Love Under Fire
Part 2 out of 5
stole silently across the soft carpet, and peered forth. The last of the
wagon train was lumbering past, and back of these, just wheeling around
the corner, approached another column of horsemen. It would be madness
for me to emerge from concealment yet, for even if I remained unnoticed
by those marching troops, still there would surely be some stragglers
about the premises seeking water. I sat down, staring out, endeavoring
to decide about how large this Confederate force was--surely it composed
all of Beauregard's corps, and, once united with Johnston, would render
the Federal position extremely dangerous, perhaps untenable. Yet even
now my warning of the sudden movement would be of comparatively small
value, as the gap was too nearly closed for any swift advance to
separate the two armies. All I could hope to accomplish was to prevent a
surprise attack on our own exposed lines. And this could never be
attempted before the next morning, even if Johnston swung his columns
to the left in anticipation of Beauregard's approach. The troops were
too thoroughly exhausted by the forced march to be hurled immediately
into battle--they must be fed and rested first. Convinced as to this I
remained quiet, glancing idly about the room, until sounds outside
A company--or possibly two--of cavalry was drawn up on the road directly
fronting the house, their centre opposite the open gate, but I was
compelled to lean out in order to discover just what was occurring on
the driveway. A squad of a dozen horsemen, powdered with dust, yet
excellently mounted, were riding slowly toward the veranda. The man
slightly in advance was slender, with dark moustache and goatee, sitting
straight in his saddle, and on the collar of his gray coat were the
stars of a general officer. Even the hasty glance gained told me his
identity--Beauregard. As this cavalcade turned at the corner of the
house, I drew back, shadowed by the curtain, able thus both to see and
hear. At the bottom of the steps the Confederate chieftain halted, and
bowed, hat in hand.
"Judge Moran, I presume. While we have never previously met, yet your
name has long been familiar. Probably I need not introduce myself."
The judge, his face beaming hospitality, grasped the outstretched hand,
but Beauregard's dark, appreciative eyes were upon the girl standing at
"Your daughter, sir?" he asked quickly.
"Not so fortunate, General. This is Miss Willifred Hardy, of the
"Ah, yes!" the stern face instantly brightened by a rare smile. "The
same fair heroine who brought the despatches from Johnston. I hoped I
might reach here in time, my dear, to tell you in person how greatly I
appreciate your service. May I ask if you are Major Hardy's daughter?"
Her cheeks burning, she murmured "Yes," curtsying to his rather stately
"I knew your mother rather well in the old days,--a sweet girl, a Du
Verne, of Baton Rouge. You have her eyes and hair." He turned toward
Moran. "A courier but just arrived has brought me orders to halt my men,
as Johnston is marching westward, and it is imperative that we protect
the bridge yonder with sufficient force. Would it inconvenience you,
Judge, if I made your house my headquarters for the night?"
"Everything I possess is freely at your service."
"Thank you. From all I have heard I could never question the loyalty of
Judge Moran." He spoke a few short orders, swung down from the saddle,
and, followed by a half-dozen others, began climbing the steps, talking
with Miss Willifred. I heard the party enter the hall, and pause for a
moment, the sound of voices mingling but indistinguishable. Then a door
opened, and the men trooped into the front parlor. There was a rattle as
accoutrements were laid aside; then a table was drawn forth, and
Beauregard's voice spoke:
"The portfolio, Sternes; now, Captain, let me read over that last
despatch again. Ah, yes, I see. Is Colonel O'Neil waiting? Tell him to
post Williams' brigade at the bridge, with Ozark's battery. Pickets
should be advanced at least two miles. Lieutenant Greer, ride to the
Three Corners, and have the regimental commanders close all gaps in the
line; in case of attack we must be able to exhibit a solid front. A
moment, Major Mason,--you are to bear my report to Johnston." There
followed the rapid scratching of a pen, and a subdued murmur of voices.
Then the deep bass of the general again broke in: "You may as well
clearly understand the proposed plans, gentlemen, so you can execute my
orders with intelligence. They are extremely simple; our main attack
will be directed against the enemy's left flank; the troops selected for
this service will cross at the lower ford early to-morrow night. Our own
movements will depend altogether upon the success of Johnston's
advance. Chambers will be up sometime to-night, and will hold a position
at rear of the centre in reserve. Is this sufficiently clear?"
"Do we cross the bridge?"
"Not until Johnston informs us his assaulting column is in touch with
"There is no absolute hour set?"
"No; that will depend upon the arrival of Chambers. And now, gentlemen,
we will adjourn to the dining-room."
They passed out, evidently in the best of humor, and I could hear them
chatting and laughing in the hall. But my thoughts were now concentrated
upon my own work. This was important news I had overheard, and must be
in the possession of the Federal commander without delay. No personal
danger could be considered. But how was it possible to get away
unobserved? I was in full uniform, and unarmed; the house--now
Beauregard's headquarters--under close guard; the surrounding roads
lined with troops. It would be simply madness to attempt crossing the
river before nightfall, and yet I could not hope to remain where I was
all the afternoon without discovery. As soon as the duties of
hospitality were over Miss Willifred would certainly recall her
prisoner, and it could not be long before my escape from the room above
would be known. I must be safely out of the house before this occurred.
It seemed to me the stables offered the best hiding-place, or else the
deserted negro cabins.
I could examine the greater part of the front yard from the windows, the
squad of troopers camped near the gate, and the sentinel pacing before
the steps, but was compelled to lean far out to gain any glimpse of the
rear. I could perceive no soldiers in this direction, however, and was
encouraged to note a long grape arbor, thickly overgrown with vines,
extending from the house to the other extremity of the garden. Once
safely within its shadow I might get through unseen. And there was but
one means of attaining the grape arbor--through the back hall, _via_
either the kitchen or the cellar. I opened the door with all possible
caution, and took silent survey of the hall. The front door stood open
and a guard was stationed without, but with his back toward me. I could
hear voices in the dining-room, but the hall itself appeared deserted,
and, feeling that it was either now or never, I slipped forth, and
started toward the rear. There were two doors, one at the very extremity
of the hall, the other upon the right, both closed. Uncertain which to
choose I tried the first I came to, but, even as I cautiously turned the
knob, the second was opened from without, and a man entered hurriedly.
We stared into each others' faces, both too completely surprised for
speech. He was a cavalry sergeant, a gray-beard, and, with my first
movement, was tugging at a weapon.
"Hold on there, my buck!" he said gruffly. "None o' that, now. By God!
it's a Yank. Bill, come here."
The guard at the front door ran down the hall toward us, his gun thrown
MISS WILLIFRED INTERVENES
Any effort at escape was clearly useless; the noise and shouting had
already attracted the attention of those within, and a half-dozen
officers streamed out through the dining-room door, eager to learn what
"What's the trouble out here, Sims?" demanded the first to appear,
striding forward. "Well, by all the gods, a Yank, and in full regalia!
Where did you discover this fellow?"
"I'd been back fer a drink, sir," explained the sergeant, still eying
me, "an' was just comin' in through ther door yer, when I run inter him,
sneakin' 'long ther wall--thet's ther whole bloomin' story."
The officer, a smooth-faced lad, turned abruptly to me.
"Well, what have you got to say?"
"Nothing," I answered quietly, "you are perfectly welcome to draw your
"Oh, indeed," sarcastically. "We'll see what more civil answer you'll
make to the general. Sims, bring the fellow along."
The two soldiers grabbed me roughly by the arms, but I made no
resistance, cool enough by this time, although realizing fully the peril
of my position. I was marched in through the open door, and stood up in
the centre of the dining-room, Sims posted on one side of me, the guard
on the other, the officers forming a picturesque background. Beauregard
was on his feet, and Miss Hardy stood between the windows, her hands
clasped, her cheeks red.
"What is all this, gentlemen? A Federal officer in full uniform? How
comes he here?"
I made no attempt to answer, unable to formulate an excuse, and the
young fellow broke in swiftly,
"Sims caught him in the hall, General. He is unarmed, but refuses to
The general's stern dark eyes were upon my face.
"Hardly a spy, I think," he said quietly. "What is the explanation, sir?
Are you the bearer of a message?"
I started to speak, but before the first uncertain word came to my lips,
the girl swept forward, and stood between us.
"Let me explain," she cried swiftly. "This gentleman is a friend of
Captain Le Gaire's, and was presented to me as Major Atherton, formerly
on General Pemberton's staff--perhaps there may be some here who
She glanced inquiringly about on the faces of the group, and a stockily
built infantry captain struck his open hand on the table.
"By Jove, that's it! Thought I recognized the face. How are you,
Atherton?--met you at Big Shanty."
Still puzzled, although evidently relieved, Beauregard remained
"But the uniform?" he questioned. "And how did you reach the hallway
without being seen?"
Her eyes met mine in a rapid flash of understanding, a little nervous
laugh drawing the general's attention.
"It is almost ridiculous," she exclaimed. "Major Atherton came through
the lines with me last night. He was detailed on special service, for
which purpose he donned that uniform. On meeting Captain Le Gaire here,
and learning of your advance, it was no longer necessary for him to
proceed at once, and, as he was very tired, he was persuaded to lie down
in a room upstairs. Waking, he naturally came down into the hall,
knowing nothing of your arrival. Have I correctly presented the case,
Her eyes challenged me, and I bowed.
"A perfectly clear statement."
"And a most charming advocate," added Beauregard. "We must find you some
more appropriate garments, Major, but meanwhile there is room here at
the table. Captain Bell, would you kindly move a little to the right.
Now, Hughes, serve Major Atherton."
