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Thankful Blossom Bret Harte

Chapter IV

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"The dog!" said Major Van Zandt. "But in what way could you help this double traitor?"

"I HAVE helped him," said Thankful quietly.

"But how?" said Major Van Zandt.

"By becoming a traitor myself," she said, turning upon him almost fiercely. "Hear me! While you were quietly pacing these halls, while your men were laughing and talking in the road, Caesar was saddling my white mare, the fleetest in the country. He led her to the lane below. That mare is now two miles away, with Capt. Brewster on her back. Why do you not start, major? Look at me. I am a traitor, and this is my bribe;" and she drew a package of letters from her bosom, and flung them on the table.

She had been prepared for an outbreak or exclamation from the man before her, but not for his cold silence. "Speak," she cried at last, passionately. "Speak! Open your lips, if only to curse me! Order in your men to arrest me. I will proclaim myself guilty, and save your honor. But only speak!"

"May I ask," said Major Van Zandt coldly, "why you have twice honored me with a blow?"

"Because I loved you; because, when I first saw you I saw the only man that was my master, and I rebelled; because, when I found I could not help but love you, I knew I never had loved before, and I would wipe out with one stroke all the past that rose in judgment against me; because I would not have you ever confronted with one endearing word of mine that was not meant for you."

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Major Van Zandt turned from the window where he had stood, and faced the girl with sad resignation. "If I have in my foolishness, Mistress Thankful, shown you how great was your power over me, when you descended to this artifice to spare my feelings by confessing your own love for me, you should have remembered that you were doing that which forever kept me from wooing or winning you. If you had really loved me your heart, as a woman's, would have warned you against that which my heart, as a gentleman's, has made a law of honor; when I tell you, as much for the sake of relieving your own conscience as for the sake of justifying mine, that if this man, a traitor, my prisoner, and your recognized lover, had escaped from my custody without your assistance, connivance, or even knowledge, I should have deemed it my duty to forsake you until I caught him, even if we had been standing before the altar."

Thankful heard him, but only as a strange voice in the distance, as she stood with fixed eyes, and breathless, parted lips before him. Yet even then I fear that, womanlike, she did not comprehend his rhetoric of honor, but only caught here and there a dull, benumbing idea that he despised her, and that in her effort to win his love she had killed it, and ruined him forever.

"If you think it strange," continued the major, "that, believing as I do, I stand here only to utter moral axioms when my duty calls me to pursue your lover, I beg you to believe that it is only for your sake. I wish to allow a reasonable time between your interview with him, and his escape, that shall save you from any suspicion of complicity. Do not think," he added with a sad smile, as the girl made an impatient step toward him, "do not think I am running any risk. The man cannot escape. A cordon of pickets surrounds the camp for many miles. He has not the countersign, and his face and crime are known."

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Thankful Blossom
Bret Harte

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