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Love Under Fire by Randall Parrish

Part 4 out of 5

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buttoned tightly in the gray uniform coat. The sun was upon his face,
clear-cut, proud, aristocratic, and his eyes were the same gray-blue as
his daughter's. Then he held out his hand and I clasped it gladly.

"I cannot express the gratitude I feel, Major Hardy," I faltered. "One
hardly expects such kindness from an enemy."

"Not an enemy, my boy--merely a foeman. I am a West Pointer, and some of
the dearest friends I have are upon the other side. But come, let us not
be the last on the field."

He tried to talk with me pleasantly as we crossed the garden, and
approached the stable, and I must have answered, yet my mind was
elsewhere. This was all new to me, and my mood was a sober one. My
father was an old-time Puritan to whom personal combat was abomination,
and even now I could feel his condemnation of my course. I regretted
myself the hot headedness which had led me on, but without the faintest
inclination to withdraw. Yet that earlier hatred of Le Gaire had left
me, and his blow no longer stung. No desire for revenge lingered, only a
wish to have the whole matter concluded quickly, and a hope that we both
might leave the field without serious injury. It was in this frame of
mind that I turned the corner of the stable, and saw the chosen duelling
ground. It was a smooth strip of turf running north and south, with the
stable to the left, and a grove of trees opposite. The building cast a
shadow over most of the space, and altogether it was an ideal spot, well
beyond view from the windows of the house. Hardy opened the leather
case, placing it upon the grass, and I saw the two derringers lying
against the plush lining, deadly looking weapons, with long steel-blue
barrels, and strangely carven stocks. Someway they fascinated me, and I
watched while he took them up and fondled them.

"Rather pretty playthings, Galesworth," he said admiringly. "Don't see
such often nowadays, but in my father's time they were a part of every
gentleman's belongings. He would as soon have travelled without his
coat. I've seen him practise; apparently he never took aim," he held the
weapon at arm's length. "Wonderfully accurate, and the long barrel is
better than any sight; just lower it this way; there's almost
no recoil."

The sound of a distant voice caused him to drop the pistol back into its
place, and rise to his feet. Then Le Gaire and Bell turned the corner of
the stable, stopping as they perceived us standing there. The major
removed his hat, his voice coolly polite.

"I believe everything is prepared, gentlemen. Captain Bell, if you will
examine the weapons, we will then confer as to the word and the method
of firing."

"I prefer choosing my own pistol," broke in Le Gaire bluntly, "and
loading it as well."

Hardy's face flushed, his eyes hardening.

"As you please, sir," he retorted, "but I might construe those words as
a reflection on my integrity."

"When a Confederate officer takes the side of a Yank," was the instant
angry response, "he can hardly claim much consideration."

"Captain Le Gaire," and Hardy's voice rang, "you have enough on your
hands at present without venturing to insult me, I should suppose. But
don't go too far, sir."

"Gentlemen," broke in Bell excitedly, "this must not go on. Le Gaire, if
you say another word, I shall withdraw entirely."

The Louisianian smiled grimly, but walked over to the weapon case, and
picked up the two derringers, testing their weight, and the length of
barrel. Hardy stared at him, his lips compressed.

"Well," he burst forth at last, "are you satisfied, sir?"

"I'll choose this," insolently, and dropping the other back into its
place. "Where is the powder and ball?"

The major pointed without daring to speak.

"All right; don't mind me. I always load my own weapon, and just now I
am anxious to shoot straight," and he looked across at me sneeringly.

If it was his purpose by all this theatrical display to affect my
nerves, he failed utterly, as instead, the very expression of his face
brought me back to a fighting spirit. Hardy saw this, and smiled grimly.

"Step this way a moment, Bell," he said quietly, "while we arrange
details. I reckon those two game-cocks will wait until we are ready."

The two officers moved away a dozen paces and stopped in the shadow of
the trees, conversing earnestly. I endeavored to keep my eyes off from
Le Gaire, and remain cool. It seemed to me I saw every movement of a
leaf, every dropping of a twig, yet could scarcely realize the position
I was in. I was about to face that man yonder--now carefully loading his
weapon--to deliberately fire upon him, and receive in return his fire. I
felt as though it were a dream, a nightmare, and yet I was conscious of
no fear, of no desire to avoid the ordeal. I can recall the scene now,
clearly etched on my memory--the outlines of the trees silhouetted
against the sky, the dark shadow of the stables, the green, level turf,
the two figures--the one short and stout, the other tall and
slender--talking earnestly; the deep blue of the sky overhead, the steel
gleam of the derringer in the open case, and Le Gaire loading
carefully, his eyes now and then glancing across at me. Then the two men
wheeled with military precision, and walked back toward us. I saw Hardy
take up the second pistol, and load it in silence, while Bell whispered
to Le Gaire, the latter with his weapon tightly clasped. A moment later
the major thrust the carved stock into my hand, and I looked at it
curiously.

"Gentlemen," he said clearly, stepping to one side, "we will make this
as simple as possible. You will take positions here, back to back."

The sound of his voice, the sharp ring of authority in it, awoke me to
the reality as though I had received an electric shock. I felt the
fierce beat of my heart, and then every muscle and nerve became steel.
Without a tremor, my mind clear and alert, I advanced to the point
designated, and stood erect, facing the south; an instant, and Le
Gaire's shoulders were touching mine.

"Now listen closely," said Hardy, his voice sounding strangely far off,
yet each word distinct. "I am to give the first word, and Bell the
second. When I say 'forward' you will take ten paces--go slowly--and
halt. Then Bell will count 'one, two, three'; turn at the first word,
and fire at the third. If either man discharges his weapon before
'three' is spoken, he answers to us. Do you both understand?"

We answered together.

"Very well, gentlemen, are you ready?"

"I am."

"Go on."

There was a moment's pause, so still I could hear my own breathing, and
the slight noise Le Gaire made as he gripped his derringer stock
more tightly.

"Forward!"

I stepped out almost mechanically, endeavoring not to walk too fast, and
regulating each stride as though I were measuring the field. At the end
of the tenth I stopped, one foot slightly advanced for the turn, every
nerve pulsing from strain. It seemed a long while before Bell's deep
voice broke the silence.

"One!"

I whirled, as on a pivot, my pistol arm flung out.

"Two!"

Le Gaire stood sideways, the muzzle of his derringer covering me, his
left hand supporting his elbow. I could see the scowling line between
his eyes, the hateful curl of his lip, and my own weapon came up, held
steady as a rock; over the blue steel barrel I covered the man's
forehead just below his cap visor, the expression on his face telling me
he meant to shoot to kill. I never recall feeling cooler, or more
determined in my life. How still, how deathly still it was!

"Th--"

There was a thud of horses' hoofs behind the stable, Bell's half-spoken
word, and the sharp bark of Le Gaire's levelled derringer. I felt the
impact of the ball, and spun half around, the pressure of my finger
discharging my own weapon in the air, yet kept my feet. I was shocked,
dazed, but conscious I remained unhurt. Then, with a crash, three
horsemen leaped the low fence, riding recklessly toward us. I seemed to
see the gray-clad figures through a strange mist, which gradually
cleared as they came to a sharp halt. The one in advance was a gaunt,
unshaven sergeant, lifting a hand in perfunctory salute, and glancing
curiously at my uniform.

"Mornin', gentlemen," he said briefly. "Is this the Hardy
house--Johnston's headquarters?"

The major answered, and I noticed now he had Le Gaire gripped by the
arm.

"This is the Hardy house, and I am Major Hardy, but Johnston is not
here. Who are you?"

"Couriers from Chambers' column, sir. He is advancing up this pike.
Where will we find Johnston?"

"Take the first road to your right, and inquire. When will Chambers be
up?"

"Within four or five hours. What's going on here? A little affair?"

Hardy nodded. The sergeant sat still an instant, his eyes on me as
though puzzled; then evidently concluded it was none of his business.

"Come on, boys!" he said, and with a dip of the spurs was off, the two
others clattering behind. Hardy swung Le Gaire sharply around, his
eyes blazing.

"You damned, sneaking coward!" he roared, forgetting everything in
sudden outburst. "By Gad, Bell, this fellow is a disgrace to the
uniform--you know what he did?"

"I know he fired before I got the word out," indignantly.

"The blamed curb--yes; and when those fellows rode up he tried to blurt
out the whole situation. Good God, Le Gaire, aren't you even a soldier?"
shaking the fellow savagely. "Haven't you ever learned what parole
means? Damn you, are you totally devoid of all sense of personal honor?"

"I never gave my parole."

"You lie, you did; you are here on exactly the same terms as Bell and
I--released on honor. Damned if I believe there's another man in
Confederate uniform who would be guilty of so scurvy a trick. Were you
hurt, Galesworth?"

"No, the ball struck my revolver case, and made me sick for a moment."

"No fault of Le Gaire's--the noise of the horses shattered his aim.
Lord! how I despise such a cowardly whelp!"

He flung the man from him so violently he fell to his knees on the
ground. The look of amazement on Le Gaire's face, his utter inability to
comprehend the meaning of it all, or why he had thus aroused the enmity
of his brother officers, gave me a sudden feeling of compassion. I
stepped toward him. Perhaps he mistook my purpose, for he staggered
partially erect.

"Damn you!" he yelled. "I'm fighting yet!" and flung the unloaded
derringer with all the force of his arm at my face.

CHAPTER XXVI

MISS WILLIFRED SURPRISES US

The butt struck me fairly, and I went down as though felled by an ax. If
I lost consciousness it could have been for scarcely more than a moment,
but blood streamed into my eyes, and my head reeled giddily. Yet I knew
something of what occurred, heard voices, caught dimly the movement of
figures. Le Gaire ran, rounding the end of the stable, and Hardy,
swearing like a trooper, clutching at his empty belt for a weapon, made
an effort to follow. Bell sprang to me, lifting my head, and his face
looked as white as a woman's. He appeared so frightened I endeavored to
smile at him, and it must have been a ghastly effort. My voice, however,
proved more reassuring.

