"Fair play, my boy. You charged me with lying—indirectly—but not the less offensively on that account. Don't dodge the question."
"I haven't dodged it. I gave you my candid opinion that you were not present at Magenta; and I don't think there is an officer in the regiment who believes you were there."
"Isn't the word of an officer and a gentleman to be accepted?"
"Certainly, if he keeps within the bounds of reason; but when you talk about the Russians at Magenta, and over seven thousand cannons in a single army, we know that you are either 'drawing the long-bow,' or laboring under some strange delusion. Supper is ready."
"We can eat and talk too." And they did. "May I be allowed to ask, Lieutenant Somers, if you deem my statement inconsistent with reason?"
"To be sure I do. We have six guns to a battery; seventy-two hundred guns would make twelve hundred batteries. We have about one hundred and fifty men to a battery, which would make one hundred and eighty thousand men in the artillery arm alone; which is positively ridiculous. You said Russians——"
"Of course, that was a slip of the tongue. I meant Prussians," added the captain, entirely overwhelmed by the lieutenant's arithmetic, as well as by the laughter of Captain Benson and Lieutenant Munroe, who belonged to the mess.
"Worse yet," said Somers. "They were Austrians. Now, captain, you are a brave man, and a splendid fellow; but I think it is a great pity you should tell such abominably great stories."
"I accept the apology," laughed Captain de Banyan. "We will call it square, and turn in; for I think that we shall have hot work to-morrow."
AN ORDER FROM HEADQUARTERS
While Captain de Banyan and Lieutenant Somers were asleep, the commanding general received the intelligence of a movement on our right by the famous Stonewall Jackson. The position which had been gained by the advance at Oak Grove was abandoned, and the troops returned to their old line. The next day was heard the roar of the guns at Mechanicsville; and on that succeeding was fought the battle of Gaines's Mills—the only defeat in the field sustained by the Union army during that battle-week.
General McClellan then decided to change his base of operations; which, rendered into plain English, meant that he had been flanked, and was obliged to make the best move he could to save his army and material. The troops fought all day, and ran all night, till they reached the James River, where they were protected by the all-powerful gunboats. In the battles of Savage's Station, Glendale and Malvern Hills, they were victorious, and fought as no troops had ever fought before. As a retreat, it was successful; but it was the sad and inglorious end of the Peninsular campaign.
The whole brigade to which Lieutenant Somers belonged went on picket every third day. While the tremendous operations to which we have briefly alluded were taking place on the right, the soldiers on the left were leading their ordinary military life. But they were thinking men, and, while they were firm in their devotion to the good cause, they were disturbed by doubts and fears. They knew not, as they listened to the booming guns, whether they were in the midst of victory or defeat. Occasionally, they were shelled behind their breastworks; apparently for the purpose, on the part of the rebels, of keeping our forces from interfering with the work on the right.
The brigade went on picket, and here the troops were face to face with the enemy. Lieutenant Somers, by the illness of the captain and the absence of the first lieutenant, was in command of his company. But there was no chance to do anything to distinguish himself, except that steady and patient attention to duty which is the constant opportunity of every good officer.
"Well, captain, was there anything like this at Magenta?" asked Somers, as he met De Banyan.
"This is tame, Somers. Magenta was a lively scene."
"I fancy it will not remain tame much longer. We shall either be in Richmond as victors or prisoners within a few days."
"Don't croak, Somers. It will all come out right in the end."
"I have no doubt of that; but I feel just as though some big thing was going to happen."
"So do I; and I felt so just before the battle of Solferino. By the way, on the night before that battle, I captured a whole brigade with my single company, while I was out on picket-duty."
"Indeed!" laughed Somers.
"I'll tell you how it was."
"Don't take that trouble, captain; for I shall not believe you if you do."
"Do you mean to doubt my word, even before I utter it?" demanded the captain, apparently much hurt by the insinuation.
"Captain de Banyan, I wish I could persuade you to speak the truth at all times."
"Come, Somers, that's rather a grave charge; and, if it came from any other man than yourself, I should challenge him on the spot," added the captain, throwing back his head, and looking dignified enough to be the commander-in-chief.
"You may challenge me if you please; but let us be serious for a moment."
"I am serious, and have been all the time."
"You are a first-rate fellow, captain; I like you almost as well as I do my own brother."
"You are a sensible young man, Somers," replied De Banyan, slightly relaxing the rigid muscles of his face.
"You are a brave man, and as brilliant as you are brave. I have only one fault to find with you."
"You will draw the long-bow."
"In other words, I will lie. Somers, you hurt my feelings. I took a fancy to you the first time I ever saw you, and it pains me to hear you talk in that manner. Do you think that I, an officer and a gentleman, would stoop to the vice of lying?"
"You certainly do not expect any one to believe those wretched big stories you tell?"
"Certainly I do," replied the captain with dignity.
"But they contradict themselves."
"Perhaps you don't believe there ever was such an event as the battle of Magenta."
"Come, come, my friend; just slide off that high horse."
"Lieutenant Somers, my word has been doubted; my good faith maligned; my character for truth and veracity questioned."
"Yes, I know all that very well; but answer me one question, captain. Seriously and solemnly, were you at the battle of Magenta?"
"I decline to answer one who doubts my veracity. If I answered you in the affirmative, you would not believe me."
"I don't think I should; but, if you should answer me in the negative, I should have full faith in your reply."
"I cannot answer on those terms. Somers, I am offended. I don't know but that I am in duty bound to challenge you. Just after the battle of Magenta, I felt compelled to challenge a young officer who cast an imputation upon my word. We fought, and he fell. His brother challenged me then, and I had to put a bullet through his head. The family were Corsicans, I believe; and one after another challenged me, till they got down to fifth cousins; and I laid out fifteen of them—I think it was fifteen; I don't remember the exact number, but I could tell by referring to my diary. You are so precise and particular, that I want to give you the facts just as they are."
"You haven't the diary with you, I suppose?"
"Of course not; I couldn't carry a volume like that around with me. I only mention this circumstance to show you the sad results which sometimes follow in the wake of a duel."
"But I'm not a Corsican; and I don't think you need fear any such results in my case, if you should conclude to challenge me," answered Somers with abundant good nature.
"Now, seriously and solemnly, Somers, this doubting a comrade's word is a vicious habit. It shows that you have no confidence in what I say."
"That is precisely the truth; but I think you are responsible for the fact, not I. If you would only tell the truth——"
"Tell the truth! My dear fellow, you keep making the matter worse, instead of better."
"So do you; for, instead of abandoning your bad habit, you tell me an absurd story about killing fifteen men in a series of duels!"
"I told you I couldn't fix the exact number. You are too critical by half."
"I am not particular about the number; for I don't believe you killed even a single person in a duel. You are too good a fellow to do anything of the sort."
"Somers, I have been laboring to keep my temper; but I am afraid you will make me mad, if you keep on. I think we had better suspend this conversation before it leads to any unhappy results;" and the captain rose from the ground, and glanced in the direction of the enemy's pickets.
"The most unhappy result I could conceive of would be your continuing this bad practice of telling big stories," replied Somers, standing up by the side of his companion.
"No more; you add insult to injury, Somers."
"Really, captain, you injure yourself by this habit, and——"
Captain de Banyan, at this point of the conversation, suddenly turned round, and sprang upon the lieutenant, bearing him to the ground before the latter could even make a movement in self-defense. Together they rolled upon the earth, at the foot of the tree whose sheltering branches had protected them from the intense heat of the sun. Somers, as the reader already knows, was bold and belligerent before an attack; and, on the impulse of the moment, he proceeded to repel the sharp assault of his companion.
"If you fight a duel in that way, I am ready to take part in it," said he, his face red with anger. "Let go of me!"
"With pleasure, my dear boy," replied De Banyan, edging away from him.
"What do you mean by pitching into me in that way?" demanded Somers angrily.
"I have been trying this half hour to teach you a useful lesson; but you don't know who your best friends are."
"I think I do. Some of them tell the truth sometimes."
"Somers!" said the captain sternly.
"Captain de Banyan!" replied the lieutenant firmly.
"Do you see that hole in the tree?" continued Captain de Banyan, pointing to a fresh bullet-mark.
"I only pulled you down to keep that rifle-ball from going through your head. I saw a rebel picket through the trees, ready to fire at us. The ball struck the tree before we struck the ground."
"Forgive me, captain. I did not understand the movement," replied Somers, extending his hand.
"With all my heart," replied the captain, taking the proffered hand. "We don't always know who our best friends are."
"Perhaps not; but I know that you are one of my best friends. You have just given me another reason for wishing you did not——" Somers hesitated, not thinking it exactly fair to reproach his companion for his vile habit, after he had rendered him such a signal service.
"Lie," added De Banyan, finishing the sentence.
"Perhaps it isn't exactly lying; you don't mean to deceive any one. At the worst, they are only white lies. Now, captain, don't you think you exaggerate sometimes?"
"Well, perhaps I do; my memory is rather poor. I don't carry my diary with me."
"Don't you think it would be better if you could confine yourself to the exact truth?" added Somers, who really felt a deep interest in his associate.
"I think it very likely it would; but things get a little mixed up in my mind. My memory is poor on details. Just after the battle of Magenta, while I was lying wounded on the ground, one of the emperor's staff rode up to me, and asked how many cannon my regiment had captured. To save my life, I couldn't tell whether it was two hundred or three hundred. My memory is very treacherous on details."
"I believe you are hopeless, captain," laughed Somers.
"Why, you have told the biggest story that has passed your lips to-day."
"What, about the cannon?"
"Two hundred or three hundred! Why, your regiment captured all the guns the Austrians had!"
"Didn't I tell you I couldn't remember whether it was two hundred or three hundred? You are the most critical young man I ever met in the whole course of my life!"
