Read CHAPTER VI - A BOLD FRONT of Love Under Fire, free online book, by Randall Parrish, on ReadCentral.com.

It was but a glimpse through the leaf-draped window of dust-caked horses, the bronzed faces of their riders, and the gray hair of Judge Moran, as he hastened down the steps to greet them. I saw one man swing down from his saddle, and advance toward the house, then a sharp catching of the girl’s breath drew my attention toward her, and our eyes met.

“You you must not suppose I expected this,” she faltered, “ that I have betrayed you.”

There was no doubting her earnestness, nor her disgust at such treachery.

“Not for a moment. But I must get away. Are you acquainted with the house?”

“Yes; but two of the men rode around to the well. It would be impossible now to slip out the back way without discovery.” She ran across the room, and flung open a door. “Go in there and lie down; pretend to be asleep. If the judge does not inform them of your presence here it may never be suspected. If he does I must cling to the old story.”

I caught her hands, and in the excitement she seemed scarcely aware of the act.

“You are willing to do this for me?”

“I don’t know what I do it for,” a little nervous laugh in her voice. “When one once gets started into deceit there seems to be no end but go quick! the officer is coming now.”

The room into which I was thrust was darkened by lowered shades, but the bookcases lining the walls proclaimed it a library. A comfortable leather couch occupied the space between the two windows. The door remained half an inch ajar, and, before I could close it, some one entered the dining-room. The first words uttered held me silent, listening. There was a heavy step on the uncarpeted floor, the jingle of spurs, and a startled exclamation from the girl.

“You! Why, I had no thought of meeting you here.”

“Yet I trust you are not sorry,” the voice deep, yet so low I lost an occasional word. “Judge Moran says you bear ”

“Hush,” she interrupted quickly. “Yes, and they must go on at once. What brings you here, Gerald? A scouting party?”

“We are Beauregard’s advance scouts; he is moving eastward.”

“Then these papers must reach him at once. Don’t stop to ask questions, Gerald, but send some man; have him kill his horse if necessary. Oh, don’t stand there looking at me, but go! I’ll explain later.”

I heard the rustle of papers, the rapid movement of the man as he left the room, the quick breathing of the excited woman. Then she crossed the room to the window, and the next moment a horse galloped past. My head whirled then it was not quinine for the hospitals which had brought her through the lines; she had deliberately lied to me, and instead, was a bearer of despatches. Sudden anger at the trick banished every other feeling; yet what could I do? My hand gripped the knob of the door, every nerve throbbing, when I heard the officer’s voice again in the breakfast room.

“He’s off; now let’s have the straight of all this, Billie.”

Billie! I grasped the full truth of it in an instant. Lord! I had been a fool. The woman had played with me as though I were a mere child; had been laughing at me all night; and doubtless intended now to hand me over prisoner to this squad of gray-jackets. Billie! The very person I was seeking; the only one who could hope to get through after all others had failed. And I had supposed “Billie” was a man, never once thinking of the name as a pet feminine one of the South. The realization of all this confused me so that I missed a part of what was being said, and only aroused as the man spoke more sharply.

“That’s all right, of course; I understand what brought you here, but where is that fellow you had with you?”

“Who?” it was an indignant voice.

“Oh, you understand, Miss Innocence,” a slight sneer in the utterance. “There was a man in your company when you arrived, dressed as a Yank. Moran told me so. You were breakfasting together the table proves that.”

“Well, what of it? I explained his presence to the judge. Am I obliged to account for all my actions to every one I meet?”

The officer, evidently acquainted with the lady’s disposition, and aware that driving would never do, changed his tone, crossing the room toward her, and lowering his voice.

“No, not to every one, Billie, but surely you cannot deny I have some right to this information. Would you wish me to be riding the country at night with a strange woman?”

“If it became part of your duty yes. I have no remembrance of ever interfering with your freedom, Captain Le Gaire.”

I could hear the man’s teeth click, as though in an effort to restrain an oath.

“By God, but you are irritating!” he burst forth impetuously. “One would think I were no more to you than a stranger. This is no light affair to be laughed away. Have you forgotten our engagement already?”

“That is scarcely probable. You remind me of it often enough. Don’t crush my hand so.”

Her provoking coldness was all that was needed to overcome the slight restraint the captain still exercised. Instantly his real nature came to the fore.

“Then I’ll make him do the explaining,” he threatened fiercely. “I know how to deal with men. Where is the fellow? In that room?”

There was a brief silence. I could distinguish his rapid breathing, and the slight rustle of her skirts as she sank back into a chair.

“Well, are you going to tell me? Or must I hunt for myself?”

“Captain Le Gaire,” she began quietly, without even a tremor in the soft voice, “possibly you forget whom I am. The gentlemen of my acquaintance have never been accustomed to question the motives actuating my conduct. You imagine yourself talking to some darky on your Louisiana plantation. Is this the manner in which you propose treating me after marriage?”

He laughed uneasily.

“Why, I meant nothing, Billie. Don’t take it in that way. Surely you understand I have a right to be curious as to your companion.”

“Yes; but not to carry your curiosity to the point of discourtesy. I have not the slightest objection to answering your questions, if you only ask with some respect.”

“You always hold me at arm’s length.”

“Do I? Well, this is hardly the best time to discuss that. What was it you wished to know?”

“Who is the fellow travelling with you?”

“Didn’t the judge tell you?”

“He said he was a Confederate spy dressed in the uniform of a Yankee lieutenant whom you had brought through the lines.”

“Well, isn’t that information sufficient?”

The gallant captain again smothered an oath, evidently tried to the limit by the girl’s cool indifference.

“Of course it isn’t. That might answer for Moran, for he has no personal interest in the affair. But it’s altogether different with me. It’s merely accident that I rode in here this morning, and I immediately discover the woman I am engaged to marry was out all night riding around with a stranger, eating breakfast with him when I arrive. Do you suppose that is pleasant?”

“No; yet my explanation ought to be sufficient.”

“Explanation! You have made none.”

“Oh, yes; Judge Moran told you the circumstances.”

I heard him stomp roughly across the floor, his spurs clanking.

“Explanation, nothing! Who is the fellow?”

“Really I don’t know.”

“Don’t know? Do you mean to say you rode with him alone all night, and took breakfast with him this morning, without even learning his name?”

“He said his name was Galesworth, but I don’t know that he told the truth.”

“You pretend indifference well,” the man sneered.

“It is no pretence; I am indifferent. Why should I be otherwise? I am not interested in spies. I may assist one through the lines to serve the Confederacy, but that is no evidence that I feel any personal interest in the man. Anyhow that is the extent of my knowledge in this case, and I haven’t the slightest desire to increase it. When are you going to ride on?”

“Not until I know more than I do now,” he retorted savagely. “There is something hidden here. You are pretending all this indifference so as to give that fellow sufficient time to get away. I’m damned if I put up with it.”

“Captain Le Gaire,” and she was upon her feet, “do you venture to address such language to me? Do you dare ”

“I am no dupe of yours or of any other woman,” he broke in, too angry now to restrain his words. “There is something wrong here, and I mean to know what it is. If you won’t tell, I’ll find out myself.” He strode across to the window and called to some one below. “Slade, come in here.”

There was a moment of waiting, during which neither stirred, nor spoke. Then the trooper entered, his heels clicking together as he saluted just within the doorway.

“Sergeant,” said Le Gaire shortly. “I have reason to suspect there is a man hidden in that room yonder. I’ll keep an eye on this young lady, while you find out.”

Slade took a step forward, and the girl’s dress rustled.

“Wait just a minute, Sergeant,” she said briefly. “Am I to understand from this, Captain Le Gaire, that you are not only a bully, but also a coward?”

“A coward! ”

“Yes, a coward. You order the sergeant to open that door why do you not open it yourself?”

He laughed rather unpleasantly.

“So that’s the trouble? Well, it’s merely a way we have in the army, but if it will greatly oblige you I’ll do the job.”

It was useless waiting longer; the room offered me no possible hiding-place, the two windows looked down on the waiting cavalrymen. Beyond doubt boldness was the best card to play. Before the rather reluctant captain could take a second step I flung open the concealing door, and came forth into the breakfast room.