Part 2 out of 5
hot, damp air, motionless, and heavy with the sleeping breath of
countless growths could make it so, a conservatory it was. Every
slightest turn had to be alertly chosen, and the tangle of branches and
vines made going by the stars nearly impossible. The undergrowth crowded
us into single file. We scarcely exchanged another word until our horses
came abreast in the creek and stopped to drink. Conditions beyond were
much the same until near the end of our détour, when my horse swerved
abruptly and the buzz of a rattlesnake sounded almost under foot. The
mare swerved, too, and hurried forward to my horse's side.
"That was almost an adventure, itself," laughingly murmured my
companion, as if adventures were what we were in search of. While she
spoke we came out into a slender road and turned due north. "Did you,"
she went on, childishly, "ever take a snake up by the tail, in your
thumb and finger, and watch him try to double on himself and bite you? I
have, it's great fun; makes you feel so creepy, and yet you know
She laughed under her breath as if at hide-and-seek. Then we galloped,
then trotted again, galloped, walked and trotted again. Two miles,
three, four, we reckoned off, and slowed to a walk to come out
cautiously upon the Union Church and Fayette road. A sound brought us
to a halt. From the right, out on the main road, it came; it was made by
the wheels of a loaded wagon. I leaned sidewise until her hat-brim was
over me and whispered "Yankee foragers;" but as I drew my revolver we
heard voices, I breathed a sigh of relief, and with her locks touching
mine we chuckled to each other in the dark. The passers were slaves
escaping to the Federal camp.
Now they came into view, on the broader road, two whole ragged families
with a four-mule team. They passed on. And then all at once the whole
situation was too much for me. In the joy of release I groped out
caressingly and touched my companion's cheek. Whereat she took my
fingers and drew them to her lips--twice. The next moment I found--we
found--my lifted wrists in the slender grasp of her two hands and she
was murmuring incoherent protests. Suddenly she grew eloquent. "Oh,
think what you are and have always been! Do you think I don't know? Do
you suppose I would have put myself into this situation, or taken the
liberties I have taken with you, if I had not known you, and known you
well, before ever I saw you? Ah! I have heard such good things of you!
and the moment I saw you I saw they were true!--Yes,--yes, I tell you
they were, they are! And I'm not going to take my trust away from you
now! You shall keep my trust as you have kept all others. You shall be
as miserly of it as of your general's. You will keep it!" Her whispers
grew more and more gentle. "My dear friend, my dear friend! what is this
trust compared to the trust I wish I might lay on you?" What did she
mean by that! Had she some schemer's use for me? I could not ask, for
her little hands had gradually slipped from my wrists to my fingers and
were softly, torturingly fondling them. Suddenly she laughed and threw
her hands behind her back. "I'm blundering! Oh, Richard Smith, be kind
to a woman's poor wits, and let me say to-morrow that I know one man who
can be trusted--who I know can be trusted--to make a woman's folly her
protection. Do you know, dear, that any woman who can say that, is
richer than any who cannot? And I am but a woman, sometimes a bit silly.
Trouble is I'm a live one and a whole one!--or else I'm a live one and
not quite a whole one--I wonder which it is!"
I mumbled something about never wishing to tempt any one.
"Oh, you haven't tempted me," she replied, with kind amusement. "You
couldn't if you should try. You're a true soldier, with a true soldier's
ideals; and I'm pledged to help you keep them."
"What do you mean?" I demanded. "To whom are you pledged for any such--"
"Oh!--don't you wish you knew! Why, to myself, for instance. Come! duty
"Come!" I echoed. We swung into the broader road and followed the
We came as close to them as was wise, and had to walk our horses. I
could discern Miss Rothvelt's features once more, and felt a truer
deference than I had yet given her. Near the blacksmith's shop, in the
dusk of some shade-trees, she once more touched my shoulder. I turned
resentfully to bid her not do it, but her shadowy gaze stopped me.
"Don't be moody," she said; "the whole mistake is four-fifths mine. And
anyhow, repining is only a counterfeit repentance, you know. Come, I
don't want to tease you. It's only myself I love to torment. I'm the
snake I like to hold up by the tail. Did you never have some dull,
incessant ache that seemed to pain less when you pressed hard on it?"
She laughed, left me and rode into the cottage gate.
What do you say?--Yes, she might have spoken more wisely. Yet always
there vibrated in her voice a wealth of thought, now bitter, now sweet,
and often both at once, and a splendor of emotions, beyond the scope of
all ordinary natures. How far beyond my own scope they were, even with
my passions at flood-tide and turbid as a back-street overflow, I
failed to ponder while I passed around the paling fence alone.
In the edge of the woods at the rear of this enclosure I found the road
that led into Cole's Creek bottom, and there turned and waited. A corner
of the cottage was still in view among its cedars and china-trees. In an
intervening melon-patch blinked the yellow lamps of countless fireflies.
And now there came the ghost of a sound from beyond the patch, then a
glimpse of drapery, and I beheld again the subject of my thoughts. Such
thoughts! Ah! why had I neither modesty, wit nor charity enough to see
that yonder came a woman whose heart beat only more strongly than the
hearts of all the common run of us, with impulses both kind and high,
although society, by the pure defects of its awkward machinery, had
incurably mutilated her fate; a woman wrestling with a deep-founded love
that, held by her at arm's length, yielded only humiliations and by its
torments kept her half ripe for any sudden treason even against that
She came without her horse, pointing eagerly at the brightness of the
sky above the unrisen moon. "Diana!" she whispered, and tossed a kiss
toward it. "You saw me put the mare into the stable and go into the
house by the back door?"
"Yes," I said, and handed her, as I dismounted, the General's gift, the
She snatched it gaily, loosed a fastening at her throat and dropped the
missive into her bosom. Then with passionate gravity she asked, "Now,
are you going straight on to Clifton to-night--without stopping?"
"I haven't been ordered to tell any one where I'm going."
"Neither was Lieutenant Ferry," she dryly responded, "yet I have it from
"He told you?--Ah! you're only guessing," I said, and saw that I was
helping her to guess more correctly.
"Pooh!" she replied, ever so prettily, "do you suppose I don't know?
Ferry's scouts are at Clifton, and you've got a despatch for
Lieutenant--eh,--Durand--hem!" She posed playfully. "Now, tell me;
you're not to report to him till daylight, are you? Then why need you
hurry on now? This house where I am is the only safe place for you to
sleep in between here and Clifton. I'll wake you, myself, in good time."
My heart pounded and rose in my throat, yet I managed to say, "My
orders are plain." I flinched visibly, for again I had told too much. I
pretended to listen toward the depths of the wood.
She struck a mock-sentimental attitude and murmured musically--
"'The beating of our own hearts
Was all the sound we heard.'
"Yes,"--she put away gaiety--"your orders are plain; and they're as
cruel as they are plain!"
"Cruel to you?" I took her hand from my arm and held it.
"Oh! cruel to you, Richard, dear; to you! And--yes!--yes!--I'll
confess. I'll confess--if only you'll do as I beg! Yes, ah yes, cruel to
me! But don't ask how, and we'll see if you are man enough to keep a
real woman's real secret! And first, promise me not to put up at that
house which the General and Lieutenant Ferry--"
"Lieutenant Ferry is not sending me to any house."
"Pardon me, I know better. This is his scheme." She laid her free hand
on our two. "Tell me you will not go to that house!"
I attempted an evasion. "Oh--a blanket on the ground--face covered up in
it from the mosquitos--is really--"
"Right!" She laughed. "I wish a woman could choose that way. Oh! if
you'll do that I'll go with you and stand guard over you!"
Dolt that I was, I would have drawn her close, but she put me off with
an outstretched arm and forbidden smile. "No!--No! this is a matter of
life and death."
I stepped back, heaving. "Who and what are you? Who and what are you?"
"Why, who and what should I be?"
"Hmm; Charlotte Oliver. Are you sure you have the name just right?"
"Why haven't I got it right?"
"Oh, I don't doubt you have; though I didn't know but it might be
Charlie Toliver or something."
I dilated. "Who told--did Ned Ferry tell you that story?"
"He did. Or, to be accurate, Lieutenant Ferry-Durand. My dear Richard,
we cannot be witty and remain un-talked-about."
"I--I believe it yet! You are Charlotte Oliver!"
She became frigid. "Do you know who and what Charlotte Oliver is?--No?
Well, to begin with, she's a married woman--but pshaw! you believe
nothing till it's proved. If I tell you who and what I am will you do
what I've asked you; will you promise not to stop at Lucius Oliver's
house?" She softly reached for my hand and pressed and stroked it.
"Don't stop there, dear. Oh, say you will not!"
"Is it so dangerous?"
"General Austin believes it is. You're being used to bait a trap,
I laughed a gay disdain. "Who is Lucius; is he Charlotte's husband?"
The reply came slowly. "No; her husband is quite another man; this
man's wife has been dead for years. No, Charlotte Oliver lives
The sound we had heard was only some stir of nature in her sleep. "I
must go," I said.
"Oh, no, no! I cannot let you!" She clutched the hand she had been
"Coralie! Coralie Rothvelt!"--my cry was an honest one--"you tempt me
beyond human endurance."
She threw my hand from her. "I know I do! I'm so unworthy to do it that
I wouldn't have believed I could. You thought I was Charlotte
Oliver--Heavens! boy, if you should breathe the atmosphere Charlotte
Oliver has to live in! But understand again, for your soul's comfort,
you haven't tempted me. Go, if you must; go, take your chances; and if
you're spared ever to see your dear, dear little mother--"
"My mother! Do you know my mother?"
"Tell her I tried to keep my promise to her."
"You promised her--what did you promise her?"
"Only to take care of you whenever I had the chance. Go, now, you must!"
"And was care for me your only motive in--"
"No; no, Richard, I wanted, and I still want, you to take care of me!
But go, now, go! at once or not at all! Good-bye!" She laughed and
fluttered away. I sprang upon my horse and sped into the forest.
Another mile, another half; then my horror and dismay broke into gesture
and speech, and over and over I reviled myself as a fool, a traitorous
fool, to be fooled into confession of my errand! I moaned with physical
pain; every fatigue of the long day now levied payment, and my back,
knees, shoulders, ached cruelly. But my heart ached most, and I bowed in
the saddle and cried--
"What have I done, oh, what have I done? My secret! my general's, my
country's secret! That woman has got it--bought it with flatteries and
lies! She has drawn it from my befouled soul like a charge from a gun!"