"But two hundred would be an abominable exaggeration. Perhaps you meant muskets?"
"But, my dear captain, just consider for one moment. Of course the batteries were supported?"
"To be sure they were."
"Six guns to a battery would have made fifty batteries; and——"
"Oh, confound your statistics!" exclaimed the captain impatiently.
"But statistics enable us to see the truth. Now, captain, at the battle of Bunker Hill, I saw a man——"
"You?" demanded Captain de Banyan.
"I said so."
"Were you at the battle of Bunker Hill?"
"Didn't you see me there?"
"Come, come, Somers; you shouldn't trifle with the truth. I was not at the battle you speak of."
"But I was——"
"You! You were not born till sixty years after the battle of Bunker Hill."
"But I was—only illustrating your case."
"Here comes an orderly with something from headquarters," said Captain de Banyan, apparently as much rejoiced to change the conversation as the reader will be to have it changed.
The orderly proceeded to the position occupied by the field and staff officers of the regiment; and, a few moments later, came an order for Lieutenant Somers, with twenty of his men, selected for special duty, to report at the division headquarters.
"You are in luck, Somers; you will have a glorious opportunity to distinguish yourself," said Captain de Banyan, whose second lieutenant was ordered to the command of Somers's company.
"I don't know what it means," replied our lieutenant.
"Don't you, indeed?" added the captain with a smile. "Don't you know what special duty means? On the night before the battle of Solferino——"
"Excuse me, Captain de Banyan; but I am ordered to report forthwith," interrupted Somers, who had no desire to hear another "whopper."
The young lieutenant marched off, with his little force, to report as he had been directed. He knew his men well enough to enable him to make a good selection; and he was confident that they would stand by him to the last.
"Do you know Senator Guilford?" demanded the general, after Somers had passed through all the forms of reporting.
"I do, general," replied the lieutenant, with a fearful blush, and with a wish in his heart that the distinguished Senator had minded his own business.
"He speaks well of you, Lieutenant Somers," added the general.
"I am very much obliged to him for his kindness; but I never saw him but once in my life."
"He asks a favor for you."
"I am very much obliged to him; but I don't ask any for myself, and I hope you will not grant it. If any favors are bestowed upon me, I prefer to earn them myself."
"Good!" exclaimed the general. "But I assure you and Senator Guilford that no man in this division of the army will get a position he does not deserve. I assure you, Lieutenant Somers, I should have thrown the Senator's letter among the waste paper, if I had not known you before. I remember you at Williamsburg; and you did a pretty thing in the wheat-field yesterday. You are just the man I want."
"Thank you, sir; I should be very glad to prove that your good opinion is well founded."
Apart from others, and in a low tone, the general gave his orders to Lieutenant Somers to undertake a very difficult and dangerous scouting expedition.
"Before sundown you will be a prisoner in Richmond, or a first lieutenant," added the general as Somers withdrew.
LIEUTENANT SOMERS CHANGES HIS NAME AND CHARACTER
Like the major-generals in the army, Lieutenant Somers had strong aspirations in the direction of an independent command. Like those distinguished worthies, no doubt, he felt competent to perform bigger things than he had yet been called to achieve in the ordinary routine of duty. He had the blood of heroes in his veins; and, in spite of all he could do to keep his thoughts within the limits of modesty, he found them soaring to the regions of the improbable and fanciful. His imagination led him a wild race, and pictured him in the act of performing marvelous deeds of valor and skill.
Fancy is a blind and reckless leader; and it gave our hero oftentimes a command which his reason would not have permitted him to accept. What boys, and even what men, think, when stimulated by ambition, would be too ridiculous to put upon paper. If their thoughts could be disclosed to the impertinent eye of the world, the proprietors would blushingly disown and disclaim them.
Still, almost every live man and boy gives the reins to his fancy; and in the Army of the Potomac, we will venture to say, there were a hundred thousand privates and officers who permitted themselves to dream that they were brigadiers and major-generals; that they did big things, and received the grateful homage of the world. At any rate, Lieutenant Somers did, modest as he was, even while he felt that he was utterly incompetent to perform the duties incumbent on the two stars or the one star.
Experience had given him some confidence in his own powers; and there was something delightful in the idea of having an independent command. It was a partial, a very partial, realization of the wanderings of his vivid fancy. He felt able to do something which Lilian Ashford would take pleasure in reading in the newspapers; perhaps something which would prove his fitness for a brigadier's star at some remote period. Now, we have made all this explanation to show how Somers had prepared himself to accomplish some great thing. The mission with which he had been intrusted was an important one; and the safety of the whole left wing of the army might depend upon its faithful performance.
He was wrought up to the highest pitch of patriotic inspiration by the charge which had been laid upon him; and he was determined to bring back the information required of him, even if he had to fly through the air to obtain it. It was of no use to suggest impossibilities to a young man in such a frame of mind; he did not know the meaning of the word. To impress him with the importance of the duty intrusted to him, the general of division had given him a faint outline of the intended movements of the army. If the enemy massed his forces in this direction, it was of vital necessity that the general should know it.
Thus prepared and thus inspired, Lieutenant Somers marched his little force to the point from which he proposed to operate. On his right hand there was a dense wood, on the border of which extended one of the numerous cross-roads that checker the country. On his left was another piece of woods, terminating in a point about a quarter of a mile from the road and in the center of a valley.
On the hill beyond was the intrenched line of the rebels. In front of it, at the foot of the slope, was a line of rifle-pits, which were occupied by the rebel pickets. The hill and the woods concealed the operations of the enemy; and no signal station was high enough to obtain the necessary information. The woods on both sides of the open space were picketed by the rebels; and the rifle-pits in front were an effectual check to the advance of a small force, while a large one could not be sent up without bringing on a general engagement, which had been prohibited by the commanding general.
Lieutenant Somers surveyed the ground, and came to the conclusion that his chance of spending the night in Libby Prison was better than his chance of being made a first lieutenant. The rifle-pits had a chilling effect upon the fine dreams in which his fancy had indulged. He was not a grub, and could not burrow through the earth to the rebel lines; he had no wings, and could not fly over them. The obstacles which are so easily overcome in one's dreams appear mountain-high in real life. He looked troubled and anxious; but, having put his hand to the plow, he was determined not to turn back.
The best way to conquer a difficulty is to charge upon it; and this Somers decided to do, even though he had no well-defined plan for the accomplishment of his purpose. Avoiding the observation of the rebels in the rifle-pits, he moved round, and reached the point of woods on the left of the road.
"Excuse me, Lieutenant Somers," said Sergeant Hapgood with a military salute: "'tain't none o' my business, but I'd like to know where you are goin' to."
"Through this woods," replied Somers doggedly.
"You used to be a good boy, when you was a boy; and I hope you've said your prayers," replied old Hapgood, appalled at the prospect before his young friend.
"Don't you croak, uncle," added Somers.
"The rebels' pickets are up here, not twenty rods distant. Do you calculate to go through them, or over them?"
"Either—just as I can; but I am going through, somehow or other."
"It can't be done! Thunderation! you'll bring down the whole rebel army upon us! You don't think of going over there with only twenty men!"
"I do, uncle. I'm going over on that hill yonder, and I'm coming back again before night."
Hapgood tapped his forehead significantly with his finger to indicate that the young lieutenant had lost his senses.
"I was ordered to do it, and I am going to do it, uncle. You can set your mind at rest on that point."
"It can't be did!" said the old man positively. "I don't keer who told you to do it; it can't be did with less'n twenty thousand men. You will sacrifice yourself and all the rest of us."
"You may return to the camp, if you wish."
"Tom Somers—Lieutenant Somers," said the old man, much hurt by the words of the young officer, "you know I'm not afraid of anything; and I didn't expect you'd say that to me."
"Excuse me, uncle; I didn't mean it. Now, hear me a moment."
In a low tone, Lieutenant Somers told the sergeant the nature of his mission, and what depended upon its prompt and successful execution.
"He ought to have sent a division to do such a job," muttered the old man, taking off his cap, and scratching his bald head. "Howsomever, I'm ready to follow you wherever you choose to go."
"Forward, then," replied Somers; and they advanced cautiously through the woods till they came to a kind of bog-hole, beyond which they discovered the rebel pickets.
The party lay down on the ground, and crawled on the edge of the bog, till they obtained a fair view of the rebels.
"Now, uncle, the time has come, and my plan is formed," said Somers in a whisper. "When they discover you, retreat with the men as fast as you can. Fire on the rebels; but don't pay any attention to me."
"Where are you going?" demanded the old man.
"When you retire, I am going to roll into that grass. They will follow you; and, as soon as they have passed me, I shall move forward."
"I won't do anything of the sort. Thunderation! you are goin' to run right into the arms of the rebels."
"Obey my orders! That's all you have to do. I can take care of myself."
"Excuse me, Tom—Lieutenant Somers."
"I know all about it, uncle. You do what I tell you, and you shall have all the particulars to-night, when I return."
"Return! You will be in Libby, if you are not shot, by dark."
"If I am, leave that to me," replied Somers, as he rolled over into the long grass of the bog, and entirely concealed himself from the view of his own men. "Now fire one or two shots into the rebel picket and then retire."
Hapgood reluctantly obeyed the order; though he felt as though he was signing the death-warrant of his young friend by doing so. The bullets began to fly; but the sergeant took care to keep his men out of sight as they retreated. The enemy followed; for they always chase a retiring foe, and run from an advancing one. They reached the bog in which Somers was concealed, where one of the three fell before a ball which the lieutenant was sure had been directed by the practiced eye of the veteran sergeant. The other two swore at the calamity, and vowed vengeance on the Yankee who had done the deed.
