“You are welcome to stay here!” exclaimed Miss Carden. “Perhaps you’d be wiser to do so.”
“We thank you for such generous hospitality,” said Dalton gallantly, “but it will be best for many reasons that we go back to Mrs. Lanham’s as soon as we can. But first can we ask one favor of you, Miss Carden?”
“That you say nothing of Mr. Kenton’s accident. Remember that he was on military duty and that in the darkness and rain he fell, striking upon his jaw.”
“I’ll remember it. Our first impression that he had been struck by somebody was a mistake, of course. You can depend upon me, both of you. Neither of you was ever in my house. The incident never occurred.”
“But we’re just as grateful to you as if it had happened.”
A half-hour later they left the cottage, Miss Carden holding open the door a little to watch them until they were out of sight. But Harry had recovered his strength and he was able to walk without Dalton’s assistance, although the Virginian kept close by his side in case of necessity.
“Harry,” said Dalton, when they were nearly to the Lanham house, “are you willing to tell what happened?”
“As nearly as I know. I got upon the trail of that spy who has been infesting Richmond. I knew at the time that it couldn’t have been any one else. I followed him up an alley, but he waited for me at the turn, and before I could defend myself he let loose with his right. When I came drifting back into the world I was lying upon the bed in Miss Carden’s cottage.”
“He showed you some consideration. He might have quietly put you out of the way with a knife.”
“Shepard and I don’t care to kill each other. Each wants to defeat the other’s plans. It’s got to be a sort of duel between us.”
“So I see, and he has scored latest.”
“But not last.”
“We’d better stick to the tale about the fall. Such a thing could happen to anybody in these dark streets. But that Miss Carden is a fine woman. She showed true human sympathy, and what’s more, she gave help.”
“She’s all that,” agreed Harry heartily.
They had their own keys to the Lanham house and slipped in without awakening anybody. Their explanations the next day were received without question and in another day Harry’s jaw was no longer sore, though his spirit was. Yet the taking of important documents ceased suddenly, and Harry was quite sure that his encounter with Shepard had at least caused him to leave the city.
IN WINTER QUARTERS
Harry was sent a few days later with dispatches from the president to General Lee, who was still in his camp beside the Opequan. Dalton was held in the capital for further messages, but Harry was not sorry to make the journey alone. The stay in Richmond had been very pleasant. The spirits of youth, confined, had overflowed, but he was beginning to feel a reaction. One must return soon to the battlefield. This was merely a lull in the storm which would sweep with greater fury than ever. The North, encouraged by Gettysburg and Vicksburg, was gathering vast masses which would soon be hurled upon the South, and Harry knew how thin the lines there were becoming.