HotFreeBooks.com
The Iron Game - A Tale of the War
by Henry Francis Keenan
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

When the sun accepted the wind's challenge to contest for the traveler's cloak, I dare say all the spectators of the novel highway robbery—the moon, the stars, the trees, birds and beasts, and others that the fable does not mention—took odds that the wind would snatch off the wayfarer's garment in triumph. However, the wind whipped and thrashed the poor man in vain. The stronger it blew and the more it walloped the cloak's folds, the tighter and more determinedly the traveler held on to it, as he plodded wearily over the hillside. But when the sun came caressingly, inspiring gentle confidence, bathing the body in warm moisture, the tenacious hold was relaxed, then the disputed coat was thrown over his arm, and as the vista spread far away in golden light, the victim cast the garment by the wayside and the sun came off victor. Youth is despoiled of the garment of grief in this sort. Congenial warmth, the sunshine of friendliness, soon relax the mantle of woe, and the path that looks wintry and hard becomes a way of light and gayety.

It was by mingling—at first perfunctorily—in the gayety of the Confederate capital that Jack lost the melancholy in which the tragedy at Rosedale had clothed his spirits. At worst, the calamity was over; he had been a guiltless vengeance in the punishment of Wesley's treason. So he took bond in hope of better things to come. With a stout heart, strong limbs, a plowman's appetite, and a natural bent to joyousness, a youth of twenty-two or three is not apt to mistake his memories for his hopes and hang the horizon in black when the sun is shining in his eyes!

Richmond, always the center of a fascinating society, was at that time exuberant in her young metropolitan glories. It was the gayest capital in the Western hemisphere. To resist its seductions would have tasked the self-denial of a more constant anchorite than our dashing Jack ever aspired to be, in the lowest stage of his martial vicissitudes. There was nothing of the garishness of the parvenu in the capital's display. The patrician caste ruled in camp and court. The walls that had echoed to the oratory of Jefferson, Henry, Washington, Randolph, now housed the young Congress of the new Confederacy. An hundred years of political, military, legal, and social precedence were the inheritance of the men chief in the cabinet, the council, and the camp. Stirring traditions clung about every quarter of the town, now devoted to the offices of administration, from the Mayo wharves to the lodgings of Washington and Lafayette. On the stately square yonder, where the musing eye of the rebel chief might study its history, stood the suggestive mansion where Burr's treason was brought home to that first great rebel.

Not far distant the disdainful pointed out the tenement where Fremont had instructed the Richmond youth in far other doctrines than those which made him the abolitionist choice for President in after-times. Royalist and republican glories mingled in the reliquary edifices that met the wondering eyes of the provincial Confederates drawn to the capital in the generous enthusiasm of that first prodigious achievement at Bull Run. Here a royal Governor had dwelt, yonder a Bonaparte had sojourned and beguiled the famous beauties of Powhatan, as the patriarchs loved to call the city. A Lee was the chief of the military staff, a Randolph ruled the war office; scions of the Washingtons family filled a dozen subordinate places; the kin of Patrick Henry revived their ancestor's glory by as zealous a devotion to the new revolution. With personages like these in every office the society of the new capital revived the brilliancy of the French Directory and also the character of the States-General, while Holland held the Spains at bay. The blockade had not yet pinched the affluent, nor beggared the industries of the well-to-do. Always famous for a brilliant bar, a learned judiciary, and a cultivated taste among its women, Richmond in 1861 was the ideal of a political, military, and social rendezvous of a young nation.

The raw legions had been victorious in the first pitched battle of the war on the plains of Manassas, and what might not be reasonably hoped from them under the training of such muster-minds as Johnston, Beauregard, Jackson, and Lee? Wasn't it the common talk among diplomats, the concurrent opinion of the French and English press, the despairing admission of the half-hearted and panic-stricken North, that one more such decisive victory would bring the South peace and independence? Wasn't it, indeed, well known among the favored juntas that those sagacious diplomats, Senators Mason and Slidell, had delayed their journey to Europe in order to aid the President in the treaty of peace that the victorious legions of Johnston were to exact in Washington?

Jack was amazed and disheartened at what he saw and heard. The activity, resources, gayety, and confidence of the authorities and people, recalled to his mind, Oxford, the jocund capital of Charles II and the royalists, while the Commonwealth leaders were drilling their armies. But instead of the chaos of rapine, the wanton excesses, the pillage of churches and colleges that marked the tenure of the miserable Charles, Richmond was as orderly, serene, the Congress as deliberate, and the people as content, as the Rome of the conquest of Persia or France after Jemmapes. The army was hot for battle, and as confident of the result as the Guard at Austerlitz or McClellan at Malvern. The work done and the way of its doing showed that the populace, as well as the rulers, were convinced of the destiny of the city to be henceforth mistress of herself, the preordained metropolis of half the continent—perhaps the whole continent—for, would the North be able to resist joining States with a destiny so glorious—a regal republic where birth and rank were tacitly enthroned? The city's greatness was taken by the mass, as a matter of course—like an heir in chancery who has won all but the final decree in the suit, or like a great nobleman who has come to his inheritance.

Though it was the first week of November when the Atterburys found home affairs going on smoothly in the town-house, summer still disputed with winter the short lovely days of fall, as Jack described the lingering May-day mildness of this seductive Southern autumn. It was the first season he had ever spent south of New York, and, like most Americans, he realized, with wonder, that the wind which brought ice and snow to New York, visited lower Virginia with only a sharp evening and morning reminder that summer was gone. The balm and beauty of the climate came with something of healing to the hurt his heart and hope had suffered at Rosedale. If anything could have mitigated the pangs of a young warrior perplexed in love and held in leash in war, it was such an existence as the Atterburys inveigled him into leading. The part of carpet-knight is not difficult to learn, and the awkwardness of it is to some extent atoned for when the service is constrained. At least Jack took this philosophical view of it, and soon gave himself up to the merry social life of his surroundings with an animation that led his hosts to hope that he might be won over to the Confederate cause. Very young men do not sorrow long or deeply, and Jack was young. He was neither reckless nor trifling, but I am sure that none of the adulating groups that made much of the handsome Yankee in Richmond that season would have suspected that the young man looked in his mirror night and morning, frowned darkly at the reflected image he saw there, and said, solemnly, "You are a murderer!" It was by no means a tragic accent in which this thrilling apostrophe was spoken. It was very much in the tone that a woman employs when she looks hastily in the mirror and utters a soft "What a fright I am!" apparently receiving comforting contradiction enough from the mirror to make the remark worth frequent repetition.

As a matter of fact, however, Jack was not insensible to the awkward complication of his predicament. Grief as a mantle is difficult to adjust to the shoulders of the young. It is melted by the ardor of companionship as swiftly as it is spun by the loom of adversity. His interest in the strange scenes that the war brought to pass, his association with people—intimate in a sense with the leading forces of rebellion, the airs of incipient grandeur, these raw instruments of government gave themselves—all these things engrossed the observant faculties of the young man, who looked out upon the serio-comic harlequinade playing about him as a hostage of the Roundheads might have taken part in the showy festivities of the Cavaliers, in the years when the chances of battle had not gone over wholly to the Puritans. Not that the figure illustrates the contrasting conditions adequately. For, if the South prided itself at all—and the South did pride itself vauntingly, clamorously, and incessantly—it made its chief boast the point that its people were the gentry of the land, and that under the rebel banner the hosts of chivalry had assembled anew to make all manner of fine things the rule of life. Jack, writing and talking of his few months' experience, dwelt with wonder upon the curious ignorance of the two peoples respecting each other. Mason and Dixon's line separated two civilizations as markedly unlike as the peoples that confront each other on either side the Vistula or the Baltic Sea. The hierarchy not only seemed to love war for war's sake; they possessed that feudal facalty, so incomprehensible in the middle ages, the power of making those who suffered most by it believe in it too, and sacrifice themselves for it.

The people—Jack sagaciously remarked, in discussing the topic with Olympia—seemed made for such a climate, rather than made by it. They would have been out of place in the bleak autumn blasts, and wan, colorless seasons of Acredale, where the sun, bleary and dim, furtively skirted the low horizon from November until April, as if ashamed to be identified with the glorious courser that rode the radiant summer sky. Here the sun came up of a morning—a little tardy, 'tis true, but quite in the manner of the people—warm and engaging, and when he went down in the afternoon he covered the western sky with a roseate mantle that fairly kept out the chill of the Northern night. "No wonder," Jack said to his sister, watching this daily spectacle—"no wonder these people are warm, impulsive, and even energetic; here is an Italian climate without the enervating languor of that sensuous sunshine."

The Atterbury house was the gayest in Richmond. Mrs. Atterbury, though the mother of a son in the army and a daughter with a coterie of her own in society, insisted on maintaining the leadership she had long held among the social forces of the capital. "All Richmond," and that meant a good deal in a city whose women had been adored for beauty and wit on two continents, received Mrs. Atterbury's bidding to her drawing-room with proud alacrity. Never had her "teas," her musicales, her receptions, and fetes been merrier or more convivial than during this memorable autumn that Jack and Olympia passed as prisoners of war. It was generally believed that the brother and sister were occult agents of the Federal power, negotiating with the Davis Cabinet, and Jack's whimsical sobriety of speech and manner, contrasting with his former high animal spirits, carried out the notion of his being a secret ambassador.

It was at a reception given to the Cabinet by Mrs. Atterbury that the rumor of this accredited function came to Jack's ears. "All Richmond" was among the guests. Olympia, in spite of her abhorrence of the cause, couldn't resist a glow of sympathetic admiration of the women who, in dress, in speech, in tact, in all the artifices which make feminine diplomacy so potent an agency in statecraft, bent every faculty to inspire confidence in the new Administration. Mrs. Davis herself was not the least of the factors that made the President's policy the creed of the land. There was no elaboration of costume—no obtrusive jewels. The most richly dressed dame in the company was a Madame Gannat, the deity of the most charming drawing-room at the capital. At her house society was always sure to meet the European noblemen traveling in the country, the quasi official agents of France, England, and Austria, accredited to the new Confederacy, the generals of the Southern armies on leave in the city, and the political leaders able to snatch an evening's relaxation. For some reason this potential personage let Olympia and Jack see that she was deeply interested in them. She took the young man's arm late in the evening, and whispering, "Find a place where we can have a little talk," accompanied him to a small apartment joining a conservatory, where Mrs. Atterbury transacted business with her agents.

"You must take down a book, so that, in case the curious remark us, our tete-a-tete may not be regarded as conspiracy."

"No one would be apt to associate you with such a thing," Jack said, vaguely.

"I don't know. Like all conspiracies, this Confederate comedy is suspicious."

"Comedy, Mrs. Gannat? Why, I never saw people so earnest! I can't imagine the surroundings of Cromwell more methodic."

"Ah, yes; those who have all to lose by the crash when it comes, are bending every energy to impress the North that we are all of one mind down here; we are not. I am talking frankly with you, because my friend Mrs. Lanview has made me fully acquainted with your circumstances. I have asked you for a talk here because I dare not have you at my house. No one suspects my loyalty to this Davis masquerade; but there are many of us who are doing, and shall do, all the better work for the Union cause. You are just the man needed for a great work here; you are believed to be secretly in favor of the Confederate cause—an ambassador, in short. Now, the special purpose of this talk is this: The men caught at Rosedale three weeks ago are to be tried before a military court. If you and this young man Perley could escape before the event, it would be impossible to convict them. Mrs. Lanview tells me that you are very closely allied to the younger prisoner, Moore, and that for his sake you will do all in your power to avoid testifying."

"I will cut out my tongue before a syllable from me shall bring danger to that noble fellow!"

"Exactly. I expected as much. Now, can you not manage to inspire Perley with the same sentiment? If you can, we feel confident that the court will be unable to secure evidence sufficient to convict. I leave the details to your own ingenuity. Your absence would deprive the judge-advocate of the vital witnesses, but your refusal to testify would only bring you into danger, and prolong the proceedings; and with time we hope to effect an escape. Sh! As I say, Mr. Sprague, the heart of the South beats with one impulse, the triumph of the noblest inspiration of a great people."

The warning and sudden change in topic were caused by the apparition of a dame who came rustling in, a vision of youthful charms and vivaciousness.

"Mrs. Didier Rodney—Mr. Sprague," Mrs. Gannat said, cordially. "You are sent by inspiration, for I am doing my poor best to convince this obdurate Yankee to turn from evil courses and do a duty by the country that will in future make his name illustrious."

"And I have no doubt you have shaken his obstinacy, if there be any left," Mrs. Rodney murmured, studying Jack attentively. "I have just been dining at the Executive Mansion, and Mr. Davis, hearing your name, lamented that women were not eligible to office. If they were, he declared that Mistress Gannat should be appointed ambassadress to France, and that, within ten days of her reception at the Tuileries, there would be a treaty of alliance signed between France and the Confederacy!"

"I take that as rather an admission of weakness on your President's part," Jack said, as the lady glanced inquiringly at him, "since it is a poor cause that requires the strongest advocates."

"Ah! a Southern man would never have said a thing so uncivil as that," Mrs. Rodney cried, reproachfully. "You pay Mrs. Gannat a compliment at the cost of the Confederacy."

"And Mr. Davis paid me a compliment at the expense of the truth, so the account is squared," the elder lady said, serenely.

"Well, Mr. Davis is here himself by this time, and you shall talk it out with him," Mrs. Rodney retorted, as a rustle at the door announced new-comers. A half-dozen ladies came trooping in, among them Mrs. Davis and several of the Cabinet ladies.

"We heard you were here, Madame Gannat," the President's wife murmured, graciously. "And since you wouldn't come to us, we have come to you."

Mrs. Gannat arose to receive the great lady, and when she had exchanged salutations with the rest she presented Jack.

"Ah! the hero of the Rosedale affair," and as Mrs. Davis said this she looked keenly at the young man. She was, he owned, an extremely graceful woman, of a mature beauty, admirable manner, and, as she talked, he remarked keen intelligence, with an occasional evidence of reading, if not high education. She was dressed in simpler taste than her "court," as it was the fashion then to style the Cabinet group. A few jewels were half hidden in the rare lace that covered her bodice, but she was ungloved, and in no sense in the full-dress understood in the North, at a gathering of the sort. The talk became general. Jack, not knowing the personages, simply listened. There was animated discussion as to whether Mistress Judge this, and Mistress General that, or Mistress Senator the other, would be in the capital in time for the opening of the new Congress in December.

"Mr. Davis is very anxious to have the occasion made a grand one, and I reckon that every one of account in the Confederacy will he here." Mrs. Davis said, with conviction.

"The scene will be worthy of a great painting, like the Long Parliament, or the meeting of the Three Estates, at Versailles," Mrs. Rodney added, in a glow of anticipation.

This amusing pedantry rather taxed the historical knowledge of most of the ladies, and to divert the talk Mrs. Monteith, a Cabinet lady, said:

"Who has read the account in the Yankee papers of Lincoln and his wife at a reception of the diplomatic corps? It is too funny. The Lincoln woman was a Southerner. She has some good blood, and ought to know better. She was dressed like a dowdy, and when the ministers bowed she gave them her hand and said, 'How d'ye do?'"

"It will really be a liberal education, to the North to have a capital like ours near them, where their public men can learn manners, and where Northern ladies can see how to conduct themselves in public," Mrs. Rodney broke in, laughing. "It is not often a great people go to war for an idea, but we are taking up the gage of battle to teach our inferiors manners."

"We taught them how to run at Manassas," Mrs. Starlow, a Senator's dame, remarked.

"I'm afraid they have learned the lesson so well that we shall never teach them how to stand," Mrs. Davis added, gayly.

"Ah! friends, we are teaching each other how to die—let us not forget that," Mrs. Gannat murmured, gently, and there was a sudden hush in the exchange of vivacities. Before the strain could he renewed, Mrs. Atterbury entered hastily, crying:

"The gentlemen are all distracted. We are going to have an old-time minuet, such as my mother used to dance with Justice Marshall and Tom Mayo. The President is going to lead with Mistress Wendolph, and all the rest of you are assigned, by command of the Executive."

"Humph! a military despotism?" asked Mrs. Renfrew, a young bride of the Executive Mansion, whose husband was confidential adviser of the President. "I don't think I shall obey. I shall show the honesty of my rebel blood by selecting my own partner, unless some one asks me very humbly."

"Shall I go on my knees, Mrs. Renfrew?—I know no humbler attitude," Jack said, hastily presenting himself.

"Oh, yes, sir; there is something humbler than the knees."

"Yes? What, pray?"

"Repentance. Deny your name; no longer be a Montague—that is, a Yankee. Give me the hand of a rebel. Then I shall believe you."

"I am a rebel."

"Ah! you have been converted?"

"I never was perverted."

"You have been with us all the time?"

"I have been here a long time!"

"And you are a rebel. Oh, I must tell Mr. Davis!"

"He knows it, I think."

"Oh, no, he can not; for it was only a few moments since that he said to Mrs. Atterbury that the son of Senator Sprague, the friend of Calhoun and the comrade of Hayne, should be in the ranks of the young nobility upholding our sacred cause."

"I am, however, a rebel—a rebel to all these fascinations I see about me, a rebel to your beauty, a rebel to all you desire."

"Pah! you odious Yankee; I felt certain that you had not come to your senses."

"I don't think I ever lost them—though I never had enough to make such a spirit as yours lament their loss." The rest of the ladies had passed out; and, as this repartee went on. Jack led his petulant companion into the large drawing-room, where he instantly recognized the President with Mrs. Wendolph on his arm. He towered above the mass of the dancers, eying the admiring groups with attentive scrutiny. He was in evening dress, but, unlike the larger number of the eminent partisans in the rooms, had no insignia, military or otherwise, to denote exalted rank.

As the President was to lead off, to keep up the character of a court minuet, the middle of the large room was left uncrowded. The music began what Jack thought at first was a funeral march, but with the first bars the tall, slender figure of the President bent almost double, while the lady seemed fairly seated on the floor, she bent down and back so far. She had adjusted a prodigious silken train, which swept and swirled in many bewildering folds as she slowly turned, courtesied, tripped forward and retreated, with such bending and twisting as would turn a ballet-master mad with envy. In all the movement of the overture the two dancers merely touched the tips of each other's fingers, and when the solemn measure came to a close the President slid across the floor in one graceful, immense pirouette, handing the lady who confronted him, bent nearly to the ground, into her seat. There was an outburst of applause, and then the assembly took places, repeating, in as far as the mass would permit, the stately evolutions of the leader.

Later, a Virginia reel followed, danced with old-time verve, some of the more accomplished dancers bounding over the floor in pigeon-wings, such as were cut by the nimble a hundred years ago, when Richmond danced in honor of Washington and Lafayette. There was no end of drinking among the men, and as soon as the dancing seemed at its height the matrons began to gather into groups and send out signals to the younger ladies. The feast ended in drinking-bouts between dispersed bodies, who seemed to know the names of all the servants, and ordered as liberally as if in their own houses. In the melee of separation, Jack felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Remember, every moment is precious. Many lives, perhaps a great campaign, depend upon your discretion, promptitude, and loyalty. Be ready when the signal reaches you, and remember you do not know me beyond the civility of a presentation, and do not like me."

Jack had hardly turned as these words were whispered in his ear, and he gave the kind lady's hand a warm pressure, as she moved away unremarked in the throng.

Jack, confiding Mrs. Gannat's disclosures to Olympia, was elated by his sister's enthusiasm, and was strengthened in his conviction that he was doing right by her approval.

"But you know, Polly, that—I—I, too, must be of the party? I must fly to the Union lines."

"Of course you will! I should be ashamed of you were you to let such a chance pass. It is the only thing to do; it is your duty as a soldier to be with your flag; any means to get to it is justified. The Atterburys will feel hurt, perhaps outraged, but I can soon convince them that you have only done what Vincent would do, and whatever he would do they will soon see is right for you to do, even though it may bring them into temporary disgrace with the authorities. Of late I have begun to suspect that the Atterburys are to blame for your detention."

"What do you mean to blame? Surely they can not hasten the slow business of negotiation?"

"No; but I'm convinced that they have given out hopes that you can be seduced into a soldier of secession. It is common talk in the drawing-rooms I have visited, where I was not always recognized as your sister. The silly tale has angered me, but for prudence sake I kept silent. I have heard in a score of places that the Atterburys were detaining you until another reverse to the Union arms should convince you of the uselessness of remaining in the service of the abolitionists."

"O Polly, it must be a joke! They little know me, who could suspect me of such dishonor! Surely the Atterburys can't think me so base as that. What have I ever done to justify such a stigma?"

"You wrong them there. They hold that you are wanting in loyalty to our father's memory in espousing the cause of men who were his enemies—men who strove to ruin his political life. It is in being a soldier of the Union that they look upon you as recreant to the traditions of your family and your party."

"Well, I shall make a hard struggle for escape. If I fail, they will at least see that I am in earnest—that I put country before family or party, or anything else that men hold dear. Heavens! to think of being held in such bondage! I could stand it with more patience if I were in prison sharing the hard lines of the fellows. But to be here; to be hand in glove with these boasting, audacious coxcombs, and forced to listen to their callow banter of us and our army, it makes me feel like a sneak and a traitor, and I'm glad that I see the end."

"But do you see the end? Prudence is one of the wisest counselors in war. You are very rash, and you must take all your measures carefully. It won't do to rush into a trap, as you did at Manassas; and, O Jack, what is to become of Dick? He is not in the lists. He has no standing here, and is at the mercy of any one who chooses to accuse him of being a spy."

"By George, you're right! I hadn't thought of that. He must go with me. I had thought it better to leave him. He is so happy with Rosa that I fancied he would remain contentedly until the war ends. But he is in constant danger. He is forever tantalizing the people that visit the house, who make slighting allusions to the Northern armies, and very likely some rebel patriot will take the trouble to inquire about him."

"But even if this were not a peril, he would never consent to remain here if you were gone. I think he would give up Rosa rather than be separated from you."

"Yes, the impulsive little beggar, I believe he would," Jack said, his eyes glistening. "That will compel us to take him into the secret. In fact, I don't see how it can be managed without him; and then his testimony would convict the prisoners. I hadn't thought of that. But now, Polly, about yourself. What's to become of you?"

"I have my plans laid. Mrs. Myrason, the wife of one of Johnston's generals, is going to the front next week. I shall insist to-night on accompanying her, as some of our physicians are going to be sent through the lines at the same time. There is really no reason for my remaining here, now that you are well. I have already broached the subject to Mrs. Atterbury, and I shall inform her at once that I am decided. She will not suspect anything, as she knew I was half-tempted to go North when mamma went. The important thing for you, now, is to give your whole mind to the rescue, and have no fears for me. If you can convince Dick to go with you, all will be well. If he proves obstinate, hand him over to me." Jack laughed.

"Polly, you should have been the first-born of the house of Sprague; you have twice the sense that I have."

"It isn't sense that wins in war; it is daring and resolution, and you have all that."

When Jack had cautiously laid the situation before his young Patroclus, that precocious warrior at once justified the confidence reposed in him.

"Rosa has promised to marry me as soon as the war is over. She can't expect me to hang around here like a peg-top on a string. Besides, I wouldn't stay where you are not, Jacko, even if I lost my sweetheart for good and all."

There was a piteous quaver in the treble voice, and, forgetting that he was no longer a school-boy, he brushed his eyes furtively with his coat-sleeve, as Jack pretended preoccupation with his shoe-string.

"You're a brick, Dick. I think I have confided that to you before—but you are a brick, made of the best straw in the field of life, and you shall be a general one of these days—your shrill voice shall let slip the dogs of war and cry havoc to the enemy. You shall return to Acredale—proud Acredale—your brows bound with victorious wreaths, and all the small boys perched on the spreading oaks to salute you."

"I think I have heard something like that before, my blarneying Plantagenet. You shall be the Percy of the North, and command the great battle. You shall meet and vanquish fifty Harrys, and cry, 'God for Union, liberty, and the laws.'"

"Bravo! You know your Shakespeare if you don't know prudence. However, we're plotters now, and you must take on your wisest humor. You must not breathe a word to Rosa. Love is a freebooter in confidences. It has no conscience, as it has no law. It is an immense friction on the sober relations of life. It is cousin to the god of lies—Mercury. So be warned that while your heart is Rosa's your reason's your country's, your friends', and you have a chance now to employ it to the profit of both! You must be ready to evade Rosa's infinite questioning with innocent plausibilities, for you must bear in mind that, however much she may love you, she, like you, loves her cause, her people—more, in fact, for you have seen that these passionate Southerners have made a religion of the war, and, like all enthusiasts, they will go any lengths, deny all ties; glory, faith, in personal sacrifices and heart-wrenchings, to make the South triumph. So, without being false to your love, you must deceive, to be true to your country; for to lull love's suspicions a man must regulate the two currents of his life, the heart and brain. Keep the heart in check and let the brain rule in such affairs as we have on hand."

"Phew Jack! you talk like a college professor. You're deeper than a well; and what was the other thing Mercutio said?"

"Ah! Mercutio said so much that Shakespeare got frightened and let Tybalt kill him. So beware of saying too much. That's your great danger, Dick; your tongue is terrible—mostly to your friends."

"Is it, indeed? I have a friend who doesn't think so."

"No, because she considers your tongue part of herself now."

"I don't see why she should; she has enough of her own."

"In wooing-time no woman ever had enough tongue."

"How changed you are from what you were at Acredale, Jack! I never heard you talk so deep and bookish."

"I had no need at Acredale, Dick. There I was a boy—lived as a boy, romped as a boy, and loved boyish things. But a man ripens swiftly in war—you yourself have. You are no longer the mischief-maker and tom-boy that terrified your family and set the gossips agog in the dear old village. Mind broadens swiftly in war. That one dreadful day at Bull Run enlarged my faculties, or trained them rather, as much as a course in college. Something very serious came into my life that day. It had its effect on you too. It fairly revolutionized Vint; we may not have exactly put away boyishness and boyish things—please God, I hope to be a boy many a year yet—but we have been made to think as men, act as men, and realize that there are consequences and responsibilities in life such as we could not have realized in ten years in time of peace."

Dick listened during this solemn comedy of immature doctrinal induction, his eyes dilating with wonder and admiration. Jack, in the role of sage, delighted him, and he straightway confided to Rosa that he couldn't understand how any girl could love another man while Jack was to be had.

"He's so clever, so brave, so manly. He knows so much, and yet never takes the trouble to let any one see it. Ah, Rosa, I wish I were like Jack!"

"I think Jack's very nice, but I know somebody that's much nicer," Rosa replied, busy with a rough material that was plainly intended for the Southern warriors.

"Ah! but if you really knew all about Jack, you wouldn't look at anybody else," Dick cried, pensively, tangling his long legs in the young girl's work.

"There, you clumsy fellow; you've ruined this seam, and I must get this work done before noon. We're all going to the provost prison to take garments to the recruits. You may come if you'll be very good and help me with these supplies."

"May I? I will sew on the buttons. Oh, you think I can't? Just give me a needle." And sure enough Dick, gravely arming himself from the store in Rosa's "catch-all," set to fastening the big buttons as composedly as if he had been brought up in a tailor's shop. It was in this sartorial industry that Jack, coming in, presently discovered the pair.

"You've turned Dick into a seamstress, have you, Rosalind? You're an amazing little magician. Dick's sewing heretofore has been of the common boy-sort—wild oats."

"No, Mr. Jack, I'm no magician. Dick is a very sensible fellow, and, like Richelieu in the play, he ekes out the lion's skin with the fox's."

"I didn't come to add to the stores of your wisdom. This is the day set, as I understand it, for us to go to the prison and relieve the distress of the victims of war. Do I understand that we, Dick and I, are to go and have our patriotic hearts torn by the sight of woes that fortune, in the shape of the Atterburys, keeps us from?"

"Of course you are. We couldn't think of going without you. There, my work is done. We'll have lunch and then start," Rosa said, rising and directing Dick to fill the large wicker basket with the garments.

Fashion and idleness make strange pastimes. The recreation to which Jack and Dick were bidden was a visit to the melancholy shambles where the heterogeneous mass of unclassified prisoners were detained. It was a long, gabled building on the brink of the river, from whose low, grated windows the culprits could catch glimpses of the James, tumbling over its sedgy, sometimes rocky bed. A few yards from it arose the grim walls of what had been a tobacco-factory, now the never-to-be forgotten Libby Prison.

It was an animated and curious group that made up Jack's party. They were piloted by a young aide on the staff of General Lee, and, as his entire mind was engrossed in making his court to Rosa, the pilgrims were given the widest latitude for investigation. On the lower tier he pointed out the cells of the Rosedale prisoners, where, as you may imagine, Jack and Dick, without giving a sign, kept their wits alert. Jones—the "most desperate of the conspirators against the President, the special agent of Butler"—was in a cell by himself, constantly guarded by a sentinel.

"This, Sprague," said the young aide, lowering his voice as he came abreast of Jones's cell, "is the man the Government has the strongest proof against. He is proved to have come into our lines from the Warwick River, to have managed to escape from Castle Thunder, and to have led the miscreants to Rosedale. Your own and young Perley's testimony after that will swing him higher than a spy was ever swung before."

These words, begun in a low tone, were made clearer and louder by the sudden cessation of chatter among the visiting group. Jones, who seemed to have come to his grating when the suppressed laughter sounded in the dark corridor, heard every word of the official's speech. He was no longer the bearded desperado Jack had seen in the melee at Rosedale—there was a certain distinction in the poise of the head, an inborn gentility in the impassive contemplation with which he met the furtive scrutiny of the curious visitors. Jack he eyed with something of surprise, but when Dick pushed suddenly in front of the timorous group of young women, he started, changed color, and averted his face; then, as if suddenly recalling himself, turned and devoured the lad with a strange, yearning tenderness. Dick met the gaze with his habitual easy gayety, and, turning to Jack, said, impulsively:

"I should never recognize this man as the bandit who fired the shot that night—are you really the Jones that choked and wounded me at Rosedale?" Dick advanced quite close to the wicked as he asked this.

"And who may you be, if I am permitted to ask a question?" the prisoner replied vaguely, all the time devouring the boy with his dilating eyes.

"I am Richard Perley, of Acredale, a soldier of the Union and a friend of all who suffer in its cause." Dick murmured the last words so low that the group of visitors did not catch them, and, adding to them an emphasis of the eye that the prisoner seemed too agitated to notice, he continued, as Jack pushed nearer; "This is certainly not the man we saw at Rosedale. But I have seen you somewhere. Tell me, have I not?"

"I can tell you nothing—I—I" As he said this Jones backed against the wall. The guard sprang forward in alarm. The women, of course, cried out in many keys, most of them skurrying away toward the staircase.

"Water!" Jack cried. "Guard, have you no water handy?"

"No, sir; the canteen was broken, and there is none nearer than the guard-room."

"Run and get some. I will see that the prisoner does not get out. Run!"

The aide had gallantly gone forward in the passage to reassure the ladies, and Jack, seizing the chance, for which the prisoner seemed to be prepared, whispered:

"Here is an auger, a chisel, and a knife. Secrete them. Work straight out under your window. We shall be ready for you by Wednesday night. Don't fail to give a signal if anything happens that prevents your cutting through. There is only an old stone wall between you and the river. You must take precautions against the water, if it is high enough to reach your cut."

Jones played his part admirably. He remained limp and stolid in the supporting arms of Jack, while Dick, hovering in the doorway, kept the prying remnant of the visitors, eager to witness the scene, at a safe distance. When the water came Jack yielded his place to the guard and the party moved on.

"Here we have a real Yankee, a regular nutmeg," the young aide cried, as the party came to a room not far from Jones's. "This youngster was one of the chief devils in the attack on Rosedale. The judge-advocate has tried every means to coax a confession from him, but without result. He is as gay as a bridegroom, and answers all threats with a joke."

"Ah! the old Barney under all," Jack said, half sadly.

"Do you know him, Mr. Sprague?"

"Like a brother. He is from my town."

"Ah, perhaps you can convince him that his best course is open confession?"

"No, I fear not. He is very headstrong, and would rather have his joke on the gibbet than own himself in the wrong."

"But, Mr. Jack, if you should talk to him, show him the wickedness of conspiring against a peaceful family, inciting a servile race to murder, I'm sure you could move him, and it would be such a comfort to have the criminals themselves expose the atrocious plot."

This was said by Miss Delmayne, a niece of Mrs. Gannat. Jack caught her eye as she spoke, and instantly realized the covert meaning. How stupid he had been! Of course, Barney must be apprised of the rescue, and what time more propitious than the present? But, unfortunately, he had not provided himself with the tools for the emergency. What could be done? He suddenly remembered a bayonet he had seen near the guard-room. It was lying unnoticed on the bench.

"I must have a drink before I answer a plea so urgent. Amuse the prisoner while I slake my thirst."

Barney was lying at the far end of the narrow, boarded cage. He raised his head as the group halted before his door, but gave no sign of interest as this dialogue was carried on:

"Prisoner," said the aide, magisterially, "come to the door."

"Jailer, what shall I come to the door for?" Barney mimicked indolently.

"Because I hid you, sir."

"Not a reason in law, sir."

"I'll have the guard haul you here."

"Then he'll have a mighty poor haul, as King James said when he caught the Orange troopers in the Boyne."

"I'll teach you, sir, to defy a commissioned officer!"

"I've learned that already; but if you're a school-teacher I'll decline the verb 'will' for you."

"Guard, hustle that beast forward."

"Guard, don't give yourself the trouble." And Barney arose nimbly and came to the grating. "O captain, dear, why didn't ye tell me there were ladies here? You could have spared your eloquence and your authority if you had told me that the star of beauty, the smile of angels, the—"

"Never mind, sir; be respectful, and wait till you're spoken to."

"Then, captain, dear, do you profit by your own advice; let the ladies talk. I'm all ears, as the rabbit said to the weasel."

But at this interesting point of the combat Jack returned, and, pushing-to the door, cried, as if in surprise, "Hello, Barney, boy, what are you doing here?"

"Diverting the ladies, Jack, dear, and giving the captain a chance to practice command, for fear he'll not get a show in battle." The roar that saluted this retort subdued the bumptious cavalier, and he affected deep interest in the whispered questions of one of the young women in the rear of the group.

"You're the same old Barney. Marc Anthony gave up the world for a kiss, you'd capitulate a kingdom for a joke," Jack said, striving to catch Barney's eye and warn him to be prudent.

"Well, Jack, dear, between the joke and the kiss, I think I'd go out of the world better satisfied with the kiss; at all events, it wouldn't be dacent to say less with so many red lips forninst me," and Barney winked untold admiration at the laughing group before him, all plainly delighted with his conquest of the captain.

"But, Barney, you should be thinking of more serious things."

"Sure I've thought of nothing else for three months. The trees can't go naked all the year; the brook can't keep ice on it in summer; the swan sings before it dies; the grasshopper whirrs loudest when its grave is ready. Why shouldn't I have me joke when I've had nothing but hard knocks, loneliness, and the company of the prison for half the year?"

"Poor fellow!" Rosa murmured in Dick's ear, who had not trusted himself in sight of his old comrade. "I don't believe he's a bad man; I don't believe he came to our house. Oh! pray, Mr. Jack, do talk with him. Encourage him to be frank, and we will get Mr. Davis to pardon him."

"Pardon, is it, me dear? Sure there's no pardon could be as sweet as your honest e'en—God be good to ye!—an' if I were Peter after the third denial of me Maker, your sweet lips would drag the truth from me! What is it you would have me tell?"

"The captain, here, desires me to talk with you. He thinks that perhaps I can convince you of the wiser course to follow," Jack said, with a meaning light in his eye.

"Oh, if that's what's wanted, I will listen to you 'till yer arms give out, as Judy McMoyne said, when Teddy tould his love, I promise, in advance, to do what you advise."

"I knew you would," Jack said, approvingly.—"Now, captain, if you can give me five minutes—"

The captain beckoned the guard, whispered a moment, and then said, exultingly:

"The guard will stand in the passage until you have finished with the prisoner. We shall await you in the porch."

"Now, Barney, I must be brief, and you must not lose a syllable I say. Here, sit on the cot, so that I may slip this bayonet under the blanket. You can work through this wall with that. You must do it to-night and to-morrow. Be ready Thursday at daylight. You will be met on the outside either by Dick or myself. We have the route all arranged, and friends in many places to lull suspicion."

"But I won't stir a foot without Jones. Do you know who he is?" Barney whispered, eying Jack curiously.

"No other than that he seems a very desperate devil-may-care fellow. Who is he?"

"An agent and crony of Boone's."

"Good God!"

"It's a long story I can't tell it now, but if your plan takes him in, I'm ready, and will be on hand."

"I have seen him, and have given him better tools than I have brought you for the work."

"That's all right. I ask nothing better than the bayonet. The other fellows that got out of Libby didn't have nearly so good."

"You know how I am fixed here. I have grown tired of this sort of hostage life, and I am going North with you. So, Barney, I beg of you to be careful, for other lives than your own are at stake. I should be specially hateful to the authorities if I were retaken—for the whole Southern people clamor to have an example made of the assassins of the President, as they call you."

"Don't fear, Jack; I'll be quiet as a sucking pig in star light. I'll be yer shadow and never open me mouth, even if a jug, big as Teddy Fin's praty-patch, stud furninst me!"

"It isn't your tongue I'm so much afraid of as your propensity to combat. You must resist that delight of yours—whacking stray heads and flourishing your big fists."

"My fists, is it? Then I'll engage to keep them still as O'Connell's legs in Phoenix Square."

"Now, I shall report that you are considering my advice. You must be very gentle and placating to the guard, and let on that you have something on your mind."

"Indeed, I needn't let on at all. I have as much on me mind as Biddy McGinniss had on her back when she carried Mick home from the gallows."

"O Barney, Barney, you would joke if the halter were about your neck!"

"An' why wouldn't I, me bye? What chance would I have if I didn't? I couldn't joke when I was dead, could I?"

"Well, well, think over what I've said, and remember that penitence half absolves guilt."

This was said for the benefit of the guard, who had approached as Jack arose to take his leave.



CHAPTER XXIII.

ALL'S FAIR IN LOVE AND WAR.

Opportunity is an instinct to the man who dares. To him the law of the impossible has no meaning. To him there is no such thing as the unexpected. What he wants comes to pass, because he can not see danger, difficulty, nor any of the obstacles that daunt the prudent and the temporizing. It is, therefore, the impossible that is fulfilled in many of the crises of life. By the same token it is the foolhardy and preposterous thing that is most readily done in determinate conjunctures. We guard against the possible, but we take little note of the enterprises that involve foolhardiness or desperation. Daring has safeguards of its own that are understood only when mad ventures have come to successful issue. Helpless and hopeless as Jack's situation seemed, the very poverty of his resources, helped the daring scheme of escape that filled his mind night and day during these apparently indolent weeks of pleasuring in the ranks of his enemies. Then, too, the arrogant self-confidence of his captors was an inestimable aid. Military discipline and provost vigilance were at their slackest stage in the rebel lines at this triumphant epoch in the fortunes of the Confederacy. The easily won combat at Bull Run had filled the authorities—as well as the rank and file—with overweening contempt for the resources of the North, or the enterprise of its soldiers. It was not until long after the time I am now writing about, that the prisoners were closely guarded and access refused to the idle and curious. But, as a matter of fact, nothing in the fortunes of our friends equals the truth of the thrilling and desperate chances taken by Northern captives to escape the lingering death of prison in the South. Since the war, volumes have been written of personal experience, amply attested, that would in romance receive the derisive mark of the critics. Danger daily met becomes a commonplace to men of resolution. Things which appall us when we read them become a simple part of our purpose when we live in an atmosphere of peril and put our hope only in ending the ordeal.

The incident I am narrating were the work of many hands. Mrs. Gannat had from the first given her heart to the Union cause. A woman of high standing in society, well known throughout the State for her mind, her manners, and her benevolence, it was not difficult for her, by adroit management, to aid such prisoners as fell into rebel hands during the early years of the war. Before Richmond became a mart in the modern sense, the Gannat mansion, set far back among the trees of a noble grove, was a shrine to the tradition loving citizens, for, beyond any Southern city, save perhaps New Orleans, Richmond folk cherished the memory of aristocratic and semi-regal ancestors. There were those still living when the war began, who had heard their fathers and mothers talk of the last royal Governor and the splendid state of the great noblemen who had flocked to the city of Powhatan when Virginia was the gem of England's colonial coronet. The patrician caste of the city still held its own, aided by the helot hand of slavery. Among the most reverently considered in this sanctified group, Mrs. Gannat was, if not first, the conceded equal. She was the dowager of the ancient noblesse. The young Virginian received in her drawing-rooms carried away a distinction which was recognized throughout the State. The dame admitted to Mrs. Gannat's semi-literary levees was accepted as all that society demanded of its votaries.

In other years this great lady had been the admired center of the court circle in Washington. There she had known very intimately Senator—then Congressman—Sprague. Jack remembered vaguely the gossip of an engagement between his father and a famous Southern beauty; and when the lady in the course of the conspiring said, as they talked, "My son, I might have been your mother," he knew that this gentle-voiced, kindly-eyed matron was the woman his father had loved and lost. I don't propose to rehearse the ingenuities of the complicated plans whereby the group we are interested in were to be delivered. Mrs. Gannat's perfect knowledge of the city, her intimacy with the President, Cabinet, and leading men, her vogue with the officials, all tended to make very simple and easy that which would seem in the telling hare-brained and impossible. Jack's unique position, and Dick's attitude of the half-acknowledged fiance of an Atterbury, broke down bars that even Mrs. Gannat's far-reaching sagacity might not have been able to cope with in certainty. The night chosen for the escape was fatefully propitious. The President was entertaining the newly arrived French delegate and the ministers Mason and Slidell, just appointed to the courts of St. James and the Tuileries. Everybody that was anybody was of the splendid company.

Jack, however, was tortured by a doubt of Dick's constancy when it came to an abrupt quitting of his sweetheart. Poor lad, he fought the battle bravely, making no sign; and when Rosa, the picture of demure loveliness, in her girlish finery, asked him maliciously as the carriage drove toward the Executive Mansion—

"Don't you feel like a traitor, you sly Yankee?" Dick gave a great groan and said:

"O Rosa, Rosa, I can't go! I do feel like a traitor. I am a traitor."

Jack, luckily, was sitting beside him, and brought his heel down on the lad's toes with such emphasis that he uttered a cry of pain. Rosa was all solicitude at this.

"What is it, Richard; have I wounded you? Don't mind my chatter; I only do it to tease you. He shall be a Yankee; he shall make nutmegs; he shall abuse the chivalrous South; he shall be what he likes; he sha'n't be teased—" and she wound her bare arms about his neck, quite indifferent to the reproving nudges of mamma and the sad mirthfulness of Jack.

Dick found means in the noise of the chariot, and the crush they presently came into, for saying something that seemed to lessen the self-reproachful tone of the penitent, and, when they entered the modest portals of the presidency, Rosa was radiant and Dick equable, but not in his usual chattering volubility.

"You are sure you do not repent? You can stay if you choose," Jack said, as they entered the dressing-room.

"Where you go, I go; what you say is right I know is right, and I will do it." Dick looked away confusedly as he said this. They were surrounded by young officers, all of whom the two young men knew.

"Ah, ha, Mr. Perley! I have stolen a march on you; I have secured the first waltz from Miss Rosa," a young man at the mirror cried, as Dick adjusted his gloves.

"Then, Captain Warrick, I'm likely to be a wall-flower, for the second, third, and fourth were promised yesterday."

"Fortunes of war, my dear fellow—fortunes of war. You must lay siege to another fortress."

"Dick," Jack whispered, "it's an omen. It will give us time to slip out and change our garments without the danger of excuses, for, though nothing is suspected, any incautious phrase may destroy us."

"Don't fear for me. I shall be prudent as a confessor. We can't go, however, just yet. I must have a little talk with Rosa. I may never see her again. If you were in love and going from the light of her eye, perhaps never to see her again, you wouldn't be so cool. We must, anyway, take the ladies to the host and hostess for presentation; then a few words and I am ready." Dick was trembling visibly and blushing like a school-girl at first facing a class-day crowd. Jack's heart went out to the lad, and he thought the chances about even that when the moment of trial came the boy's resolution would give way. The ladies were waiting for them when they emerged into the corridors—Rosa began, prettily, to rally Dick on his tardiness. It took time to thread the constantly increasing crowd in the hallways, the corridors, and on the stairs, but they finally reached the group in which Mrs. Davis was receiving the confused salutations of the throng at the drawing-room door. As soon as this formality was ended, Rosa whisked Dick in one direction while Mrs. Atterbury asked Jack to take her to the library. Here, by a happy chance, she came upon a group of dowagers—friends of her youth from other towns—brought to the capital by the event, or their husbands' official duties in the new government. Jack bowed low as he relinquished the good lady's arm, feeling as if he were embarking on some odious treason, in view of her persistent and generous treatment of him and his.

"Now that you are among the friends of your youth, I will leave you; who knows whether I shall see you again?" he faltered, as she turned an affectionate glance upon him.

"Oh, you needn't think that you can take conge for good, Jack. I may want to dance during the night. If I do I shall certainly lay my commands upon you. You may devote yourself to the young people now, but I warn you I am not to be thrown over so easily. Besides, I want to present you to a dozen friends that you have not yet met at my house."

"You will always know where to find me; but I am not so sure that I shall be as able, as I am willing, to come to you," Jack said, trembling at the double meaning of his words.

"Oh, I know you're dying to get to the dancers."

"I can go to no one that it will give me more happiness to please than you. Indeed, I'm going into danger when I quit you. Give me your blessing, as if it were Vincent going to the wars."

She had turned from the throng of ladies, who were discussing a political secret, and her eyes melted tenderly as Vincent's name passed Jack's lips. She touched his bowed head gently, saying:

"Why, how serious you are! One would think beauty a battery, and you on the way to charge."

"You are right. It is a murderous ambush."

"Well, if you regard it so seriously—God bless you in it."

Her gentle eyes rested tenderly on him; he seized the kind hand, and, raising it to his lips in the gallant Southern fashion, turned and hurried away among the guests.

"Ah, Mrs. Atterbury, conquests at your age, from hand to lip, there's but short interval," and the President held up a warning finger as he came closer to the lady.

"Oh, no, age makes a long route between hand and lip—thirty years ago you kissed my hand, and you never reached the lip."

"It wasn't my fault that I didn't."

"Nor your misfortune either," and Mrs. Atterbury glanced archly at her rival, Mrs. Davis, the mature beauty of the scene.

Dick, meanwhile, not so dexterous in expedients or ready in speech as his mentor, became wedged in an eddy, just outside the main stream, pouring drawing-room ward, so that, returning to the spot where they had separated, Jack did not, for the moment, discover him.

Rosa's gayety and delight deepened the depression that made Dick so unlike himself. At first, in the exuberance of the scene, the girl did not heed this. She knew everybody, and, though in daily contact with most of them, there were no end of whispered confidences to exchange and tender reassurances in ratification of some new compact. Then there were solemn notes of comparison as to the fit and form of gowns, or the fit of a furbelow, exhaustively discussed, perhaps that very afternoon. Keen eyes, merry and tantalizing, were lifted to Dick's sulky face during this pretty by-play, but all the gayety of the comedy was lost to him. When he could contain himself no longer, with another bevy of cronies in sight coming down the stairs, he cried out, desperately:

"For Heaven's sake, Rosa, don't wait here like the statue in St. Peter's, to be kissed by everybody on the way to the pope; it's simply sickening to stand here like a shrine to be slopped by girls that you see every day. Come away; I want to say something to you."

Rosa turned her astonished eyes upon the railer, and, with a comic movement of immense dignity, drew her arm from his sheltering elbow, and, in tones of freezing hauteur retorted:

"And since when, sir, are you master of my conduct? I am my own mistress, I believe. I shall kiss whom I please."

"O Rosa, Rosa, I didn't mean that; I don't know what I meant. I—O Rosa, don't be fretful with me now! I can't bear it. I am ill—I mean I am tired. Come and sit with me."

Several on the outer edge of the flowing current turned curiously as this sharp cry of boyish pleading rose above the noisy clamor. It was impossible, however, to push backward, but in an instant the lovers were sheltered in an alcove near the doorway. Rosa had taken his rejected arm again in a panic of guilty repentance, and, looking at his half-suffused eyes, cried, piteously:

"Oh, forgive me, Richard, forgive me—I did not mean it! I forgot you were ill. Ah, please, please forgive me! You know—I—I—"

But Dick, now conscious that inquiring eyes were fastened upon them, curious ears listening, seized her arm, and, by main force, reached the hall doorway, now nearly deserted.

"Rosa, I am not well—that is, I have a headache, or heartache—it's the same thing. I didn't mean to tell you, for I didn't want to destroy your pleasure, and you have looked forward so long to this; but I—I—can not dance. Jack and I are going to walk a little while, and then we—we shall be more ourselves."

Poor Dick had only the slightest idea what he was saying, and Rosa listened with wide-open eyes and little appealing caresses, not quite certain what the distracted lover did mean.

"All your dances are taken up. Young Warrick just told me he had the first. You gave Gayo Brotherton two yesterday, so you will have no need of me for hours yet."

"But I will cut them if you say so. Only you know that it is our way here to give the first who ask."

"Yes, yes; that's right. I—I couldn't dance now. I shall be all right, presently if—if I see you happy. Ah, Rosa, if—if I should die—if I should be carried away, would you always love me, would you always believe in me?"

"Why, Dick, you are really ill; let me feel your wrist." Rosa seized Dick's hand and began a convulsive squeezing. "Yes, you certainly have a fever. You must go home. I shall go with you. It is your wound. It has broken out again—I know it has. You shall go home this instant. I will send for the carriage. Come straight up-stairs, you wicked boy! To let me come here when you are so ill! I shall never forgive myself—never!"

"A large vow for a small maid."

"Mr. Jack!"—for the voice was Jack's—"Dick is very ill, and he must go home at once. Will you not get the carriage and take us?"

"I will not take you. I am very experienced in Dick's ailments, and I have already summoned a physician, who is waiting for us. But he can not attend his patient if you are present."

"Yes, Rosa, Jack is right. I will leave you now, and when you see me again you will see that I am not ill—that I—I—"

"I will stop for you at the door, Dick. You know the physician can not be kept waiting, so make your parting brief. Short shrift is the easiest in love and war."

"A doctor is as dreadful to me as a battle, Rosa. Kiss me as if I were going to the field," Dick whispered as Jack's back was turned. A minute later he had joined his mentor, and the two hurried through the square and down toward the river.

"I can't do it, Jack," Dick suddenly broke out, as they hurried through the dark street. "I must leave Rosa a line telling her my motive. What will she think of me sneaking away like this without a word? Now, you go on to Blake's cabin and change your clothes. I will get an old suit of Vint's. It will really make no difference in the time, and it will be safer for us to reach the prison separately than together."

"No, Dick, be a man. Every line you write will add to our peril. She will, of course, show it to her mother. Our night will be known in the morning. Mrs. Atterbury is too loyal to the Confederacy to conceal anything. You will thus give the authorities the very clew they need. No, Dick, you must be guided by me in this; besides, you can send Rosa letters through Vincent at headquarters as soon as we reach Washington."

"I can't help it. I know you are right, but I must do it. I will be with you in less than an hour. I'm off."

"Listen!—Good God, he's gone!" Jack ejaculated as Dick, taking advantage of a cross-street, shot off into the darkness. Jack halted. To call would be dangerous; to run after him excite comment, perhaps pursuit and discovery. There was nothing to be done but wait at the rendezvous. He would come back—Jack tried to make himself believe that he could depend on that. When, after a circuitous walk of half an hour, he reached the cabin of Blake, the colored agent of Mrs. Gannat, he found a note from his patroness warning him that the prison authorities had become alert. A rumor of a plot to escape had penetrated the War Department, and orders had been given to increase the precaution of the guards. The reception at the President's was a stroke of good fortune for the prisoners, as all the higher officials would be detained there until morning. Perhaps, in view of the chance, it would be better to anticipate the hour of flight, as, unfortunately, the horses that had been got together for the fugitives were in use for the Davis guests, and on such short notice others could not be provided without exciting suspicion or pointing to the agency by which the liberation had been brought about.

"Ah, if Dick were only here," Jack groaned, "we could go to the square and lead away enough staff or orderly horses to serve the purpose. The little wretch! It would serve him properly to leave him here mooning over his sweetheart." Then his heart took up a little tremor of protest. He sighed gently. He, too, had loitered when his heart pleaded. Why should Dick be firmer than he? It was after midnight when he reached the sheltering, broken, ground along the river. The provost prison fronted the water. It had been a tobacco warehouse, built long before, and hastily transformed into its present military purpose. It was set in what was called a "cut" in the heavy clay bank, thus bringing the lower windows below the level of the surrounding land. There were sentries stationed in front and rear, who walked at regular intervals from corner to corner. The sentinel on the high level to the rear could not see the ground along the wall, and it was this fact which Jack calculated upon to enable him to help the prisoners to remove the debris of the wall through which they were to presently emerge. The night was pitchy dark. This had been taken into consideration long before. Heavy clouds hung over the river, throwing the prison and its environs into still more security for Jack's purpose. He reconnoitred every available point, searched every corner of possible danger, and as the time passed he began to rage with impatience against Dick, whose delay was now periling the success of the enterprise.

It was twelve o'clock and after. He dared wait no longer. Dick must shift for himself. Perhaps he had lost his way. In any event it was safer to set the general prisoners free, as they were only carelessly guarded. Lamps glimmered fitfully in the guard-room, throwing fantastic banners of light almost to the water's edge. He made a final tour about the broken ground, but there was no sound or suspicion of Dick. He knew every inch of the ground. Dick and he had surveyed and resurveyed it for days. The coast was clear. No one was on guard at the vital point, but still he lingered, his breath coming and going painfully, as a break in the clouds cast a moving shape over the undulating ground. Should he give the boy another half-hour's grace? He makes a circuit in the direction Dick must approach by and waits. He will count a hundred very slowly, then wait no longer. He counts up to fifty, hears a coming step, and waits alertly. No—it passes on. He begins again—counts one hundred, two hundred. No sign. "Pah! it is madness to delay for him. The young poltroon has lost his resolution in his lovesick fever. Very likely he has been unable to run the risk of Rosa's anger—her mother's indignation—the possibility of never seeing the girl again." Well, he had given him ample grace. He had endangered his own and other lives to humor a boyish whim. Now he must act, and swiftly.

The plan was too far gone in execution to be changed. He must carry out the final measures alone. Now, one of these details required some one to slip down on the ground and crawl to the point between the windows where the prisoners were working and aid them to remove the thin, shell of brick. If it fell outward, the guard at the corner would hear the noise, and might come down to see what it was that made it. The removal of this wall released all confined in the main prison. These he saw stealing out in groups of ten or more. They had guides waiting on the bank of the river. Jack gave them final orders. The most difficult work was the getting out Jones and Barney, for they had special cells. Jack was to guard Jones's exit and Dick Barney's, but now all the work would devolve upon him. It was two o'clock, and he dared wait no longer. Raising himself from the low wall where he had been crouching, he started toward the corner of the prison farthest from the guard-room. At the wall of the building he dropped flat on his face and began to crawl forward, sheltered by the low ground that formed a sort of dry ditch about the basement of the prison. He had barely stretched himself at full length when a bright light was flashed on him from a deep doorway just beyond him, and a voice, mocking and triumphant, exclaimed.

"This is a bad place to swim, my friend! There ain't enough water to drown you, but if you stir you'll run against a bullet."

Jack lay quite still and raised his eyes. Above him stood a trooper, with a revolver leveled at and within ten feet of him. Figure to yourself any predicament in life in which vital stakes hang on the issue; figure to yourself the shipwrecked seizing ice where he had hoped for timber; the condemned criminal walking into the jailer's toils where he had laboriously dug through solid walls; the captain of an army leaving the field victor, to find his legions rushing upon him in rout; figure any monstrous overturn in well-laid schemes, and you have but a faint reflex of poor Jack's heart-breaking anguish when this jocular fate stood above him, with the five gaping barrels pointed at his miserable head. Oh, if Dick had only been there! His quick eye and keen activity would have discovered this lurking devil; perhaps, between them, they would have averted the disaster. Where could Dick be?



BOOK III

THE DESERTERS.



CHAPTER XXIV.

BETWEEN THE LINES.

On quitting Jack, Dick had but one thought in mind—to make his departure less abrupt for Rosa. If he left her without a word, what would she think? Then, with an officer's uniform, he could be of much more help to Jack and the party than in the rough civilian homespun furnished at the cabin. Besides, he knew of certain blank headquarter passes lying on Vincent's desk. He would get a few of these; they might extricate the party in the event of a surprise.

He tore over the solemn roadway, under the spectral foliage, and in twenty minutes he was in his room in the Atterburys'. Vincent's old uniform he had often noticed in a spare closet adjoining his own sleeping-room. In an instant he was in it, and, though it was not a fit, he soon put it in order to pass casual inspection. The line for Rosa was the next delay. What should he say? He had had his mind full for days of the most tender sentiments and prettily turned phrases, but the turmoil of the last hour, the vital value of every moment to Jack's plans, left him no time to compose the poem he had meditated so long. Rosa's own pretty desk was open, and on a sheet of her own paper he wrote, in a scrawling, school-boy hand:

"DARLING ROSA: You've often said that you would disown Vincent if he were not true to the South. Think of Vincent in my place—dawdling in Acredale or Washington while battles were going on. You would not hold him less contemptible that he was in love; that he let his love, or his life, for you are both to me, stand as a barrier to his duty. You can't love where you can't honor, and you can't hate where you know conscience rules. I go to my duty, that in the end I may come to you without shame. I ask no pledge other than comes to your heart when you read this; but whatever you may say, whatever you may decide, I am now and always shall be your devoted

"RICHARD"

He sighed, casting a woe-begone glance into the mirror, dimly conscious that he was a very heroic young person. He kissed various objects dear to the little maid, and then, in lugubrious unrest, sallied out and mounted.

Again under the calm sky—again the fleet limbs of the horse almost keeping time to his own inward impatience. He holds to the soft, unpaved, outlying streets, that his pace may not attract remark. He passes horsemen, like himself spurring fleetly in the darkness. He is near the river at last—dismounts and reconnoitres. He easily finds a place to tie the horse, and, familiar with every inch of the outlying ground about the prison, crawls close to the wall, listening intently. He can hear no sound save the weary clank of the sentry on the wooden walk. He reaches the wall where the prisoners Jones and Barney were to emerge. There is no sign of a break! Where can Jack be? Some disaster must have overtaken him, for it is past the hour set and soon it will be dawn, and then all action will be impossible. Perhaps Jack has been caught reconnoitring? Perhaps he has gone with the main body, not venturing to try for Jones and Dick without help? No, that was not like Jack. This was his special part in the plan—if it were not done, Jack was still about. He can find out readily—thanks to the countersign. He steals back over the low hillock, mounts the horse, and by a detour reaches the sentry guarding the river front of the prison. He is challenged, but, possessed of the countersign, finds no difficulty in riding up to the guard-room doorway.

"Has Lieutenant Hawkins been here within an hour, sentry?" he asks, in apparent haste.

"No, sir. I think he has been sent for—leastwise, the sergeant went away about an hour ago to report the taking of a deserter, found prowling about the side of the prison."

"A deserter?"

"Yes, sir. He had a brand-new uniform on and no company mark, nor no equipments."

"What has been done with him?" Dick asked, breathlessly, dismounting. "I wonder if he isn't one of my company from Fort Lee? He went off on a drunk yesterday, though he was sent here on a commissary errand."

"I dunno, sir. He's in the lockup there. He was very violent, and the sergeant bound him with straps."

"I will go in and examine him; he may be one of my men, and, as our brigade moves in the morning, I should like to know."

"Very well, sir; the officer of the day is asleep in the room beyond the first door. One of the men will call him."

"Oh, no need to disturb him until I have seen the prisoner.—Here, my man"—addressing a soldier asleep on a settee—"show me to the deserter brought in to-night."

"Yes, sir," the man cried, starting up with confused alacrity; then, noticing the insignia of major on Dick's gray collar, he saluted respectfully, and, pointing to a double doorway, waited for his superior to lead the way. Dick, who had been in the prison before, knew his whereabouts very well, and it was not until the soldier reached the room in which the deserter was detained that he seemed to remember that there were no lights.

"Here are the man's quarters, sir; but I'm out of matches. If you'll wait a minute I'll bring a candle."

"All right," Dick responded, in a loud voice; "I'll stand here until you come back."

The quest of the candle would take the guide to the closet in the guard-room, and, risking little to learn much, Dick struck a match and peered into the stuffy little room, more like a corn-crib than a prison-cell.

"Hist, Jack! is it you?" he called.

There was an exclamation from the farther end of the room, and then a fervent—

"Heavens, Dick! is it really you?"

"Sh—sh—!"

The soldier's returning footfalls sounded in the passage-way; but, as he re-entered the hall where Dick stood shading the flickering light, he could not see the hastily extinguished match in Dick's hand. As the man came slowly along the winding passage-way, Dick whispered:

"You are a recruit in Rickett's legion; you were drunk and lost your way, and I am your major; you are stationed at Fort Lee near Mechanicsville, and you belong to Company G."

Jack pretended to be sound asleep when the soldier and Dick entered. He rubbed his eyes sleepily, and looked up in a vacant, tipsy way, leering knowingly at the soldier, who had caught him by the shoulder.

"What are you doing here, Tarpey? Why aren't you with your company? You'll get ball and chain for this lark, or my name's not James Braine."

"But, major, it—it wasn't my fault. My cousin, Joe Tarpey, came down from Staunton with a barrel of so'gum whisky, and—and—"

"You drank too much and was caught where you had no business to be. However," Dick added, sternly, "the regiment marches in the morning—you must get out of here. Soldier, show me to Captain Payne's quarters. Say to him that Major Braine, of Rickett's Legion, desires to speak with him a moment." But he had no sooner said this than he realized the danger he was running.

The captain might know Braine, and then how could he extricate himself from the dilemma? Luckily the captain was not in his quarters, and Dick, with calm effrontery, sat down and wrote out a statement of the case, where he was to be found, and his reasons for carrying the prisoner away.

The sergeant, having read this, made no objection to releasing the alleged deserter, since there had been no orders concerning him, and, without more ado, Jack walked away with his captain, the picture of abashed valor and repentant tipsiness.

"Now, Dick, there's no time to ask the meaning of your miraculous doings. We've still time to let our friends out and get away before daylight; but we mustn't lose a second. Sh! stand still, what's that? Troopers! Good heavens, they can't have found out your trick so soon! Ah, no! They are floundering about looking for quarters," he added, in immeasurable relief, as the voices of the riders sounded through the darkness, cursing luck, the road, and everything else. "O Dick, if we only had the countersign I could play a brilliant trick on these greenhorns! Perhaps I can as it is."

"I have the countersign. How do you suppose I could have managed to get to you if I hadn't? It is 'Lafayette.'"

"Glory! Now make all the clatter you can after I challenge."

They had by this time reached a row of tumble-down stables directly in the rear of the prison, and shut out from the open ground by a decrepit fence, broken here and there by negroes too lazy to pass out into the street to reach the river. The horsemen had turned into this lane-like highway—evidently misdirected. When within a few feet, Jack gave a sudden whack on the board and cried, sternly:

"Halt! Who comes there?"

There was a sudden clash of steel as the group halted in a heap, and then a weary voice replied:

"We have no countersign. We should have been at our destination long before sundown, but were misdirected ten miles out of our course on the Manchester pike."

"Very well. Dismount and come forward one man at a time," Jack answered, briefly. This the spokesman did with some alacrity. As he came up, Dick took the precaution of getting between him and his three companions, and then Jack said: "I suppose you are all right; but my orders are to arrest all mounted men, detain their horses here in these, the provost stables," and Jack pointed to Dick's horse dimly outlined against the sky. "I will give you a receipt for him, and you can get him back in the morning when you state your case to the provost marshal.—Stephen," he turned to Dick, "take that horse and put him with the others." He then made out a receipt, handed it to the astonished trooper, and, directing him where to go, carried out the same short shrift with the other three. The troopers were glad enough to be relieved of their beasts. This they did not attempt to deny, for they had seen a public-house in the street below, where they could procure much-needed refreshment, relieved as they now were from the necessity of reporting to their commander, whose whereabouts were far down the Rocett road.

"By George, Jack, what a, crafty plotter you are! Now we have a mount for the party, and I needn't take poor Warick's crack stallion."

"Yes; we've doubled the chances of escape by this little stratagem; but we have lost time. Come. Have you tied the horses?"

"Yes. Lead on."

Over the turfy hillside, now moist and sticky with the heavy dew, they stole, half crouching, half crawling, until they were on a level with the prison basement. The sentry in front was no longer pacing his beat, and there was no sign of the man in the rear. In a few minutes the two crawling figures were at the preconcerted places in the wall. In response to their light taps, a square of brick-work large enough to leave a space for a man to crawl through crumbled upon Jack and Dick, who held their bodies closely pressed against the debris to prevent too loud a noise. There was no time to wait probabilities of discovery, and an instant later Barney and Jones emerged, panting and half smothered.

"I thought it was all up with me hopes, as Glory McNab said when her sweetheart ran away with the cobbler's daughter." Barney whispered, hugging Jack rapturously.

"Sh—! Down on your stomachs. Move that way until you see me rise. Come." And Jack squirmed ahead as if he had been accustomed to the locomotion of snakes all his life. In ten minutes they were in the improvised stables. Dick had taken the precaution to place the horses where they could feed on a heap of fodder stacked in the yard, and when they mounted the beasts appeared refreshed as well as rested. Dick loosing Warick's horse so that he might make his way back to his master, the fugitives rode cautiously out of the lane, into the open fields, and, though it was not their shortest way, pushed along the river road to mislead pursuit. Jack's stratagem had resulted in better luck even than the possession of the horses. It not only secured a mount for the four, but, what was equally and perhaps, in view of unforeseen contingencies, more important disguises for the two prisoners.

They found an extra coat strapped to each saddle, and with these Barney and Jones were easily transformed into something like Confederate soldiers. Both Jack and Jones knew every inch of the suburbs, having made the topography a study. They struck for the less traveled thoroughfares until they reached the northeastern limits, then following the old Cold Harbor road they pushed decisively toward the Williamsburg pike. But, instead of following it, they traversed on by lanes and bridle-paths during the day. This was to divide pursuit, as the larger party had taken the river route where Butler's troops were waiting in boats for them. The saddle-bags proved a windfall, for in them were orders to proceed to Yorktown and report to General Magruder. With these Jack felt no difficulty in passing several awkward points, where there was no escaping the cavalry patrols, owing to miles of swamp and impenetrable forest.

They kept clear, however, of such places as the telegraph reached, though at one point they found a post in a great state of excitement over news brought from a neighboring wire, announcing the escape of two prisoners who had been traced to the York road. But with such papers as Jack presented and the number of the party double that described in the dispatch, the adventurers easily evaded suspicion. The great danger, however, was in quitting the Confederate lines to pass into Butler's. They chose the night for this, as the camp-fires would warn them of the vicinity of outposts, Union or rebel. They had purposely avoided highways and habitations, and, as a result, were limited in food to such corn-cribs as they found far from human abodes, or the autumn aftermath of vegetables sometimes found in the shadow of the woods. All were good shots, however, and a fat rabbit and partridge were cooked by Dick with such address, that the party were eager to take more time in halting since they need not starve, no matter how long the journey lasted.

Jack, by tacit consent, was considered commander of the squad, Barney remarking humorously that they would not ask to see his commission until they were in a country where a title meant authority. The commander ordered his small army very judiciously. They were to ride as far apart as the roads or woods or natural obstructions would admit. They thus moved forward in the shape of a triangle, the apex to the rear. Exchanges of position were made every six hours. They were at the end of the second day, toward sunset, approaching what they supposed was Warrick Creek, nearly half-way to Fort Monroe, when they suddenly emerged on an open plateau from which they could see a mile or two before them a tranquil waste of crimson water.

"Why, this can't be the creek!" exclaimed Jones, excitedly. "The creek isn't half a mile at its broadest."

"What can it be?" Jack asked, who had been the right wing to Jones's left. "It's certainly not the James, for the sun is setting at our back!"

"Blest if I can tell. It looks very much like the Chesapeake, only the Chesapeake is wider."

By this time Barney and Dick had ridden up, and began to admire the expanse of water spreading from the land before them to a green wilderness in the distance.

"I'm afraid we are in a fix," Jones said, resignedly. "If I'm not very much mistaken, the red line yonder, that looks like a roadway, is a breastwork, and behind that what looks like a plowed field is earthworks. My boys, we are before Yorktown and farther from our lines than we were yesterday. The nigger that showed us the way in the woods was either ignorant or deceiving us. We are now inside the outposts of the rebels, and we shall have to crawl on our hands and knees to escape them."

"I don't see what better off we'll be on our hands and knees than we are in our saddles," Barney cried, guilelessly. "Sure we can go faster on the bastes than we can on our hands, and, as for me knees, 'tis only in prayer that I ever use them."

"Not in love, Barney?" Dick asked, innocently.

"No, me darlin'. The gurls I love think more of me arms than me knees, and I do all of me pleadin' with me lips."

"I should think they could hold their own," Jones remarked, dryly.

"Indeed, they can that, and a good deal more, as me best gurl'll tell you if she'll tell the truth, and no fear of her doing that, I'll go bail."

"Fie! Barney, if she won't tell the truth you should have none of her," Dick cried in stage tones.

"Indeed, it's little I have of her, for she's that set on Teddy Redmund that she leaves me to her mother, when Teddy comes to the porch of an evening."

"Well, friends, your loves are, no doubt, adorable, and it is a pleasant thing to talk over, but just now what we want is a way out of this trap"; and Jack, saying this, slipped from his horse and led him into the shelter of a thick growth of scrub-pines. The rest followed his example. They tied their animals and held a council of war. It was resolved that Jack and Jones should make a reconnaissance to find out the route toward the Warrick; that Dick and Barney should secrete and guard the horses and do what they could to obtain some food. This decision was barely agreed upon, when the shrill call of a bugle sounded almost among the refugees, and they sprang to their horses, waiting in silence the next demonstration. Other bugles sounded farther away; a great cloud of dust arose in the direction of the water, and then Jack whispered:

"Remain here. I will climb one of these trees and see what it means."

He was in the leafy boughs of a spreading pine in a few minutes, and could descry a broad plain, with tents scattered here and there; still farther on the broad uplands frame buildings with a red and white flag floating to the wind could be seen. Back of all this he could make out a broad expanse of water and a few ungainly craft, lazily moving to the current in the Yorktown roadstead.

"Yes. this certainly must be Yorktown. Why have they such a force here? No one is threatening it," Jack murmured, his eyes arrested by a long line of cavalry in undress, leading their horses up a circuitous and hitherto concealed road to the plateau. "Ha! they go down there for water. Let me see. That is to the southeastward; that is our point of direction. I think we may venture to push on now." He hastily descended from his survey, and making known what he had seen, added: "We must proceed with the greatest caution. There is no time to think of food until we get away from this dangerous neighborhood. We must keep well spread out, and move only over turfy ground or in the deep shade of the wood. In case of disaster, the cry of the night owl, as agreed upon, will be a warning."

The four had practiced the melancholy cry of the owl, as heard in the Southern woods both day and night, and they could all imitate it sufficiently well to pass muster if the hearer were not on guard against the trick, and yet so clever an imitation that none of the four could mistake it. So soon as they quit the plateau, seeking a way east by south, they plunged immediately into a dreary swamp, where progress was slow and difficult. The mosquitoes beset them in swarms, plaguing even the poor animals with their lusty sting. Hour after hour, until the woods became a hideous chaos of darkness and unseemly sounds, the four panting fugitives pushed on, fainting with hunger, worn out by the incessant battle with the corded foliage, the dense marshes, and quagmires through which their path to safety lay. But at midnight Jones gasped and gave up the fight.

"Go on; leave me here. I am of no use at best. I should only be a drag on you. Perhaps you may find some darkey and send him back to give me a mouthful to eat. That would pick me up; nothing else can."

The four gathered together for counsel. The horses, faring better than their masters, for they found abundance to allay hunger in the lush, dank grass of the morass, were corralled in a clump of white ash, and the jaded men, groping about, clambered upon the gnarled roots of the trees to catch breath. They had been battling steadily for five hours against all the forces of Nature. Their clothes were torn, their flesh abraded, their strength exhausted. They could have slept, but the ground offered no place, for wherever the foot rested an instant the weight of the body pushed it down into the oozy soil until water gushed in over the shoe-tops. Jones had found the struggle hardest because he had not the youth of the others nor their light frames. The striplings were spared many of his hardships and were still able to endure the ordeal, if the end were sure relief. Jack struck a match, and with this lighted a pine knot. He surveyed the gloomy brake carefully, and at last, finding a mound where a thick growth of underbrush gave assurance of less treacherous soil, he called to Barney to aid him. The little hillock was made into a couch by means of the saddles, and the groaning veteran carefully laid upon the by no means uncomfortable refuge. As Jack held the light above him, Jones's eyes closed and he sank into a lethargic sleep.

"He will be in a high fever when he awakes," Jack said, looking at Barney. "We must see that he has food, or the fever will be his death. Here is what I propose: you and I shall sally out from here, blazing the path as we go. We must find some sign of life within a circuit of five miles. That will take us say till daylight to go and come. We will leave Dick here to guard Jones, and if we do not return by noon to-morrow Dick will know that he must shift for himself."

"You command, Jack dear. What you say I'll do, as Molly Meginniss said to the priest when he told her to repent of her sins."

"Dick, my boy, do you think you are equal to a vigil? You must stay here with Jones. If he wakes and wants water, press the moisture of these leaves to his lips, it's sassafras; and, stay—here is a sort of plantain, filled with little globules of dew; pour these into his mouth, and at a pinch give him a handful from the pool. In case of great danger fire two shots, but if any one should come toward you or discover you it will be better to surrender. In that event, you can make up a story to suit the case, which may enable you to finally escape. This man's life is in your hands. Remember that it is as glorious a deed as fighting in line. Keep up a stout heart. We will soon be back, or you may take it for granted all is up with us."

"Ah! Jack! Jack! To start so well and end so miserably, I can't bear it—I can't stay here. You stay and let me go."

"No, Dick, it can't be; you are already so worn out that we should have been obliged to halt for you if Jones hadn't broken down. It can't be that you would think of leaving a fellow-soldier in such extremity as this, Dick? I know you better."

"But I don't know him. I have no interest in him. With you I'll face any danger—I'll die without a word; but to stay here in this awful place, with the black pools of water, like great dead eyes, glaring in their hideous light" (the pine-torch flaring in the wind filled the glade with vast ogreish shadows, as the clustering bushes were swayed in the night air) "and these hideous night-cries—O Jack, I can't—I can't—I must go!"

"But the horses and the need of some one that can come back in case anything befalls me. I am disappointed in you, Dick. I am shocked; you are not the man of courage and honor I thought you."

"O my God, go—go—I will stay; but, Jack, if you find me dead, tell—tell—Rosa—that—that—" He gasped and sank down sobbing against the gnarled tree that crossed the mound above Jones's head.

"I will tell Rosa that you were the man she believed you were when the trial came," and with this Jack and Barney, with a flaming torch, set forward hastily through the fantastic curtain of foliage and night, which shut in the glimmering vista of specters, dark, sinister, and menacing.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse