HotFreeBooks.com
The Young Lieutenant - or, The Adventures of an Army Officer
by Oliver Optic
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Not any, sir! I never drink whiskey," he replied, with the utmost deference in his tones.

"Hey?" gasped General M——, darting a sudden glance at the young man.

"I never drank a glass of whiskey in my life, sir," added Somers.

The general jumped off his camp-stool with a sudden jerk, and stared at our lieutenant in silence for an instant.

"Give me your hand," said he.

Somers extended his hand.

"Yes! you are flesh and blood. You are the first man I ever saw that never drank a glass of whiskey. You drink brandy, don't you?"

"No, sir! I never drank a glass of liquor or wine of any kind in my life."

"Give me your hand," said the general again.

"Flesh and blood! You are the first man I ever saw that never drank a glass of liquor or wine of any kind. 'Tis a bad practice," he added with an oath.

"I think so, sir," replied Somers with due deference.

"Young man!"

"Sir."

"The greatest enemy—hic—that the Confederate army has to contend against is whiskey. Yes, sir! whiskey. If the Confederate States of—hic—of America ever win their independence, it will be when the whiskey's all gone."

"I am very glad to hear officers of your high rank condemning the practice," said Somers, alive to the joke of the general's proceedings, but prudently looking as serious as though it had been a solemn tragedy instead of an awful farce.

"Yes, sir! I'm opposed with all my might to the practice. Yes, sir! Whiskey is the greatest enemy I have on the face of the footstool, young man."

Somers believed him.

"Always be temperate, young man. You are in the sunshine of—hic—of life. Never drink whiskey. It will ruin your body and soul. Don't touch it, young man," added he, as he sank back on the camp-stool, whose center of gravity was nearly destroyed by the shock, and closed his eyes, as if overcome by the potency of his great enemy, which was just then beginning to have its full effect, and which produced a tendency to sleep.

"I will endeavor to profit by your good advice, sir," said Somers.

"That's right; do so," added the general, as he jerked up his head to banish the drowsy god, who was struggling for the possession of his senses. "That will do, young man. You may go now."

The general, in his drunken stupor, had certainly forgotten the business for which Major Platner had brought him to the division headquarters; and Somers began to fear that he should have no errand that day.

"I beg your pardon, general; but Major Platner was kind enough to say that you had some service for me to perform."

"Eh?" demanded he, tossing up his head again.

Somers repeated the remark more explicitly than before.

"Exactly so; I remember. Do you know what I was thinking about just then, young man?" said the general, spasmodically leaping to his feet again, as though the thought was full of inspiration.

"No, sir; a man in my humble position could hardly measure the thoughts of a great man in your situation."

"I'll tell you; I was thinking about issuing a division general order on the subject of temperance. What do you think of it?"

"It would be an excellent idea," replied Somers.

"Young man!"

"Sir."

"I believe you said—hic——"

Somers did not say anything of the sort; but he waited patiently for the rebel general to recover the idea which he appeared to have lost.

"I believe you said you never drank any whiskey?"

"I never did, sir."

"Then you never was drunk?"

"Never, sir."

"Young man!"

"Sir."

"Are you a—hic——"

Somers was not a "hic;" but he was an impatient young man, and very anxious to be instructed in regard to his difficult and dangerous mission.

"Are you a minister of the gospel?" demanded the general, after a mighty effort.

"No, sir; I am not."

"I'm sorry for—hic—for that; for I wanted to appoint you a division chaplain, to preach against whiskey to the general officers. Some of them are—hic—drunken fellows, and no more fit for a command than the old topers in the streets of Richmond."

"I am sorry I am not competent to fill the office; but I think, if you should lecture them yourself, it would have a better effect."

"My words are—hic—powerless. They laugh when I talk to them about the error of their ways," added he with a string of oaths, which seemed to exhibit a further necessity for a chaplain on the division staff.

"I beg your pardon, sir; but I am afraid your interest in the moral welfare of your officers——"

"That is it, young man!" interrupted the drunken general, catching at his idea with remarkable promptness. "My interest in the moral welfare of my—hic—of my officers! You are a trump, young man [big oath]. You are a major now?"

"No, sir."

"Only a captain?"

"No, sir; nothing but a private."

"Then you shall be a captain. I haven't heard any such—hic—sentiments as you expressed used in this division before. You ought to be a—hic—a brigadier-general."

"Thank you, sir. You are very kind. I came to you for instructions in regard to my mission over to the enemy."

"Bless me! yes; so you did. Well, I have not written them yet."

"I only want a pass from you, general, with such verbal instructions as you may please to give me."

"So you do; the fact of it is, my interest in the moral welfare of my men had driven the matter out of my mind."

The general called an orderly; and Somers was sent off to the adjutant for the pass, which was given to him under the name he had assumed. When he returned, the general was sound asleep on his camp-stool, rolling about like a ship in a gale, with a prospect of soon landing at full length on terra firma. Somers would gladly have received some military information from the general, who was in a condition to tell all he knew; which, however, could not have been much, under the circumstances. He concluded that it would be best for him not to awaken the tipsy moralist; and, after waiting a short time on the spot to avoid suspicion, he joined Major Platner, who was smoking his cigar under a tree near the headquarters.

"Well, young man, did you obtain your instructions?"

"Yes; all I require."

"Perhaps we ought to have seen the general before dinner," added the major, using the remark as a "feeler" to induce his companion to inform him what had transpired during the interview.

"Perhaps it would have been more agreeable to the general. However, he seemed to be in a very talkative mood."

"He commonly is after dinner."

"He is a very jovial, good fellow."

"Very."

"But he appears to feel a deep interest in the moral welfare of those under his command. He expressed himself as very averse to habits of intemperance."

"Humph!" coughed the major.

"He said that whiskey was the great enemy the army has to contend against, and intends to issue a general order directed at the vice of intemperance."

"Did he?"

"He did; but I ought to add, that he took me to be a major in the service; a mistake which was very natural, since I wore no coat."

"Very natural—after dinner," replied Major Platner suggestively.

"I told him I never drank any strong drink; and he kindly advised me never to do so."

"The general is a brave man, and I hope he will be able to overcome all his enemies."

The major permitted the conversation to go by default, and Somers respectfully dropped a pace or two behind him. They reached the brigade headquarters, and then repaired to the guard tent, from which the scout took his departure upon his arduous and difficult mission, with the best wishes of the rebel officers.

With his pass he had no difficulty in going through any line, and made his way down to the woods on the left of the open fields. He began to feel easier when he had passed the field-works, and experienced a sensation of exultation as he thought of the reception which awaited him at headquarters as well as in the regiment.



CHAPTER XV

THE SHARPSHOOTER IN THE WOODS

Somers found the picket guard nearer the rebel line than he had anticipated; but the exhibition of his pass, which had been prepared with special reference to this purpose, prevented any long detention, though a sergeant had to be called who was scholar enough to read the mysterious document.

"I reckon you haven't got the best place to go through," said the sergeant, after he had examined the pass, and satisfied himself of its correctness.

"Why not?"

"There's a whole squad of Yankees a good piece in there," he replied, pointing in the direction of the Federal lines. "They've been there all day watching for something."

"What do they want?"

"There was a man run through the line this forenoon from their side, and I reckon they are trying to find him."

"Was he a Yank?" asked Somers, desirous of obtaining their idea of the fugitive.

"Dunno what he was. We didn't see him till he got a good piece behind us. We were chasing the Yanks who run away when they saw us."

This was satisfactory to our scout; for the sergeant appeared to have no knowledge that would be dangerous to him, and none of the graybacks recognized the pants he wore. He advanced cautiously, as though he was afraid of stumbling upon the squad of Yankees described by the sergeant, till he could no longer be seen by the pickets. The last obstacle seemed to be overcome; and he hastened to the place where he had concealed his uniform, which he wished to put on before he approached the pickets on the other side. It was now nearly dark, and he had no time to spare; for, if he approached his own men in the darkness, he would be in danger of being shot before they discovered who he was, though he had full confidence in the discretion of Hapgood.

Without difficulty, he found the place where he had concealed his clothes; and, after assuring himself that none of the rebel pickets were in sight, he hastily put them on. To prevent any unpleasant suspicions, he took the precaution to hide the gray pants he had worn, in the long grass of the swamp, so that they need not attract the attention of any stroller who might pass in that direction. Though we have frequently held our hero up as a model of modesty, we are compelled to acknowledge that he felt exceedingly well satisfied with himself on the present occasion. He felt that he had done what, in the homely vocabulary of the boys of Pinchbrook, might well be called "a big thing."

