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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Cavalier - Chapter 60. Tidings
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The Cavalier - Chapter 60. Tidings Post by :Benjamin_Scott Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :2409

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The Cavalier - Chapter 60. Tidings

CHAPTER LX. TIDINGS

All the glad difference between hope stark drowned and hope sighing back into life lightened Ferry's heart; he gripped my shoulder--the sound one, by good luck,--and drew me into the dining-room, where the whole company were gathered to see Gholson eat. Our entry was a fresh surprise. As we drank the flatteries of seven lovely welcomes, from behind Gholson I reconnoitred Charlotte, and the fullest confirmation of our guess was in the peaceful resolve of her eyes. I noted the Harpers, all, and dear Mrs. Wall's sweet freckled face, take new gladness of the happy change, while unable to define its cause.

But now came raptures and rhapsodies over the opened letters. Ferry's orders had not been expected to reach him to-night, Gholson said, and so we insisted they and my letter should remain in the saddle-pockets while Gholson ate, and while the good news, public and personal, of the Harpers' letters went round.

"But I thought the' was fi-ive letters," said the Squire as we were about to leave the board; at which Mrs. Wall mumbled to him to "hush up;" for the fifth was to Cecile.

"Yes," guilefully said Charlotte, "Richard's letter!" and we all followed Gholson to where his saddle lay on the gallery. There he handed out Ferry's document and went on rummaging for mine.

"The two were right here together," he said, "and Mr. Smith's was marked 'valuable' and had something hard in one corner of it." Camille brought a candle, Estelle another; Gholson rose from his knee: "Smith, it's gone! I've lost it! And yet"--he slapped his breast-pockets--"no, it's somewhere in the grove; it's between here and that cornfield gate! I counted all the papers just this side of that gate, and I must 'a' dropped yours then!" Cecile brought a third light and we sallied forth into the motionless air, Estelle with a candle and Gholson, Camille with a candle and me, Cecile with a candle and Mrs. Wall, Miss Harper and the Squire, and Charlotte and Ferry. In the heart of the grove Estelle gave a soft cry, sprang, stooped, straightened, and handed me the letter.

"Yes," exclaimed Camille as the three candle-bearers gathered close, "that's your mother's writing," and as we fell into marching order again, with the lights still in the front files, I opened it. It was thick and soft with sheet after sheet of thinnest paper. With these was a sealed letter, unaddressed, containing in one corner what seemed to be a ring. Around all was a sheet of writing of later date than any other. Wonderful, my mother's lines declared, was the Providence that had brought her wounded boy among such priceless friends; and wonderful that same Providence that now gave her the chance to send three weeks' daily letters in one, and to send them by a hand so sure that she ventured to add this other note, a matter so secret that it must be delivered only by my own hands, or hands which I could trust as my own, to Charlotte Oliver. We glanced back in search of Charlotte. She and Ferry were well in the rear of the procession, moving with laggard steps, she lighting his page with a borrowed candle, and he evidently reading not his orders, but the Federal surgeon's letter. "Oh, don't speak yet," murmured Camille, "let them alone!"

At the garden gate the most of the company passed on into the house, Gholson among them. His face, as for an instant he turned aside to me, betrayed a frozen rage; for Ferry and Charlotte tarried just at our backs, she seated on the "horse-block" and he leaning against it. A stir of air brought by the rising moon had blown out their light. Gholson left me, and Camille waited at my side while I tried to read by the flare of her guttering candle. "Come, my dear," said Miss Harper from half-way up the walk, but Charlotte called Miss Harper.

"You'd better go in, Camille," insisted the aunt as she passed us, but Charlotte had just asked for our candle to relight her own, and she said to Miss Harper, "Let them stay, won't you?" and then to Ferry, "They might as well, mightn't they? Oh, now,"--as Camille handed her my mother's letter--"they must!" She toyed with the envelope's thinner edge without noticing the ring in the corner. "My dears," she said, looking frail and distressed, yet resolute, "I have positive intelligence--not through Captain, nor Richard, nor Mr. Gholson,--I'll tell you how some day--positive intelligence that--the dead--is not dead; the blow, Richard, glanced. I was foolish never to think of that possibility, it occurs so often. He was profoundly stunned, so that he didn't come-to until he was brought to a surgeon. It's from that surgeon I have the news; here's his letter."