Hapgood continued to retire, and led his foe to the very verge of the woods. In the meantime, the lieutenant emerged from his hiding-place. The first object that attracted his attention was the ghastly face of the dead rebel. The sight of him was not pleasant, but it was suggestive; and, without the loss of a moment, he dragged the body into the grass, and hastily removed the uniform from it. It was a loathsome task; but the necessity of the moment seemed to justify the act. Taking off his own uniform, he put on that of the dead rebel, who was fortunately about his own size. Rolling up his own clothing in as small a bundle as possible, he concealed it in the bog, at some distance from the place where the picket had fallen. Dragging the corpse to a quagmire, he sunk it beneath the muddy waters, and it passed from his view. After taking the precaution to straighten up the long grass, which might have betrayed his movements, he advanced towards the rebel lines.
Lieutenant Somers felt that he was now actually embarked in his perilous venture. He was within the enemy's line, and in disguise. If discovered, he would be liable to the penalty of being a spy. But inasmuch as he did not intend to be discovered, he did not think it necessary to expend his nervous energy in a discussion of this question. Success was a duty to him; and he spent no time in considering the dark side of the picture.
He was excited, and he knew that he was excited. He knew that coolness and impudence were the essential elements of success in such an adventure; and when he had followed the woods nearly to the top of the hill, he sat down to recover his self-possession, and compose his nerves to their natural quietude. It was not a very easy matter. He had already arranged his plan of future operations, and he diligently set about the business of making his appearance correspond with his circumstances.
He felt that he was hardly dirty enough to be a rebel; so he rubbed his face, neck and hands with some dark-colored earth, ripped his pants and coat in sundry places, and otherwise disfigured his comely person, till Miss Lilian Ashford would not have known him, or if she had known him, would have been ashamed to acknowledge his acquaintance. Having completed this work to his entire satisfaction, he rose, and resumed his march towards the rebel line. He had advanced but a few paces before he felt something in the breast-pocket of his coat, which excited his curiosity. It was a diary which the dead soldier had kept from the time he entered the army.
Such a work would have been deeply interesting to the lieutenant at any time, but especially at the present, when he was sadly in want of the information which would enable him to personate the difficult part he had chosen to perform. Seating himself on the ground again, he was soon absorbed in the contents of the note-book. The owner's name was Owen Raynes; and from the diary Somers learned that he had been a clerk in Richmond when the war broke out; and that his father resided on the Williamsburg road, near Seven Pines, where the battle had been fought. Somers was alarmed at this information; for the young man must be well known in the neighborhood. Of course he could not assume the name and character of Owen Raynes.
Though the time was precious, he continued to read the diary till he came to an entry which excited his deep interest: "Poor Allan Garland was captured to-day by the Yankees; and I suppose they will torture and starve the poor fellow, as they have the rest of our boys who have fallen into their hands. We shall never meet again. He was a good fellow. He was on a scout."
Somers was deeply concerned about poor Allan Garland, who had fallen into the hands of the terrible Yankees, to be tortured and starved; and he turned back to the beginning of the diary to obtain further particulars in regard to this interesting person. Fortunately for history, and particularly for Lieutenant Somers, Owen Raynes had given a tolerably full account of his friend. They had been to school together in Union, Alabama, where Owen had an uncle, and where Allan resided. They were fast friends; and both agreed to enlist as volunteers in the Fourth Alabama, Colonel Bush Jones; for their schoolmates were mostly in this regiment.
When the regiment arrived at Richmond, Owen had not time to visit his father; for the troops were instantly ordered to Manassas, and he enrolled himself without discovering that his friend was not in the ranks. He was too sick to come with his comrades; "wrote letter to Allan" was a frequent entry in the diary, until June 18, 1862, when this record appears: "Allan joined the regiment to-day; has been sick about a year; is very well now; he is a handsome fellow. Sue shall be his wife, if I can bring it about; they have kept up a correspondence for three years; she never saw him, but she will like him."
"All right!" exclaimed Somers, as he closed the book, and put it in his pocket. "I am Allan Garland. Don't think I shall marry Sue, though, whoever she may be. I wonder if Lilian Ashford would object. I don't know as she would. Never mind; I am a soldier of the Fourth Alabama, Colonel Jones, just now. How are you, Allan Garland?"
He walked along towards the rebel lines, feeling in his pockets for further revelations. An old letter from Allan Garland rewarded his search. He spoke tenderly of Sue, who was Owen's sister.
"Sue wouldn't think I'm very handsome just now," said Somers, glancing at his dirty hands, and imagining his dirty face, as he continued to advance.
ALLAN GARLAND AND FRIENDS
Allan Garland, nee Somers, advanced confidently towards the rebel line. As he was to perform the leading part in the exciting drama about to be acted, he conducted himself with the utmost caution. Everything depended upon the amount of impudence he could bring to bear upon the case before him, and the skill with which he personated the part he had chosen. He knew of nothing, short of falling on the Fourth Alabama, which could disconcert him. Even if he did, there were only a few who knew the captured scout; and his chances were fair, even if the worst should befall him.
"Stand!" said a rebel sentinel on the breastwork of the line. "Who goes there?"
"Friend," replied Somers confidently.
"What's your name?"
"Allan Garland. Can you tell me where the Fourth Alabama is?"
"About four miles from here. Do you belong to the Fourth Alabama?"
"Well, I did before I was captured; I don't know where I belong now."
"Where d'ye come from?"
"Just got away from the Yankees. They gobbled me up about three weeks ago."
"Bully for you! Come in; you can report to the officer of the day."
Somers was entirely willing, and hastened in the direction indicated by the sentinel; and was soon ushered into the presence of Major Platner, brigade-officer of the day. He was a very pompous little man, and Somers saw his weakness as soon as he spoke. With a most profound bow, he answered the questions of the major, using the utmost deference in his tone and manner.
"How dare you present yourself before an officer of the day with such a dirty face?" demanded Major Platner.
"I hope your honor will pardon me; but I have just escaped from the Yankees, and have not had time to wash my face. If you please, sir, I will go and do it now. I thought I ought to come to you without any delay."
"You did right, young man," replied the major with a consequential flourish of the hand. "You were out scouting when you were taken?"
Major Platner then proceeded to ask a great many questions in regard to the force and position of the Yankees; all of which Somers answered entirely in the interest of the Union party. He was very careful not to give a particle of information that could be useful to the rebels; at the same time avoiding any gross exaggerations which would throw discredit on his story.
"You seem to be a very intelligent and patriotic young man," added the officer. "I have heard some inquiries for a person of your description to-day."
"I have always endeavored to do my duty to my country," answered Somers, trying to blush under the compliment of the patronizing little major; "and I kept my eyes wide open while I was in the Yankee camps."
"I see you did. Your information is very definite, and, I doubt not, very reliable."
"My only desire has been to serve my country, sir," added Somers very modestly.
"Well, go and wash your face, so that we can see what color you are, and I will report your name to the general, who was inquiring for a useful person like yourself. I trust that you will have discretion enough not to mention anything that has passed between us."
"Certainly not, sir. I judge, from what you have said, that my poor services may be required for some special service."
"That is the idea which I intended to convey. In a word, the commander of this division wants information. You have just come from the Yankee lines, and you know where to look for the intelligence that will be of the most value to us."
"I think I do, sir."
"The fact that you have just made your way through the Yankee lines shows that you possess the necessary address."
"I thank you for your good opinion; and I assure you, sir, that I should be very glad to serve my country in any capacity in which she may require my humble labors."
"Very well, young man."
"A plan occurs to me now, by which I could easily enter the Yankee lines."
"Indeed! What is that?"
"When I ran through the enemy's pickets, they fired upon me, and one of them chased me. I brought him down with my pistol," replied Somers, producing the weapon, which he had taken the precaution to bring with him. "I know just where that Yankee lies now; I could borrow his uniform, and go in among the enemy without suspicion."
"Very well arranged, young man."
The major then directed an orderly to attend to the wants of the fugitive, and gave the latter orders to report to him within two hours. Somers washed his face, and partook of some cold bacon and corn bread, which constituted the staple of the rebel rations. He then told the orderly that he wanted to look round a little, and find his regiment, if he could; but was informed that the camp regulations did not permit any strolling about the camps. He suggested that the officer of the day would give him a pass, and he returned to the major to beg this favor. It was readily granted; and the time for him to report was extended to four hours, as his regiment was situated at some distance from the brigade camp, though it belonged to the same division.
Thus provided, Somers commenced his tour of observation. Of course, he had no intention of visiting the Fourth Alabama; for that would have been putting his head into the lion's mouth. We need only say, that he used his time to the best advantage for the country in whose service he had enlisted. He noted the brigades, regiments, and batteries of artillery, which he saw in his walk; and arranged a little scheme in his mind, by which he could remember the number of each.
In the course of his perambulations, he reached the Williamsburg road, and was on the point of extending his observations in the direction of the railroad, when he was stopped by a sentinel. He produced his pass, which the rebel soldier could not read; and he was conducted to the sergeant of the guard, who was listening to a conversation between a captain and an old man who appeared to be a farmer. They were bargaining about some forage which the captain wanted, and which the farmer was not disposed to sell.
"What have you there?" demanded the officer, as the sentinel brought in the doubtful case.
"Man with a pass."
"Your pass is good up to the Williamsburg road, and no farther," said the sergeant when he had read the document.
"I didn't know where the lines were," replied Somers, returning the pass to his pocket.
"Where are you going?" asked the officer, apparently not satisfied with the appearance of the "man with a pass."
"Looking for my regiment, sir," replied Somers, giving the military salute; which excess of politeness, however, was lost on the matter-of-fact captain.
"The Fourth Alabama."
"The Fourth Alabama! What are you doing over here, then?"
"I am a stranger in these parts; and I don't know where to look. I have just escaped from the Yankees, and don't know much about this part of the country."
"What is your name?"
"Allan Garland, sir."
