AFTER the panic and excitement of Wednesday A night, the old town settled itself down to two days of dreary waiting, with not even the passing of trains to relieve the monotony, since, as Major Barton had said, that midnight special was the last train out of Bellaire. Nothing more stirring happened than the passing of the almost continuous droves of horses and cattle driven northward along the Henrysburg turnpike, which led directly through Main Street. The farmers all reported Lee's army close behind them, but they were in such a state of panic that their reports could hardly be considered trustworthy, and Dr. Charlton began to hope that they might escape, after all. Twice before had Lee threatened them, but both times his army had been driven back before it reached Bellaire; perhaps they would escape again, and the older members of the family began to settle down to the routine of daily living with a greater feeling of security.
It was a routine varied by some hard and unusual labor, for, with Alcinda and her family gone, they had to take upon themselves the unaccustomed duties of cooking and dish-washing. It might have proved drudgery but that they were all, making a grand frolic of it and Mrs. Charlton had so skilfully allotted, even to the youngest child, some special department, that many hands were making light work.
Late Friday afternoon, the monotony of waiting was broken by a new ripple of excitement. A company of Buford's cavalry, which was to the Northern army what Stuart's was to the Southern, dashed into the west end of town, and seeing the inviting green of the campus, wheeled their horses on to the soft turf and picketed them for a little rest and feeding and watering.
They brought exciting news. Yes, there was no doubt of it: Lee's whole army was just behind them. This was no raid for securing horses and provisions, but an invasion for conquest. One old trooper who was busily telling marvelous tales of the ferocity of the "rebs" to Henry Sidney and George Edgar, while he curried and fed his horse, noting their wide-eyed horror, wound up by saying:
"Yes, sirs, by to-morrow at this time you'll be citizens of the Southern Confederacy. You'll be no better than Johnny Rebs yourselves."
"Never!" the two young patriots declared in concert, and George Edgar added:
"I'll run away and join Buford's cavalry first."
The trooper laughed, and might have gone on with his teasing speeches but that the bugle sounded, "Boots and saddles!" and, so quickly that it made George Edgar wink, the soldier had his saddle once more on his horse, and himself on its back. As he wheeled into line with the others, he waved his hand to the boys and called:
"Good-by, Johnny! If you see any of the rebs, tell 'em, we 've gone to Henrysburg."
The indignity of being called "Johnny" was greatly softened to George Edgar by the importance of this commission.
"Do you s'pose he re'ly wants us to?" he asked Henry Sidney, eagerly.
"Naw!" replied Henry Sidney, laconically, with his air of superior wisdom that always greatly nettled his younger brother. "Of course not! he's probably going just the other way."
"Then," said George Edgar, with decision, "I shall do exactly as he said: I shall tell the rebs they're gone to Henrysburg, and that will throw them off the track."
It was Henry Sidney's turn to look crestfallen, for he could not but recognize the good sense in his brother's plan, and to have been so stupid as not to have thought of it himself was really quite mortifying.
Buford's cavalry had not allowed themselves more than half an hour for rest, and their evident haste and their exciting news-for up to this time no one had felt quite sure that it was to be anything more than a raid-threw the town into consternation again.
Sitting on the veranda with his family about him after supper, the doctor tried to lead the talk into less exciting channels; for fear was working on the imaginations of the younger members of the family until going to bed in the dark was not to be thought of. Long beyond their usual bed-hour they were allowed to sit out on the cool veranda under a fretwork of shadows where the moonlight found its way between the leaves of the great linden.
Never had the doctor exerted himself more to be entertaining. He told his best stories, and his little audience laughed appreciatively and then veered back immediately to the one great topic. Try as he might, he could not keep them away from it; and try as he might, he could not keep his own heart from feeling a haunting dread of what the morrow was to bring forth: a dread as much greater than the dread of the others as his knowledge of the wickedness of the world was wider.
Saturday morning brought a new excitement: Charles Ernest and Theodore Howard had disappeared! The "Big Boys" and Millie searched in every one of their known haunts, but could find no trace of them. The only clew, and that did not throw much light on the disappearance, was some broken pieces of bread and butter on the kitchen table-evidently the remains of an early breakfast. They had often taken an early breakfast when they were going off on a fishing-trip or some other expedition of importance, but never without their mother's per mission. Dr. Charlton began to grow exceedingly anxious. If they had gone on a fishing expedition now, it was more than likely they would fall into the hands of the Confederates; he was for instituting a searching party, at once. But Mrs. Charlton was more philosophical.
