"I lost him once," he said, doggedly, "and I'm not going to lose him again. Where he goes, I'm going; where he stays, I'll stay—sha'n't I, Jack?"
"You shall, indeed, my dauntless Orestes; you shall share my fortunes, whatever they be."
He insisted on a cot in the room, and there, during the convalescence of his idol, he persisted in sleeping—ruling all who had to do with the invalid in his own capricious humor, hardly excepting Mrs. Sprague, whom he tolerated with some impatience. Letters were dispatched northward to relieve the anxiety of Pliny and Phemie, as well as the Marshes. But it hung heavily on Jack's heart that no trace of Barney had been found. Advertisements were sent to the Richmond papers, and he waited in restless impatience for some sign of the kind lad's well-being.
"Well, Jack, this isn't much like the pomp and circumstance of glorious war," Olympia cried, the next morning, coming in from an excursion about the "plantation," as she insisted on calling the estate, attended by Merry, Rosa, and Dick. "I never saw such foliage! The roses are as large as sunflowers, and there are whole fields of them!"
"Yes; I believe the Atterburys make merchandise of them."
"But who buys them about here? They seem to grow wild—as fine in form and color as our hot-house varieties. Surely they are not bought by the colored people, and there seems to be no one else—no other inhabitants, I mean."
"Oh, no; they are shipped North in the season for them; but I don't think the family has paid much attention to that branch of the business of late years. Their revenues come from tobacco and cotton. Their cotton-fields are in South Carolina and along the Atlantic coast."
"And are these colored people all slaves?" Her voice sank to a whisper, for Vincent's door was ajar.
"Yes, every man jack of them. Did you ever see such merry rogues? They laugh and sing half the night, and sing and work half the day."
"They don't seem unhappy, that's a fact," Olympia said, reflectively, "but I should think ownership in flesh and blood would harden people; and yet the Atterburys are very kind and gentle. I saw tears in Mrs. Atterbury's eyes, yesterday, when mamma was sitting here with you."
"Yes," Jack said, unconsciously, "women enjoy crying—"
"You insufferable braggart, how dare you talk like that? Pray, what do you know about women's likes and dislikes?"
"Oh, I beg pardon, Polly; I'm sure I didn't mean anything—I was taking the minor for the major. All women like babies; babies pass most of their time crying; therefore women like crying."
"Well, if that is the sum of your college training, it is a good thing the war came—"
"What about the war? No treason in Rosedale, remember!" Vincent shouted from the next room. "You pledged me that when you talked war you would talk in open assembly." The voice neared the open doorway as he spoke. The servant had moved the invalid's cot, where Vincent could look in on Jack.
"There was really no war talk, Vint, except such war as women always raise, contention—"
"I object, Jack, to your generalization," Olympia retorted. "It is a habit of boyishness and immaturity.—He said a moment ago" (she turned to Vincent) "that women loved crying, and then sneaked out by a very shallow evasion."
"I'll leave it to Vint: All women love babies; babies do nothing but cry; therefore, women love crying; there couldn't be a syllogism more irrefutable."
"Unless it be that all women love liars," Vincent ventured, jocosely.
"How do you prove that?"
"All men are liars; women love men; therefore—"
"Oh, pshaw! you have to assume in that premise. I don't in mine. It is notorious that women love babies, while you have only the spiteful saying of a very uncertain old prophet for your major—"
"Whose major?" Rosa asked, appearing suddenly. "I'll have you to know, sir, that this major is mamma's, and no one else can have, hold, or make eyes at him."
"It was the major in logic we were making free with," Jack mumbled, laughing. "I hope logic isn't a heresy in your new Confederacy, as religion was in the French Constitution of '93?"
Rosa looked at Olympia, a little perplexed, and, seating herself on the cot with Vincent, where she could caress him furtively, said, with piquant deliberation:
"I don't know about logic, but we've got everything needed to make us happy in the Montgomery Constitution."
"Have you read it?" Jack asked, innocently.
"How insulting! Of course I have. I read it the very first thing when it appeared in the newspapers."
"Catch our Northern women doing that!" Jack interjected, loftily. "There is my learned sister, she doesn't know the Constitution from Plato's Dialogues."
"Indeed, I do not; nor do I know Plato's Dialogues," Olympia returned, quite at ease in this state of ignorance.
"Wherein does the Montgomery Constitution differ from the old one?" Jack asked, looking at Vincent.
"I'm blessed if I know. I've read neither. I did read the Declaration of Independence once at a Fourth-of-July barbecue. I always thought that was the Constitution. Indeed, every fellow about here does! You know in the South the women do all the thinking for the men. Rosa keeps my political conscience."
"Well, then, Lord High Chancellor, tell us the vital articles in the Montgomery document that have inspired you to arm Mars for the conflict, plunge millions into strife and thousands into hades, as Socrates would have said, employing his method?" Jack continued derisively.
"Our Constitution assures us the eternal right to own our own property."
"No one denied you that right, so far as the law went, under the old; it was only the justice, the humanity, that was questioned. The right would have endured a hundred years, perhaps forever, if you had kept still—"
"Come, Jack, I won't listen to politics," Olympia cried, with a warning look.
"No, the time for talk is past; it is battle, and God defend the right!" Rosa said, solemnly.
"And you may be sure he will," Jack added, softly, as though to himself.
"But we've got far away from the crying and the babies," Vincent began, when Jack interrupted, fervently:
"You monster!" the two girls cried in a breath.
"No, I can't conceive a sillier paradox than 'A babe in the house is a well-spring of joy.' A woman must have written it first. Now, my idea of perfect happiness for a house is to have two wounded warriors like Vincent and me, tractable, amiable, always ready to join in rational conversation and make love if necessary, providing we're encouraged."
"Really, Olympia, your Northern men are not what I fancied," Rosa cried, with a laugh.
"What did you fancy them?"
"Oh, ever so different, from this—this saucy fellow—modest, timid, shy; needing ever so much encouragement to—to—"
"Claim their due?" Jack added, slyly.
"Well, there is one that doesn't require much encouragement to claim everything that comes in his way," Rosa retorts, and Olympia adds:
"And to spare my feelings you won't name him now."
"Exactly," said Rosa.
"How touching!" exclaimed Vincent.
"I left all my blood to enrich your soil, or I'd blush," replied Jack.
"Oh, no; it won't enrich the soil; it will bring out a crop of Johnny Jump-ups, a weed that we don't relish in the South," retorted Rosa.
"Ah, Jack, you're hit there!—Rosa, I'm proud of you. This odious Yankee needs combing down; he ran over us so long at college that he is conceited in his own impudence," and Vincent exploded in shouts of laughter.
"I fear you're not a botanist, Miss Rosa. It's 'Jack in the pulpit' that will spring from Northern blood, and they'll preach such truths that the very herbage will bring the lesson of liberty and toleration to you."
"What is this very serious discussion, my children?" Mrs. Atterbury said, beaming sweetly upon the group. "I couldn't imagine what had started Vincent in such boisterous laughter; and now, that I come, Mr. Jack is as serious as we were at school when Madame Clarice told us of our sins."
"Jack was telling his, mamma, and that is still more serious than to hear one's own," Vincent said, grinning at the moralist.
"But, to be serious a moment, I have written to my old friend General Robert Lee, of Arlington, about Miss Perley. I know that he will grant her permission to take Richard home with her, and the question now is whether it is safe to let them go together alone?" Mrs. Atterbury addressed the question to Olympia, making no account of Jack.
"Oh, let us leave the decision until you get General Lee's answer. If they get the message in Acredale that Dick is safe and sound, I don't see why they need go back before we do. I shall be able to travel in a few weeks. If the roads were not so rickety I wouldn't be afraid to set out now," Jack answered.
"Impossible! You can't leave for a month yet, if then," Vincent proclaimed, authoritatively. "I know what gunshot wounds are: you think they are healed, and begin fooling about, when you find yourself laid up worse than ever. There's no hurry. The campaign can't begin before October. I'm as anxious to be back as you are, but I don't mean to stir before October. Perhaps you think it will be dull here? Just wait until you are strong enough to knock about a bit; we shall have royal rides. We'll go to Williamsburg and see the oldest college in the country. We'll go down the James, and you shall see some of the richest lands in the world. We'll get a lot of fellows out from Richmond and have our regular barbecue in September. We wind up the season here every year with a grand dance, and Olympia shall lead the Queen Anne minuet with mamma's kinsman, General Lee, who is the President's chief of staff."
"This doesn't sound much like soldiering," Jack said, dreamily.
"No. When in the field, let us fight; when at home, let us be merry."
"A very proper sentiment, young men. We want you to be very merry, for you must remember the time comes when we can't be anything but sad—when you are away and the night of doubt settles upon our weak women's hearts." It was Mrs. Atterbury who spoke, and the sentence seemed to bring silence upon the group.
Meanwhile, all the inquiries set on foot through the agency of the Atterburys failed to bring any tidings of Barney Moore. It suddenly occurred to Jack that the poor fellow was masquerading as a rebel in the bosom of some eager patriot like Mrs. Raines and he reluctantly consented to let Dick go to Richmond to investigate. Perhaps Mrs. Raines might know where the wounded men were taken that had come with him. Some of the stragglers could at least be found. The advertisement asking information concerning a wounded man arriving in Richmond with himself was kept in all the journals. But Merry wouldn't consent to let Dick go on the dangerous quest without her. She would never dare face her sisters if any mishap came to the lad, and though Vincent put him under the care of an experienced overseer, and ordered the town-house to be opened for his entertainment, the timorous aunt was immovable.
"You must go and call on the President, Miss Merry. He receives Thursdays at the State House. Then you'll see a really great man in authority, not the backwoods clowns that have brought this country into ridicule—such a man as Virginia used to give the people for President," Rosa said in the tone a lady of Louis XVIII's court might have used to an adherent of the Bonapartes.
"Ah, Rosa, we saw a gentle, tender-hearted man in Washington—the very ideal of a people's father. No one else can ever be President to me while he lives," Olympia said, seriously.
"Lincoln?" Rosa asked, a little disdainfully.
