Part 6 out of 8
most of them, there were no end of whispered confidences to exchange and
tender reassurances in ratification of some new compact. Then there were
solemn notes of comparison as to the fit and form of gowns, or the fit
of a furbelow, exhaustively discussed, perhaps that very afternoon. Keen
eyes, merry and tantalizing, were lifted to Dick's sulky face during
this pretty by-play, but all the gayety of the comedy was lost to him.
When he could contain himself no longer, with another bevy of cronies in
sight coming down the stairs, he cried out, desperately:
"For Heaven's sake, Rosa, don't wait here like the statue in St.
Peter's, to be kissed by everybody on the way to the pope; it's simply
sickening to stand here like a shrine to be slopped by girls that you
see every day. Come away; I want to say something to you."
Rosa turned her astonished eyes upon the railer, and, with a comic
movement of immense dignity, drew her arm from his sheltering elbow,
and, in tones of freezing _hauteur_ retorted:
"And since when, sir, are you master of my conduct? I am my own
mistress, I believe. I shall kiss whom I please."
"O Rosa, Rosa, I didn't mean that; I don't know what I meant. I--O Rosa,
don't be fretful with me now! I can't bear it. I am ill--I mean I am
tired. Come and sit with me."
Several on the outer edge of the flowing current turned curiously as
this sharp cry of boyish pleading rose above the noisy clamor. It was
impossible, however, to push backward, but in an instant the lovers were
sheltered in an alcove near the doorway. Rosa had taken his rejected arm
again in a panic of guilty repentance, and, looking at his half-suffused
eyes, cried, piteously:
"Oh, forgive me, Richard, forgive me--I did not mean it! I forgot you
were ill. Ah, please, please forgive me! You know--I--I--"
But Dick, now conscious that inquiring eyes were fastened upon them,
curious ears listening, seized her arm, and, by main force, reached the
hall doorway, now nearly deserted.
"Rosa, I am not well--that is, I have a headache, or heartache--it's the
same thing. I didn't mean to tell you, for I didn't want to destroy your
pleasure, and you have looked forward so long to this; but I--I--can not
dance. Jack and I are going to walk a little while, and then we--we
shall be more ourselves."
Poor Dick had only the slightest idea what he was saying, and Rosa
listened with wide-open eyes and little appealing caresses, not quite
certain what the distracted lover did mean.
"All your dances are taken up. Young Warrick just told me he had the
first. You gave Gayo Brotherton two yesterday, so you will have no need
of me for hours yet."
"But I will cut them if you say so. Only you know that it is our way
here to give the first who ask."
"Yes, yes; that's right. I--I couldn't dance now. I shall be all right,
presently if--if I see you happy. Ah, Rosa, if--if I should die--if I
should be carried away, would you always love me, would you always
believe in me?"
"Why, Dick, you are really ill; let me feel your wrist." Rosa seized
Dick's hand and began a convulsive squeezing. "Yes, you certainly have a
fever. You must go home. I shall go with you. It is your wound. It has
broken out again--I know it has. You shall go home this instant. I will
send for the carriage. Come straight up-stairs, you wicked boy! To let
me come here when you are so ill! I shall never forgive myself--never!"
"A large vow for a small maid."
"Mr. Jack!"--for the voice was Jack's--"Dick is very ill, and he must go
home at once. Will you not get the carriage and take us?"
"I will not take you. I am very experienced in Dick's ailments, and I
have already summoned a physician, who is waiting for us. But he can not
attend his patient if you are present."
"Yes, Rosa, Jack is right. I will leave you now, and when you see me
again you will see that I am not ill--that I--I--"
"I will stop for you at the door, Dick. You know the physician can not
be kept waiting, so make your parting brief. Short shrift is the easiest
in love and war."
"A doctor is as dreadful to me as a battle, Rosa. Kiss me as if I were
going to the field," Dick whispered as Jack's back was turned. A minute
later he had joined his mentor, and the two hurried through the square
and down toward the river.
"I can't do it, Jack," Dick suddenly broke out, as they hurried through
the dark street. "I must leave Rosa a line telling her my motive. What
will she think of me sneaking away like this without a word? Now, you go
on to Blake's cabin and change your clothes. I will get an old suit of
Vint's. It will really make no difference in the time, and it will be
safer for us to reach the prison separately than together."
"No, Dick, be a man. Every line you write will add to our peril. She
will, of course, show it to her mother. Our night will be known in the
morning. Mrs. Atterbury is too loyal to the Confederacy to conceal
anything. You will thus give the authorities the very clew they need.
No, Dick, you must be guided by me in this; besides, you can send Rosa
letters through Vincent at headquarters as soon as we reach Washington."
"I can't help it. I know you are right, but I must do it. I will be with
you in less than an hour. I'm off."
"Listen!--Good God, he's gone!" Jack ejaculated as Dick, taking
advantage of a cross-street, shot off into the darkness. Jack halted. To
call would be dangerous; to run after him excite comment, perhaps
pursuit and discovery. There was nothing to be done but wait at the
rendezvous. He would come back--Jack tried to make himself believe that
he could depend on that. When, after a circuitous walk of half an hour,
he reached the cabin of Blake, the colored agent of Mrs. Gannat, he
found a note from his patroness warning him that the prison authorities
had become alert. A rumor of a plot to escape had penetrated the War
Department, and orders had been given to increase the precaution of the
guards. The reception at the President's was a stroke of good fortune
for the prisoners, as all the higher officials would be detained there
until morning. Perhaps, in view of the chance, it would be better to
anticipate the hour of flight, as, unfortunately, the horses that had
been got together for the fugitives were in use for the Davis guests,
and on such short notice others could not be provided without exciting
suspicion or pointing to the agency by which the liberation had been
"Ah, if Dick were only here," Jack groaned, "we could go to the square
and lead away enough staff or orderly horses to serve the purpose. The
little wretch! It would serve him properly to leave him here mooning
over his sweetheart." Then his heart took up a little tremor of protest.
He sighed gently. He, too, had loitered when his heart pleaded. Why
should Dick be firmer than he? It was after midnight when he reached the
sheltering, broken, ground along the river. The provost prison fronted
the water. It had been a tobacco warehouse, built long before, and
hastily transformed into its present military purpose. It was set in
what was called a "cut" in the heavy clay bank, thus bringing the lower
windows below the level of the surrounding land. There were sentries
stationed in front and rear, who walked at regular intervals from corner
to corner. The sentinel on the high level to the rear could not see the
ground along the wall, and it was this fact which Jack calculated upon
to enable him to help the prisoners to remove the _debris_ of the wall
through which they were to presently emerge. The night was pitchy dark.
This had been taken into consideration long before. Heavy clouds hung
over the river, throwing the prison and its environs into still more
security for Jack's purpose. He reconnoitred every available point,
searched every corner of possible danger, and as the time passed he
began to rage with impatience against Dick, whose delay was now periling
the success of the enterprise.
It was twelve o'clock and after. He dared wait no longer. Dick must
shift for himself. Perhaps he had lost his way. In any event it was
safer to set the general prisoners free, as they were only carelessly
guarded. Lamps glimmered fitfully in the guard-room, throwing fantastic
banners of light almost to the water's edge. He made a final tour about
the broken ground, but there was no sound or suspicion of Dick. He knew
every inch of the ground. Dick and he had surveyed and resurveyed it for
days. The coast was clear. No one was on guard at the vital point, but
still he lingered, his breath coming and going painfully, as a break in
the clouds cast a moving shape over the undulating ground. Should he
give the boy another half-hour's grace? He makes a circuit in the
direction Dick must approach by and waits. He will count a hundred very
slowly, then wait no longer. He counts up to fifty, hears a coming step,
and waits alertly. No--it passes on. He begins again--counts one
hundred, two hundred. No sign. "Pah! it is madness to delay for him. The
young poltroon has lost his resolution in his lovesick fever. Very
likely he has been unable to run the risk of Rosa's anger--her mother's
indignation--the possibility of never seeing the girl again." Well, he
had given him ample grace. He had endangered his own and other lives to
humor a boyish whim. Now he must act, and swiftly.
The plan was too far gone in execution to be changed. He must carry out
the final measures alone. Now, one of these details required some one to
slip down on the ground and crawl to the point between the windows where
the prisoners were working and aid them to remove the thin, shell of
brick. If it fell outward, the guard at the corner would hear the noise,
and might come down to see what it was that made it. The removal of this
wall released all confined in the main prison. These he saw stealing out
in groups of ten or more. They had guides waiting on the bank of the
river. Jack gave them final orders. The most difficult work was the
getting out Jones and Barney, for they had special cells. Jack was to
guard Jones's exit and Dick Barney's, but now all the work would devolve
upon him. It was two o'clock, and he dared wait no longer. Raising
himself from the low wall where he had been crouching, he started toward
the corner of the prison farthest from the guard-room. At the wall of
the building he dropped flat on his face and began to crawl forward,
sheltered by the low ground that formed a sort of dry ditch about the
basement of the prison. He had barely stretched himself at full length
when a bright light was flashed on him from a deep doorway just beyond
him, and a voice, mocking and triumphant, exclaimed.
"This is a bad place to swim, my friend! There ain't enough water to
drown you, but if you stir you'll run against a bullet."
Jack lay quite still and raised his eyes. Above him stood a trooper,
with a revolver leveled at and within ten feet of him. Figure to
yourself any predicament in life in which vital stakes hang on the
issue; figure to yourself the shipwrecked seizing ice where he had hoped
for timber; the condemned criminal walking into the jailer's toils where
he had laboriously dug through solid walls; the captain of an army
leaving the field victor, to find his legions rushing upon him in rout;
figure any monstrous overturn in well-laid schemes, and you have but a
faint reflex of poor Jack's heart-breaking anguish when this jocular
fate stood above him, with the five gaping barrels pointed at his
miserable head. Oh, if Dick had only been there! His quick eye and keen
activity would have discovered this lurking devil; perhaps, between
them, they would have averted the disaster. Where could Dick be?
BETWEEN THE LINES.
On quitting Jack, Dick had but one thought in mind--to make his
departure less abrupt for Rosa. If he left her without a word, what
would she think? Then, with an officer's uniform, he could be of much
more help to Jack and the party than in the rough civilian homespun
furnished at the cabin. Besides, he knew of certain blank headquarter
passes lying on Vincent's desk. He would get a few of these; they might
extricate the party in the event of a surprise.