For a moment I quite forgot how evident it was that she had gathered
earlier inklings of it from some one else. Suddenly my thought was of
something far more startling. It stopped my breath; I halted; I held my
temples; I stared. What would she do with a secret she had taken such
hazards to extort? Ah! she'd carry it straight to market--why not? She
would give it to the enemy! Before my closed eyes came a vision of the
issue--disaster to our arms; bleeding, maiming, death, and widows' and
"My God! she shall not!" I cried, and whirled about and galloped back.
At the edge of the wood, where we had parted, I tied my horse, and crept
along the moonlight shadows of the melon-patch to the stable. The door
was ajar. In the interior gloom I passed my hands over the necks and
heads of what I recognized to be the pair of small mules I had seen at
Gallatin. Near a third stall were pegs for saddle and bridle, but they
were empty. So was the stall; the mare was gone.
"Gone to the Yankees at Fayette!" I moaned, and hurried back to my
horse. To attempt to overtake one within those few miles would only make
failure complete, and I scurried once more into the north with such a
burden of alarm and anguish as I had never before known.
IT was well that I was on the Federal captain's horse. He knew this sort
of work and could do it quicker and more quietly than mine. Mine would
have whinnied for the camp and watched for short cuts to it. Another
advantage was the moon, and the hour was hardly beyond midnight when I
saw a light in a window and heard the scraping of a fiddle. At the edge
of a clearing enclosed by a worm fence I came to a row of slave-cabins.
Mongrel dogs barked through the fence, and in one angle of it a young
white man with long straight hair showed himself so abruptly as to
startle my horse. Only the one cabin was lighted, and thence came the
rhythmic shuffle of bare-footed dancers while the fiddle played "I lay
ten dollars down." There were three couples on the floor, and I saw--for
the excited dogs had pushed the door open--that two of the men were
white, though but one wore shoes. On him the light fell revealingly as
he and the yellow girl before him passed each other in the dance and
faced again. He was decidedly blond. The other man, though silhouetted
against the glare of burning pine-knots, I knew to be white by the
flapping of his lank locks about his cheeks as he lent his eyes to the
improvisation of his steps. His partner was a young black girl. I
burned with scorn, and doubtless showed it, although I only asked whose
plantation this was.
"This-yeh pla-ace?" The rustic dragged his words lazily, chewed tobacco
with his whole face, and looked my uniform over from cap to spur. "They
say this-yeh place belong to a man which his name Lu-ucius Ol-i-veh."
So! I honestly wished myself back in my old rags, until I reflected that
my handsome mount was enough to get me all the damage these wretches
could offer. Still I thought it safest to show an overbearing frown.
"To what command do you fellows belong?"
He spurted a pint to reply, "Fishe's batt'ry."
"Oh! And where is the battery?"
"You sa-ay 'Whah is it?'--ow batt'ry"--he champed noisily--"I dunno.
Does you? Whah is it?"
"It's twenty miles off; why are you not with it? What are you doing
"You sa-ay 'What we a-doin' hyuh?' Well, suh, I mought sa-ay we ain't
a-doin' nuth'n'; but I"--he squirted again--"_will_ sa-ay that so fah as
you _see_ what we a-doin', you _kin_ see, an' welcome; an' so fah as you
don't see, it ain't none o' yo' damn' busi-ness."
"Oh, that's all right, I was only asking a friendly question."
"Yaas; well, that's all right, too, suh; I uz on'y a-givin' you a
frien'ly aynsweh. I hope you like it."
Our intercourse became more amiable and the fellow dragged in his advice
that I spend the rest of the night at the house of Mr. Oliver. His
acquaintance with that gentleman seemed to grow while we talked, and
broke into bloom like a magician's rosebush. He described him as a kind
old bird who made hospitality to strangers his meat and drink. A
conjecture darted into my mind. "Why, yes! that is his married son, is
he not, yonder in the cabin; the one with the fair hair?"
"Who?--eh,--ole man Ol-i-veh? You sa--ay 'Is that his ma'-ied son, in
yondeh; the one 'ith the fah hah? '--Eh,--no--o, suh,--eh,--yass,
suh,--yass! Oh, yass, suh, thass his--tha'--thass his ma'ied son, in
thah; yass, suh, the one 'ith the fah hah; yass, suh. I thought you
meant the yetheh one."
"I don't believe," said I, "I'd better put myself on the old gentleman
when the mistress of the house is away."
"_She_ ain't awa-ay."
"Is she not! Isn't she the Mrs. Oliver--Charlotte Oliver--who is such
friends--she and her husband, I mean, of course,--"
"_Uv_ co'se!" The reptile giggled, squirted and nodded.
"--With General Austin," I continued, "--and with Lieutenant Ferry?"
"She air!" He was pleased. "Yass, we all good frien's togetheh."
"But if she--oh, yes!--Yes, to be sure; she could easily have got here
"Thass thess when she arrove!" It was fascinating to watch the animal's
cunning play across his face. The fiddle's tune changed and the dance
"I naturally thought," resumed I, with a smile meant to refer to the
blond dancer, "that the madam _must_ be away somewhere."
My hearer grinned. "Oh, that ain't no sign. Boys will be boys. You know
that, yo'se'f. An' o' co'se she know it. Oh, yass, she at home."
"Well, I reckon I'll stop all night." I began to move on. His eyes
"Sa-ay! I'll wrastle you fo' them-ah clo'es."
I waved a pleasant refusal and rode toward the house.
ASLEEP IN THE DEATH-TRAP
The dwelling was entirely dark. I came close in the bright moonlight and
hallooed. At my second hail the door came a small way open, and after a
brief parley a man's voice bade me put up my horse and come in. The
stable was a few steps to the right and rear. Returning, I took care to
notice the form of the house: a hall from front to rear; one front and
one rear room on each side of it; above the whole a low attic, probably
occupied by the slave housemaids.
I was met in the bare unpainted hall by a dropsical man of nearly sixty,
holding a dim candle, a wax-myrtle dip wrapped on a corncob. He had a
retreating chin, a throat-latch beard and a roving eye; stepped with one
foot and slid with the other, spoke in a dejected voice, and had very
poor use of his right hand. I followed him to the rear corner chamber,
the one nearest the stable, feeling that, poor as the choice was, I
should rather have him for my robber and murderer than those villains
down at the quarters. I detained him in conversation while I drew off my
boots and threw my jacket upon the back of a chair in such a way as to
let my despatch be seen. The toss was a lucky one; the document, sealed
with red wax, stuck out arrogantly from an inside pocket. Then, asking
lively questions the while as if to conceal a blunder and its
correction, I moved quickly between him and it and slipped the missive
under a pillow of the fourpost bedstead.
He was not wordy, and he tarried but a moment, yet he explained his
paralysis. In the dreary monotone of a chronic sour temper he related
that some Confederates, about a year before, had come here impressing
horses, and their officer, on being called by him "no gentleman," had
struck him behind the ear with the butt of a carbine. I asked what
punishment the officer received, and I noticed the plural pronoun as he
icily replied, "We didn't enter any complaint."
I said with genuine warmth that if he would give me that man's
He waited on the threshold with his dropsical back to me for my last
word, and then, still in the same attitude, droned, "O-oh, he's dead.
And anyhow," he finished out of sight in the hall, "that's not our way."
I sat on the edge of the bed, in the moonlight, wishing I knew what
their way was. I considered my small stock of facts. The one that
appalled me most was the inward guilt which I brought with me to this
ordeal. I wanted to say my childhood prayers and I could not. For I
could not repent; at least the _emotion_ of repentance would not come.
Moreover, every now and then there leapt across this blackness of guilt
a forked lightning of fright, as I realized that I could no more plan
than I could pray. No doubt Coralie Rothvelt, by this time in Fayette,
was telling some Federal commander that a certain Confederate courier,
now asleep at the house of Lucius Oliver, had let slip to her the fact
that his despatches were written to be captured, and that, read with
that knowledge, they would be of guiding value. What mine host himself
might have in view for me I could not guess, but most likely those three
rapscallions down at the quarters were already plotting my murder. So
now for a counterplot--alas! the counterplot would not unfold for me!
I rallied all my wits. Here was an open window. Through it the moonlight
poured in upon the lower half of the bed. If I should lie with my eyes
in the shadow of the headboard no one entering by the door opposite
could see that I was looking. Good! but what to do when the time should
come--ah me!--and "Oh, God!" and "Oh, God!" again. Ought I, now, to let
the enemy get the despatch, or must I not rather keep it from him at
whatever risk of death or disgrace? Ah! if I might only fight, and let
the outcome decide for me! And why not? Yes, I would fight! And oh! how
I would fight! If by fighting too well I should keep the despatch, why,
that, as matters now stood, was likely to be the very best for my
country's cause. On the other hand, should I fight till I fell dead or
senseless and only then lose it, surely then it would be counted genuine
and retain all its value to mislead. Oh, yes,--I could contrive nothing
better--I would fight!
I drew the counterpane aside, lay down under it revolver in hand, and
then, for the first time since I had put on the glorious gray, found I
could not face the thought of death. I grew steadily, penetratingly,
excruciatingly cold, and presently--to the singular satisfaction of my
conscience--began to shake from head to foot with a nervous chill. It
was agonizing, but it was so much better than the spiritual chill of
which it took the place! I felt as though I should never be warm again.
Yet the attack slowly passed away, and with my finger once more close to
the trigger, I lay trying to use my brain, when, without prayer or plan,
I solved the riddle, what I should do, by doing the only thing I knew I
ought not to do. I slept.
An envelope sealed with sealing-wax, unless it has also a wrapping of
twine or tape whose only knot is under the seal, can be opened without
breaking the seal. Gholson had once told me this. Hold a thin, sharp
knife-blade to the spout of a boiling tea-kettle; then press the
blade's edge under the edge of the seal. Repeat this operation many
times. The wax will yield but a hair's-breadth each time, but a
hair's-breadth counts, and in a few minutes the seal will be lifted
entire. A touch of glue or paste will fasten it down again, and a seal
so tampered with need betray the fact only to an eye already suspicious.