"Yes, Abraham Lincoln. We have all misunderstood him. Oh if you could have seen him as I saw him—so patient, so considerate: the sorrows of the nation in his heart and its burdens on his shoulders; but confident, calm, serene, with the benignant humility of a man sent by God," Olympia added almost reverently. "It was he who came to our aid and ordered the rules to be broken that our mother might seek Jack."
Rosa was about to retort, but a warning glance from Vincent checked her, and she said nothing.
"I say, Dick, don't try to capture Jeff Davis or blow up the Confederate Congress, or any other of the casual master strokes that may enter your wild head. Remember that we have given double hostages to the enemy. We have accepted their hospitality, and we have made ourselves their guests," Jack said, half seriously, as the young Hotspur wrung his hand in a tearful embrace.
"Above all, remember, Mr. Yankee, that you are in a certain sense a civilian now; you must not compromise us by free speech in Richmond," Rosa added.
"Ah, I know very well there's none of that in the South: you folks object to free speech; they killed poor old Brown for it; that's what you made war for, to silence free speech," Dick cried hotly, while Merry pinched his arm in terror.
Dick began his campaign in the morning with longheaded address. He visited the prison under ample powers from General Lee—procured though Vincent's mediation. There were a score of the Caribees in Castle Winder, and to these the boy came as a good fairy in the tale. For he distributed money, tobacco, and other things, which enabled the unfortunates to beguile the tedious hours of confinement. The prisoners were crowded like cattle in the immense warehouse in squads of a hundred or more. They had blankets to stretch on the floor for beds, a general basin to wash in, and for some time amused themselves watching through the barred windows the crowds outside that flocked to the place to see the Yankees, and, when not checked by the guards, to revile and taunt them.
Dick was enraged to see how contentedly the men bore the irksome confinement, the meager food, and harsh peremptoriness of the beardless boys set over them as guards. Most of the prisoners passed the time in cards, playing for buttons, trinkets, or what not that formed their scanty possessions. Dick learned that all the commissioned officers of the company with Wesley Boone had been wounded or killed in the charge near the stone bridge. Wesley had been with the prisoners at first. He had been struck on the head, and was in a raging fever when his father and sister came to the prison to take him away. No one could tell where he was now, but Dick knew that he must be in the city, since there were no exchanges, the Confederates allowing no one to leave the lines except women with the dead, or those who came from the North on special permits.
Then he visited the provost headquarters, and was shown the complete list of names recorded in the books there; but Barney's was not among them. At the Spottswood Hotel, the day after his coming, he met Elisha Boone, haggard, depressed, almost despairing. Dick had no love for the hard-headed plutocrat, but he couldn't resist making himself known.
"How d'ye do, Mr. Boone? I hope Wesley is coming on well, sir."
Boone brought his wandering eyes down to the stripling in dull amazement.
"Why, where on earth do you come from? How is it you are free and allowed in the streets?"
"Oh, I am a privileged person, sir. I am looking up Company K. You haven't heard anything of young Moore, Barney, who lives on the Callao road south of Acredale?"
"No, my mind has been taken up with my son"; his voice grew softer. "He is in a very bad way, and the worst is there is no decent doctor to be got here for love or money; all the capable ones are in the army, and those that are here refuse to take any interest in a Yankee."
The father's grief and the unhappy situation of his whilom enemy touched the lad; forgetting Jack's and Vincent's warning, Dick said, impulsively:
"Oh, I can get him a good doctor. We have friends here." He knew, the moment he had spoken the words, that he had been imprudent—how imprudent the sudden, suspicious gleam in Boone's eye at once admonished him.
"Friends here? Union men have no friends here. There are men here with, whom I have done business for years, men that owe prosperity to me, but when I called on them they almost insulted me. If you have friends, you must have sympathies that they appreciate."
Dick knew what this meant. To be a Democrat had been, in Acredale, to be charged with secret leanings to rebellion. He restrained his wrath manfully, and said, simply:
"An old college friend of Jack's has been very kind to us."
"Us? I take it you mean the Spragues. They are stopping with Jeff Davis, I suppose? It's the least he could do for allies so steadfast."
"You shouldn't talk that way, sir. Every man in the Caribees, except old Oswald's gang, is a Democrat, but they are for the country before party."
"Yes, yes, it may be so—but, the North don't think that way. Well, I'm going to Washington to see if I can't get my boy out of this infernal place, where a man can't even get shaved decently."
"And Miss Kate, Mr. Boone, where is she?"
"She is nursing Wesley, poor girl. She is having a harder trial than any of us; for these devilish women fairly push into the sick-room to abuse the North and berate the soldiers that fought at Manassas."
"I should like to call on Wesley—if you don't mind," Dick said, hesitatingly.
"I shall be only too glad; and I'll tell you what it is, Richard, if you'll make use of your friends here, to get Kate and Wesley some comforts, some consideration, I'll make it worth your while. I'll see that you do not have to wait long for a commission, and I'll pay you any reasonable sum so soon as you get back North."
Dick restrained his anger under this insulting blow, perceiving, even in the hotness of his wrath, that the other was unconscious of the double ignominy implied in dealing with soldiers' rewards as personal bribes, and proffering money for common brotherly offices. It was only when Jack commended his astuteness, afterward, that Dick realized the adroitness of his own diplomacy.
"Thank you, Mr. Boone. I shouldn't care for promotion that I didn't win in war; and, as for money, I shall have enough when I need it. But any man in the Caribees shall have my help. Under the flag every man is a friend."
"True. Yes; you are quite right. Kate will be very glad to see you."
They walked along, neither disposed to talk after this narrow shave from a quarrel. Boone led the way to the northern outskirts of the city, until they reached a dull-brown frame building, back some distance from the street. A colored woman, with a flaming turban on her head, opened the door as she saw them coming up the trim walk lined with shells and gay with poppies, bergamot, asters, and heliotrope.
"This woman is a slave. She belongs to the proprietor of the hotel who refused to receive Wesley. It was a great concession to let him come here, they told me. But the poor boy might as well be in a Michigan logging camp, for all the care he can get. But I'm mighty glad I met you. I know you can help Kate while I am gone. I hated to leave her, but I can do nothing here, and unless Wesley is removed he will never leave this cussed town alive. I sha'n't be gone more than ten days."
Kate had been called by the turbaned mistress, and came into the room with a little shriek of pleasure.
"O, Richard, what a delightful surprise! Have you seen your aunt? Ah! I am so glad; she must be so relieved! And Mr. Sprague—have they found him?"
Dick retailed as much of the story as he thought safe, but he had to say that the Spragues were all with the Atterburys in the country.
"How providential! Ah, if our poor Wesley could find some such friends! He is very low. He recognizes no one. Unless papa can get leave to take him North—I am afraid of the worst. Indeed, I doubt whether he could stand so long a journey. You must stay the day with us. I am so lonely, and I dread being more lonely still when papa leaves this evening."
Dick remained until late in the afternoon, sending word to Merry, who came promptly to the aid of the afflicted. The next day Dick left his aunt at the cottage with Kate, and warning them that he should be gone all day, and perhaps not see them until the next morning, he set off for Rosedale, where he told Jack Kate's plight. Vincent heard the story, too, and when it was ended he said, decisively:
"Jack, we must send for them. It would never do to have the story told in Acredale that you had found friends in the South—because you are a Democrat, and Boone was thrust into negro quarters because he is an abolitionist."
It was the very thought on Jack's mind, and straightway the carriage was made ready, with ample pillows and what not. Dick set out in great state, filled with the importance of his mission and the glory of Jack's cordial praises. He was to stop on the way through town and carry the Atterbury's family physician to direct the removal. When he appeared before Kate, with Mrs. Atterbury's commands that she and her brother should make Rosedale their home until the invalid could be removed North, the poor girl broke down in the sudden sense of relief—the certainty of salvation to the slowly dying brother. The physician spent many hours redressing the wounds. Gangrene had begun to eat away the flesh of the head above the temple, and poor Wesley was unrecognizable. He was quite unconscious of the burning bromine and the clipping of flesh that the skillful hand of the practitioner carried on. When the little group started on the long journey, the invalid looked more like himself than he had since Kate found him. The drive lasted many hours. Wesley was stretched in an ambulance, Kate sitting on the seat with the driver, the physician and Dick following in the carriage. Merry went back to the city house, where her nephew was to return as soon as Wesley had been delivered at Rosedale. Her charge placed in the hands of the kind hostess, Mrs. Atterbury, Kate broke down. She had borne up while her head and heart alone stood between her brother and death; but now, relieved of the strain, she fell into an alarming fever. A Williamsburg veteran, who had practiced in that ancient college town, since the early days of the century, took the Richmond surgeon's place, and the gay summer house became, for the time, a hospital.
Meanwhile the rebel provost-marshal had simplified Dick's task a good deal. An order was issued that all houses where wounded or ailing men were lying should signalize the fact by a yellow flag or ribbon, attached to the front in a conspicuous place. Thus directed, Dick walked street after street, asking to see the wounded; and the fourth day, coming to a residence, rather handsomer than the others on the street, not two blocks from Mrs. Raines, Jack's Samaritan, he found a wasted figure, with bandaged head and unmeaning eyes, that he recognized as Barney.
"We haven't been able to get any clew as to his name or regiment. The guards at the station said he belonged to the Twelfth Virginia, but none of the members of that body in the city recognize him. You know him?"
"Yes. He is of my regiment," Dick said, neglecting to mention the regiment. "I will send word to his friends at once and have him removed."
"Oh, we are proud and happy to have him here. Our only anxiety was lest he should die and his family remain in ignorance. But, now that you identify him, we hope that we may be permitted to keep him until his recovery."
It was a stately matron who spoke with such a manner, as Dick thought, must be the mark of nobility in other lands. He learned, with surprise, that the Atterbury physician was ministering to Barney, though there was nothing strange in that, since the doctor was the favorite practitioner of the well-to-do in the city. That night he wrote to Jack, asking instructions, and the next day received a note, written by Olympia, advising that Barney be left with his present hosts until he recovered consciousness; that by that time Vincent would be able to come up to town and explain matters to the deluded family. The better to carry out this plan, Dick was bidden to return to Rosedale, and thus, six weeks after the battle and dispersion, all our Acredale personages, by the strange chances of war, were assembled within sight of the rebel capital, and, though in the hands of friends, as absolutely cut off from their home and duties as if they had been captured in a combat with the Indians.
A MASQUE IN ARCADY.
In the latter days of September, the life at Rosedale was but a faint reminder of the hospital it had seemed in August. The young men were able to take part in all the simple gayeties devised by Rosa to make the time pass agreeably. Wesley was still subject to dizziness if exposed to the sun, but Jack and Vincent were robust as lumbermen. Mrs. Sprague and Merry sighed wearily in the seclusion of their chambers for the Northern homeside, but they banished all signs of discontent before their warm-hearted hosts. There was as yet no exchange arranged between the hostile Cabinets of Richmond and Washington. Even Boone's potent influence among the magnates of his party had not served him to effect Wesley's release nor enabled him to return to watch over the boy's fortunes. There was no one at Rosedale sorry for the latter calamity outside of Wesley and Kate. I believe even she was secretly not heart-broken, for she knew that her father would be antipathetic to the outspoken ladies of Rosedale.
There had been an almost total suspension of military movements East and West. Both sides were straining every resource to bring drilled armies into the field, when the decisive blow fell. In his drives and walks about the James and Williamsburg, Jack saw that the country was stripped of the white male population. The negroes carried on all the domestic concerns of the land. In these excursions, too, he marked, with a keen military instinct, the points of defense General Magruder, who commanded the department, had left untouched. He wondered if the Union arms would ever get as far down as this. If they did, and he were of the force, he would like to have a cavalry regiment to lead! Vincent was to rejoin his command at Manassas in October. Jack looked forward to the event with the most dismal discontent. To be tied up here, far from his companions; to seem to enjoy ease, when his regiment was indurating itself by drills, marches, and the rough life of the soldier for the great work it was to do, maddened him.
"I give you fair warning, Vint, if an exchange isn't arranged before you leave here, I shall cut stick: the best way I can."
"Good! How will you manage? It's a long pull between here and our front at Manassas. How will you work it? Just as soon as you quit the shelter of Rosedale, you are a suspect. Even the negroes will halt you. If you should make for Fortress Monroe, you have all of Magruder's army to get through. You would surely be caught in the act, and then I could do nothing for you. You would be sent to Castle Winder, and that isn't a very comfortable billet."
Some hint of Jack's discontent, or rather of his vague dream of flight, came into Dick's busy head, and when one day they were tramping down by the James together, he said, owlishly:
"I say, Jack, when Vincent goes, let us clear out!"
"I say yes, with all my heart, but how can it be done? We are more than forty miles from the nearest Union lines. Whole armies are between us. Any white man found on the highway is questioned, and if he can't give a clear account of himself is sent to the provost prison. You remember the other day, when we left the rest to go through the swamp road near Williamsburg, we were hailed by a patrol, and if Vincent hadn't been within reach we would have been sent to the provost prison. Even the negroes act as guards."
"Don't be too sure of that. I've been talking to some of them. They are 'fraid as sin of the overseers, but you notice they shut up all the negroes in their own quarters at night, don't you? If they were all right, why should they do that?"
"Good heavens! you haven't been trying to make an uprising among the Rosedale servants, Dick? Don't you know that no end of ours could justify that? These people have been like brothers—like our own family to us. It would be infamous—infamous without power in the language for comparison—if we should requite their humanity by stirring up servile strife. I should be the first to take arms against the slaves in such revolt, and give my life rather than be instrumental in bringing misery upon the Atterburys."
"Oh, keep your powder dry, Jack! I never dreamed of stirring 'em up. What I mean is, that they are all restless and uneasy. They have an idea that 'Massa Linculm' is coming down with a big army to set them free. Many of them want to fly to meet this army. Many, too, would almost rather die than leave their mistress. None of them—but the very bad ones—could be induced under any circumstances to lift their hands against the family or its property."
"I should hope not—at least through our instrumentality. The time must come when they will leave the family, for the one call only and in one way; that is, by cutting out slavery root and branch. However, that's for the politicians to manage; all we have to do is to stand by the colors and fight."
"I don't see much chance of standing by the colors here," Dick retorted, wrathfully. "If you'll give me the word, I'll arrange a plan, and, as soon as Vincent goes—we'll be off."
"I'm not your master, you young hornet; I can't see what you're doing all the time. All I can do is to approve or reject such doings of yours as you bring me to decide on."
Dick's eyes sparkled. "All right, I'll keep you posted, never fear."
They were a very jovial group that prattled about the long Rosedale dining-table daily now, since every one was able to come down. The house was furnished in the easy unpretentiousness that prevailed in the South in other days. Cool matting covered all the floors, the hallways, and bedchambers. The dining-room opened into a drawing-room, where Kate and Olympia took turns at the big piano. The day was divided, English fashion, into breakfast, luncheon, dinner, and supper, the latter as late as nine o'clock in the night. Jack being unprovided with regimentals, Vincent wore civilian garb, to spare the "prisoner" (as Jack jocosely called himself) mortification. Gray was the "only wear" obtainable in Richmond, Mrs. Atterbury enjoying with gentle malice the rueful perplexities of her prisoner guests, Jack, Wesley, and Richard, as they surrounded the board in this rebel attire.
"I shall feel as uncertain of myself when I get back to blue, as I do in chess, after I have played a long while with the black, changing to white. I manoeuvre for some time for the discarded color," Jack said, one evening.
"Oh, you'll hardly forget in this case," Rosa said, saucily; "it is for the blacks you are manoeuvring constantly."
Jack looked up, startled, and glanced swiftly at Dick. Had that headstrong young marplot been detected in treason with the colored people? No. Dick met his glance clear-eyed, unconstrained. The shot must have been a random one.
"I think you do us injustice, Miss Rosa," Wesley said. "I, for one, am not interested in the blacks. All I want is the Union; after that I don't care a rush!"
"I protest against politics," Mrs. Atterbury intervened, gently. "When I was a girl the young people found much more interesting subjects than politics."
Rosa: "Crops, mamma?"
Vincent: "A mistress's eyebrow?"
Dick: "Some other fellow's sister?"
Olympia: "Some other girl's brother?"
Mrs. Sprague: "Giddy girls?"
Merry: "Bad boys?"
"Well, something about all of these," Mrs. Atterbury resumed, laughing. "I don't think young people in these times are as attached to each other as we used to be in our day—do you, Mrs. Sprague?"
"I don't know how it is with you in the South; but we no longer have young people in the North. Our children bring us up now—we do not bring them up."
"That accounts for the higher average of intelligence among parents noted in the last census," Olympia interrupts her mother to say.
"There, do you see?" Mrs. Sprague continues, with a smile, and in a tone that has none of the asperity the words might imply. "No reverence, no waiting for the elders, as we were taught."
"It depends a good deal, does it not, whether the elders are lovers?" Vincent asked, innocently.
"Oh, don't look at me, Mrs. Sprague, for support or sympathy. Vincent is your handiwork; he was formed in the North. He is one of your new school of youth; he is Southern only in loyalty to his State. For a time I had painful apprehensions that that, too, had been educated away."
"It was his reason that kept him faithful there," Rosa ventured, and catches Vincent dropping his eyes in confusion from the demure glances of Olympia.
"Oh, no; pride. A Virginian is like a Roman, he is prouder to be a citizen in the Dominion than a king in another country," Mrs. Atterbury says, with stately decision. "No matter where his heart may be," and she glanced casually at Olympia, "his duty is to his State."
"Politics, mamma, politics; remember your young days. Talk of kings, courts, romance, madrigals—but leave out politics," Rosa cried, remonstratingly.
"Let's turn to political economy. How do you propose disposing of your tobacco and cotton this year?" Jack asked, gravely.
"We are under contract to deliver ten thousand bales at Wilmington to our agent," Vincent replied. "As for tobacco, we expect to sell all we can raise to the Yankee generals. We have already begun negotiations with some of your commanders who are too good Yankees to miss the main chance."
"You're not in earnest?" Jack cried, aghast.
"As earnest as a maid with her first love."
"But who—who—is the miscreant that degrades his cause by such traffic?"
"Oh, if you wait until you learn from me, you'll never be a dangerous accuser. I learn in letters from friends in the West that all the cotton crop has been contracted for by men either in the Northern army or high in the confidence of the Administration. You see, Jack, we are not the Arcadian simpletons you think us. This war is to be paid for out of Northern pockets, any way you look at it. We've got cotton and tobacco, you must have both; you've got money, we must have that. What we don't sell to you we'll send to England."
All at the table had listened absorbedly to this strange revelation, and Jack rose from the table shocked and discouraged.
Olympia seated herself at the piano, and, slipping out, as he supposed, unseen, Jack strolled off into the fragrant alleys of oleander and laurel. Dick, however, was at his heels. The two continued on in silence, Dick trolling along, switching the bugs from the pink blossoms that filled the air with an enervating odor.
"I say. Jack, I've found out something."
"What have you found out, you young conspirator?"
"Wesley Boone's trying to get the negroes to help him off."
"The devil he is!"
"Yes. Last night I was down in the rose-fields. Young Clem, Aunt Penelope's boy, was sitting under a bush talking with a crony. I heard him say, 'De cap'n'll take you, too, ef you doan say noffin'. He guv Pompey ten gold dollars.'
"'De Lor'! Will he take ev'ybody 'long, too, Clem?'
"'Good Lor', no! He's goin' to get his army, and den he'll come an' fetch all de niggahs.'
"Trying to get closer, I made a rustling of the bushes, and the young imps shot through them like weasles before I could lay hands on them. Now, what do you think of that?"
"If it is only to escape, all right; but if it is an attempt to stir up insurrection, I will stop Wesley myself, rather than let him carry it out!"
"Wouldn't it be the best thing to warn Vincent? It would be a dreadful thing to let him go and leave his poor mother and sister here unprotected."
"Let me think it over. I will hit on some plan to keep Wesley from making an ingrate of himself without bringing danger on our benefactors."
Kate was dawdling on the lawn as the two returned to the house. Jack challenged her to a jaunt.
"Where shall it be?" she asked, readily, moving toward him. "The garden of the gods?"
"The garden of the goddesses, you mean, if it is the rose-field."
"That's true; a god's garden would be filled with thorns and warlike blossoms."
"I don't know; a rose-garden grew the wars of the houses of York and Lancaster."
"Do you remember the scene in Shakespeare where Bolingbroke and Gaunt pluck the roses?"
"Quite well. There is always something pathetic to me in the fables historians invent to excuse or palliate, or, perhaps it would be juster to say, make tolerable, the stained pages of the past. It is brought doubly nearer and distinct by this miserable war, and the strange fate that has fallen upon us—to be the guests of a family whose hopes are fixed upon what would make us miserable if it ever happened."
"It never will. That's the reason I listen with pity to the childish vauntings of these kind people. They have, you see, no conception of the Northern people—no idea of the deep-seated purpose that moves the States as one man to stifle this monstrous attempt."
They walked on in silence a few paces, and Kate continued: "I don't know how you feel, Mr. Sprague, but I am wretched here. I feel like a traitor, receiving such kindness, treated with such guileless confidence, and yet my heart is filled with everything they abhor. It is not so hard for you, because you and Vincent have been close friends. He has made your house his home, but I certainly feel that Wesley and I should go elsewhere, now that he is able to be about."
"Does Wesley feel this—this embarrassment?"
"Passionately. He said, last night, he felt like a sneak. He would fly in an instant, if he could see any possible way to our lines."
"Pray, Miss Boone, tell him to be very circumspect. I know the Southern nature. When they give you their heart they give entirely. But the least sign of—of—distrust will turn them into something worse than indifference. We may see our way out soon. Caution Wesley against any act—any act"—he emphasized the words—"that may lead these kind people to think that he doesn't trust them, or that he would take advantage of servile insurrection to gain his liberty. Of course, they know that we are all restive here; that we shall be even more impatient when Vincent goes—but they could not understand any surreptitious movement on our part, to enable us to get away."
He hoped that, if she were in Wesley's confidence, she would understand his meaning. But she gave no sign. She assented with an affirmative movement of the head, and they walked through the fragrant paths, plucking a rose now and then that seemed more tempting than its fellows. At the end of the field of roses a Cherokee hedge grew so thick and high that it formed a screen and rampart between the house land and a dense grove of pines which was itself bordered by a stream that here and there spread out into tiny lakelets. On the larger of these there were rude "dug-outs," made by the darkies to cut off the long walk from their quarters to the tobacco and corn fields.
"Was there ever an Eden more perfect than this delicious place?" Kate cried, as the flaming sun sent banners of gold, mingled in a rainbow baldric with the blooming parterres of roses.
"I don't know much about Eden, and the little I do know doesn't give me a sympathetic reminiscence of the place; but I agree with you that Rosedale is about as near a paradise as one can come to on this earth," Jack qualifiedly replied.
"And yet we want to fly from it?"
"Ah, yes; because the tree of our life, the volume of our knowledge, or, in plain prose, our hearts, are not here, and scenic beauty is a poor substitute for that. Duty, I am convinced, is the key of the best life. There are hearts here, noble ones—duties here, inspiring ones. But they do not satisfy us: they are become a torment to me. I feel like a soldier brought from duty; a priest fallen into the ways of the flesh."
"Your rhapsodies are like most fine-sounding things, more to the hope than the heart," Kate murmured, gazing dreamily into the purple mass of color hovering changefully over the opaque water at their feet. "You mean they do not reach your heart; that your soul is far away as to what is here. I think Vincent and Rosa would not agree that life has any more or narrower limitations here than we recognize at Acredale."
"Let us go on the water." He pulled the rude shallop to her feet and they got in and went on, Jack not heeding her gibe. "These brackish, threatening deeps remind me of all sorts of weird and uncanny things; Stygian pools—Lethe—what not mystic and terrifying. See, the tiny waves that curl before our boat are like thin ink; a thousand roots and herbs and who knows what mysterious vegetable mixture colors these dark deeps? I could fancy myself on an uncanny pilgrimage, seeking some demon delight."
There was but one oar in the boat, which the negroes used as a scull. Jack made a poor fist with this, but there was no need of rowing. Kate, catching a projecting limb from the thick bushes on the margin, sent the little, wabbling craft onward in noisless, spasmodic plunges. Deep fringes of wild columbine fell in fluffy sprays from the higher banks as the boat drifted along the other side. The thickets were musical with the chattering cat-birds and whip-poor-wills, mingled with a score of woodland melodists that Jack's limited woodcraft did not enable him to recognize.
"Who would think that we are within a half-mile of a completely appointed country house? We are as isolated here from all vestiges of civilization as we should be in a Florida everglade," Kate said, as the little craft swam along in an eddy.
"It seems to me typical of the people—this curiously wild transition from blooming, well-kept gardens, to such still and solemn nature. The place might be called primeval: look at those gnarled roots, like prodigious serpents; see the shining bark of the larch—I think it is larch—I should call it 'slippery' elm if it were at Acredale; but see the fantastic effects of the little lances of sunlight breaking through! Isn't it the realization of all you ever read in 'Uncle Tom' or 'Dred'?"
Kate glanced into the weird deeps of foliage, where a bird, fluttering on the wing, aroused strange echoes. "Ugh!" she said, in a half-whisper, "I can imagine it the meeting-place of 'Tam o' Shanter's' eldritches seeing this—but, all the same, do you know it is fascinating beyond words to me? Should you mind going in a little farther—I should like the sensation of awe the place suggests, since there can be no danger—while you are here?"
He gave her a quick glance, but her eyes were fastened on the dark recesses beyond.
"I should be delighted, but I won't insure your gown, nor—nor half promise that we shall come out alive."
"Oh, as to that, I'll take the risk."
"I don't know the habits of Southern snakes; but if they are as well-bred as ours, they retire from the ken of wicked men at sundown, so we needn't fear them, as the sun is too far down for the snake of tradition to see or molest us."
They stepped out of the boat at a green, sedgy point, extending from a labyrinth of flowering vines and creepers. Once inside the delicious odorous screen, they found themselves in an archipelago of green islets, connected by monster roots or moss-covered trunks that seemed laid by elfin hands for the penetration of this leafy jungle.
"Yes; I was going to say," Jack continued, "this swift transposition from the cultivation of civilization to the handiwork of Nature is whimsically illustrative of the people. Did you ever see or hear or read of such open-handed, honest-hearted hospitality as theirs; such refinement of manners; such sincerity in speech and act? Contrast this with their fairly pagan creed as to the slaves; their intolerance of the Northern people; their clannish reverence for family."
"But isn't the inequality of the Southern character due to their strange lack of education? Few of them are cultivated as we understand education. Do you notice that among the people we met at Williamsburg—officers as well as civilians—none of them were equal to even a very limited range of subjects? All who are educated have been in the North. Ah—good Heavens!"
Kate's exclamation was due to a sudden sinking in the mossy causeway until she was almost buried in the tall ferns. Jack helped her out, shivered a moment, doubtingly, as he exclaimed:
"The sun is nearly down now, though the air is transparent, or would be if we were in the free play of daylight. I think it would be better to go back." But they made no haste. Such trophies of ferns and lace-like mosses were not to be plucked in every walk, and they dawdled on and on skirmishing, with delighted hardihood, against the pitfalls of bog that covered morass and pitch-black mud. When the impulse finally came to hasten back, they were somewhat chagrined to discover that they had lost their own trail. The point where they had quit the stream could not be found. Clambering plants, burdened with blossoms, fragrant as honeysuckle, grew all along the bank, and the bush that had attracted them was no longer a landmark.
"Well," Jack said, confidently, "the sun disappeared over there; that is southwest. The house is in that direction—northeast. Now, if you will keep that big sycamore in your eye and follow me, we shall be nearing the house, as I calculate."
They pushed on in that direction, but had only gone a few yards when the ground became a perfect quagmire of black loam, that looked like coal ground to powder, and was thin as mush.
"This is a brilliant stroke on my part, I must say," Jack cried, facing Kate ruefully. "We must go back and examine the ground, as Indians do, and find our entrance trail in that way. I will watch the ground and you keep an eye on the shrubs. Wherever you see havoc among them you may be sure my manly foot has fallen there."
Suddenly they were conscious of an indescribable change in the place. Neither knew what it was. It had come on in the excitement of their march into the morass—or it had come the instant they both became conscious of it. What was it? Kate turned and looked into Jack's blank face!
"I'm blessed if I know what it is, but it seems as if something had suddenly gone out of the order of things! What is it? Do you feel it; do you notice it?"
"Feel it—see it—why, it is as palpable, or, rather to speak accurately, it is as clearly absent as the color from an oil-painting, leaving mere black and white outlines."
"How besotted I am!" Jack cried; "why, I know. The sun has wholly gone, and the birds and living things have ceased to sing and move."
"That's it; could you believe that it would make such a change? Why, I thought, when we came in, the place was a temple of silence, but it was a mad world compared to this."
"Yes, and we must hurry and get out while we have daylight to help us. I take it you wouldn't care to swim the lagoon. Let us call it lagoon, for this place makes the name appropriate."
"Call it whatever you like, but don't ask me to swim it," Kate cried, pushing on.
"Ah! I have our trail," Jack cries in triumph. "By George, it is wide enough!" he added, bending over where the thick grasses were crushed and broken. "See the advantage of large feet. Now, if you had been alone, 'twould have been as hard as to trace a bird's track."
"Is that an implication that I have Chinese feet?"
"No, too literal young woman. It was meant to show you that I am very much relieved, for, 'pon my soul, I was afraid we were in a very disagreeable scrape."
"And you are now quite sure we are not?"
"Quite sure. Don't you want to take my arm?"
"Oh, no, thank you. I'm not at all tired. I'm used to longer walks than this."
"Longer, possibly, but not over such trying ground."
"Oh, yes. I've gone with Wesley and his friends to the lakes in the North Woods."
"Ah! I've never been there. Are they as bad travel as this?"
"Infinitely worse—Why, what was that?"
"It sounded very like the report of a pistol."
Both stopped, Kate coming quite close to the young man, who was bent over with his hand to his ear, trumpet-fashion.
"Do you—" He made a warning gesture with his hand, and motioned her to stoop among the ferns. A halloo was heard in the distance; then a response just ahead of where the two crouched in the breast-high ferns, through which the path made by their recent footsteps led. When the echoing halloo died away, a bird in the distance seemed to catch up the refrain and dwell upon the note with an exquisite, painful melody.
"Why, it's the throat interlude in the Magic Flute! How lovely it is!" Kate whispered. "If you were my knight, I should put on you the task of caging that lovely sound for me."
The distant bird-note ceased, and then suddenly, from the bushes just ahead of them, it was caught up and answered, note for note, in a wild pibroch strain, harsher but inexpressibly moving. Jack turned to Kate, his face quite pale, and whispered:
"It in not a bird. They are negroes. I have read of these sounds. They are marauding slaves, and we must not let them see us. We must get to those thick clumps of bushes. Do you think you can remain bent until we reach them? If not, we will rest every few paces."
"Go on. I can try."
The pibroch strains still continued, rising into a mournful wail, then sinking info the soft cries of the whip-poor-will. In a few minutes the perplexed fugitives were deep in a clump of wild hawberries, invisible to any one who should pass. The strains had ceased as suddenly as they began. Then a faint hallo-o-o sounded, being answered in the bushes, as it seemed, just in front of where Jack and his companion stood; voices soon became audible farther along, ten or more paces. Motioning to Kate, Jack crept along noiselessly, and fancied he could distinguish forms through the thick screen of bushes. A voice, not a negro's, said:
"I went to the cove for you—what was the matter?"
"I had the devil's work to get through the posts. For some reason or other they're getting mighty sharp. I must be back before twelve; what's been done?"
"Well, the mokes consent to go, but they won't touch the ranch. You'll have to bring up a few hands; the fewer the better. If them damned feather-bed sojers wasn't there, we could do the job ourselves."
"When, does the boss get out?"
"Next week. I don't know what day. They'd pay high for him both ways."
"No, we can't nibble there. The cap'n'll pay well. That's square. We can't afford to try the other now, at any rate. Is the skiff here?"
"Yes; well, get in."
There was a plash and the-receding sound of voices. Jack darted through the screen of branches, but he could not distinguish the figures, for it was growing every instant dimmer twilight. He turned to Kate. She was at his side.
"Who were they—what were they planning? Were they soldiers?" she asked.
"Never mind them now. We must find a way out of this. Our boat can't be far off. We must follow this line of bushes until we come to the spot we left. I know I can recognize it, for there was an enormous tree fallen a few steps from the sedge bank we landed on."
It was a very toilsome journey now, obliged as they were to hug the obstinate growth of haws, wild alder, and dog roses, which tore flesh and garments in the hurried flight. They came to the dead tree finally, and Jack almost shouted in grateful relief:
"You were a true prophet, Miss Boone. You gave utterance to some Druid-like remarks as we crossed the Stygian pool. The worst your fancy painted couldn't equal what we've seen and heard."
"I have seen nothing dreadful, and I can't say that I understand very much of what we heard."
"There is some 'caper' going on to give these cut-throats a chance to get booty or something of the sort."
"They are probably rebel soldiers planning to sack the commissary."
They were in the boat now, and Jack was sending it forward by lusty lunges against every protruding object he could get a stroke at; when these failed he managed to scull after a fashion. They found the household in consternation when they got back, but Jack gave a picturesque narrative of their escapade, omitting the encounter with the negroes which he had charged Kate to say nothing about, as it would only alarm Mrs. Atterbury. The garments of the explorers told the tale of their mishaps, and when they had clothed themselves anew supper was announced. The feast was of the lightest sort: sherbet or tea for those who liked it; fruit and crackers, honey or marmalade—a triumph in the cultivation of dyspepsia, Jack said when he first began the eating. But it was observed that the disease had no terrors for him, for he sat at the table as long as he could get any one to remain with him, and did his share in testing all the dishes. He outsat everybody that night except Dick, who never got tired of any place that brought him near his idol.
"I'm going up-stairs in a moment, Towhead. Come up after me."
Dick nodded, a gleam of delightful expectation in his eyes. He was just in the ardent period when boys love to make mysteries of very ordinary things, and Jack's sotto voce command was like the hero's voice in the play, "Meet me by the ruined well when midnight strikes." He followed Jack up the wide staircase and into his own room, for greater security, as no one would think of looking for them there.
"Now, tell me all you have found out," Jack commanded as he shut the door. "Have you been among the darkys?"
"I've found out this much. The old negroes are opposed to going away or in any shape annoying their masters. The young bucks and the women are very eager to fly. It seems that some one has spread the story among them that Lincoln has sent Butler to Fort Monroe to receive all the negroes on the Peninsula. They have been assured that they are to have 'their freedom, one hundred acres of land, and an ox-team.' Where the report comes from, I can't find out; but there is some communication between here and the Union lines, I'm positive."
"Has Wesley been with the negroes again?"
"No. I have kept an eye on him all day."
"Where does he go at night?"
"The doctor has forbidden him to be in the night air for the present."
"Well, you keep an eye on Wesley," and then Jack narrated the strange scene in the swamp, the mysterious calls, and the conversation.
Dick listened in awe, mingled with rapture. "Oh, why wasn't I there? Just my blamed luck! I would have followed them, and then we should have known what they were up to. Did you know that a company of cavalry had gone into camp just below the grove?"
"This evening. Vincent is down there now."
"Well, you may be sure they suspect something. I wonder if it wouldn't be better to speak to Vincent?"
"Of course not! What have we to tell him? Simply my suspicions and Clem's chatter. The little moke may have been lying; I can't see that any of them do much else."
"The worst of it is, these Southerners are very sensitive about any allusion to the negroes. They would pooh-pooh anything we might say that was not backed by proof. It's a mighty uncomfortable fix to be in, Dick, my boy; though, 'pon my soul, I believe you enjoy it!"
Dick grinned deprecating.
"I think you do, you unfledged Guy Fawkes. I know nothing would give you greater joy than to put on a mask, grasp a dagger in your hand, and go to Wesley, crying, 'Villain, your secret or your life!' Dick, you're a stage hero; you're a thing of sawdust and tinsel. Come to the parlor and hear Kate play the divine songs of Mendelssohn; perhaps, night-eyed conspirator, to whirl Polly or Miss Rosa in the delirium of the 'Blaue Donau.' Come."
But there was neither dance nor music when they reached the drawing-room. Everybody was there; Vincent had just come, and the first words Jack and Dick heard glued them to their places.
"Yes, all the negroes on the Lawless', Skinner's, and Lomas's plantations have gone. Butler has declared them contrabands of war, and a lot of Yankee speculators have been sneaking through the plantations, filling their ignorant minds with promises of freedom, a farm, and a share of their masters' property. Their real purpose is to get the negroes and hold them until the two governments come to terms, and then they will get rewards for every nigger they hold. Oh, these Yankees can see ways of making money through a stone-wall," and Vincent laughed lightly, as though the incident in no way concerned him. "Captain Cram, who is in camp just below in the oak clearing, is ordered to scour the river-bank to the enemy's lines near Hampton, so we need have no fear of these enterprising apostles of freedom interfering with our niggers."
"I don't think one of them could be induced to leave us if offered all our farms," Mrs. Atterbury said, a little proudly.
"There isn't one of them that I haven't brought through sickness or trouble of one sort or another, and there isn't one that wouldn't take my command before the gold of a stranger."
"I don't know, Mrs. Atterbury," Mrs. Sprague ventured, mildly. "Gold is a mighty weight in an argument. I have known it to change the convictions of a lifetime in a moment. I have known it to make a man renounce his father, dishonor his name, belie his whole life, deny his family."
"When a fortune beyond reasonable dreams was placed upon the head of Charles Stuart, for whom our ancestors fought and beggared themselves, his secret was in the keeping of scores of peasants, and the blood-money lay idle. I could cite hundreds of similar proofs, that gold is not God everywhere. I mean no offense, but you will agree with me that you Northern people are given up to the getting and worship of money. It is not so with us. Perhaps because we have it, and with it something that makes it secondary—birth. I have no fear of the infidelity of any of my people. I would as soon doubt Rosa or Vincent us the smallest black on my estate."
She spoke with mild, high-bred dignity, not a particle of assertion or captious intolerance, but as a prelate might assert the majesty of the word on the altar, neither looking for dissent nor dreaming that the spirit of it could exist.
"I'm glad to hear your mother express such confidence, Vint," Jack said as they walked out on the veranda to take a good-night smoke; "but just let me give you a maxim of my own, the lock's not sure unless the key is in your pocket."
"Sententious, my boy, but vague. My mother is perfectly right. Our niggers are fidelity itself. But since we are so near the Butler lines, where his agents can sneak up on the river and kidnap the new sort of contraband, I think it better to take some precaution. Hereafter General Magruder will have a picket post within two miles of us, between here and the creek, which offers a convenient point for smuggling."
"I am heartily relieved to hear it," Jack cried, giving something too much fervor to his relief, for Vincent turned and looked at him in surprise, but it was too dark in the shadow of the clematis to see his face, and after a silence Vincent said:
"Mamma has told you that the President is coming to Williamsburg to review Magruder's troops?"
"No; she hadn't mentioned it. Is he?"
"Yes; he will be there Thursday afternoon, and we shall have the ball the same evening. He will be here with General Lee, his chief of staff, and remain all night; so that you will be able to say when you go back North—something that few Yankees will be able to say during the war—that you have broken bread with the first President of the Confederacy."
"I will strive to bear my honors with humility," Jack said.
"It befits the conquered to be humble."
"If I hadn't come in time, you two would have been in a squabble—own it!" and Rosa drew a chair between them as a peacemaker.
TREASON AND STRATAGEMS.
Rosedale was, indeed, Eden in the most orthodox sense to the group so strangely billeted in its lovely tranquillity. No sooner was the anguish concerning the invalids off Kate's, Olympia's, and Rosa's minds, than new perplexities beset them. Rosa was barely eighteen, Kate and Olympia older by three or four years, but the younger girl was in many essential things quite as mature as her Northern comrades. But Jack could not comprehend this, and quite innocently did and said things to arouse the young girl's dreams. I think I have said that Jack was a very comely fellow? He was big and brawny, and tireless in good-humor, and the attractive little gallantries that women adore. He looked as sentimentally sincere, uttering a paradox, as another vowing eternal fidelity. He gave every woman the impression that his mind was lost wondering how he should exist until she gave him the right to call her his own. Though, as a matter of fact, it is the man who is the woman's own—when the final word comes.
Rosa was not long in discovering Vincent's happy tumult in Olympia's presence, and she secretly misunderstood Jack the more that he was so lavish and open in his adulations. If he rode, he exhausted eulogy in describing her pose, her daring, her skill; if they danced, as they did nearly every night until poor Merry's fingers ached from drumming the unholy strains of Faust, Strauss, and what not, in the old-fashioned waltzes—he pantingly declared that she made the music seem a celestial choir by her lightness; in long walks in the rose-fields he exhausted a not very laborious store of botanical conceits, to make her cheeks resemble the roses. This assurance, this recklessness, this aplomb, quite bewildered the girl, who posed in Richmond for a passed mistress of flirting. She had, unless rumor was badly at fault, jilted an appalling list of the striplings who believed that beard-growing and love-making were conventionally contemporaneous events. But they had "mooned" about her and made themselves absurd in vain, while this unconscious Adonis calmly walked, talked, and acted as if she could know nothing else than love him, and one day she started in delicious misery to find that she did—that is, she thought she might if—if? But there her dreams became nebulous—they were rosy in outline, however, and she was content to rest there.
The morning after the coming of the cavalry-troop, Wesley was discussing the never-ending theme of how he was going to get home—with Kate busy arranging the ferns she had brought from the swamp.
"Really, Wesley, just now you ought to be content. There is no likelihood of any movement; besides, philosophy is as much a merit in a soldier as valor—it is valor, it is endurance. You complain of your unhappy fate, housed here with a lot of women and idlers. How would you bear up in Libby Prison? There are as good men as you there, my dear; shall I say better or older soldiers, Brutus? You may take your choice, and 'count on a sister's blind partiality to justify you!'"
"Oh, don't always talk nonsense, Kate. You're worse than Jack Sprague. He doesn't seem to have a serious thought in his head from daylight till bedtime."
"Perhaps he keeps all his sober thoughts for the night, to give them good company."
"No, but do say what I ought to do."
"You ought to study to make yourself tolerable to your sister, dear, and agreeable to the other fellows' sisters. I have remarked that the young man who does that, keeps out of despondency and other uncomfortable conditions that too much brooding on an empty head brings about."
"I'd like to know what heart I can have to make myself agreeable to other fellows' sisters when you are always lampooning me; you delight in making me think I am nobody."
"Don't fear, my dear; if that were my delight I should die an old maid, never having known delight, for it would need more force than I can muster to make Wesley Boone, captain U.S.A., anything else than he is—his father's pride and his sister's joy. No, dear, my delight is to see you gay and open and frank and manly, self-dependent, grateful for the consideration shown you, and recognizant of the constant admonition of your sagacious sister."
"You talk exactly like the woman in George Sand's stupid stories; they always remind me of men in petticoats."
"That's a weak and strained comparison; not, however, unworthy a soldier. We always compare, in speech, to strengthen assertion or adorn it, and when we do we compare what is equivocal or vague, with what is well known and usual. Now, I do not remember any men in petticoats, unless you mean the Orientals, who wear a sort of skirt, and the Scots, who used to wear kilts—but strictly speaking—"
"Do, Kate, for Heaven's sake, be serious for a moment! I have a chance to escape, no matter how, but I can make my way to our lines without running any great risk. Now, is it or is it not dishonorable for me to do it?"
"Seriously, Wesley, just now it would be, while Vincent is here, for he is in a sense pledged for you to his superior. Further, there is no need to hurry. You are barely recovered. If you were North you would be in Acredale; if you were, there is no immediate want of your presence in the army. The articles we see in the Richmond papers every day, copied from Northern journals, show that this new general, McClellan, means to bring a trained, drilled, disciplined army down when he moves. It took six months to prepare McDowell's useless mass. It will certainly take a year to put the million men now arming in shape to fight. I may be wrong, but at the earliest there can be no movement before late in October. By that time we shall probably have the problem solved by the Government, and you will go North, having made delightful friends of all this charming family."
Wesley was even more afraid of Kate's strong sense of honor than of her biting sarcasm, and he ended the interview without daring to tell her how far he had compromised himself with the secret agents that were surrounding the plantation. Dick, running down-stairs in his wake, encountered Rosa, with her garden hat covering her like the roof of a disrupted pagoda. She arrested his stride as he was darting toward the door.
"Here—you—Richard, just come and be of some use to me. I'm housekeeper to-day, and I want to go to the quarters. Come along."
Now Dick had a double grievance against this imperious young person. He had fallen into the most violent love with her brown eyes and pink cheeks the moment he saw her; he had assiduously striven both to conceal and reveal this maddening condition of mind. But he remarked with ungovernable wrath that, whenever Jack or Wesley came about, the heartless young jilt, made as if she didn't know him; quite ignored him, and cared no more for his simple adoration than she did for the frisky gambols of Pizarro, the mastiff. But she was so adorable; her Southern accent was so bewitching; she put so much softness in those amusing idioms "I reckon" and "Seems like," "You others," and the countless little tricks of the Southern vernacular, that Dick passed sleepless hours and delicious days dreaming and sighing and groaning and doing all manner of unreasonable things—that we all do when we meet our first Rosas and they light the torch for other feet more favored than our own.
So, when Rosa called him to accompany her, Dick took the round basket she held out to him, and walked sulkily ahead of her, never opening his mouth. When he had stalked along through the currant bushes, he half turned his face; she was walking demurely behind him, and he made a pretext of picking a currant to give her a chance to come abreast. She did, and passed him trippingly, saying, as she cast a sympathetic side glance at him:
He stood rooted to the spot with indignant amazement. The heartless little minx! How dare she talk like that to a soldier?
"Did you call some one, Miss Atterbury?" he said, with chilling dignity. Usually he called her plain Rosa.
"I thought may be you had the toothache—you kept so quiet."
"No; I haven't got the toothache." Poor Dick! He said, to himself, that he had much worse. But he wouldn't gratify her with the acknowledgment of her triumph, and he stalked along with the basket over his head, as he had often seen the darkeys in the sun. There was a faint little appealing cry from behind.
"What is it; are you hurt?" he cried, rushing to where Rosa stood, balanced on one foot.
"There is a crab thorn an inch long in my foot; it's gone through shoe and all. That wretched Sardanapalus never clears the limbs away when he cuts the hedge. I'll have him horsewhipped. Oh, dear!"
"Let me hold you while I look for the thorn."
Dick cleverly slipped his arm about her waist and set the basket endwise for her to sit on. Then kneeling, he picked out the thorn, which was a great deal less than the dimensions Rosa had described. But he said nothing to her about picking the torment out and slipping it in his vest pocket. He held the foot, examining the sole critically. Finally, as she moved impatiently, he asked:
"Does it hurt yet?"
"Of course it does, you stupid fellow. Do you suppose I would sit here like a goose on a gridiron and let you hold my foot if it didn't hurt? Men never have any sense when they ought to."
He affected to examine the sole of the thin leather of the upper still more minutely. As she gave no sign of ending the comedy, he said:
"I'm sure, Rosa, if it relieves the pain to have me hold your foot, I'll sit here in the sun all day—if you'll bring the rim of your hat over a little—but, as for the thorn, it has been out this ten minutes."
She gave him a sudden push and darted away. He followed laughing, admonishing her against another thorn. But she deigned no answer. Coming to the bee-hives, she stopped a moment to watch the busy swarm, and Dick stole up beside her. She turned pettishly, and he said, insinuatingly:
"You know, Dick, you're too trying for anything—holding my foot there like a ninny in the hot sun. You haven't a thimbleful of sense."
"Well, now we'll test these propositions, as Jack does, by syllogisms. Let me see. All men are trying. Dick Perley is a man: therefore he is trying."
"No; your premise—isn't that what you call it?—is wrong. Dick Perley is only a boy."
"I'll be nineteen in January next."
"Well, your father was married at nineteen. You've said it yourself, Rosa, and thought it greatly to his credit—at least Vint does."
"You can't imitate my father in that, at least."
"You could help me, Rosa."
"Would you if you could?"
"On the girl."
"Ah! she's a perfect girl, but she's very young," and Dick eyed Rosa with ineffable complacency.
"But she's older than she looks."
"That's worse; you'd grow tired of her."
"No, no; I don't mean she's older than she looks; her mind is older than her looks."
"Women with minds make troublesome wives. I have refused to let Vincent marry several of that kind."
"But, my girl hasn't got that kind of mind; it is all sweetness and wit and gayety and loveliness and—and—"
"Your girl? Who gave her to you?"
"Love gave her to me."
"Oh, well, since love gave her to you, I don't see how I can be of any service. Down here the mother always gives the girl, unless she have no mother; then some other kin gives her. But if your girl has all these qualities you describe, I advise you to get her into your own keeping just as soon as you can, for that's the sort of girl all the fellows about here are seeking."
"Very well, I'm ready. Will you help me? It comes back where we started."
"But you evaded my question."
"What question did I evade? I answered like an encyclopedia!" Dick cried, immensely satisfied with his own readiness.
"That convicts you; an encyclopedia has nothing about living people."
"Oh, yes; the new ones do." Dick was now very near her as she stood contemplating the bees, swarming in the comb. "O Rosa—Rosa, you know I love you, and you know I can never love anybody else. Why will you pretend not to understand me? I don't want you to marry me now, but by and by, when I shall have made a name as a soldier, or—or something," he added in painful turbulence of joy and fear over the great words—which he had been racking his small wits to fashion for weeks past, and, now that they were spoken, were not nearly so impressive as he had intended they should be.
"My dear Richard, you are a perfect boy—a very delightful boy, too, and I am extremely fond of you—oh, very, very fond of you—but you really must not make love to me. It isn't proper," and Rosa glanced into his eyes with a tender little gleam, that gave more encouragement than rebuff—for it came into her mind, in a moment, that it was not a time to hurt the bright, eager love—so winning, if boyish.
"Nonsense, Rosa, it is perfectly proper; everybody makes love to you; Jack makes love to you, and he is as good as engaged—" But here it suddenly flashed in Dick's mad head that he was meddling, and he stopped short. Rosa had turned upon him with a flash of such scorn, such indignant pain, that he cried:
"No, no; I don't mean that; but you know fellows do make love to you, and why mayn't I?"
She flirted away from him too angry or mortified to speak. He could not see her face, for she pulled the ample breadth of the hat-brim down, which served at once as a veil to shut out her visage and a sweeping sort of funnel to keep him far from her side, as she tripped determinedly to the pleasant group of clean, whitewashed cabins, where the negroes abode. Poor Dick, vexed with himself—angry at her for being irritated-waited in the hot sun until she had ended her commands, and when she came out to return he repentantly sidled up, imploring pardon in every movement. She couldn't resist the big, pleading blue eyes, and said, quite as if there had been deep discussion on the point:
"I don't think you mean to be a bad boy."
"I'm not a boy, I'm a soldier. It isn't fair in you to call me a boy."
"You're not a girl."
"If I were I wouldn't be so heartless as some I know."
"And if I were a boy I wouldn't be so silly as some I know."
"Yes, I think Southern boys are quite soft."
"Come, sir, my brother was a Southern boy."
"Yes, but he always lived North, and is like us."
"How dare you, sir?"
"Oh, just as easy, I dare do all that becomes a man—who dares do more is none. You are Rosa, and you are dear—"
"Not to you."
"You cost me enough to be dear and you are lovely enough to be 'Rosa' in Latin, Rose in English, and sweetheart in any tongue."
"You're much too pert. Boys so glib as you never really love. They think they do and perhaps they do—just a little."
"Ah! a 'little more than a little,' dear Rosa."
"You're quoting Shakespeare, I suppose you know? I'll quote more: 'A little more than a little is much too much.'"
"A little less than all is much too little for me. So, Rosa, give all or none."
"I don't understand you."
"That's proof you love me. Girls never love fellows they understand."
"Prove that I love you."
"Well, you don't hate me. You don't hate Vincent. Therefore you love him. Ergo, you love me."
"True love is always simple. Here, take this white rose as a sign that you don't hate me." He plucked a large half-opened bud from a great sprouting branch and held it toward her.
"But the red rose is my favorite."
"Well, here is a red one. Give me the white. That is my favorite. Now we've exchanged tokens. The rose always goes before the ring. I'll get that."
"If you were a true lover you would wear my colors."
"These white leaves will grow red resting on my heart."
"When they do I will listen to you."
"Will you, though? It is a promise; when this white rose is red you will love me?"
"Oh, yes, I can promise that."
"Dear Rosa!" He was very near her as she disentangled an obtruding vine from her garments, and before she was aware of his purpose he had audaciously snatched a kiss from her astonished lips.
"You odious Yankee! I haven't words to express my disgust—abhorrence!"
"Don't try, love needs no words: but I'll tell you; let me put this white rose to your lips; it will turn red at the touch, and in that way you can take your kiss back, if you really want it; then there'll be a fair exchange. I—"
"Hello, there! are you two grafting roses?"
It was Wesley, coming from the lower garden, where the stream was narrowest beyond the high wall of hedge.
"Oh, no, Mr. Boone; Richard here is studying the color in flowers. He has a theory that eclipses Goethe's 'Farbenlehre.'"
"Oh, indeed!" Wesley was quite unconscious of what Goethe's doctrine of colors might be, so he prudently avoided urging fuller particulars regarding Dick's theory, and said, vaguely;
"You have color enough here to theorize on, I'm sure."
"Yes, we have had very satisfactory experiments," Dick assented naively, stealing a glance at Rosa.
"But quite inconclusive," she rejoined, moving onward, the two young men following in the penumbra of her wide hat.
A CAMPAIGN OF PLOTS.
Meanwhile, there were curious events passing and coming to pass on the seven hills upon which the proud young capital of the proud young Confederacy stood. Rome, in her most imperial days, never dreamed of the scenic glories that Richmond, like a spoiled beauty, was hardly conscious of holding as her dower. Indeed, such is the necromantic mastery of the passion of the beautiful that, once standing on the glorious hill, that commands the James for twenty miles—twenty miles of such varied loveliness of color, configuration, and mis en scene, that the purple distances of Naples seem common to it—standing there, I say, one day, when the sword had long been rusting in the scabbard, and the memory of those who raised it in revolt had faded from all minds save those who wanted office—this historian thought that, had it been his lot to be born in that lovely spot, he, too, would have fought for State caprices—just as a gallant man will take up the quarrel of beauty, right or wrong!
Thoughts of this sort filled Barney Moore's mind too, that delicious September afternoon as he stood gazing dreamily down the river, toward that vague morning-land of the sun's rising, where his mind saw the long lines of blue his eyes ached to rest on. Barney had left the kindly roof where he had been nursed back to vigor. He had quit it in a fashion that left a rankling sorrow in his grateful heart. Vincent had represented to Jack the inconvenience it would be, the peril, rather, for him to assume the guardianship of so many enemies of the Confederacy. Scores of the old families of the city were under the ban simply because they had pleaded for deliberation before deciding on the secession ordinance. The Atterburys had their enemies too. It was pointed out that Vincent and Rosa had been educated in the North; that Mrs. Atterbury had spent many of her recent summers there. Their devotion to the Confederacy must be shown by deeds. It was true they had given twenty thousand dollars to the cause, but what was that to threefold millionaires? General Lee, their kinsman, had shaken his Socratic head solemnly when Rosa, at the War Department, told him, as an excellent joke, the strange chance that had brought Vincent's college chum and his family under the kind Rosedale roof.
Richard Perley was, therefore, deputized to rescue Barney from his false position and give him a chance for exchange when the time came. He journeyed up to Richmond, and, one day, laid these facts before Barney, who instantly saw his friend's dilemma, and at once set about inventing a ruse that should extricate him, without mortifying the kind people who had befriended him. When he was able to be about, he feigned a desire to go to his friends in Arrowfield County, south of the James, and was bidden hearty Godspeed. Then, with funds supplied by Jack, he gained admittance to a modest house far out on Main Street, where the city merges into the country. They were simple people, and his thrilling tale of being a refugee from Harper's Ferry was plausible enough to be accepted by more skeptical people than the Gannats.
Day after day Barney skirted furtively about the uncompromising walls of Libby and Castle Thunder, where once or twice he had gone with his hosts to make a mental diagram of the place for future use. Little by little he became familiar with Richmond, which, like a new bride, gave the visitor welcome to admire her splendid spouse, the Confederate government. He learned all the plots of the prison, and became the confidant of Letitia Lanview, known to every exile in Richmond as the friend of the suffering—St. Veronica she was called—after a poem dedicated to her by a young Harvard graduate, rescued by her perseverance from death in Libby Prison. With this lady he drove all about the environs of Richmond, and several times far out toward the meditated route of flight, in order that he might be able to lead the bewildered refugees. He got the whole landscape by heart, and could have led a battalion over it in the dark. Then he passed days wandering over the Libby Hill, down in the bed of the "Rockets," as the bed of the James was known in those days; he learned the ground to the very beat of the patrols that guarded the wretched prisoners in the towering shambles. One whole night, too, he spent in marking the course of the guards as they changed in two-hour reliefs. With his facts well collected he visited Mrs. Lanview, and at last he was confronted by Butler's agent. This agent was a middle-aged man, who had evidently once been very handsome, but dissipation had left pitiable traces upon his fine features, and his once large, open eyes, that perplexingly suggested some one Barney tried in vain to recall—vainly? The man didn't say much in the lady's presence, but when the two were in the open air, facing toward the center of the town, he divulged a good deal that surprised Barney.
"You are from Acredale, young man. I lived there when I was younger than I am now. My name? People call me a good many names. I don't mind at all, so that I have rum enough and a bed and a bite to eat. No man can have more than that, my boy. I am plain Dick Jones now. It's an easy name, and plenty of the same in the land; and if I should die suddenly there would be lots o' folks to feel sorry, eh? But as you are from Acredale I don't mind telling you that it is Elisha Boone that foots the bill. Butler is a friend of Boone's, and he has given me authority to summon all the troops within reach to my aid. My business is to carry young Wes Boone to Fort Monroe. Butler doesn't know that. He thinks I am spying Jeff Davis and piping for the prisoners. He didn't say that he wanted me to kill Davis, but if we could carry him to Fort Monroe, my boy, there'd be about a million dollars swag to divide! How does that strike you?"
"It doesn't strike me at all. I think it is for the interest of the Union that Davis should be where he is. He is vain, arrogant, silly, and dull. He will alone wreck the rebel cause if he is given time. There couldn't be a greater misfortune for the North than to have Davis displaced by some one of real ability, such as Stephens, Lee, Benjamin, Mason, Breckenridge, or, in fact, any of the men identified with secession."
"You surprise me, my son. Still, admitting all you say, the men who should surprise the North some fine morning with a present of Jeff Davis on their breakfast-plates, wouldn't be without honor, to say nothing of promotion and profit"
"Oh, if we can carry Jeff off without compromising the safety of the prisoners, I'll join you heartily. But first of all we must rescue them."
"Unquestionably; now, here's the programme: Butler's forces will be within gunshot of Magruder's lines on Warwick Creek Thursday—that's three days from now. The prisoners will be out of the sewer Wednesday after midnight. You know the roads eastward. You will lead them to the swamps near Williamsburg. There we will have boats to take part down the river; the rest will make through the swamps under my lead. I have been spying out the land for a week. At a place called Rosedale we pick up young Boone, who is really the object of my journey. I couldn't find him for weeks, and inquired of all the prisoners. Mrs. Lanview finally put me on the track, and I saw Wes Boone as I came up here. He thought the chances were better with a big party than alone. I saw him again yesterday, and he told me that Davis and Lee, his chief of staff, were to be at a party in the Rosedale house on Thursday next. Now, we can pick up Davis just as well as Boone. There is the whole plan."
"Oh, that's a different matter. Davis will not be near the city, and his keeping will not add to our danger. I see no reason why we shouldn't grab him. Heavens, what a sensation it will make! We shall be the wonder of the North—we shall he like the men that discovered Andre and Arnold—Paulding and—and"—but here Barney's historical facts came to an end—"we shall be famous for—forever!"
"For a week, my son; wonders don't live long in these fast days. For a week the North will glorify us; then, if they find that we voted for Douglas, as I did, they will say we had some sinister design in bringing Davis North, and likely send us to Fort Lafayette."
Barney stopped dead; they had come under a gas-lamp between Grace and Franklin Streets. He looked at the man. He was quite sober. His eyes answered the young man's indignant protesting glance, openly, unshrinkingly, humorously.
"I should be sorry to think that, Mr. Jones."
"Well, wait. When you get North you will see a mighty change in things. Sentiment, my boy, follows the main chance. It's money, my boy, money. Enough money would have made Judas respectable; he was fool enough to put his price too low."
"Ugh!—you almost make me hate the North! Who can have heart to fight for such heartless traffickers?"
"The North doesn't ask your heart. It has counted the cost, and finds that it can pay a million of men thirteen dollars a month for three years, and still make a good thing out of it—that's about the breadth of it. Here's an oasis in the desert of darkness. Come and have a drink?"
But Barney—not caring for a drink, the cynic—gave him his address, and, dreadfully cast down in spirit, the eager partisan moped up the long hill homeward. The next day Mrs. Lanview gave him the details of the meditated escape. There were only sixty or a hundred in position to avail themselves of the subterranean way that had been toilsomely dug, by a few devoted spirits, with tools casually dropped among them by the guileless Veronica during her daily visits. The plotters counted on at least six hours' start before discovery. The guards were not to be disturbed, and the evasion would not be known until eight o'clock, when the miserable breakfast ration was distributed.
Of that amazing-exploit, the digging through twenty solid feet of earth and stone, I do not propose to tell. It is to be found in the journals of the day: it is contained in the hundred pathetic narratives of the men who took part. It has nothing to do with this history beyond the use made of it to mislead the ingenious Barney, and in the end complicate the careers of those in whom we are interested. Suffice it, therefore, to say that in the dim morning mist, as arranged, a shadowy host emerged on the river-bottom, now dry and footable; that each man, as he crawled from the pit, was directed into the thick willows bordering the banks; that when six score or more had clambered out they obeyed a whispered command, for which Veronica had prepared them, and noiselessly, in shadowy single file, they followed the bed of the stream, even where the water flowed deep and dangerous, until they came to the gentle slopes of Church Hill. Then, under guidance of Barney, those who were wise followed swiftly down the river-road until daylight, when they hid in the dim recesses of the white-oak swamps, where they lay concealed many hours. As night fell they faced hopefully forward down the Williamsburg road, until a flaming wave in the air admonished them to strike to the right, and they plunged into the pathless swamps of the Chickahominy. Here they were secure. No force able to cope with them could enter; no force at the command of Magruder could surround them. But Barney's guiding hand was now replaced by another. Jones had appeared, and with him men bearing Butler's commission. The prisoners of Libby set up a defiant cheer. They were once more under the flag. Father Abraham was again their commander.
There were sedate, fatherly men among these rescued bands. There were men with gray hairs and sober behavior; men who could bow meekly under the chastening rod; but the antics of the juvenile group, in which we are mainly interested, were grave and decorous compared with the abandoned, delirious joy of these grave men as they reached the recesses of a swamp that denied admission to all save practiced explorers. Why, here they could subsist for weeks! The rebels might spy them, might surround them, but they need not starve—the buds were food, the bushes refreshment, the pellucid pools drink and life. Barney stared in speechless amazement at the unseemly gambols of the motley mass.
Delirium! it was a mild term for the embracing, the prancing, the Carmagnole-like ecstasy of the half-clad madmen running amuck in the almost unendurable joy of liberation. Barney knew that this condition of things would never do. All who bore commissions in the army were selected from the men. The highest in rank, who proved to be a colonel, was invested with the command, Barney serving as adjutant, and Jones as guide. The rabble, having made a good meal from the spoil of a sweet-potato patch, pushed forward through the fretwork of fern, rank morass, and verdure, toward security. But the march was a snail's pace, as may be imagined. The men, worn to skeletons by months of captivity, insufficient food, and stinted exercise, were forced to halt often for rest in such toilsome marching as the half-aquatic surface of the swamp involved.
By Thursday noon they were still far from the river. Foragers were detailed to procure food, and pending their return the wearied band sank to the earth to rest. In less than two hours the predatory platoon returned with a sybaritic store—chickens, young lamb, green corn, onions. Only the stern command of the colonel suppressed a mighty cheer. When the march was resumed the colonel led the main column south by east. Jones, with Barney and a dozen men, struck due east. In answer to Barney's surprised question, Jones informed him they were to pick up "Wes" Boone by taking that route. Difficult as the way had been heretofore, it now became laborious in the extreme for this smaller band. The bottom was all under water, and before they had proceeded a mile half the group were drenched. In many cases an imprudent plunger was compelled to call a halt to rescue his shoes—that is, those who were lucky enough to have shoes—from the deep mud, hidden by a fair green surface of moss or tendrils. It was a wondrous journey to Barney, The pages of Sindbad alone seemed to have a parallel for the awful mysteries of that long, long flight through jungles of towering timber, whose leaves and bark were as unfamiliar as Brazilian growth to the troops of Pizarro or the Congo vegetation to the French pioneer. Jones and his comrades saw nothing but the hardships of the march and the delay of the painful detours in the solemn glades. The direction was kept by compass, many of the men having been supplied with a miniature instrument by the prudent foresight of Mrs. Lanview, who was niggard of neither time nor money in the cause she had at heart. In spite of every effort a march so swift that it would have exhausted cavalry, Jones's ranks did not reach the rendezvous until midnight. At about that hour the exhausted fugitives came suddenly upon a wide, open plain, and far below them, in the valley, a vision of light and life shone through the dark.
"There, boys, we're at the end of our first stage. Unless I'm much mistaken, that bit of merry-making yonder will cost the Confederacy a chief."
"But is it certain that Davis is there?" asked the man Jones called Moon, who seemed to be his intimate.
"Ah, that we will learn so soon as Nasmyd reports. We will give the signal when we reach that fringe of wood yonder. It's back of the grounds, separated from them by a hard piece of swamp and water.—Men, you must follow now in single file, and when we get in the swamp, mind, a single step out of line will cost you your lives, for, sucked into that morass, wild horses can't pull you out."
Then, as they plunged anew in the gloomy deeps of swamp and brake, the friendly lights were lost and the depressed wayfarers struggled on with something of the feeling of a crew cast away at sea, who, thrown upon the crest of a rising billow, catch a near glimpse of a great ship, light and taut, riding serenely havenward to lose it the next in the dire waste. Presently the melancholy bird-notes that had puzzled Jack in the same vicinity days before broke out just in front of Barney, who was clambering along, the third man from the head of the little column. Again, after a long pause, the sweet, plaintive note was re-echoed from a distance.
"Ah, all is well!" he heard Jones ejaculate triumphantly. "We are in time and we are waited for.—Now, men, put all the heart that's in you to the next half-hour's work. No danger, but just cool heads and strong arms."
This good news was conveyed from man to man, and the toilsome movement briskly accelerated under the inspiring watchword. Shortly afterward the larger growth—cypress and oak—diminished, as the band straggled into the open, starry night at the margin of what they could tell was water by the croaking of frogs and plashing of night birds and reptiles. Then the train was halted. Jones left Nasmyd in command and plunged into a thick skirt of bushes. Now Barney, hot and dirty from the march, had shot ahead when he heard the ripple of the water. He had taken off his shoes to bathe his blistered and swollen feet, and sat quite still and restful under the leafy sprays of an odorous bush that even in the dark he knew to be honeysuckle.
"Well," he heard Jones cry in an exultant whisper, "we've done it. The woman is a trump. There are a hundred nearly of the prisoners gone to the boats. Now we are ready for Boone. Is Davis here?"
"Yes; he came over from Williamsburg at eight o'clock; they were feasting when Clem came away a three or more ago."
"Any cavalry at the house?"
"A squadron; but they are ordered to be in saddle for their quarters at midnight. There's the bugle for boots and saddles now."
"Yes; by the Eternal, what luck! Davis will sleep there."
"So Clem says; the state chamber has been prepared for him; all the rest except Lee go back to Williamsburg."
"We couldn't have arranged it better if we had been given the ordering of it. Are all the boats here?"
"And the negroes—how many have you?"
"I can't say. They've been dropping across in twos and threes since ten o'clock. The curious thing is that the women are more taken with the idea of fight than the men. We shall have enough—too many, I fear."
"We'll make them our safety, Jim, my boy; we'll divide them up, and, in case of pursuit, send them in different directions to confuse the troops."
"How many men are you going to take to the house?"
"Six, with you and me. It will be unsafe to take more, as the boats are small. I will go back and select the men. You get the boats ready."
Barney hurried on his shoes, crawled through the bushes, and was in his place when Jones presently appeared. The men, dead tired, were disposed about on the ground asleep, not minding the damp grass or the heavy dew that made the air fairly misty.
"Wake four of the men," Jones whispered, and when they were aroused he said to a tall, reeling shadow, idly waiting orders:
"We'll be back in a half-hour, or an hour at the farthest. Let the men sleep; they need it. Sleep yourself if you want to. Moon or I will come to rouse you, and we will bring you plenty of bacon and hominy. Have no fears if you hear movements just beyond you; there are a couple of contrabands here who go with us. Here's a ration of tobacco for the men when they wake, and a gallon of whisky, which you must serve out gradually."