A Strange Encounter



When Dorothea hurried back after locking the door she found that Miss Imogene was holding up the young man’s head and had managed to force some of the wine down his throat. A minute later a little color came into his cheek and he smiled up at them in a weak, embarrassed way.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured; “I’m an utter idiot to do this—but how did you know I was Larry Stanchfield?”

“I knew your father when he was about your age,” Miss Imogene replied gently. “For the moment I was silly enough to take you for him. But we haven’t time to talk of that.”

Young Stanchfield struggled to sit up.

“This is really unpardonable,” he stammered. “I should not be here at all. I’ll go at once.”

“You’ll go as far as the fire,” Miss Imogene pointed out in a tone that admitted of no argument. “For the present you are safe here.”

“But I never intended to stay in this room,” he protested, “and it isn’t of my own safety I’m thinking.”

“It is what I am thinking of,” Miss Imogene replied. “Although we must get rid of you, or we shall be suspected of not being the staunch Rebels we are. Come over by the fire now and warm yourself.”

Miss Imogene spoke lightly, but there was a serious undertone in her voice and the young man, looking first at her and then at Dorothea, nodded his head as if he understood more than her words implied.

“You are very good,” he murmured.

But he had noted the band of red velvet about Miss Imogene’s throat and Dorothea had caught the expression of comprehension that had passed over his face.

“He, thinks Cousin Imogene’s a Red String, too,” she thought, and then, “How do I know that she isn’t?”

With an effort Stanchfield rose and staggered toward the fireplace; but when Miss Ivory would have steadied him with a hand on his arm he winced.

“Not that arm,” he muttered; “it’s—it’s scratched a bit.”

“I’m sorry,” Miss Imogene said; “I shall have a look at it presently, but first of all we must get you some strengthening food.” They seated him in front of the fire, and he leaned back with a sigh of relief; but he seemed so weak that Miss Imogene looked at him anxiously.

“There is a flask in my room and glass of milk,” Miss Imogene spoke half to herself.

“Oh, pray don’t trouble,” Stanchfield faltered; and then, before their eyes, he fainted straight away.

In the silence that followed they could hear the low-toned murmur of men’s voices and, suddenly, the sound of a closing door far down the hall. Miss Imogene and Dorothea looked at each other apprehensively, for a moment.

“Lock it, after me, child,” Miss Imogene whispered, starting toward the door with an air of determination, “and don’t let any one in till I come back. I’ll only be a minute.”

She left the room swiftly, after a glance up and down the hall, and Dorothea turned the key and waited.

A little later there came a knock and, expecting Miss Imogene’s return, she opened noiselessly. Before her stood Val Tracy.

“Oh, you’re in here,” he said, with some embarrassment; “I didn’t know. You see we’re looking for that escaped man. We haven’t found him yet and we’re searching the house. Of course, as you’re here, we can take for granted a Union officer isn’t in this room.”

His eyes wandered over the girl’s head for a moment and then, with a bow, he drew back into the semi-darkness of the hall. Dorothea, without a word closed the door, her breath coming in short, quick gasps. It was so narrow an escape that she had all the sensations of having been caught. A few minutes later Miss Imogene came back with milk and brandy.

Dorothea in a few quick words told of Tracy’s visit and Miss Imogene shook her head doubtfully at the girl’s assurance that he had seen nothing.

“I hope not,” she replied, “but we can’t speculate about that. We must bring this boy around as quickly as we can.”

She forced some of the brandy between Stanchfield’s lips and presently he came to himself. A stiff punch and the sandwiches seemed to restore his strength like magic, and Miss Imogene turned her attention to his injured arm.

“Oh, please don’t bother with it,” Stanchfield insisted. “I can fix it myself now. That’s what I was trying to do when I fainted like the silly idiot that I am. An old darky dressed it for me the second day I was out of Andersonville. It’s nothing but a flesh wound, and it was doing pretty well, considering, till I climbed up the vines to the porch roof to get away from the hounds. Then it opened again, and I’m afraid it’s rather a mess. But please don’t bother.”

“Dorothea, hold the candle over here,” Miss Imogene said calmly, utterly ignoring this plea. “I’ll slit the sleeve. We’ll have to get you other clothes from somewhere, anyhow. Did that hurt?”

Her delicate fingers that seemed not to be made for such things, deftly separated the stained shirt from the clotted blood, and Dorothea, unused to such sights, felt herself growing sick and faint at this wound which the young man had called a scratch. But she summoned her courage and, although she was rather white about the lips, managed to give Miss Imogene all the help that lady needed, so that very shortly the washing and bandaging was over.