"What!" exclaimed the old farmer, suddenly becoming interested in the conversation.
"In my opinion, you are a deserter," added the officer in a crabbed tone. "I advise you to arrest him, sergeant. That pass is good for nothing on this road."
"No, captain, he is not a deserter," interposed the farmer with energy. "I know him well; and he is as true and patriotic a young man as there is in the Southern Confederacy."
Somers looked at the farmer with astonishment. He did not remember to have seen him before; and he could not account for the interest he manifested in his case.
"What do you know of him, Mr. Raynes?"
Mr. Raynes! That explained the matter; and Somers could not help shuddering in the presence of the man whose son he had buried in the soft mud of the bog.
"He is my son's friend," replied the farmer. "Both of them belong to the Fourth Alabama."
"That may be, Mr. Raynes; but do you suppose a man looking for the Fourth Alabama would be wandering about here?"
"He is a stranger in Virginia. He came on from Alabama only a few weeks since, and was captured while out on a scouting expedition. I assure you, captain, it is all right; I will vouch for him."
"Very well, Mr. Raynes! If the sergeant is willing to take your word for it, I have nothing further to say. Indeed, it is no business of mine; but our soldiers are allowed to walk over to the enemy, or back into the woods, without let or hindrance. It's a disgrace to the service. Major Platner gives this man a pass to go all over the country. Do as you please, sergeant."
"I mean to," replied the sergeant in an undertone; for he was not pleased at this interference on the part of a commissary of subsistence, who had nothing whatever to do with the affair. "I am satisfied," he added aloud.
"Allan, I am very glad to see you; and I thank God that you have been enabled to escape from the Yankees. Have you seen Owen since you got back?"
Somers trembled at the question; and, while he did not dare to tell the old man the truth, the thought of telling him a falsehood was utterly repulsive to his nature. It was easy enough to deceive the enemy in war—his duty called upon him to do this; but to deceive an old, fond father, in regard to a true and devoted son, seemed terrible to him.
"He was out on picket when I came through," he replied after some hesitation.
"Then you did not meet him. He will be delighted to see you again; for really the boy is as fond of you as he is of his sister."
Somers found himself unable to answer to the warm congratulations of the old man, or to enter into the spirit of the conversation. The staring, death-sealed eyes of Owen Raynes haunted him; and, when he attempted to reciprocate the friendly sentiments of the doting father, his heart seemed to rise up in his throat, and choke his utterance. The only consolation he could derive from the remembrance of the scene in the woods was in the fact that he had not taken the life of Owen Raynes himself. He wore his clothes, and had his diary and letters in his pocket.
"You are very sad, Allan! I should think you would be happy to escape from the Yankees. They would have starved you to death in time."
"I think not, sir! They are not so cruel as that," added Somers, who desired to remove such a reproach from the mind of the old man.
"Perhaps they would not willingly starve their prisoners; but I don't see how they could avoid it. They say that the people of the North are suffering terribly for the want of food. In New York, the laboring classes have attacked the banks and the flour-stores, urged on by hunger. There will be terrible times in the North before many months have gone by. I pity the people there, though it is their own fault. I hope God will be merciful to them, and spare them from some of the consequences of their own folly. I am thankful that you have escaped from them."
"I don't think they are quite so badly off as you say," answered Somers, provoked by this view of the condition and resources of the North. "I have talked with a great many Yankee soldiers, and they say that plenty abounds in all the Northern States."
"They would tell you so. They are deceived by their officers."
"That's the way it is done," added the rebel sergeant, who had been listening to the conversation.
"But I saw what rations these soldiers have. They live like lords."
"That's the very thing which will starve all the people in the North. Their big armies will eat them out of house and home in a few months, Allan."
"I think not, Mr. Raynes."
"A gentleman from New York, who got through the lines last week, says the grass is a foot high in some of the streets of New York. The people can't find anything to do, and are cursing their rulers for plunging them into this horrid war."
"I think the gentleman from New York lied," replied Somers with a smile. "I saw the New York papers every day while I was in the Yankee lines; and they are full of advertisements, which look like business. Why, in one paper I saw four columns of 'Wants,' in which people advertised for farm-laborers, house-servants, clerks and sailors."
"Ah! Allan, those papers are printed to sell in the Yankee army. I'm sure I hope they are not so badly off as has been represented. I should not want my worst enemy to suffer what they are called upon to endure. It is all their own fault; but I hope God will be merciful to them."
"I think you needn't feel bad about them," added Somers, amused, but indignant at the pitiful stories which were circulated in the South to keep up the courage of the people.
"Let that pass, then. Really, Allan, I am very glad to see you. You must go to the house with me. Sue will be delighted to meet you. She talks about you a great deal; and I can insure you a warm welcome."
"I think I cannot stop to call now; but I will try to come over in a few days," replied Somers, embarrassed beyond measure at the idea of facing Sue and the rest of the family.
"Not stop!" exclaimed Mr. Raynes, holding up his hands with surprise.
"Not now, sir; I am in no condition to appear before ladies," he added, extending his arms so as to display his tattered garments to the fullest advantage. "You know a young man is rather particular about his appearance when he is going into the company of ladies, and especially into the presence of some ladies. The fact is, I tore my uniform all to pieces after I passed through the Yankee lines."
"Never mind your uniform, my boy. It looks as though it had seen service; and that is the best recommendation a young man can have to the girls in these times. You must go, Allan."
"Indeed, sir, I hope you will excuse me for a few days," pleaded Somers.
"Come, Allan! this is not kind of you. Sue has been dying to see you for a year. She was terribly disappointed when you did not come up with your regiment, and again when she heard you had joined without calling upon us. If it had been Owen, she could not have felt worse when you were captured. Now you want to disappoint her again."
"You need not mention that you have seen me, Mr. Raynes," suggested Somers.
"Not tell her that you have escaped, when she is fretting about you every day of her life! That would be too bad."
"You can tell her as much as you please without informing her that you have seen me."
"I could not tell a lie, Allan. It would choke me," said the old man solemnly. "You must go with me."
"Let me get another uniform, and it would surprise her when I come."
"No more words, young man. You must go. It is only a short distance," replied Mr. Raynes, passing his arm through that of Somers, and walking towards his house. "It will be the happiest day for Sue which she has seen for a year."
"Happier for her than it will be for me," thought Somers, who was disposed to break away from the old man, and make his escape.
By this time, Sue had become an awful bugbear to the poor fellow. In these days of photographs, it is more than probable that she had a picture of the original Allan Garland, and the cheat would be discovered the moment he showed his face. He was deliberating a plan for breaking away from his persistent friend, when a young lady of eighteen stepped out from the bushes by the roadside, and hailed the old man.
THE VIRGINIA MAIDEN
"Where have you been, father?" said the young lady in a very sweet and gentle tone, which, however, sounded like the knell of doom to poor Somers. "I have been waiting for you half an hour."
But then, perceiving a stranger with her father, she drew back, abashed at her own forwardness.
"Come here, Sue," said the old man. "Come here; I want to see you."
She advanced timidly from the bushes where she had been partially concealed from the gaze of the passers-by. She was certainly a very pleasant and comely-looking maiden; but, if she had been the "Witch of Endor," she could not have been any more disagreeable to Somers. He was as fond of adventure as any young man; and if he could have forgotten that poor Owen Raynes, the son and the brother, was at that moment lying in the mud of the swamp; his manly form no more to gladden the hearts of those who stood before him; his voice hushed in death, no more to utter the accents of affection to the devoted father and his loving sister—if he could have forgotten his relations with the dead Owen, he might even have enjoyed the exciting situation in which he was placed.
Sue, with a blushing face and half-averted gaze, stepped out into the road, and stole a few timid glances at the young lieutenant. It was quite evident that she did not have a suspicion of the identity of the young soldier before her. Her father appeared to have a vein of romance in his character, and was disposed to torture her for a time with the torments of suspense, before he declared to her the astounding truth, that the young soldier was her well-known but hitherto unseen friend from Alabama, the bosom companion of her brother Owen, and, if everything worked as the loving conspirators intended, the future husband of the affectionate maiden.
She did not like to ask who the stranger was; and she thought it was very provoking of her father not to tell her, when she was so fearfully embarrassed by her position. She continued to blush; and Somers felt so awkward, that he couldn't help joining her in this interesting display of roses on the cheeks.
"Don't you know him, Sue?" demanded the farmer, when he had tantalized her as long as the circumstances would warrant.
"Why, of course I don't, father!" stammered the Virginia maiden.
"Look in his face, and see if you can't tell," persisted Mr. Raynes.
"How absurd, father!"
"Absurd, child? Not at all absurd! Haven't you his picture in the house? And, if I mistake not, you have looked at it as many as three times a day for the last year."
"Now, father, you are too bad! I haven't done anything of the sort," protested Sue, pouting and twisting her shoulders as any country girl, who had not been trained in a satinwood seminary, would have done under such trying circumstances. "You don't mean to say that is Allan Garland?" added she, her pretty face lighting up with an expression of intense satisfaction.
"But I do, Sue," replied Mr. Raynes with emphasis.
"Why, Allan! I am so glad to see you! I was afraid I should never see you!" exclaimed Sue, rushing up to the young man, and extending both her hands, which he felt compelled to accept.
He was fearful that she would kiss him; and, though he would have been under obligations to submit to the infliction, he was not sure that the operation would not cause him to faint. Fortunately for him, Sue was reasonable in her behavior; and he escaped cheaper than he expected, when he beheld the impetuous charge which the maiden made upon him. If he had really been Allan Garland, his reception would have been entirely proper, and highly creditable to the affectionate nature of the Virginia damsel. He was not the young gentleman from Alabama; and he felt as though he had been flanked on both sides, with no chance to beat off the enemy in front, or to run away in the rear. He was only a short distance from a line of rebel sentinels, and he did not consider it prudent to escape by taking to his legs. He did not wear his fighting socks at this time, and felt that it would be no disgrace to run away from such an enemy as that which confronted him.
