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“until his opportunity came. It is opportunity that makes the hero, as well as the less reputable personage, and I haev no doubt that when yours comes, you will redeem yourself from all blame of selfishness and pettiness.”

Chapter XVI. The Ambuscade.

This heavy-headed revel, east and west, Makes us traduced and taxed of other nations; They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish frase Soul our addition: and indeed it takes
From our achievements, though performed at hight, The pith and marrow of our attribute.–Hamlet.

The day spent with Aunt Debby had been of the greatest benefit to Harry Glen. Since his parting with Rachel Bond, there had been going on in his spirit a fermentation like that with which good wine discharges itself of its grossness and impurities, and becomes clear and fine. In this process had vanished the absorbing selfishness of a much-indulged only son, and teh supercilious egotism which came as an almost necessary result of his college curriculum. This spiritual ripening received its perfecting color and bloom from the serene exaltation of Aunt Debby’s soul. So filled was she with lofty devotion to the cause, so complete her faith in its holiness, and so unquestioning her belief that it was every one’s simple duty to brave all dangers for it, and die if need be without a murmur, that contact with her would have inspired with pure patriotic ardor a nature much less ready for such leavening than Harry’s.

As Dr. Denslow had surmised, his faults were mainly superficial, and underneath them was a firm gristle of manhood, which would speedily harden into bone. With the experience he had been having, days would mature this as rapidly as ordinary years. He was himself hardly aware of the transformation, but only felt, as his physical exhaustion disappeared, a new eagerness to participate in the great work of the war. He was gratified to know a little later that this was no transient feeling. In the course of the evening Jim Fortner came back in, with Kent Edwards and Abe Bolton. After they had all satisfied their hunger, Fortner informed Harry and Aunt Debby that the enemy had fallen back to London, from which point he was sending out wagons into the surrounding country, to gather up food, forage, arms, clothing, ammunition, etc., with the double object of depriving the Union men of them, and adding the same to the Rebel resources. A long train had also been sent out to the Goose Creek Salt Works–twenty-five miles northeast of London–to bring away a lot of salt stored there, of which the Rebels had even more need than of food.

Fortner proposed to go out in the morning, and endeavor to capture some of these wagons. It seemed altogether probably that a few might be caught in such a position that their guards could be killed or driven off.

All readily agreed to this plan, Aunt Debby leading off by volunteering to ride ahead on her mare, as a scout.

Harry suddenly remembered that he was weaponless. “What shall I do for a gun?” he asked, anxiously.

“I declar, I done forgot all ’bout gittin’ ye a gun,” said Fortner with real concern. “My mind was disturbed by other things,” he added with a suspicion of a grin at Edwards and Bolton; but they were leaning back in their chairs fast asleep. Apple jack, fatigue and a hearty supper together made a narcotic too potent to resist.

Fortner rose, spread a few blankets on the floor, added a sack of bran for a pillow, and with some difficulty induced the two sleepers to lie down and take their slumbers in a more natural position.

“I’ll find ye a gun,” said Aunt Debby, as this operation was finished, and walking to a farther corner of the room, she came back bearing in her hand a rifle very similar to the one Fortner carried.

“Thar,” she said, setting the delicately-curved brazen heel down upon the hearth, and holding the muzzle at arm’s length while she gazed at the gun with the admiration one can not help feeling for a magnificent weapon, “is ez true a rifle ez ever a man put to his shoulder. Ef I didn’t b’lave ye ter be ez true ez steel ye shouldn’t tech hit, fur hit b’longed ter the truest man in this livin’ world.”

“Hit wuz her husband’s,” explained Fortner, as her lips met firmly, as if choking down bitter memories.

“I’m givin’ hit ter ye ter use ez he’d a-used hit ef he war a-livin’,” she said, steadying her tones with a perceptible effort. “I’m glad thet my hands can put inter yours the means ter avenge him.”

Harry tried in vain to make an appropriate response.

“I’ll clean hit up for ye,” she said to Harry, as she saw Fortner beginning to furbish up his own rifle for the next day’s duties.

That she was no stranger to the work was shown by the skill with which she addressed herself to it. Nothing that a Kentucky mountaineer does has more of the aspect of a labor of love, than his caring for a find rifle, and any of them would have been put to shame by the deftness of Aunt Debby’s supple hands. Removing the leathern hood which protected the lock, she carefully rubbed off the hammer and nipple with a wisp of soft fine tow, and picked out the tube with a needle. Wrapping another bit of tow around the end of a wiping-stick, she moistened it slightly in her mouth, and carefully swabbed out of the inside of the barrel every suspicion of dust and dirt. Each of the winding rifles was made clean and free along its whole course. Then the tow swab was lightly touched with sweet, unsalted goose-fat, that it might spread a rust-preventing film over the interior surface. She burnished the silver and brass ornaments, and rubbed the polished stock until it shone. When not a suspicion of soil or dirt remained any where, the delicate double triggers were examined and set so that they would yield at the stroke of a hair, a tuft of lightly-oiled tow was placed over the nipple and another closed the muzzle.

“Thar,” said Aunt Deby, setting the gun back against the logs, “is a rifle that’ll allers do hits duty, ef the man a-holt of hit does his. Let’s see how the ammunition is.”

The powder horn was found to be well filled with powder, and the box with caps, but there were only a few bullets.

“I’ll run ye some,” she said, taking from a shelf a small iron ladle, a few bars of lead, and a pair of bullet molds. “Fur more’n a hunderd years the women uv our fam’ly hev run all the bullets our menfolks shot. They b’lieved hit made ’em lucky. Granfather Fortner killed an Injun chief acrost the Maumee River at the battle of Fallen Timbers with a bullet thet Granmother hed run fur him an’ markt with a little cross. Afore the battle begun Franfather tuck the bullet outen his pouch an’ put hit inter his mouth, until he could git a chance ter use hit on big game. He brot the chief’s scalp hum ter Granmother.”

“I believe the bullets you cast for me will do good service,” said Harry, with sincerity in his tones.

“I’m sartin of hit,” she returned, confidently. “I hev adopted ye in my heart ez a son, an’ I feel towards ye ez ef ye were raylly uv my own kin. I know ye’ll be a credit to yerself an’ me.”

While the lead was melting upon the bed of coals she drew out on the hearth, she sat in her low chair with her hands clasped about her knees, and her great gray eyes fixed upon the depths of a mass of glowing embers in the fireplace, as if she saw there vivid pictures of the past or revelations of the future.

“How wonderfully bright an’ glowin’ hit is in thar,” she said musingly; “hit’s purer an’ brighter then ennything else on arth. ‘Purified ez by fire,’ the Book says. My God, Thou has sent Thy fires upon me ez a sweepin’ flood. Hev they purified me ez Thou wisht? How hit shines an’ glows away in thar! Hit seems so deep sometimes thet I kin skeercely see the end. A million times purer an’ brighter is the light thet shines from the Throne uv God. THEY’RE lookin’ at thet now, while I still tarry heah. Husband an’ son, when will I go to ye? When will I finish the work the Lord hez fur me ter do? When will the day uv my freedom come? May-be to-morrer–may-be to-morrer.”

She began singing softly:

“An’ when a shadder falls acrost the winder Of my room,
When I am workin’ my app’inted task, I lift my head to watch the door an’ ask If he is come;
An’ the angel answers sweetly
In my home:
‘Only a few more shadders
An’ He will come.'”

“Aunt Debby, honey,” said Fortner, rousing himself from a nap in his chair, “thet thar lead’s burnin’. Better run yer bullets.”

She started as if waked from a trance, pressed her slender thin hands to her eyes for an instant, and then taking the molds up in herleft hand she raised the ladle with her right, filled them from it, knocked the molded balls out by a tap on the floor, and repeated the process with such dexterous quickness that she had made fifty bullets before harry realized that she was fairly at work.

“Ye men hed better lay down an’ git some sleep,” she said, as she replaced the molds and ladle on the shelf. “Ye’ll need all yer strength to-morrer. I’ll neck these bullets, an’ git together some vittles fur the trip, an’ then I’ll lay down a while. We orter start airly–soon arter daybreak.”

They did start early the next morning, with Aunt Debby riding upon the roads that wound around the mountain sides, while Fortner led the men through the shorter by-paths.

Noon had passed some hours, and yet they had come across no signs of wagons. Aunt Debby was riding along a road cut out of the rocks about mid-way up the mountain. To her right the descent was almost perpendicular for a hundred feet or more to where a creek ran at the bottom of a cliff. To her left the hill rose up steeply to a great height. Fortner and the others saw Aunt Debby galloping back, waving the red handkerchief which was her signal of the approach of a wagon. After her galloped a Rebel Sergeant, with revolver drawn shouting to her to stop or he would fire. Abe Bolton stepped forward impulsively to shoot the Rebel, missed his footing, and slid down the hill, landing in the orad with such force as to jar into unintelligibiliy a bitter imprecation he had constructed for the emergency. He struck in front of the Sergeant, who instantly fired at Aunt Debby’s mare, sending a bullet through the faithful animal, which sank to her knees, and threw her rider to the ground. Without waiting to rise, and he was not certain that he could, Abe fired his musket, but missed both man and horse. He scrambled to his feet, and ran furiously at the Rebel with raised gun. The Sergeant fired wildly at him, when Bolton struck the animal a violent blow across the head. It recoiled, slipped, and in another instant had fallen over the side of the road, and crushed his rider on the rocks below. Five of the wagon-guard who were riding ahead of the wagon galloped forward at the sound of the shots. Fortner, Edwards and Harry Glen fired into these, and three saddles were emptied. The remaining two men whirled their horses around, fired wildly into the air, and dashed back upon the plunging team, with which the driver was vainly struggling. The ground quivered as the frightened animals struck together; they were crushed back upon their haunches, and beat one another cruelly with their mighty hoofs. Wagon, horses and men reeled on the brink an agonizing instant; the white-faced driver dropped the lines and sprang to the secure ground; the riders strained with the energy of deadly fear to tear themselves loose from their steeds, but in vain. Then the frantic mess crashed down the jagged rocks, tearing up the stunted cedars as if they were weeds, and fell with a sounding splash on the limestone bed of the shallow creek.

Fortner, Glen and Edwards came down as quickly as possible, the latter spraining his ankle badly by making a venturesome leap to reach the road first. They found a man that Fortner had shot at stone dead, with a bullet through his temple. The other two had been struck in the body. Their horses stood near, looking wonderingly at their prostrate masters.