As I say, I slept. The door between me and the hall had a lock, but no
key; another door, letting from my room to the room in front of it, had
no lock, but was bolted. I slept heavily and for an hour or more. Then I
was aware of something being moved--slowly--slyly--by littles--under my
pillow. The pillow was in a case of new unbleached cotton. When I first
lay down, the cotton had so smelt of its newness that I thought it was
enough, of itself, to keep me awake. Now this odor was veiled by
another; a delicate perfume; a perfume I knew, and which brought again
to me all the incidents of the night, and all their woe. I looked, and
there, so close to the bedside that she could see my eyes as plainly as
I saw hers, stood Coralie Rothvelt. In the door that opened into the
hall were two young officers, staff swells, in the handsomest Federal
blue. The moonlight lay in a broad flood between them and me. It
silvered Miss Rothvelt from the crown of her hat to the floor, and
brightened the earnest animation of her lovely face as she daintily
tiptoed backward with one hand delicately poised in the air behind her,
and the other still in the last pose of withdrawing from under the
My problem was indeed simplified. The despatch had been stolen, opened,
read, re-sealed and returned. All I now had to do was to lie here till
daybreak and then get away if I could, deliver the despatch to Ned
Ferry, and tell him--ah! what?--how much? Oh, my bemired soul, how much
must I tell? My shame I might bear; I might wash it out in blood at the
battle's front; but my perfidy! how much was it perfidy to withhold; how
much was it perfidy to confess?
The heaviness of my soul, by reacting upon my frame and counterfeiting
sleep better than I could have done it in cold blood, saved me, I fancy,
from death or a northern prison. When I guessed my three visitors were
gone I stirred, as in slumber, a trifle nearer the window, and for some
minutes lay with my face half buried in the pillow. So lying, there
stole to my ear a footfall. My finger felt the trigger, my lids lifted
alertly, and as alertly reclosed. Outside the window one of the
officers, rising by some slender foothold, had been looking in upon me,
and in sinking down again and turning away had snapped a twig. He
glanced back just as I opened my eyes, but once more my head was in
shadow and the moonlight between us. When I peeped again he was
Five, ten, fifteen minutes dragged by. Counting them helped me to lie
still. Then I caught another pregnant sound, a mumbling of male voices
in the adjoining front room. I waited a bit, hearkening laboriously, and
then ever so gradually I slid from the bed, put on everything except my
boots, and moved by inches to the door between the two rooms. It was
very thin; "a good sounding-board," thought I as I listened for life or
death and hoped my ear was the only one against it.
The discussion warmed and I began to catch words and meanings. Oftenest
they were old Lucius Oliver's, whose bad temper made him incautious.
While his son and the other two jayhawkers obstinately pressed their
scheme he kept saying, sourly, "That's--not--our--wa-ay!"
At length he lost all prudence. "Nn--o!--Nnno--o, sir! Not in this house
you don't; and not on this place! Wait till he's off my land; I'm not
goin' to have the infernal rebels a-turpentinin' my house and a-burnin'
it over my head. What _air_ you three skunks in such a sweat to git
found out for, like a pack o' daymn' fools! I've swone to heaven and
hell to git even ef revenge can ever git me even, and this ain't the way
to git even. It's not--our--wa-ay!"
His son's attitude exasperated him. "_You_ know this ain't ever been our
way; you'd say so, yourself, ef you wa'n't skin full o' china-ball
whiskey! What in all hell is the reason we can't do him as we've always
done the others?"
"Oh, shut your dirty face!" replied the son, while one of his cronies
warned both against being overheard. But when this one added something
further the old man snarled:
"What's that about the horse?--The horse might git away and be evidence
ag'inst us?--What?--Oh, now give the true reason; you want the horse,
that's all! You two lickskillets air in this thing pyo'ly for the
stealin's. Me and my son ain't bushwhackers, we're gentlemen! At least
I'm one. Our game's revenge!"
Not because of this speech, but of a soft rubbing sound on the
window-sill behind me, my heart turned cold. Yet there I saw a most
welcome sight. Against the outer edge of the sill an unseen hand was
moving a forked stick to and fro. The tip of one of its tines was slit,
in the slit was a white paper, and in the fork hung the bridle of my
horse. I glided to the window. But there bethinking me how many a man
had put his head out at just such a place and never got it back, I made
a long sidewise reach, secured the paper, and read it.
It was the envelope which had contained Coralie Rothvelt's pass. Its
four flaps were spread open, and on the inside was scrawled in a large
black writing the following:
_Yankees gone, completely fooled. Do not stir till day, then ride for
your life. We're not thwarting Lieutenant Ferry's plan, we're only
improving upon it. When you report to him don't let blame fall upon the
father and son whose roof this night saves you from a bloody death. Do
this for the sake of her who is risking her life to save yours. We serve
one cause; be wary--be brave--be true_.
I stood equally amazed and alert. The voices still growled in the next
room, and my horse's bridle still hung before the window. I peered out;
there stood the priceless beast. I came a sly step nearer, and lo! in
his shadow, flattened against the house, face outward, was Coralie
Rothvelt comically holding the forked stick at a present-arms.
Throbbing with a grateful, craving allegiance, I seized the rein. Then I
bent low out the window and with my free hand touched her face as it
turned upward into a beam of moonlight. She pressed my fingers to her
lips, and then let me draw her hand as far as it could come and cover it
with kisses. Then she drew me down and whispered "You'll do what
When I said I would try she looked distressfully unassured and I added
"I'll do whatever risks no life but mine."
Her face spoke passionate thanks. "That's all I can ask!" she said,
whispered "When you go--_keep the plain road,"_--and vanished.
I sat by the window, capped, booted, belted, my bridle in one hand,
revolver in the other. In all the house, now, there was no sound, and
without there was a stillness only more vast. I could not tell whether
certain sensations in my ear were given by insects in the grass and
trees or merely by my overwrought nerves and tired neck. The moon sailed
high, the air was at last comfortably cool, my horse stood and slept. I
thought it must be half-past two.
"Now it must be three." Miss Rothvelt's writing lay in my bosom beside
my despatch. At each half-hour I re-read it. At three-and-a-half I
happened to glance at the original superscription. A thought flashed
upon me. I stared at her name, and began to mark off its letters one by
one and to arrange them in a new order. I took C from Coralie and h from
Rothvelt; after them I wrote a from Coralie and r from Rothvelt, l and o
from Coralie and two t's and an e from Rothvelt, and behold, Charlotte!
while the remaining letters gave me Oliver.
Ah! where had my wits been? Yet without a suspicion that she was
Charlotte Oliver one might have let the anagram go unsuspected for a
lifetime. Evidently it concealed nothing from General Austin or Ned
Ferry; most likely it was only the name she used in passing through the
lines. At any rate I was convinced she was a good Confederate, and my
But why, then, this ardent zeal to save the necks of the two traitors
"whose roof this night--" etc.? Manifestly she was moved by passion, not
duty; love drove her on; but surely not love for them. "No," I guessed
in a reverent whisper, "but love for Ned Ferry." It must have been
through grace of some of her nobility and his, caught in my heart even
before I was quite sure of it in theirs, that I sat and framed the
following theory: Ned Ferry, loving Charlotte Oliver, yet coerced by his
sense of a soldier's duty, had put passion's dictates wholly aside and
had set about to bring these murderers to justice; doing this though he
knew that she could never with honor or happiness to either of them
become the wife of a man who had made her a widow, while she, aware of
his love, a love so true that he would not breathe it to her while this
hideous marriage held her, had ridden perilously in the dead of night to
circumvent his plans if, with honor to both of them, it could be done.
The half-hour dragged round to four. My horse roused up but kept as
quiet as a clever dog. I heard a light sound in the hall; first a step
and then a slide, then a step again and then a slide; Lucius Oliver was
coming toward my door. The cords gathered in my throat and my finger
stole to the trigger; Heaven only knew what noiseless feet might be
following behind that loathsome shuffle. It reached the door and was
still. And now the door opened, softly, slowly, and the paralytic stood
looking in. The moonlight had swung almost out of the room, but a band
of it fell glittering upon the revolver lying in my lap with my fingers
on it, each exactly in place. Also it lighted my other hand, on the
window-sill, with the bridle in it. Old Lucius was alone. In the gloom I
could not see his venom gathering, but I could almost smell it.
THE FIGHT ON THE BRIDGE
"Good-morning," I murmured.
"Good-morning," he responded, tardily and grimly. "Well, you _air_ in a
"Not at all, sir. I'm sorry to seem so; it's not the tip-top of
"No, it ain't too stinkin' polite."
"True; but neither are the enemy, and they're early risers, you know."
"Well, good Lord! don't hang back for my sake!"
I put on an offended esteem. "My dear sir, you've no call to take
offence at me. I'm waiting because my business is too--well, if I must
explain, it's--it's too important to be risked except by good safe
daylight; that's all."
[Illustration: "Well, you _air_ in a hurry!"]
Oh, he wasn't taking offence. His reptile temper crawled into hiding,
and when I said day was breaking, he said he would show me my way.
"Why, I keep the plain road, don't I?"
No, he would not; only wagons went that way, to cross the creek by a
small bridge. I could cut off nearly two miles by taking the bridle-path
that turned sharply down into the thick woods of the creek-bottom about
a quarter of a mile from the house and crossed the stream at a sandy
ford. "Ride round," he said, "and I'll show you from the front of
Thence he pointed out a distant sycamore looming high against the soft
dawn. There was the fence-corner at which the bridle-path left the road.
He icily declined pay for my lodging. "We never charge a Confederate
soldier for anything; that's not our way."
Day came swiftly. By the time I could trot down to the sycamore it was
perfectly light even in the shade of an old cotton-gin house close
inside the corner of the small field around which I was to turn. The
vast arms of its horse-power press, spreading rigidly downward, offered
the only weird aspect that lingered in the lovely morning. I have a
later and shuddering memory of it, but now the dewy air was full of
sweet odors, the squirrel barked from the woods, the woodpecker tapped,
and the lark, the cardinal and the mocking-bird were singing all around.
The lint-box of the old cotton-press was covered with wet
morning-glories. I took the bridle-path between the woods and the field
and very soon was down in the dense forest beyond them. But the moment
I was hid from house and clearing I turned my horse square to the left,
stooped to his neck, and made straight through the pathless tangle.
Silence was silver this time, speed was golden. But every step met its
obstacle; there were low boughs, festoons of long-moss, bushes, briers,
brake-cane, mossy logs, snaky pools, and things half fallen and held
dead. If at any point on the bridle-path, near the stream, some cowpath,
footpath, any trail whatever, led across to the road, my liers-in-wait
were certainly guarding it and would rush to the road by that way as
soon as they found I was flanking them. And so I strove on at the best
speed I could make, and burst into the road with a crackle and crash
that might have been heard a hundred yards away. One glance up the
embowered alley, one glance down it, and I whirled to the right, drove
in the spur, and flew for the bridge. A wild minute so--a turn in the
road--no one in sight! Two minutes--another turn--no one yet!
Three--three--another turn--no one in front, no one behind--
The thunder of our own hoofs
Was all the sound we heard.
