To say that night is a time of terror is a commonplace. Night is not terrible of itself. It is like the ocean—peace and repose if there be no storm. But of all terrors there are none, outside a guilty mind, so benumbing as night in the unknown. It does not lessen the horror of darkness that fear makes use of the imagination for its agencies. Fancy, intuition, and the train that follows the inner vision, these make of night a phantasmagoria, compared to which Milton's inferno is a place of comparative repose.
If you would realize the wondrous necromancy of the sun, pass a night in some primeval forest, untouched by the hand of man. Until he stands in the awful silence of the midnight wood, or upon some vast waste of nature, no man can figure to himself the varied shapes the mind can give to terrors based upon the mysterious noises of nature, and the goblin motions of inanimate things. The lover thinking of his lass welcomes the night and the rapturous walks among well-known scenes and kindly objects. With glimmering lamps in the foliage and the not distant sounds of daily life, even the woods have nothing fearful to the meditative or the distraught. But in flight, with fear as a garment that can not be laid aside, the somber forms of the forest are more terrible than an army with banners, as a haunted house is a more unnerving dread than burglars or any form of night marauders. It was at night that the mutinous sailors of Columbus broke into decisive revolt; it was at night that the iron band of Cortes lost heart, and were routed on the lakes of Mexico; it was at night that the resolution of Brutus failed before the disaster at Philippi.
That two-o'clock-in-the-morning courage, which is the secret of soldierly success, comes only from companionship. The night-wood is a world by itself, filled with its own atmosphere, as oppressive to valor as the electric reefs that drew the nails from the ships of Sindbad. Among familiar scenes and well-known shapes, it is all the delight the poets sing—so tranquillizing, inspiring, fecund, that in comparison the thought of day brings up garish hues, flaunting figures—the hardness, harshness and unlovely in life. But night in the goblin-land, where Dick found himself suddenly deserted, with fantastic forms swaying in the lazy wind, would have had terrors for the most constant mind; terrors such as filled the soul of MacBeth, when Birnam wood came marching to Dunsinane. In an instant, as it seemed to Dick's exalted and painfully impressionable sense, every separate leaf, branch, brier, copse, and jungle, was endowed with a voice of its own—hateful, irritating, mocking. Swarms of peering eyes hovered in the air, glowering uncanny menace into the boy's wild, dilating vision.
Brave, even to recklessness, Dick was, as you have seen; but no sooner had the glimmer of Jack's torch flickered and fluttered into the black distance, making place for the monstrous shapes, the luring shadows, and threatening forms encompassing him, than Dick threw himself, with a wailing shriek, into the morass in a wild attempt to follow.
In an instant he was up to his middle in mud and water. He seized the prickly branches coiling about and above him; he gasped in prayerful pleading, the home teaching still strong in him; but there was no answer, save the crooning night-birds and the croaking frogs. Slimy things touched his torn flesh; whirring birds shot past him, disturbed in their night perches. The deadly odor, pungent and nauseous, of a thousand exhaling herbs, filled his nostrils. The darkness grew, instinct with threatening forms. He gasped, struggled, and in a fervent outburst of thanksgiving regained the dank mound. Ah, there was life on that! human life. Jones slept, the stertorous sleep of delirium. He murmured brokenly. Dick was too terrified to distinguish what he said. The blaze of the pine knot flared from side to side as the sighing breeze arose from the brackish pools, protesting the vitality of even this moribund hades. Ah! if he could but lie down and bury his face. The horses? They were feeding tranquilly yonder, standing up to their knees in mosses and water. The lines that tied them were long. They could move about. This was some comfort. They were more human than the dreadful specters that filled the place.
Ah! the blessed, blessed light that flamed out from the merry pine-torch; he didn't wonder that half the Eastern world worshiped fire. He adored it—blessed, blessed fire—the sign of God, the beacon of the human. Hark! What half-human—or rather wholly inhuman—sounds are these that alternate in unearthly measure? Surely animal nature has no voice so strident, vengeful, odious. Can it be animals of prey? No. The Virginia forests are dangerous only in snakes. Snakes? Ah, yes! He shrinks into shadow against the oak at this suggestion; snakes? the deadly moccasin, that prowls as well by night as day. Ugh! what's this at his feet—soft, clammy, shining in the flaring light? He leaps upon the smooth tree-trunk, growing slantwise instead of perpendicular. What if the torch and the odor of flesh should draw the snakes to the sleeper? The flame flares in wide, lurid curves, revealing the outlines of the sleeping man. Heavens, what a terrible face! He moves in spasmodic contortions. He is smothering. The veins of his neck will break if he is not awakened.
"O my God! my God! have mercy!" Dick buries his face in his hands, as he clings desperately to the smooth white-oak trunk. A strange, wild strain, like a detached chord of a vesper melody, sounds above him! It is the whippoorwill—steadily, continuously, entrancingly the dulcet measure is taken up and echoed, until the slough of despond seems transformed into a varying diapason of melancholy minstrelsy. He dares not raise his head. It will vanish if he moves. He crouches, panting, almost exultant, in the sense of recovered faculties, or rather the suspension of numbing fear. How long will it last? He must move; his limbs are cramped and aching. He raises his head. Mortal powers! the torch is flickering into ashes! Another instant and he will be in the dark. Dare he move? Dare he seek the distant pine, between him and which the black surface of the murky sheet shines, dotted with uncanny growth and reptilian things? Yes; anything is better than the hideous darkness of this hideous place.
The horse he rode has broken his leash and comes to him with a gentle whinny, as if asking why the delay in such a place. "Blessed, blessed God, that made a beast so human!" He caresses it, he clings to its neck and calls to it piteously. Ah, yes; the dying light. He must renew it. He slips down upon the bare back and urges the patient beast across the brackish morass. Ah, this is life again! He is not alone. This noble beast is human. It crops the tender leaves confidingly, and swings its head as much as to say: "Don't fear, Dick; Fin here. I'll stand by you; I don't forget the pains you took to get me water, and that particularly toothsome measure of oats you cribbed in the rebel barn near Williamsburg!"
But the pine knot that will burn is not so easily found. Dick was forced to go a long way before he came upon the resinous sort. He brought back a supply, having taken the precaution to provide matches in order to secure his way back. The quest had to some extent lessened the morbid or supernatural forms of his terrors. They all returned, however, when, having dismounted, he forgot to tie the horse, and it wandered off in search of herbage. He called, but the beast made no sign of returning. Alone again. Alone in the night; spectral forms about him; the sleeping man adding to the ghostliness of the scene by his incoherent mutterings, his hideous, gulping breath, his ghastly, blood-curdling outcries. Then through the gloom the shining outlines of the white oak, like shreds of shrouds hung on funeral foliage. Ah! he would go mad—he must break the brutish sleep of the sick man.
"Mr. Jones," he wails—and his own voice—the comically commonplace name, "Mr. Jones," even in the agony of his terror, the humor of the conjuncture glimmered in the boy's crazed intelligence, and he laughed a wild, maniacal laugh. But the laugh died out in a pulseless horror. The sick man uprose on his elbow. Dick, above him on the white-oak trunk, could see his very eyes bloodshot and wandering. He uprose, almost sitting. He passed his hand over his staring eyes, and began to murmur:
"Did you bring me here to do murder, Elisha Boone? You have bought my body, but you never bought my soul. No, no! I will not. I say I will not. Do you hear? I will not!"
He glared wildly; then, his eyes meeting the full flame of the torch, he laughed, a dreadful, marrow-freezing laugh, and broke out again in clearer tones: "I am yours, Elisha Boone, but my boy is not yours. He was born in my shape, but he has his mother's soul. He will be a man; he will be your vengeance; he will undo all his father has done. You've robbed me; you've made me rob others. But if you touch, if you look at my boy, my first-born, you might as well hold a pistol at your head. I'm no longer mad. You must treat with him. Ah! yes; I'll do your bidding with the others. I'll make young Jack as much trouble as you ask, but you must make a path of gold for my boy. You must give him what you have robbed from me. Felon? I'm no felon. It was you who plotted it. It was you that put the means in mad hands. I can face my family. I have no shame but that I was a coward. My son! He is no coward. He is a soldier. He is the pride of the Caribees. He is the beloved of—of—"
The gibbering maniac, exhausted in body, still incoherently raving, sank back in piteous collapse, a terrifying gurgle breaking from his throat, while his tongue absolutely protruded from his jaws.
Dick, his terrors all forgotten in a new and overmastering horror, bethought him of Jack's admonition about the water. He slipped down from the tree, gathered the large moist leaves that clustered near the pool and held them to the burning lips, Jones swallowed the drops with a hideous gurgling avidity, clutching the boy's hand ravenously to secure a more copious flow. There was a tin cup in the holster under the invalid's head. Taking this, Dick dipped up water from the black pool between the green leaves; the hot lips sucked it in at one dreadful gulp.
"More, more; for God's sake, more!"
Dick filled it again, and again it was emptied.
The boy was cruelly perplexed. He remembered vaguely hearing that fever should be starved; that the thing craved was the dangerous thing; and he moved away in a sort of compunctious terror.
"More—more! Oh, in the name of God, more!"
The words came gaspingly. Dick thought of the death-rattle he had heard in Acredale when old man Nagle, the madman, died. He dared not give more water, but he gathered leaves from the aromatic bushes and pressed them to the fevered lips. Before he could withdraw them, the eager jaws closed upon the balsamic shrub. They answered the purpose better than the most scientific remedy in the pharmacopoeia, for the patient called for no further drink, and presently fell into profound and undisturbed sleep. Again the boy was alone with the daunting forces of the dark in its grimmest and most terrifying mood. Alone! No; his mind was now taken from all thought of self. He was with a fellow-townsman. The man had mentioned Boone; had referred to deeds that he had heard all his life associated with the father he had never seen. A wild thought flashed upon him. Was the collapsed body at his feet his father's? He could not see any resemblance in the dark, handsome face to the portrait at home, though all through the flight from Richmond something in the man's manner had seemed like a memory. He strove to recall the image his young mind had cherished, the personality he had heard whispered about in the gossiping groups of Acredale. This was not the gay, the brilliant, the fascinating bon viveur who had been the life of society from Warchester to Bucephalo, from Pentica to New York. Ah! what were the mystic terrors of the night, what the oppressive surroundings of this charnel-house of Nature, to the awful spectacle of this unmanned mind, this delirious echo of past guilt, past cowardice, past shame?