"I'm all right," I insisted thickly. "Just tapped a little. I--I wasn't
looking for anything like that."

"I should say not. Here, can you sit up? By Heavens! I hope Hardy
catches him."

"He hardly will," I answered, struggling into sitting posture, a vision
of the chase recurring to mind. "He was too mad to run."

Bell laughed nervously.

"I never supposed Le Gaire was that kind of a cur," he said regretfully.
"I never liked the fellow, or had much to do with him. Blamed if I could
understand why Miss Hardy--"

"Oh, he played nice enough with her up until the last week at least," I
broke in, aroused by the name. "Le Gaire is good looking, and pleasant
also when things are going his way. It's when luck is against him that
he gets ugly. Besides, he had the major on his side."

"I happen to know something about that," returned Bell dryly. "It was
talked over at headquarters. Le Gaire is rich, and Hardy hasn't much
left, I reckon, and the captain filled him up with fairy tales. Some of
them drifted about among the boys. There were others told also not quite
so pleasant, which Hardy did not hear. You see, none of us cared to
repeat them, after we realized Miss Willifred was interested in
the man."

"You mean duelling?"

"No, that was rather mild; fellows in his regiment mostly cut him dead,
and say he is yellow; generally in the hospital when there's a battle
on. But Forsdyke tells the worst story--he heard it in New Orleans. It
seems Le Gaire owned a young girl--a quadroon--whom he took for a
mistress; then he tired of the woman, they quarrelled, and the cowardly
brute turned her back into the fields, and had her whipped by his
overseer. She died in three months."

"I guess it's all true, Bell," I said, and I told him of the boy. "He
was our guide here last night, and it is just as well for Le Gaire the
lad did not know he was present. Help me up, will you?"

I leaned on his arm heavily, but, except for the throbbing of my head,
appeared to be in good enough condition. With slight assistance I walked
without difficulty, and together we started for the house. At the edge
of the garden Hardy appeared, still breathing heavily from his run. He
stared at me, evidently relieved to find me on my feet.

"Broke the skin, my lad--a little water will make that all right. Glad
it was no worse. The fellow out-ran me."

"He got away?"

"Well, the fact is, Galesworth, I do not really know where he went. The
last glimpse I had he was dodging into that clump of bushes, but when I
got there he was gone."

"Ran along the fence," broke in Bell, pointing. "You couldn't see him
for the vines. See, here's his tracks--sprinting some, too."

We traced them easily as long as we found soft ground, but the turf
beyond left no sign. Yet he could not have turned to the left, or Bell
and I would have seen him. The fellow evidently knew this, yet if he ran
to the right it would take him to the house. It hardly seemed possible
he would go there, but he had been a guest there for some time, and
probably knew the place well; perhaps realized he would be safer
within--where no one would expect him to be--than on the road. This was
the conception which gradually came to me, but the others believed he
had gone straight ahead, seeking the nearest Confederate outpost. Able
to walk alone by this time, I went in through the back door, and bathed
my face at the sink, leaving Hardy and Bell to search for further signs
of the fugitive.

As I washed I thought rapidly over the situation. Le Gaire knew that
Chambers' force would be along the pike within a few hours--probably
long before the appearance of any Federal advance in the neighborhood,
as he was unaware that I had sent back a courier. The house was the very
last place in which we would seek for him, and the easiest place to
attain. Once inside, stowed away in some unused room, he could wait the
approach of Chambers' troops, escape easily, and become a hero. The
whole trick fitted in with the man's type of mind. And he could have
come in the same way I had, sneaking through the unguarded
kitchen--why, in the name of Heaven, had Miles neglected to place a
guard there?--and then up the servants' stairs. I dried my face on a
towel, rejoicing that the derringer blow had left little damage, and
opened the door leading to the upper story. It was a narrow stairway,
rather dark, but the first thing to catch my eye was a small clod of
yellow dirt on the second step, and this was still damp--the foot from
which it had fallen must have passed within a very short time. I had the
fellow--had him like a rat in a trap. Oh, well, there was time enough,
and I closed the door and locked it.

I talked with the sergeant, and had him send Foster to watch the kitchen
door, and detail a couple of men for cooks, with orders to hurry up
breakfast. Miles had seen nothing of Le Gaire, and when Hardy and Bell
returned, they acknowledged having discovered no trace of the fugitive.
I let them talk, saying little myself, endeavoring to think out the
peculiar situation, and determine what I had better do. Already there
was heavy cannonading off to the right, but at considerable distance.
The battle was on, and might sweep this way before many hours, yet I
could no longer doubt the complete withdrawal of Confederate troops from
the neighborhood. Not a gray-jacket or flash of steel was visible, and
everything about was a scene of peace. Yet when Chambers came this house
would hardly escape without an overhauling. Of course he might not come
this way, for Johnston could easily despatch a courier to advise another
road, yet probably the line of march would not be changed. Should I
wait, or withdraw my little force, at least as far as the shelter of the
ravine? I cared nothing about retaining the prisoners, indeed was
anxious to release both Hardy and Bell. Nor was I any longer worried
about Le Gaire--especially his relations with Miss Willifred. I could
trust the major to relate the story of the past hour to his daughter,
and the captain would scarcely venture to face her again. It seemed to
me we ought to go, as it would be no service to our cause to retain the
house. However there was no hurry; we had ample time in which to
breakfast, and--and, well I wanted to see Billie again, to leave behind
me a better impression. I gave the major the key to her room, and asked
him to call her for the morning meal, already nearly ready. She came
down a few moments later, freshly dressed, and looking as though she had
enjoyed some sleep. Her father must have given her some inkling of the
situation, for she greeted me pleasantly, although with a certain
constraint in manner which left me ill at ease.

Our breakfast passed off very nicely, the food abundant and well
cooked, although we were compelled to wait upon ourselves. I asked Miles
to join us, but he preferred messing with the men, and so the four of us
sat at table alone. As though by mutual consent we avoided all reference
to the war, or our present situation, conversation drifting into a
discussion of art and literature. I realized later that Miss Willifred
had adroitly steered it that way, but if it was done to test me, she
could scarcely have chosen a better topic. I had come from the senior
class of a great college into the army, and was only too delighted to
take part again in cultured conversation. Bell had taken an art course,
and Miss Hardy had apparently read widely, and the discussion became
animated, with frequent clashes of opinion. I was happy to know that I
surprised the lady by the extent of my information, and her flushed
cheeks and brightening eyes were ample reward. The major said little,
yet when he occasionally spoke it was to reveal that he was a man of
unusual learning.

I shall recall the details of that meal as long as I live--the peculiar
conditions, and the faces of those present. It was all so little like
war, the only suggestion of conflict the uniforms we wore, and the dull
reverberation of that distant cannonading. For the time, at least, we
forgot we were upon the very verge of a battle, and that we were
politically enemies. Prisoners were in the basement beneath, guards were
patrolling the hall without, yet we laughed and joked, with never a
reference to the great conflict in which all present bore part. Of
course much of this was but veneer, and back of repartee and well-told
story, we were intent upon our own problems. With me, now that I had
decided upon my plans, everything centred upon Miss Willifred. I would
search the house for Le Gaire, endeavor to have one word with her alone,
and then retire to a place of greater safety with my men. The quicker I
might complete these arrangements the better, and I could trust those
present with some knowledge of my intention.

"Gentlemen," I said, as the party was preparing to rise, "just a moment.
I am going to ask you to respect your parole for only a very short time
longer. Of course this does not include Miss Hardy as she has refused
all pledges to me. So soon as my men complete their breakfast, and a few
details are looked after, we shall withdraw in the direction of our own
lines. Naturally I have no desire to be captured by Chambers. I am
merely going to request that you remain within doors until we depart.
After that you may release the prisoners, and rejoin your commands."

The eyes of the two men met, and the major replied:

"Certainly, Lieutenant, we have no reason to complain."

"And Miss Hardy?"

"Oh, I will answer for her."

"That is hardly necessary, papa, as I will answer for myself," and her
eyes met mine across the table. "I was angry last night, Lieutenant
Galesworth, and unreasonable. If you will accept my parole now I give
it gladly."

I bowed with a sudden choking of the throat, and Hardy chuckled.

"A very graceful surrender--hey, Bell? By Gad, this has been quite a
night for adventure. Fact of it is, Galesworth, I'm mighty grateful to
you for the whole affair, and, I reckon, Billie is also."

She arose to her feet, pausing an instant with her hand upon the back of
the chair.

"Lieutenant Galesworth has merely made apparent to you what I had
discovered some time ago," she said quietly. "I am sure he needs no
thanks from me--perhaps might not appreciate them. I am going to my
room, papa, until--until the Yankees leave."

"An unreconstructed Rebel," he exclaimed, yet clearly surprised. "Why,
I thought you and Galesworth were great friends."

"Has he made that claim?"

"Why--eh--no. It was what Le Gaire said."

"Oh! I should suppose that by this time you would rather doubt the
statements of that individual. Lieutenant Galesworth probably
understands that we are acquaintances, and--enemies."

She left the room, without so much as glancing at me, Hardy calling
after her,

"I'll come up as soon as I smoke a cigar with Bell."

The door closed, and his eyes met mine.

"What the devil is the trouble, my boy? That wasn't like Billie; I never
knew her to harbor an unkind thought in her life. Have you done
something to anger her?"

"Not to my knowledge, Major," I answered honestly. "Perhaps I was harsh
last night, but I merely intended to be firm. This is all a great
surprise to me."

He shook his head, and the two men left the room. I waited until certain
they were safely out of the way. I was perplexed, hurt, by the girl's
words and action. What cause had I given her for treating me with such
open contempt? Surely not my avowal of love, however inopportune that
might have been, nor my holding her prisoner. Could something have
occurred of which I knew nothing? Could Le Gaire have poisoned her mind
against me with some ingenious lie? It was all too hazy, too improbable,
for me to consider seriously--but she must explain before we went away.
With this in mind I passed into the hall, and began to ascend
the stairs.