Bolton was rubbing his bruises and abrasions, and vituperating everything, from the conduct of the war to the steepness of Kentucky mountains. Aunt Debby had partially recovered from the stunning of her fall, and limped slowly up, with her long riding-skirt raised by one hand. Her lips were compressed, an her great gray eyes blazed with excitement.

They all went to the side of the road, and looked down at the crushed and bleeding mass in the creek.

“My God! that’s awful,” said Henry, with a rising sickness about his heart, as the excitement began subsiding.

“Plenty good enuf fur scoundrels who rob poor men of all they hev,” said Fortner fiercely, as he re-loaded his rifle. “Hit’s not bad enuf fur thieves an’ robbers.”

“Hit’s God’s judgement on the wicked an’ the opporessor,” said Aunt Debby, with solemn pitilessness.

“Hadn’t we better try to get down there, and help those men out?” suggested Harry. “Perhaps they are not dead yet.”

“Aunt Debby, thet thar hoss thet’s rain’ his head an’ whinnyin’,” said Fortner, with sudden interest, “is Joel Sprigg’s roan geldin’, sho’s yore bo’n, honey.” He pointed to where a shapely head was raised, and almost human agony looked out of great liquid eyes. “Thet wuz the finest hoss in Laurel County, an’ they’ve stole ‘im from Joel. Hit’ll ’bout break his heart, fur he set a powerful sight o’store on thet there beast. Pore critter! hit makes me sick ter see ‘im suffer thet-a-way! I’ve a mind ter put ‘im outen his misery, but I’m afeered I can’t shoot ‘im, so long ez he looks at me with them big pitiful eyes o’ his’n. They go right ter my heart.”

“You’d better shoot him,” urged Aunt Debby. “Hit’s a si ter let an innocent critter suffer thet-a-way.”

Fortner raised his rifle, and sent a bullet through the mangled brute’s brain.

Aunt Debby’s eyes became fixed on a point where, a mile away down the mountain, a bend in the road was visible through an opening in the trees.

“Look out,” she said, as the echoes of the shot died away, “thar comes a hull lot on ’em.”

They looked and saw plainly a large squad of cavalry, with a wagon behind.

“We must get outen heah, an’ thet quick,” said Fortner decisively. He caught one of the horses and shortened a stirrup to make the sadle answer for a side-saddle. “Heah, Aunt Debby, let me help ye up, honey. Now Bolton and Edwards, I’ll help ye on these ere other critters. Now skeet out ez fast ez the hosse’s legs will tote ye. Don’t spar ’em a mite. Them fellers’ll gin ye to the devil’s own chase ez soon ez they get heah, an’ see what’s bin done. Glen and me’ll go acrost the mounting, an’ head ’em off on t’other side. Don’t come back ef ye heah shootin’, but keep straight on, fur we kin take keer o’ this crowd without enny help. glen, you sasshay up the mounting thar ez fast ez the Lord’ll let ye. I’ll be arter ye right spry.”

All sped away as directed. Fortner had been loading his gun while speaking. He now rammed the bullet home, and withdrawing his rammer walked over to the cliff beside which the teamster was cowering.

“O, Mister Fortner, don’t kill me–please don’t!” whined the luckless man, getting awkwardly upon his knees and raising his hands imploringly. “I swar ter God I’ll never raise a hand agin a Union man agin ef ye’ll only spar my life.”

“Kill ye, Pete Hoskins!” said Fortner with unfathomable contempt. “What consete ye hev ter think yer wuth the powder an’ lead. I hain’t no bullets ter waste on carr’on.”

He struck the abject fellow a couple of stinging blows on the face with the ramrod, replaced it in the thimbles, and sprang up the rocks just as the head of the cavalry appeared around the bend of the road a few rods away.

Overtaking Harry shortly, he heard about the same time the Rebels on the road below strike into a trot.

“They know hit all now,” he said, “an’ hev started in chase. Let’s jog on lively, an’ get ter whar we kin head ’em off.”

Night had fallen in the meantime, but the full moon had risen immediately, making it almost as light as day.

After half an hour’s fast walking, the two Unionists had cut across the long horseshoe around which the Rebels were traveling, and had come down much ahead of them on the other side of the mountain, and just where the road led up the steep ascent of another mountain.

There was a loneliness about the spot that was terrible. Over it hung the “thought and deadly feel of solitude.” The only break for miles in the primeval forest was that made for the narrow road. House or cabin there was none in all the gloomy reaches of rocks and gnarled trees. It was too inhospitable a region to tempt even the wildest squatter.

The flood of moonlight made the desolation more oppresive than ever, by making palpable and suggestive the inky abysses under the trees and in the thickets.

Fortner looked up the road to his right and listened intently.

A waterfall mumbled somewhere in the neighborhood. The pines and hemlocks near the summit sighed drearily. A gray fox, which had probably just supped off a pheasant, sat on a log and barked out his gluttonous satisfaction. A wildcat, as yet superless, screamed its envy from a cliff a half a mile away.

“I can’t heah anything of Aunt Debby an’ the others,” said Fortner, at length; “so I reckon they’re clean over the mounting, an’ bout safe by this time. Them beasts are purty good travelers, I imagine, an’ they hain’t let no grass grow in under the’r hufs.”

“But the Rebels are coming, hand over hand,” said Harry, who had been watching to the left and listening. “I hear them quite plainly. Yes, there they are,” he continued, as two or three galloped around a turn in the road, followed at a little interval by others.

The metallic clang of the rapid hoof-beats on the rocks rang through the somber aisles of the forest. Noisy fox and aniphonal wildcat stopped to listen to this invasion of sound.

“Quick! let’s get in cover,” said Fortner.

“Ye make fur thet rock up thar,” said Fortner to Harry, pointing to a spot several hundred yards above them, “and stay thar tell I come. Keep close in the shadder, so’s they won’t see ye.”

“It seems to me that I ought to stay with you,’ said Harry, indecisively.

“No; go. Ye can’t do no good heah. One’s better nor two. I’ll be up thar soon. Go, quick.”

There was no time for debate, and Harry did as bidden.

Fortner stepped into the inky shadow of a large rock, against which he leaned. The great broad face of the rock, gray from its covering of minute ash-colored lichens, was toward the pursuers, and shone white as marble in the flood of moonlight. The darkness seemed banked up around him, but within his arm’s length it was as light as day. The long rifle barrel reached from the darkness into the light, past the corner of the rock against which it rested. The bright rays made the little “bead” near the muzzle gleam like a diamond, and lighted up the slit as fine as a hair in the hind-sight. Three little clicks, as if of twigs breaking under a rabbit’s foot, told that the triggers had been set and the hammer raised.

The horsemen, much scattered by the pursuit, clattered onward. In ones and twos, with wide intervals between, they reached along a half-mile of the road. Two–the best mounted–rode together at the head. Two hundred yards below the great white rock, which shone as innocent and kindly as a fleecy Summer cloud, a broad rivulet wound its way toward the neighboring creek. The blown horses scented the grateful water, and checked down to drink of it. The right-hand rider loosened his bridle that his steed might gratify himself. The other tightened his rein and struck with his spurs. His horse “gathered,” and leaped across the stream. As the armed hoofs struck sparks from the smooth stones on the opposite side, the rider of the drinking horse saw burst out of the white rock above them a gray cloud, with a central tongue of flame, and his comrade fell to the ground.

His immediate reply with both barrels of his shotgun showed that he did not mistake this for any natural phenomenon. The sound of the shots brought the rest up at a gallop, and a rapid fire was opened on the end of the rock.

But the instant Fortner fired he sprang back behind the rock, and then ran under its cover a little distance up the mountain side to a dense laurel thicket, in which he laid down behind a log and reloaded his rifle. He listened. The firing had ceased, and a half-dozen dismounted men were carefully approaching the spot whence he had sent the fatal shot. He heard the Captain order a man to ride back and bring up the wagon, that the body of the dead man might be put in it. As the wagon was heard rumbling up, the dismounted men reported to the Captain that the bushwhacker had made good his escape and was no longer behind the rock.

“Well, he hasn’t gone very far,” said the Captain with a savage oath. “He can’t have got any distance away, and I’ll have him, dead or alive, before I leave this spot. The whole gang of Lincolnite hellhounds are treed right up there, and not one of them shall get away alive.” He put a bone whistle to his lips, and sounded a shrill signal. A horseman trotted up from the rear in response to the call, leading a hound with a leash. “Take the dog up to that rock, there, Bill,” said the Captain, “and set him on that devil’s trail. Five more of you dismount, and deploy there on the other side of the road. All of you move forward cautiously, watching the dog, and make sure you ‘save’ teh whelp when he is run out.”

The men left their saddles and moved forward with manifest reluctance. They had the highly emotional nature usual in the poor white of the South, and this was deeply depressed by the weird loneliness that brooded over everything, and the bloodshed they had witnessed. Their thirst for vengeance was being tempered rapidly by a growing superstitious fear. There was something supernatural in these mysterious killings. Each man, therefore, only moved forward as he felt the Captain’s eye on him, or his comrades advanced.

The dog, after some false starts, got the scent, and started to follow Fortner’s footsteps.

“He’s done tuck the trail, Cap’n,” called back one of the men.

“All right,” answered the officer, “don’t take your eyes off of him for a second till he trees the game.”

But the logs and rocks and the impenetrable darkness in the shadows made it impossible to follow the movements of the hound every moment. Only Fortner was able to do this. He could see the great greenish-yellow eyes burn in the pitchy-depths and steadily draw nearer him. They entered the laurel thicket, and the beast growled as he felt the nearness of his prey.

“Wolf must be gitten close ter him,” said one of the men.

Fortner laid his rifle across the log, and drew from his belt a long keen knife. He stirred slightly in doing this, and in turning to confront the dog. The hound sprang forward with a growl that was abruptly ended, for Fortner’s left hand shot out like an arrow, and caught the loose folds of skin on the brute’s neck, and the next instant his right, armed with the knife, descended and laid the animal’s shoulder and neck open with a deep cut. But the darkness made Fortner mistake his distance. He neither caught the dog securely, nor sent the knife to his heart, as he intended, and the hound tearing away, ran out into the moonlight, bleeding and yelping. Before he reached his human allies Fortner had silently sped back a hundred yards, to a more secure shelter, so that the volley which was poured into he thicket only endangered the lives of the chipmunks denizened there. The mounted men rode forward and joined those on foot, in raking the copse with charges of buckshot.