He tore over the solemn roadway, under the spectral foliage, and in
twenty minutes he was in his room in the Atterburys'. Vincent's old
uniform he had often noticed in a spare closet adjoining his own
sleeping-room. In an instant he was in it, and, though it was not a fit,
he soon put it in order to pass casual inspection. The line for Rosa was
the next delay. What should he say? He had had his mind full for days of
the most tender sentiments and prettily turned phrases, but the turmoil
of the last hour, the vital value of every moment to Jack's plans, left
him no time to compose the poem he had meditated so long. Rosa's own
pretty desk was open, and on a sheet of her own paper he wrote, in a
scrawling, school-boy hand:
"DARLING ROSA: You've often said that you would disown Vincent if he
were not true to the South. Think of Vincent in my place--dawdling in
Acredale or Washington while battles were going on. You would not hold
him less contemptible that he was in love; that he let his love, or his
life, for you are both to me, stand as a barrier to his duty. You can't
love where you can't honor, and you can't hate where you know conscience
rules. I go to my duty, that in the end I may come to you without shame.
I ask no pledge other than comes to your heart when you read this; but
whatever you may say, whatever you may decide, I am now and always shall
be your devoted
He sighed, casting a woe-begone glance into the mirror, dimly conscious
that he was a very heroic young person. He kissed various objects dear
to the little maid, and then, in lugubrious unrest, sallied out
Again under the calm sky--again the fleet limbs of the horse almost
keeping time to his own inward impatience. He holds to the soft,
unpaved, outlying streets, that his pace may not attract remark. He
passes horsemen, like himself spurring fleetly in the darkness. He is
near the river at last--dismounts and reconnoitres. He easily finds a
place to tie the horse, and, familiar with every inch of the outlying
ground about the prison, crawls close to the wall, listening intently.
He can hear no sound save the weary clank of the sentry on the wooden
walk. He reaches the wall where the prisoners Jones and Barney were to
emerge. There is no sign of a break! Where can Jack be? Some disaster
must have overtaken him, for it is past the hour set and soon it will be
dawn, and then all action will be impossible. Perhaps Jack has been
caught reconnoitring? Perhaps he has gone with the main body, not
venturing to try for Jones and Dick without help? No, that was not like
Jack. This was his special part in the plan--if it were not done, Jack
was still about. He can find out readily--thanks to the countersign. He
steals back over the low hillock, mounts the horse, and by a _detour_
reaches the sentry guarding the river front of the prison. He is
challenged, but, possessed of the countersign, finds no difficulty in
riding up to the guard-room doorway.
"Has Lieutenant Hawkins been here within an hour, sentry?" he asks, in
"No, sir. I think he has been sent for--leastwise, the sergeant went
away about an hour ago to report the taking of a deserter, found
prowling about the side of the prison."
"Yes, sir. He had a brand-new uniform on and no company mark, nor no
"What has been done with him?" Dick asked, breathlessly, dismounting. "I
wonder if he isn't one of my company from Fort Lee? He went off on a
drunk yesterday, though he was sent here on a commissary errand."
"I dunno, sir. He's in the lockup there. He was very violent, and the
sergeant bound him with straps."
"I will go in and examine him; he may be one of my men, and, as our
brigade moves in the morning, I should like to know."
"Very well, sir; the officer of the day is asleep in the room beyond the
first door. One of the men will call him."
"Oh, no need to disturb him until I have seen the prisoner.--Here, my
man"--addressing a soldier asleep on a settee--"show me to the deserter
brought in to-night."
"Yes, sir," the man cried, starting up with confused alacrity; then,
noticing the insignia of major on Dick's gray collar, he saluted
respectfully, and, pointing to a double doorway, waited for his superior
to lead the way. Dick, who had been in the prison before, knew his
whereabouts very well, and it was not until the soldier reached the room
in which the deserter was detained that he seemed to remember that there
were no lights.
"Here are the man's quarters, sir; but I'm out of matches. If you'll
wait a minute I'll bring a candle."
"All right," Dick responded, in a loud voice; "I'll stand here until you
The quest of the candle would take the guide to the closet in the
guard-room, and, risking little to learn much, Dick struck a match and
peered into the stuffy little room, more like a corn-crib than a
"Hist, Jack! is it you?" he called.
There was an exclamation from the farther end of the room, and then a
"Heavens, Dick! is it really you?"
The soldier's returning footfalls sounded in the passage-way; but, as he
re-entered the hall where Dick stood shading the flickering light, he
could not see the hastily extinguished match in Dick's hand. As the man
came slowly along the winding passage-way, Dick whispered:
"You are a recruit in Rickett's legion; you were drunk and lost your
way, and I am your major; you are stationed at Fort Lee near
Mechanicsville, and you belong to Company G."
Jack pretended to be sound asleep when the soldier and Dick entered. He
rubbed his eyes sleepily, and looked up in a vacant, tipsy way, leering
knowingly at the soldier, who had caught him by the shoulder.
"What are you doing here, Tarpey? Why aren't you with your company?
You'll get ball and chain for this lark, or my name's not James Braine."
"But, major, it--it wasn't my fault. My cousin, Joe Tarpey, came down
from Staunton with a barrel of so'gum whisky, and--and--"
"You drank too much and was caught where you had no business to be.
However," Dick added, sternly, "the regiment marches in the morning--you
must get out of here. Soldier, show me to Captain Payne's quarters. Say
to him that Major Braine, of Rickett's Legion, desires to speak with him
a moment." But he had no sooner said this than he realized the danger he
The captain might know Braine, and then how could he extricate himself
from the dilemma? Luckily the captain was not in his quarters, and Dick,
with calm effrontery, sat down and wrote out a statement of the case,
where he was to be found, and his reasons for carrying the
The sergeant, having read this, made no objection to releasing the
alleged deserter, since there had been no orders concerning him, and,
without more ado, Jack walked away with his captain, the picture of
abashed valor and repentant tipsiness.
"Now, Dick, there's no time to ask the meaning of your miraculous
doings. We've still time to let our friends out and get away before
daylight; but we mustn't lose a second. Sh! stand still, what's that?
Troopers! Good heavens, they can't have found out your trick so soon!
Ah, no! They are floundering about looking for quarters," he added, in
immeasurable relief, as the voices of the riders sounded through the
darkness, cursing luck, the road, and everything else. "O Dick, if we
only had the countersign I could play a brilliant trick on these
greenhorns! Perhaps I can as it is."
"I have the countersign. How do you suppose I could have managed to get
to you if I hadn't? It is 'Lafayette.'"
"Glory! Now make all the clatter you can after I challenge."
They had by this time reached a row of tumble-down stables directly in
the rear of the prison, and shut out from the open ground by a decrepit
fence, broken here and there by negroes too lazy to pass out into the
street to reach the river. The horsemen had turned into this lane-like
highway--evidently misdirected. When within a few feet, Jack gave a
sudden whack on the board and cried, sternly:
"Halt! Who comes there?"
There was a sudden clash of steel as the group halted in a heap, and
then a weary voice replied:
"We have no countersign. We should have been at our destination long
before sundown, but were misdirected ten miles out of our course on the
"Very well. Dismount and come forward one man at a time," Jack answered,
briefly. This the spokesman did with some alacrity. As he came up, Dick
took the precaution of getting between him and his three companions, and
then Jack said: "I suppose you are all right; but my orders are to
arrest all mounted men, detain their horses here in these, the provost
stables," and Jack pointed to Dick's horse dimly outlined against the
sky. "I will give you a receipt for him, and you can get him back in the
morning when you state your case to the provost marshal.--Stephen," he
turned to Dick, "take that horse and put him with the others." He then
made out a receipt, handed it to the astonished trooper, and, directing
him where to go, carried out the same short shrift with the other three.
The troopers were glad enough to be relieved of their beasts. This they
did not attempt to deny, for they had seen a public-house in the street
below, where they could procure much-needed refreshment, relieved as
they now were from the necessity of reporting to their commander, whose
whereabouts were far down the Rocett road.
"By George, Jack, what a, crafty plotter you are! Now we have a mount
for the party, and I needn't take poor Warick's crack stallion."
"Yes; we've doubled the chances of escape by this little stratagem; but
we have lost time. Come. Have you tied the horses?"
"Yes. Lead on."
Over the turfy hillside, now moist and sticky with the heavy dew, they
stole, half crouching, half crawling, until they were on a level with
the prison basement. The sentry in front was no longer pacing his beat,
and there was no sign of the man in the rear. In a few minutes the two
crawling figures were at the preconcerted places in the wall. In
response to their light taps, a square of brick-work large enough to
leave a space for a man to crawl through crumbled upon Jack and Dick,
who held their bodies closely pressed against the _debris_ to prevent
too loud a noise. There was no time to wait probabilities of discovery,
and an instant later Barney and Jones emerged, panting and half
"I thought it was all up with me hopes, as Glory McNab said when her
sweetheart ran away with the cobbler's daughter." Barney whispered,
hugging Jack rapturously.
"Sh--! Down on your stomachs. Move that way until you see me rise.
Come." And Jack squirmed ahead as if he had been accustomed to the
locomotion of snakes all his life. In ten minutes they were in the
improvised stables. Dick had taken the precaution to place the horses
where they could feed on a heap of fodder stacked in the yard, and when
they mounted the beasts appeared refreshed as well as rested. Dick
loosing Warick's horse so that he might make his way back to his master,
the fugitives rode cautiously out of the lane, into the open fields,
and, though it was not their shortest way, pushed along the river road
to mislead pursuit. Jack's stratagem had resulted in better luck even
than the possession of the horses. It not only secured a mount for the
four, but, what was equally and perhaps, in view of unforeseen
contingencies, more important disguises for the two prisoners.
They found an extra coat strapped to each saddle, and with these Barney
and Jones were easily transformed into something like Confederate
soldiers. Both Jack and Jones knew every inch of the suburbs, having
made the topography a study. They struck for the less traveled
thoroughfares until they reached the northeastern limits, then following
the old Cold Harbor road they pushed decisively toward the Williamsburg
pike. But, instead of following it, they traversed on by lanes and
bridle-paths during the day. This was to divide pursuit, as the larger
party had taken the river route where Butler's troops were waiting in
boats for them. The saddle-bags proved a windfall, for in them were
orders to proceed to Yorktown and report to General Magruder. With these
Jack felt no difficulty in passing several awkward points, where there
was no escaping the cavalry patrols, owing to miles of swamp and
They kept clear, however, of such places as the telegraph reached,
though at one point they found a post in a great state of excitement
over news brought from a neighboring wire, announcing the escape of two
prisoners who had been traced to the York road. But with such papers as
Jack presented and the number of the party double that described in the
dispatch, the adventurers easily evaded suspicion. The great danger,
however, was in quitting the Confederate lines to pass into Butler's.
They chose the night for this, as the camp-fires would warn them of the
vicinity of outposts, Union or rebel. They had purposely avoided
highways and habitations, and, as a result, were limited in food to such
corn-cribs as they found far from human abodes, or the autumn aftermath
of vegetables sometimes found in the shadow of the woods. All were good
shots, however, and a fat rabbit and partridge were cooked by Dick with
such address, that the party were eager to take more time in halting
since they need not starve, no matter how long the journey lasted.