To lessen the somber gloom, Dick had lighted many torches and set them about the high mound where the sleeper lay in a huddle. Taking little heed of where he set them, some of them, as the wind arose, flared out until their flames licked the decayed branches of the fallen white oak. As the boy crouched, pensive and distraught, he was suddenly aroused by a vivacious cracking. He looked up. Lines of fire were darting thither and yon, where dry wood, the debris of years of decay, had been caught in the thick clumps of underbrush and among the limbs of the trees. The fire had pushed briskly, and the uncanny glade was now an amphitheatre of crawling flames, stretching in many-colored banners in a vast circle about the point of refuge. Dick gazed fascinated, with no thought of danger. His spirits rose. It was something like life—this gorgeous decoration of fire. How beautiful it was! How it brought out the shining lines of the white oak, the glistening green of the cypress! Why hadn't he thought of this before? Then, as the curling waves of fire pushed farther and farther up the steins of the trees, and farther and farther endlessly into the undergrowth, an unearthly outcry and stir began. Birds, blinded by the light, whirred and fluttered into the open space above the water, falling helplessly so near Dick that he could have caught and killed a score to surprise Jack with a game breakfast, when he returned. Then—ugh!—horror!—great, coiling masses detached themselves from the tufts of sward, and splashed noisily into the putrid water, wriggling and convulsed. The invalid still slept—but, dreadful sight! the coiling monsters, upheaving themselves from the water, glided, dull eyed and sluggish, upon the mossy island, about the unconscious figure.
Dick, fascinated and inert, watched the snaky mass, squirming in hideous folds almost on the recumbent body. Then, aroused to the horror of their nearness, he seized a torch and made at the slimy heap. The fire conquered them. They slid off the ground, with forked tongues darting out in impotent malice. But others, squirming through the water, wriggled up; and the boy, maddened by the danger, stood his ground, torch in hand, defending the sleeper.
But now the fire had widened its path, and is enveloping the tiny island. The serpents, hedged in from the outer line, uproar in blood-curdling masses, their dull eyes gleaming, and their tongues phosphorescent, darting out in their agony. Dick doesn't mind them now, for he has, for the first time, begun to realize that his illumination has destruction as the sequel of its delight. Great clouds of smoke settle a moment on the water and then rise, impelled by the cold surface. Even the green verdure begins to roll back where the crackling flames play into the more compact wall of incombustible timber. The sleeper murmurs in his dreams. Dick casts about despairingly. He hears the horses—they have broken their tethers—he can hear them whinnying, upbraidingly, far off. Wherever he casts his eye, volumes of fire dart and sway, always coming inward, first scorching the green limbs, then fastening on the tender stems and turning them to glowing lines of cordage; only the great sheet of water, inky, terrible, and threatening a few hours before, protects him and his charge. The hissing snakes have sunk into it.
Bevies of birds, supernaturally keen of sight, have dropped upon the twigs that lie on the glittering bosom of the water. Dick, in all the agonized uncertainty of that night of peril, thinks with wonder on the mysterious resources Nature provides its helpless outcasts. The hideous shallows, black, glistening, are now a belt of safety, not only for himself and the sleeper, but a refuge for all manner of whirring birds and crawling things, intimidated and harmless in the stifling breath of the fire. The flame, leaping from sedge to sedge, from trunk to trunk, seems to seek, with a human instinct, and more than human pertinacity, food for its ravening hunger; far upward, where festoons of moss hung from the sycamores in the day, airy banners of starry sparks, swayed, coiled, and flamed among the branches. But Dick was soon reminded that the scene was not for enjoyment, however fantastically fascinating.
The smoke, at first rising from the burning brakes, lodged among the tree-tops; then, meeting the humid night-air in the matted leaves, descended slowly. Dick found himself nearly smothered when he had partly recovered from the spell-bound wonder of the demoniac fete. The ground under his feet felt gratefully cool. He bent down, and shudderingly laved his burning face in the inky water. The sick man had slept more peacefully during the last half-hour. He no longer breathed in gasping efforts; his sleep was unbroken by muttering or outcry. But now he must be aroused. He must be taken out of the circle of fire, for, sooner or later, the curling waves would lick downward from the dry vines above and scorch the mound. How to get away? The horses were long since gone. They might be miles from the spot! Dick touched the sleeping man, filled with a new suspense. He breathed so softly, or did he breathe at all?
"For God's sake, Mr. Jones, wake up! We must go from here; the swamp is burning!"
"Eh—who is it? Where am I? Was—I dreaming? I thought my boy was with me, and we were in the old home at Acredale."
He lay quite still, staring upward with unseeing eyes. Dick's heart gave a great throb of grateful, devout thanksgiving. The madness and fever were gone.
"You remember you were too worn out to go on, and Jack has gone to get food. But the swamp has caught fire, and we must move away."
Jones had risen to his elbow; then, with an exclamation that sounded like an oath, to his feet, gazing on the flaming specters rising and falling, enlarging and shrinking, among the black tracery of limbs and trunks.
"You ought to have waked me before," Jones said, when he had swept the scene, with sane realization in his eye. "I'm afraid we can never break through the fire. It reaches a mile or more all about us, and I—I am in no condition to move. I feel as if I had been down months with illness."
"But if you could eat something you would be able to move," Dick ventured, cruelly hurt at the implied delinquency.
"Eat!" Jones held up one of the luckless torches that Dirk had lighted in a circle about the mound, and began to examine the ground. "What is there to eat? Stay! By Heaven, I have it! The bushes are filled with fluttering game. There, see that! and that, and that!" As he spoke he had thrust the burning torch into a thick clump of bushes, dense and glistening as laurels, that looked like wild huckleberry. The branches were laden with birds, and in a moment be had seized three or four partridges.
"What better do we need? We have salt, water, and fire. I'll prepare them. Do you keep your face well bathed, and heap up embers at the foot of that ash."
Sure enough, sometimes hidden by billows of smoke, rising lazily among the burning bushes, Jones stripped the birds, spitted them on his bayonet, and, holding them in the hot coals, soon presented a well-browned portion to his companion.
"I have had a good deal worse fare than this, my young friend. I have been in the West, when fire, Indians, and hunger besieged us at the same time. But we should have a poor chance here if it were not for the wet grass and the everlasting water. If we can manage to keep clear of the smoke, we shall be all right, but the smoke seems to grow denser. Where can it come from?"
"Great Heavens! do you hear that? Shots—one—two! That's Jack's signal. He—he is near. He is in danger. I must go to him." Dick cried. "Listen; more shots. No, that can't be the signal. There, do you hear that? A volley. The rebels are after them, or we are near the outposts, and the two armies are skirmishing."
Yes; the shots now sounded more frequently, but they seemed to be fired not far away.
"It is Jack. I know it is Jack, and he is in peril. I must go to him. I can not stay here. Surely there is no danger in pushing toward the firing?"
"There is every danger. In the first place, the smoke will smother us. Then suppose we reached the spot? We might be nearer the rebels than our friends. They know where we are. If they are not taken, they will come back for us. If they are taken, we must do our best to get to our lines and send out a scouting party. Be guided by me, youngster. I am an older hand in business of this sort than you are."
The boy stood irresolute. Both listened intently. The firing had stopped. A great sough of rising storm came from the northwest, carrying a hot, blinding mass of smoke and flame into the little retreat. They flung themselves on the damp ferns to keep their breath. Still the breeze rose, until it became a wind—a spasm of hurricane. It was madness to linger, for the flames now licked the ground, driven down anew by the blast. Then Jones spoke decisively: "Strap a pine torch to your body. I will do the same. Take all you can carry and follow in my wake." Jones, as he spoke, seized a torch, extinguished it, and handed it to Dick. Equipped as he had directed, they set out, half crawling, half swimming, to avoid the volumes of smoke hovering in the thick, cactus-like leaves of the wild laurel. Presently they emerged, after toil and misery, that excitement alone enabled the boy to support, into what seemed a cleared space. But as soon as their eyes could distinguish clearly, they found themselves on the edge of a wide pond. The fire was now behind them. They could stand erect and breathe the pure, cool air.
"Ah, now we are in luck!" Jones whispered. "We will walk to the right, on the edge of this lake, and keep it between us and the fire. We have got out of that purgatory; now if we could only signal our friends."
"Hist!" whispered Dick, "I hear some one moving behind us."
They crouched down in the thick reeds and waited. The sky above was darkly overcast; an occasional burst of lightning revealed the dimensions of the pond, and they could see high ground on the eastern shore, covered by enormous pines.
"If we can only reach the pines we shall be all right. There the ground will be dry and soft and you can get some rest. I'm afraid, my boy, it will go hard with you if you don't."
"I don't mind what happens if we can only come up with Jack. There, do you hear that?"
Yes, both could plainly hear voices ahead of them on the margin of the pond. They were talking in low tones, and the words were undistinguishable.
"We must crawl back toward the bush, and get as near those folks as we can," Jones whispered. They made their way easily into the high bushes and stole forward in the direction of the voices. But as they had to guard against breaking twigs or hurtling branches, which would have betrayed them, their advance was slow. When they reached the vicinity where they had fancied the voices to be, all was silent.
"Sound the call; perhaps that will lead to something," Jones whispered in Dick's ear.
But, unnerved by the trying experience of the night, or worn out by fatigue, Dick's call was far from the significant signal he had practiced with Jack. He repeated it several times, but there was no response. There was, however, something more startling. A few rods beyond them a flame suddenly shot up, lighting a group of cavalry patrols standing beside a fire just kindled.
"Rebels!" Jones whispered. "Now we must be slippery as snakes. If they have no dogs, we are all right. If you hear the whimper of a hound, follow me like lightning and plunge into the water. That'll break the trail. Stay here and let me reconnoitre a bit. Have no fear. I'll go in no danger."
