems as if his death was all my fault. I cannot bear to have you say
that now, here," and she shuddered. "When we do not even know how he was
killed, or who killed him. It is not because I do not care, not that I
am indifferent. I hardly know myself."

"Billie," I broke in, "I do understand far better than you suppose. This
affair tests us both. But, dear, I do not know what five minutes may
bring. We shall be attacked again; I expect the alarm every instant, and
I may not come out alive. I must know first that you love me - know it
from your own lips."

She was silent, it seemed to me a long, long while. The three soldiers
went by carrying the dead body, and Miles came to the foot of the
stairs, saw us, and passed along without speaking. Outside was the dull,
continuous roar of musketry, mingled with an occasional yell. Then she
held out both hands, and looked me frankly in the face.

"I am going to be honest," she said softly. "I have loved you ever since
we were at Jonesboro; I - love you now."

I knew this before she spoke; had known it almost from the beginning,
and yet her words, the message of her uplifted eyes, gave me a new
conception of all love meant. A moment I gazed into the blue-gray depths
where her heart was revealed, and then my arms were about her, and our
lips met. Surely no one ever received the gift of love in stranger
situation. On the stairs leading down into that gloomy cellar where a
murderer hid, his victim borne past as we talked; all about us silence
and gloom hiding a mysterious crime; above us the heavy feet of men
treading the echoing floor, and without the ceaseless roar of battle,
volleying musketry, and hoarse shouting. Yet it was all forgotten - the
fierce fighting of the past, the passions of war, the sudden death, the
surrounding peril - and we knew only we were together, alone, the words
of love upon our lips. I felt the pressure of her arms, and crushed her
to me, every nerve throbbing with delight.

"Sweetheart, sweetheart," I whispered, "you have kept me in doubt so
long."

"It has only been because I also doubted," she answered, - "not my love,
but my right to love. To a Hardy honor is everything, and I was bound by
honor. Dear, could you ever think a uniform made any difference? - it is
the man I love." She drew gently back, holding me from her, and yet our
eyes met. "But we must not remain here, thinking only of ourselves, when
there is so much to be done. Remember what is down there, and what
scenes of horror surround us. You have work to do."

The way in which she spoke aroused me as from a dream, yet with a
question upon my lips.

"Yes," I said, "and we are in midst of war - in this are we yet enemies?"

"I am a Southerner," smiling softly, "and I hope the South wins. My
father is out yonder fighting, if he be not already down, and I would do
my best to serve his cause. Do you care for me less because I
confess this?"

"No."

"But now," she went on, more softly still, her words barely audible, "my
heart is with you here; with you, because I love you."

We both glanced up swiftly, startled by the sound of heavy steps in the
upper hall. A man's head was thrust through the half-opened door at the
top of the stairs. Apparently he could not see any distance through the
gloom, and I hailed him, although still retaining my clasp of the
girl's hand.

"What is it, my man?"

"Sergeant Mahoney told me to find the lieutenant."

"Well, you have; I am the one sought. What's happening?"

"They're a-comin', sorr," his voice hoarse with excitement, and waving
one hand toward the front of the house, "an' thar's goin' ter be hell
ter pay this toime"

"You mean the gray-backs? From the front? What force?"

"Domn'd if Oi know; Oi wasn't seein' out thar - the sergeant told me."

I could not leave Billie down there alone, nor the door open. Whoever
the crazed assassin was, he must still remain somewhere in the cellar,
watching for an opportunity to escape. But I was needed above to direct
the defence. It seemed to me I thought of a thousand things in an
instant, - of my desire to clear up the mystery, of my orders to hold the
house, of Willifred Hardy's danger, - and I had but the one instant in
which to decide. The next I made my choice, at least until I could
discover the exact situation for myself.

"Come," I said soberly.

I closed the door, and faced the trooper.

"You remain here with the lady. Don't leave her for a moment except as I
order. Keep your revolver drawn, and your eyes on that door. Do you
understand?"

"Oi do, sorr."

"She will explain what you are to guard against. I'll be back to you in
a moment, Billie."

I caught one glimpse out through the south windows as I passed the door
of the dining-room - moving troops covered the distance, half concealed
under clouds of smoke, but none were facing toward us. On the floor,
behind the barricades, a dozen of my men were peering out along the
brown carbine barrels, eager and expectant, cartridges piled beside
them on the floor. At the front door I encountered Mahoney, so excited
he could hardly talk.

"What is it?" I questioned swiftly. "An attack in front?"

"It's the big guns, sorr; be gorry, they're goin' to shell us out, an'
whar the hell was them reinforcemints, Oi'd loike to know!"

"So would I. If it's artillery we may as well hoist a white flag. Here,
my lad, let me look."

A glance was sufficient. Just within the gate, barely beyond reach of
our weapons, with a clear stretch of lawn between, was a battery of four
guns, already in position, the caissons at the rear, the cannoneers
pointing the muzzles. Back of these grim dogs was a supporting column of
infantry, leaning on their muskets. There was no doubting what was
meant. Angered by loss, Chambers had dragged these commands out of the
battle to wipe us clean. He was taking no more chances - now he would
blow the house into bits, and bury us in the ruins. What should I do?
What ought I to do? The entire burden of decision was mine. Must I
sacrifice these men who had already fought so desperately? Should I
expose Billie to almost certain death? Surely we had done our full duty;
we had held the house for hours, driving back two fierce assaults. The
fault was not ours, but those laggards out yonder. I would tell Mahoney


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