A fourth turn and no one yet! A fifth--more abrupt than the others--and
there--here--yonder now behind--was the path I had feared, but no one
was in it, and the next instant the bridge flashed into view. With a
great clatter I burst upon it, reached the middle, glanced back, and
dropped complacently into a trot. Tame ending if--but as I looked
forward again, what did I see? A mounted man. At the other end of the
bridge, in the shade of overhanging trees, he moved into view, and well
I knew the neat fit of that butternut homespun. He flourished a revolver
above his head and in a drunken voice bade me halt.
I halted; not making a point of valor or discretion, but because he was
Charlotte Oliver's husband. I read his purpose and listened behind me as
we parleyed. "Don't halt me, sir, I'm a courier and in a hurry."
He hiccoughed. "Let's--s'--see y' orders."
I took my weapon into my bridle-hand by the barrel and began to draw
from my bosom the empty envelope addressed Coralie Rothvelt. At the same
time I let my horse move forward again, while I still listened backward
with my brain as busy as a mill. Was there here no hidden succor? Was
that no part of Ned Ferry's plan--if the plan was his? Were those
villains waiting yet, up at the ford? I could hear nothing at my back
but the singing of innumerable birds.
"Halt!" the drunkard growled again, and again I halted, wearing a look
of timid awe, but as full of guile as a weasel. I reined in abruptly so
as to make the reach between us the fullest length of my outstretched
arm with the paper in two fingers as I leaned over the saddle-bow. He
bent and reached unsteadily, and took the envelope; but hardly could his
eye light upon the superscription before it met the muzzle of my weapon.
"Don't move." My tone was affectionate. "Don't holla, or I'll give you
to the crows. Back. Back off this bridge--quick! or I'll--" I pushed
the pistol nearer; the danger was no less to him because I was
thoroughly frightened. He backed; but he glared a devilish elation, for
behind me beat the hoofs of both his horsemen. I had to change
"Halt! Turn as I turn, and keep your eye on _this."_
Glad was I then to be on a true cavalryman's horse that answered the
closing of my left leg and moved steadily around till I could see down
the bridge. Oliver, after a step or two, stopped. "Turn!" I yelled, and
swelled. "One, two,--"
He turned. There was not a second to spare. The two long-haired fellows
came nip and tuck. I see yet their long deer-hunters' rifles. But I
remembered my pledge to this man's wife, and proudly found I had the
nerve to hold the trigger still unpressed when at the apron of the
bridge the rascals caught their first full sight of us as we sat
humpshouldered, eye to eye, like one gray tomcat and one yellow one.
They dragged their horses back upon their haunches. One leaped to the
ground, the other aimed from the saddle; but the first shot that woke
the echoes was neither theirs nor mine, but Sergeant Jim Langley's,
though that, of course, I did not know. It came from a tree on our side
of the water, some forty yards downstream. The man in the saddle fired
wild, and as his horse wheeled and ran, the rider slowly toppled over
backward out of saddle and stirrups and went slamming to the ground.
His companion had no time to fire. Instantly after these two shots came
a third, and some willows upstream filled with its white smoke. The
second long rifle fell upon the bridge and its owner sank to his knees
heaving out long cries of agony that swelled in a tremor of echoes up
and down the stream. Another voice, stalwart, elated, cut through it
like a sword. "Don't shoot, Smith, we're coming; save that hound for
The groans of the wounded man closed in behind it, a flood of agony, and
my own outcry increased the din as I called "Come quick, come quick! the
wounded fellow's remounting!"
The wretch had lifted himself to his feet by a stirrup. Then, giving
out, he had sunk prone, and now, still torturing the air with his horrid
cries, was crawling for his rifle. Oliver saw I had a new inspiration.
All the drunkenness left his eyes and they became the eyes of a snake,
but too quickly for him to guess my purpose I turned my weapon from his
face and fired. His revolver flew from his bleeding hand, a stream of
curses started from his lips, and as I thrust my pistol into his face
again and snatched his bridle he screamed to the crawling woodman
"Shoot! shoot! Kill one or the other of us! Oh! shoot! shoot!"
The rifle cracked, but its ball sang over us; a shot answered it behind
me; the howling man's voice died in a gurgle, and Sergeant Jim ran by
me, leaped upon the horse that had stayed beside his fallen rider, and
was off hot-footed after the other. "Turn your prisoner over to Kendall,
Smith," he cried, "and put out like hell for Clifton!"
I gave no assent, and I believe Oliver guessed my purpose to save him,
though his eyes were as venomous as ever. I flirted the rein off his
horse's neck and said, savagely "Come! quick! trot! gallop!" The
sergeant's young companion of the morning before dashed out of the
bushes on his horse with Jim's horse in lead. "I've got him safe,
Kendall," I cried, and my captive and I sped by him at a gallop on our
way to Ned Ferry's command.
WE SPEED A PARTING GUEST
Rising to higher ground, we turned into the Natchez, and Port Gibson
road where a farm-house and country "store" constituted Clifton. Still
at a gallop we left these behind and entered a broad lane between fields
of tasselling corn, where we saw a gallant sight. In the early sunlight
and in the pink dust of their own feet, down the red clay road at an
easy trot in column by fours, the blue-gray of their dress flashing with
the glint of the carbines at their backs, came Ferry's scouts with Ned
Ferry at their head. There was his beautiful brown horse under him, too.
My captive and I dropped to a walk, the column did the same, and Ferry
trotted forward, beckoning us to halt. His face showed triumph and
commendation, but no joy. Oliver answered his scrutiny with a blaze
"Good-morning, Smith, who is your prisoner?"
"His name is Oliver."
Ferry looked behind to the halted column. "Lieutenant Quinn, send two
men to guard this one. Smith, where's Sergeant Langley; where's Kendall?
While I told of the scrimmage, the guard relieved me of Oliver, and as I
finished, three men galloped up and reined in. "All right," said
"South?" asked our leader.
"Before day," replied the new-comer, glowing with elation, and I grasped
the fact that the enemy had taken our bait and I had not betrayed my
country. The three men went to the column, and Ferry, looking up from
the despatch which I had delivered to him, said--
"Of course no one has seen this despatch, eh?--Oh!"--a smile--"yes?
"Two Federal officers."
"Two--what?" His smile broadened. "You _know_ that?"
"I saw them, Lieutenant, looking in at the door to see the despatch put
back under my pillow. Yes, sir, by the same hand that had shown it
"Whose hand was it; that fellow's, yonder?" Oliver was several paces
"No, Lieutenant, I don't believe he had anything to do with it; and I've
no absolute proof, either, that he was at the bridge to rob or kill me.
I threatened his life first, sir. At any rate that hand under my pillow
was neither his nor his father's."
"But they were present, eh?"
"They were neither of them present, Lieutenant; that hand was Miss
"Oh, no!" he murmured, "that cannot be!" "I saw her face, Lieutenant,
nearer to mine than yours is now. But she did it to help us--oh, but I
know that, sir! She came under my window and told me she had done it!
She told me to tell you she hadn't thwarted your plan, but only improved
on it, and I believe--Lieutenant, if you will hear me patiently through
a confession which--" I choked with emotion.
He lighted up with happy relief. "No, you need not make it. And you need
not turn so pale." Whereat I turned red. "She saw the despatch was a
trap for the Yankees, and used it so, you think? Ah, yes, Smith, I see
it all, now; she pumped you dry."
I could not speak, I shook my head, and for evidence in rebuttal I
showed in my eyes two fountains of standing tears.
"How, then, did she know?"
"Lieutenant, she guessed! She must have just put two and two together
and guessed! Or else, Lieutenant,--"
"She must have pumped others before she pumped you, eh?" There was
confession in his good humor. "But tell me; did she not see also this
other trap, for this man and his father, and try to save them out of
it?--oh, if you don't want--never mind." He laid a leg over the front of
his saddle and sat thinking. So I see him to-day: his chestnut locks,
his goodly limbs and shoulders, the graceful boots, cut-away jacket,
faded sash, straight sword, and that look of care on his features which
intensified the charm of their spiritual cleanness; behind him his band
of picked heroes, and for background the June sky. Whenever I smell
dewy corn-fields smitten with the sun that picture comes back to me.
"No," he said again, "you need not tell me." By a placid light in his
face I saw he understood. He drew his watch, put it back, thought on,
and smiled at my uniform. "It has not the blue of the others," he said,
"but indeed they are not all alike, and it will match the most of
them--after a rain or two--and some dust. You have been trading horses?"
I explained. While doing so I saw one of the guard reaching the
prisoner's bridle to the other. Hah! Oliver had slapped the bridle free.
In went his spurs! By a great buffet on the horse's neck he wheeled him,
and with the rein dangling under the bits went over the fence like a
deer. "Bang! bang! bang!"
It was idle; a magic seems to shield a captive's leap for life. Away
across the corn he went to the edge of a tangled wood, over the fence
there again, and into the brush. "Halt! bang!" and "Halt! bang!" it was,
at every bound, but now the pursuers came back empty-handed, some
contemptuously silent, some laughing. Ferry glanced again at the time,
and I was having within me a quarrel with him for his indifference at
the prisoner's escape, when with cold severity he asked--
"Why did you not fire?"
I flushed with indignation, and my eye retorted to his that I had only
followed his example. His answer was a smile. "You, also, have been
guessing, eh?" he said, and when I glowed with gratitude he added,
"Never mind, we must have a long talk. At present there is a verbal
message for me; what is it?"
"Verbal message? No, Lieutenant, she didn't--oh!--from the General! Yes!
the General says--'Rodney.'"
He turned and moved to the head of the column. I followed. There, "Left
into line wheel--march!" chanted our second in command.
"Backwards--march!" and then "Right dress!" and the line, that had been
a column, dressed along the western edge of the road with the morning
sun in their faces. Then Ferry called "Fours from the right, to march to
the left--march!" and he and Quinn passed up the middle of the road
along the front of the line, with yours truly close at their heels,
while behind us the command broke into column again by fours from the
right and set the pink dust afloat as they followed back northward over
their own tracks with Sergeant Jim beside the first four as squadron
right guide. I had got where I was by some mistake which I did not know
how to correct,--I was no drill-master's pride,--and there was much
suppressed amusement at my expense along the front as we rode down it.
At every few steps until the whole line was a column Ned Ferry dropped
some word of cheer, and each time there would come back an equally quiet
and hearty reply. Near the middle he said "Brisk work ahead of us
to-day, boys," and I heard the reiteration of his words run among the
ranks. I also heard one man bid another warm some milk for the baby.