Away above Fortner and Harry rose yells and the clatter of galloping horses. Before they could imagine what this meant a little cavalcade swept by at a mad gallop, yelling at the tops of their voices, and charging directly at the Rebels below. In front were Aunt Debby, Bolton and Edwards, riding abreast, and behind them three men in homespun.

The Rebels seemed totally unnerved by this startling apparition. The dismounted ones flung themselves on their horses and all fled away at a gallop, without attempting to make a stand and without taking thought of their wagon. As they scurried along the opposite mountain-side Fortner and Harry fired at them, but without being able to tell whether their shots took effect.

The pursuit was carried but a little distance. The wagon was secured and taken up the mountain. A little after midnight the summit was passed, and Fortner led the way into an opening to the right, which eventually brought up at a little level spot in front of a large cave. The horses where unhitched and unsaddled, a fire built, cedar boughs gathered to make a bed on the rocky floor of the cave, and they threw themselves down upon this to sleep the sleep of utter weariness.

In the meantime Harry had learned taht the new comers were cousins of Fortner’s, who, being out on a private scouting expedition, had been encountered by Aunt Debby and the others, near the summit of the mountain, and had started back with them to the assistance of Fortner. The sound of firing had so excited them that the suggestion of a charge by Kent Edwards was eagerly acceded to.

“It must be near three o’clock,” said Kent, looking up at the stars, as he came back stealthily from laying the saddle blanket, which was the only covering he and Abe had, upon the sleeping form of Aunt Debby, “and my downy couch still waits for me. My life-long habits of staid respectability have been greatly shaken recently.”

Abe groaned derisively.

An inspection, the next morning of the wagon’s load, showed it to be mainly made up of hams, shoulders and sides, plundered from the smokehouses visited. With these were a number of guns, including several fine rifles, and all the ammunition that could be found along the route.

A breakfast was made of slices of ham broiled on the ends of sticks, and then a consultation was held as to the plans for the day’s operations.

The result of this was a decision that Aunt Debby and one of the newcomers should go back and inform the neighborhood of what had taken place, gather a party to remove the dead from the creek and bury them, to keep the water from being poisoned, and recover what property might be found with the first wagon. Kent Edwards, Abe Bolton, and two of the new comers would scout down toward London, to ascertain the truth of the rumor that Zollicoffer had evacuated the place, and retired to Laurel Bridge, nine miles south of it. Fortner and Harry Glen would take the wagon to Wildcat Gap, report what had been done, and explain to their commander the absence of the enlisted men.

“Shade of King Solomon,” said Kent to Abe, after their party had ridden for two or three hours through the mountains toward London. “I wonder if there is any other kind of worldly knowledge that I know as little about as I did of scouting when we started out? My eyes have been opened to my own ignorance. I used to have the conceit that we two could play a fair hand at any game of war they could get up for our entertainment. But these Kentuckians give me points every hundred yards that I never so much as dreamed of. Theirs is the wisdom of serpents when compared with our dove-like innocence.”

“I like dove-like innocence,” interrupted Abe.

“But did you ever see anybody that could go through the country as these fellows can? It’s just marvelous. They know every short cut to every point, and they know just where to go every time to see way ahead without being seen themselves. It would puzzle the sharpest Rebel bushwhacker to get the drop on them.”

“I don’t know as I want to learn their way of doing,” said Abe crustily. “It looks like sneaking, on a big scale, that’s all. And I’m ashamed of this laying round behind a log or a rock to pop a man over. It ain’t my style at all. I believe in open and above-board fighting, give and take, and may the best man win.”

“So do I, though I suppose all’s fair in war. But when we scout we give them the same chance to knock us over that they give us when they scout. I’ll admit it looks very much like murder to shoot men down that way, for it does not help either side along a particle. But these Kentuckians have a great many private injuries to avenge, and they can’t do it any other way.”

All the people of the region were intensely Union, so it was not difficult to get exact information of the movements of the Rebels, and as the scouts drew near London they became assured that not only all of Zollicoffer’s infantry, but his small parties of cavalry had retreated beyond the town. Our scouts therefore, putting Edwards and Bolton to the front, that their blue uniforms might tell the character of the party, spurred into a gallop, and dashed into London, to be received with boundless enthusiasm.

“Somebody ought to ride back to Wildcat immediately,” said Kent, after they had enjoyed their reception a little while, “and report this to the General.”

All assented to this position.

“It is really the duty of myself and comrade here to do it,” said Kent, shifting uneasily in his chair, to find a comfortable place to sit upon; “but as we have been for two days riding the hardest-backed horses over roads that were simply awful, and as previous to that time we had not taken any equestrian exercise for several years, there are some fundamental reasons–that is, reasons lying at the very base of things, (he shifted again)–why we should not be called upon to do another mile of horseback riding until Time has had an opportunity to exercise his soothing and healing influence, so to speak. Abe, I believe I have stated the case with my usual happy combination of grace and delicacy?”

“You have, as usual, flushed a tail-race of big words.”

“In short,” Kent went on (“Ah, thank you. That is delicious. The best I ever drank. Your mountain stills make the finest apple jack in the world. There must be something in the water–that you don’t put in. It’s as smooth as new-made butter. Well, here’s to the anner of Beauty and Glory.) In short, as I was saying when you hospitably interrupted me, we are willing to do anything for the cause, but unless there is some other way of riding, the most painful effort I could make for our beloved country would be to mount that horse again, and ride another hundred yards. To be messenger of this good news would be bliss; what prevents it is a blister.”

The crowd laughed boisterously.

“Mister,” said one of the Kentuckians who accompanied them, with that peculiar drawling inflection of the word that it were hopeless to attempt to represent in print, “ef ye want ter send some one in yer places me an’ Si heah will be powerful glad ter go. Jes’ git a note ter the Jineral at Wildcat ready while we saddle fresh beasts, an’ we’ll hev hit in his hands afore midnight.”

The proposition was immediately accepted, and in a little while the Kentuckians were speeding their way back to Gen. Schoepf, with a letter giving the news, and signed: “Kent Edwards, Chief of Scouts.”

That evening a party of young men who had followed the Rebel retreat some distance, brought in a wagon which had been concealed in an out-of-the-way place, and left there. It was loaded mainly with things taken from the houses, and was evidently the private collection of some freebooting subordinate, who did not intend that the Southern Confederacy should be enriched by the property. Hence, probably, the hesitation about taking it along with the main train. It was handed over to Kent as the representative of the United States, who was alone authorized to take charge of it. Assisted by Abe he started to make an inventory of the contents. A portly jug of apple jack was kept at hand, that there might not be any suffering from undue thirst during the course of the operation, which, as Kent providently remarked, was liable to make a man as dry as an Arizona plain.

The danger of such aridity seemed to grow more imminent continually, judged by the frequency of their application to the jug. It soon became more urgent than the completion of the inventory. Frequent visits of loyal Kentuckians with other jugs and botles, to drink to the renewed supremacy of the Banner of Beauty and Glory, did not diminish Kent’s and Abe’s apprehensions of ultimate thirst. Their clay seemed like some other kinds, which have their absorptive powers strengthened by the more they take up. They belonged to a not-unusual class of men whom it takes about as long to get thoroughly drunk as it does to heat up an iron-furnace, but the condition that they achieve then makes the intoxication of other and ordinary men seem a very mild and tame exhilaration.

By noon the next day this process was nearing its completion. A messenger galloped into town with the information that the Union forces were coming, and would arrive in the course of an hour or two.

“Shash so?” said Kent, straightening himself up with a crushing dignity that always formed a sure guage of the extent to which inebriation had progressed. “Shash so? Troops ‘she United States ’bout to enter shis lovely metropolis wish all pomp and shircumshtance ‘reassherted ‘thority. ‘Shtonishin’ event; wonderful ‘casion. Never happened ‘fore; probably never’ll happen again. Ought to be ‘propriately celebrated, Abe!”

That gentleman made a strong effort to control joints which seemed unmanageable, and succeeded in assuming a tolerable erectness, while he blinked at his companion with stolid gravity.

“Abe, shis ish great ‘casion. Greatest in she annalsh of she country. We’re only represhentatives Government in she town. Burden whole shing fallsh on us. Understand? We musht do everyshing. Understand? Country ‘spects every man to do his duty. Undershtand?”

Abe sank down on a bench, leaned his head against the wall, and looked at his companion with one eye closed wearily.

“Yesshir,” Kent resumed, summoning up a new supply of oratorical energy, and an official gravity beneath which his legs trembeled. “Name shis town’s London. Shame name’s big town ‘cross ocean. Lots history c’nected wish name. Shtacks an’ cords of it. Old times when King went out t’meet him, wish shtyle pile on bigger’n a haystack. Fact. Clothes finer’n a peacock. Tendered him keys, freed’m city. All shat short shing. Ver’ impreshive shpectacle. Everybody felt better’n for improvin’ sight. Undershtand? We’ll be Lord Mayor and train for shis London. We can rig out right here. Our trouseau’s here in shis hair trunk.”

“Shall we get anyshing t’ drink?” inquired Abe making a temporary collection of his wits with a violent effort.

“Abe!” the freezing severity of Kent’s tone and manner would have been hopelessly fatal to early vegetables. “Abe you’ve many good qualities–more of ’em shan any man I know. but a degrading passion fur shtrong drink is ruinin’ you. I’m your besht fren, an’ shay it wish tearsh in m’ eyes. Lemme beg o’ you t’ reform ere it ish too late. Beware of it, my fren, beware of it. It shtingeth like a serpent, an’ biteth like a multiplier–I mean an adder. You haven’t got my shuperb self-control, an’ so yer only shafety lies in total abstinence. Cheese it, my fren, cheese it on she sheductive but fatal lush.”

“Are we goin’ out t’ meet she boysh?” inquired Abe.

“Shertainly we are. Yesshir. An’ we’re goin’ out ash I proposed. Yer a shplendid feller, Abe,” continued Kent, with lofty patronage. “A shplendid feller, an’ do great credit t’ yer ‘portunities. But y’ haven’t had my ‘dvantages of mingling constantly in p’lite s’ciety, y’know. Rough diamond, I know, ‘nall that short o’ shing, but lack polish an’ easy grace. So I’ll be th’ Lord Mayor, an’ y’ll be th’ train. Undershtand?”