CHAPTER XXVII

THE BODY OF LE GAIRE

Miles had stationed a sentry just inside the front door, but he was the
only one of our men visible, nearly all of the others being at breakfast
in the kitchen. I felt no need of any help however, for Le Gaire was
unarmed, and not of a nature to make serious resistance. Besides, if I
was mistaken as to his hiding place in the house I preferred making the
discovery alone. My exploration during the night had made me familiar
with the arrangement of the front rooms, but not the extension to the
rear. I stopped, in the silence, at the head of the stairs, to glance
about, and decide where I had better begin. Miss Hardy's door was
closed, even the transom lowered, and I instantly decided not to disturb
her until the very last. Yet I was soldier enough to take the other
rooms in rotation, realizing the danger of leaving an enemy in my rear.
These were soon disposed of, although I made a close search,
disarranging beds, delving into closets, and leaving no nook or corner
big enough to conceal a man, unrevealed. I endeavored to accomplish all
this quietly, yet must have made some noise, for as I rolled back a bed
in the third room entered, I heard the door creak and sprang to my feet
to confront Billie. I hardly know which was the more startled, for the
girl staggered back, one hand thrown out.

"You! Oh, I thought--" she drew her breath quickly.

"You thought what?"

"Oh, nothing--only I heard the noise, and--and wondered who it could
be." She looked about at the confusion. "What--what are you doing?
Hunting for some one?"

"A needle in a haystack," I answered, suddenly suspicious that she might
know something of the fugitive. "Will you help me search?"

"I--I hardly appreciate your humor," haughtily. "Is--is it Captain Le
Gaire?"

"Why do you suspect that, Miss Willifred? Is it because you imagine the
man may be here?"

"Because I know he got away; because I know your feeling toward him,
your effort to take his life."

"You know! What is all this?" so stunned I could scarcely articulate.
"Surely your father--"

"I know of no reason why my father should be dragged into this affair."

"But he was present; he surely told you what occurred."

"He said the two of you went out to fight; that it was a dishonorable
affair. He gave me no particulars, and I asked none--I already knew what
had taken place."

"Then you have seen Le Gaire since--is that so?"

She turned her back toward me, and stepped into the hall. The action was
defiant, almost insulting.

"Miss Willifred, I insist on an answer."

"Indeed," carelessly, "to what?"

"To my question--have you seen Le Gaire since?"

"I refuse to tell you."

It was an instant before I found my voice, or could control my words.
This was all most confusing, and yet the light was coming. Here was the
secret of her sudden dislike for me. Her hand was already upon the knob
of her own door, and she did not so much as glance back. What could I
say? What ought I to say? Beyond doubt, uncertain as to her real
feelings toward Le Gaire, Hardy had not revealed to her the fellow's
disgraceful action. Some way, his brief explanation had merely served to
confirm her previous opinion that the captain had been the one
injured--such an impression she could have derived only from Le Gaire.
It was equally clear I could not explain. She would scarcely believe
any effort to defend myself. Why should she think me capable of a
dastardly act? Why believe Le Gaire's hasty lie, and refuse me even a
hearing? The thought left me so indignant that for the moment I felt
indifferent even to her good opinion.

"Well, Miss Hardy," I said at last, conscious my voice trembled, "I am
going to find this man if he is in the house, even if the search takes
me to your own room."

"Then begin there," and she stood aside, the door flung open. "It must
require great bravery to hunt down an unarmed man."

"I only know you are going to regret those words when you learn the
truth. There is a mistake here, but one others must rectify. Your
actions merely confirm my belief that Le Gaire sought refuge in this
building. I am going to know before I withdraw my men."

She was not quite so defiant, not quite so certain, yet she did not
move.

"Will you tell me--has he been here?"

"Why do you want to know?"

I hesitated, not really knowing myself, suddenly made aware that I had
no true purpose in the search. My embarrassment confirmed her suspicion.

"Revenge, wasn't it?" scornfully. "A desire to complete the work begun
yonder. I'll answer if you wish me to. Captain Le Gaire came here to me
wounded, and seeking shelter. I helped him as I would any Confederate
soldier. But he is not here now--see, the room is empty; yes, search it
for yourself."

It was useless arguing, useless denying--the girl was in a state of mind
which no assertions of mine could combat.

"Then where is he now?"

"I have no means of knowing--safely away from the house, I hope. I--I
left him here when I went down stairs; when I came back he was gone."

"And you say he was wounded?"

"Certainly--you ought to know, the blow of an assassin, not a soldier."

She looked straight at me, her cheeks red, her eyes burning with
indignation. Then, as though she could bear my presence no longer, she
swept into the room, and closed the door in my face. It was an action of
such utter contempt that I actually staggered back, grasping the rail of
the stair. What in the name of Heaven had gained possession of the girl?
What infernal lie had been told her? By all the gods, I would find Le
Gaire, and choke the truth out of him. My head ached yet with the blow
he had dealt me, but this hurt worse. I had a reason now for running
the man down. Wherever he had gone, even into the Confederate camp, I
vowed I would follow. But first the house: I could conceive of no way in
which he could have gotten out--there was a guard in front, and I had
locked the rear door. I went at the task deliberately, coolly,
determined to overlook nothing. There was something of value at stake
now, and my mind was as busy as my hands and eyes. How did he ever
succeed in getting to Billie? I had locked her door, and taken away the
key. It was not until I invaded the last room on the main floor that I
solved this riddle--the two apartments formed a suite with connecting
door between. However he was not there now, and all that remained to
search was the servants' ell.

The hallway narrowed, and was lower by a single step, the back stairs at
the left. There was no window, and with all the doors closed, I could
see down only a portion of the way. The hallway itself was gloomy, the
shade of the rear window being closely drawn. This, with the stillness
all about, enabled me to hear the voices of the men in the kitchen
below, and to become aware that the firing, sounding from a distance
since early morning, seemed now much closer at hand. It was not
altogether artillery any longer, but I could plainly distinguish the
volleys of musketry. What could this signify? Were the Confederates
being forced back? If so would the Hardy house be caught in the
maelstrom of retreat? The possibility of such a result only made haste
more imperative. There were three doors at the right, and two opposite.
I opened these cautiously, half expecting Le Gaire to dash out, with any
weapon he might have secured, desperate enough to fight hard. But
nothing occurred, the rooms showed no sign of having been lately
occupied. I was at the one next to the last when a board creaked
somewhere behind me, and I wheeled about instantly, and ran back to the
head of the stairs. There was nothing visible, and a glance down the
front hall proved it also deserted--only the door of Miss Willifred's
room stood slightly ajar. She was watching me then, fearful lest the
fellow had failed to get away. This discovery added to my anxiety, and
my anger. He should not get away--not if I could prevent it--until he
confessed to her the truth. I ran back into the ell, fearful now that he
had escaped through a window, yet determined to examine that last room.
There was a rag carpet along the back hall, and, in the semi-darkness, I
tripped, falling heavily forward, striking the floor with a crash, my
revolver flying from my hand, and hitting the side wall. I was on my
knees in an instant, thoughtless of everything except that I had come
into contact with a body. The shock numbed me, nor could my fingers
alone solve the mystery. I sprang erect, and threw open the nearest side
door, permitting the light to stream in. Then I saw the man's face,
upturned, lifeless--the face of Gerald Le Gaire. It seemed to me I could
not move, could not even breathe, as I stared down at the motionless
form. Then I touched his wrist, feeling for a pulse which had ceased to
beat. A noise at my back caused me to start, and glance behind. Billie
stood at the end of the narrow hall.

"What is it? Have--have you killed him?"

I whirled, facing her, indignant at the words, and yet understanding as
swiftly the reason for her suspicions.

"It is Captain Le Gaire. I have just found him lying here."

"Found him! Yes, but not lying there; I heard the noise, the fall of his
body. Is--is he dead?"

She stood grasping the stair-rail, shrinking back from closer approach,
her white face horror-stricken. I drew a quick breath, fairly quivering
under the sting of her words.

"Yes, he is dead, Miss Hardy," I said, knowing I must end the suspense,
"but not by my hand. I tripped and fell in the darkness, causing the
noise you heard. I am going to ask you to return to your room; you can
be of no service here. I will have your father and Captain Bell help me
with the body."

She never moved, her eyes on my face.

"Then--then will you permit my father to come to me?"

"Certainly--perhaps we will know then how this occurred."

"Is that your revolver lying there?"

I had forgotten the weapon, but perceived it now, on the floor just
beyond Le Gaire's head.

"Yes, it was dropped when I fell," I took a step toward her. "You will
go back, will you not?"

She seemed to shrink from my approach, and moved backward, still facing
me, until she came to her own door. There she remained a moment,
clinging to the knob, but as I emerged into the full light of the front
hall, she stepped into the room, and closed the door. Some way, her
action hurt me worse than any words could have done, yet I walked past
to the stairs in silence, and called to the guard below.

Miles came up with the two Confederates, and a dozen words of
explanation sufficed. Together we picked up the body, bore it into a
near-by room, and placed it upon the bed. The man had been struck back
of the ear, apparently by the butt of a revolver or the stock of a gun,
the skull crushed. Death had been instantaneous; possibly he never knew
what hit him. We examined the wound, and then looked into each others'
faces utterly unable to account for the condition.

"By Gad, I don't see how he ever got that," said Hardy. "Nor this ugly
cut here on the forehead. What do you make out of it, Galesworth?"

I shook my head, thoroughly mystified.

"I've told you all I know; he was lying there in the open when I found
him--there was nothing he could have struck against in falling."

"That was a blow struck him," insisted the sergeant, "either by a
square-handled pistol, or a carbine stock. I've seen that sorter thing
before; but who the hell ever hit him?"

No one attempted to answer. Then I said,

"The only thing I have noticed which might be a clue is this: when I
first came in through the kitchen I discovered a clod of fresh clay dirt
on the back stairs. I supposed it had dropped from Le Gaire's boots. But
there's no sign of yellow clay on his boots now. It must have been some
one else."

"Trailin' the poor devil," ejaculated Miles. "But who was he? An' where
is he now?"