“I feel like a new man,” Stanchfield declared in a little while. “Now I must go. I can’t be here at daybreak.”

He started to his feet, but was still so weak that in spite of his determination he fell back into his chair.

“The truth is,” Miss Imogene remarked with a wrinkled brow, “you must have rest to recuperate. But what to do with you, my boy, I don’t know.”

“In a little I shall be myself again,” Stanchfield insisted. “At the worst I can get back on the roof and wait till my strength returns. Whatever happens I cannot involve you ladies in my troubles.”

“My dear boy,” Miss Imogene spoke softly, “I knew your father so well that anything I might do for you would but repay in a slight measure much that I owe him. There must be some way found to start you out again with a chance of escape.”

She spoke so earnestly that it would have seemed rudeness to protest further. Stanchfield bowed his head as if in assent to her assumption of the responsibility.

“Is your father still alive?” Miss Imogene asked after a moment’s silence.

“He was, the last time I heard of him,” Stanchfield answered. “He is a Major in our army now, you know.”

“I didn’t know,” Miss Imogene said, looking down into the fire with a return of her old manner. “I didn’t know. I haven’t heard of him for many years, but some day I might meet him. Could I face him, knowing that I might have helped his son and did not try? No, no. For the sake of a dear friendship I am doubly bound.” She paused and then, lifting her head with a determined air, spoke directly to Dorothea.

“May I share your room to-night, honey?”

“Of course,” answered Dorothea readily.

“Then Lieutenant Stanchfield shall have one good night’s rest at least,” Miss Imogene spoke determinedly; but she was interrupted.

“My dear lady,” Stanchfield broke in, seeing the drift of her words. “It is impossible. You have no idea what the conditions are in Andersonville. I am not fit to inhabit a decent place.”

“I will see to that,” Miss Imogene replied with a smile. “There’s a huge brass pitcher filled with water in the fireplace and a tub under the bed. Hot water and China-berry soap is what I prescribe. You will have strength enough to manage that. After, you will sleep the better and in the meantime I’ll find some other clothes for you somewhere.”

“I must stick to the rags of my uniform,” Stanchfield said. “So long as I wear that, I am at least not in danger of my life as a spy.”

“Then tie it in a towel and place it outside your door,” Miss Imogene instructed him. “I’ll have my maid clean it. I think I can trust her. At least I can scare her, for I have done it before.”

“You are the most thoughtful person in the world,” Stanchfield murmured gratefully. “I’d rather have clean clothes than food, even!”

“You shall have both,” Miss Imogene promised. “And you need not fear interruption. Even my maid is instructed not to enter my room without leave. I am sure you will be safe there. There is a large screen in the room and a huge wardrobe. If worst comes to worst you can hide.”

As she finished speaking they all became aware of the murmur of voices on the lawn below. Quick as a flash Miss Imogene blew out the candle and hurried to the window. A moment later there came a low-toned exchange of farewells and the soft thuds of horses moving away.

“They are gone without their prisoner,” Miss Imogene whispered as she came back to the fire. “All is safe now. The music down stairs will drown the noise of anything we do up here. But we have no more time to waste, for we shall both be missed if we do not return to the dance. Dorothea, go into my room and light the candle. We will wait till you come back to tell us if all is clear.”

Dorothea went off and found time to pull out the tub from under the bed and place it before the fire. She feared that Mr. Stanchfield might not be able to do that for himself. Also she found two eggs, one of which she brought back with her.

“Ah,” exclaimed the little lady, as she saw the egg in Dorothea’s hand. “That is my morning dose and the very thing you will need this evening, Mr. Stanchfield.”

She mixed the egg with a little milk and brandy and made the young man swallow it, after which he declared himself ready for anything. But even yet he was very, very weak and both Miss Imogene and Dorothea hovered about him as he tottered along the hall. However he reached his goal safely and within the doorway he turned and, seizing a hand of each of his rescuers, pressed them to his lips.

“It will be like Heaven here,” he said brokenly, then he closed the door softly behind him.

“Poor lad,” whispered Miss Imogene. Then gently, “To think I should meet his son here.”

So far there had not been the slightest hitch in their plans. The music below was loud and they thought that no one had seen them, but as they turned to take their way below they heard the door of Val Tracy’s room softly close.

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