He lurched forward, and came near falling over the chair, but recovering he stiffened up and gazed on that useful article of furniture with a sternness that implied his belief that it was a rascally blackleg trying to insinuate itself into the circle of refinement and chaste elegance of which he was the particular ornament.

“Come,” he resumed, “le’s bedizen ourselves; le’s assume th’ shplendor ‘propriate t’ th’ ‘casion.”

When the troops marched in in the afternoon, the encountered at the head of the crowd that met them at the crossing of the creek just ouside of town, a man who seemed filled with deep emotion, and clothed with strange fancies. He wore a tall silk hat of antique patter, carefully brushed, which he protected from the rays of the sun with a huge blue cotton umbrella. A blue broadcloth coat, with gilt buttons, sat jauntily over a black satin vest, and nankeen trousers. A pair of gold spectacles reposed in magisterial dignity about half way down his nose, and a large silver-headed cane in the left hand balanced the umbrella in the right. By the side of the man with rare vestments stood another figure of even more limpness of general bearing, whose garb consisted of a soldier’s uniform pantaloons and woolen shirt–none too clean–set off by a black dress-coat, and white linen vest.

As the head of the column came up he in the blue broadcloth pulled off his hat and spectacles, and addressed himself to speech:

“Allow me, shir, to welcome you with hoshpitable hands to a bloody–no, let me tender you, shir, the liberties of our city, and reshoice shat she old banner which has braved she battle, hash—”

The column had stopped, and the Captain commanding the advance was listening patiently to what he supposed was the address of an enthusiastic, but eccentric old Kentuckian, when one of the sharp-eyed ones in the company shouted out:

“I declare, it’s Kent Edwards and Abe Bolton.”

The yell of laughter and applause at the ludicrous masquerade shook the hills. The Colonel rode up to see what occasioned it. He recognized his two men, and his face darkened with anger.

“You infernal rascals,” he shouted, “you have been off plundering houses, have you, in place of being with your company. I’ll stop this sort of thing mighty sudden. This regiment shall not degrade itself by plundering and robbing, if I have to shoot every man in it. Captain, arrest those men, and keep thim in close confinement until I can have them tried and properly punished.”

Chapter XVII. Alspaugh on a Bed of Pain.

This is the very ecstacy of love,
Whose violent property foredoes itself. And leads the will to desperate undertakings As often as any passion under Heaven
That does afflict our natures.–Hamlet

Endurance is made possible by reason of the element of divisibility. Metaphysical mathematicians imagine that there is possibly a “fourth dimension,” by the existence of which many hitherto inexplicable phenomena may be explained. They think that probably this fourth dimension is SUCCESSION OF TIME.

So endurance of unendurable things is explainable on the ground that but a small portion of them has to be endured in any given space of time.

It is the old fable of the clock, whose pendulum and wheels stopped one day, appalled by the discovery that they would have to move and tick over three million times a year for many wearisome years, but resumed work again when reminded that they would only have to tick ONCE each second.

So it was with Rachel Bond.

The unendurable whole of a month’s or a week’s experience was endurable when divided in detail and spread over the hours and days.

She was a woman–young and high-natured.

Being a woman she had a martyr-joy in affliction that comes in the guise of duty. Young, she enjoyed the usefulness and importance attached to her work in the hospital. High-natured, she felt a keen satisfaction in triumphing over daily difficulties and obstacles, even though these were mainly her own feelings.

Though months had gone by it seemed as if no amount of habituation could dull the edge of the sickening disgust which continually assailed her sense and womanly instincts. The smells were as nauseating, the sights as repulsive, the sounds of misery as saddening as the day when she first set foot inside the hospital.

From throbbing heart to dainty finger-tip, every fiber in her maidenly body was in active rebellion while she ministered to the rough and coarse men who formed the bulk of the patients, and whose afflictions she could not help knowing were too frequently the direct result of their own sins and willful disobedience of Nature’s laws.

One day, when flushed and wearied with the peevish exactions of a hulking fellow whose indisposition was trifling, she said to Dr. Denslow:

“It is distressing to find out how much unmanliness there is in apparently manly men.”

“Yes,” answered the doctor, with his customary calm philosophy; “and it is equally gratifying to find out how much real manliness there is in some apparently unmanly men. You have been having an experience with some brawny subject?”

“Yes. If the fellow’s spirit were equal to his bone and brawn, he would o’ertop, Julius Caesar. Instead, he whimpers like a school-girl.”

“That’s about the way it usually goes. It may be that my views are colored by my lacking three or four inches of six feet, but I am sometimes strongly inclined to believe that every man–big or little–is given about the same amount of will or vital power, and the bigger and more lumbering the body he has to move with it, the less he accomplishes, and the sooner it is exhausted. You have found, I have no doubt, that as a rule the broad-chested, muscular six-footers, whose lives have ever passed at hard work in the open air, groan and sigh incessantly under the burden of minor afflictions, worry every one with their querulousness, moan for their wives, mothers, or sweethearts, and the comforts of the homes they have left, and finally fret and grieve themselves into the grave, while slender, soft-muscled boys bear real distress without a murmur, and survive sickness and wounds that by all rules ought to prove fatal.”

“There is certainly a good deal in that; but what irritates me now is a display of querulous tyranny.”

“Well, you know what Dr. Johnson says: ‘That a sick man is a scoundrel.’ There is a basis of truth in that apparent cruelty. It is true that ‘scoundrel’ is rather a harsh term to apply to a man whose moral obliquities have not received the official stamp in open court by a jury of his peers. The man whose imprudences and self-indulgences have made his liver slothful, his stomach rebellious, and wrecked his constitution in other ways, may–probably does–become an exasperating little tyrant, full of all manner of petty selfishness, which saps the comfort of others, as acid vapors corrode metals, but does that make him a ‘scoundrel?’ Opinions vary. His much enduring feminine relatives would probably resent such a query with tearful indignation, while unprejudiced outsiders would probably reply calmly in the affirmative.”

“What is the medical man’s view?” asked Rachel, much amused by this cool scrutiny of what people are too often inclined to regard as among the “inscrutable providences.”

“I don’t speak in anything for the profession at large, but my own private judgement is that any man is a scoundrel who robs others of anything that is of value to them, and he is none the less so when he makes his aches and pains, mostly incurred by his gluttony, passions or laziness, the means of plundering others of the comforts and pleasures which are their due.”

Going into the wards one morning, Rachel found that Lieutenant Jacob Alspaugh had been brought in, suffering from what the Surgeon pronounced to be “febrile symptoms of a mild type, from which he will no doubt recover in a few days, with rest, quiet and proper food.

It is possibly worth while to note the coincidence that these symptoms developed with unexpected suddenness in the midst of earnest preparations by the Army of the Cumberland, for a terrible grapple at Perryville with the Rebel Army of the Tennessee.

Alspaugh recognized Rachel at once, much to her embarrassment, for her pride winced at playing the role of nurse before an acquaintance, especially when that acquaintance was her father’s hired-man, whom she knew too well to esteem highly.

“O, Miss Rachel,” he groaned, as she came to his cot in response to his earnest call, “I’m so glad to see you, for I’m the sickest man that ever came into this hospital. Nothin’ but the best o’ care ‘ll carry me through, and I know you’ll give it to me for the sake of old times,” and Jacob’s face expressed to his comrades the idea that there had been a time when his relations with her had been exceedingly tender.

Rachel’s face flushed at the impudent assumption, but she overcame the temptation to make a snubbing answer, and replied quietly:

“No, Jacob, you are not so sick as you think you are.” (“She calls him ‘Jacob,'” audibly commented some of those near, as if this was a confirmation of Jakes insinuation.) “The Surgeons say,” she continued, “that your symptoms are not at all bad, and that you’ll be up again in a few days.”

“O, them Doctors always talk that way. They’re the flintiest-hearted set I ever see in all my born days. They’re always pretending that they don’t believe there is nothin’ the matter with a feller. I really believe they’d a little liefer a man’d die than not. They don’t seem to take no sort of interest in savin’ the soldiers that the country needs so badly.”

Rachel felt as if it would sweeten much hard service if she could tell Alspaugh outright her opinion that he was acting very calfishly; but other counsels prevailed, and she said encouragingly:

“You are only discouraged, Jacob–that’s all. A few days rest here will restore both your health and your spirits.”

“No, I’m not discouraged. I’m not the kind to git down in the mouth–you know me well enough for that. I’m sick, sick I tell you–sicker’n any other man in this hospital, an’ nothin’ but the best o’ nursin’ ‘ll save my life for the country. O, how I wish I was at home with my mother; she’d take care o’ me.”

Rachel could not repress a smile at the rememberance of Jake’s termagant mother nad her dirty, comfortless cottage, an how her intemperance in administering such castisement as conveyed most grief to a boy’s nature first drove Jake to seek refuge with her father.

“No doubt it would be very comfortable,” she answered, “if you could get home to your mother; but there’s no need of it, because you’ll be well before you could possibly reach there.”

“No, I’ll never be well,” persisted Jake, “unless I have the best o’ care; but I feel much better now, since I find you here, for I’m sure you’ll take as much interest in me as a sister would.”

She shuddered a little at the prospect of even temporary sisterly relations to the fellow, but replied guardedly:

“Of course I’ll do what I can for you, Jacob,” and started to move away, but he caught her dress and whimpered:

“O, don’t go, Miss Rachel; do go and leave me all alone. Stay any way till I’m fixed somehow comfortable.”

“I half believe the booby will have hysterics,” thought Rachel, with curling lip. “Is this the man they praised so for his heroism? Does all his manhood depend upon his health? Now he hasn’t the spirit of a sick kitten.” Dreading a scene, however, she took her seat at the head of the cot, and gave some directions for its arrangement.

Jake’s symptoms grew worse rapidly, for he bent all his crafty energies to that end. Refuge in the hospital from the unpleasant contingencies attending duty in the field was a good thing, and it became superexcellent when his condition made him the object of the care and sympathy of so fine a young lady as Miss Rachel Bond. This he felt was something like compensation for all that he had endured for the country, and he would get as much of it as possible. His mind busied itself in recalling and imitating the signs of suffering he had seen in others.

He breathed stretorously, groaned and sighed immoderately, and even had little fits of well-feigned delirium, in which he babbled of home and friends and the war, and such other things as had come within the limited scope of his mental horizon.