None attempted a guess, looking blankly into each others' faces, and
down upon the ghastly features of the dead man. We were all accustomed
to death, and in terrible form, but this was different, this held a
horror all its own. I could hear the heavy breathing, we stood so
motionless.

"Major Hardy,"--and it was like sacrilege to break the silence,--"we can
never clear the mystery standing here. I've examined every room on this
floor, and there is not so much as a rat in any of them. Whoever the
murderer was, he has either got away, or is hidden on some other
floor--is there an attic?"

"Yes, but with no stairs; the only way to get there is by the kitchen
roof. What do you propose to do?"

"Take a moment and see if I can think it out," I said, drawing a sheet
up over the dead face. "There must be some simple way to account for all
this if we can only get on the right trail. Come, gentlemen."

We passed out together, and stopped in front of the closed door. The
firing without was growing so much heavier that all noticed it, Bell
striding to the end of the hall, and thrusting his head out of the
window. Still it was not close enough as yet to be alarming, and my
thought was upon other things.

"Major, I wish you would go in and speak to your daughter," I said. "I
told her you would come and tell her all you knew."

I watched him cross to the door, knock, and enter.

CHAPTER XXVIII

I FORCE BILLIE TO LISTEN

There was a narrow settee against the wall, and I sat down upon it, to
think and to wait for Hardy's return. Eager as I was to discover the
cause of Le Gaire's death, yet it seemed almost more important that
Billie be brought to an understanding of conditions. Her father could
scarcely fail this time to relate in full the details of our encounter,
and the girl would realize at once her injustice toward me. I hardly
knew what I dared hope as a result, but she was impulsive, warm-hearted,
and would surely endeavor to make amends. Bell came back from the front
of the house.

"Some fight going on out there," indicating the north and east, "and
seems to be drifting this way."

"Our fellows are driving you," I replied. "Have been noticing that all
the morning; looks as if your left and centre were giving way."

"Wait until Chambers gets up, and you'll hear another tune," his pride
touched. "What's the sergeant doing?"

"Evidently going to get a look at the attic." Then, deciding
quickly,--"I am going to turn you all loose, and try to get back to our
lines, as soon as we can gain some understanding of this death mystery,
Bell. It looks as though the battle would end up somewhere about here,
and I can hardly expect to fight the entire Confederate army with ten
men and a sergeant. It's a dignified retreat for me. Where now?"

"To help your man. I am crazy to get away. I'm a soldier, Galesworth,
and they're wondering out there why I am not in my place. The earlier
you say go, the better pleased I'll be."

He clambered out the window to where Miles was perched on the steep
roof, and I was left alone, with no noise in my ears but the continuous
firing, the reverberations already jarring the house. I found it
difficult to collect my thoughts, or to reason out the situation.
Everything had occurred so swiftly, so unexpectedly, as to leave me
confused--the surging of battle our way, the affair with Le Gaire, his
strange death, the thought which had taken possession of Billie, the
skulking murderer hid somewhere within the house--all combined to leave
me in a state of perplexity. I should have withdrawn my men before
daylight; there was no sign of any Federal troops advancing up the
ravine, and probably my messenger had failed to get through. It looked
as though we were left to our fate. Every moment counted, and yet I
could not leave until this mystery was made clear, and Miss Willifred
convinced of my innocence. I was so involved in the tangled threads that
to run away was almost a confession, and must risk remaining, moment by
moment, in hope some discovery would make it all plain. Yet the longer I
thought the less I understood. Le Gaire had come to Billie wounded--but
how? His very condition had appealed to her as a woman. She had pitied,
sympathized, and he had taken advantage of her natural compassion to
falsely charge me with the whole trouble. How far he had gone, what foul
accusation he had made, could not be guessed, yet he had sufficiently
poisoned her mind against me. Then circumstances had combined to make
the case still blacker. Doubtless to her it was already conclusive. I
had been seeking the fellow alone, revolver in hand. She had overheard
what must have sounded like a struggle, and there was the dead man, his
skull crushed by a blow. Everything pointed directly toward me from her
point of view--motive, opportunity. Who else could it be? Even I,
anxious as I was, could not answer that question. I had seen no one, was
not aware the dead man had an enemy about the place, could discover no
clue except that bit of damp clay on the stairs. Yes, and my own boots
were stained with it also--only I knew that lump never came from mine.
These thoughts swept across my mind in lightning-like flashes, but
brought no solution to the problem. Then Major Hardy suddenly appeared,
closing the door, and mopping his face with a handkerchief. His eyes
met mine.

"By Gad, Galesworth," he began, "woman is the hardest creature to
comprehend on this foot-stool. I've been trying to understand them for
fifty years, and am still in the primary class. You'd never have thought
that girl of mine cared anything for Le Gaire to hear her talk last
night, yet, now the fellow is dead, she is crazy. Lying in there on the
bed, crying, and won't say a word. Only thing she asked me when I came
in was what he had been killed with. I said it looked as if he had been
struck from behind with a pistol butt, and then she collapsed. Couldn't
get a thing out of her--just cried, and begged me to go away; said she'd
be all right, if left alone. Blamed if I know what to do with a woman
like that--over such a fellow as Le Gaire too! By Gad, I supposed Billie
had more sense. When she wouldn't talk to me I proposed sending you in
to explain matters. You should have seen her eyes, Galesworth, through
the tears. Mad! I never waited to hear what she was trying to say. I
reckoned the best thing to do was to leave her alone a while."

"You explained nothing?"

"No--what was there to explain?"

"Major," I said, every nerve braced for conflict, "with your permission
I am going in there and have a talk with your daughter--may I?"

"Certainly, as far as I am concerned, but I don't envy you the job."

"I'll assume all risk, but I am not willing to leave her like this.
Perhaps I understand the situation better than you do. You stay where I
can call you if necessary, and look after the search for whoever got Le
Gaire. Bell and Miles are out on the roof trying for the attic. I won't
be gone long."

I have gone into battle with less trepidation than I approached that
door, but never with greater determination to bear myself as became a
man. Billie was going to know the truth just as clearly as I could tell
it to her. I could not convince myself it was love for Le Gaire which
had so affected her. I doubted if she had ever loved him. The fellow had
played upon her sympathy, her pity, and circumstances had conspired to
cause her to believe I was his murderer. This was amply sufficient to
account for her feeling of horror, her evident desire to escape further
contact with me. Hardy had been blind and blundering--had made things
worse, rather than better; now I must see what I could do. I rapped at
the panel, and thought I heard a faint response. A moment later I stood
within, and had closed the door behind me. She was on a couch at the
opposite side of the room, but arose to her feet instantly, her face
white, one hand sweeping back the strands of ruffled hair.

"You!" she exclaimed incredulously. "Why have you come here? I supposed
it would be my father."

"Major Hardy told me how you were feeling; that he could do nothing for
you--"

"Did he understand I wished to confer with you?"

"No, but--"

"You decided to invade my room without permission. Do you not think you
have persecuted me quite long enough?"

"Why do you say persecuted?"

"Because your acts have assumed that form, Lieutenant Galesworth. You
persist in seeking me after I have requested to be left alone."

"Miss Hardy," and my eyes met hers, "has it ever occurred to you that
you may be the one in the wrong, the one mistaken? I am simply here to
explain, to tell you the truth, and compel you to do justice."

"Indeed! how compel? With the revolver in your belt?"

"No; merely by a statement of facts, to be proven, if necessary, by the
evidence of your father and Captain Bell. I am not asking you to believe
me, but surely they have no occasion for falsifying. Why have you not
listened to them?"

"Listened!" startled by my words. "I would have listened, but they have
said nothing. They have seemed to avoid all reference to what has
occurred. I thought they were trying to spare me pain, humiliation. Is
there something concealed, something I do not know?"

"If I may judge from your words and action the entire truth has been
kept from you," and I advanced a step or two nearer. "I am not the one
to come with an explanation, but your father has failed, and I am not
willing to go away until this matter is made clear. Whether you believe,
or not, you must listen."

She stared at me, still trembling from head to foot, and yet there was a
different expression in her eyes--puzzled doubt.

"You--you will have much to explain," she said slowly. "If--if I were
you I should hardly attempt it."

"Which must mean, Miss Hardy, that you are already so prejudiced a fair
hearing is impossible. Yet I thought you, at least, a friend."

A deep flush swept into her cheeks, to vanish as quickly.

"You had reason to think so, and I was," earnestly. "I was deceived in
your character, and trusted you implicitly. It seems as though I am
destined to be the constant victim of deceit. I can keep faith in no
one. It is hard to understand you, Lieutenant Galesworth. How do you
dare to come here and face me, after all that has occurred?"

She was so serious, so absolutely truthful, that for the moment I could
only stare at her.

"You mean after what you said to me last night? But I am not here to
speak of love."

"No," bitterly. "That is all over with, forgotten. In the light of what
has happened since, the very memory is an insult. Oh, you hurt me so!
Cannot you see how this interview pains me! Won't you go--go now, and
leave me in peace."

"But surely you will not drive me away unheard!--not refuse to learn the
truth."

"The truth! It is the truth I already know, the truth which hurts."

"Nevertheless you are going to hear my story. If I have done a wrong to
you, or any one, I want it pointed out, so it may be made right. I
shall not leave this room, nor your presence, until I have uttered my
last word of explanation. I should be a coward to turn away. Will you
sit down and listen? You need not even speak until I am done."

She looked at me helplessly, her eyes full of questioning, yet, when I
extended a hand, she drew back quickly.

"Yes--I--I suppose I must."

She sank back upon the couch, these words barely audible, and I drew a
deep breath, hardly knowing where to begin.

"I am a Federal officer, Miss Hardy, and my uniform is no passport to
your favor, yet that is no reason you should be unjust. I do not think I
have ever been guilty of but one ungentlemanly act toward you, and that
was unavoidable--I mean listening to your conversation with Captain
Le Gaire."

She shuddered, and gave utterance to a little cry.

"I loved you; with all my heart I loved you," I went on swiftly, driven
by a sudden rush of passion. "What you said then gave me a right to
tell you so."

"And was it because I was unwilling to listen that--that you did what
you did later?" she broke in hastily.

"Did later! You mean that I consented to meet Le Gaire?"

"Yes--that you compelled him to fight you; that you--Oh, God! Why bring
this all up again?"

"Merely because nothing occurred of which I am ashamed. Without doubt it
was my love for you which caused the trouble. But I was not the
aggressor. Did you suppose otherwise? Le Gaire deliberately struck me
across the face."

She rose again to her feet, her cheeks blazing.

"It was the answer of a gentleman to an insult given the woman he was to
marry," proudly.

"The answer to an insult! What insult?"

"You know; I shall not demean myself to repeat the words."

So this was what she had been told! Well, I could block that lie with a
sentence.

"Miss Hardy," I asked soberly, "are you aware that your father refused
to act for Captain Le Gaire, but went to the field as my second?"

"No," her whole expression indicative of surprise. "Impossible!"

"But it was not impossible, for it was true. Captain Bell had to be send
for to second Le Gaire, and he did it under protest. Do you imagine your
father would have taken my part if I had uttered one word reflecting
upon you?"

She attempted to speak, but failed, and I took advantage of the silence.

"Major Hardy is in the hall, and will corroborate all I say. Perhaps I
ought not to attempt my own defence, but this misunderstanding is too
grave to continue. There is too much at stake in your life and mine.
From what you have already said it is evident you have been
deceived--probably that deception did not end merely with the
commencement of the quarrel."

"Did--did Major Hardy truly second you?" she interrupted, apparently
dazed. "I--I can hardly comprehend."

"He did; he even volunteered to do so. Le Gaire charged you with being
unduly intimate with me, and your father resented his words. The man
began threatening as soon as I entered the room, and finally struck me
across the face, daring me to an encounter. I am no duellist; this was
my first appearance in that role; but I could never have retained my
self-respect and refused to meet him."

"You--you forced him to accept pistols?"

"In a way, yes. Your father convinced him I was an expert swordsman, and
consequently he chose derringers, believing they would be to his
advantage. The truth is, I am not particularly skilled in the use
of either."

She looked at me a moment as though she would read clear down into the
depths of my soul; then she leaned over against the head of the couch,
her face hidden in her arm.

"I--I will listen," she said falteringly, "to all you have to say."

CHAPTER XXIX

THE MYSTERY DEEPENS

It was a task I distinctly shrank from, but could not escape.

"Shall I not call in your father, and ask him to relate the story?"

"No; I would much rather hear it from you--tell me everything."

My heart throbbed at these simple words, and the thought suddenly
occurred that possibly it was her loss of faith in me, rather than the
death of Le Gaire which had brought such pain. If she had actually
believed all the man had told her, it must have proven a shock, yet how
could I now best counteract his story? It was not my nature to speak ill
of any one, least of all the dead, but I must justify myself, win back
her respect. Only the whole truth could accomplish this. There was a
hassock nearby and I dropped down upon it. She did not move, nor turn
her face toward me.

I began with my orders to report at General Grant's headquarters, so as
to thus make clear to her the reasons bringing me to the Hardy
plantation. I told about our night trip up the ravine, explained my
ignorance of who occupied the house to which I had been, despatched, and
how circumstances compelled me to remain concealed on the balcony, and
thus overhear her conversation with her father and Captain Le Gaire. I
even referred to our quadroon guide, and then it was she suddenly turned
her face toward me.

"A quadroon--and claiming to have once lived here? Who could that be?"

"A servant slave of Le Gaire's."

"Oh, yes! Charles. I remember now--he ran away."

Somehow she seemed more like the Billie of old now, and I went on with
greater confidence, barely touching on my sudden determination to
prevent her wedding, the capture of the house, and our subsequent
conversation together. As I approached the unpleasant interview in the
parlor she sat up, brushing back her hair, and with questioning eyes on
mine, exhibited the deepest interest. I told the rest, word by word, act
by act, determined to thus impress upon her the full truth of the
narrative. I could tell by her aroused interest that I was succeeding,
while her questions gave me some inkling as to what she had been
previously led to believe. After my account of the duel and Le Gaire's
escape I stopped to ask,

"Miss Billie, do you believe all this?"

"Oh, I must! You surely would not dare say what you have, unless certain
my father would sustain you."

"But is it hard to believe?"

"Yes and no. I--I wish to believe, because--well, because it is so
disagreeable to lose confidence in any one who has been esteemed as a
friend. Perhaps I am too loyal, too easily convinced. But--but I was
told such a different story, and it seemed so real, and every fact with
which I was acquainted appeared to confirm it. If all you tell me now is
true, Lieutenant Galesworth, I hardly know how I dare look you in
the face."

"Forget that, and let us understand fully. Will you tell me all,--how
you came to protect Le Gaire, and what it was he told you?"

She was silent, her eyes shaded, and I waited, wondering if she meant to
speak.

"Perhaps if you consent to do this," I urged, "it may help to clear up
the mystery of his death."

"You have not told me about that."

"I know little beyond the discovery of the body," gravely, "and should
prefer to understand all that passed between you before going on with my
own tale. I have taken you already as far as I have witnesses to
corroborate me--beyond that you will have to trust my word alone."

Her long lashes uplifted, the blue-gray eyes looking directly into my
own.

"What is all that firing?" she questioned. "The house fairly quakes; is
it a battle?"

"Yes; the contending forces have been gradually drawing nearer ever
since daylight. The Confederate lines are being forced back, and when
Chambers arrives in support this point may prove the centre of struggle.
I am eager to get away, Miss Billie, to protect the lives of my men, but
I could not leave with you feeling as you did--believing me a coward, a
murderer."

"But I am ashamed to tell you--ashamed to confess I could ever have
thought it true."

I touched her hand with my fingers, and she did not shrink away, or seem
to observe the action.

"I am bound to learn sometime--wouldn't you rather tell me yourself?"

"Yes, for, perhaps, I can make it seem less bad, more natural. I was
angry when you left me, locked here in this room. I was indignant at
what you had said and done, and did not realize the military necessity
for making me a prisoner. I resented your taking everything so for
granted, and--and I believe I almost hated you. I know I lay down here
on the couch and cried myself to sleep. I could not have slept long, and
when I awoke my mind still retained its bitterness. I began to wonder
what I should do; how I could turn the tables against you. I was not
really locked in, because this side door into the next room had been
left unfastened. Finally I decided on a desperate venture. There were
horses in the stable belonging to the captured cavalrymen, and if I
could steal out of the house, and reach the Confederate lines, a
rescuing party could be guided back here. The idea more and more took
possession of me, and at last I mustered sufficient courage to make the
attempt. I slipped on an old riding skirt, and stole out quietly through
that other room into the hall. I thought I could get down the back
stairs unobserved, and then out through the kitchen. I had no idea you
had placed a guard back there in the ell until I saw him."

"A guard!" I broke in. "There was no guard up here."

"But there was--just beyond the head of the stairs. One of your men too,
for his jacket was pinned up, without buttons. I was close enough to
see that."

"That's strange; I gave no such orders, and do not believe Miles did.
Did you see the fellow's face?"

"Only in shadow--he was young, and without a beard."

"Go on," I said, realizing that here was an important discovery, "I will
ask the sergeant."

"Finding the passage blocked I returned to my own room, but left this
door ajar. The disappointment left me angrier than ever, but helpless. I
could only sit down and wait, knowing nothing of what was going on
below. I finally heard the two shots out by the stable, and went to the
window. Three horsemen rode past the corner of the house, and then, a
moment or two later, I saw a man running along, crouching behind the
fence. I could not tell who he was, only he had on a gray uniform, and
he suddenly turned, and made for the house. Once he tripped and fell,
and got up with his hands to his head as though hurt. That was the last
glimpse I had of him from the window. Perhaps five minutes later I heard
some one moving in the next room. I supposed it was the guard prowling
about, and kept still. Then the door was pushed open, and Captain Le
Gaire came in."

"But where was the guard then?"

"I don't know. I asked, but the captain had seen no one. I cannot tell
you how the man looked, acted, or exactly what he said. The first glance
at him awoke my sympathy, before he had spoken a word, for his uniform
was torn and covered with dirt, and his face all blood from a wound on
the temple. He was trembling like a child, and could hardly talk. I
washed his wound out, and bound it up before I even asked a question. By
that time he was himself again, and began to explain. Is it necessary
for me to repeat what he said?"

"I would rather you would; don't you think I ought to know?"

"I suppose you had, but--but it is not a pleasant task. I could not help
but believe what he said, for he told it so naturally; he--he almost
seemed to regret the necessity, and--and I never once dreamed he would
lie to me. Then father said just enough to apparently confirm it all,
and--and other things happened."

"Yes, I know," understanding her embarrassment. "You mustn't think I
blame you. You have known me such a little while."

"But I should have sought after the truth, nevertheless, for I certainly
had no cause to believe you capable of so cowardly an action. I--surely
knew you better than that. But this was what he said: that you came into
the room below promising to release the others, but threatening to take
him prisoner with you into the Federal lines. He protested, and--and
then you referred to me in a way he could not stand, and blows were
exchanged. As a result he dared you to fight him, and you couldn't
refuse before your own men, although you endeavored to back out. That
you chose pistols for weapons, and compelled their acceptance. On the
field, he said, you fired before the word was spoken, and while he was
still lying on the ground, shocked by the bullet, you flung the
derringer at him, cutting his forehead; then drew your own revolver.
Unarmed, believing he was to be murdered, he turned and ran."

"And you actually believed all this of me?"

"Why," bewildered, "he was a soldier, and my father's friend. How could
I imagine he would run without cause? His story sounded true, as he told
it, and he was hurt."

"He must have got that when he fell--his head struck something. And is
that all?"

"Yes; only we talked about how he might get away. He was here until
father came for me, and then stepped into the other room. When I came
back, he had gone. A little later I heard you searching the rooms, and
went out into the hall believing it might be he."

"You saw nothing more of him?"

"No."

"Nor of the man you mistook for a guard?"

She shook her head positively.