Jack, by tacit consent, was considered commander of the squad, Barney
remarking humorously that they would not ask to see his commission until
they were in a country where a title meant authority. The commander
ordered his small army very judiciously. They were to ride as far apart
as the roads or woods or natural obstructions would admit. They thus
moved forward in the shape of a triangle, the apex to the rear.
Exchanges of position were made every six hours. They were at the end of
the second day, toward sunset, approaching what they supposed was
Warrick Creek, nearly half-way to Fort Monroe, when they suddenly
emerged on an open plateau from which they could see a mile or two
before them a tranquil waste of crimson water.
"Why, this can't be the creek!" exclaimed Jones, excitedly. "The creek
isn't half a mile at its broadest."
"What can it be?" Jack asked, who had been the right wing to Jones's
left. "It's certainly not the James, for the sun is setting at
"Blest if I can tell. It looks very much like the Chesapeake, only the
Chesapeake is wider."
By this time Barney and Dick had ridden up, and began to admire the
expanse of water spreading from the land before them to a green
wilderness in the distance.
"I'm afraid we are in a fix," Jones said, resignedly. "If I'm not very
much mistaken, the red line yonder, that looks like a roadway, is a
breastwork, and behind that what looks like a plowed field is
earthworks. My boys, we are before Yorktown and farther from our lines
than we were yesterday. The nigger that showed us the way in the woods
was either ignorant or deceiving us. We are now inside the outposts of
the rebels, and we shall have to crawl on our hands and knees to
"I don't see what better off we'll be on our hands and knees than we are
in our saddles," Barney cried, guilelessly. "Sure we can go faster on
the bastes than we can on our hands, and, as for me knees, 'tis only in
prayer that I ever use them."
"Not in love, Barney?" Dick asked, innocently.
"No, me darlin'. The gurls I love think more of me arms than me knees,
and I do all of me pleadin' with me lips."
"I should think they could hold their own," Jones remarked, dryly.
"Indeed, they can that, and a good deal more, as me best gurl'll tell
you if she'll tell the truth, and no fear of her doing that, I'll
"Fie! Barney, if she won't tell the truth you should have none of her,"
Dick cried in stage tones.
"Indeed, it's little I have of her, for she's that set on Teddy Redmund
that she leaves me to her mother, when Teddy comes to the porch of
"Well, friends, your loves are, no doubt, adorable, and it is a pleasant
thing to talk over, but just now what we want is a way out of this
trap"; and Jack, saying this, slipped from his horse and led him into
the shelter of a thick growth of scrub-pines. The rest followed his
example. They tied their animals and held a council of war. It was
resolved that Jack and Jones should make a reconnaissance to find out
the route toward the Warrick; that Dick and Barney should secrete and
guard the horses and do what they could to obtain some food. This
decision was barely agreed upon, when the shrill call of a bugle sounded
almost among the refugees, and they sprang to their horses, waiting in
silence the next demonstration. Other bugles sounded farther away; a
great cloud of dust arose in the direction of the water, and then Jack
"Remain here. I will climb one of these trees and see what it means."
He was in the leafy boughs of a spreading pine in a few minutes, and
could descry a broad plain, with tents scattered here and there; still
farther on the broad uplands frame buildings with a red and white flag
floating to the wind could be seen. Back of all this he could make out a
broad expanse of water and a few ungainly craft, lazily moving to the
current in the Yorktown roadstead.
"Yes. this certainly must be Yorktown. Why have they such a force here?
No one is threatening it," Jack murmured, his eyes arrested by a long
line of cavalry in undress, leading their horses up a circuitous and
hitherto concealed road to the plateau. "Ha! they go down there for
water. Let me see. That is to the southeastward; that is our point of
direction. I think we may venture to push on now." He hastily descended
from his survey, and making known what he had seen, added: "We must
proceed with the greatest caution. There is no time to think of food
until we get away from this dangerous neighborhood. We must keep well
spread out, and move only over turfy ground or in the deep shade of the
wood. In case of disaster, the cry of the night owl, as agreed upon,
will be a warning."
The four had practiced the melancholy cry of the owl, as heard in the
Southern woods both day and night, and they could all imitate it
sufficiently well to pass muster if the hearer were not on guard against
the trick, and yet so clever an imitation that none of the four could
mistake it. So soon as they quit the plateau, seeking a way east by
south, they plunged immediately into a dreary swamp, where progress was
slow and difficult. The mosquitoes beset them in swarms, plaguing even
the poor animals with their lusty sting. Hour after hour, until the
woods became a hideous chaos of darkness and unseemly sounds, the four
panting fugitives pushed on, fainting with hunger, worn out by the
incessant battle with the corded foliage, the dense marshes, and
quagmires through which their path to safety lay. But at midnight Jones
gasped and gave up the fight.
"Go on; leave me here. I am of no use at best. I should only be a drag
on you. Perhaps you may find some darkey and send him back to give me a
mouthful to eat. That would pick me up; nothing else can."
The four gathered together for counsel. The horses, faring better than
their masters, for they found abundance to allay hunger in the lush,
dank grass of the morass, were corralled in a clump of white ash, and
the jaded men, groping about, clambered upon the gnarled roots of the
trees to catch breath. They had been battling steadily for five hours
against all the forces of Nature. Their clothes were torn, their flesh
abraded, their strength exhausted. They could have slept, but the ground
offered no place, for wherever the foot rested an instant the weight of
the body pushed it down into the oozy soil until water gushed in over
the shoe-tops. Jones had found the struggle hardest because he had not
the youth of the others nor their light frames. The striplings were
spared many of his hardships and were still able to endure the ordeal,
if the end were sure relief. Jack struck a match, and with this lighted
a pine knot. He surveyed the gloomy brake carefully, and at last,
finding a mound where a thick growth of underbrush gave assurance of
less treacherous soil, he called to Barney to aid him. The little
hillock was made into a couch by means of the saddles, and the groaning
veteran carefully laid upon the by no means uncomfortable refuge. As
Jack held the light above him, Jones's eyes closed and he sank into a
"He will be in a high fever when he awakes," Jack said, looking at
Barney. "We must see that he has food, or the fever will be his death.
Here is what I propose: you and I shall sally out from here, blazing the
path as we go. We must find some sign of life within a circuit of five
miles. That will take us say till daylight to go and come. We will leave
Dick here to guard Jones, and if we do not return by noon to-morrow Dick
will know that he must shift for himself."
"You command, Jack dear. What you say I'll do, as Molly Meginniss said
to the priest when he told her to repent of her sins."
"Dick, my boy, do you think you are equal to a vigil? You must stay here
with Jones. If he wakes and wants water, press the moisture of these
leaves to his lips, it's sassafras; and, stay--here is a sort of
plantain, filled with little globules of dew; pour these into his mouth,
and at a pinch give him a handful from the pool. In case of great danger
fire two shots, but if any one should come toward you or discover you it
will be better to surrender. In that event, you can make up a story to
suit the case, which may enable you to finally escape. This man's life
is in your hands. Remember that it is as glorious a deed as fighting in
line. Keep up a stout heart. We will soon be back, or you may take it
for granted all is up with us."
"Ah! Jack! Jack! To start so well and end so miserably, I can't bear
it--I can't stay here. You stay and let me go."
"No, Dick, it can't be; you are already so worn out that we should have
been obliged to halt for you if Jones hadn't broken down. It can't be
that you would think of leaving a fellow-soldier in such extremity as
this, Dick? I know you better."
"But I don't know him. I have no interest in him. With you I'll face any
danger--I'll die without a word; but to stay here in this awful place,
with the black pools of water, like great dead eyes, glaring in their
hideous light" (the pine-torch flaring in the wind filled the glade with
vast ogreish shadows, as the clustering bushes were swayed in the night
air) "and these hideous night-cries--O Jack, I can't--I can't--I
"But the horses and the need of some one that can come back in case
anything befalls me. I am disappointed in you, Dick. I am shocked; you
are not the man of courage and honor I thought you."
"O my God, go--go--I will stay; but, Jack, if you find me dead,
tell--tell--Rosa--that--that--" He gasped and sank down sobbing against
the gnarled tree that crossed the mound above Jones's head.
"I will tell Rosa that you were the man she believed you were when the
trial came," and with this Jack and Barney, with a flaming torch, set
forward hastily through the fantastic curtain of foliage and night,
which shut in the glimmering vista of specters, dark, sinister,
To say that night is a time of terror is a commonplace. Night is not
terrible of itself. It is like the ocean--peace and repose if there be
no storm. But of all terrors there are none, outside a guilty mind, so
benumbing as night in the unknown. It does not lessen the horror of
darkness that fear makes use of the imagination for its agencies. Fancy,
intuition, and the train that follows the inner vision, these make of
night a phantasmagoria, compared to which Milton's inferno is a place of
If you would realize the wondrous necromancy of the sun, pass a night in
some primeval forest, untouched by the hand of man. Until he stands in
the awful silence of the midnight wood, or upon some vast waste of
nature, no man can figure to himself the varied shapes the mind can give
to terrors based upon the mysterious noises of nature, and the goblin
motions of inanimate things. The lover thinking of his lass welcomes the
night and the rapturous walks among well-known scenes and kindly
objects. With glimmering lamps in the foliage and the not distant sounds
of daily life, even the woods have nothing fearful to the meditative or
the distraught. But in flight, with fear as a garment that can not be
laid aside, the somber forms of the forest are more terrible than an
army with banners, as a haunted house is a more unnerving dread than
burglars or any form of night marauders. It was at night that the
mutinous sailors of Columbus broke into decisive revolt; it was at night
that the iron band of Cortes lost heart, and were routed on the lakes of
Mexico; it was at night that the resolution of Brutus failed before the
disaster at Philippi.
That two-o'clock-in-the-morning courage, which is the secret of
soldierly success, comes only from companionship. The night-wood is a
world by itself, filled with its own atmosphere, as oppressive to valor
as the electric reefs that drew the nails from the ships of Sindbad.
Among familiar scenes and well-known shapes, it is all the delight the
poets sing--so tranquillizing, inspiring, fecund, that in comparison the
thought of day brings up garish hues, flaunting figures--the hardness,
harshness and unlovely in life. But night in the goblin-land, where Dick
found himself suddenly deserted, with fantastic forms swaying in the
lazy wind, would have had terrors for the most constant mind; terrors
such as filled the soul of MacBeth, when Birnam wood came marching to
Dunsinane. In an instant, as it seemed to Dick's exalted and painfully
impressionable sense, every separate leaf, branch, brier, copse, and
jungle, was endowed with a voice of its own--hateful, irritating,
mocking. Swarms of peering eyes hovered in the air, glowering uncanny
menace into the boy's wild, dilating vision.