“Don’t leave me, Miss Rachel–don’t leave me,” he said, in one of these simulated paroxysms, clutching at the same time, with a movement singularly well directed for a delirious man, one of her delicate hands in his great, coarse, and not-over-clean fingers. Had it been the hand of a dying man, or of one in a raging fever, that imprisoned hers, Rachel would not have felt the repulsion that she did at a touch which betrayed to her only too well that the toucher’s illness was counterfeited. She could hardly restrain the impulse to dash away the loathsome hand, as she would a toad that had fallen upon her, but she swiftly remembered, as she had in hundreds of other instances since she had been in the hospital, that she was no longer in her own parlor, but in a public place, with scores of eyes noting every movement, and that such an act of just disdain would probably be misunderstood, and possibly be ruinous to a belief in her genuine sympathy with the misfortunes of the sick which she had labored so heroically to build up.

She strove to release her fingers quietly, but at this Alspaugh’s paroxysm became intense. He clung the tighter to her, and kneaded her fingers in a way that was almost maddening. Never in all her life had a man presumed to take such a familiarity with her. But her woman’s wit did not desert her. With her disengaged hand she felt for and took out a large pin that fastened a bit of lace to her throat, with the desperate intent to give her tormentor a sly stab that would change the current of his thoughts.

But at the moment of carrying this into effect something caused her to look up, and she saw Dr. Denslow standing before her, with an amused look in his kindly, hazel eyes.

She desisted from her purpose and restored the pin to its place in obedience to a sign from him, which told her that he thoroughly understood the case, and had a more effective way of dealing with it than the thrust of a pin point.

“I’m very much afraid that this is a dangerous case we have here, Miss Bond,” he said in a stage whisper, as if very anxious that the patient should not overhear. “Yes, a very dangerous case.”

Jake grew pale, released Rachel’s hand, turned over on his side and groaned.

“Do you really think so, Doctor?” said Rachel in the same tone.

“Yes, really. It’s as clear a case of de gustibus non disputandum as I ever saw in my life.”

“O, Lordie, hev I got all of that?” asked Jake, as he sat bolt upright, with eyes starting.

“It is my unpleasant duty to tell you that you certainly have,” said the Doctor, gravely. “As plainly indicated as I ever saw it. Furthermore, it is seriously complicated with fiat justitia ruat caelum, with strong hints of the presence of in media tutissimus ibis.”

“Great Scott! can I ever get well?” groaned poor Jake. Rachel’s strain was on her risibles, and to make her face express only sympathy and concern.

“And,” continued the remorseless Surgeon, in a tone of the kindliest commiseration, “in the absence of the least espirt de corps, and dulce et decorum est pro patria mori feeling in you it is apparent that none of your mental processes are going on properly, which deranges everything.”

“Can’t I be sent home to die?” whimpered the wretched Jake.

“Not in your present condition. I notice, in addition to what I have told you, that your heart is not right–its action is depraved, so to speak.” This with a glance at Rachel, which brought the crimson to that damsel’s cheek.

“O, Doctor, please try to do something for me right off, before I get any worse,” pleaded Jake, with the tears starting in his eyes.

Rachel took this opportunity to slip away to where she could laugh unobserved. The Surgeon’s facial muscles were too well trained to feel any strain. he continued in the same tone of gentle consideration:

“I have already ordered the preparation of some remedies. The Steward will be here in a few minues with the barber, who will shave your head, that we may apply a couple of fly-bisters behind your ears. They are also spreading a big mustard-plaster in th dispensary for you, which will cover your whole breast and stomach. These, with a strong dose of castor-oil, may bring you around so that you will be able to go back to duty in a short time.”

Jake did not notice the unsheathed sarcasm in the Surgeon’s allusion to returning to duty. He was too delighted with the chance of escaping all the horrors enumerated to think of aught else, and he even forgot to beg for Rachel to come and sit beside his bedside, as he had intended doing, until the blisters began to remind him that they stuck closer than a brother. After that he devoted his entire attention to them, as a man is apt to.

A good-sized blister, made according to the United States Pharmacopoeia, has few equals as a means of concentrating the attention. When it takes a fair hold of its work it leaves the gentleman whom it patronizes little opportunity to think of anything else than it and what it is doing. Everything else is forgotten, taht it may receive full consideration. Then comes in an opportunity for a vigorous imagination. No one ever underestimates the work done by an active blister, if it is upon himself. No one ever grumbles that he is not getting his money’s worth. It is the one monumental exception, where men are willing to accept and be satisfied with a fractional part of that which they have bought and paid for.

So when the layer of fresh mustard that covered the whole anterior surface of Mr. Alspaugh’s torso began to take a fair hold of its appointed work that gentlemen’s thoughts became strangely focused upon it, and they succeeded each other as the minutes went by something in this fashion:

FIRST TEN MINUTES.–“I ‘spect that this may become rather unpleasant and bothersome, but it will not be for long, and it’ll really do me much good.”

SECOND TEN MINUTES.–“I had no idead that blisters felt just this way, but they never really hurt anybody but women and children–MEN laugh at them.”

THIRD TEN MINUTES.–“The thing seems to be hunting ’round for my tender spots, and pokin’ pins into ’em. I begin to wish that it was all over with.”

FOURTH TEN MINUTES.–“It begins to hurt real bad. I wonder if it ain’t a’most time to take it off?”

FIFTH TEN MINUTES.–“The very devil seems to be in that thing. It burns like as if a sheet of red-hot iron was layin’ there.”

SIXTH TEN MINUTES.–“I surely believe that they’ve made a terrible mistake about that blister, and put in some awful thing that’ll kill me if it ain’t stopped. I’ll swear it’s not only eat all the skin off, but it’s gone through my ribs, an’ is gnawin’ at my insides. Why don’t the Doctor come ’round an’ see to it? Here, nurse, call the Doctor, an’ have this think taken off.”

NURSE.–“No, it’s all right. The Doctor left orders that it was not to be disturbed for some time yet. I’ll see to it when the proper time comes. I’m watching the clock.”

SEVENTH TEN MINUTES.–“Great Jehosefat! this’s jest awful. That blasted stuff’s cooked my innards to rags, an’ I kin feel my backbone a-sizzlin’. Say, Steward, do, for the Lord’s sake, come here, an’ take this thing off, while there’s a little life left in me.”

STEWARD.–“Can’t do anything yet. You must grin and bear it a little while longer.”

EIGTH TEN MINUTES.–“Holy smoke! I couldn’t suffer more if I was in the lake of burnin’ brimstone. Every ounce of me’s jest fryin’. Say, Steward! Steward!”

STEWARD (ANGRILY).–“I have told you several times that I couldn’t do anything for you yet awhile. Now keep quiet.”

“But Steward, can’t you at least bring me a fork?”

“Why, what do you want a fork for?”

“Jest to see for myself if I ain’t cooked done–that’s all.”

A roar of laughter went up in which even Dr. Denslow, who had just entered the ward, joined. He orderd the blister to be taken off, and the inflamed surfaces properly dressed, which was done to the accompaniment of Jake’s agonizing groans.

“I think Lieutenant Alspaugh will be content to go back to the field in a few days, if we continue this vigorous treatment,” Dr. Denslow said, a little later, as he came into the reading-room of the hospital where he found Rachel sitting alone.

“O, Doctor, how could you be so cruel?” she asked in tones which were meant to be reproachful, but only poorly disguised her mirthful appreciation of the whole matter.

“I wasn’t cruel; I only did my duty. The fellow’s a palpable malingerer, and his being here makes it ever so much worse. He’s trying to shirk duty and have a good time here in the hospital. It’s my place to make the hospital so unpleasant for him that he will think the field preferable, and I’m going to do it, especially if I find him squeezing your hand again.”

There was that in the tone of the last sentence which sobered her instantly. Womanly prescience told her that the Surgeon had discovered what seemed to him a fitting opportunity to say that which he had long desired. Ever since she had been in the hospital he had exerted himself to smooth her path for her, and make her stay there endurable. There was not a day in which she was not indebted to him for some unobtrusive kindness, delicately and thoughtfully rendered.

While she knew quite well that these courtesies would have been as conscientiously extended to any other woman–young or old–in her position, yet her instincts did not allow her any doubt that there was about them a flavor personal to herself and redolent of something much warmer than mere kindliness. A knowledge of this had at times tainted the pleasure she felt in accepting welcome little attentions from him. She dreaded what she knew was coming. He took her hand and started to speak with tremulous lips. But almost at the same instant the door was flung open, and a nurse entered in breathless haste.

“O, Doctor,” he gasped, “I’ve been looking for you everywhere. That Lieutenant in the First Ward thinks he’s a-dyin’. He’s groanin’ an’ cryin’, and a-takin’ on at a terrible rate, an’ nobody can’t do nothin’ with him. The Steward wants you to come there right off.”

“It’s only the castor oil,” muttered the Doctor savagely, as he rose to follow the nurse.

This was the letter that the Orderly handed Rachel some days later:

Dear Ratie: Your letter came at last, for which I was SO thankful, because I had waited SO long for it that I was SO tired and SO anxious that I was almost at my wits’ end. I am SO glad that you are well, that you have got your room at last fixed up real nice and comfortable, as a young lady should have, and that you find your duties more agreeable. It is SO nice in that Dr. Denslow to help you along as he does. But then that is what every real gentleman should do for a young lady–or old one for that matter. Still, I would like to thank him SO much.

I am not at all well: my heart gives me SO much trouble–more than ever before–and as you say nothing about coming home I have about concluded to try what a change of climate and scene will do for me, and so have concluded to accept your Aunt Tabitha’s invitation to spend a few months with her. Unless you hear from me to the contrary–which you will probably not, as the mails are so uncertain in Kentucky, you had better address your next letter to me at Eau Claire.

But I am so sorry to see by your letter that you show no signs of weariness with your quixotic idea of serving the country in the hospital. I had hoped so much that you would by this time have decided that you had done enough, and come home and content yourself with doing what you could for the Sanitary Fair, and the lint-scraping bees.


P.S.–Your father is well. He will go with me to Wisconsin, and then go down to Nebraska to look after his land there.

P.S.–I am SO sorry to tell you that Harry Glen has acted badly again. The last letters from the regiment say that he did not go into the fight at Wildcat, and afterward was missing. They believe he was captured, and some say he was taken prisoner on purpose. Everybody’s saying, “I told you so,” and Mrs. Glen has not been on the street or to church since the news came. I am so sorry for her, but then you know that she used to put on quite as many airs as her position justified.