He had fully and successfully accomplished the arduous purposes of his mission. He had examined the positions, and counted the forces of the rebels. He had received very valuable information from Mr. Raynes, and from others whom he had encountered in his walk through the enemy's lines. He was satisfied that he should receive a warm welcome from those who had sent him upon the perilous tour. He had earned the first bar to his shoulder-straps, and was proud of his achievement.

The work had been done, and he was within a short distance of the Union lines—within a short distance of the devoted Hapgood, who was patiently but anxiously waiting to give him a soldier's reception. Above all, he was safe; and he trembled when he thought of the perils through which he had passed, of the consequences which must have followed the discovery of his real character. As he thanked God for the boon of life after the battle was over, so now he thanked Him for the signal success which had crowned his labors in the good cause. The last article of his raiment was put on and adjusted; he rose from the ground to walk towards the Union lines.

"I say, Yank, you look better'n you did 'fore yer changed your clothes," said a voice, which struck his ear with startling distinctness.

Somers looked in the direction from which the voice came, and discovered a villainous-looking countenance, that had just risen from the tall swamp-grass, within a couple of rods of the spot where he stood. The man was unmistakably a rebel—one of the most savage and implacable of rebels at that; such a character as we read of in connection with slave-hunts in Mississippi, or "free fights" in Arkansas. He wore a long, tangled beard; and his hair had probably never known the use of a comb. The grayback looked as cool and impudent as though he was perfectly assured of his prey, and intended to torture his victim with his tongue, as he would with his knife or his rifle if occasion required.

"I say, Yank, you look better'n yer did 'fore yer changed your colors," repeated the rebel, as he received no reply to his first salutation.

Somers looked at him again; indeed, he had hardly taken his eyes off the savage-looking fellow, who would have made a very good representative of Orson in the fairy story. He held a rifle in his hand, the muzzle of which could easily be brought to bear upon his victim. Our lieutenant at once understood the humor of the fellow; and, having recovered his self-possession in the momentary pause, he determined not to be behind his foe either in word or in deed.

"I say, reb, when did you shave last?" demanded Somers, with something as near akin to a laugh as he could manufacture for the occasion.

"'Fore you was born, I reckon, Yank," replied the rebel; "and I sha'n't shave ag'in till after you're dead. But I reckon I sha'n't hev ter wait long nuther."

"I suppose you don't know what a comb is for, do you?" continued Somers, who was, however, thinking of some method by which he might get out of this scrape.

"I reckon I've heerd about such things; but Joe Bagbone ain't a woman, and don't waste his time no such way. I say, stranger, you've got about three minutes more to live."

"How long?"

"Three minutes, stranger, I've sat here by them clothes, like a dog at a 'possum's nest, all the arternoon. Now I've treed the critter, and I'm gwine to shoot him."

"Is that so?"

"That's so, stranger."

"Do you usually shoot any man you happen to meet in the woods?"

"Well, I don't reckon we do, every man; but some on 'em we does. I calkilate you got on Tom Myers's clothes now, and yer shot the man 'fore you took the rags."

"I didn't shoot him."

"No matter for that, stranger; he was shot by a Yank, and you've got to settle the account."

Somers began to be of the same opinion himself. The grayback had evidently found the clothes, and suspected the purpose for which they were concealed. It was possible he had even more definite information than this; for he seemed to be prepared for precisely what had taken place.

"My friend——"

"I'm not your friend, stranger. You kin say anything you like, if yer don't insult me; Joe Bagbone don't take an insult from any live man."

"Well, Joe Bagbone," continued Somers, who was disposed to parley with the fellow to gain time, if nothing else, "if you shoot me, you will make the worst mistake you ever made in your life; and I can prove it to you in less than five minutes."

"No, yer can't, stranger. Don't waste yer time no such way. If yer want ter say yer prayers, blaze away lively, 'cause three minutes aren't long for a man to repent of all his sins."

"I have a pass from General M——, which permits me to go in safety through these lines," persisted Somers. "The sergeant above just examined it, and passed me through."

"Don't keer nothing about yer pass. I respects Jeff Davis just as much as the best man in Mississip'. If yer had a pass from him, you mought as well not have it as have it. Tom Myers was killed, and somebody's gwine up for him."

"But I have important business on the other side."

"I knows that, stranger," replied the imperturbable Joe Bagbone. "It don't make no difference."

"I am sent over by General M——. I belong to the Fourth Alabama."

"Shet up! Don't tell no lies, 'cause yer hain't got no time ter repent on 'em."

"Then, if I understand it, you mean to murder one of your own men in cold blood."

"Nothin' of the sort; only gwine to shoot a Yank."

Somers looked into that hard, relentless eye; but there was not the slightest indication of any change of purpose. He felt that he stood in the presence of his executioner. All the errors of his past life crowded upon him, and the grave seemed to yawn before him.

"Call the sergeant above, and he will satisfy you that I am all right," said he, making one more effort to move the villain from his wicked purpose.

"Don't want the sergeant. Yer time's out, stranger."

"Let me call him, then."

"If yer do, I'll fire. Say yer prayers now, if yer mean ter; but I reckon the prayers of a Yank ain't of much account," replied Joe with a sneer.

Somers stood within a few feet of a large tree. Joe had several times raised his rifle to his shoulder; but, when he magnanimously offered his victim the last moment of grace, he dropped it again; and our lieutenant, taking advantage of this interval, darted behind the tree. Joe raised his piece quicker than a flash; but he did not fire, for the reason that he could not secure a perfect aim, and because he was sure of a better opportunity. Our lieutenant, who had carefully preserved his revolver during the various changes he had made in his dress, now took it from his pocket, and prepared to contest the field like a man.

The grayback, chagrined at this movement on the part of his victim, whom he had evidently intended to intimidate by his coolness and his ferocious words, rose from his seat in the long grass, and moved towards the tree behind which Somers had taken refuge. Probably he was not aware that the Yankee was armed; for he adopted none of the precautions which such a knowledge would have imposed upon any reasonable man.

"Come out from that tree, stranger, or you shall die like a hog, with a knife; not like a man, with a rifle-ball."

"I intend to die by neither," said Somers resolutely, as he discharged his pistol in the direction from which the voice of the grayback came; for he dared not take aim, lest the bullet of the ruffian should pierce his skull.

He might as well have fired into the air, so far as any injury to his enemy was concerned; but the report had the effect to assure the rebel that he was armed, and thus put an end to his farther advance in that direction. Somers listened with intense anxiety to discover the next movement of his wily persecutor. He had only checked, not defeated him; and an exciting game was commenced, which promised to terminate only in the death of one of the belligerents. Somers hoped that the discharge of his pistol would bring the sergeant down to his relief; but then to be discovered in Federal uniform was about equivalent to being shot by his relentless foe, burning to revenge the death of Tom Myers.

The report of pistols and muskets was so common an occurrence on the picket-lines as to occasion nothing more than a momentary inquiry. No one came for his relief, or his ruin, as the case might be; and he was left to play out the exciting game by himself. The grayback, with a wholesome regard for the pistol, had retired beyond the reach of its ball, while he was still a long way within rifle-range of his doomed enemy. Somers dared not look out from the tree to obtain even a single glance at the foe; for he knew how accurate is the aim of some of these Southern woodsmen. He had nothing to guide him but the rustling of the dried branches beneath his tread, or the occasional snapping of a twig under his feet.

Joe Bagbone, after retreating beyond pistol-shot from the tree, had commenced describing a circle which would bring him into a position that commanded a view of his concealed victim. It must be confessed that Joe's tactics were singularly deficient in range; for nothing but a surprise could make them successful. While he was moving a hundred rods to secure his position, Somers could defeat his purpose by taking a single step. As soon as he determined in what direction his persecutor was going, he changed his position; and Joe discovered the folly of his strategy, and sat down on a stump to await a demonstration on the part of his victim.

The game promised to be prolonged to a most unreasonable length; and Somers, now in a measure secure of his life, was impatient to join his anxious companions, with whom he had parted in the forenoon. He was satisfied that Joe would never abandon the chase, and the slightest indiscretion on his own part would result in instant death. It was a fearful position, and one which was calculated to wear terribly upon his nerves. He was anxious to bring the contest to a conclusion; and, while he was debating in his own mind the chances of escaping by a sudden dash in the direction of the Union lines, a happy thought in the way of strategy occurred to him.

He had determined as nearly as he could the situation of his bull-dog opponent, and thought that, if he could draw his fire, he might get out of range of his rifle before it could be reloaded. Placing his cap on the barrel of his pistol, he cautiously moved it over, just as it would have appeared to the rebel if his head had been inside of it, and projected it a little beyond the tree. He withdrew it suddenly two or three times to increase the delusion in the mind of his enemy. He could not see the effect of the stratagem; but he was hopeful of a satisfactory result. He continued to repeat the operation with the cap, till he was confident Joe was not to be fooled in this way. He was probably one of the sharpshooters, and had too often fired at empty caps to be caught in this manner when success depended upon the single charge of his rifle.