I do not recall ever feeling more awkwardly embarrassed than during the
next few minutes. Not that the assembled officers lacked in courtesy, or
failed to interest in light conversation. Led by the general they all
endeavored to make me forget my strange position, and the unpleasant
episode of arrest. Indeed, but for the presence of Miss Willifred in the
room I imagine I should have been very much at ease, perfectly capable
of doing my full share of entertaining. But with the girl standing
silently in the shadow of the curtains, her eyes occasionally meeting
mine, I felt a constant restraint which impelled me to answer almost in
mono-syllables. She had openly defended me, saved me from arrest;
without telling a direct falsehood she had, nevertheless, led these men
into a grievous misunderstanding. Why had she done this? Through
personal interest in me? Through some wild impulse of the moment? I
could not even guess; only, I was assured of one thing: her secret
motive involved no lack of loyalty to the cause of the South. Realizing
this I dare not presume on her continued friendliness, dare not sit
there and lie calmly, filling these men with false information, and
permitting imagination to run rampant. Her eyes condemned that, and I
felt the slightest indiscretion on my part would result in betrayal.
Perhaps even then she regretted her hasty action, and sought some excuse
for blurting out the truth. Fortunately conversation drifted into safe
channels. Bell was full of reminiscences of Big Shanty, requiring on my
part but brief acquiescence, and, after a very few personal questions by
the others, sufficiently direct to demand reply, Beauregard asked me
about the disposition of Johnston's forces, to which I was fortunately
able to respond intelligently, giving him many details, sufficiently
interesting, although of no great value. To his desire for information
relative to Chambers' advance from the south, and the number of his
troops, I was obliged to guess rather vaguely, but finally got away with
a vivid description of Miss Hardy's night ride, which caused even the
girl herself to laugh, and chime in with a word or two. With the
officers the meal was nearly completed when I joined them, and it was
therefore not long until the general, noting the others had finished,
pushed back his own chair.
"We will adjourn to the parlor, gentlemen," he said genially, "I shall
have other orders to despatch presently. When you finish, Major, I shall
be glad to talk with you more at length; until then we leave you to the
care of Miss Hardy."
They passed out, and as the door closed behind the last straggler, she
came slowly across the room, and sat down in a chair opposite me,
resting her flushed cheek on one hand.
"What made you do it?" I asked, impelled by a curiosity which could no
longer be restrained.
"Oh, I don't know," and her lashes lifted, giving me one swift glimpse
into the depths of her eyes. "A mere impulse when I first realized the
danger of your position."
"Then it was for me?--because you cared?"
"Perhaps I would have done the same for any one--I am a woman."
"I can comprehend that, yes," I insisted, "but am not willing to believe
mere sympathy would carry you so far. Was there not, back of all, a
feeling almost of friendship?"
"I make no such acknowledgment. I spoke before I thought; before I even
realized what my words meant. And you?--how came you there?"
I told her briefly, answering her questions without reserve, rejoicing
in the interest she exhibited in my narrative, and eager to know at once
how far I could still presume on her assistance. I wanted to get away,
to escape from the web about me, but I could not understand this girl,
or comprehend how far I dare venture on her good nature. Already I knew
that some feeling--either of friendship or sympathy--had impelled her to
save me from immediate betrayal, but would she go even further?
Everything between us conspired to bewilder me as to her real purpose.
Even as I concluded, it seemed to me her eyes hardened, and the
expression of her face changed.
"That was extremely clever, Lieutenant Galesworth," she commented
quietly. "I never knew the chimney touched that wall. Now what do you
"You must understand my only interest is in getting away as soon as
possible. I am in constant danger here."
"Of course," nodding, her cheeks flushed. "And you also possess very
important information. Because I have aided you to escape capture, do
you conclude I am a fool?"
"Most assuredly not."
"Or a traitress to the South?"
"I could not think that."
"Then let us clearly understand each other once for all. I have saved
you from capture, perhaps death. The reason I have done this need not be
discussed; indeed I could not satisfactorily explain my action even to
myself. But if the truth ever becomes known I shall be placed in a most
embarrassing position. Surely you understand this, and you are a
gentleman; I am sure of that. You are not going to carry that news to
your camp. Before I should permit that to happen I would denounce you
openly, and permit those men yonder to think evil of me. But I do not
believe that course necessary. Instead, I am going to trust you as a
gentleman--am going to accept your word of honor."
"My word? You mean my parole?"
"You may call it that--your pledge to remain in this house until I say
you may go."
"Stop! Lieutenant Galesworth, do you not owe this to me?"
I hesitated, fronting this direct question, looking straight across the
table into her serious face, as she leaned toward me. What was my most
important duty--that which I owed the Federal army, or that I owed to
this girl? And then again--did I really have a choice? There was never a
doubt in my mind as to what she would do if the occasion arose. I had
tested her quality already, and fully comprehended the promise to turn
me over to the Confederate guard was no idle threat. She would trust my
word, but, failing that, would certainly do the other thing. There was
no spirit of play in those eyes watching me.
"Apparently I possess no real choice," I answered, at last. "Either way
I am a prisoner."
She smiled, evidently relieved at my tone.
"Yes--but have you no preference as to captors?"
"Put thus, hesitation ends; I accept the terms of parole."
"You mean it?"
She extended her hand across the table, and I as instantly grasped it,
both almost unconscious of the actions.
"I ought to thank you," I began, but she broke in as quickly:
"No; please don't. I know I am not doing what I should. It is all so
strange that I am actually dazed; I have lost all understanding of
myself. It is painful enough to realize that I yield to these impulses,
without being constantly reminded that I fail in duty. I do not want
She had withdrawn her hand, and was upon her feet. I thought her whole
form was trembling, her lips seeking to frame words.
"I certainly had no intention of hurting you."
"Oh, I know--I know that. You cannot understand. Only I am sorry you
came--came into my life, for ever since it has been trouble. Now you
must simply wait until I say go, and then you will go; won't you?"
"Yes--but not to forget."
She turned back toward me.
"You had better," coldly. "It will be useless to remember."
It was my turn to smile, for she could not play the part, her eyes
veiling themselves behind the long lashes.
"Nevertheless I shall," I insisted warmly. "I find it not altogether
unpleasant--being your prisoner."
THE RETURN OF LE GAIRE
"I shall endeavor to make it as little unpleasant as I can," she
rejoined, "but will demand obedience. Right wheel; forward march. Yes,
through the door; the surroundings are not unfamiliar."
It was the judge's library, where I had hidden before at the coming of
Captain Le Gaire, and she paused in the doorway, glancing
"Remember now, you are on parole, but restricted to this room."
"For how long?" She made an exceedingly pretty picture in that frame,
and I was in no hurry to be deprived of it.
"Until--well, until I am pleased to release you. Don't scowl; I'm sure
I'm trying to be nice, and I never was so polite to a Yankee before.
Really this is the pleasantest room in the house; I have passed hours in
"Perhaps this afternoon--"
She shook her head violently, her eyes dancing with laughter.
"Certainly not; with all these Confederate officers here. Sometimes I
think you are very conceited--I wonder if you are." And then before I
could answer,--"What a handsome man Captain Bell is; and so delightful
of him to remember having met you."
The witch was plainly enough laughing at me, but she chose a poor
subject in Bell.
"And my sentence, then, is solitary confinement?"
"That is far better than you deserve. Those windows open on the porch,
and there is a sentry there; the door leads to the rear of the house. I
shall not even lock it, nor this. I leave you here upon your word of
honor, Lieutenant Galesworth."
She was gone like the flutter of a bird, and I sank back upon the soft
cushion of a library chair, still smiling, my eyes wandering curiously
about the room. Then I got up, examined the windows and the rear door,
and returned. Escape was dangerous, but possible, yet no serious thought
of making such an attempt even occurred to me. For whatever unknown
reason, the girl's quick wit had saved me from capture; I owed her every
loyalty, and I had pledged her my word. That was enough. The more I
turned the circumstances over in my mind the less I seemed to comprehend
her motives, yet there could be no doubt she sought to serve me. A word
from her to Le Gaire, or to Beauregard, would have ended my career
instantly. Instead of speaking this word of betrayal she had
deliberately placed herself in my defence, deceiving her own people.
Why? Was there more than a mere impulse behind the action? Was she doing
for me more than she would have done for another under similar
circumstances? Was this act merely the result of womanly sympathy? For
the life of me I could not determine. She was like two individuals, so
swiftly did her moods change--one moment impressing me as a laughing
girl, the next leaving me convinced she was a serious-minded woman. Just
as I thought I knew, believed I understood, she would change into
another personality, leaving me more bewildered than ever. Suddenly I
thought again of Le Gaire, remembering his dark, handsome face, his
manner of distinction, and there came to me mistily the words overheard
during their unexpected meeting. She had called him "Gerald," and there
had been other words exchanged--aye! he had even taunted her with their
engagement, objecting to her being alone with me, and she had denied
nothing. Somehow this suddenly recurring memory left me hot and angry. I
disliked Le Gaire; from the very first moment of gazing into his dark,
sneering eyes I had felt antagonism, a disposition to quarrel; but now
something more potent rose between us--the girl. I was not blind to the
man's attractions; I could easily understand how he could find way to a
girl's heart. But a man can judge a man best, and every instinct of my
nature warned me against this fellow. The very first sound of his voice
had prejudiced me, and when I saw him I knew I was right--with him
manliness was but veneer. And Billie! The name sounded soft, sweet,
womanly now and I longed to speak it in her presence. Billie! I said it
over and over again reverently, her face floating before me in memory,
and then my lips closed in sudden determination: not without a fight, a
hard fight, was this gray-jacket going to retain her, going to keep
her from me.