"No," she said, "we'll not worry for a while. They're smart little fellows, and I'm quite sure they'll turn up all right." And whatever anxieties disturbed her motherly heart, she had her family sit down quietly, and as usual, to their breakfast.
And her confidence was not misplaced. In the middle of the meal in walked the two little fellows, dusty, tired, and hungry, but quite unabashed at the fusillade of excited greetings and reprimands that met them at the threshold.
"Me 'n' Charlie's been 'k'noitering!" announced Theodore Howard, proudly.
Military terms were pathetically at home on his baby lips, his mother thought wistfully; and if he was not quite equal to the pronunciation, he understood their meaning perfectly. Eight-year-old Charlie corroborated his younger brother gravely.
"Yes, ma'am," he said; "we've been to Meeting House Springs and we've seen the rebels."
Meeting House Springs was two miles in the country; that meant a four-mile tramp for the little fellows before breakfast, and that fact was the one over which Mrs. Charlton felt the most concern as she exclaimed in dismay, "Meeting House Springs!" But it made no impression on the others at the table, it was so overshadowed by the astounding intelligence the little fellows had brought.
"Seen the rebels!" the family chorused.
Charlie nodded gravely and Theodore eagerly. No one believed them, it seemed so improbable that two babies should announce the long-looked-for approach.
"Yes, 'm" insisted Charles Ernest, firmly; "and they're most here. Dorie and I want some more breakfast, and then we're going down to the corner to see them come in."
Their faith in their own tidings was contagious. The two boys were hurried through their breakfast by their eager brothers and sisters, and then sent to keep watch at the Iron Gate corner while the older members of the family despatched the morning's work. And before they were through with it, Charles Ernest came flying, back.
"They're coming! they're coming!" he shouted, and without waiting to see how his tidings were received, tore back again to his post of observation.
Millie was drying her last tea-cup, Henry Sidney was not quite through bringing in kindling and coal, and George Edgar was in the midst of sweeping the veranda and steps; but tea-towel, coal-scuttle, and broom were all discarded with equal haste, and lay where they fell, as the three flew down the long pavement toward the Iron Gate, Millie well in the lead.
"I think we ought to go, too, Robert, to look after the children," said Mrs. Charlton, questioningly.
But there was something besides her mother's anxiety in her eyes, and her husband remembered that there might easily be a cousin or a childhood's friend among the invading foe.
"Come," he said with ready sympathy; "put on your bonnet and we'll go down to the Iron Gate; I'll watch the children, and you can watch the soldiers."
Eunice and Lucy, finding that Dr. and Mrs. Charlton were going, would not be left behind. Eunice had been longing and dreading to go, but had not dared give expression to her desire; Lucy was frankly afraid and frankly eager to see the Southern soldiers, and proposed that they two should take with them four-year-old Ned, who was at the wilful age when he needed two guardians for perfect security, and whose baby beauty, Lucy was quite sure, would touch the most ferocious soldier's heart, should he be inclined to use sword or gun.
Lucy had a very vague but also a very fearful idea as to how this army was going to make its entry. She had read much of the blood-curdling rebel yell, and she fancied there would be charging through the streets, hideous yells, sabers drawn, perhaps recklessly fired carbines. She felt that she and Eunice were taking their lives in their hands, going down to the Iron Gate corner; but since her father and mother and brothers were all there, if they were to die she wanted to die with them. Eunice had no such fears. To her the Southern army was an army of Rexes, and she could not associate with them anything but the most chivalrous treatment of women and children.
But neither of them was quite prepared for what they actually saw. The curb was lined with men, women, and children, all silently watching a slowly approaching column of soldiers. Neighbor elbowed neighbor, and friend elbowed friend, but not a word was spoken. All were listening to the ominous sound of the heavy blows of axes on telegraph poles and the dull boom of the poles as they fell to the earth. Slowly the column approached, a double line of cavalry guarding a corps of miners and sappers who were tearing up the railroad and cutting down the telegraph poles. Dr. Charlton, watching them, felt with a great sinking of the heart, as he saw all communication with the North by either wire or train effectually cut off, that they were indeed captives at the mercy of a foe whom the Northern papers had constantly represented as fierce and unscrupulous. And what most startled and alarmed him was the ominous silence with which this work of destruction was accomplished. In all that mass of men, filling the wide street from curb to curb, not a word was spoken. Apparently not even an order was given, the cavalry riding slowly with grimly set faces and eyes keenly alert for any lurking foe; the men with the axes intent only on delivering sturdy and telling blows: Dr. Charlton watched them a long time, and then he turned to his wife and whispered:
"These men feel that they are riding into a trap-look at their faces!" She only nodded in reply, but there was in her eyes more pity than elation for the men whom she, too, feared were marching to their doom.