"I am very glad to see you, Allan," repeated Sue, as the wretched young man did not venture to use his tongue.
"Thank you, thank you, Miss Raynes!" said he at last, when silence seemed even more dangerous than speech.
"Miss Raynes! Dear me, Allan, how very formal and precise you are! You called me Sue in your letters."
"Did I? Well, I didn't know it," replied Somers with a stroke of candor not to be expected under the circumstances.
"Certainly you did. I don't think you ever mentioned such a person as Miss Raynes."
"I am confident I didn't," added he with another touch of candor. "But I will always call you Sue hereafter, when I have occasion to speak to you."
"Thank you, Allan! You begin to sound a little like yourself."
Somers was very glad to hear it, but wished he had been five miles off, even if it had been in the very jaws of the Fourth Alabama.
"You don't look a bit like your photograph," continued Sue, gazing with admiration at the face of the young man; for which those who ever saw Lieutenant Somers will cheerfully pardon her.
"Do you think so?"
"I'm sure you don't."
"That's very strange. Everybody who has seen my photograph says it looks exactly like me."
"I don't think so."
"I gave one to a young lady of my acquaintance, who said it was perfect."
"Indeed! Who was she?"
"She is a young lady whom I have met only two or three times."
"What is her name?"
"What a pretty name!" said Sue, endeavoring to be magnanimous; though it was evident that she was troubled by the honest avowal of the young soldier.
"Where does she live?"
"She is at the North, now," answered Somers, who could not bear to tell a lie when there was no need of such a sacrifice.
He was becoming very uneasy under this rigid catechizing, and hoped she would not ask any more questions about Lilian Ashford. He had mentioned her name with the hope that it might produce a coldness on her part which would afford him some advantage. She did not, however, seem to be annihilated by the prospect of a rival, and was proceeding to interrogate him still further in regard to the lady, with whom he was apparently intimate enough to present her his photograph, when Mr. Raynes reminded her that they were standing in the road, and had better go into the house.
"Now, Mr. Raynes, as I have seen Sue, and Sue has seen me, I think I had better hasten to my regiment," suggested Somers.
"Not yet, Allan," replied the old man.
"Do you wish to run away, and leave me so soon, you monster?" added Sue. "I tell you, sir, I shall not let you go yet."
"But, Sue! you forget that I have just returned from the Yankees. I was furnished with a pass, to enable me to find my regiment."
"You shall find it in good time."
"Come to the house, Allan: we will not detain you long," added Mr. Raynes.
"You must and shall come!" protested Sue, taking him by the arm, and absolutely compelling him to go, or be guilty of the most unpardonable rudeness to the fair Virginia damsel.
"I should be very glad to go with you, Sue, if my duty did not call me elsewhere. I am to be sent off on very important service."
"This very day. I may never see you again."
"And you would coolly run away and leave me without even going into the house!"
"But my duty, Sue!"
"You will be in time for your duty."
"I may be arrested as a deserter."
"Nonsense! You have a pass in your pocket."
"In spite of the pass, if your father had not happened to see me, I should have been arrested, and might have spent a day or two in the guardhouse before the case could have been explained."
"No more argument, Allan," said the persevering girl. "Here is the house; you shall go in and look at mother, if you don't stop but a minute. Besides, I want to see your photograph while you are present; for I am sure you don't look any more like the picture than the picture does like you."
"Probably not," replied Somers, as the resolute maiden dragged him into the house; where, without stopping to breathe, she presented him to her mother, with the astounding declaration, that he was Allan Garland.
Mrs. Raynes gave him a cordial Virginia welcome; and, while he was endeavoring to make himself as agreeable as possible to the old lady, Sue rushed up-stairs to procure the faithless photograph. She returned in a moment with the picture in her hand, and proceeded at once to institute a comparison between the shadow and the substance.
"Now, stand up here, sir, and let me see," said she, as she playfully whisked him round and scrutinized his features. "I told you it did not look like you; and I am very sure now that it does not."
"Let me see," added Somers, extending his hand for the picture.
"Will you promise to give it back to me?"
"Certainly I will! You don't imagine I would be so mean as to confiscate it?"
"I should not care much if you did, now that I have found out it does not look any more like you than it does like me," she answered, handing him the photograph.
"Where did you get this picture, Sue?"
"Where did I get it? Well, that is cool! Didn't you send it to me yourself?" And Sue began to exhibit some symptoms of amazement.
"I am very sure I never sent you this picture," added Somers gravely.
"You did not?"
"Why, Allan Garland!"
"This is not my picture."
"I shouldn't think it was."
Thereupon Mr. Raynes began to laugh in the most immoderate manner; opening his mouth wide enough to take in a very small load of hay, and shaking his sides in the most extraordinary style.
"What are you laughing at, pa?" demanded Sue, blushing up to the eyes, as though she already felt the force of some keenly satirical remark which was struggling for expression in the mouth of the farmer.
"To think you have been looking at that picture three times a day for a year, studying, gazing at it; kissing it, for aught I know; and then to find out that it is not Allan after all!" roared the Virginia farmer between the outbreaks of his mirth. "I haven't done anything but groan since the war began, and it does me good to laugh. I haven't had a jolly time before since the battle of Bull Run, as the Yankees call it."
"You are the most absurd pa in Virginia. I didn't look at it three times a day, I never studied it, and I'm sure I never kissed it. No wonder Allan wants to get away, when he finds what an absurd girl you make me out to be. You think I'm a fool, don't you, Allan?"
"I do not, by any means. I'm sure, if I had your picture, I shouldn't have been ashamed to look at it three times a day," replied Somers, gallantly coming to the rescue of the maiden. "But, really, my Virginia patriarch," he added, using an expression which he had found in the correspondence in his pocket, "I must tear myself away."
"You seem to be glad enough to go," pouted Sue.
"Sorry to go, but compelled by the duty I owe my country to leave you."
"When will you come again?"
"Of course, that question I cannot answer. I may never see you again. This is a terrible war, and we cannot tell what a day may bring forth," replied Somers solemnly; and the thought was all the more solemn when he thought of the cold corpse of the son and brother concealed in the mire of the swamp.
He had seen the old man laugh as none but a happy man can; and he could not help feeling what a terrible revulsion a few words from him might cause. He had watched the playful manner of Sue, and had joined in the gay raillery of the moment. A word from him would crush her spirit, and bow that loving mother to the ground. The scene had not been one of his own choosing; and he would gladly escape the necessity of dissembling before those affectionate hearts.
"We are on the eve of a terrible battle," added the old man very gravely. "Hundreds of our poor boys went down yesterday, never to rise again. We tremble when we think of you in the field. I may never see my son again; for the issue of the war may depend on the battles of the next few days."
"What do you mean?"
Mr. Raynes seemed to know more than he had dared to speak; and Somers was full of interest.
"The Yankees, who expect to go into Richmond, will be driven down the Peninsula, where they came up, like flying sheep, within a week. I have heard a few words, which satisfies me that great events are coming."
Though it was not supposable that the people in the vicinity of Richmond knew the plans of General Lee, from what he had seen, and from what he had heard from men in power, he had formed a very correct idea of the intended operations of the rebel chief; and he stated his views very clearly to Somers. While he was listening to the old man's theory, Mrs. Raynes had spread her table, and placed upon it such food as was available for a hasty lunch. She insisted that he should partake; and, while he enjoyed the welcome refreshment, Mr. Raynes told him everything about the movements of the Confederate army in the vicinity, with full particulars of the battle of the preceding day. While the scout was thus answering the ends of his mission, he was in no hurry to depart.
General McClellan's "change of base" was not suspected by the rebels at this time. It was their purpose to flank the Union army on the right and left, and destroy it effectually. The dispositions had been made for this purpose; and, as Mr. Raynes was a man of influence and intelligence, his information was as reliable as could be deduced from the preliminary movements of the rebel army. He was confident of success. The execution of the plan had already been commenced, and the right of the Union line was in the act of falling back.
He expatiated upon the perils of the campaign, and the terrible fighting which was to be expected; and manifested the utmost solicitude for the safety of his son, and hardly less for his guest.
Somers prolonged his repast, that the old man might leave nothing unsaid that would be important for the Union generals to know. Sue occasionally joined in the conversation; but she was quite serious now, as she contemplated the perils to which her brother and her friend from Alabama must be subjected.
"Do you know where General Jackson is now?" asked Somers.
"I don't know exactly where he is; but I know what part he has to play in the great drama. The last we heard of him was, that he was watching McDowell, near Fredericksburg. If McDowell keeps quiet, Jackson will rush down on the left flank of the Yankees, and cut off their retreat."
"Are you sure?"
"I am very sure. I can tell you why."
Before he had time to tell him why, a knock at the door disturbed the conference; and a young man, in a tattered rebel uniform, was ushered into the room.
THE DIGNIFIED YOUNG REBEL
Lieutenant Somers, who had been very nervous and uneasy before, was exceedingly annoyed by the appearance of another actor on the stage. He had become in some slight degree familiarized with the awkwardness of his situation; for the fact, that no suspicion had yet been cast upon his identity, was encouraging, and he began to have some confidence in his position, open as it was to an assault from any direction. The advent of the tattered stranger was a new cause for alarm, and he at once became very anxious to beat a retreat.
There is no night without some ray of light to gladden it. His first impression was that the visitor belonged to the Fourth Alabama, and would readily recognize him as an impostor; but he was in a measure relieved to find that none of the family gave the soldier more than a friendly greeting, which proved him to be a stranger to them as well as to himself. Yet he might belong to the Fourth Alabama; and then it occurred to him that the man had come to inform Mr. Raynes of the death of his son while on picket duty.