Brave, even to recklessness, Dick was, as you have seen; but no sooner
had the glimmer of Jack's torch flickered and fluttered into the black
distance, making place for the monstrous shapes, the luring shadows, and
threatening forms encompassing him, than Dick threw himself, with a
wailing shriek, into the morass in a wild attempt to follow.
In an instant he was up to his middle in mud and water. He seized the
prickly branches coiling about and above him; he gasped in prayerful
pleading, the home teaching still strong in him; but there was no
answer, save the crooning night-birds and the croaking frogs. Slimy
things touched his torn flesh; whirring birds shot past him, disturbed
in their night perches. The deadly odor, pungent and nauseous, of a
thousand exhaling herbs, filled his nostrils. The darkness grew,
instinct with threatening forms. He gasped, struggled, and in a fervent
outburst of thanksgiving regained the dank mound. Ah, there was life on
that! human life. Jones slept, the stertorous sleep of delirium. He
murmured brokenly. Dick was too terrified to distinguish what he said.
The blaze of the pine knot flared from side to side as the sighing
breeze arose from the brackish pools, protesting the vitality of even
this moribund hades. Ah! if he could but lie down and bury his face. The
horses? They were feeding tranquilly yonder, standing up to their knees
in mosses and water. The lines that tied them were long. They could move
about. This was some comfort. They were more human than the dreadful
specters that filled the place.
Ah! the blessed, blessed light that flamed out from the merry
pine-torch; he didn't wonder that half the Eastern world worshiped fire.
He adored it--blessed, blessed fire--the sign of God, the beacon of the
human. Hark! What half-human--or rather wholly inhuman--sounds are these
that alternate in unearthly measure? Surely animal nature has no voice
so strident, vengeful, odious. Can it be animals of prey? No. The
Virginia forests are dangerous only in snakes. Snakes? Ah, yes! He
shrinks into shadow against the oak at this suggestion; snakes? the
deadly moccasin, that prowls as well by night as day. Ugh! what's this
at his feet--soft, clammy, shining in the flaring light? He leaps upon
the smooth tree-trunk, growing slantwise instead of perpendicular. What
if the torch and the odor of flesh should draw the snakes to the
sleeper? The flame flares in wide, lurid curves, revealing the outlines
of the sleeping man. Heavens, what a terrible face! He moves in
spasmodic contortions. He is smothering. The veins of his neck will
break if he is not awakened.
"O my God! my God! have mercy!" Dick buries his face in his hands, as he
clings desperately to the smooth white-oak trunk. A strange, wild
strain, like a detached chord of a vesper melody, sounds above him! It
is the whippoorwill--steadily, continuously, entrancingly the dulcet
measure is taken up and echoed, until the slough of despond seems
transformed into a varying diapason of melancholy minstrelsy. He dares
not raise his head. It will vanish if he moves. He crouches, panting,
almost exultant, in the sense of recovered faculties, or rather the
suspension of numbing fear. How long will it last? He must move; his
limbs are cramped and aching. He raises his head. Mortal powers! the
torch is flickering into ashes! Another instant and he will be in the
dark. Dare he move? Dare he seek the distant pine, between him and which
the black surface of the murky sheet shines, dotted with uncanny growth
and reptilian things? Yes; anything is better than the hideous darkness
of this hideous place.
The horse he rode has broken his leash and comes to him with a gentle
whinny, as if asking why the delay in such a place. "Blessed, blessed
God, that made a beast so human!" He caresses it, he clings to its neck
and calls to it piteously. Ah, yes; the dying light. He must renew it.
He slips down upon the bare back and urges the patient beast across the
brackish morass. Ah, this is life again! He is not alone. This noble
beast is human. It crops the tender leaves confidingly, and swings its
head as much as to say: "Don't fear, Dick; Fin here. I'll stand by you;
I don't forget the pains you took to get me water, and that particularly
toothsome measure of oats you cribbed in the rebel barn near
But the pine knot that will burn is not so easily found. Dick was forced
to go a long way before he came upon the resinous sort. He brought back
a supply, having taken the precaution to provide matches in order to
secure his way back. The quest had to some extent lessened the morbid or
supernatural forms of his terrors. They all returned, however, when,
having dismounted, he forgot to tie the horse, and it wandered off in
search of herbage. He called, but the beast made no sign of returning.
Alone again. Alone in the night; spectral forms about him; the sleeping
man adding to the ghostliness of the scene by his incoherent mutterings,
his hideous, gulping breath, his ghastly, blood-curdling outcries. Then
through the gloom the shining outlines of the white oak, like shreds of
shrouds hung on funeral foliage. Ah! he would go mad--he must break the
brutish sleep of the sick man.
"Mr. Jones," he wails--and his own voice--the comically commonplace
name, "Mr. Jones," even in the agony of his terror, the humor of the
conjuncture glimmered in the boy's crazed intelligence, and he laughed a
wild, maniacal laugh. But the laugh died out in a pulseless horror. The
sick man uprose on his elbow. Dick, above him on the white-oak trunk,
could see his very eyes bloodshot and wandering. He uprose, almost
sitting. He passed his hand over his staring eyes, and began to murmur:
"Did you bring me here to do murder, Elisha Boone? You have bought my
body, but you never bought my soul. No, no! I will not. I say I will
not. Do you hear? I will not!"
He glared wildly; then, his eyes meeting the full flame of the torch, he
laughed, a dreadful, marrow-freezing laugh, and broke out again in
clearer tones: "I am yours, Elisha Boone, but my boy is not yours. He
was born in my shape, but he has his mother's soul. He will be a man; he
will be your vengeance; he will undo all his father has done. You've
robbed me; you've made me rob others. But if you touch, if you look at
my boy, my first-born, you might as well hold a pistol at your head. I'm
no longer mad. You must treat with him. Ah! yes; I'll do your bidding
with the others. I'll make young Jack as much trouble as you ask, but
you must make a path of gold for my boy. You must give him what you have
robbed from me. Felon? I'm no felon. It was you who plotted it. It was
you that put the means in mad hands. I can face my family. I have no
shame but that I was a coward. My son! He is no coward. He is a soldier.
He is the pride of the Caribees. He is the beloved of--of--"
The gibbering maniac, exhausted in body, still incoherently raving, sank
back in piteous collapse, a terrifying gurgle breaking from his throat,
while his tongue absolutely protruded from his jaws.
Dick, his terrors all forgotten in a new and overmastering horror,
bethought him of Jack's admonition about the water. He slipped down from
the tree, gathered the large moist leaves that clustered near the pool
and held them to the burning lips, Jones swallowed the drops with a
hideous gurgling avidity, clutching the boy's hand ravenously to secure
a more copious flow. There was a tin cup in the holster under the
invalid's head. Taking this, Dick dipped up water from the black pool
between the green leaves; the hot lips sucked it in at one
"More, more; for God's sake, more!"
Dick filled it again, and again it was emptied.
The boy was cruelly perplexed. He remembered vaguely hearing that fever
should be starved; that the thing craved was the dangerous thing; and he
moved away in a sort of compunctious terror.
"More--more! Oh, in the name of God, more!"
The words came gaspingly. Dick thought of the death-rattle he had heard
in Acredale when old man Nagle, the madman, died. He dared not give more
water, but he gathered leaves from the aromatic bushes and pressed them
to the fevered lips. Before he could withdraw them, the eager jaws
closed upon the balsamic shrub. They answered the purpose better than
the most scientific remedy in the pharmacopoeia, for the patient called
for no further drink, and presently fell into profound and undisturbed
sleep. Again the boy was alone with the daunting forces of the dark in
its grimmest and most terrifying mood. Alone! No; his mind was now taken
from all thought of self. He was with a fellow-townsman. The man had
mentioned Boone; had referred to deeds that he had heard all his life
associated with the father he had never seen. A wild thought flashed
upon him. Was the collapsed body at his feet his father's? He could not
see any resemblance in the dark, handsome face to the portrait at home,
though all through the flight from Richmond something in the man's
manner had seemed like a memory. He strove to recall the image his young
mind had cherished, the personality he had heard whispered about in the
gossiping groups of Acredale. This was not the gay, the brilliant, the
fascinating _bon viveur_ who had been the life of society from
Warchester to Bucephalo, from Pentica to New York. Ah! what were the
mystic terrors of the night, what the oppressive surroundings of this
charnel-house of Nature, to the awful spectacle of this unmanned mind,
this delirious echo of past guilt, past cowardice, past shame?
To lessen the somber gloom, Dick had lighted many torches and set them
about the high mound where the sleeper lay in a huddle. Taking little
heed of where he set them, some of them, as the wind arose, flared out
until their flames licked the decayed branches of the fallen white oak.
As the boy crouched, pensive and distraught, he was suddenly aroused by
a vivacious cracking. He looked up. Lines of fire were darting thither
and yon, where dry wood, the _debris_ of years of decay, had been caught
in the thick clumps of underbrush and among the limbs of the trees. The
fire had pushed briskly, and the uncanny glade was now an amphitheatre
of crawling flames, stretching in many-colored banners in a vast circle
about the point of refuge. Dick gazed fascinated, with no thought of
danger. His spirits rose. It was something like life--this gorgeous
decoration of fire. How beautiful it was! How it brought out the shining
lines of the white oak, the glistening green of the cypress! Why hadn't
he thought of this before? Then, as the curling waves of fire pushed
farther and farther up the steins of the trees, and farther and farther
endlessly into the undergrowth, an unearthly outcry and stir began.
Birds, blinded by the light, whirred and fluttered into the open space
above the water, falling helplessly so near Dick that he could have
caught and killed a score to surprise Jack with a game breakfast, when
he returned. Then--ugh!--horror!--great, coiling masses detached
themselves from the tufts of sward, and splashed noisily into the putrid
water, wriggling and convulsed. The invalid still slept--but, dreadful
sight! the coiling monsters, upheaving themselves from the water,
glided, dull eyed and sluggish, upon the mossy island, about the
Dick, fascinated and inert, watched the snaky mass, squirming in hideous
folds almost on the recumbent body. Then, aroused to the horror of their
nearness, he seized a torch and made at the slimy heap. The fire
conquered them. They slid off the ground, with forked tongues darting
out in impotent malice. But others, squirming through the water,
wriggled up; and the boy, maddened by the danger, stood his ground,
torch in hand, defending the sleeper.
But now the fire had widened its path, and is enveloping the tiny
island. The serpents, hedged in from the outer line, uproar in
blood-curdling masses, their dull eyes gleaming, and their tongues
phosphorescent, darting out in their agony. Dick doesn't mind them now,
for he has, for the first time, begun to realize that his illumination
has destruction as the sequel of its delight. Great clouds of smoke
settle a moment on the water and then rise, impelled by the cold
surface. Even the green verdure begins to roll back where the crackling
flames play into the more compact wall of incombustible timber. The
sleeper murmurs in his dreams. Dick casts about despairingly. He hears
the horses--they have broken their tethers--he can hear them whinnying,
upbraidingly, far off. Wherever he casts his eye, volumes of fire dart
and sway, always coming inward, first scorching the green limbs, then
fastening on the tender stems and turning them to glowing lines of
cordage; only the great sheet of water, inky, terrible, and threatening
a few hours before, protects him and his charge. The hissing snakes have
sunk into it.