Trotting by a grove where the company had passed the night, we presently
took the walk to break by twos, and as we resumed the trot and turned
westward into a by-road, Lieutenant Quinn dropped back to the column and
sent me forward to the side of Ned Ferry. I went with cold shivers.
[Illustration: With the rein dangling under the bits he went over the
fence like a deer.]
FERRY TALKS OF CHARLOTTE
"You have no carbine," said my commander. "And you have but one
revolver; here is another."
I knew it at a glance. "It's Oliver's," I said.
"We'll call it yours now," he replied. "Kendall picked it up, but he has
no need of it."
I remarked irrelevantly that I had not noticed when Sergeant Jim and
Kendall rejoined us, but Ferry stuck to the subject of the captured
weapon. "Take it," he insisted; "if you are not fully armed you will
find yourself holding horses every time we dismount to fight. And now,
Smith, I shall not report to the General this matter of the Olivers; you
shall tell him the whole of it, yourself; you are my scout, but you are
"Lieutenant, I--I wish I knew the whole of it."
"Tell him all you know."
"Even things _she_ doesn't want told?"
"Ah!"--he gave a Creole shrug--"that you must decide, on the honor of a
good soldier. She has taken you into her confidence?"
"Only into her service," I said, but he raised his brows. "That is
more; certainly you are honored. What is it you would rather not tell
the General and yet you must; do I know that already?"
"Yes, for one thing, I've got to tell him that old Lucius Oliver can't
be hung too high or too soon. For months he has been--"
Ferry showed pain. "I know; save that for the General. And what else?"
"Why, the other one--the son. Lieutenant, is she that monster's wife?"
Ferry stroked his horse's neck and said very softly, "She is his wife."
I had to wait long for him to say more, but at length, with the same
measured mildness, he spoke on. This amazing Charlotte, bereft of
father, brother and mother, ward of a light-headed married sister, and
in these distracted times lacking any friend with the courage, wisdom
and kind activity to probe the pretensions of her suitor, had been
literally snared into marriage by this human spider, this Oliver, a man
of just the measure to simulate with cunning and patient labor the
character, bearing and antecedents of a true and exceptional gentleman
for the sake of devouring a glorious woman.
"But, eh!" I exclaimed, "how could ever such as she mistake him for--"
"Ah, he is, I doubt not, but the burnt-out ruin of what he was half a
year ago. You perceive, he has not succeeded; he has not devoured her;
actually she has turned his fangs upon himself and has defeated his
designs toward her as if by magic. And yet the only magic has been her
vigilance, her courage, her sagacity. Smith,"--again he stroked the
mane of his charger--"if I tell you--"
I gave him no pledge but a look.
"Since the hour of her marriage she has never gone into her chamber
without locking the door; she has never come out of it unarmed."
I remarked that had I been in her place I should either have sunk into
the mire, so to speak, or thrown myself, literally, into the river.
"Yes," he responded, "but not she! Her life is still hers; she will
neither give it away nor throw it away. She wants it, and she wants
"Did she say that to you?"
He looked at me in wide surprise. "Ah! could you think she would speak
with me on that subject? No, I have learned what I know from a man we
shall meet to-day; the brother of Major Harper; and he, he has it
from--" my companion smiled--"somebody you have known a pretty long
time, I think, eh?"
"I see; I see; you mean my mother!"
He let me ponder the fact a long time. "Lieutenant," I asked at length,
"did you know your plot against the two Olivers would cross her wishes?"
"Ah!" was his quick response, "it crossed mine, like-wise. But, you
know, this life we have to live, it is never for two people only."
"No," I replied, with my eagerness to moralize, "no two persons, and
above all no one man and one woman, can ever be sure of their duty, or
even of their happiness, till they consider at least one third
"Hoh!" interrupted Ferry, in the manner of one to whom the fact was
somehow of the most immediate and lively practical interest, "and to
consider a thousand is better." Then, after a pause, "Yes," he said, "I
know she could not like that move, but you remember our talk of
yesterday, where we first met?"
Indeed I did. Between young men, to whom the principles of living were
still unproved weapons, there was, to my taste, just one sort of talk
better than table-talk, and that was saddle-talk; I remembered vividly.
"You mean when we were saying that on whatever road a man's journey
lies, if he will, first of all, stick to that road, and then every time
it divides take the--I see! you came to where the road divided!"
"Yes, and of course I had to take the upper fork. I am glad you said
that yesterday morning; it came as sometimes the artillery, eh?--just at
the right moment."
"I didn't say it, Lieutenant; you said it."
"No, I think you said it;--sounds like you."
"It was you who said it! and anyhow, it was you who had the strength to
He laughed. "Oh!--a little strength, a little
vanity,--pride--self-love--we have to use them all--as a good politician
I looked him squarely in the eyes and began to burn. At every new
unfolding of his confidence I had let my own vanity, pride, self-love be
more and more flattered, and here at length was getting ready to esteem
him less for showing such lack of reserve as to use _me_ as an
escape-valve for his pent-up thoughts, when all at once I fancied I saw
what he was trying to do. I believed he had guessed my temptations of
the night and was making use of himself to warn me how to fight them. "I
understand," said I, humbly.
But this only pleasantly mystified him. He glanced all over me with a
playful eye and said, "You must have a carbine the first time our
ordnance-wagon finds us. Drop back, now, into the ranks."
I did so; but I felt sure I should ride beside him again as soon as he
could make an opportunity; for it was plain that by a subtle unconfessed
accord he and _she_ had chosen me to be a true friend between them.
About noon, while taking a brief rest to give our horses a bite, we were
joined by an ambulance carrying Major Harper's brother and some freight
which certainly was not hospital stores. When we remounted, this vehicle
moved on with us, in the middle of the column, and I was called to ride
beside it and tell all about the arrival of Miss Harper and her nieces
at Hazlehurst, and their journey from Brookhaven to camp. Ned Ferry rode
on the side opposite me and I noticed that all the fellows nearest the
ambulance were choice men; Sergeant Jim was not there, but Kendall was
one, and a young chap on a large white-footed pacer was another. Having
finished my task I had gathered my horse to fall back to my place at the
rear, when my distinguished auditor said, "I'm acquainted with your
mother, you know."
He was not so handsome as his brother, though younger. His affability
came by gleams. I asked how that good fortune had come to my mother, and
he replied that there was hardly time now for another story; we might
be interrupted--by the Yankees. "Ask the young lady you met yesterday
evening," he added, with a knowing gleam, and smiled me away; and when
by and by the enemy did interrupt, I had forgiven him. Whoever failed to
answer my questions, in those days, incurred my forgiveness.
A MILLION AND A HALF
About mid-afternoon I awoke from deep sleep on a bed of sand in the
roasting shade of a cottonwood jungle. A corporal was shaking me and
whispering "Make no noise; mount and fall in."
Round about in the stifling thicket a score of men were doing so.
Lieutenant Quinn stood by, and at his side Sergeant Jim seemed to have
just come among us. The place was pathless; only in two directions could
one see farther than a few yards. Through one narrow opening came an
intolerable glare of sunlight from a broad sheet of gliding water, while
by another break in the motionless foliage could be seen in milder
light, filling nearly the whole northern view, the tawny flood of the
Mississippi. A stretch of the farther shore was open fields lying very
low and hidden by a levee.
As we noiselessly fell into line, counting off in a whisper and rubbing
from ourselves and our tortured horses the flies we were forbidden to
slap, I noticed rising from close under that farther levee and some two
miles upstream, a small cloud of dust coming rapidly down the hidden
levee road. It seemed to be raised entirely by one or two vehicles.
Behind us our own main shore was wholly concealed by this mass of
cottonwoods on the sands between it and the stream, on a spit of which
we stood ambushed. On the water, a hundred and fifty yards or so from
the jungle, pointed obliquely across the vast current, was a large skiff
with six men in it. Four were rowing with all their power, a fifth sat
in the bow and the other in the stern. Quinn, in the saddle, watched
through his glass the cottonwoods from which the skiff had emerged at
the bottom of a sheltered bay. Now he shifted his gaze to the little
whirl of dust across the river, and now he turned to smile at Jim, but
his eye lighted on me instead. I risked a knowing look and motioned with
my lips, "Just in time!"
"No," he murmured, "they're late; we've been waiting for them."
The sergeant's low order broke the platoon into column by file, Quinn
rode toward its head with his blade drawn, and as he passed me he handed
me his glass. "Here, you with no carbine, stay and watch that boat till
I send for you. If there's firing, look sharp to see if any one there is
hit, and who, and how hard. Watch the boat, nothing else."
He moved straight landward through the cottonwoods, followed by the men
in single file, but halted them while the rear was still discernible in
the green tangle. Presently they unslung carbines, and I distinctly
heard galloping. It was not far beyond the cottonwoods. The Yankees were
after us. Suddenly it ceased. Over yonder, shoreward in the thicket,
came a sharp command and then a second, and then, right on the front of
the jungle, at the water's edge, the shots began to puff and crack, and
the yellow river out here around the boat to spit!--spit!--in wicked
white splashes. Every second their number grew. Behind me Quinn and his
men stole away. But orders are orders and I had no choice but to watch
the boat. The man in the stern had his back to me, and no face among the
other five did I know. They were fast getting away, but the splashes
came thick and close and presently one ball found its mark. The man at
the stern hurriedly changed places with an oarsman; and as the relieved
rower took his new seat he turned slowly upon his face as if in mortal
pain, and I saw that the fresh hand at the oar was the brother of Major
Harper. Just as I made the discovery "Boom!" said my small dust-cloud
across the river, and "hurry-hurry-hurry-hurry-hurry-hurry-hurry--" like
a train on a trestle-work--"boom!"--a shell left its gray track in the
still air over the skiff and burst in the tops of the cottonwoods. The
green thicket grew pale with the bomb's white smoke, yet "crack! crack!"
and "spit! spit!" persisted the blue-coats' rifles. "Boom!" said again
the field-piece on yonder side the water. Its shell came rattling
through the air to burst on this side, out of the flashing and cracking
of rifles and the sulphurous bomb smoke arose cries of men getting
mangled, and I whimpered and gnawed my lips for joy, and I watched the
boat, but no second shot came aboard, and--"Boom!--hurry-hurry-hurry-
hurry"--ah! the frightful skill of it! A third shell tore the
cottonwoods, its smoke slowly broadened out, a Federal bugle beyond
the thicket sounded the Rally, and the cracking of carbines ceased.