In the brief period which elapsed between the advent of the stranger, and the statement of the object of his visit, Somers was disturbed by a dozen fearful theories; all of which seemed to end in a rebel prison at Richmond, and even in a rebel gallows—the fate of the spy. The minutes were fearfully long; and, before the momentous question of the object of the stranger's visit could be introduced, he decided to make an abrupt retreat.
"Well, Mr. Raynes," said he, approaching the old man as he put on his cap, "I have already run a great risk in stopping here so long; and, with many thanks to you for your kindness and for your generous hospitality, I must take my departure."
"I suppose we cannot keep you any longer, Allan; but you must promise to call again at the first convenient opportunity."
"I promise you that I will the first time I can safely do so," responded Somers warmly, and with the fullest intention of redeeming his promise. "Good-by, sir!"
"Good-by, my dear boy! May you be spared in the hour when the strong men bite the dust!" said Mr. Raynes solemnly, as he gave his hand to Somers.
"Good-by, Sue!" added the young lieutenant, taking the hand of the Virginia damsel.
"Adieu, my brave soldier-boy!" she replied.
"You are a soldier, I see," said the stranger, as Somers approached him on his way out of the house.
"Yes, sir," answered the latter nervously; for he would gladly have escaped any communication with the newcomer.
"What regiment do you belong to?" persisted the dilapidated soldier.
What business was that to him? Why should he trouble himself about other people's affairs? It sounded like a very impertinent question to the excited lieutenant, and he was tempted to inform the busy-body that it was none of his business; but, as he had already earned a good character for civility with the interesting family in whose presence he still stood, his bump of approbation would not permit him to forfeit their esteem by so inconsiderate a reply.
"Good-by, all!" said he with energy, turning away from the rebel soldier, and moving towards the door.
"What regiment did you say you belonged to?" demanded the persistent rebel.
"I didn't say," replied Somers, not in the most gentle tones.
"Will you oblige me by telling me to what regiment you belong?" added the rebel.
"I think I will not," continued Somers, more and more displeased with the persistence of the other. "I came very near being arrested as a deserter just now, though I have a pass in my pocket; and I don't care about exposing myself to any further annoyance by my own indiscretion."
"I assure you I am a friend, and I would not betray you if I knew you were a deserter," said the stranger in very civil tones.
Thus appealed to, and perceiving that he was not gaining in the estimation of Mr. Raynes by his reticence, he decided that he could not make the matter much worse by answering the question.
"To the Fourth Alabama," he replied desperately; "but you must excuse me; for I am in a tremendous hurry."
"The Fourth Alabama! I thought so," exclaimed the stranger with a pleasant smile, as though the information was particularly agreeable to him. "I belong to the Fourth Alabama myself."
"Do you, indeed?" added Somers with the most intense disquiet, wishing all the time that the soldier had been in Alabama, or anywhere but in the house of Mr. Raynes.
"Can you tell me where the regiment is?"
"I cannot. I have been looking for it myself for the last two hours. As I can be of no assistance to you, you will excuse me if I leave you."
"Not so fast, comrade; I will go with you. I have some directions which I think will enable us to find the regiment; and, if you please, I will bear you company."
Somers did not please; but he could hardly refuse the offer without exciting the suspicion of the family, which he felt might be fatal to him. It would be better to depart with the member of the Fourth Alabama, and part company with him by force of stratagem when they had left the house.
"I won't keep you waiting but a minute. I called here to see my friends; but none of them seem to know me. You are Mr. Raynes, I presume?" continued the soldier, addressing the old man.
"I am; but I don't remember to have ever seen you before," replied the farmer.
"You never did, sir; but I will venture to say that my name is well known in this house," added the soldier with a mysterious smile, which caused Somers to dread some new development that would compromise him.
"Ah!" said Mr. Raynes, ever ready to welcome any one who had the slightest claim upon his hospitality.
"I am well acquainted with your son, Owen; I suppose I shall not be disputed here, when I say that he is the best fellow in the world. Don't you know me now?" demanded the tantalizing rebel, who appeared to be very anxious to have his identity made out in the natural way, and without any troublesome explanations.
"Really, I do not," answered Mr. Raynes, much perplexed by the confident manner of the visitor.
"This is Sue, I suppose?" pursued the soldier, advancing to the maiden, and extending his dirty hand; which, however, was not much dirtier than that which she had so eagerly grasped before. "Don't you know who I am, Sue?"
"I do not, sir," she replied rather coldly.
"When I tell you that I belong to the Fourth Alabama, don't you know me?"
"I do not, sir."
"And when I tell you that I am the intimate friend of your brother Owen?"
Allan Garland stood by the door; and, of course, it was not he; therefore she could not, by any possibility, conceive who he was; and she said so, in terms as explicit as the occasion required.
"I live in Union, Alabama, when I am at home. Don't you know me now, Sue?" persisted the perplexed visitor, who, perhaps, began to think he had entered the wrong house.
If the veritable Allan Garland, however little his photograph resembled him, had not stood by the door, she would have been rejoiced to see him, and to recognize in him her unknown friend and correspondent. As it was, she did not know him; and she was candid enough to express her conviction without reserve, in spite of the disagreeable effect which her want of perception seemed to produce upon the mind of the stranger.
"This is very strange," said the soldier, taking off his cap, and rubbing his head to quicken his faculties, which seemed to have led him into some unaccountable blunder. "Will you be kind enough to inform me who lives in this house?"
"Mr. Raynes," replied Sue, quite as much mystified as the stranger seemed to be.
"There is some mistake; but I can't make out what it is," said the stranger.
"I cannot wait any longer," said Somers, who had been riveted to the spot by the astounding revelation to which he had just listened.
He had been almost paralyzed by the words of the rebel, in whom he promptly recognized the young man whose name and antecedents he had borrowed for the present occasion. His first impression was to take to his heels, and to run away; but a certain worldly prudence prevented him from adopting this doubtful policy. If you attempt to run away from an angry dog, he will certainly bite you; whereas, by facing him boldly, you may escape all injury. This fact, which Somers had fully exemplified in his own experience before he left Pinchbrook, was the foundation of his action. Seeing that the stranger was perplexed and annoyed by the failure of the family to recognize him, even after he had told them everything except his name, he decided that he might safely retire under the plea of haste.
"I beg your pardon, sir, for this intrusion," said the soldier, blushing with mortification as he retreated a pace towards the door. "You will excuse me, Miss Raynes, for my unwarrantable familiarity; but I have made a blunder, or you have," he added rather bitterly. "Perhaps, when Owen comes to introduce me, you will know me better."
"Owen's friends are my friends, young man; and you are as welcome as my son would be, whoever you are."
"Thank you, sir; but, with many regrets for this intrusion, I will take my leave."
"No, no, my young friend," interposed the old man. "You must not leave us in this manner. It is true, we do not recognize you; but you are none the less welcome on that account."
"Thank you kindly, sir. I have deceived myself into the belief that I was better known here than I find I am. It was weak in me to thrust myself across your threshold without an introduction; and, if you will pardon me, I will leave you, with the promise to come again with Owen."
"Not yet, sir; at least, not till you have told us who you are."
"Excuse me; but I must go now," replied the young rebel with an exhibition of gentle dignity, which quite won the heart of Somers, as it did that of the family.
"Pray, give me your name, sir," interposed Sue, whose woman's curiosity could no longer endure the silence which maidenly reserve had imposed upon her, especially as the stranger proposed to depart without solving the mystery.
"You'll excuse me, Miss Raynes, if I decline for the present. My comrade is in a desperate hurry, and it is not reasonable for me to detain him any longer."
"But, young man, you wrong me, you wrong my daughter, and above all, you wrong my son, who is your friend, by leaving in this manner," said Mr. Raynes earnestly. "You actually charge us with a want of hospitality by this abrupt withdrawal."
"You will pardon me, sir, for saying it; but after the description I have given of myself, if you do not know me, I am compelled to believe that it is because you do not wish to know me."
"That is very unjust, and we do not comprehend the force of the remark."
"Why, sir, I have written to you, and to your daughter, and your daughter has written to me; and now you seem never to have heard of me. I have told you that I reside in Union, Alabama; and that I am a friend of Owen."
"We know a young man from that town very well, though we never saw him. His name is Allan Garland; but it is impossible that you should be the person."
"I must go, comrade," said Somers desperately, as he rushed out of the door.
"Wait a moment!" exclaimed Mr. Raynes, grasping him by the arm; for the old farmer seemed to think his presence was necessary to the perfect unraveling of the mystery. "It seems to me you ought to know this young man, if none of us do."
"I do not, Mr. Raynes; never saw him before in my life," protested Somers, feeling very much like a condemned criminal.
"My name is Allan Garland," quietly continued the dignified young rebel. "I am, undoubtedly, the person to whom you allude."
"Impossible!" exclaimed Mr. Raynes, still holding Somers's arm with the grasp of a vise.
"Impossible!" almost shouted the fair Sue, more excited than she would have been, if, through patient reading, she had arrived at the last chapter of a sensational novel, where the pin is pulled out and all the villains tumble down to perdition and all the angels stumble upon their apotheosis.
"Impossible!" chimed in Mrs. Raynes, who had preserved a most remarkable silence, for a woman, during the exciting incidents we have transcribed.
"May I be allowed to inquire why you think it is impossible?" calmly demanded the gentle rebel, who, in his turn, was amazed at the singular course of events.
Sue did not know what else to do; so she sat down in a chair, and laughed with hysterical vehemence at the strange aspect of the affair. The old man opened his eyes, and opened his mouth; but he did not forget to hold on with all his might to the arm of the unfortunate lieutenant, who was just then picturing to himself the interior of a rebel dungeon; which view suddenly dissolved into an indistinct representation of a tree, from a stout limb of which was suspended a rope, hanging down over a cart—these latter appurtenances being symbolical of the usual rebel method of hanging a spy.