Bevies of birds, supernaturally keen of sight, have dropped upon the
twigs that lie on the glittering bosom of the water. Dick, in all the
agonized uncertainty of that night of peril, thinks with wonder on the
mysterious resources Nature provides its helpless outcasts. The hideous
shallows, black, glistening, are now a belt of safety, not only for
himself and the sleeper, but a refuge for all manner of whirring birds
and crawling things, intimidated and harmless in the stifling breath of
the fire. The flame, leaping from sedge to sedge, from trunk to trunk,
seems to seek, with a human instinct, and more than human pertinacity,
food for its ravening hunger; far upward, where festoons of moss hung
from the sycamores in the day, airy banners of starry sparks, swayed,
coiled, and flamed among the branches. But Dick was soon reminded that
the scene was not for enjoyment, however fantastically fascinating.
The smoke, at first rising from the burning brakes, lodged among the
tree-tops; then, meeting the humid night-air in the matted leaves,
descended slowly. Dick found himself nearly smothered when he had partly
recovered from the spell-bound wonder of the demoniac _fete_. The ground
under his feet felt gratefully cool. He bent down, and shudderingly
laved his burning face in the inky water. The sick man had slept more
peacefully during the last half-hour. He no longer breathed in gasping
efforts; his sleep was unbroken by muttering or outcry. But now he must
be aroused. He must be taken out of the circle of fire, for, sooner or
later, the curling waves would lick downward from the dry vines above
and scorch the mound. How to get away? The horses were long since gone.
They might be miles from the spot! Dick touched the sleeping man, filled
with a new suspense. He breathed so softly, or did he breathe at all?
"For God's sake, Mr. Jones, wake up! We must go from here; the swamp is
"Eh--who is it? Where am I? Was--I dreaming? I thought my boy was with
me, and we were in the old home at Acredale."
He lay quite still, staring upward with unseeing eyes. Dick's heart gave
a great throb of grateful, devout thanksgiving. The madness and fever
"You remember you were too worn out to go on, and Jack has gone to get
food. But the swamp has caught fire, and we must move away."
Jones had risen to his elbow; then, with an exclamation that sounded
like an oath, to his feet, gazing on the flaming specters rising and
falling, enlarging and shrinking, among the black tracery of limbs
"You ought to have waked me before," Jones said, when he had swept the
scene, with sane realization in his eye. "I'm afraid we can never break
through the fire. It reaches a mile or more all about us, and I--I am in
no condition to move. I feel as if I had been down months with illness."
"But if you could eat something you would be able to move," Dick
ventured, cruelly hurt at the implied delinquency.
"Eat!" Jones held up one of the luckless torches that Dirk had lighted
in a circle about the mound, and began to examine the ground. "What is
there to eat? Stay! By Heaven, I have it! The bushes are filled with
fluttering game. There, see that! and that, and that!" As he spoke he
had thrust the burning torch into a thick clump of bushes, dense and
glistening as laurels, that looked like wild huckleberry. The branches
were laden with birds, and in a moment be had seized three or four
"What better do we need? We have salt, water, and fire. I'll prepare
them. Do you keep your face well bathed, and heap up embers at the foot
of that ash."
Sure enough, sometimes hidden by billows of smoke, rising lazily among
the burning bushes, Jones stripped the birds, spitted them on his
bayonet, and, holding them in the hot coals, soon presented a
well-browned portion to his companion.
"I have had a good deal worse fare than this, my young friend. I have
been in the West, when fire, Indians, and hunger besieged us at the same
time. But we should have a poor chance here if it were not for the wet
grass and the everlasting water. If we can manage to keep clear of the
smoke, we shall be all right, but the smoke seems to grow denser. Where
can it come from?"
"Great Heavens! do you hear that? Shots--one--two! That's Jack's signal.
He--he is near. He is in danger. I must go to him." Dick cried. "Listen;
more shots. No, that can't be the signal. There, do you hear that? A
volley. The rebels are after them, or we are near the outposts, and the
two armies are skirmishing."
Yes; the shots now sounded more frequently, but they seemed to be fired
not far away.
"It is Jack. I know it is Jack, and he is in peril. I must go to him. I
can not stay here. Surely there is no danger in pushing toward
"There is every danger. In the first place, the smoke will smother us.
Then suppose we reached the spot? We might be nearer the rebels than our
friends. They know where we are. If they are not taken, they will come
back for us. If they are taken, we must do our best to get to our lines
and send out a scouting party. Be guided by me, youngster. I am an older
hand in business of this sort than you are."
The boy stood irresolute. Both listened intently. The firing had
stopped. A great sough of rising storm came from the northwest, carrying
a hot, blinding mass of smoke and flame into the little retreat. They
flung themselves on the damp ferns to keep their breath. Still the
breeze rose, until it became a wind--a spasm of hurricane. It was
madness to linger, for the flames now licked the ground, driven down
anew by the blast. Then Jones spoke decisively: "Strap a pine torch to
your body. I will do the same. Take all you can carry and follow in my
wake." Jones, as he spoke, seized a torch, extinguished it, and handed
it to Dick. Equipped as he had directed, they set out, half crawling,
half swimming, to avoid the volumes of smoke hovering in the thick,
cactus-like leaves of the wild laurel. Presently they emerged, after
toil and misery, that excitement alone enabled the boy to support, into
what seemed a cleared space. But as soon as their eyes could distinguish
clearly, they found themselves on the edge of a wide pond. The fire was
now behind them. They could stand erect and breathe the pure, cool air.
"Ah, now we are in luck!" Jones whispered. "We will walk to the right,
on the edge of this lake, and keep it between us and the fire. We have
got out of that purgatory; now if we could only signal our friends."
"Hist!" whispered Dick, "I hear some one moving behind us."
They crouched down in the thick reeds and waited. The sky above was
darkly overcast; an occasional burst of lightning revealed the
dimensions of the pond, and they could see high ground on the eastern
shore, covered by enormous pines.
"If we can only reach the pines we shall be all right. There the ground
will be dry and soft and you can get some rest. I'm afraid, my boy, it
will go hard with you if you don't."
"I don't mind what happens if we can only come up with Jack. There, do
you hear that?"
Yes, both could plainly hear voices ahead of them on the margin of the
pond. They were talking in low tones, and the words were
"We must crawl back toward the bush, and get as near those folks as we
can," Jones whispered. They made their way easily into the high bushes
and stole forward in the direction of the voices. But as they had to
guard against breaking twigs or hurtling branches, which would have
betrayed them, their advance was slow. When they reached the vicinity
where they had fancied the voices to be, all was silent.
"Sound the call; perhaps that will lead to something," Jones whispered
in Dick's ear.
But, unnerved by the trying experience of the night, or worn out by
fatigue, Dick's call was far from the significant signal he had
practiced with Jack. He repeated it several times, but there was no
response. There was, however, something more startling. A few rods
beyond them a flame suddenly shot up, lighting a group of cavalry
patrols standing beside a fire just kindled.
"Rebels!" Jones whispered. "Now we must be slippery as snakes. If they
have no dogs, we are all right. If you hear the whimper of a hound,
follow me like lightning and plunge into the water. That'll break the
trail. Stay here and let me reconnoitre a bit. Have no fear. I'll go in
Jones crept away, leaving Dick by no means easy in his mind, but he no
longer felt the terror that numbed him in the deep wood. Here there was
companionship. By pushing the branches aside he could see the figures
lounging about the fire; he could see the dark vault of the sky, and was
not oppressed by the hideous shapes and shadows of the dense jungle.
Jones meanwhile had pushed within earshot of the group. He flattened his
body against a friendly pine and listened.
"I reckon they ain't the Westover niggers, for they were traced to the
Pamunkey; these rascals are most likely from the south side--"
"If Jim gets here with the dogs in an hour, we can be back to the
barracks for breakfast."
"Ef it hadn't been for that blamed fire in the swamp, we should have had
them before this. The rascal that fired at Tom wasn't a musket-shot from
me when the smoke poured out and hid him."
"They've gone into the swamp. The dogs'll soon tree them. I'm going to
turn in till the dogs come. One of you stay awake and keep a sharp eye
toward the creek."
"All right, sergeant. You won't have more'n a cat-nap. Bilcox's dogs are
over at the ford, I know, for they were brought there's soon as the news
of the Yankee escape came."
"I hope they are; but I'm afraid they are not. If they are, we shall
soon hear them."
Jones had heard enough. Hastening back to Dick, he asked:
"Can you swim?"
"Yes, I'm a good swimmer."
"Very well; throw away everything--no, stay--that would betray us. When
we reach the water bury all you can't carry in the sand and then
They were forced to retrace their painful way through the bushes to
reach a place as distant from the point of pursuit as possible. A
half-mile or more from their starting-place they found themselves in a
running stream. Jones examined it in both directions, and bade Dick
enter it and follow in the water, pushing upward in the bed, waist-deep,
a hundred yards. Then, climbing to the bank, he groped about until he
found a slender white oak. Climbing this as high as he could get, he
slowly swung off, and, the tree bending down to the very stream, he
dropped back into the water and rejoined Dick. Both waded in the middle
of the stream until they reached the pond, and then struck out toward
the pine clump the lightning had revealed a little while before. There
was no need of swimming, and, finding it possible to wade, Jones decided
to retain the pistols and ammunition which he had at first resolved to
bury as impeding the flight. The bottom appeared to be hard sand, a
condition often found in Southern ponds near the inflow of the sea. They
had gone a mile or more, keeping just far enough from the bank to remain
undistinguishable, when the appalling baying of a hound sounded from the
farther end of the pond, where the patrol fire gleamed faintly among
"Now, youngster, we must keep all our wits at work. The dogs will push
on to where we hid. They will follow to the stream, and I think I have
given them the slip there. Then they will beat about and follow our
trail into the cypress swamp. There the horses will mislead them, and if
you can only hold out, so soon as daylight comes we can strike into the
pines and make for the Union lines."
"I--I--think I can--ah!--"
Dick reeled helplessly and would have sunk under the water, if Jones had
not caught him.
"Courage, my boy, courage! Don't give up now, just as we are near
But Dick was unconscious, the strain of the early part of the night, the
desperate fight through the brakes, all had told on the slight frame,
and Jones stood up to his middle in the dark water, holding the
IN THE UNION LINES.
