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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Filigree Ball - Book 3. The House Of Doom - Chapter 19. In Tampa
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The Filigree Ball - Book 3. The House Of Doom - Chapter 19. In Tampa Post by :Wayne_A. Category :Long Stories Author :Anna Katharine Green Date :May 2012 Read :1384

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The Filigree Ball - Book 3. The House Of Doom - Chapter 19. In Tampa

BOOK III. THE HOUSE OF DOOM
CHAPTER XIX. IN TAMPA

When I started on this desperate search after a witness, war had been declared, but no advance as yet ordered on Cuba. But during my journey south the long expected event happened, and on my arrival in Tampa I found myself in the midst of departure and everything in confusion.

Of course, under such conditions it was difficult to find my man on the instant. Innumerable inquiries yielded no result, and in the absence of any one who would or could give me the desired information I wandered from one end of the camp to the other till I finally encountered a petty officer who gave signs of being a Rough Rider. Him I stopped, and, with some hint of my business, asked where James Calvert could be found.

His answer was a stare and a gesture toward the hospital tents.

Nothing could have astonished me more.

"Sick?" I cried.

"Dying," was his answer.

Dying! Curly Jim! Impossible. I had misled my informant as to the exact man I wanted, or else there were two James Calverts in Tampa. Curly Jim, the former cowboy, was not the fellow to succumb in camp before he had ever smelt powder.

"It is James Calvert of the First Volunteer Corps I am after," said I. "A sturdy fellow--"

"No doubt, no doubt. Many sturdy fellows are down. He's down to stay. Typhoid, you know. Bad case. No hope from the start. Pity, but--"

I heard no more. Dying! Curly Jim. He who was considered to be immune! He who held the secret--

"Let me see him," I demanded. "It is important--a police matter--a word from him may save a life. He is still breathing?"

"Yes, but I do not think there is any chance of his speaking. He did not recognize his nurse five minutes ago."

As bad as that! But I did not despair. I did not dare to. I had staked everything on this interview, and I was not going to lose its promised results from any lack of effort on my own part.

"Let me see him," I repeated.

I was taken in. The few persons I saw clustered about a narrow cot in one corner gave way and I was cut to the heart to see that they did this not so much out of consideration for me or my errand there as from the consciousness that their business at the bedside of this dying man was over. He was on the point of breathing his last. I pressed forward, and after one quick scrutiny of the closed eyes and pale face I knelt at his side and whispered a name into his ear. It was that of Veronica Moore.

He started; they all saw it. On the threshold of death, some emotion--we never knew what one--drew him back for an instant, and the pale cheek showed a suspicion of color. Though the eyes did not open, the lips moved, and I caught these words:

"Kept word--told no one--she was so--"

And that was all. He died the next instant.

Well! I was woefully done up by this sudden extinction of all my hopes. They had been extravagant, no doubt, but they had sustained me through all my haps and mishaps, trials and dangers, till now, here, they ended with the one inexorable fact-death. Was I doomed to defeat, then? Must I go back to the major with my convictions unchanged but with no fresh proof, no real evidence to support them? I certainly must. With the death of this man, all means of reaching the state of Mrs. Jeffrey's mind immediately preceding her marriage were gone. I could never learn now what to know would make a man of me and possibly save Cora Tuttle.

Bending under this stroke of Providence, I passed out. A little boy was sobbing at the tent door. I stared at him curiously, and was hurrying on, when I felt myself caught by the hand.

"Take me with you," cried a choked and frightened voice in my ear. "I have no friend here, now he is gone; take me back to Washington."

Washington! I turned and looked at the lad who, kneeling in the hot sand at the door of the tent, was clutching me with imploring hands.

"Who are you?" I asked; "and how came you here? Do you belong to the army?"

"I helped care for his horse," he whispered. "He found me smuggled on board the train--for I was bound to go to the war--and he was sorry for me and used to give me bits of his own rations, but--but now no one will give me anything. Take me back; she won't care. She's dead, they say. Besides, I wouldn't stay here now if she was alive and breathing. I have had enough of war since he--Oh, he was good to me--I never cared for any one so much."

I looked at the boy with an odd sensation for which I have no name.

"Whom are you talking about?" I asked. "Your mother your sister?"

"Oh, no;" the tone was simplicity itself. "Never had no mother. I mean the lady at the big house; the one that was married. She gave me money to go out of Washington, and, wanting to be a soldier, I followed Curly Jim. I didn't think he'd die--he looked so strong-- What's the matter, sir? Have I said anything I shouldn't?"

I had him by the arm. I fear that I was shaking him.

"The lady!" I repeated. "She who was married--who gave you money. Wasn't it Mrs. Jeffrey?"

"Yes, I believe that was the name of the man she married. I didn't know him; but I saw he r-"

"Where? And why did she give you money? I will take you home with me if you tell me the truth about it."

He glanced back at the tent from which I had slightly drawn him and a hungry look crept into his eyes.

"Well, it's no secret now," he muttered. "He used to say I must keep my mouth shut; but he wouldn't say so now if he knew I could get home by telling. He used to be sorry for me, he used. What do you want to know?"

"Why Mrs. Jeffrey gave you money to leave Washington."

The boy trembled, drew a step away, and then came back, and under those hot Florida skies, in the turmoil of departing troops, I heard these words:

"Because I heard what she said to Jim."

I felt my heart go down, then up, up, beyond anything I had ever experienced in my whole life. The way before me was not closed then. A witness yet remained, though Jim was dead. The boy was oblivious of my emotion; he was staring with great mournfulness t the tent.

"And what was that?" said I.

His attention, which had been wandering, came back, and it was with some surprise he said:

"It was not much. She told him to take the gentleman into the library. But it was the library where men died, and he just went and died there, too, you remember, and Jim said he wasn't ever going to speak of it, and so I promised not to, neither, but--but--when do you think you will be starting, sir?"

I did not answer him. I was feeling very queer, as men feel, I suppose, who in some crisis or event recognize an unexpected interposition of Providence.

"Are you the boy who ran away from the florist's in Washington?" I inquired when ready to speak. "The boy who delivered Miss Moore's bridal bouquet?"

"Yes, sir."

I let go of his hand and sat down. Surely there was a power greater than chance governing this matter. Through what devious ways and from what unexpected sources had I come upon this knowledge?

"Mrs. Jeffrey, or Miss Moore, as she was then, told Jim to seat the gentleman in the library," I now said. "Why?"

"I do not know. He told her the gentleman's name and then she whispered him that. I heard her, and that was why I got money, too. But it's all gone now. Oh, sir, when are you going back?"

I started to my feet. Was it in answer to this appeal or because I realized that I had come at last upon a clue calling for immediate action?

"I am going now," said I, "and you are going with me. Run! for the train we take leaves inside of ten minutes. My business here is over."

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