"Charlotte, my dear," interrupted Miss Harper, "tell us the remainder to-morrow, but now--"

"No, sweetest friend, there will never be another chance like this; Captain Ferry's orders carry him to Jackson at daylight to-morrow, and--and we may not meet again for years; let me go on. When the gash was sewed up, the hand was really the worse hurt of the two, and after a few days he was sent down on a steamer to New Orleans with a great lot of other sick and wounded, and with the commanding general's warning not to come back on peril of his life. 'Tisn't easy to tell this, but you four have a particular right to know it from me and at once. So let me say"--she handed Ferry my mother's letter as if it were a burdensome distraction--"I'm not sorry for the mistake, Richard, which we all so innocently made; and you mustn't be sorry for me and be saying to yourselves that my captivity is on me again; for I'm happier tonight than I've been since the night the mistake was made."

She dropped a hand to Ferry's to receive again the neglected letter, and chanced to take it by the corner that held the ring. With that she stared at us, fingered it, rended the envelope, gave one glance to her own name engraved inside a plain gold ring of the sort New Orleans girls bestow upon those to whom they are betrothed, and springing to the ground between our two candles, bent over the open page and cried through a flood of tears, "Oh, God, have mercy on him, he is gone! He is gone, Edgard! Oh, Edgard, he is gone at last; gone beyond all doubt, and our hands--our hands and our hearts are clean!"

Ferry tossed away his candle and turned upon her, but she retreated into Miss Harper's arms laughing through her tears. "Oh, no, no! we've never hurried yet, never yet, my master in patience, and we'll not hurry now! Go and come again. Go, wait, hide your eyes till I cry 'whoop,' and come again and find me, and, I pledge you before these dear witnesses, I'll be 'it' for the rest of my life!"

With the letter again held open, and bidding Miss Harper and Camille read with her, she swept a fleet glance along the close lines that told how Oliver, half cured of his wounds, had died in a congestive chill, of swamp-fever, the day he landed in New Orleans. "See, see, Richard, here your mother has copied the hospital's certificate."

She read on aloud how two private Federal soldiers, hospital convalescents, had come to my mother telling her of his death, and how he had named my mother over and over in his delirium, desiring that she should be given charge of the small effects on his person and that she would return them to his father in the Confederacy. My mother wrote how she had been obliged secretly to buy back from the hospital steward a carte-de-visite photograph of Charlotte, and this ring; how, Oliver not being a Federal soldier, she had been allowed to assume the expense and task of his burial; how she had found the body already wrapped and bound, in the military way, when she first saw it, but heard the two convalescents praising to each other the strong, hard-used beauty of the hidden face, and was shown the suit of brown plantation jeans we all knew so well; and how, lastly, when her overbearing conscience compelled her to tell them she might find it easier to send the relics to the wife rather than the father, they had furtively advised her to do as she pleased.

(Illustration: Springing to the ground between our two candles, she bent over the open page)

"Charlotte," said Miss Harper, "the thing is an absolute certainty! Even without your likeness or--"

"Ah, no, no, not without this! the ring, the ring! But with it, yes! This is the crowning proof! my ring to him! Oh, see my name inside it, Camille; this little signet is Heaven's own testimony and acquittal! Look, Richard, look at it now, for no living soul, no light of day, shall ever see it again--"

"Sweet heart," replied Miss Harper, "very good! very good! but now say no more of that sort. God bless you, dear, just let yourself be happy. Good-night--no, no, sit still; stay where you are, love, while Camille and I go in and Richard steps around to the stable and puts our team into the road-wagon; for, Captain Ferry, neither you nor he is fit to walk into Brookhaven; we can bring the rig back when we come from church to-morrow."

"No, Richard," said Charlotte, "get my wagon and the little Mexicans." Then to Miss Harper and Camille, "Good-night, dears; I'll wait here that long, if Captain Ferry will allow me." She turned to him with the moonlight in her eyes, that danced riotously as she said in her softest, deepest note, "You're afraid!" and I thanked Heaven that Coralie Rothvelt was still a pulsing reality in the bosom of Charlotte Oliver.

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