If there is reason as well as rhyme in the old song that danger's a
soldier's delight and a storm the sailor's joy, Jack and his comrade
were in for all the delights that ever gladdened soldier or sailor boy.
When they left Dick and Jones, the eager couriers tore through the
marshy lowlands, the stubbly thickets and treacherous quagmires, poor
Barney, panting and groaning in his docile desire to keep up with his
leader, as he had done often in boyish bravado.
"There'll not be a rag on me body nor a whole bone in me skin when we
get out of this!" he gasped, as they reached high ground between two
spreading deeps of mingled weeds and water. "The sight of us'd frighten
the whole rebel army, if we don't come on them aisy loike, as the fox
said when he whisked into the hen-house."
"He was a very considerate fox, Barney. Most of the personages you
select to illustrate your notions seem to me to be gifted with little
touches of thoughtfulness. Barney, you ought to write a sequel to Aesop.
There never was out of his list of animal friends such wise beasts,
birds, and what not as you seem to have known."
"Jack, dear, if a man lived on roses would the bees feed on him? If he
ate honeysuckle instead of hard-tack would he be squeezed for his scents
to fill ladies' smelling-bottles?"
"I don't know that sense is always a recommendation to women," Jack
shifts his burden to say tentatively, as Barney, involved in a more than
commonly obstinate brier, loses the thread of this jocose induction.
"Ah, Jack, dear, ye're weak in ye're mind when you fall to play on words
"You mean my sense is small?"
"Not that at all. Sure, it's a hero's mind ye show when you can find
heart to make merry at a time like this!"
"Yes--'he jests at love who never felt a throb.'"
"Then you've a hard heart--and I know I lie when I say it, as Father
Mike McCune said to himself when he tuk the oath to King George in
'98--if ye're heart never throbbed in Acredale beyant, for there's many
a merry one cast down entirely that handsome Jack's gone."
"Come, come, Barney; it's dark, and I can't see the grin that saves this
from fulsome blarney."
Through the monotonous noises of the night the clanking of steel and the
neighing of horses could be heard just ahead.
"We must move cautiously now, Barney. Try to put a curb on your tongue,
and let your reflections mature in your busy brain."
"Put me tongue in bonds to keep the peace, as Lawyer Donigan cautioned
Biddy Gavan when the doctor said she was driving the parish mad with
"Sh!--sh!--you noisy brawl; we shall have a platoon of cavalry upon us.
Even the birds have stopped crooning to catch your delicate brogue!"
"'Tis only the ill-mannered owl that makes game of me--if--"
"Sh! Come on. Bend low. Do as I do--if you can see me. If not, keep
touch on my arm."
"As the wolf said to the lamb when he bid him take a walk in the
They had now emerged on the reedy margin of the dark pool discovered by
Dick and Jones later. All was silent. The sky was full of stars--so full
that, even in the absence of the moon, there was a transparent clarity
in the air that enabled Jack to take definite bearings.
"This must be an outlet of the York River, the stream we saw this
afternoon. If it be, then we are not far from our own outposts. The
troopers we heard just now may be Union soldiers. We must wait patiently
to let them discover themselves. Keep abreast of me, and don't, as you
value your life, speak above a whisper--better not to speak at all."
"That's what the priest said to Randy Maloney's third wife when she
complained that he bate her."
"Barney, I'll throttle you if you don't keep that mill you call your
"Ah, I'll hold it in me fist, as Mag Gleason held her jaw, for fear her
tooth would lep out to get more room to ache."
Jack laughed. "If we're caught it will be through your jokes, for bad as
they are I must laugh at some of them."
"Dear, oh dear no; you may save the laugh till a convenient time, as
Hugh McGowen kept his penances, until his head was clear, and there was
no whisky in the jar."
They had been pushing on rapidly--noiselessly, during this whispered
dispute, and now found themselves at the reedy margin of a wide inlet,
where, from the swift motion of the water and the musical gurgling, they
could tell they were by the side of a main channel.
"We must push on southward, and see if there is a crossing. If we come
to one, that will tell us where we are, for it will be guarded, you may
be sure," said Jack, buoyantly.
"Yes, but I'd rather find a hill of potatoes and a drop than all the
soldiers in the two armies."
"You are not logical, Barney. If we find soldiers, we'll find rations;
though I have my doubts about the sort of 'drop' you'll be apt to find
"There was enough corn in the field beyant to keep a still at work for a
winter," Barney lamented with a sigh, recalling fields of grain they had
passed near Williamsburg, which he vaguely alluded to as "beyant."
"I wish some of the 'still' were on the end of your tongue at this
"With all me heart--'twould do yer sowl good to see the work it'd give
me tongue to do to hould itself," Barney gasped, trying to keep abreast
of his reviler. "Be the dark eyes of Pharaoh's daughter there's a field
beyant--yes, and a shebeen; d'ye see that?"
They had suddenly emerged in a cleared place. Against the horizon they
could distinctly distinguish the outlines of a cabin, the "shebeen"
Barney alluded to.
"Yes, we're in luck. It's a negro shanty. We shall find friends there,
if we find anybody. Now, do be silent."
"If the field was full of girruls, with ears as big as sunflowers, they
wouldn't hear me breathe, so have no fear. A hill of potatoes all eyes
couldn't see us in such darkness as this."
For dense clouds had swiftly come up from the west, covering the
horizon. After careful reconnoitring, requiring a circuit of the
clearing, Jack ventured to make directly for the dark outlines of the
cabin. War had obviously not visited the place, for as they passed a low
outhouse the startled cackle of chickens sounded toothsomely, and Barney
came to a delighted halt.
"Sure we'd better get a bite to ate while we may, as th' ass said when
he passed th' market car, for who knows what'll happen if we stop to ask
by your lave?"
For answer Jack gave him a sharp push, and the discomfited plunderer
hurried on with a good-humored grunt. All was silent in the cabin. The
windows were slatted, without glass, and the door was unfastened. Jack
pushed in boldly, leaving Barney to guard the rear. Peaceful snoring
came from one corner, and Jack, shading a lighted match with his hand,
looked about him. In the hurried glimpse he caught sight of an old negro
on a husk mattress, and the heads of young boys just beyond. They were
sleeping so soundly that the striking of the match never aroused them.
Jack had to shake the man violently before the profound sleep
"I say, wake up! or can you wake?"
"What dat? Who's dar--you, Gabe? What you 'bout?"
The old man shuffled to a sitting posture, and Jack, renewing his match,
held it in the negro's blinking eyes.
"Have you any food? We are Yankees, and want something for companions in
the swamp. Are we in danger here? We heard cavalry-men on the other side
of the pond; are they rebel or Yankee?"
At this volley of questions the bewildered man turned piteously to the
sleepers, and then stared at Jack in perplexity.
"'Deed, marsa captain, I don no noffin 'tall, I--I hain't been to de
crick fo' a monf. I'se fo'bid to go da--I--"
"Well, well, have you any food? Get that first, and then talk," Jack
But now the boys were awake, and Jack had to give them warning to make
no noise. Yes, there was food, plenty. Cooked bacon, hoe-cake, and cold
chicken, boiled eggs, and, to Barney's immeasurable joy, sorghum whisky.
The hunger of the invaders satisfied, each provided himself with a sack
to feed the waiting comrades; and while this was going on they extracted
from the now reassured negroes that the spot was just behind Warick
Creek, near Lee's Mills; that parties of rebels from the fort at
Yorktown had been at work building lines of earthworks, and that every
now and then Yankees came across and skirmished in the woods a mile or
two up in the direction whence Jack had come. The cabin was only a step
from the main road, upon which the rebels were encamped--a regiment or
more. Some Yankee prisoners had been captured early in the morning, and
were in the block-house, a short distance up the road.
"Can you lead us near the block-house?" Jack asked.
"I reckon I can; but ef I do they'll shu' ah' find it out, and den I'se
don, 'cos Marsa Hinton--he's in de cavalry--he'll guess dat it was me
dat tuk you 'uns dar."
"Do you want to be free? Do you want to go into the Union lines?"
"Free! oh, de Lor', free! O marsa captain, don't fool a ole man. Free!
I'd rudder be free dan--dan go to Jesus--almost."
"Have you a wife--are these your children?"
"My ole woman is up at Marsa Hinton's; she's de nuss gal. Dese is my
boys; yes, sah."
"Very well; we're going into the Union lines. You know the country
hereabouts. Help us to find our friends in the swamp, and we will take
you all with us," Jack said; but feeling a good deal of compunction, as
he was not so sure that the freedom bestowed upon these guileless
friends might not, for a time at least, be more of a hardship than their
happy-go-lucky servitude. Meanwhile, in the expansion of renewed hopes
and full stomachs, no watch had been kept on the outside; a tallow dip
had been lighted, and the whole party busied in getting together such
necessaries as could be carried. One of the boys, passing the door,
uttered a stifled cry:
"Somebody comin' from de road."
"Where can we hide? Don't put out the light; that will look suspicions!"
Jack whispered, making for the window in the rear, "Is there a cellar,
or can we get on the roof?" But the dark group were too terrified to
speak. They ran in a mob to the doorway, luckily the most adroit
manoeuvre they could hit upon, for with the dip flaring in the current
of air, the room was left in darkness. Jack and Barney slipped through
the low lattice, and by means of a narrow shed reached the low roof.
They could hear the tramp of horses, how many they could not judge, and
then a gruff voice demanding:
"You, Rafe, what ye up to? What ye got a light burnin' this time o'
"'Deed, marsa, it's nuffin'--fo' God, marsa! I was gittin' de stomach
bottle fo' Gabe--he eat some jelly root fo' supper and he's been
powerful sick--frow his insides out--I--"
"Leave your horses, boys. Rafe's got some of Hinton's best sorghum
whisky--you, there, nigger, get us a jug and some cups."
How many dismounted Jack couldn't make out, but presently there was a
heavy tramping in the cabin and then a ferocious oath.
"What does this mean; why have you got all these traps packed? Going to
cut to the Yankees! Don't lie, now--you'll get more lashes for it."
Jack listened breathlessly. Would the quavering slaves have presence of
mind to divert suspicion? There was a pause, and then the old man cried,
"We'se gwine to lebe dis place; we's gwine up to de house in de mornin'.
My ole woman can't come down heah now, case de sojers is always firm',
and Mars' Hinton told us to come to de quarters, sah."
"I don't believe a word of it, you old rascal. I'll see whether Hinton
has ordered you to leave here. Likely story, indeed; leave one of his
best fields with no one to care for it. Git the whisky and stop your
mumbling. You, there, you young imps, step about lively--do you heah?"
There was the sound of a sharp stroke, then a howl of pain and a
"You keep an eye on the rear and I will see how many horses there are,"
Jack's lips murmured in Barney's ear. He slid cautiously down the
slanting roof until he came to the corner where he saw the dark group of
horses. There were three--tied to the peach-trees. He made his way back
to Barney and whispered:
"There are but three horses. If you are up to an adventure I think we
can make this turn to our profit."