Somers did not despair, but slipped off his coat; and, rolling it up so as to form the semblance of a head, he placed the cap upon the top of the bundle, and cautiously exposed the "dummy" on the opposite side of the tree. The crack of Joe's rifle instantly followed this exhibition, and Somers felt the blow of the ball when it struck the cap. The critical moment had come; and, without the loss of a second, our lieutenant darted towards the Union lines. This movement was followed by a shrill yell from the Mississippian, which might have been a howl of disappointment at his failure; or it might have been intended to startle, and thus delay the fugitive.

Somers had listened to that battle yell too many times to be moved by it, especially when uttered by a single voice; and, with all the speed of which his limbs were capable, he fled to the arms of his friends. Joe was not content to give up the battle; and, dropping his rifle, he drew his long knife, and gave chase. They made a long run of it; and it was only ended when Tom heard the demand of his faithful sergeant—

"Who goes there?"

"Friend," gasped Somers, utterly exhausted by his exertions.

"Lieutenant Somers? God be praised!" replied Hapgood, instantly recognizing his voice.



CHAPTER XVI

RETURN TO THE CAMP

The moment Somers was recognized, Hapgood and his party rushed forward, rightly judging, from the rapidity of his motions, that he was pursued. The sharp eye of the veteran sergeant was the first to perceive the ferocious Mississippian, who, undaunted by the appearance of the Union soldiers, continued the pursuit as long as there was even a gleam of hope that he could overtake his intended victim. He was only a few paces behind the lieutenant when the latter was discovered.

Hapgood raised his musket and fired, just as the implacable pursuer abandoned the chase, and turned his steps back to the rebel line. He staggered for a few paces more, and fell just as a dozen other muskets were leveled at him. He appeared to have been hit in the leg; for he did not fall flat upon the ground, as he would if he had been struck in a vital part, but sank down to a sitting posture.

The Union men rushed up to him, and found that the supposition was correct; the ball had passed through the fleshy part of his thigh, disabling, but not dangerously wounding him. The ruffian—we do not call him so because he was a rebel, but he was naturally and by education just what the term indicates—was as savage and implacable as before.

"Better leave me where I am, Yanks," said he; "'case, if I get well, I shall be the death of some of you. You kin shoot me through the head if you like."

"Don't consarn yourself about us, reb," replied Hapgood. "We'll take good care that you don't hurt yourself, or any one else, while you are in our hands."

"Mebbe you will, Yanks; but, just as sure as you was born, I'll hev the heart's blood of that younker as fotched Tom Myers down."

"Who's Tom Myers?" demanded the veteran.

"The man that you Yanks killed this forenoon."

"Whose heart's blood do you want?"

"That younker with the badge on his shoulder; the un I chased in."

"He didn't kill Tom Myers, or any other man."

"Show me the man, then," growled the rebel, now beginning to feel the pain of his wound.

"I'm your man. I brought Tom Myers down," replied Hapgood, anxious to remove any cause of peril from his protege.

"Did yer?"

"Sartin I did; saw him drop when I fired."

"Then, stranger, yer kin make up yer mind to die like a hog within ten days. I tell yer, Yank, there ain't bolts and bars enough in Yankee land to keep me away from yer. You kin shoot me if yer like now, and that's all the way yer kin save yerself."

"Well, reb, you are great at blowing; but I've seen a good many jest sich fellers as you be. I've fit with 'em, and fit agin' 'em; and I tell you, your uncle can take keer of just as many of you as can stand up between here and sundown. Put that in your hopper, reb; and the sooner you dry up, the sooner you'll come to your milk. We'll take keer on you like a Christian, though you ain't nothin' but a heathen. Here, boys, make a stretcher, and kerry him along. Take that jack-knife out of his hand fust, and keep one eye on him all the time."

Having thus delivered himself, Sergeant Hapgood hastened to the spot where Somers had seated himself on the ground to recover his wind and rest his weary limbs. The terrible excitement of the last hour seemed to fatigue him more than the previous labors of the whole day; and he was hardly in condition to march to the division headquarters, where he was to report the success of his mission.

"Oh, Tom—I mean Lieutenant Somers—I'm glad to see you!" exclaimed the veteran as he grasped both the hands of the young soldier.

"Thank you, uncle; I'm just as glad to see you as you can be to see me," replied Somers.

"You're all tuckered out, Somers."

"I had to run for some distance, with the odds against me; but I shall get rested in a little while."

The sergeant began to ask questions; and, as soon as he had recovered his breath, Somers gave him a brief sketch of his adventures, dwelling mainly on the last and most thrilling event of the day.

"I can hardly believe that I am alive and well after all that has happened," said he in conclusion. "That was the most bloodthirsty villain I ever encountered in the whole course of my life."

"If you say shoot him, leftenant, it shall be done quicker'n you can say Jack Roberson," added Hapgood, indignant at the conduct of the savage rebel.

"Of course, I don't say anything of that kind. It would be murder to do anything of that sort while he is our prisoner."

"He desarves hanging more'n Kyd the pirate did; and if I had my way, he'd swing afore sunrise to-morrow. He's a consarned heathen!"

"Never mind him; only keep him safe, and where he can't do any mischief; for he is wicked enough to kill the man that feeds him."

"I'm only sorry I didn't hit him a little higher up, where I hit the other feller this mornin'," added the veteran. "How do you feel now, leftenant?"

"I am improving. I shall be ready to go with you in a few moments more."

After sitting on the stump half an hour longer, he was in condition to march; but the danger was past, the tremendous excitement had subsided, and his muscles, which had been strained up to the highest tension, seemed to become soft and flaccid. The party passed the Union pickets, and reached the headquarters of the division general, who had just finished his supper.

"Somers! by all that is great and good!" exclaimed the general, who probably never expected to see the scout again.

"I have come to make my report, sir," replied the lieutenant.

"You are all used up. You look as though you could hardly stand up."

"I am very tired, sir," added Somers languidly.

"Sit down, then. Here, Peter," he added, addressing his servant, "bring in a glass of whiskey for Lieutenant Somers."

"Thank you, general; I never drink anything stronger than coffee."

"But a little whiskey would do you good in your present condition; you need it."

"I thank you, general; I never drink whiskey, as I had occasion to say to a rebel general of division to-day."

"Eh? 'Pon my conscience! Were you asked to drink by a rebel major-general?" demanded the officer, greatly surprised at the statement of the scout

"Not exactly, sir. About the first question he asked me was, how much whiskey I could drink without going by the board."

"Who was he? Bring coffee, Peter."

"General M——."

"So I supposed. He is a jovial, good-hearted fellow; but I'll wager my shoulder-straps he was tight at the time," laughed the general.

"Very tight, sir."

"Well, he is a fighting man, drunk or sober; but I should rather lead than follow him in action. Where have you been all day?"

"Shall I tell my story in full, or only give you the information I obtained?"

"Tell the story, so that I can determine whether the information is good for anything or not."

Somers drank the tin cup of coffee which the general's servant brought to him, and then proceeded to relate the incidents of the day in the rebel camp. His distinguished auditor, who, in the Army of the Potomac, had well earned the title of "the bravest of the brave," listened with eager interest to the details of the lieutenant's story, asking occasional questions upon points which were not only calculated to elicit particular information, but to display the skill and intelligence of the scout. The interview was prolonged for several hours; and at its close a staff-officer was despatched to the corps commander; for what purpose, of course, Somers had no intimation.

"Lieutenant Somers, you have earned your promotion; and if you don't have it, it will be because I have not influence enough to procure it. You have done well."

"Thank you, sir."

"Your friend, Senator Guilford, shall hear of you within forty-eight hours."

"I beg your pardon, sir; but, grateful as I am to Senator Guilford for the interest he has expressed in me, I don't care to be patronized by any man in civil life."

"Whew!" laughed the general. "I wish some of our colonels and brigadiers would take a lesson from you. Never mind, Lieutenant Somers; you will deserve all you ever get."

"Thank you, sir."

"Go to your quarters now. Here," he added, dashing off a note at his table, in which he desired that Somers might be excused from duty for the next two days, to enable him to recover from the fatigues of his arduous expedition.

I need not inform my readers how soundly our hero slept in his shelter tent that night, nor how his slumbers were disturbed by a horrid rebel with a bowie-knife, and a horrid feminine monstrosity which seemed to be called Sue by her attendant demons; but he slept as a tired boy only can sleep.