P.S.–Hoop-skirts are getting smaller every month, and some are confident that they will go entirely out of fashion by next year. I do so hope not. I so dread having to cme back to the old way of wearing a whole clothes-basketful of white skirts. The new bonnets are just the awfulest things you ever did see. Write soon.

Rachel crumpled the letter in her hand, with a quick, angry gesture, as if crushing some hateful, despicable thing, and her clear hazel eyes blazed.

“He is evidently a hopeless coward,” she said to herself, “when all that has passed can not spur him into an exhibition of proper spirit. If he had the love for me he professed it could not help stimulating him to some show of manliness. I will fling him out of my heart and my world as I would fling a rotten apple out of a basket.”

Then a sadder and gentler light shone in her face.

“Perhaps I am myself to blame a little. I may not be a good source of inspiration to acts of heroism. Other girls may have ways of stimulating their loves to high deeds that I know not of. Possibly I applied the lash too severely, and instead of rousing him up I killed all the hope in his heart, and made him indifferent to his future. Possibly, too, this story may not be true. The feeling in Sardis against him is strong, and they are hardly willing to do him justice. No doubt they misrepresent him in this, as they are apt to do in everything.”

Her face hardened again.

“But it’s of no use seeking excuses for him. My lover–my husband–must be a man who can hold his own with other men, in whatever relation of life the struggle may be. The man into whose hands I entrust the happiness of my life must have his qualities so clear and distinct that there never will be any question about them. He must not need continual explanation and defense, for then outraged pride would strangle love with a ruthless hand. No, I must never have reason to believe that my choice is inferior to other men in anything.”

But notwithstanding this, she smoothed out the crumpled letter tenderly upon her knee, and read it over again, in the vain hope of finding that the words had less harshness than she had at first found in them.

“No,” she said after a weary study of the lines, “it’s surely worse than mother states it. She is so kind and gentle that she never fails to mitigate the harshness of anything that she hears about others, and she has told me this as mildly as the case will admit. I must give him up forever.”

But though she made this resolution with a firm settling of the lines around her mouth that spoke strongly of its probable fulfilment, the arrival of the decision was the signal for the assault of a thousand tender memories and dear recollections, all pleading trumpet-tongued against the summary dismissal of the unworthy lover. All the ineffably sweet incidents of their love-life stretched themselves out in a vista before her, and tempted her to reverse her decision. But she stayed her purpose with repeating to herself:

“It will save untold misery hereafter to be firm now, and end a connection at once that must be the worse for both of us every day that it is allowed to continue.”

There was a tap at the door, and Dr. Denslow entered.

The struggle had so shattered Rachel’s self-control that she nervously grasped the letter and thrust it into her pocket, as if the mere sight of it would reveal to him the perturbation that was shaking her.

His quick eyes–quicker yet in whatever related to her–noticed her embarrassment.

“Excuse me,” he said with that graceful tact which seemed the very fiber of his nature. “You are not in the mood to receive callers. I will go now, and look in again.”

“No, no; stay. I am really glad to see you. It is nothing, I assure you.”

She really wished very much to be alone with her grief, but she felt somehow that to shrink from a meeting would be an evasion of the path of duty she had marked out for her feet to tread. If she were going to eliminate all thoughts of her love and her lover from her life, there was no better time to begin than now, while her resolution was fresh. She insisted upon the Doctor remaining, and he did so. Conscious that her embarrassment had been noticed, her self-possession did not return quickly enough to prevent her falling into the error of failing to ignore this, and she confusedly stumbled into an explanation:

“I have received a letter from home which contains news that disturbs me.” This was as far as she had expected to go.

Dr. Denslow’s face expressed a lively sympathy. “No one dead or seriously ill, I trust.”

“No, not as bad as that,” she answered hastily, in the first impulse of fear that she had unwarrantably excited his sympathy. “Nor is it anything connected with property,” she hastily added, as she saw the Doctor looked inquiringly, but as though fearing that further questioning might be an indelicate intrusion.

She picked nervously at the engagement ring which Harry had placed upon her finger. It fitted closely, and resisted her efforts at removal. she felt, when it was too late, that neither this nor its significance had escaped Dr. Denslow’s eyes.

“A f-riend–an–acquaintance of mine has disgraced himself,” she said, with a very apparent effort.

An ordinary woman would have broken down in a tearful tempest, but as has been said before she was denied that sweet relief which most women find in a readily responsive gush of tears. Her eyes became very dry and exceedingly hot. Her misery was evident.

The Doctor took her hand with a movement of involuntary sympathy. “I am deeply hurt to see you grieve,” he said, “and I wish that I might say something to alleviate your troubles. Is it anything that you can tell me about?”

“No, it is nothing of which I can say a word to any one,” she answered. “It is a trouble that I can share with no one, and least of all with a stranger.”

“am I not more than a stranger to you?” he asked.

“O yes, indeed,” she said, and hastening to correct her former coldness, added:

“You are a very dear, good friend, whom I value much more highly than I have given you reason to think.”

His face brightened wonderfully, but he adventured his way slowly. “I am very glad that you esteem me what I have tried to show myself during our acquaintance.”

“You have indeed shown yourself a very true friend. I could not ask for a better one.”

“Then will you not trust me with a share of your sorrows, that I may help you bear them?”

“No, no; you can not. Nobody can do anything in this case but myself.”

“You do not know. You do not know what love can accomplish when it sets itself to work with the ardor belonging to it.”

“Love! O, do not speak to me of that,” she said, suddenly awaking to the drift of his words, and striving to withdraw her hand.

“No, but I must speak of it,” he said with vehemence entirely foreign to his usual half-mocking philosophy. “I must speak of it,” he repeated with deepening tones. “You surely can not be blind to the fact that I love you devotedly–absorbingly. Every day’s intercourse must have shown you something of this, which you could not have mistaken. You must have seen this growing upon me continually, until now I have but few thoughts into which your image does not appear, to brighten and enhance them. Tell me now that hopes, dearer–infinitely dearer–than any I have ever before cherished, are to have the crown of fruition.”

“I can not–I can not,” she sighed.

“What can you not? Can’t you care for me at least a little?”

“I do; I care for you ever so much. I am not only grateful for all that you have been to me and done for me, but I have a feeling that goes beyond mere gratitude. But to say that I return the love you profess for me–that I even entertain any feeling resembling it–I can not, and certainly not at this time.”

“But you certainly do not love any one else?”

“O, I beg of you not to question me.”

“I know I have no right to ask you such a question. I have no right to pry into any matter which you do not choose to reveal to me of your own free will and accord. But as all the mail of the hospital goes through my hands, I could not help noticing that in all the months that you have been here you have written to no man, nor received a letter from one. Upon this I have built my hopes that you were heartfree.”

“I can not talk of this, nor of anything now. I am so wrought up by many things that have happened–by my letter from home; by your unexpected declaration–that my poor brain is in a whirl, and I can not think clearly and connectedly on any subject. Please do not press me any more now.”

The torrent of his passion was stayed by this appeal to his forbearance. He essayed to calm down his impetuous eagerness for a decision of his fate, and said penitently:

“I beg your pardon. I really forgot. I have so long sought an opportunity to speak to you upon this matter, and I have been so often balked at the last moment, that when a seeming chance came I was carried away with it, and in my selfish eagerness for my own happiness, I forgot your distress. Forgive me–do.”

“I have nothing to forgive,” she said frankly, most touched by his tender consideration. “You never allow me an occasion for forgiveness, or to do anything in any way to offset the favors you continually heap upon me.”

“Pay them all a thousand times over by giving me the least reason to hope.”

“I only wish I could–I only wish I dared. But I fear to say anything now. I can not trust myself.”

“But you will at least say something that will give me the basis of a hope,” he persisted.

“Not now–not now,” she said, giving him her hand, which he seized and kissed fervently, and withdrew from the room.

She bolted the door and gave herself up to the most intense thought.

Assignment to duty with an expedition took Dr. Denslow away the next morning, without his being able to see her. When he returned a week later, he found this letter lying on his desk:

MY VERY DEAR FRIEND: The declaration you honored me with making has been the subject of many hours of the most earnest consideration possible. I am certain that it si due to you and to the confession that you have made of your feelings, that I should in turn confess that I am deeply–what shall I say–INTERESTED in you? No; that is too prim and prudish a term. There is in you for me more than a mere attraction; I feel for you something deeper than even warm friendship. That you would make such a husband as I should cherish and honor, of whom I should be proud, and whose strong, kindly arms would be my secure support and protection until death claimed us, I have not the slightest doubt. But when I ask myself whether this is really love–the sacred, all-pervading passion which a woman should feel for the man to whom she gives herself, body and soul, I encounter the strongest doubts. These doubts have no reference to you–only to myself. I feel that it would be a degradation–a deep profanation–for me to give myself to you, without feeling in its entirety such a love as I have attempted to define. I have gone away from you because I want to consider this question and decide it with more calmness and impartiality than I can where I meet you daily, and daily receive some kindness from your hands. These and the magnetism of your presence are temptations which I fear might swerve me from my ideal, and possibly lead to a mistake which we both might ever afterward have reason to regret.

I have, as you will be informed, accepted a detail to one of the hospitals at Nashville. Do not write me, except to tell me of a change in your postoffice address. I will not write you, unless I have something of special moment to tell you. Believe me, whatever may betide, at least your very sincere friend,

Rachel Bond.

Chapter XVIII. Secret Service.

The flags of war like storm-birds fly, The charging trumpets blow,
Yet rolls no thunder in the sky,
No earthquake strives below.

And calm and patient Nature keeps
Her ancient promise well,
Though o’er her bloom and greenness sweeps The battle’s breath of hell.

Ah! eyes may well be full of tears,
And hearts with hate are hot,
But even-paced come round the years, And Nature changes not.

She meets with smiles out bitter grief, With songs our groans of pain;
She mocks with tint of flower and leaf The war-field’s crimson stain.

–Whittier’s “Battle Autumn of 1862”

The Summer and Fall of the “Battle Year” of 1862 had passed without the Army of the Cumberland–then called the Army of the Ohio–being able to bring its Rebel antagonist to a decisive struggle. In September the two had raced entirely across the States of Tennessee and Kentucky, for the prize of Louisville, which the Union army won. In October the latter chased its enemy back through Kentucky, without being able to inflict upon it more than the abortive blow at Perryville, and November found the two opponents facing each other in Middle Tennessee–the Army of the Cumberland at Nashville, and the Rebel Army of the Tennessee at Murfeesboro, twenty-eight miles distant. There the two equally matched giants lay confronting each other, and sullenly making ready for the mighty struggle which was to decide the possession of a territory equaling a kingdom in extent.