Now Major Harper's brother passes a word to the man at the boat's bow,
whereupon this man springs up and a Confederate officer's braids flash
on his sleeve as he waves to the western shore to cease firing. I still
watch the boat, but I listen behind me. I hear voices of command, the
Federal sergeants hurrying the troop out of the jungle and back to their
horses. Then there comes a single voice, the commander's evidently; but
before it can cease it is swallowed up in a low thunder of hoofs and
then in a burst of cries and cheers which themselves the next moment are
drowned in a rattle of carbine and pistol shots--Ferry is down on them
out of hiding. Thick and silent above the din rises the dust of the
turmoil, and out of all the hubbub under it I can single out the voice
of the Federal captain yelling curses and orders at his panic-stricken
men. And now the mêlée rolls southward, the crackle of shots grows less
and then more again, and then all at once comes the crash of Quinn's
platoon out of ambush, their cheer, their charge, the crackle of pistols
again, and then another cheer and charge--what is that! Ferry re-formed
and down on them afresh? No, it was the hard-used but gallant foe
cutting their way out and getting off after all.
The skiff was touching the farther shore and the three oarsmen lifting
their stricken comrade out and bearing him to the top of the levee, when
Kendall came to recall me. On our way back he told me of the fight,
beginning with the results: none of our own men killed outright, but
four badly wounded and already started eastward in the ambulance left us
by the Major's brother; some others more slightly hurt. My questions
were headlong and his answers quiet; he was a slow-spoken daredevil; I
wish he came more than he does into this story.
Not slow-spoken did we find the command when we reached the road where
they were falling into line. After a brief but vain pursuit, here were
almost the haste and tumult of the onset; the sweat of it still reeked
on everyone; the ground was strewn with its wreckage and its brute and
human dead, and the pools of their blood were still warm. Squarely
across the middle of the road, begrimed with dust, and with a dead
Federal under him and another on top, lay the big white-footed pacer. At
one side the enemy's fallen wounded were being laid in the shade to be
left behind. In our ranks, here was a man with an arm in a bloody
handkerchief, there one with his head so bound, and yonder a young
fellow jesting wildly while he let his garments be cut and a flesh-wound
in his side be rudely stanched. Here there was laughter at one who had
been saved by his belt-buckle, and here at one who had dropped like dead
from his horse, but had caught another horse and charged on. But these
details imply a delay where in fact there was none; the moment Ferry
spied me he asked "Did he get across?" and while I answered he motioned
me into the line. Then he changed it into a column, commanded silence,
and led us across country eastward. For those few wounded who would not
give up their places in the ranks it was a weary ten miles that brought
us swiftly back to a point within five miles of that Clifton which we
had left in the morning. And yet a lovely ten miles it was, withal. You
would hardly have known this tousled crowd for the same dandy crew that
had smiled so flippantly upon me at sunrise, though they smiled as
flippantly now with faces powder-blackened, hair and eyelashes matted
and gummed with sweat and dust, and shoulders and thighs caked with
grime. Yet to Ned Ferry as well as to me--I saw it in his eye every time
he looked at them--these grimy fellows did more to beautify those ten
miles than did June woods beflowered and perfumed with magnolia, bay and
muscadine, or than slant sunlight in glade or grove.
In a stretch of timber where we broke ranks for a short rest, unbitting
but not unsaddling, a lot of fellows pressed me to tell them about the
boat on the river. "You heard what was in it, didn't you?" asked one
nearly as young as I.
"Besides the men? No. Same that was in the ambulance, I suppose; what
"Don't you know? Oh, I remember, you were asleep when Quinn told us.
Well, sir,"--he tried to speak calmly but he had to speak somehow or
explode--"it was soldiers' pay--for Dick Taylor's army, over in the
Trans-Mississippi; a million and a half dollars!" He was as proud to
tell the news as he would have been to own the money.
A QUIET RIDE
Where Ferry's scouts camped that night I do not know, for we had gone
only two or three miles beyond our first momentary halting-place when
their leader left them to Quinn and sprang away southward over fence,
hedge, road, ditch--whatever lay across his bee-line, and by his order I
followed at his heels.
In a secluded north-and-south road he looked back and beckoned me to his
side: "You saw Major Harper's brother land safe and sound, you say? He
told you this morning he is acquainted with your mother, eh; but
"No, except that it was through--"
"Yes, I know. But you don't know even how your mother is acquainted with
"No, though of course if she lived in the city, common sympathies might
easily bring them together."
"She did not live in the city; she lived across the river from the city.
'Tis but a year ago her father died. He was an owner of steamboats. She
made many river trips with him, and I suppose that explains how she
knows the country about Baton Rouge, Natchez, Grand Gulf, Rodney, better
than she knows the city. But the boats are gone now; some turned into
gunboats, one burnt when the city fell, another confiscated. I think
they didn't manage her bringing-up very well."
"Maybe not," I replied, being nothing if not disputatious, "and she does
strike me as one thrown upon her own intuitions for everything; but if
she's the lady she is entirely by her own personal quality, Lieutenant,
she's a wonder!"
"Ah, but she is a wonder. In a state of society more finished--"
"She would be incredible," I said for him, and he accepted the clause by
a gesture, and after a meditative pause went on with her history. The
subject of our conversation had first met Oliver, it seemed, when by
reason of some daring performance in the military field--near Milliken's
Bend, in the previous autumn--he was the hero of the moment. Even so it
was strange enough that he should capture her; one would as soon look to
see Vicksburg fall; but the world was upside down, everything was
happening as if in a tornado, and he cast his net of lies; lies of his
own, and lies of two or three match-making friends who chose to believe,
at no cost to themselves, that war, with one puff of its breath, had
cleansed him of his vices and that marriage would complete the happy
change. This was in Natchez, Ferry went on to say. Most fortunately for
the bride one of the bridegroom's wedding gifts was a certain young
slave girl; before the wedding was an hour past--before the
orange-blossoms were out of the bride's hair--this slave maid had told
her what he was, "And you know what that is."
We rode in silence while I tried to think what it must be to a woman of
her warmth--of her impulsive energies--to be, week in, week out, month
after month, besieged by that man's law-protected blandishments and
stratagems. "I wish you would use me in her service every time there is
a chance," I said.
"The chances are few," he answered; "even to General Austin she laughs
and says we must let the story work itself out; that she is the fool in
it, but there is a chance for the fool to win if not too much burdened
"How did you make her acquaintance?" I ventured to ask.
"You remember the last time the brigade was in this piece of country?"
I did; it had been only some five weeks earlier; Grant had driven us
through Port Gibson, General Bowen had retired across the north fork of
Bayou Pierre, and we had been cut off and forced to come down here.
"Yes; well, she came to us that night, round the enemy's right, with a
letter from Major Harper's brother--he was then in New Orleans--and with
information of her own that saved the brigade. I had just got my
company. I took it off next morning on my first scout, whilst the
brigade went to Raymond. She was my guide all that day; six times she
was my guide before the end of May. Yet the most I have learned about
her has come to me in the last few days."
"She has a fearful game to play."
"Oh!--yes, that is what she would call it; but me, I say--though not as
Gholson would mean it, you know,--she has a soul to save. If it is a
game, it is a very delicate one; let her play it as nearly alone as she
can." "Yes," said I, "a man's hand in it would be only his foot in it;"
and Ferry was pleased. He scanned me all over in the same bright way he
had done it in the morning, and remarked "This time I see they have
given you a carbine."
We went down into some low lands, crossed a creek or two, and in one of
them gave our horses and ourselves a good scrubbing. On a dim path in
thick woods we paused at a worm fence lying squarely across our way. It
was staked and ridered and its zig-zags were crowded with brambles and
wild-plum. A hundred yards to our left, still overhung by the woods, it
turned south. Beyond it in our front lay a series of open fields, in
which, except this one just at hand, the crops were standing high. The
nearer half of this one, a breadth of maybe a hundred yards, though
planted in corn, was now given up to grass, and live-stock, getting into
it at some unseen point, had eaten and trampled everywhere. The farther
half was thinly covered with a poor stand of cotton, and between the
corn and the cotton a small, trench-like watercourse crossed our line of
view at right angles and vanished in the woods at the field's eastern
edge. The farther border of this run was densely masked by a growth of
brake-cane entirely lacking on the side next us. Between the cotton and
the next field beyond, a double line of rail fence indicated the Fayette
and Union Church road. Suddenly Ferry looked through his field-glasses,
and my glance followed the direction in which they were pointed. Dust
again; one can get tired of dust! Some two miles off, a little southward
of the setting sun, a golden haze of it floated across a low
background of trees.
"'Tis the enemy, I think," he said, "but only scouts, I suppose."
A SALUTE ACROSS THE DEAD-LINE
I was not seeking enemies just then and was not pleased. "Didn't the
Yankees fall back this morning before day and move southward?" I asked.
"For what would they do that?" inquired my leader, still using the
glass, but before I could reply he gave a soft hiss, dropped the glass,
and turned his unaided eye upon a point close beyond our field, in the
road. Now again he lifted the glass, and I saw over there two small,
black, moving objects. They passed behind some fence-row foliage,
reappeared nearer, and suddenly bobbed smartly up to the roadside
fence--the dusty hats of two Federal horsemen. The wearers sat looking
over into the field between them and us. I asked Ferry if he wasn't
afraid they would see us.
"That is what we want," was his reply; "only, they must not know we want
it. Keep very still; don't move." At that word they espied us and
We turned to our left and hurried along our own fence-line, first
eastward, then south, and reined up behind some live brush at the edge
of the public road. "Soon know how many they are, now," he said, smiling
back at me.
"Are you going to count them?" It seemed so much easier to let them
"Yes," he replied. "Wish we had our boys here," he added, and did not
need to tell me how he would have posted them; the place was so
favorable for an ambush that those Yankees had no doubt been looking for
us before they saw us. Half of us would be in the locks of these
highroad fences to lure them on, and half in the little gully masked
with canes to take them in the flank. "We would count many times our own
number before they should pass," he added.
"Can't we make them think our men are here?" I suggested. "Couldn't I go
back to where this fence crosses the gully and let them see me opening a
gap in it?"
He was amused. "Go if you want; but be quick; here they come already, a
small bunch of them."
By the time I reached the spot they were in plain view, six men and an
officer. I leaped to the ground, tugged at a rail and threw one end off.
I thought I had never handled rails so heavy and slippery in my life. As
I got a second one down I looked across to the road. The officer was
distributing his men. Barely a mile behind was the dust of their column.