The next morning the brigade was relieved from picket duty, and the regiment returned to its camp. Captain de Banyan had neither seen nor heard from his young friend since his departure on the forenoon of the preceding day. Of course he was overjoyed to see him, as well as intensely curious to know where he had been, what he had done, and whether he had been promoted. Somers told his adventures to the mess, omitting such military information as was "contraband" in the camp.

"Somers, my dear fellow, you are a man after my own heart!" exclaimed the captain, grasping his hand, and wringing it with all the enthusiasm of his fervid nature. "Somers, my boy, did you ever hear of a man having his double?"

"I have read of such things in old legends."

"I believe in it, Somers. You are my double! You are my second self! You are as near like me as one pea is like another! Just before the battle of Magenta——"

At this interesting point in the conversation, the officers of the mess burst into an involuntary roar of laughter, ending up Magenta with a long dash.

"Not exactly like you, Captain de Banyan," added Somers.

"You can't tell half so big a story," said Lieutenant Munroe.

"Gentlemen," interposed the captain with dignity, "you interrupted me at the wrong moment. I was about to prove to you wherein Lieutenant Somers was my double; and with your permission, I will proceed with my argument. Just before the battle of Magenta, I was sent out on a scout; and I went at the particular request of the Emperor Napoleon, who—permit me to add, in the presence of a company which seems to be inimical to my antecedents, if not to me—had unlimited confidence in my ability to perform this delicate duty with skill and success. Well, gentlemen, I passed our pickets; of course I mean the French pickets; for I was, as you are all aware, a colonel in the French infantry at that time."

"We are all aware of it," laughed Munroe—"over the left."

"That is a slang phrase, and repulsive to the ears of a cultivated gentleman. As I was saying, gentlemen, I passed our pickets, and soon encountered a Russian general of division."

"Russian?"

"Austrian, I should have said; and I thank you, Somers, for the correction. I suppose he was making the grand rounds with the officer of the day. Be that as it may, he considered it his duty to stop me; and I was under the disagreeable necessity of putting a bullet through his head. He was a count, and the father of a large family; however, I could not help it, though I was sorry to make orphans of his children. I stepped into his uniform without the delay of a moment."

"Where was the sergeant of the guard, the officer of the day, and the sentinels?" demanded Lieutenant Munroe.

"I beg you will not interrupt me, Lieutenant Munroe, with these ill-timed remarks, which are merely intended to throw discredit on my character for truth and veracity. I remarked, that I stepped into the uniform of the defunct major-general. To abbreviate the narrative somewhat, I walked through the Austrian lines for three hours, till I had discovered the position of the infantry, cavalry and artillery. But the most singular part of the affair was, that, when the long roll was beat once during that eventful night, I placed myself at the head of the departed general's division, and maneuvered it for an hour on the field, intending to place it in such a position that the French could capture it. Unfortunately, no attack was made by the Emperor's forces, and I could not carry out my plan."

"Can you talk the Austrian lingo, captain?" asked Munroe.

"Of course I can," replied De Banyan with dignity.

"Here, Schrugenheimer, let us have a specimen of the lingo!" said the tormentor, appealing to a German officer. "Ask him some questions in your own language."

"Gentlemen, if my word is not sufficient, I shall not condescend to demonstrate what I have said. You will notice the similarity between the adventures of Lieutenant Somers and my own."

The officers of the mess all laughed heartily at the conclusion of the comparison; for the story, like a fairy tale, was pleasant to hear, but hard to believe. But weightier matters than these were at hand for these gallant men; and before night the gay laugh had ceased, and they had nerved themselves for the stern duties of the hour. Cannon had been thundering to the right of them for three days; and in the afternoon they had seen the smoke of burning bridges, which assured them that their communications with White House had been cut off. At night, orders were given to have the men ready to move, and to prepare for a hurried march. Extra stores were destroyed, clothing thrown away, and tents were cut in pieces, or otherwise rendered useless to the next occupants of the ground. Everything to be transported was reduced to the smallest possible compass.

These orders were ominous of disaster; but on the following morning a general order was read, to the effect that all was right. The troubled expression on the countenances of officers and men indicated their incredulity; for the destruction in which they had been engaged belied the words of the order. The brigade was then moved back three miles from the camp. A portion of the regiment was posted near a house, in which was a bedridden old woman, attended by her daughter. The rebels were advancing by the Williamsburg road, and soon had a battery of artillery in position to shell the vicinity of the house.

It was an intensely hot day. Captain de Banyan sat asleep on the fence near the house. He was very much exhausted by the labors of the two preceding nights on picket, and at the destruction of the stores; and while Somers was watching the progress of the battle on the right, where a sharp fight was in progress, a shell screamed between them, and struck the house about a foot from the ground.

"That reminds me of the night before Magenta," said the veteran, opening his eyes, without even a start. "A hundred-pounder shell knocked my hat off, and then passed through the two open windows at each gable of a house, without even breaking a pane of glass."

"A narrow escape for you and for the house," replied Somers with a languid smile.



CHAPTER XVII

GLENDALE AND MALVERN HILLS

Captain de Banyan was as cool and indifferent to danger as though he had been shot-proof. Cannon-balls and shell flew through the air; but the veteran paid no attention to them—except that once in a while they reminded him of Magenta, or some other of the numerous battle-fields where he had displayed his valor. There was little fighting for our regiment at this point, though there was a sharp action on the right of the position.

The rebels attacked our forces with tremendous vigor at Savage's Station. It was believed by their generals that the Union army was utterly demoralized; that it was retreating in disorder towards the James River; and that a vigorous onslaught would result in its capture. The first intimation of the blunder was received at Savage's Station, where the Confederates were decisively repulsed; yet the hope was not abandoned of ending the war by the destruction of the Army of the Potomac. The hosts of the rebellion were poured down the roads, where they could intercept the loyal forces; and the full extent of their blunder was realized only at Malvern Hills.

At noon our regiment marched through White Oak Swamp, and late in the evening bivouacked in a field near the road. During all this time the road was filled with troops, and with trains of army wagons on their way to the new "base." Very early the next morning, the march was resumed. It was an exceedingly hot day, and the troops suffered severely from the heat. Somers was nearly exhausted when the regiment halted at noon near a church, which the surgeons had already occupied as a hospital. But nothing could disturb the equanimity of Captain de Banyan. If an opportunity offered, he rested, and went to sleep amid the screaming shells as readily as though he had been in his chamber in the "Fifth Avenue." It was not quite so hot as it was at Magenta, nor the march quite so severe as before Solferino, nor the shot quite so thick as at Chapultepec. He never grumbled himself, and never permitted any one else to do so. If Somers ventured to suggest that events were rather hard upon him, he wondered what he would have done if he had been at Magenta, Solferino, Balaclava, or Chapultepec.

Somers was disposed to make the best of the circumstances; and though hungry, tired and nearly melted, he sustained himself with unfaltering courage amid the trials of that eventful march. All day long, the tide of army wagons and cattle flowed down the road; and the brigade remained near the church at Glendale, waiting for them to pass. At dark the order was given to move forward, while the roar of cannon and musketry reverberated on the evening air, assuring the weary veterans that the baptism of blood was at hand for them, as it had been before for their comrades in arms.

The regiment followed a narrow road through the woods, which was thronged with the debris of the conflict, hurled back by the fierce assaults of the rebels. The cowardly skulkers and the noncombatants of the engaged regiments were here with their tale of disaster and ruin; and, judging from the mournful stories they told, the once proud Army of the Potomac had been utterly routed and discomfited. Cowards with one bar, cowards with two bars, cowards with no bar, and cowards with the eagle on their shoulders, repeated the wail of disaster; and the timid would have shrunk from the fiery ordeal before them, if the intrepid officers and the mass of the rank and file had not been above the influence of the poltroons' trembling tones and quaking limbs.

"Forward, my brave boys! I've been waiting all my lifetime for such a scene as this!" shouted Captain de Banyan, as he flourished his sword after the most approved style.

"Don't mind the cowards!" said Somers, as the stragglers poured out their howls of terror.

There was little need of these stirring exhortations; for the men were as eager for the fight as the officers, and laughed with genuine glee at the pitiful aspect of the runaways. They advanced in line of battle to the support of the hard-pressed troops in front of them, and poured a withering fire into the enemy. With that fiendish yell which the Southern soldiers invariably use in the hour of battle, they rushed forward with a fury which was madness, and into which no fear of death entered.

"They are coming!" shouted Somers, as the legions of rebellion surged down upon the line, yelling like so many demons, as though they expected the veterans to be vanquished by mere noise. "Stand steady, my men!"

"That reminds me of the Russian advance at Magenta," said Captain de Banyan, who happened to pass near the spot where Somers stood.

"The Austrians, you mean," replied Somers, trying to keep as cool and unmoved as his companion.