Only once was that ominous silence of soldiers and citizens broken. Charles Ernest, standing at the very edge of the curb and wearing a straw hat so wide as almost to hide his little figure, was indignant at the destruction of the telegraph poles. When the men began on the one by which he was standing, it was more than he could endure.
"Stop that!" he cried in his shrill voice. "Stop, I tell you!" and then looking up into the face of the cavalryman riding by the sapper's side, he demanded fearlessly:
"Mister, tell that man to stop cutting down our poles!"
Involuntarily the cavalryman checked his horse, and in so doing stopped the advance of the whole Southern army; for this was Jenkins's cavalry, and it was General Jenkins himself that Charles Ernest had so fearlessly addressed.
The commander looked down wonderingly at the little wisp of humanity, hardly visible under his wide hat, that had held at bay an invading army. And then he laughed.
"Hat, what are you doing with that boy?" he said, and added good-naturedly:
"Sonny, come out from under that hat and let's have a look at you."
It relieved the tension for a moment. There was a roar of laughter from his own men, and an answering shout from the citizens on the curb. Conquerors and conquered were on better terms with each other for the time, and the vanguard of the Confederate army went forward with a little lightening of that dread that they were marching into a trap prepared for them in the heart of the enemy's country.
As for Charles Ernest, he was greatly abashed by the laugh, which sounded to him like ridicule, and he shrank back to his father's side and took hold of his father's reassuring hand. Dr. Charlton felt half of his fears removed, and Lucy's were gone altogether. Both father and daughter felt there was little to dread from a bold commander who spoke so kindly to a courageous child, and from his men who laughed with him so good-naturedly.
What Eunice was feeling while she listened to the dull ring of the axes and the soft pad of horses' hoofs on the unpaved street, it would have been difficult for her to tell. Her first conscious impression was one of keen disappointment. She had seen many soldiers during the war, all wearing the trim blue and gold of the Union troops. Buford's cavalry had had all the dash and glitter one naturally expects in cavalry, but these men were ragged and rough-looking, grimy with the dust of the road, unshaven and unshorn, with no pretense of being in uniform. Battered old hats, and coats of every cut and color and texture, made them a motley-looking crew. She had been picturing to herself Rex in a dapper suit of gray with much gold lace, and a fine military hat with perhaps a drooping plume like some old Vandyke cavalier. Could it be possible he looked like these men? She refused to believe it of the exquisite Rex.
And then, as she looked longer, something in the grimly set faces and the stern and dauntless eyes stirred her strangely. These men had known great suffering and great privations; their faces told the tale. And they were brave and devoted beyond her dreams of men; their whole bearing proved that. Had Rex, for whose vanity and moral weakness and luxurious habits she had sometimes felt scorn, become like these men? Her heart glowed within her at the thought. Rebel or loyal, how could she not admire and honor and love a man like one of these!
All day long that great army of invasion poured silently through the streets of Bellaire. There had been an interim of nearly an hour, after the vanguard had passed on, before the infantry began to arrive; but from that time until almost six o'clock they marched steadily down Main Street in solid phalanx, hundreds of them, thousands of them; company after company, regiment after regiment, brigade after brigade, division after division-the whole of Ewell's corps.
It was almost six o'clock when the last brigade of Rode's division was ordered to break ranks at the campus gates. With a yell that was one of joy, not defiance, the weary, way-worn fellows rushed through gates and stiles and threw themselves at full length on the cool, soft turf. Many of them were hatless, very many of them shoeless and limping, though occasionally a barefooted fellow carried, slung over his arm, a pair of brand-new shoes, looted from some village store, but too new to be ventured on for a long day's march. Almost every man also carried under his arm some dainty taken from the farm-wives along the road and intended for his evening meal: a jar of apple-butter, loaves of freshly baked bread, buckets filled with pats of fresh butter or with newly laid eggs, a country-cured ham, or a brace of squawking chickens. Death might lie lurking in their pathway, but they had the immediate prospect before them of one delicious and sufficient meal, and that was no mean prospect to men coming up to this land of abundance, half starved, from the waste and war-devastated fields of Virginia.