The third rail stuck and the sweat began to pour down into my eyes and
collar. Two of the blue-coats easily let down a panel of fence on the
far side of the road and pushed into the tall corn; three others came
galloping across the thin cotton to reconnoitre the fringe of canes; the
officer and the remaining man cantered on up the road toward the spot
where I could see Ferry observing everything from the saddle behind his
mask of leaves. Of a sudden the Federal commander descried me wildly at
work. He paused and pointed me out to the man at his back, but had no
glass and seemed puzzled. At his word the man pricked up to the fence
to come over it, but his horse was of another mind, and the impatient
officer, crowding him away, cleared the fence himself and came across
the furrows at a nimble trot. Still I tussled with the rails, and grew
peevish. The enemy was counted, closely enough! one troop. Their dust
showed it, the small advance guard proved it.
"Hello!" called the Federal officer, "who are you, over there?"
He might have known by looking a trifle more narrowly; I saw plainly,
thrillingly, who he was; but his attention was diverted by some signal
from the men he had sent to the fringe of cane; they had found the
tracks of horses leading through the canes into the corn. But now he
hailed me again. "Here, you! what are you doing at that fence? Who
He was within easy range and was still trotting nearer. I snatched up my
carbine, aimed, and then recovered, looking sharply to my left as if
restrained by the command of some one behind the canes. The Federal's
cool daring filled me with admiration. Had the foes he was looking for
been actually in hiding here they could have picked him out of his
saddle like a bird off a bush. His only chance was that they would not
let themselves be teased into firing prematurely on any one man or six.
Ferry beckoned me. I mounted and trotted down the woods side of the
fence, at the same time the Federal's six men approached from three
directions, and down the road the main column entered upon the scene.
The officer halted with revolver drawn and sent a man back with some
order to the main body. And then Ferry's beautiful brown horse, as
though of his own choice, reared straight up where he stood, dropped his
forelegs upon his breast, rose, over the fence, master and all, as
unlaboriously as a kite, trotted out from the brush and halted in the
open field. His rider's outdrawn sword flashed to the setting sun. The
Federal, pointing here and there was deploying his remaining five men
toward the spot I had left, but glancing round and seeing Ferry he
trotted toward him. Thereupon Ferry advanced at a walk, and I--for I had
followed him--moved at the same gait a few paces behind. "Halt him,"
said my leader.
"Halt!" I yelled with carbine at a ready, and the Federal halted. In
fact he had come to a small hollow full of bushes and grapevines and had
no choice but to halt or go round it.
"Don't swallow him," said Ferry, smilingly, "this isn't your private
"He's on my private horse!" I retorted.
"Well, you're on his," replied my commander. The giant before us,
mounted on Cricket, was my prisoner of the previous day.
"Who are you?" he was calling imperiously.
"Captain Jewett ought to know," Ferry called back, and on that the
questioner recognized us both. He became very stately. "Lieutenant
Durand, I believe."
"At times," said Lieutenant Durand.
"And at other times--?"
"Lieutenant Ferry--Ferry's scouts."
The Federal expanded with surprise and then with austere pleasure. He
glanced toward his five men galloping back to him having found no enemy,
and then at his column, which had just halted. Frowning, he motioned the
advance guard to the road again and once more hailed Ferry while he
pointed at me. He straightened and swelled still more as he began his
question, but as he finished it a smile went all over him. "Is that your
entire present force?"
"Then what the devil do you want?" he thundered.
"We have what we wanted," said Ferry, "only now we desire to cross the
"You're not asking my permission?"
"I am afraid not."
"I admit you are quite able to cross without."
"Thank you," said Ferry; "will you pardon me for passing in front of
The Federal's pistol slid into its holster and his sabre flashed out. He
threw its curved point up in a splendid salute. Ferry saluted with his
straight blade. Then both swords rang back into their scabbards, and
Jewett whirled away toward his column. For a moment we lingered, then
faced to the left, trotted, galloped. Over the fence and into the road
went he--went I. Down it, as we crossed, the blue column was just moving
again. Then the woods on the south swallowed us up.
[Illustration: Ferry saluted with his straight blade.]
"If Captain Jewett will only go on to Union Church," said Ferry, "Quinn
will see that he never gets back."
"But you think he will not go on?"
"Ah, now he is discovered, surely not. I think he will turn back at
"Why Wiggins? does he know Coralie Rothvelt?"
"Yes, he does; and if since last night he has maybe found out she is
"Oh! Lieutenant Ferry, oh! would such a man as that come hunting down a
woman, with a troop of cavalry?"
"He is not hunting her; yet, should he find her, I have the fear he
would do his duty as a soldier, anyhow. No, he _was_ looking, I think,
for Ferry's scouts."
"But if she should be at Wiggins--"
My leader smiled at my simplicity. "She is not at Wiggins."
"Where is she?"
"I do not know."
SOME FALL, SOME PLUNGE
At a farm-house well hidden in the woods of a creek we got a brave
supper for the asking and had our uniforms wonderfully cleaned and
pressed, and at ten that evening we dismounted before the three brightly
illumined tents of General Austin, Major Harper and that amiable cipher
our Adjutant-general. On the front of the last the shadow of a deeply
absorbed writer showed through the canvas, and Ferry murmured to me "The
ever toiling." It was Scott Gholson. I had heard the same name for him
the evening before, from her whose own lovely shadow fell so visibly and
so often upon the bright curtain of Ned Ferry's thought.
My leader went in while I held our horses. Then he and Gholson came out
and entered the General's tent; from which Gholson soon emerged again
and sent an orderly away into the gloom of the sleeping camp, and I
heard a small body of men mount and set off northward. Presently Ferry
came out and sent me in, and to my delight I found, on standing before
the General, that I did not need to tell what Charlotte Oliver wanted
"No, never mind that," he said, "Miss Rothvelt was here and saw me this
afternoon, herself." Up to the point of my arrival at the bridge I had
merely to fumble my cap and answer his crisp questions. But there he
lighted a fresh cigar and said "Now, go on."
Gholson dropped in with something to be signed, and the General waved
him to wait and hear. For Gholson, despite the sappy fetor of his mental
temperament, had abilities that made him almost a private secretary to
the General. Who, nevertheless, knew him thoroughly. When I had
described Oliver's escape and would have hurried on to later details,
General Austin raised a hand.
"Hold on; you say nearly everybody fired at Oliver; who did not?" "I
did not, General."
"Did Lieutenant Ferry fire?"
I said he did not. The General turned his strong eyes to Gholson's and
kept them there while he took three luxurious puffs at his cigar. Then
he took the waiting paper, and as he wrote his name on it he said,
smiling, "I wish you had been in Lieutenant Ferry's place, Mr. Gholson;
you would have done your duty."
The flattered Gholson received the signed paper and passed out, and the
General smiled again, at his back. I hope no one has ever smiled the
same way at mine.
Ferry and I slept side by side that night, and he told me two companies
of our Louisianians were gone to cut off Jewett and his band. "Still, I
think they will be much too late," he said, and when I rather violently
turned the conversation aside to the subject of Scott Gholson, saying,
to begin with, that Gholson had wonderful working powers, he replied,
"'Tis true. Yet he says the brigade surgeon told him to-day he is on the
verge of a nervous break-down." But on my inquiring as to the cause of
our friend's condition, my bedmate pretended to be asleep.
We rose at dawn and rode eastward, he and I alone, some fourteen miles,
to the Sessions's, where the dance had been two nights earlier. On
entering the stable to put up our horses we suddenly looked at each
other very straight, while Ferry's countenance confessed more pleasure
than surprise, though a touch of care showed with it. "I did not know
this," he said, "and I did not expect it."
What we saw was the leather-curtained spring-wagon and its little
striped-legged mules. The old negro in charge of them bowed gravely to
me and smiled affectionately upon Ferry. About an hour later Gholson
appeared. He took such hurried pains to explain his coming that any fool
could have seen the real reason. The brigade surgeon had warned him--Oh!
had I heard?--Oh! from Ned Ferry, yes. The cause of his threatened
breakdown, he said, was the perpetual and fearful grind of work into
which of late he had--fallen.
"Did the doctor say 'fallen'?" I shrewdly asked.
"No, the doctor said 'plunged,' but--did Ned Fer'--who put that into
"Nobody; some fall, you know, some plunge." I did not ask the cause of
the plunge; the two little mules told me that. He would never have come,
Gholson hurried on to say, had not Major Harper kindly suggested that a
Sabbath spent with certain four ladies would be a timely preventive.
"What!" I cried, "are they here t'--too? Why,--where's their carryall?
'Tisn't in the stable; I've looked!"
"No, it was here, but yesterday, when the fighting threatened to be
heavy, it was sent to the front. Smith, I didn't know Charlie Tolliver
I believed him. But I saw he was not in search of a preventive. Ah, no!
he was ill of that old, old malady which more than any other abhors a
preventive. Waking in the summer dawn and finding Ned Ferry risen and
vanished hitherward, a rival's instinct had moved him to follow, as the
seeker for wild honey follows the bee. He had come not for the cure of
his honey-sickness, but for more--more--more--all he could find--of the
honey. "Smith," he said, with a painful screw of his features, "I'm
mightily troubled about Ned Ferry!"
"Yes," I dishonestly responded, "his polished irreligion--"
"Oh, no! No," he groaned, "it isn't that so much just now, though I know
that to a true religionist like you the society of such a mere
We were interrupted.
OLDEST GAME ON EARTH
The cause of our interruption was Camille Harper. We had been pacing the
side veranda and she came out upon it with an unconscious song on her
lips, and on one finger a tiny basket.
Her gentle irruption found me standing almost on the spot where she had
stood two evenings before and said good-bye to me. From this point a
path led to the rear of the house, where within a light paling fence
bloomed a garden. She gave us a blithe good-morning as she passed,
descended the two or three side steps, and tripped toward the garden
gate, a wee affair which she might have lifted off its hinges with one
thumb. I saw her try its latch two or three times and then turn back
discomfited because the loose frame had sagged a trifle and needed to be
raised half an inch. I did not understand the helplessness of girls as
well then as I do now; I ran and opened the gate; and when I shut it
again she and I were alone inside.
She let me cut the flowers. "You know who's here?" she asked.
"Yes," I guilefully replied, "I came with him."
"I don't mean Lieutenant Ferry," she responded, "nor anybody you'd ever
guess if you don't know; but you do, don't you?"
I said I knew and went on gathering sweet-pea blossoms.
"Did you ever see her?"
"Yes," I replied, stepping away for some roses, "I--saw her--by
chance--for a moment--she was in the wagon she's got here--last
--eh,--Thursday--morn'--" I came back trimming the roses, and
as she reached for them and our glances met, she laughed and replied,
with a roguish droop of the head--
"She told us about it. And you needn't look so disturbed; she only
Still I frowned. "How does it come that she's here, anyhow?"