"Excuse me; I meant the Austrians," replied the captain. "The fact is——Forward, my brave fellows!" roared he as the order came down the line.

The enemy had been temporarily checked, and the brigade advanced to pursue the advantage gained. They poured another terrible volley into the rebels; when a regiment of the latter, infuriated by whiskey and the fierce goadings of their officers, rushed down with irresistible force upon a portion of the Union line, and succeeded in making a partial break in our regiment. The only remaining line officer in one of the companies where the rupture occurred was wounded at this critical moment, and borne under the feet of the excited combatants.

"Lieutenant Somers, take command of that company!" shouted the colonel, as he dashed towards the imperiled portion of the line.

Somers made haste to obey the order when the line was giving way before the impetuous charge. He felt that the safety of the whole army depended upon himself at that momentous instant, and that on the salvation of the army rested the destiny of his country. What was the life of a single man, of a hundred thousand even, compared with the fearful issue of that moment? It was the feeling of the young soldier, and he was ready to lay down his life for the flag which symbolized the true glory of the nation.

"Rally round me!" he cried, as he discharged his revolver into the breast of a brave captain who was urging his company forward with the most unflinching resolution. "Down with them!" he shouted, as he waved his sword above his head.

"Hurrah!" roared a brave sergeant near him, and the cry was taken up by the gallant fellows who had been pressed back by sheer force of numbers.

"Forward!" shouted Somers, as he dashed down a bayonet, which would have transfixed him on the spot if he had not been on the alert.

The men rallied, and stood boldly up to the work before them. They were inspired by the example of the young lieutenant; and the rebel regiment slowly and doggedly retired, leaving many of their number dead or wounded on the field, and a small number as prisoners in the hands of Somers's new command.

After alternate repulses and successes, the rebels were signally defeated and driven back. It was a sharp and decisive struggle; but again had the army been saved from destruction, and the long line of army wagons still pursued its way in safety towards the waters of the James.

Again had the rebel general's brilliant calculation failed. His troops, maddened by the fires of the whiskey demon, had done all that men or fiends could do; but the trained valor of the Army of the Potomac had again saved the country. Onward it marched towards the goal of safety under the sheltering wings of the gunboat fleet in the river.

All night long the men marched, with frequent intervals of rest, as the movements of the army trains required them. There was no sleep, even after that hard-fought battle; no real rest from the exciting and wearing events of the day. There was little or no food to be had; and the fainting soldiers, though still ready to fight and march in their weakness, longed for the repose of a few hours in camp. But not yet was the boon to be granted. On the following morning, our regiment arrived at Malvern Hills, where they were again formed in line of battle, in readiness to receive the menacing hosts of the rebels.

"We are all right now, Somers," said Captain de Banyan while they were waiting for the onset.

"Not quite yet, captain. Don't you see those signal-flags on the houses yonder?"

"They mean something, of course. I did not intend to say there will be no fighting; only, that we have a good position, and all the rebels in the Confederacy can't start us now."

"Those flags indicate that the rebels are moving."

"Let them come; the sooner the better, and the sooner it will be over. Hurrah!" exclaimed the captain, as the inspiring strains of the band in the rear saluted his ears.

Cheer after cheer passed along the extended lines as the notes of the "Star-spangled Banner" thrilled the hearts of the weary, fainting soldiers. The bands had not been heard during the operations in front of Richmond; and their music, as Sergeant Hapgood expressed it, "sounded like home."

"That does me good, Somers," continued the captain. "There's nothing like music for the nerves. It wakes men up, and makes them forget all their troubles. Forward, the light brigade!" he added, flourishing his sword in the air. "I suppose you know that poem, Somers?"

"Of course; I know it by heart; read it in school the last day I ever went."

"Did you, indeed?"

"Nothing very singular about that, is there?"

"Rather a remarkable coincidence, I should say," replied the captain with easy indifference, as he twirled his sword on the ground.

"I don't see it."

"You read the poem at school, and I was in that charge."

"You?"

"Yes, my boy. I was a captain in that brigade. But what called the circumstance to my mind was the music which struck up just now. I had a bugler in my company who played 'Hail, Columbia' during the whole of the fight."

"'Hail, Columbia?'" demanded Somers.

"Certainly; the fellow had a fancy for that tune; and though it wasn't exactly a national thing to the British army, he always played it when he got a chance. Well, sir, I think that bugler did more than any other man in the charge of the light brigade. He never lost a note, and it fired the men up to the pitch of frenzy."

"He was a brave fellow," replied Somers languidly; for he was too thoroughly worn out to appreciate the stories of his veteran companion.

"He was the most determined man I ever met in my life. He was killed in the charge, poor fellow; but he had filled his bugle so full of wind, that the music did not cease till full five minutes after he was stone-dead."

"Come, come, captain! that's a little too bad," said Somers seriously.

"Too bad? Well, I should not be willing to take oath that the time was just five minutes after the bugler died. I did not take out my watch, and time it; and, of course, I can only give you my judgment as to the precise number of minutes."

"You are worse than Baron Munchausen, who told a story something like that; only his was the more reasonable of the two."

"Somers, my boy! you have got a villainously bad habit of discrediting the statements of a brother-officer and a gentleman," said Captain de Banyan seriously.

"And you have got a bad habit of telling the most abominable stories that ever proceeded from the mouth of any man."

"We'll drop the subject, Somers; for such discussions lead to unpleasant results. Do you see that rebel battery?" added the captain, pointing to a road a mile off, where the enemy had taken position to shell the Union line.

"I see it."

The rebel battery opened fire, which was vigorously answered by the other side. The scene began to increase in interest as the cannonade extended along the whole line; and, through the entire day, there raged the most furious artillery conflict of the war. The rebel masses were hurled time after time against the Union line; but it maintained its position like a wall of iron, while thousands of the enemy were recklessly sacrificed in the useless assault. General M—— had probably drunk more than his usual quantity of whiskey; and, though he was as brave as a lion, hundreds of his men paid the penalty with their lives of his rashness and indiscretion.

Night came again upon a victorious field, while hundreds of weeping mothers in the neighboring city sighed for the sons who would return no more to their arms; and while mothers wept, fathers groaned and sisters moaned, the grand army of the Confederacy had been beaten, and the proud rulers of an infatuated people were trembling for their own safety in the presence of the ruin with which defeat threatened them.

After the battle commenced the movement of the Army of the Potomac down the river to Harrison's Landing. The rain fell in torrents, and the single road was crowded with troops and wagons. Though the exhausted soldiers slept, even while the guns of the enemy roared in front of them, and during the brief halts which the confusion in the road caused, there was no real repose. The excitement of the battle and the retreat, and the undefinable sense of insecurity which their situation engendered, banished rest. Tired Nature asserted her claims, and the men yielded to them only when endurance had reached its utmost limit.

At Harrison's Landing, the work of intrenching the position was immediately commenced; and it was some days before the army were entirely assured that defeat and capture were not still possible. The failure of the campaign was not without its effect upon the troops. They felt, that, instead of marching under their victorious banners into the enemy's capital, they had been driven from their position. It was not disaster, but it was failure. Though the soldiers were still in good condition, and as ready as ever to breast the storm of battle, they were in a measure dispirited by the misfortune.

General McClellan and General Lee had each failed to accomplish his purpose. It was the intention of the latter to send Stonewall Jackson into the rear of the Union army, cut it off from its base of supplies, and then attack in front and on the left. The plan was defeated by General McClellan's change of base, which was forced upon him by the cutting-off of his communications with the Pamunkey River. The Union generals, who were first attacked on the right, supposed they were confronted by Jackson, who had come down to flank them in this direction; while Lee intended that he should attack farther down the Peninsula. Each commanding general, to some extent, mistook the purpose of the other. Whatever errors were made by the grand players in this mighty game, about one thing there can be no mistake—that the courage and fortitude of the rank and file saved the Army of the Potomac, and pushed aside the mighty disaster in which its ruin would have involved the country. All honor to the unnamed heroes who fought those great battles, and endured hardships which shall thrill the souls of Americans for ages to come!



CHAPTER XVIII

LIEUTENANT SOMERS HAS A NEW SENSATION

The experience of the soldiers at Harrison's Landing, for a month following their arrival, was not of the most agreeable nature; and consisted of too large a proportion of exercise with pick and shovel to be very pleasant to those who had not been accustomed to handling these useful implements. Intrenchments and batteries were constructed; and the position was as carefully fortified as the genius of the distinguished engineer in command could suggest, and as thoroughly as though he expected to spent the balance of the term of his natural life at this place.