In the year which had elapsed since the affair at Wildcat Harry Glen’s regiment had not participated in a single general engagement. It had scouted and raided; it had reconnoitered and guarded; it had chased guerrillas through the Winter’s rain and mud for days and nights together; it had followed John Morgan’s dashing troopers along limestone turnpikes that glowed like brick-kilns under the July sun until three-fourths of the regiment had dropped by the roadside in sheer exhaustion; it had marched over the mountains to Cumberland Gap, and back over the mountains to Lexington; across Kentucky and Tennessee to Huntsville, Ala., back across those States to the Ohio River, and again back across Kentucky to Nashville, beside side marches as numerous as the branches on a tree; 50 per cent. of its number had fallen vicitms to sickness and hardship, and 10 per cent. more had been shot, here and there, a man or two at a time, on the picket or skirmish line, at fords or stockades guarding railroad bridges. But while other regiments which had suffered nothing like it had painted on their banners “Mill Springs,” “Shiloh,” and “Perryville,” its colors had yet to receive their maiden inscription. This was the hard luck of many of the regiments in the left wing of Buell’s army in 1862.

Kent Edwards, whose promotion to the rank of Sergeant, and reduction for some escapade had been a usual monthly occurence during the year, was fond of saying that the regiment was not sent to the field to gain martial glory, but to train as book agents to sell histories of the struggle, “When This Cruel War is Over.” Whereupon Abe Bolton would improve the occasion to invoke a heated future for every person in authority, from the President down to the Fifth Corporal.

But for all this the 400 hardy boys who still remained to answer roll-call, out of the 1,100 that had crossed the Ohio River in September, 1861, were as fine a body of fighting men as ever followed a flag, and there was no better soldier among them than Harry Glen. Every day had been a growth to him, and every trial had knit his spirit into firmer texture. For awhile he had made it a matter of conscience to take an active part in everything that his comrades were called upon to do. Soon this became a matter of pleasure, for the satisfaction of successfully leading them through difficulties and dangers more than compensated for the effort. But while he had vindicated himself in their estimation, he yet lacked that which the ordeal of a battle would give him at home, and more than all, in Rachel’s eyes. He heard nothing from or of her, but he consoled himself with the hope that the same means by which she had been so promptly informed of his misstep, would convey to her an intimation of how well he was deserving her. When he gained his laurels he would himself lay them at her feet. Until then he could only hope and strive, cherishing all the while the love for her that daily grew stronger in his heart.

A patient in her ward, recovering from a fever, attracted Rachel’s attention soon after her entrance upon duty at Nashville.

Womanly intuition showed her that no ordinary spirit slumbered underneath the usual mountaineer characteristics. The long, lank, black hair, the angular outlines, and the uncouth gestures were common enough among those around her, but she saw a latent fire in the usually dull and languid eyes, which transformed the man into one in whose brain and hand slept many possibilities that were liable to awaken at any moment. Still womanly, she could not help betraying this fact by singling him out as the recipient of many little attentions somewhat more special than those she bestowed on others.

On the other hand, often as she moved about the ward she would in turning discover his eyes fixed upon her movements with an expression of earnest study. After awhile the study seemed to show that it had been satisfactory, and one day, when the Surgeon had informed him that he was now in a condition to return to duty whenever he saw fit to do so, he asked Rachel:

“Kin I speak ter ye a moment in private, Miss?”

“Certainly,” she replied. “Come right in here.”

Entering the room he closed the door behind them, and made a minute survey of the windows, and other points of vantage for eavesdroppers. This done, he returned to where Rachel was watching his operations with much curiosity, and said:

“Let’s set down. I guess no one’ll overhear us, ef we’re keerful.

“Hev ye enny idee who I am?” he asked abruptly, as they sat down on one of the rude benches with which the room was furnished.

“Not the slightest,” she answered, “except that you appear on the roll as ‘James Brown, No. 23,’ no company or regiment given.”

“Very good. D’ye reckon thet enny o’ them in thar hev?”–pointing over his shoulder with his thumb to the ward.

“Of course I can not tell as to that. I never hear them say anything about you. They seem to think that you are one of the loyal East Tennesseans that are plentiful about here.”

“I’ve been afeered fur the last few days that some uv ’em were Rebels in disguise, an’ thet they sort o’ suspicioned me. I hev seed two on ’em eyein’ me mouty hard. One has a red head, an’ ‘tother a long black beard.”

“I can perhaps set your anxiety at rest on that score. They ARE Southerners, but loyal ones. They were forced into the Rebel army, but made their escape at the first opportunity. They naturally watch every Southern-looking man with great interest, fearing that he may be an unpleasant acquaintance.”

“Desarters from the Rebel army, be they? Thet makes me so’. I thot I’d seen ’em afore, an’ this makes me sartin. They’re mouty bad pills, an’ they hain’t heah fur no good. but whar did I see ’em? In some Rebel camp somewhar? No; now I remember. Ef I hain’t powerfully fooled them’s the two laddie-bucks thet Harry Glen an’ me gobbled up one fine mornin’ an’ tuck inter Wildcat. They’re bad aigs, ef ther ever war bad aigs.”

“Harry Glen, did you say? What do you know of Harry Glen?” Her heart was in her mouth.

“What do I know of harry Glen? Why, jest heaps an’ more yit. He’s one o’ the best men thet ever wore blue clotes. But thet’s nuther heah nor thar. Thet hain’t what I brung ye out heah ter talk on.”

“Go on,” said Rachel, resisting her eagerness to overwhelm him with questions concerning the one man of all the world she most desired to learn about. “I can spare you but little time.”

“All right, Miss. Ter begin with, my name’s not Brown. Nary a time. Hit’s Fortner–Jim Fortner–the ‘noted Scout,’ ez I heered ye readin’ ’bout ‘tother day, when ye war givin’ the boys the war news in the papers. I’m well-known ez a secret-sarvice man–tu well-known, I’m afeered. I could git ‘long ‘ithout quite ez menny ‘quaintances ez I hev gethered up lately. More ‘specially o’ the kind, fur menny on ’em ar’ only waitin’ a good opportunity ter gin me a gran’ interduction to ‘tarnity. I’d ruther know fewer folks an’ better ones, ez I wunst heered Harry Glen say.”

“What do you know of—” Rachel started to say, but before she could finish the sentence Fortner resumed:

“I’m now ’bout ter start on the most ‘portant work I ever done fur the Gover’mint. Things ar’ ripenin’ fast fur the orfulest battle ever fit in this ere co’ntry. Afore the Chrismuss snow flies this ere army’ll fall on them thar Rebels ’round Murfressboro like an oak tree on a den o’ rattlesnakes. Blood’ll run like water in a Spring thaw, an’ them fellers’ll hev so menny fun’rals ter tend thet they won’t hev no time for Chrismuss frolics. They’ve raced back an’ forrard, an’ dodged up an’ down fur a year now, but they’re at the eend uv ther rope, an’ hit’ll be a deth-nooze fur ’em. May the pit o’ hell open fur ’em.”

He watched Rachel’s face closely as he spoke. She neither blanched nor recoiled, but her eyes lighted up as if with anticipation of the coming conflict, and she asked eagerly:

“O, are you only quite sure that our army will be victorious?”

His eyes shown with gratification.

“I knowed thet’s the way ye’d take the news. I knowed the minit I sot eyes on ye thet ye war good grit. I never git fooled much in my guess o’ people’s backbone. Thar wuz Harry Glen–all his own comrades thot he wuz white ’bout the liver, but I seed the minit I laid my eyes onter him thet he hed ez good, stan’-up stuff in him ez ennybody, w’en he got over his fust flightiness.”

Had this man some scheme that would bring her lover and her together? “But what do you want of me?” Rachel asked, with all the composure she could summon.

“Suthing a cussed sight more hon’rable an’ more useful ter ther Gover’mint then stayin’ ’round heah nussin’ these loafers,” he answered roughly. “Hist! thar’s a shadder nigh yon winder.” He crossed the room with the quick, silent tread of a panther, and his face darkened as he saw the objectionable red-headed and black-bearded men walking away toward the parade-ground, with their backs to the window. “Yer orful cute,” he said talking to himself, and alluding to the retiring figures, “but ef I don’t gin ye a trip afore long thet’ll make yer heels break yer pizen necks I hope I may never see Rockassel Mountings agin. I’d do hit now, but I’m a-trailin’ bigger game. When hit’s my day fur killin’ skunks look out–thet’s all.”

Returning to the expectant Rachel he continued:

“I leave ter-night fur the Rebel army at Murfreesboro. Ole Rosy hisself sends me, but I’m ter pick out the messengers ter send my news back ter him by. I must hev sev’ral so’s ter make dead sho’ thet ev’rything reaches ‘im. I want ye fur the main one, becase ye’ve got brains an’ san’, and then ye kin git thru the lines whar a man can’t. thar’ll be nothin’ bad ’bout hit. Ye’ll ride ter Murfreesboro an’ back on yer own hoss, ez a young lady should, an’ if ye accomplish ennything hit’ll be a greater sarvice tew the country then most men kin do in ther lives. Hit’ll be sum’thing ter be proud of ez long’s ye live. Will ye try hit?”

“Why don’t you bring back the information yourself? Can’t you come back through the lines as easily as you go?”

“I mout, an’ then ag’in I moutn’t. Every time I go inter the Rebel camps the chances get stronger thet I’ll never come back ag’in. Ez Harry Glen sez, the circle o’ my onpleasant acquaintances–the fellers thet’s reachin’ fur my top-knot–widens. Thar’s so many more on ’em layin’ fur me all the time, thet the prospects keeps gittin’ brighter every day thet by-an’-by they’ll fetch me. the arrant I’m a-gwine on now is too important ter take any resks ’bout. I’m sartin to git the information thet Gineral Rosy wants, but whether I kin git hit back ter him is ruther dubersome. I must hev ‘some help. Will ye jine in with me?”

“But how am I to know that all this is as you say?”

