“I am, madam, with sincere pain and deepest sympathy and respect,
“Obediently your humble servant,
“Capt. 8th N. Y. Cav.”
He laid the letter and the enclosed papers on the bunk beside him, and sat there thinking.
He knew that the evidence before him had been sufficient to drive Letty from the Sanitary Service. Why had she not been driven? The evidence and the letter were weeks old now. What had prevented their use? And now Hallam was a fugitive—a deserter in the face of the enemy. It was too late for him to work more mischief if he would. But why had he held his hand against Letty?
Sunset found him still sitting there, thinking. The old negro came shuffling in, bringing hot hoe-cake and bacon for his dinner. He ate obediently; later he submitted to the razor and clothes brush, absently pondering the problem that obsessed him: “Why had Hallam spared Letty; how could he convey the truth to Ailsa Paige?”
At dusk he reported to the ward-master; but Colonel Arran was asleep, and there were no orders for him.
Then, slowly, he went into the adjoining ward. Ailsa was off duty, lying down in her room. His message asking a moment’s interview was refused.
So he turned away again, head bent, and wandered over to his store-room quarters, pondering the problem before him.
A car full of leaf tobacco had been brought in that day, and Berkley secured a little of it for his pipe.
Seated on the edge of the shaky veranda in the darkness, he filled and lighted his cob pipe and, smoking tranquilly, listened to the distant cannonade which had begun about sundown. Thousands of fire-flies sailed low in the damp swale beyond the store-house, or, clinging motionless to the long wet grass and vines, sparkled palely at intervals. There was no wind. Far on the southern horizon the muttering thunder became heavier and more distinct. From where he sat he could now watch the passage of the great mortar shells through the sky, looking like swiftly moving comets cleaving unfathomable space; then, falling, faster and faster, dropping out of the heights of night, they seemed to leave behind them tracks of fire that lingered on the dazzled retina long after they had disappeared. The explosion of the incendiary shells was even more spectacular; the burning matter of the chemical charge fell from them in showers of clear blue and golden stars, dropping slowly toward the unseen river below.
He could distinguish the majestic thunder of the huge mortars from the roar of the Parrotts; the irregular volleys of musketry had a resonant clang of metal in them like thousands of iron balls dropped on a sheet of tin.
For an hour the distant display of fireworks continued, then the thunder rolled away, deadened to a dull rumour, and died out; and the last lingering spark of Greek fire faded in mid-heaven. A wavering crimson light brightened on the horizon, increasing, deepening. But what it was that had been set on fire he could not guess. Paigecourt lay in that direction.