It was a mad resolve; yet it was there, in my heart and upon my lips. I
had come upon the field late, come in the wrong uniform, but I was
sufficiently in earnest now. The girl liked me, served me, and she
interested me as no other ever had. Her very moods, piquant, reserved,
aroused my ambition, stimulated my purpose, and Le Gaire--the very
thought of him was a thorn in the flesh. I have wondered since if I
really loved her then; I do not know, but I dreamed of her, idealized
her, my heart throbbing at every unusual sound without, hoping she might
come again. I could hear the noise of the cavalry camp on the lawn, and
the tramp of feet in the hall. Occasionally some voice sounded clear
enough so I could distinguish the words. I opened the door leading into
the dining-room, but that apartment was deserted. There was evidently
nothing to do but wait, and I lay down on the couch between the windows,
looking up at the green leaves shaking in the breeze. Fatigued with the
labors of the previous night, before I realized the possibility I was
I must have remained there some hours, totally unconscious, for when I
finally awoke it was nearly dark, the dusk so pronounced I could
scarcely see across the room. Some noise without had aroused me, and I
knew instantly what it was--the pounding of a horse's hoofs on gravel,
the animal being furiously ridden. As I sat up, the horse was jerked to
its haunches, and the rider swung from the saddle.
"Here, orderly, take the rein; quick now, damn you!" The words reached
me clearly, but as I glanced out I saw only a dark form springing up the
steps. Something familiar about the voice caused me to leap for the
door, holding it sufficiently ajar so I could overhear what passed in
the hall. There was a muttered word or two to the sentry, the newcomer
insisting angrily on seeing Beauregard; then a woman's voice suddenly
broke in with an exclamation of surprise.
"You back again! I am afraid you will have to wait to see the general
unless your mission is of the utmost importance. He is lying down, and
left orders he was not to be disturbed before nine o'clock."
"My mission is important enough," was the reply, "but perhaps, it can be
attended to without him. Where can, we be alone, Billie?"
"Right in here," stepping through the doorway into the deeper dusk of
the dining-room. "If you are hungry I can order a lunch."
"No," impatiently, "I have eaten twice to-day--what I want to know is
what has become of that fellow who was here this morning?"
"Oh, hell!" forgetting every pretence to gentility. "He was not Atherton
at all, but a damned Yankee spy. Do you mean to say you didn't know it?"
I could see her straighten up, turning swiftly to face him. Whatever the
shock of discovery may have been, indignation conquered, and her voice
was cool, stinging.
"Captain Le Gaire, I am not in the habit of being sworn at, and will
leave you to gain your information elsewhere."
She swept by him to the door, but, gasping with surprise, the man
managed to call after her,
"Billie, don't go like that! I didn't mean to swear. It was jolted out
of me, and I beg your pardon."
She halted on the threshold, glancing back evidently in hesitation.
"This is not the first time you have let your temper loose in my
presence," she said slowly, "but it is the last. If you feel so little
respect for me now, the future is not very encouraging."
"But, Billie, you don't understand!"
"I understand enough. However we will not discuss this matter any
further at present. What was it you desired to know?"
"Where that fellow has gone!" instantly flaming up again. "He wasn't
Atherton at all, but I'll swear he was the very picture of him; he would
have fooled the devil."
"No doubt," almost indifferently. "How did you discover the deception?"
"By merest accident. Happened to mention meeting him to old Trevor, and
he was up in arms in a minute. Seems Atherton married his niece, and the
fellow here couldn't be the major, for he was shot in a skirmish three
weeks ago, and has been in the hospital at Athens ever since. He's there
now; rode over to Pemberton's headquarters to make sure, and met
Gregory, Chief-of-Staff. He saw Atherton Saturday, and he wasn't able to
sit up yet. The fellow here was a Yank--and you didn't know it?"
"I very naturally supposed he was what he represented himself to be,"
she replied, coming back into the room. "And when you recognized him as
an old acquaintance I never gave the matter another thought."
"But he came through the lines with you," bewildered and doubtful.
"The best of reasons why I should never have suspected him of being a
Yankee. He was very pleasant and gentlemanly."
"Oh, indeed! all a man has to do is smile and say nice things to get you
women on his side."
"Then why don't you try it? You are certainly disagreeable enough
"Perhaps I am," endeavoring to laugh. "But if I could get my hands on
that Yank I'd be in far better humor. Where is he?"
"The last time I saw him," with provoking coolness, "he was at dinner
with General Beauregard and staff."
"At dinner! Here! Good God! he must have nerve. How did it happen?"
"Through my introduction originally, and then later he was recognized
by Captain Bell."
Le Gaire sank down into a chair, glaring at the girl's dim, white-robed
figure, his teeth savagely clicking in an effort to keep from swearing.
As though to exasperate him yet more she laughed.
"I fail to see the fun," he snarled impatiently. "This is no joke, let
me tell you, and we'll both find it out if Beauregard ever learns the
truth. What did they talk about?"
"Army matters mostly. The general wished information regarding the
movement of Johnston's and Chambers' forces, and Major Atherton--"
"Don't call the fellow that!"
"Then what shall I call him?"
He struck his fist on the table, almost devoid of the power of speech.
"I don't care, only not that. I tell you he's not Atherton, but a
sneaking Yankee spy."
"Why, he was in full uniform!"
"He'll hang, just the same, if we get him. Now see here--did Beauregard
let out any facts?"
She drew a quick breath, one hand on her breast, and it seemed to me her
"He talked as he would to one of his own officers. They discussed the
plans of operation quite freely among themselves."
Le Gaire groaned, his elbows on the table, his head in his hands. She
remained motionless, looking at him. Suddenly he glanced up.
"I'll be hanged if I understand you, Billie," he exclaimed. "Don't you
care, or don't you realize what this means? That fellow has got all our
plans, and he's got safely away with them too, I suppose."
She nodded, as he paused an instant.
"Before morning they'll be over there," with a wave of the hand, "and
our move checkmated. Whose fault is it? Yours and mine. It's enough to
drive a man crazy, and you stand there and laugh."
"I am not laughing."
"Well, you were a minute ago. Do you even suspect who the fellow is?"
"You said he was Major Ath--"
"Oh, hell!" springing to his feet, with sword rattling, and hands
clinched. "I won't stand this, not even from you. You're hiding
something; what is it? Is this Yank anything to you?"
"Absolutely nothing, Captain Le Gaire. Take your hand from my arm,
please. Now I will trouble you to stop this controversy. I am not
indifferent, but I refuse to be bullied, and sworn at. If you are so
wild to capture this spy why don't you make the rounds of the pickets
instead of remaining here and quarrelling with me? The man is not hiding
behind my skirts. I will bid you good-night."
She was gone before he could even fling out a hand to stop her. A moment
he raged between table and wall; then flung out the door and down the
steps, calling for his horse.
AN ATTEMPT AT ESCAPE
The seriousness of my situation was clearly apparent, yet what could I
do in order to save myself? My word was pledged, and it was evident the
girl had no intention of betraying my presence. But would she come to
me? Would she give me the opportunity of escape? It must be accomplished
now if at all, before Le Gaire returned, or had time to complete his
round of the pickets. Every instant of delay robbed me of a chance--and
my life hung in the balance. There was little doubt as to that; I could
advance no military reason for being treated other than as a spy, and my
fate would be the short shift meted out to such over the drum-head. All
this swept through my brain as I listened to the hoofs of Le Gaire's
horse pound the gravel outside, the sound dying away in the distance.
The sentinel marched slowly past the window, his figure silhouetted
against the red glow of a camp-fire inside the gate. Then, without a
warning sound, the door was pushed ajar, and the girl slipped silently
through. The distant reflection of the fire barely served to reveal her
face, and outline her figure. She was breathing heavily and trembling
with excitement, her voice barely audible.
"You--you heard what was said in there?" she asked, eager to gain time.
"You know Captain Le Gaire has returned?"
"Yes," thinking to calm her by an appearance of coolness. "He seems to
be a most blood-thirsty individual."
"He was angry at being deceived. No one can blame him, but I simply had
to tantalize him in order to get him away."
"Was that it? Do you mean so you might come here to me?"
"Why, of course. I had promised you. Do you think I would demean myself
by lying--to a Yank? Besides," her voice faltered, "you would have kept
your parole, and--and--"
"Waited here to be hung, probably," I broke in, "as that ceremony
appears to be part of the programme. My only hope was that you might
possibly object to this item of entertainment."
"Don't laugh," soberly. "There is no fun in it for me."
"Then you would show mercy even to a Yankee spy?"
"I am not sure of that. I am a Rebel, but that has no serious weight
now. You are not a spy; if you have acted as one, it has been more
through my fault than your own. Besides you are my prisoner, and if I
should permit you to fall into the hands of those men, to be condemned
to death, the memory would haunt me forever. I am not that kind,
Lieutenant Galesworth. I don't want your gratitude; I would rather fight
you than help you. I want you to understand this first of all."
"I do, Miss Hardy; you simply perform a duty."
"Yes; I--I keep my word."
"But, after all, isn't it a little easier because--you like me?"
She drew in her breath so quickly it was almost a sob, the swift,
unexpected question disarming her in an instant. It was no longer the
tiger cat, but the woman who gasped out a surprised response.
"No; oh, no! that is what makes it harder."
"Harder to aid me?"
"To see you unjustly condemned, and--and to realize that perhaps I am
disloyal to my country."
Something about these simple words of confession, wrung from her lips by
my insistence, held me silent. I failed to realize then the full
significance of this acknowledgment, and she gave me no opportunity.
"This is ungenerous," she broke in quickly. "I do feel friendly toward
you; surely I need not be ashamed of this, even though our interests are
unlike, our causes opposed. Everything has conspired to make us friends.
But you must not presume, or take advantage of my position. Now
listen--I am here for one purpose: to give you an opportunity of escape.
After that we are strangers; do you accept my terms?"
"You offer no others?"
"Then I accept--until Fate intervenes."
"You believe in Fate?"
"When aided by human persistence, yes; I intend to represent that
She drew back a step, her hand on the door.
"You almost make me regret my effort," reproachfully. "However I warn
you the goddess this time shall play you false. But we waste moments in
talk. Here is your revolver, Lieutenant; now come with me."