"I'm up to anything, as the cat said when Biddy Hiks's plug ran her up
"Very well. Come after me."
The sorghum, meanwhile, had been handed to the raiders in the cabin, and
the men could be heard making merry.
"You, Gabe, go out and mind the horses; see that they don't twist the
bridles about their legs."
Gabe sallied out and one of his brothers with him. As they neared the
horses Jack came upon them, and taking the elder, Gabe, in the shadow of
the house, he whispered:
"Have the soldiers' pistols?"
"Where are they?"
"De put dem on de stool, neah de doah."
"Good. How many?"
"Have they swords?"
"Where are they?"
"On de stool, too."
"That will do; keep with the horses, and don't be frightened if you hear
anything. We'll give you freedom yet, if you'll be prudent."
He could hear the men grumbling because the food was not enough to go
around. The liquor had begun to work in their systems, drinking so
lavishly, and without nourishment to absorb its fiery quality. Jack let
enough time pass to give this ally full play in disabling the troopers,
then taking Barney to the rear of the cabin, whispered:
"I will dash in at the door, seize the weapons, and demand surrender.
You make a great ado here; give command, as if there were a squad. The
boys will make a loud clatter with the horses, and we shall bag the game
without a blow. Now, be prudent. Barney, and we will go into the Union
lines in triumph."
Inside the men were laughing uproariously, mingling accounts of love and
war in a confused medley--how a sweetheart in Petersburg was only
waiting for the stars on her lover's collar to make him happy; how the
Yankees would be wiped out of the Peninsula as soon as Jack Magruder got
his nails pared for fight; how three Yankees had been gobbled that day,
and how others were in the net to be taken in the morning. The bacchanal
was at its highest when Jack, dashing into the open doorway, placed
himself between the drinkers and their arms, and cried, sternly, as he
pointed his pistol at the group:
"Surrender, men! You are surrounded!"
"Close up, there! Keep your guns on a line with the windows; don't fire
till I give the order!" Barney could be heard at the window in
suppressed tones, as he, too, covered the maudlin company. Gabe and his
brother added to the effect of numbers by clattering the stirrups of the
horses, so that the clearing seemed alive with armed men.
The troopers, sobered and astonished, half rose, and then as these
sounds of superior force emphasized the menace of Jack's pistol in front
and Barney's in the rear, they sank back in their seats, the spokesman
"I don't see as we've much choice."
"No, you have no choice.--Sergeant, bring in the cords," Jack ordered.
Barney at this came in with a clothes-line Jack had prepared from the
negroes' posts. The arms of the three men were bound behind them, and
then Jack retired with his aide to hold a council of war. Without the
negro they could never retrace their way to Dick. But how could they
carry the prisoners with them? Manifestly it could not be done. It was
then agreed that Barney should take the prisoners, the horses, and the
old man, with the younger boys, and make for the Union lines, not a mile
distant. Jack, meanwhile, with little Gabe, would go to the rescue of
Dick. If firing were heard later, Barney would understand that his
friends were in peril, and, if the Union outposts were in sufficient
strength, they could come to the rescue, and, perhaps, add to the
captures of the night. Barney was now serious enough. He was reminded of
no joke by the present dilemma, and remained very solemn, as Jack
enlarged on the glories of the proposed campaign. How all Acredale would
applaud the intrepidity of its townsmen snatching glory from peril!
Barney consented to leave him with reluctance, suggesting that the "ould
nagur" could take the prisoners "beyant."
"Gabe has shown sense and courage, and I shall be much more likely to
reach Dick and extricate him and Jones, alone, than if I had this
cavalcade at my heels."
Jack and Barney were forced to laugh at the big-eyed wonder in old
Rafe's eyes when he was informed of the imposing part he was to play in
the warlike comedy. To be guard over "white folks," to dare to look them
in the face without fear of a blow, in all his sixty years Rafael Hinton
had never dreamed such a mission for a man of color. The troopers, too
tipsy and subdued to remark the sudden paucity of the force that had
overcome them, were tied upon their own steeds, Barney in front of the
leader, and Rafe and his son in charge of the two others.
Rafe led the way in trembling triumph. He knew the ford, indeed, every
foot of the country, and had no misgivings about reaching the Union
lines. Jack watched the squad until it disappeared in the fringe of
trees, and then, turning to the tearful Gabe, said, encouragingly:
"Now, we must do as well when we go among the Union soldiers. You know
the point in the swamp I have told about. How long will it take us to
reach that the shortest way?"
"Ef we had dad's dugout we could save right smart."
"You mean we could get there by water?"
"Yes, sah. We ken go all froo de swamp in a boat."
"Then I'm afraid it is not the place I mean, for we found as much land
"Dey ain't no odder swamp neah heah, sah."
"Well, we'll try my route first. If that misleads us, we shall try the
boat. Can you find it?"
"Where is it?"
"Ober neah the blockhouse. De sogers done tuk it to fish."
"Ah, yes, the blockhouse! I must look into that! Now, we must hurry.
Skirt the edge of the water and make no noise."
This was a needless warning to the boy, who, barefooted and scantily
clad, gave Jack as much as he could do to keep up with him. They had
left the cabin a mile or more behind them to the southeastward, and were
somewhere near the spot Jack had emerged from the cypress swamp, when
both were brought to a halt by shifting clouds of smoke pouring out from
"Where does that come from?" Jack asked, throwing himself flat to catch
"Dunno, sah. Most likely de sojers sot de brush on fiah."
When Jack was able to look again he saw far in among the trees a moving
wave of light now and then, as the heavy curtain of smoke was lifted
by the wind.
"Good heavens!" he ejaculated; "it was in there I left my friends. Can
we get to them?"
"No, sah; der ain't no crick dah."
"Then!" Jack thought, "have I sacrificed Dick and Jones in my zeal to be
adventurous? Ten minutes sooner, and we could have gone in and brought
them out. But I will find a way in, if I have to clamber over the
The noise of whirring wings, the rush of startled animals, now drowned
all other sounds, until, through the tumult from the copse far in front
of them, they heard the clatter of swords, and then gigantic figures
breaking toward them, along the edge of the pond.
"Down, down; hug the ground!" Jack cried, pushing the boy down into the
reeds. Almost as they sank, a group of troopers dashed by, talking
"Fire at random, men; that will force them into cover! If we can keep
them in ambush till daylight, the dogs will be here, and we shall nab
them," Jack heard a voice say as the men rode past.
How could they have heard of the affair so quickly, for Jack took it for
granted that it was his exploit that the troopers were afoot to balk?
Still another group passed, and they were talking of the dogs that
"You may depend upon it, they are in the swamp. They are making off that
way and hope to mislead us by firing the place. We must keep our eyes
peeled on the swamp. The creek will stop them down yonder, and we must
watch this break in the brush. As soon as the dogs come we shall have no
trouble. They'll run 'em down in no time."
Jack had heard enough to warn him that it was useless to try to
penetrate the swamp. With half of his usual wit, Dick would have been
_en route_ long before this, for the fiery glow in the woods showed that
the flames had been raging some time. Unless Jones's illness had
handicapped him, Dick would be on his way, following Jack's route as
closely as the darkness would permit. But now he must seek means to
evade the dogs. This could be done only by reaching the water and
getting into it far from the point where they proposed to leave it.
"Can you find the boat?" he asked Gabe, who chattered between his teeth.
"I think so, sah."
"Very well; we must find a small stream running into the pond, and then
lead me to the boat."
"Moccasin Brook is close yonder, sah. Shall I go dah?"
"Yes, like lightning."
In a few minutes they were in a sluggish current, running between masses
of reeds and spreading lily-leaves, into the pond. Here Jack repeated
Jones's manoeuvre, except that he was not wise enough in woodcraft to
make use of a tree to get into the water, and thus leave the dogs at the
end of the trail at a point far removed from his real entrance into it.
When they had reached the pond, Jack bade the boy head to the boat. This
they found moored under a bluff, and Gabe, pointing upward, said the
blockhouse was there.
"Very well, you stay here in the boat and wait for me. Don't stir, don't
speak, no matter what you see or hear. Will you do this?"
"Oh, yes, sah; 'deed, 'deed I will, sah!"
Jack crawled up the bank, keeping in the shadow of the uneven ground,
until he reached a point whence he could make out the blockhouse. It was
a half-finished structure of rough logs, and, from the stakes and other
signs of engineering preliminaries, he saw that it was intended as the
guard-house of a fortification. He could hear the drawl of languid,
half-sleepy voices, and, as he pushed farther to the eastward, saw a
group of troopers lounging about a dying fire. A sentry sat before the
doorway, which had no door. He was dozing on his post, though, now and
then he aroused himself to listen to the comments of the men at the
fire. While Jack waited, irresolute what to do, a volley sounded across
the pond, evidently the fellows whom he had seen, keeping up the
fusilade to distract the fugitives.
"They've wasted enough lead to fight a battle," he heard one of the men
"Well, that's what lead's for," a philosopher remarked, stirring the
embers. "So it don't get under my skin, I don't care a cuss what they
do with it."
"Oh, your skin's safe enough, Ned. You may adorn a gallows yet."
"If I do, you'll be at one end of the string--and I ain't a-saying which
end, neither," the other retorted, taking a square segment of what
looked like bark, but was really tobacco, and worrying out a circle with
his teeth, until he had detached a large mouthful. This affording his
jaws all the present occupation they seemed capable of undertaking, the
other resumed when the haw-haw that met the sally had subsided:
"Yes, it takes two to make a hangin', just like it takes two to make a
weddin', and you can't allus say just sartin which one has the
This facetious epigram was duly relished, and the sage was turning his
toasted side from the fire to present the other, when the clatter of a
horse coming up the hillside sent the group scouring toward their guns,
stacked near the unfinished walls.
"Sergeant Bland, the captain orders you to take four men and station
them along the north shore of the pond. The rascals are in the cypress
swamp, and are making their way out toward Moccasin Creek. One man can
watch the block-house, and the rest come with me.--Guard, we shall be
within a hundred yards of you. A shot will bring a dozen men to your
assistance; but it isn't likely an enemy can reach this point. The whole
regiment is deployed in the woods."
This was said to the sentry as the group, detailed for Moccasin Creek,
filed off at a double-quick down the hill. In a few moments the
blockhouse was deserted, save by the sentry, who had now risen and was
vigorously pacing before the doorway. Now was Jack's time, if ever. If
he could only whisper to one of the prisoners to call the sentry. But
how? He had nothing to fear in approaching the rear, and in a few
moments he had examined the walls. There was no opening where he could
get speech with those inside. What could he do? To boldly fall upon the
sentry was risky, for the slightest noise would bring rescue from the
front of the bluff. At the base of the wall, where the log-joists rested
upon a huge bowlder, his quick eye detected an air-hole. He examined it
hurriedly. It was evidently below the flooring. So much the better.