Jones crept away, leaving Dick by no means easy in his mind, but he no longer felt the terror that numbed him in the deep wood. Here there was companionship. By pushing the branches aside he could see the figures lounging about the fire; he could see the dark vault of the sky, and was not oppressed by the hideous shapes and shadows of the dense jungle. Jones meanwhile had pushed within earshot of the group. He flattened his body against a friendly pine and listened.
"I reckon they ain't the Westover niggers, for they were traced to the Pamunkey; these rascals are most likely from the south side—"
"If Jim gets here with the dogs in an hour, we can be back to the barracks for breakfast."
"Ef it hadn't been for that blamed fire in the swamp, we should have had them before this. The rascal that fired at Tom wasn't a musket-shot from me when the smoke poured out and hid him."
"They've gone into the swamp. The dogs'll soon tree them. I'm going to turn in till the dogs come. One of you stay awake and keep a sharp eye toward the creek."
"All right, sergeant. You won't have more'n a cat-nap. Bilcox's dogs are over at the ford, I know, for they were brought there's soon as the news of the Yankee escape came."
"I hope they are; but I'm afraid they are not. If they are, we shall soon hear them."
Jones had heard enough. Hastening back to Dick, he asked:
"Can you swim?"
"Yes, I'm a good swimmer."
"Very well; throw away everything—no, stay—that would betray us. When we reach the water bury all you can't carry in the sand and then follow me."
They were forced to retrace their painful way through the bushes to reach a place as distant from the point of pursuit as possible. A half-mile or more from their starting-place they found themselves in a running stream. Jones examined it in both directions, and bade Dick enter it and follow in the water, pushing upward in the bed, waist-deep, a hundred yards. Then, climbing to the bank, he groped about until he found a slender white oak. Climbing this as high as he could get, he slowly swung off, and, the tree bending down to the very stream, he dropped back into the water and rejoined Dick. Both waded in the middle of the stream until they reached the pond, and then struck out toward the pine clump the lightning had revealed a little while before. There was no need of swimming, and, finding it possible to wade, Jones decided to retain the pistols and ammunition which he had at first resolved to bury as impeding the flight. The bottom appeared to be hard sand, a condition often found in Southern ponds near the inflow of the sea. They had gone a mile or more, keeping just far enough from the bank to remain undistinguishable, when the appalling baying of a hound sounded from the farther end of the pond, where the patrol fire gleamed faintly among the trees.
"Now, youngster, we must keep all our wits at work. The dogs will push on to where we hid. They will follow to the stream, and I think I have given them the slip there. Then they will beat about and follow our trail into the cypress swamp. There the horses will mislead them, and if you can only hold out, so soon as daylight comes we can strike into the pines and make for the Union lines."
"I—I—think I can—ah!—"
Dick reeled helplessly and would have sunk under the water, if Jones had not caught him.
"Courage, my boy, courage! Don't give up now, just as we are near rescue!"
But Dick was unconscious, the strain of the early part of the night, the desperate fight through the brakes, all had told on the slight frame, and Jones stood up to his middle in the dark water, holding the fainting boy.
IN THE UNION LINES.
If there is reason as well as rhyme in the old song that danger's a soldier's delight and a storm the sailor's joy, Jack and his comrade were in for all the delights that ever gladdened soldier or sailor boy. When they left Dick and Jones, the eager couriers tore through the marshy lowlands, the stubbly thickets and treacherous quagmires, poor Barney, panting and groaning in his docile desire to keep up with his leader, as he had done often in boyish bravado.
"There'll not be a rag on me body nor a whole bone in me skin when we get out of this!" he gasped, as they reached high ground between two spreading deeps of mingled weeds and water. "The sight of us'd frighten the whole rebel army, if we don't come on them aisy loike, as the fox said when he whisked into the hen-house."
"He was a very considerate fox, Barney. Most of the personages you select to illustrate your notions seem to me to be gifted with little touches of thoughtfulness. Barney, you ought to write a sequel to Aesop. There never was out of his list of animal friends such wise beasts, birds, and what not as you seem to have known."
"Jack, dear, if a man lived on roses would the bees feed on him? If he ate honeysuckle instead of hard-tack would he be squeezed for his scents to fill ladies' smelling-bottles?"
"I don't know that sense is always a recommendation to women," Jack shifts his burden to say tentatively, as Barney, involved in a more than commonly obstinate brier, loses the thread of this jocose induction.
"Ah, Jack, dear, ye're weak in ye're mind when you fall to play on words like that."
"You mean my sense is small?"
"Not that at all. Sure, it's a hero's mind ye show when you can find heart to make merry at a time like this!"
"Yes—'he jests at love who never felt a throb.'"
"Then you've a hard heart—and I know I lie when I say it, as Father Mike McCune said to himself when he tuk the oath to King George in '98—if ye're heart never throbbed in Acredale beyant, for there's many a merry one cast down entirely that handsome Jack's gone."
"Come, come, Barney; it's dark, and I can't see the grin that saves this from fulsome blarney."
Through the monotonous noises of the night the clanking of steel and the neighing of horses could be heard just ahead.
"We must move cautiously now, Barney. Try to put a curb on your tongue, and let your reflections mature in your busy brain."
"Put me tongue in bonds to keep the peace, as Lawyer Donigan cautioned Biddy Gavan when the doctor said she was driving the parish mad with her prate."
"Sh!—sh!—you noisy brawl; we shall have a platoon of cavalry upon us. Even the birds have stopped crooning to catch your delicate brogue!"
"'Tis only the ill-mannered owl that makes game of me—if—"
"Sh! Come on. Bend low. Do as I do—if you can see me. If not, keep touch on my arm."
"As the wolf said to the lamb when he bid him take a walk in the wather."
They had now emerged on the reedy margin of the dark pool discovered by Dick and Jones later. All was silent. The sky was full of stars—so full that, even in the absence of the moon, there was a transparent clarity in the air that enabled Jack to take definite bearings.
"This must be an outlet of the York River, the stream we saw this afternoon. If it be, then we are not far from our own outposts. The troopers we heard just now may be Union soldiers. We must wait patiently to let them discover themselves. Keep abreast of me, and don't, as you value your life, speak above a whisper—better not to speak at all."
"That's what the priest said to Randy Maloney's third wife when she complained that he bate her."
"Barney, I'll throttle you if you don't keep that mill you call your tongue still."
"Ah, I'll hold it in me fist, as Mag Gleason held her jaw, for fear her tooth would lep out to get more room to ache."
Jack laughed. "If we're caught it will be through your jokes, for bad as they are I must laugh at some of them."
"Dear, oh dear no; you may save the laugh till a convenient time, as Hugh McGowen kept his penances, until his head was clear, and there was no whisky in the jar."
They had been pushing on rapidly—noiselessly, during this whispered dispute, and now found themselves at the reedy margin of a wide inlet, where, from the swift motion of the water and the musical gurgling, they could tell they were by the side of a main channel.
"We must push on southward, and see if there is a crossing. If we come to one, that will tell us where we are, for it will be guarded, you may be sure," said Jack, buoyantly.
"Yes, but I'd rather find a hill of potatoes and a drop than all the soldiers in the two armies."
"You are not logical, Barney. If we find soldiers, we'll find rations; though I have my doubts about the sort of 'drop' you'll be apt to find down here."
"There was enough corn in the field beyant to keep a still at work for a winter," Barney lamented with a sigh, recalling fields of grain they had passed near Williamsburg, which he vaguely alluded to as "beyant."
"I wish some of the 'still' were on the end of your tongue at this moment."
"With all me heart—'twould do yer sowl good to see the work it'd give me tongue to do to hould itself," Barney gasped, trying to keep abreast of his reviler. "Be the dark eyes of Pharaoh's daughter there's a field beyant—yes, and a shebeen; d'ye see that?"
They had suddenly emerged in a cleared place. Against the horizon they could distinctly distinguish the outlines of a cabin, the "shebeen" Barney alluded to.
"Yes, we're in luck. It's a negro shanty. We shall find friends there, if we find anybody. Now, do be silent."
"If the field was full of girruls, with ears as big as sunflowers, they wouldn't hear me breathe, so have no fear. A hill of potatoes all eyes couldn't see us in such darkness as this."
For dense clouds had swiftly come up from the west, covering the horizon. After careful reconnoitring, requiring a circuit of the clearing, Jack ventured to make directly for the dark outlines of the cabin. War had obviously not visited the place, for as they passed a low outhouse the startled cackle of chickens sounded toothsomely, and Barney came to a delighted halt.
"Sure we'd better get a bite to ate while we may, as th' ass said when he passed th' market car, for who knows what'll happen if we stop to ask by your lave?"
For answer Jack gave him a sharp push, and the discomfited plunderer hurried on with a good-humored grunt. All was silent in the cabin. The windows were slatted, without glass, and the door was unfastened. Jack pushed in boldly, leaving Barney to guard the rear. Peaceful snoring came from one corner, and Jack, shading a lighted match with his hand, looked about him. In the hurried glimpse he caught sight of an old negro on a husk mattress, and the heads of young boys just beyond. They were sleeping so soundly that the striking of the match never aroused them. Jack had to shake the man violently before the profound sleep was broken.
"I say, wake up! or can you wake?"
"What dat? Who's dar—you, Gabe? What you 'bout?"
The old man shuffled to a sitting posture, and Jack, renewing his match, held it in the negro's blinking eyes.
"Have you any food? We are Yankees, and want something for companions in the swamp. Are we in danger here? We heard cavalry-men on the other side of the pond; are they rebel or Yankee?"
At this volley of questions the bewildered man turned piteously to the sleepers, and then stared at Jack in perplexity.
"'Deed, marsa captain, I don no noffin 'tall, I—I hain't been to de crick fo' a monf. I'se fo'bid to go da—I—"
"Well, well, have you any food? Get that first, and then talk," Jack cried, impatiently.
But now the boys were awake, and Jack had to give them warning to make no noise. Yes, there was food, plenty. Cooked bacon, hoe-cake, and cold chicken, boiled eggs, and, to Barney's immeasurable joy, sorghum whisky. The hunger of the invaders satisfied, each provided himself with a sack to feed the waiting comrades; and while this was going on they extracted from the now reassured negroes that the spot was just behind Warick Creek, near Lee's Mills; that parties of rebels from the fort at Yorktown had been at work building lines of earthworks, and that every now and then Yankees came across and skirmished in the woods a mile or two up in the direction whence Jack had come. The cabin was only a step from the main road, upon which the rebels were encamped—a regiment or more. Some Yankee prisoners had been captured early in the morning, and were in the block-house, a short distance up the road.
"Can you lead us near the block-house?" Jack asked.
"I reckon I can; but ef I do they'll shu' ah' find it out, and den I'se don, 'cos Marsa Hinton—he's in de cavalry—he'll guess dat it was me dat tuk you 'uns dar."
"Do you want to be free? Do you want to go into the Union lines?"
"Free! oh, de Lor', free! O marsa captain, don't fool a ole man. Free! I'd rudder be free dan—dan go to Jesus—almost."
"Have you a wife—are these your children?"
"My ole woman is up at Marsa Hinton's; she's de nuss gal. Dese is my boys; yes, sah."
"Very well; we're going into the Union lines. You know the country hereabouts. Help us to find our friends in the swamp, and we will take you all with us," Jack said; but feeling a good deal of compunction, as he was not so sure that the freedom bestowed upon these guileless friends might not, for a time at least, be more of a hardship than their happy-go-lucky servitude. Meanwhile, in the expansion of renewed hopes and full stomachs, no watch had been kept on the outside; a tallow dip had been lighted, and the whole party busied in getting together such necessaries as could be carried. One of the boys, passing the door, uttered a stifled cry:
"Somebody comin' from de road."
"Where can we hide? Don't put out the light; that will look suspicions!" Jack whispered, making for the window in the rear, "Is there a cellar, or can we get on the roof?" But the dark group were too terrified to speak. They ran in a mob to the doorway, luckily the most adroit manoeuvre they could hit upon, for with the dip flaring in the current of air, the room was left in darkness. Jack and Barney slipped through the low lattice, and by means of a narrow shed reached the low roof. They could hear the tramp of horses, how many they could not judge, and then a gruff voice demanding:
"You, Rafe, what ye up to? What ye got a light burnin' this time o' night fo'?"
"'Deed, marsa, it's nuffin'—fo' God, marsa! I was gittin' de stomach bottle fo' Gabe—he eat some jelly root fo' supper and he's been powerful sick—frow his insides out—I—"
"Leave your horses, boys. Rafe's got some of Hinton's best sorghum whisky—you, there, nigger, get us a jug and some cups."
How many dismounted Jack couldn't make out, but presently there was a heavy tramping in the cabin and then a ferocious oath.
"What does this mean; why have you got all these traps packed? Going to cut to the Yankees! Don't lie, now—you'll get more lashes for it."
Jack listened breathlessly. Would the quavering slaves have presence of mind to divert suspicion? There was a pause, and then the old man cried, pleadingly:
"We'se gwine to lebe dis place; we's gwine up to de house in de mornin'. My ole woman can't come down heah now, case de sojers is always firm', and Mars' Hinton told us to come to de quarters, sah."
"I don't believe a word of it, you old rascal. I'll see whether Hinton has ordered you to leave here. Likely story, indeed; leave one of his best fields with no one to care for it. Git the whisky and stop your mumbling. You, there, you young imps, step about lively—do you heah?"
There was the sound of a sharp stroke, then a howl of pain and a boisterous laugh.
"You keep an eye on the rear and I will see how many horses there are," Jack's lips murmured in Barney's ear. He slid cautiously down the slanting roof until he came to the corner where he saw the dark group of horses. There were three—tied to the peach-trees. He made his way back to Barney and whispered:
"There are but three horses. If you are up to an adventure I think we can make this turn to our profit."
"I'm up to anything, as the cat said when Biddy Hiks's plug ran her up the crab-tree."
"Very well. Come after me."
The sorghum, meanwhile, had been handed to the raiders in the cabin, and the men could be heard making merry.
"You, Gabe, go out and mind the horses; see that they don't twist the bridles about their legs."
Gabe sallied out and one of his brothers with him. As they neared the horses Jack came upon them, and taking the elder, Gabe, in the shadow of the house, he whispered:
"Have the soldiers' pistols?"
"Where are they?"
"De put dem on de stool, neah de doah."
"Good. How many?"
"Have they swords?"
"Where are they?"
"On de stool, too."
"That will do; keep with the horses, and don't be frightened if you hear anything. We'll give you freedom yet, if you'll be prudent."
He could hear the men grumbling because the food was not enough to go around. The liquor had begun to work in their systems, drinking so lavishly, and without nourishment to absorb its fiery quality. Jack let enough time pass to give this ally full play in disabling the troopers, then taking Barney to the rear of the cabin, whispered:
"I will dash in at the door, seize the weapons, and demand surrender. You make a great ado here; give command, as if there were a squad. The boys will make a loud clatter with the horses, and we shall bag the game without a blow. Now, be prudent. Barney, and we will go into the Union lines in triumph."
Inside the men were laughing uproariously, mingling accounts of love and war in a confused medley—how a sweetheart in Petersburg was only waiting for the stars on her lover's collar to make him happy; how the Yankees would be wiped out of the Peninsula as soon as Jack Magruder got his nails pared for fight; how three Yankees had been gobbled that day, and how others were in the net to be taken in the morning. The bacchanal was at its highest when Jack, dashing into the open doorway, placed himself between the drinkers and their arms, and cried, sternly, as he pointed his pistol at the group:
"Surrender, men! You are surrounded!"
"Close up, there! Keep your guns on a line with the windows; don't fire till I give the order!" Barney could be heard at the window in suppressed tones, as he, too, covered the maudlin company. Gabe and his brother added to the effect of numbers by clattering the stirrups of the horses, so that the clearing seemed alive with armed men.
The troopers, sobered and astonished, half rose, and then as these sounds of superior force emphasized the menace of Jack's pistol in front and Barney's in the rear, they sank back in their seats, the spokesman saying, tipsily:
"I don't see as we've much choice."
"No, you have no choice.—Sergeant, bring in the cords," Jack ordered.
Barney at this came in with a clothes-line Jack had prepared from the negroes' posts. The arms of the three men were bound behind them, and then Jack retired with his aide to hold a council of war. Without the negro they could never retrace their way to Dick. But how could they carry the prisoners with them? Manifestly it could not be done. It was then agreed that Barney should take the prisoners, the horses, and the old man, with the younger boys, and make for the Union lines, not a mile distant. Jack, meanwhile, with little Gabe, would go to the rescue of Dick. If firing were heard later, Barney would understand that his friends were in peril, and, if the Union outposts were in sufficient strength, they could come to the rescue, and, perhaps, add to the captures of the night. Barney was now serious enough. He was reminded of no joke by the present dilemma, and remained very solemn, as Jack enlarged on the glories of the proposed campaign. How all Acredale would applaud the intrepidity of its townsmen snatching glory from peril! Barney consented to leave him with reluctance, suggesting that the "ould nagur" could take the prisoners "beyant."
"Gabe has shown sense and courage, and I shall be much more likely to reach Dick and extricate him and Jones, alone, than if I had this cavalcade at my heels."
Jack and Barney were forced to laugh at the big-eyed wonder in old Rafe's eyes when he was informed of the imposing part he was to play in the warlike comedy. To be guard over "white folks," to dare to look them in the face without fear of a blow, in all his sixty years Rafael Hinton had never dreamed such a mission for a man of color. The troopers, too tipsy and subdued to remark the sudden paucity of the force that had overcome them, were tied upon their own steeds, Barney in front of the leader, and Rafe and his son in charge of the two others.
Rafe led the way in trembling triumph. He knew the ford, indeed, every foot of the country, and had no misgivings about reaching the Union lines. Jack watched the squad until it disappeared in the fringe of trees, and then, turning to the tearful Gabe, said, encouragingly:
"Now, we must do as well when we go among the Union soldiers. You know the point in the swamp I have told about. How long will it take us to reach that the shortest way?"
"Ef we had dad's dugout we could save right smart."
"You mean we could get there by water?"
"Yes, sah. We ken go all froo de swamp in a boat."
"Then I'm afraid it is not the place I mean, for we found as much land as water."
"Dey ain't no odder swamp neah heah, sah."
"Well, we'll try my route first. If that misleads us, we shall try the boat. Can you find it?"
"Where is it?"
"Ober neah the blockhouse. De sogers done tuk it to fish."
"Ah, yes, the blockhouse! I must look into that! Now, we must hurry. Skirt the edge of the water and make no noise."
This was a needless warning to the boy, who, barefooted and scantily clad, gave Jack as much as he could do to keep up with him. They had left the cabin a mile or more behind them to the southeastward, and were somewhere near the spot Jack had emerged from the cypress swamp, when both were brought to a halt by shifting clouds of smoke pouring out from the underwood.
"Where does that come from?" Jack asked, throwing himself flat to catch his breath.
"Dunno, sah. Most likely de sojers sot de brush on fiah."
When Jack was able to look again he saw far in among the trees a moving wave of light now and then, as the heavy curtain of smoke was lifted by the wind.
"Good heavens!" he ejaculated; "it was in there I left my friends. Can we get to them?"
"No, sah; der ain't no crick dah."
"Then!" Jack thought, "have I sacrificed Dick and Jones in my zeal to be adventurous? Ten minutes sooner, and we could have gone in and brought them out. But I will find a way in, if I have to clamber over the tree-tops."
The noise of whirring wings, the rush of startled animals, now drowned all other sounds, until, through the tumult from the copse far in front of them, they heard the clatter of swords, and then gigantic figures breaking toward them, along the edge of the pond.
"Down, down; hug the ground!" Jack cried, pushing the boy down into the reeds. Almost as they sank, a group of troopers dashed by, talking excitedly.
"Fire at random, men; that will force them into cover! If we can keep them in ambush till daylight, the dogs will be here, and we shall nab them," Jack heard a voice say as the men rode past.
How could they have heard of the affair so quickly, for Jack took it for granted that it was his exploit that the troopers were afoot to balk? Still another group passed, and they were talking of the dogs that were expected.
"You may depend upon it, they are in the swamp. They are making off that way and hope to mislead us by firing the place. We must keep our eyes peeled on the swamp. The creek will stop them down yonder, and we must watch this break in the brush. As soon as the dogs come we shall have no trouble. They'll run 'em down in no time."