Half an hour they gave themselves for absolute rest at length on the grass, and then arose the joyous din of preparations for supper and for the night. Here and there a tent was pitched for an officer, but for the rank and file the only preparation for slumber was to wrap themselves in a blanket, and all their attention could be given to the feast. In a few minutes smoke was rising from hundreds of camp-fires and the aroma of boiling coffee and frying ham and eggs was filling the air.
Close beside the little gate in the hedge that led from the campus into the president's private grounds were pitched the tents of the commander of the brigade and his staff. Young Colonel Morris was the acting brigadier, and it disturbed him greatly that in the family watching eagerly from the veranda steps all the movements of this army encamped on their beloved campus should be two young and beautiful ladies. The brave officer had been too long in the field not to feel abashed in their presence, and he had a plan in his mind that required his facing them boldly.
One would hardly have supposed it to be one of the boldest officers in Rode's division who presented himself modestly at the foot of the veranda steps and called Dr. Charlton aside for a private consultation. But if his manner was modest, his demands were not; they were that supper should be prepared as quickly as possible in the president's house for himself and his stuff, nearly a dozen men in all.
The doctor tried to demur, but the colonel's manner quickly convinced him that there could be no questioning the commands of a conqueror, and unwillingly he went back to his family and delivered the unwelcome message.
Mrs. Charlton showed her dismay in a quick exclamation:
"Why, Robert! it isn't possible! How can we cook for a dozen men? And how will we find enough for them to eat? There are no stores open, and nothing in them if there were: everything has been carried off to Henrysburg. I laid in provisions that I thought would last a week, but if we give them to these Southerners, I am afraid the children will go hungry."
Fiery little Lucy blazed with indignation:
"Cook for rebels? Never! Is that what the colonel wanted? And I thought him so good-looking and so gentlemanly!"
But there was no help for it; the colonel's commands must be obeyed, and it was Eunice who proved herself a tower of strength in this emergency. She had been well trained in the domestic arts in her thrifty New England home, and she took upon herself the office of cook. Daintily and deftly she mixed biscuit, made coffee, and tossed omelets, while rebellious Lucy and equally indignant Millie and the boys were set to do the waiting. Eunice and Mrs. Charlton were both taking a certain pride in this supper, Eunice feeling that she was doing it for Rex, and Mrs. Charlton anxious that her hospitality, even if enforced, should do credit to her Northern home in the eyes of her Southern compatriots. Her table was as carefully set as if for invited guests; she did not spare her silver or china or pickles, and Charles Ernest and Theodore Marvin were sent to gather luscious raspberries from the garden to be served with a light cake she herself had made with the swiftness of execution natural to her. The doctor was amazed when he saw the elaborate supper she had prepared.
"Why, my dear!" he exclaimed. "Why have you made yourself such trouble!"
Mrs. Charlton colored a little and laughed:
"I'm sure I don't know, but I think it must be because I'm so proud."
Not in many months had the rough soldiers that gathered round her table sat down to such a meal, and their eyes glistened as they saw the snowy linen and shining glass and silver. There was a moment of awkward silence after they were all seated, and then the colonel turned to Dr. Charlton, standing anxiously near the door, not quite certain how these rough men would treat his young daughters.
"Doctor," said the colonel, hesitatingly, "will you ask the blessing for us?"
The doctor was greatly taken by surprise. He had heard much of the religious spirit in the Army of Northern Virginia, but he was not prepared to find it extended to the simple duties of every day. And how could he ask a blessing on the food to be taken by his enemies? Would not the prophets of old rather have called down curses?
For a moment he was nonplussed. Then clearly and distinctly to his spiritual hearing came his Master's command, "Love your enemies." He lifted his hand, and while the rough heads around the shining table were reverently bowed he prayed that the Lord would bless the food of which they were about to partake, and that he would open their eyes to the sinfulness of their present course and bring them back to loyalty to their country and their country's flag.
Colonel Morris's eyes twinkled as he lifted his head.
"Don't you think, doctor," he said genially, "that you were taking an unfair advantage of us? Weren't you rather talking at us instead of to the Lord?"
The doctor had to own to the impeachment, and the ice was broken. To the amazement of Lucy and the younger children, the doctor was soon in a spirited but thoroughly good-humored, argument with the enemy. Only the superior officers engaged in it; the younger ones sat silent, absorbed in the delicacies of the table or in furtively watching Lucy's golden curls and dainty, scornful airs; for Lucy could not quite deny herself this luxury-if she must serve her foes, she would show them that she did not do it willingly.
Mrs. Charlton had builded better than she knew. The elegance and bounty of her table had had its effect, and if the officers had been inclined to be rude, they could not have had the presumption in the face of such courteous hospitality. Its most immediate effect was the colonel's speech as he rose from the table.
"Dr. Charlton," he said, "I will have a sentry stationed in your grounds immediately, that you and your family may feel perfectly secure during the night and as long as we stay. It is General Lee's most explicit command," he added, "that families and homes shall not be molested; but we cannot always be responsible for the lawless acts of prowlers and stragglers, and so I will see that you are properly protected. You may dismiss all fears for yourselves and your property."
It was said with such an air of high-bred courtesy that it quite won the impressionable heart of Lucy, and lifted a great load of anxiety from Dr. Charlton.
True to his word, the colonel had hardly been gone ten minutes before a boyish sentinel, in home-made clothes dyed with butternuts, was pacing back and forth before the doctor's door. "Butternuts" the children dubbed him at once, and it was not long before they had made great friends with him. He made a conquest of Millie that very evening. The children had worked faithfully, setting the table, waiting on it, clearing it afterward, and getting the dining-room in order; and now Mrs. Charlton, wanting them to have a little of the lovely evening before bedtime should come, told them to run out in the garden for a while and the older ones would do the dishes.
Just below where the sentry was pacing, at the foot of a little green slope, was a favorite cherrytree. They were late blackhearts, and the branches were still loaded with the ripe fruit. It was the season of long June twilights, and although supper had been late it was not yet dark. Climbing was as easy to Millie and Charles Ernest and Dorie as to squirrels, and the cherries were tempting. In a moment they were all three up in the tree, Millie, with some unconscious feeling of shyness, having waited until the sentry's back was turned. Once safely hidden by the thick foliage of the tree, the three children grew very bold.
"I dare you to sing, 'Hang Jeff Davis,' " said Charlie to Millie.
Millie, like most gentle creatures, had a touch of audacity in her nature, and instantly her clear childish treble rang out:
"We'll hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple-tree,Through the first stanza the sentry paced steadily on, an amused smile in his blue eyes; but when Millie, growing bolder, began it all over again in still shriller tones, he stepped to the brow of the hill and raised his gun.
"Come down out of that tree or I'll shoot!" he called.
There was a swift scramble of the two boys, who dropped to the ground like nuts in October and scurried away in the twilight to a safe hiding-place. Millie, came down more slowly and with great dignity. She did not believe he would shoot, and if he did, would that not be dying for one's country, and could anything be more glorious?
But from that hour she and "Butternuts" were devoted friends. There were often other sentries on duty, but when it was "Butternuts" turn Millie was sure to be not far away. Her heart had been won as the Zulu chieftain wins the heart of his bride, and who can say there is not always something of the simple savage nature in the eternal feminine?
It was a long, hard evening's work for Mrs. Charlton and Eunice and Lucy. When ten o'clock came and Mrs. Charlton and the two girls, looking white and worn, were still drudging in the hot kitchen, Dr. Charlton rebelled. He had tried his best to help them, but the clever scholar was awkward enough at household tasks and only succeeded in being more of a hindrance than a help. When, at last, every piece of silver and china and glass was in its place for the night and the kitchen made neat for the morning, he called a council of war while the three tired women sat out on the cool veranda for a little rest.
All was quiet on the campus. Except for the occasional flicker of a smoldering camp-fire and the gleam of the scattered white tents in the moonlight, no one would have guessed that an army lay sleeping at their door. Just below them the faithful "Butternuts" paced back and forth, but so soft were his footfalls on the deep turf that but for the gleam of a moonbeam on his bayonet they might have forgotten his presence. Since he was so near, it behooved them to speak low, and in whispers the doctor unfolded his plan.
"Delightful!" whispered Lucy, ecstatically; but Eunice was a little doubtful, and Mrs Charlton murmured:
"Oh, Robert, I am afraid! What if it should get you into trouble!"
But the doctor had no fears, and the next morning at eight o'clock saw the little family assembled upstairs in "mother's room," making a picnic breakfast of cold meat and bread and butter. Every shutter was bowed, and they were all moving about on tiptoe and speaking in whispers; even Baby Ned catching the infection from the others, and distorting his sweet baby face in his efforts to "whisper loud," and tumbling over on his little snub nose whenever he tried to walk around on the tips of his baby toes. The effect, to one looking at the house from the outside, was of a family still buried in a late Sunday-morning sleep.
Now the last words of the colonel the evening before had been, "We will be in to breakfast at eight o'clock in the morning." A little before eight, therefore, one of the boys, "peeking" through the half-turned slats, reported the colonel as brushing his hair and beard before a little glass hung on the outside of his tent. A moment later the same outlook reported him as gazing anxiously up at the closed shutters. From time to time, through the progress of their own breakfast, one after another stole to the window and announced new developments. Now the whole staff had gathered before the colonel's tent and were evidently discussing the situation. Now they had advanced in a body as far as the little gate in the hedge. They had stopped there to hold another consultation. One of the younger officers had gone forward to interview the sentinel. He had returned and evidently reported no one stirring and dining-room windows and all the lower windows tightly closed and barred. The staff were retreating in a body to the colonel's tent. They were hanging around disconsolately, with many longing glances directed toward the bowed shutters. At length the colonel boldly determines on reconnoitering alone. He passes through the little gate in the hedge and walks up and down with his heaviest tread directly beneath the windows. No results. He retreats to his tent for meditation.
By this time it is ten o'clock. Never have the Charlton children been in greater glee. Father's stratagem is working to a dot. They have stolen to the window every minute to report progress, and as often retired in side-splitting but silent hysterics at the colonel's evident mystification. But at last the colonel has made up his mind. He calls his staff around him and explains his line of action, and once more boldly passes through the little gate and, though it must be confessed with slow and hesitating steps, mounts the stairs to the front door and rings the bell.
The watchers at the window have reported every step of his progress, and now at his timid and deprecating ring they are ready to shriek with delight, though Mrs. Charlton looks faintly troubled; she is not quite sure how it will all end. Dr. Charlton starts to answer the bell, but the daring Lucy interposes:
"Oh, wait, father, till he rings again. That was so faint we can pretend we didn't hear it." And George Edgar and Henry Sidney indorse her in energetic whispers:
"Oh, yes, father; make him wait as long as you can."
But at the colonel's second and bolder ring, Dr. Charlton goes down and opens the door, and with great dignity bids the colonel good morning. Something in the doctor's aspect makes the colonel feel like a trembling school-boy, and though the authority is on his side, he makes his demands for breakfast for himself and staff in mildest fashion. With stately courtesy the doctor invites him into the long, cool parlors and lays the case before him. His servants have fled in fear of being confiscated. His wife and daughters are unaccustomed to such toil and unable to endure it. They have no provisions for feeding such a company and no means of procuring them. The colonel has his servants with him, and at this moment his men are making a great storehouse of the whole "back campus": droves of oxen are being slaughtered there, hundreds of barrels of flour are being dumped, and all kinds of provisions are arriving every moment. The colonel shall furnish his own servants and his own provisions, and Mrs. Charlton will allow him to use her kitchen and its utensils and her dining-room and dishes.
No arrangement could have been proposed more satisfactory to the colonel, and he hurries away to send in his servants with provisions that their long-delayed breakfast may be over before the hour for morning service.
But at the threshold he stops and turns to the doctor again.
"Dr. Charlton," he says with hesitating grace, blushing even through the deep brown of summer suns and winter winds, "I would like to ask you a favor. Will you say to Mrs. Charlton that if she does not mind sitting at table with 'rebels,' we would be very glad to have you and your family take your meals with us. My servants can as well do your work also, since we have driven yours away."
And the doctor, confounded by such courtesy where he had feared rudeness, could only falter:
"I thank you, Colonel Morris; I will deliver your invitation to my wife and daughters. It will be for them to decide; but whatever their decision may be, believe me, we will all appreciate most heartily the courtesy and generosity of the powerful to the powerless. "
The colonel went his way, and the doctor turned and slowly mounted the stairs to his wife's room, pondering at every step the unexpected success of his stratagem.