The army was soon in a condition to defy the operations of the enemy, who were wise enough not to molest it. Somers, in common with the rest of the command, recovered from the severe trials of the movement from White Oak Swamp, and again longed for active operations. About two weeks after the cessation of active operations, the official documents which announced his promotion to the rank of first lieutenant came down to the army; but this was a foregone conclusion. He had won his first bar by his scouting services, and his commission was expected for a fortnight before its arrival. It did not, therefore, cause him any surprise; and was so small an elevation, that his comrades hardly congratulated him upon its reception.

A fortnight later, there came a startling sensation to thrill him with satisfaction and delight. An orderly from the division headquarters summoned him to attend upon the general. The message startled him; for it indicated some momentous event to him, and he hastily prepared to obey the order.

"You are in luck again," said De Banyan, grasping his hand.

"Perhaps not," replied Somers, bewildered at the suggestion.

"I know you are, my dear boy. I was sent for just four weeks after the battle of Solferino, and made a brigadier-general," persisted the captain.

"Ah! then you are General de Banyan?"

"No, no; I dropped the title when I ceased to hold the office."

"That was modest, general."

"Captain, if you please."

"You are entitled by courtesy to the use of the title, and you shall not be robbed of any of your honors."

"As a particular favor, Somers, never call me general. I do not wish to rise above my actual rank. I have never mentioned the little circumstance of my promotion before. Your good fortune was so similar to my own, that I was surprised into doing so."

"What do you mean by my good fortune, captain?"

"Why, you are promoted again. I will bet my year's pay you have had another lift."

"Nonsense! I have just been promoted."

"Bah! what was that to a man of your merit, with a Senator to speak at court for you? A petty first lieutenancy is nothing for a brilliant fellow like you."

"I am not half so brilliant a fellow as you declare, and I think that a commission as first lieutenant is a big thing for a young man like me. I'm sure I never had an idea of being an officer at all; and, when I was made a sergeant, I didn't think I deserved it."

"What do you suppose a major-general can want with you? You have heard from Senator Guilford once before, and I am satisfied you will hear from him again. Now, Somers, what do you suppose the general wants of you?"

"I don't know; I think it very likely he wants a man of my size to go up the river, or on the other side, scouting; nothing more than that, I am satisfied. But I must obey the order," added Somers, who had been making his preparations during the conversation.

"Well, good-by, my boy; and I shall have to stand one side for you after this, and salute you as major."

"As what?"

"Major."

"How absurd you are, captain! You always talk like a sensible fellow; that is, when you mean what you say."

"A hard hit; and very likely the first thing you do, when you get to be a major, will be to arrest me for lying."

"Your hit is the hardest, my dear captain. We have seen some hard times together; and you may be sure that whatever I am, I shall never forget you."

"That's hearty, my boy! Your hand once more," replied De Banyan, extending his own. "After the battle of Solferino——"

"Really, captain, you must excuse me this time, or the general will put me under arrest for my want of promptness, instead of sending me on special duty."

"Well, good luck to you, Somers," said the captain as the lieutenant started for the division headquarters.

As he passed out of sight, an expression of sadness settled down upon Captain de Banyan's face. He looked disappointed and uncomfortable, and it is quite probable that he envied the good fortune of his young companion in arms. If Somers had been brave, and attentive to his duty, he had been no less so himself; and he could not help feeling that the destruction of those railroad cars had made the young man's fortune; that his rapid advancement was a mere stroke of good luck.

Lieutenant Somers, wondering what could possibly be wanted of him, hastened to the headquarters of the division. He had no faith whatever in the prognostications of Captain de Banyan, and was too modest to believe that he had done anything to merit another promotion so soon. Recalling the incidents of his career since his eventful expedition within the rebel lines, there was nothing in his conduct to merit even the notice of his superiors, unless it was what others called his skill and courage in rallying the broken company at Glendale. He had been warmly praised for this act; but he deemed it of little importance, for the memory of Williamsburg cast into the shade anything that had occurred to him since that bloody day.

He was ushered into the presence of the general, who gave him the kindly welcome which he always bestowed upon those of humble rank. Now, Somers cherished an intense admiration for this distinguished officer, and esteemed it a greater honor to stand in his presence than in that of the most powerful sovereign of the earth.

"Lieutenant Somers?" said the general, extending his hand; a piece of condescension which made our officer blush, and appear as awkward as a country school-boy.

"Yes, sir; thank you, sir," stammered Somers, as he took the proffered hand.

"You behaved well at Glendale, Somers," said the general bluntly.

"I endeavored to do my duty, general."

"You did well on that scout, too; and I'm going to send you out on another, if you have any fancy for such work."

"I will do the best I can."

"But, my brave fellow, I wish you to be very careful; for we can't afford to lose officers like you."

"I am always careful, general," said Somers with a smile.

"Can you handle a boat?"

"Yes, sir; I was brought up among boats."

"You will go over the river. There is rebel cavalry over there, and very likely a considerable force of infantry. I am inclined to think they are building batteries in the woods, to close up the navigation of the river, or perhaps to shell us out of our position. In a word, I am instructed to solve the problem, and I have selected you to do the work. What do you say?"

"I am all ready, sir, to undertake that, or any service to which I may be ordered."

"That's the right spirit, Captain Somers; and I thank you for the promptness with which you enter into my plans. I am satisfied, captain, that you will discharge the duty to my entire satisfaction."

"Thank you, sir."

"Well, Captain Somers, you shall take what force you think necessary. As it will not be prudent for you to go over before dark, you may make up your plan, and I will listen to the details before you go. How many boats shall you want, captain?"

"Only one, sir," replied Somers promptly; though he was wondering with all his might how the general happened to make so many blunders in regard to his military title, for he had called him captain four or five times.

"Only one? You will need force enough to protect you, captain," replied the general.

Captain again!

"I do not intend to fight the whole rebel army, if it is over there. I do not propose to take more than half a dozen men with me."

"I think that is a sensible view of the enterprise; for the more men you take, the greater your chances of being discovered. Select your own men, Captain Somers."

Captain Somers! The general had certainly forgotten that he was only a first lieutenant, or else he was amusing himself at his modest subordinate's expense.

"I know of several men in our regiment who are just what I want," replied Somers, hardly able to speak from embarrassment, on account of the general's often-repeated mistake.

"Very well; you shall have the necessary authority to select whom you please. You may go now, and arrange your plans."

Somers saluted the general, and was about to retire, when the thought occurred to him that he might at least gratify his friend Captain de Banyan, and perhaps bring him favorably to the general's notice.

"May I be allowed to select an officer to go with me?" he asked.

"Certainly, if you desire; but you will remember that you are a young officer, going out on difficult and dangerous service, and that officers will not be so obedient as privates," suggested the general. "Whom do you desire to go with you?"

"Captain de Banyan, of our regiment."

"Captain! Why, then he will be your equal in rank, and by priority of commission, your superior."

"We shall agree remarkably well, general, though he is my superior in rank, without regard to dates," replied Somers, who by this time had come to the conclusion that the general meant something by calling him captain.

"No; you are both captains," added the general with apparent indifference.

"I beg your pardon, general; you have probably forgotten that the commission which was forwarded to me only about two weeks ago was that of first lieutenant."

"I remember all about it, Captain Somers; but, by the time you reach your quarters, there will be another commission there for you. By the way, captain, do you remember Senator Guilford?"

"I do, general; I have good reason to remember him; for he takes a deep interest in my affairs," replied Somers, whose brown face was red with blushes.

"Has a pretty daughter, hasn't he? Fell out of a railroad car and broke her arm, didn't she?"

"That was the only time I ever saw her, general," stammered Somers; "and probably I shall never see her again."

"Why, you are as cold-blooded as a frog! Why don't you write to the damsel, and tell her you are still alive, if you can't think of anything else to say?"

"I don't like to curry favor with great folks."

"I like that, captain. But you must attend to your duty now. You may have Captain de—what's-his-name—if you like."

"Captain de Banyan, sir. He is a brave and noble fellow."

"Your friend, eh?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, I remember him. He is certainly a brave fellow; for I noticed him at Glendale."

"At Oak Grove he captured the enemy's sharpshooters, who were lodged in the old house."

"I thought you did that."

"No, sir; I was under Captain de Banyan's orders at the time."

"I see; and I will remember that, Captain Somers. By the way, it would be well for you to write to Senator Guilford, just to inform him of your promotion. He has done good service for you, though I have no hesitation in saying your promotion would have been certain without his aid."

"Thank you, general," replied Somers, who fully understood the meaning of that significant remark.

We regret that the good conduct of our hero has destroyed the fitness of the title which we had chosen for our humble volume; but we will venture to say that our sympathizing readers will rejoice with him in his advancement.