The affair, which had been growing desperate for some time, had now actually become so to poor Somers. He placed his hand upon his revolver, in the breast-pocket of his coat; but some prudential considerations interposed to prevent him from using it. The house was on a line of rebel sentinels. Whole divisions of Confederate infantry, artillery and cavalry, were encamped around him, and any violent movement on his part would have been sure to result in an ignominious disaster. The doughty old farmer, who was not less than six feet three in his stockinged feet, held on to him as a drowning man clings to a floating spar. It was not possible to get away without resorting to violence; and if he offered any resistance to what, just then, looked like manifest destiny, the rebel soldier would become an ally of the farmer, and the women could call in the sentinels, if nothing more.
"Really, Mr. Raynes, you are very unkind to detain me, when I tell you that my leave has nearly expired," said Somers, when he had fully measured the situation; which, however, was done in a tithe of the time which we have taken to transcribe it.
"Young man, there is some mistake," said Mr. Raynes, placing a wicked emphasis on the word, which went to the very core of the scout's heart. "This man says he is Allan Garland, and you say you are Allan Garland. One of you is an impostor. Neither of you shall go till we determine which is the one. Sue, bring out your photograph again."
"Oh, dear!" gasped Somers, as in a fit of momentary despondency, he gave himself up for lost, when the maiden went for the picture.
AN UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL
Miss Sue hastened to procure the photograph, which she had placed in her mother's room after it had been fully discussed by herself and the supposed original. At the same time, her father conducted Somers into the room again; and, being fully conscious of his desire to get away, he kept a watchful eye upon him, though he removed his grasp from the arm. The rebel soldier looked on in utter amazement at the singular proceedings of all the party, and seemed utterly unable to comprehend the meaning of them.
"Here is the picture," said Sue, returning with the photograph in her hand; "but I don't see that it looks any more like you than it does like the other gentleman;" and she proceeded to institute a comparison between the new claimant and the picture.
Somers began to cherish a faint hope again, and to be very grateful for the general truth, that photographs do not always look like the originals. This encouragement, slight as it was, gave our hero a new inspiration, and in a measure restored his impudence; which, under the pressure of circumstances, had begun to give way.
"I am sure it does not look at all like you," continued Sue, after she had patiently balanced all the points of resemblance, and all the points of disagreement.
"You should remember that the picture was taken more than a year ago; and that I have been an invalid for ten months of the time," suggested the rebel soldier.
"That may be; but I am sure this picture could never have been taken for you."
"Let me see it, if you please?"
Sue handed him the card, and he glanced at it with an expression of great curiosity.
"Where did you get this picture?" demanded he.
"It was sent to me by the original," replied she.
"This is not my picture."
"That is just what the other gentleman said; and I am perfectly willing to believe both of you."
"But I sent you a picture of myself, though this is not the one."
"Well, that is very singular."
"If you will remember, there were two in the same letter; the other was a young man whom Owen was acquainted with, and who desired something to remember him by. He is in a Mississippi regiment now."
"Dear me! what a blunder!" exclaimed Sue, laughing heartily. "I am sure I took the best looking of the two for Allan Garland's."
"Perhaps that is not very complimentary to me; but where is the other picture?"
"I put it in Owen's room. I told him what I had done with the two pictures; but he has been at home so little, that I suppose he never looked at them. I will get the other."
"We are beginning to get a little light on the subject," said Mr. Raynes, when his daughter had left the room.
"And I think you will let a little light through my body with a bullet-hole," added Somers, whose last hope was gone again, though his impudence still remained.
"Be patient, young man; we shall soon see the mystery explained, and be able to inform you whether you are Allan Garland or not."
"I am sorry to put you to so much trouble, Mr. Raynes; but you will remember that I was very much opposed to coming into your house at all; that I was literally dragged in by yourself and your daughter."
"And you will also remember that I saved you from arrest, when you gave your name as Allan Garland, of the Fourth Alabama. I think I have imparted to you some very valuable information; and I intend to see what use is to be made of it, before I take my eyes off you."
"You are very affectionate, Mr. Raynes; and, in behalf of the great Southern Confederacy, I thank you for the zeal and loyalty which you have displayed," replied Somers boldly; for it was plain that nothing but the most brazen impudence could save him.
"You are a bold youth, and it is plain that you have brilliant talents; I hope they have not been abused."
"They have been, and will continue to be, used in the service of my suffering country."
"I like you, and I hope everything is all right about you; but I cannot see your object in coming here under an assumed name."
"Then you have decided the case against me—have you?" said Somers, glancing at the rival Allan.
"Perhaps I was a little too fast," added the old man, mortified to find that his character for strict justice had been compromised by this hasty avowal.
Sue was absent a long time; and it was clear that the photograph had been mislaid. Somers was in hopes she would not be able to find it; though he had but a meager expectation of over-throwing the claims of his rival to the name of Allan Garland. It was a hot day, and the windows of the house were all open. His legs seemed to promise the only satisfactory solution of the problem; and while he was considering the propriety of jumping out through one of the open windows, and trusting to them for safety, Sue returned with the photograph.
"This looks more like you than the other; and more like you than it does like the other gentleman," said Sue.
The rebel soldier took the card, and acknowledged that it was his photograph; at the same time, he was compelled to allow that it was but an indifferent likeness of himself. His hard service in the army had changed his appearance much. Sue gazed at the picture, and at the original, and her father did the same; but both of them were in doubt.
"There, sir! I have waited patiently for you to end this farce," said Somers, in deep disgust apparently. "You have looked at the pictures, and you are not satisfied yet. I can stand it no longer; I am tired of the whole thing. You have treated me very handsomely, and I am grateful to you for your kindness to me; but I cannot and will not remain any longer."
Somers spoke decidedly, and was fully resolved to use his pistol, if occasion required. He was not willing to remain for a decision to be made between him and the other claimant.
"I will go with you, brother Allan Garland," said the rebel soldier facetiously; "I think between us we can readily decide which is the right man."
"I am ready."
"But we desire to be satisfied, especially in regard to this young man, who was suspected of being a deserter, and for whom I feel that I am responsible," said Mr. Raynes.
"I can do nothing for you, sir," replied Somers.
"But I can do something for you; and I propose to take you to the sergeant where I found you, and let the military authorities decide," continued the old man, whose ire was roused, as he moved towards the impudent young man.
"I propose that you shall do nothing of the kind," answered Somers, drawing the pistol, and cocking it for use.
"Don't, father, don't!" exclaimed Sue, rushing between Mr. Raynes and the active youth, pale with terror.
Somers would have been very unwilling to use his weapon on the old man. He pitied him, and could not help thinking of the terrible blow which was in store for him when he should hear that his only son had been killed. He hoped that something would interpose to prevent any violence, and he expected much from the gentle dignity of the young rebel.
"I am sorry that you compel me to draw this pistol," added Somers; "yet nothing but the duty I owe to myself and my country would permit me to use it upon those who have treated me so kindly."
"I will be responsible for him," said Allan Garland—the real one; for there could be no doubt that he was what he claimed.
"You shall not go near him, father! He will kill you!" cried Sue, terrified, as her father attempted to push her aside, and advance upon the armed young man.
"Come! brother Allan," said the soldier: "we can best end this scene by leaving the house."
As they approached the door, a hand was placed on the handle outside; but the old man had taken the precaution to fasten it, in order to insure the safety of his prisoner. A heavy knock succeeded.
"Who is that?" gasped Sue, afraid that any newcomer would only complicate the difficulties of the moment, and that the bold youth would be compelled to use his pistol.
"Perhaps it is Owen," replied the old man, a little calmer than before.
"I hope it is."
The words sent a shudder through the frame of Somers, as he again thought of Owen Raynes, cold and dead in his oozy grave in the swamp.
"Open the door," said a voice from without.
Allan Garland drew the bolt, and threw the door wide open.
"Why, Allan, my dear fellow!" exclaimed a young man who stood at the outside of the door in his shirt sleeves, as he grasped both of the rebel soldier's hands, and proceeded to make a most extravagant demonstration of rejoicing. "I am glad to see you!"
"Owen, my dear boy!" replied Allan Garland, as he returned with equal warmth the salutation of the newcomer.
"Where did you come from, Allan? I had given you up for lost?"
"I escaped from the Yankees the next day after I was taken, and have been beating about the woods ever since."
Somers was thrown all aback by this arrival, which was certainly the most remarkable one that had taken place during the day. He couldn't help feeling very much like the hero of a sensational novel; and realized the very original idea that truth is stranger than fiction. He could not exactly account for the presence of Owen Raynes, whom he had satisfactorily buried in the swamp, and whose clothes he had the honor to wear at that moment. He did not believe in things supernatural, and it never occurred to him that the form before him might be the ghost of Owen.
"I am glad you have come just as you did, Owen," said Mr. Raynes.
"So am I; otherwise I might not have met Allan. But who is this?" he added, glancing at Somers.
"Your most obedient servant," replied Somers, trying to pass him in the narrow entry.
"Stop, young man!" shouted the old man. "Don't let him go, Owen!"
"Who is he?"
"His name is Allan Garland, of Union, Alabama; and he is a private in the Fourth Alabama," replied Allan with a smile, as Owen placed himself between Somers and the door.
Mr. Raynes, being the oldest man present, was entitled to the position of spokesman; and he made a very prolix statement of all the events which had transpired since he first saw the pretended Allan Garland.
Owen Raynes was a very good-natured young man, and the recital of the affair amused him exceedingly. He did not fly into a passion, being a very amiable and reasonable rebel; and seemed to regard the whole thing as a stupendous joke.
"Then your name is Allan Garland, is it?" demanded he, with a broad laugh still playing on his lips.