"Only the once." Then, after hesitating, her eyes uplifted to mine."
Lieutenant Galesworth, you did not encounter Captain Le Gaire alive in
the hall?"

"I never saw him alive after he ran from the field. The noise you heard
was when I tripped and fell, my revolver dropping to the floor. It was
then I discovered his dead body. You will believe this?"

"Yes," and she extended her hand. "I have been very wrong; you must
forgive me. But how could he have been killed? Who could have had
a motive?"

"Had Le Gaire no enemies?"

"Not to my knowledge. I know little of his life, yet surely there could
be no one here--in this house--who would deliberately seek to kill him.
No one would have opportunity except one of your own men."

I confess it appeared that way to me also, and the fact only served to
make the mystery more baffling. I knew personally every soldier under my
command, and was certain no man among them had ever so much as seen Le
Gaire previous to the night before. They could have no reason to attempt
his life, no grudge against him. Yet every Confederate was under guard,
and the fellow Billie had seen in the hall wore our uniform, even to the
detached buttons--she had noted that. If the man had been on guard,
merely performing his military duty, there would have been no secrecy;
he would have reported the affair long before this. But Le Gaire had
been murdered, treacherously killed, without doubt struck from behind,
and there must be some reason, some cause for the act.

"I understand this no better than you," I admitted finally. "I shall
have the house thoroughly searched, and every one of my men examined.
But I am afraid we shall be obliged to leave before the mystery is
solved. Hear those guns! It almost seems as though the fighting was
already within sight of the house." I stepped across to the window and
looked out. "However it is all to the north and east, and there is still
opportunity for us to get safely away into the ravine. I cannot
understand why our forces have not taken advantage of it--in that way
they could have struck the enemy a stunning blow on the left. There's a
blunder somewhere. But we can hold the house no longer; only before I go
I must know that you believe in me."

"I do," earnestly.

"And I am going to clinch that faith," opening the door into the hall.
"Major Hardy, just a moment."

He turned back from the open window, his face flushed with excitement.

"The stragglers are beginning to show up," he exclaimed pointing, "and
the boys are fighting like hell out there beyond those woods. And--and
see that dust cloud over yonder; by all the gods, it will be Chambers
coming up at last!"

"Then hurry here; I want to ask you just one question for your
daughter's sake: Were you my second in the duel this morning?"

"Certainly."

"Why didn't you tell me, papa? Why didn't you explain that Lieutenant
Galesworth was not to blame?"

"Well, I didn't want you to feel any worse than you did. You and Le
Gaire were going to be married, and I supposed you cared a good deal for
him. Someway I couldn't make myself talk about it, Billie; that's all."

Her eyes sought mine, but just then Miles appeared in the hall, halting
with a salute as he caught sight of me.

"Nobody in the attic, sir, but things are getting pretty warm outside,"
he reported anxiously.

"The way is still open toward the ravine, Sergeant. Get your men
together in the front hall at once. Never mind the prisoners; the major
will release them after we have gone."

His heels came together with a click, and he strode to the head of the
stairs.

"By the way, Sergeant," I called after him, "did you have a guard
posted in the upper hall here this morning?"

"A guard? No, sir."

"Were you aware that any of our men had been up stairs since last
evening?"

"None of them have, sir; I'm cocksure of that." "That's all, Sergeant;
be lively now." My eyes turned toward Billie, and she held out both
her hands.

"If we never know the truth, Lieutenant Galesworth," she said softly, "I
shall believe all you have told me."

CHAPTER XXX

UNDER NEW ORDERS

Her eyes were an invitation, a plea, yet with the major at her side, his
face full of wonderment, and Bell close behind us in the hall, I could
only bow low over the white hands, and murmur some commonplace. There
was neither opportunity nor time for more, although I felt my own deep
disappointment was mirrored in the girl's face. The continuous roar of
guns without, already making conversation difficult, and the hurried
tramp of feet in the hall below, told the danger of delay. It was a
moment when the soldier had to conquer the lover, and stern duty became
supreme. I hurried to the front window, and gazed out; then to others,
thus making a thorough survey of our surroundings, quickly making up my
mind to a definite plan of action. So swiftly had occurrences pressed
upon me I had scarcely found time before to realize the rapid approach
of this new danger. Now it burst upon me in all its impending horror.
Already the results of battle were visible.

An hour before the pike road leading past the plantation gates had been
white and deserted, not even a spiral of dust breaking its loneliness.
Through openings in a grove I had looked northward as far as the log
church and observed no moving figure. But now this was all changed; as
though by some mysterious alchemy, war had succeeded peace, the very
landscape appearing grimly desolate, yet alive with moving figures. And
these told the story, the story of defeat. It was not a new scene to me,
but nevertheless pitiful. They came trudging from out the smoke clouds,
and across the untilled fields, alone, or in little groups, some armed,
more weaponless, here and there a bloody bandage showing, or a limp
bespeaking a wound; dirty, unshaven men, in uniforms begrimed and
tattered, disorganized, swearing at each other, casting frightened
glances backward with no other thought or desire save to escape the
pursuing terror behind. They were the riff-raff of the battle, the
skulkers, the cowards, the slightly wounded, making pin pricks an excuse
for escape. Wagons toiled along in the midst of them, the gaunt mules
urged on by whip and voice, while occasionally an ambulance forced its
way through. Here and there some worn-out straggler or wounded man had
crawled into shade, and lay heedless of the turmoil. Shouts, oaths, the
cracking of whips, the rumble of wheels mingled with the ceaseless roar
of musketry, and the more distant reverberation of cannon, while clouds
of powder smoke drifted back on the wind to mingle with the dust, giving
to all a spectral look. Back from the front on various missions galloped
couriers and aides, spurring their horses unmercifully, and driving
straight through the mob in utter recklessness. One, a black-bearded
brute, drew his sabre, and slashed right and left as he raced madly by.

Toward the ravine all remained quiet, although here and there in the
orchard some of the gray-clad stragglers had found opportunity to lie
down out of the ruck. But the smoke and musketry gave me a conception of
the Confederate line of battle, its left thrown across the pike with
centre and right doubling back into the form of a horse-shoe, all
centring on the Hardy house. Within twenty minutes we would be caught as
in a trap. I sprang back to the stairs, and as I did so a sudden yell
rose from the surging mob without, a shout in which seemed to mingle
fear and exultation. Bell, from a side window joined in, and a single
glance told the reason: up from the south rode cavalry, sweeping the
pike clean of its riff-raff, and behind, barely visible through the
dust, tramped a compact mass of infantry, breaking into double time. The
black-bearded aide dashed to their front, waving sabre and pointing; the
clear note of a bugle cleaved the air; the horsemen spread out like a
fan, and with the wild yell of the South rising above the din, the files
of infantry broke into a run, and came sweeping forward in a gray
torrent. Chambers had come up at last, come to hurl his fresh troops
into the gap, and change the tide of battle. Even the stragglers paused,
hastening to escape the rush, and facing again to the front. I saw some
among them grasp their guns and leap into the ranks, the speeding
cavalrymen driving others with remorseless sabres.

All this was but a glimpse, and with the tumult ringing in my ears, I
was down stairs facing my own men.

"Where are the prisoners, Sergeant?"

"Here, sir, under guard."

"Open the front door, and pass them out. We'll be away before they can
do us any harm. Step lively now."

I scarcely looked at them, moving on a run at the threats of the men,
but wheeled on Hardy, who was half way down the stairs.

"Major, what do you mean to do? How will you protect your daughter?"

"Stay here with her," was the prompt reply. There will be disciplined
troops here in a few minutes."

"Yes, and a battle."

"As soon as Chambers gets up in force I can pass her back to the rear."

That seemed the safer plan to me, and I had no time to argue.

"All right, you and Bell are free to do as you please. Get your men out
the same window you came in, Sergeant; I'll go last. Keep down behind
the fence, and make for the ravine."

He flung open the door into the parlor, and we crowded after him, but
were still jammed in the doorway when he sprang back from the open
window with hands flung up.

"By God, sir, here come our men!"

They came like so many monkeys, leaping the balcony rail, plunging
headlong through the opening, and crowding into the room. It was like a
dream, a delirium, yet I could see the blue uniforms, the new faces. In
the very forefront, flung against me by the rush, I distinguished the
lad I had sent back into the lines the night before.

"What does all this mean, Ross? Who are these fellows?"

"Our men, sir," he panted, scarcely able to speak. "Here--read this,"
and he thrust a paper into my hand. My eyes took the words in a flash,
and yet for the instant they were vague, meaningless. It was only as I
read them a second time that I understood, and then I gazed helplessly
into the faces about me, striving to grasp the full situation.

"HDQTS 9TH ILL. CAV.
"9:10 A.M.

"LIEUT. GALESWORTH:

"We advanced our centre and left at daylight, and have driven the enemy
from intrenchments. Our right is under orders to advance up ravine and
strike their rear. We move at once. I send this back by Ross, who will
take twenty men with him to help you. Hold the Hardy house to the last
possible moment. Our whole movement pivots there, and keeping possession
until we arrive is of utmost importance. Hold it at any price. These are
Grant's orders."

"Who gave you this?--it is unsigned."

"The colonel, sir, I saw him write it."

"And they were ready to leave?"

"They'll not be more than an hour behind, unless something stops
them--the whole brigade is coming."

I comprehended now--the plan was clear-cut, easily understood. Taking
advantage of the ravine in which to conceal the movement, Grant proposed
to throw a brigade, or even a greater force, suddenly upon the enemy's
unprotected rear, thus crushing Johnston between two fires. The word I
had sent back, disclosing the complete desertion of that gash in the
earth by the Confederates, had made this strategy possible. And the
Hardy house was naturally the pivot of the movement, and the retention
of it in our possession essential to success. But the one point they had
apparently overlooked was Chambers' advance along this pike. He was
supposed to be much farther east, his column blocked by heavy roads.
Instead of that he was here already, his vanguard sweeping past the
gate, double-quicking to the front, with long lines of infantry hurrying
behind. For us to bar the retreat of Johnston's demoralized men, safely
intrenched within the house, might be possible, provided artillery was
not resorted to. Even with my small force I might hold them back for an
hour, but to attempt such a feat against the veterans of Chambers, was
simply a sentence to death. These men, fresh, undefeated, eager for
battle, would turn and crush us as though we were some stinging insect.
Thirty men pitted against a division! Good God! if he could send
these--why not more? Yet there was nothing to do except obey, and,
feeling to the full the hell of it, I crushed the paper in the palm of
my hand, and looked around into the faces about me. I was in command,
and we were to stay here until we died. That was all I knew, all I
remembered, the words, "hold it at any price," burning in upon my brain.

"Men," I said sharply. "My orders are to hold this house until our
troops come up. We'll make a try at it. Who commands this last squad?"

A sergeant, a big fellow, with closely trimmed gray moustache, elbowed
his way forward, and saluted.

"From H troop, are you not?"

"Yes, sir; we're all H; my name's Mahoney."

"I remember you; Irish to a man. Well, this is going to beat any
Donnybrook Fair you lads ever saw. Get busy, and barricade every door
and window on this floor; use the furniture, or whatever you get hands
on. Miles, take the south side, and Mahoney, the north. No shooting
until I give the word; we won't stir up this hornets' nest until we
have to."

The newcomers stacked their carbines in the hall, and divided into two
parties, going to work with a vim, while I quickly stationed my old men
where they could command every approach to the house, seeing to it that
their arms were in condition, and that they had ample ammunition. Within
ten minutes we were ready for a siege, or prepared to repel any attack
other than artillery. The rooms looked as though a cyclone had wrecked
them, the heavy furniture barricading doors and windows, yet leaving
apertures through which we could see and fire. Mattresses had been
dragged from beds up stairs, and thrust into places where they would
yield most protection. The front door alone was left so as to be opened,
but a heavy table was made ready to brace it if necessary. Satisfied
nothing more could be done to increase our security I had the men take
their weapons, and the sergeants assign them to places. I passed along
from room to room, watchful that no point of defence had been
overlooked, and speaking words of encouragement to the fellows. After
the fight began there could be little commanding; every man would have
to act for himself.

"Draw down the shades, lads, and keep it as dark as possible inside. Lay
your ammunition beside you, where you can get it quickly. Mahoney, we
shall not need as many men at these windows as we will toward the front
of the house--two to a window here should be sufficient. Carbines,
first, boys, and then revolvers if they get close. What is that, Miles?
Yes, detail a man to each window up stairs; two to the front windows.
Have them protect themselves all they can, and keep back out of sight.
Now, boys, keep your eyes open, but no shooting until you get orders.
Sergeant Mahoney will command this side, and Miles the other, while
I'll take the front. There is a corporal here, isn't there?"

"Yes, sir,--Conroy."

"Well, Conroy, you are in charge up stairs. I'll be there and look you
over in a few minutes; I want to take a glance outside first."

The brief time these hasty preparations required had witnessed a marked
change in conditions without. Where before it had been a scene of
disastrous confusion, it was now that of disciplined attack. Chambers'
men had swept aside the stragglers, and spread out into battle lines,
the gray regiments massing mostly to the right of the pike, but with
heavy fringe of cavalry extending past us as far as the ravine. From my
point of vantage it all formed an inspiring picture, dully monotonous in
color, but alive with action; the long dust-covered lines, the rifle
barrels shining, the constant shifting of columns, the regiments
hurrying forward, the swift moving of cavalry, and hard riding of staff
officers, sent the hot blood leaping through my veins. And all this was
no dress review. Just ahead they were at it in deadly earnest--barely
beyond those trees, and below the edge of the hill. I could hear the
thunder of the guns, continuous, almost deafening, even at this
distance; could see the black, drifting smoke, and even the struggling
figures. We were almost within the zone of fire already. Men were down
in the ranks yonder, and a stricken horse lay just within the gate. Back
and forth, riding like mad, aides dashed out of the choking powder
fumes, in endeavor to hasten up the reserves. Even as I watched one fell
headlong from his saddle, struck dead by a stray bullet. I was soldier
enough to understand. Within ten minutes Chambers would be out there,
hurling his fresh troops against the exhausted Federal advance, while
those fellows, now fighting so desperately yonder, would fall back in
reserve. Could Chambers hold them? Could he check that victorious onrush
of blue--those men who had fought their way five bloody miles since
daybreak? I could not tell; it would be a death grapple worthy of the
gods, and the Hardy house would be in the very vortex. Whether it was
destined also to become a charnel house, a shambles, depended on the
early coming of those other, unseen men toiling up that black ravine.

Then suddenly there recurred to my memory that Major Hardy and his
daughter still remained within. They had not departed with the others,
yet in the stress and excitement their presence had slipped my mind. Nor
had I seen them since the new recruits came. What could be done with
them now, at this late hour, the house already a fortress, the enemy in
evidence everywhere? In some manner they must be gotten away at once,
safely placed within the protection of friends. Not only my friendship
for the father, and my love for the girl, demanded this, but the fact
that they were non-combatants made it imperative. There was no time to
consider methods--already we were within range of the guns, and at any
moment might be directly under fire, obliged to resist assault. I was up
the stairs even as the thought occurred, and confronted Hardy in the
upper hall. Conroy had him by the arm, suspicious of the uniform.

"That's all right, Corporal," I said quickly. "I had forgotten the major
was here. Hardy, you must get out of the house--you, and Miss Billie
at once."

His eyes glanced back toward the door of her room which stood open.

"I--I have no knowledge of where my daughter may be," he acknowledged
soberly.

CHAPTER XXXI

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF BILLIE

I stared at him in surprise, and then sprang forward, and glanced into
her room. It was empty, except for a trooper kneeling at the window. I
faced Hardy again with a question:

"Not here! Where has she gone?"

He shook his head, without attempting to speak.

"You don't know? Conroy, have you seen anything of a young lady since
you came up here?"

"No, sir; all these doors was standin' wide open, and this Johnny Reb
was prowlin' 'round in here. I didn't know what his business might be so
I collared him. Ain't that right, Murphy?" appealing to the soldier at
the window, who had faced about at sound of our voices.

"Straight as far as it goes," was the reply, "but maybe that guard back
in the ell saw the lady afore we come up."

"What guard?"

"One o' your fellows," said the corporal. "Anyhow he had his buttons
cut off. I guess he's there yet."

I was out into the hall as quickly as I could turn, Conroy and the major
following closely. A dozen steps took us beyond the chimney jog, and to
the top of the back stairs. There was no one there. The side doors stood
open, and the narrow hallway was vacant. My eyes met the corporal's.

"Well, I'll be jiggered," he exclaimed. "He was right there by the
second door when I saw him. I was goin' to post Murphy at that end
window, sir, but I didn't think there was any need o' two men there."

"Did you speak to him?"

"I told him what was up, sir, and that he better stay by the window."

"Did he answer you?"

"He said 'all right,' or something like that, an' went back. I never
thought anything was wrong; all I noticed particular was he had only a
revolver, but most o' yer fellows was armed that way. I meant to get him
a gun as soon as I had time." He strode forward, looking into the rooms.
"He ain't here now anyhow, and I'm damned if I know where he could o'
gone. Did I make a mistake, sir?"

"No, this is no fault of yours, Corporal, but it's strange nevertheless.
We had no guard up here, but this fellow, wearing our uniform, has been
seen before--Miss Hardy, this gentleman's daughter, saw him, and now she
has disappeared. There was murder done in this hall this morning."

The corporal crossed himself, his lips murmuring as he glanced about,
and then into my face.

"Murder, sir! The Confederate captain lying in yonder on the bed?"

"Yes; he was waylaid here, and struck down from behind. I found his body
out in front of that door, the skull crushed."

"An' ye think that feller did it?"

"I don't know who did it. But I should like to discover where that lad
hides, and what he is here for. We have accounted for all our men, and
searched this floor inch by inch. I began to think Miss Hardy was
mistaken, but now you've seen him also."

"An' Murphy," broke in the horrified corporal, edging closer. "Murphy
saw him too. Bedad, maybe it was a ghost!"

"Ghosts don't talk, and I never heard of any wearing revolvers. Major,
when did you see Billie last?"

I noticed how haggard his face was, and he answered slowly, his hands
grasping the stair-rail.

"We were together in the front hall when your men came. You were talking
loudly, and the new voices attracted our attention. We both went
forward to the head of the stairs."

"You overheard what was said?" I interrupted, a new possibility dawning
upon me.

"Much of it, yes," he admitted.

"The plan of attack?--the orders sent me?"

His expression answered.

"And what were you going to do with this information, Major Hardy?"

"Nothing. I considered myself a prisoner on parole. I merely proposed
asking your permission to leave the house with my daughter before
hostilities began. I started down the stairs for that purpose."

"And Billie?"

"I told her this, and sent her to her room after some things. Before I
got down you had disappeared, and I returned up stairs. She was not in
her room, nor could I find a trace of her."

I thought rapidly, staring into his bewildered face, insensibly
listening to the continuous roar without. It was tragedy within tragedy,
the threads of war and love inextricably tangled. What had occurred here
during that minute or two? Had she left voluntarily, inspired by some
wild hope of service to the South? Did that mysterious figure, attired
in our uniform, have anything to do with her disappearance? Did Hardy
know, or suspect more than he had already told? By what means could she
have left the house? If she had not left where could she remain
concealed? Each query only served to make the situation more
complicated, more difficult to solve. To no one of them could I find
an answer.

"Major, did you tell your daughter why you could not carry that
information to your own people?--that you considered yourself a
parolled prisoner?"

He hesitated, realizing now what it was I was seeking to discover.

"Why, I may have said something like that. We spoke of the situation,
and--and Billie appeared excited, but,--why, Galesworth, you do not
imagine the girl would try to carry the news out, alone, do you?"