Captain Somers! The idea seemed to him as big as a mountain, when he withdrew from the presence of the general, who evidently experienced a deep satisfaction in the result of his recommendation to the authorities, and had humorously chosen this method of communicating the welcome news. The earth seemed to be as elastic as India-rubber under the feet of the new-made captain, as he hastened back to the camp of the regiment.

He could hardly believe his senses; it was so strange that a young man like him should attain to this high rank. He wanted to "crow;" and perhaps he would have done so, if he had not considered that he must maintain the dignity of his new office.

"Captain Somers, I greet you!" exclaimed De Banyan on his return to camp.

"Who told you I was a captain?" laughed Somers.

"This document," replied he, handing him the ponderous official envelope. "I congratulate you, my boy; though I'm rather disappointed to find you are not a major."

"Nonsense, captain! I would have declined a major's commission."

"Declined it!" gasped De Banyan. "Well, I don't know but you would. You are the only officer I ever knew to decline a glass of wine, and I don't know but you would decline a major's commission."

"I certainly would. Why, I'm only a boy; and I don't know but I ought to decline even a captain's commission. I'm only eighteen years old."

"What of that? There's the Fourth Vermont over there—the colonel of that regiment isn't twenty-one yet, and there isn't a better or braver officer in the army. If you decline, I'll cross you off from my list of friends. Why, at Balaclava, when I was——"

"Balaclava and blarney!" exclaimed Somers impatiently.

"I was only going to say, that I was but seventeen when I was made a captain in the British army."

"I have been a brigadier in my own imagination, just as you were a captain, when you were seventeen. But never mind that; I am going on a scout; have got my orders."

"Ah, my boy! you are going to celebrate the arrival of your commission by active duty. I wish the generals would think of me when they want something handsome done."

"What do you say to going with me?"

"I would thank my stars for the chance."

"Well, then I have orders for you."

"Somers, my dear fellow, you touch my heart-strings!" cried the captain, jumping up, and throwing his arms around Somers in the most extravagant manner.

"On one condition," added Captain Somers.

"Any condition you please."

"You are my superior; but——"

"I know all about it. I will go as a volunteer, and you shall command the expedition."

"We will work together."

"With all my heart."

Somers then selected six men for the service, with special reference to their skill as boatmen, and ordered them to make the necessary preparations for duty. As there were still several hours to spare before dark, he used a portion of this time in writing a letter to his mother, informing her of the remarkable fortune that had attended him; and another to Senator Guilford, thanking him for the kind interest he had manifested in his welfare, in the postscript of which he wrote the history of Captain de Banyan's valuable services, and modestly added that any favor conferred on his friend would ever be gratefully remembered by the writer.



CHAPTER XIX

OVER THE RIVER

Captain Somers, as we are hereafter to call him, was proud and happy in the distinction which had been bestowed upon him; but he had some doubts whether he had fully earned his promotion. He had done as much as any, and more than some. Yet it seemed to him just as though nothing short of the capture or annihilation of a whole brigade of the enemy's forces could entitle him to such a distinguished honor, especially as he was only eighteen years of age. He was afraid that Senator Guilford had exerted too much influence in his favor; but the general of the division had assured him he had won his promotion, and would have received it in time, even without the powerful aid of the honorable gentleman at Washington.

This thought comforted him; and he only hoped that his friend De Banyan would be as highly favored as he had been. The valiant captain, in spite of his glaring faults, was a good fellow, a fine officer, and very popular with his inferiors as well as his superiors. He had become very much attached to Somers, and had proved by many substantial acts that he was animated by a warm regard for him. Though he talked a great deal about the favor of high officials in securing his promotion, he had never hinted a wish that Somers should attempt to influence his powerful friend to do anything for him.

Somers said nothing to the captain about the letter he had written. If anything was done, he wished to have his friend surprised as he had been. But he had only slight hopes that anything would be accomplished by his application. Though Captain de Banyan had always behaved well in battle, and had always faithfully discharged his duties in the camp and on the march, there was something like a mystery hanging about him, which had a tendency to prejudice the officers against him. While they admired his bravery, and enjoyed his society, there was a certain lack of confidence, resulting from a want of knowledge of his antecedents.

De Banyan always evaded any allusion to his former residence or occupation. He desired to be regarded as a soldier of fortune, who had fought with every nation that had a quarrel with its neighbors. Where he was born, where he had lived, or how he obtained his commission, were secrets locked up in his own breast. Somers had some doubts in regard to him, and was constantly afraid that he should hear more of the captain than it would be pleasant to know.

Captain Somers reported his arrangements in due form to the general, and they were approved. About nine o'clock in the evening, he, with his little party, embarked on the river, and the rowers pulled towards the opposite shore. Of course, it was necessary to use the utmost caution; for a rebel picket on the opposite bank of the river might suddenly put an end to the career of some of the party.

"I think we are making a mistake, Captain Somers," said De Banyan in a whisper, when they had gone about half way across the river.

"So do I; but it is not too late to correct the error," replied Somers, as he turned the bow of the boat down the river.

"I believe you are my double, Somers; for you know my thoughts before I utter them."

"I was just thinking, when you spoke, that we were running into a nest of the enemy."

"Just before the battle of the Alma, I went on just such an expedition as this; but we went down the river beyond the enemy's lines, and doubled up in the rear of them; thus finding out all we wanted to know."

"That is what I propose to do."

"Captain Brickfield and myself landed, and walked sixty-four miles between nine o'clock in the evening and four o'clock in the morning," added Captain de Banyan.

"How far?"

"Sixty-four miles."

"Good!" exclaimed Somers. "Did you walk all the way?"

"Every step."

"It was tip-top walking, De Banyan—a little more than nine miles an hour."

"Do you doubt the story?"

"I don't doubt that it is a story."

"Now, that isn't kind of you, Somers, to be perpetually throwing discredit upon everything I say," replied the captain, apparently much hurt.

"You mustn't say such things, then. You don't expect any man in his senses to believe that you walked over nine miles an hour, and followed it for seven hours?"

"I was tougher then than I am now."

"And you can tell a tougher story now than you could then, I'll warrant."

"There it is again!"

"Now, my dear fellow, I'm afraid you will die with an enormous fib in your mouth."

"Come, Somers, you are taking a mean advantage of my friendship. You know that I like you too well to quarrel with you."

"Silence!" said Somers earnestly. "There is a boat coming out from the rebel side of the river."

The water was covered with vessels of every description in the vicinity of Harrison's Landing; and the boat had just emerged from this forest of masts and smokestacks. It was time to be entirely silent again; for the rebels were on the alert in every direction, watching to strike a blow at the grand army, or to pick up individual stragglers who might fall in their way. The boat which Somers had discovered was approaching from the rebel side of the river; and to be seen by the enemy, at this point of the proceedings, would be fatal to the expedition.

"Who goes there?" said a man in the rebel boat.

"Friends!" replied Somers.

"Who are ye?"

The tones were so unmistakably Southern, that there could be no question in regard to the party to which the boat belonged.

"Officers examining the enemy's lines," replied Somers.

At the same time he ordered his crew to pull, and steered the boat so as to run her alongside the other. On the way, he whispered to the men his instructions; and, as soon as they were near enough, they leaped on board the rebel boat, and captured her astonished crew before they had time to make any resistance. No doubt they thought this was very rude treatment to receive from the hands of those who professed to be their friends; but they had discovered their mistake by this time, and it afforded a sufficient explanation of the seeming inconsistency.

The capture of this boat involved the necessity of returning to the nearest steamer in the river to dispose of the prisoners. On the way back, Somers and De Banyan conversed with the rebels on general topics; for the latter refused to say anything which could be of service to their enemy. After the captives had been delivered on board the steamer, our party decided to take the boat which had been captured, instead of the one they had brought from the landing; for there were some peculiarities in its construction, which made it a safer conveyance in rebel waters than the other, the approach of which would excite suspicion if seen.

Again they pulled down the river, and passed the point from beyond which the rebel boat had approached them. The shore was probably lined with pickets; and the wisdom of exchanging the boats was now more apparent to them than before. Somers steered into a little inlet or bay beyond the point, and at the head of it found a creek flowing into the river. It was wide and deep at the outlet; and he decided to ascend it.

"How was it, Andy?" said a voice from the shore, after the boat had advanced a few rods up the creek.

"All right!" replied Somers at a venture; though he was somewhat startled by the question.

"Have the Yankees any picket boats out?" demanded the man on shore.

"Haven't seen any."

"How far up have you been?"

"About two miles," answered Somers, continually coughing to account for any change in his voice which might be apparent to his friend on shore.

"The fire-steamer is all ready," added the voice; "and it is about time to go to work."

"The fire-steamer!" exclaimed Somers in a low tone.

"They are going to burn the vessels in the river," added De Banyan.

"What shall we do?"