Jack had heard enough to warn him that it was useless to try to penetrate the swamp. With half of his usual wit, Dick would have been en route long before this, for the fiery glow in the woods showed that the flames had been raging some time. Unless Jones's illness had handicapped him, Dick would be on his way, following Jack's route as closely as the darkness would permit. But now he must seek means to evade the dogs. This could be done only by reaching the water and getting into it far from the point where they proposed to leave it.
"Can you find the boat?" he asked Gabe, who chattered between his teeth.
"I think so, sah."
"Very well; we must find a small stream running into the pond, and then lead me to the boat."
"Moccasin Brook is close yonder, sah. Shall I go dah?"
"Yes, like lightning."
In a few minutes they were in a sluggish current, running between masses of reeds and spreading lily-leaves, into the pond. Here Jack repeated Jones's manoeuvre, except that he was not wise enough in woodcraft to make use of a tree to get into the water, and thus leave the dogs at the end of the trail at a point far removed from his real entrance into it. When they had reached the pond, Jack bade the boy head to the boat. This they found moored under a bluff, and Gabe, pointing upward, said the blockhouse was there.
"Very well, you stay here in the boat and wait for me. Don't stir, don't speak, no matter what you see or hear. Will you do this?"
"Oh, yes, sah; 'deed, 'deed I will, sah!"
Jack crawled up the bank, keeping in the shadow of the uneven ground, until he reached a point whence he could make out the blockhouse. It was a half-finished structure of rough logs, and, from the stakes and other signs of engineering preliminaries, he saw that it was intended as the guard-house of a fortification. He could hear the drawl of languid, half-sleepy voices, and, as he pushed farther to the eastward, saw a group of troopers lounging about a dying fire. A sentry sat before the doorway, which had no door. He was dozing on his post, though, now and then he aroused himself to listen to the comments of the men at the fire. While Jack waited, irresolute what to do, a volley sounded across the pond, evidently the fellows whom he had seen, keeping up the fusilade to distract the fugitives.
"They've wasted enough lead to fight a battle," he heard one of the men say, scornfully.
"Well, that's what lead's for," a philosopher remarked, stirring the embers. "So it don't get under my skin, I don't care a cuss what they do with it."
"Oh, your skin's safe enough, Ned. You may adorn a gallows yet."
"If I do, you'll be at one end of the string—and I ain't a-saying which end, neither," the other retorted, taking a square segment of what looked like bark, but was really tobacco, and worrying out a circle with his teeth, until he had detached a large mouthful. This affording his jaws all the present occupation they seemed capable of undertaking, the other resumed when the haw-haw that met the sally had subsided:
"Yes, it takes two to make a hangin', just like it takes two to make a weddin', and you can't allus say just sartin which one has the lucky end."
This facetious epigram was duly relished, and the sage was turning his toasted side from the fire to present the other, when the clatter of a horse coming up the hillside sent the group scouring toward their guns, stacked near the unfinished walls.
"Sergeant Bland, the captain orders you to take four men and station them along the north shore of the pond. The rascals are in the cypress swamp, and are making their way out toward Moccasin Creek. One man can watch the block-house, and the rest come with me.—Guard, we shall be within a hundred yards of you. A shot will bring a dozen men to your assistance; but it isn't likely an enemy can reach this point. The whole regiment is deployed in the woods."
This was said to the sentry as the group, detailed for Moccasin Creek, filed off at a double-quick down the hill. In a few moments the blockhouse was deserted, save by the sentry, who had now risen and was vigorously pacing before the doorway. Now was Jack's time, if ever. If he could only whisper to one of the prisoners to call the sentry. But how? He had nothing to fear in approaching the rear, and in a few moments he had examined the walls. There was no opening where he could get speech with those inside. What could he do? To boldly fall upon the sentry was risky, for the slightest noise would bring rescue from the front of the bluff. At the base of the wall, where the log-joists rested upon a huge bowlder, his quick eye detected an air-hole. He examined it hurriedly. It was evidently below the flooring. So much the better. Putting his mouth to this, he called out in a piteous tone:
"For God's sake, sentry, give me some water! I'm choking—oh—oh water! water!"
He waited to see if the sentry would heed the call. He knew that the men inside could not betray him, for, if they were not asleep, they could not be sure that the voice was not from among themselves. Sure enough, the sentry's step ceased. Was he near the door? Jack crept to the corner. Yes, he had halted at the aperture. Would he enter? Jack stepped back to his post, as the guard called out:
"Where are you? Which of you wants water? Sing out!"
"Here!" Jack cried, "Here!" Then darting back to the corner, he was just in time to see the man lean his gun against the door-post, and disappear in the hut. In an instant the gun was in Jack's possession, and he was behind the Samaritan in quest of the suffering victim. It was dark as a tunnel. Jack's victim still gave him the aid he needed, for, as he groped along the wall, he said, good-humoredly:
"Sing out again, my friend; I haven't got cat's eyes."
Jack's grasp was on his throat and Jack's mouth was at his ear.
"One sound, one word, and this knife goes to the hilt in your heart!"
The astounded man half reeled at this awful apparition in the black darkness, and he limply yielded to his captor under the impression that the prisoners were loose and upon him. Jack tied the man's unresisting hands with his own canteen-straps; then seated him near the wall and lighted a match. Four men, undisturbed by this swift and noiseless coup, were stretched on the board floor, breathing the heavy, deep sleep of exhaustion. Jack aroused them with the greatest difficulty, and found it still harder to make them understand that, with courage and resolution, they would be back in their own lines by daylight. When this became clear to them they were as eager and energetic as their rescuer. The men were to remain near the blockhouse, but not in it, until Jack returned for the negro, and then under the lad's guidance they could find their way to the Union outposts. Just as this was decided, a blood-curdling baying of bloodhounds echoed across the pond from the distant cabin. Jack trembled, his mind at once on Dick, so near and yet so far from him now, in this new danger. There was not a moment to be lost. Perhaps even now all the night's hard-won victories were to be turned to worse than defeat—prison, death; for the liberation of slaves was at that time punishable by hanging in the rebel military code.
"Courage," he said to himself, grimly; "courage, a dog's no worse than a man. We've overcome them to-night, we ought to be able to tackle the dogs." This new danger changed his plan slightly. Instead of leaving all the men, he took one of the rescued four, Tom Denby by name, with him, and set out for the water. But here another check met him. He suddenly recalled that the guard at the blockhouse had been scattered along the shore to watch the debouch from the swamp. This enforced a wide detour, bringing him out in the rear of the boat and nearer the point where Moccasin Creek emptied into the pond. They reached it finally, and skirting along the shore kept a keen eye on the water for the boat. They had skurried along half-way back toward the bluff, listening for a sound on the water and peering into the black surface, when Denby suddenly touched Jack's arm.
"There's a horse or cow standing in the water yonder. I've seen it move; there, look!"
Yes, outlined against the low horizon, a monstrous shape could be plainly seen. The yelp of the hounds suddenly broke through the air back of them toward the creek. The monstrous figure started, moved heavily forward, then seemed as if coming toward them. Both waited, wondering, curious, terrified. It was within a rod of them, staggering, gasping.
"Oh, God help us! I can go no farther; better be taken than both drown together."
Jack could hardly repress a cry:
"Jones—Dick! Is it you?"
But whoever it was or whatever it was had no speech to answer this eager inquiry. They would have sunk in the shallow water if Jack and Denby had not caught them. Jack had food with him, and, better than all, the bottle of sorghum whisky. With this restorative, both were soon able to sit upon the ground and eat. Jack left Denby to feed them, while he went in search of the boat. He found it just where he had left it, and in a few minutes, at the head of his little band, he was back at the blockhouse. The food and Jack's hastily told news had restored Dick to something like his old friskiness.
"Jericho!" he cried, as the released prisoners, having held back warily until the color of the new-comers was known, ran forward. "The whole army is here. I feel as if I were in the Union lines."
"Well, you ain't, by a long shot," Denby cried. "We've got a good hour's march, and if you're wise, Captain Sprague, you won't waste time for any frills."
"No time shall be wasted.—Jones, you and Dick take the rear. I, with Denby, will skirmish; and you, Corporal Kane, shall command the center. No firing, remember, unless superior force assails us.—Gabe, stick to the waterside as closely as you can, but make the shortest cut to the bridge."
Gabe was the most delighted darkey in all Virginia for the next hour. He led them swiftly and surely, and why shouldn't he? He had passed all his life in the vicinity, and with the first beams of the sun he pointed to a narrow wooden bridge.
"Dar's whar de pickets fire across."
As they passed the bridge a loud sound of rushing horses could be heard in the distance.
"Dick, you take two men and hurry down the road to assure our pickets that we are friends. We'll take up the planks to give them time!" Jack shouted, and Dick, with two of the rescued prisoners, dashed away. Many hands and high hope made short work of the light timbers. As the pursuing cavalry turned the bend in the road, in sight of the bridge. Jack's squad gave them a volley and then dashed into cover. The fire was returned. Dick, coming back at a run, with a dozen dismounted men, heard the bullets whistling over his head and saw Jack's posse dispersing to the right and left in the bushes. All were forced into the woods, as the rebels commanded the highway.
"Where is Jack?" Dick asked, rushing among the men. No one had noticed him in the panic. He was not in the huddle that cowered in the reeds to escape the balls, still hurtling viciously over the open. With a cry of rage and despair, Dick flew into the road, and there, not a hundred yards from the bridge, he saw the well-known figure prone on the red earth motionless—dead? Heedless of the warning cries of the others, Dick tore madly to the body, and with a wild cry fell upon the lifeless figure, weltering in blood.
"THE ABSENT ARE ALWAYS IN THE WRONG."
