Part I

Chapter III

Bret Harte

UNSUSPECTED and astounding as the revelation was to Clarence, its strange reception by the conspirators seemed to him as astounding. He had started forward, half expecting that the complacent and self-confessed spy would be immolated by his infuriated dupes. But to his surprise the shock seemed to have changed their natures, and given them the dignity they had lacked. The excitability, irritation, and recklessness which had previously characterized them had disappeared. The deputy and his posse, who had advanced to the assistance of their revealed chief, met with no resistance. They had evidently, as if with one accord, drawn away from Judge Beeswinger, leaving a cleared space around him, and regarded their captors with sullen contemptuous silence. It was only broken by Colonel Starbottle:—

“Your duty commands you, sir, to use all possible diligence in bringing us before the Federal judge of this district—unless your master in Washington has violated the Constitution so far as to remove him, too!”

“I understand you perfectly,” returned Judge Beeswinger, with unchanged composure; “and as you know that Judge Wilson unfortunately cannot be removed except through a regular course of impeachment, I suppose you may still count upon his Southern sympathies to befriend you. With that I have nothing to do; my duty is complete when my deputy has brought you before him and I have stated the circumstances of the arrest.”

“I congratulate you, sir,” said Captain Pinckney, with an ironical salute, “on your prompt reward for your treachery to the South, and your equally prompt adoption of the peculiar tactics of your friends in the way in which you have entered this house.”

“I am sorry I cannot congratulate you, sir,” returned Judge Beeswinger gravely, on breaking your oath to the government which has educated and supported you and given you the epaulettes you disgrace. Nor shall I discuss ‘treachery’ with the man who has not only violated the trust of his country, but even the integrity of his friend’s household. It is for that reason that I withhold the action of this warrant in so far as it affects the persons of the master and mistress of this home. I am satisfied that Mr. Brant has been as ignorant of what has been done here as I am that his wife has been only the foolish dupe of a double traitor!”


The words broke simultaneously from the lips of Clarence and Captain Pinckney. They stood staring at each other—the one pale, the other crimson—as Mrs. Brant, apparently oblivious of the significance of their united adjuration, turned to Judge Beeswinger in the fury of her still stifled rage and mortification.

“Keep your mercy for your fellow-spy,” she said, with a contemptuous gesture towards her husband; “I go with these gentlemen!”

“You will not,” said Clarence quietly, “until I have said a word to you alone.” He laid his hand firmly upon her wrist.

The deputy and his prisoners filed slowly out of the courtyard together, the latter courteously saluting Mrs. Brant as they passed, but turning from Judge Beeswinger in contemptuous silence. The judge followed them to the gate, but there he paused. Turning to Mrs. Brant, who was still half struggling in the strong grip of her husband, he said,—

“Any compunction I may have had in misleading you by accepting your invitation here I dismissed after I had entered this house. And I trust,” he added, turning to Clarence sternly, “I leave you the master of it!”

As the gate closed behind him, Clarence locked it. When his wife turned upon him angrily, he said quietly,—

“I have no intention of restraining your liberty a moment after our interview is over, but until then I do not intend to be disturbed.”

She threw herself disdainfully back in her chair, her hands clasped in her lap in half-contemptuous resignation, with her eyes upon her long slim arched feet crossed before her. Even in her attitude there was something of her old fascination which, however, now seemed to sting Clarence to the quick.

“I have nothing to say to you in regard to what has just passed in this house, except that as long as I remain even nominally its master it shall not be repeated. Although I shall no longer attempt to influence or control your political sympathies, I shall not allow you to indulge them where in any way they seem to imply my sanction. But so little do I oppose your liberty, that you are free to rejoin your political companions whenever you choose to do so on your own responsibility. But I must first know from your own lips whether your sympathies are purely political—or a name for something else?”

She had alternately flushed and paled, although still keeping her scornful attitude as he went on, but there was no mistaking the genuineness of her vague wonderment at his concluding words.

“I don’t understand you,” she said, lifting her eyes to his in a moment of cold curiosity. “What do you mean?”

“What do I mean? What did Judge Beeswinger mean when he called Captain Pinckney a double traitor?” he said roughly.

She sprang to her feet with flashing eyes. “And you—you! dare to repeat the cowardly lie of a confessed spy. This, then, is what you wished to tell me—this the insult for which you have kept me here; because you are incapable of understanding unselfish patriotism or devotion—even to your own cause—you dare to judge me by your own base, Yankee-trading standards. Yes, it is worthy of you!” She walked rapidly up and down, and then suddenly faced him. “I understand it all; I appreciate your magnanimity now. You are willing I should join the company of these chivalrous gentlemen in order to give color to your calumnies! Say at once that it was you who put up this spy to correspond with me—to come here—in order to entrap me. Yes entrap me—I—who a moment ago stood up for you before these gentlemen, and said you could not lie. Bah!”

Struck only by the wild extravagance of her speech and temper, Clarence did not know that when women are most illogical they are apt to be most sincere, and from a man’s standpoint her unreasoning deductions appeared to him only as an affectation to gain time for thought, or a theatrical display, like Susy’s. And he was turning half contemptuously away, when she again faced him with flashing eyes.

“Well, hear me! I accept; I leave here at once, to join my own people, my own friends—those who understand me—put what construction on it that you choose. Do your worst; you cannot do more to separate us than you have done just now.”

She left him, and ran up the steps with a singular return of her old occasional nymph-like nimbleness—the movement of a woman who had never borne children—and a swish of her long skirts that he remembered for many a day after, as she disappeared in the corridor. He remained looking after her—indignant, outraged, and unconvinced. There was a rattling at the gate.

He remembered he had locked it. He opened it to the flushed pink cheeks and dancing eyes of Susy. The rain was still dripping from her wet cloak as she swung it from her shoulders.

“I know it all!—all that’s happened,” she burst out with half-girlish exuberance and half the actress’s declamation. “We met them all in the road—posse and prisoners. Chief Thompson knew me and told me all. And so you’ve done it—and you’re master in your old house again. Clarence, old boy! Jim said you wouldn’t do it—said you’d weaken on account of her! But I said ‘No.’ I knew you better, old Clarence, and I saw it in your face, for all your stiffness! ha! But for all that I was mighty nervous and uneasy, and I just made Jim send an excuse to the theatre and we rushed it down here! Lordy! but it looks natural to see the old house again! And she—you packed her off with the others—didn’t you? Tell me, Clarence,” in her old appealing voice, “you shook her, too!”

Dazed and astounded, and yet experiencing a vague sense of relief with something like his old tenderness towards the willful woman before him, he had silently regarded her until her allusion to his wife recalled him to himself.

“Hush!” he said quickly, with a glance towards the corridor.

“Ah!” said Susy, with a malicious smile, “then that’s why Captain Pinckney was lingering in the rear with the deputy.”

“Silence!” repeated Clarence sternly. “Go in there,” pointing to the garden room below the balcony, “and wait there with your husband.”

He half led, half pushed her into the room which had been his business office, and returned to the patio. A hesitating voice from the balcony said, “Clarence!”

It was his wife’s voice, but modified and gentler—more like her voice as he had first heard it, or as if it had been chastened by some reminiscence of those days. It was his wife’s face, too, that looked down on his—paler than he had seen it since he entered the house. She was shawled and hooded, carrying a traveling-bag in her hand.

“I am going, Clarence,” she said, pausing before him, with gentle gravity, “but not in anger. I even ask you to forgive me for the foolish words that I think your still more foolish accusation”—she smiled faintly—“dragged from me. I am going because I know that I have brought—and that while I am here I shall always be bringing—upon you the imputation and even the responsibility of my own faith! While I am proud to own it,—and if needs be suffer for it,—I have no right to ruin your prospects, or even make you the victim of the slurs that others may cast upon me. Let us part as friends—separated only by our different political faiths, but keeping all other faiths together—until God shall settle the right of this struggle. Perhaps it may be soon—I sometimes think it may be years of agony for all; but until then, good-by.”

She had slowly descended the steps to the patio, looking handsomer than he had ever seen her, and as if sustained and upheld by the enthusiasm of her cause. Her hand was outstretched towards his—his heart beat violently—in another moment he might have forgotten all and clasped her to his breast. Suddenly she stopped, her outstretched arm stiffened, her finger pointed to the chair on which Susy’s cloak was hanging.

“What’s that?” she said in a sharp, high, metallic voice. “Who is here? Speak!”

“Susy,” said Clarence.

She cast a scathing glance round the patio, and then settled her piercing eyes on Clarence with a bitter smile.


Clarence felt the blood rush to his face as he stammered, “She knew what was happening here, and came to give you warning.”


“Stop!” said Clarence, with a white face. “She came to tell me that Captain Pinckney was still lingering for you in the road.”

He threw open the gate to let her pass. As she swept out she lifted her hand. As he closed the gate there were the white marks of her four fingers on his cheek.

Clarence - Contents    |     Part I - Chapter IV

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