"That is my name at present," replied Somers.
"But have you no other name?"
"None worth mentioning."
"Good! To what regiment do you belong?"
"To the Fourth Alabama, Colonel Jones; but I have already told your respected father all the facts relating to myself, and some relating to you."
"Say, is this a joke, a sell?" demanded Owen.
"I suppose that would be a very proper interpretation to put upon it."
"You seem to be a good fellow, and deal in four-syllable words."
"Now, as you seem to have the best of the joke, I hope you will not detain me any longer. I have a pass in my pocket to prove that I am all right; and, as I am in a great hurry, I must move on."
"Not till you explain the joke. Eh? What's this? Where did you get this coat?" said Owen, glancing at the garment which Somers wore.
"This is the key to the joke."
"The key to it! I am of the opinion that this is my coat," replied Owen, as he felt of the garment, and turned up the lapel.
"May I be allowed to inquire where you left your coat?" asked Somers, who was quite curious to know how Owen Raynes happened to be alive just at that moment.
"Certainly you may; but first let me ask where you found it."
"Over by the picket-line beyond the hill," replied Somers.
"Just so. A young fellow in a Mississippi regiment, encamped next to ours, borrowed it of me last night, when he was detailed for picket-duty. The poor fellow had no coat, and picket-duty is rather steep at night when a man has no clothes. He is a good fellow, in poor health; and I lent him mine."
"The nights are cool, but the days are hot," added Somers. "He took it off, and left it on the edge of the woods, where I found it. I didn't know that it belonged to anybody. I found some papers and a diary in the pocket——"
"Did I leave my papers in the pocket? Well, that was stupid," interrupted Owen.
"I read the papers with a great deal of interest. Seeing frequent allusions in them to Allan Garland, I took the liberty to appropriate the name myself; for the owner of it seemed to be a very good fellow."
"Thank you!" said Allan; "but, as you seem to have no further use for it, I see no objection to your giving your own name."
"On the contrary, there are some very strong objections, and I must trouble you for the use of your name an hour or two longer."
"Oh, very well! I am satisfied," replied Allan.
"So am I."
"But I am not," interposed Mr. Raynes. "I think the fellow is an impostor, if nothing worse."
"Anything you please; but my time is out, and I must report for duty," replied Somers boldly, as he took off the borrowed coat, and restored it to the owner. "I am very much obliged to you for the use of this garment. When we meet again, I trust we shall understand each other better."
Owen Raynes was an easy-going young man; familiar with the practical jokes of the army, enjoying them with the most keen relish when no one's feelings were hurt, and no damage was done to person or property. He was not, therefore, disposed to put a serious construction on what seemed to him to be one of these farces; but his father took an entirely different view of the affair. He wanted to argue the question, and show that it could not be a joke; but Somers was too impatient to listen to any eloquence of this description.
Sue, who had now actually found the young man who had been indicated as her "manifest destiny," was in no hurry to part with him; and when the father proposed that Owen and Allan should accompany the impostor, as he insisted upon calling him, to the brigade headquarters, where his pass was dated, she decidedly objected to the proposition. The earnestness of Mr. Raynes, however, at last vanquished her and the young man; and they started to escort our young lieutenant to the place indicated.
Now, Somers, being a modest man, as we have always held him up to our readers, and being averse to all the pomp and parade of martial glory in its application to himself, was strongly averse to an escort. He preferred to go alone, tell his own story, and fight his own battles, if battles there were to be fought. Owen and Allan were unutterably affectionate. They received him into their small circle of fellowship, and stuck to him like a brother. They were both good fellows, splendid fellows; and, under ordinary circumstances, Somers would have been delighted to cultivate their friendship. As it was, he ungratefully resolved to give them the slip at the first convenient opportunity.
Unhappily for him, no opportunity occurred, for his zealous friends would not permit him to go a single rod from them; and Somers had about made up his mind to trust the matter to the judgment of Major Platner, who had shown a remarkable discrimination during the former interview, when the trio came to a line of sentinels guarding a brigade camp.
"What regiment do you belong to?" demanded the guard.
"Fourth Alabama," replied Owen.
"You can't pass this line, then."
"But I have a pass," interposed Somers.
"Show your pass."
Somers showed the important document, which the sentinel, after a patient study, succeeded in deciphering.
"Your pass is right—pass on; but you can't go through," he added to Owen and Allan.
THE REBEL DIVISION GENERAL
The sentinel listened very patiently to the explanation of Owen Raynes; but, as he proceeded, the face of the soldier relaxed till his muscles had contracted into a broad grin. The sergeant of the guard was then sent for, and the explanation repeated. At its conclusion, both the sentinel and the sergeant seemed to be disposed to laugh in the faces of the twin friends, so keenly were the former alive to the ludicrous.
"That's a very pretty story, my men! You, without the pass, are going to see that everything is right about the man that has the pass; in other words, the devils are going to see that the angels don't do anything wicked," said the sergeant, laughing at the awkward position of Owen and Allan, and perhaps quite as much at the sharpness of his own illustration.
"We are entirely satisfied in regard to this young man," said Owen; "but we have come in order to satisfy another person, who believes that he is an impostor. We promised to take him to Major Platner."
"You can't enter these lines without a pass," replied the sergeant firmly. "This man can go through; for he has a pass," he added to Somers.
"As I am all right, and in a hurry, I will proceed to the brigade headquarters," said Somers. "Now, good-by, my friends; I am very glad to have met you, and much obliged to you for the trouble you have taken to come so far with me."
"You take it coolly," laughed Owen.
"Perhaps, if you desire to go to the brigade headquarters, the sergeant will let you pass, if I will vouch for you," continued Somers with great good humor.
"We are not very particular."
"What do you say, sergeant?"
"My orders are to permit no stragglers from other camps to pass these lines, and I shall obey my orders to the letter," replied the official, who, for some reason or other, seemed to be prejudiced against Somers's friends.
"Stragglers!" exclaimed the sensitive Allan. "I think we have gone far enough."
"I think you have," added the sergeant; "and, if you don't leave at once, it will be my duty to arrest you."
"Whew!" exclaimed Owen. "That would be carrying the joke altogether too far. I think my pater ought to be satisfied with what we have done."
"Move on," said the sergeant.
They did move on; and Somers, attended by the officer of the guard, walked towards headquarters.
"Those are the coolest fellows that ever came near my lines," said the sergeant. "Men without a pass looking out for one who has a pass!"
"Well, they are good fellows; but I played a joke upon them, which makes them a little sour towards me," replied the scout. "I am even with them now."
"What was the joke?" demanded the sergeant, who was filled with interest at the mention of the word.
Somers gave him a modified account of the affair at the house of Mr. Raynes; which he embellished a little for the occasion, to allay any suspicion which might arise in the mind of the auditor. But the officer of the guard had no suspicion. Why should he have any? for Somers, armed with a pass signed by the officer of the day, was walking as directly as he could towards the headquarters. The sergeant of the guard left him when they reached the guard tent; and Somers proceeded to report in due form to the major, whom he found smoking his cigar under a tree as complacently as though there was not a traitor or a spy in the land.
"Well, young man! you have returned promptly at the time specified," said the major, as Somers very deferentially touched his cap to this magnate of the rebel army.
"Yes, sir; I have endeavored to discharge my duty faithfully," replied Somers.
"Did you find the regiment?"
"No, sir; I lost my way; and finding I should not have time to go to the place where it is, without overstaying my time, I hastened back, knowing that the service upon which you wished to employ me was very important indeed."
"You did right, young man. Where is your coat?"
"It was one I picked up just after I had passed the lines, and a soldier down below claimed it. I gave it up when he convinced me it was his property."
"You are very honest as well as patriotic."
Somers bowed, but made no reply to the compliment; which, however, was fully appreciated.
"You seem to be a young man of good address, and you can render your country a great service, but it will be at the peril of your life," said the major with impressive formality.
"I am willing to serve my country, even with my life."
"I do not doubt it. I was impressed by your manner, and I have recommended you to the general for the service he has in view. I hope you will do credit to the selection I have made; for the most important duty which a commander has to perform is to select proper persons for the execution of special missions."
"I will endeavor to serve my country to the best of my ability; and I am satisfied that I can go all over the Yankee camps without difficulty."
"Very well! You have confidence in yourself; and that is the first requisite of success. If you discharge this duty with fidelity and skill, you may be sure of being made a sergeant the moment you return."
"Thank you, Major Platner. I am very grateful to you, sir, for the opportunity you thus afford me to distinguish myself."
"You will find me a good friend, if you are faithful and intelligent."
"Thank you, sir."
"Now you shall go with me to General M——'s headquarters, and he will give you your final instructions."
Major Platner led the way; and Somers reverently followed a pace or two behind him, flattering the officer in every action as well as word. They reached the division headquarters, and our hero was ushered into the presence of the general. He was a large, red-faced man, and had evidently taken all the whiskey he could carry, at his dinner, from which he had just returned.
"What have you got there, Platner?" demanded the general, in a tone so rough, that Somers was reminded of the ogre in Jack the Giant-killer.
"The young man of whom I spoke to you this forenoon. He is a person of remarkable address, courage and skill; and is just the man you need."
"All right; adieu, major!" added the general, bowing to the other.
Major Platner took the hint, and took himself off, leaving Somers standing alone and somewhat abashed in the presence of the great man.
"Young man!" said, or rather roared, the rebel general, as he raised his eyes from the ground, and fixed them with a half-drunken leer upon our hero.
"How much whiskey can you drink without going by the board?"
Somers did not know, had never tried the experiment, and was utterly opposed to all such practices. But he desired to conciliate the tipsy general; and, if he had not been fearful of being put to the test, he would have signified his belief that he could carry off half a dozen glasses. As it was, he did not dare to belie his principles.