His doubt was so genuine as to be beyond question. Whatever Billie had
done, it was through no connivance with the father, but upon her own
initiative. Yet she was fully capable of the effort; convinced the cause
of the South was in her hands, she was one to go through fire and water
in service. Neither her life nor mine would weigh in the decision--her
only thought the Confederacy. Still it was not a pleasant reflection
that she would thus war openly against me; would deliberately expose me
to defeat, even death. Could she have made such a choice if she truly
loved me? Her words, eyes, actions continually deceived me. Again and
again I had supposed I knew her, believed I had solved her nature, only
to be led into deeper bewilderment.

"Major," I said soberly. "I do imagine just that. There is no sacrifice
your daughter would not make for the South. She realized the importance
of this information, and that she alone could take it to Chambers."

I turned to the back stairs, and went down, feeling my way in the gloom,
until I touched the door. To my surprise it opened, although I knew I
had locked it, and the key was still in my pocket. There were four
troopers in the kitchen, and they turned at the noise to stare at me.

"How long have you boys been stationed here?" I questioned.

"'Bout fifteen minutes, I guess," answered the nearest. "Ain't that
about it, Joe?"

"Not no longer."

"Room empty when you came?"

"Not a rat here, that we saw; did we, Joe?"

The other shook his head.

"Was that bar across the outer door there then?"

"No, sir, there wan't no lock on it, an' Bill rigged up that contrivance
hisself."

I believed now I comprehended how it had occurred, all except the
mysterious unlocking of the door at the foot of the stairs, and this
fellow in our uniform that haunted the ell. To make certain I retained
the key, I took it out, and fitted it into the lock. Still there might
be a duplicate, and as for the soldier, I was hardly half convinced of
his reality. Billie had acted quickly, under the inspiration of
discovery, and all the circumstances had conspired to make her escape
from the house easy. Miles had withdrawn his men on my orders, and we
were all grouped together in the front hall. She had simply slipped down
these back stairs, used a duplicate key, passed through the kitchen
unobserved, and out into the garden. Where then? To the stable,
without doubt, and, mounted, into Chambers' lines, taking her
news to the highest officer she could reach. We would hear from it
presently,--strange if not even already some of those troops were
wheeling to invest the house. I called back up the stairs,

"Conroy, send Major Hardy down here."

The Confederate appeared almost instantly, his eyes anxiously surveying
the room.

"Have you found my girl?"

"No, but I have satisfied myself as to where she is. Without doubt she
came down those stairs, and out this door, while we were in the front
hall. A battle-line is a rough place for a woman, and I am going to
turn you out now to see if you cannot find and protect her. One of you
men take down that bar."

The major stared at me, and then extended his hand.

"You--you don't suppose I sent her?"

"Oh, no, you have been most honorable. There is no reason why I should
hold you here; the others have gone, and you may be of assistance to
Miss Willifred. It is bound to be lively enough for us in here presently
without prisoners to look after."

"But you have not accepted my hand, Lieutenant Galesworth. I wish to
feel that we part friends."

"We certainly do," I returned heartily, grasping his fingers. "And--and
I may never see your daughter again. There is scarcely a possibility
that I ever shall. Tell her that I respect her loyalty to the South."

He stood looking directly into my eyes, grasping both my hands.

"You mean to remain here, defending the house?"

"While there is a man left alive."

"It is a pity--in my judgment; not war, but a useless sacrifice."

"Yet a soldier's duty, Major--obedience to orders."

He bowed, choking in the throat, as he lifted his hat. With one glance
at the silent soldier holding open the door he passed out. Then he
turned, hat still in hand, and glanced back.

"You may feel assured I will deliver your message, sir,--good-bye."

* * * * *

The broad hallway ran from the front of the house to the kitchen ell,
and I could see its entire length. Several men were clustered at the
other end, peering out through the narrow panes of glass either side the
front door, and one came running toward me. It was the Irish sergeant.

"They're a-coomin', sorr--a bunch o' gray-backs. Shud Oi hay' the byes
let drive?"

"Not until I speak to them, Mahoney. We'll give the fellows fair warning
first."

I hurried back with him, and a soldier stepped aside to give me
opportunity to look out. A glance was sufficient. A regiment of cavalry
was halted under the trees of the lawn, the men dismounted and standing
at the heads of their horses. Apparently they were, merely waiting
orders. Riding straight across the grass toward the porch came a little
group of a dozen officers, as I judged, although this was largely
conjecture, their uniforms so dust-covered as to be meaningless. The
carelessness of their approach, scarcely glancing toward the house,
convinced me they had no thought of meeting any resistance from
within--their only object the shade of the steps, or a possible glass of
wine. To greet them with a volley would be murder, and I motioned the
men to open the door just wide enough to permit of my slipping through.
I walked forward to the edge of the porch, and stood there, leaning
against a pillar. The approaching party was sufficiently close by this
time so that I saw that one of the three in advance was Bell. Apparently
I remained unobserved, but as they came to the gravel driveway I spoke.

"That will be quite far enough, gentlemen, until you explain your
purpose."

They pulled up, astonished at the sound of my voice, those behind
bunching about the first three, all staring open-mouthed at my uniform.
Several voices asked, "What does this mean?" "Who the hell are you?"

"One at a time, please," I returned, enjoying their surprise. "This
house is garrisoned by Federal troops at present, and we are not
receiving callers--put that back! There are riflemen at every window."

"Don't be a fool, Brown," growled the man in the centre, glancing aside,
and then facing back toward me. "Are you in command?"

"I am here to receive any communication."

"What troops have you?"

I bowed smiling.

"Sufficient for the purpose."

Bell, evidently short-sighted, was staring at me through glasses, and
broke in,

"It's Galesworth, the Yankee lieutenant I told you about, Colonel. Say,
I thought you left."

"Instead of leaving, Captain Bell, I have decided to stay."

"But, good Lord, you can't hold that house against us with only ten
men!"

"You will discover we have considerable more than ten when you come to
capture it."

They whispered together, evidently undecided how seriously to take me. I
thought Bell was trying to impress the others with the idea that it was
all a bluff, but my coolness made them suspicious. I leaned motionless
against the post in apparent indifference. The gruff-voiced colonel
broke the silence.

"Do you know we have a division of troops within bugle call?"

"Oh, yes, and they have got their work cut out for them. Your whole
force is at it already, except the cavalry."

My tone angered him.

"There are enough in reserve to crush you," he retorted warmly. "I
demand your immediate surrender, sir."

"On what terms?"

"Unconditional," he thundered, "and if I have to charge you we shall
take no prisoners."

I waited for a lull in the firing, and they accepted the pause as
hesitation. Then I stepped backward to the door.

"I regret greatly to disappoint you, Colonel," I said clearly, "but we
have decided to fight. If you are not out of range within two minutes my
men will open fire."

Without awaiting an answer, I stepped within and closed the door.

CHAPTER XXXII

WE REPULSE THE ENEMY

I naturally anticipated an immediate attack, and began preparations.
Glass was broken from the small windows through which the men were to
fire, and the sergeants and myself made inspection of men and arms, and
gave orders for vigorous defence. Yet we were already so well intrenched
that this required but a few moments, and, confident I could shift my
force quickly so as to meet any attack, I returned to the front rooms to
observe the enemy. To my surprise there was no evidence of any movement
in our direction, although there had been a noticeable shifting of
troops. Chambers had swung his infantry forward through gaps in the line
of battle, and was now confronting the Federal advance, not only holding
his ground, but it seemed to me, slightly pushing his opponent. I ran up
stairs so as to obtain a wider view of the field. They were fighting
fiercely to our front and left, the line of fire slightly overlapping
the pike, although, from the led horses in the rear, the troops engaged
on this extremity were mostly dismounted cavalry. Marching columns were
still approaching from the south, swinging off from the pike as they
neared the house, and disappearing into a grove of trees to the east.
The land in that direction was rough, and I could only guess at the
formation by the sound of firing, and the dense clouds of smoke. It was
out there the artillery was massed, although in all of Chambers' command
I saw but two batteries. The heaviest fighting was to the east, not so
far away but what we were within shell range, and yet out of direct
view, while to the north the Confederates could be seen struggling to
gain possession of a low hill. Their first rush had dislodged the
Federals from the log church, but had been halted just below in the
hollow. Beyond to the westward stretched the black shadow of the ravine,
silent and deserted, largely concealed by a fringe of trees.

That which interested me more particularly, however, was the scene
nearer at hand--the stragglers, the wounded, the skulkers, the
disorganized bodies of men, the wearied commands which had been fighting
since daylight, now doggedly falling back, relieved by new arrivals, yet
unwilling to go. They were not beaten, and their officers had fairly to
drive them from the field, and when they halted the men faced to the
front. It was all a scene of wild confusion, the roar of guns
incessant, the air full of powder smoke, shells bursting here and there,
and constantly the shouts of men. Ammunition wagons blocked the pike,
soldiers thronging about them to stuff cartridges into emptied belts; a
battery of artillery dashed past, recklessly scattering the surging mass
to left and right, as its horses, lashed into frenzy, plunged forward
toward the fighting line; horsemen galloped back and forth, commanding,
imploring, swearing, as they endeavored to reform the mob into a reserve
column; riderless horses dashed about, resisting capture; and a runaway
team of mules, dragging behind the detached wheels of an army wagon,
mowed a lane straight across the open field. Men lay everywhere
sleeping, so exhausted the dead and living looked alike; there were
ghastly bandages, dust-caked faces, bloody uniforms, features blackened
by powder, and limping figures helped along by comrades. Empty
ammunition wagons loaded again with wounded, went creaking slowly to the
rear, the sharp cries of suffering echoing above the infernal din. Just
outside the gate, under the tree shadows, was established a field
hospital, a dozen surgeons working feverishly amid the medley of sounds.
I had heretofore seen war from the front, in the excitement of battle,
face to face with the enemy, but this sickened me. I felt my limbs
tremble, the perspiration bead my face. I now knew what war was,
stripped of its glamour, hideous in its reality of suffering and
cruelty. For a moment I felt remorse, fear, a cowardly desire to escape,
to get away yonder, beyond the reek of powder, the cries of pain. The
awful vista gripped me as if by spectral fingers. But for the movement
just then of that cavalry regiment, recalling me to duty, I half believe

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