She thrust the butt into my hand, and crossed the room to the door
opening out into the back yard. An instant she peered forth into the
night; then turned her face back toward me.
"Take my place here," she whispered. "See that line of shadow yonder--it
is the grape arbor. I am going to steal along to the end of the house
where I can watch the sentinel. The instant I signal make for that
arbor, and lie quiet until I come."
I watched the dim outline of her form. She was actually doing all this
for me--for me! She was running this great risk, smothering her own
conscience--for me! I could not doubt this as a truth; I had probed
deeply enough to be assured there was personal interest, friendliness,
inspiring the sacrifice. She would never have lifted a hand to save a
Yankee spy; all her sympathy was with the Confederacy. Yet she was
risking all--her reputation, her life--to save me! The knowledge seemed
to send fire through my veins, my heart throbbed fiercely. Oh, she could
dissemble, could pretend all this was merely duty, could rage against
herself and me, but nevertheless I understood--she was doing it for me!
I knew, and she should know--yes, this very night, out yonder in the
shadows, when we were alone together I would make her realize what it
all meant. Le Gaire? What cared I for Le Gaire! This was Love and War
combined, and all is fair in either. Besides, it was the girl who
counted, who must say the final word--why should I hesitate for the sake
of Le Gaire? Let him fight for himself; surely the prize was worth
Her hand waved; I could catch the glimmer of the white sleeve, and
recognized it as a signal. With a dozen steps I was at the entrance to
the arbor, crouching down low in the shadows. As noiseless as a ghost
she sped across the open space, and joined me. I could feel her form
tremble as I touched her, and she caught my arm with both hands, her
face turned backward.
"They are relieving guard," she faltered, "and will come past here next,
for there is a sentry on the opposite side. We must get farther down
under the vines."
I drew her forward, for she clung to me strangely, as though all the
courage and strength had suddenly deserted her.
"There are no guards down here?"
"Nor at the stables?"
"I cannot tell; I was afraid to ask."
The arbor ended some thirty feet from the stables, with a low,
vine-covered fence between. There have been darker nights, yet I could
distinguish merely the dim outlines. Still feeling her clasp on my arm I
came to a halt, startled into absolute silence by the approach of the
relief guard. The sturdy tramp of feet, and the slight tinkle of
bayonets against canteens, told plainly the fellows had turned our way,
although, crouched where we were, we could at first see nothing. I drew
my revolver, my other hand clasping hers, and waited breathlessly. The
little squad came trudging down the opposite side of the fence, only the
upper part of their bodies dimly visible against the slightly lighter
background of the sky. I made out the officer in command, and four men,
then they wheeled into the shadow of the stables, and the sentinel
stationed there challenged. There was a reply, the sound of a musket
brought sharply to the shoulder, a gruff, indistinguishable order, and
then again the tramp of feet, dying away in the distance. Every
movement, and word, told the story, revealed the situation. I turned my
eyes back to the girl's face, questioningly, barely able to perceive its
"They have a guard there," I whispered, my lips close to her ear. "Is
there no other way out?"
"Yes, on foot, but I supposed you would need a horse."
"And there are horses there?"
"I do not know about any others; I understand the judge has lost all
his, but the one Captain Le Gaire left for you this morning was
"You know the situation,"--the cavalryman's eagerness for a mount
overcoming all thought of danger,--"how best to get in."
"Yes; I went out there with Tom when the judge told him to put up the
horse,--I wanted to see how my pony was getting along. The door is on
that side to the east, just around the corner. It is closed by a wooden
button. The pony is in the first stall, and the horse in the second; the
saddle and bridle were hung on a peg behind," she said this clearly,
anxious to make me understand, but then, as the other thought came to
her, her voice broke. "But, Lieutenant Galesworth, you--you cannot get
the horse with the guard there!"
My clasp closed more tightly on her fingers, my resolve hardening.
"He's only a man, perhaps sleepy and careless, while I am wide awake.
One must be willing to assume risk in war. With the horse under me I
have a chance, while on foot I should probably be caught before
daylight. Don't worry; this is not my first attempt."
"You--you mean to try?"
"Certainly; I should be a poor specimen if I did not. But I am going to
say good-bye to you first, and then lie here quietly until you are
safely in the house."
She drew in a quick breath, her face lifting.
"The house! I am going to remain here."
"But the risk you run, and you can be of no help."
"Oh, don't argue!" impatiently. "There is no more risk of my discovery
here than there. I want to know what happens; I would rather face
anything than suspense. Lieutenant Galesworth, I have always had my way,
and I shall now."
Down in my heart I rejoiced at her decision, but all I said was:
"Very well, Miss Willifred, it makes me feel like a knight going forth
to battle under the eyes of his lady." The slight flutter of a ribbon at
her throat caught my eye, and I touched it with my finger. "May I wear
this in token of your good wishes?"
"You--you are not going to kill any one?"
"Not if it can possibly be avoided."
She was silent a moment, so still I could hear her breathing; then her
hands undid the ribbon knot, and she held it toward me.
"I--I do wish you well," she said softly. "I--don't know why, but I do."
I MEET LE GAIRE
My hand touching her own seemed to work a sudden transformation. She was
instantly upon her feet facing me, drawing back a little against the
"Do not take my words so seriously," she exclaimed. "I am excited,
almost hysterical to-night. To-morrow I shall regret much I have done
and said. But you must go, Lieutenant; every moment of delay adds to
your peril and mine. No; please do not touch me or speak to me again;
only listen--there is a bridle path leading directly from the farther
corner of the stable to the river; a gate will let you out of the
orchard lot; now go!"
"You will not even shake hands?" "I--I--yes, of course, I will do that."
Our fingers clasped, and we stood face to face, our eyes meeting through
the darkness. The thrill of contact, the wild hope that this girl really
cared unusually for me, became almost overpowering. I longed to crush
her in my arms, to pour into her ears the passionate words that burned
on my lips. I forgot everything except her presence, her nearness, the
soft pressure of her hand.
"No! No!" and she had instantly released herself. "You forget yourself;
you forget my position. Now it is good-bye."
"You positively mean this?"
"I do. I am a soldier's daughter, Lieutenant Galesworth, and I am
trusting you to act as a soldier and a gentleman."
Under the cloak of darkness my face burned, feeling the reproof of this
appeal, realizing that I merited the sting. For the instant my actions,
my presumption, seemed contemptible. I had taken advantage of her
kindness, her sympathy, her trust, and openly misconstrued womanly
friendliness into a stronger emotion. The rebuke was perfectly just; I
could not even find words of apology, but turned away silently. And she
made no effort to stay me, either by word or motion.
I had crept forward as far as the low fence before the numbness left me,
before I came back to full comprehension of my situation, and the
serious work confronting me. Then the soldier spirit reawoke into alert
action, my thought intent upon escape, my nerves steadying down for the
coming trial. I recall glancing back, imagining I saw the white glimmer
of her dress against the dark shrubbery, and then I resolutely drove all
memory of her from my mind, concentrating every instinct to the one
immediate purpose of overcoming the stable guard. This was not
altogether new work to one inured as a scout, but sufficiently serious
to call forth every precaution. Cautiously I crept along the fence until
I discovered an opening large enough to crawl through, scarcely rustling
the concealing leaves, and resting flat on the opposite side while I
surveyed the prospect. I was not far now from the south wall of the
stable, which loomed black and shapeless against the sky. Not a movement
revealed the whereabouts of the guard, and, with the girl's description
to guide me, I concluded the fellow would be stationed at the other
extremity of the building. Convinced as to this probability I dragged my
body slowly forward until I could touch the log wall. I could see better
now, being myself in the denser shadow, and knew the passage was clear
to the corner.
Assured of this I rose to my feet, revolver in hand, and pressing close
against the side of the building, advanced quickly and silently. At the
corner I peered about, scarcely daring to breathe, but with heart
pounding, as I caught sight of the fellow, not over three feet distant.
He was seated on an overturned bucket, his back toward me, both hands
clasping a musket, his head bent slightly forward. He seemed listening
to some noise in the distance, totally unconscious of my approach. The
man's fingers were nowhere near the trigger of his gun, and my straining
eyes could perceive no sign of any other weapon. This had to be silent
work--silent and swift. With one step forward I had my revolver pressed
hard against his cheek, my other hand crushing his fingers to
"Keep quiet, man! Not a move! I'll blow your head off if you lift a
"Oh! Good God!"
He was but little more than a boy; I could see his face now under the
slouch hat, and I had already frightened the life half out of him.
"Drop your gun! Now stand up!" He obeyed like an automaton, his brain
seemingly paralyzed. There was nothing to fear from this fellow, yet I
knew better than to become careless--terror has been known to drive men
crazy. I caught him by the collar, whirling him about, my Colt still
at his ear.
"Go straight to the stable door, son!"
"Who--who are you? W--what do you want?"
"Don't stop to ask questions--you trot, unless you want to get hurt. Do
you hear me?--the stable door! That's it; now undo the button, open the
door, and go inside."
I held him like a vice, assured his belt contained no weapons, and
thrust him forward against the wall. He was so helpless in my grasp that
it was like handling a child.
"Feel along there--higher up--and tell me what you find. Well, what is
"A--a bridle," his voice barely audible.
"Halter strap on it?"
"Take it off, and hand it back here. Now go on, and feel the next
"There's a blanket, and--and a rope halter."
"Good! give me that; now, son, put both hands back here, cross the
wrists. Come, stand up to it; this is better than getting killed, isn't
it? Now here is a nice soft spot to lie on, and I guess you'll remain
there for a while. Do you want me to gag you, or will you keep still?"
"I'll--I'll keep still!"
"Well, be sure you do; your life isn't worth a picayune if you raise any
I arose to my feet, confident the boy had been safely disposed of, and
feeling blindly around in the darkness, seeking to locate the stalls.
At that instant a horse neighed outside; then I heard the sound of hoofs
pounding on soft soil. Whoever the fellow was, he was almost
there--coming up at a trot, just back of the stables. My brain worked in
a flash--there was but once chance to stave off discovery. With a bound
I was beside the boy, and had jerked off his hat, jamming it down on my
own head, as I muttered in his ear, "One word from you now, and you'll
never speak again--don't take the chance!"
I leaped for the door, and grasped the musket, barely straightening up,
as the oncoming horseman swung around the corner. It was a desperate
chance, yet in this darkness he could scarcely distinguish color of
uniform or shape of features. It might work; it was worth trying. I saw
the dim outlines of horse and rider in a red glow, as though the latter
held a cigar between his lips; then I swung forward my gun.
"Halt! who comes?"
Startled by the sudden challenge, the horse reared to the sharp jerk at
the reins, the man uttering an oath as he struggled to control
"Hell! What's this?"
"A sentry post; answer up, or I'll call the guard--who are you?"
"An officer on special service." "Dismount, and give the word."
He swung reluctantly down, growling, yet with sufficient respect for my
cocked musket to be fairly civil, and stepped up against the lowered
barrel, his horse's rein in hand.
"Atlanta," he whispered.
My gun snapped back to a carry, my only thought an intense anxiety to
have him off as quickly as possible.
"Pass officer on special service."
He paused, puffing at his cigar.
"What's the best way to the house, sentry?" he asked with apparent
carelessness, "along the fence there?"
"The road runs this side, you can't miss it," I replied civilly enough,
but stepping back so as to increase our distance.
He flipped the ash from his cigar, drawing at the stub so fiercely the
red glow reflected directly into my eyes. He stared a moment, then
turned, and thrust a foot into the stirrup.
"I've seen you somewhere before, my man."
"I was at the gate when you came through just before dark."
"Oh, yes," he replied, apparently satisfied, and swung up lightly into
the saddle. "So you recognize me, then?"
"Captain Le Gaire, is it not? The sergeant said so."
He believed he had me completely deceived, that I entertained no
suspicion he had also recognized me, and that therefore he could play me
a sharp trick. I was not sure, for the man acted his part rarely well,
only that I knew it was not in Le Gaire's nature to be so excessively
polite. What was his game, I wondered, gripping my musket with both
hands, my eyes following his every motion. Would he venture an attack
alone, or ride on and report me to the guard? I had little enough time
in which to speculate. He gathered up the reins in one hand, his horse
cavorting; he had probably found somewhere a fresh mount. I stepped
aside, but the animal still faced me, and with high-flung head partially
concealed his rider. Suddenly the latter dug in his spurs, and the beast
leaped straight at me, front hoofs pawing the air. I escaped as by a
hair's breadth, one iron shoe fairly grazing my shoulder, but, with the
same movement, I swung the clubbed musket. He had no time to dodge;
there was a thud as it struck, a smothered cry, and the saddle was
empty, a revolver flipping into the air, as the man went plunging over.
I sprang to the horse's bit, the frightened animal dragging me nearly
to the fence before I conquered him. But I dare not let go--once free he
would join the troop horses, his riderless saddle sure to alarm the
guards. With lacerated hands, and shirt torn into shreds, I held on,
jerked and bruised by the mad struggle, until the fellow stood
trembling. Using the bridle rein for a halter strap I tied him to the
fence, and, sore all over and breathing hard from exertion, went back to
discover what had become of Le Gaire.
The excitement of encounter had, for the instant, banished all
recollection of the young woman hidden beneath the shadow of the grape
arbor. My entire mind had concentrated on the fight, which, even now,
might not be ended. I knew I had struck the fellow hard with the full,
wide swing of the musket stock; I had both felt and heard the blow, and
the impact had hurled him clear from the horse. Beyond doubt he was
helpless, badly hurt perhaps, and there suddenly came to me a fear lest
I had actually killed him. I had struck fiercely, impelled by the
instinct to save myself, but I had had no desire to take the man's life.
I had no reason to like Le Gaire; I believed him a bully, a
disagreeable, boasting cur, but he was something to Willifred Hardy, and
I could not afford to have his blood on my hands. I thought of her then,
casting a swift glance back toward the shadows beyond the fence, and
then went straight toward where the fellow lay, afraid to learn the
truth, yet even more intensely afraid to again meet her without knowing.
He had evidently fallen upon his shoulder, and still lay in a huddled
heap. I had to straighten out his form before I was able to decide
whether he was living or dead. I bent down, undoing his jacket, and
placed my ear to his heart. It beat plainly enough, almost
regularly--the man was alive; I doubted if he were even seriously
injured. This discovery was such a relief that I muttered a "Thank God,"
and began rubbing his chest as though in effort to restore the fellow to
consciousness. Then my senses came back, my realization of the
situation. Let Le Gaire lie where he was; others would take care of him
soon enough. I must get away; I could use his horse, pretend to be him,
if necessary, and before daylight be safely across the river. I sought
along the ground until I found the dropped revolver, thrust it into my
belt, and ran over to where the horse was tied.
I had loosened the rein, my hand on the pommel, when the thought came
that I must tell her first before I rode away. Even though the delay was
a risk to us both, yet she must understand the truth, be informed of Le
Gaire's condition, and why I had attacked him. At the instant this last
seemed more important than all else. It would require but a moment, and
then I could go, confident the man's injury would be no additional
barrier between us, would never cause her to suspect that I had attacked
him wantonly, actuated by personal motives. He might try to make her
think so, if he were the kind I believed, his mind already suspicious of
her interest in me. Her very sympathy for his wounds would make her
easily influenced; this natural sympathy must not be inflamed by doubt
of my motives and the thought that I had deliberately sought the man's
life. It may have been two rods between the fence and the grape arbor,
and I called to her softly.
ACROSS THE RIVER
She came toward me swiftly, slipping through the night like a shadow,
instantly recognizing my voice.
"You--you are not hurt, Lieutenant Galesworth?" she asked, her voice
"No; merely bruised, and shaken up--the horse did that."
"Oh; was it you who had that struggle with the horse? I--I thought he
would surely kill the man."
"The poor fellow was frightened," and I stroked his neck softly, "and
certainly gave me a hard tussle. But that's all over now. I want to
explain what has happened before I leave."
"I owe you that, do I not, wearing your colors?"
I could not perceive the expression of her face, but the tone of her
voice was not altogether encouraging.
"They were but expressive of my best wishes; of course I wished you to
"I wonder--will you continue your good wishes after hearing my story?"
"What do you mean? You have not killed any one?"
"No; but I have hurt one who seems to have some claim upon you."
She drew in her breath quickly, clasping her hands.
"Who?--tell me! Can you mean Captain Le Gaire?"
"I regret to say 'yes'; this was his horse. Now don't blame me until you
hear the whole story. I will tell it all in very few words, and
"But--but you are sure he is not seriously hurt?"
"He may have a rib or collar-bone broken, and is still unconscious;
nothing that will keep him out of mischief long. I wanted to tell you
all about the affair myself--I don't trust Le Gaire."
"Why say that to me?"
"Because I must. If I understand the man the very first thing he will do
will be to poison your mind against me--"
"Miss Hardy," I said soberly, "what use is there for us to play at
cross-purposes? You realize that Captain Le Gaire suspects that you have
an interest in me, that you have helped in my escape. He doesn't like me
any the better for that. Men will do strange things when they are in
love--such men as Le Gaire. Do you suppose I intend permitting him to
thus influence you against me, when I am where I cannot defend myself?"
"But he would never do that; I am sure, he never would."
"Possibly not, but I prefer you should have my version to compare with
what he may say. We have met strangely, in a manner which could only
happen in time of war, and one day and two nights of adventure together
have already made us better acquainted than would a year of ordinary
social intercourse. I value your good wishes, and feel more gratitude
than words can express. I am not going away leaving you to think me
unworthy. I will tell you this exactly as it occurred, and you are to
believe me, no matter what is said later."
My earnestness made an impression and as I paused her lips parted.
"Yes--I am going to believe you."
"I felt sure you would. Now listen, for I must be away, and Le Gaire
I told it simply, clearly, making no attempt except to bring out the
important facts, realizing that her own imagination would supply the
details. She clung to the fence, our eyes meeting as I spoke swiftly,
making no comment until I concluded.
"Could I have done otherwise?"
"No; you are not to be blamed, but I am so sorry it happened to be
Captain Le Gaire."
"You mean because--"
"He has been much to me," she interrupted, "perhaps still is,
although--" she paused suddenly, catching her breath,--"yet this can
make no difference."
"But it does."
She remained silent, and, I thought, drew slightly back.
"You do not wonder?" I asked, unable to restrain myself, "you do not ask
why? May I not tell you?"
"I prefer you should not," very quietly. "I am not foolish enough to
pretend that I do not understand. We are going to part now, and you
"Is it then so easy for you?"
"I need not confess, only I see how utterly foolish all this is. The
conditions bringing us together in a few hours of intimacy have been
romantic, and, perhaps, it is not strange that you should feel an
interest in me. I--I hope you do, for I shall certainly always feel most
kindly toward you, Lieutenant Galesworth. We are going to part as
friends, are we not? You will remember me as a little Rebel who served
you once, even against her conscience, and I will continue to think of
you as a brave soldier and courteous gentleman. Isn't that worth while?
Isn't it even better than dreaming an impossible dream?"
"But why impossible?"
"Surely you know."
"You mean Le Gaire?"
"I mean everything. Captain Le Gaire may be partially responsible, but
there is much besides. Need we discuss this further?"
I should have hesitated, but I simply could not consent to be dismissed
thus completely. Through the obscuring mist of the night I saw her face
dimly, and it fascinated me. Behind the quiet decision of her voice
there was a tremulousness which yielded courage. I could not part with
her like this.
"Billie," I said, and she started at the familiarity of the name, "I am
going to risk even your good opinion rather than leave in doubt. Don't
treat me like a boy." Her hand was upon the fence, and I placed both of
my own upon it. "Be honest with me. Forget the uniform, this sectional
war, and let us simply be man and woman--can you not?"
She did not answer, her hand yet held in mine, so startled by my sudden
outburst as to be helpless.
"I must know," I went on heedlessly, the very touch of her flesh making
me reckless. Our position, the danger of the night, all vanished, and I
saw only the whiteness of her face. Perhaps, had I been able to read
her eyes, their expression might have served to curb my tongue, but
nothing else could have held me silent. "I am going away, going into the
lines of a hostile army; I may not reach there alive, and, if I do, I
may fall in the first battle. I must tell you the truth first--I must.
Don't call it foolish, for it is not. Dear, I may be a Yankee, but I am
also a man, and I--"
"Oh, stop! please stop!" her fingers clasping me, her form closer. "I
can not--I will not permit you to say this. I have no right. You have
made me disloyal to my country; you shall not make me disloyal to all
else. If I should listen I would have no self-respect left. For my sake
be still, and go."
"But I know you are not indifferent; you cannot conceal the truth."
"Then be content, be satisfied, be generous."
"If you will only say one thing."
"That I may come to you--after the war."
She stood a moment motionless, and then withdrew her hand.
"That would be equivalent to a hope which I cannot give," she returned
soberly. "When the war ends I shall probably no longer be Willifred
Hardy." My heart beat like a trip-hammer; I could hear it in
"The man yonder?"
She bent her head.
"You will not," my voice firm with swift conviction. "If that is all, I
am not afraid. If you loved him would you be standing here even to say a
word of farewell? Whatever pledge may be between you, on your part it is
not love. You cannot deny this--not to me! Yes, and you are already
beginning to know him. Remember, I have had to listen to some
conversation between you--I know his style. Ah, yes, I will go, because
I dare not keep you out here longer, but, if God lets me live, I am
going to find you again. Yes, I am; don't doubt that, little girl. I
could stand back for a real man, but not for Le Gaire; that's not in
human nature. See, I have your ribbon yet, and am going to wear it."
"Without my permission?"
I reached out my arm and drew her gently against the fence barrier, so
close I could look down into her eyes, gazing up into mine startled by
the sudden movement.
"Lip permission, yes--I prefer to read consent elsewhere."
"And do you?"
"I shall believe I do. See, here is the ribbon; will you take it?"
"Of course not. Why should I care if you have that? It has no value to
me. But I will not stay and talk longer. Let me go, Lieutenant! yes, you
must. What shall I do to help--to help Gerald?"
"Go straight into the house, and report to the guard. You were walking
in the garden for a breath of air, and overheard the struggle. They will
find him. Good-bye, Billie."
I held out my hand, and she extended her own without a moment's
"Good-bye," she said. "Shall I not wait here a few moments until you are
across the road?"
I touched my lips to her fingers.
"What, with Gerald lying there!" happily. "Oh, Billie, are you so
anxious as that for me to get safely away?"
"I--I am certainly not anxious to have you caught--not now. But you are
almost impertinent; indeed you are. I cannot say a word you do not
misinterpret. Please do not attempt to tease me; let us part friends."
The tone in which she said this meant far more than the mere words; I
had ventured enough, and recognized the limitation to her patience.
However strong her interest in me might already be, no acknowledgment
was probable under present circumstances. I would but waste time,
perhaps seriously injure my standing with her, were I to continue. The
future must be left to work out its own miracle--to reveal her heart,
and to prove the worthlessness of Le Gaire. For me to linger longer,
holding her there in constant peril of discovery, would be
I led the horse back, past where the disabled Confederate lay, pausing
an instant to look down on the dim figure. He groaned, and turned
partially over on one side, evidence that consciousness was returning.
The man was not badly hurt, and I felt no deep regret at his condition.
I could distinguish the narrow bridle path by my feet, and knew I would
be less conspicuous out of the saddle. However, nothing opposed our
progress, and we even succeeded in crossing the road without being
observed. Here a long slope, rutted, and partially covered with low
bushes, led directly down to the river, and we pushed through the
tangle, keeping well hidden. Once on the bank of the stream all above
was concealed from view, but I listened in vain for any sound indicative
of pursuit. The night was mysteriously still, unbroken, even the air
motionless. Obsessed now by the one controlling impulse to get away
safely, I drove the horse into the water, and as he reached swimming
depth, grasped a stirrup leather, and compelled him to strike out for
the opposite shore. It was not a hard struggle, nor were we long at it,
although the current was swift enough to bear us down a hundred feet, or
more, before we struck bottom, wading out at the mouth of a small creek,
the low banks offering some slight concealment. I looked back through
the darkness, across the dim water, and up the shrouded hill on the
opposite side. Lights were winking here and there like fire-flies. I
stared at them, light-hearted, confident I had every advantage; then I
patted the horse, and adjusted the stirrups.
"She waited until we were safe across, old fellow," I said, too pleased
to remain still. "Now we'll ride for it."
He turned his head, and rubbed his nose along my arm. The next moment I
was in the saddle, spurring him up the bank.
I MEET AN EX-SLAVE
In this narrative of adventure it would but waste the reader's time to
indulge in any extended description of military movements. The interest
of my story centres around individuals rather than the great events of
history, and I will touch these but briefly, so as to make the
surrounding conditions sufficiently clear. It was noon the following day
when I reached headquarters with my report, only to find that rumors of
the combined movements of Johnston's and Beauregard's forces had already
penetrated our lines. I could merely add details to the information
previously received. The result was the immediate strengthening of our
position to repel any possible attack. None occurred however, except
desultory skirmishing. Later we learned the reason to be the failure of
Chambers to appear, his march having been retarded by heavy rains.
At the end of this period of waiting our army was well prepared for
action, the troops eager to test the strength of the enemy. Impatient of
delay, and suspecting the probable cause of the Confederate quietness,
we finally took the aggressive, determined to regain our former position
south of the river. An. early morning attack won us the bridge and the
town beyond, while heavy forces rushed the available fords, and after
some severe fighting, obtained foothold on the opposite bank. Hastily
throwing up intrenchments these advance troops succeeded in repulsing
two charges before nightfall. This brought an end to hostilities. During
the hours of darkness reinforcements were hurried across the stream. By
dawn the opposing forces were about evenly mated, and every man in
either line knew a battle was imminent.
In this emergency the need of every soldier was felt, and I was returned
to my regiment for duty. We were the first to trot over the recaptured
bridge, and through the deserted streets of the village. Impelled by a
curiosity which could not be resisted I wheeled my horse and rode up the
gravelled driveway to Judge Moran's door, but to my vigorous knocking
there was no response. The shades were drawn at the windows, the house
silent, and yet I felt convinced the old partisan was within, watching
from some point of vantage. Yet if I believed this, the same silence and
refusal to respond also served to convince me that Miss Hardy was no
longer there. She was a vastly different type, and would exhibit
interest even in the coming of the enemy. Ay! and she would have seen
me, and not for one moment could I be made to believe that she would
treat me with contempt.
I rode back slowly to rejoin the column of horsemen, glancing over my
shoulder at the house, my mind busily occupied with the stirring events
which had transpired there. She had gone with the Confederate troops,
and had probably already been safely returned to her own home. Moran
might have departed also, but more likely he remained to look after his
property. I wondered who was her escort for the long ride--would it be
Captain Le Gaire, sufficiently recovered from his injuries for this
service, yet scarcely capable of active military duty? If so, he was
with her still, a guest at "The Gables," sufficiently an invalid to be
interesting, and to require attention, but with tongue in good repair. I
was glad I had told my story first; the gentleman would experience some
difficulty in changing Miss Willifred's opinion of the affair.
The gray dust cloud hung about us, almost obscuring the files of
plodding troopers; to right and left the flankers showed dark against
the green of the fields, and far in front an occasional carbine barked
as some suspicious scout fired at a skulking figure. Once this would
have been full of interest, but now it was mere routine, the sturdy
veterans of the Ninth riding soberly forward, choked with dust, their
hats drawn low over their eyes, wearied by a long night in the saddle. I
glanced proudly down those ranks of fighting men, glad to be with them
once again, but my thought drifted back to Billie, for this was the road
we had travelled together. It seemed a long while ago, and much might
happen before we should meet again, if ever we did. I might be killed in
battle, or Le Gaire might insist upon an immediate marriage. This last
was what I most feared, for I believed that if this could only be
sufficiently delayed, she would learn to know the man better, and refuse
to be sacrificed. The engagement rather mystified me, for it was clear
enough no blind love on her part was responsible for its existence; at
least she had begun to perceive his shallowness, and resented his
attempt at bullying. I even began to believe that some one else had now
come into her life, whose memory would serve to increase the feeling of
dissatisfaction. Le Gaire was not the kind that wears well--he could not
improve upon acquaintance; and, while I was no connoisseur of women, yet
I could not persuade myself that her nature was patient enough not to
revolt against his pretensions. I was no egotist, no lady-killer, but I
recognized now that I loved this girl, and had read in her eyes the
message of hope. Mine was, at least, a fighting chance, and fighting
was my trade. I liked it better so, finding the lady more alluring
because of the barrier between us, the zest of combat quickening my
desire. Already I began to plan meeting her again, now that the campaign
had turned our faces southward. Back beyond those wooded hills some
freak of fate must lead me right, some swirl of fortune afford me
opportunity. I was of the school of Hope, and Love yielded courage.
I looked back down the long hill, so silent and deserted that gray
morning when we were driving together, but now dark with the solid
masses of marching troops. It was a stirring scene to soldier eyes,
knowing these men were pressing sternly on to battle. They seemed like a
confused, disorganized mob, filling the narrow road, and streaming out
through the fields; yet I could read the meaning of each detached
movement, as cavalry, artillery, infantry, staff and wagon trains, met
and separated, swinging into assigned positions, or making swift detour.
Hoarse voices shouted; bugles pealed; there was the rumble of wheels,
the pounding of hoofs, the tramp of feet, and over all the cloud of
dust, through which the sun shone redly. The intense vividness of the
picture gave me a new memory of war. Suddenly a battery of artillery,
out of sight on the distant crest, opened fire, the shrieking shells
plunging down into the ploughed field at our left, and casting the soft
dirt high in air. Our advance spread wide into skirmish line, the black
dots representing men flitting up the steep side of the hill, white
spirals of smoke evidencing their musket fire. Behind them was a grim
mass of infantry, silent and ominous, swinging forward like a huge
snake. The men of the Ninth straightened up, their eyes glowing, but it
was soon over with--the snake uncoiled, flinging a tail gleaming with
steel over the ridge, and the troopers sank back wearily into
As I turned again to glance over my shoulder I noticed a man riding at
the right of the second file. His face was new to me, and so peculiar
was it that I continued to stare, unable to determine whether the fellow
was white or colored. He was in private's uniform, but carried no arms,
and for head covering, instead of the hat worn by the Ninth, had an
infantry cap perched jauntily on his curly black hair. But his face was
clear, and his cheeks rosy, and he sat straight as an arrow in the
saddle. I drew back my horse and ranged up beside him, inspired by
curiosity. The eyes turned toward me undoubtedly betrayed negro blood.
"I do not remember seeing you before," I said, wiping the dust from my
lips. "Are you a new recruit?"
"I'se Col'nel Cochran's man," he answered, without salute, but with the
accent of education oddly mixed with dialect.
"Oh, I see--what has become of Sam?"
"He done took sick, an' de col'nel wanted a man right away, so he picked
"Did you belong around here?"
"Well, no, not exactly belong round yere, but I'se travelled dese parts
some considerable. I was born down in Louisiana, sah."
"Not so very long ago either," I ventured, feeling a peculiar interest
in the fellow. "Were you a slave?"
His rather thin lips closed over his white teeth, and his fingers
gripped the saddle pommel.
"Yes,"--the word snapped out. "I'se nineteen, sah, an' my mother was a
slave. I reckon my father was white 'nough, but that don't count fo'
much--I'se a nigger just de same. Dat's bad 'nough, let me tell yo', but
it's worse to be yo' own father's nigger."
I had nothing to say to this outburst, feeling that back of it were
facts into which I had no right to probe, and we rode along quietly.
Then he spoke, glancing aside at me:
"Dey won't be no 'portant fightin' long yere, sah, not fo' 'bout ten
"How do you figure that out?"
"'Cause de lay ob de groun' ain't right, fo' one thing, an' 'cause all
de Confed intrenchments was back yander."
"In behind de log church at de Three Corners--done know dat country
I turned and faced him, instantly suspicious.
"Now see here; you do know that country, and a bit too well for a man
riding in the ranks. Where did you come from? Were you in the
Confederate service? Let's have this straight."
"Suah," with frankness. "I done tol' de col'nel all how it was. I was
wid my Massa from Louisiana, an' he was a captain, sah! 'Bout two weeks
ago he lef' me down yander on de pike wid orders fo' to stay dere till
he done come back. But it wa'n't no job fo' me, sah, an' so I skipped
out de first night, an' joined up wid de Yanks. I reckon I knows 'bout
whar I belongs in dis yere fightin', an' I ain't nobody's slave
The lad's earnestness impressed me, and beneath his words was evident a
deep smouldering resentment, not so much against slavery as against the
individual who had owned him.
"What is your name, my boy?"
"Charles Le Gaire, sah."
A CALL TO DUTY
The family name was an uncommon one, and, coupled as it was with
"Louisiana," and the title "Captain," could refer only to Gerald Le
Gaire. I wanted to question, the lad, but refrained, spurring my horse
ahead so as to remove the temptation. Even the little already said
plainly revealed that he resented bitterly his position in life, and
determined to remain no longer in slavery to his own father. His father!
That would be Le Gaire! The thought added fuel to the flame of dislike
which I already cherished against the man. Of course legally this former
relationship between master and slave meant nothing; it would be
considered no bar to legitimate marriage; perhaps to one brought up in
the environment of slavery it would possess no moral turpitude even, yet
to me it seemed a foul, disgraceful thing. Whether it would so appear to
Miss Willifred I could not even conjecture; she was of the South, with,
all the prejudice and peculiarity of thought characteristic of her
section. Pure-hearted, womanly, as I believed her to be, this earlier
alliance still might not seem to her particularly reprehensible.
Certainly it was not my part to bring it to her attention, or to utilize
my knowledge of the situation to advance my cause, or injure Le Gaire.
Nor would I question the ex-slave further; I already knew enough, too
much possibly, although curiosity was not dormant, and I wondered what
had become of the mother, and from what special cause had arisen the
intense hatred in the heart of the son.
We rode steadily forward all day, under fire twice, and once charging a
battery. All that opposed our advance however was a thin fringe of
troops, intent merely upon causing delay, and making a brief stand, only
to fall back promptly as soon as we flung forward any considerable body
of men. By night-fall we had attained a position well within the bend of
the river, the centre and left wing had achieved a crossing, and our
entire line had closed up so as to display a solid front. The Ninth
bivouacked in the hills, our rest undisturbed, except for the occasional
firing of the pickets. With dawn we were under arms, feeling our way
forward, and, an hour later, the two armies were face to face. Nearly
evenly mated, fighting across a rough country, neither side could claim
victory at the end of the day. While we on the right forced our line
forward for nearly five miles, leaving behind us a carpet of dead, the
left and centre met with such desperate resistance as to barely retain
their earlier position. It required an hour of night fighting to close
up the gap, and we slept on our arms, expecting an early morning
assault. Instead of attempting this the enemy fell back to their second
line of intrenchments, and, after waiting a day to determine their
movements and strengthen our own line, we again advanced, feeling our
way slowly in, but finally meeting with a resistance which compelled
The details of this battle belong to history, not to these pages. The
Ninth bore no conspicuous part, hovering on the extreme right flank,
engaged in continuous skirmishing, and scouting along miles of front.
The morning of the third day found the armies fronting each other,
defiant yet equally afraid to join battle, both commanders seeking for
some point of strategy which would yield advantage--we of the North
fearful of advancing against intrenchments, and those of the South not
daring to come forth into the open. For the moment it was a truce
between us--the truce of two exhausted bull-dogs, lying face to face
with gleaming teeth, ready to spring at the first opening.
We of the Ninth were at the edge of an opening in the woods, with low
hills on either hand, our pickets within easy musket-shot of the
gray-clad videttes beyond the fringe of trees. Knowing our own success
we could not comprehend this inaction, or the desperate fighting which
held back the troops to the east, and we were impatient to go in. I was
lying on my back in the shelter of a slight hollow, wondering at the
surrounding stillness, wishing for anything to occur which would give
action, when the major rode up, accompanied by another officer in an
artillery uniform. I was on my feet in an instant saluting.
"Lieutenant Galesworth, this is Captain Kent, an aide on General
Sheridan's staff. He desires you to accompany him to headquarters."
My heart bounding with anticipation, within five minutes I was riding
beside him, back to the river road, and along the rear of our extended
line. He was a pleasant, genial fellow, but knew nothing of why I had
been summoned, his orders being simply to bring me at once. Two hours of
hard riding, and we came to a double log cabin, with a squad of horsemen
in front, and a considerable infantry guard near by. A sentry paced back
and forth in front of the steps, and several officers were sitting on
the porch. Dismounting, my companion handed the reins of both horses to
a trooper, and led the way in. A word to the sentinel, and we faced the
group above. One, a sharp-featured man, with very dark complexion, rose
to his feet.
"What is it, Kent?"
"This is Lieutenant Galesworth, of the Ninth Illinois Cavalry. The
general will wish to see him at once."
The dark-featured man glanced at me, and turned back into the house, and
Kent introduced me to the others, none of whom I recognized. This was
not Sheridan's staff, but before I could question any of them, the
messenger returned, and motioned for me to follow. It was a large room,
low-ceilinged, with three windows, the walls of bare logs whitewashed,
the floor freshly swept, the only furniture a table and a few chairs.
But two men were present, although a sentinel stood motionless at the
door,--a broad-shouldered colonel of engineers, with gray moustache and
wearing glasses, sitting at a table littered with papers, and a short
stocky man, attired in a simple blue blouse, with no insignia of rank
visible, his back toward me, gazing out of a window. I took a single
step within, and halted. The short man wheeled about at the slight
sound, his eyes on my face; I recognized instantly the closely trimmed
beard, the inevitable cigar between the lips, and, with a leap of the
heart, my hand rose to the salute.
"Very well; you may retire, Colonel Trout, and, sentry, close the door."
His keen gray eyes scrutinized my face, betraying no emotion, but he
advanced closer, one hand upon the table.
"General Sheridan informs me he has found you a valuable scout, always
ready for any service, however dangerous."
"I have endeavored to carry out my orders, General," I answered quietly.
"So I am told," in the same even voice. "The army is full of good men,
brave men, but not all possess sufficient intelligence and willingness
to carry out an independent enterprise. Just now I require such a man,
and Sheridan recommends you. How old are you?"
I answered, and barely waiting the sound of my voice, he went on:
"You have scouted over this country?"
"I have, sir."
"How far to the south?"
"About five miles beyond the Three Corners."
"Not far enough, is it, Parker?" turning to the officer at the table.
"The house is below," was the response, "but perhaps I had better
explain the entire matter to Lieutenant Galesworth, and let him decide
for himself whether he cares to make the attempt."
The general nodded approval, and walked back to the window, his hands
clasped behind his back. Parker spread out a map.
"Just step over here, Lieutenant. This is our present position,
represented by the irregular blue line; those red squares show the
enemy's forces as far as we understand them. The crosses represent
batteries, and the important intrenchments are shown by the double
lines. Of course this is imperfect, largely drawn from the reports of
scouts. Their line is slightly shorter than our own, our right
overlapping, but they have a stronger reserve force protecting the
centre. Now notice the situation here," and he traced it with his
pencil. "Your regiment is practically to the rear of their main line of
defence, but the nature of the ground renders them safe. There is a,
deep ravine here, trending to the southeast, and easily defended. Now
note, ten miles, almost directly south of Three Corners, on the open
pike, the first building on the right-hand side beyond a log church,
stands an old plantation house. It is a large building, painted white,
in the midst of a grove of trees, and in the rear is a commodious stable
and a dozen negro cabins. The map shows this house to be somewhat to
the right of the Confederate centre, and about five miles to the rear of
their first line."
I bent over, intent on the map, endeavoring to fix each point clearly in
my mind. Parker paused in his speech, and the general turned about, his
eyes fastened upon us.
"I understand," I said finally.
"Very well. Deserters informed us last night that Johnston had taken
this house for his headquarters. This morning one of our most reliable
scouts confirms the report, and says the place can be easily approached
by a small party using the ravine for concealment, coming in past the
negro cabins at the rear."
My eyes brightened, as I straightened up, instantly comprehending the
"What guard have they?"
"A few sentinels at the house, and a squad of cavalry in the stable.
Naturally they feel perfectly safe so far to the rear of their own
lines. It is the very audacity of such an attempt which makes success
The general stepped forward.
"Don't take this as an order, Lieutenant," he said bluntly. "It will
mean a desperate risk, and if you go, you must comprehend thoroughly the
peril involved. You were recommended as the best man to lead such a
party, but we supposed you already knew that country."
"I can place my hand on a man who does know every inch of it," I
replied, my mind clear, and my decision reached. "I thank you for the
"To-night, of course; there is ample time to prepare."
"How many men will you require?"
I hesitated, but for barely an instant.
"Not to exceed ten, General--a small party will accomplish as much as a
larger one, and be less liable to attract attention. All I need will
volunteer from my own company."
Apparently his own thought coincided with mine, for he merely looked at
me a moment with those searching gray eyes, and then turned to the map,
beckoning me to join him.
"Familiarize yourself with every detail of the topography of the
region," he said, his finger on the paper. "Colonel Parker will explain
anything you may need to know." He straightened up, and extended his
hand, the cigar still crushed between his teeth. "I believe you are the
right stuff, Lieutenant; young enough to be reckless, old enough to know
the value of patience. Are you married?"
I shook my head, with a smile, yet conscious my cheeks were flushed.
"Then I am going to say to you--go, and do the best you can. Parker will
give you any other instructions you desire. Good-bye, my lad, and
He turned and left the room, my eyes following him until the door
BEGINNING THE NIGHT ADVENTURE
The colonel of engineers did not delay me long, and, eager to be away, I
made my necessary questions as brief as possible. Riding back through
the encampment of troops, hampered more or less by the irregularity of
the different commands, I had ample time in which to outline the night's
adventure. I comprehended fully the danger of the mission, and that the
probability was strongly against success. Reckless audacity, coupled
with rare good fortune, might result in our return with the prisoner
sought, but it was far more likely that we would be the ones captured,
if we escaped with our lives. Yet this knowledge caused no hesitancy on
my part; I was trained to obedience, and deep down in my heart welcomed
the opportunity. The excitement appealed to me, and the knowledge that
this service was to be performed directly under the eye of the great
General of the West, was in itself an inspiration. If I lived to come
back it meant promotion, the praise of the army, a line on the page of
history--enough surely to arouse the ambition of youth.
It was early in the afternoon when I reached the position of my
regiment, and reported to the colonel, asking the privilege of selecting
a detail. Then, as I sat at mess, I studied my men, mentally picking
from among them those best adapted to the desperate task. I chose those
I had seen in action, young, unmarried fellows, and for "non-com,"
Sergeant Miles, a slender, silent man of thirty, in whom I had implicit
confidence. I checked the names over, satisfying myself I had made no
mistake. Leaving Miles to notify these fellows, and prepare them for
service, I crossed to the colonel's tent in search of the ex-slave. He
was easily found.
"Le Gaire," I began, choking a bit at the name, "do you remember a big
white house, on the right of the pike, the first beyond a log church,
south from the Three Corners?"
He looked up from his work with sparkling eyes.
"I suah does; I reckon I could find dat place in de dark."
"Well, that is exactly what I want you to do, my man. I have some work
to do there to-night."
"How yo' goin' to git dar?"
I explained about the ravine, the positions of the Confederate lines,
and where I understood the special guards were stationed. The boy
listened in silence, his fingers, clinching and unclinching, alone
"Will that plan work?" I asked, "or can you suggest any better way?"
"I reckon it'll work," he admitted, "if yo' don't git cotched afore yo'
git dar. I knows a heap 'bout dat ravine; I'se hunted rabbits dar many a
time, an' it ain't goin' to be no easy job gittin' through dar in
"Will you show us the way?"
"Well, I don't just know," scratching his head thoughtfully. "Maybe de
col'nel wouldn't let me."
"I can arrange that."
"Den I don't want fo' to go to dat house; dat's whar I run away from."
"But I thought you belonged to the Le Gaires of Louisiana?"
"Dat's what I did, sah; but I done tol' yo' I come up yere wid de army.
I was left dere till de captain come back; dose folks was friends
"Oh, I see; well, will you go along as far as the end of the ravine?"
He looked out over the hills, and then back into my face, his eyes
narrowing, his lips setting firm over the white teeth. I little realized
what was taking place in the fellow's brain, what real motive
influenced his decision, or the issues involved.
"I reckon I will, sah, providin' de col'nel says so." There was, of
course, no difficulty in obtaining the consent of that officer, and by
nine o'clock we were ready to depart, ten picked men, young, vigorous
lads, though veterans in service, led by Miles, together with the negro
Le Gaire and myself. Taking a lesson from the guerillas we were armed
only with revolvers, intending to fight, if fight we must, at close
quarters; and the brass buttons, and all insignia of rank liable to
attract attention had been removed from our blouses. Upon our heads we
wore slouch hats. I had decided to make the attempt on foot, as we could
thus advance in greater silence. Without attracting attention, or
starting any camp rumor, we passed, two by two, out beyond the pickets,
and made rendezvous on the bank of the river. It was a dark night. As
soon as the sergeant reported all were present, I led the way up stream
for perhaps a mile until we came to the mouth of the ravine. Here I
called them around me, barely able to distinguish the dim figures,
although within arm's length, explained my plans and gave strict orders.
As I ceased speaking I could plainly hear their suppressed breathing, so
deathly still was the night.
"If any man has a question, ask it now."
No one spoke, although several moved uneasily, too nervous to remain
"Le Gaire, here, will go first, as he knows the way, and I will follow
him; the rest drop in in single file, with the sergeant at the rear.
Keep close enough to distinguish the man in front, and be careful where
you put your feet. No noise, not a word spoken unless I pass back an
order; then give it to the next man in a whisper. Don't fire under any
conditions except by command." I paused, then added slowly: "You are all
intelligent enough to know the danger of our expedition, and the
necessity of striking quick and hard. Our success, our very lives,
depend on surprise. If each one of you does exactly as I order, we've
got a chance to come back; if not, then it means a bullet, or a prison,
for all of us. Are you ready?"
I heard the low responses, and counted them--ten, the negro not
"All right, men," then, my voice hardening into a threat: "Now go ahead,
Le Gaire, and remember I am next behind, and carry a revolver in my
hand. Make a wrong move, lad, and you'll never make another."
I could faintly discern the whites of his eyes, and heard one of the men
"Lead off! Fall in promptly, men."
It was a rocky cleft through the hills, perhaps a hundred yards wide
here where it opened on the river, with a little stream in its centre
fringed with low trees, but narrowing gradually, and becoming blocked
with underbrush as it penetrated deeper into the interior. For a mile or
more the course was not entirely unknown to me, although the darkness
obscured all familiar landmarks. The negro, however, apparently
possessed the instinct of an animal, or else had night eyes, for he
never hesitated, keeping close along the edge of the stream. The
tree-branches brushed our faces, but our feet pressed a well defined
path. Farther in, the shadows becoming more dense, this path wound about
crazily, seeking the level spots; yet Le Gaire moved steadily forward,
his head lowered, and I kept him within reach of my arm, barely able to
distinguish the cautious tread of feet behind. Clearly enough he knew
the way, and could follow it with all the certainty of a dog. Relieved
as to this, and confident the fellow dare not play us false, I could
take notice of other things, and permit my thoughts to wander. There was
little to be seen or heard; except for the musical tinkle of the stream,
all to the right was silence, but from the other side there arose an
occasional sound, borne faintly from a distance--a voice calling, the
blare of a far-off bugle, the echo of a hammer pounding on iron. Once
through the obscuring branches the fitful yellow of a camp-fire was
dimly visible, but the ravine twisted so that I could not determine
whether this was from Federal or Confederate lines. Anyhow no eye saw us
creep past, and no suspicious voice challenged. Indeed we had every
reason to believe the ravine unguarded, although pickets were
undoubtedly patrolling the east bank, and there were places we must go
close in under its shadow.
So intent had I been upon this adventure, my mind concentrated on
details, that the personal equation had been entirely forgotten. But now
I began to reflect along that line, yet never for a moment forgetting
our situation, or its peril. I was going down into the neighborhood
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