Putting his mouth to this, he called out in a piteous tone:
"For God's sake, sentry, give me some water! I'm choking--oh--oh water!
He waited to see if the sentry would heed the call. He knew that the men
inside could not betray him, for, if they were not asleep, they could
not be sure that the voice was not from among themselves. Sure enough,
the sentry's step ceased. Was he near the door? Jack crept to the
corner. Yes, he had halted at the aperture. Would he enter? Jack stepped
back to his post, as the guard called out:
"Where are you? Which of you wants water? Sing out!"
"Here!" Jack cried, "Here!" Then darting back to the corner, he was just
in time to see the man lean his gun against the door-post, and disappear
in the hut. In an instant the gun was in Jack's possession, and he was
behind the Samaritan in quest of the suffering victim. It was dark as a
tunnel. Jack's victim still gave him the aid he needed, for, as he
groped along the wall, he said, good-humoredly:
"Sing out again, my friend; I haven't got cat's eyes."
Jack's grasp was on his throat and Jack's mouth was at his ear.
"One sound, one word, and this knife goes to the hilt in your heart!"
The astounded man half reeled at this awful apparition in the black
darkness, and he limply yielded to his captor under the impression that
the prisoners were loose and upon him. Jack tied the man's unresisting
hands with his own canteen-straps; then seated him near the wall and
lighted a match. Four men, undisturbed by this swift and noiseless coup,
were stretched on the board floor, breathing the heavy, deep sleep of
exhaustion. Jack aroused them with the greatest difficulty, and found it
still harder to make them understand that, with courage and resolution,
they would be back in their own lines by daylight. When this became
clear to them they were as eager and energetic as their rescuer. The men
were to remain near the blockhouse, but not in it, until Jack returned
for the negro, and then under the lad's guidance they could find their
way to the Union outposts. Just as this was decided, a blood-curdling
baying of bloodhounds echoed across the pond from the distant cabin.
Jack trembled, his mind at once on Dick, so near and yet so far from him
now, in this new danger. There was not a moment to be lost. Perhaps even
now all the night's hard-won victories were to be turned to worse than
defeat--prison, death; for the liberation of slaves was at that time
punishable by hanging in the rebel military code.
"Courage," he said to himself, grimly; "courage, a dog's no worse than a
man. We've overcome them to-night, we ought to be able to tackle the
dogs." This new danger changed his plan slightly. Instead of leaving all
the men, he took one of the rescued four, Tom Denby by name, with him,
and set out for the water. But here another check met him. He suddenly
recalled that the guard at the blockhouse had been scattered along the
shore to watch the debouch from the swamp. This enforced a wide
_detour_, bringing him out in the rear of the boat and nearer the point
where Moccasin Creek emptied into the pond. They reached it finally, and
skirting along the shore kept a keen eye on the water for the boat. They
had skurried along half-way back toward the bluff, listening for a sound
on the water and peering into the black surface, when Denby suddenly
touched Jack's arm.
"There's a horse or cow standing in the water yonder. I've seen it move;
Yes, outlined against the low horizon, a monstrous shape could be
plainly seen. The yelp of the hounds suddenly broke through the air back
of them toward the creek. The monstrous figure started, moved heavily
forward, then seemed as if coming toward them. Both waited, wondering,
curious, terrified. It was within a rod of them, staggering, gasping.
"Oh, God help us! I can go no farther; better be taken than both drown
Jack could hardly repress a cry:
"Jones--Dick! Is it you?"
But whoever it was or whatever it was had no speech to answer this eager
inquiry. They would have sunk in the shallow water if Jack and Denby had
not caught them. Jack had food with him, and, better than all, the
bottle of sorghum whisky. With this restorative, both were soon able to
sit upon the ground and eat. Jack left Denby to feed them, while he went
in search of the boat. He found it just where he had left it, and in a
few minutes, at the head of his little band, he was back at the
blockhouse. The food and Jack's hastily told news had restored Dick to
something like his old friskiness.
"Jericho!" he cried, as the released prisoners, having held back warily
until the color of the new-comers was known, ran forward. "The whole
army is here. I feel as if I were in the Union lines."
"Well, you ain't, by a long shot," Denby cried. "We've got a good hour's
march, and if you're wise, Captain Sprague, you won't waste time for
"No time shall be wasted.--Jones, you and Dick take the rear. I, with
Denby, will skirmish; and you, Corporal Kane, shall command the center.
No firing, remember, unless superior force assails us.--Gabe, stick to
the waterside as closely as you can, but make the shortest cut to
Gabe was the most delighted darkey in all Virginia for the next hour. He
led them swiftly and surely, and why shouldn't he? He had passed all his
life in the vicinity, and with the first beams of the sun he pointed to
a narrow wooden bridge.
"Dar's whar de pickets fire across."
As they passed the bridge a loud sound of rushing horses could be heard
in the distance.
"Dick, you take two men and hurry down the road to assure our pickets
that we are friends. We'll take up the planks to give them time!" Jack
shouted, and Dick, with two of the rescued prisoners, dashed away. Many
hands and high hope made short work of the light timbers. As the
pursuing cavalry turned the bend in the road, in sight of the bridge.
Jack's squad gave them a volley and then dashed into cover. The fire was
returned. Dick, coming back at a run, with a dozen dismounted men, heard
the bullets whistling over his head and saw Jack's _posse_ dispersing to
the right and left in the bushes. All were forced into the woods, as the
rebels commanded the highway.
"Where is Jack?" Dick asked, rushing among the men. No one had noticed
him in the panic. He was not in the huddle that cowered in the reeds to
escape the balls, still hurtling viciously over the open. With a cry of
rage and despair, Dick flew into the road, and there, not a hundred
yards from the bridge, he saw the well-known figure prone on the red
earth motionless--dead? Heedless of the warning cries of the others,
Dick tore madly to the body, and with a wild cry fell upon the lifeless
figure, weltering in blood.
"THE ABSENT ARE ALWAYS IN THE WRONG."
Under Vincent's ardent escort Mrs. Sprague and Merry traveled from
Richmond northward in something like haste and with as much comfort as
was possible to the limited means of transportation at the command of
the Confederate commissary. Even in those early days of the war, the
railway system of the South was worn out and inadequate. Such a luxury
as a parlor car was unknown. The trains were filled with military
personages on their way to the field. Mrs. Sprague and Merry were the
only women in the car in which they passed from Richmond to
Fredericksburg. The route brought them through a land covered with
hamlets of camps, drilling squadrons, and the panoply of war. While the
elder lady gave a divided mind to the strange panorama, Merry watched
everything eagerly, amused and interested by this spectacle of
preparation. Such soldiers as she could see distinctly looked like
farmers in holiday homespun; the cavalry like nondescript companies of
backwoods hunters. There seemed to be no uniformity in infantry
equipment or cavalry accoutrements, and the discipline struck her as in
keeping with this diversity of dress and ornament. The men could be seen
hurrying in boyish glee toward the train as it drew near the temporary
station, where mail-bags were thrown out and sometimes supplies of food
or munitions of war. Jocular remarks were passed between the soldiery at
the windows when the wistful groups gathered along the railway line.
"I say, North Cal'ina, you'n's goin' straight through to Yankee land?" a
man in the throng shouts to some one on the train.
"Send us a lock o' Lincoln's hair to poison blind adders, will you?"
"No--promised his scalp to my sweetheart to cover the rocking-chair."
Then, as the laugh that met this sally died away, another humorist
"Tell Uncle Joe Johnston we're just rustin' down here for a fight; ef he
don't hurry up we'll go ahead ourselves. We're drilled down so fine now
that we can't think 'cept by the rule o' tactics."
"Jest you never mind, boys. Uncle Joe'll do enough thinkin' fur ye when
he gets ready to tackle the Yanks."
"Hurrah for Uncle Joe!" And as the cheery cry swelled farther and
farther, the train drew out, everybody looking from the windows as the
patient soldiery straggled back campward.
"Your soldiers seem very gay, Vincent. One would think that war, the
dreadful uncertainty of their movements, absence of friends, and lack of
good food would sadden them," Mrs. Sprague said wistfully at one of the
stations when raillery like this had been even more pointed and
"A wise commander will do all he can to keep his men gay; if they were
not jovial they'd go mad. Think of it! Day after day, week after week,
who knows but year after year, the wearisome monotony of camp and march!
Where the men are educated, or at least readers, they make better
soldiers, because they brood less. Brooding saps the best fiber of the
army. Your Northern men ought to have an advantage there, for education
is more general with you than it is with us. It is not bravery that
makes a man eager for the campaign, it is unrest. As a rule, the best
soldiers in action are those who have a mortal dread of battle."
"That surprises me."
"It is true. I always distrust men that clamor to be led on; they are
the first to break when the brush comes. Jack will tell you that, for we
are agreed on it."
"Jack himself was eager for battle," Mrs. Sprague said, sighing.
"No, Jack was eager for the field. When the battle comes he meets it
coolly, but he has no hunger for it, nor have I. General Johnston is as
brave a man as ever headed an army, yet he has often told us that his
blood freezes when the guns open. I'm sure no one would ever suspect it,
for he is as calm and confident as if he were in a quadrille when he
rides to the field."
"We in the North have heard more of Beauregard than Johnston, yet I
never hear you mention him. Wasn't it he who commanded at Bull Run?"
"Yes and no. General Beauregard is a superb soldier. He is, it has been
agreed among us, better for a desperate charge, or some sudden
inspiration in an emergency, than the complicated strategy that half
wins a battle before it is begun. For example, at Manassas he would have
been defeated, our whole army captured, if fortune had not exposed
General McDowell's plans before they were completed. As it was, we
should have been driven from the field if General Johnston had not come
up in time and rearranged the Confederate lilies."
"Yes, Jack has described that. Battles, after all, are decided by luck."
"Luck won Waterloo."
"Partly, but genius, too, for Wellington and Bluecher practiced one of
Napoleon's most perfect maxims, and won because he despised them both so
much that he didn't dream them capable of even imitating him. Nor, left
to themselves, would they have been equal to it. But renegade Frenchmen,
taught under Napoleon's eye, prompted them."
"General Johnston was very considerate to us when we came down. I wish
you would make him know how grateful we are."
"Oh, he couldn't be anything else; he is the ideal of a chivalrous
"Yes, I believe you claim chivalry as your strong point in the South,
and accuse us of being a race of sordid money-getters."
"I don't, for I know better, but our people do. They will learn better
in time. Men who fought as your army fought at Manassas must be more
than mere sordid hucksters."
"And yet it is curious," Mrs. Sprague continued, musingly, "it is we who
are warring for an idea and you are warring for property."