"We must stop their fun at all hazards," replied the valiant captain promptly.

"What are you stopping there for, Andy? Why don't you pull up the creek?" continued the man on shore.

"My name isn't Andy," said Somers; "and I don't fully understand this business."

"Who are you, then?" replied the rebel. "What has become of Andy?"

"He has got another job, and sent me to do this one," answered Somers, whose ready wit had adopted a plan to defeat the purpose of the enemy.

"Who are you?"

"Tom Leathers. Andy sent me up to attend to this matter. Where is the fire-steamer?"

"About half a mile farther up the creek. But where is Andy?"

"Some general sent for him; and he has gone to Richmond. I reckon the iron-clad's coming down soon."

"Can you take care of the steamer?"

"Certainly I can."

"Are you a pilot?"

"Pilot enough for this business."

"I understand it all. Andy was afraid to do this job, and has backed out."

"I only know what he said to me," replied Somers innocently.

"Well, pull up the creek, and don't waste any more time in talking about it."

"I haven't wasted any time. You have done all the talking yourself," replied Somers, who thought he should not be a consistent Southerner if he did not growl.

Somers directed the men to pull again, and the boat advanced up the creek till the steamer appeared. She was a small, worn-out old craft, which had probably dodged into the creek when the Union fleet came up the river. The man who had spoken from the shore reached the place almost as soon as the boat. He was dressed in the gray of the Confederate army, and was evidently an officer detailed to perform the duty of fitting out the fire-ship.

"This is a most remarkable proceeding on the part of the pilot," said the officer.

"I can't help it. You needn't growl at me about it. If you don't want me, I don't want the job," replied Somers sourly.

"Don't be impudent to me," added the officer.

"And don't you be impudent to me," said Somers. "I'm not one of your men."

"Silence! or I shall put you under arrest."

"No, you won't."

"Do you know the channel of the river?"

"Of course I do. What do you suppose Andy sent me here for?" snarled Somers.

"Keep a civil tongue in your head, man."

"You had better show me how to do it first. Come, Graves," he added, turning to De Banyan, "we are not wanted here, and we will go home again."

"Who is that man with you?"

"Graves."

"Where did you get all these men?"

"They came with me to see the fun, and help the thing along."

The officer stepped on board of the steamer, and Somers and De Banyan joined him on the deck.

"I think I've seen you somewhere."

"I think very likely; I was there once."

"You are a crusty young cub; but it may be you know your duty."

"Of course I do; and as for being crusty, I treated you like a gentleman till you began to snarl at me."

"Well, well, my friend, we will rub out the past and begin again," said the officer pleasantly.

"With all my heart, if you say so," replied Somers with equal suavity.

"This is a very important enterprise, and we want to teach the Yankees that it will be better for them to stay at home next time they want to come down South. What is your name?"

"Tom Leathers. What's yours? Andy told me; but I've forgotten."

"Captain Osborn."

The rebel officer proceeded to give the supposed pilot very full instructions in regard to the steamer, which was to be run up the river to City Point, set on fire, and then abandoned to float with the current through the thickest of the Federal fleet, blowing up gunboats, and consuming transports by the hundred. The fire-steamer had been loaded with pitch-wood, tar, pitch and turpentine; and Captain Osborn was satisfied that the plan, if thoroughly carried out, would cause tremendous havoc among the Yankee vessels. He rubbed his hands with delight as he contemplated the prospect of driving the "Hessian" fleet from the river, and starving the Union army out of its position.

An engineer and two firemen, whom they found on board the steamer, were all the crew she had, and all she needed besides the pilot. They had got up steam, and the vessel was all ready to move on her errand of destruction when the word should be given.

"Now you are all ready," said Captain Osborn when he had completed his instructions. "You will hoist the American flag, and pretend you are a Yankee, if they attempt to stop you on your way up the river."

"I can do that to a charm," replied Somers. "I am all ready. Where is Graves? Hallo, Graves!" he shouted, when he found that his companion had left his side to take a look at the other parts of the steamer.

"Here I am, Tom," answered Graves, emerging from the engine-room, where he had been talking with the presiding genius of that department.

"Run up the colors."

"Ay, ay, sir!" replied De Banyan.

The colors went up, and other preparations were made for the great enterprise.

"Cast off that stern line!" said Somers. "Make fast your painter on the port quarter," he added to the man in the boat; and no doubt by this time Captain Osborn was fully satisfied that he was perfectly familiar with the management of a steamer.

Now, Somers was very well satisfied that he should run the steamer aground before he rounded the first point in the river, and he had wisely concluded not to undertake so rash an enterprise. Besides, he did not come over there to be the skipper of a steamer; he had other and even more important duties to perform. He was much more interested in certain rebel batteries which were believed to be in process of construction farther up the river. But Captain Osborn was an unreasonable man, and demanded the execution of his plan. He was determined to see a conflagration, and Somers was equally determined to gratify him.

Our pilot discovered the value of his limited nautical experience in Pinchbrook Harbor; for it enabled him to convince the rebel officer that he was a full-fledged "salt," and was entirely at home on the deck of any vessel that could float in the waters of the James. The stern-line and the bow-line were cast off; and Somers stood in the little wheel-house, ready to ring the bells. Captain Osborn had just stepped on shore, intending to mount his horse and ride up the river, where he could see the conflagration when it came off.

Just then, there was a tremendous commotion among the firemen and engineer; and, a moment later, a broad, bright sheet of flame rose from the heap of combustibles in the after-part of the steamer.



CHAPTER XX

CAPTAIN DE BANYAN FINDS AN OLD FRIEND

Both Somers and De Banyan flew to the rescue, and made a most enthusiastic attempt to check the fire; but the raging element was now past control. The flames spread through the combustible material which had been stored on the deck; and they were compelled to abandon the ill-starred steamer with the utmost precipitation, in order to save their own lives.

De Banyan had rolled up an old newspaper, making of it a kind of torch, some three feet in length, which he had inserted in a mass of pitch-wood shavings, and set the end on fire. It had burned long enough to remove suspicion from him; and, when the pilot and crew went on shore, Captain Osborn had no idea of the trick of which he had been made the victim. Our scouts kept up appearances in the most remarkable manner, and Somers was only afraid that his zealous companion would overdo the matter.

"What do you mean by that, Captain Osborn?" demanded Somers, as he shook the cinders from his clothes in the presence of the rebel officer. "Did you intend to sacrifice our lives?"

"Yes; burn us up before we had time to leave the old hulk!" added De Banyan furiously. "I thought we were to light the fire ourselves."

"I didn't do it," replied Captain Osborn.

"You didn't? Who did do it, then?" persisted Somers.

"I don't know."

"Well, I don't know; but, in my opinion, you did it yourself."

"You are an idiot! Do you think I would destroy the work of my own hands?" added the rebel warmly.

"Well, I supposed you fired the train so as to be sure the thing was done right."

"You are a fool, or else you didn't suppose any such thing."

"I didn't know but what you had one of those clock machines, that touch a thing off at a certain time. Well, how did it happen, then?"

"I don't know; perhaps from a spark from the fire. No matter how it was done now. It is done, and can't be helped. I have lost the satisfaction of seeing half the Yankee fleet burnt up. I would rather have given a year's pay than have had this accident happen."

"Haven't they got most ready for the Yankee fleet above here?" asked Somers as carelessly as he could.

"What do you mean?"

"They are building batteries up above, to knock the Yankees into pieces, aren't they?"

"Perhaps they are."

"Well, Captain Osborn, I don't believe your plan would have succeeded if the steamer hadn't caught afire."

"Don't you? Why not?"

"Suppose the Yankees had stopped us on our way up, and come on board the steamer. Don't you think they would have known what she was for?"

"Perhaps they would."

"Of course they would. Why didn't you fit out your steamer up the river?"

"We haven't so many steamers that we can afford to burn them up. We took this one because she happened to be in the creek, where the Yankees could capture her at any time they pleased."

"It wouldn't need a steamer above the fleet; a raft would do just as well. I think I shall go up the river, and see what can be done. Well, boys," added Somers to the men in the boat, "there will be no fun to-night, and you may as well go home."

As this order was in conformity with previous instructions, the men pulled down the creek to its mouth, where they could remain concealed till their officers returned.

By the light of the burning steamer, Captain Osborn had attentively scanned the features of the pilot and his companion, apparently for the purpose of determining where he had seen the former. As they had both dressed themselves for the occasion, they submitted to his scrutiny without fear. When he had finished his survey, he mounted his horse, which was fastened to a tree near the creek, and had become very restive as the glaring fire scattered burning cinders near him. As the rider had no further use for our enterprising operatives, he bestowed no further notice upon them, and rode off to report to his commanding officer the failure of the hopeful enterprise.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse