"Pshaw!" exclaimed the Sergeant. "Say, that's a good horse you've got there! Where did you find it?"
"Maybe I'll tell you after the war's over," answered Tom.
"Ah! Well, you had luck, anyhow."
"Yep," answered Tom. He put his hand into his pocket and clutched Marjorie's handkerchief. "Yep, I had luck, all right enough. I can walk now, I guess. Let's go report to the Captain."
It was daylight when they reached the headquarters of the guard. The Sentry posted before the door watched them approach, then called out: "'Lo there, Serg. Got a Johnny Reb for our breakfast?"
"Reb nothing!" replied the Sergeant. "This boy's one of the raiders."
The Sentry's jaw dropped slightly. He stared for a moment, then turned and bolted through the door, yelling back over his shoulder, "I'll get the Captain out. Isn't up yet."
They entered the house, and Tom dropped into the first chair he reached. "Sergeant," he said, "have one of your men take care of my horse. He can have some water now."
"All right, Lieutenant."
"I'm no Lieutenant—I'm a private, a raw recruit."
"Huh?" grunted the Sergeant incredulously.
"That's the truth."
"Well, if you ain't a Lieutenant you ought to be and I'll bet my stripes that you will be. Hey, Max, you go out and see that the Lieutenant's horse is taken care of."
From upstairs they could hear the sound of voices and the scurrying of feet. Presently someone clattered down the stairs. The door swung open and the Captain entered, buttoning his coat.
"Glad to see you, my boy!" he exclaimed. "Don't bother about getting up. You can go, Sergeant." He drew a chair up close to Tom's; then as the Sergeant started to leave the room, he said, "Have my messenger ready to travel. Give him the fastest horse we've got in the place."
"Now, tell me about it. In the first place, what's your name and regiment?"
"Tom Burns, private, Company B, Second Ohio," answered Tom proudly. With the Captain jotting down notes, he told the first accurate story of the raid up to the moment when they had abandoned the train; then of his own experiences in escaping. "I finally reached this side of the river on the flatboat, and swam ashore. That was yesterday morning. Let's see—was it yesterday or the day before?" He looked back over the tangle of nights and days, and thought for a moment. "Yes, it was yesterday morning. I'm sorry that I'm so confused, but so many things have happened that I'm all mixed up."
"I understand," said the Captain.
"Then...." continued Tom. He stopped. "No, I can't tell you any more. Another person helped me. If it hadn't been for that person I would never have reached the lines. And if it ever got out they'd make a lot of trouble for...." He caught himself on the verge of saying "her," and added, "for that person."
"Well," said the Captain, "that's of no importance to us. It makes no difference. The point is that you're back again."
"It's of importance to me, I can tell you," said Tom.
"Hm-m-m, I guess so. All right, Tom Burns, I'm going to send a messenger to get this news on the wire to headquarters. You're about worn out. Sorry that there's just one bed here. That's the one I've just climbed out of, but you're welcome to it."
"Couldn't ask for anything better," replied Tom sleepily. He arose and stretched his tired muscles. "Will you make sure that my horse is being properly cared for, Captain? He's a fine horse.... Where is that bed, Captain?"
It was evening when he awoke, and he remained awake long enough to eat some food which an orderly brought for him. Then, with the intention of getting up after a few minutes, he closed his eyes again. The next thing he knew it was daylight again. He jumped out of bed and opened the door.
"Good morning," called a soldier as Tom peered out. "Have a good nap, young man?"
"What day is this, anyhow!" demanded Tom. "How long have I been sleeping?"
"Just twenty-four hours, that's all," answered the soldier.
"Hello, Burns." It was the Captain. "How are you?"
"Fine! But I'm ashamed of myself for cheating you out of your bed."
"You've earned a bed, my boy. Get some clothes on and we'll have breakfast. Can you travel today?"
"A message came from Mitchel at Huntsville. He wants to see you."
And so Tom, mounted upon Star and accompanied by the Captain's messenger, retraced the road to Shelbyville and followed the course of Mitchel's army southward. All along the route, when the news spread that one of the raiders was passing through, they were surrounded by soldiers, who wanted to hear the story and to shake hands. Finally Tom begged the messenger not to tell people who he was, not to mention the raid. "We'll never get to Huntsville if this keeps up," he said.
It was noon of the third day when they reined their horses in at the outskirts of the town, and exhibited their pass to a Sentry. "Let 'em past, boys," yelled the Sentry. "Here's the raider!" They trotted into Huntsville with the soldiers yelling. And it was all that Tom could do to keep from yelling. Now, for the first time, the full exultation of being back again struck him; but he sat speechless, stroking Star's neck nervously.
They pulled up before headquarters.
Tom glanced about and saw Bert running toward him.
Tom jumped from Star's back, tossed the reins to the messenger and they met as though in collision. "Good work, Tom! When the word came, the company went wild. The Captain got leave for me to come up here and meet you. Go on in and report to the General. I'll be out here waiting for you." Bert thumped him on the back and started him towards the door.
Tom followed the Sergeant of the Guard into the anteroom, and stood, ill at ease, looking out of the windows into the yard, until the General could receive him. Presently the door behind him opened, and he turned, expecting to see the Sergeant. Instead, it was General Mitchel himself. Tom snapped to attention.
"Welcome back again, Private Burns," boomed the General. He approached and their hands met with a smack! The General was beaming. "Glad to see you, boy. I'm proud of you. Come in here." He took Tom's arm and led him toward the private office.
"Now let's have the yarn," said the General, lighting a cigar and leaning back in his chair. Tom glanced about him and saw that the office had originally been a dining-room. The family table, which was strewn with maps, served as the General's desk, and the disorder of the chairs showed that there had been a recent meeting of the staff. On the sideboard were the remains of the General's lunch, which he had just finished.
"Am I the first one back?" asked Tom.
"Yes—the only one who has returned. I had just about given you all up as captured."
"Then you think the others are ... prisoners?"
"Afraid so—yes. When was it you captured the train—Friday or Saturday?"
"Hm-m-m, I thought so. That was what the reports from the South said, but I couldn't be sure. And how was it you didn't take the train on Friday, as we planned? But, perhaps, you'd better tell me the story right from the beginning."
Once again, Tom started with his departure from Murfreesboro and told in detail of the movements of the raiders. The General listened intently, scratching down occasional notes; presently he arose and spread a map before them. Then, with their chairs close together, the General and the Private traced out the course of the raiders and the progress of the locomotive race up to the point where Andrews had given the order to abandon the engine and scatter.
"Hm-m-m, if he'd only stopped to fight—at the tunnel, say...." remarked the General.
"That's what we wanted to do," answered Tom, "but he wouldn't."
"Of course," said the General, "we have to remember that Andrews was not a soldier—he was a spy, and accustomed to another way of working. Too bad.... Luck was dead against you, I'm afraid."
The General leaned back again and looked at him narrowly as he told the story of his flight from the hotel and across the Tennessee. Tom continued:
"I would have been captured surely if it hadn't been for a certain person who took care of me, and gave me a horse. The whole countryside was getting up to search the woods for me. They were bringing the dogs out. Then I got the horse; we cut through the fields ahead of them. That's all. I raced until I tumbled into the arms of a Sentry."
The General drummed on the table with his pen, and emitted great puffs of smoke. "Hm-m-m!" he said. "Hm-m-m! Not entirely successful, but a great blow at the South all the same. I'm proud of you men, Burns—mighty proud of you." He was silent for a moment, then: "I'm going to recommend you for a commission."
"Thank you, sir," gasped Tom.
"You've earned it. You can go up North for training, and join us again later—a Lieutenant. How'll you like that?"
"I'd like to have a commission, of course, but...."
"Why, you see, General, I'm nothing but a recruit, I've never even worn a uniform."
"What?" exclaimed the General. Tom told him how he had come to take part in the raid, how he had been sworn into the service just before his departure. "Well," said the General at last, "that really makes no difference. You're officer caliber, and that's enough."
"All the same, General, I think I'd like to go to my company, and get some experience. Company B is in the fight now, isn't it?"
"Experience!" exclaimed the General.
"Experience as a soldier, I mean," Tom replied.
"Of course, of course," the General answered, laughing. "Yes, Company B is in the fight. All right, my boy, all right. We'll send you there—for experience!—and then North you go and learn the business of being an officer."
"Thank you, sir."
The interview was at an end. They stood up and shook hands. Tom suddenly remembered Star. "By the way, sir," he said. "A private doesn't generally have a Kentucky thoroughbred, does he?"
"Well, sir, I have one, but I guess the time for Star and me to part has come. Will you take it? The person who gave Star to me is a good Northerner. The ... the person would be proud to have the horse ridden by a General."
"Do you think that the person"—the General smiled—"would be any prouder to have a General riding the horse than she—pardon me!—than to have you riding it?"
"I don't know, sir," replied Tom, with a grin. "But I know she'll be mighty proud just the same."
"All right, my boy." The General called one of his aides and instructed him to see that Tom reached Company B. They shook hands again and Tom walked out of the headquarters building to find Bert waiting for him. The railroad raid had ended.
THAT CERTAIN PERSON
Long years of warfare passed; then came the day when war was over, and Captain Tom Burns strolled down the avenue in Washington, linked arm in arm with Brown and Knight. Behind them sauntered the surviving members of the raiders. Each of them wore a medal of honor, which had been pinned to their coats that afternoon.
"You're going straight home, I suppose, Tom?" asked Brown.
"No—no, I'm going to Albany. Someone I have to see there. I was home on a furlough just a few weeks ago."
"It's just about my train time," said Knight. "I'll have to be getting to the station."
"Wait a minute while we say good-by to the boys, and I'll go with you," said Tom. They stopped while the others came up. The moment of parting had come, and silence fell over them. Some of the men had escaped from prison camps, others had been exchanged, and this meeting had been a great event in their lives. For two days they had lived their experiences once again, exchanging stories and discussing the raid.
"Good-by, boys," said Knight, breaking the pall of silence. "You all have my address. Let me know when you're around my part of the country."
"Same goes for me," said several of them. "Don't forget, now. Good-by, Tom. 'By, Knight. Here, let's shake that paw again. Drop me a line, eh?"
"'By, boys," said Tom, untangling, himself from the group. He looked back and waved.
Two days later in Albany Tom presented himself at the Mayor's office. "I've come on a peculiar errand," he explained. "One time when I was in the South, a Northern girl, who was living there, befriended me and saved me from being taken prisoner. Her name was Marjorie Landis, and she told me that she had lived here. She said she was coming back to Albany just as soon as the war was over. I want you to help me find her, if it's not asking too much."
The Mayor smiled. "You don't happen to be Tom Burns of the raiders, by any chance, do you?" he asked.
Tom jumped. "Yes—but how...." His voice dwindled off in amazement.
"I've heard a lot about you, young man. Yes, I think that if you'll go to this address"—he wrote on a slip of paper—"and ask for Miss Landis, you'll find someone who'll be very glad to see you. Don't even stop to thank me—you hurry along."
Tom needed no urging. He sped from the office, signaled a cab and gave the driver the paper. "Let that horse move his legs," he ordered.
They pulled up presently before a big brownstone house.
"Tell Miss Landis that Captain Burns is calling," he told the servant.
"Yes, Captain. Will you come this way, sir?" He was ushered into a parlor, where he waited nervously; then he heard footsteps on the stairs.
"Tom—Tom Burns!" Marjorie bounded into the room.
They stood looking at each other, speechless. She was the first to collect herself. "I'm so glad you've come," she said. "I've wondered and wondered about you."
"But you knew I'd come if I could, didn't you?"
"I thought so—I hoped so."
"For one thing, I have a horse and a handkerchief of yours."
"Star! Is he still alive? Oh, tell me about it. But, no—tell me about yourself first."
That evening, long after dinner, they finished their stories. Marjorie had come North six months before; the Beechams had never suspected her of having given him her horse. "The people," she said, "went mad scurrying about the country after you. I don't know what they would have done if they had suspected me. I don't like to think of it."
"I've been worrying about you ever since," answered Tom. "I could have hugged that Mayor when he told me that you were here and safe."
"Wasn't it strange that you went directly to him? He's one of our best friends."
"I couldn't think of anyone else to go to."
And he told of the battles he had fought, of his promotions and all that had befallen him. "I rode Star all through the year of '63, after I was attached to the Headquarters Staff. General Mitchel gave him back to me. He said, 'I don't suppose you'd like to have that Certain Person's horse again, would you?' I said, 'I would, but I don't dare to take a General's horse away from him.' Good old Star! When winter set in I decided that he'd seen about enough war, so I sent him home. He is in the country near Cleveland now on a furlough, waiting for his mistress to ride him again." Tom pulled out the small handkerchief. "But I'd like to keep this," he said. "It has brought me luck. I'm superstitious about it."
"Please keep it," she said. "I hope it'll always bring you luck."
He arose to go. "I'll be back just as soon as I can," he said, then he added: "to bring Star."
"Is that the only reason?"
"It isn't a reason," he replied severely. "It's an excuse."