"Why! she's got to be everywhere! She's a war-correspondent! She was at
the front yesterday nearly the whole time, near enough to see some of
the fighting, and to hear it all! she calls it 'only a skirmish'!"
"When did she get here?"
"About five in the morning. But we didn't see her then; she shut herself
up and wrote and wrote and wrote! They say she runs the most daring
risks! And they say she's so wise in finding out what the Yankees are
going to do and why they're going to do it, that they'd be nearly as
glad to catch her as to catch Lieutenant Ferry! Didn't you know? Ah, you
knew!" She attempted a reproachful glance, but exhaled happiness like a
fragrance. I asked how she had heard these things.
"How did I hear them? Let me see. Oh, yes! from--from Harry."
I flinched angrily. "From what?"
She looked into her basket and fingered its flowers. "That's what he
asked me to call him."
I stiffened up as though I heard a thief picking the lock of my lawful
treasure. She threw me, side wise, a bantering smile and then a more
winsome glance, but I refused to see either. I burned with so many
feelings at once that I could no more have told them than I could have
raised a tune. "Don't you like him?" she asked, and tried to be
"You know perfectly well," she replied.
"No, I do not like him. Do you?"
"Why,--yes,--I do. I--I thought everybody did." She averted her face and
toyed with the sweet-pea vines. Suddenly she gulped, faced me, blinked
rapidly, and said "If I oughtn't to call him--that,--then I oughtn't to
have called--" she dropped her eyes and bit her lip.
"_That_," I replied, "is a very different matter! At least I had hoped
Her rejoinder came in a low, grieved monotone: "Did you say _had_
It was the sweetest question my ear had ever caught, and I asked her, I
scarce know how, if I might still say "do hope".
"Why, I--I didn't know you ever did say it. I don't see that I have any
right to forbid you saying things--to--to yourself."
So we played the game--oldest game on earth--and loveliest. Bungling
moves we made, as you see, and sometimes did not know whose move it was.
At length she admitted that this _is_ a very unsafe world in which to be
kind to soldiers. I told how _fickle_ some of them were. She would not
say she would--or wouldn't--make my case a permanent exception or a
solitary one; yet with me she blissfully pooh-poohed the idea that our
acquaintance was new, she being so wonderfully like my mother, and I
being so wonderfully ditto, ditto. And when I burst into a blazing
eulogy of my mother, my listener gave me kinder looks than I ever
deserved of any woman alive. On my trying to reciprocate, she asked me
for more flowers and hurried back to our earlier theme.
"And really, you know, they say she's almost as truly a scout as Ned
Fer'--as Lieutenant Ferry-Durand. She's from New Orleans, you know, and
she's like us, half-Creole; but her other half is Highland Scotch--isn't
that romantic! When she told us about it she laughed and said it
explained some things in her which nothing else could excuse! Wasn't
that funny!--oh, pshaw! it doesn't sound a bit funny as I tell it, but
she said it in such a droll way! She was so full of fun and frolic that
day! You can't conceive how full of them she is--sometimes; how soberly
she _can_ say the funniest things, and how _funnily_ she can say the
[Illustration: "Don't you like him?" she asked, and tried to be very
"You say she was so full of fun that day; what day?"
The young thing gaped at me, gasped, and melted half to the ground:
"O--oh--I've let it out!"
"Yes, you may as well go right on, now."
She straightened to her toes, covered her open mouth an instant, and
then said "Yes, we knew her--at our house--in New Orleans--poor New
Orleans! Your mother--oh, your splendid, lovely little mother is such a
"My mother brought her to your house?"
"Yes, oh, yes! and that's why it isn't wrong to tell _you_. Charlotte's
been three times through the lines, to and from the city; once by way of
Natchez and twice through Baton Rouge. And oh, the things she's brought
out to our poor boys in the hospitals!"
"Generals' uniforms, for example?"
"Oh, now you're real mean! No! what she's brought the most of is--guess!
You'll never guess it in the world!"
"Hindoo grammars!--No? Well, then,--perfumery!"
"Ah, you! No, I'll tell you." She spoke prudently; I had to bow my ear
so close that it tingled: "Dolls!"
My amazement was genuine. "For our sick soldiers!" I sighed.
Her eyes danced; she leaned away and nodded. Then she drew nearer than
before: "Dolls!" she murmured again;--"and pincushions!--and
emeries!--and 'rats'! you know, for ladies' hair--and chignon-cushions!"
"For our sick soldiers!"
"Yes!--stuffed with quinine!" She laughed in her handkerchief till the
smell of the sweet-peas was lost in the odor of frangipani, and she
staggered almost into my arms. But that sobered her. "And when we speak
of the risk she runs of being sent to Ship Island she laughs and says,
'Life is strife.' She says she'd like it long, but she's got to have
"Life is strife indeed to her," I said.
"Oh! do you know that too?--and another reason she gives for taking
those awful risks is that 'it's the best use she can make of her silly
streak'--as if she had any such thing!"
"Why did my mother bring her to you?"
"Oh! she had letters from uncle to aunt Martha! He thinks she's
"Does your father think so, too?"
"My father? no; but he's prejudiced! That's one of the things I can
never understand--why nearly all the girls I know have such
A GNAWING IN THE DARK
On our return to the veranda, Camille and I, we found on its front the
house's entire company except only the children of the family. Mrs.
Sessions, Estelle and Cécile formed one group, Squire Sessions and
Charlotte Oliver made a pair, and Ferry and Miss Harper another. Our
posies created a lively demonstration; Camille yielded them to Estelle,
and Estelle took them into the house to arrange them in water. Gholson
went with her; it was painful to see her zest for his society.
Miss Harper "knocked me down," as we boys used to say, to Charlotte
Oliver; "Charlotte, my dear, you already know Mr. Smith, I believe?"
I had expected to see again, and to feel, as well, the starry charms of
Coralie Rothvelt; but what I confronted was far different. The charms
were here, unquenched by this stare of daylight, but from them shone a
lustre of womanliness wholly new. It seemed to grow on even when a
tricksy gleam shot through it as she replied, "Yes, our acquaintance
dates from Gallatin."
With a spasm of eagerness I said it did: "Our
acquai'--hh--Gallatin--hh--" But my soul cried like a culprit, "No, no,
it begins only now!" and my whole being stood under arrest before the
accusing truth that from Gallatin till now my acquaintance had been
solely with that false phase of her which I knew as Coralie Rothvelt. At
the same her kind eyes sweetly granted me a stripling's acquittal--oh!
why did it have to be a stripling's?
Wonderful eyes she had; deep blue, as I have said, in color; black, in
spirit; never so wonderful as when having sparkled black they quieted to
blue again. Always then there came the slightest of contractions at the
outer corners of the delicate lids, that gave a fourfold expression of
thought, passion, tenderness and intrepidity. I never saw that silent
meaning in but one other pair of eyes; wherever it turned it said--at
the same time saying many other things but saying this always
plainest--"I see both out and in; I know myself--and thee." Never but in
one other pair of eyes? no; and whose were those? Ned Ferry's.
"Don't you love to see Charlotte and him look at each other in that
steady way when they're talking together?" Camille asked me later. But
rather coldly I inquired why I should; I felt acutely enough without
admitting it to Camille, that Charlotte and Ferry were meeting on ground
far above me; and when Gholson, in his turn, called to my notice, in
Charlotte's case, this unique gaze, and contrasted it with her beautiful
yet strangely childish mouth, I asked a second time why she was
"She's here," murmured Gholson, "because she has to live! To live she
must have means, Smith, and to have means she must either get them
herself or she must--" and again he poised his hand horizontally across
his mouth and whispered--"live with her hus'--"
I jerked my head away--"Yes, yes." Scott Gholson was the only one of us
who could give that wretch that title. "Gholson," I said, for I kept him
plied with questions to prevent his questioning me, "how did that man
ever get her?"
The rest of the company were going into the house; he glanced furtively
after them and grabbed my arm; you would have thought he was about to
lay bare the whole tragedy in five words; "Smith,--nobody knows!"
"Do you believe she has told Ned Ferry anything?"
"Never! About herself? no, sir!" He bent and whispered: "She despises
him; she keeps in with him, but it's to get the news, that's all; that's
positively all." On our way to the stable to saddle up--for we were all
going to church--he told me what he knew of her story. I had heard it
all and more, but I listened with unfeigned interest, for he recited it
with flashes of heat and rancor that betrayed a cruel infatuation eating
into his very bone and brain, the guilt of which was only intensified by
the sour legality of his moral sense.
The church we went to was in Franklin, but the preacher was a man of
note, a Vicksburg refugee. On the way back Gholson and I rode for a time
near enough to Squire Sessions and Ned Ferry to know the sermon was
being discussed by them, and something they said gave my companion
occasion to murmur to me in a tone of eager censure that Ned Ferry's
morals were better than his religion.
I said I wished mine were.
"Ah, Smith, be not deceived! Whenever you see a man bringing forth the
fruits of the Spirit while he neglects the regularly appointed means of
grace, you _know_ there's something wrong, don't you? He went to church
this morning--_of course_; but how often does he go? What's wrong with
our dear friend--I don't like to say it, for I admire him so; I don't
like to say it, and I never have said it, but, Smith,--Ned Ferry's a
romanticist. We are relig'--what?"
At one point our way sloped down to a ramshackle wooden bridge that
spanned a narrow bit of running water at the edge of a wood. Beyond it
the road led out between two fields whose high worm-fences made it a
broad lane. The farther limit of this sea of sunlight was the grove that
hid the Sessions house on the left; on the right it was the
woods-pasture in which lay concealed a lily-pond. As Gholson and I
crossed the bridge we came upon a most enlivening view of our own
procession out in the noonday blaze before us; the Sessions buggy; then
Charlotte' little wagon; next the Sessions family carriage full of
youngsters; and lastly, on their horses, Squire Sessions--tall, fleshy,
clean-shaven, silver-haired--and Ned Ferry. Mrs. Sessions and Miss
Harper, in the buggy, were just going by a big white gate in the
right-hand fence, through which a private way led eastward to the
lily-pond. A happy sight they were, the children in the rear vehicle
waving handkerchiefs back at us, and nothing in the scene made the
faintest confession that my pet song, which I was again humming, was pat
to the hour:
"To the lairds o' Convention 'twas Claverhouse spoke,
Ere the sun shall go down there are heads to be broke."
"Gholson, if it isn't Ned Ferry's religion that's worrying you just now
about him, what is it?"