“By readin’ these ‘ere passes, all signed by Gineral Rosencrans’s own hand, or by takin’ a walk with me up ter headquarters, whar they’ll tell ye thet I’m all right, an’ ez straight ez a string.”

“But how can I do what you want? I know nothing of the country, nor the people, and still less of this kind of service. I would probably make a blunder that would spoil all.”

“I’ll resk the blunders. ye kin ride critter-back can’t ye?”

Rachel owned that she was a pretty fair horse-woman.

“Then all ye hev ter do is ter git yerself up ez ye see the young women who are ridin’ ’round heah, an’ airly on the day arter to-morrow mornin’, mount a blooded mar that ye’ll find standin’ afore the door thar, all rigged out ez fine ez silk, an’ go down the Lavergne turnpike, at a sharp canter, jes ez though ye war gwine somewhar. Nobody on our lines ‘ll be likely ter say anything ter ye, but ef they do, ye’ll show ’em a pass from Gineral Rosy, which, howsoever, ye ‘ll tar up afore ye reach Lavergne, fur ye ‘ll likely find some o’ t’ other folks thar. Ef any o’ them at Lavergne axes ye imperent questions, ye must hev a story ready ’bout yer being the Nashville niece o’ Aunt Debby Brill, who lives on the left hand o’ the Nashville pike, jest north o’ the public squar in Murfreesboro, an’ ye ‘re on yer way ter pay yer ole Aunty a long-promised visit.”

“there is such a woman in Murfreesboro?”

“Yes, an’ she’s talked a great deal ’bout her niece in Nashville, who’s comin’ ter see her. I thought”–the earnestness of the eyes relaxed to a suspicion of a twinkle–“thet sometime I mout come across sich a niece fur the ole lady, an’ hit wuz well ter be prepared fur her.”

“But suppose they ask me about things in Nashville?”

“W’ll, ye must fix up a story ’bout thet too. Ye needn’t be ver partickelar what hit is, so long’s hit’s awful savage on the Yankees. Be keerful ter say frequently thet the yankees is awful sick o’ their job o’ holdin’ Nashville; that their new Dutch Gineral is a mean brute, an’ a coward beside, thet he’s skeered ’bout out’n his wits half the time, an’ he’s buildin’ the biggest kind o’ forts to hide behind, an’ thet he won’t dar show his nose outside o’ them–leastways not this ‘ere Winter. Talk ez much ez ye kin ’bout the sojers gwine inter Winter quarters; ’bout them being mortally sartin not ter do anything tell next Spring, an’ ’bout them desartin’ by rijimints an’ brigades, an’ gwine home, bekase they’re sick an’ tired o’ the war.”

“My,” said Rachel, with a gasp, “what awful things to tell!”

“Yes,” returned the scout complacently, “I s’posed hit’d strike you thet-a-way. But my experience with war is thet hit’s jest plum full o’ awful things. In fact hit don’t seem ter hev much else in hit. All ye hev ter ax yerself is whether this is nigh on ter ez awful ez the the things they ‘uns do to we ‘uns. Besides, we ‘uns are likely ter give they ‘uns in a few days a heap more interestin’ things ter think about then the remarkable stories told by young ladies out fur a mornin’ ride.”

“I’ll take some hours to think this matter over,” said Rachel, “and give you your answer this afternoon. That’ll be time enough, will it not?”

“Heaps an’ plenty, ma’am,” he answered, as he rose to go. “She’ll go,” he added to himself. “I’m not fooled a mite on thet ‘ere stock. I’ll jest go to headquarters an’ git things ready for her.”

He was right. The prospect of doing an important service on a grand occasion was stimulous enough for Rachel’s daring spirit, to make her undertake anything, and when Fortner returned in the afternoon he found her eager to set out upon the enterprise.

But as the evening came on with its depressing shadows and silence, she felt the natural reaction that follows taking an irrevocable step. The loneliness of her unlighted room was peopled with ghostly memories of the horrors inflicted upon spies, and of tales she had heard of the merciless cruelty of the Rebels among whom she was going. She had to hold her breath to keep from shrieking aloud at the terrors conjured up before her vision. Then the spasm passed, and braver thoughts reasserted themselves. Fortner’s inadvertent words of praise of Harry Glen were recalled, and began glowing like pots of incense to sweeten and purify the choking vapors in her imagination.

Could it be that Harry had really retrieved himself? He had certainly gained the not-easily-won admiration of this brave man, and it had all been to render himself worthy of her! There was rapture in the thought. Then her own heroic aspirations welled up again, bringing intoxication at the prospect of ending the distasteful routine of nursing, by taking an active part in what would be a grand event of history. Fears and misgivings vanished like the mists of the morning. She thought only of how to accomplish her mission.

She lighted a candle and wrote four letters–one to her mother, one to Dr. Denslow, one to Harry Glen in care of his mother, and one to the Hospital Steward, asking him to mail the letters in case he did not receive any contrary request from her before the 10th of January.

She was too excited to sleep in the early part of the night, and busied her waking hours in packing her clothing and books, and maturing her plans.

She had much concern about her wardrobe. Never in all the days of her village belleship had she been so anxious to be well-dressed as now, when about to embark upon the greatest act of her life. She planned and schemed as women will in such times, and rising early the next morning she visited the stores in the city, and procured the material for a superb riding habit. A cutter form a fashionable establishment in Cincinnati was found in an Orderly Sergeant in one of the convalescent wards, and enough tailors responded to the call for such artisans, to give him all the help required. By evening she was provided with a habit that, in material and that sovereign but indescribable quality called “style,” was superior to those worn by the young ladies who cantered about the streets of Nashville on clean-limbed throroughbreds.

As she stood surveying the exquisite “set” of the garment in such mirrors as she could procure, she said to herself quizzically:

“I feel now that the expedition is going to be a grand success. No woman could fail being a heroine in such an inspiration of dress. There is a moral support and encouragement about a perfectly made garment that is hardly equaled by a clear conscience and righteousness of motive.”

The next morning she came forth from her room attired for the journey. A jaunty hat and feather sat gracefully above her face, to which excitement had given a striking animation. One trimly-gauntleted hand carried a dainty whip; the other supported the long skirts of her riding habit as she moved through the ward with such a newly-added grace and beauty that the patients, to whom her appearance had become familiar, raised in their beds to follow the lovely spectacle with their eyes, and then turned to each other to comment upon her beauty.

At the door she found an orderly, holding a spirited young mare, handsome enough for a Queen’s palfrey, and richly caparisoned.

She sprang into the saddle and adjusted her seat with the easy grace of an accomplished horsewoman.

A squad of “Convalescents” standing outside, and a group of citizes watched her with an admiration too palpable for her to be unconscious of it.

She smiled pleasantly upon the soldiers, and gave them a farewell bow as she turned the mare’s head away, to which they responded with cheers.

A few hundred yards further, where an angle in the street would take her from their view, she turned around again and waved her handkerchief to them. The boys gave her another ringing cheer, with waving hats and handkerchiefs; her steed broke into a canter and she disappeared from view.

“Where is she going?” asked one of the soldiers.

“I don’t know,” responded another gallantly; “but wherever it is, it will be better than here, just because she’s there.”

The sight of an orderly, coming with the morning mail, ended the discussion by scattering the squad in a hurry.

Rachel cantered on, her spirits rising continually.

It was a bright, crisp morning–a Tennessee Winter morning–when the air is as wine to the blood, and sets every pulse to leaping. Delicate balsamic scents floated down from groves of shapely cedars. Gratefully-astringent odors were wafted from the red oaks, ranked upon the hillsides and still covered with their leaves, now turned bright-brown, making them appear like serried phalanges of giant knights, clad in rusted scale armor. The spicy smell of burning cedar rose on the lazily-curling smoke from a thousand camp-fires. The red-berried holly looked as fresh and bright as rose-bushes in June, and the magnolias still wore their liveries of Spring. The sun shone down with a tender fervor, as if wooing the sleeping buds and flowers to wake from a slumber of which he had grown weary, and start with him again through primrose paths on the pilgrimage of blossoming and fruitage.

Rachel’s nostrils expanded, and she drank deeply of the exhilarating draughts of mountain air, with its delicious woodsy fragrance. Her steed did the same, and the hearts of both swelled with the inspiration.

Away she sped over the firm, smooth Murfreesboro Pike, winding around hillsides and through valleys filled with infantry, cavalry and artillery, through interminable masses of wagons, hers of braying mules, and crowds of unarmed soldiers trudging back to Nashville, on leave of absence, to spend the day seeing the sights of the historic Tennessee capital. In the camps the soldiers were busy with evergreen and bunting, and the contents of boxes received from the North, preparing for the celebration of Christmas in something like the manner of the old days of home and peace.

Like the sweet perfume of rose-attar from a bundle of letters unwittingly stirred in a drawer, rose the fragrant memory of the last of those Christmases in Sardis before the war, when winged on he scent of evergreens, and the merry laughter of the church decorators, came to her the knowledge that she had found a lodgment in the heart of Harry Glen.

Was memory juggling with her senses, or was that really his voice she heard in command, in a field to her left? She turned a swift, startled look in that direction, and saw a Sergeant marching a large squad at quick time to join a heavy “detail.” His back was toward her, but his figure and bodily carriage were certainly those of Harry Glen. But before she could make certain the squad was merged with the “detail,” to the obliteration of all individuality, and the whole mass disappeared around the hill.

She rode on to the top of the rim of hills which encircle that most picturesque of Southern cities, and stopped for a moment for a farewell to the stronghold of her friends, whose friendly cover she was abandoning to venture, weak and weaponless, into the camp of her enemies.

Above her the great black guns of a heavy fort pointed their sinister muzzles down the Murfreesboro road, with fearful suggestiveness of the dangers to be encountered there.

She remembered Lot’s wife, but could not resist the temptation to take a one backward look. She saw as grand a landscape picture as the world affords.

Serenely throned upon the hill that dominated the whole of the lovely valley of the Cumberland, stood the beautiful Capitol of Tennessee.

Ionic porticos and graceful Corinthian columns of dazzling white limestone rose hundreds of feet above the fountains and magnolia-shaded terraces that crowned the hill–still more hundreds of feet above the densely packed roofs and spires of the city crowded upon the hill’s rocky sides. It was like some fine and pure old Greek temple, standing on a romantic headland, far above the murk and toil of sordid striving. But over the symmetrical pile floated a banner that meant to the world all that was signified even by the banners which Greece folded and laid away in eternal rest thousands of years ago.