Under Vincent's ardent escort Mrs. Sprague and Merry traveled from Richmond northward in something like haste and with as much comfort as was possible to the limited means of transportation at the command of the Confederate commissary. Even in those early days of the war, the railway system of the South was worn out and inadequate. Such a luxury as a parlor car was unknown. The trains were filled with military personages on their way to the field. Mrs. Sprague and Merry were the only women in the car in which they passed from Richmond to Fredericksburg. The route brought them through a land covered with hamlets of camps, drilling squadrons, and the panoply of war. While the elder lady gave a divided mind to the strange panorama, Merry watched everything eagerly, amused and interested by this spectacle of preparation. Such soldiers as she could see distinctly looked like farmers in holiday homespun; the cavalry like nondescript companies of backwoods hunters. There seemed to be no uniformity in infantry equipment or cavalry accoutrements, and the discipline struck her as in keeping with this diversity of dress and ornament. The men could be seen hurrying in boyish glee toward the train as it drew near the temporary station, where mail-bags were thrown out and sometimes supplies of food or munitions of war. Jocular remarks were passed between the soldiery at the windows when the wistful groups gathered along the railway line.
"I say, North Cal'ina, you'n's goin' straight through to Yankee land?" a man in the throng shouts to some one on the train.
"Send us a lock o' Lincoln's hair to poison blind adders, will you?"
"No—promised his scalp to my sweetheart to cover the rocking-chair."
Then, as the laugh that met this sally died away, another humorist piped, out:
"Tell Uncle Joe Johnston we're just rustin' down here for a fight; ef he don't hurry up we'll go ahead ourselves. We're drilled down so fine now that we can't think 'cept by the rule o' tactics."
"Jest you never mind, boys. Uncle Joe'll do enough thinkin' fur ye when he gets ready to tackle the Yanks."
"Hurrah for Uncle Joe!" And as the cheery cry swelled farther and farther, the train drew out, everybody looking from the windows as the patient soldiery straggled back campward.
"Your soldiers seem very gay, Vincent. One would think that war, the dreadful uncertainty of their movements, absence of friends, and lack of good food would sadden them," Mrs. Sprague said wistfully at one of the stations when raillery like this had been even more pointed and boisterous.
"A wise commander will do all he can to keep his men gay; if they were not jovial they'd go mad. Think of it! Day after day, week after week, who knows but year after year, the wearisome monotony of camp and march! Where the men are educated, or at least readers, they make better soldiers, because they brood less. Brooding saps the best fiber of the army. Your Northern men ought to have an advantage there, for education is more general with you than it is with us. It is not bravery that makes a man eager for the campaign, it is unrest. As a rule, the best soldiers in action are those who have a mortal dread of battle."
"That surprises me."
"It is true. I always distrust men that clamor to be led on; they are the first to break when the brush comes. Jack will tell you that, for we are agreed on it."
"Jack himself was eager for battle," Mrs. Sprague said, sighing.
"No, Jack was eager for the field. When the battle comes he meets it coolly, but he has no hunger for it, nor have I. General Johnston is as brave a man as ever headed an army, yet he has often told us that his blood freezes when the guns open. I'm sure no one would ever suspect it, for he is as calm and confident as if he were in a quadrille when he rides to the field."
"We in the North have heard more of Beauregard than Johnston, yet I never hear you mention him. Wasn't it he who commanded at Bull Run?"
"Yes and no. General Beauregard is a superb soldier. He is, it has been agreed among us, better for a desperate charge, or some sudden inspiration in an emergency, than the complicated strategy that half wins a battle before it is begun. For example, at Manassas he would have been defeated, our whole army captured, if fortune had not exposed General McDowell's plans before they were completed. As it was, we should have been driven from the field if General Johnston had not come up in time and rearranged the Confederate lilies."
"Yes, Jack has described that. Battles, after all, are decided by luck."
"Luck won Waterloo."
"Partly, but genius, too, for Wellington and Bluecher practiced one of Napoleon's most perfect maxims, and won because he despised them both so much that he didn't dream them capable of even imitating him. Nor, left to themselves, would they have been equal to it. But renegade Frenchmen, taught under Napoleon's eye, prompted them."
"General Johnston was very considerate to us when we came down. I wish you would make him know how grateful we are."
"Oh, he couldn't be anything else; he is the ideal of a chivalrous knight."
"Yes, I believe you claim chivalry as your strong point in the South, and accuse us of being a race of sordid money-getters."
"I don't, for I know better, but our people do. They will learn better in time. Men who fought as your army fought at Manassas must be more than mere sordid hucksters."
"And yet it is curious," Mrs. Sprague continued, musingly, "it is we who are warring for an idea and you are warring for property."
"How do you mean?" Vincent said, quickly.
"You are fighting to continue slavery, to extend it; we to abolish it or limit it. But even I can see that slavery is doomed. No Northern party would ever venture to give it toleration after this."
"But if we succeed, it will exist in our union at least."
"Ah, Vincent, can't you see that such a people as ours may be checked, beaten even, but they will never give up the Union? Why, much as I love Jack, I would never let him leave the colors while there was an army in the field. Don't you know every Northern mother has the same feeling?"
"And every Southern mother, too."
"Yes, I believe that, but there's this difference: Your Southern mothers are counting on what doesn't exist—a higher physical courage—a prowess in battle, I may call it, that you must know the Southern soldier has not, as distinguished from the Northern. As time goes on and the war does not end; as our armies become disciplined, the confidence that supports your side will die, and then the struggle, though it may be prolonged, will end in our triumph."
"I don't think it. I can't think it. But don't let us talk about it. We, at least, are as much friends as though Jack and I were under one flag, and if it depends on me it shall be always so."
"If it depends on us, it shall never be otherwise." She gave the young man a kind, scrutinizing glance, which made his heart beat joyously and his handsome cheeks mount color. At Fairfax Court-House they said farewell, the ladies continuing the journey in an ambulance under Federal guard.
They passed over the long bridge three days after the famous night at Rosedale, of whose exciting sequel they were profoundly ignorant. In her husband's time Mrs. Sprague had lived in hotels in the capital, as the sessions were short; she had never remained in the city when the warm weather set in, no matter how long the term lasted. But on her arrival at the old hotel now, she was a good deal disturbed to learn that she could not be accommodated in her former quarters. The military crowded not only this but every hotel in the city, and it was only after long search that a habitable apartment was found in Georgetown. On the whole, the necessity that drove her thither was not an unmitigated adversity, for Georgetown then was far more desirable for residence than Washington. Nothing could be more depressing than the city at that epoch. Every visible object in the vast circumference of its spreading limits was then naked unkempt. Even the trees, that ranged themselves irregularly in the straggling squares and wide street areas, stretched out a draggled and piebald plumage, as if uncertain whether beauty or ugliness were their function in the ensemble.
The photographic realism of the later newspaper correspondent had not come into play in these earlier years of the war, and, as a consequence, the thousands who poured down to the Army of the Potomac beheld the city with something of the incredulous scorn with which the effeminate Byzantines regarded the capital of the Goths, when the corrupt descendant of Constantine made the savage Dacians his allies, rather than fight them. Patriotism, however, not pride, marked the common mold of the men of the civil war. It may have been that many an honest plowman, marching through the muddy quagmires of Pennsylvania Avenue, bethought himself that such a capital was hardly worth while marching so far to protect—more emphatically so when the enemy was really to be found on lines far north of it! Sentiment is the heart and soul of war; if it were not, there would be no war, for war never gained as much as it loses; never settled as much as it unsettles; never left victor or vanquished better when the last gun was fired! In old times the capture of a nation's capital meant the end of the war, but we have seen capitals captured and the war not modified a bit by it. Washington was seized and burned by the British in 1814, and the war went on; Paris was held by the Germans for half a year, and the war went on.
Our civil war would have been three campaigns shorter—Burnside's, Hooker's, and the stupid massacre of Pope—to say nothing of the saving of untold treasure, had the political authorities abandoned a capital which must be defended for a secure seat like New York or Philadelphia. The sagacious Lincoln, whose action in army matters was paralyzed by cliques, in the end saw through sham with an inspired clarity of vision, and proposed the measure, but the backwoods Mazarin, Seward, prepared such voluminous "considerations" in opposition that the good-natured President withdrew his suggestion, and, as a consequence, the dismal Ilium on the Potomac became the bone of a four years' contention, whose vicissitudes exceed the incidents of the Iliad. Great armies, created by an inspired commander, were wasted upon the defense of a capital that no one would have lamented had it been again burned, and of which to-day there is scarcely a remnant, save in the public buildings and the topographical charts. A new race entered the sleepy city. The astute, far-seeing Yankee divined the possibilities of the future, where the indolent, sentimental Southerner had never taken thought of a nation's growth and a people's pride! The thrifty and shifty patriots sent from the North at once took a stake in the city, and thenceforward there was growth, if not grace, in the capital.
Lincoln's Washington was to the capital of to-day what the Rome of Numa was to the imperial city of Augustus. Never, in its best days, more imposing than a wild Western metropolis of to-day, the sudden inrush of armies and the wherewithal to supply and house them, soon gave the vast spaces laid out for the capital the uncouthness and incompleteness of an exaggerated mining town or series of towns. Contrasted even with its rival on the James, Washington was raw, chaotic, squalid.
Long tenure of estates and little change in the people had given Richmond the venerableness we associate with age. Many of her picturesque seven hills were transformed into blooming fields or umbrageous groves, under which vast villa-like edifices clustered in Grecian repose. Save in the bustling main streets none of the edifices were new or raw, or wholly unlovely in design or fabric. In Washington nothing of this could be seen. Staring brick walls, buildings of unequal height and fatiguingly ugly designs, uprose here and there in morasses of mud that were meant for streets. Disproportionate outline, sharp conjunctures of affluence and squalor, accented the disheartening hideousness of the scene.
But upon this uncouth stage a great drama was going on; great figures were in action; momentous events were hourly taking form and consequence; men, and women at their best and worst were working out the awful ends of Fate. In the large mansion yonder, the wisest, greatest, simplest of mankind—by times Diogenes and Cromwell, Lafayette and Robespierre was, in jest and joke, mirth and sadness, working out his own and a people's sublime destiny. It was to this curiously unequal personage that Mrs. Sprague, after fruitless pleading with her husband's friends, came finally to secure action on behalf of her son. There was little of the ceremonial needed to gain access to the Chief Magistrate which is now the fashion.
She found a care-worn man, deeply harassed, standing in the low-ceiled room, in which the Cabinet had met a few moments before. A sweet, wan smile—the instinctive, inborn sensitiveness of a noble nature-flickered over the rugged lines of the face as the usher, retiring, said:
"Mr. President, this is Mrs. Sprague, whom you ordered to be admitted."
"I am both glad and sorry to meet you, madam. I knew your husband, the Senator, in other and happier times. I wish that it were in my power to do for him or his what he was always doing for the unhappy or distressed."
"Ah! how kind you are! How—"
She was going to say different from what she expected, but bethought herself of the ungraciousness of this form, since at that time Mr. Lincoln was the object of almost universal misreport and caricature.
"How can I say what a mother should say?"
While she spoke he began pacing the apartment, each time, as he came to the double window near which she sat, peering out with a yearning, far-away look toward the river and the red lines of the hills beyond it. Then turning back, he strode the length of the long baize-covered table, sometimes absently picking up a document, until, facing her again as she narrated the story of Jack's misfortunes, he would fling it hastily on the scattered heaps and fix his mild eye upon her.
"I know all this already, dear madam. It has come to me from the boy's friends, and"—he hesitated a second—"and from his—or from those who are not his friends."
"Not his friends?" the mother cried, half rising. "Why, Mr. President, Jack hasn't an enemy in the world!"
"You came through from Richmond last week? Have you heard nothing from your son since you saw him?"
"Nothing. Oh, is there anything about him?"
"You have not even read the newspapers, I see."
"No, no; I have been so uncertain, so agitated, so constantly in attendance upon our members, that I have had no time to read or even talk. But, pray tell me! Your manner indicates that something has happened. O Mr. President, think of my anxiety! My only son!"
"Ah, Mrs. Sprague! It is I that should be pitied here. You came to me for comfort. You came in reliance on my power to restore your son, and I—I have the burden of telling you very grievous news. No, no, your son is not dead, have no fear of that, if in the end it prove a comfort. Last night your townsman, Elisha Boone, came to me with his heart-broken daughter, demanding vengeance for his son's death, whom your boy had slain the very night you left him on the James. He shot Captain Boone in the house you visited, and defeated a well-arranged plan to capture the rebel chief, Davis. Not only this, but he endangered the escape of a number of sorely-worn prisoners who had succeeded in reaching the Rosedale place and halted only to make Davis's capture certain."
"My son shot Wesley! oh no, no; it can not be; or, if he did, it was because his own life was in peril. Ah! no, no, Mr. President, do not believe this. I know my son. I know the misery he endured in Wesley's company; endured like a hero; endured like a Sprague. He must have been in peril of his life."
"Dear madam, I feel for you. I feel with you, but these facts are all in the possession of the Secretary of War. Mr. Boone will no doubt give you all the details. If it can be made to seem as you say, have no fear that I will wink at mere revenge, or make the machinery of justice an instrument of family feuds. Get your lawyer; have the matter investigated, and rely upon me for every proper clemency and aid in your hard lot."
She had arisen long before, and, recognizing this as a dismissal, she bowed, unable to speak, and, with blinded eyes, staggered toward the two steps leading upward from the room. She would have fallen had the ready arm of the President not been near to support her. In the anteroom he said, huskily:
"Captain, send an orderly to accompany this lady to her carriage."
Merry was in the carriage. One glance at Mrs. Sprague's face told that dire news had been heard. She did not ask a question, but, embracing and supporting the sobbing mother, awaited patiently for the dreaded revelation. When at length the miserable story came in gaspings and sobs, the spinster exhibited an unexpected firmness.
"I don't believe a word of it. If Jack shot Wesley, it was because he was in some sort of treacherous business. You may depend upon it, that, when we get the true story, Jack's part will prove him in the right. I am going this instant to Boone to learn his source of information. He can have nothing but rumors."
"I will go. It is better for me to see Mr. Boone. He will not venture to misrepresent to me."
At Willards, where Boone was stopping, the ladies were obliged to wait a long time, and, in the end, it was Kate who appeared before them in deep black, with a half-yearning, half-defiant expression in the sadly worn face. They would never have recognized her, and, as it was, Merry started with a slight scream as the dark figure stopped before them.
"Papa begs to be excused. He supposes that you want to hear the particulars of the—the affair at Rosedale, and bids me tell you."
"O Kate, Kate, it is not true! it can not be true. Oh, you who knew Jack so well, you know that he never could have—have—"
Kate had seized a chair and drawn it before the two who sat on one of the long sofas that filled without adorning the vast hotel parlor, dim even at noonday in its semi-subterranean light.
"Yes, Mrs. Sprague, your son shot Wesley deliberately; shot him as deliberately as if I should draw a pistol and take your life now and here."
"And—and killed him?"
"He never spoke again. He—he—ah! I can not, I can not! We brought him here. His body is in the cemetery, waiting the military formalities."
"But tell us how it happened, Kate," Merry sobbed, entreatingly. "We know nothing but what you have told us. Tell us all. It is so startling, so awful, that we can not comprehend such a thing happening where we left everybody in the most friendly spirit."
Kate, struggling with her tears, told the story so far as she knew it, but of course she knew little beyond the mere fact that Wesley had come to his death in Mrs. Atterbury's room; that Jack stood over him with the smoking pistol, and owned that he had fired in the darkness. She told the tale as gently as might be, her own heart secretly pleading for everything of extenuation that might lessen Jack's guilt, but she had insensibly taken the darker view her father had instantly adopted, that Jack's enmity had led him to seize the chance to rid himself of a rival and enemy under cover of defending the Atterburys. She did not hint this to the mother, but Merry, knowing Boone, at once saw what the President's words meant. Boone had charged Jack with deliberate murder. Dreading the realization of this by Mrs. Sprague at this time, Merry made a sign to Kate, who, comprehending at once, arose and begged to go back to her father, who was in need of her.
"Oh, if Olympia were here! she has so much self-control! she would advise so well what should he done!" the mother moaned, as she passed down through the long, barrack-like parlor.
"But, dear Mrs. Sprague, Olympia is just where her good sense is most needed. She is near Jack. He needs comfort and counsel. You can have your lawyer, and you shall see the case isn't so bad as we have heard. You must remember that the Boones are not likely to take an impartial view. It is only human nature that they should think the worst of the—the death of son and brother. Wait till we hear Jack's story, and you will see that it puts a different face on the matter."
"But it's Jack's disgrace and death they want. That was what the President meant. I didn't understand it then: I do understand it now. They shall not murder him! I shall command him to remain in Richmond. I shall command him to join Vincent. The North is unworthy of such men as my son. He is too pure, too innocent, too high-minded to be understood by the coarse natures that have come to power in the country. I shall not let this odious Boone destroy him as he ruined your brother."
"O Mrs. Sprague, think what you are saying! Think how fatal such words would be, if Jack were brought to trial. You see every day in the press how all are suspected of treason who were Democrats in the old days. I know very well that you do not mean this. Much as I love Jack, I would rather see him in his grave with the Union flag over him than in the rebel lines, a soldier of that bad cause. As to my poor brother, Boone was only an accident in his ruin. If it had not been Boone, it would have been some one else. Put the whole matter in the hands of Simon Brodie. He is almost a Sprague. He will see that the son of his old patron has justice."
Simon Brodie, of Warchester, was the chief advocate of the three counties. He had studied law with the late Senator Sprague, and, at his death, from partner succeeded to his lucrative law practice. He came at once to Washington at Mrs. Sprague's summons, and set about learning the status of the case. The affair was no easy matter to trace, but, after inconceivable delays and persistent misleading, he found that Jack was in the military archives charged with desertion, murder, and treason: desertion in quitting his company and regiment without orders, treason in consorting with armed rebels, and murder in joining with the enemies of the country to take the life of his commanding officer. Meanwhile, Mrs. Sprague and Merry had returned to Acredale, and the lawyer sent letters to Richmond setting forth the case to Jack—letters which, by some mysterious jugglery, never reached their address, as we have seen. Nothing could be done until Jack was either exchanged or until his advocate had made out a documentary case that could be presented to the military authorities. As he surmised, every one in authority had been prejudiced against Jack. The Congressman from Warchester dared not work against Boone, who was potent as a Cabinet minister in the councils of the Government. One of Senator Sprague's old friends, still in the Senate, advised Brodie to let Jack remain at Richmond till the peace came, "for," said he, "no Democrat nor any one identified with that party can hope for impartial justice here."
"But what am I to do? I can get no assistance here. Every bureau containing documents bearing on the poor boy's case is either closed to me, or the officials so hostile that I can not work with or through them."
"You must go about the affair as if it were a State matter. You must go to McClellan. He is a young man of the most spotless honor, the most generous sympathies. He is as rigid as a Prussian in discipline, but his methods are enlightened and above board. He is the only man in authority that has any real conception of the magnitude of the struggle the North has entered upon. He is, however, miserably hampered. The new rulers have come down to Washington very much in the spirit of the Goths when they captured Rome. Every one is on the make. The contract system is something beyond the wildest excesses I ever read of in pillage and chicanery. Shoes by the million have been accepted that melt as soon as they are wet; garments are stacked mountain-high in the storehouses that blow into rags so soon as the air goes through them. Food, moldy, filthy, is accumulated on the wharves of Washington, Baltimore, and Alexandria that would be forbidden as infectious in any carefully guarded port in the world. Contracts for vessels have been signed where steamships are called for, and the contractor sends canal-boats. Lines of ships are paid for to run to ports not known in navigation; and the chief men in the great departments share the money with the rings—"
"But why don't you expose it?"
"Expose it? A word in the Senate against these villainies is set down as disloyalty. All that a rascal needs to gain any scope he pleases, is to say 'rebel sympathizer,' and Fort Warren or Lafayette is held up as a menace."
Among the confidential aides of McClellan Brodie knew intimately a young officer, the son of a distinguished lady, whose writings delighted cultivated people fifty years ago. This young man, Captain Churchland, had often been a guest at the Spragues, and to him Brodie went for advice. Inheriting a great deal of his mother's intellect, with a droll sense of humor, not then so well understood as the lighter school of writers have since made it, Churchland was the delight of the headquarters. He listened to the melancholy story of Jack's compromising plight.
"It's a bad fix—no mistake," he said, gravely; "but I suggest that your fiery young friend come home and shoot the father, marry the daughter, and, as a wife can't testify against the husband, your client is secure."
"Ah, captain, it's not a matter for joking. Think of his wretched mother."
"That's just what I do think of—murder's no joke, though it's more of a fine art than it was when De Quincey wrote. I'm perfectly serious. I would shoot the scoundrel Boone. Why, do you know the man has cleared a million dollars on rotten blankets since he came here? McClellan ordered a report made out showing his rascalities a few weeks ago. It was disapproved at the War Office, and the condemned blankets have gone to Halleck's army. Doesn't that deserve shooting? Napoleon directed all the army contractors to be hanged. I say shoot them. For every one put out of the way a thousand soldiers' lives will be saved."
"Well, well, let Boone go. It's Sprague I'm interested in."
"So am I. It is Sprague that Boone seems to be interested in, too, for he has filled the new Secretary with, what he himself would call, righteous wrath against the poor boy and his friends. But make your mind easy. The exchange of prisoners will soon begin. Sprague's turn will come among the first, and then I will keep track of the affair. Beyond that I can promise nothing. You may be sure, so far as purely military men have to do with the business, there will be impartial justice. When the politicians take hold, I can give no assurance."
And with this cold comfort the disheartened lawyer betook himself to Acredale, where his report, guardedly given, brought no very strong hope to the anxious mother.
THE WORLD WENT VERY ILL THEN.
Acredale was not the sleepy, sylvan scene we first saw it, when Mrs. Sprague and Merry drove through the wide main street from the station, four months after they had quitted it in search of their soldier boys. The stately elms still arched the highway to Warchester, but here and there rough gaps were seen in the trim hedge-rows. Staring new edifices jutted through these breaks upon the grassy walks, and building material lay heaped in confusion all along the graveled walks. Merry railed at these evidences of commercial invasion, wondering who had come to the village to transform it into city hideousness. Mrs. Sprague did not give much heed to her companion's speculations. Her mind was far away on the James, wondering where her boy was. It was very hard to settle down to the commonplaces of home life; but, even in all her distraction, Mrs. Sprague saw that a change had come upon the people as well as the place. With the war and its desolating sights fresh in her memory, she saw, with sorrow and aversion, that social life was gayer than it had ever been, that the rush for wealth had become a fever, and that the simple ways and homely joys of the past were now remitted to the very elderly. The story of Dick's mad pursuit of Jack and the Caribees, after the disaster at Bull Run, was soon known in every home in the county. Friends came from far and near to hear the exciting adventure; and the younger boys, who had been the lad's classmates in the academy, at once made up a company of youngsters, adorned by the name of the "Perley Rangers," to be in readiness for the hero's command when he should return.
The feud between the adherents of the houses of Sprague and Boone had become acrimoniously embittered by the point of view from which each side saw the conduct of Jack. Among the Boone feudatories he was set down as a traitor, a spy, a murderer. The first malignant rumors that reached the village after the battle were still maintained stoutly by the Boone lictors. Jack had ingloriously shirked his part in the battle with the Caribees; he had skulked in the bushes until the issue was decided, and then had followed the sympathies of his secession family; he had gone to the Atterburys, well known for their hatred to the North. It was to prove his sincerity in the Southern cause that he had wormed himself into the confidence of Wesley Boone's comrades, and in order that he might be chief agent in the frustration of the plan of escape.
He had won high regard in the Confederacy by saving Davis from capture. He had, with his own hand, shot Wesley Boone when the plan of capture was on the verge of success. Could anything be clearer than his odious treason? Hadn't he, of all the unfortunates of the battle, found favor and luxurious quarters in Richmond? Hadn't he cunningly cajoled the Boones into the visit to the rebel household, in order to wrest the secrets of the Union rescue from them? It was in vain that the Perleys and others set forth the real case. "Very likely, indeed," the Boone side cried, "that rebels like the Atterburys would receive true Unionists into their house, and treat them as friends! A real Unionist would have refused hospitality from the enemies of his country." There was talk among the more zealous patriots of having the Sprague family expelled from Acredale. Loyal zealots looked up the law on expatriation and attainder, and complained bitterly that no applicable provisions were found in the statutes. Stirring addresses were sent to the member from Warchester, imploring him to have laws enacted that would enable the patriots to deal summarily with covert treason. It was true that the Spragues had contributed many thousand dollars toward the equipment of the Caribees, had endowed twenty beds in one of the city hospitals for the wounded—but this was when Jack expected high command in the regiment. Failing in that ignoble self-seeking, he had gone where his heart was, while the family, to retain their property, remained among the loyal, to insult their woe and gloat over their misfortunes.
At a great "war meeting" in the town-hall, over which Boone presided, one thrilling orator hinted that fire, if not the law, could "relieve a loyal community of the Copperhead's nest!" "It was an insult, as well as a menace, to have the patrician palace of disloyalty flaunting its grandeurs among a people loyal and devoted, whose sons and brothers were battling for the Union. Every rebel sympathizer driven from the North would strengthen the Union cause; ashes and salt sowed on the ground their insolent homes had desecrated, would be a holy reminder to the loyal, a warning to the secret foes of the Union."
There were loud expressions of approval, and a solemn "Amen" to this intrepid plan of campaign. Lawyer Brodie, who was present, arose under a thunder of discordant notes—"Copperhead!" "Traitor!" "Dough-face!" "We don't want to hear from rebel sympathizers! Out with him!" and other more opprobrious taunts. Now, Brodie was Boone's counsel, and had been identified with him in some very difficult litigation. It would not do to have him discredited. The chairman rapped loudly for order.
"I can vouch, my friends, for Mr. Brodie's patriotism. He is a Democrat, it is true; but he loves the Union. I know that to be a fact. You can do the Union no better service than listening to what he has to say."
Brodie, who had held his place, calmly smiled as Boone sat down, and, surveying the audience from side to side, began:
"Free speech was one of the cries that aroused the North in the late campaign, I believe in free speech. I have done my share toward securing it, but I never was refused it before. I look among the men here and see among you neighbors whom I have known since boyhood, neighbors who have known me since boyhood, and when I arise here to take a citizen's part, in a meeting called to aid and comfort the cause of the Union, I am permitted to speak only by the personal request of one man. If that is your idea of free speech, if that is your notion of aiding the Union cause, and strengthening the hands of the Administration, I don't need to be in the confidence of the rebel authorities to tell you that they could ask no more powerful allies than you! [Sensation.]
"There are three hundred men in this hall. The light is good, and my eyesight is not impaired; but I can not see a man among you who was not a Democrat a year or two ago. There are not fifty men among you that voted for Abraham Lincoln. [Murmurs.] Are the two hundred and fifty, then, traitors? Are they rebel sympathizers? Are they Copperheads? One thousand men marched under the Caribee flag; not a man of them voted for Lincoln. Are they Copperheads? This township, by its vote at the last election, was five to one Democratic. Is this a Copperhead community? Nearly a half million dollars have been subscribed for bounties and war measures; the tax-payers, almost to a man, are Democrats. Is it possible, then, that the Copperheads are supplying the money to carry on the war? You propose to burn the mansion of my old partner, Senator Sprague! Why? Because his estate has given more to the Union cause than any other family in the township?"
"The son has gone over to the rebels," a voice cried.
"Thank you. There—I'm glad you have given me the chance to crush that cowardly calumny—the invention of some envious malefactor. Jack Sprague has gone over to the rebels, just as Anderson and his men went over at Sumter; just as fifteen hundred of his comrades went over at Bull Run; just as some of our sons and brothers here in Acredale went over; just as my friend, Boone's son, went over—because he was surrounded and wounded."
"Stop a moment, if you please, friend Brodie; I protest against your making anything in common between my son and this young man. The matter is to be investigated, and then we can tell better."
Boone spoke in great excitement, and the audience, now feverishly wrought up, urged the lawyer to say his say out. He continued in the trained, impassive tones of the advocate:
"Every one in this room knows the two young men. It would be waste of time for me to strive to make anything in common between John Sprague and Wesley Boone. Here, where they both grew up, that is quite unnecessary."
"I—I—referred to their conduct as soldiers," Boone cried, hoarsely. "My son lost his life in the service of his country. I can't have his name coupled with a—murderer's—with a traitor's."
"Ah, my friend, when hate draws your portrait it is bound to be black. When prejudice holds the pen, your virtues stand in the shade of vice. I will tell John Sprague's story from the day he quit Acredale to the unhappy hour his comrade was killed in the dark, in the sleeping-room of the mother and daughter who had nursed him from the very jaws of death. He was in that house by his father's urgent request, though it would have needed none to open its doors to any one in want of succor. Nor," he added, significantly, "can it be told who killed Wesley Boone until all the shots fired in Mrs. Atterbury's chamber are accounted for."
Then he narrated rapidly, but tellingly, the substance of what has been already set down in this history—the facts taken from Jack's letters and attested by the corroboration of Barney, Dick, and the company's officers. There was a visible revulsion in the larger part of the audience as the tale went on; and when the lawyer wound up with the story of Mrs. Sprague's baffled efforts in Washington to have her boy brought North, there was an outburst of applause and a faint cheer from the younger men for "glorious old Jack."
The factions shifted a good deal after this official rendering of the affair. There was no longer any talk of burning the Sprague property, and opinion was about evenly divided as to Jack's conduct. December had come, and the township was busy packing boxes to send to the army. No news had come North from Richmond. Active movements were looked for every day, and in the momentous expectation such lesser incidents as exchange were forgotten or ignored. The daily journals were filled with details of contemplated expeditions, and one morning Mrs. Sprague read with beating heart this paragraph in the Herald:
"A score or more of the men who escaped from the Richmond prison a few weeks ago, arrived at Washington to-day from Fort Monroe. The party endured untold privations in the swamps between Williamsburg and our line on the Warwick, but all came in safely, except two men who died from the results of their wounds. The expedition was planned and carried out by an agent of General Butler, who has been in Virginia since the unfortunate attempt to rescue Captain Boone of the 'Caribee' regiment. At the moment the party reached the Union outpost, one of the most daring of the Union men, Sergeant Jacques of the Caribees, was, it is thought, mortally wounded."